I gave a sermon today examining Brian D. McLaren’s book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. In this book Mr. McLaren presents two narratives that are running underneath the Christian message. The first what he calls the Conventional view and the second he calls the Emerging view. I will quote the conventional view so you will have a clearer sense of how Mr. McLaren interprets this view.
“The Human Situation: What is the story we find ourselves in?
“Conventional View: God created the world as perfect, but because our primal ancestors, Adam and Eve, did not maintain the absolute perfection demanded by God, God has irrevocably determined that the entire universe and all its contains will be destroyed, and the souls of all human beings—except for those specifically exempted—will be forever punished for their imperfection in hell.
“What question did Jesus come to answer?
“Conventional view: Since everyone is doomed to hell, Jesus seeks to answer one or both of these questions: How can individuals be saved from eternal punishment in hell and instead go to heaven after they die? How can God help individuals be happy and successful until then?
“How did Jesus respond to the crisis?
“Conventional View: Jesus says, in essence, If you want to be among those specifically qualified to escape being forever punished for your sins in hell, you must repent of your individual sins and believe that my Father punished me on the cross so he won’t have to punish you in hell. Only if you believe this will you go to heaven when the earth is destroyed and everyone else is banished to hell. This is the good news. “
The Emerging view is a bit more hopeful but still contains orthodox Christology where people rebelled against God and now God is seeking to redeem humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus. A commitment to Jesus will allow God to do his transformative work through us and heal the world and establish the reign of God here on Earth. This is a social gospel of working to transform society’s injustices on all levels–political / economic / social. McLaren comes up short to saying that this emerging view includes a universal salvation message, though that seems to be a subtext of his book.
In reading this book, I wondered about our Unitarian Universalist narrative. Our current narrative seems to be what we are not. We are in opposition to the conservative religious voice. We are not Christian yet we have those who claim Christianity among us. We are not Jewish yet we have those who claim Judaism among us. We are not Buddhist yet we have those who claim Buddhism among us. We are not dogmatic yet we are opinionated in our individual views. We tell our story by telling what we are not, not by what we are. We even do our best social justice work in the negative; we do anti-racist, anti-oppression work instead of racial equity and justice work. Is it just me, or does anyone else see a problem in this anti-narrative?
In considering McLaren’s book, I considered what a re-framed Unitarian Universalist narrative using McLaren’s format might look like:
The Human situation: What is the story we find ourselves in?
Through a variety of convergences of mysterious events a series of evolutionary events occur causing simplex molecules to create with ever more complexity life on earth. Eventually, humanity evolved as the most complex creature on earth with an ability to control the environment, to develop complex societal clusters, and to self-determine its own destiny and evolution. Humanity is still very much in its infancy in its development as a species. Yet, humanity’s evolution as a species has not kept pace in its emotive, rational, and spiritual development in contrast with its explosive growth of technological adaptations. This has resulted in clashes within humanity and with its environment often with grave consequences. Humanity, therefore, needs to further develop its emotive, rational, and spiritual abilities to allow for the most freedom, the most justice, and the most equitable way for all of humanity and all of life to continue thriving on this planet. Humanity is currently the only creature on this planet capable of achieving this harmonic existence for humanity and for all of life.
What questions did Jesus come to answer?
Jesus, along with other great teachers, dead and alive, answers these questions: How are we to live our lives with justice, equity, and compassion for all people? How are we to honor the interconnected web that binds us all as one? With the emphasis on technological advancements, people are focusing on getting theirs first with the fear there won’t be any left if they do not compete aggressively. This has created a gap between the haves and the have nots in the world. It has led to exploitive practices against others and against the environment.
How did Jesus respond to the crisis?
Jesus and these teachers taught us that life is permeated with an inherent worth and dignity simply by its existence. Through their teachings and diligent adherence to a variety of spiritual practices humanity can evolve to a higher moral code of living and being with one another reaching towards our potential as a people. Jesus, and others, modeled for us how we could live at this higher moral code of equity, justice, and compassion in human relations. Practicing this higher moral code is transformative work; it frees humanity to live justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly upon the earth. This is the good news.
Is this a narrative that would work for Unitarian Universalists? As I suggested in today’s sermon, we need to become aware of the narratives that are around us in our daily lives. What questions and concerns are people looking to have answered or what relief are they seeking to experience? That is where Unitarian Universalists need to be focused in their community’s justice work. It may be slightly different depending on where one lives. In Mississippi it seems to be surrounding the economic injustices and how these injustices are interwoven within the fabric of our school systems and criminal justice systems. If Unitarian Universalism is to survive as a viable faith in the 21st century it needs to seriously consider what its narrative is that will make life better for the living. It must be a faith that is relevant by offering solutions and ways of being that our individual narratives encounter in our daily lives. It must offer good news. Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond