Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Solstice Mistakes for UUs to Avoid

1. Don’t turn the Flaming Chalice into a seasonal idol. It has no seasonal significance. In fact, it has no figurative significance at all. It began out of convenience as a randomly chosen image for some stationery, for goodness’ sake.

2. Don’t turn the 7 Principles into a seasonal idol. They have no seasonal significance. They may be sound rules to live by, but they aren’t our creed or a statement of our highest truths. They are no more than a transitory statement of broad propositions that all of us in our wide theological diversity were at one time willing to support, a lowest common denominator. When they were first written and adopted, it was on the express condition that they be periodically reconsidered and revised as appropriate. We are already several years late in meeting that condition, so it could even be said that their denominational validity has lapsed.

3. Don’t envy or covet the authentic seasonal observances of other traditions if they don’t have authentic meaning for you. As your mother told you a million times, “Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to go along.”

4. Don’t bowdlerize the authentic seasonal observances of other traditions to make them more enjoyable or meaningful to you. It’s an insensitive, self-centered affront to others, who take their own traditions quite seriously and might see even well-intentioned imitation as blasphemy or mockery. Rather, celebrate other traditions’ seasonal observances authentically if at all, and preserve and uphold our own authentic traditions of the season as well. We have enough of our own not-oppressively-dogmatic seasonal heritage to draw upon if we wish – for example, the Puritans’ rationalist rejection of midwinter celebrations of Jesus’ birth as being unsupported from Scriptural or other evidence; or Charles Follen’s 19th-century re-introduction of Christmas trees and other “Yuletide” traditions that had been forbidden as unacceptably pagan by the Puritans; or Edmund Sears’ beloved carol, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, which manages to express the spirit of the season without mentioning Jesus; or Charles Dickens' similarly Jesus-less masterpiece, "A Christmas Carol"; or James Pierpont’s “Jingle Bells”; or Thomas Nast’s Santa Claus illustrations.

5. Whatever you do to mark the season, don’t just pull it out of your @$$ and make it up as you go along, while holding forth as if “this” is what “we” do at this time of year. Most people are smarter than that, or at least most other people are, so it only makes “us” all look like fools and dilettantes.

If you’d like to simplify your seasonal planning by avoiding all these mistakes at once, consider avoiding Chalica.


At December 11, 2007 at 1:16:00 PM EST, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

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At December 11, 2007 at 2:02:00 PM EST, Anonymous Robin said...

Thank you for this post, Fausto. I, too, am extremely troubled by our rather arrogant tendency to make up a new religious tradition. This made-up holiday manages to highlight the tendency and misappropriate other religious holidays all at the same time (by totally ripping off and bastardizing Chanukah AND Kwanzaa)--it feels trite and meaningless with the added bonus of being offensive to others. And, pray tell, how is Christmas not a UU winter holiday? Are we just adding Chalica to the repertoire because we need yet another winter holiday, or because we need to replace legitimate religious holidays? I guess I'd just like to know if people are enthusiastic about this new celebration and if it will spread like wildfire in our congregations. I'm worried, but I could be worried for nothing.

At December 11, 2007 at 2:43:00 PM EST, Blogger Comrade Kevin said...

Regarding point number two, I think far too few UUs are aware that their principles were akin to a work of art in a state of free-floating revision.

Regarding point number three, my girlfriend is Jewish so as a means to be respective of her faith tradition I have learned a few things here and there, particularly about holidays and holy days. Out of a concerted interest to know more about each other we've both come to greater understandings of what is important to the both of us.

Certainly it does seem condescending when dabblers co-opt holidays for no good reason but the novelty.

Regarding point four, taken to an extreme, some have narrowed Christmas down to some sort of inoffensive "Generic Winter Holiday" which removes the offensive tenets and leaves only the unsatisfying outer framework.

Regarding point five, I think many people have a tendency to want to romanticize this time beyond all conception, trying desperate to make the Holiday season "The Best Season Ever" not realizing that it creates resentment in other people, family members, friends, acquaintances, and other folks alike.

Excellent post!

At December 11, 2007 at 2:58:00 PM EST, Blogger Toonhead said...

Chalica? It looks like UUs can come up with their own comedy material. This is a joke right?

At December 11, 2007 at 8:38:00 PM EST, Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

Gee -- no one is forcing anyone here to celebrate Chalica. It's just a harmless suggestion on the UUA Young Adult and Campus Ministry web site -- if you don't want to do, just ignore it.

Since nearly every religious tradition has syncretistic elements and Christianity is chock full of them, why is it inappropriate for Unitarian Universalists to do likewise?

The suggested winter holiday seems no more trite than Christmas to me.

At December 12, 2007 at 6:34:00 AM EST, Blogger fausto said...

The short answer, Steve, is idolatry, inauthenticity, and misappropriation.

(Syncretism, incidentially, is different from misappropriation. Syncretism is recognizing the concurrent validity of religious apprehensions from different traditions. "John the Evangelist" was practicing suncretism when he equated the Jewish God, the Greek Logos, and the itinerant Syrian rabbi Jesus. Emerson practiced syncretism when he applied monistic insights from Hinduism to his own Christian cultural heritage. Misappropriation, in contrast, is applying one tradition's practices or forms in an unrelated context without preserving their original significance or meaning. It shows a careless contempt for the original source material and an undeservedly conceited self-regard, and it is not something that has ever been characteristic of Unitarians or Unversalists, at least not before the last few decades.)

At December 16, 2007 at 3:54:00 PM EST, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At December 14, 2009 at 9:36:00 AM EST, Anonymous George Byrd said...

It seems to me the very essence of UUism is the idea that we are each individuals sharing a common journey through this experience called life, seeking meaning along the way, but each taking our own route. We are each going to find meaning in our own way, and along that way we will create a pastiche drawn from our various experiences and the diverse range of ideas to which we are exposed. Along the way, we have more to gain by sharing our experiences with each other and learning and growing together than we do by judging and setting ourselves apart. If some people find meaning in creating something for themselves that resonates, then they should be encouraged to do so, not judged or derided. Such behavior is the antithesis of UUism. No one should be deprived of his right to express his opinion either, but once expressed, it is fair game for analysis.

All holidays are made up. Even if you are a devout Christian, you have to acknowledge that it is men who chose the way to celebrate Christ's birth. Nowhere in the Bible is Christmas mentioned, nor dictates handed down from God on how to celebrate. Why should a holiday designed by men many years ago and evolved over the centuries carry any more weight than a holiday I created myself today? If I find meaning in the traditions of others and wish to incorporate those traditions into my own, unique form of worship, why should I not?

As for the chalice, it would be irrelevant if someone made it up as a joke. What is relevant is that it is a powerful symbol that holds meaning for many people. The chalice does not even signify the same thing to everyone, but to many of us, it serves as a beautiful symbol of our shared journey through life.

The 7 principles and purposes have the meaning that we each give to them in our own hearts and minds. To many, the 7 principles and purposes are powerful statements. I might say for myself, given that I am a humanist, the 7 principles ARE the closest thing to a creed that I adhere to. It doesn't matter to me one bit whether they are our religion's official creed or not, or whether they are overdue to be updated, they are still very important to me. If they do get revised, I'm sure the 8, 9 or 10 principles and purposes will be just as valuable to me, but I will not discard the old, but keep them with me also.

In the end, this is the journey I am on. I welcome the experiences of others. My life has been tremendously enriched since I discovered Unitarian Universalism. I am grateful for the diversity of experiences and beliefs I have encountered, and the loving and accepting hearts that I have come to know.


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