Friday, October 09, 2009

The Spirited Life

keynote address at the "Conversations Towards a Better World" workshop
at the Eno River UU Fellowship
October 3, 2009

The text of the address is here.

Several months ago I was looking for a phrase to sum up my vision of Unitarian Universalism, something that would state a positive goal rather than be mainly a critique of other religions and other ways of being religious. The phrase I came up with -- I hope to use it as a book title someday -- was "the spirited life".

A spirited life, as I picture it, is a life you can be enthusiastic about, a life with a great deal of meaningful experience. I intended to reclaim the word spirit to refer to a kind of experience, rather than to some kind of supernatural being.

Anyway, for months I've been looking for the right opportunity to premier the phrase, and last weekend I finally got one: I was invited to speak at a workshop for UU social activists at Eno River.

I decided to focus my talk on the people who weren't in the audience, asking the question: Why aren't more UUs involved in social action, and how can we reach out to them? I wanted to argue against one vision of who the non-activists are (i.e., that they are the spiritual-growth UUs), and claim instead that they are more likely to be stressed and overwhelmed people who can't imagine how they would start either a spiritual practice or a social-action project.

There are two main images in the talk. The first is of the pendulum. It symbolizes a balanced, healthy kind of UUism, in which inner work and outer work each have their season. I give the example of Thoreau, who wrote both Walden and Civil Disobedience.

The second image is of the UUs I worry about: the stopped-pendulum people. Activists may think the problem is that they're trying to be spiritual, but they're not actually doing either inner work or outer work. And if they could get started doing either one, chances are that the other would follow.

My suggestion for how to approach them is first what not to do: Don't put more pressure on them. Instead, the need a "message of salvation" -- a hopeful message that there is a better way to live. That way is the spirited life.

If that makes sense to you, great. If not, please don't trash it until you read the talk.


Keneth said...

If not, please don't trash it until you read the talk.

Aw, Doug, you take all the fun out of reading blogs.


I look forward to reading the talk.

Kenneth said...

Arrgghh! Typo'd my very own name. The ignomy.

kimc said...


Can we condense it into an elevator speech? :-)

Peggy Payne said...

I discovered your blog just a few weeks ago, and then when I checked in today saw that you'd just been preaching in my neighborhood.

As one of those people who wasn't there and who has both a cluttered to-do list and a very reluctant meditation practice, I heard you. Will do some thinking on this matter. And maybe more.