Questions from kids

These questions come from the forth grade Sunday School Class at The Eliot Church in Natick, MA.  The Eliot Church is a liberal Christian congregation affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ.  The answers provided here were given by their pastor, the Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot.

Why do people get baptized?  Why doesn’t taking a shower count?
The reasons for people getting baptized are many.  In some traditions, it is seen as a cleansing or washing away of sins.  In our church, most people think of it as a chance to present a child or adult to the congregation or community (like a family) to which he or she belongs.  During the ritual (also sometimes called a “dedication”), the community formally recognizes that person as a member and promises to care for that person. 

Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan.  That is why this particular John is called “the baptizer” (or “Baptist”).  Because of this, some traditions prefer to baptize people by “dunking” them in a body of water like a lake, river or ocean.  In some churches there is even a small pool or large bathtub where people can get baptized!  At Eliot, we usually just sprinkle some water on the person’s forehead and say a couple prayers. In either case, people tend to feel that the ritual is important and there should be witnesses.   This is why taking a shower doesn’t count!

However, no one has to be baptizedIt is worth noting that many members and friends of the Eliot Church never are.  This is OK, too.  Baptism is not a requirement for someone to belong to our church.  Also, being baptized does not necessarily make a person “better” than someone else. It is just something that is important to that person and his or her parents.  It is optional.

Why are there different religions?
Religions are formed when people have questions that they cannot answer in other ways.  For example “why is there evil in the world?”  “Why do people die?”  “How do I live a good life?”  Also, before the advent of science and the methods used to make scientific discoveries, religion had to answer other questions like “How did the planet get here?”  “Why are there so many different animals?” or “what makes people sick?”  People answer all these questions in different ways at different times.  So…there are different religions!  Some religions believe in God or a larger number of gods.  Other religions don’t believe in God but instead in some overarching theme or idea.

Why do we have a tree at Christmas?  Why do we color eggs? 
Some of our traditions come from earlier religions.  Bringing a tree or bush into you home started way before Christmas was a holiday and had to do with certain festivals celebrated by European tribes at that time.  It is meant to symbolize the presence of life in a time when most living things are hibernating.  These early traditions were centered on nature and the cycles of the seasons.  The egg, which symbolizes new life at the end of winter has similar origins.

Why do we get candy at Easter?
Candy at Easter and Halloween, just like Valentine’s Day cards, have more to do with people wanting to sell us stuff.  Still kinda fun though, isn’t it?

Why is it called “Good Friday”?  
No one is exactly sure.  One theory is that the word “good” got confused with the word “God”.  This is the same reason why we say “good-bye”.  In most languages, the name used for Good Friday has to do with mourning and sadness.

Why do clergy wear robes? 
Good question.  Not all ministers, priests and rabbis do wear robes and those who do wear them for different reasons depending on their tradition.  In the Unitarian Universalist tradition and in the United Church of Christ, we wear them (when we actually do wear them, which is not all the time) as a symbol of our education.  It is the same sort of robe that lawyers (in England) and judges (here as well as in England) sometimes wear and it is meant to convey a sense of authority based on advanced studies in (in the case of clergy) religion.

In some other traditions the ministers wear them to indicate that their authority comes from God.  This is not our tradition.  People at Eliot Church believe that everyone has as much a right as the minister to interpret God’s actions in the world and in their lives.  The minister just happens to have gone to school to learn how to help people with their own unique spiritual journeys.

Why do People say “Jesus is Lord”?
That’s actually not a phrase that we use too much at our church.  It has a couple of meanings, however, that aren’t exactly the same.  One interpretation is that it means “Jesus is God” or a part of a God with three different aspects (the Father, the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit).

The other interpretation is that Jesus is a ruler or king.  Of course, since he was born very poor, died young, and was never king of anything during his lifetime, it is an idea that stands for something else.  In fact, what we are often try to say with this phrase is that we should use Jesus’ teachings to order our lives on earth.  That is, though Jesus isn’t walking around, what he stood for and what he taught should rule the way we live.

Some people in our church believe in both these concepts. Some believe one.  Some believe neither of them.

How do we know when Jesus is born?
We don’t know, really, when Jesus was born.  We know within a few years (sometime between 1 and about 3 or 5 CE) when he was born.  However, we do not really know the day.  Christmas was moved to December 25 relatively late in the history of Christianity in order to compete with/be a part of the solstice celebrations that people usually had on the shortest day of the year.  In fact, when the Pilgrims and Puritans came to Massachusetts, they did not celebrate Christmas, believing that the early holidays were tainted by non-Christian practices.  After a while, however, people loosened up because it was so much fun.