Saturday, January 09, 2016

From the past


Rev. Bob Schade in 1976
My brother recently gave me the original manuscript of my father's last sermon to the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown, Ohio. It is from 1970.

It was not the last sermon he gave as their settled minister. He had been unceremoniously dumped as their settled minister 15 years earlier in 1955. But our family, after a decent interval, had rejoined that congregation and my father, by then a steelworker, had preached on occasion there as a "retired" minister/member.

In 1970, the steel industry was shedding jobs and my parents had taken the hint and were relocating to Arizona. And so, my father preached his last sermon in Youngstown; he titled it "One More Try."

The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown, Ohio
Is there anything new under the sun?

Near the bottom on the first page of the sermon, Dad took off after "individualism." And one point, he says
"I would like to propose that a complete reliance of the 19th century liberal philosophy of individualism has proven unrealistic. Much of the dislocation that has given rise to a poverty class, and segregation of economic and other disadvantaged groups has resulted from our adherence to the tenet of individualism long, long after it has become anachronistic."
Now I had thought that this kind of critique of individualism dated from the Robert Bellah address to the General Assembly sometime in the last 1990's. These ideas were current among us in 1970. (If my father was talking about it, it was already in the water. My father was not deeply connected to UU professional circles at this point in his life. He was, as I have said, a steel worker who no longer attended conferences and assemblies. I don't think he was on the cutting edge.)

Rev. Robert Schade then made a passionate and detailed critique of the hold of individualism over the social thought of the day, and saw it as working to hold people back.  "Today, slavery has not been abolished, it has changed in form, frequently it has presented the tantalizing appearance of freedom where no freedom exists." 

And he said that it plagued our churches as well, citing a leading member of the church who referred to the church as a "club." "His view of the church, if widely shared doom the church to permanent ineffectuality." 
"The need is for all of us to glory in the our unity of spirit, in our common faith in man [sic] and dedication to building a better community and a better world in which the children of men [sic] shall not suffer under those harsh ways which thwart the hopes and dreams of a better life." 
It is interesting that he does not contrast "individualism" with "community" as we do so often today.
"... if this attitude [individualism] is not balanced by a deep and abiding love and affection for one another this church and no other church can exist as an effective instrument for good."
Not "community," but "love."

He ends by quoting the Apostle John's final words: "Little Children Love One Another."

There is very little that is new under the sun. Far from being enthralled with individualism, Unitarian Universalist ministers have been pointing out its oppressive consequences for at least 45 years, and probably much longer. If my dad was in any way typical, UU ministers have been talking about 'deep and abiding love' for that long and longer, as well. I think that liberal religion, in its efforts to always be on the cutting edge, tends to think that every new generation is making a bigger break with the past than is warranted. I suspect that questioning individualism is more our tradition than individualism itself.


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