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Friday, June 1, 2007

Brown bag landmines, culling the affiliates, and more.

Hoo boy, what a week in UU blogs! Too bad I'm busy preparing for Mrs Philocrites' ordination this weekend — to say nothing of General Assembly preparations and other work excitement — so I'll simply point you to the box office hits of the first week of the Summer of Blog.

PeaceBang rouses the Starr King student body and alumni by questioning the school's decision to stop calling brown bag lunches "brown bag lunches." (Racism, natch.) Before you read her post, though, here's the Quest newsletter article PeaceBang is responding to. Sturm und Drang erupts in PeaceBang's comments thread — the fastest institutional response to a blog post in UU history is here — with additional defenses of Starr King's "countering oppression" curriculum [pdf] from RevSean, Left Coast Unitarian, Berry's Mom, and (new to me) Andy Karlson.

Skeptics of the racist connotations of brown bag lunches and the general tenor of Starr King rhetoric include Fausto, ChaliceChick, Ms Theologian, and Scott Wells. A second day of brown bag commentary brings in Jess and The Lively Tradition (twice!) and further thoughts from ChaliceChick and Ms Theologian before the conversation "goes meta" in a third round. Jamie Goodwin is the first to cry, Enough!

I have one observation to add, gingerly walking through our denominational language sensitivity minefield: When I was enrolled in my MDiv program (at Harvard Div School), it seemed to me that most of us came down with cases of terminal earnestness. I'd go so far as to say that extremism in the cause of sincerity was no vice among us. Perhaps we saw that the general demeanor of seriousness in graduate school helps others understand the gravity of one's intellectual or moral or political or ministerial insights even when they cannot comprehend what one is saying at any given moment. It's the deep thought that counts.

Happily, some of my more afflicted colleagues largely recovered from the worst symptoms of Seminarian Seriousis after a year or two in the ministry. They may be more earnest than the average Unitarian Universalist, but still, give credit!

My point is this: Although I am temperamentally and intellectually predisposed toward the skeptical side, I think it's a tad unfair to take after the earnestness of the seminarians too aggressively. If we did, we'd easily find outbreaks of groupthink at Meadville Lombard, Harvard, Andover Newton, and anywhere else two or three have gathered to dine on their professors' jargon-rich food for thought.

If that weren't enough blog excitement for the week, we also have the fate of the independent affiliates to ponder. The Lively Tradition posts the list of UU organizations that failed to meet the UUA Board's significantly changed requirements for independent affiliate organizations and follows up with several posts trying to make sense of the decision. (UU World's coverage of the Board's decision appeared in its report on the April Board meeting, which went to press before the Board had publicized its full list.) Update! Here is the published version of the Board's letter to the leaders of independent organizations and a schedule of meetings at GA for independent organizations that hints at how the Board may hope the groups will band together.

Finally, I want to introduce a few noteworthy newcomers to the interdependent Web: Scott Gerard Prinster launches Occam's Trowel as part of his exploration of the history of science and the radical Reformation. (How amazingly cool is that?) Sociology grad student Stephen Merino, a new UU with Mormon roots like me, writes at Reason and Reverence. And Jess launches a new version of her Best of Unitarian Universalism project, collecting inspiring and provocative content from around the Web; she welcomes your recommendations.

Those of you in the Boston area, please remember that the Third Annual UU Bloggers Picnic is Saturday, June 16, from noon to 3:00 at First Parish in Milton. Hope to see you there!

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 1 June 2007 at 7:54 AM

Previous: This week at Liberalizing the graveyard.
Next: This week at Meet the new humanism.



Jeff W.:

June 1, 2007 03:32 PM | Permalink for this comment

If you just can't get enough of the Great Brown Bag Blogging Boondoggle of 2007 (aka The Third Unitarian Controversy), there is another supportive thread at Ms. Kitty's Saloon, to which Boy in the Bands responds critically, and a somewhat critical one at Biddies in My Brain.

But I really only wanted to leave a comment to point to a thread Toonhead initiated, where people can make fun of the whole discussion.

My thanks to UUpdater, whose hard work allows people stuck at home all afternoon for one reason or another to ferret out every single tattered thread in UU blogosphere discussions. . .

Jamie Goodwin:

June 1, 2007 09:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Thanks for the link!


June 2, 2007 07:38 AM | Permalink for this comment

The Wild Hunt discusses the rejection of CUUPs, the UU pagan organization, as an independent affiliate.


June 2, 2007 04:01 PM | Permalink for this comment

I don't post very often, but this discussion has pulled a post out of me. People can find it here, if they're not too sick of the whole thing.

Ms. Theologian:

June 2, 2007 04:41 PM | Permalink for this comment

Thanks for the mention, Philocrites. You make a good point about earnestness too.

Patrick McLaughlin:

June 2, 2007 07:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

Ooooh, fun.

Banning "brown bag lunch" (a widely used phrase with no racist history) because brown bags (but not at lunch) were used, once, by some for racist purposes is absurdist. Shall we compound the silliness by insisting that henceforth all sack lunch events shall be exclusively attended by those carrying their lunches in WHITE paper bags (achieving in so doing another possibly racist spin and ensuring greater damage to the ecology by requiring bleached paper sacks in order to achieve some imagined purity)? Ye gods below, a place where something other than white is the default assumption and it's to be avoided and banned?

Let a thousand containers of any color brought to the table, adorned or not.

Elsewhere... the failure of various organizations to get through the flaming hoop of official affiliate group status. Yeah, no surprise. I saw this one coming. My minister is up to her ears in UUFETA and I pointed out to her that the group--and many others--were in deep kimchee... and here's why; the rules require

"...a statement outlining how its purpose, mission and structure models interdependence through engagement with our member congregations, coordination or collaboration of effort and resources; and a statement outlining how the organization supports the transformation of institutions and our world to be aligned with those values expressed in our Principles..."

There's no judgment passed on the laudable nature or purpose of the groups that have not been affiliated. But they failed to find a way to articulate their purpose and mission in a way that meets the requirements. And I say... good. I'm all for many of them. But I'm interested, as a UU, in how they serve to strengthen and support the movement and the congregations, not in how the UU movement can support those groups. (I personally don't see, for example, how UUFETA, on its own, can meet the standard).

Some of them, I imagine, can get through the hoop. They just need to better understand what they need to express and to get a better wordsmith to craft their explanation. Some... I think... can't--at least not on their own.

Rev. Matt Tittle:

June 3, 2007 12:16 AM | Permalink for this comment

Self-flagellation is so unbecoming of us. What might come of the world if UUs (bloggers and otherwise) turned their concerns and compassions to the world around us rather than behaving with one another as if the world revolved around us...I hear constantly from non-UUs how very unpleasant we UUs can be...I'm sure glad I wasn't reading UU blogs this week...

I'll be out spreading the GOOD news of UUism...


June 3, 2007 08:36 AM | Permalink for this comment

"...a statement outlining how its purpose, mission and structure models interdependence through engagement with our member congregations, coordination or collaboration of effort and resources; and a statement outlining how the organization supports the transformation of institutions and our world to be aligned with those values expressed in our Principles..."

I can understand the first part, what with congregational polity and all. But since when is "transformation of institutions and our world" into a reflection of "our Principles" a necessary precondition to membership? To acknowledge Rev. Matt's concern, how is it not behaving as if the world revolved around us? We're a religious tradition, not an insurrectionist cell or an incarnation of the Divine. And it's not as if those Principles are even supposed to be considered sacred or anything -- heck, it's in our bylaws that we are supposed to be constantly reviewing and revising them as needed.

As far as I'm concerned, a procedure that won't recognize the Unitarian Sunday School Society, founded in 1826 only a year after the American Unitarian Association and by many of the same leaders, as a legitimate affiliate is a broken, worthless procedure.


June 4, 2007 08:02 AM | Permalink for this comment

Hey, big congratulations to Mrs. P. on her ordination! Woo, hoo! Do a post or a picture or something telling us all about it....

Charlie Talbert:

June 4, 2007 10:12 AM | Permalink for this comment


The members of UFETA*, all Unitarian Universalists, share your point of view that UFETA should support congregations as a condition of Independent Affiliate status. It’s what we do.

UFETA folks around the USA, Canada, and Germany sponsor sermons, outside speakers, film screenings, potlucks, book discussions and other activities within their congregations intended to foster dialog about humanity’s relationship with other beings.

We work with Religious Education Committees to design and teach compassion-related topics, Adult Enrichment Committees to teach the joys of vegetarian cooking, Social Justice Councils and similar congregational groups to bring nonhumans into the sphere of moral consideration, and Green Sanctuary Committees to explore the many connections between animal agriculture and environmental degradation.

In my congregation last October, the Green Sanctuary and UFETA chapters teamed, with the support and much of the work done by our minister, to publish the Peace and Thanksgiving Cookbook, which has been a huge hit with our congregation’s members and friends, and some community members, too.

Most of UFETA’s Board members, and all of its officers, are Unitarian Universalist ministers serving congregations. That’s where are activities and support are focused.

* It’s “UFETA”, not “UUFETA”. For some reason when our group was formed 20+ years ago, the founders were more interested in shortening our acronym than our sometimes unwieldy full name, Unitarian Universalists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Stephen Merino:

June 5, 2007 08:34 AM | Permalink for this comment

Thanks for mentioning my blog! I've already had a few new readers.


June 7, 2007 02:18 PM | Permalink for this comment

Be sure to read thelivelytradition's discussion of the ways that independent affiliates have functioned in the UUA ecosystem. He argues that the Board may be imposing an overly narrow interpretation of congregational polity and congregational accountability on the Association.


June 15, 2007 09:32 AM | Permalink for this comment

More on independent affiliates from Scott Wells and Dave Pollard. (See also this followup by Scott.)

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