Category Archives: spirituality

Comprehensible Human Justice?

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“In Polkinghorne’s description of the world physicists know, I began to hear about a
cosmic extension of the morality tale of Genesis. Every minute aspect of the living world,
he said has free will―not just human hearts and minds, but animals and plants, storm
clouds, cancer cells, tectonic plates. This sets up a constant jostling, competition and
collision between strong given natures, and inevitable shadow side to creation. There is
suffering, and there are losers, and there is muddle. But Polkinghoren adds that quantum
physics as it has evolved is describing something more ‘supple’ and ‘subtle’ than a world
merely left to the restless inertia of natural laws. It sees a back drop of interplay between
order and disorder, between patterned structure and open possibilities. Multitudinous life
functions in its essence and moves forward relentlessly―human beings breathed; grass
grows; storm clouds gather. But there are also places of randomness, openings in fixed
processess, that might have implications for something like prayer. The laws of nature make
room for human action and possibly for God to act in time and space.”

―Krista Tippett
Speaking of Faith (pg. 86)

“Now I understand that God is not just rooting for the [humans]. We and our vermin all
blossomed together out of the same humid soil in the Great Rift Valley, and so far no one is
really winning. Five million years is a long partnership. If you could for a moment rise
up out of your own beloved skin and appraise ant, human and virus as eually resourceful
beings, you might admire the accord they have all struck in Africa.”

―Barbara Kingsolver
The Poisonwood Bible

“It was a memory, he seemed to say, that challenged the belief of his childhood, not in the
existencev of God, but in a God who practiced comprehensible, human justice.”

―Tracy Kidder
Strength in What Remains (pg. 150)

BME (before my experience), when I was an atheist I didn’t really think about why things happened, since I didn’t tussle over questions of free will or predestination or “God’s will.” Biology was the answer to why people died of disease, bad timing covered why they got hit by buses, and messed up psychology covered things like the holocaust, grinding poverty and power struggles answered Rwandan genocide.

I thought those answeres might change AME (after my experience). But in the end they didn’t all that much. I still don’t really believe in a God whose got Its fingers in our pies. Deciding who lives or dies. Answers the prayers of some but not others. Letting these ones die of cancer or get hit by a bus or get raped and left to die in an alley while those ones over there It saves from similar fates. If God made me and It made the AIDS virus, who am I to presume I’m the prodigal daughter? As Kingsolver suggests in The Poisonwood Bible, perhaps we were all created equally resourceful. It goes to the presumption of understanding God’s motivation or even presuming It has motivation. It goes to the presumption of a plan, a purpose. Oh how we torture ourselves trying to divine Divine purpose.

Even BME I thought one of the best explanantions for God was a little thing George Lucas called the Force. A creative but not conscious force that flowed through everything and which we all had the opportunity to tap into if we so choose. We all stood in the stream of the force and it was our choice to keep standing there, to try to swim upstream, or to pick up our feet and float on down. The metaphor is a bit labored, but it still often makes a lot of sense to me. Except when it doesn’t . . . .

If you believe in God, where do you stand on the whole question of It’s involvement in the universe or, as Kidder asks, a “God who practice[s] comprehensible human justice.” What kind of decisions do you think God makes, if any? If you don’t believe in a God who’s in control, how do you envision how the universe “works”?

What’s in a Name?

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This blog is about religion and theology and ethics. About life, the universe, and everything.

So the word God is bound to get tossed around a fair bit. It’s a word I’ve been extremely uncomfortable with most of my life and one you rarely hear in a UU church. Well, one you rarely hear in my UU church anyway. We did a big congregational survey when we were searching for our new minister and we overwhelming described ourselves as Humanists. I believe earth-centered spirituality came in second. This to say, we’re not big God-talkers.

I lead a covenant group at my church. In many places this is called small group ministry, something used widely in the mega-church movement in order to create intimacy in large congregations. They are essentially groups of about 6-11 that meet monthly to discuss a particular topic like gratitude or forgiveness or service.

In April the topic was “Pray, Meditate, Contemplate.” I’d written the session and it was a conversation I’d been longing to have for some time. Why not just “Prayer”? Well because in a UU church not everyone prays since not everyone believes in something to pray to. During the “prayer time” of our service, our minister invites us to pray or meditate or contemplate ultimate things, as a way to cover all the bases. As might be predicted, there was lively discussion on this topic. But I had thought the lively discussion would center around the various practices people chose to pursue and why. I was wrong. In fact I am almost always wrong when I try to guess what our discussions might focus on, one of the multitude of reasons I love covenant groups so much.

In fact we spent a lot of time talking about names. What we call the divine, if we call it anything at all. God is a word that sent cold shudders through me for decades because it recalled the frustration I felt towards religion as a youth, as well as its present-day use by fundamentalists as a standard around which to rally the “saved” and a judge by which all legislation should be measured. For UUs the word God seems to be utterly co-opted by the conservative right. BME (before my experience), it is not a word I said comfortably, if at all. But over the last year I have begun to reclaim it. Phrases like “the Divine”, “Spirit of Life” or “the Creative Force” suddenly just don’t cut it for me anymore.

But when I used the word God in my covenant group discussion, it immobilized some people. They admitted that just hearing the word put up a big wall that made it difficult to participate in the conversation, even though God wasn’t the stated topic. It wasn’t a road block I had expected, though I absolutely understand these feelings. Just because I’ve been able to free the word from so many associations―the wrathful vengeance of the Old Testament, the judge of Revelations, the voice of Sarah Palin and Pat Robertson and Rick Warren―I understand why it still affects many UUs so profoundly. I want to help reclaim the word God for progressive churches, and for my progressive movement in particular, for those who care to use it. I’m not really sure if this is possible. Or even necessary

What do you call the Divine, if anything? What associations do you have with the word God?Do you think the word God needs reclamation by progressive faiths? If so, is it possible or too late? Does new language need to be created? If you’re visiting here from another faith or denomination, what’s you’re response?

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