March 25, 2012
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax in Oakton, VA might not be the first place you would think of to find the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. The sprawling church campus – tucked into the bucolic wooded suburbs of Northern Virginia – does not exactly jump off the map at you. However, this weekend, the church graciously hosted the 10th Annual Revival of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship (UUCF), drawing liberal Christians from all corners of the US to meet, worship and workshop together, and feel their way forward into the 21st Century.
The tag-line of the UUCF is “freely following Jesus“. A key aspect of their theology is that their relationship with God and Jesus is characterized by the absence of doctrinal creeds. Rather than having an extensive list of cannon laws or Mosaic dictates to follow, the UUCF allows that the dictates of the individual’s conscience should govern his/her relationship with God. While the Jewish scriptures are still treasured as a guiding light for prophetic voices that would “speak the truth to power,” they are not used as literal laws to regulate individual behavior.
In the Torah Portion for this week, YHWH speaks to the prophet Jeremiah of a new Covenant with the people of Israel that was also not based on external creeds:
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
“No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,
declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:33-34).
Jeremiah, Chapters 30-33, is also known as the “Book of Consolation”, because it offers consoling words for the Jewish exiles in Babylon, speaking of the restoration of Jerusalem (which had been overthrown by King Nebuchadrezzar) and a new, unconditional Covenant with Israel, unlike the Mosaic Covenant at Mount Sinai. The Law, rather than being externally prescribed, would be internally inscribed on the hearts of all Israelites.
While it would obviously be presumptuous to declare the UUCF to be the inheritors of
YHWH’s promise to Israel, the feeling of having a relationship with God inscribed in their hearts was common among the attendees at the Revival. One young man who committed to Baptism at the Revival – David, age 22 – said that, in the process of Buddhist meditation, two years ago, he found himself “gravitating toward the teachings of Jesus. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Christ – he’s an activist, and I’m an activist too”. He says that the process was completely free of “shoulds” – “I’m a free-thinker, and there are no voices here telling me what to believe or how. I think it’s important to be around people of all faith backgrounds. But when I explore other religious traditions, I just find myself gravitating toward the teachings of Jesus”. For David, Baptism was not a commitment to a set of doctrines about Original Sin, but just “sealing the deal” on his faith commitment to God and Jesus.
Featuring the feminist theme of “Welcoming the Feminine in Christianity”, speakers at the Revival presented an alternative view of following Jesus that – as Dr. Amy Oden of Wesley Theological Seminary put it – offers “wide open spaces” and an “expansive” faith life. Speakers such as Margaret Starbird – author of The Woman with the Alabaster Jar – detailed how unearthing the role of women in the early church (such as Mary Magdalene) can help pave the way to a woman-affirming, non-hierarchical “alternative Church” such as the persecuted Church of the Cathars in the Middle Ages. Finally, Mary Hunt from the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), showed the many vital ways that women all over the globe are rethinking what it means to be a Jesus follower today (such as women AIDS activists in Africa advocating that AIDS sufferers be treated with the dignity of children of God), and implementing positive change around them in the process.
So the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy may not have literally occurred over the
weekend. However, there was definitely a sense that something larger than the sum of all the individual Revival attendees was happening. As one workshop leader said about his faith, “I can’t do creeds with any integrity … I don’t want to debate [my faith] any more. I want to live it.” He also observed of the Revival as a whole, “When the Spirit starts to move – that’s what it boils down to”. May the God of our understanding point us to the inscription of God’s chesed (unconditional, Covenant-backed love) on our own hearts and lead us to live out our new Covenants in faith and integrity.