“You can buy anything in this country. Anything you can think of! You can probably buy a left nostril inhaler if you look around long enough. With your state motto on it. Glows in the dark. Anything, man. If you nail together two things that have never been nailed together before, some schmuck will buy it from you.”Call it American innovation or call it American hucksterism.
Peanut butter and jelly – slapping together two things that had never been put together before. It’s a combination you will rarely find anywhere outside America. The smart phone is basically the result of taking a cell phone, and nailing lots of other things to it. I can’t wait until it’s also my garage door opener, my TV remote control, and an electric razor. Is there an ap for that?
Pilgrims and puritans came here seeking a place to build the city of god. Then there were a lot of other Europeans that arrived on these shores because the British, French, and other colonial empires used North America as basically a penal colony. In the 18th-century, 50,000 British convicts were sent to colonial America. The two main strands from Europe that formed American culture were the churchy types who liked rules and the criminal types who really didn’t get along with rules. We’re a nation created from nailing together very different things.
Unitarian Universalists also nail together things that are generally regarded as very different – like diverse beliefs worshiping together as one faith. How about these two: Punk rock and Islam. Surely those haven't been nailed together? They have!
There have been Muslim Punk bands since at least 1979, in fact. I had no idea – until I came across a reference to a 2003 novel, The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight. That novel, I since learned, sparked a Punk Islam lifestyle movement. I want to talk about that today because I thought it was bizarre and strange – yet also compellingly illustrates what we’re all up against.
We’re trying to nail together two things that often seem at odds. The need to do that keeps arising because of the inevitable tendency to do what some call putting God in a box, what we might also call relying on rules and formulas instead of being open in each moment to possibilities we never had previously imagined but which creatively reveal new ways to understand, to love, and to connect.
Unitarian Universalism is all about nailing together individual responsibility and community. We Unitarian Universalists come out of what is called the left wing of the Protestant reformation, or the radical reformation, begun by Martin Luther in 1517. Luther undermined the entrenched priestly hierarchy by proclaiming the priesthood of all believers. Unitarians went a little further, explained our theologian James Luther Adams, and also proclaimed the prophethood of all believers.
Five hundred years ago, Luther was indicating each of us is of the priesthood, no one can make your spiritual truth but you. No one but you can do that work. It's up to you to open yourself to grace, which then takes over. That’s a hard basis to make community upon. Not impossible, but not easy.
The call to individual responsibility militates against the tribal tendency of religion. Emphasis on each individual's responsibility to make or find her own spiritual truth makes community-building more difficult. Nevertheless, I believe that only a community that recognizes each person's divinity and authority has a chance of lasting.
As long as there are external authorities, there will be competition among them and rebellion against them. That doesn't mean that rejecting all religious authority ends the competition and rebellion. It goes on internally. Within each psyche, impulses compete with and rebel against one another.
The divine, spiritual truth, God, the ground of healing and wholeness that we call by many names -- whatever we call reality at its most inclusive -- is too big to fit in the box of what any one authority -- person or doctrine -- decrees.
External authority is one box too small. The internal authority of our own egos is another box too small.
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This is part 1 of 4 of "Boxes Too Small"
Next: Part 2: Authority and Taqwacores