Friday, August 26, 2016


The woman in the centre is Eloise Cobell
Who sued the United States of America and won.

Where I live on the East Slope of the Rockies is right at the edge of the Blackfeet Reservation.  Because European law was largely based on genetic descent from legal marriage as a way of controlling inheritance, particularly inheritance of power as in the case of kings, the military and religious authorities addressing the remnants of the decimated indigenous people were particularly concerned about who was “married” and who was the product of an unlawful relationship and who was actually produced by a lawful relationship by a dalliance outside the marriage.

To remind us of the context of the times, among the tribal warriors there was a high likelihood of death, so men who didn’t die would accept “marriage” to their brother’s wives and children, which mostly meant taking on the burden of feeding and protecting them.  When this custom developed, there was no city hall, no paper giving permission, no one keeping records until the missionaries came.  

When the government, through the military, had killed most of the warriors, they accepted the obligation of feeding the impoverished and displaced women and children, the old and ill still suffering from white diseases, they had to first make a list of who deserved “commodities” promised in treaties as a way of ending the military expenditures that were draining government budgets.  

This grudging bunch of administrators immediately set about making lists of those who were entitled by their belonging to the tribe (or what was left of it) but there were no citizenship papers for tribes.  And tribes are not defined by boundaries, but by relationship to the center, usually a nucleus of families.  The generals fell back on provenance: who was descended from whom.  Their conscientiousness required that they determine who was “married” to whom and “marriage” by definition meant to them one man plus one woman.

So they had to explain to the polygamous chiefs, who got to be the chief by sustaining so many people, that they could only have one wife.  They would have to choose ONE woman.  One chief — some say it was Sitting Bull — finally said,  “All right.  I’ll do it.  But you have to tell the wives I don’t pick.”

Somewhat parallel, a wise person once explained to me that ministers (and other people of power) must not fuck a parishioner unless they are willing to fuck them all, not because of religious scruples but because providing for one person’s needs and ignoring the others would really screw up the social dynamics of the group, which would seriously damage the annual pledge drive.

Expectations are a huge part of human life, especially when the context is religious because religious institutions as well as individual expectations are distilled and intense, but rather unlikely to match the realities.  In the case of intimate relationships, biology is always interfering and so is the resulting economic necessity to produce and feed children.  This depended upon the fertility and gestational capacity of women and the men’s ability to capture and keep women.

In those days a high proportion of women died in childbirth, so second and even third wives had to be taken.  Extended families with unmarried adults who could pick up the slack did better than those who had to settle for grudging and incompatible legal replacements.  Sometimes those children ran away; we have no idea how many simply died from neglect, misuse, and failure to thrive due to a failure to form any expectation but misery.  This continues in spite of birth control and the female ability to earn her own money.

Marriage is social, a group definition of recorded legal liabilities and advantages.  American laws at all levels are likely to embed in themselves various privileges and obligations — social expectations mostly about money (taxation, SSI) but also legal things like testifying in court.

Biology includes the phenomenon of love that some thinkers call “limerence” — “the state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one's feelings but not primarily for a sexual relationship.”  It’s genetic, hormonal, related to “bonding” or “attachment” and some say it usually persists about four years, if you can go by divorce statistics in a world where ending a marriage is relatively easy.

Many people, sitting in a pew closely watching a preacher for an hour every week, find themselves developing “limerence” towards that person.  They “have a crush,” the way they might feel about a movie personality or a rock star.  But it seems real and results in expectations.  Part of the reason for the huge taboo on either the minister or the parishioner acting on this is that it only lasts four years.  Maybe less.  If the minister is suddenly pitched out of the pulpit, so that his/her social status and earning capacity is ended, limerence evaporates.    For those who expect their intimate partners to be like their parents— or maybe like their parents ought to have been — the disappointment is likely to be bitter but provide income for therapists, lawyers, and UU district execs.

The crater of Mt. St. Helens

I gratefully recall a sad and bitter conversation with Emil Gudmundson, district exec, at the top of the stairs in Fleck House, back in the day when the UU’s actually owned property and provided for their ministerial students.  My granddaughter  — actually a step-grand — was being buried back in Portland as the result of what was suspected to be vehicular suicide.  I didn’t have enough money to go, though I’d been close to her.  Also, Mt. St. Helens was erupting, killing many people and changing the landscape forever.  The events seemed related.

Emil entered my sadness with me.  Being a frank and brave man, he confessed that his psychological impulse was always to offer the comfort of his body.  But he never did because he knew it would bring damage to his wife and to his religious community.  He just wanted me to know that he felt badly for me.  He’s been dead a long while and no account of him betraying expectations or standards has ever surfaced.

From my side I longed for my ex-husband, the woman’s grandfather, who had called me to give me the news.  He had been generous with the consolation of his body, which didn’t agree with my expectations, but I never did get over the limerence.  He’s been dead for seventeen years and I still feel it.  So did the other wives.  

Bob Scriver, scuptor

I have never understood the vengeful intensity of peoples’ reaction to other people’s intimate relationships and missteps.  Heartache ought to be considered punishment.  Surely violations of the rules should be judged by a jury of peers (the Fellowship Committee) and be proportionately punished after confrontation by the accusers.  That’s Law 101, a matter of written social consensus in a democracy, not ideological condemnation from an emotional point of view that privileges one class of people (female parishioners) over another (clergy).  It seems to me a reversal of the claim that powerful people are entitled to take both money and services from those “beneath” them when students try to control administrators.

Lately there seems to be an insistence that laypeople must control the clergy, hold them to higher standards, but not higher esteem than those who didn’t have the privilege of a fancy education.  (We’re talking about UU clergy, learned ministry, grad school and doctoral level diplomas.)  And certain people insist that women in general are entitled to higher esteem than men.  This is represented as “equality.”  Clergy shouldn’t consider themselves “better than” anyone else, though the indignant ones seem to feel that’s not true of themselves, ordained or not.  “You are our servant,” they say.  “We pay you,” which sounds a lot like “we own you.”  

I walked.  I’m living on the greener side of the fence, though the green is not from money nor envy.  The turning point came at a workshop for ministers about understanding spouse abuse.  They drew concentric circles and put the receiver in the middle.  “It’s about limits and control,” they said.  At first the abuser is permissive.  Then they begin to impose limits: budgets, schedules; pretty soon it’s clothing standards or objections to certain friends; then your music is offensive and your cooking is inadequate;  pretty soon you call your mother too often . . .  and before long there are small violences that grow into broken bones and bruised faces. 

Now I feel a certain obligation to stand up for those that accusers are still trying to control.  But I also see that the larger society is in witch hunt mode.  If you were amused about the story of Blackfeet and monogamy, you need to hear the bitterness and violence of the present generation as they struggle to divide entitlement to the wealth of the corporate tribe.  Now blood draws to prove parentage confront traditional accounts of whose baby you are.  The U.S. government dodged the bullet by passing a law that tribes define their membership.

The old warriors of the UU community are unable to protect the young ones entering the ministry or those of their cohort caught in the Sexual Revolution and the suddenly changed rules.  Emil and I sat at the top of the stairs in Fleck House, looking through the tall window across the street at the imitation cathedral that is First Unitarian of Chicago, while the sadness and loss of being human enfolded us quietly in the twilight.

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