Limits to Civility

Two posts in one day! But in these times it is necessary to clarify the boundary line of one’s tolerance for people with inhumane views. This lesson comes from my experience 1994-1996, as the UU parish minister in the midst of Dorchester, MA’s worst crime wave in ages. It was one of the worst in the nation, and it involved young people killing each other in gang wars.

The Boston Police responded with a community policing program which still gets mentioned as a high spot in policing history. Its foundation, I firmly believe, was the cops were required to live in the city’s narrow boundaries. No driving in from quiet suburbs for them. Shootings were on their streets, fights were on the playgrounds their children had to use also. Yes, that was a help.

Also, they. were good people. Mostly, anyway, often enough to make a difference in many cases. They also valued observations and analysis made by human beings, not computers.

Here’s what they came up with.

Gangs were found to consist of two layers. At the heart, and in the vanguard, stood people of genuine ill will. These leaders, selling drugs, wielding guns, hanging shoes, wearing bandanas, had no interest in community improvement alternatives or calls for civility. For them, arrest and jail was the answer. Cops drove around with warrants for these people at easy access.

The other layer consisted of folks who felt they had no alternatives for advancement in society, other than up the gang ladder. For these folks, the police urged practical educational support, jobs and job support, sports teams (remember midnight basketball?), and family support through community centers and adequate food and housing for those these young people were trying to support.

The current civility debate seems focused on the former group, fomenters not just of hate, but of cruelty and incapacity for those of whom they wish to make unwitting accomplices. I support this aspect of incivility. It is the other layer my previous post reaches out to.


Sides and Circles

Hello, again.

In the current climate of both religion and politics, I cannot refrain from reaffirming my loyalty to historic Universalism, as opposed to historic Unitarianism. Looking back to the late 18th and 19th century, these are the elements that clarify my call.

Pre- and post-Civil War America were very similar to the era in which we live now. Generations of European Americans had worked the stolen land and settled into a non-immigrant, non-capitalist lifestyle. In other words, high ambition no longer fired their souls. Instead they wanted quiet, stability, safety, and security, for themselves and their descendants. They were local folk, artisans and farmers, whose highest passion often resided in their local Bible-based faith. When it came to keeping local order, most of them relied more on a fear of hell than a confidence in law.

Sound familiar?

Unitarians of the same years were forming the earliest industrial class, and educated management, such as they could devise, was big with them. In greater Boston, they owned textile mills and relied on the daughters of these settlers for cheap, well-behaved, unambitious labor. Others were pure capitalists (author’s note: this part references my own forebears) whose business relied either directly or indirectly on the kidnapping, selling, and bonding of Africans, or the slaughter of ocean-going mammals. In any case, they wanted to get ahead, stay ahead, and position their offspring ahead. Education was a major weapon in both their definition of character and their toolbox for oppression. This led them to dismiss what we would now call the working class and small farmers as “uneducated.” What began as denigrating slurs in the 19th century (with the occasional anti-immigrant violence) had by the 20th century become a lethal combination of eugenic science and anti-evangelical liberal Christianity.

Universalists approached the challenge of settler comfort completely differently. Overwhelmingly, Universalists bubbled up within this very milieu, and what motivated them was concern for the peace of mind of their family and friends. Far from disrespecting the Bible’s call for strong Christian faith (Unitarians preferred Biblical passages extolling the doing of good works), Universalists found in faith their own key to calm and character. In Boston, at least, Unitarians would have no more to do with Universalists than with any other evangelicals.

But Universalists did not show their conversion by turning away from traditional evangelicals. When you find something this wonderful, you want to share it with those you love the most. Those with whom you identify. So Universalists declined to denigrate evangelical preachers, for either their intelligence or their faith. Instead, Universalists would ride from town to town asking evangelicals to name their most distinguished preacher. Offering no insult to this cleric or his (always) followers, nor ridicule of the foundations of their religion, the Universalists would invite this person to share a public platform for public debate on whether the Bible did or did not call for eternal damnation for sinners.

In most cases, having achieved at least a few conversions, the Universalist would eventually set up a riding circuit, supporting adherents with worship and pastoral presence to sustain them in an often-hostile home turf. As early as 1837, Unitarians were smart enough to realize that in areas such as these, liberal religion would fare better through an alliance with local Universalists than attempting to plant a socially elitist brand of religion. From alliances such as these (called “fishing agreements”) arose a distinction between historically Unitarian and historic Universalist congregations.

The assumptions behind these debates and their congregations are the ones to which I now feel called to shape this blog. My family has plenty of dirt under recent nails, and grease on recent hands. I work these days in the most traditional woman’s role, which is caring for a disabled family member full time. I’m on the left of the political spectrum, but identify with many well-meaning Trump voters.

Yes, I believe there are such people.

Yes, I believe their stories, their circumstances, their ideas have merit in many cases.

Yes, I believe that the only successful change issues will be specific, limited, consistent, and self-interested in ways we all share in public areas.

I do not believe all Trump voters are good people, but many of them are. So like those old-time Universalist preachers, I will ride these electronic waves wherever they reach, to see if I can help us find some common ground on which to rebuild our nation.

After Categorical Victory

We watch a lot of c-Span at our house. Huntington’s Disease means Lynne’s body doesn’t move as fast or as often as her mind, and we were both poli sci majors, so all weekend long, we pretty much flip between BookTV and American History tv (until, of course, Downton Abbey).

So what a treat to wake up this morning and see a panel of GLBC(cross-dressing) active and former military service members discussing life since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. As befits BookTV these are now journalists, of OutServe Magazine and Josh Seefried, active Air Force, has published a book. How did coming out work for them, and what were they hearing?

It was all good, and as always, that includes the questions. What caught my attention was the clear language of a veteran named Cathy (?), who had graduated with the first class of women at West Point and served the Army 5 1/2 years, surviving one witch hunt and leaving before she faced another. And this wonderful woman used language that showed me how to deal with a quandery I’m facing in anti-racism: How do you talk about the structural inequalities that remain in place after there has been a major shift forward in categorical justice?

She used a key phrase: “benefits justice.” In other words, yes, we can now bring our dates/partners/spouses to social events, but if we die they can’t collect our pensions.

With this phrase, she has solved a dilemma I’ve been pondering in anti-racism: yes, we have our first African American president of the United States, but African Americans who made the middle class during the last two decades of bubble and boom face disproportionate impacts in two specific mechanisms: they are more likely than Caucasian Americans to be steered into devastating rather than partial personal bankruptcies, and they are more likely to lose their homes to foreclosure.

Since it’s Superbowl Sunday, I’ve been using football metaphors all week to recover spiritual clarity as I  watch political developments day after day. Yesterday, I advocated using our wonderful and prophetic GA Resolutions from the first half century of our Association to define the end zones. Now, thanks to this heroic veteran on BookTV, I have language for marking first downs.

Yet another reason to thank a vet. Her service did not end when she resigned. No vet ever really resigns: despite a few bad apples, and many more with tragic and unjust scars, the retain the military training, community and integrity. We are lucky so many of them share this throughout our society.

Lent Means Slow Down

Somehow the Holy Spirit gave me a good look at myself the other day, and instead of the usual despair and denial, provided a bit of an answer.  My morning routine on the computer is pretty well set, but it emphasizes getting a quick look at a lot of stuff, reading and recommending a few newspaper articles, and then moving on.  It’s timed for that, and lets me get into the kitchen for breakfast at the exact moment I’ve drunk my two measured cups of tea.

But over the course of a week, this practice generates a long tail of emails marked “keep as new,” waiting, waiting for their deeper examination in a moment that never comes.  Or I get hasty and delete stuff that later I wish I had kept.  And my primary in-box keeps flashing that its queue is overloaded and likely to start blocking incoming traffic.

So it’s a system — which is good — but it doesn’t work.  And the reason it doesn’t work is because I don’t make time for filing.

Who is this Holy Spirit, who has led me not so much to see the need for filing (anyone can see that!) but to yearn for it, and now, to see some processes?  In good congregational fashion, it’s my current religious community — the Facebook friends who have been either filing or cleaning their offices or completely giving up Facebook in order to do something more meaningful.  It’s my roommate, who doesn’t consider her computer routines complete until she has filed each message in an appropriate folder.  It’s my sister-in-law once removed, who has one computer window daily, every morning, after which she goes on to other things.  (I note that she does seem to check for emergency emails from time to time in the afternoon, because she has answered one recently.)

Thanks to them, I am going to limit (not give up) my FB and other computer wanderings in order to spend time filing my messages.

I’ve already done a bit of cleaning.

My problem is figuring out the filing system to use.  Much of my research these days is online, and therefore, I am developing stray papers and folders and even bookmarks on topics of interest.  What is to be done about these?

And if it goes really well, I hope to shift some of my old Politywonk posts from Livejournal over here, deleting the rest and closing out the account.

Sounds like too much to be a spiritual practice.  But spiritual practice means taking small snippets on a regular basis, not so much to “finish” anything as to strengthen ourselves for large projects God puts in front of us.

And the reason this is Lenten work, not just office work, is because cleaning old papers is so emotional.   It brings you face to face with things you wanted to do and didn’t have time for.  People you no longer keep in touch with the way you wish you did.  Projects that fell by the wayside. Great quotes and paragraphs that got cut out of sermons or prayers and never found their way into another one.  In short, the mortality of the mind.

When our Puritan forebears wrote about “mutual religious edification,” this is what they meant: learning from each other’s best offerings in order to better ourselves.  To strengthen our hearts for the pain life sends our direction.  Support for our consciences, to do what is hard to do.

Thank you, democratic congregationalism.

Thank You, Holy Spirit.