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Fluent in Faith: A Unitarian Universalist Embrace of Religious Language

de Jeanne Harrison Nieuwejaar

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At my church, we're in the process of developing a congregational covenant. It's taken me a long time to figure out what exactly a congregational covenant is, but after reading Fluent in Faith, the meaning of "covenant" in this context became clear.

The book (and, I think, the concept) is geared specifically towards Unitarian Universalists, but I think a lot of the themes apply to other liberal religious traditions, too.

Today at church I gave a short (five-minute) talk about covenant based in large part on the new understanding I got from Nieuwejaar's book. (Today's service was also our annual Flower Communion, which is one of my favorite services.)

In writing this short sharing, it occurred to me that the mutual promises that are covenants don't just exist in religious traditions. We make mutual promises all the time in our daily life. In a marriage or a parent-child relationship, in our workplaces, even driving down the highway, we make promises to one another to establish trust. We promise to respect one another, to treat one another fairly, to act in at least a somewhat considerate manner. These are voluntary promises; they're not enforced (except for traffic laws), and we don't have to follow them. Often, despite our best intentions, we don't follow these promises. But the relationships we're in depend not on keeping the promises but on the sincere intention to keep those promises.

That's how I see a covenant since I read Nieuwejaar's book. It's a set of voluntary mutual promises meant to establish trust and foster connection.

I'd considered posting my five-minute sharing here, but it seemed well outside the scope of a book review. Instead, I'll share the quote from the book that most struck me about covenant, and if you would like to read the whole talk, please visit my blog, where I've posted the complete text as part of the book review there.

I loved the rest of the book, too, particularly the sections on sanctuary and sin---and I love that Nieuwejaar mentioned Process Theology in the section about god, which really resonates with me and which has informed my understanding of spiritual matters since I first read Alfred North Whitehead in college. But it was the section on covenant that was epiphanic for me.

A quote from that section: “The genius of our faith, the lifeblood of our faith, is that we honor the bonds of community more than the bonds of intellectual assent. We hold our relationships as more sacred than any system of belief. We make promises to one another about the ways we will be in relationship and the ways in which we will pursue our religious journey together. This is covenant.” ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Sep 27, 2013 |
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