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Get religion

We must do three things: get religion, grow leaders, and cross borders.
By Peter Morales
Fall 2011 8.15.11

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Peter Morales (Nancy Pierce)

UUA President Peter Morales. (Nancy Pierce)

At our fiftieth anniversary General Assembly in Charlotte, North Carolina, I told those attending (and watching on the Internet) that if we are to thrive as a religious movement we must do three things: get religion, grow leaders, and cross borders. Each of these three involves deep spiritual and cultural development.

“Grow leaders” is about learning to trust and empower one another. Vital, healthy communities identify, nurture, mentor, and empower leaders. “Cross borders” is about crossing the barriers of culture, ethnicity, and class. These are topics for another column. Here I want to explore what I mean by “get religion.”

I am aware that the term “get religion” can be a bit of a shock for some UUs. We link the term “get religion” with evangelical fundamentalism. We have a long tradition (going all the way back to the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century) of being skeptical of intense religious emotion. And I would be the last person to suggest that we abandon our tradition of placing a high value on reason and learning.

So what do I mean by saying we have to get religion?

First, I believe that we must learn to take ourselves seriously as a religious movement. We are not an alternative to religion. Nor are we religion lite. We, like all religious movements, deal with life’s core struggles and humanity’s most profound questions about life’s meaning. We have a rich tradition that we want to share and pass on to future generations.

Second, we must realize that religion is more about what we feel and experience than about our opinions. Our religion is about what we love passionately, about how we aspire to live, about what moves us at the center of our being. Religion’s source is our experience of being loved, of loving, of belonging, of feeling awe, and of feeling connected to all creation. This has enormous implications. It should guide our worship, our small groups, our religious education, and our public witness.

Third, religion concerns that which links us to one another. Religion is relational because we are relational beings. Radical individualism may have been a liberating force in the more rigid society of the nineteenth century. Today, in a culture that erodes enduring relationships and isolates people, individualism is a prison. I believe it is the spiritual disease of our time. Religion is something we practice together. My religion isn’t about me; it is about us. It is through the practice of our religion that we create community, that we strengthen the bonds that sustain us, and that we build compassionate connection to the wider world.

What happens when a Unitarian Universalist congregation truly “gets religion”? Happily, I have seen this dozens of times in congregations of all sizes and in all parts of the country.

The first thing that happens is that worship becomes powerful. It ministers to our whole being, touching our hearts and our intellects (and even getting us to move our bodies now and then!).

The next thing we see is that members of such a congregation really know one another and deeply love one another. They have shared their stories and their dreams. They have worked together doing important things. They share a vision for the future.

Congregations that get religion have a lot of energy. They have a lot of fun. They delight in each other’s company. They laugh easily. And, yes, they cry together when they deal with a loss.

Imagine what could happen if we all unleashed the compassion, commitment, idealism, creativity, and energy that lives within and among us. Just imagine.


Keep up with UUA President Peter Morales at UUA.org, where you can also find links to his Twitter feed, Facebook page, and YouTube channel.

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