Unitarian Universalism

Festival of the First Fruits

Introduction

This ritual gets its name from the Jewish festival of Shavuot, the Feast of the First Fruits. This is traditionally the time when the first harvests occur and are celebrated.  While spring is a hopeful time of new life and new begnnings, it is also a more tempestuous time when late and/or unseasonal frosts still happen.  By the time we get to late spring/early summer there is more certainty that what has grown is firmly established and even beginning to bear fruit.  Coming six months before the Festival of the Ancestors, and being its mirror image, let this be a time to celebrate new members who have been born into the community during the previous year.


Personal

 If a loved one has been born/adopted within the past year, use today to celebrate them.  If no one close to you has had a birth, you can use today to honor the children in your life in general.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask participants to being their babies!  Hopefully people have been bringing their children all along, as these rituals are meant to be intergenerational.  But on this day in particular, bring your infants who have been born during the previous year, and other children who have joined the community within the past year.  If for some reason that can't be done, then encourage folks to bring a photo or momento.  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the following:

Today we celebrate those who have joined our community this past year.

Invite folks with infants to name their babes.  Let participants be free to show their appreciation, as they feel comfortable, as each name is called.  When finished, turn out towards the people and say:

 

Unitarian Universalism as a Multiplayer Role-Playing Game

UU World recently published a piece asking Is Religion Broken?, in which the author, Doug Mulder, describes a global movement that instills participants with four enviable traits:

  • Urgent optimism - willingness to address problems immediately and maintain hope of success;
  • Tight social fabric - trust that fellow members share overall goals and willingness help each other;
  • Blissful productivity - feeling more happy and fulfilled while working hard than while not working;
  • Epic meaning - belief that we are protagonists in a grand story, in service to an awe-inspiring quest.

Mulder says this movement encourages folks to care more about the satisfaction of doing well and/or good for its own sake rather than for fame and fortune, to remain resilient in the face of setbacks, and to cooperate selflessly with others towards much larger goals.  It's everything that we would want in Unitarian Univeralism. Only, this movement isn't any religion (unless perhaps you're Paul Tillich) - it's massive multi-player role-playing online games (MMORPGs).  He challenges us to reconsider what religion is for, with the lessons of MMORPGs in mind - that is, religion isn't about describing reality, but rather about helping folks find meaning in their lives.

As someone who plays online games I agree with Mulder in his characterization of how players generally behave online, but there are significant limitations in applying this to the real world. The immense attraction of these games is precisely because we know that these virtual realities are created by developers, and thus unlike the real world.  (Unless you believe in an omnipotent God who is playing the part of game developer, which most of us do not.)  I know that the game is designed such that, no matter how challenging it might be, no matter how many times I fail, success is ultimately possible so long as I keep trying.  But there are no such guarantees in the real world.  I know that I can trust fellow players because games usually involve players uniting against a shared enemy and it’s in our mutual best interest to cooperate; it's not at all unusual to behave selflessly towards members within our perceived group. But in the real world perceived enemies are usually far more numerous and complicated making perceived groups more numerous and complicated too.  I know that in the game world there are only a limited number of goals at any given time, and that if I apply time and effort, I can take satisfaction in visible progress.  In fact, I have stopped playing games that grew so big and complicated that “progress” was no longer readily apparent, making them more of a chore than a "game."  And in the much larger real world, the number of problems and obligations impinging can be overwhelming, it’s often unclear where to focus our energies, nor can we be certain whether our efforts make a difference. I know that in the game world the "good guys" are good and the "bad guys" are bad, and that the "bad guys" are usually NPCs (computer generated non-player characters) for whom I do not need to feel empathy. I do not stop to ponder whether the monsters are really just "misunderstood" nor how it is that the bad guys got to be how they are, whereas that is something that I think about a lot in this real world, making “epic meaning” much more ambiguous.

A small, limited world where choices are constrained by design and people are united around a common enemy who is often viewed as a "monster," and morality is black and white is something that liberal religion could never re-create, nor would we want to.  (In fact, in some ways it sounds more like conservative religion, and maybe that accounts for some of the unity and enthusiasm on the conservative side that is often lacking in liberal religion.)

These concerns stated, I am actually not against trying to reframe religion to more of a gamer's mentality. In fact, I think it might be a good thing to do.  For one thing, it would certainly be great if we could get folks to stop arguing over whether Jesus “really” lived and if so what he “really” said.  As Mulder points out, no one argues over whether the world in World of Warcraft is "real." Everyone knows that it's created, and yet folks are still devoted to it, and derive meaning and satisfaction from it.

What else can we learn from online role-playing games? 

In games (unless you’re playing PvP, player-versus-player), cooperation is rewarded and competition gains no benefit.  This is built into the system.  In our social justice work I often hear activists complain about how selfish people are, how they don’t do the things that they’re supposed to do.  But if we rely solely on guilt and judgement to get people to behave in more beneficial ways, we’re never going to accomplish our goals.  Instead, it makes more sense to find the ways in which our society rewards competition and penalizes cooperation, and work to make systemic changes towards the opposite.  Create financial and social incentives that favor cooperation.

In games small successes along the way are rewarded with obvious cues - visual banners, bells and whistles - providing gratification for achievement.  Players “level up” once they’ve achieved a certain amount of experience.  They earn different titles and ensuing privileges.  Imagine maybe the real-world equivalent in our homes, congregations, and organizations in terms of small rituals of recognition.  In fact, we already have some of these rituals - for example, the 'Coming of Age' ceremony.  But maybe we don't have enought of them.  Maybe we don't take enough time to note them as a community.  And what kinds of recognition and privileges come with them? 

In games the developers maintain a careful balance between making players work for achievement so that it feels earned (and thus we can feel satisfaction in earning it), and parsing out large challenges into a progression of smaller goals such that they feel manageable and worthwhile.  I remember attending a Leading Edge Conference at Middle Collegiate Church where we addressed how to get folks in congregations motivated for change (instead of fearing it). The suggested solution was to frame the stories that congregations tell about themselves such that the change in question is the next logical step in what they've already accomplished.  NOT, “We’ve been all wrong and now we’re turning 180 degrees,” but rather “This is who we are as a people, this is what we’ve already done, and this is the change that will lead us towards being even more fully what we are.”

Speaking of stories, and framing… Lastly, in multi-player online games we know that we’re heroes of the story, and yet there are other players who are just as much heroes too.  Two GAs ago, I had the honor of presenting as part of a panel at a workshop on how to motivate people to action on social justice. The challenge that I struggled with was how to get each of us to see ourselves as the hero in our own story while at the same time acknowledging that everyone else is a hero in their story as well. Honestly, I was afraid that someone in the audience would take exception to the word ‘hero’ and remind the room of the many times that we have frankly failed to be heroic.  I know that the castigators mean well, wanting to ensure that we don’t get too full of ourselves and take up too much space. I lean towards critique myself.  But there is nothing more demoralizing than doing the best that one is capable of at the time, given the imperfect knowledge and skills that one has at the time, only to be told that “You suck.” If the goal is to motivate towards action, towards “urgent optimism,” then we as Unitarian Universalists need to tell our stories of ourselves in which we are the protagonists in an epic story, where our actions do matter, where our participation is essential, where we are heroes, and yet at the same time recognize that we are part of a massive multiplayer world where other folks are every bit as much heroes too.

Flower Communion

Introduction

It's the Vernal Equinox, spring should have sprung by now, and nothing screams spring more than blooming flowers.  The UU ritual of Flower Communion is preserved here.  While the rituals before and after this, Blessing of the Seeds and Festival of the First Fruits, are about new life and fertility, the original flower communion is not really about that (although flowers are the plant's sex organs).  The way that I interpret the Flower Communion is that it is a celebration of diversity. And that serves as a nice balance to the Water Communion (six months later), which is about unity - the many flowing into one.


Personal

Depending on your culture, spring cleaning - a thorough cleaning of your home - would be done either before today or before the start of spring (about six-1/2 weeks prior). 

If you are not at the moment part of a UU community, you can perform a flower ritual by yourself.  Create a small bouquet of flowers, preferably from your own garden (but not necessary), making sure that there are enough flowers for each person you wish to honor.  Light your chalice or candle and say:

Nature loves diversity.
Although we are all one, we come in many shapes and sizes, colors and talents.
Just like these flowers, no two are alike yet all are beautiful.  All bring their unique gifts to augment the whole.
May I respect and cherish these different gifts. 

Then touch each flower thinking of the person it represents as you do.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask participants (beforehand) to bring a flower, one for each person participating, preferably from their own gardens.  (You might want to have some extra flowers on hand, perhaps available for a nominal fee, so that those who forget are not left out.) Have two vases on the altar table and invite participants to place their flowers in the vases.  (Or use the number of vases appropriate for the number of participants. Someone should be in charge of making sure that the number of flowes in each vase is balanced.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the Flower Communion.  Communion leader (or someone else) says:

Nature loves diversity.
Although we are all one, we come in many shapes and sizes, colors and talents.
Just like these flowers, no two are alike yet all are beautiful.  All bring their unique gifts to augment the whole.
May we respect and cherish these different gifts. 

Invite participants to line up to each take a flower that is different from the one they brought. (The nunber of lines should match the number of vases.)  Optional: Have smaller containers on hand in which participants can place their selected flowers to enjoy while they share the communion meal. But remind them to take their flowers home! 

Blessing of the Seeds

Author: 
Kat Liu
sprouting seeds, AndreusK via Getty Images

Introduction

There may or may not still be frost on the ground depending on where you live, but this is traditionally the time of year when we look forward to spring (hence the Groundhog Day ritual), and new beginnings. Chinese New Year is celebrated very near this time, where offerings are made to the gods for a prosperous year, including bountiful harvests.  In the Christian tradition of Candlemas, this is supposedly the day that Jesus was introduced at the Temple and such wisdom coming from someone so young impressed the old rabbis.  (In Catholic Ireland, this is the Feast of St. Brighid, a Gaelic fertility goddess.) Seeds planted at Tu B’Shevat become the "bitter herbs" eaten at Passover. In many agricultural cultures, this is the time when people start preparing for the spring planting.  The seeds of the past year and even agricultural tools are consecrated/blessed for the coming year. 


Personal

Depending on your culture, spring cleaning - a thorough cleaning of your home - would be done either before today or before the vernal equinox. 

If you are a gardener and depending on where you live, this may be the tme of year when you are starting your seeds - planting them in temporary small pots to let them sprout indoors before they are planted outside in the ground.  If you have a personal altar, do this in front of your altar.  But you need not have an altar to perform this simple ritual.  Light your chalice.  Take some a seed and some of the soil in a starter pot and hold them in your hands.

A seed is a new beginning.
A seed is new life from what has come before.
As I nurture and tend this seed in the coming seasons,
May it and all others reach their fullest potentials.

With that, plant the seed in the starter pot.  Now would be a good time to remind yourself of what you wish for the coming year (your resolutions from winter solstice).  If you are not a gardener and do not start seeds, you can still perform this ritual by lighting your chalice or a candle (remember Candlemas) and thinking of the seed figuratively.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) to bring any seeds they may have saved from last year's harvest, labeled.  If they plan to exchange/share seeds afterwards, the seeds should be divvied up into small paper packets. (You might want to buy a few packets of seeds in case no one brings any.  Also bring some extra paper in which to fold seeds and a marking pen in case folks want to share and did not come prepared.)  Ask folks to place the seeds preferably below the icons of the ancestors but above the food.  (If that can't be done, then place them where it makes the most sense.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the blessing of the seeds.

Picking up and holding some of the seeds in your hand, say:

These seeds are a new beginning.
These seeds are new life from what has come before.
As we nurture and tend these seeds in the coming seasons,
May they and all others reach their fullest potentials.

After the ritual, people who have brought seeds can either retrieve them or exchange them with others who have brought seeds or give them away.  Now would be a good time to encourage folks who have been thinking of gardening to give it a go!  Let experienced garderners share tips over the communion meal.

Day of Resolutions

Introduction

Winter solstice is the shortest day/longest night of the year.  From this day forth until the summer solstice, light overtakes dark, the sun returns.  Hence, it is generally thought of as the beginning of the solar year.  The Jewish new year, while it occurs during a different season, is a time for atonement of past wrongs.  In the Chinese tradition, winter solstice is around when the Kitchen God ascends up to heaven to report the deeds of each family for the past year, for which an accounting must be made.  And of course there is the practice of New Years resolutions.  The word "resolution" means both the satisfactory end of a pre-existing condition and the firm determination to achieve a new one.  Winter solstice is also a time to celebrate as the sun and the light return.  The winter holidays are often marked by fire and light (Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule).


Personal

If at all possible, do not go into the new year with old wrongs that have not been made right.  Before the new year arrives, seek out those you have wronged, name the wrong, and apologize for it (but do not ask them to forgive you, as they may not be ready to do so).  Consider those who have wronged you, even if they have not apologized to you, and decide whether or not you can forgive them.  The fewer resentments you carry into the new year the lighter the load.  But it's ok if there are ones you of which you are not ready to let go.

Now think of the positive things you wish to accomplish this year.  The personal ritual is simple.  Light your chalice or candle. And say:

Once more around the sun.
Even though the nights are long, from this day on the light grows.
May my aspirations for the new year grow with it.

Hold in you mind what you wish to accomplish/grow for the coming year.  If you have several resolutions, feel free to light a candle for each one, naming them as you light them.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) to bring a small candle and holder, one for each person participating.  Do not use tea lights as they will not work well during the transfer.  (You might want to have some extra candles on hand, perhaps available for a nominal fee, so that those who forget are not left out.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the following:

Communion leader (or someone else) says:

Once more around the sun.
Even though the nights are long, from this day on the light grows.
May our aspirations for the new year grow with it.

Have 2-4 people closest to the chalice (including yourself) light their candles from the chalice.  Have them light the candles of 2-4 people closest to them.  And so on, moving outwards. until every candle is lit.  As each person lights their candle and passes the flame to the next person, have them hold in their minds what they wish to accomplish/grow for the coming year.  If your congregation or group has a covenant or mission statement and it is not too long, now, while all the candles are lit, would be a good time to repeat and reaffirm the covenant/mission statement. If you do not have something specific to your congregation/group, then have the participants repeat the (adapted) words of John Murray:

Go out into the highways and byways of your land.
Give the people something of your new vision.
You may have but a small light, uncover it, let it shine.
Use it bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of people.
Give them not hell but hope and courage.
Do not push them deeper into their despair, but preach kindness and Love.

Let folks set their candles by where they will eat so that they light the communion meal.

Consecrating the Communion

Author: 
Kat Liu

Introduction:

Please don't let the word "communion" put you off.  I'm not proposing that we be serving the blood and body of Christ in our UU congregations.  (Tho obviously if your congregation wants to do that, that's fine too.)  I'm using the word "communion" because it has the same etymological root as to commune.  Or in community.  In other words, the ritual of communion serves to reinforce a sense of shared identity.  We repeat this ritual together, mindfully recognizing that by taking part we affirm ourselves as part of UU community with each other.

But how would UUs consecrate communion?  As congregationalists, we reject spiritual hierarchy.  Even if we have ministers, we don't think of them as being "more holy" or "closer to god(s)", and many of our congregations do not have ministers.  (And many UUs don't believe in god(s).)  Yet the act of consecration is important.  It's what separates communion from, well, just sharing food. 

The answer that I am proposing came from a combination of two things. The first is one of the few genuine rituals that we UUs have and practice, the laying on of hands when we're ordaining a new minister.  I was struck by the symbolism of the new minister standing in the center of their community, with everyone else laying their hand on the minister or on the person in front of them such that everyone is ultimately connected to the minister, conferring *their* blessing.  In UUism, the community blesses the minister, not the other way around.  Thus, our community can bless the communion too. The second is an ancient practice among many different cultures, the presenting of offerings to our ancestors (and/or gods).  In some cultures, everything that is eaten is first offered to the ancestors (and/or gods) and in other cultures this is only done on special occasions.  You might or might not believe that our ancestors are still with us - that is up to each person to interpret.  Regardless, the act of invoking our ancestors - both biological and spiritual - reminds us of who we are now and what we stand for. 


The Ritual:

The actual ritual is very simple.  Invite those participating to place icons representing the ancestor they've chosen to invite/acknowledge on the raised area of the communion table(s).  Also, to place the food they've brought for the communion meal on the table, in front of the ancestors. 

When the table(s) is ready, invite folks to gather round the table, leaving room for whoever is leading communion to move.  Those who are closest to the table each place one hand above or on the table; those behind them each place one hand on the person in front of them. The communion leader makes a plate of food, taking a sampling of what has been offered by the community.  Place the plate, now with food, back in its location, next to the cup of water and the receptacle.

The communion leader lights the chalice while saying:

We know that we are not self-sufficient.  This food that we eat, the clothes we wear, we owe to the work of others. 
We know that we are not self-actualized.  All of what we do, and fail to do, impacts those who come after us. 
We know that we are not self-made. All that we are, who we are, we owe to those who have come before us. 

Participants each murmur the names of the ancestors they brought with them today, as well as whomever else they wish to acknowledge.  (Participants can now remove their hands.)

[Insert seasonal ritual here, if any.]

The commuion leader then pours some of the libation (water) from the offering cup into the receptacle, while saying:

To our ancestors, of blood and of spirit, named and unnamed, we offer our thanks. 
May our gifts of these foods and dink be pleasing and nourishing. 
May our actions as we walk this world be worthy of your memory. 

Commence with the potlucking! (Leave the offering plate in place for the duration of the meal.)


Preparations:

You will need:

  • a communion table (or tables), large enough to hold icon representing the ancestors (and/or deities), plus the food and libations. 
  • a table cloth (or cloths) to make the communion table looke nice. 
  • boxes or something to raise the icons higher than the food.  If the table is against a wall, the raised area should be against the wall too, towards the back of the table, with the food placed at the front.  If the table is in the center of the room, then the raised area should be in the center of the table with the food placed at the edges. 
  • serving utensils
  • a plate and cup for the offering, and a receptacle (cup or bowl) into which to pour the libation.  These items should be placed on the table at the front of the center, easily accessible to whomever is leading communion.  Fill the cup with water but leave the plate empty until the ritual starts.
  • a chalice (don't forget the matches).

Ask participants to bring an icon representing one of their ancestors.  The ancestor can be biological or spiritual.  They could be a grandparent or a mentor who has since passed.  Or they could be a spiritual leader or deity of personal significance.  The icon can be a photo or some other memento that reminds/represents the ancestor.  This is one of the ways in which we're making room for expression of the diversity that is in our communities.  So (unless someone is bringing a picture of Hitler or the like) there should be no judgements as to who is a valid "ancestor."  The only restriction: do not bring photos or other representations of people who are still alive.

Also, ask participants to bring food for the potluck.  Ideally, the dish would be made with seasonally available ingredients and/or relevant to the culture from which the participant comes.  Here again, is an opportunity for expression of the diversity that exists within our communities. 

Ask participants to bring their own reusable cups, plates, and cutlery.  Reuseable plastic dishes are lightweight and can be used in subsequent communions. I know that this is a tall order to ask of folks, both to buy these items and remember to bring them.  But we are making a commitment as a people towards more sustainable practices.  Invite folks to think of these items as their communion plates, cups, etc.

You should also have extra plates, cups, cutlery on hand for folks who forget to bring their own, as we don't want to bar folks from participating simply because they forgot.  However, some kind of nominal fee should be charged as an incentive to remember to bring these items next time. 

Clean up should be relatively straight-forward if participants take their serving dishes and their personal communion dishes back home with them.  The food that was on the offering plate should be composted, if at all possible.

Blessing the Bills

Author: 
Rev. Meg Riley (excerpted from a longer sermon)


This used to be me, paying the bills. I would sit with my checkbook, pen clutched tightly in my hand, with the bills piled next to me. “Water and garbage: $50.00. What’s with that! That’s ridiculous! I hardly even have any garbage—why do they charge so much? Electricity: 78.00 SEVENTY EIGHT DOLLARS!!! What the heck!??!”

I resented the bills for existing! I sat watching my money disappear dollar by dollar, as if it was being siphoned away from me by a huge sucking vacuum cleaner, leaving me with very little to spend on things I actually WANTED to buy—plane tickets, good books, meals, trinkets. One day I complained to a friend about how my bills ate up all my money. I picked this particular friend because I knew she had even less money than I did, so I figured she would commiserate.

But to my surprise, when I described my experience, she said, “I used to feel that way too. Then I decided to bless the bills.”

BLESS THE BILLS?

Yes, she said. While she paid the heat bill, she thought with gratitude about how lucky she was to have a warm home, and how much she enjoyed coming in from the cold.

When she paid the phone bill, she remembered gratefully all the people with whom she connected on the telephone.

Rather than resentfully seeing her money slipping away into an abyss, she blessed it on its way, grateful that she was able to pay the bills.

This friend, as I said, made considerably less money than I did. She was actually struggling hard to make ends meet. But when I heard her describe the process with which she spent her dollars, and I compared it to the way I spent mine, I knew that, of the two of us, she was infinitely richer. I vowed then, some twenty years ago, to bless the bills. It is a practice I have used since, and it has gotten me through the toughest times.

Meditation on Energy

Author: 
Kat Liu

(This guided meditation was originally written for UUs observing Earth Hour, with the intent of adding a deeper, spiritual dimension to just turning off the lights for an hour.  It has been adapted here for Climate Justice Month.  In the U.S., nearly 50% of our electricity comes from burning coal.  That is why the meditation focuses on coal.)

 

We are the generation that stands
between the fires;
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
And from the burning of the Amazon forest;
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
the flame and the smoke that consume all Earth.

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
but the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different,
all of us bearing
One Spark.

- Rabbi Arthur Waskow

 

 

Turn on a light. 

Picture the light that you have just turned on.
Picture it connected via wiring to the other light bulbs, electrical outlets, appliances… in your home.

Follow the wiring out of your home, along the utility line, to the power lines outside.

Feel the energy that is flowing, coursing, towards your home and your light, available with the flick of a switch.
Follow the transmission lines as they run for miles.
Realize that not all of the energy traveling in those lines makes it to your home, some of it lost in friction… heat.

Follow the transmission lines…. all the way back to the power plant.

See the smoke pouring from the smokestacks.

See that the smoke consists of: carbon dioxide which causes global warming, sulfur dioxide which causes acid rain, nitrogen oxide, which causes smog, mercury, arsenic, and other poisonous metals.

See the water used to cool the power plant – thousands of gallons gushing by - heated by the burning coal and then dumped back into the water supply.

Feel how the water by the plant is warmer than water elsewhere.

Think about how that affects the plants and animals.

See the coal sludge – solid waste suspended in water to make a toxic slurry – stored precariously behind artificial dams.

Remember that these dams have broken, burying the neighboring communities in toxic sludge.

Picture people living near the power plant – who lives there? What is in their drinking water?

What is in their air? In the ground that children play on? Maybe it’s your children.

Picture the coal being delivered to the power plant. Where does it come from?

Follow the trail in your mind to Appalachia.

Picture entire mountain ranges removed in order to extract the low-grade coal below.

Picture the debris that had been mountaintops being dumped into nearby streams.

See the heavy metals and other poisons leaching out into the water supply.

See what happens when it rains and there is no top soil and vegetation to hold the water.

Hear the sound of the explosives used to blast off the mountain tops.

Picture people living here. What is in their drinking water? What is in their air? What would it be like to live there? Maybe you do live here.

Think about the coal within the mountain – how long it’s been sitting there, and how it came to be there.

Think of the plants and animals that lived 300 million years ago, their bodies first becoming peat, and then over the millennia turning to sedimentary rock… the coal that now powers your home.

Bring your mind back to where you are now.

Know that all that you have seen and more is connected to the energy that will power the lights when you flip the switch in the room where you are sitting now.

Energy extracted from what used to be the lifeblood of animals living 300 million years ago.

Energy extracted from and refined in the neighborhoods of other humans living now.

Precious energy.


Closing Reading:


I have come to terms with the future.
From this day onward I will walk easy on the earth.
Plant trees.
Live in harmony with all creatures, including my sisters and brothers.
I will restore the earth where I am.
Use no more of its resources than I need.
And listen, listen to what it is telling me.
(adapted from M.J. Slim Hooey’s prayer, p. 109 in Earth Prayers from Around the World)

Why I am no longer an Evangelical UU

I used to have a blog called ‘Confessions of an Evangelical UU.’  This was back in the early days of my “conversion” to UUism, when I was still enthralled with what I’d found and would talk to anyone about it. At a party on a Saturday night, there I’d be talking about my church.  Obviously, it wasn’t because I thought that people who aren’t UUs “need to be saved.” I was just so excited and happy to have found this faith. 

Two things happened to change my attitude about evangelizing UUsm.  The first is that someone actually decided to visit their local UU congregation because of me.  When faced with the reality that I could actually influence other people to join us, I then felt responsible for their UU experience.  I started to wonder what they’d find in the congregation(s) nearest them, and how much of what I loved about Unitarian Universalism might actually be more specific to my particular congregation than our religion as a whole.  (You can read about that experience here.)  At about the same time, I'd become increasingly aware of WASPy middle-to-upper class cultural biases within Unitarian Universalism, and that too made me wonder whether the folks I sent through our doors would find us to be welcoming to them.

The second reason why I stopped evangelizing UUism is because I realized that growing the roster of avowed Unitarian Universalists per se was not really my ultimate goal. What I ultimately want is to help build a world that is more kind, more just.  If you are a Christian or a Buddhist or a Pagan or a secular humanist and you share those values, then it doesn’t matter to me whether you wear the label of Unitarian Universalist or not. 

When I realized that I could no longer call myself evangelical, I stopped that blog.  And for reasons too long to go into here, I never really started another one, until now.  But I am still a UU – having flirted (not very seriously) with the idea of leaving for various other traditions from the UCC, to (progressive) Catholicism, to Pure Land or Ch’an Buddhism, I still remain a UU.  What initially convinced me to join, was the invitation that UUism offers to help co-create our shared faith.  Unlike some (not all) other traditions where if you don’t agree with something you just have to suck it up and change yourself to fit the religion, here in Unitarian Universalism we have both the freedom and the responsibility to share our lived experiences to help shape a more just and inclusive faith.  So my more modest goal now, instead of evangelizing UUism to the world, is to help create a faith community where all souls will indeed feel welcome (while still promoting our shared values of justice and compassion in the world). This new blog, and this new website, are part of my attempt to do that.

Seasonal Calendar

The purpose of this proposed calendar is to help draw us closer to the cycles of the earth, to remind us of our ties to the land, to each other, and to our ancestors. 

There are eight Observances corresponding to the begining/end and peak of the four seasons.  Holidays from other traditions that correspond either exactly or approximately to the season are listed in parentheses as reference.  All of the proposed rituals are drawn from something that already is done in one or more tradition.  Obviously, the cycles of planting and harvest will occur at different times depending on where you live. Thus, the dates given are meant to be a suggestion; you should feel free to adapt them as necessary based on your local needs.  Please provide suggestions in the wizdUUm discussion forums.


Winter Solstice

December 20-23
or June 19-23

The start another solar year is a time to take stock of the previous year and start the new one fresh.

Day of Resolutions

(See also: Yule, Dōngzhì, Christmas, Hanukkah)

End Winter/Begin Spring

February 2-4
or Aug 1-7

This is traditionally the time of year when we look forward to spring and anticipate the coming of new life.

Blessing of the Seeds

(See also: Imbolc, Lìchūn, Candlemas, Tu B’Shevat)

Spring Equinox

March 19-22
or Sept 21-24

Spring has sprung; flowers are in bloom, and life expresses itself in a diversity of ways.

Flower Communion

(See also: Ostara, Chūnfēn, Annunciation Day/Easter, Passover)

End Spring/Begin Summer

May 1-6
or Nov 1-7

At the end of spring/beginning of summer, a time to recognize and give thanks for newest members of the community.

Festival of the First Fruits

(See also: Beltaine, Lìxià, Walpurgis, Shavuot)

Summer Solstice

June 19-23
or Dec 20-23

At the half way mark of the solar year, when the light is brightest, a time to reflect on how things are going.

Day of Reflections

(See also: Litha, Xiàzhì, St. John's Feast, Fast of Tammuz)

End Summer/Begin Autumn

August 1-7
or Feb 2-4

The beginning of the harvest season, the work of spring and summer beginning to pay off.

Blessing of the Loaves

(See also: Lughnasadh, Lìqiū, Lammas)

Autumn Equinox

September 21-24
or Mar 19-22

At the fall equinox, daylight is receding and harvests are being brought in - it is a time of ingathering.

Water Communion

(See also: Mabon, Qiūfēn, Michaelmas, Rosh Hashanah)

End Autumn/Begin Winter

November 1-7
or May 1-6

As the harvest season comes to an end, it is a time of fruition and death - a time to think of those who have passed.

Festival of the Ancestors

(See also: Samhain, Lìdōng, Hallowmas, Day of the Dead, Sukkot)

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