Showing posts from August, 2014

Market Basket: A case study in Finance Capitalism

Market Basket was a profitable company, owned by one family. Paid employees well and was a good corporate citizen.

After some machinations in the owning family, it faced being sold up to powers of finance capital -- sold on Wall Street. Family members would get a huge payday. The new management would eventually required by its Wall Street investors to run the company like every other supermarket chain. Lower wages, lower benefits etc. etc.

I rag on and on about the difference between capitalism and finance capital. This is an example of what I am talking about.

The more that the productive wealth of the country is controlled on Wall Street, the behavior of individual companies will directed toward maximizing short term profits, in order that the company is an attractive investment on Wall Street. The success of a grocery chain depends on being more profitable than any other form of investment: resort chains in the tropics, gun manufacturers, medical marijuana distributors. It will no…

6H for a Relentlessly Useful UUA (Cooley)

We all know that as the world around us changes, congregations need to change as well. Doing it the way it was done 50 years ago doesn't work anymore. And I don't believe it will work for our Unitarian Universalist Association, either. While there certainly have been changes and reorganizations since 1961, it mostly continues to follow along the same lines, with departments that have similar-sounding names and that often function as silos – unaware of what other departments are doing. Lest you want to argue with me, first ask me to tell you about my 2013 General Assembly experience, when I got up-close and personal with many different areas with the UUA administration and learned the truth of this siloing first hand.
In addition, I believe that it is in our congregations that our mission and vision is best incarnated. It is through our congregations that we change ourselves, our communities and our culture. Please note that I am not using the traditional definition of “congreg…

What's Wrong with this Picture?

The picture is explained by this article by Tobin Grant at Religion News Service, and is based on data from the Pew Research Group. It is a graph showing the relative positions of religions and denominations on the pressing political and social issues of the day. 
What's wrong with it? Aside from the fact we call ourselves Unitarian Universalists, not "Unitarians". Other groups have names larger than their circles, so why not us?
I don't doubt that Pew Research has the best data around on religion, denominations, beliefs among the laity than anyone.
But they just have accepted rightwing tropes about politics. And because they do, how they place religious denominations isn't useful in the context of the actual political struggles of the coming day. 
First of all, who says that the most important ideological division in the country is between big and small government? Just about every committed rightwing commentator and every shallow minded mainstream centrist. Th…

William James on Lynching

A friend of mine, Peter Reilly, who writes a blog on tax matters, and studies history on the side has discovered a forgotten essay by William James, the great psychologist of religion. The essay is an introduction to a book written by another author on 'negro lynching'.  Read Reilly's post here. It includes the full text of William James's essay.

A key graf from James, speaking about the author of the book he is introducing
...Dr Dean Richmond Babbitt in this book correctly writes of “love of bloodshed” and of “homicidal instincts”, for the indulgence of which the possession of a black skin is rapidly coming to be regarded as a legitimate provocation. I find it hard to comprehend the ignorance of history and of human nature which allows people still to think of negro lynching as of a transient contagion destined soon to exhaust its virulence. It is on the contrary a profound social disease, spreading now like forest fire and certain to become permanently epidemic in eve…

Ferguson: Stepping Back To See the New Situation

Ferguson is a new situation: it is exposing the mechanisms of institutionalized racism in the suburbs. This Vox explainer article is a good primer on the issues. Previous national level discussions of racism often centered on the inner city and the urban poor.

Ferguson is a new situation: African Americans have long been treated as a suspect and potentially criminal population in the United States. Whatever else has changed for the better, this reality has not changed. It may have gotten worse, with the Wars on Crime, Drugs and Terror. At the grassroots level, how the police treat African Americans has been where white racism has been most imposed, and most resisted. Remember that most of the urban uprisings of the 1960's were sparked by police actions.

After the death of Trayvon Martin, concern over police brutality is crossing over into portions of the white population. The Michael Brown killing continues that trend. It's an uncomfortable process right now. There are issues…

Demonization is Bullying

I have gotten a lot of pushback on the accompanying statement.  I stand by it.

Case in point: I ask you what has been the response to the Michael Brown killing. Conservatives everywhere have had one focus: finding the proof that Michael Brown somehow deserved getting shot. He was supposedly a thug; he stole cigars; he liked rap music; he had marijuana in his system; he beat Darren Wilson in the face and broke his eye socket; he was one of those scary black hoodlums. They have demonized Michael Brown. That is the sum total of their response. And you know, it's exactly the same as was done to Trayvon Martin. It is the main content of conservative media in this time. It is their go-to tool.

Note that I say that while the 'signature gesture' of conservatism are these campaigns of demonization, the "mission" of liberal religion is to re-humanize this culture. Hear what I am saying and what I am not saying. I am not saying that no liberals ever demonizes the conservat…

Suggestions, Please

Cindy Landrum suggested in a recent post that the UUA should provide payroll functions for local churches and congregations.

Quite a while ago, I suggested that the UUA should attempt to compile a massive database of UU's around the country, including those who self-identify but are not in congregations, those merely interested in our way of faith, those who have indicated support for any of the campaigns associated with Standing on Side of Love, etc.

Evin Carville-Zeimer suggests in a comment that the UUA could take on the task of providing a centralized legal services for churches and congregation.

I had a friend who suggested to me years ago that based on his experience doing nation-wide deals, he thought it would be possible to negotiate a nation-wide banking agreement with a single national bank for congregations and churches.

So, I am setting up the suggestion box here.

What functions do you think that could be centralized, to free up resources and energy in the local congreg…

Social Media Activism Self Assessment

For a week, we have been processing the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. There has been a lot going on. It has been a rapidly moving situation. There are sorts of layers to the story. A lot of what has been going on has been on social media. It has been an occasion for many people to learn, re-think, and teach.

Let me ask Unitarian Universalist ministers and lay-leaders to assess their roles as community faith leaders over the last week.

1. Were you active on social media at all?
2. Did you read about Michael Brown and Ferguson on social media?
3. How did you participate in the information flow about Michael Brown and Ferguson?
4. Did you read?
5. Did you "like" some of the things that you read?
6. Did you "share' some of the things you read with people in your network?
7. Did you "share" information and analyses from writers and organizations of people of color to your network?
7. Did you make comments yourself?
8. Did you respond to invitat…

A Relentlessly Useful UUA [Landrum]

It was just announced that the UUA newsletter "Interconnections" is ending.  In June, the UUA announced a budget shortfall of 1.3 million, and this is one result of that deficit.  Donald Skinner, who edited Interconnections for 15 years, says Tom Sites, former UU World Editor, wanted the newsletter to be “relentlessly useful."

As a minister, I know that the job of ministry is multi-faceted, and it's the rare -- or nonexistent -- minister who does everything excellently.  So when choosing a minister, it's worthwhile for a congregation to think about what strengths are important to that congregation.  Ideally, I think the work of the congregation is to not berate the minister for not having universal excellence, but let the minister play to those strengths, and use the strengths of the laity to round out the work of the church. But every church is still going to have areas of strength and weakness, too.  Individual people, when they have the luxury of choice, ofte…

Authoritarian Politics in the USA

Doug Muder has been getting a lot of interest with his essay "Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party".  You should read it if you haven't.

People quote Upton Sinclair as saying "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross." [No one can actually find when and where he said it, but whatever...]

Muder's argument is that authoritarian and antidemocratic politics will never come to America; they have been here from original European settlements. Authoritarian, antidemocratic politics won't "emerge;" they "persist."

Upton Sinclair wrote [or did not write] back when the rise of Hitler was the model for how dictatorships come to country. A lot of people saw parallels in the Tea Party.

But American authoritarianism is rooted in the high-exploitation, super-cheap labor, huge inequality system of slavery. While slavery itself was abolished, at great cost, the Constitutional structures that protected slave…

The problem with being on the fringe... [Cooley]

From Rev. Dawn Cooley:
I have heard Unitarian Universalist congregations described as "Islands of Misfit Toys." This metaphor comes from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV show from the 70s that many of us are probably familiar with.
The problem with acting as though we are islands of misfit toys is that we just stand around doing nothing. Toys are meant to bring joy to peoples' lives. Television viewers celebrate when all the toys leave the island and go find homes where they can live into the fullness of their creation. If we, as Unitarian Universalists, relegate ourselves to the fringe, to being islands of misfit toys, then we are not out there living into the fullness of our past, present, and future.
Taken one step further, if we want to be about cultural transformation, we cannot abdicate our power by putting ourselves on the fringe. We need, instead, to be out there, amongst people, speaking the language of the culture that we are tr…

What do We Do Now?

We're far away from Ferguson, MO, and while I had a brief moment of temptation last night, I am not going to get in my car and go there, to put my boots on the ground.

You know all the adjectives: enraged, sickened, shocked, dismayed, saddened etc.

So what do we do now?

I have to tell my UU ministerial colleagues that I do not particularly feel like to going to the darkened UU church, to sit in silence and stare thoughtfully at a burning candle. I do not feel like having a round-robin discussion (no cross-talk please) of my feelings about this. I've been at those events; I'd even presided over them. They seem like exercises in mass mood management, carefully designed to prevent a loud and passionate political argument from breaking out to disturb the good order of the church. Let's keep things "spiritual" which often means, let's struggle to have benign thoughts about everybody at all times.

So what do we do now?

The police killing of Michael Brown, and t…

Conservative Public Theology. [Schade]

Dana Milbank argues in today's Washington Post that race and nationality are becoming de-coupled as the USA moves into a future where 'white' people no longer are the majority.

The United States is experiencing a rapid decoupling of race and nationality: Whiteness has less and less to do with being American.
The Census Bureau forecasts that non-Hispanic whites, now slightly more than 60 percent of the population, will fall below 50 percent in 2043.

I say that the demographic shift threatens the ideology of white nationalism: the belief that the USA is ordained to be the nation of the European whites who settled here and their descendants. Even though there were people here before the Europeans came, and even though there have been people from other continents here all along, white nationalism holds that the European settlers are destined to rule North America. Whites belong here; everybody else has to earn their place here. It makes a mystical, emotional, and sentimental id…

The Safety Net [Landrum]

The website Humans of New York, called "HONY" by its followers, is a project of a New York photographer, Brandon, who shoots daily pictures of the inhabitants of New York and posts them, along with a short paragraph of text that he paraphrases from conversations with his photography subjects.  He recently posted this picture:
The picture had the following text:
“I’m always fearful because I don’t have a safety net. I feel like I’m walking on a tightrope with nothing to catch me if I fall. I’ve moved 80 times in my life. I don’t have any savings. I don’t have any room to make a mistake. In college, I was always around so many people who could afford to make mistakes, and I couldn’t help but feel very envious of them.”“When did you feel most envious?”“Family day.” A second picture of the same woman explains that after her mother committed suicide when she was ten, she and here brother were placed in the foster care system.  

I don't know this young woman, b…

Connecting the Dots.... [Tom Schade]

Unitarian Universalists are concerned about the poor career prospects of the ministers. The ministerial formation process costs way too much. Congregations have less money to support ministers. The new minister begins with a crushing debt. The chances of paying off the debt and then saving enough for retirement are very small. It looks like the fulltime ministerial life is only for the independently wealthy or well-partnered. Bi-vocational, low paid ministry appears to be the future. And it's a comedown from the idealized picture of the professional minister who lived the lifestyle of tenured university professor.

The larger picture: the financial plight of the ministry is the plight of almost all working people in the United States. Almost all of the increased income and wealth produced over the last 40 years has gone to the very top of the income pyramid. Educational costs have skyrocketed, fueled in part by policies which allowed banks to make huge profits in student loans. It …

The Emerging UU Consensus [Tom Schade]

Unitarian Universalists like to think that we are a fractious lot, each with our own opinion on everything and unable to agree on anything. Whenever that was, that was then and this is now. Oh, we disagree about this and that but a consensus emerging about the work we share together. We are becoming more unified than one would think.

A Short List

1. The "language of reverence" is now our vocabulary. President Sinkford was roundly criticized for suggesting that we needed to break out of the straitjacket of humanist language, but then, we did. We're all about "calls", "faith", "mission", "prayer", "spirit", and "soul". Admittedly, we are probably sloppy in our usage, but everyone kind of gets what each other is talking about, and goes along with it.

2. Evangelism is IN, even "growth for growth's sake." Gone are the days when people like us didn't do anything like that. Now, we are all for spreadin…

Dawn Cooley on UU's and Christendom, Part 2

Dawn posted a second part of her post over on her blog.  Go read it there.