25 June 2013

At Last, Old Enough

Just got back from attending the 52nd annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Though I only began attending in 1978, with three exceptions, I have attended every one since.  A total of 32 so far. 

I do not currently serve a UU church so sometimes people ask why I go, but I still identify as UU, going back four generations.  I have my clergy 'license' with the UUA, am also a member of their church without walls called The Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) and am an elected official of the UUA on their Board of Review.  I describe myself as a UU minister on detached service to Fountain Street Church, much as members of the military may be assigned to other branches from time to time. 

My point is not to explain why I go, though.  It is to explain why, even though I do go, there is one thing that always always annoys me. 

At least once a day during the major sessions (plenaries) we are asked (told) to hold hands and sing.  This is the home page image for the UUA, taken at a previous GA. 

I hate holding hands with someone I have not met.  I hate even more when someone I do not know with a sweaty palm grabs mine and begins swaying like some unreconstructed Woodstock veteran.  I hate most of all being to told to hold hands. Conscripted intimacy is presumptuous and insulting.

Thankfully, I am now of an age (60) when being cranky looks acceptable, though I have felt this way since my twenties.  Not that I disapprove of intimacy.  Far from it.  When I see old friends there, the only time I see most now, to embrace is marvelous. 

I believe intimacy must be earned not assumed, though.  Just because I belong to a religious community does not mean anyone has a right to touch, hold or grab me.  Much as I still call someone by their last name until we are acquainted, I think we need to respect each other's solitariness, as Whitehead referred to it.  Rilke spoke of love as two solitudes that protect and border and greet each other.  Those great minds knew something.  For a faith that honors the individual mind, you would think that it would extend the same to individual bodies. 

We all know the term Namaste, a Hindu greeting that means, roughly, the divine in me greets the divine in you.  Lovely thought, and Hindus say it with hands held palm together like praying, against ones one chest, with a bow. 

Great lesson.  We should practice some 'veneration' before moving on to 'penetration.'  At least so it seems to me.

Rant over. 


Scott Prinster said...

I think that we worship leaders would always do well to keep in mind that not everyone is comfortable making physical contact with others, especially strangers.

However, "...I am now of an age (60) when being cranky looks acceptable..." is not my recommended response.

Crankiness at 60 does not earn you acceptance; it gives people a reason to write you off as irrelevant. We've had entire generations of UUs who were convinced that their prickliness and lack of social skills demonstrated their cleverness and specialness. We treat them as dinosaurs today.

I'm appreciative that you suggest alternatives to enforced intimacy -- may we offer them in the spirit of generosity rather than crankiness.

WFW said...

Scott, I wasn't looking for acceptance, just venting. UU culture and I are at odds on this matter. Now and then feeling marginal in my birth faith is hard. Presumed intimacy is just one place. I was always more religious than humanists liked, and more empirical than mystics liked. Maybe that's my UU karma, though.

LdeG said...

Robert posted this this morning.

Holding hands is hardly unique to UU culture, and is hardly "forced intimacy".

If we can't hold hands briefly with a stranger, especially one who shares our religion, what do that say about our feeling for everyone's inherent worth?