A taste of the sessions, discussions, and speeches at the Unitarian Universalist Association's General Assembly in Nashville, courtesy of the UUA public information office.

A Lover's Quarrel: Unitarian-Universalists Wrestling with God
The Rev. Dr. Thomas Owen-Towle addressed the issue of God and the divine. The Unitarian-Universalist umbrella encompasses a wide range belief in the divine. In this address he discussed the variety of beliefs with their particular attributes, and suggested that the acceptance of other points of view can lead to open dialogue and ultimately the building of bridges to help an individual arrive at a more complete belief system.

He described his own faith journey as one starting at mindless belief moving to total rejection and finally arriving at a place of questioning faith that he is at peace with. mostly. He is now more comfortable with contradictions and accepts the existence of both a humanist and theist within himself. He described UUs as "theological mongrels." Those who want their beliefs wrapped up in a neat package tend not to be UUs.

Pascal described three groups of people: those who know and love God; those who don't know but seek God; and those who don't know and don't seek God. Owen-Towle calls the first path affirmatism, the second path agnosticism, and the third path atheism. Each of these attitudes brings a healthy mix to the discussion table--atheism with its skepticism, agnosticism with its essential gift of measured indecision, and affirmatism with its unflinching demands. The seeker must be cautious as each also has a dark undercurrent--atheism for a hollow heart, agnosticism for its disinterest, and affirmatism for its sanctimoniousness.

Going into more detail, Owen-Towle described the optimistic atheists, who focus on freedom and potential and have no belief rather than disbelief, and pessimistic atheists, who are skeptical, cynical, and forlorn. Agnosticism, a term coined by Thomas Huxley in 1869, describes a belief in partial wisdom. A modern unbelief is central to UUs today.

Agnosticism can also be subdivided into, for example, agnostic theists for whom God exists but whose nature is unknowable, and agnostic atheists who believe that knowing the existence of God is unknowable. Humanity has three attributes: humaneness, humor, and humbleness.

With affirmatists the "say it" must be accompanied by the "do it." We can only experience God when we say yes to life. For UUs, the location is emphasized instead of the definition. This is an extension of Thoreau's "lurking places where God may be found in our lives," which can be identified by the following: service, silliness, struggle, silence, and surrender.

Universalists view love as the beginning and end. UUs major in knowledge and minor in devotion and thrive on discussion rather than on experience. UUs love God as wholeheartedly as reasonable. God is not an unknown but a mystical comrade. Viewing God on a more individual and personal level allows a truer relationship to form and as in the case of other human relationships, the following can be stated: Life is one long quarrel with God, but we still make up in the end.

Parents as Sexuality Educators
Presented by Rev. Patricia Hoertdoerfer, Director, Children, Family and Intergenerational Programs, Religious Education Department, UUA and Rev. Keith Kron, Director, Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns.

Parents want to talk to their children about sexuality, but they don't always know what to say and how to say it. New resources from the UUA's Religious Education Department can help parents find the tools they need for these important discussions, participants learned in a workshop Friday led by Rev. Pat Hoertdoerfer and Rev. Keith Kron.

Kron and Hoertdoerfer began by having participants brainstorm they messages about sex and sexuality they heard in their childhood: from parents, school, peers and friends, the media, their religious community, and elsewhere. Whether through silence or explicit messages, parents are the primary sexuality educators of children, especially when it comes to shaping values. Hoertdoerfer and Kron challenged participants to put into words the values around sex and sexuality they'd want their own child of 18 years old to have. Answers included such ideals as emotional and physical safety, embracing the joyfulness and sacredness of sexuality, respect for self and others, understanding the mechanics of sex, acceptance of one's own and others' sexual orientation, and understanding the potential consequences of intercourse.

Hoertdoerfer and Kron then described how parents are involved in the Our Whole Lives sexuality curriculum units for K-1 and 4-6 grade levels. Built around core values of respect, responsibility and reciprocity, and around the latest scientific information about sex and sexuality, these units provide age-appropriate information. Developed by the UUA and the United Church of Christ (UCC) together, and supplemented with separate faith-based segments emphasizing each denomination's religious foundation of sexuality values, these curriculum units extend the Our Whole Lives units for adolescents already in use in many UU (and UCC) congregations.

For the K-1 and 4-6 grade units, parents attend an information meeting even before the Sunday School chooses to use the Our Whole Lives programs. "Parents" can include not only biological parents, but any adults who serve in parental roles with children. After a congregation begins using the Our Whole Lives program, there's a two and a half hour parent and child orientation for each level. Parents stay involved through the eight sessions of each course through "home links" sent home each week to help parents talk about the issues raised and their own values. In the K-1 course parents attend the first and last sessions with their children, and in the 4-6 course they attend one session together. The final segment of the GA workshop allowed participants, through role playing, to practice communicating on sexuality through "teachable moments," a concept used in the parents' involvement in the Our Whole Lives courses. "Teachable moments" are opportunities for parents to communicate values and information when children ask questions or make statements. It's important, Hoertdoerfer emphasized, for parents, who often had little or poor information imparted from their own parents, to be able to begin discussions and answer questions on sex and sexuality. Children, Kron reminded the participants, learn to handle their own emotions around sexuality from how parents handle their own emotional process in talking with their children about the subject.