Call and Response: Journeys in UU Lifespan Faith Development

Reading in Common and "Reclaiming Prophetic Witness"

By Gail Forsyth-Vail

Reclaiming Prophetic Witness

Reclaiming Prophetic Witness

The selection committee met this summer. We thoughtfully considered the 14 books nominated for the 2014-15 Common Read. There were beautifully written books that addressed social justice issues—immigration, voting rights, racial justice, and climate change—and several that looked at ways to respond from the depths of our Unitarian Universalist faith to the challenges that face us in our lives and in our world.

“Can’t we name two?” someone said.

The UUA Common Read began as part of long-range preparation for the 2012 “Justice” General Assembly. Margaret Regan’s The Death of Josseline (Beacon Press, 2010) was a perfect book to show UUs the issues facing people affected by immigration along the Arizona-Sonoma border. In 2011, the UUA invited UUs across the country to read and discuss the same book, using a provided discussion guide. That year, we learned that a one-session or three-session discussion fits into most congregational and group calendars. We decided to offer an annual Common Read, each year selecting a readable, relevant book for Unitarian Universalists to consider together. We committed to creating a discussion guide that would make the book a vehicle for adult faith development, inviting people to bring personal stories and UU values and theology into their response and sharing. In subsequent years, we lifted up Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith (2011-12), Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (2012-13), and Saru Jayaraman’s Behind the Kitchen Door (2013-14).

The selection committee includes both headquarters and field staff of the UUA, charged each year to discern the most useful and appealing offering for congregations and individual Unitarian Universalists. This year, we came to consensus on Reclaiming Prophetic Witness: Liberal Religion in the Public Square by Paul Rasor (Skinner House Books, 2013). This elegantly written, 105-page book is a gem. Rasor observes that many liberals are uncomfortable with talking about our faith as the well from which spring our social justice commitments. The book includes insights from our theological heritage and our history that have bearing for us today, and calls us to prophetic, faith-based justice work.

The committee further agreed to honor the various social justice commitments of our people. The discussion guide will suggest books and resources to help apply Rasor’s insights to specific social justice issues—which may include ones nearest to your heart or to your congregation’s justice ministry. As the Reclaiming Prophetic Witness Common Read prompts you talk in the public square about your faith commitments, the issues about which you witness will depend on your own context and callings. Join Unitarian Universalists from all over in reclaiming the practice of prophetic witness. Become part of the Common Read program in the year ahead!

Next Steps!

  • Purchase Reclaiming Prophetic Witness from the UUA Bookstore (discount available on five books or more).
  • Schedule and announce your meeting times for Common Read discussions. By October, you’ll find the discussion guide for the 2014-15 Common Read on the UUA website, with plans for a single 90-minute session and a series of three 90-minute sessions.
  • You may want to experiment with non-traditional gatherings, such as video conferences.
  • Allow plenty of time during the calendar year for follow-up conversations so you can continue to apply Rasor’s insights to the justice issues that compel your community.
  • Visit the UUA Common Read web page to learn more about how and why your UUA faith community might organize a Common Read and to view past years' selections.

About the Author

Gail Forsyth-Vail

Gail Forsyth-Vail, a credentialed religious educator, master level, is the author or developmental editor of several UU history curricula and resources. Before retiring, she served as interim director of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Lifespan Faith Engagement Office.


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