Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Living Tradition Institute...

might not be a familiar concept to you, if you are a Unitarian Universalist in a different district. It is, as far as I know, unique to the Pacific Northwest District, though there may be similarly shaped opportunities in other districts.

It began as an effort to offer guided theological reflection workshops to interested laypersons from a cluster of local UU congregations. It was the brainchild of four of my colleagues from the North Olympic Ministers group: Jaco and Barbara Wells ten Hove, Liz Stevens, and Bruce Bode, and began last year as a traveling workshop at each of the three congregations represented by their ministers. It was a big enough success that the group decided to offer it again this year.

They invited me to participate to the extent I found possible, given that it takes a good deal of cash and time to get over to the Kitsap/Quimper/Bainbridge area where the three congregations are located. I opted, at least for this year, to participate mainly as a small group facilitator and yesterday I had that opportunity.

I was thrilled, when I advertised the LTI for Whidbey folks, to watch the list of interested participants grow. We ferried eight folks over to the Quimper congregation for a full day of lecture and discussion of the theological questions of Soteriology (salvation/wholeness/preparation for death) and Ontology (the nature of Being/Reality), seen through the lens of Rev. Fred Campbell's concept of the Four Faiths of Liberal Religion.

Rev. Campbell sees Humanism, Naturalism, Mysticism, and Theism to be the four threads which generally comprise most UU congregations, as well as many other liberal congregations. The purpose of the LTI's workshop was to help participants find the thread that most nearly describes their approach to their faith and to discuss with others the aspects of their spiritual journey.

As I facilitated my group (Naturalists), I was struck by the eagerness with which people shared their thoughts and views, not arguing, just speaking their own truth. It seemed to be both reassuring and clarifying for most of the people in the Naturalist group to hear others' thoughts; there was both agreement and disagreement on certain points, particularly when someone shared a more mystical experience but attributed it to "unknowable" when others saw it as "ultimately knowable".

I see myself as a humanistic naturalist, if that makes sense---very grounded in the natural world from whence most of my spiritual experiences arise, but receiving my strength and joy from sharing values with my human community. That is not to say that I am not a mystic, for I have had and continue to have mystical experiences that are grounded in nature; and it is not to say that I am not a theist, for I have an ongoing relationship with the Power beyond human power, which I find in myself as well as outside myself.

My group of congregants, coming home on the ferry, talked about how we might offer these same ideas to our Whidbey congregation in the coming months. What a thrill for a minister, to find my beloved congregants excited about theology and eager for more! What a delight!

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