This I Believe
U-Us have no creed; we don’t collectively recognize God or Christ or any one path to wisdom. We’re a religion without a common faith. Listed in our Seven Principles are things like “democracy within our congregations and society at large,” “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning” and “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” So you get everybody from atheists who like having somebody to talk philosophy with over coffee on Sunday mornings to devout Christians who aren’t comfortable with the closed-mindedness you find elsewhere and like hearing people of other faiths talk about their own experiences.
Now, for the first 10 years of my life, I was back and forth between these two places. My grandparents lived two blocks away from my parents’ house, and I was forever back and forth between the two, bribed with “Star Wars” action figures (my first religion), pre-Bible Study buffets, the promise of becoming a “Soldier of the Lord” and getting plastic swords and armor to that end and exciting VHS adventures of noble desert kings who totally don’t seduce their soldiers’ wives and have their husbands executed (See Samuel II).
Eventually, the darkness of the Old Testament and post-Gospel New Testament got to me. What little divine I saw in my dull little suburb came from walks on the beach with my dog and siblings, the music of Latino immigrants at local restaurants, the marsh bogs of the coast and bike rides exploring the world around my townhouse. No jealous desert god ruled over me or my life, and that was the only side of Christianity anyone seemed to be interested in.
Moreover, I thought, after I hit puberty and had moved away to Pittsburgh, Jesus is cheating. If I am damned for being human then I am damned, but what is so special about one man crucified among thousands by the Romans, that he should take my sin? Modern Christianity is not a demanding faith, I thought, it is not a community of giving and teaching, it is having an imaginary friend who lets you do everything you want to do anyway while guilting you into supporting the organized church infrastructure. So instead I experimented with meditation. I danced in the moonlight and sang poetry in German to the shadows of my backyard. I read the Quran and spoke to Muslims and saw a potential universality of God instead of subjectivity, a God that is the Universe and the force that twists it. A trip with a U-U youth group to an A.M.E. church where the preacher shouted for justice and holy salvation and sweated to the bone while knocking things from the walls was the only time I have felt close to the Christian God, but as a conscientious white, I feel that kind of spiritual tourism, finding the divine only in the exotic, is total nonsense.
I wait and I talk and I listen. I make friends. I remember the parts of the South that I liked, the bluegrass and the fried food and the homeless shelters we worked in. I try and learn from others and teach what I know. No matter what you believe, all you can do is pick a little corner of the world you can live in and make it and the world around you better without making anybody else’s corner worse. It is all any of us can do.