At the Center of Joy and Peace

Living Your Faith, part 2

The "infirmary model" emphasizes to role of the congregation (and the practices and faith it helps its members develop) in tending to spiritual needs of the soul-weary and the heart-broken. The "gymnasium model" emphasizes the role of the congregation in encouraging the exercise that strengthens our spiritual muscles. The "insurance policy model" just says that if you pay the premiums of participating in your congregation and its faith and practices, then God will smile upon you -- in this life (as in, prosperity theology, especially), the next, or both.

The interplay between "gymnasium" and "insurance policy" runs through the debate in the Christian tradition between between “salvation by works” versus “salvation by faith alone.”

The Catholic tradition has emphasized salvation by faith AND works, highlighting such passages as the Christian Testament’s Epistle of James, chapter 2, which says:
“Show me your faith apart from works, and I by my works will show you my faith. . . . Faith apart from works is barren . . . “Faith [is] brought to completion by works . . . A person is justified by works and not by faith alone. . . . For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” (18-26)
But through the medieval period this idea was gradually corrupted until the primary meaning of “works” was paying money to the Catholic Church. So when Martin Luther in the 16th century rebelled against the Catholic Church, he defended a doctrine called sola fide -- faith alone. Luther was trying to undermine the corruption that had developed around "salvation by works."

Thus, the Protestant tradition has emphasized different passages, primarily from Paul’s epistles. The epistle to the Ephesians, for instance, says:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Both sides can be seen as versions of the insurance policy model. Where “works” is understood as payments and service to the Catholic hierarchy, then works isn’t so much exercise as it is buying insurance. And if “faith alone” is merely an internal act of believing, then, that, too, is a kind of payment in return for which a pay out comes later.

Catholicism has taken steps to correct the corruption of which Martin Luther complained (arguably, it has not completed that task). Catholic theology since Luther has developed a robust understanding of works as having more to do with service to the poor and oppressed and less to do with payment into church coffers. In the 1950s and 60s, Latin American Catholic theologians such as Gustavo GutiĆ©rrez of Peru, Leonardo Boff of Brazil, Juan Luis Segundo of Uruguay, as well as Jon Sobrino of Spain developed Liberation Theology that particularly emphasized social concern for the poor and the political liberation of oppressed peoples. Liberation theology has never been orthodox teaching throughout Catholicism, but it has been influential within and without Catholicism – including on Unitarian Universalism. It provides a grounding for a view of spiritual development through works of justice, and thus for a view of the congregation as providing a sort of spiritual gymnasium for building strong compassion.

LoraKim and I read Gutierrez and Boff in seminary, as most UU seminarians still do. We found liberation theology insightful and inspiring – and congenial with the Unitarian emphasis that our faith must be lived.

From Unitarian Universalist beginnings, faith must be lived. Our slogan has been “deeds, not creeds.”
Ours is not an insurance policy faith. “It matters what you do” – as Laila Ibrahim put it when she wrote the four noble truths of Unitarian Universalism for a Chalice Camp song for UU kids.

Ours is a faith that must be lived, not merely believed, our Unitarian and Universalist theologians and preachers have insisted from our beginnings. Our Rev. Marilyn Sewell writes,
“Not all UUs are inclined by personality or temperament to be activists.
But do UUs need to care about social justice? Yes.” (UU World)
Takiyah Nur Amin, a member of our Church of the Larger Fellowship and the Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism organizing collective, adds,
“Unitarian Universalism as a faith and philosophy calls us to work toward building a sustainable, equitable context for all of us to live and thrive, and there is no getting around that. If you embrace and believe in our Principles—dignity, justice, equity, and compassion—you can’t sit idly by in the absence of those ideals in our society. We are supposed to uphold, as a matter of principle, the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. How does anyone propose we get there if we don’t take action to make it happen? This … is about being a person who lives out their principles in their home, at the job, in their congregation, and anywhere else their life might take them. This faith requires something of us in return for being our ideological home, and that requires that we get up, get out, and build the world we dream about. If you aren’t called to act in, on, and through our Principles, maybe you shouldn’t call yourself a Unitarian Universalist.” (UU World)
Unitarian theologian Paul Rasor notes:
“There are many ways to express and live out the Principles and values we hold dear. Activism is certainly one of them. But not everyone has to take to the streets. . . . At the same time, I hope that those called to other roles could support our activists (as one expression of our values), and that the activists could equally support those who undertake other equally important tasks in our communities.” (UU World)
Our faith prepares and strengthens people to campaign for justice in small and big ways – whether marching in the streets and organizing, or in other ways. Our religious movement, from its beginnings has been devoted to transformation: our own spiritual transformation and the social and political transformation of the world. Our faith calls us to love actively in the face of a broken world – and justice is what love looks like in public.

Faith must be lived. It’s not like an insurance policy. It’s like a gym membership. Here’s your place where you can strengthen the muscles of care and kindness.

And it’s like an infirmary. If you’re sick at heart and soul weary, let’s talk about that. I’m here. Your Journey Groups – and caring people all around you -- are here. Here’s your place where you can get back your strength for care and kindness.

For care and kindness, compassion and love are at the center of a life of joy and peace. Helping each other flourish into such a life is what our mission is all about: nurturing spirituality, fostering compassion, engaging in service. Because that’s the life of joy and peace. We’re here to help each other realize that life.

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This is part 2 of 3 of "Living Your Faith"
See also: Part 1: The Infirmary and the Gym
See next: Part 3: Atoning and Facing the New Year

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