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5 Demands of a Progressive Faith by Jude Geiger
I used this updated version of some older writing of mine today for our worship service. James Luther Adams, 5 stones, and adapted by me for the 5 demands of progressive faith. If this is helpful for your own RE, feel free to use it with attribution. We’ve used it before with our youth to great success too. The written piece is under 700 words.
“I’ve been heavily inspired by the writings of James Luther Adams. He’s a mid-20th century theologian, minister, and academic from the US who lived in Germany in the 1930s and was active in the clandestine resistance to the rise of Nazism. We often take our theologians out of context. And as I talk about his thoughts, keep his experience in Germany in mind.
After the breadth of his 40+ years of writing were complete, folks started pulling together bits and pieces of his thinking, jumbled them together, and came up with some pretty helpful combinations. One such is an essay on “The Five Stones.” It’s a metaphor back to David and Goliath. In the Jewish story, a teenager “David” manages to defeat the Giant named Goliath on the field of battle with a sling and five stones. It’s a violent story, but a course of action that prevented two armies from colliding. There was one death instead of thousands. For JLA, the five stones become a metaphor for how we can combat systems of oppression in the world. What are the five things we can do that will unbind the oppressed? In modern language – how do we end Racism, Homophobia, Classism, and Misogyny – to name a few?
What does our liberal faith say about living? I will paraphrase the much longer piece, which itself is an edit of a sort, using language that might be more familiar to us:
- Revelation is not sealed — in the unfolding of the human spirit we continuously experience life in new ways and so too does our experience of truth.
- Relationships between people ought to be free — mutuality and consent are both ethical and theological principles
- We must work toward creating a Beloved Community — our faith inspires us to work in a transformational community that is centered on justice and love. The prophethood of all believers has a corrective effect on systems of oppression
- Each child that’s born is another redeemer — we are all potential sources of good in the world and each has a role to play. Goodness happens in relationships with one another.
- We choose hope — Our resources – both sublime and mundane hold all the capacity we need to transform the world.
This faith statement is central to our UU theology. If you are craving an affirmation or a negation of the nature or existence of God, I can only say again – that’s not how we do theology. Our theology is one of testing and observation. When you have questions of purpose, belief, or values ask yourself – Does this thing or view leave room for the ongoing evolution of the human spirit? Does it draw me closer into a community that is mutually supportive? Does it seek to bring more harmony and more equity in those relationships – even if the work is very difficult? Does it falsely make me forget that I have the capacity to live into this holy work? Does it remind me to live with hope? In short, if a teaching helps you move into the right relationship with individuals or communities, with hope centered in your heart, then it’s theologically sound.
Our theology is both a faith statement and a process of reflection. Our faith teaches us that we can expect to continue to be inspired, to learn from one another, and seek out that spiritual growth. Wherever we freely choose to enter into communities with one another we are doing sacred work – not easy work – not convenient work but holy work. In this, we are obligated to vigilantly transform systems of oppression with acts of love and compassion. We all have the capacity to make this happen, and everything that we need to do so already exists. There is a reason to hope in this world.
These Sources, our principles, these five stones of religious liberalism, make up a religious vocation. We are called, as religious progressive people, to live into these values, to build our character around them, to write their words on the tablets of our hearts – so as the Jewish teaching goes – when our hearts break, these words fall into us.”