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Monday, January 3, 2005

So much for 'Con Con: The Movie.'

Update 1.6.05: I've added a clarification to my comments at the end of this post.

Unitarian Universalism watchers may have received an e-mail from the denomination's Youth Office on December 15 announcing the end of support for "Con Con," the annual continental conference of YRUU, the denomination's youth movement. (I'm going to do my best to get through this post with a minimum of acronyms and euphemisms, but we are talking here about the most acronym-happy organization in all of disorganized religion.) Earlier this year I had suggested that "Con Con: The Movie" could be the Unitarian Universalist companion to the parody of Evangelical adolescence in "Saved," but it looks like my proposed film missed its moment. Con Con is no more, and you'll have to forgive me if I don't shed a tear. Don't worry, though: The opportunities for parody have not disappeared entirely.

Any other institution might have been able to say that a poorly attended, drugged up, chaotic conference for a handful of spoiled kids that didn't meet institutional objectives and consistently went over budget wasn't worth the money and effort it was spending on the conference, but we're talking about YRUU here: There must be a better reason than any of these to kill the conference.

The Youth Office (which consists of four young adults) justified their decision like this:

In the end, we decided that what we have done has been to identify (as described in this letter) one of the most expensive, time-consuming, unaccountable, racist, classist, unsafe, and unnecessary institutions in all of continental YRUU and UU youth ministry, and to stop supporting it. We have done this without putting the burden of identifying it and working to reform/eliminate it on the communities who have been marginalized by our past support of it. We consider this a case of "stepping up" as anti-oppressive allies who are in a position to make positive change, and not of "stepping on" as oppressors. [emphasis in original]

One could say many things about these intriguing sentences (and about the rest of the Youth Office letter), but I know you're clever enough to read the whole thing and draw most of the inescapable conclusions. I'll try very delicately to point out one fundamental paradox in it: In order to put even more emphasis on "anti-racism/anti-oppression" training programs — which the in-group of denominational YRUU leaders spends much of its time attending — the Youth Office has pulled the plug on a conference that it deemed too elitist. And yet, if you read down through the letter, you'll notice that the Youth Office isn't just expected to serve the needs and interests of an elite group — oops, beg your pardon, a diverse and multicultural group of youth-empowered youth leaders — known as the YRUU Steering Committee. It's also expected to serve local congregational youth ministries. This expectation (as the letter points out) comes from the UUA's Board of Trustees and presumably from the UUA's administration rather than from YRUU. Meeting both sets of expections — from the youth Steering Committee and from the adult UUA Board — is a lot of work for a staff of four talented and hardworking people.

My own experience as a youth advisor in one of the largest Unitarian Universalist congregations left me with the distinct impression that congregations are almost entirely on their own when it comes to youth ministry. A few kids get excited about district and denominational programs, but as those programs have become more and more identified with a specific political-ideological agenda, they become increasingly isolated from the needs and interests of the local groups. It's a situation that's bound to generate tension. There may be great reasons for directing most of the staff support and volunteer leadership into anti-racism programming — the fact that the General Assembly, the UUA Board, the UUA Administration, and the leadership of YRUU have all made anti-racism/anti-oppression "work" a priority, for example — but the truth is that the focus on these training programs makes it harder to focus on the resources that congregational youth ministry requires. I don't think these are mutually exclusive goals; I'm simply pointing out that the tension exists and won't be going away.

For hints at how widespread these tensions might already be, check out the first section of the minutes from the 2004 Youth Council meeting that took place the week before the ill-fated final Con Con. Watch for references to "AR" — "antiracism" — and conflict with local congregations. Much of this conflict has to do with problems associated with poor adult supervision at youth conferences, and some of it is just the good-old-fashioned generation gap, but some of it is clearly tension among teens themselves about YRUU's intensifying emphasis on the ideology of anti-racism. Other acronyms you'll need to know: "LDC" is "leadership development conference"; "SDC" is "spirituality development conference"; "DYSC" is "district youth steering committee." More than any resistance to "anti-racism," however, you'll notice just how fragile most district and denominational youth programs really are. It's not a picture of institutional health. Happily, YRUU leaders and the UUA Board know this and have started planning "Common Ground III" to review YRUU. The first "Common Ground" essentially dissolved YRUU's predecessor in 1981; the second created YRUU in 1982. Another major transformation may be on the horizon.

Update 1.6.05: Six months ago, the YRUU Steering Committee announced: "The governing body of YRUU is considering calling a new 'Common Ground' meeting, similar to the meetings that created YRUU over 20 years ago." (Scroll down to "Common Ground Survey," 6.7.2004.) "Considering" does not mean what I said above, however. I wrote that "YRUU leaders and the UUA Board . . . have started planning 'Common Ground III'." That's not actually where things stand right now, and talk about "Common Ground" may misrepresent the intentions of the people involved. So here's some clarification, based on a closer reading of some of the materials and conversations with a few people who know a lot more than I do.

A letter last summer from the Steering Committee and President Sinkford notes that "Youth Council decided that it needed more information and more dialogue before making a recommendation regarding another Common Ground." I understand that this means at least two important things: First, although conversations are underway about how to expand and strengthen youth ministry within Unitarian Universalism, those conversations aren't focused entirely on YRUU the way that Common Ground I and II were. As the letter acknowledges, YRUU is in nowhere near the shape that LRY was when it was disbanded. Talk of another "Common Ground," however, brings up anxieties about the wholesale transformation of YRUU that are probably not merited.

So, although many conversations are underway about how to improve Unitarian Universalist youth ministry, I jumped to a conclusion about what sort of transformation is currently in process.

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 3 January 2005 at 5:56 PM

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Jim Sechrest:

January 4, 2005 09:49 AM | Permalink for this comment

Con Con is getting short shrift in my opinion. I'm glad that you pointed out that the youth themselves are not fully embracing the UUA staff emphasis on Anti-racism programming. (I think this is mainly due to the fact that it has been run so poorly that it is a disaster. Don't take my word for it, see the Official YRUU site for the confessions of an anti-racism workshop leader.)

What I'd like to stress is that one of the reasons that the UUA staff gives for dropping support of Con Con is the youth's lack of support for these poorly run anti-racism workshops that the UUA staff has foisted upon the youth.

This breaks rule number one at Con Con, which is that the youth, not the UUA staff, shall be the force behind the conference. The staff was paid only to be logistical support, not programming dictators. Being in charge of our own programming is what UUism is all about.

Elitism is another issue raised, but it is a "red herring". GA is another conference that falls into the category of being attended only by a small subset of UUs who are rich enough to afford it, in fact, GA is designed for the elite of the UUA, just look who goes. It is the pot calling the kettle black.

Drugs are a false issue. Drugs and sex happen where people go. Just go to GA for an example. Alcohol is a drug. Drugs and sex are easy problems to attack youth programs with because youth are minors. This issue has routinely been used to upset the apple cart that is youth cons for reasons that are mainly about exerting control upon the youth. However, the truth is that these things are simply against the rules at Con Con, and if someone is caught doing them, they can be thrown out of the con. So, it is not the real issue. But, do you think that anyone might take that risk? It will always be a low level issue. But, it is a smoke screen issue, hiding what is central to the tensions within the UUA about Con Con.

The real issue is that the UU youth conference culture, with it's emphasis on intentional community, a UU sense of spirituality, and a real commitment to democracy is simply OUTSIDE of the mainstream of what Corporate UUA Headquarters is focused on: the UU Church on Sunday Culture. Folks who are from the UU Church on Sunday culture just don't get what UU youth and young adult cons are about. This is the root cause of all our troubles with the UUA and UU Church on Sunday folks.

Remember, the Youth Office decision regarding Con Con comes with the "support" of the "UUA Administration". Is it a coincidence that the UUA Administration is simultaneously hosting a Common Ground III in order to impose what is important to the UUA Administration on the youth and also is slashing youth housing at GA 2005 to keep so many youth from participating in GA 2005? I think not.

What is really happening is a failure of the UUA Administration to care about what is really important for the UU youth and UU young adults. This is nothing less than a failure to live up to the UU Purposes and Principles if the issue revolves around the UU youth and young adult conference culture.

The UUA staff believes that they have some incredible ability to know what is best for UU youth without even going to a UU youth con.

The UUA Administration does not care about the grass roots emphasis on deep spirituality and close community, and democracy, at Con Con, because it has no category to fit these things into. The UUA Administration and UUA district staff people and even local RE directors are simply clueless about what it is that is having so profound an impact on the lives of our UU youth, even long after they leave high school.

Yet, they are in insisting on taking it over and remaking it in their own image of the UU Church on Sunday Culture. It is just a profound lack of understanding and respect for some truly meaningful work that is being done mainly by lay leaders in the UU youth and young adult movement.

Con Con is Uncommon Ground. It is sacred ground. It has a has a strong impact on youth cons in every district and so reaches many more youths than those who attend Con Con. It effects what is going on in the youth groups of local churches. It is also the core of the culture that has become UU Young Adult cons. This UU youth and young adult culture embodies some of the most meaningful experiences that we have ever had in our lives.

The UU youth and young adult cons are challenging what the UUA Corporate Headquarters and their District Staff are doing, with a very fresh and spontaneous way of really living out UU values, one weekend, or one week at a time, instead of just talking about it. This has a profound impact on the lives of those who are involved even outside of the cons. A few of our best leaders stay to become UU ministers and RE directors.

And, the UUA does not care. They don't care because they don't have to care. They are the UUA. They can continue to exist on the money and energy brought to the UUA from folks who did not grow up UU and are sick and tired of their old denominations.

Common Ground III will have nothing to do with supporting what the UU youth want, except for those things that are suggested by the UUA Corporate Headquarters.

What Common Ground III is about is what is best for UUA Corporate, not what is best for our UU youth, same as Common Ground I and II. How do I know? Because the UUA Corporate Headquarters has never stopped to even ask the youth what is important to them. They just don't come at this from a place of support and love. It is all about control of something that they feel should be under their control, not the youth's or even the young advisor's control, and they are worried about their image of the UUA.

But, it our flesh and blood. Job, the sufferer, could relate to our relationship with the UUA. The UUA is messing around with the very lives of hundreds of UU youth every single year while fostering a real sense that they do not respect these people in any way that might give the UUA pause to consider the impact this is having on the lives of folks who grow up UU. They look mainly at what matters to the UUA staff.

Our first answer to the UUA has been to leave the UUA in droves. But, what the entire UU young adult movement is based on is the desire of former UU youth to carve out a place for those of us who grew up UU and want to stay and change the UUA, institutionally and spiritually, to bring what is meaningful in our spiritual lives back to UUism and even UU Churches on Sunday mornings.
Because, frankly, we do not relate to UU Church Services on Sunday mornings, and we grew up UU!.

Mainly what the UUA is fighting is this internal effort by their own UU youth and UU young adults to impose themselves on the UUA while holding the UUA accountable to the UU Purposes and Principles for all UUs, even camps and conference UUs. We rock the boat. What we are asking for is to be treating with respect and as valuable people in UU circles.

So, the response of the UUA has been to try to calm the waters by stopping this movement at its very source, by changing the course of the culture of the district and continental UU youth cons, in the same way that Native Americans were forced to speak English at school. But, they have no clue at what cost this comes, and what effect it is having on our lives, and what effect this has on UUism and the UUA (which are not the same things).

Is that not worth a tear?

Jeff Wilson:

January 4, 2005 11:42 AM | Permalink for this comment

I think the old "UUA doesn't understand us hip LRY-types, they're all oppressive churchy bastards" line is getting mighty stale. I'm a young adult UU who grew up UU, and if there's one thing I can say with certainty, it's that YRUU/CUUYAN is much less representative of young UUs as a whole in their culture, viewpoints, and approach to religion than the UUA is. And that's saying something, because I'm a consistent critic of the UUA's misunderstandings of young adult issues.

Chris, I think you're essentially right when you talk about how the wider youth/young adult venues hold little appeal to most young UUs. It's very easy to prove statistically--only a very small minority of young UUs attend district or larger events, and it ain't because they're expensive or racist or any of the other smokescreen reasons given in the block quote above. Young UU experience is fundamentally congregation-based and it is the job that one's local congregation does in nurturing (or failing to do so) that largely determines whether one will continue on as an adult UU. Getting together with a handful of younger UUs from other parts of the country a couple times a year is not determinative for most youth--although there are a few people who had such awesome times at some cons that even as they've aged beyond anyone's idea of a young adult they still can't let go of their identification as such.

The anti-racism thing is a total debacle. It's gotten so bad I can't tell if it's worse in the UUA or the elite UU youth "leadership" culture. Significant elements of the youth/young adult UU "leadership" (I put this in quotes because few young UUs participate in things beyond the congregational level, fewer still vote to install these people, and they often seem far afield from the politics and preferences of average young UUs) have been so captured by anti-racism that that it almost seems to take on a cult aspect. There's certainly something fetishistic going on, but I'm not trained well enough in psychology to give it a clear name. Not that anti-racism isn't a great and important goal. But the anti-racism element in UUism is the single most disfunctional, strident, narcissistic part of contemporary UUism. Somehow, it's gone way off-track. And it tends to promote the whole young-adults-as-an-oppressed-and-misunderstood-minority mentality, which is really ridiculous. Considering how poorly we minister to non-whites, it's awful that something which started out with good intentions has mutated into such an odd farce.

RIP Con Con. Like other district/continental young UU things you were riven by cliques, self-righteousness, irresponsible behavior, and excessive navel-gazing. That doesn't mean you weren't fun for some people who will legitimately mourn your passing. And now your resources will be folded back into the cult of anti-racism, ensuring the ever-increasing drift to the lunatic fringes by the representatives of our young folks. I can sort of sympathize with the UUA for not understanding us very well, when I see what sort of impressions they must get from our "leaders."

I served for three years on the board of my large and healthy congregational youth group, the final year as president of the group. I learned a lot during those years, lessons that others who had similar experiences may also have acquired. First, UUism is local, local, local. Cons can be fun every now and then, but the extremely large majority of young UUs never attend cons, or even nearby UU congregations other than their own. This pattern is repeated on the grown-up level too, by the way. So the place to put your energy is the local Sunday School/youth group/young adult actitivies. Make the local experience (the one the average young UU encounters on a regular basis) positive, and you're making good progress toward growing a healthy, lifelong UU.

Second, focus on creating a supportive, open community. I think people who obsess over cons must suffer from oddly disfunctional local communities, and therefore they latch on to the temporary, artificial community of a con. Rather than trying to herd young UUs into a campground once or twice a year where they'll make out with/be cliquishly ignored by strangers they'll rarely see again, far better to concentrate on developing stable, safe, open youth groups. That's done by working closely with the local congregation, getting them to help fund the group, to set appropriate boundaries, guidelines, and adult advisors (as a former youth leader I will admit right up front that adult intervention often saved me and my peers from making immature decisions that would have hurt our own goals in the long run), to encourage things such as bridging and youth Sundays that promote stronger bonds with the congregation (and therefore the denomination), and to generally demonstrate that they care.

One can create an awesome local young adult community while completely ignoring the fact of a larger young UU presence in the nation. But, I do think there can be advantages to being tuned into the larger grapevine. One place I think the Youth Office got it right in their missive was the mention of places like The Mountain and Star Island, which I consider to be much superior to cons in all ways, while still offering the benefits that cons can potentially provide.

OK, this comment is getting way too long. I'm gonna cut it off. Sorry to create this kind of clutter. I think I need to just go start a specifically UU-oriented blog so that I can put comments there rather than dumping all this on other people's unsuspecting blogs! Thanks for bringing the Con Con thing to a wider audience, Chris.

Will Shetterly:

January 4, 2005 12:50 PM | Permalink for this comment

Well, not for the first time, I'm about to speak out of extreme ignorance, but if the Young UU movement is currently being directed by people who're obsessed with "antiracism," it's no wonder it's a failure. Yes, racism is still a problem in our culture, yet remarkably few political liberals seem to have noticed that the conservatives did an end run on them with Condi and Colin. The real struggle is with the privilege that comes from wealth, not race. I think most kids know that. And I fear that a great many wealthy UUs are reluctant to shift the focus from the color of skin to the color of money.

Steve Caldwell:

January 5, 2005 09:33 AM | Permalink for this comment

I'm both puzzled and concerned over the strong reaction against denominational anti-racism work. My response is available here.

Elizabeth R. Curtiss:

January 5, 2005 11:08 AM | Permalink for this comment

The vision of denominational support for youth is rigidly linked to the vision of denominational support for the formation of ministers. The youth office seems to be the last real home for Samuel Atkins Eliot's insistence (as American Unitarian Association President, 1900-1927!)on a unified corps of strong preachers who can come into those hidebound, ineffective -- if not downright clueless -- congregations, and tell them the real latest model of truth. I do not say this about the individuals on the Youth Office staff, whose personal qualities appear to exceed the limits of the mission they are offered. I say this about the idea of forming a group of kids who can "set the rest of their generation on the right path."

I do not think the issue here is "elitism" per se. It has to do with accepting the tension in federal-style government -- the districts and congregations in constant dialogue with headquarters. We certainly do need our prophetic voices, and a denomination to amplify their messages. After all, the good we have done in the world consistently and deservedly earns great praise. It has enriched the lives of many -- mostly beyond our pews.

But we also need enough staff at every level -- and well-enough positioned throughout the denomination -- to honor the pastoral needs of our youth. These needs are great, and in this economically cruel, war-torn world, continually growing. Young people today want to know how to find and preserve true love, how to live peacefully without missing the chance to stand up for real values, how to earn a living for the children they hope to have, all without losing their souls. This painful set of challenges varies sociologically -- across and within races, economic and educational levels -- but it is more important than any of those worldly details to most of our teens and young adults. The era when our youth had to worry about privilege being a lifelong spiritual burden is over. Just ask our canvass chairs about the constant search for new "big donors" as familiar ones lose their jobs! What once was our privilege is now, if we are honest, just temporary decades of good luck.

As a religious educator who used to be a parish minister, I am more and more convinced that the whole idea of "virtue" -- what does it mean to be a good person -- varies with stages in the lifespan. Political prophecy is for certain moments, made possible by previous epochs of caring for oneself and those one loves. In turn, genuine self-nourishment inspires the desire to care for others.

And here we return to the way the youth office vision can learn from progress the UUA has made since Samuel Atkins Eliot's day in the vision of ministerial formation. Our professional leaders long ago learned that prophets who do not care for themselves either burn out or succumb to unethical quick fixes -- inappropriate relationships, drugs, etc --the very same things we wish to spare our youth. So nowadays, our seminarians are told that a key part of professional preparation is laying a foundation in private life for religious service.

I do not think our youth wish to abandon prophecy, any more than the preachers and pastors who now freely claim their days and weeks off duty. The average youth just want the same honor for self-care that we now accord our paid religious leaders. It is only by laying the foundation for a stable, productive, covenanted adulthood -- now that privilege is mostly over -- that our youth will someday be able to really reshape the world in which they wish their own children and grandchildren to find, hold and give true happiness.

Thanks for the opportunity to share these thoughts.


January 5, 2005 09:27 PM | Permalink for this comment

Forgive me for being too weary to read the other long and concerned posts in their entirety. I just wanted to add my own long-ish rant. The UUA works for the member congregations, so it has every right to axe a program like Con-Con. Excuse me, but Sunday morning is when congregations gather for worship. The UUA exists to provide services to congregations. Follow the dotted line. The youth sub-culture best represented by Con-Con devotees are, in my experience, enamored of something they may think of as "grassroots spirituality" but which I tend to regard as "pseudo-therapy around a lit candle." The experience is insular and self-referential and therefore, ironically enough, totally exclusionary. What's particularly Unitarian Universalist about this group/these groups if they're not demonstrably connected to and devoted to congregational life, and in fact, if they often identify (belligerently, even) as being an alternative to it? Why *should* my congregation's UUA dues support this group?
We have indulged our youth for too long, rather than doing the hard work of mentoring them, teaching them our history and our theological tradition (which primarily happens, hello, on SUNDAY MORNINGS in CHURCH), and leading them to a deeper understanding of Unitarian Universalism than, "I have inherent worth and dignity, so you should listen to me!" Any youth or young adult who thinks they're making a contribution to UU religious life by encouraging a hostility to Sunday morning worship should re-think their loyalties. There are currently 145,000 or so UUs in the entire world, and shrinking. We don't need an incoming generation who takes pride in living outside the margins of what is already a marginal and increasingly irrelevant religious movement.

Tim Fitzgerald:

January 6, 2005 03:19 PM | Permalink for this comment

Hi, I'm a newly bridged Young Adult, now age 21, and I've spent 6 years immersed in YRUU culture on all three levels: local, district, and continental. There's a lot to talk about, and there's a lot that no one who has participated in this discussion thus far has nearly enough awareness of context to understand.

First of all, Mr. Walton's original post starts out offensively snarky, but ends up just being pretty misinformed. There are a lot of the issues you mentioned in today's YRUU, but characterizing ConCon as "poorly attended, drugged-up, and chaotic" is just total bullshit. There have been 100-150 attendees the past four years, which is not an unreasonably small number of people considering the class and economic concerns by which the attendance is bound. Secondly, there were no instances of drug use in the community this year, and although there was one incident within the past 5 years it involved a tiny number of youth and was summarily dealt with. Using this incident to paint YRUU, or ConCon, as drugged-up is ageist and offensive. In and of themselves, drugs are not a big issue at ConCon, no more than any other organization of youth who are socialized in America's empty culture. In fact, the problems are fewer at UU events because the YRUU communities offer wholesome and fulfilling alternatives to the ways that most Americans escape from/deal with this bullshit way of life.

As for chaos, it had nothing to do with the conference staff or the conference community per se, and using bad fortune to smear an entire community of youth - in fact, the most involved of all the UUA's youth leaders - is just in bad faith. There were medical situations related to the high elevation of this year's site and there were community issues surrounding racism and sexism that this year's staff chose to confront, name, and bring into the open so that the community could own up to its problems and begin dealing with them in caucuses and as peers. These are the struggles of a community that is becoming more whole, not less.

The answer to the tension you mentioned between continental and local priorities is not to shy away from anti-oppression issues. Contrary to what some commenters have posted above, the anti-oppression ideals and commitment that we have brought onboard the continental YRUU boat did not come from the UUA hierarchy, although recently the generation that initiated the effort has passed into young adulthood. This generation has taught the UUA a thing or two about anti-oppression work and whole communities, not the other way around. The solution to this gap is for local churches and districts to own up to the ways that they reinforce and uphold oppressive cultural ideas. If the UUA is going to become whole and grow - EVER - we have to become an anti-oppressive, multicultural denomination. The other option is to resign ourselves as members of communities that uphold oppression, foster injustice, and choose comfortable hypocrisy over uncomfortable struggle. And as a lifelong UU, I say: screw that.

As for those who are whining about the radicalism of UU youth, can't you hear what you're saying? We have been brought up by y'all as liberal youth in what we were told was a liberal religious movement. Fear is turning this community into a shell of what it claims to be, and we're not going to just let it undo all of the work we've done, all of the understanding we have gained within accountable communities, all of the soul work that does more to help us reach wholeness than any of the sunday morning routine that y'all seem to think you're getting so much out of.

That said, if you're interested in the number one issue behind the failure of UU youth programming, though, it's this: THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH ADULT ALLIES INVOLVED IN YOUTH PROGRAMMING ON ALL THREE LEVELS OF THE UUA. All y'all talk a lot of shit when things go awry, but you're just not at the table when it counts. The Youth and Young Adult communities you've fostered - which are growing, not shrinking - have found answers to many of the questions you keep asking yourselves every sunday morning ad nausea, and the answers we've found are leading us to many many more lessons that your generation not only failed to teach us, but entirely failed to learn or figure out, trading your grips on reality for comfort that is often granted to you in exchange for your commitment to ideals that inherently include upholding, and benefitting from, institutional oppression. And as someone who is commited to seeking right relationship - and as someone who is struggling and failing and flailing to find it but who has come far since accepting the journey as a heterosexual white male who is socialized into identity-based domination - I'm just not down with your plan, and neither are my UU principles.

peace and love
tim fitz


January 6, 2005 04:16 PM | Permalink for this comment

Tim, I find it almost endearing that you are embracing the delusions of superiority embraced by every single generation of youth that ever walked the earth before you. I think your enthusiasm for peace and justice and social change is admirable. However, you lose me when you degenerate into dismissive mode, ie, in your sneering claim that us old fogeys just "think" we're getting so much out of Sunday mornings. We must be very much mistaken. Of course. In my church, for instance, religious seekers have been caring for each other within the bonds of covenant since 1642, and are going strong in 2005. Countless, nameless thousands have worshiped together, discerned God's will together, cared for each other, and in many cases challenged the established beliefs of their day together and changed their world together. Yet somehow you think you've got something entirely new figured out, and not only that, but what we've all been doing stretching back hundreds of years -- a dignified, beautiful and evolving tradition -- is something you reject in favor of the squalor of Con-Con. Can't you affirm the power of both? I guess not. Hey, we'd all love Sunday mornings if they required no discipline of us, no adherence to the beloved strictures of tradition, no understanding that we will mutually respect each other's boundaries, and always appealed to everything WE wanted to feel and hear. I'm so sorry that no one ever clued you in to the fact that religious life is shared with people who are truly different, religious life requires discipline, and religious life isn't about meeting your needs, but in fitting your soul to meet the world's needs. Well darlin', good luck finding those adult "allies" you claim to seek. I'm sure you have so much to teach them.


January 6, 2005 04:42 PM | Permalink for this comment

Tim, as a 34-year-old former YRUU advisor, AYS instructor, middle-school youth group leader, children's Sunday School teacher, and young adult group leader (not to mention C*UUYAN facilitator in 1995-96), I want to assure you and other youth that I thoroughly and wholeheartedly agree with your main point: "THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH ADULT ALLIES INVOLVED IN YOUTH PROGRAMMING ON ALL THREE LEVELS OF THE UUA." Amen. I wholeheartedly agree.

I also grant that I was "snarky" (I often am) and may have misinterpreted the paragraph in the Youth Office letter that said:

There have been instances of inappropriate sexual behavior at Con Con. Attendees have engaged in reckless physical behavior, including substance abuse, in violation of the community covenant. The lack of support for anti-racism programming among White Attendees has led to Youth of Color feeling unsafe and unable to trust the White Youth at the conference. Serious issues of racism, classism, sexism, and other oppressions are brought up by some members of the community, yet denied or ignored by others. We also theorize that for every instance like these that we’ve heard about, there are likely many more that we haven’t heard about, possibly some even more severe. (Emphasis in original)

I fear, however, that my initial tone has helped raise the temperature in this conversation to the point that people are shouting rather than listening. I'm sorry for that. Everyone who has contributed to this conversation so far is committed to healthy and meaningful youth programs, and I would implore everyone in this dialogue to remember that. As much as we may disagree in our interpretation of the state of YRUU, for example, I think we are allies in wanting to see it better and healthier.

Tim Fitzgerald:

January 6, 2005 06:18 PM | Permalink for this comment

see, that's exactly it. my place of worship and spiritual community is being slandered - the 'squalor' of concon? come on. there is a level of hysteria here, but it's not new - it's the reason why there is a gap between youth and adult UU communities. you seem to think you're getting a lot out of your worship style - and i seem to think i'm getting a lot out of mine. you're the one making judgements, not i. you're drawing circles that exclude us, because somehow your standard of what UUism is more worthy of value and consideration than mine.

Tim Fitzgerald:

January 6, 2005 06:24 PM | Permalink for this comment

Thanks Philo - I appreciate your response. I just don't understand the point of snark other than the obvious; it makes for entertaining blog. I would humbly suggest that if you can't make an entry worth reading without snark, you shouldn't be writing it.

But as far as that paragraph, all of those issues have existed within the ConCon community since its inception, these are not recent developments. What's recent is the community's willingness to face up to them. There have been serious issues of racism, sexism, and classism in UUism since it began - even though many of its members are oblivious to them, especially those with power - those who experience them in ways that don't force them to reckon with them.

So I would say that the ideas that (a) those problems are all new and b) they are any more extreme than in any other community that is affected by the oppressions of society at large are both big (and false) assumptions to make. Not to mention, taking this communication from the Youth Office at face value would be a mistake. There are too many other forces in play, ones that are untransparent and unaccountable. There are institutional players with conflicting visions and goals and they are playing their power games at the expense of the UUA's youth. Even the Youth Office is part of that now.


January 6, 2005 09:54 PM | Permalink for this comment

Tim, I would certainly agree that the issues aren't new. I would disagree, however, that the tensions in Unitarian Universalist youth programs are due to "the oppressions of society." I have never in my life met young people who enjoyed more freedoms and opportunities than most of the UU youth I've known. "Oppression" strikes me as the wrong frame to apply to the situation most UU young people face in the United States.

As for my snarkiness, well, let me put it this way: I find Unitarian Universalism funny. I love it — don't get me wrong — and I've invested an awful lot of energy and thought in it (not to mention tens of thousands of borrowed dollars to study it), so I'm no stranger to UU earnestness. Why, my Web site is chock-full of earnestness — you should read my long paper on UU ecclesiology, for example — but we UUs are kind of freakin' weird, too, and I've found that one of the ways I can talk about us with integrity is to think as hard as I can while laughing. Plus, this is my personal blog, and I'm snarky. (Not always funny, unfortunately.) There are other places you can read my purely serious prose.

You raise an interesting question, though: Could I have written this post without being snarky? Yes, and seeing the responses, I wish I had. The point would have been the same, though: Alerting my overwhelmingly adult UU audience to the fact that UU youth ministry needs much more adult attention and involvement. These problems aren't going to fix themselves.

P.S. People interested in responses to the cancellation of Con Con from a variety of youth and young-adult perspectives should see the conversation at FUUSE.

Tim Fitzgerald:

January 6, 2005 11:15 PM | Permalink for this comment


I never suggested that the majority of members of YRUU communities recieve "oppression", just that all of them are affected by it. Societal oppressions including racism, sexism, homophobia, heterosexism, and ageism are all manifested in UU communities including YRUU, affecting both those who recieve privilege and those who do not. As a heterosexual white male I am socialized to assume power over people who have been socialized to give it to me. That's a fucked-up situation that hurts our communities and causes a lot of pain that should never be exchanged, and if you don't believe me, it's not something I can prove to you regarding your own life in a short paragraph; doing the work of understanding how I've been socialized is a lifelong endeavor that requires developing lenses to use both when processing the input my mind recieves from society and when processing my reflexes and inclinations that have already been taught to me. It's not something that I think any male, heterosexual, white person can claim to be unaffected by.

As far as what you wrote above in your correction, I think you're closer, but you might want to change it again. There ARE wheels in motion to do many things that CG I and II did to LRY: usurp its governance and accountable processes, disempower its leaders, and reshape the UUA's youth programs in a way that better serves first the adults, and secondly the youth, as the adults see fit. The change you were talking about being possible are not just possible, at this point they are nearly certain.

The initial mistake you made was attributing it to both the UUA and YRUU's leaders. YRUU's Youth Council voted against Common Ground III this summer, as has its Steering Committee previously and since Youth Council's vote. YRUU's Steering Committee also decided against ending ConCon, preferring to work on its issues rather than run from them. But that doesn't matter: the UUA Board has made CG3 a certainty, although they have now disguised it with a new name as if that makes it less offensive and ageist that they are shoving it down the throats of our youth, and the Youth Office has joined in the disempowering fun by unilaterially ignoring the decision of Steering Committee - to whom it is supposed to be accountable, not vice-versa - regarding ConCon. Note that they didn't mention this in their letter.

Tim Fitzgerald:

January 6, 2005 11:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

as far as UUs being funny - yes, we are - but we're not depraved, overprivileged lunatics, and that's what your earlier comments indicated about our youth, and what the youth office's letter suggests as well. The Youth are not being represented accurately and I don't think they are really the end beneficiaries of all these political machinations.


January 7, 2005 10:14 AM | Permalink for this comment

Wait, what was that about "depraved, overprivileged lunatics?" I LIKE that! I think it works intergenerationally for most UUs! Let's not discriminate!

My favorite living example of the dysfunctional youth-adult relationship in the UU movement is when I come across a group of our obviously sleep-deprived kids smoking their heads off outside some hotel lobby at GA, and a group of sycophantic adults are beaming at them, doing everything but providing matches, and saying, "Aren't our kids so cool? Aren't they grrreat!?" It makes me want to stick pins in my eyes. Loving our youth does not mean indulging them their every personal freedom. The UUA has no idea how to love our youth, support them, and not foist their own dysfunctions onto them. T'aint much new under the sun.

And by the way, I've been referring to UU youth culture as "squalid" since I was a tender UU youth meself. It has nothing to do with the worship experience, but everything to do with the general screeching of the obsessively "alternative" participants (so "accepting" that I am collecting stories to this day from clean-cut kids who were ostracized and made to feel distinctly unwelcome in UU youth culture), the presence of confused,disrespected advisors who don't know what their role is (at best they are willing to help the youth enforce their own rules and regs and risk being treated with hostile resentment, at worse they're peer-identified with the youth and desperately trying to re-live their own puberty), the lack of hygiene/manners/maturity that passes itself off as "individuality" or "uniqueness" and the exhausting sexualization of every program and situation. The youth with real leadership potential are wonderful, mature kids who have confused UUism with a political movement (why shouldn't they? Where do they ever learn otherwise? Certainly not from 25 Beacon Street) and the whole thing is a pageant of self-righteousness and self-worship (as it is in many of our congregations).

Then, as we know, those same youth drop off the face of the UU earth as adults, having no loyalty to church life, no experience with it, and having discovered that they can get their political/quasi-spiritual needs met through a multitude of other organizations and movements. They identify as UU but we never see them again in our congregations. Viola! You can see why I'm not donning black for the demise of Con-Con. I think the whole system is disastrous and fatally self-indulgent.

Tim Fitzgerald:

January 7, 2005 12:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

Yes, you've made it extremely clear what you think, and clearly the fact that it has no basis in reality makes no difference to you; you're going to trumpet it no matter how many people you're hurting with your slanderously incorrect generalizations and your blatant normalization of orthodox religious and social white culture. What is it that attracts you to UUism, by the way?

Scott Wells:

January 7, 2005 07:19 PM | Permalink for this comment

Tim, a shrill ad hominem attack using jargon of victimization isn't going to convince anyone.

Or at least it isn't going to fool anyone.

Jim Sechrest:

January 8, 2005 01:52 AM | Permalink for this comment

I am very supportive of the general thrust of Tim's comments. Mainly, I think that the most valuable aspects at the core of our UU youth con culture like spirituality, close community, and chance to have an impact on our society through social action are being tossed aside for more superficial reasons, like cliqueshness, smoking and how the youth dress. I mean, Jeez... this is pretty extreme if you have any notion of the positive impact that UU youth con culture has on the lives of those involved DESPITE the image problems. It would be like shutting down all public high schools instead of trying to improve them.

I do want to stress the merits of the other side of this debate though, which is that it is right on target to point out that the UU youth con culture, even if we recognize its positive aspects that the YOUTH find so meaningful, if not the UU ministers, is only loosely associated with and accountable to the UU mainstream culture, UU history, and the discourse of a rational approach to religion that is central to UUism. And, that this is unhealthy, and, is one of the main reasons the most active youth don't relate to mainstream UUism after high school.

Another way to say this is that the youth and young adult con culture is mostly HEART and the mainstream UU Church on Sunday culture is mostly HEAD. What is tragic, IMNSHO, is how quickly we toss out matters of the HEART if they don't fit into our mainstream UU RATIONAL THOUGHT mode and vice versa.

The UU ministers say they are interested in Trancendentalism but the youth are actually doing it. Emerson said it would be better to go out and play in the snow than to sit in church and hear a sermon about it. The youth are actually practicing UU transcedentalism in their worships, which are very wholistic in terms of using the whole body to express UU spirituality. It can be very meaningful to sing chants from the heart with people you love while doing a spiral dance.

So, I think our mainstream UU Church on Sunday culture has a lot to learn from our UU Camps and Conferences folks who have had a chance to really develop some meaningful programming and vice versa. I mean, the UU churches are not known as "God's Frozen People" without a reason.

But, on the other hand, our youth con culture is very weak in terms of participating in the rational discourse of liberal religious thought, although it is certainly present in some UU youth con workshops, like one that I attended on the Big Bang and what that meant in terms of the creation of the universe, presented by a University physicist. There is some age based reasons for this. Not all UU youth are ready to discuss Trancendentalism even though they DO it.
I would like to point out to UU ministers that sermons on Trancendentalism aren't Trancendentalism.

Tim has a lot of experience working as the Youth Observer on the UUA Board and liason meetings with the UU Youth Steering Committee. I mean, you gotta appreciate the fact that he has been right in the middle of what is going on and he rightly points out that what matters to the youth is being tossed out with out much emphasis being placed on what UUs say they are about. More emphasis should be placed on the worth and dignity of the youth and what they find to be meaningful. Really, Tim knows what he is talking about.

My challenge to UU ministers is that it is OK that UU youth cons do not conform 100% to what UU ministers would like to see happen there. Some youth might feel that this culture is too wild for them and that they are not included. We simply do not have to have ONE and ONLY one youth culture to meet the needs of our UU youth, and we don't. That is what is primarily wrong with trying to make that happen with Common Ground III or whatever alias it is going by now. It is also wrong to back out of supporting Con Con for similar reasons. Although, there are probably more economical ways to host Con Con than the Youth Office has been doing. Con Con is not for everyone. Well, neither is GA. No one aspect of UUism is.

If you don't like one UU church because of its emphasis on Buddhism, secular humanism, or Christianity, you can go to another UU church. But, the entire youth culture is expected to conform to ONE VISION, not of the youth, but of the UUA leaders. It's truly short-sighted.

My challenge to Tim and other AR/AO youth and young adult leaders would be to take Jeff Wilson's and Chris's critique of these AO efforts a little more to heart. The whole concept of Anti-oppression work for UU youth, who score highest of any group on college entrance exams, is a real cunundrum. These youth are among the least oppressed humans in the world in terms of their opportunities, and that includes the People of Color youth. Not, that they aren't oppressed in some ways, as are we all.

However, with the support of the UU Administration, the Youth Office and other authority figures, some UU youth and young adult leaders have taken AR/AO to an extreme. They talk about how to use love while acusing any white person of being a racist. It's dysfunctional, at the very least.

There is a real failure of the AR/AO leaders to recognize their own INSTITUTIONAL racism in their efforts to put themselves forward as good people who are good role models. This is creating a mentality that they are the ones empowered by the UUA to ferret out evil in the world as if they themselves are non-racist, non-oppressive people themselves.

This might be true in terms of where their hearts are at, but in terms of the institutional matrix in which they are embedded, their hands are dirty too, just like the folks they accuse, but they fail to recognize this and instead are coming across as deeply disfunctional and incredibly strident in their accusations of racism and oppression in other people. What started out with good intensions with some good work done is quickly degenerating into an unhealthy UU A0/AR sub-culture which is doing more harm than good to our UU youth and young adult con communities.

Salem had its witch hunt and now the AO/AR work is degenerating into a "witch hunt" with all of the hysteria that occurred in Salem. Meanwhile, the AR/AO folks are claiming that they are the ones being hurt by racism at UU youth business meetings, which is a load of horse manure. Because, the AR/AO folks are not recognizing the context of institutional racism present and are resorting to theatrics to empower themselves, just like the teen age folks who started the Salem witch hunts. There needs to be some responsible intervention from our UU leaders in regards to the AR/AO witch hunt before more damage is done to our UU youth and young communities.

I recognize that the Journey to Wholeness or any community building effort will go through periods of chaos, but then, folks need to drop their strident personal agendas and start listening to one another in order to engage in the process of building a real UU community where everyone is once again included as who they see themselves to be. People who are close to one another hurt each other very easily, even just by NOT paying enough attention, but we need to be able to recognize when people are not intentionally hurting other people even as we state clearly our own joys and concerns.

This goes for "UUism is only about local church on Sunday" UUs and ministers as well as "youth cons and young adult cons are the most meaningful thing happening in UUism today" UUs and even "you are a racist oppressor because you are white and I'm not because I'm a PoC or a white AR/AO leader" UUs. All of these groups, so well represented in this debate, need to drop their agendas and start caring about one another as people who are different than them and have no intension of conforming to the other's opinions entirely.

Jim Sechrest


January 8, 2005 10:17 AM | Permalink for this comment

I've been following this heated discussion/diatribe and finally felt inspired to comment. I think I have enough experience with YRUU to have a valid critique of it. But lest anyone question my motives, let me do a quick biographical sketch of myself.

I was raised as a UU and went through Sunday school, AYS, and Coming of Age. At 14 I became a Youth Group junkie and at 15 attended my first district youth conference. I avidly participated in district youth conferences for three years; when our district youth programs were shut-down my senior year in high school due to to valid safety concerns, I was part of a youth leadership group that re-designed youth programming in my district. My senior year in high school I began to attend Sunday worship regularly.

At age 18 I went to college and experienced a lack of meaningful programming for my age range. I attended the local UU church and enjoyed the Sunday morning worship immensely. Throughout college I was asking myself a lot of spiritual questions, looking for meaning. UUism continued to give me meaning, as it had in high school, only now things, like the book of sermons my minister in high school gave me upon graduation and hymns from the hymnal, were speaking to me in a way that was more profound than my memories of youth cons.

I began seminary at age 22. During seminary I held youth advisor positions at three different UU churches. I graduated from seminary and was called to my first ministry position at 25. I'm now 27.

With that background, here then are my comments: First, I do not question that many UU youth hold district and continental youth programming to be important to them, spiritually, emotionally, and socially. This was true for me. I also do not question that there is important pastoral and healing work that happens in these groups. On the other hand, I believe there are things in the culture of these groups that are at odds with spiritual and emotional health. Too often, these communities foster a spiritual elitism and condescension: "You can't possibly understand what happens in circle worship." I am deeply puzzled by the hostility and acrimony that is generated towards Sunday morning worship. I submit that this hostility is not based on having tried it and not liked it. Rather it is based on conformity to social opinion. The model of this hostility often comes from adult youth advisors who are marginal to the life of the church, and working out their own issues about this.

I am perplexed by the anti-clericalism and anti-institutionalism I observe in some of the comments above. Without local congregations and a district and national denominational structure, there is no Untiarian Universalism, there is no programming. The health of YRUU is tied to the health of Unitarian Universalism institutions, not impeded by it.

I could go on and on, and I may, but I have a sermon to prepare for tomorrow. Without tooting my own horn, I'll also say that high school youth who have attended services I've led have almost universally liked them. And I'm not doing flashy participational ritual - I'm about as word-centered as they come - but high school youth have given some of the most thoughtful feedback I've ever received.

Tim Fitzgerald:

January 8, 2005 02:50 PM | Permalink for this comment

Jim, thanks for your comments. I appreciate the gist of them, and you're right on about a lot of it. The underlying point I wanted to make earlier, which I failed to articulate so clearly, is that the real reason why post-YRUU youth don't feel tied to mainstream UUism is because mainstream UUism has little interest in what is important to post-YRUU youth. Our spirituality is granted token "one night at GA" status, and that's it. Youth are actively impeded from participating by adults in their congregations. This is unfair and - I don't have any other words that make sense to use here - oppressive. Age oppression most definitely is involved and needs to be called out for what it is. Self-determination is supposed to be a core priciple of our faith, and high-school aged youth are able to lead each other and seek mentorship from adults who they trust to listen and hear them, rather than oppress them. this is a rare ability in an advisor.

There are soooo many false assumptions being made by nearly everyone looking in from the outside who is participating in this conversation. Let's go through the list (leaving out the ones in Peacebang's posts, because they exist in nearly every sentence ze wrote):

[Jeff Wilson] "...the wider youth/young adult venues hold little appeal to most young UUs. It's very easy to prove statistically--only a very small minority of young UUs attend district or larger events, and it ain't because they're expensive or racist or any of the other smokescreen reasons given in the block quote above."

Actually, those are two definite reasons why. ConCon's chief failing, in my opinion, is that it is intensely financially inaccessible. That is something that affects all of the UUA, which is a classist institution. We alienate people without as much money as us because we have been socialized to view money as an indication of status or value, and we're doing very little to undo that damage to our communities. Racism is an equally large problem. Our congregations are mostly suburban, and the ones that exist in the inner cities are still nearly entirely white. Like most American communities that experience segregation, this is about our ability to not oppress people when they enter into our community. Again, we white folks are socialized into using race as an indication of power distribution, and that leads to oppressive behavior on the part of UUs across the country.

Here's another reason, though: ageism. Youth don't go to cons because they don't know about them. I've been a part of both the Ballou-Channing YAC and the Mass Bay DYSC, and you'd be shocked at how many of our district communications - con flyers, newsletters, youth programming that we are supposedly empowered to be doing - never reaches the people it is intended for. It's not youth that are serving as these destructive middlepersons. And when you start talking about the district structures themselves that set their youth-aged programming up to fail, it's a pretty solid picture of a denomination that treats a huge community of healthy and growing youth with a neglect that is disrespectful, unconscionable, and ageist.

[Jeff Wilson] "First, UUism is local, local, local. ...the place to put your energy is the local Sunday School/youth group/young adult actitivies. Make the local experience (the one the average young UU encounters on a regular basis) positive, and you're making good progress toward growing a healthy, lifelong UU."

Okay, this is technically the official UUA governance view of UUism, based on congregational polity. It is also extremely exclusionary to youth who come to congregations seeking a spiritual and social home but who may not find a welcoming community waiting for them. My experience is this: youth who start on the local level tend to stay involved on the local level. But youth who don't - youth who are unwelcome in their local churches and who often find their way to conference communities via giant strokes of luck, which oftentimes are lifesaving turns of events - are something that the larger UUA doesn't know how to deal with. But the fact is that if many of our congregations didn't fail so completely to minister to youth, the above quoted paragraph would be right on, instead of irritatingly presumptuous. If we can make our communities anti-ageist and welcoming to youth, we can ask them to stay and be a part of an intergenerational community. Until then, it is better for them that they are empowered to construct their own sanctuaries and culture.

The paragraph following this quote was pretty right on regarding how local churches need to strive to support youth. But are youth supposed to sit and wait for congregations to get their acts together? Clearly, that's unrealistic and unfair. Youth need support, it is an intense and stressful time to be alive and when congregations are failing to minister to them, they can help them to build their own safe spaces.

[Jeff Wilson] "I think people who obsess over cons must suffer from oddly disfunctional local communities, and therefore they latch on to the temporary, artificial community of a con."

This is the one part of that following paragraph that is unfair. I just don't think that con communities are temporary or artificial. My closest friendships - which most of my non-UU friends seem to lack parallels of - are sprung from YRUU culture and communities, including local, district, and continental. This is just one example of a judgement that was made a thousand times in this thread, for seemingly the sole purpose of grouping YRUU communities into the "inferior to what we know" category. (Also known as "the other"... I think this is a manifestation of ageism).

[Will Shetterly] Yes, racism is still a problem in our culture, yet remarkably few political liberals seem to have noticed that the conservatives did an end run on them with Condi and Colin. The real struggle is with the privilege that comes from wealth, not race. I think most kids know that. And I fear that a great many wealthy UUs are reluctant to shift the focus from the color of skin to the color of money.

I don't want to get into an AR discussion here, but this is not an uncommon perception of the issues in our UU community, and this fact certainly has an effect both on how YRUU is being percieved and how AR/AO is being reacted to in this thread and in other discussions around the country. We've got to move on beyond this, take stock of the realities of our situations, and work together to build a solution and desocialize ourselves and our communities.

[Elizabeth R. Curtiss] The era when our youth had to worry about privilege being a lifelong spiritual burden is over. ...What once was our privilege is now, if we are honest, just temporary decades of good luck.

Okay, I don't know if I want to call privilege a spiritual burden or not, but the idea that it has something to do with "temporary good luck" is something I must weigh in on. UUs with white, male, heterosexual identities are not experiencing the repercussions of good luck, they are experiencing the result of concerted efforts to dominate and oppress throughout history. This is completely unchanged today - the war in Iraq has everything to do with white supremacy, justified in exactly the same ways as ever before. Privilege, a systemic issue that affects everyone regardless of whether their parents have been laid off, is not over.

[Jim Sechrest] "However, with the support of the UU Administration, the Youth Office and other authority figures, some UU youth and young adult leaders have taken AR/AO to an extreme. They talk about how to use love while acusing any white person of being a racist. It's dysfunctional, at the very least."

I don't think there is any way to take AR/AO to an "extreme", but there certainly are destructive ways to go about it. Deprogramming is something that has a lot of uncomfortable phases and side effects for those who choose to embark upon it, and it has historically been hard for both UU youth and adults to know how to serve people at every different level of the journey towards wholeness, if you want to call it that. For me there is certainly a reflexive impulse to "solve" each problem as I come to each new understanding of how oppression is implemented and/or upheld in our society, and it can cause me to forget that I have much in common with those who may not be privvy to whatever detail I am dwelling on at the moment. "Distancing" ourselves from others who are socialized oppressors is definitely counterproductive, and it sounds like that's what you're talking about. But this is so far a part of the process that nearly everyone struggles with, and our AR curriculums do deal with it and speak against marginalizing ourselves. It's not an effective use of our privilege.

That said, I think that calling attention to these parts of the struggling is very easy to do in leiu of actually struggling ourselves. The Youth and Young Adult (YaYA) anti-racism efforts are moving forwards, not backwards, and are becoming more and more useful and accountable to both privileged YaYAs who want to work on undoing the damage that socialization has done to them and to people of color who want white allies to help spread this de-socialization to other white folks, UU and non-. This is the key to removing race, sex, gender, sexuality, and age oppressions from our society, and it is definitely a long-term struggle.

[Jim Sechrest] "Salem had its witch hunt and now the AO/AR work is degenerating into a "witch hunt" with all of the hysteria that occurred in Salem. Meanwhile, the AR/AO folks are claiming that they are the ones being hurt by racism at UU youth business meetings, which is a load of horse manure."

I'm sorry, I just can't roll with this comparison. The AR/AO work we're doing is nothing like a witch hunt. The work is focused on ourselves as individuals and as members of community, not on accusing people of anything. We're not burning people at stakes and we ARE coming at this work from a place of love. At our best, we recognize that we are all part of the same struggle no matter how far along each of us might be in it. And I'm not sure what you mean about accusing racism of affecting white people, because I've never seen or heard of that. On the other hand, learning to construct lenses with which to see racial and gender oppression has helped many of us to recognize how we are being oppressed on the basis of age, and we have called people out for that in business meetings, and we are not wrong to do so.

[RevThom] "On the other hand, I believe there are things in the culture of these groups that are at odds with spiritual and emotional health. Too often, these communities foster a spiritual elitism and condescension: "You can't possibly understand what happens in circle worship."

Youth communities are certainly not perfect, but are actively being improved constantly. What communities are you a part of that are completely healthy?

[RevThom] "I am deeply puzzled by the hostility and acrimony that is generated towards Sunday morning worship. I submit that this hostility is not based on having tried it and not liked it. Rather it is based on conformity to social opinion."

I appreciate that you are merely submitting this idea, but I am living proof otherwise. But, this is a common misassumption. I think Jim's assessment is best: I would rather live transcendentally than hear someone else talk about it.

[RevThom] "The health of YRUU is tied to the health of Unitarian Universalism institutions, not impeded by it."

Well, I certainly think that those two things are tied, but I also know for a fact that UU institutions impede the health of YRUU institutions, as I've already laid out above in regards to how youth empowerment is impeded by congregations. YRUU exists in most districts with a minimum amount of institutional support, with its own programming and community-building structure that is implemented and led by youth leaders, not by adults. LRY was completely detached from the UUA, and although it failed, in many of the same ways that YRUU has begun to fail, the idea that the only solution was for an adult to come in and set things right is unfair and discredits the diagnostic power of the UUA's youth communities. Communities are always in flux, and part of empowerment is learning how to roll with, and adapt to, the flux of communities to which we each wish to be accountable.

Will Shetterly:

January 8, 2005 10:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

Tim, I want to say first that I've got an enormous amount of respect for your desire to take on these issues in honest ways. But when you say, "the war in Iraq has everything to do with white supremacy, justified in exactly the same ways as ever before," you seem to miss that people like Condi Rice are very, very rich. You miss the role of the Saudi princes in the global oilgarchy. I think the wake-up call for people who are obsessed with race should've been the O.J. trial: when a black man can kill his white wife and her lover and escape punishment just like any other rich person, race is no longer a significant factor in the U.S. Currently, race is merely a convenient way to make poverty and injustice seem smaller than they truly are by focusing on some of the poor rather than all of them.

Ultimately, by choosing to engage in antiracism, you're defining yourself by what you hope to destroy, and therefore you can never destroy it, or you'll lose your identity. People of all shades of flesh can unite in a struggle against the politics of wealth. But people of different shades can never unite in a struggle against racism because their goal will always divide them.


January 9, 2005 12:26 AM | Permalink for this comment

Reads Will Shetterly's comment about OJ

*shakes head*

reads again.

*shakes head again*

Will, was Lizzie Borden's acquittal a sign that that whole pesky woman's movement was a waste of time as gender wasn't a significant factor in American culture?

Anyway, to be honest, I've never found myself getting into YRUU. It just wasn't my thing, and at 26, I'm too old for it. Most of the UU churches I've been a member of were too small to have it. Now that I'm a member of a big church that has some YRUU stuff, frankly, I do politics all day and on Sundays I would like to rest.

Still, I'm finding myself reading both sides of this discussion with interest. And I really do see both sides.

Jim's post mystified me because he seems to imply that he was raised UU, yet consistently uses the seven principles like a creed, accusing people of not "living up to them," etc. (Is our RE that bad?)

Jeff should start a blog.

Tim's initial post did much to turn me off. The insistence that older UU's were clueless and lame, yet YRUU needed more of them seemed quite reminiscent of cliched teenager refrains like "I HATE you! I wish I'd never been born! Hannibal Lecter would be a better parent than you! ...Umm... Can you drive me to the mall?"

This tension has been evident throughout his posts.

I don't know. Maybe I'm a geezer before my time, but much of what has been said here rings quite hollow. YRUUism plans to eradicate racism, yet is being foiled by the fact that some congregations won't put up their flyers?

On the whole, I find the confusion of liberal religion and liberal politics quite upsetting, and what I've read here is no exception.

very tired, and not at all sure her post makes complete sense


January 9, 2005 12:51 AM | Permalink for this comment

OK, I have been unduly snarky with the above.

I do have a real interest in youth issues and would probably want to actively work with YRUU were their main focus not something I do for eight hours every workday, so let me put it this way:

What can I, as a non-tattoed, no longer peirced, 26-year-old old person with a genuine interest in youth issues yet who happens to like Sunday services and thus is apparently worthy of your scorn, do to help?

IS there something I can do?

Because the general jist of your posts seems to be that I'm not hip enough and should just leave y'all alone.

I can do that, but if you need help, I want to give it.


Tim Fitzgerald:

January 9, 2005 04:09 AM | Permalink for this comment

I'm sorry to give you that impression. I'm not a youth anymore and although I appreciate you being willing to listen to my opinions, I don't want to give the impression that being accountable to them is to be accountable to the opinions of youth at large. I just happen to be in a position of having what I see as relevant experience and have spent a long time working as a youth for youth empowerment.

I don't think there's anything wrong with liking Sunday services, for the record. There's a lot that we as adults and young adults have to offer youth communities. Being resources is the main thing, though, in my opinion, for whatever that is determined to mean. I am not sure I'm prepared to say that I know what it means to be a good advisor; I know what it feels like to have one, but I don't yet know what it is like to be one. I'm trying to figure out the same thing.

Jim Sechrest:

January 9, 2005 05:49 AM | Permalink for this comment

On how adults can help youth relations with adults in UUism and on being a good advisor:

I think that 26 years of age is a great age for adults to start helping out with YRUU. Because, relying on the parents of youth to be youth advisors often leads to having advisors who are not youth advocates so much as controlling parents. Being relatively young is good, although some good youth advisors are retired. Because, you have to accept that sometimes high school people can be, um... immature, and can roll with it. I never would have thought it would come to this but, even long time youth advocates like myself get burnt out on dealing with youth dynamics every Sunday. It's good to have other adults to work with youth.

Here is how to help:

Go to a youth con in your district. You can do this by volunteering to drive youth from your local church there. When you get there, participate in youth workshops, youth touch groups, and especially the youth worship as an adult presence. If you are not interacting with the youth as an adult who is at the youth cons, your not helping much. Listen to the youth.

At the local level, talk to the RE director, volunteer to be a youth advisor or to help out with the youth group on special occasions. Take some time to listen to the youth.

If you are a youth advisor, at the very best you will be in a pickle, because to be a good youth advisor at the local level means that you must advocate for the decisions made by the youth and must also challenge the youth to be accountable to the rest of the church and to UUism in general.

This puts you at odds with everyone in one way or another. Plus, the politics of control between youth advisors in the same church can be intense.

This of course will mean that your job is very political and that you will be walking on a razor's edge often without much support from youth or adults. Good youth advisors don't last long if they advocate the youth point of view to adults. That is (UNOFFICIALLY) forbidden. It always created a stir if I, as a youth advisor, suggested that we run an idea past the youth before accepting a new responsibility to a church program on behalf of the youth as I was expected to do by other adults. It takes a lot of work to convince people to listen to other people, especially people who are still in high school.

And, it is always hard to challenge the youth to be accountable to the local church. It can be very difficult.

As an adult (who can't commit to be a youth advisor) in your local church, make sure to step up when you hear the youth complain about
how they are being treated if it checks out.
So, you have to make an effort to talk to the youth at coffee hour.

After checking out youth concerns, if it doesn't sound like they are being treated fairly, say something about it to the RE director, youth advisors, the minister, and other adults in the congregation.

Go to GA as a representative from your local church. Attend the youth-led worship. Support the youth at the plenary sessions if their resolution proposals are responsible efforts.
Challenge the youth efforts if they seem to be too irresponsible.

Go talk to the youth who are leaders among the youth at district cons and at GA. Listen to the youth. Sit down to eat with them. Ask them what is up and how they feel about it. Then, challenge the youth to be responsible to the UU denomination outside of youth circles. Then, write to other UUs about youth concerns, about what the youth want as well as what the youth need to be responsible about.

Recognize that UU children younger than 14 are not taught about what is happening on Sunday Services in their own church in their RE classes, at least the overlap is minimal.

They may learn about Hinduism, Chinese New Year, and human sexuality in class, growing up in a UU church. What they will not hear about is secular humanism, the Transcendentalist Unitarian history, paganism, or any sermons by any UU ministers. So basically, they are kept apart and separate from mainstream UUism, even during special services that feature readings for the younger children of the church.

After the younger children leave the sanctuary, then we pull out the real Church on Sunday UU stuff. If we were Baptists, we would keep our children next to us on the church pew as they grew up.

Church services by the youth are often not very representative of what issues or experiences are important to the youth. Often it is just a skit to fill in that time, presented in a mainstream UU church format. We did well one year to hold a youth Sunday in a space where we could put the chairs in a circle (in rows) and just the youth did some youth worship kind of stuff while the adults watched and sang along.

Recognize that the "upstairs vs. downstairs" divide does not get any better when the children grow up to be UU youth. Often, local UU youth groups are a mixture of being a teen social club, a service group for the church, without much else.

If they do have worships, then the youth worships are very small, personal, and very dissimilar to what is happening in UU churches on Sunday. It is not unusual for our youth to graduate from high school without ever being able to articulate what UUs believe in very well, not even that UUs believe that it is OK that we all have different religious beliefs under the same roof, or that democracy and local church control are fundamental to the denomination, that UU ministers control their pulpit, but that the congregation can get a new minister.

One question that came up recently by one youth in our local UU church recently was: "Why does our youth group meet in a UU church?" Good question.

So, basically, our UU children are kept in the basement at our UU churches until they graduate without ever developing a good understanding of UUism even though they have many good programs on sexuality, Hinduism, recycling, raking leaves, Easter Egg hunts, yoga meditation, and back rubs, and many other good experiences.

One woman I knew who grew up UU, graduated from high school and joined a Hindu social service cult, where she did yoga and helped build housing for the poor in Mexico. That was almost the same thing she was doing when she was growing up UU.

The ties to rational thought in liberal religion are left out of our UU children's curricula. They might learn about the UU principles, but probably won't see them applied any better at a UU church than at Christian churches in other denominations, mainly because we can be very nice to one another at coffee hour, our local church politics can often get ugly. Our local church folks often don't provide the youth with a good example of respecting one another all the time. But, coffee hour is kinda fun.

One UU once pointed out to me that a UU church is not really a very "safe" place to get involved in. If this is true for adult UUs, then consider what it must be like for our UU youth.

It is important to know that the two "American" national level groups for the youth of the two separate Unitarian and Universalist denominations merged years before the two denominations merged. The merged national youth groups were therefore genuinely autonomous from either denomination and this continued until well after the denominations merged. This spirit of youth autonomy is still felt in continental and district youth cons to this day.

Left to their own devices, our youth have created their own religious perspective borrowing heavily from the popular culture of the 60s and 70s hippies, like the Grateful Dead concert-goers culture. Vegetarianism is big at UU youth and UU young adult cons still to this day. Last I knew, they were still tie-dying t-shirts and underwear.

But, their workshops are dedictated to hard core social issues like prison reform, despite some fluffy stuff like making chocolate. Their worships are awesome (really moving) and draw heavily from the Rainbow Gathering chants and have a distinct pagan influence.

Many UU youth are very keen to wear their UU chalices around their necks, but their UUism is not the UUism of their parents. Their chalices burn as bright as their parents, but their subculture is distinctly set apart from the UUA mainstream culture even though they might sometimes get glimses of what is going on in Church.

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions about how this effects relations between youth and adults at the continental level.

What I would like to point out is that small, intimate worships around a candle are still more meaningful to me than any UU church service, at the age of 43. But, what is lacking is the UU sermons. But sometimes, good UU readings get included in youth worships.

One of my favorite UU sermons went like this... "We are the Big Bang, we are the Universe..." We could easily bring in young children and high school youth to a sermon like that. But, we don't. We could easily fit readings from UU sermons into our youth circle worships, but we don't.

I think the answer to youth problems is not to cut out what is meaningful to the youth without giving it much thought, or to remake the image of youth programs into what the UUA President would like them to be more like.

I think it would be extremely meaningful if we brought these two aspects of UUism, UU Church on Sunday, and UU youth cons, more in touch with one another and that this in itself might have a big effect on UUism and some effect on the world we live in, by making UUism in general more alive and vital and more interesting to new adults and therefore less isolated from the society we live in.

Jim Sechrest

Tim Fitzgerald:

January 9, 2005 02:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

thank you for being at the table, Jim.


January 9, 2005 04:53 PM | Permalink for this comment

I think the idea that UU youth are living Transcendentalism in their worship is an interesting idea, but I'd like to point out that Emerson never said it would be better to go out and play in the snow than to hear a sermon about it (I'm imagine he would have liked that idea, but he never said it). He *did* watch the snow falling outside the window of the Concord church while being bored out of his mind listening to Unitarian minister Barzilai Frost preach, and he did decry "corpse-cold" religion. The Transcendentalists who were nominally Unitarian were interesting in that most of them did not regularly attend church, but they *respected the institution of church,* while talking and writing about the direct experience of the Divine, or the intution of it, as being superior from receiving revelation at second-hand. But to say that Emerson, Fuller or Thoreau would have been anything but terribly sheepish at the notion of physically embodied worship is to greatly misunderstand how cerebral and parlor-centric they really were. Their great art was conversation, and their new "Scripture" poetry, Nature, experience and friendship. We include this new Scripture in most of our worship services around the world, certainly in the U.S., but our real Transcendentalist legacy is our insistence that each person can intuit and partake of the Great Soul his/herself. This Transcendentalism lives and breathes through everything we do in our congregagtions.
And by the way, wouldn't it be age-ist to expect a 90-year old to get up and dance in a worship service? It's extremely wearying to see so many big conversations out of the UUA framed as a question of oppression/s. How truly sad to see the whole youth question get sucked into UU identity politics.

Jim Sechrest:

January 10, 2005 07:26 PM | Permalink for this comment

I beleive the whole youth conference culture and the youth and young adult movement and the UUA staff relations with youth and young adults may all be getting sucked into UU identity politics to the detriment of whatever else they had that was good. Whatever survives this "Journey to Wholeness" will surely be different than what we had before. But, will it be better?

Right now, it looks like we might only be left with shreds and tatters of something that was once really profound for many if not all of our UU youth and UU young adults.

Folks can say how great it is to have AO/AR programming and that it can never be too extreme. But, Jeez... the cost to what is good and healthy in our youth and young adult programming is daunting.

AO/AR programming is our own UU tsunami that will take a huge rebuilding effort to recover from. Some say it is wonderful to destroy good programming if it is not extreme AO/AR programming.

I wonder.

Jim Sechrest

Mike Andreski:

January 11, 2005 10:27 AM | Permalink for this comment

Parent of UU Youths Commentary

My step-daughter was the Youth Chair in a large state, yet she won't darken the door of a UU take home message is the YRUU, while I nice experiance for her, was a total waste in terms of becoming a life-long UU.
My sons are not extroverts, have short hair, dress nicely, and are polite, therefore they have litte to no chance of being meaningfully involved in YRUU, in my opinion.
I loved the comment about the sleep deprived group agressively abusing a substance (tobacco, the #1 abuse drug in the US) with their parents beaming, I've found that way too common.
I too am a "come outer" from another religion, and I love UU, but I worry that my kids won't have the foundational experiance needed from their RE to become life-long UU's. What I see is a lack of commitment to giving the kids a meaningful educational experiance in UU before we let them loose to explore a bit. It seems that the least bit of attempt to keep things from being chaos bring howls from the UU clicque that freaks out about any kind of structure. You know, the ones that use Joys and Sorrows as free group therapy. And we wonder why our return rate on visitors is low. Sometimes we are so the cliche' of the left over 1960's....

Tim Fitzgerald:

January 17, 2005 08:42 PM | Permalink for this comment

Is it really important that we groom youth to become life-long UUs? That isn't, and has never been, the point of YRUU, and it in fact seems directly counter to some of our most basic principles. However, YRUU does create a lot of dedication to UUism nonetheless, perhaps more because it does not currently force long-term UUA goals upon people to whom the UUA's decision-making processes are not accountable.

Mike's example of his sons who "are not extroverts, have short hair, dress nicely, and are polite" as unsuitable for YRUU is ridiculous. That fits 15-year-old me to a T, aside from the 'dressing nicely' part, which is kind of an odd thing to say. I wore 'nice' clothes, but today now (thanks to YRUU) question the definition of 'nice' used in this context, because to dress 'nicely' really means to dress in a way that declares yourself as a member of your economic class or higher.

Regardless, if Mike has passed this expection on to his sons, he is the one making YRUU inaccessible to them, and no one else.

Tobacco, by the way, is not the #1 most abused drug in the US - it's caffeine, which features quite prominently in every single one of our congregations.

As far as Jim's anti-racism fears: YRUU might have been nice for me, but it's not "wonderful" for most UU youth, and is particularly likely to be an unsafe space for UUs of color, of lower-than-middle class, or of a non-male gender identity. That is the internal process that must be undergone regardless of what happens to YRUU. I would appreciate it if people would stop trying to scapegoat this on anti-racism and would consider taking ownership of the real cause: a lack of an empowering and responsible adult presence, and a large contribution to ageism by adults who think they are above it.

Tim Fitzgerald:

January 17, 2005 08:46 PM | Permalink for this comment

Just to clarify - I think YRUU _is_ a safe space for most white, male UU youth, and for many others - it is, generally a safe space. It also however reflects the unsafe aspects of an oppressive outside culture, and not trying to change that should not be an option, in my opinion. There are varying degrees of safety. Some members of our UU community never feel safe, but stay perhaps because they have never felt safe and no longer expect to. That's not a situation that I want my communities to be contributing to.

Jim Sechrest:

January 18, 2005 11:47 PM | Permalink for this comment


I read your stuff so I know that on most areas besides anti-racism you are pretty level headed.
I wonder if you would educate me on just one problem that has occurred with anti-racism programming for UU youth and UU young adult cons.
Because, that is will be best thing that ever happened for AR/AO programming, that it becomes self analytical.

Here is my take on anti-racism programming:
I know that the fall Synapse 2004 (I believe) has two articles on how anti-racism program has gone awry. One is an apology from an anti-racism workshop leader for turning the program into a guilt trip for whites for... being white.

The other is an insiders look at a complete emotional breakdown on the part of the POC group at Youth Council 2004 because people were tired and wanted to adjourn but the POC folks felt that it was racist for them to adjourn because the POC folks didn't want to yet (which is ridiculous given the fact that it was late).

So, after people just left as individuals the POC people all just cried and hugged and hoped no white people would try to comfort them because they were the oppressors. To me that is hellish unnecessary insanity. People needed to get sleep, including the POC author of that story, IMNSHO.

I know an adult who went to Con Con 2004 and said that despite some good aspects to anti-racism programming there that made him think about what he takes for granted, he was also labelled a racist for being a white male, that it was just a guilt trip. Not making much progress there.

The anti-racism programming is screwed up according to anti-racism programming leaders, and that's got to mean something to you.

I'm hoping that you at least, Tim, can shed some light on how the anti-racism anti-oppression effort has degraded this far. At least tell me how it could be improved.

Although, what I really think is that it has recently become a farce and that it should be abandoned completely until some competent work is done to bring in a dose of reality (not just in terms that racism exists but in more effective ways to educate people about it than calling them racists or crying because the POC people don't get their way all the time).

I have really stewed at times about the amount of time cut out of democratic visioning of the youth and young adult movement in favor of these identity groups whose leaders admit in Synapse that they are screwed up identity groups.

All of this, to me, is not a good direction for YRUU to be moving in for the sake of anti-racism programming. People are not good people simply because they are POC folks. And, people are not necessarily oppressors because they are white.

To say "I am not a racist because I am a POC" seems pretty ridiculous to me, but I have had a UU young adult email that to me recently. I was also called a racist because I used the word "lame", since lame denotes someone who is not able-bodied. I miss the link to racism but who knows what passes for reality in the heady world of POC empowerment nowadays.

The AR/AO programming looks like it has become pretty distorted and unhealthy for YRUU, C*UUYAN, and the anti-racism effort itself from where I am sitting.

I know that all comes off as pretty harsh but I am not even keyed up at the moment. I'm not even in "bash the new anti-racism fanaticism" mode. I'm just chillin', letting you know what it looks like from here.

Jim Sechrest

Tim Fitzgerald:

January 23, 2005 06:54 PM | Permalink for this comment

well, thanks for "chillin'", Jim, and letting me know what it looks like for you.

but, uh, your perspective, from my perspective, is the one that needs a large dose of reality, and I say that with a lot of respect.

here are some ideas for you to digest that might help answer your questions:

1.) You cite at least one Synapse article that makes self-criticisms of YRUU anti-racism programming, but yet you suggest that we're not yet 'self-analytical', and that you're the one who is going to show us the light, as it were. This makes very little sense -- we are self-analytical, as we have proven in our open self-analytical dialogue. However, if by "self-analytical" you mean "sharing in your analysis of racism", then you might indeed find some gaps therein.

2.) Megan Selby's article about her personal failings as an anti-racism workshop leader is not an indictment of anti-racism as a concept or of all of YRUU's anti-racism programming, and it is totally unfair to twist it into that. That article is her personal apology for the way that she personally conducted some of the anti-racism workshops that she was involved in, and her struggles are familiar to many of us -- because they are rooted in ideas and personal conflict that are central to the struggle involved in reconciling the disparity between the identities we (people of privilege: white people, heterosexual people, men, and those who are able-bodied, for example) are encouraged by socialization to hold, versus the actual, realistic ramifications of our identities -- the way that what we have and who we are programmed to be damages our ability to be in right relationship with others. This isn't about turning AR programming into being about white guilt, it's about turning the personal struggle against racism into being about white guilt, and it's extremely easy to do -- and extremely unproductive. It is one of many, many pitfalls that are involved in the anti-racism struggle, which is dangerous and risky, but on the other side of which lies wholeness. Another such pitfall, I would put forth, is that that lies in not starting down the struggle at all for fear of encountering some guilt that you can't deal with. Taking guilt by the horns and reckoning with it head on, as Megan and many others have done, is part of the white anti-racism struggle. Until white people have nothing to feel guilty about -- nothing that when presented to their consciences seems to be unconscionable -- guilt will be a part of white peoples' struggles against racism.

3.) Your judgements of the POCs at Youth Council are incredibly off the mark. First of all, you assume so much -- that there was no racism involved at all, which is just false, as any half-hearted reading of that article would make clear; that the people of color were having an emotional breakdown which was their fault and not as a result of inflexibility and unaccountability on the part of white allies at Youth Council; and that the fact that it was late justifies and explains why the POCC group was ignored and overruled by the collectively unaccountable -- and yes, individualized -- actions of the white people present. It's not up to you or me to decide whether people needed sleep, and it's not up to you or me to decry other peoples' experiences and opinions as "unneccessary hellish insanity". The people of color at Youth Council were being treated in an unaccountable, uncaring, and -- yes -- racist way by the white people attending that conference. If that doesn't make sense to you, I suggest you stop bending the actual facts of the experience that Greg Boyd recounted and instead try to figure out why you're unable to understand his reality in a way that makes sense to you. There are an unbelievable number of factors involved: the burdens that are thanklessly placed on people of color, who are under-represented and tokenized in a body of mostly white youth; the immediate experiences of the people of color which are apparently of no value to you; and the fact that white youth present were unable to find a way to compromise, instead expecting the people of color to do the compromising, an unconscious expectation that is all too typical of how racism plays out in the most well-intentioned of communities. In short, please try harder to deal with these issues in a way that is accountable to the needs, emotions, and experiences of all people involved.

4.) I know which adult you're talking about, and he behaved at CopCon in an outwardly oppressive way and was unwilling to listen to criticism regarding his behavior for most of the time he was there, although I felt like he had gained something from the experience by the time he left. He made countless numbers of youth uncomfortable -- whose fault is that? Is it guilt-tripping for youth, including youth of color, to express that to him? What about the concerns of youth who don't feel safe enough to express those feelings? This seems to me to be a great example of mislabelling the source of an emotion: guilt is no one's fault but the person who feels it. If the person who feels guilty is being manipulated based on that guilt, that is one thing, but to be caused to feel it in the first place is not a discomfort that can be blamed on another. If you feel guilt, that's on you, and no one else, because it's coming from you, and no one else. It's hard for me to not respond to people who complain about feeling guilty by saying "deal with it." If someone has been oppressed by me, and explains that to me, and I feel guilty about it -- a totally understandable and sane reaction -- how am I going to turn around and pin that on the person who I oppressed? Sorry -- that would more oppression, engineered by me to be hidden, but hidden to no one but myself.

5.) No anti-racism leaders are saying that anti-racism is screwed up -- they're saying that RACISM is an obstacle to its progress. Is this a big surprise? What is the point of this train of thought -- really?

6.) It's not surprising that you think anti-racism should be abandoned, but it is something that will gladly be ignored by most of the youth and young adult leadership who just plain know better. The answer to racism lies in facing the hard truths, not in running away from them. You are asking for an anti-racism program that holds no one -- especially not you -- accountable for being oppressive. That's not anti-racism, that is "assuage my guilt"-ism. It's oppression -- it is catered to oppressors, as if the point of anti-racism was to make oppressors feel less guilty. And what you said about "POCs crying because they don't get their way all the time" is just unbelievably, straight-up fucked up shit. In my estimation, your opposition to anti-racism stems from the basic fact that YOU are used to getting your way all the time, and that someone else should ask to be treated on a level playing field is grounds for revolt. Y'all can have your revolt, but I'm going to be standing on the other side.

Other issues addressed in your post:

a) "People are not neccessarily oppressors because they are white". False. All white people are socialized by the dominant pro-white American culture to behave in an oppressive fashion. No white American is exempt from racism. It is a thread that is weaved throughout our culture, communities, and our very subconsicousnesses. The entire purpose of anti-racism is to build a lens with which to see this thread and its manfiestations in our lives, communities, and behaviors.

b) "To say 'I am not a racist because I am a POC' seems pretty ridiculous to me" -- that's because you don't understand the words that we are using, and it sounds like you haven't made a lot of effort. Racism is racial prejudice that has the power to affect others -- and only white people can hold racial prejudice with the power to affect others. People of color cannot be racist -- although they can be racially prejudiced -- because they cannot take part in the institional system of oppression that constitutes 'racism'. Only white people have that privilege.

c) "I was also called a racist because I used the word 'lame', since 'lame' denotes someone who is not able-bodied. I miss the link to racism..." No one called you a racist for using the word 'lame'. However, using that word is an example of ableism, which is another socialized idea that makes those who are not of able body seem lesser than those who are. Compare to the use of the word 'gay' as an epithet. All oppressions are "linked" (that is, in fact, the word that is most commonly used to describe the relationship between different types of oppression), and the fact that you apparently have not heard that idea before makes me question how hard you have listened or even attempted to participate in the anti-oppression conversation that has been happening within the UUA for years.

It's time to start listening, it's time to start participating, it's time to stop announcing your opinion before it is based on a useful analysis. And you can expect people to become less and less patient with your unwillingness to treat this issue with the respect and reverence that it deserves, because every minute that you stall is another minute that the effects of oppression on your personal relationships and within your communities go unaddressed.

Jim Sechrest:

January 24, 2005 02:48 AM | Permalink for this comment

Hey Tim,

If anyone within the UUA hierarchy supports what you are espousing for our AO/AR, then the UUA is loosing an important battle on anti-racism and it's Journey to Wholeness is going down the drain. Neither I nor anybody else will have to do anything to dismantle AO/AR programming because it is bringing about its own demise through its own strident fanaticism, the lack of trying to understand what other UUs are trying to understand about racism and oppression.

Unfortunately, the lack of youth supporting poor AO/AR programming ENOUGH seems to be one main issue behind the dismantling of Con Con by the Youth Office (according to the Youth Office) with UUA administration "support" (too bad they didn't get Youth Council and Steering Committee support) and also seems to be a root issue in the implementation of a redesign effort of ALL of YRUU through a Common Ground III proposed by Bill Sinkford, which is now going under an alias in order to not draw too much comparison to the last fiascos like this, called Common Ground (I & II).

So, I am pretty concerned about how badly AO/AR stuff is being run, because this is having a negative effect on Con Con and our youth movement cons in general, to the extent that many youth at many youth cons are not embracing the poorly run AO/AR stuff wholeheartedly ENOUGH for the AO/AR leaders and UUA staff and this is being held against them by the Youth Office.

The real problem is that the AO/AR programming is being run poorly, in many people's opinion. And, no one person is running it poorly. News of poorly run AO/AR programs is coming in from all around the continent, with or without confessions from the actual AO/AR leaders. The general feeling is that white guilt is not most people's idea of their identity group.

The AO/AR effort within youth (and young adult) circles has lost any accountability to anyone but themselves. That is fine in warfare, but in community building, it sucks. I don't believe that UU youth and young adult AO/AR programs are on the Journey to Wholeness any longer (even accounting for some pre-wholeness chaos).

One way that the AO/AR stuff looses accountability to The Journey is that it assumes that white males like myself have no worthy understanding of our personal racism or even the institutional racism that we as individuals are immersed in.

It is true that UUA Churches on Sundays from one coast to the other are also immersed in and formed from this same culture and all of its institutional racism and the UUA reflects this in its member churches.

My statement on that in the past has been that the UUA is "the most racially pure anti-racist organization that I know of". By this I mean simply that we may be anti-racist in name but we are made up of privileged people from mainstream society no matter what race they are, and especially, that we are 99% "white". So, I think it is fine to challenge the status quo. I do it more often than people like.

But, it is an insult to (whatever is left of) my intelligience that I have had no meaningful exposure to the issue of my own privilege and racism over the last 40 years. And, this is the biggest problem with the AO/AR stuff. It is assuming that nobody else deals with this issue adequately outside of UU AO/AR efforts.

I believe that any real change in our society will come through the development of real opportunities for everybody, something that is becoming less likely as jobs move overseas and the U.S. economy becomes more polarized between the very rich vs. the middle class and the poor.
To get those opportunities, people need access to good educations.

I am a racist. But, my awareness of being privileged and a racist has nothing whatsoever to do with anything that the AO/AR effort has come up with (to date).

I think the AO/AR effort needs to be more accountable to the Journey to Wholeness by becoming more aware of the experiences of all the folks who are involved in UUism at AO/AR sessions, and what they know, and what they are saying. But the opposite is happening. The UUA's AO/AR effort is degenerating into an effort that UUs that I am reading or talking to are finding less and less responsible, and more and more fanatic.

For instance, I was definately called a racist for using the word "lame" by a UU POC AO/AR YA and I can send you a copy of the email if you want. This is just one example of how the AO/AR propaganda espoused by AO/AR youth and young adult UUs just seems to be misleading itself to me. It just seems like self-indulging fanaticism with little chance of successfully aiding the Journey to Wholeness.

But, mainly, I think the AO/AR effort is misguided because of its over-emphasis on resorting on guilt as a motivational force. This is why people leave the churches like the Catholic Church and become UUs in the first place. But, also because it does not work for a UU culture that values the use of reason in its affairs. A few folks do feel guilt about racism but this is just plain rare.

I don't feel guilt about racism any more than I feel guilt about innocent people dying in Iraq for no good reason. And, racism and oppression in Iraq is a burning issue for me.

In regard to the war in Iraq, I feel anger, and as to racism within the U.S. or even the UUA or in myself, I am very far removed from any feelings of guilt or anger.

Mainly, I see the complexities of the legacy of oppression of people over other people through the ages. I see the ironies caused by this in everyday life and I mention them to other people, and THEY know what I am talking about.

The English also brought Scots as slaves to Virginia. I am a Scot on one side of my family, and Pennsylvania Dutch on the other. (The Pennsylvania Dutch were Germans from what is now Switzerland, and migrated to Pennsylvania and called themselves "Deutch". They left Switzerland because the French King, who was Catholic, had invaded their country and was persecuting and killing the Protestants. They were oppressed by the Catholics.)

I have English ancestory. My Scottish and Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors intermarried with the English in America. I know that the English killed at least one Scottish relative of mine (John Barkley) and took away his land in Ireland and imprisoned him for running guns against the British in the Irish rebellion in the 1790s, which is why they were forced to come to America. They were oppressed by the English.

But on the other hand, John Barkley got his land in Ireland because an earlier Protestant English King, who was a Scot, moved the Catholic Irish off their land, and used Protestant Scots to pave a new colony in Ireland, which we call Northern Ireland, but they call Ulster.

And, long before that, the Barkley family was called the "de Bercelai", french-speaking Normans who had invaded England, some of whom later were invited to live in Scotland because the Scottish king wanted Norman accountant's skills. The Barclay Bank in England is from another line of my Norman (Norse or Viking) ancestors. See, the Normans were Vikings who raided France and were given Normandy (where U.S. troops later landed in France in WWII) as a kind of ransom.

First my family oppressed the French, then the English, then the Irish, and then they came to America to get away from all the oppression.

My Scots-Irish relatives of John Barkley who fled to the U.S. (under pain of death) then later proceeded to settle in Indiana as soon as the U.S. government, formed from former English colonies, squashed all resistence by the native americans in Indiana in the 1830s. But, these Scots-Irish ancestors of mine in Indiana helped slaves escape to Canada even though their neighbors burned them out three times for doing it.

These ancestors of mine who were helping escaped slaves along their way on the Underground Railroad also went to fight in the Civil War, and one of them was killed in battle and was buried in Georgia. I mean, that's a relative that died knowing that he was fighting to free the slaves.

On the other side of my family, they intermarried with the native americans. In this line, my Virginia ancestors were originally "Pennsylvania Dutch", and one of them owned one slave for just one census in the early 1800s. It was common for slave owners in the hills of far western Virginia to own only one slave, since they were relatively poor and did not own a lot of land. The big boom in cotton growing did not really get rolling until later in the 1800s.

Many of the "Pennsylvania Dutch" and "Scots-Irish" came to America as indentured servants, which is like... temporary slavery. I don't know if my own ancestors were ever indentured servants, but it is not unlikely. Once my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors moved out into the countryside surrounding Philadelphia, the French and Indian War broke out. These English-speaking native americans raided the "English" settlers during the war. One of the children in my family at that time has an entry that just reads "captured by Indians". Others were listed as "killed by Indians".

In my own parent's generation, both my father and mother's brother were big civil rights workers and I travelled to Martin Luther King Jr.'s grave in Montgomery, Alabama when I was 8 years old and MLK had been dead for just one year. I remember that one elder woman from his church was using a thin board for a cane, and even at 8 years old, I knew I was privileged relative to her. My family was rich compared to hers. Kids are pretty good at figuring out when things aren't fair, and I mentioned this to my parents at the time, that poor old women should not have to use boards for canes. I understood at eight years of age that black women were more likely to be poor than white women and that "righting this wrong" was exactly what Martin Luther King died for, as I put my hand on his gravestone.

My UU minister addressed the issue of civil rights with real emotion from the pulpit when I was this age and the Civil Rights movement was big, and I sometimes sat with my parents upstairs at church instead of going to Sunday School. This is while my father was marching for black housing rights in his black suit and white shirt and tie.

Where my father grew up in Chicago had turned into a black neighborhood except for my grandparents and a few other older white people.
When Martin Luther King was killed, the black people became enraged and burned down all the white-owned businesses that my dad had known as a boy. I remember driving by these burnt-out buildings and listening to my father, the civil rights worker, denounce the black people for burning down the businesses in their own neighborhood. "Stupid! They should burn down the stores in other people's neighborhoods."

Once, on the way to grandma's, our car passed near a huge mob of black protestors and my Dad drove backwards down the street to get out of the area fast. He figured that they wouldn't stop to ask if he had marched for black housing rights if the mob turned ugly. But, they just kept streaming from between the houses on one side of the street, going across the street, and on between the houses of the next street. Hundreds of black people, and then nobody. Not one turned to look at us.

My uncle's daughter married a black guy and they now have grandchildren. Her husband knows me from when I was very young and knows that I am a racist, in the sense that he knows that I am privileged. But, he just laughs at me and makes jokes about my assumptions about life. "Shit", he says to me, "you got to be white to think like that in the first place" (or the equivalent).

He grew up in the projects of Chicago called Robert Taylor homes. His brothers were "lieutenants" in a gang there, meaning they had some real clout, which allowed them to keep him free of gang life, so he could get up and out of the projects and not wind up in jail.
He bought a house in a middle class black neighborhood after working mostly as a laborer.

And, his criticism of my naivete is my cricism of the AO/AR effort. Whether white or POC, the AO/AR UU youth and YAs are people of privilege. They are college-bound youth and young adults. Coming from them, all this "white guilt" jargon, no matter how you phrase it, is pretty much a farce.
The emperor has no clothes. It is an effort with little chance of making meaningful change, as it now exists.

Furthermore, the idea of identity groups is completely off base. Mainly because white people do not identify themselves as white. My identity group is people who are interested in their geneology. But, like me, most "white" people never have to worry about being white, so the entire category of race drops out of the picture for them as soon as they leave the AO/AR session.

It is not that white people are physically invisible, they are simply not on the radar of anyone else on the basis of their race, unless they go into certain neighborhoods. It is simply that white people in the US are mostly people who do not identify themselves in racial terms to themselves or others in normal conversation. Only if the issue of other people's race is right in front of them do they ever think about race. Race is not an issue that most americans have to deal with in terms of its immediate consequences on a day to day basis. But, yes, some do.

I don't think that putting people in "white" identity groups makes them have to deal with the issue of race outside of the identity group. It drops out as an issue as soon as they walk out the door, at least for people for whom race is not an oppressive force against them in their lives on a day-to-day basis. What is really the issue once UU youth and young adults get outside of the AO/AR programming session? I think mainly, lunch.

I'm sitting here, penniless, trying to be a biologist. But, I know that even my career path is a path of privilege. I have a masters degree which allows me to fritter my time away with bugs and bears and other beasts, although there is no money in it. But, you gotta be white to want to get a masters degree to do that in the first place. But, the societal oppression against the voluntarily poor (or the misguidedly poor) is nevertheless intense. I experience this first hand when I am poor. But, sometimes I get to go be rich and privileged for a short time. But, for many of my neighbors, poverty is all they have had and all they will have. How is the AO/AR effort going to change that? How is it going to help change the world through fostering white guilt in UUs?

The youth office thinks it has found a better way to spend its time than working on Con Con. For instance, they want to work on more AO/AR programming. I think the youth office, the UUA, and all of its AO/AR programming need to spend more time on getting a grip. Good educations for everybody in our society is the best route for justice in our society. What is the UU AO/AR effort doing to foster better educations for everybody in our society?

To Wholeness,

Jim Sechrest

Tim Fitzgerald:

January 24, 2005 03:13 AM | Permalink for this comment

First of all, what you're doing here, I have to say, kind of sucks -- you're insisting on putting me into a category in your head, forcing me to represent all of YRUU or all anti-racist allies with my views and analysis of race, because of my unstated role in this conversation as a near-youth young adult. We youth and young adults have a wide range of opinions about racism reflected in our communities. We are all in different places in the struggle, and none of us can know exactly where we stand in it at all times, but we recognize the value and safety of common experiences and use identity groups to create safe spaces for intentional self- and group-reflection on issues of oppression, including racism. This is, to me, the sitting down and hashing out of how we are all programmed to be oppressive and to build oppressive relationships and oppressive communities, and thereby pass those oppressions on down history's long arc. Without a self-analysis of racism, I cannot act in a non-racist way. I have been -- and am being -- socialized constantly by the culture we live in, from every individual around me to the consumer-based media to the history I learn, to accept and act upon inherited white, male, heterosexual, and middle-class privilege. This -- to me -- is the issue behind racism -- not the failure to lift some up, but the lifting up of some over others, throughout history, which has over time accumulated into gaping disparities along the lines that produced the different obstacles for certain people, based on certain individual aspects of their identities. To this end, fighting for improved education seems to be what WE are doing -- creating a situation where every individual has a community of other individuals who can share experiences unique to their identity, and by making connections together, teaching -each other- the art of living in healthy community. There is work to be done in whole, multicultural, intergenerational community as well, but that work cannot proceed without every individual having the ability to build an unoppressive community and to recognize oppression when it is present. (By the time King died, he was advocating a similar idea, encouraging white communities and communities of color to heal separately before they attempted to heal together in an integrated way.)

By the way, the person of color whom you tokenized as an example of how it's okay that you're racist was, I suspect, trying to tell you something very important.


January 24, 2005 08:33 AM | Permalink for this comment

I can't speak to what is going on behind the scenes at YRUU on an institutional level, but I can say that the kind of support MY congregation needs is not finding its way to the kids, if it is available at all. I don't know whether that's more our congregation's fault or 25 Beacon's, but I suspect the latter.

Our youth program is primarily a social and recreational program, not one of religious education and spiritual development, and I think that's wrong. Our paid advisors tend to be relatively inexperienced young adults with maturity issues of their own; they turn over with surprising frequency; and they seem pretty uninformed themselves about Unitarianism, Universalism, or any other religious traditions in any degree of informed depth. They don't seem equipped or motivated to encourage and guide our kids in an atttempt to identify and pursue a personal religious path for themselves. When they do turn the kids' attention from social/recreational activities to thinking/working on "bigger" issues, those issues seems to be almost always a dilettantish dabble in social justice concerns, especially anti-racism, rather than giving them the tools to develop deeper personal understanding. Certain members of our RE Committee are pretty frustrated with the AR thrust in particular, because these kids have been and continue to be indoctrinated in AR since early childhood, and not only by their UU church but by many other influences in their lives. Adolescence may be the last chance we have to show them what's unique and special about UUism (and there is much to show), but instead we're showing them what's undistingushable and trite.

The UUA should suport congregations' volunteer youth committees and inexperienced paid advisors with effective and useful resources that can help fill in our own substantive gaps and spark these kids' spirits one at a time. Instead what we're getting seems to be mostly kneejerk groupthink and political platitudes.


February 23, 2005 06:33 PM | Permalink for this comment

I am an old YRUU'er from the late 80's and early 90's and recently became aware of the Con Con and the Common Ground III issues. Putting aside the racism training issue, which should be its own thread, a few points.

(1) What is missing from this discussion appears to be the youth council, or the steering committee. At least when I was on the Steering Committee, the notion was that YRUU was semi-autonomous. It made decisions for itself in consultation with the UUA, it grappled with these issues that are being discussed. It did not get told what to do by the Trustees or our employees, the youth staff. The idea that the Trustees and the Youth Staff would decide to pull the plug on a 25 year old annual conference is offensive. No one I know would have dared terminate the annual conference without a vote of youth council. What happened to Youth Empowerment. There is a serious process issue at the very least, exemplified best by the following from the Youth Office's statement- "We have done this without putting the burden of identifying it and working to reform/eliminate it on the communities who have been marginalized by our past support of it." -- This is just another way of saying "we made the decision for you."

(2) Putting aside process, I find many of the reasons for the decision disingenuous. Too hard to put on the conference? Not enough staff? Its an elite conference! unlike GA? In 1990, I was the business manager for Con-Con. We had two youth program staff, not htree, who helped with logistics along with numerous other training work they did at the youth council's direction, but we "volunteers" did most of it. This can't be the real reason to cancel Con Con without even a vote of Youth Council.

(3) I think the end game here is basically the UUA finishing off what was started in 1980 -- complete incorporation of the once independent youth program into the UUA. It didn't like LRY, it tolerated YRUU, and now its time to finish the process. It is understandable that the UUA wants to have its staff support its congregations. It is a matter of control and it is a matter of resources. But, Con Con is the closest many youth will get to being a part of a congregation of their own until they have kids and come back to the church. What the admin of UUA missed back in 1980, what they missed in 1990 and what they are missing now is that the YRUU or LRY goal of youth empowerment was achieved by the independent structure. Moreover, this goal of empowerment is UU'ism. We who were involved learned through our actions that the path to "spirituality" is at once solitary and at the same time only possible through a community we build. The independent structure was the point. Con-Con was the gathering in which the myth was spread, in which we were indoctrinated, and which we brought back to each of our districts.

The UUA has always favored talking about things rather than doing those things. What is remarkable is that it is now pulling the legs out from a program that actually worked to empower its youth, to teach them UU'ism through practice, all to accomplish more talking rather than doing. I think that this is very sad. (As an aside, our predecessors at LRY knew something like this would happen. That’s why the LRY endowment money was directed to a segregated fund for the purpose of supporting YRUU. What better way to empower than to fund. If I were a YRUU'er who was not happy about this turn of events, I would think about "following the money" to see if YRUU could exert its original control over those funds. I might even talk to a lawyer to look into the issue further.)

The bottom line. The youth should stand up for themselves and, if they believe in YRUU like I did when I was their age, they should fight for that vision. There are a bunch of "adults" who can give them advice, who believed in that vision and who will help. Just ask for it.

Tom Doyle

Graham Smith:

February 24, 2005 02:05 PM | Permalink for this comment

Anyone know who is attending/did attend this Feb. meeting? This from the current UU World:

UUNEWS -- March/April 2005

New vision for youth


by Tom Stites

UUA President William G. Sinkford and Megan Dowdell, the youth trustee on the UUA board of trustees, are initiating a process at the board's request to develop a new vision for the UU A's ministry to and with youth.

The first major step was to be a two-day February meeting of about 35 people Sinkford and Dowdell invited to plan the process.

They expect the process to culminate in a “consultation” after the 2006 General Assembly in St. Louis that would be charged with formally promulgating the new vision. Sinkford said that as many as 200 participants could take part in the consultation.

Participants in the February meeting were to include members of YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Unversalists), the UU A-sponsored continental youth organization for 14- to 20-year-olds; other UU youth not affiliated with YRUU ; youth advisors from congregations with strong ties to YRUU and from others without strong ties; some parents of youth; and representatives from the UU Ministers Association, the Liberal Religious Educators Association, and Diverse and Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries (DRUUM).

The first day of the two-day meeting was to be set aside for the YRUU members to express their concerns about the UUA-YRUU relationship. Among the concerns they have expressed are top-down leadership and the UUA Youth Office's decision in December 2004 to withdraw its support of Con Con, YRUU 's annual Continental Conference. The steps leading up to the consultation were to be planned the second day.

The process was set in motion in October by a board resolution after two years of discussion between Sinkford and the YRUU Youth Council. Sinkford said in an interview that he was concerned that YRUU did not serve many congregational youth programs and that many youth, parents, and congregational youth advisors did not “find comfort” in the culture of its national gatherings.

In a separate interview, Dowdell said YRUU 's structure made it difficult for it to serve youth at the congregational level and thus is less inclusive than it might be.

Dowdell, 20, a student at Simmons College who helped found the youth group at her congregation, the First Parish Church in Beverly, Massachusetts, was elected to a two-year term as a voting trustee at the 2003 General Assembly. What does she hope the revisioning will accomplish?

“I'd like there to be accountability structures that both empower youth and engage adults,” she said, “and create sustainable programming and spiritual community for youth at the local church level.”

Said Sinkford, “I think we have an enormous opportunity to refashion the way we nurture and support the religious lives of our young people so they will be more comfortable with our faith and transition into an adult life of Unitarian Universalism. This is about as central to the mission of the UUA as it can get.”

---- Graham Smith


February 24, 2005 04:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

I understand that the meeting was last week, although I haven't heard a peep about how it went. Two discussion areas are up at hoping to talk about it, though: "New Vision for Youth" (2.18.05) and "New Vision for Youth (Sinkford, YRUU, DRUUM, UU Ministers, LREA)".

Erik Swanson:

March 1, 2005 02:24 AM | Permalink for this comment

I'd like to get involved in this conversation, but what I'd really like to do right now is to contact Jim Sechrest, but his contact info doesn't work. Can you email me, Jim?

Briefly, I'm Graham's best friend and agree with him on most of this stuff. I've decided to put my money where my mouth is and I've signed up to advise at a NH-VT YRUU con in a couple of weeks, and I'm applying to be adult at large at Youth Council this year. I hope they take me!

Erik Swanson:

March 1, 2005 02:49 AM | Permalink for this comment

Can someone explain to me what is so important about "lifelong UUism?"

I mean, one of the things that I take pride in as a UU is that there ain't much that's against my religion, but prosletyzing is one of them. If our young people grow up to find a different spiritual path, is that so terrible?

Also, as a 37-year-old who spent most of his twenties trying to hold his nose and go to church on Sunday and failing miserably: there simply isn't much of a place in UU churches for the young and childless. Most of us who grew up UU waited until we were at least 30 (if not 35 or 40) to have kids.

But more importantly, I think most of us raised UU don't really need the church. Our parents were Catholics who needed a cure to their oppressive religion. We don't.

Most of the folks I grew up with in YRUU go to UU churches now. Hell, a lot of them are ministers. But if they move on, is that bad?

If we're so worried about UUs staying forever, why don't we do some missionary work? Because the adults that were brought up Catholic probbaly need us more, don't you think?


March 6, 2005 01:39 AM | Permalink for this comment

As a current youth and an active member of the continental community, I find this WHOLE DISCUSSION as inappropriate and offensive and VERY disempowering. The only responses that seem to even CARE about the youth perspective are Tim's. And I know Tim and I believe it is because he has just aged out. And therefore, from the names I recognize, he is the only one of you (those holding this discussion) who should hold ANY clout. If you adults think you are youth allies, then show it. Explain to me again why you weren't at ConCon this past year, I it because you care about youth programming so much or because you just like to complain that you WEREN'T EVEN THERE?
I'm am deeply hurt and offended that this conversation is being held not with you, not even in a constructive manny, but between YAs and adults. You all say so much while you exert your adult power. FORGET YOUR EGOS! Blog what you want, complain about what you want, but you forget the YOUTH and as you whine and complain about the UUA's wrongs you don't do anything to correct it. And personally, I don't see ANY of you as youth allies...a good example is Jim. Yes, I am calling you out. Why? You have disempowered me so much. You have stated on FUUSE that you don't even believe in the principles, yet you consider yourself a UU, that is SOOOO hypocritical.
I am so angry at ALL of you. You need to step away from what is a YOUTH problem. I DO NOT CARE WHAT THE HELL YOU THINK ABOUT THE UUA OR ABOUT THE YO! YOU ARE NOT A YOUTH, YOU ARE PAST BEING A YOUTH! IF YOU WANT TO BE AN ALLY, THEN DO IT! THIS BULLSHIT ISN'T HELPING! Be supportive, don't TELL us what to do. Don't complain and say we SHOULD do something. DON'T EVEN TRY AND ORGANIZE! Be a can do that can't you?


March 6, 2005 08:53 AM | Permalink for this comment

Hey Bart, you're obviously P.O.'d, but it's not so obvious why. Here are a few queries for you that might lead the discussion in a more constructive direction:

1. Who sponsors the cons? Why do they do so? What is the purpose?

2. What's good about the cons that we're missing?

3. Is there anything bad about the cons, from your point of view?

4. Is what you think is good about the cons also religious?

5. From whose pockets does the money come from to sponsor the cons?

6. From whose pockets did the money come from for you, personally, to attend?

7. To what extent should the people who sponsor and pay for these things be entitled to shape the agenda?

tim fitz:

March 20, 2005 05:31 PM | Permalink for this comment

it's not Bart's responsibility, as a youth, to answer those questions for you. if you had been present and invested (which doesn't mean "in charge") for the past few years, you would already know the answers. but you haven't been, and yet you want youth to carry the burden of doubt?


March 20, 2005 06:55 PM | Permalink for this comment

Hey Tim, whose responsibility is it? Who has the answers? And what's with dissing people who do work with children and youth at the local level? How are we supposed to help convince parents to support these continental youth activities when youth activists think these sorts of basic questions reflect hostility to youth?

YRUU's bad publicity is YRUU's problem. That's a sad truth, no matter whose "fault" it is. But whose job is it to present a better picture?


March 31, 2005 11:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

So, I am at a point where I feel that I need to answer those questions. I don't mind being a token youth, but I will make it clear that this is MY POV.
So, youth from churches sponsor cons, or the District YAC (or whatever). If a youth wants to go they pay. They don't get to decide the programming.
Now in regards to ConCon, the UUA pays everything that ConCon goes over budget for. And that gives youth a bad rap. And I admit that youth breaking rules gives us a bad rap, but you have to have that mindset to begin with. All youth have the ability to be on Youth Council, which decides about ConCon and GA and YRUU policies. The problem in my mind is that a) youth aren't active due to a variety of reasons and b) the knowledge about it isn't out there. YRUU is not a popularity contest. YRUU is also not the place for adults to voice their concerns. That's what this is really about. Not the youth, but the people who don't think they control us but really do. There are adults who don't understand anything about YRUU. YRUU is not LRY, and from what I've heard from LRYers its your fault ya'll got shut down. There are two sides to every story. Hear my side.
I don't want adults speaking for me who don't listen to me. I don't want adults telling me what to do. I DON'T WANT ADULTS WHO DON'T RESPECT ME AS A HUMAN BEING!!! Blogs are great, free speech is great. But you need to get every side of a story to be a journalist (which bloggers are trying to do). If you are an adult and any YRUU decision concerns you, fine. Are you a memeber of it? Even if your kids are, do you have a right to tell your kids what to do in regards to YRUU? In my opinion, no. Uptight parents are the reason YRUU (locally, in my experience) wavers and ends up being controlled by adults. If ya'll are allies, THEN ACT LIKE IT! SUPPORT US! ALL OF US! WHATEVER DECISION IS MADE, FOLLOW IT!
In regards to the most recent comment, I should not have to answer any direct question about being a youth. It is tokenization. Adults who are allies and think they know the answers should answer it. YRUU's bad publicity is NOT the youth's problem. IT'S EVERYONES PROBLEM! Saying that YRUU's bad publicity is YRUU's problem is like saying the Catholic churchs bad image is their fault for having child-molesting priests. You cannot base an attitude towards a group based on the actions of individuals. Now, say a white supremicist group starts within YRUU as a counter to the AR you call all of YRUU nazis because of this? No, you single out that group. If you have a problem with a certain group of stoners or drinkers or people who have sex within YRUU single THEM out with your negative attitudes. All youth get punished for the actions of a few, it's like middle school all over again. (No recess is one person misbehaves) Now, in regards to AR/AO work, OUR PRINICIPLES SAY THAT WE SHOULD LIVE A CERTAIN WAY! If you don't agree with them, why the hell are you a UU? If you can't deal with your internal racism, that is your problem to deal with...I should only have to deal with it as a white ally, and PoCs should not have to deal with it at all.
A better blog topic than the ConCon decision is "why adults feel like they are the only ones who matter and the youth are their little plaything to be bossed around?"

Jason Head:

April 11, 2005 11:31 PM | Permalink for this comment

With all due respect Bart, I'm not sure not that the AR movement, as it has been defined and described, IS necessarily consistent with UU principles (especially tolerance and the inherent dignity and worth of all people). Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong on this.

As far as adult participation in YRUU, I completely agree that youth should drive the movement. BUT, good adult advisement is a necessary and crucial component as well. Unfortunately, YRUU has a history of poor adult participation (a big shout-out to the staff of Con-Con '90), which makes this a difficult argument to make.

However, this does not absolve youth of their responsibilities to YRUU. The members of YRUU at any given point in time have a responsibility to their predecessors and their children to preserve and maintain a nurturing religious community in the form of the Continental Conference of YRUU.

And you guys blew it. Big time.

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