Showing posts from 2013

Liberals and "Internalized Oppression"

I argue that liberals suffer from 40 years of conservative vilification and mockery.  We second-guess ourselves, doubt our own legitimacy, try to appease our critics and speak and act with caution.

Commentator Clyde suggests that I might be talking about what oppressed people called internalized oppression.
I am reluctant to use those words; being demonized and scapegoated by your political opponents is not really oppression.  Oppression is much more serious; let's not make that word too thin, but making it cover too much ground.
But it is internalized something.
A synergy between right and left works to make liberals doubt themselves.  
Take, for example, the charge that the anti-Vietnam war movement was motivated simply by middle-class students' fear of the draft.  It came first from the leftwing of the antiwar movement, as a challenge for us to look more deeply at the war. The war wasn't wrong because it relied on the draft, but because it was an imperialist war, being …

Why We Are Cynical About Ourselves

I have made a simple call that Unitarian Universalists move to express solidarity with low-wage workers, the working poor and poor people. To be clear, I meant solidarity in a fairly conventional political sense: expressing support for, and organizing support for, reformist proposals to improve the economic circumstances of the working poor. I did use the word solidarity deliberately, because I think that the capacity to feel solidarity with others is an essential virtue of the liberal character, and one that we ought to encourage.  But I don't mean mind-melding, or thinking that we are who we are not, or telling people on the front lines how to conduct their struggle.

The pushback from some of my friends and colleagues has been to question whether Unitarian Universalists are really capable of solidarity.  Are we locked instead into our privileges?

Let's look at the situation.

UU's are mostly Democrats these days.  By what percentage do you believe Obama carried UU congre…

Solidarity and Authenticity

I have made a call that UU's (and other religious liberals) make a commitment to solidarity with the working poor.  I have called for us to work for a higher minimum wage, for medicaid expansion, for increased social security benefits.  We should publicly oppose food stamp cuts, unemployment benefit cuts, public sector worker layoffs.  We should publicly support fast food workers and retail workers efforts to unionize.  We should be for anything that improves the standards of living of the poor and working poor.  We should be visibly against every form of austerity that inflicts pain on them.

I am inspired by Pope Francis, I admit.  I don't think that he objects.

My fellow UU's raise objections, though.  And from what I perceive as the "left" side of the spectrum.  (I had expected to hear from the "right" side of the spectrum: people who thought that such public ministry would be partisan and make Republicans feel unwelcome and from Libertarians who cla…

Past, Present and Future

The working poor, the low-wage workers, the occasionally unemployed, the disabled, the food stamp beneficiary, the welfare recipient, the two-job part-time workers, the boomerang child who returns home, the early retired who couldn't find another job, the undocumented working without legal protection: these are Unitarian Universalism's Past, Present and Future.

Many UU's have these experiences in their Pasts: some as the persistent condition of their childhoods and some as temporary situations on their life's journey.

Some UU's are in these circumstances in the Present, or they have family members who are, and they live in communities in which low-wage workers are all around them everyday.

And for many UU's, these positions are their Future, as retirement savings turn out to be inadequate, as full employment gets redefined as 6%, as misguided austerity shreds the safety nets, as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the middling classes get forgotten.…

Unitarian Universalism in 2014

My hope for 2014 is that Unitarian Universalist congregations move from service to solidarity
Service and charity fundraising is great, but it reinforces some problematic mental habits of the kinds of folks UU's tend to be.   They feed the illusions of power, wealth and privilege, being used with wisdom and judgment to help people who are far away, economically and socially.  
What this country needs right now is a movement of middle class people committed to standing with the working poor.  Unitarian Universalists should be in the forefront of that movement in 2014.  I hope for more ministers, with or without their collars, showing up to support fast food workers when they strike.  Some "Standing on the Side of Love" banners encouraging Walmart workers.  More congregational statements calling for Medicaid expansion in the states that are resisting it.  More ministers who read Rev. Morales' statement calling for minimum wage increase to their congregation.  We sho…

Collars and Kenosis

The Red Pill Brethren talked about UU ministers wearing clerical collars.  Go look at the record of
the conversation.  

I don't have any deeper insight than these colleagues.

I have been resistant to the whole collar business.   It has always felt inauthentic to me, as though we were picking and choosing how to relate to Christianity, adopting it opportunistically.  More than once, I pronounced, as is my way sometimes, that a UU minister who wouldn't wear a clerical collar to church on Sunday shouldn't wear one on Saturday down at the Federal building.

But I recognize now that I long had a little Christ-shaped chip on my shoulder.  I saw everything through the lens of the Unitarian Universalist failure to acknowledge its relationship to Christianity. Given that perspective, I saw the collar as a misappropriation, not much different that chocolate communions.

Recently, I have been more persuaded by the logic of the collar that says it has social power which we should wield …

Reading Francis, continued.

The Unitarian Universalist clergy is now discussing the perceived differences between parish and community ministry.  Pope Francis, however, seems to think that parish ministry is community ministry, or, at least, it should be.

Pope Francis:
28. The parishis not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters”.[26] This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few. The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for grow…

WAPO on Francis

I opined on Facebook that articles like this make me despair of Christianity. And I said I would explain why.

The flow of Tenety's article is this: "People think Francis is cool for some good reasons. But I am here to tell you that Francis is cool because FRANCIS IS A CHRISTIAN and that is what is important. (Even though the Roman Catholic church does some yucky things, there are still lots of cool things that go on.) So don't go around thinking that Francis is cool because he agrees with you; he's not as cool as you think because HE IS A CHRISTIAN and that is what is important."

The flow of the article flows uphill, away from the present and away from real life.

I ask the question: what is the relationship between Francis' coolness, Christianity and me? What is the point? Francis is providing a clear voice for change. The challenge to me is do I lend my voice and hands to that effort? Am I inspired by Francis? I should hope so. But that is not eno…

Francis and the Need for Religious Leadership

Time magazine chose Pope Francis as the Person of the Year.  I like it.

Francis shows why we need religious leaders.  He condemns the stranglehold that global capital has on the day to day lives of the world's people.  He is becoming the global spokesperson for the poor. That role -- the prophetic voice of the global poor -- has not been filled in quite a while.

Only a religious leader can play that role.

So much of the hopes of the people of the world have been invested in Barack Obama, this
somewhat younger man of color who is, improbably, the head of state of the Empire.  President Obama, though, is circumscribed by his position.  He is, after all, the commander in chief of the imperial stormtroopers and drone operatives. He is also an executive fighting a constant political battle with determined opponents in the legislature.  He must fight hard even for halfway measures and watered-down compromises.  He is also under relentless criticism from a conservative propaganda machin…

What Child Is This?

One year, I retold the story of Jesus as a secret prince story, just to indulge my inner 12 year old. I have posted part of it here this year.  Maybe your inner 12 year old would enjoy it.  It's under the Pages column, or here.

The Infinite Demand

We live by grace. We live in grace.

Amid the buzz and rattle of all that is, there is joy.  The joy is not constant, and there are pains and terrors that almost outweigh it, but joy still persists.

There is a rough grace at work. There is a grace that we can experience in ourselves. It is present in our relationships, in the pleasure that we have in beauty, in the marvel of natural world, in the ingenuity of the environments people have created.

Does it seem far away and inaccessible to you? If you never experience joy and grace, please seek help.  Constant pain and suffering is not the human condition, no matter the circumstances.

But grace hidden behind routine, behind the habit of boredom, or buried beneath our ambitions and objectives?  That we know.

To have more grace and joy in your life, cultivate the habits of reverence and awe.  It is simple: slow down, use your senses, stay in the moment, remember that everything that is does not need to be.  And yet, here it is.  Cultivate…

The Purifying Fire and the Infinite Demand

I suggested recently that modern Unitarian Universalism's big bang of beginning was the explosive collision of liberal Protestantism and Humanism in the early to mid 20th Century.

Liberal Protestantism since the Enlightenment had become increasingly soft on the truth claims of Christianity.  Historical criticism of the Bible and Darwinism had made it clear that the biblical accounts, long accepted as historical fact, were not, in fact, true.  Turn of the century Fundamentalism had retreated to a position which asserted that the Biblical accounts were true, modern knowledge be damned.

Humanism brought a theologically realist critique to liberal Protestantism.  Everything that was not true per modern science was really not true.  Theology had to be about truth if it was about anything; after all, it is the truth that sets us free.

Humanism was a purifying fire to liberal Protestantism, burning away everything that was being preserved out of habit, out of a desire to maintain respec…

What is Uni-Q about Uni-T & Uni-V's.

Expanding on a response to a comment on the "Equations" post.

19th Century Protestantism developed in a few parallel streams as it responded to the historical situation.  We all know what was happening: the Civil War, industrialization, Darwin, Marxism, Freudianism, feminism, etc.  Protestantism became different streams: Fundamentalism, Pentecostalism, Evangelicalism, the Mainline. Unitarianism and Universalism were two of those streams of Protestantism, quite distinct from the othes.

What gives the Uni's their unique character was their willing confrontation with secularism and humanism.  Instead of trying to repel them, or protect the historic faith from them, they embraced humanism.  The mainline Protestants, on the other hand, did not embrace humanism, but onlyaccommodated skepticism.  That is why they have this two-tone quality -- on the surface, they are still orthodox, but in practice and in the pews and in the pastor's study, they are much more liberal.

The …


A recent Facebook interaction caught my eye.

Robin Bartlett Also, if the top ten factors that millennials cite that help make up their spiritual identities include prayer, the Bible, and their relationships with Jesus, perhaps it is time we started including prayer, scripture, and ways to have a stronger relationship with Jesus in our UU churches.
Aimee Stubbs Goodson For me, "prayer, the Bible, and their relationships with Jesus" would translate into UU terms as ritual or spiritual practice, our multiples sources of wisdom, and opportunities for spiritual deepening, like small group ministry. (To be clear, I know Robin,  but don't know Aimee personally.)

What struck me was this process of "translating".  Prayer, the Bible and relationship with Jesus "translate" into UU terms as ritual etc.

Translation is something done with words and at its most primitive level is assumes a set of equivalences: "this equates to that".   
My impression is tha…

Reading Francis

I have been plowing through Francis's Evangelii Gaudium, his "APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION ...

It is an appealing document; many have been attracted by his condemnation of contemporary capitalism and his call to a mission-oriented church.

But the title is something like "The Joys of Evangelism," not "The Joys of Mission".  He grounds the mission in evangelism.  That connection is hard for our Unitarian Universalist movement, given our reluctance to take up matters of what we believe.

Take for example, a statement given to me by leaders of a group planning worship at General Assembly in Providence this year.
A core purpose of our faith is to help people grow in spirit and in service. We believe that our faith provides a path for each of us to unlock our transformational capacity to serve the world with love. We want to expand our faith not just to grow Unitarian Universalism, but also to better achieve thi…



I mean, there's "living with paradox" and then there's just being incoherent.

Viewed through the lens of colonialism, these celebrate opposite actions.

If Ayn Rand and Karl Marx had the same birthday, could we just call it Four-Letter-Last-Name-Social-Theorist Day?

Should Minister's Housing Be Taxed?

There is a constitutional question.  Does the ministerial housing allowance exemption establish religion?  Does it violate the equal protection as it gives one profession a tax advantage over another?

The courts will decide that question.

As a matter of policy, should ministers get this preferential treatment?  

I don't know, and I am not going to try to figure that one out.

The question presumes a neutral position of the decider. That there is someone who objectively decides what is in the best interests of society as a whole. Whether such a person exists, and why, other than being elected, any person should take on that point of view, I doubt.

I am a minister, whose first circle of solidarity beyond my family are my colleagues.  And I am a particular minister: retired, financially secure, not currently enjoying the ministerial exemption for housing, although I will in the future.

So decency and solidarity keep me from advocating a position that will damage my colleagues so di…

Taxing Minister's Housing

A US District Judge has ruled that the practice of exempting ministerial housing allowances from taxable income is an "establishment of religion" and thus, unconstitutional.

There will be appeals of this ruling, which will prove that the clergy are no more willing to see a tax increase on themselves as any other profession. Anti-clericals were be delighted with this unsurprising news. The tax code is riddled through and through with special favors, dispensations, exemptions, credits and deductions for all sorts of groups. But ministers are supposed to be above all that.

A tax advantage for one profession is indefensible, except that "everybody does it."

So let's leave moralizing aside and look at this for what it will do.

The "voluntary association" religious organization is dying out. By "voluntary association" religious organization, I mean a religious organization that is created and sustained primarily by the voluntary contributions of …

Religious Community is Not Enough

An article of mine, in this month's UU World.

Every Baby Should be Blessed; Every Family Affirmed

I want to urge Unitarian Universalism to go into the baby blessing ministry.  I mean UU ministers and UU churches should commit whole-heartedly to the blessing of babies, all babies, any babies.

A baby blessing is a family ritual.  How being blessed in a ritual changes the baby, I have no idea.  But it can change the family.  At least, it can strengthen all that is good in a parenting situation.  A baby blessing ritual steps outside of the routine of child-rearing and invites the parents, the grandparents, the extended family and friends to express their best hopes for this new child, and to offer their best intentions for caring for it.

There are lots of babies being born.  For many of these babies, there is not an appropriate and meaningful ritual for their blessing.  For young people who are not connected to a religious institution, for young people whose relationship status doesn't conform to social expectations, for parents who are spiritual but not religious, there is no r…

Hanukkah 2013:

Hanukkah 2013 comes around Thanksgiving, which allows preachers and worship leaders to separate it from Christmas and the solstice.  I urge Unitarian Universalists to take it up on its own terms.  It is a very relevant topic for today's culture, and one that has a bit of a bite for some of our prevailing religiously liberal thought.

You know the story by now, so I won't retell it here.

The Maccabean revolt was the revolt of a small nation against an overwhelming, globalized Empire, which was forcing a cultural assimilation onto the people it conquered.  The festival of Hanukkah celebrates a miracle that occurred as the Maccabees reclaimed a sacred site of their culture from the conquerers.  Celebrating Hanukkah is celebrating the struggle to be different, and to resist those who hold superior military and economic power from suppressing and misappropriating an indigenous culture.

The contemporary critique from African American women of Miley Cyrus for misappropriating twerking…

Unitarian Universalism in the Age of Obama

In an informal conversation with John Buehrens at the UU History and Heritage Convocation in DC last weekend, we remarked on the 1890's as a period of inactivity in the history of Unitarianism.  He had noticed it in the history of All Souls in New York, and I had seen the same at First Unitarian in Worcester.  John suggested that periods of social progressivism were not good periods for Unitarianism or Unitarian Universalism.  The 1970's were another example of the same thing.

The hypothesis is that when there are many outlets for action for change, liberal churches are not as needed.  It seems to make sense.

But I have some questions.  One is that the 1890's was a progressive era, only in part.  The 1890's was also when Jim Crow was consolidated in the South.  Revisions to state constitutions in the Southern States formally disenfranchised African Americans, making possible the enactment of strict laws of segregation.  The 1890's saw the anti-lynching struggle of…

Federalism and Institutionalized Racism.

First, go and check out this article  at Talking Points Memo.

It show the 25 states that have refused to implement the Medicaid expansion provisions of "ObamaCare" and the number of people who are, as a result, still going to be without adequate health care.  It's about 5 million people.

It boggles the mind to imagine that this is a sustainable political position, but that is another question.

Non-cooperation with Obamacare's Medicaid expansion is one of the tactics that the Republican Party has adopted, so the map is close to the political map of the USA -- the familiar L Shape of a solid GOP South and then a vertical slice up the plains and mountain as well.

The slave economy of the South made all of the consumption done by the slaves a direct expense of the slaveowners.  The slaveowners could control the quality and quantity of food, clothes and housing that the slaves used.  There was no return from those expenses except the bodily continuation of the slaves and…

A Different Tribe for a Different World.

Rev. Thom Belote Minister of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian  Universalist Church in Lenexa, KS

Rev. Thom Belote preached recently about Unitarian Universalist identity.  He was inspired by an essay by Sharon Hwang Colligan about people raised as UU's: Children of a Different Tribe

Belote writes:

Colligan writes that when the children of a different tribe reminisce about their cultural experience of having grown up UU, they talk about being in an environment marked by realness, honesty, friendship, and truth. I might unpack those just a bit.

Realness is the same thing as authenticity. It is the ability to be open with others without armor or defenses. It is the result of having a safe environment, a community that sings the “How can anyone ever tell you, you are anything less than beautiful?” song to each other.

Honesty is an inner commitment to follow the dictates of conscience. It is made possible only when acceptance is assured.

Friendship is a warm embrace of one another. It i…

Why the "Lively Tradition"

Welcome to new readers, who may be visiting from the UU World.

 A religious tradition, like Unitarian Universalism, stays alive by looking at the present moment with fresh eyes whenever it can.   It asks itself, again and again, what is happening now?  How have conditions changed?  Are we speaking to what is happening now?  Are we offering yesterday's nostrums and platitudes?  How can we see the future if we cannot even comprehend the present?

The overriding concern of this blog is that Unitarian Universalism is not so much a fresh and relevant voice for today.  This is not a generational argument on my part.  I am a boomer through and through, and only a half a year out from choosing my Medicare supplemental insurance.  But I can see that we UU's are lagging behind reality.

I am most concerned about our public theology: the implications that we draw from our liberal religious theology about the state of the world and public policy.  I know that most UU's are more afraid t…

Competing Moral Foundations.

Jonathon Haidt, the author of "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion" presents this graph.  

He calls values listed horizontally (harm, fairness, ingroup etc.) moral foundations.  He measures how people, presumedly self-identified, with different political loyalties use these moral foundations in their moral reasoning.  His point is that the Right and Left have differing moral compasses, and so they go in differing directions.

I couldn't even begin to make a rigorous critique of the social science involved here.  I don't even know what the vertical axis is measuring.  But I can tell what's bigger and what's smaller.

A couple of things stand out:  liberals are more likely to be motivated by concerns about the harm to people in any situation; liberals are more likely to be concerned with fairness.  They are less likely to be concerned about maintaining the boundaries between the ins and the outs, less concerned about authority…

An Easy Fifth Principle Application

The fifth Principle that our UU congregations covenant to affirm says this:

The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; That would include, I believe, two things: a return to majority rule in procedures of the US Senate and making it possible for legislation supported by a majority of US House members to get a vote on the floor.  After all, "democratic process" includes majority rule. Right now, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which managed to get a 60 vote supermajority to get through the Senate, cannot get a vote in the House even though a majority would be vote for it.  It is only one of many pieces of legislation supported by a majority in both houses which has not only been 'slowed down for deeper consideration', but stopped outright by a minority.
Ed Kilgore, at the Political Animal blog at the Washington Monthly website, makes the point yesterday that the 'partisan gridlock' in Washin…

The Humanist Pilgrimage

We went to Paris.  No reason, except for fun and relaxation.  Sue, my spouse, works incredibly hard.

When I say that travel is now the great humanist pilgrimage, I am not referring to humanism as atheism, but as the great humanist turn in Western thought when ordinary life was placed at the center of consciousness and thought.

We looked at the Italian, Spanish, Flemish and Dutch paintings in the Louvre.  Most of the Renaissance paintings were about Christian subjects, depictions of Biblical scenes and the lives of the saints.  They were theologically rich; they illustrate doctrine.

You could, if you wanted, classify and curate these paintings on the basis of their theological content.  You could sort them into Protestant and Catholic paintings, or paintings about Mary in one room and paintings about the Passion in another.  The title cards could have learned commentary about the doctrine the paintings illustrated, and even where the paintings had heretical content.

But that is not h…