Thursday, August 19, 2010

Unitarian Universalism

A little over a month ago my mom coerced me into going to a service at my grandfather's church because the theme of the service was "poetry" and my grandpa was planning to read a couple poems to the congregation--also because it was the day after his birthday and they were gonna do a cake for him. I had not been raised without a certain degree of familiarity with this congregation up to this point in my life. Indeed, I've been dragged there many a Christmas Eve for one of a very small handful of family traditions--the attending of the special Christmas Eve service at the Unitarian Universalist church followed by the yearly family picture on the steps of the stage. As I grew older, my mom had to try desperately to keep this tradition alive as my dad and I grew restless with the idea of having to sit through this thing every year. A couple years we even got our wish but eventually my mom lassoed us back in, saying "it's one of the only traditions we have as a family and I want to keep it alive as long as I can." So we went to make her and my grandparents happy. I can also remember having discussions with my grandparents (well, mostly my grandpa) in my rebellious, anti-religion high school years about how Unitarian Universalism is all about acceptance and that everyone is welcome including atheists and agnostics. I remember appreciating the concept but also thinking that the idea of going to church to be an atheist or an agnostic was counterintuitive.

So there I am listening to Raquel, a member of the UU congregation who was temporarily filling in during a transitional period between interim ministers tout the spiritual and emotional values of poetry. At one point, different members of the congregation (my grandpa included) went up to read different poems of different poets with Unitarian background (many of them are documented as being members of the Unitarian church but some weren't but were, I suppose, "close enough"...these include Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sylvia Plath, Beatrix Potter, Carl Sandburg, May Sarton, and even e.e. cummings, who was one of the poets my grandpa chose...yeah, my grandpa's awesome) and it was really moving to me. I can't think of another "church" or "religion" (and UU is hardly either of those things so I use the terms loosely and in quotations) that would dedicate and entire service to poetry. The lovely and warm Raquel closed out the service with a call to all in attendance to try to make poetry a part of their lives, whether through writing or reading, because poetry is the purest, most honest form of personal expression and is good for the soul. I think it was somewhere around that part of the service where I decided I was going to start coming to service every Sunday and becoming more involved in the congregation.

When I first made the decision it seemed a bit odd and somewhat reactionary. I had just gone through a pretty rough period and I was in sort of a period of...not really mourning but certainly depression and anxiety. However, the more I rationalized it the more rational it became (imagine that). For one thing, I'm always complaining that there's nowhere to meet new people (especially girls) that I can relate to or who share my vision for what I'd like the world to be. And Unitarians are indisputably some of the most beautiful, warm, good-hearted, open-minded people you will ever come across on this planet. There aren't a whole ton of them that are my age--most are my grandpa's age--but they are certainly a joy to interact with and unite with. I also appealed to my recently-discovered meaning behind my name--from thinkbabynames.com: "The boy's name Derrick \d(e)-rri-ck\ is a variant of Derek (English, Old German) and Theodoric (Old German), and the meaning of Derrick is 'power of the tribe'"--in my rationalization of the decision. In my quest to make the world what I want it to be ("True progress means matching the world to the vision in our heads; we always change the vision instead." -Thrice - Circles), I feel it's important to find strength--of voice AND action--in numbers--or "tribes." Those reasons would likely have been enough but what really pushed it over the edge was the great joy this decision brought to my grandpa as well as the opportunities it would afford me to get better acquainted and closer with one of the most fascinating, smartest, wisest, funniest, most open-minded, and most passionate people I'll ever know. God knows I have precious few years left with him--and ONLY god knows how many--and it would be in my best interest to make the most of them. So, it was settled.

It's coming up on the sixth consecutive Sunday I will have been attending UU services regularly and I can honestly say it's been quite some time since I've been so thoroughly satisfied with any single significant decision I've made in my life. All of the services I've been to so far have been lovely and several have been absolutely wonderful and moving. I've also become privy to a certain degree of friction and negative energy existing within the congregation--this invokes in me a sense that I've recently started getting (mostly in relation to the women I become heavily attracted to but also in friendships and other aspects of my life) that the universe often tends to take me to places where I'm needed. I've also become involved in a couple of groups within the church that meet regularly: the Buddhist Reflections group (a weekly group discussion of Buddhist ideas and concepts bookended by an opening and closing fifteen minute meditation) as well as the Young Adults group (basically a monthly social gathering of the few people in the congregation who are in their 20s or 30s, usually in the form of a movie night or a game night), which have both been very fruitful in terms of meeting new people and feeding and nurturing my spirituality. I'm very interested in getting more involved with the Young Adult group and trying to get us more proactive and diverse in our activities. I've also been mulling over the idea of starting a new group dedicated to any and all of the artists within the congregation--basically just a weekly or monthly group where any and all who enjoy the act of creation come together to share their art (whatever form that art may take, be it painting, drawing, sculpting, writing, dancing, acting, film-making, playing/writing music, singing, doing stand-up comedy or anything else that squeezes into the amorphous realm of what is art). I really need to talk to my grandpa and/or Rev. Drew about that.

Ah, yes. Drew.

Drew is the new interim minister at the church. Drew is transgender (imporant note: "transgender" is an adjective--not a noun--and reducing someone to just one aspect of who they are is deleterious). He hasn't had surgery or anything like that. He was born a man but he takes hormones because he didn't feel that he necessarily fit in with the constraints of the binary model of gender. Recently, the congregation held a potluck at the church to welcome him. After everyone ate, he gave a short address followed by a Q&A session. The first question asked was which gender pronoun he prefers. His response was very interesting to me. He said it's not really that big of a deal to him but that he does appreciate it when people pepper in the female pronoun from time to time because it makes her feel "more visible." It got me thinking a lot about the spectrum-based nature of our gender--as well as our sexual orientation. But that's another issue for another entry. The main point here is that A. I was incredibly moved by all the things Drew had to say and B. I think it's phenomenal to see a congregation embracing diversity with such a staunch commitment as to have a transgender person.

In conclusion, I feel very much at home now...

4 comments:

Thomas said...

Wow what an insightful assessment of the sitution and a wonderful point of view.

Budward54 said...

What nice thoughts. I love the Miami Congregation as well. Thank you.

Laura H. said...

Oh Derrick, I'm so glad you've joined our little community. I would love to do some art stuff! If you plan it, they will come.

Carol said...

There is a sweet tenderness in your words and insights which warms the cockles of my heart and reminds me again how truly exceptional our faith is.

Carol Reiter