7 Mar

A sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on March 4, 2012

Listen to this sermon here.  For context, we had a family who lost much in the recent tornados share their story. We did a collection for the Red Cross Disaster Relief.

The sermon notes below have some overlap with what I actually preached on Sunday morning (read about what happened at my earlier blog entry), but if you are trying to listen and follow the outline at the same time, you will get lost. Also, I will have to save my story of my Grandmother and her faith as a formative presence in my life for another time.

If you are looking for something more spiritual, listen to the sermon.
If you are looking for something intellectual, the sermon notes section below has more “information.”

Reading from Faith by Sharon Salzberg

The tendency to equate faith with doctrine, and then argue about terminology and concepts, distracts us from what faith is actually about. In my understanding, whether faith is connected to a deity or not, its essence lies in trusting ourselves to discover the deepest truths on which we can rely.

For some this will be a very different approach to faith. Many link faith to narrow-minded belief systems, lack of intelligent examination, or pain at having one’s questions silenced. Faith might evoke images of submission to an external authority. Historically, the idea of faith has been used to slice cleanly between those who belong to a select group and those who do not. To fuel their own embittered agendas, fanatics harness what they call faith to hatred.

I want to invite a new use of the word faith, one that is not associated with dogmatic religious interpretation or divisiveness. I want to encourage delight in the word, to help reclaim faith as fresh, vibrant, intelligent, and librating. This is a faith that emphasizes a foundation of love and respect for ourselves. It is a faith that uncovers our connection to others, rather than designating anyone as separate and apart.

Faith does not require a belief system, and is not necessarily connected to a deity or God, though it doesn’t deny one. This faith is not a commodity we either have or don’t have – it is an inner quality that unfolds as we learn to trust our own deepest experience.

Sermon Notes

What do you think of when you hear the word “Faith”?

1.”Other” Slayer on BtVS
2.George Michael song
3.Profession of faith (list of beliefs)
4.My grandmother (whose faith I admired)

Not Sharon Salzberg’s idea expressed in our reading.

That is changing – book challenges us to broaden our understandings of faith.

Not talking about Fowler’s 6 stages of faith development, which has virtually no correlation with how an individual lives their day to day life.

Faith, according to Salzberg, is what gets us out of bed in the morning. It motivates our actions, it grounds us, it is what we build our lives around.

This felt so amorphous to me, so my first task was to understand what “faith” means. I struggled to understand the similarities and difference between faith, belief, hope and trust.

Finally came to understand: Faith is the ability to act on an informed trust and hope. It is future oriented.

“ability to act” is very important. Faith implies movement, action. In Pali, Hebrew and Latin, faith is actually a verb.
Difference with faith and belief is the forward thinking action oriented. Belief does not necessarily cause you to act on the belief. Faith implies shaping your viewpoint.

Belief more intellectual
Faith is spiritual

Faith is the journey, not the destination. It is for this reason that it is a word that I believe has an important place for Unitarian Universalists, that we not just throw the word out. Because we are a people who understand that it is a religious impulse to search for truth and meaning. This search is a faithful act!

Faith says “I don’t know what will happen on this journey, but I will travel it anyway. Everything may, or may not be alright, but that is besides the point.”

When we don’t have faith, we may not be able to put our foot on the path, to start or continue the journey. We are likely to experience the opposite of faith: despair.

Those who have felt suicidal often feel a loss of hope. But those who complete suicide also often experience a loss of faith. When we have faith, our hope might falter but we trust that we might find hope again. When we lose faith that we might ever feel hope again, we succumb to the despair.

In the movie Hugo, George “Mel-YEZ” filmmaker – lost faith in industry, in himself.
Stuck for a long time. Broken.
When his faith was restored, he resumed his journey.

Faith moves, requires putting one foot in front of another.

But does not ask us to walk blindly: Doubt is an important aspect of faith.

This is what I am talking about when I mention “informed” trust and hope. Faith encourages us to ask questions.

Salzberg calls it “verifying faith”

Anglican Priest Kenneth Leech “True faith can only grow and mature if it includes the elements of paradox and creative doubt. Such doubt is not the enemy of faith but an essential element of it, for faith does not bring the false peace of answered questions and resolved paradoxes.”

This is the kind of faith my grandmother had, that I so admired.

  • “Good Christian woman”
  • Known her share of suffering
  • devoted to her church
  • Religious faith was the cornerstone of her life.

Yet she always questioned. She did not know the answer to many of my questions. Doubt was “like butterflies” flitting around her.

Blind faith, a faith we don’t question, is dangerous. Leads us to trust in things, people, that may harm us or others. Blind faith is unhealthy.

As Unitarian Universalists, we are not asked to have blind faith, but instead are encouraged to doubt, to ask questions.
“To question truly is an answer” we sing in one of our hymns that we will sing later this month.

Popular reading in our hymnal, by Rev. Robert T. Weston (minister of this congregation in the mid 20th century) reads:
Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the attendant of truth. Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery.

This is the kind of faith that I think Unitarian Universals can work with: A faith that can be, but certainly does not have to be, connected with a deity. A faith that asks questions. That causes us to move. Faith as an ability to act on an informed trust and hope, knowing that the way may be hard, and the path unclear but that it is the journey that matters, not the destination.

Faith tradition vs denomination

As we search for truth and meaning;
As we accept one another and encourage each other on our journeys
May we have faith that it is so, and by having faith, may we make it so.

One Response to “faith.”

  1. Karen March 7, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    When I think of faith, I generally relate to the idea of believing in something that hasn’t happened yet. Faith that I can pass this class, or win this race. Faith that we can build this building. If I was talking about Christian faith it might be faith in heaven or the idea of eternal life. I think most people start out a venture with full faith but sometimes circumstances can come up that shake that faith – and sometimes it should be re-examined (as you were mentioning with “blind faith”).

    I’ve been enjoying your blog – thanks for posting!

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