That’s what I had to say to get all of the creatures I adore to LOOK. AT. THE. DAMN. CAMERA.
Clockwise, from bottom: Bandit, Master of the Underbite; Scout of the Faulty but Generous heart; Gizmo the Puppy and Laura, the Empress of Road Rage.
That’s what I had to say to get all of the creatures I adore to LOOK. AT. THE. DAMN. CAMERA.
Clockwise, from bottom: Bandit, Master of the Underbite; Scout of the Faulty but Generous heart; Gizmo the Puppy and Laura, the Empress of Road Rage.
(Note to readers: I abandoned my earlier plans to post this entry about my experience in the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Since then, I’ve plucked up my courage.)
It wasn’t until I passed the big black truck in the Wal-Mart parking lot that Rev. Jeff Hood’s sermon hit me like a sand bag.
There was a bumper sticker on the rear window of the truck. It was a loud shade of pink, and it was giving me an order.
Don’t call 911.
To the left of the words was the animated barrel of a gun. The gun the sticker said I should use instead of calling law enforcement.
Rev. Hood, the pastor of the Church at Mabel Peabody’s in Denton, Texas, convicted the small congregation of mostly queer men and women with a sermon about Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Samaria as they sat near the fabled well. He shared the condemnations of George Zimmerman, the Florida man acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin. He didn’t have to look far for the acidic response to the verdict; He read them 10 to a second on social media sites. Hood didn’t spare his congregation the vulgarities and obscenities peppering the Facebook status updates and the tweets that surely tested Twitter’s considerable bandwidth.
Rev. Hood recounted the reaction to a tragedy that raged with racial conjecture and fury. And Hood asked us to consider what we’d have done if Zimmerman was the Samaritan at the well while we lingered there.
“What would you have to give George Zimmerman?” he asked.
Would we have “living water” for this man? How would we face a man who’s been drawn as a monster by so many? After all, Zimmerman earned some of those claws all by himself. He killed an unarmed boy whose biggest sin might have been daring to leave the sidewalk.
Hood asked this of people who are no strangers to threats of violence – implicit and direct. Queer folks who live openly and honestly as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender leave their homes every day knowing that they are a target.
I’ve had just one terrifying experience. My girlfriend and I walked to our car from a Dallas gay bar. As we walked, not touching, a sports utility vehicle pulled up next to us. A passenger window opened a crack and a young man’s voice called out.
“Hey you!” the voice yelled. “You f–king dykes! I’m going to kill you, you f–king dykes!
I’m gonna rape you and kill you!”
Even as the vehicle sped off, the sound of men’s laughter bending as it went, I felt a cold finger of terror on my back. This is how I’m going to die. My father is going to have to identify my body. The thought rose in a split second. We got in my car and drove back to Denton. My girlfriend and I didn’t talk about it.
Rev. Hood was asking me what I might do in the presence of Zimmerman. What would I do should I come face-to-face with Public Enemy #1?
And I was stumped.
Then Hood asked us if maybe we’ve designed a world in which violence isn’t just likely, but inevitable, through our choices. What about the movies we watch? What about the music we listen to? What about the words we use? (“F–k you, motherf–ker! F—k George Zimmerman! Those were the words a lot of us published on social media sites after George Zimmerman was acquitted.)
Time for the truth. These days, most of the films I watch are exceptionally violent. I’m a horror film buff, and had just stopped watching The Human Centipede a few days earlier on account of its weak ploy to shock the audience with — how do I put this — scatological doom. That’s rare for me.
I’ve watched The Poughkeepsie Tapes twice, a movie so gratuitous in its depiction of torture and violence that my stomach churned. I watched every second of Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer only to be angry that a director would subject anyone to the pornographic glee captured in scenes of human butchery and rape. I crave the chills of true crime, and I’m not sure why. I’ve gobbled up media about the worst serial killers to roam the earth. I love to be scared. And I love for heroes — especially heroines — to kill the villains. The violence is always cathartic. In fact, I’m convinced that the reason I seek out horror movies is because the villain’s bloody end is the justice I crave.
As for music, I return to hip-hop again and again, with its metaphorical lyrics about “murdering” rappers in the booth. Lyrics that declare the narrator as a hero for using women as mere tissues to mop up after the rapper’s gleeful masturbation. Sometimes, I can’t stomach the demeaning depiction of women in the form (Yeezus is particularly gross), but I still listen. I know I’ve made a terrible bargain, but I just love those beats.
And my words? I routinely exaggerate my anger.
“Nothing wrong with that guy a sledgehammer to the face wouldn’t solve,” I’ve said. “God, I wanna punch her in the neck. Or the ovaries,” I’ve said with a roll of my eyes.
And the day before that sermon? The day the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder case was announced? I’d been hurrying to the office to print out some paperwork. That’s when I saw a small group of people marching through the heart of downtown Denton. Many of them had what looked like semiautomatic rifles over their shoulders. They carried a white flag with what looked like an M-4 rifle on it, the words “come and take it” underneath the rifle. They stopped at the door of the newsroom in a casual scrum. I couldn’t see if someone was knocking, hoping to get some ink on their protest. I peered at them from my car, resolved not to draw attention to myself. This is my day off, dammit, I thought. But really, I was afraid to grab my notebook and ask a group of people — two of them pushing a baby stroller — why they were carrying rifles. Irrational? Maybe. But I know what it feels like to have a stranger threaten to rape and kill you. Heck, I’m a walking reminder of the so-called Gay Agenda.
“There’s no way I’m going to try to disarm you guys,” I thought.
Then, there I was in the parking lot of a huge shopping center with a cartoon gun pointing at my head. I didn’t know whether to be mad at Rev. Hood or myself. The marketplace gives me what I want: Spilled blood. Righteous and hunted women still standing as the credits roll. And an endless armory of virtual ammo. The media fill my Spotify playlists with those posing, chin-jerking anthems that delude me into thinking I’m a bad-ass amazon instead a fat lesbian jogging heavily down the streets.
I’ve never been the quiet one at the edge of the well.
I’ve never been the servant of God, waiting for uninspiring moments to show my love of the Divine by serving the children of God, even the ones who are tough to love. Especially those who are hard to love. Mostly I’m sitting around giving people the stink eye. Where is the smiting when you need it, right?
And now this preacher with slight shoulders and a longish beard wants me to think about what I’d give to George Zimmerman? He knows what I have for this man. I have the sharp side of my tongue. I have a cold shoulder and a chip itching to be picked at. If it were for me to do, I’d give George Zimmerman something to be afraid of. I’d be the biggest “f–cking asshole” of the tribe that supposedly marauded around his neighborhood before he made an example of Trayvon.
George Zimmerman will probably get the stink eye for the rest of his life. Threats will be spat from car windows and the shadows when he’s just walking by, living his life. Not bothering anyone. He’ll feel the fear. He’ll crack his head against boundaries that, for most of us, are invisible.
The truth is that I don’t want Zimmerman to experience that. I don’t want Zimmerman to feel hunted, vulnerable and endangered in his own skin. I’ve felt that once. And there are other people who don’t have my white skin, don’t have my carefully applied makeup and don’t have my wardrobe (which complies with the culture’s expectation of “good” women). They’ve probably felt endangered in their own skin, vulnerable and exposed, many more times than my one bad night. And young black men? I figure they never get a break from feeling like they are a target.
I don’t want Zimmerman to spend the rest of his life carrying that mortal fear. I hope he can carry the ghost of Trayvon Martin with something like nobility. Something like grace. And now that Rev. Hood has called my silent, festering bigotries into the hard light of truth, I think that I have a responsibility to Trayvon’s memory and Zimmerman’s life.
Should I encounter Zimmerman at the well, I like to hope that I wouldn’t heap my pain onto his. But it doesn’t look so good for him, or anyone who is my enemy. I haven’t had much practice sharing the water of life. I’m too busy convincing myself that Samaritans can’t, in fact, be trusted. They pack heat, after all. They pull triggers. Me? I buy tickets to watch. Because catharsis is a higher priority than disarming Zimmerman and all his brethen with something gentler.
My catharsis is more important than the love of the Holy One.
So I’m here to ask for forgiveness. Because we’re all Trayvon Martin, and we’re all George Zimmerman. And if we martyr Travyon and condemn Zimmerman to a living hell?
If that’s our choice, we’re all in trouble.
Anyone with a Facebook account knows that Americans are still either celebrating the election of President Barack Obama to his second term — or still reeling from Mitt Romney’s loss.
Social media is a mixed bag. A blessing and a curse. On Tuesday, a high school classmate and Facebook friend of mine who lives in China posted a status update about another school mate “un-friending” him for openly supporting Obama.
Diplomacy was scarce and fleeting between the red and blue after the election. On Nov. 9th, the high-profile Gawker Media blog, Jezebel, posted a controversial story about American teens who tweeted their rage over Obama’s re-election, their famously short blasts dripping with racial epithets. You can read the post — and the 509 subsequent comments — here.
The story detailed a random sampling — 12 teenagers whose Twitter account profiles are linked to their actual identities — of tweets that referred to the president as a “nigger” or a “monkey.”
Welcome to “post-racial America,” y’all.
Jezebel aggregated and published the tweets themselves, including the author’s names, hometowns and the high schools they attend and represent as athletes and club members.
Jezebel was after the answer to one question: did the racist tweets about the president violate school policy? Blogger Tracie Egan Morrissey contacted the principals at each high school to find out. A lot of calls weren’t returned; A few schools reported that they were aware of the tweets and were dealing with the offending students. Those school officials wouldn’t divulge the consequences, citing policies that forbid them from discussing the details of individual disciplinary cases. That’s understandable.
As social media has expanded, a lot of American public schools have addressed formats such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to give school officials authority to deal with online behavior that can impact students while they are at school or are engaged in school activities off campus or outside of regular school hours.
Predictably, Jezebel commenters erupted over the site’s decision to identify the teens. They decried Jezebel editors for “outing” the teens in a format that is permanent. More than one commenter noted that prospective colleges could find the article — and the hateful remarks — simply by doing a Google search of the teens’ names. Because of Jezebel, colleges could willfully pass over students who have already demonstrated a propensity for stupidity at best, racism at worst. Those concerns are valid.* These commenters rallied around the teens, explaining that they are minors and therefore shouldn’t be named in a public forum.
Jezebel didn’t “out” anyone. In order to “out” someone, there must be secrecy — and often, shame — around the behavior in question. If you’re familiar with Twitter, you know it bears no relationship to secrecy. Think of Twitter as the YMCA. You have to join it to participate. And then when you participate, you are never, ever alone. When you participate in Twitter, you are in a public place, a place that is free to anyone who wants to join.
And if you’ve seen these tweets — made by teenagers whose profiles include photos of themselves, names, school activities and their hometowns — there is not one particle of shame in them. The racism is blatant. Boastful, even.
These teenagers weren’t “outed.” What they did would be very much like walking into Denton High School — a public building attended by all races and socio-economic classes — lifting a megaphone to your mouth, and declaring that you don’t want Barack Obama to be the president. Because he’s a “nigger” or a “monkey.” Does anyone think such a stunt would be met with silence? Does anyone think a responsible adult wouldn’t respond?
These teenagers haven’t earned the blunted edge of journalistic anonymity. And they might be young, but they are old enough to know better. I don’t pity them. I worry about the rest of us, who will likely spend the rest of our time on the planet mopping up after them. After all, these teens are being reared by adults who are either teaching them to be proud of their toxic beliefs (hey, they have a first amendment right to turn black and brown people into objects on the basis of race alone, right?) without consequence, or letting them think that racism isn’t penalized until the very moment they turn 18.
Maybe we all need read All I Really Needed To Know I Learned in Kindergarten again. The part about playing fair. The part about cleaning up your own messes. The part about saying you are sorry when you hurt someone.
If we believe that teenagers who are behaving badly should get a pass because they are young, then we are hurting them. We’ve let them think that adolescence is a golden age when mistakes can never stick and sin isn’t real. People need to graduate from high school prepared to navigate an America that is home to people of all kinds. If teens are to inherit a country worth fighting for and living in, then they need to be citizens with a grip on civility and social nuance. It’s not that they can’t express they’re beliefs. They can. But they also have to be accountable to and for them. Publicly and personally. And if we grownups think our little darlings can get away with this kind of behavior in the workplace, we’re certifiable.
If Jezebel’s condemnation and investigation stings the young psyches of these teens, I say let them feel it.
If we’re fortunate, the pain will teach them some humanity. I hope it’s not too late.
*In 2001, members of the Kappa Alpha fraternity confronted a group of University of North Texas football recruits, most of them black, as they were touring the campus with their parents. The members shouted racial epithets at the group and waved a Confederate battle flag at them. The UNT administration suspended the fraternity for five years. Universities and national officials of panhellenic groups often frown on such behavior, and deliver harsh punishments for these behaviors because they violate school conduct policies. Conduct counts. Online and off.
As in “salvation.”
It’s one of those terms that can make a Unitarian Univeralist shift uncomfortably in his seat.
A while back, I wrote an open letter to my faith explaining why I wasn’t in the UU meetinghouse for a year now – and why I don’t think I’ll be back very soon. One of the reasons I gave was the chronic UU skittishness about salvation.
A few readers registered their disdain, and at least one insisted that a major tenant of Universalism is that souls don’t need saving. I don’t think that’s what Christian Universlism (which is the root theology of the the “universalism” in Unitarian Universalism) teaches at all. But that’s not the point.
If UUism isn’t teaching salvation, then it’s dead in the water.
I worked with a minister as a worship associate for three years, and she was careful to tell the committee that our job was to be interpreters of the congregation and for it. In other words, we were to relay the story of UUism to congregants in ways that would best open channels for communion with the sacred. The dialect spoken in each congregation was probably unique to each group, she said. For ours, it meant finding honest ways around deep and prevailing phobias around liturgical language. A lot of times, that meant being tutored on semantics. When that minister’s interim ended, she was still correcting me whenever I mentioned “the saving story of UUism.” She even asked that I reconsider using “the good news.” (This was tough for me, being a Baylor University graduate and a United Methodist for most of my life. The formal poetry of liturgy was and is a balm to my heart and mind.) When she thought our language would mash buttons and close people down, she’d ask us to find new words. It was a drill I didn’t like. “What in the bloody hell is wrong with salvation?” I’d ask. “Exactly,” she’d answer. (It turned into a private joke between us).
The repeated prickling at the word “salvation” in my “Dear John” letter was all the evidence I needed to give her the winning point.
What do I mean when I use the term “salvation?” I mean a soul-change. I mean a transformation. I mean redemption.
I happen to think those ideals are available to everyone who will submit their heart and mind to the work of change – with or without the blood of Christ. (Jesus is Christ to me. I also think he can be Christ to all – but he isn’t the sole path to holiness.) While I don’t think people need God to be good, I do think that religion is uniquely qualified to guide the humble toward redemption. Let’s face it; There aren’t many other spaces where we can profess our brokenness and still be invited to put our hands to holy work. The marketplace hints that our flaws are the source of all our shame (which might not be far off), but its promise is that we can buy our way out of them. (Feeling fat? Go on a pricey diet or get obesity surgery. Marriage not working out for ya? Buy a divorce. Feeling all alone? Companionship can be yours – just get your credit card out.)
If UUs don’t think the faith has anything to say about salvation — or redemption or transformation — then the Internal Revenue Service should revoke the tax-exempt status of every congregation with “Unitarian Universalist” on its shingle posthaste. And the good people in the meetinghouse should ask themselves what the heck they’re doing there. If they aren’t there for a chance at reforming their lives, their hearts or their communities, then why are they there at all? If we’re there to stroke ourselves, or to protect our comfort, then we’re not doing religion.
Religion leaves a beautiful open space for seeking — it’s OK to come into the meetinghouse and not know exactly how you’ll live out a life of faith – or an edifying ethical code. But to return week after week, thinking that grace and good work aren’t there to be claimed?
That, my friends, feels absurd.
I get a lot of press releases.
I used to forward the funny (or creepy) ones to my colleagues. These days, I’m sharing them on my Google+ stream. Because my colleagues don’t like spam (imagine that!)
This one, though, merits a Wondertwisted treatment. This one came from TeleNav, a company that might have something to do with Global Positions System apps for smartphones. I can’t be sure. From this pitch, all I can divine is that a certain someone in the PR department has been in a cold sweat ever since she realized her iPhone is still at home on the charger.
We’ll call the PR rep “Esmerelda.” She writes the following to me:
If you’ve ever felt naked just because you forgot your mobile phone at home (Why, yes, Esmerelda, I have), a new survey by GPS mobile apps developer TeleNav shows you’re not alone.
The survey sheds light on just how important mobile phones have become in Americans’ lives (ya think?). For example:
· Would you have guessed that 22% of mobile phone users—including 40% of iPhone users—would rather go a week without a toothbrush than without their phone? (I wouldn’t have guessed a week. Three days, max. Yag. Remind me not to stand too closely to anyone with an iPhone. Crap, this means I can’t hang out with most of my friends.)
· One-in-three respondents would forego sex for a week if it meant they could hang on to their mobile device. (Oh, who wouldn’t, Esmerelda? Nookie is pedestrian – stultifying even – compared to what lies ahead of me if I master this level of Angry Birds.)
· 11% of mobile phone users said they’d rather lose their wallet or purse than their phone—a number that jumped to 23% among BlackBerry users. (Same here. Because I don’t have Mr. Chopsticks’ takeout number memorized.)
TeleNav prepared an infographic highlighting some of the survey’s results, and invites you to repost it as you see fit. You can find the image, along with more fascinating results, here: http://www.telenav.com/about/pr-summer-travel/report-20110803.html
TelNav publicist and current victim of smartphone withdrawl.
I love these kinds of press releases. I love that they presume to report something surprising. As if we all aren’t drifitng off to sleep spooning our phones! I really appreciate a publicist – nay, an entire company – that will survey a sampling of people who downloaded their app to back up this shocking news with sorta-kinda science!
I’d write another graf, but it’s lunchtime, and I’ve got some thieving pigs to kill.
Another supporting actress to cheer for: Viola Davis. She appears in The Help as Aibileen Clark, which opened in theatres on Wednesday.
I’ve been watching Davis for years. I noticed her in Traffic, Antwone Fisher and handed her my heart when she played Mrs. Miller in Doubt.
Davis understands a thing or two about restraint. While I haven’t seen or read The Help, her performance as a mother turning a blind eye to the possible abuse of her child was heartbreaking in Doubt. In lesser hands, Mrs. Miller would have come off as a villain. Entrusted to the capable Davis, the character was one of the walking wounded, a black woman bearing a double yoke of racism and classism. When she faces off with the formidable Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) she betrays a world of secret grief and fathoms of anger – just by dropping the corners of her mouth.
(This review of the final Harry Potter film was first published in the July 14th edition of DentonTime, the weekly arts magazine of the Denton Record-Chronicle.)
We all knew it would come to this. In the eighth and final film of the Harry Potter franchise, the Boy Who Lived must face his death at the hands of Lord Voldemort.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 begins where the first part ended: at the crude graveside of Dobby the house elf, just one of many allies to Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) who have died in service of the young wizard.
Director David Yates blazes through certain parts of the book: the ambling hunt for the remaining three horcruxes — those objects where Voldemort chose to hide the seven parts of his soul — and the epic battle at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Yates even races through the deaths of Harry’s friends and protectors. There’s little time to mourn when the fate of love hangs in the balance. Yates wants Harry and sidekicks Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) to claim the pieces of the Dark Lord’s soul so Harry and his arch rival can get on with their final duel.
And, oh, what a duel it is. Gone is the distance between Harry and Voldemort. The Dark Lord’s legion of cronies, the Deatheaters, are even shunted off to Hogwarts for the big battle. Only the closest of the Dark Lord’s coven are present for the fight in the Forbidden Forest. But the big fight comes after Harry, helped along by the last of the Deathly Hallows, gets one last meeting with his mentor, Albus Dumbledore. The resurrection stone — a tip of the hat to the sorcerer’s stone that got this whole adventure going — affords Harry one more rich, riddle-filled conversation with the fallen headmaster (Michael Gambon). It’s almost as if Yates propels us through this protracted fight scene so we can, along with Harry, savor the few moments of intimacy with those who have come and gone, and those who will make it through to the bitter end. It is these scenes that satisfy — Harry in the forest with the ghosts of his parents, godfather and favorite professor; Harry at a celestial King’s Cross station; Harry with Dumbledore’s Army, that ragtag group of students who converted to Harry’s cause.
Then, there’s the redemption of a much-loathed character, revealed through scenes conjured up by the penseive, a magical basin where wizards can immerse themselves in a memory. This is filmmaking at its most fluent and delicious.
Steven Kloves’s script pares away what the movie doesn’t need, but keeps both the action and the heart and soul of the Potter mythology — Harry’s courage, the need for loyal relationships and the chance of winning one’s soul back. Eduardo Serra’s cinematography keeps the action in the colors of a fresh bruise, which makes Harry’s ascension a rare moment of visual joy. Alexandre Desplat’s score is heavy and sober. The 3-D effects are ho-hum.
The story, though, is simple and memorable. At the end of the Battle of Hogwarts, some loved ones have been sacrificed, but friends and lovers are cemented for life.
Voldemort is literally dust in the wind. Love remains. Love is worth dying for. Love is worth fighting for. And, at long last, love is worth living for.
It happens once every few years.
I get an e-mail from some poor soul who feels utterly betrayed by one of Denton’s nonprofit theater companies.
How were these folks mistreated? Not by a testy director or their cast mates, and they aren’t up in arms over questionable content in a script. The problem is that someone asked these shrinking violets to clean the toilets in the Campus Theatre dressing rooms.
In the past, I’ve simply clicked “delete” and gone on to take care of actual business. Squeamishness about cleaning a commode isn’t an expose in the making.
Now that it’s become a pattern for affronted volunteers to contact the newspaper because someone asked them to – gasp! – pick up a toilet brush and help clean the bathrooms, I figure it’s time to break my silence.
Here’s my advice: If you’re so emotionally bruised to be asked to clean a commode, the best thing to do is to make this production your last. Denton’s hardworking, nonprofit performing arts community doesn’t need entitled twits like you raking the muck about how gross it is to have to swab the powder room.
Seriously. Don’t audition again. It’s for the best. You’re too fragile for the rigors of volunteer theater.
Denton’s nonprofit theater circle enjoys a wide pool of professional-grade talent, not to mention a roster of smart men and women who work off stage to make the magic happen on a shoestring budget. When things run so smoothly, and when performances win state and national contests, people get spoiled.
Some folks start thinking that the professionalism is the work of a paid staff.
There is a paid staff at the Campus Theatre, a space shared by a number of nonprofit performing groups in north Texas. A bare bones staff. Those staffers will tell you that the bulk of the work in staging plays, concerts and musicals is done by people who work eight hours a day before they show up to rehearsals. (After rehearsals that last roughly 4 hours, they head home to piles of laundry, children who need help with their homework and spouses.)
It isn’t often that professionalism comes back to bite a nonprofit, but it does for the companies who share the Campus Theatre, because a few volunteers think the companies should spring for a full-time janitor. (The theatre already employs a custodian, but the building is often in use 10 hours a day or more, and throughout the weekends.)
At minimum wage, a custodian working four hours a day for five days a week would cost the theater nearly $7,000 in a year. For a nonprofit theater, that $7,000 means a number of things: fewer shows in a season; a hike in subscription and single ticket prices; and possible cuts in programming staff. Since the recession, funding for the arts has diminished. In some cases, it’s dried up completely.
Think I sound like a hard-ass? I don’t. It’s not the squeamishness about latrine duty that gets me. What bothers me is that whiff of privilege that some volunteers have. Someone asked them to pitch in, and they alerted the newspaper.
When people join a nonprofit production, they volunteer to nurture the creative soul of the city. They’re grooming an avocation, or teaching other people how to put on a show worth the ticket price. They aren’t there to feed an ego.
Newsflash: It’s not all about you. It’s about the effort, the ensemble, the learning and the magic of theater done well – or at least done honestly.
Denton didn’t get several companies (and at least two fledgling professional companies) without some sacrifice. Most of the volunteers? They’ve taken on backstage custodial duties without complaining.
For the few who reel at the idea of cleaning a toilet: There are no stars on the dressing room doors at the Campus Theatre. Remember that. And the next time you feel compelled to take your disgust to the local newspaper?
Either roll up your sleeves and help your peers with the chores, or negotiate quietly with a cast or crew mate to switch tasks. Hey, you might even ask the stage manager to give you a different chore. It’s not that bad.
And honestly? You’re not too good.
I’ve really been wrestling with my future in the Unitarian Universalist movement. I’ve talked with other UUs — people who are smarter and more disciplined than I. I’ve prayed about it. Yes, prayed . I’ve waffled. I’ve read books about humanism. I’ve re-read parts of the Bible that scare me. I’ve lain awake at night wondering if I’ve wasted my soul or if I’m giving up on my free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve decided to explore liberal Christianity. I think it’s more honest for me, at least right now.
There is so much I love about UUism. The honesty about the mystery of the sacred, and the clarity from the clergy about our habit of making meaning through stories, song and silence. I love that the UU clergy is so well-read, generally speaking. I also love many of the UUs I’ve met along the way.
What finally convinced me to leave? A lot of things, including the nagging feeling that UUism lost it’s religious heart to political liberalism a long, long time ago. And I craved so much to learn about the meaning of salvation in UUism, but no one would touch the question with a 10-foot pole. Sure, we could talk about Buddhism, pagan rites, humanist hope for a world transformed — but not salvation, and certainly not sin. I could read Rev. Davidson Loehr’s essay “Salvation by Character” and re-read Walden. But I couldn’t expect to engage in a dialog about salvation with my peers. Mostly, they answered my questions with “We can’t save anyone. We don’t sell fire insurance.” I thought we could talk about salvation from a Unitarian and a Universalist philosophy, leaving heaven and hell out of the discussion. But no. It wasn’t to be.
There are other, more tangible reasons, too.
Ambivalence about membership
In my former congregation, you could pledge $5 a year, rarely show up for worship and decline to donate any significant time to the church. However, you can show up twice a year for the congregational meetings, make a long speech about your many “concerns” about the motions presented and actually get calm people worked up. And there was so much touchiness about money! It’s as if talking about money, and how to use it, was in itself a condemnation of those without means. But even then, there was no specific expectation of what members should do to align themselves with a vision for The Beloved Community, either. As much as the phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations” nettles my soul, I always felt oppressed by the resistance to articulating clear membership expectations — spiritual and material.
A chief sin of cultural liberalism is its reluctance to label toxic behaviors and assign them consequences. Boundaries are very fuzzy in a lot of UU congregations, and every leadership workshop or seminar I have attended in the last four years has eventually come around to the question about what to do with disruptive members. We always seem to stub our toes on the first principle of our covenant with the Unitarian Universalist Association. Our first principle reads thus: “We affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
This principle has been perverted. By what? By a blind terror of the appearance of bigotry. So we are no longer guided to welcome all people, but to welcome all behavior — even disruptive, corrosive and dangerous behavior.
Too often, I’ve seen this behavior metastasize. I’ve watched in horror as people have brought personal grudges up during worship in the messiest and most dangerous part of church life I’ve ever witnessed: Joys, Sorrows and Concerns. (For non-UUs, this is a time in the service when the congregation is invited to share. I’ve seen this part of the service go toxic more than once, and as a lay leader, I never understood the insistence that we protect this part of worship. Probably because those who love it have never or rarely had to spend hours a week doing damage control because of what someone shared. It’s very likely that the folks doing the damage were totally obtuse to the havoc they were wreaking on worship. I can forgive that. It’s harder for me to forgive lay leaders and members who either resist putting healthy boundaries around sharing in worship, or pretend what’s hurtful is somehow protected by freedom of expression. (Expecting people to behave, and to respect the worship hour is not censorship. Shame on you if you think it is. )
For any organization to be healthy — not perfect, but healthy — leaders have to identify boundaries, and then make policy and procedure to protect them. UUs have a very tough time with this. Some avoid setting boundaries all together. I failed utterly in this responsibility myself — sometimes out of ignorance and just as often out of cowardice. I own this, and it still haunts me.
There’s a cartoon that lovingly skewers the UU habit of avoiding depth in worship. The cartoon shows two doors — one is labeled “heaven” and the other is labeled “lectures about heaven.” The UUs in the cartoon are going to the lecture.
I’ve spent too many Sunday mornings listening to lectures that are absolutely inappropriate for religious ritual. An example? A well-respected academic came to my former congregation and spoke (not preached) about something called “facilitated after-death communication.” The professor was obviously very credible, very knowledgeable and very passionate about her work. She wasn’t the problem. The problem was that it wasn’t worship.
UUs are more comfortable dedicating Sundays to the ethics of fair trade coffee than to bringing people together for a common experience of transcendence. I can’t speak for others, but I come to church because something is unanswered in my life and the world, and I’d like to work it out — at least a little — before I die. I want to know how I can help save the world. Or a piece of it. I don’t think I can do that by being a smarter coffee drinker. I couldn’t ignore the grain of indignation I felt when sitting in these worship services. On Sunday morning, I want to leave my consumer identity behind for an hour and reach out to the depths of me — and the depths of the others in church. I want to know why we’re worth saving.
And I can’t live with the guilt that washes over me when a visitor or member comes in, sharing that they’ve lost a child, a spouse, a job or their hope — and they have to sit through a supposed religious service that won’t deign to offer them some sort of blessing, some bit of consolation.
The bloody embarrassing hyphenates
I was at a UU leadership function. I met a really smart, really energetic and sweet guy. The kind of guy that any church elder or pastor would love to recruit onto the board. He volunteered his path to me: “I’m a Buddhist-Humanist,” he said. Then he took a swig of fair trade coffee while I told every particle of my being that, no, I would NOT roll my eyes.
You can’t be a Buddhist-Humanist. You just can’t. Religious humanism claims that there is no supernatural force directing our moral decisions or the environment we live in. Atoms do what they do, and the only help we humans have is a conscience and a heart to make moral decisions. Buddhism, on the other hand, teaches that the world is an illusion. If Buddhism and Humanism aren’t opposing philosophies, they are incongruent and incompatible. (Don’t think I don’t feel conflicted about the big differences between Unitarians and Universalists, either. But that horse died a long time ago. I’ll leave others to flog it.)
Pick a philosophy that resonates with your heart and mind, and then do the work, dammit! Be a Buddhist or a Humanist and do the work, because I suspect that claiming a hybrid philosophy might have something to do with wanting to be “spiritual” without the messy work of transformation.
So I’m leaving the faith. I never thought I would, and I am grieving. I still feel and think like a Unitarian Christian. But I’ve got to do some religious work, work that somehow rises above mere political activism, and learn how to serve God’s children. I think I can do that better in a liberal Christian community, one that won’t low-ball me in terms of expectations or covenant.
My soul depends on it.
Occasionally on Fridays, wondertwisted will salute the women who make the world a better place, in big ways and in small ways.
Who’s that girl? It’s one of my favorite actresses, Parker Posey. Don’t mess with Parker, folks, or she’ll rip you a new one!
What makes her special: Crazy-good acting chops. A sharp wit. And she’s a brunette!
Posey brings an awareness to the screen that makes her a joy to watch. We lift our Friday stein to a woman who has championed quirky, wacky, adventurous and smart girls in film, a medium that talks down to women way, way too often.
Enjoy, and feel free to give Posey some love in the comments.
A pastor ponders life, death, hope, despair, theology and the nature of God
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A Unitarian Universalist's Journey through Seminary
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where faith & pop culture meet. expect turbulence
where faith & pop culture meet. expect turbulence
where faith & pop culture meet. expect turbulence