Tag Archives: Universalist

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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