Monday, May 16, 2011


I am fully comfortable with the fact that my readers come to me so that they can do something, anything other than work. You think I don't notice that you all comment at 2PM EST on weekdays? Should I be insulted? No way. You had a choice to take a stolen nap in the office bathroom, eat another Reese's peanut butter cup, or read my blog.

I don't even mind that you had already done the other two before you read this. I reward your devotion with some replies to great comments received this week.

Nothing like coming out as an anti-mashed-potato-tarian to provoke comments. The apostasy snippet of two posts ago also got some murmuring going. So here are replies to the questions of my 18 readers since I love you and good people should not have to slave away from 2:00 - 2:10.

1) Why mashed potatoes?

Why anything? They gross me out. Some seem to bother me way more than others. But since my dad is one of the 18 kind and brilliant souls who read my rantings/drivel/meandering life commentary (and he's retired so I'm not sure why)- I have to share his theory on my bigotry against all heated, smushed taters.

In Daddy's nostalgic world view, all was right in the tuber cosmos until I was three. Before then he had a beautiful, all American baby girl who was happy, wholesome, and ate mashed potatoes. Then one day she had an ear infection and went to her doctor and hero known as Dr. Riva because his last name was too long for a three-year-old to remember.

As beautiful baby girl and devoted mashed potato eater was laid onto the examining table, beloved Dr. Riva said, "We have to get the mashed potatoes out of your ears."

He then proceeded to extract ear wax out of an infected ear which probably caused the beautiful one to transform into a demon beast straight from the bowels of hell screaming in pain and lashing out with all limbs and teeth at anything within reach.

Daddy's memory is that after that moment I would not touch mashed potatoes again.

I don't remember any of this, only the subsequent decades of gagging at the smell of them in restaurants, homes, and the school cafeteria. I have tried them dozens of times in dozens of ways and do not like them. Not the texture, the smell, the look, or the taste. And my aversion is so strong that I am pretty snooty about all manner of potato.

Now that I am a parent, I give my father's theory way more credit. The proof is in the Riva. I adored Dr. Riva. Always. The guy yanked icky thick bloosk out of my aching under-auricle and I never stopped loving him. But someone had to pay for that misery. My guess is: it was the potatoes.

2) Apostasy

I abhor any spoken or written piece beginning with a definition. However, I keep getting blank stares when I approach the subject of apostasy. In case you do not know the definition I have supplied it as a footnote.

I know a gabillion apostates. In Unitarian Universalism we don't even use the word, preferring to call them new members.

What do you get when a lapsed Catholic, atheist Jew, order loving Pagan, and angry Presbyterian come together? A Unitarian Universalist choir.

So anyway... the subject gets mighty touchy when you get to Unitarian Universalist apostasy. I have heard so much bunk about the low census of UUism all my life. A few examples incude...

We're small because it is a difficult religion and people are lazy. We're small because of the corrosive effects of pop culture. We're small because there's too much fussing in our small churches. We're small because we shouldn't call them churches. We're small because the fellowship movement failed. We're small because American religion is dying. We're small because we don't have enough minorities. We're small because we have too many minorities. We're small because of bad architectural choices. We're small because our men are geeks and our women don't wear makeup. We're not that small. Look - we're dying slower than other religions! We are small because of that jackass ______. (Insert anyone including me in the blank. Last name I saw there was Thomas Jefferson.)

I've heard it all. And I feel it is all mashed potatoes.

If you ask me, which a few of you foolishly did, we are small because (like many other religions) we swing from orthodoxy to innovation and (unlike some other religions) this undermines our credibility as an open community with a unique theology. Due to this, in every generation too many of our devoted members become apostates. I believe every other credible reason fits into that explanation.

As I listen to disenfranchised UU's I hear people who long for a sacred place that stretches their minds. I hear people who feel written out of the boundaries of their community after years of welcoming everyone else in. I hear people who feel insulted by the path of the religion or of their congregation.

These people are not unreasonable, fanatical, or even outside of UU belief systems. They just don't appreciate being called racist, sexist, elitist, penny pinching, earth destroying, heterosexist, ableist, angry, and closed-minded during a time of the week when they want worship (whatever their definition of that may be). They are sick of the shaming attitude of what they see as money grubbing Sundays. They are tired of yet another round of hymns that do not speak to them as a cohesive community.

They do not want a political party - they want a vibrant and intellectually stimulating religion. They mourn the loss of respectful dialogue in favor of overly careful and watered down multi-culturalism. They are tired of the re-writing of history every fifteen years: Can we still sing that hymn? The Unitarians were racists. No, the Universalists were racists. Don't forget to put the multi-generational, multi-cultural faces on your website.

They are tired of the "new" approach to social justice. They don't care what 1/40th of the denomination decides during a few days in June that they should talk about in their congregation for a year. If there is one thing they do well, it is coming up with stuff to talk about, think about, try to change.

I listen to these people who seek me out on Facebook, this site, and in public. And I feel their pain. To not be a part of the religion you love is painful. To feel like you can't have your children be part of your religion is not a decision anyone makes lightly. To wonder what you should tell your family about your wishes for services after you die is heartbreaking.

But, contrary to popular speculation about this former minister, I am not an apostate, but I would not mind belonging to a whole congregation of them.

Let me explain - I don't want to run a church. I don't want to be THE minister, head honchette, finger-in-all-pies type for whom churches keep asking and seminaries keep trying to produce. It doesn't work and never has.

But a group full of people who care enough about their religion to wrestle with it on a daily basis? I'd like to hang out with them.

I'd like to attempt to translate their distinctive concerns into a shared vision for possibility. I'd like to help the wounded heal each other. I'd like to encourage connections between those who think they are in complete opposition. I'd like to be among a group of people who realize that no hymnal is ever going to make them happy. I'd like to be one small part of a flawed community instead of the leader of a high-handed one looking down on the so-called less enlightened.

And for those of you who think I am talking about your congregation - you are diagnosing it, not me. The religious communities whose failures have been most visibly abundant to me recently are Presbyterian, Evangelical, Jewish, and Baptist. In looking at the trials of these other religions I saw our image more clearly.

I am not yet an apostate because I am one of the faith filled in a religion that is not wholly comfortable with the word faith.

I still believe that people trusting one another to share their most deeply held beliefs when they disagree with each other is the key to a peaceful world. I still believe that what you give financially to the church is no one's business but your own. I still believe that we should draw from a wide variety of sources even when the individuals do not live up to our current expectations because we are far from blameless in our lives. I still believe that a group can work to be better without name calling and finger pointing. I still believe that the -isms are best conquered by our friendships and our lunch companions. I still believe in a divine presence whom I address in the feminine and I still believe she is a key to honest and deep connection with other people.

This is what I believe on faith. This is what I have seen to be true in my life. This is what I share with the apostates and soon-to-be apostates. They disagree with me. We talk about that. We love each other anyway. And I think, hope, faithfully believe that there is a place for all of us in my beloved and lifelong religion.

***Apostasy is accented like monstrosity and is pronounced /Uhpoztasee/. It means formal disaffiliation from or renunciation of one's religion. The ne'er-do-well who does such a nefarious deed is often called an apostate (rhymed and accented like /da prostate/). I prefer to call these folks, whether I agree with them or not, "courageous as hell" and "my brothers and sisters."


dbmamaz said...

ack - makes me want to say things i cant put in writing in a public place - and i'll put almost anything in writing in a public place.

irac60 said...

I had speculated--and hoped--that when the time was right, the issues you address in Apostasy would be penned; brilliantly expressed and on target as always.

It seems to me that in the seven years or so I have been walking the UU trail, that pendulum has been swinging from innovation to orthodoxy. I have heard some say this is an attempt to increase membership by making UU more appealing to theists. Maybe so; I don't know but it does, as you say, undermine the claim to a unique theology.

Maybe institutionalization of any religion or belief system insures its' failure. Bertrand Russell thought so. The transcendentalists had to step away from their foundational institution to continue their spiritual quest.

When you say: "I don't want to run a church, I don't want to be THE minister, head honchette('love that word'), finger-in-all pies type" I hear you. But, a group of people wrestling with their religion on a daily basis require a de facto leader if not a designated one. In my opinion--and I'm willing to bet a multitude of others--there is only one person for this role.

So, to lighten up a bit and consider how we might proceed: how about recreating the 18th century salon? If it had not been for this great Paris institution good old Ben F. would never have been able to persuade my ancestors to come over and join the fray. Does not Madame Alane's salon for "apostates and soon-to-be apostates" have a certain ring to it?

"Ive heard it all" and it's all boiled cabbage! Sorry, I do love my mashed potatoes:-)

Anonymous said...

It is difficult to ask people to intelligently disagree without becoming defensive or even demonstrative at some point. It is asking much of people at times to come together in an atmosphere of togetherness when we don't all have much in common. I ponder this frequently since in many denominations, including the UU's, the politics of people in groups frustrates me. You sum it up well, but you still hold out an optimism that people are capable of this dialogue without the politics or the hard feelings. Are they? Are we? I'm not sure - I would still never ever walk into a UU church and announce that I voted republican in the last election - but yet, my worth and dignity is still number one on the list. All that said, I still agree with you.

The Jotter said...

And that makes me so sad that you have to be a closeted Republican in an "open" religion. I made more than a few people quite angry with me in '08 when I said that our lobby was not an appropriate place for political bashing. My life has been greatly enriched by the Republicans in my life. Is it because of or in spite of their politics? Of course not. Are my close relationships with those I am supposed to "oppose" stronger for seeing past those ridiculous lines in the sand? Yes. YES!