Measured Extravagance

14 April 2003 - 12:14 a.m.

Lately I've been thinking that, at some point (we're talking five, seven, possibly even ten years down the line) I am going to end up either writing several articles and/or coordinating some seminars on religious pluralism in Nashville and the South. I'm already being pulled in that direction - I got to glimpse some of the archival material of my own church earlier this year while doing some work for the capital campaign, and the Denominational Affairs chair and I have been chatting on and off about ways to educate the congregation about the history and operations of the UUA and the CSW. I'm not interested in discussing the institutional aspects of Unitarian Universalism for their own sake, but my perception that many of the congregants would care very much (and thus become involved) about things like the drafting of Statements of Conscience on their behalf if we were able to give such activities a higher profile. (To be frank, I think a number of members would be intrigued and I'm dead certain others would be utterly horrified.) It's going to have to be Other People's Job for the near future, but I'd like to make the time to become one of the resident experts later on down the line.

That's one thread. The other comes from stumbling across the existence of multiple Messianic Jewish congregations in town while looking up this year's community seder options. I hadn't realized that there were enough Jews for Jesus in the county to generate at least three groups, which in hindsight seems rather dense of me(*), but it does boost my desire to learn more about the different strands of Jewish observance in town (one of the local rabbis wryly observed that, as one goes further left (west) down West End Avenue, the synagogues become more liberal: the shul is closest to downtown; the conservative synagogue is a few blocks to its left; the Reform Temple is a few miles further down the road, and the Reform congregation that split off from them is "even more out there," practically in the suburbs). And the library has shelves upon shelves of books on the schisms and controversies and growing pains of some of the Christian congregations in town, and I'd like to get to them someday, and as long as I'm doing the reading, it seems an article or course out of that could help sharpen other folks' perspective on living in Nashville and the South, and what it's been like for other people to cope with both intra- and inter-faith issues.

On a less high-falutin' note, I fancy there'll be some kindred spirits who'll simply be entertained.

Anyhow, this is all further on down the road for me - the reading list for my existing projects is several years' worth long as it is, and there's no sense (and a good deal of potential harm) in not doing this well when I finally get around to it.

In the meantime, I've done a fair amount of non-intensive cooking this weekend: sesame-cucumber salad for a church dinner, a pork-and-mushroom soup (to use up assorted perishables in the fridge), and a buttermilk chess pie. Some lettering, some writing, some volunteer work, some reading. I also treated myself to an Orangina and a hot cross bun at Provence, and went to a program at the public library featuring photographers who'd worked for The Nashville Banner (a now defunct daily); John Morgan, the eldest photojournalist on the panel, had started at the Banner in 1934 as an office boy. The guys reminisced about the flammable qualities of flash powder (Don Foster remembered it scorching a hole through the shoulder of his jacket; another recalled accidentally staining a ceiling with a burn); the center panelist (Jack Gunter?) talked about fishing a bag containing crime evidence out of a snake-infested pond; there were slides of photos they'd taken as combat photographers in WWII and "the Korean conflict" as well as those of presidents visiting Nashville, governors on victory nights and on trial, tennis and basketball players, buildings on fire, the first day of school integration and scenes from the local sit-ins. . . I'd had less than three hours of sleep last night and the room was cold, so I didn't manage to stay awake through all of it, but of what I heard - it's an interesting town, this. There were several different breeds of Southern accent in that room, and it's been a while since I've been around anyone who felt obliged to abbreviate a particular expletive "G.D.", and walking to and from the auditorium I passed the now-familiar, still-compelling posters promoting "Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers" and Katharine Cornell and the other celebrities that had performed at the Ryman during the first half of the 20th century.

So much material. So many possible stories. Such a small percentage of what mattered.

(*) Granted, I have no doctrinal or emotional interest in Messianic Judaism, so there wasn't any reason for me to look them up, but it feels just a trifle strange not having even thought about it until now.

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