Fifty seven years ago Unitarians and Universalists gathered in separate hotels in Syracuse, New York in part to debate, indeed to agonize over, the possible merger of the two denominations. Disinclined to waste time, the Universalists addressed the future boldly, passing a resolution that read:
Be it resolved that this 1959 biennial session of the Universalist Church of America. . . counsels the highest level of humane respect for such forms of life or societies as may be encountered in the universe. (Beverly A. Bumbaugh)
Now, it's tempting to think they were referring to the Unitarians. After all, the two denominations had been flirting with each other and pushing each other away for a century. But they were not. It was the age of Sputnik and the beginning of space travel, and in reality Universalists were preparing to embrace the cosmos.
This statement suggests the inspiration that Universalists have always offered: the power of love as the basis for theology, for growth and social evolution, for charity, service, and action. In fact, a few years ago, my colleague Rev. Joanna Crawford went viral with her coining of a mandate for us contemporary Universalists and Unitarians: to "love the hell out of the world."
Remember: that is exactly what the early Universalists did. In a world in which Calvinists divided people into those who were predestined to be saved or condemned, the Universalists declared instead their passion for a God that was loving enough to embrace the whole world and all of humankind. (And apparently any intelligent life stumbled on near Alpha Centauri as well.) It was love that led them to spread this word not just to the educated elite, but to working people in urban areas and farmers in the rural countryside as well.
Of course today, in our own theology, hell is what we create here in this world with poverty and addiction, loneliness and abuse, with inequality and injustice, and the love it takes to overwhelm it comes from the divine spark within and among us. But at a time when our lexicon is filled every day, perhaps necessarily, with words like "fight" and "struggle" "defeat," and "oppose", let us stop and take a deep breath . . . for the root of the word inspire is to breathe. Stop, take a deep breath and feel the love and acceptance that leads us exactly to the unity we seek.
To love the hell out of the world, we need not a fuzzy sentiment of the heart, but a fierce love. It was the love calling to me Friday as I looked out at a snow covered landscape brilliantly lit by full sun and graced by the constant flight of birds onto the feeder and off free into the air again, reminding me that life on this planet is a sacred privilege to be protected for all. It's the love that calls for treating individuals, and groups of people, not only with respect, but with the tender regard that recognizes their sacred goodness, which is as essential to spiritual well-being as is food. And it's the love that gathers us together into this community, re-creating every week a community saving enough and strong enough to nurture us body and soul and reach out to the world.
Believe me, our love here does reach out. On Friday, a Muslim gentleman entered the church, sat down with our business administrator and thanked us for the banner out front. He is willing to connect us with people of his faith in our community so that we can enter into dialogue and work together.
Or how about this email from our very own member, David Turner, who after a two year Peace Corp gig, is continuing to serve in Albania? David wrote:
"I want to thank the beloved community of FRSUU which has recently made a strong contribution to my work in Albania. Albania is a majority Muslim country with a highly tolerant religious tradition. I now have many Albanian friends and they are disturbed, as we are, by recent events in America. I took the picture of a post that Bill Heenehan made on Facebook and shared it with my Albanian FB friends – some of whom are students and future leaders of Albania. That picture has courageously displayed our values of mutual respect and dignity, justice, and love. You have shown who we are and have offered my friends an important perspective that has renewed hope and admiration for our country. And you have lifted my spirit as well. Thank-you for your support!"
A fierce love that insists on seeing the good in life and in all people understands that no one is pre-destined to be less than anyone else. No one in this room is less, no one in our town, no one in our world. That love, grown out of a passion for life on this earth, for the sheer wonder and marvel of it, that Universalism, is a powerful love.
On this Valentine's it is a love that can embrace and hearten us all, a love large enough to reach around the world, and even, perhaps, someday, to the stars.