I hear Lo-Fi like Hi-Fi

R.E.M.’s “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” is playing as I re-read Shawn Anthony’s recent post about his Christian faith and how this puts off the Unitarian Universalist Association ministerial formation path. If you’re not a fan of early R.E.M., you’ll have to trust me that this sets the perfect tone. (Rockville is an easy ride on the Red Line, and Hubby and I found a fabu Taiwanese restuarant there — we do go back — but that’s besides the point.)

The point is that Shawn has joined an unorganized society of those who can’t make Christian faith and Unitarian Universalism work, or at least work in practical terms. Michelle Murrain, also a blogger, is another. I’ll be a third, though I’ll announce my formal break at the same time I resign my fellowship with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, probably by the spring. Best to observe the formalities I think. Come April or so, you can read all of us by news feeds if not UUpdates!

Those I feel the worst for are the Christians that stay behind. I always got a lump in my throat or heartburn when I heard “another one left.” After all, there’s no logical reason why this incompatibility has to be. If I lived in certain parts of the US, I could stay Unitarian Universalist since an badly-fitting option is better than none at all. Though I believe in the Trinity now, I could even keep company with the Universalist-less Unitarians in Britain and elsewhere, tucked in nicely under the broad catholicity of their partner, the Free Christians. But in practical terms, anywhere I would choose to live offers the United Church of Christ more accurately matches the Christianity I have, but I have rehearsed that before and vain repetition makes bad blogging. But, as others reminded and remind me, if the faith is true, there is no departure. I am just as close to to the sisters and brethren as before (if not in the same committee room.)

But what do I make of my time as a Unitarian and a Universalist? That’s the hardest part to reconcile. Was it, at last, a mistake? No. A wise colleague once noted that Universalism had a charism in its doctrine and the herzlich tenderness found in its pastoral works, and that wouldn’t be lost. I was reading Philip Schaff’s The Principle of Protestantism (1844) for my upcoming UCC theology class; this was his opening manifesto for a reformed catholic Christianity. He wrote in an appended General Summary:

93. Separation, where it is characterized by religious life, spewing almost always from some real evil in the state of the church, and hence sectarianism is to be regarded as a necessary disciplinarian and reformer of the church in its practical life.

94. Almost every sect represents in strong relief some single particular aspect of piety, and contributes to the fuller evolution of individual activity.

95. Since however the truths of the gospel form an inseparable unity, and the single member can become complete only among with the whole body of which it is a part, it follows that no sect can ever do justice fully even to the single interest to which it is one-sidedly devoted.

96. Sects then owe it to themselves, as soon as they have fulfilled their historical vocation, to fall back to the general church communion from which they have succeded, as in no ther way can their spiritual acquisitions be either completed or secured, and they must themselves otherwise stiffen into monumental petrifactions, never to be revisted with the warm life pulse of the one universal church.

Those words come at the right time. (Perhaps, for you too Shawn.) Christian Universalism has been unable to do more within the UUA than hold on by its fingernails, and not that with much success. It’s time (for me anyway) to keep growing and enrich the Church Universal by getting back closer to it.

I wonder what the churchly Elmer Hewett Capen, Elbridge Gerry Brooks, Fredrick Henry Hedge or James Martineau would make of that?

21 Replies to “I hear Lo-Fi like Hi-Fi”

  1. Scott, thanks. You know, I think I have been more exhausted by my vain attempt over the past few months to shape everything I try to say in a specific and acceptable fashion. Does that make sense? I found it impossible. If you read my blog posts for the past few weeks you’ll see me struggling desperately to make my Christianity fit this version of the UUA. I finally threw my hands up in the air and said the hell with it. I have to be me. I can’t loose myself and my expression in the quagmire. Honestly – and if we are all completely honest – that is what has become of the movement. So, I move on. It is far from convenient, believe me. I could have continued forward. I have open doors. I did not leave because I failed a psychological, Test, or got red flagged. I am presently a member of the UUMA. So, it’s not a convenient departure. I also am in the third year of seminary. I should be enjoying it. I left because I desperately want to live a deep and rich theology and faith. I left because my children need an identifiable religious center. I left because I want what every religious person wants – tradition. I left because I obviously made a mistake.

    Those who are nearest to me know this is not surprising. I have never been too far away from a Christ-centered faith. I have always been a Christian. I just found myself trying to shape and twist it so I could move forward in the UUA. It doesn’t work. Peruse my blog archives and you will see my attempting it for months and months. I will not attempt it anymore. I know this will mean I won’t get a job, of have a difficult time of it at the very least. So, I’ll be me and leave.

    I am in no way attempting to offend anyone, though it seems I have a few. Sorry. I wish you all the best.

  2. I had a dream last night that you had quit Unitarian-Universalism, Scott. I think it was prompted by Shawn’s post. This is an interesting phenomenon. I have never been nor ever shall be a Christian, so it is not easy for me to put myself in such shoes and try to understand the difficulties of getting along in the UUA. When I do imagine, I feel like I could be a Christian and a UU, comfortably. But that is an imaginary me, not a real you. It is too bad some people can’t find a good fit within UUism, but there’s nothing to it but to seek fellowship elsewhere, and I wish them the best wherever they land.

  3. Funny. My religious faith is monotheistic, grounded in the Christian tradition, unitarian, process theistic, and strongly unorthodox, and I never felt any spiritual satisfaction from the UU church in my town (which is why I started exploring the UCC.) If I, with my Christian-based but not even remotely orthodox Christian views, could not find a home in a UU church, then I can’t imagine how a Trinitarian or one who thinks that Christ is the Divine son of the Living God could do so. So it amazes me that people like yourself or Shawn stuck it out in the UUA as long as you did.

    “Don’t Go to Rockville” is possibly my favorite REM song, and I blame you for it now going around in my head. Thanks a lot.

  4. Scott, the point you are making is a vital and provocative one. The move — urged in all deliberateness by many prominent Unitarians and Universalists for many decades now — to see Unitarianism, Universalism, or Unitarian Universalism as a new religion creates real tension with the obvious historical fact that both traditions did emerge as sects or denominations, as particular and needed expressions of Christian faith. From one perspective, we UUs no longer bring an ecumenical gift and recognize the ecumenical gifts of other churches. From another perspective, we UUs are now trying to be a religion in dialogue with other religions instead. But we still act like a sect more than a religion.

    UUs have largely given up their role as the champions of liberalism within the church, the role I’ve understood Hedge and Bellows and even James Luther Adams to have seen for their tradition — but other Christians have embraced that role within the catholicity of the church. Hedge would have been an Episcopalian today. Bellows, probably a high-church Congregationalist. Not sure about Adams.

  5. After reading Shawn’s post, and Scott’s reflections, I think there is a deeper meaning here. It is one which I’ve not been able to articulate until now.

    It is the deeper meaning of practice. Christianity is something which is practiced, and it can not be practiced alone. To do so in most UU settings is highly constrained. You can think about just about anything in a UU church, and in fact I’ve even preached on the Second Coming of Christ in a UU church. The sermon and my unconventional interpretation got a very good reception. But to practice Christianity in most UU churches??? It is so hard for us to have shared spiritual practices when we don’t have much of a shared identity. Christianity is not simply about what we think, but also about what we do, and that includes practices of prayer, Bible study, and sacrament.

    I continue to maintain my ties as a minister ordained by a UU church, even while I serve a programmed Friends meeting. But I find this issue of practice to be an issue that fascinates and troubles me. In the context of my ministry among Friends, it is empowering and enriching to be able to serve together from a Quaker identity with its commonly shared practice of prayer and silent waiting on the Spirit; its Quaker practice of reading the Bible in the Spirit of its writing; and the Quaker practice of sacramental living. All of this going on in a faith community that is decidedly liberal, and leaning small-u universalist in its Christian theology. Most (but not all) of the UU congregations I’ve been involved with since 1992 have felt more like debate societies, service clubs, or like college symposium lectures. There is just that issue of practice, beyond the liberal thinking…

    I haven’t quite left the UUA though. Although posts like Scott’s and Shawn’s make me ask why not? Why not just leave my present half-caste UU + Quaker existence behind? I still feel a profound connection to rare corners of the UUA that are ignored, poorly served, and otherwise far from the UUA mainstream. The UUA, and these non-mainstream corners, would not be improved by my departure. But I also see universalist Christianity being practiced in many places among Quakers, within the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, and the Alliance of Baptists. I guess for now I see my community of practice as existing among parts of many Protestant denominations. Until and unless God leads me into a complete break with the UUA, and into fuller communion with another denomination, I’ve found that I need to be content to live an ecumenical and post-denominational Universalist existence. But the questions of practiced religion still trouble me greatly when I am in UU settings.

  6. Actually, it seems to me the logical outcome of hyphenated UUism. What does it mean that one is a Christian UU, or a Pagan UU, or a Buddhist UU? That one is not Christian, Pagan, Buddhist enough? That one dares not be in the real place? Why is anybody at a UU worship service if what is going on there does not appeal to that person’s true devotion and feeling of identity with a history and a tradition? If worship is not about your deepest belief, why should you be there at all and waste your time and hinder your spiritual progress? Does it mean that the hyphenated UUs need to worship with other religions around? They may go to an interfaith prayer meeting, there are many and there will be more as the clash of civilizations increases; in interfaith gatherings, people find other people deeply committed to their respective religious paths, truly knowledgeable about their texts, meanings, customs, and symbols, and no funny objects such as a flaming chalice. In the end, it is a question of identities. What is your deep religious identity? If you are a Christian, be a Christian and attend a church. If you are a Pagan, be a Pagan and be at your coven. I see Unitarianism as the individual’s struggle to go beyond received religion. Sooner or later, you have to go beyond religion, or go back to religion. Unless we Unitarians find our own identity in the religious landscape, we will keep losing honest people who, in their personal journey, sooner or later realize that they are looking for something that is not ourselves.

  7. Well, I knew this pre-announcment was coming…..Scott sure dropped enough hints (as if going to an UCC church every Sunday wasnt a big one) – …
    it’s like a divorce – does one remain friendly or social (particuarly if there is no children) – or does one forget all the past, good as well as bad? – or then there’s the folks who try to conivence the rest of us that their joy at their new life means the rest of us are wasting our lives associating with the ex. If God wanted a hell, it would be full of folks complaining about their ex- (spouse, religion, football team, drinking habits, etc)
    Scott, sorry to see you go, – from a personal level (“yes, its all about me, isnt it?”), if you lose interest in old southern UCA stuff, who’s going to read my blog? Hey, I just today found the start of the history of Rev S. M. Simon (ordained before Clayton) – if this computer had Java, i would be posting there first instead of here! You’re my main reader – my counts will sink to folks looking for Lyman Ward Military Academy (by adding that comment, I’ve added 3 hits a week to your blog)! Who else will want to know the title of the sermon preached at N. P. Walker’s ordination? Or all the sermon titles preached in Durham NC in 1906? Who else will want to know if I find anymore Father Clayton books? Or that Albert Clayton is mentioned in Shinn’s biography? Of course, if you’ve lost your interest in old Universalism history, then I guess you’ve got some old foxed books and newspapers that you need to give to a good home right? 😉

    seriously, we only given a short time to live our lives,so we have to do what we feel right and best.
    to do what’s right. To grow, to learn, to celebrate and live one’s faith to the best we can.

    “Oh let me live from this day forth to sing
    The prasies of earth’s victorious God and King.
    Oh send me out to tell the nations of a love
    That bars no soul outside that heavenly home above.”
    —Rev. Athalia L.J. Irwin, portions of her poem “Heaven”, written on her day of ordination to the Universalist ministry November 1902.

  8. Fear not, it was the Southern Universalist that carried me this far. I intend to keep that part of it up; indeed, that’s been most of my connection to Universalism lately. But if I should ever flag, I’ll send you the goods. Others have done the same for me . . . .

  9. Scott, and Shawn, and all, always both a blessing to see folks take this step, which I think of as deeper into the Kingdom, and of course painful for all the reasons you mention.
    For me it is just such a strange time. Kind of chaotic in a way. Individually people are leaving UUism, particularly in seminary or early in clergy life, because they are Christian, and I hear all the time of people individually becoming Christian in UUism, and also in seminary too, and it is not just the Christianity of the Jesus is my main life example and moral teacher either. We have small groups of UU Christians now meeting all over the country, and of course need to have them in more places (Scott, think back to when you were in Texas not so long ago–now think that we have UUCF groups in Fort Worth, Dallas, Plano, Carrollton, Denison, San Antonio, Austin, Houston. That is remarkable. And we are on the verge of another explosion of small groups like this in other parts of the country too.
    I have to think that Christianity in the UUA is no longer a sinking ship, but I do believe that it may very well take on different forms in the future. Christian churches in the UUA, as I am off this weekend to the Convocation of the Christian Churches in the UUA, may not look the same as they have been, and they may not be able to support UU Christian clergy as they have been, or we may just hold on to the numbers of pulpits, but I think the small group as church within the larger “parish” of the local UU church or area or the UUA will continue to grow because it is here that we will be able to best meet the needs of so many who are now approaching Christ in the UUA circles.
    So it does seem to be the best of times and the worst of times in many ways. Does that make sense?
    And, this is for the readers of your blog of course, always remember, the UUCF is broader than the UUA. Just as people don’t have to be Christian to walk with us, neither do they have to be UU, so hope to see Shawn and so many others in different faith communities becoming parts of our times together.

  10. I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned this privately to a few or blogged about it, but I intend to keep my UUCF membership. It was the Christianity I needed when all other voices were absent, and I recommend it.

  11. Yes. Seems the change to “Cuyahoga” is appropriate. I have one more: the worship director at the local UU church has announced her switch to the UCC. She is so very, very talented (opertic trained and very intouch with worship/spirituality). She has been in the M.Div program at Lancaster for a year now. She is such a talent. The UCC just got one of the best in her.

  12. Readers: go back up and read Philocrites, Derek and the Mystical Seeker’s comments. They were held in moderation until a moment ago.

  13. I used to get a lump in my throat when I heard of another Christian’s departure from the UUA, but no more. Christians belong to each other regardless of denominational affiliation. The stinker is, though, not knowing we’ll be seeing each other frequently at conferences.
    But that’s what vacation time is for.

    I celebrate the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life. Unitarian Universalist collegial relationships are dear to me, but I would not have my most beloved friends fed stones when they need bread all for the sake of a few vodka gimlets at GA. We can pray for each other and be in each other’s lives no matter what denominational tradition we’re part of. I feel like that old joke, “Believe in inter-religious collegial relationships?Hell, I’ve SEEN it!”

  14. thanks all for these posts and comments. i’m really taking it in, even from way out here in the Philippines, where all the UU’s I’ve met thus far identify as Christian UU’s, predominately from the Christian Universalism of the founding minister and legend Rev. Toribo Quimada.

  15. I hope Derek is wrong about folks not being able to be Christian by themselves (does the net count as not being by yourself?) – if he is right, I might as well as give up — my Christian views are much more like those Universalists of the 1800s mixed with social gospel of Methodists and United Brethren; and there is no Christian Church within 60 miles that would welcome that sort (or so I say without asking every single one of those churches within 60 miles of me). I could not be, what I would consider a real Christian in those churches. I would have to hide my views and keep mum (gee, those this sound familiar to some of yall?)
    In my tiny monthly UU Fellowship, I dont go for worship, as I worship everyday. Certainly the sermons that I give (when I give them) would not be fullfilling for those looking for worship. I hope they are fullfilling in other ways…even if the word Jesus and God arent mentioned everytime.
    One of the good things about Universalism and Universalists, is that when someone leaves the fold – we miss them, we wish they would come back, but unlike other religious views, we dont worry about their souls…. we know we will see them again….

  16. Steven R – I guess that I increasingly find that Christianity is not something one thinks, but that it is instead something people do with one another. It is a community activity, and that’s why for centuries folks have termed it the Body of Christ.

    I do think that there are some people who can do Christianity alone. But I think it is a difficult challenge.

  17. Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your MIND.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.

    I certainly think God EXPECTS us to have a faith that requires thinking. AND is something we do with one another.

    Why must they be exclusive?

    You know, as a UU Christian myself I surely sometimes feel the exclusion others mention. But I believe there UUism is my spiritual home, and I go back to Gordon McKeeman for how I should live with UUism.

    “But you say we are so few… if we are few it is all the more reason to speak up with our lives”

  18. As one who is no longer UU since coming to seminary, yet never in the ordination process, I still feel sad sometimes. It seems so strange that I returned to Christianity, really found progressive Christianity, through my active membership in a UU Church, which led me to the UUCF and those of you blogging about historical Universalism and newer forms of UU Christianity. I love my church, a high-church congregational congregation, affiliated with the UCC and the Alliance of Baptists. But without UU, I never would have known that I love congregationalism, and non-creedalism, and all the things that led me to where I find myself as an MDiv Middler. I still have fantasies about a Universalist resurgence in the South, but am pretty sure the UUA (or any denomination) is not the way such a movement is going to happen. Again, I find this post bittersweet for many personal reasons, but am glad you put it out there, Scott. And don’t worry Steven, I’m still interested in your blog. And still struggling along trying to fit in transcribing that Treatise in my increasingly tiny spare time.


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