November 5, 2020


Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:53 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

Today I was reminded again by the UU World of the great loss to all UUs everywhere by the death of Elandria Williams. May we all carry on and fulfil the best of her legacy.

UUA Co-Moderator Elandria Williams (who died September 23, 2020) addresses the 2018 General Assembly in Kansas City, Missouri.

October 27, 2020

Anti-Racist Universalism

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 5:39 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

I was reading about a professor at Bryn-Mawr, Julien Suaudeau, who wrote a piece about the current tension between French ideals and the reality of racism and division. He asks,

“How can French universalism reinvent itself as an anti-racist and postcolonial co-production? Asking these questions is not to reject universalism, but rather to question the forms in which it manifests itself and how they relate to reality and material conditions. They push us to understand what these values mean for someone living in the countryside, or in the suburbs of a big city (banlieue), or for a French person whose background is that of an erased and obscured colonial history. In line with the thinking of Jean Jaurès, the universalism emerging from these questions would start from the real and move towards the ideal.”

The same question can be asked of Unitarian Universalism. How can our (small ‘u’ universalism) be reinvented as anti-racist and postcolonial? How will diverse people co-create something that has been dominated by white Americans? How can we question the forms in which we manifest our faith without blindly rejecting their inspiration in both Christian Universalism and humanistic universalism? How can we understand what our current forms of UU life mean to those people who’s background includes the erased and obscured history of American colonialism, slavery, jingoism and Jim Crow?

My experience tells me that it depends on relationship. Who do we know and work with and how does that shape the words we use, the stories we tell, the rituals we perform and above all the people who find a home in our congregations and stay to become leaders?

December 18, 2016

Make America Wake Again

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:03 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

Oh, the Trump train is boarding, and all the powerful schemers are climbing abord. They are going to a land called America Great Again and they think we all will go with them.  But they are confused, most of America is confused, about where they are actually going.  They believe that America is Great is where each generation has more money, more financial opportunity, than the generation before.  

For example, The New York Times just published an article (“The American Dream, Quantified at Last,” by David Leonhardt) which begins with the fact that historian James Truslow Adams coined the term “American Dream” in his 1931 book The Epic of America.  They quote his definition of the American Dream as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”  

The problem is that they use this definition to only focus on income, as revealed in income tax data.   But Adams went on, immediatly after the words quoted, to say that the dream was not just about income and because of that people msunderstand the dream.   Adams said, “It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

That sounds like the UU dream, the one that causes to wake up to the social order of the day.  We see the social order does not recognize people as they are, or empower them to attain their fullest stature.  Instead, the social order uses the sugar of income to ensure the oppressing, alienating, degrading and marginalizing of so many of us.  We wake each tme we mark the Transgender Day of Rememberance, or stand with those who say “Black Lives Don’t Matter Enough Yet.”  If we are moved by the True American Dream, and relize it is still only a dream, it moves us to leave the Trump Train and seek instead the most holy and beautiful, Peace Train. The dream causes us to wake up and “stay woke” as my allies put it.  

Please, join with me in making America “woke” again, seeking not the dream of money and cars only, but also the dream of peace, love justce and compassion.

February 6, 2015

The Better Secularist

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:30 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

In his editorial column of February 3, “Making a Better Secularist”, David Brooks has made three terrible mistakes.  In responding to Phil Zukerman’s vision of secularists, Brooks has overlooked reality.

First, he accepts Zukerman’s idea that “religion” is equivalent to conventional Christianity or Judaism. He makes this clear in his second-to-last paragraph when he gives only Jewish and Christian examples when speaking of a need to “exalt the passions in pursuit of moral action.”  In reality, religion is rich and complex, offering many responses to the realities of human existence.  To assume there is but one alternative to so-called secularism is to overlook the glorious abundance of religious diversity, including non-theistic forms.  My religious tradition is part of this diversity but is not part of Brook’s article.

Secondly, David Brooks has accepted the illusion that all so-called ‘secularists’ are purely atheistic individualists.  In reality, Zukerman’s Secularism is one current in the mighty river of humanism.  Humanism centers morality, like Brook’s secularists, on “individual reason, individual choice and individual responsibility”.  Humanism appears within religious traditions and outside of them.  But most importantly, humanists have long understood that each person makes moral choices within a network of relationships, shaped by human culture, and as a small, linked, strand in the infinite, interconnected, web of being.

Finally, Brooks accepts the false idea that, as he puts it “You either believe in God or you don’t”.  Beyond the fact that there are many understandings of ‘God’, there is another option.  We place moral purpose and spiritual experience at our communal center.  In my congregation, both non-theists and theists (and even atheists) together, shape the meaning of life, find shared identity, and choose common purpose. The “better secularist” that Brooks imagines has long existed and thrived in such communities.

At the end of his article, Brooks invokes an “enchanted secularism, one that puts emotional relations first and autonomy second.”  He imagines “secularism” becoming  “less content with mere benevolence, and more responsive to the spiritual urge in each of us, the drive for purity, self-transcendence and sanctification.”  The better secularists that he imagines have existed in our congregations for a long time now.

March 2, 2011

The New U: Ringing the Bell

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:55 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

Rev. Robert Bell may have done us a great favor. The question is will we take advantage of it? Rob Bell has announced his new book “Love Wins” has generated a lot of short term condemnation from his more conservative Christian brothers and sisters. He has generated their ire by daring to suggest, to PROCLAIM, that there is no such thing as an eternal Hell. Check out his cool book preview at:

I have long felt that as the institutional inheritors of American Universalsim we have been hiding a powerful message in our back closets. Lately we have been saying that we “Stand on the Side of Love.” Christian Universalism is the primary root of this idea. So, will we capitalize on Rob Bell’s recent celebrity and publicity by enunciating our ability to affirm and include his message in our lager faith? Will we say to everyone that Origen as well as Arius, Gregory of Nyssa as well as Servetus, James Relly as well as Charles Chauncy, Robert Bell and Carlton Pearson as well as our current Unitarian Universalist leaders are all part of the really good news of inclusion, love and faith?

If we do so then we will gain from Rob’s notoriety and turn even more people to the side of Love.

February 8, 2011

The Rationalists Who Dance With Irrationality

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:36 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

This past week I read Thom Beloit’s rambling review (his description) of a book [] and it got me thinking about many things.

I recalled an elder member of one congregation telling me all about how her own father, over months, had communicated with her from beyond the grave.  I thought of the three or four UU church members who have described to me seeing auras, including one who told me how my own aura changed as I gave a sermon.  His words reminded me of reading, as part of a college research project, first-hand accounts of Native American shamans going on journeys in the spirit world, and then a few years later meeting a UU who went on similar journeys.  I wandered in thought to  hard-shelled atheists, threatened by the superstition of others, yet who admittedly carried good-luck charms, and deeply rational people who were deeply moved by fantasy worlds. I thought of those who rationally argued that the power of metaphorical Truth was more important than literal truth.  I remember my beloved elder colleague Web Kitchell who ate donuts and philosophized with Coyote.

At the end of his review Rev. Thom says:
“Hiding behind and hiding within all those things about the Transcendentalists that we lovingly admire, there is an obvious secret that is uncomfortable and necessary. We are the rationalists who dance with irrationality, the naturalists who live amongst the supernatural. We are both repulsed by and drawn to the image of Emerson and Fuller and their cohorts hanging around with mesmerists and seeking communion with the spirits of the dead.”

This is why I am as much a storyteller as a theologian, as much a lover of mythos as logos (as Karen Armstrong puts it,) as much a nurture of dreamers and dancers as scientists and engineers.  I wonder if an “obvious secret” is really a secret.  I wonder if we should shake off our heavy identification with rationalist rejection and broadcast instead our engagement with the fullness of human personality and human experience.  I love the phrase “Rationalists who dance with irrationality.”  It speaks of wholeness, of love and reason blended.  Perhaps, if we claim the mesmerists as much as the scientists and US Presidents we will become the religion of our time, the faith of the naturalists and rationalists who dance, not chaotically but gracefully and joyfully, with dream and irrationality.

September 5, 2010

President Obama, Theodore Parker, M. L. King Jr. and God

Posted in 2010, Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 9:03 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

ON September 2nd Melissa Block of NPR’s All Things Considered said, “Yesterday on the program, we talked about the new rug that’s part of the makeover of the Oval Office. Woven around the border are some of President Obama’s favorite historical quotes, including one from Martin Luther King, Jr.: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Well, several of you wrote in to correct that attribution, pointing out that the original source of that quote was in fact the 19th-century Unitarian minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker of Massachusetts.”  The story went on to a conversation with Clayborne Carson (Professor of History, and the founding director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University) who notes that the actual wording of Parker’s original was longer, more nuanced, than the MLKing jr. version.

I assumed that most of those writing corrections to NPR were Unitarian Universalists. It made me happy to hear Parker get his due, especially so near the bicentennial of his birth.  It reminded me of my comment last Sunday that the reason so few people are able to recognize Obama as a Christian is that he was raised Unitarian Universalist.

Then two other things came to my mind. First, that we appear in the popular culture largely on borrowed light. Our president, Peter Morales, gets arrested and hardly a notice. Both King and Parker were big in their days, but only after they left the circle of Unitarianism to join a much larger circle of American popular theology and public speaking. King was a Baptist, and we had martyrs in the anti-slavery fight and the Civil Rights struggle, but usually we are mentioned only in footnotes to footnotes, like this article.  Parker was rejected by the Unitarian ministers of Boston. It was good to hear Parker quoted as “a Unitarian” but I am not sure how well we integrate his impact, his importance, and his eloquence in our current practice.

The second thought I had is that that the reason these two figures are not obviously ours is that both King and Parker were unquestionably theists, whereas Unitarian Universalism is very questionably theist. Parker was very emotional and very personal in his theology. As Dean Grodzins has so well documented in his biography of Parker, Theodore took his break with the Boston Unitarian Ministers not just as a theological or intellectual debate, but also as a very personal rejection that brought him to tears on more than one occasion. This focus on the personal was at the center of his religious practice and his piety toward God. I can’t tell you how often theists have come to be with my church for a while, but then have drifted away looking for a place as loving and justice oriented as ours, but one where God and Christ are verbally invited to be present and praised in worship. (I am still trying to find ways to minister to these people in a way that would keep them in our fold and yet maintain the integrity of Humanists, Buddhists and other non-personal theists in my congregation.) For King’s Part Rosemary Bray Mcnatt paraphrases a conversation she had with Coretta Scott King, who said, in effect: “We gave a lot of thought to becoming Unitarian at one time, but Martin and I realized we could never build a mass movement of black people if we were Unitarian.” [This was before our UU consolidation]

I am not saying we all have to become  personal theists to become a great religion. I am saying that we will not be a popular religion in America until we practice better ways of being more inclusive of people like M. L. King Jr. and Theodore Parker.


January 17, 2008

National Day of Prayer

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:57 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

Rev. Thomas Perchlik
Today, Saturday, December 21, the Opinion page in our Muncie Star Press, the local paper, included a letter from my old “friend” Rev. William Keller.  I fought with him over the meaning of the National Day of Prayer and he lost, but he seems to have learned nothing.  That poor old guy really could not think his way out of a paper bag.  He rants for over 200 words about how this is a Christian nation. According to Keller “According to the Constitution, this nation was founded upon Christian principles found in the Bible.”  He never quotes the Constitution directly.  He also says nothing of what kind of Chrisitianity he wants established, writing as if there was only one kind.  He insists: “Know what is in the Constitution and the Federalist papers. This should be a Christian Nation. The reference of Christianity and the Bible are many in these documents.”  Well maybe in the Federalist Papers.  Finally Keller ends by quoting Proverbs chapter 29 verse 2: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan”.
Is he saying that Bush is not a reghteous man?  I know that Keller voted for Bush because God had selected him as a Christian leader.  If this is what Keller means by a Christian nation I want none of it.