Philomena, our adult son Andrew and I just returned from a week at the Chautauqua Institute on the western banks of Lake Chautauqua in far western New York near the border with Pennsylvania. This was our third visit in as many years. The first year I went as the UU minister of the week, staying at the UU house on the grounds, one of 22 denominational houses among up to five to seven thousand guests during the summer. Last year, my father and sister joined us in a house we rented together as we did again this year. Chautauqua is a lovely place to have a family reunion for a week.
There are few places in the world quite like Chautauqua. It started in 1874 as a Methodist Sunday School camp meeting that had immediate popularity. Almost immediately the leaders started building buildings and participants began building houses. Over the years it evolved into a 9 week summer program starting at the end of June and going through August. Each week has a theme with a featured speaker each day in the newly renovated Amphitheater that seats up to 4400 people. There are afternoon speakers as well in the outdoor Hall of Philosophy. In the evening there are entertaining performances that include their own orchestra. We heard a delightful Beethoven festival with three concerts this past week along with an acrobatic group from China. This is mixed in with opportunities for worship, meditation and yoga in different spiritual and religious venues.
The overall experience is a feast for the mind, the senses, and the spirit. It feels like participating in a utopian interfaith spiritual community I wouldn’t mind living in all year around. Sadly the price of admission to this delightful experience isn’t cheap when the cost of accommodations is factored in. Still, I find it a wonderful experience each year in a beautiful setting (find out more at chq.org).
Our theme of “week five” was the “Ethics of Dissent.” We heard from historian Ralph Young who reminded us that the United States was born of dissent and hasn’t stopped dissenting. In fact the freedom to dissent has been one of the marks of our civil society. I was very interested to learn from Rev. Dr. Otis Moss how Marvel Comics have voiced dissent through their characters from the beginning. I hadn’t realized the back story for the X-Men was civil rights era racism. And I learned about new characters to check out like Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. As someone who never read comic books, I regret the education in dissent I’ve been missing.
We learned about an organization called PEN America from its executive director Susanne Nossel that defends writers around the world and here at home against censorship. We heard contemporary Black voices of dissent Edwin Lindo, Tamika Mallory and Sean King and a controversial columnist for the New York Times, Bari Weiss, discussing seven “dirty” words for the progressive world today (teaser alert).
Some of what I gleaned and the books they wrote and referenced all went in to my digital assistant’s memory for future use in a sermon series I’m planning for November on the state of America today, what’s wrong, what’s good, and what needs transformation (with our help). I enjoy Chautauqua even more knowing I can bring some of it back to share with you on Sunday.