Saturday, July 24, 2010

Leather & Grace, Part I: Being Prophetic Outlaws

A core reason I have worked to build a bridge between Unitarian Universalists and kinksters is that I can see where the two groups could learn from one another. With that in mind, my next few blog posts will be devoted to giving examples of that…

One of the most profound truisms of human nature is what’s been called the “hedonistic paradox” – that pursuing pleasure and happiness in itself will not accomplish those goals in the long run, but pursuing other things somehow does. In fact, what this teaches us is that pleasure is not a goal in itself, but a means of measuring success, and not just in terms of how much but the quality of enjoyment.

Unitarian Universalists seem caught in a similar paradox. We’re constantly asking ourselves how we can fill our pews and coffers, but more often falling short of that goal. That also begs the question: What if we attracted huge numbers of people who did nothing but come to Sunday services and toss money in the collection plate? That could hardly be called a spiritual community! Yet I would argue that, if we continue to focus on increasing numbers as a goal in itself, that is what we risk becoming.

Compare this to the BDSM community. Many of the groups I’m familiar with do not try very hard to recruit members in large numbers, yet they’re able to attract and maintain members much better than many UU congregations. Instead of demanding money from folks, they make an effort to keep their costs down, and in the end are able to balance their books while offering high-quality educational and support services, including most importantly a place to belong and contribute one’s own gifts.

All this, mind you, despite the fact that the kink community is seen as an “outlaw” culture – rebels on the fringe of society. In a puritanical society so conflicted about sexuality, we dare to create a community around our sexuality, and to celebrate the differences among us. More important, we dare to be honest about it, to say: “This is who we are, take it or leave it.”

And, in many ways, Unitarian Universalists come from that same outlaw archetype. As heretics and dissidents, we also provide a challenge to the rest of the world. Where other religions demand adherence to rigid creeds and legalistic moralism, we give our members an even greater challenge – to think about what it means to be good and just, regardless of any particular spiritual path you wish to follow.

So maybe, just maybe, we UUs have been going about this all wrong. Maybe instead of constantly trying to justify who we are and craft a mainstream image of ourselves, we should simply be more honest, even dare to say: This is who we are, take it or leave it. Martin Luther, another religious outlaw, said much the same thing at the Diet of Worms: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen!”

That being said, we need to actually stand for something, to be rebels with a cause. After all, BDSM groups may be able to sustain themselves, but they haven’t changed the world much. Not for lack of trying, as evidenced by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, and the increased attention given to kink issues at the NGLTF’s Creating Change conferences. And contrast that now with how Unitarian Universalists have created change and advanced social and environmental justice, often in far greater proportion to our numbers.

That is the gift which UUs have to offer the kink community – a strong sense of vision and mission. We’re not just here to keep our church buildings in good shape, teach our kids comparative religion, or plan the next Sunday service. We’re here to bring heaven and earth together, starting from our own individual efforts to embody the values of love and justice in our everyday lives. And from there, coming together to both create spiritual communities around those shared values, both as an example for the rest of the world, and as a place from which we can call on the world to follow that example.

We are outlaws whether we like it or not. We might as well be prophetic outlaws, not content merely to sit apart from the mainstream, but to engage and to challenge. And that includes challenging one another, pushing our own limits, learning to be more creative. But, that’s a topic for another time…

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