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Showing posts from 2007

Further on Communion

I included Levertov poem in the UUCF communion (previous post) for a reason: because it speaks to the skeptic in all of us who questions the morality of God who allows the innocent to suffer etc.

I think that this is an important question for many UU's. The poem is about the necessity of confronting the reality of suffering before it can be moved beyond, or redeemed. For over 10 years, I have reading and re-reading this poem because it shows, but does not explain, the redemption of suffering without explaining it.

The reality of the world is that there is much unjust suffering, some at the hands of human beings and some at the hands of fate.

Somehow, that suffering can, in some situations, be redeemed: creating compassion in others, gratitude. Witness the many nurses who deal with death and suffering all the time, but become even more compassionate as a result, and not more callous, which might well be a more probable result. The fact is that some suffering is redeemed -- Mandela…

Denise Levertov's Poem about Thomas

There has been some discussion on blogs and email lists about this poem that I read at the UUCF communion service in Portland, OR this spring. Much has been said about its content and tone. Read it for yourself.

Denise Levertov

St. Thomas Didymus

In the hot street at noon I saw him
a small man
gray but vivid, standing forth
beyond the crowd's buzzing
holding in desperate grip his shaking
teethgnashing son,

and thought him my brother.

I heard him cry out, weeping and speak
those words,
Lord, I believe, help thou
mine unbelief,

and knew him
my twin:

a man whose entire being
had knotted itself
into the one tightdrawn question,
Why,
why has this child lost his childhood in suffering,
why is this child who will soon be a man
tormented, torn, twisted?
Why is he cruelly punished
who has done nothing except be born?

The twin of my birth
was not so close
as that man I heard
say what my heart
sighed with each beat, my breath silently
cried in and out,
in and o…

Democrats Debate

Watching the Democrats debate last night, two thoughts:

1. the reasons why the YouTube format worked, and I think it did, is not because the candidates cannot dodge the questions raised by ordinary people, while they can snow the professional media better. The reason is that ordinary people, even internet savvy geeks, ASK BETTER QUESTIONS than our shallow media personalities. People ask about actual issues; media types ask about candidates reactions to premises created by shallow media stories.

If CNN/NBC/Fox/ABC/etc. ask the questions, they come up with questions like this: "Senator Edwards, given the stories about your haircut costing $400, how will you overcome the perception that your concern about poverty is only a campaign ploy?"

Actual people might ask something like: "Hey how about some help down here?"

Anderson Cooper always kept trying to bring the candidates back to the question asked. Anderson should butt out, once in a while. The idea that the new…

The Parallel Argument Fallacy

It is occasionally argued that since some of the arguments against legal recognition of polyamory sound like some of the arguments raised against same-sex marriage, and since same-sex marriage is OK, then polyamory must be OK, as well.

The arguments that were used by the GOP to argue for the impeachment of President Clinton sound like many of the arguments used today by Democrats for the impeachment of President George W. Bush. Does that mean that Bush and Clinton are the same?

Extending equal marriage rights to same-sex couples is not the same thing as extending marriage rights to groups of three or more. They are, at least, different enough to require some careful analysis and consideration.

Toward a Theology of Marriage -- Equality

I'm trying to deal with important stuff without being boring. So I am going to be much more pithy in my comments.

By nature, people are small group animals, kind of like apes. By nature, alpha males dominate the sexual system, with unlimited sexual access to females and subordinate males fight their way up the pecking order.

But people developed culture, long after our instinctual nature was set. Marriage is part of human culture and marriage system try to control, channel and direct our instincts to avoid conflict and increase chances for children's survival.

In the world of culture, ideas about marriage grow and evolve. Older systems make the old instincts of male power and dominance official; but newer systems, for a whole host of cultural reasons, move toward gender equality, mutuality and reciprocity in marriage. Old systems are systems of male ownership of women; new systems are mutual obligations.

I think that monogamy arose first as a way to limit the effects of comp…

Why It Matters to Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalist ministers, I think we can say, led the way among clergy, toward equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. It is something that we can be proud of. We took the lead on that because of the experience of our own gay and lesbian colleagues and congregants.

I believe that this leadership gives Unitarian Universalist ministers and congregations some moral and social authority on the question of love and marriage. In some ways, we have more authority on this question than any other question. That authority is the result of our ability to see into the essence of the question of equal marriage rights and see what was most important and true: that the desire of gay men and lesbians to form permanent, faithful, lifelong bonds was as worthy and commendable as the same desires among heterosexuals, and that it was a simple matter of fairness to extend ALL of the SAME rights to gays and lesbians. We were not alone, of course, among religious leaders to see this, and we…

Background to a Theology of Marriage

I think that it was in Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate" that I first ran across the idea that humanity had thousands of years of existence before there was much culture, in which people acted according to their genetic code, or instincts. What we are "hard-wired" to be. He summarized what I am sure is a mixed lot of anthropological theories to the point that we, probably, functioned as a small group animal with some variation of what we see in other small group animals.

I have taken this insight as the starting point of the anthropology upon which I based my theology. Rather than starting from the position that human beings are essentially good, or human beings are essentially evil, I try to start from the point that human beings are essentially small group animals, with all the virtues and vices of small group animals. What seems to us to be best about human beings: cooperation, altruism, self-sacrifice, capacity for love, compassion are all the emotional…

Toward a Theology of Marriage

These are more notes toward a theology of marriage.


People are not naturally monogamous.In the state of nature, before culture, we lived as herd or pack animals with a sexual system similar to apes, chimps, horses, dogs etc.Alpha males, alpha females, subordinate males and females, unequal sexual access. With the rise of culture and religion, people developed more ordered sexual systems, including marriages of all types.Religion is also a product of the same development and, among other purposes, provides a moral and ethical authority for the new sexual systems.The fact that we are, by nature, one way, and have chosen, by culture, to live another way is the source of our divided selves – temptation, sin, etc.Marriage systems keep changing to fit the needs of the culture, while retaining a moral aspect – however the marriage and sexual system changes, humanity cannot go back to the state of nature regarding sexuality, hence there will remain a moral component to thinking about sexual r…

This is How You Say No

When the issue of Multi-partnered Relationships first surfaced among the UU's, there was a high level of consternation among the ministers I know and talk with. Somebody, probably more than one somebody, said, "the problem is that we don't know how to say 'no'." This is an observation that I have heard more than once, and about more than one issue.

The reason why I have been devoting as much time and energy to a discussion of multi-partnered relationships has been to publicly engage in the practice of saying 'no' to a group of people who are trying to set our agenda for us. The liberal tolerance of the many, combined with the fervent advocacy of a few, would result in the tail wagging the dog.

A friend comments " You are awfully brave to be banging your head against this particular brick wall, LT. And during your vacation, too!"

One, I am not on vacation, since I my arrangement is that I work in the summer.

Two, this is not a brick wall.…

Just in Case you Miss the Point

Trivium condescends and plunges to the depths of my soul.

Sorry, I learned a long time ago that if I wanted to have a serious relationship to anything difficult: race, sex, class, sexual orientation issues, marriage issues, or with anyone different than myself, I would have to conquer my fear of being called a bigot.

That didn't take long

In a recent post, I compared the best-case-scenario argument that some Multi-Partnered Relationship advocates make to the argument that the kind of argument that anti-gun control advocates make when they say that lots of people should carry guns, but they should all be well-versed in gun safety and law-abiding.

Of course, now someone is claiming that I have compared the sweet and healing love of poly relationships to loaded guns, weapons of destruction.

I am comparing the kinds of arguments being made, not the substance of the arguments, as a careful reader will readily see.

There are none so prone to see offense in the comments of others as those whose argument depends on being seen as a victim. It is an essential feature of the passive-aggressive stance that the MPR advocates are taking relative to the Unitarian Universalist movement. Prove to us that you are not bigoted and prejudiced against us! And the only way to prove that is to agree to our central claim, which we have not ot…

Don't Bring that Bogus Game into My House

Having read over the many contributions and comments on Multi-Partnered Relationships that have come in, I want to repeat this.

I am not persuaded at all by arguments that work from a best case scenario. I am especially not persuaded by a personal testimonial which leads to a best case scenario to a conclusion that there could be no social danger from abandoning our cultural standard of monogamous fidelity in marriage. To me the argument is like this:

We keep loaded guns in every room of the house where we also run our day care center. However, we have all taken numerous gun safety courses and have instructed our children in gun safety practices. We are also Quakers and don't believe in violence and never get angry with each other over anything. We have lived our lives with loaded guns in the playrooms for years and have never had a problem. We think that it should be OK for anyone who wants to keep loaded guns in the nursery, because it has worked so well for us.

If you t…

SICKO and a health care reform Primer.

I saw Michael Moore's SICKO last night and it is good movie, well worth seeing.

I had the good fortune to work for a Benefits Consulting company during the early 90's when Health Care Reform was proposed by the Clintons. Not only did the company prepare daily briefings for our employer clients about all of the aspects of the health care reform process and the politics of it, they made these available on our PROFS internal email system for any associate who wanted to read them. So, even though I was a low level manager of computer operators, I had the opportunity to read these daily briefings. For months, I was hooked on them, partly because I am a political junkie and wonk, but because my job did not fully challenge my intellect.

There will be a lot of discussion about health care reform after SICKO.

Some things to know and remember.

There are basically four sectors of the Health Care Industry: The Insurance Companies (Moore's target), the Providers (Doctors and Hospit…

What makes a Person a Poly Person?

Many marriages in recent decades have ended because one partner or the other acknowledged that they were, by nature, gay or lesbian. Often part of the process that led to that acknowledgment was sexual activities that violated the marriage vows of sexual fidelity. As a general rule, many consider these vow breaking acts to be less of a betrayal than heterosexual adultery, because it is understood that the marriage vows were in some way less than fully binding because they contradicted one of the party's basic nature. We now presume that gay or lesbian sexuality is part of someone's nature, whatever that is. One can't be expected to keep a vow that contradicts one's basic nature.

Many of the arguments that the affirmation of multi-partnered relationships is warranted, necessary and socially beneficial include the notion that some people are "poly people" and that to expect a "poly person" to uphold monogamous marriage vows is like asking a gay pe…

In defense of my mother

I have been away from my computer for 24 hours, but am working through the comments about multi-partnered relationships, and will post on the arguments that I think merit further discussion soon.

But before I begin on that, let me clarify my comment that I think of my mother's advice on "what if everybody did it?" to this question.

I follow this logical path.

Assuming that I have been discussing Chris, Pat and Lou who are members of my church and in a multi-partnered relationship, and beyond saying that they seem like nice people who are performing no harmful acts and good manners suggest that we not make a lot of judgments about things not our business, but go on to say, "Multi-partnered relationships are, in general, just as good as two person relationships."

To me, and permit me to think like a minister now, it follows that if Chris, Pat and Lou want to perform an unofficial "wedding" or "Union" ceremony, then I should perform it. And I …

Starting a Discussion about Multi-partner relationships

Voicing the suspicion that the Independent Affiliate disaffiliation has actually been an institutional and administrative dodge to the question of polyamory and the UUPA has, as could be expected, kicked off a discussion of the same subject on this blog. So be it.

Some of where I am coming from.

1. Monogamy has been the norm in this culture for a long time. It is a restraint in that it does not come easily to everyone. It chafes. It calls for self-discipline.
2. Other cultures practice various forms of polygamy, and that is usually to the detriment of women. How this works out in the new global culture coming is anyone's guess.
3. There has been, also, a bohemian rebellion against monogamy among the more privileged sets for quite a while under a variety of names: free love, open marriage, and now "polyamory". Polyamory is a neologism -- a new and made up word which carries within itself a loaded message. Who is against more and many loves? The question is not how …

Guest Posting from Robert Jordan Ross

A report from a meeting held at GA which indicates Meadville Lombard's plans for the future in the new and unsettled field of Unitarian Universalist Theological Education. I pass it along as a way to provide a forum for discussion about that subject. My thoughts and approach in a separate post.

Power, centralized? [Written 23 June, A.D. 2007]

I was a guest today at perhaps the best development presentation I have
have ever witnessed. The leaders of Meadville Lombard Theological School
(MLTS) held a breakfast presentation at the Doubletree Hotel in
Portland, Ore. Although it was at 7:00 a.m., a large banquet hall was
nearly filled. The program began on time, with excellent singing, clear
words of welcome, a good invocation and a step-by-step message of the
school's planned future. Interspersed video presentations gave life to
it all and the morning closed with a request for pledges that left most
of us wanting to sign the family farm away to them.

All this was one event at the Genera…

Heretics long ago, but now, not so much

Is Unitarian Universalism heretical in any real sense today?

Unitarianism and Universalism were originally defined by "heretical" doctrines: anti-trinitarianism and universal salvation. And during the 19th century especially, the disputes between the heretical Unitarians and the heretical Universalists against the orthodox were potent and real issues.

But one of the consequences of modernism is that almost all of Christianity has made the move that Tillich made in that Christian doctrines are now understood to be not as actual descriptions of physical and historical realities, but as a set of metaphors which are interpreted as describing the existential realities of human life. Almost all Christians understand almost all doctrines as subject to existential and psychological reinterpretation.

The liberal and mainline Protestant churches are quite open about what they are doing. And even among the Barthian proclamationists, there lurks the same remove from actual reality. …

The most obvious theory about the IA mystery and what it means

One thing that Gini said at the meeting was that the UUA board did not want to have to ride herd on 60+ IA's, and so it would be a good thing if there was a Council of Theologically based Organizations to handle its own membership requirements. In other words, the proposed Council could decide who was in and who was out.

A long time ago, a friend of mine, who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons, and I had a good laugh about starting a UU affiliate of Devil Worshippers, complete with our story of exclusion and oppression by mainstream religion, to satirize what we saw as the UU inability to set any sort of boundaries. (We even had a name, "the LUUciferians"). We abandoned the plan because we were afraid that no one would get the joke. (And we hadn't been through the MFC yet.)

Well, apparently, the Council of Theologically Based Organizations will be the body to guard the door against the LUUciferians.

Now, the recurring suspicion is that all of this is the B…

The Independent Affiliate mystery deepens

Along with a couple of other leaders of the UUCF, I went to a networking discussion convened by Gini Courter, UUA Moderator, about the Independent Affiliate question. Also at the meeting were leaders of the UU Buddhist Fellowship, one or more the Humanist organization, a leader of CUUPS, a leader of UU for Jewish Awareness, some from the Psi Symposium and a leader of the newish Mystics group.

While the Board was not meeting to vote on most of our IA statuses, it was pretty clearly telegraphed that they would be denied. And it was made abundantly clear that the meeting did not have the purpose of discussing, defending, justifying, or explaining those pending decisions of the Board. In fact, Gini Courter made it clear that given the demands on her time at GA, just convening this meeting was a powerful act of generosity and graciousness.

I like Gini Courter and think that she is doing a good job. Sometimes doing so requires a significantly greater degree of intentionality than othe…

It really happened

So, I am presiding over a religious service at GA this year. And my lovely and faithful co-officient is a well-known blogger famous for her savvy advice about fashion, beauty and the importance of making the small sacrifice of looking like a religious leader.
So I mention that we will be robing for this event, inasmuch as it is a religious service. She says, in that little voice "Do I have to?" Sigh. Another Sigh. O, I guess so."
I swear it really happened. If I hadn't summoned a semi-stern look, but told her that a stole, a mu-mu and some crocs would have been OK, I think that she would have gone for it.
The meaning that I draw from this tale is: we all struggle with temptation, even those who lead.

Mercy Mercy Mercy.

Don't try this at home

Michael O'Hare, at a site I like to read "The Reality Based Community" hits the perfect level of sarcasm in this post about today's political/media climate.

Once upon a time, people made their own music in their living rooms with friends, or went out in the park to throw a ball around. The music they made required a lot of practicing and was still never really good; no-one I knew could play any ball game as well as even a middle-rank NFL player. Now, thank God, we have a few certified specialist experts making wonderful music for our iPods, and playing superb ball for us all to watch, and we can do it alone, which saves no end of taking care of other people's feelings. How could anyone want the art, or sports, of a great nation to be mostly made ineptly, by anyone and everyone, taking a lot of time that could be spent on the job? Surely it's better for all of us to leave this kind of thing to the few stars who are better than we could ever be. Kids used to h…

Phil is perceptive again but what is next?

Philocrites puts a name to the long standing "parties" in UU politics: the "denominationalists" and the "congregationalists." These have been evident to me ever since I came back into Unitarian Universalism in 1989, after a 20 year absence. But this understanding of the competing groups is an elaboration and outgrowth of older contradictions.
I rejoice in the apparent victory of the "congregationalists". I think that it is super that the Board, the officers and the staff now remember that the role of the association is to serve the congregations. I have been pleased to see that the Commission on Social Witness process gives much, much, much more weight to the participation of congregations in developing our public stances and public ministry.
What comes next? Two things: one is looking beneath the rhetoric to where the power actually goes as processes change. The second is understanding how "congregationalism" means empowe…

One meaning of the Independent Affiliate mystery

Henceforth, all things, great and small, done in the world of official Unitarian Universalism will be done in the name of the "congregations." Just as every time the Secretary of State goes to a Mideastern capital, they do so "to advance the peace process", so will all decisions be done to "serve the congregations."

The disaffiliation of Independent Affiliates is between the UU Board and the Independent Affiliates. The concrete resource in contention comes down to the presumptive program slot that an IA has at the General Assembly. Just below the surface is the ability of an organization to claim some sort of official relationship with the UUA simply by mailing in a few words and a hundred bucks. The Board realized that was an invitation to potential embarrassment, a wise perception.

But I cannot see for the life of me how the congregation I serve has a dog in that fight.

Congregational Power has been on the banner of most of the people who have been cri…

Serving Congregations?

Well now, it seems that just everyone buys this new mantra that the purpose of the UUA is to 'serve congregations' and therefore, it makes perfect sense for the Independent Affiliates to show that they 'model interdependence by engaging congregations' or some such pile-up of verbified nouns and nounified verbs that pass as UU-speak. Everyone is buying the basic stated premise of the "Massacre of the Independents."

OK, I am being a bit strident, but I am feeling so ironic that it is causing narcissism in that all compasses point to me.

My point: organizations are complex environments and an interdependent web in which each part and parcel may have many roles and results. Precipitious change in the environment can throw the whole balance of nature out of whack.

So what role do the IA's play in the overall environment of the UUA?

1. They are intellectual centers. Congregations are not intellectual centers in which new ideas are developed, and old traditions …

Henry Louis Gates' Bag Party

Jfield comments on how recent the use of the brown bag as a measuring rod has been, saying that Henry Louis Gates, Jr. experienced it in the Ivy League.

Here is Gates describing the incident on Book Notes, in an interview with Brian Lamb.

When I was at Yale, for example -- I went there in '69 and...

LAMB: Undergraduate?

GATES: Undergraduate.

LAMB: Studying what, by the way?

GATES: American history, though I took a lot of Afro-Am courses on the side, but I was a history major. I remember the first year I was there -- the first month I was there, we had this special meeting of the Black Student Alliance to talk to the black men -- young black men from New Orleans, some of whom were very light complected. And they wanted to have something called a bag party. So, you know, what's a bag party? They wanted to put this paper bag over the door and anyone who was darker than the paper bag couldn't get into the party. So, you know, I looked at them -- I was secretary of the Black Studen…

Brown Bags

Ok, I will get into this one as well.
For those who stepped out briefly: here is the backstory.

Melissa Mummert, in a sermon reprinted in Quest, describes Starr King School for the Ministry's decision to cease using the phrase "brown bag lunch".

Peacebang comments on this, and not in a supportive way.

Much commenting ensues. Most of it is a defense of SKSM's curriculum's focus on anti-oppression.

My interest was piqued by the blog entry of the Left Coast Unitarian.

Key paragraph:

For me the actual matter of dispute is fairly simple. If a person of color, especially an elder, suggests that a particular term is not the most inviting way to title or describe a gathering, I will take them at their word absent a good deal of evidence.

On a very small scale, herein lies the weakness of much of the anti-racism and anti-oppression work that has been done among Unitarian Universalists in the 21st century. This paragraph describes an asymmetrical relationship and a lack of mutu…