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The Problem and Promise of Infinite Love: 2014 John Murray Distinguished Lecture

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General Assembly 2014 Event 255

This event was sponsored by the Murray Grove Association.

Program Description

Reaching out to the world in love is not a new concept for Unitarian Universalism. Universalism in particular was dedicated to spreading the gospel of universal salvation to all in need of radical acceptance. Universalist theology and practices have much to teach us as we move toward “Congregations and Beyond.”

Presenters

  • Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley

Transcript

TERASA G COOLEY: So I am the program and strategy officer at the UUA, and what that means is that I'm responsible for overseeing all of our program offices as well as helping us to begin some new strategic initiatives. And I find it to be an incredibly helpful confluence to be able to work at the things that are ongoing which are important to you and your congregations, but also to help those things move forward and look forward in time, and to see where things are going to be going into the future. And so some of you may have read the article that I put into the world recently which helps explain some of that. Tom asked me right before the workshop, is this going to be your same Congregations and Beyond workshop? And actually, it's not. There are going to be some kind of similar concepts.

But one of the things I appreciated about doing this in this kind of way is that initially I was thinking I would do Congregations and Beyond with kind of a theological gloss. And then as I went into it, I realized that I've done that a lot recently, and a lot of you have seen that, and you've read the article. And I also became really intrigued with trying to go deeper into Universalism again.

It was a real pleasure to go back and read these things that I had not read for a really long time and to do theological work again. So I like to think that what I do always stands in a theological place, but I haven't really explicitly had to do that work in a while. So it's been really wonderful for me to go back and look at these things.

And one of the things that I found as I was researching again is that the time of the founding of Universalism—and that's a pretty broad expansive time, around that 50-year period where a lot of that huge upheaval of Universalism happened in the beginning—is remarkably parallel to the culture shifts that we're going through right now. And I found that just really, really interesting, that the kinds of things that prompted what I think of as revolutionary theological thought—which is what Universalism was at the time—are also the kinds of culture changes that we are going through right now, which I think are prompting us to think about things in extremely different kinds of ways.

And I think that Universalism offers us a challenge, a promise to take our message into the world in an entirely new and different way. And I hope that we are up to that challenge, and I hope that some of what you see today will inspire you to move in those directions. I know that I felt dismayed when I read a lot of this history, feeling like we have never begun at all to live up to the promise of Universalism. And it's time for us to do that. And that's a huge legacy that we are carrying, and I think that we're in good position right now to start moving into a new expression of Universalism that could be incredibly helpful and healing for the world that needs it.

So I'm going to talk just a little bit about some of these parallels. And there were a bunch more, but I'm going to try to focus on a few. One is the time of the beginning of Universalism and the time that we are in now are times of great foment and division.

Obviously, there was revolutionary war, there were many other conflicts happening before that both within church and within states. Times when people really had no idea what the ground was that they stood upon in the sense that people were often coming from other countries and other cultures, and also in times of great conflict, and not quite sure who their allegiance laid with. So it was just a time when we could see that people were forced to choose some things—either to participate in the conflictual way, or to instead put out a different vision.

And I think they we're actually in a similar place right now. We have just a little bit of division in our culture. Are you feeling it? I see a hand. And it is a time when people feel forced to make a choice, right?

And it is a time when I think that we have an obligation, theologically and spiritually, to not participate in those false choices. To be able to offer something different besides yes or no, red or blue—any of the polarities which our culture would like to force upon us. And so I think that what's coming out right now in our culture is a great opportunity to move beyond these divisions and to find a different way of expressing what's most important not just to us as Unitarian Universalists, but to the world, to what the world needs now, to quote a much used song.

So another thing that was happening at the time of the beginnings of Universalism was this incredible awareness of the wider world that started to happen with the confluence of cultures. That after a period of—stability would not be the right word, but a place where people were immersed in there cultures for centuries suddenly coming into contact with different cultures in a very visceral kind of way. And so I think that it's no accident that it was on American soil where Universalism really blossomed for that reason.

That people could step away from their cultures and encounter another culture in a way that was not just about let me read about it in a book, not just about—frankly at the time, there were those horrible instances of bring another culture in as a sort of zoo that people could watch or a carnival that people could watch. Instead, people were enabled to be in a closer relationship—not always respectfully, but certainly on the more day to day basis, encountering people who are very different from them culturally. And I think that also—and I'm going to talk in more detail about this—also I think prompted some of our most profound Universalist concepts.

And are we in that kind of place now? Are we in that kind of place where we suddenly understand ourselves as part of a larger whole in a way that just really wasn't in our consciousness as much even 10 years ago, even perhaps five years ago? How many of you have Facebook accounts? A good number of you.

How many of you have friends—whatever that means—outside of the United States? And I bet you didn't have penpals before that, right? There's a way in which we're connected not just in awareness of things happening in the wider world, but also connected.

I do have friends that I've made through Facebook internationally. Laura Greaves is one of them, who is sitting right here, where we first got to know each other literally via Facebook. So there is an encounter that's happening with other cultures now that holds incredible promise for a new blooming of Universalism in a way that we just simply didn't have access to before. And I'm going to talk some more about that in a bit.

There are also these huge intellectual paradigm changes that were happening. So the whole concept of the Enlightenment, the whole concept of being able to—the Unitarian notions of being able to read the Bible and understand it for yourself, and be able to make your own intellectual decisions and your own spiritual decisions, and to understand that you have the right and the ability to do that as an individual was a wildly new concept coming out at the time of the birth of Universalism. And Universalism took that and ran with it in profound ways—not just intellectually in terms of the intellectual centers of the world, not just academically, but in everyday kinds of ways.

People felt empowered to really understand the world around them—obviously through new media, in this case books—to be able to make some of their own decisions about their lives and their values and what was most important to them in a way that was really unprecedented from even 50 years earlier than this period of blossoming of Universalism. And we are in yet another paradigm shift. A Total. Paradigm shift is happening where the very way our brains work is changing. The very way in which we understand and take in information and process meaning in the world is changing right in front of us. And that, too, represents an enormous potential for us to bring a new wave of Universalism into the world.

So these are just a few of the parallels that I witnessed as I was going back through this history. But before I go very much further, I want to talk about what I mean by Universalism. And my esteemed colleague, Stefan Jonasson put together this lovely list of four kind of core principles of Universalism that I want to offer as what I'm trying to put forth here. That whatever else God may or may not be, that God is love. That even if we don't have a belief in a personal God or even a general kind of God or a not very personal God, we can still believe in power of love, and we know that it is bigger than ourselves. Does that resonate?

And that no one of us—no individual and no larger tradition, no line of thought—possess the whole truth, has a complete claim for that truth, but that each grasps a piece of what is true—and sometimes several such pieces—and all of those can be honored as truth. It's true.

That all people are sacred. Whether we call this inner divinity or simply human dignity, that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. And obviously, this goes to our core principle. All are worthy of honor and dignity.

And that is probably the most challenging principle we have as Unitarian Universalists. And I remember Bill Schulz gave a lecture about this a couple years ago, and said when you go around the world and look at what's really happening in the world, can we really say—can we really say that people possess inherent worth and dignity?

And I don't want to live in a world where that's not true. I don't want to live in a world where we don't make that assumption. Whether they act on that or not is, I think, the more important kind of question. That do they have the potential, do they have aptitude, do they have the ability is, I think, a core Universalist principle that we bring forward.

And that the same thing, whatever it might be, awaits all of us. And by this, I mean to say—and I think, Stefan, maybe I'm putting words into Stefan's mouth—- but that we are united in our human destiny. We are united in our destiny, and we have an obligation to help our entire humanity to inhabit a world that is worthy for all of us. Profound implications for this, in that sense.

Does this resonate with you all about a good set of core principles? Thank you, Stefan, for—and they're relatively brief for Stefan, which is great.

[LAUGHTER]

TERASA G COOLEY: So I want to now drill down into some of the core concepts that I want to really celebrate as having potential not only which really brought about the birth of Universalism in a profound way, but also have the potential to bring about something in today's world that I think we can have huge advantage of. So I know I'm supposed to be doing the John Murray lecture, but I love George de Benneville He's my absolute favorite Universalist.

I love John Murray, too, especially that story about the stone. Do you remember the story about the stone where the rock comes flying through the window of the church, breaks the window, and comes right next to him in the pulpit. And he picks up the stone and he says, this argument is weighty, that it is not convincing.

So I like that story, but I get chills every time I think about George de Benneville. And George de Benneville was this incredible itinerant who heads up different theological strands of Universalism through his travels through the world, and in fact was almost beheaded once because of his Universalist tendencies and the ways in which he promoted Universalism. He was also just this incredible mystic, and really believed in the whole experience of what it meant to embody universal love.

And so the great story about him being on a ship as very young man, which is what converted him—he was a very young man. I think he was only 14. Do I have that right? When he was working on a ship that had people from all over the globe working on it, but particularly it had people that were then referred to as Moors—Muslims. And one of them was greatly injured at one point.

And his Muslims companions were so bereft and so upset on behalf of their injured brother that they set up this huge wailing and gnashing of teeth. And de Benneville's first response was, can they just cut the racket? That was his first internal response, was being irritated at these people that would be causing so much noise.

And then something pierced his heart. Something profound pierced his heart and said, how can I look at this expression of love, this expression of deep regard and concern that these people are bringing to their brother and say they are not worthy of being saved? How can I do that? Who could not look at their behavior and say, this is worthy of salvation.

And he was one of the first to really profoundly proclaim that this kind of universal love was available to all and inherent to all, and able to really have access to that. So I love this quote from him. "The spirit of Love will be intensified to Godly proportions when reciprocal love exists between the entire human race and each of its individual members. That love must be based on mutual respect for the differences in color, language, and worship, even as we appreciate and accept with gratitude the differences that tend to unite the male and female of all species. We do not find those differences obstacles to love."

Now I know he wasn't introduced to transgender and all these things yet. But think about how radical this concept is in the late 18th century. Think about how radical that is, and what a profound message that is at a time when people are suddenly encountering other cultures in a completely different way than they had before.

So not a coincidence that these concepts could really take flight at a time when people were encountering one another. And what an important essential message it was at the time. Again, cutting through those polarities that existed and still exist.

Now there are many ways in which what's happening with us technologically and through all kinds of different means are making people of a larger culture, of the entire world in the human endeavor that is life. One of them—this is my absolute favorite—is a movie called Life in a Day. Has anybody seen this movie?

So Ridley Scott, who's a prominent movie director, put out a call for people to say, on this one day—on this one day, I want people all over the world to take a video of something that's important to you and send it to me. Just that one day. And people sent things from all over the world.

And there millions of submissions. And he took all of those snippets—he asked them several general questions, like what do you fear, what do you love, things like that. And he took that, and it took him a year and a half to edit all of this material, and put it together into a movie. This is completely free. You can look at the whole movie. I'm going to just show you the trailer for it. to me, it's an incredible moving example of what happens when we become aware of this larger context.

Can't you just see George de Benneville loving that? So what this kind of signifies to me is that we have this incredible opportunity now to truly understand other cultures in an in-depth way. Even if we never physically visit them, there is an access to understanding that we simply did not have before.

And one of the ways this really came home to me recently was when I attended the International Council of Unitarian and Universalist Communities that was in New York recently, and there were 29 countries represented at the conference, many of whom had just discovered Unitarian Universalism on the web in the previous year or so.

Now, let me just note that they found us on our website. On our website, which is not easy to really understand, right? Sometimes? They found us despite that, and were so compelled by that message.

And I was able to meet people who—for instance somebody in Burundi—who said to me, this is the solution to the horrible violence that's happening in my country. Unitarian Universalism is what I have been looking for my entire life. And he believes that will counter the violence that's happening in his country.

And shouldn't it? Shouldn't it be an answer to that? It's not just something that we have to choose to maybe participate in on a Sunday morning for a few minutes. It should be an answer to the world's problems, and it can be.

But for whatever reason—and I think there are lot of good reasons—we've kind of gotten more and more isolationist over the last 30, 40, 50 years in which we really tend to see Unitarian Universalism only in this particular national context. There's a whole world out there that needs are values. There's a whole world out there that can influence our values, that has something really important to teach us. And we have been not paying so much attention to it. There's a great imperative for our faith in this, too.

So we have some examples of how we're doing this. CLF has a wonderful international presence with both its website and its worship services. How many of you have ever watched the online CLF worship services—Church of the Larger Fellowship Quest for Meaning? They're really quite moving, because you go on and people will say—it starts with chalice lighting, and it has a chat line. So there's a projection going on, and then people are chatting as they're watching this.

And the very first thing is people saying, I'm lighting the chalice in Nigeria, I'm lighting the chalice in Switzerland, I'm lighting the chalice in Kentucky. And every time I watch it, I nearly cry. It's just so moving to me, because then all of a sudden, you have this almost immediate worldwide community that's been founded. And I think that's one of the things that we can move more toward in even more profound ways than just this.

There are many ways in which we're moving toward this with the efforts of College of Social Justice, which is asking people to encounter the separation in our worlds, and to have an experience of moving across boundaries, both within the States and in the whole world, and then understand spiritually what that means. So these are not just service trips. Service is an important part of it.

It's also asking people to grapple spiritually with what it means to cross boundaries. So I commend to you the College of Social Justice in their efforts in moving these ways. And it's fascinating to see how many young people are so drawn to what we're doing with the college.

And there are also so many international efforts that are just fledgling. This is a wonderful little group of—doesn't project very well, does it? It's a little group of young Indonesians. And Indonesian congregation is one that's just come about in the last few years.

And these are some very young people speaking excitedly in front of the chalice. You can't see it terribly well. And there are so many ways in which we can be in relationship to these indigenous moments that are not about us going and planting something there—although I would love to see that inspiration as well—but honoring what is growing up out of a natural desire for people to move in some of these theological directions.

And we also have these international efforts toward peace, which we have always participated in throughout our history, both Unitarians and Universalists. And that's another direction that I think is a real imperative that we have kind of let fall a bit by the wayside. To me, there is so much in this that we have the potential to now engage in because of new technologies. There are so many connections we can create instantaneously that will help us make these kind of connections come to light.

So the other thing I want to talk about is to get back into this kind of paradigm shift and what that means, and how that has influenced both past Universalists and has the potential for us now. And I think the best embodiment of this is, to me, Hosea Ballou, who believed so adamantly that what was being pointed to in the scripture and that what people could be pointed to in the scripture was a fulfillment of life that could be fun. Oh my god, you should read a lot—I went back and read a lot of old Ballou things, and he talks about fun all the time. Now that was a pretty radical concept, right?

People didn't go to church to have fun in those days It was not something that they paid attention to. And it sounds frivolous, but it's not, because what he was talking about was a whole different paradigm of what religion was supposed to be about, and religion could be about people finding fulfillment in life in ways that weren't about saying you have to be perfect.

He had this great argument for almost his entire with Channing about perfectibility. It's just fascinating. And he was like, no, come on, perfectability? Really? Do we have to do this?

Instead, can we not just say of course all of us sin, of course all of us make mistakes, and of course all of us is worthy of redemption. Of course, and can we not celebrate that? Can we not celebrate this?

That's a huge paradigm shift. And oh my god, wouldn't we want to hear that now? Wouldn't we love to talk about how people can actually find some lightness and some spirit. And oh, by the way, there's a way in which that's come about recently.

I know you really wanted to dance, didn't you? You're gonna go there. Yeah. This song has gone crazy viral. Crazy viral because people so desperately need some lightness in their lives. They need some ability to celebrate what it means to be human.

And have we kind of lost some of that in our later religious manifestations? We're so serious. So serious all the time. And of course, there are really serious problems in the world. Of course there are, and we have to take them seriously.

But if we're not able to bring our whole self to those serious problems, if we're not able to be able to say we believe in the potential of life, that we don't just have to see it as all separation and all grief and all disaster. It's an essential spiritual message. It doesn't have to be frivolous. It's really essential. And if we can't bring that into what we're putting out into the world, why would anybody follow us? Why would anybody follow us?

So the other paradigm shift that I think we're going through right now is this question of what I was referring to before, about how our brains are changing. And there's a million different reasons why I believe our brains are changing, and I'm going to show you this video, which is not necessarily—I don't believe in it entirely. I will just say that.

I believe it's making an extreme statement about the potential for what's happening to our brains right now. And I want to counter it a little bit at the end. But I think it gets to the point where we talk about what is our spiritual response going to be to what's happening to our brains.

So the part of this that I totally agree with is this question about attention and this question about learning, and how do we consolidate? How do we make meaning? How do we really make sense of all of this that's happening in front of us in the world at this incredibly rapid pace?

Did you catch that make meaning piece? Isn't that what we do? Isn't that what we're about? Isn't that even more and more essential in today's world, to help people make meaning of the millions of data points that are in front of them every second at a time?

And so the imperative for us is to help people find that space and that time and that ability to focus and that ability to process with one another. It's one of the most essential aspects of community life that we can provide, and that people are craving. People are craving it because they get so caught up in so much of this.

Now the other side of that, to me, is that—did you notice how this video was done? It was done in a way that presumes that your brain has already changed, right? It didn't have a lot of words. It didn't have Nicholas Carr talking. It didn't require you to read the book, right?

It showed you engaging small snippets of ways to understand the information. So I believe that even while this says something incredibly important about what we need to continue to do as people to learn and to make meaning, it also says something important about how we need to communicate into the world. If we're not giving people an understanding of our faith in a way that is kind of similar to that silly set of cartoons, we're not going to get through.

We're not going to get through, because people have now learned only to really pay attention to things when they come at us that way. So I think it's quite ironic that Nicholas Carr is doing this whole statement about things, and yet this is the way in which this message is getting communicated. Do you see where I'm going with this?

So there's two obligations for me in this. One is for us to take a huge step forward and helping people understand how religious community in whatever form that takes is going to help people in this learning, meaning, incredibly important part of being human. Incredibly important part of being human. And we have to change the way we put our message into the world in a way that really gets through that noise.

So I want to ask us to be evangelists again. It's time for us to be evangelists. It's time for us to put this message into a world that so desperately needs all these things I've been talking about.

It's an answer to the separation that we feel in our culture, in our politics, in our relationships, in our way of being in the world. Without that, who would we be? Isn't Universalism something central that is an answer to all of these challenges that I've put in front of you? Can I get an amen?

It's not about going out and saying this is the way you have to do it, and we have the only right answer. It's about letting people know that there is this choice. There is this option. There is this way of being in the world that does not require people to check their brains at the door.

There is this way of being in the world that can help people make meaning of what's in front of them. There is a way of being in the world that holds people in that incredibly hard spiritual task of treating people as though they have inherent worth and dignity. Isn't that something essentially we want to give people the option to see and feel and to experience and to live into? Amen.

And if we don't, what takes its place? What takes its place? Either extremism or a lot of useless information, right?

So I want to go back and honor Mary Chapin—I mean, I'm sorry. Augusta Jane Chapin, who was one of the great, great evangelists of Universalism who helped start how many congregations? Somebody help me. Liz, you probably have that number somewhere in the recesses of your brain.

How many congregations did she—I mean, she was just all over the place, all over the Midwest. And she actually drove herself into an early grave. But her zeal for Universalism was phenomenal. And she was perfectly happy to get out on the road and go and talk to anybody she could find because she so believed in the message that Universalism offered to the world.

And there were thousands of Universalist ministers that did just that. They went from town to town to town because they believed that what they were offering was so important. It was so important. Do we not believe that that's still important? Do we not still see the importance of that?

Let me wait before I show you this? Let me just say that because we're not doing this, because we're not putting that into the world, other kinds of things are taking the place of that. People are craving a kind of spiritual centeredness that they're not finding in traditional religion, but they're finding something like it someplace else.

And I'll show you where else they're finding something like it.

[VIDEO PLAYBACK]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

-They're here.

-Grandma and grandpa

-Merry Christmas.

[MUSIC - "HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS']

[END VIDEO PLAYBACK]

TERASA G COOLEY: Now I know you couldn't see that terribly well, but some of you probably remember this ad from Christmas time. And the whole concept is that this kid is on his iPhone all the time, and everybody thinks he's not doing anything, that he's not interacting with the family, that he's just sitting off in the corner obsessed with his video games or whatever. And it turns out what he's been doing this whole time is filming this wonderful family experience.

Apple is giving a spiritual message into the world, right? That's what they're speaking to. The whole concept of think different, Apple is putting a lot of the same spiritual concepts out in the world that we are trying to do, but they're doing it through asking people to buy products.

Couldn't we offer that spiritual message into the world in some way that doesn't require somebody to buy something to experience it? Here's one of the ways in which we have been able to do some of this. One of our—the Sanctuaries Boston—I mean, the Sanctuaries DC put this video together actually a number of years ago right after—remember the "It's halftime in America" ad that Clint Eastwood did a couple of years ago during the Superbowl where he said it's halftime in America, and we have to step up and do our American patriotic best to hold forth against them—whatever we were supposed to hold forth against.

And instead—well, I'm going to get to that in a minute. Instead, this group was able to put together something that spoke to a very different kind of message.

[VIDEO PLAYBACK]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

MALE SPEAKER: So it's halftime in America, and the chips are down. Ignorance is dividing neighborhoods. Fear is waging wars.

People are out of work, and the most vulnerable among us remain voiceless and forgotten. We're told we have to pull together and fight back. We're told that all that matters now is winning.

Here's the problem. We can no longer afford to see life in terms of winners and losers. It's too dangerous, and it's simply untrue.

Deep in our bones, we know that we're all in this together, that the lot of one is the fate of all. This isn't about the superiority of our country. It's about the strength of our souls.

FEMALE SPEAKER: That's why I'm a Unitarian Universalist. My faith isn't a halftime faith. It's a faith for the whole.

It tells the story of a shared human journey from one sacred source to one sacred destiny. Each of us is elected. All of us are loved beyond belief. And no one is left behind.

It's not an easy story to live, but it's a healing story. It's a saving story. In a culture obsessed with domination, I as a Unitarian Universalist will continue to share a different gospel—the story of cooperation, of people coming together to find that sacredness within each of us, and to live the salvation available to all.

It's a leap of faith, and it's one worth taking. So at halftime, let's prepare for whole time.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

[APPLAUSE]

[END VIDEO PLAYBACK]

TERASA G COOLEY: Isn't that great? Now that's a message that needs to be out in the world, isn't it? Isn't it? And do you see how much of that was Universalism? It was almost an entirely Universalist message.

So I believe so deeply that we are required so put our Universalist message out there. I had to say, that when I was preparing this slide show, I had trouble with putting some of these videos into the structure of the slides, and so I went to an Apple store—the solution to all of my problems. And you may have seen in the article that I did in The World, I talk about every time I go into an Apple Store, I meet another Unitarian Universalist.

And so I was showing him these slides, and all they had were these titles on it. And I was working with one of the Geniuses. And I'm thinking, oh, he probably thinks I'm a religious fanatic, that I've got all this stuff about evangelism, evangelism, evangelism. And he's probably going, oh my god.

I still have that inhibition about, oh, I don't even want to use that word. It feels so uncomfortable. And then by the end of the conversation, we were talking about—he said, oh, I've heard of you guys Unitarian Universalist, and [INAUDIBLE] and he knew all kinds of things about us. Yet another Unitarian Universalist who would never go to a congregation unfortunately.

But at the end, he said, I'm so glad I could help you because you guys have a really important message to put out into the world, and I want to do whatever I can to help. I burst into tears. So all of that inhibition that we have about, oh, we can't do that, is really important to do in the face of this incredible pain in the world.

This is a young girl in Syria standing on the rubble of what once was her home. This is a couple watching a bomb in Iraq a week ago. And this is a new opportunity that we have to heal the divides that have been so, so damaging in our culture.

So I will show you one more way to inspire us to an evangelical place.

[VIDEO PLAYBACK]

[MUSIC—"LOVE REACHES OUT"]

[END VIDEO PLAYBACK]

TERASA G COOLEY: So this was also produced by the Sanctuaries DC specifically for this General Assembly. And this group of people have been brought together by the entrepreneurial efforts Erik Resly, the organizing minister there. And this is a group of people that would never come together otherwise.

They are not necessarily all Unitarian Universalists. Some are Muslims, some are Jewish. Some have no religious affiliation. They come from all different cultures and all different races and all different backgrounds.

And they came together to do this video for us, to inspire us to reach out in the ways that have made such a difference in their lives. So I ask us all to take up that call that is our inheritance. it is our mandate from our Universalist forebears.

[APPLAUSE]

TERASA G COOLEY: So we have about 10 more minutes for questions if people have any. Can you come to the mic please back here and introduce yourselves?

AUDIENCE: Hi, I'm Carolyn [INAUDIBLE], UUA of—

TERASA G COOLEY: Can you go a little closer to the mic. Sorry.

AUDIENCE: OK. I'm from Fairhaven, Massachusetts. And it's just a comment. I'm going to take that video and post it on my Facebook page, and tell people that I was at GA. And I think that has a great appeal for everyone, but particularly young people.

TERASA G COOLEY: Absolutely. Thank you. Yes, it's available for any of that use. Yes?

AUDIENCE: Hi, I'm David Overton from First Unitarian Church of Dallas. And much of what you've covered really resonates with me. It just seems that we are not able to evolve as fast as the world is changing, and the old symbols just aren't working. And somehow, I feel that the UU has a big part of the answer, but i don't think we've really connected the dots on that or found the language to express it. So my question is, are we working on that? Are there ways that we could participate in it?

TERASA G COOLEY: Absolutely. There are many ways we are working on that. And I know that this didn't get fully contextualized when it came out, but the logo is very much about that. It's exactly what we're trying to reach for in what we're trying to do with some of our new branding, which I know is an uncomfortable word for a lot of us.

But it's all about how do we put a clear, different, distinct message into the world? That's what we feel like our mandate at UUA is, is how do we do that in words, in symbols, in images, in all kinds of uses of technology, as well teaching people how to have these conversations? And so we're asking congregations to actually join us in this. At the table—at the booth in front of Congregation Life and in front of Programming Strategy, you're going to see a postcard that invites you as a congregation into a new curriculum that we've just developed that we're looking for beta testers for to figure out how congregations can learn from what we've been trying to start doing, and how we learn from congregations that are doing the same thing. So I invite you, if you want to participate in that testing, to take one of those postcards and get in touch with us.

But it's very much what we're trying to do. And you're right, we haven't quite connected the dots, but we're trying to get there. Thank you.

AUDIENCE: Let's see. There we go. I the enjoyed the presentation. I respect it. I know I'm going to take the message back to my congregation.

By the way, I'm Joanne Shaffer from Amherst, New York, outside of Buffalo. But I just have to say this because I feel it so deeply. I came to Unitarianism, oh, 40 years ago. I was a real humanist, and I'm still a humanist.

And I feel like somebody did a u-turn on me. And I don't hear anything about this anymore. And I feel left behind.

TERASA G COOLEY: Well, thank you for naming that. I think one of the things that I have found inspiring recently is the way in which we've been talking about this is actually reclaiming much of that humanist message, that the dots could be tied together more.

AUDIENCE: Edward Robinson from Virginia Meeting House in Chatham, Massachusetts, at the elbow of Cape Code. And thank you. This is so wonderful to see you who have been such a mover in the last few years on this whole rebranding effort to reaffirm that you really are in touch with the basic essence, to my mind, of our movement.

And the Universalists thought that they were going to go under when they merged with the Unitarians. And to some extent, that really happened. To find us rediscovering our Universalist side, I believe it is the salvation.

I don't think that it's particularly theist. I think if you look at that slide on the four points of Universalism, there's a love win, not whether there's a supernatural being called God. But you believe that love will win. And this is larger than that denomination. Rob Bell, the evangelist, just wrote a book about four years ago called Love Wins.

Do we carry our faith that love will overcome all evil? I happen to be working on a sabbatical project—I started during my sabbatical—a book on love and evil to try to grapple with that particularly thorny question. If anybody has any suggestions and wants to talk to me about it, I invite you.

TERASA G COOLEY: Great. Thanks, Edward.

AUDIENCE: I'm Jimmy McReynolds from Charlottesville, Virginia. And thank you for this presentation. It ties something together for me. I've been exploring something called evolutionary spirituality. And [INAUDIBLE] is one of the people that's lifted up who was a Catholic priest and palenontologist who talked about we're on—he believed that we are on the verge—on the threshold of evolution of consciousness. That our first evolution was the universe unfolding, and biological evolution, and that the third evolution is an evolution of consciousness and that the foundation for that is love. And this ties beautifully into that. So thank you.

TERASA G COOLEY: Thank you.

AUDIENCE: Hello. Holly Tangway, from the Gloucester Church, the first Universalist Church in the country. Had to get the plug in.

TERASA G COOLEY: Yeah.

[APPLAUSE]

AUDIENCE: Very inspiring presentation. People, including me, look for meaning on the internet, go to sites where they can get a quick fix. TED Talks not quite so quick, but still fairly quick. Upworthy pretty quick. Some videos from YouTube pretty quick.

Is Unitarian Universalism is the UUA? But I wish that the Unitarian Universalist Association had one of those websites, one of those places where people went to look for something that was inspiring that then got them to see that inspiring stuff was from us.

TERASA G COOLEY: Yes. Thank you. Actually, that's a great prelude. We are in the process of developing an entirely new kind of website based on a function that's called Drupal I'm sure you all care deeply about what Drupal is But what—Drupal? It's a content management system that allows us to create a lot of different microsites, much of which can be now focused on seekers and provide much more spiritually oriented material.

What we have right now is this huge fire hose of words with incredibly helpful things on it, but no way for people to really navigate among that. And so we're in the midst of redoing—and this is going to come out in the next few weeks—we're redoing WorshipWeb. How many of you use WorshipWeb?

It has a lot of wonderful things called opening words and prayers and closing words. And they're incredibly inspiring, but who's going to find that if you're not looking for something called opening words? So we're retagging all of that, making it available to people if they're interested in finding a reading about, oh, grief or some life event that they're—and that's going to be reorganized and redone in a way that's going to provide much of that. So we're moving much of our things into exactly the direction that you're talking about.

And I just want to show you really quick the thing that I didn't show you before. This is something called the School of Life. This is done in London and in Paris and in Amsterdam and Melbourne. And this was founded by Alain de Botton.

How many of you have seen his—he's an atheist that has brought spiritual content to much of what he's trying to do. And we could call him a Unitarian Universalist quite easily. He would not call himself such.

But he offers this incredible site. And these classes, they're about how to make meaning in life. And there's a real flaw to this system in some ways, that that's exactly what you're talking about that we need to be doing. We need to be putting our things out there in condensible ways that are accessible to people and make sense to people that speak beyond the usual—which is why I think humanism has great potential for us, again—to speak beyond what people's traditional understandings of religion are.

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Last updated on Monday, August 18, 2014.

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