Posted on March 14, 2011
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?
Posted on February 7, 2011
I remember so clearly the first time my now three-year-old daughter told me that she loved me. The very image of my toddler expressing her love was enough to melt the heart of even the grumpiest scrooge. You know the scene: glowing eyes, the smile that filled her face, her arms reaching to give the biggest hug her little body could possibly manage. Not that I am biased or anything, but there is not a baby mammal or a hamster in a helmet that could possibly compare to this level of cuteness.
It has always amazed me how capable young children are of freely expressing emotions that adults are so apt to keep to themselves. Even babies will offer their comfort items such as pacifiers and bottles to other children who are upset, as if to say, “I know how you feel; I’ve been there.”
Still, even as I anxiously await my 15 month old son’s first proclamation of love, I can’t help but wonder: do kids really “get” love? Do they know what they are saying or are they simply mimicking behavior?
Yes, yes and…Yes!
Kids are expert cultural anthropologists; soaking in every bit of experience every minute of every day. They can sense tension and are astutely aware of happiness. I know this because both of my children are grumpy on my most stress-filled days and will laugh with me at my jokes when no one else will humor me… most of the time.
So when a caretaker affectionately whispers “I love you” and then shows it with hugs, understanding, presence, and sacrifice, it forms the child’s very understanding of “love”.
Go ahead; ask a child to define “love”. I am willing to bet that what awaits you is a list a verbs that reflects how love has been shown to them:
“Love is hugging, love is listening, love is helping, love is friendship.”
OR, in the words of a three-year-old:
“Love is when we use our nice hands and we don’t hit our little brothers. No. No.”
How have you loved today?
Posted on October 2, 2010
I had originally planned to use this space to provide simple, once-a-month ideas for Unitarian Universalists who are looking for easy ways to put our UU Principles into practice every day at home. And since I am also of the optimistic sort, I hoped that this space would also be filled with contributions from UU families everywhere who are implementing these and other ideas in their own homes as well.
While these ideas still have an important place in my overall vision for this blog, it alone seemed a little incomplete. So in true form of a lifelong UU, I have endeavored to turn a simple idea into something a little more complex than perhaps it ought to be.
Weaving UU principles into one’s home and life isn’t just as simple as starting a new tradition; blazing a new trail brings with it its own brand of baggage. How do we explain new traditions to our non-UU family members and friends? How do we confront a culture that doesn’t always recognize our Principles or even our religion? How do you encourage your child to remain confident in the expression of her UU values despite the fact that her peers awarded her a not-so-flattering nickname, “petition girl,” after her latest effort to ensure that the authorities at her school would actually step in and defend those being bullied because of their looks? Or something like that. You know, just as a hypothetical example. Ahem.
The point is that navigating through life as a UU can be challenging, messy, and, at times, let’s face it… it can be downright funny.
So while I will contribute a monthly suggestion to help you survive as a UU@Home, I will also share my insights from my own experiences as a lifelong UU who also happens to be a parent, young adult, and religious educator.