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Superheroes, interfaith families, and ethical oaths

Questions for spiritual reflection and adult group discussions
By Jane Greer
Winter 2010 11.1.10

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Mourning PTSD. In “Surviving,” (“Reflections,” page 21), Cynthia Orange describes her feelings of loss at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. She also describes the loss she has experienced through her veteran husband’s post-traumatic stress disorder. At least the deaths have a tangible memorial, she writes. “Physical deaths can be mourned through ritual and in community, and the grief of those who mourn runs deep as family and friends gather to shed tears and memorialize their lost loved one. But Michael and millions of other trauma survivors did not die.”

How have you or people close to you acknowledged traumatic experiences? Can you imagine ritual or communal settings that would help you grieve? Are there things you wish society did to acknowledge these losses?

Immigration tragedy. Margaret Regan’s book The Death of Josseline tells the story of a 14-year-old Mexican girl who dies crossing the desert on the U.S.-Mexican border. Regan shares the story of her own great-grandparents, who emigrated from Ireland in 1872 only to die penniless in Philadelphia at the ages of 36 and 34. “We sometimes forget,” she writes, “that the American immigration saga, cheerfully celebrated every Thanksgiving, does not always have a happy ending for those who risk everything to cross the sea or desert, though it may have for their descendants.” (“A Nation of Immigrants,” page 21)

What is your family’s immigration story? When did your immigrant ancestors’ descendants begin to enjoy a better life?

Superheroes. Doug Muder, thinking about how the mythology of comic book superheroes shaped him and his generation, writes, “The whole planet of Krypton blew up behind [Superman’s] escaping rocket, and its shards became the deadly kryptonite.” The lesson? “Watch out for the past. It can kill you.” He found the same lesson in the culture of the Unitarian Universalist congregation he joined in the 1980s: “We framed our history as a series of exploded birth-planets: UU Buddhists and Pagans had escaped from Humanism, Humanists from liberal Christianity, liberal Christians from Calvinism. . . .” But young adults today have grown up with different superheroes and different expectations, and they are looking for a tradition to pass on to their children. (“Reclaiming Krypton,” page 28)

How is the mythology surrounding the life of your favorite heroes reflected in Unitarian Universalism or in society at large?

‘Blended’ religions. In “The Christmas Tallis” (page 32), Diane Cadrain describes the way her family has blended traditions from her and her husband’s different religious backgrounds. The daughter of a Protestant-Catholic union, Cadrain married a Jewish man and raised their three daughters as Unitarian Universalists. Their oldest daughter is studying to become a Jewish cantor, and Cadrain is making her a tallis, or prayer shawl, to give her as a Christmas gift.

Does your family blend traditions from different religions? Which traditions have you retained from your past? Which have you adopted?

Corporate responsibility. The Rev. Nate Walker has challenged Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of genetically engineered seeds and a leading manufacturer of agricultural chemicals, to adopt a sort of Hippocratic oath in which the company pledges, in part, to use its expertise “to help and not harm people, animals, and the environment.” (“Dinner with Monsanto,” page 38)

How could such an oath be used most effectively? How could it best be enforced? What other means could be used to ensure corporate responsibility? Does your profession have its own ethical code?

Losing religion. In her book review essay examining a memoir written by a woman who renounced her Southern Baptist past and a man who eschews much of Catholic dogma while still choosing to remain Catholic, Kimberly French discusses the process of “losing” and “finding” one’s faith. “Losing your religion,” she writes, “is lonely and, usually, lifelong work.” (“Bookshelf,” page 57)

What is your relationship to your childhood faith? If you changed faiths along the way, why? What impact have those changes had on your personal relationships?

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