Theme Talk Report contributed by Gail Rosecrance

Barbara Prose’s first stimulating and interactive theme talk, “Identity & Spirituality: Living Love Beyond Belief,” set up one challenge that European UUs face today. How will we go forward as one tribe, situated as we are in many European countries, and speaking various languages?

Prose is, herself, a dual national with Eastern European, Jewish roots hybridized with Canadian Catholic, whose life partner, with whom she moved from the Northeast US to Kansas, comes from yet other stock. She lives some of the same stretch that we do and was deeply curious to know how we live our diversity. She was galvanized to explore our horizons with us.

Referencing in the background our commitment to co-host a couple of future retreats with the German Unitarians, she examined how we might promote congregation growth for in-country fellowships and thoroughly exciting cultural expansion for EUU. Using a series of small group exercises, she asked us to look at and share how we feel included in the EUU and, on the other hand, what parts of ourselves feel not “seen” in our gatherings. Our own experiences of feeling accepted, of belonging in the EUU, while simultaneously sensing that parts of our identity may not be so welcome, provide a key to igniting a process of cultural growth in our organization.

“There are as Many Religions as there are People”

She quoted Gandhi, “there are as many religions as there are people;” this challenge is faced by every religious group. The bigger conversation includes cultural dimensions of difference. The image of an iceberg suggested that the visible part might represent obvious cultural differences such as food, clothing, language. These more superficial differences are likely more readily accepted in a cultural setting such as EUU, than those below the metaphorical waterline, which include, for example, concepts of justice, patterns of decision making, attitudes toward the dependent. The latter are not so easily integrated as their power may not be known, even to those who hold them. They are experienced as a difference that makes a difference, engendering at times a sense of cultural disconnect, even alienation. Sharing awareness of such moments when difference strikes as a dissonant chord, then making choices to both include and adapt is a path to take us to a more intercultural future.

As a conscious starting point, Prose introduced the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) which presents stages of openness to cultural difference. This model has an assessment tool that she encouraged us to try, so that we might better understand where we each are receptive to welcoming difference and what next steps are possible to become more so.

Prose emphasized that our strength as UUs is our tradition that asks us to create a personal theology using our own experience of the sacred ground of being. This we do in a community which champions respect and tolerance. Our confidence as a faith comes from this inclusion. So, we will stretch, grow and change in the future, as we reach out to the different cultures in which we live. The adaptations we come to choose, such as more languages, more obvious local names, and new symbols constitute new communal ground. We will establish this ground by experimenting, loving and living this adventure together. Barbara Prose paints a picture of an exciting future for our community!

Spring 2018