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Living heroically, dying well, and inspiring music

Questions for spiritual reflection and adult group discussions.
By Jane Greer
Summer 2008 5.15.08

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Heroes all. In his Forum essay, “The Avatar’s Advantage,” Tad Waddington encourages readers to “mythologize” their actions. By making simple actions more heroic, Waddington is convinced that we gain momentum. “See yourself as a hero in a story and every obstacle, rather than setting you back, can draw out greater qualities of your character as you rise to their challenges. A final cause of mythic stature gives you the moxie, the chutzpah, the pluck you need to achieve your lofty goal.” (page 15)

Which lofty goals do you have, and which actions do you need to take? How can you imbue these actions with heroic meaning?

Dying well. In “Love and Death” (page 18), Forrest Church describes some of the positive aspects of being present at a loved one’s death: “The act of releasing a loved one from all further obligations as he lies dying—to tell him it’s all right, that he is safe, that we love him and he can go now—is life’s most perfect gift, the final expression of unconditional love.”

How would you describe a good death? When someone dies tragically or unexpectedly, have you found ways to say farewell? How would you like to die?

Looking back. Manish Mishra describes his life as a young adult and how convinced he was, early on, of the correctness of some of his choices. “At the tender age of twenty-two,” he writes, “I thought I had solved the major life quests—work and human connection”—only to rethink those choices later. (“The Call of Self,” page 23)

What choices did you make in young adulthood that you later rethought? What choices did you make when you were younger that have stood the test of time?

Crucifixion or paradise. Theologians Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker were surprised to discover that many early Christian images show an earthly paradise, while scenes of Jesus’s suffering and the Crucifixion do not make an appearance in church art until the tenth and eleventh centuries. In “This Present Paradise,” they begin to answer the question, “Why did Christians turn from a vision of paradise in this life to a focus on the Crucifixion and final judgment?” (page 26)

Are you surprised to learn about a Christianity that didn’t emphasize the Crucifixion and Jesus’ suffering? Brock and Parker write that Universalism helped to reclaim a theology of this-worldly paradise. Are there ways in which paradise is part of your own theology?

Judgment day. Brock and Parker trace the idea of salvation through the Crucifixion to Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century. “Anselm believed God would punish human beings and bar them from heaven unless they had performed sufficient penance to fulfill their debt. . . . Unless it was paid, none could enter heaven; all would go to hell.”

Universalist Hosea Ballou rejected this idea, they write. “Jesus’s Crucifixion did not save us, Ballou taught; Jesus’s embodiment of love and justice did.” How can we embody love and justice, too?

Roots music. In “The Sources Sing” (page 33), Kimberly French describes a new cantata composed by the Rev. Jason Shelton with lyrics by the Rev. Kendyl Gibbons. Each movement of the cantata is inspired by one of the UUA’s Six Sources.

Looking at Unitarian Universalism’s Six Sources (listed on page 34), what music best expresses each Source for you? Does your congregation use music that relies on some Sources more than others?

Contemplation vs. activism. In his review of Philip Gura’s book American Transcendentalism, Jeff Wilson highlights the historic split “between those for whom Transcendentalism was a philosophy of personal introspection and self-reliance, and those for whom it was an ethic of universal brotherhood and active work to improve society.” (“The Self-Reliant and the Social Reformers,” page 57)

This split persists in contemporary Unitarian Universalism. “Both the self-culture and social-reform versions of Transcendentalism have been bequeathed to modern Unitarian Universalism,” Wilson writes. “But we have also inherited the tension between them.”

Where do you see this tension in contemporary Unitarian Universalism? Where would you fall on the continuum between introspection and activism?

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