Monday, July 4, 2011

Raising a child Unitarian (and why I am)

I'm not a Unitarian Universalist, but I play one in church. :) The thing is, as a lapsed Catholic and an avid explorer of all things spiritual, I don't want any labels for myself. I don't want to make a commitment. People latch on to labels, and when I fail to match the label, instead of adjusting their labels, they just get annoyed at me for disappointing them.

I am also not calling my son a Unitarian Universalist. He can figure out the label thing himself later. For now, we attend the local church, we avail him of its religious ed program, and we contribute financially to the churchgoing endeavor. No 'tithe' for us; it's 'payment for services rendered.' I like that better. It's less pretentious.

What's nice about UU is how normal it is. Yesterday we went to July 4th festivities at Aunt and Uncle's house, and they invited two couples their own age. The first couple informed us that they attend the UU church in Brewster. The second couple attends a UU church in New Jersey. Not that they are... they attend. They were lovely people and I enjoyed meeting them. My mother, who has nothing but vitriol for the UU church, would have found them delightful as well. They were just so pleasant and normal. To hear my mother talk about UU's, you'd expect them to be some sort of freaks of nature. No, sorry, pleasant and normal it was.

There are a few things that i especially like about UU's:

1) The religious ed program is an overview of world religions. That was the type of religious education I was planning to give my son anyway. His spiritual heritage is ancient and complex, and very few white people respect that. Ultimately, he'll decide for himself how much he cares about Confucianism, daoism, and buddhism.

I was talking to a teenage girl who had attended UU RE all her life, and she said, "They try to give you enough information to decide your religious path for yourself, but most people I know just stay with the church." I guess the latter bit is universal. By and large, people hate change, unless something goes seriously wrong with the religious institution they grew up with. Not to say that exploration isn't common; I think it's both common and important. Hey, I did a ton of exploration, and at the end I was all set to return to the Catholic church... until something went wrong with it.

Whatever Cloud decides to do, I'm gonna let him do it. At least I will be assured that he's not going into his spiritual explorations blind - he'll have a well-rounded background in what religion is all about. I took that liberty for myself without being nearly as prepared, and I turned out all right.

2) UU is like a clearinghouse of social justice and environmentalism causes. What could possibly appeal to me more? Pure, unabashed altruism, no strings attached!

3) Half the members are fine artists. Seriously, this church is stacked with old ladies wielding a mean paintbrush. Admittedly, there's only a scattering of other types of artists - a few talented singers, some crafters, some cooks, and one woman who is really into theater. But fine arts is where my interests lie. I've been stalled out for years now - working on the comic books but lacking any sort of direction when it came to doing paintings and stuff. The best way to jolt oneself out of a rut is to surround oneself with the thing you aspire to create yourself, and I think it's starting to work. I'm interested in making it work.

4) No pressure. I hate social pressure. It makes me want to go away. Many religious communities are so rigid - I can't do that. And I want my son to have some spiritual elbow room too. He's not going to be like everyone else, no matter what happens. Why not accept that from the start and give him room to grow? Who knows what he'll grow into? It might be someone really amazing!

Sometimes he does something totally unique and unexpected, and I laugh and cheer him on. I'm from the Neil deGrasse Tyson school of parenting - if he's damaging something truly valuable and irreplaceable, like a cat*, stop him. If not, let him go. And appreciate the results, whatever they may be.

And only hold his hand when he's reaching for me. And when crossing the street. Any time other than that, I can have a little faith in the kid. And try not to let him see me gnawing my fingernails in anxiety for him.

*Cats in general may be easily replaceable, but individual cats are not.

1 comment:

  1. My step-grandmother was a lifelong UU. My grandfather--who may have had a religious bone in his body, but never showed it--always said that the Unitarians prayed to whom it may concern. If I were ever to consider joining an organized religion, it would probably be the UU. Good choice for raising a kid who will be able to decide for himself.