Friday, November 30, 2012

Pop Culture and UUs II

I wasn't satisfied with what I wrote yesterday. It didn't quite capture the UU relationship with pop culture.

Then on my bicycle today, cranking up busy 122nd street, something I do as quickly as I can because it's five lanes with semi's and kind of scary, I thought, "it's id, pop culture comes right out of the id".

Back on my computer, I found this definition :
The id acts as the driving force behind personality. It not only strives to fulfill our most basic urges, many of which are tied directly to survival, it also provides all of the energy necessary to drive personality.
Pop culture comes out of the collective unconscious of mass culture. It's not good or bad just intent on surviving and feeling good. It's vital and all over the place expressing whatever it wants. Nowadays there aren't many limits to it. Turn on the tv, sign on to certain tweets and you get a fire hose of everything society wants or is anxious about! Get rid of it though and you lose the energy that drives everything.

What I wrote yesterday was about how UU's generally feel about pop culture. They distrust it, want to detach from it, and would probably abolish it if they had half a chance. The trouble is to deny pop culture too much is to flip into the shadow side and to cut off access to messy, messy life. And that is what UU's do sometimes, and then we get characterized as nerdy religious people who don't connect to Spirit and want to set up panel discussions. People yawn and walk on.

All religions have to negotiate this connection to popular culture. Ironically, we may be more like very conservative Christians at times. They also find popular culture pretty crass and warn their members about it.

The trick would be to connect with pop culture, know that you are doing it, and try and maintain some sense of control or balance. Not all pop culture is created equal. Tomorrow, Pop Culture III will be some ideas of where UU's can connect and a little differentiation in the big, big world of pop culture.

Yeah, like I am an expert!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pop Culture and UU's I

Tandy Rogers asks in her UU Growth blog "how do UU's engage with pop culture"? Her post is unintentionally funny because the UU's she queried could only think of pop culture in terms of TED talks and other high brow phenomena. Are TED talks pop culture? maybe, sort of.

She points out that when we do turn up in popular culture it's often as a joke. UU's are popularly portrayed as the nerds of religion. We are the one's who pray "to whom it may concern", and set up a committee or a panel discussion at the drop of a hat (no wonder we love TED talks!).  Not necessarily so bad -- but not so sexy either.

So what about UU's and pop culture? Well it's love and hate baby -- just as it is for all religions in America.  

On the love side, we want to warm our hands on the flame of pop culture. Here we UU's are,160,000 strong, and a tweet by Justin Bieber gets read by millions, possibly billions. Justin, can't you just give us a little of that action? It isn't just the numbers either, it's the attention, the interest, the immediacy of pop culture. Although what we watch on our many screens can be crude, it draws us together into a shared experience and gives us a common language. Not usually deep, its like the weather, something we all know and can react to.

But the hate side is pretty strong also. UU's are not so different from their far right brethren in that we go to church partly to get away from the degrading influence of popular culture. We are counter to that culture and proud of it. Pop culture is consumer culture. It asks us to buy and want things we don't need. For the most part pop culture isn't TED, it's a wide swath of the good, bad and degrading. It's strong, seductive, and we are looking for a way to tame it, protect our children from it, and get our lives back.

So how should UU's engage with popular culture -- and especially to spread the word about our faith tradition?

That will be Part II

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Moral choices

Lot's of people embrace grand ideals or all explaining ideologies. But satisfied with that, they become morally infantile. They refuse to compromise, insult their opponents and isolate themselves on the perch of their own solipsism.
David Brooks is as close to conservative as the New York Times allows on their staff. He isn't standard issue conservative -- not no tax or die, not libertarian -- but some free third way that will not accept the tropes of the left or the right. He is pro-science and pro-community with an emphasis on not throwing out tradition -- but allowing tradition to thicken, branch and change when it needs to.

I loved this quote about politics that I took from a column he wrote about the new Lincoln movie. The way he uses the word "moral" here is striking. As he presents it morality is a grown-up concept that can survive complications and power. Rather the moral politician draws into him or her self what is needed to alchemize a solution -- and morality looks complex and adult-- without absolutes. In fact often the next problem gets set up, and you have Johnson, signing a bill for voting rights and knowing he is losing the South for Democrats.

In thinking about the moral strands that come together at such times, it seems natural that such people would attract assassination. They attain a status where they become religious figures. Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi did great things but died by assassins after them for "morally infantile" reasons.

These are important ideas to keep in mind as we, Unitarian Universalists, often on the religious left's far margins, often being advocates and staking out territory that isn't mainstream, move in the world. We need to remember that compromises are needed.We need to sometimes stop and pray for our leaders and opponents, even when they do not do what we want. We need to avoid small 'm' morality that insults the opposition and isolates us.

We need to keep our balance in this complex world.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Love of Place

Max Ehrmann composed the Desiderata, the poem/poster that was so popular in the seventies. I confess I used to make fun of it as a teenager, it was just everywhere. But I love what he says here about his home country of Terre Haute, Indiana which reflects my own feelings of the sacred ground of home, and my own love of place:
It seems good to be here on this spot of earth, not far from where I was born, where I have lived and worked nearly all my life... I would that all persons might find some such loved spot of earth. It is a spiritual possession no less valuable than solid masonry. To belong somewhere, to be known somewhere, to labor somewhere to have ties somewhere that the years have endeared--these are not the least among the durable satisfactions of life.
Love of place is a Yin feeling that doesn't need much talk behind it. The place is its own reward, and feels like an ancestor surrounding you. Living in the same place adds layers of meaning to your life over time.

Much social action is quite Yang, you are going out into the world and changing it. You are speaking truth to power and generating a great deal of Will. You WILL do this you say and then write letters and show up at hearings. It is all action, strength and passion. Someone who does social action can become finally, a shouting head -- or just very tired.

Its different when you do the action because of  a love of  place. The Yin and Yang complement each other. Love of place can give strength to social action.

The Max Ehrmann quote is one I found while reading Restless Souls by Leigh Eric Schmidt. Its a book about the religious left and the history of spiritual seekers in America. The take away from the book is that many famous American spiritual seekers were grounded in scholarship, community and had a strong social conscience -- unlike their reputation which is that they are flaky, self-centered and not grounded in tradition. Max Ehrmann was a surprise profile -- a sensitive seeker who wrote from home town in Indiana while he worked as a lawyer.