What is a “theology of life”? That is the question that I must answer for my seminary homework this week. Furthermore, we are to put it in the context of how it relates to the ways in which we analyze society and promote social change.
My interpretation of a “theology of life” is similar to that of a “philosophy of life” except for it extends our philosophy to that which we hold sacred. A theology of life incorporates our deepest values. It helps us to determine our vision of the “meaning, structure, and process of humanity’s common life, struggle, and destiny” (Holland and Henriot, p13). What, within humanity’s common life, struggle, and destiny do we hold sacred? Where do we find the divine? And then, how do our values shape our thinking and our actions in relation to our concept of the divine so we may live into our theology?
We are reading a book called “Social Analysis” by authors Joe Holland and Peter Henriot, S.J. It was written in 1980 and is shockingly predictive of this era of political, social, cultural, and ethical discord and conflict that we find ourselves in today. (I’m happy to lend any interested parties- especially my social justice warriors- my copy when I’m done with it!) While the authors offer a complex analysis, I’m going to offer a simplified interpretation as it relates to November’s worship theme of “Abundance” (and perhaps I’ll expand on it more during this Sunday’s sermon).
The authors present us with a dichotomy for the root metaphors that societies are embedded in: destruction or creation. As individuals that compose society, our individual theologies of life help to determine these root metaphors and the path that our society will take. What stories do we tell? Do we view society as being driven by “the machine” or by a creative flow of energy coming from individuals and communities in solidarity with each other?
The current root metaphor driving our Westernized culture is that of the machine. According to the authors, the machine is dissolving our civilization’s spiritual depth, converting people into objects, and it’s energies are increasingly destructive. We have become disconnected from the earth and from each other in the name of “freedom” to do and take what we please, in the name of having “more”, having “abundance”, without limits. The values of the larger culture do not seem to include connection, love, or transformation, as our culture at UUCL does, and therefore, abundance is seen in the context of wealth and material goods.
UUCL is a small- but growing- community, and I believe it is our job to create a mission and a vision that helps us model the ways in which we want the world to be. We have that power. Let us frame this in terms of abundance and think about the following dichotomies that can determine our personal mindsets so we can live into our theology of life:
Scarcity vs. abundance- Do you focus on what you don’t have? Do you feel limited in what you can accomplish? Or, do you believe you already have what you need and you can create a way to happiness? And, what makes you happy? An abundance of things? Or, an abundance of connection and love? What do you hold sacred in your theology of life?
Competition and resentment (to borrow from a popular meme- is it pie?) vs. happiness (for others because no, it’s not pie)- Can you be happy for others rather than resentful? Do you realize that when others gain, it does not take away from you? Do you see in the world around you that there is enough for everyone? And, enough of what? What do we really need in abundance? How do we live in a way that creates our values in abundance?
Fear of change vs. embracing change- Are you fearful of change? Or, do you embrace change as an essential and unavoidable part of life, knowing that change will bring positive outcomes? Won’t change help you get closer to that which you hold sacred?
Destruction/Fragmentation vs. Creativity/Solidarity- Which mindset do you find yourself in? Even if you embrace UUCL’s shared values within your own personal theology of life, it is sometimes difficult to completely shape our mindset into one that automatically thinks in terms of abundance rather than scarcity, and therefore helps us choose actions that head us down the path towards creation rather than destruction. I struggle with it myself on a daily basis. But, I know the closer I align my thoughts with my values and my visions, the more intentional I become about aligning my behavior with my vision, and therefore, the closer I become to being able to make the vision a reality and change our culture.
We start with ourselves. It is no easy task. But as a people of Unitarian Universalist faith, we are called to live out our “theology of life” in everything we do, every day. We are called to connect ourselves with others, to start living a life of abundant love, and to transform this world into a work of art!