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Nurture your spirit. Help heal our world. Unitarian Universalists.

Letters, Winter 2005

Readers respond to the Fall 2005 issue.

Winter 2005 11.1.05

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FREEDOM & TOLERANCE

Doug Muder’s article, “Who’s Afraid of Freedom and Tolerance?” (Fall) raises some interesting points about how conservatives consider traditional family roles to be obligations, while liberals consider a custom fit to be better. However, it seems that the article comes dangerously close to generalizing the obligation/choice dichotomy beyond family roles. There are many domains where the roles are reversed and conservatives are quite willing to be flexible, but liberals decry a deviation from tradition. For instance, I think that many liberals fear “the fall of Western civilization itself” when conservatives attempt to renegotiate traditional civil rights, or traditional public school financing, or traditional government entitlement programs.

I agree with Muder that positive, open dialogue is a key tool for bridging these divides, but I would add that this is a two-way street, and that we will fail unless our goal is to fuse the best aspects of each side’s worldview into one. The task is enormous, but I am hopeful that we will succeed if we are eternally vigilant.

Lee Newberg
Albany, New York

What a rich piece on the fundamentalist culture of familial obligation by Doug Muder! And yet. And yet.

There is more than a tincture of Schadenfreude in Muder’s appreciation of fundamentalist desperation. As Sam Keen reminded us, “If it isn’t repentant, it isn’t religious.” Given Muder’s (self-)satisfaction with liberal religion--our marriages are healthier, our commitments solider, our children, all of them, above average--you’d think we’d reached the promised land.

If we have nothing but self-satisfaction to offer to the interfaith conversation, we come empty-handed. What of the turnover within our congregations, our impoverished welcome of strangers, the brokenness we strive to hide?

Rev. John H. Weston
Providence, Rhode Island

Muder posits that “ . . . we baby boomers cannot ask our mothers how to keep children safe on the Internet.” It continually astounds me that so many Unitarian Universalists accept the idea that children are more at risk from access to information than they are from restrictions to that information. Given the vast spectrum of ideas that various people find threatening—ranging from straightforward information about being gay to neonazi revivals—we UU parents should be much more concerned about how much is censored in schools than how well restricted it is. Free access to information in and of itself does not kill or maim; lack of information surely will.

Melora Ranney Norman
Brunswick, Maine

I wonder to what extent there is a correlation between social class and ideas of commitment based on obligation versus those based on choice. My worry is that the chosen commitment model Muder talks about is attractive mostly to those whose focus is high up in the Maslow hierarchy of needs, i.e., the very affluent. The obligation model may be more stultifying but it also could offer more security for those who are struggling to meet their most basic needs. Even when it doesn’t work in practice, it gives the appearance of stability.

Paul Connelly
Oakham, Massachusetts

May I extend my congratulations for publishing Muder’s article. One of my complaints about the denomination is that it has been so passive in the face of the challenge of the religious right reflected both in the lack of prominent concern on the issue at GAs, and UU World’s failure to publish critical articles on the subject. My suspicion is that this past passivity is an expression of the fact that the denomination has not, to my knowledge, had a serious discussion of the limits of the Seven Principles, and especially of the limits of toleration.

Ken Morrison
Thunder Bay, Ontario

DEATH PENALTY

Thank you for the excellent article, “Living to End the Death Penalty” about Lois and Ken Robison and their son, Larry, who was executed in Texas five years ago (Fall).

The article was thorough and very moving. I wish, however, that it had mentioned our denomination’s affiliate organization, Unitarian Universalists for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, and included an interview with Jean Rabenold, the president of UUADP.

Lawrence D. Egbert
Baltimore, Maryland

LETTERS

Thank you for publishing a letter surrounding a taboo subject in Unitarian Universalism, racism (Fall).

Racism doesn’t always happen in highly visible and clear ways, but is with us wherever we go regardless of how good an ally or Unitarian we believe we are as long as we remain a predominantly white movement.

The issue of racism isn’t laid to rest by wonderful ministers of color like the Rev. Chester McCall: the issue of racism is laid to rest when we, as Unitarians, stop patting ourselves on the back about being antioppressive and make an effort, and investment, in multicultural congregations.

Ken Montenegro
Los Angeles, California

I’m writing in response to the Rev. Robert Francis Murphy’s letter in the Fall issue, which takes some Unitarians to task for what he apparently sees as too great an emphasis on the Seventh Principle. I strongly disagree. I believe that UUs as a whole are a long way from placing a proper emphasis on the web of life, and that the Seventh Principle is the poor orphan of the seven. The Seventh Principle is about more than environmental causes, and that includes humanity. Seen in this light, the other principles follow quite simply and directly from the Seventh.

In the Unitarian Universalism typically expressed in the pages of UU World and within the three congregations I have been involved with, the dominant theme is one of social liberalism detached from the greater world, a liberalism that is far more philosophical than spiritual, and while it is a philosophy I try to live every day, it leaves me spiritually starving.

The Seventh Principle provides a breadth and depth to the principles as a whole. Far from emphasizing it too much, UUs sorely need to embrace the Seventh Principle.

Dean Littlepage
Bozeman, Montana

HYMNAL SUPPLEMENT

W. Frederick Wooden’s comment that Singing the Journey lacks “restraint and thought” saddens me.

I am a contributor to the hymnal supplement and have long been a lay musician in UU churches. When we sing in church, we sing to connect— with our own best selves, with the other voices singing, and with the universe. What is church music for, if not to move us and draw us closer to the heart of our being?

If we seek truly abundant lives, that must include emotional as well as intellectual abundance. By all means let us increase our rational insight. But let our singing not be reduced to the rules of intellectual engagement. Let it be as full of joy, gratitude, and hope as we are—or why would we be in church in the first place? Let our singing help us mourn and support us in our work for justice. Let us sing loudly, emotionally, and even offkey. In our singing we will be blessed.

Amanda Udis-Kessler
Colorado Springs, Colorado

HURRICANE COVERAGE

Kudos to the UU World staff for the wonderful new website and uuworld.org’s coverage of the relief effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We UUs here in Houston have been in the thick of it trying to help our friends from Louisiana get settled in and comfortable while one of America’s great cities tries to recover from a devastating blow.

We here in Houston are, I think, rightly proud of the efforts that have been made, both here and in other cities along the Gulf Coast. It speaks loudly of the long-standing traditions of Southern hospitality and neighborly love that we have been able to help relieve so much suffering.

On the other hand, the aftermath of Katrina has exposed a very ugly side of American society. The inadequate and unhelpful response of the federal, state, and local governments has been appalling. Even worse is the fact that most, if not all, of the terrible human loss caused by this storm could have been prevented by proper funding of the maintenance and reconstruction programs for the New Orleans flood prevention and levee systems. I would say “live and learn,” but experience has taught me that very little will be actually learned from this disaster.

Charles F. Wilkins III
Houston, Texas

KITTENS

As a lifetime member of both local and national humane societies I was horrified to read the front page of uu&me! for children in the Fall issue.

Certainly in this entire world of wonder and excitement there has to be a better example of “awesome” than a cat having kittens. You must have read the statistics of the millions of cats put to death in shelters, and strays dying by the side of the road. Spaying and neutering pet cats is advocated by every responsible humane organization worldwide.

I cringe when I think of the number of children reading this publication who are now badgering their parents to let little Fluffy have a litter of kittens. Even if those cats find responsible loving homes, that is a whole litter’s worth of kittens that will not be adopted from a shelter.

Please, in the future, use your publication to teach our UU children to be knowledgeable and informed citizens of the world and to find their awe in a place that does not lead to so much misery for its creatures.

Ann Lewis
Fletcher, North Carolina

NEW FREQUENCY

I am writing to protest your change from bimonthly to quarterly.

UU World is one of the most valuable contacts we in UU land have with the greater Unitarian Universalist community. Your articles, format, and information are all excellent and are one of the best ways to bring us together, explore issues, and exchange ideas. Quarterly is much too infrequent to serve this purpose. It is hard to see anything that we do as a denomination that is more positive than our publications.

It is easy to say that the computer can serve the same purpose, but not at all true. Thought provoking articles that you can lay aside, come back to, and re-read are good on the coffee table, not on the computer.

Prioritize! Bimonthly publication at the minimum!

Carl Schwartz
Sammamish, Washington

CORRECTION

“Fired Up: General Assembly 2005” (Fall) inaccurately described the discovery of the Gospel of Thomas, the subject of Elaine Pagels’ Ware Lecture to the General Assembly. The Gospel of Thomas was one of the long-lost texts uncovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945.

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