Ending the Pursuit of Happiness, part 1

“I just want them to be happy.”

It’s a sentiment commonly expressed by parents about their children. But a life of meaning – a life that feels real – is more important than happiness. Parents who say they just want their child to be happy may be talking themselves into letting go of some expectation. Secretly they were hoping the girl would go to medical school – or that the boy would become a teacher – or that their child would one day take over the family business -- and when it becomes clear that’s not going to happen, the parents coach themselves into accepting that alternative career paths are fine. So they say: “I just want her to be happy.” Or him. Or zir.

If meaning is more important than happiness, then why don’t parents say they want their child to have meaning? I’m not sure. Maybe they think “meaning” would convey that that they are projecting their own assessment of what would constitute meaning, and “happiness” seems more objective -- and feels more like you're leaving it up to the child. Or maybe they wish they could spare the child the challenges and some degree of unhappiness – the toil that may come with a life of meaning.

Another way to say "meaning" is to say that we want to be of use. Marge Piercy expressed it well in her poem, “To be of Use.”
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
It says something that we’re more likely inclined to wish happiness for our children, or perhaps for our partner, than for ourselves. You’ll hear, “I just want them to be happy,” more often than you’ll hear, “I just want to be happy.” At some level, we understand that contributing to someone else’s happiness is meaningful – that a life helping others be happy is a life of purpose, of being of use. But a life of just being happy feels rather shallow.

In the 1999 film, The Matrix, Laurence Fishburne offers Keanu Reeves the choice between a red pill and a blue pill. The red pill frees one from the machine-generated dream world and allows escape into the real world, but the "truth of reality" is harsher and more difficult. On the other hand, the blue pill represents a beautiful and pleasant life without want or fear within the simulated reality of the Matrix.

We admire the one who chooses reality – with all its struggle and anguish -- over the one who chooses happiness. Nowadays "red pill" and "blue pill" have become political metaphors. Naturally, we all believe our own political opinions are the correct ones – otherwise, they wouldn’t be our opinion. But if our certainty grows rigid – if we lose the context of humility that recognizes that we could be wrong, that our opinions were formed by the same sort of hodge-podge, higgledy-piggledy brain deeply oriented by its built-in cognitive biases as every other person – then we begin to wonder how it is that other people can be so foolish or pig-headed as to disagree with us. We can fall into the trap of thinking we ourselves see reality while those others have taken the blue pill of ease and delusion. Of course, this trap is itself the blue pill. The most common blue pill there is, is the ease and delusion of thinking yourself to be among the few who have taken the red pill – that you see the truth while most other people are stuck in their dreamworld.

What this reflects, though, is that we want the red pill. We want reality, truth, meaning – and will choose the difficult challenges of meaning over meaningless comfort. Not always. There are times in every life – and in some lives more prevalently that others – when one is so worn down, tired, abused, oppressed, or in pain that one would gladly reach for a blue pill if one could. But by and large, most of us, most of the time, choose meaning over happiness – choose reality over withdrawal. Of course, discernment of reality is inherently skewed and distorted, so I might better say we choose engagement over withdrawal, for what we engage with IS our provisional sense of reality.

We choose to be present, as much as we can be, over being absent. There is that in us which stirs and moves in resonance with John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech in which he said:
“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard – because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”
Whatever you might think of the moon mission – and its impetus to display military might -- we do yearn “for work that is real,” for undertakings that are hard – hard enough to “organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”

And yet, there is also that in us which is influenced by a culture obsessed with happiness. This idea that we should pursue happiness is in there -- in our hearts and the presumptions of our thought -- in most of us. And, you know, I don’t think it’s helpful.

I’ll come back to that in part 2.


UU Minute #31

Sozzini and the Minor Reformed Church

This church in Secemin, Poland, 90 kilometers north of Krakow, is where, in 1556, Peter Gonesius issued Poland’s first challenge to Trinitarianism. Twenty-three years later, in 1579, Fausto Sozzini moved to Poland. He investigated the churches in the area. And he liked the antitrinitarian Minor Reformed Church best. They were the most liberal game in town.

They weren’t all that liberal though, then. They required that he be baptized as a condition of membership. So he never joined. He offered to be baptized
“on the condition that he first could state publicly that he believed baptism unnecessary and that he was participating simply for the sake of closer fellowship. His proposal was rejected, and repeated attempts to persuade him to change his mind all failed.” (Howe)
He worshiped with them, participated in their discussions, lent his administrative skills to the development of their organization, taught their students, trained their church leaders, defended them in correspondence and public debates. But he never actually joined.

When Sozzini first arrived
“the Minor Church at that time was in a state of disarray, with neither leadership nor doctrinal agreement. Perhaps forty congregations existed of varying sizes, composition, and emphases. Some were little more than chaplaincies on the estates of nobles; a few were sizable congregations in the larger towns and cities.” (Howe)
In his writing and his public speaking, Sozzini brought a coherence to the fledgling movement. We can admire two things about that church. It was tolerant, for its time. And under Sozzini’s influence, it came increasingly to emphasize Jesus’s life, rather than his death, as the model which can save us. This lead to an emphasis on social action, social compassion, and pacificism.

NEXT: Sozzini Feels the Love -- and the Hate


How Are You Feeling? part 2

The faces pictured above are stereotypes of faces representing six emotions. And they are problematic in the way that stereotypes are: in the attempt to abstract or summarize, they misrepresent the complex reality. These aren’t pictures of people who were feeling the emotion supposedly pictured. They’re people who were told to show an assigned emotion, so they displayed the stereotype.

In reality, people who are angry have all kinds of facial configurations. Maybe sometimes you quietly seethe. Other times you might be scream and shout – which would look more like an open mouth than a very tight-lipped closed mouth.

If professional actors made faces like the ones pictured above, we’d think either that their character was being campy, or that they were ham actors.

Even if these facial configurations were a sort of average of the various ways that sadness or surprise might manifest – which they aren’t, really -- there’s something to remember about the way averages work. The average human being has one ovary. That’s the average, though of course very few people actually have exactly one. Almost everyone has either two or none, which averages to one, but what’s average may be far from what’s typical.

In real life, if you saw someone with the "surprise" face shown here, or the "fear" face, or any of them, you’d be more likely to think they were mocking the feeling than that they were authentically feeling it. Careful studies measuring facial muscle movements find that there is no facial configuration and no part of a facial configuration that all angry people display. Nor is there any part of a facial configuration that only angry people display. Sometimes those pursed, tight lips are just someone thinking hard about something.

When Eckman showed pictures like these to people in remote cultures, he didn’t just say: What’s this person feeling? He presented the question as multiple choice: Choose the word that best matches the face – and the options were limited to Eckman’s six. They might not have been the emotions that in that culture were the most central or primary. If there were a culture in which chiplessness was central and primary to their way of understanding themselves, members of that culture would not have found chipless an available option.

In cultures that didn’t speak English, Eckman had to use translations of the English words, even if close matches to the English word didn’t exist in the other language. The !Kung people of the Kalahari don’t have any word for Fear. They certainly feel the heightened adrenaline from an immediately imposed danger, and they will flee from it, and we would characterize them as afraid, but that’s not how they think of themselves – and since part of the experience of fear is recognizing “this is fear” – they don’t have the experience that we have.
“Utka Eskimos have no concept of ‘Anger.’ The Tahitian have no concept of ‘Sadness’.” (148)
That Psychology Today column I was citing, right after so confidently asserting, “Primary emotions are universal and innate” then says, “A smile is recognized in all cultures as a signal of happiness and social welcome.” Um. No. Here’s what L.F. Barrett says about that:
“For one thing, ‘Happiness’ is usually the only pleasant emotion category that is tested using the basic emotion method, so it’s trivial for subjects to distinguish it from the negative categories. And consider this fun fact: The historical record implies that ancient Romans did not smile spontaneously when they were happy. The word ‘smile’ doesn’t even exist in Latin. Smiling was an invention of the Middle Ages, and broad, toothy-mouthed smiles became popular only in the eighteenth century as dentistry became more eccessible and affordable.”
Classics scholar Mary Beard adds:
“This is not to say that Romans never curled up the edges of their mouths in a formation that would look to us much like a smile; of course they did. But such curling did not mean very much in the range of significant social and cultural gestures in Rome. Conversely, other gestures, which would mean little to us, were much more heavily freighted with significance.”
Thus, Barrett concludes,
“So far as I know, no emotion concept is universal, but even if one were, universality itself does not automatically imply a perceiver-independent reality.”
Take, for example, magical little people – called nymphs in ancient Greece, leprechauns in Ireland, brownies in Scotland, fairies in Celtic legend, Menehune in Native Hawaiian folklore, trolls in Scandinavia, Aziza in Africa, Agloolik in Inuit culture, Mimis in Aboriginal Australia, Shin from China, Kami from Japan. Even if magical little people were part of every single human culture on earth, that wouldn’t mean they were a perceiver-independent reality like atoms, rocks, and trees.

I’m not saying emotions aren’t real. I’m saying they’re cultural. They’re very real – like money – which also isn’t a perceiver-independent reality, but which depends on the social agreement of a given society.

You can have high or low arousal without any concept of high or low arousal, and some things are attractive and other things aversive even if you don’t conceptualize them so, but everything else in the area of emotion depends on having the concept, and concepts are learned features of a culture. Not all cultures have the emotion concepts of English-speaking cultures. Instead, they may have others. English has recently appropriated the German schadenfreude – pleasure at the misfortune of a rival. Others we might consider appropriating include:
  • fiero (from Italian): the enjoyment felt when you have met a challenge that stretched your capabilities
  • naches (Yiddish): feelings of pride in the accomplishments, or sometimes just the existence, of your offspring or mentees
  • gezellig (Dutch): a specific experience of comfort with friends
  • voorpret (Dutch): pleasure felt about an event before the event takes place – a delighted anticipation
  • stenahoria (Greek): a feeling of doom, hopelessness, suffocation, and constriction (Perhaps you can think of some romantic relationship where this emotion concept would come in handy.)
  • jeong (Korean): happiness specifically from attachment to a close friend
  • liget (Ilongot, a headhunting tribe from the Philippines): exuberant aggression involving intense focus, passion, and energy while pursuing a hazardous challenge with a group of people (Sounds similar to recently developed emotion concept in our culture that we call putting your game face on.)
  • gigil (Filipino): the urge to hug or squeeze something that is unbearably adorable
  • forelsket (Norwegian): an intense joy of falling in love
  • hygge (Danish): a certain feeling of close friendship
  • tokka (Russian): a spiritual anguish
  • saudade (Portuguese): a strong spiritual longing
  • pena ajena (Spanish): sadness over another person’s loss, or discomfort or embarrassment on someone else’s behalf
  • arigata-meiwaku (Japanese): the feeling that someone has done you a favor that you didn’t want from them, and which may have caused difficulty for you, but you’re required to be grateful anyway (Doesn’t that sound very Japanese? The culture is its concepts, and the concepts for the way we feel – plus the physiological sensations we are interpreting – ARE the emotion.)
  • age-otori (Japanese): the feeling of looking worse after a haircut
Other cultures mix and match emotion categories differently:
  • fago (Ifaluk, of Micronesia): depending on context, can mean love, empathy, pity, sadness, or compassion
  • litost (Czech) torment over one’s own misery combined with the desire for revenge
We might want to revive twitterpated from the 1942 cartoon movie, Bambi. Twitterpated, like chipless, is a made-up emotion – but they’re all made-up. That's Barrett's point: all emotions are made-up by members of a given culture. Only those two scales I mentioned (arousal-nonarousal, and attraction-aversion) are biological. The rest of your emotional life is cultural habits of interpretation of, and projection onto, your awareness of your biology.

As we work through the meaning of this new understanding of emotion it’s going to have wide implications. It’s going to have legal implications. Like, we can’t tell what remorse is. Remorse is a cultural product, and some cultures have very different expressions for it, or don’t have the concept at all. So the notion of remorsefulness in criminal sentencing is problematic – yet juries decide on life imprisonment as opposed to the death sentence in part on whether the defendant feels remorse.

This is Dzokhar Tsarnaev of Chechnia, the suriving bomber of the 2013 Boston Marathon bomb. He was sentenced to death in 2015. “Tsarnaev spoke words of apology, but when [jurors] looked at his face, all they saw was this stone-faced stare.” If L.F. Barrett is right, then
“jurors do not and cannot detect remorse or any other emotion in anybody ever. Neither can I and neither can you....That might be someone who is a remorseless killer, but a stone-faced stare might also mean that someone is stoically accepting defeat, which is in fact what Chechen culture prescribes for someone in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's situation.”
There’s solid reson to believe Dzokhar Tsarnaev committed the acts of which he was accused. There is no basis for saying that he was remorseless -- or that he wasn't.

There’s a lot more to say about how to understand emotions, but it’s going to have to wait for future services. For now, I just have two take-aways I want to offer you.

One: learn more emotion concepts. Emotional granularity – having a higher vocabulary of emotion words – is healthy for you. The ability to speak and think with greater precision is a brain efficiency for navigating your reality – and we humans have created a fantastically complex social reality for ourselves, so your brain needs all the efficiency it can get.

Second, whatever you’re feeling, you don’t have to take it so seriously. And particularly don’t take seriously your interpretation of what you think other people are feeling. Talk to people and ask them about what they’re feeling – don’t assume. Emotions are social, so be sociable with them and about them.

Blessed be. Amen.


How Are You Feeling? part 1

You’ve probably had this feeling, though you may not have had a name for it. Lisa Feldman Barret describes it:
“Imagine the feeling of reaching into a bag of potato chips and discovering that the previous chip you ate was the last one. You feel disappointed that the bag is empty, relieved that you won’t be ingesting any more calories, slightly guilty that you ate the entire bag, and yet hungry for another chip.”
So: disappointment mixed with relief, a hint of guilt, and hunger for more. Dr. Barrett gives this made-up emotion a name. She calls it chiplessness.

What makes an emotion is that we learn to interpret feelings with the category. We use it to interpret other people’s feelings as well as our own – they are a social reality. You wouldn’t know that feeling you have was love if you didn’t have lots of examples from other people. So, for chiplessness to become a real emotion, we have to make it a social reality – a word that we can use for describing ourselves and each other in various situations.

Any time you’re enjoying something that comes to end and you’re disappointed and relieved and a little guilty because you think maybe you’ve been enjoying it more than you should – yet you’re desirous of more, that’s chiplessness. If you’ve ridden the roller coast at a given amusement park hundreds of times, and you get there one day and the ride is out of order -- "closed for repairs" -- you’re disappointed, yet a bit relieved because you’re a little guilty about the way you’ve been a touch over-enthusiastic about this ride – yet there’s still a part of you that did want to ride it. So you’re feeling chipless.

Or, you come to the end of the last episode of a series you’ve been binge watching. You’re relieved that you got all the way through it, yet at the same time sorry that it’s over. You suspect maybe spending all that time on this show may not have been the best use of your time, yet you hope there’s going to be another season. You’ve got that chipless feeling.

If you interpret your experience with this category a few times, it won’t be long before you’re adept at it. And now it’s a real emotion – as real as happiness, sadness, anger, or fear. That’s the part you may, quite reasonably, have doubts about. Up until about a month ago, before I started exploring the case that L. F. Barrett makes, if the concept of chiplessness had been introduced to me the way I just introduced it to you, I would have thought, “Well, that’s fun. But this new concoction is surely a mix of more elemental emotions.

There are a number of emotions that we recognize as mixtures of more elemental emotions.
  • The feeling that something is bittersweet is quite explicitly a combining of bitterness and sweetness.
  • In the 1989 movie “Steel Magnolias,” Dolly Parton’s character says, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”
  • The Oxford Dictionary defines “awe” as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.”
So we’re familiar with emotions that are mixtures of other emotions. They can even be mixtures of supposed opposite feelings. When we say we have mixed feelings about something we might be indicating that we have a mixed judgment of it – we see that it’s both good and bad, in different ways.

We also often actually have opposite emotions of both happiness and sadness at the same time. If you saw the 1997 Roberto Benigni film, “Life is Beautiful,” in which a father tries to keep his child’s spirits up while they are in a concentration camp, then you probably got a strong dose of happiness and sadness at the same time. The masters of literature evoke the various mixing of emotions as their stock in trade, as in a 1960 New Yorker column by John Updike about witnessing the baseball great Ted Williams’ last at-bat. Updike wrote,
“No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport’s poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy.”
All these forms of mixed emotion, whether the familiar poignance or the novel chiplessness, are mixtures of elemental or primary emotions, right?

A recent Psychology Today column declares:
“There are at least eight primary or basic emotions – interest, joy, distress, anger, fear, anxiety, surprise, and disgust – associated with a single facial expression. Primary emotions are universal and innate.”
And that’s pretty much what I would have said a month ago. I wouldn’t have listed "interest" as an emotion, though I can see the sense in that. And "sadness" isn’t on this list, though "distress" and "anxiety" are. It might have occurred to me to ponder whether "anxiety" is primary, or is it a mixture of "sadness" and "fear"? In encouraging people to identify their emotions if they were having trouble saying how they felt – or difficulty separating the emotion itself from judgment and evaluation – I learned in my training for ministry to start with the basics: mad, sad, glad, and scared.

How are you feeling? I might ask. And I might hear, I feel wronged, or neglected, or cheated, or abandoned, or betrayed, or let down. Those are judgments. "Disappointed." That’s getting closer, but in a given context it’s likely to be tinged with judgment about another person’s conduct rather than your own emotion. So to be helpful in identifying the emotion I might ask, are you mad, sad, glad, or scared? From there, we can begin learning how to fine tune our identification of emotions.

Under the general rubric of sadness, one might discern discouragement, distraughtness, resignation, helplessness, hopelessness, misery, despair, grief, sorrow, or anguish – each of which is distinct. Anger might be fine-tuned as annoyance, frustration, exasperation, argumentativeness, bitterness, vengefulness, or fury. Gladness might be fine tuned as sensory pleasure, rejoicing, compassionate joy, amusement, relief, pride, wonder, excitement, or ecstasy. And so on.

Psychologist Paul Ekman did a number of cross-cultural studies in which he showed people faces like these:
Ekman’s work led him to the conclusion that there were these six emotions that were innate and universally recognized in all cultures. In addition to anger, sadness, gladness, and fear, he’s got surprise and disgust. When Pixar made the delightful 2015 film, “Inside Out,” depicting the emotions of an 11-year-old girl, they drew on Ekman’s work. They decided to leave out surprise, and went with anger, sadness, joy, fear, and disgust as the five basic feelings playing out inside Riley as she navigates her world. The Psychology Today column has eight – adding interest and replacing sadness with distress and anxiety. And there might be more – the column says there are “at least” eight primary emotions.

Despite ongoing ambiguity about the precise list of what the primary emotions are, the column confidently declares that “primary emotions are universal and innate.” Turns out – according to L.F. Barrett and a growing number of researchers whose evidence I find pretty persuasive – that none of these are universal or innate. None.

What is universal and innate -- in the area of feelings -- are two scales. There’s a scale of low arousal to high arousal, and there’s a scale of pleasant to unpleasant. The middle area of each scale is neutral – neither elevated nor low arousal, neither particularly pleasant or unpleasant. So:
  • if arousal is low, and it’s pleasant, you are calm and serene;
  • if arousal is low and it’s unpleasant, you are lethargic or depressed;
  • if arousal is high and it’s pleasant, you’re excited and thrilled or elated;
  • if arousal is high and it’s unpleasant, you are upset, distressed.
That’s the biology that is indeed basic. It’s basic to all vertebrates and possibly to many invertebrates. Everything else, it turns out, is cultural and learned.

We had to learn how to interpret ourselves and each other as angry or scared – and we learned it basically the way we learned a few minutes ago to interpret ourselves sometimes as chipless.


UU Minute #30

Our Socinian Roots

Four and a half centuries ago, in 1579, Fausto Sozzini – in Latin, Faustus Socinus – migrated to Poland. He was a 40-year-old Italian of mild manner, saintly and scholarly. He became a friend, but not a member, of the antitrinitarian Minor Reformed Church there. In writings and public debates, he became the Minor Reformed Church of Poland’s principal defender and the chief explicator of its theology. After his death, the Minor Reformed Church – also called the Polish Brethren -- maintained publication of his prolific writings, and thus the church came to be called Socinian.

It is to the Socinian church that we trace the origin of the Unitarian half of our institutional history. Michael Servetus did nothing to found or develop a church. And Unitarianism in Transylvania was isolated, not spreading beyond the Carpathian mountains. But Socinianism spread – both its ideas and its congregations – from Poland to Holland. From there the ideas spread to England. From England to America. To us.

In the face of the many schisms that rivened Christendom – the Polish Minor Reformed Church embraced toleration of difference. They would even have tolerated trinitarianism, except that the Trinitarians wouldn’t tolerate them.

The Polish Brethren also emphasized that religion must be lived. Theology is ultimately subordinate to ethics. Not that theology isn’t important -- but theology takes its meaning from the ethical life to which it is connected. By a theology’s fruits ye shall know it. And that’s an essential part of the Unitarian Universalist good news that continues to be preached today in the some 1,000 Unitarian Universalist congregations in North America.

NEXT: Sozzini and the Minor Reformed Church


UU Minute #29

Antitrinitarianism in Poland: The Minor Reformed Church

As you’ll recall – 1517, the Protestant Reformation began. At first all the Protestant churches were called Reformed, as opposed to the unreformed Roman Catholic church. Then, within the Reformed Churches, a big fight arose over the communion – the Lord’s Supper. One side held that the body and blood of Christ are present in the bread and wine; the other side said the bread and wine are symbols of Christ’s body and blood. The first side, followers of Martin Luther, began calling themselves Lutheran. The other side, followers of John Calvin, kept the name Reformed.

In Poland, the first Reformed – i.e. Calvinist – Church service wasn’t until 1550, near Krakow. Within 15 years, the Reformed Church had itself schismed, and this schism was over the issue of the trinity. By 1565 the trinitarians in Poland refused any further association with the antitrinitarians, who formed their own association of congregations as the Minor Reformed Church.

The new Minor Reformed Church had its own divisions. They were divided about Baptism. For infants, or only for adults who can make a considered decision? While the Minor Reformed Church was antitrinitarian, and agreed that Christ was not God, some said Christ was a deity, subordinate to the Father, and existed prior to conception in Mary. Others, Unitarians, said Christ was not a deity, and did not exist prior to conception in Mary.

And here’s where something special happened. This Minor Reformed Church adopted a principle. Not a doctrine, but a principal that said freedom of conscience would be allowed. Once again, the people who rejected the trinity were the people who embraced toleration.

NEXT: Our Socinian Roots


UU Minute #28

Poland before Fausto

Poland, when the 40-year-old Fausto Sozzini arrived there in 1579, was already a land with the beginnings of Unitarian thought. Diversity brings reason and tolerance, the central themes of Unitarianism, to the fore, and medieval Poland was a place of relative cultural diversity. Catholics, Jews, Eastern Orthodox, and Moslems coexisted in general harmony.

Among Catholics, Priests could marry; the Mass was conducted in Polish rather than in Latin. The monarchy was limited. The king was elected by a group of nobles, and the nobles met in council to make the country’s laws.

Polish woman Katarzyna Weiglowa professed the unity of God, rejected the trinity, and refused to call Jesus the Son of God – for which blasphemy she was, at the age of 80, executed in Krakow in 1539.

That same year, 1539, Isabella, oldest child of the Polish king, married John Zapolya and became queen of Transylvania where her 1557 edict would promote religious toleration.

In 1546, a character we know only as “Spiritus” questioned the trinity in a meeting with prominent Catholic leaders, some of whom, disturbed by Spiritus’s arguments, would eventually switch over and support the antitrinitarian Minor Reformed Church.

In 1556, Peter Gonesius began preaching Unitarian views in Poland. Gonesius had studied in Italy – and read Miguel Serveto there.

In 1558, the Italian Giorgio Biandrata entered Poland for a five-year stay in between his stints in Transylvania. During that time he became court physician to Queen Bona, Isabella’s mother, led the heretical party at synods, and promoted the Unitarian ideas: antitrinitarianism and religious toleration.

Thus was the way paved in Poland for Fausto Sozzini’s 1579 arrival.

NEXT: Antitrinitarianism in Poland: The Minor Reformed Church


The Longing for Belonging, part 2

The longing for belonging, we have seen, can be the enemy of true belonging, of resting in the awareness that it is impossible for you NOT to belong, that your belonging is inalienable.

But the longing arises nonetheless, doesn’t it? We have noted that your belonging does not depend on everybody knowing your name. You belong even if no one knows your name. Yet it still feels nice to be known, to be seen, to be respected, doesn’t it?

Take, for example, the neurophysicist that Brene Brown interviewed for her work on belonging. He told her:
“My parents didn't care that I wasn't on the football team, and my parents didn't care that I was awkward and geeky. I was in a group of kids at school who translated books into the Klingon language. And my parents were like, ‘Awesome!' They took me to the Star Trek convention!"
Dr. Brown concludes:
“He got his sense of belonging from his parents' sense of belonging, and even if we don't get that from Mom and Dad, we have to create it for ourselves as adults — or we will always feel as if we're standing outside of the big human party.”
If we don’t get that from Mom and Dad, we have to create it for ourselves as adults. If you can do that – if you’ve been doing that – developing your self-acceptance and strengthening the abiding awareness of your inherent belonging – great!

Maybe you’ve had some help along the way. If you didn’t get it from Mom and Dad, your belonging might have been affirmed by teachers, by trusted friends, by spiritual practices, by inspiring books like “You Belong” by Sebene Selassie.

Most of us could use a little help from time to time remembering the inalienable belonging that gives us the courage to stand apart. Maybe you could use a little help in appreciating that the unique beauty that is you belongs in the world. Here’s the thing. One of the best ways to get that help is to offer it to others. The way to feel more welcome and accepted and warmly received is to be welcoming, accepting, and warmly receiving.

And that brings us to the Jan Richardson poem that I started off this service with. She begins:
“You hardly knew how hungry you were to be gathered in, to receive the welcome that invited you to enter entirely — nothing of you found foreign or strange, nothing of your life that you were asked to leave behind or to carry in silence or in shame,”
Yes, that does feel good. And even if you know that your belonging is inherent, that it does not depend on others inviting you in – even if your self-acceptance is high and does not require the approval of others – it can begin to get hard if we have no sanctuary from people finding you foreign or strange.

Even if you know that your belonging is inherent, it does get hard to sustain that knowing in the face of unrelenting hostility, or even in the face of unrelenting indifference.

That hunger to be gathered in, to receive the welcome that invites you to enter entirely is not a hunger to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed to be self-accepting and aware of your inherent belonging. You do belong, everything does belong, and your hunger also belongs.

If you have been coming back to this congregation for a while, long enough to have become a member, it’s because this place fed that hunger for, as Starhawk put it, “a circle of hands” that will “open to receive us, eyes [that] will light up as we enter, [and] voices [that] will celebrate with us.”

If you have kept coming back for a while now, it’s because this place has been a blessing. “But the deal with this blessing,” as Jan Richardson says, “is that it will not leave you alone, will not let you linger in safety, in stasis.”

As Reverend Lauralyn Bellamy says in words that those of you who have been coming regularly for a while have heard me say a number of times as the benediction:
“If, here, you have found freedom, take it with you into the world. If you have found comfort, go and share it with others. If you have dreamed dreams, help one another that they may come true! If you have known love, give some back to a bruised and hurting world.”
Because once you’ve found a little bit of comfort, the way to find more is to share it with others.

This blessing – this blessing of belonging and sanctuary – comes as seed of joy planted in your heart, and once planted it wants to grow. For it to grow you must become the sanctuary. The seed, as Jan Richardson wrote,
“desires for you to become the sanctuary that you have found — to speak your word into the world, to tell what you have heard with your own ears, seen with your own eyes, known in your own heart: that you are beloved, precious child of God, beautiful to behold, and you are welcome and more than welcome here.”
The seed of awareness of inherent belonging wants to sprout and grow and send forth new seeds of joy to plant in other hearts.

If you have ever found comfort and sanctuary, ease and acceptance here, then go ahead and bask in that for as long as you can – because you won’t be able to simply bask in it for too terribly long. It is the nature of this blessing that it will not leave you alone.

And if it seems to you that the ease and sanctuary of this place doesn’t feel quite like it used to for you, then you’re ready – ready for that next step. The way to feel more welcome and accepted and warmly received is to be welcoming, accepting, and warmly receiving. That means making our congregation a place more welcoming of people who have sometimes felt unwelcome. That also means the work of social justice – making the world a place of greater acceptance and celebration of diversity.

When we talk about injustice and oppression, it isn’t to make you feel bad. It’s to help you feel good, by lifting up the wonderful meaningful work there is for us to do together. If you need comforting, be a part of offering comfort to others – and justice to all. That’ll do it.

May it be so.