Late Spring snowstorms create a mood that suits my indignation at the state of the world and my impatience with ten cats who think my purpose in life is turn on the electric mattress pad and open cat food cans. I’m dizzy with sleeplessness. I’m despairing over the people in India dying on curbs for lack of beds — I’d never seen the crematoriums which are just pits for bonfires of wood and flesh. I’ve always held it a high value to confront the unvarnished reality without flinching and not run away to some elitist tower where I could tell everyone what they were doing wrong. But it can be agonizing.
This is mixing with exasperation with those who follow that plan. A few days ago I blogged about four forgotten “heroisms” of Montana UU’s: Bond School for Indians; Milma Lappala, her husband, and their best friend who became the second husband of Milma; Socialist Mayor Rev. Lewis J. Duncan in Butte; and the Great Falls UU Fellowship which sputtered out because of the local economics. This was sent to the UU Historical Society (maybe I did it myself) and was hailed as scholarship — would I consider writing more.
The historian I contacted, who was once the president of the UUA, had no consciousness of the politics of residential religious schools for Native American children, much less the implications of it serving the Crow tribe in particular. Neither the Lappala martyrdom nor the Great Falls fizzle registered at all. It was the love affair with Butte and assumptions about its melodramatic minister/mayor that grabbed attention as always. Why anyone would idealize a resource grab on top of mountains that drew desperate penniless European minors to destroy their lives underground and their inevitable families above through poverty and brutalization in homes the mines gradually made into a huge poison lake that killed any waterfowl who landed on it. Duncan was only there a few years between being a lawyer and a teacher. No one notes that the plutocrats financing Butte were UU’s.
Desperately the people worked to rid Montana of this strangling resource python named “Anaconda” only to have it return now as radical right wing Republicans who think they own the state and are looking for new resources to exploit, like housing. Aaaauuuuggghhh. Why don’t you write a book about Duncan, fans ask. They have no concept of the on-site research necessary to develop a biography. A person would have to live in Butte. NOT ME. And even expressing this much of an opinion means I’m viewed with suspicion.
When I was at Meadville/Lombard, Mark Morrison-Reed, champion of the Black element of the UUA, and his wife Donna were two years ahead of me. He made it clear he had no use for old white women and I’ve not had much use for him, haven’t read his books. When this little note of mine about forgotten Montana UU people prompted me to make contact with the new president of the UU Historical Society, I laughed. I see that Mark has made his point. Rev. Connie Simon is the new face of the UUA past. Justice! Inevitablilty!
Yesterday my copy of “Hiding in Plain Sight” arrived so I sat down and read it. It was not at all what I expected but timely in a back-handed way. For me it was the story of a woman challenged by global circumstances both economic and political and responding with sturdy, resourceful pride not dependent on her certification. Nor will she sit down and shut up anymore.
I should note that St. Louis, her city which has been seen by the coastal “entitled” as rural and primitive, has historically been for Montana the jumping-off point for much of civilization seeking profit on the east slope of the Rockies, coming up the river in steamboats to collect the profits of trapping empires, to deliver European adventurers, and to entice artists like Charlie Russell who grew up in St. Louis.
Sarah says, “I try to live in a way that would break an algorithm.” Me, too.
In 1988 I stepped out of the UU congregational ministry. Only recently have they figured that out and taken me off the lists. It’s 33 years since then. In 1999 I left Portland to own a house in a place I once lived and persist in poverty so I could read my books, think and write. No algorithm knows I’m here.
Connie Simon, Mark Morrison-Reed and myself all graduated from Meadville-Lombard Theological School which was in Mark’s and my time attached to the University of Chicago Div School. I received my MA in Religious Studies in 1980. It’s hard for me to know what year I graduated from M/L since the four-person faculty could not agree about what the degree included or when I’d fulfilled the list. The Ministerial Committee had similar difficulties.
So the UU Montana Ministry was a way to escape from all the bureaucratic butt-covering. It was good from the M/L angle, too, so one of the early moves by Gene Reeves when he became the new president was to get rid of a dozen ambiguously categorized semi-graduates by just giving them all M.Div’s. The much heralded Doctor of Theology degree disappeared. Soon the movement to detach from the U of Chicago Div School was complete, the purpose-built housing was sold, and M/L was renting from a Jewish skyscraper in the Loop. Theology is out; therapy is in. Salvation is out; healing is in. I’m out; I may never be in. But I still cherish my U of C Div School classes, even my moldy old notes and my marginal ability to read French.
Building on those years, I’m now post-Xian and post-UU. Post-prosperity, post-aspirations, and post-algorithms. The main change is one of dimension, exceeding all these one-celled movements and responses to what is now obviously global, cosmic, and transcendent. I have not become mild.
When I was a high school senior, I was cast as the great-grandmother of “Anastasia.” The line that has always stuck with me is when she said bitterly, “The red ants fight the black ants and one or the other wins until next time. But they’re still just ants.” We build our ant-hills.