Message from the Minister

— by William Levwood, UUCT Minister

Becoming the Church of the Open Mind

Here at UUCT our mission statement says that we inspire “all to seek freely.”  Easier said than done, when you think about it.

Last Sunday we began reciting new chalice lighting words which include the phrase, “This is the church of the open mind.”  Again, not an easy claim to live up to.  This openness to diverse ideas about the world is foundational to Unitarian Universalism.  I would argue that, for better and for worse, historically this has been our most defining characteristic.  It’s enshrined in the fourth of our Seven Principles, in our commitment to affirming and promoting “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”  And perhaps even better evidence for its primacy is the fact that we draw from multiple sources, from personal experience to various religious traditions to the findings of science to the lives of prophetic people.  The question, I believe, is how do we put this into practice?  How do we live into this commitment?

Thich Nhat Hahn, Vietnamese Buddhist teacher and social justice advocate, presents a criteria for dialogue.  He says that to be able to engage in dialogue we need to be willing to have our minds changed.  Goat Island, a collaborative performance art group based in Chicago emphasize digging deeper when there is disagreement.  In the course of creating a work one member may suggest that a piece begin with a video of a red bird flying through the air against a winter backdrop.  Another member disagrees.  For Goat Island the next part of the process is to ask more questions.  What part of this idea do you not like?  Is it beginning the piece this way?  Could it work somewhere else in the service?  Is it the bird?  Or the flying?  Or the winter landscape?  Asking these questions propels the process forward where a flat no would kill any momentum.

When we encounter ideas, practices, or behaviors that don’t ring true for us, how do we respond?  Do we respond in a way that shuts down dialogue?  Do we respond in ways that interrupt momentum?  Do we respond in ways that tell the other person we’re confident that we’re smarter than they are?  Or do we truly welcome new perspectives?

In my experience life is a creative process.  And in my experience a creative process always benefits by engaging with diverse perspectives.  Almost everything about that suggestion to begin with a video of a red bird flying through the air against a winter backdrop might be on the wrong track.  However, the dialogue that ensues, I guarantee, in almost every case, will lead to more vitality and fresh insights.

Imagine this.  You are talking with a newcomer who shares that they love the music of Mozart.  You happen to hate Mozart’s music.  What happens if you respond, “Oh, I hate Mozart’s music!” What if you also have a little sneer on your face when you say it?  On the other hand, what if you say “Oh, I hate Mozart’s music!,” but with a huge welcoming smile on your face. Or what if you respond by saying, “hmm, I’ve never really been able to get into Mozart’s music, what do you love about it?”  Now the newcomer feels encouraged.  It turns out that what they love about Mozart’s music you also treasure in the music you love.  Or maybe you learn that they love Mozart because their brother, who died tragically a few years ago, loved Mozart.  Or whatever it is.  Now you are building a relationship.  Dare I say you are growing the beloved community.  This happens even though you hate Mozart’s music.  This happens because you realize that how you feel about Mozart’s music isn’t the point.  The point of that moment is to connect with another human being.  The point is to build a relationship, and in so doing, to learn more about another person and more about yourself.

May it be so.

This message published in the January 13, 2019 issue of The Meridian.