Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology


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The inquisitive “can you tell me a little about your faith?” and Questioning the Questioner.

This version of THE QUESTION “Just what is Unitarian Universalism?” is my favorite. It often comes from someone genuinely interested who is trying to understand. It is not an invitation to an evangelical answer however, as in my experience it comes just as often from those deeply committed to a faith tradition as from those who are seeking. I have been asked this version of THE QUESTION by Baptist ministers, by Catholic Priests, by committed Evangelicals, by Buddhist monks, and quite often by the Wiccan recruits I work with at the Great Lakes Naval Recruit Training Center.

There are three questions I ask in response to this version of THE QUESTION, often after inviting the questioner to sit down with me. First, I ask if they would like to ask me questions and have me answer them, or if they would like to hear me talk for a little while and ask questions after. People engage differently, and it is good to find out before hand how the questioner engages with ideas and thoughts. It also lets the questioner know (and reminds myself) that they are in control, and I am going to be responsive to them.

The second question I ask is if they are willing to tell me a little about their faith, either before or after. Sometimes I specifically ask for at least a little bit before, so I can have an idea how to frame my introduction to Unitarian Universalism and to liberal faith. I have also found that people are more willing to engage openly with someone about religion and faith if they know that they will be given an opportunity to share their faith as well. However, as I will explain later, I always try to make sure that I share first when I’m speaking with Evangelical Christians.

The third question I ask is the one I mentioned in the last article, whether they are specifically asking me about Unitarian Universalism as a faith movement, or about my own personal beliefs about life and God, or both. It is amazing how often asking both questions of my questioner opens the door to share both, because the idea that the answers can be different is exotic, to say the least.

Though many do not realize it, by asking these questions of my questioner, I have already begun to introduce them to Unitarian Universalism in several different ways. First, there is the obvious (and somewhat stereotypical) UU response to a question with other questions. Second, it is the recognition that each of us discovers and understands spiritual truths in different ways, and that in our journey together we must learn to respect how others learn and grow. I try to subtly imply this by placing the power of how I will answer the question in the hands of the questioner.

Third, I try to subtly validate their faith by asking that they share some of their own thoughts and beliefs with me, as they have asked me to do with them. This is not just for practical reasons of knowing how to answer THE QUESTION. It introduces to them that in this faith your thoughts, questions, ideas, and journey are valued, and you can share your beliefs and stories with us. The uniqueness of who you are and what experiences shaped you is a vital part of you, and we welcome it. I have also found that I have learned much and grown from those who are willing to share with me, even though they were the ones to first ask THE QUESTION.

Fourth, in introducing the idea that what I personally believe does not encompass all of Unitarian Universalism, I have begun them thinking in what is often some new ways. I have found that this idea is so profound for many of my questioners that they will, instead of answering the question, will ask one themselves about how this is possible? How can what my church says and what I believe be different? I addressed this in general terms in the last article, and I will share my two answers in later articles. I just want to highlight how profound and sometimes transformative this particular point can be, specifically during the times when I am asked the “Open and Inquisitive” version of THE QUESTION.

All we have done is ask some questions of our questioner, and we have begun to introduce them to our wonderful liberal faith.

Yours in Faith,


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