Showing posts from May, 2014

The Demonization of Eric Shinseki

People don't like it when I say that the signature rhetorical theme of conservative movement is demonization.  By "demonization" I mean the reduction of complex systemic issues to questions of bad intention on the part of individuals. It denies the inter-relationships of different aspects of a situation and isolates one person as the cause, or scapegoat, or solution to the problem.

Case in point: Eric Shinseki.

The Veterans Administration has been underfunded for decades, especially in the face of the numbers of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, changes in eligibility for PTSD and Agent Orange related health issues have been loosened resulting in increased applications from older veterans.

Housing Segregation

Ta-Nehisi Coates essay on Reparations (what, you haven't read it yet? Are you trying to be the
last one to read it?) illuminates the history of housing segregation in the cities after the Great Migration from the South.

If explorers came from another planet and researched our human ways, this story would make no sense to them. A great and wealthy nation voluntarily chose to cease investing in the housing stock of much of their greatest cities, cutting off the flow of capital and credit to whole sections of their cities. When those sections declined, as they would as surely as a garden never watered, nor fertilized, nor re-seeded, adjacent sections of the city were also starved.

Legislators of the World

"For [poets] not only behold intensely the present as it is, and discover those laws according to which present things ought to be ordered, but they behold the future in the present, and their thoughts are the germs of the flower and the fruit of latest time."
--Percy Bysse Shelley

Though the path be hard and long, still we strive in expectation, join we now their ageless song one with them in aspiration. One in name, in honor one guard we well the crown they won, What they dreamed, be ours to do, hope their hopes and seal them true.

What the World Needs Now

I got a lot of page views and buzz off my post early yesterday on the Branding Process. Whenever I get that kind of wide and favorable response, I wonder if I just wasn't clear enough -- that people could read what they wanted to hear into what I said, and then hit that "Like" button.  Thanks a lot; I love affirmation more than just about ANYTHING in this whole wide world of numberless pleasures.

I said that I think we should ask ourselves what the world needs, and make ourselves known for being people who are trying to make that good stuff happen.

So, I am asking myself today, what do I think the world needs from us.

Re-Mapping the Ideological Landscape

Something quite important happened over the Memorial Day Weekend.  The ideological landscape of America was re-mapped. Misogyny went from being a "mental disturbance" and cultural background noise to being identified as an ideology.  It's doctrines were explicated. Its ideological centers and communication channels were exposed. The dark underworld of its adherents were brought into the sunshine. It became clear that many, if not all men, have been, at various times in their lives, under its ideological influence.

 An ideology can be renounced and turned away from, even if it has become habitual. It can be combatted. The young can be educated against a dangerous ideology. But we throw up our hands at "mental disturbances;" they seem unpredictable and very hard to correct.

The news media seemed all set to present Isla Vista as an all ready familiar narrative. Mentally ill person plus easy access to guns equals mass murder. Cue the Gun control debate.

Branding hurts a little; Ask Any Cow.

Maybe we should start at the other end? Instead of re-entering that very old, very tired debate that starts with the question: Who Are We?, we should try something different.

the #thanklesstask of "re-branding"

I am preparing my #thanklesstask hashtags for what will surely be a flurry of harsh and negative commentary on the "Selling God" article in Boston Magazine. I think the article seems like a good description of the work that the national staff is doing to find ways to talk about who we are, what we are doing and why it matters. I would like to hear Terasa Cooley's opinion as to whether the writers got it right.

I have my doubts. After all, if somehow they think that the way to sum up our re-branding is to call it "selling God", I am not sure that they have been listening all that well. God is definitely not standard equipment on most models of Unitarian Universalism. The Divine One is kind of like a manual transmission on a new car, an extra cost option for the more retro-minded.

Further, it's quite unsettling to see UUism personified by such a young and good looking guy. If I knew that young and good-looking was going to be in style in UUism, I would have n…

Free Speech, Poison and Masochism

There is vile, poisonous, hateful and dangerous speech out there. Misogynist rantings, aggressive assertions of male power and privilege. Paranoid ravings of rightwing insurrectionists. The Klan and the Nazis and their racial hatreds and bigotry. Really sicko pornography. Websites that encourage and support young women's anorexia and other eating disorders. Extended first person shooter games. Many, although not all, are expressions of the conservative backlashes against the agents of progressive change.

We all know the orthodox, conventional wisdom about all these hateful expressions.

Housing Segregation in My Life

My father was a minister; both of my grandparents were ministers. We lived in parsonages.
But right between my first and second year of grade school, my father left the ministry (another story) and started working for Republic Steel. My family entered the housing market for the first time.

My parents bought a house, a little Cape Cod, in Wickliffe, a working class subdivision in the suburb of Austintown, immediately the west of Youngstown, Ohio. I believe that it cost them about $12,000. It had two bedrooms, and 1 bath on the first floor. An eat-in kitchen and a Living Room.  The upstairs was unfinished; my dad built two more bedrooms upstairs and we converted the second bedroom downstairs into a den, because my mother thought a TV in the living room was an abomination.

It was a stretch to buy this house.  It was mortgaged to the full limit, I am sure, which probably meant that it was an FHA approved mortgage.

Ta Nehisi Coates, in his masterful argument for reparations, points out tha…

"The Love People"

There are reports that people who don't know Unitarian Universalism, but have observed UU's at events where we all have our yellow tee-shirts on, have called us 'the love people.'

"Love Person" is an identity which hints at a life's work and a life's journey.

What if you had known to answer "A Love Person" back then, when some adult asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up.

You were going to dedicate your life to the make "Love" the operating system of the world. When you were young, you would have sophomoric debates about "Love", testing its logical limits and boundaries. Questions like whether you could fight back against interstellar lizard invaders with loving non-violence. But as you grew older, the questions would change, but ethics of love would grow deeper in your life. You would practice its application in public policy and in your personal economics. You would come to understand how love fit with your p…

Weak Identities, UU sectarianism, and Branding.

This article in Vox is about Buzzfeed, the popular internet content provider. It appears that one of
the founders of Buzzfeed, Jonah Perreti has a background in Marxist critical theory. He, in a paper from long ago, advanced a thesis that capitalism seeks to influence people in the direction of having a weak identity -- a weak sense of self. A person with a weak sense of self is easily manipulable; identities can be proposed to the person which then they can create through consumption. You buy something to feel like you are somebody. Once I buy some skinny jeans, a fedora and some big honking wingtips, I can be a hipster of some sort.

Of course, the onrushing flow of products and sales means that someone will soon be suggesting another identity to me, which I can attain by buying something else: the shrubs and the lawn care tools that will make me a manly suburban homeowner, loading up his stuff at the local nursery. There is no conspiracy, just competitors creating and superimposin…

The Boundaries of Unitarian Universalism

In a comment on Facebook, Heather Christensen talked about our "semi-permeable boundaries of faith identity." This got me to thinking about who we are, and who we are not, and who else is out there in the religious landscape. I like to sort things into manageable piles, at least in my mind if not on my desk.

My sorting scheme is based on the particular beliefs of Liberal Religion.  Religious liberalism is not defined by particular beliefs about God, Jesus, salvation or sin. Religious liberalism is defined by its theology of religions: where do religions come from and how do they co-exist.

Liberal Religion is defined by three distinct beliefs.  (1) The world's religions are human cultural creations (2) no one religion is more true than another and (3) the value of a religion is the effect that it has on those who practice it.

You have to be a religious liberal to be a Unitarian Universalist, but you don't have to be Unitarian Universalist if you are religious liberal.…

Why "Spirituality"

This article offers a possible clue as to the history of Unitarian Universalism in the later 70's and 80's.

We speak of the turn toward "spirituality" in that era as though it was a natural event beyond human control. Like a river shifting its course after an earthquake.  But what was the earthquake that happened that caused UUism to move away from the rationality and intellectuality that had been our hallmarks up to then.

The traditional analysis has been that the earthquake that moved the river were the two connected social and demographic events: the rise of the baby boomer and the rise of a more female ministry. (Maybe in concrete terms, they are one event in UU History: Boomer women enter UU ministry.)

I would add two other aspects, suggested by this article.

One is that growing economic inequality was sapping the sense of agency in our congregations. Our people no longer felt in control of their destinies. Members of our congregations, as a whole, no longer exe…

“Revisiting, Revisioning, Revising: Mother’s Day 2014” by Rev. Gail Geisenhainer

This morning, we were privileged to hear Rev.Gail Geisenhainer preach on Mothers' Day. She powerfully invoked Julia Ward Howe's original proclamation of the first Mothers' Day, as well as speaking to our evolving understanding of parenting. I especially appreciated her clarity about changing holiday practices to reflect new and emerging truths. 
If you didn't make it to a worship service this morning, enjoy this one....

“Revisiting, Revisioning, Revising: Mother’s Day 2014” Rev. Gail R. Geisenhainer, Senior Minister First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor May 11, 2014
Today is Mother's Day.  For those of us raised with Mothers able and willing to love us and nurture us, spoil and guide us, Mother's Day is at worst, a benign salute to the power of the market economy to shape family habits.  At best, it is a chance to express to our Mothers the love and gratitude we hold for them.  For those of us who struggled into adulthood without either the presence …

Over the Edge

The pre-GA silly season is upon us. First up, is the plan by the Stewardship Office of the UUA to kick off a fundraising campaign that features folks rappelling down the side of the Rhode Island Convention Center. Read about it here. For a first person account of charity rappelling, check this out.

Fund raising gimmicks are by nature, gimmicky.

I call this the pre-GA silly season, because as our thoughts turn toward the UU annual meeting, GA becomes a screen on which UU's can project whatever they don't like about the UUA. The "UUA" is already a screen upon which they have already projected all their anxieties about being a religious liberal in a culture that is indifferent to religion and antsy about prophetic voices. A screen projected onto another screen, like a movie in a movie.

If you are uncomfortable about sectarian evangelism, GA will seem like an orgy of self-promotion.

If you are uncomfortable about the prophetic function, GA seems like an orgy of self-rig…

Why it matters...

Ever since the conservative turn in the US political culture in 1968, Unitarian Universalists have
tried to contain their political differences of opinion by promoting a policy of political tolerance within our congregations. Liberal religion could express itself in a wide variety of political opinions; conservatives and Republicans were welcome. It was policy.

The policy had a limitation. Local congregations could not be officially segregated, but even that was controversial for a while.

The political tolerance policy was, and remains, uncomfortable. UU Conservatives are restive in that their opinions are not often reflected back to them from other congregants, or from the pulpit. (I have been amused by the number of times that I hear of my colleagues working on the sermon topic along the lines of "the glories of capitalism" because the topic had been purchased at a service auction.) Conservatives complained that everyone was welcome except them. We said we welcomed conserv…


I hear the far-off rumblings of the conservative passive aggressive victim machine cranking up to say that I "demonized" conservatives in my sermon in Baltimore. It's not that they are against someone demonizing their opponents; they don't deny that they do it. I mean, how could they? Their hero, Rush Limbaugh, is the most popular conservative commentator, and his schtick is 100% demonization. One name to prove my point: Sandra Fluke. Female law student who testified in favor of a contraception mandate in health insurance. Rush called her a slut.

No, the conservatives don't deny that they demonize. They just want to demonize me as a hypocrite because I called them out. Liberals are supposed to be nicer than they are.
Demonization is an essential piece of the conservative worldview. It's deeper than political; it's theological. And it is a part of a set of theological concepts that liberal religion has rejected. Please follow along, as we explore the cons…

What I Think I'm Doing? Part Eleventy heaven

Another answer to the question people ask me? What on earth do you think you're doing?

I am trying to develop the language, the words and music, the poetry and prose, of why UU's do what we do, why we believe what we believe.

My assumption is that people see us in action first. They see our social practice in their communities. They see the messages on our buildings. They see our online presence over the shoulder of their friends. They are following people who follow some of us. So they get the picture that we are a group of well-meaning, committed, ethically driven, genuine people who do good things, support good causes.

But why? Why do we set these aspirations for ourselves?

We need fresh and contemporary language to explain ourselves, our missions, our goals, our methods. Assembling that language is what I am trying to do.

Occasionally, I turn a phrase that works well. Sometimes, I get out a well-crafted and meaningful sentence. I invite you to use it, modify it, polish it…


Last weekend, I traveled to Baltimore to give the sermon at the Union Service at First Unitarian Baltimore. The Union Service, which is a cooperative effort of 7 or 8 area UU churches, celebrates the Baltimore Sermon of 1819. That Sermon, also called Unitarian Christianity by William Ellery Channing outlined the basic theological perspective of Unitarianism, as it was at that time. It was widely reprinted and is claimed to be the second most widely pamphlet in the United States before the Civil War, outsold only by Thomas Paine's Common Sense. My host was the Rev. David Carl Olson.

The text of my sermon follows, along with some pictures of the Baltimore Church:


I write a blog I call the "Lively Tradition,” which is a slight play on calling ourselves a “Living Tradition.” What good is our tradition if it is merely alive, but not lively?  What I blog about mostly is Unitarian Universalist Public Theo…