Wednesday, March 16, 2005

And I Am Convicted

Thanks, Peacebangers, for all your cool comments. Nice to see some new names. By the way, I just discovered Jess's Blog, and you might want to see her sad commentary on the state of some belligerently anti-Christian UU seminarians here:
Is there anything more unintentionally comical than a worship service where the idea of Communion is discussed and dissected, but no one actually takes communion? Stop the madness.

I finished my essay this afternoon and toned down some of my inflammatory comments, trying to infuse my criticism with the genuine love I have for my co-religionists. I'd like to share with you some of what I submitted for the Skinner House anthology of writings by UU Christians. I call the essay, "And I Am Convicted" (I mean that in the evangelical way, not the criminal way):

"I remained a closeted Christian for several years, reading and thinking and teaching myself how to pray, discovering and respecting the troubled sibling relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and giving my heart and soul over to Christ as both man and spirit. I explored some Christian churches but was turned off by their literalism, their supercessionist treatment of Jewish religion, or their lack of commitment to social justice causes that were widely supported among my Unitarian Universalists. I began to have more affection for Unitarian Universalism, now that I could see it within the larger context of American religious life.

But where was Jesus in our UU worship life? I had never once questioned his absence in my childhood church, but I now began to wonder: since Jesus’ radical inclusivity, love of humanity, and passion for justice was so harmonious with all the “good news” I was hearing in our congregations, why did our ministers and congregants so assiduously avoid the gospels? I found it comical on some Sundays, depressing other Sundays, and consistently baffling. I could not understand why UUs would allow the perversions of the religious right to define the word “Christian” (or “religious,” for that matter), why they would concede religious language to the conservatives, and why they would go out of their way to construct a religion intentionally bereft of theology, rendering themselves a quasi-religion and many of their churches temples of denial and hypocrisy, where every spiritual path but the Christian path was considered valid, and where all evidence of a Christian past was removed, revised, and painted over.

It took me over ten more years of committed Unitarian Universalist life to consider that perhaps my dear UUs were the most strangely faithful Christians of all: having either intuitively or consciously embraced Jesus’ gospel of love, service and justice, they could not stand to affiliate with any so-called faithful who claimed to have received their inspiration for discrimination, exclusion, superstition, and damnation from the same source. The well, for too many UUs, had been irrevocably poisoned, and they would thereafter drink of the living waters from another source. Any other source, it seemed, but the Christian well. I felt called to abide with my religious community, to remain patient with my own sense of religious difference among them, and to pursue the ministry."

I continue later:

"I call myself a Christian because I am a disciple of Jesus Christ; not just Jesus-that-great-guy-and-teacher-with-the-long-hair-and-sandals, but Jesus the living avatar of the great God, and Jesus the Christ of Easter morning. I have always said that I am a mystic at heart, and that if I had been born in pre-Christian times I would have been a devotee of the mystery religion of that time and place; perhaps the Eleusinian or Orphic rites. Christianity is the mystery religion of my time and place, and I am a devotee of it.

This last point, of course, distresses my rationalist Unitarian Universalist friends to no end, and I understand and accept that with affection and forbearance. But when we say that our living tradition draws from “direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life,” I think of that original community of disciples, who had a direct experience of the risen Christ which I revere and respect. It matters not at all whether I believe a dead man can be brought back to life or not, and although I used to research this question with some energy at the beginning of my Christian journey, today I have lost interest in exploring the scientific or historic “what’s, when’s and how’s” of the first Easter. Do I believe, then, in the Resurrection? I believe that the original community of disciples had a direct experience of one who was truly dead, and who soon thereafter experienced his appearance among them to send them out to love the world, to serve, to heal, and to overcome the forces of hatred and oppression.
And I am convicted.

So, Sari, we do discuss theology sometimes, although not often enough in our congregations -- out of a misguided pandering to the religiously wounded among us, which causes us to avoid many of the conversations and much of the theological education that could most heal the angry, ex-Somethings who join our congregations. We discuss theology on our blogs now, I suppose, and that's going to have to do for a start. You should know that the average UU blogger is not representative of the average Unitarian Universalist, many of whom proudly sport a "Famous UUs" T-shirt while they drink Fair Exchange coffee of a Sunday morning, and most of whom will never give a good hee-haw about what year the First Parish in Quincy officially transitioned from Calvinist Congregationalism to Unitarianism.


Blogger T-man-Sam_former Visigoth and musical Goddess said...

You asked in the previous posting "Who would read my book?"

Well I would! Yerr a terrific writer with a massive intellect.

I sent your link to a whole pile of friends, and I have heard back from a couple re your site. (impressed--They are a bit intimidated to post or discuss)

I know a web pal linked you up.

keep up the fascinating discussion.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Well aren't you nice, T-man-sam. I don't know that I've ever received any compliments from a former Visigoth before.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite funny-tragic moments from "Life is Beautiful," when Guiseppe and his son Josue see a sign on a store front that says "No dogs or Jews allowed." Guiseppe says to his little son that they won't let any of their enemies into their special place, either! "And who would that be?" asks Josue. "Visigoths," says Guiseppe. "Visigoths and... spiders!"

Visigoths are very welcome to Peacebang. Spiders are not. We suck them right up with a vacuum cleaner nozzle attachment.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

perhaps my dear UUs were the most strangely faithful Christians of all: having either intuitively or consciously embraced Jesus’ gospel of love, service and justice, they could not stand to affiliate with any so-called faithful who claimed to have received their inspiration for discrimination, exclusion, superstition, and damnation from the same source.

And yet they gather for worship under the symbol of a flaming chalice, which whether they acknowledge it as such or not, represents in Christian terms the flames of the Holy Spirit rising out of the blood of Christ.

Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

As a Unitarian Universalist Humanist living in a "Bible Belt" UU congregation, I see more comfort and less discomfort with UU Christianity than Jess and others have described online with adults in my congregation. However, this isn't the case with youth in my congregation.

Two years ago when I was teaching high school RE classes, one of the kids during our check-in was venting about how the "Bible Belt" Christians in his high school were acting like real jerks.

This conversation could have easily slid into a very typical UU complaint session on Christianity and I didn't want this to happen. I knew that at least one high school youth was a UU Christian and others in the group may have been leaning this way. I also knew that some youth in the past before my involvement with youth left because the group didn't feel Christian-friendly.

I did acknowledge that some Christians you meet (e.g. the rude Christians described during check-in) can be incredibly rude. But the folks described in this check-in aren't the only examples of Christianity available to them.

I mentioned the woman who played piano during worship services (a former UCC member who joined our congregation because the nearest liberal UCC congregation is several hours away and we were the best fit for her in Shreveport).

I also mentioned the Our Whole Lives curriculum and how this was a joint effort of UUs working alongside liberal UCC Christians.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Steve, I'd like to recommend to you an exercise I did with my youth group some years ago. I asked them to create a list with me of things "Christians" believe. They filled in these items: (1) You have to be "saved" in Christ or go to Hell (2) Christ died for our sins (3) The Bible is literally true (4) God will punish you if you don't believe/do/say what it says in the Bible,
(5) God is three people: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

With them, I ticked off item after item, explaining to them how Unitarianism and Universalism had already addressed these same theological questions, coming up in most cases with alternatives or outright rejections of those doctrines. "So what's left of Christianity?" I asked them. And they said, "Nothing!"
And so we spent the next hour refuting that idea. By the end of the session, each of those UU kids knew that the Christian tradition was their path for the choosing, and that Jesus belonged to them, too.

I highly recommend such an activity to your youth, as it seems potentially a very rich one for them, and might help them respond from a more informed, prepared and mature place to the conservative Christian triumphalism of their peers.

Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

I did something very similar to your suggestion with our middle school youth during our congregation's Jewish and Christian Heritage RE pillar.

I did a values voting activity to see where they were at in terms of attitudes, experiences, etc surrounding Christianity and social issues. We discussed the results of the values voting activity.

To ensure that they were aware of the wide diversity within Christianity, I did bring examples of Christianity different from the typical Southern Baptist or Assembly of God views they run into at school into the discussion. We even went to the church office and watched the UCC "bouncer" ad on their web site as part of this class.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

The difference, and a very important one in my mind, is that while you focused on a political heritage, I focused on our theological heritage. Without the latter knowledge, I'm afraid that our kids wind up with the impression that we can (1) ignore the Bible and still end up "better" Christians than those "other" people and (2)remain ignorant of our own liberal Christian heritage and somehow soak it in by the osmosis of our similarly groovy social justice commitments.

In short, they need to know the theological difference between liberal Christians and the orthodoxy, not just the political.

Blogger Adam Tierney-Eliot said...

Hey Guys!

This is a very interesting discussion which I intend to share with my RE Committee. This question of what "liberal Christian" means is a hot one for us at Eliot Church. In our continuing development of our own congregational identity (a journey we do not intend to have a distinct "end-point"), we constantly run up against the idea that the word "liberal" has only political conotations (sp?). "Liberal Christian" means more than Christians who vote Democrat (or Green, for that matter).

Our experience, as I have mentioned over at Unity, is that it is perfectly normal for an atheist or agnostic to consider him/herself Christian. Of course to do so means being steeped in the Christian tradition and, in fact, a part of it. There needs to be a concerted and authentic effort to wrestle with the Bible.

I share Peacebang's concerns, both as an insider and an outsider in the UU discussion about Jesus (serving a united church can make one dizzy!). While the UCC did invite Spongebob to Cleveland and has the pictures to prove it, Their motivation was different, because of their faith, than the general spiritual motivations around the same issue in the UUA. Both are fine, but the story these two groups tell to get to their positions are different.

That having been said, I think the bouncer add does get to a basic theological issue in the UCC. "Jesus didn't turn people away, neither do we." Thanks Steve!

Anyway, this comment is now longer than one of my posts! I am sorry...

Happy Holy Week!

Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

I want to clarify that I did look beyond social justice and politics with our middle school group. The values voting was just used to start conversation.

I also used Katie Erslev's "theological house" curriculum resources that she developed based on the Rebecca Parker's talk on "theology of religious education" talk presented at the 2003 LREDA Fall Conference:

I also brought into our discussion some historical tidbits from our UU history.

A DRE friend mentioned her historically Universalist UU church had to special-order their stained glass window of Jesus. The special stained glass window portraying Jesus had no halo, no signs of crucifixion, no ascention into heaven, etc ... he's portrayed as a teacher who offered salvation through the ethical example of his life and not his crucifixion.

I also mentioned that many early Universalists rejected atonement theology popularized in movies like Mel Gibson's Passion, which (surprisingly or not) several of my middle school youth had seen.


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