Tuesday, February 18, 2014

You Read It; It Reads You;

They say that systems will reassert homeostasis to preserve themselves. 

On Thursday last, only five days ago, the VUU, the CLF talk show, had a two part program. Block A (which is how the pros on MSNBC talk) was about the Moral Movement in North Carolina. Based on strong statewide UU participation in a growing NC movement for a moral redirection of their state, UU's from around the country joined in the largest march for justice in the South in 50 years. There was a strong feeling there that this had been a significant step for us in many ways. That we had such strong participation said something about where our congregations were. That movements for justice had started developing a morally based language which countered the dominant rightwing moralism opened up opportunities to change how we spoke. That movement like the NC Moral Movement were taking off around the South, where UUism has been experiencing its greatest rate of growth, could mean we were moving in a new direction.  So much to discuss, consider and go deeper on. 

Block B was Terasa Cooley who talked about re-branding the UUA -- moving toward a more contemporary style of communication to keep up with the times. And in the last three minutes, she flashed a printed copy of the new logo. 

Our system reasserted itself with a vengeance. More discussion in the last five days has gone into delving into the process of the creation of a new logo than in learning how our NC colleagues became a trusted part of the Forward Together Coalition. More discussion about whether we needed a new logo than whether the Moral Movement represented a new future for us. More discussion about the possible resemblance of the logo to sexual intercourse than about how we deploy the Standing on the Side Love campaign in a mass coalition effort. More inward focus on our internal process, our internal politics, our internal suspicion that everyone is shallow, insincere and doesn't really get it. More blaming and faux outrage over something that EVERYONE ALREADY KNOWS IS A DONE DEAL.  

The new logo takes us back to the kind of UU thinking we are good at, because we have been doing it for decades. 

The new logo is fine. It will look just fine up in the corner of UUA.Org's home page. It will look good on the letterhead. 

Some other questions: 

1. Should we make a concerted effort to get our yellow tee-shirts onto the picket lines of every fast food worker strike?  How would we connect that work to standing on the side of love?

2. The biggest question of our public presence is should we try to build new congregations and liberal religious communities under the name "Unitarian Universalism" or under more post-denominational language?

3. How do we approach a turn toward moral language as the basis of progressive policy advocacy? How do we take up a common language of morality in relationship to describing who we are in the culture? Are we content to say that we are the "religion beyond beliefs"? The religion of many paths? The no-guilt religion? Or do we stand for a particular kind of moral presence in the community? What is that? What does Standing on the Side of Love mean at the deepest levels? 

4. How do we describe the transformation that happens to a person when they become a UU? How do connect that transformation with the felt needs of the people in our larger communities -- how do we invite them into that transformation? 

Lots of stuff to discuss. But I fear that we have to first have another round of gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the sale of 25 Beacon Street. Just announced. More second guessing over whether the UUA administration got the best price. And God knows, we should all clear our calendars for extended controversy over every architectural and design detail of the build-out of 24 Farnsworth. 

Let's all make an effort, shall we,  to try to move forward. 


#NeverLovedUs is a hashtag that summarizes the experience of black and brown young people. It is being disseminated by Philip Agnew and the Dream Defenders in the wake of the Michael Dunn trial for the murder of Jordan Davis.

This country never loved black and brown young people, never valued their lives, presumed that they were a menace to society -- criminal. As though there an uncountable surplus of them that could be wasted or misused.

I am struck now by how the language of love comes to the fore. The opposite of love is indifference, and the Stand Your Ground laws are the very institutionalization of indifference to the deaths of young people of color. They bring into the very structure of the law, institutionalizing it, a declaration of values: the law will accommodate the racial fears of white people; while the law is indifferent to the deaths of people of color. Better that Jordan Davis, a black student, die, says the law, than that Michael Dunn, a white man, be afraid, or be inhibited about telling strangers how loud they are permitted to play music in their own cars.

It is hard to imagine the institutionalization of love as a social norm. It is hard to imagine a social order where #neverlovedus would be a meaningless phrase. But surely, it would start with a legal system that values the lives of all of its people, that is not indifferent to some. That's not a mushy sentimentality. Legally, it is the principle that all are entitled to the equal protection of the law.

But "equality" is an abstraction, an ideal with which we have little concrete experience. Nothing, after all, is ever equal to anything else in life. But we do know love, what it is to be loved at some level; at least, most of us do. That is why #neverlovedus is so challenging, so poignant, so sad, and so true. One cannot respond to "#neverlovedus" with a declaration in favor of "equality" or fair law enforcement or a more nuanced doctrine of justifiable self-defense. You have to go deeper, down to the emotional level, to that battle between love and indifference that rages in all of us, and try there to take your place on the side of love.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Response to the new logo is just painful. I am not on the UU staff, and minimally aware of things like evangelism, marketing, branding and communication and I am amazed at the level of willful yahooism that my colleagues have displayed.

1. Why do we need a new logo? Because the old one is 8 years old, and no one liked it. Until now. If you have an iconic logo (think Apple's apple, or Chevy's short cross or the Mercedes Benz almost peace sign) you don't change your logo. Otherwise, you change your logo periodically to keep up and look fresh. I know that lots of our churches have the same website they put up in 2004, but the UUA shouldn't. Their order of service is printed in the same font and format as it was years ago. Would you wear the same tie for 8 years every week to church?

2. Who decided that we needed one and picked this one? The staff of the UUA. That is what we pay them to do. The by-laws and purposes say the production of materials for spreading UUism some of their job. They also order pencils and design the stationery and pick the banners at GA. Right, your congregation doesn't need no new stinking logo. It's growing like crazy among the young people of your town, who are flocking to your website and then poking each other in the butt with bbq forks to get in the doors on Sunday. After all, you got a really striking picture of your steeple and your board of trustees picnic on the frontpage of your website, right above the link to the minutes of the pigeon control committee. Don't give me that crap that people come because of the deep genuine relationships that they share in your congregation.  We're not growing because we are not communicating and we are not communicating because we treat communication as an afterthought, a luxury.

3. How much did this cost?  We don't spend enough on this sort of thing, not too much. We are in the communication business, especially at the UUA level, but also at the congregational level. And in this environment, in which everyone is media saturated, if you are not sophisticated and polished in your presentation in the general media environment, you are a joke. Literally, there are websites dedicated to examples of bad and awkward marketing. There are some good things going out there -- I think of the 'God is Still Speaking' campaign - but believe me, wherever that idea came from, it was professionally developed.

4. Logos are for communicating with other people, not ourselves. When people talk about resurrecting some old logo from the 40's (two circles and an off-center cross), who do they think we are talking to? That's design for self-satisfaction. If you have to decode for others, then you've lost. If you want a logo to be a summarizing symbol which expresses everything about you, you are asking too much. The Cross has been taken.

5. I am just bewildered by people who last week said that UU's were insular and unhip and uninteresting, and this week are going 'who needs a logo? who needs a communication strategy'? Or people who laugh at our dorkiness and then decry efforts to change it.

6. There are people, and I am looking right them, who think that we can't order lunch until we get our theology straight. I know its frustrating that you wrote a whole a brilliant paper on Christology for seminary and no one in UUland cares. And there are others who think that we can't pick a hymn until we get our mission clear. Yes, if we knew what we were doing, we'd being doing it right now. And there are others who view everything as a sign of the UU's inevitable decline and failure. Haters gonna hate. Why should I care?

7. Don't even get me started on the sexual symbolism of the logo. That's about you, not the logo. We are a denomination culturally defined by older white women and we are slowly sliding back into Victorianism, (and I don't mean Peacebangism).

OK, I am pissed, depressed and even the gym, choir practice and a stiff drink has not helped. I'm going to go read a Nordic detective story where alcoholic and depressed policemen sit around in gray rainy weather in old Volvo's waiting to arrest the only guy in the city who is packing a gun. Or one of those Icelandic mysteries in which the whodunit is compromised by the fact that everybody in Iceland knows each other already. It should cheer me up.

I am not often discouraged, but the resistance to the new, to change, among my colleagues, especially among colleagues who think of themselves on the cutting edge, is just too depressing tonight.

UU Ministers discuss new logo

It is, too, a penis.
No, it's not.
You haven't seen one in so long, you forgot what they look like.
You should have given a trigger warning.
I think it looks like a bomb or a rocket headed toward innocent civilians.

The runner up:

Behold the New Logo

Behold the New Logo. 

The new Logo will be a screen 
upon which UU's will project all of their frustrations
 about how we think 
we are perceived in the wider world. 

It will also be the symbol of everything 
UU's think is wrong 
with the way the association is governed. 

It will be seen as symbol of everything UU to everybody UU. 

If you think we are too fuddy-duddy, then you see it as fuddy-duddy. 
If you think we try too hard to be hip, then that is what you will see. 

Does it look vaginal? Phallic? 
Depends on what you think we have too many of.  

Shouldn't something this important go to the General Assembly? 

Behold the New Logo
You Read It -- It Reads You.

If I knew what I was doing

In my last post, I ended with these words:
What we need is a serious (but which I mean, non-anxious and constructive) discussion of what we ought to be doing. We need a responsible discussion which assumes that all of us are involved in an important discussion with partners and it matters what we conclude. We need a discussion in which people claim and own their leadership and act like leaders.
The response has been for readers and commentators to ask me where, and when, and the format for such a discussion to take place.  If I knew how to put things like that together, I would do it, instead of talking about it. (There's a line in a Keith Urban song that goes, "If I knew what I was doing, I'd be doing it right now." There's a reason why I blog.)

In short, there is no time like the present to have a real discussion about the real issues facing Unitarian Universalism; no where better than here, or where ever you are.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Rules of the UU Hive Mind

Chris Walton summarized my last post as saying, "Change originates in the hive-mind of Unitarian Universalism 'above and beyond' the local congregation".  That's why he is a good journalist; that's an concise and accurate quote.

Fausto commented in the comments of the post:
If you have correctly diagnosed the problem, then the "hive-mind" must be even more "stuck" than our local congregations, because for the last 50+ years it has been following its own nose down one self-absorbing rabbit hole after another, rather than leading the congregations in a discernible, realistic, relevant, effective direction.

He has a point.

I don't think that I said that the UU HiveMind, that amorphous collection of UU Staffers, elected leaders, activist lay people, denominational active ministers and other professionals, the formations formally known as Independent Affiliates, caucuses, GA Junkies and social media presences, is always right. I just said that the HiveMind is where change comes from, not the local congregation.

Often, the HiveMind is stuck, too, because it has "rules" for its discourse, unspoken limits to the conversation, such that the HiveMind will tend away from being "realistic, relevant and effective."

One key assumption is that the real legitimate leaders of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations are the lay leaders of the local congregations, who are usually not in the metaphorical room.

Another assumption is that the real power is somewhere else.  There's a "they" and a "them" and they hold all the power. They are not you or me and they are certainly not the lay leaders of the local congregation. There is a crisis of legitimacy because legitimate power has been usurped.

Get those two rules and everything makes sense. The legitimate authority is not here and there are hidden insiders also somewhere else who have all the power. We here, the ones talking and conversing, are powerless. We're like people who twitter each other during TV shows; it's fun, but it won't change the plot.

The rules of the HiveMind encourage triangulation and unaccountability. In any discussion, it is OK to speak on behalf of somebody else and to argue that someone you disagree with has no legitimacy.  (You're the UUA Staff or a self-appointed GA Junkie, some kind of "insider big shot" not a legitimate leader of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.) It's OK to take a position of permanent, blanket opposition and farm out your proposals to an absent other. (Everything the the UUA has done has been stupid when what they should have done is whatever the local congregations wanted.)

What we need is a serious (but which I mean, non-anxious and constructive) discussion of what we ought to be doing. We need a responsible discussion which assumes that all of us are involved in an important discussion with partners and it matters what we conclude. We need a discussion in which people claim and own their leadership and act like leaders.

UU Stuckness

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time discussing with other UU's, the stuckness of Unitarian Universalism. There is no denying it; our growth numbers, our new plant numbers, our aging population, our demographic isolation all say we're stuck.

Some think that the core issue is that we are stuck theologically.  We won't be able to grow and develop until we get over the aversion to God language in general and the Christian tradition in particular. Specifically, our theological consensus prevents us from talking about a whole range of subjects that people look to the religious life for: awe, wonder, hope for deliverance, expressions of dependence, the need for repentance and conversion, our own tendencies to sin and evil. We are stuck in a mid-twentieth century debate about the existence of God and the value of theological language itself. Most people find that discussion arcane and irrelevant.

Some think that we are stuck sociologically. The population that Unitarian Universalism now serves is so privileged that we are increasingly out of step with most people. The world is working out pretty well for most of our present UU's; this creates a tremendous resistance to change that is not easily overcome.

Some think extend the theory of being stuck because of who we are even further. Not only are UU's economically privileged white people, but we have our own special snobbery. We are the smartest people of our class. We are a self-selected subgroup of the well-educated middle and upper classes who want to be different than most people. The last thing that we want is to be thought to be like others. To many UU's, not watching television, not being on social media, not listening to popular music, and not seeing mainstream movies are signs of our specialness.

Some think that we are stuck because our professional religious leadership, the ministers, destroyed their credibility and authority through a scandalous pattern of sexual misconduct, which has never been resolved. The result is that Unitarian Universalism is bogged down in a quagmire of anti-authoritarianism and nips its own leaders in the bud.

The great irony is that the very people who are most concerned about our stuckness place all their hopes in the local congregation. If only the UUA better served the local congregation, then we would not be so stuck. But the local congregation is most stuck part of the whole system. If you want to see change, don't look to the local congregation because it is the most resistant to change.

Not to say that there are not local congregations that are making changes. Lots of churches are becoming more liturgically open and spiritually rich in their worship.  Lots of churches are singing better than Unitarian Universalists ever did in the past. Some churches are building more vibrant ministries for young adults. There are signs that some churches are expanding their reach into the communities around them.

But in almost all cases, you can't say that these changes originated in the process of the local congregation. Most changes come into a UU congregation from the outside, from the overall UU environment. They are usually introduced into the local congregation by the minister, or by the new interim minister, who function as the change agent, convincing congregational leadership to adopt them.

Change originates in the hive-mind of Unitarian Universalism "above and beyond" the local congregation.  That hive-mind is composed of an amorphous body of UUA staff people, the elected UUA leaders, the groups of ministers and laypeople joined together by common interests, the groups which used to be called independent affiliates, the leadership bodies of the districts and regions, GA junkies and even the UU Social media community, even humble bloggers It's in this hive mind that new ideas and practices are developed and through this network they are shared, until a minister, or some other religious professional, introduces them in the local congregation.  

Name the change that happened in the whole history of the denomination since 1961, and I would bet that the process of this hive-mind of the collective leadership group was instrumental in its spread.

I have some more thoughts on how we talk about issues inside the hive-mind, but that will be for later.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Belief vs Sect in Raleigh

A lot of people took an interest in a chart I did a while back on how people understood Unitarian Universalism.  

After the discussions in and around the Moral March in Raleigh, I have applied that chart to positions about participating in the event. I suppose that someone could make a similar chart about how each of these positions would express itself in an argument not to go. That is for another day. 


The horizontal are the two opposing positions as to whether UUism ought to place a primary emphasis on Unitarian Universalism as a distinct and separate identity.  To the Left is the position that stresses "UU Identity" while the Right side downplays that identity.

The vertical is whether UUism has distinct theological beliefs. To the Up is yes, toward the bottom is no. 

How this plays out in Raleigh?

Is this Movementarianism?

I went to Raleigh, North Carolina, and participated in the Mass Moral March, along with 80 thousands others, including some 1500 Unitarian Universalists. If you are social media savvy enough to read this blog, you have already seen pictures and videos. I don't have any more interesting than you have seen.

Before so many converged on North Carolina, we were discussing this difference: 

Thinking of the UUA less as an "association of congregations" and more as a religious movement focused on cultural transformation...
So, is that what we saw in Raleigh?

The Boy in the Bands has cleverly dubbed the latter position "Movementarianism", a neologism that I think will stick.

So, was Raleigh "movementarianism": Unitarian Universalism of the future?

Yes and No.

Churches and congregations will continue. It is not, repeat NOT TRUE, that a UU staffer recommended burning all the churches and plowing the earth where they stood with salt. Nor are they to be converted to Obamacare Death Panel hearing rooms.

In the future, I suspect that there will be a greater identification made between UU congregations with the social movements for change. There will be more participation by churches, as congregational activities. I hope that there are more non-congregational and extra-congregational groups of UU's operating in and around centers of cultural transformation.

But I also think that you could probably predict who is going to be a "congregationalist" and who is going to be a "movementarian" by looking at:

  • where they are in terms of stages of faith
  • where they are in terms of life-cycle development
  • where their age cohort is in terms of their historical experience.

Taking myself as an example:

I am now a de-institutionalized baby boomer. I left the parish ministry, which means that I am transitioning out of a very social and institutional setting, the parish. There, I was fulfilling the generative tasks of my middle ages. I was building an institution, taking care of people, taking care of business. I had to balance my personal needs to the needs of others with whom I shared this thing we were building together. I was even arranging and editing my thoughts to what I could preach. I was very institutionalized and socialized; probably more than I had been in since high school.

Having left the parish, I am now in a period similar to being in college. My institutional role is open to the future, if I even am to have one. I am free to decide for myself what I think -- what I really think. I am in a process of self-identification and self-clarification, which often presents itself as questions about with whom and where I will ally myself.

Because I am a baby boomer, the idea that I would make these decisions about who I am in the public drama of mass protest, by going to Raleigh, is perfectly predictable. Not just predictable, but appropriate. I noticed that there were a lot of young people on Fayetteville Street, and a lot of folks my age. And not just among the yellow-shirted, but among all participants.

Faith development is a process much like breathing -- there is an inward motion -- individuation and differentiation -- which alternates by necessity with an outward motion -- coalescing, joining, identifying, taking action.

It is appropriate and predictable that many younger ministers in the 40's and 50's would tend toward the "congregationalist" side of this polarity. After all, they are in that generative, institution-building phase of life. And they have a different history, one in which mass marches and protests were not just going out of style, but being suppressed by ridicule.

Ten years ago I would have viewed this call to Raleigh as a distraction from the real work of the church -- preparing good worship, tending to the institution and that list of pastoral visits and calls I should have been making. I would have wanted to go, but would have viewed it as a self-indulgence.

My hope is that what changes between now and ten years from now is that we see this not as a contradictory understanding of UUism but as polarities that all of us are moving through over time. I hope that our commitment to movements beyond ourselves that express our vision of a transformed culture becomes part of what identifies us, but does not ultimately define or limit us. I hope that our ministry speaks to people at all stages of faith development, lifecycle, and social and historical circumstances.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Another Short Take on Congregations and Cultural Transformation

In the Chris Walton summary of the UU Board Meeting, there is this, which is presented as being one trustee's response to the Administration's report. :

Rob Eller-Isaacs in the Chris Walton report of the board meeting said that many of our congregations are not performing well.
“Though I agree with your stance that a changing culture requires new ways of bringing efforts to bear,” replied the Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs, trustee, “I worry that undue emphasis on change in culture may be a dodge for the fact that many of our churches are inadequate churches. I’d hate to see us avoid the work of strengthening the church.” 
What do we do about the churches that are not doing well: the churches that don't ever grow, the churches that sit on franchises; the churches that chew up ministers; the churches that teeter on the age of failure; the churches that need some kind of help from somewhere. They are the identified patient of our system.

Note the way that Eller-Isaacs frames this: work with people outside our system (you could call it evangelism) might be 'a dodge' from fixing the inadequate elements inside our system.

Just who is supposed to fix the inadequate congregations of our association? And how?

The UUA has been organized for that task for much of its life. Isn't that what all the investment in district and regional staff has been for: the support of local congregations? Trainings, workshops, interventions by skilled staff. There has been no shortage of those. And the other potential source of help has been our flagship churches, like the one Rob Eller-Isaac serves. But, those churches are more resented for their success, rather than seen as a resource.

The experience suggests that the work is very difficult. Stuck systems tend to stay stuck. There is no shortage of money, or innovative ideas, or enthusiastic ministers for congregations that want to thrive. There is never enough for congregations that are stuck. Our most stuck congregations resist the UUA, resent the nearest successful congregation, and externalize their anxiety about survival. That anxiety ping-pongs around the Association as this pervasive sense that anything anybody does is really work avoidance.

I think the angry response to the Administration's report, as recounted in the World article, is part of that bouncing anxiety: we are not sure what the UUA should be doing, (planting new churches, fixing old churches, modernizing, preserving, rooting out racism, recruiting new ministers, placing old ones, but generally doing more with less), but certainly not whatever it is now proposing!

The experience suggests that many of our "inadequate" churches would just like to be left alone. They might among those typical American Protestant churches which do not last much beyond the lifespan of their founding generation. Nothing lives forever and not all trees grow to the sky.

Maybe it is an act of non-anxious self-differentiated leadership to suggest that we turn outward now, rather than anxiously obsessing about what we think we should be doing, but have no idea how to do.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Short Takes on Congregations and Cultural Transformation

There are people out there right now at work at transforming our culture. They are working for and living toward a culture of where liberal values (like openness, and solidarity, and self-determination and generosity) are normative.

The challenge for Unitarian Universalism is how we, as a whole body, make a connection with those emerging forces of cultural transformation?  How do we connect with the young people of color, like the Dream Defenders? How do we connect to movements of low wage workers in the fast food industry? How do we speak to the educated young people in the families in our own congregations who are burdened with debt and confronted by closing doors? How do we connect to young artists and musicians?

We don't need to start, run, or control a movement for cultural transformation; multiple movements are gathering strength. We just want to be a part of it, because it has been our goal and dream for most of our lives.

The plain truth is that it is not a choice between growing healthy congregations OR participating in broader movements for cultural transformation. Either we do both, or we do neither.

If we make that connection, then our congregations will become nodes in that much larger network. Our congregations will do what congregations do: worship together, create community, love and care for each other, pass faith along, tend to the sick and bury the dead. But who we do the age-old work of the church WITH will be different.

At some point, Unitarian Universalists made a conscious decision that we would connect to, and participate in the movement of GLBTQ people. To many, it seemed like a diversion from the true work of the church. I heard people refer to it as 'the cause du jour'. However, it did change us by bringing us into contact with lots of people who never would have come near us, had we not made a public commitment first.

But this is where we have to first break with our "Stuck in the Eighties" mentality, which says that social movements are always the hobbies of marginal, overly-earnest wackos who should be ignored.

Short Takes = Congregations and Cultural Transformation

The commentary about the UUA Board meeting has been hot and heavy. See the previous posts and the comment sections there. (I moderate comments, so the comment section at the Lively Tradition is worth reading.)

Christine Robinson wants to know how we define "our most basic goals" in order to ground the discussion.

I think our most basic goal is to help people develop the basic virtues of liberality: openness, honesty, humility, reverence, gratitude and generosity, solidarity/empathy/compassion, self-possession. 

It doesn't bother me that these virtues are not unique to us. It doesn't bother me that people engage in different practices to help them develop these virtues. It doesn't bother me that people get to them through different philosophical, theological or ethical systems or traditions. I think that the inspiration to those virtues can be expressed in any cultural setting, at any economic level.

I think that they are virtues that are developed in congregational settings. I also think that they have very real consequences in terms of social, economic, political, cultural and economic policies. Consequently, they get also expressed in social movements for cultural transformation.  So, a another goal is to liberalize or humanize the culture.

The person, the congregation and the society at large are all interconnected venues for the encouragement of the same virtues. 

MyRA vs SS Expansion

One of the proposals President Obama made in the State of the Union Address was for "MyRA", a new form of tax-deferred retirement savings account.

In this article, David Dayen of Salon magazine compares this proposal with the suggestion that we meet the retirement crisis by expanding Social Security benefits. It's eye-opening. Read it.

Little Rock Study Guide for "Religious Community Is Not Enough"

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Little Rock, Arkansas conducted an adult education class based on my article in the UU World, "Religious Community is not Enough".  It was a part of discussion group called Unitarian Universalism 102. They discuss contemporary articles and blog posts. Here are the discussion questions for the article.

Here are a few statements from Tom Schade's article and questions inspired by them:
"If your congregation defines its purpose as being a religious or spiritual community, it is time to think bigger." Is that how UUCLR defines itself? If it's time to think bigger, are we able to do so?
"If the main work of a church is just to survive, “to uphold the tradition,” or to keep alive a beautiful old landmark building, there’s not enough reason to join." What reasons do people have to join UUCLR? What reasons do we provide them? What reasons do we not provide? 
"Unitarian Universalists, like members of every other religion, are trying to change the world by encouraging people to live a different way. By word and by deed, Unitarian Universalists are trying to change people." Are we trying to change the world? To change people? 
"What I am talking about is related to the “missional” trend in Unitarian Universalism, in which people are committing themselves to living out our values in real, embodied, particular ways in specific communities, “to love the hell out of the world.”" Is this something UUCLR can do? If not, is it something in which we can support some of our members who do wish to do it? Can we support non-members and members alike who are working together in this manner? 
"Unitarian Universalism was transformed by the presence, energy, gifts, and concerns of LGBTQ members. I believe they saved us from the decline and decay that affected the rest of the mainline churches." Do you think this is true? 
"These can all be parts of a larger cause: to build a culture of liberality, by encouraging individuals to live by the liberal virtues, such as openness and solidarity, respect for the truth, humility, reverence and awe, gratitude and generosity, and self-awareness and self-possession." Here and elsewhere, Schade argues for de-emphasis of principles and a renewed emphasis on virtues, what is sometimes described as "salvation by character". Is that a good idea? 
"Do this little experiment: every week, when you get home from Sunday service, notice and write down what you think about doing differently in the days ahead...What kind of person did the experience of UU worship inspire you to be? In these aspirations are clues to our good news, the content of our UU evangelism." Does this experiment interest you? Do worship services (ours or others) inspire you to change? How do you feel about the term "UU evangelism"? What is the difference, in practice, between evangelism and proselytizing? 
"Why don’t we turn ourselves inside out and try to offer OWL [Our Whole Lives] to the community at large?" What would it take within ourselves to seriously try that? Would it be worth doing even if we didn't fully succeed? How much success would be enough? 
"What if our social media presence was not just advertising for ourselves, but a constantly flowing fountain of inspiration and cultural innovation?" Is that just a different, better form of advertising? Or is that a different way to approach the world?

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Congregations and Cultural Transformation Two

The religious or spiritual life is partly about personal growth and transformation. Something is supposed to happen to you, or for you, as a result of your commitment. You are saved from the consequences of your sin by accepting Christ as a savior. You gain clarity about the true reality of the universe through meditation. If you commit to Unitarian Universalism, the promise is, I think, that you will become more open, more reverent, more self-possessed. We don't talk much about the experience of Unitarian Universalism in that cause and effect way, but we do testify that becoming one changes your life for the better.

Changing yourself is part of changing the world. Some schools of meditation believe that if a certain percentage of people in a city meditate regularly, social peace and harmony will result. A Jewish legend is that if every Jew upheld every law of the Torah for even one day, the Messiah would come. Not far from this, is the prophecy of some Christians that once sufficient number of people have been converted, Christ will come again and heaven on earth will result. Others simply believe that if more people did what Jesus would do, the world would be more fair and equitable. We UU's believe quite firmly, if inarticulately, that if more people were open-minded and justice-minded, there could be a cultural transformation toward the good. We 'stand on the side of love' because we believe that 'justice is love enacted in public.'

Personal transformation and social transformation come together in this middle level of the church, or the congregation. The congregation is the supportive and encouraging community for personal transformation. It's where we learn the wisdom of our traditions. It is the place where we practice love and concern for each other, both for the benefit of the helped and the growth of the helper. It is also where we organize our power to make the change that we trying to be become manifest in the world.

So, there are three levels of the religious life: the personal, the social and the organizational. Not everyone cares about all three equally at all stages of life. That's OK.

Contemporary Unitarian Universalism is overly invested in the organizational level. We tend to make the sum total of Unitarian Universalism joining and being active in the local congregation. Certainly, the care and feeding of our local congregations is where the vast majority of energy and resources go. We ruefully admit that people come to our churches looking for spiritual growth and we put them on a committee. Our national structure is that we are "an Association of Congregations" and we are vigilant that the HQ serves the local and the not the other way around.

Terasa Cooley is right in saying the we are tending toward an idolatry toward the congregation, viewing them as an end and not a means. Them's fighting words in a religious context, but isn't always true that organizational forms are secondary to missions and purpose?

Congregations and Cultural Transformation I

Chris Walton reports the following from the UUA Board meeting in San Diego.
Morales responded, “The vision that is emerging, that I’m trying to reflect, has not changed radically at all. It’s a vision around compassion, community, and acting in the world. What is shifting in that vision is a sense that, given our current context, [we must move] beyond how we’ve thought about congregations to engage people who are deeply suspicious about church and about congregations as an institution.” 

“Though I agree with your stance that a changing culture requires new ways of bringing efforts to bear,” replied the Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs, trustee, “I worry that undue emphasis on change in culture may be a dodge for the fact that many of our churches are inadequate churches. I’d hate to see us avoid the work of strengthening the church.” 
Morales responded, “We have to do two critical things simultaneously: make our congregations better, and also look for other ways of doing it.” 
The Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, the UUA’s officer for Program and Strategy, described the shift in the administration’s thinking about the core purpose of the association. “Congregations are the throughput, not the end. They’re the means for the transformation we’re seeking. If all you do is focus on the congregations, it becomes idolatry. That’s a big philosophical change.” 
Thinking of the UUA less as an "association of congregations" and more as a religious movement focused on cultural transformation may require a denomination-wide conversation about our polity, several trustees observed. Earlier in the weekend, Cooley put it bluntly: “It’s time for another polity convention.”
For thinkers and theologians who pride themselves on their subtlety and grasp of nuance, a lot of UU's who have read this exchange on Facebook have immediately posed what was said by Morales and Cooley as a stark, black and white choice between focusing on congregations or building a movement for cultural transformation. When Morales said "we have to do two critical things simulatanously", that was apparently Presidential flim-flammery.

Well, let's get this question out in the open.

My thoughts.

Except for a few congregations which have access to either great wealth from the past, or from their present congregants, the whole project of building local congregations out of a couple hundred individuals or families contributing enough of their discretionary cash to support a building and a staff of religious professionals is rapidly proving to be economically unsustainable.  And that situation will get worse. We see the unsustainability of it as our congregations age, a process which feeds on itself.  A congregation dominated by 60 year olds will not attract enough new younger members to sustain itself. A lot of our UU congregations will not survive.

In order to survive, Unitarian Universalism has to be attached to, even embedded in, a broader movement for cultural transformation toward the values that we hold, and share with many others. Such a movement is emerging in the country now, among the young, among low-wage workers, among the people concerned about climate change, among young people of color, all along the vectors of intersectionality.

The local UU congregation will not create, nor lead these movements for cultural transformation. A local congregation which is organized around worship and programming for its own membership is a point of collection, not outreach and not cultural innovation. So they must become points of connection to them, gateway locations.

Think about what the one second reputation of the UU church has been:

Once it was, "that's the church for doubters"
Then it was, "that's the church where you can believe whatever you want."
Then it was, "that's the church where everyone is on a different spiritual path."

What if it became "That's the church where you can connect with the process of cultural transformation....?"

Transformative cultural energy will not arise easily out of our present congregations, most of which are consumed in the work of institutional maintenance. Many of our congregations' leaders are no longer anywhere near the sources of cultural transformation.

This is where UUA Staff, the leadership of larger successful congregations, young adults, and extra-congregational UU activists can be taking the lead, helping people connect to the energy out there. At this stage of our development, most local congregations are not where the innovative energy is; they do not have the hot hand. We need to pass the ball to who are open and have a better chance of scoring. But it means that congregational leaders and parish ministers need to partner with them, instead of seeing them as rivals.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

The Neo-Confederate Economy

The Republican view of the economy is that the rich don't have enough money and the poor have too much. The problem with health care is that the poor have too much access to too much care, waste it, and drive the cost up. The other day, three GOP Senators offered a plan to replace Obamacare which would, for the average working person, cost more and provide less. It's goal was to 'sensitize' health care consumers to how much health services cost

Where do ideas like this come from? Why are they so prevalent now, when even conservative Republicans in the past would not have thought them? Why are they so different from the ideas of conservatism in other industrialized countries?

These are the ideological remnants of slavery, and they have become prevalent because the GOP has become dominated by its Southern branch.

Under the slave system, there was one consumption budget for the entire community. All consumption came out of the slaveowner's wealth and income. The working population's food, housing, clothing all came from the slaveowner. And so, it was zero-sum. The more the enslaved workers and the enslaved workers' family ate, or wore, or otherwise consumed, the less was available to the slaveowners for capital expenditures and their personal consumption. The areas of concentrated slavery stagnated economically because consumption by the working population was so weak. In addition, the slave economy in the US was geared toward the export market, so there was no local market for locally produced goods.

Contrast this with the 'free labor' capitalist system. There, the workers pay for their own consumption out of the income they get from selling their labor. Even under the most exploitative conditions, working families had some cash to spend, and made their own decisions as to where to spend it. A whole network of local businesses prospered when workers had more money to spend. As Walter Reuther of the UAW would remind Henry Ford, the health of the auto industry depended on auto workers being able to afford to buy the cars they made. The reality of the interdependence of the complex economy was clear to all.

The United States is now making a great historical transition to a more social democratic system, catching up to other industrial democracies in terms of public services and social support for the whole population. It is being made possible by the rise of a multi-racial electoral majority, which is just now emerging and meeting fierce resistance.

Reactionaries in the United States see the social democratic "welfare" state through the lens of slavery, rather than through the lens of the free labor system. They think the consumption of poor people and of working people comes out of consumption of the rich, in a zero sum system. Hence the division of 'takers' and 'makers', and trying to calculate the exact proportion of each. (I guess the current answer is 47%.) Times are tight, so the solution is thought to be to cut the rations. Hence, austerity, and punitive cuts to food stamps and unemployment insurance.

Looking at the economy through the lens of the "free labor" system, even the most tightwad of factory owners can see that more money in the hands of the poor will increase demand and stimulate the economy.

There are also hidden assumptions of slavery in the dispute over the religious exemption for contraception coverage in insurance under the ACA. The rightwing thinks that if an employer gives employees an insurance policy which covers contraception, then the employer has been forced to pay for birth control against his conscience. The assumption is that the employee is not an independent agent. Is the employer on the hook morally for everything that workers buy with their pay?

The presumption of slavery lurks in our elite's thoughts  that "we" pay for the consumption of everyone, especially those that don't work. The machinery of taxation all benefits "spending our money". So we are entitled to look through their grocery carts the minute the EBT card comes out. Or to demand a drug test. Those that receive a benefit have lost their independence, their autonomy, their agency. In short, they are slaves, living on the largesse of the plantation owner.

These was not the economic theories of the traditional Republican manufacturing elite of the past. It is neo-confederate thinking.

If social prosperity could be achieved by lowering the living standards of the poor, the streets of Mississippi would be paved with gold.