Showing posts from June, 2015

The Closest I'll Ever Get

The Rev. David Weissbard was  chosen by his colleagues to speak for the ministers who marked their
50 year ordination anniversary. This was at the 25/50 UUMA service on Wednesday morning at Ministry Days, right before General Assembly. Being chosen is a high honor, and people pay attention to the sermon.

So, I was honored that Mr. Weissbard quoted me in his sermon. It's as close as I am ever going to get to that 50 year honor. (I will be 100 when I have stacked 50 years in ministry, and while some people make it to 100, they are most likely skinny at 66. Not me.)

Here is the paragraph of mine he quoted.

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…

We Never Talked About It Again

I remembered the moment clearly for years. 
It was back in the day, which for me was 1969 or 1970; I was a student in college, the George Washington University in Washington DC. And there was a big national antiwar march of some sort coming up. Honestly, they all blur together in my mind at this point. 
Anyway a group of us had decided that we wanted to have our own march, marching as a contingent from our neighborhood, up by DuPont Circle, down to the Mall where our little contingent would join the masses there assembled. We decided to call it “a community march”. We did all the things you do get a march going — tweeted, facebooked, emailed — no, we mimeographed leaflets and stapled notices on telephone poles and spread the word by word of mouth. We had a meeting planned to talk about it. 
And I was chosen among the organizers to lead that meeting. 
We gathered, the room was pretty full. 
And joining us, unexpectedly, was a contingent of African Americans who were from, you know, “the com…

Inherent Worth and Clarence Thomas by Karen G. Johnston

Karen G. Johnston is a Candidate for the Unitarian Universalist Ministry.  She lives in Western Massachusetts.
So, I think this may bring the reign of plagues down upon me, by both a progressive, justice-seeking god and my colleagues, but I think I may be coming to the defense of Clarence Thomas.

In his odious dissent to marriage equality granted by the United States Supreme Court -- SCOTUS -- Supreme Court Justice Thomas wrote this:
"The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away."
My social media feeds are awash with outrage…

Yelling at the Vegetables

Ever since the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, some very effective essays have been written to challenge the complacency and shallowness of white liberal support. From tweets to long thinkpieces, people of color have called upon whites to step up and be effective allies: to put aside feel-good platitudes and vague expressions of support and tone policing. And the tones taken in these essays have been impatient, demanding, cutting or sarcastic and stinging.

These words have been smelling salts to the drowsy.

But when white activists take the same tone with other white people, does it have the same value? And increasingly, I see essays that are just that: white people angry, shocked, disappointed and impatient with other white people who are insufficiently down with the cause.

I ask: by what authority?

As a white activist struggling with white people against white racism, you are going to run into three types of white people.

You are going to run into people who implacably…

"Race War"

Dylann Roof wanted to start "a race war."

Racists believe that if African Americans are sufficiently provoked, they will retaliate with an orgy of indiscriminate violence against white people. This is why Roof went to Emmanuel AME; to kill black people in a particularly sacred spot. He had done his racist homework: how many 21 year old whites would have understood Emmanuel AME 's historic importance?

The racist faith is that a sufficient provocation would ignite massive black violence. It is their hope, because it would then
justify their own massive anti-black violence. That's what they are stockpiling all those guns for.

(That African Americans don't respond to these provocations as the racists expect seems to never sink in. Race War just does not seem to be the African American fantasy.)

The racists expect that eventually the federal government would intervene to protect African Americans. Their anti-black pogrom would morph into an insurrection against the U…

Credentialing: What I Think

The problem of credentialing is matching the credentialing requirements with the actual work we need from religious professionals. If we don't require the right things to be credentialed, the leaders that come from the process will not meet the needs. If we require too much to be credentialed, the credentialing process becomes expensive and a bottle neck. If we require too little, then we end up with poor quality leaders in the field.

Our credentialing system is actually a system to assess the integrity, character, accountability and emotional intelligence of candidates for ministry. One of the tests for the candidates' willingness to be accountable is the difficulty and expense of the formation process. Are you willing to study? Are you willing to conform to a process that isn't crystal clear? Is your call strong enough to lead you to sacrifice?

So what do we need our credentialing system to do?

Overall, I think that UUism needs to pivot toward the social movements that …

Generosity and Debt

At the Summit on Economic Sustainability of the Ministry, the discussion inevitably turned to "generosity."

I was a bit crabby at that point in the discussion; maybe my blood sugar was too low or too high. I do worry that sometimes the only time we talk about generosity is when the church is asking people for money. "You should be more generous, and give me more money" is not going to wear well over time. The call to be generous is for all parts of life, not just for the religious institution.

My reflection since the Summit has been about student debt loads, and that has turned my thoughts to the role of debt for all of us. We are an indebted people. Not only student load debt, but credit card debt, auto loan debt and mortgages. And we are disciplined by our debts. We all know that parody version of the seven dwarves' song, "I Owe, I owe, It's off to Work I go." We see this, in our little UU context. Newly fellowshipped ministers are disciplined b…

OWL Access, Part 4 -- Cooley & Landrum

This is part of a four-part series on making OWL more accessible by Dawn Cooley and Cynthia Landrum.  Our first post shared the expense of OWL and the importance of OWL.  The second post, by Cynthia Landrum, explored the problems and work-arounds for one small congregation.  The third post, by Dawn Cooley, explored how one mid-sized congregations does OWL.  Our fourth and final post in the series will share some possible solutions to making OWL accessible.

The Our Whole Lives (OWL) comprehensive sexuality curriculum is one of the flagship programs offered in Unitarian Universalist congregations. Many youth have described it as life saving.  But it is financially out of range for many of our UU congregations.  So how do we maintain the standard of excellence while also increasing accessibility?  How do we remove barriers to participation?  Here are just a few ideas and possibilities:
Go virtual. Online classroom models have come a long way in the 16 years that OWL has been around. This …

OWL Access, Part 3 - Cooley

This is part of a four-part series on making OWL (Our Whole Lives) more accessible by Dawn Cooley and Cynthia Landrum.  Our first post shared the expense of OWL and the importance of OWL.  The second post, by Cynthia Landrum, explores the problems and work-arounds for one small congregation.  This third post, by Dawn Cooley, will explore how one congregation has successfully implemented OWL but still struggles to make it work. Our fourth and final post in the series will share some possible solutions.

The other night I was at a dinner to celebrate the newest graduates of our middle-school (MS) OWL curriculum.  It was inspiring to hear the kids talk about how they had grown as individuals and as sexually healthy people.  And the facilitators have my undying respect for guiding these kids through thick and thin on some of the most difficult issues the kids are currently facing: what does consent mean? what is sexual orientation? what is gender identity? how can we express ourselves in o…

OWL Access, Part 2 - Landrum

This is part of a four-part series on making Our Whole Lives (OWL) more accessible by Dawn Cooley and Cynthia Landrum.  Our first post shared the expense of OWL and the importance of OWL.  This post, by Cynthia Landrum, explores the problems and work-arounds for one small congregation.  Our third post, by Dawn Cooley, will explore how one mid-sized congregation has successfully implemented OWL but still struggles to make it work. Our fourth and final post in the series will share some possible solutions.

In my small congregation, we've been unable to find both the money and the volunteers to make OWL possible.  That has left us with a few choices: attend another UU church, partner with the UCC churches, or work outside the box.

Option one is to send our youth to a program at a nearby church.  But few parents seem to want to drive a 45-minute drive (one way) to another church to put their youth in a class where they won't know the teachers.  The youth may be reluctant to take O…

#sustainministry My Point (and I do have one)

We can't fix the problem of the economic sustainability of liberal religion, if we continue to think of liberal religion as we do.

We are in a time of rising social movements who are actively organizing for the values we espouse.

We should pivot toward those social movements and lean into them. How can we serve them? How can we be ourselves in them? How can we fulfill our mission with them?

Our evolution as a religious/spiritual movement and the present historical moment in US and world history are coming into synchronicity.  We have been growing toward this moment.

We know how to do some things. And one of those things is that Unitarian Universalism can do is to turn out leaders who have been assessed and tested for their integrity, depth and accountability. One of the reasons why our formation process is long and expensive is that filters out people who are more likely to unaccountable and damaging. It's why we credential religious educators and musicians and other professio…


I was a panelist at the Summit on the Economic Sustainability of Ministry, organized by "the people formerly known as the Department of Ministry"in St. Louis.  A couple of people livetweeted the event and the #sustainministry hashtag carries a lot of the most memorable things that we said by participants. The UU World was there and is preparing an article, and has already posted photos on the UUA's Facebook page.

I was given a chance to make two presentations to the group. I am going to break up my points into a couple of posts.

My first point is that the decline of the 'mainline' churches is, to some extent, political. When the country lurched to right in the 70's and 80's, conservative evangelical churches grew and the more liberal denominations shrank. (Recent years have shown their relative decline, but conservatism as whole is now shrinking as well.)

I have pounded on this point repeatedly here at the Lively Tradition. Contemporary Unitarian Universa…

OWL Access, Part 1 -- Cooley & Landrum

This is part one of a four-part series about increasing access to Our Whole Lives, written by Dawn Cooley and Cynthia Landrum.  In the following pieces we'll go into more depth about the struggles and work-arounds of different-sized congregations, and some proposals for possible solutions.  Part One is by Cynthia Landrum with input from Dawn Cooley.

Our Whole Lives (OWL), the UUA/UCC lifespan sexuality education curriculum, is a tremendously important program for our churches.  It provides the most comprehensive sexuality education available at all ages.  It sets our churches apart for their healthy attitudes towards sex and sexuality.  It literally saves lives, and it has the potential to transform communities.  We're justifiably proud of this curriculum.  When we point to what is ground-breaking, innovative, and cutting-edge in our movement, we can (and should!) point to OWL.  In a society with unhealthy attitudes towards sex and sexuality prevalent, OWL has a unique and impo…