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Letters, Spring 2011

Readers respond to the Winter 2010 issue.

Spring 2011 2.15.11

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Heroes and mentors

I am writing to compliment Doug Muder on his excellent article, “Reclaiming Krypton,” (Winter 2010). The superhero metaphors (the solo Superman and the mentored X-Men) were both amusing and appropriate to describe two broad generations of congregants and their orientation to authority and, by extension, theology.

However, I did feel that Muder overlooked a generation. In keeping with the tone of the article, my generation would be the Star Wars generation. We share some things in common with both the Superman and X-Men cohorts. Gen-Star Wars inherited a world corrupted by our well-intended “fathers” (Darth Vader). So, like Superman, we are theological orphans, trying to find our way to the truth. But, we, like the X-Men, do believe that there is benevolent authority out there. Our truth is that wisdom is more powerful than might. In keeping with the analogy, we are bracketed by generations that are concerned with survival (Superman and X-Men). We, on the other hand, are concerned with how to acquire power and then use it wisely.

Ron Phares
Ogden, Utah
Ministerial intern, UU Church of Ogden


As a minister, Generation X-er, and lifelong UU, I appreciated Doug Muder’s insightful article and its argument for the importance of knowing our roots and mentoring one another in faith. I would not be a Unitarian Universalist today without the mentoring and modeling of our faith by numerous adults. Though many of those adults may have come into our faith as refugees from other traditions, they valued Unitarian Universalism for what it was, and not just for what it wasn’t. These effective mentors were, in many ways, no longer the “orphans” Muder speaks of, but rather, the adopted children celebrating the rich heritage of their chosen family.

Readers may be heartened to know that many of our congregations offer formal mentoring programs for youth, who are paired with an adult for the duration of a Coming-of-Age program. In the UUA’s Coming of Age Handbook for Congregations, which I wrote, these adults and youth engage with one another on our spirituality, history, theology, and justice. They discuss what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist. They plant seeds; they change lives.

The Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh
Winchester, Massachusetts
Co-Minister, Winchester Unitarian Society


I read Doug Muder’s essay with great interest since I have long been an avid student of cultural mythology, and I think his basic insight that different myths have attracted different generations of Americans is germane to our project of expanding Unitarian Universalism’s appeal.

Several important mythological series from the past twenty years, however, appear to be closer to earlier myths of the heroic child or children who must fend for themselves without reliable guides. Of course, guides have always been questionable. Lemony Snicket’s orphans are adrift in a thoroughly evil world with only occasional and highly inadequate assistance of any kind. And in the Harry Potter books and films, one after another of the children’s mentors collapses from an internal flaw, a serious error in judgment, or a failure to accurately understand the mechanism of Voldemort’s threat to the civilized world.

We need to listen to what our children and youth tell us about their world and their reactions to it. My five-year-old grandson (an Iowan UU) is fascinated by two mythic series, Go, Diego, Go! and The Super Hero Squad Show, both of which stress partnership in problem solving! That’s a mythic perspective I’d love to sponsor.

Estella Lauter
Fish Creek, Wisconsin
UU Fellowship of Door County, Sister Bay, Wisconsin


I want to thank Doug Muder for calling us to recognize that ministry to young adults is vital in our congregations and should be approached with intentionality. I would also like to challenge the assumption that young adults are a homogeneous group carrying a single story that speaks for all of us. We do not have a uniform set of needs. Amongst us there are those who have no use for mentors and those who have a handful we regularly rely on. We reject formal worship structures, and we enjoy traditional liturgy and religious ritual. So when we come into your congregation, welcome us as you would anyone else who walks through your doors. Recognize that we (like everyone) have unique life experiences, needs, and aspirations—and if you want to know what those are, simply ask.

Kayla Parker
Campus Ministry Associate, UUA
First Parish in Brookline, Massachusetts


Monsanto’s ethics

I was alarmed to read Michelle Bates Deakin’s article about the Rev. Nate Walker’s work with Monsanto (“Dinner with Monsanto,” Winter 2010). I am sure that Walker has the best of intentions, but he is dealing with one of the most remorseless corporations that has ever existed. Monsanto’s corporate culture is rooted in the early twentieth century, when they manufactured some of the most toxic and environmentally persistent synthetic chemicals ever devised. The one thing that has eluded their grasp so far is moral legitimacy. Let’s not be the ones who give it to them.

Craig Volland
Kansas City, Kansas
All Souls UU Church, Kansas City, Missouri


Monsanto’s commitment to increasing world food production is not based on a commitment to care for the earth or her inhabitants. The commitment is to profit margins through creating a dependence on its products.

The Monsanto website is filled with talk of sustainability, care for farmers, and the environment, but the reality is that their seeds only have an advantage over non-engineered seeds if farmers spray chemical fertilizers (also created by Monsanto) on their product.

If we, as UUs, are to commit to eating ethically, then we should be pushing for labeling of genetically modified foods in our supermarkets (something Monsanto opposes). Con­sumers should be able to opt out of supporting Monsanto, DuPont, CropLife, Pioneer, Syngenta, and Bayer, who control over half of the world’s seed. To eat ethically we should be able to trace where our food is coming from and who and what was involved in its creation.

Ari Rosenberg
Lewiston, Maine
First Universalist Church of Auburn, Maine


The Rev. Nate Walker has the right approach in his effort to discuss concerns with Monsanto. This discussion has the input of the manufacturer as well as of those concerned about any possible harm. However, one very important group that is being overlooked is the users, mostly farmers.

Around 1966, George McKibben worked out a method of no-till farming to reduce and to eliminate soil erosion. As the years passed, farmers and implement manufacturers developed equipment and methods to perform no-till or minimum-till farming and chemical and seed companies developed the chemicals and seeds necessary to effectively control weeds and insects with minimum negative impact.

My family has farmed and conserved our lands since 1832. In the 1960s and before, we walked the fields and figured out ways to best eliminate soil erosion. Now, with no-till or minimum-till, we can be proud as we walk the fields and see good, safe yields, little or no erosion, and realize how we are conserving the world’s resources. Walker, the members of his congregation, and others should study this matter thoroughly and talk to some farmers. Farmers are as knowledgeable as anyone about this subject.

Ed Schott
Rockford, Illinois
UU Church of Rock Valley, Rockford Unitarian Universalist Church


Immigration reform

One thing missing from Daniel Stracka’s analysis (“Why Immigration Is a Moral Issue,” Winter 2010) is the context of the current debate. It is not simply that the immigration system is “broken.” The larger context is, in part, the dire living conditions of millions of our neighbors to the south, conditions that are responsible for the flood of undocumented persons coming to the United States in search of a living. Who among us wouldn’t be part of that flood, were we facing the same conditions? Yet, no nation can allow its laws to be thwarted at will.

The proper remedy to the current immigration crisis can only come about when we match our appropriate concern for those fleeing dire conditions to our concern for the value, rights, and duties of citizenship, and the rights of states to set sovereign limits, especially where those limits are the result of democratic processes. Moral analysis does not, and public policy certainly does not, rest ultimately on sentiment. The proper religious response is to wrestle this issue to the ground, with all of its complexities, and not respond with the mere moral intuition that tells us that turning our backs on people in need is not an option.

David E. McClean
Lecturer in Philosophy, Rutgers University
UU Congregation of Central Nassau


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