[Written 11/17/93, but just getting rewritten:]

This is an essay I've been meaning to write for a very very long time, and I think it will probably be rewritten a few times, but I want to get it on [virtual] paper while the baby's asleep...;) The title is from a wonderful essay by Kahlil Gibran from The_Prophet.

One of the greatest objections I hear to UU Pagans is that we are an outside invasion. In some ways this is true -- a lot of members of individual CUUPs chapters are drawn from the wider community, much in the way that the general congregation is mostly "come outers."

However, I was born here, raised here, am probably more literate in my UUism, and more experienced than most people I encounter in the parishes I visit. I helped to found CUUPs, going on a decade ago, because I saw it as a way to welcome my generation back into the churches.

When I was growing up, I went thru the usual UU RE curricula. I learned about our religious heritage in world religions from Dorothy Spoerl. I sang songs from the hymnbook We_Sing_of_Life, which focusses on a seasonal celebration of the cycle of the year. I participated in religious activities such as growing a marigold between Groundhog Day and Mother's Day on a windowsill, and talking about the scientific, spiritual, and cultural importance of the seed, the plant, agriculture, and the miracle of life. I participated in planning and celebrating the pre-class worship *circles* which drew on resources from many religious heritages, from poetry, from fantasy, and from personal inspiration -- they were lay-led and consensually planned. I learned the joy of pursuing a path of worship which involved peer cooperation -- a company of seekers *DOING*, not just listening.

Then, along with the kids I grew up with, we graduated from Sunday School, and we were kicked upstairs. Instead of lively debate and active explora- tion of our world, and instead of group-planned ecumenical worship circles that celebrated the cycles of life around us, we were confronted with...

ACADEMIA. A sixth day of authoritarian lecture, with the teacher protected behind a podium, expounding without interruption. Uncomfortable seating. Not enough good music. Silence expected. Convention enforced.

So, what did we do? We broke out. We went to quaker meetings, baha'i meetings, satsang, meditation groups. We spent Sundays celebrating on our own, outside, reading poetry on rocks in a river, in various states of undress. We cooked for each other, wrote poetry for each other, and loved each other. We made friendships that were to last for decades, or faded over the summer. We tried to figure out the world, who we were, and what it meant. We were talented and gifted, free, capable of remaking the world, magic, and beautiful. We were also sometimes petty, ugly, and stupid -- but we knew we were learning, and we were still pretty forgiving of each other -- we knew we were still growing. We decided that growing and forgiving were virtues we wanted to hold onto into adulthood.

Some of us went of to university towns and big cities where there was more cultural and religious diversity than we had dreamed of, and we dove in. Around the universities, there was every religion from every part of the world. Almost everything except UUism was represented on campus. Our religious wanderyahr went into full swing. Many of us got together as like-minded souls ("we both grew up UU") and friends to discuss our jour- neys, but very few of us found any support or much use in the "adult congregations."

Then, gradually, some of us found a group of people who enjoyed our same style of worship -- ecumenical, non-dogmatic, group-oriented, lots of art, lots of individual creativity, earth-centered, respecting people of all ages, celebrating the cycles of the year. They didn't want us to sit down -- they wanted us to dance. They didn't want us to shut up -- they wanted us to sing, chant, shout, and speak as we felt we must. The overall atmosphere was celebratory, rather than tutelary. We had stumbled onto neo-paganism.

Now, for most of my generation, raised as UUs, we are simple ecumenical mystics. Most of the folks I grew up with have very personal, transcen- dental, pan(en)theistic, (mytho)poetical bents. Our beliefs are often hard to express -- the goal, I believe, of raising a child without dogma is to allow them to accept the ineffible as a proper idiom of belief. Most of us decided we didn't need religious community, per se. Many of the rest became pagans.

For us, worship is a fluid thing -- it is the art form which braids our beliefs, our aesthetics, our heritage and our knowledge of symbology, and our very sense of community into a sort of performance art. And the artistic idiom that our parents and their proxies conditioned us to is the worship circle, the circle dance, the chant, the song, the seasonal celebration, the amalgam of religious ideas from every country and every age that we were taught at our RE director's knee.

When we come back to the church that raised us, we find that we are considered atavists, revolutionaries, muddy-minded dilletants, and any number of other things. And the people who are most vociferous in naming us these names are people who came while we were on our wanderyahr. Not our parents, not even the clergy who we knew. The loudest voices are the come-outers, especially among the clergy. (Is it my imagination, or is every other UU minister an ex-episcopalian who graduated from Andover at age 45 in the 1980's? ;)

I know more ex-UUs in my age group (25-40) in the pagan community, than I do in the UU community, including CUUPs. In the 60's or 70's, we'd be the young activists forming the fellowship down the road. These days, we haven't been given reasons to affiliate. We'd just have to pay poll tax to the denomination.

Still, there are very few pagans today in the US who don't feel some kindred spirit with UUism, because they see the children of UUs serving as the pillars of *their* communities, often enough.

Every time there is a meeting of a district, or at GA, someone will come up with the question, "Where have our children gone?" A number of us are right here. Others are waiting to see if they are welcome -- and finding that they're not. We're off looking for the church we were raised in, and we're finding it -- not in the sanctuary of the church building -- but in the sanctuary of the woods.

For those of you who joined the church to get your children a religious education outside of the church you've forsaken -- watch out! The UUs are teaching your children to be virtuous pagans. If it's a plot, it's remarkably poorly conceived. We're trying to rejoin you, but we keep getting rebuffed.

I am still hoping for a resolution of this conflict -- essentially of style of worship. I hope for an acceptance of these strangers in your midst, the children you have lost, come home as changelings, unrecog- nizable.

I am pagan, and I am UU.

I feel that I am the daughter of Channing and Emerson, of Hosea Ballou, of Thomas Starr King. I see the stars at night with the same respect, awe, and wonder. I reject no true heart. I am the Ba'al Shem Tov calling my elders to come dance in the woods, but they can't see I am the child they raised. They are stuck on words, staring at books in small, poorly lit rooms, in uncomfortable chairs, and they think it is *me* that makes them uncomfortable.

All I ask, is that you take the time to ask me what it is that I believe, and why I do the things I do. And then I ask that you listen. And if there is room for me to dance in your sanctuary, I will leave you room to sit. And if there is no room for me to dance in your sanctuary, then you are welcome in the woods, anytime.

-- Shava Nerad Averett shava@unc.edu /* all original materials (c)1993, Shava Nerad Averett, and have nothing significant to do with the University of North Carolina, a mostly owned subsidiary of the NC Legislature, a mostly owned subsidiary of NC DOT. */

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