We received forty letters in response to our last issue, half of our usual haul. One quarter of our writers reacted to the feature stories on reconciliation, Iraq, and Unity Church-Unitarian's ongoing relationship with a medical clinic in Africa. The letters about reconciliation and the Malawi clinic were uniformly positive. There was some debate, however, about the Iraq pieces.
Although many writers did not respond directly to the Iraq story, they reacted to a larger issue which the war has raised: What role should politics play in UU congregations? UUA President William G. Sinkford's column “Reclaiming Democracy” (November/December 2003) as well as several letters on the subject in subsequent issues are still drawing reactions.
One writer, Brenda Vinall-Mogel of Grantsburg, Wisconsin, objects to the knee-jerk pacifism among many UUs. “Pull your heads out of the sand and stop telling me and mine that there are no just wars, and stop using the church as a way to move forward your personal political ideals. Separation of church and state goes both ways.” However, Laura Blanco Dzingeleski of Catonsville, Maryland, asserts that some political beliefs are incompatible with Unitarian Universalism. “I read with some skepticism the comment by Jeff Johnston (Letters, March/April 2004) that ‘one can be a Republican or a Dixie Democrat and still be a ‘good' Unitarian Universalist.' A good Unitarian Universalist may vote Republican, but I do not feel that the current administration lives up to our UU ideals.”
Although not reviewed in the magazine, Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ elicited two responses. Says Theodore Kramer of Fort Collins, Colorado, “The unnecessarily gory The Passion of the Christ is the best reason ever to become a Unitarian! The inaccuracies, the blood and gore; all of it turned my stomach. Give me Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ over Mel Gibson's horror show.”
Thank you for publishing Paula Cole Jones' article, “Reconciliation as a Spiritual Discipline,” in the March/April issue of UU World. I turned to this article in a most serendipitous moment—a time when I really needed to work on some relationships. Sometimes I believe there is a goddess!
As one who was a member and moderator of All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Washington, D.C., I had the privilege of serving as co-chair of the ministerial search committee with Paula Cole Jones during the time she discusses in her article. She truly “talks the talk and walks the walk” that she shares in her article. Paula is one of the most genuine and authentic people I have known. My admiration for her willingness and ability to identify, confront, and work to resolve the difficult issues of racism as well as other “isms” in our churches, our denomination, and our society is unbounded. Thank you for publishing her article.
Stephen L. Finner
When I picked up the March/April issue of UU World I almost fell out of my chair. It was the words “The Malawi Connection” that started my heart racing. I excitedly flipped to Warren R. Ross's article and began reading about the people and the places that are as familiar to me as my home here in Boston.
Amazingly, I returned two months ago from two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the community of Nchena-chena in Malawi, the exact community about which this article was written. I lived in a house on the grounds of Dr. Trywell Nyirongo's hospital and taught science at the local secondary school. My feelings for this community run deep, through friendships and deaths, songs and laughter. It is now, and will always be, my home.
But the most surprising part of the connection is this: I grew up in Unity Church-Unitarian of St. Paul, Minnesota, until my family moved away in 1989. When I was posted to Nchena-chena in 2001, I knew nothing of the relationship between the community, Unity Church, and Dr. Nyirongo. I found out about it when a letter arrived for me from the church after Dr. Nyirongo visited the U.S. in 2002. I will never forget the feeling of awe that I experienced when I realized the connection. This amazing story, whether pure coincidence or something else, emphasizes how small our world is becoming and how important it is, now more than ever, that we show compassion and understanding across cultural and political borders.
I was delighted to read “An Enduring Bond,” (March/April). I taught Trywell Nyirongo as his professor of physiology the year he studied at the Pahlavi University Medical School in Shiraz, Iran. What a delightful young man he was. It is very exciting to hear that his son is going to do similar work.
Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert
My thanks to James Rupert for “Simple Acts of Kindness” in the March/April issue. With all the news we receive from war-torn Iraq, I was heartened to know that human compassion sometimes prevails. I mailed the article to my son who is a U.S. Marine serving in that country. I hope that during his deployment he has at least one experience of the sort that Rupert describes.
Your two essayists both missed the jackpot answer to last issue's cover query, “How Can We Help in Iraq?” The most obvious suggestion is: Bring our troops home immediately. From what I can tell, our illegal military presence there has only increased the Iraqis' misery.
Instead I'm presented with James Rupert's apologia for American imperialism,“Simple Acts of Kindness.” Questioning the war isn't an option any more, as he lets us know immediately with this description of it: “willingly or not, we must call [it] ours.” Thus neutralizing dissent, he goes on to elaborate the responsibilities of empire.
Rupert thinks, for example, that we should “let them know that we hurt with their pain, that we grieve with their grief.” But wouldn't it be more meaningful to remove the very armed forces who are dishing out all that pain and grief?
Rupert's paternalism finds full voice in this passage: “Iraqis must not be permitted to know Americans only as soldiers, inscrutable and dangerous.” If cluster bombs and checkpoints are what they experience, no public relations drive will erase that. If they could know the rest of us, they would find a complacent public, all too happy to “let their institutions do their sinning for them,” in the words of South Africa's Bishop Peter Storey.
Reading Denise Breeden-Ost's article, “Kids as Sacred as Mine” made me sad and angry. Sad that a grown-up should practice denial, and angry that my Unitarian Universalist magazine was once again predictable.
It's sad that Denise is unwilling to recognize that there is evil in this world that needs to be stood up to. Jeremy Bentham wrote, and I paraphrase, that war is awful, but there is one thing worse. That is when men will not stand up for what is right.
Well, right now American men and women are standing up to the evil that was unleashed against the United States on September 11, 2001.
I'm a New Yorker by birth, and twelve of my fellow high school alumni and God knows how many fellow New York University alumni went down with the Twin Towers.
I was also a soldier, an infantryman, during the Korean War, and I know what war is like.
I wonder, as Denise views the “sacred” kids of Iraq, is she seeing the hundreds of kids who Saddam had imprisoned, whom our soldiers freed? Or the gratitude most Iraqis express for our opening the door for them to freedom and democracy?
And does that thought ever cross her mind that in giving aid and comfort to the criminals who ran Iraq and their terrorist associates, she is strengthening their resolve to go out and kill more Americans, not just in Iraq, but here in the United States?
Robert L. Sieghardt
I read the letters (March/April) that were critical of William Sinkford's article “Reclaiming Democracy” (“Our Calling,” November/December, 2003). I have to write that I wholeheartedly agree with President Sinkford's views. As our faith has a long tradition of being a “priesthood and prophethood of all believers,” I do not think it is partisan to be critical of our country's leaders, especially when a majority of them advocate going to war based on questionable evidence, passing legislation that disadvantages the poor and middle class, operating in ways that limit democracy and trample on our civil liberties, and ignoring our environmental stewardship. How can we preserve “the right to pursue our own path” if we don't advocate justice for the larger community? As our larger secular world places such an emphasis on individualism, I hope UUs will be careful to take a broader view and consider the needs of the whole.
Sexist Opening Words
When I read a reflection that is gender exclusive, such as the “Opening Words” in the March/ April issue of UU World, I cannot get past the feeling of exclusion to be able to read the meaning that was intended. I was surprised to see the words of the Rev. Howard Thurman on the very first page. Surprised because they were non-inclusive—taken directly from the historical context in which they were written without any attempt to bend them to include me (a woman). While I want to retain the words of our ancestors, I do not expect to be greeted with gender-biased language on the first page of our association's journal. I find it the ultimate irony that these words were chosen to illustrate an article about reconciliation. If a gender-specific piece of writing is to be used because it is so important to illustrate a point, I would ask that it be edited to include all of us.
The Rev. Penny Hackett-Evans
Living in Exile
Victoria Safford, in writing “Living in Exile” in the March/April UU World, ignores those of us who grew up Unitarian Universalist. She assumes all Unitarian Universalists are people who could not “with intergrity abide imposed belief or imposed religious practice.”
She cannot assume this. My UU faith was imposed upon me just as fully as if I had grown up Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim. That imposition was, on a good day, an experience of integrity, of being at home among all us spiritual exiles. On a bad day, when our exile-adults whined about their old religions and tried to depose all spirituality, they still imposed. Their imposition gave me the certainty that somewhere I could find other exiles and make a spiritual home with them.
I'm a parent now. Like all parents, I impose a faith upon my children merely by being alive. So I choose to impose Unitarian Universalism. I impose it gently, with love for their unique spirits. In my experience, a faith not good enough to impose on a child is not good enough for me or anyone else.
The Rev. Joel Miller
Democracy at the UUA
Joel Monka's suggestion is a good one (Letters, March/April). The UUA cannot seek guidance exclusively from the estimated 5,000 members from the 700 or fewer of our congregations who are able or motivated to attend General Assembly. They are not elected representatives, a handful of congregational presidents excepted. This two percent of our membership cannot be expected to reflect the will of the majority or penetrate the rhetoric of the single-issue enthusiasts focused on influencing GA. The UUA should be at least as democratic as the state of Florida and supply all members with absentee ballots on issues that guide the UUA's actions and posture outside our house.
In the March/April issue I read about UUs for a Just Economic Community protesting at the November 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) talks in Miami. They opposed the expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on various grounds.
It is important for us to remember that the views of these people do not represent the views of all UUs. Some of us see free trade as a pathway toward world peace.
While the police presence may have seemed excessive, many past anti-free-trade demonstrations have gone well beyond peaceful protests.
Street protests are an undignified approach to self-expression. Surely UUs can do better than this.
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