Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why I am a Universalist

The Rev. Naomi King organized today as "Speak Up for Universalism Day" and I have been tweeting a small portion of the Bible verses that support the idea of universalism.

But they are not why I am a Universalist.

I am deep into Universalism on a scholarly level. Much of last semester was spent rummaging all through the Reformation for information about what was happening with universalism during that time. (Seminarian tip: if you're writing a paper that you already know is going to be called "Hidden Heresy," it should probably occur to you that since it was often hidden, it is going to be quite a challenge to research. You are so warned.)

This semester, I am taking a class exclusively on Universalism, soaking up its history and controversies. And loving it.

But that is not why I am a Universalist.

I am, at heart, a Universalist, because it would be impossible for me to not be. I am a Universalist both because I have been profoundly loved, and because I profoundly love.

I have been demonstratably loved by family, friends, and even complete strangers. When LW completed chemo the last time, we prepared for her Wish Trip. I studied for that trip like I was being graded on it, and one way that I educated myself was through some "fan" boards online. There, I received an email from some women who wanted to know if I would allow them to sew clothes for our family to take on our trip.

When we left for Orlando, our suitcases were stuffed with dresses and outfits, custom-made for us, painstakingly sewn, the ingredients purchased by the sewers themselves. They wouldn't take a dime, not even for shipping. They did not know us. They did not know our religion, our politics, what kind of people we were. All they knew was that our family qualified for a Wish trip. And they wanted to make it even better.

You're going to tell me God has less generosity?

I love. I love family, friends, church members, blogging buddies ... and I love my kids. Wow, do I love my kids. It is scary, when you're holding your first baby, and you realize that you would die for that little handful. And as they get older, and often not quite as cute, you love them even more. To a certain extent, I am powerless under this love I have for them. No matter what, I will still love them. I can be disappointed in them, sad about them, so angry I want to pinch them right between the eyes ... but I still love them. I can't stop.

You're going to tell me God has less love?

In the video promoting Love Wins, Rob Bell talks about Gandhi and how it's inconceivable to him that Gandhi is in hell.

Well, to all of those who tweeted furiously that that proved Rob Bell is a universalist, I say Pshaw. Believing Gandhi isn't in hell doesn't make you a universalist, it makes you a reasonable person.

As much as I say that I couldn't not be a Universalist, it is damn hard work. Because not only do I not believe that Gandhi isn't in hell, I don't believe Saddam Hussein is in hell.

Whatever God is -- and nowadays, my understanding is more of God as a seductive process -- I believe that ultimately, Love does win. I believe that this process of God pulls us towards more compassion, more kindness, more generosity, more love. And eternal punishment just doesn't fit in to that.

Ultimately, God wins.

Friday, March 11, 2011

"I love you Lord, but I am mad at you!"

Or "Why You Should Be Reading the Lament Psalms."

Walter Brueggemann calls them the psalms of disorientation. They're for when we have lost the privilege of believing that life is fair, that it'll all be okay, that a benevolent force for good is in our lives. They shriek of pain, of despair, of desperation.

For a long time, the Christian church has avoided these psalms, feeling that they indicated a lack of belief, of faith. Ironically, many UU churches avoided them because they address God, which is too much faith for us.

God, I'm hurt, and I'm feeling broken inside. And I am mad at you. And I don't even believe that it's your fault, I don't believe that you cause bad things to happen nor provide miracles. But there's a young woman who is fighting for her life, has been going to nursing school even with cancer, has just poured her young life into helping others and now that cancer just seems to be winning, seems to taking over her whole body and it is hurting her, God. And I know that I don't believe you intervene, that you choose who gets miracles but even with that, God, just this once?  Just this once? And now I hear that my friend, my friend, God, the one in class with me with the beautiful long braids, so full of vim and vigor, the one whom I looked at with awe and said "You have the gift of preaching," even though she's in tradition that doesn't recognize your call to women ... now I find out that she has had a massive stroke. She's barely older than me, God! They had to cut into her skull, God, do you realize that? She is lying in the ICU and we don't know if she'll still be she. And now, Good God, an earthquake? More devastation to come? Really, God?  REALLY?  I am mad, God! And I don't know who to be mad to, so I am mad at you. I love you but I am MAD at YOU.

Psalms like 13, that take the Priestly Blessing, shove it in God's face and say, "You're not doing your part of the bargain!" You're not turning your face toward me and being gracious to me, you're hiding your face! You're pretending I don't exist! How Long, Lord???

Psalms like 137, where we all grieve, broken-hearted together. We weep together, remembering the beautiful life we had, now ruthlessly stripped away. We are so devastated, so victimized, we have so lost who we are, we even fantasize about the children of our enemies having their heads dashed in, so that our enemies can know this pain.

These psalms are brutal, and sad, and heartrending. And utterly honest. Especially psalm 88, the only one that can't crawl its way back to faith in God. Darkness is my closest friend.

We need a way to mourn, grieve, and rail at the forces of life and death. We need a way to join in communal lament, to recognize and acknowledge the pain as well as the beauty.

As for me, I'm keeping the psalms close at hand. I wish I'd known of them as I sat alone in the hospital, a sleeping bald child next to me.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Behind the Curtain

When I first began seminary, I spoke of "peeking behind the curtain" -- those times when I would get glimpses into the world of being a minister, not from the audience side, but from the minister side.

As I've progressed, I have been nurtured by several ministers, UU and otherwise, who have allowed me greater access behind the curtain, in order to further my formation.

I still have a toe outside the curtain, so there's a few things I want to whisper with all of us non-ministers, about that secret world of clergy.

My brother recently brought my otherwise calm father to absolute apoplexy by remarking that he thinks people pretty much turn out the way they will, no matter what the parent does.  (My brother is child-free.)

My father sat listening to him, fury no doubt rising, until finally he couldn't stand it anymore.  "REALLY?  Well, that's just great. All those nights I couldn't sleep, tossing and turning, trying to figure out what the right thing to do was, how I was going to afford things you needed, how to reach you and teach you, all that heartache and stress ... and none of it mattered. You would have turned out the same had I just shrugged and let you be."

Well, there's a whole lot of that in ministry. A lot of sleepless nights, a lot of praying and soul-searching.  Am I fulfilling my call?  God, am I doing what you entrusted me to do? Am I providing opportunities for transformation, for healing, for nurturing? Are my people stronger now, or just tireder and poorer? What am I missing? Who am I missing?

They make mistakes. And it rips them apart. And they can't lean on us. Because they are there to minister, not to be ministered to. They live knowing how very expendable they are. And that it must be that way.

We hear the stories of arrogant ministers, confident in all that they do. But I have seen ministers, so very aware of their human fraility. When no one else is around, tears fall.

The stole is not so much a distinction of honor as it is a yoke of responsibility, sometimes even a heavy chain of commitment and requirement. Heavy hangs the stole.

Perhaps you feel I am aggrandizing a world that I seek to join. I don't think so.

I'm just reporting what I saw when I peeked behind the curtain.