The Universalist in Me
by Lavern Coan
Sure, I’m a Unitarian Universalist, but I hadn’t teased out the second half of the name and set it on a mirror to figure out if I could see myself there. Universalism does contain two dimensions.
The first is the dimension affirmed by the UU Seven Principles. There is one Light, one Truth, one Source, one Ultimate Reality (Unitarianism), but there are many windows, many paths by which that one Source is revealed to us (Universalism). Without a doubt, I am a Universalist in the first dimension. This Universalist part of me encourages me to read and study and talk about the spiritual disciplines of other religious traditions. It reminds me that I don’t have the Truth, and that I will never get close to the Truth if I don’t listen and learn about other people’s spiritual paths.
Even the fundamentalist Christian who would damn everyone to Hell has a message, a piece of the puzzle, a view of the Light. I need to tune in.
The second dimension of Universalism means coming to grips with a few tough questions—What does it mean to be Saved? What does “being Saved” look like? Is absolutely everyone Saved? I’m still wrestling with them. So here are some stepping stones along my Universalist Path.
I grew up in the Catholic Church where salvation meant staying out of Hell. I absorbed a healthy dose of “Worm Theology”. That’s the interpretation of Scripture that declares I am lower than dirt and only the redemption of Christ saved me. The theology reminds me that even now, I’m not really saved, not yet, because I still live in the dirt. I still sin. If I have not confessed at the moment of my death, I’m toast. Literally. Being a woman doesn’t help. I had tempted Adam and started the whole sin problem, so I don’t get any points for gender. All I got for this theology was negative self-esteem. Even in my tender pre-teen years, I knew this couldn’t be right.
I lived in a small town that was 65% Italian Catholics, so the rest of us “ethnics” (I am Polish) and other religions had to stick together. I spent my middle and high school years living down the street from a Jewish family, and I dated the younger son. He became a frequent visitor at our house, saying once that he pre¬ferred our Christmas celebration to his Jewish Hanukkah rites.
We had so much more hype. One Good Friday, I can’t remember why, he and I went to the service at the Catholic Church. In the middle of that service were the prayers for the Jewish people, the murderers of the Lord, so that they might “see the light”. My friend asked me in a horrified whisper, “Do you really believe that?”. I was appalled and assured him I did not. We left.
Years later, I joined a romance writers’ group. I met another writer, Joanie, a Jewish woman. She was fun to be around, gave herself tirelessly to her family and to her community, and “mothered” all us unpublished writers. She died in the 1999 crash of Egypt Air 990. Another member of our group, a Christian on the right, said in all seriousness that she hoped that before Joanie died, she had surrendered to Jesus as her Savior; otherwise she was at that moment burning in Hell.
My instinctive and fierce reaction was, “I don’t know who your God is, but my God would never, ever condemn a beautiful lady like Joanie to eternal agony. No way. No how.”
I read Conversations with God where God says quite clearly that if you can’t wrap your head around the fact that Hitler went to Heaven, then you do not yet understand the breadth of love that God has for creation. (Book 1, pg. 61).
I believe God is a God of second (and third and fourth) chances. In the film Defending Your Life, after death, you travel to Judgment City where you review scenes from your life in which you had to face a fear. Just as for the Greek Orthodox church, in Judgment City, fear is the first deadly sin. If you conquered your fears to live life with love and courage, then you could “move on," which vaguely meant a higher plane of existence. If not, you were sent back to earth to try again.
And again. Until you got it right. We become whole here on earth, then we move on to something else, different, richer. I like this view of Salvation.
Being a Universalist means that I acknowledge that I don’t have all the answers. One of my purposes in life is to explore spiritual options and questions and to build a web of beliefs, disciplines and values that will be my life net. Being a Universalist also means that I refuse to live my life in fear, always judging others, always judging myself, always pointing out that I’m so damaged that I’m doomed before I start. Being a Universalist means that I believe that we are all divine beings encased in flesh and that we are all, as Jesus explained, pure, worthy, and clean.
Being a Universalist means that I must remember that God is on my side and on your side. We are all saved.
LaVerne Coan is an award-winning author and founding member of the Eno River UU Fellowship Christian Fellowship, Durham, North Carolina. Follow her experiences as a UU Christian at www.liftingthespirit.blogspot.com. in freedom, And to help one another.” Amen.
More articals on Reflections