It is only recently that I learned that my belief system was an actual belief system, rather than simply a coping mechanism. I did not know that there was Universalism outside of the Unitarian Church, which I contemplated joining at a theologically desperate point in my life. I came to Universalism circuitously, having simply lost the ability to worry about salvation any more.
My religious background is much like most of yours. I was raised in the Church of Christ, baptized when I was 14 at church camp, because that was what the kids in my youth group did. I don’t think I even grasped what my baptism was supposed to have been about until I had a crisis of faith in my early 20s. But then as I thought about it more, I began to wonder if I was truly saved. So I went to retreats and on missions to Mexico, to Bible studies and devotionals. I wept many, many tears in the interest of finding what I thought was missing. Then I got a second job, which is often the case with me. I began working for the newspaper at UT in hopes of finding a career after I decided not to teach. I edited and designed the paper sometimes 5 nights a week and I began missing Sunday night and Wednesday night church in the interest of this endeavor. But what I found at the paper was what I had been searching for. As I edited, I read every story in every section of the paper. I started reading the New York Times, and the BBC, and watching a constant stream of news, as to stay informed about what should go on my page. One night in particular stands out in my head as a turning point in my thinking about God and salvation and redemption. That summer, there were several executions covered by our paper, but one in particular got national coverage--the execution of a man named Gary Graham. The eyewitness testimony had been called into question and this case was being appealed to every level, up until the final seconds. And because of where I was on this particular day, I watched it unfold. Hearing the story of this man and his crime, the pain of his victims and their families, the distinct possibility that an innocent man was set to die, I was shaken. I could not help but think about the value of his life, of the consequences of his actions set in motion by circumstances far beyond his control, and about the state and destination of his soul. And over the months that followed, these questions only persisted and multiplied. How can a person trapped in the cycles of poverty and marginalization in this country be expected to find God when they have no hope? Why is it that so many people I love are instantly condemned for things that are intrinsically part of who they are? How is it that a person a world away, who has never known peace, can be expected to accept our narrow vision of God?
These questions being far too large for my 21 year-old mind to handle, I decided to stop trying to understand it. Instead, I decided to focus on what I could do. Volunteering at various places, getting wrapped up in the issues that moved me, which led me to a career change and has entirely changed my perspective. With each new person that I meet in my work and in life, it becomes clearer to me the value of every human life. And when I look at the view of Christianity that I was taught from my earliest memories, there is no longer room for me there. I firmly believe that we do ourselves a great injustice by living our lives simply to stay out of Hell. There is nothing man can do to earn a place in Heaven, and under the same umbrella of grace, there is nothing man can do to fall out of God’s favor. For me, once I realized this and was able to stop worrying about my own salvation, and about winning souls for Jesus with the five steps and the multicolored bracelets and the fliers and strategically placed information tables and the fun, but salvific, events, I was able to more fully be who God intended me to be. An imperfect being, in a far from perfect world, who has been known to do and say outlandish things, who has a definite penchant for the radical and is probably wrong about so many things. But who is striving to live her life in love, to do what is best and to know that God wholly loves us for who we wholly are. That we are all covered by grace and by this grace we are free.