Widening the Lens

Last month I told you about a project I have set for us over the next several months to explore different dimensions of liberal or progressive theology. What at the most basic level distinguishes us as a religious movement?

 We began in January with an exploration of how we might describe our “eschatology”–our understanding of the beginning and end of all things. In early March we’ll move on to consider our “ecclesiology,” or our theory of the nature of the church, the institution that gathers us. More will follow.

But before we get there, I want to take a detour to consider another aspect of the religious search, one that doesn’t always get much attention but that strongly influences our religious lives: our racial identity.

Theology is presented as a kind of abstract discipline regarding universal principles that soar high above the particulars of our daily life. But that’s inauthentic. Our lived experience has a lot to do with how we organize our thoughts around our religious lives.

Review the roster of great theological thinkers and you find mostly a list of white, European men whose perspective has dominated religious thought. That means that in any theological conversation their thinking, their perspectives lie at the center. That puts the thinking of others – non-white writers and thinkers, not to mention non-Europeans, and for that matter non-male writers and thinkers – on the periphery.

Bypassing those voices tends not only to impoverish our understanding but also to invalidate those voices, to make them appear inconsequential. But as Unitarian Universalists we affirm that all people have inherent worth and dignity and a voice worth attending to.

To open the way for the larger multiplicity of voices, our challenge is to find ways to de-center the predominant white, male perspective. That’s not to say that their perspective isn’t worth knowing – it is – but it’s only part of the picture.

One way to correct for past practices of shutting people out is to make a new practice of inviting them in. My goal is to take a step in that direction in a series of two services in February. Given all the work we are doing around racial justice, I have chosen as a focus the work of the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, one of the most important Black religious writers and thinkers of the 20th century.

 I’m framing these services as opportunities to “encounter” Thurman as a unique, progressive voice. What I present will, of course, come through the lens of my own perspective, but my goal will be to “center” his perspective for a moment as we work through our religious understanding. I make no claim to a unique way of thinking about his work, but while we are doing this theological digging, I think you will find him a voice worth attending to.

In March, my colleague, Minister of Faith Development Rev. Claudia Jiménez, will take a similar tack, leading a service focusing on another figure, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz. Sor Juana was a writer living in 17th century Mexico who used poetry and drama to develop a kind of public theology, but who was marginalized at the time as a woman born outside of Europe.

These two figures are but a sampling of the wealth of voices who might inform our religious understanding if we would de-center our thinking and widen the lens of our view.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister


What is Beloved Community?

Welcome to a month of Beloved Community!

What do you know about the Beloved Community? What do your children know? Come explore with us this month!

At the Table

Use these questions to help lead a discussion with your family!

  1. What keeps you together as a family, when you’re not very happy with one another?
  2. We belong to and depend on many different communities, all of which offer us friendship, love and security. How many different communities do your family members belong to? Have some fun adding them all up!
  3. What do you have in common with your dentist? Your mail carrier? Your school or city bus driver? Your bank teller?
  4. What’s one way you make life easier for someone in your family?
  5. Who in the family seems to like disagreement, and who doesn’t?
  6. What is the secret to getting along?
  7. What’s the difference between an opponent, and an enemy? How do those two words feel different?
  8. Have you ever made friends with someone whom you previously thought of as an enemy? What changed that allowed that to happen
  9. What is something in your life that feels unfair? How do you handle that?
  10. How does conflict feel in your body? 
  11. Have you ever “turned the other cheek,” or “been the bigger person” in a fight or disagreement? How did that feel?
  12. What’s the best advice anyone has given you about getting along with others?

Return to the Discussion Throughout the Week 

Thoughts develop with time. Find opportunities to bring up particularly compelling questions again during the month, maybe on walks, rides home, when tucking your child in to bed, etc. If thoughts grew or changed, notice together how we are all evolving beings, opening ourselves to new truths and understandings as we live our lives and connect with others. 

Beloved Community is…

The Fair Housing Justice Center made a video with many voices sharing what the Beloved Community is, using their own words. Watch this video together as a family. Afterward, talk about which words most resonated with each of you. We’ve pulled a few powerful quotes below that you might use to prompt conversation.

“The Beloved Community is…

…people who make me comfortable, people who make me uncomfortable, people I don’t know, and people I’m very, very familiar with…and we are united by this divine call.”

…the opportunity to be truly free in a society that respects, hears, and understands its citizenry.”

…dignity and protection for all.”

…everyone has a stake in each other’s well being.”

…all of us together in the spirit of justice, in the spirit of love, in the spirit of humanity, in the spirit of oneness working to uplift communities that have been oppressed…”

Invitation: Spend time considering the many perspectives offered. What challenges you? What inspires you? The Fair Housing Justice Center is one organization founded on the principles of the Beloved Community. There are more! To learn more about endeavors inspired by the concept of the Beloved Community, join The King Center’s email list (bottom of the page) so you can plug into this organization’s ongoing educational and outreach work, or support it with a donation.

Extra Credit

Check out these readings and discussion questions about the Poor People’s Campaigns of the past and present: https://www.morningsidecenter.org/teachable-moment/lessons/poor-peoples-campaign-then-now

Vespers 6:30 Exploring Beloved Community through Song & 7 PM Program

Vespers leader Mary Alm invites us to consider the Black national anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (found in our hymnal) as we continue exploring this month’s theme of Beloved Community.

The 7PM program will explore “Power at Work in Your Congregation” Facilitator: Anna Martin

Vespers Leader: Anna Martin
Program: Theme Talk, Rev. Claudia

Vespers Leader: Mary Alm 
Program: Power at Work in Our Congregation, Anna Martin

Vespers Leader: Rev. Claudia
Program: Spiritual Practices – Aging I;   Jim Steffe, Rev. Claudia

Vespers Leader: TBA
Program: The Theology William Ellery Channing, Rev. Terry Davis