Friday, December 23, 2016

Truer Words Were Never Spoken

“The left wants power taken away from the white establishment. They want a profound change in the way America is run. "

-Bill O'Reilly, Fox News

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


I admit that I am embarrassed by the post-election opposition to Trump.

Millions of dollars were raised by the Greens for a recount that went no where. It was obvious from the start that the actual outcome of the election was not going to be changed by the recount. Was anything found that has identified a practice that must be stopped, or a reform that must be made?

Millions of signatures were collected in an effort to change the minds of the electors. The result was that GOP electors held firm, while leftwing Democrats started wandering off to other candidates, including Sanders. Not a shred of strategy and coordination visible to the naked eye. Again, the chances of success were so small that the effort was guaranteed to fail. It was not only doomed to fail, but doomed to never even get off the ground.

Now, I read that we are all supposed to turn our lights off the night of the Inauguration. Because it can be seen from space! I doubt it. And who is up there to be impressed?

The whole safety-pin thing was equally ill-considered, promising more than could be delivered.

It seems that the talk of churches becoming "sanctuaries" is also very premature. Most churches don't even have showers.

The requirements of leadership include not leading people on wild-goose chases. Having a strategy beneath the tactics. Not projecting images of ineffectuality or frivolity. Not promising more than can be delivered. Not endangering people and institutions without careful consideration. Demonstrating a realistic sense of what is possible in the moment and what is not. 

I'm not saying that every campaign has to be for a winnable reform. But if you say that you are calling for a truly massive demonstration on the National Mall, you better have the capacity to get more people there than can be counted.

Huge numbers of people are frightened and boiling mad. The leadership that will turn this moment into a movement has not fully emerged yet. Maybe it will and maybe it won't. (Remember how the massive demonstrations against the War in Iraq did not give birth to a mass-based antiwar movement once the war started.)

I am looking for the emergence of serious leadership. I suspect it will come from the sources that have been effective leaders in the past, and from the communities that have long histories of struggle: the sparkplugs of the sustained movement for Black Lives, the North Carolina Moral movement, the protracted struggle for the water at Standing Rock.

But enough of the silly, symbolic, and substance-free campaigns.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Interview With Jeanne Pupke

 A new UUA President will be elected at the General Assembly in June of 2017.

Three candidates are in the running: Susan Frederick-Gray, Alison Miller and Jeanne Pupke. All are ministers currently serving congregations.

Each of them have agreed to allow me to interview them on Zoom for this blog. I am hoping to do at least two interviews with each of them. The first will be about them, their family and religious background and their call to ministry. The second will focus more on their views about current issues in Unitarian Universalism. Each interview will be about 30 minutes. I hope that these interviews will provide a closer and more personal look at them than what has been usually available in these campaigns in the past. The first round of interviews are now complete.

For the record, I do not now have a preference for any of the candidates. I think that they are all capable and inspiring leaders of our faith.

Here is my interview with Jeanne Pupke:

Friday, November 11, 2016

Smothering Hate

I have been saying for years now.
After the Trump campaign, does anyone doubt it's true?
Trump is gonna Trump. The give and take of Washington politics will unfold as it will; there is very little that we citizens can do about that. Did all those marches and demonstrations stay Bush's hand when he was set on invading Iraq?

But the gravest danger of the Trump election is that it legitimizes and normalizes hate speech, bullying, harassment: speech that demonizes. It has the potential to normalizing bigotry and misogyny, allowing the most dangerous elements of the society to function openly and to intimidate the rest of us into silence and acquiescence.

That does not have to be.

We have to work every day for the next four years to contain hatred in the public sphere. What is unacceptable has to be remain unacceptable. Hateful, or bigoted expressions must remain to be seen as "beyond the limits." Bigots must continue to feel that they are constrained in expressing their views in public. It should cost them something whenever they inject poison into the bloodstream of the body politic. They should remain feeling that they are hemmed in and repressed by a culture of "political correctness," which is what they call courtesy, respect, mutuality and democratic culture.

We have to re-humanize this culture. We must all defend the humanity of every person or group that is being demonized by the conservative movement, which is now led by Donald J. Trump: Immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQI people, African Americans, poor people, women, and journalists.

We are holding the public space for an inclusive, big-hearted, and justice-oriented culture.

We are holding the space for beloved community.

It means calling out hateful speech whenever it is heard. It pushing messages of inclusion and justice into the public square by every means possible. It means that everyone wears a button everyday with a message that affirms the inherent worth and dignity of someone who is marginalized. It means that every car has a positive bumper sticker. It means that everyone refuses to be intimidated and that everyone else comes to the defense of the victims of intimidation. It means that we stick together.

Love smothers Hate.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Customary Election Day Comment

Just a reminder:

As odd as it sounds, the Founders of the Republic did not define who could vote in elections of federal office-holders, but left that decision to the states. The reason, of course, was to preserve the autonomy of states to protect their systems of slavery and disenfranchisement. The entire responsibility of running and managing elections for the Federal offices was left to the individual states. Which is odd, when you think about it....

Article II, Section 2

1The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

Stevens, John Paul (2014-04-22). Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution (p. 135). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

The result is what we see today. Not only do voter registration systems vary from state to state, but the administration of elections varies

Why shouldn't elections in the United States have uniform rules, procedures and systems? Why shouldn't there be national universal registration at age 18? Why shouldn't there be one standard method of identity verification used in all states? Why shouldn't the administration of elections be funded by the federal government, according to universal standards for equitable voter/machine ratios, wait-times, and voting hours?

Why should we put up with the shenanigans we see in which state officials manipulate the administration of elections for partisan purposes? Voter ID! Long lines! Arbitrary voter disqualification schemes! Restricted early voting! Inequitable distribution of machines ! Obsolete and sub-standard and insecure voting machines !

Why cannot we have uniform, standard, equitable, and well-run elections?

We cannot because of the heritage of slavery. Remnants of compromises made with slave-holders centuries ago still limit our democracy.

We need a constitutional amendment through which the federal government takes control of federal elections and guarantees the voting rights of all, concretely and practically.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

To Grow Deeper and to Have a Wider Influence, Part 2

To Grow Deeper and to Have a Wider Influence

To Grow Deeper and to Have a Wider Influence....

Unitarian Universalists must strengthen the covenant between them: to feel more responsible for each other, to expect more from each other, to offer each other more of our hearts and hands, and to be vulnerable to each other. 

To be in covenant, people must see themselves as a people.
To see themselves as a people, they need a story they share.

To have a story, they need storytellers. 

I wrote those words a few weeks ago, and people want more clarity about them: What am I saying, and what am I not saying?

I am saying that Unitarian Universalism is a half-hearted religious movement. 

You can see this half-heartedness from many angles. The leaders and staff of our association see it in the half-hearted support that the UUA gets from congregations. Our congregational leaders and activists see it in the half-hearted engagement of so many of the members of their congregation. Our ministers see it in the low participation in congregational activities, especially those that are aimed at deepening spiritual lives.
It can be sensed in what can seem like a shallow motivation of our social justice work.

We see it whenever people find that the values of the religious community contradict their political loyalties and they think their religious community should change to resolve this conflict. Whole hearted politics; half-hearted religion! 

But the damage done by our half-heartedness is mostly done to ourselves. 

Can we imagine living a whole-hearted Unitarian Universalist life?

A life in which we mutually support and challenge each other to live lives of reverence, honesty, gratitude, openness, humility, solidarity, and self-possession.

Would not our lives be more? Our friendships deeper, our courage braver, our grieving more profound, our happiness more joyous, the earth more solid beneath our feet, water wetter and the stars closer at hand.

We cannot imagine it. 

We cannot imagine it because what we have experienced as a people is that our aspirations to such a life are foolish, and ineffective, and probably irresponsible and unrealistic. We cannot imagine it because people like us have been told for decades that nobody likes people like us. And as a result, we don't particularly like ourselves and each other. 

The story that we tell about ourselves as a people blends together the mockery of those who don't agree with us with the criticisms of those who warn us that we fall short of our intentions into a toxic stream of self-talk that is self-negating. We are seething stew of self-doubt for which we over-compensate with UU boosterism, UU  uniqueness, and UU paraphernalia. 

And so, we are half-hearted. 

And the cure to that half-heartedness is get grounded in our reality as a people on a path and a journey together. We need to get grounded in the dialectical relationship between ourselves as a people and the historical situations we have been in. 

We need to learn our 20th and 21st century history, and we need storytellers who can make that history accessible to all of us, in a way that is realistic, self-critical, inspiring, and empowering.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Interview with Alison Miller

 A new UUA President will be elected at the General Assembly in June of 2017.

Three candidates are in the running: Susan Frederick-Gray, Alison Miller and Jeanne Pupke. All are ministers currently serving congregations.

Each of them have agreed to allow me to interview them on Zoom for this blog. I am hoping to do at least two interviews with each of them. The first will be about them, their family and religious background and their call to ministry. The second will focus more on their views about current issues in Unitarian Universalism. Each interview will be about 30 minutes. I hope that these interviews will provide a closer and more personal look at them than what has been usually available in these campaigns in the past. The first round of interviews have already been scheduled.

For the record, I do not now have a preference for any of the candidates. I think that they are all capable and inspiring leaders of our faith.

Here is my interview with Alison Miller:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Susan Frederick-Gray: An Interview

A new UUA President will be elected at the General Assembly in June of 2017.

Three candidates are in the running: Susan Frederick-Gray, Alison Miller and Jeanne Pupke. All are ministers currently serving congregations.

Each of them have agreed to allow me to interview them on Zoom for this blog. I am hoping to do at least two interviews with each of them. The first will be about them, their family and religious background and their call to ministry. The second will focus more on their views about current issues in Unitarian Universalism. Each interview will be about 30 minutes. I hope that these interviews will provide a closer and more personal look at them than what has been usually available in these campaigns in the past. The first round of interviews have already been scheduled.

For the record, I do not now have a preference for any of the candidates. I think that they are all capable and inspiring leaders of our faith.

Here is my first interview with Susan Frederick-Gray.

Monday, October 10, 2016

To Grow Deeper and to Have a Wider Influence

To Grow Deeper and to Have a Wider Influence....

Unitarian Universalists must strengthen the covenant between them: to feel more responsible for each other, to expect more from each other, to offer each other more of our hearts and hands, and to be vulnerable to each other. 

To be in covenant, people must see themselves as a people.
To see themselves as a people, they need a story they share.

To have a story, they need storytellers. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

How Love Has a Side

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. 

The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. 

The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. 

And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”

--Eli Wiesel

To call upon ourselves and others to act "on the side of Love," is to challenge the indifference, including our own indifference, that allows injustice and oppression to continue. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Once Again

When I was a youth in the early 60's, it seemed that this book was on every Unitarian family's coffee table.


Dearest UU's --
We can do what we need to do. 
We have done it before, many times.
We are pretty good at it.

Standing, Rolling, Dancing, Singing, Praying, Preaching, Acting on the Side of Love -- Landrum

At our the preceding Ministry Days preceding the UU General Assembly, ableist language was used in worship to the extent that UUMA Board Member Josh Pawelek issued this response:

Clearly there is a problem with ableism in our public presentation. Public statements, music, stories and metaphors that perpetuate ableism have been hurtful to colleagues. As with any oppression, this ableism likely runs deeper than our public presentation. I remain grateful to all those who are willing to call it to our attention, and I am deeply sorry that such calling is still necessary. (The full response is here.)
The most prominent example of ableist language in our movement, however, is our social justice arm: Standing on the Side of Love.  And before you say, "It's just a metaphor," I invite you to watch this and read this by UU minister Theresa Soto.  The point here is not to convince you that ableist metaphors are a problem.  The point is that we often think, even if it is ableist, "Standing on the Side of Love" is a done deal and it would be too hard to change it.  I'd like to offer a different possibility.  I think we need to change this, and it's possible to change this.  The important part of the "Standing on the Side of Love" isn't the "Standing," it's that we're acting "on the Side of Love." 

Step 1: Start including our non-standing bodies in the message.  Without changing the name officially, widen the images and merchandise.  Start by offering "I Roll on the Side of Love" or "Rolling on the Side of Love" or "Sitting on the Side of Love" t-shirts, bumper stickers, and other items. Make it easy for people to get these items -- don't make them make their own.  Start making images that you share on your webpage with these words more and more frequently. 

Step 2: Offer more and more words as options -- we can dance, pray, sing, and act in lots of ways "on the Side of Love."  Start using all sorts of words more and more frequently until "standing" is just one word among many, used no more frequently than the others.  Do this on merchandise and images in particular.  Maybe ministers would like t-shirts that say "Preaching on the Side of Love" or "Serving on the Side of Love."  Maybe DREs would like "Teaching on the Side of Love" or "Growing on the Side of Love" or other ideas. 

Step 3: Drop "Standing" as the title of the organization in favor of "On the Side of Love" or "The Side of Love."  Start by using the shortened version on images and merchandise where no one verb will do.  Then as people get used to the new name, change URLs and official name and usage of the organization. 

I think it's time for us to recognize that while it's been a great campaign and done some really neat things, the title is ableist, and that is problematic.  Let's fix it, folks.  We're better than just throwing up our hands and saying, "Oh well." 

Saturday, June 04, 2016

The Street Sets the Agenda...

more than we realize.

Consider Occupy! which made us think about percentages, which made Romney's 47% comment so fatal.

Consider the Ferguson resistance and Black Lives Matter ! which has pulled the Obama administration and the Democratic Party to the left on criminal justice issues.

The beginning of the end of the George W. Bush's administration was when Cindy Sheahan camped out at his ranch.

So now consider the demonstrations against Donald Trump. The pattern is that the largest and most confrontational have been in the Southwest. It is reported that Mexican flags are often present there.

It seems to me that Trump's anti-Hispanic, particularly anti-Mexican animus, is being protested in the streets. Of course. If you advocate deporting 11 million people, they and their friends and families are going to take it personally. What we see now is the foreshadowing the massive resistance that would take place if Trump's deportation plan began to approach reality.

Conventional politicians and liberal journalists ask how it can be communicated just how dangerous Trump is. How can we not 'normalize' him as just another politician, with some unusual quirks? But normal methods of criticism and opposition actually serve to normalize him.

The people in the streets are putting forth a completely different message. Trump is not a normal politician, but a dangerous authoritarian. We need to not only vote against him, but protest him, by making our opposition visible, not confined to the privacy of the voting booth. And we need to prepare to resist him if he were to come to power. And we need to disrupt his rise to power now.

And, (this is shaky ground, I know) do we need to confront the individuals who publicly support him? Can we say that we need to confront white supremacy and, at the same time, treat support for a candidate of retrograde and authoritarian white supremacy as just another political opinion? I am just asking.....

MSNBC's video of white people being publicly set upon by young people, especially young people of color, for wearing Trump gear is brain-scrambling.
We are used to spectacle of protesters being thrown out of Trump rallies -- a drama in which the overwhelming power of white supremacy crushes another single victim. It matches our sense of the balance of power in the country.

I am not advocating the tactic, but I am saying that the spectacle of in the streets of San Jose show a different, and more accurate, balance of power. The Trump fans are not the majority: they are a minority full of bluster and bravado, but mostly afraid and amazed that the world is no longer theirs. Inside the hall, they chortle at the thought of Mexico paying for the wall to keep Mexicans out of the US and cheer the idea of deporting many of those already here. It all seems so easy and it's fun to say it all out loud.

But outside the hall, in the streets, those people, the ones so easily banished, are real and are angry. They do not plan to go quietly. And they remind us that in the American southwest, it is the white Europeans from back east who are the settler/invaders who have arrived last.

The spectacle is unsettling because we are not used to pitying the white racist, nor used to hoping that the riot police rescue them.

Yes, attacking people on the street for their political views is over the line. A lot of lines have been crossed in this campaign already. Calling for mass deportations is over the line.

What's happening in the streets sets the agenda for the future.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A New Party !

They're talking about a new party again ! Some of the disappointed Sanders voters are going to start a new party ! Feel the excitement !

There has not been a successful new party start up in the United States since the formation of the Republican Party in 1854, 162 years ago. And History is littered with the bones of many an effort. There have been Marxist parties, Socialist parties, populist parties, progressive parties, candidate-based parties, centrist parties, reform parties, revolutionary parties, even the present Green party. And that's just on the center-left side of the spectrum.

Some of those parties, like the Communist Party USA or the Socialist Workers Party are to be sustained presence, not by attracting voters in elections, but by creating a body of professional, or semi-professional, organizers united by a Leninist party structure. But no party, including them, has become an electoral power.

Yet, the dream of new electoral party remains the go-to dream of frustrated progressives whenever their candidate loses. As a threat to Democrats, it has a certain power, but as a sustainable organizational strategy, it is laughable. And its power as a threat is not that the new party might outpoll Democrats, but that it is an organized way to urge people to abstain from the election.

If you step back, it is not surprising that new party formations don't work. Instead of going to where the people are, it is going to where the people are not and waiting for them there.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Many congregations will not able to handle it.

Another gleaning from the Followup Conference on the Economic Sustainability of Ministry ......

There are significant new regulations coming about the hiring and compensation of employees that may well be beyond the ability of smaller UU congregations to handle.

One area of new regulation is the use of overtime. In order to declare an employee exempt from the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the position must meet certain requirements. Those requirements are being tightened, both in terms of overall salary and job definition. The practice of treating some church staff as exempt or salaried employees, paid a certain amount regardless of the number of hours they worked, will be harder to do within the law.

It's all fiendishly complicated, of course, and that is the point of this story. All but the largest of our congregations do not have professional Human Resources personnel on their staff. Richard Nugent of the Office of Church Staff Finances thinks that many of our congregation are not in compliance with labor law already. And in our smallest congregations, these matters are handled by part-term administrative staffs, supervised by volunteer treasurers.

The economic sustainability of our ministries (in the broadest sense) depends on the infrastructure to collect revenue and to legally employ people in an increasingly regulated labor market. Our polity as a religious movement has distributed that infrastructure down to our smallest operating units -- the local congregation.

I don't think that that arrangement is going to work much longer.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Report from Sarah Lammert on Follow Up Conference on the Economic Sustainability of Ministry

Two of my recent posts dealt with issues that came up from at the Follow Up Conference on the Economic Sustainability of Ministry. The Rev. Sarah Lammert was one of the co-conveners on the conference and here is her preliminary report. Much to think about.

May 4-6th, 2016
Twenty-five UU leaders gathered in a follow-up session to last year’s Summit on the Economic Sustainability of Ministry. A lively keynote address was offered as the kickoff event by Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thurston, authors of "How We Gather" and "Something More”.  

Attendees then worked in smaller groups on two issues: Stewardship Education and Lay Ministry. Using design theory as a frame, the first group looked at how we can re-energize and re-frame the relationship of Unitarian Universalism with money, based on a robust theology of covenant. Participants came up with the idea of curating current resources into an “OWL 4 MONEY” that mimics the very successful all-ages UUA curriculum around human sexuality. A second group worked on a design for unleashing the power of lay ministry. There has long been a yearning in UU circles for an alternative path to doing ministry that is different in scope and less involved than seeking ordination. Recognizing that there are already many forms of lay ministry in the UU universe, participants came up with the idea of building a network of such groups to share best practices around formation and accountability, with the hope of moving toward a reciprocal recognition that could include and encourage diverse forms of recognized lay ministry.  

On the final day, Richard Nugent, Director of the Office of Church Staff Finances, presented a preliminary report (and asked for input) from the ongoing redesign of “UUA Compensation Guidelines” for UU religious professionals. His office is working with a consulting firm in a multi-year, comprehensive process to provide a balanced, just, and achievable set of standards for congregations to compensate their professional staffs for their faithful work. 15 focus groups have already been held with UU religious professionals; the coming year will focus on engaging lay leaders in similar groups, with a rollout expected in 2018.  

An “idea journal” with detail is forthcoming from the organizers of the conference. For more coverage, watch the special on-site edition of the VUU. Link here to The Lively Tradition blog posts on the conference. Come to the workshop “Economic Sustainability of Ministries: An Ongoing Discussion,” at General Assembly, Saturday June 25, 3:00 – 4:15PM Hyatt Regency Union AB.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Zero Sum Game?

Lay Ministry and Ordained Ministry.

Would training more lay ministers to perform some of the functions of ministry drive down the economic prospects of ordained ministers? 

Would small and struggling congregations choose to hire a trained lay minister rather than an ordained minister? Would a larger congregation choose to supplement their ordained parish minister with a few trained lay ministers, some of whom might even be volunteer, rather than add an ordained associate, or assistant, minister? 

You could argue that more trained lay ministers would inevitably have that effect.  

You could also argue that deploying more ministers, of whatever level of training, is essential to the growth of Unitarian Universalism. And that’s where our economic sustainability ultimately lies. 

The economic sustainability of Unitarian Universalism is a wickedly complex problem. There are a lot of moving parts: Ministerial indebtedness, the high cost of preparation, tight congregational budgers, soaring real estate prices in many areas, the income stagnation of the middle and working class people. A lot of proposed fixes just shift the problem to somewhere else in the system.

If there was an obvious answer somebody would have done it already. 

Does training lay ministers just shift the burden to the already ordained ministers as a group, if not individually?

Your thoughts, please?

Monday, May 09, 2016

Two Ideas on the Economic Sustainability of Ministry

Two ideas to advance Economic Sustainability of Ministry.

Two ideas came out of the recent Summit on Economic Sustainability of Ministry.

#1. We need “OWL FOR MONEY”. There is a soul sickness and an ignorance about money in our society. We need to an educational program for different ages and circumstances that teaches about money and leads people in a process to discern their values and relationship to the economic dimensions of life. We can’t just talk about stewardship and generosity without working with people and their whole economic lives. Imagine a program that has sequences aimed at high schoolers, young adults, middle adults, retiring adults, lay leaders in congregations, and stewardship leaders. 

#2. We need a network of organizations that are training lay ministers. And that are more than just a few. Those organizations need to learn from each other, develop best practices and begin the work on unifying around common systems of accountability. They need to develop ethical guidelines for lay ministers. Lay ministry training is already going on; no one organization, like the UUA staff, can pull all of it under one system at this point. In fact, more organizations from individual congregations to the professional organizations or identity based groups should be welcomed into the work. Let a hundred flowers bloom. 

These were the top ideas to come out of the Summit. 

For background: the Summit is convened by some units of the UUA’s national staff to advise and consult on the wicked problems in the economic dimensions of organized liberal religion. The two organizers are Sarah Lammert from the Department of Ministries and Faith Development and Richard Nugent of the Office of Church Staff Finances. 

A first Summit was held last June in St. Louis and a followup last week in Boston, MA. Various staff groups of the UUA were represented as well the Presidents of the two UU identified seminaries. Professional organizations like the UUMA and LREDA were there as well. 

Friday, April 08, 2016

The Whole GenX UUA President Thing

The UUA President; Generations and Ages.

Allison Miller and Susan Frederick Gray were guests on the CLF’s VUU video broadcast and the observation was made that either one of them would be the first Gen X UUA President, after the long (and oppressive) rule of the Boomers.

The historical fact that the last four UU Presidents were of the Baby Boomer generation was brought up.  

The last four UUA Presidents were born in a narrow span — 1946 to 1949 — it is true. But that also means that they were elected over a broad range of ages. Schulz was 35, Buehrens was 46, Sinkford was 55 and Morales was 64. 

I think the issue is less passing the torch to a new generation (Boomers to GenX) as it is choosing leaders who are in the lifestage appropriate to leading the UUA. 

The Swiss psychologist Erik Erickson hypothesized a lifestage process of development. 

He divided adulthood into three stages of adulthood: a younger (up to 35), middle (35-60) and older (over 60). 

The stage of younger adult is defined by the contradiction between “intimacy” and “isolation”. 

The middle stage, in which first three Boomer UUA Presidents served, is a defined by a contradiction between “generativity” and “stagnation.” The current President was elected within the range defined as middle adulthood. 

The older stage is defined by the contradiction between “integrity” and “despair”.

The younger adult stage is defined by the intimacy vs. isolation. This is not only about finding a life partner, but also making the decisions about the people you are committed to as cohort.

It is not hard to see the call to become a denominational leader is an act which completes the task of choosing cohort of one’s life companions, and the completion of the lifestage of young adulthood. 

The task of the middle adult life stage is “Generativity” vs "stagnation." 

Generativity is sometimes defined as “creativity between the generations” and in family terms is about setting the conditions for the young and education. It also surfaces in life as the creation and building of new organizations, organizational redevelopment, strategy setting for the future, building programs. Under the right conditions, this is the most productive time of life. 

We should expect that leaders of sizable organizations would be in this lifestage, and younger in it, if the work to be done is building, creating, expanding, growing.

I have observed in myself and in other Boomers that the Generative work we do as we move to the end of our Generative stage is what I call ‘perfecting work:” the work of improving what we have done, fixing mistakes, creating better management of the processes we have been working on. The work that so many of us have been doing around governance, stewardship and leadership development is all about perfecting what we have spent our lives doing.

One example is President Morales’ growth strategy of “stop repelling visitors!” We have been doing Sunday congregational worship for quite a while; let’s finally do it right. It’s a perfecting energy at work.

So, it is appropriate that many would want to elect someone in their 40’s as UUA President, because of where they are in their stage of life work. The Boomers are passing out of the Generative stage of their lives.  The GenXer’s are in the full bloom of that lifestage. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

84% Democrats: What does that mean?

The UU World ran this article summarizing a recent poll about the political affiliations of various religious groupings in the USA. In brief, it shows that 84% of UU identify as Democrats. Only historic Black denominations are more Democratic.

Who was surprised that UU's were as strongly affiliated with the Democratic Party as this poll shows?

What does it mean?

What one thinks about this probably has a lot to do with what you think the highest value of Unitarian Universalism is.

If you think that inclusion and diversity is the highest value, then the poll is discouraging news. We are not very good at making Republicans welcome in our congregations..

But if you think that living our faith is the highest value, the poll shows our growing maturity as a faith community.

Everybody says that we live in a politically polarized time. That means more than that people of similar political opinions are forming tighter associations with each other. It means that both liberalism and conservatism as becoming clearer, more defined, and more ways of life.

Corey Robin argues that modern conservatism is defined by the defense of local hierarchies of power, such as the power of the father in the traditional family or the owner of a business. Wherever there is a hierarchy, conservatives instinctively try to preserve it against any democratizing influence. Conservatives say they oppose the state, but only when the state is breaking down the many small kingdoms of the world.

This same line of thought shows up in the popular meme that the political differences in the USA all come down to differences in our parenting preferences: the authoritarian parent vs the nurturing parent.

The Republican Party has become the conservative party in our time. The GOP is becoming ideologically conservative; it supports the relationships of domination and subordination in just about any sphere that you can think of.

Unitarian Universalist thinking has been moving quite deliberately in the opposite direction. I think that our commitment to become an "anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural religious movement" has set a moral imperative before us that is radicalizing us. We are increasingly seeing the petty tyrants and small kingdoms of this world, even in our churches and congregations, and opposing them.

You can even say that our vision of covenant as the ideal of all social relationships as being a direct contradiction of conservatism. A covenantal relationship is not one of domination and subordination but one of equality and mutuality.

I may be wrong, but I don't think that the 84% UU identification with the Democratic Party is really based on a commitment to the Party itself. I think it's anti-conservatism at work.

We are growing into the full meaning of our theological commitments. The evidence that we are gathering at one end of the political spectrum in a country polarizing over fundamental differences is a result of, and a sign of, that growth.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A More Accessible OWL! -- Landrum

Followers of this blog may remember that we did a series of posts about how OWL training can be expensive and difficult for congregations.  Well, the good news is that it has now gotten a little bit easier.  The UUA is making OWL training for all ages available in Columbus prior to General Assembly, thus enabling folks already traveling to GA to minimize travel costs associated with OWL training.  Folks interested can see details here.

This is your Association at work, responding directly to the need they've heard about from religious educators (and certain bloggers).  Melanie Davis, the OWL Program Associate writes, "The decision to host the training is due in part to requests made by religious educators who find trainings in other areas cost prohibitive, as well as to requests to combine OWL training and GA to help lower travel expenses."

The cost is still $250 for the training itself, but the ability to combine the trip with GA for those already traveling to GA cuts down the costs of training substantially, avoiding a second air fare or mileage, plus having the ability for some to share hotel rooms with folks going to Columbus early for other pre-GA events, such as Ministry Days or the LREDA Professional Day.

It should be clarified that all ages training does not mean that attendees will be trained in all ages, but that each of the training levels is being offered at the same time.  So if your church needs one more person trained in Junior and Senior High, and one more person trained in Elementary OWL, you can send them at the same time and they can share the drive and the hotel room, as long as neither snores or both do.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Wall Street and Income Inequality

Regulating Wall Street is a side-show to the question of economic inequality. More regulation of Wall Street can prevent, we hope, a repetition of the financial crisis of 2008, but it will not, on its own, narrow the gap between the 1% and the rest of us. The difference between "reinstating Glass-Steagall" vs "strengthening Dodd-Frank" does not change life for ordinary Americans. And, sending some Wall Street executives to jail is just a satisfying fantasy.

The steps to start to equalize the income in the country are more basic: strengthening unions, raising the minimum wage, increasing social security benefits, further subsidizing the purchase of health insurance, expanding medicare, lowering the total cost of college education.

And, increasing the taxes on the wealthy and spending that money on public goods, which will indirectly raise the standard of living of the many: better school buildings, better education, better roads and bridges and public parks, better public transit, free, fast, and universal WIFI, efficient electrical grids and updated water and sewage systems, post office banking.

The problem with the financial sector is that it has too much money. Too much money is available for investment through the private capital markets and too little is available for investment through the government for public infrastructure and improvement. We are at the point where capital goes hunting for places to invest, driving the price of equities sky high, while the state is starved and our infrastructure falls apart. More taxes on the wealthy starts to change that imbalance.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Presidents Make Lousy Leaders of Mass Movements

The theory of change that Bernie Sanders advocates is a "political revolution;" he wants increased mass mobilization in favor of broad reformist goals: universal health care, free public college, getting money out of politics, reining in Wall Street. He wants to turn his Presidential campaign into a social movement.

Is leading such mass mobilization something that the President can do well? Can the President go beyond using the "bully pulpit" to advocate for those causes. Sanders has called President Obama a "disappointment," but Obama has not been remiss in making speeches in favor of reforms.

Over the last eight years there has been a significant upsurge in militant social movements. Occupy and Black Lives Matter have put many people in the streets and placed new demands on the table. There has been a steady growth in email/social media based mass mobilizations across a wide range of issues and groups. The social movements are here. Would they be stronger if President Obama had explicitly endorsed them? In all likelihood, that kind of endorsement would have not helped and probably been repelled. Remember the deep suspicion that MoveOn aroused in the Occupy Movement? Occupy was very frightened of being co-opted by the Democratic Party.

The independent social movements are doing fine. Strengthening them is the work of the organizers at the grass roots level, not the President of the United States. No President, not even Bernie Sanders, is going to put a lot of effort into building a social movement that is critical of the President. Nobody is going to join a social movement that is in the tank for the President.

The second problem with the Sanders theory of change is that eventually all efforts at reform come down to legislation and legislation takes compromise and compromise takes flexibility. And legislative negotiation occurs both in public at a symbolic level and at the level of actually writing legislation and spending money. And these levels are intertwined.

One of the things that Obama learned in negotiating with the GOP was that it was a mistake to want something too publicly, or to refuse something too publicly. As soon as something went public, it became both a target of the opposition and a non-negotiable to the public on his side. This is what happened to the public option in the ACA. Once it became clear that it symbolically important to progressive Democrats, it became completely unacceptable to the GOP. And then it became something that 'center' Democrats like Lieberman and Ben Nelson had to oppose because doing so would prove their independence.

Remember the proposal to let 55 year olds buy into Medicare? A perfectly reasonable proposal that would have taken older sicker people out of the insurance pool. Joe Lieberman shot it down because it made the liberals too happy. Who knows, it might have passed if hadn't become a public symbol.

Mass movements cannot fruitfully intervene in legislative negotiation. They will be demoralized by the process. Just as the progressive movement got demoralized by the failure to get the public option included in the ACA.

To be truthful, I don't think Bernie Sanders wants to be President. I think Bernie Sanders wants to lead a political revolution against economic inequality and the corruption of our campaign financing system. For that I wish him every success. And I think that becoming President would be a disaster for his true calling.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Trump, Sanders and Reich

Wilhelm Reich 1897-1957,
(not Robert Reich)
As we move forward into TrumpWorld, everyone should familiarize themselves with the general argument made by Wilhelm Reich in The Mass Psychology of Fascism. (It's not just his hair that make him pertinent to discussions of Donald Trump.)  Reich analyzed why the German Left failed to stop the rise of Hitler despite the deteriorating living standards of the German people. He concluded that the failure was in the economism of the German Left. They talked about income, wages and living standards, but that appeal was less of interest to the Germans than the stuff of their psychosexual frustrations and fantasies. While the analysis of the latter was of its time, the general holds true. In times of great stress, people do not vote their pocketbook, but their ids.

This is why while Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump may appear to be speaking to the same anger over the decline of the middle class, income stagnation, and the sense that the economy no longer works for the ordinary person, Sanders and Trump voters are motivated differently. If the Sanders strategy for victory is to win over the Trump voter, I think that it will not work.

The Trump voter is drawn to the unaccountable hero; the fantasy of being the winner, the man freed of petty restrictions of 'political correctness' in his speech and actions, unfettered economically, entitled to what is rightfully his, and able to do what he pleases. It is literally a sadistic fantasy -- the thrill of unlimited power to be exercised despite the objections of those on whom it is unleashed. In the American context, this enactment of sadistic power is the lynch mob and the gang rape and the gay bashing. It is also the mass deportation, the carpet bombing, and the use of torture. The appeal of this type of power is more seductive than a bit more economic security, a better pension, less paperwork at the hospital, and confidence that Wall Street is being appropriately regulated.

The Sanders voter shares the surface appearance of being a rebel against the Establishment, but beneath the surface, there is something else going on. The Sanders voter wants a more equal society, and more public goods, which includes better transit, better health care, free public college and more fairness. Like the Trump voter, they are tired of being pushed around by the elite.

But in order for Trump voters to become Sanders voters, they will have to move toward an egalitarianism and empathy for the other that they currently lack. They will have to start moving on beyond their investment in white racism, male chauvinism, heterosexism, transphobia, xenophobia and all that. And that is the hard part. And the more radical the Sanders program is, the harder the journey from Trump to Sanders.

Capitalist ideology believes in "Economic Man," a mythical creature who makes all his decisions rationally on the basis of economic self-interest. Notice that someone like Rand Paul, a libertarian deeply entrenched in the belief in Economic Man, doesn't understand why we would need laws against racial discrimination in public accommodations. He asks "why would anyone want to restrict their customer base?"  "Why wouldn't they want to hire the best person for a job regardless of race?" Because the payoffs and pleasures of racism far outweigh narrow economic self-interest. Trump's invitation to be a part of a Great America again outweighs narrow economic self-interest.

The traditional Left also believes in the myth of Economic Man. The Left asks "Why won't people see that if we all unite across our many differences, we can get a better deal for all of us?"  Who wouldn't want to live in Denmark?  An appeal to better wages and pensions should unite the working class. Well it won't because the payoffs and pleasures of racism, sexism etc. far outweigh narrow economic self-interest.

A Sanders victory in the general is certainly possible, but it will depend on the mobilization of millions of hidden, non-voting, progressives. I don't think that it will come by melding together the votes of Sanders and Trump.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Fruits of Rightwing Demonization

For 24 years now, the right wing in this country has been depending on gender and racial demonization as a way to emotionally bind the public to their program, even though their  program is contrary to most people's interests. Put another way, if people voted their economic interests, the GOP would be tiny. But economic interests are secondary to questions of identity stability and even sexual fantasy. 
This is not a new insight; Wilhelm Reich analyzed the failure of the German left to prevent the rise of Hitler more than  three quarters a century ago. The German Left talked about wages and living standards; the Nazi Party appealed to a sexually repressed population and offered them a domineering, all powerful Father figure. While you can argue about the precise analysis of the unmet emotional needs that the Nazis manipulated, the lessons for the Left are still clear enough. It's stupid to think that it's just the economy.

For forty years, the Right in America said that the problem with American liberalism was that the men were too weak and the women were too strong, or even more bluntly: liberal men were not really men and liberal women were not really women. 

And their Exhibit A has been Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton has been their example of what will happen if gender roles and expectations are allowed to slip and change. Men will become like Bill Clinton: irresponsible, verbose, undisciplined boys. And women will become like Hillary: all-powerful, mean, manipulative Mommy witches, who rule by stealth and cunning. Lady MacBeth. The hidden power behind the throne. 

Everything nasty in every one of the phony scandals assigned to the Clinton was imputed to Hillary. Even Bill's sexual misconduct was eventually hung on her, who 'enabled' it. 

The misogynist Right demanded that she conform to conventional gender roles, and then said that she was faking it when she did. Everything about her was criticized, and then it was said that she was overly conscious of how she looked to others. She was said to be inauthentic and manipulative.

They demonized her. They assigned to her an hidden evil motivation for everything she did. And that demonization narrative was made up of all the fears and insecurities and competitiveness that strong females arouse in the rest of us. 

That Hillary Clinton always has hidden, self-serving, and evil motivations has now become the fixed perception of her. The fact that almost all Americans believe this to be true is the greatest triumph of the rightwing demonization machine. It shows in the polls which say that people agree with Hillary, believe that she is superbly prepared to be President, and many plan to vote for her, but they don't trust her. She's just likeable barely enough. 

Most of the Left side of the spectrum accepts this characterization of her without question. Most on the Left side don't see that what seems like the fact of her character is in fact a conclusion built upon 40 years of misogynistic accusations. She has been successfully demonized, and the Left accepts it as true. And then, the Left says with the straight face of the duped that they have no gender bias against her; they just like the man better.

(A parallel situation would be for someone to say that they have no racial bias against Barack Obama: they just think that he tries to be too cool, speaks too rhetorically, and is too emotionally guarded in his public interactions. They might as well say that they prefer their President to ride a bike rather than play basketball for recreation.)

There could be no greater repudiation in this election cycle of our right wing overlords than to see our way past their demonization of Hillary Clinton -- to humanize her, see her as a human being doing the best she can in the circumstances that were imposed upon her. When you take away the presumption that she is "always and already guilty", what you can see is a very tough, committed, progressive political leader who would make a great President.

Friday, February 05, 2016

One More Thing that UU's Should Have learned

When the first openly GLBT ministers were being considered for settlement, and even when just the first openly GLBT minister was being considered for settlement in a particular church, we learned this: Homophobic people would say this: "You want us to pick a minister just because they are gay."  Or, "I don't want a minister who keeps telling us that they are gay." 

UU's learned that these were defensive deflections to defend old prejudices.

So, why would UU's respond to the exploration of sexism as it affects how people perceive Hillary Clinton with the same accusation, "You think people should vote for her just because she is a woman."

No, I plan to vote for her because she has been a progressive political leader for decades, and because she is personally tougher than almost everyone who has run for President before, because she is great foreign policy experience implementing Obama's post-Neocon policies and yes, because she is a woman, and it is a good thing to blow by that kind of prejudice and exclusion.

I didn't vote for Obama just because he was black. I also didn't ask him to ignore the fact that he was black. GLBT ministers have many ministerial qualities and they are gay, which adds more strength to the mix.

Our theological reflections about our own experience with anti-oppressive work in our own congregation are so weak and shallow that we don't seem to be able to apply what we have learned to the larger arena of national politics. 

The Always and Already Guilty Perps

The narrative about the Clintons, spun now for nearly a quarter century, is always the same. Whatever they are doing, they are up to no good. Give us enough time, give us enough documents, we will be able to prove what they are crooks. Until then, where there is smoke, there must be fire.

The transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street Firms are the new emails. Any document not in the public record must contain the smoking gun, the moment when she condemns Chris Stevens to death in Benghazi, or the moment when gives her quids to and picks up her quos from Wall Street moguls.

I recently re-read Toni Morrison's comments about Bill Clinton as America's first black President. As an aside, she points out the cultural signifiers, the saxophone,  the single mother, the junk food, but her main point is more relevant to us today.  Speaking of the pursuit of the then President, she says,  "The always and already guilty "perp" is being hunted down not by a prosecutor's obsessive application of law but by a different kind of pursuer, one who makes new laws out of the shards of those he breaks. " 

"The always and already guilty 'perp".. Morrison points out that what we now call the "criminalization of the black body" was in the process of being applied to Bill Clinton. The Republicans, the media, and eventually the "respectable" Democrats all operated on the assumption that he was "always and already guilty." It was just a matter of time and effort until the evidence was found. It was because Bill Clinton had reached that point where his guilt of something was assumed, and it was up to him to prove his innocence, that Morrison thought him "the first black President."

Hillary is now "the always and already guilty 'perp.'  For Trey Gowdy and the GOP, she is guilty of killing the diplomats at Benghazi. They will find the proof any day now. For the Left, however, a different unproven crime awaits evidence. She is a whore of Wall Street. (Google "Hillary Wall Street Whore" if you think that I am exaggerating the ubiquity of this presumption.)

The crowd booed when she pointed out it is an artful smear to suggest a transaction without any details of it. As proof, Sanders brought forth the obvious example of the entire GOP field who while funded by the fossil fuel industry denies climate change. Both sides of that transaction are on the public record. There is a quid pro quo. The contributions are made and the candidates repeat a foolish assertion.

But where are both sides of the soul-selling of Hillary Clinton? That she accepts campaign contributions is known. But what did anyone get from it? She has a tough set of proposals for Wall Street regulation; where has she done their will in a criminal way? None of that actually matters though, because she is 'the always and already guilty perp." So much so that other-wise fair-minded progressives repeat the unsubstantiated charge to signify the depth of their radical analysis.

For 25 years, the GOP and the media has worked to shroud the Clintons in cloud of suspicion. The list of disproven charges is extensive, and some were ridiculous, but the effort shows every sign of being successful.

An entire generation of young voters have grown up with the image of the shifty, criminalized Clintons as a fixture in their political environment. Whatever she was doing, she was covering something up. That she appeared personable or charming was obviously a testament to her craftiness. Everything about her is controlled, her inner witch only slipping out when she cackles.

We know from the history of the Obama presidency that the GOP and its noise machine do not consider Democratic presidents to be legitimate. In their mind, a Democratic administration is a danger quirk in the operation of the system. And so they work night and day to delegitimize it.The same thing happened to the Clintons. They are still building a story about the weak and ineffectual Jimmy Carter.  (Twenty years from now, what will be remembered about the Obamas will include a caricature of Michelle Obama, that uppity black woman who wore fabulous clothes, vacationed like royalty, and lectured us about eating our vegetables. And the children of today's millennials will believe it as being somehow true.)

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

New Leaders: Spiritually Grounded -- Landrum

The staff of MidAmerica Region of the UUA has put out a statement about what the "New Leader" of congregations will need to succeed, and they've begun a series of essays about their bullet points, the first three of which are currently available.  My response to the first point is available here on the Lively Tradition, and this is the second.  It's worth noting that theses are qualities of the new Leader not just the new Minister
2.  Spiritually grounded: Leaders understand what they believe or don’t believe and are aware of their need for connection to something larger than themselves; they are aware that they need to connect with a deeper core that gives them balance, intuition, and commitment.
Back when I was preparing for ministry, the suggestion that a competent minister needs to be spiritually grounded would have been met by me with frustration -- and fear.  As an agnostic humanist, I believed that secretly this meant that people believed I should believe in God.  Many people in our pews react the same way.  It was during my internship with Drew Kennedy, who described "spirituality" as a series of right relationship -- right relationship with self, with friends and family, with society, with the earth, with the cosmos or God -- that I began to be comfortable in using the word "spiritual" to describe myself.

Certainly I think a key aspect of the New Leader is understanding connection with something larger, whether you term this concept "spiritual" or not.  Our isolation as individuals and churches is often a weakness, and seeing ourselves as connected to something larger, be it God or Justice or the Unitarian Universalist movement, strengthens us.  

Our people are thirsty for spirituality.  I've done a lot of writing over the years on blogs, and have had three articles in the UU World, and out of all that writing the one piece that people keep talking to me about and writing me about is the piece about doodling as a spiritual practice.  It was startling to me that this is what people connected to most out of everything I've written, but it spoke to people on this level of a need for spirituality.  

Phil Lund draws from Gil Stafford in listing four techniques from spiritual direction:

  • The Leader as the Steward from Sacred Safety
  • The Leader as Holy Listener
  • The Leader as Advocate of Silence
  • The Leader as Wisdom Teacher
I have no disagreement with these.  I would add the Leader as Advocate of Holy Noise, too.  "Spiritually Grounded" for me is being enhanced by seeing the joy in a baby's cry during worship and the laughter and squeals of children in social hour.  It's also about the noise of voices raised in song or chant.  Many of my most mystical moments in life have been moments of music.  We need time for silence, and we need time for noise, too.

I would also add the Leader as Advocate for Multigenerational Experience.  I remember one moment in college when I saw a parent and child walking across the campus, and I realized that I hadn't seen a child in weeks, maybe months.  It's too easy for all our lives to get so tightly focused inward.  Church is one of the most intergenerational places in our lives.  Our social groups outside of church are often grouped by age, and outside of families, church is one place where the very young and the very old and all those in the middle come together.  As someone in the middle, I value these connections with the youth and the elders in our congregations.  There's a reason the Triple Goddess is not just one of the three but is Maiden, Mother, and Crone.  Seeing our lives in the patterns of the generations connects us with something larger.

Lastly a note about safety.  It is very important for our churches to be safe places, yes.  I think it's good for us to have strong policies in place for the safety of our children and our adults.  Our congregations need to be places with standards of protection in place.  But we need to know that sometimes that safety will be shattered by forces beyond our control, and when it does we stand or show up on the side of Love.  And while we strive for safety, being a spiritually grounded leader also means being not governed by fear.  We can't let fear for our safety keep us from marching in a Pride parade or hanging a Black Lives Matter banner, any more than we can let fear for our children's safety keep them from going to school or gradually increasing their independence as they grow into adults.  So being a spiritually grounded leader means stewarding safety while balancing fear with the values of independence, justice, and trying bold new ideas, as well. 

More On What We Have Learned

For 45* years now, I have been in white movements and organizations, both political and religious, that have been very anxious because black people took no interest in them. I have favored, in succession, most dead-end strategies to change that fact, and repeated every excuse and rationalization ever offered for their failure.

My experience is not special; almost every white progressive has had the same experiences over and over again. (45 years of experience or 1 year 45 times?) We have assumed a natural alliance between the movements for black liberation and the movements for progressive reform, but it's an assumption, a possibility, but not a fact.

It pains me no end to see Unitarian Universalist leaders enthusiastically endorse Bernie Sanders as he makes the same assumptions that we should know from our own experience are fatal to the cause.

Increasing the political power of working class and middle class people will not bring about an end to systemic racism. Almost every great social reform from the New Deal on has helped working class white people more than African Americans, and often increased the wealth gap between them, as a result. Its painful to see race-neutral reforms be proposed without recognition of that history.

It is not true that curtailing the political power of the billionaires will empower African Americans. Systemic racism has a powerful constituency among white people of all classes. Its painful to see that ignored, or discounted.

It is not true that the character and personal history of a leader will determine the character of those the leader leads, anymore than a fired-up UU anti-racist minister will determine how a particular congregation acts. Its painful to see that ignored.

We know that white movements (and churches) rarely become multiracial by attraction, no matter how shiny they are. Building a cross-racial entity takes very deliberate and race-conscious efforts at building new leadership structures. It is painful to see UU's seem to forget this, and assume that large numbers of black voters will be attracted to Bernie down the road because of his anti-billionaire rhetoric.

Frankly, it is painful to see UU's who support a Sanders campaign that doesn't seen to understand intersectionality at all. The gap between black voters and the Sanders campaign is not because black voters don't understand class politics in the USA; it is because the Sanders campaign doesn't understand the politics of race in the USA.

I am not saying that Clinton is superior to Sanders about these progressive illusions. But I take seriously that it seems that African American voters are more inclined to support her than Sanders. They know their interests and options better than I do.

Now, I am told by some people that I trust, that the Sanders campaign might well overcome these problems. After all, Obama started out as a candidate with a base most in the white progressive movements, and then attracted the enthusiastic support of African American voters. Of course, Obama is black himself. There may also be a generational split among African American voters as there has been among whites Democrats. Time will tell; the great thing about the future is that it has happened yet.

*I am not counting from birth, but from when I graduated from college.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Bernie Sanders Type

I am not saying that Bernie Sanders is a bad guy. If he is the nominee, believe me I will work for him. But if he wins the nomination without the support of African American voters and middle aged women, it won't be worth much, and it won't matter what I do.

I know Bernie by type, because I ,too, am Bernie: a white male radical who has
labored in the vineyards of progressive change in the USA since the days of college. There were quite a few of us. Some of us became academics; some of us went into local politics (like Bernie); some of us became ministers; some of us went into software; some of us became farmers. Some of us were scoundrels,, but most of us were good guys.

But we all had a blind spot. We were powered by our passion and by our analytical ability. We had an analysis. We could get to the core of the problems with our government and economy and we could describe them in crushing detail.

We could explain why half-way measures and milquetoast reforms would never solve them.

We were very, very good at being able to explain how voting for a Democrat wouldn't do any good. (You're welcome, Richard Nixon.)

No, our analysis was that we needed a Revolution. We could not see, though, that our analysis was not anywhere near enough to actually organize anybody.

Our Blind Spot: We thought if we could fit the oppression and exploitation of African Americans, women, gays, and everyone else, into our analysis, those people would see us as their leaders.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Some Things UU's Have Learned.

Unitarian Universalists have been in school about race and racism for quite a while, now. As we have confronted what seems like the unbearable whiteness of our being, we have learned some things that I think are useful to apply to the Clinton/Sanders divide. We have direct experience with the questions and controversies at the heart of the most vexing issue in the 2016 Democratic nomination fight: how to unite people of color, especially African Americans who are the most loyal Democratic voters, with white liberals and progressives, both female and male, into a winning electoral coalition.

1. Marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. is not a verification of one's anti-racism. Unitarian Universalism could not believe that after Selma and the death of James Reeb, that anyone would not immediately see our steadfast commitment to racial equity, or would experience racism in our churches and congregations.

2. Racism is not a secondary issue which will get solved along the way of dealing with other issues. Racism in UULand was not going to go away because we energized our music programs, or started saying "amen" when we liked what the preacher said. Racism does not go away in congregations that have more working class white people in them. Racism must be confronted directly.

3. You confront racism in part by amplifying the voices of people of color. You respect what they say in that you listen carefully and openly. You build relationships. You building new circles of leadership. White people do not know best how to fight racism.

4. It doesn't matter what the preacher says if the people in the pews enact the same hierarchies in their social interactions. The number one way that white people assert dominance in social interaction is by assuming that they already know what people of color want, and why they want it.

5. When people of color avoid a white-led organization, the problem is with the white-led organization, not with the people of color. How long did white UU's explain away the whiteness of our congregations by saying that African Americans were "too emotional" for our kind of worship?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Report from UUA Task Force on Covenanting to UUA Board

I have been serving on a little task force called forth by Jim Key and chaired by Susan Ritchie on reimagining the UUA organizing principles and methods. It's all very blue-sky and out there, but it has been a chance to step back and re-think that which seems permanent and unchangeable. The task force has met a couple of times and read some things together.  Yesterday, Rev. Ritchie presented our very first report to the Board, a kind of progress report showing what we are thinking about.

I have reprinted the report below, with some trepidation. My observation is that most UU's are very much in favor of changing the UUA in general, but respond to even the smallest suggestion of a particular change with great suspicion. Even redesigning a logo can generate a lot of negative reaction. I think lots of people really want a well-hidden and barely noticeable change that will generate a lot of money, plenty of new members, and a way to resolve the humanist-theist debate that brings peace and lets them win.

So, take a deep breath, remember that this is just some exploratory thinking, and think about this:

Monday, January 18, 2016

Implications of the UUA Presidential Search Process

1. UU Populism should be over.

Previous UU Presidential elections have often been framed in populist terms. UU Populism imagines that some group of UU's are the powerful insiders and the rest of us are on the outside looking in. The reason why UUism is somehow failing is that the "insiders" are clinging to old ways, old methods, and old theologies. So, once it becomes clear who is the candidate of the "insiders", then you know who to vote for. The Morales/Hallman election was eventually cast in such terms.

That populist frame for the election assumes that the powerful elite feels entitled to the UUA Presidency and has put forward a candidate out of that entitlement. The process by which the candidates come forward is hidden.

[The irony is that lots of people have lots of opinions about who that elite really is. Is it the big donors? The large church ministers? The UUA staff? The old New Englanders? The Humanists? The Social Justice Warriors? The self-selected GA Junkies?]

The Presidential Search Process refutes that populist assumption about where the candidates come from. Everybody you could think of, and many you would not, was suggested, invited to step forward, and then carefully vetted by a group of conscientious UU's in a long process that resulted in these two nominees.

No hidden cabal of elitists put forward one candidate; no plucky band of rebels put forward the other one. This isn't episode IV.

2. Representation at the top is no longer the key issue. The theme that "we never had a UUA President of this identity" is closely linked to the populist view of UU politics. The thought has been that the hidden leadership development process of the elites fails to bring forward leaders of diverse identities.

But that isn't the way it works now. The nominees have been chosen by a conscientious and diverse group of respected people. I think that we can trust, at least for now, that they have done their best to be open to all potential sources of leadership.

Unless there is a self-nominated male candidate who emerges, we will have the first female President. I don't think that is the result of the Search Committee alone. There has been a widespread consensus on that for while. My impression is that many men stepped back. We won't know whether that was true until the Search Committee makes public its process after the election is over.

The result of the Search Process is that we have two qualified candidates. We have the opportunity for an extensive discussion of the future of Unitarian Universalism. The candidates have the opportunity to start to show leadership now in casting their vision, uniting people behind it and challenging us to focus on the far horizon.

The election should turn on how they lead us now, not on our projections about who they are and who they represent in our imagined UU landscape.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Slowing My Roll

The Rev. Sue Phillips (Left) and the Rev. Alison Miller (Right)

The UU Presidential Nominating Committee has announced its two nominees: Sue Phillips and Alison Miller. I know Sue well and worked with her when I served a church in New England. She would make a great UU President.

I only know Allison Miller enough to embarrass myself by confusing her and her name with other UU ministers who have the same first name. Would she make a great UU President? Probably. After all, nearly everyone you would think of (and many you would not) was recommended to the Search Committee, given a chance to step forward and given careful consideration if they were interested. After a judicious process these are the two they chose. So I have to assume the best.

I urge my friends to take it easy on endorsements too early. I am not criticizing anyone who has made one, but I think there is little value in them at this point. I suspect that they mostly reflect the networks of affection and experience that are already in place.

We have a long time to decide, and a long campaign in which the candidates, and ourselves, have a chance to talk about the future of Unitarian Universalism. I hope that all of us will grow through the discussion.

How are we to respond to the inevitable divisions that will occur in our congregations as the social movements of the day: Movement for Black Lives, Climate Justice, Reproductive Justice, Immigrant Justice, GLBTQIA rights and recognition (especially the T), Minimum Wage etc. call us forth?

What's the UUA supposed to be doing? What do the candidates think about the possibility of the UUA providing more practical services to congregations?

How do they define the job? Inspirational leader? Administrative Supervisor? CEO?

What's economic and financial strategy for liberal religion given that our understanding of congregational polity has created structures that cannot produce the income we need for expansion and growth?

You know that there are more issues than this. And this election is a time when we will discuss them all, I hope.

I'm slowing my roll. I'm not choosing until real and substantive differences between the candidates become clear.

Let this season of discernment begin.....

And Good Luck and Good Will to both Rev. Phillips and Rev. Miller !