On Forgiveness and Religious Exploration

You may have found yourself wondering: Why does Devin care so much about the language we use in our programming for children, youth, and families? The truth: I care because I grew up in a tradition that encouraged questions and provided many different answers, even though it was always clear when one answer was more acceptable than others. I want everyone to have that experience. While our exploration may be guided by others, we have to make sense of these questions that we encounter in our spiritual lives.

This time of year brings up questions of forgiveness. The ancient rabbis were very curious about forgiveness.They have asked questions about who can be forgiven, when they can be forgiven, and when does the Divine’s forgiveness forgo that of any human being.The rabbis argue different ideas: some argue you must ask forgiveness 100 times, or you must ask for forgiveness three times and, after the first time, you should bring three people as witnesses. It has become clear that the last is the most acceptable and has become halacha (Jewish law). If one sincerely repents but is not forgiven by the person from whom they seek forgiveness, they have done all they can and are absolved. The ancient rabbis wrote about this at length and still, throughout Jewish history, people come to this time of year struggling with atonement, forgiveness, and wondering whether or not they are redeemable.

I have been working towards a shift in language here at FUUSN from “religious education” programming to “religious exploration” or “spiritual discovery” programming. This is because, like the ancient rabbis, I want our children, youth, and families, as well as all adults really, to grapple with their beliefs. I do not want to give people the “answers” or tell them what to believe; rather, I want to create an environment where anyone can ask all kinds of questions and receive all kinds of answers. I want everyone to gain their own insight and to wonder what makes sense or not in the moment. (I mean, does it make sense to ask for forgiveness 100 times? Isn’t that a burden to everyone involved? Can we just stop at three and feel good about that? What does it say about the person who will not forgive?)

I also want this to be an opportunity for people to connect to their heritage and roots because not all of us are lifelong Unitarian Universalists—some of us are Jewish, Buddhist, Humanist, Hindu, and so much more. This does require more questions than answers, and a willingness to find one’s own answers. I think children and youth are much more willing than adults are, certainly more willing then we give them credit for, and so I want that space for them and for you. For me, wearing a kippah (Jewish skullcap) is a sign and a reminder that my Unitarian Universalist values and my Jewish identity co-exist and so you may see me wearing my kippah more. May this be an invitation to explore how your Unitarian Universalist values co-exist and intersect with other religious values and spiritual identities you claim. What traditions, practices, and identities or values co-exist with your Unitarian Universalism?