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Letters, Winter 2008
Readers respond to the Summer 2008 issue.
Tyger and Lamb
Dennis McCarty’s “The Tyger and the Lamb” (Fall 2008) was strong in content and graceful in style. Unfortunately, his use of the word “faith”—when he apparently meant “trust”—clouds his message. The covenantal relationships he promotes, and the examples he cites, are based not on faith, but on trust. Faith is belief without evidence. Trust is belief projected from evidence—often the evidence of experience.
Confusion of the two words is often found in UU usage. It is as if we are trying to salvage the old language to describe the new insights. By doing so, we fog up the conversation and dilute our meanings.
I am sold on covenants—that is, ethical relationships. Thanks to McCarty for building his case so well. But I want my covenants to be of mutual trust—that is based on some evidence that they are worthwhile to invest in—and not on blind faith.
Des Moines, Iowa
Dennis McCarty’s use of poetry to make clear his points brought to mind another poem, W. H. Auden’s masterpiece, “September 1, 1939.” The title of the poem refers to the day the Nazi Wehrmacht crossed the German border into Poland.
Auden and McCarty clearly agree that a covenant of love is our only hope for both personal and universal salvation.
But it is the final stanza that gets to the heart of covenant as I understand it, and underscores McCarty’s emphasis on the centrality of interdependence and mutual responsibility. Indeed, the stanza has always seemed to me a fine prayer for a Unitarian Universalist. It has long been mine.
As I find my way back to Unitarian Universalism after a long absence, I hope to find such ironic points of light [“Ironic points of light / Flash out wherever the Just / Exchange their messages”] with whom to make covenant.
St. Clair, Missouri
In “Learning from the Interfaith World” (“Our Calling,” Fall 2008), UUA President William G. Sinkford cites resistance to reciting the Lord’s Prayer as an example of UUs’ Christian-phobia. While I agree that UUs need to be as receptive to the wisdom in the Christian tradition as they are to that found in other faith traditions, none should be criticized for not joining in a prayer with which they may have significant theological differences. It is not respectful to recite devotional words unless they can be spoken with sincerity. For me and for many other non-theistic or non-Christian UUs, respecting the Lord’s Prayer may simply take the form of silently respecting others as they recite it, even if we do not join in.
Kansas City, Missouri
Here in Boulder County, Colorado, our three UU congregations do, indeed, participate in local interfaith activities. But we participate in small numbers. Our reluctance to stay attentive when our interfaith friends use language from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament seems to indicate the diminished attention we pay to our own heritage. Most of us are not aware of the fascinating new theological thinking and writing that is appearing in, and being discussed by, the congregations in our interfaith communities. It has even been observed that there is a new reformation underway in Christendom.
We UUs can both learn from and contribute to such discussions since we are already practiced in the required “responsible search for truth and meaning” and likely will not be threatened by what some find to be heretical interpretations of so-called sacred texts.
I agree that we Unitarian Universalists need to recover from our negative reaction to Christianity. It is undoubtedly true that Christianity has been a source of pain to many people; that is something I know from personal experience. However, I also know that “Jewish and Christian teachings that call us to respond to God’s love” are part of my Unitarian Universalist spiritual heritage, and that “encouragement to spiritual growth” (such as forgiveness) is a principle of my faith.
I have received emails listing vacancies on three UUA committees. Each of these emails has the statement: “Members of UUA committees must be able to demonstrate functional competency in antiracism, antioppression, and multiculturalism.”
This is a blatant creedal test for membership on these committees. Committees such as the Ministerial Fellowship Committee play an important role in selecting our future leaders. Applicants for these committees must not only hold certain beliefs, but must “demonstrate functional competency” in these beliefs. This obviously means that they must show that they have been active in supporting these beliefs.
Social activism is an important activity within Unitarian Universalism, yet I don’t believe that we should limit leadership positions to social activists. Some of us may be thinkers instead of activists. There has always been room within the UUA for both. And thinkers can work best in an atmosphere free of creedal tests.
The Rev. Albert H. Thelander
Penn Valley, California
Hiring older clergy
I was a sophomore in college when I read Robert Browning’s poetic line about growing old and being optimistic about it. I doubted such advice at the time, but was hopeful that when and if I grew older the statement would be confirmed.
Now, at 63, and with nearly 29 years since my ordination into the UU ministry, I have discovered that Browning was right, although there are those on our UU ministerial search committees who do not agree with him. By extension, this means that the congregations they represent also do not agree with me. Their congregational surveys have said as much: We want a young minister, someone who will stay with us for a number of years.
This past year, during the search for a settled position, I encountered search committee packets—and had conversations with some of the individuals on those committees—informing me that I was simply too old to fit their congregation’s needs.
Fortunately, not all of our congregations think that we older ministers are less competent than the younger ones, and I did eventually find my match.
With all the emphasis on fair hiring practices within our ministerial selection processes, the Department of Ministry and some of our congregations have failed to address issues of ageism. Beyond the obvious lack of living up to our cherished principle of honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person is the legal aspect of such unfair hiring practices. I wonder how many of my colleagues are not hired because they are deemed too old for the job?
Mr. Browning, where are you when we need you?
The Rev. W. Donald Beaudreault
Why so few UUs?
Reading the article “Three in a Thousand” in the Summer 2008 issue, I felt disconcerted and somewhat angered to see the assumption made that those who consider themselves to be UUs but who do not attend UU churches have only a “vague” idea about UU principles and traditions.
I am a self-proclaimed Unitarian Universalist, yet unaffiliated with any church. I was raised in a UU congregation, have taught UU Sunday School, have worked at suusi four years in a row, and have been a UU youth advisor.
As was acknowledged in that same article, UUs are, for the most part, older, wealthy, white people who have converted to Unitarian Universalism from other faiths. There doesn’t seem to be any space for younger people, people who are struggling financially, people of color, and those of us who were raised UU. Much of the worship in our churches revolves around the story of people who found Unitarian Universalism as a beacon in the darkness after leaving a different faith. For me, Unitarian Universalism was never simply “Not Catholic” or “Not Baptist.” It has its own identity and this is pushed aside when the focus is on people's transition to our faith from other traditions.
I have several friends, mainly in their 20s and 30s, most lifelong UUs, who feel the same way. When we visit churches together, we always find the same thing: These churches are not aimed at us. The music is never our kind of music, but always folk music or music from the 1970s. There is not very much expressed emotion, as many UUs, fleeing from religions that asked them not to think, prefer to stay firmly in their heads.
If our congregations really want to grow, then it is time to start widening the definition of what a Unitarian Universalist church can be like and make it a space that more of us want to enter.
Durham, North Carolina
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