Base camp / moutain climbing - photo by Benh LIEU SONG

A Metaphor for Unitarian Universalism?


Yesterday in the UU Growth Lab we started discussing metaphors for Unitarian Universalism and our congregations.  My favorite so far is “a base camp for life’s expedition” shared by Rev. Andrew Pakula.

Why do metaphors matter?   I never thought much about Unitarian Universalist metaphors until hearing a story on NPR’s On the Media.

Earlier this month they aired a story called “Does Metaphorical Framing Really Work?”  In it a  study was shared where two groups of sociologists were given the same data on a hypothetical town facing the problem of a  rising crime rate. Everything presented to the groups was the same except for the metaphor used for crime. For one crime was described as a “beast” for the other a “virus.” The results?  The beast group skewed solutions toward more prisons and incarceration. The virus group skewed toward addressing root causes.

I can see the metaphors we use for Unitarian Universalism having a huge impact on how people conceive of our congregations.  My home congregation use to have a mission statement which used a “safe harbor” metaphor.  Me?  I’m tired of playing it safe.  I want to go on a trek — an amazing journey with others, shelter at night, amazing discussion and planning and mutual support, and unlimited coffee / hot chocolate.

What metaphor would you use to describe our congregations?

Update: Read Rev. Andrew Pakula’s post “Metaphors Matter” (3/17/11)

12 thoughts on “A Metaphor for Unitarian Universalism?”

  1. Strangled. Our congregation is overwhelmingly geriatric and entirely unwilling and unhappy about including the youth anywhere in the service, let alone the wider community. I’ve been shamed out of service for bringing my child in with me, and was then summarily redressed for speaking out against it the following week. I was told I was the one without tolerance.
    Until our church can shift its paradigms and see the youth as valuable assets, it’s going to continue hemorrhaging it’s young families at an alarming rate.

    1. I am so sorry to hear this. It is quite different in our congregation. We have a thriving family ministry and RE program, and children and youth are a valued part of of our worship and community life.

      Not that we haven’t had to work on this. Babies and little ones in worship do get the occasional un-welcoming look, typically from an older member, but 99% of people in worship celebrate our intergenerational community, and we communicate that to our families, and particularly to newcomers.

      One thing we did was to put together a brochure that is in all the pews – it celebrates our integenerational community, but also gives suggestions to families with young kids about being in worship.

      I’d suggest that you engage your family community (or what is left of it), and meet with your ministers and church leaders – don’t go in there alone. Frame the situation in as positive terms as you can (celebrating intergenerational community), but also speak of the likely consequences of not doing so.

      Good luck.

    2. Awful, awful, awful to hear this. We have a more contemplative themed first service (compared to the full-energy second service). I held my 21 month old boy throughout all of first service last Sunday. He was not an angel, but I certainly did NOT get any dirty looks from anyone.

      That’s a congregation on it’s way out. Paul’s idea of going in with family, friends, of different generations is excellent. Good luck – sending positive energy to you.

      1. Thank you both for the encouraging words! I’m putting together something to bring to the church higher ups. Thankfully we have a tightly-knit community of young families that aren’t going anywhere without a fight! We’re doing our best to frame things as positively as we can!

  2. I’ve been collecting analogies and metaphors for some time. Probably have hundreds. Most are yearning in nature. Samples include:

    A ship with too many tourist destinations
    Drowning in our own stability
    A number of logs, that if lighted, would make a great fire
    Church of the holy endowment
    A well-running engine, but with the fuel supply endangered
    A dove that is weighted down by a turtle’s shell
    A prayer that is afraid to call itself a prayer
    A busload of eco-tourists, waiting for sherpas to carry the load
    A healthy bud, ready to blossom with proper nutrients
    A youth that is working to develop his/her potential
    A ship that hasn’t fully let out its sails
    A jack-in-the-box, waiting for someone to spring us
    A boat with people rowing in all directions
    A computer on dial-up when it should be on DSL
    A compass based on political north and not spiritual north
    A tethered heart
    A slot machine. People think they can put in a quarter and get a dollar’s worth back
    There’s one in every crowd, and they’re all here at First Church

    1. Mike, thanks for sharing this sampling from what must be quite a compilation. I’ve also had the bus analogy come up, but one that lets anyone on with the result that people keep yelling for the bus to stop because its going in the wrong direction. Yes, you need to tell people where you’re going as they’re getting on…

  3. One of my all-time favorites is, “A picnic in the back yard, but first you have to go through the living and dining rooms, look at the family photo album, and hear about Uncle Albert’s surgery before getting there.”

    1. I think of my church community simply as home.

      I’m probably one of the most outgoing people in my congregation, particularly in the welcoming of newcomers, and yet I’m really quite a shy person.

      When people ask how I do it, it is simply that I regard my church as home. If I were sitting in my living room in my house, and someone walked through that I didn’t know, well … I’d greet them and make them feel welcome. (If they had been invited in by someone else, of course.)

      Well, it’s the very same thing when I’m at church.

  4. “What metaphor would you use to describe our congregations?”

    Oh dear.

    You shouldn’t ask The Emerson Avenger such a loaded question Peter. . .😉

    Taking a cue from the mother of the Reverend Doctor Forrest Gump, I will hereby provide a metaphor for the congregations of The U*U Movement that is open to both positive and negative interpretations. . .

    “U*U congregations are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. . .”

    1. Hey, they questions need to be asked. Even if they open us up to criticism. As for the choc-u-u-lates, you’re right. Though I’ll stop with that metaphor before I get myself into trouble. As you say, too much room for positive and negative.

      Best,
      Peter

  5. Peter,

    I agree, metaphors are powerful and we should be more intentional about what metaphors we use for Unitarian Universalism.

    I notice that many of the metaphors listed so far are negative, and I wonder about that. And I take it as a challenge to create more positive, life- and faith-filled metaphors for our religion.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  6. One metaphor that resonates at a very deep level to me for many reasons comes from our unofficial UU anthem Spirit of Life…It could perhaps be considered aspirational, but I do see it happening in many moments and places.

    My Unitarian Universalist community is the roots that hold me close and the wings that set me free.

    This resonates with me for many reasons… it gets at what I think is the key issue for us to do well…the unique ability to be a faith of both/and… freedom/responsibility… unity/diversity…, comfort/challenge…dark, rich nurturing/light, bright soaring…connected to our heritage/forward-looking… and on and on.

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