wizdUUm Blogs on Theology

Holy Saturday

Btw, Happy Purim, Happy Holi, and Happy Norooz!

I'm told that the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is called Holy Saturday.  It seems more like "Holely Saturday" to me, as in something is missing.  From the despair of Good Friday to the exultations of Easter Sunday, what happens in the in-between time?  Caught between death and rebirth, Saturday almost seems like a time to sleep.  A time to rest and dream.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that there was a resurrection - whether bodily or spiritually or (to phrase it in the language of Buddhism) somehow the collection of aggregates known to us as Jesus of Nazareth continued on in some way.  (Certainly, that much seems to be the case, doesn't it?)  Assuming there was a resurrection, my question is: did Jesus even want to be resurrected?  Maybe when he was in the garden pleading with God to "take this cup from me" he wasn't just talking about the impending crucifixion but also the resurrection.  Maybe Jesus was tired and wanted to sleep.

As he lay in the cool, dark tomb, did he take refuge in oblivion?

But we who were left behind, we couldn't be satisfied with his dying for us, paying the ultimate price for his love for us.  Earning a respite.  There was no comfort in that for us, we who still fear death.  So we dragged him out of death by our sheer will, held him up as a shining example, made him our intercessor for the entire world.  Congratulations, we've given you eternal life.  Now you can be our savior forevermore.  

I don't really know where I'm going with all this.  I'm just thinking that maybe Jesus was tired and wanted to sleep.  Did anyone ever ask him what he wanted?

Of course, we don't always get what we want, often not.  And in a world as broken as ours, we may want to rest and not have that luxury.  Maybe the time between 3 pm on Friday and sunrise on Sunday was all Jesus got.  I hope he made the most of it.

Universalism: what a radical idea

Back in October, I participated in an Interfaith Dialogue facilitator training.  Tonight, a few of us finally got around to going to the next level - engaging in Dialogue amongst ourselves and practicing facilitation.  Our group consisted of ten participants, 2 Christians, 3 Jews, 2 Baha'i, 1 Muslim and 1 Unitarian Universalist (me).

During the course of getting to know each other, I got to explain how Unitarian Universalism comes from the joining of two traditions that both came out of Protestant Christianity - how Unitarianism rejected the trinity and the Calvinist notion that we are "totally depraved," and how Universalism rejected the Calvinist notion of "limited atonement."  Only a few are going to heaven.

Granted that everyone in the room was there for the purpose of interfaith dialogue, so we have a self-selected group of people who are more likely to be accepting of differing beliefs.  So it was perhaps not surprising that as I explained how UUs don't believe that Jesus is God, everyone in the room nodded politely, even the Christians.

But when I got to Universalism, and explained how it meant that no one was going to hell, there was a minor uproar in the room.  "No one goes to hell?" someone asked, "But what about people like Jeffrey Dahmer?"  Technically, this kind of response is against the rules of interfaith dialogue, but I understood their shock.  I sat there and remarked, "Yes, I guess it is a very radical concept."

It is an amazingly radical concept, much more so than rejecting the trinity.  The participants in the room soon caught themselves and we went on in polite exchange.  But I have heard from other people who tell me that the idea of universal salvation offends their notion of justice.  "If God is just," they tell me, "then there has to be a hell."  Oddly, they seem to put conditions on God, that this particular thing has to be true, regardless of God's omnipotence, because their sense of justice demands it.  

What about the sense of mystery?  What about, "I don't know how it works but God's love is powerful enough that God can bring everyone back into right relations." Everyone.  Anything less is failure.

I don't know how it works.  But I do agree with Hosea Ballou, who argued that we human beings, being finite creatures, are incapable of committing infinite sin.  And that being the case, infinite punishment is not justice.

I don't know how it works.  These days I do not think much of the afterlife, if there is one.  In this life and in this divided world, the way that I interpret universal salvation is thus: No one is saved unless everyone is saved.  Salvation, whatever that means, is communal, not individual.  And we cannot create God's Kingdom on earth so long as we see only some of us as saved, and some of us as damned.  

I don't know how it works.  But I know that we have to start with the assumption that everyone is saved.

Why We Are Non-Creedal

Another thing that came up at the "Now is the Time" conference, surprisingly, was creedalism. One of the participants, in his desire to spread the good news of Unitarian Universalism to people of color, argued that we should do away with our wishy-washy "noncreedalism" - that this type of moral relativism would turn off PoCs who's realities tell them that not all views are equally valid. He argued that it was time we UUs took up a creed and suggested our Seven Principles.

I went up to him and adamantly defended our non-creedalism. (We parted on good terms.) Actually, I agreed with him whole-heartedly about being against moral relativism, which is, I think, a superficial, "feel-good" stance reserved only for those who have never experienced oppression. But creedalism is not the answer. There is a world of difference between saying that all views are equally valid and saying that there is only one right one, which is what creedalism does. I want to be somewhere in between those two extremes.

Not all views are equally valid. Some are in fact quite harmful. Unitarian Universalism does NOT say that you can believe whatever you want. NO. But UU does explicitly affirm "acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth" (our third principle), "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning" (our fourth principle), and "the right of conscience" (our fifth principle). All of these assert that there is no single correct Truth - something that people must agree upon before they can be in community with us.

And that is what a creed is; it's an assertion of "Truth" that others must accept in order to be part of the religious community." The Nicene Creed. The Apostles' Creed. They are a test about "correct beliefs" to see who gets into the club and who doesn't. For us to say we are creedal would be to say that we don't accept people for who they are, we don't encourage them to grow and search for truth (because, after all, we already have it), and we deny the right of conscience. Right of conscience is like one of the cornerstones of UU, imo.

If we are to take our Seven Principles seriously, we cannot have a creed. Our universalism is quite clear and demanding on this subject. If for some reason a skinhead or a Nazi came through our doors wanting to be in relationship with us, then we are in relationship with him or her. We can unequivocally reject his/her racist beliefs and forbid their expression within our walls, for the sake of our other members. But we cannot reject the person.

Unitarian Universalism has no creed.

Superbowls and Under-dogs

The Super Bowl is today. In case it's possible that you don't know who's playing, it's the undefeated New England Patriots versus wild-card team, the New York Giants. Almost every time there is a major sporting event my brother and I get into a polite argument. It's the same argument every time. My brother roots for the team with the better record, on the assumption that if they have the better record they must be the better team and thus deserve to win. I otoh almost always root for the underdog.

My brother does not understand this. "Don't you want the better team to win? Are you gonna hold their superiority against them?" I've thought about this a lot now. Certainly some of it is just emotional. I feel sorry for the underdog team. I feel empathy for them. But then again, I feel sorrow for the team with the better record when they lose; how much more disappointing it must be when you were expecting to win.  Is it that I only like losers? because suffering is redemptive?

But there is something more than just the emotional reaction. My brother assumes the team with the better record has a better record because they're better. I assume that the team with the better record has a better record because they're lucky. By that I don't just mean that plays have gone their way. I do understand that sometimes teams will have a greater number of superior players. But that to me is luck too.  It's "luck" to have a wealthier owner.  Or, if it isn't luck that causes one team to be able to afford a better roster, it's still not something inherent.  

Deep down, I do not believe that any team is superior to any other team.  Deep down, I think they're all the same (unless it's my home team in which case they're not the same).  So if one team has a disproportionate number of wins, I am rooting to even things out.  And I'm rooting for the story, the story that no matter how the odds may be stacked against you - the other side may have better resources, more people backing them - if you perform well, then you can do well.  That is what I want to believe.  

And that's what makes sports so wonderful and relevant.  Just as in the rest of life, in the end, it doesn't matter how much talent you have or what your previous record was. In any given game, even the Super Bowl, it all comes down to who can deliver when it matters.  Even an under-dog can win.

The Power of Connection

Our office is up in Boston for a staff retreat, to have "face-time" with people with whom we closely work, to build relationships, to learn from UU clergy and social justice leaders on how we can better serve them, and to meet with the UUSC.  In all, the last two days have been informative and exhausting and, as always for me when we talk of social justice, there is the tension between the urgent need for action and feeling completely overwhelmed and powerless.

I've been told that historically there's been tension between the UUA and the UUSC - perhaps a sense of competition, I'm not sure.  Whatever it was it was before my time, those problems addressed by the hard work of my predecessors and supervisors.  The experiences I've had with the UUSC have all been amicable, and when we were told we were going to have a joint meeting, that made sense.

But what I didn't expect was to experience a very palpable lesson in the power of connections - in collaboration.  Today, as we walked into the new UUSC conference room (they recently moved), I was struck by how crowded the room was.  Our UUA staff groups, which seem so small were joining UUSC staff groups, which probably aren't much bigger, and instantly our power was doubled.  Instantly we had twice the number of people working on Darfur, twice the number of people working on the Gulf Coast, twice the number of people working on environmental justice.

Alone we are weak and easily overwhelmed.  Together we are strong.  Isn't that what religious community is all about?  I will never forget it.

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