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 not waited until I was 50 to go to seminary.

But snark and funny stuff aside, let's be patient with this.

Over the weekend, there was a spontaneous, mass, accelerated consciousness raising explosion. The #YesAllWomen conversation brought out hundreds of thousands of personal testimonies of misogyny and the rape culture. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions.  That's messages, not readers of messages. And over and over, I read the story that what had been thought as private and personal, was revealed as political and systemic. Something very real shifted, I believe. This is how this country is changing.

Now, we UU's can point to our principles and we can point to #YesAllWomen and say, "See, we get it; we're about the same thing." But can we tell people that becoming a UU is a way to be a part of the on-going cultural transformation in a soul-satisfying, life-saving way? No, of course not. We are not there yet.

We don't how to be that yet. We are groping toward it, and it is enormously frustrating. The tools and the assets we have -- our buildings, our congregational practices, our theological insights, our habits of worship, don't seem to fit this new situation, which seems unprecedented.

This will be a time which calls forth all our creativity, spiritual depth, and awareness. The work that the UUA staff is doing is important and clarifying. Let's not use it for another round of frustrated "not this, but that."  Stay at the table, keep talking and let's learn our way together.


  1. Turns out I had a lot to say about that, so I wrote it at

  2. It seemed to me the article pointed out that the UUA is out of sink with the reality of who we are now --- that you can't advertise yourselves as who you wish you were. So are we putting time and energy and talent into dreaming up alternative futures or in helping congregations move forward? It always seems to me that the UUA often has some great ideas for us, but then moves on without institutionalizing and capturing what worked and figuring out what didn't and why. There doesn't seem to be a thru line and small experiments should be given some really good support and analysis but not advertised until we have some tangible takeaway. And in this digital age it would be nice to be able to share more fully with the UUA experiments that have been tried and been successful at the grass roots. Also, we are so ahistorical! Things are touted as new which appear to be circular, what can we learn from the past? I get tired of "we tried it and it didn't work" from older folks (why didn't it work? did you try to tweak it? what did you learn from that experiment) but I get tired of each generation thinking their "new ideas" are without a history they might learn from. I believe we would welcome change more avidly and be more effective in planning changes if we acknowledged our debts and learned more from both our successes and failures.

  3. Sometimes we do get there, haltingly, even in our clunky old congregations. For example, in my church there is a highly impressive young lady who some years ago attempted suicide after coming out as a lesbians and receiving hateful reactions from "friends" and classmates. By luck, her mother brought her to our church on a day when welcoming was being celebrated and a rainbow flag was proudly displayed in the sanctuary. She and her mother say that finding our church literally saved her life, and who am I to question that? And there are similar stories in our church around mental illness. We do save souls and transform lives right now, but we also do have to get even better at it within and especially beyond our congregations.

  4. I'll be contrarian and admit that I loved the headline. Yes, I realize that many UUs don't believe in God though I'd bet that many more do than drive manual transmissions :)

    While religious language is controversial in many of our congregations, I think that we're more likely to grow by acknowledging that our place in American culture is as a very liberal religion and accepting that for outsiders we will be described in those terms.

    My own guess is that future Unitarians will come from the unchurched in greater numbers than those who are seeking an alternative from a dogmatic faith tradition. Among those potential UUs, I suspect that arguments about how much God we can accept in church will be less interesting than conversations about ethical and moral issues in our lives and the life of the world around us. For these folks a place where people meet on Sunday morning, sing hymns and listen to sermons at least suggests as aspect of God or spirituality, and our debating whether to use that traditional language won't increase their interest in joining us.

  5. As an non-theist / religious naturalist I want to second Pete M.'s point that we are a liberal religion and must not be afraid of being so and of presenting ourselves as such. Though I am an old fart raised in a Catholic family, I feel that my outlook is more like that of the unchurched younger folks than of the refugees from illiberal religion, because the Catholics never really got in my head and I sloughed the whole business off quite painlessly around the age of 12. (I stayed unchurched until I discovered UUism in early middle age.) Reverence is a religious virtue and we need a lot more of it if we humans are ever going to stop making the world less and less habitable for ourselves.


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