What to Take with You

I can’t speak for you, but sometimes I feel so completely freakin’ misunderstood that I even begin to question myself. It’s astounding how many people there are out there who are willing to tell you that you shouldn’t feel the way you feel or that you shouldn’t do what you do. The world is so full of noise that it’s hard for people to listen. And everybody’s a critic.

After enough time in that emotional meat grinder, I feel completely drained of my life force, and I start to wonder if they’re right and I’m wrong. Maybe if I just twist myself into a particular kind of knot, maybe then I’ll be viewed as saner, stronger, braver, more confident, less irrational, more well balanced, and more appealing. I, too, can be functional, if only…

“Stop being so sensitive.” “Stick up for yourself.” “It’s not that big of a deal.” “Here’s how you should have handled it.” “Why do you think that way?” “You’re making too much of it.” “This is how everyone else sees it.” “Grow up.”

It’s enough to make me want to crawl into a hole and pull a rock over the entrance. Just long enough to lick my wounds. Long enough to heal and remember who I am. Long enough to keep my wounded butt from lashing out and verbally tearing my attacker limb from limb. Because despite how much it may be merited, it never helps.

What do I take with me into that healing place? Truth. The things that I know are true about myself. The things that no one can take away from me no matter how hard they try. Everyone has a different set of things. Here are some of mine, in no particular order.

  • I am intelligent.

  • I love my dog and my dog loves me.

  • I’m a good writer.

  • I am a fantastic bridgetender.

  • People can count on me.

  • If I say I’ll do something, it gets done.

  • I’m not afraid of being alone.

  • I love a hot bath.

  • I have a great sense of humor.

  • I’m good with my money.

  • I love to learn.

  • I have a creative mind.

  • I’m curious.

  • I draw strength from nature.

  • I can be trusted.

  • I live to travel.

  • I set goals, and I work toward them.

  • I am a good friend.

  • People confide in me.

I’m proud of these things. I hold them close. They are my passions, my values, and my strengths. They are what hold me together even when I feel like I’m being torn apart.

Never forget that you have your very own set of things. Take them with you wherever you go. They are what’s best about you, even in your darkest hour.

So, hold on to your truth. Tell your detractors to get stuffed. And don’t ever, ever give up.

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On Being a Unitarian Universalist

For most of my life I was without a spiritual home. My mother was a member of the Congregational Church, but I can only remember setting foot inside one a handful of times as a child. As devout as she was, as a single working mother her time and energy were limited. I remember her trying to get me to go to Sunday school one cold Connecticut winter day, and we walked about a block and then turned back. It was too cold and I was too resistant to the idea. I think my mother gave up on the concept for me at that point.

Even with my limited experience with Christianity, I knew it wasn’t a good fit for me. It just never felt right. It didn’t feel logical or like a valid part of my everyday life. It always seemed out of date and based on the knowledge of the world as it was 2000 years ago. We know so much more now. What did the words of Jesus, however wise they might have been, have to do with a world in which we’ve walked on the moon and can talk instantly to someone on the other side of the planet?

That’s the thing, though. In many religions, including Christianity, I do find pearls of wisdom. In many ways that only adds to my confusion, because I’ve also seen the dark side of religion. The intolerance. So many religions assume that theirs is the only way to salvation. If you don’t believe exactly as they do, then you’re not one of the chosen, and you’re going to hell.

I can’t subscribe to the notion that a Bushman of the Kalahari, for example, who follows the religion of his parents, is condemned to hell by virtue of the fact that he was born in the “wrong” place, to the “wrong” people. I just can’t buy it. And if it is true, it’s not something I want to be a part of.

Why does my spiritual path have to be the only right one in order for it to be valid? That seems too simplistic to me. There’s too much variation in nature for there to be no room for a variation in philosophy.

So I cast about aimlessly for many years, feeling kind of alone in the wilderness, until finally I found Unitarian Universalism. In this conservative religious world of ours, I find a liberal, all-inclusive church to be a refreshing change indeed. The UU Church believes, as I do, that there are many paths to the divine. On any given Sunday you might find yourself amongst UU Humanists, UU Christians, UU Pagans, UU you-name-it-they’ve-got-it.

For me, most of all, Unitarian Universalism seems to be a place where people who have experienced mainstream religion and have been turned off by it, but still want community and fellowship, can find a home.

And lest you think we’re some lunatic fringe group, here are some Unitarians, Universalists, and UUs you may have heard of:

  • Presidents Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft
  • Writers Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, Horace Greeley, Ethan Allen, Kurt Vonnegut, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Sutton, Herman Melville, E.E. Cummings, Margaret Fuller, and William Carlos Williams
  • Other recognizable names include Paul Newman, Rod Serling, Adlai Stevenson, Linus Pauling, Paul Revere, Arthur Schlesinger, Albert Schweitzer, Daniel Webster, Pete Seeger, Frank Lloyd Wright, Neville Chamberlain, and Clara Barton

So what is a typical service like? There isn’t one, really. We often discuss various religious philosophies, cares and concerns, current events, or basic concepts about everyday living. Here’s a list of topics that were discussed in various UU churches recently:

  • The Communion of Life: Climate Change and the Unitarian Universalist Response
  • How Do We Know?
  • The Neurobiology of Compassion
  • The Road Not Taken
  • Moderation and Balance: An Islamic Perspective
  • America’s Religious Experiment
  • The Origin of Love
  • Questioning
  • A Glimpse Into the Heart of Terror
  • Joining the Drum Circle: Ancient Rites
  • Celebrating Community
  • Ground Hogs, Possums, and Mockingbirds. Reflections on the human need for control and certainty in a world where there is little of either.
  • Effective Altruism: Saving Lives from the Comfort of your Desktop
  • The Hidden Face of the Divine Feminine
  • The Adventure of Forgiveness
  • Lies My Government Told Me About Immigration

One thing that can be quite disconcerting about a UU Church is that rather than adhering to one dogma or creed, rather than being expected to conform or walk in lockstep with all the people around you, we UUs can’t seem to agree on ANYTHING. But the beauty is that we respect each other’s right to disagree. Here is something we all agree on, however. The seven UU Principles.

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Because most Unitarian Universalists find it unpalatable to recruit people, or risk being perceived as trying to convince people to change their ways, you won’t hear much about our religion. Not from us, anyway. We are loathe to cram anything down your throat. But you are always welcome to come to a service and form your own opinion. To find a congregation near you, go here.

uu