being an Evangelical Unitarian Universalist.

19 Feb

Being an Evangelical Unitarian Universalist
A sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on February 17. 2013

Listen to the sermon here.

It took Dan 10 years to go from thinking about coming to church, to actually coming. And it has transformed his life in positive ways.

What would it have been like if someone had invited him to church earlier? Would he have come? Might it have been the impetus he needed to stop waiting and take the plunge?

Just out of curiosity, how many of you came here to church the first time because someone invited you?

And how many you have been invited to someone else’s church?

And now, for those of you who have been coming here for 2 months or more, how many of you have invited someone to this church?

Notice how the number of hands changed with the questions. Only a few of you came because you were invited, and only a few of you have invited someone else. But a whole lot of you have been invited to other churches, presumably by people you know.

This begs the question – what is UP with us Unitarian Universalists? If we have such a transformative faith, then why are we hiding our light under a bushel?  If part of our mission as First Unitarian Church is to be witnesses for progressive faith, why don’t we talk about it with people more often?

I think there are a number of reasons why Unitarian Universalists haven’t, in recent history, been very good at talking about our faith tradition. Some of us probably don’t invite folks because we like the size of our church and knowing most of the people who participate. Some of us don’t want to be one of those people who shove their religion down your throat – maybe forgetting that there is a whole spectrum between silence and pushy. Some of us are afraid to talk about it, afraid that we will be stigmatized or pigeon-holed if we do. Others of us find our faith tradition really hard to describe, and we don’t know how to talk about it. And sometimes we assume that the people we know wouldn’t be interested. I am betting many of us would not have pegged Dan as a potential member, much less a potential leader in this congregation, due at least in part to his minority political views. And yet here he is – and let me tell you, he is definitely not alone – we have a healthy & growing political minority. It is wonderful.

Now, you might have noticed that I said that it was recent history that Unitarian Universalists have not been too good at talking about our faith tradition. That is not the case historically. When I was at General Assembly two or three years ago, I went to a workshop about honoring the history of the Universalist side of our heritage. I learned that Universalists used to kidnap unsuspecting Protestants and tie them up and argue with them until they converted! Those Universalists were so convinced that they had a radically transformative message of love and hope that they would hold someone hostage until that person realized that they were a child of God and that nothing they did would alter God’s love for them. No matter what!

So this reticence to talk about our faith is newer. And while I am not advocating kidnapping folks and holding them hostage until they convert, I do believe there is something between that and our silence, something called “being an Evangelical Unitarian Universalist.” Now, by evangelical – I am talking about the original meaning of the word – someone who is a messenger or bringer of good news. I think it takes three things to make a person bring the good news of Unitarian Universalism, to make someone an Evangelical Unitarian Universalist: a desire, a message, and practice.

First, if you are going to be an Evangelical Unitarian Universalist, you need to want to be one. Perhaps you want to share our dream in order to transform the world, or perhaps you know that it is fun to have friends here to worship with on Sunday morning. Perhaps your youth group is too small and you want to grow it, or maybe you have had a life altering experience and you want to let other people know that there is a church that recognizes that we are each loveable and are loved.

Maybe you know some folks who are looking for what we offer. Robert Karnan points out that “Our task is not to make more UUs or to make bigger congregations or to raise great gobs of money. It is to heal and to inspire, to open and to remake, and thus change what is sorry to what is a joy. It is why we gather in the spirit of love and justice.”

In order to be an Evangelical Unitarian Universalist, you have to have a desire to share our radically transformative good news with others.

Which begs the question – what is our radically transformative good news? The second thing you need to have to be an evangelical UU is a message! How can we share our faith if we don’t know what our faith is? And I don’t mean what it’s not. That is a trap that many of us have fallen into for years – defining who we are by adamantly stating who or what we are not. We don’t believe…we aren’t, we won’t make you…We need to share our faith in positive ways.

I share my version of our radically transformative good news as the benediction each week, when I say that here, in this congregation, may each one of us know that we are lovable simply because we are a child of the universe, a child of God. And that, as such, we are loved – we don’t have have to do anything to earn that love, or believe the right thing, or be the right gender, or sexual orientation, or in the right kind of family, or the right kind of education – none of that. We are loved because we are lovable. Each one of us! Because we know that we are lovable, and that we are loved, and that every other person is deserving of love as well, we take this radically transformative love out into the world and change it, work for justice, bless the world with our love. Of course, I say it in a much shorter way each week, but this is what I am trying to say.

Robert Karnan says it a bit differently, he says “Our churches and fellowships matter because they are places of the spirit, temples of forgiveness, synagogues of compassion, mosques of meaning in powerful and enduring friendship, congregations of courage and of love set free to transform and to face the times of our lives with an honesty that casts out fear and invites peace.”

We each have our own way of understanding and experiencing the good news of Unitarian Universalism. If we want to be evangelical UUs, we need to know what our individual understanding of our collective message is. That is one of the reasons I really like the Standing on the Side of Love campaign – it makes it easy to talk about our faith, and it makes us really recognizable. It was so amazing to look out at all the horribly mustard-colored shirts and hats and banners and signs at the I love Mountains rally on Thursday. There must have been between close to 75 Unitarian Universalists there from all around Kentucky. As I was standing there, a woman came up to me and asked who we were. “We are Unitarian Universalists, Standing on the Side of Love for Mountains” I said. Her response moved me powerfully: “I am so glad you are here.” she said “You are so inspiring, wherever you guys show up, you are impossible to ignore and it just fills my heart with hope.”

We have a message, a powerful message that is radically transformative, that speaks of the inherent worth and dignity of every person, of our connection to one another and the interdependent web, of being lovable and loved, and that out of this we work to bless and transform the world. Each of us may say it in a little bit different way, but lets say it.

Which leads to the final thing I think we need if we are to be Evangelical Unitarian Universalists: practice. We need practice talking to people, practicing saying out loud what we find so comforting and challenging about this faith tradition. Practice saying what we believe in affirmative ways, not just by saying what we don’t believe. We need practice being vulnerable, putting ourselves out there, sharing our message, sharing our best and brightest hopes and dreams with others so that, in our sharing, we might transform the world.


And what better place to practice than right here, with people who already get it.

What I would like you to do is turn to someone near you, or a group of someones – 2-3 of you – and practice talking about Unitarian Universalism. I invite those of you who have been around a while and are comfortable doing so to find someone who you don’t already know, who may be new, or visiting for the first time. Take just a few minutes to practice sharing what it is about our faith tradition that keeps you coming back. What is your take on our radically transformative message? If this is one of your first times being here, I invite you to just listen. Or, if you feel comfortable doing so, perhaps share what it was that brought you to be with us.

Thank you for moving into the discomfort and practicing sharing your faith with each other. I invite you to take a moment to recall the person who Dan asked you to think of at the beginning of his message – and I invite you to take what you just learned and practiced and let your light shine brightly as you share your story with them. As Douglass John Traversa writes:

In a world filled with the darkness of ignorance, let us bring the light of reason.
In a world filled with the darkness of despair, may we share the light of hope.
In a world filled with the darkness of hate, let us shine the light of love.

3 Responses to “being an Evangelical Unitarian Universalist.”

  1. The Rev. Sue Redfern-Campbell February 20, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    Amen! And thank you for laying this out so clearly and compellingly!

  2. Dave May 26, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

    It’s funny…I arrived at your blog based on a Google search that was itself a result of my own realization that my understanding of my own faith makes me an “evangelical Unitarian” — iesh, I might even be a “militant evangelical Unitarian” in that I honestly believe that God lives in everyone and that He guides us along the path that each of us individually needs to travel in order to reach understanding.

    In my view, the sooner we all understand that we are all, in some way, a reflection of God’s love and beauty, the sooner we all lead the lives we were meant to live and bring even more truth to the world.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is “I’m with you, brother!” I’ve been inviting friends of mine to church for some time now. I’m on a mission to save souls for God (however “God” is understood by the respective owner of said soul.)

    Thanks for giving me something to find. 🙂

    • Dave May 26, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

      Ooops…”I’m with you, sister!” Even better. 🙂

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