Returning to the Table again and again

Clyde over at A People So Bold has a great post about the spiritual practice of Staying at the Table. He puts words around a belief that I sometimes have a hard time articulating. I have an ongoing argument with a friend about how long one should stay at the table when the ignorance and intolerance are apparent. I have sometimes joked that compared to this friend, I am “anger impaired.” But reading Clyde’s words helped me understand that I am just deeply committed to staying at the table. Even when it hurts, even when I am terribly disappointed, even when I am stunned by the seemingly willful ignorance of people that I otherwise respect and admire.

For the most part, the people who walk away from hard discussions are doing one of two things: they are exercising privilege because they don’t have to face the questions and consequences of their actions, or they are saving their souls because the pain and rage they feel in the face of ugly words, acts, and attitudes. For the most part, when my friend leaves the table, he is saving his soul. He is exercising his remaining power in response to being told he does not exist and does not matter. Sometimes it is all he can do to find a way to walk away with some grace.

Staying at the table takes courage and faith. Sometimes the people who are attacked, oppressed, and erased have sufficient courage and faith, sometimes they don’t. My friend suffers more than I do from the oppressions we have in common. His courage and faith give out sometimes. In some ways, he has more faith and hope than I do, or at least higher expectations of how the world should be. Sometimes staying at the table is a matter of being willing to make do with how broken the world really is and loving the people anyway. And sometimes I can stay because the venom people spew just misses me, while it lands on him again and again.

I guess I am writing this because I am conflicted. I do believe that the only way things and people will change is if we stay at the table. But sometimes that is asking the very people who are already deeply wounded by oppression to keep putting themselves in harm’s way. Sometimes we can do that. Sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we have to go away and save our own souls for awhile. I believe that then the spiritual practice is to Come Back to the Table when we have the strength again.

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6 thoughts on “Returning to the Table again and again

  1. A great question, Sean, and well worth exploring. I can sometimes stay at the table, but more often am strangled by my anger and frustration and end up walking away. I’ve seen a bumper sticker that reads “Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” Something I need to practice.

  2. I’ve deleted a comment here from the Emerson Avenger. (Robin Edgar) I usually let his comments stand, but this time he went so far as to personally attack individuals. I understand that he feels he was treated poorly by a congregation, but this blog isn’t a place to retaliate. (Especially since the people he attacked had nothing to do with the original incident.) If he wants to talk about issues, that is fine, but I will delete comments I think go “over the line.” And yes, as owner of the blog, I get to decide where the line is.

  3. (Especially since the people he attacked had nothing to do with the original incident.)

    Right. . . So if the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee or other UUA leaders in positions of responsibility for ministry who aren’t involved in an “original incident” of egregious clergy misconduct of one kind or another not only abdicate their responsibility but effectively endorse the clergy misconduct and stonewall the victim they must not be criticized. . .

  4. Dear Robin,
    Disparaging a genuine religious experience is something I hope our religious leaders would not do. However, placing boundaries around appropriate behavior IS. Your behavior here has generally been acceptable, and so I’ve let your comments stand. My boundary is that I will delete comments that attack individuals. You clearly have a forum for that already–it’s all over your blog. Anyone who disagrees with you will be attacked there. That’s fine. But this blog is mine and I will not publish your personal attacks here. Fair enough?

    Robin, I have to wonder when person after person tells you that your crusade is misguided and perhaps you have some issues you might want to deal with, what arrogance keeps you from admitting the possibility? It seems to me you might benefit from humbly taking a look at how you are spending your time and maybe even turning your attention to the practice of forgiveness and how it might benefit you and frankly, the whole blogosphere

    Maybe what was done to you was egregious, but you have wasted your credibility, your energy, and your time by staying stuck in this reactive and angry posture. Why not aim for peace of mind and good relationships with the human beings around you instead of staying on your path of self-destructive retribution?

  5. I was writing a fairly detailed point by poiint respone to you Sean when I accidentally hit the wrong button and it all went in a puff of cybersmoke. Here is a shorter less detailed response. I will do a more detailed one later.

    :Disparaging a genuine religious experience is something I hope our religious leaders would not do.

    Hope all you want Sean. It should be abundantly obvious that U*U religious leaders have in fact disparaged my genuine religious experience by contemptuously dismissing it as “your psychotic experience” etc. etc. Even former UUA President Rev. Dr. John A. Buehrens has expressed his incredulity that I have had any communication “with the divine” and has stated his belief that I am suffering from some kind of “personality disorder” or am I not allowed to say such things here?

    :However, placing boundaries around appropriate behavior IS.

    No kidding. My ongoing protest has everything to do with the fact that the Unitarian Church of Montreal, two UUA Presidents, the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee have abjectly failed, and have even obstinately refused, to responsibly place boundaries around inappropriate behavior by intolerant and abusive U*U clergy and U*U lay people.

    :Your behavior here has generally been acceptable, and so I’ve let your comments stand.

    My behavior everywhere is generally acceptable Sean. It only becomes somewhat unacceptable if and when I feel the need to respond to unacceptable behavior in kind. . . I have clearly stated that, in light of the repeated injustices and abuses that I have been subjected to by U*Us over the years, that I reserve the right to respond to verbal and psychological abuse directed at me by U*Us with a bit of verbal and psychological abuse of my own in the hopes that they will wake up and smell the rotten Bridgehead Coffee. . .

    :My boundary is that I will delete comments that attack individuals.

    It seems that youy boundary is that you will delete comments that strongly criticize U*U clergy. You attack individuals yourself on this blog. In fact you are pretty much attacking me in some of the statements you have made about me.

    :You clearly have a forum for that already–it’s all over your blog.

    Indeed it is and it is creeping up to bite certain unmentionable U*U ministers in the you-know-what in appropriate Google searches.

    :Anyone who disagrees with you will be attacked there. That’s fine.

    Wrong. It’s not fine and it’s not true. Lot’s of people who reasonably respectfully disagree with me are not “attecked”. If you enter into a genuinely free and genuinely responsible search for the truth about who actually gets attacked by The Emerson Avenger it pretty well falls into two categories. People who have attacked me first and hypocritical U*U clergy and UUA leaders who abjectly fail and even obstinately refuse to practice what they preach and who willfully ignore my requests and demands that they responsibly address the internal U*U injustices, abuses and hypocrisy that I am exposing and denouncing on The Emerson Avenger blog.

    :But this blog is mine and I will not publish your personal attacks here. Fair enough?

    You publish your own personal attacks Sean. . . I find it most interesting how U*Us so consistently characterize entirely justifiable strong criticism of U*U religious leaders as “personal attacks” and disallow them in U*U controlled forums and blogs while happily engaging in all kinds of personal attacks, sometimes quite egregiously insulting, defamatory and abusive attacks on non-U*Us.

    :Robin, I have to wonder when person after person tells you that your crusade is misguided

    I think you mean U*U after U*U Sean and not all that many have actually done so in any case. A fair number of U*Us have expressed support for my crusade and the vast majority of non-U*Us who know about my crusade against U*U injustices, abuses and hypocrisy show support for it in various ways. Who are these people who have said that my crusade is misguided and exactky how is it supposedly misguided Sean. Please enlighten me and I will respond to specific accusations.

    :and perhaps you have some issues you might want to deal with,

    Perhaps U*Us have some issues that U*Us might want to get around to responsibly dealing with one of these days Sean. . . Just what unspecified “issues” might I want to deal with?

    :what arrogance keeps you from admitting the possibility?

    What arrogance keeps U*Us from admitting the possibility that my serious grievances are entirely valid and legitimate Sean? What arrogance keeps U*Us from admitting the possibility that the U*U injustices, abuses and hypocrisy I have been exposing and denouncing for over a decade now need to be responsibly addressed? Is it wise for you to *personally attack* me by accusing me of arrogance Sean when the arrogance and hubris of U*Us is very well documented and apparently knows no bounds. . . I can provide example after example of U*U arrogance for you to ponder Sean, including the obvious arrogance of one or two UUA President and no shortage of U*U clergy.

    :It seems to me you might benefit from humbly taking a look at how you are spending your time

    It seems to me that U*Us might benefit from humbly taking a look at how U*Us are not spending their time Sean. . .

    :and maybe even turning your attention to the practice of forgiveness and how it might benefit you and frankly, the whole blogosphere.

    Sorry Sean but there is nothing in U*U principles and purposes about the practice of forgiveness, just the “covenant” to affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations. I have determined that U*Us are much too arrogant and shameless to deserve forgiveness in this matter. They would continue to pretend that they had done nothinbg wrong at all. U*Us are just going to have to practice genuine justice, equity and compassion in human relations with me before I even think of offering any further forgiveness than I offered in the past only to have U*Us reject it. What about U*Us Sean. If anyone has been very obviously unforgiving and unjustly punitive in this matter it is U*Us and it is all very well documented. You are engaging in what Dee Miller calls DIM Thinking here Sean. You are effectively demanding that victims of injustices and abuses, aka the oppressed, must forgive their abusers and oppressors. . . That is just not going to happen in this case Sean for the aforementioned reasons. U*Us absolutely have to acknowledge the very real injustices, abuses and indeed oppression that they have subjected me to before I even think of being somewhat forgiving. I am prepared to be somewhat lenient and forgiving *after* the injustices, abuses, and oppression that I am protesting against are responsibly acknowledged by the Unitarian Church of Montreal, the UUA and its Ministerial Fellowship Committee, and indeed other interested parties such as the CUC but not before that Sean. It’s time for arrogant U*U oppressors to come to the table and begin waging peace as UUA President Bill Sinkford has called for in his Holiday Message. . .

    :Maybe what was done to you was egregious,

    There is no *maybe* about it Sean. Most of it is very well documented.

    :but you have wasted your credibility,

    Not at all Sean my credibility is backed by numerous documents and other evidence. If anyone has wasted credibility it is the Unitarian Church of Montrealm the UUA and its Ministerial Fellowship Committee and a goodly number of individual U*Us who lack credibility, including some that you will not allow me to name here. . .

    :your energy, and your time by staying stuck in this reactive and angry posture.

    Oh I may have wasted *some* energy and time Sean but that’s what institutional denial and stonewalling is all about isn’t it Sean. In the end I expect that people will agree that a good chunk of my time and energy was very well spent. Also my posture is not *stuck* in being reactive and angry. There are many times that I have engaged in “waging peace” but U*Us have always ignored and rejected my offers of reconciliation via a genuinely just, equitable and compassionate negotiate settlement of this war of words, to say nothing of other U*U injustices and abuses. As long as U*Us give me very good reason to be angry and a bit reactive I will oblige them. . .

    :Why not aim for peace of mind and good relationships with the human beings around you instead of staying on your path of self-destructive retribution?

    I have plenty of peace of mind and good relationships with the human beings around me Sean. . . My path may at times include some retribution but it is not all that self-destructive Sean. Why do U*Us not aim for peace of mind and good relationships with the human beings around them, including yours truly of course, instead of staying on their own outrageously hypocritical path of self-destructive retribution*?

    * and that is but one single example of the self-destructive retribution of U*Us Sean. . .

  6. I would be interested in carrying this conversation further Shawn. How about you? If you do want to continue to “engage” would you like to do it here or in a new thread on your blog or mine?

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