If I Were Going to Be a Christian

Long-time readers of this blog know that I come from a Christian (mega-church-Baptist-Catholic-Methodist-ish) background, once identified as Christian, probably don’t now, but still sort of want to and long for some parts of that tradition and familiarity and… long for that something that I felt and knew during my years in that world.*

But I haven’t been able to get over several parts of Christianity, like, for instance, the centrality of Jesus, and the atonement thing, among others. I know, I know. Big issues. But that is for another post. The point here is that I just got done reading an amazing paper by someone in one of my classes. The paper will eventually be posted online, when it is, I will link to it.

But her beautiful paper (she is an academic theologian and a Christian) inspired me to imagine for a second or two that I would be able to convince myself that I could reside both in Unitarian Universalism and in some sort of Christian tradition.

And I thought, if I could do that, this would be how:

It would mean placing myself in a tradition of struggle – a struggle to do right, to love God, to love our neighbors and to apprehend mystery that is beyond mystery, beauty that is beyond beauty, suffering that is beyond suffering. It wouldn’t mean that I would believe differently – but that I would situate myself in a tradition, a context of grappling with this crazy world we live in and trying to make sense of it all by drawing from certain texts, being nourished by a community of believers trying to do right, trying to do good… just plain old trying. It is such a diverse and beautiful and rich tradition because it is just so damn hard to understand the divine and to live well. It takes so many different tries and thoughts and practices just to even begin to get close. It would mean placing myself in a tradition, a tradition that I still long for and miss, that hopes even when hope seems unreasonable. It means acknowledging that people do terrible things to each other, yet we also love radically, believe that things can be better, and imagine that God is within us all (the holy spirit), can walk among us as Jesus did, and that God is everywhere and everything. Christianity can be read and practiced in other ways – hurtful ways, exclusive ways, unjust ways. It has and I understand that. But I could decide to identify with the parts that call to me. I could, at the same time, be a part of the tradition and faith, and transform parts of it.

Maybe I will someday. For now, I am where I am and the Mystery and Love I know is okay with that and glad that I am still struggling, hoping, praying, and trying to make a way in this world – to make a way that is just, joyful, peaceful, and beautiful. It is amazingly hard to do this well and I realize I get so much of it wrong – and this allows me to be more understanding of the ways that others appear to me to get it wrong. It is, I think, so difficult just to stumble through life and not do lots of harm – to ourselves and others. I give thanks for those that journey with me in so many different ways, and for my Unitarian Universalist faith that wants me even given my struggles and failures and longings for something more.

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*This would be in addition to/concurrent with/woven into (not as a replacement of) my Unitarian Universalist faith.

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7 Responses to If I Were Going to Be a Christian

  1. Jess says:

    I don’t think anything you’ve said is at odds with Unitarian Universalism — even those who choose not to use the “god” word are comfortable with the idea of the divine dwelling within all of us. Check out Rev. Michael Dowd for some fantastic material on reclaiming the richness of the Christian tradition and metaphor by using evolution science to affirm rather than tear down the Bible. And you might look at the online materials from the UU Christian Fellowship as well.

    UUism and Christianity certainly should not be mutually exclusive (look at our basic history, right?) — I think we get way too caught up in the atheist-theist “divide” and ignore the way people really practice their personal theologies in their hearts of hearts for fear of offending that mythical “someone.” It would be so much more productive if we could be more honest and open with these things, because I think at the core we all want the same thing — to love justice and mercy and walk humbly, knowing ourselves for the flawed beings we are but also knowing that together we are way more than we are all by ourselves.

  2. Erik says:

    The UU Christian Fellowship lays claim to many individuals struggling with precisely these issues. They, and (from what it sounds like) you as well, represent a crucial voice in this denomination. It is unfortunate, I believe, when we abandon our uniquely U/U hermeneutic of freedom, reason and tolerance on account of our minority position, thereby abdicating to more literalist interpretations of scriptures and Christianity writ large. As a fellow seminarian who identifies as a UU-Sikh, I would commend to you Peter Huff’s piece entitled “Gandhi, King, and the Virtue of Hyphenated Religious Identity” in The Unitarian Universalist Christian (Volume 58, 2003). In a persuasive and coherent manner, Huff reminds us of the religious balancing that both Gandhi and King performed, which in turn fueled their spirits and fed their souls. I’m warmed to see another future colleague and UU religious leader grappling with these deeply spiritual concerns. Amen!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you both Jess and Erik. It is so nice to come to my blog and find such kind, thoughtful, supportive comments. This is such a deep and inner sort of thing and sometimes I wonder if it makes sense to put it out there.

    I also want to clarify, after reading, that, for me, the struggle (for me) is not if Unitarian Universalism (or ists) would welcome me as a Unitarian Universalist Christian (many would, some would not, I think), but if I can personally get there myself. I am SO torn – on one hand longing for something I miss and feel at home with and love, and on the other hand wanting to absolutely reject Christianity for myself (not for others, of course) and break with it. It reminds me how, as I get older, in so many areas of my life I discover that things are not only ambivalent and mixed, but can actually be opposite and opposed at the same time. Much peace to both of you and any other lurking readers :) E

  4. I can totally relate to your feelings about Christianity. I’m an exile myself, and have feelings of being torn in both directions sometimes. That being said, I don’t think the atonement thing is central to Christianity, although some Christians would claim that it is. The centrality of Jesus is a little harder to get away from, I think, although what that “centrality” means is also an open question, since a lot of people who participate in Christian communities (including people I’ve known who attend Christian churches) would not accept that Jesus was God.

    My own experience in the past has been that a lot of UUs are refugees from conservative Christianity and are not particularly tolerant of any form of Christianity, liberal or otherwise, but I also know of UU ministers who are bloggers who are also Christian. So I think it is likely that your mileage will vary when it comes to how UUism would match your own desires and needs. It probably depends on the congregation in question and whether the UU’s embracing of multitudes works for you or not. I ultimately decided that I wanted to be more than just an observer or a deconstructer of a progressive Christian faith, but also a more active participant in some way in a worship experience more grounded in Christian spirituality, but that’s just me. You might find that you really feel at home in a UU church.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for the comment, Mystical Seeker. Happily, I am very at home in Unitarian Universalism and my home congregation as a (almost – as soon as I get congregational endorsement) candidate for Unitarian Universalist ordination. As soon as my partner and I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church quite some years ago, now, both of us felt drawn to it and have never considered that it might not be right for us. For me, the question was always how I understand myself in relation to my Christian history/spirituality. Am I hyphenated? Increasingly, I feel like being on that edge – that not-sure place – is not so much a place where I have to make a decision, but actually where I need to be for whatever reason. That my “home” is on the margins, in the place of not-sure, of wanting and longing, yet also leaving and rejecting. It reminds me of why I feel like I connected so much with the writings of Simone Weil.

  6. Jess says:

    I am SO torn – on one hand longing for something I miss and feel at home with and love, and on the other hand wanting to absolutely reject Christianity for myself (not for others, of course) and break with it.

    I feel you. I rejected Christianity before I found UUism, because of some extremely painful experiences. But I’ve noticed over the years in UUism that I miss much of the depth that can be found in the Christian tradition, because I see so many people rejecting all of the good stuff along with what may have hurt them in the past, or in reaction to the uber-literal interpretations of the conservative right.

    I tried a few years back to go to the UU Christian Communion service at GA, hoping that maybe the UUCF had found a way to reclaim the good and leave the bad, but found that no, at least for me, it didn’t work. It’s the violence of the story of Jesus that I personally just can’t get around, and it’s difficult to embrace his life and his story without having to deal with his death and everything that goes with it — traditionally, theologically, etc.

    But give me Channing’s Christianity, or Emerson’s, and I’m intrigued. It’s an interesting balance.

    Anyway. I tend to stick up for the UUCF and for those who express a longing for more traditionally Christian elements and thought in our UU churches because I think it’s more important to wrestle with these ideas and traditions than to reject them utterly. Particularly, I think we lose too much when we shut the Bible and everything that goes with it out completely, not to mention how we then set ourselves outside of the mainstream religious conversation in this country. One doesn’t have to take the Bible literally to find meaning in it.

  7. […] ponders how she could embrace a form of Christianity within the context of her Unitarian Universalism (“Elizabeth’s Little Blog,” June […]

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