Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Somerset Hills

Open minds, loving hearts, helping hands


Unitarian Universalism must make the climb…without the rope…

Author Sarah Ahrens, Written Apr 27, 2017

The following exchange is between Bruce Wayne- Batman- and a blind prisoner in the “pit prison” they have been banished to by the villain Bane in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises:

Blind Prisoner: You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak.

Bruce Wayne: Why?

Blind Prisoner: How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death.

Bruce Wayne: I do fear death. I fear dying in here, while my city burns, and there’s no one there to save it.

Blind Prisoner: Then make the climb.

Bruce Wayne: How?

Blind Prisoner: As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.

I have drawn upon this particular movie scene on several UU-related occasions: delivering the charge to a congregation for a minister’s installation, a small group worship for a religious educator cluster meeting, and a large group worship for a Sunday service.  And now I’m going back to it for this blog post ahead of the first of two Sundays designated for the purpose of a #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn.

Suffice it to say, I am fan of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and the third and final installment in particular.  As the events have unfolded around UUA hiring practices and what they reveal about Unitarian Universalism’s continued immersion in a culture of white supremacy, I began to wonder if I should fear the “death” of Unitarian Universalism as an institution.  I wondered if the growing controversy, resignation by the UUA president, and other staff would precipitate a cascading series of events from which Unitarian Universalism would never recover.

And then I began to wonder if Unitarian Universalism would be better off if there were more fear at the prospect of the death of the institution of Unitarian Universalism.  Not a paralyzing fear, but a healthy fear as the blind prisoner exhorts- the kind of fear that can make one fight longer, move faster than otherwise possible.  Had I become complacent in the notion that the continued existence of Unitarian Universalism was a given?  That the structures of Unitarian Universalism would always be there?

In the movie, Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne makes multiple attempts to climb out of the pit prison while being belayed (rather poorly I might add) by another prisoner, such that when he falls while trying to jump to the final ledge out of the pit, the rope will break his fall before he would otherwise plummet to his death.  After several failed attempts to make the climb WITH the rope, and time running out on saving his beloved city of Gotham, he hears the challenge by the blind prisoner in reference to the legend that a young child was able to make the climb and the subsequent leap to freedom- without the rope.

The UU White Supremacy Teach In is another step in Unitarian Universalism’s journey to “make the climb” and undo part of the rope that is holding it back.  A minister I know once did a sermon based on, “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken”.  In this movie metaphor, unfortunately, the cord that holds Unitarian Universalism back is quite strong and is also not quickly broken.  One of those strands is white supremacy and its centering of whiteness- including the centering of whiteness within Unitarian Universalism.  (The other two strands could be argued are the centering of maleness and the centering of ministers, but those will have to wait for another blog post or two to delve into…)

That safety rope of white supremacy has helped Unitarian Universalism persist to this day- perhaps keeping just enough members and money coming in to keep things barely afloat; saying and doing things in such a way, consciously and unconsciously, that maintain “the way things are done” comfortable and familiar to the dominant white majority.  But it can hardly be said it has led to Unitarian Universalism thriving and living up to the full potential of its mission and principles.

These upcoming weekends are an opportunity for individual UUs, congregations, and the association as a whole to take the risks necessary to climb out of UU’s pit prison of white supremacy.  If Unitarian Universalism is to have a chance to “save Gotham”- to be a force to dismantle White Supremacy in the United States and the world at large- then it needs to be overcome and undone within ourselves, our congregations, and the UU institution as a whole.

I know just the run up to these teach in weekends has led to my renewed reflection on my own passive and active role in white supremacy culture– and my need to renew my commitment to undoing it.  I look forward to UUCSH’s teach in on May 7 and am eager to hear the results from the over 600 participating congregations as they engage their own teach ins.

It’s almost as if each new congregation signing up for a teach in is another voice added to a growing chorus of voices chanting…”RISE!