Showing posts from November, 2013



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

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

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

Should Minister's Housing Be Taxed?

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

The courts will decide that question.

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

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

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

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

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

Taxing Minister's Housing

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

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

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

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

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

Religious Community is Not Enough

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

Every Baby Should be Blessed; Every Family Affirmed

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

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

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

Hanukkah 2013:

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

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

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

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

Unitarian Universalism in the Age of Obama

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

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

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

Federalism and Institutionalized Racism.

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

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

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

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

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

A Different Tribe for a Different World.

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

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

Belote writes:

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

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

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

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

Why the "Lively Tradition"

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

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

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

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

Competing Moral Foundations.

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

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

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

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

An Easy Fifth Principle Application

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

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