Wednesday, January 14, 2009

lay theological education

I was invited by Douglas Muder of Free and Responsible Search to help him extend a discussion posed by a UUA task force on Lay Theological Education. The question is what do UUs need to "go deeper?" My glib answer is that what we don't need is "theological education." What we need is spiritual experience. We don't need more talking about religion, more discussion, more reading and research. What we need is to do religion: hands on social justice work, pastoral care, prayer and meditation, ritual, personal connection, pilgrimage, worship that is really worshipful.

In a quote from the invitation I see that the task force is off track in thinking that lay people need a kind of "seminary-light" education. Muder writes:

"In the discussions the task force has had among ourselves, we talk a lot about the gap between the kinds of adult ed you'd find at a typical UU church and the far more arduous program of a divinity school. What could we offer the person who wants to go deeper, but can't take years out of his/her life and spend tens of thousands of dollars?"

But "going deeper" doesn't require knowing more, it requires doing more. "Deepening" isn't an intellectual exercise it's an experience. For me, seminary was extremely useful in that it exposed me to a mature theology that I found compatible with my reason and thus gave me permission to explore the spiritual yearnings I already felt. If that's the need a short booklist and some self-study is all that's required.

But I find in my church community that intellectual problems are not the blockade they were for me, and that more or better theology does not move people to become open to spiritual experience. I find in most of our churches the membership is ready for spiritual work and they want help in doing it. Their questions are "How do I get started?" "Where do I go?" "How can worship be more inspiring?" "What could I say in prayer?" "How can I regularly access that experience of God I've had spontaneously a few times?" Reading theology is not going to meet that need.

1 comment:

Erik Resly said...

I just stumbled upon your response to the UU Lay Education debate and have to shout: AMEN! Even as a seminarian with all the theological education possible at my fingertips, I find sustaining spiritual depth not in the pages of a Whitehead or Tillich (although they do help articulate what I may encounter), but in the practical disciplines that help me open up to the divine - in prayer, meditation, fellowship, friendship. I went into seminary wanting to think a lot about religion; a year in, I just want to do it!

Thanks for your insightful response - I really think you're onto something.