How Do You Eat Your Grits?

I have just completed my final Sunday service at Our Home Universalist Unitarian Church in Ellisville, MS.  I was the consulting minister there for four years.  In reflecting back on my service there, I have learned a wonderful lesson about what it means to be a minister and what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist.

Four years ago, Eunice Benton, District Executive (now retired) of the Mid-South District of the Unitarian Universalist Association asked me to consider coming to Mississippi to serve two congregations at half-time each.  She asked if I had ever lived in the deep south before and the answer was no.  Eunice wisely asked me to come down and visit before making any decision.  I met with the two congregations. The first congregation asked me the typical minister search questions; what was my theology, what are my views of religious education, etc.

The interview at Our Home held over dinner was one question and one question only.  “How do you eat your grits?”  I was a bit startled by the unorthodox question but I answered, “with butter, salt and pepper.”   I was then welcomed to come to Mississippi and be their minister. The rest of the dinner conversation was filled with logistics of transition and good humored conversation.  If I had answered with sugar or maple syrup or heaven forbid, “what are grits?” I dare say I would not be here to tell the tale.

How we create and sustain loving relationships with one another is the essence of our covenantal faith. Cultural competency is one important aspect of our faith that enables us to be in relationship.  The grits question certainly addresses this point.

Theology, creeds, or doctrines we might hold, while important to have them defined for ourselves,  take a much smaller role in living the Unitarian Universalist faith.  The real question, the vital question is how do we translate our theologies, creeds, doctrines into our day to day relationships with one another.  In short, how do you eat your grits?  Are you going to be able to relate to people who come from a very different background, a different culture, a different theological perspective on what is true and still find common ground?

This is where our work is.  This is what defines our faith as different from other faiths.  16th century Unitarian minister Francis David is quoted as saying, “We do not have to think alike to love alike.”   It does, however, help if our thinking, our theologies, our doctrines, and our personally held creeds aid us in loving alike.  If they do not help us in loving our neighbor as ourselves or to do onto others as we would want others to  do onto us,  then it may be time to reconsider our theologies, our doctrines, or our personally held creeds.

Our Unitarian Universalist faith is not concerned with whether you are a Christian or a Humanist, a Buddhist or a Muslim, a Pagan or a Jew.  Our faith is more concerned with how the doctrines of those beliefs help you build sustaining loving relationships with others.

If your beliefs empower you to be more loving, more generous, more able to fulfill your highest potential, more able to be just in your relationships, then that is what is vital to this life.  If they hinder you from being inclusive of the other, cause you to shun and fear others who are different, solicit an attitude of me and mine first, then those beliefs are not serving you well. It might be best to either let them go or re-examine them to find how they can aid you in living a more generous of spirit and heart life.

Unitarian Universalists recognize that what enables one person to become more loving and more generous may not enable another to do so.  And so for one person Christianity may be the path that empowers this love, for another it may be Buddhism, and for yet another it may be one of the Earth centered faiths. This is reflected in our fourth principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Rev. Doak Mansfield, former minister at Our Home Universalist,  once stated that Unitarian Universalism in the deep south is about grace and relationships.  We best express our faith in how we relate to one another.  It is our personal relationships that are our best calling card for our faith.   It is also in how we develop our public witness for justice.  The desire to create partnerships with those who are oppressed and to follow their lead towards freedom.  Grace and relationships.

Wherever two or more are gathered, it is in the relational aspect of the gathering that the spirit of love is either present or absent.  Unitarian Universalists strive to allow the spirit of love to be present.  That is the essence of our faith the rest, to paraphrase Hillel, is commentary.

Blessings,

Peace on Earth; Good Will Toward Men

Peace on Earth; Good Will Toward Men was originally published in the Our Home Universalist Unitarian monthly newsletter for December 2009.   

Another year is coming to a close and our thoughts begin to drift to the holidays of gift giving, parties, and celebrating each other’s company.  These are all good things to do; especially as our economy still struggles to rise from the ashes of mortgage and banking schemes of greed that backfired on millions of people. So what does this season of joy mean to us in the face of such struggle?  Is there true hope that shines over a manger in Bethlehem?    I believe there is. 

Conservative Christians see the birth of Jesus as a fulfillment of the promise of God to redeem the world from sin. To participate in this redemption a person has to confess with their mouth that they have asked for forgiveness of their sins and accept Jesus into their hearts. To quote Joel Osteen; to say this prayer transforms one into a Christian.  

Unitarian Universalists tend not to believe that a simple confession of the mouth will save or transform anyone.  It is not words alone that save us.  If there is a contention between liberal and conservative religion, perhaps it is whether repeating a prayer will save a person from anything let alone from judgment day.  This is not the hope that shines bright each December.  

No, the hope that shines bright is the belief that we can indeed fulfill the promise of “Peace on earth, Good will toward men.”  The purpose of Christmas is not eternal salvation as Rick Warren’s popular book of the same name claims but rather to instill the hope that humanity can evolve to the point where violence—physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual violence—towards one another no longer needs to be the norm.  This sort of transformation does not happen over night, it takes diligence.  It takes discipline, rigorous discipline of the every day kind for that sort of transformation.  

I spent over 20 years of my life as a Charismatic Christian. I have seen many things that I cannot explain.  But the one thing I can explain is why individuals who claimed to be instantaneously freed from addictions (defined as broadly as possible) did not remain in their sobriety of that addiction.  It did not last when the holy chills of the moment wore off unless they committed themselves to the work of one day at a time.   Jesus’ command to “go and sin no more” was not just an idle saying.  As anyone in alcoholics anonymous can tell you it takes a recommitment every day and sometimes every hour, every minute to fulfill Jesus’ word of “go and sin no more.” 

It is the same for all of us.  The spiritual journey is not a blanket that is wrapped around us on a cool evening but a diligent stoking of the fires of warmth and generosity.  It is not a check off list— complete laundry; buy groceries; accept Jesus into my heart—that’s now done, where’s the party? The teaching of Jesus’ to love our neighbor as our self takes the kind of discipline that a person in AA takes to remain sober. Unitarian Universalists believe this is the way towards the Christmas promise.   Whether you claim to be a Christian, a Unitarian Universalist, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Mormon; by whatever stripe you are healed, work out your salvation not just in words but in your commitment to actions that bring peace on earth, good will towards all.  Blessings,

Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 4:19 pm  Comments Off on Peace on Earth; Good Will Toward Men  
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Gratitude

I am in preparing to leave for my Thanksgiving vacation.  This year instead of my traditional route of traveling north or south on the eastern coast where my Mom’s family are gathered, I am going to have Thanksgiving with a dear colleague from seminary in Indiana.  I am most grateful to have this connection continue to grow after seminary. 

I think that is what Thanksgiving has come to represent for me and perhaps the reason why it has become my most important Holiday.   Connections to friends and family are what sustain us in healthy ways.  It is an opportunity for us to celebrate these connections.  To honor those whose lives have intersected with ours in significant ways. 

Even if there is pain in those connections and woundedness, those connections help shape us into who we are.  At some point in our lives, the woundedness needs to be transformed from that which hinders us to that which empowers us to make a different choice. 

On the Our Home Universalist Church grounds there is a Magnolia tree that was planted there several years ago in memory of one of the members of that congregation.   Last year a major windstorm came through the region and a huge thick branch of an oak tree crashed into the Magnolia, cutting off its lead point and stripping many of its branches from its trunk.  It was not known if the Magnolia would fully recover.  Less than a year later, the Magnolia is fuller than ever and it even provided the much needed cover for a bird’s nest to be built there.   As painful as the event was at the time, new growth and vitality came forth from it.  So too could that be our lives when painful things happen.  We can be grateful, perhaps not for the event itself happening, but for the positive responses to the event that follow.   

It is the intersections of all of these events in the form of people, places, and things that add to our life story as it unfolds mysteriously to a conclusion.  For that I feel the deepest of gratitude.

May we offer thanks and gratitude for all our days, the good and the not so good because all can lead us to a fuller experience of life.  Blessings,