Showing posts from September, 2014

Obama's War?

It's an intellectual shortcoming to not see differences where they exist. People see patterns and continuations as though nothing ever changes, especially when moral frames are being used. So, those so inclined are talking about Obama's Iraq War as though it was indistinguishable from Bush's War, and from the Gulf War, and from the War in Vietnam. And then, they are defeated, demoralized, and discouraged because "nothing ever changes." Well, if you don't see change, it will seem like nothing ever changes.

I am not a foreign policy expert but I do stay awake during the news. Further, I don't watch Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert, so I take what is said seriously on its face, as not as setups for cynical mockery.

Obama has a very different policy than Bush and Cheney. You may not like it, and you may, as do I, think it is obscure on some big issues, but Obama does have a different policy.

Bush and Cheney invaded Iraq and Afghanistan in order to change those …

Singing in Church

Cathy Lynn Grossman reviews the plight of the church choir in the contemporary social scene and, as you can expect, the situation is not good. The church choir seems, in many cases, to be going the way of all things mainline. The choir will stored in the church attic along with the organ, the pews and the ministerial robe.

My experience in the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor is that it doesn't have to be.

The fate of the choir should not be separated from the practice of congregational singing. If the choir is only a performing choir, which sings music as performances in the midst of the service, people will find it pleasant some of the time, boring some of the time, and in the case of more adventurous music, kind of irritating some of the time. And in our older model buildings, where the choir is in a loft in the back of the sanctuary, it's even worse. Choirs need to be where the congregation can see them.

When the choir can be seen not only helps the c…

Landrum Prison Files 4: The Meaning of Pop

I'm a pop (that's Midwestern for "soda") drinker, and am almost never seen without a can of Diet Coke in my hand.  When I head off to class at the college I usually have two or three cans in my satchel, depending on how long I plan to be there.

I'm not allowed to take pop into the prison, so for the first two weeks I asked the guards at the entry way to let me into the locked room where the vending machines are.  This felt a little awkward to be asking them to step away from their station to do this, and I also felt awkward having the pop in class.  None of my students have a soda in hand as they enter the prison classroom, so I felt it was an awkward sign of privilege.  I read back over my list of allowable items, and discovered that I could bring one unopened bottle of water, and 2 protein bars, so I started bringing those items in with me last week, and again this week.

"Where's your pop?" one of the prisoners asked me this week.  I explained th…

Landrum Prison Files 3

I've mentioned that my students include rapists and murderers.  That's not precisely true, it was just shorthand.  Some of my students are in there for various sex crimes, including "assault with intent to commit sexual penetration," "criminal sexual conduct" (1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree), and "accosting children for immoral purposes."  And one of my students is in there for murder in the second degree.  I'll call him Jay, not his real name.

Jay is an African-American man in his fifties. He tells me he has two degrees, and is working on a third.  He's articulate and intelligent.  He worked on the first day to try to make me comfortable in the setting, and was worried that I was nervous.  He's probably my best student, if by best I mean most focused, participates willingly and appropriately, engages with material, etc. He has a sense of authority and presence in the classroom; the other students clearly respect him. 

I googled Jay's …

Why Social Movements Seem Ineffective

Tom Hayden, one of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society, antiwar activist, one of the Chicago Eight tried for instigating the Chicago Convention Riots in 1968, and a California State Legislator for many years, is donating his papers to the University of Michigan. He was editor of the Michigan Daily way back in the early 60's. [The fact that many of you still have no idea who I'm talking about is inevitable, and painful, but so what?]

Anyway, I heard him speak the other day, about the general history of social movements. I thought he explained a lot of what we have been through.

Social movements are unpredictable. There is nothing that will tell us in advance that it was to be the killing of Michael Brown that ignites the national movement, when African American men are killed by police or private security every 28 hours. The conditions have been there all along.

But when a social movement kicks off, both it and the elite that it confronts split into two camps.


To Remain True

This is the time of the year when the “old school” among us call for Rank by Rank Again We Stand to start the church fall season. I like the last lines of what is now the final verse: “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.” 
I am remembering all those ministers and lay members of liberal religion who have come before us. We start the year, remembering what they dreamed, and take those tasks on for ourselves, “seal them true,” a vague phrase which I guess means stamping them done well. 
What is it to be faithful and true? Fidelity is an act of memory; it is being loyal to memory. Like those who came before us, remembering them, guarding what they accomplished, remembering  today and tomorrow, the commitments we made yesterday. 

This will be an important year in the story of liberal religion in our times.

The People’s Climate March in NYC this weekend.

The emerging national movement in defense of b…

Economics is still a choice

Doug Muder sums up Michael Greer's "The Long Descent" and applies it to Ferguson, MO, arguing that car-oriented suburbs are doomed to decline, because of economics.

A key paragraph of a long and excellent article is this:
And finally, we need to figure out how to rebuild or write off the mistakes of the past. Places like Ferguson — and there are a lot of them — are not sustainable in their current form. They will never generate the capital to remake themselves, and the outside capital they attract will be mainly from vultures who want to squeeze the last bits of value out of the community’s decline and despair. The problem with this scenario is that enormous amounts of Capital is created and invested everyday in these wealthy United States. It is not being invested in the infrastructure of towns like Ferguson, MO, that is true. But it exists.
The problem is not just that our priorities are so askew. The problem is that the process by which it is determined where Capital …

Motivation Toward Ministry, Part 3

In Parts #1 and #2, we created this chart and defined external/internal and history/future as dimensions of our possible call or deepest motivations.

Let me place myself on this chart and explain my deepest motivations, how I experience my call.

I put myself above the line in the "external" area. I experienced it as a "Call" from outside of myself. For the most part, I heard that call from  members of the congregation where I was a member. They kept telling me that I should consider ministry. When I audited a Winter Intensive class at Meadville Lombard (it was Ethics of a Democratic Faith, taught by Ron Engel), I was told by my classmates that I should not be auditing the class, but to jump in and go to seminary. 
I have to say that I never experienced this call as coming directly from God. I rebel against the thought that God does career planning. Jobs and careers all over the world are distributed along gender and race lines that are signs of oppression. If God i…

Motivation toward Ministry #2

We are talking about where our deepest motivations for ministry come from.

In Part#1, we talked about the difference between an external call and internal motivation.  We represented that dichotomy with a chart like this:

Now, take that piece of paper and draw a horizontal line on it, from left to right. Label the left hand side as "History" and the right hand side as "Future".

Does your deepest motivation come from the past or the future? 
At the Annunciation, Mary is informed by the angel that she has been chosen to bear the child Jesus. Clearly, an external call. And in her response, she remembers the promises made by God to her people from centuries ago. Her call is the fulfillment of ancient prophecy. Clearly, a call out of history. She also predicts the future as well. Is she also called from the future? 
Think about this: is your call the fulfillment of past developments? Do you find yourself saying "It seemed like my whole life was leading to the mome…

Motivations Toward Ministry: Exercise #1

Ministers often talk about their "call", the time that they became conscious of the deep motivations which led them to the ministry. You have to recognize that the phrase, "the call" is theologically loaded. It remembers the call stories in the Bible, in which God calls people into His service. But people who are not into that concept of God still have deep motivations toward the ministry, and further, can often recall moments when they became aware of them: an experience which could be named a "call".

Not all ministry is professional, or ordained, or involves seminary training, but all involves service with a moral purpose. For the purpose of this exercise, let's just say that if you think of yourself as doing, or wanting to do, ministry, then you are.

How have you become aware of your deep motivations toward ministry.

Here is an exercise, that is a variation of the exercise on page 34 of "Not For Ourselves Alone", edited by Burton Carley an…

Landrum Prison Files 2

When I step out into the prison yard for the first time, I'm overwhelmed.  It's a large open space, and it's a bright and sunny August day, and this is free time.  That means hundreds of men in prison grey and orange milling about in every direction.  At first, this is all I can see -- I'm surrounded by hundreds of felons, and I'm inside a big enclosed area surrounded by barbed wire.  It floods the senses.  A big clump of men are standing next and in a structure that looks like a screened picnic pavilion, but filled with exercise equipment rather than picnic tables.  The officer leads me through the yard at a fast clip, and is not chatty or familiar with the prisoners in any way.  None of them are, I realize.  They aren't ignoring them, but they're not greeting them or exchanging any communication.  It's a strange thing, in Michigan, where we greet strangers in elevators with "Hello" and a conversation about something, whether it's the wea…

Landrum Prison Files 1

This fall I'm teaching at the Cooper Street Correctional Facility with Jackson College.  Jackson, Michigan is known as the home of the state prison.  The joke used to be (maybe still is) if someone says they're going to Jackson you respond, "Don't pick up hitchhikers," because highway signs coming in and out of the city warned people not to.  An Jackson urban legend tells that Jackson had a choice to house Michigan State University or the prison and picked the prison.  It's not a true story.  But we once housed the largest walled prison in America.  It's now an arts colony where you can take prison tours of the old prison.

In reality, Jackson no longer has one Jackson Prison.  It's a cluster of several prisons, of which Cooper Street is one, a Level I security prison.  That's the lowest security level.  The Wikipedia article on "Michigan State Prison" says, Cooper Street is "the common point for processing of all male state prisone…

Go Forth and Serve

Welcome Another writer to the Lively Tradition ! 

Nurturing and Feeding the “Pet Projects” by Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford
When did “pet project” become an insult in UU churches?
A person has a charity or a cause that they’re passionate about. They devote time and money to it. They talk about it at their church or – horrors! – ask for support. 
“Oh, that’s just their pet project,” says someone.
We don’t want pet projects. We want Church Programs. We’re fine with making the world a better place, but it needs to be done here, through the proper channels, something we all feel the same amount of passion for. Which may be virtually nil, but at least we all feel nil about it. We’re not spending the church’s energy on someone’s pet project.
I used to buy into that. But not anymore.
I knew someone who had a passion for a particular issue. At her workplace, she mobilized others. She wound up with 200 people helping her “pet project.”  Her church did something similar and wound up with a not insubsta…

What are our "stinky pads"?

So if stinky pads are evidence of effort exerted in roller derby, as I asserted in a chapter from the book I am working on that I posted on my blog last week, then what is evidence of effort exerted in our liberal religious tradition? As someone asked on my facebook page: "Where do our faithful sweat stains appear?" What a great question!
On the one hand, I see evidence of our liberal religious effort all over the place. I see it in the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, and in the plethora of opportunities that our UUA, regions and congregations provide for growing and practicing our liberal faith. Of course, just providing space is not enough – a roller derby team can provide practice times, but if no one shows up, no effort is put in. So then I wonder: Are people attending these events, workshops and opportunities provided by various liberal religious entitites? Are they showing up and putting in effort? If so, then I think that this is one wa…

What If It's True?

The other day, I posted on my Facebook page a long extremely well-researched Washington Post  article by Radley Balko about the municipal court systems of North Saint Louis County. These municipal courts exist to extract money from the mostly poor African American people who live there, through court fees and fines. The money is a significant revenue stream for the municipal governments and for a cadre of lawyers who serve multiple communities as prosecutors and municipal judges. It's a grim article, loaded with detail about the system, and about individual people who get caught up in the system. It reminded me of the insight made by Ta-Nehisi Coates that institutionalized racism serves to separate African American people from the wealth and capital that they create through their labor and redistribute it to individual whites.

 And when you read the story of a young man, Antonio Morgan, whose efforts to create an auto repair shop have been hampered by an endless round of minor lic…

The Graph and the Axes

Concerning this graph:

Cynthia asks in a comment:

What are the axes for a graph that you would propose? Would it make sense to frame one where one was government focused on protection from outside threats vs. government focused on social support for Americans and the other axis was morality focused on individual responsibility vs. societal responsibility? That latter one in particular doesn't really capture the way to frame the differences in morality focus from left to right, so I'm still struggling with how to frame the spectrum.
If you take on the task of mapping where denominations and religions fit into the social and political issues of the day, it seems that you have two choices: one is to map where people say they are on the issues as they understand them. I think that that approach is not particularly useful for religious leaders, although it may be useful to political strategists. What you are going to get, I am afraid, is a mish-mash of what people heard on the news …

My point about this Picture

Concerning this graph:
Maybe I shouldn't get concerned when people misunderstood what I am trying to say in this blog. Maybe that is a inevitable fact of life, in blogging. Some people did not understand my preaching either.
My point was not that the picture is somehow wrong in what it portrays. Pew Research does really good work and I assume that they know how to present their information accurately and responsibly. I assume that they know better than anyone else what people in "the pews" of these religions think about the political issues of the day. After all, they have real data, and the rest of us have our subjective impressions.
My concern is about the political and historical analysis implicit in the structure of the graph. The very way that the data is organized assumes rightwing frames that are false and inaccurate.
Determining each axis of this graph is a matter of historical and political analysis, the kind of which we never see in all the blather than makes …