Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Repel Less Newcomers

Are visitors to Unitarian Universalist blogs visitors to Unitarian Universalism? I know that some folks who know me but don't know Unitarian Universalism are now seeing what they can find out about it from our blogs.

When I asked people what they like about Unitarian Universalism or more precisely what their congregations do right I'm mostly interested in best practices and in hearing people's enthusiasm for their churches and Unitarian Universalism. I really was not commenting on the whole Fix Unitarian Universlism discussion going on in the UU Blogosphere. In general, I think that discussion has been better in tone than many of us often get. If I were to take the time to refer to Robert Bellah and how that conversation reflected the tendency of liberals to be more focused on questions of process than substantive justice. I'm personally much more concerned about people of color feeling that there is no future for them in the UU ministry or the stories I hear from people who feel like their congregation has no place for them since they have been laid off and can't make their pledge than I am about the UUA Washington Office or anything else that goes on at 25 Beacon.

Mostly I have been thinking of a different online Unitarian Universalist that I am a part of and my feeling that our interactions there are roughly equivalent to the foyer or social hall of a congregation. I took the line from Ghostbusters II "Egon... you're scaring the straights..." because I could see newcomers starting to flee from the way people were acting.

I recognize the inherent dilemna. On the one hand, the web is a very handy way for us to have intra-UU conversations with all of our buzzwords and bickering over minute details of process. But for many, our blogs will be the first impression people get of Unitarian Universalism.

For these people I say again, Unitarian Universalists are the sons and daughters of those that struggled for abolition, public education, suffrage, human treatment for the mentally ill, civil rights and peace. We are also the heirs of a faith based on reason, freedom and love. There is room for you and you are welcome. Please contact any one of us or your local congregation if you have any questions. We tend to be a little sheepish about sounding evangelical, but really we love to talk about Unitarian Universalism even if we might wait for you to ask us first.

Monday, January 30, 2006

New Sojourners in my mailbox

"The church is only the church when it exists for others."

The February 2006 issue of Sojourners arrived in the mail today (along with a "Professional Clergy Dept." solicitation from The Christian Century).

I found at least two must read articles for me in this issue. First is a piece commemorating the 100th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who led the Confessing Church against the Nazis in Germany.

"The church is only the church when it exists for others." When the Confessing Church did not intervene for Jews beyond its own membership, for gays and lesbians persecuted by the Nazis, for the euthanized, Roma ("gypsies") and imprisoned socialists and communists, in that moment it forfeited being a church.
In a word, the "most understanding people" did not take a stand because of their deep-seated Protestant acceptance of state authority in the traditional church-state alliance. As Bonhoeffer wrote Sutz in another letter, "An end must also finally be put to the theologically founded reservation regarding the action of the state- all of it is only fear. 'Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves' (Proverbs 31:8)-who in the church still knows that this is the minimum commandment of the Bible in such times?"

While our sources and reasoning may differ somewhat, isn't this still a key demand of Unitarian Universalism? People can wail all they want about politics from the pulpit, but I challenge anyone to find a Unitarian Universalism absent this committment that is still meaningful or worthy of our inheritance of two proud traditions. We are the sons and daughters of people who fought for public education, abolition, suffrage, civil rights, human rights and peace. This is no time for us to hide our light in a bushel or bury our talents in the ground.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

"Egon... You''re scaring the straights."

There are weeks that I miss church (let's say one of the kids is sick or I am out of town) and I stil end up able to read blogs. I live a pretty healthy distance from my nearest congregation and consider myself a member of both my nearest congregation and the Church of the Larger Fellowship. Even when I can't make it to church in person I still really like to participate in the Sunday sharing of joys and concerns with CLF.

Anyhow, when I miss church and read UU blogs all too often I get the impression that there is so little love for Unitarian Universalism among my co-religionists. Fortunately there seem to always be a few cheery first year seminarians, a couple energized lay leaders, and a few religious professionals who manage to keep it positive and remind me that what I keep reading about online is the same faith that I see in my church.

My congregation is tiny, but energetic and growing. It's vibrant and theologically diverse, if mostly "humanist' in orientation. A big Sunday might be 35 adults and 15 kids. But last year it might have been 20 adults and 4 kids.

After the service today I was asked about UU history and how we got from the Divinity School Address to where we are today and how Transylvanian Unitarians might see things differently. This is fairly typical.

Last year I gave up snark for lent. It's a litle early this year, but in the spirit of Peter Morales' Lay Leader Drivetime Essay "Repel Fewer Newcomers" I'd really like to see your suggestions for what is right about Unitarian Universalism. Please let me know what your congregation does really well or what you like about Unitarian Universalism.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Reflections on another industrial disaster

One day my travels brought me through the town of Mt. Olive, Illinois. Mt. Olive, Illinois is the home of the the Union Miners Cemetry and the Mother Jones Memorial. I did not know this at the time. Along the side of the highway, a spray painted piece of plywood said “Mother Jones Memorial Exit Mt. Olive.” I managed to convince my companions that yes we absolutely did need to stop.

The Union Miners Cemtery is a staggering experience, a library of the dead from mining explosions and the massacres of strikers. And yet people want to act surprised whenever more miners are killed.

There are those who look down their nose at those ancients who believed that some form of human sacrifice was required to make the universe run, but who are oblivious to the fact that we live off the fat of an industrial system that requires the death of a number of workers every year. In the US alone their are 70,000 deaths from work related illnesses and injuries every year.

Most Unitarian Universalists are safely removed from this unpleasant aspect of our sytem of producing goods and services. They can safely lecture those who choose to boycott sweatshop goods at WalMart about their shortsightedness and try to mock the excesses of those who call for a different system of global trade.

We have fed you all for a thousand years by Utah Phillips

We have fed you all for a thousand years
And you hail us still unfed,
Though there's never a dollar of all your wealth
But marks the workers' dead.
We have yielded our best to give you rest
And you lie on crimson wool.
Then if blood be the price of all your wealth,
Good God! We have paid it in full!

There is never a mine blown skyward now
But we're buried alive for you.
There's never a wreck drifts shoreward now
But we are its ghastly crew.
Go reckon our dead by the forges red
And the factories where we spin.
If blood be the price of your cursed wealth,
Good God! We have paid it in!

We have fed you all a thousand years-
For that was our doom, you know,
From the days when you chained us in your fields
To the strike a week ago.
You have taken our lives, and our babies and wives,
And we're told it's your legal share,
But if blood be the price of your lawful wealth,
Good God! We bought it fair!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I heard a song on the radio from Dave Carter and Tracy Grammar and it reminded me a lot of Dan Harper's exploration of the idea that all theology is local. I'm always torn between the centrality of home and place and the idea that many of us lead increasingly post-geographic lives. Some folks have expressed confusion over Dan's use of the term "post modern." Sometimes I find it more useful to use the term "context specific" rather than the vague and perilous post modern. It's a technical way of saying the same thing. The idea of the post modern is that "high" modern theories claimed to explain everything, everywhere in totality.

The song I heard to day does a reasonable job of showing both the positive and negative aspects of a strictly local view that is well grounded in a particular place.

Ordinary Town

© 2001 Dave Carter / Dave Carter Music (BMI)

common cool, he was a proud young fool in a kick-ass wal-mart tie
rippin down the main drag, trippin on the headlights rollin by
in the early dawn when the cars were gone, did he hear the master's call?
in the five-and-dime did he wake and find he was only dreamin after all, 'cause

this is an ordinary town and the prophet stands apart
this is an ordinary town and we brook no wayward heart
and every highway leads you prodigal back home
to the ordinary sidewalks you were born to roam

rock of ages, love contagious, shine the serpent fire
so sang the sage of sixteen summers in the upstairs choir
so sang the old dog down the street beside his wailing wall
"go home, go home" the mayor cried when jesus came to city hall, 'cause

this is an ordinary town, and the prophet stands alone
this is an ordinary town and we crucify our own
and every highway leads you prodigal again
to the ordinary houses you were brought up in

raised on hunches and junk food lunches and punch-drunk ballroom steps
you get to believing you're even-steven with the kids at fast track prep
so you dump your bucks on a velvet tux and you run to join the dance
but your holy shows and the romans know you're just a child of
circumstance, 'cause

this is an ordinary town and the prophet has no face
this is an ordinary town and the seasons run in place
and every highway leads you prodigal and true
to the ordinary angels watchin over you

Another Dave and Tracy song that I have mentioned before has a similar sense of place but less ambivalence:

Gentle Arms Of Eden

© 2000 Dave Carter / Dave Carter Music (BMI)

on a sleepy endless ocean when the world lay in a dream
there was rhythm in the splash and roll, but not a voice to sing
so the moon shone on the breakers and the morning warmed the waves
till a single cell did jump and hum for joy as though to say

this is my home, this is my only home
this is the only sacred ground that i have ever known
and should i stray in th dark night alone
rock me goddess in the gentle arms of eden

then the day shone bright and rounder til the one turned into two
and the two into ten thousand things, and old things into new
and on some virgin beach head one lonesome critter crawled
and he looked about and shouted out in his most astonished drawl

this is my home ...

then all the sky was buzzin and the ground was carpet green
and the wary children of the wood went dancin in between
and the people sang rejoicing when the field was glad with grain
this song of celebration from their cities on the plain

this is my home ...

now there's smoke across the harbor, and there's factories on the shore
and the world is ill with greed and will and enterprise of war
but i will lay my burden in the cradle of your grace
and the shining beaches of your love and the sea of your embrace

this is my home ...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Out of the mouths of Daves

Letterman the other night with Bill O'Reilly:

Letterman: Yeah, so why are we there in the first place? I agree to you, with you that we have to support the troops. They are there, they are the best and the brightest of this country. [audience applause] There's no doubt about that. And I also agree that now we're in it it's going to take a long, long time. People who expect it's going to be solved and wrapped up in a couple of years, unrealistic, it's not going to happen. However, however, that does not eliminate the legitimate speculation and concern and questioning of Why the Hell are we there to begin with?

O'Reilly: If you want to question that, and then revamp an intelligence agency that's obviously flawed, the CIA, okay. But remember, MI-6 in Britain said the same thing. Putin's people in Russia said the same thing, and so did Mubarak's intelligence agency in Egypt.

Letterman: Well then that makes it all right?

O'Reilly: No it doesn't make it right.

Letterman: That intelligence agencies across the board makes it alright that we're there?

O'Reilly: It doesn't make it right.

Letterman: See, I'm very concerned about people like yourself who don't have nothing but endless sympathy for a woman like Cindy Sheehan. Honest to Christ.

[audience applause]

O'Reilly: No, I'm sorry.

Letterman: Honest to Christ.

When I saw this at first I could'nt believe what I was seeing. And then I tried to think of what it reminded me of:

Delivered 9 June 1954 during the Army-McCarthy Hearings in Washington, D.C.:

Welch: And if I did, I beg your pardon. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator.

McCarthy: Let's, let's --

Welch: You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

Sometimes I have to wonder when a goof like Letterman can be so honest and to the point and even some of my smart UU brothers and sisters have to be so obtuse.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


I was reading a James Luther Adams paper on "Sin and Salvation" in An Examined Faith(which I had the great pleasure of discussing with George Beach at GA last year) and I got to thinking that there must be some other useful reads in some of the more difficult areas of theology from a Unitarian or Universalist perspective. I would be particularly interested in anything on soteriology, eschatology, theodicy and pneumatology. I have found http://www.religion-online.org/ very useful for Tillich texts and also have found some informative texts at http://www.jesusradicals.org/ (particularly Ellul and Tolstoy). I tend towards a social gospel eschatology, influenced by Tolstoy and the Catholic Worker movement.

I feel like a lot of times people rehash christology and the trinity endlessly at the expense of other parts of theology.

So any suggestions for texts, especially online texts?