Below are the words that I shared with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Roanoke as part of our “This I Believe” Sermon Series which highlights the diverse range of belief found within the greater UU movement. It is a short, but full account of my journey into my path as both a UU and Pagan and what they mean to me as a single, evolving tradition.
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The development of my identity as a Unitarian Universalist Pagan, or as UU-Pagan for short is one that ironically mimics both the literal and metaphorical mosaic that is the greater UU movement. Formed by the merger of Unitarians and Universalist, two historically heretical traditions of old, Unitarian Universalism today is truly a living, evolving, and enriching tradition for those who have come to call it home. The UU Church, either with a big “C” or small “c,” however you prefer it, stands with its doors wide open saying, “Come, Come, wander, worshiper, lover of leaving, we will make a place for you.” As a religious yet non-religious, creedal yet creedless, spiritual yet ethical movement as Unitarian Universalism is for many of us. It has become one that reaffirms to me both the beauty and complexity that is the human experience here on earth. A human experience in which I find both unspeakable challenges and breathtaking beauty, it is my faith and my understanding as a UU-Pagan that I find hope in this world in that it can truly become the “Heaven on Earth” that so many Wise Ones before us have prophesied about. A hope in this world that even in the mists of rather seemingly undefeatable odds, a Beloved Community is possible.
My journey into our liberal religious movement comes as a result of a deep personal questioning and the greatly desired human yearning for connection with others of our species. Yet ironically enough, my journey of faith, I believe, started as a result of an intensely spiritual moment when the world first came alive to me at a Christian summer camp. It was during a hot summer evening, during an outdoors service in which communion was being served that I felt the pulse of the earth around me for the very first time. I looked around wondering to myself, as any youth at the time would, and said, “What in the hell is that?” It was this rather strange sense of being bigger than myself and yet smaller than myself all at the same time. I have discussed this experience with many and several have come to describe this as an “outer-body experience,” and maybe it was, but I remember looking around at the others, all whom had their eyes closed tight as a communal prayer was said, and it was then that I now realize that I had stumbled into the mystery of the transcendent. I had somehow at that very moment, at such a young age, tumbled onto a path marked by both great exploration and age-old questions.
But in honor of both my limited time with you this morning and in honor of the other two speakers here with me today, I will try and sum up my last ten years within the greater pagan movement and five of those years within this our UU movement.
For those who know nothing of the modern traditions of Paganism and those who identify as members of such, these traditions and communities seek to recreate the practices and beliefs of the ancient Europeans as well as those of the Ancient Near East and northern-Africa. Paganism itself is not a religion per se, but a collection of traditions who honor a vast number of gods known by many names who have been kept alive through what some believe are just funny folk customs and tall tales. Many today believe that the Gods of the ancient Greco-Roman, Egyptian, Celtic, and Sumerian cultures have long been forgotten, but nothing can be further from the truth. Whole communities gather on sacred feast days and during the turning of the seasonal wheel to lift prayers, sing songs, and feast in the name of these mighty deities of old. But even in the mists of different beliefs and practices between traditions, there are two very significant beliefs that unite us all; these being the belief in the acknowledgement of the sanctity of the earth and the many blessings She gives and the sanctity of the human condition.
It was in these two very facts that brought me to Paganism in the first place, two things that I never realized I craved for within the religion that I was loosely raised in. The tradition of Wicca, the largest and most widely known branch of Neo-paganism today, taught me early own that we are created uniquely, beautifully, and are endowed with power of many and all types. For we come in many shapes and sizes, in different shades and hues, and are endowed with different ways to love others. Though I no longer consider myself a Wiccan, I acknowledge its revolutionary role within my life in bringing me into contact with the transcendent, and most importantly, bringing me into contact with myself as the individual that I was created to be. Not one to be pulled down by my shortcomings or by my oddities as compared to what society has coined as right and proper, but as one who is of the divine as much as the divine is part of me.
Outside of paganism bringing me into sweet euphoria with the natural world around me, it in fact also brought me to Unitarian Universalism. During my early years within Paganism, I read and heard of many accounts of elders within our community, who during the late 60s and 70s, were members of various UU congregations around the country. In fact many of such elders still hold active membership within congregations today. Interestingly enough, the very same individuals who worked to make Pagan circles, groves, and fellowships more radically inclusive and socially aware, were also in some small part responsible for the same within the greater UU movement. Of such elders stands Margot Adler, who many of you might know as longtime correspondent for NPR, who recently entered into to the realm of spirit this past week. Margot was both an active member of a UU congregation in New York as well as a prolific priestess and writer within Paganism. She as well also severed several years on the board of CUUPS, the covenant group of Unitarian Universalist Pagans that was created for Pagan-identified UUs in 1985.
So as all teenagers do from time to time, I took a chance and decided that I would see if there was one of these Unitarian Universalist churches within my areas, and as my luck would have it, there was. Now, I had lived my whole entire life within the mountains of the Roanoke Valley and many times I had driven by this very building but never did I stop to consider and wonder what the congregation believed nor stood for. So I asked another pagan friend to attend with me one Sunday morning and from there I was hooked.
I have since spent many hours wondering how my dual religious identity as a Unitarian Universalist and as a Pagan fit together, but it wasn’t until last year while partaking in an interfaith conference that the wise words of dear friend, who is also a UU, caused all the pieces to fit together like a great puzzle. It was due to Ally’s metaphor that it finally clicked. She said that for her, “Unitarian Universalism was a picture frame and her Catholicism was the picture in which she placed within that frame.” It was this picture and frame reference that gave her insight and perspective into our rather complicated religious identity. For me, UU-ism is my radically inclusive and social aware picture frame based on simple principles and global sources that allows me to slip my picture of paganism into, thus giving me a way to understand our convoluted world. It should be then no surprise to you all that I feel a deep and meaningful connection to our seventh principle, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence which we are all apart of,” and to our sixth source, “Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”
In thinking about what my paganism is, what my Unitarian Universalism is, and ultimately what my UU-Paganism is, I concluded that it is more than incense and prayer, ritual and Sunday service, its more than human-inspired poetry and divinely-induced trance. It is ultimately, and most importantly, my connection to our shared humanity, my relationship to you and yours to me. It is about striving hard to create right-relationship with all those who I have the ability to call siblings in this world, at this very movement. It is striving to live in right-relationship with those who have walked before me and to live mindfully of those who will come after me. My UU-Paganism is about celebrating and dancing the sacred waltz of life and when I am affronted by injustice of any kind, I am called to stand tall to it, to witness to it from my sacred-humanity and to gallantly strive to end it. After all, as our Brother Martin Luther King said, “injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.”
We are a motley crew, with many beliefs and viewpoints, but it is within this space that I have found a passionate home for that very reasons. As President Morales pointed out to me and several others at last weeks Multicultural Leadership School, which centered on the roles that youth and young adults of color have in making our congregations more radically inclusive and welcoming, he said, “ours is a church not united by what we believe, but by what we love.” And it is within this simple fact that truth rings so loud and clear to me, in the midst of various beliefs and ideas about the nature of our cosmos and the reason that we are here. Even midst a vast difference in theological opinion within our movement; from monotheism, to duo-theism, from pantheism to polytheism and to no theism at all. We are connected by our love for the world and for all the wild things that call it home. We are united by our undeniable drive for justice within our fragmented world while being motivated by the love of both self and other.
In closing, I, this UU-Pagan, would like to leave you with a few words from a song entitled “Heretic Hearth,” by Catherine Madsen in honor of our UU-Pagan sibling, Margot Adler:
“I am a bold and a pagan soul
Come rambling thru this land
I judge the world by my own rights,
And I come by my own hand.
And if you asked me how I’ve learned
To live so joyously:
My skin, my bones, my heretic heart
Are my authority.
So while I breathe this glorious air
An outlaw I’ll remain
My body may not be subdued;
My soul shall not be saved.
And where I may not shout out loud
I’ll sing it secretly —
My skin, my bones, my heretic heart
Are my authority.”
 Leslie Takahashi Morris, “Come, Come,” in Voices from the Margins: An Anthology of Meditations, eds. Jacqui James and Mark D. Morrison-Reed (Boston: Skinner House Books, 2012), 5.
 Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 1993), x.