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words of reverence

Earth-Based Ethics Or Pagan Morality in the 21st Century

Nearly all spiritual belief systems seek to provide their adherents with some sort of moral code, be it simple or complex, to guide their lives. The Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have shaped Western culture to the extent that their basic moral paradigm is accepted without analysis even by those who no longer embrace the theological worldview that birthed it.

The traditional Western worldview sees God as a transcendent deity who is the ultimate source and personification of "good" with "evil" conceived as opposition to God's will. God is sacred and divine because he is ultimately good and vice versa. Goodness is obedience to God's will; evil is disobedience. Building on this basic concept Western nations built more or less humane societies and millions have been inspired to noble acts of unselfishness and charity. Millions have also slaughtered their fellow human beings in the name of God/goodness. For there is a great pitfall in this dualistic worldview. If to do good is to do God's will and to oppose God's will evil, then in the complexity of human life it is far too easy to see one's self, or one's religion, country, or belief system as being "of God" which carries the automatic corollary that one's opponents must be evil and anti-God. And once you truly believe that, then anything becomes permissible. "If God be for us, who can stand against us?" Most of us are familiar with the sad history of war, violence and strife arising from this belief, from the religious persecutions of the Reformation to our current political leaders condemning of the "Axis of Evil."

Yet, it was not always this way. For most of human history, most people did not worship a single supreme deity, or see deity and the world as separate. The result was that goodness and the Gods were not identified. Typically, Pagan creation myths begin with something already existing - a great sea, great mountains, mud... - and the deities emerge from it. They remain a part of the world, the personification of natural forces, and continue in the seasonal cycles of creation and destruction, death and birth. These belief systems describe the world without judging it, accepting all that is as divine.

In the Pagan view, there is no transcendent Good or Evil. The natural world is sacred but is not divided along moral lines. However, Paganism is not amoral. Pagan morality arises from the belief that Divinity, the Spirit of Life, is immanent in the world, beside us, in us, all around us. When we look at nature we see that She values life and diversity and the balanced interplay of life and natural forces. We see ourselves as part of that variety and balance and feel oneness, love and completion as part of this divine whole. A sense of oneness with the divine world shapes our awareness of the consequences of our actions and provides a context in which to judge them. Acts which deny our connection to other beings do not lead to punishment but to natural consequences. If we treat people as objects rather than as expressions of the divine then the world we live in becomes less pleasant and we too become objects. If we treat the Earth as an object, heedlessly exploiting and polluting Her, we will also reap the natural consequences. For the Pagan, evil is failing to see all life as sacred, and failing to understand where the balance lies in our lives and in the life of the Earth.

While not offering an absolute moral standard, this belief system does provide a very effective guide for decision making. Every action and reaction reverberates in the universe, and we must seek, insofar as is possible, to always act to respect and promote the Life Force, or, as our UU principles put it, "to respect the great web of existence of which we are a part."

Amazing Grace

Author: 
Kat Liu

Almost every Wednesday morning at my Lutheran school, we sang this song. No one taught us what the words meant, but over time I figured out that grace was somehow connected to a mysterious thing called the holy spirit, or as I was first taught, the holy ghost. As a child, the word 'ghost' only meant one thing to me - a being without a body that was hell-bent on possessing mine. And indeed, that's what the holy spirit seemed to do. I was told that without the holy spirit entering you, you could not be saved.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. 
I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see.

Surrounded by the joyful singing of my fellow students and teachers, I mouthed the words with trepidation, feeling that I alone could not hear the sweet sound; did not see what the others saw.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. 
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.

What is this thing that would make you suddenly fearful - to your very heart - of something that you had not been previously aware, and at the same time feel such relief from that fear so as to be as immensely grateful as the words express? It was clear that I had never experienced grace; the holy spirit had not entered me.

Eventually, I walked away from Christianity and these things became mere ideas from someone else's belief system. But lately, the holy spirit has been on my mind again. 'Spirit of Life, come unto me,' we sing every week. We're actually inviting a spirit to come possess us! I can't help but notice the similarities between the perplexing holy spirit of my youth and this comforting Spirit of Life. And I am facing these questions again: just what is the holy spirit? What does it mean to have it within you? What is grace? Only now, with many more years of  lived experience, I begin to understand.

Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.

Somewhere along the line I learned that fear doesn't always mean to be afraid. It can describe a state of awe. And I have felt awe. There have been times – whether looking up at a desert sky milky with stars or witnessing the supreme kindness of strangers when my perspective suddenly shifts. I am gently yet irresistibly put in my place as just one tiny speck in a universe of specks. Surprisingly, rather than causing feelings of despair, it’s comforting and liberating. (Roots hold me close; wings set me free.) Because at the same time I realize that all our specks are interconnected. We are not alone and our salvation depends on each other.  At moments when I really know this, not just intellectually, I feel the holy spirit of life course within me. And I know that there is no need to invite the spirit in. She is always there as that divine spark within each of us, and also between us. Connecting us. Moving us towards each other. I’ve
had this realization several times now and yet each time still gasp with amazement.  That sudden awareness of the divine within, that connection to the divine all around, and to know that the two are one and the same that is amazing grace.

Salvation

From the Hebrew Scriptures, the Book of Daniel (12: 2-3): Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

From the Koran (89:27-30): O soul at peace, return unto thy Lord, well pleased, well pleasing! Enter thou among My servants! Enter thou My Paradise.

From the Bhagavadgita (8:6): Moreover, whatever state of being he remembers when he gives up the body at the end, he goes respectively to that state of being; transformed into that state of being.

From the Christian Bible, the Book of John (3:16): For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Salvation. So many religious beliefs reward faith and righteousness with a promise of eternal life; a continuity of the mind, of the body, or of the spirit; or some combination of these. Our Universalist cousins get their name from their outlook on salvation. They believe salvation is universal. Everybody gets to heaven. But we Unitarians make no promise about an afterlife. Such a promise is just not consistent with the rational science on which we¹ve learned to depend. We as a faith community seldom use the words, salvation; eternal life ­ or heaven. Many of us find some comfort in our potential capacity to live on through our children; through our influence; or through our legacies. But the notion of individual consciousness after death is usually deemed unknowable or is rejected outright. So does Unitarian discourse on the subject of salvation make sense?

In the face of violence; war; injustices; carelessness toward our planet; and the irrational use of rational science, the survival of our species often seems in jeopardy. Our seven Unitarian Principles speak implicitly toward a means of a collective salvation ­ a continuity of humanity. From our assertion of the worth and dignity of every person; to a goal of world community; to the respect for the interdependent web of all existence, these affirmations are constant reminders for us to protect the future of humankind ­ to work for its salvation. We have covenanted to use our seven principles as guides in our individual and collective actions.

So when we Unitarians speak of salvation, we can consider ourselves as individual agents of a collective effort to literally save humanity. I believe it is that which we often refer to as the spark of the divine in each of us, that ultimately motivates us to follow the course mapped by these principles. It is this spark of the divine that stimulates that which is uniquely human in each of us ­ the ability to empathize and to love. And it is these uniquely human qualities that can lead to the salvation of future generations.

Three Faces of Jesus

When I was a child, I spoke as a child and understood as a child. 
When I became a man, I put away childish thoughts. (Cor. 13:11)

As the son and grandson of Presbyterian ministers it was assumed by my family that I would enter the ministry. In 1945 I visited a theological Seminary, but left after several days due to my unresolved doubts about the dogmas and creeds of the Presbyterian Chrurch. Depsite my doubts, I never lost my love for the wisdom found in classical Biblical literature and that of other world religions.

As a young man, I read a passage by the great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy. In his book, The Kingdom of God is Within You, published in 1894, he stated:

"The true Christian teaching is very simple and obvious to all. But it is simple and accessible only when men are free from the falsehoods in which we are all educated, and that are passed off as God's truth. We must first understand that all the stories telling how God made the world six thousand years ago, how Adam sinned, how the human race fell, and how the son of God, a God born of a virgin, came to earth and redeemed mankind are all fables. The Gospel of Jesus tells only of what men must do to save themselves. For this purpose, it is only necessary to treat others as we wish to be treated. On this hang all the law and prophets, as Jesus said." For his views, Tolstoy was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox church.

When I began my quest for the historical Jesus, I found myself confused by the contradictions regarding his life and message. I discovered, not one, but three distinct personalities presented by the authors of the four gospels. It reminded me of the 1959 film, The Three Faces of Eve, that deals with a woman possessed with three personalities. Jo Ann Woodward won the Academy Award for her portrayal of Eve in the film.

There is the profile of Jesus who speaks an exclusive language, telling his followers, "Whosoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever doesn't, will be damned eternally." Who performed miracles, such as walking on water and turning water into wine. And when hungry, places a curse on a fig tree whose fruit was not yet in season.

The second profile is that of a revolutionary rabbi who spoke out for social justice. This Jesus tells a rich young ruler, "Go sell all you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." He did not hesisitate to break the rigid laws of the Jewish Sabbath when he encountered the poor, destitute people who were hungry. Finding moneychangers in the Temple selling doves and sheep to pilgrims, he angrily turns over their stalls and drives them from the House of Worship, using a whip made of rope.

The third portrait is that of a compassionate miracle worker who showed, that with tenderness and unselfish love, humans can be healed in body, mind, and spirit. This is the all-inclusive Jesus who taught that, "The kingdom of God is not to be found in the sky or the sea, but within us and all about us."

I ask myself, how does one reconcile these contradictions? I found my clue in the language of reverence, carved on the altar table of our sanctuary. It states: "ALL SOULS ARE MINE." From that point in my spiritual quest, I applied the all-inclusive principle to every passage ascribed to Jesus. Like the chaff blown from kernels of wheat, I discovered, not three, but one profile of an extraordinary human being whose authentic voice echoes in the core of my being. Through his living, not his death, Jesus showed me that atonement is achieved by accessing the Divine spark that dwells within me and in all of humankind.

As an African American who has walked through "the valley of the shadow of death," both reason and experience fused the foundation upon which my faith now rests. I cannot explain it rationally, becauseradical Love and hospitality cannot be explained factually or objectively. The proof is in the experience of loving, sharing, and serving others unselfishly, as Jesus said. From this experience, I believe that "God is not the object of either time or space, but God is Love - the creative Spirit of Life."

Original Sin

The way I that first understood original sin as a nine year old was pretty literal. Adam and Eve had eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil, which they had been forbidden by God to eat. They'd broken a rule. That was the very first time that a rule had been broken. That was the original sin. Of course, this raised all sorts of questions like: why did God put the fruit there in the first place and then tell them not to eat it? Why didn't God want them to know the difference between Good and Evil? And most importantly, why did this mean that we now, all of Adam and Eve's long lost descendants, are still paying for this first transgression? None of this seemed fair; and God seemed more than a bit capricious.

By high school I realized that the story might have some deeper meaning. Original sin wasn't the eating of the apple or even the breaking of a rule; it was an act of rebellion. Adam and Eve had been told that upon eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would know what God knew and be like gods themselves. They chose to rule themselves rather than be ruled by God, and this pissed God off. As a teenager who was just learning to exercise her civil liberties in San Francisco, I embraced this inherited sin as a mark of honor, and I defiantly looked forward to burning freely in hell rather than serving a tyrannical God in heaven.

Many years later, I was surprised to learn that original sin is a uniquely Christian concept. Even though Christianity points to the Hebrew story in Genesis as the origin of original sin, Judaism does not teach the idea of an inherited fallen state. Neither does Islam. And other religions don't mention sin at all. So what are we to do with sin? Should we, as many religious liberals are want to do, throw it out as an antiquated notion that does nothing but instill guilt?

Personally, I can't. Long after ceasing to identify myself as Christian, I still find myself returning to this concept of original sin and reconsidering what it is. Sin, so we are told, is the reason for our "fallen" state. And one of the few things that the major world religions agree on is that there is something inadequate with our present condition - we are not as we should be, or could be. Instead of looking at sin as an inherited punishment, or even as a moral judgment of wrong-doing, we might look at it as the reason for why we are in a less than ideal state. Instead of saying 'we are evil because of sin,' it might be more useful to ask ' Why aren't we as good as we could be?' And to that question, many religions have attempted an answer. In Islam it's because of forgetfulness of God and our place in the universe. In Hinduism it's because of attachment to this material world, thinking it more real than Brahman. In Buddhism it's because of ignorance, not comprehending the true nature of reality.

Original sin isn't temporal; it's causal. It's is not the first wrong committed by our human progenitors back in the recesses of time and then inherited by us. Original sin is the first mistake that each of us makes, that then results in all our other wrong choices. In that sense, original sin truly is the thing that each of us needs to overcome in order to be the best humans that we can be.

Having made my peace with God and after exploring other religious traditions, I look again at the story of Adam and Eve. And instead of a noble act of civil disobedience, I see human beings who are arrogant enough so as to believe that they can be self-sufficient. They aren't evil, simply misguided, and they are us. We humans, no matter how intelligent and magnificent we are, and we are those things, we are still but a small part of existence, dependent on, not ruler of the universe, and dependent upon each other. When we place too much importance on our individual selves, and not enough on the Other, we commit that original sin - that first mistake that results in all the others like lying and cheating and worse. We choose to separate ourselves from the Other, and then we feel the consequences of that separation - the isolation, the alienation - and at some point, some of us must have thought that was the result of God's punishment. But both the source of our "fall" and the source of our redemption lie within each of us.

Evil

Morally wrong; immoral; wicked - a lack of concern or an outright defiant disregard for right conduct or its principles. Evil is a term we use to describe a person or act that is more than just bad or a wrongful deed. It prescribes a state of inherent badness or wrongdoing.

Evil is also a tool that is often used to set a diametrically opposed alignment of the hero and the villain, the saint and the sinner. Look at our president, "the axis of evil," "Bin Laden is evil," "Saddam Hussein is evil," as if by labeling things, people, and countries as "evil" is enough justification to annihilate them. But, what about Bin Laden's or Al Qaeda's claims that the western world or more explicitly the United States are "evil"? Evil is a tool to ostracize or alienate someone from there humanity, to make them less human, therefore easier to discredit and in extreme cases kill. So how does one become evil? Can someone be inherently evil?

As UUs, we focus on the inherent dignity and worth of each and every person, in other words, the inherent good of humanity. We sometimes refer to this as the divine spark within us all. It is the understanding of our first principle that compels us to do social justice work, to strive to right all the injustices or "evils" of the world. Although goodwill is behind these beliefs and actions, it is these same beliefs and lines of thought that can lead us to the same dichotomy of "good and evil" used by the "right," the conservatives, the Christian Coalition, the fundamentalists, our president.

Rarely do UUs consider the issue of inherent evil. Some would say that there is no possibility for inherent evil if you believe that all are inherently good. Some others would say that you cannot have inherent good without inherent evil - that one defines the other, sets the parameters of the other's space. To know good is to know evil.

One of the age old questions is "Did Hitler have inherent dignity and worth?" Some would say that he was "evil" and leave it at that. Others would show a form of intellectual compassion by suggesting that there was something about his upbringing or abnormal brain chemistry that lead the way to such atrocities of humanity. But rarely do I hear UUs questioning: "Is there some part of me that has the potential for such inhumane acts? Is there some part of me that is inherently evil?"

For us to truly do good things in this world, to better this world, we need to move beyond our intellectual compassion and gain compassion from our core being by asking these difficult questions of ourselves. We must find potential for evil within us all. Own it. Understand it, and consider the potential for evil within us all IS part of the human condition. Without this understanding, I feel that UUs will always have one remaining barrier to a true understanding of dignity and worth.

Good and Bad Religion

Once upon a time the people said,
"The world is big, and we are small."
And they were afraid.
So, with busy fingers and gold,
they made a Thing.
"Ah," they sighed as it glittered in the sun,
"Let us bow down and worship!"
And they did.
And they were afraid.

***

I don't like bullies. You don't either. Yet all too often, "God" ends up being the biggest bully on the block. Here's the scenario: God is nicer than you, smarter than you, older than you, richer than you...and, rest assured, bigger than you. In other words, you don't stand a chance.

Self-appointed representatives of this God often take it upon themselves to pronounce, "God says this" and "God says that"...and aim it straight at you. So, "You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I'm telling you why."

This is bad religion. This is the kind of religion that actually institutionalizes the notion that "Might makes Right." Nothing on earth can get away with this...except religion. Think about it. Religion and religion alone has the power to conform our very conscience to something as morally destitute as "Might makes Right." Small wonder, then, there are those among us for whom the very word "God" carries 'way too much baggage.

Good religion, however, turns the logic of bad religion on its head. Good religion insists: "It is Right that must make Might!" Not the other way around.

"Right makes Might." That puts God in a whole new Light, too, doesn't it.

God: The Enigma

My sleep these days is distrubed by a nightmare. A grim-faced man sooner or later accosts me with a handgun. As he is about to pull the trigger I awake in a cold sweat. I think I know the reason for the nightmare: it results from remembering a time in my life when I was in mortal danger of being shot or burned to death.

During the 1980's I worked in Congress for the old Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. Its chairman, Rep. Morris K. Udall, assigned me to investigate gross violations of the federal strip mining reclamation law, at that time widespread in the Appalachian coalfields. I teamed up with a man from the General Accounting Office. For two years we roamed the mountains of West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia collecting evidence. It was a very hostile environment. The coalmine operators we interviewed clearly resented our intrusion. We were aware they carried handguns; and high mortality rates indicated that they were not shy about firing away, if sufficiently arroused.

Prudently, we rode with state police in their cars. We wore bullet-proof vests and my partner got permission to carry a gun for protection (I declined to do so). Sometimes at night a police car was stationed outside our motel rooms. We could easily imagine Molotov cocktails coming through our windows, trapping us inside. Despite all of our precautions, I have no doubt that we were in grave peril as we went about our work.

Fortunately, we survived this experience unscathed. It comes to mind because some of us at All Souls Church Unitarian are re-examining traditional religious concepts, chiefly the idea of God. Now I do believe that the vast majority of humankind, being religiously inclined, tend to draw up some kind of mental contract - whether explicit or not - with their personal deity, however they may visualize such an entity.

Their quid pro quo goes something like this: At the very least, when I am in mortal danger I can call on you, Yahweh, Allah, Brahma, etc., to provide succor and/or pull me through a tight spot, in exchange for which I provide burnt offerings, light votive candles, take a dip in the Ganges, travel to Mecca, or even butcher my first-born son - as Father Abraham was prepared to do - in order to placate you or accumulate spiritual credit toward a guaranteed improved after-life - in case you are unable to rescue me.

Now I am asking myself: To what, or whom, do I owe the generally satisfactory outcome of my risky venture into the minefields of Appalachia? I don't remember getting down on my knees to beg God's protection on those motel nights when I felt sure I was the likely target of a Molotov cocktail. No, I was scared stiff. I dragged my mattress onto the floor, on the dubious assumption that this manuever would imporve my chances of surviving. Did God protect me, even though I ignored him? Was God working his will through the state troopers, my bullet-proof vest, my partner's hidden gun, or the whole federal law enforcement panopoly that backed me up? Or was it just plain dumb luck?

I lean toward the latter theory. A supernatural being looking out for little ole me may be comforting at a gut level, but my mind, dear friends, stubbornly rejects the idea.

Salvation

Jesus Christ came into the world to grant us salvation. We mortals must atone for our sinful natures. If we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, hie will forgive us our sins and bestow upon us everlasting life in heaven... During my growing up, this was my mantra.

I attended a school in the high Himalayas that commanded a stunning view of the snow-capped Kanchangunga range. Together with hundreds of other missionaries' children, I received a proper Methodist upbringing. I sang "Onward Christian Soldiers." recited the Apostle's Creed and heard the good news about God's mercy, how salvation is guaranteed to all who accept Jesus Christ into their hearts through baptism. I was indeed a true believer.

But that was long ago. Today as I think of salvation, the image of a risen Christ sitting at the right hand of God the Father dispensing life-after-death to the select few does not come to mind. Instead, I recall a group of teenagers in the wilds of northern Vermont, paddling their canoes down a turbulent, rock-strewn tributary of the Connecticut River.

These kids were campers, trucked many miles from the wilderness camp where Wini and I were co-directors. Plying the scenic waters of this historic river was great fun, a grand adventure for the youngsters reared in the over-protected suburbs of our great urban centers. They were on their own. Two counselors provided mature guidance - or so we thought.

Well, those same counselors committed a cardinal sin. They abandoned their assigned trip plan, striking out on a unfamiliar waterway with no map to show the danger spots. The carefree lark began to look like it might become a ghastly tragedy. In due course, our young, misguided adventurers, propelled by the mountain stream's raging white water, rounded a bend. Two men were standing on the bank waving their arms and shouting. Stop! Stop! Puzzled, the flotilla pulled over. What was the problem? The men pointed downstream. There, very near, was a huge problem - a foaming, roaring, deadly, 20-foot-high waterfall!

I regard these men's life-saving intervention as salvation, pure and simple. Did Jesus Christ, looking down from on high, perceive the peril and instantly send them to warn the kids in the very nick of time? Perhaps. But I am skeptical. I think it was dumb luck that preserved the group from the consequences of their stupid and sinful behavior. To this day, I shudder to think what could have happened. No doubt all those who plunged over that waterfall would have perished. It is awful to contemplate the resulting sorrow that would have spread far and wide among the families who had entrusted their children to our care.

Now if you have discerned in my tale an analogue to George W. Bush's war in Iraq, that's quite alright with me. But I suggest there's a deeper meaning. Our saviors were strangers, appearing as if by magic. They were probably trout fishing. Most importantly, they responded to the dangerous situation from a fundamental, humane instinct that is in every one of us. I bless their memory.

It seems to me that the self-righteous religious types who are obsessed with separating the true believers going to heaven from the infidels destined for hell have much to learn from these two guys. Salvation, my friend, is not pie-in-the-sky. Salvation is here and now. It springs from an inclusive, forgiving, peace-loving posture towards all humanity -- and its name is "humanism." Thank you.

Personal Gods

The best explanation that I have ever heard for why we humans continue to turn to religion is that religion helps us to be more human. We come to religion with questions about ourselves. Am I alone in this world? What is the meaning of my life? The paradox is that the answer to these questions that begin with the self, lies in reaching outwards, away from ourselves, towards "the Other." We reach outwards toward the Other, and some of us choose to call this other "god."

There is the God at the beginning of Genesis, who made all of creation with the utterance of a few words, "Let there be light." The God that Hindus call Brahman, whom we can only understand by trisecting into parts. That Chinese call the Tao. The Ultimate Reality. Eternal, infinite, and defying description, this is the God of Jefferson and Einstein, a transcendent God who began and sustains the Universe. The God we catch in glimpses when we gaze in wonder at Nature - moments when we make a connection with all of Creation, and are awed and humbled, buoyed and made euphoric by Its vast grandeur. This is God with a big "G."

And for some of us, this is the only God that makes any sense. How can anything less be called "God"? But this is not a god that we can pray to when our day has gone badly. This god is busy making sure that the stars stay in place and that water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius. We cannot envision that this god cares about us on a personal level any more than we care about a single skin cell on our left big toe.

A god who would care would be a "personal god." Someone who took an interest in our daily lives, someone that we can talk to, question, blame, forgive and be forgiven. This is the god of Abraham, who chose to favor him above all others. This is the god of Jesus, with whom he pleaded in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is the god that Jesus eventually became for millions of his followers, including Martin Luther King Jr. - the god to whom Dr King would pray for strength and courage when in doubt and need. This is Krishna. This is Kali Ma, Kwan Yin, or the Virgin Mary. A patron saint, a bodhisattva, a totem, a guardian angel, god with a little "g."

I've been grappling with this idea of a personal god for some time. For me, it was not a concept that I could easily accept, and I imagine this to be true for many UUs. Spirit of Life?, sure, no problem. But people actually praying to a god by name, to someone, whom they think is listening, having a conversation, a personal relationship. It's downright anthropomorphic. Perhaps occasionally I've even been arrogant enough to imagine that personal gods were for people who weren't sophisticated enough to grasp the concept of God with a big "G." But what I couldn't dismiss so easily was the spiritual strength that people seemed to be getting from this relationship. These people were better people as a result, more human. What were that getting that I wasn't? Then last week, it suddenly came to me. They are making a connection with "the Other."

We become more human by reaching away from ourselves, towards the Other... Instead of thinking about our own wants and needs, we learn to think about someone else. And any time we reach outward towards one other, it helps us to reach out to all others. All that helps us to make a connection with the other makes us better humans, including our personal gods.

So what does this mean for us as UUs? Whether we are Christians or Pagans or Atheists, one thing that ties all UUs together is that we are all humanists. Whether you believe in God or not, big G or little g, the standard by which we measure ourselves is the effect we have on other human beings in this world. For Unitarian-Universalists, whether or not we have other gods with whom we commune, humans are our personal gods. They are the other, with a little "o" - a small bit of Other with a big "O," but on a scale with which we can relate. Humanity is grand, awesome, humbling, and impersonal. Individual humans are the ones whom we can talk to, question, blame, forgive and be forgiven. We all need personal gods with whom to connect.

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