Comfortability is a word I coined several years ago when in a dialog about racism. It is the skill of being able to be fully present / comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. It is a skill that I believe we need to develop if we are to thrive in a pluralist society.
The school board in Itawamba County, Mississippi decided that a student could not attend her prom in a tuxedo and bring her girlfriend, also a student at the school, because it might be uncomfortable for the other students. This is not the lesson that should be taught. It teaches that segregation and hiding our truth is acceptable behavior because integration of our differences and being honest might make someone else uncomfortable. The lesson that needs to be taught is to embrace our differences be it racial, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender expression. We live in a pluralist society. This is the reality of our nation. We are going to meet someone and most likely several someones in our life time who are not just like us. Doesn’t it make more sense to teach our children how to live in that reality rather than teaching them to be fearful of the other? Being uncomfortable is a form of fear and it is no way to live.
There is a wonderful song in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific that was very controversial when the musical came out entitled, “You’ve got be carefully taught.” The chorus is
“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught”
And so it is taught to this very day in school districts like Itawamba County, MS and in churches like Westboro Baptist Church. Fred Phelps’ Westboro church is an example of blatant hate teachings but the fear of the diversity of humanity is also taught subtly and quietly in other church communities, liberal and conservative alike. There are reasons why Sunday morning is the most segregated time in the country. Not having the skill of comfortability is one of these reasons.
I hear the lack of comfortability in Unitarian Universalist congregations when I hear comments that lash out at those who believe in God or Jesus. The people who make such comments are uncomfortable with the notion of God and Jesus as savior or even as a teacher. Being comfortable in the face of diversity is an important skill set to develop. Comfortability means to be able to be accepting of the other, honoring their inherent worth and dignity. It does not mean subscribing to the other’s way of thinking but it does mean being able to listen or be in the presence of the other without feeling threatened, with the calm assurance of being oneself.
Fred Phelps feels threatened by homosexuality. Itawamba County School District feels threatened by homosexuality. Unitarian Universalists who lash out at UU Christians, theists, and deists feel threatened by them. If this were not true, then their behavior would be vastly different. It might be hard to hear being compared to Fred Phelps if one’s anti-Christian comments are no where near extreme as Fred Phelps anti-gay behaviors. However, the root cause to all three examples given is fear and being uncomfortable of the other. We need not be this way.
If we are going to thrive in this nation we need to begin developing this skill. We need to begin teaching comfortability in our schools and in our congregations. The message is ripe for the picking. There is a lot of fear being propagated in the nation right now and it needs diffusing.
I believe Unitarian Universalism is the faith being prepared to bring such a message today. We are not fully skilled yet in our comfortability as seen by the example I gave above. Yet, our covenantal faith has been priming us to being more open to theological plurality and over all we do a fairly decent job at this. We can do better. But our developing comfortability in theological diversity is only a step towards developing comfortability in a pluralist society filled with many ideologies, many races, many ethnicities, and many cultures.
Harmony only occurs when there are multiple notes being sung. May we sing the song of comfortability and heal our nation. Blessings,