SMilnor: In our last – also our first – entry, we talked a little about being women from the South. We might not actually have been Southern Belles (please tell me we weren’t), but we did grow up learning from our culture that we should be “nice.” Nice Southern girls don’t make trouble, do they? They don’t speak out; they don’t have strong opinions. In short, they play dumb. But neither of us could manage that in the long run. How did we end up as women with strong voices who can give a loud, impassioned sermon from the pulpit? How, in other words, did we end up as “ragin’ revs”?
SMinasian: Susan…I may have been born in the South, but I am a second generation Armenian. That made everything very different. The “being nice” in my family was interpreted as “fit in – assimilate”. Now, nobody used those words explicitly. However, I got the message very early. I was called the “N word” in kindergarten because my skin was dark. I wasn’t a part of an ethnic or racial group people could quickly identify. Our Armenian identity was shared in the house, but we were cautious about doing that outside. In those days being “different” was not a compliment and I am not sure it is now. My rage began when I realized I was being judged and categorized without people “knowing me”.
SMilnor: That’s a sobering picture, Susan. And it was very different from my experience. I was so conditioned to defer and accommodate that once I was walking in a downtown area of a city, turned the corner, saw myself in a window I was walking toward, and apologized. I was a long way from raging then.
SMinasian: I can be very pastoral. I really can. However, my rage can get going these days when I watch the news, read the paper, look at some Facebook posts or read some books. I find that my blood pressure starts to rise. There is a rage inside of me that rises when I hear about injustice in all its various forms.
Right now I find that the radical right wing supported by many of the so-called “religious” folks in this country is driving me crazy. I don’t know how a person can be a Christian and support a national budget that oppresses the poor.
How can people complain about celebrities who have babies out of a marriage out of one side of their mouths then throw out slurs to women who seek safe abortions out the other? You can’t win.
SMilnor: I know what you mean. I can be pastoral too, but that same rage rises in me. These days I am deeply disturbed by the assault on women’s rights and health care that you mention. How can mostly male politicians dare to wage this war? My deepest anger rises these days, though, at the concerted machinations designed to strip all political power from the working and middle class. Our elected officials are taking money and opportunity from those who can least afford it, then turning around and giving it to the wealthiest in tax breaks and corporate welfare. And they say that the left is waging class warfare???? This is worse class warfare and redistribution of wealth than I ever imagined could happen in America. How can these people call themselves Christian – or religious at all – when they do exactly the opposite of what Jesus advocated?
SMinasian: See, Susan…I think the Christian call to follow Jesus is harder than most Christians want to admit. Jesus said sell it all and take care of the poor, and yet the mega churches or what I call big box churches preach a prosperity Gospel that goes against that. UGH!
What is it about people voting against their best interests and the care of our neighbors? What’s the deal, Susan? Can you hear my rage?
SMilnor: Sister, I not only hear it; I feel it! Very few wealthy people vote against their economic interests, but a lot of working and middle class folks do. Since the 70’s and 80’s people’s fears and prejudices have been used to get them to do just that – support candidates who not only aren’t going to help them, but who will actually hurt them.
For most people of my faith tradition, there’s not much tension with a text or a tradition when it comes to justice issues. But Unitarian Universalists constantly struggle with speaking out on current issues from the pulpit. Oh, don’t get me wrong: we have a lot of very powerful voices for justice. But many UUs feel that you shouldn’t bring politics into the pulpit and that preachers can too easily use the pulpit to advocate their personal political agendas. I know that it’s possible to do that – and I try to be careful about that when I’m a Susan-in-the-pulpit -- but we UUs proudly declare passionate voices from our past, say, for abolition or woman suffrage, as religious and prophetic. It’s only political soapbox rhetoric if it exists in the present! I always like to imagine that you Christians have an easier time of this because Jesus was so clearly “political;” he spoke truth to power and he did it in service to God. But, then, maybe I’m being naïve. The grass is always greener . . .
SMinasian: Are you kidding? See this is where both of us get into the grass is greener on the other side conversations. It isn’t easier for Christians. The only thing we have in common with each other is Jesus. NOW, how we understand him, interpret him and appropriate what we believe he was about is all over the place. I don’t have an anthropomorphic image of God but if I did this is when I would say Christians make God cry!
SMilnor – Just tell me this, Susan. What is it in your tradition’s theology that pushes you to be a Ragin’ Rev sometimes? I think for me, in my tradition, it is this. If we advocate the worth and dignity of every human being as one of our principles; if we believe in a loving God who “saves” all souls; then we cannot ignore the plight of suffering people, and we cannot deny the importance of having a voice in the public arena. We cannot ignore justice. That great Unitarian Ralph Waldo Emerson said that real preaching has to be passed “through the fire of thought.” Were I to dare to add to the Emerson’s formulation, I would say it also has to be passed through the fire of compassion.
SMinasian: While many people say Jesus was not political, I cannot help but see him that way. I think all of us are political. Jesus turned tables over in the temple. He spoke out against the radical right of his time. He intentionally lived in the margins and surrounded himself with people who were…let’s say questionable. I think on some level he had to have some sense of rage in him. Now, it is possible that on most days he was calm like Obama (no, I am not equating Obama with Jesus), and on other days he was probably more outspoken. We don’t really know. I just think rage is something that is not always the boisterous in- your-face-behavior. Rage for me is the wrong we see, hear and know that stirs up the call to do something, to respond to the call for change. It’s that prophet gene. I wonder when they will have a test for that? So I preach from the passion of study, reason, experience and I always begin with scripture. Now, if scripture doesn’t spark some rage…at least some of it…well…I don’t know what does. I’m saying that lovingly of course. Oh, and let me say this. Jesus did get nailed on a tree. You don’t get there without being a trouble-maker.
SMilnor: You pretty much said it there, Susan, and in your uniquely effective way. I guess we’re a long way from how we ended up as Ragin’ Revs instead of Southern Belles. But maybe not. Our convictions about the world, and life, have been in our hearts and souls from a young age. It might even, as you suggest, be genetic. And that, my friend, may be the reason we couldn’t be nice.
SMinasian: I think Southern Belles are stereotyped as sweet little ladies who were always taken care of. I know from experience that this is true. I also know that some of the strongest women for justice and liberation have come from the South. There is no way that advances in the South have happened without women. We were both born on land that soaked up a lot of pain, Susan. We come from ancestors in our own blood lines that have struggled trails of tears. So, yes, we are from the South, and we might even be Southern Belles. Why the hell not?! Let’s claim it and rage on!!! Without rifles of course.