Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Taking a Little Break

I think I am going to take a little break from online (and phone) communication, including blogging for a week or two.

For one thing, I am not getting enough done this summer and need to minimize distractions. Also, I have a disturbing communication pattern recently in which I seem to be unintentionally offending others, and I'd hate to see this impacting my relationships unecessarily.

I am not sure what is causing this pattern (When I read over the things I am writing, I am often confused by how it is being "heard." That wouldn't be unusual for someone on the neurologically divergent side like myself, as social relationships are a challenge and a source of anxiety and misunderstanding due to differing perspectives and approaches and actual purposes for communication.). But it seems to be another one of those blips in my usual patterns and relationships, so I am going to assume for now that it is temporary and that it may be diminished by the time I begin posting again.

I hope you will stay tuned and rejoin me in early or mid-August for more adventures.


sf said...

SM! I hope you are still gonna call your mom!!!!

hopalong said...

I know part of it is that the Internet blunts communication by eliminating tone and nonverbal cues is part of it. And another part is probably that we don’t yet know each other too well, so you couldn’t have known if I would and to what extent I would know about some of the things you were talking about already.

I think I should maybe mention that this church (I didn’t want to post the specific name online), is one of my own denomination and definitely does not consider itself a UU church – I didn’t want you to get that impression, if you did.

What bothers me about the image of Jesus as only “Longhaired Socialist Hippie” (besides the fact that it’s anachronistic) is that it seems a very willful reading (or sometimes not a reading at all) of what he actually said and did. Some of the feelings I had about the church tapped into that similar image (what Sara Miles called “Jesus-and-cookies Liberal Christianity” – and she herself is pretty liberal) of Jesus only ever being “nice” and, essentially, safe.

I wasn’t under the impression that the contemporary UU church really considers itself Christian, except in its historical roots, and I’m sorry if I was wrong in that. Does it? I feel personally that there are a lot of things that Jesus said that don’t allow for him to be viewed as a mere prophet or teacher, if he’s to be taken at his word. I think it would be theologically and intellectually exciting to talk to you further about questions of Unitarianism and Trinitariasm, but I think my offense came from the implication that “the trinity was not first introduced into the church’s theology until 325AD.” That was when it was formalized, but that’s not when the idea was first vocalized or believed in (not to imply that how old a belief is makes it valid or not, either). I guess I just felt sort of talked down to, and the impression I got from what you wrote was that you thought Trinitarian Christianity was its own small, unusual brand that had gotten the whole thing wrong from the get go.

I know that the Trinitarian viewpoint is the mainstream viewpoint (and there are many things about mainstream Christianity I would like to distance myself from, many I would not), but that shouldn’t be a value judgment. I also know that the Bible itself doesn’t exactly come out and say “Jesus is divine” or “Jesus isn’t divine.” I think I also think of Christianity (and I don’t think I’m alone in this) as being distinguished specifically by the view that God came to earth in human form. Muslims follow Jesus, too (my Bible and Qu’ran teacher was actually a fairly devout Muslim), but they don’t believe he was divine or even the greatest of the prophets. I think Islam and Christianity are (like Judaism) sister-faiths, but there are important differences.

If the church we visited wished to follow Jesus rather than worship him, they weren’t explicit about it – and in fact gave every indication (from their denomination, etc) of the contrary. If I had been visiting a Unitarian church, it wouldn’t have been an issue that way, but because there was just enough mention of Jesus for me to be uncomfortably unsure exactly what they meant when they used that word, it did feel sort of lukewarm. It seemed rather like “God” and “Jesus” were words that were used pretty much as metaphors for the human spirit, which bothered me (and would bother me anywhere, but particularly in the setting of a Christian church).

I didn’t feel weird at all about your advice about looking for a family church (I think that’s another thing about the Internet not communicating tone very well); I just wanted you to know that.

Affirming all people as children of God I have no problem with; but simply “affirming” is so open-ended that it made me wonder what exactly they were affirming.

I didn’t mean that you were advocating for “seeker sensitivity” – I should have clarified that what I meant was that maybe the church we visited had a little of that going on.

It’s true that most churches are less likely to accept an lgbt family than a divorcee, but what I was trying to say is that I want to know a church’s beliefs upfront. Not that there has to be a laundry list of political causes they support and oppose, etc, but I always appreciate a little clarity. That’s what I was looking for in their covenant, but it was really very vague (nothing about what they actually believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, human lives, etc.) But I could also be spoiled because our old church’s covenant was very clear without being unemotional or exclusionary. Speaking of, there was actually a conservative Mennonite church in Brooklyn that we were a little discouraged from visiting because their website was so emphatic about its opposition to divorce that it seemed they were more about sin than the sinners, you know? And I feel conflicted about divorce (of course it’s never exactly a “good” thing, anyway, even when it is better for the two people not to be together anymore), but we were sort of turned off by how important this one issue was to them.

There is a lot of hate in the world. I felt weird bringing up my grandfather, and I don’t know if I’d do it again, but I felt like in the grand scheme of all the things people have been subjected to, being unwelcome at or even being screamed at in a church isn’t that high up there.

I realize that homosexuals (and gypsies, etc) were also killed in the holocaust (and believe me, I’m the last person to support Jewish exceptionalism), but neither one of us, thankfully, has experienced that kind of oppression.

I feel, too, like I was fairly misunderstood in my original post. Nothing in it was directed at you or even the general direction of the church you belong to (besides, they both split several hundred years back, as far as I know).

I don’t mind being questioned (and actually, in a way I’ve appreciated the dialogue this has started, even if the start was rocky), and I don’t want you to take a break from the Internet on my account. I read your blog all the time (and enjoy it).


Masasa said...

Warning: LONG (but it's *my* blog, so what the hay).

Mom, I will definitely give you a ring to let you know when the books arrive ;-).

hopalong, I am pretty eager to take this break, so while I'll try to respond to each of your points here (I'll go through them one by one just to be sure I don't leave you hangin'...I don't intend to shut down to you in any way), we'll have to pick up this conversation in more depth at another time (which I will look forward to).

(1) I am not sure if the elimination of tone and nonverbal cues was the greatest source of our brief bump in the road.

As I have some difficulty reading tone and nonverbal cues in person, the internet provides a more "level playing field" in which I can engage in dialogue and we all have to make the same degree of effort to understand one another.

But somehow back in the day when much conversation took place via snail mail, our ancestors managed to communicate with one another, so I have to believe an effective written form of communication is possible...even on the internet.

While speaking over the internet may not be helping matters (on one hand, though for me it eliminates the anxiety of keeping up with the nonverbal cues and also family dynamics that might occur, if we were for example in a family setting), I suspect that not knowing one another well-- as you pointed out-- is a hardship. But equal to that, I am struggling right now with communication in general so am inclined to believe that was a part of things as well.

(2) I was aware that the church you attended was not a UU church. Not only am I under the impression that you and Silver would not likely choose a UU church, but I also know too much about the UU church in the Fort to think that is the church you are describing ;).

(3) I understand what you are reacting to with the "Jesus as only Longhaired Socialist Hippie" notion, but I take objection on two accounts.

[A] As I mentioned, I think in the context of your original post it was used to divide Unitarian Christians and "legit Christians." In other words, to call out some Christians as untrue to the faith.

[B] The actual language you chose: "longhaired socialist hippie" read very sarcastically (perhaps that was your intent). I'm not going to argue nobody has ever said those words. For all I know that is an exact quote from a personal experience you've had. I've never personally heard it, but I have no doubt someone might have said it. People say a lot of things that don't make any sense from the critical eye.

So, in this case Jesus being longhaired-- just as an example-- would have been historically insignificant and not countercultural in and of itself. The wording you used was in fact anachronistic, but you used it in describing a group that gave off a "followers rather than worshipers of Jesus" feel (a Unitarian rather than Trinitarian feel), not that actually said something necessarily anachronistic in and of itself. So I felt it was sort of a zinger against Unitarian theology more than anything.

(4) The contemporary Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations is a covenant rather than creed-centered faith tradition. It is hard to say "the contemporary UU church" in some ways because we are not one church but in fact an association of churches and religious societies that share a religious covenant.

It would have been more clear perhaps if I used a lower case "unitarian" rather than "Unitarian" to denote that I was speaking of the unitarian theology that transcends the association of Unitarian Universalist churches. (I did not use the term "nontrinitarian" because it is abrasive to faith is largely defined by a belief in the unity of God, and to describe it soley based on the contrast between this and the trinity feels diminishing.)

However, please note that I didn't use the term "Unitarian" by itself. Indeed, as my own theology is more distinctly Universalist than it is Unitarian, I would be disinclined to do so even outside of this conversation (I would have said "Unitarian Universalist" if referring only to the contemporary UU faith).

The term I used was "Unitarian Christians," in juxtaposition to what I called "Trinitarian Christians," which was to differentiate Christians who do and do not believe in the trinity. There are many Christians who to this day reject the Nicene Creed, and only a small percentage are UUs.

In the sense of Unitarian Univeralist churches, as I am sure you know, Unitarians historically were the crowd of folks who believed in the unity of God rather than a God with three distinct parts. Universalists (in addition to many but not all Unitarians), contrary to the Calvinists, did not believe in pre-destination and instead believed in the theology of salvation-- universal salvation (remind you of Judaism just a little bit)? Even from early on the Unitarians and Universalists often shared these beliefs, and more importantly, both--like you-- were often skeptical regarding church structure and hierarchy because reason and conscience were considered useful (and personal biblical study as well), and there was not the Catholic (for example) belief that some people had exclusive access to the word of God-- and that others could never study and come to understand it. Revelation, too, is not sealed. (There is a very significant Channing sermon that covers that, along with some historical Unitarian-- capital U-- views on the trinity here:

Though you are correct that our congregations are now rather theologically diverse, it would be rare to find a UU today who is Trinitarian Christians (there are a few-- I even know some-- but rare indeed).

UUs do believe that there are many sources for religious wisdom (hmmm...this might also remind you just a little bit of Judaism), and though some wouldn't use these words (particularly nontheists who don't apply the term "revelation" to things like science), I think the notion of revelation being unsealed is still a deeply foundational aspect of our faith. We also stick to the notion that reason and conscience must be applied to our growth in faith. We say we believe in the "free and responsible search for truth and meaning." You seem to be invested in this as well, as you seem to be invested in biblical study from a place of careful and not unquestioning/surface level understanding.

Both Unitarians and Universalists have historically, and in our contempory churches, denied church creed as being the centerpoint of the religious experience. (A bit firey itself, but here is a fun read from Channing: and then from the historical Universalist perspective there is the statement of faith adopted by the General Assembly in 1925...see the last sentence: "We avow our faith in
God as eternal and all-conquering love; the spiritual leadership of Jesus; the supreme worth of every human; the authority of truth, known or to be known; and
the power of persons of good will and sacrificial spirit to overcome all evil and progressively establish the kingdom of God.
Neither this nor any other statement shall be imposed as a creedal test.")

It is the fact that I don't look for my church for my creed that frees me to engage in theological diversity and the greatness of wisdom that is revealed in many forms while worshipping God with feverance and ever developing my relationship with him. Having grown up UU, I don't get hung up on having a completely common language or even theological agreement before the worship of God can take meaning for me.

In any case, my own UU church is part of both the UU and the Christian tradition. I have already shared with you our covenant.

I do gather and worship in fellowship with other UU Christians.

(5) I find these two statements you made contradictory:

"...the impression I got from what you wrote was that you thought Trinitarian Christianity was its own small, unusual brand that had gotten the whole thing wrong from the get go."

"I think I also think of Christianity (and I don’t think I’m alone in this) as being distinguished specifically by the view that God came to earth in human form."

Clearly the Trinitarian theology is the dominant theology right now among Christians. But it is not the *exclusive* theology of Christianity, nor has it ever been.

Yes, the trinitarian view was not just invented at the council. The council was called together not because there was consensus among early Christians but in fact because there were many firey debates, especially regarding whether Jesus was "God, the Son," or "the Son of God" (the latter being, as you acknowledged, the way it is stated in scripture). But there are several things I find interesting.

[A] The whole event was called together for political reasons as much as religious ones. As you probably know, it was called and presided over by the Roman emperor Constantine, whose primary interest until his baptism just before his death was in the postive influence the Christian church could have in the stability of the empire and the need to unify Christians for this influence. "Decreed" is not such a huge leap.

[B] This didn't create the unity of belief intended. The debate raged on among *Christians.* In fact, although the council took place first in 325AD (and note that greek philosophy came into play as much as scriptural reasoning in the debate), in fact, even just a few years later, those with Unitarian theology were brought back from exile, there was a change of tide and for a while it was a Unitarian theology that was dominant among the Christians of the time.

Then there was a lot of continued back and forth. Another church council met at Antioch in 341 AD. The resulting creed that time was ambiguous. Then western bishops held a council at Sardica in 343 AD supporting the Council of Nicea creed. During 344-345 AD another council was held at Antioch. This time, the resulting creed sounded like the one of 325AD in wording but was also open for those with Unitarian theology. In 357 AD, a council at Sirmium resulted in a creed that determined the divinity of God to be greater than that of the Son, rather than God's expression on earth. This creed was opposed by a council in 358 AD. Another council in 359 resulted in a "compromise creed." In 381 a council at Constantinople reaffirmed the Creed of Nicaea from 325, with several variations. This creed became known as the Nicene Creed because it is based on the Creed of Nicaea. However, it was in fact a new crede.

At that point, this creed became the "orthodox" creed in trinitarian Christian churches. But many early Christians still rejected it and were silenced only many decades of persecution, imprisonment and stonings and burnings, etc. etc. Of course, there was as much political needs involved in this repression of thought and critical reading of the scripture as there was a theological need.

A historical weapon of those who are invested in Trinitarian theology is to accuse those of Unitarian theology of not being Christians. While physical force is no longer used to enforce the dominance of the Trinitarian theology, the spiritual force of denying another's religious identity should not be underestimated.

So while you are not alone in seeing Trinitarian theology as the definition of a true Christian, it is a couple thousand years of force that has made it so. I don't doubt the Christianity of the early Christians who were on the side of the unity any more than those on the side of the trinity. And in the in end, the trinity in my view is not scipturally sound.

(6) I am sorry the church you visited seemed to speak of Jesus as an afterthought. I can see how that would be a disappointment and why it would make you inclined to think it wasn't the right match.

(7) You of course need no blessing from me, but I totally support you in moving on from this church if it isn't right for you and Silver.

Additionally, I want to make it very, very clear that I have no reason to want you to abandon Trinitarian theology. As I have said, I don't believe Trinitarian theology is a contamination of Christianity. That doesn't even make sense to me from my lifelong UU it seems to me that your own understanding of scripture is of vital significance and that your search for truth is important, even if what you come to believe is different than what I believe. Your relationship with God is your most important relationship in my view.

So while I share my thoughts in response to yours, I really care not whether you give them any true consideration. I personally just enjoy the theological and intellectual stimulation of the conversation, as you said. So please be assurred I feel no need to convert you to my view.

(8) One more thought on the matter of a trinity. In my view, not only does the Bible not come out and declare a trinity-- which seems of some use in evaluating its merits-- but it in fact provides fair enough reasoning against the trinity. (Since this is already way too long, I'll let someone else do the explaining for me: see I Corinthians 8:6)

(9) I agree with you wholeheartedly that the more explicit churches can be about their faith, the better for seekers and the better for the authenticity of the ministry.

(10) Hmmm...I commented on your blog that I don't think you are in a position to determine what is drama on my part regarding the discrimination I have experienced. In my opinion it is the privilege of not having experienced this same discrimination that makes it impossible for you to determine its weight or to see it fully outside of the heterocentric culture in which you are immersed. (Additionally, I have statistics to back up everything from suicide rates to teen homelessness in my very own community in relationship to prejudice...I just don't feel like that belongs in this conversation.)

(11) I still find it odd that you brought up the holocaust. Here I am making only the argument that prejudice in churches against l/g/b/t people is hurtful and that providing explicitly welcoming ministries is a worthwhile *and* faithful thing to do, and suddenly you are off on a whole different plane of conversation comparing the hurt caused by churches that reject the core of who l/g/b/t people are to what happened in the holocaust...and reassuring me that because my own experiences with prejudice and hatred aren't on that level that everything is fine. It seems like a big effort (and *quite* a leap) to make to brush aside any concerns on my part. I am not really hurt or offended by that (you wouldn't be the first, and it happens to minorities of all types on a regular basis), but I am really stunned and completely confused by the logical fallacies involved.

(11) Related to the above, I still don't understand why you continue to compare the church's stance on divorce to systemic church and government sanctioned, continued discrimination against l/g/b/t folks??? Heck, I'd love to talk about the merits and lack thereof of divorce, but since I don't even yet have the right to a full, legal marriage, I don't think I have the energy ;-).

(12) You should know that perhaps because of the way my neurology is, I am a bottom-line communicator. I never assumed that anything was "about me." While I have found some of the things you have said offensive at worst, I am unemotional about that. This whole back and forth exchange for me has been an intellectual and theological excercise, but not an emotional one. It's not that I am not a sensitive, feeling person. I very much am. But I have such an urgency around intellectual engagement that I get rather sucked in and perseverative about it to the exclusion of emotional concern. So please don't worry about how I feel about this, and please accept my sincere apology if I have come off as insensitive. I am really trying to be sensitive (sometimes I am steller at this, but lately apparently I am really off the charts bad at it), but I find the back and forth communication of information to frequently be the dominant force for my exchanges with others.

(13) Sorry for typos, spelling errors, etc. It is very late, I am spending way too much time doing this writing so I am rushing, and also my spacebar is working only if I hammer it with great force which is demotivating in retyping/making corrections.

(14) I am not taking an internet break on your account, though I do feel badly that I offended you and certainly hope we'll develop a great relationship. I am taking a break because I am not able to access important communication skills right now, and I am afraid and regretful that I may be hurting you and others unintentionally.

That said, I am off to take my break. Have a good week or two!

Masasa said...

P.S. I am realizing now as I am about to shut my laptop for the night that the only emotional aspect of conversations that does strike me as important is how others are feeling.

Though *I* don't get particularly emotional in conversations, at least like this one, I have TREMENDOUS anxiety about what other people are feeling.

I think this is partly because I picked up from an early age that my pattern of communication is different and that the emotional aspect has a significance to others that I can't access. And between that and the trouble with social limits and conversational cues (verbal and nonverbal), I have had some AWFUL experiences hurting others unintentionally from an early age.

I've become super sensitive about that and learned to question every social interaction.

I spend months sometimes re-running conversations in my head trying to decode cues for what others were trying to tell me they were feeling. If I work hard, I can usually function very well socially and emotionally in relationship with others. But it is truly HARD, HARD work.

Sooooooo, I've spent the last week having continuous anxiety about an email I recently sent to someone (no feedback at this point) and on top of that received an email from someone important in my life just today that indicated I had stepped on toes accidently in recent communications with her. Between those two things, and the conversation you and I got engaged in and my worry about whether I may have "come off wrong," I have been in the middle of an anxiety attack on and off all day.

And anxiety attacks on me are NOT pretty.

Bleh. I think this break will be good for me.

Sara said...

I hope the break treats you well!

hopalong said...

(2) I just wanted to make sure (although now it occurs to me that since you went to the Fort Collins UU church growing up, you’d certainly recognize it), because I thought that might have been part of the reason the Trinitarian/Unitarian thing came up at all.

(3) By anachronistic I meant the “socialist” part; and I used that phrase because I once encountered someone with a LiveJournal icon bearing those words.

What I meant by that phrase was not to call out Unitarians, but people who are basically not religious (nor do they consider themselves so), who think Jesus was just a cool guy, and often use him to support a political cause or point of view.

I never intended it to have anything to do with Unitarian theology, but more the exploitation of Jesus as a political symbol (which I feel would be a gross reduction of all that he said and did, much like when people take other famous or religious figures – Buddha, for one – and reduce their lives and writings and teachings just to a John-Lennon-simplistic (and I love John Lennon, but you have to admit his vision of politics and peace was extremely simplistic) message of peace, nothing more.

I didn’t realize that the term “nontrinitarian” was abrasive to you. I used it because on Wikipedia that was the word they used for contrast; sorry for that, please know I didn’t mean anything by it.

Just out of curiosity, what are other groups of Christians that consider themselves Unitarian, besides UUs? I know Jehovah’s Witnesses are Unitarian as well, but am unware of any others (any groups of others, I mean – I’m sure there are uncounted individuals across denominations who consider themselves personally Unitarian, even if their group or denomination is not).

I was unaware that Jews of any persuasion (perhaps Reform? But I’m least familiar with that branch) as a group believed in universal salvation. The Jews I have known are inclusive, but (although not evangelical) do appreciate conversion for one to be considered a Jew, and then there’s the whole chosen people thing. (Sometimes this is expressed as exclusionary – as in the office where I worked in Brooklyn – but I’m certain this was a class issue and not a religious issue). I know Jews don’t believe in Heaven and Hell the way Christians are often said to (that’s a whole other bag of questions and beliefs, by the way!) – I know the OT really only mentions Sheol – but I’ve never heard expressed a kind of Jewish Universalist belief. Could you maybe tell me more about that? (I’m genuinely curious, not trying to prove you wrong or anything).

I’m also unclear as to what you mean by “many sources of religious wisdom” in relation to Judaism; I know that beyond the Torah, many Jews also study Jewish books of law and rabbinical commentary, but I haven’t gotten the impression that many of them (again, I’m least familiar with Reform Judaism, so it could be true there) seek religious wisdom from outside the Jewish faith.

I have a lot of beef with Constantine (sort of the beginning of the end, in a sense – in terms of that whole distasteful state-religion interaction).

And I think a historical weapon of any group against a Christian group is to accuse them of not being Christian. I didn’t mean to accuse you (or Unitarians in general) of not being Christian, I was more stating my understanding of Christianity as how it differs from the two other Abrahamic religions (an understanding that is of course not set in stone, but is just where I am in my understanding at the moment).

I don’t have any investment to talk you out of Unitarian theology, either, but I think what happened was that I caught the undertone from you that Trinitarian theology was tied up with Constantine and imperialism merely by association.

Well, obviously I believe that the biblical reasoning for the trinity is scripturally sound, but that’s not a place we’re going to come to a compromise, I think.

[10] I think on this point we should just agree that we don’t know each other very well, and leave it at that.

[11] I said that I felt badly about bringing that up, and I think beyond that I’ve already said what I wanted to say on this point.

[11B?] I didn’t mean to say that the position of a divorcee entering a church is the same as a gay family entering a church; I realize that it’s different. I think we might have misunderstood each other on this point.

I hope the break is good for you, and I hope MA gets less muggy. Also, totally off-topic, I saw one of those wagon-bikes you posted about at Whole Foods yesterday. I would’ve snapped a picture but a) didn’t have my camera on me, and b) it would’ve been weird to secretly snap a stranger’s picture .