Tuesday, 13 March 2012

That multi-faceted jewel

It is often difficult to define what holds a local Unitarian community together let alone our national and international community. To be able to call ourselves a community we must share something.  As a faith community I would suggest that what we share is faith. But what does this mean?  

I recently read something which advertised us as a faith for all beliefs and none.  But does anyone exist without beliefs? Probably not - so is this about a belief in God? Either you believe in God or you don't (however you may describe God) - or you simply don't know. Is this statement saying that we are a faith for theists, agnostics and atheists? In this sense it is not a belief in God which identifies you as a Unitarian. But what does? 

The thing that communities share is the thing that not only includes but it also excludes. If not then we are describing humanity. As a Unitarian community we do not want to be there for everyone whatever their beliefs. There are clearly some beliefs which we do not accept - religious beliefs which we believe are inherently un-Unitarian. Which takes us back to an old chestnut - describing Unitarians by what we don't believe rather than by what we do.

If we are going to become more distinctive as a faith in these changing times we need to focus on what we are. The glue that makes the diversity of Unitarian experience, thought and belief coalesce into a meaningful whole. Whilst not all people who attend Unitarian services will call themselves Unitarians and whilst we have people with dual or multiple allegiances there is a core to our beliefs when we are in community. 

As I was sitting at our District Songs of Praise on Sunday, having been to my own community's Sunday morning service, I felt a real sense of community with people who I knew believed very different things from me. I sang hymns which I would not normally sing. Whilst singing the words I knew were meaningful to others I gave them my own meaning. I found great joy in being able to love what they loved.

As a glass half-full sort of a pragmatist I am aware that I see sun where many see shadows. Whilst I may not agree with people about Jesus' role in my own religious experience I can relate to the meaning that this gives to people's lives.  I can relate to hope, to love and to doing the right thing. I can relate to a sense of something more powerful than me.  I can relate to wanting to show reverence . 

This may not be enough for some people but for me it is what I value in our diverse community.  We try to find shared meaning and understanding - we try to find the ties that bind. We try to see past language and individual belief to the whole - that multi-faceted jewel of which we only glimpse a part.

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