(This is the third article I've published in Maya's and her daughter Radhaa's series, Awakening Starseeds, Volumes 1-3. I appreciate the honor of being included…
Why try? I had thought my career with the UUs had some beneficial effect, plus I had thought my decades of building a web page would magnify that effect. Was I wrong on both! No one in my former UU fellowship even knows I’m gone, and only a few people ever read my self-vaunted website. I write to an imagined audience that isn’t there. I post to the larger world on internet forums (e.g., “BBC Says – Even if only a few read it”) to interact with only a few more. I’m not as important or effective as I imagined and hoped.
I’ll own it along with all the other mistakes and failures of my life. I’ve had an ambivalent relationship with things UU – not the people so much as the denomination and colleagues. As much as I admire the heritage and some of the ministers, I also have been uneasy with what can seem a ponderous and presumptuous style. I never wanted to wield my status as a minister except to say, “we’re all in this equally.” That didn’t satisfy those who want more forceful preaching, posturing, and leadership. Distant from colleagues and the denomination, I knew I wasn’t joining their parade. Nor was I representing them adequately to my congregants, except to remind them they are free and empowered as persons and independent congregations. We’re not pawns to be used by whatever interest group had claimed power in the UUA, championing the few causes and using the exact words that are vogue and expected. I’m woke in other ways, using my own words. My strength was my weakness.
Blundering forth, I’ll share some of the first draft writing I had rejected when submitting my “Meet the Members” piece for the fellowship newsletter, posted here last month (Endings). My life is even more raw and vulnerable than told there. Perhaps you’ll see how my ambivalence was holding me and my congregation back, how estrangement grew to estranged.
Here are some of the personal things that I dropped:
Byron was raised as Bradley, his middle name. Byron was the other of his dad’s adopted names, like Buck. His dad’s birth name was Byrl Atha. Atha probably comes from Athanasius, a cranky old theologian that Byron Bradley doesn’t like.
Raised Catholic, Brad valued schooling but not the Catechism and conformity. Shortly after earning an interpretative reading award from the bishop, he dropped out at age fourteen. He told the priest his sin was to keep coming when he didn’t believe in it. This led to upheaval in the family.
The further upheaval came when he was later sent to rescue his sister from marrying a black man. Instead, he married them and became an uncle to a nephew and two nieces.
When prompted to answer, “What is your history with Unitarian Universalism?” I replied:
At my first minister’s meeting, one guy sat in meditation, claiming it helps. He was ignored and mocked for “belly gazing.” I since went on to find minister’s meetings to be tense occasions to signal who is in and who is out. The Pacific Northwest chapter was said to be the most collegial. It seemed more a time for one-upmanship in virtual signaling. Calls for “beloved community” came because it isn’t.
Here are some of the denominational gripes I also had deleted:
Plus, while I’ve always liked my congregants, I’m somewhat estranged from the UU movement. What used to be the simple chalice, the light of truth, or the warmth of community, got turned into another martyr image of the marginalized. I bemoan victims and welcome the marginalized, but not as the only thing I do in religion. The three pillars of Reason, Tolerance, and Freedom got lost in the seven (or more) things we agree on. I do agree, but not because I’m told to, supplied even with the words I’m to use. “I hate goodies,” wrote Emerson, “they almost make me want to sin.” Thoreau added this to his Civil Disobedience classic – “I came into this world, not to chiefly make it a good place, but to live in it, be it good or bad.”
The great singing at the General Assemblies didn’t make up for all the tension, group-mind, and judgmental presumptions. I always felt a bit out of place and a bit embarrassed at GAs. I felt the unease in Spokane in 2019 but didn’t realize the controversy of the hometown minister’s books being denied distribution for his criticism of the woke ways in the UU movement. Plus, he used logic in examining our religion, only to have most ministers pile on in haranguing him for it.
It is a scandal you won’t read about in the UU World. I left the UUMA (minister’s association) decades ago, so I could only sign on in support of the “We Quit the UUMA” letter. Many ministers I admire are similarly wounded and disgruntled as I. I’m not alone in resenting how the UUA’s various interest groups have taken to telling the congregations and ministers what they should be doing.
My seminary has left the University of Chicago, Starr King has left the Berkeley campus, 25 Beacon Street has left the city center for the suburbs, and scores of talented, devoted ministers are on the outs. I remind you of our core faith, that we’re free to find and fashion our own individual and congregational ways. Seminaries and interest groups in the UUA can push their causes, but we’re not sheep, paying to be told how to be sheep. We’re more like cats.
I’m a cat too, a double Leo (sun and rising signs, with my moon in Cancer, if there’s anything to astrological charts). I see and say as Emerson advised, grateful for intelligent, open-minded congregants who listened, most but not all agreeing. As I look back, when I was allowed and appreciated for doing it my own way, things went very well. A fun and involved spirit prevailed. Those were the growth periods. When I was doubted and constrained, put in a slot, and otherwise ignored, I jumbled up. It got hard to think creatively and act naturally. Fans drifted away and others took the lead I had only partially supplied.
So, I flounder. I relate only to a few valued colleagues similarly estranged. I take my ministerial nature into the random world, mindful of the universalist faith that we are each and all unitary ones in the One. I seek service and solace in happenstance, doing what I can and giving it up to Karma or God, but with an unmoored bobbing about, somewhere between an unprofitable prophet and a fool.
I’m like in that Pink Floyd song, staring at “a half a page of scribbled rhymes,” except I’ve got boxes of such scribbles. And, like the song goes on to lament, “I thought I’d something more to say.”