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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Can bloggers meet in broad daylight?

Okay, Philocritics, we've chatted up a storm about a party with all your favorite Boston-area liberal religious bloggers, and I think we've largely agreed that the last Saturday in April — April 30 — looks promising. So now we actually have to plan the thing.

Response to the party idea has come primarily from other Unitarian Universalist bloggers and my UU readers (which shouldn't be surprising, I suppose), so maybe I'll float the idea of a more ecumenically intentional gathering at the Progressive Christian Blogger Network. Since we Unitarian Universalists don't apply creedal tests for fellowship, of course, all friendly Philocritics are welcome to attend. Unfriendly Philocritics will have to defeat me in games of frisbee golf before gaining admittance.

I like the idea of our party being a family affair, with partners and children. I like the afternoon idea, knowing that ministers don't exactly spend Saturday nights out dancing. I like the idea that Chalicechick might convince Scott to join her in a weekend roadtrip all the way from Washington, D.C. Friends, that's the power of blogging right there.

So here are the burning questions before us: Who has a nice park or perhaps a nice parish hall with a convenient lawn? (Being a person of faith, I'm hoping that the last Saturday afternoon in April might actually be warm enough here in Massachusetts for us to be outside, enjoying the warmth of that strange orb, the Sun.) Who makes the best potato salad? Who actually knows how to plan a good party? This is your chance to shine.

Posted by Philocrites, March 31, 2005, at 08:24 PM | 25 comments

Did Jesus suffer for our sins?

Mark Heim, who teaches theology at Andover Newton Theological School and whose classes I've always kicked myself for not taking when I was a student at HDS, reviews seven books on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement in last week's Christian Century. (Substitutionary atonement: Jesus "paid the price" for your sins.) Unitarian Universalists may be pleased to see the positive reception of Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker's Proverbs of Ashes, which Heim says avoids the problems that plague many "first-person approaches to controversial subjects" in a way that is "neither bitter nor dogmatic." If you'd like a sample of the book's argument and approach, UU World excerpted part of their book back in 2002; I also interviewed the authors for that issue. Heim recommends their book for anyone who thinks there's nothing wrong with the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.

He describes Robert Sherman's King, Priest and Prophet: A Trinitarian Theology of Atonement as the most useful perspective:

Sherman reminds us that from a systematic theological perspective, the [substitutionary] doctrine was never meant to stand alone. King, Priest, and Prophet reviews the substitutionary approach to Christ’s death along with other major historical options—those that see it as an exemplary illustration of God’s love, those that see it as a victory over evil powers. He concludes that the faults of any one are addressed when they are coordinated together, and an explicitly trinitarian theology is the framework necessary to do this. Theology, liturgy or devotion narrowed to the resources or images from only one of these approaches will necessarily be distorted. Someone who wants a map of the entire landscape would do well to start with Sherman’s book . . .

Heim also has grateful things to say about Hans Boersma's provocative Violence, Hospitality and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition.

("Cross Purposes," S. Mark Heim, Christian Century 3.22.05)

Posted by Philocrites, March 31, 2005, at 08:04 PM | 2 comments

Men in dresses and fancy hats oppose gay pride festival.

 Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders unite in opposition to gay pride festival in Jerusalem

This photo could just as easily be titled "Bigotry Brings Us Together, or How Homophobia Builds Interfaith Bridges" — a bleak trend to witness. Here we have a meeting of religious leaders opposed to an international gay pride festival in Jerusalem: Sheik Abed es-Salem Menasra, deputy mufti of Jerusalem; the Rev. Michael Sabbagh, Latin patriarch; the Rev. Aris Shirvanian, Armenian patriarch; Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Sephardic chief rabbi. Of course, an American Evangelical brought them all together:

Interfaith agreement is unusual in Israel. The leaders' joint opposition was initially generated by the Rev. Leo Giovinetti, an evangelical pastor from San Diego who is both a veteran of the American culture war over homosexuality and a frequent visitor to Israel, where he has formed relationships with rabbis and politicians.

("Clerics of 3 Faiths Protest Gay Festival Planned for Jerusalem," Laurie Goodstein and Greg Myre, New York Times 3.31.05, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, March 31, 2005, at 08:45 AM | 9 comments

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

'Boston Globe' focuses on religious books for Easter.

Holy Week doesn't leave much time for reading, what with my wife's full calendar of evening events — have I mentioned that one woman fainted in the middle of Tenebrae on Wednesday night, bringing an ambulance as Mrs Philocrites was dousing a candle? or that we watched another woman faint at the Episcopal monastery during the veneration of the cross service on Good Friday? and those are just the events I also attended! — not to mention all the cooking for Easter dinner and the fact that I was busy closing a magazine. Whew.

But all that's behind us now, and I'm turning my attention to all sorts of accumulated reading. I did notice, however, that Sunday's Boston Globe dedicated the Books section exclusively to religious titles. (I wonder who they think is sitting at home on Easter Sunday? All the Christians are busy. Easter would seem to be the perfect day for a religion-free — or at least Christianity-free — book review.)

Nevertheless, here's what you and I missed: Dan Wakefield (a member of King's Chapel, the UU Christian church in Boston) reviews God's Politics. George Scialabba reviews John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan Reed's In Search of Paul, Michael White's From Jesus to Christianity, and David Klinghoffer's Why the Jews Rejected Jesus; Unitarian Universalists and other religious liberals who tend to get twitchy around the Apostle Paul will find Crossan and Reed's argument especially interesting:

Roman imperial theology, in Crossan and Reed's brilliant reconstruction, bears an uncanny and dismaying resemblance to contemporary American imperial theology. In counterpoint, the authors weave an ingenious interpretation of Paul's writings, which they claim opposed Roman ideology on all essential points. Paul's formula was "peace through justice." Against military force he sets grace; against the Roman vision of "hierarchy within the scenario of global victory" he develops a vision of "equality within [the scenario] of global justice." Crossan and Reed argue that Paul's views on slavery and patriarchy were far more egalitarian than those prevailing in his time; and they convincingly show that apparent examples to the contrary, which account for Paul's equivocal reputation, are nearly all found in epistles mistakenly attributed to him.

Harvey Cox reviews Jaroslav Pelikan's Whose Bible Is It?: A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages, which I recently picked up. Jason Berry reviews Pope John Paul II's Memory and Identity: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium and writes a separate review of John Cornwell's The Pontiff in Winter and the pope's Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way. Rich Barlow gives brief reviews of ten recent religious books and recommends five religious classics — including former UUA President John Buehrens's book Understanding the Bible: An Introduction for Skeptics, Seekers, and Religious Liberals.

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, March 29, 2005, at 06:15 PM | 1 comments

In praise of Mrs Philocrites.

I'm extremely proud of my wife, who found out last week that she has been accepted into a Ph.D. program to study religion and literature. (Our home is turning into something of a Nicholas Ferrar and George Herbert shrine.) And last month she found out that she is one of four recipients of a major fellowship for graduate work in religion. Even though both titles are a bit premature, I have taken to calling her the Rev. Professor Wife. Of course, I feel very clever for marrying her.

Posted by Philocrites, March 29, 2005, at 05:28 PM | 7 comments

Monday, March 28, 2005

Consultation on UU youth ministry.

Bill Sinkford, president of the UUA, and Megan Dowdell, the UUA's youth trustee-at-large, released a report today on the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth. The consultation brought 30 youth and adults together in late February to start envisioning a new and expanded model for Unitarian Universalist youth ministry.

The consultation identified five priorities:

  • Youth Ministry needs to be served at a more robust, flexible, diverse level than YRUU currently offers.
  • Denominational youth work needs to serve local congregations and their youth ministry.
  • YRUU and UUA administration need to define an authority structure that respects the rightful role of institutional youth and adult leadership at the same time that it supports the growth and empowerment of all UU youth.
  • Anti-racism and anti-oppression work is an important part of youth ministry, although there is not only one way of doing it, and the "right" way depends on individual identities. We need to move this work ahead.
  • There needs to be more and better communication among continental, district, and local levels, and within congregations.

Sounds like a good beginning to me. The youth-and-young adult community at FUUSE is also discussing the report.

Posted by Philocrites, March 28, 2005, at 05:46 PM | 16 comments

Unitarian Universalism on Google News.

Google introduced a cool new feature earlier this month: a customizable Google News page that allows you to track stories about keywords of your choice along with top stories in Google's other major news categories. I've set up mine to include news stories about Unitarian Universalists just below the top stories of the day. (You can also search recent news stories from 4,000 or so news sources for articles about Unitarian Universalists; I've set up this search string to find anything related to Unitarians or Universalists, minus all the calendar and support group listings.)

Posted by Philocrites, March 28, 2005, at 05:28 PM | 4 comments

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Red Sox theology watch, Good Friday edition.

Detail: Globe Staff Photo / Dominic ChavezYou can't really tell from the online version of the picture that appeared on the front page of Saturday's Boston Globe showing the Good Friday procession by parishioners from Trinity Church (Episcopalian), Old South Church (UCC), and Church of the Advent (Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian), but the cross-bearer is wearing a Red Sox hat. Liturgical garb, ecumenical symbol, or just one of the ways you know you're in Boston? You decide. Happy Easter!

Posted by Philocrites, March 27, 2005, at 12:03 AM | 4 comments

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Remembering Archbishop Romero.

My friend Richard Higgins writes a Boston Globe op-ed today commemorating Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran liberation theologian who was murdered 25 years ago this week. Higgins is also one of the editors of a new book I just saw at the Harvard Bookstore last week, Taking Faith Seriously.

Posted by Philocrites, March 24, 2005, at 06:42 PM | 0 comments

Unitarian Universalism's 'iPod strategy'?

Chutney launches an important conversation at Coffee Hour based on an essay Doug Rogers wrote for the Unitarian Universalist public relations e-mail list. Rogers's key idea, as Chutney summarizes it, is that Unitarian Universalist churches and institutions have been "following Apple's pre-iPod strategy: an elite [niche] market. What we need is a UU iPod strategy." Read Rogers's essay, then take up the Chutney challenge:

Think big about what "big changes" you'd want to see in UUism. What would your "iPod strategy" for UUism look like? What would it take to get there? And would any of your "iPod buyers" end up "making the switch" (and give up their old PCs for new "UU Macs"). Or would that even matter?


Posted by Philocrites, March 24, 2005, at 06:25 PM

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Unitarian poet turns out to be killer on the run.

What a story:

In Chicago, [J.J. Jameson] is one of the city's most beloved antiwar poets, an author of two books and a congregation leader at [Third Unitarian] church. But in Massachusetts, he is notorious for executing a clerk at a Saugus clothing store in 1960, aiding in the murder of a Middlesex County jailer in 1961, and then escaping from a Norfolk County correction center in 1985.

Yesterday, his past and Massachusetts authorities caught up with Norman A. Porter Jr.

Porter aka Jameson was arrested at the church, where he was the church historian and a volunteer in the food pantry. ("Murderer's Arrest Ends Fugitive Life as a Chicago Poet," Donovan Slack and Eric Furkenhoff, Boston Globe 3.23.05)

Posted by Philocrites, March 23, 2005, at 08:06 AM | 5 comments

Monday, March 21, 2005

Meet your fellow Philocritics in person!

Actually, dear readers, this is a three-part query inspired by Rick Heller's suggestion and PeaceBang's enthusiastic second. Please reply to the question that best applies to you:

1. How many liberal religious bloggers (plus commenters and fans) are in the greater Boston area who would enjoy getting together sometime this spring for real-live conviviality? A party, in other words.

2. How many Unitarian Universalist bloggers in the greater Boston area would enjoy a more UU-blog-focused get-together?

3. How many UU bloggers are planning to attend the General Assembly in Fort Worth in June? (I'll bring this up again in a month or so to see if there's interest in a GA conversation about UU blogging.)

Posted by Philocrites, March 21, 2005, at 09:43 PM | 32 comments

Red Sox part-owner's plane used for CIA 'renditions.'

N85VMThe Boston Globe picks up on a Chicago Tribune story that identifies the private Gulfstream jet that appears to have been used by the CIA to "render" suspects to other nations for brutal interrogation. (The photo of the jet is from a 2003 air show in Schenectady, New York.)

Phillip H. Morse, a minority partner of the Boston Red Sox, confirmed yesterday that his private jet has been chartered to the CIA and said he was aware that it had been flown to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where more than 500 terrorism suspects are held, as well as other overseas destinations. . . .

Morse said he was "stunned" by a published report suggesting that the plane might have been used for special renditions, the controversial practice in which terrorism suspects arrested abroad have been forcibly returned to their native countries for interrogation, sometimes with methods that are barred by US law.

Between June 2002 and January of this year, the plane has flown to Afghanistan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, and the Czech Republic, and made 82 visits to Dulles International Airport outside Washington, according to the Chicago Tribune, which cited records from the Federal Aviation Administration.

("CIA Uses Jet, Red Sox Partner Confirms," Gordon Edes, Boston Globe 3.21.05; "Jet's Travels Cloaked in Mystery: Red Sox Partner's Plane Hits Spots U.S. Sent Terror Suspects," John Crewdson and Tom Hundley, Chicago Tribune 3.20.05, reg req'd. The Tribune also reported on another Gulfstream V jet used in special renditions: "Mysterious Jet Tied to Torture Flights," John Crewdson, Chicago Tribune 1.8.05, reg req'd.)

Posted by Philocrites, March 21, 2005, at 08:28 AM | 2 comments

Sunday, March 20, 2005

When everyone's on the jury.

Boston Phoenix media critic Dan Kennedy (an occasional UU World contributor) takes a look at the Terri Schiavo case and common-sensically concludes that Michael Schiavo is telling the truth about his wife's wishes — but also that video clips of her are "absolutely convincing that she is semi-aware, semi-responsive, and able to understand people in some dim way." Therefore, he wonders, why hasn't a judge in her case simply gone down to her bedside and asked her about her wishes? Couldn't she just blink or grimace a response?

Rivka (a clinical psychologist who won a UU Blog Award for Respectful of Otters) offers a lengthy, medically informed opinion and takes up the key issue that swayed Kennedy:

The key to the 4 minutes and 20 seconds of video is that Schiavo seems to be responding in a meaningful way to specific stimuli. All 17 experts who reference the videos take for granted that they demonstrate meaningful emotional or communicative responses. Could they really all be wrong?

Oh, yes. All you need to know to illuminate the question is that the six snippets of video were selected from 4 1/2 hours of tape. As do most people with PVS, Schiavo emits random behaviors and noises. If a person gives enough commands or makes enough interaction attempts over the course of several hours, by sheer coincidence some of Schiavo's random behaviors will appear to coincide with their commands. Both the trial court and the appeals court viewed the entire 4 1/2 hour tape, and both concluded that her responses were indeed random.

The issue that all 17 experts skirt, Rivka explains, is that "Terri Schiavo's cerebral cortex is not damaged, it is absent." She concludes:

Terri Schiavo's case is tragic, but not medically complicated. Nothing about it suggests any room for diversity of medical or neuropsychological opinion. The "experts" who submitted affidavits appear to know little about her case beyond what they were able to glean from cherry-picked videotape segments only a few minutes in length. They recommend sophisticated neuroimaging techniques which are not relevant to the question of the feasibility of rehabilitation when the cerebral cortex is gone.

Schiavo's story is complex and tragic and clearly an ongoing nightmare for everyone in her family — imagine spending a decade in court arguing about whether your child or spouse would want to persist in a condition from which she can never recover — but a piece of the tragedy is that we have all become a sort of ad hoc jury, everyone offering an opinion about a tiny piece of the evidence. Happily, I don't have to decide in Schiavo's case, but the political and ethical issues her case has brought to a boil do need to be decided. One essay I've found provocative and helpful is Garret Keizer's February 2005 Harper's essay, "Life Everlasting: The Religious Right and the Right to Die."

Update 3.23.05: Another must-read Unitarian Universalist commentary on the Schiavo case comes from Doug Muder at Pericles: "Affirming Life: A Personal Story."

Posted by Philocrites, March 20, 2005, at 08:59 AM | 6 comments

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Pericles: 'My taxes are obscenely low.'

Pericles is lucky enough to live largely on dividend and capital gains income — which, as he explains in a great essay, means that he's taxed at 15% (1040, Schedule D, Line 24). Like me, though, you probably have to work for your income, which means that you're taxed at a much higher rate. In fact, your wages have to be really low to be taxed at a mere 15%:

If you’re married filing jointly, like me, it happens when your taxable income reaches $14,300. At that point you pay $1,434 in taxes, and at $14,400 you pay $1,449 – $15 more. If you’re single, you hit the 15% marginal rate at $7,150 when you pay $719 – an extra $100 in tips raises your tax $15 to $734. A Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett could toss that extra Benjamin on the table without even noticing, and the waitress would pay the same tax on it that he did.

Maybe more. A wage-earning married couple is up to a 25% marginal rate at $59,000, and a single person at $29,050.

Let’s flesh that out. Suppose you’re single, live alone, and have $29,050 in taxable income (line 42). Working backwards, the $3,100 personal exemption (line 41) and the $4,850 standard deduction (line 39) give you an adjusted gross income (line 36) of $37,000. Let’s say you didn’t have any income other than wages, and that you didn’t manage to set anything aside for your IRA last year – fairly typical at this income level. That means line 36 comes straight from line 7 – the wages, salaries, and tips number on your W-2.

A person who works full-time puts in about 2,000 hours a year (40 hours times 50 weeks, assuming two weeks of vacation). So $37,000 on your W-2 means you make $18.50 an hour, on average. That’s not bad. You earn more than triple the minimum wage ($5.15), so you might work in a unionized factory, do bookkeeping or some other skilled office work, sell something on commission, or manage a handful of people at WalMart or McDonalds. You might even be a poorly-paid professional like a teacher.

So if that’s who you are, the next $100 you make by working overtime or taking a second job will cost you $25 in federal income tax. That’s $10 more than Bill and Warren and I pay on our next $100 of dividends.

A married couple’s total rate reaches 15% at $65,200, when they pay $9,781. A single person hits 15% at $32,600. So a wage-earning married couple with $66,000 of taxable income pays a higher total tax rate than Bill Gates. And not because Bill hires an army of accountants to do something fancy with his money. (He may, but he wouldn’t have to.) Bill and Warren and I pay that little because the government doesn’t even try to get any more out of us. Our uncle loves us.

("My Taxes Are Obscene," Doug Muder, Pericles [Daily Kos] 3.15.05)

Posted by Philocrites, March 19, 2005, at 01:31 PM | 2 comments

'If UU Christians are so oppressed...'

Jess ran into some poorly disguised bigotry at her husband's Unitarian Universalist seminary — pointed, of course, at anything having to do with the "J"-word:

Last week I approached two seminary students who were responsible for this week's Wednesday Vespers service, offering to sing Faure's "Pie Jesu" from the Requiem, 'cause it's pretty and seasonal and I think it would add to any service this gray time of year. As soon as they heard "Jesu" they shut me down, saying it wouldn't be appropriate with their message of "Take your light out into the world." "All they'll hear is 'Jesu,'" said one of them.

Many of you will immediately grasp the irony of this exchange, but a few too many UUs will not. I think back to a fellow member of my congregation in Salt Lake City who asked me what seminary I was applying to — and then stepped away from me when I told her I'd be going to Harvard Divinity School: "But there are Christians there!," she said. And soon there would be one more, I thought. At the time, though, I was keeping my light under a bushel and kept my mouth shut.

Jess's reflection on this phenomenon led PeaceBang to post an inspired essay, "And I Am Convicted." Two paragraphs from her essay:

I had never once questioned his absence in my childhood church, but I now began to wonder: since Jesus’ radical inclusivity, love of humanity, and passion for justice was so harmonious with all the “good news” I was hearing in our congregations, why did our ministers and congregants so assiduously avoid the gospels? I found it comical on some Sundays, depressing other Sundays, and consistently baffling. I could not understand why UUs would allow the perversions of the religious right to define the word “Christian” (or “religious,” for that matter), why they would concede religious language to the conservatives, and why they would go out of their way to construct a religion intentionally bereft of theology, rendering themselves a quasi-religion and many of their churches temples of denial and hypocrisy, where every spiritual path but the Christian path was considered valid, and where all evidence of a Christian past was removed, revised, and painted over.

It took me over ten more years of committed Unitarian Universalist life to consider that perhaps my dear UUs were the most strangely faithful Christians of all: having either intuitively or consciously embraced Jesus’ gospel of love, service and justice, they could not stand to affiliate with any so-called faithful who claimed to have received their inspiration for discrimination, exclusion, superstition, and damnation from the same source. The well, for too many UUs, had been irrevocably poisoned, and they would thereafter drink of the living waters from another source. Any other source, it seemed, but the Christian well.

PeaceBang in turn inspired Fausto to offer his own very good Easter commentary, "Like a Thief in the Night." I think I'll save my thoughts on the resurrection for after Easter, but Fausto will give you plenty to chew on in the meantime. And, in a post and followup comments you won't want to miss, Chalicechick challenges PeaceBang and Fausto to explain what the Bible has to do with UUs. Jeff Wilson throws in some good stuff, too, though my own anachronistic perspective leans to Fausto's side.

With all this invigorating liberal Christian witnessing going on, however, Paul Wilczynski raises the question I'd like to address:

I keep noticing that most of the bloggers who identify as Unitarian Universalist characterize themselves as Christian Unitarian Universalists.

What's up with that? If UU Christians are so oppressed — as the old conventional wisdom in UU circles had it — why are there so many of 'em on the Internet? A few thoughts:

It's parochial: Although you might not be able to tell, several of the early UU adopters of Blogger and Movable Type — two of the major blogging software packages — actually know each other off-line. Could it be that UU Christians took to blogging early because it gave us a way to keep in touch with each other while having conversations we wanted the larger movement to be having? Boy in the Bands, Philocrites, Prophet Motive, PeaceBang, and Unity, for example, are written by real-life pals who like to hang out with each other. And now that a few of us have met the Amazing Fausto, we're not just a bunch of div school pals. (Only PeaceBang and I are Harvard Divinity alums. Fausto shames us all, though: He knows more UU history and theology than 93% of ministers.) Since we're a chatty bunch, we make UU Christianity seem more widespread than it is. When you add in the other UU blogs by Christians or Christian-friendly blogs, you get quite a long list.

It's really software-specific: As Eric Posa noted in an earlier series of comments about the theological tendencies in UU bloggers, users of LiveJournal tend much more toward the neopagan and free-thinker ends of the UU spectrum than the UU population as a whole, probably because the UUs in LiveJournal Land are much younger even than us young fogeys, and because LiveJournal is known for its embrace of alternative subcultures. HUUmanists, meanwhile, largely dominate a handful of UU e-mail lists — though I've seen hints of movement toward explicitly religious-humanist blogs. Could it be that UU Christians feel more comfortable in the more public blogging universe because we're more comfortable in relatively mainstream culture?

It's the holy spirit!: Okay, I'm kind of kidding here, but the UU Christian blogging phenomenon is part of a larger trend toward new forms of Christian witness within the UUA including the UUCF Revival conferences and growing interest among younger UUs.

It won't last: Unitarian Universalists with more typically UU theological perspectives are bound to adopt blogging, and I expect the UU Christian dominance to fade over time. I suspect we'll still contribute some of the best writing, but that's because I admire my friends a great deal. Given the quality of the theological conversation we've seen lately, I can't wait to see what might develop. Can't you just imagine a General Assembly panel discussion with Chalicechick (the humanist), Jeff Wilson (the Buddhist), and Fausto (the Socinian Christian)? Wow would that be fun!

Posted by Philocrites, March 19, 2005, at 01:03 PM | 9 comments

Friday, March 18, 2005

Fr Jake on 'attempted coup' in the Episcopal Church.

Episcopalian readers (including Mrs Philocrites) will want to read Father Jake's analysis of the goals and methods of the American Anglican Council and Anglican Communion Network. In particular, he describes documents presented in a court case that support the basic claim of a Washington Post article from last year: "Plan to Supplant Episcopal Church USA Is Revealed" (Alan Cooperman, 1.14.04, reg req'd).

Posted by Philocrites, March 18, 2005, at 06:53 PM | 0 comments

The second coming of My Irony.

Be still my beating heart: My Irony (another award-winning Unitarian Universalist blog) is back on the air — at a slightly different address. In the olden days we'd say, "Have you read" Here in the bright light of modernity, though, we say, "Have you checked out" My irony net: I think I want one, too!

Posted by Philocrites, March 18, 2005, at 06:03 PM | 0 comments

A great UU publicity initiative.

Where have I been? Award-winning contributing editor Jake called my attention today to the publicity effort the San Diego-area Unitarian Universalist congregations have put together. It's quite good. The congregations produced two 30-second TV ads, a six-minute film, and a fine newcomers Web site introducing Unitarian Universalism and the programs of the area churches.

Posted by Philocrites, March 18, 2005, at 05:58 PM | 1 comments

Unitarian humor 0, retort 1.

A brief chapter from the long annals of the rhetorical strategy we might call "Let's You and Me Laugh at You": A new columnist for the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, News — who proudly identifies himself as a Unitarian Universalist — started one of his columns like this:

When I moved to Tuscaloosa last August, a new acquaintance asked, “Where do you plan to worship?"

“Worship?" I asked jokingly. “I’m a Unitarian. Unitarians don’t worship together. We reason together."

An Alabama native and a Southern Baptist, this man rejected my attempt at humor about religion, as his silence and dour demeanor showed. We have not spoken again.

I have encountered other Southerners, white and black, whose lives are organized by religion and the Bible. Some are too blind to see that their apocalyptic worldview prevents them from recognizing the wondrous humor inherent in their peculiar religiosity.

But cheer up, folks. I am here to tell you all that — even in Tuscaloosa County, with more than 300 churches of various denominations — Southern religion has a long and storied tradition of humor and self-deprecation.

I'm very sure it does. I ask you, however: How likely is it that such a column will be perceived as an instance of self-deprecation? How likely is it that such a column will be perceived as derisive snobbery? Having grown up in another deeply conservative place, I can appreciate the appeal of snapping publicly at the big bully every now and then, but I question the rhetorical effectiveness of Unitarian self-aggrandizement.

Happily, all was not lost. A letter to the editor smartly replied:

I can’t tell you how pleased I am that The Tuscaloosa News has finally got a Unitarian Humor Columnist. Over the years, no telling how many people — knowing my background in journalism — have asked me, “Why doesn’t the Tuscaloosa News have a Unitarian Humor Columnist? Every other newspaper does."

They’re familiar with Joseph Pulitzer’s dictum: “If it ain’t got a Unitarian Humor Columnist, it ain’t a newspaper. Something can quack like a duck, waddle like a duck, and look like a duck, but it still ain’t a Unitarian Humor Columnist."

Despite my delight that the News now has its own UHC, I must lodge one complaint about his column that poked fun at the mainstream churches in the South. Why didn’t he also include some jokes of which Unitarians were the butt? It’s not as if there are no Unitarian jokes. For instance: There was a convention of Unitarians who also were amnesiacs and dyslexics. They all stayed up every night wondering if there is a dog.

If your UHC is short on Unitarian jokes, he might like to buy the book “843 Hilarious Unitarian Jokes for Unitarian Humor Columnists." According to a review in the January issue of the Journal of the Unitarian Humor Columnists Association, “This book is a collection of 843 hilarious Unitarian jokes for Unitarian Humor Columnists." It’s easy to see why UHC’s are so popular.

Touché! ("Finding Humor in Religion," Bill Maxwell, Tuscaloosa News 2.14.05; "Having Unitarian Humor Is Great," David Sloan, Tuscaloosa News 2.16.05; reg req'd)

Yet inspiring all the same.

Columnist Bill Maxwell is actually a very interesting guy. He's a long-time journalist whose inaugural column describes how he was a black civil rights activist in Alabama in the mid-60s and swore he'd never live there again. "Stillman College brought me back," he explains:

As an undergraduate at Wiley and later at historically black Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla., I promised my professors that I would return to a Historically Black College or University, known as HBCUs, to teach or to coach football, that I would give back, that I would serve.

Two years ago, while an editorial writer and columnist for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, I decided the time had come for me to keep that promise. During my spare time, I traveled to several HBCUs throughout the country and studied others online to determine where I would best fit and, of course, which one would hire me.

I chose Stillman primarily because of President Ernest McNealey. I liked him the first time we met. I like his no-nonsense, straight-up style: If you have things to do, then get cracking. I like his respect and love of the intellect. He does not tolerate excuses from students. As African-Americans, they must study. They must take control of their plights.

I asked him for a job, and he hired me. My main objectives are to reestablish the journalism major and to transform the student newspaper from a once-a-semester publication to a sophisticated weekly. I have the president’s full support.

Make no mistake: Black people are out of favor in America. Affirmative action, for example — once seen as a legitimate means of redressing some of the evils of intentional cruelty that marginalized generations of blacks — has morphed into an evil for white conservative America.

Now is the time for me and other blacks to make a positive difference, to be selfless, to serve.

Now that's quite a story. ("Road Leads Back to Tuscaloosa," Bill Maxwell, Tuscaloosa News 1.10.05, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, March 18, 2005, at 05:51 PM | 0 comments

Conservatives against torture, part 2.

Stop Torture - Unitarian Universalist Service CommitteeConservative columnist Jeff Jacoby renews his complaints about the US use of torture and about conservative indifference to the scandal of American barbarism:

Of course the United States must hunt down terrorists and find out what they know. Better intelligence means more lives saved, more atrocities prevented, and a more likely victory in the war against radical Islamist fascism. Those are crucial ends, and they justify tough means. But they don't justify means that betray core American values. Interrogation techniques that flirt with torture — to say nothing of those that end in death — cross the moral line that separates us from the enemy we are trying to defeat.

The Bush administration and the military insist that any abuse of detainees is a violation of policy and that abusers are being punished. If so, why does it refuse to allow a genuinely independent commission to investigate without fear or favor? Why do Republican leaders on Capitol Hill refuse to launch a proper congressional investigation? And why do my fellow conservatives — those who support the war for all the right reasons — continue to keep silent about a scandal that should have them up in arms?

("Where's the Outrage on Torture?" Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe 3.17.05; I mentioned his earlier complaint about torture last month.)

For those who missed it, Jane Mayer's New Yorker article about "extraordinary rendition" — the program in which the US ships detainees to countries like Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia for "questioning" even the CIA won't do — is invaluable and deeply disturbing: "Outsourcing Torture" (2.14.05).

Posted by Philocrites, March 18, 2005, at 07:25 AM | 2 comments

Thursday, March 17, 2005

UCC's blog ads yield 25,000 visits in one week.

An update on the United Church of Christ's first-ever blog ad campaign on fifty high-traffic blogs:

After only one week of utilizing online blogads . . . to promote the UCC's Stillspeaking Initiative, more than 25,000 internet users have clicked through one of 50 purchased blogads to view the church's online 30-second "bouncer" commercial.

Meanwhile, according to the web statistics, more than 40 percent of traffic driven to the UCC's website has been generated from blog-related activity.

("UCC's Blogads Attracting Widespread Attention, Significant Hits," J. Bennett Guess, 3.17.05)

Posted by Philocrites, March 17, 2005, at 11:08 PM | 0 comments

Happy 275th, Arlington Street Church!

The Boston Public Library is hosting an exhibit this month to honor the 275th birthday of the congregation of the Arlington Street Church:

275th Birthday of the Arlington Street Church — Through March 31 in the Boston Rm. (Ext. 2212). Founded in 1729 by non-subscribing Presbyterian Scots-Irish immigrants, the congregation became Unitarian in the early 19th century and moved from its original barn to the Federal Street Church where the famous minister William Ellery Channing preached, to the present building at the corner of Arlington and Boylston Streets. Over the years, the church has played an influential role in both denominational and Boston history. Documents, paintings, photographs and artifacts will be on display.

The congregation's anniversary page is worth visiting, too. An email about the BPL exhibit added a few helpful tidbits:

WHERE: The exhibit is in the Boston Room, just inside the Boylston Street entrance to the left. (Take a left into the circulation area, and left again into the exhibit area.) . . .

WHEN: It is open whenever the library is open, and should be up through the first week in April. We tentatively expect to remove it on April 8th and 9th. Parts of it will be on display at Arlington Street Church after that time.

Clearly I will be making a visit to the library.

Posted by Philocrites, March 17, 2005, at 06:31 PM | 3 comments

Congregational resource for welcoming military members.

The Unitarian Universalist Association's Office for Advocacy and Witness has developed a resource guide to help UU congregations do a better job of welcoming military veterans, members of the armed forces, and their families. The guide observes:

Honest differences about difficult moral choices have always been part of our congregational life. Yet the lived experience of UU families in our congregations suggests that we are falling short of being welcoming places for all. In particular, families have reported treatment that seems to be unfairly based on stereotypes of people in the military and their families.

I'm also intrigued by the way the announcement of this resource connects it to Palm Sunday:

The ministry and outreach that congregations can provide parallels the palms that were laid on the street to welcome Jesus as he entered the city of Jerusalem on what we now know as Palm Sunday. While Jerusalem would become a place of suffering for Jesus, through our efforts we can ensure that our congregations and communities are places of ongoing welcome, healing, and support.

("UUA Offers Materials on Welcoming Military Members into Congregations and Prepares to Mark 2nd Anniversary of Iraq War," UUS-L 3.17.05)

Posted by Philocrites, March 17, 2005, at 05:37 PM | 2 comments

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

'Provo is just like Khan Yunis.'

James Bennet's fascinating New York Times Magazine account of Palestinian politics and life after Arafat, "The Interregnum," includes an unexpected tidbit about my hometown:

In Gaza City, I met another woman from Khan Yunis, Rana El Farra. Wearing winter coats, we spoke in the family's apartment, its windows open despite the day's chill. Open windows are less likely to shatter from sudden shifts in air pressure; the apartment is across the street from a Palestinian security headquarters, a frequent Israeli bombing target.

On one table stood two dozen containers of cobalt-blue mouthwash. El Farra asks Gazans to gargle it, then return it to her to provide DNA samples, which she isolates in a gel. A molecular biologist, El Farra is archiving Gaza's DNA in hopes of curing diseases like the diabetes that contributed to her beloved father's death, as well as of comparing the oral histories of Gaza's clans with their DNA footprints. "I prepare the samples here, and then DHL them to the States,'' she said in her idiomatic English. She sends them to Utah for sequencing at Brigham Young University, where she got her master's. She loved Utah, feeling at home with its conservative values, its big families. "Provo is just like Khan Yunis," she explained. "Only it's cleaner." A lively woman with a musical laugh, the married mother of a 3-year-old girl, El Farra teaches cell biology at Al Azhar University. She adores "Friends" — she identifies with Monica — and she recently finished Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoir.

El Farra and people like her are the real political face of Hamas. About three years ago, a year into this uprising, El Farra became more religious. She began covering her hair. "Islam is the best pole you can hold onto when things get really tough," she said.

A Hamas connection to Utah County? It's a small world after all.

Posted by Philocrites, March 16, 2005, at 08:19 AM | 2 comments

Monday, March 14, 2005

'Slate' notices little ol' me.

David Wallace-Wells sends traffic my way in today's Slate round-up of blog chatter. Welcome, fraysters.

Posted by Philocrites, March 14, 2005, at 10:45 PM | 1 comments

Sunday, March 13, 2005

What's next for UU blogs?

In case you missed it, I've posted my recommendations about what the next wave of Unitarian Universalist writers might do with blogging. See "What's Next for UU Blogs?"

Posted by Philocrites, March 13, 2005, at 11:32 PM

Conservatism's Apollo and would-be Dionysus.

What an intriguing juxtaposition in the New York Times this weekend! David Brooks pretends to let his inner Dionysus out for a romp after he caught himself enjoying a decadent night in New Orleans. He laments: "Gone, at least among the responsible professional class, is the exuberance of the feast." That's right, unbutton that top button and grow your hair out, David! Show that Mark Shields what carpe diem's all about.

But Francis Fukuyama, pondering the centenary of Max Weber's Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism, concludes that the "iron cage" Weber identified with the rise of modern capitalism is much nicer, really, than the religious ferment of a non-bureaucratized age. "One must wonder," he writes, "whether it was not Weber's nostalgia for spiritual authenticity — what one might term his Nietzscheanism — that was misplaced, and whether living in the iron cage of modern rationalism is such a terrible thing after all." I suspect Brooks was only pretending to take up the Dionysian perspective and that he shares Fukuyama's Apollonian predisposition. Although Brooks is just playing around, Fukuyama's essay is actually well worth reading.

("Saturday Night Lite," David Brooks, New York Times 3.12.05, reg req'd; "The Calvinist Manifesto," Francis Fukuyama, New York Times Book Review 3.13.05, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, March 13, 2005, at 10:43 PM | 2 comments

Mrs Philocrites recommends Eugene Peterson.

Here at Philocrites World Headquarters we have a number of Eugene Peterson's books, although I'm embarrassed to say that they're all part of Mrs Philocrites' collection. Peterson's translation of the Bible, The Message, is well worth having, but my wife says she especially values A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. Peterson talks to Christianity Today on the occasion of his latest book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology, and says all sorts of interesting things — including this passage about one of James Luther Adams's favorite theologians:

Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There's no life in the bark. It's dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it's prone to disease, dehydration, death.

So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn't last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it's prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.

Check it out. ("Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons," Mark Galli, Christianity Today 3.4.05; via Icthus)

Posted by Philocrites, March 13, 2005, at 10:27 PM | 0 comments

Encounters with racism.

Three Unitarian Universalist bloggers have written movingly this past week about ways that racism plays out close to home. Jess wrote about her husband's witnessing a gang murder in Chicago; John followed up with his own account a few days later. Meanwhile, Enrique writes about the difficulties of talking openly about racial segregation at his university in Alabama. All three are thoughtful descriptions of painful realities.

Posted by Philocrites, March 13, 2005, at 04:39 PM | 0 comments

There's no such thing as TV 'news.'

What distinguishes TV news from propaganda these days? According to a long front-page story in today's New York Times, news directors at many of the country's TV stations don't know or don't care. Government-produced "video news releases" are routinely presented on local and even network newscasts as journalism — with no mention that the video segments were produced and reported by public relations agents working for the government. Needless to say, the videos present the administration's views free of any challenge or criticism — just as the more widespread practice of corporate video news releases allows business and other large institutions to promote their perspectives night after night on the local news.

David Barstow and Robin Stein write:

In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.

A congressional investigation into "covert propaganda" produced and distributed by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy concluded last fall that "the two agencies 'designed and executed' their segments 'to be indistinguishable from news stories produced by private sector television news organizations.'" Consider this story:

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, March 13, 2005, at 12:58 PM | 1 comments

Saturday, March 12, 2005

A denomination embraces blogs.

Let's tip our hat to the United Church of Christ's outreach on the Internet. Their "church bouncer" TV ad — rejected by CBS and NBC — generated a lot of sympathy from liberal blogs late last year, giving the church's publicity campaign some real momentum. The denomination capitalized on that burst of interest by targeting some of its subsequent media outreach directly to blogs as the UCC challenged the broadcast licenses of two network-owned TV stations back in December. (I was among a dozen or so bloggers invited to participate in a conference call with UCC officials when they announced they were challenging the broadcast licenses, and I've received a handful of press releases over the last four months.) Then the denomination very cleverly responded to Focus on the Family's anti-Spongebob Squarepants campaign by issuing a press release welcoming the cartoon character to the UCC, essentially creating a Web-only media event.

The purpose of all this publicity, of course, is to introduce the United Church of Christ to people who haven't heard of it before or who have no clear idea of the denomination's distinctive values and traditions. By focusing some of its outreach efforts directly on the Web, the aging mainline denomination is reaching out to much younger people. It's a very smart approach. And in the first few weeks of the publicity campaign, the UCC reported that more than 137,000 people visited its find-a-church Web page.

The UCC has now purchased ads on fifty of the most popular blogs across the ideological spectrum — apparently the first time a church has purchased blogads. The blog ads have proven sufficiently popular that other bloggers have offered to run them for free. Now that is some successful Internet publicity.

Posted by Philocrites, March 12, 2005, at 11:17 AM | 2 comments

Friday, March 11, 2005

Evangelicals take on bigger, broader goals.

The New York Times reports that the National Association of Evangelicals officially issued its far-reaching political platform yesterday, but the article doesn't adequately describe the NAE's ambitions. (Here's a pdf version of the NAE's platform, "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.") Representing 45,000 congregations and 30 million members, the NAE has big plans, as Rob Garver explained last week at the American Prospect's website:

The preamble to the document quickly makes clear that the group is not looking to influence policy on the margins but to become a major voice in the political process: “Evangelical Christians in America face a historic opportunity. We make up fully one quarter of all voters in the most powerful nation in history. Never before has God given American evangelicals such an awesome opportunity to shape public policy in ways that could contribute to the well-being of the entire world. Disengagement is not an option. We must seek God’s face for biblical faithfulness and abundant wisdom to rise to this unique challenge.” . . .

The policy statement is broad in scope, has been years in the making, and has been vetted by hundreds of evangelical ministers from across the country.

What the March meeting will indicate is that American evangelicals have been thinking, planning, and, indeed, praying for a long time about how best to actively engage in the political process. What they have decided is that they are required, not just as citizens but also as Christians, to advocate for political change and, above all, to mobilize the more than half of self-identified evangelicals in the country who currently don’t vote.

What the Times article does point out, however, is that the document isn't entirely good news for the Republican Party:

Barbara Williams-Skinner, president of the Skinner Leadership Institute, a Christian training center in Tracy's Landing, Md., criticized evangelicals who decide their votes using abortion and same-sex marriage as a litmus test.

"The litmus test is the Gospel, the whole of it," said Ms. Williams-Skinner, an African-American who told the group that she is a Democrat who opposes abortion.

Ms. Williams-Skinner was the sole speaker to draw a standing ovation.

("Evangelicals Open Debate on Widening Policy Questions," Laurie Goodstein, New York Times 3.11.05, reg req'd; "Bible Bloc: The Evangelical Political Movement Is Just Getting Started," Rob Garver, The American Prospect Online 3.2.05)

Posted by Philocrites, March 11, 2005, at 08:34 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, March 10, 2005

What's next for UU blogs?

In announcing the first annual UU Blog Award winners, I mentioned that my vote for best UU blog had gone to Phil's Little Blog on the Prairie — and I promised to explain why in a future post. After much delay, here we go:

Some readers may think I'm crazy. Phil Lund doesn't generate a lot of buzz; he uses an off-brand blogging software (without comments, trackback, or RSS); he doesn't have a "blogroll"; he doesn't spawn controversy and he never raises his voice. On the other hand, he does have a goofy yet memorable blog name. (Can you make a TV-show joke out of your UUA district's name? Can you?)

But hear me out. At its most basic level, blogging is simply an easy way to publish and organize writing on the Internet. It's a technology even more than a style or attitude — and Phil has figured out how to use that technology to do something Unitarian Universalists really need much more of. He publishes high-quality, important, useful columns about family ministry and religious education on a regular schedule, turning his blog into a weekly newsletter. Once a week, no more, no less. He has also figured out how to make the blog a basic tool of his job as Lifespan Program Director for one of the UUA's districts. Unlike an e-mail newsletter, his blog is easy to find, easy to search (using Google or any other Web search engine), and already easy to read on-line. More importantly, unlike an e-mail newsletter, it's public: It's a resource for people who know little or nothing about Unitarian Universalism, who aren't already insiders, and who may learn from us — or even want to learn more about us — simply by visiting. Phil is doing outreach even as he focuses on resource development for religious educators. That is bang for your buck, my friends. And we're talking serious bang for your buck, since if you have access to the Internet you hardly need to spend a penny more to get started.

The reason I voted for Phil is that I would like to see more Unitarian Universalists recognize the Internet for what it is: the most cost-effective publishing tool available to us right now.

Paper and postage are so expensive that almost all of the independent periodicals that used to carry on important conversations in our religious movement have shriveled up and died. The handful that remain are largely academic and archival, or they're vestigial organs of floundering independent organizations. There are a lot of things the Internet can't do, of course, and I would be the last to suggest that the absence of a range of printed publications for Unitarian Universalists is in any way a good thing. For one thing, both of our historic movements were heavily involved in publishing from the beginning, and the printed word has been the key vehicle for transmitting liberal religious values. Publishing, however, has become a difficult venture for UUs — perhaps because no one wants to read Unitarian Universalist writing (which I don't believe) or because the circle of people generating and exchanging ideas has grown so small that it can be carried on entirely by word of mouth or the UU Ministers Association e-mail list (I can't believe it's come to that) or perhaps simply because the economics and technology of producing quality publications has grown too daunting. I'm going with the last option. The Internet offers a partial solution.

We need a range of voices interacting, sharing resources, responding to each other, generating buzz, thinking through the problems and opportunities that confront us. Phil is modeling solid, consistent, high-quality on-line publishing for his colleagues in the ministry and in professional service to the liberal church. I suspect, based on what it costs me to run Philocrites, that he spends $100 or less a year doing it.

So should you just run out and get yourself a blog? No. Don't get me wrong. Blogging can be fun, addictive, educational, addictive, intellectually stimulating, and addictive. (Do not underestimate the amount of time you can spend perfecting your blog. Try not to take over the whole world in a single evening.) As much fun as soapbox punditry is, though, I want to encourage something else: We don't need more people spouting off on this, that, and the other (although I'm sure I'd enjoy the spectacle). The next wave of UU bloggers would be more disciplined. They'd pick a theme, a tight focus, something they've thought about and written about and read about, something they might be able to write a clever, concise book about if only they had the time. A blog like Phil Lund's.

Think of the possibilities: A blog focused entirely on questions newcomers to a UU church might have. A group blog — written by a few colleagues — about the dynamics of congregational growth. A group blog focused on liturgical excellence. I'm sure I could dream up a dozen more, but I want you to dream the dreams — and write the blogs.

I don't simply mean to suggest that people should put up Web pages — a lot of people have tried that. But I do mean to suggest that technologies are now available to help people publish material on-line and get it to the people that need it. You don't need to act right away, but my friends and colleagues, put this thought in your six-month plan: Is there some aspect of your work that your colleagues and a wider audience could genuinely use if you invested a modest amount of time in becoming a blogger? Is there a way that your voice and your insights could genuinely advance the principles and purposes of your religious movement? Go see what Phil is doing. Think about it.

Posted by Philocrites, March 10, 2005, at 06:29 PM | 6 comments

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Quietistic, idolatrous, or prophetic churches.

Tom Schade suggests that there are four types of churches in the United States today:

  1. The passive, quietistic church that tries to be independent of the political controversies of the day. This church is focused on “the spiritual,” either in the form of the other- or next-wordly, or in the form of a close focus on daily and domestic life and the observation of nature. It avoids controversy and restricts its preaching about the world outside the doors of the sanctuary to positions that all good people could agree with.

  2. The Red Politically Idolatrous Church: This church accepts the current political division in the culture as being the ultimate reality. For these churches, the Red/Blue division in the USA does, in fact, represent the conflict between God and Satan.

  3. The Blue Politically Idolatrous Church: These churches accept the current political division in the culture as being the ultimate reality. For these churches, the Red/Blue division in the USA does, in fact, represent the struggle of the Hebrews to free themselves from Pharoah.

  4. The Prophetic Church: “The prophetic liberal church is the church in which persons think and work together to interpret the signs of the times in the light of their faith, to make explicit through discussion the epochal thinking that the times demand. The prophetic liberal church is the church in which the members share in the common responsibility to attempt to foresee the consequences of human behavior (both individual and institutional) with the intention of making history in place of being merely pushed around by it. Only through the prophetism of all believers can we foresee doom and mend our common ways.” —James Luther Adams, The Prophethood of All Believers.

There's more at Prophet Motive.

Posted by Philocrites, March 8, 2005, at 06:23 PM | 6 comments

The 'wall of separation' casts a shadow.

James Carroll, the Boston Globe's liberal Catholic op-ed columnist, praises America's separation of church and state but points to the way it has also been "distorted into a terrible dichotomy that undercuts both politics and belief." He praises Jefferson and the other Founders for embracing a theory of government that "required the state to be religiously neutral":

Far from an insult to faith, the "wall of separation" was a guarantee that each citizen, free of public coercion, could worship at the altar of conscience – or not. This foundational idea of American democracy protects political freedom of a diverse citizenry but also creates space within which authentic religion can thrive. The courts are right to keep the line sharp, and new democracies around the world are right to draw it.

But he argues that we have taken this basic concept in dangerous and illiberal directions:

Early on, "church and state" became a euphemism for the separation of the private realm from the public – the separation of morality from law. "You can't legislate morality," Americans told each other. Because the language of morality was associated with religion, the discourse of "secular" politics became ethically hollow. . . .

[D]rawing a bright line between morality and the rest of life has become the American way.

He adds that this divide has also encouraged a split between reason and religion, trivializing the Christian tradition. There's a little too much packed into one column, but worth reading. ("The Dark Side of Secularism," James Carroll, Boston Globe 3.8.05)

Posted by Philocrites, March 8, 2005, at 08:37 AM | 3 comments

Monday, March 7, 2005

Liberal bishop's Republican advisor.

The Episcopal bishop of eastern Massachusetts, Tom Shaw, is featured once again in the Globe:

Five years after Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, attached an intern's badge to his own monastic robes and apprenticed himself to [Amory Houghton Jr,] the New York State representative, Houghton is returning the gesture. After leaving Congress in January, Houghton traded his spacious office on Capitol Hill for a narrow, windowless chamber next to Shaw's and is devoting this phase of his retirement to volunteering for the Episcopal Church.

The arrangement reflects a longstanding friendship between the liberal bishop and the GOP politician, who share an interest in putting the values of their Christian faith into action in the secular arena.

("The Apprentice in a Public Ministry," Michael Paulson, Boston Globe 3.7.05)

Posted by Philocrites, March 7, 2005, at 08:30 AM | 1 comments

Sunday, March 6, 2005

Forty years after Selma's 'Bloody Sunday.'

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of a brutal attack on African Americans marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama. "Bloody Sunday," which shocked white Americans when television footage of the attacks was shown on the evening news, led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and significant changes in American politics.

Unitarian Universalists also mark the 40th anniversary of the murders of James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, who had gone to Selma to join the civil rights march following Bloody Sunday. I wrote about them for UU World in 2001, when UU World published Martin Luther King Jr's long-lost eulogy for Reeb.

Among the articles covering the anniversary this week: "Hard-Won Victory of Civil Rights Revisited" (Christian Science Monitor 3.7.05), "Songs of Freedom Fill Selma" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution 3.7.05), and "South Was Remade by Ordeal in Selma" (Richmond Times Dispatch 3.6.05). See also the article about two of James Reeb's granddaughters who are visiting Selma this week to remember his life and death: "Living History" (Jenni Dillon, Casper Star Tribune 3.3.05).

Posted by Philocrites, March 6, 2005, at 10:12 PM | 1 comments

Why can't Romney be a Mormon moderate like his dad?

It's too bad that George Romney, the Republican governor of Michigan who ran as a moderate against the conservative Barry Goldwater for the GOP nomination in 1968, didn't leave more of his political ideology to his ambitious son, current Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. The Boston Globe compares father and son in a profile that also highlights the Mormon political and financial network that supported both politicians:

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, March 6, 2005, at 09:41 PM | 1 comments

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Three liberal magazines assess Democratic options.

In a brief, fairly informal discussion of the future of liberal politics and the Democratic Party in tomorrow's New York Times Book Review, the editors of The New Republic, The Nation, and The American Prospect succinctly describe how "liberal" became a dirty word, what liberal foreign policy and economic policy should look like, and how the Democrats might become a majority party again. (I generally seem to end up somewhere between Michael Tomasky of The American Prospect and Peter Beinart of The New Republic, both of which I read regularly. I'd also say that a subscription to the Washington Monthly is worth having, too — yup, it's not just Kevin Drum's blog; there's actually a very good underfunded magazine hiding over there.)

Each editor also recommends a few key books, and I was pleased to see that Tomasky is paying close attention to non-right-wing Christians: He recommends Jim Wallis's God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. Tomasky observes:

One of the Democratic Party's problems is that it doesn't have enough contact with its rank and file. Right-wing people in this country have a place to meet and talk politics — their churches, increasingly the megachurches in the exurbs. There's not a meeting place like that for liberals and for Democrats. I think it's a job of the new party chairman to initiate some conversations about the core principles of the party. This is not usually the job of a chairman. He's usually a mechanic. But I think this has to happen now, because otherwise, before they know it, it's going to be 2006 and they're going to be the party of prescription drugs again. And then it's going to be 2008 and there won't be any context for what the party should be.

Hopefully Howard Dean recognizes that the Internet isn't a substitute for finding ways to rebuild the social dimensions of liberal politics.

Could moderate and liberal churches effectively challenge right-wing churches as social bases for a political movement? Should they? I see pretty compelling reasons for churches to be alarmed and astonished at the way many conservative churches have sold out to the Republican Party, but I wouldn't feel a lot better if moderate-to-liberal Christians and other religious liberals thought they could provide a countervailing force by yoking their churches to MoveOn or the DNC. But I'm trying to work out in my own mind how the social energy of moderate and liberal churches relates to the health of liberal society and liberal politics. If not at least in part through the churches, where will we find the social base of a renewed liberal political movement?

("Left Behind," Barry Gewen, New York Times Book Review 3.6.05, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, March 5, 2005, at 02:54 PM | 5 comments

When Philocrites was young.

I had forgotten all about the Internet Archive Way Back Machine, which captures selected Web sites in a kind of online amber. But the Way Back Machine hadn't forgotten about me: Here's what Philocrites looked like two years ago. The front page it seems to have captured from one year ago either has a broken stylesheet or a script that breaks up the page, unfortunately; if you do want to see what Philocrites looked like in its three-column, white-on-blue glory days, I still have that template running for old times sake, but it features current content.

Posted by Philocrites, March 5, 2005, at 10:19 AM | 0 comments

Faith blogs in the New York Times.

Debra Nussbaum Cohen suggests that the "best religion-driven blogs . . . [offer] a peek into lives that many are curious about but that relatively few lead" — like feminist Mormon housewives or conservative Catholic Gen-Xers. She also suggests that they "seem to be created by people on the extremes of the religious spectrum."

Hmm. How does this line of thinking apply to Unitarian Universalist blogs? Since religious liberalism is seen by many as outside the mainstream, does that mean the whole lot of us already stand on the edge of the religious spectrum? (Granted, my one and a half seconds of TV fame yesterday were as a political "arch-liberal," not to mention that business about "obscure and literary." If there's one thing I'm all about, surely it's building a movement of obscure literary people. Viva Phi Beta Kappa! Them's fightin' words.) Or, to take the idea a step further, do those of us who feel drawn to publish UU blogs stand on various extremes even of Unitarian Universalism?

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, March 5, 2005, at 09:31 AM | 7 comments

Friday, March 4, 2005

As seen on The Daily Show.

A bunch of readers have written to tell me that this site may soon be nominated for an Emmy in best comic performance by a picture of a computer screen! That's right, Jon Stewart's The Daily Show featured Philocrites on last night's program, part of a very funny report on "the new journalism." (Trey Jackson taped it, but cut out all references in the show to White House "correspondent" "Jeff Gannon"'s double life as a male escort, so you may prefer One Good Move's longer video instead.)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
$ecret$ of New Journali$m $ucce$$
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

[Updated 12.31.09: Embedded video added. Philocrites shows up about 2:30 into the clip.]

My role? I supplied compelling visuals for the following bit of advice to would-be bloggers: "If you're liberal, you want to show people that you're smarter than they are. Try something obscure and literary." Eschaton (aka Atrios) and I were the two featured smarty-pants. Jay Rosen got a speaking part. Good job, Jay!

I had a lot of fun in The Daily Show green room hanging out with the other blogs before our debut. Atrios and I noshed on wasabi peas while arguing about the role of religion in the Democratic Party, and I tried to intervene (briefly, pastorally) when and threw their pork rinds at him. Soon we all settled into some sort of common agreement about "MSM," which I had thought was just a new name for some kind of candy-coated chocolate until the StrongEagleCitadel guy (who named his first son "Swiftboatvet") explained it to me. You'd think things could have gotten a bit hot back there, but the couches were very comfy, just the right size for a blog to relax in, even with all the pressure of imminent national late-night exposure. I even discovered that FreeForceAmerica was raised Unitarian Universalist, but developed a severe allergy to soy products and became a pro-military libertarian instead, so we had lots to talk about.

To all the good folks visiting from The Daily Show, welcome!

Posted by Philocrites, March 4, 2005, at 08:59 AM | 16 comments

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Preaching the liberal Christian gospel.

Tom Schade writes at Prophet Motive:

Our task in preaching and worship these days is to call people to an encounter with the Living Spirit of God, or as James Luther Adams prefers to put it: “Life’s creating, sustaining and transforming power.”

Our preaching must be a call to spiritual freedom and agency.

Our preaching must affirm each one's own creating, sustaining and transforming power.

Our preaching must call people to join in community, as a self-differentiated, equal human being.

Our preaching should be a call to repentance and reform. It should convict the listener of sin and shortcoming. The idolatrous worship of lesser gods (prosperity, political power, social calm, insular community) must be named.

But our task in preaching must also advocate, educate and equip people for the religious and theological debates of the present day.

And this is where he names the present and identifies the situation preaching must confront:

There is a huge theological discussion going on in the country about religion. Like all great discussions conducted in this most democratic and popular of cultures, it is loud, noisy and undignified. It is conducted with the tools of advertising and propaganda. It is political, it is cultural and it is marketing. It is slogans, and catch phrases and simplifications. It is occasionally high-minded, sometimes quick-witted and often just leather-lunged. But one side is right; the other is terribly mistaken and misguided; and the vast majority are in the middle.

The liturgy of the Word matter[s] now more than ever, since our tasks have such a large component of persuasion, education and advocacy.

He's churning out a lot of important ideas lately, and I'm eager to see where they're taking him. As a James Luther Adams fan, of course, I'm all ears.

Posted by Philocrites, March 2, 2005, at 10:12 PM | 1 comments

Welcome back, Gregory.

Our correspondent from Iraq, who has been blogging as A Virginia UU in King George's War, is back in the U.S. Gregory writes about his Iraq to Kuwait to Ireland to Maine to California flight home:

The sudden change of scenery from the sand, dust, and desolation of Iraq and Kuwait to the green hills of Eyre and the snows of Maine is disconcerting.  It was also disconcerting to be applauded and greeted with a chorus of voices murmuring “welcome home” and “thank you” as we entered the main terminal here in Bangor. I have such mixed feelings about our presence in Iraq — and my part in it — that I found the applause and welcoming words touching yet disquieting. Ironically, I would have felt less uncomfortable if we had been met by a crowd of war protesters.

Amid the applause and discomfort, I'd like to say thanks for something quite specific: Gregory's blog over the past few months. It has been for many us a unique window into what is otherwise a forbiddingly complex reality. Welcome back.

Posted by Philocrites, March 2, 2005, at 10:00 PM | 0 comments

It's so easy to be a UU without knowing it!

Phil Lund says we Unitarian Universalists may be turning away interested people precisely because we set such low expecations for what it means to become a Unitarian Universalist:

I've got a hunch that there are a lot of good people—thoughtful, liberal religious people—who are coming into our congregations with some high hopes for their faith development and running into something else. What they're running into (or tripping over), I believe, is a pretty low bar (in terms of faith development) for what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist, a bar that was set in the 1960s with the Layman's League ["Are You a Unitarian Without Knowing It?"] ad campaign.

Phil then asks whether the following jokes capture an uncomfortable truth about our movement:

  • You may be a Unitarian Universalist if you consider Charlie Brown & Dilbert to be spiritual leaders.
  • You may be a Unitarian Universalist if your Christmas tree has 7 symbols on its top.
  • You may be a Unitarian Universalist if unleavened bread is part of your Easter Brunch.
  • You may be a Unitarian Universalist if your idea of fish on Friday is dinner at a sushi bar.
  • You may be a Unitarian Universalist if on Halloween you explain to everyone the Pagan significance of your children's costumes.
  • You may be a Unitarian Universalist if e?mail fulfills a spiritual void in your life.
  • You may be a Unitarian Universalist if you take your day planner to church instead of the Bible.

Do read the rest.

Posted by Philocrites, March 2, 2005, at 05:11 PM | 7 comments

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Six months at St Albert's; Bishop Shaw on Anglican tension.

Two religion news stories to note in today's Boston Globe: The 24/7 vigil at St Albert the Great in Weymouth marked six months yesterday. And Massachusetts Episcopal Bishop Tom Shaw says he will support the request from Anglican primates for the US and Canadian churches to temporarily withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council:

"I think it makes sense to withdraw from this one meeting, especially if we're going to be talking about why we did what we did," Shaw said. "This is not the way it was reported in the press. It is not the first step toward separation of the Anglican Communion at all. It's probably the lightest thing they could have done."

("Faithful Following: After Six Months, Parishioners Are Still Fighting for St. Albert's," Bella English, Boston Globe 3.1.05; "Bishop Says Gap Is Closing Over Gays in Anglican Church," Michael Paulson, Boston Globe 3.1.05)

Posted by Philocrites, March 1, 2005, at 08:15 AM | 0 comments

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