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Nomadic Americans, elephants, and UU saints

Questions for spiritual reflection and adult group discussions.
By Jane Greer
Summer 2009 5.15.09

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Rolling stones. Michael Schuler cites novelist Wallace Stegner when describing Americans’ nomadic lifestyle that results in a move every seven years, on average. “[Stegner] once observed that people in this country can generally be assigned to one of two categories: ‘boomers’ or ‘stickers.’ He lamented that the former—folks who with very little forethought will pull up stakes and head for the latest boomtown—were becoming increasingly dominant.” (“The Promised Land Is Under Your Feet,” page 14)

Are you a boomer or sticker? How many times have you moved in your life? Describe the best place you’ve lived. What distinguished it from the others?

Learning from animals. Rain T. Van Den Berg describes the spiritual lesson she learned from working with an elephant in Thailand. “I had to pay attention beyond where my feet were placed, beyond force or frustration, finding my center. Touching that place both calm and deep, more real than any of the noise or the worries.” (“Lessons from an Elephant Sage,” page 19)

What activity or spiritual practice do you have for grounding and centering yourself, absent the elephant? What lessons have you learned from animals?

Religious truths. In “The Human Condition,” Kenneth W. Collier writes that no one religious system has a monopoly on truth, and that religion functions within a cultural context. “It is just not a question of who has the right religion,” he writes. “It is a question of which religious system works in this cultural context, with these people, for this person, at this time.” (page 23)

How is Unitarian Universalism an expression of our culture? Are there any absolute religious truths or is it all culturally driven?

African UUs. In “One Tribe, One People” (page 24), Scott Kraft describes an African Unitarian Universalism that is quite distinct from its American counterpart. Among the Kisii in Kenya, UUs “take the Bible literally,” condone multiple marriages, and are against homosexuality and abortion. Yet, the group shares many beliefs common to American UUs, including an openness to people of other ethnic groups and religions, a desire to help the less fortunate, and opposition to domestic violence.

Compare and contrast Unitarian Universalism in Kenya with Unitarian Universalism in the United States. What kinds of partnerships can you imagine your congregation engaging in?

Right relationship. Kraft writes that when he visited several of the Kisii congregations, he was presented with “detailed written proposals requesting donations of hundreds of dollars to pay for new churches, medical clinics, schools, grain mills, and orphanges.”

The Rev. Eric Cherry, director of the UUA’s Office of International Resources, said that the UUA is working on ways to develop relationships with African congregations that do not involve direct subsidies. “Traditional missionary work is not something that the UUA wants to do,” he said. “We operate more on a partnership model.” (page 27)

What is the best way for American UUs to support their African co-religionists? Should this be an individual, congregational, and/or institutional responsibility?

Presidential retrospective. UU World’s Christopher L. Walton interviewed outgoing UUA President William G. Sinkford, whose term ends in June. Sinkford says he is especially proud of elevating the Association’s public witness work, encouraging more spirituality in UU worship, introducing the Tapestry of Faith religious education curriculum, promoting the Diversity of Ministry initiative, which supports ministers of color, and launching national advertising campaigns. (“A Public Witness,” page 33)

How has your congregation changed over the past eight years? Was this change associated with UUA presidential leadership? What advice would you give to the next UUA president?

Liberal saints. Donald E. Skinner describes tile portraits of twenty-four liberal religious heroes that surround the sanctuary at Third Unitarian Church in Chicago, “their painted images gazing down on the gathered congregation.” (“The Liberal Saints,” page 36)

Who would you include among the “saints of liberalism”?

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