what in the World?
Contents: July/August 2002
America's changing face, 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
AMERICA'S NEW FACE. "The borderland where cultures collide is the best vantage point for observing human resiliency," writes Mary Pipher about her experience working with immigrant children in Lincoln, Nebraska, which has become a preferred community for newly arrived refugees. "More and more," she writes, "I can watch cultures intersect without leaving my hometown" ("The Middle of Everywhere," page 20).
Question: Has the demographic profile of your town or area changed in the last ten years? If so, which groups are now a part of your community? How have institutions adjusted to a more diverse clientele? Has this gone smoothly? If not, where do you see the conflicts? Has your church or congregation been affected by the changing population?
CULTURAL LENSES. "Like all people, I see the world through my own cultural lenses," Pipher writes. "Like most Americans I speak only English fluently. I value freedom and personal space. I am time-conscious. I am comfortable with only certain forms of touch. A certain amount of eye contact and distance between bodies seems right to me. Some things seem much more edible than others" ("The Middle of Everywhere," page 21).
Question: In your interactions with people from different cultural backgrounds, have you become aware of different attitudes toward time, personal space, eye contact, food, etc.? Has this created misunderstandings? Can you think of other cultural lenses that you might be wearing that would affect your interactions with people from other cultures?
WEST'S UUA LEGACY. The Rev. Robert West's two terms as UUA president spanned the tumultuous years 1969 to 1977. Warren Ross writes that one of the first major problems West faced was the UUA's imminent bankruptcy. He slashed the UUA budget and dissolved departments in an effort to balance the budget. His efforts ultimately paid off, and he is now credited with saving the organization ("Storms Facing West," page 28).
Question: During his presidency, West did not always find widespread support for his actions, yet his presidency is considered pivotal in the UUA's history. Does a good leader need to be popular? Have you ever been in a leadership role where you had to make difficult decisions? Have you ever been affected by the decisions someone else has made in order to save an organization? How did you react?
RITE OF PASSAGE. Maryann Woods-Murphy describes a night that she spent camping in Spain with her twelve-year-old daughter, Melynda, to celebrate Melynda's passage into womanhood ("Rite of Passage," page 34). In a shared ritual, mother and daughter invoked the guidance and strength of female ancestors and friends, and spent the night in intimate conversation. Woods-Murphy writes that she told her daughter, "Now, you can ask any questions about me, about your body, about my relationship with your father, about my mother . . . Anything."
Question: As a parent, or as a child, how would you have responded to an invitation to talk honestly, knowing that such honesty is bound to bring up subjects that are not easy to discuss? Have you ever had such an opportunity? What makes such a conversation possible?
DRESSING THE PART. Woods-Murphy writes that Spanish friends insisted on dressing Melynda in the ceremonial dress of a serrana, a Spanish mountain woman, after she returned from the camp ("Rite of Passage," page 37).
Question: What role does dress play in marking passages in life? Can you think of occasions where ceremonial clothing is still worn? Do you think that the number of occasions where this happens is decreasing in the United States? What does our everyday clothing say about our values, our social status, and our spirituality?DISCOVERING UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM. The Rev. Helena Chapin describes her introduction to Unitarian Universalism at a Labor Day picnic in the 1960s, when someone suggested that she might be a Unitarian Universalist without knowing it ("Pastoral Call," page 18). The next day, while checking into the hospital to deliver her third child, she marked "Unitarian" on the hospital intake form. So began her long association with the UUA.
Question: If you were not born into a Unitarian Universalist family, how did you find Unitarian Universalism? What were your initial impressions? Have these impressions proved true?
SOMETHING CRIES OUT. In "Language of the Heart," the Rev. A. Powell Davies asserts that "Everyone prays, although not everyone admits it. Under the strain of difficult conditions, or in severe loss or bereavement, or when emotionally moved by a scene of great beauty, there is something within us that cries out for expression" ("Heritage," page 18).
Question: Is prayer an inevitable response in certain situations? Are there different ways of praying? How do you express feelings that go on "where other language leaves off"? Jeffrey A. Lockwood's "Commentary" describes his response to the forbidding landscape of the Wyoming prairie as a kind of prayer, a way of expressing "deference but not servility, humility but not defeat, respect but not fear" ("Nature's Tough Love," page 12). Do these attitudes have a place in your religious life?
Jane Greer is associate editor of UU World.