I love our Unitarian Universalist heritage. The faith started out in the Judeo-Christian tradition but split with the Christian church around debates of doctrine. Unitarians (formed in 1793) couldn't wrap their rational minds around the idea of a Trinity and believed instead that there is ONE God. Jesus was a messenger, a prophet, a teacher, but not God in human form. The Universalists (formed in 1825) couldn't wrap their loving hearts around a punishing God. They saw God as a loving, saving, and unconditionally accepting force for good who would not condemn humanity to Hell, believing ultimately we are all saved by grace. Both faiths were persecuted by the Christian church. Yes, we have our imprisoned and executed martyrs who died for UU beliefs.
There were Unitarian churches and Universalist churches for a long time, then in 1961 they merged and now we are the very big mouthful: Unitarian Universalists. Along the way the Humanists also played a defining role in the tradition and questioned whether we needed to bother with God at all and this is still a subject of some debate in the faith. What we do all agree upon is that we draw inspiration and wisdom from many traditions and don't hold one above the rest. We are all called to find a spiritual path that speaks to us; we are all called to social justice; we are all called to belonging in Beloved Community.
I may have gotten some of this thumbnail sketch wrong -- UUs love to debate and disagree, so even my UU friends will likely read this and tell me..."Nope, that's not how I see it." Well, so be it. Plus I'm a "new" UU -- only 23 years into it (after drifting through the Methodists, the Lutherans, and the Congregationalists (UCC). If you want to know more about UU, go to the source: the Unitarian Universalist Association http://www.uua.org Be sure to click on the Principles and Purposes and Sources of our faith -- that's pretty much us in a nutshell. http://www.uua.org/beliefs
Anyway, the UU-GA was something to experience. Five thousand UUs gathered to worship, take care of business (we select delegates from each congregation to hammer out our bylaws and policies and elect boards, etc -- very democratic and messy), attend classes and workshops on a wide variety of topics, witness for social justice, and take inspiration from each other and an array of speakers who called us to action.
UUs are known for our social justice work. We are the organizers, protestors, and "speak truth to power" crowd who have historically supported a zillion progressive causes. I thought more than once that if T-shirts could change the world, we'd be in fine shape at the General Assembly. I also wondered why the T-shirt concession companies cannot make any other than those ill-fitting men's sizes crew neck T's with the baggy sleeves and boxy shapes that make everyone look like Sponge Bob Square Pants. Not a good look. Anyway, I took to jotting down some of the slogans I saw -- this is only a sampling:
The Price of Peace is Economic Justice for All
Be the Change
Coffee Farmers Can't Live on Beans - Support Fair Trade
Black Lives Matter
Standing on the Side of Love
Death Penalty Makes Us All Killers
Plant Justice - Harvest Peace
Nearly 1 Billion People Don't Have Clean Water
College of Social Justice
Corporations Are Not People
Love is Love (in rainbow colors)
And, of course, every congregation seemed to have a T-shirt identifying themselves with their church name and city.
Looking around one might conclude these are just a bunch of aging hippies still tilting at windmills and not getting very far. That would be wrong. While the demographic at GA skewed a bit on the older side (we have the time and the means to go away to a conference for several days), there was also a large contingent of youth and young adults. And all, to a person, has an abiding desire to see a better, more equitable world for all. And we are willing to study, organize, and work for it. We're known for being sorta smart and politically active. Indeed, political action is paired with a spiritual (or, OK, humanist for some) ethic that demands no less of us.
Given that, you can imagine the Supreme Court ruling on Marriage Equality, in the midst of our gathering, was met with great jubilation. UUs have worked for GLBT rights for decades. A "win" for our GLBT friends is a win for all.
Other justice issues were highlighted this year too. On Saturday we held a huge public witness around climate change, with speakers from local Native American nations.
Later we went to a reception where Rep. John Lewis, renowned for his civil rights work with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was interviewed. What an inspiration!
And that same night the firebrand, outspoken, challenging, surprisingly funny, sincere, and insistent racial justice intellectual and activist Dr. Cornel West was the keynote speaker. People were on their feet more than once, cheering his call to action.
Those were highlights for me. And equally so were the enormous worship services full of creativity,music, and inspiration. UU congregations tend to be on the smaller side. There are several big city congregations of several hundred, but most are not that big. Ours has 160 members and we struggle sometimes to get people to step into leadership, sing in the choir, greet visitors, and set up coffee hour. So, to gather with 5000 of our tradition, to sing the familiar hymns in unison with a choir of 200, to see a beautiful flaming chalice lit (the symbol of our faith) on a huge stage flanked by big screens where the proceedings were projected so that even those in the very back could see -- well, it was moving. More than once I had tears in my eyes.
I'm glad I experienced General Assembly. I came home with a renewed pride in my faith, a deeper appreciation for being part of a greater whole, a rekindled spark for activism, and the determination to work for T-shirt equality. No more men's sizes for all people! I know UUs eschew the materialistic, consumer-oriented culture and have little use for vanity or fashion, but c'mon, let's show a little consideration for body type diversity!
At least, that's the view from here...©