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The UUFC Religious Education Covenant

For those of you that read my posts because I share recipes, you might not know that I’m also a religious liberal. That makes me an oddball in this part of the world, but after nearly 50 years of it, I’m quite comfortable with it all. Here’s the latest article I wrote for my church newsletter.

The Religious Education Covenant

Perhaps your child’s school year started like my daughter’s. Our first day ended with a conversation about why we attend UUFC. You see, two of her four classes began with teachers proclaiming their love of Christ to the classroom.  (No, I did not report this. For one thing, I felt doing so would only alienate her teachers. For another, I felt the Universalist in me should honor their personal beliefs. I knew when we settled in South Carolina that we’d have to learn to live in the buckle of the Bible belt.)

Having been raised by two college professors, I knew that education was the best tool with which I could arm my child. So, when she was old enough, we began attending UUFC. Most of those years, I’ve been back in a classroom along with her. My 10 years in RE have been sometimes rocky, but I’ve never regretted taking my child. After a decade of religious education, she is confident enough to have opinions that don’t always mesh with her classmates. She believes strongly in the rights of gays, as the first principle has taught her. At age 11, she became a vegetarian (OK she still eats some fish), as she believes in the seventh principle. We have found her signing online petitions, as she believes in social justice, the sixth principle.

Could we have done this at home? Could we have just taught her this by ourselves, and enjoyed Sunday morning in our PJs? After all, I was the one that was often teaching RE. Why didn’t I just do this on my own and save myself the time and trouble of teaching it to others?

Perhaps, but I honestly believe that not only sharing our beliefs with her, but surrounding her with a community of others that shared many of the same beliefs has made her a stronger person. Yes, it wasn’t always easy to drag ourselves out of bed to get to church, but in the end, it’s been worth it. I remember one Sunday teaching to our middle schoolers and finding that they had given a great deal of consideration to what it meant to be a UU in a heavily Christian atmosphere. I found all of them to be grateful for those beliefs, and proud to be a UU. I am proud to have introduced my child to other members of UUFC, including Kathy and Gordon Crain, Meg MacArthur, Tom and Karen Hiebel, our ministers Alex and Terre and countless others that have been a part of her life.

Bringing your child to religious education should be a covenant between you, your child and the RE program. We’ve done our part and built a great program this year. Many hours have been spent selecting TED talks, Spirit Play lessons. Saturdays have been sacrificed for training and preparation. UUFC has done all this because they believe that RE is the foundation on which congregations are built. We ask that you take RE as seriously as you might dance lessons or soccer practice. If you do that, you will find your child ready to face a world in which they might be different than their peers, and they might find themselves grateful that you’ve prepared them for that reality.

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A Religious Liberal in the South

This is the content of my portion of the “Being a Southern Unitarian Universalist” service at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Clemson on March 9, 2012. You can read what everyone said or even just listen to it. I think my version probably reads better than I delivered it, fair warning.

Lee Hazlewood: There’s nothing worse, I guess, than being black in an all-white church or being southern and being a liberal.

I did not grow up UU, but it feels like it. I was raised in the Lutheran church, which managed to be high church as well as liberal at the same time. Turns out Martin Luther was a good model, since he’s really the original church rebel. So, growing up Lutheran gives me some perspective on talking about today’s topic.

Now growing up in Clemson is a little different than growing up in South Carolina. I learned this lesson when I went to work. I grew up assuming everyone’s parents had Ph.D.s. Imagine my shock when I learned that some parents didn’t even have high school diplomas. The uneducated aspect of SC is different than most of my experience. Certainly there are plenty of conservative people with education: just last week my daughter told me that her language arts teacher (a Ph.D.) has made some nasty comments about liberals. When she said she doesn’t speak out, we told her that was the right thing to do. Lay low, it’s the best way, we advised. She’s in middle school. She’s not ready for the fight.

Growing up the daughter of liberal New England parents in the South, even if it’s in what was at least a moderate community, you could say I was pretty conflicted. In my home state, I was considered not really one of them; I didn’t even like fried chicken and sweet tea. However, you take me out of the South and suddenly I AM Southern. “This is my cousin Christine from SC: say y’all Christine” is how my cousins would introduce me to their friends. There was even an aspect of pity to my choice of home state: my schooling must be of less quality, I must be racist, it’s a shame I don’t have any culture around me. As a result, I frequently felt like a person who didn’t fit in anywhere.

And yet, here I am. I love my home state. I love the pace, the beauty. I’ve even found that we really aren’t the only home for the religious conservative: the North version is just more Catholic and honestly, I prefer the Baptist version. And while I counsel my daughter to lay low, I certainly speak out. Am I shunned for expressing my beliefs? Turns out I’m not.

You see, Southerners might prefer their politics conservative, but they also admire someone who can speak their beliefs, as long as they do it without being too condescending about it. They don’t want you telling them what to believe, so they can respect you as long as you don’t come across as an uppity know-it-all Northerner. The late conservative, very Southern Lewis Grizzard once said, “I’m a white man and I’m a Southerner. And I’m sick of being told what is wrong with me from outside critics, and I’m tired of being stereotyped as a refugee from ‘God’s Little Acre’.” While I mostly avoid conversations about politics with my conservative friends, their beliefs do make me think harder about my own. As a religious liberal in the South, I am no lamb. My beliefs are hard earned. Do I feel less Southern because of my beliefs? Well, no actually. I think I’m as Southern as I want to be. And truly, a real Southerner is a rebel. I am surrounded by examples of those that fought for their beliefs, even if I do not necessarily agree with them.

I don’t feel my point in being in the South is to change people’s politics (even it’d be great if everyone thought I was right.) Instead, I hope to set an example of the very thing Southerners ache for from the rest of the country: understanding. Rodney King once famously said “Can we all get along?” and that is what I hope for here. I hope that my very conservative neighbor can see that not all liberals are crazed heretics that wish to make abortion mandatory. I want to show my Jazzercise friend that while I’m happy she loves New Spring, I love my small liberal church community where we aren’t doing devil worship. I want to put a face on what’s become “the other side.” And to those that believe the South is full of uneducated conservative freaks, I’m out there showing that we’re far more complex than that, just as they are. A Midwest or Northern conservative is just a different flavor that what we have down here.

And so in the South I continue to proudly reside. I’ve learned to embrace the heritage of the area. I honor it by being proudly myself while trying to understand those around me with different beliefs. We all shape and inform each other. I’ll close with these words from Maya Angelou:

“The sisters and brothers that you meet give you the materials which your character uses to build itself. It is said that some people are born great, others achieve it, some have it thrust upon them. In truth, the ways in which your character is built have to do with all three of those. Those around you, those you choose, and those who choose you.”

Harry Potter and Hunger

We all got to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 on Saturday, henceforth known as HP7.5. Good stuff! I started the series when I was about 2 months pregnant, a Christmas present from my mother. “It’s the latest craze in England,” she tells me. Apparently even though it’s a children’s book, everyone is reading it. Hmm, well OK, not the first time I read a kids’ book, but a bit of an odd present, so it sat until February.

It was one of those few times when I read the last page, turned back to the first page and re-read the entire thing. Now I was not so crazed that I went to book openings at midnight or to opening showings or anything like that. The craziest thing I did was get The Order of the Phoenix preordered and delivered by Amazon on a Saturday. But I was never obsessed by the books to say the least. So, I’ve read them all as my child went from growing inside me to a 12-year old who enjoyed the books and movies right along with me. In fact, she cried quite a bit during the last movie, which I thought was touching that she was so moved. I’ve grown as a parent reading Harry, and my child became a young woman while the series came out.

The final book came out several years ago and I am one of those people that just can’t wait. I read the last chapter first. Does knowing what happened ruin things for me? Oh no not at all. In fact, I like seeing where the story is leading. But that is just me. (If you are not one of those people and you don’t like spoilers, skip this paragraph.) I was relieved to learn that Harry lived, like many. And, although I suspected that Snape could not possibly be evil, as Harry thought, I was still moved and surprised by the depth of Snape’s loyalty and devotion. (It didn’t hurt that the amazing and sexy Alan Rickman did such a glorious job of playing this character.) I thought they did an excellent job capturing this in the movies too. They couldn’t cover the weaknesses of Dumbledore (also shocking) in the detail that J.K. Rowling did in her books, but they did a lovely job of showing that there was much more to Snape than appeared behind the sneer. Perhaps I was surprised by this because the characters were so well drawn and thought out. The characters in these books were not one notes. (OK maybe Voldemort, but even he had a tortuous past that explained, ok well only some.) But even the Malfoys, who didn’t exactly become good … but they sure as hell walked away from evil! (Note that I don’t endorse this choice, but mention it to again show character complexity. I also love that she made the evil side BLOND, not because I hate blonds, but because way too often, we poor brunettes are painted to be the dark, evil ones.)

I truly believe that the original complaints from a small group of fundamentalist Christians have died down. This was a Jesus story wrapped in robes and wands and flying brooms. A story of good versus evil, except that almost all the characters had a little bit of all of that in them. They had demons to fight, and doubt to face. They questioned their motives and their decisions. And really, who hasn’t questioned their faith? Can it be called faith if you just believe in it without ever examining it? To me, true faith is examining the unexplainable, questioning it, mulling it and still deciding, despite it all, that you believe. To me, the Harry Potter series is all this and more. But … I’m a Unitarian Universalist and our very nature is to question, to challenge, to make decisions about our actions and our beliefs based on our very doubts about the world and whatever may lay beyond that.

In fact, we’ve been teaching lessons from Harry Potter to our UU kids this summer, and boy there’s lots of good ones to choose. I chose hunger, because I figured we could make something. Here was the quote from the Deathly Hallows that we worked from:

This was their first encounter with the fact that a full stomach meant good spirits; an empty one, bickering and gloom. Harry was least surprised by this, because he had suffered periods of near starvation at the Dursleys’. Hermione bore up reasonably well on those nights when they managed to scavenge nothing but berries or stale biscuits, her temper perhaps a little shorter than usual and her silences rather dour. Ron, however, had always been used to three delicious meals a day, courtesy of his mother or of the Hogwarts house-elves, and hunger made him both unreasonable and irascible. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

Ultimately, we taught them what real hunger is about. Not the kind of hunger that means you’re really ready for dinner; the kind where you ache from not getting enough nutrients to grow and thrive, 800 million people. This was not a number they were terribly impressed by until we asked them how many people live in SC. We then explained that there were 200 South Carolinas of hunger people in the world. We taught them that the strength of the community relies on the residents having enough good nourishment to have the energy to change things. Our UU communion services reflect this philosophy. We do not drink and eat the blood and body of Christ. Rather, we thank the earth for giving us nourishment, and with the energy we receive from said nourishment, we hope we use that to make the world a better place. We showed them countries where more than a third of the residents suffered from malnutrition. Perhaps one of the saddest things (besides seeing the majority of African is starving) was that right across the border from starving countries were places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where almost no one starves. Oil money seems to bring nourishment as well.

And we made a list of how we could make a difference. They included:

  • Donate to organizations that help feed the hungry in your community. One of the things we’ve done is let the kids search for canned goods instead of Easter eggs full of candy. The canned goods then go to Clemson Community Care.
  • Donate to organizations such as Oxfam or Feeding America or UNICEF that help feed the hungry in other communities. The kids collect pocket change during the Halloween season and have an excuse to wear their costume to church.
  • Donate to organizations that teach people how to grow or raise their own food, such as Heifer or Guest at Our Table.
  • Donate your time to local organizations, such as Clemson Community Care.
  • Consider taking advantage of programs that give away food and donating that to food banks. I did this with an Ingle’s turkey that I couldn’t use, but earned through shopping there regularly, something I was going to do anyway.
  • Plant your own garden.
  • Support your local food providers, such as farmers and ranchers. With your support, they will grow more food. Clemson is blessed to have more than one little farmer’s market, including the one at Patrick Square, the one on campus and the Clemson Student Organic Farm. There’s also one in Pendleton, in Easley, in Greenville and in Spartanburg. You can also buy from Upstate Locally Grown or you can buy from the Clemson Area Food Exchange. We even have a co-op in Six Mile. And, while you’re at it, look for local products in your grocery stores. My favorite store carries a generic milk that comes from cows that are local, and they sell local products when they can.
  • Teach others in your community to grow their own food.
  • And, only eat what you need to eat. When you eat more than you need, you are taking food out of the mouths of people that might not have enough.

We were so inspired that we decided to make hunger the focus of our social justice projects for the year. It can touch so many areas of our congregation: green sanctuary, the locovores group, the food bank folks that work with the social justice committee. And kids love food! So why not teach them about good food and why it’s so important?

After all the seriousness, we made a potion. Here’s the recipe:

  1. Boil 2 cups of water and 1 cup sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool.
  2. Pour a small cup half full with the sugar water.
  3. Add some lemon juice or a fruit juice of your choice.
  4. Add some food coloring. The funny thing is the water is so saturated with sugar that it will just sit on top of the water.
  5. Add a spoonful of baking soda. Stir until mixed.
  6. Now, add some vinegar. It should bubble up pretty good.

Taste. Chances are, you’ll toss it. Yes, it’s kind of wasteful and it goes against everything we taught them, but they had fun watching the chemistry lesson. And it made a real pretty green solution!

A Liberal Lives in SC, the meditation

The opening words are from Sam Watkins, of the 1st Tennessee Regiment during the Civil War. America has no north, no south, no east, no west. The sun rises over the hills and sets over the mountains, the compass just points up and down, and we can laugh now at the absurd notion of there being a north and a south. We are one and undivided.

 

(Joys and Sorrows followed the attempted lighting of the chalice, then we played Dixie by Bobby Horton.)

How does a liberal end up living in South Carolina? Let’s start with a little background on how this liberal ended up here. I’m not officially Southern by Southern standards. My parents were grad students at the University of Connecticut when I was born. When I was two, we ended up at Clemson after a year in Ohio. My parents figured they would end up in the south for several years, then move somewhere more respectable. Most of you know that they live around the corner in the same house they bought when they moved here in 1966. (For those furiously doing the math, that makes me 47.) Between finding jobs for two Ph.D.s at another institution and making friends here, it just got increasingly difficult for them to leave.

I suppose I could have left a long time ago. I had planned to do just that. I was going to go to school far away, but in the end I got a degree from Clemson. Then I was going to move far away, to New York City, and design Rolling Stone. That proved to be too much work and I got as far as Charlotte.

So, besides inertia, why do I choose to stay here? I don’t really fit any demographic for the area. Sure, I might eat grits and I love a good apple crisp, but I loathe sweet tea, fried chicken and pork rinds. I don’t water ski or shoot or fish. Hell, I don’t even go to football games. What am I doing here?

Ten reasons.

Coach Tom Landry: “I like the South because it is so much warmer on the sidelines than it is up North.”

This may seem insane to say when it’s been so hot, but I hate cold weather a lot more than hot. That’s why we have air conditioning, folks. Four days in Minneapolis one December and I honestly thought I would die. I need the sun. I need the warmth. I enjoy a good sweat. It feeds my soul.

Lee Hazlewood: There’s nothing worse, I guess, than being black in an all-white church or being southern and being a liberal.

I grew up being in the minority, so I’m actually a little uncomfortable being in the majority. I’m a David Sedaris kind of person, just not fitting in anywhere. When I’m up north, I don’t belong there. When I’m down here, I know I’m not a typical southern gal. I might as well not fit in where I already am.

Maya Angelou: The quality of strength lined with tenderness is an unbeatable combination, as are intelligence and necessity formal education.

I’ve concluded my reason for living in SC is not to change people’s minds on the issues. I’m here to show conservatives that liberals are not evil, sushi-eating, tea-sipping freaks. I’m here to show them that I’m their neighbor who happens to eat sushi and sip tea. A story: we became close with the neighbors when our kids began to play together. And yes, they were conservative Baptists. I overlooked their rants about the health care bill on FB and she never said a word about the Planned Parenthood or Sierra Club mailings she picked up while we were on vacation. We did share a sense of humor and we found that we really wanted the same sort of thing for our country and our kids. I’ve concluded that being here is a way to remind conservatives (as well as myself) that we’re not the evil other team.

Biltmore’s director of horticulture Parker Andes: Sugar Maples, Sweet Gums and Sourwoods around Asheville are center stage, showing all the fall colors imaginable — yellow, orange and every shade of red.

It can be stunning down here. Within 30 minutes, I can be in the mountains. And even where I live is really pretty, an old neighborhood, with lots of trees and wildlife. On a warm summer morning, there just is nothing better than running down a country road, surrounded by the pines and the birds singing. I don’t have to drive to get to this route. It’s part of my running route from my house.

As for raising a daughter, it’s a terrific place to be. I know, since I was raised here myself. Clemson is a bit of an oasis. It’s a great little small college town, with fun little restaurants and good green spaces. The families may not be liberal, but they are fairly educated, usually. If I really want a city experience, Atlanta, Charlotte and the always funky Asheville are all nearby.

John C. Calhoun: Learn from your mistakes and build on your successes.”

 

Living here keeps me grounded reminding me that my opinion isn’t so obvious to everyone else. I become a better person for having my ideas and beliefs challenged. I’m not the status quo. This is good. Want to be a good UU? Live in the South. If you come out with your seven principles still intact, still believing that your Fox News-watching neighbor has the right to an opinion as much as you, the NPR-informed person, then you are a good UU.

But growth doesn’t happen without a little nurturing and care. If you’ve ever talked to me, I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about the importance of religious education for our youth. I’ve talked about giving them a haven, a community, a safe place to talk about who they are, why it’s OK to not be Christian (and OK to be one too) and how that makes them feel. The same goes for adults. UUFC is a safe spot for us.

Gore Vidal: Southerners make such good novelists; they have so many good stories because they have so much family.

After being in Dallas for a year, we realized we had this adorable child you all know as Bella that could be loved by four people who she should get to know. So why were we living 1,000 miles away? We moved so that our child could have grandparents. And we moved so we could be closer to our family.

From the hyperdictionary:  rebel: 1. noun (informal) `johnny rebel,’ a nickname for Confederate soldiers 2. noun, someone who exhibits great independence in thought and action.

Let’s face it: anywhere else and I might be your run of the mill soccer mom. But down here I’m a crazy liberal, with crazy ideas! Letting my kid learn about Hinduism and Buddhism on Sundays! Eating quinoa and acorn squash! CRAZY! It’s a lazy gal’s way of being a rebel.

Now rebel is a word with powerful meaning down here in the south. The original confederate rebel was brave enough to stand up for his way of life. Although totally wrong about owning slaves, don’t get me wrong, he did believe their liberties were suppressed enough to die for it. From her diary, Sarah Dawson, a southern girl during the civil war, “When so many outrages were committed by the fanatical leaders of the North, though father regretted the Union, said, “Fight to the death for our liberty.”

Am I a rebel in the tradition of the confederate rebels? Not so much in the states rights tradition, but I do believe in my way of life. Would I die for it? I’ve never had to face this. Instead, all I can do is live what I believe and give back where I can.

Joe Hollingsworth: If Donald Trump was from the South, he would say, ‘You’re fired, but, bless your heart, you’ve tried.’

I have a great job. I have a manager that listens to me kvetch all day and helps me channel that into solutions. I have a director that begs his employees to grow and learn. Both are incredibly supportive. They give me freedom to get the job done as I see fit.

My manager is very southern, at least a third generation Six Mile boy. A southern Baptist, likes a good meat and three, talks very slowly, he surprises by being very forward thinking and sharp, very smart. He pushes us to think in different ways. The fact he talks slow is a lesson for me to stop and listen, because there are important things to be heard, both from the words and from the silences.

Reynolds Price: I think we Southerners have talked a fair amount of malarkey about the mystique of being Southern.

Many of my stories begin with “ok, you know I love irony.” I have a young friend from Massachusetts who had problems handling some of the attitudes around her. (Yes, I tried to convince her to attend this church.) Me, I find humor in them. I’m so deep into irony that I really get a charge out of people’s differences. This makes SC the perfect spot for me to live.

Margaret Walker: I want my careless song to strike no minor key; no fiend to stand between my body’s Southern song — the fusion of the South, my body’s song and me.

Beyond the weather and the lazy rebel and the setting, this is indeed my home. I love my home, warts and all. I’m very comfortable here and I love the people who live around me, despite the differences we might have. It would be easy to leave it and head somewhere else, but I stay here to fight for it. I stay so that I can indeed say “leave the arts alone, why destroy that rich tradition we have here?” or “do not cut education, it is worth investing in our children” or “let’s work on building a first class institution here so that we can attract industry” or even “uh, taking down the Confederate flag off the capitol and flying it down front isn’t exactly what we meant?” I love SC enough that I’m willing to fight for her.

And so, 45 years later, I’m still here. There are times when it might be easier to live in a place where everyone agreed with me. But how boring would that be? I’ll leave you with a little Walt Whitman: “O magnet-South! O glistening perfumed South! my South! O quick mettle, rich blood, impulse and love! Good and evil! O all dear to me!”