Garden Thursday : Thy Will Be Done

GethsemaneDuring the Sermon on the Mount, while expounding on anger, adultery, oaths, and retaliation, Jesus repeatedly emphasized the importance of motivation over action. It is not the act of adultery that makes us adulterers, but entertaining the desire. It is not the voicing of our hatred that is the sin, but the hatred itself.

The moral character behind our decisions, that inner seed of the actions which are regulated by Law, was at the core of Jesus’ teachings.

For this reason, Reform Unitarianism honors Garden Thursday — the day on which Jesus accepted the necessity of the painful events to follow — as the highest of Holy Days.

It is at Gethsemane that the teachings of Jesus and the story of Jesus come together.  During the Prayer in the Garden, by praying “Thy will be done” in the face of imminent suffering, Jesus made the commitment of moral character he had preached about in the Sermon on the Mount.

It was this decision in the Garden of Gethsemane that signifies the taking of the fruit of the Tree of Life, countering and remedying the imbalance created by the taking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.  As that Knowledge brought responsibility to the first Adam, requiring punitive Law to regulate human actions, the moral teaching of the “Second Adam” (as Jesus has been called) transcends and fulfills the Law with the virtue of character.

Law, married to Wisdom, becomes whole. The Lion lies down with the Lamb.  Knowledge and Life together bring us back into Paradise.

The arrest of Jesus, his trial, and the crucifixion that followed were, like the material events consequent of any decision, secondary to the spiritual and moral event that took place inside the soul of Jesus when he said to God: “Nevertheless, Thy will be done.”

This fulfillment of Christ’s own teachings was the true pinnacle of his ministry.


[A version of this homily has been published on earlier Garden Thursdays]

[The stained glass above is at First Reformed United Church of Christ of Burlingon, North Carolina.]


12th Day of Thanksgiving – Harvest Thursday

first_thanksgivingThanksgiving is often recognized as an inter-cultural holiday, celebrating the cooperation of European Pilgrims and Native Americans, but it is also an interfaith holiday. After all the Wampanoag were not Christian.

For American Reform Unitarians* the interfaith nature of Thanksgiving actually reinforces its Christian importance, for we see Christianity not as a religion defined against others, but as an idiom of Truth that can be translated into other idioms.

[This Thanksgiving message was originally published in 2008]

True Christianity has from its inception been a religion that sees the good in members of other religions.

Jesus praised the faith of the pagan centurion over that of his fellow Jews, and used a member of the hated Samaritan sect (considered heretics at the time) as a symbol of goodness in explicit contrast to leaders of his own faith community. When ministering to the Greeks, the Apostle Paul even went so far as to claim that the “Unknown God” long worshiped in Hellenistic religion was in fact the very same God of Abraham and Jesus.

Some might dismiss Paul’s assertion as a marketing technique, and perhaps so. However, the willingness to seek Christian truth in other religions validates Christianity as a religion about reality rather than a religion merely about itself.

There is, in every religious community, a moral tension between loyalism and realism. By realism here, we do not mean the “Christian Realism” of Niebuhr, but realism in the sense that religion is seen as an idiomatic description of reality, therefore open to other forms of description. 

This is opposed to the loyalist approach in which that description becomes a mere catechetical shibboleth, a catch-phrase or password, distorting the religion into an entrenched camp isolated (by its own members) from the rest of the universe.

A religion truly about the Creator cannot be an enclave in Creation. The truth of God does not need to be spread across God’s own work by a tiny minority of creatures; God’s truth is evident throughout the universe.

Justin Martyr, despite his sainted status, is likely the primary culprit in this God-denying loyalist tradition as he was the first to attribute other religions entirely to the action of devils. One step more “realistic” is the approach of Paul and other missionaries who attempted to exapt the language and imagery of the cultures they encountered for Christian truth.

But, while this approach treats idiom properly as a tool rather than the stuff of religion itself, it is still prone to error due to the implication that only the language of other religions is valid, not the underlying reality that language describes.

Again, this sort of religion implies an agoraphobic god who fashions a vast universe only to cower in one tiny corner of it, charging mere humans with braving the immeasurable remainder of it in his stead. Religion that genuinely worships the Almighty Creator does not insult God in this way.

The idiomatic approach of Reform Unitarianism takes realism to its full measure by recognizing that some of the underlying ideas of other religions must be valid if the God we worship is indeed the God of all Creation, and not merely an imagined god of ethnic or sectarian autolatry.

For us, the Thanksgiving story represents two groups of God’s children, speaking in different idioms, coming together for a precious moment of peace and communion. The words and labels each used to discuss the ultimate nature of reality and its moral implications may have differed, but if there is such an Ultimate Truth then it must be the same Ultimate Truth for all, despite the difference in languages used to describe it.

The politicized, sectarian, God-denying, and autolatrous view is that the Native Americans were un-Christian heathens. The truly Christian, universal, Creator-affirming, moral view is that while the compassion the Wampanoag showed the Pilgrims may not have been “Christian” charity, it was certainly Christian charity.

Have a wonderful feast day, and give thanks for all of the blessings in your life!


* American Reform Unitarians revere Thanksgiving’s Harvest Thursday as one of the Four Great Thursdays alongside Declaration Thursday, Garden Thursday, and Ascension Thursday.


Lucifer’s Day

Bishop Arius Assaulted at the Council of Nicaea

Today is the first of the 12 Days of Thorns, during which we contemplate the tragic errors of the past.  This dozenal opens the Spring Interval, also called the Rose Season.

The first Day of Thorns is Lucifer’s Day, marking the anniversary of the First Council of Nicaea in which the Josiac error of conflating the Son and God was repeated.

This is also the traditional feast day of Lucifer Calaritanus — whom some Trinitarians honor as “Saint Lucifer” — one of the principle proponents of the conflationist error against Christian monotheism. 

An excellent case study in partisan hypocrisy, Lucifer is famous for publishing two works advising Emperor Constantius not to meet with Arians nor forgive them, yet also a work advising the Emperor not to condemn the conflationist bishop Athanasius of Alexandria in absentia.

On this day, we should not only lament the unravelling of the original Church, but also contemplate the beams in our own eyes, that we do not follow where Nicaea and Lucifer transgressed.


The Ascension Season – 40 Days of Faith, Hope, Love

[An earlier version of this homily was published here in 2008]

The post-Easter season leading up to Ascension Thursday is a time to celebrate the complementary virtues that are reconciled in the wholeness of the Divine Word.

There are many ways to speak of these complementary virtues: as knowledge and life represented by the Trees of Paradise, or as the serpent and the dove of Jesus’ admonition in the Gospel of Matthew 10:16.  Their absence can also be seen in the Beast and Babylon of the Apocalypse of John.

But one of the most familiar ways to talk about these complementary virtues are as Faith and Hope, which were paired together by Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians (13:13) under divine Love, or agape.

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Celibacy, Catholic Sex Crimes, and Trinitarianism

Reform Unitarianism feels a particularly close kinship with the Roman Catholic Church, despite that it is the institution that adopted the apostasy of Trinitarianism.  Roman Catholicism retains the sense of the ancient pedigree of Christianity, which more recent off-shoots (which nevertheless imagine themselves reformatory) fail to project.

This is why it pains us to witness the perennial sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, now even shaking the Throne of St. Peter.  Only a few are calling for Pope Benedict XVI to resign, but many more are questioning the Church’s policies on clerical celibacy.

For Reform Unitarians — who accept both the marriage of priests and ordination of women — it is clear that the Vatican’s sex-related troubles stem from the same 4th Century political intrigues that pinned the Church to Imperial power and the conflationist theology that eventually became Trinitarianism.

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New Banner!

AUR is proud to present our new blog banner, combing symbols throughout our history that demonstrate dedication to true Christian monotheism.

The Two Trees symbol, drawn from the allegory of humanity’s dawn in the Garden of Eden, stresses Reform Unitarianism’s emphasis on complementary virtues, which are seen in the Two Trees of Eden, the serpent and dove of Jesus’ ministry, the twin cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant, Faith and Hope, and the Lion-Lamb/Alpha-Omega imagery associated with Christ.  It is only by reconciling what seem to be contrary virtues that one can find the One God behind all things.

On the far right is an ancient Macedonian image of Jesus praying to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, not only a key passage demonstrating the subordinate relationship between God the Father and the Son of God, but also the climax of the moral and spiritual ministry of Jesus, the moment of “Thy Will Be Done.”

On the far left is an Arian church in Ravenna (now controlled by Trinitarians and called San Apollinare Nuovo) built during the reign of Theodoric, representing the continuation of original Christianity into the early Middle Ages before the complete suppression of Unitarian theology and the beginning of the Dark Ages.

Finally, at the bottom is a portrait of Jonathan Mayhew, the Father of American Unitarianism, who coined the battle cry “No taxation without representation” and wrote a sermon against the Divine Right of Kings entitled A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers, which president John Adams later called the “spark that ignited the American Revolution.”


Post-Cynical Religion Part Two – Smashing the Iconoclasm

Part one of this sermon (posted last Thursday) reflected on the rational cynicism that is evident in the ministry of Jesus, and necessary for genuine Faith, Hope, and Christian Love.

While many churches — all along the political spectrum from conservative to liberal — offer a naïve comfort that turns a blind eye to the cynical realities of the world, AUR refuses to offer “salvation on the cheap” through the false faith of sin-dumping confessional conformism or the false hope of sin-denying celebratory relativism.

Reform Unitarianism recognizes that true Christianity (and, indeed, true religion regardless of its sectarian idiom) is post-cynical, and its comforting truths lie on the other side of a blood-sweating struggle against instincts of self-preservation and sociability, and the “unchallengeable” sacred cows of culture. Continue reading


Post-Cynical Religion Part One – Christian Cynicism

While many churches — all along the political spectrum from conservative to liberal — offer a naïve comfort that turns a blind eye to the cynical realities of the world, AUR refuses to offer “salvation on the cheap” through sin-dumping confessional conformism or sin-denying celebratory relativism.

Reform Unitarianism recognizes that true Christianity (and, indeed, true religion regardless of its sectarian idiom) is post-cynical, and its comforting truths lie on the other side of a blood-sweating struggle with self-preservation, social/psychological instinct, and the “unchallengeable” sacred cows of culture.
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AUR FAQ Page Posted

Some time ago, a FAQ was promised to address the basic AUR issues better than the Introduction page.  The following questions are now up on the AUR FAQ page, clickable in the sidebar.

1. What does it mean to be Unitarian?
1.1 What significance is Jesus Christ to (Reform) Unitarians?

2. Do Unitarians reject the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as Trinitarians claim?
2.1 Why is the Reform Unitarian view more correct than the Trinitarian view?
2.2 How did the early Church view the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
2.3 Why do so many modern Christians believe that Trinitarianism is central to Christianity?

3. Don’t Unitarians not really have any specific beliefs any more?
3.1 What does it matter if the word “Unitarianism” is used for groups that no longer believe in Unitarianism?

4. What does it mean to be a Reform Unitarian?
4.1 What is Reform Unitarianism restoring and improving?
4.2 Is Reform Unitarianism only concerned with restoring and improving Christianity?

5. What is American about American Unitarian Reform?
5.1 Does American Unitarian Reform violate the Separation of Church and State?

6. What is the Reform Unitarian attitude toward Scripture?


Palm Sunday And The Idiomatic Approach To Religion

[Please see the updated, 2010 version of this here.]

palm_sundayPalm Sunday commemorates the day Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a colt (or donkey) with throngs of Messianic enthusiasts paving the way with palm fronds.  Celebrations of this holiday therefore often include palms.

In some regions, however, this tropical plant has been difficult to acquire, particularly in the past when shipping methods were primitive.  For this reason, local trees were often substituted for palms, and the name of the holiday revised to match.

Were Christians who celebrated “Yew Sunday,” because their culture knew yews and did not know palms, practicing a heresy?  Other-Than-Palm Sundays certainly could be described as “un-scriptural” but are they un-Christian? We don’t think so, and we think that this is a critically important point that supports our idiomatic, rather than dogmatic, approach to religious creed. Continue reading