We have continued to receive responses to the May/June corporate personhood cover stories or to the subsequent letters published in September/October. A total of fifty-five letters have arrived. The nature of the concerns expressed has shown great consistency.
Three recent writers characterized the articles as “outstanding,” “essential,” and “one of the best explanations of the topic.” But Phil Sullivan of Woodstock, New York, dismissed not only the articles but also the letters that followed as “unbelievably naïve and/or uninformed.” Henry S. Raub of Englewood, Florida, echoed several previous correspondents in protesting “the unwarranted misrepresentation of Union Carbide” in the profile of Ward Morehouse. Leo Boyd of Campbell, California, saw “the numerous letters taking issue with Stites's article” as “a healthy sign that we UUers are not just warm, fuzzy do-gooders but are regular folks who rise to the defense of our respective self-interests as need arises.”
To put the corporate personhood responses in context, in the same six months, fifty-two letters responded to three “Our Calling” columns. The July/August military cover story brought twenty-eight letters over four months.
UU World regularly becomes the locus of dissatisfaction with the whole UUA, prompting letters saying “I revoke my membership,” but which give no indication that the local church has been informed. Thus it was gratifying to receive kudos from California, Ohio, France, and Pakistan.
For those readers intrigued by the statistics presented in the November/December “Mailbox,” of the sixty-three letters we have received since then only ten were from women.
As a self-taught professional jazz pianist for over forty years and as a Unitarian Universalist minister for nearly twenty-five, I want to shout “Hallelujah” in response to Tom Stites's article “Improvisational Faith: Jazz and Unitarian Universalist Theology” (September/October). I have not only preached this theme, but also lived it!
Essential to understanding the link between jazz and the divine is the point made by Martha Meyer, music director of the Unitarian Universalist church in Stratford, Connecticut. Speaking of one of the defining elements of jazz, improvisation, she says, “Before you improvise, you have to have a strong sense of what has already been laid down.”
My jazz persona knows this. Without an understanding of some music theory, I would merely play notes, not music. My pastoral persona knows this, too, believing that our liberating spiritual movement is strengthened by those who attempt to understand its history, purposes, principles, and practices. Without this effort, we are merely the Church of Anything Goes. That produces discord, not harmony.
As good as the article was, it did not explicitly mention an essential quality of jazz—“syncopation” (not playing music on the expected beat). Here again, we Unitarian Universalists surprise those who believe that our lack of dogma, doctrine, or creed must be played the way others expect it to be played—following a prescribed rhythm. Still, the song we create is sweet. We just follow the beat of a different drummer.
Ah freedom! Ah jazz! Ah the divine! We play it; we pray it, not always knowing what, or how, or to whom we are playing or praying. I can think of no better way to express this sense of liberation than to quote that great jazz legend Miles Davis who, when asked what he was about to play, responded, “I'll play it first and tell you what it is later.”
THE REV. DON BEAUDREAULT
Unitarian Universalist Church
of Sarasota, Florida
I enjoyed “Improvisational Faith.” My brother, the Rev. William David Brown, conducted vesper services on “Jazz and Religion” in Louisville, Kentucky, in May 1964. Keith Spring had arranged music to accompany words by Kenneth L. Patton. My brother called his church services “A Celebration of Life.”
Costa Mesa, California
Improvisation is important, but it rests (usually) on top of a fairly firm structure of chords, a framework that must be followed for the improvisatory part to take wing. For improvisation to be successful, all must agree on—and be knowledgeable of—that structure. So, too, in Unitarian Universalist churches, members must agree on the basic underlying principles of the faith in order for the “dissonance” to be heard but not to be destructive of the organization.
As a longtime jazz fan, I must confess that I approached Tom Stites's essay with a good deal of scepticism. Here we go again, I thought, another dilution and misappropriation of jazz—as in jazzercise, soft jazz, lite jazz, and don't-hand-me-that-jazz. But after reading the article, I found that I was in complete agreement with his premise: Jazz, like Unitarian Universalism, is open-hearted, open-minded, democratic, always evolving yet always tied to its roots. Thanks to Stites, I now appreciate jazz and Unitarian Universalism even more.
EARL L. DACHSLAGER
Years ago, Dave Brubeck summed it up: You listen to jazz or play it; you don't write about it.
North Olmsted, Ohio
Journey Toward Hope
The Rev. Dr. Linda Hansen raises a tough issue in “Journey Toward Hope” (September/October). If we are that vulnerable to losing our human goodness, our integrity, that explains a lot of the horrors of history. There is no way to condone the horror but it provides history with a chilling new perspective. The story of Hecuba is going to wake me up at night, too. Just change the story and it could be a guard at Ravensbruck or a member of the Khmer Rouge. That's scary.
There but for the grace of the universe go I. The universe just exists;
it does not care.
WILLIAM H. BROWN
I read with interest Donald Skinner's General Assembly report (“A Record-Setting Return to Roots,” September/October). I was there and heard President Sinkford. By a happy coincidence I was also at the Star Island Religious Education Conference almost immediately after GA. My workshop, run by Amy Strano, a young adult from the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City, was about young adult programming. I must tell Sinkford and everyone to attend young adult worship and workshops. They have the “language that will allow us to capture the possibility of reverence, to name what calls us.” And that language is joyful, too!This did not happen by chance. It came about through the dedicated work of our religious educators. The Young Adults draw their language from the worship at Sunday school and from youth group. Sometimes religious educators feel as though they are working in a vacuum. Perhaps it is because they are ahead of the curve, on the cutting edge of what defines our denomination, including its language of reverence.
East Falmouth, Massachusetts
UU World readers may be interested to know that the 1846 Universalist General Convention in Akron, Ohio, was attended by about 8,000 persons. Indeed, one of Universalism's gifts to our present-day Association was its egalitarian habit of holding general assemblies across the continent in a variety of cities and inviting all interested parties to attend and participate.
THE REV. JOHN CUMMINS
I volunteered at GA ' 03 in Boston as an usher. This was my first GA, and as a native of Richmond, Virginia, I looked forward to seeing the roots of my chosen faith and the chance to be surrounded by thousands of other Unitarian Universalists.
I imagined the experience of being an usher would be delightful, as the attendees at GA would be people committed to living our principles. Unfortunately, at GA I was treated very rudely by several attendees when I did not know an immediate answer to a question or asked them to exit out a certain door for their safety. Another usher related the experience of a delegate handing her trash as the delegate exited a plenary session.
I want to ask these folks: Did I forfeit my inherent worth and dignity because I chose to be a volunteer? Please remember that we're in this together, and if we can't at least treat other Unitarian Universalists with respect, what kind of hope is there for the rest of the world?
We were delighted to see the photo of Kanawha Valley Fellowship member Winter Ross's quilted art piece in the September/October UU World (“Creations”). People attending GA also saw her artwork in the unique banner she designed and created to represent our fellowship. We joyfully carried this banner, which features a quilted magnolia and the words “blooming by the river” in the opening ceremony. We were proud to have it displayed with banners from other Unitarian Universalist congregations and to overhear people comment on its beauty.
We followed the directions from the GA Office, which said banners should be reclaimed in a designated room after the close of GA. Naively, we assumed banners would be secure and there would be a check-off process to insure that the right banners went home with the right people.
Imagine our bewilderment and surprise to find that no one was accountable for the banners, and they were just piled up on the floor! We searched through piles of banners many times, until we came to the dismaying conclusion that our banner was among those few that had disappeared. We reported our banner missing to lost and found, to convention security, to the GA on-site office, and to the GA Planning Committee. We were told to write a letter to UU World and hope.
How ironic that UU World featured one piece of Winter's art just after we lost another. We hope that someone may have information about our banner, and if so, that they contact us at ( 304 ) 345-5058 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE REV. ROSE EDINGTON AND THE REV. MEL HOOVER
Over the four years that I have belonged to the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I have occasionally seen accusations such as those leveled by Dean Drake (“Letters,” September/October) that “we [Unitarian Universalists] dislike the majority of Americans.” Looking down the list of people allegedly excluded from Unitarian Universalism, I belong to only one of the groups: non-vegetarians. However, I am proud and excited by the many signs of growth in our congregation:
Does this sound like we are marginalized? Not in the least. Instead of relying upon vague generalizations about what “we” supposedly are not doing, I take heart in knowing that we are making a difference.
So Dean Drake believes Unitarian Universalists, as a group, do not like many of their fellow Americans? He is right, and it is refreshing to see someone put it in print. Bring a Republican, a capitalist, a country music lover, or any of the other individuals he mentioned in his letter to a fellowship and watch the cold shoulders. Unitarian Universalists like to think of themselves as open minded; they are far from that. They are, generally as a group, people who like to say they are open minded, but saying doesn't make it so.
The hypocrisy of the September/October “Political Action” column by Rob Cavenaugh (“Peril seen in bill to increase church political rights”) was truly marvelous. In opposing the “Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act,” a bill that would lift the I.R.S. ban against churches engaging in political action, the UUA's Washington Office for Advocacy says that this would “lead to a time when houses of worship are identified as much by political ideology as by faith tradition.” Well, guess what? No religious denomination in the country is more completely identified with a political ideology than Unitarian Universalism! Its political objectives are promoted in nearly every article in your magazine, and by the very same Washington Office for Advocacy that is raising this phony objection to the bill. If you are opposed to the bill, that is fine, but give the real reason: There are many more politically conservative churches in the country than politically liberal ones, so allowing all churches to participate in politics would damage the UUA's political agenda.
WILLIAM C. LANE
Bonds of Friendship
I enjoyed the photo essay “Capturing the bonds of friendship” (“Congregational Life,” by Sonja L. Cohen, September/October), and am glad to see recognition for programs such as Quest and the adults and youth who participate.
San Francisco, California
Stand Up for Families
Congratulations to President William G. Sinkford on a perfect call to action for the times in which we find ourselves (“Stand Up for Families,” “Our Calling,” September/October). In the last paragraph Sinkford says, “Our place must be in the public square, giving voice to our vision.” I can think of no better and easier way to do that than by submitting “Stand Up for Families” to newspapers all over America as an op-ed piece.
President Sinkford's column addresses a wide range of current economic and social policy issues affecting American families and calls on UUs to join in the policy debate on these issues. My sense is that all UUs would agree with President Sinkford on the importance of speaking and acting on such matters.
I therefore was surprised by the exclusionary implications of the language employed to convey this important message. Here are two examples.
The language of the column indicates that American society can be divided into “us” (UUs and other “people of faith”) and “them” (the Bush administration). My understanding is that numerous members of the Bush administration profess deep religious convictions and likely would be offended by the implication that the UUA does not consider them people of faith.
The language of the column is premised on the assumption that UUs will choose to oppose the economic and social policies of the Bush administration. This has exclusionary implications for UUs who may agree with the Bush administration position on some or all of these policies, and may regretfully conclude that they are less than welcome in the UUA.
WALTER P. STEPIEN JR.
After reading President Sinkford's column, I scratched my head and wondered, are we a tolerant faith-based spiritual community or an arm of the Democratic party?
Such a petty partisan rant has no place in this, or any, spiritual community. Unitarian Universalists should seek a higher “calling.” Our guiding principles, properly understood, demand it.
J. AARON KNIGHT
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