Alex (last name withheld by request) contacted us asking to share this post, believing that it matters that we talk about not only where we come from but how we found our way to where we are. It matters, because there are people like Alex all over, who need a community like their local Unitarian Universalist congregation but do not know that it exists. It is fortunate that Alex made this stop, and found that one name that allowed a conversation to take place, since it seems unlikely there would have been one otherwise. Let’s do better at extending invitations, and about telling people what it means to each of us to be part of a liberal religious faith tradition and community.
How I Came to Unitarian Universalism
I was raised in a conservative Christian home.
Religion was our salvation and religion touched every aspect of our lives. School, sports, fashion, politics, entertainment and especially sex. Anything that didn’t follow the strict guidelines set by my mother and my minister were evil, dirty, wrong.
I began to question this thinking as I entered my teenage years. Are Democrats evil? Are Catholics going to hell? It even became a question of race as I realized all the “right” things were things that either white people had greater access to or were more likely to do.
As I wrestled with these questions and ideas, I finally reached the conclusion at the age of 15 that Christianity must be wrong. I categorically rejected it, much to the dismay of my mother. I decided to start from scratch, trying to move past the assumptions and aversions that were bred into me from my birth. I questioned everything. Starting from a blank slate, I set out at 19 to figure out the Truth.
If so much of what I’d been taught I felt was false, what was true? Here’s what I came up with:
- The human spirit is sacred
- We need to treat each other with that understanding
- We have the power to nourish or destroy and we need to be aware of it and cultivate it
- There is a power outside of ourselves we can tune into to strengthen our own gifts
Once I had decided on what was irrefutably true, I set out to discover what “that” was called. Maybe it was my rebellion against Christianity, but what I came to was Wicca. Those who are followers, or at least sympathizers, will see why. Harm none, do what you will. Laughter is the best medicine. Love is a drug. For those of you who withdraw from the idea of witchcraft as if a snake has raised its head in front of you, let me at least assure you, there was no baby killing, animal sacrificing or devil worship. But none of that matters. It’s not even the point.
I was jaded by the version of Christianity I’d been exposed to and I was drawn to what was seemingly the exact opposite. But over time I realized every major religion held these same basic truths. Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus. As I told friends over the years of my quest for the Truth, they’d invariably exclaim, “Oh, you’re _______!” (Fill in the blank with whatever faith they were.)
As I came to grips with this concept, Mormons came knocking on my door. “I practice witchcraft, but I’m basically a Mormon,” I told them. Those two poor bewildered boys looked at each other, then back at me. I walked them through it, explaining to them that we basically believed the same thing, we just were looking at it from two different angles and describing it with two different languages. At the heart of all the faiths I’ve encountered was the desire to be a better person. This was a great realization because it turns out the wiccans were, in many ways, just as bad as the Christians.
Please hear me when I say that these words are not intended to disparage faiths or followers. It’s the human condition and rather than be frustrated with it, I have to look to myself. Because, as I told the Mormons that day, we are all the same.
I spent many years not practicing any particular faith. But I longed for that sense of community. My first encounter with UU started with a stressful phone conversation. I had been driving, and pulled over at the first spot I found. It looked pretty inviting, so I got out of my car to pace. It’s a good thing to do during conversations that take a lot of emotional or mental energy. Little by little I noticed things as I intruded on these unknown grounds. A composting station. A vegetable garden. A labyrinth. There was even a banner strung up with children’s drawings on colorful squares of fabric depicting how they planned to celebrate Earth Day.
‘I thought this was a church,’ I thought. I looked toward the road at the monument sign. Unitarian Universalist. I’d heard the word, but knew nothing about it. Exploring their grounds with no one else around, I found myself curious to learn more. The path I was on had names engraved on the stones and I noticed the name of someone I knew.
Within a couple of days, I had called him and within the week he was giving me a formal tour. I don’t even remember what all he told me as much as I remember my excitement and disbelief that I’d found such a place. It was like a group of many faiths that embraced all faiths.
When I meet other UUs, I’m never sure of what they believe merely from the labels, but I’m always sure they’ll be pretty open minded. No one believes the exact same things, but it’s ok, because at the core, we all believe the exact same things. And believe me, the UUs are just as bad as the Christians, too! Sometimes it seems like we’re constantly talking about what UU is and patting ourselves on the back for being so awesome. But no group of people is perfect; it would be cruel to expect that of anyone.
As for me, these days I’m working to be more compassionate, slower to judge and kinder to others. I’m trying to get better at seeing the divine in people who act like big jerks and I’m working on treating them with the respect all of us deserve.