what in the World?
Jazz theology, mortality’s blessings, and other matters
by Jane Greer
THE SABBATH. The Rev. Amanda Aikman writes about the importance of observing a Sabbath day for complete rest and relaxation and how difficult this is for work-obsessed Americans: “The most challenging thing about Sabbath is that it is useless. Nothing will get done, not a single item will get checked off any list.” (“Relax: The Discipline.”)
Question: Plan a Sabbath day for yourself. What would you do? What would you not do? Can you make this a reality? If not, why?
GOING UP? In a new section of “Reflections,” readers are invited to submit their elevator speeches. Elevator speeches, as UUA President William G. Sinkford explained in his March/April 2003 “Our Calling” column, are “what you’d say when you’re going from the sixth floor to the lobby and somebody asks you, ‘What’s a Unitarian Universalist?’” (“Affirmations.”)
Question: Allow yourself a few minutes to reflect; then, share your elevator speech with someone or write it down so it will stick with you.
EASY LISTENING. Tom Stites describes music’s spiritual power in his essay “Improvisational Faith,” citing the Rev. Suzanne Meyer, who sees music as a gateway “to the religious experience of transcendence, to the ecstatic.”
Question: Have you ever experienced ecstasy listening to music? If so, what music was it and what were the circumstances? Were you at a concert, in a group, alone? Did movement play a role in your enjoyment of the music? Do you think that music is best appreciated with others or in private?
AND ALL THAT JAZZ. In his article on jazz theology, Tom Stites writes that jazz has a pastoral side. “Just listening can help people overcome sadness,” he writes.
Question: Do you find comfort in listening to jazz? If so, which pieces do you turn to and why? What other kinds of music do you find healing?
FREEDOM’S RESPONSIBILITIES. Tom Stites compares Unitarian Universalism to jazz in that each Unitarian Universalist is permitted a great deal of freedom in forming and articulating their own religious beliefs. But it’s not always easy. “Neither jazz nor Unitarian Universalist improvisation is for the faint-hearted. It takes real courage to take responsibility for our own religious lives, both as individuals and as congregations,” he writes. (“Improvisational Faith.”)
Question: Do you think it’s hard work being a Unitarian Universalist? Harder than if you were a member of another denomination? If so, what makes it more difficult?
HUMANITY’S EDGES. Linda Hansen describes the process through which Hecuba, the protagonist in Euripides’ play Hecuba, loses her humanity through a string of tragedies and betrayals. By the end of the play, she has been transformed from a good and moral person into a ruthless killer. Hansen writes, “When that which we most deeply trust—that which is ‘the basis of [our] connectedness to the world’—becomes untrustworthy, we may be unable to help becoming more like a beast than a human.” (“The Journey toward Hope.”)
Question: Do you think it’s possible to lose one’s humanity through a string of adversities? If so, is there anything that can prevent or mitigate this? What qualities enable some people to overcome tremendous tragedy while others are destroyed by it?
NECESSARY OBSTACLES. Linda Hansen writes that only when faced with adversity can humans display the virtues of courage, moderation, and justice. As an example, she uses the story of Odysseus, who insists on returning home to his mortal wife, Penelope, even after dallying with the goddess Calypso on her enchanted island: “In what sense could Odysseus, whose character has been so largely defined by cunning and courage, be courageous on Calypso’s island where there would no longer be anything to struggle against or for?” (“The Journey toward Hope.”)
Question: Do people need to suffer or struggle to have a meaningful life? Have the most meaningful things in your life involved struggle and pain? What are they?
RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE. In his report on the 2003 General Assembly in Boston, Donald E. Skinner describes the renewed debate about religious language, initiated earlier this year when UUA President William G. Sinkford suggested that Unitarian Universalists become more open to the use of traditional religious language. “We need some language that will allow us to capture the possibility of reverence,” Sinkford told the Assembly. “My energy here is not primarily for a revision of our Purposes and Principles, though that may well emerge. My priority is for us to engage with one another about this faith, what it means to us, and how we live it out.” (“A Record-Setting Return to Roots.”)
Question: Does religious or reverent language have a place in Unitarian Universalism? Why or why not? What are the potential losses or gains?