Friday, August 29, 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 not survive simply because it is a profitable and successful grocery store that gets groceries into the hands of people who need them at a fair market price.

The employees of Market Basket and the citizens of New England communities fought to keep the ownership and control of Market Basket local. They won. Good on them.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

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 “congregation” here, but am expanding it to include any community of faith. For these purposes, a congregation might be a covenanted community or other emerging organization that does not fit the traditional definition.

So what is the UUA (organizationally) supposed to do? How might we have a "relentlessly useful" UUA?  I think that, in part, rather than serving as a denominational entity, the UUA would best serve the needs of congregations (and thus the larger world) by being a macro-congregation. That is, just as individual people participate in a congregation, so do individual congregations participate in the UUA.

In a post over on my blog, I proposed a 6H Approach for congregations to use to best serve their mission. This is a philosophical reorganization that would have ramifications in a congregation's structure. I think the UUA could adapt this model in relationship to the congregations it serves. And this is what it might look like.

Using the 6H Approach, the UUA would be busy...
  • HEALING congregations. Many of our congregations are wounded and struggling. Issues such as clergy misconduct, unhealthy system dynamics (and much more) mean that before we can expect these congregations to best incarnate our UU ideals, they must be given the resources to heal. A part of this would be holding congregations accountable for their own healing by providing opportunities for regular assessment and followthrough. For instance, congregations that have a history of abusing clergy would be required to go through a particular course of action before being allowed to participate in the settlement process.
  • HOLDING congregations in care by providing congregations with the tangible things they might need to lift their vision off the floor. For instance, many of our smaller congregations have difficulty finding and funding such essential positions as bookkeepers and webmasters. The UUA could provide such resources for a much reduced fee, freeing up valuable resources in the congregation for mission. Additionally, the UUA might provide conventional support, such as an updated “Church in the Box” that has what people need to start small covenanted communities: how to advertise, material to use (or where to find it), how to ask for money, things that work well to build community (maybe built on the youth group principles).
  • HEARING congregations. Once congregations are healthy and are being held in care, they can better listen and discern how they are called to minister in the world. Tandi Rogers has done some excellent work on finding a congregation’s sweet spot. Congregations should be encouraged to focus outward – how can they best “Love the Hell out of the World?" The UUA can support this process with tools for discernment and a framework within which congregations can work. Congregations should not be encouraged to hang out in the HOLDING phase as this does not serve our greater mission.
  • HELPING congregations. Once they have discerned their mission in the world, congregations may need assistance and support in bringing their mission to life. The UUA can connect congregations doing similar work (for instance, putting together congregations looking at serving a meal to the homeless, or installing solar panels). This is also where CSAIs and SOCs come in – what sort of questions should congregations be considering? Similarly, UUA social justice programs, such as the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, help congregations live their mission. The UUA can also connect congregations to resources they might not have thought of otherwise, such as alternate revenue streams or interfaith efforts in the same arena.
  • HANDING OFF. Congregations that make it through to this stage are now experts in their mission. Congregations at earlier stages of HEARING and HELPING might be referred to these leadership congregations – much like the Leap of Faith initiative. This also removes from the UUA the burden of providing these resources and places it again in the hands of a congregation. I would encourage certification of leadership congregations with specific areas of leadership identified. The UUA does not have to contain the experts, it just has to know where to find the experts.
  • HOMECOMING. This stage provides the essential accountability and ongoing connection between the UUA as a whole and the member congregations. I see General Assembly being such a celebration, with congregations learning about the resources available at the phase they are currently in as well as the one they aspire to, making connections with other congregations who have discerned similar missions, and getting leadership from leadership congregations identified in the HANDING OFF phase.

Just as with congregations, the UUA could use the 6H Approach not only philosophically, but structurally. The focus would shift from providing resources, to connecting resources – with the exception of special expertise.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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. That should tell us something.

"Small government" as an ideology has a history in the United States. Supposedly, it is one of the guiding principles of the US Constitution, and that is partly true. The Constitution is a compromise document that creates the strongest possible national government that would not have the power to interfere with the institution of slavery in those states that wanted to preserve it. If you do a clause by clause analysis of the Constitution, you can see that while it creates a new national government, that government was structurally prevented from interfering with slavery. "Limited or Small Government" is the ideological window dressing for preventing the US government from acting on behalf of African Americans. 

Small Government is still the principle by which federal action on behalf of African Americans is opposed. Conservatives are not against strong and powerful governments that act on behalf of white people, or against black people. Many conservatives, it appears, are all right with the police having the power to summarily execute suspected black criminals in the streets. A huge military, OK! Torture, OK! Corporate Welfare, OK! Food Stamps? No, we need small, limited government! 

So, what is wrong with this picture? The horizontal axis is mis-named. It should be Anti-Institutional Racism on the Left and Pro-Institutional Racism on the Right.  Some of the denominations might have be moved. Many would be stay the same. But it is true that the predominately black denominations would stay close to where they are now. 

This is an important change in language. Nothing is more mystifying about our political debates as the obscuring of the role of race in political ideology. This re-naming of conservatism to an abstract, ahistoric principle hides where people are on the real issues of the day. The most important ideological conflict in the United States is now, and has always been, over whether African Americans and other non-White people have a full and equal place in the United States. If they are, then the government has to be committed to their welfare. Are we a multi-racial democracy, or is the US a white peoples' nation with non-whites in a permanently subordinate status? 

When people say that they are in favor of helping the black poor, but just not with the government, they are saying that an abstract principle is of higher value than black poor people. It's a rationalization. 

What else is wrong with this picture? The vertical axis (protection of morality) is equally premised on a rightwing, conservative bias. Is stealing from the poor through usurious interest rates moral? Is causing the death of innocent civilians in war moral? Is a minimum wage that is less than a living wage moral? Are CEO salaries hundreds of times greater than the average worker's wage moral? In this chart, one gets the idea that morality is just sexuality and marriage, in other words, patriarchical morality.  So, the real axis is Pro-Patriarchy at the top and Anti-Patriarchy at the bottom. 

But that would only rename what is there.  When consider the morality of economics and social arrangements, the real division is whether the a church's moral stance declares the individual moral duty to go along with oppression, or to challenge it. Or, does the church really favor the full flowering of the human being, or try to tame it for the benefit of others. 

To be useful, a chart should where denominations and religions are in relationship to the power structures in this country at this time. Because the future will be the history of those struggles. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

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 every corner of our country, north and south, unless heroic remedies are swiftly adopted to check it.
James places the blame for lynching on the murderous impulses of humanity. To be more precise, he concurs with Dr. Babbitt's statement to that effect. He does not see that the practice of lynching was terrorism in service of the systems of political and economic subjugation of African Americans. This distinction, between a psychological motivation for racist violence and a systemic view, is important.

The great migration of African Americans to the North created a new system of economic and political subjugation: housing segregation and inner city 'ghettos'.  There were a whole wave of white riots in various cities as to keep African Americans in their new places. And now, it is the police for whom "the possession of a black skin is rapidly coming to be regarded as a legitimate provocation."  Or as commentator has said "They used to hang black men from trees; now they lay them on the pavement." And as the groundswell of support for Darren Wilson shows, there are many who support this modern day lynching.

Monday, August 25, 2014

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.

Demonstration in support of Ferguson Community in San Francisco
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 about how whites can appropriately identify with these protests: how does the "hands up - don't shoot" gesture read when performed by white people who don't face that reality. What about the role of white anarchists and communists who ally with the most militant street fighters? Do white clergy get co-opted by the police into being crowd control agents?

Despite these points of friction, it is true that broader white support for African American stuggle against the police is a relatively new thing; previously, white support for the African American movements engaged issues like voting rights, or public accommodations, which did not challenge the politics of respectability.

Supporters have raised over $400K for Darren Wilson. 
Predictably, there is also a backlash brewing, as other portions of the white population are rallying to support the police.

Where all this goes is everybody's guess. But we are in a new situation.

What does it mean for congregations of liberal religion, and specifically, Unitarian Universalism?

We are in the suburbs. Every UU congregation can be inquiring into the systems of racism in their community, and the communities of their members.

All that we have been learning about institutional racism will be needed in the future as we try to make sense of suburban racism: how seemingly race neutral policies in areas like mortgage approval, zoning, election cycles serve to keep African Americans disempowered in suburban communities. Chances are that your all-white suburb did not get that way by chance.

All that we have learned about white privilege gets real, when you consider what a difference it makes to live without the fear that your life is just in danger from the police than from any other source.

Finally, what we have learned from our participation in the LGBTQ struggles for rights and marriage equality is that it makes a difference when we make a firm commitment to people who are being marginalized.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

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 conservatives. I am not saying that no one has made unfounded, harsh, and conclusive judgements about Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown. I am saying that the work we should do is to promote the understanding that each person has dignity and deserves respect. All of us are accountable human beings embedded in systems and structures that push and pull us toward certain behaviors.

I, however, specifically reject the idea that "both sides do it." The two sides are not equivalent entities.We are living in a system which is oppressive, and exploitative, and de-humanizing. There are the powerful and there are the powerless. So, watch the direction of the demonizing gesture, please. Not only does conservative media and ideology scapegoat and demonize, they usually demonize "down", toward the powerless. When the left makes harsh and unfair personal judgements, it is usually "up," at the powerful.

The mission of liberal religion to re-humanize this culture. I don't mean that our work is to create safe spaces where liberals and conservatives can get along. That degenerates into liberal religion trying to tone down "our" side. All those efforts will not be reciprocated. It betrays the victims.

I mean that our work is to stalwartly defend the victims of conservative demonization -- defending their humanity.

It means arguing that the young people of color are NOT an army of thugs out to pillage, steal and rape the rest of us. They are not the demons Fox News portrays them as. Michael Brown was a young man who was endangering no one when he was shot by a police officer. Young people of color are human beings.

It means reminding people that the refugee kids at the border are NOT an army of invaders, but children, for God's sake.

It means insisting that women who want birth control coverage in their insurance policy are NOT sluts who want to have recreational sex on other people's dime, but ordinary women doing ordinary things.

It means reminding people that the most of the residents of Gaza are ordinary people, NOT fighters.

The conservative movement is full of bullies. You don't talk bullies down from the thrill they get from being bullies. You stand up for the bullied, first, and always.

Monday, August 18, 2014

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 congregation to do what they do best?

Make your suggestions in the comment area. Remember that I moderate comments, so if it won't appear right way. You've done it right, don't worry. It will appear eventually.

I will not posts that get into explaining why another suggestion is a dumb idea, a violation of everything we hold sacred, won't work, is already being done, or has been tried with disastrous results. If we actually making any decisions here, such comments would be in order. Think of this as brain-storming.

Let's hear them.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

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 invitations to actual events that you heard about through social media?
9. Did you invite others to actual events either through social media or other channels?
10. How many friends and followers do you on social media channels? How far do you reach?
11. Was your church/congregation providing information about Michael Brown and Ferguson through its social media channels.

Unitarian Universalism is more than the couple of hundred thousand people who belong to our churches and congregations. We know that there are several hundred thousand more who self-identify as UU, but are not in congregations at this time. We are parts of a huge number of other networks: organizations, social movements, families, neighborhoods, communities, co-workers, professional organizations, personal interest groups and fans. Many UU's are opinion leaders for many other people.

Our combined networks include a huge number of people.

My hope and vision is that Unitarian Universalists will build on our presence in social media, becoming a point of connection between what is going on and our individual networks of friends and families and others.  We can especially play a positive role if we seek out and pass along the perspectives of those who do not often get an audience in the mainstream media: the voices of the marginalized and the more radical. We need to think of ourselves a potential opinion leaders.

Finally, I don't think that what I am advocating for is "evangelism". It's not promoting Unitarian Universalism, except by example and influence. Instead, it's offering leadership and being of service to others by offering relevant information and ways to become connected to the issues of our times.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

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, often choose their church based on their interests and desires.  Is it more important to you to have a church actively engaged in social justice, or with a stellar RE program, or with dynamic music?  A church with limited resources can choose to hire a part-time RE staff person, an amateur musician, and have a lay-led social justice program, but might choose to put more resources into one area to have a really strong program in that area.

It's worth asking what we want the UUA to be for us, too.  While a larger institution has more ability to have excellence in more areas, the UUA is not really that large an institution.  Do we want it to be more focused on social witness?  Do we want it to be seeker-oriented?

In the last year it has seemed that a large amount of energy and focus of the UUA has gone into branding, on messaging, and on "Selling God" -- spreading the word of what Unitarian Universalism is to the "nones" and to the younger generations seems to have taken center stage.  I think that's appropriate work for the UUA, but not where I would put the emphasis.  Instead, I would look for the UUA to be "relentlessly useful" to congregations. 
being a growth-driven, seeker-oriented institution.  The focus on

Branding may become useful to congregations in time.  The UUA is working on a new curriculum about it that's being test-piloted this fall.  But right now, it's not in that useful category.  Congregations can use the new logo and stripe and background pattern, but changing the logo on your webpage isn't going to bring the nones barreling to your church door.

As a minister, I've been trained in theology, preaching, education, small-group ministry, and social justice.  And I think those are the things we need to free our congregations up to focus in -- creating dynamic worship, creating engaging programs, and engaging in public witness.  But we have nobody in the small pastoral-sized churches on staff who are trained in finance, webdesign, and marketing.  We turn to whatever lay expertise we have in our congregations and tap it relentlessly -- so our one member with web design expertise gets a perpetual unpaid job to do in their off-time, and the same with finance, and marketing.

It may be Interconnections time to end.  As Donald Skinner says, "Now there are email lists, Facebook laboratories, and webinars."  But the UUA needs to remain relentlessly useful.  Create branding, yes, but create the websites, the newsletters, the pamphlets, the print ads, the Facebook photos for us to use it on.  Help our churches by doing payroll for us and free us up from the back-office work, much like you help us with our endowments with the Common Endowment Fund.  Free up our congregations to do what they do best.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Authoritarian Politics in the USA

Doug Muder:
the Weekly Sift
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 slavery up until the moment when the slave states themselves decided to forego those protections, still prevent much meaningful progress to true democracy and shared wealth. Just look at what has happened in the current period. The same constitutional restrictions on the power of the Federal government that made slavery impossible to touch before the Civil War still let some states to refuse Medicaid expansion and thwart a national commitment to universal access to health care.

Believe It !
Mudar's essay recounts many examples from the national history: whenever democratic reforms are established, the forces of reaction enter a long campaign to blunt them, and eventually overturn them. Eventually, the South returned to the conditions of slavery; sharecropping was Slavery 2.0. Expanding on Muder, Eventually, the whites-only primary election in South is returning. (The McDaniel challenge in Mississippi is essentially an argument that black voters should not be allowed to vote in the GOP primary.) Reproductive rights are nullified by state legislation. They want to privatize Social Security.

In other words, we are not in the position of preventing antidemocracy, but still trying to dislodge it. And it is persistent, patient and stubborn. And so we fight the same battles over and over again.

That's why the North Carolina's Moral Movement uses this slogan:

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 trying to transform. Goodness knows they need us actively loving the hell out of the world, particularly in weeks like this when hell is on display in every window.

A few years ago, I saw an increase in my colleagues taking Spanish lessons as we prepared to have a very unique General Assembly in Phoenix. We wanted to be able to speak to people on their terms, about their lives. This is as it should be.

Beyond Phoenix, and beyond Spanish, I believe we are uniquely positioned to be multi-lingual. We have the ability to speak to those on the fringe (where many of us, are, frankly, more comfortable). AND we have the ability (if we are willing to claim it) to speak as peers to those in power.

If we, as a faith tradition, are content with being on the fringe, then we might as well write our obituary. Not only will we not be about cultural transformation, but we will have lost our way entirely. Let us instead use our power and privilege in solidarity with those who need it. So many do.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

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 the police repression of the community that has demanded accountability, should push people like us (who are more unfamiliar and misinformed about the conditions of life of African Americans than we think we are.) into an extended campaign of learning, re-thinking, and teaching. 

Learning, Re-Thinking, and Teaching are political acts of great significance and power.

We should be talking to African American young men to learn first hand what it is like. We should be learning about the patterns of housing segregation in our communities. Where are the suburbs where the population and the power structure are so different? How do the opaque political structures of most suburbs prevent democratic participation, and who are the insiders who benefit? Do you know your local police chief? How much firepower does your police force have? What political power does your police union have?

We should be re-thinking all of our big thoughts about the state of our political order. I am always amazed at the number of well-educated people who have quite radical analyses of particular issues -- sophisticated anti-racist understanding, or pacifist analyses of foreign policy, or penetrating thoughts on food and agriculture and yet don't actually apply to those to their political being. Overall, they are about as radical as Jon Stewart. I struggle with this myself. What does this situation actually mean? What will I have to rethink if I take it seriously? What would I have to re-think if I went from #notallcops to #yesallblackmen?

And finally, we need to take this opportunity to teach: to challenge our friends, our neighbors and our family members who are "more concerned about order than about justice" to use Jake Morrill's phrase. The level of political and social knowledge in this country, even among the educated, is very low.

Learn, Re-Think, Teach.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

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 identification between this country, the USA, and 'the American people' who are predominantly European. Rationally, everyone knows that it is not true that the USA is made up of white people, but at the level of mythos, it is true. Everybody knows who Sarah Palin is talking about when she talks about "real Americans." White Nationalism is the close coupling of race and nationality that Milbank refers to.

White Nationalism is not the ravings of rightwing extremists out in the woods. White Nationalism is the default conception most whites carry about the country.

As the actual demographic basis for white nationalism goes away (you can't argue with the numbers), it becomes more and more based in a mythology. Patriotism becomes increasingly identified with a mythic story: the red, white and blue festooned story of a wilderness conquered by pioneers, a revolution for freedom and liberty, the miraculous divinely-inspired creation of a new government by the founding fathers, the tragic intra-familial conflict between white people in a Civil War, but their eventual healing and reunion and finally, the slow steady progress of democracy. Mythic patriotism is a series of stories with the triumphant and blessed white Europeans at the center. The indigenous peoples have been pushed to the margins in the narrative. The stories of Asian and Latin peoples have been reshaped to fit the Ellis Island template of the European immigrants. The story of the enslaved Africans and their descendants stays alive as a barely repressed shadow story. It is forever being enclosed but forever escaping from its box. It has the power to refute and untell all American mythology.

Because white nationalism increasingly relies on mythology, it comes to be experienced as a religion.  Modes of thought characteristic of American Protestantism come to be used when thinking about the country. Patriotism becomes piety, expressed in ritual gestures. The founders become the patriarchs. The Constitution becomes inerrant scripture. Marble monuments on the mall become temples. White Nationalism is becoming a Public Theology.

From Ed Kilgore at Political Animal discerns the increasingly religious character of what is being called "constitutional conservatism."

... I do worry that the still-emerging ideology of “constitutional conservatism” is something new and dangerous, at least in its growing respectability. It’s always been there in the background, among the Birchers and in the Christian Right, and as as emotional and intellectual force within Movement Conservatism. It basically holds that a governing model of strictly limited (domestic) government that is at the same time devoted to the preservation of “traditional culture” is the only legitimate governing model for this country, now and forever, via the divinely inspired agency of the Founders. That means democratic elections, the will of the majority, the need to take collective action to meet big national challenges, the rights of women and minorities, the empirical data on what works and what doesn’t—all of those considerations and more are so much satanic or “foreign” delusions that can and must be swept aside in the pursuit of a Righteous and Exceptional America. (emphasis added.)
 What Kilgore calls "traditional culture" is the mythic America that is the lost paradise of white nationalism.

If White Nationalism and Constitutional Conservatism make for a profoundly reactionary public theology, how does liberal religion offer a different vision of the people, the government, and the culture? 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

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, but I found her story a poignant example of both the struggles of young people who grow up in the foster care system, and an example of how we need a social safety net.  It also illustrates the gaps in the "self-made" person mythos we have in America.

The myth we have is that people in America can get by without any help from the government, rise out of poverty, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and emerge successful.  Republican politicians, in particular, are quick to deride "government handouts" and the people who take them.  So, for example, you have Mitt Romney talking about the 47% percent, or saying, "But I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy-more free stuff."  Or Ronald Reagan: "Will you resist the temptation to get a government handout for your community?"

The thing is, our social safety net is there because some people need it.  I think about my own family, where my parents had three daughters, and each of us are working professionals, living in our own homes.  And each of us at some earlier point in life moved in with our parents.  None of us took a "government handout" but each of us faced a point in our life when we needed a safety net.  And we had a safety net, in the form of parents who were willing and able to take us in.

For me, I needed that safety net at two points in my life.  The first was after college when I was living on my own, working temp work (working for a health care industry, actually), and had an accident and broke my back.  I needed to rest horizontally for several weeks while my vertebra healed, and I was jobless and, very quickly after, homeless.  So I went to live with my parents, who took me in and fed me and sheltered me, until I was able to work, and even after I was working so that I could pay off my medical bills.  The second period was during my first year out of seminary.  I went through a negotiated resignation with a congregation that had over-stretched financially.  Out of work, with a severance that was equal to three months during a time period that would stretch to eight months until the next church job could begin, my husband and I moved in with his mother while I searched for, and eventually found part-time work. 

When I hear stories of people struggling -- utilities turned off, evicted, unable to get back on their own two feet -- I remember that much of America, nearly half, is one emergency away from financial disaster.  Many are one or two paychecks away from homelessness.  I often think I am myself only one or two emergencies away from financial disaster.  I get by from paycheck to paycheck, but throw two totaled vehicles my way, and it takes me a few months to recover.  I'm fortunate -- we have family and friends able and willing to help.  I'm a minister in a denomination that has some funds for ministers in financial crisis, and knowing that is a piece of sanity, a certain knowledge that there's a safety net there for me.  I'm also insured, which means there's a cap to the financial trouble that health problems can bring me.

Not everyone has these safety nets.  Many people have only the knowledge of a family member's open door.  Some people don't have even that. 

Many of the blog comments on this young woman's picture suggested that they were proud of her -- "you did it!" "you can do it!"  And they miss the point.  When you don't have the safety net, there is a fear there.  She's not speaking of pride her accomplishments, but talking honestly about that fear.  "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."  Imagine, if you don't feel this way, what it feels like to feel this all the time.  Imagine.  Because with that understanding, with that imagining, compassion begins.

This post is by Cynthia Landrum, minister of the Universalist Unitarian Church of East Liberty.  Her own blog is Rev. Cyn and she also blogs regularly for Loved for Who You Are.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

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 increasingly appears that most working people simply cannot save enough money for a decent retirement. The housing bubble drove up house prices; where did that money go? Interest payments to financial institutions. The result is that in many larger cities, the young minister, like the young nurse, like the young computer programmer, like the young product manager, like the young automative mechanic, like the young firefighter, like the young anybody cannot afford a home, and is sentenced to lifetime spent commuting to some far exurb.

The minister is like the members of the congregation who are like the majority of people in this country.

600K public sector jobs have been lost since 2008. Half of those are teachers. Our congregations are full of teachers. No wonder congregations have trouble meeting their budgets.

It's a class problem. The income and the wealth of this economy is going to the upper classes -- the 1% -- and all the rest of the population are stuck.

It's a political problem. The policies that accelerated economic inequality were government policies decided by people who faced elections. The wrong people won too often.

People look to ministers to be able to get the big picture. And to be able to connect the dots between our problems as individuals, and as institutions, and that big picture of the state of society and culture.

The big picture is that most of us need a broad social movement to redirect the wealth of this country downwards. That means raising the minimum wage, building up the infrastructure of the country, forgiving student debt, investing in education, increasing social security benefits, bailing out underwater homeowners, empowering old and new unions, returning the wealth stolen from African Americans. More people should have more money.

And in that context, UU ministers will probably have a better future than it now seems.

Friday, August 01, 2014

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 spreading the faith, sharing the word, and witnessing our faith in places and at times where people we don't know may actually observe it happening.

3. Congregations are great, but so are not-congregations. Once upon a time, UU's worried about non-congregational organizations of UU's. In fact, in recent memory, a whole bunch of 'independent affiliates' were invited to be just 'independent' and not 'affiliates.' Much weeping and wailing occurred. Now, they could just say that they were 'beyond congregations' and list themselves on Faithify.

4. O yeah, "Faithify". In the childhood of my ministry, I heard some parish ministers of blessed memory complain about the UUA sending letters (paper, stamps, envelopes, return envelops, remember all that?) asking for funds to their congregants. Not PC in CP Association, (Polity Correct in a Congregational Polity Association.) Now, we all get lots of emails begging for money, and it's the norm.

5. We used to worry about Community Ministers out of the same narrow understanding of Congregational Polity: who were they supposed to be accountable to?

6. It's even hard to get a good fight going about whether UU's are Christian or not, which was always a third rail discussion

7.  Most of the time, now, it is hard to gather a mob to head to Beacon Hill, pitchforks in hand to growl at the ecclesiastical bureaucrats holed up in 25 Beacon Street. It's hard to brandish a pitchfork with one Flour Bakery's pastries on one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. I think 'l'affaire logo' may have been the tragedy repeated as farce.

8. But most importantly, the consensus is that we are headed for the public square. The dichotomy between "spirituality" and "social justice" has moved from an "either/or" to a "both/and", at least more than it used to be. Or to be more precise, I think that some UU's harbored a suspicion that other UU's had no agenda beyond social activism. I know I had that distrust. And I suspect that there was a mirror like mistrust that some UU's, like me, were navel-gazers, or worse yet, mid-century, mainline Christian nostalgiques. (is that a word? It ought to be.) Or New Age crystal collectors. But that dichotomy now seems so unimportant.

None of these differences and concerns have been entirely resolved. God knows we have still have issues, technical problems and adaptive challenges to share our feelings about. But the fight has gone out of us, at least, the fight with each other.

What happened? I doubt that it is the sweet reason and gentle wisdom dispensed here on the Lively Tradition has had that much good effect. Nor do I think that our leadership is so qualitatively superior that our systemic anxieties have been calmed.

I think that the world changed. 
I think we changed, too.

I think that our participation in the struggle for Marriage Equality brought us into contact with a public, people beyond us who appreciated our support and wanted to work with us. In a crucial way, they were us and we were them.

I think the proclamation that we were going to "Stand on the Side of Love" brought our Seven Principles and Six Sources and all those elevator speeches down to earth.

I think that the awful shootings in Knoxville made us realize that if we were worth hating, we must be worth loving. We were shown that again this week in New Orleans.

I think we realized our skills when we went to Phoenix and it wasn't an embarrassing disaster, as it so easily could have been. And when we saw all of us in that hot night outside of the Tent Jail, bright as suns with yellow t-shirts, we felt that we had some power. And we see our presence, and thus our power now, so often now. In Raleigh NC, and in Washington DC, today.

There are now more examples of that powerful presence than I can list.

What happened; the world changed; and we changed with it. It is now more clear than ever that our country is headed into a period when the public square is going to be figurative battleground. There is a powerful, inflamed, and armed, reactionary movement out there, and it is aggressive. And there is a broad movement for change gathering its strength. Everything we have learned in the decades since Selma has been in preparation for the times to come. All of the arguments that used to pre-occupy us were thought problems to help us sort through what was transient and permanent about this path of faith.

We don't make the times that we live; the times that we live in make us.  And we are finding ourselves here and now and in history.

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.