I have a Quiet Day today – spouse is off road-tripping with my mother-in-law, I don’t have any church commitments, and I’ve taken care of the errands and projects I needed to do this morning – so I have the luxury of time for thought that I don’t have to take away from anything else.
I have things to think about. I’ve spent the last few weeks scouring the internet for theologically-inclined blogs and forming a list that maybe, eventually, will end up on here someplace. Reading others’ journeys gives me some hope and solace that maybe I’m not completely crazy, or if I am, it’s manageable because I can see other people managing it. I gain a measure of human connection without having to, you know, talk to people in person. I have such a deep reluctance to approach people for the kind of conversation that starts with, “Hi! I have a crazy! My crazy, let me show you it!” It seems, well, a bit forward and unnecessarily demanding of me, to need that connection. But I am human, and I do.
So the blogosphere is feeding me until I get up the nerve to “come out” in my day to day life; I use that language a little cautiously, but also with intention. This situation, if nothing else, is a valuable emotional reference point for the more traditional sense of the phrase, and sooner or later I am going to need that, because someone will come to me having a quiet freak about a deep personal truth that they can’t tell anyone because it will change things and they aren’t sure how they can live with that but they can’t not tell anyone… It wouldn’t be the first time. But I have, perhaps, a better reference point for it now.
One of the challenges I have in my reading is that, well, I am a UU, and we are a fairly small (if growing) denomination – and most of the blogs I’m reading are written by people in other traditions: UCC, Episcopal, some progressive Lutheran and Methodist writers, a couple of progressive Evangelicals. There is a lot of good stuff out there, but I frequently find myself smacking up hard against traditional Christian theology. This is a place where I need more education: I was young enough when I left my childhood church that discussions of theology were not on the table — and in any case that was a tradition that tended toward authoritarian and fundamentalist interpretations of, well, everything. Not much room for nuance. Coming back around to a cautious examination of Christianity as a middle aged adult, there seems to be a lot more room for nuance than I was exposed to as a kid. But I still bang up hard against some of the core concepts, mostly because – in the process of discerning as a teen precisely why I just couldn’t do the Southern Baptist thing anymore – I’d managed to construct for my own use some ideas that didn’t seem to fit anywhere in the Christianity I’d grown up with, and so I concluded that whatever my beliefs were, I definitely was not Christian. And then I moved on, satisfied that I’d clarified that point at least.
This has all come up because in my reading this past summer I rediscovered some of the conclusions I’d come to. Suffice it to say I had not come up with any particular new heresies, but had reinvented (you guessed it) the classical Unitarian and Universalist ideas around which these historical denominations split from their parent churches: that Jesus, a human teacher of particular grace, was distinct from the transcendent God; that human beings in general are each possessed of some capacity for Divine grace, being made in God’s image; that it is neither necessary nor useful to set aside the rational and questioning mind to strive for grace or to serve God; that “sin” is not so much the list of things thou shalt not do, but the condition of being separate from and yearning for union with the Holy; and that no God who is good and fair and loving could possibly condemn thinking, feeling creatures crafted in Its own image to eternal torment for what essentially amounts to picking the wrong answer on a multiple-choice religion test.
So if there is any vestigial Christianity left in my theology, it is in that small purple intersection of Unitarian and Universalist heresies that stands in the doorway of the Big Christian Tent with one foot inside and one foot outside, depending who’s working the gate. Are we or aren’t we? It depends — on the person, on the congregation, on who’s asking.
I still tend to describe my own beliefs as not Christian; usually the people asking that question are really wanting to know something about my politics or my social customs, something that one answer or the other will tell them whether I am “one of us” or “one of those people” — whether I am safe or dangerous. Religion shouldn’t be about that, but too often it is, and the sheer loudness of
conservative reactionary Christianity (and the reactionary right-wing politics it bunks with) tends to drown out nuance.
Finding and appreciating that nuance in the wider body of progressive Christianity is one of my areas for growth, partly because I am still learning what the language of Christianity can mean beyond what I was exposed to as a kid. And I’m not entirely sure I want to be completely in the tent either; in my journeys I’ve encountered enough people who have been so badly burnt by the toxic authoritarian churches that they do not want to be anywhere near the tent, cannot imagine any comfort or healing inside it, and suspect anyone who is anywhere near the tent or has anything positive to say about it of complicity with their abusers. They are the ones who howl in the wilderness, walk barefoot on the naked earth, dance around the fire under the rising moon.
And they are also my people, and worthy of grace.
The Holy Mystery – call it God, call it Nature, call it by its thousand names – is much, much bigger than the tent.