Showing posts from September, 2013

Sunday Assemblies

Check this short video from the Sunday Assembly founders.

The question that I have is why are they trying to fit what they are doing into the model of a "church"?  Sunday Assembly -- a "godless congregation" -- a celebration of life?  OOO Look, we might be an "atheist church"!  Maybe even an "atheist MEGAchurch."

What marketing genius thought of this?  Let's take our new, vibrant, and exciting thing and call it by the name of something that most people don't want.  It would be as if Victoria Secret decided to call their newest line of panties "bloomers".

What I am seeing is that some leaders (who are not professional clergy) have come upon how to gather people for regular events that inspire reverence, awe, service, and community.  They using social media to replicate and spread that experience around the world.

People say that what they are doing is the same thing as a humanist UU church or an Ethical Culture Society does.  O…

The "Atheist Church"

Check out this article about London's Atheist Church -- the Sunday Assembly.

Leave aside for a moment all your questions and comments about the purported necessity of having an exclusively atheist theological mix.  Notice what they are doing for an aggressive growth model:  it's a franchise model.

A recent article by the newly-minted Sunday Assembly Everywhere (SAE) network outlines the SA affiliation process: Interested groups must apply for a Sunday Assembly charter and license agreement, “which will give you the right to use all the Sunday Assembly materials, logos, positive vibe and goodwill.” The next step is to form a legal entity, probably an “unincorporated association… which allows you to have a bank account.” And then, training from SA HQ, either in the UK or via “webinars and telecals worldwide.” If all goes well, aspiring founders will be invited to sign “A SAE Stage I Charter. This is a ‘provisional license,’ which gets you running your Sunday Assembly using our …

Why I am concerned about Sectarianism

When someone talks to you about Christianity, they ask you if your know Christ.  They don't ask you to consider giving your life to being a Baptist, or joining a Methodist congregation.

Islam asks you if you agree that there is only one God, and Mohammed is his prophet.  They talk about God and prayer and a few practices,  not being Shia or Sunni or Salafi.

When your friends asks you consider meditation and the study and practice of Zen, they don't talk about this or that lineage of teachers.

What is proposed is changing your life, your orientation, your spiritual practice, your beliefs.  The invitation to make that change through a particular institution comes later.

We ask people to be grateful, generous, loving, holistic, just, compassionate and self-aware persons.  We ask them to start where they are and do their best, and keep trying, to become persons who embody and enact love and peace and justice and reverence in everyday life. We seek, for them and for ourselves, to …

Pope Francis and UU Pastoral Ministry

"The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently."  Pope Francis.

What is "the church's pastoral ministry?"

Among we Unitarian Universalists, "pastoral" usually means "personal."  The care, and support, and  comfort that a minister offers to an individual, or a family.

But I don't think that Francis meant that "personal" ministry in the statement above.  Catholics use the word "pastoral" differently, and to describe a whole kind of ministry that we Unitarian Universalists are not quite conscious of.

"Pastoral" is, of course, connected to shepherding and sheep.  Catholics see their pastoral ministry as guiding their flock, shepherding their people, toward a deeper and more lived faith.  The church is trying to lead people in a process of changing.

We come closest to describing this work as "spiritual development…

Is UUism too sectarian?

The other day,  in response to Erik Resly, I put up a little chart that separated "belief" from "sectarian" in contemporary Unitarian Universalism.  I made them two axis, creating one of those 4 field grids so popular in training programs. One axis is the continuum on the question of theological beliefs: do you believe that there are a distinct, even though buried, set of common theological beliefs in UUism, or do you believe that UUism is not defined by beliefs, but by something else: practices, ethics, values, rituals or whatever.
The other axis is the continuum of opinion on sectarianism.  At one end would those who believe that Unitarian Universalism is a new and unique world religion, distinct and unto itself and at the other end are those who who believe that UUism is a transient organizational form of a much larger religious movement, in the way that Methodists believe that they are part of the Body of Christ, the world Christian movement.

I am very intereste…

Constitution Day

Today is Constitution Day, commemorating the writing of the US Constitution in Philadelphia.
Much will be said today, much of it patriotic sentimental blather about liberty and freedom and the moral virtues of limited government.  

The most important fact about the Constitution, indeed the hermeneutical key to reading it, is this: The Constitution was written to create the strongest possible Federal Government that would not have, and could not ever have, enough power to end slavery.  

The early nation's 1% needed a stronger government, in part because they feared that the various states could not pay the back that the wealthy had lent them to finance the Revolution.  A new national government which would assume the debts of the states was the solution to the problem. The obstacle was that the Southerners feared that such a powerful national government might then be an instrument by which slavery would be threatened.  At the same time, other elements did not want to codify slavery…

Beliefs vs Sects -- Response to Erik Risely

Rev. Erik has posted a thoughtful piece about whether UU's need or have a distinctive set of beliefs.  He has gotten a bunch of good comments on Facebook, and one snide on his blog.

But I think that he collapsed two different questions: one is whether we are sectarian and anti-sectarian and the other is whether we have a particular UU faith, or are a multi-faith spirituality.  The more I thought about this, the more I saw them as a grid, which I offer for all of your exploration.  I almost included names of people I know in each of the grids, but I didn't want to speak for them.

Another Front in the Class War

OK, I have carried on here about income inequality, and about the dominance of finance capital, and the 99% and the 1%, and why everyone should support fast food and retail workers in their fight for a decent living wage.  

Now, how about something perhaps a little closer to home for the middle-aged middle class?

The economic policies of this country have you on a path headed toward elder poverty and deprivation, and you will be told that it is all your own fault.

There was a time when companies paid pensions.  A pension is a "defined benefit" system.  Based on your years of service and income, recipients get a check for as long as they live: a defined benefit.  Social Security is a defined benefit system.  Under a defined benefit system, employers paid into a pension fund, which professionally invested the fund to make it grow.

Some 30 to 40 years ago, defined benefit plans were phased out and defined contribution funds were established to take their place.  The employer …

A sign that the 9/11 era is passing

President Obama, in his speech last night, said that we did not need to fear retaliation from the Assad government if the US made a military strike against them.  Obama said, “the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military. Any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day."

In other words, the United States is a very well-defended country; our security is as assured as anyone's might be in this world.  We face threats but we can handle them.

For most of the last 12 years, we have been told by our government that our country was in grave danger and that we were vulnerable to terrorist attacks.  Occasional events like the "shoe bomber", the "underwear bomber" and the "pressure cooker bombers" reinforced our fears.**

Last night, we heard a more realistic and more objective President.

President Obama's more realistic evaluation of the threat we face is a sign that we are moving t…

Theo Hobson's "The Good Kind of Liberalism"

Ron Robinson asked what I thought of this article in Christian Century.  In it, Theo Hobson argues that there is a good kind of liberal theology and a bad kind of liberal theology.

The good kind:

The good tradition of liberal theology is that which affirms a deep affinity between the gospel and political and cultural liberty. These things don’t exist in the abstract; they exist when a state promotes and protects them. Good liberal theology affirms the liberal state. Indeed, it was this tradition that first imagined the liberal state, in the mid-17th century. It rejected the assumption that a state needed religious unity (or “unitary theopolitics”), and it proposed liberty as the authentic basis for future national unity.
The bad kind:

The bad tradition of liberal theology is that which seeks to reform Christianity in the direction of rationalism and optimism about natural human capacities—a direction that can probably be summed up as “humanism” without too much confusion. Soon after t…

Joining a Church

I am in the process of joining the congregation here in Ann Arbor, where we moved at the beginning of 2013.  And I am savoring this moment of non-membership and allowing myself to feel this process.

There is no doubt that I will sign the book.  This is my faith tradition from birth.  I get church life.  I really like the ministers at the church.  I find the worship fulfilling and satisfying, even though it is more humanist than I have been used to.  We filled out our pledge card months ago.  The people that I have met seem to be good solid folks I would like to have friends and companions.  But I don't really know them.

And there is where a little note of disharmony enters the picture.  A little discordant and false note.  The rhetoric of joining a UU congregation is typically describes it as "entering into this religious community" or "joining this group of people" or even "entering into a covenant with these people."

I know this because I have used …

Why Shouldn't We Try to Shape the Culture?

Keith Goheen writes:

So what I am hearing you suggest is that we set aside our diversities and unite in opposition to a common enemy, those nefarious, negative and illiberal Samaritans of Christendom, the Fundamentalists, whom everybody hates anyway. If we sacrifice our inner conversation and focus outward on a mandate of positive values, our empire will flourish! People will recognize that we are the good, value-driven souls, and if they join with us in staying focused on the values, they will not have to attend to internal conflicts, either. Peace will reign! It's a catchy idea, but how does it square with Jesus' teachings?
I am tempted to repeat everything I have said in the last couple posts to show that Keith has reduced them to absurdity.  Something about a proposal of an assertive Unitarian Universalism trying to promote liberal values strikes him as aggressive and unhealthy.

But let's turn to the teachings of Jesus.  The ministry of Jesus was an embodied polemic ag…

For discussion

How about this?

Every UU congregation could grow and thrive in its present building and with its present minister, if it

1.) clarified what it wanted to teach to the community around it,
2.) started serving the community in a way that brought its message to life
3.) learned to welcome, include and empower all the new people who might come
4.) let go of what no longer served its focus and purpose.


So We Are All Humanists Now? So What?

Rev. Melanie tweets:

7h All humanists now--well done, almost self-evident. But what do we do w/those pesky marketing disputes? Anybody who manages to end all those marketing disputes within congregations about which humanist reinterpretation of which religious tradition gets expressed in the liturgy on which Sunday of the month deserves a Nobel Prize. Or at least, a fancy chalice on a sash given at a plenary in GA. Nonetheless, I have some thoughts. Let's name the problem properly. We have an atmosphere of persistent theological anxiety. People have the fear that their local congregation is going to change in a way that leaves them out. Or that it won't change enough for them to ever feel at home. As a result, they get very alert to changes in the liturgy of the congregation. Further: Ministers do not have very much authority that derives from their position as the minister. Even after the extensive and expensive process of edu…

So, we are all humanists now? Now what ?

The point of my observation that all of supposed theological diversity among UU's is really variations of humanism is this: we can stop treating our theological diversity as the most important thing.

I propose that we ignore it for a while.  There are some things that just need a good leaving alone.

We should talk about other things.

We should be drawing a bright line between liberal religion and fundamentalist religion.  Liberal religion believes that religion is a human cultural product, that no religion is more true than another and the value of religious life is pragmatic -- does it improve life, create justice, and happiness?

We should be evangelizing for the virtues of liberality: reverence and awe, honesty and humility, generosity and gratitude, openness, solidarity, compassion and self-possession.  We should be asking people to decide to make these values the cornerstones of their lives.

When we are at our best, our common commitment to these virtues subsumes and transcen…

We are all humanists now.

Almost all of the supposedly diverse Unitarian Universalist theologies are humanist reinterpretations of pre-humanist religious movements.  Indeed, the Unitarianism and Universalism of the 19th century were reinterpretations of Calvinist Protestantism in the light of the emerging humanism.  
The Enlightenment demolished supernaturalism, and when theology now longer described material reality, the purpose of religion turned to serving human happiness and betterment. Religion turned from being God-centered to Human-centered.  In short, humanism, in its broadest sense. 
This broad humanism was not the same as twentieth century humanism, as summarized by the Humanist Manifesto. 20th century humanism took the path of continued theological realism: the positive statement that there was no God.  But other humanists took the path of reinterpreting older religious tradition to serve human purposes. 
I’ve been a UU Christian for years, and I assure you that most UU Christians are humanists, reinte…

If frogs had wings..

I wish that there was some way in which potential genocides could be stopped before they happen, and that war crimes could be nipped in the bud.  I wish there was a cavalry that come ride to the rescue of innocent people caught in bloody conflicts.  I wish there was international law and order.

My inclination is to be a liberal humanitarian interventionist.

But I don't think that it works.

I am just as clear that the USA cannot be that cavalry -- the police force of the global system.  The horrific situations where we are most tempted to intervene are horrific because they are the working out of longstanding conflicts.  Our intervention only involves us in those conflicts.

The combination of the Cold War, oil wealth and the conflict with Israel brought a series of militarized dictatorships to power all across the Middle East: from Libya to Iran.  Those have been going under.  They are not being replaced by secular democratic governments but by more conservative Islamic movements…


I don't know what party this was taken at, but I have only a vague memory of being there.

Lincoln and the Butler

The Steven Spielberg movie "Lincoln" was criticized for the way that it is treated the White House domestic staff, especially Lincoln's butler.  Lincoln's butler, (called "Slade" in the movie) was historically, an active leader in the free black community of Washington, D.C. However, he was portrayed as merely kindly and avuncular in Spielberg's movie.  For a critique of "Lincoln" the movie, on those grounds, see here.

Almost a year later, Lee Daniel's The Butler arrives to tell us a story of another White House Butler. Forest Whitaker portrays Cecil Gaines, the son of a sharecropper who served for 30 years in the White House as a butler. That 30 years covered the years of the Civil Rights Movement, beginning with Eisenhower and ending with Reagan.  Cecil Butler, in livery, silently served coffee and tea in rooms where white Presidents sought to evade the demands of justice.  The first such scene we see is Eisenhower trying to avoid sendin…

Obama and Syria

President Obama continues his pattern of making good faith efforts to fulfill the role of President correctly.

When it comes to foreign policy and the use of force abroad, the USA has developed a system of an over-functioning executive branch and an under-functioning legislative branch.  The result is an Imperial Presidency and  a bias toward interventionism.

By seeking Congressional approval for military strikes against the Syrian government, he is doing what he ought, under the Constitution, to be doing.  He is not complying with the dangerous Constitutional theory that allows the Executive branch complete and unchallenged power in foreign and military matters.  And by not complying, he exposes how far off the norm we have gotten.  The neocons are now in the position of arguing that he should be more imperious, that he endangers the country by not unilaterally seeking out every quagmire he can find.  

President Obama keeps acting like a President ought to act.  He seeks bi-partisa…