Sunday, September 28, 2008

Unitarians on Desperate Housewives

(I know, I know, you wait a month for a blog post, then five come along in a weekend)

I was just watching Desperate Housewives. Almost at random I chose an episode on 4 On Demand. And it happened to be one that mentioned Unitarians (season 4, episode 11).

The episode begins when one character, Lynette, suddenly decides to go to church one Sunday morning. The character recently survived cancer and a tornado and decides that she has much to be thankful for, and many questions, and so asks her neighbour, Bree, to take her to her church.

Bree happily does so and they go to a middle-class Presbyterian church. Lynette listens to the sermon attentively and then after the sermon has finished, puts her hand in the air to ask a question. This is much to the embarasment of Bree. The minister lets Lynette ask the question, (in which she uses the word "dumb-ass" in church - again to Bree's embarasment) which is about the possibility of a loving God in a world of suffering. The preacher gives an answer mentioning free will and when Lynette asks a second question he invites her to come along to a mid-week Bible study.

The minister actually seems to be quite happy to answer the questions, and in a later scene says so. However this goes against Bree's sense of what is acceptable in church. Later in the week she visits Lynette, who is enthusiastically studying the Bible, and again coming up with many questions. Bree tells Lynette that "we don't really do that... in our church people don't talk back to the minister."
"But what if I need that, what if that's the kind of church I'm looking for?" asks Lynette,
"Well then, maybe you should explore other options," says Bree, "I mean if you really enjoy talking back to the pulpit why don't you try that gospel church by the airport?"
"OK," says Lynette,
"Or, the Unitarians, from what I hear those folks are anything goes."

In fact Lynette goes to a Catholic church the next week. But this is where my musing comes in. What if Lynette had gone to a Unitarian church? Would she have found what she was looking for?

I'm sure putting her hand up at the end of the sermon would have been as out of place in most Unitarian churches as it was in the Presbyterian church. Unitarians preach a faith of questions and doubts and yet how many could cope with a question and answer session after the sermon? It would have felt out of place in most Unitarian churches I've belonged to. In my tiny student church of ten people last year we tended to have a little bit of people shouting out a few things when invited during the service. And it worked quite well, but that was an exception.

But there's also an issue of content. How many Unitarian churches actually deal with meaty theological questions like the ones that Lynette was asking? How many of our churches are so light on theology that issues like this never come up? If Lynette went to a Unitarian church that was only talking about political issues or the spiritual practice of gardening then would she have found a place that could deal with her questions, or one that was side-stepping them?

I keep coming back to the question: what kind of church was Lynette looking for? And could my church, or your church, have been a home for her?

15 Comments:

Blogger Bill Baar said...

But there's also an issue of content. How many Unitarian churches actually deal with meaty theological questions like the ones that Lynette was asking?

Our Church, Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva Illinois, periodically does a service where folks write down questions and the ministers answer them at the service or use the questions for future serives.

We just did one recently and I thought it was a very good service. Nice to because we had guests.

My question was do you say grace? and if use, should we?,

10:25 pm  
Blogger Bill Baar said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:26 pm  
Blogger Bill Baar said...

...and if you do say grace, should we

I just was interrupted while typing and have no idea how I brain lapsed there...
regards
Bill

10:38 pm  
Blogger Rich said...

Our Church, Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva Illinois, periodically does a service where folks write down questions and the ministers answer them at the service or use the questions for future serives.

I have been to a service like that in the UK, also.


On the subject of Unitarian name-dropping in the media, I stumbled across a strange coincidence recently. I am currently working my way through all the classics of science fiction; strangely, three out of four books I read in a row mentioned Unitarianism.

Generation X by Douglas Coupland features a character who believes that all dogs can secretly speak English and are adherents of the Unitarian faith.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut Jr mentions Unitarians as one of the religions a southern Baptist church evolved through in order to become the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent.

Gateway by Frederik Pohl contains (amongst other paraphernalia scattered throughout the book) a flyer advertising a Unitarian congregation on the asteroid Gateway. It reads "HOW DO you know you're not a Unitarian? Gateway Fellowship now forming. 87-539." ... Some things never change, even in the far future. :D

9:35 pm  
Blogger Unitalian said...

You know, I could certainly imagine that kind of thing at Newington Green-Islington, where I'm a member (when in the UK). But I guess that's what you'd expect in that neck of the woods? ;-)

2:29 pm  
Anonymous Mike Killingworth said...

Q&As from congregants after my addresses? Oh, I wish - I tend to get "that was a bit over my head".

A friend of mine took a service once in which, instead of a sermon, she got us all to come to the front and draw a picture of God on a sheet pinned to an easel. And yes, it filled up with bearded men in white robes sitting on clouds. I - after a moment of panic - drew a Yin/Yang symbol, which did absolutely nothing to bond me to that congregation....

11:44 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

Bearded men? Seriously? That's actually quite scary. Was there no sense that God was beyond bearded men? How much theological education is needed...

4:25 pm  
Anonymous a said...

Aah, but drawing a picture at short notice when the first person has drawn a bearded man? I can see where people are coming from.

It might have helped to have started out by saying that most people don't think god looks like a bearded man.

Personally, I'd have drawn will o'the wisp, or *this page is intentionally blank*.

7:42 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

Robin E, I have deleted your comment and will continue to delete comments that are vastly off-topic and full of links to your own blog and your own issues and arguments with others.

11:11 pm  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

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11:41 am  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

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12:01 pm  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

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12:08 pm  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

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12:21 pm  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

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2:47 pm  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

:I'm sure putting her hand up at the end of the sermon would have been as out of place in most Unitarian churches as it was in the Presbyterian church.

Well it sure beats having a cranky atheist "Humanist" U*U loudly declaring that, "This church is becoming too theistic for me" right in the middle of a sermon being delivered by Christian Unitarian interim minister doesn't it Stephen?

:Unitarians preach a faith of questions and doubts and yet how many could cope with a question and answer session after the sermon?

Apparently you couldn't handle the question and answer session after your blog post could you Stephen? For the record the Christian Unitarian interim minister in question often had question and answer sessions after his sermons but that ended when U*Us know who took over as minister of the Unitarian Church of Montreal.

:It would have felt out of place in most Unitarian churches I've belonged to. In my tiny student church of ten people last year we tended to have a little bit of people shouting out a few things when invited during the service.

Well at least they were invited to shout out during the service, unlike the cranky atheist "Unitarian" who could not tolerate a Christian interim minister's sermon that was "inclusive" of God. . .

:How many Unitarian churches actually deal with meaty theological questions like the ones that Lynette was asking?

Very few from what I can see. . .

:How many of our churches are so light on theology that issues like this never come up?

Too many, maybe even most. . .

:If Lynette went to a Unitarian church that was only talking about political issues or the spiritual practice of gardening then would she have found a place that could deal with her questions, or one that was side-stepping them?

My comment that you "memory holed" indirectly addressed this question by pointing out some even less appealing things that Lynette could potentially encounter in a Unitarian "church". N'est-ce pas Stephen?

3:13 pm  

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