I wish Unitarian Universalism was a game!

One set of people suggests liberal religion, and Unitarian Universalism particularly, is easy, insincere and a mental or spiritual plaything because of its inherent looseness and high regard for personal autonomy.

Another set of people — that’s us — seems to take that that as a challenge, rather than opportunity to correct our behavior or refute the premise. (Or not care about the challenge.) The conventional answer is that Unitarian Universalism is the most difficult religion (because of all the decisions and so forth) and thus very sincere and serious and so forth. There’s a mountain of sermons like that. Cue the rueful laughter in the background.

This approach should die a quick death. It makes our religion look like a crashing bore, and without the payoff of grand institutions, a mass movement or a corps of spiritually exhalted leaders. It’s all the burden of our Puritan heritage with none of the value.

One of the things that makes religion appealing is its capacity for joy — sometimes spiritual, sometimes material, often unseen or unappreciated by outsiders.  The grinding, scolding earnestness that you so commonly find when two or three Unitarian Universalists are gathered makes me want to hide. Usually hide with friends at General Assembly.

Last night, reading the program guide for this month’s General Assembly was the proximate cause of this blog post. Reading it to stay informed, as I’ll not be there. (For the reduced number of workshop slots, don’t some people show up over and over?) Family comes first; see you in Columbus in 2016. I’m sure there will be good parts, but the earnestness leaps off the page. Even the fun doesn’t sound so fun.

I spent the rest of my evening improving my Esperanto skills. Now, Esperantists are a people who have the earnest-fun balance down pat. A group created well-game-ified lessons on the Duolingo site. I spent the evening taking little game-like tests, tracking my progress, and earning immaterial rewards. The subtext was “this is fun, this is possible, you can do it.” And so I kept doing it.

There’s a lesson in that.

Follow my progress in my Esperanto studies on Duolingo, if you like. And join in.

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Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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