Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Would the Family Be Welcome?

Reading Making Chutney, and having read Doug Muder's article already, I find myself mulling whether the rest of my family would be welcome--comfortable--at a UU congregation. My father would; he's one of the many non-attending UUs, but was at one time quite active. In fact, he asked me to let him know when would be a good time to come an join us some Sunday, when he and his wife are in California for the winter and spring. He'd be comfortable, I think, and fit right back in. Were my mother still alive, she would too. Maybe even more comfortable. My brother might be, and I suspect my sister would (the congregation close to them would be delighted too, I suspect--a family with three young kids...). But none of that's a surprise. My parents became UUs in the early '60s, and their kids grew up UU and attended one congregation or another until shortly before the family moved overseas.

But what about the rest? The previous generations, and the extended family?

I can make guesses, but in part they're absurdist. Would my grandparents fit in with the UU church of today, or the UU church of the time when my parents joined? Or should I look to the Unitarian or Universalist churches when my grandparents were young adults with kids? Heck, would John Murray or John Adams be one of us today? People--and religions--are in part creatures of their time.

This isn't to deny the classism issues that Doug and Making Chutney are pointing out. Those are real, and valid. There's a disturbing sense, and an implicit one, that this is a religion for those smart enough to get it. But I think that's erroneous; most of what we're about, when you boil it down, doesn't have to be framed in loftily intellectual language--and it's not as if other religions (say, Catholicism) don't have a place among the intellectual, the highly cultured and the, well... vulgar.

I am quite confident that at least three of my grandparents could have been comfortable UUs. The last might have been, if there'd been a place--then--for her to express her strongly mystic nature.

I'm not sure that we'll see UUism move in the near future to being embracing of all. Class is a hell of an issue to engage, and I suspect that it will be as hard (or harder) than race, in the end. But I think that we can--and should--get over the obsession with education. Smart and thoughtful isn't a credential from an (increasingly) overpriced educational facility. I have known too many people with plenty of alphabet soup who had superglue poured into the mechanism of their soul and mind--who couldn't be UUs; not flexible enough, not thoughtful enough, not considerate, and far too self-obsessed. I've seen the obsession; when I was asked for my bio for publication preparatory to my being the nominating committee's candidate for president of the board, I wrote it up... and got it coughed back by someone asking if I didn't want to mention where I'd gone to college and what degree(s) I had. I didn't really. But I acquiesced, grudgingly. I wish I hadn't.

In most things of this scale, I find I'm an incrementalist; let's eat the mountain a bite at a time. Let's stop asking what degree someone holds in order to determine the inherent worth and value of her opinions and his perspectives. Let's start by embracing smart and thoughtful and good, and not caring what the post-production educational label reads.

One of my grandfathers was the best educated man I've ever met--and I've dealt with people who sport both multiple Masters and PhDs. Grandpa got himself kicked out of high school for his hijinks, and went on to get--eventually--into an extremely responsible federal position that required a college degree.

Smart isn't formally educated. Intelligent isn't schooled. Thoughtful isn't well-trained. And good, well, I'm not sure good has anything to do with any of those. I'd like to encourage our congregations to embrace smart, intelligent, thoughtful, kind and good people (as well as those of us who only manage to be some of those things, some of the time).


jacqueline said...

Wonderful commentary. I have been reading all of the posts about class and you point out some interesting ideas... by looking at our own families. I always wondered if that is why my sister didn't ever want to go back to church... she chose a non-traditional path in life sans higher education, and although she is wildly successful she can not stand the UU church. I never thought about it being about class.

Thanks for writing

kimc said...

Interesting. My sister "can't stand" the UU church either. she's now a Baha'i. My parents, though they had no college, fit in better than my sister. My parents were liberal working class moving into middle class -- my brother and I went to college. My sister tried college.
In our family it isn't so much the classism, as it is the authoritarian mind bent. My sister, alone among us, needs rules and rulers to feel secure. She's also the most bossy....

Robin Edgar said...
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