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Showing posts from April, 2013

The old misconception still misconceived

It's an undeniable fact that political conservatives are frequently uncomfortable in UU churches and congregations.  They feel their minority status.  People express liberal and radical views with complete assurance.  Conservatives feel marginalized and even mocked.  I know that this is true because they have told me.  They say things like "UU's welcome everyone except Republicans."

What are we to do about it?

The misconception is that this situation reveals something wrong about Unitarian Universalism.  We are failing to meet our aspirations.  We should be a community where all political views are made comfortable, and we are not.

It is the same misconception that says that Unitarian Universalism is the religion that lets you believe whatever you want.  And that you should be affirmed in whatever beliefs you may have.  It is a misconception that Unitarian Universalism is really only an experiment in building a completely diverse community, that we are just a protoc…

Passing Around the Monitoring Reports

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A crucial correction to My Last Post on UU Leadership

I said '

What if we went another way:  What if we gathered the wisest, most dedicated and inspirational leaders of Unitarian Universalism and asked them to articulate our mission and vision and to work with our leaders to build personal commitment for that.  Instead of turning toward expertise, we turn to inspiration as the way forward.'

What I should have said:

What if we went another way:  What if we gathered our most dedicated, inspirational and YOUNGER leaders and asked them to articulate our mission and vision for the UUism they want to spend their lives building and asked our present leaders to build personal commitment for that.  Instead of turning toward wisdom and experience, we turned to the future and let ourselves be inspired by it.


A Hundred Grand Doesn't Buy Inspiration

The bottom line: the UUA Board, led by Gini Courter, and the Administration, led by Rev. Peter Morales, have reached a point of such impasse over reporting and accountability that they have seen fit to budget $100,000 for a consultant to work out their relationship.

I say that there has been a catastrophic failure of the collective leadership of the UUA, and we the rank and file, lay and ordained, ought to be thoroughly and righteously angry about it.  In high dudgeon, in fact.

Moderator Courter has moved the UUA Board to Policy Governance.  Policy Governance asserts that the organization is led by the Board which established goals for the organization (called "Ends") and establishes "Policies" which establish the boundaries of permissible actions to achieve those ends.  The staff or administration then goes forth to do the work of the organization within the policies that have been made.  An end may be to be financially self-supporting; the policy is the staff can…

That old misconception

The last question posed to UUA Moderator candidates (Tamara Payne-Alex and Jim Key) was a familiar one.  In essence, "what can you do to make sure that those of us who are right of center still feel welcome in UU congregatios?"  (A paraphrase from memory.)

And the candidates answered in the old familiar way: "Yes, maintaining the political diversity of our congregations is very, very important."  I think Jim Key even went so far as to say that religion and politics are separate things.

They are not; they never were.

If the things that we religious liberals care about most deeply were held equally by both political parties, we could continue to act as though belonging to either party was just a personal preference that didn't much matter. But that is not true, and we know it.

Perfecting Energy

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I just watched the CLF's Google+ hangout to meet the candidates for UU Moderator.  The race is  between Tamara Payne-Alex and Jim Key.  I have spent time with both of them and both are impressive people.  I don't think that we can lose.  I'm not making an endorsement at this time.

You should watch the video, or attend one of their many forums.

I noticed something in their discussion that I have noticed before.  I think that it has relevance beyond the Moderator election,  Watch for it in your church and congregation or any organization that you are in.

I call it Baby Boomer Perfecting Energy.

People in their 50's and 60's often carry this energy.  They (we) have been involved in running congregations for a good chunk of their lives now, service measured in decades rather than years.  They have seen congregations through all kinds of situations: success and failure and everything in between, especially conflict, crisis, and breakdown.  These Baby Boomers have learn…

Why Heartlessness?

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I made the following observation on Facebook.


Why are people so heartless? We have reached that point in the Boston story where liberals shame each other for feeling bad about something when they don't feel equally bad about everything else. It's like telling parents of a dying child that thousands of other child die every day, so why are you upset? They negate other people's emotions and think they are prophetic
As the conversation developed, my dear friend Kate Rohde wrote:
Kate RohdeYou are recently from Boston. I can understand how you might take it that way. However the wall to wall media coverage of this event seems to this non-Bostonian as if it is the media pushing an agenda as it did with the run up to Afghanistan and Iraq. Why so much coverage of this particular event? Why no or little national coverage of events and situations that are also horrifying but may not fit a particular narrative? I confess I have watched a lot of it and found it interesting, horrifying, …

Compassion and Judgment

A good colleague writes in response to my posting about compassion for Dzhokar Tsarnaev:




I'll think about this Tom. My wife, who is a criminal defense attorney, often remarks of mass murderers who then take their own lives, "why didn't they just commit suicide first?" Was Bonhoeffer lacking in compassion (or less happy) for attempting to assassinate Hitler? And if we feel compassion for whoever is in front of us, doesn't that rob the perpetrator of the opportunity to repent his misdeeds and then receive pardon from his victim -- since the perpetrator is already receiving the victim's compassion? I don't think I'm enlightened enough to answer these questions.



Compassion is an emotion.  In any particular circumstance, people either feel it, or they don't.  Those that develop it as a habit of the heart feel it more easily, and more independently than their more rational sense of judgment.

Bonhoffer's decision to conspire to kill Hitler was an ac…

Spiritual Liberals

People ask what I mean by "spiritual liberals" in my previous posts.

Just what you would think -- people possessed by and possessing a liberal spirit.

People who are living their lives oriented around values of compassion, of justice.  People who move toward other people's pain and not away from it.  People who tend toward openness to others, to difference, to new things coming into their lives.  People who are reverent and grateful and hopeful.

I think that this nation is undergoing a great awakening of the liberal spirit.

Why people feel compassion for Dzhokar Tsarnaev

People wonder why spiritually liberal people can be so quick to express compassion for Dzhokar Tsarnaev, this 19 year old boy who will never see a free moment again in his life. 


It is because he is the one in front of us now. 

Compassion is fluid; it is alive in the present and flows toward those who are suffering. It is infinite -- compassion toward Dzhokar Tsarnaev does not diminish the compassion felt for Martin Richard when he is in front of us.

Compassion is not judgment, which makes choices and priorities. Judgment weighs and measures and reasons. Judgment, which we give to the judicial system to exercise finally, will deal firmly with Tsarnaev. It's a whole other thing.

But at every moment, someone has your attention, and in that moment, you will be feeling some emotion: compassion, hatred, indifference, affection. Spiritual liberalism notices that if you build a habit of compassion, you will be happier, healthier, more able to love and receive love. 

The world will be better, …

Terrorism: 2013 vs. 2001. We are learning.

I believe that there is much more restraint, compassion and concern for justice in 2013 than in 2001. 

I believe that the media has learned much over the years. 

We are led by a wiser and more just political leaders now. The President asked the question that many of us are asking, "what happened that these two young men took this path?". 

Messages that remind people to not make assumptions that are based on guilt by association, race, religion, ethnicity have been heard all this week. The nation has operated on the frame of a crime, and not the frame of a war.

I am grateful for all those who have spoken out forcefully and consistently for the last 12 years to move us to a better place. 

There is another side, and they will remain active and vocal. But they no longer set the tone overall. They are not leading and they are not winning the future. 

I am grateful.

Our moral obligations today

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In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, progressives of all types, even just good citizens, have been advising everyone to keep calm and not jump to conclusions.  We have been talking about the misuses of identity to expand the perpetrators to a larger circle.  We are waiting to see who did this, and we are reminding ourselves in advance that individuals or small groups will be the culprit, and that not everyone who shares that ethnic identity, religion or political view is also guilty.

We have learned the lessons of 9/11, and we are reminding everyone else of them.

And from the President on down, we are using the language of police work and not the language of war to describe our response.  The perpetrators will be found, and held accountable and justice will be done.

Again, the contrast to the post 9/11 situation could not be clearer.

Our advice is relevant, too the point and sorely needed.

The country made grievous mistakes after 9/11, from the racist harassment of Musl…

The Needed Virtues

When something horrible and tragic happens, like bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, I go to a very calm, even distant and repressed place emotionally.  I am good in a crisis, but cold. I do have a catch in the throat that comes and goes randomly.  Like Roger on Mad Men, my grief comes out at odd times, as for him when he burst into tears over the death of the man who shined his shoes, after keeping it together through his mother's funeral.

I almost lost it today when reading a stupid Buzzfeed posting about 29 things to love about Boston; it was a picture of the ducklings with little red scarves tied on them on a snowy day.  
I become very observant of what others say and think.
My UU colleagues are so much more sensitive and articulate than I am at such a time as this.  And I have been reading their twitter feeds and facebook postings.  For a professional group spread far and wide across the country, few do not feel connection to Boston.  So, their collective words t…

The Penny Machine

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You may have seen this on Facebook. It is an incomplete picture.





This machine allows anyone to work for minimum wage for as long as they like. Turning the crank on the side releases one penny every 4.97 seconds, for a total of $7.25 per hour. This corresponds to minimum wage for a person in New York. This piece is brilliant on multiple levels, particularly as social commentary. Without a doubt, most people who started operating the machine for fun would quickly grow disheartened and stop when realizing just how little they’re earning by turning this mindless crank. A person would then conceivably realize that this is what nearly two million people in the United States do every day…at much harder jobs than turning a crank. This turns the piece into a simple, yet effective argument for raising the minimum wage.


Why is this an incomplete picture?  Because one must imagine a hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand of these machines all chained together.  Each operator cranks away at the mac…

Just A Minute! With PeaceBang: Episode 1

{Click on the Title to See the Video}

Peacebang and Shane Montoya talk about the economy and ministry.

PB identifies a dilemma between talking about simpler and more cooperative living on the one hand vs just helping people accommodate themselves to lower economic standards of living.

I wish that UU's would simply take a side in the conflicts over money and power that is going on right now.  The decline in the standard of living of ordinary people (poor, working poor, what Ed Shultz calls the "middle class") is not a change in the weather, but the results of policy decisions. It isn't right and it wasn't necessary.  The plight of the middle class is the direct result of all of the wealth created by the increase in productivity in the last forty years (there's that number again) going to the economic elite.  It could have been used to pay for education, or to build lower income housing in Boston, or to subsidize seminary students -- but no, it went for mansio…

Re-Posting "End Membership in UU Churches"

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This post has gotten a lot of attention lately, thanks to a mention in the UU World.  Welcome to new readers.  It was originally posted in February 20, 2013.    



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 whate…

Stating the Intention

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Nothing changes itself without intending to do so.  Otherwise, it is changed by outside events.  More likely, it doesn't change even though it should.  It just gets obsolete and dies.    

Churches and congregations too.  Without making a statement of intention, a church or congregation will not change.  Stating that it intends to grow is not the same thing.  What does it intend to change in order to grow is the question that must be answered.

Here is a statement of intention that many congregations should make:


The VUU -- huh? when? where?

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Salvation, Transformation UU-Style

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Our discussion on the debut of the VUU (the CLF sponsored gabfest and hangout) this morning turned for a while to the question of salvation.  Like what do UU's mean by salvation?  Why can't we use that word? (Keith Kron reminded us that one reason may be that it freaks a lot of UU's out).



If you're going to talk about salvation, you need to think through your soteriology:  by what and from what are we saved?  Or more broadly, from what unsatisfactory state of being to what more satisfactory state of being does the spiritual move us?

It is my opinion (and the comment section below is for your opinion) that UU's operate along a "virtue-based" system for moral theology.

A virtue based moral theology says that the best I can hope for morally is that I have habitual ways of acting that are morally appropriate.  There are no rules or principles that can be fully defined in advance

Prayer of Confession From Afghanistan

Read this story of a UU chaplain, Chris Antal,  and the prayer of confession he offered in Afghanistan.

An investigation resulted, and the affair is unresolved, but here is the prayer:


A Veteran’s Day Confession for America November 11, 2012 On this Veteran’s Day Let us confess our sins before God and neighbor.
Most Merciful God we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed by what we have done, and what we have left undone.
We have become people of the lie out to tame the frontier wilderness while the beast within lurks hidden in shadow paralyzing us in a perpetual state of denial.
We have made war entertainment enjoying box seats in the carnival of death consuming violence, turning tragedy into games raising our children to kill without remorse.
We have morally disengaged outsourcing our killing to the one percent forgetting they follow our orders the blood they shed is on our hands too.
We have insulated ourselves from the painful truths veterans carry our bu…

Trying to Put Back Together What We Separated

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In the 1970's, the social issues (which are really just cultural resentments moralized) coopted the conservative Protestants and the Roman Catholics for right-wing politics.

Faced with an aggressive and ascendent conservatism in the 70's and 80's, Liberal Religion separated the personal and pastoral from the public and prophetic.  To bear witness to public liberalism got to be too hard, too frustrating, too dispiriting.  The progressive movement was caught up in internal conflicts between liberals and radicals.

In a silent refutation of the understanding that "the personal was political", the liberal church accepted a compartmentalization of the human being into individual and social spheres.

As individuals, each of us needs to become better people, more skilled relationally, more at peace within, more sophisticated observers of our emotional response to the world and more skillful at regulating ourselves.  These concerns were called the Human Potential movemen…

Remembering the Flawed, the Mistaken, and the Destructive

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Margaret Thatcher is dead.  Some people are quite loyal to her and to her memory.  Being a follower of Margaret Thatcher was an important decision in their lives, and they remain loyal to her and to that earlier version of themselves that supported her.

On the other hand, a lot of people recognize that Thatcher-Reagan Thermidor against the possibilities of liberalism as a tragic mistake, one that had profoundly negative effects on millions of people's lives.

A little kerfuffle has broken out about how to remember someone like Margaret Thatcher.  The little subservient loyal subject in all of us wants to offer tribute to the great and powerful who made the world that we live in.  Others keep pointing out the obvious and unmistakable historical truths of her life and work.

There isn't a parish minister who doesn't know this situation.  Each has been called to create a memorial service for someone flawed, mistaken and even destructive, someone both loved and hated in the comm…

It didn't work...

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It is time to declare the Thatcher-Reagan experiment over.  It was a failure.  It didn't  create a better society.  In fact, what has emerged at the end of this forty years of history is an obscene maldistribution of wealth, a new aristocracy, and a general decline in the lot of the poor, the working poor and the middle class.  Our new aristocracy is the nobles of the financial sector, who control the movement of capital in the economy, and take a little bit on everything, despite adding little in value.  The other beneficiaries of the last forty years has been the fossil fuels industry which plans to take the whole planet down with them as the approach the end of the resource that they have been exploiting all along.

Morally decent people everywhere see the individual pieces of this social policy disaster, but are only now connecting all the dots.

What we have experienced was a forty year Thermidor -- a furious counter-revolution to the

progressive vision of a better society whi…

The Red Equal Sign

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Some definitions:

The Human Rights Campaign is, to use the language of the Left, a Right Opportunist organization.  It can be successful because it asks for so little.  Its demands are the demands of the people closest to the system.  Marriage Equality is not a particularly radical demand; it's actually a conservative demand.

A lot of people are angry at the Human Rights Campaign, especially after it inspired 2-3 million people to change their facebook profile picture to a red equal sign.  Those angry folks are Left Sectarians, again, in the language of the Left. They are angry and frustrated at the Right Opportunists leadership of the movement, and angry that the less involved (the masses seem to prefer the wrong leaders.

I know that this is mansplaining, but it's also a geezer lecture.  This is not a new story, but a long-standing pattern in radical politics in the United States.  As the right opportunists get close to winning some reform, the left sectarians raise more and …

After Easter

Aside from going to the Easter service at the UU congregation of Ann Arbor, which was not especially Christocentric, I didn't do anything particular for Holy Week.  Yes, I posted some blogposts from the privacy of my study, and in the dead of the night, but I didn't go to any of local church services.  There is a very nice small, progressive Methodist church around the corner, complete with rainbow flags and folk singers.  They had a Good Friday service -- short, 30 minutes and repeated three times.  They had a service and a potluck on Saturday afternoon.  I didn't go.

I didn't expect this response to Holy Week, now that I am out of active parish ministry.

Mostly, what I feel is relief; I allowed myself to be aware of the frustrations and resentments I had felt in active parish work during this season.

I never felt the work of Holy Week was burdensome.  I enjoyed writing newsletter articles re-telling the story of Jesus' last week in Jerusalem.  I enjoyed thinking…