This world. This place. This life.

Monsters in our closet


I have a working theory that many UUs are more afraid of the imagined beliefs of other UUs, than they would be if they knew what those other UUs actually believe.

Here’s what I mean. When I hear people insisting that we need to define our UU identity, that we need to name the core of what UUs believe, I get nervous. I’m afraid that the circle they might draw would shut me out.

But something changes for me when I hear what people really believe, rather than what I imagine. The bedroom light switches on, and the monsters in the closet are just shirts and shoes.

I first realized this when Patrick McLaughlin shared with me David Bumbaugh’s suggestions about UU core beliefs. Bumbaugh’s poetic language allows enough space for a range of interpretations, for a broad spectrum of UUs to say, “Yes, this is what I believe.”

Christine Robinson has also risked articulating our common beliefs. Here’s what she says:

Life is good, and so are you.

Reason and Intellectual Faculties are good.

You can trust them to understand life.

However it’s a Very Big Universe out there,

and many important things can’t be known

through reason and intellect.

For this we have intuition, heart, spirituality,

and other faculties which are useful

but don’t lead everyone to the same conclusions.

Truth on these Very Big matters

is best found in conversations,

actual, virtual, literary, and internal.

It is to be expected that there will be differences.

They enrich us.

That’s what we do as Unitarian Universalists…

grow in spirit, together.

It takes a certain amount of bravery to propose a list of “things commonly believed among us.” We’re a tough crowd. We attack imagined monsters before anyone has time to turn on the lights. We shred a lot of shirts and shoes.

I think it’s time for us to find our courage. Courage to speak our beliefs––and courage to listen to others without reflexive critique.

We are not children. We can expect more from ourselves. We can replace fearfulness with a deep and abiding trust that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

9 thoughts on “Monsters in our closet

  1. Hi Heather,
    I’m a Choir Director of a UU congregation and another trend I find stifling is the notion that everything expressed in a UU worship service or by a UU member has to be something everyone in the congregation can assent to.

    If I write a hymn about my love for God [“God” here being a stand-in for any belief that some UU’s take issue with], why can’t that hymn be sung as a celebration of my love, or an exploration of that love, without fear that some folks may be alienated?

    Folks who are truly open-minded are not as easily “alienated” as some UU’s would have us believe. We are capable of hearing other people’s beliefs and convictions without assuming they are indictments against us, or dismissing them as silly superstition.

    Just my two cents!

    • Hi, Justin. Membership in a pluralist congregation is hard work. It’s easy to be reactive, and much harder to make conscious choices about when to speak, and when to listen. Hearing the beliefs we don’t share in a worship service can be jarring; it’s an acquired skill to continue to be present, to continue to enjoy the service, when a hymn, reading, sermon, etc., runs counter to our convictions.

      BTW, I’m a member of the Anchorage fellowship. I live in Girdwood, and there have been a LOT of snowy Sundays this winter!

      • Very thought-provoking response. I will have to sleep on that!

        Thanks for keeping the dialogue open. Really fantastic blog!


  2. Hi Heather – thanks for writing this. It’s so true – the monsters! I am quick to assume, and often may not check in verbally, having some knee-jerk fear of being thought nosey or aggressive or…stupid! But it’s so liberating to be curious, in discussion with others. Turning on the light in that closet. This applies to anything in life, any subject. I feel so much better, excited even, about sharing and expressing myself. I love what Christine Robinson says. It’s simply being a compassionate human on the planet. In love. No fears.

  3. Yes! The three C’s: Courage, Conversation & Community!

  4. All of your dialogue has left me warm and fuzzy. 🙂

    I still don’t quite “get” what UU is or about, but maybe it’s not that easy!?

    In a broader spectrum, I like the idea of exploring things before thoroughly freaking out because I’m too afraid to investigate. Whoa. My mind just blew up.

    • Hi, Gretchen! UUs don’t have a creed (like the Nicene or Apostles’), and there’s some disagreement about whether there’s a core set of beliefs.

      Some people say we have a covenant (promise) rather than a creed; I think the promise has something to do with being in community together in a way that encourages spiritual growth (without predetermined ideas about what that growth looks like).

      We do have seven principles (which some people object to, saying we treat them like a creed), and six sources, which can be found here:

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