Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What are you afraid to admit at a UU church?

 By Lee Walton
Young Adult Coordinator

The title of this blog is the first and only question in an anonymous survey I created and distributed online to different UU communities to raise awareness about an issue dear to my heart—we UUers are inadvertently excluding people from our congregations.

I first became aware of this issue when a close friend and committed Christian said to me, “Lee, I wanted it to work.  I really tried.  I wanted to be a part of Unitarian Universalism, but my faith is just not welcomed there.  I couldn’t take the scoffs anymore when I’d talk about my faith nor the pot shots at my beliefs from others in service.  It was just too much.  I’ve decided to not go anymore, which is real shame because I don’t know where else to go…”

Those words crushed me.  Unfortunately, it’s not the only time I’ve heard them.  After a friend had gone to several church services, I asked him what he thought and he relayed to me, “Well, I loved it but I don’t think it’s for me.  Talking with the people after service and hearing how politically divisive they are kind of turns me off to it.  If it weren’t for this one issue I’d totally go, but my differing political views just aren’t welcomed.”

While we pride ourselves on our diversity and open mindedness, in practice that’s often the opposite of the truth.  Below are the results of my informal survey as they came in from September 2012 through May 2013.

Please bear several questions in mind as you read the survey results:  In what ways is my congregation wrongly making some feel unwelcomed?  What’s my contribution to the problem?  What can I do about it?  Are there times when it is acceptable to exclude some because their views are simply incompatible with the Seven Principles?  If so, where do we draw the line?

Final thought:  What binds us together as Unitarian Universalists  are the Seven Principles, not our stance on particular theological topics and not our particular interpretation and application of the Seven Principles.

Below are excerpts from the survey responses.  To read the full result, click here: http://ow.ly/pVjnC

  • “I'm not a Democrat.”
  • “The welfare system is broken, and not everyone should be helped indefinitely by the government.”
  • “I would like to see the draft re-instated.”
  • “Political beliefs that aren't aligned with the Democratic party.”
  • “Republicans are very regularly ridiculed and the Republican UUs out there are either driven away or insulted regularly but have to bear it.”
  • “I find it difficult to admit that I am a devout theist with Christian leanings.”
  • “I believe that Jesus saves, and that God is sovereign.”
  • “That I'm a Christian UU.”
  • “I love communion and feel like I need it so I go to a Christian church in the afternoons.”
  • “I know a fair number of Unitarians that would make my Christian friends feel very uncomfortable because of their attitude.“
  • “A lot of UUs are...Christian bashing, etc.”
  • “I find it hard to share with my fellow UU church members that I am a UU Christian.”
  • “I learned about both evolution and creationism as scientific theories, and I respect both as scientific theories. Intelligent design is not just all about teaching the bible.”
  • “Religious beliefs besides atheism/agnosticism [aren’t accepted].”
  • “I pray.”
  • “Certainly in my church admitting that you believe in a god/God would be quite difficult.”
  • One person expressed that they opened up about their paranormal experiences and many others shared their own stories.
Gender Equality
  • “Concern over men's rights, and gender equality from a male perspective.”
Miscellaneous Ethical Issues
  • “I believe abortion truly is the taking of a life.”
  • “I own and love to wear my mink coat.”
  • “I don't care about recycling, and I'm pretty uninterested in the environment.”
  • “Eating meat is okay.”
  • “That genetically modified crops, herbicides, and pesticides have saved millions from starvation.”
  • “I water my lawn with a regular sprinkler...and I don't compost.
  • “I shop at Walmart.”
  • Children need more discipline.  (Two people stated this.)
  • “I support nuclear power.”
  • "Marriage is a sacred institution, even if it's optional. Anyone should be able to do it, but devaluing long-term commitment is harmful."
  • “Disinterest in the problems of disadvantaged groups such as the GLBT community.”
  • “That as a gay man...I am not your “project” and I am not interested in being your ‘gay friend.’”
  • “The ‘Standing on the Side of Love’ t-shirts are patronizing, especially when the only places they get worn are to church and gay events.”
  • “If you want to attract gay people, offer programming that caters to them as gay people, otherwise, just attract them as people who happen to be gay. (The same goes for the other minorities as well.)”
Recreational Drug Use
  • “Even though we support radical change in the war on drugs, we still speak in hushed tones and not publicly about drug use, particularly marijuana.“
  • “That my religious leanings started with psychedelics. I would not be in church if not for THC and LSD.”
  • Worship
  • “I really desperately miss good worship music.”
  • “I HATE hymns!”
  • “I think it's disrespectful to sing other ethnic songs and pat ourselves on the back."
  • “That I do not enjoy documentaries and that mindless television sitcoms are very relaxing to me.”
  • “That I dropped out of college or that I'm not familiar with an literary reference.”
  • “I'm in debt up to my eyeballs because of student loans.”
  • “I'm not wealthy.  I don't have a master's degree or a career job.”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Of Growing Up and Chickens

By Angel de Armendi
Music Director
Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee

As I grow older, I find that I often judge my life, namely by the things I do and the things I don’t, by the things I want to do and the things I wish I did not have to.  When I was much younger, pre-teen years let’s say, I did not think much of what I did and didn’t.  Instead, I lived in the present like there was no tomorrow.  I did not worry much compared to present-day standards about the food or lack thereof I was to eat every day, how ethical was my living, what went on to bring about the sustenance of myself and family, and the rest of those invisible threads seemingly spun by fate that eventually tangle up one’s adult life. 

Everything seemed so much simpler and beautiful in the good old days!  Ignorance can be blissful, and I guess as children it is important to have those thick layers of naiveté to grow up in hope, learn how to love, and find beauty in the world at every corner, no matter how marred by decay.  Yet the deterioration of our world is marked by our own actions, what we choose to do and don’t.  And our lives, though so short, are full of tremendous potential.

But let’s back up to those days of enjoyment outside the realm of adulthood, like waking up on Saturdays and getting lost in the local river all day only to be punished later by a worrisome parent who did not know where you were.  How could you relate, how could you possibly understand apprehension and fear then? 

de Armendi with Terri and Tikka
Sometimes I think that my life as a kid was like being a chicken.  They both eat when food is served, or not. If they do not eat, something is wrong; you change the food or take them to the doctor.  They get lost and often do not tell you where they went– often over at the neighbor’s, creating havoc.  The first time I got lost like that, my mother actually pulled a belt and hit me for the first and only time, and, not understanding the punishment at all, I cried, puffed, and told myself I would never speak to her again, only to forget the next morn. 

When I punish my chickens with an early retirement to the coop because they have been naughty, they do make a ruckus, but the next day, they adoringly follow me around, waiting for the next meal.  These chickens are so dependent on me that an intense feeling of caring and dedication become part of my life.  They imbue my routine with a certain purpose that is ever fresh and forgiving, simple and beautiful.  Research tells us that people with pets live longer, I bet that people that work with children also do.  But I digress. 

So why give up youth and noble simplicity for adulthood and an array of daily concerns?  Thoreau writes “Age is no better, hardly so well qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost. One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned anything of absolute value by living.”

Thus I have over the last years decided to retrace my steps and become more like a child, or learn a thing or two from my chickens.  This entails giving up my fears, forgiving, accepting, hoping, believing, and having a tremendous amount of faith.  Who thought that youth was so amazing, I now do! 

When invited to attend the Greek Festival on Saturday I politely declined stating that the Greek Orthodox Church that profits from it is an institution that treats same-sex loving couples as second-class citizens.  I let go of my anger by forgiving and not harboring negative feelings toward that institution, while at the same time making the simple choice of not supporting it.  I did not give it a second thought and went on with my day.  I engaged in gardening, tending to my pets, getting lost and giving in to simple necessities and lovely projects.  As Thoreau notes, I want “Every morning [to be] a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself”.  

It is amazing to be human.  Grow from a toddler as simple minded as a fowl into a conscious adult with full reins of one’s own life, with the responsibilities and freedoms it entails.  Yet, it is more amazing to choose to remain in touch with your inner child and live a hundred percent into fulfilling your ethics and ideals.   

Monday, October 7, 2013

Would You Take This Advice?

By Rev. Robin Gray
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee

There is some advice that’s worth a second look, perhaps only to become more thoroughly confused by the original intent of the advice giver, or by the advice itself.

Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite. Well, if this isn’t a mixed message, I don’t know what is. How is a child supposed to sleep after being tucked in with that opposition of phrases? Not only does she have to work at outsmarting the monsters hiding beneath the bed skirts, and the monster that lives in the closet, she has to worry about unseen threats that live somewhere in the mattress.

Now, I knew from a very early age that I could escape the monsters of the darkest places in my room by tucking the sheets firmly in place and never, ever letting my legs or arms stray over the side of the bed. But, once I was wound up into the bedclothes, I had to start worrying about ways to stop bed bugs from biting. I could conjure up images of the monsters I feared, but, I wasn’t at all sure what a bed bug looked like, or what its habits were. Did it only bite at night? Did it dine on children? Would sleeping ward them off, or egg them on? With all those questions animating my overactive worry-center, I’m amazed I got any sleep at all before the age of 24.

For those who want to know the entire ditty, it goes something like this:  “Good night, sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite. Wake up bright In the morning light to do what’s right with all your might.” 

Look before you leap. This advice, offered by the same woman who asked me — more than once — “If your best friend jumped off the Empire State Building, would you do it, too?” implies that there is a time for leaping. I guess it’s just not when your friends are leaping. I’m not sure why one would give any child even tacit advice to leap. Leaping is not something children need to be told to do, they seem to have the idea of jumping off dangerous precipices down pat. Looking is, I suppose, a bit of cautionary advice designed to make the potential jumper pause and consider the wisdom of this particular step into nothingness. However, if your best friend is already down there yelling, “Come on, you can do it!” rare is the child who will stop to look for the nearest set of stairs.

Let tomorrow take care of itself. I know this excellent advice that offers an exit from the endless round of worrying. It’s a Buddhist kind of advice, and it might help many people to let go of the need to control the future. But...on the other hand...I’ve had over 50 years of waking up tomorrow, and not once has tomorrow actually taken care of itself. I still need to show up, play my best game, and be present in the today that tomorrow has become. I think it might be more to the point to say, “Do today what needs to be done today.”

Work hard and you’ll get ahead. I know plenty of people who work hard never seem to get ahead. At another glance, I can’t help but wonder all sorts of things when I hear this advice. For instance: Who is it we are supposed to get ahead of? If we ‘get ahead’ does that mean that somebody else will get left behind? If I work hard and get ahead of my boss and become her boss, did I do something good along the way, or did I get ahead just because it had to be done? Is there an intrinsic value in ‘getting ahead’ or should work be tied to a moral or ethical imperative?

As I look back, I can see that sound bites that ignore the heart of the matter were invented long before their supposed appearance in a June 1980 Washington Post admonition to journalists: “Remember that any editor watching needs a concise, 30-second sound bite. Anything more than that, you’re losing them.”

The 30-second philosophers have been hard at work for generations reducing the complex into simple, easy to repeat phrases that may be meaningless or even negative. With that, I can only say, “Good night. Sleep tight. Beware of every sound bite.