The monk and the sage
Having been raised in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, I had the rare opportunity of experiencing a liberal Catholic Church. With long-haired priests and nuns who rarely wore the habit, centuries of prescribed worship changed overnight. Of course, back home my mother lamented the hypocrisy of a church that had insisted its practitioners learn the Mass in Latin only to eradicate such a stricture with the stroke of a pen, while my father remained steadfastly anticlerical but nonetheless willing to perpetuate our cultural heritage.
In the midst of all this dynamism, contradiction, and change, I stumbled upon a gem of a book in the library of a priest. It was written by the Catholic monk Thomas Merton and entitled The Way of Chuang Tzu. The book was a collection of stories about the Taoist sage Chuang Tzu and his philosophy on nearly everything from the holding of political office to the usefulness of seemingly useless things. I devoured it. By the time I finished it, I concluded that if a Catholic monk could find wisdom in a Taoist sage, then there was bound to be truth and wisdom in other philosophical and religious systems. A Universalist had been born.Ultimately, no matter how liberal a fundamentally conservative religion becomes, it can never fully allow room and respect for opposing religious and secular perspectives. While I had enjoyed a momentary liberal oasis in an otherwise conservative tradition, my belief system had grown larger than creeds. Thanks to books like Merton's, I sought a house of worship with room to grow. Eventually I stumbled upon a Unitarian fellowship and discovered a far more compatible set of principles. Like the travel agent once told me, there are many paths to your destination. Unitarian Universalism respects the diversity of paths.
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