The hook of the essay is Ian's response to the 2014 Service of the Living Tradition. The tension in the piece is between the strength of his antiwar commentary and the honor and dignity of the UU ministers who serve as military chaplains.
As I read it, I held my breath, fearing that somewhere Ian would go over some undefined line and devalue our colleagues' ministries and work. And you can see his earnest effort to avoid that, as well.
Is that what is most important now?
Part of why we are happy to honor our military chaplains is because having them shows that we are recovering from an earlier period of class-based moralistic judgment. It seemed that for many years, we thought, "People like us don't do things like that." We are pleased that we seem to be becoming people who do.
And then along comes Rev. Maher. The question raise make us ask, "Are we managing this transition well?" and "Is he just being resistant to change?"
That's how all of this looks inside the "internal" frame.
But look instead at the whole subject with an external lens.
Yes, we have military chaplains, who do their work.
What's going on though, out there, independent of the Unitarian Universalist Association, is that the US withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan appears to have stalled, because of the perceived threat of ISIL/ISIS/Islamic State. The US is sending more troops back in, rather than pulling them out.
What do we think? What do you think?
People, both within and beyond our congregations, look to us (of course, among others) for a signal as to what is important about question like this. It is not clear-cut.
We bring our history and tradition to it. We have been mostly anti-war since Vietnam; we have lineage of more conscious pacifists as well, as well as pro-military folks. Now, there is a more highly developed anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism worldview that some bring to bear. It is the latter that Ian represents.
So what guidance can we offer? Out of our mixed and contested history, what wisdom do we have to share? How is our tradition alive now?
An external focus makes us think about what message we are sending to the people out there.