Letters, Spring 2014

Letters, Spring 2014

Readers respond to the Winter 2013 issue.


Crucial greeting

I agree with President Peter Morales’s statement that a ministerial greeting to congregants as they enter and/or exit a Sunday morning service is important (“One Simple, Transformative Practice,” Winter 2013). More than that, I think it is crucial. Unfortunately, my experience as a UU minister for 32 years, which included preaching in over a hundred congregations as a guest minister, proved quite the opposite. I learned that the settled minister usually did not greet people. This is tragic, especially when the only touch that some people in our congregations get during the week is when the minister or some other person in a congregation reaches out to them.

The Rev. Don Beaudreault
Retired minister
Ajijic, Mexico

Empathy and change

I really looked forward to a UU discussion of empathy for folks with opposing views based on their inherent worth. “Political Empathy” (Winter 2013) starts well but falls short. I read Doug Muder’s idea of “privileged distress” as a clever way to win the argument, however, not as a form of empathy. It’s the ultimate ad hominem. And it puts one in a superior-inferior relationship with those with opposing views. It implies that the “empathizer” is dead set on maintaining his views.

I don’t think you can be empathetic and “know” that you are right. If you already know you are right then just declare moral victory and be done with it. Instead, engage with the other, feel their worries and pains, and then allow your views to be whatever the evidence moves you to believe. So my suggested tool for the toolbox is the “Empathy Level.”

I applaud Doug Muder for promoting political empathy. I am right there with him on the absolute need for that. Let’s end the culture war.

Doug Strombom
Bellevue, Washington
East Shore Unitarian Church
Posted on uuworld.org, Nov. 13, 2013

Center for Non-Violent Communication founder Marshall Rosenberg talks about empathy as the key to resolving differences between warring sides. One thing that fuels a debate is the sense that neither side feels heard. I like the notion of privileged distress, and of course it can get distorted here and misused for all the same reasons that all social and political dialogues do, but it’s a beginning.

In our attempts to truly see others and see ourselves, we have to acknowledge the fear (primal and otherwise) that holds us back. Fear of change and fear of loss probably are leading the pack here. Bigots, as distasteful as they may be, are deeply afraid at their core. Their world is changing. And while many may not admit it, they are terrified. Fear expressed as anger and rage is an “easier” emotion to stomach. I believe that we know that this is often underneath the surface of horrible words and actions. If we’re to find a way to heal the nation, I think we have to acknowledge that beyond Pleasantville, we have hurtful people who do not know how to make peace with their fear.

Michael Guinn
Santa Barbara, California
Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara
Posted on uuworld.org, Nov. 16, 2013

It astonishes me that Doug Muder sees his proposal as sympathy. In the real world, the invention of the phrase “privileged distress” will be used as just another discussion ender, a way of preventing any debate when we just know we’re right.

We can pretend that dismissing someone is more in sorrow than in anger, that they just don’t get it, while never looking within ourselves to ask if we can really believe that only we few enlightened ones are truly self-aware.

Joel Monka
Indianapolis, Indiana
Posted on uuworld.org, Oct. 28, 2013

Doug Muder’s “Political Empathy” illustrates why some of my more conservative colleagues feel threatened by our ideas of diversity, equity, compassion, and our persistent search for truth. Muder suggests I may be more effective if I approach my colleagues with empathy. After all, that’s what I want from them.

In contrast, Tom Schade’s article “Religious Community is Not Enough” (Winter 2013) argues that, “We must build religious communities, not as refuges, but in service to a larger goal: humanizing our culture and transforming the world.” Schade says, “Now we should turn ourselves inside out to turn the world upside down.” To anyone outside the UU tradition, and even to me, that approach is threatening. My conservative colleagues would detect no empathy in a stated intent to “transform the world” and to “turn the world upside down.” Furthermore, I find nothing wrong with building our religious communities as refuges, where those who work for environmental and social justice may find a respite with encouragement and support. We can relieve disparity, prejudice, and domination more by acting with empathy than by strident confederation.

Donald A. Neeper
Los Alamos, New Mexico
Unitarian Church of Los Alamos

Tom Schade argues that religious community is not enough. I can only respond, “Yes, it is.” Creating an inclusive religious community, one where everyone is welcome as he/she is, one that offers a transforming and transcending experience, is incredibly hard work. Now we are told that that is not enough, that what we should really be doing is going out and changing the world.

UUism has had, since its inception, an historical focus on individualism, seeing as its primary goal the provision of a forum where each person’s individual wants and needs are emphasized and prioritized. Only recently has the movement shifted its focus from that of individualism to religious community. Despite this change of focus, Unitarian Universalism has struggled mightily with this issue and still finds itself treading water, unable to hold and keep its members, most of whom are looking for something more than a place where they can voice their opinions.

Before we abandon or de-prioritize our focus on community, I would humbly suggest that we reexamine our religious mission and come to a consensus as to what we can best do. We cannot do everything. We can devote our energies to social justice issues, but before we do so, let us provide a sound grounding in what we can best and uniquely do: providing community. Then, and only then, we can go out and save the world.

Robert Fabre
Mesa, Arizona
Valley UU Congregation

Living our values

I loved “Paying My Rent to the Planet” by Kathy Duhon (Fall 2013). As a fellow Unitarian Universalist who also picks up litter (but not to the degree that Kathy does), I loved reading about her inspiration and the sheer numbers of cigarette butts she picks up. Not only is she living out our values, she is showing others who she meets along her walk what it is to be part of the interconnected web. Truly inspirational. I will now go pick up some cigarette butts.

Jessica Clay
Berkeley, California

This article appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of UU World (pages 66-67)).

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