It may be back-to-school time all across the country, but I want to address the back-to-nature issue. You may have heard some talk about the nature deficit experienced by this generation of kids, how most of them play too many video games or watch lots of TV and spend not enough time outdoors just exploring and using their imaginations.
This summer, I attended the Prairie Star District’s Camp Star Trail at a conference and retreat center just outside of Omaha, Nebraska. Besides coming home with a whole new group of Unitarian Universalist friends who live in Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota, I returned with a sense that we need more opportunities for families to spend time together exploring nature and what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist.
We did the usual camp-type activities such as water-balloon fights and making s’mores. There were family swims and canoe paddling adventures (even a song shared by a teen about such fun as part of the variety show one evening). But there were also times for deep reflection and sharing as part of small groups, exploring the notion of compassion under the guidance of the Rev. Nate Walker. There was time for worship, singing, and meditation. There was the space to be Unitarian Universalist among other families and people of all ages who are also seekers and skeptics.
I heard many teens vocalize how it was so comfortable to share their ideas in this space. Many of them who normally remain in the background at school or other public ventures felt free to express who they are and what they think, and felt affirmed for being themselves. I also witnessed one boy, the same age as my own son, participate in role-playing activities, act out stories in worship, and tell amazing stories as part of the Variety Show night. Yet, his mother told me that he normally is rather shy and doesn’t feel so free to jump right up and participate. Having been to this camp for several years now has made a real difference in his life.
For years I have heard directors of religious education express how they wish our churches were places such as this—places that are truly multigenerational and where people of all ages and life stages can come together and be who they are. While we still have a long way to go on that one, it is clear to me that the many UU camps and conferences are doing just this.
Since being Unitarian Universalist so often means being in the minority, it is good and healthy for our children to be able to have the opportunity to join together with others for whom a family with two mothers is no big deal and where it is okay to say you are seeking, but just don’t know; to have a space and time with no bullying, no accusations, and no put-downs; to have a place where everyone truly feels their inherent worth and dignity. It is good when we get some time to explore the independent web of all existence, be it with a too-full canoe or a wide-mouthed frog by the pond.
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Michelle Richards is the author of Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting (Skinner House, 2010).
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