Saturday, January 10, 2009

Naming My Winds of Change

For most of my life, had you called me a communist, postmodernist, or an anarchist, my reaction would have been derogatory (and probably rude). But, the other night I was talking with a colleague during the annual Convocation here at Meadville Lombard Theological School - doing my usual pontificating about the state of Unitarian Universalist ministry and the world - and she told me that I was a postmodern anarchist. To my surprise, I took the attribution not only kindly, but with some measure of prideful acceptance.

Some of my transformation has resulted simply from living for 52 years and observing mountains of evidence for the seemingly infinite capacity of the human animal to create absurdity. Part of my journey occurred while writing religious education curricula and wrestling with "isms" from deconstruction to existentialism to nihilism. The most recent chapter arose during the dialogue my son and I have had during the past year on intentional communities, as I have outlined in previous blog posts.

But, while I have toyed with anarchist writings and thinking, I have never regarded myself as an anarchist. But, that night we heard a presentation from David Bumbaugh, a venerable icon of Unitarian Universalist ministry on The Marketing of Liberal Religion. During his talk, he uttered a sentence that spoke to me, not so much in the context of his talk, but in my growing sense that I live at the fringes of my religious home. David said, "I have felt like an orphan who has
been taken in by a kindly family, but who never has mastered the skills necessary to be fully a part of that family." As a humanist, a religious atheist, and yes, as a budding anarchist, I too have felt at times like an orphan in my kindly Unitarian Universalist family.

Why have I felt this way? Largely, I feel this disconnection because I grow increasingly impatient with the direction society and human life on our planet is going. I am growing less and less convinced that slow, methodical change will ever bring us to a global beloved community. And, I am becoming more convinced that the time is ripe for revolution - not the bloody overthrow of the dominant paradigms, but a peaceful rebellion of souls seeking a better way.

So, I started with that modern arbiter of all truth...Wikipedia. There I found that Anarchist Communists "propose that the freest form of social organisation would be a society composed of self-governing communes with collective use of the means of production, organized by direct democracy, and related to other communes through federation." I was pleased to see Anarchist Communism affiliated with communitarian thinking, having been fond of Amatai Etzioni's work for many years.

I find some comfort in the ability to use the term anarchist without affiliating it with mad bearded bombers intent on the overthrow of government. While I do have a beard, and my choice of explosive is words, my goal is to make the case for a better way of living and the form of government necessary to promote such a community. So, there it is. I am an Anarcho-Communist - I hope perhaps a kinder, gentler version that in years past. Viva la revolucion!

2 comments:

ogre said...

You did catch this comment as well, did you not;

We believe that those least like us, those located on the margins
have important contributions to make to the rest of the community
of life and that in some curious way, we are all located on the
margins.


Every last one of us UUs is equally vulnerable to the feeling that "...sense that I live at the fringes of my religious home." Hell, we reject that there is a center--or insist that any center asserted is likely to be as valid as another.

Sometimes you feel like a motherless child, and so does David, and so do I. Thank that which has been called God that there's a kindly family of adopted orphans who take in others.

Jeff Liebmann said...

Thanks, ogre, for the thoughtful comment. I did catch this comments, but did not view it quite the same way. For congregants, I saw this as David's way of expressing a sense of inclusivity of that wide range of diverse human attributes that challenge community building and open the door to oppressions, such as race/ethnicity, gender, age, class, etc.

I was reacting more as a seminarian hoping to be minister, going through a process of discernment that seems geared toward standardization and engendering a common experience of ministerial development. I do sense a "center" in what our denominational authorities consider "acceptible" ministerial behavior and foundation. Some of this center is, of course, necessary to healthy ministry. But, I am unsure that our process welcomes the beauty of eccentricity, the need for encouraging thought on the spiritual frontiers, and the value of fostering excellence, even when it results in a minister whose talents are perhaps viewed as uneven.

I do not believe any form or force of cosmic good exists beyond our own feeble efforts as a species. My experience is that humans generally fear change and gravitate toward conformity. There is a center, even if we choose to debate the semantics of it. It is that center of perhaps complacency and distrust of difference that leaves me feeling isolated at times.

But, thank you for listening and reaching out to a fellow traveller.