Institutes of Interdependence

Barbara Ehrenreich observes that in America, there are two "middle-classes".  One is a "Business" middle-class who work in the for-profit sector, from small business to corporations to the financial industry.  The other is the "Professional Intellectual" middle-class, whose good incomes and good jobs are dependent on their education.

The former is more an inherited status; the latter is more fluid.  There is room for upward mobility, as people go to college and get more professional degrees.

One difference between the two varieties of middle-class is institutional loyalty.  You get ahead in the business middle-class by fitting in and being loyal -- a team player.  You get ahead in the intellectual middle-class by being different.

This matters in UU churches and congregations which are religious hangouts for the intellectual middle class.

For a long time, the plurality of UU's were people who had already showed their lack of loyalty to another faith tradition.  They knew how to leave churches.  Now, we get more unchurched in; people who never learned how to be in a religious community.

No wonder institutional loyalty is so thin and brittle.  Beneath the thin candy coating of our incessant cheerleading, even the most rah-rah UU's readily drop into cynical discourse at what's wrong with us.  It turns out that most of us are in favor of UUism everywhere in the world, except where it is.

Each of us, me included, intends to make our greatest contribution to UUism by changing it from what it is to what it should be.  Signs of our intellectual middle-class collective character.

Intellectual and educational attainment was a path into the middle class, especially through the post WWII era until the end of the 20th century.  College and University education spread throughout the population.  Notice, though, how many older UU's tie their story of becoming UU with their educational life.  Many of our older UU's equate UUism with being smart, and place intellectual stimulation at the top of their church priorities.  I get the feeling that education, upward mobility, personal reinvention and becoming a UU are all related for many people.

Digging deeper, the whole process is journey toward self-possession and self-differentiation.  Getting educated is a way to master thinking for yourself, and thinking for yourself was part of a process of becoming emotionally independent of your past.  Self-differentiation is freedom in today's context.

In the past, joining a UU congregation was one of the rites of passage that marked a successful climb up the educational ladder into the middle class.

But in the future, self-differentiation (self-determination and freedom) ought not be dependent on economic advancement, but a process that is available to everyone, especially those who have been marginalized.

We need to start thinking of UU congregations as self-determination centers, schools of self-differentiation, interdependence academies, a place where we learn to be both connected and ourselves.  We need not be alike to love alike.


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