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Interdependent Web edited by Heather Christensen; a weekly roundup of blogs about Unitarian Universalism

A weekly roundup of blogs and other user-generated web content about Unitarian Universalism, collected by uuworld.org. Find more UU blogs at UUpdates. Contact us at interdependentweb@uua.org.

Ferguson, mental health, radical love, and more

Who speaks for Ferguson?

Plaidshoes, a twenty-year resident of the St. Louis area, is frustrated by opinionated outsiders and “agitators.”

I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to hear people pontificating on the circumstances of Ferguson when they don’t even live in the area. Ferguson, and the St. Louis metro area as a whole, is complicated. I have lived here twenty years and I am sure I don’t have a full grasp of all the nuances, especially in terms of race and class. . . . We aren’t going to get the answers with everyone distorting the truth—especially from those who aren’t from the area. I can only pray that the agitators back down so that the true work of justice can begin. (Everyday Unitarian, August 20)

Kim Hampton, with a longer family history in St. Louis, disagrees with Plaidshoes.

White Ferguson is living their life as if nothing has really changed all that much. . . . So while I understand Plaidshoes’ wish that the ‘agitators’ (a loaded term) would stop stirring up things, from my side of the divide, without those agitators Michael Brown would have been just another black kid who got killed by the police for doing nothing other than being black in a public space. (East of Midnight, August 20)

The Rev. Susan Maginn has deep family roots in the Ferguson area.

Here we are, all of us, the whole nation, the whole world looking at Ferguson, Missouri and feeling these questions arise that really have no answer. Are the decades and centuries of racial injustice just too heavy to completely heal? Are the echoes of ancestral sins so painfully loud that the best we can do is to move away from each other, to live in different parts of town, to steal from each other, to imprison and kill each other. . . ?

We look at Ferguson today and we see how real and unsettling these questions are. We see how easy it is for most of us white people to just move away from these questions if we want to. But not today. Even if you have never stepped foot in Missouri, for today at least, Ferguson is your messy ancestral home too. (Quest for Meaning, August 15)

Liz James admits that she understands “nothing about what it’s like to be a black person on the streets of Ferguson.”

Privilege does not call me to try to switch roles and become like the oppressed. That doesn’t work, and also it seems to me that the main point of that would be to make myself feel like a better person. When I say I don’t know what I am talking about, I don’t mean that I should feel bad for that. I mean that I should recognize it, so that I will channel my rage, guilt, frustration, and sadness in the right ways. Into learning about the things that I have realized I don’t know.

We are not called to become guilt-ridden. We are called to become useful. (Rebel with a Labelmaker, August 21)

We will never get used to it

Lena Gardner writes that she will never “get used to” the stress of police harassment.

Someone on Facebook said they are just so tired of hearing Black people ‘complain’ about the police. There are many responses one could have to that, but my response is this: We will never get used to it. We will never get used to the police killing our children when the police could make another choice that would mean life instead of death. (Spirit, Soul and Journeying, August 18)

Karen Johnston takes “the Ferguson challenge”—talking to an African-American taxi driver about “what life is really like in this country from the lived experience of a person of color.” (irrevspeckay, August 21)

The big picture

Kim Hampton looks at Ferguson in light of the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac.

Slavery created a dynamic in this country that not enough people want to recognize. Just like Hagar and Ishmael there is the misuse and abuse of black bodies and then the discarding of them as if they were the problem.

America, like Abraham, sacrificed one child for another. And just like Abraham, America has to live with the consequences of that decision. (East of Midnight, August 19)

Doug Muder provides an overview of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) forms of racism at work in Ferguson.

“This is a test,” Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said. But it’s not just the people of Ferguson or the police or Nixon himself who are being tested this week. It’s all of us. As we watch events unfold, in how many ways do they just look different because of race? How hard is it to back up, re-examine our initial framing, and ask ourselves what we’d be thinking if race were not a factor? (The Weekly Sift, August 18)

The Rev. Peter Boulatta calls Ferguson an American intifada.

To be sure, it is not a perfect analogy, but the sight of popular civilian protests facing off against an army firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds, training their automatic weapons on civilians as they patrolled the streets in helmets and camouflage, seemed apropos. (Held in the Light, August 20)

Enough already

The Rev. Theresa Novak, tired of preventable pain, says, “Enough already.”

Everyone must die
Pain is part of life
We can’t do much
About earthquakes
And only some about disease
But we are here
To make it better
Not worse
Enough already (Sermons, Poetry, and Other Musings, August 18)

The Rev. Dawn Cooley struggles with feeling powerless about Ferguson.

So many of us are hurting, overwhelmed by the issues going on in Ferguson and elsewhere around the country. We may want to just ignore it, but since it is not going away, we get drawn in.

Our pain is a testament to our interconnection. We hurt, seeing and hearing about these events, because we know we are connected to those who are suffering, in Ferguson and beyond. We have an innate capacity for compassion, to want to reduce suffering if we can. And right now, many of us feel impotent. “What can I do about it?” we may ask ourselves. (Speaking of, August 20)

The Rev. Dr. David Breeden tends to be cynical about change, but hopes smart phones might make a difference.

The new technology brought about the Arab Spring, and it might—it could—begin to dismantle the current US system of black oppression.
Violence against this systematic oppression is not the answer. Neither is a brief paroxysm of national outrage. The violence will stop only when we the people catch the acts and put them on television and across the web. . . .

I can’t speak for the people across the river in Missouri, but this white guy, a descendent of Confederates and white supremacists, would like to see an end to the violence and oppression. (Quest for Meaning, August 21)

Faces of depression

Liz James joins the conversation about mental health, hoping that her story helps to decrease stigma.

Mental health ebbs and flows. We do not heal from what is wrong in order to become amazing, talented, happy creatures. There are all these stories of terrible pain and they are carried by people who are so awe inspiring in their skill, generosity, and general awesomeness. And that kind of makes the world a swirling tragedy, but it also kind of makes it filled to the brim with crazy punch drunk un-suppressible hope.

I am both.

I am guessing you are too.

The world is a miracle that way. (Rebel with a Labelmaker, August 18)

The Rev. Marilyn Sewell acknowledges her struggle with depression, and describes how depression feels.

We go through the day encased in a bubble, untouched by the life moving all around us. Ordinary sadness can be punctured by beauty, grief by hope. But depression disallows the small joys that coax others into wanting to get up another day. We can describe the sunset, but we can’t experience the sunset. We know people care, but no one can reach us. We are outcast, forsaken, a canker sore on the body of the community. We just want the pain to end. (HuffPo Religion, August 18)

Relentless usefulness, radical love

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Landrum hopes that the UUA will re-envision Donald Skinner’s goal of being “relentlessly useful.”

Create branding, yes, but create the websites, the newsletters, the pamphlets, the print ads, the Facebook photos for us to use it on. Help our churches by doing payroll for us and free us up from the back-office work, much like you help us with our endowments with the Common Endowment Fund. Free up our congregations to do what they do best. (The Lively Tradition, August 16)

Justin Almeida feels called by faith, vocation, and impending fatherhood to learn “radical love.”

My first child will be born around Christmas this year. My partner and I didn’t know if we could conceive. Now a baby is around the corner and the world is suddenly smaller because it is filled with baby-potential. And just like I would hate to have somebody come over with a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and dog hair everywhere, I am ashamed at the state of my world for which responsibility will fall on my child. The only way my son/daughter is going to succeed where my generation has failed is if I can teach them radically hard love, and I can’t teach something I haven’t experienced. (What’s My Age Again?, August 18)

Woo, paying for ministry, mature faith, and more

Mature faith

When Sarah MacLeod no longer needs her UU congregation as a stepping stone from theism, or as a safe, supportive place during a personal crisis, she asks, “Why church?”

Church, because supportive community is built over time, not just used when in need.

Church, because working through pain, anger, and disappointment in community deepens understanding. . . .

Church, because it reminds us that community is larger than any one person, idea, or belief. (Finding My Ground, August 5)

The Rev. Tom Schade believes that a consensus is emerging among UUs, including that “the ‘language of reverence’ is now our vocabulary.”

President Sinkford was roundly criticized for suggesting that we needed to break out of the straitjacket of humanist language, but then, we did. We’re all about “calls,” “faith,” “mission,” “prayer,” “spirit,” and “soul.” Admittedly, we are probably sloppy in our usage, but everyone kind of gets what each other is talking about, and goes along with it. (The Lively Tradition, August 1)

Woo, but not woo-woo

The Rev. Dr. David Breeden reclaims the practice of spirituality from superstitious “woo-woo.”

There’s nothing mysterious about the mystical. Spirituality is a feeling. We don’t have to buy what particular religions are selling to access these feelings. It’s all in our heads. (Quest for Meaning, August 7)

Rachel Camille values sacred space, and notices that Unitarian Universalist meeting spaces tend not to feel “special.”

We didn’t talk about anything different from what we talked about at the dinner table. It wasn’t super deep. It didn’t teach me anything epic and huge. I didn’t feel connected to anything bigger than myself, which is kind of insane considering that in UU, I’m connected to the entire interconnected web of existence. It felt like a book club. We went into a room and talked about some interesting things, and that was all. The end. (I Am UU, August 7)

Rebecca Hecking is not Pagan, but does mark the Wheel of the Year.

The simple act of marking the day, noting the change, acknowledging the passing of time in a tangible, physical way, helps to counteract the fast pace of our busy lives. As the seasons turn, as the wheel makes yet another round, we note the passing of time in our own lives. Children grow. Elders pass. We move from stage to stage on our own journey. Bringing this to conscious awareness heightens our appreciation for life and its gifts. (Breath and Water, August 1)

Paying for ministry

The Rev. Tom Schade puts concerns about clergy compensation into a broader context.

The big picture is that most of us need a broad social movement to redirect the wealth of this country downwards. That means raising the minimum wage, building up the infrastructure of the country, forgiving student debt, investing in education, increasing social security benefits, bailing out underwater homeowners, empowering old and new unions, returning the wealth stolen from African Americans. More people should have more money.

And in that context, UU ministers will probably have a better future than it now seems. (The Lively Tradition, August 2)

Katy Schmidt Carpman asks us to remember more than just clergy when we talk about paying for ministry.

And yet in many congregations, ministers have the best compensation package. I would love to see a fuller conversation of compensation and financial wellness for all who work in churches. Yes, as a religious educator, I’ve got an interest here. But it’s also about our music directors, administrative staff, sextons–whatever positions make up each congregation. (Remembering Attention, July 31)

Energy and despair

The Rev. James Ford sees the future in the “mix of energy and despair” in Long Beach’s diverse downtown neighborhood.

Walking around downtown Long Beach I realized this is the future.

Edgy. Dangerous.

Colorful.

Chaotic.

A mix of energy and despair, people succeeding and people crushed. And downtown everyone living cheek-by-jowl, the same block with high-end lofts, middle-income condos, and inexpensive apartments. In places trash in the street, and not far away, pocket public gardens. (Monkey Mind, August 2)

Asked to write about yet another tragic news story, the Rev. Lynn Unger shares a poem, encouraging us to “Wake up. Give thanks. Sing.”

What will you do
with the last good days?
Before the seas rise and the skies close in,
before the terrible bill
for all our thoughtless wanting
finally comes due? (Quest for Meaning, August 6)

Photos from the “Humans of New York” project inspire the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Landrum’s thoughts about why we need safety nets.

I’m fortunate—we have family and friends able and willing to help. I’m a minister in a denomination that has some funds for ministers in financial crisis, and knowing that is a piece of sanity, a certain knowledge that there’s a safety net there for me. I’m also insured, which means there’s a cap to the financial trouble that health problems can bring me.

Not everyone has these safety nets. Many people have only the knowledge of a family member’s open door. Some people don’t have even that. (The Lively Tradition, August 6)

Gracia Walker remembers a long-ago encounter, one of many that helped her find her way from fundamentalism to Unitarian Universalism, and encourages us to be the kind strangers other people need.

You never know what seeds you can plant, what a bit of kindness can do to widen the thinking of someone who may be trapped in a worldview that doesn’t meet their needs, or let them grow to their potential. We don’t always have to preach, it may just be the patience we show that can change hearts. (Loved for Who You Are, August 4)

Life in American Christendom, remembering Margot Adler, and more

Life in American Christendom

The Rev. Dawn Cooley makes a provocative statement about the relationship between Unitarian Universalism and Christianity.

Unitarian Universalism may or may not be a Christian denomination, depending on who you ask. But we are a part of Christendom, because we have not disassociated ourselves from Christianity. Nor should we—it is an important part of where we come from and who we are today, and, I suspect, an important part of where we are going. (The Lively Tradition, July 30)

The Rev. Dr. David Breeden suggests that UUs not worry about reinventing Christianity, but rather focus on being a big tent, in which each congregation, and each individual “brews” their own faith.

[Mainstream] Christian denominations are scrambling to survive. I don’t doubt that they will do a fine job of brewing the new Christianity. A much better job than can Unitarian Universalism, except in very specific locations and boutiques. . . . I think the future of Unitarian Universalism lies in micro-breweries. Boutique congregations, each with a recipe of their own. (Quest for Meaning, July 31)

Tina Porter wonders if some Christians “opt out” of the concept of grace.

Here’s my dilemma about the concept of grace: . . . . if grace is the gift we did not earn and do not deserve, wouldn’t that, in essence, make us all more tender-hearted toward those in need of that unearned gift?

. . . . I’ll ask in another way: is it possible to follow Jesus, claim him as your Savior, and then be hard-hearted to those who not only don’t have bootstraps but wouldn’t know how to wear a boot if it was handed to them? (Long Thoughts, July 31)

Co-existing with fundamentalist religion

Responding to Operation Save America’s harassment of a UU congregation in New Orleans, the Rev. Tom Schade wonders how progressive and fundamentalist religions can exist together in the same community.

Can the Tolerant and the Intolerant Co-exist?

Yes, but only if the Tolerant have the power to preserve the structural arrangements which protect them.

It is a question, ultimately, of power. (The Lively Tradition, July 29)

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Landrum believes that the Operation Save America incident was, indeed, “religious terrorism.”

Terrorism is defined as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” . . . . This act in Louisiana didn’t include violence. So why is it terrorism? Because it’s done by a terrorist group that has included violence in the past. (The Lively Tradition, July 30)

Thank you, Margot Adler

Thalassa expresses her gratitude for the work of Margot Adler, who died this past week.

Margot Adler was my impetus to take the idea of being Pagan seriously. Not just to take myself seriously, but to demand (nicely, of course) that I should expect my religious beliefs to be taken seriously, regardless of how unorthodox they might seem to others.

Margot Adler is the reason that I never thought that I had to live “in the broom closet.” (Musings of a Kitchen Witch, July 29)

Patrick Murfin gives an overview of Margot Adler’s life.

Despite her status as a priestess, Adler never considered herself as a witch or had a particular interest in magic. “Most people, when they think of witches and witchcraft, think of power and magical abilities,” she told a reporter three years ago. “I’m not a particularly occult-oriented person. I’m not into astrology. I’ve never felt I had magical abilities.” Instead, Adler focused on the power of ritual to connect a community and on the spiritual connection to the whole natural world. (Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout, July 29)

This world’s hell

When NFL player Ray Rice gets off easy after committing domestic violence, Colleen Thoele can’t keep silent.

Do you know how hard it is to try and help a person feel safe and take steps to walk free from violence when we know that our system sets her up to fail and is complicit in making her life more dangerous than if she never left the abuse in the first place? (Adventures of the Family Pants, July 30)

After the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory told Kim Hampton that she had a paranoia-persecution complex, she consulted a friend who works as a psychologist for the Indianapolis Police Department.

[She] said, “They told you you were paranoid, didn’t they?” I said yes. She then told me, “Don’t worry about it. It’s because you’re black.” She then went on to tell me that, without fail, every black person who takes the test as part of the entrance to the IPD academy comes out as paranoid. The funny part of the conversation came a little later when she said, “Of course you’re paranoid. You’ve been followed around in stores. People make assumptions about you just by your very appearance. There would be something wrong with you if you weren’t paranoid.”

. . . . What does it say about this country that paranoia is the way that black and brown people have to think in order to stay reasonably sane? (East of Midnight, July 28)

Answering the question, “Why Universalism?” the Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg traces Universalism’s history and shares its current relevance.

So, “Why Universalism?” Well, whereas Unitarianism has sometimes lead down a road to extreme Emersonian individualism (of caring mostly about one’s own isolated spirituality), the Universalism calls us out of ourselves and into the world to love the hell out of this world—into a world filled with far too much hell that desperately needs the life-saving message that we are part of one another, part one human family. (Pluralism, Pragmatism, Progressivism, July 31)

Attending church helps Justin Almeida combat compassion fatigue.

Religion provides me with a community, sanctuary and covenant that is focused on peacemaking. It reminds me that I am not alone in working to build a more just world. It cures my compassion fatigue because it restores my faith in people. When peace and justice work becomes too heavy, it is my church that lightens the load. In a space filled with atheists, believers, agnostics, questioners and religious refugees, our attendance shouts to the universe: “We will continue the work! We will not give up! We crave peace!” (What’s My Age Again?, July 31)