Thursday, June 30, 2005
I noticed more reports of bloggers taking cash to promote products, events, or services without disclosing the payments. Shame on you! Which brings us to this brief statement about advertising and promotion here at Philocrites:
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
What else will I talk about before I finally reemerge from the General Assembly bubble and notice that the Supreme Court has been thinking about the Ten Commandments and George W. Bush has been thinking about staying the course? Three major topics — hopefully before the weekend when my parents will be in Boston for a great July Fourth:
- Worship: The new Songbook and the way it was introduced deserve extended reflection. I'll be especially interested how home viewers perceived the music, because it was unmistakably intended to be televisual. Two sermons — by Rob Hardies and Patrick O'Neill — also demand attention. (I've been told that Burton Carley's Berry Street Lecture needs to be considered alongside these, and I'm looking forward to reading it.)
- "Frames": It was George Lakoff Sunday, and I will be spending a lot of time unpacking some of what Lakoff, Rebecca Parker, Rita Nakashima Brock, Davidson Loehr, Meg Riley, and Fred Garcia had to say about frames and liberal religion. If there's one CD to buy, I'd urge people to pick up the session with Lakoff, Loehr, Riley, and Garcia.
- Bloggers: What fun to meet so many other UU bloggers and to imagine some futures for these online forums! I'll have more to say on this topic, too.
G.A. was fun, but I'm glad to be home.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
I've taken the MIT Media Lab Weblog Survey. If you have a blog, you can, too.
A few thoughts about the business portions of the UUA's General Assembly, which concluded last night:
'General Assembly for Dummies'? A delegate at the procedural microphone observed that it's hard to learn how the business at the General Assembly really works and joked that many delegates would appreciate something like an "Idiot's Guide to General Assembly." A good idea! Let's face it: The orientation sessions don't really prepare most new delegates for the complexities of what they're about to experience, and the bylaws and rules of procedure are hard to make sense of in the heat (or even the warm tedium) of plenary business. A humorous illustrated guidebook, however, would be fun and useful in a pinch. I'm thinking something more along the lines of Schoolhouse Rock's "I'm Just a Bill" and less like a parliamentary handbook, if such a hybrid could be imagined.
RealVideo or reports? It would be very nice to have the online video recordings of plenary sessions broken down to allow direct access to the, um, more content-rich portions of the sessions. I'm sure we'd each define "content rich" differently, but the reports of officers and some major presentations (such as the Commission on Appraisal's triennial report) also deserve much wider audiences than, say, the candidates' forum with its brief shelf-life. Some reports, however, no matter how vital the announcements embedded in them, would be more usefully disseminated in written form as press releases or simply the texts of the reports themselves. I'm grateful for the videos, but after they've been broadcast, wouldn't more users be more likely to access specific portions than to download the whole three and a half hours?
An aside about Saturday's candidates' forum, which preceded Sunday's election of denominational officers and board and commission members: Although Gini Courter and Bill Sinkford were running for reelection as moderator and president, neither made a statement in the forum. Sinkford's presidential report, which concluded the Saturday plenary, could be construed as his campaign statement, but Courter didn't deliver her report until Monday afternoon — the day after her reelection. Everyone involved in leading a congregation really must hear her speech, by the way — an outstanding call to good manners in the interests of congregational growth and flourishing. Here, incidentally, are the unsurprising election results.
Unwitnessed public witness? Buy super-wide black markers for your protest posters. I know, you have to use them in well-ventilated rooms or you'll get high, but effectiveness matters. A Sharpie just doesn't make letters that a citizen out for a stroll can read from ten yards. And wouldn't it make more sense to put the more professionally prepared banner right out on the street rather than letting it get lost in the crowd? Or, perhaps, make two so one shows up in photographs of the speakers while the other is apparent to passers-by. If we're going to go to the trouble of "witnessing," I'd think we'd want people to grasp what we're doing. (Why, look at that! Three hundred people are standing outside the convention center in the midday sun. Must be waiting to buy tickets to see Pete Seeger!) On the other hand, Ninth Street in Fort Worth is not a busy pedestrian thoroughfare at noon on Saturday. We could have been much more visible and still have been unwitnessed.
An aside: We were protesting the death penalty — which Texas practices in appallingly unjust ways — and the event included clergy from Fort Worth-area churches from several other denominations. I saw no one who wasn't a G.A.-goer or a guest speaker, however. And anyone passing by across the street would have had no idea what was going on. Happily, the Star-Telegram covered the event anyway (reg req'd).
Uh oh: Widespread agreement! Here's something: The first five Actions of Immediate Witness passed overwhelmingly. (Actions of Immediate Witness are social-justice resolutions prepared at the General Assembly by delegates; they have often been the most contentious resolutions at G.A.) Three — opposing torture, supporting a boycott of Gallo Wines, and supporting the Millennium Development Goal One in seeking to end extreme poverty — passed without verbal opposition, amendments, or more than a handful of dissenting votes. Only one person spoke against the resolution calling for intervention against genocide in Darfur. And delegates debated three amendments to a resolution in support of public-interest broadcasting, including federal funding for public radio and television, and eventually passed the resolution as originally written without significant opposition.
Only one resolution — calling for a fair trial for Sami Al-Arian, the University of South Florida computer science professor who was arrested, fired, and placed in solitary confinement on charges of supporting Palestinian terrorist groups two years ago — provoked much conversation. The resolution passed, unamended, with slightly more than the two-thirds necessary vote.
As a result of the rapid adoption of the resolutions, Monday's plenary session ended a full hour earlier than scheduled.
Announcements as liturgy! Wayne Arnason, the secretary of the Association who completed his term on the Board at the end of this Assembly, amused us by offering announcements as liturgical elements — drawing on the Commission on Appraisal's discovery that more UU congregations include announcements in their orders of service than any other element. Best example: He told us where to find the lost-and-found by chanting the directions as a Buddhist chant.
Monday, June 27, 2005
Early in Saturday morning's General Assembly plenary, UUA Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery gave delegates a preview of changes in the Association's electronic communications. (RealVideo footage of her presentation is online, but as of Monday morning a written report hasn't been posted yet.) She introduces the UUA's new logo at the 15-minute mark, talks about the UUA's website redesign at 17 minutes, and introduces the new uuworld.org online magazine 20 minutes into the presentation. The Web magazine will debut in September.
Just a note to others at the UUA General Assembly today: The Commission on Appraisal's workshop session on their new report, Engaging Our Theological Diversity, was not listed in the program book — but it is in fact this morning at 10:15 in room 204B.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
One of the peculiarities of my General Assembly-going is that many of the lectures I'm most eager to hear are the ones I can't actually attend. This year, for example, I especially wanted to hear Kim Beach, Robin Lovin, and John Buehrens discuss Beach's new book about James Luther Adams, which I highly recommend. (Here's my review of the book.) But that session conflicted with another, sponsored by the Church of the Larger Fellowship, on Unitarian Universalist evangelism on the Web — a topic central to my day job as well as to this blog. Happily, I discovered last year just how valuable it is to pick up recordings of the key lectures I can't actually hear in person.
Last year, recorded highlights were Laurel Hallman's Berry Street Lecture on religious language and David Bumbaugh and Kendyl Gibbons's lectures on reverence. This year, I already know I'll be picking up Burton Carley's Berry Street Lecture (about which I've heard very grateful comments from clergy who attended); Patrick O'Neill's rhetorically powerful call to prophetic ministry in the Service of the Living Tradition, which I'm grateful to have seen and heard in person; and Paul Rasor's lecture introducing his new book, Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the 21st Century.
Theology is in the air.
Although a real sense of dismay characterizes a lot of the conversation here — concentrated especially around the abuse and torture of detainees in U.S. military and intelligence prisons and the increasingly punitive and counterproductive incarceration policies of the American criminal justice system — the issue that interests me more is the continuing discussion of theological and religious diversity within the UUA. There's a good amount of theology in the air — including what appears to be some productive humanist and naturalist theology.
The Commission on Appraisal's presentation in this evening's plenary raised a series of provocative questions about a pervasive Unitarian Universalist hesitancy to identify a shared religious core or even to imagine articulating one. Tom Owen-Towle, one of the commissioners, urged the Association to begin a denomination-wide effort to identify and articulate who UUs are as a religious people and to make theology and theological conversation central to the purpose of the General Assembly. Of course I endorse such a call — and will be soliciting your help in thinking of ways to focus and deepen such a conversation through the UU blogs. (More about this soon.)
I also appreciated Earl Holt's emphasis on the "discipline of conversation" — a liberal art that, when it comes to theology and religious commitments, has been allowed to atrophy in many of our churches. Earl referred to the "disagreements that unite us," but observed that this liberal approach doesn't characterize our movement right now because we don't even productively disagree with each other. A parable for our time.
Bill Sinkford's annual report also touched on theology, but my notes are fragmentary and I'll have to wait until the tireless reporters for the UUA website post his address to quote from it directly.
Friday, June 24, 2005
Jim Jones writes a curtain-raiser for Knight-Ridder about the UUA's General Assembly in Fort Worth, highlighting three themes: Unitarian Universalist support for same-sex marriage, UU opposition to the death penalty, and "a possibly controversial report, 'Engaging Our Theological Diversity,' citing ways to embrace a "language of reverence," whether referring to God or spirit or an ultimate meaning." His lede:
The Unitarian Universalist Association - a remarkably inclusive American denomination that embraces Christians, Buddhists, Humanists, Wiccans, atheists and theists - are invading the Bible Belt this week.
In last night's Opening Ceremony, however, I was struck by two things I hadn't fully appreciated: The Southwest Conference of the UUA now includes the largest number of congregations of any UUA district — 75, I believe I heard Craig Roshaven say in his welcome — and, with two of its largest congregations (All Souls in Tulsa and First Unitarian in Dallas) and the most new congregations this year, I'm not so sure that the rest of us haven't come to the "Bible belt" to see how Unitarian Universalism is done especially well.
("Unitarian Universalist Assembly Faces Tough Topics," Jim Jones [Knight-Ridder], FortWayne.com 6.22.05)
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
In time to supplement my airplane reading — the new Commission on Appraisal report on Unitarian Universalism's elusive unity — comes the first chapter in Doug Muder's Frequently Asked Questions about Unitarian Universalism. The topic: How can a religion be creedless?
Washington Monthly editor Amy Sullivan is writing about the Democratic Party's awkward relationship with American Christianity this week at Beliefnet. Sullivan has been urging Democrats to take Christians more seriously for several years — and I've frequently pointed to her essays. (The Washington Monthly is a fine little magazine — although on-line it often seems overshadowed by Kevin Drum's blog — and it's well worth a subscription.)
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Unlike other UU bloggers, I make no promises about how much I'll blog about the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations: I spend my time at G.A. saving up string for UU World's coverage — which will be published in mid-August — although I may comment here if I find theological or Web-related issues beyond the scope of the magazine's coverage.
The UUA Office of Electronic Communication's coverage, prepared by a large team of volunteers and a handful of UUA staff, will show up here, probably starting Wednesday.
UU bloggers will meet after the Service of the Living Tradition on Friday night; keep your eyes open for a poster in the lobby. I'm looking forward to meeting many of you.
Sunday, June 19, 2005
It's not on-line, but if you still have your June 6 issue of the New Yorker, make sure to read Jonathan Franzen's memoir about his 1970s Congregational Church youth group, "The Retreat" (pages 74-83). I'll admit that when I was the youth minister — "high school youth programs director," to be exact — at a large Unitarian Universalist church in Massachusetts in the late '90s, I didn't have anything like the charisma of Bob Mutton, the seminarian who led "Fellowship" in Webster Groves, Missouri, from 1970 to 1973:
In churches the size of First Congregational, senior-high groups typically have thirty or forty members — the number that Fellowship had attracted in its first year. By June, 1970, when First Congregational hired Mutton as the new associate minister, the group's membership had doubled to eighty, and in the first two years of Mutton's ministry, at the historical apex of American disenchantment with institutional authority, it doubled again. Every weekday after school, church elders had to pick their way through teen-age feet in sandals, Keds, and work boots. There was a clutch of adoring girls who practically lived in Mutton's office, vying for space on his beat-up sofa, beneath his psychedelic Jesus poster. Between this office and the church's meeting hall, dozens of other kids in embroidered smocks and denim shirts were playing guitars in competing keys while cigarette smoke whitely filled the long-necked noda bottles into which everyone persisted in dropping butts despite complaints from the vending-machine company.
"I'll ask the youth minister to ask them again not to do that," the infinitely patient church secretary kept promising the company.
Kids from other churches joined the group for the romance of Arizona [where the church went each spring break to work on the Navajo Reservation], for the twenty-hour marathons of live music that the bus rides in both directions quickly became, and for the good-looking crowds that came to the acoustic and electric concerts that Fellowship musicians held in the church on Friday nights. The biggest draw, though, was Mutton himself. As the overplayed song then had it, "To sing the blues / You've got to live the dues," and Mutton's blue-collar background and his violent allergy to piousness made him a beacon of authenticity to the well-groomed kids of Webster Groves. Working with adolescents was notoriously time-consuming, but Mutton, lacking a social life, had time for it. In his simmering and posturing and cursing, he stood for the adolescent alienation that nobody else over twenty in Webster Groves seemed to understand.
Come to think of it, I had almost nothing in common with Mutton — except that I too was a young outsider in the upscale suburban congregation that hired me as a seminarian. But Franzen's memoir is so full of details and dynamics that youth ministers know well that I couldn't help but feel nostalgia. The trust walks, the bonding-through-crisis, the worried but grateful parents, the overnight retreats, the cliques, the awkward kids who discover self-confidence, the sensitive kids, the poets and musicians, the jokers, the tweakers, the burn-out, the passion — it's all there.
I lucked out: I worked with a group of dedicated and supportive parents who had grown their program with two advisers over five years before I arrived (and who have kept growing the program with three more advisers in the five years since I left); dedicated youth leaders who worked well with each other, with the adults, and with the church leadership; and a great group of kids — usually one or two dozen each Sunday night, with fifty to sixty active in one or another of our programs. At our final youth group meeting the week I graduated from seminary, I told the kids that the job had been the most rewarding work I had ever done. It was.
P.S. Chuck Currie will be pleased to see that Franzen's adviser was an Eden alumnus.
Saturday, June 18, 2005
John Danforth, an Episcopal priest and former Republican senator from Missouri, writes in yesterday's Times:
In the decade since I left the Senate, American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality. I do not think it is a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two. To assert that I am on God's side and you are not, that I know God's will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God's kingdom is certain to produce hostility.
By contrast, moderate Christians see ourselves, literally, as moderators. Far from claiming to possess God's truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth. We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. We believe it is God's work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach out to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome the meanness we see in today's politics.
For us, religion should be inclusive, and it should seek to bridge the differences that separate people. We do not exclude from worship those whose opinions differ from ours. Following a Lord who sat at the table with tax collectors and sinners, we welcome to the Lord's table all who would come. Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love. Christians who hold these convictions ought to add their clear voice of moderation to the debate on religion in politics.
Amen. ("Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers," John C. Danforth, New York Times 6.17.05, reg req'd)
Friday, June 17, 2005
It's time for Week Two of our new pointless feature: A Middle English recipe found in the Dictionary of Early English! This one is from Two Cookery-Bookes (1430):
Gaylede: Take almaunde mylke and flowre of rys, and do therto sugre or hony, and powder gyngere; then take fygs, and kerve them ato, or roysonys yhole, or harde wastel ydicyd and coloure it with saunderys and sette it and dresse hem yn.
Saunderys is sandalwood, a popular ingredient also spelled sawnderys, sanders, saundres, etc. The other word I was stumped by is wastel, which is a bread made of fine flour. Mmm.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
I know, I know: Catholicism has dominated the commentary here for the past week, but you work with what you've got — and this week, Bostonians have Catholicism. The freshly redesigned Boston Phoenix features my Div School classmate Adam Reilly's report on the super-Catholic dreams of Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan. Ave Maria College, Ave Maria Law School, and the fledgling Ave Maria University in Florida are just the beginning, Reilly writes: The next phase is a 5,000-acre, 30,000-resident city Monaghan is founding around the future campus of the university in Florida.
Ave Maria will be all-Catholic and how, Monaghan told the Boston Catholic Men's Conference this spring:
Ave Maria won’t be just a university, he continues. It will also be a new town, built from scratch, in which the wickedness of the world will be kept at bay. "We’ve already had about 3500 people inquire on our Web site about buying a home there — you know, they’re all Catholic," Monaghan says excitedly. "We’re going to control all the commercial real estate, so there’s not going to be any pornography sold in this town. We’re controlling the cable system. The pharmacies are not going to be able to sell condoms or dispense contraceptives." A private chapel will be located within walking distance of each home. At the stunning church in the center of town, Mass will be said hourly, seven days a week, from 6 a.m. on. "So," Monaghan concludes, with just a hint of understatement, "it’ll be a unique town." As he exits the stage, the applause is thunderous.
The private company that owns the land and will be developing the campus and the town — and supplying utilities — disagrees with Monaghan about how comprehensively and aggressively Catholic the town will be. Blake Gable tells Reilly, "[Monaghan] feels, obviously, that it’s going to be extremely Catholic. We feel it’s going to be, certainly at the beginning, primarily Catholic. But we are not going to discriminate or market to Catholics — that’s simply not what the company believes in. Tom has his vision, and we have ours."
But Monaghan is the one marketing the town and finding buyers. Barry Lynn of American United for Separation of Church and State objects:
"I think they really can’t do this, as much as they might want to," Lynn says. "You can’t create your own town and then decide what all of the rules will be for living in that town. You can’t have a religious test for purchasing a house. . . . This kind of approach to creating your own little community is still governed by fundamental civil-rights and civil-liberties principles that are inherent in the constitution of the state of Florida and the federal Constitution. This is not a guy who’s buying his own island out in the Pacific. If he did that, he might be able to get away with all of this."
But Reilly says the law is a bit murkier. It's not clear that a "town" owned and maintained by a private corporation that asks for almost nothing from the county is obligated to guarantee the civil liberties that a liberal constitutional government expects of civil municipalities. (Beth Young explained not too long ago how contractors who build new subdivisions include clauses in the sale agreements that place all sorts of limits on owners' behavior; these clauses are regulated by the Homeowners Association, using rules developed by the contractors, rather than by any civic authority.) Can you lose your right to live in an all-Catholic community if you deviate from some jot or tittle of ultraorthodox opinion or practice? It looks like we'll find out in not too many years.
("City of God: Tom Monaghan's Coming Catholic Utopia," Adam Reilly, Boston Phoenix 6.23.05)
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
On the heels of the Boston Archdiocese's hasty retreat on its preemptive closure of Our Lady of the Presentation School, the archdiocese also announced the reopening of St Albert the Great Parish in Weymouth. As readers of this site and practically everyone in the greater Boston area knows, St Albert the Great has been occupied around the clock for the past ten months by its parishioners — an extraordinary act of devotion and congregational stewardship — to prevent the archdiocese from taking possession of the church it decided unilaterally to close.
Good news, of course — although the opening paragraph of Michael Paulson's Boston Globe report makes it clear that Archbishop O'Malley has been stalling all along and might still be waiting for the laypeople to give up:
Ten weeks after promising to do so, Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley has issued a decree formally reopening St. Albert the Great Church in Weymouth, which has been occupied by protesters for nearly 10 months.
The delighted parishioners — who still want the archbishop to reappoint the dynamic and liberalish priest who helped revive the parish and empowered its laypeople, and whom the archbishop has essentially put out to pasture — aren't packing up their sleeping bags and going home, though:
A spokesman for the parishioners said they would continue to sleep at the church at least through Friday night, when they have a scheduled parish council meeting, at which they will discuss whether to end the occupation. Parishioners will also seek assurances from the archdiocese that it plans to return the parish's money, estimated at $200,000; that it will restore a full complement of daily and weekend Masses and other sacramental activities; will return the parish's records, which were sent to church archives; and will support the return of church groups that existed before the parish was closed last August.
"The lack of progress during these 10 weeks was frustrating and unnecessarily aggravating," said the spokesman, Colin Riley, who pointed out that a longtime parishioner who lived across the street from St. Albert's recently died knowing that her funeral could not be celebrated at her parish because the archdiocese had not yet technically reopened it. Riley said the parishioners are mindful of what has taken place at St. Bernard Church in West Newton, where parishioners abandoned a vigil after O'Malley promised not to close the church. The archbishop has yet to fully restore the staff, programs, and worship services that parish had enjoyed before being targeted for closing.
It's always disheartening to watch religious leaders make "promises" the way politicians do. ("Weymouth Parish Achieves Vigil's Goal," Michael Paulson, Boston Globe 6.15.05, reg req'd)
Don't you love the spam messages in which you're warned that your account is about to be suspended? (Oh no!) Today I received the following spam message:
Dear Philocrites Member,
We have temporarily suspended your email account email@example.com.
This might be due to either of the following reasons:
1. A recent change in your personal information (i.e. change of address).
2. Submiting invalid information during the initial sign up process.
3. An innability to accurately verify your selected option of subscription due to an internal error within our processors.
See the details to reactivate your Philocrites account.
Sincerely,The Philocrites Support Team
Of course I love the thought that I've contacted myself on behalf of myself to alert myself that something is wrong with my personal information. And so of course I'll promptly click on the evil .zip file and wreak havoc on my computer.
Friends, in case you get an email like this, please know that we at the real Philocrites Support Team would never spell "inability" incorrectly. We here at the Philocrites Support Team care about little things like that. And a reminder: Never, ever click one of those files.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
So you've been reading the Program [pdf; 1.5M] of the upcoming General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations — otherwise known as "GA" and "UUA" — and wondering what all the acronyms and peculiar phrases mean. On page 17, for example, one workshop advertizes a speaker as "SWUUC DE"; another says "ICUU: Why Your Faith Matters in the World" — but never explains what ICUU is. Any other page could be as illustrative: Unitarian Universalists love acronyms; they are for us tangible signs of a spiritual and inward grace that we only receive by going to three or four General Assemblies. So don't worry!
But Phil Lund, while making a serious point about the pitfalls of buzzwords, nevertheless gives me the idea of suggesting that we all play Buzzword Bingo during the plenary sessions. It's easy: During Friday and Saturday's plenaries, draw a grid with five rows and five columns. Then, whenever someone uses an acronym, buzzword, or bit of jargon — even if you know what it means — write it in one of your squares. Then, at Sunday and Monday's plenaries, it's time to play. When you hear someone use one of the buzzwords you've written on your grid, cross it out.
If you get Bingo, however, please don't step up to the procedural microphone to announce it to the moderator. Instead, come back to Philocrites and tell us all what five buzzwords lined up for you. You could be the next BB King — or is that BBQ? And remember to ask all your new GA friends whether they're playing GABB. All the cool kids are doing it.
John Cooley has been building a very interesting blog and news aggregator at webuus.com. What's New with UU? rounds up an even broader range of UU blogs and news sources than the UU Blogs digest I maintain through Kinja.com. (He includes congregational blogs and even recent updates to the UU Wiki.) Especially noteworthy: You can set your own preferences so that you only see headlines from blogs that interest you. Very enterprising!
If you need help researching your family history, I can highly recommend my dad's services at Ansearching.com. In a single afternoon a few years ago, he helped us locate Mrs Philocrites' great-grandfather's immigration record and a whole treasure-trove of Italian records including the document recording his birth, his parents' marriage, their baptisms, and their parents' names. Amazing!
Monday, June 13, 2005
The Unitarian Universalist marketing campaign that ran in Houston, Texas, from January through April gets prominent placement in a story about church marketing in Saturday's Houston Chronicle. The UUA's own interim report on the Houston campaign was published in March, but a final report may be waiting on a meeting to analyze the campaign that the Chronicle says will take place in Houston this week.
("Increasingly, Denominations Using Media Campaigns To Attract Visitors," Richard Vara, Houston Chronicle 6.11.05)
Unitarian Universalists who are discovering they're interested in Jesus will want to know about "Jesus Seen with Fresh Eyes," a weekend retreat with Carl Scovel at the Rowe Camp and Conference Center in western Massachusetts October 14 through 16. I know this is a lot of advance notice, but if I don't think to mention something when I hear about it, I'm likely to forget as the date gets closer!
Scovel is minister emeritus of King's Chapel in Boston, a friend and mentor of mine, and the author of Never Far from Home: Stories from the Radio Pulpit, which I highly recommend. (Buy a copy from Amazon, Powell's, or the UUA Bookstore.) And what better time of year to see Massachusetts than autumn?
Sunday, June 12, 2005
What Archbishop O'Malley should be learning this weekend: If your people live in a democratic society and you don't give them a voice within the church's decision-making process, they're eventually going to find other ways to make their desires known.
Even if closing Our Lady of the Presentation School makes sense from every institutional standpoint, no one is on the archbishop's side after he prematurely cancelled the last two days of classes and the graduation ceremonies. What did the archbishop get for his heavy-handed decision? Nothing: He's meeting with the parents tomorrow and has said he'll even reconsider their offer to buy the school, and he has egg all over his face.
Laypeople love the church. They love its programs. They love its institutions. So let them help run the show. Otherwise, they'll feel betrayed every time you make a decision they don't like.
("O'Malley to Meet School Protesters," Maria Cramer, Boston Globe 6.12.05, reg req'd)
Update 6.14.05: The archbishop doesn't apologize — mistakes were made, misunderstandings were had, pain was caused — but he takes several giant steps back in the resolution he reached yesterday with the Presentation School Foundation. Harvard Div School watchers will note the involvement of Bryan Hehir, former theology professor and head of the school who now leads Catholic Charities, in the archdiocesan delegation.
("O'Malley, Protesters End Standoff over School," Michael Paulson, Boston Globe 6.14.05, reg req'd; "Archdiocese Agrees To Pursue Sale of Closed Catholic School," Brooke Donald [AP], boston.com 6.13.05)
Archbishop Sean O'Malley is making political enemies in a hurry. After locking the elementary school students of Our Lady of the Presentation out of their classrooms and cancelling their graduation ceremonies, the archbishop has taken some pretty ferocious feedback from prominent Boston Catholics. In Friday's Globe, Michael Paulson reported these angry responses:
- Mayor Thomas Menino "sent a letter to O'Malley calling the action 'reprehensible,' 'unconscionable,' and a 'heartbreaking insult.'"
- City Councilor Jerry McDermott, who graduated from the school: "They had four pedophile priests assigned over the years to Our Lady of the Presentation, and now they want to protect the children? Isn't that refreshing? I'm not the best Catholic out there, but these are the supposed elders of the Catholic faith, and they've made a mockery of it."
- State Rep. Michael Moran, another graduate: "Lately the only thing the church seems to know how to do is to hurt people."
- City Council President Michael Flaherty: "The archdiocese ought to be ashamed of itself; this is unconscionable."
What were archdiocesan officials thinking? Apparently that the church could more easily survive a brief public relations disaster than the prospect of yet another vigil by laypeople upset to see their churches and parochial schools closed to pay for Cardinal Law's leadership failure. In another Globe article about the reaction to the archbishop's decision, Lisa Wangsness wrote:
[E]lected officials stood aghast, and public relations specialists could not fathom the reasoning of church officials in a city where the Catholic Church has been a dominant institution for more than a century, at a time when it is struggling to rehabilitate its image in the aftermath of the clergy sex-abuse scandal.
"We're not talking about Al Qaeda here," said George K. Regan Jr., president of the Regan Communications Group, a public relations firm. "We're talking about nursery school kids."
Terrence C. Donilon, spokesman for the archdiocese, said: "We certainly discussed public relations, but Archbishop O'Malley made his decision not on the basis of PR, but for the safety of children. He understood that this was not going to be well received."
"For the safety of children," eh? Nothing threatened the kids' safety — even if they and their parents had decided to spend the night. (Everyone involved in the 24/7 vigil at St Albert the Great has been perfectly safe for months.) The only thing that would have endangered the kids if their parents had decided not to leave the school after the graduation ceremonies would have been security guards hired by O'Malley to drag them out. Maybe the archbishop was making a veiled threat that he was willing to get rough.
More heat for the archbishop:
- Catholic State Senator Michael W. Morrissey: "All I can say is, they have a way of snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory."
- Susan Tracy, a political consultant who reminisced about her graduation from kindergarten at Our Lady of the Presentation, about the parents: "These are good people, people who don't have deep anger toward the church easily. For the church to get them to a place where I see them angry and the kids crying — that's the future of the church, that's the base. I think it deeply hurts the church on the heels of everything else, and I don't think there's anything they can do to right this wrong."
- Mayor Menino: "We were making progress, and where's the credibility now? Where's the credibility in the decision-making process? Why don't we have a say in what's going on? It's our church."
- Secretary of State William F. Galvin (an alumnus of the school and a major donor) on the archdiocese: "They've reinforced every stereotypical bad opinion people have about them."
("Catholic School Lockout Angers Parents, Officials," Michael Paulson, Boston Globe 6.9.05; "Many Left Puzzled, Angry at Timing of Church Move," Lisa Wangsness, Boston Globe 6.9.05)
Friday, June 10, 2005
What's a blogger to do when he doesn't own a cat — or a digital camera — and Friday rolls around? Sure, he could steal other "Friday Cat Blogging" pictures and pretend they're his own, but supposedly the Internet is self-correcting and eventually he'd be caught. Happily, Mrs Philocrites has come to the rescue.
At first, I couldn't see exactly why we needed to own a used copy of the Dictionary of Early English, but after we got on the T with our purchase, I recognized what a boon to blogging it would be. Scattered throughout are recipes from the fourteenth-century Forme of Cury ("cury": cookery). Dear reader, these are blog entries to be read aloud and savored. Without further ado, Friday "Forme of Cury" Blogging:
Douce-ame: Take gode cowe mylk, and do it in a pot. Take parsel, sawge, ysope, savray, and oother gode herbes, hewe hem, and do hem in the mylke, and seeth hem. Take capons half yrosted, and smyte hem on pyces, and do thereto pynes and hony clarified. Salt it, and color it with safron, and serve it forth.
(Dictionary of Early English, Joseph T. Shipley, Littlefield, Adams & Co. 1963)
Thursday, June 9, 2005
Three recent articles in the Boston Globe stepped away from the political conflict and crime that typically drive things into print and instead offered truly poignant glimpses into the heartache and wonder of real life:
I was in Row 27, seated next to a retired businessman returning from a golfing holiday in Spain. We sipped our cocktails as dinner service was suspended. In Row 26, a cool kid in a T-shirt and jeans played computer games. A quiet man in a yarmulke came up from the back of the plane, curious at the prolonged disturbance. Everywhere people were turning off their headsets, folding magazines, growing silent with anticipation as the doctor tried and tried to save a life.
Displaying extraordinary pastoral sensitivity, Archbishop Sean O'Malley changed the locks, canceled graduation, and had his staff call all the parents of students at Our Lady of the Presentation Elementary School to tell them the last two days of classes were canceled, too. Why? The Archdiocese claims that it was to "protect the children" from protests by their parents over the scheduled closing of the school at the end of the academic year. Michael Paulson reports:
Presentation School was slated to close last year, but O'Malley agreed to grant it a one-year extension after parents protested. He declined an offer by the parents to buy the school.
The parents proposed paying what they said was market value for the school, and they said they would turn it into a private school and a community center. But O'Malley said he wanted the building to house a church agency, the Metropolitan Tribunal [which assesses requests for annulments], because the archdiocese is selling the current tribunal building to Boston College to help defray the cost of settling clergy sex-abuse cases.
Mayor Tom Menino and Secretary of State William Galvin (who lives in the neighborhood and may run for governor) quickly expressed support for the kids and their parents — in a further sign of the Archdiocese's weakness in Boston:
Last night, Menino was clearly angered by the decision to close the school early. He pledged to express his unhappiness to the archdiocese and asked, "Don't they care about the human factor?
"This is disturbing, the cloak-and-dagger approach to closure," Menino said in a telephone interview. "These poor kids — what kind of effect will this have on the children? It will leave an indelible mark on them. And this is not a way to treat parents who have worked so hard over the past year."
A similar story in yesterday's Globe reported that almost half the graduating seniors at a Catholic school in New Hampshire signed a letter asking their bishop not to attend their baccalaureate mass because of his involvement in Boston's clergy sex-abuse crisis.
("Diocese Shuts School Early to Prevent an Occupation," Michael Paulson, Boston Globe 6.9.05, reg req'd; "Some Grads Don't Want Bishop at N.H. Rite," Rebecca Mahoney, Boston Globe 6.8.05, reg req'd)
Wednesday, June 8, 2005
It's going to be a challenge to gather all bloggers and would-be bloggers at one time during the June 23-27 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. For one thing, a bunch of us are leading workshops or discussions listed in the official program — but none of them are about blogging:
Tuesday, June 7, 2005
Phil Lund gets off to a bracing start in "What Price UUism?"
For some time now—several years, at least—I've had two distinct notions elbowing one another in my mind. One is Olympia Brown's call to "stand by this faith"; the other is Dietrich Bonhoeffer's concept of "cheap grace." And to be honest, when these two start tussling in my head, I begin to feel it in my body—my heart gets heavy and my stomach begins to flutter. Usually when I feel this way, I'm getting close to something of major importance in my life. And I'm pretty sure that is, indeed, important. I'm looking for an answer to this question: Is Unitarian Universalist truly a faith worth working for and sacrificing for (as Brown put's it [sic]), or is it merely a liberal religious panacea, one that lets us be comforted and rest assured in our worldliness (to use Bonhoeffer's words)?
He frames the question provocatively in his post — and I'm sure there will be more to follow as he broods on the question and as you add your own responses. I'll say this much about Phil's quarrel with the popular conception that Unitarian Universalism is an "easy" religion: Usually we UUs settle for easy because it makes a nice antithesis to a thesis many people take for granted — that religion is a boring, grueling, guilt-making grind. We take a bad Christian thesis and provide a liberating antithesis. Problem is, of course, that we eventually have to provide some synthesis — and I don't think that's been our strong suit.
In practice, I know there are UU congregations that push past easy rejectionism, but I think it's also true that we find it harder to talk about and cultivate real commitment. Why, just today I marvelled at the news that Kim B. Clark, the dean of the Harvard Business School, has resigned in order to become president of the Mormon Church's lowly Brigham Young University-Idaho:
Clark's surprise decision to leave an institution often regarded as the pinnacle of American business education for a little-known Mormon school in Rexburg, Idaho, was driven by personal and religious considerations, the 56-year-old dean said at a news conference yesterday before flying west to meet with BYU students and faculty. . . .
Clark, who is a Mormon, said he received a phone call on May 25 from Gordon B. Hinckley, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who offered him the job at church-run BYU-Idaho. The former two-year junior college was known as Ricks College until 2001, when it was renamed and accredited as a four-year institution.
After talking with Hinckley for only a few minutes, Clark said, he accepted the job. Then he called Summers, a friend for nearly 30 years, and told him he was departing.
Can you imagine a comparable scenario for a Unitarian Universalist? Or is that an unfair question? ("Harvard Business Dean to Step Down," Robert Weisman, Boston Globe 6.7.05, reg req'd)
Guess explained the thinking behind the UCC's move toward Internet news publishing last December. I've been following developments at the UCC because the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations is on a somewhat similar trajectory: The May/June issue of UU World announced the shift from bimonthly to quarterly publication — and introduced plans for an online magazine. Tom Stites wrote:
Issues of our new electronic magazine will be published every week. Each week's issue will offer fresh inspirational material, timely news of UUs and their congregations and institutions, and helpful information for church leaders. And each week's Web magazine will feature either an exclusive Web-only article or an article from the print magazine. There will be a frequently updated feature for UU activists, helping them keep up on what they can do to make a difference. And, if you'd prefer, you won't have to go to the Web magazine—the magazine will come to you. The front page of the Web magazine will offer you an easy way to sign up for weekly e-mails of fresh UU news and other material.
The UUA's transformed online magazine will debut later this summer; watch for the announcement in the Fall 2005 issue. In the meantime, what do you think of the new United Church News?
Sunday, June 5, 2005
The Boston Globe Ideas section interviews David G. Myers, professor of psychology at a Christian liberal arts college in Michigan, and Letha Dawson Scanzoni, a Christian writer in Virginia, about their new book, What God Has Joined Together? A Christian Case for Gay Marriage:
The Boston Globe reports today:
Two years ago, Brian T. Hart, an avid supporter of the American military mission in Iraq, wrote to the Board of Selectmen in Bedford to complain about a 20-foot banner strung from the front of the First Parish church that read, "Speak Out For Peace."
Today, Hart, now a blistering critic of the campaign in Iraq, plans to return to the [Unitarian Universalist] church on the town green to speak out for peace at the pulpit.
The reason for his transformation: His son, Private First Class John D. Hart was killed outside Kirkuk, Iraq, in October 2003 when insurgents firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades attacked his unarmored Humvee.
Representative Martin T. Meehan, with whom Hart has worked to secure $700 million in funding for Humvee armor and who has offered a proposal for gradually withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, will also speak at the church today. ("Former Supporter Joins Foes Over War," Michael Levenson, Boston Globe 6.5.05, reg req'd)
Saturday, June 4, 2005
Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John Rosa Jr. told the the Anti-Defamation League yesterday that the Academy has a pervasive religious bias problem. He compared the situation to the school's sexual assault scandal, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette:
“This issue is very insidious,” Rosa said. “It doesn’t automatically jump out at you. It’s been at the academy for a while, and it’s going to take a while to fix.”
Surveys show that 84 percent of Christian cadets and faculty feel that the academy supports their religious freedom, while only 58 percent of non-Christians feel that way.
A whopping 92 percent of Christian faculty and staff members say people at the academy respect individuals whose religious views and faiths are different from theirs, while only half of the non-Christians concurred.
“You see the dilemma,” Rosa said. “I’m talking to people where the large majority of people sitting there say there’s no problem.”
Things must change, he said. “If you marginalize a certain part of your team, discriminate against part of your team, you are not going to have good order and discipline, and when you go into combat, you will have problems.”
The Rocky Mountain News adds:
Discrimination diminishes the Air Force's effectiveness, Rosa said, because "you are not going to have good order and discipline" if some members of a fighting unit sense they are the victim of prejudice.
The general said issues of intolerance and disrespect are pervasive at the academy, from cadets through faculty members. His remedy: clearly stated policies and uniform accountability.
But, he said, "We don't want to create and environment where you can't discuss religious issues."
("Rosa: Bias Fix Will Take Time," Pam Zubeck, Colorado Springs Gazette 6.4.05; "Air Force Academy Leader Admits Religious Intolerance at School," AP, New York Times 6.4.05, reg req'd; "AFA Chief's Intolerance Stand Lauded," Joe Garner, Rocky Mountain News 6.4.05)
Father Jake (an Episcopal priest) also likes the Christian Century's proposal that we stop talking about "mainline Protestantism" and "liberal mainline churches" and instead promote "Christian humanism."
When I endorsed the phrase last week, I lamented that Unitarian Universalists might feel even more isolated as proponents of theological liberalism if other Protestants shied away from the "L word." In response to some of Father Jake's commenters, though, I offered a different take on the phrase, which I'll repeat here:
One advantage of "Christian humanist" is that it isn't a euphemism for "liberal Protestant": It includes (descriptively, at least) Evangelicals who write for Books & Culture, Roman Catholics who revere people like Erasmus, poets and novelists from Richard Wilbur to Katherine Paterson, etc. (One could develop a very long list of Christian thinkers and artists who exemplify Christian humanism: C.S. Lewis, Czeslaw Milosz, Frederick Buechner, Annie Dillard, Madeline L'Engle, and Jane Kenyon come to mind pretty quickly, for example.)
The journal Image is published by the Christian Center for Religious Humanism, which is clearly at odds with the American Humanist Association's brand of secular humanism and is much more clearly aligned with this ecumenically-minded Christian humanism.
But I'd caution my fellow liberal Protestants not to embrace it as a euphemism for our theological liberalism. Liberalism is one expression of Christian humanism — one I'm deeply committed to — but it isn't the only expression. It's a useful label if it helps us enter a broader conversation, not if it's just a rebranding effort. (You know, kind of like the anti-religious Humanists who decided to rebrand themselves as "brights.")
Living without cable TV in Boston doesn't simply isolate me from most of the chattering class's favorite shows; it also severely limits the number of Red Sox games I can watch at home. (Happily, last night's game was great.) So it's quite possible that everyone else in Red Sox Nation already knows about this coming Tuesday's episode of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" featuring Johnny Damon, Jason Varitek, Kevin Millar, Tim Wakefield, and Doug Mirabelli. I found out from today's Boston Globe review of the episode, which praises the way "the show plays with old stereotypes of sports machismo":
There's something deliciously modern about watching Mirabelli, hand extended delicately for a manicure, razzing Millar about his hair. And about the mix of fear and pride on Wakefield's face when Carson Kressley sits on his lap, pats him encouragingly on the shoulder, and says, "You're so good; you're so comfortable!"
That has always been the best conceit of "Queer Eye": the way it acknowledges its straight protagonists' unease, then watches them evolve.
Or not: Hisses go to pitcher Mike Timlin and sports radio big mouths John Dennis and Gerry Callahan, who according to the article would rather simply stick with unease.
The Fab Five will throw out the first pitch in Sunday's game. ("Sox Prove Good Sports Primping for 'Queer Eye,'" Joanna Weiss, Boston Globe 6.4.05, reg req'd)
Thursday, June 2, 2005
And to think I was enjoying the old Harvard Divinity Bulletin — an unusually good alumni publication, the sort of thing you enjoy reading long after your liberation from higher education. A week ago Mrs Philocrites and I received our copies of the entirely redesigned and reimagined Bulletin, and I've been marvelling at it ever since. (Mrs P moved on to other things, but magazine junkie that I am, I'm still poring over it.) The design and content are very fine, but one thing jumps off the page:
Especially at a moment when conflict in public arenas so often involves religion, we believe it is important to open out the way we interpret, and reflect, HDS's mission — which is preparing future scholars, ministers, and leaders across the professions according to a common intellectual rigor and with an emphasis on religious pluralism. We believe that this publication can be, in that regard, a broadly accessible — and broadly participated in — forum on questions of worldwide, ecumenical concern, with the School as its dynamic bedrock and monitor of excellence.
Is there a broad audience for a magazine that emphasizes religion but is neither scholarly journal nor newsmagazine? We're taking an educated guess that there is — but that guess is its own sort of risk.
What does editor Will Joyner mean? The fine print on page 3 makes it clear:
Subscription at no cost is available; please send mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org, or, by mail, to the Office of Communications, Harvard Divinity School, 45 Francis Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138. Contributions in lieu of a subscription may be made by check, payable to Harvard University, sent to the same address.
That's an interesting — and expensive — way to build a donor base, but I think my readers will find this a very appealing offer.
Readers used to be able to download PDF versions of each Bulletin, but the new issue isn't online yet. If you'd like to catch a glimpse of its design — including one of Andrew Zbihlyj's sophisticated drawings — check out the designer's portfolio. (The same company used to design Lingua Franca and also redesigned The American Prospect and Ms.) The magazine makes particularly good use of several of typographer Robert Bringhurst's principles, including very snazzy footnotes in the margins.
Oh, yes: What's in the magazine? The best essay I've read so far is novelist Katherine Paterson's essay, "Are You There, God?" (I'll try to posts a few key passages later.) I haven't finished the cover story on cosmology, but I did breeze through a ho-hum essay by Jim Wallis (who teaches a class at HDS). Kevin Madigan, however, contributes a very good review of Michael Radford's film version of The Merchant of Venice. HDS, as they say, rocks.
Wednesday, June 1, 2005
I've moved the Google search box out of the site's header and into the sidebar, where it belongs. I've also added what I think will be more easily navigable breadcrumbs to all internal pages to help readers figure out where they are in the site. Let me know if something is broken on your end, and be sure to tell me what browser and operating system you use. We now return you to your regularly scheduled Web browsing...
Joshua Micah Marshall, the journalist-blogger of Talking Points Memo, has brought together an impressive group of experts and writers for TPMCafe, a new group blog modeled on Daily Kos — complete with user diaries — but with a much more impressive roster of contributors. The American Prospect's Matthew Yglesias has moved his eponymous blog to TPMCafe; I'm thrilled to see the New Yorker's George Packer on the foreign policy blog; and what's not to love about having former senator John Edwards blogging about poverty?