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Monday, September 3, 2007

This week at UUism and the working class.

Doug Muder reflects on the scarcity of working-class people, like his father, among Unitarian Universalists.

Unitarian Universalism has a class problem. We rarely discuss it, and when we do, we often focus on the very poor: the homeless, panhandlers, people on welfare. But we also have a problem with the working class, particularly the ones suffering from what Marx called alienation. If you're a skilled craftsperson and like to work with your hands, you might be a UU. But if you make a living by renting your muscles and selling your time — permanently, not just until your novel gets published — you probably aren't.

My UU church is in a Boston suburb, and like all the UU churches I've attended, it has a lot of professionals with advanced degrees — people like me. But most UU congregations don't have a lot of people like Dad. I think that's a problem.

In my From the Editor column, I call attention to the dramatic and unfair postage increase the Post Office has inflicted on small and independent magazines. (I've written about the postage increase here at Philocrites, too.)

In the news, Don Skinner wraps up a series of stories about UU congregations affected by Hurricane Katrina two years ago with an article about the church in Baton Rouge, which quickly became the hub for UU relief and volunteer efforts on the Gulf Coast. Don also reports that the UU Service Committee has now taken over the job of coordinating UU volunteer opportunities in New Orleans. And Sonja Cohen monitors another week of Unitarian Universalists in the media.

(Please note: The news coverage of the only legal same-sex marriage performed in Iowa during Friday morning's brief window of opportunity — the ceremony was performed and the license signed by a UU minister — came out after this week's UUs in the media blog was posted. Watch for more on that story later this week.)

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 3 September 2007 at 9:34 AM

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David Kling:

September 3, 2007 10:18 AM | Permalink for this comment

I agree that there is classism. At my UU congregation we had our annual water ingathering yesterday and it was mainly an opportunity members to either inform the congregation of their vacation spots as they poured water into a motorized fountain or go on about how we need to be more socially responsible with our water. As a full time student I have neither the money to visit the exotic locations other congregation members have done and my "charity" is currently myself.


September 3, 2007 11:24 AM | Permalink for this comment

I couldn't agree more with the previous post.

I actually can't stomach the water ceremony at my congregation anymore.

Perhaps it's just jealousy, but hearing about everyone's fancy, exotic vacations that must have cost thousands of dollars doesn't do it for me.

Kim Hampton:

September 3, 2007 10:24 PM | Permalink for this comment

What has always bothered me is the assumption that everybody participates in the same activities.

One year, during my former church's canvass, the line they used most was "Give up one cup of Starbucks a week and put that towards your pledge."
Near the end, I told the President of the Board that if I heard that one more time I was going to scream. I have never, and will never, buy a cup of Starbucks in my life. I hated the assumption that everybody in the church did that.

It's interesting, I've never like Water Communion; and never thought of the class implications of it 'til today. Thanks for opening me to that.

Tracie Holladay:

September 3, 2007 10:41 PM | Permalink for this comment

I agree with the above commenters. I've seen people at my local UU church bring water from their own tap at home to add, because they did not go anywhere at all during the summer. LOL!

Our church has also started incorporating earth into this service as well; people bring some small amounts of sand from places like Hawaii or whatever to put into a bowl. It's interesting, but like so many others, I rarely get out of town and feel like I can't participate in any meaningful way.

Not that water communion ever did much for me anyway.


September 4, 2007 07:51 AM | Permalink for this comment

I was mulling this over a bit more yesterday, trying to understand my own negative feelings towards hearing about everyone's expensive vacations at the water ceremony. As I wrote above, it is just jealousy? If so, well, that is kind of lame of me, isn't it? Can't I be happy for those that have the resources for travel?

The more I thought about it, the more offensive the water ceremony became in my mind. As anyone who has struggled to pay the bills knows, travel is a luxury. Travel is usually the first thing that has to go when the budget gets tight.

Announcing in front of the whole congregation that you went on a safari to Africa this summer says right out that you have thousands of bucks to do that. Travel might be one of the most blatant class markers.

Why don't we have a service where we all go up and say what kind of car we drive or how big our house is or how much our kid's private school costs? Because that would be obnoxious and inconsiderate of those who are less fortunate than us. How is comparing where we could took our vacations (or not) different? It's humiliating for those who can't afford to travel.

We should do better than this. Keep the water ceremony but get rid of the announcements. Quietly pour your water in and remember in your heart all the fabulous places you went (or not).

Patrick McLaughlin:

September 4, 2007 08:09 PM | Permalink for this comment

I like that suggestion, Ann.

It's not where the water came from that's central--but it's gotten limelight. It's the pooling together of water that comes from many sources that is the idea.

As commonly practiced, it's a grotesque parody of intent and a centerpiece of the kinds of classism that we're self-critical of. We want people of all classes. We want all of those people to be present and to treat each other as equals. But announcing to everyone that you got to go to (exotic destination) is an explicit marker of class. I don't mind that we're not all the same class; I don't mind that people talk about what they're doing in conversation... but as part of the WORSHIP service?

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