In the Interim: As to the Meaning of Words


We are nearly to the mid-point in winter – at least, according to my spouse. On January 31, Ben always says, we are halfway through the winter and on February 15, Ben reminds me, “Winter’s back breaks.” As a religious educator, I know that these are the times when historically, religious education attendance for children and youth tends to dip. It’s hard to bundle up and trudge out in the cold (and maybe the ice and the snow); so much nicer to stay by the fire, the computer, the book and the hot cup of tea or cocoa.

And yet, in this winter — and in this particular year — I want to encourage you to make the effort to get yourself to church, and for your family to do so as well. If there was ever a time when people – particularly people of faith — need to gather in supportive community; to learn and share and grow with one another – this is that year. It’s tough and cold out there, in every sense that those words can convey. Come in to a place where you can find acceptance, support, learning and shared perspectives. Come to church.

And there’s more: this is a time when words – the meaning and intent of them – is being called into question. Religious professionals – those of us who preach and teach and write and plan – use words to convey all that we and you are about. And in the world out there, right now, we’re finding that the meaning of words is unclear sometimes (most recently, I find myself wondering about the term “alternative facts” and the way misinformation and outright lies get thrown around frequently enough that the uninformed public begins to believe them).

Words matter. For children, and for adults as well. Stephen Sondheim in his brilliant musical, “Into the Woods” reminded us: “Careful of what you say – children will listen…and learn.” Last night, at a meeting in Follen’s Library, I found that someone – I would say, clearly, a child from the handwriting – had written on a book plate tagging “Anti-Racism Books to Borrow,” a four-letter word with an obscene symbol. I don’t know why the child wrote that. I don’t know what was going on in their head. What I do know is, we’d all like to believe that these things don’t happen in Unitarian Universalist congregations, and certainly not in this church.

But they do, of course, because that’s the way the world is, particularly right now. All of us – by our actions and our words – model for each other what is acceptable and otherwise. All of us have the opportunity to teach, and to be students, about what civil discourse and respectful behavior means – even when we don’t agree with something that has been said or done. And all of us have the opportunity and (I would add) the obligation to speak out when something occurs that is out of relationship with our faith’s principles and our own moral ethics.

I hope that you all – parents or not, signed Follen members or not – will take your opportunity for contributing to the larger dialogue and action we all have the opportunity to engage in – with care, with commitment, and yes, with love –seriously. I am a fervent believer in our ability, as mere human beings, to be able to change our world for the better. We do that through our words and our actions.

It begins here, now, with care. May it be so.


Faithfully yours,

Deborah Weiner, Interim Director of Religious Education