Searching for Sugar
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” But you can’t make lemonade without sugar. When our lives are messed up and lousy with lemons, we need to look for some sugar before we can even think about making lemonade.
Not to take the metaphor too far, but our culture serves lots of lemons to people and then blames them for not making lemonade. If life is a lemon where can we find the sugar? If sugar is love (give me some sugar darling), then Unitarian Universalism can be just what a whole lot of people need.
Or maybe it is mainly universalism they need. They need to know that their lives are worth something, that they matter, and yes, that God loves them fully and without judgement or conditions. When the wider culture tells you are sinful, that you will surely go to hell, or that your troubles are simply your own fault, or even worse, God’s punishment, it feels truly terrible. Then you really might need to find a church community that is truly loving and accepting, a church that doesn’t believe in hell at all, that treats everyone with respect for their worth and dignity. Finding a church like that can be literally life-saving for all sorts of people.
Who needs this message most in America? LGBT people need it, and they have been coming to our churches in numbers for decades. Poor people need it and they come too, but they don’t tend to stay around for very long in most of our congregations. Actually, most of the working class LGBT people don’t stay very long either.
It is time, I think, to look more deeply at how our church culture around class issues is leaving a lot of people sucking on lemons. They aren’t finding the sugar, the accepting love, that they came looking for. They hear words of love and acceptance, but still often feel like they are somehow less valued than other people in the church. What if you haven’t been to college, like country music and are bored by classical, prefer beer to wine, enjoy reality TV shows more than masterpiece theater, or work at Walmart? What of you are homeless or just getting out of prison? Will your local church welcome you with open arms or ignore you at coffee hour?
The early universalists were not elitists, but the early unitarians certainly were. As Thomas Starr King famously said, “The Universalists think God is too good to condemn them, and the Unitarians think they are too good for God to condemn.
More on the theology later, but there is a lot we can do to improve our welcome to people that are not middle class. But first we have to talk about it. We have to look at the core of who we are and what we want to be in the world. Who are we really here for? Is it the people who need us or do we want to be just a kind of club for the rapidly disappearing middle class?
Frankly, you can get better classical music at the symphony. You can get more challenging intellectual stimulation from a lecture at the local college. Church is much more than that.
If religious community is lemonade, then we need the lemons. We need those who are inpain and despair. We need their tartness and their perspectives. We also need sugar, real sugar, not saccharine, sugar that consists of a love that will hold us all, really hold us, whoever we are and whatever our struggles.
But the main ingredient in lemonade is not lemons or sugar, but water. We need to dig our spiritual wells deep enough so that all can drink and be satisfied. Then we can go out and dig more wells and make more lemonade to serve to the rest of the world. Some of our churches are doing this. Some are becoming increasingly diverse in terms of social class. It is time to figure out why it isn’t more of them.