Of the sixty-five letters we received after the March/April UU World, twenty-six responded to UUA President William Sinkford’s suggestion (in “Our Calling” and elsewhere) that “we need . . . a vocabulary of reverence,” while the Emerson cover stories and the profile of Chuck Collins provoked only eight apiece. Unitarian Universalists clearly pay attention to and care about what the president of the UUA has to say. Frances Scott of Racine, Wisconsin, challenged Sinkford, “And that teaser ‘although my spiritual path has taken me elsewhere…’ Where? Tell us!”
John R. Spofforth of Athens, Ohio, shared his vision of the Good News: “As a humanist, I know that one does not need a God to act benevolently; one simply acts benevolently. That is the Good News to be shared everywhere.”
Sinkford’s elevator speech energized writers. Bob Jacobs of Olympia, Washington, made a point about Sinkford’s phrase, “One God, no one left behind.” “These words accurately describe Unitarian Universalism many years ago when it was a theistic denomination. But they certainly do not define UUism today.” Eight writers shared with us their elevator speeches. Steve Zrebiec of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, hopes “that UU World can publish a collection of elevator speeches from a diverse group of Unitarian Universalists.” Send your elevator speech to firstname.lastname@example.org for possible publication in a future issue.
Upon reading the headline “Pilgrimage to the birthplace of Unitarian Universalism,” about the General Assembly in Boston, the Rev. Richard Boeke wrote from Horsham, England, to remind us that Unitarianism and Universalism both have roots in Europe, while Richard E. Nellis wrote from Middleburg, Pennsylvania, that “the first religious services in the U.S. to be called ‘Unitarian’ were conducted . . . in Northumberland, Pennsylvania.”
David H. Partington of Dalton, New Hampshire, disliked our Emerson illustrations. He “found the caricatures of Emerson unseemly and disturbing.”
For UU World to feature Ralph Waldo Emerson (“Emerson’s Mirror” by Richard Higgins and “Emerson’s Shadow” by Forrest Church, March/April) in this year of his 200th birthday is most helpful for our Unitarian Universalist movement as it gropes for its center and direction. Emerson contributed significantly to our present religious naturalism by translating religious experience into our everyday language rather than using the language of traditional religion.
It was the frequent meetings of the Transcendental Club between 1836 and 1841 that gave impetus and stimulus to Emerson’s significant literary religious contributions. In fact it was George Ripley, minister of the Purchase Street Church in Boston and co-founder of the Transcendental Club with Emerson, who was point man for the Transcendentalists in their struggle with the older generation of Unitarians. As the radical Transcendentalists came under attack from their elders, Ripley took up the gauntlet and brilliantly answered the sally of his former professor, Andrews Norton, who charged them with “infidelity.”
Ripley’s 200th birthday was October 3, 2002. It passed almost unnoticed, even though his brilliant, courageous defense of the younger generation’s religious breakthrough helped open up the space for Emerson. “He has shown courage to all,” commented Emerson when Ripley resigned his pulpit with no other means of support.
Far from needing to escape Emerson’s shadow, which has long since faded to a cliche, there is hope that a true understanding of Emerson and his great Transcendentalist compatriots can help warm the faint embers of a religious vitality that these fine forebears so courageously set ablaze.
The Rev. Paul Sawyer
Return on Investment
I was pleased to see Kimberly French’s article on Chuck Collins (“From Riches to Responsibility,” March/ April). My daughter and I represented Responsible Wealth at the White House when President Clinton vetoed the first attempt to repeal the estate tax.
My wealth was really granted by the society we live in. My education was supplied by society, including the libraries and museums I frequented. As a university professor, the twenty-five years of research that provided the technical basis for my successful software company was entirely paid for by the government.
Did I earn my wealth by my own labor so that it can be said to clearly and inalienably belong to me and my family and future family members? When asked that, I respond with an emphatic NO. I usually add that my father worked hard as a house painter and my mother worked hard raising two children while working as a sewing machine operator and a sales clerk. Sure, there was some element of risk in investing my savings in a new company, and an entrepreneur sometimes has to put in long hours. But the dozens of educated and talented staff members were just as important to a successful venture as the money and time I put in. The biggest investment was that made by society, and it is not unfair that they should ask for their share of the return!
However, I do not think that the estate tax is entirely fair. On a personal basis, I do appreciate that the government chooses to wait until after I die to reclaim its investment. But in the interest of fairness, I think that an annual wealth tax of some sort would not be an unreasonable alternative to an estate tax. But to have neither is, to me, both unfair and unwise as public policy.
Jamesville, New York
Adding to the System
Chuck Collins thinks that there are those who have made a lot of money because of the society into which they were born (“From Riches to Responsibility,” March/April); that society and the economic system are the reason they were able to make lots of money. Who does Collins think created that society and economic system? The answer is people like me. I haven’t taken anything from the system; I have added to the system. Collins seems to be saying that I should be paying to participate in the system, that my adding to it isn’t enough. I don’t believe I owe the system anything.
Collins asks why the huge gaps in income and wealth aren’t more of an issue. The simple reason is that most folks think that if they made it, they should be able to keep it. They know that if they ever make it, they will want to keep it.
It is wonderful to read that 1,000 of the wealthiest people in the United States have signed a petition to preserve the estate tax (“From Riches to Responsibility,” March/April). This petition will be presented to the Congress, the members of which have mostly been elected with the help of financial contributions of the extremely wealthy and big financial interests. Not only are our representatives elected by big money, they are then constantly besieged by lobbyists paid for by big money. I fear that it will take more than the preservation of the estate tax to protect our democracy from the onslaught of big money. It will take many, many small contributions and the active support for those who would represent us with integrity.
Laetitia de Kanter
I’m grateful to Mary Pipher (“In Praise of Hometowns,” March/April). I have been floundering around trying to decide where I needed to be for the rest of my life. I considered returning to my “real” hometown, but I no longer have family or close friends there. Then I looked around and realized I was at home here where I have lived for about twenty-four years. I now see it differently and am appreciating the many things it offers me. No place is perfect. I will wander but now I am committed and will always return happily to our family home.
Mary Pipher (“In Praise of Hometowns,” March/April) writes, “The more one travels and has contact with the world, the more one needs a home.” I would add that my travels to Costa Rica, Italy, France, Nepal, Hawaii, and Canada over the last five years helped me redefine the word “home.” The more I felt the personal connections and saw the gifts of people I only met for a short time and may never see again, the more I redefined the word “neighbor.” Getting to know others, even briefly, helped me redefine the word “local” to expand and encompass a territory that stretches around the planet.
Fanwood, New Jersey
In sixteen-plus years receiving UU World, I have never torn out a page to copy and mail to friends and relatives until I read President Bill Sinkford’s article (“Our Calling,” March/April). The quote from David Bumbaugh is especially meaningful. It reflects on my own journey: “the universe is continually incarnating itself in microbes and maples . . . inviting us to tease out the revelation contained in stars and atoms and every living thing.” Thank you for that—and for your “elevator speech.”
I am elated and disappointed by President Sinkford’s column (“Our Calling,” March/April). When I try to explain Unitarian Universalism to someone, I always feel apologetic about the absence of religious language in our Principles and Purposes. Although I call myself a Unitarian Universalist, the one area in which my religion fails me is in its reluctance to “speak of that which is sacred, holy, of ultimate importance to us,” to quote the Rev. David Bumbaugh.
My disappointment lies in Sinkford’s failure to make some suggestion as to how we might repair this deficiency. He says he encourages people to work on their elevator speech but gives no guidance how. I don’t think “One God, no one left behind” does it. And that teaser: “Although my spiritual path has taken me elsewhere. . .” Where? Tell us!
How can we “share the good news” if we don’t have the language? This has been a genuine and enduring concern of mine. How about, “We don’t believe in the virgin birth, reincarnation, and biblical infallibility, but we love God.” (Oops—there’s that word.) At least it’s a little more informative.
All Is Not Lost
President William Sinkford writes in “Our Calling”: “The Principles contain not one piece of traditional religious language, not a single word.” However, I joined the Church of the Larger Fellowship for the very reason that the Seven Principles do not contain a single word of religious language.
Sinkford goes on to explain his vision to include religious language and broaden the appeal of the UUA for a wider population. But I was seeking a smaller population that would harbor this nontheist who aligned with the social justice issues of the UUA.
All may not be lost. One of the reasons I joined the Church of the Larger Fellowship was to learn to become more tolerant of theistic and religious language. Perhaps it is good that Sinkford will be teaching me right from the start.
Henry Burt Stevens
Punta Gorda, Florida
God is a metaphor. We Unitarian Universalists take pride in the intelligence and education of our congregations, yet we often miss that basic truth. Each religion uses “god” in its unique way.
Liberals in both religion and politics have been surrendering words to conservatives for far too long. Why shouldn’t we insist on our right to use simple, powerful words of religious speech? One person’s god may be a white-haired old man in the sky; another’s may be a moral imperative.
As Unitarians and Universalists, our right to all religious language is as strong as any faith’s. So long as we remember that these words are not the only way to express our belief, we can only broaden our discourse by reclaiming them.
President William Sinkford (“Our Calling,” March/April) quotes the Rev. David Bumbaugh: “[W]e have lost the ability to speak of that which is sacred, holy, of ultimate importance to us, the language which would allow us to enter into critical dialogue with the religious community.” Frankly, I haven’t the vaguest idea what this means. If it means redefining words like “god,” “holy,” “sacred,” “spiritual,” etc., I don’t see how that would aid communication; I would think that it would only add to confusion.
I know that I am often deeply moved by a beautiful sunset or sunrise; by beautiful music; by sudden deep rapport with a friend or, more strikingly, a stranger. But I contend that these largely emotional feelings can be described by well-defined words without the need for mumbo-jumbo religiosity.
Karl H. Puechl
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Due to reporting errors, three legal facts in UU World’s May/June articles on corporate personhood were misstated. Corporations are rarely tried under criminal statutes, rather than not at all as reported in the essay “How Corporations Became Persons.” A suit against Wellfleet, Massachusetts, described in the dispatch “Fighting City Hall” cited a section of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1871, not the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as reported. In the same article, a federal court opinion that taxpayers need not pay corporations’ litigation costs was written by Ed Carnes of the Eleventh Court of Appeals in Atlanta, not Julie Carnes of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Georgia.