Skip to main content

The Church Where It's Okay to Ask Questions

My fellow Unitarian Universalists, I'm concerned.

People come to UU congregations from other religious places, including from the theologically conservative. Over and over again, I hear their joy when they learn that in a UU church, yes, really and truly, you can ask questions! It's okay to question the stories they've always been taught were true. It's okay to question whether God exists. It genuinely is okay to question the minister about her sermon last Sunday. (And ... it's okay to come to a different conclusion!)

Increasingly, though, on social media, I see people attacked for asking genuine, non-leading, questions. Not for their commentary or opinions, but just for asking the question.

What do we do about body metaphors? Do we decide that all are off-limits, or is there a clear guide for which we should avoid, and which are okay? We changed Standing on the Side of Love to Side with Love, but I read that this General Assembly is focused on "vision"? 

I want to use this reading, written by a person of color. I am white. What should I do about this painful passage? 

I don't understand all of the controversy about _____. Why isn't it okay to _________?

One of the gifts I received as someone who grew up as a Unitarian Universalist is that I was always encouraged to ask questions. It was a surprise for me (growing up in a conservative area of Texas) to learn that other kids did not get that encouragement. Friends in other religions whispered to me about the questions they would like to ask their pastor. My pastors and religious teachers loved it when I asked questions.

And it's just naturally developed that questions are kind of my thing. When I went through my dark night of the soul, it was in a "big questions" covenant group that I was able to be healed and find my way back. When I prepared for my meeting with the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee, I did it by inviting people on Facebook to ask me questions. For six months, I answered questions 5 days a week.

Name three significant events in the UUA's struggle to embody racial justice.

 A member of your congregation comes to you, upset, to talk. Her mother is dying, and she says "... and I feel like God is punishing me." How do you respond to her?

 Where in our history can you trace each one of the 7 Principles?

Six months of questions. And people argued with me. Debated. Gave me new information and insights. Changed my mind. Confirmed my answer.

A vast community helped me prepare not just for the MFC, but for ministry itself. I was blessed by their questions. A holy blessing. Hey, that doesn't meant that I always enjoyed the process. After my (successful) meeting with the MFC, they asked if I had any comments for them. "This sure was easier than my prep for it!" I said. One panelist asked why. "Because y'all didn't argue with me!"

As my Facebook friends will tell you, I love questions. And ask a lot of them. Questions to help prepare me for a sermon, crowd-sourcing questions, questions just because I'm nosy curious.

What's a superstition you do/don't do?
What is a memory that you enjoy reliving?
"We need not think alike to love alike” has been a core value for UUs. Is it still?

I'm always touched by the vulnerability and courage so many people show as they answer. And the compassion. Frequently, a friend will say to another of my friends (but whom they don't know) words of comfort or support.

And we debate. And discuss. And maybe even sometimes change our minds.

Real change happens in places when people are free to ask questions and engage with the answers. It is tempting to think it can happen in an easy and linear way ... have a question, go to a book, get the answer. DONE.

Does that often happen for you? Well, I obviously keep hoping for that, judging by my shelves sagging under the weight of books. But most of the time, it requires some follow up questions, and discussions, and hearing about the ideas of other people.

We are living in an amazing, confusing, painful, exhilarating time. Mores - societal customs about what's okay -- are changing at the speed of light. You know ... finally changing "at the speed of light." New understandings. New words or usage. And a lot of people are confused. Perplexed. (Sometimes I'm in that group.) Wouldn't it be great if there were a place they could go to try and sort these things out? A place to learn, a place for transformation? A place with a history of encouraging questions?

Asking a question doesn't mean you have the right to demand an answer. You definitely do not have the right to demand that a particular person or group provide an answer.

But we are the religion where it's okay to ask questions.

Next week: "Backless Chairs" Are Not the Answer


Popular posts from this blog

"I Don't Know Who I Am Now" or The Importance of Not Assuming for a While

The next 5 months are probably going to be kinda weird. Uncertainty and anxiety flying all over the place. Duck! And then after that ... it's also going to be kinda weird, but a different kind of weird, as we move into the After Times, and figure out what exactly they're going to be like, and what exactly WE are going to be like.  It is in times like these, that I like to turn to art to help make sense of it all.  I refer, of course, to the art known as the television series Doctor Who. I mean, if we know things are going to be weird, we probably should look at some art that deals with the weird, right? Now's the time to examine Hieronymous Bosch and Marc Chagall. And Doctor Who, that time-traveling, face-shifting hero.  Part of the Doctor Who story (and why it's been able to keep going so long) is that rather than die, the Doctor regenerates, retaining who they are, but with a different face, body, and to a certain extent, a different personality.  Immediately after t

Whole Church Worship

TL;dr -- Our church does "Whole Church Worship," or "All Ages Are Together for the Whole Service, Every Service, Every Week." I've been getting a lot of questions about this. Here are some answers. Preface: For some reason, I occasionally run into people from other churches who want to explain to me all the reasons this won't work at their church. Sure. I'm not trying to talk you into this. You do you, Bub. Whole Church Worship is working at our church, at this time. Live Oak is pretty special, and I don't know that there are many things we do that would work any other place, including our Chili, Chocolate, and Karaoke Party. But that's a post for another day.  Okay, then. So, I first got involved in Whole Church Worship as a result of a fit of pique - my own. This was before I was a minister. At my home congregation, we had "Children's Chapel," and we had reached the point where we couldn't get anyone signed up to coordin

Post-Pandemic and the Expectations of Others

  We have the hope that the covid-19 pandemic's end is in sight ... and it's bringing up a lot of feelings. Not all of them happy .  Many of us are feeling some level of anticipatory anxiety.  The anxiety is rooted in a fear that almost all of us have, in some form or another. The fear that others will make us do something we don't want to do. Whether it is through what can feel like the aggression of "your job depends on this," or the polite friendliness of social obligations, we pre-emptively worry about being dominated.  Look, the pandemic made saying "No" to in-person events super easy. So easy, in fact, that we didn't even have to say no, because no invitations were forthcoming. We didn't have to send regrets, we were all living in a world where responsible people didn't get together. Heck, those of us who before might feel we were being antisocial could now feel self-righteous! A win/win!  I kid, but only a little.  We anticipate that p