Thursday, December 19, 2013

Rest in peace, Gordon McKeeman

The Humiliati. Rev. Gordon McKeeman is second from left.
Unitarian Universalist minister (retired) Gordon McKeeman has died.  I never met him, but I've always heard wonderful things about him. You will often find his writings and meditations in UU books and publications.  But perhaps he was best known in his final years as the last living member of the "Humiliati".  The Humiliati were a group of Universalist ministers in the 40s and 50s who had studied at the School of Religion at Tufts University (the Crane Theological School is no longer there).  You can read about the concerns and theological ideas of the Humiliati at this link.

McKeeman was once the minister of All Souls Universalist Church in Worcester, which later became the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester (where I am still a member).  These are some of his words:

"Ministry is all that we do – together. Ministry is that quality of being in community that affirms human dignity – beckons forth hidden possibilities, invites us into deeper, more constant, reverent relationships, and carries forward our heritage of hope and liberation.  Ministry is what we do together as we celebrate triumphs of our human spirit.  Miracles of birth and life.  Wonders of devotion and sacrifice.  Ministry is what we do together – with one another – in terror and torment – in grief, in misery and pain, enabling us in the presence of death to say yes to life.  We who minister speak and live the best we know with full knowledge that it is never quite enough, and yet are reassured by lostness found, fragments reunited, wounds healed and joy shared.  Ministry is what we all do – together." 
[From "Ministry is All That We Do -- Together" by Gordon McKeeman, pp. 10-11 from Awakened from the Forest: Meditations on Ministry, ed. Gary E. Smith (Boston: Skinner House Books, 1995)]

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Younger Reader / Young Adult Fiction and Cultural Criticism

I'm sure you've heard about the Harry Potter and Hunger Games books and movies. Both have been wildly popular with younger readers, getting kids and adolescents to read like little else in these times of the Internet and video games and more. But did you know that there's been an effort to mobilize young adults/adolescents to think about societal injustices based on some of the ideas raised in these books?

It started with the Harry Potter Alliance. Straight from their webpage, "The Harry Potter Alliance is a coalition of fandom leaders and members who feel passionate about the power of story to inspire and affect social change. Just as Harry and his friends fought the Dark Arts in JK Rowling's fictional universe, we strive to destroy real-world horcruxes like inequality, illiteracy, and human rights violations." 

As an offshoot of the Harry Potter Alliance, a similar concept is forming based on the Hunger Games series, written by Suzanne Collins. It's known as Odds in Our Favor. According to the Odds in Our Favor website:"Economic inequality knows no boundaries — it is pervasive and persistent, and it affects every city, region, and country across the world. The gap between the wealthy and the poor grows wider every day, while the middle class shrinks and more people find themselves short of what they need to get by. Who controls the narrative? The rich and powerful tell us that if we put our heads down and work hard, we can overcome the odds and join the ranks of the victors — the wealthy and privileged few. However, it’s increasingly clear that the game is rigged, and that we have an important role to play: At best, we are the loyal consumers. At worst, we are the ones who slip through the cracks. And that’s why we’re taking back the narrative. The Hunger Games explores numerous themes that are relevant to the imbalances that exist in our world. In Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen solidifies her role as a symbol for change and sets the resistance in motion. Thus, the release of the Catching Fire film represents a perfect opportunity to establish a dialogue about our own problems and set the wheels in motion for positive change. Instead, Catching Fire is being used as an opportunity to sell makeup and fast-food sandwiches. And we have a very simple response to that: Not on our watch." 

My take is that the Odds in Our Favor campaign is a little more sophisticated conceptually than the HP Alliance, asking followers to think about economic injustice and, ultimately, Empire itself. Of course, the Harry Potter books (particularly the earlier ones) are for younger readers than the Hunger Games books, so I suppose that makes sense. The Harry Potter books are less overtly about cultural criticism than the Hunger Games, where the cultural criticism is barely disguised. So in that sense, the HP Alliance is more of a stretch; I didn't really think about issues of social change while reading these books any more than I would when reading a super hero comic book. Reading the Hunger Games series, it's impossible not to think about the parallels to our socio-political situation. In that sense, Odds in Our Favor seems like a natural. I suppose my only concern about the Odds in Our Favor is the violence of the Hunger Games series; I hope that it will inspire peaceful responses to questioning Empire. I'm sure that's its intention -- peaceful response to economic injustice and Empire. They are promoting "dialogue" and "positive change".

I think both the HP Alliance and Odds in Our Favor are exciting ways of harnessing the energy that young people feel in reading about heroic fictional characters and wishing they could be like Harry Potter, like Katniss Everdeen. I continue to be impressed by the Millennial Generation and their social awareness. It gives me great hope.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Totally Tubular Spirituality of the 1980s

This past Sunday, we had a worship service entirely devoted to remembering the 1980s.  Yes, that's right. And we had a lot of fun, too.  I'm a Gen Xer, and I just couldn't help myself.

All the music played during the service was from the 80s.  The congregation sang Cyndi Lauper's "Time after Time" and, with the help of the choir, "We Are the World" (by USA for Africa).  A couple of our talented members did an incredible rendition of "(I've Had) The Time of My Life".  And our wonderful Music Director played "Chariots of Fire", "Don't Worry, Be Happy", and "Footloose" on piano.

Our Director of Religious Education read "The Polar Express" as our story for all ages, which is from the 1980s too.

And my sermon was "The Totally Tubular Spirituality of the 1980s"; If you want to hear a recording of the sermon, you can listen here.

Every Sunday should be this much fun!