Most of us want life to be simple.
Complexity and ambiguity challenge our comfort. They force us to acknowledge that we can't control things, that in fact, we can't even entirely understand things.
It's often only in retrospect that we see clearly events and forces that shaped our lives or our world. We now "get" the impact of our decisions on the environment, the economy, and our health. We see now the radically inclusive message of MLK, even though in his final years, he was widely hated. His disapproval rating was higher than Trump's! 85%
I have to remind myself that when I was the same age my adult children are now, there was no Google, no cell phones, no microwaves for that matter! There was no legal gay marriage, no podcasts, no Twitter. Some things really were more simple. But even though nostalgia may blur our perspective, simple is not necessarily better.
Much of Western religion is dualistic: human/God; good/evil; spiritual/material. Eastern religions have become increasingly popular in the West as humanity embraces the unitary and organic dimensions of life.
This article by Fr. Richard Rohr makes the distinction from a Christian perspective and argues that Jesus was the first non-dualistic teacher. He writes:
The dualistic mind is essentially binary, either/or thinking. It knows by comparison, opposition, and differentiation. It uses descriptive words like good/evil, pretty/ugly, smart/stupid, not realizing there may be a hundred degrees between the two ends of each spectrum. Dualistic thinking works well for the sake of simplification and conversation, but not for the sake of truth or the immense subtlety of actual personal experience. Most of us settle for quick and easy answers instead of any deep perception, which we leave to poets, philosophers, and prophets. Yet depth and breadth of perception should be the primary arena for all authentic religion. How else could we possibly search for God?.
Some of us do better than others with uncertainty. I love mystery, not-knowing, and the quest for truth. I believe faith is dynamic, not static. That's why the UU faith appealed to me in my early thirties and why I became a minister. I am comfortable with not having the answers and with others who feel the same.
To me, Unitarian Universalists are people who don't see everything in Black & White, but who acknowledge the shades of grey in life, in community, in relationships. We are known for the tendency to critique ourselves, but there's a difference between self-criticism and self-destruction.
Some of us have become alarmed and disaffected over the past few years.
New voices have emerged that question our UU faith's efforts at anti-racism. Not only do these voices proclaim that the UU Association past and present is riddled with White Supremacy, they apparently reject any person or any voices who question their approach. You are either in agreement with their assessment, their remedies and their vocabulary or you, too, are part of the system of white supremacy. I've thought, prayed upon and contemplated all of this for months. My current position is that things have gone awry. Instead of providing tools and inspiration for anti-racism, we have vastly increased polarity, paranoia, and discord.
What wasn't triggered by the 2017 resignation of Peter Morales and the consequent controversies became crystal clear after the publication and distribution of the Gadfly Papers, a book that questions the narrative of ARAOM and CRT and the attendant behaviors of its proponents. Here's a link to the book.
And here's a book by a UU layperson: Click here
I don't disagree with the spirit of CRT or ARAO agendas. They are legitimate but not universally accepted among the approaches to racial injustice (and other forms of marginalization).
I strongly disagree with those self-appointed white saviors who've designated themselves judge and jury toward anyone who differs with them. The censorship and backlash toward Todd Ekloff over a pamphlet-type book he wrote is, given the authoritarianism and anti-democratic forces at play in the wider world, chilling.
Google "gadfly papers" and you'll find sermons and essays in support and in dissent.
There are others who feel as I do. Some express feeling ostracized or silenced. Many of us have voluntarily left spaces in which we feel we can't be honest. Several have given up membership in the UUMA...a consequential decision.
I feel primarily a deep sadness. I feel so alienated from colleagues and from our Association.
It would be easy to just go along with the majority who have discovered and adopted this way of understanding whiteness and who seem to have found the answers. But I can't do that and maintain integrity.
I will likely stay out of the argument since it is clear the majority of my colleagues do not welcome my perspective. Still, it's painful. It is painful to be judged, dismissed and scolded. The majority would reply that any pain I feel is negligible compared to what they call "harm" in the form of microaggressions and discrimination people of color among us have felt. Fair point! Nor would my argument that I have devoted my 25 years in ministry to racial justice and equity carry any weight; in fact, me pointing out the many endeavors and projects that I have undertaken just prove my white supremacy and my cluelessness.
As a Jungian, I can't help seeing the projection at work here.
The excoriation of fellow clergy, the disregard for our congregations (who pay our salaries and support our families) and the dismissiveness toward any alternative positions is frighteningly like that we hear from extremists and zealots. The failure to acknowledge and integrate our own shadow is what creates these fanatical and polarized positions.
We all have within us hatred, avarice, racism, and tribalism. We don't like to acknowledge our indifference, our laziness or our callousness. At least I know this is true for me. The incorporation of these shadow parts of myself is, however, essential to my sanity and equanimity, and more importantly to my ministry. Within the congregation I serve are people who espouse CRT and ARAOM and advocate its path toward anti-racism. In the same congregation are people who need to learn, who are working for justice, who have given decades of their time and large amounts of their money to advance justice. I serve these people. I love all of them and accept them as they are. I can learn from them. Far from seeing my ministry as an endeavor to fix them, I see the pastoral and the prophetic imperative as an obligation to love first, gain their respect and trust, and from there to remind them of how our faith faces injustice.
That includes our history of efforts at anti-racism and anti-oppression. We UUs have had bungles, blunders, and massive failures ( so many that there are books written about them: Here and here and here.) We are the sum of our members: flawed, fumbling and sometimes foolish. But I have found in our congregations more dedicated, authentic, and devoted humans than in any other organization I've ever been part of. We are not the sum of our mistakes. We are the sum of our love, our humanity, our devotion to the good.
I am also prone to projection. In the vehement and divisive arguments about racism that have only grown more central to our faith tradition, I see my own shadow: I can be intractable and confrontational. I enjoy at some level being the contrarian and challenging the assumptions of others. There is within me an extremist, particularly on matters of oppression and on issues of race. I want to believe that I'm right about my liberal views and therefore I don't mind offending people. The reality is that I'm sometimes wrong and also, more importantly, I don't change anyone by my outrage. Only love and patience lead to evolved mindsets.
In the end, we UUs have always come from love. With the exception of a few troubled individuals, we act in good faith, not from agendas of greed, avarice, bitterness or superiority. We assume the best of people rather than look for their flaws. I want us to celebrate all that is good about us and to enlarge upon that, rather than giving in to the impulse to compulsively criticize ourselves and one another and to focus upon what's wrong.
It's not simple. It's not "black and white." It's complex, just as we humans are complex. We who represent the best of liberal faith have allowed ourselves to be decimated and torn asunder. We may look back upon this time as the birth pangs of a new day, or as the time we capitulated and let ourselves be ripped apart.