This year, random fluctuations got my church's Coming of Age class down to one student. (It's usually five or six.) I was the young man's mentor, so my role in the Coming of Age Sunday service was to introduce his credo-reading*. The lack of other credos meant that I had a little extra time, so I decided to use it to say something about Unitarian Universalism in general, and how Coming of Age fits in.
[* If you're unfamiliar with the UU Coming of Age tradition, we have a year-long program that is comparable to what confirmation would be in a Protestant Christian church, with this exception: We're not just teaching the students what UUism is, we're encouraging them to assemble their own ideas about what they believe and don't believe. The culmination of the program is that the students write personal credos -- statements of their own beliefs -- and present them to the congregation.]
One of the old saws about UUism (which tends to get repeated when people describe Coming of Age) is that UUs can "believe whatever we want". Over the years I've heard a number of writers and speakers attack that idea with logic and evidence, but the refutation never sticks. That's why I decided to go after it in a more humorous way, by taking it literally. So instead of a credo ("I believe"), I talked about my volo credere ("I want to believe").
For years, people have been telling me that Unitarian Universalists can believe whatever we want. And I find that notion intriguing, because for as long as I can remember, I have wanted to believe that I can fly.
I want to believe a lot of things about myself. I want to believe that I don't really need to sleep. I want to believe that if the plan depends on me being in two places at the same time, I can do that.
I want to believe things about the world, too. Those problems that you hear so much about -- climate change, poverty, war -- I want to believe that they're not really that bad. I want to believe that it will all be OK. And most of all, I want to believe that none of it is my fault, so no one has a right to expect me to do anything about it.
That's what I want to believe.
I'm sure there are many things that you want to believe too.
And we are Unitarian Universalists. We are free from creeds and dogmas and scriptures and institutional authorities. Who is going to stop us from believing whatever whimsical, irresponsible, and self-serving things we want?
Well, I think already you know the answer to that: We're going to stop ourselves. We are going to use our eyes and our minds and our hearts, and we are going to realize that we can't believe whatever we want, because many of the things we want to believe are just not true.
You see, Unitarian Universalists are not un-disciplined. We are self-disciplined. And that is what we are celebrating today.
The public credo-reading that completes our Coming of Age program is one of the most meaningful and moving rituals in our tradition -- not because of what the credos say, but because of what they represent: young people taking responsibility for their own beliefs, demonstrating that they have the self-discipline not to "believe whatever they want".
What's inspiring about our Coming of Age program is not that we restrain ourselves from telling our young people what they have to believe. The inspiring thing -- what our coming-of-age classes prove year after year, and what I expect D_____ to demonstrate yet again today -- is that no one needs to tell our young people what to believe. They are up to the job.
I think you are about to see what I have been seeing all year as I worked with D____: a young man who is ready to claim his place in a community of self-disciplined people.
And that is truly something to celebrate.
D____, the pulpit is yours.