Home / Issues / What in the World Winter 2006
Talismans, blogs, torture, and the Gulf Coast
Questions for spiritual reflection and adult group discussions.
In a letter to the editor, the Rev. Victoria Weinstein says that there are so many Unitarian Universalist “calls to arms” for social issues that there isn’t much room for the spiritual goals of church life. “I wonder, where do the quiet, the introverted, the chronically ill, the imprisoned, the emotionally debilitated, and the poor in spirit fit into our eternally save-the-world, activist-oriented vision of Unitarian Universalist life?” (“Letters,” page 11)
How does your congregation balance social justice work with meeting pastoral needs? Is one more important than the other?
In this issue we introduce a new kind of talkback. Many reactions to UU World and uuworld.org’s articles never arrive as letters. Instead, they show up on the Internet on blogs written by Unitarian Universalists and others. Our first roundup of blog responses appears on page 10.
How has blogging added to your understanding of issues?
In her Reflections essay “Lost and Found,” Kimberly French describes a necklace that became a talisman during a difficult time. (page 28)
Do you have any objects that have helped you through a difficult time? What made the object meaningful? Do you still have it?
French describes how the stress of her medical tests opened her to certain spiritual experiences. “When I became friendly with an Ethiopian Muslim woman, . . . she asked right away, ‘What’s your healing color?’. . . Without hesitating, I told her. The question would have baffled me a year before.” (“Lost and Found,” page 28)
When have you discovered something that a year before you wouldn’t have believed in? What caused this new understanding?
In her meditation “Good Fortunes,” Meg Barnhouse says that she will write down all the messages that she’d like to get in fortune cookies and put them in a bowl. “I’ll draw one out every morning and see what happens to my eyes, to my ears, to my heart and my spirit.” (page 27)
What messages would you write for yourself? For others?
Worth and dignity.
In his feature story “What Torture Has Taught Me,” the Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz challenges the Unitarian Universalist affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of each person, using his experience with torture victims and perpetrators. “Is the worth and dignity of every person inherent? No, inherency is a construct, a useful myth perhaps, but a myth nonetheless.” (page 35)
What does the inherent worth and dignity of every person mean to you?
Schulz describes torture as a means of wielding power, relating a story from his own childhood about taking advantage of a dog’s friendly nature. “It was fascinating to feel this little creature, so much less powerful than I, entirely at my mercy.” (“What Torture Has Taught Me,” page 35)
Schulz believes that torturers are average “Joes” and “Janes.” Does everyone have the capacity to become a torturer? Have you ever found yourself treating another cruelly? Did you experience shame, as Schulz did? How was power—your own or other’s—involved?
From his experience with torture victims, Schulz cannot accept the belief that God is everywhere. “I would submit that no God worthy of the name is present in a torture chamber. . . Whatever our conception of God, . . . it needs to be both complex enough and circumscribed enough to account for the fact that God’s absence . . . is as real a phenomenon as God’s immanence.” (“What Torture Has Taught Me,” page 33)
Is God present in a torture chamber? How do you theologically deal with the reality of torture?
In her report on how UU funds are being used in the Gulf Coast, Michelle Bates Deakin draws a parallel between the racism she saw during her recent visit to the Gulf and the civil rights movement in the 1960s. She quotes the Rev. Dr. Gretchen Woods: “New Orleans is the Selma of our generation.” (“Partners in the Gulf,” page 50).
In what ways does Katrina’s aftermath resemble the civil rights movement? In what ways does it differ? How can the needs of the Gulf Coast be kept alive?