#36:  Unitarian Universalist

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Unitarian Universalist

Unitarian Universalist

One Sunday in September I attended the First Unitarian Universalist church of Richmond located in the fan area at 1000 Blanton AvenueWhen I first walked in, a couple of greeters standing behind a table piled high with church information handed me a large glossy folder which held brochures and other materials explaining the UU faith and it’s mission in the community.  As I accepted it into my hands I was encouraged to write my name on a nametag.  I was told doing so would help foster conversation among visitors and members.  After briefly getting acquainted with a few folks standing around in the lobby, I made my way toward the sanctuary.

I arrived about 5 minutes late so most of the congregation was seated and ready for the sermon to begin.  There were no pews, just black metal chairs with grey cushions surrounding the stage which was raised a few steps off the ground.  The set up was much like a high school auditorium and several people lined their chairs up against the back wall, or randomly throughout the room.  It seemed appropriate to locate your seat wherever you felt most comfort without much rhyme or reason to it. 

The service was kicked off with a few songs from their hymnal and directly afterward the speaker was formally introduced. She was previously a seminary student within the Baptist denomination and she shared her struggle with the Bible’s view on homosexuality and how she was convicted that she was to leave the Christian faith and transfer her studies to a UU seminary in hopes of becoming a Unitarian minister one day. 

The entire room was enthralled with her story.  Each person sat grinning from ear to ear and it seemed as though with each utterance she gave, the crowd lent her unconditional support in her journey to become a part of the UU family.  There was a lot of laughing, much applauding, and a tremendous amount of respect for her decision.  As I looked around the room, I saw several individuals were wearing floppy hats like old Southern Baptists would wear for church on Sundays.  Later, someone mentioned that they did so to encourage her in her decision away from the Baptist ministry.  One hat in particular caught my eye.  Directly to the left of me was a woman wearing a bright hot pink dress, black shoes, black panty hose, and an excessively large bright pink floppy hat with a black feather placed on the side.  I watched her marvel at the speaker as she revealed her story.  She looked upon her as a proud mother would her first born graduating from college.  Her shoulders were upright and her chest was puffed out just a bit.  I thought, “Wow.  This is really quite a family here.  These folks are a proud and encouraging bunch.” But it wasn’t just her pride that made this woman the focus of my attention. There was something else about this lady that kept my eye.  However, I couldn’t seem to put my finger on what it was.  I felt as if there was something just kinda “off” and for some odd reason I was determined to find out what it was.  First, I thought it might just be the neon pink.  It’s not exactly a color you see in your everyday.  “Could it just not be easy on my eyes?”  I wondered.  But no, I was soon convinced it was more than that.  I then looked down and thought to myself, “Wow.  She had really big legs.”  Having a pair of tree trunks myself, I could identify with this so I soon realize this wasn’t the obscurity.  She also appeared to be super tall.  “Could that be it?” I thought.  I tried to non-chalantly check her out without officially gawking.  I’d periodically look down at my Bible then glance back in her direction to see what I was missing.  She has a really defined chin this lady.  I also realized that her hands were like the “man hands” from that Seinfeld episode.  And her face was…..kinda gruff.  “Is that an Adam’s apple?”

…….Indeed it was.  Once I realized that I had just gone over her entire body with a fine toothed comb for the past 10 minutes from toe to head trying to find out what the peculiarity was, and she was not a she but instead a he, I immediately looked away a bit embarrassed and stopped my staring. 

It’s not every day that I see a man in a dress without it being a costume party.  I started playing out scenarios in my head of how she/he became a woman.  Or if she/he was actually physically a man still? How does that happen to someone? Is it genetic?  Is it hormonal? Is it learned?  Taught? I wondered what the emotional ride must have been coming to the conclusion that you wanted to change your gender.  Were her/his parents supportive?  Did he/she still talk to his parents?  As my mind raced in every which direction questioning the life of this woman/man, I occasionally tuned in and out of the sermon.  From the little I did hear; I wasn’t exactly open to the message.  My least favorite part was when she mocked the God of the Bible saying, “Yeah, sorry I don’t believe that a loving God would turn someone into salt for turning back to see their loved ones and take one last look at their city.  Ooooohhhhh…I’m scared….turn me into salt, God. (a rather obnoxious laughter roared throughout the sanctuary) Yeah, I don’t think so people.  Not my God.”  She also mentioned something about the impossibility that God could ever view a loving, committed same sex relationship as an abomination.  I can only imagine how difficult that must be for a homosexual to read in Scripture.  I can’t say how I’d handle it as a Christian if that was my situation.

What I found a bit interesting is that the Unitarian Universalists faith is founded upon the belief that people should encourage and support the spiritual growth of every person, no matter what their perspective, however, it seemed that ideal only applies if we aren’t talking about the God of the Bible. Which I don’t believe is exactly fair.  They accept transsexuals as they are—and hey, I think that’s great—but to not openly accept a straight Christian women who believes the earth was created in 7 days, Jesus died on the cross for her sins, and that God actually turned someone into a pillar of salt because of their disobedience to his divine authority, well, isn’t that a double standard?  It seems like their motto is, “Don’t dare mock us just because we’re not “the norm” but if you’re a traditional Christian, you’re a judgmental fool.”  Maybe a tad hypocritical?

I admit, I wasn’t impressed with the UU experience.  The church’s ideology is noble, but they could learn to practice what they preach.  Their mission seemed to be: acceptance and love for All, but I didn’t get that vibe whatsoever.  They tried to come across as a non-judgmental congregation who accepts everyone no matter what religious perspective they have, but I think they failed miserably at welcoming this Christian into their church home.  While I respect the work they do in our community promoting social justice and equality, I think they may have missed that Christians are part of that community too. I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t given the same respect and love that I might have, had I been a transsexual Buddhist.  But I guess the prejudice and bigotry goes both ways no matter what side of the pew you’re on.

A couple things this church allegedly promotes:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Check them out on the web at http://richmonduu.org

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