Showing posts from July, 2015

Nationalize the Police

Police and criminal justice reform has to be a priority in our political actions now, and into the future. We cannot wait for interpersonal racial reconciliation to act to legally remedy systemic racial inequities.  (Charles M. Blow  -- NYT, July 30, 2015)

Federalism has utterly failed to protect the lives, rights and interests of people of color, especially Black people. I say "federalism" because while the police are agents usually of local government, local governments are the creations of, and given powers by the states. Or to put it more accurately, Federalism is a key factor to how white supremacy is preserved.

This is how it was intended. The US Constitution was written with the purpose of creating the strongest possible national government that would not have the power to interfere with state systems of slavery, and later, segregation.

Every protection of African American rights that has been won has been implemented institutionally by placing state functions under t…

Cattle Cars and Concentration Camps

People like Donald Trump will say the darnedest things. They pride themselves on being uncensored, on just saying what they think, which often results in saying what they have not yet thought through.

But we should stop and think about his statement that he thinks that the US government should deport all of the "illegal immigrants" and then re-admit the good ones.

It's an eliminationist fantasy: wishing some people away, some simple scheme by which people just disappear.

We should stop and think about what deporting 11 million people would actually require. Game the process out in our heads.

Do you think that 11 million people will go stand on the street corner and wait for a bus from the Immigration Service to come and pick them up to send them home.

Deporting eleven million people means sending a vast police force out into every community in the country to check people's papers. It means detaining people without papers in detention centers and camps. The governme…

UUism as an ethnic religion

I heard Mark Morrison-Reed at Arlington Street Church this last week. His sermon was titled "The Perversity of Diversity" and one of his points was that Unitarian Universalism is more an ethnic religion that we recognize.

I think that we know this already; we, especially the Unitarians, are well aware of our New England roots, a heritage we are both proud of and embarrassed by.

On the other hand, we are clearly an ethnic religion with multi-cultural ambitions.

I have some questions to which someone might have answers.

Is there a Yankee diaspora? As the population of the US moved West, did New England Yankees create small outposts of New English Yankee culture across the country? Was the spread of Unitarianism tied to these circles? Anecdotal evidence of some of the largest and most established Unitarian churches in the Midwest point to that pattern.

When was the tipping point, if there was one, when Unitarian Universalism in the Midwest, South and West, ceased to be Yankee …

the Male Body is the Site of Winning and Losing

In the airport waiting area, a hundred people watch CNN on Sunday afternoon. The story was a breathless expose of what the reporter called "trophy culture." There are youth soccer leagues where every young player gets a trophy for "participation." The reporter announced he was about to faint when he heard that in some leagues for younger children, they don't keep score and have a winner and loser.

Almost every man in the waiting room was paying very close attention to the TV.

A lot of significance was drawn from these anecdotes. Did you know that most people think that they are smarter than they really are? And they are more likely to succeed than they really are? Such delusional thinking is obviously the result of getting too many cheap trophies for "participation." Also grade inflation in colleges and universities, although the educators give the grades and not the students.

My story: Due to some strange mismatch between the Providence RI school sys…

Another Theory about Church Past and Future

The great collapse of the church turns out to be, on closer examination, the decline in membership of the mainline Protestant and English-speaking Catholic churches from their peak in the 1950's.

Conservative evangelical and pentecostal churches did not decline. The African American Protestant church did not decline. I don't know about the non-English speaking Catholics.

Most of this decline occurred during a period of ferocious cultural conflict in the United States. There was a powerful backlash against the ideological breakthroughs of mid-century liberalism: anti-racism, feminism, the LGBTQ movement.

One aspect of the conservative backlash was a theological and ecclesiological attack on the mainline Protestant churches and denominations that had embraced (tentatively) those ideological breakthroughs.

There were several strands of the conservative attack on liberal theology, but they came down to this: liberal theology was too open to influence from "the culture" …

One Nation Under God

I have been reading Kevin Kruse's history of mid-20th century religious history in the United States, "One Nation Under God."

It's an eye-opening book, and while it rarely mentions Unitarianism, or the new Unitarian Universalism, it illuminates the context in which our faith tradition formed itself .

Much of the current thinking about the position of the church (meaning organized religion, in general) in American culture starts back in what seems the Golden Age of the 1950's. Church attendance and membership was at an all-time high, and many churches were prosperous. Ministers were respected professionals and their sermons might be reported in the local newspaper.

When we compare our present situation to that, it looks like things have gone to hell since then.

There is a growing awareness that the 1950's were an anomoly, the peak of religiosity in history, not the norm.

What Kevin Kruse shows, though, goes further. The 1950's religiosity was the result o…

The Black Lives Matter AIW, Part 3 - Landrum

So almost everyone wanted a Black Lives Matter Action of Immediate Witness to pass at the UU General Assembly this year.  And there were some factors leading into the debate and vote on the AIWs that indicated that this might not be the smoothest process, despite the fact that many of us would have loved to come in and vote quickly and cleanly to affirm that Black Lives Matter.  But there are also things that happened on the floor of the General Session that made for a difficult time in passing this important AIW.  After AIW C passed in six minutes and AIW B in 20 minutes, what led to it taking almost two hours for the General Assembly to pass something that almost everyone wanted passed?  I have a few factors that I can determine: first, a procedural quagmire, caused partly by fear that we were not together on this; secondly, a confusion about "prison abolition" and what it means; and, third, a conflict between our rules of procedure and what needed to happen resulting in …

The Black Lives Matter AIW, Part 2 - Landrum

Given that so many of us arrived at General Assembly assuming that a Black Lives Matter Action of
Immediate Witness (AIW) would and should happen, why was the process of passing it so painful?  To answer that question, there are some background pieces that should be understood.  First, there is what happened earlier in the General Sessions (Plenaries) at this year's General Assembly.  Secondly, there's the mini-assembly for the AIW and what happened there.  Lastly, and most importantly, there's the UUA's history, and in particular the "Empowerment Controversy" and walkout of 1969.

Earlier in the General Assembly, there was a controversial set bylaws amendments that would dramatically change the nature of the Commission on Appraisal.  In that discussion, much of the time allotted for discussion was eaten up by procedural questions and their responses.  After I moved to add four minutes to the clock, citing the need to hear voices of people who hadn't been…

Finding Our Voice

The Minister of Music at the Ann Arbor UU Congregation, Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout, frequently talks about our congregation "finding our voice."

At first, I thought it was just the usual high-minded wordplay typical of those who get to include "minister" in their job description; you know, the sort of talk that invokes the seven seas, the five great lakes, the imperiled groundwater, amniotic fluid and a mother's tears at a water communion service.

But I am beginning to get it; maybe not the way he intends, but a way that makes sense to me.

The Ann Arbor congregation is a justice-oriented, activist congregation. And they have done a lot and do a lot for the great causes.

Or do they? Actually, most of what gets done gets done by some of the congregation, while the rest of the congregation supports them and encourages them, we presume. The congregation does its justice work while in its "ungathered" state.

The congregation in its "gathered" state…

Grace and Revolution by Tom Schade

To me, "grace" is not in the explanation of how "Good" is somehow drawn out from the most "Evil" events and actions. "Grace" is the name we give to the human capacity to try to do so. "Grace" is the turning of the will away from despair to hope. And because, we humans are made in God's image, it is not just a quirk of the human personality, but something fundamental about how all of this is put together.

There's been a fair amount of discussion about President Obama's assertion in his Charleston eulogy that God was using Dylann Roof and his evil act for a greater purpose: to awaken the nation to the evil of white racism and specifically to move against the confederate flag as an entrenched symbol of that racism.

Let's speculate neither about the purposes of God, which are unknowable to us, nor the nature of killing nine people at prayer, for it is unquestionably evil. And it happened. And it is not unprecedented, and it…

Refuse to Let them Fail -- By Greg Dubow

At this year’s Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly in Portland, Oregon I kept hearing about the changing landscape of religious experience. If there really is some Promised Land that exists beyond congregations, do we possess the willingness to financially, emotionally, and spiritually support ministries that are ready to fulfill that dream?
New ministries, especially ministries that exist along the road less often taken need specific care if they are to survive. For all the talk of reaching the “nones” and the “dones”, who are growing at a prolific rate , we have to reconcile that this demographic is made up of young people who by and large are not the body which makes up an economically self sustaining religious community. We must look inward and ask if ministry of this sort is something we are truly called to or just a symptom of panic in the face of a world in which organized religion generally is declining. 
In 2014 the UUA welcomed one new congregation, Original …

Inside Out

Inside Out is the newish Pixar animated movie; I saw it yesterday afternoon. I do enjoy the quiet of a movie theatre on a weekday afternoon, and the senior discount on top of the already low matinee ticket price.

Inside Out takes place "inside the head" of Riley, a young girl. The five characters are five emotions (Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear) who take turns running the control panel for Riley's emotional life. During most of her childhood, Joy runs the show and Riley's life produces lots of happy memories. But when Riley's family moves to San Francisco when she is 11, her life becomes much more complicated. Fear, Anger, Sadness and Disgust are in control more often, and the memories accumulated are much more varied. A great adventure ensues.

The movie is a primer in emotional literacy. There is a great power in being able to sort and name the feelings that a person has. And to be wise about how they inter-relate, how they take and let go of control of u…

The Black Lives Matter AIW, Part 1 - Landrum

This is part one of three of a report on the passage of the Action of Immediate Witness passed by the UUA General Assembly in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Cindy Landrum was a participant, and a careful observer. Here is her account of what happened.
The final text of the Action is here.

I entered ministry a month before the September 11, 2001 attacks.  That year, suddenly, everything changed.  Our churches, and ministry itself, I think, changed.  It's hard for me to know if this is entirely true, because I was so new.  But I know that for me the most important work of our churches was suddenly all about being allies to Muslims in our community, as well as the issues of war, personal liberty, and more that came out of that time. 

The situation this year has been entirely different, but it reminds me of September 11th, only the call, the imperative, to respond has been even stronger.  This is the year that suddenly our movement has awoken to the work of anti-racism af…

It's Not Your Fault

Buffy Boke asked me to elaborate on why I chose to include this scene from "Good Will Hunting" in a blog post about UU history.

For those who don't know the movie, Matt Damon is the protagonist of the movie, an extremely smart kid (Will Hunting) from a Boston working class neighborhood now in college. Robin Williams is a counsellor or therapist. The folder that Williams waves contains photos of a younger Matt Damon bearing the bruises and wounds of the abuse he endured as a child by his father.

Will Hunting moves with a cocky bravado that masks much deeper insecurities. He is unable to sustain relationships and cannot fully seize the opportunities that his prodigal intelligence has put before him. He is underperforming his potential.

Unitarian Universalism is obsessed with the perception that we, too, are underperforming our potential. Given our aspirations, we should be larger than we are. We should be more spiritually and theologically clear than we are. We should be …