CliF Notes

A curriculum for families and small groups


January 2018


What is Sin? What is Salvation?

Week One – January 7th

Adam, Eve, and Original Sin


Supplies Needed: Apples, stories below, costumes or props such as “fig leaves” if desired


Chalice Lighting

We light this flame to guide our search for truth, and to remind us to look on the world with bright eyes, and to meet the world with warm hearts.


We are Unitarian Universalists (shape hands fingers up to form two “Us”)

This is the home of the open mind (touch fingers to forehead and open out)

This is the home of the flaming chalice that lights our way to truth. (cup hands thumbs out and hold up)

This is the home of the loving heart (fold hands over heart)

This is the home of the helping hands (hold hands out)

Together we care for our earth

And work for peace in our world. (join hands amongst the group)


Or, for older kids:


In the freedom of truth

and the love of justice

We bring all that we are

to shape what we yet can be.


Check in

You may wish to start this check-in time with the words “We are a family (or community). What touches one of us touches all of us, and so we take this time to listen to each person remember and share one thing from the past week that made a difference in their life – something that made them happy, or sad, or proud or sorry or grateful.”



Give an apple to each participant. Ask everyone to examine their apple in silence. What color, or combination of colors, is it? What shape? Is it even all the way around, or does it have dips and bulges? How much can you know about an apple from looking at the outside? Can you tell the taste? The texture? Does the inside look like the outside? Use your imagination to picture the inside of the apple, the way it looks and smells and tastes and feels. Hold the apple for a short while longer in silence, then set it down by the chalice. (We’ll eat the apples at closing, so people will need to wait before chomping them.)



Two words that get used a lot when people are talking about theology are “sin” and “salvation.” Have you heard these words before? What do you think they might mean? As with any big question, theological, words, there are lots of different answers, without any one necessarily being exactly right. But in a general way, “sin” means doing something bad, making a choice that hurts someone else or yourself. “Salvation” is an even trickier word. It comes from a root word that means “healing” – if you think about it, “salvation” has the same starting letters in it as “salve,” which is something you put on a cut or injury to help it get better. For many people, salvation means the way you get to heaven, or the way you get fixed from all your sins or bad choices.


We’re going to pass around our question bowl after a moment of silence, and when it gets to you, I invite you to share any questions that come to mind for you about the words “sin” and “salvation.”                                              



One of the most famous religious stories in the world, and one that shapes a lot of Christian theology, especially about sin and salvation, is the story of Adam and Eve. This story comes from the beginning part of what is sometimes called the Old Testament, the first, Jewish, section of the Bible. A better name for this collection of writings is the Hebrew Scriptures, since they were written in the Hebrew language. Or, you could call it the Torah, which is what Jewish people call it.  Anyway, to help our thinking about this story, we’re going to try a couple of different versions of the story. First we’ll hear it pretty much straight as it is in the Bible (translated into English, of course, and shortened up a little).


 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
 When God made the earth and the heavens—and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, the God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

 Now God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a partner suitable for him.”

Now God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.

But for Adam no suitable partner was found. So God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ “

”You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from God among the trees of the garden. But God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

 So God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
       “Cursed are you above all the livestock
       and all the wild animals!
       You will crawl on your belly
       and you will eat dust
       all the days of your life.

To the woman he said,
       “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
       with pain you will give birth to children.
       Your desire will be for your husband,
       and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
       “Cursed is the ground because of you;
       through painful work you will eat of it
       all the days of your life.

       It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

       By the sweat of your brow
       you will eat your food
       until you return to the ground,
       since from it you were taken;
       for dust you are
       and to dust you will return.”


God made clothing of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.



What do you think is the one who sins in this story? (Some possibilities might be: Eve eating the apple, the snake tempting the woman, Adam blaming Eve for his choice, God punishing the people so harshly, etc.) Some Christians believe that because the first people sinned by disobeying God, that all people have been born with “original sin,” that people are born guilty of sin before they have even done anything. Generally, Unitarian Universalists don’t believe this, but it does seem true that people are built in such a way that all of us do make bad choices some of the time. Do you think people are sinful? What does that mean?


Story, version two

Here’s another version of the same story, told by Steve Botts, a Unitarian Universalist from the Community Unitarian Universalist Church of  San Antonio, Texas. (Note, you might want to have three children act out the story as a leader, or a series of different participants, reads the story.)


Steven Botts


According to the Bible, Adam and Eve were the first man and the first woman. God created them already grown up and put them in a place called the Garden of Eden, where they could find everything they needed to live and where they could enjoy life.

The problem I have with this story the way it’s written in the Bible is that it leaves out a lot of the stuff about how Adam and Eve learned how to live in the garden and how to treat each other and how to take care of things around them. In other words, Adam and Eve may have had grown-up bodies, but surely they were like babies when they were first made and they must have had a lot to learn.

This is the way I think things might have happened: Since Adam and Eve didn’t have a mother or a father to take care of them, God had to spend a lot of time with them at first. God had to teach them to speak and God listened while they babbled and made baby talk. Then, God had to show them how to walk, and watched while they crawled, and then stumbled and fell when they took their first steps.

When they could get around better, God stopped bringing them food so often and started to show them the things in the garden they could eat and the things they had better leave alone. God especially warned them about a tree that stood right in the middle of the garden. Whatever you do, God told them, don’t eat the fruit of that tree. It’s the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and if you eat its fruit, or if you even touch it, you are going to have some problems you aren’t ready to deal with.

God had to watch them pretty closely for a while to keep them from hurting themselves, so they didn’t fall into a stream and drown or fall out of a tree and break their necks. God also introduced them to all the animals in the garden and showed them which ones they could play with, like the cats and the dogs, and which ones they had better leave alone, like the lions and the tigers.

When Adam and Eve got so they could take care of themselves a little better, God started letting them go off by themselves for a while. Adam and Eve learned so quickly about living in the garden that God decided to just let them stay by themselves all day, with God just stopping by in the evenings.

This went on for a long time. God would stop by and Adam and Eve would tell God what they had been learning. Sometimes they would just laugh and dance and sing, but sometimes they had problems to ask God about. For instance there was the time Eve got scratched by a cat and the time Adam got sprayed by a skunk and God had to help them figure out how to keep stuff like that from happening. Adam and Eve were getting smarter and smarter. In fact, they got so smart that they started thinking about things they had never thought about before.

One day, while they were sitting in the shade of a tree next to the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam said, “I wonder why God wants us to stay away from that tree. I can’t see that it’s really different from any other tree in the garden.”

“Look,” said Eve, “there’s a snake in the tree. The tree’s not bothering that snake.” Then Adam said, “Yeah, and I see birds and animals in that tree all the time. The tree doesn’t seem to hurt them.”

“You know what I think?” Eve said, “I think God just wants us to stay dumb and not know anything about good and evil like God does. I think I’ll just climb up there and pick some of the fruit.”

“Pick some for me, too,” said Adam. “I don’t want you to be smarter than me. Besides, I’m tired of God always telling us what to do.”

Eve climbed the tree, picked some of the fruit, and tossed it down to Adam. “You sure we should eat this?” Adam asked as they sat on the ground with the fruit in their hands. “Well,” said Eve, “if we don’t, I guess we’ll never know. We might be missing something really great.” Adam nodded his head and they both took a bite.

As they sat and ate, Eve said, “Well, it tastes okay, but I don’t feel any different.”

“Me neither,” said Adam, “but let’s not tell God. God will be mad at us for doing something God told us not to do.”

They were so worried about God being angry that when God came looking for them that evening, they hid themselves. But God soon found them behind a bush. He took one look and said, “Well, I see you’ve been into that tree I told you to stay away from.”

“Who, us? What makes you say that, God?” said Adam.

“Well, you were hiding from me. I think you’re hiding something else, too.”

Adam hung his head and said, “Well, it’s Eve’s fault. She climbed the tree and picked the fruit.”

Eve spoke up and said, “It’s the snake’s fault. I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t seen the snake in the tree.”

“You’re mad at us, aren’t you, God?” said Adam.

“No,” said God, “I’m not mad, so you might as well stop trying to pass the blame. I always knew you were going to eat the fruit of that tree someday. That’s why I planted it right in the middle of the garden, so you’d see it every day and never forget about it.”

Adam was puzzled. “Why did you want us to eat it when you’d told us not to?” he asked.

“And what’s so special about that tree, anyway?” said Eve.

“Well,” said God, “you’ve been growing in your minds and you’ve been changing. Up until now, you’ve always done whatever I told you unless you forgot. But you picked and ate that fruit on purpose. You did it because you wanted to change and grow some more, so you ate the fruit even though you were afraid to.

“As far as the tree is concerned,” God went on, “there’s nothing special about it at all. It’s just a tree. I put it there and told you not to eat from it so that I’d know when you wanted to know about good and evil bad enough that you’d take a big risk to find out.” Then God paused. “Do you understand?” God asked.

Adam shook his head. “Not really,” he said.

“Me either,” said Eve. “Are you going to teach us about good and evil now?”

“No,” said God. “It doesn’t work that way. You’ve already learned about as much as you can about good and evil here in the garden. You’re going to have to go out into the world to learn more. Life in the garden is too easy for you now.”

Then God said, “Come walk with me,” and they walked toward the edge of the garden. “You see,” said God, “you’ve started to question why things are the way they are and what’s right and what’s wrong. When you start doing that, you don’t stop. I know that because I made you the way you are. And there’s something else. There’s something in you called imagination. Imagination lets you create things in your minds that never existed before and then makes them real. That’s how I made the world.

“You haven’t needed much imagination in the garden,” God went on, “because things here have been just about perfect. But out in the world, you’re going to have to imagine the way you want things to be and then make them that way. Also you’re going to have to decide what things to change and what things to leave alone. It’s not going to be easy making the world right for you. I should know. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me just to make it the way it is. Sometimes you’re going to make things better and sometimes you’re going to make them worse.

“And one last thing,” said God. “When you do things wrong, just imagine how they could be better. Don’t try to cover it up and don’t blame somebody else, like you tried to do about eating the fruit from that tree. That can get to be a very bad habit. When you really get stuck, just get really quiet and think of me, and I’ll be there to help. But I’m going to speak to you very quietly and I’m not going to make you do anything.” Then, as they reached the edge of the garden, God asked, “Can you remember what I’ve told you?”

“Well,” said Adam, “we’ll try.”

“But you know we forget sometimes,” said Eve.

“Yes,” God said, “I know, I know.”

And Adam and Eve stepped out into the world.



In this version of the story, the choice Adam and Eve made to eat the fruit doesn’t seem so bad. Which version makes the most sense to you? Does the second version do anything to help explain why people make bad choices so often?


Have each person pick up the apple they held during the centering. Ask each person to share what they would have done if they had been Adam or Eve in the story? Why would they make that choice? When everyone has had a chance to speak, say “Whether or not Eve and Adam made a good choice in the story to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, trying to understand good and evil is part of what we do in exploring theology. So I invite you to go ahead and eat your apple, and experience for yourself what it is like on the inside.”

Week Two – January 14th


Martin Luther King Jr. Day


Supplies needed:


Opening Words/Chalice Lighting


Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime;

Therefore we are saved by hope….

Nothing we do, however good, can be accomplished alone;

Therefore we are saved by love.

No good act is quite as good from the standpoint of our friend or enemy as from our own;

Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.

--Reinhold Neibuhr (adapted)


Check-in (see week one)



Sing “We Shall Overcome” (#169 in Singing the Living Tradition)


We shall overcome,

We shall overcome,

We shall overcome some day,

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe

That we shall overcome some day.


We’ll walk hand in hand….


We shall all be free….


We shall live in peace….


See here for the tune.



We’ve been talking this month about the ideas of sin and salvation. For some people, salvation is about what happens after you die, and whether you go to heaven. But most Unitarian Universalists are more concerned with how we deal with sin – bad choices and broken relationships – in this world, and feel like salvation is about trying to fix those bad choices and heal those relationships. Tomorrow many people in the United States have a day off from school or work to honor the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister who believed in heaven, but he was also a man who gave his life to healing the sin of racism, and to helping people find salvation – healing – through non-violent ways of making change.



Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta Georgia. His father was the minister of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, as was his father before him

“M.L.,” as he was called, lived with his parents, his sister and brother in Atlanta, Georgia. Their home was not far from the church his father preached at

M.L.’s mother and father taught their children what would become an important part of M.L.’s life - to treat all people with respect. Martin’s father worked hard to break down the barriers between the races. His father believed African-Americans should register their complaints by voting.

As M.L. grew up he found that not everyone followed his parent’s principles. He noticed that “black” people and white people where treated differently. He saw that he and his white friends could not drink from the same water fountains and could not use the same restrooms

M.L.’s best friend as a child was a white boy and as children they played happily together. But when they reached school age the friends found that even though they lived in the same neighborhood, they could not go to the same school. M.L.’s friend would go to a school for white children only and M.L. was sent to a school for “black” children. After the first day of school M.L. and his friend were never allowed to play together again

When M.L. was ready for college he decided to follow his father and become a minister. While attending the Crozer Theological seminary in Pennsylvania he became familiar with Mahatma Gandhi, who had struggled to free the people of India from British rule by “peaceful revolution.”

M.L. was also inspired by the work of Henry David Thoreau, particularly his essay called “Civil Disobedience.” It stated that if enough people would follow their conscience and disobey unjust laws, they could bring about a peaceful revolution.

It was also at college that M.L. met a young woman named Coretta Scott and they would eventually marry. In 1954 M.L. received his PhD. and accepted the job of pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama .

Martin Luther King, Jr. would now be addressed as “Dr. King”

Dr. King’s involvement with the civil rights movement began with the arrest of Mrs. Rosa Parks on December 1st , 1955. Mrs. Parks, a African-American seamstress on her way home from work, was arrested for not giving a white bus rider her seat. Mrs. Parks was not the first African-American to be arrested for this “crime”, but she was well known in the Montgomery African-American community.

Dr. King and the other African-American community leaders felt a protest was needed. The African-American residents of the city were asked to boycott the bus company by walking and driving instead. The United States Supreme Court would end the boycott, which lasted 381 days, by declaring that Alabama’s state and local laws requiring segregation on buses were illegal. The boycott was a success and Dr. King had showed that peaceful mass action could bring about change.

In January 1957 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLSC) was formed with Dr. King as their president. The following May 17, Dr. King would lead a mass march of 37,000 people to the front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

Dr. King had become the undisputed leader of the civil rights movement.

Partly in response to the march, on September 9, 1957, the US Congress created the Civil Rights Commission and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, an official body with the authority to investigate unfair voting practices.

Dr. King and the SCLC organized drives for African-American voter registration, desegregation, and better education and housing throughout the South. Dr. King continued to speak. He went to many cities and towns. He was greeted by crowds of people who wanted to hear him speak. He said all people have the right to equal treatment under the law. Many people believed in these civil rights and worked hard for them.

In January 1963 Dr. King announced he and the Freedom Fighters would go to Birmingham to fight the segregation laws. An injunction was issued forbidding any demonstrations and Dr. King and the others were arrested.

Upon his release there were more peaceful demonstrations. The police retaliated with water hoses, tear gas and dogs. All this happened in the presence of television news cameras. It would be the first time the world would see the brutality that the southern African-Americans endured. The news coverage would help bring about changes as many Americans were disgusted and ashamed by the cruelty and hatred.

Continuing the fight for civil rights, and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation which declared slavery illegal, on August 28, 1963 200,000 people gathered in the front to the Lincoln Memorial. It was a peaceful protest, made up of African-Americans and whites, young and old. Most had come to hear Dr. King deliver his famous “I have a dream” speech.

1964 would be a good year for Dr. King and the civil rights movement. Dr. King was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as someone who “had contributed the most to the furtherance of peace among men.” Dr. King would divide the prize money, $54,000, among various civil rights organizations.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. It guaranteed that “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination.”

In the winter of 1965 Dr. King led a march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital in Montgomery to demand voting reforms. 600 marchers would begin the march but after 6 blocks the marchers were met by a wall of state troupers. When the troopers with clubs, whips and tear gas advanced on the marchers it was described “as a battle zone.” The marchers were driven back while on the sidewalks whites cheered. 2 ministers, 1 white and 1 African-American, were killed and over 70 were injured with 17 hospitalized. It was the most violent confrontation Dr. King had experienced.

A court order overturning the injunction against the march was issued and the marchers were allowed to proceed. When they arrived in Montgomery the marchers were greeted by 25,000 supporters singing ‘We Shall Overcome.” On August 6, 1965 a voting rights bill was passed allowing African-Americans to vote.

Dr. King believed that poverty caused much of the unrest in America. Not only poverty for African-Americans, but poor whites, Hispanics and Asians. Dr. King believed that the United States involvement in Vietnam was also a factor and that the war poisoned the atmosphere of the whole country and made the solution of local problems of human relations unrealistic.

This caused friction between King and the African-American leaders who felt that their problems deserved priority and that the African-American leadership should concentrate on fighting racial injustice at home. But by early 1967 Dr. King had become associated with the antiwar movement

Dr. King continued his campaign for world peace. He traveled across America to support and speak out about civil rights and the rights of the underprivileged.

In April 1968 Dr. King went to Memphis, Tennessee to help the sanitation workers who were on strike. On April 3rd Dr. King would give what would be his last speech:

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I have been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now.

I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.

I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m not fearing any man.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord”

The following day, April 4 1968, as he was leaving his motel room Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed. He has been dead for almost 40 years now, but the ideas he worked for have certainly lived on, as more and more people accept that we are all neighbors, and all deserve to be treated with respect.

(adapted from


Although the laws which allowed the segregation of Black people from white people have changed, it happens all the time that people are treated unfairly for one reason or another. And people everywhere and people of all ages have opportunities to speak up for fairness or to create healing. We’re going to try out some of these opportunities by acting out some mini-plays. But the scripts only set the stage. We’ll need to come up with the solutions to the problems ourselves. (Select kids to act out the parts, but involve everyone in coming up with suggestions for what they might do if they were there. If you like, act out the favorite solutions as well.)


Scenario 1

RICK: What do you think of that new guy in class?

GREG: He seems kind of weird.

JOSH: Yeah, I mean, what kind of a name is Harvinder?

GREG: A weird name.

RICK: And what’s up with that funny topknot turban he wears on his head? Does he ever take it off? Like, does he leave it on in the shower?

JOSH: Probably not, and that’s why he smells funny.

RiCK: Well, I think we should just go over there and pull that turban thingy off him. Let him try looking like a normal person for once.



If you are standing by and hear this conversation what do you do? What do you do if Rick, Greg and Josh are your friends? What do you do if you don’t know them?


Scenario 2

SHANNON: Hi, Mr. Jacobs. I heard the announcement about the new rugby team starting, and I wanted to sign up.

MR. JACOBS: (laughs) You’re kidding, right? Rugby isn’t a girl’s sport.

SHANNON: Why not?

MR. JACOBS: It’s a very rough game. You’d get flattened out there. It just isn’t safe.

SHANNON: Well, I’m a pretty tough girl. I play soccer, and I’ve gotten kicked before, lots of times. I can handle it.

MR. JACOBS: You say that now, but you don’t even know what the game is like. No, I’m sorry, but no girls.

What do you do if you are Shannon? What do you do if you are Shannon’s mom or dad?  What do you do if you are Shannon’s friend?


Scenario 3

 KIMI: Mrs. Brown, Anayah didn’t say the Pledge of Allegiance!

MRS. BROWN: Anayah, is that true? What’s going on?

ANAYAH: Well, I just didn’t say some of it.

MRS. BROWN: What do you mean?

ANAYAH: The Pledge says, “One nation, under God,” and I don’t think I believe in God.

MRS. BROWN: But honey, everyone says the Pledge of Allegiance. If you don’t, you’re not only breaking the rules, you’re not being a good American.

KIMI: Nobody much thinks about what the Pledge of Allegiance means, anyway. I’m not sure I even know what “allegiance” means. Why not just say it?

ANAYAH: Well, I know that a pledge is a promise, and I don’t want to promise something that I don’t think is true.

MRS. BROWN: Well, in my class everyone says the Pledge of Allegiance. That’s the rule. We don’t always have to like the rules, but we do have to follow them.

What would you do if you were a kid in Mrs. Brown’s class? What would you do if you were Ananyah’s mom or dad? What would you do if you were a friend of Anayah’s in another class?


Discussion: Do you think that things always turn out the way you hoped when you stand up against people being unkind or unfair? Do you think that “salvation” – some kind of healing – might happen even when you can’t fix the problem?


Closing Words

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.


Week Three—January 21st

What is Salvation, and Who Gets It? (Hosea Ballou)


Supplies Needed:


Chalice Lighting


We light this flame to guide our search for truth, and to remind us to look on the world with bright eyes, and to meet the world with warm hearts.


We are Unitarian Universalists (shape hands fingers up to form two “Us”)

This is the home of the open mind (touch fingers to forehead and open out)

This is the home of the flaming chalice that lights our way to truth. (cup hands thumbs out and hold up)

This is the home of the loving heart (fold hands over heart)

This is the home of the helping hands (hold hands out)

Together we care for our earth

And work for peace in our world. (join hands amongst the group)


Or, for older kids:

In the freedom of truth

and the love of justice

We bring all that we are

to shape what we yet can be.


Check in

You may wish to start this check-in time with the words “We are a family (or community). What touches one of us touches all of us, and so we take this time to listen to each person remember and share one thing from the past week that made a difference in their life – something that made them happy, or sad, or proud or sorry or grateful.”



Sing “Come, Come, Whoever You Are” (#188 in Singing the Living Tradition)


Come, come, whoever you are,

Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.

Ours is no caravan of despair,

Come, yet again, come.


You can find the tune here.



Last week we talked about the idea of sin and the story of Adam and Eve. We talked about how some people believe in “original sin,” that because Adam and Eve disobeyed God, that all people who came after them were guilty. We also talked about how most UUs believe think that the Adam and Eve story is just that, a story, but one which might help to explain why people know right from wrong, but still might make bad choices anyway.

When people talk about their theology of sin, they often also talk about their theology of salvation. Salvation has to do with how we recover from the effects of sin, and for some people it refers to how people are fixed up from their sins so that they can go to heaven. Some Christians believe that people can’t recover from their sinfulness on their own, and that salvation comes only through being saved by Jesus Christ. Unitarian Universalists have a different take on the subject. In fact, the “Universalist” part of our name comes from a theological belief that is an important part of our history. To learn what a Universalist is, let’s hear the story of Hosea Ballou, a man who was one of the founders of Universalism in the United States.



Born in New Hampshire in 1771, Hosea Ballou was the son of a Baptist minister. He grew up hearing sermons filled with the hell-fire and brimstone beliefs of the day. His father preached often, and energetically, about how people were full of sin and evil, and that most people would suffer in Hell after they died because of their sinfulness. Like many people of his time, Hosea’s father believed that only a few people were chosen by God for salvation, and would go to heaven after they died. Everyone else, they believed, God was going to punish for their bad, sinful nature.

Even as a boy, Hosea questioned his father about what God was like. He asked whether a God who was good would actually make creatures for the purpose of punishment forever. Wouldn’t this make God evil? Also, why would a good God be kind only to some and not others? His father could not give an answer. 

Hosea became a preacher like his father, and almost immediately began preaching a gospel of universal salvation, the idea that all souls would be saved from eternal punishment. This was a shocking point of view in a day when most protestant groups preached that humankind was hopelessly full of sin and evil. While most people of his day thought that the point of religion was for people to make God happy, Hosea said that what God wanted most was to make people happy. He said that people talked about God as a father, but what parent would choose some of his children to be miserable forever? Hosea thought it made much more sense that God, like any good parent, would want us to be as happy and whole as possible. He thought that bad behavior made people unhappy in this lifetime, and that we should choose to be responsible and kind and caring because that’s the best way to live, not out of fear of punishment. The center of what Hosea had to share was the idea of love—that God was love, and that love was available without limit to everybody.   

  Hosea served several churches, riding around the countryside preaching his good news of universal salvation. There are many stories of the clever answers that he came up with on the spot, as people argued with him about theology. For instance, Hosea was riding between churches in the New Hampshire hills with a Baptist preacher one afternoon. They argued theology as they traveled. At one point, the Baptist looked over and said, “Brother Ballou, if I were a Universalist and feared not the fires of hell, I could hit you over the head, steal your horse and saddle, and ride away, and I’d still go to heaven.” Hosea Ballou looked over at him and said, “If you were a Universalist, the idea would never occur to you.”

Another story goes that Ballou was riding the circuit again when he stopped for the night at a New England farmhouse. The farmer was upset. He confided to Ballou that his son was a terror who got drunk in the village every night and who fooled around with women. The farmer was afraid the son would go to hell. “All right,” said Ballou with a serious face. “We’ll find a place on the path where your son will be coming home drunk, and we’ll build a big fire, and when he comes home, we’ll grab him and throw him into it.” The farmer was shocked: “That’s my son and I love him!” Ballou said, “If you, a human and imperfect father, love your son so much that you wouldn’t throw him in the fire, then how can you possibly believe that God, the perfect father, would do so!”

Eventually, Hosea became minister of Boston’s Second Universalist Church, where he served for 35 years, preaching to a packed hall as many as three times a Sunday. Eventually, he left that church, but he continued riding around and preaching his message of love until he was 81 years old. By that time, many Universalists called him “Father Ballou,” since his tireless dedication to preaching the idea of love and salvation for all had made him the father of Universalism.



Play a series of games of tag, varying the rules about what constitutes “safe” and “out.” Start with a game in which there is there is no safe zone, and anyone who is tagged out has to go and sit down by themselves without talking until the end of the game (or for a few minutes if only a few people are playing the game). Try playing a round in which the whole area is “base,” and no one can get tagged out. Play a round of freeze tag, in which people who are tagged have to freeze in place, but they can be released by any other player who comes by and tags them. Play a round in which anyone who is tagged can put themselves back in the game by shouting out something nice about another person in the room.



Our different kinds of tag were kind of like different theologies about salvation. How did it feel in the first game when, if you were out, you were out permanently, and in a way that might feel like punishment? How did it feel when everywhere was “safe?” Do you think that version of the game might be a little like the situation in the Adam and Eve story last week before they ate the forbidden fruit? Do you think life would be very interesting if we didn’t get to make choices about whether we did good or bad? How did it feel knowing that someone else could come and “save” you? How did it feel when you could save yourself by doing something nice for another person?



Our closing reading is an excerpt from a poem by George Herbert. See if you can tell how this poem might agree with what Hosea Ballou had to say about salvation:


Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lacked anything.


“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”;

Love said, “You shall be he.”

“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? Ah my dear,

I cannot look on thee.”

Love took my hand and smiling did reply,

“Who made the eyes but I?”


“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”

So I did sit and eat.

Week Four—January 28th

What is Repentance?


Supplies Needed: A variety of “trash” objects or items from recycling bin for art project.


Chalice Lighting

We light this flame to guide our search for truth, and to remind us to look on the world with bright eyes, and to meet the world with warm hearts.


We are Unitarian Universalists (shape hands fingers up to form two “Us”)

This is the home of the open mind (touch fingers to forehead and open out)

This is the home of the flaming chalice that lights our way to truth. (cup hands thumbs out and hold up)

This is the home of the loving heart (fold hands over heart)

This is the home of the helping hands (hold hands out)

Together we care for our earth

And work for peace in our world. (join hands amongst the group)


Or, for older kids:


In the freedom of truth

and the love of justice

We bring all that we are

to shape what we yet can be.


Check in

You may wish to start this check-in time with the words “We are a family (or community). What touches one of us touches all of us, and so we take this time to listen to each person remember and share one thing from the past week that made a difference in their life – something that made them happy, or sad, or proud or sorry or grateful.”



Have participants sit in a circle holding hands. Have everyone close their eyes. Explain that when they feel the pulse of someone squeezing their hand they should squeeze the hand of the person on the other side of them, so that the pulse continues around the circle. When you have done this a couple of times successfully, give each person the chance to be the pulse “switcher.” The switcher returns the pulse to the same hand that received it, thereby sending the pulse around in the opposite direction.



We’ve been talking this month about the ideas of sin and salvation – about the ways that people make bad choices or break relationships, and about how things can be healed or made whole. This week we’re going to talk about one more theological word that goes together with the words sin and salvation. That word is “repentance.” Repentance is basically means realizing that you’ve done wrong and choosing to try to fix the problem you’ve created. At the very least, it means feeling sorry for the hurt you have caused and becoming determined to do better in the future.



The Dog and the Heartless King

A Story from India

Once upon a time there lived a King who cared for nobody but himself. He had grown rich from the high taxes he had forced his people to pay, while they had become poorer and poorer. He lived in a gorgeous palace, while the poor men who built it for him still lived in thatched huts and tumble-down hovels. The King’s table was always heaped with delicious foods, while most of his people had only one plain meal a day, and sometimes not even that. But the heartless king did not care. If he had what he wanted, that was enough for him to think about.

One day a hunter came to the palace gate, intending to teach the heartless King a lesson. The hunter brought with him an enormous dog. The King was fond of hunting and this enormous dog fascinated him. So the man and dog were both welcomed into the palace grounds.

But the enormous dog was no ordinary dog, and his bark was like the roar of thunder. The first time he opened his big mouth and barked, the awful noise shook the walls of the palace and frightened the King and all his courtiers. If the dog had stopped with one or two barks, the matter might have been forgotten.

But again and again his fierce roaring shook the earth. Before long there was no resting between barks. Nobody in the palace could hear himself talk. The King was desperate and sent for the hunter. He asked:

“Why does your dog make such a deafening noise?”

“The dog is hungry,” said the hunter.

Immediately the King ordered that a big plateful of meat be brought. In almost no time at all, the enormous dog licked the plate clean. Then at once he began barking again.

A second plateful of meat was brought. This was dis­posed of just as quickly as the first Again the dog began barking.

Over and over the plate was filled, and over and over the enormous dog quickly made away with the whole plateful and began barking as loudly as ever. The King was angry. He called the hunter and said:

“You and your dog must leave the palace at once. We cannot endure this deafening noise any longer.” But the hunter was firm.

“Your Majesty, we have been sent to you by One greater than you are. We are here to stay.” The King was fright­ened. He grasped the arms of his chair and stared at the hunter. The King was not accustomed to having anyone speak to him in this manner.

“Will nothing satisfy the hunger of your enormous dog?” he said at last

“Nothing that is easy for you to give. He might be satisfied if he were given the flesh of his enemies to eat.”

“Who are the dog’s enemies?” asked the King in sur­prise.

“Those who are keeping the people of this country always hungry. Those who are eating all the food there is, and who are not dividing it with those who do the work in the fields to make the food grow. Your Majesty, so long as there are any people in your kingdom who are kept hungry this dog will bark.”

On hearing the hunter say this, the King was even more frightened than ever. It had never before entered his thoughts that he had been doing anything wrong. He had supposed that the people of his kingdom should always do exactly what he wanted. It had never occurred to him that a King should think of the happiness of anyone except himself.

He was now angry from his head to his feet, inside and outside. Either he would go mad hearing the continuous barking of that enormous dog, or else something would have to be done and that very quickly. So he called his wise men together and said: “What shall I do?”

The wise men bowed their heads and walked off to think over the question together. But try as hard as they could, they could see only two possible things to do. Either the enormous dog must be killed or else every hungry person in the kingdom must be fed. No one of them was courageous enough to offer to kill the dog. So that meant there was only one thing left to do. Everybody in the kingdom must some­how be fed. The wise men were very clear in their minds about it. They returned to the King and told him plainly what had to be done. The King hesitated no longer.

“Put all the servants on the palace grounds to work at once!” he commanded. “Go to the storerooms and get all the bags of rice you can find. Pile them high on carts. Take also meat from my cupboards and gather vegetables and fruits from my gardens. Send men out with these loaded carts into all the towns and villages in my kingdom. Com­mand my servants to find all the people who are hungry. Give them generously of these foods until not a single man, woman or child in the land is hungry.”

The wise men hurried away to do as their King com­manded. Soon there was shouting and laughing, hustling and bustling all over the palace. In fact, the royal servants made so much noise that they forgot to listen to the barking of the enormous dog. Presently a long line of carts, piled high with bags and baskets of food, rolled out through the palace gate. All day long and day after day the carts kept going until they had gone to every village in the land and until food was taken to every house where somebody was hungry.

At last the day came when the enormous dog really stopped barking and lay down quietly beside the King’s chair. The dog was satisfied. All the people inside the palace ground were happy and at peace in their minds. Everywhere in the land everybody was contented.

The heartless King had learned his lesson.



Recycled Art

Repentance, we said, is about turning in a different direction, making a change that leads you toward a better future. The King in our story repented of his selfishness and decided to share his riches with the hungry people of his land. We’re going to play around with the idea of repentance by giving this trash the chance to head in a new direction as artwork, rather than garbage. (Invite the children to create sculptures or collages out of the assembled materials. With older kids, you might want to see whether you could individually or collectively make a model of the hungry dog from the story.)



The selfish king in the story repented. That is, he realized what he had been doing wrong, and took steps to change things. Have you ever had an experience where you realized you were in the wrong? What helped to see things differently? What did you do to change matters?



Invite participants to get out their journals and fill in the following sentences:


I think sin is….


I think salvation is….


I think repentance is….


Ideally, they would also include an example from their own life for each concept.



Have participants share what they wrote in their journals.