Some congregations are full of life. The energy fills the room. The warmth is palpable. We feel it in worship. We sense it in coffee hour. There is something about the “buzz.” We see people smile and embrace. They engage one another.
Alas, some congregations—far too many—don’t have it. They feel lifeless, cold, moribund. Why is this? What makes the difference between being full of life and warmth versus being dead and cold?
I think the difference is religion. Really. Religion. The key to the future for every single congregation and for Unitarian Universalism as a movement is whether we can “get religion.” If we “get religion” we will thrive. We will touch lives and change the world. If we don’t, we will decline.
Perhaps I should explain.
We tend to think of religion as a set of beliefs. That is a huge mistake. Religion is much more about what we love than about what we think. This emphasis on belief, especially on “true religion” being about correct belief, is a modern aberration. If we look at religions historically and across cultures, we discover that in fact belief has very little to do with religion. Some religious traditions, like Buddhism, have virtually no beliefs.
Consider the Hebrew tradition that gave rise to Christianity. The prophets in the scriptures show no interest in correct belief. They show a lot of interest in how people behave and whether they are faithful to their covenant.
Actually, the very word “religion” comes from a Latin root that means to tie, to bind. Ultimately what ties us together, what makes us a religion, a united people, is what we love. Religion, our religion, is what we truly care about, what we want to preserve, embrace, and create.
The questions we ask one another are so critically important. If you and I ask each other what we believe, we will get into talking about very heady stuff. We will put forth our beliefs and then support them with evidence and argument. All too often we will end up arguing. I know. I have done more than my share.
However, when we ask one another what we truly love, what we truly value, what we care about more than anything else in life, something amazing happens. We don’t argue. We listen. We connect. We discover that we love and want the same things. We care about one another. We want honesty, depth, and intimacy in our relationships. We want enduring friendships.
We also discover that we realize that we are all in this life together. We want to help heal the world. We want compassion, understanding, and justice to guide our actions and our governments. We want to work together, hand in hand, to build a world beyond exploitation and violence.
When you and I focus on what we love and what we long to create, something almost miraculous happens. We are energized. We form lasting bonds. We become eager to commit ourselves and to work together. We become more generous. We come to care more about “us” and less about “me.”
In other words, when we focus on what we love we “get religion.”
The truth is that we do care deeply about the same things. We share a vision. In our congregations there is love, idealism, and energy waiting to be released. When we release these, when we really let our people go, we transform lives and change the world.
Let’s get religion. I can’t wait to see what we can do together.