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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


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