An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism
This publication accompanies the exhibition VALUUES at the Museum of Spiritual Arts in Franklin, OH, on view from April 23 through August 9, 2017 Curated by Hannah Gaskamp Authors: Doug Muder, James Ishmael Ford, Myriam Renaud, Kenny Wiley, Celie Katovitch, Kris Willcox, Timothy Snyder, and Jeffrey A. Lockwood Text Source: All articles sourced from UU World Magazine Hymns sourced from Singing the Living Tradition Catalog design: Hannah Gaskamp Fonts: Goudy Oldstyle FS, Montreal Serial Distribution: Distributed Arts Publishing Inc., New York ÂŠ 2017 by Texas State University, 601 University Dr, San Marcos, TX 78666. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without permission. All images are ÂŠ the artists, reproduced as student work and in no way used commercially. Some of the facts in this volume may be subject to debate or dispute. If proper copyright acknowledgment has not been made, or for clarifications and corrections, please contact the publishers and we will correct the information in future reprintings, if any. ISBN 978-0-9802055-1-0
VALUUES An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism
INTRO Foreword by Hannah Gaskamp, essays by Doug Muder and James Ishmael Ford
FIRST PRINCIPLE: The Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person Essay by Myriam Renaud
SECOND PRINCIPLE: Justice, Equity and Compassion in Human Relations Essay by Kenny Wiley
THIRD PRINCIPLE: Acceptance of One Another and Encouragement to Spiritual Growth in Our Congregations Essay by Celie Katovitch
FOURTH PRINCIPLE: A Free and Responsible Search for Truth and Meaning Essay by Kris Willcox
FIFTH PRINCIPLE: The Right of Conscience and the use of the Democratic Process Within Our Congregations and in Society at Large Essay by Timothy Snyder
SIXTH PRINCIPLE: The Goal of World Community with Peace, Liberty, and Justice for All Essay by Kenny Wiley
SEVENTH PRINCIPLE: Respect for the Interdependent Web of All Existence of Which We are a Part by Jeffrey A. Lockwood
98 EXHIBITION CHECKLIST
FOREWORD by Hannah Gaskamp
If you picked up this book or entered this exhibition without a single clue as to what Unitarian Universalism is, you probably arenâ€™t alone. In a sentence, Unitarian Universalism is a very progressive, liberal, and accepting faith with members from all walks of life, all sexualities, races, and belief systems. There is no scripture, no god, no creed. If you want to believe in a scripture, a god, or a creed, then you are still welcome here, but it is far from required. The only things that hold the members to each other are believing in a set of seven principles. These are the seven principles that divide up this exhibition. As you go through it and learn and explore, I think youâ€™ll find, like many others, that despite having never heard of this faith before, you probably believe a lot of the same things. Featured in this exhibition catalog are two essays about Unitarian Universalism as a whole, and then one for each of the seven principles, all of which are written by members of the faith and are sourced from the quartlery UU magazine UU World. Additionally, there is a hymn included that
demonstrates each principle. Included separately in this box set is the artwork, which can be stood up and displayed, as well as notecards to accompany the art works with any information the artist provided along with my own notes about how the art relates to its principle and why I chose to include it in this exhibition. The art and the notes are included separately from the catalog itself so that, if you chose, you can have your own exhibition somewhere outside of this gallery. Unitarian Universalism is a faith that I feel many people would agree with or at least be interested in learning more about, if only they knew it existed. This build-your-own-exhibition box set is meant to encourage you to spread your newfound knowledge of Unitarian Universalism with your community. My hope also is that this box set will fall into the hands of some Unitarian Universalists who are curious about how I have described the faith and if they agree with it, will use it as a tool to lead the discussion when trying to expose a community to this faith tradition. Whether you share this exhibition or not, I hope you enjoy exploring the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism, what they mean to members of the faith, and how they might be represented in hymns and artwork.
I DON’T ‘BELIEVE IN’ THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES by Doug Muder
I don’t think of them as beliefs at all. Over the years, I think I’ve paid my dues on the topic of what Unitarian Universalists believe. I’ve written about it, preached about it, taught Coming of Age classes about it, and been pulled into countless coffee-hour conversations with newcomers. Everyone in America seems to know that religious organizations exist to promote some set of beliefs that their members share. So when people find out you belong to a religion with a tongue-twisting name, that’s their first question: What do you believe? Like a lot of UU s, I’m never entirely happy with my answer. I dislike my own answers almost as much as I dislike everybody else’s. The absolute worst of the common answers is “ UU s can believe whatever they want.” In fact the exact opposite is true. Maybe more than any other religion, Unitarian Universalism pushes us to ask: “Is that really true or is it just what I want to believe?”
In an essay I wrote after my mother’s funeral, I admitted that I want to believe what my parents raised me to believe: that when our loved ones die, they transcend to a perfect place, where they wait for us to join them in eternal bliss. What’s not to like about that? But precisely because I am a UU , I question ideas whose primary virtue is that I want to believe them. Once you step around that pothole, discussions tend to gravitate towards the Seven Principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which you can find at the front of our hymnals and in many congregations’ orders of service. As a list of things that our congregations are committed to affirm and promote, the Principles have at least a formal resemblance to the creeds of Christian churches; we teach them to our children, introductory books are organized around them, and so forth. So if someone comes to a UU congregation looking for the Unitarian Universalist creed, the Principles seem to be it. But if you’ve ever tried to present the Principles to creed-seeking newcomers, you’ve probably seen their disappointment. “And?” their expressions seem to ask. The Principles fail as a creed because they’re too easy. Billions of people who literally would not want to be caught dead in a UU church can nod along with them. Take the Second Principle: “Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.” Does some ot her religion take a bold stand for injustice in human relations? People may argue about what “justice” means, but everybody is for it. The Principles are littered with feel-good terms like that: “spiritual growth,” “democratic process,” “search for truth and meaning,” “world community,” “peace,” “liberty.” If all Unitarian
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Universalism wants you to do is approve of such concepts, that’s not very demanding, is it? So taken as a creed, the Principles define a religion just one step up from “Believe whatever you want.” Believe a few really easy things, and beyond that, believe whatever you want. In addition to thinking that they describe a really wimpy religion, I have an even more serious objection to the Principles as a defining set of Unitarian Universalist beliefs: I don’t believe in them. In fact, I don’t think of them as beliefs at all. I think of them as visions. The point of putting the Principles in the front of the hymnal and teaching them to our children isn’t to assert their truth, or even to encourage you to nod along with the idea that they should be true. Unitarian Universalism is a commitment to envision a world in which the Principles have become true, to envision it so intensely and in such detail that it becomes a genuine possibility, and to join with others in making that possibility real. That’s how the Seven Principles turn into a challenging spiritual path. For some of the Principles the visionary aspect is obvious. The Sixth even has the word “goal” in it: “The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.” (Though even here, there’s a huge difference between agreeing that such a world community would be nice and committing yourself to envision it.) In the Second, it’s implicit: obviously, in the world as it stands, human relationships are not just, equitable, and compassionate, even among people with good intentions. (After a clothing factory in Bangladesh collapsed on
its workers, I wrote about looking at the objects in my closet and asking, in some cases for the first time: “Who made this shirt? How were they treated? Are they safe? Are they still alive?”) We aspire to such relationships; we don’t claim that we have them. But in at least three cases, the Principles seem to claim that particular things exist in the real world. The First asserts “the inherent worth and dignity of every person”; the Fifth, “the right of conscience”; and the Seventh, “the interdependent web of all existence.” Let me be blunt about this: none of those things exist. The Hubble telescope is never going to snap a picture of the interdependent web. Neither worth nor dignity nor the right of conscience is ever going to be observed under a microscope. What we are really doing when we affirm and promote the First, Fifth, and Seventh Principles is committing ourselves to imagine those visions into existence. Imagining things into existence may seem like an oddly magical goal for a faith that is often criticized for its hardheaded rationalism, but this ambition is not as crazy as it sounds. Such things have happened before, but the success stories have a way of evaporating: after you imagine something into existence, it looks as if it has always been there. So, for example, it’s hard for us today to put ourselves back into an eighteenth-centur y mindset and realize the full outrageousness of the Declaration of Independence’s “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal” and “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Forget that Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner when he wrote those words. He could have been an abolitionist circuit rider and they would have been just as brazen. Whatever
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Enlightenment philosophers might have been writing, eighteenth-centur y people could look out their windows and see that these things were not true, much less self-evident. Everyone was born into a station in life, and the vast majority stayed there for the rest of their days. Commoners were not the king’s equal. In the real world, you had whatever rights your betters deigned to grant you, and the Creator had little to do with it. Jefferson’s Declaration wasn’t a statement of fact; it was an invitation to dream. What if we imagine human beings in such a way that inalienable rights are woven into their souls? What if we imagine the people as intermediaries between God and the government, rather than place the king and his church between the people and God? What will the world be like, if we start there? By saying, “We hold these truths to be self- evident” Jefferson was really saying, “I have burned my bridges. I have committed myself to this vision, and if you assume something contrary to it I will not listen to you.” In spite of all the ways it was contradicted in Jefferson’s life and the lives of practically everyone else in the eighteenth century, the Declaration of Independence’s vision was viral. Having seen it, you wanted others to see it. And when people gathered to envision it together, they wanted to manifest it in institutions. Today there are courtrooms on every continent where no one will look at you as a dreamer if you claim your freedom of speech or your right to practice your religion. They will even agree that their law merely recognizes a right that exists timelessly, prior to all laws and courtrooms. That’s what it means to imagine something into existence. That’s what we’re trying to do.
So, do I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person? No. I am committed to envisioning it. Together with others, I hope to imagine it so well, so convincingly, and so beautifully that the vision becomes viral and takes over the world. That’s much harder than just believing the First Principle is true, because truths can take care of themselves. The difficulty of our task is why Unitarian Universalists need each other. If the point of Unitarian Universalism were just to believe the Principles, I could do that on my own. On a Sunday morning, I can believe just as well in my pajamas (over coffee and bagels with the newspapers spread all over my living room floor) as I can at a Unitarian Universalist worship service. Or if it occurs to me that I would enjoy the company of others who believe similar things, I can get dressed and go to church. And if, on the way to my church, someone cuts me off in traffic, I can say, “Oh, I suppose he has inherent worth and dignity too.” It comes easily, because it is true on its own and needs nothing from me but my bare acknowledgement. But the path of not believing — or believing that the First Principle is not true yet — i s more challenging. I can’t do it by myself. If I’m trying to envision the Principles into existence, then I need my congregation and all the other congregations and all the help they can muster. And when that driver cuts me off, my religion calls me not just to acknowledge the truth of his worth and dignity, but to really see it (in spite of the circumstances), because such acts of envisioning are the only reality the First Principle has. So what do Unitarian Universalists believe? I don’t like my answers (or yours) because it’s the wrong question. We’re not committed to beliefs, we’re committed to visions. That’s much harder.
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TRYING RELIGION: EMBR ACING THE NEW UNIVERSALISM by James Ishmael Ford
A Meditat ion on t he First & Sevent h Principles of Unitarian Universalism as a Saving Message, Together With a Buddhist Midrash, delivered at the 2014 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly I’ve heard that the larger Unitarian Universalist Association is having some trouble with membership. We’ve always been a tiny part of the American population, being as we are a religion for people with a high tolerance for ambiguity. In these times so unforgiving to religions of all sorts, we’re barely holding our own in constant numbers and actually we are shrinking as a percentage of the population. There are those who fear, and justly, for the future of our spiritual community. Me, I hear this and I find myself thinking of that old story about the Board of a small church in the Midwest fretting over money. One member says, we’ve tried everything. Another ticked off the fundraisers, the indirect and the direct calls to members to step up to the plate. A third lamented, “What
can we do next?â€? Finally, one of the oldest of the old timers said so quietly it was hard to hear, â€œHave we tried religion?â€? Our spiritual tradition is rich. We are children of the West, heirs to the biblical traditions of Judaism and most of all, Christianity. And, just as truly we are so profoundly marked by the wisdom traditions of Athens as well as many of the currents of earth-centered spiritualities. Because of our radical openness to both theists and non-theists, as hard as the tensions have sometimes been, first humanists and now in recent decades Buddhists and others inspired by Eastern thought have found a home among us, enriching our possibilities, and opening us to new movements of spirit. So, let me tell you a stor y about that movement of the spirit, about religion and songs of hope in hard times. You may have noticed we Unitarian Universalists are fiercely opposed to creeds, statements of faith one must sign on to in order to be a member. But, at the same time there is a deep human need to define. And so, over the years we have made various statements, not in the proscriptive manner of creeds, but in a descriptive way, attempting to capture what moves our hearts as a whole in some particular time and place, while always acknowledging the importance of the outlier, and the fact no one must sign anything beyond a covenant of presence to join our communities, knowing no letter can fully capture the spirit. And, we make those statements attempting to capture us at some given moment, but also, this means that from time to time we have to revise those statements. So, in 1961, when the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America consolidated, there was a statement of our principles. By the mid nineteen seventies it was pretty obvious it needed updating. Chief among those who took
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up the challenge were members of the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation. The process was hard. As they say, you don’t really want to visit the sausage factor y. There were negotiations, there were fights, there were compromises. Finally, on June 25th, 1984 , Unitarian Universalists from across the United States and Canada gathered at the Ohio State University campus in Columbus, for the eleventh General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. The great focus of this GA was a vote on a new statement of principles. As perhaps is appropriate for such a momentous event, people aren’t actually clear on all the details. The official agenda set Thursday morning the 27th for the final debate and vote on the proposed document. However, some people say the vote took place that afternoon, while others say the debate continued on to the next day, the 28th, and it wasn’t until late that afternoon the last points of dispute were resolved and the vote taken. Whichever hour, when it looked pretty close to done, the document was, frankly, mostly “mom and apple pie.” Hardly a word anyone of most any spiritual tradition could argue with. What I would call the perfect product of a committee. The most distinctive feature was the first principle, a call to the “inherent worth and dignity of every person,” a libertarian focus on the individual that had marked out English speaking Unitarianism for its entire history. Then the Reverend Paul L’Herrou made his way to the microphones. Everyone who describes the scene say he was lanky and bearded, and stood at the microphone with the ease of an experienced pulpit minister. He looked around, briefly stroked his beard and then addressed the proposed seventh principle, which was a call to “respect for the Earth
and the interdependence of its living systems.” In my mind’s eye, as Paul stood there, the hall fell to a hushed silence. I think, I’m pretty sure the world outside grew quiet, as well. Perhaps one or two stars broke through the Ohio daylight, shooting beams in the general direction of Columbus. Out of that silence Paul pointed out how that wording fell far short of what it could be. Paul proposed new wording for the seventh principal: a call to respect “the interdependent web of existence, of which we are all a part.” I’m pretty sure, although I have to admit there’s no hard record of it, that with those words the ceiling blew off the convention center and a host of angels, devas, and many other celestial beings from all the world’s religions, past, present and future, descended from the heavens, some playing instruments of astonishing beauty, while others sang a Gloria that reached out to the farthest corners of the universe. Even the stars danced in joy at the revelation of this great secret of the universe within a gathering of Unitarian Universalists in Columbus, Ohio, in the United States, on the North American continent of a tiny planet circling a middling star at the edge of one of a hundred thousand million galaxies. The call: to know that interdependent web of existence, of which we are all a part. And then it was over. The ceiling resealed, the beings were gone, only a hint of their song remaining in the hearts of the assembled, who then voted. They accepted that proposed change, and with that our little band found itself marked with an astonishing charism, a particular channel of divine blessing aimed at healing this poor, broken world. I suggest in that hour our future was articulated with as much authority as if it were from the tongue of an ancient prophet.
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And, what has happened since? Well, many have missed the importance of that moment. Others dismiss it as typical liberal hat tipping to the issues of the day, in this case our looming ecological catastrophe. But, actually, this is so vastly more important, so deep, and compelling, it needs the cloak of myth, the mystery of song to even partially convey its import. It is so powerful a message it is hard to look at it directly. I suspect we will spend lifetimes unpacking and expanding what this all means. With it a new Universalism has been proclaimed. While the Association as a whole may be stagnant, Iâ€™ve noticed there are two UU congregations in our neighborhood that are growing and growing significantly. They are the First Unitarian Church of Providence and the First Parish Church of Taunton. While our styles are quite different, we share one thing in common. Like Christana Wille McKnight at Taunton, and following the lead of UU minister John Crestwell, I unashamedly call myself a first and seventh principle preacher. We need both principles to fully ground our message, the dynamic of the one and the many. That older call of individual liberty was a deep and true insight. But it is missing something. With the seventh principle as a calling to the very wisdom of our hearts of how and why the individual is precious, that we are completely woven out of each other and the cosmos itself in a living song of intimacy is where we find our completeness. This is the New Universalism. We find within this insight of I and We an ethic for our individual lives, we find guidance for how we gather together as people, and we see how we need to relate to the planet from which we take our being. We understand it as the perennial story sung around ancient campfires, the heart of
Jesus’ message, the Buddha’s word, the teachings of sages of the Advita Vedanta, as well as the secret truth constantly revealed within relentless scientific inquiry. We are surrounded by clouds of witnesses all proclaiming this truth. It isn’t ours uniquely, but we uniquely proclaim it as a central and saving truth. We are all connected. I suggest with as much passion as I can that we need to embrace the wisdom that has emerged among us as a genuinely saving message — i t gives us our place on this planet, it guides our lives, and it reveals a peace that includes our mortality. And, I think each of us in our great variety need to engage it from those traditions that inform our lives separately within this great spiritual cooperative that is our contemporar y Unitarian Universalism. We need to look at the many facets of this wisdom jewel. We need Jewish and Christian interpretations. We need earth-centered and rationalist humanist interpretations. And, we need Buddhist interpretations. Here’s one sung into our hearts by the great Western Buddhist Zen master, Robert Aitken. “Unpack karma and you get cause and effect. Unpack cause and effect, and you get affinity. Unpack affinity and you get the tendency to coalesce. Unpack the tendency to coalesce and you get intimacy. Unpack, intimacy and you will find that you contain all beings. Unpack containment and there is the Goddess of Mercy herself.” Let me tell you a little about me. In my youth I prayed to know God. I prayed with complete earnestness, with the fullness perhaps only a youth can muster with a deal. Show me your face and after that you can kill me. Meant it. And, I was met with silence.
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Now many years have passed. Today, by most conventions I’m an atheist. That is I do not believe in a human-like consciousness that directs things. In a universe of uncertainty I come as close as a human mind can to certainty that there is no deity that acts within history. And… Within my experience there is something. The best word I can call it is love. I suspect I know the grubby roots of that love, how it arises within my mammalian consciousness. But, it seems to have a larger existence, as well. And, while I have my reservations about how our national center makes its decisions, and particularly about how as an institution it seems to have trouble understanding what spirituality is, as they say even a blind pig stumbles upon a truffle now and again. It also, I believe, speaks to the great secret we hear in the Christian tradition how the spirit rests where it will. It is amazing grace. I’ve found how the Unitarian Universalist t wo truths that the individual is precious and that the individual is created out of a world of mutuality results in an experience of love. Know love. And then know love reaching out. And, here’s a contribution from our Unitarian Universalist Buddhist perspective. I’ve found how the (Zen) Buddhist two truths that everything and everybody in the universe is mutually created through a dance of causality, and that everything and everybody in the universe has no substance, but rather is wildly open, boundless results in an experience of Love. Of course from one angle this love is completely a-moral. It is desire and it can extend beyond desire. And it is here I think we find our work as human beings, and the need for the
two faces of reality. The Hindu sage Sri Nisargadatta gives a further wrinkle on it all, when he says “wisdom is knowing I am nothing. Love is knowing I am everything, and between the two my life moves.” I’m fascinated by the energy dancing between the two poles of our lives, and how if we really attend to it as religious liberals, we also find we are proclaiming a transformative love, something that changes our lives as individuals, and calls us to work in this world for this world. Love reaching out. What I find in this world of hurt and loss is something precious and powerful, terrible and beautiful. Out of the silence I have indeed found something. It isn’t the old god of separation, but it is the dancing divine of interrelatedness. As a word love falls so short. It has to do too much work, standing for sentimentality and the burning away of self and other, and so much in between. But. Language is like that. Falls short. And, and, points to that place where planets and stars and whole galaxies burst into existence, burn bright, and die. And how in some random corners of this dance of galaxies heart minds birth that can see, can feel, can know in an unknowing sort of way, in the face of silence, a saving love. A love greater than creed. And, feeling it in our bones and marrow, finding it causing us to reach out a hand to another, how can our lips not sing songs of praise and thanksgiving? If we want a meaning in a world that exists beyond meaning and meaninglessness, I believe with all my heart and mind this encounter with the face of the divine is it. A path to walk. A sea in which to swim. Our true home. Our one soul…
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A new universalism. Found in the dance of the two truths. We are precious. And we are completely woven out of each other and this precious world. A New Universalism. Love. Saving love.
The Inherent Wor th and Dignity of Ever y Person
IF DIGNITY IS I N H ERENT, C A N IT BE HARMED? by Myriam Renaud
What do we mean when we talk about the UU First Principle and inherent dignity? In Indonesia, any woman who is not married must pass the two-finger test before she can serve as a police officer or military recruit. (Married women are barred from these professions.) If the test seems to indicate that her hymen is broken, the woman is judged a prostitute. Only virgins are hired. Many consider the two-finger test an assault on the dignity of women. Human dignity is a cherished idea. It is the foundation for important moral claims and for human rights. But can the idea of dignity bear this load? We might ask, for example: If dignity is inherent, as the Unitarian Universalist First Principle declares, how can it be harmed? There’s an internal tension in the idea of dignity that makes it unstable. In his 2008 New Republic article, “The Stupidity of Dignity,” philosopher Steven Pinker argues that two ideas are more
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useful than dignity: the idea of autonomy — o ur ability to choose for ourselves and to act on our choices — a nd the idea of respect for that autonomy. Following Pinker, we could insist that the Indonesian government respect the autonomy of women by giving them the option to refuse the test. However, not all societies privilege a notion of autonomy. And how autonomous are these Indonesian women who are so desperate for work that they consent to such a test? Human dignity as we understand it entered the moral culture of Western society when the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant invoked it in his writings on ethics. Kant wrote that we human beings have dignity because we have the ability to reason and to make moral decisions. After Kant, the term “dignity” faded from conversation but returned to prominence when it was enshrined in the preamble of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. We owe its inclusion to Virginia Gildersleeve, then-president of Barnard College. Another contributor to the preamble commented that dignity captures the understanding that we possess “more grandeur” as well as “more duties” than other creatures. For Gildersleeve and her co-authors, the word dignity signals the special responsibilities we have by virtue of being human. Based on our exploration of dignity so far, we can say this of an aspiring Indonesian policewoman: she has inherent dignity because she can reason and make moral decisions and because she has more responsibilities than non-human animals. Obviously, we want to say more. We want to say that the two-finger test is an affront to human dignity. But we’ve come full circle. Why is this test an affront if dignity is inherent?
The philosopher Michael Rosen helps us put the idea of dignit y to work so it can do some good. Rosen has identified four strands of meaning that contribute to this ambiguous idea: First: Dignity means “status” or “rank” as captured by the word “dignitary.” Second: Dignity indicates “value.” To say that a person has dignity is to attribute value to that person. Third: Dignity describes a certain sort of conduct. We behave in a “dignified” manner if we act with composure, calmness, and self-possession. Four th: Dignit y captures the idea that, by vir tue of our capacit y to ac t with dignit y, we deser ve to be treated with respect and not subjected to humiliating or degrading conduct. Based on Rosen’s third and fourth strands, we can conclude: “inherent dignity” can be understood as our inborn capacity to act with dignity. Now we have a solid, unambiguous way to understand this idea. Theologian Katie Cannon, author of Black Womanist Ethics, seems to agree. She writes that no matter what happens to black women, they retain a sense of what dignity requires: dignified behavior. Even Pinker concedes that the idea of “acting with dignity” can carry moral weight. Dignified people, he finds, trigger our esteem and cause us to respect their rights and interests. What about the Indonesian woman? Like all people, she deserves to be treated in a way that allows her to act with dignity. The two-finger test harms this ability. Since every human being has the capacity for dignified behavior, we are tasked with creating the conditions that foster this capacity.
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To protect the inherent dignity of each person, then, we must act in solidarity with those whose ability to act dignified is threatened or attacked, support legal and social prohibitions against violent and degrading conduct, and protect the prohibitions already in place. A tall order, but if we act with dignity and ensure others can too, we make the world more humane. Â
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Justice, Equity, and Compassion in Human Relations
S ECO N D P R I N CI P L E
NIGHTS CAN BE TOUGH by Kenny Wiley
I can’t fully express how scary it is when a man with a gun tells you ‘you’re fighting and trying to walk away from me’ as you stand still, attempting to comply. With most commuters driving east out of the city, toward Dallas or one of the metroplex’s myriad suburbs, the rushhour drive west into downtown Fort Worth felt too fast. The surprisingly short trip heightened our anxiety. I drove the rental car up Belknap Street and parked. The sun bore down on us, a pristine late March day in Texas. Despite the afternoon’s warmth, we shivered as we stared at the imposing building: the Fort Worth police station. Raziq glanced down at his clothing as if to question his attire: a black shirt and naturally faded blue jeans, with the black sneakers he’s rarely without. “Internal Affairs is actually in the same building as the city jail. That’s....” He apparently didn’t have the words. Bewildered, Raziq shook his head, his trademark short dreadlocks twisting from side to side.
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As we walked into the station, we didn’t feel like Raziq Brown and Kenny Wiley, the duo of promising, young Unitarian Universalist leaders of color. My khaki shorts and shirt from a UU youth camp suddenly felt like a futile grasp at respectability. Here we were our given seldom-used names: George Brown and Kenneth Wiley, twenty-something black men walking into the building that ser ved, among other things, as the Fort Worth city jail. A middle-aged white woman stopped me just inside the main door: “You put your parking sticker in the wrong place.” She pointed to my car and smiled, her understated drawl reminding me of white neighbors from my suburban Houston childhood. “Don’t want you to get a ticket, now.” Worried about leaving him, I glanced at Raziq, who nodded before checking in at the front desk. As I walked away, I heard the desk officer ask him, in a voice apparently meant to be welcoming, “Weren’t you and your cousin here last week?” We were not. That we looked like two previous visitors to the station, though, struck eerily close to the reason Raziq held a six-page letter in his hands, and to why I’d flown from Denver with only three days’ notice. Racial profiling — something easy to spot and difficult to prove, like many examples of systemic racism — had caught Raziq napping, metaphorically and literally, just seven days before. The East Fort Worth Montessori Academy sits on a hill that can’t seem to decide whether it belongs to the wide-open spaces of west Texas or to east Texas’s wooded greenery. Much of Fort Worth feels that way: distinctly western, with Deep South influence. A stunning sunset casts its shadow over town even as trees block just enough of the view to prevent the scene from fully feeling like one from Friday Night Lights.
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Raziq’s mother Joyce — seemingly known by all of East Fort Worth, and ubiquitously referred to as “Ms. Brown” — r uns the school. To help Ms. Brown out and make ends meet, 25-year-old Raziq has worked as a custodian while finishing his undergraduate degree. The school ser ves over 200 elementar y-aged children, mostly black and Latino/a students from the east side. During the day, children laugh, ask thoughtful questions, and prepare for the upcoming musical. It is Tuesday, March 24, and Raziq is tired. He heads to work wishing he’d napped first. Raziq’s coworker Richard, a reserved Sudanese man with a captivating smile, lets him know that he’d accidentally set off an alarm earlier. “Don’t worry about it — I shut it off and talked to the security company,” Richard assures Raziq. Night brings Raziq quiet, and a migraine. Wanting to fend off the headache, Raziq finds a classroom — Room 10 — and, partway through his shift, lies down for a short nap. A stack of yellow pillows rests in the corner nearest to Room 10’s main door. Above them, a poster outlines the classroom Code of Conduct, which says, among other things, “Be respectful to all, and be polite at all times.” Across the classroom is a screen door that opens onto a private playground — t hat someone left unlocked earlier in the day. A few minutes into Raziq’s nap, a sharp knock at that door, and a bright flashlight, stir him. A white police officer tells Raziq to get up and leave the building. Standing and wiping his face, Raziq tells him that he works at the school. He attempts to show his school ID and key to the building. The officer ignores both — Raziq’s biggest indication that the stakes of his ever y movement are dangerously high. In his letter to the police and other
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officials, Raziq, who’d opened his phone to call his mother, describes what happened next: The officer told me to “put the phone down before I have to put my hands on you.” I closed the menu on the phone and put my hands above my head, saying, “Sir, please don’t put your hands on me. I will comply.” He replied, “You know what?” He grabbed my wrist, twisted it around my back, slapped cuffs on me, and told me I was “resisting arrest.” When I asked him what I was being arrested for, he simply said, “resisting.” As he marched me through the dark playground at the school I saw that the white officer’s black partner had found my coworker, Richard. He was not handcuffed. I yelled out to Richard, “Call my mom and tell her the police are arresting me.” He did so, but not until after the black officer harassed my cowor ker, pr e s sur ing him to r emain silent and indicating that he should not inform the CEO that her son was being arrested for trespassing in his place of work. Over the next few minutes, they accuse Raziq of robbery, of squatting in the building, and, again, of resisting arrest. The officers do not believe that his mom runs the school. They won’t believe his sister is the school’s principal. They ignore his insistence that he belongs there. When they ask why he was sleeping, Raziq tells the officers, “I had a headache. I had just put my head down for a minute. I work nights, man...” The black officer cuts him off. “I work nights too, [and] I don’t take naps.”
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The white officer turns to Richard and asks, “Does he let you do all the work while he just sleeps and gets paid?” “Am I being arrested for taking a nap?” Raziq asks. Minutes later, Ms. Brown arrives, incensed; the officers quickly remove the handcuffs. Raziq’s wallet and phone are still in his hands. “I told them the truth. I tried my best to verify my identity, and had a coworker present to verify who I was. But when I tried to get the police in touch with the responsible parties, they physically kept me from doing so,” Raziq told me later. “Young black women and men are shot by cops for ‘resisting arrest’ all the time,” he wrote on Facebook. “I can’t fully express how scary it is when a man with a gun tells you ‘you’re fighting and trying to walk away from me’ as you stand still, attempting to comply. “I almost got arrested for taking a break at work while black — and that is not okay.” “Where did these stats come from?” An officer from the Fort Worth Police Department’s Internal Affairs office — a young, fit, white male officer — had just finished reading Raziq’s detailed letter of complaint. Raziq’s voice, infused with resolve, fear, and exasperation, trembled slightly as he responded, “A friend got them for me.” He dug out his phone to look for the source. “The signal in here isn’t very good,” the officer warned, with a slight smile. The seconds stretched on. Raziq struggled to log on and find where the statistics in question, numbers detailing racial profiling by Fort Worth police, had come from. The Internal Affairs officer was far from the first person to read Raziq’s letter. An avid social media user, Raziq posted
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a version of the letter on Facebook the day after his detention. He’d concluded it with, “I don’t post this because I feel victimized in any way ...This is not the first time I have been accosted by police. I post this because Facebook is a place where you post about the everyday.” Myriad friends and acquaintances shared the letter, accompanied by reactions nearly universal in their shock and horror. Many — e specially white friends and fellow Unitarian Universalists — were quick to praise Raziq for his “calm, measured” reaction. On our drive to the station, Raziq had brought up those responses, which were intended to praise his tactics but had the impact of suppressing his emotions. “I was calm in the moment because I had to be, but even afterwards, it felt like I wasn’t supposed to be sad or angry,” he told me. “Like I had to just sit there and politely disagree with what happened to me.” For months, Raziq and I had been talking intensely about the state violence facing unarmed black people across the country. Anger and fear permeated our conversations. Now I realized that, in this moment, Raziq badly needed to feel his own humanity — t o feel his own tears, his own rage, his own disbelieving laughter, with others who could truly understand. As Raziq scrolled through his phone and the officer shifted his weight slightly, it occurred to me that our parents, living and deceased, might have foreseen his need. The scene — Raziq sitting in the police station looking up statistics about racial profiling, minutes after a desk officer had assumed we’d been there the previous week — was indeed absurd. Finally the officer said, “I think I know where [the stats] came from. I’m going to check some things out. Can you wait fifteen minutes?”
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Raziq nodded as his shoulders relaxed. He glanced at me. “Thanks for being here, man.” I shook my head sadly and said, “Don’t thank me. Thank our parents.” I wished they were here. Dr. James T. Brown and Ida Stewart, my mother, were good friends in the 1990 s. They had an easy rapport. Black Unitarian Universalist leaders in Texas, completely comfortable in large groups of white people, each valued black community. Ms. Brown did, too. As Raziq and I became teenagers, their gentle insistence that we become friends transformed into a full-court press. Raziq and I resisted for most of high school. Though we did not know it until later, our parents, especially our mothers, were singing from the same hymnal. “This world, beautiful though it can be, is absurd, and you’ll need each other one day,” my mom liked to say. “Become friends with that boy,” Ms. Brown would tell Raziq. Dr. Brown would smile and nod. Maya Angelou turned forty on April 4, 1968 . She had planned a big party in Harlem, with many of the day’s black intellectual elite among the guests. History had other ideas; Dr. King’s assassination sent Angelou into a weeks-long depression. It was fellow writer James Baldwin who helped her dig out of it. Angelou recalls Baldwin’s assistance in her book A Song Flung Up to Heaven, where she writes that laughter and ancestral guidance got her through: There was very little serious conversation. The times were so solemn and the daily news so somber that we snatched mirth from unlikely places and gave ser vings of it to one another with both hands... I told Jimmy I was so glad to laugh. Jimmy said, “We survived slavery... You know how we survived? We put surviving into our poems and into our songs.
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We put it into our folk tales. We danced surviving in Congo Square in New Orleans and put it in our pots when we cooked pinto beans... [W]e knew, if we wanted to survive, we had better lift our own spirits. So we laughed whenever we got the chance.” It took Raziq a few days to realize just how shaken and upset he was, and it didn’t immediately register with me that I ought to go and visit him. Aloud and internally he searched for alternative explanations for what happened to him, something other than racial profiling. For some black folks, especially well-off millennials, the internal dance of navigating race brings exhaustion because so many of us were convinced by white friends growing up that racism no longer mattered, if it even existed. Maybe that had nothing to do with race. Maybe that cop is rude to everyone. Maybe I’m just reading too much into it. Maybe I shouldn’t complain. We can talk ourselves into circles of anxiety and confusion. Raziq attended a UU anti-racism forum the day following the harrowing encounter. He had the room of white UU s laughing; two of our mutual friends, when I texted them, said he “seemed fine.” He worked to convince his friends and online community that he was okay, that it was just life. But it shouldn’t be just life. The healing kind of laughter doesn’t minimize the seriousness of what happened or give up the struggle against injustice. The healing kind of laughter comes from being in community with people who truly understand. Raziq’s parents, and my mother, wanted to prepare us for the absurd. They wanted us to understand that life makes little sense sometimes, and we’d need black community to get through it. Sitting there in Internal Affairs, we understood at last. Sometimes you need someone who just gets it. Someone willing to go with you into a police station to
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complain about the police, as though there’s any hope that they’ll do something about it. Our parents understood that, as black folks, we would need each other. Two days after the officers accosted him, Raziq called me again. “I’m not okay,” he said, his voice breaking slightly, as I paced the aisles of a Target in southeast Denver. “Yeah, no kidding.” I paused for a moment. “Man. I can come visit, if you like.” The man at Internal Affairs returned and told us that the officer’s camera had not been turned on until Raziq’s mother had shown up, so there was no way to prove — or disprove — w hat Raziq was claiming about his treatment. “You weren’t arrested. You were detained,” the officer told him. “Since there was a burglary call, they had probable cause to handcuff you. There’s a rudeness complaint to be filed here, and I don’t know why the officer did that to you.” Then, he added, “Nights can be tough.” Raziq nodded. He looked disgusted, defeated, and relieved. It was over, more or less. “We’ll be in touch with you,” the officer said, not unkindly. (Raziq has heard nothing more.) Raziq glanced up before saying, “Nights really can be tough.” He would know. The of ficer shook Raziq’s hand, then mine. “Have a great day.” Stunned and exhausted, we chose to stick with our plan of going to the downtown YMCA , a tradition of ours. As usual we’d split up for awhile — I ’d play basketball while he jumped rope and ran, and then we’d lift and do abs together. Still dazed as I warmed up my jump shot, I realized a white guy about my age was trying to get my attention. “Wanna get a game goin’?” he asked. He wore a purple TCU Football
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shirt and white Baylor shorts, a combination I didn’t know the state of Texas allowed. He asked if I’d get a team together from the other folks milling around. The first person I asked was a 5’9”-ish black woman with shoulder-length braids who looked about 30. She seemed taken aback. “Sorry,” I said, not really sure what I was apologizing for. “No, no, I’ll play — i t’s just... guys don’t usually ask if I want to run.” She smiled slightly as I sighed in understanding. “Well, I’m hoping you do,” I said, and we shook hands. We got three more teammates, two middle-aged white guys and a 5’10” black teenage boy, and the game began. That men rarely invited her into pickup games would have been ridiculous and troubling if she’d had no game at all. As it was, she could flat out play basketball. Her first two shots didn’t even think about hitting the rim as they swished in from long range. Once the men on the other team realized how good she was, they quickly — and predictably — overcompensated to try and stop her, leaving the rest of us open. Tamara — not her real name — dribbled into the paint off a screen I set for her in the high post. As two guys jumped to block her, Tamara fired off a no-look bounce pass right to my hands. I contained my glee long enough to convert the layup. Everyone watching went wild. As we jogged back down court to play defense, we made eye contact, and she winked and smiled wryly. It would be a bit before I connected that wink to Raziq’s experience. Tamara winked, I think, because she sensed I understood how absurd it was that guys rarely asked her to play. We won three games together before Raziq came up, ready for our lifting session; in each game, Tamara was the best player on the floor. The prejudice she faced, on the court and, likely, elsewhere, was ridiculous. That wink was her way of finding a
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way to laugh about an injustice that hurt. As I left the court, we bumped fists and nodded. “That was great — I needed that,” she said. I did, too. After our workout, Raziq and I drove east on I-30 toward his house, the car ride quiet except for one of the local hiphop stations, K104 FM , playing in the background. Almost simultaneously, we realized what song was playing — Houston rapper Chamillionaire’s 2006 smash, the anti-racial profiling hit “Ridin’ (Dirty).” We looked at each other in disbelief. He reached for the volume and turned it up: They see me rollin’, they hatin’, Patrolling, they tryin’ to catch me ridin’ dirty Tryin’ to catch me ridin’ dirty The racial profiling statistics Raziq had used, by the way, had come from the Fort Worth police themselves, in a report from a few years earlier. In no time the two of us had the song blasting in my car as we rapped along. Cause they denyin’ that it’s racial profiling Houston, Texas: you can check my tags Mid verse, Raziq and I looked at each other and did the only thing that made any sense — s omething our mothers, and maybe even James Baldwin and Maya Angelou, had likely seen coming. We laughed. Raziq now strives to get his custodial work done much earlier in the evening. He and Richard are careful not to set off alarms. The approaching Texas summer means longer days, which helps. On this day, it is sunset again. During a walk through the school premises together, Raziq stops outside the door the
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white police officer had entered. He slowly drags his left foot on the gravel. The sound activates a memory of mine — ours, really — buried deep within: Raziq and me as children, walking impatiently behind his father and my mother at UU summer camp in Oklahoma as they chatted away and laughed uproariously as we headed down to the lake. As a kid I didn’t understand why they laughed so often. Dr. Brown passed away in 2012 , and my mom died of cancer in 2011, so no longer can we ask them. I suspect, though, that they hung out and laughed together for the same reason my mom laughed so much with her sisters, with her best friends, and with other black women in suburban Houston — and for the same reason they insisted that Raziq and I become close. They laughed not to avoid the racial realities of this country, but to maintain the strength to endure and resist them. They laughed in order to survive.
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Acceptance of One Another and Encouragement to Spiritual Growth in Our Congregations
DON ’ T FORGE T YOUR BELONGINGS by Celie Katovitch
We ascend, or descend, inextricably linked with all others. While I rode in a crowded subway car, full of the screech of train sounds and the murmur of people, a voice came over the sound system making a prerecorded announcement that played periodically along the route. I had heard it many times before; today, it resounded differently. “Don’t forget your belongings.” I paused to look up at the loudspeaker. For some reason I thought of belonging not in terms of possessions, but in its other sense, that of belonging as a state of being that we look for. And I thought, too, about what it would mean not to “forget” it. Much of the world runs on concerns about the kinds of belongings the subway announcement was really talking about. We often have great concern for the things we possess. Intrinsically, this is about separation. It is about what is “ours” (and hence not someone else’s). Often the added societal message is that our belongings — our stuff — are the measure of who we are.
The other kind of belonging is about whose we are. This belonging is as much about connection and relationship as the other is about separateness and individuality. Indeed, to say that we have found where we belong is to name one of the most powerful kinds of relationships it is possible to have as a human being. It is to point to a sacred quality within community. Belonging makes a claim upon your whole person. It both asks and promises a quality of relationship: a sense of deeply and truly being with others, together, through thick and thin. Its great blessing is, as the poet Mary Oliver says, a sense of “your place in the family of things.” The search for belonging leads many of us to seek a religious communit y. I have to imagine that when we’re born, we already have an intimate knowledge of belonging to the world, to other people, and to the sacred myster y that connects us all. How could we not? We are born ver y much “at the mercy” of that world and of the people in it. Yet sure enough, we often forget this sense of belonging — s ometimes before ver y long at all, sometimes bit by bit as we grow older and hear society’s encouragement to separateness. Sometimes we think we simply can’t bear the vulnerability that non-separateness demands. We turn to our possessions, to our individual paths, and forge ahead, because we feel we must. But by grace, at some point along the road, most of us begin to long for another option. We begin to wonder what else is possible. We start hoping that we might, af ter all, find that sense of our place with others, and make our journey in togetherness rather than alone.
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Now and then the awareness that our journey is shared wells up, surprising us with its joy. It strikes me that airports, like subways, are places where our two opposing understandings of “belongings” are on display. Picture the hustle and bustle of the airport: the headlong rush of people, each pulling a carefully supervised piece of baggage behind themselves, apparently on a very separate journey from the many other people similarly racing through the terminal. And yet, when we reach the gate, and there is nothing to do but settle in and contemplate the upcoming flight, I bet a great many of us find ourselves thinking of the view from 30,000 feet — a view that will give us a real experience of the vastness of the world. Something about those awe-inspiring moments when the vastness of the earth or the sky is visible before us causes us to pause, causes a voice within us to sing out above the noise of our inner distractions. That voice proclaims that across all differences and divides, beyond all fears, we are companions on the same journey. We ascend, or descend, inextricably linked with all others. Countercultural as it is, this idea is in our very bones. And that idea is also a very Universalist intuition. The great insight of that side of our spiritual tradition ran deeper than any notions about heaven or hell. Universalism’s greatest promise was about relationships: the kinship of all people. Its central truth was that wherever we may be going, we are going there together. Whatever our purpose, it is a collective purpose. This tradition within our faith reminds us of the ancient truth that no matter how plentiful our possessions, we do not, in the end, really possess a thing — f or life is a gift, and what we have brings us full joy only when we offer it outward to others. We are called to lives of service by a great Love in
which we live and move and have our being. And however we might name it, it is a Love that holds us all, covers us all like a sweet dust. We might also understand the Universalist insight this way: that however forgetful we might become, however separate or rushed or frightened we might feel, we cannot ultimately lose the understanding with which we were born — t he sense of belonging we once knew, and to which our longing ever calls us back. Though we may not be able to guess how it will happen, we can take hope from the promise that we shall all be reconciled to ourselves, to one another, and to what is holy, before all is said and done. Belonging is both our true purpose, and our destiny. To paraphrase Universalist minister the Rev. Gordon McKeeman, if we believe that one way or another “all of us are going to end up together in [the end], we might as well [practice getting along] with each other now.” More than simply getting along, I hope we might be heartened as we practice belonging together, and as we strive to be churches that embody the spiritual realities we profess.
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A Free and Responsible Search for Truth and Meaning
A RECORD OF THINGS WONDERFUL by Kris Willcox
An atheist reckons with God, kids, and the Unitarian Universalist church. When my mother was dying, in a Seattle hospital far from my home in suburban Boston, a palliative care team comprising a doctor, a social worker, and an interfaith chaplain arrived to help us understand the process of her dying and care for her in the final days. As they prepared to leave, I asked the chaplain if I could have “a prayerful moment” with him. The request surprised us both. I didn’t know precisely what I wanted. Prayerful is not a term I’d ever uttered. I knew that he was an Episcopal priest who, as a chaplain, served people of all faiths as well as those who did not identify with a religion. I also felt, instinctively, that he could interpret my request for a prayerful moment, even if I could not. He led me to a small room of chairs and tissues and did his best to understand. “I see your mother listed Unitarian Universalist as her religion.” “Yes,” I said. “It’s mine, too.”
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He asked if I would like him to say something in keeping with our faith. I struggled for words, finally coming out with, “Could you just... say whatever Episcopalians say in situations like this?” He put his hand on mine and prayed that God would bring comfort and peace to my mother and our family. I snif fled my thanks and went back to Mom’s room. A devout Christian might say that God was reaching out to me. A confirmed atheist might suggest I was too sad to think clearly. Here’s what I think: I needed comfort, from the most direct source of that person’s heart, which was Episcopal tradition and belief. Further, I knew that to receive comfort in the language of his faith would not cancel or threaten mine; my beliefs were safe within me. In 2004, when I was 28 and working for the UUA , I had the privilege of giving the sermon at a weekly staff chapel service. In a wood-paneled room overlooking the Massachusetts State House, I spoke of growing up UU in Utah, where religious liberals “huddled together for warmth.” Then, with delight, I told of my newfound Christianity, which was not only tolerated but welcomed at my Cambridge parish. How nice, I declared, after munching the dry cereal of humanism for years to taste something full-fat and churchier. My cheerfully unexamined faith did fine through my twenties. I was proud of that sermon (excerpted in UU World’s July/ August 2004 issue), so it pains me to admit that those claims haven’t held up. A dozen years later, I’m surprised at the confidence of my own proclamations. Apparently, as John Leonard said, “I was older then.”
I shared then words from the book of Micah: “What does God require of thee but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” It wasn’t merely the word God that moved me, I said, it was “the word ‘require.’” God does not appeal to my reason, does not suggest that I be just, merciful, and humble. God requires. Period... I can love those words and the idea of a God with requirements because I’ve never been told to submit to a God with mean or impossible requirements. I acknowledged that this wasn’t so for many UU s, including members of my congregation and family who have been told to submit to mean or impossible requirements, but for me the God of Micah and his requirements worked fine. My argument — if I understand myself correctly — was that lack of any bad history with God justified the adoption of Christian beliefs. I added this zinger of a quote from the Indigo Girls: “The sweetest part is acting after making a decision.” My cheerfully unexamined faith did fine through my twenties, with no major stress tests. But later, after I had children, and my five-year-old asked, “Mommy, is God real?” I knew she wasn’t asking me about the Spirit of Life and Love. She was asking if God is an actual, sandal-wearing guy in the sky, the way her paternal grandparents and some of her friends insisted. I knew also, looking into her eyes, that I was an atheist and always had been. So much for the sweetness of action. At this writing, our family is not part of a congregation, but when asked about my religion — o r facing that ultimate litmus test of faith, the hospital admission form — I still answer “Unitarian Universalist” without hesitation. It belongs to me, and I to it.
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Gradually, my husband Scot t and I drif ted from our Cambridge parish where we met. We live within minutes of a dozen UU congregations, yet now I find the very thing that excited me about many New England UU churches, an openness to Christianity, gives me pause. It feels like a latter-day UU heresy to admit this, but I’m concerned my children will pick up theism along with the Seven Principles. Scott, a self-described “escapee” from a deeply conservative Christian tradition, can’t stand this idea. When I cajoled everyone recently into attending Christmas Eve services at a nearby congregation, he wanted assurance that there wouldn’t be too many mentions of Jesus. “Well, it is Christmas Eve,” I said. Was he expecting a lecture on the rule of law? We went. Jesus was mentioned, the kids took part in nativity-building, Scott didn’t break out in hives, and we haven’t been back. I can’t easily explain why, but I’ve been worrying about it faithfully, chasing my tail so hard I’ve now caught it and bitten down firmly. Scott calls this state of frenzied inaction “Fret Level Orange.” To be fair, he is just as unsure. He’d like us to have the social and ethical supports of a church community but only wants the kind of UU experience I can’t stomach: the detox program, whose primary function is to bar the door and heal the wounds of bad religious experiences. Growing up a so-called “non-Mormon” gave me an appreciation for the refuge offered by UU churches, but it also made me weary of church experiences that were, at heart, a refusal of religion. The Church of No. If there was a moment in childhood that inspired my brief stint as a Christian, twenty years later, it was probably the Sunday school lesson when our teacher explained that some people believe in the God of the Bible, while some are Jewish
or Hindu, and some other people are Buddhist, and so on. I felt cheated. The Mormon kids around me had the eternal glor y of the Heavenly Father, and I got “and some other people are Buddhist.” Curricula have surely evolved in thirty years, but that early experience of being bored left a deep impression. I don’t want our kids to have a church experience that leaves their senses dulled, and Scott would sooner take them on the highway without seatbelts than give them uns hielded exposure to even the most liberal Christianity. So here we are, two people who met in a UU congregation, were married by UU ministers, live near Boston in the highest density of UU churches anywhere, identif y as UU s, and yet cannot get ourselves to church, nor conclude that it’s all right to stay away. This would be an incomplete story if I didn’t own up to another source of resistance: fatigue. Church eats time. In earlier years I gave the time gladly, but family life exhausts me for many interactions I once welcomed. Why venture out when the chaos in my home rivals any post-service coffee hour? Yet in congregations I believe everyone should pitch in, especially if you bring kids. I can’t just gobble up the Beloved Community others brought to the potluck — M om raised me better than that. I’ll show up and pay my pledge, help put the folding chairs away, serve on the Canvassing Committee — and the next thing I know, I’ll be teaching Sunday school. (I may exaggerate, but only slightly.) Two specific forms of guilt keep me from simply enjoying my Sundays at home. First, I am letting down the movement. For all their imperfections, I owe a debt to the UU communities that raised me, from Sunday school to youth groups and YRUU conferences to the New England parish where I became a full-fledged member and met my life partner. To
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gain so much and leave feels like ingratitude, and a gamble. I would feel bereft without the option of a UU congregation to come home to, yet when Sunday rolls around we aren’t going. Not this week, not next. Maybe not ever. I’m the grown child who never makes it home for holidays but expects her childhood bedroom to stay just as she left it. The second spur is my kids, who could benefit from the experience and care of a church. At ages eight and six, their selves are forming right in front of us, fragile as new shells. Last year my daughter, then seven, looked up at me while brushing her teeth and said, “Sometimes it’s so weird to think that... I exist... you know?” My heart skipped a beat: Baby’s first moment of existential wonder! “Yes,” I said, “I do know!” A year later, she’s more guarded. Walking home from school, she asked me about the location of the Arctic Circle, and I suggested, with perhaps too much enthusiasm, that we consult a map together. “Never mind,” she said. “This is turning into one of those ‘Let’s Learn Something’ conversations.” Her curiosity remains, but my access is narrowing. Here, again, we might benefit from a community where she and her younger brother could agree with adults who share many of their parents’ beliefs, without suffering the indignity of openly agreeing with us (an essential function of church youth groups for me). It gets more fraught. When I told my daughter I was writing about being a mom who doesn’t believe in God, she calmly replied, “I believe in God and that everything in the Bible is true.” If she was hoping for an incendiary reaction, I supplied it. “You don’t even know what the Bible says!” I railed. “How can you know that you believe in God?” She stuck by her statement although she has since declared, “People who
believe in God are crazy,” to which Scott nodded approval and I ranted about religious tolerance. Some might say that religious education classes are in order, for all of us. Is my daughter a Christian, an atheist, or just a pill? None, yet. These debates are the UU version of confirmation class, the same kind of spiritual chin-up I was doing when I announced, at age nine, that I planned to join the Mormon church. My mom, a board member at our church, said quietly, “I will be sad if that happens.” Her calm may have come from the fact that we belonged to a congregation, and she suspected I’d find more to keep me there as I got older. She was right. Like a good UU of inquiring spirit, I have read dozens of books and articles about faith and parenting and, like my mother before me, have highlighted, underlined, and scribbled the occasional rebuttal in those texts. They offer plenty of sound reasons for going to church. Children need to practice values like caring and respect in the context of a larger community. Sounds good; I’m with you. Children are naturally spiritual. A squishy term, “spiritual,” but I know what you’re getting at. And there are many authors assuring me that I do no harm to my children by remaining unchurched, as long as I am open, honest, and curious and help them remain so as well. Easier said than done, but yes, I’ll sign on for that. Wonder is the common root of art, science, and religion. What comes through in all of these texts, whether they advocate church-going or not, is the need for community in children’s lives. Scott and I make a nice enclave for our own needs, but we are not a village. When poets Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon returned to Hall’s childhood Congregational
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church in rural New Hampshire, it was to be part of “a community radiating the willingness or even the desire to be careful and loving.” This is more than neighbors, I think; more than friends, which we have; or a good school in a friendly town. None of these are places made for intentional conversations about love, justice, or wonder. Churches are. After a lot of reading, I found what I thought could be the foundation of an approach that worked for me. Jesse Prinz, a scholar of philosophy and ethics, suggests that wonder is the common root of art, science, and religion, and perhaps the defining human experience — the nudging emotion that leads us to want to understand our world (science) and venerate it (art, religion). When I found Prinz, I put down the other books and articles. Here was the experience that linked my atheism and Christian longing — t he sense of awe (“I exist... you know?”) and the desire it produces to feel more of that emotion — to cultivate wonder. It’s what is often missing, but might be restored to dull lessons in World Religions, my map of the Arctic, or Scott’s love of math. Before the question of religion, which will ultimately be a personal choice we cannot dictate, is wonder and, I’d add, the feelings of respect and responsibility that go with it. Prinz turns to Socrates, Adam Smith, and René Descartes to anchor his points, and to an eclectic catalogue, The World of Wonders: A Record of Things Wonderful in Nature, Science and Art, published in 1883. In exuberant nineteenth-century fashion, this book covers everything from glaciers to steam engines, sunspots to “the wonder of the telegraph.” Sections like “Educated Fleas” reveal a charming gullibility but also a sense that nothing, not even a flea, should be overlooked because the world is a treasure-trove of wonders, worthy of our attention. I want to help my kids feel that prodding
sense of wonder, with maybe a tad more skepticism as ballast. I want them to feel that heart-surge that I experienced when I was twenty, on a moonlight ski outing in the Wasatch Mountains with friends from the UU church. At a quiet bend in the trail I looked up to see a meteor blaze across the sky. Pure wonder. I did not acquire this reliance on wonder by myself. I learned it in Unitarian Universalist communities, and it is part of a UU heritage I hope to give my children. Possibly — probably — we will decide that this can only happen if we show up at church, setting our casserole down at the table of Beloved Community. (But we can’t teach Sunday school, so don’t ask.) If my children want to know what took us so long, I’ll tell them it took time to decide that we, too, wanted to be there. Church served as a cruciferous vegetable for the spirit, by adults who don’t like the taste of it, will soon be rejected. My daughter recites, “Hours turn into days, turn into months, turn into years, turn into decades, turn into centuries, turn into eons... Mom, what comes after eons?” “I don’t know,” I say. She holds my gaze for a moment, trying to sound the depths: How much do I know, and of that, how much am I withholding? Here is my story as it stands today: Sometimes religion becomes a reason and a way to hurt others, to control, and exclude. When a person, like your dad, has that experience, the hurt goes very deep. Therefore, be careful. Other people see the world through religions like Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism, and it is their way of loving the world and doing good. Religion need not diminish them, or you. Therefore, relax. As an atheist — i f that is what you are — y ou are not denied a beautiful vision of this world.
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You do not have to be anti anything, you are not “Non.” The world, in all its wonder, is revealed to you as much as to anyone. Therefore, rejoice.
The Right of Conscience and the use of the Democratic Process Within Our Congregations and in Societ y at Large
B E A PAT R I OT by Timothy Snyder
Twenty lessons for citizens of an imperiled democracy, from a scholar of twentieth-century catastrophes. Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today. 1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom. 2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.
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3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges. 4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary. 5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it. 6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases ever yone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom.) Read. What to read? Perhaps The Power of the Powerless by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing Is True and Ever ything Is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them. 7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something
different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow. 8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights. 9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes. 10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body sof tening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them. 11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life. 12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so. 13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.
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14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good. 15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks. 16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports. 17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over. 18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carr y a weapon in public ser vice, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.) 19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.
20. Be a patriot.Â The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.Â
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The Goal of World Communit y With Peace, Liber ty, and Justice for All
F I V E WAYS TO SUPPORT BL ACK LIVES M AT TER by Kenny Wiley
Many Unitarian Universalists want to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Here are five ways to get started. Although the Black Lives Matter coalition itself was founded in 2013 , the slogan stormed into the national consciousness late last year, as high-profile cases of police brutality were cleared by grand juries from Missouri to New York. As my own involvement in the movement has increased, I’ve talked with fellow Unitarian Universalists across the country who are looking for ways to engage. Many are asking what they can do individually and what Unitarian Universalists can do collectively. Answers are emerging. This summer, the UU A General Assembly called on UU s to support the Black Lives Matter movement . Over the past year, some congregations have started displaying banners proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” — a nd then putting them back up af ter vandals and thieves have defaced or stolen them. And individual UU s are joining the burgeoning movement, with some of us
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leading protests, vigils, and community forums challenging racial injustice and systemic inequalities. In this time of renewed attention and energy toward racial justice work, there exists in UU spaces tremendous excitement — but also caution and fear. Here are five ways UU s can engage with Black Lives Matter: 1. Learn Many UU s come to racial justice conversations with good intentions but a lack of information about the realities of racial inequality and injustice as it exists today in their own communities. Get up to speed by following publications that cover Black Lives Matter and other racial justice movements, such as Colorlines, The Root, and Black Voices from the Huffington Post. Star t a discussion group about Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness or Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, the UU A’s new “Common Read.” The UU A has prepared study guides for both books. And, as you follow the news and dig deeper, resist the allure of “respectability politics” (listening only to voices if they have traditional markers of formal education and influence). White UU s need to talk with each other about whiteness, white supremacy, and “white fragility.” Not all UU s are white, of course, but I am often asked whether mostly white congregations can do racial justice work. Yes, they can! 2. Connect UU s need to connect to and embrace the BLM movement as it exists today. The Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, a middle-aged black man and renowned activist who spoke at the 2015 UU A General Assembly, told Yes! Magazine, “The leadership is black, poor, queer, women... I am not a leader in this
movement; I am a follower. I take my orders from 23-year-old queer women.” Listening to young, black leaders, locally and nationally, can be challenging — but it is a vital step. Find the movement near you. The National Ferguson Response Net work promotes local event s tagged by city and state. Today’s movement does not look like the civil rights struggle of the 1950 s and 1960 s, during which older black men (many of whom were clergy) got most of the credit and controlled the messaging and strategy. So much of the conversation — a nd organizing — h appens online, especially on Twitter. My good friend Brian Hubbard, when asked how people could connect with Black Lives Matter if they weren’t on Twitter, responded, “By getting on Twitter.” To get plugged into the conversation whenever a big event happens, follow activists like Netta Elzie (@Nettaaaaaaaa), “Ida’s Disciple” (@prisonculture), and Deray Mckesson (@deray) and journalists and media analysts like Wesley Lowery (@ WesleyLowery), Jenée Desmond-Harris (@jdesmondharris), Lisa Bloom (@LisaBloom), Elon James White (@elonjames), and Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisicoates). 3. Support Protests need food and water. Movements cost money. Events need setup and take-down help, and meetings need physical spaces. After connecting with local leaders, offering assistance can be a great way to show solidarity. On short notice in late July, the Rev. Mike Morran and John Vivian of First Unitarian Society of Denver helped the local BLM chapter host more than fifty travelers on their way from southern California to the Movement for Black Lives national convention in Cleveland.
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For UU s of color, support can also mean supporting one another. Connecting with other UU s of color on a human level — w hether it’s with prolific social media users like black UU Leslie Butler MacFadyen (@LeslieMac) or with people in your area — can help reduce feelings of isolation. For me, checking in with other UU s of color has helped me feel spiritually and socially connected. 4. Engage Make it known you are a part of this movement. Post about it on Facebook. Buy a yard sign or bumper sticker, even though it might get stolen. Go to protests or community meetings — t hey’re usually just a Twitter or Facebook search away. Sacrifice part of your week to let your commitment to this work be visible. Leslie Butler MacFadyen issued a series of challenges to white allies concerning engagement. Read her series of tweets; does one of her challenges call you to act? Part of engaging this work is reframing our view of what is truly at stake. White antiracism activist Chris Crass electrified a General Assembly workshop in June when he told the room of hundreds, “The question for us as Unitarian Universalists is not how many people of color we can get in our pews; it’s how much damage can we do to white supremacy.” 5. Stay Woke The term “stay woke” is used on social media by people who continue pointing to the ever-growing list of victims of state violence, racial profiling, or other racial injustices. Unitarian Universalists, too, can “stay woke” by continuing to grapple with the magnitude of the work ahead, and by refusing to succumb to the temptation to ignore the racial realities of our country.
It is imperative, whatever our level of education or our privileges, that none of us looks away. If we are to live up to ourÂ First Principle, and truly honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person, then we must proclaim, with words and deeds, that black lives matter.
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Respect for the Interdependent Web of All Existence of Which We Are a Par t
JUDGED BY OUR JUDGMENTS by Jeffrey A. Lockwood
Even in the ‘natural’ world, some things are better than others. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage this summer, we became a better country. The post-decision United States was not merely different, although that was true; we’d become a more just, fair, and decent nation. Being different is easy; being better is hard. If we prevented interracial marriage or allowed adults to marry children, we’d be different — and worse. “This is better than that.” In the modern world, such a statement is likely to generate protest. Who are you to decide? Isn’t this imposing your view on others? What if another culture disagrees? Well-intended liberals and openminded progressives have become so tolerant of differences that we’re reluctant to judge ideas, places, or people. There is much to be said for accepting diverse perspectives; humility is a virtue. But unless we accept the importance and legitimacy of making — a nd defending — j udgments,
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there’s little point to ethical inquiry, art schools, or conservation programs. Many of my students in introductory philosophy courses begin from a position of moral relativism — t he notion that an ethical action is merely whatever a person claims it to be. For admirable reasons, they seek to be accepting of other views (and it’s hard work to defend one’s judgment). But such a position collapses when they seriously consider whether the wrongness of slavery and genocide is merely a cultural construct or whether mutilating the genitals of girls is an ethically defensible practice. Sure, there are tough cases and gray areas, but shooting octogenarian retirees for sport (a favorite example of a philosophical colleague) is just wrong. What about aesthetic judgments? Is every poem admirable and every painting laudable? Teaching poetry or painting requires the cultivation of taste — t he capacity to discern relevant features and perceive a work as being worthy of acclaim or approbation. And humans around the planet do have shared sensory sensitivities, which cultures have variously modified. Not every sound and sight (or flavor, texture, or odor) is equally pleasant or evocative. Otherwise, it would be vacuous to provide constructive criticism to art students. We should simply clap our hands and declare each creation as wondrous in its own special way. So what about landscapes, habitats, and organisms? There are those who would contend that they’re all beautiful — t hat our task is to perceive the wondrous elements in abandoned lots, weedy roadsides, and five-legged frogs. Who are we to judge these as being no bet ter than national parks, wilderness preserves, and “normal” amphibians? They’re all wild — e ven “natural” if we expand this
notion sufficiently — i n some fashion and to some degree, after all. Of course, the moral standards of philosophy and the aesthetic standards of art don’t extend to nature — p redators are not blameworthy for how they kill their prey and there is no intentional creator who can succeed or fail in an artistic sense. But when humans are involved as co-creators of environments (which is the case in virtually all places on Earth), there is an element of profound responsibility. That is, we participate in shaping an ecological story from which it is possible, even essential, to derive a judgment. And stories are the soul of what it means to be human, for we know ourselves and the world in narrative terms. So, here’s the judgment we must make. Let us take “this” as Denali National Park, the John Muir Wilderness, and healthy wildlife — a ll of which exemplif y tales of human foresight, humility, and restraint. And let’s take “that” to be eroded farmland, overgrown city lots, and bodies deformed by synthetic toxins — a ll of which exemplif y stories of greed, disregard, and arrogance. If we are to be judged as fully human, we must have the integrity to judge “this” is better than “that.”
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EXHIBITION CHECKLIST This publication accompanies the exhibition VALUUES at the Museum of Spiritual Arts in Franklin, OH, on view from April 23 through August 9, 2017.
1. Article 3 UDHR by Meredith Stern Relief print 12.75×19 in 2. We Are Irreplaceable by Jordan Alam and Jess X Snow Illustration 24×34 in 3. Radicalphabet by L is for Liberation Collective Offset print 23×36 in 4. Equality vs Equity by Angus Maguire 10×7.5 in Digital illustration
5. You Are Never Alone by Occupy Sandy & Pete Railand from the We Are the Storm portfolio 12×18 in Screen print 6. Keep Growing, Keep Learning by Laurel Bell& Kevin Caplicki 11×17 in Risograph Print 7. Labyrinth by Kathleen Kuchar 30×30 in Collage on board 8. Listening by Adam Scott Miller 12×16 in Oil, pastel, pencil; bristol mounted to cradled board 9. Get out the vote by Thomas Dang 11×17 in Digital illustration 10. Ugly Americanism by Peg Averill 11×16.25 in Offset print
11. Father James Groppi by Nicolas Lampert & Paul Kjelland 26×40 in three-color screenprint, heavy wight acid free paper, signed, unnumbered 12. Migration is Beautiful by Nicolas Lampert 18×24 in Screen print 13. People and Planet by Katie Garth 11×17 in Drawing 14. Listen to the Plants by Mary Tremonte 8.5×11 in Screen print
An exhibition catalog for a hypothetical exhibition displaying works of art that coincide with the seven principles of Unitarian Universalis...
Published on Oct 13, 2018
An exhibition catalog for a hypothetical exhibition displaying works of art that coincide with the seven principles of Unitarian Universalis...