Wednesday, December 03, 2008

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. (If you deconstruct its components into authentic, historic religious symbols, though, chalices represent the Blood of Christ and flames represent the Holy Ghost. Did you really mean to idolize them?)

2. Don’t turn the 7 Principles into a seasonal idol. They have no seasonal significance. They may be sound rules to try to live by, but they aren’t a creed or a similar 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, a catalogue of platitudes. When they were first written and adopted as a denominational bylaw, 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, but we're on the verge of doing it, so it could even be said that whatever denominational authority they once held has now 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. We sensitive and enlightened types call that "cultural misappropriation", and respectfully avoiding it has even been included in the discussion draft for the present 7 Principles' replacement. (See lines 26 and 27 here.) 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 hectic seasonal planning by avoiding all these mistakes at once, consider avoiding Chalica.

[reposted by necessity from last year, with minor revisions]

18 Comments:

At December 3, 2008 at 3:18:00 PM EST, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Also reposted by necessity from last year, with minor revisions to the embedded links -

The Chalica Song

Chorus:

Light your menorica
Here comes Chalica
So much funnica
To celebrate Chalica

Chalica is: the festival of U*Us
Instead of one day of presence
U*Us have seven empty principles

When you feel like/the only kid in town
Without a Christmas tree
Here's a list of people that are
U*Us like you and me:

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. finds the asterisk useful
So does Mary Bennett, Kalvin Drake
and this U*U quite abuseful

Guess who surfs the web with
Tim Berners Lee?
Chris Walton from Philocrites
And Al Gore from Tennessee! (not really a U*U)

William Ellery Channing was half U*U
and Hosea Ballou was half, too
Put them together,
What an extinct looking U*U!

You don't need to Deck the Halls
Or Jingle Bell Rock,
'Cause you can spin the story
With Chalica and other U*U schlock!

[Chorus]

George W. Bush [not a U*U]
But guess who was? Hall of Famer John Quincy Adams
U*Us got Vicky Weinstein and her
evil twin sister Peacebang,

Christopher Reeve was a super U*U
Not too lucky. . .
Some people think Ebenezer Scrooge is
Well, he's not, but guess who is -- These three U*Us!

[Chorus]

So few U*Us are in Show Biz
Adam Sandler isn't but I think Matt Groenig is
Tell your friend Dracula
It's time to celebrate Chalica
I hope I get a harmonica
On this lovely lovely Chalica

So drink your gin and tonica
And smoke lots of marijuanica
If you really really wannika
Have a Happy Happy Happy Happy Chalica
Happy Chalica Everybody!
Mary Xm*ass and Happy Chalica!


If it will make you feel better Fausto I see little evidence of U*Us actually observing Chalica but then again U*Us are pretty good at disregarding and flaunting the Seven Principles of the "tiny, declining, fringe religion" known as U*Uism throughout the rest of the year too. . .

 
At December 3, 2008 at 3:18:00 PM EST, Anonymous bluish seminarian said...

I've got to defend the flaming chalice as a bit more than arbitrary. Yes, it was originally designed for documents rather than ceremonies, but to say that cups and fire have only a Christian religious history is a bit limited. The adoption of the 2D chalice icon as a 3D living symbol is a beautiful example of how religious symbols evolve and grow to fill a need, and is not at all random or arbitrary.

 
At December 3, 2008 at 3:20:00 PM EST, Blogger ogre said...

The misappropriation text in the draft was brutally (and justifiably) criticized and has~a little bird assures me~been altered to something that is appropriate, positive and doesn't seem to so easily permit the self-credentialing of Misappropriation Police.

Rather than avoiding any contact with the seasonal habits, customs, traditions and practices of others lest our oppressive fingers defile them... a call for sensitive and enlightened engagement with them seems more appropriate. Otherwise, we descend (or at least risk descent) into some sort of ethnic experience apartheid. What degree of ethnicity/experience permits one to participate/adopt such celebrations? Oy, let's not go there.

Is it ok if I don't even look into Chalica?

 
At December 3, 2008 at 3:31:00 PM EST, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

"What degree of ethnicity/experience permits one to participate/adopt such celebrations? Oy, let's not go there."

Oh I don't know Ogre. Why not go there? Why not allow me to ask what permits the Uncommonly White Denomination (to the tune of about 97% WASU*U) to adopt and participate in Kwanzaa?

 
At December 3, 2008 at 3:44:00 PM EST, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Oh dear. . .

Looks like someone else wrote an alternative to The Chalica Song too.

Enjoy Fausto!

 
At December 3, 2008 at 4:19:00 PM EST, Blogger Chalicechick said...

If you guys get to reprint, I'm reprinting what I wrote the last time Robin posted verse on my blog:

Robin's a guy with strong will
but his poetry skills sure are nil.
To save an elegy so sweet,
this Chick's hitting "delete"
Bad meter is such a buzzkill.



Anyway, given how much time Christians spend telling each other they are doing Christmas wrong, I don't worry all that much about the misappropriation aspects.

If I mean something a tad metaphorical when I sing about saving us all from Satan pow'r, then that's my business, IMHO.

I celebrate a mostly secular sort of Christmas and don't particularly fuss about it. We're still thinking of getting a retro aluminum Christmas tree.

At the same time, I don't particularly begrudge the Chalica folks what they're doing. I don't approve of using the Seven Principles as a creed for reasons including those that this commenter thread make obvious enough.

That said, I think in midwinter when most of the trees look dead and it's cold, we all have an urge to come together and take care of each other and remind each other to be of good cheer because no matter how chilly and bleak it might be, spring is coming. I don't think it's an accident that lots of religions tap into those feelings and have a midwinter celebration and while this is a pretty clumsy attempt to do the same, I don't think it's such a bad mistake to try.

After all, all revered old traditions were once silly and new and every grand historic mansion was once thought of as a tacky monstrosity.

CC
who does, however, disapprove of getting one's traditions from a TV show. So no Festivus for her.

 
At December 3, 2008 at 4:44:00 PM EST, Blogger Joel Monka said...

Word, CC. Reminds me of a quote that's been attributed to several NeoPagans: "We're going to conduct this ritual exactly as our ancestors did- we're going to make it up!"

 
At December 3, 2008 at 4:50:00 PM EST, Blogger fausto said...

@ bluish seminarian: I know I'm in the minority, but to me the flaming chalice is a phony, false, invented idol. It's rendered even lamer by the fact that we can't even agree among ourselves on exactly what it represents; and even lamer than that if you suppose (as I do) that we can't agree because if we were honest with ourselves we would have to admit that what it represents is merely ourselves, and that when we idolize it we are indulging in self-worship.

@ ogre: I was trying to be a bit wry about our proposed (and properly controversial, IMO) oh-so-righteous stand against misappropriation. However, if I were Jewish by heritage, and had grown up with fond childhood memories of Chanukkah, I think I would be some annoyed that a bunch of do-it-yourself dilettantes had invented an ostensibly religious practice out of whole cloth and named it "Chalica" at just this time of year, and even posted it on a website with the caption, "Kinda like Hanukka, only different".

 
At December 3, 2008 at 5:07:00 PM EST, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Not to mention shamelessly ripping off Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song as if to underscore that cultural (mis)appropriation. It looks like they ripped off Kwanzaa too however. That latter rip-off may be marginally better than having a bunch of pasty white U*Us celebrating Kwanzaa itself though. . .

 
At December 3, 2008 at 5:35:00 PM EST, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Come to think of it. . .

I have an alternative description/slogan for Chalica.

Kinda like Kwanzaa Only 97% White. ;-)

 
At December 3, 2008 at 6:14:00 PM EST, Blogger fausto said...

I'm thinking more like, Kinda Like Kwanzaa Only Even Phonier.

(I know, white folks like me aren't supposed to say things like that. It's not PC. It might even be culturally inappropriate or even *gasp* racist. But that's why I embedded a CYA link.)

 
At December 3, 2008 at 9:48:00 PM EST, Blogger Chalicechick said...

Response on the Chaliceblog

 
At December 17, 2008 at 3:07:00 PM EST, Blogger Cynthia Landrum said...

I decided to go with "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it." So I tried it. Rather publicly. :)

And what I can say is that I did enjoy it; I did feel more connected to the UU principles, and I did feel more connected to my faith. I didn't focus on the parts of it that I felt were more a rip-off of Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. I wince at the name, because that, in particular, seems to do this. I also didn't light my chalice on a daily basis. I just focused on the principles. So what I did might be termed "Winter Principles Celebration" but that's an even worse name for a holiday than Chalica.

Yeah, I get that the Principles are not a creed. Thanks. *sarcasm* Wouldn't have known that without people telling me so. Let me rush out and tell my congregation! I've never told that to them before! */sarcasm*

Every holiday started somewhere, so I have absolutely no problem with people saying, "This is a way for me to create a ritual that fills a particular need in my life" and then sharing it with others.

 
At December 17, 2008 at 9:58:00 PM EST, Blogger fausto said...

Rev. Cyn, there's nothing wrong with the Principles per se, but problems arise when they are misused, which in my observation occurs too easily -- and which you yourself seem to feel the need to warn against, if you also warn against using them as a creed.

I think "Chalica" as it is being promoted commits any number of religious abuses, both to our own religious heritage and to other religions, and it does idolize the Principals as a creed. However, I also think the reflections on the Principles that you did over on your blog actually share very little in common with what is being promoted as "Chalica", except for the time of year. What you left out was most of the ersatz mimicking of other faiths' observances -- which is the part of "Chalica" that I think is potentially most offensive. What you kept -- a more in-depth examination of the our Principles, their meaning and value, and how to practice them -- is worthy enough, but I think there is enough else going on in the religious calendar at this time of year without having to clutter it up with this too, and I think that merely choosing this time of year for such an exercise vests it with inappropriate overtones of misappropriation. It would be better to do that at a time of year when not much else is going on and some thoughtful examination helps reinforce a sense of religious connection -- over the summer, perhaps.

 
At December 19, 2008 at 3:14:00 PM EST, Blogger Cynthia Landrum said...

and which you yourself seem to feel the need to warn against, if you also warn against using them as a creed

touché.

But as for this already being a busy time of year, for me, that's all the more reason to do this now. What I was looking for, and got, was a way to connect to my own religious beliefs in the winter holiday season. Focusing on the principles in the way that I did has made Christmas itself more meaningful to me. Giving gifts to charity "because it's Christmas" never made much sense, because why not give at another time of year. Giving gifts to charity at Christmas "because I'm honoring my principles at this time of year" did. So it was a way to connect in to the holidays already happening by adding on a UU component. Does that make sense?

Yes, I find the more eggregious parts of Chalica things like the song, which while well-intentioned, make it too much of a mimicking of Hanukkah. And perhaps what I did wasn't "Chalica" at all. But it worked for me.

 
At June 23, 2009 at 6:50:00 AM EDT, Blogger Yewtree said...

If Buddhists, Pagans, Jews and Hindus join UUism, is it cultural (mis)appropriation to include something of their traditions?

I agree we need to be careful about how we incorporate things from other traditions, but speaking as a Wiccan and a Unitarian, I find it very moving when something from Wicca and Paganism is included in a Unitarian service.

Also, I think it's useful to engage in comparative exercises to see what is missing from one's own tradition.

Sorry to be late to the discussion - are you on UUpdates?

 
At June 23, 2009 at 9:48:00 AM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

I do not think that drawing on complementary elements from disparate religious traditions to celebrate universal values or truths is misappropriation. Rather, I think the deepest truths are the ones that have been most widely recognized across divisions of culture and time.

I also do not think it is inappropriate to search for confirming or complementary truths outside one's own tradition. For instance, a Buddhist can find some outstanding examples of karma in the Bible, and a Christian can find outstanding examples of mercy and compassion in Buddhism and Hinduism.

I agree that it can be very moving when these complementary apprehensions drawn from different religious traditions are collected and celebrated together.

In contrast, what bothers me about Chalica is its facile inauthenticity. It is obviously not borrowing sensitively from other traditions to affirm their genuine lessons. It does not even drawing on anything more authentic or profound from our own religious heritage than the chalice, which originated not as any deep expression of religious truths but only as a convenient logo for some stationery during World War II. (And no, the 7 Principles are not any more profound or permanent than the chalice logo; they are only a value statement that by our denominational bylaws must be reviewed and revised periodically to keep them from becoming static and stale. Contrary to popular supposition in some corners of the UUA, they are only a thumbnail summary of practical lessons drawn from our Universalist and Unitarian traditions, they are not the foundation of our tradition.)

To me, Chalica is a good example of a lazy UU tendency to make stuff up, rather than engage in an honest but more challenging way with authentic religious witness (which can be authentically found both within our own tradition and elsewhere), just because it is easier to do and sounds good. Worse, some of the stuff that it makes up appears to be plagiarized from other traditions' ceremonies (especially Chanukkah) while violating the authentic religious meaning of the practices or symbols. The result strikes me as both phony rather than genuine as an expression of Unitarianism or Universalism, and blasphemous to the source traditions from which it steals.

 
At June 23, 2009 at 10:00:00 AM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Oh, yes, I'm on UUpdates, although I don't post very often, and as the number of UU bloggers has grown things move off the front page faster and faster, so sometimes I can be hard to find there.

 

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