Saturday, February 7, 2015

Thoughts about Loving Community

Okay, first to folks who read my blogs. Don't run away with this one! I am NOT going to evangelize or proselytize. Friday night I attended a program with Bishop Carlton Pearson, himself a figure who has been through a number of spiritual transformations in this life. I'll speak a bit about that, and my own experience as well. But the heart of my message here is about forming Loving Community. Through my experience of the evening, it touched the heart of something that's been stirring within me for a very long time.

So first, a bit about me, then I'll give some background on Rev. Pearson. I was raised a Methodist, but lived in a family where on my Mom's side there were evangelists and pastors galore in the Evangelical Pentecostal tradition of the Assemblies of God. My goodness at at the age of two my Uncle A.G. Calloway was carrying me in his arms preaching fire and salvation. The music was powerful and emotional as we surrendered our bodies to the beat of the music. Very similar to that found in the African American Pentecostal tradition. I had met Oral Roberts at the age of 5 and some years later Jimmy Swaggert before he became nationally known. I've drifted around a bit since those days. In the seventies a stint with UU. After getting sober, I became Catholic, finding the practice of confession useful for me. I also loved the Eucharist. One of those rituals that carries regardless of one's personal theology, at least for me.

Of course there was conflict with being gay and transgender so I wound up with MCC in Houston. It's a ministry that is inclusive, especially for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. It was my first insight into what community could be. We were a multi-racial congregation with people from all walks of life. We had different choirs finding something for many traditions while becoming one community together. I still treasure my time there. Later after coming to Minneapolis I wound up at First Universalist, a Unitarian Universalist congregation that is currently my spiritual home.

Note I have not spoken about my personal theology. Each one of us has our own system of beliefs, and one of the things I've often complained about is the tendency of groups to create dogmas to exclude others. Here I found common cause with Bishop Carlton Pearson.

His journey was equally filled with twists and turns. A part of the Evangelical circles of folks like Oral Roberts and the Bakers, he had a mega church in Tulsa. He's an amazing singer and preacher in his own right. Then in his own growing awareness, he came to realize that instead of coming together, we were finding ways to divide ourselves. It was rooted in fear of an angry God and at times an egotistical exercise in being saved while those other souls were certainly going to hell. In his talk, he spoke of religion which separates and divides us vs spirituality where we find our common humanity. He paid a huge price for coming out with his new found Universalist belief, free of hell and rooted in our common humanity. In place he found peace and contentment.

So here we were listening to his story and sharing song. It felt really good to me. I found immediate kinship to the music so close to that of my own childhood experience, and considerable delight that I knew the songs. We talked about spiritual search in thinking and spiritual search in feeling, an how they both had a place. Here we were in this sanctuary, singing praise and waving our arms and moving to the sound and thinking deeply, and people from different traditions laughing at ourselves, even as in this moment, we were one. He spoke of the experience back at the Tulsa UU group. A regular UU service (think NPR), a service with elements of the music and tradition more common in the tradition from which he came, and a third service for those humanists that would rather not hear any God talk at all. More important, how they went to different services, and how all of these disparate souls, gay and straight, all races, all traditions, coming together in common community. Looking around, I saw a microcosm of this in the sanctuary Friday night.

We've spent all our efforts for so many years to create separations that divide us from each other. But oh how beautiful it was to see us all under the same roof, united in our common humanity. I did not necessarily agree with all that Bishop Pearson said. I know very few people who have ever believed exactly as I do. But I felt our common humanity, a vision of what is possible in this world. Our difference, our diversity to me was a beautiful thing. For me, with my varied upbringing, I also found some of my own roots, and that was an added plus. I really do believe Beloved Community can be formed. It's a goal worth pursuing. For me, the evening was a special one. Special enough to share here.

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