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Family Ministry

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Words to Live By

“…the free and responsible search for truth and meaning…”

Unitarian Universalist Association Covenant of Congregations,

Fourth Principle

Freedom to Go Deep

    I recently read a blog about parenting, in which the writer pointed out that the popular notion about having children is that “once you have children, your freedom is gone”.  He went on to say that this idea relies on an illusion about freedom – that freedom is lateral, related to the freedom to move around the surface of the planet at will.  He held that true freedom was freedom of the spirit – the freedom to go deep.

    I think there are parallels here to our Unitarian Universalist faith community.  My colleagues often bemoan one of the most persistent and pernicious myths about Unitarian Universalism:  “this is the church where you can believe whatever you want.”  Not only is that not a true statement (and if you’d like me to explain why not, please come and ask – it’s a whole ’nother newsletter article), but it is a very limited belief statement.  It allows us to get away with superficial thinking, without encouraging the sort of deep reflection and growth that allows us to be spiritually mature people. 

    So from a parenting perspective, how do we offer our Unitarian Universalist children the freedom to seek their own truth and meaning without simultaneously telling them to believe whatever they’d like? 

    I’d suggest that we do so by offering a firm foundation of ethical teachings.  No, we don’t take what isn’t ours.  Yes, we do include everyone in our games.  No, we don’t tear up flowers just for the fun of destroying them.  Yes, we do answer honestly even if the consequences aren’t pleasant.  Our seven principles offer a pretty demanding set of ethical guidelines for life:  Respect the worth and dignity of each person.  Offer kindness, fairness and compassion.  Accept other people and encourage them to grow too.  Always look for the truth and reach for the deeper meaning.  Make sure that everyone gets a say in things that matter to them.  Work for a fair and peaceful world.  Take care of the interdependent web of life – not just the natural world but our human relationships, too, because we all rely on each other. 

    We buttress those principles with stories and teachings from our Unitarian Universalist history as well as all six of our sources.  We offer our children good role models.  We tell them wisdom stories from all the world’s religious traditions.  We teach them about religious leaders – Gandhi, Buddha, Jesus, Moses – who changed the world they lived in.  We teach them about spiritual practices that encourage focus and reflection: worship services, singing, journaling, meditation, prayer, yoga, rituals, blessings, Zentangles, mandalas.  We expect them to be moral people and to make good decisions, and we hold them accountable when they fall short. 

    In short, we teach them the framework of our faith.  And then we can ask them how it applies to their lives, which practices they find meaningful, which principles are hardest to apply, which stories they remember, who they want to be like.  The free and responsible search for truth and meaning gives us the opportunity to stretch ourselves, to grow and change and always to reach for one more thing we don’t understand or don’t think we can do.  It doesn’t give us permission to give the rote answers or take the easy way out.  Instead we have a mandate to go deep and engage in the moral struggle of really thinking through every decision we make.  Is this action honest?  Kind?  Necessary?  Right? 

    If you have thoughts about how we at the church can help you teach these things at home, please share your ideas.  For this, too, is family ministry: supporting parents in their role as primary religious educators for your children in this rich and wonderful faith of ours.