Showing posts from 2014

What Ministers Can Do

The public life of the country is roiling and boiling.

The incredible upsurge of the anti-racist movement, led by young people of color, since Ferguson has brought racism front and center.

Now, we have the inevitable counter-attack, led by the New York City Police Union. An article posted yesterday by Max Blumenthal at Alternet details talk among the police union and New York Tea Party Republicans for an on-going campaign to "support the police." It's white backlash political opportunism.

It's on. The whole, messy, angry, honest, painful "Conversation About Race" that everybody said they wanted is on, and it is not being moderated by Jim Lehrer.

Ministers of liberal religion, such as the Unitarian Universalists and others, are used to conducting our ministry in the political climate of the 80's and 90's, when conservatism was culturally dominant. And we need to think about how that is changing in a new historical era.

I had only served a year when 9/…

Why We're Not Waiting for Rosa [by Cindy Landrum]

There are many people who lament that Michael Brown is the particular focus of these rallies and protests.  Most recently, in Time, John McWhorter writes, "I mourn Brown as we all do, but I worry that we have chosen the wrong tragedy to wake this country up" ("Ferguson Is the Wrong Tragedy"). 

Yes, the critics of this choice say, we need to do something about police violence, but why not choose someone more innocent, someone who didn't steal cigarettes before his death at the hands of police?  Why not John Crawford, shot for choosing to shop for a BB gun at Wal-Mart?  Or even Tamir Rice, shot this month within seconds of the arrival of the policy, for playing with a toy gun in a park?   At only 12 years old, he's less the image of the "thug" than Michael Brown was.

 McWhorter writes, "But we must consider the contrast with, say, Martin, killed for resisting a baseless detainment by a self-declared neighborhood patrolman.  Or Amadou Diallo, ki…

Take a Break and Light Your Chalice

Light Your Chalice.

When the news of the world fills you with dread and anguish, light your chalice. Your discomfort is telling you that you are torn and that you wrestle with contradictory ideas or goals. You have a divided heart and a troubled mind.

Light Your Chalice. Sit in its small circle of light.

There is a spirit that flows through the religion of the chalice. No one person can name it exactly, but it is carried by words like "generous" and "compassion" and "dignity" and "hope" and "fair".  It is the promise of our congregations, however imperfectly they live.

Light Your Chalice and try to touch this evanescent spirit, the spirit that is the deep calling to the deepest in you.

Is this spirit not a challenge to you? Doesn't ask you for more than you think you can give? More generous sympathy for the other? More kindness and patience? More imagination? More time and energy for the expression of love and nurturance of justice? …

The Power of One [By Rev. Shelley Page]

December 6, 2014
I note the power of one and the power of many.  
I called each and every African American church in Ogden on the morning after the Ferguson non-indictment, expressing solidarity and sorrow.  I had hoped to talk with people directly but ended leaving voice mail messages, something like:
“Hello. I am Rev. Shelley Page, interim minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden and I’ve only been in town since August.  This is a message for Pastor ________. We haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet, but I want you to know that I am heartbroken about the decision in Ferguson.  And my congregation is heartbroken, too.  We wish to express our sorrow and our solidarity at this difficult time.  If your congregation plans any public witness events, please let us know. We will be there beside you, standing on the side of love. Here is my personal cell phone and email if you would like to contact me. In the meanwhile, know that you are not alone. We stand together in love.”As…

What I Would Say....

I now longer serve a congregation, but I still find myself thinking as though I did. It's a habit and it dies hard. I wrote this newsletter column in my head the other day, before I remembered that there was no newsletter to publish it in. Well, there is this blog.

My dear congregants -- 
My head, my heart and my gut tell me that  I need to do everything I can to advance the growing movement against "blue-on-black" crime. I want you to join me. Now is the time that Unitarian Universalists should step up and step more deeply into the movements against racism. 
One of our most basic beliefs is that every human being counts. We believe in people and we believe in persons. It's in everything we do. We have formalized that belief with the phrase 'the inherent worth and dignity of every person' and embedded it in our first principle. 
But, African Americans and other people of color are telling us that, from what they have experienced, black lives do not matter in thi…

Anonymity and Blogging [by Cindy Landrum]

It's very common in the blogging world for bloggers to write anonymously.  I thought about this a lot before blogging myself, and decided carefully that anonymity didn't serve my purposes and that I would take the risks of being open with my identity.  But it does have risks.  While I decided to be public from the beginning, it was with understanding that it might limit me, make me be less bold, less willing to confront authority.  And it made me vulnerable to critique, to hate mail, to attack.  At the time, the UU "blogosphere" was populated with a lot of anonymous blogs, although some of their identities were known.  Here's a couple of those early bloggers -- Philocrities & Lizard Eater -- discussing anonymity in early blogging on the VUU (at about 14:35).

Today more bloggers have their name attached to their blogs, but it's still not unusual for bloggers to blog anonymously.  And this may be particularly true for seminarians, who may be testing out th…

Off The Record

I have been reading the posts from the anonymous UU seminarian, and the many comments that have come in.

I wish people who claim that "we" can't deal with "anonymous" statements could see themselves from afar. It's such a transparent avoidance technique and misdirection. The article has no specific criticisms of specific individuals. There is no healthy person to person alternative.

I myself, don't think that anonymity is warranted. I have not seen overt retribution and retaliation in the process that the author thinks is present. But sitting where I sit, there is a lot that I don't see.

How would you deal with this criticism differently if it were not anonymous? Well, you would know who is making the criticism, and you could offer them pastoral attention. But why assume that they need it from you? And you could evaluate the criticism based on who is making it...

Anonymity negates one defense against criticisms of the formation process: that the cr…

Canaries in the Coal Mines of Ministry

Seminarians are the canaries in the coal mine for the professional ministry. They give an advance warning that the atmosphere in which professional religious leadership is performed is growing toxic.

One toxic atmosphere is the economics, which many have pointed out already. Ministry is dependent on congregational stewardship. Congregations are being squeezed by lack of income growth in the middle class. The people are taking on big debts to become ministers are going to be among the first to notice what a risky proposition it is.

The second toxic atmosphere is the system of personal judgment and evaluation that governs our ministerial careers. The Commission of Appraisal in its study on authority pointed out that ministers have very little positional authority in our congregations. (Positional authority would be authority that comes with the office, no matter who is the minister. No, ministerial authority, as we now conceive it, is relational authority that is earned by personal beh…

"Fear Vs Boldness", Part 2 by an Anonymous UU Seminarian

I was offered a chance to publish this 2 part essay on the anxieties and fears that are felt by those preparing for the Unitarian Universalist ministry. The first step is to listen. The author and I welcome your comments and feedback. 
How to Grow Ministers Who Will Maintain the Status Quo  Part Two: Fear versus Boldness  by Anonymous

As I said in Part One, I hate that this post has to be anonymous, but there is a sense of mistrust and struggle that prevents me, and my fellow seminarians, from speaking in the open. I know this bothers some, as we say we are open and honest in our covenants with one another, yet I fear that by speaking out, I am putting my career in jeopardy. 
To many, this may seem odd; how can well-educated, articulate, passionate people feel so scared in a denomination that prizes prophetic witness?

It isn’t any one thing. But just as the crow in Aesop’s fable gets the water to rise by adding a bunch of pebbles to the jar, so too the many pebbles – including a long fo…

"Fear versus Boldness" by an Anonymous UU Seminarian

I was offered a chance to publish this 2 part essay on the anxieties and fears that are felt by those preparing for the Unitarian Universalist ministry. The first step is to listen. The author and I welcome your comments and feedback. 
How to Grow Ministers Who Will Maintain the Status Quo  Part One: Fear versus Boldness  by Anonymous

I hate that this post has to be anonymous. We are taught to be bold and confident. In fact, one of the centering qualities of our new UUA brand is “Boldness.”  Yet for people who have been called to ministry and are still in the formation stage (somewhere after our saying yes to the call, and the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) saying yes to our right to be ordained and later granted Final Fellowship), boldness is simultaneously encouraged and punished. And so in order to both be bold and avoid possible repercussions, this post is anonymous. 
As the most recent news about the present controversy at Starr-King School for the Ministry (SKSM) makes a s…

It's Not a Principle; It's a Covenant

It starts: "We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations covenant to affirm and promote: 

and the first thing that we agree to affirm and promote is

"the inherent worth and dignity of every human being."

Our congregations have made an agreement that we will act together to affirm and promote, which are "doing" words: verbs.

At this point in time, saying "Black Lives Matter" is the cutting edge of our first principle. The status quo assumes that they don't, in any meaningful way.

I am calling upon our congregations to fulfill the obligations of our mutual covenant: to act visibly to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, by proclaiming that "Black Lives Matter" to the wider communities where they are.

Haven't we have all ready promised each other we would do so?

Darren Wilson saw a "Demon"

Essential to the worldview of conservatism and racism is the reduction of "the other" to a malevolent, almost superhuman, force.

Re-humanization is re-claiming the humanness of conservatism's victims. Michael Brown was a human being, not a cartoon running in the head of Darren Wilson.

Deconstructing the "All Lives Matter" Response (by Rev Cynthia Landrum)

Monday night I posted on Facebook "#blacklivesmatter."  No sooner did I post this, than someone commented, "All lives matter."  And it was no surprise.  No sooner did the slogan "Black Lives Matter" start getting used in Ferguson than the response slogan "All Lives Matter" came back.  And on the surface of it, this seems completely reasonable.  All lives do matter, right?  Here's why the "All Lives Matter" slogan is a problem.

First of all, there's the context it is being used in.  A Saint Louis-area minister, for example, wrote of a "Black Lives Matter" sign being defaced with "All Lives Matter" written on the front and a racial slur written on the back.  The fact that "All Lives Matter" is being used to argueagainst the idea that Black lives matter is proof that (1) People spreading that slogan don't really believe Black lives matter, at least not equally, and (2) It's therefore not true…

Ministry and Beyond* [by Rev. Cynthia Landrum]

Our UUA President, Peter Morales, wrote a well-known position paper titled "Congregations and Beyond," in which he talked about how our Association can cultivate organizations beyond congregations that share and spread our Unitarian Universalist message.  Scott Tayler, Director of Congregational Life, has been talking about congregations and between, or about connecting congregations to share important staff and resources.  These are two important approaches for our association and our churches facing the "new era" (as we like to call it in MidAmerica).

 What I want to address is a third area: ministry.  Now there is much implication for ministers in Scott Tayler's work, in particular.  Ministers are freed up and allowed to focus in areas of excellence by working in ministry teams across congregations.   So this goes hand-in-hand with that vision, and is not contradictory to it. 

But what I want to suggest is that we need a new understanding of ministry, shar…

What I Want in a UUA President [Landrum]

The call for applicants for the next UUA president from the Presidential Search Committee is happening, and it has a lot of people talking about who should throw their name in to the PSC, and what things we're looking for in our next UUA president.

I took a little time recently to crunch some numbers.
NameBirth YearStart Year of PresidencyAge at beginning of PresidencyYears in Ministry Prior to PresidencyYears at UUA Prior to PresidencyTotal years UU prof. experienceBill Schulz19491985363710John Buehrens194719934620020Bill Sinkford1946/7200154077Peter Morales19462009638210
The last four presidents were all born at the beginning of the Baby Boomer era.  By the end of Peter Morales' presidency, they will have governed for 32 years.  And they are all men.  We've made great strides by having our first African-American president, and our first Latino president.

I think it's time for a woman or transgender president, and it's time for Generation X to step up to …

Direct Democracy in the UUA? by Rev, Dawn Cooley

Assumption #1: That we want to bring more diverse voices to the table of governance at General Assembly.
Assumption #2: What we have been doing is not working.
Assumption #3: Continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.
In a previous post (both on my blog and on the Lively Tradition), I wrote that we may want to consider moving toward direct democracy (rather than indirect) in regards to who has a vote at General Assembly. In the thought experiment I proposed, some wise folks (tbd) would decide what UUA “Citizenship” means, and then everyone who meets those requirements would get a vote.
There were a variety of different responses to the post. Some people shared they like the delegate system as it is. To those of you in this camp, please refer to the assumptions above.
Other shared that they thought that when covenanted communities are given the right to vote, that this will bring more people to the table. This may be true, but I can&…

"This Changes Everything"

says the title of Naomi Klein's book, subtitled Capitalism vs.The Climate.

"Universal Salvation" is part of the everything that it changes.

Framing the goal of life as "salvation" comes from the Apocalyptic era, when people thought that God was about the destroy humanity, because the human world was so screwed up. After all, when things are terrible, and seem to be getting worser and worser, just follow the trendlines to God's all-consuming fire.

To be "saved" was to be set aside at the end of time and spared.

When the apocalyptic age ended, the focus of death and salvation was moved to the afterlife: God's all-consuming fire was the fire of Hell and salvation was Heaven.

When the afterlife ended as a governing religious concept for religious liberals, salvation became an ironic joke. "Why do I need a savior? After all, what do I have to be saved from?" After all, our goals are nothing more than a long life of love and a good death.…

What I Want in A UUA President Part 2

I said this elsewhere, but I want to get it here.

I want a UUA President who will say forthrightly that she (presuming a younger, female UUA President) is unable to fix the problems of the local congregation.

Mostly our local congregations need money and members, and the UUA is not going to be able to supply them.  Yes, some need advice and training about  church governance, membership policies, and creating spiritual development programs. The UUA staff does a good job at providing these, and there are lots of other sources for that information.

And I agree that the UUA should provide more administrative support for local congregations through a centralized service bureau for fees, and the UUA President should be committed to making that come about.

That said, I don't the UUA President is the key to success in those efforts.

I also don't think that the UUA President will ever be a source of theological clarity. Theological clarity will arise through the common discussion of UU…

First Response to "Normalized a Vision of a Nation at War."

The premise of the Ian White Maher's essay is our internal focus. When I say, "internal focus" what I mean is the assumption that what matters to Unitarian Universalism is how each of us responds to each other: how each of us experience our work together.

The hook of the essay is Ian's response to the 2014 Service of the Living Tradition. The tension in the piece is between the strength of his antiwar commentary and the honor and dignity of the UU ministers who serve as military chaplains.

As I read it, I held my breath, fearing that somewhere Ian would go over some undefined line and devalue our colleagues' ministries and work. And you can see his earnest effort to avoid that, as well.

Is that what is most important now?

Part of why we are happy to honor our military chaplains is because having them shows that we are recovering from an earlier period of class-based moralistic judgment. It seemed that for many years, we thought, "People like us don't d…

"Normalized a vision of a nation at War" [Ian White Maher]

The Rev. Ian White Maher, who serves the new congregation "Original Blessing" in Brooklyn, New York, sent me the following essay. It's important, but irritating in a good way. Let's say challenging and prophetic instead. 
So read it carefully yourself. I am still trying to sort out my response. 

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
I walked out of this year’s Service of the Living Tradition in order to play with the cute two-year-old sitting next to me. Like my young friend, I found myself fidgeting in my seat, growing increasingly uncomfortable with the ceremony, and finally I decided that playing with this bundle of joy was more in line with where my life is these days. Although I really love playing with children and will take just about any opportunity to do so, this wa…

Before the Storm

The announcement of the Grand Jury in the case of Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, is due any day now.

Everyone is getting prepared. The Ferguson community and activists are conducting direct action trainings and recruiting medics, and clergy, and legal workers.

Governor Nixon had a press conference promising state violence and repression if private property is threatened.

The police are training and gathering the weapons of war around them.

Around the country, solidarity networks are being strengthened and actions are being planned.

How should I prepare my heart?

My fear is that I will be driven by my fears, and not by my resolve for justice. 

Given my background, if I give myself over to fear, I will drift into being more afraid of the anger of the protestors than the violence of the police. I will end up wanting things to get back to "normal."  I will be motivated by a desire for peace and reconciliation and what I call "love.&quo…

It's a Little Late

for an All Souls Day meditation, but here is one from 2003.

ALL SOULS RECONCILED Rev. Thomas R. Schade First Unitarian Church of Worcester, MA All Souls Sunday, 2003
One of the old confessions of the Universalist Church of America was their belief that, eventually, there would be a "a final reconciliation of all souls to a loving God."  
With that deft phrase, our Universalist forerunners cut through centuries of doctrine, dogma and speculation about heaven and hell, and purgatory, and predestination, and salvation.  They affirmed that for which we all hope -- that in the end, all of us will be gathered into the loving embrace of God who, at the end, will be more a loving parent than a stern and vengeful judge.  "A final reconciliation of all souls to a loving God." 
It is a good-enough answer for the question of what will happen to us after we die.  It is modest, and does not specify any particular scheme, but it states our hopes, that all of this will have somehow, a ha…

MidTerms Show Need for Progressive Religious Leaders

Lots of people want change, progressive change. They come at it from different experiences, but the desire for real reform is ever present.

For the most part, people hope that a political leader will lead the way. Barack Obama rode our Hope for Change to the White House. Now, that hope is looking for a new vehicle. Will it be Elizabeth Warren?

The walloping that the Democratic Party took in the mid-terms shows how weak it is as a voice for our aspirations. While one or two of its leaders invoke our desires some of the time, most of its leaders cannot. Their role is to seek 51%, and that necessity means that they will, in most cases, be uninspiring.

There is no way that someone running for the Senate in Kentucky or Georgia is going to take us to the mountain top and show us the promised land. But if they cannot do it, they cannot win, because people who want change will not turn out for them. Al Sharpton: "You have to turn them on, before you can turn them out." But if they …

The Long Arc [Landrum]

Yesterday marriage equality momentum was halted in four states as the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.  I hear friends talking about moving out of state, and I don't blame them for wanting to live somewhere where their families are acknowledged, and, even more importantly, protected. 

Amidst the grief for my friends and congregants and colleagues affected by this, I keep repeating to myself, "the arc is long, but it bends towards justice."

We don't know that it does, of course.  This is a matter of faith.  But I believe it.  And the nature of an arc, is that if it is very long, and if you are standing on it, it will feel flat.  And you will not be able to see at times how it is bending toward justice.  It may feel like it is in fact not at all bending toward justice.  It feels like it's bending the other way in Michigan and Ohio and Kentucky and Tennessee right now. 

Theodore Parker spoke to t…

Taking the Offensive Against Voter Suppression

Article 1, Section 4 of the US Constitution says:

SECTION. 4. The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.

Why does the Constitution of the United States give the responsibility for conducting elections to the states?

For the same reason that Article 1, Section 2 says:

SECTION. 2. The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

So why does the Constitution give the power to set the qualifications for voters to the US Congress to the states?

That's the way it is; but it doesn't make any sense. Congressional Representatives and Senators and the President are of…