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Sharing books, living in exile, and church vs. state

Questions for spiritual reflection and adult group discussions.
By Jane Greer
Winter 2007 11.1.07

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Sharing books.

In his “From the Editor” column, Christopher L. Walton writes, “If Unitarian Universalists have a distinctive way of sharing their worldview with others, it’s probably captured in the gesture of handing a book to a friend and saying, ‘Read this!’” (page 5)

Which books would you recommend to a friend that convey your worldview?

Good vs. evil.

Patrick O’Neill writes that “people are almost equally capable of both good and evil, but most of the time—say, three times out of five—people choose the good.” (“Views of the Sacred and Evil,” page 23)

When have you had a chance to choose between good and evil? What swayed your decision?

Pressure to assimilate.

In “Feeling Like an Exile,” John Nichols ponders a biblical text describing how the Jews were able to preserve their community while exiled in Babylon. “They sought one another’s support to affirm their differences from Babylonians and to raise their children as if those differences really mattered.” (page 24)

How do you reconcile the need to retain your values and ethnic identity with pressure to conform to the larger culture? What contemporary examples might illustrate this issue?

Cultural gaffes.

As a newcomer to Crete, Robert Fulghum de­scribes making a fool of himself by misunderstanding Cretan customs. “It seems there was an opening for Village Idiot, and I filled it,” he writes. (“Sketches from Crete,” page 35)

When have you misunderstood local customs, whether it be in a foreign country or in a different cultural situation?

Love's power.

Human rights activist and UU minister Karen Tse believes in the transformative power of love, one individual at a time. Tse’s human rights organization, International Bridges to Justice, recruited a Cambodian police officer, and former torturer, to train police how not to use torture. “Such transformations convince Tse that change is possible on a world scale,” writes Michelle Bates Deakin, “as long as people work with individuals to tap into their deeper value systems.” (“Spirited Defender,” page 41)

How can individual interactions and relationships have an effect on the broader world? Have there been people in your life who have changed you?

Shared forgetting.

In a review of a book about racial expulsions in U.S. history, Dan Carter quotes the French historian Ernest Renan, “Every nation is a community both of shared memory and of shared forgetting.” (“Bookshelf,” page 59)

What movements or historical events are among the memories that Americans of your generation share, and what are the things they’d rather forget?

Ancestral debts?

Carter also writes, “None of us should feel personal responsibility for what our parents or grandparents did or did not do.” (page 59)

Do you agree with Carter’s statement? How does this statement correspond with the idea of historical reparations?

Church-state divide.

Forrest Church describes the way the first five U.S. presidents negotiated the division between church and state. The fifth, James Monroe, established a longlasting model in this respect. “Monroe’s balancing act—keeping God out of the White House without offending the churches—would be passed along to his presidential successors. They would adapt his model of a religiously neutral and disengaged White House . . . throughout ten succeeding administrations.” (“America’s Founding Faiths,” page 32)

What kinds of roles do you think your congregation and other religious groups should take in public life?

The fright way.

Rod Serling, creator of the TV show The Twilight Zone, explored a lot of controversial issues through the horror genre. “He confronted capital punishment in an episode called ‘The Execution,’ fear of atomic war in ‘The Shelter,’ and prejudice in ‘Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.’” (“Twilight Zone writer challenged prejudice,” page 64)

What other forms of imaginative entertainment raise issues or ideas important to you?


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