Reviews and Commentary

In this section we will present reviews of books and films and other events of note or interest to our mission. We invite your submissions. Send them to our Executive Director, Rev. Jake Morrill.

Here are two featured books, which are great Christmas gifts, with excerpts especially for Advent Christmas. The books are: 

Jesus Was A Liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for All by Scotty McLennan

Review by Rev. Ron Robinson

Rev. McLennan presents a comprehensive and easy to grasp survey of all things unapologetically Liberal and Christian, covering all the major issues where religion has entered the public square (evolution, abortion, same-sex marriage) as well as summarizing the latest scholarship and thinking on theology, the bible, spiritual practices, the many images of Jesus, the new atheism, sacraments and doctrine. Here are some brief excerpt from the new book, especially for the coming season: 

" the Christian calendar there's a nearly forgotten period of four weeks before Christmas called Advent. It's a period of waiting, quiet contemplation, and personal preparation for the commemoration of Jesus' birth. The church year actually begins anew with Advent, on the fourth Sunday before Christmas...Advent is on the one hand a time for patient waiting for Christmas, for the birth of the Christ child, but it's also a time of waiting for the days to come in our future when, as Jeremiah puts it, there shall be "justice and righteousness in the land."

"Advent has always had two sides. It's a time of increasing darkness--literally, as we near the the longest night of the year -but it also holds that promise of the coming light into the world at Christmas. In many churches there's an Advent wreath where we begin lighting candles against the darkness: one more candle each Sunday of Advent, until the glory of full light is achieved on Christmas... So Advent (which literally, from its Latin root, means "coming") is a challenge to us personally to think about how we're living: Are we permanently weighed down with the worries of life or are we learning to live in anticipation of better times to come that we're actively working to help bring about?...

"Let me suggest several ways to experience Advent that might lead to some of that wonder and reverence. First, music. Really listen, carefully and deeply, to some great music. Hear it as if it were the strains of a heavenly host..."Second, storytelling. A story well told allows us to break out of our fixed places and limited states of consciousness. We can come to imagine ourselves, or our community, of our world as they might be, or might never be but are worth dreaming about anyway...Of course the story of the birth of Christ is the classic story of the season...We can find our own hope, our own salvation, in the most unlikely of places, if only we remain open to the possibilities...Third, laughter. Joy through laughter...Finally, I suggest the Advent gift of compassion, ideally for and with children.

"At minimum, keeping the Christian season of Advent may prevent us from getting totally lost in the busyness of Christmas time... I suggest putting these words of Rev. Vanessa Rush Southern on a note card and carrying it around with you during Advent: "I couldn't hear myself think above the din of my surroundings and when I finally did, I was surprised by what I heard. I'd lived my life in restless banter, but with a pause, I met what had eluded me - the part of me (and Her) that waited to be born. In a flash the voices of my friends, abandoned, AND my children AND my spouse could once again be heard. And I knew then the price of racing, harried, through mylife: child, friend, lover, parent, Destiny, God made mute by my deaf ears. No better argument for staying still was ever made to me, nor happiness, in my entire life, more easily found and held than learning to be watchful--listening, waiting, looking--for what watches, waits, and listens to be born."

"...The Christmas claim is particularly scandalous... In the face of tyrants and great empires of the Mediterranean world two thousand years ago, God slips unobtrusively into a small occupied province far from the center of worldy power, in the person of a helpless baby, born to a peasant couple who've not yet married and who are out on the road. In the Christian story, God incarnate identifies from the very start with the powerless, the oppressed, the poor, and the homeless. Hope abounds, because God stands with us in our brokenness.

"How can we modern Christians continue to catch that spirit?"

The Cathedral of the World: A Universalist Theology by Rev. Forrest Church, Beacon Press 2009. 

Review by Rev. Ron Robinson

This is the posthumous work by the late UU minister of public theology and prolific author at All Souls New York City. Universalism has been a current thread throughout Church's writing, such as in his book Bringing God Home, but this is an intentional summing up of the journey for the writer who made popular the saying that "all theology is autobiographical." Here he brings back the best of his many books into one volume along with some of his latest ruminations growing from the response to his own illness and recent books and interviews after them. Especially interesting are his final pieces exploring universalism in the 21st century, his own Christian universalist window in the cathedral of the world, his admonitions for UUism to move out of the anti-institutional shadow of Emerson to better grow now and also to paradoxically live more fully in Emerson's example, his argument against hell, and his own needing to be at home with God, especially during his illness, from whom we came, he says, and to whom he will return. He writes: 

"When we are at home within ourselves we are at home everywhere. Yet to be at home within myself, I found I needed God's company...By proclaiming Jesus fully God and fully man, ancient Christian theologians make intimacy with God a little more conceivable. My experience of God is personal also; not that God is a person but that I am. As a "personified" part of the creation, I best relate to that aspect of the creator that encompasses personality. The trinity works nicely for me this way: God above us, God within us, and God among us. Unitarian Universalism being a nondoctrinal faith, I am one universalist who finds the trinity, freely interpreted, more suggestive of God's possible nature than is undifferentiated oneness. This particular aspect of the old Christian mythos liberates my mind to explore the creation more creatively." 

And in an excerpt especially fitting for Christmas, he adds: 

"We are back in the fields surrounding Bethlehem. Suddenly, the sky shines with a great light, an angel of God. We are terrified,  but the angel says, 'Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which will be to all people." What could be simpler or more startling? A child is born: the spark of cosmic consciousness planted in animal flesh; the miracle of human birth fixed at the cross point of the vertical axis, which is God's axis, and the horizontal axis, which is the axis of temporal as opposed to eternal things. Here birth, death, and eternity link inextricably in a mythic pattern expressed within a parable. As Emerson reminds us, 'Infancy is the perpetual Messiah, which comes into the arms of fallen men and pleads with them to return to paradise.' With every birth, something of eternity is made incarnate in time. In this sense, not only does Jesus' birth prefigure our own, but also, int he bloom of its promise, the birth of the baby Jesus witnesses to the limitless nature of our possibilities. Placed within our arms, Jesus reawakens us to the miracle of our own existence.