By Rev. Kate Braestrup
We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.
Yesterday, I met with a sweet pair of twenty-somethings to plan the wedding ceremony they have asked me to perform. The subject of vows arose. Should they write their own, they asked anxiously, or is it okay to just use traditional vows?
“Traditional vows are fine,” I said, smiling.
I’ll confess: I’m not a huge fan of original vows for a few reasons.
One is aesthetic: if they are vows at all (rather than gooey, hyperbolic love letters read out loud) original vows generally end up saying what the traditional vows do, only less eloquently.
The other reason, however, is that insofar as original vows are genuinely original, they are nearly always time- and- situation-dependent. Not just “I’’ll bring you coffee every morning” but also “I’ll never lie to you” and “I’ll always support your dreams.”
What one can reasonably promise to a young, strong, sane, happy and healthy lover may not be what one is called to offer when that same spouse is sick, elderly, senile, alcoholic, comatose or psychotic.
Bad things happen. And “love,” “honor” “cherish” and “be faithful” will always apply.
Right now, everyone in UU-land is obsessed with race and racism and anti-racism, white supremacy lingering and black lives mattering. These things are important. They are not, however, timeless.
There will come a day when anti-racism won’t seem quite so urgent.
This could be because some other problem looms larger—-hard to imagine, I know, but if Al Gore is right this time around, and New York City is under water in five years, or if the North Koreans fire a nuclear missile at Sacramento, “dismantling” the subtler manifestations of toxic whiteness among earnest middle-class UUs might not seem like our most pressing concern.
But the other possibility is that presumably the massive effort being made by the UU Powers That Be has at least some chance of being efficacious. Right?
I know, there will always be “oppressions” to address.
No doubt we will always be able to find someone who is, or claims to be, “oppressed.” That word —-like “racism,” “phobia,” “violence” and “harm”—-has already gotten slippery through overuse: do we truly wish to be bound by a UU Principle to take all such claims seriously?
Moreover, given that not every “oppression” is cultural, “diverse multiculturalism” will not always and everywhere be the remedy. Even now, female UUs have pointed out the many ways that sexism continues to have an impact on UU life and polity; the problem is not that there aren’t enough women in the pews nor that, say, white women somehow don’t belong to the same culture as white men.
The seven principles we currently agree upon are, like traditional wedding vows: broad, inclusive and sufficiently elastic to cover a wide variety of actual and potential, present and future circumstances. The eighth is more like an original vow, composed under duress.
Write it… or else the bride will bolt and the wedding will be canceled! Oh, and we already paid the caterer $5 million!
The first principle—-the inherent worth and dignity of every human person—-not only covers the same ground as the proposed eighth, it allows for the happy prospect that one day we UUs will look around and see that all the yelling, marching, banner-posting and sign-waving has worked its intended miracle. Diverse multiculturalism has been accomplished and racism along with all the other -isms we presently protest has been “crushed,” “dismantled” and “F***ed.” Ours is a hopeful faith, is it not? We may even find ourselves in a world, or at least a denomination, in which “oppression” has been well and truly crushed, and we can move on to the dismantling of “inconvenience,” “discontent” and “ennui.”
The first principle will still apply.
Copyright 2017 © Kate Braestrup