If you want to know yourself, Just
look how others do it; If you want to understand others, Look into your
Johann Friedrich von Schiller
Khasi Unitarians of India
by John Rex, minister, the Buckman Bridge Unitarian Universalist
Society, Jacksonville, Florida
Picture in your mind a map of the great sub-continent called India,
with me to Calcutta, that sprawling city in the East. From Calcutta,
fly northeast, over Bangladesh, which is very low country, then over
hills, and finally to Guwahati in the Indian State of Assam, just south
Bhutan. From Guwahati we take a four-hour bus ride up into those hills
just flew over, into the State of Meghalaya, hill country, to the capital,
Meghalaya is about the size of Massachusetts. The eastern two thirds
highland state is the homeland of the Khasi people, who have their own
language and culture, unlike any in the rest of India.
And, within a radius of about 50 miles, live roughly 9,000 Khasi tribal
people who identify themselves as Unitarians. They constitute about
percent of the Unitarians in India. When we speak of Unitarians in India,
with one small but important exception, we are speaking of this unique
tribal group with their very distinct Unitarianism. There are also about
Tamil people in Chennai who are members of the Madras Christian Unitarian
Church that was founded in 1795. Although separated by many hundreds
miles and very different cultures, these two groups joined in 1987 to
the Indian Council of Unitarian Churches.
In 1998, when I was finishing a ministry in Virginia, I was able to
with the UUA and the Indian Unitarians to spend six months in India,
formally and officially, as a Unitarian Universalist minister. As the
outsider who had done that in many years, I found myself needing to
to understand, and to share information between cultures, between worlds.
And most recently, I spent the month of February last year in India,
revisiting many of the people and villages where I had spent time
previously, preaching and teaching, and then attending the 100th Annual
Conference of the Unitarian Union of North East India This is the Khasi
Unitarian association of churches, which has the equivalent value of
for UUs in North America.
Little is known of the early history of the Khasi people. Prior to the
arrival of the British invaders in the last century, their language
written. When the British found that the Khasi people had their own
traditional religion, neither Hindu nor Muslim, they sent in Christian
missionaries. The Welsh Calvinists constituted the largest group of
missionaries and, by the 1840s, they had written the Khasi language
Western (Roman) letters, and then translated the Bible into Khasi. With
written language tied to the imposition of colonial government, the
for tribal people to progress was to learn to read and write by attending
missionary school and enduring proselytizing.
The Founder of Khasi Unitarianism, Hajom Kissor Singh, was born in 1865
a family that followed the traditional Khasi religion. He and his brother
were sent to a missionary school, and, at the age of 15, Singh converted
One Khasi Unitarian scholar emphasizes: ". . . even from his childhood,
Hajom Kissor showed interest in spiritual and religious matters. . .
his conviction grew that there was a Christianity more akin to the religion
of Jesus than the one in which he had received formal instruction. Soon
disenchantment with the Calvinist faith led him to break away from that
Singh, working on his own, drawing from traditional and missionary concepts,
envisioned and founded a "new" religion, a Religion of One
he met with a person who advised him to write to the Rev. Charles Dall,
Unitarian missionary then working in Calcutta. Singh wrote to Dall,
him a large quantity of Unitarian literature, which persuaded him that
Religion of One God was so much like the Unitarianism that Dall was
preaching that he adopted the name, "Unitarian," for his religion.
Thus this unique Religion of One God, called Unitarianism, flourishes
in the context of a very
The traditional religion of the Khasis teaches that there is one God,
"UBlei," who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, and
who should not
be symbolized or pictured in any shape or form. Traditional Khasis have
churches or temples or holy books or ministers. They expect their religion
to be passed on in the home, through a complex traditional system of
clan, tribal organization, and governance. Religion is inseparable from
that happens in their lives.
Hajom Kissor Singh's new religion maintained the core of the traditional
belief system and he created it at a time when Christian missionaries
making enormous inroads, criticizing, undermining, and threatening
traditional Khasi culture and religion. Singh's Religion of One God
many new elements: churches, a liturgy, Sunday services, group worship,
Though Singh's Religion of One God did maintain a core of Khasi traditional
beliefs, it omitted some beliefs and practices, such as the reading
and animal sacrifice. He provided strong leadership without ever being
ordained, setting a precedent for a lay-led, rather than minister-led,
church. After founding his new religion, Singh devoted the rest of his
until his death in 1923, to seeking converts, preaching, starting churches,
nurturing what he had begun.
A key document in that process of nurturing was a short book he wrote
hundred years ago with his colleague, Robin Roy, titled, The Book of
When I arrived in Meghalaya in September, 1998, I was shown this book
Khasi language and told it had not been translated into English. Working
over a period of many weeks with my bilingual co-worker, I had the privilege
of participating in its translation, which, last year, was perfected
approved by the Board of the Unitarian Union.
This key document, what we have come to call the "catechism,"
into six chapters that are intended to give instruction in the Khasi
Unitarian faith. The first two chapters deal with the subject of God,
these are considered essential training for children. Three of the middle
chapters deal with duty: "Our Duty to God," "Our Duty
to Fellow Humans," and
"Our Duty to Ourselves," making it very clear that Khasi Unitarianism
dutiful religion. The final chapter deals with sin, which is defined
doing one's duty, or going against the commands of God.
There, too briefly stated, is what I understand to be the essence of
Unitarianism. In saying that, I fear I have not presented the real flesh
blood humanity of the people I have been so fortunate to know and to
Their lives tend to be different from ours, just as our cultures and
opportunities are different. However, though the percentages vary greatly,
the range of life-styles is not dissimilar to those in the United States.
Some Khasis are highly educated Ph.D.s who teach in colleges, use computers,
and live in modern houses with electricity, lovely gardens, TV, and
Others, with less education, live in simple houses-many without
electricity-in country villages, and do subsistence farming. For all
the Unitarian identity is absolutely central to their lives. All they
and do relates to their key cultural and religious themes of knowing
doing duty within a covenanting community.
Today there are more than 30 Unitarian churches in Meghalaya-with three
over the border in Assam. Almost all these churches maintain pre-primary
schools for the children in the village, that being their principle
in the community.
Since the days of the founder, Khasi Unitarians have maintained
relationships with Unitarians around the world, first through the
International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF), and then through
ongoing connections with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)
the British Unitarians, and now through the International Council of
Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU), founded in 1995.
In my travels within Meghalaya, I met members of the Church of the Larger
Fellowship, both Khasi and non-Khasi, who value Quest as an important,
ongoing source of information and inspiration from the other side of
world. Among those individuals, I see a great desire to learn more and
connected beyond very limiting circumstances. Meeting them has given
sense of being closer to the possibility of real understanding and of
relationships among us all.
I expect we all will be hearing much more in the future about the Khasi
Unitarians, especially now that both the UUA and the Partner Church
are actively exploring ways to establish closer connections in the near
future. As the world continues shrinking, I hope that all of us will
to new understandings, while we attempt to live the answer to the very
question of our faith: How shall we treat one another? Whatever we do,
it be beyond indifference. May we connect with understanding and love.
motto of the Khasi Unitarians is: "To Nangroi." or, "Keep
May we find the wisdom to do just that.
Quest March 2001 Contents
What is Spirituality Anyway
by Peter Morales, minister, Jefferson Unitarian Church, Golden,
Some years ago, I recall staying after the Sunday service for an informal
gathering of people who wanted to know more about the church. We had
attended a few times, and we were curious enough to want to learn more
this Unitarian Universalist church in Oregon. After the coffee time
our way to the Fireside Room just off the sanctuary. The odd assortment
well-worn chairs was formed into more of a bean shape than a circle.
minister was there, so was the head of the membership committee. Six
eight of us visitors gathered, carrying in cups of coffee or tea. As
conversation started, a woman from the membership committee invited
us to say who we were and to say something briefly about our spiritual
journey. "Our what?" I thought to myself. Spiritual journey?
What the heck
does that mean? Luckily, some bubbly extrovert jumped in and told a
story about her narrow, early religious training, about growing up and
rejecting the dogma, and so on. By the time it got around to me, I mumbled
something along the same lines. I didn't like being put on the spot
that. I spoke briefly of my early religious training and my adult life
far from the clutches of organized religion.
It was all true, and it was all a lie. I realized how that story, while
factually accurate, revealed little about who I truly am, how I see
in relation to this amazing cosmos we inhabit, about the things that
laugh or move me to tears. My story that morning said nothing about
religious experiences that have fundamentally formed and transformed
said nothing about what I hold sacred, about what I am willing to live
and even to sacrifice for.
But then, what experiences are part of my spiritual journey? What
experiences are not? Why are we more likely to think the experience
listening to Mozart's Requiem as spiritual and listening to background
at Wal-Mart as other than that? What makes a religious retreat more
sacred experience than being stuck in traffic? What makes reading poetry
more holy than looking up a dentist's phone number in the Yellow Pages?
dancing be a religious experience? Painting? Gardening? Making love?
computer code? Writing a letter? Cooking dinner? Eating a peach? What
a spiritual experience?
Are there real spiritual experiences and phony ones? Last week someone
a seven-page, single-spaced letter in my box here in the office. It
unsigned, save for a handwritten note on the outside that said simply
back." The letter spoke, among other things, of a "spiritual"
channeling Jesus. It went on to talk about the evils of ancient pharaohs
their modern descendants, of platonic solids, and of heaven being reachable
through a vortex in the Orion Nebula. The writer feels a deep connection
God and Truth. I see the evidence of a disturbed, confused mind. The
reminded me of other troubling letters I would get from time to time
was a newspaper publisher. It also reminded me of the dozens of souls
seen shouting their religious messages to indifferent passers-by. Are
experiences spiritual? I shudder to think of those journeys. I think
young woman I visited in the psychiatric ward during my chaplaincy
internship. She was certain that God was telling her to kill herself.
heard God's voice clearly. She could quote scripture. Alas, she belonged
a congregation where the "spiritual leader" told her she didn't
This is not a trivial question, especially for a religious community.
One of our seven principles, the third, speaks of "encouragement
spiritual growth in our congregations." How do we decide what leads
growth? How do we know if we are growing spiritually? Can one shrink
spiritually? Walk into any bookstore. You would need a truck to take
copy of every book on spirituality. It is big business. In our own churches
we have those who want more spirituality, and others who are disturbed
what they think that might mean. There is great confusion about this.
this sermon I want to present my own take on all this. I will admit,
outset, that I come to the topic of spirituality with a combination
seeker's eager curiosity and a skeptic's wariness. I believe religion
be more than being correct. Religion and spirituality are not fundamentally
intellectual pursuits. I am convinced that a sense of awe, mystery,
and intensity are central to a religious life. There is something in
yearns for transforming experience, for serenity, for the deep joy that
comes from connection to something sacred, something far beyond the
and the petty. That yearning can be repressed and denied, but it cannot
When I reflect on my own spirituality, I think of my deepest, most enduring
sense of who I am and how this deep part of myself, the real me, relates
the world. For me, spirituality is more a feeling than an opinion. Because
of this, it is fiendishly difficult to put into words. Words occupy
small a part of our brains to ever fully convey the wholeness, the
integration, that is at the core of what I term spirituality. Indeed,
word is woefully inadequate. What I call spirituality involves all of
heart, my head, my body, my awareness. There is a wonderful wholeness
harmony about that state I call spiritual. There is a sweet serenity,
sense of belonging, of surrender, of clarity, of joy, of peace, of aliveness
(the root of the word spirit, after all, is the same as the word for
A spirituality worthy of the name involves deep awareness. It is that
of profound openness and awakening in the Buddhist tradition. A true
spirituality also involves our whole selves. It includes our intellect,
emotions, our senses. It is the bittersweet chill of a clear winter
the yellow sunset, and salt air at the seashore. It is staring, awestruck,
into the heavens. It is music that washes over us, music that we feel
much as we hear. It is singing together. It is the embrace of a lover,
clasp of a child's hand. It is the taste of mountain water, of wine,
chocolate. Spirituality is sensual. Spirituality is also an elegant
mathematical proof, the insight gained in a scientific experiment. It
crying for joy at a reunion, laughing with good friends, being present
birth and death. It is feeling loved and being loving.
Ultimately, my spirituality is my being fully alive. It isn't my spiritual
life, it is my life. All of it. It is your life, all of it. All of it
together so that all the pieces finally fit. Because language is inherently
inadequate to describe this experience, you and I will probably choose
different words. I suspect, however, that when we speak of spirituality
speak of the same feeling, the sense of being fully alive, fully aware,
fully connected. It is a sense of YES, of an eager and emphatic shouting
"yes" to life, of giving and receiving love, of belonging,
of knowing in a
direct, intuitive way.
While it is impossible to describe what I will call a true spirituality,
think it is easier to describe what spirituality is not.
For me, spirituality is not supernatural. Indeed, for me, the supernatural
cheapens the natural, creates an opposition that contradicts my sense
spiritual. A true
spirituality does not ask me to deny any part of who I am. It does not
me to turn my back on all that our species has learned in the last few
thousand years. A true spirituality does not shrink from the discoveries
DNA and what we see through the Hubble Space Telescope; it rejoices
science teaches and is eager to learn more. Spirituality does not ask
believe the unbelievable, does not ask me to amputate part of myself
price of admission. This is the trouble with the dogmas of so many faiths,
they ask people to bring only a part of who they are. Similarly, my
spirituality cannot be separated from my body. I cannot accept the notion
a "spiritual realm." I do not believe spirituality involves
experience. Quite the opposite, a true spirituality includes my body
does not dismiss or demean the physical. I want to take my body along
And, most emphatically, spirituality is not narcissistic self-indulgence
self-absorption. It is not escapism. Our spiritual life is not some
emotional getaway vacation where we go to get away from our lives.
Spirituality, I believe, should be the opposite of escape. This is the
teaching of all the great religious traditions. Spiritual growth comes
a deep, honest encounter with reality and with what really matters.
sense, spirituality is simultaneously comforting and challenging. Our
deepest awareness of who we are and what really matters makes demands
It affects everything we do.
Our third principle states that we promise to promote spiritual growth.
are we to do that? Should I take up a meditation practice? Should I
some course of study of scripture? Should I join
a support group? Should I work with others for justice and
I believe we need different practices and that each of us needs different
practices at different times in our lives. In my own life, the discipline
learning and thought was liberating when I was young. It freed me from
shackles of dogmatic and superstitious denial of fundamentalism. I was
at academic tasks, so the world of the intellect became a comfortable
But what was once a source of liberation can become a new prison. For
of us, strengths can easily become weaknesses. In my own life I have
to move beyond the cognitive, beyond the intellectual. Not, I hope,
abandon the gifts and joys of learning, but that I seek some balance.
I am renewed by activities that are not verbal: walks that refresh my
of natural beauty, music that takes me on a journey of harmony and passion,
the ritual of preparing a dinner for my family. But you and I are in
different places and need different things to help us grow and stretch.
of you live alone and hunger for more human contact, hunger for the
of words that really communicate, for conversation with friends.
Deep down, when we are calm, honest, clear, and open, you and I know
need as a religious practice. We know because we have longings. We must
in touch with the longings in our hearts and listen to these longings.
sense of what is missing, of what we long to become, is a wise spiritual
guide. We must learn to listen to that quiet voice that calls us forward.
Jesus said that we can know a tree by its fruit: a good tree bears good
fruit. If we look at Jesus, at the Buddha, at Mohammed, at Gandhi, at
Luther King, at Susan B. Anthony, at Thich Nhat Hahn, we see a pattern.
deep spirituality does not take us away from the world; it helps us
engage the world. Spirituality bears fruit. If my spiritual practice
me to a life of watching soap operas, eating potato chips, and worrying
about the love lives of people in Hollywood, maybe I need a new practice.
my spiritual practice does not change me, I need a new practice. We
divide the deeply spiritual life from what we do every day, from who
from how we treat each other, from how we treat colleagues at work or
I suggest that my spirituality, my spiritual growth, cannot be measured
how long I can sit on a cushion meditating. Sitting meditation can work
wonders as a practice. But if it does not change how I lead the rest
life, it is the moral and spiritual equivalent of playing solitaire.
There is a deep connection, there must be a deep connection, between
spirituality and the way we move in the world. Our religion should grow
naturally out of our profoundest experience, our profoundest sense of
is sacred and good in life.
This is what I meant when I suggested earlier that spiritual experience
be unsettling, even frightening. A true spirituality naturally results
taking a look at our whole lives, at everything we do. Spirituality
lifestyle choice; it involves envisioning what life can be and then
that vision guide our whole lives. At best, we become our spirituality.
lives are expressions of our spiritual growth.
Maybe the question, "What Is Spirituality?" is the wrong question.
come to believe that spirituality isn't a "what." It is more
of a "how."
Spirituality is about how I perceive, how I feel, and how I act. It
the quality of my life and your life and our lives together.
Quest March 2001 Contents
Member Profile: Lee Sanchez
CLF members who join the CLFe-mail conversation group sometimes begin
by telling the group something about themselves. Member Lee Sanchez introduced
herself with the following posting.
Hello: I am one of those "new" folks who was recently welcomed
to the CLF
list. I am really not new to CLF at all, having found it in 1964 when
15 years old. At that time, I was working for the YMCA in Southern
California. I was chosen by that organization to be a Candidate Secretary
who would be prepared for future professional leadership in the Y.
However, I was not comfortable with some of my responsibilities at the
such as leading men's prayer breakfasts. So I, a teenaged girl at the
shared my concerns with an "older" (probably in his late 20s!)
there at the Y, who told me that I was probably a Unitarian Universalist.
looked up this new term at the public library and found a book, Why I
Unitarian Universalist, by Jack Mendelsohn. (I had the wonderful opportunity
to meet Jack at GA last June in Nashville.) I was thrilled to know that
had found a religion that suited me exactly, and that I was indeed a UU!
One week later, while I was visiting with a friend who was babysitting,
saw a copy of the CLF newsletter on a table. I joined, and it was like
tiny miracle appearing at my home when Quest arrived each time. My wonderful
Roman Catholic mother was glad that I had found a "church."
father was an avid atheist, and we had great conversations about this
religion I had found. And in all these years, UUism has never let me down.
While I considered myself a UU all that time, it took me 25 years before
joined a local UU church, Saltwater Unitarian Universalist Church in Des
Moines, Wa. This was because my then-four-year-old son was asking about
"God," and I wanted a community of like-minded friends for my
I was a member of the church for five years before I was asked to become
Director of Religious Education. I'm now in my eighth year of serving
congregation. I am also a second-year student for the ministry at
Meadville/Lombard Theological School's Modified Residency Program, at
University of Chicago. This is one of the two UU theological schools in
U.S., the other being Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley,
The Meadville/Lombard MRP was created so that folks like me could study
the UU ministry while continuing to live and work all over the continent.
read, write, and study independently for most of the school term, and
in Chicago in January for a month of intensive classes, guidance, and
Why am I still a member of CLF when I have a church community and serve
as a religious professional? Well, many ministers and religious educators
are members of CLF. The publications are first-rate, and it is good to
connected with a wider UU community. And I am a member of CLF in order
support the organization that was there for me when I was a teenager and
that continues to be there for me
Quest March 2001 Contents
Imagine the Magic
by Katie Lee Crane, minister, First Parish of Sudbury (Unitarian Universalist)
Every year it snows during the New England Flower Show, usually on the
opening weekend. I know. I've slogged through that snow on more than one
You see, in another lifetime, I used to help create an exhibit for a small,
family-run, mail-order greenhouse business. I didn't work with the plants,
but each year I helped with the Flower Show Exhibit. This was wonderful
lots of reasons.
Imagine walking into a greenhouse that's warm and moist and dense with
leaves, blossoms, and fragrance on a raw March day. Take a moment with
soak in the feel of that air on your skin, the lushness, the almost shocking
contrast of life bursting forth inside when there is virtually no evidence
of life outside.
Now imagine the exhibit hall. Huge. Miles long, it seems. Outside there
steady, freezing rain, or perhaps, sub-zero temperatures. Inside, a concrete
cavern is coming alive with trees and flowers, brooks and streams. Imagine
trucks driving into the hall with blooming Acacia trees and hundreds of
tulips and daffodils. Imagine workers-inside this windowless, concrete
box-digging and shoveling and watering and fussing. Imagine the space
beginning to transform into an Eden.
"Ahhhh," you say. Perfection. Now it is time to appreciate our
Imagine going home, taking off your overalls and slipping into a gown
suit, maybe even a tuxedo. Imagine one more trip to that Eden to appreciate
its freshness and beauty, to dance, and dine, and celebrate with those
have created such a masterpiece. Imagine opening night.
Now, imagine the snowstorm. Crippling snowstorm. Drive-at-your-own-risk
snowstorm. A snowstorm that causes you to change your plans, your outfit,
Isn't that just the way with life? Always the unexpected throws us a curve.
The carefully planned event becomes something quite different. But then,
eventually, you give in. You accept what is. And you build a fire, or
angels in the snow, or dance in the living room. And it's a magical night.
Imagine the magic.
Quest March 2001 Contents
Several years ago and shortly after twilight our 3-1/2-year-old tried to gain
his parents' attention to a
The parents were busy with time and schedules, the irritabilities of the day
and other worthy pre-occupations. "Yes, yes, we see the star.now I'm busy,
don't bother me." On hearing this the young one launched through the porch
door, fixed us with a fiery gaze and said, "You be glad at that star!"
This excerpt is from The Strangeness of This Business, the UUA Meditation
Manual for 1976 by the Rev. Dr. Clarke Dewey Wells, emeritus minister, Lake
Region UU Fellowship,
As members of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, we're in luck! "A church
without walls," "A church home anywhere in the world," mottoes the CLF has
long embraced, have developed straight out of our liberal religious
tradition and culture. Whether CLFers are members of local congregations or
not, as Unitarian Universalists, we are eager to live our religion well
beyond four walls.
To worship is to stand in awe
under a heaven of stars,
before a flower, a leaf in sunlight,
or a grain of sand.
To worship is to be silent, receptive,
before a tree astir with the wind,
or the passing shadow of a cloud.
To worship is to work with
dedication and with skill,
it is to pause from work and
listen to a strain of music.
To worship is to sing with the
singing beauty of the earth;
it is to listen through a storm
to the still small voice within.
Jacob Trapp, 1899-1992
Be ours a religion which, like
sunshine, goes everywhere;
its temple, all space;
its shrine, the good heart;
its creed, all truth;
its ritual, works of love;
its profession of faith, divine living.
Theodore Parker, 1810-1860, Unitarian minister
The intermingling of "religion" and "life" goes way back for us. In 17th and
18th Century America, the distinction between sacred and secular blurred,
and our forbears understood "meeting houses" as gathering places for a host
of activities. Looking back from the vantage point of 1868, one Unitarian
minister described past practice: "[A meeting house] might be open on
Sunday for religious worship, on Monday for town elections, on Tuesday for
some civic celebration, on Wednesday for a funeral, on Thursday for a
popular lecture, and regularly, several times a year, on Friday for the
preparatory lecture." The writer, the Rev. Joseph Henry Allen, bemoaned the
then new conception of "churches" in the New England countryside, where a
fancy new architectural space became especially designated as "sacred."
There, religion is "separated from the broad daily life...and is forced to
occupy a field apart, to rest on a separate foundation, and attempt a
peculiar work." As Unitarian Universalists, we don't set our sacred spaces a
Our heritage calls for holistic religious experience, the interweaving of
spirituality with life in general. We hear the same kind of message from
another quarter, the Transcendentalists, who provided our movement with an
infusion of spirited romanticism: they wanted preachers to acknowledge, for
example, the falling snow at the window. Religion was not bounded by the
conventions of traditional worship services, for, in the words of Henry
David Thoreau, even though "we fancy that this din of religion, literature,
and philosophy, which is heard in pulpits, lyceums, and parlors, vibrates
through the universe, ...if a man sleep soundly, he will forget it all
between sunset and dawn." Thoreau and his Unitarian friends were more
inclined to find religious experience in nature. For him, March's sermon
could well be, "I am singularly refreshed in winter when I hear of service
berries, poke-weed, juniper."
Within Unitarian Universalism, the walls between "holy" and "other-wise"
refuse to stand. For parishioners in the American Midwest in the late 19th
Century, the focal point was not so much nature, but love and service. They
believed in the interplay between religion and hospitality. Homes could feel
sacred; churches home-like. So churches were designed to offer welcoming
features for the larger community-fireplaces, sofas, inviting kitchens,
areas for children, space for schooling and workshops. And homes were built
with values in mind, values to be perpetuated room by room-truth illuminated
by lamps in the parlor, fellowship by an ample dining table, warmth and love
by the hearth.
I love our Unitarian Universalist
tradition. It feels exactly right to me. When I think about members of the
Church of the Larger Fellowship out there enjoying a blizzard in spite of
its nuisance and peril; or folks in the southern hemisphere, where the heat
and dust may have been too much, awaiting the blessings of the autumn ahead;
or a UU child on her belly watching the moss, and watching it some more, I
know our congregation has the old "church
without walls" spirit.
When you tell me that a few families are meeting above the local convenience
store on Sunday mornings, with some greenery in a vase and a candle sitting
next to it, to sing songs and discuss what matters, and you tell me you sit
with your children Wednesdays after soccer doing activities they found in
uu&me!, I realize that we know how to be religious in our old-fashioned
Unitarian Universalist way-whenever, wherever.
It makes me glad that our religion, our ways of the spirit, are so much with
us. Wherever we are.
Quest March 2001 Contents
REsources for Living
by Laura Cavicchio, interim director of religious education, Church of the
This month's column is for parents of young children, and for religious
educators. It is designed to be read or acted out, with or without a puppet.
One suggestion is for the adults to gather the puppet materials in advance,
read the 'play' with children, and then make a 'Quizzy' puppet together.
A Friend Named Quizzy
I would like to introduce you to Quizzy, a puppet I made. You can make
Quizzy of your own, using your imagination and just about any fun supplies
you have on hand. My Quizzy has a purple, papier mâché
head, and his eyes
are made from egg cartons and red pipe cleaners. I made his question
out of yellow and purple pipe cleaners, twisted together. Quizzy's eyes
question mark are stuck to his head with a coat hanger that I can
wiggle-whenever Quizzy is feeling very lively and curious-which is always.
His body is a shiny green gift bag attached to his head by a long stick,
I can hold on to him. Quizzy may be created out of ordinary stuff, but
a really funny and extraordinary fellow. We have conversations together
I make up, like the one on this page. It's about what happened one day
I brought Quizzy with me to CLF. You can make up your own puppets and
conversations about Unitarian Universalism. By the way, you may notice
my friend always talks in questions-that's what makes him Quizzy.
Quizzy: Oh excuse me, uh hello. I am Quizzy, from the Island of Question.
Is this where you do the "UU" thing?
Me: My goodness, hello! Welcome to CLF. I am Laura, and I'm happy to
you, Quizzy. We are a Unitarian Universalist congregation, if that is
you are looking for.
Quizzy: Oh, yes! My quizzler friends say that UUs love to ask questions.
Me: We love to wonder about all kinds of things, about religion, and
world we share together-all the things we care about most! As Unitarian
Universalists, we can ask any question we want, so... Please tell me,
Quizzy, where on earth is the Island of Question?!
Quizzy: Oh, it's very far away from here, but I feel right at home already!
What I really want to know is, where do all the questions come from?
Me: They come from inside us-isn't that wonderful?
Quizzy: Gee, they do?
Me: Of course, Quizzy, and what a great question-asker you are! UUs
that we are each in charge of deciding for ourselves what is right and
and how to be the best we can be. In the words of Sophia Lyon Fahs,
religion is a personal achievement."
Quizzy: Okay, hmmm.can I
believe anything I want to?
Me: Believe anything?
Quizzy: My quizzler friends say that UUs can believe anything they want.
's a FREE church, isn't it?
Laura: It is a free church, Quizzy, and we are very proud of our long
tradition of religious freedom. Sometimes folks think that because Unitarian
Universalists don't have a set of answers about religion, it means that
don't believe anything. And that is not really true.
Quizzy: It's not?
Me: Besides, I think the important thing is to understand why you believe
what you believe. Why would you want to just believe anything?
Quizzy: Well, uh, gee. What if I decide, and then change my mind about
of the answers?
Me: That's why we love our free church, Quizzy. We understand that
sometimes our ideas and beliefs change as we learn, and see new
possibilities, and try out different things. We keep on growing and
changing, all the time.
Quizzy: How do you keep on
Me: We use our minds, our imaginations, and our hearts. We look for
in lots of different places, because we don't think you can find answers
just one place.
Quizzy: That sounds kind of hard. Is it?
Me: It helps to know that many Unitarians and Universalists before us
struggled with the same questions. It helps that love and justice guide
in how we treat one another, and how we keep on trying to make our world
better for everyone. It helps that we can go on searching together,
people of a free and living faith.
Quizzy: Gee, it sounds as if everybody is important. And helping each
is really neat, too. Can a quizzler from the Island of Question-like
Me: Well, of course, all kinds of folks are welcome. And that's why
here-because folks in all sorts of places want a church home. You can
know Unitarian Universalist neighbors from all over the world!
Quizzy: And find out more about Unitarian Universalism?
Me: Oh yes, Quizzy, you will love reading Quest, and uu&me!, our
magazine for kids. You and CLF families can borrow UU curricula and
have your own Sunday school at home or in fellowship, or get ideas for
questions. You can call to talk to us; or our Minister, Jane; or you
on-line with other CLFers. I could go on and on.
Quizzy: Hey, I bet I can guess what "CLF" stands for: "Choosing
Free, Faith!" Have I got it right?
Me: CLF stands for the "Church of the Larger Fellowship,"
but yes, Quizzy,
you've got it. And welcome to Unitarian Universalism.
Quest March 2001 Contents
by Rev. Jane Ranney Rzepka, minister, CLF
The UUA Principles and Purposes are not and were never intended to be our
final word or the 'Here It Is!' sign at the end of a search. What they are
is a statement of things commonly believed among us: not a definitive
statement, not a final statement, and not a statement that must be accepted
to be counted among us. As some have aptly described them, our principles
are not the end of the search, they are the map for the search, a guide
along the way." p. 107
"I know of no Unitarian Universalist who would consider the UUA Principles
and Purposes to be a definitive statement of Unitarian Universalist
doctrine, and I know of no congregation in which assent to them is required
for membership." p. 105
"Given the religious freedom we grant each other, our ideas, beliefs, and
intuitions may range far beyond these affirmations [The Purposes and
Principles]. They may span the universe of ideas now and forevermore. Why
should that freedom of belief, that individual right of flight of thought
and fancy, discourage us from joining with others in saying something of
what we commonly affirm?" p. 106
Everybody had rules when I was growing up, especially churches. You had to
be aware of those rules when playing with friends. My friend next door's
religion had a rule that you couldn't eat ham sandwiches. My friend
next door on the other side had a rule that you couldn't eat meat on
Fridays. I had a Lutheran friend who wasn't allowed to set anything
on top of her Bible, and one Baptist girl I knew wasn't supposed to
dance. If you said bad words, you were in big trouble both now and in
the hereafter. It was a little nerve-racking, all these rules. Rules
spilled over into beliefs, and my friends certainly had their beliefs,
depending on where they worshipped. Beliefs like: God knew everything
and judged. Not believing in Jesus resulted in eternal damnation, which
resulted in living in flames of fire forever. Their religion was the
special religion and all the rest were bad. Jesus sat on your shoulder;
he was your friend. If you were good you went to heaven. People did
not come from monkeys; we were created by God.
As you can imagine, the questions put to me were inevitable: What does
your church believe? What are your rules?
In the context of the playground, trying to reply in a way that my friends
would understand, my answer was, "We can believe anything we want."
That's exactly how I felt.
And that's still exactly how I feel. Given my Unitarian Universalist
grounding, history, and tradition; given that my Sunday School promoted
the use of experience, reason, curiosity, community, and love when it
comes to answering religious questions; given that we learned early
on that definitive answers were few and that that was OK; I have always
felt completely free to believe what I want and call myself a Unitarian
But times changed, and along with other Unitarian Universalists who
experienced complete personal freedom of belief, I began to understand
that the line, "I can believe anything I want" wasn't precisely
what we wanted to communicate. So we began to say exactly the opposite!
Instead of sermons titled, "Believing What We Want to Believe,"
sermons called, "We Don't Believe in Nothing," or "No
Virginia, We Can't Believe Anything We Want," became common among
us. Questions began to arise along the lines of, "Could a Trinitarian
be a UU?" "Could a Sufi?" "Could a litterer?"
"Could a racist?" We seemed to feel a need to tighten things
up. Not a new need, to be sure.
Unitarians and Universalists had both wrestled with the question of
"statement of belief" over the generations, and our Universalist
forbears in particular developed professions of faith, most notably
the Winchester Profession of 1803. Even the Unitarians, more skittish,
issued a statement in 1825 expressing the practical emphases of Unitarianism.
These pronouncements would not have measured up to the rules and beliefs
that my friends in elementary school had to agree to and recite. The
Unitarians insisted that their statements were not to be construed as
authoritative test, and that all people were welcome who were generally
sympathetic to their religious aims. And Universalists, who revised
their professions from time to time, eventually came to the same conclusion,
specifying that neither members nor ministers need assent to the statement.
When the Unitarians and Universalists consolidated in 1961, they incorporated
a statement of purpose into their bylaws. After a long, lively, and
sometimes contentious democratic process, these bylaws were revised,
and our Unitarian Universalist "Purposes and Principles" were
approved at our General Assemblies in 1984 and 1985.
Are the Purposes and Principles a creed? No. The Unitarian Universalist
Association is an association of congregations, not individual UUs,
and the Purposes and Principles are bylaws, not belief statements. They
are not a laundry list for our children to memorize, not a substitute
for the theologies we each develop as individual adults, but a wonderful
(to my mind, anyway) statement of what it is our congregations have
joined together to try and achieve.
So what's the answer? Can Unitarian Universalists believe anything we
want? It depends who's asking.
And why. Will you get kicked out of the Church of the Larger Fellowship
because of a belief that's unusual within Unitarian Universalism? No.
Practically speaking, you can believe anything you want. Does Unitarian
Universalism have identifiable practices, historical integrity, particular
worldviews, roots, approaches to religious inquiry, and general theological
consensus? Yes. If you're at odds with Unitarian Universalism, broadly
conceived, you probably won't feel comfortable, nurtured, or inspired
in our midst.
From the viewpoint of the children I grew up with, ours was a weird
religion, what with the freedom, ambiguity, embrace of the unknown,
and the personal challenge to think things through. But for me, it's
always felt just right. I hope that's true for you.
Quotes in the sidebar of the, "From Your Minister"
column on the next page, are taken from With Purpose and Principle:
Essays about the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism, Edward
A. Frost, Ed., Skinner House, 1998, available at the UUA Bookstore as
item #5333. CLF members can purchase the book at the 15% discount price
of $8.50, plus the $2.25 shipping and handling cost ($10.75 total),
until May 1, 2001. Use the Quest envelope in this issue to send your
check made out to CLF/UUA Bookstore, or provide your MC or VISA number
and expiration date
Quest March 2001 Contents
Last updated June 12, 2005