Wednesday, May 28, 2014

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.


You know the debate which starts over what we actually believe and then goes into two separate paths, each so tedious that even the figures of speech about how tedious they are themselves tedious. Yes, hearing another discussion about how to make sense of the statement that "There is No God, and She is Female" does want to make you stick the proverbial fork in your proverbial eye.

Good thing that this a fancy dinner party because you will have another proverbial fork to stick in your other proverbial eye when we get onto the discussion of whether it is violation of everything right and holy about our tradition to even attempt to draw a boundary around what someone might think as a UU. No center, no boundary. Blobatarianism.

But before we start feeling around for the leashes of our seeing eye dogs, why don't we start from what we think that the world needs from us?

The lines are getting pretty clear, aren't they? The nation, the culture, is heading for a big rumble. On the one side, the fossil fuel industry, the financial industry, the gun nuts, the white nationalists, the patriarchs, the homophobes, the misogynists. They all think that they are going to lose something, and they all want to keep it forever, and they are willing to fight. Hell, it seems that they have no shortage of mentally unstable young men who are willing to start the final battle on their own.

On the other side, well, there are the people who want "the earth made fair and all her people one" or some such thing. Insert your own poetry here.

And there are bunches of people in the middle, screaming because they wanted a quiet life without any real conflict, and this is all so upsetting.

Forget "who are we?" What does the world need from us?

It need us to be there, to be crystal clear about what is going on, to be a way in which ordinary people can be a part of what is the best and the most hopeful, not just once in a while, but on a personal and sustainable basis, whether they are 10, 20, 30, 50 or 90 years old. Even if all they can do is sing along. People need to know that they are cared for and they need people to care for.

I don't think that the world needs us to be the last best hope for liberal Protestantism. I don't think that the world needs us to be the moderators at all the Interfaith forums in the world. I don't think that the world needs us to be a small mendicant order of itinerant social workers. I don't think that the world needs us to be happiest, clappiest, friendliest, megachurch it has ever seen. I don't think that world needs us to be a chain of small friendly churches where everybody knows each other's name. Some of us can be any of those things, but we need to be known as the people who are, and are working to be, the change that the world needs.

A brand is not just a label on a can of soup. A brand is a mark made upon you, which identifies you, whose you are.  We're not sheep and we're not cattle, but in some way, we need to identify ourselves by our basic purpose, that we are here to live, laugh and love and be a part of the realization of humanity's highest hopes, as they have been known to us.

11 comments:

roger butts said...

You've asked a really good question.

David Blanchard said...

Reminds me of a conversation I had with an old man, many, many years ago. He lived in Jordan NY, and he had childhood memories of his grandfather's general store on the Erie Canal. He told me about the three tobacco containers that sat on the counter. One was polished brass. One was tin. One was a wooden bin. The prices varied based on how fancy the container was. But it was the same tobacco in each. They sold the most from the brass bin.

Kathleen said...

Want a bigger congregation? Be of larger service. I don't think this has changed much, ah, ever. Tom, you are right on, as usual.

Terasa Cooley said...

Thanks for helping hold a curious space for this conversation, Tom. I appreciate you asking about my level of agreement with the article. One is never in control of what a media outlet does with what you offer!
Are there things I would change in the article? Absolutely. Are we trying to "sell God?" - of course not. Do I agree that we are in our death throes? - no, not exactly. Would I characterize all of our typical worship services as spiritually empty? - absolutely not.
But I do recognize that my disagreements with these points would not mean much to an outsider. It would amount to an "insider" conversation. To an outsider I think it looks like what we are trying to do: to bring a clear message to the world about the values we represent and wish to offer. If the article leads more people to consider coming to a UU church, then I don't much need to argue. If it encourages us as UUs to think more deeply about how we communicate our message, all the better. If it helps people think about a way of being religious that they never dreamed was possible - a way that is deeply meaningful and relevant to how they live their lives, then I would celebrate. The fact that this effort has gained the attention of a major media outlet (without having to pay for advertising, I might add!) is worth noting. There are many different outlets for many different messages.
As I keep saying, this branding work is only a part of our work to make our UU values relevant, meaningful and impactful to the larger world. If anyone would like to hear more about this effort I invite them to read my article in the UU World at http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/295275.shtml
I welcome conversation about how to do just that.

Joel Miller said...

Yes! Preach it! Because we don't own this tradition. We have privilege to serve the world through it. And that privilege may cost us everything.

We brand or re-brand because we have ministry to do. We preach because people need us to bring them back to life. We teach children so that they can live lives of meaning amid great suffering. We get paid to write these words because if something beautiful is going to survive in this world, it may be because of our words (I pray they are at least helpful).

UU may grow or die, but either way, we are called to ministries, to service. I choose to say yes to the call in hope of an outcome beyond our Living Tradition. I love us, I'm grateful for us, but we're not an end in ourselves.

Rev. Myke Johnson said...

Like this, love this...

Tony Lorenzen said...

Tom, I think you just equated branding with mission. Don't know how you did that, but I think it's really cool.

Tom Schade said...

Tony, branding is about being conscious about how you present yourself to others. What do you want them to know about you? Mission is what you are trying to do, what role you want to play in people's lives. Why wouldn't you want your mission to be the first thing people know about you? When somebody says "Red Cross" to you, you think: they're the people who come after the tornado. You don't think about what they believe, or how they are organized, or even what satisfactions come from being a red cross volunteer.

Elz Curtiss said...

Yesterday, after more than a week of pondering his position in Germanic history (my current inquiry), I looked into the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What hit be between the eyes was that he had something so simple that it could be so central, so passionate, so personal, that it would support him through killing and dying. As I read the first few selections, my heart kept asking me, "What is the word you could put each place D.B. says, 'Jesus'? There was never one word. "Divinity" was a good-faith effort to craft a mystic focal word, but it just hasn't worked. There has to be an image, just as visual art has never been able to sustain an entire thread with no representational content. Similes and metaphors seem to be the furthest we can get from that focal base.

Which leaves me here contemplating Bonhoeffer and asking what some of my longstanding religious fellow travelers might insert. Some have done well: Nurfin's hard workers, de Marcos's Servetus. But what have we global souls (Pico Iyer's phrase) with such passion? :But wait, there's more" is hardly a calming phrase when contemplating a voluntary path to the gallows.

Tom Schade said...

Elz, I am not sure that producing Bonhoeffers is a plausible goal. I would like to aim at a liberal religious movement with a compelling enough vision of a humane future that it lead a people to not elect the Nazi's in the first place.

Steve LaBonne said...

Elz Curtiss, do you really imagine that no unbelievers have ever bravely faced martyrdom for their principles? I would just put "integrity" in the gap you want to fill.