It was odd to read that the Iron Curtain fell twenty years ago in Gretchen Thomas’s cover story about the Unitarians in Transylvania (“Walking in Others’ Shoes,” Fall 2010). I remember when the Iron Curtain actually did fall—as the Soviet Army tightened its grip on Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, and other lands occupied by the Soviets in 1944–45. Perhaps you were actually thinking of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
It was gratifying to read about the continuing, commendable, efforts to build helpful ties with our coreligionists in Transylvania.
Chas. H.W. Talbot
Rainier Valley UU Congregation
It’s true that Winston Churchill said the Iron Curtain descended across the continent, but since 1990, the phrase “fall of the Iron Curtain” has regularly been used by the media to refer to the collapse of Communism. —The editors
I truly enjoyed reading the article “The Partner Church Movement Today” (Fall 2010), but would like to call your attention to the fact that this movement goes back to 1922. I excerpt from an internal communication at King’s Chapel in Boston:
The origins of the King’s Chapel partnership with the First Unitarian Church of Kolozsvár date back to a most extraordinary visit by a delegation from the American Unitarian Association to Transylvania in 1922. A future minister of King’s Chapel, the Rev. Palfrey Perkins, was one of the members of that delegation. The AUA had become very concerned about the poverty and discrimination that the Transylvanians, and particularly the tiny Unitarian minority (all of which were ethnically Hungarian) were suffering in the war’s aftermath when Transylvania was awarded to Romania. A tangible step made at that time was to inaugurate a “sister church” program to provide financial and moral support to our Unitarian brothers and sisters, and the King’s Chapel-First Unitarian Kolozsvár connection was among the first of these partnerships.
On a final note, King’s Chapel, First Church Boston, and First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco are planning a joint Habitat for Humanity build in Kolozsvár, where we each have a partner church.
King’s Chapel, Boston
Service and prayer
I don’t agree with UUA President Peter Morales that “service is our prayer” (“Hand in Hand,” Fall 2010). Prayer, by whatever name it is understood—meditation, introspection, etc.—is, for me, an essential component of informing service. Service is the means of putting the energy and understanding that springs forth from prayerful contemplation into practice. The conflation of prayer and service is a form of doublespeak that denies to each its due.
Brenda M. Hoskins
UU Congregation of Phoenix
Donald E. Skinner’s report on the 2010 General Assembly, “Focus on Immigration” (Fall 2010), leaves me with a strong level of discomfort. Bluntly stated, we are a country proudly based on law. It is illegal to enter the U.S. and many other countries without permission and the proper paperwork. The UUA appears to be promoting disrespect for our immigration laws. I believe they need reform not blatant disrespect.
I am a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship’s prison ministry. I am incarcerated due to my selfish unlawful acts. Our Association ignoring the law is not the answer—striving to change and improve the law is. Illegal immigration needs to be stopped as much as practical. People who long to come here for a better life need to enter legally. We as UUs should pursue changes to make this process easier so one may move through approval quickly. Those legal immigrants who will become upright citizens are a welcome addition to the United States.
David F. Baker
Albion, New York
Church of the Larger Fellowship
As a retired physician, I was very interested in Barnaby Feder’s “The Gift of Playing God” (Fall 2010). Over the years I have come to realize that all of medical practice is “anti-natural,” from suturing a wound, to giving antibiotics, to incredible modern technologies.
The “natural” world has none of these. However, anthropologists have discovered ancient human bones displaying very severe injuries in persons who survived only because of the help of others. Clearly, humans possess a compassion for each other that is rarely described in other species.
The problem with nano- and other modern technologies is how they are used and their rate of change. Technology per se is neither good nor bad but depends upon the use to which we humans put it.
I’m not sure we were born to play God, as Feder asserts, but our playing God will continue at an ever-greater pace with no end in sight. Our compassion for others drives the medical part of this process. Let us hope that our shared humanity can keep pace so we don’t destroy ourselves.
William Vigor, M.D.
Jefferson Unitarian Church, Golden, Colorado
All religions one?
Dan Harper undertakes the important task of comparing two approaches to world religions (“Bookshelf,” Fall 2010). Stephen Prothero proposes that religions are distinct and unique, while the Dalai Lama proposes that religions share a common thread or goal. Harper comes closer to the former than the latter. However, he brings into this contrast the work of the late Rev. Kenneth L. Patton and seriously misrepresents Patton’s perspective. I was a member of the Charles Street Meeting House, and Patton preached the sermon for my ordination in 1965.
Harper asserts that Patton emphasized the commonalities of religions, exercising “a creative eclecticism” and believing that we can “somehow transmogrify ourselves into a universal world religion by incorporating bits and pieces of other religions into our religion.” None of these is accurate.
The key to understanding Patton’s perspective lies in where we begin in forming “a religion for one world.” We begin with the individual who by accident of birth is born in one locality on the globe. However, our birthright must include all strands of human religion flowing in our common kinship. Patton was fond of saying, “all the gods/goddesses have a human face.”
He believed, citing A. Eustace Haydon, that everywhere on the globe we are in a “quest for a good life.” Elsewhere he elaborated, “Religion is [our] impassioned affirmation of life,” and, “Our religion is our love affair with life, and no [one] who is not in love with life has a religion worthy of the name.” Harper and others should realize that Patton began in an affirmation of our human kinship, not with the “bits and pieces of other religions.”
We are citizens of one world, one nature, one human nature. All branches of human religion spring from this one source.
The Rev. Peter Tufts Richardson
Dan Harper compares two recent books that give two different answers to the question of whether all religions share a common thread. Unfortunately, both books seem to give short shrift to a basic function of religion, which is to strengthen bonds within a community. A religion unites people with their fellow believers across the globe and through history. The prayers, hymns, rituals, customs, and traditions of each faith serve to unite that faith’s adherents.
The understanding that religion provides identity within a community also illuminates why UU congregations are as homogeneous as they are. A UU congregation isn’t just a number of individuals who agree on certain principles. Like any congregation, it’s a community of people who feel at home together. It’s only natural that people who feel that they “fit in” best are the ones most likely to join a congregation or remain in one. We should strive for diversity but not be shocked when it proves elusive.
University Unitarian Church, Seattle
Your series of articles on UU Culture have been fabulous. I hope you continue them. It might even be worth turning that series into a blog.
So far the age range you have presented has been decidedly Baby Boomer with maybe one Gen Xer. As someone who worked with our UU youth for many years I know that those under 30 have a very different view of UU culture. If you do not already have an article in the pipeline from someone of this generation, you should. They would take this discussion to a whole new level.
Jesse C. Jaeger
Director of Membership and Leadership Development
UU Church of Greater Lynn, Massachusetts
It took some guts for UU World to review The Antiracism Trainings, given my novel’s stark depiction of self-destructive tendencies in liberal religion and liberalism generally (“Book to Note,” Fall 2010). So kudos to editor Christopher L. Walton for that.
Walton’s review is the first to appear in a religious publication, and yet at its most basic level my novel deals in religious questions such as conscience and authenticity, and in particular the kinds of moral choices people face daily in their work. In the words of reviewer Kadzi Mutizwa, the book “lays out . . . what it means to have to work for and with other people and other value systems; and particularly how it feels to spend the better part of your time toiling away on behalf of a cause you really don’t believe in.”
David Reich was editor of UU World from 1992 to 2000.
In the obituary for the Rev. Carl Bierman in the Fall 2010 issue (page 55), we mistakenly said that he served at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Springfield, Massachusetts. The church is in Springfield, Missouri.
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