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!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Endings and Beginnings

Beyond saying goodbye to 2008, December saw many endings in my life. I left my job at the University of Pittsburgh of 29 years. I finished my student ministry at the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh. My divorce became final. I should not be surprised to feel overwhelmed by all of the changes cascading down upon me.

Yet, I feel excited about the direction of my life. As I sit in my dorm room at seminary in Chicago preparing for classes, I feel that exhilaration that you feel once you have committed irrevocably to jumping off a diving board (or a cliff in my case!). What's so very cool about this feeling is that all the fear and apprehension just fades away. Left is the adrenaline rush and the calm of knowing that everything is ahead of me, for good or bad.

Even though the next couple of years holds incredible unknown, one thing I do know is that hundreds of people support me and want to see me succeed in my journey toward ministry. The generosity expressed by people in my life has been overwhelming at times. A dear friend from Pitt gave me a Tibetan singing bowl - something I have always wanted - with an absolutely gorgeous tone. A church colleague, who has already given me so much in the past, gave me a Ugandan fiber bowl that is attractive and utilitarian. A congregant gave me his paperback copy of Alan Paton's Cry the Beloved Country, a book that has been on my "to-read" list forever. I immediately read it and was amazed by Paton's simple, yet expressive prose. A long-time friend gave me a new coffee maker to take to New York for my internship this year, now that I am hooked on fresh ground. And, the other day, one of the first youth I taught in religious education classes (now married and finishing her doctorate) gave me an incredible, hand-made stole. It is blue and gold (Pitt colors) and has an embroidered image of First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh to always remind me of my roots.

These gifts of enormous generosity are the clearest signs to me that I am on the right path. And I know that the gratitude I feel from all of the people in my life will only improve my ministry in the future.