2020-10-14

UU Minute #15

Enter Giorgio Biandrata

Six years after Transylvania’s first edict of toleration, with conflict between Lutherans and Calvinists growing, the Transylvanian Diet, in 1563, renewed and confirmed its earlier decree, ordering:
“that each may embrace the religion that he prefers without any compulsion, and may be free to support preachers of his own faith, and in the use of the sacrament, and that neither party must do injury or violence to the other.”
This didn’t help ease the conflict much until the next year, when King John, now 24-years-old, ordered the parties to separate into two distinct churches, each with its own bishop. Transylvania now had three officially recognized religions: the Catholic, the Lutheran, and the Calvinist.

Recognition of a fourth – the Unitarian – would soon follow, for the seeds of Unitarianism had begun to grow. The writings of Miguel Serveto were being read, and his ideas had gained scattered followers. Probably not much would have come of it without the backing and leadership of some person of considerable influence. In fact, it would take two.

The first one arrived in Transylvania that year – 1563 -- in the person of Giorgio Biandrata – erstwhile court physician to the royal family of Poland – and a sharp defender of anti-trinitarian views.

2020-10-13

UU Minute #14

Literal Body and Blood? Or Symbols?



Europe’s first proclamation of religious tolerance came out of Transylvania in 1557 – a product of the Diet led by Queen Isabella.
“In order that each might hold the faith which he wished, with the new rites as well as with the old, that this should be permitted him at his own free will.”
“The faith which he wished” meant either Catholic or Protestant – there were only two choices. By that time, the vast majority of Transylvania had become Protestant -- Catholic priests had been driven out, church property confiscated or given over to the Protestants -- so it was the Catholics who had more reason to be glad of the protections of official toleration. In fact, the greater and growing religious conflict in Transylvania was between two Protestant factions, over the Lord’s Supper.

It’s hard for us today to imagine how fierce and vicious a quarrel over something like that could be. The Lutherans held that the body and blood of Christ are present in the bread and wine; the Calvinists held that these are only symbols, and each side saw no worth or dignity in the people who didn’t affirm what they affirmed.

Queen Isabella died in 1559, leaving her then-19-year-old son, John Sigismund, to rule Transylvania. King John was Catholic then, but he would later convert to Lutheran for two years, and then to Calvinist for five years, before finally becoming the Unitarian King.

2020-09-29

Make it RAIN, part 1

These are stressful times. Under stress, we are apt to be reactive. Anger, fear, and sadness all have an important role to play in our lives. We wouldn’t want to become unable to feel those things. Anger is fiery energy for insisting on justice. Fear heightens our awareness of danger which helps us stay safe. Sadness slows us down so we can adjust to a loss or disappointment.

Under conditions of stress, these feelings overfunction, and go beyond their usefulness. So today I just want to offer us some tools for approaching stressful moments -- because, I know we’re facing them.

The first tool is Yom Kippur itself. Make amends. Our relationships with family, friends, and any acquaintance you regularly interact with -- or could interact with -- are the key of a good life: our greatest pleasure in good times and our best security in hard times. Yet it’s the nature of relationships that they sometimes fray. Now we’ve got this wonderful occasion, Yom Kippur, to attend to relationships that may be frayed. Who in your life are you on the outs with? Who is on the outs with you? You could go on being estranged from each other. But maybe there are some people you have fallen out with, and that relationship could be mended.

I don’t want to deny that you may have encountered people that are so toxic that you have just had to walk away. I’m not here to urge you to make yourself available to be sucked into every dysfunction you’ve ever seen. Just take a little time this Yom Kippur -- and every Yom Kippur, and maybe from time to time throughout the year -- to reflect on what relationships are a little more distant that they need to be. And then reflect on what you might do to make the relationship closer. Call them up, or write to them to set up a zoom. Apologize for wrongs done, and offer forgiveness for wrongs done to you.

If that feels awkward, you’ve got this holiday to help get past the awkwardness. If you or the other person are Jewish, you just say, “Hey, it’s Yom Kippur, and I’d like to make amends.” If you’re not Jewish, you can still say, “It’s Yom Kippur, which is this Jewish holy day for atoning, and even though I’m not Jewish, repairing relationships seems like a really good idea, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

You can never have too many friends.

In these stressful times, our relationships are what will get us through. I also want to offer a tool you can use by yourself for dealing with tough situations. It’s an acronym that spells rain -- R-A-I-N.

Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture.

Tara Brach
If you can remember those four words, then they’ll help you remember what I’ll say about how to use them. Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. It’s an easy-to-remember formula, and an effective practice. Insight meditation teacher Michele McDonald introduced the RAIN practice about 20 years ago. Psychologist, and also insight meditation teacher, Tara Brach, modified and popularized RAIN. I’ll be sharing with you today the version from Tara Brach.
  • Recognize: what is happening;
  • Allow: the experience to be there, just as it is;
  • Investigate: with kindness;
  • Nurture: with self-compassion.
First, recognize what is happening. Maybe not as easy as it sounds. Recognize what you’re feeling in that moment.

Often we get angry without taking a moment to recognize to ourselves: I’m angry. Or: I’m having some anger about this. We get scared, but often don’t acknowledge to ourselves our fear. Bring attention to whatever thoughts, emotions, feelings or sensations you’re experiencing at that moment. If you're mad, recognize that you're mad. If your sad, recognize that you're sad. If you're nervous recognize that you're nervous.

Recognize also your body’s responses. Is there a squeezing, pressure, or tightness somewhere -- in your shoulders? Throat? Face? Gut? You might recognize anxiety right away, but not notice the bodily sensations.

Or, you might notice the body, but not notice that underlying assumption of your thinking. You might notice, for instance, a jittery nervousness of the body, but not recognize that this is being triggered by your underlying belief that you are about to fail.

To recognize what’s happening, explicitly ask yourself: “What is happening inside me right now?” Be curious about yourself. Curiosity is the antidote to judgmentalism. Whether it’s judgmentalism directed at yourself or at someone else, curiosity is the antidote. Never mind what you think you SHOULD be thinking and feeling. Trust that whatever you in fact are feeling in your body, feeling emotionally, thinking and believing is worth recognizing.

Second: Allow. Allow the experience to be there, just as it is. Allow life to be just as it is. This doesn’t mean you don’t think about what strategies for creating change will be effective. It means you’re not going to be in denial about how things in fact are right now. It means acknowledging that you and the world are OK in just this sense: you and the world have the capacity to move through this.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
-- as Martin Luther King said.

You won’t make positive change by hating what is. You make positive change by loving what is. Allow that it is exactly as it is -- even if you’re only allowing it for a moment while you calm yourself and think clearly and lovingly about how to move forward.

Whatever thoughts, emotions, sensations you discover and recognize, let them be. Whatever they are, they’re allowed. Maybe you don’t like the emotion, sensation, or thought. Maybe you wish it would go away. But your willingness to be with yourself, just as you are, is crucial.

One of my favorite Rumi poems is The Guest House, which you may know:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
What Rumi is saying is: allow. Allow the experience that has come to visit you to be your guest. Allowing is part of healing. Having a key word to say to yourself can help with allowing the experience to simply be what it is. The word might be “yes.” You recognize that fear is present, and you feel its grip, and whisper “yes.” Or, say you’ve recognized that grief has swelled up – a strong feeling of loss. Whisper, “yes.”

Maybe instead of “yes,” you use the phrase, “this too.” Anger arises, say, triggered by a co-worker’s incompetence. “This too” you whisper – recognizing that life also includes this. Or perhaps you say, “I consent” to allow yourself to be with what is.

It does tend to be true that when we recognize an unpleasant feeling and allow it to be, it will dissipate. What we don’t recognize, and try to deny, or repress, is likely to stay around. What we recognize and allow will TEND to go away. And knowing this, we might find ourselves using our word as a strategy to MAKE it go away. You may catch yourself rather mechanically saying “yes” to a feeling of shame when you aren’t really allowing it to be there, but are hoping that going through this motion will make it magically disappear.

Allowing doesn’t always make the feeling go away. It TENDS to help the feeling dissipate, but not always – and particularly if you aren’t sincerely allowing it to be just as it is. Often, we have to allow over and over. Yet even the first move toward allowing -- whispering “yes” or “this too” begins to soften the hard edges of the feeling. You have at least ratcheted down your resistance to what is – and that resistance tends to make things worse for you.

Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. In the second part, I’ll talk about how and why to Investigate and Nurture.

UU Minute #13

UU Minute #13: Isabella Returns to Transylvania



In 1551, Archduke Ferdinand’s Hapsburg forces took Transylvania, banishing Isabella and her then 11-year-old son back to Poland. After five years of exile, Isabella returned to Transylvania when Ottoman troops recaptured the region and invited her back. The Transylvanian Diet officially entrusted Isabella with a five-year regency on behalf of her now-16-year-old son.

Meanwhile, Protestantism had come to Transylvania. With religious tensions mounting, in 1557, Isabella signed an edict of religious toleration. Isabella declared, “every one might hold the faith of his choice . . . without offence to any . . . ” – provided, that is, that the “faith of his choice” was either Catholic or Lutheran. Even so,
“It was the first time since the political hegemony of Christendom had spread across the western world centuries before, that a national leader gave back to ordinary people the authority of their own consciences in matters of God and the soul” (Kendyl Gibbons).
The first time. And it came from a woman. And while that woman apparently remained Catholic herself to the end of her days, she was interested in Reformation ideas – and the values of freedom and reason by which she raised and taught her son, would lead King John Sigismund of Transylvania to become history’s only Unitarian monarch.
“Against all the odds, Isabella brought up a son who bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice, compassion, and human dignity; she saved the throne for him, and bequeathed him the concept of religious toleration that would not occur to the rest of Europe for centuries.” (Gibbons)

UU Minute #12

UU Minute #12: Isabella Banished



Unitarianism in Transylvania emerged in the turbulent politics of the time, fostered by Isabella, the dowager queen and regent who enacted Europe’s first edict of religious toleration, and her son, John Sigismund, Europe’s only Unitarian monarch ever.

As the 16th-century began, the Ottoman Empire covered Turkey, the Balkans, and Greece. In 1526, the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Suleiman crushed the Hungarian royal army in the Battle of Mohács and killed King Louis II. Hungary was then divided into three parts. The Ottoman Empire annexed one part. A second part was allowed to continue as a much-diminished Hungary. And a third part – Transylvania – was granted autonomy under the rule of John Zapolya – although paying annual tribute to the Ottomans.

Thirteen years later, in 1539, John Zapolya married Isabella, oldest child of the Polish King Sigismund. John Zapolya was 50 years old; Isabella was 20 – beautiful and very bright.

A year later, 1540, Isabella gave birth to a son, John Sigismund. Two weeks later, John Zapolya died from injuries sustained while subduing a rebellion. The young Isabella thus found herself ruler of Transylvania: regent on behalf of her infant son.

Archduke Ferdinand immediately moved to retake Transylvania for the Hapsburgs. With the military assistance of Sultan Suleiman, Isabella fended off Ferdinand for ten years – until, in 1551, Ferdinand’s forces prevailed. Isabella, with her then-11-year-old son, was banished back to Poland to live with her family.

Prospects looked very bleak for either of them to foster a new religion that endures to this day.

2020-09-09

UU Minute #11

UU Minute #11: Transylvania, part 1



In 16th century Europe, the ideas of anti-trinitarianism and religious freedom went together – and they began to pop up in the thinking of a number of writers. We’ve mentioned the 1527 book by Martin Borrhaus’ De Operibus Dei, the first open questioning of the doctrine of the trinity in print in Europe – and the 1531 publication of Miguel Serveto’s On the Errors of the Trinity -- and Sebastian Castellio writing that “To kill a man is not to protect a doctrine. It is to kill a man.”

A smattering of other intellectuals of the time – especially after Miguel Serveto’s execution in 1553 -- were also writing to either criticize trinitarianism or advocate religious freedom – and whichever one of those two a writer might primarily emphasize, there would usually also be at least sympathy for the other one. These ideas began to find a home in two places: Transylvania and Poland.

Transylvania. It’s in what is now Romania. Here’s a map of Romania showing Transylvania as a central and western district.

And here’s a map showing how the Carpathian mountains curl around and provide a natural protection to Transylvania on three sides.

After the fall of Rome, various barbarian tribes lived and moved through there. Then the Magyars, Hungarians, conquered the region in 1003, and for 500 years it was part of Hungary. In 1526, Ottoman Turkey defeated Hungary and was content to allow the Transylvanian region be an independent country – a buffer between Hungary and Turkey.

Transylvania was an autonomous state for about a century and a half before being reabsorbed into Hungary and later Romania. During that brief time, autonomous Transylvania created and gave to Europe two amazing things: Unitarian churches and the first government edict of Religious Toleration.

2020-09-08

UU Minute #10

UU Minute #10: Serveto's Double Legacy



The roots of Unitarianism in Europe lie in two ideas:
  • Critique of the Doctrine of the Trinity, and
  • Support of religious toleration. 
Those two ideas are the double legacy of Miguel Serveto. First, he called into question the doctrine of the trinity. He paved the way for a Unitarian theology of the Unity of God, and also advanced the Universalist notion of the universal divinity of humanity. Second, his persecution and death sparked a movement toward tolerance and religious freedom.

On October 27, 1553, Miguel Serveto was burned at the stake in Geneva, Switzerland, with a copy of his book tied to his arm. Thousands of people have been put to death as heretics in Europe. In particular, the Anabaptists were slaughtered by the hundreds, and they too, rejected the doctrine of the trinity. What made Serveto so special?

For one thing, he argued his side with such evident intelligence. If the fervid passions of the generally lower-class Anabaptists could be written off as the spell of Satan, Serveto’s detailed rational argument, combined with the fact that it came from a respected medical doctor of an upper class family, landed differently. And so it was that from the crowd that watched him die, there arose the conviction that this should not be. Before his ashes were cold, cries for religious tolerance began to be heard. Calvin fell under criticism.

Though Calvin had convinced most of Christendom of Serveto’s error, he faced a growing feeling that that error did not warrant the stake. Books arguing for the toleration of heretics began to appear.

Sebastian Castellio’s booklet, "Against Calvin," notably declared, “To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man.”