Foreign Exchange Students in the South

Overall I would say that I have had a good life.  There is one experience, however, that I wish was made available to me as a teen or even as a college student.  That experience is that of being a foreign exchange student.   I have met students from other countries and their experiences are always enriched by living in a different culture, meeting new people, experiencing new ideas of how things could be done resulting in the same positive outcome.   It enables the development of tolerance for the different in our humanity.  It broadens understandings between peoples.

I have been pleased to learn of my niece’s experiences of her studying abroad in several countries.  Even when she ran into anti-American sentiment in a country, I thought this was a good experience to have.  Hearing opinions that vastly differ from our world-view  is an important experience to have. 

I recently was approached by an organization that arranges for students from other countries to come here to study.  The coordinator for Mississippi said, ” …I have a hard time getting families that will be accepting to the Muslim students from the Middle East or Buddhist from Asia.”    What a missed opportunity for a family to reject a student from these regions of the world.  She was hoping based on what she has heard about our faith, that Unitarian Universalists would be welcoming of these students.

What a gift it would be for a student from the Middle East to live in a country where religious freedom is the value here.   What a gift it would be for a student from Asia.  What a gift it would be for the family to welcome a student from another country and learn that the values this student has learned from their country are the same values we teach our children. 

Our world, I’ve heard it said, is shrinking into a smaller and smaller neighborhood.  Here is an opportunity to get to know our neighbors, one person at a time, perhaps, but O what a wonderful gift it would be.  For more information on sponsoring an exchange student contact AYUSA.


Published in: on January 23, 2009 at 10:45 am  Comments Off on Foreign Exchange Students in the South  
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Are Unitarian Universalists leaven for America?

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” Matthew 13:33 

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has reported its findings yesterday regarding religious tolerance in the New York Times.   The story stated, ” … 70 percent of Americans affiliated with a religion or denomination said they agreed that ‘many religions can lead to eternal life,’ including majorities among Protestants and Catholics.  Among Evangelical Christians, 57 percent agreed with the statement, and among Catholics, 79 percent did.  Among minority faiths, more than 80 percent of Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists, agreed with the statement, and more than half of Muslims did.”

God and Diplomacy

The findings as reported does not indicate if this tolerance in other’s religious beliefs is a shift from intolerance or if Americans were always more tolerant of religious beliefs?   The question for me, is what role, if any,  did Unitarian Universalist’s play in this attitude?  As a faith, Unitarian Universalists acceptance in right of conscience, in the personal quest for truth and meaning, has meant that we recognize that all faith journeys are valid for salvation, regardless of how we might define the word salvation. 

While it may be presumptuous to think that our minority faith has had any impact on the larger whole towards tolerance, does presumption mean it is therefore beyond consideration?  Long before I became an official Unitarian Universalist, I was always impressed with the Unitarian Universalists that I knew with their openness and acceptance of other point of views.  Unitarian Universalists seemed to role model this concept for me in ways that my conservative charismatic Christian faith did not. 

And not that my charismatic Christian friends were not tolerant of others, they were but it was done in the arrogant tolerance sort of way.  I mean there was always this ‘I will tolerate your position because you simply don’t know better yet’ attitude.  Once you knew better and you decided to reject their message, all tolerance bets were off.    While Unitarian Universalists are not immune to this sort of arrogance, we tend to be aware of its tendency and confront it because deep down we also know that humanly we only have a piece of the universal truth.  And not a very big piece at that. 

We tend to embrace the wisdom of Buddha, where he tells the story of four blind men trying to describe what an elephant [metaphor for Truth] looks like.  An elephant is like a trunk of a tree…  no no an elephant is like a huge wall… no no an elephant is like a whip…  NO! You are all wrong, an elephant is like a serpentining serpent…  All were correct in their experiences of the elephant; legs, body, tail, and trunk.  We each may have a piece of the Truth but our limited experiences and senses fail to see the whole picture.  This is one important reason why we need to be in community with each other so we can hear others experiences of Truth in the hopes of enlarging our conception of our elephant. 

Even if, American’s have generally had a broad tolerance for other faiths, in what ways can Unitarian Universalists be the leaven that leavens the whole of America?  Jesus stated this is what the Kingdom of Heaven was like; placing leaven (yeast) in flour and soon it was all leavened with yeast.  We can live our lives like that.  Our values, our principles that we seek to uphold, can be leaven for the society in which we live.  Blessings,