How Did You Become a Unitarian Universalist?
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Following up on last week’s video post, here’s a 3½-minute video snack where a mix of UUs explain how they came to this tradition. Listening to these voices, it’s clear that each person’s journey is unique and doesn’t necessarily follow a linear path. Some arrived through predictable channels — friends, marriage, family — while others had more surprising stories — and why they decided to stay.
Later this week we’ll be posting a longer-form piece that caps this video series of interviews from the Unitarian Universalist 2010 General Assembly. And, next week, a video showcasing a sped-up procession of beautiful quilted banners for the opening day festivities!
Children Help Us Embrace the Mystery
by Krista Tippett, host
The notion of God as father is a metaphor, of course, like much religious language. It is necessary approximation and analogy. When I became a mother myself, I was stunned at how little we have filled this metaphor with meaning from the real experience of parenting. The Heavenly Father of my childhood was implacable, inscrutable, all-powerful. But to become a parent in reality is to enter a state of extreme vulnerability. “To become a father,” the French theologian Louis Evely aptly put it, “is to experience an infinite dependency on an infinitely small, frail being, dependent on us and therefore omnipotent over our heart.”
Raising a new human being in this world is a monumental spiritual task, yet we so rarely call it that. This does not become easier when, at some point, our offspring become little theologians and philosophers. They begin to ask huge questions about life and the universe — basic questions about how we got here and where God lives and why people die and why people hurt each other and what it means to be good and to be happy. These questions are the building blocks of religion and ethics. We refine them all of our lives, but at heart they remain the same. What changes is our ability to articulate and act on them.
As parents, we want to support this part of our children’s natures. With other mundane aspects of parenting — like how to help them sleep, or how to feed them, or how to teach them to read — we know that we need help. We seek maps, books, and counselors. But when it comes to these personal, existential questions of meaning, we often feel that we should intuitively have the answers. In my own life, and as I’ve spoken with different people across the country these past years, the spirituality of parenting is often a source of anxiety. It provokes a feeling of inadequacy. This is heightened in our age by the fact that so many of us are less connected to specific religious traditions and institutions than the generations that preceded us. And many of us inherit a mix of spiritual practices in our own histories, marriages, and extended families.
As we prepared to create our show titled “The Spirituality of Parenting,” we put out a call for the reflections and questions of our listeners and newsletter subscribers. Many, many parents wrote in, as well as grandparents and ministers and teachers. You can hear some of their voices and stories, and see their pictures, on our website. Each contribution has been wonderful to read. The breadth of spiritual searching and the diversity of spiritual moorings among them is startling, reflecting the plurality of the culture we inhabit. And more than a few who are deeply rooted in a particular tradition stressed that even they need guidance on how to teach and model a vocabulary of words and practice for exploring religion and meaning and ethics as they share ordinary life with the children they love.
I don’t believe I could have found a better conversation partner than Rabbi Sandy Sasso. Her ideas have kept me pondering, and I’m delighted to send them out into the world. She encourages us to begin with what we know, and also to let our children lead us on a new journey of questioning and learning. We can seek out maps and books and counselors on this part of their development too, and we should. She also urges parents to explore the place they come from, the communities or traditions in their family and background, even if they have left it behind at another stage in life. Don’t let those who modeled the worst of your faith, she adds, define that faith for you. Understand yourself as an ancestor to the next generation, as part of tradition’s unfolding story.
Most of all, we should attend to our children’s musings about life’s wonders and injustices, their grief at the death of a pet or a loved one, their response to a homeless person encountered on the street. It is all right not to have answers for their large moral and existential questions. Unlike adults, children are not afraid of mystery. But they do need us to help them develop vocabularies and ways of living to keep those questions alive and growing. They need to hear how we think about large questions of meaning, and about what experience has taught us. They need to hear our questions and our stories. Stories are the vocabulary of theology for children. They also crave and will use ritual and routine, and we can form these from daily life and commonplace experiences.
I return to the insight I began with — that children can make the essence of religion come alive. They may ultimately teach us far more than we teach them. “Children open windows for us,” Sandy Sasso says, “or can crawl through windows that we can’t crawl through, and they open part of our life that maybe has been dormant for a long time.” The rest is mystery, and our children will help us embrace that more joyfully too.
(photo: Renata Baião/Flickr)
What’s Your Hindu Star Birthday?
Shubha Bala, associate producer
A couple of weeks before my birthday, my mom sent me an e-mail reminding me when my “star birthday” was — March 14th, by the way — and saying she was donating to a local temple on that day so they can provide free food for the congregation. Although I’ve always been told when my star birthday was, this was the first time I went on a quest to find out what it was.
Simply put, your star birthday is your birthday using the Hindu calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar. Hindu calendars are traditionally used to derive entire individual horoscopes, which are culturally consulted for just about everything — from determining a baby’s name to finding the best wedding location (and person!)
Your birth star, or Janma Nakshatra, is just one component of the calendar. If you draw a line from where you were born, at the time you were born, to the moon, the Janma Nakshatra is the star constellation that the line would pass through. Each month has 27 Nakshatras, which means some Nakshatras will occur twice in a month.
As with most aspects of Hinduism, there is no rule as to what significance a star birthday has. For example, I spoke to Narayanan Kandanchatha, who grew up in the Indian state of Kerala and is from the sub-caste Nambudiripad. He said that each year they would have to do an important prayer on their star birthday. In his case, the star was so critical that if it was missed, rather than do it the next day, they would wait until the Nakshatra of the following month. He also said that in his culture, in order to do a Upanayanam ceremony (the male coming of age ceremony for the Brahmin caste), a boy must have conducted a special ceremony on his Nakshatra 36 times.
For my mom, her tradition was to wear new clothes on her star birthday. Then she mailed me a new shirt to wear. Some people believe naming your baby with the same first syllable as their star is auspicious. My parents didn’t intend it, but in researching this blog I discovered that I coincidentally ended up with an auspicious first name!
Finding your star birthday
- Find your Janma Nakshatra when you were born by using this calculator and your birth year (mine is Satabhisha.)
- Next find the Hindu month in which you were born. Scroll to the table of Hindu months here to find the start and end dates for that month. For example, I was born March 5, which would be the month Phalguna, starting on February 20.
- Then, go back to this first calculator, and for the date range enter your full Hindu birth month (e.g., February 20 - March 19) for the current year. It will give you a table with all the Nakshatras for the month. Find the date your Nakshatra lands on, and that is your star birthday this year (March 14 for me). If your Nakshatra occurs two times in that month, the second time is when you would celebrate your star birthday.
Since Hinduism is a religion composed of diverse cultures and history, the details in this procedure can change. Many cultures define their months differently. Also, some people don’t use the Nakshatra at all, using instead the Tithi, a completely different aspect of the calendar. But I’ll leave you to investigate these varieties on your own.
A Humble Offering
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Last week, I traveled with Krista, Trent, and Mitch for a production trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota. We’ve been planning a program about the spiritual legacy of Sitting Bull for years. Finally the pieces of this production puzzle have started to come together.
After landing in Rapid City, we drove through the snowy Black Hills until we arrived at the cozy home of Sitting Bull’s great-grandson, Ernie LaPointe. As we prepared for this trip, several people (including Ernie’s wife Sonja) advised us to bring him a gift of tobacco. Some of you responded to an earlier blog post, including David Born who once served as chair of the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota.
He suggested where to buy the traditional pipe tobacco, or kinnikinnick, and recommended that we wrap it in a red (a sacred color for the Lakota) cotton cloth. What mattered most, he advised, is that Krista should present the tobacco with humbleness, humility, and respect. Here are some notes from our conversation:
“You can let him know that you understand it’s traditional when seeking the advice/wisdom of an elder to present a gift. You want to acknowledge that the information he’ll be sharing is important and sacred and you want to honor that. You can acknowledge your own ignorance about his customs and let him know that you’re not trying to be Native, stereotype Natives, or romanticize them. The gift of the tobacco is a way of both making a request and expressing appreciation — not just of Ernie but of the Lakota nation. What matters most is that the tobacco is given with “a good heart.”
A quiet hush descended over Ernie’s living room when Krista formally presented a pouch of tobacco wrapped in red cloth. She spoke quietly and with grace. As I reflect back on this moment, it seems like this singular exchange set the tone for the two-hour interview that unfolded between them — one of respect and intimacy.