Sunday, February 12, 2023
HomeZenTHE UNITARIAN WHO WOULD BE PRESIDENT: A Meditation on the Politics of...

THE UNITARIAN WHO WOULD BE PRESIDENT: A Meditation on the Politics of Unitarian Universalism





A Meditation on the Politics of Unitarian Universalism

A sermon delivered at

the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles

5 February 2023

James Ishmael Ford

Back in the day, most individuals with an axe they have been trying to grind concerning candidate after which President Barack Obama, needed individuals to know he actually was a Muslim. You know. Some form of different. But there have been just a few individuals who needed to maintain just a little nearer to the details. And these individuals made positive all of us knew Obama was the truth is a Unitarian Universalist. Which they stated, in case it wasn’t completely apparent, meant he was a communist.

As they are saying, shut sufficient.

At least for President Obama there’s an argument to be made. I imply about the UU factor. His maternal grandparents have been Unitarian Universalists, and he spent a goodly half of his childhood of their care. There are lots of individuals who can recall younger Barack in the youngsters’s program at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu. As most of us know his grownup religion journey ultimately took him to extra normative kinds of Christianity. Of course, that path he adopted didn’t harm his political prospects. You know, the UU means communist factor.

There have been the truth is 4 Unitarians to carry the workplace of the presidency. Two most of us like. John Adams and later his son John Quincy. But additionally, Millard Fillmore, whom most of us would simply as quickly overlook. And William Howard Taft. He shouldn’t be usually ranked excessive on the listing of American presidents. But he did take pleasure in the distinction of later changing into the tenth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Having served as each president and chief justice is a novel distinction.

Some individuals like so as to add in Thomas Jefferson. And in his later life he wrote good issues about the Unitarians. But he by no means belonged to a Unitarian church and is by most reckonings counted as a Deist. As a footnote there has by no means been a Universalist president. Although I learn an attention-grabbing article that argues that the wants of the workplace tends to create a “presidential universalism.” Very a lot decrease case “u,” nevertheless.

The final Unitarian to mount a reputable marketing campaign for the presidency was Adlai Stevenson. He was born on at the present time, the 5th of February, in 1900, in Los Angeles.

The grandson of the 23rd vice chairman of the United States, and ultimately governor of Illinois, Stevenson carried the Democratic banner twice in presidential elections. First in 1952 after which in 1956. Both occasions he was defeated by Dwight David Eisenhower. In 1961, the 12 months the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America consolidated to kind the UUA, John Kennedy appointed him ambassador to the United Nations. Four years later he was serving in that capability when he died of a large coronary heart assault whereas strolling in London, England.

Stevenson was an interesting determine. His mom was a Unitarian and a Republican. His Father a Presbyterian and Democrat. He would later say “I wound up in his party and her church.” Which he added, “seemed an expedient solution to the problem.” He often attended the Presbyterian church, and even briefly was a member of one of their congregations. When requested about this he stated solely as a result of there was no Unitarian possibility at the time. He by no means was not a Unitarian and for these final 4 years of his life, curiously for the period of his tenure as the American ambassador to the United Nations, he was a Unitarian Universalist.

Stevenson was sensible and fast with a quip. When the Unitarian Universalist Association was fashioned in 1961, he despatched a letter to Dana McLean Greeley, the UUAs first president, saying “Congratulations on your election as president. I know from hearsay how satisfying that can be.”

As an mental in an period not significantly cherishing such, there’s a well-known story the place a reporter advised him, “Governor, you have the vote of all the thinking people.” To which he replied, “That’s not enough. I need a majority.” While the time period “egghead” for an mental shouldn’t be so frequent anymore, in my childhood and youth it was a standard disparagement. In truth, the time period was coined by the newspaper columnist Stewart Alsop to explain Stevenson, who along with his prodigious mind was additionally balding and had a pronounced excessive brow. Kind of like an egg.

In some methods I see Adlai Stevenson as a turning determine, representing the shifting from Unitarianism as a component, if a bit nearer the edge, of the American mainstream. Unitarian Universalism is in some basic methods counter-cultural, and basically at odds with the political established order.

But not disengaged. The present congress counts three Unitarian Universalists in the House. Two from California, Ami Bera and Judy Chu, and one from North Carolina, Deborah Ross. However, it’s unlikely there’ll be a UU president anytime quickly. I believe.

Questions of faith and spirituality are my nice ardour. You might have observed. I’m particularly enthusiastic about the trendy divide of non secular however not spiritual. With squishy phrases like faith and non secular let’s arrange some definitions for this reflection. The phrase faith is an enormous topic. Starting principally in the nineteenth century, the phrase has come to explain that half of a tradition involved with that means and objective. It has two principal expressions.

One is about defining and reinforcing the boundaries of a tradition. A nice deal of vitality is put to the subject of who’s in, and who’s out. The second expression is often extra private if not non-public. Spirituality is about, if you’ll, the deeper points of that means and objective. Spiritual untangled from faith happens as that social objective of a faith begins to weakens, the place a selected faith is much less clearly about reinforcing a particular tradition.

Today we’re in the midst of some horrible upheavals. While many international locations might be outlined by their majority religions, I believe of Buddhist Sri Lanka and Hindu India as examples. Russian Orthodox exhibits rather a lot of cracks. And American Evangelical Christianity is capturing a bigger half of the Christian recognized, however Christianity itself is shrinking and quickly. Over massive swaths of the globe the shut identification of a particular tradition and a particular faith now not might be assumed.

Boundaries are loosening. And individuals are responding generally out of concern and generally out of some bigger imaginative and prescient. American Evangelical faith driving reactionary politics is an efficient instance of fear-based responses. I recommend Unitarian Universalism is an instance of responding from some bigger imaginative and prescient. Of course, we’re not the solely ones. But this reflection is about us.

What’s intriguing is that Unitarian Universalism because it each consolidated the older traditions of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America, has been mutating over the previous sixty-odd years in some very, very attention-grabbing methods. Ways that may imply we don’t produce a president any time quickly. But ways in which is likely to be of vastly extra use for individuals on that particular person quest, and socially and politically in the bigger sense of serving to individuals to grasp who we’re past the confines of our particular cultures.

The historical past is advanced and making an attempt to unravel all of it is past the scope of a single sermon. But there’s a bit of a paper path. For a few years our Seven Principles have confirmed a fairly good snapshot of what we generally maintain as necessary amongst us. It is attention-grabbing in rather a lot of methods, however not least of which is that whereas we are able to discover our Jewish and particularly Christian origins in the supplementary paperwork, the rules themselves lay out one thing new. It is profoundly moral, and it calls us to engagement in the world. While the non secular of it’s fairly non-public, and never spelled out very clearly.

And now we’re in the midst of a dialog at the denominational stage about new language which could exchange the rules. This language makes an attempt to seize who we’re and what we’re about now. I’m fascinated by how it’s coming collectively. All the name to ethics and justice are there. In truth, they’re extra explicitly spelled out. Especially concerning racial justice. But and I discover this the most attention-grabbing factor, this name for justice is seen as the consequence of one thing. Our name to partaking the world as UUs is as a result of of a radical instinct that the writers of the draft doc name “love.”

It’s been some time coming. Our most profitable public witness has concerned yellow shirts and, first the slogan “Standing on the Side of Love,” and now “Siding with Love.” I’ve been to a number of main political demonstrations the place non UUs check with us collectively as the “Love people.” Among our most intriguing theologians Thandeka’s name to “Love Beyond Belief,” a reframing of the previous Universalist slogan “Love over creed,” has had huge resonances amongst us. I personally am intrigued by simply how evocative that phrase “love” is, whereas at the identical time being immune to exhausting definitions.

It speaks to a grand instinct. And the half the place the mind engages, the place we glance to penalties and definitions of this instinct, is how we manifest all of it. Those calls to ethics and to the work of justice, particularly. But, maybe for the first time since Transcendentalism, clearly and unambiguously calling us into some kind of spirituality. Opening doorways that we might not have even thought existed. Much much less that have been closed and ought to be opened.

The Unitarian Universalist songwriter Peter Mayer captures one thing about this in his hymn “Holy Now.”

When I used to be a boy, every week

On Sunday, we’d go to church
And take note of the priest
He would learn the holy phrase
And consecrate the holy bread
And everybody would kneel and bow
Today the solely distinction is
Everything is holy now
Everything, every thing
Everything is holy now.

I ought to notice {that a} pricey good friend of mine, a Christian Zen grasp, when she heard a clip of this track was offended. I’m undecided which half of her discovered the offense, the Zen or the Christian. Although I believe it was inside each.

The rapid subject might be that the first half of the track is likely to be heard as a rebuke of foolish literalists going to church and considering that there’s a holy phrase and a holy bread. And, of course, a priest. An middleman. The hymn might be heard as if all that have been nugatory.

To be truthful, I guess rather a lot of individuals learn or hear the strains precisely that manner. Foolish them. But me, nicely, every thing holy now. I provide that rapidly, and as a warning. A warning as a result of that’s truly not what the hymn calls us to.

Rather it’s a name to the deep instinct. When we’ve turned away from the thought of our faith as a safeguard to some tradition, particularly guarding our tradition, telling us who’s in and who’s out. When we truly discover the feeling of love rising for and inside this world, after we see that every thing is holy now. Think of that phrase love. Think of the instinct of a profound connection amongst us, that internet of interdependence. Well. What then?

When the rubber and the highway meet. When our intimations of love, each as a personal matter, and with social consequence, aren’t certain by our particular place, by our tradition, or our nation, what then?

I believe that track speaks partly to the thriller. It the truth is doesn’t inform individuals to not go to church. It doesn’t say there isn’t any holy guide. It doesn’t inform us there isn’t any holy bread. It doesn’t even disdain the work of monks, or shamans, or witches, holy witches. People who make the sacred their work.

It tells us of a small shift. One factor. A turning of the coronary heart. A realization. An awakening. The new imaginative and prescient, actually it’s as historic as human hearts, however said unequivocally:  is that every thing is holy. Larded via all of existence. It is a track of the good and the sick, in the heaven experiences, and in these hell realms. It sings of some holiness that unites every thing.

Another great phrase. Holy. Our English phrase holy comes from Old English and is said to a German phrase. It means blessed. Holy can be linked with entire. It hints at our seeing the connections. It is about what we expertise after we discover these connections past the parochial. It doesn’t deny the parochial, the intimate, nevertheless it does name us to one thing bigger.

In sensible phrases it means Unitarian Universalist political engagement is knowledgeable by one thing that nobody tradition can declare as its personal. There is nothing that may be excluded from it. In a remaining and in a horrible sense, what love tells us, is that there isn’t any different to be excluded.

Love, lover, and beloved, are all sides of the divine. In love every thing is holy.

It makes for messy politics. One apparent instance. It challenges any thought of a border. It doesn’t say they don’t exist. It doesn’t say they shouldn’t exist. But it does say they’re permeable in ways in which problem all concepts of final separation. And, extra. It calls us into caring deeply and doing what we are able to for these on either side of any border.

With that each one issues, intimate. As they’re, you and me. The solely distinction. Well, a brand new perspective. A wild and open factor. Songs of intimacy. Songs of love.

So at present UUs, nicely, we’re about one thing highly effective and compelling. And, you already know. In an period of concern, compounded by those that need to direct the concern at others, any others; all of a sudden our religion custom throws our lot in with these others.

Doesn’t make us tremendous electable. Not when rather a lot of cash and a spotlight are thrown at a candidate, say at the presidential stage. Well. It is likely to be some time earlier than we see a UU president.

But. And. You know. The rubber and the highway.

Religion at present ought to, (ought to is such an attention-grabbing phrase, all the time invitations a warning or two, doesn’t it?). Religion ought to, can, may, be about our private quests, the therapeutic of our harm and longing. And. Religion now ought to, can, may, be about the nice household, the internet of relationships, the intimacy of all issues.

Some love past perception.

Perhaps on this new age, this crossing of boundaries will likely be the politics of Unitarian Universalism.

I hope so.



Most Popular

Recent Comments