Trading messiah for mentor

Trading messiah for mentor

Jesus for Unitarian Universalists.


‘Le Christ du silence‘ by Odilon Redon, between 1890 and 1907, Petit Palais, musée des Beaux-arts de la Ville de Paris

‘Le Christ du silence‘ by Odilon Redon, between 1890 and 1907. (Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-arts de la Ville de Paris)

Musée des Beaux-arts de la Ville de Paris

Unitarian Universalists’ ideas about Jesus reflect the diversity of thought encouraged by our liberal faith. Unitarian Universalism is a religion that claims many sources, including the deeds and teachings of great teachers, the inspiring wisdom in the world’s many religions, and our Jewish and Christian heritage. Clearly, Jesus has a place in this faith.

UUs may view Jesus as a moral exemplar, practicing the compassion, generosity, and mercy that he preached. He calls us to connect: to transcend pride and selfishness and choose instead to love and serve, to do good, and to care for each other. For some, Jesus is a prophetic leader and an instrument of the divine. He calls us to discover new life and truth by following him. Others view Jesus as a reformer and dissident, an underdog and ally. He calls us to transform, to resist the unjust systems that divide us, and reshape them for good.

There are many ways to think about Jesus. Here are four that resonate with Unitarian Universalists.

Joy Berry

The Rev. Scott McNeill, associate minister of the UU Church of Bloomington, Indiana.

As a Unitarian Universalist, I love reading the Gospels and witnessing the method Jesus would use to guide people to answers rather than simply giving them the answers. I connect to Jesus as a person who wanted to fix the problems he saw in his faith community and society, to build the community that he knew was possible rather than simply go through the motions of everyday life. It was in my de-deification of Jesus that I could reconnect with his story, trading messiah for mentor.

The Rev. Jonalu Johnstone, developmental minister at the UU Fellowship of Manhattan, Kansas.

It took years of participating in and even leading UU congregations for me to rediscover the value of Jesus in my spiritual life. When I first came to Unitarian Universalism, I felt relief that I didn’t have to know what I believed about God or prayer or Christianity. In time, God—or Goddess—came to life again for me through paganism, which was introduced to me by a sister UU. The same dear friend brought me to Interweave, UUs for BGLT Concerns, which provided support to me in coming out as a lesbian, as a gift from God/dess. As I grew into ministry as a profession, I was driven more and more to reckon with the Christian tradition. “I need to figure out my relationship with Christianity,” I told my spiritual director. “No,” the Episcopal Buddhist replied, “you need to figure out your relationship with Christ.” Reclaiming Jesus reconnected me with other Christians, particularly those working for rights for BGLTIQ people. The misuse of scripture against queer people and against women troubled me, but I realized that only by owning those stories fully for myself could I honestly confront the oppression that worked against me and others who needed what church had to offer. Jesus provides inspiration, example, and strategy for the work I am called to do in the world. That’s why I call myself Christian today.

Crystal Lewis, MTS, MH, writer, and academic, Washington, D.C.

Among the various images of salvation in scripture, the one that most resonates with me is related to the root word of salvation, which is salve. Therefore, salvation is the process by which God’s healing salve is applied to the world. Jesus, for me, demonstrates the manner in which God would have many of us apply this healing salve to the world. When I examine interactions between Jesus and those whose lives he changed, I am inspired by his commitment to healing the wounds of the heart and of his society. Jesus, for me, demonstrates healing and shows us the power of salvation—a power that we are to seek and share in this life as often as we can.

Joy Berry, assistant director of the Fahs Collaborative at Meadville Lombard Theological School.

I left Christianity behind as a teenager. But when I sought a UU congregation to support my children’s liberal religious education and then began working as their director of religious education, I encountered Jesus again. As an agnostic, I saw him as one of an All-Star team of important religious teachers I promised to represent with care so young people could learn about Christianity alongside other world religions. I felt no special affinity to him. But in the years since, I have begun to see him as something like an experienced colleague in a challenging field, someone with whom I share a professional concern.

We like seeing Jesus as a revolutionary who spoke up for the disenfranchised, the voiceless. But a decade in religious education makes me find one of his most compelling teachings in the story of how he invited children to sit with him. Despite the resistance from other adults who tried to send them away, he insisted. His simple act of welcome reminds us that young people need to feel claimed by this faith and suggests that their wonder and joy might transform us, in return. Jesus asks us to make room in our hearts, minds, and congregations for learning and growing in faith together.

Excerpted with permission from the pamphlet UU Views of Jesus,’ ed. by Joy Berry (UUA, 2017). Available in packs of twenty-five from inSpirit: UUA Bookstore and Gift Shop.