Friday, December 01, 2006

It's Not Theology, It's Class

Do you ever get those e-mail forwards from friends or family containing some little slice-of-life story so sweet it gives you immediate cavities? And it often has some little sentimental motto tacked on the end, something about God and angels, and as you delete it you're simultaneously wiping away a tear and rolling your eyes?

As a minister, I get them all the time. I read them all, too. I think about them, and wonder whether they minister to people in a simpler and more direct way than all our sophisticated musings and carefully-crafted sermons and intellectual talks.

I have wondered for a long time if it isn't that Unitarian Universalists are really that theologically different than the typical American, but that they prefer a far more sophisticated, intellectual and un-emotional expression of that theology than is preferred by those who get misty-eyed over stories from "Chicken Soup For the Internet User's Soul."

Are we theologically that different, really? Or is much of what we react against theologically really a reaction to lack of sophistication? In other words, is this about theology, or is it about class, culture and education?

Today I got a Gooey Religious Forward that really brought this point home for me.
Here it is, for your reading pleasure. I added paragraphs and one comma.

Breakfast at McDonald's

I am a mother of three (ages 14, 12, 3) and have recently completed my college degree. The last class I had to take was Sociology. The teacher was absolutely inspiring with the qualities that I wish every human being had been graced with. Her last project of the term was called "Smile."

The class was asked to go out and smile at three people and document their reactions. I am a very friendly person and always smile at everyone and say hello anyway, so, I thought this would be a piece of cake, literally.

Soon after we were assigned the project, my husband, youngest son, and I went out to McDonald's one crisp March morning. It was just our way of sharing special playtime with our son. We were standing in line, waiting to be served, when all of a sudden everyone around us began to back away, and then even my husband did. I did not move an inch... an overwhelming feeling of panic welled up inside of me as I turned to see why they had moved.

As I turned around I smelled a horrible "dirty body" smell, and there standing behind me were two poor homeless men. As I looked down at the short gentleman, close to me, he was "smiling". His beautiful sky blue eyes were full of God's Light as he searched for acceptance. He said, "Good day" as he counted the few coins he had been clutching.

The second man fumbled with his hands as he stood behind his friend. I realized the second man was mentally challenged and the blue-eyed gentleman was his salvation. I held my tears as I stood there with them. The young lady at the counter asked him what they wanted. He said, "Coffee is all, Miss" because that was all they could afford. (If they wanted to sit in the restaurant and warm up, they had to buy something. (He just wanted to be warm).

Then I really felt it - the compulsion was so great I almost reached out and embraced the little man with the blue eyes. That is when I noticed all eyes in the restaurant were set on me, judging my every action. I smiled and asked the young lady behind the counter to give me two more breakfast meals on a separate tray. I then walked around the corner to the table that the men had chosen as a resting spot. I put the tray on the table and laid my hand on the blue-eyed gentleman's cold hand. He looked up at me, with tears in his eyes, and said, "Thank you."

I leaned over, began to pat his hand and said, "I did not do this for you; God is here working through me to give you hope." I started to cry as I walked away to join my husband and son. When I sat down my husband smiled at me and said, "That is why God gave you to me, Honey, to give me hope." We held hands for a moment and at that time, we knew that only because of the Grace of God that we had been given were we able to give.

We are not church goers, but we are believers. That day showed me the pure Light of God's sweet love. I returned to college, on the last evening of class, with this story in hand. I turned in "my project" and the instructor read it. Then she looked up at me and said, "Can I share this?" I slowly nodded as she got the attention of the class. She began to read and that is when I knew that we as human beings and being part of God share this need to heal people and to be healed. In my own way I had touched the people at McDonald's, my husband, son, my instructor, and every soul that shared the classroom on the last night I spent as a college student.

I graduated with one of the biggest lessons I would ever learn: UNCONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE. Much love and compassion is sent to each and every person who may read this and learn how to LOVE PEOPLE AND USE THINGS - NOT LOVE THINGS AND USE PEOPLE. If you think this story has touched you in any way, please send this to everyone you know. There is an Angel sent to watch over you. In order for her to work, you must pass this on to the people you want watched over.

An Angel wrote: Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart. To handle yourself, use your head.To handle others, use your heart. God gives every bird its food, but He does not throw it into its nest.
***

This is, of course, just a story about treating people with dignity. I have no doubt that many UUs have done exactly this sort of thing: reaching out and providing help to someone who needs it, and speaking words of compassion and care as they do so.

What makes this an eye-roller to most people I know, however, is not the theology (break it down and it's just like yours and mine: Every human being possesses inherent worth and dignity, if God is present in the world, it is through the work of human hands, people are to be cherished more than things, etc.), but the sentimentality of the writing, the inclusion of angels, the effusive praise of God's grace, the misplaced quotation marks, the misuse of the word "literally," and the fact that this woman actually took her child to McDonald's for breakfast. How often do we conflate pure class snottiness with theological superiority and sophistication? How often does it close our ears and keep us from spiritual solidarity with others?

So this seems to be another post on Unitarian Universalist terminal uniqueness, which too often keeps us from seeing that what one person describes as "the pure Light of God's sweet love" is no different than our "inherent worth and dignity," and what one person describes as an angel sent to watch over you is the spark of divinity Mr. Emerson reminded us was divinely installed in each soul.

I am grateful today for all the years of Gooey Religious Forwards sent to me by congregants, friends and family. They have been a kind of Scripture of popular religion that I first regarded as a nuisance, and now receive as a gift and an important challenge to my long history of personal snobbery. Keep 'em coming.

The Ultimate Gooey Religious Foward
(The Ultimate Gooey Religious Forward That I've Learned To Love)

32 Comments:

Blogger Chalicechick said...

Yeah, I guess I'm among the terminally unique there because while I've certainly bought breakfast for a homeless guy at McDonalds (yes, at the same time I was buying it for myself, though I've since kicked the habit,) and was doing it every morning for awhile, I read her account of it totally unmoved.

I don't think it is snobbery any more than it would be reverse snobbery if the author of this were to read TheChaliceblog and not find it to her taste. I'd say it's just different.

Potato, poTAHto and all that.

Anyway, if you like this stuff, here's a big gallery of it.

That said, while lots of theologies are basically about striving for the highest and best and taking care of each other along the way, I do think the differences are real and pretty deep when we actually start to talk to one another.

But I don't think the solution is nto talking, either.

I don't know.

CC

11:44  
Anonymous martinet said...

This post is beautiful and important, and should be developed into a sermon or presented somewhere for more folks to hear it.

11:44  
Blogger jean said...

PB, I am a dyed-in-the-wool rural redneck Methodist but I cringe and delete them all--especially the chain letter style ones. So I don't think it's a matter of class, culture or theology, but of simple good taste. I might have taken the same action, but I would keep quiet about it and certainly not blog about it. I hate to get forwarded forwards.

OK. End of rant. Got it off my chest.

11:45  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

CC, if you're unmoved by this account, I don't think that's an expression of "terminal uniqueness" but of personal reaction. It's not really "terminal uniqueness" unless someone (or a group) says to themselves in some way or another, "My GOD, these things are such sentimental garbage, they are so religiously dumb,and I'm so special for thinking so," then that's typically terminally unique.

I think there's a lot of snobbery involved in the emotions that get generated in the reading of such things, and the particular and specific buttons that get pushed for most highly educated readers of them(especially, perhaps, those with a theological education).

If someone reads ChaliceBlog and doesn't dig it, they're not likely to be disgusted by it in the same way. That's my sense, anyway.


To your point about differing theologies, I used to think so, too, but now I wonder if the theological differences are that deep as often as we assume they are.

11:56  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm a crier, so the story got to me, but what made me laugh out loud was your commentary "and the fact that this woman actually took her child to McDonald's for breakfast."

My first day at a UU church, I had with me a 3-year old and a 4-year old and was about 6 months pregnant with my third daughter. Someone earnestly introduced me to another woman with three daughters of similar age spans but slightly older. She, too, was a writer. Blessings! What connections. And then I mentioned that I had just finished my final draft of a novel I started while pregnant with child 1. The other woman shook her head with this look of sheer awe and asked "how do you do it?"

"Well, they watch a lot of television ..." The look on woman's face went from awe to horror faster than you can say "Barney!"

I found out later that her family owned no television, that she home-schooled for the first so many years and then her husband took over and she eventually became the Managing editor of the paper I eventually became a columnist for, and while we have an amicable working relationship (she left the church a year or so after this, so that relationship was never in jeopardy, nor did it go any further), I still remember the sting of that visible switch in her countenance.

I like the stories, but I tune out any request to forward ... or else (or else what? something dire like the cable going out? shudder).

I see enough intellectual snobbery around, and have even participated in it on occasion. I think you've hit the nail on the head here. Thanks for that.

I'm too daft to figure out how to log in as a blogger without help. You can learn more about me at www.uumomma.wordpress.com.

12:32  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think theological differences are very deep. I think it's human nature to want to be unique and therefore we expound upon the minute differences.

My daughter did not think that as a UU she was any different than her friends until she went to a catholic church. Upon seeing the stations of the cross, my daughter decided she was NOT christian - they revere a very bloody person.

The reaction that got me though, came from one of her friends who exclaimed, "You're NOT christian. What ARE you?" Children don't realize there are so many theologies out there. If one does not act too differently from others, no one asks what theology you follow. No one ever asked my daughter until she decided to make it clear.

Veronica

13:08  
Blogger Ian said...

I dunno, isn't cheesiness cheesiness however you slice it? I am always put off by the "delete at your peril" chain-letterness of email forwards, especially when they co-opt religious images such as angels to create a cyber-superstition.

On the other hand, the gooey sentimentality does annoy me, so maybe that is a class issue. But another part of that is that I have known many homeless people, as well as others with varying needs such as people with mental illness, or developmental disabilities. In fact, one of my adopted daughters is mentally retarded. From that experience, I know for darn certain that sentimentality is lousy response to the humans involved. I think that is what puts me off in the story.

When I put myself in the story, first of all I figure I might actually know the guys by name, Secondly, I would probably be tempted to tell off the people who step away and stare ("Take a picture, buddy, it lasts longer!") My emotions are in a different place than the do-gooders in the story...not that I want the good deeds to stop.

14:23  
Blogger peg said...

PB, I'm heartbroken. How could you fall off the pedestal I've put you on by writing this post? (That's rather a poke at me, not you...)

Here's how cynical I am about all the oooey gooey: I wonder sometimes if these aren't written by big business -- some McD's employee -- and did you ever notice how many of them figure box stores like WalMart into the equation somehow? That's a whole other subject I know and I'm not trying to start a flame war so enough said about that.

But I can't let this go... these posts are the internet equivalent of a sweatshirt with the Serenity Prayer on it in italics, with some puffy clouds and a sun shining behind them. The kind that would make you break out in hives over at Beauty Tips! What gives?

14:29  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Peg! LOL!
Relax, girl, and listen to what I said. I said that I appreciate these gooey things because they *challenge me to consider my own snobbery.* I don't inherently embrace all of them. I still roll my eyes at most of them but I do read all of them (and forward none of them, as I hate that "forward this or you'll break a nail in the next five minutes" nonsense). The point is not that I will ever become a Precious Moments person, it's that I am trying to get beyond the immediate knee-jerk, "oh, this was written by one of those red state Holy Spirit morons" to "what is this story about? What is it saying about faith, about God, about humanity? If this story was told in a different way, would I be able to appreciate it more?"

Your idea that this could be a McDonald's PR thing is totally fascinating! Let's start a conspiracy theory!

14:49  
Blogger fausto said...

Fausto Jr. gets a Mighty Kids Meal from McDonald's every Sunday.

But only if he goes to Sunday School first.

That's not class, it's theology. (Either Pelagianism or the Covenant of Works, depending on your theological perspective, though I would argue that they amount to the same thing.)

BTW, your McDonald's tale is theology, too -- illustrating the doctrine of unmerited grace -- as well as a pretty straightforward paraphrase of Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan with the narrator in the first person.

"Salvation by character" Unitarians (but not Universalists) have always been a little suspicious about the availability and sufficiency of grace alone without works for complete redemption. So, it's not only class differences that might cause some holier-than-thou UUs to sneer at both your McDonald's tale and your "Footprints in the Sand". There really is a bit of a theological angle, too, even though I doubt many Unitarians of any theological bent would disagree with the mom's premise that we are called to act in the world as (or at least in place of) God's hands and fingers.

(And, to draw an ironic parallel, in the original version of the story it was the priest and the Levite who scoffed at the beaten man in the road -- not because of their social standing, but because of their theology. Perhaps there are ways in which ours isn't much better than theirs.)

15:29  
Blogger Ron said...

About five years ago a similar version of this story was making the internet rounds--sans specific restaurant name. I was moved by it, and challenged by my own being moved by it. I included it as one of the stories in an upcoming sermon, though, and part of me did wonder how it would preach to a UU setting. I discovered that first, no one else had received it or admitted to receiving it, so maybe I was more tied in to that internet sphere than others, and that second it went over pretty well particularly with the younger couples some of whom came up to ask for copies to pass on to others. It reminded me of what I learned in my MFA days from what Raymond Carver wrote, that you have to risk sentimentality to hit real sentiment. Sometimes or often you fail, but that's part of the risk.

Also, I have been recently deleting these kinds of email forwards and chain letters, but the other day one came by titled letter to Christians from God or letter to his children from God I think, and something told me to risk and check it out. I did and it started off in one of those holiday vs. christmas themes and I thought oh no, and about deleted it there, but it went on and was beautiful about how we shouldn't be as upset about stores not wishing people a merry christmas as we should be about how we are actually living christmas, about what we should be concerned with, removing the log from our own eye, etc. It was brilliant and taught me a lesson about where inspiration can come from.

17:21  
Anonymous Parisa said...

Having just returned from a visit with my rural working-class Ohio family (none of whom have persued education past high school), I can say with confidence that it is NOT class that would make one cringe at this particular story, but perhaps a certain take on theology.

Each and every one of my aunts & uncles would say (and I know this because we discussed a similar story over turkey last week) -- the self-congratulation and intent to show her Beautiful Experience of Being Good contrasted with her peers' Shrinking Back in Horror is nauseating. None of them would disagree that one should offer kindness and generosity to all, and to work to challenge one's own assumptions. But to assume you are God's Gift, in contrast to others and as a Supreme Example is insulting and perhaps a little blasphemous. Her buying those guys breakfast didn't change their lives, nor did it change her, except to make her a little more self-satisfied and help her complete a class assignment. Now if she had decided to go and walk with them and give up all her possessions, we could talk about her being a Unique Bearer of God's Light.

Humility is a cornerstone of my maternal culture (to a fault at times, I believe), and it is also a key part of Jesus' message. You just don't go tooting your own horn. And you ESPECIALLY don't go confusing tooting your own horn with tooting God's horn. No matter how much schooling you've had or how big your paycheck or how holy you think you are.

(Or, perhaps for a completely different take: The cynicism we often attribute to our higher education is actually alive and well among other classes as well.)

17:59  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Whoo, Parisa! Thanks for a rip-snorter!

18:03  
Blogger Jess said...

What bothers me most about these stories is how they so often focus on the individual who performed the charitable act and how good they feel about themselves and their place in the universe/God's eyes after having done it, which leads them to share the story in the first place. What is more impressive to me is stories about those who perform such acts who don't expect to be recognized or rewarded for doing so - those people for whom these things are just the way they actually live their lives on a daily basis.

There's just something so off-putting about "look at how virtuous I am and how much I've sacrificed!!"

18:06  
Blogger Mrs. M said...

Episcopalians frequently practice the same snobbery, myself emphatically included.

And yet... Peacebang, there really is a lot of oversimplified crap out there.

20:16  
Blogger Jess said...

Ah, the only problem with necessary comment moderation - someone else makes the same point so much better before me and I don't get to say A-MEN! ;-)

01:59  
Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

My sentiments echo what Parisa said.

04:25  
Blogger Charlotte said...

My sentiments are with Jess. I find it offensive that the drivel-author inserted God's name and will into her act of kindness. I believe the grace is in the giving.

As to PB's original statement, I think it is a class/theology issue. Episcopalians (which I am) and Unitarians share a commonality of educational and cultural background. We look at the world of God's making and our own with a critical eye, one that has taken several centuries of denominational education to hone.

I'd be interested in what a non-denominational, more fundamentalist Christian has to say about all this. These emails always get sent to me from my friends who attend those churches.

07:32  
Blogger fausto said...

Parisa's right about humility and self-righteousness, of course, although I don't hear the same level of self-righteousness coming through in the McDonald's story that she does. Nevertheless, what I take from her point is that rejecting a story that appears to elevate self-righteousness over humility comes more from a theological orientation than a class one.

I do hear the same syrupy drip-drip-drip that PeaceBang does, but I don't think it's only off-putting to those of an elevated social class or educational level.

There are lots of different ways to express any given idea. Some people love schmaltz and some don't, regardless of their social position. (Just look at all the different styles of greeting cards, most of which have nothing to do with theology. The same sentimental or corny or humorous card can appeal across many social divides.) This example is pretty darn schmaltzy.

Myself, I don't usually like schmaltz, and I'm also uncomfortable with many of the conventional nostrums of Christianity, but I loved the TV show "Touched by an Angel", starring Della Reese and Roma Downey, which wallowed in the trappings of Christian sentimentality.

It strikes me that our denominational debate about "language of reverence" involves a similar issue of competing means of expressing similar apprehensions. I sometimes wonder whether the differences in that debate have more to do with semantics and the conventions of expression than with differences in the underlying theology, but there's no discernible class or educational distinction between the factions there.

So, it's about theology and values to some extent, and it's also about comfortable modes of expression to some extent, but it's not so much about class.

11:55  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Thank you all for the wonderful comments. Many terrific insights and new ways to think about things.

13:08  
Blogger Ellis said...

I agree about terminal uniqueness stinking mightily. But I think UUs would like a sentimental religious forward, if it were written properly. Therefore I have written one. It is touching, etc., but probably less gooey than most; I'm not so good with gooey. I've posted it on my blog at http://missellis.blogspot.com/2006/12/pass-it-on-go-to-heaven.html. What do you all think?

17:28  
Blogger Nathan DeMay said...

I think that in our culture there’s a general lack of critical thinking. These types of emails are a religious version of that uncritical thinking. I can appreciate the story of caring for others and sharing that example to inspire; however, the notion that passing along an email will make a supernatural being take care of you is not only silly, it’s indicative of the “religion as magic” that shows up on TV with offers of “prayer cloths” “love gifts” and other such things. It’s not a question of sophistication versus home-spun theology, it’s a case of good sense versus foolishness. Additionally, these cyber chain letters can sometimes spread malware or serve as a way for spammers to collect addresses, so that alone is a reason to kill them without opening them.

19:37  
Blogger Berrysmom said...

What Parisa said.

Now 'scuse me while I go throw up.

22:21  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

But just look at the very special level of vitriol reserved for the person who believes that God is present in an act of caring and who commits the apparently unpardonable sin of saying so to the poor, downtrodden homeless dude she buys a pancake for.

How is this more vomit-worthy than a UU worship service that leaves God out of the proceedings entirely, and leaves one with the impression that the community is worshiping itself? How is it more barfy than any self-righteous liberal expression of faith? Again I submit: there are class and educational and "taste" issues here in the level of disgust expressed.
Nothing wrong with that, I'm just interested in it.

Something similarly gooey written by Barbara Brown Taylor, Anne Lamot, Annie Dillard or Kathleen Norris would never, I warrant, provoke this sort of vehement response. It's more the expression of it that grosses people out, and not, I'm guessing, so much in the content. Where more skilled writers are more adept at nuancing their stories to get an emotional response, this poor broad just isn't talented enough. She's not sophisticated enough.

Something happened to her at that McDonald's and she didn't have the talent to spin it into a tale that would move you or me. I BET if Anne Lamott told the same story, we'd all be wiping our noses because she would know HOW to tell it in such a way that better expressed the sense of relationship or encounter between herself and others.

07:10  
Blogger Charlotte said...

I feel you are commenting directly to me (that's guilt!), PB, so I'll respond again:
I think you are right. The authors you list, whom we admire for describing our faith, are at the advantage. And the woman who wrote the original piece wrote what she really felt - a technique that we academic types have to re-learn sometimes!

I'd like to clarify, for myself, what I wrote.
I do think the email is drivel. Mostly because it's the sort of thing that I delete from my in-box, along with pleas from people trying to sell me, um, extension devices, and cell coverage I don't need. I find it offensive that she put God into words in her gift because I would never do that. That is true snobbery: when we can't get beyond our own selves to see that for someone else, it works. So, perhaps it's not as offensive as it is uncomfortable. And I displaced my own discomfort onto the men receiving the gift of hot food.

When we lived in the South, off of I-10, there were always panhandlers on the off-ramps. I can't tell you how many conversations we had at church about whether to give money to these "travelers" or not. Some folks contend that they owned nice homes with swimming pools and this was a con, they were all just meth users, they weren't really going anywhere..Does it really matter why they are there? I always gave some money, I always had something to say. People have the responsibility to be nice, it's not just a Jesus-thing or a God-thing.

08:17  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Charlotte, no guilt, baby! No guilt!
I am really loving this conversation, because I myself am all over the place on these things. I barf sometimes, I cry sometimes, I delete them all...

So this is really one of my favorite posts and slew of comments in a long time.

08:31  
Blogger fausto said...

Again I submit: there are class and educational and "taste" issues here in the level of disgust expressed.

Yes, PB, but as I tried to say before, schmaltz and treacle have the ability to move some people to tears and others to vomit, and the former is not necessarily correlated with inferior social class or educational achievement. "Chacun a son gout." "De gustibus non disputandum est." Or, in the English version of the aphorism, which resonates harmoniously a few of our own Seven Principles, "Each to his own."

My dear departed grandmother was a Phi Beta Kappa who pursued a graduate degree and a professional career in the early 20th century, when it was almost unheard of for a woman to do so. She co-authored the series of elementary school arithmetic textbooks that held the highest market share in the nation for decades. There's a good chance that you yourself learned your basic math from her books.

She was also a lifelong subscriber to Reader's Digest, and throughout my childhood, she sent me clippings every few weeks of lame, sugary quips and anecdotes that she had carefully cut out and saved for me, usually with some didactic moral point embedded. My mother and I used to chuckle whenever another packet would arrive. "She did that to me, too," my mother would say. Grandma was especially touched by the treacle that made Mom and me barf, but you can't find any class distinctions in that example.

Isn't it in fact a form of class condescension to suggest that bad taste is reserved to those of lower class and poorer education than ourselves?

08:40  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Fausto, I get you, I get you, but your final point is taking my argument too far.
I'm suggesting factors in this issue that I don't think we look at closely enough, or even consider, in our disgust over certain treacly expressions of spirtuality (if not religion).

Before we go examining the exceptions, I'm curious about the norms. And I think the norms are that class and education are big factors here. Or maybe "class" is too broad a word. Maybe "refinement" is better, as one can be refined at any economic level.
Better yet, maybe the word I want is "sophistication."

09:36  
Blogger Nathan DeMay said...

Personally, as an AUC'er and not a UU, I have no problems with the idea of God being present in the act of kindness (love to God, love to humanity and all that); in fact I remember an episode of the now defunct UU TV program "Faith in the Free Church" in which a lovely, old-style Massachusetts woman said that we are God's hands in this world. She was involved in a program to mentor young kids who have problems reading. Her faith moved her to action.

I also readily admit that I watch (nay, TiVO) Oprah, and I love the sappy stories like the one from last week where 300+ audience members were given $1000 each, to give away as they like. Some just took the cash and handed it out to strangers, and some enterprising people used the opportunity to get their friends and community members to join in, and in one case, parlayed the $1k into $200,000. My heart grew 3 sizes (having already been 2 sizes too small) that day.

But I know of which I speak: these emails are no good; get rid of them. They prey on sentiment to accomplish bad things. I spent a good deal of time working with the Feds on this sort of thing, so I'm not just pulling this out of my derriere. If you want sap, turn on the Hallmark Channel; but don't open that email...

10:16  
Anonymous kjr said...

Peacebang---

I gotta say that your UU parishioners have got to be more sophisticated than mine have been. Mine have frequently just loved and pressed on me the popular treacle that makes me gag such as Tuesdays with Morrie, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Rod McKuen's poetry etc. My Mom was an English teacher and a writer and we both rolled our eyes at the same writings. Mom and I always tried to figure out what it was that made us have a negative reaction to similar writings.

Mom's writing was not, itself, without sentiment, nor is mine. I think the difference for us was that some writing tries to manipulate us into having a certain emotional reaction. Sometimes the manipulation is successful, but one doesn't feel good about it. There are some elements of story that are almost knee jerk shorthand to try to get a reaction --- the death of a child, anything about the Holocaust, and so on.

We don't roll our eyes if the story is "true", ie. seems honestly told and is somewhat multi-valent -- not aiming to be touching or tear-jerking or inspiring.

I think of my old Drama teacher who always scolded us if we went for a "cheap laugh" --- clowning around in a way not in keeping with the story just to get a laugh. Or my other Drama teacher who said we should "show" not "tell" --- meaning that, for example if we wanted the audience to know something was important we don't say it is important, we let them know about the thing in a way that lets the audience know the story which would tell them why it was important.

There is a lot of bad writing whose sentiments I don't disagree with. I do cringe at poor writing and manipulative story telling and I don't think that is strictly a class thing. I have known a lot of working class and even poor people who had good sense about story-telling and manipulation. I always think of these kind of things as having sort of a middle class bourgeoisie sensibility.

17:50  
Blogger SC Universalist said...

"Sentimental' the dictionary defines as "expressive of or appealing to sentiment, esp. the tender emotions and feelings, as love, pity, or nostalgia" and "weakly emotional; mawkishly susceptible or tender".
Well you do know what they say about those of us who quote the dictionary, right?

It's not to me, an UU issue mainly. Im on some mailing lists with only UUs on it, and I've even gotten these sentimental religous sentiments emails too);

while it could be class, I see it (and this is one of "my buttons") as cultural. Our society at large has moved from one of largely optimistic to one that is largely cynical.

in our society, who wants to be seen as mawkish, or tender?

but, I see historic connections between rise of cynicsm and the shrinkage of liberal religion (this might be a good research paper for someone to prove or disprove).

Steven Rowe

22:52  
Blogger Ellis said...

This weekend, I found an old tape of songs my United Methodist youth group used to sing. (I was a UU, but went with them on mission trips and retreats, sang in the choir and served on the council.) I wrote one of them and my dear friend's father wrote another.

Mine went:

(The mission trip)The mission trip is so much fun.
(We work all day) We work all day in the hot sun.
(Oh I perspire) Sweaty and tired with everyone;
The mission trip is so much fun.

His went:

Friendship grows slowly like a mighty tree; its roots grow so deeply, they're supporting me.

His family was the nicest family on the block. The mother worked with children with disabilities; my friend grew up to work with preschoolers; they gave to charity and were a mainstay of the church. They had half the neighborhood kids at their house, playing with their brood and staying for dinner. When my parents divorced, the mother let me know that if my house had problems, I could stay with them as long as I liked.

We were in similar socioeconomic situations, and similar backgrounds, but their family was very different from mine. My mother is a teacher; my father is a journalist; we have no patience for mawkishness. But spending time with that family helped me deeply appreciate spirituality and Christianity.

Of course, I never came out to them. Oh well.

11:33  

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