Week 46: Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane, 16 November 2008

Back east, twenty years ago, the Congregationalists, the Unitarians, and the Base Chapel used to get together once a year for a singing service. Each congregation would vote for hymns they wanted to sing. I don’t remember what the Chapel or the Congregationalists picked, but the Unitarians always chose John Lennon’s Imagine, which just charmed and tickled me, since it was not considered a hymn in the churches we’d attended.

The guest musicians this week were a Bluegrass group called Molly and Tenbrooks. As most bluegrass gospel music has a lot of specifically Christian doctrine (things like covered by the crimson flow,” or the original lyrics to Amazing Grace.

What I didn’t know before, and learned yesterday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane, is that the Universalist stream of the UU tradition was, in part, a reaction to the increasingly dominate Calvinist* view of a stern God whose hell one should try to avoid by being one of the elect. “Give them not Hell,” John Murray wrote, “but hope and courage.”

“You may possess only a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it in order to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of men and women. Give them not Hell, but hope and courage. Do not push them deeper into their theological despair, but preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.”

The sermon revolved around the history of the Universalist stream of the UU church, and the minister asked the congregation an interesting question: “What would happen if we lived our lives as if God were a loving God?”

* This is my version of the modern UU version of Calvinist doctrine, and does not quite reflect the intricacies Calvinist theology.

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