Friday, June 04, 2010

Universalism Got a Hold On Me

I don't know that I've ever been anything but a Universalist. I joined our movement about ten years after the merger, having married into the clan by finding a cute Unitarian guy and leaving the Baptist missionary life in order to live a little, ride behind him on his cute little Suzuki motorbike, and find a larger faith than my American Baptist roots could provide.

I tried really hard to be a good Unitarian. That was in the days when we left off the Universalist part because it was too many syllables and too hard to explain. But the humanistic, anti-God, anti-anythingbutscience attitude of many of my co-congregants didn't really do much for me. I felt I had to keep my Baptist roots secret or at least make light of them, as though I had escaped a terrible fate when I found UUism.

But I'd secretly play "In the Garden" on my piano when I was alone in the house, sing old Sunday School songs when they'd pop into my mind, and quote comforting Bible verses to myself when I needed a comfort that science didn't provide. It felt like a closeted life, in a way, and I hated that. It might be one reason I felt such sympathy for the gay and lesbian people I knew---the closet is no fun.

But it was scary to declare myself a Christian----a Unitarian Christian, of course---back before it was safe. One day, however, I started thinking about the other half of our heritage and realized that my Baptist DNA (and the rebellious history of Baptists generally) was something to be proud of, that Baptist polity and "soul conscience" had their parallels in Universalist thought.

I'd just been confused, because the only Universalist church I knew about was in Denver, and at the time, it was THE humanistic congregation in the area. You would not come out as a Christian at First Universalist, despite the name, for though people might be polite, you'd stick out like a sore thumb if you admitted that you thought Jesus was pretty cool and that you really liked those old hymns.

Luckily, my home church was Jefferson Unitarian out in the western suburbs and though it had its scientific/humanistic contingent which could be scornful of "spirituality" and anything smacking of Christianity, it also had ministers who were inclined to preach about love and mercy and compassion, not just intellectual topics. And it was there, years ago when I first started seminary, that I came out to them as a Christian.

Because Universalism is essentially Christian in its theology, though there are no hard-edged doctrines. Universalism is about Love in all its many permutations. While Unitarianism may support marriage equality and BGLT rights because these issues are logically correct, Universalism supports them because it is in our nature to love and these are issues of love and acceptance. The program "Standing on the Side of Love" is straight out of our Universalist heart.

Once I realized that I was really a Universalist at heart, I began to explore the resources I'd gotten from my Baptist upbringing. I wanted to reach out to other people of faith and find ways to work with them, to share the love that I felt was at the heart of all religion. And it was in this way that I came to see that, whereas our Universalist forebears considered universal salvation to be the heart of their faith, I considered our being and working together in love for the betterment of humankind to be the true heart of our living tradition.

We have moved, over the centuries, from a certainty that all God's children will be saved to the understanding that all God's children are our sisters and brothers, in all their wild diversity and splendor, and that we are all in this heaven together. Now.


Nancy DreUU said...

Yes, yes, yes, yes!

Now I can skip this month's question, or just send in "What Ms. Kitty said!"

And the last three paragraphs had me hooting aloud in happy agreement. May have to print this out and stick it above my desk.


DairyStateDad said...

This speaks so directly to me. Thank you.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks to both of you for your kind words. I'm glad to be able to share truth with you.

fausto said...

I think you're selling the Unitarian side of the house a little bit short. Baptist polity and "soul conscience" historically come from the exact same place that Unitarians (and Congregationalists) get their devotion to self-governance and emphsis on the personal responsibility of discerning truth: the covenant of the Independent church gathered in the 1590's in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. That church lasted only a few years and its original covenant is lost, but it generated two daughters that adapted the same or very similar ones. One moved to Holland and became the first Baptist church; while the other crossed the Atlantic with the Pilgrims, became Unitarian in 1800, and still survives today as the First Parish Church (UU) in Plymouth, Mass. As Gov. Winslow of Plymouth recalled their pastor John Robinson telling the Pilgrims before they embarked, "the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy word. ... Here also he put us in mind of our church covenant, at least that part of it whereby we promise and covenant with God and one with another, to receive whatsoever light or truth shall be made known to us ... but withal exhorted us to take heed what we received for truth. ... For, saith he, it is not possible ... that full perfection of knowledge should break forth at once."

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Fausto. You add another dimension.

Earthbound Spirit said...

Yes! Love, love, love. While I don't call myself a Christian, I can't deny that "Amazing Grace" is still one of my favorite hymns. I interned in a historically Universalist congregation (which now calls itself Unitarian Universalist), and it had an entirely different ambience than the historically Unitarian congregations I've been part of or worked in.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, EBS. As I look back over the years since I joined UUism in 1976, I am amazed and pleased by how much more universalistic (?) we have become as a denomination.