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The interweb is abuzz today with Unitarian Universalists writing about a subject they should know well: Universalism. UUA President Peter Morales has written about it at Huffington Post; the Twitterverse is full of tweets hashtagged #universalism; and individual bloggers (UU and otherwise) are blogging the bejasus out of the subject here, here, and here. Why the sudden interest? The imminent release of bestselling author and megachurch pastor Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Here’s what Bell’s publisher has to say about the book:

Rob Bell reveals a secret deep in the heart of millions of Christians–they don’t believe what they have been taught are the essential truths of their faith. Out of respect for their tradition, they keep quiet, confiding to a few close friends their doubts and questions about salvation, Jesus, and, of course, God.

Bell brings out to the open and faces squarely the questions on everyone’s mind: Does it really make sense that God is a loving, kind, compassionate God who wants to know people in a personal way, but if they reject this relationship with Jesus, they will be sent to hell where God will eternally punish them forever?

In Love Wins, Bell goes to the heart of these issues and argues that the church’s traditional understanding of heaven and hell is actually not taught by the Bible. Bell is emphatically not offering a new view of heaven and hell; instead, he closely examines every verse in the Bible on heaven and hell and shows what they really teach. And he discovers that Jesus’s most fundamental teaching about heaven and hell is, “Love wins.”

This should be, of course, good news for Unitarian Universalists who think of their congregations as places of refuge for those Christians who “don’t believe what they have been taught are the essential truths of their faith.” After all, that’s pretty much the reason a lot of us became Unitarian Universalists in the first place. It’s been my experience, however, that many UUs think that people should have taken care of their relationship to God, Jesus, Heaven, and Hell before they set foot in their local UU congregation because, well, that’s they way they did it. As far as they’re concerned, those questions were asked and answered a long time ago, which is why you don’t see many UU congregations spending too much time helping Christians work through their thoughts and feelings about some of the more troubling “essential truths of their faith.” And that’s shame.

You see, I really do believe that UU congregations should be the absolutely best place on Earth for Christians to explore their relationship with God and Jesus, Heaven and Hell. Why? Because our non-creedal religion offers each individual the opportunity to start from scratch when it comes to working out his or her own salvation—not with “fear and trembling,” as Saint Paul put it (Philippians 2:12-13), but with hope and support. But that’s not what goes on in most of our churches, fellowships, and societies. Instead you find people getting their knickers in a twist about words like “worship,” “sanctuary,” “spirituality,” and “faith.”

So, what’s a UU congregation to do? Well, if you’re seriously interested in helping our Christian neighbors explore their relationship to God and the religion their were raised in, take a look at this excellent article by Philip Clayton: “Theology and the Church After Google.” Pay special attention to these “recurring questions that every Christian wonders about as he or she struggles to be a Jesus disciple”:

  • Who is God?
  • What are human beings?
  • How are we separated from God, and how can that separation be overcome
  • Who is Jesus Christ?
  • What or Who is the Spirit?
  • What is the church, and what should it be doing?
  • And what is our hope for the final future of the cosmos and humanity?

Now, check your feelings and choose one: Do you find the thought of a bunch of Christians coming to your congregation searching for the answers to these questions a) attractive, or b) repulsive? You can probably guess what my answer is. Feel free to leave a comment and tell me yours.


Here’s another small group ministry session based on material from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat’s site. This week’s topic is Being Present.

Learning to Wake Up

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening words: Every moment is enormous, and it is all we have. Our life is a path of learning to wake up before we die. — Natalie Goldberg in Long Quiet Highway



A Teaching Story from The Zen Commandments: Ten Suggestions for a Life of Inner Freedom by Dean Sluyter

Dean Sluyter presents ten suggestions for a life of inner freedom. Here’s one dimension of what that could mean in an anecdote about the spiritual practice of being present.

One morning I found myself running through the Newark, New Jersey, train station, trying to make a connection to New York, dodging frantically through the crowd as complex scenarios of missed appointments flashed through my mind. I reached the steep stairway to the platform and ran up, two steps at a time. Blocking my path at the top was a heavy swinging door with a large grimy window set into it; on the other side an old man in faded work clothes was washing the glass with a spray bottle and rag. Out of the middle of the grime he had just wiped a clean circle about a foot across, through which, our noses inches apart, we now faced each other. Suddenly all the worry and hurry in which I had been caught up seemed to be illuminated in the morning light breaking through the circle, and then to drop away. It was as if the window were my clouded mind and the old man with his rag had made a clear space for me to see, once again, that everything was light, everything was fine, and it always would be.

Am I making too much of a simple encounter? (Did Dante?) I don’t know…maybe…yes and no. All I know is that the old man smiled broadly, and in that moment I could have sworn he knew exactly what he had done. Then he opened the door for me and stepped aside as the train pulled into the station.

Questions: Recall a time when you were stopped in your tracks and became vividly aware of the present moment.

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words:

Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe — a moment that never was before and never will be again. — Pablo Casals quoted in Full Esteem Ahead by Diane Loomans

To Practice This Thought: Recognize that you are where you are supposed to be, and it’s holy ground.

Group Session Plan based on resources on Being Present from

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Being Present.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

Before I get to some of the things that make Newsong’s website “full-featured,” I’d like to point out their mission: “Newsong is a community of misfits transformed by Jesus to be a catalyst for loving people on the fringes of our culture.” Puts it right out there, doesn’t it? Obviously Newsong wants you to know that they have some expectations for you if you get involved with their community: that you be transformed, and that you share God’s love with the disenfranchised and the dispossessed. I’ve rarely, if ever, seen a Unitarian Universalist congregation with that succinct of a mission. Have you? And it’s not that we don’t believe similar things. Our second source talks about “the transforming power of love,” and the fourth source reminds us that we are called “to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.” But this post isn’t about mission, per se. It’s about websites the rock.

So. While Newsong’s website has a lot of similarities with the other websites we’ve looked at so far (Ginghamsburg and New Hope), there are a couple of differences that immediately stand out. First, they’re pushing social media a little more heavily: both Facebook and Twitter are prominently displayed at the bottom of the page. Actually, there at two places to connect via Facebook, and there’s a live Twitter feed so you can see what folks are saying about Newsong in real time. But wait, there’s more. If you click on the “Global” link at the top, you’ll find that Newsong has both an Android app and an iPhone app. Clearly the folks there know the importance of connecting via social media, not just via the internet, but through the mobile web as well.

Another difference is the number of ways Newsong encourages visitors to connect with them. There’s an “I’m New Here” button right at the top of the page, and if you pull down the “Locations” menu, you’ll see that there an not one, but two opportunities to connect online (“Community” and “Global”). If you do check out one of the bricks-and-mortar locations, you’ll find things like an virtual “Connection Card” to fill out (just like the ones some churches have in the pews), or an opportunity to RSVP for a quarterly “Connections Dinner.”

One thing that surprises me about Newsong (or maybe it shouldn’t) is just how conservative they are. For all their “Third Culture Community” hipness, they get right down to some good old-fashioned creedal statements pretty quickly. All y’all misfits better be ready to believe what the church has been saying about God and Jesus for last the couple of thousand years, including that “at the end of time the redeemed will go on to eternal life whereas the unredeemed to eternal hell.” Might as well be reading a Chick Tract.

In a comment to my post about the Ginghamburg Church’s website, Susan T. asked, “How about sharing some Unitarian websites that rock?” Good question! And thanks to my colleague Lisa Presley, Heartland District executive, I found one. Here it is, folks—a Unitarian Universalist congregational website that rocks so hard it’s positively seismic: the Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis.

Where to start. Hmmm, just look at what the church says about itself in the rotating graphics at the top of the page (just below the menu that starts with “Visiting”). Here’s what you get:

  • Welcome: We are the church of the warm heart, open mind, and helping hands; where a growing, enthusiastic congregation shares ideas, dreams, and visions; where inclusiveness and diversity are sought and celebrated; where people are urged to get involved.
  • Our Covenant: Love is the spirit of this church, and service is its law.
    To dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another—this is our covenant.
  • Our Congregation: Members of our congregation come from various religious, economic, social, and ethnic backgrounds.
    Our diversity creates a rich community where the inherent worth and dignity of every person is recognized.
  • Spiritual Growth: We are committed to providing a welcoming and open environment where people can feel free to share their ideas and experiences and inspire others to grow in their own spiritual journeys.
  • Strengthening Families: Our congregation welcomes and supports families of all kinds. We strive to provide an environment where family members can grow as individuals and as a family.
    Our rites of passage ceremonies allow our congregation to recognize and celebrate family milestones.
  • Making a Difference: Social justice, helping those in need, and service to our community are at the core of our faith.
    We strive to be a vital part of our community, working to make our world a more peaceful and equitable place.
  • Learning for Life: We are committed to life-long learning—learning about the world, ourselves, each other, and our religious heritage.
    Our religious education program provides classes, workshops, and activities for all stages of life. Above all, we support each other in the search for personal truth.

What? Did they just mention spiritual growth, supporting families, faith development, and social action as their raison d’etre? I have to say, I have never seen a congregational website (UU or otherwise) be so upfront (literally) about what they’re all, uh, about. But that’s just the beginning. Scroll down the page at and see what they have to offer. On the day I checked ’em out, there were links for the Laramie Project and the Vagina Monologues; an opportunity to Learn to Meditate; a head’s up about this coming Sunday’s service (including the Bible verse the sermon will consider); a feed of the congregation’s latest Tweets; a list of upcoming events (including a lot of small groups); a list of articles from the UUI Chronicle; and then, finally, at the bottom of the page, some nuts and bolts things that were also at the very top,  like “How to Get Involved,” “Religious Education,” “Newsletter,” and “Calendar.”

Sure there are some things that I don’t see (videos, podcasts…they may be here, just not upfront), but that’s a minor complaint. This website is designed to bring people into the congregation for some face-to-face interactions. So there you go, Susan T. A UU congregational website that truly rocks the interwebs.

Continuing my Sunday posts of small group ministry sessions composed from the resources available at Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat’s excellent site Today’s topic: Beauty.

God’s Handwriting

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening words: Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting. — Ralph Waldo Emerson quoted in To See the World in a Grain of Sand edited by Caesar Johnson



A Teaching Story from Wild Communion: Experiencing Peace in Nature by Ruth Baetz

Ruth Baetz shares some spiritual practices that she has developed to help her connect in a much deeper way with nature. Here is an excerpt on the spiritual practice of beauty.

“It’s 8 A.M. and I’m standing beneath the almost-nude limbs of a Japanese maple. At my feet, the ground is carpeted with brilliant rain-slicked red leaves. I repeat a phrase I made up years ago when I wanted help staying focused in nature: ‘Life force, power clear, beauty, touch me.’

“At the word beauty, the vibrant energy of the red leaves at my feet flies up and through me. I’m not used to life-force energy coming up though my feet. It’s quite an amazing feeling.

“It fades until I repeat the phrase again and come to the word beauty. Yes, there’s the rush. Beauty is the key that opens the door in me so I can receive what’s right here all the time. I want the life’s force’s power and beauty to touch me — today its power is in its red color, and the magic word is beauty.

“I’m intrigued that the word beauty so consistently accesses this rush of connection. I know there is great power in naming. Is that it? Does correctly naming what’s before me open me to its essence? Does naming open a level of understanding that’s deeper, or create a framework that brings it to life-like touching a flame to a candle?

“One could contemplate an unlit candle from many angles, touch it with many things, but the flame brings out its true essence. Could a word be like that? Is that the power of poetry, of chanting, of writing?

“Everywhere I stroll I say, ‘Hello, beauty,’ or ‘You’re magnificent, beauty.’ Each time there is a rush of recognition and delight.

“I walk on a carpet of gold witch hazel leaves, breathing in the sweet scent of the tree’s strange spidery flowers. I put my face into a branch full of red maple leaves and kiss one. I study an intricately curled brown leaf hanging limply on a peach maple tree.

“I walk into the arms of my favorite bright yellow tree. ‘Hello, beauty. I know you’re fleeting in my life. I know as a human animal with limited capacities I can’t hold you, but thank you for being here today.'”

Questions: Share a story about a beautiful place that comforted, restored, or inspired you.

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words:

Beauty saves. Beauty heals. Beauty motivates. Beauty unites. Beauty returns us to our origins, and here lies the ultimate act of saving, of healing, of overcoming dualism. Beauty allows us to forget the pain and dwell on the joy. — Matthew Fox in Original Blessing

To Practice This Thought: Describe the most surprisingly beautiful thing you have seen today.

Group Session Plan based on resources on Beauty from

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Beauty.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

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