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Letters, Fall 2006
Readers respond to the Summer 2006 issue.
Kendyl Gibbons (“Human Reverence,” Summer 2006) is right in saying that “[A] religious tradition that does not help its members discover satisfying ways of expressing and responding to experiences of reverence is missing a central piece of its function.”
Ironically, the types of religious experience and language she seems to commend do not penetrate to the deeper sense of awe and reverence that would make Unitarian Universalism the robust religious alternative it could be. It leaves out too many of us within Unitarian Universalism, and would hardly attract many who are outside of it.
“Naturalizing” and “humanizing” awe and reverence puts them on the same cognitive and experiential continuum as poetry, novels, pleasant sunsets, and truffles. Religious awe and reverence do not lie on that continuum. Rather, they reside principally on deeper or higher existential levels of feeling, engagement, and cognition, and they influence those who live deeply religious lives in ways that differ profoundly from those who live on more aesthetic and ethical levels.
As long as there is no hot, molten center to our faith and as long as our deepest religious formulations are shot through with irony and nuance so that they may pass modernity’s smell tests for humanistic “rationality,” our future as a religious movement will remain uncertain.
David E. McClean
Dix Hills, New York
Gibbons admits that a language of reverence doesn’t need “gods or angels or magical other worlds” and that we “must make the language of reverence our own.” But if you dare eschew said gods, angels, etc., to make our own language, then you’re guilty of “hubris” and being “petulant”; throwing away our ancestors’ gifts.
Must we accept every tradition? Philosophical skepticism, a foundation of modern humanism, goes back to ancient Greece and China. Its history is long and honorable. Can’t we avail ourselves of that tradition as well?
While a member of a Sunday Services Committee charged with presenting worshipful services, I asked, “What do we worship?” and was told “the coffee pot” and “nothing.” Kendyl Gibbons asked a similar question in “Human Reverence.”
So how about this: “We worship the piety of the world, the unity of diversity, and the search for truth, justice, and conscience.” Compiled from the words of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Alfred Martin, and Francis David, it responds to Gibbons’s belief that a new vocabulary of reverence need not be invented.
I am very pleased with the sophistication of great art used appropriately in the Summer 2006 issue. Andy Goldsworthy’s “Dandelions,” Elaine Croce-Happnie’s photo print, Don Cheek’s clay sculpture, Cordelia Ndzamela’s “Body Parts,” and Alan Magee’s beautiful rock paintings are all wonderful. I hope you continue to keep up this high standard.
M. Gertrude Martin
I read my UU World with delight, every word, every issue. Few articles demonstrate exactly why better than the wonderful, deeply moving piece, “Struggling Up the Mountain” by Paige Grant. It is because of such understandings that I often say, tongue-in-cheek, that Unitarian Universalism offers the world the only “true” church. By this I mean that ours is a dynamic faith that takes the things that are knowable—at least as knowable as anything is—and finds the sacredness/holiness/specialness in them.
There is little doubt that the processes Grant honors happen and that they create beauty. There is little doubt that a life where our Principles form touchstones and where the wisdom found in our Sources illuminates the way is a better life. The gift we offer the world is that here we can discuss and celebrate knowable truths as worthy individuals and in communion with others who honor them while exploring, reaching, and expressing very different ideas and views about the unknowable parts of life. We do better on the discussion part than the celebration part so far but we’re working on that.
As we find the answers to how to better celebrate, we’ll also find the solution to bringing in the world’s seekers who long for a message that feeds both heart and mind.
Donald Henry Naff
The story about Martha and Waitstill Sharp was inspiring, but I think it is too bad that you didn’t mention the name of the only other American to receive the designation Righteous Among the Nations: Varian Fry.
Fry went to Marseille in 1940 as a representative of a private relief organization, the Emergency Rescue Committee. He carried $3,000 and the names of 200 artists and intellectuals who were in danger of being taken to concentration camps. Marseille was teeming with refugees, and he found that the need greatly exceeded his resouces, but, like the Sharps, he stayed to do what he could. He found confederates and set up an organization that dispensed humanitarian aid during the day while at night they gave out fake identity papers, forged passports, and black-market currency, and helped over 1,500 people escape.
Like the Sharps he received little recognition for his work during his lifetime. He received the French Legion of Honor shortly before his death in 1967, but was not named as Righteous Among the Nations until 1991.
HUSBANDS AND LOVE
Neil Chethik’s article “How Husbands Say ‘I Love You,’” contains some old-fashioned ideas dressed up as “sensitive-guy” talk. He mentioned typical male ways of expressing love, such as taking out the recycling and leaving chocolate on the wife’s pillow. To my eyes, household chores are part of doing our bit for the family. And loving gestures like the chocolate on the pillow are part of doing our bit for the relationship. No special kudos there.
Moreover, a critical component of a complete marriage or partnership is open and open-ended conversation, even (or especially) about hard-to-face feelings. Psychologists such as Terrence Real point out that men, as human beings, have emotions and feelings of equal depth and strength as women. Men also have a need to share those feelings, and needn’t hide behind a wall of silence and shame, as have so many generations of men. Talking, in close proximity, and at great length, is a necessary ingredient for sharing and growth in a relationship. Too bad Chethik lets men off the hook.
Durham, New Hampshire
Have I told you recently how much I love uuworld.org? If not, then shame on me. You get info out in timely fashion, there are interesting articles, and by using the email notification system, I don’t have to remember this all on my own.
Kudos and many thanks to you all! You are gems with a great product!
Rev. Lisa Presley
Interim District Executive
Heartland District of the UUA
Editor’s note: uuworld.org, updated weekly, is the companion website to UU World magazine.
I was very disappointed to read UUA President William G. Sinkford’s comments on humanism in the summer issue (“Our Calling”). He repeats the myth that humanist services were dull and pedantic. The first three humanist ministers I heard preach were Lester Mondale, Sid Peterman, and A. Powell Davies.They affirmed humanity and lifted my spirits. Many others followed who also “appealed not just to our minds but to our best selves,” a characteristic that Sinkford believes is newly created in our movement toward sprituality and away from reason.
We say our denomination seeks diversity while pushing humanists out the door. Those who want just another liberal Protestant church have other choices but we humanists have no place else to go. Many will simply stay home on Sunday mornings.
Las Cruces, New Mexico
I am bewildered as to why the editors saw fit to modify the words of Aldo Leopold to make them gender-neutral (“Opening Words,” Spring 2006). A Sand County Almanac is written with such love and care that it leads me to think the editors do not trust UU World readers to respect and relate to the message unless it is presented in the correct, gender-neutral terms. I hope you are not selling your readership short on this account.
I also find the use of the word “modified” interesting. It feels like revisionism of the most needless type.
THE ECOZOIC ERA
This is the time for Unitarian Universalism, unencumbered by dogma and superstition, to rise. Our denomination is unique in its adherence to “the authority of reason and conscience” (see “What Do Unitarian Universalists Believe?” by David Rankin), and it challenges us “to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science” (UUA Sources).
How, then, can UU World justify printing an article in which the subject of the article, Michael Dowd, purports to hear his Lord’s voice actually speaking to him (“Welcome to the Ecozoic Era,” Summer 2006)? Incredibly, he relates how a friend in a Pentecostal charismatic service received a message from the Lord to give to him.
Yes, we are committed to “the freedom of religious expression” and “the toleration of religious ideas” (Rankin). But these concepts do not preclude the necessity to evaluate for ourselves and critically analyze trends and movements in our church.
Kathryn and Don Manning
Pawleys Island, South Carolina
Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow, who are spreading the good news of the Great Story, have responded to global terrorism with what I now dub global “terra-ism.”
Terra-ists are pushing themselves to editorial attention all over the globe, from Guerilla Gardeners in England who plant seeds instead of bombs in blighted urban areas, to a militant Thai Buddhist cult that challenges government while also helping to heal battered women through organic gardening.
R. Lee Montgomery
In our Summer article “Righteous Among the Nations,” we incorrectly referred to Spanish dictator Francisco Franco as Ferdinand Franco.
In the Summer Milestones column, Robert R. Moore was incorrectly referred to as Robert C.A. Moore.