“Why do I feel so disconnected from the UUA as represented in UU World? I read our national magazine with increasing alienation, despite my deep identification as a UU and my vital connection with my own congregation.” -Ellen Lawrence Skagerberg
The rest of the letter argues that the UUA should follow the directions of its members, rather than “herding” everyone into the directions it feels it should go. I disagree with her assertion that multiculturalism is an unworthy pursuit, due to its lack of success, (EDIT: Ellen corrects me in the comments; I misinterpreted her note.) and I think that following a majority-rules model would further cement the WASPness that I, personally, already find so alienating. I related to those opening lines, though the rest of the letter did not really speak to me. I spent some time trying to figure out what it is about UU World which contributes to the sense of alienation?
Perhaps one reason that UU World can feel alienating is that it is the affirmative voice in an otherwise critical religion. Granted, there is much of us which is noteworthy in a positive sense; we do a lot of things well. The publication thus serves a needed niche: there is no shortage of other forums through which to air discomfort, disagreement, or dislike of something Unitarian Universalist. I cannot think of a personal blog that writes about Unitarian Universalism which has abstained from critical discussion. Some sites have so many complaints and so little satisfaction expressed that I wonder why the writer even is UU. So UU World ends up being a bit contrary to the rest of the conversations.
For me, I am going to blame the white glossy pages, the clean and small Times New Roman typeface (EDIT: see comments below. It’s not Times New Roman), the unoffensive pictures, the abstract art I cannot relate to, and the demure style of writing. Yes, that is located within a certain (upper) class sense of norms and proper presentation that the UUA is deeply embedded in. What am trying to say is that it seems weird that the publication is so polished and unoffensive though the faith is so inherently messy. We do not have anything in our theology which is clean cut. We struggle to keep our members. Our publication suggests a broader cultural relevance that we are simply too small to have. Now, I am not advocating for copy-editing problems, ill-placed pictures, or a goofy font. I am saying that UU World‘s relationship to UUism is akin to the relationship of women’s magazine cover photos to real women. Obviously, it is not as severe: articles in UU World reflect real congregations, people, and stories, whereas cover photos of women’s magazines are photoshopped pieces of fiction. It is similar as both offer an idealized image. It often seem like it is the portrait of how we hope to be more so than how we are.
With that said, I do not know that I would change it.
“Alienating” is not mutually exclusive with “thought-provoking”, “interesting”, or “informative”. UU World does those things well. I do like reading about when a congregation is building a new church. Thandeka wrote an interesting article about how Obama’s encounters with UUism parallel our youth’s experiences. The write-up about the UUA and GA were worth reading too. UU World does help create a sense of what is going on in other UU’s churches and heads. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I am very grateful for the couple of mentions that this blog has received in the paper copy (and the many mentions on the Interdependent Web) which has helped me receive traffic. Like Matt Kinsi has also said, I felt like I had made it the first time I saw I was linked there. This is an argument about comprehensiveness, not a comment on the quality of the articles which are in it. UU World may not always feel real, instead coming off like it is leaving something out, but it is not a bad or unworthy publication.
What do you think? Is this sense of alienation exclusive to Ms. Skagerberg and me?