My name is Sharon Hwang Colligan.
My mother is Chinese and my father is Polish.
They were both born in Chicago.
I was born in Boston, and grew up UU.
I worked for the UUA in the Department for Social Justice when I was 19 years old. I am now 31.
I am in the process of creating a UU Circle Worship shamanic leadership school called the Circlemaker Institute for Magical Humanism.
Between the ages of seventeen and twenty-seven I was active in the anarcho-pagan-feminist-queer community, inspired by Beacon Press authors like Starhawk and Judy Grahn. I studied feminist psychology, and humanist magic.
As an anti-racist person, I chose to study Paganism from a cross-cultural perspective. I learned to honor many different circle-based traditions of immanant theology. Not only Wiccan and Celtic, but also Norse, Orisha, Native American, Egyptian, and Taoist traditions, among many others.
Eventually, I learned to honor UUism as one among this number.
UUism, at least in the form it takes in our camps, conferences, and Sunday Schools-- which I believe are the heart of our spiritual community-- is in my perception a Pagan religion. It is circle-based, earth-honoring, and present rather than distant in spirit. It honors human sexuality, and female leadership. It seeks harmony rather than domination.
In a cross-cultural context, that is pretty much the definition of Paganism.
The boring, overly rational, Protestant style Sunday morning services for which we are famous? They're a front.
They exist primarily to convince outsiders that we are really a Christian Church, or almost, just like one. To introduce them gently to our ways, in a framework they can understand.
The same is true of our divinity schools. They exist primarily to train a class of leaders who can talk to the Christians, who are trained to argue with them in their own terms.
You might say that they are experts in explaining our ways to White people.
It is a valuable skill, an important job. But training leaders who can talk to outsiders and anthropologists is not the same thing as training leaders who can minister to the needs of our own circle communities.
The 1999 survey of Unitarian Universalists reports that 90% of our current membership did not grow up UU. Our own people, the people who grew up inside our community, are for the most part not finding a home in our Sunday morning congregations. And why should we? They are not meant for us.
We are a Pagan people. Our real religious experiences we have when we are hidden out in the woods, or down in the church basement, or at midnight somewhere.
We have inherited from our Humanist traditions a story called the Progress of Human Civilization. This story says that Christianity was better than Paganism, the Protestants were better than the Catholics, and the Rationalists are better than the Protestants. Civilization and progress move us onward and upward away from our barbaric, tribal cave-man past. We evolve above and beyond our violent animal nature toward technology, spaceships, and world peace.
The Neo-Pagan movement, articulated through the feminist spirituality theorists, tells a different story, one called Honor the Old Religion. This story says that in the ancient past, before the arrival of the Patriarchal invaders, we lived in an earth-honoring culture. Women and sexuality were honored, as were children, and all people. Our religion celebrated the turning of the seasons, and differences were resolved in a Partnership rather than Dominator way. We used Power-From-Within, not Power-Over. Later, we were conquered by the Christian patriarchy, and all of that changed. We were forced to try and survive underground, in hidden places. To fight for freedom when we could, and pass on the culture of the circle as best we could, often in disguised or secret form. To do our best to survive, and to protect the ways of peace and Mother Earth.
This is related to the story that the Native American activists tell.
From an indigenous activist's viewpoint, the story of "civilization onward and upward" is absurd. Colonization by Europeans was not progress. It was destruction. The history of the tribe's interaction with the Christian-supremacist culture is a history of resistance.
UUs, too, are children of a history of resistance. We are descendants of people in Europe who fought for freedom, for the right to Power-From-Within rather than Power-Over. Our lineage has kept the spark of circle-based culture alive for two millenia. Sometimes we gained ground, sometime we lost it. Our struggle had different names at different historical moments. In the last few hundred years we have had some beautiful forward motion: the Unitarians gained us freedom from compulsory dogma, and the Universalists gained us freedom from Hell. The Transcendentalists rebuilt our access to nature mysticism, and the Humanists gained us final freedom from compulsory Christianity. The Feminists freed us from the bondage of male supremacy. Each generation carried the struggle for our human culture forward if they could. We have gained a lot of ground.
It is the task of the current generation to confront the dehumanizing power of compulsory Whiteness, to redeem our ethnic experience and tribal, circle-based ceremonies and rites of passage. If we do so, we can regain our ability to serve our young adults, and our true intergenerational community. And we can have a base of experience from which to make authentic human alliances with other tribes and the descendants of tribes, in our shared struggle against the forces of dehumanization and planetary destruction.