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What in the World?, Winter 2005

Questions for spiritual reflection and adult group discussions.
By Jane Greer
Winter 2005 11.1.05

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Guilt-free holidays

Meg Cox, in her “Forum” essay (page 14), describes ways that UUs can celebrate Christmas without feeling like they’re compromising their values. “Celebrating multiple holidays this time of year, honoring many traditions while emphasizing our own principles, is a very UU thing to do. But doing it more consciously with a UU spin can help us deepen the season’s meaning.”

Which winter holidays do you observe and why? If Christmas is among them, what do you and your family do? Do you feel any incongruity between observing certain religiously based holidays and UU values?

In retrospect

In 1954, when Elizabeth Deutsch Earle was 16, she submitted an essay about her religious beliefs to the “This I Believe” radio contest and won. Fifty years later, she compares her current beliefs to those she had as a teenager (“Reflections,” page 18).

How have your religious beliefs changed over the years? Which events have caused them to change? How have they stayed the same?

Seeing beauty.

In his essay “The Sacred in Images” (page 30), the Rev. Harold Babcock talks about learning to see the visual beauty that is already around us. “The good news is that we don’t have to go anywhere special to begin to see anew. We can start just where we find ourselves.”

What visual beauty do you encounter each day? Is there anything that has become beautiful to you that you might not have liked at first sight?

Populist poetry

Dan Cryer’s profile of U.S. poet laureate Ted Kooser (“Ted Kooser’s Poetry of the People,” page 36) emphasizes the fact that Kooser’s poetry is accessible. “A typical Kooser poem is a brief, metaphor-laden celebration of ordinary people and everyday moments, illuminated by deep humanity.”

What is the role of obscurity in art? Can obscurity be a part of great art? Can popular art be good art?

Only a job

Kooser (“Ted Kooser’s Poetry of the People,” page 36) worked as an insurance executive while writing poetry and found that his daily schedule gave him structured time for writing. “Every morning I would get up at four thirty, maybe five, and write until seven. Then I’d have to get my tie on and show up at the office. I worked eight hours a day and then I was done.”

What elements need to be present in life to allow creative pursuits? Can parenting be combined with artistic endeavors?

War

Barbara Carlson writes about a World War II novel (“Fred’s War,” page 42), written by a UU in 1966, drawing parallels between the book’s description of World War II and the current war in Iraq. In both situations, soldiers become inured to killing. What happens, she asks, to soldiers taught to be killers? “What is the responsibility of a commander when a soldier shoots an unarmed ‘haji’ (the dehumanized enemy who was a ‘kraut’ in World War II, a ‘gook’ in Korea and Vietnam)?”

What kind of psychic toll does killing take on a soldier? Are there such things as good and bad wars, and what distinguishes them from one another? Are there situations in which killing is the best option?

Hurricane Katrina

Michelle Bates Deakin writes of the heroic efforts being made by hundreds of UU church members to help hurricane survivors in “Katrina’s Aftermath” (page 50).

What should be the roles for government and churches in disaster relief? Do you find any conflict between the role of church and state here?

Theological diversity

In her review of the Commission on Appraisal’s report Engaging Our Theological Diversity (“Bookshelf,” page 72), which asks whether UUs share common theological ground, Rosemary Bray McNatt praises the commission for clearly identifying the issues but criticizes it for coming up with only vague recommendations. “Authorized as it is by the General Assembly itself, the commission is curiously timid about subjects that most parish ministers know are on the minds of our people.” She cites UU thinking about sin and evil, as an example.

How do you reconcile the scope and variety of religious beliefs among UUs with the fact that they all fall under the UU umbrella? Are all beliefs acceptable to UUs? If not, where do you draw the line?

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