You might have a copy of this book already. At the very least, you know you ought to read it. Let’s double down on that. You ought to read it. The Story of Unity is delightful and uplifting.
Unity places a lot of emphasis on personal growth and empowerment, and rightly so. However, that focus can sometimes leave folks without a clear sense of culture and heritage. I’d love to see more work done on what it means to be a Unity person in the context of other Unity people and the larger Unity community. We have a shared history, and it’s a good idea to explore it. This book is a great place to start; it will absolutely help you get a handle on who we are and where we’ve been.
Principle is more important that personal, but getting to know the people who built Unity can only help us grasp the teachings. Getting some insight into what Charles and Myrtle Fillmore were working through gives the principles some perspective. Learning how to pray gets a little easier when we read about Myrtle Fillmore’s process. Even the more lighthearted stories, like the one about the picnic where militant vegetarian Charles Fillmore nailed a hot dog to a tree, shed some light.
One ongoing theme in The Story of Unity is work. Everything the Fillmores did was work. Nonstop, purposeful, deliberate, work. A labor of love, to be sure, but work. Am I hitting that hard enough?
Here’s why it’s important: The book is beautifully inspirational, but it can serve a deeper purpose. It can dispel some myths. One notion that drives me crazy is the idea that the Fillmores never meant to start a religious movement, that somehow this all happened accidentally. It’s a romantic concept, but it just doesn’t hold water in the face of the facts. The Fillmores were very comfortable with words like church and religion, and they actively and deliberately used them. They changed the name of their organization to include the word tract to denote its religious focus, and as soon as they were able to build a building it had a church in it. There were all kinds of doctrinal assertions throughout the Fillmore’s work, including Charles Fillmore’s 1921 Statement of Faith and the work done with H. Emile Cady to codify the Unity teachings into what would become Lessons in Truth. One standout is the early declaration that Modern Thought magazine was:
…open to teachers and healers who advocate and practice Pure Mind Healing only. This does not mean magnetism, hypnotism, mesmerism, psychometry, palmistry, nor astrology. Not that we condemn any system, but … we find by experience that concentration is necessary to success and we wish to confine these pages to that specific doctrine, and Holy Ghost power, taught and demonstrated by Jesus Christ. (pp. 56-57 of my version)
I’ll put that another way. Nobody starts a church by accident. It requires deliberate thought and work. I know that by reading the stories, and I know that by growing up in a family of ministers. I know it because of the experiences Jenny and I had starting a storefront church more than two decades ago. And here we are now, in the very early stages of pioneering a brand new church, and we’re continually reminded that the process can’t be put on cruise control. For that I’m grateful, because every step of this journey is being done with love and excitement.
Here’s why that is important: Life is work. You are not here by accident, and that means that the universe requires the unique gift that only you can give. Your thought, word, and action is beautiful and necessary. Work does not mean toil. Ideally, it’s an expression of love. Being a Unity person means being ready to work.
Just like the man said, “concentration is necessary.” We can change the world, but doing it means not being afraid to show it what we believe in. That is our culture and heritage. We are from the Show Me State, after all.
All that being said, it’s not exactly fair to call The Story of Unity a history book in the truest sense of the word. It’s not the full picture, of course. There is so much more to be explored. If you want to dig deeper, I recommend Myrtle Fillmore: Mother of Unity and Charles Fillmore: Herald of the New Age. I believe that both texts are out of print, but they’re worth tracking down. Even the Unity Village edition of Images of America is helpful. For extra credit, track down Braden’s Spirits in Rebellion and Harley’s Emma Curtis Hopkins: Forgotten Founder of New Thought. The Harley text is the only truly scholarly work done, and fixes some of the problems with the Braden book, but they’re both going to help complete the picture.
The Story of Unity came out in 1951. So much has happened since then, of course. I’d love to see some more work done to explore how Unity has dealt with issues of identity and authenticity since Charles Fillmore made his transition in 1948. More than that, I’d like us to think about what we are doing as part of that beautiful tradition. Unity’s story is still being told. What is your part in the telling?