This world. This place. This life.

Thinking about (mis)appropriation


Today, as my mind wandered away from my once-again yoga practice, I found myself thinking about religious (mis)appropriation.

Lent has been on my mind lately––partly because it is Lent, but mostly because other UU bloggers have been writing about it.

This year, Ash Wednesday fell on the same date as Losar, commonly known as the Tibetan Buddhist New Year. I’d never heard of Losar before this year––but I learned a bit about it from Dolma, a Sherpa Buddhist blogger.  Among other things, she writes, “During Losar we aim to begin the New Year with a fresh start, which is represented through purification pujas and other traditions like cleaning your entire house and wearing new clothes.”

It sounded to me a bit like Lent. Not that the rituals were the same, or the religious teachings. It felt like perhaps the two shared a common human longing, tied to this time of year.

I know it’s a longing I feel when the light turns, and hope for spring begins to stir. It’s the root of my return to yoga, and it strengthens my commitment to my new writing group.

I began to wonder if Unitarian Universalists could forge new rituals for this time of year, coin a new name for this season where we long for new life, and find the strength to prepare for it.

Then I thought of how our Unitarian and Universalist traditions have too-often succumbed to the temptation to meld religious traditions together, to say, “It’s all one thing.”  Even though it’s not.

And that brought me to religious (mis)appropriation. To the problem of cherry-picking the parts we like from other religious traditions, without really understanding their context, or respecting the whole fabric of those traditions. To the reality that too-often (mis)appropriation is an act of the privileged––another in a long line of thefts.

But then I started thinking about Christianity, the religion from which Unitarian Universalism came. And all the things that Christianity (mis)appropriated––from the very beginning.  It seemed a bit ironic to me, that after all these years, we’re suddenly worried about it. If we stripped away all that we’ve ever taken from another tradition, what would we have left?  And who is this “we” I’ve been talking about, anyway? How do we decide what belongs to whom?

You see, when my mind wanders, it goes on quite the walkabout.

Back to the breath, the body, the stretch, the stillness.

4 thoughts on “Thinking about (mis)appropriation

  1. I worry about misappropriation also, but we are inspired by other traditions – and it would be a pretty boring liturgical year if we could only celebrate authentically UU holidays and traditions. 🙂 Flower Communion and ….

  2. I don’t look upon ‘misappropriation’ as theft but as a borrowing. I assert there is one light out there for all of us to see by. None of us can see everything. But I think we each should feel a drive to peek through many different windows in order to see as much as we can. We, each of us, will undoubtedly find that some windows are more translucent than others possibly. Nonetheless, it behooves us not to limit ourselves the choices we have.

  3. You’ve both alluded to what I’m trying to say–that the boundaries between what’s learning from others, and what’s misappropriation, are sometimes blurry. Easy to see the extremes. More difficult in the middle.

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