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 !

Saturday, January 09, 2016

From the past

Rev. Bob Schade in 1976
My brother recently gave me the original manuscript of my father's last sermon to the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown, Ohio. It is from 1970.

It was not the last sermon he gave as their settled minister. He had been unceremoniously dumped as their settled minister 15 years earlier in 1955. But our family, after a decent interval, had rejoined that congregation and my father, by then a steelworker, had preached on occasion there as a "retired" minister/member.

In 1970, the steel industry was shedding jobs and my parents had taken the hint and were relocating to Arizona. And so, my father preached his last sermon in Youngstown; he titled it "One More Try."

The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown, Ohio
Is there anything new under the sun?

Near the bottom on the first page of the sermon, Dad took off after "individualism." And one point, he says
"I would like to propose that a complete reliance of the 19th century liberal philosophy of individualism has proven unrealistic. Much of the dislocation that has given rise to a poverty class, and segregation of economic and other disadvantaged groups has resulted from our adherence to the tenet of individualism long, long after it has become anachronistic."
Now I had thought that this kind of critique of individualism dated from the Robert Bellah address to the General Assembly sometime in the last 1990's. These ideas were current among us in 1970. (If my father was talking about it, it was already in the water. My father was not deeply connected to UU professional circles at this point in his life. He was, as I have said, a steel worker who no longer attended conferences and assemblies. I don't think he was on the cutting edge.)

Rev. Robert Schade then made a passionate and detailed critique of the hold of individualism over the social thought of the day, and saw it as working to hold people back.  "Today, slavery has not been abolished, it has changed in form, frequently it has presented the tantalizing appearance of freedom where no freedom exists." 

And he said that it plagued our churches as well, citing a leading member of the church who referred to the church as a "club." "His view of the church, if widely shared doom the church to permanent ineffectuality." 
"The need is for all of us to glory in the our unity of spirit, in our common faith in man [sic] and dedication to building a better community and a better world in which the children of men [sic] shall not suffer under those harsh ways which thwart the hopes and dreams of a better life." 
It is interesting that he does not contrast "individualism" with "community" as we do so often today.
"... if this attitude [individualism] is not balanced by a deep and abiding love and affection for one another this church and no other church can exist as an effective instrument for good."
Not "community," but "love."

He ends by quoting the Apostle John's final words: "Little Children Love One Another."

There is very little that is new under the sun. Far from being enthralled with individualism, Unitarian Universalist ministers have been pointing out its oppressive consequences for at least 45 years, and probably much longer. If my dad was in any way typical, UU ministers have been talking about 'deep and abiding love' for that long and longer, as well. I think that liberal religion, in its efforts to always be on the cutting edge, tends to think that every new generation is making a bigger break with the past than is warranted. I suspect that questioning individualism is more our tradition than individualism itself.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

New Leaders: Mission -- 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 blog series about their bullet points.  The blog posts will be coming out about every-other week, and the first one, on "Mission," is now available.  It's worth noting that theses are qualities of the new Leader not just the new Minister
1.  Mission driven: Leaders know why they are active, and how they are seeking to make a difference in the world; they understand that congregational life is not about making people “happy,” but by knowing how the congregation is called to serve their community, and are then faithful to that calling.
 In his exploration of this point, Ian Evison rightly names one of the tensions as being between visionaries and realists, and the good leader is one who can hold the tension between the two.  We often assume that what the "new era" of congregations needs is innovative ministry, but being visionary and innovative is not the same as being mission-driven.  And there's a good case to be made that innovative ministers is not what we want.  Take, for example, the article "The Church Needs More Innovative Pastors like MTV Needs More Twerking*" by Patrick Scriven.  In it, the author explains a bell curve of people accepting an innovation, and shows that clergy are needed to be in the gap space where we understand and hear the innovators and early adopters, but hear the needs of the early majority and can translate to them and influence them.  A clergy person who is too far ahead of their congregation, too far from the majority on the adaptation of new ideas, may lose their following. 

This is where I think Patrick Scriven is exactly right.  We need clergy to listen to the innovators, maybe have a foot in the early adopter camp, but bridge the gap.  And we need strong lay leaders or other staff to champion innovation.  What our congregations need for the "new era" is strong congregational leaders who understand that a church needs to be Mission-driven, and that a congregation serves the larger community and is not about making people happy.  That leader then needs to work harmoniously with the minister who can do the work of bringing the congregation to understand this mission. If we don't understand the reluctance to change, and ignore the fact that 3/4 of the people haven't gotten on board with a new initiative yet, then we're going to have struggle.  This is the work of the ministry -- not always being the bold visionary, but sometimes being the person who knows how to bridge the gap.

It's also important for laity to understand that for clergy, being in this mission-driven space is a tightrope walk.  On the one hand, we quite often understand ourselves as mission-driven, answering to a larger calling of serving communities and our movement.  On the other hand, a congregation calls a minister to minister to them, to serve their needs, which often looks like "making people happy" in the eyes of a board or committee on ministry.  People unhappy with their minister complain about the minister, those complaints go up a chain of command, and even if the minister isn't explicitly ordered to address the complaints, they can pile up or lead to a feeling of walking on eggshells.  It's an easy job for someone who has been around to name names of ministers who felt their ministry ended because of a handful of people who fought against a new direction the minister was taking.  The work of ministers needs to be partly about educating the congregation that their purpose is mission-driven, not about personal satisfaction, but this needs to be the work of other leaders, as well, particularly in regards to supporting the minister and ministry. 

When a congregation turns its focus from making its members happy to serving the larger community, there will be people upset.  And there will be people who leave.  And they may not say it's because of the change in focus and direction.  They may say that they felt like they were insulted by something, or that something was done wrong, or that they dislike the preaching style.  If you watch your back door too closely, afraid to let anyone slip out of it, and worry too much about each member's unhappiness with the system, you erode the confidence in taking a bold direction. 

I'm not saying to throw away "green eye-shades" completely in favor of "rose-colored glasses."  You need to be aware of the risks you're taking, and to take them carefully and with consideration.  Jumping radically into each new idea without foresight and planning is certainly as dangerous as stagnation.  But listen to those early adopters as well as the innovators and yes, ultimately this statement is true:
Mission driven: Leaders know why they are active, and how they are seeking to make a difference in the world; they understand that congregational life is not about making people “happy,” but by knowing how the congregation is called to serve their community, and are then faithful to that calling.