Saturday, August 30, 2008

What I've been reading

The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

The autobiography of a Western-leaning Muslim girl and her coming-of-age in revolutionary Iran, rendered all the more gripping by its graphic novel format.

The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew -- Three Women Search for Understanding, by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner

Through a free, responsible, and often tension-laden search, three women of different faiths discover the common truths beyond the illusory differences of their religious traditions. As a UU, it was good to be reminded that something we UUs take for granted can be so difficult for others to discover.

Nature Girl, by Carl Hiaasen

If Dave Barry wrote suspense novels, he would be Carl Hiaasen. Death, mayhem, telemarketing, and earth-centered values plague an unlikely collection of zany characters in the Everglades.

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson

As Daniel Burnham and an all-star team of America's best Beaux Arts architects, landscape architects, and urban planners race to complete construction in time for the opening of the massive 1893 Chicago World's Fair, a demon-possessed serial murderer is also building a nearby tourist hotel, fitted out to serve double duty as a house of torture and death. It may sound too weird and fantastic to make a credible story -- except that it's all true.

Barbie for President!

I was never going to vote for McCain, but until yesterday I at least had some comfort that the other side's candidate for once didn't seem too awful. I am utterly gobsmacked by McCain's choice of Sarah Palin for VP, though. I thought if I suspended judgment and waited a day, his good and clever reasons might become more evident, but it's not happening.

McCain seems to me to have been pandering to two constituencies: evangelicals and disaffected female Clinton supporters. Romney or Ridge would have been better qualified, but it seems he too was afraid of further alienating evangelicals to give the nod to either of them. Even given his decision to pander, though, I am astonished at Palin's utter unpreparedness.

McCain is over 70 with a history of recurring cancer, so he really needs to think about his VP's Presidential qualifications. I'm sorry, but being mayor of a town of less than 10,000, plus a year and a half governing one of the nation's least populous and most remote states, doesn't prepare you to lead the world. There's also the question of whether a mother of five young children, including a baby with Down's syndrome, is correctly discerning her life's call if she aspires to lead the world.

McCain seems to be calculating that his two target constituencies are too stupid or too preoccupied with their own narrow concerns to care about those things, but I think it's a bad miscalculation that ultimately will offend more members of both constituencies than it will win. If you're evangelical, are you really going to support a mom who won't be there for her kids? If you're a Clintonista with a feminist political agenda, are you really all that tempted to vote for a guy who chooses beauty pageant contestants for both his life mate and his running mate?

In one stroke, McCain has neutralized his two strongest arguments against Obama: that he's inexperienced, and that he doesn't have the judgment and wisdom necessary for leadership.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Is the "Living Tradition" an oxymoron?

The discussions that have blossomed elsewhere in the UU blogosphere about whether and to what degree our denomination is accurately described as "post-Christian" leave me wondering about another of our UU shibboleths: the "living tradition". We like to flatter ourselves that we are the heirs and stewards of a religious "tradition" that can be traced in a continuous line back to, depending on how you count, William Ellery Channing and John Murray, or the Enlightenment, or the Radical Reformation, or prominent theologians of the pre-Nicene Christian Church. We like the turn of phrase so much that we even use it for the title of our hymnal.

I have argued against using the term "post-Christian" normatively to describe all of us in the aggregate, because it imposes a false uniformity on what is in fact a broadly diverse collection of individual personal spiritual orientations, and because it seems to exclude both the enduring witness of some of our oldest congregations and a renewed appreciation for our own unique permutation of the Christian way of seeing among our newer members and clergy. Such exclusion seems to me inconsistent with our relatively newfound, but ostensibly denomination-wide, "prophetic" calling (as Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams described it) to name and resist oppression in all its forms. Others have argued with equal merit that as an empirical description, and in spite of permissible but uncharacteristic deviation, “post-Christian” accurately describes a prevailing theological orientation among a majority of us.

If the "post-Christian" epithet is correct, however, either normatively or as an empirical description of a dominant faction, what is the "tradition" we are referring to that still lives? What is it in what we do today that would cause our denominational ancestors of a century or two ago to recognize us as remaining in unbroken covenant with them? What are we, either as a whole or at least a quorum, doing to preserve our tradition, teach it to the next generation, and keep it vital?

Or would it be more accurate and honest to say that the "traditional" elements of our religion no longer live except in the family scrapbooks and photo albums of happy but bygone memories?

[The Revs. Amy Freedman, pastor of Channing Memorial Church in Newport, RI, and Carl Scovel, pastor emeritus of King’s Chapel in Boston, posing in front of a statue of William Ellery Channing and a tower that according to local legend was built by pagan Norsemen. Is one monument more authentic than the other?]

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Hit-and-run Earth-centered post

Hats off to Polity Wonk for identifying the denominations of Vermont.

Although a bit tongue-in-cheek, Polity Wonk's post identifies real ways that real people who feel a dependence on the earth, the environment, and natural cycles have found to express and live their appreciation.

To me, these seem more genuine than trying to invent and adopt a figurative religious language by reconstructing bits and pieces of long-extinct, pre-industrial cultures into something that is (to me, anyway) inauthentic.

But even so, I respect the urge to try, in whatever way we do try. The earth is sacred. Our very existence depends on her, and so it is our sacred duty to honor her and care for her. In an age where she herself is threatened, by our actions, the legacies of culture, religion and history that we inherit from our predecessors do not give us adequate tools to express that.