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Universalism and Rediscovering a Hopeful Theological Worldview

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Universalism and Rediscovering a Hopeful Theological Worldview

“I decided to believe in a God that believed in a girl like me.” — Glennon Doyle, The New Yorker

That may be a strange quote from which to set out and choose a theological worldview of hope. In truth, I chose universalism as a new form of faith before reading the quote earlier this week. Still, it fits so well.

Out of the wreckage and trauma of fundamentalism (evengelical Christian in my case), I needed, and thus decided, to change direction. The old fundamntalist, absolutist beliefs and traditions ceased to be useful if they ever were. Laden with impossible guilt, shame and fear, they along with a perfect mix of depression, became crippling and contributed at times to debilitation. Nihilism, for the longest time, seemed like the only alternative to the closed system of thought of fundamentalism. It certainly wouldn’t ‘feed the bulldog’ so to speak either.

I needed something new. Hence through a long and painful journey, I came to universalism. Although I am a member of a Unitarian Universalist (UU) fellowship, which generally and loosely follows most of what I’m espousing here (and allows for many other options as it is values-based rather than beliefs-based), I am using the term “universalism” to mean something more specific to me.

I meant that I have chosen, decided, to believe in a god who loves and accepts me absolutely, completely, no matter what. No caveats. And not just me, but this god loves everyone and everything — universally. This god is both a source of energy and, for me, also a person, like a powerful friend, brother, father, mother, in one, as I understand he/she/it on any given day. It loves all people (and all things) unconditionally, even if it also might want to change them to become the best versions of themselves.

There is a dialectic inherent in that apparent contradiction, a paradoxical mystery of sorts. But faith–based on its foundations of hope, reason, poetic truth, and choice–is large enough to embrace the improvement impulse while not compromising the absolute, no-matter-what, non-limitation of the unconditional love the emanates from the source energy, god (love).

This is hope. This absolute, uncompromising acceptance and beneficence and grace (there really isn’t a perfect equivalent word for love) is nevertheless the definition of both god and love itself. I frame it as an other-oriented, inexhaustible, if necessary, self-sacrificial regard for others that is in no way contingent upon anything else. It is not qualified. It is not conditional in any way upon my actions, failures, flaws, successes or characteristics. It is not even conditional–as Christian fundamentalism posits–upon my belief, repentance, or act of acceptance of some nominally free gift. Nothing. I exist therefore I have love. And this love supersedes and transcends all else. There in lies the hope, so richly, universally, and desperately needed.

If love were conditioned on anything, it would cease to be the definition of full love, and god. It cannot be limited or boxed in by theology or dogma. This is not to deny that above I have probably necessarily appealed to certain other first principles in the nature of a dogma. That’s okay – we all have a priori beliefs in our worldviews. These are just better ones for me. This love lives full and free. And because of that, I also continue to do so with renewed hope. Fragile as life might be, this hope in this universal, absolute, unconditional love is the sine qua non of motivation and hope and optimism, and one that I cherish, and seek to ever increasingly explore and apply.

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Beautifully written. Thank you for this.

11 hours ago, gandolfication said:

There is a dialectic inherent in that apparent contradiction, a paradoxical mystery of sorts. But faith–based on its foundations of hope, reason, poetic truth, and choice–is large enough to embrace the improvement impulse while not compromising the absolute, no-matter-what, non-limitation of the unconditional love the emanates from the source energy, god (love).

And this part I find especially resonant with my core beliefs. 

By finding there is terrain in "Both-and" that can be navigated, I released my soul from confinement in "Either-or". Acceptance and change. A middle path emerges which was also always there. 

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On 2/24/2021 at 4:28 AM, Atra said:

Beautifully written. Thank you for this.

And this part I find especially resonant with my core beliefs. 

By finding there is terrain in "Both-and" that can be navigated, I released my soul from confinement in "Either-or". Acceptance and change. A middle path emerges which was also always there. 

Yah, well said.  This was and is still a struggle for me.  I want to be able to understand, isolate, and reduce truth to binary, abstract logic so very much.  Probably comes from being brought up in fundamentalist (Baptist) mom, dad was an engineer and navy captain, lived in the Midwest, and I ultimately became a lawyer. 

There is something comforting I suppose about the idea that there is a clear, black and white answer to all things.  It seems to correspond to the nature of reality being a seamless web and non-contradiction, even though I know (or suspect) it really doesn't.  I suppose by personality and profession, I seek to eradicate ambiguity and vagueness.  

I labor under the false belief, that if I could just know more (everything let's say), I could solve all my and others' problems, e.g. save myself, create my own redemption and finally not be needy and dependent.  Strange.

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13 hours ago, gandolfication said:

This was and is still a struggle for me.  I want to be able to understand, isolate, and reduce truth to binary, abstract logic so very much.

Yep, same. 

A turning point for me was accepting a different axiom: life is seldom a tidy affair. My hitherto best efforts have failed to prove that false, which puts me in the club of "the rest of all human beings who ever walked upright". Not especially bad company!

Trying to find the strength to let go rather than expending all my strength holding on? That seems like a better problem to me now.

 

13 hours ago, gandolfication said:

I labor under the false belief, that if I could just know more (everything let's say), I could solve all my and others' problems, e.g. save myself, create my own redemption and finally not be needy and dependent.  Strange.

I held to a very similar perspective. With some help from psychotherapy, I gradually reduced my false belief to a painful but more honest and self-aware admission, "I need to know [everything] so that I can control it."

Control, like the belief that I can create certainty of a particular future for me, is an illusion. That's another new axiom for me, I guess. Learning to live with with uncertainty--or how to live with doubt, that also seems like a better problem for me right now.  As ⬆️ certainties about my life go up, ⬇️ possibilities for my life go down. 

And yeah I maintain that there's still room for faith here. Because I believe that at times in our lives, each of us can transcend the confines of lonely flesh and temporal existence (however briefly) to experience That Which Is Unconditional and Infinite. Yeah I might like to live always in those moments of grace. But like the rest of us, I'm just working with parts I got from the factory. 😁 That's another form of acceptance: my humanity. Now if only I could learn how to love that...

On the matter of the UU fellowship, what do you think about this people in this community, have they made you feel welcome? Do you feel you belong?

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9 hours ago, Atra said:

Yep, same. 

A turning point for me was accepting a different axiom: life is seldom a tidy affair. My hitherto best efforts have failed to prove that false, which puts me in the club of "the rest of all human beings who ever walked upright". Not especially bad company!

Trying to find the strength to let go rather than expending all my strength holding on? That seems like a better problem to me now.

 

I held to a very similar perspective. With some help from psychotherapy, I gradually reduced my false belief to a painful but more honest and self-aware admission, "I need to know [everything] so that I can control it."

Control, like the belief that I can create certainty of a particular future for me, is an illusion. That's another new axiom for me, I guess. Learning to live with with uncertainty--or how to live with doubt, that also seems like a better problem for me right now.  As ⬆️ certainties about my life go up, ⬇️ possibilities for my life go down. 

And yeah I maintain that there's still room for faith here. Because I believe that at times in our lives, each of us can transcend the confines of lonely flesh and temporal existence (however briefly) to experience That Which Is Unconditional and Infinite. Yeah I might like to live always in those moments of grace. But like the rest of us, I'm just working with parts I got from the factory. 😁 That's another form of acceptance: my humanity. Now if only I could learn how to love that...

On the matter of the UU fellowship, what do you think about this people in this community, have they made you feel welcome? Do you feel you belong?

Life is seldom a Tidy Affair is a great adage to remember and live by.  It brings to mind three somewhat similar things for me.

One is Shakespeare's "There is more in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, my dear Horatio." 

The second is the poem, Delight in Disorder, which I love as poem and an aspiration, but have trouble embracing it practically.

And finally, is the magnificent opening to Brennan Manning's book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, which I think just describes the human condition from a mystical spiritual perspective with an explanatory power I've seldom read or heard.  I don't think one has to be a Christian of any kind, or that it has to be necessarily be about a religious Jesus at all, to appreciate it in terms of grace and humanity.

 

yes, the UU fellowship has ben extremely welcoming and refreshing.

 

A Word Before

The Ragamuffin Gospel was written with a specific reading audience in mind. This book is not for the super-spiritual.

It is not for muscular Christians who have made John Wayne, and not Jesus, their hero.

It is not for academics who would imprison Jesus in the ivory tower of exegesis.

It is not for noisy, feel-good folks who manipulate Christianity into a naked appeal to emotion.

It is not for hooded mystics who want magic in their religion.

It is not for Alleluia Christians who live only on the mountaintop and have never visited the valley of desolation.

It is not for the fearless and tearless.

It is not for red-hot zealots who boast with the rich young ruler of the Gospels, “All these commandments I have kept from my youth.”

It is not for the complacent who hoist over their shoulders a tote bag of honors, diplomas, and good works, actually believing they have it made.

It is not for legalists who would rather surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus.

If anyone is still reading along, The Ragamuffin Gospel was written for the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out.

It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other.

It is for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together and are too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.

It is for inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker.

It is for poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents.

It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay.

It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God.

It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags.

The Ragamuffin Gospel is a book I wrote for myself and anyone who has grown weary and discouraged along the Way.

—Brennan Manning

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On 2/26/2021 at 11:42 AM, gandolfication said:

yes, the UU fellowship has ben extremely welcoming and refreshing.

Fantastic! You have a community and a spiritual home, that's two pillars of mental health support. Are there people in the community that you might see as future good friends or too early to know?

Thanks for sharing the Ragamuffin Gospel what an amazing manifesto. 

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8 hours ago, Atra said:

Fantastic! You have a community and a spiritual home, that's two pillars of mental health support. Are there people in the community that you might see as future good friends or too early to know?

Thanks for sharing the Ragamuffin Gospel what an amazing manifesto. 

Manifesto is a good term for that, I think you're right.

Yes, there are people I've begun forming friendships with...somewhat interrupted by pandemic zoom church, but that's better than nothing and this won't last forever.

thanks.

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