While it’s a teaching which has been interpreted in such disparate ways that you might walk into a Unity church in the east and think you’re in an Episcopal cathedral, or you might walk into a Unity church in the west and think you’re in a Course in Miracles discussion group, or you might walk into a Unity church in the north and think you’re in a new age commune (how will I ever get this patchouli smell out of my toga?), Unity is a teaching.
It is a teaching which seeks to be universal. In other words, while usually offered from a Judeo-Christian platform, Unity is a teaching which seeks to be applicable to the Agnostic and the Anglican alike, practical to the Jew and the Jainist alike. You see, this is why co-founders Mr. and Mrs. Fillmore didn’t initially teach on Sunday mornings. Mr. Fillmore is famous for having said, and I do paraphrase, “If Unity makes you a better Methodist, then go be a better Methodist.” And when I say that Mr. Fillmore is famous for having said that, I’m 85% certain that he actually said it.
The Fillmore’s granddaughter, Coni, responded to a request to summarize Unity teachings in an article for Daily Word magazine and that this article set forth five tenets or principles which are largely accepted by Unity leaders and communities to this day.
And when I say “largely accepted,” I have to tell you that this is pretty good for Unity. Remember, these are the leaders whose churches resemble Episcopal Cathedrals and A Course in Miracles discussion groups and new age communes. So to offer any idea which is “largely accepted,” by Unity leaders is quite an accomplishment.
And the first tenet or principle dismantles a common paradigm of dualism. If you’re like me, you can relate. If you’re like me, you grew up with a force for good sitting on one shoulder and a force for evil sitting on the other. And there you were — stuck right in the middle. Do I say this, or do I say that? Do I think this, or do I think that? Do I do this, or do I do that?
This first tenet or principle dismantles a common paradigm of dualism for it explains that God is the source and creator of all. There is no other enduring power. And that God is good and present everywhere.
And while this idea might make some sense on an intellectual level, it presents some very real difficulties.
For example, if we dismantle the model in which a force for good and a force for evil are engaged in an ongoing tug-of-war match with humanity hopelessly held in limbo in the knot in the middle, what do we do with the dark stuff of this earthly life? What do we do with the incredible tension between a universe of plenty and infant starvation? What do we do with the incredible tension between the sacredness of life and mass shootings?
If we dismantle the model in which the devil out there is responsible, it presents some very real difficulties. For then we have to turn to the devil in consciousness for the answers; then we have to turn to those lower parts of ourselves for the answers. We have to ask, “Is there something within the collective of us that contributes to lack? Is there something within the collective of us that contributes to violence?”
And while this might be a tough nut to swallow, I have to tell you, if I had to choose between a battle with a devil out there and a tendency in here, I would choose the latter. After all, the battle with something in here is the one I know I can win.
You see, if a devil out there is punishing children, there’s little I can do. But if I’m indulging greed and selfishness with blissful blindness to the problems “over there,” I can change that.
If a devil out there is perpetuating violence, my hands are tied. But if I’m supporting cruelty and suffering with every dollar I spend just because it makes my life easier or saves a few cents, I can change that.
And if we dismantle a model in which God is distant for a model in which God is present everywhere, where do I direct my prayers?
And I’m not sure it gets any easier when we move from the first tenet to the second. So if God is the source and creator of all, and there is no other enduring power, and God is good and present everywhere brings up your stuff, as we say, try this one: Human beings have a spark of divinity within them, the Christ spirit within. Their/your very essence is of God, and therefore they/you are also inherently good.
So, not only do we lose a paradigm in which we enjoy roles as hapless victims of that cosmic and eternal playoff game between good and evil, but now we lose a paradigm in which we are born apart from God, inherently flawed and grossly limited from the outset (and please understand that when we challenge the original sin construct, we challenge a post-biblical construct of an early, patriarchal church with a whole mess of political and social agendas).
Yes, not only do we lose a paradigm in which we get to blame the devil for what he took from us, but now we lose a paradigm in which we get to blame God for what he didn’t give us in the first place.
Yes, it is with this second paradigm that our addiction to quiet mediocrity, cloaked in the glorious garb of false piety, comes crashing down.
It was the late Episcopal Bishop (and our friend) John Shelby Spong who responded to a letter from a Catholic priest and nun-turned-married-couple about Unity. Spong wrote, “Unity does tend to read the scriptures metaphysically. As they see it, it means first, that they do not read the scriptures literally and second, they see the scriptures pointing beyond words to a realm of transcendent meaning that is not always apparent to the casual reader.
“They wallow neither in the bankrupt tradition of original sin, nor in the story of Jesus as rescuer – a theology I think of primarily as a guilt-producing violation of Christianity’s deepest meaning. They emphasize human potential and human growth and seek to empower people. That is quite consistent, I believe, with the Christian message especially as the more mystical gospel of John understands it.”
My sister-in-law and her family grew up with what they knew to be a tattered replica of a World War II hand grenade. And this thing looked real. The top was wrapped with yellow tape, identifying it as an “HE” or high explosive unit. Even the safety handle had been torn away! Her brothers grew up playing with it, she grew up playing with it – she even remembers taking it to 4th grade show-and-tell.
Well, it was as her mother was being moved from the family home that a family friend stumbled upon that family memento – that "toy." And, of course, he was alarmed. “Hey, this appears to be a live WWII hand grenade with the safety handle missing!” And, as anyone would, he responded to the situation based upon the information he had at the time.
So, imagine a scene in which a fully outfitted bomb squad carries a family memento from your family home in a safe, loads it into an armored SUV and drives it away through blockaded streets.
And this is the point in our lesson at which I would ask each of us to consider just how many times we’ve responded to a situation based upon the information we had at the time only to discover that it was lacking; to consider just how many times we’ve responded to “a live, World War II hand grenade with the safety handle missing” only to discover that it was a family memento.
And that would be a really good lesson, don’t you think?
But that’s not today’s lesson because that’s now how this story turns out.
In fact, what that day with its bomb squad and its blockaded streets revealed is that my sister-in-law and her family grew up with a live, World War II hand grenade with the safety handle missing. Her brothers grew up playing with it, she grew up playing with it – she even remembers taking it to 4th grade show-and-tell.
So instead, this is the point in our lesson at which I would ask each of us to consider just how many times we’ve accepted a thing as harmless, just because that’s the story we’ve been told. And I can think of no arena more overripe than organized religion for such a question.
We’ve been told that we’re separate for so long that we’ve started to believe it. So, think of tenet I as something of that family friend who comes along and says, “Hey, we’re all made of the same stuff.”
We’ve been told that we’re limited for so long that we’ve started to believe it. Think of tenet II as something of that family friend who comes along and says, “The very stuff we’re all made of is infinite potential.”