On those mornings when you’re troubled and clarity just won’t come, sometimes it helps to consult a moral authority:
I thought it would be useful to explain what I understand (or think I do) which underlies my UU 102 effort, so:
- Regardless of the intentions of those concerned, the 1961 merger between the Unitarians and the Universalists produced the possibility of a new religion. We are living out that possibility right now. The future is unwritten.
- By deferring rather than engaging theological differences, a giant empty space was left where a religion usually has a theology. While we have continuities both organic and artificial with the past, that negative space defined us.
- That space was left empty, open, and inviting just as massive change occurred in the world. Change sought empty space and filled it with practice. While ideas and theories were present, it was peoples’ actions that mattered most.
- We now face the task, should we decide to accept it, to find or build a theology out of and among our current practices. We have the sources and the norms to do so, and enough practice to make respectable first runs at saying what it all means.
So I am looking among people’s practices and holding up the items which seem to me to face our common future. While it may not be necessary to have some common theology, I believe it is both possible and desirable to have one.
Now, there’s this about cynicism, Sergeant. It’s the universe’s most supine moral position. Real comfortable. If nothing can be done, then you’re not some kind of shit for not doing it, and you can lie there and stink to yourself in perfect peace.
Here’s one way to do it, courtesy of the Rev. Shelley Page:
I called each and every African American church in Ogden on the morning after the Ferguson non-indictment, expressing solidarity and sorrow…
“Hello. I am Rev. Shelley Page, interim minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden and I’ve only been in town since August. This is a message for Pastor ________. We haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet, but I want you to know that I am heartbroken about the decision in Ferguson. And my congregation is heartbroken, too. We wish to express our sorrow and our solidarity at this difficult time. If your congregation plans any public witness events, please let us know. We will be there beside you, standing on the side of love. Here is my personal cell phone and email if you would like to contact me. In the meanwhile, know that you are not alone. We stand together in love.”
“So,” I hear those voices asking, “how’s that working out for you?”
I didn’t hear anything, although I offered a Ferguson Vespers on Wednesday evening for my congregation.
“Which only figures,” those voices smirk sympathetically. “You know how people are.”
Why, yes. Yes, I do know how people are:
Then, I received a call earlier this week that New Zion Baptist was organizing a Community Peace March and they wanted us to come along with them. I spread the word to my congregation and beyond. Today about 100 people of many colors joined together in a peaceful march and prayed on the steps of City Hall here in Ogden, Utah, including at least 20 from my church in their yellow Standing on the Side of Love shirts.
The New Zion Baptist minister told the crowd that he was inspired to do the march because an unknown clergy colleague had called him expressing solidarity. He felt it was a sign from God that now was a time to stand together, as a new beginning, to address these issues. When I met him for the first time in person today, he embraced me like a long lost friend, and told me that my call made the difference, gave him heart.
I walked at the front of the line hand in hand with him and three other African American ministers.
We don’t always have to take the lead. Sometimes our best acts of leadership constitute calling the other folks and saying, “You’ve got this, right? Tell us what you need from us.” And when you do that, sometimes that’s what makes things happen. You may even end up at the front of the march.
I won’t speak for Peacebang (aka the Rev. Victoria Weinberg)–she does a great job of doing so for herself here–but speaking for myself as a leftist and not a liberal, she has put her finger directly on the question:
Where in America would a white 12-year old boy walking around on a cold afternoon in an unpopulated area and idly waving a toy gun be shot by a police officer literally two seconds after that cop got out of his squad car? Two seconds on the clock. Imagine that happening in your neighborhood…
White men wave real guns around crowded areas in America and are taken into custody alive. Tamir Rice, carrying a toy gun in an open carry state, wasn’t white. His parents are apparently not law abiding citizens, so one Ohio resident suggested to me yesterday (and this is a quote) that it was a good thing that Tamir was “put down before he got a real gun.” I fail to see a significant emotional and spiritual difference between the callous bigot who celebrates the murder of a kid and the white liberal who says it’s all really sad, but he shouldn’t have been waving around a gun. Both responses are distancing and victim-blaming: one pathological and the other quite ordinary and therefore, often unquestioned and uncommented upon.
Let me repeat the part I bolded there for those of you who might need it emphasized:
I fail to see a significant emotional and spiritual difference between the callous bigot who celebrates the murder of a kid and the white liberal who says it’s all really sad, but he shouldn’t have been waving around a gun. Both responses are distancing and victim-blaming: one pathological and the other quite ordinary and therefore, often unquestioned and uncommented upon.
So, if that’s where “we” (cue the Tonto joke here) are, then where do we go from here? It’s not the first time that question has been asked. Or even the second. We’re going somewhere, whether we want to or not. As Howard Zinn said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
So as Alice said, “Which way? Which way?”
Life lives its own schedule, not the one I try to impose on it. But I’ll do my best–and there are longer draft posts I’ll be finishing up soon. There’s also a study guide for the next local UU 102 session forthcoming:
In accordance with the December ministry theme of Wonder and Delight, we’ll look at two marvelous modern ways to get the news. One is this story in the Winter 2014 UUWorld,Community news can nurture civic health (page 50 of the print issue). The other is Doug Muder’s Weekly Sift , “making sense of the news one week at a time.”Discussion questions will be provided. Watch theweekly email for a link and further information.
Here’s some good advice from Lynn Ungar, advice which might make my life easier and better at the same time, if only I could practice it:
It’s hard to know what to say, and it’s hard not to be impatient with people who seem hopelessly out of touch.
That impatience often has to do with the person who is impatient, not the person at whom the impatience is targeted.
Here is another valuable perspective on the kerfuffle at Starr King School for the Ministry. See this previous post for more.
I am not talking about the burden of guilt from revealing confidential materials, though you may indeed feel guilt about that. Whether you felt it was justified or not, you did cross a line when you revealed them. But the break in covenant that occurred when you crossed that line could have been restored if you had stepped forward sooner.
Like I’ve read elsewhere, it’s not the initial cost so much as the upkeep.
This had dropped out of my active memory until this morning brought an email from the new president of Starr King School for the Ministry, the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt. She’s quite a good writer. If you haven’t read her memoir, you’re missing out:
You shouldn’t miss the email, either. This is the paragraph that jumped out at me:
I thank both Elaine McArdle of UU World and Mark Oppenheimer of The New York Times for giving us at Starr King the opportunity to speak about our school. Unfortunately, these articles were not as objective or positive as I had hoped. Each of the articles contains several factual inaccuracies and mischaracterizations that paint the school, members of our community and our efforts toward resolution in an inaccurate and unfair light. Even more distressing, these two articles have caused anxiety, distress, fear, and hurt to members of our Starr King community. I am saddened that these articles have reopened a wound that, for many at Starr King and in our larger progressive religious community, had not yet healed.
There are three things to find objectionable in this paragraph.
First, if there are factual inaccuracies in these stories in UU World and The New York Times, I’d like to have them enumerated for correction. I’d also like to have the stories linked from the email so I can easily read them for myself and make up my own mind.
Second, I am troubled by the claim that causing “anxiety, distress, fear, and hurt to members of our Starr King community” is more distressing than “factual inaccuracies and mischaracterization” about Starr King (and by extension Unitarian Universalism) appearing in the national media. I don’t mean to diminish any worries some members of the Starr King community experience, but I also can’t regard them as more important than the rest of Unitarian Universalism, or even the rest of the Starr King community.
Third and finally, I am sick and tired generally of loose and irresponsible talk about wounds and the healing process. The use of such language here is a prime example. Is this a “reopened” wound? Starr King may want to move on and heal up, but must I privilege their point of view? There are others who have been wounded in this process. Do they feel it’s time for healing? Possibly they feel the wounding process is still going on. Perhaps they would like calls for healing to be preceeded by taking the knife out of the wound.
I’ve been trying not to take sides on this, but it’s getting harder to watch. From here, it sounds like every other story about powerful people doing stupid things, a problem so acutely experienced in academia, especially when student rights are set against administrative expedience. My rule of thumb in dealing with administrators when I was a student was they they lie more easily than they breathe and cannot be trusted. My greatest regrets include trusting them from time to time and getting screwed.
And yet, that’s how most administrative practice works. It’s designed for a result and what looks like trampling underfoot is often just motion along the straightest line. And I’m clearly biased in favor of students. So I don’t know, but this all smells very bad.
What do you think?
- Who are the five most influential Unitarian Universalist or liberal religious thinkers today?
- What magazines, academic journals, and blogs most impact your work?
- What is the most important issue for Unitarian Universalist scholars to address?
It’s not my story to tell, but I’ll add my two cents worth.
I was one of the dozen lay respondents out of seventy-four total, also including eight academics.
I was unsurprised to see Rebecca Parker was one of the common choices; i was a little surprised to hear more than half named her. I wasn’t surprised to see Mark Morrison-Reed or Sharon Welch, either, and had I thought of Anthony Pinn, he’d’ve been on my list.
(Note to self: Try again to get Paul Rasor’s book.)
There’s much more in the survey, so here are my questions, most of which could be resolved by having the raw data or something like it.
- Were there significant differences among the three groups of respondents?
- Which of the scholars named are Unitarian Universalists? Which ones aren’t? Are any not easily classifiable? Does it matter?
- Can our congregations develop and support more scholar-ministers?
Okay, the answer to that last one isn’t in the data, but the others?