questionBox: God and stress positions
"What happened to Unitarianism since Emerson? Why can’t we use the word ‘God’?" was one submission to the Question Box sermon.
It is true that both Universalism and Unitarianism are grounded in Christianity, which is itself grounded in Judaism.
And, both Judaism and Christianity, and atheism and every other system of thought known to humankind have been used to justify harm done to other people. Because Christianity is the largest tradition, a great deal of harm has been done in its name. It is understandable that some people still flinch from Christian words and symbols.
A pilot who was shot down, captured and tortured in Vietnam tells a story about one of the ways he was tortured. Tied into what the “interrogators” at Abu Ghraib might call a “stress position,” his limbs would quickly ache, then cramp, then burn in agony.
Once, when he was tied into a stress position, then left there to suffer over night, a Vietnamese guard came later to loosen the ropes. The guard came back in the morning, to tighten them again before the other captors returned.
Months later, when the pilot was standing alone in the prison yard, that same guard came by. The guard stopped and with his sandal, scratched a cross in the dirt. They gazed at it in silence, then the guard rubbed it out and walked on.
If I had been the pilot, I don’t think I would have told the man who did me such a kindness that the system that prompted his action was also used to justify many cruelties.
Nor do I think I would have cared if the guard had scraped a Buddhist wheel, or a Hindu Om or an atheistic “zero” in the dirt. We humans use many different systems to encourage us to do good works.
Today, our whole world is in a stress position. With global climate change, the threat of nuclear war, droughts and famines and disease and a financial meltdown of historic proportions, we need help from anybody who is willing. I don’t care what symbol they want to scratch in the dirt, or put in their windows, or tattoo on their skin, if it helps them see the need in our planet, and encourages them to help, I celebrate it.
We offer an hour or so each week to reconnect with worth and meaning. For a few minutes of that hour, we clear a space and allow ourselves to open to that which is larger than ourselves, that which we find compelling and nourishing, using whatever names and symbols we each find helpful.
And that is why we become members of this congregation—-to demonstrate our commitment to the ongoing work of saving the world, of evolving us forward into a more truthful, more good, more beautiful planet.
So may we be.
[the tortured pilot was John McCain--see "This I Believe," Allison & Gediman, eds. (New York: Henry Holt, 2006), p.156-158]