Paradise Now! (Or, How Love Wins)

Basilica of Saint Apollinaris in Classe, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

What should a Unitarian Universalist minister talk about on Easter Sunday?  Particularly after the week we’ve just had?  It’s a real dilemma.  What can the story of the death and resurrection of an itinerant Jewish rabbi say to people looking for hope, in what looks like one of the darkest times in the history of the world, if we don’t believe in the literal truth of resurrection?  Our closest Christian cousins say “Love wins.”[i]  They say that is the whole point of the resurrection story.  Love wins.[ii]  But if, as we UU’s tend to believe, Jesus was metaphorically rather than physically  resurrected, how exactly did love win? Why think about the story at all, when we could just be celebrating the emergence of new life in spring and singing alleluias?

Well, you know, we do love to celebrate spring.  We do love to sing alleluias.  And…we also love to poke around in the mythologies of the world and find common motifs and see what they tell us about the human condition. For example:  the resurrection motif.  A divine being goes into a cave or a tomb, into the world of the dead, and then comes back, bringing salvation. Think of the story of Persephone, whose disappearance into the land of the dead causes her mother, Demeter, to grieve so deeply that all the earth’s vegetation dies.   But then Persephone re-emerges from the land of the dead for several months each year and Demeter is so happy that the earth comes back to life.

At the time Jesus was alive, this story was the center of a whole Greek religion. The Romans had their own version.  There are dozens of other examples from all over the world.  The seasonal death and rebirth of plant and animal life was profoundly important to long-ago peoples. It was a great mystery that affected the people’s survival, and it had to be marked and explained and celebrated.

Nowadays, we have a scientific explanation for the seasonal death and rebirth of life.  If our food comes from stores, and our heat comes from natural gas and electricity, we might find the resurrection religions quite strange.  We might find it easy to forget just how important it is that the plants come back to life after winter.  But our own bodies instruct us, don’t they?  Doesn’t it feel like a miracle when the sun starts to come back out?   Doesn’t it feel like the stone over the tomb of our own souls has been rolled away, and we are newly awake?

Well, normally it does… except that such horrific things are happening in the world, many of them caused by the leadership of our own country, that I don’t know about you, but right now, instead of feeling like the stone has been rolled away from the tomb, I feel like the stone is repeatedly being rolled over my heart, and also bashing me over the head.

And so I want to talk to you about the story of Jesus.  I know some of you love and revere Jesus as a teacher.  Others of you are allergic to the mention of his name, because you were harmed by the version of Christianity in which you were brought up.  Either way, I think there is great value in taking a new look at the story of this radical rabbi.  First, if we want to be agents of change, we have to be able to speak intelligently with people outside our own faith community about someone whose life and teachings have been so significant in the history of the world.  And second, recent scholarship about Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity have revealed much that is of value in our search for hope in these very dark times.[iii]

Like many of you, in my youth I was taught a version of Christianity that was focused almost entirely on the afterlife.  It sanctified violence and oppression, as well as human domination and exploitation of the earth.  It encouraged me to turn the other cheek when I was abused, so that I could go to heaven after I died.  This version of Christianity has been responsible for an enormous amount of suffering in this world, for many centuries.  It is symbolized by the crucifix.  Not the cross, but the crucifix, because the focus is on the redemption of humankind through the bloody, tortured, sacrificial death of Jesus.  In this version of Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus is important because it represents the transformation of earthly suffering into the reward of everlasting life after death.  It understands the earth and the body as sites of evil and temptation.  It makes violence against both necessary, and suffering redemptive.

So why do I insist on talking about this now, when we could be talking about caterpillars turning into butterflies?

Well, bear with me while I ask you a couple of questions.  Here’s one.  Did you know that there was no such thing as a crucifix until the 10th century of the Common Era?  That symbol, which focused the attention of Christians on the idea that God planned to redeem humans through the bloody sacrifice of his only son—that symbol did not show up in any churches or cathedrals until almost a thousand years after Jesus died.

And here’s another.  Did you know that until relatively recently in world history, most people did not know how to read and write?  Which means that most people who thought of themselves as Christian had no access to the Bible or the Gospels or the letters of the apostles.  The Bible wasn’t widely available in print until the 1500’s anyway.

So, what do these two things have to do with one another?  Well, think about this.  How would people of the early Christian church express their understanding of their faith and what the life of Jesus meant, if they didn’t read or write?  Through art and craft.  Through music and storytelling. Through ritual and ceremony.

That means that if we want to understand early Christianity, and how most Christians understood their faith, instead of reading the Bible, we have to look at early Christian art and its symbols. We have to go to the earliest places of worship, the earliest churches and cathedrals, and see how they are decorated.  We have to study the liturgical practices of the community, their worship life and rituals.  This is exactly what Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker did in researching their book Saving Paradise:  How Christianity Traded Love for This World for Crucifixion and Empire.

And when they did, they found that the crucifix is conspicuously absent.  It does not exist.  What they found instead of the crucifix was image after image of paradise.  Not an otherworldly paradise, representing the afterlife, but shimmering, brilliantly colorful mosaics depicting paradise on this earth.  Jesus is shown as the person who welcomes the people into paradise:  a paradise where all feast at common tables, laughing together, surrounded by sun and moon and stars, fountains of water, animals and plants and birds of all kinds.  And also surrounded by the beloved family members and friends who have already died; they are close by, in their own paradise, close enough to commune with. In this earthly paradise, lovers entwine and give one another flowers.

Many of these images of Paradise come from the ancient Jewish tradition from which Christianity was born, and that tradition had very little, if anything, to say about an afterlife.  It was all about this life here and now.  Salvation in Jewish tradition was never about what happened after you died, it was always about the conditions under which you were living.  As we saw last week in the Passover story, salvation was political and economic:  It meant freedom from slavery, freedom from the violence of empire, freedom to eat and drink and love in peace.  Salvation was also about healing, about salving the body and mind, heart and soul.  Jesus was a Jewish rabbi and he was teaching and healing Jewish people.  He was speaking Aramaic.  When he made references to abundant life in his own language, in the context of his culture, the people would have understood him to be talking not about an afterlife, but to the life of the body.  They would have understood him as referring to the kind of earthly life described in many of the lyrical Psalms, or in passages like this one from the Song of Solomon:

“Arise, my love, my fair one and come away, for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.   The fig tree puts forth her figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.  Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”[iv]

It was in this context of a focus on earthly life that early Christianity developed.  Scholars who did know how to read and write recorded many of the ritual practices of early Christian communities.  From them we learn that not only did they decorate churches in ways that visually brought the whole community of life inside, but whenever they gathered to worship, they brought boughs of greenery and flowers in to lay on the floors, to surround themselves with their fragrance and color.

We also learn that baptism into Christian community was understood to be the portal into paradise.  It was a sensual rite that celebrated the beauty of the body and drew it into loving communion with the earth, Jesus, God, and the other members of the church.

In order to be baptized, people first studied the teachings of Jesus and the church leaders for months—again, not through reading and writing, but through storytelling, memorizing, and discussion.  Then it was time for the ceremony.  First, the people renounced sin, and committed to living in covenant with the community.  Then the community went to the water together and the people to be baptized were undressed completely, men and women all together with no shame, as if in the Garden of Eden again.  The removal of their clothing symbolized the shedding of the burdens of sin.  Then their bodies were rubbed with olive oil from head to toe, and then they were cradled in loving arms and completely submerged in the water three times.  After they emerged from the water, they were clothed in new white linen robes to symbolize their becoming a new person, and everyone joyfully feasted together.

Have you ever gone swimming naked in a river or a lake with someone you loved?  With a lover or a friend or a group of beloved friends?  How did you feel afterward?  Did you feel reborn?  Did you feel cleansed?  Whenever I do this, I experience a communion and a righting of my relationship with the water and the rocks and the trees and my beloveds.  I am refreshed and made new.  I imagine that old rite of baptism to have felt like this. In the early years of Christianity, baptism had nothing to do with original sin, which also had not yet been invented.  Baptism had nothing to do with making sure you went to heaven after you died.  It was instead a ritual that welcomed people into community by enacting the righting of their relationship with the whole of life, and becoming someone new.

And then there was the way the Christians actually lived once they were baptized.  They gave all they had to the community, and the community provided for them.  They took care of the poor, the sick, the widows, the orphans, and even the dead, burying bodies that otherwise would be left outside of city gates.  And, they didn’t just feed and care for their own people, they fed and cared for anyone in need. They offered the feast of life to all who hungered for it.

To understand just how radical this was, you have to understand three things about the time.  First, the Jews and the early Christians were trying to survive in places occupied by the cruel and violent Roman Empire.  Attracting attention to your nonconforming religious group was not a good idea—it was dangerous.  Second, most cultures very strictly defined in-groups and out-groups, and people in the in-group were supposed to shun people in the out-group.  Third, the causes of sickness and disfigurements were not yet understood.  A person with any kind of sickness or disfigurement was considered unclean or contaminated by evil; it was thought that they or their parents had done something evil for which they were being punished by God or the gods.  They were cast out of society.

But Jesus taught that none of this was what God wanted for people on earth.  He dared to claim that God’s love was more powerful than the empire was.  He taught his followers to welcome and love everyone and to heal the sick and disfigured.  No more in-group or out-group, no more outcasts.  Everyone was to be loved and included in the circle of community, everyone was to be considered equal—including women.  Living in this way was what brought about paradise.

In churches, Jesus is shown as a shepherd and a teacher and a healer.  Sometimes he carries a book.  Sometimes he holds a shepherd’s crook.  Other symbols referring to Jesus included the tree of life, an anchor, and a cross. The cross was understood in quite a different way than was the crucifix later on.  It reminded Jesus’ followers of three critical aspects of his story.  One was that he lived and died resisting the violence of empire. He taught active nonviolent resistance, and he knew that as his following and his reputation grew, his life would be in danger.  But he did not stop.  He gave himself entirely to his cause and his people, and his life ended when the empire executed him on the cross.

The second was that his death did not stop the movement he started.  His humiliating public execution could not stop his revolutionary love.  It could not stop his followers from continuing to spread his message and living their understanding of paradise now.  Love did win.

The third was that the empire could also not stop Jesus’ followers from developing a resurrection story about him.  Like the other resurrection stories of the time, in this one the semi-divine being goes into the realm of the dead and returns with salvation: in this case salvation from the violence and cruelty of empire.  Salvation from the long and sorry history of human unkindness to out-groups.  Salvation from poverty, and the salving of suffering bodies and minds.

The resurrection story did not originally appear in the first version of the first Gospel to be written down, the Gospel of Mark.  In that story, which was written in about 70 of the Common Era, the women leave the site of the tomb terrified because Jesus is not there.  That’s it.  End of story.  Only in later copies of the text did new endings show up that alluded to Jesus appearing to his disciples after his death.  And then it was later still, by several more decades, that the other Gospels were written down and given endings that talked about Jesus’ resurrection.  So the resurrection story took some time to develop.  Once it did, it became important to believers because it said to them that Jesus had a power of life and love that transcended the power of earthly authorities, especially the Caesar.  It said to them that Jesus’ life and his teachings truly did usher in Paradise.

All of this was what the cross symbolized for the early Christians.  But it was only one of many important symbols and was not used particularly often.

So how did we get from cross to crucifix?  How did we get from Jesus as bringer of Paradise to Jesus as bloody sacrifice to an angry father God?

Well, it’s a long story involving the rise and fall of various empires.  I used to keep The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire next to my bed for when I couldn’t sleep, because I would nod off after just a sentence or two.  So I won’t go into detail.  Suffice it to say that in the ninth century, the First Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne, converted the pagans of Europe to Christianity by force.  Not only did his troops kill anyone who would not be baptized, but his troops cut down and destroyed the pagans’ sacred trees and groves.

One group that suffered greatly was the Saxons.  Their descendants carved the oldest-known crucifix, in the tenth century.  To them, the Christian religion was about suffering and death and hoping for some reward in the afterlife.  After Charlemagne died, his empire did not hold together well and the many different peoples of Europe began feuding between themselves.  Pope Urban the Second wanted to unify Christendom so he decided to begin the Crusades. War now became holy, and the reward for killing Muslims and Jews was going to heaven after you died.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

But even throughout that long and bloody history, there have been people who understood the message of Christianity differently.  Irish Catholic mysticism is deeply rooted in pagan religion, and its adherents believe that the beauty of life on earth is a sign of its divine nature.  Hildegard of Bingen, 12th century German abbess who wrote the first known opera, called God the force of life, and Jesus the power of greening, or viriditas.

And then, in 19th century America, came the Unitarians and the Universalists.  They carefully studied all they could find about the story of Jesus and the early Church.  They used what they learned to deconstruct later Christian theologies rooted in violence and suffering.  Universalist Hosea Ballou wrote:  “The …belief that the great Jehovah was offended by his creatures to that degree, that nothing but the death of Christ, or the endless misery of mankind, could appease his anger, is an idea that has done more injury to the Christian religion than the writings of all its opposers, for many centuries.”[v]  He argued that Jesus was not sent to be an atoning sacrifice, but rather as a model of how to live in love, so people could be happy.

Unitarians replaced violence-centered theologies of original sin with the idea that humans were created in the image of a good and loving God.  They said that the resurrection story was meant to be understood figuratively, and the important thing about Jesus was what he taught by how he lived.  Following his teachings was the way to salvation.   Moreover, nature—life on earth—was a manifestation of the divine mind, and all we had to do to know God was to go outside and see all the beauty around us.

Well.  I hope you are beginning to see the point of what I wanted to share with you.  The version of Christianity that I was taught in my youth is apparently a version that was corrupted by Empire.  It turns out that the original Christianity was about abundant life here and now.  It was about welcoming everyone in love, and taking care of one another.  It was about enjoying and celebrating the beauty of the earth and the body.  And it was about nonviolently resisting those forces of empire that would threaten abundance and love and beauty.

Isn’t that what we most need at this precise moment in history?

I think it is, and so I look around at you and I am in awe.  The stone has gone; hope takes its place.  Here we are, the religious descendants of the Unitarians and Universalists who drew on the teachings of Jesus and the very earliest Christian church.  Here we are, coming together to welcome all in love, to share our lives, to care for one another and be cared for.  Here we are, celebrating the beauty of the earth and bodily life.  Surrounded by trees and earth and river and sky, dressed in our beautiful colors and bringing our fragrant flowers, we lift our jubilant voices in song.  We will rise up in love and we will resist the forces of empire.

Looks to me like resurrection is happening here.  Looks to me like salvation.  Looks to me like paradise.

May it be so.  Blessed be.

[i] Bell, Rob. 2011.  Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell,and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Harper Collins, NY.

[ii] Melton, Glennon Doyle. 2016  Love Warrior: A Memoir. Flatiron Books, NY .

[iii] Brock, Rita Nakashima, and Rebecca Ann Parker, 2008. Saving Paradise:  How Christianity Traded Love for This World for Crucifixion and Empire.  Beacon Press, Boston.  All of the historical information about Christianity featured in this sermon comes from this book. It is worth reading cover to cover, including the footnotes.  It is long but not at all boring.

[iv] Song of Solomon 2:10-13.  NRSV.

[v] Ballou, Hosea. 1848.  A Treatise on Atonement.  A. Tompkins, Boston. P. 107.

The Way of the Chalice

Pink Rhythms Chalice by Peg Green

How do you explain Unitarian Universalism when people ask you about your religion? A few years ago I was meeting with a group at my home congregation to brainstorm some ideas for how families can build UU spiritual practice into home life. A newcomer asked, “What is it that we believe, anyway? How can I find out?” I asked her, “Have you read our Principles and Sources?” She said, “Well, yes, but the principles are social, political views, not spiritual beliefs. There must be something at the center here, something like a creed, or it wouldn’t be a church.” It reminded me a little bit of what newspaper reporters say after every General Assembly. They often claim Unitarian Universalism is not a real religion. It has nothing at the center. The seven principles are political statements that have nothing to do with God. One year a reporter said, you can’t draw a circle around nothing. Another reporter said, there’s no there there.

But the thing is, we do have something at our center. What’s more, each of our principles is a statement of a theological position with thousands of years of history behind it. AND, like other liberal religions, our faith focuses on life here and now, in this world—which means that for us, the political is the spiritual, and vice versa.

So, what is this thing at our center? What makes a UU group a religious community? We don’t often mention God, we rarely hear sermons based on biblical texts, and most of our churches don’t offer a Eucharist. We certainly don’t have a creed. So how can we call ourselves a religion?

Well, the word religion comes from the Latin, re-ligare, to bind back, or to hold together, to link. It’s the same root as in the word ligament…you know, those cords that hold our skeletons together. I like that image: without religious community, we fall apart into useless pieces. With it, we can accomplish great things.

Unitarian Universalist religion comes together not around a creed, which is a profession of beliefs that all members share, but rather through a covenant. The word covenant comes from the Latin “co,” together, and venir, “to come.” A covenant is a promise about how we come together.

Creeds are actually rare in religions: only a few forms of Christianity espouse them. The idea of a creed wasn’t even developed until the fourth century, when the Roman Emperor Constantine decided to make Christianity the state religion of the Empire. Before that, Christians, like their Jewish predecessors, had constantly debated with each other about the meaning of their faith’s teachings and texts. In the Jewish tradition, such argument and debate is seen as healthy; it is a way of engaging with each other that keeps people also constantly engaged with the divine. But in order for a religion to be aligned with the power of empire, there must be one correct interpretation of everything. So Constantine called a meeting, the Council of Nicaea, at which he demanded that the bishops decide, once and for all, any points of doctrinal dispute, and write them up as a unified statement of belief. This is how the Nicene Creed came to be. A prospective member of the church would have to believe and recite the creed, in every particular, in order to be accepted. Anyone who disagreed with any part of it was considered a heretic (which actually means “choice,” or “one who chooses.”) At first, heretics were only excommunicated, but later they were tortured, or burned at the stake. The creed became a matter of life or death.

By the sixteenth century, the alliance between church and state had become so cruel and oppressive that large numbers of people protested…and so was born the Protestant Reformation. According to Rebecca Parker, “Reformers …reconceptualized church. They dismantled the hierarchical power structure and said instead that church comes into being when human beings freely make a covenant with one another to walk together.” 1 What made this “walking together” a church instead of just a political community was that God was considered to be the organizing member of the covenant. So the Salem Covenant of 1629 says: “We Covenant with the Lord and with one another; and doe bynd ourselves in the presence of God, to walke together in all his waies, according as he is pleased to reveale himself unto us in his Blessed word of truth.”2

Unitarians and Universalists both inherited the covenantal form of church from our American Puritan ancestors. Unitarian Universalism has purposely chosen to keep this form. So, in our churches, as Parker says, “every member of the church has a say in what the church’s purpose is and why we come together. This places democratic process and human promise-making at the center of church life.” 3 As James Luther Adams put it in our responsive reading, “the goal is the prophethood and the priesthood of all believers.”4

But what exactly is it that Adams’ “believers” believe? Is God in our covenants? Many UU’s believe in some form of God or divine energy, but many do not. UU churches have atheists, agnostics, religious humanists, and Buddhists among our members, along with our many varieties of theists. If we don’t all covenant with God, then with whom, or what, besides ourselves, do we covenant? Is there something larger than ourselves, some transcendent reality, with which we covenant, and to which we hold ourselves accountable?

To answer this question, let’s take a look at the actual covenant of the Unitarian Universalist Association. It’s on the insert in your Order of Service. Let’s read the first half together, just through our seventh principle.


The inherent worth and dignity of every person;

Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

Respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.

At first read, these principles might not sound particularly religious. They might not seem to say anything about God, or not-God. But as I said earlier, each principle is actually a statement of a particular theological position, with a very long history. Take just our first principle. It evolved from our religious ancestors’ belief that people were inherently good, because they were created in the image of an all-loving God—an idea from the Hebrew Bible. This directly counters the doctrine of Original Sin developed by Augustine in the late fourth century. According to Augustine, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had done such a bad thing in disobeying God that the consequences of their sin were visited on every human being from then on. Every baby was born in state of complete separation from God, and would therefore go to hell UNLESS it was baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That was the only remedy. The doctrine of Original Sin is still in the Catholic catechism, and it’s still alive in many forms of Protestantism. But our ancestors in faith rejected it. And their belief in the goodness of human beings also countered the Calvinist idea that humans are utterly depraved. It gave our ancestors in faith the impetus to fight against slavery and for women’s rights. Our first principle now counters all forms of oppression. It is a brave and daring statement of our beliefs about human nature. It is also a statement of radical hospitality.

Because of our first principle, my daughter, who identifies as queer, had a safe and loving community to grow up in. She understands her sexual orientation as a lovely and essential part of herself. In stark and tragic contrast, recently a friend wrote me to say that a transgendered friend of hers had committed suicide. This friend was raised in a faith that could not accept her for who she was. Her parents had a funeral for her, but not really for her. They had the funeral for the son they wish they had had. How differently might this young person’s life have turned out, if her family’s religion had welcomed her, and loved her, just as she was? How differently would her parents’ life have turned out? Our first principle can make the difference between life and death.

Each of our principles has this much importance to the living of human life. Each has this much–or more!–history and depth.

And not only are our principles statements of theological positions, but the way they are organized speaks to our theology of interdependence, of interbeing. They begin with a statement about individuals, and then move outward in concentric spheres. Our seventh principle is about the health of the whole interdependent web of being. So our covenant expresses a vision of abundant love in which each individual flourishes because the whole community of life does, and the whole flourishes because each individual does.

What all this means is that we do covenant with a transcendent reality. We do understand there to be something larger than ourselves, into which we were born, that can help us when we are in need, and to which we can hold ourselves accountable. For some of us, this transcendent reality is the living universe that gave us birth, and gave us the capacity for love. For others, it is a personal deity they call God. For still others, it is simply the love we create when we come together in community, which holds us, and gives us power to do bigger things in the world than we could do alone. There are many ways to understand this transcendent reality, which James Luther Adams called “the ultimate source of existence.” So, our covenant has a second half, which names six sources of our living tradition.

Now, before I can talk about these, I want to give you another way of understanding the relationship between our covenant and the ultimate source of existence. This is through the symbolism of our flaming chalice.

The chalice is an open container. It provides a place to rest, a place to hold something sacred, a place to elevate something beautiful. It does not close off what is inside, but rather lifts it up, gives it space to move. The chalice is created by our uplifted hands, our covenanted community, the sacred space we create when we come together. Our community forms the chalice. At its center is an open place, and at the center of that dances a flame.

The flame is a powerful, and potentially dangerous, interaction between energy and matter. It re-creates, at a small scale, the moment of combustion that began the universe, a process of simultaneous creation and destruction. It re-creates the power that has brought all of life and death into being. It can provide light, and heat, something to see by, something to warm us; or it can burn, and consume. It is the mystery at the center of our faith community. The flame is a locus of pure possibility.

So our community forms an open container, at the center of which dwells this spark of pure possibility, energy that can both create and destroy. What each of us sees in that space of creative/destructive energy, and what meaning we make from it, might be different. UU theists might see it and name it as a personal God, with whom they can have an intimate relationship. UU religious humanists and atheists might see it as the impulses toward love and fear, good and evil, that are found in every human heart. UU pagans might see it as the Goddess in her aspects of maiden, mother, and crone. UU process theists might see it as the divine energy which manifests itself in the form of the becoming universe.
Each of us looks for, and sees, “something” that keeps us in the chalice, in the community. We generally find that this “something” changes as we grow and develop. So we covenant to use the sources of our living tradition—including our own life experiences, our mystical encounters with the divine, our powers of reasoning, and the wisdom of the many religions of the world—to expand our awareness of the possibilities.

Whatever we see at the center of the chalice, we limit what we do with it. We limit how we behave, toward each other and the wider world. Contrary to what many people think about us, UU’s are not free to believe just anything. Our chalice may be an open container but it is still a container. We live in covenantal relationship with the others in our community. And since we understand our community as an interdependent web that extends infinitely in all directions, we limit what we believe, and how we behave, to what is healthful for the whole web of life. Which means that however many ways there are for us to understand the symbol of the flame, at the center of all them is love.

Doesn’t this sound wonderful? I think so. I am passionately in love with our life-giving and life-saving religion. But I have to be honest with you. In my view, our covenant has a serious limitation. This is that we only covenant to affirm and promote our principles. We do not, as yet, covenant to live them. I think this makes our religion weaker than it could be. I think it’s one reason why many UU churches seem like social clubs for likeminded people, rather than religious communities that engage us at the very deepest levels of our being.

But imagine—just imagine—what might happen if we covenanted to LIVE our principles? If we covenanted to LIVE the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, and respect for the interdependent web of all existence? This would make our religion quite demanding, wouldn’t it? We would have to shed any possessions in excess of what we need. We would have to learn how to communicate, and behave, in nonviolent ways. We would have to act in the world, every day, as Marge Piercy says, to “bless whatever (we) can with eyes and hands and tongues, and if (we) can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.”

Can we meet those demands? Can we bless the world, or make it new? YES, WE CAN.

We can, because we walk together, in covenanted community, with none of us alone. We can, because the many sources of our faith give us sustenance for the journey. We can, because we love.

My brothers and sisters, let us deepen our covenant so that we live it in every moment. Then can this religion of love claim its true power in the world. Then can the Way of the Chalice be the way of blessing we want it to be.

May it be so. Blessed be.


1Parker, Rebecca A.  “Under Construction:  Knowing and Transforming Our Unitarian Universalist Theological House.”  Unpublished paper, presented at Collegium, October 23-26, 2003.  p. 6.

2Wright, Conrad.  “Congregational Polity and the Covenant,”  Redeeming Time:  Endowing Your Church with the Power of Covenant, Walter P. Herz, ed., Boston, Skinner House Books, 1999.  p. 39.

3Parker, ibid.

Adams, James Luther. #591 in Singing the Living Tradition.  Boston, Unitarian Universalist Association, 1993.

See also Buehrens, John A. and Rebecca Parker. A House for Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-first Century, Boston, Beacon Press, 2011.