“Why I Am a Unitarian Universalist” – A Lay Service – November 4, 2012

First Lay Speaker –  Molly Day

I have been coming to First Parish ever since I can remember.  And honestly, I can’t imagine growing up in any other religious community.

I went through the religious education program here and although I don’t remember much about it specifically, it helped me garner a well rounded education of not just my religion, but others, and the values that are important to me now.

From watching the Simpsons to taking the OWL course, saying the program is not a normal RE program seems like kind of an understatement.  I always resented having to wake up and go do things on Sunday mornings, but looking back, it was a valuable experience for me.  I mean, it beats learning extensively about something I don’t necessarily believe in.  And I made so many memories! Like being Clara Barton in the Christmas pageant, or helping write it, or this one time in OWL…

Maybe I’ll save that for another time.

I didn’t grow up learning that there is only one true religion, I didn’t grow up learning being gay is a sin, or that whether or not you get eternal happiness is whether or not you do a, b, and c on a daily basis, and I am grateful for that.  I am not saying that gratefulness is true for everyone, im not saying that other religions are inferior, it is just the best choice for me.

I’m sure I’d be the same person if I didn’t grow up in this community, but getting to where I am today would have been a lot longer and harder process.  Being UU has not only exposed me to amazing friends and experiences, as well as delicious food, but it also helped me develop a better understanding of others and I guess even myself.

Believe me, trying to explain to my friends what being UU actually is is HARD.  Is not a very strict religion, and it doesn’t have a strict set of beliefs I can easily recite.  I usually simplify it into “well you can kind of believe what you want, its more about peace and love and doing the right thing?”  I guess that’s my interpretation of it.  Then try to say the affirmation and doxology, because they explain it better than I ever could.

I don’t know all the UU principles, I don’t come to church every Sunday, but I do know that becoming UU was the best choice my parents ever made for me.  Besides having me and my sister.  And marrying.

What I love most about growing up UU is that I get to be part of a wonderful church community connected by similar set of values, but the community isn’t dictating what I should believe.  Thankfully, I will never be under pressure to feign belief in some superior being, and I will always feel my personal belief is accepted.    I got to form my own credo. That choice of belief, that encouragement to always ask questions, grow spiritually and to find out who you are on your own terms is what growing up UU has given to me.

I am UU because my parents are, but I will continue to be UU for the rest of my life for that unique acceptance and encouragement.  I want my kids to experience the same benefits of choice and questioning that is part of UUism and part of me.  I want to see what being a UU for my entire life is like, I want to grow and discover and share with my community.  I want to drink some coffee and talk during social hour, I want to light a candle either for a joy, or a sorrow.  Someday.   Right now, I’m perfectly happy just helping out with the little kids, trying to fit youth group in, and pondering the existence of a higher being, in my own way.

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Second Lay Speaker – Aaron Dushku

My name is Aaron Dushku and I’ve been coming here to First Parish with my family for about 2 years now.  The ‘community’ of First Parish and of Watertown are huge reasons why I come here and in a way, those are HIGHLY spiritual things to me.  However, I am leaving that out today because I want to talk from a more global perspective about my spirituality.  Anyway, it will be hard to sum up ‘me and UU’ in 7 minutes but I’ll give it a try.  First, a bit more about me.

Mom is a descendent of Idaho Mormons and Dad is a child of Albanian immigrants to Boston.  The Albanian Orthodox church for us never extended beyond an annual Easter mass while a more concentrated exposure to Mormonism lasted up only up until I was 12.  Raised our entire lives in Watertown, my parents divorced when I was 8 and we were one of 3 Mormon families in this town.  We were also one of the few families in our large Belmont Hill congregation that was a single-parent household.  Despite what I now consider a genuine effort to welcome us in their community, we never quite fit in with folks like the Romney’s.  If you’ve read any of my mom’s writing on Mitt recently, you’ll see that her alienation from the leadership of that religious community went a lot deeper than that.

Mom is a poly-sci professor at Suffolk University and worked as the foreign student advisor there for almost 20 years.  Through guests in our home or travel abroad, my mom, showed us the world from an early age.  It was no surprise that after she took me to the USSR at 12, I enrolled in Watertown High’s USSR/China class and study tour.  There, I read about Marx, Lenin and Mao and really started to understand the concept of religion being the opiate of the people.  Then, she when I was 16, she brought me and a bunch of her students to Sandinista Nicaragua.  We learned first-hand about their revolution and the trip gave me my first glimpse of the developing world -a place where I spent many years living and working since then.

When I eventually cashed in on my free tuition to attend Suffolk myself, I took full advantage of study abroad options by spending 5 of my undergrad semesters off-campus.  I spent one on the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation in South Dakota where I got a taste of the residual effects of what some call ‘religi-cide’.  I also spent a lot of time traveling in the Spanish Empire and seeing what the Conquest and the Inquisition did and continue to do in those countries.  For some added perspective, I am also married to an ex-Catholic from the Dominican Republic. ———-

 

After all of this, the chances got really slim for me to ever join any church.

 The Mormons and the Catholics teach that we are excluded from the promise of an eternal salvation if we don’t adhere to their particular beliefs.  That we’re lost from the start and it doesn’t even matter if we may never have had the chance to even meet a missionary.  It doesn’t matter that for countless generations, a people may have worshipped another God with another tradition and with just as virtuous a doctrine.  To me, that has always been the downfall of all religions –that they are ethnocentric and xenophobic.  This runs contrary to everything that my mother ever taught me.

Yet, despite all my experiences with these faiths and disillusion with them, at some point in adulthood, I started feeling torn by something.  I started losing my passionate rage against religion and realizing that I actually loved a lot of religious people.  I started realizing that some of the dearest people in my life had bought into these things and that I actually admired them for it.  I became a godfather of a catholic child while I was in the Peace Corps and I began talking to my wife and kids about God.  We even started experimenting with some Mormon congregations.  In a weird way, I started actually appreciating these faiths.  So, before I walked in the door here, I think that I was starting to become a Unitarian Universalist without even knowing it.

Then, I got here and I started hearing Mark talk about the history of this faith.  I began to realize that the first Unitarians who opened their eyes to a world of other ideas were really being guided by a higher power.  I believe that these leaders and their successors were exhibiting in their teachings a beautiful culmination of religious thought.  That where they were taking Christianity was part of a divine plan for humanity.

Pick up a UUA wallet card from Mark and you can read all about the core aspects of our faith.  They are beautiful and they speak to my heart as being things I’ve believed in my whole life but without any structural framework or community.  I believe that this approach to ‘religion’ -if you can call it that- is something special.  I hesitate to talk about it sometime because it may come off as very cliché but inclusion and equality are two of the most important qualities and virtues that an individual and a society can possess.  These are things that almost all religious leaders have taught about but that somehow in the collision of cultures on this earth, mankind has always lost focus on.  We are imperfect and our egos always seem to get in the way.  Even as members of this congregation we also sometimes make mistakes in our delivery of this message but when I look into each of your eyes, it is unmistakably there.

Sure, I traveled far to meet a lot of different people but this planet is actually a pretty small place.  Sooner or later and even at a local level, acceptance and appreciation of our differences and the cultivation of a global community is the only way we’re going to survive on it.

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Some websites from Aaron’s mother:

This one’s about the ‘Dushku Gerrymander’:  http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/1111/A_complicated_Romney_family.html?showall


A Mormon Woman’s Manifesto
http://www.metroactive.com/features/Judy-Dushku-Mormon-Womans-Manifesto.html
by Judy Dushku

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Third Lay Speaker –  Bobbie Brown

 

Good morning!

I wear the mantle of a life-long UU

Long enough to remember time before the union of Unitarians and Universalists

 

My parents

Moved to Salem, MA when I was a toddler

Soon joined the First Congregational (Unitarian) Society, founded in 1629

Christened in that handsome space with dark, carved wood and red carpeting

Above the pulpit, Beatitudes inscribed on glass panels

On each side, three stained-glass windows

In balcony at rear of sanctuary, the organ

Services traditional

Lord’s prayer recited at both Sunday School and at “big” church services

Communion served once a month

Church year from September to June

Year marked by church fair, Christmas pageant, annual meeting and supper, Children’s Sunday

Summer services shared with the Universalist Church

Sunday School classes

Emphasized Bible stories and Jesus’ teachings

Here I developed my image of one God who

Had flowing white beard, wore a long white robe

Later, one text was The Church Across the Street; the class attended service of several other denominations as well as the Jewish Temple

At end of each year a book awarded to those children who had met attendance standard

As a teenager, one year my book was the Bible; another year, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

Learned about the Service Committee

Which then supported Albert Schweitzer’s work on the Congo

Member of LRY for high school kids

Throughout these years felt supported by the stability of this church community

 

All this formed the prelude for my further UU experience and my expectations

  • Early 1960s
    • Newly wed transplanted to Albuquerque for my husband’s military service
    • Found the UU church in the sprawling northeast section of the city
      • Multi-use sanctuary with folding chairs
      • Lecturn set before a mosaic panel with the symbols of the world religions; above, a view of the Sandia Mountains
        • I was new to an homage to world views in a sanctuary; I found it inspirational, inclusive
      • As to the service, also a new experience—like a speech or a lecture
        • Was this “church”?
        • Unable to settle into this form of worship
    • There was also the temptation to spend weekends exploring “The Land of Enchantment”
      • With its Southwest culture, history, and geography
        • Indeed, found spirituality in the landscape of New Mexico
          • God’s creation, worthy of reverence
    • Significant that on one of our bi-annual grandparent visits, my older son was dedicated in the Salem church

 

  • 1967
    • On to Ithaca, NY
      • Where my husband accepted a civilian position
    • That fall began attending the Unitarian Church
      • Victorian building
      • Heart of downtown Ithaca
      • Active congregation of all ages, many with academic ties
    • Comfortable with a more traditional service
      • Provided worship time enhanced with music
      • Sermons emphasized social, even political, activism
        • Anti-Vietnam war, pro civil rights messages
        • Names mentioned were new to me
          • Niebuhr, Bonhoeffer, Tillich
          • Expanded my world knowledge and concept of spirituality

 

    • Social opportunities
      • Social hour altho’ several weeks before I was comfortable
      • Circle suppers
    • For my family
      • My younger two children dedicated here
      • Sunday School program was enriching
        • Along with this influence
        • I taught my children the Lord’s prayer
          • Valuable guidelines for getting along in the world
            • Even if my image of a “Father in Heaven” was waning
    • Half-hour drive from home
      • Was worth it for worship and community

 

  • To further my UU ties during these years
    • My brother, Chan Newton, was ordained in the Church of the Larger Fellowship in 1969 at Arlington Street Church
  • 1974
    • Family moved to Norton, MA
    • UU Church at center of town
      • Spare, simple building
      • Proud history
      • A five-minute walk from house
      • Soon realized this church struggling to be relevant
        • Sparsely attended
        • Four ministers rotated Sunday services
        • Later dwindled to a service once a month
      • Continued for convenience and with a sense of obligation
        • Despite sincere efforts of those involved
          • Not a satisfying worship experience
        • Regret that my children missed out on a full UU Sunday School

 

    • Around 1990
      • Newly single
      • Eventually settled in Watertown
        • Attended a few services at UU church in Harvard Square
          • Service was fulfilling
          • Social hour daunting
            • With energy of a cause-propelled congregation
          • Looking for community, not a cause
          • There was the call of family, new job, resettling
            • I abandoned any plans to develop deeper ties to a church
            • For years, weekends filled with family, friends, chores
    • September 11, 2001
      • My naiveté that I lived in a well-ordered, safe world crashed
        • Felt lost, disoriented
      • Immediately realized a need to reconnect w/ a spiritual community
        • I was vaguely aware of active UU presence in Watertown
      • Very next Sunday, found a seat in this welcoming space
      • Found solace that morning in Mark’s words and the disruption shared by those in attendance
        • Thus began my association w/ First Parish
        • Recognize here the message of faith in the greater good found in each person with sharing in worship, gathering, and activism
      • Always Unitarian, I now understand that spirituality is a life-long process
        • Shared worship here at First Parish both grounds me and lifts me