30 December 2005

Adrastos -- Friend's Blog About Post-Katrina New Orleans

A New Orleans family friend has started blogging about his family's post-Katrina experiences as the city rebuilds:

Adrastos -- Politics, Life & Culture (or what passes for it) in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Implicit and Explicit Theologies - Part II

This post is in response to the discussion on Philocrites about Unitarian Universalist theology ("A religion still seeking definition").

As a religious educator who is familiar with Maria Harris' book Fashion Me a People and the related UU essays on current and future trends in religious education found in The Essex Conversations, I really think we need to look at our "implicit curriculum" if we are serious about theology in our congregations.

Our "implicit" or "hidden" curriculum is very close to the unstated theological assumptions behind the way that Unitarian Universalists currently "do church." While complaining about the lack of theology in UU churches, we overlook the existing "theology" that's currently in use every day in our congregations.

The complaints about modern-day Unitarian Universalism lacking a well-formed and articulated theology may be really be complaints about an explicit theology. To me, this is related to the concept of "explicit curriculum":
"Explicit curriculum refers to what is consciously and intentionally presented. It is the official curriculum, or written curriculum, which gives the basic lesson plan to be followed, including objectives, sequence, and materials, what is taught by the teacher, methods used and the learning outcomes for the student."
Contrast this idea with the concepts of "implict curriculum" and "null curriculum":

"Implicit (hidden) curriculum includes the norms and values of the surrounding society, the setting in which the learning occurs (including the decoration and set-up of the area), and the broader environment in which education occurs."

"Null curriculum consists of what is not taught. Consideration must be given to the reasons behind why things are not included in the explicit curriculum or recognized in examination of the implicit curriculum."
Extending these concepts of "explicit," "implicit," and "null" to our theologies, I think we can find some theological questions. We may find some theological history and even some current-day theology being practiced in how we run our churches.
  1. What topics fall into our "null theology" (topics that we avoid in our pulpits and religious education settings)? What does this "null theology" say about us?
  2. In terms of implicit theology, what is our implicit theology (or theologies) in how we view the nature of god and humanity and the relationship between god and humanity?
  3. As an implicit theology, what is our "ecclesiology"? How do we define who is and isn't a member? How do we decide matters in our governance? Where does authority reside in our tradition?
  4. What is our implicit theology of "soteriology"? Do we even have a theology of salvation in modern-day Unitarian Universalism? What does salvation mean for those Unitarian Universalists who are not Christian and are non-theists?
  5. What is our implicit "missiology"? How do we interact with folks who are currently not in our faith tradition?
  6. What is our implicit "eschatology"? What do expect to find as the "final destiny" or "end state" in our tradition?
  7. Finally, what is our implicit "pneumatology"?
Well ... that's plenty for now. Go discuss.

29 December 2005

A Religion Still Seeking Definition -- Explicit and Implicit Theology

On Chris Walton's Philocrites blog (commentary on "Unitarian Universalism, liberal Christianity, American religion, and liberal culture"), there's been an extensive discussion on whether Untarian Universalism has a "religious definition" or "theological core." This discussion can be found here:

A religion still seeking definition

One part of this discussion that is missing is the role of implicit theology. We may not have a shared creed or a shared confession of faith, but we may have an implicit theology that is defined by shared assumptions.

In 2002, Rev. Rebecca Parker spoke at the Liberal Religious Educators' Fall Conference on "theology of religious education." Two useful summaries of Rebecca's theme talk can be found online here:
  • Unitarian Universalist Identity (UU Young Adult Curriculum - see pages 19 - 28 of this PDF document written by Katie Erslev, UU Religious Educator, UU Fellowship of Lafayette CO)
  • The Theology of Religious Education (Summary notes from 2002 Fall Conference - PDF file written by Laurel Amabile, Lifespan RE Consultant, Thomas Jefferson District - UUA)
And you may be able to borrow a copy of the audiotapes of this theme talk from your congregation's religious educator if you want more than just the summary information.

One other online writer has commented on what we share in common in terms of theology and culture:

Children of a Different Tribe (Sharon Hwang Colligan's observations on UU young adult developmental issues)

One section of Sharon's paper talks about Unitarian Univeralists as a "recognizable people" with a shared culture (and perhaps a shared implicit theology):

A recognizable people

Until we acknowledge, describe, and make explicit our implicit theology and shared culture, we will have a very hard time seeking and finding our religious definition.

Unitarian Universalists and Theology - Layperson Responsibilities?

Recently, I've read a bunch of blog and other online commentary on Unitarian Universalist theology:
The question I would ask about all of this: What responsibility do laypersons living in local UU congregations and other UU religious communities have in developing a shared UU theology?

Should we expect professional "public theologians" do this work for laypeople?

Should we expect the religious professionals in our congregations (ministers and non-ordained professional religious educators) to do this work for laypeople?

Writing as a "mostly layperson" (who is a "paid religious professional" for 1-2 training weekend workshops each year), I think we should we be asking ourselves about what our responsibility as laypeople is in jump-starting a theological dialogue.

We can't realistically expecting our over-worked and under-paid congregational ministers and religious educators to jump-start this dialogue for us. Otherwise, we will find ourselves sliding into a consumer's attitude where we expect our paid professionals to provide us with our theology pre-chewed and pre-digested for us in this passive consumer role.

If we want to move ourselves out of this role as passive consumers of religious services, we need to acknowledge that laypeople have an essential role in this theological discussion if we want the discussion to be "deeper and wider" than the current discussion currently is.

We need to do more than passively waiting for "someone" to deliver better preaching and better academic theology to us.

Rather than expecting us to be a passive consumer of religion where the minister delivering the sermon is a form of Sunday morning "entertainment," we need to re-image how we view our clergy where the communication between clergy and layperson is much more interactive.

Instead of the commonly experienced metaphor of "minister = Sunday religious entertainment" and "layperson = passive consumer of religious services," we need a different metaphor. I have some suggestions:
  • "minister = coach or trainer" and "layperson = theological athlete"
  • "minister = ballet teacher" and "layperson = dance student"
  • "minister = writing teacher or editor" and "layperson = writer"
Perhaps you have some suggestions for how we should re-image this interaction between clergy and laity as well?