by Olivia

Throughout the process of the Coming of Age program, there’s been one question that comes up a lot. “Do you identify as a Unitarian Universalist?” For me at least, this is a difficult question, a question that leads to all sorts of other questions. What is Unitarian Universalism? What makes someone a Unitarian Universalist? Or, for that matter, what makes someone a member of any religion? What even is a religion?

Now I, as a lazy teenager, tend to avoid philosophical questions in such numbers at all costs, but eventually I forced myself to sit down and really think about it. In most faiths, there’s some sort of deity that the members worship. However, we don’t exactly have one of those. So what is it that makes Unitarian Universalism a religion? Then it hits me. Religions aren’t based solely upon a deity, there’s generally some kind of text associated with it, for example, the bible in the case of Christianity. And UU’s do have something like that, there’s one that almost all of us can agree on, a small but mighty one. Our Seven Principles. So I think, maybe that’s what makes a UU: someone who follows all the principles. So I sit there in defeat, vividly aware that I must NOT be a true UU. And then I laugh. Not every person that considers themselves Christian follows every single thing in the bible all the time, nor do Buddhists always live up to the morals they value. These sacred guidelines are there to help us realize what we’d like to live up to. So I come to my conclusion, in my mind being a part of a religion means attempting to live up to the guidelines set by the religion, and/or participating with spiritual practices associated with that religion. So I can proudly say, I consider myself a Unitarian Universalist, even though I don’t always manage to live up to our principles, I do try.

On a similar note, another question I was commonly asked in the Coming of Age program, was to describe my spiritual practices. At first, I truly thought I had none. But after a wee bit of contemplation, I realize I actually do have a few. The simple act of coming to church and being a part of my community is one, I also go to retreats called “cons”. These conferences are a place for UU teens to gather and celebrate UUism, our community, ourselves and our beliefs in a safe space. Another one of my more unique spiritual practices is the use of prayer beads. I loved the sermon Reverend Denis gave on prayer beads, if you were lucky enough to hear that.

Whenever I’m sad, stressed, angry, or anything really that I feel I need to sort out internally, I whip out my prayer beads. They can almost always calm me down. Except when I break or lose them, which is about every other day, including today.

In addition, there’s a few social issues I feel very strongly about. I’m hesitant to call myself a feminist, because the word alone comes with the idea that women are better than men. I don’t believe that. In fact, I’m kind of over the whole gender thing in general. I mean, the biological part is important for babies and such, I have nothing against babies, don’t worry. but all this “You should wear pink because your a girl” and “guys can’t wear dresses”. Seriously. What’s the deal with that. Dresses are pretty cool. And also the whole thing where you’re expected to align with one particular gender. What if I don’t want to? What then? Well, then I suppose you become a UU, but that’s another topic. So instead of “feminist” I like to refer to myself as a humanist, meaning I support the equality of every single person.

So what is my big social issue, you ask? Equality. Mainly, gender equality and sexuality equality, which, in my terms, are really one thing. When I say gender equality, you probably think equal wages and women out of the kitchen and all that. I think equal wages are important, don’t get me wrong, but what I really mean when I say that, is equality in sexual expression. I’m in high school, so I get daily exposure to discrimination based on sexuality. I think heteronormativity is SO ridiculous. There are so many ways in which people’s sexualities vary, that I think it’s outrageous for “straight” to be the norm. I think everyone should have the same right to express their sexuality. Now, here’s where I get in to being humanisty about this. When people talk about equality in sexuality, they tend to glance over the discrimination against woman, of any sexuality. Women are expected to not have any of that sexual teenage hormone stuff. Nope, not at all. That;s where words like “slut” come in. These so called “sluts”, I believe, are some of the bravest people. They’re the people who aren’t afraid to express their sexuality freely, despite discrimination. Also, that thing I said earlier about getting women out of the kitchen? I don’t agree with that. I think that if someone wants to be a stay at home mom, or even a stay at home dad, they shouldn’t be put down for not getting out there and having a career. Being a parent is a job in of itself. Basically, I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people.

However, I can’t say all the things I believe fit into a religion, a social issue, or even a set of spiritual practices. I believe in second chances. I believe in inspiring and being inspired. I believe in the healing power of art and cuddling, especially with puppies. I believe in forgiveness for even the worst of mistakes, but only with sufficient regret (bonus points for groveling). I believe that everyone has the right to be happy. I believe that everyone has the right to be upset, even if their life story isn’t as tragic as yours, sometimes you just need to cry over your spilled milk, no matter how insignificant it may seem to someone else. I do not believe in god. I believe in science. I believe in karma. I believe in intuition. I believe in music. Lots of it. Every day. I believe in love. I believe that honesty forms all four cornerstones to any good relationship. I believe in the beauty of rain, and dancing in it. I don’t believe in nonchalant promises. I believe that every human body is beautiful, no matter the shape or size. I believe in expressing yourself freely. I believe that you can learn a lot about yourself through writing. I believe that the real god is found in the diversity formed by each and every one of our beliefs. I believe that these beliefs will not be entirely mine in 5 years, a year, a month, or maybe even tomorrow. But I can tell you, that in this moment, I am ever so grateful for the freedom to express what I believe, to you. Thank you.

Doing What’s Right

by Indra

I have been growing up in a Unitarian Universalist community; it is a community which fervently believes in the common good and that we,as humans on planet Earth, shall overcome all the violence, segregation, and injustice in the world at present, sometime in the future.  I am being raised to value and carry on charity work and other forms of social action to help the world.  But during all this teaching from the church and my parents of acceptance, tolerance, and caring, I’ve quite often wondered why.  Why should I take time out my day, my life, to help others when I could be reclining in bed reading books or on the couch watching TV or playing videogames?  Furthermore, why should I even care for the needs of others?  Some believe doing good deeds earns you a place in heaven with God; others believe that if they do something great and of worth to the world they’ll be remembered, immortalized; and others still, believe in doing good deeds not because it gives them credit with themselves or others, not to earn themselves a place in heaven, and not for fame and fortune, but because the deeds are right.  Many people do right deeds for the wrong reasons, whether it be out of fear of damnation or of longing for popularity.  I believe in doing right deeds because, and only because, they are right.

Unfortunately I often feel that I might not be doing any difference in the world at all.  I don’t think enough people have the devotion, confidence, or even care to do anything; and at this point in time I believe most of everyone needs to pitch in their time and efforts to make any difference in the world we all live in.  So what’s the point of good deeds then?  I have struggled trying long and hard to answer this question; and I’ve come to the inferring that, for me, the reason I should carry on doing what good I can, even if for a lost cause, is because it makes me happy.  I believe that humans need a sense of right and wrong to make decisions.  Unless a person follows his or her judgement of right and wrong, he or she won’t be content with themselves; otherwise they would be complacent at most.

The other thing, though, is I try to be aware not to get caught up in worrying too much about my actions: whether or not I’ve been doing the right thing or whether or not I’m doing enough of the right thing.  I try to live in the present and make the best choices as problems present themselves instead of fretting how I’ll go about being a part of the solution to all the world’s problems (since there’s no way I can.)  I’ll try to do my best to help the people I can and avoid overworking myself.  There’s only so much one person can do by themselves.  I have no vision of an utopian world to work towards; I don’t believe all the world’s peoples can ever be united as one; all I want is to be the best person I can be, regardless of whether or not other people notice.