Tag Archives: Carole Fontaine

Beyond the progress narrative

Over at Left Coast Unitarian, James writes:

In general, I believe that Unitarian Universalism (though in particular I am thinking of pre-consolidation Unitarianism) constructed a post-christian identity based on Humanist Manifesto style supersessionism and the progress narrative. For a variety of reasons, the progress narrative does not really work any more. I don’t think anyone has really come up with anything else to fill the vacuum left in its wake.

That vacuum may be filling in some interesting ways. Carole Fontaine, a Unitarian Universalist scholar (professor of Hebrew Bible at Andover Newton), has pointed out that Unitarian Universalists are well-suited to negotiating between the two main camps of human rights organizations: those who do human rights out of divine law (theistic), and those who do human rights out of natural law (non-theistic). Her contention is that we already know how to have conversations across those boundaries. A summary of one of her lectures on the topic states:

Fontaine began by asking, “What will it take to form a global conscience for planet Earth?” Using both feminist analysis and deconstructionism, she looked at how the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur’an can influence understandings of human rights. Fontaine contends that Unitarian Universalism, with its traditions of religious tolerance and free inquiry, stands in a unique place to promote understanding between differing conceptions of human rights. Link

A wider application of the same principles (of relatively free inquiry, and relatively greater religious tolerance) could have Unitarian Universalism understanding one of its roles as facilitating conversations across various boundaries, in a postmodern world populated with many groups having quite different worldviews. This idea would place us as one more group among equals, thus avoiding the trap of thinking we’re the best of all religions.

Good Friday for kids

Sometimes adults are curious to know what happens in church school. Here’s a summary of a recent church school session I led.

Lindsay Bates, the parish minister here in the Geneva church, does a Tenebrae service every year. I did a concurrent program for kids on Good Friday. The theology I used is pretty similar to that expressed by Carole Fontaine in a lecture on human rights at General Assembly in 2002: “I like Jesus. He’s my guy. The fact that he’s executed on trumped-up political charges — I mean, he’s the Stephen Biko of the first century. We can work with this!”

We had five children, ages 5 through 11, show up — a good turnout considering that the Tenebrae service was from 8:00 p.m. to just after nine, past many kids’ bedtimes.

The kids and I went off to Pioneer House, along with Yuri, one of the regular child care providers. We built very tall block towers for a while, and then it was time for the story of Good Friday.

My main learning objective was that these UU kids would know what “Good Friday” means. They had all heard Craig’s story of Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem in last Sunday’s worship service, so we went from there. I used excerpts from Sophia Fahs’s Jesus, the Carpenter’s Son, pp. 127-131. I gave them the story of Jesus challenging the commercialization of the Temple, framing this as a tale of a religious challenge to the politicized Temple hierarchy. We looked at pictures of the Temple at Jerusalem from UCLA’s Urban Simulation Team, to get a sense of the scale of action Jesus was involved in. Then I briefly told how Jesus was betrayed to the Roman military police by one of his followers, and then executed on what we now call “Good Friday.” I did not go into details of the means of execution — not with a five year old and a six year old present.

One girl made the obvious comment: “‘Good Friday’! — but it wasn’t good at all, they should’ve called it “Bad Friday.'” Needless to say, we also discussed (at an age-appropriate level) the inherent ambiguity of the story and the attendant difficulties of understanding it fully. The kids were also fascinated by the idea that live animals were sacrificed in the Temple at Jerusalem in Jesus’s day, and we spent a little time discussing this alien notion.

We ended by sharing a snack of cinnamon grahams and apple juice, and then everyone helped clean up.