It's Not What You Believe, But How

A brown paper grocery bag, standing upright and open

[We suggest that the Worship Leader act out the relevant parts of this message: e.g clutch a bag tightly; let the contents spill; hold it like a "club" for bopping congregants over the head.]

Babies don’t believe anything. Babies aren’t born Buddhists or Baptists or believers of any sort. But soon after we arrive in the world, we start to gather ideas.

We pick up beliefs and ideas about people and animals and families. We collect ideas about stars and comets and how it all got started. We accumulate beliefs about good and bad, right and wrong, what’s healthy and unhealthy, and what is important in life.

All these beliefs, which we get from our parents and playmates, from the TV and from Sunday School, go into our belief bag.

Now, most religions define themselves by what they believe, or by what’s inside the bag.

Christians, for instance, believe in Jesus.

Muslims believe in Allah and in the prophet Mohammed.

Buddhists believe in the Four Noble Truths.

But Unitarian Universalists don’t have just one set of beliefs. What makes us different is the way that we Unitarian Universalists carry our beliefs—because there are different ways of holding your belief bag.

For example, some people hold their bag like this: They clutch it close and make sure the top is tightly sealed, because they don’t want their beliefs exposed to any new ideas that could threaten what’s inside. They’ve got their world wrapped up in a nice, tidy package. And because their bag is all closed up, we call these people close-minded.

On the other hand, some people are just the opposite: they don’t pay much attention at all to what goes into their bag. One idea is a good as another, and if other folks believe it, or if they read it on the internet, or heard it on talk radio, then it must be true. Because they carry their bag in such a sloppy manner, we call these people sloppy thinkers.

And then there are people who carry their bags like this: like a club they use to hit other people. What’s inside their bag may sound very nice and sweet, for instance “I believe in peace and kindness and the Golden Rule.” But they use their bag like a weapon. “You don’t believe in peace? Why you nasty person, shame on you!”

But none of those is the Unitarian Universalist way. Instead, we carry our bags like this: we carry them with the top open, so that new ideas and experiences can get inside, and old beliefs can be tossed aside if needed.

We carry our bags in front of us, so that we can see and examine what goes in, to be sure it makes sense and fits with other things we know. And also so that we can see what our neighbors think, and share our thoughts with others. Above all, we never use our beliefs to beat up or bully other people.

That's what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist. The next time somebody asks you what do the people in your church believe, you can tell them: for Unitarian Universalists, it is less important what you believe than how you hold your beliefs. It’s how you acquire them, how you share them, and above all what you do with them that counts.