I also spent some of the weekend acting like a third grader, I guess. PeaceBang, one of my favorite bloggers—and someone I’ve repeatedly linked to, including here—wrote a beautiful piece for UUWorld (our religion’s online and, um, brick-and-mortar magazine). She described, in a moving way, her theological journey to liberal Christianity and Unitarian Universalism. For me, though, there was one false note in the piece: Near the end, she described how she could only accept some of the views of her “rationalist” UU friends “with affection and forbearance” (my emphasis).
UUism, as many of you will know, is a non-creedal faith that provides shelter for persons from many different traditions. There are UU-Christians, UU-Buddhists, UU-Pagans, UU-Jews, and many others—including UU-Humanists like me. Sometimes UUism can seem like a messy alliance. There have certainly been tensions among many of the constituencies I just listed (Pagans vs. Humanists, Christians vs. Pagans, for instance), and there have definitely been some longstanding tensions between UU-Christians and UU-Humanists. Happily, it’s rare for me to experience those tensions personally, but it’d be foolish to pretend they didn’t exist….
Anyway, I believe it’s the religious duty of all the various UU paradigms to be allies. In fact, I believe it’s our religious duty to be much more than allies: We should revel in each other’s religious journeys. We must do more than co-exist. We are called to encourage and share in one another’s journeys.
So that’s why “forbearance” struck me as such an inapt word. To my ear, it’s an ugly word. It suggests that someone is putting up with something unpleasant, swallowing distaste for it. When I came upon the word in the UUWorld piece, I gasped. Was PB really suggesting that she was simply “putting up” with her “rationalist” friends? And by “rationalist,” did she really mean UU-Humanists? I hoped not.
I thought about this for days. PeaceBang, and her blog, have meant a lot to me. I’ve been reading, and commenting at, the blog since its early days. PB and I even shared a nice email exchange once. I respect PeaceBang, and I decided I respected her so much that I had to react. So I commented about the piece at the site. I labored over the comment, trying to emphasize how the piece moved me, even though the reference to “forbearance” gave me pause. I wanted to explain my one regret about the piece, too. And truthfully, I think I did that in a fairly gentle and respectful way. (As many of you know, I’m about as conflict-averse as they come!)
Well, PB certainly didn’t think so! She tore into me with a response that felt like a blow to the stomach. I experienced her response as dismissive and angry. Worse, she seemed to confirm that she had, indeed, meant to say that she had to “forbear” UU-Humanists. She went on to explain that maybe the problem wasn’t the use of the word “forbearance” but her description of rationalists as “friends.” Wow. I was stunned.
I should’ve stopped there, I suppose. But—and this is where that third-grader comes in again—I commented again, noting my regret at the bitterness that came through in her response to my comment. Quickly, PB reacted again, spanking me in not one, but two, reactive comments. She said I’d been condescending and, well, so much more. As she writes in one of these reactions, you can be the judge of whose tone was inappropriate. What’s important now, though, is this: If PB took offense at my words, and she clearly did, I regret that. She should know, too, however, that I took offense at her words. After all, I first commented because I wanted to understand, and discuss, her piece.
I’m still processing all of this. I think I may write more about “forbearance”—and whether all we UUs can do is simply “forbear” the other faith traditions in our religion. But I’m too raw about all of this right now….so I’ll let that simmer for awhile.