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  QUEST
 
 

March 2001

If you want to know yourself, Just look how others do it; If you want to understand others, Look into your own heart.

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, and fly with me to Calcutta, that sprawling city in the East. From Calcutta, we will fly northeast, over Bangladesh, which is very low country, then over some hills, and finally to Guwahati in the Indian State of Assam, just south of Bhutan. From Guwahati we take a four-hour bus ride up into those hills we just flew over, into the State of Meghalaya, hill country, to the capital, Shillong.
Meghalaya is about the size of Massachusetts. The eastern two thirds of this 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 98 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 100 Tamil people in Chennai who are members of the Madras Christian Unitarian Church that was founded in 1795. Although separated by many hundreds of miles and very different cultures, these two groups joined in 1987 to form the Indian Council of Unitarian Churches.
In 1998, when I was finishing a ministry in Virginia, I was able to arrange with the UUA and the Indian Unitarians to spend six months in India, formally and officially, as a Unitarian Universalist minister. As the only outsider who had done that in many years, I found myself needing to learn, 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 the UUA 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 was not 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 using Western (Roman) letters, and then translated the Bible into Khasi. With a written language tied to the imposition of colonial government, the only way 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 into 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 to Christianity.
One Khasi Unitarian scholar emphasizes: ". . . even from his childhood, Hajom Kissor showed interest in spiritual and religious matters. . . Slowly 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 his disenchantment with the Calvinist faith led him to break away from that order." Singh, working on his own, drawing from traditional and missionary concepts, envisioned and founded a "new" religion, a Religion of One God. Eventually, he met with a person who advised him to write to the Rev. Charles Dall, a Unitarian missionary then working in Calcutta. Singh wrote to Dall, who sent him a large quantity of Unitarian literature, which persuaded him that his 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 today in the context of a very distinct culture.
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 no 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 family, clan, tribal organization, and governance. Religion is inseparable from all 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 were making enormous inroads, criticizing, undermining, and threatening traditional Khasi culture and religion. Singh's Religion of One God provided many new elements: churches, a liturgy, Sunday services, group worship, even ministers.
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 of omens 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 life, until his death in 1923, to seeking converts, preaching, starting churches, and nurturing what he had begun.
A key document in that process of nurturing was a short book he wrote over a hundred years ago with his colleague, Robin Roy, titled, The Book of Brief Questions About Unitarianism.
When I arrived in Meghalaya in September, 1998, I was shown this book in the 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 and approved by the Board of the Unitarian Union.
This key document, what we have come to call the "catechism," is divided into six chapters that are intended to give instruction in the Khasi Unitarian faith. The first two chapters deal with the subject of God, and 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 is a dutiful religion. The final chapter deals with sin, which is defined as not doing one's duty, or going against the commands of God.
There, too briefly stated, is what I understand to be the essence of Khasi Unitarianism. In saying that, I fear I have not presented the real flesh and blood humanity of the people I have been so fortunate to know and to love.
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 so on.
Others, with less education, live in simple houses-many without electricity-in country villages, and do subsistence farming. For all Khasis, the Unitarian identity is absolutely central to their lives. All they say and do relates to their key cultural and religious themes of knowing God and doing duty within a covenanting community.
Today there are more than 30 Unitarian churches in Meghalaya-with three just over the border in Assam. Almost all these churches maintain pre-primary schools for the children in the village, that being their principle outreach 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) and 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 the world. Among those individuals, I see a great desire to learn more and to be connected beyond very limiting circumstances. Meeting them has given me a sense of being closer to the possibility of real understanding and of right 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 Council are actively exploring ways to establish closer connections in the near future. As the world continues shrinking, I hope that all of us will be open to new understandings, while we attempt to live the answer to the very basic question of our faith: How shall we treat one another? Whatever we do, may it be beyond indifference. May we connect with understanding and love. The motto of the Khasi Unitarians is: "To Nangroi." or, "Keep on progressing." 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, Colorado

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 about this Unitarian Universalist church in Oregon. After the coffee time we made our way to the Fireside Room just off the sanctuary. The odd assortment of well-worn chairs was formed into more of a bean shape than a circle. The minister was there, so was the head of the membership committee. Six or eight of us visitors gathered, carrying in cups of coffee or tea. As the conversation started, a woman from the membership committee invited each of 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 familiar 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 like that. I spoke briefly of my early religious training and my adult life lived 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 myself in relation to this amazing cosmos we inhabit, about the things that make me laugh or move me to tears. My story that morning said nothing about the religious experiences that have fundamentally formed and transformed me. I said nothing about what I hold sacred, about what I am willing to live for 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 of listening to Mozart's Requiem as spiritual and listening to background music at Wal-Mart as other than that? What makes a religious retreat more of a 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? Can dancing be a religious experience? Painting? Gardening? Making love? Writing computer code? Writing a letter? Cooking dinner? Eating a peach? What makes a spiritual experience? Are there real spiritual experiences and phony ones? Last week someone left a seven-page, single-spaced letter in my box here in the office. It was unsigned, save for a handwritten note on the outside that said simply "I'm back." The letter spoke, among other things, of a "spiritual" experience of channeling Jesus. It went on to talk about the evils of ancient pharaohs and their modern descendants, of platonic solids, and of heaven being reachable through a vortex in the Orion Nebula. The writer feels a deep connection to God and Truth. I see the evidence of a disturbed, confused mind. The letter reminded me of other troubling letters I would get from time to time when I was a newspaper publisher. It also reminded me of the dozens of souls I have seen shouting their religious messages to indifferent passers-by. Are their experiences spiritual? I shudder to think of those journeys. I think of the young woman I visited in the psychiatric ward during my chaplaincy internship. She was certain that God was telling her to kill herself. She heard God's voice clearly. She could quote scripture. Alas, she belonged to a congregation where the "spiritual leader" told her she didn't need her medication.
This is not a trivial question, especially for a religious community.
One of our seven principles, the third, speaks of "encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations." How do we decide what leads to such 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 home a 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 by what they think that might mean. There is great confusion about this. In this sermon I want to present my own take on all this. I will admit, at the outset, that I come to the topic of spirituality with a combination of a seeker's eager curiosity and a skeptic's wariness. I believe religion must be more than being correct. Religion and spirituality are not fundamentally intellectual pursuits. I am convinced that a sense of awe, mystery, beauty, and intensity are central to a religious life. There is something in us that yearns for transforming experience, for serenity, for the deep joy that comes from connection to something sacred, something far beyond the mundane and the petty. That yearning can be repressed and denied, but it cannot be eliminated.
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 to 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 too 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, the word is woefully inadequate. What I call spirituality involves all of me-my heart, my head, my body, my awareness. There is a wonderful wholeness and harmony about that state I call spiritual. There is a sweet serenity, a 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 breath). A spirituality worthy of the name involves deep awareness. It is that sense of profound openness and awakening in the Buddhist tradition. A true spirituality also involves our whole selves. It includes our intellect, our emotions, our senses. It is the bittersweet chill of a clear winter night, 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 as much as we hear. It is singing together. It is the embrace of a lover, the clasp of a child's hand. It is the taste of mountain water, of wine, of chocolate. Spirituality is sensual. Spirituality is also an elegant mathematical proof, the insight gained in a scientific experiment. It is crying for joy at a reunion, laughing with good friends, being present at 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 put 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 we speak of the same feeling, the sense of being fully alive, fully aware, and fully connected. It is a sense of YES, of an eager and emphatic shouting of "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, I 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 of the spiritual. A true spirituality does not ask me to deny any part of who I am. It does not ask 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 of DNA and what we see through the Hubble Space Telescope; it rejoices in what science teaches and is eager to learn more. Spirituality does not ask me to believe the unbelievable, does not ask me to amputate part of myself as the 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 of a "spiritual realm." I do not believe spirituality involves an out-of-body experience. Quite the opposite, a true spirituality includes my body and does not dismiss or demean the physical. I want to take my body along on my spiritual journey.
And, most emphatically, spirituality is not narcissistic self-indulgence or 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 from a deep, honest encounter with reality and with what really matters. In that sense, spirituality is simultaneously comforting and challenging. Our deepest awareness of who we are and what really matters makes demands on us.
It affects everything we do.
Our third principle states that we promise to promote spiritual growth. How are we to do that? Should I take up a meditation practice? Should I pursue some course of study of scripture? Should I join a support group? Should I work with others for justice and compassion? 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 of learning and thought was liberating when I was young. It freed me from the shackles of dogmatic and superstitious denial of fundamentalism. I was good at academic tasks, so the world of the intellect became a comfortable place.
But what was once a source of liberation can become a new prison. For each of us, strengths can easily become weaknesses. In my own life I have needed to move beyond the cognitive, beyond the intellectual. Not, I hope, that I abandon the gifts and joys of learning, but that I seek some balance. I find I am renewed by activities that are not verbal: walks that refresh my sense 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. Some of you live alone and hunger for more human contact, hunger for the pleasure of words that really communicate, for conversation with friends.
Deep down, when we are calm, honest, clear, and open, you and I know what we need as a religious practice. We know because we have longings. We must get in touch with the longings in our hearts and listen to these longings. That 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 Martin Luther King, at Susan B. Anthony, at Thich Nhat Hahn, we see a pattern. A deep spirituality does not take us away from the world; it helps us to engage the world. Spirituality bears fruit. If my spiritual practice leads 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. If my spiritual practice does not change me, I need a new practice. We cannot divide the deeply spiritual life from what we do every day, from who we are, from how we treat each other, from how we treat colleagues at work or school.
I suggest that my spirituality, my spiritual growth, cannot be measured by 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 of my life, it is the moral and spiritual equivalent of playing solitaire.
There is a deep connection, there must be a deep connection, between our spirituality and the way we move in the world. Our religion should grow naturally out of our profoundest experience, our profoundest sense of what is sacred and good in life.
This is what I meant when I suggested earlier that spiritual experience can be unsettling, even frightening. A true spirituality naturally results in taking a look at our whole lives, at everything we do. Spirituality isn't a lifestyle choice; it involves envisioning what life can be and then letting that vision guide our whole lives. At best, we become our spirituality. Our lives are expressions of our spiritual growth.
Maybe the question, "What Is Spirituality?" is the wrong question. I have 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 is about 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 I was 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 Y, such as leading men's prayer breakfasts. So I, a teenaged girl at the time, shared my concerns with an "older" (probably in his late 20s!) man-a mentor there at the Y, who told me that I was probably a Unitarian Universalist. I looked up this new term at the public library and found a book, Why I Am a 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 I 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, I saw a copy of the CLF newsletter on a table. I joined, and it was like a tiny miracle appearing at my home when Quest arrived each time. My wonderful Roman Catholic mother was glad that I had found a "church." My Spanish father was an avid atheist, and we had great conversations about this new 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 I 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 family.
I was a member of the church for five years before I was asked to become its Director of Religious Education. I'm now in my eighth year of serving the congregation. I am also a second-year student for the ministry at Meadville/Lombard Theological School's Modified Residency Program, at the University of Chicago. This is one of the two UU theological schools in the U.S., the other being Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif. The Meadville/Lombard MRP was created so that folks like me could study for the UU ministry while continuing to live and work all over the continent. We read, write, and study independently for most of the school term, and gather in Chicago in January for a month of intensive classes, guidance, and conversation.
Why am I still a member of CLF when I have a church community and serve now as a religious professional? Well, many ministers and religious educators are members of CLF. The publications are first-rate, and it is good to be connected with a wider UU community. And I am a member of CLF in order to support the organization that was there for me when I was a teenager and that continues to be there for me today-every day.
Blessings,
Lee Sanchez
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 occasion.
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 for
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 me to
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 is a
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 hard work.
Imagine going home, taking off your overalls and slipping into a gown or a
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 who
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,
your expectations.
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 make
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 shining star.

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, Lakeland, Florida.

To Worship
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
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.

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 side.

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.

Jane Rzepka
Minister

Quest March 2001 Contents




REsources for Living
by Laura Cavicchio, interim director of religious education, Church of the Larger Fellowship



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 a 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 mark out of yellow and purple pipe cleaners, twisted together. Quizzy's eyes and 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, so I can hold on to him. Quizzy may be created out of ordinary stuff, but he is a really funny and extraordinary fellow. We have conversations together that I make up, like the one on this page. It's about what happened one day when 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 that 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 meet you, Quizzy. We are a Unitarian Universalist congregation, if that is what you are looking for.
Quizzy: Oh, yes! My quizzler friends say that UUs love to ask questions. Is that true?
Me: We love to wonder about all kinds of things, about religion, and the 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? Do you know?
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 believe that we are each in charge of deciding for ourselves what is right and true, and how to be the best we can be. In the words of Sophia Lyon Fahs, "A fine 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. It '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 we 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 some 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 deciding?
Me: We use our minds, our imaginations, and our hearts. We look for wisdom in lots of different places, because we don't think you can find answers in 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 us 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, as a people of a free and living faith.
Quizzy: Gee, it sounds as if everybody is important. And helping each other is really neat, too. Can a quizzler from the Island of Question-like me -be a UU?
Me: Well, of course, all kinds of folks are welcome. And that's why CLF is here-because folks in all sorts of places want a church home. You can get to 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 terrific magazine for kids. You and CLF families can borrow UU curricula and books to have your own Sunday school at home or in fellowship, or get ideas for new questions. You can call to talk to us; or our Minister, Jane; or you can go on-line with other CLFers. I could go on and on.
Quizzy: Hey, I bet I can guess what "CLF" stands for: "Choosing a Loving, 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




The Reverend Jane RzepkaFrom Your Minister
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 Universalist.
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 an
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

 
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