Is it harder today to be a better person than it was in yesteryear? Was there a simpler time? Join us on Sunday as Rev. Joe explores what it takes to have integrity today.
Written for and Delivered to
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cleveland
January 27, 2020
© The Rev. Joseph M Cherry
Wisdom from the Global Scripture
The complaints of well-educated, middle- and upper-middle class women are easy to dismiss as temporary, or not really a crisis, or #FirstWorldProblems. America, in the grand scheme of things, is still a rich, relatively safe country. (Syrian refugees do not have the luxury of waking up in the middle of the night worried about credit card bills.) Although many women are trying to make it on minimum-wage, split-shift jobs (and arguably don’t have so much a midlife crisis as an ongoing crisis), women overall are closing the wage gap. Men do more at home. We deal with less sexism than our mothers and grandmothers, and have far more opportunities. Insert your Reason Why We Don’t Deserve to Feel Lousy here.
Fine. Let’s agree that this particular slice of Generation X women shouldn’t feel bad. And yet, many do: Nearly 60 percent of Gen Xers describe themselves as stressed out. A 2009 analysis of General Social Survey data showed that women’s happiness “declined both absolutely and relative to men” from the early ’70s to the mid-2000s. More than one in five women are on antidepressants. An awful lot of middle-aged women are furious and overwhelmed. What we don’t talk about enough is how the deck is stacked against them feeling any other way….
And 24/7 they’re on their smartphones (which, remember, have only been around for 10 years), flooded with friends’ Instagram-tastic vacation photos and Twitter posts by frenemies bragging about promotions. They’re watching breaking news alerts of nuclear threat escalations, end-times weather catastrophes, terrifying mass violence. They’re waking up to see what else has gone wrong and wondering how to help.
Mo Rocca, self-described cultural gadfly, commentator on CBS Sunday Morning and This American Life hosts a podcast that he calls Mobituaries, which is the word obituary with his name slid in the front.
He also had an all too short lived cooking show called My Grandmother’s Ravioli, where he travelled the country and cooked with grandparents of many cultures.
Recently Mo did a podcast about CBS, the Columbia Broadcast System and something known as The Rural Purge in 1971. Never heard of it? I hadn’t either, but I can’t stop playing with this event in my mind.
In the beginning of television, according to the tv historian Mo interviewed, in tv’s beginning they focused on urban life, because that’s where tv’s were sold, and that’s where advertisers wanted to make money.
There were shows with all black actors, and a show featuring a Jewish family, called the Goldsteins, and people living in apartments.
That began to chance in the 1950’s as people left the cities and moved out to suburbs and electricity became more available in rural areas.
CBS chased this trend and introduced a whole host of shows focused on what people on the East and West Coast imagined what “middle America” would relate to. Meaning those of us in fly-over states.
Starting with The Real McCoys, a 1957 ABC program, U.S. television had undergone a “rural revolution”, a shift towards situation comedies featuring “naïve but noble ‘rubes’ from deep in the American heartland”. CBS was the network most associated with the trend, with series such as The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Mister Ed, Lassie, Petticoat Junction, and Hee Haw. CBS aired so many of these rural-themed shows, many produced by Filmways, that it gained the nickname the “Country Broadcasting System”.
I’m not going to take you through the whole podcast, but that year 1957 jumped out at me. According to an article I read a couple of years ago, most conservatives named 1957 as the ideal time to be an American.
I wonder how many of these shows we here today have seen, either in prime time or as reruns on various cable and internet channels.
If you’ve seen any of these shows, I think we can agree that they are filled with funny characters who often know more than the city-slickers they interact with. That they extol the virtues of an earlier time.
And then in about 1971, almost all those shows were purged from the network in one season, and there was a revolt by many. Including, notably, Roy Clark of Hee Haw who kept the show going for 25 more years in various forms.
All of this got me to thinking about perception and reality, changing times, cultural whiplash and social upheaval.
For almost 14 years television was dominated by “old-timey” programs, where most of white America felt comfortable. These sitcoms never addressed modern day concerns, never talked about the assignations of JFK, MLK, Malcom X or RFK. They never mentioned the social upheavals of the inner cities as folks there struggled to find a new way of life.
Which means, by extension, all the people who were watching tv in those days, especially those who lived far from urban centers, could really pretend that life was still 1957, and earlier.
And in 1971 that all changed, starting with the introduction of the tv show All in the Family. Suddenly shows has messages and points to be made. They were no longer simple or simply a laugh track.
People were pushed out of their comfort zones in the safety of their own living rooms.
I began to wonder, was this event, this Rural Purge, the impetus for the cultural war that we are currently in? Are we living in the reaction against the taking away of this false god of comfort by white America?
Is there a direct line between the end of Daisy May Moses, aka Granny and the people who wear the Make American Great Again hats?
Now some of you will know that I myself am a little bit of anachronistic person. I love “old fashioned” manners, you may notice how often I open a door for someone, or respond to people with a No Sir and Yes Ma’am. You may have even seen me wearing my genuine bowler hats, one for in climate weather, one for dress, neither which should be worn once you pass the threshold and enter a building.
I don’t hold others to these standards, because really, they’re my own and I like them. I have read several books on male etiquette. So many that I once received as a gift from a women’s’ studies colleague a book of etiquette published in Chicago in 1897 targeted at The New Gentleman in the City, because at the time so many were leaving the farms and moving into urban areas.
All of this, and the article by Ada Calhoun that Peggy excerpted earlier got me to thinking; is it harder to have integrity today than it was in yesteryear? Or is it that idea just an illusion?
Calhoun’s article talks about all the pressures that GenX women are feeling in their mid-lives. How my generation of women, empowered by Title IX and generation of women before us, had kicked open the doors of possibility with the expectation that their daughters would be able to have everything. But the pressure to have and be everything is excruciating.
GenX women are feeling the stress of it all, and I’m grateful that Calhoun has opened this conversation.
Do we live in a world, particularly those of us who embrace and try to live into our Unitarian Universalist faith, where there are more chances than ever to miss the mark of living in full integrity?
As more information is available to us, it becomes harder to imagine that we are living in full integrity. Where we used to live in ignorance of some things, now we know more, know better, and that makes calling ourselves into right relationship with the world harder.
An example. Me and my Apple Products.
When I bought my first Apple product, in 2007, I thought I was bucking the Bill Gates system. I thought I was being subversive for working against a dominant paradigm of software and predatory business practices.
When I bought my 1st, 2nd and now 3rd iPhone, I did it without the knowledge that my phone relies desperately on cobalt to operate its batteries. They’re called lithium batteries, not cobalt batteries. The cobalt needed for my phone, my iPad to function, requires cobalt, which I now know has created a system of child labor, which borders on slavery, in the Congo.
Since my purchases were made, the whole Chinese Factory housing/slavery/suicide of workers problem has come to light.
Can I keep replacing the technology I require to do my job in the manner in which the congregation expects a modern minister to do their job, and live into our first principle of the inherent worth and dignity of every person?
I know I’m not the only one struggling with conundrums like this because in ABC’s The Good Place Maya Rudolph’s character, Gen the Judge, has her own crisis when she visits Earth. Her crisis includes a stop at a certain chicken fast food place. “It’s so hard on Earth,” she laments, “If you eat this one chicken sandwich, it means you hate gay people, but the sandwich is so good, and I really wanted another.”
With all of the information now at our fingertips about companies and corporations, about supply chains and labor practices, about what Calhoun names as increasingly impossible standards, we could easily feel like we can’t make a move without doing something wrong.
Our closing hymn today is a perfect example of this conundrum.
Hymn #1014, Standing on the Side of Love, is an anthem written by the Rev. Jason Sheldon. The song came to the attention of must Unitarian Universalists when it was published in our Teal Hymnal, Singing the Journey in 2005.
I remember watching in amazement in 2007 when I went to my first General Assembly, which was in Portland, Oregon, as 6,000 Unitarian Universalists sang this song together in a worship service. As people sang this anthem some raised their hands in praise and joy.
People sang with such joy and hope that tears streamed down their faces.
I had never seen this in a UU church.
This song helped to transform not just that one worship service, but honestly, I believe it has helped transform our entire way of thinking about our faith.
And now, 14 years later, this song, our singing it, our joy in singing it, has been complicated by two things. The Rev. Teresa Soto pointed out the ableist language of the song, saying that if you can’t stand because of physical limitations, the song is exclusionary and hurtful. This is also why our UU Campaign, started by the then Young Adults in our Faith, Standing on the Side of Love, which inspired this beloved anthem, changed their name to Side with Love.
The second complication about this anthem is that Rev. Jason Sheldon is no longer a minister if full fellowship within Unitarian Universalism. He self-disclosed that during his divorce he crossed boundaries of relationship that broke the behavioral covenant that ministers to which we hold each other and ourselves. While an ordination can never be undone, so while he will forever be the Rev. Jason Sheldon, it is possible that he may never practice ministry in our congregations again.
You’ve heard me say before “People do people things.” Each of us has, to paraphrase Christianity for a moment, feet of clay. We have our aspirations, and we have our realities. Our spiritual practices, our religion, is the space in between who we hope to be and who we are.
I invite you to consider this as together, we rise as we are willing and able to sing our closing hymn, #1014 Standing on the Side of Love.
When we Side with Love, we are required to be in the presence of forgiveness. We are called to offer and receive the grace of ourselves and other human beings with whom we share our lives.
we leave our time together, side with love. Offer grace and learn to accept