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What in the World? - September/October 2000

A congressman's struggle for respect and other matters
By Christopher L. Walton

These questions, based on this issue's contents, are designed to stimulate adult education group discussions and personal reflection.

Communication and Respect. At a peace rally, Ronald Dellums, a social activist elected to Congress in the early 1970s, drew a standing ovation when he said, "Many of my colleagues in the Congress are mediocre prima donnas who don't understand the level of human misery in this country or the world" (interview, p. 24). But when another representative read those words back during debate in Congress, it was a "very painful lesson" for Dellums, he recalls. He says he began asking himself, "How can I challenge my colleagues to respect me if I don't communicate respect?

Question. Do we sometimes fail to communicate respect for our fellow citizens--or fellow congregants--when controversial issues are at stake? How might we communicate respect for others when we're trying to effect change?

Politics and principles. Dellums believes one can participate in politics without sacrificing integrity or principles (p. 24).

Question. Does his story suggest this is possible? Has it gotten harder since Dellums was first elected to Congress? In general, how might people exercise political leadership without sacrificing integrity?

Peace and justice. Dellums takes inspiration from Martin Luther King Jr.'s dictum "Peace is more than simply the absence of war; it's the presence of justice" (p. 28).

Question. Do you believe such a peace is possible? What kind of actions contribute to peace? To justice? What kinds of actions are you taking to bring peace and justice about?

Justice and the environment. Fred Small links several environmental issues to justice issues ("Reflections," p. 14).

Question. Can you think of other environmental issues that are also justice issues? List them and discuss what people might do to reverse the injustices.

UUs and Class. Class was a theme in sermons, lectures, and discussions at this year's General Assembly ("GA 2000," p. 36), but UUA President the Rev. John Buehrens said in his GA report that he hasn't seen "much evidence that we UUs have found . . . even the words to talk about class."

Question. After reading the GA article, how would you begin to talk about class in your congregation and community? Is this conversation important for our religious movement? What particular class issues do UUs and UUism face?

Learning in church. The UUA is working toward a new core curriculum for UU religious education ("UU Trend," p. 52).

Question. What are the most important things you've learned in a UU congregation? Are there other things you wish your congregation were helping you learn? What should our RE offer children? Adults?

Living at the Edge. Philip Simmons writes (p. 31): "I want to think about those moments when we stand at the edge, when we feel the presence of what has gone before, when we sense the onrushing promise--or threat--of things to come." Some of us go willingly to the edge, some of us are driven to it, some of us find ourselves there by grace. But all of us get there at some time in our lives, when through the gateway of the present moment we glimpse something beyond."

Question. When have you been at such an edge? What kinds of feelings and thoughts did you have there?

Spectacle and ritual. John Buehrens ("Horizons," p. 7) makes this distinction: "Spectacle is designed to distract us, ritual to restore us."

Question. Describe spectacles and rituals you have seen or taken part in and discuss what features seem to characterize each kind of event.

Lies and history. James W. Loewen says most Americans have limited knowledge of history and argues that many historical sites reflect only the perspective of elites (article, p. 18).

Question. How fairly is your community's history presented by monuments, markers, and historical sites? Are there ways you or your congregation might help improve their accuracy or tell parts of history they neglect?

Question. How does your own congregation tell its story? Are there stories your congregation has a hard time telling about itself? Why?

Issues for the UUA. At General Assembly, the campaigns that will determine the next leaders of the UUA moved into the spotlight (articles and profiles, pp. 44-48).

Question. Did the articles on the UUA president and moderator campaigns and candidates discuss issues you consider important for the association? What do you think are the most pressing issues for the UUA?

Scouting relationships. The Rev. Stephen Cook, minister of the Unitarian Church of Marlborough and Hudson, MA, whose church has decided to keep sponsoring a Boy Scout troop despite the Supreme Court ruling upholding the Boy Scouts of America's right to exclude gays, says, "We voted . . . based on the belief it is better for us to do this hard task of staying in relationship with people we disagree with. The easy thing to do would be to throw them out" (news story, p. 46).

Question. What ethical and religious values might help us stay in relationship with those who disagree with us on such a controversial issue?

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