|Jonah Perreti of Buzzfeed|
Of course, the onrushing flow of products and sales means that someone will soon be suggesting another identity to me, which I can attain by buying something else: the shrubs and the lawn care tools that will make me a manly suburban homeowner, loading up his stuff at the local nursery. There is no conspiracy, just competitors creating and superimposing one identity hunger over another, each with its own shopping list. After awhile, I don't know who I am anymore, just an empty vessel through which popular culture flows, driving me back and forth to the mall.
Of course, the process is at work everywhere. The endless rush of emotionally potent news dissolves a person's sense of a long term narrative of themselves and their stake in the political and economic life of the nation. Today, I am upset about the VA hospital in Phoenix; the other day it was a gay football player, and before that the racist owner of an NBA team. Gone is my sense of myself as a social being, someone of a particular class, a particular point of view, engaged in a long term effort to shape the social order. There is no conspiracy, just a relentless competition for eyeballs. After awhile, I don't know who I am anymore, just an empty vessel through which flows the constant, apolitical stream of outrage, sentimentality and personal gossip of public life today.
This fits with a pet theory of mine, which is that weak identities, not excessive individualism, is the barrier to religious community. We are becoming people who are poorly differentiated. The whole system works against making long term commitments because the system works to erode people's capability to make them.
Terasa Cooley's presentation on the UUA's branding process, I was intrigued by the proposition that an essential piece that we needed to communicate was who we are -- not as who we UU's are -- but how throwing in with us was an essential step in being who you were becoming. It's not our hero's journey; it is theirs.
(The three things that we need to communicate more clearly, which the UUA staff is trying to get their arms around are "who are we?" -- "what do we do?" and "why does it matter?" Someone had to ask where "our theology" fit into this. Anything that is not part of who we are, what we do and why it matters and yet still calls itself "theology" is a problem. )
So what we are doing is forming identities. But everyone is in the business of creating new identities for people. Consider the question: "are you an Apple person, or a Windows person?"
We are asking people to become something new by asking them to become a Unitarian Universalist. It needs to be clear that the new thing is not Unitarian Universalism itself. UUism is a means to an end. But what end?
I think the 1980's separation of spirituality from society limits our imaginations at this point. We are trying to be spiritually grounded, historically authentic, and socially embedded. Our history and theology will lead us to a certain social role, if we are true to them.
Words fail at a certain point. Who are we? What are we Doing? Why does it matter? The answers we need are greater than UUism -- but point to a larger social force without which the nation continues on its merry path to self-destruction. We don't know what that is. So we continue to play with words and concepts, trying to find that compelling language that describes us and inspires us.
If you offered me a chance to become Walt Whitman (not the real Walt Whitman, but the character "Walt Whitman" that speaks from the pages of Leaves of Grass), I would take it. If we were a community of people that empowered people to develop their inner Walt, we would be a wonderful thing.