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Showing posts from February, 2013

A Great Awakening of the Liberal Spirit

So how do people grow in the liberal faith?

Rev. James Forbes talked about another Great Awakening to come (at his sermon at the UUMA Center Institute last month).  He even said that UU's might have been anointed to play a special leadership role in it. Is that too woo-woo for us to hear?

I do believe that the nation is on the eve of a Great Awakening of the Liberal Spirit.  It would be a movement of the Spirit: a widespread, self-replicating spontaneous spiritual development.

We know that a new progressive majority has been forming in the political world.  We know that the young are creating a culture more comfortable with diversity and more liberal culturally than ever before.

A great awakening of the liberal spirit will come when liberals are hopeful, and confident that we can build a better world.  It would be clear that the great work we have to do, reversing climate change, sharing the earth's wealth fairly, unleashing the potential in every person is work that we coul…

The Mission (further explanation)

B. A. Gerrish, writing in the The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought summarizes John Calvin as believing that "The vocation of humanity -- their unique role in the created order -- is to render continual thanks to the Father and the fountain of Good."  Or, as Calvin is often paraphrased -- the purpose of Man is to Glorify God. Even though he was a Reformer, Calvin had not strayed far from Medieval thought that God was the center of everything.  Think of Dante's view of Paradise, the most boring of the three books, because it describes banks and banks of angelic choirs all singing in the Glory of God.  Humanity, at least while it lives, is the back row of the choir, inattentive and goofing around.

Liberal Religion is the "religion with no name" that replaced that Medieval conception, by making an unstated shift in the premise.  The purpose of humanity is human well-being.  For almost all human beings since the dawn of time, with the exception of professional …

The mission of liberal religion is .....

to save the world from disaster by making more people liberal.

It's that simple.

Some definitions are in order:  What I call liberal religion could also be called human-centered spirituality, or religious humanism or humanistic theism.

It is one of the world's great religions, although it shies away from calling itself a religion.  (In that way, it is like Buddhism.)  It is a way of conceptualizing how human beings are in the world, and draws moral and ethical implications from that to daily life.  It is a way of reverence.

It accepts science as its metaphysics.  It understands the purpose of life to be human well-being.  It is universalistic in that understands the entire human race as the scope of its mission.

It has been subverting other religions from within and without for centuries now.

It's virtues are reverence, self-possession, the gemini of gratitude and generosity, honesty, humility, fairness, openness.

what happened in the 70's?

You remember that I have suggested that there are three periods of modern UU history:  1961-69 (Liberalism Ascendent), 1969-2008 (also known as the Wilderness Years) and 2009-Present (Now).
I have been reading some about the period of 1969 to 1980.  In US history, it is the period of Nixon, Ford and Carter.  In UU history, it is the Presidencies of Robert West, Paul Carnes, who died in office and Gene Pickett, who filled out his term and was then re-elected in 1981.  
As I read about the Robert West period (in Warren Ross's The Promise and the Premise) and in Tom Owen-Towle's biography of Eugene Pickett (Borne on a Wintry Wind), there is a palpable sense of horror and shame.  It seems that the aftermath of the Black Empowerment Controversy had released into our collective body a toxic brew of poisons.  We went into a financial crisis; the free spending days of Dana Greeley and Liberalism Ascendent) caught up with us.  Relationships between UUA entities like the Board and the S…

A Box

OK, Count me as a slow learner.  Maybe everyone else already figured this one out.

There is an almost unresolvable contradiction in our congregation between being inclusive, welcoming and democratic on the one hand, and having a transformative mission on the other. It is almost inevitable that the direction setting power in the congregation will rest with the people who are satisfied and content with the way the congregation is right now.  

How does this change?

Where Did the Power Go?

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Shannon (@ladyskysong) tweeted in response to my post on abolishing "membership" in UU Churches.



@tominma Then your churches become run only by those with time for 2-3 committee meetings (likely at noon). Who's voices get heard? Retirees
A very perceptive question, and one that I had not thought about explicitly since yesterday.   "How would eliminating the general membership category change the power dynamics in a UU church?"  Like I said, my brain is catching up with my mouth on this.

My first premise is that churches and congregations ought to be mission - driven institutions. as opposed to merely democratic institutions.  Power should be in the hands of those who are most committed to and active in fulfilling its mission.   Right now, this is not true in most congregations.  Right now, there is a lot of power in the hands of those who like the church as it is, or as it was, and that power is used to keep things as they are.

End "Membership" in UU Churches

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A discussion today at the SE Michigan UUMA cluster meeting brought up the question of membership.

It doesn't violate our covenant of confidentiality to report that I made several sweeping pronouncements which, to the someone who didn't know me, would give the impression that I knew what I was talking about, and had thought and studied on the matter in some depth.

So I have spent the rest of the day trying to get my brain to catch up with my mouth.

So why don't we get rid of this concept of UU church membership?

It seems to me that there are several overlapping and concurrent circles of people involved in a typical UU Church.  But, we have only two categories of people we describe:  Members and Friends.  And then, there are all the others.

Members are someone who has joined the church, signed the book and met whatever other requirements the church may require.  They get to vote in the congregational meetings, and some of them actually do.

Friends haven't signed the bo…

Re-imagining Our Growth Model

UU's presently work with the following model of church growth:

1.  Get a nice building with good parking and good minister.
2.  Put on the very bestest worship service you can.
3. Be really really nice to the people who show up.
4.  Get them active in the church community so they will join the church.
5.  Use your growing membership to create more programs and increase the staff.
6.  Take it up a notch: better building, better staff, better worship service and repeat.

Gross over-simplification, I admit.

It is the "attraction model."

The pathway to membership, though, tends to pass through the narrow gate of the worship service.  You have to like, or at least, tolerate the worship service to be willing to make the commitment to the church.  Which is odd, because once you are a member, attendance in worship is really even more optional than in other traditions.  People can be members of the church without going to worship, but by being active in the programs of the church.

Grace Lee Boggs

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I have been reading the most recent book by Grace Lee Boggs, the 95 year old veteran radical now centered in Detroit.  Much there to consider about the state of our world.

But what I have been most heartened by is her explication of dialectical thinking, which she summarizes as follows:

Constantly striving to overcome the contradictions or negatives that inevitably arise in the course of struggle, constantly challenged to break free from views that were at one time liberating, but had become fetters because reality had changed, we are required to create new ideas that make more concrete and more universal our concept of what it means to be free.  (page 58 of the Nest American Revolution.) Tell me more about this "dialectical thinking" and how Unitarian Universalism can get itself some.

Dialectical is close to the word: "dialogue."  And I notice two dialogues being described.

One is the dialogue we have with the realities of the present, this moment in time.  Her c…

Anointment for a New Appointment (more)

The Rev. James Forbes of the Riverside Church in New York City urged the assembled UU ministers in Florida to consider the possibility that God might have prepared us for a new task in this new era now emerging.  He suggested that it might be that we have practicing the kind of multi-inter-no-faith (my phrase, not his) speech that will be needed in the days to come.

He is right, I believe, especially in that we have forced ourselves to assemble a language of reverence out of ordinary, non-religious words and signs.

I have a shelf of UUA meditation manuals near my desk.  I can pick one at random -- here is one -- it's Kaki McTigue's Shine and Shadow.  Just leafing through a few pages at random, I come to this stanza:

Instead, consider your life --who you love, and why,how blessed you are to be here, restingunder a shower of birdsong,and what strange bright luck it is to be the ownerfor a few years, of this beating heart,these wondering eyes, the earsinto which the kingfisher spi…

Downton Abbey

First of all, you should watch Downton Abbey with a copy of P. G. Wodehouse's collected Jeeves and Bertie Wooster stories in hand.  They are set in roughly the same period, and depicts all the same characters as twits.

Secondly, you should remember that the Great Houses of the English Countryside are now museums and tourist attractions.  The feudal mode of production depicted in the story was not economically viable.  Whether Matthew Crawley and/or Tom Branson "modernize" or not, the Crawley's are not going to be able generate enough surplus out of the small scale farm production of essentially tenant farmers to sustain even a fraction of their life style.

And every time you turn around, the younger people "in service" are headed off to get real jobs.  The housemaid who became a secretary, for example.  I predict that Daisy will be gone soon, to manage a farm, instead of being an 'assistant cook'.

That social system is creaking and wheezing and r…

Anointment for a New Appointment

In the closing sermon of the UUMA Institute, the Rev. James Forbes spoke of UU's having a new "anointment for a new appointment."  The Holy Spirit had work for us to do.  He spoke of another "Great Awakening" coming in this multi-inter-no-faith nation, and that we had been prepared, in particular, to preach it into being, by our work, among ourselves, over the last decades.  "A new anointment for a new appointment."

I have been fixed on UU history, especially the long period I call the wilderness years (1968 to 2008) when UU's were the most liberal denomination in a culture that was aggressively anti-liberal.

The reason I have been so fixed on this period is because I think that the danger we face is this: the mental habits we acquired in those years will cripple us in the future.  Indeed we are limiting our vision now.

I was inspired on Saturday by the "Unstuck" conference held here in Ann Arbor.  It was co-sponsored by a wide range o…

Blog News and Intentions

I'm here.

I have blogged in the past, but never with an consistency, either in frequency or subject matter.

Now, I have a different intention.

I plan to blog regularly about modern UU history and our public theologies.  I believe that we in a changing social and political situation and that our thinking about the world around us is dangerously outdated.  I believe that UU's are internally focused, anxious, and timid.

I want to build up a collaborative conversation about these issues.  I welcome your comments, and will respond to them as they pique my interest.  Sometime, I just let your comment speak for itself.  I do delete whining, ax-grinding taunts and insults. I  don't feed the trolls, and you shouldn't either.

I urge you to join the blog if you wish.  You can keep up with latest posts by following me (@tominma) on Twitter, or Tom Schade on Facebook.

Years in the Wilderness -- the Old School and the LGBTQ tide.

I believe that the "Old School UU's" represented an accommodation to the prevailing conservative culture in  the following ways


They no longer defined our liberal Christian theologies as essential to Unitarian Universalism; they shifted our core to being eccelesiological: our congregationalism, the "Free Church" tradition. (which they drew from the Puritan Unitarian tradition; not the Universalists).  Whatever its origins, the effect was to minimize differences between UU churches and the surrounding culture.  We could sidestep the burning questions that preoccupied the evangelicals: Are you saved by Jesus from Hell?  What defined us was our polity, and frankly, our congregational polity looked like that of the Baptists.  
And as I said before, the "Free Church" tradition effectively closed off any location from which social activism could be mounted.  To the Old Schoolers, it was not legitimate for the General Assembly to pass resolutions and for the W…

40 Years in the Wilderness

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When I say that the 40 years in the wilderness (being the most liberal religious movement in an aggressively conservative and anti-liberal culture) has shaped Unitarian Universalism, this is what I mean:

Unitarian Universalism became internally focused on what we do wrong.  It got anxious.  Name a single thing we all, or just some of us, do well, and immediately a critique comes to mind.  We are fixated on how we do not live up to our own standards, or to the task that is required of us.

I think that stems not from the loftiness of our ambitions, but from our sense of failure, as evidenced by our lack of growth, our demographic isolation, our membership churn, our inability to retain our youth, our cheapness, our clubbiness etc. etc. etc.

We are one-note reformationists.  How many sermons have you heard on the subject of how Unitarian Universalists institutions and individuals should change?  How many sermons have you heard (and preached) on what our mission should be?  How many work…

Periods of Modern UU History

The lens that I am looking through in thinking about modern UU history is our relationship to the social-political-cultural history of the USA.

There are three periods:  (The dating is somewhat arbitrary and schematic; using Presidential elections as mile markers.)

1961-1968:  Merger creates a new liberal denomination at a time when liberalism was ascendent in the culture.  The Civil Rights movement, especially, creates a cultural space in which liberals feel that they are making progress.  Lyndon Johnson turns the awful tragedy of the Kennedy assassination into a progressive triumph, winning a landslide election and in the 1965-66 period passing a series of foundational progressive laws, including Medicare and Medicaid.  A War on Poverty is actually considered.

Throughout most of the country, UU churches are united in support of racial integration.  Anecdotally, I hear stories of churches with partner relationships with AME churches, including socializing together at dinners in priva…

A Brief History of the "Old School" UU 's

"Old School UU" is my term for a movement among UU ministers during the last half century and more.  It's a shared state of mind, more than any organized faction.

This is an off-the-top-of-my-head sketch of this history.  I invite elaboration, clarification, argumentation about it.  It is part of my critical curiosity about recent UU history.  My general thesis is that contemporary UUism has been shaped in a 40 year period of a political culture that was antagonistic to all forms of liberalism (1968-2008).  I think that "old school UUism" is one of the many currents of defiance and accommodation that marked UU history during that period, and still do now that it has passed.

Old School UUism had its modern roots in the theist and Christian minority who were the losers in the great Humanist ascendency within Unitarianism and Universalism.  As such, it was centered in some of the larger churches which had more established theist liturgies, and, of course, in New E…

Misreading Obama, still.

O Good Lord, I do love Charles P. Pierce, the politics blogger now appearing amidst the shoe porn and the very respectful photo spreads of attractive young female actresses and models of Esquire Magazine. CPP can hurrumph with the best of them.  He calls the GOP House caucus "feral children" and Paul Ryan, a "zombie-eyed granny starver." I like that sort of stuff.

But he doesn't get Barack Obama.  

He thinks that Barack Obama is failing to be another Lyndon Johnson: a President who squeezed Congress so inappropriately that they coughed up great gobs of progressive legislation.  More brow-beating, please.  More contempt and ridicule, please, Mr. President.

He is upset that President Obama appointed a Republican lawyer, whose resume ought to be his criminal record, if there were any voting justice, to co-chair a commission on voting reform.  Who did he think Obama would appoint?  Bernie Sanders and Jesse Jackson?  They would win the day, but only on Rachel Maddow&#…

Old School UUism, Tradition and Authenticity

My colleague, Robin Bartlett Barraza, pointed us all to the following article, "10 reasons why our kids are leave church'   The blogpost was written by an fundamentalist (my opinion) and blames the loss of young people from conservative churches on the efforts of evangelicals to be relevant and hip, and for offering a subjective, internal, feeling understanding of salvation.  Instead, he urges Christians to return to offering something much more counter-cultural -- the timeless, external and objective truths carried by the Christian tradition.

RBB saw some parallels to us in the UU movement, particularly, (quoting her, "I think the feel good messaging not ringing true, the lack of tradition (or bowdlerizing the tradition) and substance (or lack) being found in the secular world is right on."

There is a whole branch of the UU family that is attracted to this form of argument: "Our problems arise from the failure of others to uphold our traditions.  People can s…

Louisa Henrietta Wedel Schade

OK, it is the last hour of my mother's birthday, so let me take a few moments away from my ongoing effort to portray Ed Schultz as a UU minister, and talk about her a little.

She loved me very much; her love and support for me was the unshakeable foundation on which my life was built.  And because she loved me very much, she saw me quite honestly, and she feared for me. She saw my grandiosity, and my compulsive need to be liked, and that touch of ruthlessness that I try to hide.  As much as she encouraged me, she warned me.

She was the last child of her parent, a successful German American Baptist preacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  She was the caboose child and was raised, it seems, by her older sisters.  Her oldest sister, Esther, I think, was the one person she was afraid of.

She was tall, very tall, six feet tall, skinny as a rail.  Her nickname was "Heinie", a word that was not allowed to be said in our house growing up.  She got a scholarship to go the University of…

Where is God and What of Grace?

My colleagues, Judy and Paul, ask these questions of my recent post on our spiritual mission.

I said that our mission is to help people develop a cluster of virtues (I named self-possession, reverence, honesty, humility, gratitude/generosity, openness and fairness, only as suggestions and not as a code).  I said that I thought these virtues were transformative in individuals and transformative in society as a whole, and that by seizing this mission, our churches and congregations would become transformative, themselves.

Judy and Paul ask questions that ask me to explain the connection between my virtue and character oriented spiritual mission and the traditional questions of Christian soteriology.  What role does God play in our transformation/salvation?  How much of our salvation is the result of our efforts and how much is grace?

Fair questions.

I believe, as a practical and ecclesiological matter, that Unitarian Universalists will construct a wide variety of narratives about how …

Liberal Religion and Unitarian Universalism

I define "Liberal Religion"as being three premises about religion.
All religions are the product of culture.  They are the cultural productions designed to answer some fundamental and widely shared questions about human existence.  Cultures and civilizations around the world do not share the same understanding of those human questions; as a result, the religions of the world are different and not "the same under the surface."No one religion contains any special revealed knowledge that is final and authoritative.  No one religion is more true than another.Religions can be evaluated, to the extent that even need to be compared, by the effect on the life of the adherent.   Many people share these liberal premises about religion, including many adherents of various religions and many who claim no religious affiliation at all.
Religious Liberalism starts from these propositions about religion in general, but from those premises develops into a particular way of being in …

A Coherent Spiritual Mission

Christine Robinson writes in a comment to a previous post:

Besides the dysfunctions you mention in your piece that center around our understanding/misunderstanding of political theology, we suffer from having no coherent spiritual mission to offer in most of our congregations. . . . I think that our spiritual mission is incoherent because it is largely unarticulated.  And it is unarticulated because we have not developed and used the appropriate language to describe it.  We can't talk about our mission as promoting certain beliefs.  We could never agree on them.  And we can't talk about our mission as promoting certain practices for the same reason.

But I think we can define our spiritual mission as the promotion of certain virtues.  We encourage people to exhibit certain character traits in all areas of their lives.  Which ones?  No list is entirely comprehensive or accurate; after all, these are virtues, not beliefs.  Here are seven, though, (because seven is a magic number …

Campfire in the Woods

During the summer of 1970, I traveled throughout the American west in a diaper truck that had been converted into a camper.  My companions were some graduate students from Amherst that I had met along the road somewhere.  I left a group from the school I had just graduated from, the George Washington University in Washington DC, somewhere in Wyoming.

I had graduated "on strike" and under an injunction that a large number of student leaders could not enter any campus buildings.  On May 1st, Richard Nixon invaded Cambodia.  A student strike call came from Seattle.  In Washington DC, we were responding to a student strike call issued from New Haven, where the trial of the New Haven Black Panthers for murder had started.  On May 4th, 4 students were killed in Kent State.  On May 14, two more students were killed at Jackson State in Jackson, Mississippi.

In the summer of 1970, what seemed like tens of thousands of young people hitchhiked, camped and traveled through the America…

The Class Issue for UU's

There is a lot of talk about "class" in UU circles.

Because we are an anxious, internally focused movement, we see the "class" issue as this: are our congregations friendly and welcoming to people who are poor or working class?   We fret about things like "is a requirement for a financial contribution for membership unwelcoming?"  Or "Do we assume too high an educational level to understand our sermons?"  One congregation I was in argued about whether they should use wooden salad bowls or donated shiny metal collection plates to take the collection.

The question is: "are UU congregations friendly and welcoming to poor and working class people?"

Another, more important, question is: "Are UU congregations on the side of poor and working class people in the conflicts and controversies of our day?"

Do we support the efforts of community unionizing, like the Walmart workers or the fast food workers of New York?  Are we on the sid…

Dramatically Politicized Class Confict

The Republican party wants major "reforms" to the Social Security system, by which they mean some sort of benefit cuts.  They would also like to see it "privatized" which would allow the social security trust fund to come under the financial management of Wall Street.  Both plans would advance the economic interests of the 1%, who control the dominant finance capital of the world economy.

This article by Duncan Black is about the real problem in our retirement system.  Elder poverty is going to be rising in the future, because there is not enough money in the 401K system for the people now retiring.

There is a class conflict: should our national wealth be used to provide a decent retirement for the working class and middle class?  Our should our national wealth continue to be concentrated in the hands of the absurdly and obscenely wealthy 1%?  One party, the GOP, emphatically favors the latter.  The other party, the Dems, tentatively favors the former.

How does th…

Where I Stand

At the UUMA Institute, I took a class led by Dr. Dan McKanan on "Religion and the American Radical Tradition." The lively group engaged U/Uism and the political history of the United States.  The group also engaged the "right now."  They challenged many of my enthusiasms, and I hoped I challenged some of their assumptions, in turn.  As usual, among the ministerial colleagues, our differences were part of a much greater web of affection and respect.

That said, the intensity of the discussion has led me to clarify what I have been trying to say in this blog and elsewhere.

A progressive political majority is being formed in the United States.  Evidence: the election of President Obama in 2008 and 2012.  More evidence: in both the Senate and the House, the aggregate vote for Democrats is much greater than the aggregate vote for Republicans. Further evidence: the demographic box that the GOP finds itself, which was summed up by Lindsey Graham as "there are not eno…

"Two Competing Core Values" or "Dramatically Politicized Class Conflict"

In a recent post, I argued that ...
What is going on in the United States politics is a dramatically politicized class conflict. The GOP is the party of the economically powerful and they want to use the government to protect and advance their interests.  Insurgent forces find themselves fighting back in the workplaces, in the streets, in the state legislatures and county boards, and at the ballot box. 
Fausto in response disputes that analysis and argues instead that

There may be an element of class conflict occurring, but what is really going on is much more subtle and complicated. It it might be summarized as a conflict between two American core values -- collectivism and individualism -- against a backdrop of the nation's gradual and inexorable decline as a political and economic world hegemon as foreign peoples rise out of their ignorance and poverty. The discussion I am trying to start on this blog is (1) what's going on and (2) what is required of us in response, as heirs…