I Believe in Relation and I am a Universalist

Someday, in a perfect world, I will have the opportunity to meet Lana Hope in real life. We will talk about homeschooling, philosophy, and religion over coffee or tea. Lana blogs at Wide Open Ground, where she hosts “unfundamental conversations for unfundamental people on their unfundamental journeys.” She writes about “the trials of leaving a sheltered homeschooled life” and paints “a new progressive form of overseas missions.” Or to put all that another, more simpler, way: Lana is awesome. She’s pretty much one of my most favorite writers right now. She peers at the world through a looking glass of wonder and compassion. And the thoughts and feelings she pulls up to the surface of a blog post and then carefully threads together into words are always gently challenging. I asked her if she would share the story of her journey from fundamentalism to universalism. She graciously said yes, and I am stoked to share her story with you. ~Ryan

*****

I was a conservative fundamentalist.

And a Calvinist. And a determinist.

I believed God preordained everything in our lives by this concept of middle knowledge — this idea that God knew what Adam and Eve would do in a certain environment (say, if he put Satan in the Garden at a certain time of day). Thus by creating that environment, he was ordaining them to fall from the Garden of Eden.

I believed God wanted us to fall, so he could save us. Or save a few people. And send the rest to hell.

Yea, that. I believed that.

And so it surprises people to learn that I changed my mind big time. I’m a universalist.

It started out when I took a journey into another culture while in SE Asia.

I bumped up against another culture, and this odd thing happened.

As Christians, we tend to fight for the dominate cultural narrative. We ground our narrative in some point of origin: “God said in the beginning…”

As a Calvinist, I was good at this.

But then so much for living in the dominate whatever. I was just a single, white girl alone in another country, without my troops  and I no longer had the dominate narrative. I had the weak narrative.

Except God was greater, more powerful, so yea, I really tried for a while to hold onto my origin.

But.

I met people who didn’t know who Jesus was. My best friend’s dad wouldn’t let her be a Christian. Wouldn’t let her. I had other friends who said Jesus was okay, but given that Christians didn’t behave better than Buddhists, there wasn’t a good reason to switch religions.

These stories puzzled a Calvinist Christian like me who was taught that hell was for evil people who hated God. None of these people hated God.

My friends remarked that they didn’t worry about the next life since they didn’t even know where they were going to live next year.

I went to a funeral and suddenly that dead man in that casket who was now burning in hell right this minute made me want to vomit.

And the whole killing fields in Cambodia sent me into depression. I could just picture the Khmer Rouge slamming the heads of these women and children up against the tree, then throwing them in these mass-grave pits, and then slowly…. the men and women wake up in the wrath of God and the fires of hell.

So I did the unthinkable: I started listening.

Culture actually exists in relations. Culture is shared from friend to friend. It’s translated from one friend to the other. It just works that way.

And the only thing that stops that is if we are fixated on something else.

Such as a grounded “In the beginning God said…”

I became a universalist because I began to listen. In listening, I met people who were broken and hurt like me, but who were trying to pick up the broken pieces.

I started sharing culture, not dominating it, not owning it, not grounding it in my own history. I let it go and put culture where it should belong. Not in the ground, but in relation with other people.

And see, that changed my faith. When I stopped thinking of faith as grounded in an origin and I stopped believing I should be fixated on one thing, I began to see all the stories in the Bible differently. 

Everything changed.

Faith exists in relation.

Jesus exists in relation.

Grace exists in relation.

Narratives exists in relation.

Culture exists in relation.

Knowledge exists in relation.

It’s not that faith doesn’t matter, or God doesn’t matter, or Jesus doesn’t matter, or what-not, or that faith doesn’t exist or that God doesn’t exist. But when we become fixated on an identity instead of exercising it, we miss out.

Hell relies on this idea that faith is grounded, and a narrative is grounded, and that everyone must come into conformity. I don’t believe God draws people into conformity anymore. That’s some crappy idea I got from how religion and history functioned in my life.

If knowledge and faith and what-not function in relation and not in some grounded origin then there is no heck of a way to draw people into conformity because there is no set space to conform to. This is why everything changed for me. I started to see people. And when I saw people, then I started seeing God.

God loves people, dearly, for who they are.

And so here I am.

I am Lana. I believe in relation.  And I am a universalist.

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13 thoughts on “I Believe in Relation and I am a Universalist”

  1. Thanks for sharing part of your journey with us, Lana.

    I’m curious: just what kind of universalist did you end up becoming?

    1. I am hopeful universalist. I don’t believe God would force people onto himself, but I am strongly hopeful that all people will eventually be healed of their broken pieces and love God back and thus enjoy eternity with him. And yes, I still believe this can be reconciled with the Christian story.

      1. Lana, I’ve finally come to this conclusion myself. It’s funny because now I find it hard to talk faith with my missionary parents who are well-grounded in hell and can’t imagine differently. *sigh*

  2. I’m late reading this but thank you for sharing. Good stuff. Not sure I’d call myself a universalist anymore, but I haven’t believed in hell since reading Dante’s Inferno. “Oh!” I thought, “That’s where Hell started!” Turns out it’s really not supported in the bible, so far as I can tell. Yep. Dante. He started it 🙂 (& it’s one of my favorite books – so creative! but political, not religious.) And besides, ‘no hell’ aligns much more closely with the merciful God that I have encountered…..

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