Being Willing To Be Made A People

I hankered for musical companionship in the kitchen very early one morning while making baked beans for the Crock Pot. We talk to our music-making devices now, so I said, “Alexa, play some happy music.” For some interesting reason, Alexa’s computer brain chose gospel music for me. Interesting, since I have never listened to streaming gospel music although I own a lot of it on old CDs. When a live recording of Shirley Caesar singing “Oh Happy Day” with a huge choir came on, I was indeed happy!

As I chopped onions and diced up bacon, I found myself in my own little amen corner, flinging the occasion bean to the ceiling as I lifted my arms in agreement with one contemporary singer who was getting his praise on, improvising testimonials along the lines of, “Today I am better, Lord, I am stronger, (YESSSS responds the choir) I am better (YESSSSS), I am stronger I am better because of You!”

It felt so loving and so encouraging to fall into the arms of the contemporary gospel message with rocking music: God is strong, God has your back, God has a miracle lined up for you, God is our rock and our redeemer, God is there for you at 3:00 in the morning when you feel like hell and your friends aren’t around, God is actively blessing you in this moment.

One song was a live recording that went on for many long minutes as the lead singer sang a litany of his blessings in a classic call-and-response style with a choral response of something like “God made a way.”

 I was almost dead but You said ‘not yet!’ (God made a way)

My baby had a terrible disease but You healed her! (God made a way)

I was broke to my last dime Lord, and you put abundance into my life! (God made a way)

The live audience was going wild, cheering and maybe crying. I was on the verge of tears myself. It felt like water flowing over my parched spirit to be reminded of the many ways blessing shows up in our lives.

And then I thought about how this song would likely be heard by Unitarian Universalists at, say, our General Assembly.

My life as a UU leads me to assume that UUs hearing this song would be awkward with the theological message that God is personally intervening in people’s lives. God coming through for you? Not rational!  (If you listen closely within our communities, though, you’ll hear a lot of New Age equivalents of that idea – we tend to reject this idea only when it comes in traditional theological language)

The other thing I assume UUs might critique as they sat listening to this song is its lack of inclusivity. This second point is, I think, even more central to Unitarian Universalist idetntity today than is rationalism. Let me explain: I think a lot of UUs would be fussy about someone singing about God doing things for him because God isn’t doing the same thing for everyone else, or even someone else.

“What about my friend whose kid didn’t get well? What about that person over there who is still broke and unemployed? This song might make them feel excluded!”

Unitarian Universalists who think this way are theologically co-dependent and stuck in a scarcity model of blessing.

For Unitarian Universalists who have become obsessed with pre-emptive hurt on behalf of others, one person singing about how God “made a way” will leave them looking around anxiously for the person whom God did not “make a way.” They do this because UUism has focused for so long on individualistic and even competitive models of religious thought and experience: I will go away hurt and excluded if my personal experience is not reflected in the liturgy, if my preferred language is not used, if my joy or sorrow is not affirmed by the community, if my style of music is not offered.

Can you imagine the spiritual poverty of a people of faith who would hesitate to uninhibitedly rejoice in one person’s recitation of their blessings because to do so might leave someone out or hurt someone’s feelings?

We are not a people.

When God offered a covenant arrangement in the very first instance of that concept arising in monotheism, the central point of the agreement was that those entering into covenant consented to be made a people.

Unitarian Universalists are not a people.

We are a group of individuals in a broad affinity group broken — and I use that word intentionally — into smaller identity groups, some intersecting in positive and mutually respectfully ways, and some in awkward or outright hostile relationship, and in these latest days, hanging on desperately to their historical privilege.

The identities are theological, generational, cultural, racial, sexual and gender- identity based, class, and ethnic. I’m sure I’m missing a few. Within our identity groups, we are all over the map in terms of emotional style and social skills.

Our Association is in turmoil. It is very, very bad. You can read about it at the or follow any number of UU ministers on Facebook to be treated to a lively conversation, lamentation, healthy vitriol (yes, I think there is such a thing) and hard questions.

I doubt I have very much to contribute to that current debate but I am a scholar of covenant and I do have a lot to contribute about our understanding of covenant, which is in dire need of rescue from facile interpretation.

The first element of any religious treatment of covenant is that the people of God (or the Higher Good, or the Principles, or Justice, or Love, or whatever stands in for humanists and atheists as the transcendent referent around which we all orient ourselves in community) consent to be made a people.

Unitarian Universalists have not ever done this in any meaningful way, and recent shenanigans at the top leadership level make it abundantly clear that the Associational culture is entirely individualistic. The latest revelations that senior staff who resigned signed out with exorbitant severance packages in a time of austerity spending and cuts had me laughing in a very bitter manner. Well, there it is. These guys are gettin’ theirs. Former President Peter Morales, who resigned with just three months in his tenure, never even bothered to say goodbye in person to the staff who had served him for eight years. Phoned it in.

I hope and expect the next UUA President will take their covenantal obligations more seriously.

Here’s what I see:

Unitarian Universalists mistake enabling for grace.

We have an impoverished theology if we worry that one person’s extravagant thanks to God will harm or exclude someone else.

We conflate WASP emotional cultural norms for “covenantal” behavior, continuing to value and enforce niceness over goodness or righteousness.

We fake large group right relation and retreat to small, affinity group safe spaces where we can actually admit what we feel, tell the truth about how we have been treated, and do the real work of strengthening our souls for the next onslaught of hypocrisy and failure.

I have no prescription, just the usual joy and sorrow. Meanwhile, I’m singing.


PeaceBang will not be attending the UUA General Assembly in New Orleans this year.


Contagious Theism And Reason To Rejoice

Reading my UU World over coffee this morning, I read two articles back to back that begged a response, and I am grateful to both the authors for the passion they ignited in me to be in conversation. I don’t know either of them, Kris Wilcox or the Rev. Dr. David Breeden. While I am responding to them specifically, I am also responding to prevalence of their arguments within Unitarian Universalism. In other words, I have heard similar stories many, many times but had the time and inclination to respond to these this morning.

In Kris Wilcox’s article about why she does not participate in UU congregational life despite having loyalty to the tradition from having been raised UU, she shares her theological evolution from humanist to Christian and finally to firm atheism. I know as well as anyone the limits of short form essays to describe long and complicated journeys through theological identities. However, the anecdote Wilcox highlights in order to explain her atheism is typical, and deserves a closer look. She writes,

My cheerfully unexamined faith did fine through my twenties, with no major stress tests. But later, after I had children, and my 5-year-old asked, “Mommy, is God real?” I knew she wasn’t asking me about the Spirit of Life and Love. She was asking if God is an actual, sandal-wearing guy in the sky, the way her paternal grandparents and some of her friends insisted. I knew also, looking into her eyes, that I was an atheist and always had been.

As I have written and preached (you can watch me address the subject with a head cold here), an ethical atheism is, to me, a far more honorable and healthy theological position than uncritical, exclusivist orthodoxy. I was raised by one spiritual atheist and one existentialist atheist and I turned out alright  –except that I became a Christian, which some UUs consider a failure of parenting or of reason.

It is entirely age appropriate for a five year old to first conceptualize God in concrete terms! Unitarian Universalist religious educators know this and, in the good programs, we addresses that with love and curiosity. We must better teach parents how to do so, too. Too many parents go theologically paralyzed in the face of their children’s questions about God, being triggered, as we say now, by either their own religious traumas or their discomfort of not knowing how they themselves feel. “I’m a grown-up! I should be able to answer this but I don’t know what to say!”

It is entirely possible to offer to an inquiring child a God-concept that is not the “sandal-wearing guy in the sky,” but Wilcox seems not to have considered that, deciding that a five year old’s age peers and one set of grandparents are the final arbiters of how to define God, and also cause to reject God altogether. But there’s more to the story, and it is not really fair to conclude that this mom really relied on five year olds or her in-laws to circumscribe religious reality for her daughter.

The “more to the story,” as it true for most couples, is that her spouse is almost fatally allergic to God, Jesus and traditional expressions of religious faith.

The author’s husband has such a toxic experience with traditional religion that, “[he] would sooner take [the children] on the highway without a seatbelt than give them unshielded exposure to even the most liberal Christianity.” Later in her article, Wilcox describes her little daughter proclaiming, “‘People who believe in God are crazy,’ to which Scott nodded approval.”

Oh, boy. I’m so sorry. I really am. Whatever they did to this man as a kid, it was sick and soul-damaging and wrong. I am so sorry that whatever happened to him hardened into a conviction that anyone who believes in God must be crazy. I am really, really tired of hearing ministers use the line, “I’m sure I don’t believe in that God, either,” because it insults the author’s husband and my intelligence and diminishes the profundity of both our experiences.

Unitarian Universalism attracts a lot of Scotts, and we need more than one now-ancient religious education curriculum (“The Haunting Church”) to minister to them. Any thinking person who reacts with such uncritical hostility and disgust to Theism or Christianity badly needs pastoral care (although are unlikely to want to get it through a church’s ministry).  But individuals who come to UU churches looking for what Kris Wilcox calls the “detox experience, “whose primary function is to bar the door and heal the wounds of bad religious experiences” must have it clearly and caringly communicated to them that Unitarian Universalism has outgrown its identity as the hospital for the religiously wounded. We tried it, we built a marketing campaign around it, and it didn’t work. It didn’t work in terms of growth because as Wilcox herself expresses it, a religion based on not being religious and defining itself by “This is What We Do Not Believe” has no core integrity or sustaining purpose. It didn’t work institutionally, as religiously wounded people who join religious communities and emphatically insist on their right to remain wounded  — and who participate in community from a place of suspicion and fear, angrily counting Jesus mentions on Christmas Eve  — do not build healthy systems.  They build, at best, social clubs of UU fundamentalists as toxic as conservative Christian fundamentalists.

The healthy people who seek spiritual growth just leave these congregations, if they ever stay longer than a couple of weeks.

“I’m concerned my children will pick up theism along with the Seven Principles.”

Continue reading “Contagious Theism And Reason To Rejoice”


Weekends in my neighborhood are festive, with Latino music and parties and grilling. I could do without the 2AM firecrackers going off right outside my bedroom window, and I need to learn how to say both “firecrackers” and “heart attack” in Spanish and chat with a few of my neighbors.
I happened to go out for Mexican food last night and see a flier — in both Spanish and one in English — advertising a vigil for the Orlando victims – in a park about .3 miles from me. My stomach is a mess and I dare not head out, but I can hear the sounds of a distant song or chant through a megaphone through my open study window that faces the street.
We read the names of the 49 murdered today in church. We lit candles for them. I said this:

Again, hateful violence has exploded out of one angry, deranged individual and shattered the lives of countless people in the murdering of 49 of them, and the wounding by bullets of many others.

In Orlando, at a gay club called Pulse, these men and women died. They were all unique individuals with names and stories and circles of love and relationship that extended far beyond each of them, just as all our lives extend. We name them now, in solidarity and sorrow.

Stanley Almodovar III
Amanda Alvear
Oscar A Aracena-Montero
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala
Antonio Davon Brown,
Darryl Roman Burt II
Angel L. Candelario-Padro
Juan Chevez-Martinez
Luis Daniel Conde
Cory James Connell

Tevin Eugene Crosby
Deonka Deidra Drayton
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez
Leroy Valentin Fernandez
Mercedez Marisol Flores
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz
Juan Ramon Guerrero
Paul Terrell Henry
Frank Hernandez
Miguel Angel Honorato

Javier Jorge-Reyes
Jason Benjamin Josaphat
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla
Christopher Andrew Leinonen
Alejandro Barrios Martinez
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez
Kimberly Morris
Akyra Monet Murray

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera
Joel Rayon Paniagua
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez
Enrique L. Rios, Jr.
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan

Edward Sotomayor Jr.
Shane Evan Tomlinson
Martin Benitez Torre
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez
Luis S. Vielma
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon
Jerald Arthur Wright

May we continue to affirm, unequivocally, that sexuality is a gift of pleasure and joy and that no bodies are sinful or created wrong. Consensual sexual attraction between people who are not hurting or exploiting anyone else, whether for the purposes of procreation or just for the expression of the joy in being alive, is a BLESSING.

We affirm the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people of any self-chosen label or no label at all in the life of the church and affirm their equal rights under the law.

Unitarian Universalists are committed to anti-racism, and therefore we respect the significance of the fact that the murderer chose Latino night at the club to target his victims, almost all of whom were people of color.

Unitarian Universalists are committed to inter-faith work and understanding, and do not hold any entire people – in this case the Muslim community – responsible for the acts of one of their members.

Let us pray.
God, grant us strength to endure these outrages and to be present to reality rather than shielded from it.

May we be steadfast in our commitment to challenge all of the factors that make this kind of violence possible.

May we pray peace upon the victims and upon all those who mourn, and for our nation in turmoil, divided by ideologies that create rancor and divide us from each other.

La paz sea con ellos. Peace be upon them.

May our work, our presence, our benevolent rage, be our steadfast prayer.

Concédenos tu paz , la paz que sobrepasa todo entendimiento.
Grant us your peace, the peace that passeth understanding.

– Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein 19 June 2016
Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn


[Please pardon any errors in my Spanish. – VW]