Monday, May 28, 2012

Some thoughts on leaving church

WARNING: If you’re expecting fair, balanced, reasoned debate, just move along to the next blog. I’m angry, sad, bitter, and grieving; I have no intention of trying to hide it. 

In just over a year I've left the UU congregation I’d belonged to since 1996 and been married in, joined another congregation- and now I've left that one, too. And no, I’m not some lone, hotheaded malcontent; in both cases I was one of many in a mass walkout that I had no part in instigating… and the combined total of those two walkouts would rival the regular attendance of either congregation. I don’t have exact counts, as many- myself included- merely walked without posting angry letters or speaking out at congregational meetings, but the numbers of disaffected were very large, and many, many letters were circulated. Here is a sample that could have come from either church; it doesn't really matter which, as they were all similar:

“Dear Members of (a Unitarian Universalist church),

We are writing to let you know that we have resigned our membership with (that church) and will no longer be in covenant with its members. 

In the ten years that we have been associated with (that church), it has become clear to us that (that church) does not have the capacity to become the type of church we are seeking. We believe that further investment of our time, talents, and treasures would ultimately be a waste. We are seeking out other opportunities for spiritual growth, sacred community, and service to others. 

As part of the process of moving forward, we may not be seeing some of you again. This may include “unfriending” some of you on Facebook. We do not do this out of any animosity or ill-will. We do this as part of our process of transitioning from the past to our future path. We also do it as part of our healing process. We would ask that you respect our decisions with regard to this.

We wish you the best as you continue on your journey. We hope you find what you are looking for. May you always be blessed. 

Sincerely, (some congregant)” 

The walkout that was the immediate impetus for this post happened at a congregational meeting. About forty re-formed in the lobby and started singing the hymn/protest “There Is More Love Somewhere”; others were in line at the secretary’s desk to strike their names from the rolls, and still others just silently walked to their cars. We sang one chorus then joined that last group. 

I’m not going to talk about the circumstances leading up to either split. I could say I won’t because the other side isn’t here to defend themselves, but that would be a lie; I don’t believe they deserve a defense. No, I’m not going into details because it’s too late in the day to start gobbling antacids. But I will talk about a mindset, an attitude expressed in both splits. It can be summed up in a single line of argument, and I give fair warning: the next person to use this argument to me risks being spit upon.

I Call it “Waving The Chalice”… “This isn’t about you or me- think of the church! The church is bigger than any individual; it will still be there long after we’re gone.” I believe that anyone who could say that has never had a thought deeper than a bumper sticker, and is unworthy of being a UU minister.

“The Greater Good” is a truly noble explanation of why you’re sacrificing yourself; it is an evil sophistry when used to explain why you’re demanding the sacrifice of another. It is the cry of dictators, the logic behind Stalin’s “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” It’s doubly bad when you hear it at church. Tell me- if a church cannot be concerned with the individual, what institution on Earth can be? I will not fellowship with anyone who cannot imagine a situation in which the right answer is, “The need of the one is greater; this time, the many can yield.”… and so, I am an unchurched UU in Indy.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Of Deepities, the Gambler, and UU

Deepity is a term coined by Daniel Dennett in his 2009 speech to the American Atheists Institution conference. It refers to a statement that has (at least) two meanings; one that is true but trivial, and another that sounds profound, but is essentially false or meaningless. I had that experience, with no word to attach to it, when Kenny Rogers had a monster hit with “The Gambler”. Here are the words that drove people to tears, and a series of movies:

You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em

Know when to walk away and know when to run

You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table

There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealing's done

Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin'

Is knowin' what to throw away and knowing what to keep

'Cause every hand's a winner and every hand's a loser

And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep

And when he finished speakin', he turned back towards the window

Crushed out his cigarette and faded off to sleep

And somewhere in the darkness the gambler, he broke even

But in his final words I found an ace that I could keep

I remember wondering if I was the only person in the whole country who realized that the Gambler had not said a damn thing for all his profound sounding words... Well, duh, HOW do I know when to hold them? What are the indicators that I should fold instead? What tells me that this card should be kept, and that one thrown away? Is there a formula for knowing whether to stand pat or run? For all those deep, profound words, there wasn’t a bit of practical advice I could actually USE- no ace to keep. I was reminded of that irritation when listening to Colleen Kessler - What do Unitarian Universalists Believe? Can anyone point to an ace worth keeping in all of that?