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The Rev. Mark Sargent The Rev. Mark Sargent

The Rev. Mark Sargent is a United Methodist minister based in Atlanta, GA.

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USA and UOA

May 18, 2009

I am indebted to Albert Ellis, the noted 20th century psychologist, for the acronyms in the title of my blog.  USA stands for unconditional self-acceptance, and UOA stands for unconditional others-acceptance.  I believe that both are key to personal freedom, to spiritual and psychological health, and to happiness in this life.

Sadly, USA and UOA are often in short supply on Planet Earth.  And, what seems even more worthy of regret is the fact that many who fill the pews of Christian churches around the world struggle with one or both.

Most of us have likely heard it proclaimed for as long as we've been in the Church, that God's love is unconditional.  Yet, many who have left the Church have done so because they did not experience congruence between what we in the Church preach and what we practice, and many who sit in churches today hear as much about the various conditions they must meet as they do about unconditional love and acceptance.  Much of religion has been burdened by messages that are fear-based, guilt-inducing, shame-creating.  And, so often, religion becomes the platform from which groups of people offer disapproving messages about others who are different in some way.  Perhaps you yourself have been loaded up or beaten down by messages in the Church that are not congruent with the Church's fundamental claim that God loves without condition.  If that is the case, I would love to hear from you and to help you, if I can, since that is one of the most significant aspects of my calling.

This kind of condition-based approach to Christianity is a far cry from the message we have always preached:  God's love is unconditional, and we are called to love as God loves.

If that is the case--that God's love is genuinely unconditional--it is a bright Gospel truth that you are accepted, embraced, regarded, and loved, right here, right now, without condition!  Paul Tillich mentions such in his famous sermon "The Shaking of the Foundation," in which he gracefully admonishes us to do nothing, to seek nothing, to try nothing, but only to accept the fact of our acceptance.  There is nothing you need to do but to love and accept yourself. 

And, having embraced the fullness of who we are, we are called to offer that same kind of unconditional embrace to others, regardless of anything.  I can promise you that you will be immensely happier when you begin accepting those around you instead of attempting to change them. 

Accept them for what they are and for what they can be.  Accept them regardless of their skin color, their marital status, their education, their ethnicity, their religion, their lack of religion, their gender identity, their sexual orientation, their political leanings, their preferences and opinions about things.  It really is simple, which is not to say that it is easy.

And, it really is the Gospel.  Any proclamation of unconditional Divine Love can lead us nowhere else but to USA and UOA.  It is, after all, what Jesus did.

The journey toward such acceptance is a struggle for each of us.  If, however, the struggle is especially burdensome in some way for you, please reach out to a pastor or to some other helper who can assist you along the way toward this kind of self- and others-acceptance, which I believe is part of what the Good Book means when it speaks of eternal life.


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