Saturday, May 27, 2006

More Famous UUs

From time to time I've been known to lampoon our cultic tendency to worship the light of "Famous UU"s. In our enthusiasm to demonstrate our denominational influence and relevance, we seem eager to claim UU-hood for dozens of past and present celebrities who may have had the opportunity to participate in the Unitarian or Universalist communities of their time but in fact did not. Our criterion seems to be not whether they actually associated with us, but only whether they thought like us. We've even built kids' RE curricula around the biographies of some of them.

Well, if that's the criterion, I'd like to propose for the "Famous UUs" list the names of more of our predecessors in faith who thought like us, but never joined us -- not because they actually decided not to, but mainly because we weren't even around yet:

Peter Abelard and Thomas a Kempis. Abelard's exemplary theory of atonement and Kempis' Imitation of Christ laid the foundation for the development of our nineteenth-century doctrines of "self-culture" and "salvation by character", and our twenthieth-century commitment to social witness and social justice. In debates in his time, Abelard repeatedly bested advocates of St. Anselm's theory of blood sacrifice that still seems repugnant to most UUs today. (Abelard also exhibited some, ahem, unfortunate personal weaknesses that detracted significantly from the effectiveness of his advocacy and are not foreign to some of our contemporary UU communities.)

Pelagius. This fourth-century monk, condemned as a heretic for his emphasis on personal probity in the process of salvation, was another direct antecedent of our doctrine of "salvation by character". He also offers the archetypal example of how to do battle with the theological errors of St. Augustine, although not how to win such battles. If we would learn from his mistakes, we should take care not to let our detractors use straw man arguments to mischaracterize our theological positions -- an especially relevant lesson in this time when right-wing "fundamentalist" and "evangelical" heretics are trying to usurp the definition of "Christianity" and condemn others who don't meet their false definition.

John Wycliffe and Jan Hus (or John Huss). Early witnesses to the authority of direct personal discernment.

Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. Three of the earliest advocates of the doctrine of apokatastasis, or as our own Universalist Church called it, "the final harmony of all souls with God".

St. Francis of Assisi. Universalist and nature boy. When criticized for praying with Muslims in a mosque during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he supposedly shrugged and said, "God is everywhere". Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Waldo.

St. Thomas Aquinas. The rational principle in religion starts here.

Arius. Of course.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Where are the UUs?

Our UUA has an outpost office in Washington, DC, that's supposed to be, like, all official 'n' stuff. Costs mucho dinero to maintain, too, which gets paid out of our congregational dues.

So why don't we appear on this list? Shouldn't that be a no-brainer, in a city where we try to maintain an extraordinary presence, in order to represent ourselves to the wider world?

InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington

Friday, May 05, 2006

No, not the guy who turned you down for a car loan

Q: What is the "Lloyds Bank turd"?

A: The largest specimen of fossilized human excrement ever discovered, produced around 1,000 years ago by a presumably dyspeptic Viking (weren't they all?) on the future site of the Lloyds Bank branch in York, England, after what archaelologists speculate must have been several days of, um, gastric quiescence.

That is, it was the largest until about three years ago, when it was inadvertently dropped to the floor by a schoolteacher during a field trip, and broken into three pieces, no doubt to the great excitement of his or her class. At last report it was being carefully reassembled by expert conservators. It had been insured for £20,000, but I don't know whether casualty by schoolteacher was an insured event under the policy.

If you're so idle and bored that you're reading this on a pleasant Friday afternoon, I dare you to write a sermon about it. Or an RE lesson. Either will do.