Here is a joke that philosophy majors will get. The philosopher Descartes walks into a fast food restaurant and says, “I’d like a hamburger.” The server asks, “Would you like fries with that?” Descartes says, “”I think not” and then disappears.
Most of us are familiar with Descartes’ maxim, cogito ergo sum, “I think therefore I am.” He took that idea very seriously. Once he sat completely still in his chair for an entire day. When someone asked what he was doing he said, “Thinking.”
The Unitarian Universalist Church has been called, “a thinking person’s church.” While we do not have a monopoly on that it is a defining quality. For this reason some have said, “Unitarian Universalism is more of a philosophy than a religion.” I prefer to say we are a religion grounded in philosophy-the love of wisdom.
“Unitarian Universalism is a 2,000 year old Jewish Reform movement,” proclaims my friend Barry Whittemore. If so, it is grounded in the wisdom tradition that is found in the Bible and beyond. In this tradition the central question about a teaching is not, “Is it Jewish?” or “Is it Christian?” but “Is it wise?” The book of Proverbs contains wisdom from many different cultures and religions cut and pasted and assembled into one book. This book reminds us that we can seek wisdom wherever it may be found anywhere in the world.
Recently a visitor to the church told me her coworker made a less-than-complimentary remark about our faith saying we are a “spiritual salad bar where you can pick and choose what you want.” I told her, “I find I can get a more nutritious meal at a salad bar than at most set menu restaurants.” Similar, the free and responsible search for truth and meaning is about creating a space where we can make healthy wise choices.
I spent part of my sabbatical in Paris where philosophers are known to congregate in cafes rather than churches. Watching Parisian waiters offer impeccable service to talkative diners inspired my cartoon, “Philosophy Creates Jobs”.
On this side of the Atlantic I can rightly claim to have one of those jobs. I am a Unitarian Universalist minister. Indeed it is the work of all the church staff to help facilitate our shared conversation about the meaning of life through music, art, education, social action, community building, worship and coffee hour. Think of the church staff as the waiters in a philosophical café or the attendants at a spiritual salad bar.
As I write I am in my office ready for duty so that we may continue our shared work that nourishes our spirit, helps heal our planet and empowers the human family. The Unitarian Universalist church will always be a thinking persons church. For this reason I predict we will never disappear.
(The Tao of Tennessee is the blog of the Reverend Chris Buice of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church)