The Misfit Religion {I am a Spiritual Misfit Series}

I am so grateful to Christine Organ for graciously taking the time to explain Unitarian Universalism, a religion that’s always intrigued yet puzzled me. Christine also wrote a beautiful post about grace here last August, and you can connect with her on her blog, and on Facebook and Twitter. Welcome back, Christine!

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We are the certain and the seeking, the lifers and the newcomers, the beloved and the broken-hearted, the insiders and the rejected, all of whom have found a home in the extraordinary, yet intimate communities of Unitarian Universalism.”
Melissa Harris-Perry (MSNBC host)

 I suppose you could say that I became a spiritual misfit about eight years ago.

Until that point, I had considered myself to be a Christian. Raised within Catholicism, my inherited faith was more than the celebration of Christmas and Easter, genuflecting and signs of the cross; it was an entire way of life. Christianity provided me with an identity, connection, and a sense of belonging.

So when I was flooded with doubts eight years ago and realized with a soul-shocking certainty that, in order to be true to myself and my beliefs, I needed to leave my inherited faith, the impact was…well…significant, to say the least.

I didn’t know how to deal with the doubts and questions. I didn’t know where I belonged or what made sense. I felt lost and confused and disillusioned with religion. I felt frustrated and angry and kind of sad. I felt alone. Very, very alone.

Yet, oddly, amidst all of the doubts and loss of religious identity, I also felt an incredible freedom and a fierce nugget of determination to find a spiritual community that made sense for me, where I belonged, where I might not feel quite so alone.

I talked to people, I asked questions, and I researched. Finally, one night, my sister said, “Maybe you’re Unitarian?”

Hmmm….maybe…I thought… but what the heck is a Unitarian?

As it turns out, my sister was right – Unitarian Universalism is exactly where I belong. It is where I find spiritual fulfillment, where I experience God, where I feel connected and a little less alone.

As a somewhat fringe religion – with a confusing mouthful of a name, no less – many people have never even heard of Unitarian Universalism. And even those people who have heard of it still might not really understand what it is. Heck, there are times when even I have a really hard time explaining just what it is.

Some people assume it’s a religion of atheists; others mistakenly call it “Christianity Lite.” And while there certainly are atheists and Christians who consider themselves to be Unitarian Universalists, both of these characterizations are, of course, vast over-generalizations of what Unitarian Universalism is and who Unitarian Universalists are.

So what is Unitarian Universalism? And who are we?

Well, it is a diverse and progressive religion. It is a non-creedal religion. It is a questioning religion, and a seeking religion. In many ways, Unitarian Universalism is a misfit religion.

Despite the common assumption that it is a relatively new religion, Unitarian Universalism is actually the combination of two religious groups that have been around for hundreds of years – Unitarians who traditionally believed in a unified source (rather than the Trinity) and Universalists who traditionally were progressive Christians who believed that everyone was saved regardless of religious belief. Some of the more well-known historical Unitarians or Universalists include Louisa May Alcott, John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Benjamin Franklin, and e.e. cummings.

Today, Unitarian Universalism has evolved into something much wider and deeper and more amorphous than its traditional roots. Simply put, Unitarian Universalism is an open and accepting and seeking faith. And while there is no prescribed doctrine to which Unitarian Universalists must adhere, there is a commitment to encourage spiritual growth and honor each individual’s personal faith journey.

Of course, I couldn’t begin to tell you what Unitarian Universalism means for everyone, but I can tell you what it means to me. Unitarian Universalism, to me, means an evolving faith that lives and breathes and grows along with my own life experiences. It means an arms-wide-open sense of wonder, a faith that is brave enough to imagine the unimaginable. It means a gossamer web of connection through all that is and all that was and all that will be. It means questioning and doubting, reexamining and reconsidering. It means a definition of God that is synonymous with love and grace and forgiveness. Unitarian Universalism, for me, means belonging and connection and feeling a little less alone. It means coming home after a long and exciting journey. 

And what that journey and subsequent homecoming has taught me is that maybe the doubts aren’t something to hide from; maybe the doubts are just part of the process, part of one’s faith journey. And like all great adventures, maybe the faith journey is supposed to be a little scary and a little exhilarating, filled with hard lessons and opportunities to grow. Maybe the doubts are just stepping stones for us to stand on as we stumble along on our spiritual path.

Because what I have learned is that it isn’t the doubts or the questions that make someone a spiritual misfit. It isn’t the evolving faith or the differences of opinion. It isn’t even leaving an inherited faith for an authentic faith that makes someone a spiritual misfit.

It’s taking the first step onto that rugged and uncertain path. It’s having the courage to welcome the doubts and ask the tough questions. It’s saying “I don’t know” and “maybe” every once in a while. It’s faith sharing and dialogue and acceptance. It’s feeling our way around in the dark, desperately trying to make some sense out of this crazy world in the best way we know how.

Maybe those are the things that make someone a spiritual misfit. And if that’s the case, I’m proud to call myself – and everyone else setting off on their personal faith journey, for that matter – a misfit, a Beloved Misfit.

Because, together, as spiritual misfits, we’re all a little less alone.

Author’s Note: If you would like to understand Unitarian Universalism a little better, I highly recommend “100 Questions that Non-Members Ask About Unitarian Universalism.”

ChristineOrgan2Christine Organ is an author, blogger, and freelance writer. Her first book – a collection personal essays that celebrates grace, wonder, and everyday miracles – will be published late 2014 or early 2015. She writes on her website about faith, hope, love, and the human condition. In her previous life, she was a practicing attorney and she continues to resurrect parts of that past life as a freelance writer within the legal industry. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and their two young sons, a lizard, a fish, and a couple of naughty-but-lovable dogs. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.

 

Click here to purchase Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy FaithClick here to read all the posts in the I am a Spiritual Misfit series.

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How to Be Done with Not Enough

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I recently whitened my teeth for the first time ever. And the last.

Two hours after I’d dropped the gooey, used strips into the trashcan, I was standing at the stove when a jolt of white hot pain stabbed my lower left incisor and traveled like a lit fuse along the nerve, through my nasal passage and deep into my eye socket.

Within twenty minutes, my teeth felt like the White City under Orc attack. You know the final battle scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, in which hundreds of thousands of Orcs launch boulders the size of Volkswagens and flaming fire balls at the White City for what seems like six hours straight?

Yeah. My teeth felt like that.

Even the slightest wisp of air was excruciating, forcing me to speak with my mouth barely open, my lips tucked protectively over my teeth.

Rowan told me I looked like a Muppet.

I took to my bed (I realize this sounds like hypochondriacal hysteria, but I assure you, it was not), emerging only to Google “relief for teeth whitening pain” and to swallow more Ibuprofen.

The silver lining was that all those hours in bed gave me ample opportunity to think about the reasons I’d whitened my teeth in the first place. After all, until recently I’d been perfectly happy with my teeth. They were straight (five years of braces, thank you very much). I had a decent smile. All in all, not much to complain about.

Until, that is, I began to notice the teeth of everyone around me, gleaming and white-as-a-freshly-fallen-February-snow.

I eyed the teeth of the SuperSaver cashier as she smiled and handed me my receipt.

I stole stealthy glances at my hairdresser’s teeth in the mirror as she styled my hair.

I even ogled my pastor’s teeth.

The truth is, I hadn’t given my teeth a second thought until I’d begun to compare them to everyone else’s teeth.  And that, I believe, is the heart of the problem.

Comparison. It’s the reason why American women spend nearly $500 billion a year on beauty products and cosmetic procedures like Botox, tummy tucks and breast augmentation.

We yearn to look like everyone else: the movie stars and the models and even the mom next door. We see what they have – less gray, fewer wrinkles, more curves, a firmer butt, whiter teeth – and suddenly, the way we look isn’t good enough.

Not skinny enough, not grey-less enough, not smooth enough, not young enough.

After four hours in bed on a beautiful summer afternoon, I came to one simple conclusion:

I’m done.

I’m done with just one more pound lost, one more errant hair tweezed, one shade brighter, one shade whiter, a few less gray hairs and then I’ll be satisfied I swear.

I’m done with asking my husband, “Do I have wrinkles? Do I look like I’m 44? Should I color my hair? Can you see my muffin top through this shirt?”

I’m done with comparison, done with feeling less-than.

A few weeks ago I spotted two elderly ladies at the beach where I was vacationing with my family. I didn’t know anything about them – whether they were sisters or partners or best friends; whether they were longtime residents of that sleepy seaside town or first-time visitors, just there for the afternoon like me.

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I watched them for a long time. I couldn’t stop staring at their broad smiles and their lively eyes, at the way they surveyed each incoming wave, waited for the perfect one, and then flung their bodies onto their boards and rode with their toes curled all the way to shore, their faces beaming.

I stood with my feet in the cold Atlantic and watched as they rode wave after wave. I saw their aging bodies – the wrinkles, the sags, the stooped shoulders, the veined legs – but it was their faces that held me rapt.

Everything about them embodied freedom, satisfaction and joy. They were two of the most beautiful women I have ever laid eyes on in my life.

I want to be like those ladies on the beach – unashamed and alive.

I want to be like those ladies on the beach, knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I have been created fearfully and wonderfully by God. Created perfect in him.

I want to be like those ladies on the beach, free and full of life.

The day of the teeth-whitening debacle, as I recalled those two ladies on the beach, I made a new declaration. I took a good long look at the crease between my eyebrows, the streaks of grey, the less-than-perfectly white teeth, the loose skin under my arms, the callouses on the bottoms of my feet.

And then I tossed the remaining Whitestrips in the trash, and set my sights on riding a surfboard with unabashed glee.

When You Miss What’s Happening Right Before Your Eyes {or, The Beach}

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Whatever Wendy Paine Miller writes, I read – whether they are words on her blog or on the page. Wendy recently published her first full-length novel, The Flower Girls, and let me tell you, it’s a page-turner – part mystery, part romance, part drama – a deeply moving story about the intricacies of sisterhood, the unshakable […]

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Weekend One Word: Enjoy

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With Sandy’s and Lisha’s weekend communities.  Sign up to receive posts by email {and get 3 free chapters from my forthcoming book, 50 Women Every Christian Should Know!}

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A Journey of Life and Grace {I am a Spiritual Misfit Series}

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I “met” Marie Bride just this past winter, when she participated in the online writing group Kimberly Coyle and I co-hosted for (in)courage. I love Marie’s sweet sense of humor and her brave willingness to plunge into a new writing group. Welcome, Marie — fellow misfit! {you can also connect with Marie on Twitter and […]

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Why I’m Back to Counting Daily Gifts

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I gave it up for a while. Somewhere around number 1,780 I stopped listing daily gifts in my gratitude journal, the one that sits open on the kitchen counter, right next to the paper towel roll. I figured after more than two years, I had the routine down pat by now. The act of counting […]

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5 Signs Summer Vacation is Over

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School gets out in mid-May around these parts, which means we begin our summer vacation in Uggs and fur-lined hats with ear flaps. Meanwhile by the middle of August, while the rest of America is just hitting its summer stride, here in Nebraska we’re gearing up for the start of school. Now don’t get me […]

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Weekend One Word: Joy

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Linking with Sandy’s and Lisha’s weekend communities.  Sign up to receive posts by email {and get 3 free chapters from my forthcoming book, 50 Women Every Christian Should Know!}

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A Simple Prayer {I am a Spiritual Misfit series}

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I haven’t yet met today’s Misfit writer, Sharon Osterhoudt, in person, but I’m thrilled to say I will soon when our paths cross at the Jumping Tandem Retreat right here in Nebraska in May! In the meantime, I will tell you flat out: this woman’s faith amazes me. Sharon has been through a whole lot in […]

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Let Us Proclaim the Mystery of Faith

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One of the unexpected blessings along this road to publishing has been the opportunity to meet new writer-friends. Heather Caliri is one of these people. Heather writes at A Little Yes, where she chronicles her adventures in what she calls “post-perfectionist faith.” (I love that!) Her blog “is about getting off the parade route of Christian […]

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