Why “Millennials” Leave

This blog post gives a conservative Christian “millennial” young adult’s perspective on the times and why young adults are not coming to church. The reasons seem more timeless than something to do with the times. Some highlights:

  1. WE’RE MORE EDUCATED THAN PREVIOUS GENERATIONS, BUT THE CHURCH DOESN’T CONTINUE TO FEED OUR MINDS. In our youth groups we were taught, exhorted in fact, to want to go deeper, and we’re not getting that from grown-up church.
  2. WE CAME OF AGE IN A RECESSION, BUT THE CHURCH HASN’T CHANGED ITS TEACHINGS ABOUT MONEY. [T]he 2008 recession hit our generation harder than any other. It has limited and continues to limit our prospects for current jobs and for future earnings. Add that to the crippling levels of student loan debt that are basically mandatory for earning a degree now, and you begin to get the idea. Sure, some of us are making it. But far more of us are falling through the cracks, stuck in dead-end minimum-wage jobs for which we are over-qualified, doubling our debt by returning to grad school in hopes of increasing our employability, or perpetually un- or underemployed. And no, unfortunately, it’s not a problem that will go away if we simply “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” or “put in our dues” – this is a financial dilemma on a global scale. The world is pretty grim for us right now. … Additionally, many of us have to work evenings and weekends – the primary times when church programming is scheduled – which makes it very difficult for us to participate in the full life of the grown-up church. We’re not skipping church because we’re lazy or un-committed; we’re skipping it because we have no other choice. We can’t keep talking about money, or work for that matter, in the same way we always have. The church needs to acknowledge the huge – and uneven – impact of the recession and work to find an appropriate, timely, Christian response rooted in love.
  3. WE’RE STILL PROCESSING BAD EXPERIENCES WITH THE CHURCH, AND THAT’S GOING TO TAKE TIME. [W]e grew up in the middle of the conservative reaction against progressivism/liberalism … spiritual abuse – and sadly, physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse as well … isolation, exclusivity, and oft-extreme authoritarian structures. Please be kind and understanding, and to the best of your ability supply us with positive, healthy tools for processing past hurts. And please, above all, acknowledge abuse in all its forms and take steps to provide safe, healthy places for the victims, not sweep it under the rug or, worse yet, perpetuate the cycle.
  4. WE HAVE GOOD IDEAS, AND NOBODY CARES. Another positive thing about youth groups is that they give teenagers a voice. They speak their minds, they state their preferences, and they are heard. When we graduate and head out into the big bad world of grown-up church, this changes. We’re still “kids” in the congregation’s eyes – usually until we’re married or we’ve had children or whatever arbitrary rite of passage it may be – but we no longer have a pastor whose primary job is to listen to our needs and concerns as young people and respond. We have good ideas – we’ve been developing them since we were in youth group – but no one seems to care. The church leadership is still dominated by those of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations (a fact that likely contributes to the other issues discussed in this post), and the hierarchy is usually pretty entrenched. So we’re back to square one, having to work our way up through the ranks in hopes of maybe one day having our voices heard and being able to change the status quo. Or not, because that sucks. Which is when leaving starts to look pretty darn attractive.
  5. EVERYONE ASSUMES WE’RE LEAVING THE CHURCH BECAUSE WE WANT TO SIN, BUT THAT’S SIMPLY NOT THE CASE. We don’t think that young people reject the church at the point of sin; we think they/we reject it at the point of empathy. We leave our Christian bubbles and begin to befriend people who don’t believe the same way we do. …We think about inviting them to church because, hey, that’s what we’re supposed to do right? … But then we start to empathize, to see church through their eyes. Would they feel welcome here? Would this confuse or frighten them? Would they understand what’s going on? Would fellow churchgoers accept them or look down their noses at them? … We don’t know about you, but we have a hard enough time feeling that we fit in at church ourselves. We’re certain none of our non-churchgoing friends would find it to be a welcoming or safe environment. … And when you start to realize that church isn’t the safe place you thought it was or that you want it to be for your friends, well, it’s a pretty short walk out the door.

This boils down to, “are these the people I want to be with?” – not “is this the place I want to be?” Flight to new settings for ministry will not escape the question of who we are.

Are we people who go deeper and cultivate our skills for supporting one another’s spiritual growth, even when our paths and sources of inspiration look very different?

Do we teach practical stewardship and take on economic, social, environmental and racial justice as a religious mission?

Do we create safe space for each other?

Do we welcome and empower young adult leaders?

How radical is our hospitality?

In short, do we covenant to be our best selves, make our most beloved community, and work with our neighbors for a better world?

May our honest answer be “yes.”

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Sermon: A Deeper Look at the Living Tradition

Once upon a time, I found on the website of a Unitarian Universalist congregation a 30-second video clip that was there to explain briefly what Unitarian Universalism is. It’s called “Unitarian Universalism in 30 Seconds,” and it goes like this – picture different people saying each short line of this:

“I’m an atheist.

I’m a humanist.

It’s hard for me to characterize my belief system.

I’m a Buddhist.

I’m a Taoist and naturalist.

I’m a spiritual humanist.

I’m an explorer of liberal Christianity.

I’m a spiritual person.

I’m deeply agnostic.

We’re all pretty different.

On a different path.

Many different beliefs.

But we all worship at the same church.

The same church.

We go to the same church.

Go to the same church.

We all go to the same church.”[1]

Get it? I think that message probably resonates with most Unitarian Universalists. And I suppose if we’re trying to give a quick thumbnail description to help shape visitors’ expectations about what they’ll find when they visit us, this piece is at least trying to be honest about our diversity.

You might have missed a definite bias in the piece. In the list of religious self-descriptions are eight different ways to say: “I reject and do not personally subscribe to any conventional religious tradition.” In the minority are two statements of subscription to non-Western religious traditions, and one venture to explore the dominant religious tradition in our culture, Christianity. One might summarize this list as: “No, no, no, / no, no, no, / no, no, and no.” The only collective description is “Freethinkers,” a word often used loosely to mean “I think for myself,” but just as often used more narrowly to mean “atheist.” Take into account that Buddhism and Taoism – the two non-Western traditions mentioned – are widely misunderstood to be atheist traditions, and the bias is obvious. The one religious tradition that is practically synonymous with “religion” in our culture we might venture to “explore,” but on the whole, if it’s religion, we reject it.

Though we, the initiated, might reject that interpretation, there’s no doubt in my mind that many of the uninitiated – whom this clip is meant to address – would understand it in just that way. We speak of our “living tradition,” but this clip would say to many that we have no tradition at all.

Peter Morales – the current President of the Unitarian Universalist Association – keeps telling us that we have to do three things:

  • Third: Cross borders – allow love to overcome fear – in its clumsy way, the clip tries to illustrate that value: people crossing borders of belief together in one church;
  • Second: Grow leaders – learn to trust – a hard skill in this culture of economic predation that America has become;
  • and First: Get religion – get beyond what we believe, and get to what we love – which the clip utterly fails to do.

With this advice, Peter’s on to something important about faith. In English we say that we “have faith” – but as you know, faith is not a possession you can hold, like a belief. Faith is a way of moving and being in the world, and it involves a skill set: to stay in touch with what you love, to live in the world with trust, and to allow love to overcome fear. That’s what it means to have faith. We are tempted many times to do the opposite – to stay in touch with what we believe, to live in the world with suspicion, and to let fear overcome love. To succumb to these temptations is to lose faith. To embrace them in the name of faith is blasphemy. The teaching of our living tradition is that there is beneath our surface vices and foibles a core of goodness in us that knows how to love and to trust and to reach out to others, and when we act from that core we act in faith, we create beloved communities and find right relationship with one another and with the universe.

We are a people of faith with a distinct religious tradition. Our hesitancy to own our tradition probably owes something to our attitude toward traditions. Since most of the religious traditions we encounter explain themselves in terms of beliefs, we think a tradition is a belief system, as most people in our Western culture do. But the core of religion – of whatever tradition – is beyond belief.

A tradition invites you into a story. That story deals with what is within our power to do in the world and what is beyond our power. It deals with the nature of the world as it is, whether we like it or not. It deals with how we treat each other. It deals with the relationship of our inner life to our outer life, where our deep hungers meet the world’s deep needs. It deals with our sense of calling, of purpose, of meaning in our lives. And it deals with our relationship to all that we love, and especially with the excellence we love – “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, whatever is virtuous, whatever is praiseworthy.”

A story does not offer beliefs. It explores them. It questions them. It judges them. It lifts up the tensions and contradictions in them. And it holds them – and us – accountable to what we love. It illustrates how – and how not – to live in trust and let love overcome fear. It explores the consequences of losing faith.

Alongside the story – alongside tradition – religions have a body of speculative knowledge known as theology or doctrine. The religions we encounter that stress belief dwell more in their doctrine and less in their story. When they do enter their story, their doctrines place limits on their exploration – limits that might tell them that what they love or what they trust is unimportant or wrong, limits that might instill fear rather than temper it. Religious practices there derive less from the compelling movements of the story and more from beliefs regarded as doctrinal knowledge. They are more likely to hinder than to foster development of the religious skills – to find what you love, to learn to trust, to let love overcome fear.

Beside tradition and speculation – beside the story and the doctrine – there is a third element in religion: it is variously called the mystical or the spiritual or the experiential. This is the primary mode of a truly lived faith, which the story and the doctrine are meant to support. In a spiritual or mystical experience, one is deeply in touch with what one loves, profoundly in a state of trust, and fear is cast away or at least wrestled down. Belief-based faith has a hard time embracing this primary mode of faith, because it is not accustomed to dealing so directly with the true ground of religious skills, the ground that we say is “in our hearts.”

That 30-second clip is trying to lift up the importance of this mystical element of religion. That’s what Unitarian Universalism always does at its deepest level. The emphasis on the individual that we are sometimes criticized for, sometimes lampooned for (you know the jokes – “we believe in the worth of luminescence and in the inherent dignity of all bulbs of whatever sort – incandescent, fluorescent, neon, and even wicks – and we believe in the value of fostering luminescence through change” – right?): our emphasis on the individual is meant to lift up conscience – the ground of religious skills that is in our hearts – which Ferenc David called “the source of all spiritual joy and happiness.” The clip falls short of delivering that message because the other great emphasis we are famous for – social justice, making a difference in the world – falls short of being a tradition.

A religious tradition deals with the nature of the world as it is, whether we like it or not. It deals with how we treat each other. It deals with our sense of calling, purpose, or meaning. And it deals with our relationship to all that we love, and especially with the excellence we love. To put some theological labels on that: a tradition deals with cosmology, morality, vocation and the divine.

Our emphasis on social justice is an emphasis on morality. Quite commonly, Unitarian Universalists think that cosmology is best left to science, that vocation is a private matter best left to the individual conscience, and that the divine is an artifact of ancient superstition unworthy of our attention. So all we’re left with for a religious tradition is morality. Hence all our talk about covenants and right relations and social justice and so on.

In recent years one of our leading theological thinkers, the Rev. David Bumbaugh, has offered a statement of what Unitarian Universalists believe[2] that begins with a cosmology, moves to a morality (a statement about what beloved community looks like), accounts for our longing for purpose and meaning, and ends in a statement about the divine, which David calls: “a deep, implicate process that called us into being, that sustains us in being, that transforms us as we cannot transform ourselves, that receives us back to itself when life has used us up.” Moving as this statement is when David delivers it, and thorough as it is in summarizing the elements of our tradition by the lights of the most broadly shared speculative perspectives among us, I observe that in the end most Unitarian Universalists don’t know what to do with it. Because in most ears it starts off as a poetic statement of the findings of science, touches on our core concerns with covenants and social justice, enters somewhat questionably into the realm of private discernment, and finishes up with a lot of antique superstition polished up, like the science, with poetic flourishes.

We hear it that way because we do not understand that our tradition must encompass more than just the moral dimension of religion. We do not understand that, because most often we do not affirm it or teach it. We do not affirm it or teach it much because we think that, when we get down to brass tacks, religion is about creating the beloved community, and all else flows from that. Or else it doesn’t matter, religiously speaking. That is a very common theology among us.

In consequence, we are criticized in the wider world for having a “works theology” or a “works righteousness.” And some like to say that this is because we’ve let go of God. The criticism is just. But to see that it is just, we must have the skill to do two things: to understand the dimensions of religion that are not encompassed by the ideal of the beloved community, and to read the symbol system in which the criticism is framed. The more significant consequence of “letting go of God” is that our skill to understand that symbol, and symbol system, has atrophied some. As we grow in faith, we do learn to see it as a symbol system rather than as an alternative form of science, but we’re not confident about how to read the symbols. If we are to learn to read the symbols, we need to engage less with the people in mainstream religious traditions who still think it’s science, and find the people who know that it’s symbolism and are trying to read it skillfully.

The purpose of religious cosmology is not to describe the universe – that is the job of science – but to tell a story about the universe as we understand it that will align and relate us meaningfully to all that is “given” – all that is beyond our power or preferences, all that is “grace,” to use the old term. Religious cosmology does not model the universe; it helps us understand our place in it and how we belong to it. David Bumbaugh observes a shared Unitarian Universalist cosmology that resembles that of Congregationalist minister Michael Dowd (author of Thank God for Evolution!) or CalTech professor Brian Swimme (author of The Universe Story). Both of these writers are popular in our circles, and both of them share with us a hesitancy to acknowledge that cosmology is within the purview of religion. It is one thing to describe the universe: that is what science does. It is quite another to discern our place within it, to know how to be at home in it: that is what religion does. To fulfill this function, religion needs a cosmology that does not contradict science. But a religious cosmology needs to be a story, a space in which to explore, to question, to judge, to lift up the tensions and contradictions, to help us understand how we are accountable to what we love, how we may live in trust, why we should let love overcome fear, and what are the consequences of losing faith.

A religious tradition, beyond the moral realm that we dwell upon so much, requires a cosmology of this kind. It also requires teachings about vocational discernment and spiritual practice.

Religious vocational discernment deals with our longing for purpose and meaning, to find our calling or vocation in life. Properly vocational concerns have to do with the question, as Mary Oliver phrased it, “what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?” This is as much a matter of conscience as morality is. Unitarians used to say that religion is about loving God and loving our neighbors. Now we mostly talk about loving our neighbors. And we say that we “stand on the side of love,” which I think is our new way to talk about love of God. Our Universalist forebears taught that God is love. Today, instead of teaching ourselves to strive to be fully in the image of God, we speak of striving to be fully in the image of love. I think we mean the same thing as our forebears. The moral dimension of that teaching is evident, and we are inclined to dwell upon it. The vocational dimension of it is: given who you are – what you love, what you do well, what draws your interest, and so on –what will you do with your one wild and precious life to fulfill your potential to manifest love in the world? You can see that that’s different from career counseling, just as religious cosmology is different from scientific cosmology, yes?

We’re often tempted by our congregation’s organizational needs to try to satisfy people’s religious vocational needs by career counseling them into jobs in the church. We’re tempted to do that because we tend to understand our whole tradition in terms of covenants and the work of the church, as having to do primarily with the beloved community and not so much with the relationship of our inner life to our outer life, where our deep hungers meet the world’s deep needs. That, we think, is a private matter. And thus we inhibit our efforts to encourage one another toward spiritual growth in our congregations.

Cosmology, morality, vocation, and the divine: these are the four fields of religious concern. Every tradition has some kind of practice meant to put you in touch with the divine – with the best of what you love and the source of what you love. Whether it’s your prayer life or your meditation practice or your yoga or something else, there is a spiritual practice that the tradition encourages you to take up and engage in every day. Not a rote ritual, but a conscious cultivation of feeling the presence of the divine in your life. Feeling it – having an experience of it, or recalling one. More often it’s a memory than an immediate palpable experience during your spiritual practice time, but it accompanies you, it grounds you, it reminds you of all the other dimensions of faith: your sense of place and being at home in the cosmos, your sense of beloved community and social justice, your sense of calling and of becoming more fully in the image of love. Because we tend to think of the divine as superstition – thinking of God as a fact (or not) rather than as a symbol – and because we tend to think of spiritual practice as a private matter, and because we think that diversity means we should never prescribe one practice for everybody, we neglect to teach ourselves, much less our children, that having a spiritual practice is important, indeed necessary, to our health and basic human nature. Just as religious cosmology needs to agree with scientific cosmology, so your spiritual practice has to agree with your way of naming the best of what you love and the source of what you love. It has to fit into a story that you believe in. It has to be authentic; it has to satisfy your conscience. But it is not optional.

This is what our visitors are looking for: a sense of our tradition. How do we understand our place and our belonging to the cosmos? How do we understand the beloved community and social justice? What do we teach about how to fulfill our potential to embody love in the world? And how do we stay true to what we love? How will this faith help me to get past what I believe and get to what I love? How will it help me to live in trust? How will it help me to let love overcome fear?

This is also what all of us already here are looking for, each in our own way. A true living tradition tends to all of these things. So I encourage you to explore cosmology as a religious story about how things are and how we are in the cosmos. I encourage you to explore how you – given who you are – can most fully embody love in the world, and not only that, but to support others in that exploration by helping them see their gifts as you see them. And I encourage you to have a practice that puts and keeps you in touch with the best and the source of what you love, and to support each other in having and maintaining a spiritual practice. A living tradition lives through us. Let us bring it alive. Amen.

 

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V43LA3PQAPA

[2] https://sites.google.com/site/theoluugy/rev-david-bumbaugh-theological-statement

Just Do What?

The starting point that I keep returning to in this blog is the articulation of our faith that sounded so right at the 2011 General Assembly: “Faith finds expression in acts of compassion. Acts of compassion lead to holy encounters. All religions are accountable to a higher power: compassion. Or, God is love.” There was a tone behind this argument when it was delivered there, which could be summarized as “Just Do It.”

Two items in this week’s news got me reflecting on that tone. One is a recent article in The Huffington Post: “The Religious Counterculture: An Open Letter to Religious Liberals” by the Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons of the United Church of Christ, who writes:

“Do we religious liberals similarly experience a tension between our religious values and the values of the secular world? If not, why not? It seems to me there should be enormous tension. … Until our theological ideals are realized on this earth, until we live in societies of boundless compassion where no one is excluded from the tables of abundance, until we lovingly care for all the creatures of the earth, until violence and hunger are relics of the past, religious liberals should not feel at ease in this world. If we do, there’s a problem. … What if we could restore the radical edge and dynamic energy of religious liberalism? What would the world look like if, instead of advertising religion lite, religious liberals became the most observant people around? What if those of us who consider ourselves theologically liberal began joining liberal religious communities in droves? What if we began tithing to those institutions? What if we observed a Sabbath together and radically disengaged from social and economic structures every week? What if we engaged in serious study of our spiritual texts and heritage and applied their lessons to the issues of today? What if we began lobbying on religious grounds for environmental stewardship?”

“What if we engaged in serious study of our spiritual texts and heritage and applied their lessons to the issues of today?” Do you mean, like this?

Ukrainian Orthodox

This is the other item in the news that turned my mind to that “Just Do It” tone. Here are Ukrainian Orthodox clergy standing between police and protesters, praying for peace and bearing symbols of their faith tradition – the cross and also the clerical attire. They are making of themselves a living symbol, taking the prayer for peace – and the religious commitment and tone of that prayer – out of the church and into the street.

Unitarian Universalist clergy do sometimes appear in the streets bearing the symbols of our faith tradition. But not like this.

Why not like this? The message in that 2011 General Assembly went something like this:

“Unitarian Universalism doesn’t really care whether you’re an atheist, a theist, a pagan, a Buddhist, a Christian, or a Barnes and Noble-ite. Our question for you is whether your atheism, theism, paganism, Buddhism, or Barnes and Noble-ism leads you to connection. Leads you to listen to your deepest voice, be open to life’s gifts and serve needs greater than your own. In other words, do your beliefs help you connect to yourself and others and life? If your beliefs serve that higher purpose of connection, they’re in. If they don’t—and we really mean this—they’re out.”  (Kaaren Anderson, “Just Connect”)

Suppose a group of Unitarian Universalists took to the streets between police and protesters, half a dozen people dressed somehow recognizably as atheist, theist, pagan, Buddhist, Christian, and Barnes-and-Noble-ite. Would it look like a tradition, or like Mardi Gras? And what one reverent thing would they unite in doing together to bring the tone of our faith out of the church and into the street?

Whenever we borrow spiritual practices from other faith traditions, we may either weaken or strengthen our own tradition. Individuals who borrow a spiritual practice from another tradition necessarily adapt it. So do congregations and movements that borrow. Borrowing without conscious adaptation and intentional differentiation is called appropriation. With conscious adaptation – including intentional reflection that differentiates the meaning of the adapted practice from that of the original practice in its source tradition – borrowing is a way of developing a new tradition. A little study of the origins of Christianity or Buddhism yields countless examples.

We have a couple of distinctive rituals whose names bear witness to our borrowing from our Christian roots: Water Communion and Flower Communion. Some want to (and do) substitute the word “Ceremony” for “Communion” in naming these, but no one observing them would confuse them with the Eucharist. Suppose some Unitarian Universalists wearing emblems of the flaming chalice were to place themselves between police and protesters, distributing flowers from baskets and inviting them to come peacefully to a common table, placing their flower in a single arrangement?

“What if we engaged in serious study of our spiritual texts and heritage and applied their lessons to the issues of today?” What are our spiritual texts? Not others from the world’s religions, but ours? What is distinctly our heritage? What teachings can we draw out of (rather than read into) the faith of our 16th-century forebears in Eastern Europe (for example)?

Is “Just Do It” the right tone for every occasion? Or can we expand our repertoire?

Chakraflections

A recent article about six words for “love” in the Greek language lay simmering on my brain’s back burner until I had the thought: why six? Might these words line up with the chakras somehow, and if so, what word for love was missing from this list?

The chakras represent the universal human path of spiritual growth or awakening. That is, they offer an abstract account of the process of spiritual maturation. In the classic diagram, they are associated with symbolic locations in the human body:

chakras

The names given to each of these locations describe their symbolic meaning:

chakra system

I found that I could locate the six Greek words for “love” in this scheme:

Slide1

What was missing?

It turns out that in Greek there are two words that we translate into English as “worship”: proskunema (obeisance) and latreia (devotion). It seems to me that, for Unitarian Universalists, it makes more sense to stand on the side of devotion than on the side of obeisance. So latreia it is.

Unable to stop myself, I lined up the seven Unitarian Universalist principles alongside these:

Slide2

I know I am not the first to notice the progression from the one to the many in the seven principles. That they might line up with different ways to love was an unexpected find that has me musing and thinking.

CODA: An eighth word for love in Greek, storge (familial love), was omitted from the list of six in the article I read. A common alternate scheme of Greek words for love lists it as one of four (along with eros, philia and agape).

And Miles To Go Before We Sleep:

A REVIEW OF AN INTRODUCTION TO THE UNITARIAN AND UNIVERSALIST TRADITIONS BY ANDREA GREENWOOD AND MARK W. HARRIS

When I was studying at Union Theological Seminary, the standard textbook for church history in two of the three required courses was Williston Walker’s A History of the Christian Church, Fourth Edition. Professor David Lotz, who taught medieval and reformation church history, used to list our reading assignments in his syllabus as “WNLH” with the page numbers. He, along with Richard Norris (who taught early church history at Union then) and Robert Handy (not long retired from teaching modern church history), were the editors who had prepared the fourth edition. I remember him explaining this abbreviation at the beginning of the year, saying that it was meant to give due credit to the editors – since the revisions had been considerable – and that it stood for (he now affected mock chagrin) “Walker.”

Walker’s original work, first published in 1918, came to be considered a classic work of church history, a narrative of admirable clarity, unity and balance. WNLH updated it with new scholarship and what the dust jacket described as “fresh interpretations.” Having listened to the lectures of Professors Norris and Lotz for a semester each, I recognize the cadences of their voices when I return to read it. It is clear that, while Walker’s outline remains, most of his original prose was substantially rewritten if not replaced. A high standard of clarity, unity and balance was nevertheless maintained.

At long last, Unitarian Universalism may have its Walker. An Introduction to the Unitarian and Universalist Traditions pulls together often separately told histories, not only of Unitarianism and Universalism, but also of Unitarian communities in different national and cultural settings. Andrea Greenwood and Mark W. Harris have valuably assembled, distilled and incorporated much recent scholarship into a concise (under 250 pages) and accessible narrative. The selected bibliography is extensive. While Universalism has a marginal presence in these pages, it does have a presence, and its interaction with Unitarianism in American and other contexts is explored. The direct connections from the first antitrinitarian writings by Michael Servetus to antitrinitarian communities in Italy, Poland and Transylvania are made clear. Continental connections of British Unitarians are noted, and the multiple sources of American Unitarianism are described. The book offers a helpful and blunt analysis of how racism shaped our movement in the 20th century, and places its international activities in proper historical context, asking more probing and honest questions about them.

With all these strengths, this could easily become the sole required text for training elders and professional religious leaders in Unitarian Universalist history and heritage. Were that to come about, however, the editors of the second edition would have their work cut out for them. The first and crucial editorial task would be to improve the interpretive framework. Greenwood and Harris offer revisionism in the best tradition, the kind that gets at truth. Inevitably their work is limited in the ways all revisionism is, here (and here again) reinforcing an old prejudice by arguing with it, there (and there, and again there) being caught up in the fads, worries and perspectives of the present day. These imbalances would need correction.

A more compelling and coherent theological perspective would also need to be supplied. The pungent gumbo of freedom, democracy, humanism, literacy, reason, individualism, conscience, principles, and activism found throughout this book flavors its historical chapters (five of the thirteen), but overwhelms its thematic chapters (which address topics such as congregational polity, worship, ecology, art, education, social justice, and technology). Perhaps the ninth chapter, titled “Sources of Faith,” was meant as a roux to give it substance, but it is off-the-shelf: borrowed thought from Paul Rasor (freedom, social justice and interdependence as the three core values of Unitarian Universalism) that attempted to revise Earl Morse Wilber’s classic distillation of the Unitarian tradition as a commitment to freedom, reason and tolerance in religion. It is a processed, not organic, ingredient.

Happily, Greenwood and Harris arrive in their very last sentence at a good starting point for theological interpretation: “Loving, not believing, is a property of divine nature … Therefore, one always comes to the conclusion that love is sublime and excellent, and that love is more like God.” Though the footnotes do not make it clear, it appears that this quotation comes from a work of Michael Servetus. If that is the case, this starting point also could promote unity of narrative in a second edition.

A second crucial editorial task would be to decide the audience for the book. The title suggests it might be offered as a resource for new members wanting a deeper understanding of the faith tradition to which they are committing themselves. The content suggests that the authors have had many audiences in mind at once – also a typical pitfall of revisionism. Different sections of the book – sometimes within a single chapter – seem to address all manner of leaders and thinkers in all areas of the life of our movement, sometimes telling them things they probably have already heard from a church consultant or denominational staff, other times taking a side in denominational politics, and still other times attempting to educate away prejudices that have become conventional thought or attitudes among us. If it really is meant for new members, the second edition will need to be written to their concerns.

Third, there is still more scholarship to incorporate into this beautifully concise and accessible narrative. One example: Greenwood and Harris recount that Dr. Giorgio Biandrata had a copy of Michael Servetus’s book, Christianismi Restitutio, which he lent to Ferenc David. “David read the book, talked with the doctor, [converted the king], and both Unitarianism and freedom of conscience were born.” Setting aside the question of whether there had been freedom of conscience before that time, it is not accurate to suggest that Servetus’s writings were Biandrata’s and David’s textbook. Instead, the two made a particular use of Christianismi Restitutio which was political in nature.

After the Edict of Torda in 1568, David and Biandrata went into high gear developing and defining their antitrinitarian reform. They published a collection of David’s sermons, the first Unitarian hymnal, and another book called De falsa et vera unius Dei – “Of the false and true One God” – which consisted entirely of the millenarian passages of Michael Servetus’s Christianismi Restitutio, reorganized into a more concise and forceful argument. This has been recounted by Howard Hotson in his essay, “Arianism and Millenarianism: The Link Between Two Heresies from Servetus to Socinus,” published in John Christian Laursen and Richard H. Popkin, eds., Continental Millenarians: Protestants, Catholics, Heretics, Vol IV of Millenarianism and Messianism in Early Modern European Culture (London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001). Their use of Servetus’s writing can be seen as a response to Catholic reform taking shape at the Council of Trent.

Why borrow Servetus’s millennial passages? Luther and Calvin both suggested that the book of Revelation should have been left out of the Bible, but most Reformers who took it seriously took the millennium to be a literal thousand years, starting either from the crucifixion or from Constantine’s reign, the end of the Great Persecution: either from about the year 33 until 1033, or from about 300 until about 1300. Either way, it was long past. Servetus read this material differently. Certain passages in the book of Revelation led to another way to measure the period of the millennium, so that its length is not 1000 but 1260 years. Depending on whether one starts with the beginning of Constantine’s reign or the end (or some event during, like the Council of Nicaea), the end of the millennium must be somewhere between 1562 and 1597. By these calculations, the end of the millennium was imminent – a good motivator in the religious politics of the time.

And what had Servetus said in his millennial passages? He argued that, in the beginning, God created the perfect world, Eden, but Adam messed up and was cast out; likewise, in the beginning of the Church, Christ created the perfect spiritual community, but the apostles messed up and the result was the Church. Jesus had the divine mission to redeem the world, and did it, but it failed, just like the creation did. This world is not God’s perfect world, and this Church is not Christ’s perfect Church. Antichrist has reigned almost all his 1260-year term, and God’s about to send Jesus down for another go. Human beings have got to get it right this time. Like Luther, Servetus appealed to the political leaders of the world to choose God’s side and participate in the restoration of Christianity.

The Council of Trent was the context for David’s whole career. It met in its first sessions about a year before David left to begin his studies in Frankfurt. During his years at Frankfurt and Wittenberg, between 1546 and 1551, the religious reform to which Trent reacted was gaining momentum everywhere. Another series of Council sessions began as David returned to Transylvania in 1551. Two years later, the Reformed community in Geneva burned Michael Servetus at the stake. Two years after that, the Protestant princes and the Emperor signed the Peace of Augsburg, agreeing that in each state within the Empire, the religion of the prince would be the religion of his realm. These religions would be defined, and further innovations disallowed. That year David was elected chief minister in Kolozsvar. In another two years, David found himself as leader and bishop of Transylvania’s Hungarian-speaking Lutherans. At this time the ideas of Zwingli and Calvin became known in Transylvania, and David found himself persuaded by Zwingli’s idea of communion as a memorial meal rather than as a mystical event (or sacrament). Over the next five years, debate on this issue escalated until finally in 1564 the Calvinists split from the Lutheran church, with David as their bishop. King John Sigismund then named him his court preacher. In doing so, he was taking a stand in support of reform beyond the Emperor’s Augsburg settlement, which recognized only the Catholic and Lutheran churches. No doubt Turkish “protection” allowed him this latitude.

Meanwhile, back in Trent, the final sessions of the Council were held, reaffirming the old doctrines but taking on board reforms relating to clergy conduct and institutional abuses. The Jesuits, now established a little over 20 years, would take on the mission of teaching and spreading the reformed Catholic doctrine, with the support of the Inquisition. Transylvania’s reforms were gathering steam just as the tide of the Reformation was turning.

During the communion debates, Biandrata arrived in Transylvania from Poland. He and David became friends and discovered that their thought about religious reform ran along similar lines. Within two years, in January of 1566, David preached his first unitarian sermon. The context for Biandrata showing David his copy of Christianismi Restitutio is that the pressure was on for Protestants to define their reformed religions in the hope that they would then not be ruled out as innovations. The final edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion was published in 1559; the Lutheran Formula of Concord came in 1577.

In March of 1566, the Transylvanian Reformed Synod declared that the Apostles’ Creed was the only basis of Christian faith. This was significant for two reasons. First, it was a rejection of the Athanasian Creed favored by the Catholic Church. The Apostles’ Creed says “I believe in God the Father … I believe in Jesus Christ … [and] I believe in the Holy Spirit,” but it doesn’t say Jesus is God or the Holy Spirit is God, and can be read in a variety of ways, including Unitarian ways. Second, this was the synod that the court preacher belonged to, and the King let it stand. With David preaching a unitarian interpretation, the King encouraged further debate within the synod to reach a consensus. But the Lutherans and Calvinists formed a united front against the denial of the Trinity, and as a result the “Davidists,” as they were first called, split from the Calvinists to form their own church, with David as their bishop.

David was persuaded of the urgent need for continuing reform, and Servetus’s work could help him instill that urgency. David’s own millennial view was that reform had stalled in 1530 when the Lutherans published their Augsburg Confession, and reform had been wandering in the Calvinist wilderness ever since. But the wandering would only be for 40 years: 1570 was the year to stop wandering and define the faith. And that was just two years off when the Edict of Torda was proclaimed. That’s why Biandrata and David then produced so many writings so quickly. Other reformers were doing likewise. We might hope that in a second edition of An Introduction to the Unitarian and Universalist Traditions, this context would be supplied.

As this example suggests, a second edition that captured the Unitarian and Universalist traditions in an accurate and balanced way, included the latest scholarship, addressed the concerns of new church members or those seeking a deeper understanding of our faith, provided a compelling and coherent theological framework, and still took less than 250 pages, would need to be the work of at least three highly trained and experienced collaborators. It has taken two to pull together the fragmented material about our heritage into a single concise and accessible narrative, and for all the foregoing criticisms, that is no small achievement. We all have cause to be deeply grateful for this volume and the contributions it may make toward helping all our lay and professional leaders to have and convey a better understanding of our heritage.