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Showing posts from August, 2006

Accountability for the crimes against Iraq and the Constitution

It becomes more clear daily that war crimes have been and are still being committed against the people of Iraq, and that the Administration is conducting a illegal war and by illegal means. In Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, especially in its treatment of captured people, members of the armed forces of the United States have been given orders that violate the Geneva Conventions and have been thus, placed by the chain of command at risk of potential war crimes charges. The high officials of the Bush Administration bear the heaviest responsibility for these actions. They must be held accountable. The war in Iraq is the greatest military and political and strategic blunder made by the US in decades. It has has damaged our military, our international standing, and our overall safety. And it has brought Iraq, a nation that languished under a dictatorship before, out of its relative authoritarian calm, to the very gates of hell -- a society in chaos, disintegrating, where the lives of m…

On Vacation

This is the final week of the summer, and I am on vacation at last. As one of the few UU ministers I know who works through the summer, this one week break between the summer and the Ingathering service is always especially welcome.
We head to Minnesota, to a house on a lake to spend time with family. It's relaxing and I need it.
I always bring the wrong books on vacation. Serious books that are going to be useful for later -- I even spent some time today with a big book that I need to read for a study group. Eyes glazed over and off to sleep I went. Fortunately I have a Carl Haissan in the backpack.
I am also aware that last year on this vacation, we sat transfixed before the TV and watched the horror show that was Katrina in New Orleans unfold on the screen. I will never forget the slow emotional progression of those days. What started out as just another hurricane story on the news, turning to a serious story that required some real attention, and then on to that kind of news even…

"Islamofacsism" -- why I don't use the word anymore

In the period between 9/11 and the Iraq war, the word "Islamofascism" seemed to be a useful word -- a single word that described the anti-liberal current in some of the visible Islamic movements around the world.

But then, the War in Iraq actually happened, and then Iraq actually and really began to disintegrate into a Civil War. Most of the forces fighting against each other in Iraq could have been, or are right now, designated as "Islamofascist," including the Sunni Insurgents, the Shiite militias, the "foreign fighters", the Baathist "dead-enders." The reality of the Iraqi Civil War demonstrated that the word "Islamofascism" does not describe anything that actually exists in the real world.

Of course, there are anti-liberal and anti-modern ideas in some currents of Islam, and yes, there are some Islamic political actors who have totalitarian agendas.

Would that those who argued that "9/11 changed everything" would also rec…

Little Miss Sunshine

It's the heroin snorting, porn-addled, leather-vested, fanny-packing grandfather of Olive, Little Miss Sunshine, that is the ogre of the movie. He's played by Alan Arkin as an erupting fountain of genial obscenity. Stanley Klawans, in his Nation review of the movie, says that the no one explains the yellow VW bus, but the VW bus explains everything else, and I am following up on that comment. The bus must have been the grandfather's; there is no way that anyone else would have acquired it. The grandfather is a cartoon of the baby boomers, and the movie is about the legacy that we, the baby booming generation, have left our children and grandchildren. The movie, which is sweet and winsome, has, at its heart, a devastating critique of the Boomers, as parents. Our legacy is a VW bus which they cannot easily drive, doesn't have a first gear, has to be push-started, blows its horn uncontrollably, and when the chips are really down, the doors have to be removed for the…

Well, that was weird and unexpected

The guy selling movie tickets charged me the discounted senior citizen rate without my asking for it, nor even asking me how old I was. This particular theatre, in this particular neighborhood, classifies those over 55 as seniors, but the average age of those hanging around the theatre neighborhood seems to be about 22.

Anyway, I never got in anywhere before for the cheaper rate.

Expect many more movie reviews !

BTW, we saw "Little Miss Sunshine." A lot of familiar elements combined well.

More on that later. I gotta go to church !

What I Fear

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We have reached the point that the President of the United States and his administration no longer have any real credibility left. This has been true with the world at large for quite a while, and has also been true with the left side of the political spectrum in the United States. Now, it is true of the center, and even among some on the right side of the spectrum.

The nation has been poorly governed before, and has known that it was being poorly governed in the past, but this situation is particular and different. For it is in the matters of the utmost seriousness that this President is most untrustworthy: national security and commitment to the basic norms and covenants of democratic constitutionalism.

What I fear is that the United States will come under a terrorist attack. I believe that, at this point, so many people would doubt the official story of the event that it would trigger a political crisis.

What I fear is that the present administration would launch a preemptive at…

Unitarian Universalism in Context

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My "zeitgeist" windsock has been extended out in a new direction, which means that the weathervanes at the top of our old New England churches should start turning. I know that I tend to see the world turning more rapidly than it actually does, but it makes me alert to changes in the climate. I am the hypochrondriac canary in the coal mine -- "say guys, don't you think it smells a little funny right now?"

I want to consider the following possibility: that the long flow of the conservative reaction to the liberatory movements of the 60's has crested and is, now, ebbing. There is a lot of evidence for it, and, of course, the future has not happened yet, so I may be premature. But whether it is true now in 2006, it will be true someday, soon.

That rightward reaction, I think began in 1968, when Nixon was elected, co-opting the ideologically conservative, anti-New Deal movement of Goldwater as the ideologues of a much nastier mass movement against radicalism.…

No More Elevator Speeches !

The Lizard Eater over at the Journey contrasts the "elevator speech" (how would you explain Unitarian Universalism between the first and sixth floors?) and "testimony" (how would you explain how your faith has changed your life?). She calls for each of us to think through and write out our testimony, and provides a paragraph of instructions for thinking about one's testimony. Good stuff !

I think that she has taken an instruction for preparing Christian testimony and changed it to a Unitarian Universalist context. I guess that she did a "find and replace" of "Christian etc." with "Unitarian Universalist etc." And I guess that she did a "find and replace" of "Jesus Christ" with "my church." I don't know that for sure, but that is how it seems to me. Here is the quote.

Personal Testimony


One of the most helpful things Unitarian Universalists can do is write out their personal testimony. This exer…

Three generations, at least

Over at A People So Bold, Clyde asks the question: is the form of worship that we continue in most Unitarian Universalist congregations a product of a different time and a different social set up?

You bet.

And probably always so.

I am aware that the worship of the church I serve is speaking, with great difficulty, to at least three generations of worshippers.

There are the seniors, the boomers and the youngers. To the seniors, the form and tone of the service is crucial: they want a dignity, a stateliness, an unhurried formality; they want excellence. They want the worship service to have a smooth surface.

For the youngers, what is most important and real in the service is the spontaneous that pokes out of the smooth surface of the service -- the ad lib or extemporaneous comment, the unexpected happening. It is as though they want to see what is living beneath the surface, what is barely contained by the service.

I don't think that I could even begin to fully catalog the how the diff…

Consumerism, Entertainment and Worship

Before I was ordained, and still in seminary, a minister I knew and respected confided to me that he was afraid, at times, that he was becoming an entertainer, putting on a good show. I am aware of that in myself, as well. Certainly, I am aware that leading worship is a performance, and that people in the pews can like it, or not like it, and that they will let you know.

I also remembering preaching a sermon in a class at seminary, in which I "made 'em squirm" by being provocative and confrontational. One of my fellow students remarked that his folks "liked it when I beat em up a little" before preaching the gospel. So, there is an entertainment value even in making the congregation uncomfortable.

These anecdotes from years ago are only meant to say that some ministers have been aware of the temptation of entertaining the congregation for a while.

Recently, I hear this critique of the temptation faced by the minister sliding into a critique of the shallowness …

No, It's not true

that I killed off my old blog, Prophet Motive, because I am trying to cover up the fact that the aforementioned Prophet was on the record as endorsing Joe Leiberman for President. Really, it was just technical problems and I had run out of things to say at a certain point. And, to be honest, after endorsing Joe Leiberman for President, is there anything left to say?

I refer you to my profile regarding my claims of Olympian Wisdom.

I do believe that all of us must make a moral accounting for where we were, what we did, and what we did not do, and how we evaluated the results of our words and actions when our country permitted its government to reach out and bring the people of Iraq to the gates of hell. It was a systemic failure of our entire political culture. My congregation has heard me address my own thinking about my own practice on this question, but not yet in a systematic way. My summarization is still in process, and it is not easy.

I also think that the anti-war movement…

the Manifesto

If anyone doesn't get Peacebang's Beauty Tips for Ministers, here is the whole good news of it, summarized, enumerated, explicated, broken down for ya, encapsulated, made flesh so it might live among you, and preached without fear or favor.

Beauty Tips For Ministers: Love And Care For All Of You

Troubles in Academia

In a terse statement, it was announced that the 18 month long discussion about merging Starr King and Meadeville-Lombard have come to naught.

Both of these schools are in financial trouble.

Over 60% of our new UU ministers are preparing at other theological schools.

I am not sure that I can tell what the essential task of Unitarian Universalist scholarship is now.

The UUA gives about a quarter million dollars each year to each of these two schools, making it, and consequently, all of us rank and file UU's, stakeholders in this situation.

Elementary principles of good management suggest that it is folly to keep investing in organizational structures that are not succeeding. It seems like this is a good time to take out the proverbial blank sheet of paper and start thinking afresh about how to best spend a half-million dollars a year for the purpose of educating our future religious leaders.

Lee Barker, President of Meadville-Lombard has since sent out the following message.

Meadville Lomb…

Frank Schulman's Worship Manual

I should tell you first of all that Frank Schulman was my minister growing up. He followed my father into the pulpit of the First Unitarian Church of Youngstown, Ohio, a pulpit which became suddenly vacant as my father lasted only a year there. After a few years of wandering in the wilderness in the general vicinity of the Warren Ohio fellowship, my family joined the church in Youngstown and stayed there for 20 plus years. In a further odd circumstance, one can say that I now occupy a ministerial position that Frank Schulman occupied before he went to Youngstown.

The UUA has posthumously published a worship manual by Frank, and it may be connected to the extremely generous bequest he made to our movement after his death. So, I turn to the manual and I am completely predisposed to like it. And there is a lot of good stuff there.

But mostly, it is a picture into the mindset of a whole group of ministers who took a sceptical position, and who served as a loyal traditionalist opposi…

The Gifts and Graces of Ministry

Chutney has been writing on the question of what makes a minister a minister. In his summary post, he lists six points. The first four are general statements of the accepted opinion among free churchers and congregationalists everywhere. But in numbers 5 and 6, Chutney tosses a couple of wild pitches.

5. At times it seems we “believe” that seminary and denominational proceduralism makes someone clergy, that there is an ontological change that takes place upon the approval of academy and guild. This is not just a violation of congregationalism. Behind this notion is a hidden doctrine of “ministerial transubstantiation,” that is, the belief that the Words of Academic and Denominational Institution transform a person into the Body and Blood of Ordained Ministry.

6. Why would anyone hold this view? Because it makes them feel safe. Ministerial transubstantiation allows congregants to skip past the relationality that makes someone their minister to the quick fix of certified clerical auth…