Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Into the church like that."

Before class one night, a few of my classmates were discussing prior jobs they'd had.

One woman mentioned working for a political organization with strong ties to Christian churches. You'd know it if I told you the name.

"You worked there?" one of her friends said. "I didn't know you were into the church like that."

"I sure am," she said, her voice a masterful balance of emphatic passion and flawless politeness. He had meant it neutrally and she had taken it that way.

And I found that so interesting as I would be surprised if this person spends as much time as I do at church. Maybe she does. Nothing on her if she doesn't. Most people don't.

But even though I think I am "into the church like that" by any reasonable definition, UUs pretty much never think of themselves that way or put it like that. And if being a UU were a crime, I could surely be convicted, but I doubt I could confess with such grace.



Br. Pax said...

It is tough for those who are not part of the mainstream expression of Christianity to speak with a calm assurance of our faith. I wonder what we are afraid of?

Bill Baar said...

We're estranged. We're a Church for people who feel estranged from the larger American Community. I've taken hits for saying that but I think it's the case for most UUs.

Odd when you think we're one of the most American of Religions along with the Mormons, Christian Scientists, and others from the same era (and New England).

The really unhealthy feature of this story is how many UU's would fail to witness our faith, but then make jokes about Christians in private.

That's a bad kind of estrangement.

Chalicechick said...

In all fairness, I heard a lot more intra-Christian snarking growing up than I've ever heard as a UU.

Christians generally have VERY strong opinions about which other Christians are crazy/misinterpreting the bible/making Christianity look bad/silly and they are not AT ALL shy about making fun though, like UUs, they generally do it in private.

Baptists, Evanglicals, Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholics were particularly popular targets. Mormons didn't even merit making fun of.

who recalls the time that a joke about a Presbyterian becoming a Baptist on his death bed "because I'd rather one of them died than one of us" ended up in the church newsletter.

My parents complained, but it's not like most people did.

Bill Baar said...

I bet your Christians Witness and Joke.

We fail to Witness but then joke.

There's a difference here...

Chalicechick said...

If by "Witnessing," you mean cornering random people and giving them speeches about how they should convert, then you're talking about exactly the sort of behavior the Christians I knew made fun of. Note how evengelicals (who witness more than any other group) were on the list.

If by "witnessing" you mean quietly living your life as an example of your faith as best you can and being willing to talk about it to those interested, but not actively seeking to convert people who don't want to be converted, then I know plenty of UUs who live that way.

Either way, you lose your bet.

And again, I can recall isolated instances of UUs making fun (and several times when other UUs said they were being disrespectful and to cut it out) but I saw a LOT more of that as a Christian.


Bill Baar said...

If by "Witnessing," you mean cornering random people and giving them speeches about how they should convert...

I met the I am response in the confident tone you described in your post.

We don't have a faith one converts too.

We have Churches one joins by signing a book and agreeing to a covenant.

Witnessing those acts of our faith confidently to strangers who ask is something I've never really seen much.

Jokes I hear often.

I don't go search these things out either.

Just my impressions.

Eve said...

I find the definite article interesting.

I'm a UU who spends a lot of time at church. If anyone asks me if I'm "into church like that," I'll readily say yes. But if a non-UU asks me if I'm "into the church like that," I'll hesitate and want to check that we're on the same page about what "the church" means.

Maybe this is related to the fact that I was raised Mormon, where "the church" always meant Mormonism. Yet Protestants seem to use "the Church" to mean all Christendom, interdenominationally, excluding Mormons and certain others also claiming to be Christian.

Chalicechick said...


When I became a UU, I converted. If you don't feel the same way, that's your problem but quit speaking for everyone.

That UUs do feel the same way about their churches but just talk about it in different ways was the point of my post.

Bill Baar said...

If I recall right, when I signed, I was told I didn't have to renounce anything...I did not have to give up any prior beleifs... by signing I wasn't professing any new beliefs...

I don't think anyone can covert to UUism because is there is no creed to convert too.

Splitting hairs maybe, but you are the first UU I've met who has considered joining a UU Church as a conversion.

I'm curious if there are others who feel this way.

Chalicechick said...

I don't see why one needs a creed to convert. My beliefs changed between the time I was Christian and the time I started thinking of myself as a UU. So what if they didn't change to a prescribed creed, but changed to a set of beliefs that merely fit within the allowable range of what UUs believe.*

I don't recall ever being told at any Christian church that I needed to renounce any prior beliefs, so I don't know why it would be worth mentioning that UUs don't ask for that either.

And I suspect that the reason you haven't heard people say they've converted to UUism is because you didn't bother to ask. Googling "Converted to UUism" in quotes gives more than 900 results and that of course doesn't count the people who said something similar a different way.


*I've known Christians who recited the same creeds bt had wildly different interpretations of what those creeds meant, so it's not like even churches WITH creeds care all that much exactly what people believe.

hafidha sofia said...

I've always considered myself a convert to UUism, and have phrased it that way in conversation with other people. Often I say, "I became a UU ..."

PG said...

Extra-awesomely, the internet also offers "how to"s on conversion to UUism. Evidently the utter impossibility of this process is known mainly to Bill Baar.

Bill Baar said...

And I suspect that the reason you haven't heard people say they've converted to UUism is because you didn't bother to ask.

I'm thinking of New UU classes. I haven't been to one in a long time but I can't recall the long standing members who speak at these things ever describing their joining the Church as conversion.

I have asked by the way and posted the question on my blog.

I always thought the first commandment made us renounce past Gods: you shall have no other gods before me.

Whatever Gods you had in the past, take back seats once you covert....

Robin Edgar said...

Being a U*U is a crime and you are hereby convicted. :-)

Bill Baar said...

Are the 900 google hits on UU conversion folks lamating someone leaving a Church for UUism?

When my family joined Geneva, I kept quiet about it in front of my RC mother-in-law because it would seem like a conversion to her, although my wife --and me of course-- did not view it as a conversion.

Anyhow, dig into your evidence a bit perhaps, because any act of leaving has two sides: losing and receiving; so just what perspective are those 900 responses coming from?

This isn't to deny your feeling of conversion as valid. Whatever anyone feels about their joining a UU Church is valid... whether are tradion views a covenant as a conversion is what I'm driving at, and I think the answer there can be found and I think it's NO.

Chalicechick said...

((( Are the 900 google hits on UU conversion folks lamating someone leaving a Church for UUism?))))

I'm not going through whole list, but seven of the first ten links you get when you google that are people talking about themselves.

((( whether are tradion views a covenant as a conversion is what I'm driving at, and I think the answer there can be found and I think it's NO.)))

You can say what you want about "the tradition," there's no way to prove what the "tradition" thinks and I assume you chose that as a source so you could make up its opinion.

But the UUA calls it conversion. For example, the search also drew up a document at UUA.org that said: "UU-ism's most numerous member group are people who have converted to UUism in adulthood, not people who grew up here."


Bill Baar said...

Treadition doesn't think. It's habits. It's a nice feature; sometimes. You don't have to think.

UUA may call us UU converts, but in Church practice my druthers would be to tell prospective members to NOT think of joining our Church as a Conversion.

We'll help you reconcile to your past if it's created problems for you. But as a Church we're not asking you to forsake, or turn away, or give up anything in your past; and in fact would feel unhappy if you thought you had too.

Chalicechick said...

Try not to confuse your druthers with the opinions of an entire religion in the future.

Bill Baar said...

We'll, I'm betting I'm in the majority on it google hits or not.

PG said...

I don't think conversion inherently requires "you to forsake, or turn away, or give up anything in your past." Hinduism recognizes the concept of conversion to the faith (though unlike Christianity and Islam, it decidedly does not endeavor to make converts, and the overwhelming majority of Hindus are born to the faith). Indeed, the more militant and nationalistic of Hindus briefly outlawed missionary activity in a couple of Indian states, and required people to register religious conversions with the government.

But as a religion already composed of multiple traditions, gods and texts, there's generally no need for people to "forsake" those elements of their previous beliefs that provide them comfort as they adopt new Hindu beliefs.

It is a serious mistake to frame all faiths as operating the way the most dominant Western faiths (Islam and Christianity) tend to do. There are literally a billion people on this planet who do not think in those terms. Ecumenical religions deserve the same respect as more doctrinal ones.

This reminds me of a story from India's independence struggle:
Gandhi once declared in response to the claim that he just wanted Hindu rule in India, "I am a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Christian, a Jew, a Parsi." [Parsis are Zoroastrians of Indian descent -- the community has almost vanished.]

Upon hearing this, Jinnah (an independence leader who pushed for Muslims to have their own country, Pakistan) retorted, "Only a Hindu would say that."

ogre said...

a. The act of converting.
b. The state of being converted.
2. A change in which one adopts a new religion, faith, or belief."

Adopts a new religion.

Bill, you're tripping over the fact that we don't operate by the same rules as mainstream Western religious traditions. But that doesn't mean that people don't convert (adopt a new religion) to Unitarian Universalism.

A woman in my congregation observed that "this" (the faith) is her religious home because when her beliefs change, she doesn't have to amputate her religious community and graft on (or graft herself on to) another one. Conversion goes on all the time--into our tradition, and within it (even more, perhaps). Heck, I grew up UU, my beliefs have changed at least a couple times. But I've never adopted another faith--I've never left my identity as a UU, nor my understanding of myself as one.

Trust me, the event that led me to put my feet on the path to UU ministry was absolutely a conversion--and entirely within the faith.

Convert comes from Latin roots meaning "turn around, transform." Not recant or reject or abnegate.

Bill Baar said...

I just have never heard UU's speak much of conversion. Certainly not in Third U, or Unity Temple, or Geneva... and that doesn't mean there isn't someone sitting in a pew next to me who feels that way, it's just that language is not common among UUs in my experience. It's not part of the tradition I see.

This sort of thing is more common: 'It's about inspiration, not conversion'...

Google some other UU Church websites and you'll find conversion a common question. The reply is you don't have too, which doesn't mean you can't feel that way about it either.

Chalicechick said...

As far as I'm concerned you pretty much nailed it when you conceded that the person who sits next to you in the pew may well think of it that way.

Again, plenty of people do judging by my google search results.

My objection was to your repeated statements that "We don't have a faith one converts too."


Bill Baar said...

My objection was to your repeated statements that "We don't have a faith one converts too."

If I get back into membership committee work, I really would discourage new members of thinking of our faith that way. I think UU Tradition is behind me on that one. For whatever that counts for...

Chalicechick said...

As someone who has also done membership work, that's the last thing I would do. I can assure you that your attitude about conversion doesn't make me want to join your church.

Bill Baar said...

I know the committee discourages people from joining quickly. We just had a book signing Sunday and the Minister made a comment about that.

The Church encourages deliberation before signing. It's not a Church for everyone.

Most of the UU Churches around us have very different characteristics, traditions, and just "feels" about them.

If one "converts" to UUism, the varieties of expression of that UUism can be awfully varied in just the Western Suburbs of Chicago. (And then's there's Micah's Porch in the City, Hyde Park...and so on...in Chicago...and then the North Shore which feels totally alien to me.)

One could convert at mine, and feel quite the outsider at another only a few miles away.

Another reason why I find "conversion" a less than helpful concept to describe a group of Churches so varied.

When you become a Roman Catholic, you get a peice of paper that says so, and the practice is pretty standard. You go to a New Parish, you show your papers, you're in.

I'm not sure a UU conversion transferable quite like that...

Chalicechick said...

Not transferable?

So if someone is a UU from another church you don't recognize them as a UU?

Yeah, I don't think I could deal with that. In the UU churches I've joined, all I've had to say was that I was a member of the UU church in the previous city where I've lived and they accepted me as a UU.

Whether or not I fit into the church was up to me. Many religions have liberal and conservative, traditional and modern, high church and low church places of worship. Most of them expect you to figure out if they are the church you want before joining rather than treating you like you can't possibly understand what you want.

I really don't think I would like your church. If someone tried to discourage me from using the term "converted," that would irritate me*, and if someone treated me like my conversion wasn't transferable, I'd head for the door.


*If nothing else, it suggests the sort of extreme discomfort with religious language that usually makes for an annoying worship experience.