It’s No Fun Being Shunned

by Dr. Richard Boeke, Unitarian Church, Worthing Rd, Horsham, RH12 1SL

Texts: Luke 18:9-17 "The Pharisee and the Publican"

Without reconciliation
Walls of segregation
Bring our planet segmentation
We’ve been shot by the bullet of the shun.
song by Stuart Coupe

A SHUN is a weapon like a GUN. Segregation, segmentation: These are the themes of shaming and shunning: the pride of class and privilege.

It is the theme of Jane Austen Novels like PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: the dream of getting one step higher on the social ladder. Bowing to those who are above your station. Shunning those who are beneath you.

Oh, the fat EGOs which Jane Austen describes.

Every religion is full of stories of taming the EGO.

You may have watched the BBC programme on Martin Luther in February. Young Luther has lost both brothers to the Black Death. He is tormented by guilt that he is alive and they are dead. He strips and whips himself. He cries out NON SUM, NON SUM. "I am nothing, I am nothing."

In Jewish tradition there is a story of a rabbi praying before the altar, Saying "I am nothing, I am nothing." The Cantor comes up and kneels beside the rabbi and says, "I am nothing, I am nothing." The Shamus, the custodian of the temple, sees the rabbi and the cantor. He comes and kneels beside them and prays, "I am nothing, I am nothing." The cantor turns to the rabbi and says, "Look who thinks he’s nothing."

Our Bible reading from Luke's gospel has a similar theme . The Pharisee is full of himself. He says, "I thank thee, God, that I am not as other men. … I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all I possess."

Don’t we want this man in our congregation? Don’t we want someone with self-discipline and generosity? Especially when it comes time to pay the bills.

Who wants the tax collector, who admits he is a sinner? Yet Jesus says this man who asks for God’s mercy shall be justified, not the proud Pharisee: "For everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

The Pharisee shuns the tax collector. Shunning is one of the main themes of the Bible. In Isaiah, Chapter 53 is the report of the suffering servant, Used as a text in Handel’s Messiah, "He is despised and rejected of men. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."

Job is a man stricken by God, and shunned.

The traveller who had been robbed and beaten on the Jericho Road, was shunned by Priest and Levite. Only the "outcast" Samaritan had mercy.

The Puritans practised shunning. Hawthorne’s Novel, THE SCARLET LETTER, is the story of Hester Prim, forced to wear the letter A, as she is shunned by the community.

The Jews under Hitler were shunned and given a yellow star. The Homosexuals were shunned and given a pink triangle.

Recently in London, the Philharmonia Orchestra gave a series of concerts on Russian Music under Stalin. Socialist Realism was the cultural law. Composers were instructed to produce "joyful music" that glorified the Soviet State. Communism had replaced religion and Cantatas to Communism replaced Chorales to God. Prokofiev either wrote pieces like "On guard for peace," or faced exile to Siberia and death. Shostakovich was ordered to compose with melody and joy. After the death of Stalin he wrote, "It was like being whipped and ordered, You will rejoice. You will rejoice."

Unitarians have also known exile, prison and death. This congregation was founded in the time of Oliver Cromwell with the hope of Commonwealth and human equality replacing the myth of the divine right of Kings and Queens. With the Restoration and King Charles the Second, those who differed from the National Church were imprisoned like Unitarian John Biddle, and Matthew Caffyn, minister to this congregation, thrown in prison five times.

James the Second ordered the Unitarian Rakow Catechism burned by the public hangman.

Recently I met with two Quakers and a local historian. I learned that King Charles the Second was in debt to an Admiral who was the father of William Penn. To pay off the debt, Penn was given Pennsylvania as a state which welcomed Quakers, Amish, Mennonites, and other religious dissenters. A native of Horsham became treasurer of the colony and grateful citizens named the town of Horsham, Pennsylvania in his honour. Often, Unitarians and Quakers make common cause for peace and freedom. I have asked the Quakers, and I will ask our church committee to consider making a joint invitation to form a Horsham Interfaith Council, to be part of the National Interfaith Network.

Checking the church records, I discover that in the 1960s, Unitarians were accepted by most of the other churches of Horsham. But as Horsham "Churches together" was formed, the Christian Fundamentalists saw that Unitarians were excluded. Many Horsham citizens are not comfortable with this. In January one letter I received from a leading citizen said, "I do hope you will find some of the other churches in Horsham welcoming. However much the various Christian denominations are divided … they have long appeared to be united in opposition to Unitarianism – not that there is generally much interest in understanding what Unitarianism is. … Quite honestly it surprises me that more people aren’t Unitarian, when that seems to fit more naturally into a world in which Rationalism is valued - though I suppose that last proposition is itself seriously open to question." Thoughtful words from a Horsham teacher. Even if I agree with him in questioning whether we live in a world in which "Rationalism is valued." We have some friends in the United Reformed Church, which met in our building for over a year while their own church was being constructed. I attended the welcoming service for ther new minister and was well received.

For my Induction Service as minister to Horsham Unitarians, I invited three friends from the World Congress of Faiths to participate: A Woman Rabbi, an Anglican Vicar, a Muslim Imam. All three came to bless the event. I wrote to a local minister inviting him to take part in my induction. While he was willing to participate personally, he suggested I invite the current chairman of the Horsham Ministerial Fraternal. The Chairman responded with a thoughtful letter, which said, "I do not feel I can comply with your request. … The Horsham Ministerial Fraternal … very definitely would regard a commitment to the historic Christian Trinitarian Creeds as a basis for joint worship and cooperation. This means that I do not think the members would be very happy with my speaking on their behalf at what is effectively an ‘interfaith service.’" With my permission, the Chairman took my request to the Ministers Fraternal, which supported his position, that ministers might attend as individuals, but not take official part in the service. I am grateful to the two Horsham ministers who did attend. One of them was planning to take part in the service until the meeting of the Fraternal. However, then he was pressured to withdraw. The week after the service, he apologised to me and said that he was not sure that he did the right thing. I said, "I understand." And sadly, I do understand. While I do not consider these ministers enemies, I agree with these words of Unitarian poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each man’s life a sorrow and a suffering enough to disarm all hostility."

"Never held the expectation
of a closed door confrontation.
We’ve been shot by the bullet of the shun."

When shunned or treated as a scapegoat, there are several possible reactions. Like chickens in a pecking order, we can pick on someone a little weaker. Or, we can feel the pain of others who are "outsiders" and work to bring them in. This was the action of Jesus. Later in the gospel of Luke he invites an "outcast" tax collector to join him. Jesus is accused of consorting with "publicans and sinners."

For the first six years I was in school, each year we moved to a different community. Each year I started as an "outsider," trying to accepted by the local boys. The ultimate humiliation was being the one boy in a piano recital in which all the rest of the performers were girls. It was the end of my music career.

In school, I couldn’t see what the teacher wrote on the board, but I was ashamed to wear glasses. I didn’t want to be called, "Four eyes."

As I went on to college I continued with one sport few others wanted at the time: long distance running. Circling the track time after time was a kind of meditation, good for the body and good for the soul.

I went north to school and had friends of many races.

From my own experience of alienation I wanted to help others to be accepted. I became a Unitarian minister and joined in marches for civil rights and witnessed against atomic war.

I took in two students from Kenya, and learned how their black skin caused them to be rejected, even in New York City. I learned fear as white racists shot Unitarian ministers in Alabama and Mississippi. I learned respect for a man like Malcolm X, who had preached racial hate, but who came back from Mecca preaching that God accepted all races.

As I met with Muslims and Hindus, and Japanese, I learned the resentment they felt toward Christian Missionaries who preached that only Christians would go to heaven. I came to understand why they could not fully trust a fundamentalist Christian who viewed them as lost and damned. Who could treat them as "lesser breeds without the law." I learned to respect other words of Kipling:

My brother kneels, so saith Kabir,
to stone and brass in heathen wise.
But in my brother’s voice I hear
my own unanswered agonies.
His God is as his fates assign.
His prayer is all the world’s - and mine.

When we do not trust that "God fulfills himself (sic) in many ways," people sense our lack of trust. This lack of trust and respect has an enormous effect on our human relations. It is not only Western exploitation that fuels the anger that we feel today from Africa and Asia. It is also the human cry for recognition and appreciation.

The Drum Beat of Hate is empowered by those who SHUN. And, if Unitarians are shunned in Horsham, try to imagine the degree to which the Muslims and Buddhists of Horsham feel shunned.

We can "grin and bear it" as the black community was forced to do in America. Or we can follow the Quaker practice of "speaking truth to power." It is important not to get tense with anger. Anger can be more harmful than the injury which causes it. But also remaining silent and not letting people know can sicken the community. Honest dialogue is necessary for us to live together as persons. The attitude of some Christians in Horsham is in contrast to the co-operation of the seven astronauts on the space shuttle Columbia. All were of different faith communities. Yet they trusted one another and co-operated as a team. In like manner, we are called to trust and co-operate on this spaceship earth. Viewed from space, "the astonishing thing about the earth is that it is alive. … Aloft, floating free beneath … the bright blue sky. …There is no such creature as a single individual; he has no more life of his own than a cast-off cell marooned from the surface of your skin." (Lewis Thomas, author of The Lives of a Cell.)

Our world is fractured by lack of trust. Many of us do not trust ourselves. We are so afraid of being different, afraid of being shunned, we hide from ourselves in pubs or in front of television. There is an American novel about a man named George Babbitt. In the last line of the book, George says, "I’ve never done a thing I wanted all my life." Another writer tells of being at dinner in his favourite restaurant. "At the next table there was a father, a mother and a scrawny boy about twelve years old. The father said to the boy, ‘Drink your tomato juice.’ And the boy said, ‘I don’t want to.’ Then the father, with a louder voice, said, ‘Drink your tomato juice.’ And the mother said, ‘Don’t make him do what he doesn’t want to do.’ The father looked at her and said, ‘He can’t go through life doing what he wants to do. If he does only what he wants to do, he’ll be dead. Look at me. I’ve never done a thing I wanted to in all my life.’ … I thought, ‘My God, there’s Babbitt incarnate!’ … You may have a success in life, but then just think of it. What kind of life was it?" Am I willing to make a fresh beginning today? I believe that this is part of what Jesus meant when he said, "Unless you become as a little child, you shall in no wise inherit the Kingdom of God." Today, am I willing to be the person I really want to be? Am I willing to reach out in trust to persons? Am I going to enjoy the trees and flowers of this wonderful blue ball of earth?

Every so often I enjoy SHUNNING society and spending a few days in a monastery. I can understand Julian of Norwich locking herself up in a cell to enjoy the vision of the wonder of the Holy. She found that love is the essence of God: Love that reaches out to all people and to all life. Love that is not limited to any creed. A few days in retreat each year can enrich the life of anyone. We do not need to live in a monastery to experience the wonder of the Holy. Mahatma Gandhi was asked "Why do you not withdraw to a cave and live as a holy man?" He replied, "I carry my cave around inside me."

When shall I make a fresh beginning? When shall I live the life I want to?

"I tell you a great secret, my friend. Do not wait for the last judgement. It takes place every day."
- Albert Camus, The Fall.

"Let us live with affirmation.
Give us trust, give us elation.
With renewed imagination,
Heal the wounds of the bullet of the shun."–
Song by Stuart Coupe

The song of the shunned

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