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Be true to your school now!

This is a cross-posting of a comment I left on's recent post about my school, Starr King School for the Ministry. PeaceBang, who is apparently a UU Minister in the Northeast, posted a few days ago an item about my school's supposed "banning" of the term, "brown bag lunch," because of the racialized connotations of brown bags.* Her post was, to my reading, haughty and dismissive, and she seemed awfully pleased with her own wit and ability to take cheap shots at others with little to no basis for her opinions. I think the comments for that post are up to 40, and it's a pretty lively back and forth. So, here is my contribution:

"This may not be the ideal forum for “deep, serious conversation,” but one of the cornerstones of Educating to Counter Oppression is the importance of having deep, serious conversations wherever they happen. The status quo of “waiting for the right moment or forum” to engage with these issues too often leads to setting things aside, and waiting for the right moment is too often the death knell for a deep, serious conversation that needs to happen.

"I am a student at Starr King, having just completed my second year of classes. I am working towards a Master’s of Divinity as well as a Common MA in Arts and Religion from the GTU at large. I am a third-generation Universalist who grew up infused with the values, morals, and principles of Unitarian Universalism thanks to the wonderful community at First Unitarian Society in Madison, WI.

"One of the large, underlying issues in this conversation we find ourselves engaged in here is the power of language. Others have touched on the importance of words, and the seductiveness of snark and ad hominem, better than I could do here. I am writing rather, in the spirit of learning and dialogue, to invite PeaceBang to visit Starr King at her earliest convenience. I invite her to see first-hand what she is so dismissive of, to experience a school truly engaged in the struggle for Beloved Community, to talk with the students and faculty here and to feel the Grace that suffuses the school and its mission.

"Starr King is a laboratory. We are a community of hard workers committed to being the change we want to see in the world, engaged in the task of bringing the values of religious liberalism to the larger community. Are we then grim-faced, humorless protectors of decency? Are we joyless politically correct drudges, determined to rule the behavior and thoughts of others through fiat and executive proclamation? Are we, to borrow a phrase, Holier Than Thou?

"No. While many of the posters on the comments of this site seem to make that linked set of assumptions, I can, with confidence, categorically deny each of them. We, all of us, live in a broken world. We, each of us, are broken people. But there is joy in the hard work of addressing this brokenness, and there is so much love in this world, and in the Starr King community. Are we thoughtful and careful about the implications of our actions, language included? Yes. Do we make mistakes? Yes. Do we recognize our own ridiculousness? Yes. Starr King is not the self-important bastion of self-righteousness that many here seem to think. It is a small school, but bursting with joy and laughter, tears and comfort, and most of all love for each other and the world. Our namesake, Thomas Starr King, was a small man, even in the 19th century, standing 5′, 3″, and weighing under 120 lbs. He famously said, “I may be small, but when I get mad I weigh a ton.” Anger at the condition of the world, and joy at the revelation of its beauty and its possibilities are far from mutually exclusive, PeaceBang, and again I extend open arms to you to come to Starr King School for the Ministry at your earliest convenience and discover that for yourself.

"I will close with a passage from the Bible that I think is applicable to this discussion, and that should be taken to heart by those of us who feel our words to have such power and resonance that they should be shared with the world, whether from a pulpit or on the internet. Some words from Jesus of Nazareth’s Sermon on the Mount, as recounted by the author(s) of the Book of Matthew (New International Version):

"Matthew 7

"Judging Others

"1 Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

"3 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

"6 Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

"Can I get an “Amen”?"

The Bible quote might have been laying it on a little thick, but I wanted to give vent to my anger and displeasure at the situation.


*Which are, surprisingly, not insignificant. There is history of Southern churches stapling a grocery bag next to the church door and forbidding fellowship to those whose skin was darker than the brown paper. And, of course, my surprise at this is certainly a factor of my white skin and its attendant privilege.


Anonymous said…
Andy - you are awesome, simply awesome. Powerful language of love, my make me relax into the knowledge that your generation may have what it takes to help us all.

Mom. P.S. I"m going to forward this to my family....and print off a copy for my mom!
Anonymous said…
Also reminds me - re: the power of language - of a conversation I had about the idea of a breast cancer survivor camp with an newly arrived office colleague whose partner was the daughter of Holocaust survivors. She blanched when I spoke the word "camp" and, in the course of the conversation, mentioned how terrible they both thought the name "Ovens" was when applied to the fancy restaurants in town. Although the friend who was planning the "camps" initally derided these concerns about the term when I relayed the conversation, they are now called "retreats". Mom
Well said, Andy.
Anonymous said…
Yeah, that's awesome language of love, calling somebody a pig and using Jesus as a self-righteous smackdown. You can't see your hypocriticism here? Are you really a minister in training? Would you call this leadership?
Anonymous said…
awww! you got banged!

and self-righteous smackdown as leadership...hell yeah! when shit flinging's the language spoken, sometimes shit flinging's the only language heard. (at least the hunan's still in school...some of us have been out for ten years and are still scared shitless!)

Mr Tambo said…
Wow, I hope "startingtoworryaboutstarrking" isn't the post my Dad said he was going to leave on this thread! I can count on Mom to post postively (seems like she's my only reader, most of the time, which would be pathetic if I didn't love her so much--Hi Mom!!!) but Dad's a wildcard. A wild and crazy guy, if ever there was one.

I'm going to write a post proper in response to "startingtoworryaboutstarrking"s point, which bears further consideration. But for now, I'm going to take a step I rarely consider: I'm going to quote myself...

"I will close with a passage from the Bible that I think is applicable to this discussion, and that should be taken to heart by those of us who feel our words to have such power and resonance that they should be shared with the world, whether from a pulpit or on the internet."

My use of the Gospel of Matthew was directed at *every one of us* posting in the comments for PeaceBang's post, and to those of us at Starr King, and to those of us who are lay leadership and ministers, and to anyone who takes advantage of the semi-universality of the internet to broadcast their thoughts and opinions. I called no person a pig, and I'm disappointed that my comments were read as such.

More later...
Anonymous said…

Beautiful response - Ya make me proud to know you!

~ Transman
Anonymous said…
This is Dad.
Andy, i am starting to understand yor drive to blog, but that's because some of us see the potential forthughtful, meaaningful discussion. And I thank you for working at it. As a UU, I am embarassed that that the postings I read last night (and I read a bunch) are the best we had in 2006.

Engaging in a profession that pretends to humanism carries a burden that one will have some thoughts that dare not be expressed. Not in the shower, not to your lover. But these professions and their oaths are necessary for the advancement of Civilization.

Cheap shots are easy, civilzation is hard.
and fragile
PeaceBang said…
Jesus wept.
Mr Tambo said…
Why did Jesus weep?
Ellis said…
Andy's dad, thank you. I'm feeling pretty embarrassed too, which I've discussed here.

As long as we're quoting the Bible, can we go to Judges? Because that stuff is awesome.
Paul Wilczynski said…
Whosoever thinks that "brown bag" can be interpreted as anything other than the color of a bag, has much too much time on their hands.
Anonymous said…
Good post.

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