The November/December UU World introduced new paper and design changes, and readers noticed. Of the eighty-eight letters we received, one quarter commented on and generally applauded the changes. Eleven letters expressed raves for the non-glossy paper, but one person found it harder to read.
Tom Stites wrote in his “From the editor” column that “for stewardship reasons we've decided to switch . . . paper.” In this instance he meant financial stewardship, but five readers asked about environmental stewardship. Four asked if the paper has any recycled content—it is modest—and two offered specific sources for such paper. The UU World staff is working with our printer in the hope of finding an affordable sheet with more recycled content that will run on the web-fed presses used for magazines of our circulation. Carl W. Mize of Ames, Iowa, wrote, “If one rips off the cover, the rest of the magazine can be recycled as white paper.”
Regarding the gender balance of letter writers, noted in this column in November/December, Maureen Chen of Flushing, New York, wrote, “I generally think people make too big an issue over gender. . . . For almost 120,000 copies of each issue in circulation, 65 to 76 letters is not statistically significant.”
We received an e-mail message expressing dismay that the author's letter to the editor, published in a previous issue, was also to be found on the UU World Web site (www.uuworld.org). This common practice among periodicals is now noted in our letter submission guidelines (page 12 ).
Of the twelve letters about “What Family Time?,” five took us to task for publishing Bill Doherty's comments about homeschooling. Six letters responded to “Against Innocence” and eleven to “Our Humanist Legacy.” Four letters (representing a small, continuing stream) complained about various ads.
At our house we have often commented on the extreme busyness that nowadays seems to be a part of bringing up kids in America. As David Whitford pointed out in “What Family Time?” (November/December), there's precious little time remaining to be together as a family, or for kids and families simply to be.
The article's suggestions for preserving family time are welcome and good, but with respect to television, the recommendation was too mild. Merely turning off the TV during mealtimes isn't enough—the insidious device should be banished entirely. My wife and I relegated our television to a dark closet ten years ago, and we've not missed it a bit. If statistics can be believed, the average American spends twenty to thirty hours per week hypnotized by television. With the TV safely locked away, those hours can be reclaimed—for you and your family.
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Hooray for Emma Whitford's thoughtful and well-written counterpoint article “Soccer Brings Families Together” in the November/December issue! We were a soccer family during our kids' teenage years. Yes, we missed many meals during those hectic years, but the rewards far outweighed them.
We loved those long rides with our kids and their friends to and from wins, losses, and ties. We loved forming friendships with the kids and their parents. I would not trade a single minute of that time.
While it would be nice if most kids in this country were to play unsupervised pick up games as kids do in other countries, the reality in America is that if kids are going to play soccer, they are going to do so for the most part as members of organized teams. Playing soccer is unbelievably fun, it's superb physical activity, and it's a cerebral sport for the players. I wish that every kid had the opportunity to play the game, and if that means missing some meals, so be it.
Emma, I wish the best of luck to you and your team.
As a homeschooling parent who was raised UU, I am struck by what is lacking in “What Family Time?” The article's list of “external demands” that detract from a family-centered life and distances children from their loved ones is missing a chief culprit: school. When children are away at school for seven or so hours a day, their lives are centered around school, not the family. But most people refuse to consider that school might be a “source of conformity and oppression.”
Bill Doherty's characterization of homeschoolers is a brusque dismissal of a group that is what he says most interests him. Many progressive homeschoolers have wrestled with the idea of “family life as a source of conformity and oppression,” and we don't do it in isolation. Home-schoolers have a remarkable and diverse community, which offers tremendous support—by e-mail, through articles, and in real life—for standing against the powerful social norm. For instance, there are almost 300 families on just one UU homeschoolers e-mail list.
Through homeschooling, my family has largely managed to avoid what Doherty calls “the colonization of family life by the forces of competitive capitalism.” Homeschooling encourages strong individuation simply by its being outside the mainstream.
Although I homeschool in part as a resistance to the dominant culture, my family's rhythms are very much anchored in the “shared meals, unstructured activities, intergenerational gatherings, [and] just hanging out” that Whitford says are essential to family life. Yet, we also work to find a balance between family life and individualism. My husband and I—rather than the common culture—are our children's primary influence. We have enough time together to truly know each other, to foster strong family bonds, and to create the opportunity for inner growth and higher functionality.
Progressive homeschoolers' action against the dominant culture is deliberate and broad. Doherty and others should not be so quick to dismiss what might be the most effective means of putting family first.
Thank you so much for Rosemary Bray McNatt's fine thoughtful piece (“Against Innocence,” November/December). It states simply and clearly what so many of us think every Sunday morning, especially here in the Washington, D.C., area, when we hear about yet another demonstration which made the participants feel as if they had accomplished something by providing the illusion of action. Tom Lehrer said it musically, thirty years ago with “join the folksong army.” We need a strategy, and alas, in today's circumstances probably a political one. 2004 is an election year—are we ready?
Thomas J . Hirschfeld
Rosemary Bray McNatt may not have given enough credit to those of us who protest injustices through demonstrations, letters to lawmakers, etc. Certainly such efforts may be undertaken in naiveté or “innocence,” and have limited effects—yet many UUs never go that far.
Congregations tend to avoid taking stands on issues when the elusive 100 percent consensus fails to arise. Many people come to Unitarian Universalism seeking an unchallenging (however theologically “liberal”) upper-middle-class religious community that serves only to nourish its members' self-esteem. At the 2003 General Assembly in Boston, during a small-group discussion of where our tradition might find its “center,” I ventured an optimistic suggestion that the answer might involve helping build a better world. One person groaned, “Oh, please! I tried that back in the ' 70s, and I'm in recovery from it!”
I wish I could hope, with McNatt, to see a community with such a mindset transform itself into one whose members are “willing to put our own bodies and lives on the line.”
Rosemary Bray McNatt feels we must grow beyond smaller or “token” acts (my word). Yet in the same issue, we're introduced to Tim Hall and his “Ten Commandment” action in Montgomery (“UU News,” November/December). His little group was interviewed by “more than thirty TV stations,” while facing screaming adversaries with bullhorns. I've shared similar heartfelt experiences. One person can make a difference!I don't know the answer to many of our pressing issues, but I do know we can't remain silent. Silence implies consent. Better lighting one small candle against rockets red glare. . . . Pardon the cliches. Thanks again for such a thoughtful issue.
William H . White
Our Humanist Legacy
As a former president of the American Humanist Association and graduate of the Humanist Institute, I would like to commend William Schulz for his magnificent article (“Our Humanist Legacy,” November/December) with a resounding “amen.” I have admired him greatly over the years and felt that he saw the future of humanism, both as an independent entity and within Unitarian Universalism, more clearly than the largely white, elderly men (and a few women) with whom I associated in various humanist organizations. In the nearly seventeen years that I have served as a humanist leader/UU minister, I have witnessed the ongoing struggle between the “old time humanists” and virtually everybody else. For humanism to remain vital and relevant it must address both the head and the heart. Thank you Bill Schulz for telling it like it was and like it is.
The Rev. Suzanne Paul
We needn't ask, “Will the humanists stay with the Unitarian Universalists?” Humanism is still the major force in the Unitarian Universalist Association. We need to ask instead, “How will humanism develop in the future?” and we need to appreciate the varieties of humanist experience.
Will future humanists become engaged with Asian and African teachers? Some humanists build bridges between Eastern and Western cultures. Others, by refusing to look beyond Western philosophy and science, establish cultural barriers. Tomorrow's humanists may reclaim the traditions of religious naturalism—something that is very close to humanism—and if this happens humanists will become religious ecologists. Humanists may then become active participants in the new conversations about religion and the environment.
The humanist story continues. Unitarian Universalists will write many of the future chapters. What are the humanist experiences and initiatives that we want to recognize and celebrate?
The Rev. Robert Francis Murphy
William F. Schulz's “Our Humanist Heritage” does little to illuminate its subject. It devotes a few paragraphs to Humanist Manifesto I (1933), much less to the development of Humanism over the past seventy years, and still less to contemporary UU Humanism. It is much more about the author's changing views in response to traumatic personal experiences than about Humanism.
The article opens strangely by crediting Friedrich Nietzsche with inspiring the 1933 Manifesto. While Nietzsche had great influence in Europe, he had little appeal to American Humanism, which instead owes much to Emerson, Parker, the Scottish Enlightenment, America's founders, the scientific revolution, and American pragmatists, especially John Dewey, a signer of the first Humanist Manifesto.
Equally misleading is the article's final section, which cites the first one-fourth of the Rev. Dr. Sarah Oelberg's pamphlet, The Faith of a Unitarian Universalist Humanist, summarizing what a minister taught her kindergarten class.
The article implies that this is all there is to Humanism, ignoring Oelberg's next words, “However, I did not learn everything I needed to know about Humanism while in kindergarten,” and the remaining three-fourths of her pamphlet, where she describes what she considers distinctive about Humanism!
That little pamphlet (available from the UUA Bookstore) is commended to all UUs.
Also, as an admirably succinct and accurate statement of contemporary Humanism and its aspirations, I recommend the one-page Humanist Manifesto III ( 2003 ), on-line at www.americanhumanist.org. Its original signers include not only all five recent presidents of HUUmanists (the UUA Humanist affiliate) and the president of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, but also twenty-one Nobel prize winners as well as many other Humanists around the world.
After reading Cliff Hakim's excellent article, “We Are All Self-Employed” (November/December), I thought I had gotten my money's worth. Then I read Rosemary Bray McNatt's essay, “Against Innocence.” What an extremely powerful, thought-provoking, and for me, affirming piece! I work in economic development for city government and am often dismayed by the attitude of some on the left who sneer at people who are actually trying to get something done. It's not a perfect world, but that doesn't mean we can't make it better. Making it better in a world with shared resources involves compromise. I don't have a problem with that, because the alternative is to become political idolators, to use McNatt's excellent phrase.
Cliff Hakim needs to read Rosemary Bray McNatt's “Against Innocence.” His story about the “yogurt man” is a perfect example of how we Unitarian Universalists live our lives of “expressions of love without political power.” In teaching those who feel dependent on their employers to act as if they are self-employed, Hakim trivializes real self-employment and the fact that it becomes less and less of an opportunity in our world every day, as corporations swallow the trades by which people used to make a meaningful living.
We are humans in an increasingly inhuman world, and we all need to become more aware of how much we are wedded to our innocence. Our conveniences come at others' expense. The workers on whose labor we depend face a daily threat. Our economic system is increasingly intolerant of nonconformity and workers know they are always replaceable.
If it is true that we are all connected, the dependency of workers on their employers is not their fault, but the fault of all of us. If we are to teach people about alternatives, we must be willing to learn about the lack of them.
Cheryl L. Hulseapple
I was bothered by UUA president William G. Sinkford's political call-to-arms (“Our Calling,” November/December). It's not the first time I've read UU World and concluded I must be some sort of a rogue UU. There's an unspoken assumption that we are all pacifists, for instance, but I find pacifism sometimes helpful, sometimes silly, and sometimes dangerous. Likewise, it is assumed all UUs are Democrats, but I find Democrats sometimes helpful, sometimes silly, and sometimes dangerous.
We have an enormous theological tent and a tiny political one. Theologically, all are welcome—as long as you're a pacifist Democrat. Our meetinghouse is gigantic, with one small door and a narrow-minded gatekeeper. We brag about our religious diversity, while espousing one political party line. That's just weird. I believe Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Independents all have something to offer Unitarian Universalism, as do political misfits and the disenfranchised. Why not combine religious and political tolerance?
Now that would change history!
In “Reclaiming democracy,” President Sinkford's subtext seems to be “the wrong guys won last time, and if we get enough right thinking people to the polls this time it won't happen again.”
I do not agree, and I am disappointed that Sinkford would use his bully pulpit in this way, but I will take his suggestion and seek out twenty like-minded individuals. Of course, they will be from my side of the political spectrum, which may not be what he intended, but that is after all what democracy and Unitarian Universalism are all about: the right to pursue your own path.
I think that Sinkford has forgotten that there is a difference between liberal religion and liberal politics. One can be a Republican or a Dixie Democrat and still be a “good” Unitarian Universalist.
President Sinkford outlines a plan to reform democracy in the United States. It seem to me that, like charity, reform should begin at home.
Oh, we have the forms of democracy, and we have the Fifth Principle stating that we affirm and promote democracy, but in reality the Unitarian Universalist Association is no more democratic than those nations with “People's Democratic Republic” in their name. General Assembly delegates are under no obligation to vote the will of their congregations—even assuming they knew what it was—nor are delegates elected. Nor is there any confirmation or vote of confidence from the membership at large over the resolutions adopted or officials elected.
The delegates have to pay to attend, and they have to be able to take the time off work and be able to afford to travel across the country to be able to vote. The result? GAs are filled with retirees and dedicated activists with axes to grind. They need fear no repudiation, because mainstream opinions are locked out of the process; regular people who are just trying to live their lives and raise their families cannot afford to attend. This, to quote Sinkford, “is precisely what gives government the mandate to act as if no one cares and no one is looking.”
When one complains about all this, one is told it's no big deal; we are a congregational organization, and Boston does not speak for us all. But that's not what the UUA leadership tells the rest of the world! I quote the opening lines of a letter (one of many such) from our Washington Office for Advocacy: “Dear Senator, On behalf of the more than 1,050 congregations that make up the Unitarian Universalist Association, I urge you. . . .”
The writer claims to be speaking on my behalf. There had been no vote amongst the congregations on the issue, nor was the writer of that letter given Pope-like carte-blanche powers when elected. And yet he was telling my senator that his opinion was the official position of the UUA!
Sinkford mentions Florida as a state needing targeted support and systematic poll-watching. Yet I note that Florida issues absentee ballots to those who cannot come to the polls; the UUA does not.
I issue a challenge to the leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Association: Be at least as democratic as the state of Florida. Make the resolutions and elections held at General Assembly subject to a vote of confidence by the membership at large, and mail us absentee ballots! You have our names and addresses; you can mail the ballots out with the following issue of UU World every year. Or is democracy another of those things better kept in principle than in practice?
Hurrah! All of us more superannuated UUs thank you for making UU World more readable. I have always read every line, but now I don't need to manipulate the pages to eliminate glare! It is a real pleasure to read, now more than ever.
Thanks again from a woman who doesn't complain as often as the men do (“Mailbox,” November/December).
All my life I have successfully engaged two opposite values, voluptuousness and plainness, to achieve the elegance I enjoy. They take turns. I think you've done it. Bravo.
As the (white) parent of a four-year-old girl from China, I was delighted to see UU World publishing an article about transracial adoption (“Transracial adoption enlarges congregations” by Jane Greer, November/December). I was concerned, however, about Joseph Lyons' comment that “If the UUA can stay committed to young adults, churches will become diverse without even trying.”
The growing number of children adopted transracially within the UU community presents us not with an answer to our concerns about diversity but rather with a challenge to redouble our efforts in improving the diversity of our congregations. Children of color growing up in white families need adult role models who look like them, who understand in a personal way what it means to live in a racist society, and who can provide them with a context in which to understand their culture of origin.
When my husband and I came to Unitarian Universalism, we were not yet parents. We were taken with the liberal approach to religion, and we were willing to overlook the relative lack of diversity in so many UU churches. Now we must think about what is best for our child, too, and when we look around our wonderful but very white church, we worry more than a bit about how comfortable she will feel in just a few years. And we are not alone: Many white parents who have adopted from China have eventually made the decision to move to churches within the Chinese community. It is our hope that the presence of transracially adopted children within Unitarian Universalism will move our churches to make even greater efforts to attract families and individuals from diverse cultures and backgrounds.
Rus Cooper-Dowda was incorrectly identified as the director of religious education at the Unitarian Universalist Church of St. Petersburg, Florida, in “Harry Potter attracts Florida UUs,” (“News,” November/December). Cooper-Dowda designed and led the summer 2003 Potter-inspired course.Robert K. Davis of Boulder, Colorado, was erroneously called Robert K. David in “Mail-box” (September/October).
UU World welcomes letters to the editor. Send to “Letters,” UU World, 25 Beacon Street, Boston MA 02108 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, but do not send attachments. Include your name, address, and daytime phone number on all correspondence. Letters are edited for length and style; a maximum length of 200 words is suggested. We regret that we cannot publish or respond to all letters.