Every year, GA is preceded by Ministry Days, an event put on by the UU Ministers Association. Ministry Days concludes with the annual Berry Street Essay, a lecture series that goes back to William Ellery Channing’s “How Far is Reason to be Used in Explaining Revelation?” in 1820.
I’m not a UUMA member or even a minister, but no one was checking badges at the door, so I slipped in to hear Paul Rasor present this year’s essay. Meaning no disrespect to Paul, who is one of our best theologians and spoke well about our UU struggle to be more multi-racial and multi-cultural, the quote that stuck in my mind is from the response by Rosemary Bray McNatt. (Traditionally, another minister “responds” to the lecture. The response isn’t adversarial, but is more of a commentary on the ideas the speaker has presented.)
After humorously noting a few of the quirky (and often negative) tastes widely shared by UUs (rejecting all mass media other than PBS and NPR, refusing to be caught dead shopping in WalMart, distaste for rap music, and so on) she said:
Race and ethnicity have stood in during our conversations for something more ineffable, more complex and edgy than we have been willing to discuss. We have been talking about culture, a Unitiarian Universalist culture that many of us have refused to acknowledge. We have been unable to address these issues because we have been confused about the conversation that we have been having, and we cannot escape the boxes to which we are likely to be assigned if we start talking about it. …
For people who are as blessed as we are by this gift of relgious community, we are also cursed with a nasty little Calvinist streak that we would do well to examine. We would rather be angry and judgmental with ourselves and with each other than be tender and merciful in simple recognition of how hard it is to do what we must do in our congregations.
We must admit that we have a specific, often alienating culture, and we must change it. And we must grieve the loss of the familiar, and gain some measure of courage to embrace the new.
The full list of Berry Street essays, with links to the text and sometimes audio, is a great online resource for anyone who wants to know the history of Unitarian (and eventually UU) thinking.