by John Monroe, former Student Minister
What does Unitarian Universalism have in common with a popular breakfast dish?
Both are examples of what scientists call emergence. I admit I am taking a little poetic license, but let me explain.
In basic terms, emergence refers to a situation in which something becomes more than the sum of its parts. Generally this happens when the different parts interact — often helped along by an outside catalyst — and generate attributes not found in any of the individual elements. (Want more? You can find a more exhaustive/exhausting explanation at Wikipedia.)
For example, if you stir together milk, butter, sugar and eggs and apply the right amount of heat to the batter — i.e., cook it — something new emerges: A waffle.
That's what our Unitarian Universalist tradition is like. We identify six primary sources of our tradition:
- Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.
- Words and deeds of prophetic women and men, which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.
- Wisdom from the world's religions, which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life.
- Jewish and Christian teachings, which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.
- Humanist teachings, which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
- Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions, which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
But Unitarian Universalism is not just humanist teachings mixed with Jewish and Christian teachings mixed with earth-centered spirituality, and so on. It is more than the sum of its sources. It's something new.
Each source brings its particular gifts, but the full richness of our Unitarian Universalist tradition becomes apparent only when we see how the individual sources interact - how each one plays off the others and what tensions arise.