From Rags to Ridiculous

I’m reasonably proud to be a 2nd generation Unitarian, especially because my mom, who was raised in a mainstream Christian religion, went church shopping when we were little, and was planning to be Presbyterian or something, but told the pastor she didn’t believe the Nicene Creed when he came to visit her. He said he didn’t really believe it either, and she could still belong and say it along with everyone. She was disgusted with the hypocrisy, and sought out the Unitarian church, where she never had to say stuff she didn’t believe, and has been a member ever since.

I’m pretty active in my Unitarian church, because I believe what Unitarians believe: that every person has worth and dignity, and that it’s our responsibility to work towards making the world a better place, and that there’s mystery and wonder in the world but we don’t have to call that god, and that we should focus on being decent and thoughtful in this life, rather than worrying about the next life, which I, for one, don’t happen to believe in.

Some of my friends think it’s a phony religion; when they learn that I am an atheist and we don’t use the bible in our services, they either think that I’m not doing it right (like, a fallen UU, if there could be such a thing), or it’s not a real religion. I tend to be pretty quiet about the fact that I am active in a church, because people leap to conclusions that usually are incorrect. Mostly because it’s a religion no one has heard of outside of Boston.

My dad summed it up succinctly, with this short note: Bets, I don’t know whether to feel smug or alarmed when I learn that there are more Catholics in Rochester, NY than there are Unitarians world wide. Love, Dad.

My point here is that I’m pretty serious about being a Unitarian, and I will defend it as an actual religion, even to Garrison K. I subscribe to the magazine, which brings me to my point. There’s a section in the UU World that has activities for families; this month, they feature Clara Barton as a resourceful Unitarian woman who did good in the world, yada yada yada. Here’s the extension activity they suggest, and sadly, I’m not making this up:
“On the battlefield, Clara Barton tore up discarded clothing into bandages. At home, tear a clean, worn out shirt into strips. Holding a strip of cloth in your hands, reflect on the hurts or needs in your life, your family, your community, or beyond, that need a metaphoric bandage. Now, think about inner or material resources you already have, which you could use to help or heal. Commit to offering your “bandages” where they can help.”

Seriously, that is just retarded, a word that I plan to use a lot, just to piss off Sarah P. That is one of the very last activities I would ever do with children, or even adults. It seems like a total spoof on everything, but I’m pretty sure they meant it to be taken seriously. If any of you do this with your children, lemme know how it goes…


  1. I know that retarded is just a word, but I was wondering what perspective you are using it from. Technically, many things can be retarded ( ) But, it really is an outdated label used by a lot of people who have no personal relationships with people that used to be classified as retarded. By no meads am I suggesting that you not use any word you choose for any purpose you choose. Just saying...

  2. Eric, I'm using it to mean: to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder or impede.

    As in, "suggesting that a good children's activity is to tear up an old clean shirt and reflect on metaphorical bandages is a way to hinder or impede the unitarian religion from being taken seriously."

    I am a believer in respect for all people, and some in our midst have been undervalued and discriminated against. I'm not for that.

    But I think focusing on a word distracts from the real problems: schools aren't always equipped to serve the variety of needs of the children; employers are unwilling to provide adequate support, or take risks on people with different abilities, and so on.

    Banning a word from the language has little to do with any of that.

  3. I love your statement of why you are Unitarian (second paragraph). And I wholeheartedly support your use of retarded to describe that hokey activity! Thanks for all your writing, Betsy--I love it!

  4. Something tells me the great Clara Barton herself would have viewed the exercise you described as "retarded."


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