Open for comment: is there a place for racism-theory dissent in the UUA?

The more I follow stories about race in the Unitarian Universalist Association -- and particularly the alphabet soup of policy-making at the highest elected levels -- the more I (1) wonder what the real, heart-felt motive is and (2) fear that the UUA is locked into a uniform Boomer-driven worldview -- not only about race, but wealth, institutions and status -- that I certainly do not share.

I'm 40, with gray hair and bad knees, and have been a Unitarian Universalist for a quarter-century, so it's not I'm new to his, or young. Yet I wonder if the last Unitarian Universalist generation is the one before me. Have we hit Peak Neo-Liberal?

At every time I turn, established racism theory is either the trump card, the unspoken anxiety or magic formula for, well, everything. Forget art, education, cooperation, mission, prayer, appeals for sacrifice, merry-making or the host of other avenues once tried, or rather, it seems they have been forgotten. Indeed, tolerance, independence and the principled minority stand seem to be quite out of favor. Forget, too, that non-white newcomers might not want to be a party to a proxy culture war. Or that there's a personal benefit (power, self-esteem) for those who continue to raise the flag and keep the cause going.

So back to my question in the incipit: is there a place for racism-theory dissent in the UUA? More than just Will Shetterly's witness, too. And if not, how can the situation be changed?

Maundy Thursday alone

I am in a restaurant blogging after a failed visit to a Maundy Thursday service. (More about that later). And I am thinking about lonely Christians.

I would love to be in a functional church in the neighborhood of my own theology but even that seems a stretch. And after a while the communitarian appeals of liberal churches begin to pall. I know this is the part of the sermon where I say one should suck it up and discover the grace that comes from engaging deeply with other people. But I won't.

The very premise sounds too much like a rationalization for liking the people you like, and I gave up my membership at St. Tautology years ago. James Martineau has a few words to solitary Christians who can't put up with churches around them. I'll dig them up and share.

File under "why churches are losing their grip"

One of the reasons I'm not falling into despair after the passing of California Prop 8 is that I know the culture is changing very fast, and that in time it will fall. Religious, and particularly Christian, appeals to anti-gay hate and fear will appeal to fewer and fewer people. Two problems there:

  1. We will end up with two Americas: one somewhat backwards and religious; the other, somewhat progressive and secular.
  2. This is bad news for anyone progressive and religious.

Part of the problem is that religious institutions -- whatever their operating theology -- are conservative in practice. Take some hypothetical New England Unitarians who have a colonial building, a mid-20th-century working theology and a 1980s corporate-influenced governance structure. But "big box" Evangelicals can be just as stodgy, with cultural notes that remind me more of a Jimmy Buffett concert, an Amway pitch or a lost episode of Dynasty than "the faith which was once delivered unto the saints". (That's once reason I'm loathe to imitate them. A native cultural anachronism traded for an imported, ill-fiiting anachronism? Feh.)

Before I get into what those losing ways are, let me confess that I used to believe and defend them warmly. It's time for the church to anticipate the needs of society and stop apeing them badly.

So for your enjoyment, please watch "What if Starbucks Marketed Like a Church? A Parable" by Beyond Relevance, which I shall start exploring shortly. (Hattip: Church Marketing Sucks) [Later. Ugh, perhaps not. But the video is still good.]

Gygax, now Clarke, next whom?

As they say, deaths come in three. First Gary Gygax and now science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, aged 90. I rather thought he would outlast all of us.

While Gygax informed by geeky childhood, Clarke tapped my imagination. Did anyone else read the short story "The Nine Million Names of God" (in an anthology of the same name) about a computer doing divine work in a Buddhist monastery? Inspired me as a young man.

So while out of courtesy I won't opine about where Clarke is now -- obviously I have my own ideas -- I can still think of the geosynchronous satellites he first envisioned, looking down from on high. . . .

Glossary: subsidiarity

Back about a year ago when I was without a Day Job, I twice interviewed with a Catholic political lobby; there I learned the concept of subsidiarity.

I'll recycle the current Wikipedia article's content, since it wraps up the idea pretty well.

the principle which states that matters ought to be handled by the smallest (or, the lowest) competent authority.
. . .

The principle of subsidiarity holds that government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently. The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person.
. . .
The principle of subsidiarity was developed in the encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, as an attempt to articulate a middle course between the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism on the one hand and the various forms of communism, which subordinate the individual to the state, on the other.

I think this is a missing piece in current Unitarian Universalist discussions about community, against which a subtle individualist rebuff seems to be brewing, most clearly (I think) in traditional Humanist circles. Echoes, too, in the debate about funding the theological schools. And the last thing we need is a proxy war in place of an open decision-making process about the role of central authority. Recent discussion about covenant and polity has become too smoky to be useful, especially by laypersons who might have contributions from other disciplines.

I bring it up because there's an interesting article in today's New York Times about Malawi's resistance to external neo-liberal policies respecting fertilizer subsidies to the countries small farmers. Read the story to the end for an example of the good that can come when the central Malawian government devolves its own authority to local communities.

"Ending Famine, Simply by Ignoring the Experts" (by Celia W. Dugger, December 2, 2007)

With this post, I open the category Core ideas.