Monday, October 11, 2010

Searching for sacredness

UUSalon's October Big Question is "What is sacred to us?" The question goes on to add a modifier: "so sacred that we claim exclusive rights."

I can't at the moment check sources, but I believe it was Forrest Church who observed that (paraphrasing from memory) "we all have something sacred. It's what we fight with all our being to protect." With that definition in mind, I point to one group's definition of sacred: the Baby Turtle Brigade.

The most common example of sacredness used in this way is of course from the last sentence of the Declaration of Independence, where the signers pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to the principles which led to our founding. Had the results of the war been different it's quite likely that both their lives and fortunes would indeed have been forfeit, although they may well have managed to maintain their honor.

The problem with discussing the sacred is that it's uncomfortable. We all want to believe that we're contributing to something special, but for most people most of the time, the only thing we'll really fight hard for are protecting our loved ones and, probably, looking out for our lifestyle. That is why, in any faith tradition, the few who have made a deeper commitment are our role models - they embody, by their willingness to give themselves to an ideal, something which we wish we were better at doing ourselves. For instance, I find myself most impassioned when in the midst of a discussion, tending toward argument, about either the importance of individual choice as opposed to community norms, or the necessity to look at economic choices realistically and not filtered by our knowledge of "how things ought to be." But I don't do anything except discuss the problems.

Obviously, defining the sacred for each of us individually is hard enough. But this month's question asks what's sacred to UU's - if anything - and not only sacred, but so sacred that we claim it for ourselves exclusively. I'm not sure that there is anything sacred to all UU's except for the idea that what's inside our own heads is ours and that what we believe is just as precious and valueable as what anyone else believes. I do not think, unfortunately, that we are nearly so good at internalizing that what anyone else believes is as precious and valueable as what we believe.

Every UU congregation agrees that there are multiple sources of wisdom, and, implicitly, that there is always more truth out there than we yet know. We are not unique in this; many other religions agree that revelation is not sealed. However, what I think we claim uniquely, even if we are better at it in the abstract than the concrete, is this: We are the only faith group that willingly, even eagerly, searches for other wisdom and truth. Far from having a comfort with what we believe and trying to find ways to make new information fit into our existing structure, we deliberately look for ways to challenge our beliefs so that we can make them better, stronger, wiser, more congruent with truth. If we have something sacred, it is that we are the group, exclusively, that demands a search for truth, no matter where it takes us, no matter what it does to what we already believe. It is the importance of that search, and the right to the tools which allow us to do it, to which we all strive to dedicate our own lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.

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