Thursday, January 8, 2009

What My Daughter Taught Me About Being a Unitarian Universalist

What My Daughter Taught Me About Being a Unitarian Universalist

There are things that sometimes make it difficult to be a Unitarian Universalist. Many in my area, homeschool for religious reasons. Talk among members of these groups is easy and effortless. Someone mentions that they are Catholic and use Seton for a curriculum and heads nod in agreement. Someone else states that their children are part of AWANA and a flurry of discussion erupts around this weeks meeting.

I mention Unitarian Universalism and the deafening silence and blinking stares can only make one uncomfortable. Several had never heard of our faith, others assume that we believe in nothing. Admittedly, I’ve sometimes had a difficult time explaining our faith. A woman this week actually asked me why our church was doing The Nativity Story children’s play if our faith didn’t believe in Jesus and we weren’t Christian.

For those that are not UU, understanding and accepting our faith can sometimes be difficult. We don’t have a creed but are bound by covenant and our Unitarian principles. We are welcoming and many wonder how we can come together with acceptance when there are so many differences in so many faiths.

I began to see this same group of women once a week as our kids shared the same sign language class. The moms would often take the other kids out onto the playground while the siblings were in class. It gave us a chance to enjoy the weather and some coffee. Most of these women happened to be part of the Christian homeschool group.

The conversations were usually benign and centered on our difficulties raising kids in different age groups, we shared some recipes, complained about our husbands and our latest adventures in raising chickens for farm fresh eggs.

During election time, things took an uncomfortable turn when Sarah Palin’s name was mentioned frequently. I heard comments along the lines that Obama was a terrorist, he would turn white people into slaves, and he would reverse Roe V. Wade.

Another mom talked about the local school system teaching children how to masturbate and wanted me to sign a petition which I respectfully declined on the premise of needing to research this more. Secretly, I wanted to laugh and vomit at the same time. If they only knew what the sexuality curriculum at our church looked liked for our Coming of Agers!

Yet in the pit of my stomach I cringed every time the conversation turned to religion. I sat many times as an outsider listening to the banter around me and wondering if anyone even cared how I was bringing up my kids or cared to learn about me. I hung my head when another mom repeatedly called her kids sinners and told them they were going to hell if their behavior didn’t improve.

Several weeks later, the weather was gorgeous and we decided to stay after class and play on the playground, and unbeknownst to me, my daughter had her tarot cards with her. She sat at the top of the climbing tower with another classmate and worked on the cards. Suddenly, the other little girl shouted out, “Those cards are evil and I can’t play with you. “

Without missing a beat, my daughter said, “They are not evil, they’re just cards, that’s like saying a table is evil or my socks are evil.” The playground went hauntingly silent as small gasps of breath could be heard from the mom next to me. I sucked harder on my ice coffee-do I intervene? What do I say?

My eloquent nine year old glanced around the playground and then looked at her playmate. “C’mon,” she said, “Let’s go find something else to do.”

My daughter, in one breath, managed to accomplish what I had been trying to do for months. She found a common ground. She chose not to engage in conversation that she knew wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind. She found the community more important than the task at hand.

As the weeks passed I learned more about these women as our time at the playground grew longer and our days stretched lazily into summer. It is still difficult for me to understand how they can not question their own faith as I’m sure it is for them, to understand my faith.

I learned many things from these women. Yes, they live for Jesus. They have an incredibly strong faith, love their families and devote much time and energy to their own churches, homeschooling, social justice causes and community outreach. Much like UU’s and my own church. I learned that they should not be any less passionate about their own faith as I am about mine. It doesn't mean I have to agree with everything that they do, it means that our differences are ok, but I can also disagree with them if my own values don’t line up with theirs.

Get togethers are still sometimes awkward. We bow our heads when we visit them and thank Jesus for the food on their table as they say grace. It doesn’t mean I believe what they do it means I am respectful of their faith. When we bow our heads, that is our time for meditation and thanking the universe for a good life and friends and the chance to share a meal.

We say thank you when they say they are going to pray for us because all it means to us is that there is one more person in the world holding our family close to their hearts and thinking of us and wanting us to heal. So yes, please pray for me because I can use all the prayers and good wishes of the world and of every faith.

My son’s beliefs at the moment are that God created the Big Bang and evolution was allowed to occur under God's guidance. I have no idea where he got that from. Good for him. Morgan wrote a poem the other day titled, "God is the Earth". It was very much a creationist point of view for a 9 year old. Good for her! Isn’t that the basis of our UU faith, to help our children explore their own faith values and question and explore all that our rich faith has to offer? If my children chose Christianity or Buddhism or Paganism, I will thank the universe for their kind and giving hearts and for giving me the strength to let them choose.

As a UU, I segregated myself from other religions both in acceptance and in my convictions of my own faith. I had been hiding for too long and failed to call on both our Christian and Judaic heritage for strength. It is a rich faith, and should be celebrated as such.

"Lift up your voice, be not afraid, sing to the power of the faith within."

Next Sunday at church I am giving my testimony (for the canvass event) of what my church means to me. I am using a passage from the book of Luke-chapter 15- in the bible about the fatted calf. Metaphor here-the church should be the fatted calf and get the best of what we have, not the skinny goat or leftovers. The best of what we have. Shouldn’t the people that I come in contact with every day get the best of me? Shouldn’t I give them the fatted calf? Shouldn’t sharing my UU faith be a part of that?

My daughter, on that warm spring afternoon, taught me some valuable lessons. She taught me to not be afraid to speak up and that differences of opinion can often be worked out. She taught me that we need to worry less about defining our God-putting a name to it and start having all faiths find a common ground, a common community. She taught me that I need to get past the labels of what we call ourselves; Buddhist, Humanist or Christian, for in the end, it is all one. We are all one.

"Lift up your voice, be not afraid, sing to the power of the faith within."


Sara said...

Well said - thank you!

Anonymous said...

I found this post very late, but I wanted to say that it was beautiful and I can relate to it in numerous ways. Thank you so much.

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