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Showing posts from July, 2013

How to Fight Classism In UU Churches -- Tithing

Right now, most of our churches depend on particularly generous givers.  Let's call them our "angels".  Often they are older people who give a larger dollar amount.  Both they and the church leadership do not like to call attention to this fact, so they are never publicized, nor honored.  It means that the most important financial relationships that sustain the church are secret.  Yet everyone knows what is going on.  They have covert power.

Yet, these people are often not the most generous givers, because while the dollar amount is higher than others, they are giving a smaller percentage of their income or assets.

This system is a class-based system, giving more power to the members of the church who have the higher position in the class system of the general society.  And like the general society, this class power is hidden and disguised.  It means that our congregations conform to the class system, not counter it.

Tithing establishes a different standard: by explici…

United or Untied?

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When I served my previous church, I was a big extrovert in the congregation.  I knew more people's names than they expected.  I worked the sanctuary before the service like a South Boston politician at a pancake breakfast at St. Bridget's.  I was using my self to encourage a sense of community, pastor as host to the party that is the congregation.

When I moved here, I started attending a UU congregation right away.  And I found myself coming to church at the last minute and scooting out to the car after giving my heartfelt respect to the day's preacher.  I had suddenly turned into an introvert.  The question was not whether the congregation was friendly and welcoming, but whether I was ready and willing to be welcomed.

Why was I holding back?   Indeed, why does anyone hold back from entering into or committing to a community?

And people do hold back.  Organizational memberships in all sorts of organizations are down.  People are passionate about political causes but don…

Conservative and Anti-Racist?

Give up, the struggle is not worth it !

This is my message to politically conservatives who want to maintain their illusion that one can be a Republican or a conservative and not be defending racism and the racist social structure of the United States.  Yes, it might have been possible in the 1960's, but it is not possible now.

The lengths that you have to go intellectually to justify your loyalty to the Republican Party are corrosive to your intellectual powers, and they are morally demeaning, and they only get you in deeper.

Since the George Zimmerman verdict, you have been engaged in an ideological skirmish over racial profiling -- which you claim does not go on, and is only rational anyway.  I think I read someone say that it is only "Criminal" profiling.  Anyway the argument goes that since black men and youth are statistically more likely to commit crimes, good police work will see black men and youth as meriting closer watch, the occasional stop and frisk, and eve…

How to fight classism in UU Churches

Is your congregation on the side of working class and poor people in the real world?

Is it as important to you and your church that people in your community are subject to exploitation as they are to oppression?

Same sex couples in your community may not be allowed the rights and privileges of a legal marriage.  It's an outrage.  It is great that your congregation will say so publicly, and will support every effort to change that.

Does your congregation also see it as also outrageous that minimum wage workers in your community, working for some of the biggest corporations in the country, cannot earn enough to support a family, even with two or three jobs?

Does your congregation also speak up for Walmart workers who must go through Medicaid for health care and food stamps for food?

Is your congregation willing to go to the State Capitol to lobby for Medicaid expansion in your state?  UU's organize lobby days for reproductive justice; do they do the same for poor kids' hea…

Historical Reminder

For those who forget the finer details of American history, or who content themselves with the kind of glorified secular salvation story that passes for our history, a few words about the transition from the Articles of Confederation to the present Constitution of the United States.

It was an extra-legal process: there was no way that the Articles of Confederation could put themselves out of business, nor even start a process to write a new Constitution.  It was just done; everyone knew that it was being done; the new Constitutionalists went out of their way to make a process of writing and ratification that would give the new government legitimacy.

One of the driving forces for the process was the fact that the various states had borrowed money from wealthy people, debts which it appeared that those states could not pay back. They borrowed the money in part to finance the Revolutionary War.

One of the powers of the new Federal government was that it absorbed the unpaid debts of the v…

Standing on the Side of Love in Michigan

To stand on the side of love is to cut through the derp and see the people involved in what seems like complex social issues, but are really not complicated at all.

There was a time when to mention homosexuality and marriage was to trigger a tsunami of high minded honking about what was the best way to raise children and what was the proper role of marriage in the maintenance of an orderly society.  To stand on the side of love is to see people who are devoting their lives to each other stigmatized and rejected.

There was a time when to talk about immigration would occasion all sorts of public intellectuals to get up and blow 32 bars about labor policy, wage differentials, trade arrangements, outsourcing and temporary workers.  To see through the eyes of love is to see families torn apart, and people wanting to work, and people stigmatized and rejected.

There was a time when to talk about reproductive justice would invite men to bring out their soapboxes and orate about the promiscuit…

A Modest Proposal: Tax White Privilege

A very modest proposal:  If we accept racial profiling as a "racist public safety tax" -- a sadly necessary denial of African American individuality, in which African American males give up the presumption of their innocence, their 4th amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizures and occasionally, their 5th amendment right to due process in the taking of their lives by the state and vigilante forces in return for increasing white people's sense of public safety, then, a specific counter-vailing incentive should be brought to bear to keep this to a minimum, a check and balance.

So, I am proposing a White Privilege Public Safety Tax: a tax imposed on all white citizens and residents of the United States of America.  This tax would create a fund to compensate those people of color who are mistakenly profiled by state agents and vigilantes.  For example, a young black man who was stopped and frisked only to find school books and a smartphone would receive a sum …

Racial Pofiling: A Racist Public Safety Tax?

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Ta-Nahisi Coates calls racial profiling "a racist public safety tax," leveled on African America.  Because of the strength made in white people's mind of the connection between black men and boys and criminality, all black males must suffer individual invisibility, police invasion and the higher danger of extra-judicial killing.
He says it, thus, in a blog post responding to Richard Cohen's defense of profiling.

They hold that neither I, nor my twelve year old son, nor any of my nephews, nor any of my male family members deserve to be judged as individuals by the state. Instead we must be seen as members of a class more inclined to criminality. It does not matter that the vast, vast majority of black men commit no violent crime at all. Cohen argues that that majority should unduly bear the burden of police invasion, because of a minority who happens to live among us.
Richard Cohen concedes that this is a violation, but it is one he believes black people, for the good …

What do you think?

... the perception of black men as inherently criminal is what most black people really mean by “racism” when they talk about its prevalence.

So says John McWhorter in a recent article in New Republic article.  

What do you think?

I recognize that the statement is unverifiable.  How would one ever find out what most black people really mean by any statement?  You can poll and find out what percentage of people would agree or disagree with a particular statement, but what they really mean is impossible.   But be that as it may.

McWhorter is zeroing in on what seems to be the most potent white racist tropes, which underlie not only the relationship between black men and criminal justice system, but also many public policies.  And he is making a double-sided observation.  Not only does he imply that most white people really make this connection, but also that most black people think most white people make this connection and that it drives everything else.

Is not the desire to restrict vo…

Blah Blah Blah Derp Amen

For a while there, the internets were ablaze with the white hot anger of religious professionals upset with other religious professionals about who didn't say what where about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.  Too many church services about the "spirituality of gardening" and "finding the holy at the beach" and the "theology of baseball" on Sunday, July 14th.  Even Gini Courter got in her licks, criticizing Peter Morales for being late to the party with his statement condemning the verdict.

Oh, I agree with the criticism: I think liberal religious leaders have an absolute requirement to be ready to speak prophetically and pastorally in moments like this.

I learned this the hard way, on September 11, 2001, my colleague called me and we watched the coverage of the attack in New York City.  Somewhere along the line, she said that we should start to plan for a different worship service on Sunday.  I said that we should wait "to see if this was g…

It's not just white privilege; it's white authority

White privilege comes from the decisions to color-code the working class of North America, decisions made in the very early days of colonial settlement, even before New England was settled. 
The legal system of American slavery was a new invention and codified very early in colonial history.  Slavery in England before 1600 was debt slavery, had a time limit, and was inherited father to son. A son would be in servitude until the unpaid of his father was cleared.
But slavery in America was for life, had no time limit and was a status inherited through the mother.  If your mother was a slave, then you were a slave.  (Think about the sexual violence and rape assumed by that legal redefinition.)  Laws had to be written and judicial precedents established to make this a legal system.  It was conscious and deliberate work.
Slavery in British North America was a legal system created to solve specific problems in the extraction of wealth from the colonies.  
In the beginning, it was tobacco w…

Who's In Charge Here? The Historical Context : the Empowerment Controversy

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If "Derp" is defined as the unreflective repetition of previously held opinion, the events of 1969 in the UUA, the empowerment controversy, are the mother lode of UU derp.

As predictably as House Republicans assuring us that tax cuts for the rich will solve whatever problem is at hand, UU writers assure us that empowerment controversy is deeply relevant to whatever problem is under discussion.

I confess that I wasn't there, having left UUism about that time, because I had concluded that UUism made a lousy political organization.  It was a religious institution that couldn't make up its mind about anything; meanwhile, there was an actual movement available at the time.  (Snark alert! We have solved that problem by now, by calling ourselves a movement too, although motion is sometimes hard to detect.)

But I get it; it's an important story for understanding who we are, we think.  Unfortunately, it is a damaging and inaccurate story.

The story we tell is that afte…

Ministerial Authority and Systems of Oppression: The Intersections.

COA "Who's In Charge Here" deals with ministerial authority, power and oppression in our UU systems.

The most important fact that must be kept in mind is that institutions of liberal religion reduced the authority of the office of minister throughout the 20th century.

1. Humanism and atheism ended any thought that the minister knew something about ultimate reality.

2. The expansion of University Education that made lay members equally or better educated than the ministers themselves.

3. Unitarian growth strategy was to build lay-led formations, which led to a radical laicism, which we call the "fellowship mentality."

4.  Liberal Religion in the 20th century stepped back on questions of sexual morality.  Because more orthodox forms of Christianity had failed so completely to deal with people's sexual lives, we carved out a place as that church where no one is going to judge your sexual life, the church that doesn't do guilt and shame.  An unspoken consp…

Who's In Charge Here?: Historical Context

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The COA summarizes the historical context of the relationship between ministry and authority as being about the "granting or revocation of authority to ministers" as a result of "the tension between religious principle and popular national sentiment."

How this is the context for Rev. Hitchen and the East Lyndon Fellowship conflict over sermon talkbacks I don't know.

The Commission went off track back in the discussion of the Cambridge Platform.  Because they did not unpack the meaning of the authority of the minister over the "ministry of the word", the only thing that they could take from the CP was that congregations hired and fired ministers.  Starting from there, they followed a "hiring/firing" thread through UU history, but ignored the hundreds of cases in which ministers were fired, forced to resign, or beaten into submission over the content and conduct of worship.  What is left in our history are the cases of ministers who aroused …

Who's In Charge Here? WW1: Taft and Holmes

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In its historical context section, the COA recounts the story of World War 1.  William Howard Taft, the ex-President and Moderator of the Unitarian General Conference, declared that "it was the duty of the church to preach the righteousness of the war and the necessity of our winning it in the interest of the peace of the world."

The AUA also voted to deny financial aid to any church that did not support the war.

The Rev. John Haynes Holmes of the Church of the Messiah (now Community Church of New York City) took a public pacifist position against the war for which he got into trouble with the AUA, even to the point of risking his fellowship.  In the end, Holmes, the Community Church and the AUA were reconciled.

My question is why is this story relevant to the question of ministerial authority? No reference is given about any conflict between Holmes and the congregation he served.  The conflict was between a local minister and the national denomination.  The question was wh…

Who's In Charge Here? Another one-sided historical anecdote.

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The COA contrasts the situations of Channing and Parker regarding their anti-slavery stances, and the effects on their ministerial authority.  Channing, it is alleged, was prevented from making a strong anti-slavery stance by the economic interests of his congregation.   When he did make that stance, it caused his authority in his congregation to be challenged.

The Commission then turns to the case of Theodore Parker. "In contrast, his friend Theodore Parker led a thriving congregation in the same city while being an ardent and vocal abolitionist."

Some facts are missing in the story:

Channing's reticence about joining in the anti-slavery movement is a complex and somewhat mysterious.  It can be tied to his romantic racism and to his distrust of power, especially his own.  It is misleading to reduce it to his economic self-interest and the self-interest of his congregants. But, I do think that his congregation circumscribed his freedom of action in this case.  I think t…

"Who's In Charge Here?" One-sided view of the Cambridge Platform

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The  Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA) Commission on Appraisal (COA) has written a report on the question of ministry and authority.

The 3rd chapter is "Historical and Cultural Context".  It's not a particularly helpful summary.

It starts with the Cambridge Platform, of course, as it should.  The summary foreshadows the problems with the analysis to come.

It summarizes the authority of "Preachers and Teachers" to 'attend chiefly to the Ministry of the Word.'

Contemporary UU's, for the most part, have no idea what the phrase 'the Ministry of the Word' means.  This antique phrase never appears in any list of competencies expected of UU ministers.  The COA report also mentions that congregants were to 'most willingly submit to their (preachers and teachers) ministry in the Lord.'

The other aspect of the Cambridge Platform mentioned in the COA report is that congregations have the power to ordain and remove ministers fro…

"Who's In Charge Here" Case Study One.

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The UUA's Commission on Appraisal has issued their report: "Who's in Charge Here; the complex relationship between ministry and authority."

A group of ministers are reading the book together.  My colleagues can identify themselves as part of the group as the wish in the comments.

The following is my take on the first case study they present: a fictional, composite study of a composite church.  I was inspired by our conversation together, but this is not a summary or consensus statement of our discussion: just my take.

Making sense of Case Study #1.
The first case study -- a composite, fictional situation -- is stereotypical of conflict over authority in a church.
My take is that it is the congregation in question ("the UU Fellowship of East Lyndon")  has confused “authority” with “informal power”; it has no clear understanding of “authority”. 
The case church is pre-merger, formerly a fellowship, with a varied history of settled and interim ministries, none…

What We Carry Into the next 50 years.

We are "voices in the wilderness" preparing the way for humanity to proclaim itself the Indigenous Earth People.

"People-hood" is either imposed or self-proclaimed in the midst of struggle.  We see this in micro-ways often and in larger ways less often.  It is the creation of a collective identity -- a community.  50 years ago, there was no LGBTQ community.  Now there is.  

We are Universalists.  Our theological construction imagines a single humanity equally beloved by God. A single humanity exists as a theoretical concept, but does not in consciousness.  Humanity as a whole has very little self-awareness of itself as Humanity.  Everybody has multiple identities, some which are nurturing and some of which are imposed and limiting.  We are all sorting out which of our multiple identities we will claim and which we will set aside and which require some work on our part.  And somewhere among those identities is "I am a human being" but it is not now reall…

Channing: a speculation about psychology

Back in 1997, Dr. Pat Davis at Perkins school of Theology assigned to write a paper inquiring into the psychological development of a religious leader.  It was an exercise, and we were all aware of the difficulty of doing that long distance analysis.  But we were reading Erik Erikson's analysis of Martin Luther at that time, so we were already deep in those waters.

I chose Channing as my subject.  There is a lot written about Channing including several biographies, mostly hagiographic, that are based on Channing's own journals.  And I chose as my focus the often observed discomfort that Channing had with power.

This subject returned to me after Ministry Days this year: Rev. Parisa Parsa's sermon on our Calvinist roots and Rev. Lillian Daniels who chided us for blaming Calvin for all our anxieties and stuff.  Channing was on the front lines against Calvinism; how did that work in his life?

And the issue of power is perplexing to us now.  How shall we use our power?  There i…

Our 50 year mission

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At the heart of all great struggles against oppression and exploitation are individual persons struggling to lay claim to themselves.

All religions are religions of revelation.  Each knows a particular truth, whether from its own experience, or from on high.  They have a core teaching that they embody and advance in the world.  

Liberal Religion started in skepticism; a core belief was in the right of every person to determine their own beliefs.  That has widened and blossomed into an affirmation that every person has the inalienable right to determine for themselves who they are on the most fundamental level: even in categories (sexuality and gender) that seemed iron-clad a century ago.

The 21st century will be a world of often violent competition for resources, ruthless exploitation, power centralizing to financial capital, and ever-changing patterns of oppression.  There will be great struggles against oppression and exploitation and powerlessness.

At the heart of all great struggl…

50 Years?

Gini Courter said that we need a 50 year vision.
Some of my friends think that 50 years is an impossible planning horizon.  One even called it "oppressive" in that it imagines one generation imposing its will on the future. 
I have no idea how seriously Courter meant 50 years.  Maybe it was the equivalent of the Biblical 40 years -- meaning a long time.
I also don't know what she meant as a "vision".  All these re-organization words -- mission, vision, strategy, objective, plan etc. -- are vague and often interchangeable.  People can project what they want, or don't want, into the words as a method of argument.  People describe "visions" as words on paper signifying nothing or as Stalinist masterplans enforced by bureaucratic terror, and everything in between.
But everybody I know thinks that there is something missing in Unitarian Universalism as it is a practiced, some passionate purpose that is beyond shared belief, greater than religious commu…

The Uncommon Denomination

Gini Courter said that the UUA lacked a 50 year vision, but bounced along with 4-6 year visions that were based on denominational elections and were tactical and strategic only.  She said that the problem was that congregations and the General Assembly and the Board were not doing their job in developing that vision.

I suggested we should look to two sources for that vision-casting: first, our ministers, especially the ministers most respected by other ministers as visionary.  The second was to people already showing visionary leadership.

Regarding the ministers -- well, this is where I got out of line and where I need, apparently, to be hammered back into my proper position.  Sorry, I am unrepentant, and I am willing to argue about this at length.

Here's the incident that got me started on this track.

Remember the Uncommon Denomination advertising campaign.  As Gini said that it came and went, no one ever knew if it was successful.  Whether it moved people out there or not, I don…