Sunday, March 01, 2009

Reverend X

Yesterday I finished reading Reverend X: How Generation X Ministers Are Shaping Unitarian Universalism, which was edited by Tamara Lebak & Bret Lortie and published by the Jenkin Lloyd Jones Press at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The book has actually been sitting in my list of books to read since last June when I bought it at the UUA General Assembly.

I've decided to write about it here partly in order to remind you that I keep an annual log of books I've read and partly because I found it to be thought-provoking and excellent.

The book begins with an essay by Josh Pawelek that helps us to think what "Generation X" is and then an essay by Nancy McDonald-Ladd dealing with how Generation X approaches religion and church. From there the essays grow much more focused.

In particular, essays by John Cullinan and Marlin Lavanhar on the Principles & Purposes stand out as do Bret Lortie and Jennifer Crow's essays on making our churches places where meaningful spiritual practice is encouraged. These two pairs of essays fall in the center of the book and represent the core of what I would recommend that every single Unitarian Universalist read. Cullinan and Lavanhar argue that our 7 Principles are misused. Cullinan's essay addresses how the first principle, "The inherent worth and dignity of every person" is often taken out of context and used for self-justification. Lavanhar argues that the Principles & Purposes wrongly get in the way of our delving deeper in theology. Similarly, Crow and Lortie each argue for theological deepening and spiritual practice to have a greater role in our congregations. What I liked about these four essays especially were their concreteness. Their vision for Unitarian Universalism is not vague.

If you don't believe Unitarian Universalism should be a challenging faith, you should not read this book. Krista Taves explicitly calls for Unitarian Universalists to reclaim "selflessness" and "sacrifice" as core practices. "The hunger for sacrifice is a response to a growing weariness with self-indulgence and grater awareness of its cost." (p. 34) Similarly, Marlin Lavanhar picks up this language of sacrifice in his essay. (p. 94-96)

The remaining essays focus more narrowly on an aspect of church or ministry. Of special note are Tamara Lebak's essay against the practice of "Joys & Concerns" that I quoted in an essay I wrote on the subject and David Pyle's excellent essay on military chaplaincy. The essay collection is rounded out by Shana Lynngood's spirited call for a greater faith in our faith, Joseph Santos-Lyons' essay on the on-going work of anti-racism, and Michael Tino's essay focusing on a changing paradigm for ministry to and with youth and young adults.

These essays taken as a whole belie that notion that Generation X is a cynical group. It is perhaps easy to understand how being critical, demanding, and hopeful can be mistaken for cynicism.

On the back cover of Reverend X, Forrest Church provides a blurb that says that this book should be "on every Unitarian Universalist Book Table and in all our ministers' libraries." I hope that this book's audience reaches beyond just our ministers. I hope that lay-leaders, non-ordained religious professionals, and engaged UU members will think about the challenges posed by this book. I hope that the Jenkins Lloyd Jones Press will consider producing a second volume of essays by Gen X clergy. I happen to know one or two (ahem... ahem) who might have something to add.

Speaking of essays, I should really set about writing my own for a forthcoming book I'm working on about growing UU congregations.