Growing Up With God

When I was a child, I prayed like a child.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

And I played in the church halls with the laughing Jesus looking over my shoulder. Enthusiastically, I skipped down the street every Summer to Bible Camp, where I listened closely to the parables of Jesus.

When I was a teen, I was confirmed like a Lutheran. I accepted the Trinity at face value. I recited the Apostle’s Creed. I memorized the Ten Commandments. Despite having little appreciation for or understanding of these commitments or confessions of faith, I had passed the test. By all accounts, I was a good Lutheran. I could now take communion with the adults. My grandmothers were proud. I appreciated the party!

When I was a young adult, I abandoned the ways of my childhood. If someone asked, I said I was a Christian. While I wouldn’t say I abandoned God or Jesus during those years, it was more that I just simply didn’t have a relationship with either one of them. They were omnipresent— like the childhood picture – but I didn’t experience them has having a presence in my days. Having been told God was the master of my fate, I’d occasionally check in, for a consult of sorts, through prayer, to ask for preferential treatment on one matter or another.

Then, at the age of thirty, with my life in more than a bit of a crisis, I walked into my first twelve-step meeting. Broken open by death and a marriage on the rocks, I was hungry for the promise of serenity prayer.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.

In the company of others affected by the disease of addiction, I turned to something greater than myself: I turned to God.

By the time I arrived in the pews of my first Unitarian Universalist church, I was in relationship with God. Like so many others, I had found a religious community that invited me to discern for myself what was right and true. Here, I learned to walk with the questions, trust in a mystery unfolding, and wait for answers to be revealed.

In Unitarian Universalism, I found a place to explore the faith of my childhood within the context of modern science and reason, new and ongoing revelations, world religions, religious studies, spirituality, the historical Jesus, and so very much more. Eventually, like my 19th-century forbearers, I rejected the trinity for a theology of Unity. I came to understand I was a theist, someone who experienced God as Love manifest in humanity and all of creation. I came to embrace Jesus as a person who walked with God in a pantheistic way wherein God is experienced in everything.

In the third principle of Unitarian Universalism, we covenant to affirm and promote the acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth. And in so many ways we do this really well. We are eager to embrace the person practicing Buddhism, the new Muslim family in town, and the rituals of the earth-centered traditions. Unfortunately, the embrace of practicing Christians or the theist is filled with tension.

We get uncomfortable. Truth is some of us have been hurt, rejected, and oppressed by exclusive interpretations and expressions of Christianity. It’s personal, very personal.

Others lack the necessary information to be in conversation with Christianity’s 2000 history. We don’t understand the importance of Christianity to the faithful.

Religions, all of them, can be used for good or ill. We don’t reject Islam because of the extremists. We lean in curiously to better understand. Yet, somehow, we Unitarian Universalists can shut down at the first mention of God or Jesus.

In the book A Language of Reverence by former UUA President, the Rev. William Sinkford captures the tension around religious language in UU churches. A tension anyone who embraces God or celebrates Jesus beyond his humanity has encountered more than once. Our discomfort with Christianity and religious language makes so many of us squirm or shut down or reject the message because of the packaging. One of my mentors from Massachusetts, the Rev. Pancetta Peterson often said, “This church doesn’t have a problem with black people, they have a problem with Christians.” Ask any Unitarian Universalist Christian at UUCC, if they aren’t hiding out in the closet, and they are likely to tell you the same.

I am grateful to Scotty McLennan’s new book Christ for Unitarian Universalists. His book is understood by many as a timely clarion call for UUs—those who identify as Christian as well as those who do not—to engage in dialogue with the more than seventy percent of Americans who do so identify. McLennan offers ideas about how to enhance the practice and experience of Christianity that traditional Christians today might find compelling.

If you identify as a UU Christina, this book will be like a settling into a cozy couch with an old friend.

If you are curious about how to navigate the faith of your childhood or want to know what is on the mind of UU Christians, this book study will be a road map.
If you are among those who squirm and shut down, this book study will be an open door to a rich classroom for listening and learning why Christianity matters so deeply to so many.

Over my 17 years as a Unitarian Universalist, my relationship with God has evolved. My sustaining center has shifted many times and I remain steadfast in my quest for a life grounded in the Holy and centered on something beyond myself.

Over my 17 years as a Unitarian Universalist, my relationship with God has evolved. My sustaining center has shifted many times and I remain steadfast in my quest for a life grounded in the Holy and centered on something beyond myself.

Today, I celebrate the opportunity to walk humbly with God. Written four years ago now my credo remains an accurate expression of my faith.

I am centered in a spiritual life

… influenced by my life as a spiritual wanderer on a skeptic’s journey; a Christian inspired to live and be guided by the words and deeds of a great prophet, teacher, activist, and Rabbi; a humanist with a mystic’s heart who believes we are the hands and hearts and eyes and ears of God; a pantheist humbled by an over abundance of miracles…

Confused? So am I!! Truth be told, I am one among many who are at peace living beyond the categories, walking with the questions, living into the answers, and engaging Mystery.

Our reading this morning—Jesus as storeowner selling dreams—reminds me religion is not a spectator sport and our beliefs are not commodities to be bought and sold. We can turn around and walk away from the best of what any tradition has to offer or wander through the store and take up the messages that affirm life, embolden Love, and sustain our days.

Centered on Goodness, choosing Life and Love, spiritual living is a practice, a way of life, a vision to center and guide, a call to right living, to be planted, nurtured and sustained through the ashes and embers of life forever unfolding. Our belief systems mature over time. Our understanding of that which sustains all of creation evolves with each breath.

For fifty-four years I have walked with God and Jesus—from childlike crush to indoctrination to rejection to redefinition to choosing both to center and guide my living.

Today it is this definition from Forrest Church that best defines my fifth decade understanding of all that is, was, and will be.

“The power which I cannot explain or know or name, I call God. God is not God’s name. God is the name for the mystery that looms within and beyond the limits of my being. Life force, Spirit of Life, Bound of Being. These to are names for the unnamable which I am now content to call my God.”