August 15, 2008

On the Other Hand

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:04 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

As I preached from the pulpit this last sunday I quoted the Knoxville, TVUU, website on how they had worked for “desegregation, racial harmony, fair wages, women’s rights and gay rights” and I read that their current minitries involve emergency aid for the needy, school tutoring and a cafe that provides a gathering place for gay and lesbian teens.  I read this because my own congregation has served the same causes. 

Yet, what ran through my mind at that moment (wich I did not speak out loud) is that the role we play and the people we serve are usually those on the margins, those oppressed by convention, those who are not affirmed by the mainstream culture.  I wonder if we grow as a movement if we are going to have to learn how to serve those who are in the mainstream too?  Or perhaps that will never be our calling. 

Sara Robinson, on her Orcinus blog on the Knoxville shootings, opened with the idea that “We are an odd group, we Unitarians.  Conventional wisdom says that we are soft in all the places our society values toughness”  (I wonder if we are less odd if we include the Universalists…)  She went on to affirm our solidity and toughness, but she never countered the idea that we are odd.  In fact, though we are often at the forefront of progressive movements, and we may even help progressive ideas become mainstream, we are not those who make progressive ideas conventional.  Could we be, or will that never be our place in the world? 

One of the significant moments in my life was when my eldest daughter came home from school with a new vocabulary word that had provided a revelation.  “I just realized why our family is so different” she announced, “It is because we are ‘intellectuals.'”  Ah yes, it was so true.  Later that day I remembered when I was a teen and a young woman left UU-ism in tears after proclaiming (at the end of a youth retreat weekend) that we proclaimed we were so tolerant and open minded, but we were intolerant of people like her who liked shopping for the latest fashions, and cheer-leading, and pop music. We did not accept a girl who wanted to wear makeup at a youth retreat and who was smart enough but not at all intellectual. 

So it is that Unitarians have always been associated with a small group of people; a group limited by education level, economic level, and social status.  Often we are very powerful people, movers and shakers, but that is a minority nonetheless.  This makes us distinctly capable of empathising with other minorities, and less comfortable with the conventional (even though we are terribly conventional in many ways.)  In contrast I think of how my Universalist congregation built its first building in the center of town, held famous revivals, and one year won the city-wide Sunday School attendance contest. 

Currently we serve those who are soft where conventional society is hard, and thoughtful where conventional society is thoughtless.  Even if we were to grow ten times larger we would still be a small minority in this world.  We still serve religious atheists and neo-pagans, and intellectuals above all. I hope we do not lose sight of that purpose, but I also think we are at our best when we speak our purpose in a way that even the most conventional can understand.

1 Comment »

  1. […] Unitarian Universalism by uuMomma on August 16th, 2008 I was particulary taken by this post by Rev. Thomas Perchlik this week.  In particular, this paragraph struck a chord with me: One of the significant moments in […]

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