From A Lamp in Every Corner: Our Unitarian Universalist Storybook.
To make the story more engaging and to help make it very clear who is speaking during dialogues, try developing different voices for the different characters in the story, especially the father.
Before you begin, look around the room and make eye contact with each person. Read or tell the story.
Ring the chime (or other sound instrument) to indicate that the story is over.
Over two hundred years ago, in a small house in a small town, on the edge of a forest of very big trees in the state of New Hampshire, there lived a small boy. His name was Hosea Ballou.
Hosea, just like other children, liked to learn and do new things. He was always asking questions, about what and why and how. And, just like other children, Hosea liked to play. He liked to play hide-and-seek with his nine older brothers and sisters. He liked to play word games inside when it was rainy, and he liked to play tag outside when it was sunny. In the winter, he liked to jump into snowdrifts. In the summer, he liked to jump into the creek. In the fall, he liked to jump into leaf piles. And in the spring — why, spring was Hosea's favorite season of all — because in the spring, it would rain and rain and rain, and then Hosea could jump into mud.
Hosea, just like other children, loved mud. He liked it when it was soft and squishy, and he liked it when it was thick and sticky. If it didn't rain quite enough, that wasn't a problem. Hosea would carry water to the dirt and create glorious mud puddles all of his own. He liked to poke sticks into puddles and see how deep the mud was. He liked to make mud pies and to build mud dams. He liked to jump in puddles hard with both feet and make the muddy water splash really high, so that the mud splattered all over his brothers' and sisters' clothes, and he loved to step in puddles v-e-r-y slowly, so that the mud oozed up just a little bit at a time between his toes.
Yes, Hosea loved mud.
Now, you can imagine that not everybody in his family liked mud quite as much as Hosea did. His mother had died when he was not quite two, so his older sisters took care of him. His sister, who did laundry and scrubbed the family's dirty clothes in big washtubs, didn't like having to scrub all that mud off Hosea's clothes — or off everybody else's clothes, either, after Hosea had stomped in a mud puddle extra hard.
His other older sister, who kept the little children clean, didn't like having to scrub all that mud off Hosea. And Hosea (just like other children) didn't like having baths, either, especially when it meant he had to stand in a washtub in front of the fire and have water dumped over his head. But his sisters loved him, so they took him home and washed him and dried him and made him clean.
Then Hosea's sisters went to their father and said, "Father, please tell Hosea to stop playing in the mud."
"Hosea," said his father, very sternly, "you should not play in the mud."
"Why?" asked Hosea, because (just like other children) asking questions was another thing he loved to do.
"Because," said his father, who was one of the preachers in the Baptist church the family went to, "just as we try to live a good life, to be kind to other people and to follow God's plan, we try to stay clean."
"Yes, Father," Hosea said, and after that day, he did indeed try to stay clean.
But it wasn't easy. He stopped stomping in the mud puddles on purpose and splashing the muddy water everywhere, and he stopped making enormous mud pies, but sometimes the mud was just there. Then he had to walk through the mud to get across the yard to gather the eggs from the chickens. He had to walk in the mud to feed the pigs. And sometimes, when he was already muddy from doing his chores, he played in the mud, just a little bit, and got even muddier. His sisters, who loved him, took him home and washed him and dried him and made him all clean.
But Hosea's sisters went to their father again and said, "Father, please tell Hosea to stop playing in the mud."
"Hosea," said his father even more sternly, "you must not play in the mud."
"Yes, Father," Hosea said. He was sad, because he had truly tried not to get muddy, most of the time anyway. "Are you very angry with me, Father?"
"I am disappointed in you, Hosea, and I am a little angry with you."
Hosea hung his head and kicked at the dirt with his toes, then he dared to look up, just a little, to ask, "Do you still love me?"
"Hosea," said his father, and his father didn't sound stern anymore, "I will always love you, Hosea, no matter what you do."
"Even if I get muddy again?"
"Even if I get really, really muddy?"
"Even if I get mud all the way up to my eyebrows and between my fingers and my toes and in my hair?"
"Even then," his father said with a smile. Then he added, very stern again, "But remember, Hosea. You must try to stay clean."
"I'll remember, and I'll try," Hosea promised, and he did. He stayed clean, most of the time anyway. As he grew up, he stopped liking mud quite so much, but he still liked to ask questions about what and how and why.
"Father," Hosea asked when he was a teenager, "how can it be that our church believes that God will let only one in a thousand people into heaven, even if many of those thousand people lead good lives?" His father didn't have an answer for that question.
"Father," Hosea asked, "if I had the power to create a living creature, and if I knew that the creature would have a miserable life, would suffer and die, and then go to hell and be miserable forever, and I went ahead and created it anyway, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? And would I be good or bad?"
His father didn't have an answer for that question, either. Hosea had to find his own answers. So he read the Bible, a book with many stories about religious people and about God. He went to some Universalist churches and asked more questions there. At the age of nineteen, Hosea decided that he believed in universal salvation, which is the idea that everyone everywhere — everyone in the universe — will be given salvation. Eventually, everyone will be "saved" from hell. And not only did Hosea believe that God would let more than a thousand people into heaven, Hosea Ballou believed God would eventually let everyone into heaven, good and bad.
"How can you believe that?" asked his father. "How can you believe that God would let bad people into heaven?"
"Because, Father, I remember what you told me when I was small. I believe that even if God is disappointed with people, or a little angry with them, God will always love them and want them to be happy, no matter what they do, and no matter how muddy they are."