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!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

formspring question: If everyone goes to Heaven, as Universalists traditionally believe, whats the reward for doing good works over doing bad works?

Universalists have understood the concepts of Heaven and Hell in different ways over the centuries. Few (if any) modern Universalists within the Unitarian Universalist movement believe in Heaven or Hell as a literal place-destination. If they find the idea theologically useful at all, it is more likely that these terms will refer to frames of mind and states of being.
When Christians refer to “building the Kingdom of God”, this usually means creating a world that is just and at peace in the here-and-now, rather than designating any otherworldly heaven in the afterlife. I would wager that for most Universalists, Christian or otherwise, creating such a world is the only way to “get to Heaven” right here on Earth, and that in itself is enough motivation for doing good.
As for rewards, I’m not sure Universalists seek any…but if the consequence of doing bad works is living a personal hell, then I’d say that’s deterrent enough to live as best a life as one can.

Thanks for the question. I hope I’ve done it justice with my response!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Facts and the Truth

This is the reflection I shared during a Young Adult-presented summer worship service at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, July 18, 2010.


The poet Maya Angelou is quoted to have said, “There's a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.”
I never did finish college. Having an existential crisis involving issues of sexuality, a loss of faith, and psychological duress is not conducive to study! For a period of about 2 years I attempted to convince myself that I would live purely by the facts, the scientific, the observable and falsifiable. But it eventually became apparent to me that something was missing. I felt empty. All my background in science and learning left me with the facts of my life and an ability to analyze them, but helpless to do anything with this information. The truth of my life, the meaning that connected the fact-engendered dots, eluded me. It was then that I started on the path that led me to becoming a Unitarian Universalist, and after more than a decade I still see evidence that we have not overcome the false dichotomy of science vs. faith, of fact vs. truth.
Science and faith are not of necessity at odds with one another. In truth, I would contend that they can both be seen as tools in our human search for understanding. Which tool one chooses to use primarily is likely based on one’s personal experience.
If we take Angelou’s quote at face value, we may be tempted to conclude (if we equate facts with science and truth with faith) that science can and does obstruct faith. That faith is the better tool to use. However, in addition to the statement “facts can obscure the truth”, I would argue that facts help to reveal truth as well.
When I was a very young child, I loved to play outside in the dirt and observe all the little creatures that lived in our garden. By the time I got to high school, my interest in nature and in science was great. I took six science courses in 4 years, half of these in my senior year.
But I have also always had a love for language, for music, and for culture. Ever since my earliest years growing up in Irvington, NJ, I have been blessed to have friends who come from many different places around the globe. I have always been surrounded by Spanish-speaking peoples. I studied Italian, Greek, German, and French, besides a host of other languages. When I entered college in the fall of 1997, I had no idea which direction to go in. Should I follow my interest in science? Or should I go with my passion for culture, focusing on language and music?
These were and are some of the facts of my life. But at some point, a decision had to be made about the truth of my life.
In Marcus Borg’s book The Heart of Christianity (which is subtitled “Rediscovering a Life of Faith”, so if the word Christianity has too much baggage feel free to engage in mental gymnastics and leave behind the fact of the word and hear the truth of the statements he makes), the renowned professor of Religion and Culture explores a paradigm shift in Christian worldview from that of a tradition of divine authority that is literal-factual to one primarily of metaphor, human response, and transformation. Borg asserts that faith is at the heart of Christianity, and provides four ways to understand what faith is — assensus, or faith as belief; fiducia, or faith as trust; fidelitas, or faith as loyalty and commitment; and visio, or “faith as a way of seeing the whole, a way of seeing ‘what is’.” If we take this last understanding of faith, we might start to see facts and truth working in concert with one another, even as we choose to see through one lens or the other. To me, science (or the facts) provides the dots and the lines of our daily lives, the material in which we exist and with which we work to understand life as we know it. To me, faith (or the truth) provides a holistic understanding that goes beyond reason and intellect; it is what connects the dots of science and that which allows us to read between the lines of factual existence. We may be able to factually describe what happens to us when we experience emotion, awe, and wonder; but for me, the power of language, of story and myth, was and is the more transformative path. However, I believe we need both the facts and the truth in order to fully live.
In fact, my main academic interests growing up were science and language. In truth, learning several different languages opened my mind to different ways to view the world, and life in general. Language helped me to understand the sciences as other forms of communication and understanding. In his book, Borg goes on to explain the Latin word credo, which is usually translated as “I believe”, splitting it into its constituent parts of ‘cre’ (think cardiac) meaning ‘heart’, and ‘do’ (think donate) meaning ‘to give’. When I say “I believe”, it is with this understanding of giving my heart to something, which is different than believing something intellectually – with mind.
Again, I believe we need both the facts and the truth in order to fully live. May we Unitarian Universalists continue building bridges between them.

Personal Transitions

This text is from a reflection on Transition that I shared during a summer worship service at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore back in 2008.
Harry Emerson Fosdick, the early 20th Century liberal Baptist minister who was a prominent force against the emergence of modern-day Fundamentalism, says, in part, in his 1932 book entitled As I See Religion:
The whole discussion…as to which is the true church, seems…a poor expenditure of time because there is no such thing as a true church. All religious organizations, like all secular organizations, are approximate endeavors to meet changing human needs; and one of the best things about them is that, in spite of themselves, they cannot remain as they are.

Fosdick goes on to say, that:
The envenomed controversy also as to which is the true theology…seems largely futile, not because the discovery of the truth about God is unimportant, but because the idea that anybody has so discovered and defined God that he should controversially desire to enforce his opinion on another is absurd. All theology tentatively phrases in current thought and language the best that, up to date, thinkers on religion have achieved; and the most hopeful thing about any system of theology is that it will not last.
Well, the most hopeful thing about my own personal relationships has also been that they do not last. Before you get all anxious about what I am going to say, let me clarify: they do not last as they are, but grow and blossom into something new. Or, when the time has come, they fade away into the past. A concept that has been useful, hopeful, and saving for me, is that of the circle or of the spiral. In a circle one can see that the ending is the beginning is the ending is the beginning. In a spiral, one sees more clearly that a cycle doesn’t necessarily require a ceaseless repetition of the same, over and over and over again; the spiral illustrates the ever-widening scope of experience—every round goes higher and higher.

Today I am 29 years old, and have come to see clear decade-long demarcations in the quality and type of relationship that I have had. My first 5 years were spent almost carefree, living in a 3-story house filled with aunts, uncles, parents, siblings, cousins, my grandmother and great-grandmother! The next 5 years – my first 5 in school – I became much more guarded and cautious with the world. For awhile, I did not know what the word ‘fag’ meant, but could tell by the meanness of those who chose to apply it to me that I did not want to be associated with it.

My grandmother, Shirley Mae, died when I was 10; and so started the next decade of my life. I’d be willing to bet that none of you would have recognized the Adrian of 10-20. Sure, I was friendly and outgoing; but I was deeply closeted and unhappy. Severely depressed at times. My relationships with people, my family, with God, they all deteriorated slowly until at times I felt I would not reach my 20th year.

But I did. I came out to my friends, I came out to my family, I came out of a theological environment that was harming my soul and came to Unitarian Universalism, which as I once told [the Reverend] Phyllis Hubbell, is saving me every day as my mind and spirit are expanded in love. My 20s have proven to be a time of personal trial and error—a time of learning who I want to be, and of learning to be who I am in all my relationships again. Relationships with other people, my family, with God, with faith, and yes, with myself. The most hopeful thing about any system of theology – or any system for that matter – is that it does not last; that it is not static and stale, but grows and is ever-becoming.
My 20s are coming to an end. I have met the love of my life in my partner, Joel Graham, who is now officially a full-time resident of [Baltimore City], I thank you very much. And a new phase of life begins, calling me to grow even more, in the spirit of love. I expect my 30s to be, like my 20s, years of personal trial and error. But though the cycle be repeated, these next 10 years will be even better than I can possibly imagine. Blessed be each transition, as they are times of holy action.

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