Seminary Program

This is where we post the essays from many of our Universal Life Church Seminary students. When students finish a ULC course, they write a comprehensive essay about their experiences with the course, what they learned, didn't learn, were inspired by, etc. Here are their essays.

Search This Blog

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spirit Quest

I have really enjoyed this course but it took longer than I expected.  Being a single mother and trying to work and study it was not always easy to meditate and read the course work 3 times.  But I got there in the end. 

Since starting this course it has taken me on a journey.  I found a new partner who is spiritually minded and a Reiki healer and we have become engaged.  I have also given up alcohol and feel more comfortable in my sobriety. 

I have used some of the tools now in my new business.  I have coached 2 people who were suffering and I guided then to do meditation and look for the answers from within. 

I have started some great workshops where I do guided meditations and have used some of the techniques such as the roses and golden sun to aid me in this. I really needed the grounding cord information for this work.  I believe that meditating is where we will get all our answers.  I also use the Angel cards which always give people great answers.  I have a larger scale workshop planned in a few weeks in the local Hairdressers and have had to ask for some help from my friend a Reiki healer and another who is into Angel cards to assist me.  I will be doing a lot of goal setting and getting people to create there future and I will be opening and closing the evening with guided meditations.

Everything in this course I could relate to.  I have steered away from Reiki and working with healing energies as I feel it is my path to work with the mind.  I do more work with the subconscious mind.   I use the meditations, affirmations, positive thinking and creative visualisation.  Forgiveness is also something I apply to my work now.  I believe we create everything and if we don’t forgive this will fester and becomes an illness. 

I must say there was really nothing in this course that I didn’t believe in.  I had some knowledge of some of course but it was fabulous to read it through in a different perspective. 

I would like to thank ULC for everything they have given me.  And I wish you all the love and joy you could wish for. 

Rev. Yvette White
Many people get ordained through the Universal Life Church as a means to become wedding officiants, but also to study through our online seminary. If you need minister supplies or online ceremonies, we have a wide selection to choose from, as well as a place for spiritual articles and spiritual bookmarks. If you need any assistance in any area of your ministry, please feel free to contact and we'll give you all the help we can. Visit our FB Page at ULC Seminary.

Monday, December 26, 2011

About The Universal Life Church

About the Universal Life Church

Many people get ordained through the Universal Life Church as a means to become wedding officiants, but also to study through our online seminary. If you need minister supplies or online ceremonies, we have a wide selection to choose from, as well as a place for spiritual articles and spiritual bookmarks. If you need any assistance in any area of your ministry, please feel free to contact and we'll give you all the help we can. Visit our FB Page at ULC Seminary.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

ULC Comparative Religion

Comparative religion course - Concluding Essay. 
Rev. Graham Louden,  MA DipEd (Oxon)  BA ACP  PhD
The Interfaith Dynamic and what it offers.

The word  ‘religion’  is considered by many commentators to be derived from the Latin verb ‘ religare’  meaning to bind  and this seems highly plausible as religious groups throughout history have been bound together by shared values and  beliefs as a means of safeguarding and demonstrating  their particular identity   and affording protection against others who subscribe to different or heterodox views.  Indeed, most religions have begun the process of refining and reinterpreting the original message of their founder relatively early in their history and, generally, where no specific recommendation was offered as to the establishment of an institutional church,  they have provided it themselves and bolstered it up with convoluted doctrine,  elaborate ceremonial,  pomp and ceremony and sanctions to be meted out to those who fail to abide by these rules.  Continuously, over two thousand  years,  generations of  church   empire-builders have  manipulated, embellished  and refashioned the teachings of Jesus in order to serve the interests of church  and state  and to enable them to  achieve status and dominion over their fellow men  ‘in his name’  and we can see the same process within the realms  of Islam, Judaism and many other religious prescriptions  which has led to so much fragmentation and internecine strife and then to confrontation with others.

An ever-increasing knowledge of human nature and the transmission of scholarship have been crucial factors in promoting greater analysis of the aetiology of religions and  an understanding  of   the interrelationship between  essential teachings and the impulses which have led to the close identification of the spiritual and the secular in the interest of institutional and personal aggrandisement.    Studies of power structures and  hierarchies in different societies and cultures, whether secular or theocratic, suggest that there is little variation in outcomes even though the rhetoric  and vocabulary is very different.  Even  in states  that are vehemently  anti-religious,  a form of creed  or worship of state principles,  the leader,  or the writings  of   influential  contributors to  the corporate   ethic often  reinforced  by patriotic songs, intimidating imagery   and ceremonial,   is almost certain to emerge.  An understanding of the ways in which  ‘normal’   human behaviour influences   our  attitudes towards the  organisation and  manipulation of  powerful ideas is  therefore vital    to assessing   the state of religious groups and their overall  impact for good or ill (or a mixture of the two) .   Many great thinkers and theologians have remarked upon our ability   to convert  inspiring ideals into  mundane, even  harmful practice.   Gloria Harkness  has  stated that,   

       ‘The tendency to turn human judgements into divine commandments makes
       religion one of the most dangerous forces in the world’
whilst  Reinhold Niebuhr  has opined that

      ‘The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan values and ends is the
      source of all religious fanaticism.’

Now   that we are enabled to assess religion in an  evolving and ever-changing context, devoid of the aura of impenetrability in which previous generations were able to cloak it, and to trace the  evolution of dogma and liturgy by way of an ever greater repository of manuscripts and texts,  the door  has been  opened to the examination of other faiths and to   closer  examination of our own.    We  live in a more informed and rational age, illuminated by the works of great scientists  and thinkers that have radically altered our approach to the world in which we live and led us to challenge assumptions that once were   beyond criticism or rational enquiry.   In the main,  until after  the invention of  moveable type   and the  flurry of vernacular translations that followed,  the faithful were generally credulous and unquestioning and   dissident sects and  schismatics  such as the Cathars,  Albigensians   and  Lollards   were relatively easy to marginalise and suppress.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that religions are wont to develop in much the same ways,   regardless of their  geographical origins,  founders’ intentions or  content, once their evolution is given over to subsequent generations of ‘custodians’ of the sacred flame who  see    it   as their   duty to flesh out what may have been a   sketchy premise and to institutionalise  and  systematise  what  was perhaps a set of    aspirational  promptings rather  than  a   rigorous code of  conduct.   Sigmund Freud  suggested   that all belief systems emerged to combat  ‘the trauma of self-consciousness’  which  evolved along with   the  realisation by  early homo  sapiens that the world  about him   was cruel, unforgiving and incomprehensible.   This harsh  backdrop to existence could be made more manageable and bearable by attributing a god or spirit to every aspect of nature and developing   rituals  of prostration and  sacrifice in order to placate them and ward off calamitous natural events such as earthquakes and famines.   The resulting  animistic prescription characterised   most pagan belief and  worship systems, although becoming far more sophisticated as great empires were formed, and  it  reached its most developed form within the boundaries of the Roman Empire.  Much of this motivation was imported into early  Christianity to  accommodate the prevailing  mindset and so  the all-powerful  omnicompetent   deity  was retained  and  subsumed  into the new   dispensation.  

In the relatively recent past, it has been the practice to judge different religions and their characteristics   in the light of their clashes,   historical antagonisms   and  perceived  irreconcilability.    Much reference is made  to ‘wars of religion’,  crusades,   sectarian strife and unbridgeable divisions  even between sub-sects within the same denomination such as the corrosive tensions  within the world-wide Anglican communion or the  Sunni-Shia   divide in Islam.    To an extent,  this  has become a convenient shorthand for the interpretation of  world crises which involve religious hatred, such as Northern Ireland,  Syria,   Iraq,  Bahrain  and many others where a minority  (usually)   of  one branch  of a major  religious domination  exerts  disproportionate authority over the majority in the interests of  acquiring political power and consolidating their position of pre-eminence. As the ability to compare and contrast their varying structures and  dynamics becomes ever greater,   however,   we   begin to  identify   the similarities between them and to conclude that the similarities vastly outweigh the  differences that have been so much emphasized in   order to   create a ‘unique selling point’ .   This applies not merely to internal sects and ‘heresies’, but  as much if not more to the major faith empires where it is  striking how similar they  can be in terms of structure,  beliefs  and  hierarchies.  

Such replication of outline stories and beliefs occurs so frequently and faithfully that it lends great credence to the notion that there is, within the human psyche, a fundamental need to subscribe to a creed or philosophy that helps to make sense of the confusion that being human inflicts upon us.   Indeed, recently scientists have suggested on the basis of extensive research that  we all have a  need to believe in  some set of guiding principles and that this stems not from our own volition but from a  neurological predisposition that is   dormant within us all,   perhaps similar to the ‘language acquisition device’  which Noam Chomsky  proposed as the explanation for our varying ability to acquire language.

If we take a concept such as the Golden Rule, we can see this similarity factor at work.  In Christianity, it is well expressed in Matthew  7:12   in the words

                ‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this
                sums up the Law and the prophets.’

Judaism states  (perhaps unsurprisingly)

                ‘What is hurtful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man.  That is the whole
                 of the Torah and the remainder is but commentary.’

The same concept, however, is found in numerous other faiths which developed apart from the Judaeo-Christian tradition, such as   Buddhism

                  ‘Hurt not others in ways you fond hurtful.’

                 ‘This is the sum of the Dharma; do not unto others that which would cause
                   pain if done to you.’

And Islam  (albeit rather less  directly)
                  ‘Not one of you is a believer unless  he  desires for his brother  that which he
                  desires for himself.’

Similarly, if we  consider the injunction to seek and value peace, we find the same correspondence of views and expression.  In Christianity,  Matthew 5:9

       ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,  for they will be called sons of God.’

In Judaism  (Psalm 34)
        ‘Turn from evil and do good;  seek peace and pursue it.’

        ‘Happy live the peaceful, giving up victory and defeat.’

And in Islam  (again  in a more conditional  tone)
         ‘And if they lean to peace,  lean you also to it, and put your trust in Allah.’

Here we have just two examples of this concordance  but this finding is reflected in many other belief systems such as Taoism, Baha’i,  Confucianism and  Sikhism.

There is remarkable similarity to be found, too,  in many of the iconic stories that occur in  many religions, one striking example being that of the Flood.  We are all aware of the story of Noah’s Ark  but this metaphor for fall and redemption seems to be evident in so many  cultures that  it   suggests a cast of mind that is common to all mankind when attempting to explain the relationship with the divine.  In Hinduism,  Manu is warned by a grateful fish  that he must build a boat to save himself from the coming annihilation;  this he does, and is enabled to repopulate the world.   In Assyrian myth,  Utnapishtim is warned by a benevolent god to gather his family and  a pair of every animal  to avoid the wrath of the gods and the flood which is imminent.  Similarly, Atrahasis, in Babylonian mythology,  is urged by Ekni to build a boat and sail away with his family and breeding stock  to  avoid the floods. Almost identical legends are to be encountered  in Sumerian,  Chinese,  Druidic  and Zoroastrian  sources as well as many African religions.  

Some of the most significant features of various faiths do seem to recur throughout recorded history often with uncanny familiarity to existing beliefs.  In ancient Egypt,  Osiris, the Saviour-God,  was called Lord of Lords, King of Kings and God of Gods, the Resurrection and the Life, The Good Shepherd.  It is also said that his birth was announced by three wise men.   Similarly,  in ancient Greece, the birth of Dionysius, also a Saviour-God,  was celebrated on December 25th.   and his flesh and blood were symbolically eaten in the form of bread and wine.   By the time of the Emperor Aurelian , there   were so many saviour gods in the pantheon that  their celebration was combined into one festival on December 25th,  named the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.  This date was gradually imported into Christianity, beginning with the western churches in the early fourth century despite the absence of any record of the birth date of Jesus.   This pattern is rather well summed up in a Baha’i   teaching  stating that

       ‘The birth of every manifestation is the rebirth of the world.  In that simple fact lies  
         profundity and the glory of every day that is celebrated as the coming of God’s
            messenger,  be it the birth of Osiris,  Buddha, Jesus,  Mohammed or the Bab.               May we all find blessing within their light.’      

The concept of a miraculous or  virgin birth  (parthenogenesis)   is also one that features  in many cultures, religions and mythologies .  It has been suggested latterly  by liberal theologians that it was a myth added to Christianity  in the late 1st  century AD,  triggered by a Greek   mistranslation of the Book of Isaiah 7:14  to read,   ‘Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign;  behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name……’Though most biblical translations  use the word ‘virgin’,  the Hebrew word  alma  traditionally translates as  ‘young woman’  whereas the  Hebrew ‘Beulah’  usually means ‘virgin’.    It may well be, however,   that the notion of a virgin birth was imported  intentionally  to make  new believers feel more comfortable  as the concept was a staple of contemporary  pagan religions and beliefs.  

It was certainly a notion with which those educated in the Roman tradition would have been very familiar;   in Greek myth, for example,  Juno  conceives the God Mars without assistance from Jupiter simply by touching a sacred lily,   Perseus is  born of the virgin Danae,   and   Dionysius was born of the virgin  Semele who was  impregnated by Zeus with a bolt of lightning.   Phoenician  mythology tells that Adonis was born of the virgin Myrrh whilst,  most significantly because of the contemporaneity with early Christianity, Mithra,   whose cult initially  rivalled  Christianity,  was conceived  when God entered Anahita,   ‘the Immaculate Virgin Mother of the Lord Mithra’   in the form of light.  Examples of miraculous births are also to be found  in religions where  there is no discernible or identifiable  means of transmission such as the Aztec  belief system where the  principal  god,   Huitilopochtli,  was conceived  when  his virtuous  mother  was impregnated by a bundle of feather which she happened upon and placed in her bosom.

In 1949,   Joseph Campbell published  ‘The  Hero with a Thousand Faces’, in which  he articulated his concept of the ‘monomyth’ , the archetypal hero who surfaces throughout history in all cultures and in many guises.  He summarized it with the words’

          ‘A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural
         wonder ;  fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the
         hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons
         on his fellow man.’

This theory, which has been widely discussed and elaborated ever since, was based upon much research into  mythology, anthropology,  modern psycho-analysis and patters of cultural transmission.   It    perhaps helps to explain the perceived similarity between religions which,   almost without exception,  rely heavily upon a cult of  pre-eminent personality which   generates  a following and, eventually reverence and  deification.
In this category, he gives as examples Osiris,  Prometheus, the Buddha,  Moses and Christ.  More recently, it has been suggested that Harry Potter is based on this
Template,   although J.K.Rowling has declined to confirm or deny this!   

Ritual and ceremonial also tend to evolve in similar ways in many religions of all ages, whether religions  based upon sacred texts or  those handed down by word of mouth and based upon tradition.   These practices,   based no doubt upon the  earliest  agrarian societies where nature and fertility were deemed to be of the utmost importance.   These may be  categorised as cycles of  nature such as the solstices and  the equinoxes, the harvests and rains,  the cycles of life such as birth, marriage and death,  the sanctification of  marriages and sacred buildings or of   those in leadership roles and sacrifices to invoke blessings and to appease or show devotion to the deity.

As well as a correspondence   of   ideological and theological content,   it is also evident that the practical rules and structures which are grafted on to religious movements  are usually very   similar.  Whether men are drawing up the regulations for a golf club or for a world religion,  the same appetite for codes of conduct and control mechanisms always seems to surface.  The process often seems to become self-perpetuating as more and more layers are added to the original construct in the belief, perhaps, that complexity adds more to the sense of awe and innate respect that the institution will command.  Hence we see in Islam,  the proliferation of  the Hadith,  traditions about the Prophet or attributed to him, which  have come to be regarded as complementary to the Qu’ran despite the fact that the Qu’ran    itself states that it is complete in itself.  These many thousands of sayings are represented   by many traditional Muslim clergy as the authentic words of the Prophet  to which   obedience  is essential if they are to be real Muslims.  According to Dr. Taj  Hargey,   ‘most, if not all, of the thorny problems of faith that British Muslims face today -   whether   it is  apostasy,  blasphemy,  jihad,  women’s oppression,  homosexuality, religious  intolerance or the democratic deficit in and outside the community - can be traced either to fabricated  hadith  or the masculine-based  Sharia’.    Although there are many scholars working tirelessly on the Hadith to separate the authentic  or good  (sahih and hasan) sayings from the  dubious  (da‘if)  or down right  fabricated   (mawdu) ,  it is a task of  such proportions and the anti-Koranic perspective is so  entrenched,  that  these distorted  versions of  Islam will persist and even proliferate for decades to come.

 These amendments to the  original faith often become inextricably involved with political and civil life to create a theocratic state such as John Calvin’s  Geneva where his ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ provided a  blue print for such a community where the public persona  was regarded as a reflection of the citizen’s  spiritual  wellbeing despite the fact that     Calvin’s  central   thesis of   predestination  nullified  the possibility of such a  correlation  totally.    If your   life-style did not reflect  the blamelessness of your spiritual life,   people argued,  why take the trouble to live morally and soberly?   Faced with this  perceived paradox,  Calvin was forced to concede that it was highly likely that those who were predestined to the ranks of the elect,  would  reflect this in their daily lives and demeanour.   

As  well as beliefs and moral practices,   major religions have tended to develop  in similar ways as regards the built environment of the faith and this too is likely to reflect the way in which human beings conceive of living in community based upon inherent promptings and  social instincts and these are just as likely to occur in the  religious sphere as in the social structure.    A distinction between  exoteric   and   esoteric   beliefs is often created in order to set apart and  sanctify those who are seen  (or wish to be seen) as the  custodians of the truth whose role it is to interpret it and to pass it on to the generality of the faithful.   The apostolic succession, characterised by the laying on of hands   at ordination,  might be said to represent this as it marks out a priestly caste who are empowered  to act as intercessors  with God on behalf of the penitent.  Here we may perhaps discern traces of the Gnostic approach  (proscribed by Christianity  in the early years),  which reserves true knowledge to an elite who are set apart from others by their receptivity to that truth.  

Architecture too, when viewed across  a whole spectrum of religions, reveals singular similarities over the past fifteen hundred years in the history of sacred spaces.  The urge to look and build upwards whether in the form of Babylonian ziggurats,  Egyptian pyramids,  cathedral spires is ever present.  The choice of site is often meticulous, employing  feng  shui,  dowsing or the identification of  ley lines  to ensure that the alignment was correct.   Astronomy or the calendar were also influential as in the case of the Mesoamerican citadels  aligned to the motions of Venus or the Pleiades,  the sun temples of Cuzco  or the rather  less clear motivation underlying Stonehenge.   Within, there were usually specific areas set aside for worship, for veneration of the saints and martyrs and for the exhibition of relics as with  Buddhist  stupas and Christian shrines.   Cloisters and  courtyards  (sahns in Muslim architecture)  allow for  meditation and tranquillity whilst features such as labyrinths  represent the path through the underworld and were incorporated in  cathedrals such as Chartres many centuries later.

Of great importance was the portal or gateway, and in numerous religions it represents the point of transition  from the mundane to the sacred, often marked by observances such as the mezuzah or the holy water stoup.  It has been said that

    ‘Gateways  make the most elaborate and explicit statements about controlling who may
     or may not enter  a sacred space.  From the Christian cathedral door on which the
     archbishop must knock, to the house of the Indian Sora people where the shaman’s
     assistants break down the door to  bring in an ancestral name for a baby, to the gates of
     the monastery at Mount Athos which are barricaded from dawn to dusk,  gateways
     control the identity and timing of those who would enter.’

Within,   the importance of ceremonial and mystery  is widely discovered;  all the senses are deployed  with spectacle,  taste,  smell and sound all playing a part whether through the  diffusion of incense,   the pomp and splendour of the richly bedecked celebrants,  the  chanting and music,  or the inclusion  of  food and drink  to symbolise renewal and spiritual sustenance.   Whether it be a mosque, a synagogue,  a Buddhist temple or  a Christian cathedral,    the same elements will be discernible.

There is much justification, therefore, for concluding that human behaviour, in the context of religious organisation,  tends to follow a prescribed pattern.  In addition, to  the monomyth  explanation of Joseph Campbell  cited above,   recent  wide-ranging research  suggests   that those  features common to most major religions  may stem from   factors within the  human psyche that have a  bearing  on this  aspect of our being.   Professor Roger Trigg of the University of Oxford, in answer to the question whether humans are predisposed to  believe in  God, has written,  ‘not quite, but He is all in the mind’.   He goes on to say that ‘the mind is open to supernatural agency’ and that  ‘atheism is not a human’s default option’.  Speaking recently  (May 2011),  he  said, ’We have gathered a body of evidence  that suggests that religion is a common fact of nature across different societies.  Attempts to  repress religion  are likely to be short-lived as human thought seems to be rooted to religious concepts, such as the existence of supernatural gods or agencies, and the possibility of an after-life or pre-life. ….It isn’t just a quirky interest of a few , it’s a basic human nature.  This shows that it is much more universal,  prevalent and deep-rooted.  It’s got to be reckoned with.   You can’t just pretend it’s not there.’   Research carried out by Justin Barrett, an Oxford anthropologist,  suggests that children are born believers in God and predisposed to believe in supernatural forces.  They may well  ’grow out of this’ to all intents and purposes, but, as Wordsworth wrote,   ’the child is father to the man’ and   the original  psychological promptings may  merely remain dormant as they become overladen by other social influences.   In support,   Paul Bloom  of Yale,  writes, ‘there’s now a lot of evidence  that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired.’    ‘All humans possess the brain circuitry and it never goes away.’    Even Richard Dawkins has expressed his willingness to believe this although he still considers indoctrination to be the  crucial factor in bringing about present-day belief.

It may also be arguable that the decline in churchgoing and religious observance, in the developed world   at least, is due to the general acceptance that we have tamed our environment  and  have achieved mastery over  nature.   Consequently, we no longer feel the need  to venerate and appease natural forces that we formerly  neither understood nor could   control   and are content to   entrust that task to science and environmental planning.    It is not difficult, however, to imagine a situation which would shatter this confidence;    even recently,  with the occurrence of the powerful earthquake on the east coast  of the  United States of America, followed by Hurricane Irene,  there have been apocalyptic pronouncements linking these events to divine retribution for certain types of deviant social behaviour.    It may well be that  the brain circuitry alluded to above is always  on standby  to cope with any new ‘trauma of consciousness’  that may befall!

How does this knowledge, if accepted,  alter or influence our attitude towards other faiths and to the notions of ecumenism and interfaith dialogue?    Once we subscribe to the  ideas of commonalty, rooted in the instinctual responses of early man, and  an inherent propensity   to embrace and to devise belief systems to cope with the challenges of existence,   should   this change our longstanding  attitudes towards the barriers that traditional and modern religion persuasions erect to distinguish themselves from their rivals?    Au fond,  does this new focus incorporate the possibility that all religions are essentially the same and equally worthy?   Do we all believe in the same G-d, or , indeed, not believe in the same G-d?   Or is this another example of the distinction between the ‘how’ and the ‘why’  that can be identified in other areas of  the debate as to whether science has  rendered   religion obsolete, or is likely to do so?   Scientific hypotheses, whether informed by neurology or quantum physics,  tell  how  the universe came into being  and evolved;   they cannot supply the answers to the related question ‘why’.  

They cannot explain the precise features and emphases of a particular faith or value system even  if they can help to explain the  mechanisms whereby  revelation was transformed into process.   There is still, therefore, a strong motivation    to embark upon interfaith dialogue and to endeavour to reach an informed understanding of  the reasons why  religions seem to differ so much and to be intent upon erecting barriers rather than building   bridges and   agreeing to differ in a civilised and  mature fashion.

There is a problem, however,  with this process in that the current environment  within which the debate takes place is often populated by those whose interpretation of the term ‘interfaith’   involves extra layers of meaning in addition to the obvious one of dialogue and understanding  between  faiths.     There is a suggestion that those engaged in this process should accept   that, ‘in essence, all religions are the same’   and that  ‘we all worship the same g-d’  leading on to the assumption that all those taking part in interfaith discussions should be ready to    dilute their beliefs and ‘meet in the middle’.    Is this approach either realistic or desirable?   Generally speaking, those who are committed to this process come from communities of professing Christians, Jews,  Muslims, Sikhs and many more and are intent upon building on the values of hope, love, tolerance and shared humanity to reach out to all those of   genuine faiths, or no faith,  in order to initiate dialogue so that we may appreciate ‘that of G-d in every person’ as the Quakers express it,  and emphasise those characteristics  and impulses that unite us rather than the issues that divide us   because of our past failure to reach out  and  embrace diversity and other roads towards   self-knowledge and spiritual development.   Religion  as history, is inseparable from the prevailing culture and mores; the trick is to  identify the elements that serve us best and should endure and cast aside those anachronistic elements that stem from the context and metaphor of a particular historical age  and have come to impair the simple message of harmony and co-existence.   We do not have to   abandon or  dilute our own cherished beliefs  or to suspend judgement in order to  agree to differ amicably where necessary   and to enter into a co-equal partnership where we can.

It is often suggested that we should ‘respect the rights of all people to worship as they will’  and indeed we should.  This does not mean, however, that we should condone practices that we find repugnant or inhuman merely on the grounds that they are part of a worship system and therefore deserve automatic respect.   There are numerous belief systems in the world which involve  cruelty, oppression,  bullying and indoctrination  as we see it ,   many, though not all, based upon untenable literal interpretations of religious texts.    Do we uphold their right to continue practices such as torturing small children  who are   alleged to be possessed by the devil or stoning to death of adulterers and homosexuals, activities frequently featured in the press of late?   Where we can speak out and  in contexts where we can intervene, should we not do so?   If we do not enter upon an interfaith process   with a clear idea of what we ourselves stand for  and the way in which we personally prefer to achieve it,  then we will find it difficult to communicate with others who do present with certainties (some distinctly unappealing)  and often fail to understand our  ambivalent stance in matters spiritual. One  researcher  and writer on the quest for the historical Jesus has opined  that  ‘open-minded can mean empty-minded’  and to find oneself in that latter category  helps no-one and adds nothing to the debate;  sincerely held beliefs must be the  ‘ground of our being’ and the spur that leads us always to revisit and question them anew and to want to commune with others  and learn more of their   mindset and   personal philosophy.   The founder of the Church of Interfaith Christians, the Reverend Ernest Steadman  was  quoted   as ‘always giving…his opinion that   the only difference between the deities of the world’s religions was the difference authored by man’.      It is hard not to agree with this;  one might only add that worship rituals and practices are among those aspects of religion  ‘authored by man’ often in the interest of self-aggrandisement and oppression of the faithful. Had the Aztecs chosen to worship Huitzilopochtli    with quiet contemplation and commensality,  their religious predilections would   have been above reproach;  unfortunately, they chose to make frequent and grisly human sacrifice the keynote of their ritual worship and we cannot but judge them and their construct of the divine in the light of this fact.  There is a profound difference between belief and worship: the former cannot be judged as regards its true essence and  purity, whilst the latter is open to judgement.   Elizabeth I once said that one cannot open a window into men’s souls;    one can only assume the genuineness and spiritual worth of their allegiances, one can only judge them, in a temporal context,  by their deeds and practices.  Inevitably, therefore,  one will come to  assess other religions against one’s own moral and cultural standards.

  In addition, there is a new and paradoxical element in the equation, that is the existence of a  settled,  widespread   non-faith morality which is generally accepted and tends to condemn   such practices as   denial of equality to women,   gender discrimination  and to support   contraception,   stem cell research   and  availability of abortion  which are still opposed    tenaciously by some churches.   Religious  organisations  are now  routinely judged against this public morality  and   found wanting, whereas once it was the morality of the wider community that was judged according to   standards  enunciated by church leaders. There is, however, no realistic  possibility that the wider society can be induced to revert to a narrower seemingly more intolerant  stance;     those  churches, therefore,   need to recognise  that they are   separating themselves  from the generality  of the population and thereby  limiting the scope of their activities and their avowed mission  because of their refusal to abandon  dogma that is rooted  in relatively scanty  scriptural authority  and that relates to a different  social context.   It is important, therefore, to  identify what specific tenets separate different churches and faiths as well as the generic similarities that offer valuable points of contact.

Ed Stetzer, writing recently in Christianity Today,  describes an interfaith meeting intended to lead to cooperative resourcing  to help  the different churches  (Protestant,  Catholic,  Jewish, Muslim,  Baha’I and Orthodox were represented) with their congregational and spiritual development.   At one point, he caused some consternation by saying,   ‘I am not here to form a partnership to help one another. I want to help the churches that I serve, and part of the reason they exist is to convert some of you’.   His neighbour,   an imam,  agreed heartily.  He goes on to say,

      ‘Though the imam and I were in a minority in that group of predominantly liberal
      Protestants,  we represented the movement among us that are actually growing in
      numbers.  Both he and I believed in sharing and enlarging our faiths.  We did not
      think we were  worshiping the same God or gods, and we were not there under the
      pretence  that we held the same beliefs.  In other words,  our goal was not merging
      faiths,   combining beliefs, or even interfaith partnership.’

His considered view is that we must recognise  a world that is increasingly multi-faith as a prelude to developing  ways in which we can co-exist peacefully and productively with those of different faiths,   an  outcome which is increasingly more important given the extent to which almost all societies  are  complex, plural entities with representatives of all cultures and religions living in close proximity.    He therefore proposes multi-faith dialogue based  on   a recognition that that we all have ‘radically different visions of the future, eternity, and the path to getting there’ rather than a pretence that we all believe the same thing.     This is a salutary view that illustrates the danger of becoming overly enthusiastic and simplistic  about   the shared   (mainly  organisational and practical) aspects of different  faiths    whilst overlooking the  inescapable fact that  the crucial differences lie in    irreconcilable doctrines  that the committed  believers cannot reject or dilute in the interests of  fundamental ecumenical contacts or mergers without effectively reneging   on their long-held beliefs.    It is worth noting that the world’s four largest religions  do not agree on the basic definition of G-d or his main characteristics;   Hindus believe that   G-d is  in each of us and we are all  part of G-d  leading to the possibility that there  are 330 million gods,    Buddhists suggest that God may or may not exist,  Muslims  say that G-d is absolute,   independent and father to none whilst Christians believe in one G-d who  exists in three persons and that Jesus Christ was his only son. .   Such diversity with regard to this   fundamental  religious determinant surely indicates that not all religions are following the same road towards understanding of the truth about G-d.   It is also worth remembering that  adherents of a particular religion  are likely to  believe not only that it   represents their  truth but also that it embodies  the  truth.  Such certainty is  understandable  but it  manifests itself  in  intolerance and bigotry.   It is notable that  where religious   belief is on the increase,  in Africa and South America for example  where  Christianity  is  forging ahead,   it often  takes a form that  has clearly defined doctrines coupled with  a degree of certainty  that leads to intolerance towards other churches  and   internecine conflict such as that within the  Anglican  communion which appears to be in the process of tearing itself apart over issues such a homosexuality and women bishops.  

The desire to stand by and to promulgate one’s beliefs is a natural one and part of our culture.  It does seem rather paradoxical   that supporters of football clubs are encouraged to support their teams to the point of fanaticism and to  develop tribal rituals of chants,  costume and  solidarity and that this partisanship  is only considered excessive when it leads to conflict between different clubs and public order issues  whilst, in contrast,  it is regarded as  politically incorrect nowadays  to   publicise or advertise one’s faith despite the fact that the believer may want to share the sense of euphoria and  the expectation of salvation with others.      As Ed Stetzer suggests, it is natural to feel that the faith that one professes is preferable to other prescriptions ,    otherwise why would one choose to espouse it?   This should not lead, as in the past, to attempts by the followers of one faith to impose their   views on followers of another using political or military means but, ideally, to informed co-existence based upon  exploration and dialogue rather than bland assumptions of   similarity of belief and goals.   Even within Unitarian Universalism, there is a suggestion  that being too low-key and  failing to share one’s enthusiasms,  may be a   short-sighted, even selfish,  attitude.   Thus,    one UU  minister  has written                           

     ‘ UU (e) vangelism  isn’t unprecedented.  It has been proven effective.  Are we to be
        mocked in order to share our Principles?  Do we care as much about the world as the
       Watch Tower Society or the Latter Day Saints?  Because I think OUR message has a
       better chance to save it than theirs.’   

If a representative of Unitarian Universalism,   a non-creedal,  non-judgemental  and wholly inclusive  organisation, feels moved to express himself in this way,  it perhaps  suggests that we all feel, and have the right to feel, that  the belief system to which we subscribe is the best (for us at least, and arguably for others, too).   Stetzer  says that  “We must get beyond the nonsense of saying, ‘You can believe what you want, but you can’t tell anyone else about it‘ ” .  All major religions agree that it is wrong to force people into their faith but, throughout there are groups who ignore this and try to impose their beliefs and the   culture   that accompanies them  by means of coercion and  intimidation.  Emphasising the former and  resisting the latter is the key to religious tolerance and cooperation rather than engaging in attempts to forge a  catch-all religion, stripped of any controversy or debate,   that will satisfy  no-one.  

A genuine and on-going exchange of views with  a friendly agreement to differ where necessary, is surely the way forward.   Interfaith dialogue is a fine phrase and a fine practice so long as we do not view it as being based upon the assumption that there are no fundamental  distinctions or differences between religions.    It needs to be undertaken in tandem   with a recognition that we live, increasingly, in a multi-faith world where our neighbours may be of a completely different religious persuasion and where it is of prime importance to  live in peace and harmony  based upon a perception of  our common interests   and our  varying beliefs.   The study of comparative religions in schools and colleges needs to be better resourced and more effective in order to reduce the levels of ignorance and prejudice that are encountered in many  communities about the beliefs and practices of others   and to   encourage openness and friendly curiosity  as opposed to secrecy and  exclusivity.   We also need to replace  hearsay and exaggeration about other faiths and the social practices that may accompany them  (often  relayed by the popular press)    with informed discussion in schools,  places of worship and in the media  to counter the hyperbole and  the  tendency to concentrate upon the  strident minority rather than the peaceable majority who practice their faith without harming others and who only wish the same courtesy to be extended to them.  Global organisations such as the World Council of Churches have also contributed greatly to the development of mutual cooperation and   respect between different denominations.

Religions do have a great deal in common, especially as regards  the structural and developmental   aspects and a good case can be made for  a propensity within all of us which  renders us susceptible to belief and adherence to a creed or cause.  This does not mean, however, that they can be aggregated into one umbrella religion that will satisfy all comers.    We may meet in similar buildings,  create hierarchies,   follow liturgies,   pray,  worship saints,  aspire to the monastic life and  perform charitable works, but this does not mean   that  fundamental beliefs can be  reduced to a bland formulaic recipe for religious observance.  The history of human nature in action tends to suggest that this is not viable  and that discrete groups with  shared  cultural roots and traditions will always  exist within the wider society.   This need   not be a matter of concern so long as those basic tenets of peace,  tolerance and co-existence  that  are contained within the sacred writings of the major faiths are sustained and enacted.  These  shared values represent hope for the future  as opposed to partisan  assumptions of spiritual superiority that  only serve to engender conflict   and  division.

Finally, these words of  Joseph Campbell explain  much recent history and  bear scrutiny.

      ‘Every religion is true one way or another.  It is true when understood metaphorically.
       but when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are
       in trouble.’                      (Discuss!)

The more we know about our own beliefs as well as those of others,  the better  prepared we will be to  forge that essential  relationship based upon tolerance and mutual respect.

Many people get ordained through the ULC as a means to become wedding officiants, but also to study through our online seminary. If you need minister supplies or online ceremonies, we have a wide selection to choose from, as well as a place for spiritual articles and spiritual bookmarks. Visit our FB Page at ULC Seminary.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

ULC Chaplaincy Program


by:  Ray Carbough

A Chaplain is a unique minister. He is not expected to transform a persons  beliefs but to support his beliefs with sympathetic advice, comfort and peace. Be as Christ like as possible in human form. To feed the people when hungry, clothe them when naked, support them in their weakness, in a loving manner of tolerance.

A person that is a good example of this is a Pastor for the salvation army Corp. in Wa. He is a man who draws many to his flock because of his quiet acceptance for each individual  regardless of the circumstances of their life. He reflects those qualities of Christ to everyone he encounters. I pray that I would have a few of those qualities.

It has been said that i have a gift to help those who are hurting and use  drugs or alcohol to dull the pain of day to day life stresses.

I made choices as a young man that led me into that life style of drugs and alcohol. I hurt many people along the way.  The Lord was always with me, saved my life several times from physical harm.  He  made me feel a hunger for change in my life, to follow him and become a man of faith and integrity, the hunger only increases as i grow closer to Christ to  bring the gospel to those who need it.

The call to serve has fallen on me like a cloak and I am working to become worthy of that cloak.  The "CALL" is the word used for when the Lord asks us to follow HIM and serve HIS flock. It is a heavy responsibility to help lead and guide those who come to us to seek HIS throne.  Through faith in  Christ alone we can find true happiness and lead productive healthy lives serving.

I have the desire to listen, evaluate and help those who are hurting as I did for so many years. Those with the mantel of helplessness to move past the place they are chained,  reliving that pain and struggle that blinds them to  the truth in God's word.  

I need to work on training in those areas  called to minister.  Seeking out what services are available and the process to obtain them for those in need.  Having been a trucker for so many years off and on i feel there is a need to expand the spiritual guidance available to the many drivers out there today. There are some services available in the bigger truck stops across the country, however  the bigger companies have terminals cross the country also and there is no spiritual food for those who seek being fed. I feel that could be a way for me to serve those on the road who bring supplies to all.

As a military Chaplin serving those in civil war re-enacting, I bring the understanding of the hardships of the 1860's life style and need for faith to sustain life in such hard times. This carries over into today as those who seek my council on family matters and spiritual growth.  As a re-enactor the reality of loss of life, loss of limbs, and all the outside influences translate back and forth from modern days to those of old.

Over the many years chaplains have served they have not worried about having a building.  The chapel was a tent, a meadow or what ever place was available to bring the many together to worship and praise our God.  Today the chaplains have a work space in hospitals, retirement homes,  many churches and a variety of companies that serve the needs within those walls. They may have regular hours and some on call time, it's more of a job to some but to the majority it is still the service of the Lord God that they follow.

I listen to those with complaints of physical pain, emotional or spiritual and prayerfully together we seek God's wisdom and answers.  There was a young lady who was having marital problems but knew God didn't want her to leave her husband, but to stand firm on those marriage vows. She knew she was to forgive and forget his transgressions and to show through her actions the unconditional love of Christ, while in the face of pain and continue to walk head up in faith.  I came along side her praying for her to have strength and to seek Gods counsel in handling the day to day events of life.  Another example of how the Lord used me was i prayed with a young man who had been in alcohol abuse for many years it was a family addiction that bound that family, with God's love the chains were broken and he sought help with the addiction. Together we found a detox through the Salvation Army that helped him recover himself and with the support of his family to continue to follow Christ's lead.

As a chaplain we need to listen to others with our whole being, using that information, to glean the clues to the root of the problem and sift out the unimportant facts that cloud the issue. Maintain eye contact, be attentive and use a calm voice. Remove any distractions from the area, ie: TV,  radio or other people that interfere with the exchange. Avoid any expressions of disgust or disapproval that can impact the person. Allow breaks for the renewing of yourself and the one you counsel, give feedback by reflection on the information heard, affirming and be empathetic. Always ask direct questions to clarify.  Avoid advice, give information on services available for other specialties such as mental health and never try to answer the "WHY" questions only God can answer them.

Studies show "touch" is healthy and healing, creates a bond, as a chaplain we need to develop a touch that is appropriate for the culture and situation. Be aware of the body language of those you are contacting and go from there. Always keep your actions in line with Christ's so no one can misinterpret you touch as unacceptable.

When comforting the grieving a chaplain will need to know and understand the grief process and the understand our own beliefs. Prepare for grief by being strong emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Grief is the normal process of loss, be it a person, a pet job or objects we own. We grieve for them all.  Lead those grieving through the process to allow healthy out come. Do not answer or try to answer those "WHY" questions again only God can. Always follow up after this with a care, a call or a visit. This continues the healing process and allows the person to see you truly care, encourage by saying God celebrates the life lost, and shares your pain of that loss .  This gives hope for the future.

As a chaplain we must understand the context of our ministry.  Know that we have been truly called into this ministry.  Know we are all creatures of habit some good, some bad, always try to teach change of the bad by instruction not criticizing, teach change of focus. Show that as a christian and commitment as a Christian to follow Christ and grow in  faith.  Always be consistent, walk the talk and talk the walk stay the same in action, deed and word.

We as humans  respond to situations in three ways , think, feel, act.  Those three can get turned around and we can act then think or feel then think this tends to get the situation clouded with emotion and that will alter the way we deal with it. So the  process needs to be thought through completely and then follow the steps to a healthy outcome. 

Take the time to think about the situation fully and decide the outcome desired,  and the ways to get there.  Leave the feelings at the door,  analyze what can happen if you do one thing or another and will give the result wanted.

Look at your feelings about the situation, the pros and cons of the whole picture don't act until the emotions are in control.

Actions will then be the best for the situation.  Follow the plan don't deviate and take side roads . Prayerfully let the Lord help you to the outcome desired for the situation.

There are things to avoid that can trap us.  Be self-aware, know your limits and strengths. watchful of those who "manipulate" the situation or you.  Also don't let your own needs and emotions interfere, leave those at the door.

Avoid becoming too attached to those you council, be aware of your emotional need to get an emotional "fix" from those you council be sure to have a strong support system for your own emotional health. 

Respect the sex of the person you council, keep the lines firm as to those, be accountable to your support group. This will insure your continued health and keep you from burn out.

Don't allow yourself to be seduced for money or pride. It is not about "me" but about the one in need. Have the support group that can lovingly tell when you are prideful and bring you back to common sense.   

Follow the institutional ceremonies where you practice as a chaplain, from the hospital, church or civil war re-enaction.  If there are more than one chaplain the one from that area or faculty is the lead take a supportive position and attitude to facilitate the service being conducted.  A worship service is a time when God and people come together. As a person of faith[any denomination] let them worship in the manner comfortable to them.  No church building needed, create a sacred space with candles, a  pulpit, a cross or music.  As chaplain your job is to assist people to worship using the simple rituals of faith to enhance that worship.

A soul friend is one who comes along side and comforts, counsels and prays with you.   There comes a deeper relationship than an acquaintance, one  that through honesty is able to prayerfully give tough lessons and in a loving way mentor you this binds your hearts together. The soul friend is  able to instruct in a loving way with acceptance and give sound advice to you when you are tired  restoring you to emotional health.

There are different levels of accountability  personal, professional, and to God above. The soul friend is that person who you share those with will listen to you and give you wise judgements and advice.. This strong relationship will build strong people.  

As a chaplain carry a "tool box" loaded with items that will introduce yourself, organize, clarify, and  communicate.  Some of those tools are business cards, a calendar, phone, bibles, tracts, and prayer.  Always be aware of your  personal hygiene keep tissues  available and remember that faith, through prayer is the most valuable tool.  

In Christ's Love

Ray Carbough, Chaplin


Many people get ordained through the Universal Life Church as a means to become wedding officiants, but also to study through our online seminary. If you need minister supplies or online ceremonies, we have a wide selection to choose from, as well as a place for spiritual articles and spiritual bookmarks.  

Visit our FB Page at ULC Seminary.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Universal Life Church Ordination On Your Own Site

Many people get ordained through the Universal Life Church as a means to become wedding officiants, but also to study through our online seminary. If you need minister supplies or online ceremonies, we have a wide selection to choose from, as well as a place for spiritual articles and spiritual bookmarks. If you need any assistance in any area of your ministry, please feel free to contact and we'll give you all the help we can. Visit our FB Page at ULC Seminary.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011





     The lessons on Druidism were  a reawakening or reaffirming belief on this path called life. I took the class first of all for several reasons. As a visual artist much of my paintings revolve around our relationship with a spiritual landscape which includes the symbol of the tree. This symbol is a strong image of personal empowerment for me.  I grew up in a small town in rural Ohio. Here is where I discovered my creativity.  I would sit for  hours under the mighty pine, oak or maple and draw my natural surroundings. It was while under these natural cathedrals I committed in furthering my education as an artist.

     I left my small town for the big city "Chicago"where I pursued my dream of becoming an artist. I earned my B.F.A, M.F.A. in fine arts and art therapy. I have been a practicing artist and art therapist for over 30 years. The image of the tree also has meaning as a symbol of my health. I live with a chronic pain condition called fibromyalgia. I see the tree as a image of resiliency.  Trees can withstand the most severe weather , they can grow around any obstacle , in essence they are a visual lesson for our souls to grow from.

     In several of these lessons the book " Druid Magic" by Maya Magee Sutton PH.D and Nicholas R. Mann was referenced. I found the book on Amazon for 95 cents. The wealth of information is priceless. I have it amongst my other earthen spirituality books that I re-read quite often. 

It refers to the druid as artist, poet, teacher and counselor just to name a few, however these are all aspects of myself.  I connected with this and used the book as a reference point with the assignments from the course. This only strengthened my basic connection that I have had all along my life, that I was or am a druid.

     Now what is a druid?  My understanding from  the assignments and book  is that a Druid is one who is in search of the universal truth and lives by this truth.  This for me is a reflection of how I try to live my life. The universal truth is an awakening to one self that all of creation is following many Individualized paths to discover this enlightenment.  When I paint the image of the tree it is very significant to my own sense of spiritual symbolism. I remember how the assignments referred to the druid arts. These forms of natural self expression is what I found to strengthen my own earthen aesthetics. This to me is what enables me to rekindle my sense of the essence of my own creation and how I continue to relate to its continued evolvement.

Many people get ordained through the Universal Life Church as a means to become wedding officiants, but also to study through our online seminary. If you need minister supplies or online ceremonies, we have a wide selection to choose from, as well as a place for spiritual articles and spiritual bookmarks. If you need any assistance in any area of your ministry, please feel free to contact and we'll give you all the help we can. Visit our FB Page at ULC Seminary.