What Does a Unitarian Universalist Home Look Like?
Reverend Phillip Lund, Lifespan Program Director, Prairie Star District, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)
Keeping a majority of the children who are currently in our congregations as lifelong Unitarian Universalists (UUs) is an explicit goal of the Prairie Star District. I've looked into what it takes to keep children and youth in a denomination and found that the family is the place to start if we want to keep more of our children in our tradition. So, how is faith integrated into a family's identity and practice? What does a Unitarian Universalist home look like?
In his book, Growing Up Religious, Robert Wuthnow identifies six deliberate religious activities of the home that reinforce the religious tradition of the family. In turn, they nurture the faith development of individual family members. They are:
- Sharing family meals and saying grace;
- Spending a few moments before bedtime to share the joys and worries of the day;
- Having real conversations about what matters most in life;
- Adorning your living spaces with symbols of your faith tradition;
- Celebrating holidays in ways that the religious significance comes through;
- Participating in your community of faith in ways that make it part of your family's emotional support system.
Many of these activities may seem like predictable aspects of most Unitarian Universalist (UU) homes. But how can a home reflect a religion anchored by diversity and pluralism? What might make a home look distinctively Unitarian Universalist?
A chalice—homemade or purchased from an artisan—in a home is a clear symbol of UU faith. That one's pretty simple. I wonder how many UU households actually do have a chalice that can be lit as a symbol of our faith. Many UU curricula—both for children and adults—have instructions for making and using a chalice. (Yes, you can make a chalice out of a flower pot!) Still, I'm not sure we encourage families to have and use a chalice at home. The presence and lighting of a chalice, at dinner or other family times, would be a powerful reminder of faith for everyone.
But UU homes can hold expressions of faith and values even without a chalice. I propose that we use our UU Sources as a guide to making a household explicitly Unitarian Universalist. The six Sources of our Living Tradition are:
- Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
- Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
- Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
- Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
- Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
- Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
The sources cut across our theological differences. Each family might have one object related to each of the sources to remind them of their faith. While each family collection of objects would be unique, the collection would share meaning and values with other UU family collections. Our homes reflect our values. It is very possible that many Unitarian Universalist homes already hold objects that reflect our Sources and Principles.
What object might embody a "direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder"? A photograph reflecting the beauty of nature may indeed be an expression of that Source. I attended an institute where leaders Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow covered the front of the conference room with poster images taken by the Hubble space telescope. It was a constant reminder of just how amazing this universe is. The images were also an expression of humankind's use of reason and intelligence to understand the interdependent web of all existence.
What images or reminders of prophetic women and men do we have in our homes? Many Unitarian Universalist homes have books of poetry and prose that hold prophetic words. In our church schools we often have posters that convey in words and images the principles of people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day. Perhaps these belong in our homes as well. But we may already have in our homes photographs of treasured friends and family members who embody our faith and act as prophets in less-known ways. These images may also be an expression of the Unitarian Universalist belief that ours is a living tradition that is, and will be, shaped by the words and deeds of people who work for justice and the transformative power of love.
Of course this is only the beginning. A fruitful and fun exercise would be to take each of the Sources and try to come up with as many symbols as possible. What is already in our UU homes that reflect our Principles, Sources, and values? I bet that almost every UU family could quickly come up with a list of 20 objects in their home right now that remind them of their faith. Noticing how our homes currently reflect our faith is a first step to creating them as intentionally Unitarian Universalist settings. Next steps might include labeling objects as related to faith or acquiring objects that more directly reflect Unitarian Universalist faith. What we do in our homes can also be expressions of faith. Recycling embodies our respect for the interdependent web of existence.
As we make the links between what we have and do in our homes explicit, we raise our awareness of the centrality of our faith. And that is what matters. What does a Unitarian Universalist home look like? It reflects commitment to a life-enhancing faith of service, integrity, and joy.
Source Cited: Growing Up Religious: Christians and Jews and Their Journeys of Faith, Robert Wuthnow, Beacon Press 07/99 Paperback $17.00. ISBN 0-8070-2807-X
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Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.
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