Leader Letter

Subscribing congregations should share this letter with congregational leaders.  Being oriented to the month’s theme, and equipped to help others in the congregation get aligned with it, builds the whole congregation’s engagement with the theme.  Which, of course, means unity and energy for the community.

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"Beauty"

Dear Friends,

We know all the ways that beauty distracts us, or tempts us (to put it in moral terms).  We know the ways that beauty is bad.  Beauty is shallow.  Or it upholds oppressive ends, or oppressive structures, with its pleasing veneer.  Or maybe it’s not even a pleasing veneer, and not even beautiful: maybe beauty is a construct that has been socially developed to suit political aims.  Good liberals know, and have heard, all of this about beauty.  And yet.  We turn to it.  We go out in the woods.  We visit art museums.  We listen to soothing or wonderfully disruptive music.  We look at the faces of those we love.  And we look at people who are beautiful to us. And it makes it hard to quench our thirst for beauty.  And it makes us question, perhaps, why we should. 

In her book, On Beauty, literary critic Elaine Scarry, who teaches at Harvard University, dissects the aversion to beauty, and engages all the cautions, saying that we have been taught that beauty is inimical to justice.  We can choose one—beauty or justice—but they are at odds, right?  Scarry thinks otherwise.  You can read the book yourself, but here’s the argument in a nutshell: beauty teaches us what we love, what we love we’ll defend, and what we defend feeds into larger notions of justice. 

In other words, any work for justice proceeds from our commitments in love.  And our commitments in love are not made rationally, by sober argument, but by our heart coming alive, through beauty.  What are your notions of beauty and justice?  As you try to live the moral life, what role does beauty play for you?  This month, we’re looking at the theme of beauty.  Let’s allow it to wash over us, and then think about how it attaches to other values we hold.

Faithfully,

Jake

Rev. Jake Morrill
Lead Minister ORUUC
Executive Director UUCF
Launchpad Partner