If I showed up at your church on Sunday morning, would you give me a clear path to grow as a human being? What about ways to deepen in my faith, in the practices that connect and ground me?
Most congregations treat spiritual growth like the flu. It’s something you might catch if you stick around long enough. (Ok, I know it’s a gross metaphor, forgive me).
Progressive faith has everything we need to meet the challenges of our age:
It cultivates a deep and abiding connection to the essence of life. It expands our capacity to navigate the body blows of life with resilience. It commits us to dismantling oppression, within ourselves and society. It connects us with ancestors and sources of inspiration that can help guide us in the everyday. It builds relationships across difference. Relationships of mutual respect and care. It empowers us with the tools of ritual, metaphor and language. It plants a vision of belovedness in our hearts.
And yet, most churches school you more on being a member of their church than cultivating deep faith. Leaving these transformative potentials to be more accidential than intentional.
Don’t get me wrong, membership in the congregation is part of spiritual deepening. But it doesn’t encompass it.
The goal of the church is not to build the church. The goal of the church is to be a vehicle for courageous love in the world. Courageous love is a force far greater than any one of us alone. It is the power to transform the world in the shape of justice.
The church a vehicle that helps us get there. Don’t mistake the ride for the journey.
People Join People
The sole reason I started attending a church was because someone invited me. We had relationships, I trusted her judgement that this church would be ‘different’.
The soul factor that kept me coming back was the people. Good worship, impactful justice work, engaging classes — helped but didn’t close the deal.
What kept me coming back to church were the relationships. Friends, Mentors Elders, Cross Cultural and Generational Connections.
People don’t join organizations, people join people.
Progressive people have good reason to be wearing of the term discipleship. Conservative Christians have used it as a front to chastise theological diversity and to demand obedience to violent and discriminatory church teachings. It has baggage.
And yet, what if we thought of ourselves not as disciples of doctrine… not as disciples of a God we don’t believe in… but disciples of courageous love.
Disciples of “the sustaining, creative, transforming power that gives rise to a community of love and justice.” Always learning from its movement and embodied presence. Always discerning our unique and beautiful way to join in the work. Always inviting other to join us in community and movement.
In our individualist culture, it’s too easy to think we can do it by ourselves. Taking on discipleship as our work reminds us we need other people. We can’t sustain ourselves with spiritual connection alone. We need to be in relationships with fellow travelers. Relationships in which our growth as people is central. Where together we listen for the call of that power that gives rise to communities of love and justice.
We need to build a culture of discipleship. Discipleship combines the stickiness of relationship and infuses it with transformative potential.
What if the progressive faithful were MORE equipped to transform society than the Christian-Right?
Progressives value differences. It makes us stronger, more resilient, more creative. Because we each hold a piece of the truth. So, we demand a path spacious enough to sustain a community of radiant difference. Thus, fashioning a culture that invites all people along a journey of spiritual deepening can be daunting. Our paths and lives are unique, how can we have the same path towards deepening?
But, spiritual deepening is not about a specific outcome. It’s not about believing a list of specific tenents. Or experiencing a specific reality. Nor is it about the attainment of one single predefined objective.
Rather, what defines spiritual deepening is the ongoing cultivation of our souls. A pilgrimage of practice with no map for guidance but the constellation of guiding directions. Where each guiding direction invites us to find our way of realizing it in our lives. Each, if we let them, invites us deeper in the spiral dance of self, other and life itself.
The Five Guiding Directions for Progressive Faith
Grow in Self
This guiding direction invites us into practices that expand our capacity to move through life with resilience, self-awareness, empathy, compassion, vulnerability, and purpose. Aiding us in maintaining our sense of self as we deepen in connection — even through conflict — — while being open to others’ perspectives. It is the cultivation of practices that allow us to experience the feeling that we are enough as we are and that we are loved, while always being open to growth.
Ground in Unitarian Universalism
Being a Unitarian Universalist gives us the gift of ancestors. Ancestors who have struggled with life’s persistent questions: What is our purpose? How do we discern what is true, right, or good? Cultivating practices that root us in our living tradition — our history, theology, the lives of those who went before us and walk with us now — — establishes a steading bond, a place of productive friction, inspiration, consolation, and perspective.
Build Beloved Community
We are not for ourselves alone. Practices that cultivate our capacity to realize the Beloved Community enable us to respond to the gift of this life by heeding the call to love the hell out of this world. Beloved Community, or Belovedness, is created each time a person’s inherent worth and dignity are honored. It’s built when the bounty of the earth is shared and ecosystems are steward-ed. It’s liberated when the barriers of racism, sexism, and every kind of oppression are dismantled in our own hearts and uprooted from the very structures of our society.
Experience Mystery and Awe
This one sounds the simplest, but may actually be the most difficult. These are the practices that require us to cultivate a receptive willingness to surrender and embrace the wonder and “miracle” of life. This catalyst to growth does not involve grasping to understand. Instead, it spurs us to experience life’s elemental mystery and the awe of sensing the ultimate interdependence of everything in it: atom, earth, body, mind, spirit, love, community. These grounding and steadying practices allow us to not just stumble into life’s breathtaking moments of awe and mystery, but notice it in the everyday.
Church is the place we practice being human. We can’t do this alone. These are the practices of covenant and the practices that sustain human community. Worshiping Liberally. Serving in Partnership. Connecting for Community, Growing in Spirit. Giving in Gratitude. Growing in faith involves a deepening of belonging and of partnership with the work of the church. It involves companioning others on their journey and ministering to our community. Growing leadership and responsibility in the congregation is an practice of growing in faith.