I recently took an adult religious education class at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, NJ (UUCM) led by the Rev. Scott Sammler-Michael, senior co-minister. The course was on Walter Rauschenbusch’s text “A Theology for the Social Gospel.” He gave us an assignment to define sin and salvation as a UU.
This really had me thinking. Since I am both a Druid and a UU, I do not believe in sin, especially original sin. After all, how is an innocent baby born with sin? It seems contradictory to me since Christians do not believe in life after death. After all, they claim you ascend to Heaven.
Sin, as a Christian’s belief, is when you knowingly do something wrong. Wrong, how so and by whom and to what degree? I was raised a Roman Catholic. You went to confession to tell a priest all your sins before receiving communion. Therefore, this means, if you are a “good” Catholic you go often. As a child, I would sit there with the priest and think, “Um, hmmm I don’t really have much.” Getting into a tiff with my brother or a spat with my parents did not seem like sin to me.
There was no discussion, just a priest assigning the usual — recite some Hail Marys and Our Fathers. This just never made sense to me. Moreover, how was it that only priests and higher clergy had a direct connection to God? We supposedly prayed to God every night, yet we couldn’t confess to him. Again, this seems contradictory.
Sure, us Pagans do not believe in sin, but we have morals. So to compare their sin to our frame of thought, the Wiccan Rede, “An it harm none do what thou wilt” came to mind. Which, in a sense, compares to their Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” mentioned in Luke 6:31.
My elder, the Rev. Foxxy Pullen, taught me it using a different phrasing – “with the least harm possible.” This version, which is implied in the original rede includes self-defense or defending anyone in harm’s way. It applies to just about anything we do, including larger notions of society and Mother Earth.
Additionally, I pointed out karma. Just because we are Pagan does not mean we get away scot-free. Many of us believe in the three-fold law also called the Rule of Three — what one does comes back three times. Of course, “Instant Karma,” although extremely rare, is sweet to see.
Salvation was another hard concept to grasp as a UU Pagan. Again, in my religious beliefs there is no place to spend eternity whether good or bad. As in the words of the late Beatle John Lennon — “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try, No hell below us. Above us, only sky.” I, as most Pagans, believe we go to the Summerlands to prepare for our next life. So to think I need saving from a place that in my view does not exist was challenging.
However, it started to come to me in class. When Sammler-Michael gave the assignment, he explained how his UU congregation for the most part saved him. It made me think of my last four years at UUCM, especially the most recent two. How much I changed for the better since I started attending.
I kept this in the back of my mind. A few days later, a song came to my head as often happens. I started humming “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” by Lennon. The second part of the assignment started to make sense to me.
I used the pandemic as an example. For almost a year and half we were shut in and confined to Zoom for any “outside” activity. My basement suddenly transformed into more than my workspace and storage. It became a UU sanctuary, Pagan ritual ground, and a gathering place for group meetings and friends. Of course all through a 15-inch flat screen.
Without UUCM and Foxxy, I would have been lost. There were UUCM’s weekly Soulful Sundown events, virtual Connection Café (coffee hour) and covenant groups I joined including the weekly Drop-in and monthly Poetry group and Art and Soul. Additionally, social justice work including ARE (Allies for Racial Equity) and Beloved Conversations.
Moreover, I participated in at least three adult RE classes taught virtually by Sammler-Michael. As well, co-teaching Magic 101 with Foxxy in Three Fires Grove — a Druid learning community. Oh and of course, my CUUPs chapter UUCM Sacred Wheel’s rituals and workshops and Spiritual Potluck hosted by the Rev. Amy Beltaine of Cherry Hill Seminary on Sunday afternoons.
Then especially, mid-pandemic when other volunteers and I helped Sammler-Michael prepare the sanctuary for live streaming. We ran wires and cables, installed the equipment converting the choir loft to the new tech booth. Likewise, I have been running our AV tech when we finally started to broadcast live.
Often people tell me, “You do so much, take a break.” However, in reality, I have to do what I do. It keeps me going. Over the years, I learned that keeping my mind busy by doing positive things is extremely important for my well-being. Otherwise, this pandemic would have been a black pit of despair. It would have seemed more than eight days a week, maybe a bit like the movie “Groundhog’s Day.” It is when I slow down and stop I am caught up in my depression. This time almost all alone at home with just my family every single day could have been terrible.
Therefore, this is what salvation is to me. This saved me from what could have been a very dark time. I grew both spiritually and intellectually. My self-confidence improved. I did things I never thought I could do before.
Take a moment and reflect on this. It is a bit challenging but think about what has “saved” you, and what is your concept of sin.