RNA Newsletter

February, 2020

I had the pleasure recently to talk with Joel Berning and Brian Chenowith.
As was mentioned a while back, Joel is a hospital chaplain in New York City and, when he applied for certification, was the first to choose religious naturalism as the “faith tradition” he aligned with.
Brian is a UU minister in Lexington, Kentucky, and is working on a paper that looks at ritual in Sunday services, and how aspects of traditional approaches might be adapted.
As the chaplain and clergy roles are places “where the rubber meets the road” as ideas are put into practice, I wanted to learn about what they’re doing, and how religious naturalist perspectives may contribute as parts of what they can offer as they work with people at points of spiritual interest or need. I also wondered what, if anything, RNA might be able contribute.
Part of Brian’s interest has to do with why people choose to participate, or not, with church activities, and what they like or dislike or feel they gain. He mentioned how one part in this could be looked at with perspectives that apply to a successful work of art; where, in the words of Horace, from ancient Rome,“The aim of the poet is to inform or delight, or to combine together, in what he says, both pleasure and applicability to life.”This can be seen in the appeal of joyful song from a gospel choir, and it raised some questions and prompted thoughts – on ways of combining “pleasure and applicability to life” in activities related to RN.
When talking with Joel about his role as chaplain, I wondered if collections of insights from naturalist perspectives might be helpful to some patients with non-theist beliefs. Joel said that the main need wasn’t in delivering comforting messages, but more in listening, being there, and caring.
He also said that, while it’s generally not identified as such, many RN-related views are already widely known and respected, and often serve as a common-ground default; where, in multi-cultural and multi-denominational settings, as people try to avoid focus on ways they differ, they may read poems of Mary Oliver, quote Emerson or Thoreau, or point to beauty and meaning in nature – as thing that all can appreciate and share.
This was surprising, at first, and then encouraging.

Brian mentioned how some of his parishioners were pleased to learn that there is such a thing as religious naturalism, and that, as they live in a conservative area where traditional religion is the norm, they were not alone in exploring ways of being spiritual without the supernatural. Joel said something similar, and that, in simply being here, RNA has value as a central gathering spot for people with this orientation, and as a venue for communication.
On a separate matter, the Spring Newsletter for the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS) was recently sent out, with descriptions of what will occur at the annual conference on Star Island from June 27 to July 4, with the theme: Naturalism — as Religion, within Religions, or without Religion? A copy can be seen at this link.

And to close, as part of my own attempts to “inform and delight”, here’s a link to a piece of music.
“Sleep”, sung by a “virtual choir”, created by Eric Whitacre.

Virtual choir 3.jpg

For those who are interested, in this TED talk, Eric Whitacre describes how he sent a request out online, and then assembled the “virtual choir” from more than 2,000 clips people sent of them singing on their own, in their homes, to music he’d composed.
Todd Macalister