"GAdding About" Day 4

Saturday, June 23: The Other Other

The presence of six thousand Unitarian Universalists (UUs) is bound to change a city in lots of unexpected and unintended ways. Yesterday in the park next to the Lloyd Center I saw a panhandler whose cardboard sign claimed he was a homeless veteran. Today in the same park I saw a guy—maybe even the same guy—with a different sign: "Trying to take over the world. Need cash for weapons of mass destruction."

Every year my experience of General Assembly (GA) also goes in some unexpected direction. No matter what you think when you read the program, what sticks in your mind is likely to be something you go to on a whim, or didn't plan to go to at all.

This morning I attended Military and UUism: Respecting Inherent Worth? a workshop about how UU congregations do or don't welcome members of the military and their families. I've never been in the military and neither has anyone in my immediate family, but one of the panelists was Cynthia Kane, the only UU naval chaplain currently on active duty. I know her from when she was the ministerial intern at my church back in the 90s. She came to my workshop (probably because she's a huge Meg Barnhouse fan), so I thought I'd go to hers.

The room only had about 80 chairs, and somewhere around 120 people attended. It was a very moving discussion. I was particularly touched when Cynthia talked about her service at the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and the reactions she has gotten when she has discussed it with UUs. Some UUs, she said, "do not want to hear that I never saw signs of torture." And she said she has been called a "collaborator" when she refused to provide evidence supporting the preconceived ideas of others.

I hadn't planned to say anything, but during the question-and-comment period I had to describe the conversation that convinced me that UU chaplains are desperately needed. My best friend from high school is a warrant officer in the Marines. When I saw him a couple summer ago, he described with anger a military funeral he had attended. The only chaplain available at that particular time and place was a fundamentalist who clearly believed the deceased was now in Hell. A UU chaplain, I realized, could bury anybody without judgment or condemnation.

I've heard a lot of discussions about prejudice and exclusion in UUism, but so often they focus on what I've come to call the Usual Other: people and groups whose disadvantages are well known, and who easily come to mind when we think of our own prejudices or those of our communities—gays and lesbians, the very poor, people of other races, the disabled, and so on. Of course we need to root out those prejudices, but we also need to remember the Other Other, people we don't think about when we try to examine our prejudices. Members of the military are one such group. In the fall issue of UU World I'll have an article talking about another: the working class.

One more Cynthia Kane quote that explains why we need UU chaplains. She described a conversation with a commanding officer, who told her: "My job is to kill the enemy. Your job is to keep me from liking it."

Reported by Doug Muder.