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Killer apes, spiritual experiences, and theater

Questions for spiritual reflection and adult group discussions.
By Jane Greer
Spring 2009 2.15.09

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Safety in numbers. Chuck Collins describes the danger of isolationism during difficult economic times. “Even those connected to religious congregations, unions, or civic groups may be embarrassed or ashamed to reach out for help,” he writes. (“Working Together to Create Common Security,” page 14)

What can your congregation do to prevent people from “falling through the cracks?” How might you extend yourself to a friend or neighbor who needs help?

Community theater. In “Serving Dionysus,” Victoria Weinstein describes the physical and spiritual intimacy that results when a group of people puts on a play. “I was pulled, grabbed, shoved, fake-hit, caressed, embraced, caught in a faux faint, and in countless other ways brought into proximity with the bodies of other actors throughout the run,” she writes. “In the theater, community is created not just by good spiritual feelings and experiences but by raw animal trust.” (page 20)

Have you participated in activities that have created this physical and spiritual community? What setting is necessary to remove some of the inhibitions that usually hold people back?

Recognizing the spiritual. Christine Robinson describes the embarassment and discomfort many UUs feel about being openly spiritual in “Imagineers of Soul.” One of the problems, she says, is that some people believe they aren’t spiritual because they haven’t had any “soul-shaking” spiritual experiences. “They need ways to discover the more subtle movings of the Spirit of Life,” she writes. (page 36) She also writes that “very few people are willing to talk about their spiritual lives if they think they will be ridiculed or misunderstood.”

Have you had experiences that you would call spiritual? How could your congregation help people talk more openly about their spiritual lives?

Racial awareness. Kimberly French describes a meeting that the Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed had with a group in Kansas City, in which he asked participants to recall times they had encountered race. “For an hour stories poured forth: of a chance meeting with the descendants of a great-grandfather’s slaves, of being beaten up at an integrated high school, of the church’s own leadership in welcoming Afro-Americans,” she writes. (“True to My Lineage,” page 38)

How have you encountered race?

Inner ape. Anthony David ex­plores different ideas of human nature by looking at our closest animal cousins: gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos. He rejects the “killer ape” theory, which looks at violent behavior in some species of apes and says that human evolution was driven by aggression. Instead, he looks at a broader range of ape be­haviors that point to kindness and empathy, too. “Our job as humans is . . . to draw on the positive aspects of our inner ape so as to make a better world,” he writes. (“Our Inner Ape,” page 30)

Do our religious and ethical ideals need to be rooted in our biology? What can we learn about human nature by looking at other animals?

Natural god. In “Natural Faith,” William R. Murry writes that Darwinian evolution has made it “more difficult to think of God as a personal supernatural being.” He adds that Unitarian Universalism is unique among Western religions because most UUs, even those who believe in God, do not believe in a supernatural realm. (page 29)

Murry writes that evolution “is a religious story because it calls us . . . to see ourselves as part of a great living system.” What place does nature have in your religious life?

Belief and mystery. In “Holding the Center,” Doug Muder reviews two books that maintain a middle ground between fundamentalism and secularism. In The Religious Case Against Belief, James P. Carse argues that one thing binds religious and antireligious zealots: They are believers. “The greatest threat to the believer . . . is not the unbeliever, but the religious,” Muder writes: “the person whose appreciation of mystery causes him or her to see a world larger than the one that the believer has cleaved neatly in half.” (page 57)

Believers, Carse says, are focused on boundaries and opponents, but the truly religious are focused on mystery. Have you been focused on one more than the other at one point in your life?

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