Monday, March 01, 2010

What Moves Us -- making it hit home

It's the details, good and bad, that bring our stories alive.

Sam Sanders talks about this in his article, Taking Black History Out of the Peanut Gallery. When we just talk about the positives, the over-arching accomplishments of our heroes, we're just reporting dry history.

It's those details that make stories come alive. And we have some fabulous stories in our UU history.

That's why I love, love, LOVE the new What Moves Us curriculum by Rev. Dr. Thandeka.

The program uses the stories of our theological forebears. But wait, don't change the channel yet. The purpose of the program is not to learn about the forebears. That's ancillary. The program is about going into your memories, your experiences, prompted by their stories. Finding out ... well, what moves you.

So, to do that, details of our forebears lives are brought out. They become alive. Learning that by age 9, Margaret Fuller would spend a grueling day having her head stuffed with knowledge, only to be awoken at night by her father who would make her come to his study and report everything she learned that day. You can see it -- the demanding father coming into her bedroom, intrusively waking her with a kiss on the lips, carrying her to his study and quizzing her about the day's lessons. It comes alive, warts and all.

I've mentioned before that, being a Southerner, I come from a long line of storytellers. My father integrated the stories he learned about the Unitarians into his rotation, and oh, how he would make them come alive. Michael Servetus was his favorite -- he related to a guy whom he said, "up until the end, still believed that if he and Calvin could sit down together and talk, he could persuade Calvin to his argument." Like other fathers telling ghost stories, he recounted how they strapped Servetus' book to his side, adorned him with a crown of thorns, and, on Calvin's orders, used green wood when they burned him at the stake, so as to make the misery last longer. I get chills just remembering it!

It's the details that catch hold of our imagination. Learning that Olympia Brown had a falling out with Susan B. Anthony, (whom we think of as such a militant feminist -- hmm), because the latter said that Brown should work for suffrage of both Negro and woman, not speaking one extra word on behalf of women. (Meanwhile, Brown was out on the circuit with Black men who spoke in favor of Negro suffrage, but not votes for women.) It was complex. Life is today, and it was yesterday. Simplifying the stories only renders them lifeless.

We are human, and we have weaknesses. Learning about the internal and external battles of our heroes, their clay feet, makes them relatable. Knock them off the pedestals so we can all reach them! It won't make us love them less, it will make us understand them more.

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