Lately the subject of labels has been coming up more and more in my life. I'm seeing an aversion to labels that really surprises me to a certain extent. People who are Jesus followers don't want to be called Christians. People who believe in the ultimate "salvation" or redemption of all bristle at the term Universalist. I even went through a period where I wanted to reject labels and be free to just be me. But, I've realized that won't work for me. So, for now, just call me BUTCH.
BUTCH is my acronym for Buddhist-Universalist-Transcending-Christian-Heretic. In the spirit of Brian McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy, I decided to slap a few labels on myself. These work pretty well. They don't describe me perfectly. None of them is a perfect fit. I'm not fully Buddhist (embracing all its precepts) or probably fully Christian (certainly not by Modern Churchianity standards). But, I'm mostly both of these things and more.
Why I'm BUTCH:
- Buddhist- Buddhism is for me a very pragmatic "religion". I'd call it more of a philosophy than a religion since it's really non-theistic (I'm not going to say atheistic) and not really focused on the afterlife. Buddhism has given me the how tos for all the things Christianity told me I should do. How to stay in the present moment. How to accept what is. How to "let go and let God". By providing specific techniques and precepts, Buddhism is a great framework for me. Buddhist teaching has been a lifesaver for me. Maybe literally.
- Universalist- I'm Universalist because I believe that G-d will (or has) redeemed all. I do not believe that any will be permanently lost. Period. End of story.
- Transcending- While I remain rooted in the Christianity I was brought up in, I continue to grow out of that and beyond that as I discover Truth- wherever it leads me. I embrace the fact that G-d is revealed in many ways, in many religions and philosophies and many cultures. I know that G-d speaks to me through other people, music, nature, my heart as well as through the Bible.
- Christian- Christianity is and always will be my foundation. It is the spiritual tradition I grew up with. It always will be a huge part of who I am. But, as my great4 grandfather, Thomas Jefferson, would say, I am still separating the diamonds from the dung. While I dump big chunks of the tradition I was raised in, I do attempt to salvage what is salvageable. Who would want to throw away diamonds? And, yes there are some real gems in Christianity in spite of all the dung we have thrown on top of it over the last 2,000 years.
- Heretic- I embrace the fact that some consider me a heretic. Jesus was a heretic. What better example could I have? The religious leaders of His day had Him murdered for bucking their "orthodoxy". So, bring it on!
You're probably familiar with all these labels except Transcending which I adapted from Daniel Helminiak's The Transcended Christian. Since I'm not fully transcended yet, I prefer transcending to transcended. These labels don't confine me to be only what they are nor do they force me to be everything they are. They don't define me anymore than the name Brian defines me. But, I happen to think nouns are a pretty useful part of speech.
For example, let's examine a chair (you could do this with any object). Why do we call it a chair? Well, it's something people sit in. When I say chair, you get a mental picture in your head. You have some idea of what I am talking about. You don't know perfectly. You don't know if I'm talking about a chair with legs or wheels, with arms or without, reclining chair or straight back. You don't know the color of the chair. But, you know I'm not talking about a car or a couch. I could go into to great detail about the chair to make sure you know exactly what I'm talking about. But, if I were telling you a story and stopped to do that with each person, place or thing I came to in the story, my short story would quickly turn into a novel.
Some reading this may think this is directly at them. But, you'd be wrong. This first struck me several months ago when a guy in our church performed a poem about he is more than the labels that people try to slap on him. And, of course, in a very real way he was absolutely right. It struck me when I read Martin Zender's website (a devoted follower of Jesus and Bible scholar) who says he is not a Christian. We are all much, much more than the boxes people try to shove us in. Labeling has definitely been abused. And, by daring to call ourselves Christian, for example, we run the risk people might think of us as one of those types of Christians. But, what I've decided is that is a risk I'll have to take.
The label Universalist seems to draw the most funny looks. I really don't know why. For me, other than Unitarian Universalists (who I had heard of but had no idea what they really were), I had never heard of Universalists or Universalism until a couple of years ago. I embraced almost without hesitation the idea that G-d would (or has) redeemed all. To me, that is Universalism, plain and simple. There are many, many variations on that theme and we can bicker all day long about how G-d accomplishes that. But, I think that everyone who believes that is some sort of Universalist. But, notice when I ask people point-blank if they are Universalists most get very uncomfortable and begin to squirm in their seats. I tried it today at lunch with a guy I thought was a Universalist. I guess I was expecting an unqualified yes. I didn't get it. Carlton Pearson calls his doctrine "The Gospel of Inclusion". I think this is an effort to avoid the label Universalist. I think my buddy, Martin Zender (well, he's not really my buddy but I've emailed him a few times and I have an autographed copy of his book, so he seems like my buddy), would punch me in nose if I called him a Universalist. But, for me, I'm not going to try to avoid labels anymore. If you like, you can just call me BUTCH.