Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


TERM PAPER PART 16–Theological Similarities and Differences: Are You Christian?
January 31, 2012, 8:25 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

 

[NOTE:  This part of the paper is one that responds to the professor’s request that we relate our term paper topic to the overarching issue of Christianity in the Pacific region.  The paper to which I refer here is one to which she referred us.]

In a paper for a scholarly conference on “global Christianity,” Brian Goldstone and Stanley Hauerwas challenge secular scholars for their distanced, “outsider” approach to defining Christianity and Christians.  To be Christian, they argue, is to be the body of Christ, proclaiming the resurrection and making disciples, often at great personal cost, including persecution and martyrdom.  Being Christian means living in a way that the larger culture cannot understand.  Hence, scholars—before they can really “see” Christianity—need first to be struck blind like the Apostle Paul at his conversion.  They must observe with humility and engagement, rather than distance.[i]

In the United States, many non-members inquire of Unitarian Universalist churchgoers and ministers:  “Are you Christian?”  The answer depends on what you mean.  First, we have no creed—Christian or otherwise–to which a member subscribes to belong to a UU church.  Moreover, our initial theological liberalism has led to a diversity of theological beliefs in both our pews and pulpits.  The UUA is not a member of the National Council of Churches. True, the denomination has strong roots in the Protestant movement; there are Christian-identified UU ministers and church-goers, and there are a few congregations in the North East where the structure and language of worship is explicitly Christian (and the Christology is both Universalist and Unitarian).   However, to answer the question “Are you Christian?”, many of our own North American church members would say no.   (For more, see Appendix III: Is It Christian?  Historical Details on American Unitarianism)

The Unitarian movement to the West Coast was led by ministers who identified as “liberal Christians,” and included some clergy who were expelled from other denominations, including Laurentine Hamilton, who founded the Independent Protestant Church of Oakland after losing a heresy trial for ideas he preached in his Presbyterian church.  It later became the First Unitarian Church.

But what about the Philippine church?  Lively conversations about theological differences and the nature of Jesus and salvation have marked some of the relations between Philippine UUs and their North American friends, as noted above.  In my experience, worship services include prayers, sermons, hymns and often Bible readings, but there is no creed.  UUCP has adopted statements of UU Principles and Sources very similar to those of the North American UUA Principles (except they have inserted an additional Principle at the start:  “There’s God.”)[ii]  Recently I asked Nihal Attanayake if UUCP is Christian.  He said, “We say we are Universalists.”

The Rev. Frederick John Muir, who serving our church in Annapolis, Maryland, has had a relationship with the UUs on Negros Island since 1991.  In 2001 he published Maglipay Universalist:  A History of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines.  In this he writes:  “The UUCP is thoroughly Christian (and some are Trinitarians).  Many Philippine Unitarian Universalists are exasperated that western [UUs] don’t seem to understand, appreciate and accept their theological stance.”[iii]

I have yet to encounter sources either to confirm or refute Muir’s description of the UUCP as “thoroughly Christian” and his assertion of exasperation with North American UU attitudes.  However, my recent observations give me confidence that more frequent and face-to-face encounters between Filipino and North American UUs over the past decade have reduced this misunderstanding.  In March 2011 I participated in a “UU Pilgrimage,” an organized ten-day visit to UUCP headquarters and over 10 of the congregations on Negros Island.  Our group included people from three North American congregations that have Partner Church relationships with a village church of the UUCP, plus three of us whose churches are not at present in a partnership.  (This is the religious equivalent of a Sister City relationship, to promote cultural exchange, spiritual fellowship, and mutual inspiration and encouragement by communicating and visiting in person.  See more in the next section.)[iv]

Our North American group included significant religious diversity.  I did not witness discomfort on the part of our group about Universalist theology, explicit references to God, or the reading of Bible verses in worship.   A UU who is not comfortable with theistic language could be surprised by these things, perhaps.  Yet one who takes the time and makes the expense to make such a trip would, I hope, be interested in a truly cross-cultural exchange.  Moreover, in a Philippine village or city neighborhood, the living conditions of congregation members, the large proportion of children in the congregations, and the abundant spirit of the people at church, would be more notable contrasts with our typical North American UU church experiences.  For me, the village settings, church buildings, and warmth of the people were more notable than the basic fact that most adult members did not speak English and none of us spoke Cebuano.

In the spirit of the essay by Goldstone and Hauerwas, I would invite any observers—Unitarian Universalists or not—to let go of preconceptions and categories and just see what is taking place in the religious life of the Philippine Unitarian Universalists.   What’s called for is a depth of engagement with one another, and solidarity in the struggle to live out our deepest values.


[i] Brian Goldstone and Stanley Hauerwas, “Disciplined Seeing:  Forms of Christianity and Forms of Life,” South Atlantic Quarterly 109:4 (Fall 2010), 766-790.

[ii] UUCP Website, visited December 11, 2011.  http://www.uuphilippines.org/

[iii] Muir, 79.

[iv] Partner Church Council NEWS?  Website?    ?

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Personal Reflection for Lighting of the Chalice — UU Worship Service

As an invocation in our UU worship services, we light a flame in a sculpted metal chalice.  In our particular church, the lay leader of the service gives a short personal reflection–an anecdote, memory, etc.  Often they are from childhood or–if the speaker is middle aged or retired–from young adult years.  Here is one that arises from life in the Central Valley, by Lonon Smith.

PERSONAL REFLECTION 01/29/12

When I get within about seventy feet of the fence, I’ll begin my last turn and be done for the day.  Behind me the wide drag on the back of the tractor will leave a perfectly straight cut across fifty acres of field that I’ve crossed repeatedly as I scraped the earth free of  milkweed and other unwanted vegetation ahead of the next planting.   In my sixteenth summer, this is all I’ve done from the cool of the morning to the high heat of the day, ride an unmuffled tractor through a cloud of dust.  I pull close to the gate, turn off the engine, drop down into the soft earth that I’ve so loudly disturbed.

 And suddenly the silence seems deafening.  I can hear sounds of trucks on the road, out beyond where the dust is settling, but they seem incredibly far away.  I am struck by what feels like the turning of the earth.  The slight curve away of the land into the giant ball.   The spin of a globe on its axis.  The hurtling through space of a planet.    For a brief moment I can fell the galactic carnival ride.  Aw, jeez!  And then I’m a kid standing in an empty field again.

I light the chalice for the moments when the big blue marble reaches out and takes our hand.



Personal Reflection for Lighting of the Chalice — UU Worship Service
January 30, 2012, 7:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As an invocation in our UU worship services, we light a flame in a sculpted metal chalice.  In our particular church, the lay leader of the service gives a short personal reflection–an anecdote, memory, etc.  Often they are from childhood or–if the speaker is middle aged or retired–from young adult years.  Here is one that arises from life in the Central Valley, by Lonon Smith.

PERSONAL REFLECTION 01/29/12

When I get within about seventy feet of the fence, I’ll begin my last turn and be done for the day.  Behind me the wide drag on the back of the tractor will leave a perfectly straight cut across fifty acres of field that I’ve crossed repeatedly as I scraped the earth free of  milkweed and other unwanted vegetation ahead of the next planting.   In my sixteenth summer, this is all I’ve done from the cool of the morning to the high heat of the day, ride an unmuffled tractor through a cloud of dust.  I pull close to the gate, turn off the engine, drop down into the soft earth that I’ve so loudly disturbed.

 And suddenly the silence seems deafening.  I can hear sounds of trucks on the road, out beyond where the dust is settling, but they seem incredibly far away.  I am struck by what feels like the turning of the earth.  The slight curve away of the land into the giant ball.   The spin of a globe on its axis.  The hurtling through space of a planet.    For a brief moment I can fell the galactic carnival ride.  Aw, jeez!  And then I’m a kid standing in an empty field again.

I light the chalice for the moments when the big blue marble reaches out and takes our hand.

 



Five Habits of Healthy Congregations–Leading, Following, Participating, Building Trust

What is Leadership?  What is Followership?  Both have to do with trust and participation.

I’ve enjoyed many articles about ministry and healthy congregational dynamics by the mainline church consultant Anthony Robinson.

This article is especially good.  If you are in any church/denomination whose polity is congregational, or even one with a fair degree of congregational decision making, I think it’s relevant.   If you are a Humanist, Buddhist, Pagan, or Jew then the Christian language and context of some of the paragraphs may not be to your liking.  If you can’t translate into your own faith idiom, that’s okay, just read them and move on to the other paragraphs.

If you are allergic to words like “follower,” I beg your patience with the gist of his article.   In fact, there’s a good definition of the term followership, as coined by my UU colleague Paul Beedle.  And no less an authority than Harvard’s Ronald Heifetz is quoted in defining leadership NOT as solitary authoritarianism but in the skill to be present and help the community face its big questions and its big challenges–together.

If you can’t open it, let me know and I can lend you the paper copy.



TERM PAPER PART 9–Pacific Encounters I: A Japanese Visitor in 1958

In 1958, Toshio Yoshioka, a Universalist from Japan made a visit to the Universalist Church of the Philippines to provide information and advice to the Universalist Church of America and the Universalist Service Committee.  (Yoshioka and another Japanese man had graduated from the Universalists’ St. Lawrence Theological School in Canton, N.Y., in 1954, and returned to Japan.  Universalists had begun a mission to Japan in 1890, with limited success. By 1936 there were only six congregations, and the Second World War ended the mission.) [i]

Yoshioka spent much of his time in the company of Toribio Quimada.  Noting “extreme poverty” and “little or no education” among the people, Yoshioka described the meager food, hand-built homes, and lack of gas, electricity, running water, or toilets.        Yet, he said, “they are happy people… thankful of what they have and they were one of the most hospitable people I have met.”[ii]   [This could be my own description of what I observed in March of 2011.  The food they served our group was plentiful and varied, but I am not sure that reflects their diet. Their UUCP headquarters had subsidized each village church that hosted us for a meal.]

Yoshioka said he did not like the food and feared their “unsanitary” handling of it, and he could not sleep well on their schedule (even though they gave him an army cot so he would not have to sleep on a mat on the floor, as they did.  He wrote:  “They go to bed at about midnight and at four thirty in the morning they are already up and singing their morning hymn.”  Perhaps this way of life maximized the cooler hours of the morning and evening.

Yoshioka reported there were “major congregations in Negros, some in Mindanao, and one in Cebu which is just starting,” and he visited the island of Cebu before departing for Japan.  I have encountered no records to show that congregations continued on those two islands; none are there now.

Regarding theology, he said the church members “were surprised and relieved by the… teaching of universal salvation and loving God rather than angry God.  In fact, I was asked time and time again if they could really be saved in the end.”   They asked him questions about the Bible and the nature of Jesus “with utmost interest.” He said:

“They were happy to know that my answers were the same as those which had been given by Mr. Quimada before.”  People on Negros “sacrificed days in coming to meet me and to listen to me, which shows their eagerness… to know about Universalism [and not because] of their curiosity to see a stranger from Japan.”

He recounted his refusal to ride horseback, and Quimada’s insistence that it was the only way to get to the mountain villages.  At first a child led a small horse while Yoshioka rode it in great fear; later he got comfortable with it.  “We visited the house of an old woman where we had a memorial service of her deceased grandson.  “Mr. Dilantar … had a very nice house and three lovely daughters…. [A] relatively well to do landlord, … he is one of the important personalities in the Philippine Universalist work.”  Yoshioka also met “three of the most intellectual sympathizers [of the church] …, that is the attorney, the mayor, and … a school teacher,” but he noted they were not yet members.


[i] Minister and historian David Bumbaugh argues that the Universalist message refuting eternal damnation could not gain traction in a society without the widespread acceptance of orthodox Christian doctrine. For an interesting (undated and without an author, but from the UUA website) Power Point presentation on Universalist and Unitarian engagement in India, Japan, and the Philippines, see http://www.uua.org/documents/…/uu_internatl_history_01.pps

[ii] UUA Overseas & Interfaith Relations Director Records, Correspondence, 1957-70.  bMS 1220/15 “Universalist Church of the Philippines Survey, September, 1958.” Indigenous Unitarian Universalist Societies, 1986-1987.  Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  All references to Yoshioka’s report come from this source.



TERM PAPER PART 8–Universalism in Negros: Story of An Accidental Apostle


As young man, Toribio S. Quimada moved with his Roman Catholic family from the Visayan island of Cebu to nearby Negros.  They lived with a Presbyterian uncle, who had a Holy Bible.  The young man read the Bible for the first time and became a Protestant.  Later he got involved with a Pentecostal movement and joined it.  He became a preacher and musician, spreading its message in island villages.  One day in the mail Quimada received a package of books wrapped in an American newspaper.  On the paper was a directory listing of churches.   Looking for his Pentecostal denomination, Iglesia Universal de Cristo, he noticed instead the Universalist Church of America.  Sounds close!  This Universalist church was located in Wisconsin.  He wrote a letter to it and waited for an answer.  Nobody answered.  A few years later, he looked in an almanac, and again he saw the Universalist Church.  He wrote another letter, this time to Massachusetts.  A reply came this time, and a long-distance friendship began.

Though he had been a Pentecostal, Quimada found the message of this American church to match his own views.  What Universal salvation means is that everybody’s going to heaven.  He loved the gospel of this church:  God is love.  Everybody is a child of God.  Quimada wanted to spread the word, so he wrote the Americans:  “Will you send us missionaries?” Well, we don’t have missionaries, they said but they will help.  They sent worship and education materials, Bibles and other books, and a little money.  Toribio put his life into this new ministry, traveling from village to village on horseback, or hiking on foot.  He would preach for an hour in front of market places, playing his guitar, making friends.  People listened to him, some argued, and some of them came to church.  Quimada gathered church members, recruited men to be ministers, and started new congregations.   To the poorest of the poor on this island, they spread the message:  Be joyful!  God is love.  You are a child of God![1]

As Toribio spread the faith in the peasant class of his island, over in the United States the once-numerous Universalists were in decline.   The Universalist Church of the Philippines was incorporated in 1955.  The Universalist Church of America ended six years later, when it merged with the larger and wealthier American Unitarian Association, in 1961.

 

 


[1] To learn more about the ways Christianity spreads, and further insights on the UUCP, I plan to consult Andrew F. Walls, The Cross Cultural Process in Christian History (Maryknoll, N. Y.:  Orbis Books, 2002).



TERM PAPER Part 7–Unitarianism and Universalism from New England to the Pacific Coast

 

The first Unitarian or Universalist church on the Pacific Coast was the Unitarian congregation established in 1850 and served by the legendary Thomas Starr King in 1860.[i]  In his 1957 book Unitarianism on the Pacific Coast, the Rev. Arnold Crompton wrote that Unitarian ministers and lay leaders came west following the California Gold Rush and the completion of the transcontinental railroad.  Crompton attributes the growth of Unitarianism to five factors:

First, “transplanted” New England Unitarians wanted a church like those back home….  Second, the tightening of the lines of orthodoxy [in the larger society] gave rise to conscience problems among liberal Christians which led them to seek their own company….  Third, direct missionary activity… established churches or planted seeds of future churches.  Fourth, the great ministers… by their preaching, their leadership, and their lives attracted people to their churches and denomination.  The fifth factor was the changing intellectual climate [especially scientific challenges to traditional theology].

While conclusive evidence is lacking about the Universalists, it seems fair to assume that similar economic promises and the transcontinental railroad brought them westward as well.  Appendix I shows the dates when most Unitarian or Universalist congregations were established on the Pacific Coast in the nineteenth century.  While the dates are similar between the two denominations, it is notable that many of the Universalist churches did not survive.  One that did, in Pasadena, was blessed by a large endowment from Amos Throop, who also founded the California Institute of Technology.

In the rest of the United States, as the number of Universalist churches and members declined in the twentieth century. The standard history of the movement reports that the American Almanac for 1832 lists Universalism as the sixth largest denomination.[ii] However, in a sermon given in 1995 and revised later on his website, David Lawyer cited census and other date to estimate that 49,000 to 64,000 Universalist church members existed between 1890 and 1906.[iii]  Lawyer argues that, contrary to many claims, Universalism was in decline before the twentieth century, and may never have grown as much as its early leaders announced.[iv]

The Unitarians as a denomination had a stronger missionary activity on the west coast, fueled by the Rev. Jenkin Lloyd Jones[v], a Unitarian leader from the Midwest, and Charles Wendte, who served local churches but also, as part of the Pacific Coast Unitarian Conference, led the planting of many Unitarian churches on the coast.  For a congregationally-based tradition, missionary work entailed pulling together enough local people with liberal Christian beliefs (or better, some with Unitarian backgrounds from elsewhere) and gathering them into a congregation.  This work included advertising, publications, and lectures, working on local causes and civic projects, holding worship and dedicating a church building as soon as affordable.

In 1892, the Unitarian churches in Los Angeles, National City, Ontario, Pomona, Santa Ana, Redland, San Bernardino, San Diego and Sierra Madre attended a conference to organize the Southern California Liberal Conference “as a subdivision of the [Pacific] Coast Conference.”[vi] This reflects a missionary optimism.  Yet few of these churches may have been strong, and half those towns no longer have a UU church.  Just a few years earlier, in 1886, Unitarian leader Charles Wendte (heavily involved in church-planting efforts for the faith) listed only four “stable Unitarian churches on the Pacific Coast”:  San Francisco, Portland, Santa Barbara, San Diego.[vii]

Though based in Boston like the Unitarians, the Universalist Church in America and its state conferences were a much less centrally organized body, and membership statistics are unclear.  While the Universalists’ original evangelistic activity on the other side of the continent was impressive, it is unclear to me whether this Gospel zeal is what led to their founding of West Coast congregations.

In any case, the beginnings of the Unitarian Universalist Church on the island of Negros had no connection to the westward movement of either denomination in the United States.  More recent encounters and relationships do show a mostly-Pacific orientation.  But the founding of the liberal faith in the Philippines was both accidental and home grown.