When I was a pastor in South Dakota a few years ago, one of my parishioners invited me to his farm to witness the birth of a new calf. Since I had always lived in a city, this was an experience I had never had before and it was a wonderful experience. When the calf was born, the mother kept bumping it and snorting at it and nudging at it. She was encouraging it to get up and stand on its own so it could nurse and live. She was passing on the knowledge of how to live and get along in life. The little calf eventually, through her encouragement, was able to struggle to its feet and live.

The Native American people of the Dakotas have a deep understanding that the wisdom about how to live and get along in life comes to us from others, through the community. There is a game they play, which is really a ritual as much as a game, called "Throwing the Ball". An altar is prepared and a special ball is made out of a buffalo hide. A girl is chosen to throw the ball and after special preparations, she faces each of the four directions in turn and throws the ball to the people. The holy man explains that the ball represents the wisdom of how to get along and live well. Whoever struggles and catches the ball receives a great blessing. The blessing is from the Great Spirit who watches over all the people and is the source of the wisdom that comes to the community which then passes it on to each of its members.

The Tao or pathway of the great religions is not something we can discover all by ourselves anymore than we can learn a language on our own or become expert at playing a musical instrument with no outside help. Nor is true spirituality something that we successfully can invent to suit ourselves or construct salad bar style, a little from here, a little from there, but none of that, please. The reliable pathway is one that has been discovered by the community and transmitted from generation to generation over a long period of time. In the same way the great explorers discovered the mountain passes and the best routes through the wilderness, spiritual guides have guided disciples through spiritual geographical terrain. The great communities of faith which are repositories of ancient and time tested Wisdom are essential to both transmission and interpretation. These ancient paths are coherent and cohesive systems that successfully give us what we need to get along and live well in the world. The community of faith speaks a special language that is not spoken elsewhere and does special things that are not done elsewhere that communicate this Wisdom to us. Hard work and struggle to understand is part of process.

A Universalist Faith Community

There really is no such thing anymore than there is a universalist language, that's why this web site was developed. One size doesn't fit all! It is very difficult for people to accept the idea that there is more than one way of being right. It's very difficult for people to accept that expressions of faith other than their own may be equally as valid. There are many layers of truth and many viewpoints and we can thank the new physics for giving us insight into this. Language is always symbolic, even scientific language. At the same time, it is as big mistake to reject all religion because one can't agree with every detail as it is to reject the use of language because we can't express the same things in German that we can in Japanese.

For example, we really don't know what electricity is. We know we can turn on a light switch and the light comes on if the bulb isn't burnt out, but even physicists don't understand electricity. The theories about energy are theories, models used to explain observable phenomena, but only models until a better explanation comes along. We can't get along without the models but we know they are provisional.

All the things we say about God or faith are provisional, models we use until a better explanation comes along. We just don't know all the answers. My belief is that whoever or whatever God is, God has revealed Godself to all people in all places in all times in ways that are intelligible and consistent with their language, culture, age or level of understanding. We speak truth as we understand it in metaphors and symbols and stories and parables. That said, it is clear that some models are better than others. Those that have made sense to many people over a long period of time and are consistent with their experience wind up being part of religion. This is an idea that is much more acceptable in eastern religions than in western ones.

One of the most important lessons I ever learned came to me form my mother. She said, "God doesn't give us a brain with which to mock us." Human reason is trustworthy and God given. My mother was a physician living in a very conservative Christian community where the church was often antagonistic to scientific discoveries and interpretations. She taught me to listen carefully to what I was told, but use my own good judgment in evaluating it . . .and never be afraid to ask questions or be intimidated by anything that didn't make sense.