My Theology

ExPluribusUnum, or "one from many", is the Shortest Way to Describe My Theology.

I believe that we are all mere human beings trying to make sense of our existence; so we should keep that in mind when we interact with one another. We are one people, composed of many persons. "God" is found in the love we share. The only way to get to that holy place is to practice more love!

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11, 2001, helped solidify my UU faith

I stayed up pretty late on Monday, September 10, 2001. At 22 years old, I was a supervisor at Borders and working the closing shift the next day; there was no reason for me to go to bed early. In all likelihood, I probably went out with friends and partied. After all, that’s what 22 year-olds do, isn’t it?

But I don’t remember much of anything factual about Monday, September 10, 2001. What I do remember is my brother waking me up way too early the following morning with some stupid story about an airplane flying into one of the twin towers. At the time, I felt that my younger siblings were more of an annoyance to me than anything else — a prejudice I was privileged to hold as the eldest of our parents’ three children. So having my sleep interrupted by such an incredible claim, coming from Nemesis No. 1, just made me angry. I was much less forgiving then!

Nevertheless, he was persistent and continued to try and get me out of bed.

My father worked in midtown Manhattan then, my mother in central New Jersey. In our den, we had a decent sized television with DirecTV and a sound system appropriate for a small dance club. Now lying awake in bed, I could hear my brother and sister watching the news downstairs. I still didn’t believe that anything had happened but was curious to know what had gotten them up and watching the news, so I got out of bed and walked down the stairs into the living room.

From there I could clearly see on the screen the faces of people in shock, people in tears, people running, and a building in flames. Shortly after, I watched as the second plane flew into the first building’s twin. Despite witnessing the event, there was still a certain amount of incredulity that kept me from having any real response. It was an unreal scenario, outside the realm of the possible, and it didn’t make any sense.

Then my mother called to tell us that she was coming home from work, and that we should stay there. The phone lines into Manhattan were jammed and we were unable to get in touch with my father. And that was when everything became “for-real real”.


I came out to my family in a 1999 letter written specifically to them. My mother bugged me for weeks about what I wanted for my birthday — her firstborn was turning 20. I told her that what I wanted for my birthday was to give my family a gift, and that that was all I needed. It must have been quite a shock when I delivered my five-page letter, but I wasn’t there to witness it because I had left home, anxiety-ridden and with no game plan.

The letter eventually got around to revealing the fact of my sexuality, but the bulk of it served as written catharsis, finally exposing years of depression and religious angst revolving around unanswered questions, questions answered unsatisfactorily, and questions left unasked. Although it felt good to relieve the burden of a hidden sexuality, I still found it difficult to admit that I was unsure of my religious views. Unsatisfied with and even harmed by the dogma of our family’s particular brand of Christianity, and confused by much of its theology, I left the church. The only options for salvation were miserable-now-and-saved-for-eternity or content-for-now-and-damned-to-hell. I decided that I was an atheist, I didn’t need any organized religion, and my choice—my heresy—would seal my fate.

In 2000 I officially became a Unitarian Universalist. Atheism didn’t pan out, and I missed the community and the living religion only found when likeminded folks get together with common purpose. After much research, I landed in a UU church and believed I had found a new religious home. Initially, I took the introductory religious education courses offered, but didn’t really integrate myself too well into the life of the congregation. And then my nuisance of a younger brother woke me up with some story about a plane and the World Trade Center…

After the stresses of the day had waned, all my friends and family who worked in Manhattan were accounted for and I was grateful. My yearnings for the “spiritual food” my aunt insisted I needed a few years earlier began to grow, and I was eager to get more involved in Unitarian Universalism. Returning to the slightly-less-than-omniscient Internet, I stumbled across what was then a thriving group of lively UUs on the popular religion site Using my newly inspired handle “ExPluribusUnum”, I there became acquainted with ChaliceChick, the Socinian, and several other people with whom I have enjoyed (sometimes intense) theological and ethical discussion. It was there that I first encountered the ubiquitous RobinEdgar.

I dove right into this new, exciting religious community, and was hooked. As my moniker suggested, I was convinced that human beings can coexist, and indeed that out of many nations we are one people with the same struggles and possibilities. The “9-11 attacks” were an affront to humanity itself, and in my mind the only spiritually appropriate response was to unite in godly love and combat the hatred that arises out of desperation, as we have forgotten the truth that we are all “God’s children”.


As 2002 began, and after a nasty car accident, I began riding New Jersey Transit’s Midtown Direct train into the City and attending services at the Fourth Universalist Society on the island’s Upper West Side. It was there that I met the Reverend Rosemary Bray McNatt, who had just begun her ministry there on Sunday, September 9; and the Reverend Nathan C. Walker, then 4th U’s interim Director of Religious Education, who lead a group for congregants in their 20s and 30s that I found most helpful.

At 30, I have now been a UU for longer than I attended the church of my teens. I love the openness, the community, the breadth of theologies, and especially the freedom (and expectation!) to question things — even God. Years later, now living in Baltimore, I can recall participating in a group at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore called “Foundations”, in which we discussed what defines today’s Unitarian Universalism. I struggled with the concept of salvation, still carrying the baggage of heaven vs. hell in my spirit. One day, taking a break from work, I stopped to listen to some Bible radio — something I do on occasion to test, question, and strengthen my faith. Listening to the fire and brimstone preaching of this particular program, I remember being totally unattached to the rhetoric and having more of an intellectual curiosity than an emotional response. Eureka! That was the moment I truly stopped believing that God would condemn me to eternal damnation, and all I could feel was pity for the radio host. Universalism more so than (but not independent of) Unitarianism is the part of our heritage that really allows me to feel free, and to be free, awash in God’s love.

We are all one people, sharing the same little blue planet, on a common course through the universe and through history. And every year on September 11, I reflect on all of this personal history, and am convinced that becoming a Unitarian Universalist has saved me.

Eight years later we are stuck in multiple wars; and despite having elected the first Black president, tensions based on difference are heightened around the globe. Differences in race, class, ethnicity, and belief — these all make for a beautiful bouquet that should be honored and celebrated. This is something that Unitarian Universalism can do well, if we work at it.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had this to say:

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Violence and hate do not bring salvation. Only the Spirit of Love and of Life can do that. Unitarian Universalism was open to me when I needed to be loved, and I am forever grateful.

That is what September 11 reminds me every year.
May we share Love and create Peace wherever we go.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Writing isn't easy when you have other obligations!

So I've been writing articles for the Examiner for a month and a half now...and it's not easy!

I'm finally getting the hang of things, with plans for regular topics to cover. But there's so much out there, and so much for me to learn! I have recently discovered the wonder of google (don't laugh), which until now I only used as a search engine. Fascinating all the things that it can do; and apparently this very blog is connected to google...somehow...right?

Personal ignorance aside, I'm having fun. Next task: distinguish between what to "blog" about, and what to write "articles" about.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Finally going on a writing spree!

Yesterday, April 17, 2009, mere days after my 30th birthday, I officially became the Baltimore Unitarian Universalist Examiner. As you can tell by the dearth of material on this blog, whose address I have never given to anyone, I don't write as much as I would like to. That is all going to change now!

I've been feeling overwhelmed a lot over the past year - with work, with church committees, with starting a new life together with my partner, with balding and losing my ertswhile perpetually slim figure. A lot has been going on, and it seems that with the pace of technological advancement these days, if you step out of the stream for too long everything rushes past you and leaves you discombobulated upon re-entry into the swing of things. Well, I'm done with discombobulation! I'm going to write, and write, and write. It's going to be my spiritual practice for 2009. Letters, articles, blog entries, post cards, essays, maybe even poetry. Being 30 is re-awakening my muse(s). I'm so excited!

Visit my Examiner page and subscribe today!
Baltimore Unitarian Universalist Examiner

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Keepers of the Hall: Stewardship in a UU Context

This is the text of a talk I gave at my church on February 25, 2007, as part of our Stewardship Speakers Series, itself a part of our annual Canvass.

Some people said they liked it in other places I've posted I figured I'd post it here and see what you think as well.



Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

Malachi 3:10, KJV

When Nola asked me to speak before the congregation as part of this speakers series, I said, "Sure!", having no doubt that I would eventually think of something useful to share with you this afternoon. And then I realized…that I would have to think of something useful to share with you this afternoon! What could I possibly have to tell you about stewardship? Well, what immediately popped into my mind was the verse that I read to you a little while ago, from the Old Testament book of Malachi. This verse was recited in the church of my youth on just about every Sunday, immediately before the offering was taken. In the language of the NIV: "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." Not only was there a single offering, but usually there were two—a tithing offering, and a special offering to raise funds for particular purposes. On certain occasions, there may even have been a third offering! Can you imagine a Sunday morning where the offering is taken, counted, and deemed insufficient enough for the minister to call for another round of giving? Right. And then afterwards came the doxology, or hymn of praise to God: Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below, praise Him above ye heavenly host, praise Father Son & Holy Ghost! Amen. When Nola approached me last week to ask what my topic today would be, I hadn't fully thought it out, but was haunted by this verse from Malachi, so I told her that I would be talking on Malachi today; but going back to the text, I realized that going over my juvenile understanding of what happened on Sundays in my old church would not be much help in explaining why I support this church today. For this reason, I will briefly touch on what this verse in Malachi meant to me and then move on to sources which have greater resonance in my life today, sharing readings from Sufi mystic Shamsuddin Muhammad (bka Hafiz, which means 'memorizer', and is an honorific bestowed upon those who can recite the entire Qur'an by heart), from the Tao Te Ching, and from our very own UU worship resource, the hymnal "Singing the Living Tradition".

First, let's return to Malachi. Understand first that I am no Biblical scholar, and that the following is simply my understanding of the text coupled with some historical background from the student Bible I used when I was younger. The book of Malachi is a portrait of a people who have grown lax in their faith. Having become well-to-do and comfortable, they have forgotten the origins of their practices and become careless in their worship and ritual. Eventually, their rites became empty, being performed by rote (and with some disdain) because of tradition, and void of any present meaning. In short, they couldn't see the point in what they did, so their heart was not in it. No one would flinch if their neighbor offered their most diseased cattle as an offering – it was no good to them anyway, and what was the point of giving their best to a God whose presence had grown more and more questionable. Why not keep the best, and give the leftovers? Oh, but the God of the Hebrew Bible is a jealous God, and was swift if reprimanding His people. Chapter 3 verses 6-7 says "I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away form my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says the LORD Almighty. And then the calling for the tithe. A tithe means 1/10 of your possessions. I'm not sure whether verse 10 is some sort of statement of Biblical karma, but essentially God says to his people, "Give! So that I may give you! Go ahead and try it, and see how abundantly you will be blessed in return!"

It was from this context that I got my understanding of what it was to give at church. I actually had this image in mind: God really needed some money. Our job as Christians was to pay God. Every Sunday, we would give our offering, which would then be taken away to the storage room (aka 'storehouse'), where it would sit until God needed to make a withdrawal. Imagine – Donald's uncle, Scrooge McDuck, swimming through his piles of gold coins. And THEN, we got to sing a song thanking Him in his goodness for allowing us to give money that we couldn't afford, and for…God-knows-what purpose. It was such a mystery to me then, as was the whole idea of 'stewardship'. In my church, then, a Steward was one of several people with special ranking in the church. They had their own set of pews in the front near the altar. They all wore white [see note 1]. They had liturgical functions. I didn't know until later that they, or a subset of them, made the financial decisions for the church, or that they had other responsibilities and authorities. Honestly, I still don't know for certain what their exact roles were. They might have functioned in a way similar to our church's Board of Trustees, but I don't know. Ah, the mystery. In any case, the word steward is used rather differently in our Unitarian-Universalist tradition. We tend to see the word in its root meaning of "keeper of the hall", from the Old English stig (akin to the Modern English 'sty') meaning 'hall', and weard (related to ward, warden, guard, and guardian) meaning 'watcher' or 'keeper'. Here, we are all charged with the upkeep not only of our 'hall', this building, but with the upkeep of our community, and supporting it in its work to change the world. As you may have seen, we stewards of the church are encouraged to give a 'UU tithe' which is 5% to the church and 5% to other worthy causes. Personally, I think I've made it to 2% for church and 1% for others. But we are not competing against each other for the wink and nudge of a jealous God, we are here to do the work that is set before us, and each of us does what we can.

Despite my childish ignorance, I had always delighted in being able to give something when the plate was passed by me in churches of my youth. Like the other little children, I brought change (or else I was given some by my parents) that I could toss into the plate as it passed. It wasn't until much later when I began to question the purpose behind everything that I was told to do that I began to ponder the reasons for giving so much money that could be better used, in my opinion, for things other than sitting in a room waiting for God to come get it (what did He need the money for?). Not only did these thoughts occur to me, but I also began to notice what happened when you let the plate pass by you. You felt guilty. Everyone watched, and everyone knew if you didn't give. Giving was compulsory, if only because of the pang of guilt you would feel if you didn't participate. It's amazing to me in hindsight how important my perception of things was in the formation of my beliefs of how they were actually. But my perceptions were all I had, and because I didn't feel comfortable enough to question things openly, and no one was offering satisfactory answers to questions I couldn't pose, I became increasingly uncomfortable in the church. There were many reasons why I later decided to leave the church altogether; but essentially, my discomfort was my motivation.

Here's a short poem by Hafiz:

#198 Damn Thirsty

First the fish needs to say, "Something ain't right about this camel ride—and I'm feeling so damn thirsty."

So this is the point in the story where I realized that I was so damn thirsty. Not only did I then withdraw my giving (of my parents' money, yes, but my giving nonetheless), but I completely removed myself from the community. Upon finding out that I'd stopped going to church, my aunt, a Jehovah's Witness, chastised me. She was dumbfounded. "Adrian? Adrian doesn't go to church?" "Don't you know that you need that weekly spiritual nourishment?" The fact of the matter is that I didn't. As far as I was concerned, church gave me nothing and I repaid church in kind. But I was still so damn thirsty. Eventually I came to understand that there wasn't anything wrong, per se, with the camel ride. But being a fish leaves you ill-equipped, at best, for survival on such a journey. So I left the vast desert in search of a small pond.

Another poem by Hafiz:

#160 Now Is The Time

Now is the time to know that all that you do is sacred. Now, why not consider a lasting truce with yourself and God. Now is the time to understand that all your ideas of right and wrong were just a child's training wheels to be laid aside when you can finally live with veracity and love. Hafiz is a divine envoy whom the Beloved has written a holy message upon. My dear, please tell me, why do you still throw sticks at your heart and God? What is it in that sweet voice inside that incites you to fear? Now is the time for the world to know that every thought and action is sacred. This is the time for you to deeply compute the impossibility that there is anything but Grace. Now is the season to know that everything you do is sacred.

Everything you do is sacred; which brings me to the point of all my rambling storytelling. I, obviously, didn't stay away from church too long. I became a UU! And I occasionally would give…money…to churches I was involved in, yet I still didn't quite get it. Not until I joined FirstUnitarianChurch, right here in Baltimore, Maryland. Talk about finding a spiritual home! Well, I moved to Baltimore with a duffel bag full of clothing and a job waiting for me. Not much money at all; I was going to start over from scratch. After about 4 weeks I found my first apartment. After about 8 weeks here I joined the church. It was a last minute decision – I felt moved during the New Member Ceremony to get up and sign my name; and so I did, going through the Beginnings Class after the fact. I just knew in my gut that this was a community that I wanted to belong to. My very own little pond in which I could swim and grow and be free! I still didn't have much money, and in fact I often had to request assistance from my mother, or friends (maybe one of you…) to make it by from month to month. I gave the church $0. And I didn't feel bad about it. No one was here to judge me. In fact, I actually felt like people wanted me to be here. You all welcomed me in a way that I'd needed to feel welcomed in quite a long time. I quickly joined different classes, discussion groups, COMMITTEES! I began to weave my life into the fabric of the church, and to make the church an integral part of my life. The first live experience I had of a UU church was the Annual Meeting of the Unitarian Church of Montclair, NJ, in the early summer of 1999 I believe. It was such an eye-opener to see the membership of a church working out issues in the open, like electing officers and agreeing on the budget. These functions were out-of-sight, at least to me, in the UnitedMethodistChurch; and episcopal polity is just not considered as a topic for Sunday school, so I was clueless. In the UnitarianChurch (which has congregational polity), however, things were made clear to me. In our Beginnings class here, you learn that the money goes towards things like membership dues, bills, salaries and the like. The offerings are also taken for special projects, like our annual Thanksgivings appeals, and our relatively new Change-for-Change program. We can all see the benefits of our support. And the more support we have, the more we can do. The church benefits from all types of support, and I was as valued as a member before I gave monetary contributions as I am now that I do. I feel as though we are all strengthening the community with our time, talents, and treasures. And that is why I give. Because we are good stewards, we have been able to call a DRE (director of religious education), we have our first Ministerial Intern in years, we are growing in several ways, and there are so many opportunities[see note 2] for you to choose from in deciding what part you want to play. I feel privileged to be present at this exciting time.

How do I know that this is right for me? A reading from the Tao Te Ching:


What is well planted cannot be uprooted. What is well embraced cannot slip away. Your descendants will carry on the ancestral sacrifice for generations without end. Cultivate Virtue in your own person, and it becomes a genuine part of you. Cultivate it in the family, and it will abide. Cultivate it in the community, and it will live and grow. Cultivate it in the state, and it will flourish abundantly. Cultivate it in the world, and it will become universal. Hence, a person must be judged as person; a family as family; a community as community; a state as state; the world as world. How do I know about the world? By what is within me.

How do I know what, or how much, to give? Two short readings from the back of the hymnal:

#457 Edward Everett Hale

I am only one.

But still I am one.

I cannot do everything,

But still I can do something.

And because I cannot do everything

I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

#463 Adrienne Rich

My heart is moved by all I cannot save: So much has been destroyed I have to cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.

In supporting this community, we help it to reconstitute the world. There need be no guilt, and I can honestly say that it gives me joy to do what I can for this congregation.

It is fitting that today's worship service focused on the telling of stories. Now that I have told you a few of mine, I will end by sharing a story I read in a book called Everyday Spiritual Practice: Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life. It concludes the chapter on giving, and is a tale from the Jewish Talmud. But before I tell it to you, let's look at the word worship. It comes from Germanic roots meaning 'that condition of being worthy', and in a UU context, worship is what we do when we set aside time to actively assign worth to some idea or activity. As you listen to this story, think about what is most representative of this 'condition of being worthy', and decide for yourselves what type of steward you would like to be.

Time before time, when the world was young, two brothers shared a field and a mill. Each night they divided the grain they had grown together evenly. One brother lived alone, and the other had a large family. Now, the single brother thought to himself one day, "It isn't really fair that we divide the grain evenly. I have only myself to care for, but my brother has children to feed." So each night he secretly took some of his grain and put it in his brother's granary. But the married brother said to himself one day, "It isn't fair that we divide the grain evenly—because I have children to provide for me in my old age, but my brother doesn't." So he began every night to take some of his grain and put it in his brother's granary. Then, one night, they met each other halfway between their two houses, and they realized what had been happening. And then, what could they do but embrace each other in love? The legend is that God witnessed their meeting and proclaimed: "This is a holy place. And here it is that my temple shall be built." And so it was that the first temple was constructed in Jerusalem.

The author goes on to conclude the chapter, saying "If we understand that everyone is brother and sister to us, then we will always want to pour some of our grain into the granary of the world. And when we do—and where we do—that is a holy place".

May we assign worth to our values, to our stated principles, by living them out as these brothers did. May we be so generous in the giving of our gifts as to sustain this holy place, this beacon of hope, social justice and liberal religious values in Baltimore and in the world. I leave you with this thought, again from Hafiz:

#34 The Sun Never Says

Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, "you owe me." Look what happens with a love like that, it lights the whole sky.

[note 1] Actually, they wore black, because they were supposed to be 'in mourning' for the church. I think they only wore white on Sundays that Communion was being taken, which made them stand out even more and which is why I remember them this way. It's been so long now that I can't rightly recall the details.

[note 2] This talk was given during an 'Opportunity Fair', where the church's different committees and groups had set up tables explaining their work, with the goals of increasing awareness and potentially gaining new members as a way to boost involvement.

My Religious Profile

repost from

My religion is Unitarian-Universalist, because it is with this faith that I re-link my mind, body, and spirit, and it is with this faith that I feel whole.

My theology is panentheist, because I believe that everything exists within the divine whole, which is comprised of, and yet greater than everything that is. For example, if you put a bunch of limbs, nerves, organs, bones, etc. into a pile next to a living being, you have the same components, and yet a human being is something more than just a collection of all its parts.

My practice is pagan, in that I feel my most powerful spiritual connections to nature, natural cycles, and my natural human response to "the arts", particularly music and movement.

My beliefs are mystical, having been influenced by the more liberal aspects of the Christianity of my youth, but even moreso by the study of various faith traditions, which I began in my late teens. My thoughts on God and humanity, being intimately and inextricably related one to the other, are expressed very well in the poetry of Sufi mystics, such as Shamsuddin Muhammad ('Hafiz').

So, as you can see, I draw from many sources in my own personal experience. This is why my religion is Unitarian-Universalist. I believe in the unity and universality of experience, albeit with different modes of expression, and my chosen faith allows me to express that in my living.
What religion did you leave to pursue UUism?

I spent my early childhood in a supposedly “non-denominational” (Christian Union) church, but my family left while I was still young and so I spent several years churchless. Most of my religious experience was with the United Methodist Church, from the time I was about 12 until I left for college at 18. I didn’t officially excommunicate myself until I was 19 or 20.
What do you miss, what don't you miss?
Being Black, the thing that I miss most is the enthusiasm of African-American worship services. The music, the clapping, the singing and shouting (and jumping and running…) of the service is something that I feel could spice up a UU service nicely! I need more kinetic energy; UUs seem (mostly) afraid to move in church. What I don’t miss is the dogma, the doctrines of the UMC, Christian theology being forced on me (I don’t mind it so much now, as long as I can disagree if necessary!), and most of all I don’t miss being closeted. I like being a happy healthy valued individual.
Why did you leave?
When I was in college I finally started my lifelong coming out process (to other people that is, I always knew I was gay so I didn’t have to come out to myself) and this greatly depressed me. Being depressed incapacitates you, so you don’t do much of anything, but that fact gives you lots of time to think. So I thought and thought and thought, and after returning home to attend services where I was told how gay people were sinners destined to the fiery lake, that did it for me. I never went back.
What brought you here (to Beliefnet)?
After a couple of years being a supposed atheist who was vehemently anti-(organized)religion, I began to do a lot of research on different faith traditions and eventually discovered Unitarian Universalism. I “converted” in 1999, and came to Beliefnet in 2001 days after the fall of the World Trade Center in Manhattan (I’m from North Jersey, about 25 miles west of Ground Zero). I needed a community that was accessible 24/7 to keep my mind going, and was pleased with what I found here. I was quite active for several years, but like many began drifting away a few years ago (hey, life comes fast sometimes!). I actually miss the community we had here back then, and now that I have a new computer I hope to post more frequently. I’d love to meet all the new(er) people, and perhaps catch up with some old friends.
Do you think of returning?
To the United Methodist Church? No, I don’t. I’m very happy as a UU, and I think I’d rather spice up the UU worship service than try to rationalize the UMC’s!

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