Ellie Searl Stories



To spell out the obvious is often to call it in question. 
~Eric Hoffer

She shouted from across the street.  “Hey!  Do you people believe in Jesus Christ?”
I stopped raking and looked up.  She stood in her doorway, hands on hips, feet planted—square—like a drill sergeant, as if my answer could knock her over.  A full-length, flour-dusted apron covered her dress. 
 “Of course we do,” I said.  “He was a great leader . . . and teacher.  Everyone should follow his example.” 
Quick thinking.  Can’t argue with that.  I continue raking.
“But do you-all believe that the Bible is the word of God?”
I dragged a bunch of leaves into a pile.  “Great book, the Bible,” I said, and stretched the rake toward some thin branches at the base of the maple tree.  I reached down to disengage a twig from the prongs.  “Lots of good stories . . . good lessons.” I flashed Sunday School where I colored pictures of Jesus giving bread and wine to the hungry throng.  Jesus’s robe.  Periwinkle.  My favorite crayon.  “Especially for kids.”
So far, so good.  Maybe she'd go back to her biscuits.
"What about the miracles?  You guys believe in miracles?"
I hadn't memorized my thirty-second elevator speech about being a Unitarian Universalist.  Having been brought up Methodist, I knew what the traditional world thought of people who ventured into what was considered pagan territory.  Blasphemy.  I still struggled with putting my religious philosophy into concepts that described my spiritual leanings in such a way that those of the Christian faith wouldn’t view me as a wicked, irreverent heathen, who not only was hell-bent for, say, Hell, but also shouldn't be left alone with fire and children. 
I glanced at my front door and willed my phone to ring or Katie to call me inside or Ed to come out and take over the yard—and the conversation.
I nodded my head.  "Well now, weren't they just wonderful, those miracles,” I said.  "Changed a lot of people's lives, they did.  Hm-mm!”
It was October  of 1980, and Ed, Katie, and I had recently moved to Poland, a suburb of Youngstown, Ohio—the city where, two years before, Ed had begun his ministry at the Unitarian Church of Youngstown.
Until we bought a house in the suburbs, we rented a second story apartment on Elm Street near the church.  It was a perfect location.  Walking distance to church and Katie's elementary school, close to downtown Youngstown, and less than a mile from Youngstown State University, where I was enrolled as a graduate student.  Our city neighbors were cordial and welcoming, never seeming to wonder when we would start throwing devil darts in their direction.  But I wanted to build some home equity, and I wanted Katie to go to a "good" junior high school, so I insisted we buy a house in the suburbs, especially if we intended to stay in the area any length of time.
When Katie came home from her first day at Poland's middle school, she said, "I hate it there.  Everybody's white.  I can't tell them apart."  She slammed her books onto the kitchen table.  "They all wear horses on their shirts."  She looked at me.  "And why do they call black people, N-----rs?"
I didn't have a good answer for her, so I just said, "Some people are afraid of diversity, Katie.  They're afraid of things they don't understand or have no experience with."
Katie's previous elementary school was multi-cultural.  Whenever she talked about her school friends, she'd refer to them by their names and attributes – not nationality or race.  "Kevin is a good artist," she'd say.  Or "John is funny."  Or "Margie is smart."   It wasn't until she brought home her class picture that I learned that Kevin was Korean and John was African American and Margie was Mexican. 
"Well, I liked my old school better."
It became obvious after a few weeks in our new community that the neighbors were afraid of people like us–people who looked at the world through liberal, non-creedal eyes, people who didn't go to a recognizable Christian church.
The afternoon we moved to Poland we were visited by a lady from the Welcome Wagon.  She handed me a basket of goodies and a list of the churches in town. 
"We have lovely churches here," the lady said.  "If you're Methodist, there's a beautiful Methodist church across town.  You Episcopalian? Now, that's right around the corner.  First Presbyterian is between Piggly-Wiggly and the cemetery.  And if you're Catholic, you'll go to St. Mary's–that's right behind your property – you can see their parking lot through your living room window."
Finally, I said, "We go to the Unitarian Church in the city.  My husband is the minister there." 
The visitor gasped and stepped back, "Are there any more of you people around here?"
And now it was time for me to explain to my neighbor that I was a decent American who wasn't about to throw a match into my pile of leaves and dance around the flames.
How to put my beliefs into a few, succinct words to prove I'm as good a person as anyone—that she needn't be afraid?  Should I just spout off the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism?  The principles that UU congregations around the world affirm and promote?   Respected principles that most people live by anyway, regardless of their religious affiliations?
That "we people" believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person? 
That we promote justice, equity, and compassion in all human relations?
That we accept one another and encourage spiritual growth in others?
That we believe in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning? 
That all people have the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process? 
That our goal is a world community of peace, liberty, and justice for all? 
That we respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part?
And should I throw in something like, "If all people lived their lives based on UU principles, which, by the way, are akin to Jesus' teachings, there'd be less animosity and fewer wars—perhaps leading to harmony among nations"?
 Or were my beliefs too radical—too wild—too outlandish for this traditional faith and creed-centered community?
Rather than fill the air with what could be perceived as holier-than-thou platitudes, I walked across the street, smiled, and stretched out my hand.  "I'm Ellie," I said.  "What's your name?"
            I figured that was a good place to start.

EVS – 07/11