Sunday, June 25, 2017

An Endorsement

Water, as you know, freezes at 32F degrees. 

But if you look at a cup of water which measures 36F, it is liquid. 

At 35F, it is still liquid. 

At 34F, it is still liquid, and if you want an ice cube, you are getting impatient about now, wondering why nothing is happening. 

At 33F, you think there must be something wrong somewhere. It’s getting colder, nothing is changing, it seems. 

But, at 32F, there is rapid and dramatic change. Liquid becomes a solid. The water has been transformed. A long series of incremental, quantitative changes has brought about a qualitative transformation. 

Change is gradual and continuous, but often imperceptible. However, long periods of small changes finally culminate in a transformative moment, when something long submerged reveals itself, in what seems like a wink of an eye. 
It feels like Unitarian Universalism is in the midst of one of the transformative moments of its history. 

Unitarian Universalism has always been a combination of competing impulses and aspirations. On the one hand, it is rooted in the New England elite establishment, whose customs and methods of stoic noblesse oblige suffuse it. It likes to think that Unitarian Universalism is disinterested, tolerant, above the pettiness and passions of the moment. Its self-image is respectable and even, noble. And when it acts with cruelty, or for exclusion, it does not see it, because it sees only its high motives of institutional integrity.

On the other hand, Unitarian Universalists themselves, have far outrun their establishment origins. Its most widely felt aspiration of the last century, individual religious freedom, became over time a commitment to self-determination for all, and then, a vision of the beloved community, and now the realization that the beloved community is thwarted by the systems of oppression that rule our world. If one was not looking carefully, these transitions seemed like insignificant rhetorical intensifications which changed nothing, like the difference between water at 34 degrees and 33 degrees. 

Unitarian Universalism has become radicalized in contradiction to its establishment DNA. That push and pull of its own opposing energies broke open this year over the UUA’s hiring practices, which rapidly spread into a crisis exposing the anti-blackness and institutionalized white supremacy of our systems. 

The crisis has taken its toll on Unitarian Universalists emotionally and spiritually, but a new question and possibility has come from it: what could Unitarian Universalism be if it no longer centered white people?  

What if the present generation of white Unitarian Universalists loosened their grip on the institutions of Unitarian Universalism, freeing them to become agents for, and a foretaste of, a deep global Universalism?

What is happening in Unitarian Universalism is not just happening to us, but is happening to the whole world. New leadership is emerging on a global scale. 

So I come to the task of endorsing a candidate for the Presidency of the UUA for the next six years, a period filled with the possibility of transformative, qualitative change, a time when we might be able to make an historic breakthrough to new way of being.

I don’t believe that the ways that we have evaluated candidates in the past will work in this moment in time. Experience, knowledge of the UUA systems, good proposals, even interpersonal skills will not be enough. 

What we need in the next President of the UUA is (1) the ability to see into the future and grasp what is possible now — to see what is being born as well as what is dying away and (2) the ability to lead in those breakthrough moments when water freezes, or the dams burst, or the butterfly emerges, the unpredictable and unrepeatable moments of genuine change, and (3) the ability to offer the people of world an experience of the Spirit that can hold us all steady in the struggle. 

After careful consideration, I am going to support Susan Frederick Gray. 

I think I see in Susan that ability to be present, to lead, in the unpredictable moments of real change. I see in the way that her talk seems to always return to “mission” a clarity about how we can shape the future. I think that she is brave, and faithful, and accomplished.

No UUA President can lead all of us where we don’t really want to go. But if UU’s are ready “to trust a dawning future more”, I believe that Susan Frederick Gray can lead us there.  







Thursday, June 01, 2017

The mystery of Dating the posts

I have been asked to clarify the dates on which I posted my posts of appreciation of the UUA Presidential Candidates.

I published the first four posts -- the Big Picture post, and the three appreciations on 5/21. I published the endorsement on 5/30.

Upon the request of Susan Frederick Gray, I made two corrections to the appreciation of her: the first to clarify that she did not start running for the President of the UUA in 2012, but started thinking about running in 2012. The second was to clarify that her parents did not actually divorce in her younger years, but have stayed together after a difficult renegotiation of their marriage.

I received both of these requests before I made my endorsement of her, but made the corrections after her. Blogger persisted in listing the posts in reverse chronological order.

I have now learned how to keep my endorsement at the top of my blog by saying it was published in the future.






Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Election of the UUA President -- Appreciating Susan Frederick Gray

An Appreciation of Susan Frederick-Gray


Susan Frederick Gray started to think about running for President of the UUA after the Justice GA in 2012, because of her experience in planning that event.
She was at that the Minister of First Church in Phoenix and active in immigration issues prior to the passage of SB1070, Arizona's notorious "show me your papers" bill. She was active in the first wave of Unitarian Universalist denominational intervention in that struggle.

Participation in the Immigrant struggle meant Susan's worked with local groups and leaders from Arizona's immigrant communities. It also meant negotiating the various viewpoints of stakeholders in the UUA. Yet Justice GA was seen by all as a success. Her run for the President of the UUA is based on the authority of that experience.

Susan grew up in the Kirkwood, MO church were the Rev. John Robinson was her minister. That congregation was a source of peace and support during her parents' painful feminism inspired marriage renegotiation. The church was her extended family.

Her education was in molecular biology, but a meditation practice led her in another direction. She began to hear the call to ministry during here college period.

Her church experience includes the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown, Ohio, which is the church of my childhood and youth. I try to keep that in perspective, though I do think that experience is the Rust Belt would be helpful to UU leaders.

Susan was named by her mother after the 19th century feminist icons: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She cites that feminism as the source of her passion toward social justice.
Her campaign uses these three themes: spiritually vital, grounded in relationships, organized for impact. 

The latter two relatively straightforward and represent understandings and aspirations broadly shared. Most people understand that, at least on the national level, that our work in the public square needs to done with partnerships and coalitions with others. This is one way that we recognize the limits of our particular social location. We are acknowledging the need to step back as others step up. I think that the need for partners may not be as clear to local UU congregations, which can be inwardly-focused and isolated. 

And “organized for impact” speaks to the widespread desire to be more effective and forceful. It’s a potent phrase, combining our desire to be more powerful in the public square, and our frustrations with our debilitating organizational practices. 
And “spiritually vital”?  What does she mean by that?

“By vital, I mean healthy, life-giving, essential. We need congregations and ministries that invite people into greater connection across families, generations, neighborhoods and cultures to offer a path away from disconnection and division.”

I appreciate Susan’s effort to “go there”, “there” being the most ineffable subject among us: the felt need for some spiritual leadership from the new UUA President.  I think that this is a crucial aspect of the leadership that we are looking for.

Susan’s words from her website, again:  “a vital spiritual voice that calls us toward our best selves – to articulate the power of love in the face of fear, the importance of compassion, reverence and interconnection when it comes to how we must live into the global realities of the 21st century.” 

Note the three elements there: 
1. personal transformation: “calls us to our best selves
2. highest values: “the power of love in the face of fear, the importance of compassion, reverence and interconnection”
3. Context: “global realities of the 21st century”

I appreciate Susan's formulation of this: she connects the work of personal transformation with the social values Unitarian Universalism must embody in the times we live in. 


Sunday, May 21, 2017

The election of the UUA President -- The Big Picture

Alison Miller, Jeanne Pupke, Susan Frederick Gray
I have been observing the UUA Presidential Election since it began.


Sue Phillips
In the beginning, I committed early to the candidacy of Sue Phillips, the New England Regional Lead. I had worked with Sue while I was on the Clara Barton District Board, and had come to appreciate her inspiring and enthusiastic presence, and her perspectives. 


But her candidacy ended before it could really get off the ground. It was too complicated to be both a Regional Lead on the UUA staff and a candidate at the same time, and she withdrew. 


I chose then to stay neutral in the race, to watch and observe, and to engage the remaining candidates in some interviews for this blog. To that end, I had two interviews each with the three candidates, interviewed each for the VUU, the Church of the Larger Fellowship sponsored video series. I also moderated a candidate forum for the New England Regional Ministers' Retreat, watched a live forum at the New England Regional Assembly and also watched, on video, the candidate forum at the Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism convening in New Orleans. Plus I have had other hallway and informal conversations with the candidates along the way.  

Alison Miller
In my opinion, Unitarian Universalists place their faith these day in right relationships as the primary tool of leadership. They evaluate their potential leaders on their personal qualities, specifically on the interpersonal skills. Do they have the ability to listen well, to establish rapport, to maintain boundaries, to respect others, to stay at the proverbial table and their appropriate lane, to live with discomfort and difference? UU's seem to believe that  if our leaders have these qualities, then we will able to move forward as a faith. If they lack them, then everything else will fail anyway.

We have both a negative and positive experiences to support this point of view:




Jeanne Pupke
The negative was the Board/Administration conflict in the early years of the Peter Morales administration. There was a calamitous breakdown of mutually respectful relations that was trouble for the entire Association. When Jim Key was elected, progress was made to resolving that conflict. Whatever else was going on, the lesson learned by many was that skill in interpersonal relationships was key.

Susan Frederick Gray
The positive example is the 2012 Justice GA, which could have been “a hot mess in the desert.” Having decided not to boycott Arizona, but turn GA into an engagement with the immigration issues embroiling that state, success depended on forging a GA strategy with the GA planning Committe, the UUA Board, the staff, stakeholders like DRUUM and others, Arizona UU's and Arizona Immigration activists and community representatives. but skill at relationships and interpersonal interactions allowed it to be successful. It was our leaders' skills in right relationships and interpersonal interactions that were key to Justice GA's success.

Promo for the BLUU Convening Forum
The 2016 UUA Presidential campaign has also unfolded in the context of another major upheaval in Unitarian Universalism. Criticism of the hiring practices of the Association at the highest levels has spread out into a damning critique of white supremacy in Unitarian Universalism. It has been revealed that, beneath political liberalism of the Association, there lurks an anti-blackness that manifests as a deep suspicion of black people who are Unitarian Universalist or who are interested in it. UU’s understand Unitarian Universalism as a “white” religion, and while they often bemoan that, they are discomfited by rising diversity within what seemed to be the previously white space of their faith. It is a quite a bind: UU's love their UU culture, but hate its whiteness. They yearn to be a multi-racial faith, but push away and marginalize the very people who make it a possibility. 

 White Unitarian Universalists are being called to a profoundly different way to relate to their faith community. They are being challenged to know that they don’t own their religious organization, but must share it with the global majority. And once white UU’s grasp that Unitarian Universalism is not “their” religion, and that the local UU church is not there to meet ‘their’ needs, they will hear its call to be an anti-oppressive religious and spiritual movement. For many, answering that call is a leap into the unknown. 


The leap into an unknown future involves a new set of skills in relationship building in the President of the UUA. Neither the ministers, the Administrative Staff, or the UUA Board of Trustees are the leading element in creating the UU future. The real functional leadership (the ones who are leading) are people of color in our movement, organized into various groups, none of which are named in the by-laws: BLUU, DRUUM, the Religious Professionals of Color. How the elected, official leaders of the UUA work with the real, prophetic leaders of our faith is the open question of this election.

Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective

The Election of the UUA President: Appreciating Jeanne Pupke

An Appreciation of Jeanne Pupke

Jeanne Pupke comes to the campaign for the UUA President as an experienced and seasoned veteran of the UUA’s governance. She has served on the UUA’s Board of Trustees and been chair of the Board’s Finance Committee.

She has also served as the Senior Minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Richmond, Virginia. In addition, she brings a wealth of other experience to her candidacy. She was a member of a Roman Catholic religious order, and then a business consultant, before she entered the Unitarian Universalist ministry. Jeanne is “savvy” and speaks with the authority of experience. Above all, I appreciate her experience and the tough mind it has given her.

When Jeanne is asked about the sources of her commitment to social justice, she answers first about the televised image of children beset by dogs in the Birmingham struggle in 1962. (I think that this is common of people of a certain age; those images are vivid in my mind, too.) The second thing she recalls is reading about the lives of the saints, with those strong images of courage and martyrdom. She did not mention being a lesbian in the conversation that I had with her about her deepest motivations for justice, but how could that not be a part of it.

In these appreciations, I have been trying to make as few direct comparisons of the candidates as possible, but I do think the fact that Jeanne is a lesbian has relevance. She is the candidate who was not encouraged from youth or young adulthood to be a UU minister. She had no home church minister who saw her potential. I appreciate this about her. (I also appreciate the others for their opposite experience; appreciation is not a zero-sum game.)

Another way that her Roman Catholic background reveals itself: when she talks about going to the Richmond Church, she was warned that the church was difficult for ministers. Her response was that “someone has to go.” She has a strong sense of duty. 

What I really appreciate in Jeanne is her long experience in governance in the UUA. She has had a front row seat to what has been going on back to the days of the Board/President conflicts with Gini Courter and Peter Morales. She pledges to work in partnership with the Board. She would bring a level of institutional memory and continuity with her into the Presidency, which would valuable in what will be a post-Morales, post-Key, new era. 

Jeanne has revised, sharpened, clarified her platform as the campaign has progressed. (As long as this process has been going on, it is the sign of learning.)
Now she has three main points:
  1. Creating a “commonwealth of congregations and covenanted communities” as a different way to be together than “an association of congregations.” The difference is the amount of mutual help that congregations and covenanted communities offer to each other. We build this commonwealth by listening to each others’ needs and dreams. The theme of building this commonwealth gives her an opportunity to speak directly to, and about, the work of small congregations. 
  2. Her second “Plank” is organizing the UUA for the 21st century. I have heard her talk about making better use of social media and communication to draw UU’s together and to speak to the wider world more effectively.
  3. And her third is “a faith on fire through radical inclusion.” I appreciate what I think she is driving at with this: that our habits of exclusion cut us off from the potential vitality of our faith. Resolving our white supremacy is ‘building a new way’ of being religious liberals, which will be on fire, exciting, having that quality that now seems lacking.  

I appreciate Jeanne’s experience in ministering in the epicenter of organized white supremacy in US history: Richmond, Virginia.  I wonder if skill and experience in working across the black/white divide might not be the most necessary attribute of leadership for the future. 

The Election of the UUA President: Appreciating Alison Miller

An Appreciation of Alison Miller 

Alison Miller is the Senior Minister of the UU Fellowship in Morristown, New Jersey. She is the only candidate chosen by the Presidential Search Committee who is still in the race. (For those of you who weren't paying attention many months ago, the other chosen candidate, Sue Phillips, withdrew her candidacy. Susan Frederick Gray was then urged to run, as she had been the third choice of the Search Committee. Jeanne Pupke is running through a nominating petition process.)

Alison Miller (like Susan Frederick Gray) is a child of Unitarian Universalism, having grown up in All Souls’ Church in New York City. 

She started working for Unitarian Universalism as a part-time sexton in her church as a youth, and she has worked for nearly three decades in a wide variety of projects and ministries as a lay and ordained leader.

She brings an astonishing breadth of experience to the campaign, having been involved with almost every sort of ministry that UU’s have been practicing and forming in the past 3 decades. She points out that many of them were new ministries. She was involved in the creation of an AIDS ministry while at All Souls. She created a youth ministry in New York that was very successful; she worked at the UUA in creating a campus ministry network. She currently serves as the Board President for the Church of the Larger Fellowship, during a period when the CLF has been leading the way into online ministry and worship. 

I appreciate Alison’s “worldliness” in talking about the realities of congregational life and budgeting, the ways of the UUA as an organization; the budget decisions we have made. She can get really concrete, questioning whether we resource what we say is important. Her call to increase the amount of UUA staffed with supporting worship (currently one half time position) is an example of this. She mentions the decision to not fund the Washington Office as another concrete example of not matching the funding with our goals.
In some ways, I think that Alison the most “insider-ish” candidate of the three, attuned to the nuts and bolts of the way the UUA is managed. Her long experience is one reason. Related is her experience, which she shares with several other ministers, in the UUA politics about youth and young adult ministry. I have never been able to figure out the whole story, but for many it seems to have been a formative experience. My impression is that for them, their lasting learning was that the UUA staff, structure, and budgeting process can choke off potentially powerful ministries. 

Alison’s parents came to UUism as an interfaith couple seeking somebody to perform their marriage ceremony. Their need was met at All Souls New York, and that is where they stayed and Alison grew up. Her mother is Jewish and her father Protestant. They came from different economic and social classes. Her interfaith family is an important part of her understanding of Unitarian Universalism. 

When asked about what motivates her social justice ministry, she invokes her mother’s Jewish tradition, taking from it that there is no option to quit: survival and persistence is necessary. 

I knew Alison the least when I started this process, but she is a very forthcoming and generous presence. I appreciate her natural ease as a communicator; she listens well, really engages, and always seems to have a well-formed response. She always has something to say. 

The catchphrase of the Miller campaign seems to be “make visible the bonds of love”. And the three aspirations below that are “ignite faith”, “empower change” and “advance justice.” 

There is an interesting section on her website, entitled “Together We Can”. It lists several goals that “we” (unitarian Universalists) can do. I appreciate that the list is a list of ways we can be different. It is mostly about how we are together. Together we can “free our communities to be spiritually alive”; Together we can “practice gratitude for the heritage”, etc. It is a set of practical goals for UU’s as we work together. I appreciate that she seems to recognize that we will move forward as we increase the level of our cooperation with each other. 


I appreciate Alison Miller’s deep experience in the workings of our denomination, in her confidence in what UUism could be that is based in her own life experience, and in her sense that we need to get out of our own way and get to the work ahead. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

A UU General Conference

The Board Task Force on Re-Covenanting has recommended that a General Conference be held sometime before the Fall of 2018. The recommendation is still just a sketch and not a detailed plan.

I am on that Task Force, but do not speak for it. These are ideas still in development.

I think that there are three concepts that are at the heart of the General Conference Proposal.

1. Mission Alignment.

The General Conference is not about governance; it is about mission alignment. (Rev. Ritchie brought the concept of mission alignment into our discussions. She was inspired by example of the American Baptists who see their discernment work as sitting around 'the mission table'.)

Every entity within Unitarian Universalism has a few purposes and a mission. I am not talking about mission as their idealistic aspirations, but the practical work that they do. The typical congregation has these missions: to conduct a weekly worship service, to teach UUism to their children and youth, to form and sustain a committed community through social activities and mutual support, and to engage with their wider community for love and justice through some specific projects and ministries. Forget the high-flown language--this is what they do, and where they spend their resources of time, energy, and money.

Unitarian Universalism has a mission in the world. Perhaps the document that most explains it is the Board's Ends Statement. Perhaps the Seven Principles? Perhaps it is not yet articulated concisely; it does not have to be. It is probably a waste of energy to try to get agreement on the exact language to express it.

Mission Alignment is the work of entities who share an overlapping mission to discern that mission, to bring focus to that work, to align that work with others. It is not making governance decisions, which is legislating what others have to do. It is discerning with others what ought to be done, and then each entity changing what they do to more closely work others.

A General Conference would need to be focussed on one big question to be effective. The Task Force asks for a conference to explore "what the UUA is called to be and to do in today’s world."

2. Spectrum of Practice

UU's do the work of Unitarian Universalism in many different organizational forms: congregations, covenanted communities, "independent affliliated organizations," identity-based groups, professional groups, community ministers embedded in non-UU organizations, camps and conferences, and more. There is a spectrum of UU practice, and entities all along that spectrum should be participating in a General Conference. Governance tackles the question of how all these diverse forms of organizations are represented and integrated into one organization. A Mission oriented conference skips over that question and asks what can each of these entities contribute in our mutual discernment. 

3. Network of Covenants

The goal of a General Conference is not the adoption of one big covenant, but deeper discussion and discernment about a crucial issue. The output should be the creation of hundreds of covenants between UU entities to work together in a mutually accountable agreements. The possibilities are endless, and hold the potentiality of bringing more UU entities into right relationship. 




The Board Task on Re-Covenanting is Rev. Susan Ritchie, Kathy Burek, Rev. David Miller and myself.  They are brilliant and creative.  This post speaks for me, and no one else. 


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Calling for a UU General Conference (LINKS FIXED)

I have been serving on a UUA Board "Task Force on Re-Imagining Covenant."  For over a year, we have meeting to imagine a Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations defined by mutual commitment to shared values and each other. We have been looking for an alternative to present non-profit service provider/client relationship between congregations and the UUA. We have been looking for alternatives to the membership model of participation and toward a model of shared mission.

As we thought this over, it became clear to us that UU's needed to have a different kind of discussion and in a different kind of setting. Our report became a call for a forgotten kind of gathering: a General Conference.

Our task force presented our report to the UUA at the most recent Board meeting. Of course, in the aftermath of the resignation of one President and the appointment of three co-Presidents, our report did not receive much attention.

I am publishing our report here, so that anyone can see it. It has sets forward our proposal, and our rationale for it. It also provides an historical overview of how we are presently structured as an Association.

Here it is

Recommendation: From Board Task Force on Re-Imagining Covenant.

The task force members who submitted this report are:

Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, Chair
Kathy Burek
Rev. David Miller
Rev. Tom Schade

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

White Supremacy in Liberal Religion, particularly Unitarian Universalism

I posted this elsewhere; 


To break down white supremacy in the UU hiring context, it is an unspoken (but indefensible) assumption that because UUism is "predominantly white", UU religious leaders who are white will be more effective leaders, a better fit, more likely to be team players with the rest of the leadership and less likely to run into problems with our mostly white congregants and congregational leaders. 

It is also an assumption that investment in creating congregations of color is very risky and most likely to fail. 

It is also a white supremacist assumption that most people of color are not interested in a religion like ours, therefore UU religious professionals of color are doomed to failure -- unable to minister to people of color outside our congregations and less likely than their white colleagues to minister effectively to the white people in our congregations/communities. 

These assumptions lead inevitably to the unspoken conclusion that when it comes to hiring religious leaders for the UU movement, white is better!

This whole train of assumptions and conclusions are based on the idea that liberal religion and Unitarian Universalism are culturally appropriate to white people, but not so to people of color. It's white supremacy, friends.