what in the World?
Contents: March/April 2002
Confronting beliefs that harm, and other matters
The following questions, based on this issue's contents, are designed to stimulate spiritual reflection and adult education group discussions.
by Jane Greer
RELIGIOUS IMPASSE. The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Ann Parker describes the experience of coming face-to-face with the limitations of one's beliefs as a "religious impasse" (Interview, "Your Maxims Are Proverbs of Ashes," page 30). Many people embrace Unitarian Universalism, she says, because their inherited faith traditions have not supported their thinking and spiritual development.
Question: Do you recognize your own experience in the "religious impasse" Parker describes? How have you managed the impasses in your life? How does your Unitarian Universalist congregation or faith help?
DEADLY DOCTRINE. In an excerpt from Proverbs of Ashes, Rebecca Ann Parker tells the story of a woman whose abusive husband eventually killed her in front of their children ("Can Suffering Save?," page 22). "In the church she went to, the intact family was celebrated as God's will," one of Parker's ministerial colleagues says, describing conversations with the battered woman. "A good woman would be willing to accept personal pain, and think only of the good of the family. She heard, just like you and I have, that Jesus didn't turn away from the cup of suffering . . . She was trying to be a good Christian, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus."
Question: Parker and co-author Rita Nakashima Brock argue that the Christian interpretation of Jesus' crucifixion has made martyrs of countless women and children. They write that the doctrine of atonement justifies human suffering, suppresses the complaints of victims, and shields those who are responsible. As a Unitarian Universalist, how might your interpretation of what happened to Jesus help you respond to a neighbor or friend who believes that God has given her "a cross to bear"? Do you believe that suffering can be redemptive?
TRAINED TO SACRIFICE? Parker writes of having an abortion after her husband threatened to leave her if she gave birth ("Can Sacrifice Save?," page 22). She wonders later whether that impulse to sacrifice came too easily; whether as a woman she was conditioned by church and society to yield in order to keep the peace.
Question: Have you ever sacrificed something important to you in order to please or protect someone else? How did you justify your choice at the time? How do you perceive your decision now? Do you think that women are conditioned to accept self-sacrifice more than men?
ANXIOUS VOICES. Counselor Robert Gerzon writes that many of his clients suffer from disabling anxiety because they fail to distinguish between the internal "toxic voice" of self-defeating worry, the "natural voice" of everyday responsibilities, and the "sacred voice" of ultimate concerns ("Sacred Anxiety," page 34).
Question: Gerzon also offers several "Keys to Serenity in an Age of Anxiety" (page 38). Which of these do you find most helpful as you sort out the anxieties of your life?
HIGH ANXIETY. Theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (Kierkegaard (quoted in "Opening Words," page 1, and by Robert Gerzon in "Sacred Anxiety," page 37) says that "the individual through anxiety is educated into faith."
Question: Kierkegaard also says that "whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate." Can anxiety deepen one's faith? Has life since September 11 led you to ask ultimate questions in a new way?
THE SPIRIT AND THE LETTER. Margaret Shepherd's calligraphy memorials honor prominent members of her historic church ("Margaret Shepherd Transforms Words into Art," page 42). Each memorial conveys significant aspects of the person through the style of lettering and the arrangement of the words, using square letters for a theologian known as "Old Brick," for example, or steeply slanted text for an independent thinker who "set people on edge."
Question: Imagine a memorial to commemorate your life. What style of letters would you use? What would you like your memorial to say? How does your congregation commemorate people who have made significant contributions to your community?
THE PATH TO PEACE. One hundred Nobel laureates issued a statement in December to coincide with the centennial of the first Nobel Prizes. "The most profound danger to world peace in the coming years will stem not from the irrational acts of states or individuals but from the legitimate demands of the world's dispossessed," they write. "The only hope for the future lies in cooperative international action, legitimized by democracy" ("The Dispossessed," page 17).
Question: What strikes you as most significant about the Nobel laureates' statement? Is it possible to bridge the gap between rich and poor? How can Unitarian Universalists contribute to building a safe and just world community?
WOMEN'S RIGHTS. Heba Attieh, a speech pathologist and Muslim woman in Saudi Arabia, says, "It's true we may not have many rights. But we deal with the same problems you do juggling jobs and kids, finding some balance and a place for ourselves. A lot of people here want change, we just have to do it in a way that works with our culture, not against it." ("Religion News," page 52.)
Question: Should women in Muslim societies have the same rights that Western women are accustomed to? Can human rights apply to human beings universally while also being responsive to particular cultural contexts?
UU World XVI:2 (March/April 2002): 63.
All material copyright © 2002, Unitarian Universalist Association.
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