Sunday, January 26, 2014

Just Jane: A Spiritual Odyssey

In the Beginning….

I was born on October 9 1950 at 5:12 a.m. in the Bulloch County Hospital in Statesboro, the second child of J.G. Altman and Christine Rogers Altman.

My parents were truly working class folks who were among those people in the post war years who strived hard to move up in the world.  They had both grown up relatively poor – and both were determined to work hard enough, smart enough, and long enough to BE somebody in town and reach that next level of folks whose children had it better than they did.  And, indeed, we did.

Not that there weren’t difficulties.  My very earliest memories were of the Bulloch County Hospital where I was taken after a tragic accident that left me with a critical head injury.  I was supposed to have died, but the doctors and “the good Lord” saved me.  I had lots of attention at the hospital – and gradually began to talk again and walk again.  The first book that I remember was one that I received in the hospital -- Digger Dan.  Digger Dan was a steam shovel and there was one just like him outside the hospital window, for they were building a new wing at the time.  Perhaps being able to connect that story of Digger Dan with the real life “goings on” at the hospital encouraged me to understand the importance that books could have in my life.  In any case, I did fall in love with books – and it’s been a lifelong love affair. 

When I was taken home, my parents were told that I could not hit my head and I should not get hot.  So we got window units for my bedroom and the main room that I would be in – and that MAIN room was my mom’s little home beauty shop. She moved my high chair in that shop and I remained there with her and all the ladies.  They held me in their laps and interacted with me and read books to me and, indeed, helped to raise me.  Our home with my mom’s shop was right across from the front gates of Georgia Teachers College – now Georgia Southern University.  All of the women whose husbands taught there and the women who  taught there were my mom's customers.   These were educated women who valued reading, writing, and good conversation.  And a once extremely shy toddler bloomed into a gregarious, talkative, curious little girl.  I thank these ladies – a few who are still living – for that experience, and my mom for sharing her work with me. 

When I was five, we moved across town, just one block away from First Baptist Church on Woodrow Avenue.  I loved that split level on Woodrow Avenue.  We lived upstairs and my mom’s bigger beauty shop was downstairs.  The shop was big enough for three or four operators and Mama became the most sought after beautician in town.  The shop provided a place for me to work after school and in the summer.  And I worked diligently, sweeping hair, handing rollers to the operators, booking appointments, and when I was older, doing the payroll. 

Even so—there was plenty of time to play with the neighbors.  My brother Johnny and I had the freedom to roam the neighborhood. When we were a little older, we roamed the town.  We walked or rode our bikes all over Statesboro.  When the Medical Center Pharmacy opened here on the corner of Granade and Grady, it stayed open on Sunday afternoons and welcomed all of us to hang out at the snack bar and read the comics.  Yeah, it was that kind of white middle class childhood like you see in Norman Rockwell paintings.  And for the most part, it was fun for me. 

Sunbeam Girl

Though the Medical Center Pharmacy became a Sunday afternoon hangout – my biggest hangout spot growing up was First Baptist Church.  Since I could easily walk to all the activities, I was there just about any time the doors opened. 

And even if they were not opened for religious activities, my friends and I would have fun exploring various parts generally off limits, which included some swim time in the baptistery and dangerous explorations to the steeple.  For the most part, though, I was a “good” little Baptist, attending Sunbeams (for preschoolers), then Girls’ Auxiliary, children’s choir, plus Sunday School every Sunday morning before church and Training Union in the evening before evening services. I had good Sunday School teachers, for the most part, and believed everything they told me – everything.  During a revival service when I was nine years old, I walked down the aisle to “take Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior” and join the church.  I was baptized later by long time minister J. Robert Smith.  I remember feeling a bit disappointed that all I felt after the baptism was WET – but nevertheless, I was a baptized believer – and vowed I would be a good Christian. 

Teen Troubles

When I was 12 years old, I walked down the aisle again and rededicated my life – as if a 12 year old needed to do that.  But I felt that need to make an even stronger commitment.  And that’s when I got into trouble.  For you see, I became so committed that I decided to really study the Bible – all of the Bible, not just what the Sunday School teachers shared with me.  And of course, there are lots of contradictions in the Bible and lots of really weird things that just didn’t seem too holy to me. 

Soon after – in the 8th grade, we started studying Norse mythology in Mrs. Roach’s English class.  So here I was reading the Bible – and wondering about lots of the strange things I was reading; then also studying Norse mythology – and realizing that these stories had some of the SAME strange happenings as those I found in the Bible; and my little brain cells lit up with the realization that perhaps they were all the same. 

Now I still WANTED to be a good Christian and have that Christian GLOW on my face when I sang in the choir.  (Demonstrate)  My heart wanted to believe. But my mind was pushing back.  Add to that mix the hormones that come at this age, and first love, and first real heartbreak – with no help from prayers to Jesus who was supposed to be my savior.  I cried almost every night my ninth grade year.  

But then I started hanging out with Sammy Johnson and the motorcycle boys and felt a little better.  If you knew me in high school you would have described me as an outgoing, fun-loving, motorcycle riding, boy-loving, kind of wild girl who was also extremely dedicated to her church and her faith.  And all of that was very confusing.  I could not decide whether I was better suited to becoming a Hell’s Angel or a nun.  Seriously, that’s how confused I was.  After a while, I decided that the Hells Angel or Nunnery possibilities weren’t realistic but I was determined that I was going to leave Statesboro.  My senior English teacher had convinced me that I was a good writer, so I decided to apply to UGA’s Henry Grady School of Journalism and have a good time at that party school, then head to Atlanta to work for the Atlanta Journal.  I was going to be "Brenda Starr." 

Then along came Fred.

An Education for Fred and Me

The Page boys (Fred, Vick, and Will) were also active in First Baptist Church.  Fred had finished high school in 1965, and had attended a couple of other schools for post secondary work before being accepted into Georgia Southern College.  I was a senior at Statesboro High and that fall Fred asked me to go with him to the “Starlight Ball” at Georgia Southern.  To get the chance to go to a college ball with a handsome guy was too good to pass up.  I went.  He charmed me, and that was that. 

My acceptance to the Journalism School at UGA arrived in the mail – but by that time, I was too much in love to consider leaving and decided that I would remain in Statesboro and attend Georgia Southern with Fred.  He asked me to marry him and I accepted – thinking that it would still be years away.  We kept moving the date up and up – and “sort of” eloped on June 12, 1968, just days after my high school graduation and the day before I registered for Georgia Southern.  I say “sort of” because I took my parents with us.  After all, I was just 17 – too young to marry even in South Carolina without my parents' signature.   

Fred and I both majored in Elementary Education and took almost all of our classes together. He went from being a poor student to being a good one – and I became not only a better student, but an excellent tutor as well.   We continued our journey together through three degrees at Georgia Southern and our doctorate degrees at Mississippi State.

The Total Woman – NOT!

Fred and I remained active in First Baptist and with the College Student Union while we were students.  Actually that’s when I got my first opportunity to preach in a little chapel that looked kind of like this. 
Shhhhh.   No one was supposed to know.  At that time the Baptist Student Union conducted Sunday Services at the Bulloch County prison camp.  During the summer most of the students left, and Fred and I volunteered to continue the services.  The plan was for him to preach and for me to play the piano.  But he gladly turned the pulpit over to me; and I gladly took it.  We knew this was a special situation and it was not something we could even tell anyone about.  The guys in prison didn’t mind though – and that’s what counted to us. 

Fred was actually pretty open to me being a little different; but he was more concerned about what folks THOUGHT.  We had to at least SEEM to be a traditional couple – and LORD I TRIED!!  I stayed home with our two boys when they were little and I even took a workshop at First Baptist called “The Total Woman.”  Needless to say, I was not their model student.  It just didn’t take with me – and Fred seemed okay with that, as long as we looked traditional enough to others.  They must have approved because they invited Fred to be ordained as a deacon when he was just 27.

My own spiritual growth and development was complicated.  On the outside, it looked terrific.  When in my 20’s, I was President of Baptist Young Women, a regular in the church choir, the pianist for one of the children’s choirs, a teacher of  “Mission Friends” and a Sunday School teacher of 8th grade girls.  But I was secretly continuing the journey I had started as a young teenager of reading, studying, and thinking for myself.  And I was changing.  I was becoming more liberal socially, politically, and of course, theologically.  I would share just enough of my new ideas with folks at church to remain in good standing – but they suspected I was falling out of line.  And my husband knew it. 

Are we there yet?

As young parents, we heard that call from the backseat of the car from our two boys, Fred and John, often when we traveled to Valdosta to visit my husband’s great Aunt or when we traveled to ballgames or for family vacations.  But this refrain is also a good header for this period of my life because I was always moving, working, hurrying, and scurrying. 

I began work as an assistant professor at Georgia Southern in 1979, shortly before my 29th birthday, and resolved to be a full professor by the time I was 40.  No time to waste.  Our children were enrolled in the laboratory school next door, which was awesome for us.  Fred also worked in the College of Education and we continued the partnership we had as students by doing all our research together.  Our primary research was related to the teacher shortage that was growing at that time.  As we “milked our data” for other presentation and publication opportunities, we reported on subgroups according to various categories – teaching disciplines, age, gender, and race.  And that’s when I really began to receive what was a higher calling, because I became committed to working through my research to publicize what had become a devious method for re-segregating the schools; the academic tracking of children from as early as kindergarten. 

By my late thirties, qualitative methods became more acceptable in educational research and I began to interview African American teachers as part of my research.  As I interviewed one teacher who shared her experiences of not only students being tracked but teachers as well, tears came to her eyes and I thought, “I cannot just research this stuff and present and publish this stuff.  That is not enough.  I must actively and openly work to help change the system here at home and beyond.” 

So I came out as an activist for change and haven’t stopped since.  And this, I believe, is where my partnership with my husband became strained.  He was openly supportive of me, but he questioned me on my ideas when we were at home.  He too believed in equality, he said.  But did I also think it was okay for blacks and whites to marry?  “Of course,” I said.  And I added same-gender couples to my approval list as well. 

Fred wasn’t there yet – and he did not like that I “thought differently” than he did.  He said, “We are married, we should think alike if we are going to have a strong marriage.”

I replied, “Well, I don’t see it that way.  Maybe we are like Ying and Yang.  Maybe our differing views complement each other.”  It had been okay in the past with him, but now my differing views were being made more and more public.  The next thing you know, I may be pushing for changes at church.  And YES, I did!   

On August 9, 1992, our pastor preached a sermon indicating that the Bible was an authority and was inerrant. In my Couples Sunday School class the following Sunday I presented information which challenged his message.  I included lists of things in the Bible that it would have been difficult for this moderate group to believe – and I added verses related to women’s subservience to that ridiculous list as well.   I was calling out my pastor from my little Sunday School pulpit.  My public witness door was opened now in the church as well, and I wasn’t going back in.  For I felt that my work with others WAS making a difference! 

Meanwhile, I was being promoted at work and had become the chair of a department that would change as well.  The Department grew from a small group of mostly old men who did no research to a vibrant, diverse group of free-thinking guys and gals who developed a doctoral program that leaned even further to the left than I did.  And I was becoming known at the University for not only being a hard working woman, but as someone who would stand up for faculty and students, for folks in education, and for the oppressed.  Yes, that would later get me in trouble – but for now, I felt like I could fly with those Eagles winning those championships.  I was even back on a motorcycle.  Like Helen Reddy, I was woman – strong and invincible – at least at work.  There was a perfume advertisement that was popular back then with a woman I tried to identify with who sang:  “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never, ever let him forget he’s a man. – Cause I’m a woman!”  Well, I could bring home the bacon – but obviously fell short in other areas. 

Frustrating Forties

Indeed, I was bringing home the bacon but became less and less interested in frying it up in the pan.  We ate a lot of bad fast food – and my younger son blames me for feeding him all those growth hormones via the food we ate.  He says that’s why he and his brother are so big now and it takes more food (and therefore more money) to feed them.  And in terms of keeping my husband happy – boy, did I try!  I shall not share what lengths I went to … but I did try.  However, the failure of me and our boys to fit his idea of that traditional Baptist family drove him into depression.  His only relief seemed to be in running away to Brunswick, where he could always arrange for night classes – with days on the beach and evenings after class receiving warm fuzzies from graduate students enamored with his charm.  That’s how he kept his sanity.  I begged him to see a marriage counselor with me – knowing that his extracurricular activities were not the cause of the problem – but the result.  He refused.  I have often wondered what would have been the result of some good counseling at that time in our lives.  Would it have made a difference?

I kept my sanity through working and through reading.  Although I did read theology, philosophy, and psychology – my biggest revelations came through radical fiction – especially writings of the likes of Tom Robbins.  This was also the phase in my life where I discovered Unitarian Universalism and sent off for the materials – hoping they would come in a plain brown wrapper.  I hid them in a bathroom drawer under the feminine sanitary supplies with my other reading contraband. 

Eventually things at First Baptist got too difficult.  Because of my social justice activities in the community and my push for equality for women and more openness to African Americans in church, I was literally shunned by many.  After one study group meeting in which I encouraged the study of the role of women in the church – “Just study it” I asked, I was confronted by the chairman of the Board of Deacons and by the pastor who demanded that I withdraw the recommendation.  And the pastor basically let me know that he had to follow the power – and that was not me.   I decided to move on – not from my marriage; but from my church which had been such a meaningful part of my life.  But I knew I couldn’t go to UU.  That WOULD have meant the end of my marriage.

I joined Pittman Park United Methodist Church after finding that they had a liberal Sunday School class.  I also joined their choir and began training as a Methodist lay minister.  After getting that certification, I began preaching at some evening services.  This was a good transition for me, my "half-way" house. But the doctrine was still stifling.  Shari Barr was also going to that class but would leave a little early to go to the UU church.  I envied her.  But I had my family to consider.

And we continued for a while to have that “happy family” appearance to the community, while we all struggled at home.  My sons had especially problematic teen and young adult years.  I was constantly in a “fix it” mode for them.  My in-laws were also very sick during this time.  And our lives were getting more depressing.  I told NO ONE about any of this – and instead screamed at the trees at night when I needed an outlet. 

My Awakening!

My religious reading included Buddhism.  But I never thought that I would have the kind of enlightening experience that the Buddha did.  Perhaps mine is not comparable, but I tell you – I did WAKE UP on Christmas day, 1997!

I remember the spot where I was standing. I was holding grandson JD who was almost a year old on my hip.  It was his very first Christmas. But his grandfather wasn’t there.  Fred had left the night before saying he was just too severely depressed to be with us.    And it was Christmas.  And we were all depressed. just fell on me.  I woke up.  And for the first time in my life I realized that we didn’t have to live that way.  And I said it out loud. 

“You know what?  We don’t have to live this way.  We are going to get a divorce.” 

My life changed after that.  I changed everything.   I colored my hair, I re-modeled my house, and I – at last – became a Unitarian Universalist!

I LOVED Unitarian Universalism.  Indeed, I’ve described this religion as my salvation. I was not born with the gift of unquestioning faith like some.  But I was born with the need for religious community.  I found a home here.  Here was a place that I could ask questions, share my doubts, and affirm my commitments to those values that had become so important to me.  I also met Greg here, and what a support he has been on this journey.  And HERE was a place where my gay friends could come and be OUT – Hallelujah!  To use one of my dad’s phrases, I was “in HOG HEAVEN.” 

My Ministerial Journey

Because I had been a lay minister at the Methodist church, I sought to continue some kind of lay ministry at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro.  And folks here were glad to have me fill their pulpit for free and take on other responsibilities.  It wasn’t long before I realized that these activities were becoming more important to me than my job at Georgia Southern.  So I made an appointment with the nice lady at Human Resources to see when it would be possible to retire with full benefits.  And I learned that I could retire in 2005.  So I began to look at the possibility of going to seminary and becoming a REAL minister.  It would not be easy.  But it was possible.  The congregation agreed to be my sponsor and I was accepted by into the modified residency program of Meadville Lombard Theological School – a Unitarian Universalist seminary in Chicago.  With careful planning and an earned sabbatical from Georgia Southern, I would be able to complete most of my coursework and my clinical pastoral counseling unit by the time I retired.  Then I would have only a one year internship remaining.  That was the plan – and it became my reality. 

I jumped through all of UUA’s hoops for preliminary fellowship in March of 2006 and immediately let the folks here at UUFS know.  They had a meeting of the congregation and called me as their minister.  I began on July 1, 2006 – and I’m still here, now in my eighth year.  I’m enjoying the fact that our ministry has become a shared ministry with participation from many of our members and friends.  And last year, I joyfully welcomed that little child who had been on my hip at my awakening – as a full member of this fellowship.   

I have not been without struggles.  We have not been without struggles.  Yet – all in all—I still feel like I’m in a spiritual HOG HEAVEN!

The Building Your Own Theology Course that I’m sharing with others asks for us to consider theological values that have informed our journeys.  I’ll have to think some more on that…, but for now I would probably say “continuous revelation.”    

Perhaps I’ll reveal more later.  But for now --  as fellow Hog Heaven inhabitant Porky Pig says, “That’s All Folks!”

Monday, January 13, 2014

Building Your Own Theology

Sermon delivered on January 12, 2014


From “Song of the Open Road” by Walt Whitman

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, …
Strong and content I travel the open road.
The earth, that is sufficient, …
From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the hold that would hold me.
I inhale great draughts of space, …
I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.
All seems beautiful to me, …
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,
I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,
Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,
Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.
Listen! I will be honest with you,
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes, …
You shall not heap up what is call'd riches,
You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve, …
Allons! the road is before us!
It is safe — I have tried it — my own feet have tried it well — be not detain'd! …
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself?
Will you come travel with me?

Building Your Own Theology

June 6, 1971.  That’s the date I graduated from Georgia Southern University.  We had the ceremony in the then NEW Hanne Fieldhouse.  It was before it was air conditioned and we were sweltering as under those long black robes. 

One of my memories that day was seeing all the faculty in their black caps and gowns and their colorful stoles.  And all of the gowns were black.  Those who had doctorates had black velvet slashes on their sleeves and the front of their robes.  Some are more colorful today – but then they were all black – except for one.  The robe of Vice President – and soon to be President Pope Duncan was different.  Here’s a picture that his daughter Mary Margaret sent to me of her dad in that beautiful robe.   

The velvet on his robe was a beautiful, bold, red.  I was told by my Page in-laws – who knew such things – that Pope Duncan’s robe was different and had red velvet because he had studied theology – the very highest and noblest field of all.  I was impressed.  Dr. Pope Duncan not only had the name of “Pope” – but he had studied GOD – and therefore stood out from everyone else as more noble and special.  The robe created a halo effect and I was always in awe of him – not just because he became a great president for Georgia Southern – but because Pope Duncan was a theologian. 

 Fast forward a professional lifetime to the early 2000’s.  I was a student at Meadville Lombard Theological School working on a Masters of Divinity – and as part of my requirements, I had to take three theology courses.  I was a good student – but this scared me.  I had heard that theology was really difficult.  And the professors at Meadville Lombard made sure that this reputation for theology courses would be upheld.  In the courses that I took, I not only had to read about the most famous of these theologians and understand their principles, I had to also read their own writings – and grapple with them.  Professor Thandeka required us to read all of Augustine’s Confessions, and a good dose of Luther, Calvin, Servetus, and many others.  And it was quite interesting to see how Christian doctrine and dogma came to be.   And though their writing was sometimes dense and difficult, it was nothing like that I was exposed to in my Process Theology course.  We read Whitehead, and Hartshorne, and Cobb and others influenced by them – or attempting to explain them.  Their view of God was much different – a changing, interacting God, co-creating with us.  But I almost felt that these guys felt the need to prove that there was a God – even though they no longer believed in the omnipotent, eternal Creator of all.  So they would create for themselves dense theories and even mathematical formulas proving the existence of their kind of god.  I also took a course in modern liberal theology – so much more refreshing, but still very dense and heady. Words and words and books and books and formulas and models – all trying to fit into my little head so that I too – could say that I understood theology – at least well enough to pass the courses and satisfy UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee.  You all would be proud to know – for what it’s worth – that I aced all of these.

But I couldn’t just put theology back up on the shelf – Meadville Lombard and the UUA made sure that I grappled enough with my own theology that I could articulate it.  And I’ll share more about that the next time I share with you.  But in any case – while I was there, I heard folks talk about a curriculum called, “Building Your Own Theology,” that was written for lay folks to take as a Religious Education class.  And I thought then – I’m going to do that for the folks in Statesboro.  Do you know what this is folks? 

I just got this. 

It’s a round Tuit.

I ordered the books and will begin with a group of you at 6:30 this evening.  Others are still welcome to join us.  But all who come on my Sundays will at least get some of the background that will enable you to Build Your Own Theology

This curriculum is written by Richard Gilbert – and he maintains that we are all theologians.  We may not have Pope Duncan’s robe – but we can all study to understand God or whatever we view as Ultimate Reality.  Gilbert believes it’s important for us to “do theology” because “it has to do with the stuff of human experience, the meaning of being and becoming.” 

How do UUs do theology?  Gilbert suggests that we do it a little differently – not to become more divine (as someone suggested) – but to become more human.  And dang if he doesn’t also have a model to show that UU theology (if there is such a thing) can be understood at three levels.  I think he may have felt compelled to make up this model by other theologians.  I’m going to share it with you now – so that you may have an understanding of Gilbert’s perspective.

Gilbert believes the UU theology -- and I’m quoting here “can be understood at three levels:

  • The operational level, the process by which we do theology in religious community
  • The menu of the diverse theological perspectives from which we may choose
  • The specific credos that result when we build our own theology.

Let’s look at that first one for a minute. 
Are we in a RELIGIOUS Community?  Is Unitarian Universalism a religion?  Some folks prefer to think of us as a “movement” rather than a religion.  And some prefer to think of us a social society or just a justice loving community.  But I do use that term “religion” and lift it up – for more than just tax purposes. 

My colleague, the Rev. Meredith Garmon, puts it this way.  He says: 
"Religion means a sense of transcendence, of interconnection with all things, of touching the holy, either through special sacrament or the profound sense that everything is holy. Religion brings all those things together and integrates them. Sometimes, as in Christianity and Islam, it incorporates doctrine as part of the process, and other times, as in Unitarian Universalism and Buddhism, it doesn’t. Even the religions that don’t have creeds or dogma do have teachings.”

And of course our teachings are our principles!  And Richard Gilbert, the author of the Building Your Own Theology Curriculum, places these at the center of building our own theologies.  And he has a model showing these as the core for this quest.  

Now Gilbert has shortened these to fit into his model – but I’d like for us to look at what our association actually worked on and approved – and by our association – I mean us – or at least our representatives. 

We’ll come back to this model in a minute – but to reinforce this with us today, I’d like for us to read this covenant aloud.

It’s in the front of your hymnal a few pages back – but I’ve also placed the words on this PowerPoint.  Please read with me.


The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.

These are our teachings – our operational values.  But they are not beliefs. While we embrace the seven Unitarian Universalist Principles consensually; their use takes us to different places on the theological spectrum.” 

 After surveying Unitarian Universalists about their beliefs in 1997, the UUA published options that seem to characterize members at that time.  And Gilbert uses these categories in his model as we move out from the core of our principles.  Let’s look back at the model and see what these are.  I’ll also include the description from the UUA publication.

1st – Religious Humanism:  In religious humanism, humanity, while not the measure of all things, is at least the measurer of all things; religion emerges from human experience.  46.1 % chose this category in the 1998 survey.

2nd – Earth / Nature Centered Spirituality:  This natural spirituality recognizes our sense of oneness with the earth and its rhythms.  19% selected this category

3rd – Theism:  This position is perhaps best exemplified in process theology and in these words by Alfred North Whitehead, “God is the binding element in the world.”  13% of the 1998 respondents considered themselves theists. 

4th – Liberal Christianity:  The UU liberal Christian takes biblical religion seriously and finds in the teachings of Jesus the decisive model for religious living.  9.5% of the 1998 respondents labeled their theological perspective as Christian.

5th – Mysticism:  The mystic is one who recognizes there is more to life than eyes can see, ears can hear, nostrils can inhale, hands can touch or words can express.  There is a sense of unity with humanity, the earth, and the cosmos.  6.7% listed this as their theological perspective. 

Now Gilbert realizes that these five categories are imperfect – but he offers them for us to at least see possibilities.  I don’t think 2014 Unitarian Universalists would be satisfied with these categories --- but I think it at least demonstrates Gilbert’s message that our theological beliefs are diverse.  Today we would combine some of these and add more – like scientific naturalism – and theologies grounded in some of the other great world religions plus others which see reality from the perspective of the oppressed or from various gendered perspectives.  And many of us may come up with ideas that don’t fit into any of these categories very well.  But the point is that we don’t leap over work exemplified by the middle circle of Gilbert’s model.    There is a need for us to do our theological homework before or at least AS we tackle the questions in the outer circle, the questions regarding human nature, the nature of ultimate reality, our role in history and evolution, our ethical behavior, and the meanings we create for our lives.  It’s at this level that we will create our own credos so that we can do the work we need to do as a religious people – or if you don’t like the term religious – choose some other term – as a loving and compassionate people. 

Gilbert warns that we fail to do out theological homework at our own peril.  He says:  “Without a deep-rooted theology, this tumultuous world in which we live will be full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.  If we are to harness our deepest spiritual explosions for meaningful living in this world, we need to get our theology straight.  Developing a theology is not an academic exercise; it has to do with the very stuff of our lives.” 

Now – although Gilbert may think you all need to take this Building Your Own Theology RE Class that we are offering, I don’t know that it’s necessary.  It will be interesting and it will be easier to think about these things in a group setting like that.  But Building Your Own Theology is probably something you’ve been doing all your life – whether you’ve called it that or not.  And I do think that “thinking on these things” – at least here on Sunday mornings, will have an effect on your life.  As you determine your own credo, it will help you to harness your convictions to make a difference in the world. 

As I come to the end of this sermon time, you may be feeling like the rabbit in the story for all ages today.  You’ve heard some possibilities and some ideas of mine and others, but probably don’t have any great conclusions to report.  Maybe you’ll just have to go into your rabbit hole and ponder things a bit.  And perhaps you’ll decide to venture out again and continue to explore with us. 

As Whitman says – “Will you come travel with me?” 

And as Tom Bodett says – “We’ll keep the light on for you.”