When I was growing up it was always safe to assume that the only Unitarian Universalist kids attending whatever school I was enrolled in at the time also lived in my house. In other words, UU kids were kind of hard to come by outside of our home and church.
I remember how hard it was for me to know just how to handle conversations about religion when I was really young; I was acutely aware that my church was different from the churches that most of my peers attended, but I was always unsure of how to respond if religion ever happened into a conversation. Generally speaking, my anxiety would result in a giant lump in my little throat and I would hurriedly search for a way to excuse myself from the impending blank stares that were sure to come my way after I revealed the lengthy name of my home church. Religious discussions meant either chiming in and letting my faith be known, or simply keeping my mouth shut and avoiding eye contact in hopes that I would simply disappear.
For most people whose faith traditions are not the cultural norm, conversations like these can take a great deal of energy, no matter how old you are. Like other UU kids, I had experienced the heartbreak of losing a friend because her parents didn’t approve of my family’s faith, and this added yet another dimension to my anxiety. But as I got older, I found I could have religious conversations quite easily and, nine times out of ten, I knew more about the other person’s faith than they did (or ever wanted to). I even started seeking these debates and discussions wherever I could find them; but I still found it very difficult to make friends who could put up with my convictions, my love of debate, and…well… I was kind of on the annoying side.
My peers would innocently ask me what they thought was an incredibly simple question: “What IS Unitarian Universalism?” Of course, they were suddenly blindsided with my
awesome religious history lecture as I shared with them more than they ever wanted to know about my faith and the history of the Protestant Reformation.
What I didn’t get at the time is that those who asked me about my faith really didn’t want to me to present a dissertation on the history of Unitarian Universalism (shocker, I know). What they really interested in was, “What does it mean to be a UU and what does this look like in your life?”
They didn’t want to hear about some guy they have never heard of being burned at the stake; they wanted to know if Santa still came to our house. They wanted to know if we said a prayer at dinner, if we went to church every Sunday and if we had a Bible. In short, they wanted to know how my life was different from theirs because of my religion.
I think that the tendency to lecture instead of opening a window into our lives is common amongst Unitarian Universalists. Sometimes we, understandably, get so excited by all knowledge we think we have obtained as a result of our faithful journeys and we forget that what we ought to share with the world is not a list or a lecture, but our passion for exploration and learning. There is always space for lectures and dissertations; they are a necessary element to our faith, but to someone who isn’t on this journey, or even for someone who is, the real power of Unitarian Universalism may just be when a UU kid stands up for someone else who is being bullied because, to him, that is what it means to be a UU. Unitarian Universalism shines when we lift the voices of those who would otherwise go unheard and when we strengthen our own spirits through a practice that fills our hearts. The power of our faith is in what we do every day of our lives. It is in how we celebrate our holidays and how we are with the people we love (and the people we don’t).
To me, our faith means that I never stop looking for new ways to grow and learn. It means that my family lights a chalice at dinner every night and we enjoy each other’s company in a sacred space. It means that I pray on some days and meditate on others and I celebrate holidays that make sense to me and in ways that honor me, my family and my earth home.
We should celebrate the ways in which our faith enriches our lives and the lives of those around us; perhaps even more than we celebrate the theologies we reject. Perhaps it is time to shift our focus: What does our Unitarian Universalist faith mean to you?