July’s Ministry Theme: Unitarian Universalism’s Six Sources

Two perspectives by:


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A Humanist Perspective: Unitarian Universalism’s Six Sources

By Jerry Lusa, Sunday Services Committee

Writing about something as vast as the six sources that UU’s draw from is daunting. I went to the UUA’s website, saw the sources, and immediately got sidetracked. The more I looked at the sources, the more I began to see ‘whiches’, the grammatical kind. And then a heretical thought crept into my mind, “Our UU sources are grammatically incorrect!” If this were most any other tradi- tion, I might have recoiled at the thought, but this is UU and I wanted to see where it led me.

In the rules of English grammar, the word ‘which’ denotes that a non-restrictive clause follows. In other words, if a phrase starts with ‘which’, that phrase can be left out without significantly altering the sentence’s meaning. The word ‘that’, on the other hand, denotes a restrictive clause, one that is required for the sentence to convey its intended meaning. And with ‘which’, there should be a comma before it that further denotes the non-restrictiveness.

Wanting to a better understanding of the sources, I tried to correct their grammar. I removed the ‘which’ phrases hoping to see the essence of each source, unadorned with their less-essential elements. That led right away to a problem. The first source wouldn’t make a complete sentence with the ‘which…” phrases removed…

 Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder;

It’s sort of like the answer ‘42’ in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: a good answer but one that is incomplete without a question. Substituting the first non-restrictive ‘which’ for a restrictive ‘that’ clears things up a bit…

 Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder [that] moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces;

…but it still leaves the forces dangling. Swapping the other ‘which’ for a ‘that’ clears things up for good, leaving the meaning as I believe it was intended:

Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder [that] moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces [that] create and uphold life;

The other sources do quite well without the non-restrictive clauses, though they are less poetic when grammatically pruned …

Words and deeds of prophetic women and men; Wisdom from the world’s religions;

Jewish and Christian teachings; Humanist teachings;

Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions;

On reflection, it seems that the extra phrasing in the official sources really gives an important refinement of these otherwise general statements. So let’s rephrase them with restrictive clauses and see what we get…

Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, that moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life;

Words and deeds of prophetic women and men that challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;

Wisdom from the world’s religions that inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

Jewish and Christian teachings that call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as our- selves;

Humanist teachings that counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;

Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions that celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

There, I feel at peace. A heretic’s peace, but peace nonetheless. I’ve heard from Marlene Geary that the sub- ject of the sources’ grammar has come up repeatedly in past General Assemblies, so I’m not the only heretical UU.

buddhisticonA Buddhist Perspective:Unitarian Universalism’s Six Sources

By Nancy Thompson,
UUS:E Buddhist Group

Buddhism, which began in India more than 2,500 years ago, obviously predates Unitarian Uni- versalism, but our Transcendentalist predecessors were instrumental in bringing Buddhism to the West. James Ismael Ford, a UU minister who is authorized to teach in two Zen lineages, says that Western religious liberals have been fascinated with Buddhism from as early as 1844, when Elizabeth Palmer Pea- body published an anonymous rendition of a chapter from the Sadharmapundarika Sutra in the Transcendentalist journal, the Dial. This chapter, “The Preaching of Buddha,” was the first Buddhist text published in the English language; for years the credit was given to Henry David Thoreau. Almost a century later, Buddhism again drew attention from liberal religious groups, this time from Humanists. (You can read Ford’s article at http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/ articles/23667.shtml)

The intertwining of Buddhism with other UU sources is a display of Buddhist teachings on interdependence and karma. Everything arises from causes and conditions, the Buddha taught; Because this happens, that happens. Information is published, interest is generated, the thread runs through generations and becomes a source for later developments.

Historical developments aside, I see Buddhist views woven throughout the Seven Principles. The Buddha urged his followers not to take his teachings on faith but to try the methods he taught and see if they had value for them. Don’t do anything just because I tell you, he said. Do it because you’ve seen that it works. In other words, be skeptical, but not cynical, as you fearless search for truth.

The teaching that every sentient being has buddhanature, or innate goodness, is the ground for respect for the worth and dignity of every being. Interdependence is a central theme in both Buddhism and UUism.

Buddhism teaches that liberation is possible, that guidelines exist, but that each person is responsible for their own progress. There is no outside salvation and no eternal condemnation – you are accountable for your actions and their results.