Archive for August, 2008

UU, Me, Me

August 4th, 2008

Pardon me while I scream. I attended a Sunday worship at a UU church far from the death, wounding and panic in Knoxville, only to hear vacuous comments from a minister owning the risk and fear from afar.

Come to notice this all too common pseudo-empathy, I suppose it is as bad as schadenfreude. Is there a term for feigning the perils and travails of others from a position of safety and comfort?

This time it was in a wealthy church distant from urban threats and unpleasantness — overcrowded housing developments for the poor, street gangs, the wandering and homeless demented too early from treatment, druggies seeking to buy or steal their next fix, vast and obvious class differences…

The minister did the same thing in two ways:

  • Each of us is at daily risk, as surely as if we lived in a war zone.
  • If it happened in a Knoxville UU church, it would happen anytime in any UU church.

Well, no, damn it, no!

In too much of the world, violence can be random, cruel, sudden and frequent.

Even if done with the best of intentions, such preaching does not service to the congregants. Trying to frame tragedy in our shared fears has its limits, or should.

Fair preaching, for one example, is noting that we are all terminal patients here. We all die. Such thoughts can often lead to sermons with specifics on living well and helping other, true shared UU ideas and ideals.

Equating the minor inconveniences and elevating the fears of the most privileged with the very real dangers to the most imperiled is not fair or reasonable or respectful. Projecting that a lone loony could appear at any moment out among the wealthy white suburbs intent on violence is more likely self-absorption.

We heard this over-projection during the 60s civil-rights period as well. There was no surer way to alienate black activists than to say your minor inconveniences were the same as a heritage of slavery and then government-aided oppression. A recent version is rich folk eating on a food-stamp budget for a few days saying they understand the suffering of those with no choice.

During the sermon, I found flashed on one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books, McElligott’s Pool. The young lad angling in a tiny splash of water imagines myriad, diverse fish headed his way. “Then maybe some fish might be swimming toward me!  (If such a thing could be, they certainly would be!)”

A post over at Marry in Massachusetts, touched on the difference even being in an urban UU church means. There at a church with seven days of activities, supper programs for the poor and outreach to many the needy, unhappy and unstable are always there. They consider the downtown church theirs and some abuse it. Some arrive with anger and even sometimes armed. The likelihood of violence is vastly higher in a less isolated and protected setting.

Yet, it is a still different, harsher, riskier world in war zones. For the dreadful events in Knoxville, our UU churches in this country should be very cautious about claiming solidarity. How many of us can imagine and accurately project living where armed militia may well shoot any of us on the street, in our homes or anywhere? Can we comprehend a daily possibility that someone of a different religion or political bent would maim or murder us and anyone with us? Can we really project what it would be like to drive to the grocery with the strong likelihood that a roadside bomb could explode at any moment?

In too much of the world, violence can be random, cruel, sudden and frequent. While it may speak to our sympathetic side, we must be careful to equate our lot with that. Projecting our compassion may well go to our seventh principle — Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Yet, let us not trivialize the suffering of others by pretending our minor doubts and insecurities are the same.

Numerous churches have been scenes of violence and death. Progressive politics don’t seem to be the marker either. UUs shouldn’t be so sure we are targets just because we are more left-wing than many.

Yes, we should feel a sibling relationship with the Knoxville congregants and clergy. In light of evidence that this particular killer, Jim David Adkisson, had stockpiles of right-wing literature and seemed to have a fixation on liberals, we can pause and think and rethink.

We should certainly not try to close off our churches, be wary of any visitor, or generally be non-UU welcoming. We should do the what-if though, not to become paranoia and distrustful, but to revel in our worship and other events together, knowing we are likely to return home safe as well as fulfilled.