Tag Archives: Paul Rasor

District assembly or…?

The Pacific Central District of Unitarian Universalist congregations managed to schedule its annual meeting, district assembly, for this Saturday, the same day that Wordcamp is taking place. So I could go to district assembly and hear Paul Rasor talk about theology, or I could go to Wordcamp and learn more about using WordPress as a Website platform.

Much as I’d like to hear Paul Rasor, it’s no contest: if I didn’t have to run an OWL retreat at church on Saturday, I’d go to Wordcamp. Theology is cool, but learning more about how WordPress could power online religion feels like a more pressing need right now. After all, I can always read Paul Rasor’s next book when it comes out. (If you go to Wordcamp SF, leave a comment and let us know what you learned.)

Universalism for a new era

UU World magazine just put a good article by Paul Rasor on their Web site. Titled “Can Unitarian Universalism Change?” the article is an excerpt from the Berry Street lecture Paul gave last June.

Using demographic and other solid evidence, Paul makes the case that in an increasingly multiracial society, Unitarian Universalist congregations are predominantly white. In other words, we are increasingly out of step with the surrounding culture. In other words, we are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Paul goes on to say that our Universalist heritage offers a solid theological foundation on which we could build a truly multiracial, egalitarian religion:

Early Universalism was a communal faith. ‘Communal’ here means more than a group of individuals who share a common belief and come together for mutual support and worship, the way we might understand it today. Instead, in this form of communal theology, the individual was removed from the religious equation. Universalists insisted that our personal salvation was no more important than anyone else’s salvation. As Ann Lee Bressler, author of The Universalist Movement in America, 1770–1880, puts it, Universalism ‘encouraged the believer to think of his own interests as inseparably linked with the eternal welfare of the whole body of humanity.’

This theological core led to a radical egalitarianism. The American emphasis, shared by most Protestant denominations, including Unitarians, had always been on equality of opportunity, at least in principle, while in practice tolerating vast inequalities of outcome. But Universalism’s egalitarian theological doctrine became the basis for a truly egalitarian social doctrine — ‘an egalitarianism not of opportunity, but of desert,’ or outcome. In other words, Universalism was not simply pluralistic; it was radically inclusive.

However, a radical Universalist inclusivity is going to ruffle lots of feathers of current Unitarian Universalists who place an extremely high value on personal and individual freedom. In my reading of the Treatise on Atonement, Hosea Ballou’s foundational theological statement of Universalism, Ballou places great restrictions on free will: you don’t get to choose whether or not you wish to be saved, you will be saved no matter what. Unitarians placed much more emphasis on free will:– Continue reading


Ferry Beach Conference Center, Saco, Maine

I’m spending a couple of days at Ferry Beach Conference Center. I was supposed to attend a small church conference, but it was canceled at the last minute. I decided to come up here anyway and spend a couple of days doing a sort of study-retreat.

I left Concord at about 4 p.m., after having lunch and a long talk with a good friend. Traffic was heavy and slow on Interstate 495 headed north, and I didn’t arrive at Ferry Beach until 6:30 p.m. First stop was Huot’s, a seafood restaurant in the village of Camp Ellis. At their takeout window, I got fried clams, French fries, and cole slaw, and started the ten-minute walk back to the conference center. But I couldn’t wait to start in on the clams, and began eating them out of the bag as I walked.

“Is there going to be any left the time you get home?” said a man sitting on the wide front porch of one of the summer rentals. He had a good-natured grin on his face.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said. He just laughed.

Today, I’ve been working my way through Faith without Certainty: Liberal Theology for the 21st Century by Paul Rasor. I skimmed some of it back in June when I bought it, but now I’m sitting down and reading it straight through. I sat at the picnic table at my campsite on this perfect summer day, the sun glinting down through the trees, a chipmunk running back and forth between some trees, a few late summer birds calling idly every now and again.

And Paul writes clear prose that’s almost entirely free of the obfuscatory, precious academic jargon that’s endemic in theological circles. I have been particularly enjoying the way Paul clarifies the postmodern challenges to liberal theology.

It’s too bad the small church conference was canceled, but I have to say this is the perfect setting to catch up on my theology reading.