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Reflections on Selma and other matters
    The following questions, based on this issue's contents, are designed to stimulate spiritual reflection and adult education group discussions.
By Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley

HOW UNFINISHED IS OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PAST? Christopher L. Walton asks this question in his report ("So Nobly Started," p. 18) on Unitarian Universalists' participation in the civil rights movement. He writes that the "moral clarity of Selma -- with its martyrs, its prophetic leaders, its focus on constitutional rights -- disappeared in the late sixties," and the Rev. John Buehrens adds that "many of the [UUA's] hopes embodied at Selma were crushed."
Question: What is the difference in the struggle for racial justice in the 1960s compared to today? How does the UU response to racism today compare to other faith traditions or the secular society? Explore these differences.

"WE MUST NOT LOSE FAITH." In his eulogy following the brutal death of Unitarian Universalist minister James Reeb, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that the "haunting, poignant, [and] desperate question" we must ask is not who, but what killed James Reeb ("A Witness to the Truth," p. 20).
Question: Reflecting on the murders of Reeb; Matthew Shephard, a gay man killed in Wyoming in 1998; James Byrd, an African American dragged to death in Texas the same year; and other such crimes, what do you think was responsible for these violent deaths? In the eulogy, King said that "unmerited suffering is redemptive." Do you agree? Why or why not?

SPIRITUAL LESSONS FROM THOSE GOOD-FOR-NOTHING GRASSHOPPERS. Other than "digesting, breathing, and being incidentally warmed or cooled," what are grasshoppers good for? We wonder. Entomologist Jeffrey A. Lockwood ("Good for Nothing," p. 30) ponders grasshoppers' value to humanity or to the earth. "Our struggle to understand their languor arises from our approaching these creatures with the same question with which we approach one another: What do you do?"
Question: How have you measured the value of non-human earthly creatures as compared to human? Can you think of incidents when you have measured the value of plants or animals based on what they can do for you? What spiritual lessons can grasshoppers teach us?

INTERFAITH PARTNERSHIP FOR PROGRESSIVE CHANGE. UUA President John Buehrens says the vision of the beloved community, a phrase popularized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is threatened "not only by racism, but also by global economic injustice" ("Horizons," p. 5). On April 4 (the anniversary of King's death), Buehrens will attend an interfaith conference to explore three threats to beloved community: inadequate support of family life, "the blasphemous notion that the market is God," and the trend toward the privatization of spirituality.
Question: Do market forces claim -- or actually have -- a power over people that might be equated to God, broadly defined? If so, can you cite examples? Can we be "spiritual" alone, or does spirituality require connectedness with others, with "the interconnected web"?

PERSONAL CHOICE OR ETHICAL DECISION? We are a nation of animal lovers. Or are we? According to John Millspaugh ("Swimming with Dolphins"), our most common way of relating to animals is to eat them. He asks us to consider whether carnivores are "in right relation" to the animal world.
Question: What does it mean to be in right relationship with animals? Does our decision to eat meat (or not) influence how commercial farms raise and treat animals? As consumers, is our responsibility toward animals similar to or different from our responsibility to sea creatures and the plant world? Explain.

THE JOYS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF STEWARDSHIP. Our congregation in Quincy, Massachusetts, recently put its heirloom silver on the auction block. The sale netted some $3 million to pay for building repairs. "It was a bittersweet moment," says the Rev. Sheldon Bennett. "[W]e were letting go of something that's been a part of our story as a church, but we felt an enormous sense of relief and gratitude" (UU News: "Sale of Silver Yields Millions," p. 45).
Question: Are there material things that are intrinsic to your congregation's historic identity, to the UUA? What would it mean if these items were sold, taken away, or lost? How can we preserve our heritage while also being responsible stewards of wealth?

A PREACHER'S "QUILT OF MANY TRUTHS." In one of his many conversations with Coyote, the Rev. Webster Kitchell suggests that we need not choose or claim only one truth to be a religious person ("Coyote Wants to Know," p. 14). "It's not a matter of making up my mind" whether I'm a liberal Christian, an existentialist, a religious atheist, a Buddhist, or a pagan, he says. "My mind is only part of it. It's also a matter of imagery, of feelings of human connectedness."
Question: Have you ever felt constrained or pressured by the cultural assumption that people claim a single theological/spiritual/religious orientation? If so, how would you compare your experiences in society at large to UU settings? How would you describe your personal religious beliefs to a stranger? ("Unitarian Universalist" is not an option.)

The Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley is adult programs director for the UUA Department of Religious Education.

UU World XV:2 (May/June 2001): 71.

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