One of my best friends in seminary told a story once about going into Kansas City to visit the library of another (much larger) seminary to get some research materials for a paper that was coming due. He struck up a conversation with a woman as he was walking onto the campus, and they headed into the same building.
“What church are you with?” she asked him.
“Ummm, well . . .” he began.
She cut him off with the knowing statement, “Never mind; you’re from Unity.”
Somewhat taken aback, he asked, “How did you know?”
She replied, “Every time I ask a Unity person what church they go to, the first word out of their mouth is, ‘Ummm.’”
Folks, we need to fix that. It isn’t enough for us to get together on Sundays and have a good time together. We live in a world of people who need the hopeful, light-filled message Unity offers. Yes, I know we don’t want to be “those people” – the neighbor who’s so concerned with your eternal salvation that you can’t borrow a cup of sugar without getting interrogated about your final destination, spiritually speaking. We shy away from evangelism – and for good reason. The sort of overbearing, holier-than-thou preaching that has dominated the religious landscape of the South (and much of the rest of the country) has hurt a lot of people and made religious institutions feel poisonous to those who most need what Unity has to offer. We don’t want to be pushy, and we don’t want to be offensive.
But, my dear friends, we MUST turn outward. The greater Birmingham community needs to know that hell isn’t a destination to be dodged in the next life, it’s something that we create within ourselves through our pain, fear, and worry. They need to know that because we create our own hell, we can UNcreate it, and that there are practical, meaningful tools to help each person live their most meaningful, fulfilled life. People are hungry for the truth that just as you can make your own hell on earth, you can live fully in your own heaven – right now. And this is the reality that we offer.
Think of it this way – what means enough to you that you want to share it with the people you love the most? Maybe it’s a favorite book or book series (for me, it’s Harry Potter, for example). Maybe it’s “Stranger Things” on Netflix, or the Avenger movies. Maybe it’s your yoga practice, or the band you just discovered, or a great new local restaurant. Maybe it’s your dog, or pictures of your kids, or a really great blog, or a meditation practice. We all have something, maybe lots of somethings, that we think are so terrific that we want our dearest friends to enjoy them, too. We find out our neighbor has a back problem, and say something like, “Hey, you should try this yoga class I go to, it fixed my hip issue in a matter of days.” We hear someone like science fiction, and want to know, “Star Trek or Star Wars?”
Why don’t we approach Unity this way? Have Unity teachings brought you balance and perspective? Have they helped you feel like your life was on a more positive trajectory? Have they brought you comfort in times of trouble? Has the Unity community been a meaningful place to call home? Why don’t we want to share that as much as our favorite movie, book, or television series?
Of course, it won’t make any difference if we turn outward, and when people ask us about Unity, we are at a loss for words. So, just in case Aunt Sally is interrogating you over the mashed potatoes and gravy this Thanksgiving, or you simply see the opportunity to reach out to someone who has been left hurting by traditional religion, I’d like to offer some ideas on things you can say about Unity that are short, make sense, and will help us reach out to the world at large.
Big question #1: What is Unity?
Short answer: A community of people pursuing their best selves through positive spiritual practices.
Longer answers: A spiritual home that offers practical, spiritual teachings. The intention of these teachings is to allow each person to live the most fulfilling and abundant life possible. Think of it as a safe spiritual space for anyone from any spiritual background to feel comfortable, loved, accepted, and given practical help on their life journey.
Big question #2: Is Unity a church?
Short answer: Yes. But you don’t have to call it one if the thought of church gives you heartburn.
Longer answers: Yes, BUT, it’s not a church in the traditional sense. Unity teaches that there are many paths to God, and honors everyone’s individual journey. It’s a church for people who don’t like church, or who like the community that church can bring without the extra baggage. Unity provide a positive alternative to negative religious experiences by:
- Creating an accepting community
- Offering a philosophy that is spiritual, not religious; and love-based, not fear-based
- Honoring all paths to God
- Making a positive difference in the world
- Being positive examples and role models
Big Question #3: How does Unity work?
Short answer: It works great, for a lot of people!
Longer answers: Unity has a lot of the same outside characteristics as many churches. We meet on Sundays, we sing songs, we have lessons. You’ll find that Unity services tend to be less formal than those of many churches, and that Unity draws upon spiritual and secular resources from a great many teachers.
- We believe that prayer works
- We help people discover & live their spiritual purpose and potential
- We help people have a stronger connection to God every day
- Our spiritual centers have inspiring ministers and are involved in spiritual social action (and social activities!)
Big Question #4: Is Unity Christian?
Short answer: Many of us like to think so. But we welcome everyone, regardless of spiritual identity!
Longer answer: Whether you tend to embrace a Christian theology or a Buddhist theology, whether you’re agnostic or atheist, whether you know all the old-fashioned church-y songs or none of them, you can find a home at Unity. Unity is a positive, practical, progressive approach to Christianity based on the teachings of Jesus and the power of prayer. Unity honors the universal truths in all religions and respects each individual's right to choose a spiritual path.
Big Question #5: Does Unity believe in the Bible?
Short answer: Yes.
Longer answer: Yes, and we interpret the Bible metaphysically, not literally. In other words, we find the Truth that still lives in the Bible stories in our own consciousness, and use the lessons we learn to help us live better lives today. That does NOT mean that we adhere to the cultural norms of Biblical times, many of which we find abhorrent today (such as slavery). We also think that other texts have important spiritual truths to teach us.
Obviously, we haven’t answered every possible question about Unity in this short blog. Many more answers can be found right here on our web site, and at www.unity.org.
And, as always, if Aunt Sally or anyone else would really like to learn more about Unity than you feel comfortable teaching, you can send them my way. Even though I’m not back in Birmingham yet, if you will have then email me at RevCP@UnityBham.org
, I will be happy to answer their questions as time allows, and genuinely glad to meet them when I come home. So, this Thanksgiving, or whenever you are asked, “So, what church do you go to?”, don’t be afraid to look that person right in the eye, and say, “I go to Unity of Birmingham.”
Grab a slice of sweet potato pie for me, and I will see you next March!
Much love and many blessings,