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Letters, Spring 2006
Readers respond to the Winter 2005 issue.
SACRED IN IMAGES
I was inspired to write after reading the articles “The Sacred in Images” and “Ted Kooser’s Poetry of the People” (Winter 2005). I’ve been keeping a “surprise” journal the last year or so to help me see the wonder all around us. Every day something unexpected happens—I meet a friend I haven’t seen in months, I get a free haircut, see a beautiful sunset, swim with the ducks in the lake, find a dollar in the street, etc.
It is sad that many of us have been numbed to the wonder around us, but with practice, one can learn to see the sacred in the ordinary.
Harold Babcock’s interesting piece “The Sacred in Images” was a coincidence for me.
As a young minister several decades earlier, I, too, marveled one winter night at the brilliant, coruscating lights that blazed from horizon to horizon in the sky over a little Maine coastal village. Those lights, too, made shimmering, rustling sounds, and were the most extraordinary sight I have ever seen.
The coincidence? Harold Babcock, then a young boy in that village and my parishioner, was, I assume, safely and warmly tucked in bed, just a few houses away from where I was reveling in the extraordinary sight.
The Rev. Kenneth LaFleur
East Vassalboro, Maine
Harold Babcock rightly stressed the value of immanence in “The Sacred in Images.” Seeing into images helps us to understand our world more deeply. I was concerned, therefore, when Babcock stated that “[w]e make little sense of the dancing Shivas.”
I find the image of Shiva as “lord of the dance” to be a wonderful symbol of the coming-into-being of the universe. It is not an image of the world around us in a specific sense of the word, but can we doubt that both immanence and transcendence are necessary in our spiritual lives? Furthermore, why do we supposedly make little sense of dancing Shivas? Is it because we have not studied the religions that we list among the sources of our faith, and therefore have no basis on which to understand an image of deity? I believe that Shiva dances existence in the lives of all of us, as other spiritual beings and teachers give us mystery, prophecy, justice, and love.
POET OF THE PEOPLE
Thank you so much for publishing Dan Cryer’s profile, “Ted Kooser’s Poetry of the People.” Our Florence, Oregon, fellowship had a wonderful New Year’s Day service listening to our writers group recite Kooser’s works. He truly is a poet of the people.
WINTER FAMILY RITUALS
Thank you for the forum piece on winter family rituals (“’Tis the Season for Your Own Family Rituals,” Winter 2005). Our family, like many UU families, struggles with the dominant Christianity of our culture. I loved Cox’s ideas, but even more I loved the idea of framing this time of year in UU terms. Watering down Christmas well describes my family’s past relationship with the holiday. After reading the article I feel energized to begin defining a UU winter season of holidays for my family.
In her critique of Engaging Our Theological Diversity, Rosemary Bray McNatt correctly anticipated that some UUs would object to her injecting the concepts of sin and evil into the dialogue about our diverse theologies (“Do We Have Theological Common Ground?” Winter 2005). I do not share her opinion that the Commission on Appraisal was remiss in not probing how we understand the presence of evil in the world. Flaws in the human character need to be understood and addressed, but I don’t believe terms current in a prescientific age will advance that discussion today. Let’s employ modern cognitive science when we talk about how and why humans do wrong.
McNatt seems to think that the Commission on Appraisal should assume some responsibility for mobilizing a denomination-wide inquiry into who UUs are. I think their report has done what it should. The next steps are up to us. At All Souls Church in Brattleboro, Vermont, our humanist group is conducting a series of study sessions based on the report. I hope it was just such grassroots response that the commissioners had in mind.
Hinsdale, New Hampshire
I must protest comments and quotes by Rosemary Bray McNatt in reviewing the Commission on Appraisal’s report. After thirty-seven years in the parish ministry in four states, I do not recall a tendency to embrace a “host” of non-Christian faiths while abusing and scorning Christianity. Perhaps it happens in places. Casting aspersions at those who embrace their full inheritance in human religion strikes me as a “straw” problem. What motivation provokes the term, “the exotic religions”? Are Buddhist, Taoist, or Hindu sources more exotic than St. Francis or Isaiah or Rumi?
The Rev. Peter T. Richardson
I have to comment on “Church Staff Salaries Gain, Health Insurance a Challenge” (News, Winter 2005). You write: “Female UU ministers earn salaries very close to male ministers’ salaries, for comparable experience and congregation size. Other denominations have a much wider male-female differential.”
I’m not sure which part of that statement I am more offended by, the part where you admit that Unitarian congregations do not pay men and women equally for the same work or the part where you try to justify it by saying that other religions pay their women ministers even more unfairly.
For an organization that prides itself on fair treatment of all people, I can’t believe that the UUA would not write a whole article on how Unitarians and denominations in general still haven’t heard that it is illegal under employment laws to pay men and women differently for the same work.
Equal pay for equal work—how could Unitarian congregations possibly pay anything else?
Albuquerque, New Mexico
An important part of our history has been deleted in the UUA’s redesigned logo. The previous design combined the flaming chalice of the Unitarian Service Committee with the off-set design of the Universalists. The Universalist design included the circle, a traditional symbol of infinity. The empty space at the center represented the mystery at the heart of the universe. A cross represented Christianity, out of which Universalism grew—but it was small and placed off center, to leave room for other points of view and to acknowledge the validity of other paths. When Unitarians and Universalists came together in 1961, they combined their symbols into one design. The flaming chalice was placed within intertwined circles representing the merger of the two faiths. The chalice was placed off center in the circle, as the Universalists had done with their cross, to symbolize that no faith is entitled to be the one and only central religion for the universal spirit.
The new design places the chalice in the center and eliminates the intertwined circles, thus removing most of the Universalist contribution. I hope UUs will remember this history when designing future versions of our symbol.
The UUA logo featuring an off-center flaming chalice in two overlapping circles was introduced by UUA President Eugene Pickett at the 1980 General Assembly. A flaming chalice was first used as a symbol for the UUA in 1976. —The Editors
I am writing to express my strong objections to the new chalice logo that UUA President William G. Sinkford claims “presents a more contemporary design.” I believe it presents a very old design. In this new logo, the central placement of the vertical line of the chalice and the shorter straight horizontal line make the chalice resemble a cross. As a Jewish UU, I am sensitive to symbols that privilege one of our sources over others. Additionally, the surrounding marks resemble some sort of halo. What relation do these marks have to Unitarian Universalism?
PETS IN THE STORM
I read with great interest the article by Michelle Bates Deakin (“Katrina’s Aftermath,” Winter 2005) but I wish she had mentioned the heartbreak suffered by so many people who were forced to leave their companion animals behind. If only more thought could have been given to the four-legged members of so many families. To that end, the PETS Bill HR 3858 has been introduced by Reps. Tom Lantos (D-CA) and Christopher Shays (R-CT). It would require state and local agencies to include pets and service animals in future emergency evacuation plans.
New York, New York
OUR WHOLE LIVES
At our UU Congregation of Marin, California, we have an adult monthly “Salon” on a selected subject from the current UU World. Before I, a professional sexologist, was asked to lead this month’s discussion of Cynthia Kuhn’s Forum article “Sex Education Helps Save the World” (Fall 2005), I had already scanned the article and thought her “Nothing less than saving the world” (through sex ed) was a bit over the top. Then, to prepare for the session I borrowed the materials from our religious education director. Was I surprised and delighted! I’m now filled with missionary zeal and ready to save the world through sex ed. Do you suppose we can teach the next generation to make love instead of war after all?
We used the suggested “questions for spiritual reflection and adult group discussions”: “How were you educated about sex? How have you educated others? Have you discussed sex openly in your family?” I don’t know how many readers actually reflected on these. However, if the responses in our small group were any indication, a compilation of readers’ responses would read like a great American tragedy.
San Rafael, California
I am thrilled with the new uuworld.org website with its many features, ease of reading, and simplicity in connecting to other very important materials. Thank you for all the hard work that went into developing this resource. As an African-American, Chinese, gay male, I am happy to refer would-be UUs to this site to begin to navigate our great faith.
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