There’s a colleague of mine who occasionally alludes to the 60s and 70s as Unitarian Universalism’s “Babylonian Exile.” What she’s referring to is the extreme secularism that held sway over the Association during that period. It was the time of the Humanist Manifesto II, which was signed by seven UU ministers and one seminarian who would eventually become president of the UUA. It was also a time when the UUA’s “education wing” developed curricula that were “not UU-specific in content and…were shaped and marketed for the secular world” (see Essex Conversations).The most famous (or infamous) of those curricula was About Your Sexuality, which lives on as Our Whole Lives.
The curriculum from that time period I find the most intriguing, however, was something called Man the Meaning Maker: “A guide for teachers to help children ages 9-14 come to expect and accept differences in the perceptions people have and the meanings they ascribe to them.” With its “40 slides, 3 books, 3 pictures, 1 chart, 2 postcards, 4 tablets of worksheets, and guide,” Man the Meaning Maker was the epitome of the UUA’s multimedia curricula era. Well, the marketing ploy was a bust. Those multimedia kits didn’t fill the associations coffers. But they did change lives (check out Suzelle Lynch’s “Growing Up UU” sermon). Whether you call yourself a Humanist, Theist, or a Pastafarianist, we Unitarian Universalists, along with the rest of humanity, are still trying to make meaning in our lives. It is, after all, our fourth principle! Here, then, is a Small Group Ministry session on the subject, based on resources from SpiritualityandPracitce.com.
Meaning does not come to us in finished form, ready-made; it must be found, created, received, constructed. We grow our way toward it.
— Ann Bedford Ulanov quoted in Dear Heart, Come Home by Joyce Rupp
An Excerpt from In Speech and in Silence: The Jewish Quest for God by David J. Wolpe
In this book, David J. Wolpe writes about speech and silence as alternating currents in spirituality. Here is an excerpt on meaning.
In many traditional Jewish communities when a child entered cheder, religious school, for the first time, that child was greeted by a curious sight: a chart of letters smeared with honey. The new student licked off the honey from the letters, one by one, thus learning a critical lesson: learning is sweet, and the very letters of the words carry the sweetness.
Study is so sweet because it is wresting meaning from the world. Making things yield their sense in language is the aim of study. One seeks to understand, always to understand, whether it is the intricate talmudic argument or the idea behind a lovely legend. The words explain, and conceal. One can view the world as a work of art, as a pageant, as a tragedy, as a comedy, as a farce; all of these may be true, but the Jewish tradition also sees the world in another light — the world is a riddle. And the aim of this earth’s inhabitants is to figure it out.
That is why there is such intense concentration on the transmission of tradition from one generation to the next. There are answers for each generation to work out on its own, but if it loses the accumulated answers of all previous generations, then it must start at the beginning. Why work to arrive at the same point as those who preceded us? The goal is to build, to expand the net of language until it takes in more and more of the world, until we snare more bits of meaning in the grillwork of our concepts. There is tearing down to be done as well as building up, but even in tearing down it is well to keep the shattered fragments on hand; one never knows when more material will be required for the new structure.
Questions: Describe a recent situation where you consciously asked yourself, what is the meaning of this? What did you learn?
Check-out/Likes and Wishes
What we are looking for on earth and in earth and in our lives is the process that can unlock for us the mystery of meaningfulness in our daily lives. It has been the best-kept secret down through the ages because it is so simple. Truly, the last place it would ever occur to most of us to find the sacred would be in the commonplace of our everyday lives and all about us in nature and in simple things.
— Alice O. Howell in The Dove in the Stone
To Practice This Thought: Scan the headlines online or in today’s newspaper. What do they tell you about yourself, your world, and God?
For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Meaning.
For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.