Arian Evangelists? How Did I Not Know This? Does Everyone Else Have This in Hand?

Perhaps it is inevitable that a historian who immerses herself in marriage will succumb to the attractions of genealogy. How much better when matters genealogical start intersecting with my ongoing recreational scholarly deep dive, which has made its way back to medieval English history. But X marked a surprising spot: not in England, but Germanic sources on the continent. Yes, most of my forebears were German, but, more amazingly, so is my religion: England was just a byway. Unitarianism came from Arianism, and it did so because the Arians sent evangelists into the Gothic and Vandal tribes who sacked Rome. Others of these evangelists found fertile ground with Constantine, the Eastern Roman Emperor, and among the Slavs who became so many of his subjects.

So much of what Harvard taught me about Unitarian history thus proves wrong. It was not primarily a religion for Western Europe’s educated classes, leaping to brilliant rejections of Roman Catholic superstition — rather, it was a superstition of its own. People learned it from others –way back in the fading years of the Roman Empire — and passed it on the same way. It survived in places to which it was driven, from whence it emerged when able. It became the language of educated English middle classes, so far as I can tell, because that’s who conducted the wool trade by which it finally crossed the English Channel. In England, I’m guessing, it settled in as a working class religion because the fabric trade engendered an industrial enclave.

I can’t help noticing the importance of this discovery to the current political plight of progressive politics. The Unitarian disdain for evangelism is best summed up in the old saw about the Beacon Bill newcomer who admired the hat of a grande dame. Where, inquired the newcomer, had the resident bought her hat? “We do not buy hats,” sniffed the matron, “We have hats.” So it is with our beliefs: if you have to ask how and where to get them, perhaps you will not fit in among us. Maybe that explains the self-conversion culture of the Unitarian Universalism of my youth and young adult years. More importantly, perhaps this explains why we do not trouble ourselves with all those lesser down-ballot and off-year elections by which the evangelism-driven conservatives have tied us up in knots. To knock on doors and introduce yourself to neighbors, to step down from the pedestal of international world peace and talk about fixing sidewalks — it turns out these are things our Arian forebears would have done — and did — which is why we have our Unitarian religion today.

II always wondered how the theories of an aged bishop in North Africa landed in North America 13 centuries later and blossomed into this imperfect but aspirational democracy. What happened in between? Was this some weird religious locust, emerging only when the climate allowed, even after so much time had passed? Historians debate two models: continuous and discontinuous. I’ve done enough gardening, tended enough children, done enough genealogy and genograms, to believe there is no such thing as radical discontinuity.So my religious roots appear to be more natural, less rebellious than my adolescent ego ever suspected. Not only does this apply to me, but to my religion itself.

 

 

 

 

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Thank You, Right Wing Conspiracy

Good morning, lovers of the planet and democracy (yes, we’ve been watching Thom Hartmann). To listen to Democrat officialdom and their media mouthpieces, you would think our nation faces the biggest crisis since the Civil War whose end we will commemorate next month.

Yeah, you would think that.

But let’s think, instead, like Abraham Lincoln. Let’s think, instead, like Dr. Martin Luther King. Because what the Right Wing Conspiracy — and yes, there clearly IS such a thing — has given us planet huggers all the tools we need to shut down THEIR favorite project, the Trans-Pacific Pipeline (TPP). Here we have a secretly negotiated international pact to silence local initiatives against despoliation of basic labor and ecological rights. Here we have a legally enforceable regime which makes it illegal for local government to function in support of its human citizens whenever any corporate “person”‘ — anywhere in the world — claims that local measure violates the corporation fundamental right to maximize profit.

Remember John Adams, and the long-ago “Alien and Sedition Act”? It’s back, and it’s bigger than ever.

But the trade-deal conveyor belt that is today’s federal government has learned it faces rising opposition to such deals. Hence the new device called “Fast Track,” which means the Congress only gets to vote a total bill up or down. It cannot revise, advise, or devise any alterations. Technically, this is the same requirement for ratifying  a treaty, but because a treaty requires a 2/3 majority for approval, negotiators work with a constant calculation of how to reach such a high number. Fast track happens before you know it, and calls only for simple majorities.

Both parties have sought fast track for some of their deals and opposed fast track for deals negotiated by their opponents. Meanwhile, the international left-right fringe objects to the entire regime of “trust me-hate them” secrecy and obfuscation. Unfortunately for us localists, we cannot see past the tear gas of social issues that the money lobby employs to keep us suspicious of each other instead of against them.

I recently had occasion to look at some newspapers from 1859 and 1860, prior to the election of Abraham Lincoln. Both North and South were already mobilizing troops and issuing statements about top priorities. Lincoln’s top priority was different: he intended to conduct his duties in such a way that the Confederacy would fire the first shot. This would allow him rally the North, but it would also prevent the South from claiming they had been invaded. When Sherman marched through Georgia, when Joshua Chamberlain fought through Virginia, the local population was, as the saying goes, “hoisted by their own petard.”

It is not my intention  that we abandon the injustices perpetrated as racial, gender, and generational bullying Lincoln did not intend to ignore the provocations from the South. But here is a chance to do what the Republicans say they want to do — enforce sound principles of governance, as they have articulated these principles themselves Democratic officialdom protests that these are tools they themselves need when they hold power. But the Dems who espouse these tools only want for themselves a lessened — moderated — version of the same privilege enjoyed by the greedsters. James Carville is wrong and Elizabeth Warren — and the Tea Party –Bill’s $25,000 cigars do tie directly to Hillary’s secret emails. The average American knows why Hillary is giving expensive speeches instead of eating rubber chicken and shaking hands with folks who made a real financial sacrifice to attend her event — not the price of a book, but wages foregone, babysitter paid extra for a full day.

Not for a moment do I take back my support for just jurisprudence and an end to bullying by frightened former elites. But in a tough fight, you take allies as they present themselves. The last month it has been the GOP right wing sharpening blades that we planet huggers and justice-seekers can now use to kill the TPP.

Has Oscar Handlin’s Moment Finally Come?

When Harvard scholar Oscar Handlin published, in 1951, The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations that Made the American People, his book won the usual praise and criticism. Unlike so many other academic headliners, though, it also won the Pulitzer Prize and repeated reissues, most recently, in 2002, by the University of Pennsylvania Press. I used to occasionally see Professor Handlin, than an emeritus who had the private study next to the emeritus for whom I happily researched. It is remarkable how little these men in their 80s could be recognized as lions of cultural commentary. Yet Handlin’s book might be more relevant today than it was in 1951. He argued that generations of alienation followed most large waves of immigration, but critics of his era rightly pointed out that the prosperity and cultural integration occasioned by World War II vitiated this problem. But now, with that prosperity and cultural integration decisively in decline, Handlin’s analysis stands up to the current spotlight: recent immigrants, from different countries and to countries other than ours, hold up well to his descriptions.

Recently I purchased this book for a close re-reading. What hit me most immediately was the poetic, almost cinematic, flow of words with which Handlin seduces as much as he persuades. Most of his evocations describe sepia-colored museum displays of Eastern European pastoral cultures that have mostly vanished from the memories of the living and do not resemble the lands vomiting forth new refugees. But his core analysis remains a solidly welded iron framework on which new surface materials easily graft.

Handlin says this:

Immigrants left behind a cohesive and interwoven, almost magically immersive, culture, and thrust themselves into a social environment where nothing was what it appeared to be. Nor. in the new realm, do verbal descriptions and prescriptions set out clear paths to success. This instills loneliness, but also confusion. Against both these sorrows, ancestral religion counterposes connection, security, and order.

Hold that thought for a moment, because I contend that it marks the place where the alienation of the nativist — the person who insists that being born in a country ought, in itself, to count for something — meets the social and religious desperation of the immigrant. Handlin’s point about religion’s tangibility closely match the psychological experience of economically marginalized nativist fundamentalists. Marine LePen has more in common with the Islamists than she has with satirists and scientists. In the Cincinnati of my young adulthood, the widespread registration of African American voters horrified the LGBT community by electing a preacher who had no doubt that all of us were going to burn in hell. Being a member of the liberal clergy, this pairing bothers me. Some of my sympathy is with those who advocate the equality of faith and reason, even as my reason and faith unite to protest either reason or faith, when they call for the death, the inequality, the marginalization of other people.

But that’s my personal quandary. What Handlin offers the present situation, with an urgency unknown since the 1920s and 1930s, is how the immigration experience — even when it succeeds economically — continues as a trauma for the second generation. Young people always want to know where they came from. They want their parents to have stature. So the second generation of immigrants, seeing the belittlement of their parents, look to the old world with some hope that going back would restore the family’s grandeur. Handlin eloquently, poignantly, describes this exploration as an unfolding of disillusionment. The photos show buildings, farms, families, even clothing and cars, that cannot compare to what the second generation now understands as home.

Here’s where Handlin jumped off the page at me:

He contends that in these circumstances, it is the second generation that works hardest to reinforce the religious or cultural heritage that proved transportable, transplantable. It is all they have left of their family stature, their elder-wisdom. And if the new country gives them no additional forms of stature, of wisdom, their need for this vestigial wealth grows all the more desperate. If they cannot make it work in their new country, and the homeland looks fluid, undefended, perhaps they can restore its old order in their time.

So now, let’s think again about these alienated Muslim young people. Their old countries are not just dirtier, less free, anarchically governed — things that might lead them to cut those ties — but most visibly, these nations have been invaded. Bombed. Despoiled by greedy outsiders. Given the comforts many of these countries enjoyed in recent memory, how easy for an unsettled young adult to blame the foreign bombers, the foreign corporations, rather than the domestic elites who invited in the plunderers and bartered the national abundance to put themselves in the global rich. There’s a movie that shows this process in action, but a young adult who hears western politicians sneer at his parents, who must remove her religious clothing under government edict, probably has no heart for damning information about people who look, who worship like her. She or he wants revenge against those who destroyed the only option that now seems most attractive: a return to the land of one’s grandparents, to relax into that magical, unified cosmos.

Perhaps this will sound like an apology for terrorism. That’s the last thing I intend. But as a religious woman, I sympathize with sisters not allowed to wear religious clothing in public. As a person with family ties to places despoiled by war (Germany, Poland, China), I know what it is to yearn for landmarks that no longer stand.

The iconoclasts of Charlie Hebdo did not deserve to die for their indiscriminate anti-religiosity. But neither do the women and men and children of the new Muslim diaspora deserve to disappear behind a haze of bullets and bombs cast by the worst members of their own communities. My own faith is Unitarian Universalism, which calls on me, today, in pain and anger, to remember the dignity and soul of people rendered marginal by outrage among their own.

A More Positive View of the Problem

Yesterday’s post was so bleak, I really wanna get something positive up here now, without just going all hopey-dopey. Happily, Today’s “Here and Now” featured a scholar addressing some of the same issues from a practical point of view. Some of the same concerns — have we reached the end of work, because people are so cheap and machines can make so much profit? — came up in this article in this week’s NYTimes Book Review. This father-son team is revisiting John Maynard Keynes’ idea that by now we would all be working no more than twenty hours per week — but living more fulfilled lives. (Irrelevant complaint about this review: apparently not one of these men realize how much housework and child care an energetic woman could provide with those “extra “twenty hours.)

Both authors come to about the same conclusion: people need money to live, and employers need people to earn enough wages — or, although they don’t say this, government transfer income — to function as regular customers. Brynjolffson sums it up in the dialogue between Henry Ford and the labor leader. Ford shows the organizer a room full of machines and asks, “How are you going to get your men to make cars as well and as cheaply as these robots do?” And the labor leader answers: “How are you gonna get all those robots to buy your cars?”

Was the labor leader right? The Times thinks there’s something to it. Turns out they need working Americans to buy all that stuff we pay them to make for us. Now that we can’t pay them for it, they’re feeling stuck.  Maybe even a little interdependent.

Interpreting the Scream: A Call for a UU Mothers’ Day Pulpit Action

I remember the first day the State of Vermont paid me to take care of my partner, with her sometimes-mild-sometimes-totally-scary disability.

On the surface, nothing changed. For two years I had been doing these things because I love her and I want her to have the life I believe God wants her to have. That does not mean miracles, it means human relationship and basic work, reliably delivered, and fully made use of by the recipient.

But what a feeling to get paid!  No more putting aside something vital at home for a few hours of minimum wage reimbursement and cheerful conversation with people who do not have Huntington’s Disease. No more walking back into the house exhausted and seeing everything I had left behind.. and now I’m too exhausted to do it

No more feeling guilty toward Macy’s, my former employer, for having to call out when she’s too sick, for showing up late after squeezing in just one more little task, for declining to cover a sudden opening that takes experience and skill, in a specialized department.

No more struggling to shoe-horn into my over-packed schedule the leisure and family activities that reward her for doing all the work she does to live at the unprecedented front curve of disease management she has achieved.

It was a happy day. I dressed in good clothes, just to clean, cook and shop. I’m old enough to remember ridiculing the 1950s tv moms who wore heels to run the vacuum. Now I knew how they felt: like them, I was lucky lucky lucky to be able to make a good house for the person I love.

I remember that feeling every time I encounter socially conservative families getting more and more hysterical about the rights of unborn children, the sanctity of pregnancy. Here’s the latest.

From my rarefied vantage point as a professional caregiver for a loved one, my heart goes out to those folks every time one of my lefty friends brings another such outrage to my attention.  We used to talk about “dream interpretation.” Nowadays, I watch the news and work on the new art of “scream interpretation.” That’s what I’m working with here.

Scream interpretation tells me that all this talk about protecting children is less about abortion and more about mothers and fathers who worry about caring for their children. Today I walked past my local Roman Catholic church. My parents live in an affluent parish, and some of the young mothers were joyously planting flowers around the huge churchyard. Inside there was a class preparing for First Communion, but not one of these women was pregnant. They were slim and fashionable. The contraceptive ship has sailed.

So what’s all the screaming about? The hysteria about sanctity of life, about motherhood as a worthy mission? Even — bless you, Rick Santorum — about a father’s desire to cancel a day of campaigning for president to be with his wife and well children while the baby of the family fights for life?

I think these folks are actually wishing that they could feel the way I feel getting paid to take care of my partner. Sure the affluent young mothers can plant flowers on a Wednesday during school vacation. But most young families don’t have that kind of affluence anymore — or if they do, they’re not sure how long it will last. And every time they send a sick child to day care, every time they leave a 10 year old minding a 3 year old, every time they turn a sick infant over to a grandparent instead of sitting by the bed until the fever breaks — every time that happens, these young families feel insulted. They are being denied their American Dream, by a nation which no longer even offers a language to describe it.

Leadership on the left has to stand up for the language of paying for the job most women want most: caring for their family in times of need. Step one, of course, is calling out Rick Santorum on his hypocritical gambit of using Pennsylvania public school funds to pay tor his wife to provide homeschooling in Virginia. If that’s not a “mothering allowance,” I’d like to know what it is?  And naturally, since some folks are dramatically overpaid in this nation, I’d put a solid ceiling above which you don’t get this cash.

This is all I can come up with, because most Americans, of any political stripe,  have demonstrated their belief that more children — unplanned at best, unwanted at worst — are not what they really want. They prove this by using contraceptives. But so far, the right has given the only language of family sanctity tat most Americans have ever heard. And every time liberals rebut them with our own scream of fear, that women will be driven out of paid employment, the hearts of caregivers explode with the pain of  having been misunderstood.

Our positions necessarily speak the hard truth that not every potential child will come to life.  “You could choose which ones to kill, and keep some other,” we smile. And their hearts scream in agony:  “I am killing them already every day! It’s in their eyes when I  leave them at day care. It’s on my mind when I leave them unattended.  I am killing them every time I’m not there to make a healthy meal, walk them to school instead of dropping them off. I am killing them every day — and I hate it.”

Other countries give their family caregivers several years of paid support for doing what all of us agree is hard and complicated work.  Some of these countries are developed already, but others use this as a fast-track to development because kids who have parental nurture make better students, employees and citizens. I learned about this not in Europe, but in Singapore: it was part of the “Little Tiger” era.

In today’s political climate, talking about pay for caregivers has a civic benefit. Money is how we demonstrate that something has value, how we honor an action or output across different subcultures, languages, races, even state boundaries. This is not an issue of race, of  “language spoken at home,” or “where your parents were born.” This is all of us saying to all good parents, “Your children are the future of my country.”

Unless I’m a total freak, I believe that paying other caregivers as I am paid will release huge waves of tension throughout our national body politic.

Teachers will be able to teach, knowing they there is someone to help with homework, meals, routinized scheduling.

Employers in the larger economy will be able to pay those who serve or produce their product in accord with what that product or service can put back in the cash register.

Public safety officers will have allies to help implement corrections or protections that take care of our most vulnerable.

Why should taxpayers foot the bill?  We pay everyone who takes care of our country: the soldiers, the law enforcement officers, the inspectors, the infrastructure builders, the teachers. And yet, who does more for our country, for any of its component parts, than parents who have the time and resources to take care of our families?

That’s how I felt the first day I got paid.  I want that feeling for everyone who’s doing the work of child-raising and elder-caring.

Applying the Lens of Congregational History to the UUA-UCC Meeting

One way UUA President Reverend Peter Morales explained his recent meeting with his UCC counterpart was by rightly noting their continuing presence with UUs in various social justice campaigns. The UCC caught a lot of UU attention with a television outreach campaign that welcomed same sex couples, and got censored in several major markets. They’ve also taken the most fundamental theological tenet of the Reformation “God is still speaking” and made it look, to our ignorant eyes, like some special form of religious progressivism. As a lover of the Reformation, and living in a same-sex couple, these are certainly good things.

But here at the local level, in 2012, we’d be sadly remiss in believing that the UCC is unique among Protestant faiths in either of these positions. I bowed for ashes last night at the local Episcopal Cathedral, where the homilist was a victor in the long, slow legal campaign for the right right to marry the man he loves. Just as we do at the UU congregation, they include on their order of service — even on Ash Wednesday — a reminder of what they’ve committed to provide for our local food shelf. When I went down to chaplain after a shooting at our Occupy Vermont-Burlington camp last autumn, my call came from a Lutheran Youth and Young Adult Minister serving a coalition of liberal Protestant congregations: Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian. As both our state mental hospital and prisons reach out for spiritual support in new locations, we get updates and plan responses in large part around our local interfaith clergy table.

Which brings us back to the question, in these hard but hopeful times: If God is still speaking, is the voice coming into each humble local heart and ear, to be shared by reaching out and reaching up — or is it being parsed out in scant, broad instructions, vouched safe to special leaders for us to carefully handle with the guidance of these leaders’ most trusted emissaries?

Local history teaches that there’s a bumper sticker truth for our religion as well as our society:

If the People Lead, The Leaders Will Follow.

And maybe that’s why the Association’s top levels don’t invest in lots of academically solid congregational histories: the evidence suggests liberal religions doesn’t really need with a Moses or a College of Cardinals. God is still speaking, and the Universalists were right: God speaks to everyone, with clarity, energy and an emphasis on local practical service to neighbors.

 

A Third Way in the Partisan Fray: Focused Meditation

Years ago I picked up a little Christian meditation guidebook with a focusing message for a few minutes of sitting for every day of a monthly cycle. Much of it involved imagining a “Christ Center” that lived inside your forehead, that you would simultaneously lift with a straight back and look at with straight-forward eyes. Each page had opposite a beautiful landscape photo, to replace the environment in which you were sitting with something more conducive.

That model of spiritual practice has given me a completely different path through the current electoral season. My Facebook friends, my partner, and yes, even my own lesser self on many occasions, have  jumped enthusiastically into the partisan fray. Name-calling about name-calling. Fundraising to combat big money. The cacophony appeals to all our basest instincts. We are bullies. We are brutish. Most of all, we’re acting stupid in order to impress stupid people.

This Christian meditation technique works perfectly with the analytic models I learned from my economist father and foreign policy grandfathers, and then took into my own brief stint in military and political analysis. Generals know there is shooting, they know how to answer it — but in the three-level world of tactics, strategy and goals, they stay focused on larger goals won by wider strategy. Tactics are for field commanders.

The only way to recover this nation’s political soul is for religious leaders to act less like field commanders and more like generals. The right has generals sending out well-planned ranks, and the left gets spooked by the shooting every time.

This focused meditation skill seems to be my method of responding to hours and hours of nightly news. No matter what the battle report says that day, I ask myself one of these two questions:

“How can this be used to advance single payer universal access health care?”

or

“How can this be used to restore the notion that sustained middle class family life is a universal human right?”

In this fight, I have no enemies, I have no allies. There are only people who get us closer to these goals, and events that result each night in a status evaluation. Each morning brings a new obligation to use this information to meet my goals. Lots of folks feel this as cruelty or disloyalty, because their goal is “a community of like-minded people supporting each other.” That’s fine for one or two hours a week to revive our spirits, but it’s not patriotism — love of the WHOLE country — and it’s certainly no way to use an election cycle to move the electorate toward fuller implementation of what the United Nations once defined as our human rights.