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Sunday, July 31, 2005

On the road.

I'm on my way to Denver for the 2005 UU Musicians Network conference. Highlights of the week include a daylong workshop on UU theological traditions with former UUA president John Buehrens, a clinic with Sufi choir master William Allaudin, and singing for the Denver Interfaith Music Festival.

I hope to be able to get some guest blogging done while I'm there, but the internet access situation is an unknown at this point. With any luck I'll be offering some thoughts from the conference as the week unfolds.

Posted by Jason Shelton, July 31, 2005, at 05:05 PM | 1 comments

Friday, July 29, 2005

UUAWO rocks.

The Unitarian Universalist Association's Washington Office for Advocacy has released a statement written by Rob Keithan on the UUA position on John Roberts' Supreme Court nomination. I find it to be a well thought position. Nice work, Rob!

Posted by Thom Belote, July 29, 2005, at 02:45 PM | 3 comments

Seems like big news to me...

Buried deep in my local paper today, under the "News in Brief" heading, was the following:

U.S. Muslim Scholars Denounce All Terrorism

After deadly bombings in Britain and other Nations, American Muslim scholars issues an edict yesterday condemning religious extremism and calling terrorists "criminals, not martyrs."

The 18-member Fiqh Council of North America said Muslims were barred from helping "any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or violence."

"There is no justification in Islam for extermism or terrorism," the scholars wrote in the edict, called a fatwa. "Targeting civilians' life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram - or forbidden."

...The U.S. scholars said their prohibition applied to attacks on civilians everywhere. Their fatwa says Muslims are obligated to help law enforcement authorities "protect the lives of all civilians."

I did a little follow-up research and found a more in-depth article at Reuters. Turns out this fatwa was signed and endorsed by over 130 American Muslim organizations. Now this, it seems to me, is pretty big news. Haven't we heard our politicians, over and over again, calling for Muslim leaders to denounce all violence and terrorism in the name of Islam? So here it is, and the story gets buried. Darn that liberal media!

I think that Islam in general is about to come face to face with a huge authority problem. Fatwas are supposedly binding upon the community, though jurisdictional boundaries are less than clear. So what happens when these binding rulings are in conflict with one another? How does an exclusivist system, which is supposed to be unifed under a single, revealed truth, handle the murkiness of multiple interpretations of the law (sharia)?

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Jason Shelton, July 29, 2005, at 10:25 AM | 1 comments

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Flirting with Emergent, part III

When I left off with my last post I was about to describe the worship experience at Jacob's Well. But let me back up and describe the worship space. The sanctuary is typical of an old, main-line congregation. Lots of dark wood, stained glass windows, and pews. The sanctuary ambiance is an odd mix of old and new. Two large screens for power-point and showing video hang on either side of the chancel. The raised chancel is a stage for the band. To one side of the chancel there is a simple communion table draped in white cloth. The table also contains about a dozen white candles and some clay jars. A stark, wood cross stands behind the table. There is no pulpit. The preacher stands in the center aisle between the rows of pews towards the front of the sanctuary.

At 10:30, the band walks down the side aisle and plugs in. It is a six-piece band with a front man/acoustic guitarist, electric guitar, electric bass, fiddle, percussionist, and female back-up vocalist. They begin to play, words come up on the screens, and we're singing 15 minutes of praise-songs. But, these are a little bit different because the music is good and loud and has more of an alt. rock feel than other praise bands I've heard. Think two parts Dashboard Confessional and one part Death Cab for Cutie. They even do an emo version of "All Creatures of the Earth and Sky."

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Thom Belote, July 27, 2005, at 11:30 AM | 8 comments

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

And now for something completely different.

I'm hopeful that the stuff I've written about Singing the Journey has been helpful to the faithful here at Philocrites. However, those posts clearly haven't generated much conversation. Heck, even my wife doesn't want to hear about STJ anymore. So, I thought I'd go in a new direction...

This week marks my return to churchwork after a three week paternity leave. I took three weeks when our daughter was born in late March, then three more when my wife went back to work in early July. It has been a great privilege to have so much time (especially PAID time) to be with my kid during these initial weeks and months.

I feel a certain grief knowing that I'm not going to have this kind of time with her ever again. Sure, there will be days and weeks here and there, but I doubt I'll ever have this kind of time to just sit with her in my lap, pondering the simple beauty and elegance of the miracle of life. It's some of the best work I've done in years.

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Jason Shelton, July 26, 2005, at 11:14 PM | 3 comments

Flirting with Emergent, part II.

Thanks to all, including some old (well, "old") buddies who've responded to the post on Emergent.

For three consecutive Sundays in late June / early July I was a "mystery worshipper" at Jacob's Well, located in Kansas City and one of the leading Emergent congregations in the country. Before offering my answers to the questions I asked about the possibility of a UU church adopting the "Emergent style", I want to comment on and describe the experienceb of worshipping there.

Jacob's Well is located in midtown Kansas City. It meets in the old Roanoke Presbyterian Church, which one would assume Jacob's Well bought from a dwindling main-line congregation. However, I've also heard that Jacob's Well's minister, Tim Keel, has Presbyterian connections so I would be interested to know the story behind its planting.

Anyways, the first thing I noticed when I arrived for worship...

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Thom Belote, July 26, 2005, at 06:50 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Looking for Unitarian Universalist podcasts?

Here's a handy Directory of UU Podcasts — which you can help expand! And, although they're not yet set up with RSS and so don't quite qualify as podcasts just yet, here's a series of iPod-friendly audio essays for congregational leaders called Drive Time Essays.

Update 1.17.06: reports that two dozen Unitarian Universalist congregations are now podcasting the living tradition. Here's the most comprehensive current directory, collected by Jason Tippitt.

Posted by Philocrites, July 24, 2005, at 08:42 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, July 23, 2005

More on 'Singing the Journey.'

2) What's with these accompaniments? They seem to be more complex than we're used to, and they don't always support the melody very well.

Our commission was very clear from the start of our work - this collection is meant to be led by a competent songleader/cantor. The UU Musicians Network has made leading congregational singing a significant aspect of our annual conference and professional development material for the past five years or so. Many of my colleagues in that organization have reported incredible changes in the singing culture within their congregations as a result of this work.

When you have a songleader in place the melody is supported by their singing, which makes it possible for the accompanist to add rhythmic and harmonic interest to the piece without losing the congregation. One of the most common complaints I hear from my colleagues in ministry is that they feel like congregational singing is generally too slow and labored, and thus suffers from a lack of enthusiasm. Their solution is to try and get the accompanist to go faster, which doesn't really solve the problem. Slow doesn't have to be boring, and when the accompaniment has a bit more complexity and rhythmic movement a song can be sung slowly and yet generate tremedous energy. And when the songleader is really strong - not in the sense of being a great soloist, but as a person who truly engages the congregation in a relational way - our singing in community has tremendous power and potential for transforming the culture of our worship.

We realize that this way of thinking about congregational singing and accompaniment is a breakaway from "traditional" hymnody. Despite claims to the contrary, I'm pretty sure that none of us on the commission think that the tried and true canon is no longer useful or in need of total replacement. Three of our commission members are Masters level organists, and one a PhD in orchestral conducting! But we had a specific charge to fulfill, one which called upon us to assemble a collection that stepped outside the boundaries of what most of our congregations usually do in worship. As such, the collection will certainly feel experimental to some, a long-overdue revolution to others, and most will probably fall somwhere in between.

The fact is that by putting this collection "out there" at this moment, when there seems to be a good bit of experimentation and exploration going on in our congregations as far as how worship can look, feel and sound, we will learn a great deal about what does and doesn't work and just how far those boundaries will stretch. I think that's a good thing.

Posted by Jason Shelton, July 23, 2005, at 02:59 PM | 0 comments

Friday, July 22, 2005

Flirting with Emergent.

[Thanks Jason for kicking things off, and thanks Philocrites for the wonderful introduction and for letting me crash out on your internet sofa. For now I am going to blog about an experience I’ve had over the last month and reflect on connecting it back to UUism.]

Earlier this month I found myself in the unusual place of being in town but out of the pulpit for several consecutive weeks. So I embarked on an adventure. I had been hearing in some of the ministry circles that I run in about this thing called Emergent Christianity. And I had been running into hip young people in Kansas City who attended a local Emergent Church called Jacob’s Well. So I decided to be a “mystery worshipper” for three consecutive Sundays and see for myself.

Emergent Christianity is a movement fronted by Brian McClaren from the D.C. area. It is a theological and ecclesiastical style that is a response to inadequacies in both evangelical/mega-church Christianity and liberal/mainline Christianity. Emergent is post-modern, neo-orthodox, and hyper-culturally literate. You can read about it in McClaren’s New Kind of Christian books.

Jacob’s Well is one of the leading Emergent congregations in the country and is located in mid-town Kansas City.

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Thom Belote, July 22, 2005, at 03:19 PM | 7 comments

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Into the fray.

Wow - what an intro! Thanks, P. Glad to be counted among the red-headed, goatee-sporting MDivs, even if I didn't go to Harvard.

At the risk of being pigeonholed, I thought I'd take an opportunity with my first blog entry to talk a bit about Singing the Journey. Our commission has received a good bit of feedback on the book already, and there are some questions/comments that seem to come up pretty regularly that I thought I might address here.

1) Why are there so many songs in the book that were written or arranged by commission members? There is a response to this question on the STJ website. But I have a feeling there are some folks out there who would like a fuller response, one which goes into considerably more detail. Here you go...

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Jason Shelton, July 21, 2005, at 11:39 PM | 3 comments

Please welcome your guest hosts.

How exciting to introduce two friends whose insights and company I'm sure you'll be glad to have here at Philocrites while I turn my attention to other things over the next few weeks. Two criteria drove my quest for guest bloggers: After all, what would Philocrites be without red hair and a degree from Harvard Divinity School? Happily, between the two of 'em, Jason Shelton and Thom Belote have those all-important blogging bases covered. Whew!

The kindest misdirected compliment I received at the General Assembly this year was at a party the last night of G.A. (It may have been the kindest misdirected compliment I've received all year.) A woman I don't know turned to me and told me what a talented musician I am. I thanked her; admitted that while I do my best to plunk out four-square hymns when asked, I'm really not that talented; and said that I was incredibly flattered to be mistaken for Jason Shelton — the truly talented music director of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, whose music we had been enjoying throughout G.A. (We red-headed youngish UU guys are used to being confused for one another, though. I've also been complimented for being Branden Miller and Evan Keely, so I'm not complaining.)

Jason and I are friends who get to see each other only when our denominational responsibilities put us in the same place at the same time. (He's been a lurker around these parts longer than just about anyone, for which he has my undying thanks.) Even though he's a tad younger than I am, he's had time to be a Franciscan brother as well as become a Unitarian Universalist minister. (M.Div. from Vanderbilt, the Harvard of the South, right?)

As a musician, composer, and hymn writer, he has earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues in the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network. Thousands of UUs have been introduced to his music at the last two General Assemblies: He was music director at last year's innovative Sunday morning worship service and co-director at this year's rousing closing ceremony, and he helped introduce a bunch of the songs from the new UUA songbook, Singing the Journey, where you can find several of his hymns. Oh, and his album, The Fire of Commitment, is on my iPod.

Thom Belote and I met over breakfast at the General Assembly in Salt Lake City back when he was still just an incredibly smart college student. I was part-way through my M.Div. at Harvard at the time, and we became friends when he came to Harvard, too. One of the things I had the pleasure to witness at div school over seven years — four years for me, three for Mrs P — was the emergence of real ministers out of mere seminarians, a transformation wonderful and quite inspiring to see and something that doesn't actually happen to everyone who earns the degree or, I'm ashamed to say, gets ordained. When Thom returned from his internship, we all noticed. Right away. He came back with really good "MP" (seminarian-speak for ministerial presence) and is now the young, very competent minister of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Overland Park, Kansas, one of the congregations that participated in the UUA's first "Uncommon Denomination" marketing campaign. Thom, who grew up UU in Massachusetts, owns an enviable collection of Kansas paraphernalia, of which he is justifiably proud.

Thom's scholarly inclination has already given us the Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography entry for Unitarian superstar (and quasi-unitarian) Thomas Jefferson. He's the guy to ask when someone wants to know about Jefferson's religious and philosophical beliefs.

Please welcome Jason "Scholacrites" Shelton and Thom "Deuterophilocrites" Belote. They'll keep things moving around here; I'll pop in as I can, but don't expect a lot from me for a few weeks.

Posted by Philocrites, July 21, 2005, at 07:38 PM | 1 comments

Losing my religion?

Matthew Gatheringwater is leading a fine discussion over at Coffee Hour about the experience some Unitarian Universalists feel when they think their religion is somehow being taken away from them by the emergence in their congregations of unfamiliar — or perhaps too familiar — perspectives and practices. I call it the losing-my-religion phenomenon. (Uncharitably, it's the "we were here first" syndrome. See also mimetic rivalry.) Matthew puts it in a different context and asks, "What are the circumstances in which you'd feel you no longer belong in your own religious home?" Hmm.

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, July 21, 2005, at 07:23 PM | 2 comments

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

UUA Youth Office explains Con Con decision.

Unitarian Universalists involved in programs for youth, especially those who paid attention to the hubbub early in the year around the withdrawal of UUA staff support for the continental conference of the denominational youth organization YRUU, will want to note the publication of a letter from the UUA Youth Office responding to criticism of that decision.

Posted by Philocrites, July 20, 2005, at 08:39 AM | 8 comments

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Could there be more than one Philocrites?

Here's a blogger's dilemma: Let's say that your audience just keeps on growing, despite the allure of mountains to hike and coastlines to visit and cottages to rent and movies to see and whatever else people do during the summertime rather than sit inside looking at a computer screen. (Australian readers have a good excuse: It's winter down under.)

Let's also say that you — the proprietor of one of them new-fangled "Weblogs" — have a really extraordinary number of important things to attend to over the next few weeks and you feel guilty about the thought that you just might have to cut back on your blogging. (The guilt goes down a little with the thought that many of your readers will be very excited about the end product of some of that work, but we'll just have to see.) What should you do?

I'm happy to announce that I will be introducing two guest bloggers this week — the first in three years of philocriticism. I'll tell you about them a bit later (because I like to build suspense), but I wanted to let you know the good news right away. It's good for me because it's fun to share and I'm really looking forward to what my guests have to say, and I think it's good for you because you keep coming back — bless you! — and I want to make sure there's good stuff for you to read even if I need to take a hiatus here or a break there. Public service: That's our goal here at Philocrites Enterprises, Inc. We thank you for your support.

Posted by Philocrites, July 19, 2005, at 08:42 AM | 5 comments

Monday, July 18, 2005

Christian Alliance for Progress in the news.

What's happening these days on the religious left? The Dallas Morning News — which seems to love two-parters — profiles the new Christian Alliance for Progress, one of the more exciting new groups to emerge, in a series of articles this weekend: "Faithful on the Left Laying the Groundwork" (7.16.05) and "Progressive Christians Speaking Up" (7.17.05), both by Colleen McCain Nelson (reg req'd).

Thanks again to Eric for the tip!

Posted by Philocrites, July 18, 2005, at 08:16 AM | 0 comments

Alfred North Whitehead watch, Pete Seeger edition.

It's not every day that my favorite philosopher shows up in a daily newspaper — much less in an interview with a folk singer! The Dallas Morning News interviewed Pete Seeger in connection with the 86-year-old political activist and folk legend's visit to Fort Worth for the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

Seeger says he's a Unitarian "[i]n the sense of thinking of Jesus as surely one of the most wonderful and extraordinary human beings that God ever put on earth. And taking a dim view of how his words are twisted and misused." He invokes Whitehead in his definition of God and religion:

It doesn't make sense to think that something can come out of nothing. I frequently use, "God only knows what the future may be." In fact, I put that in another song.

I'd say my definition goes more to Alfred North Whitehead, the British philosopher. He says: "A religious education is one that inculcates duty and reverence." Now, isn't that a good definition of religion? There's hardly a religion in the world that doesn't have duty and reverence as part of it.

Here's his definition, though: "Duty results from our potential control over the course of events." We have within us the ability to change the future in some little way.

Of course, some religions say your duty is to pray 10 times a day. But I think, for Unitarians, your duty is to do something right to help make this a better country, to make this a better world.

Whitehead goes on: "The source of reverence lies in this perception. That the present holds within itself the complete sum of existence, forwards and backwards. That great amplitude of time which is eternity."

In other words, I snap my fingers; that's because of cause and effect for all eternity. And snapping my fingers will disturb molecules that will disturb molecules that will disturb molecules for all eternity to come.

I think that can make you reverent.

("Q. & A. with Pete Seeger," Jeffrey Weiss, Dallas Morning News 7.16.05, reg req'd)

On Sunday, the newspaper published portions of the interview that focused on Seeger's politics and his appearance fifty years ago this summer before the House Un-American Activities Committee: "Life from the Left" (Jeffrey Weiss, Dallas Morning News 7.17.05, reg req'd). Thanks to Philocrites correspondent Eric Posa for the tip!

Posted by Philocrites, July 18, 2005, at 08:03 AM | 4 comments

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Harry Potter Sunday School.

Do Unitarian Universalists love Harry Potter? Let's find out:

The mythic themes in Harry Potter have so impressed [the Rev. Barbara Gadon of the First Unitarian Church of Wilmington, Del.,] that she has centered the 10 a.m. Sunday worship on readings and reflections from the books.

In her view, Harry Potter starts as a naive and imperfect Everyman, like Frodo Baggins or Luke Skywalker. But however troubled Harry Potter might be, he is challenged to undertake a quest to save his world from the Death Eaters and the Dark Lord Voldemort.

"Harry is confronted with the choice between good and evil," Gadon says. "I see his choices around magic as a metaphor for developing the powers of the soul."

("Practical Magic," Gary Soulsman, News Journal 7.16.05)

Last week, Gadon wrote an op-ed for the News Journal about her hero, too:

I am always astonished when religious leaders criticize these books. I find them chock-full of things for a minister to love. Consider, a small troupe of young people discover their gifts in life, and learn that you may use your gifts to either bless or curse the world. (It's a basic religious choice.) Without moralizing, the characters make ethical decisions that are excellent examples for readers of any age. . . .

To make good choices, we need help from those who care for us. Harry was marked as a baby by an evil wizard who killed his parents and tried to kill him. He later learns that his mother's love protected him then — love as the most important force in the universe. . . .

The ongoing tension in the books has to do with pure-blooded wizards who wish to rid the world of the "mud-bloods," those with mixed heritage, human and wizard. Only a courageous few can say the evil wizard's name out loud and directly oppose his agenda. But isn't that true for us now? Naming evil in any time is courageous and powerful.

("A Good Word for Harry Potter," Barbara H. Gadon, News Journal 7.5.05)

Meanwhile, in Louisiana:

At the Unitarian Church, a Hogwarts camp for children will be held July 11-15 complete with a sorting ceremony, owl posts (mail delivery) and a Quidditch game. According to Jessica Gray, acting director of religious education, the class was timed to coincide with the release of the book.

"I've always loved the books because I think they teach excellent moral values," she said. "Since I had a background in summer camps, this was a perfect opportunity."

("Witches and Wizards Gather for New Book's Release," Lisa Tramontana, The [Baton Rouge, La.,] Advocate 7.8.05)

And kids in Kent, Ohio, headed off to Hogwarts a month earlier:

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent got a jump on things when it turned its house of worship into Hogwarts School for four days earlier this month so young churchgoers could experience the life of a wizard.

Kids got a chance to learn about plants, potions and charms, and to meet wolves and dig up dragon bones arranged by University of Akron archaeology professor Tim Matney.

"We tried to merge their love of Harry Potter books to translate into activities," Gina Maida, one of the event organizers, said.

Maida said the church wanted the kids to learn life lessons about love, faith, self-esteem and fighting prejudice.

"We've had classes just like Harry does," 12-year-old Laura Edmonds of Hudson said. "I'm a real fan of Harry Potter and it came to life here."

("Charmed Life," Dan Kadar, Beacon Journal 6.26.05)

Mildly guilty admission: I've never read one of the books, and have only seen the first film all the way through. Someday, someday.

Posted by Philocrites, July 16, 2005, at 10:42 AM | 11 comments

Friday Middle English recipe blogging, late edition.

So I'm a day late with our exciting new feature, Friday Middle English Cooking with Philocrites, and simply forgot to post an olde recipe last week. (Apologies to this feature's one loyal fan.) Without further ado, yet another recipe from the 14th-century Forme of Cury:

Makke: Take drawen benes, and seeth hem wel. Take hem up of the water, and cast hem in a mortar; grynde hem al to doust, til thei be white as eny mylk. Chawf a litell rede wyne, cast there among in the gryndyng, do thereto salt, leshe it in dishes. Thanne take oynons, and mynce hem smalle, and seeth hem in oile, til they be al bron; and florissh the disshes, and serve it forth.

Mmmm. The editor of the Dictionary of Early English says chawf means "heat." (Oh, I can't help myself: Doesn't "Seeth hem!" sound like an order that might have been barked out by an angry Sheriff of Nottingham after loosing a tooth in a fight with Robin Hood? It's a silly feature, marred by silly jokes.)

Posted by Philocrites, July 16, 2005, at 10:19 AM | 2 comments

Religion News Service on racial tensions at G.A.

Nancy Glass of the Religion News Service reports on the controversy around allegations of racist behavior at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. The Charlotte [N.C.] Observer carries the story today under the headline "Unitarian Board Apologizes" (7.16.05).

There are two relevant on-line documents that the news story will probably make you want to read:

  • A July 6 letter from the UUA Board of Trustees expressing "deep sadness and regret" for incidents involving "apparently disrespectful and racist treatment of our youth by Fort Worth officials," other incidents in which "white UUs assumed that UU youth of color were hotel service people and asked them to carry luggage or park cars," and an altercation during the Closing Ceremony in which "some UU youth of color were made to feel that they were not welcome."

  • A letter from an usher in the Closing Ceremony who identifies herself as a person of color, says she witnessed the incident during the Closing Ceremony, and disputes the Board's characterization of it.

    Posted by Philocrites, July 16, 2005, at 10:02 AM | 2 comments

  • Friday, July 15, 2005

    Spend a year working in Washington.

    Here's a great, very immediate opportunity for a young Unitarian Universalist hoping to learn about politics and religion — a new, one-year position as Legislative Assistant for Civil Rights and Religious Liberty in the UUA's Washington Office for Advocacy:

    The goal of the UUA Social Justice Internship Program is to combine service, learning, and faith development in order to produce energetic young adults with the professional skills and strength of character to be lifelong leaders in Unitarian Universalism and working for social justice. . . .

    For the coming year, the CRRL portfolio will focus primarily on supporting marriage equality, maintaining separation of religion and state, renewing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and protecting civil liberties and due process for all people. . . .

    The internship starts on Monday, August 29, 2005, and runs through mid-August 2006. The yearly stipend is $28,000 with benefits (including health insurance). Housing is not provided.

    If you're a Unitarian Universalist young adult interested in working in Washington, it's a great opportunity. But it's only five weeks away — so send in your application soon. (Here's more on the internship program.)

    Posted by Philocrites, July 15, 2005, at 06:33 PM | 2 comments

    Thursday, July 14, 2005

    This just in: Cardinal Law was too liberal.

    The Very Rev. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) makes a number of astonishing claims in his column for Catholic Online this week. [Ed. note: Er, this week three years ago. More below.] Most astonishing is this vile paragraph — Santorum's explanation of the root cause of the clergy sexual abuse scandal in his church:

    It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning "private" moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.

    Ya know, it had never occurred to me that Cardinal Bernard Law might have kept on shuffling child-abusing priests from parish to parish, ignoring the appeals for help from parents, other laypeople, and alarmed priests and nuns, because he was too liberal. Nor had it occurred to me that the reason the so-called liberal churches you're so apt to find in Massachusetts — those goin'-to-hell gay-friendly pseudochurches the Episcopalians, Congregationalists, and Unitarian Universalists, for example — have seen much less clergy sexual abuse is (are you ready for this? I know it's gonna sound really hard to believe): They must be less infested with the relativism and moral decay of society than the Catholic Church. Wow. Who knew? But now that the Catechist of Pennsylvania has explained it to me, it must be so.

    And yet, having gone to Harvard Divinity School myself, I feel a shadow of doubt in my Cantabrigian mind. Our so-called liberal clergy go directly to Harvard, seat of the relativisticalidocious Prince of Darkness himself, rather than waiting to have our relativism and moral decay watered down by a bunch of Jesuits at Boston College. You'd think we'd be abusing kids at a pace that would make even Cardinal Law blush. And yet, strangely, it's not so. I wonder if there's not still an explanation that is somehow specific to the Catholic Church rather than to the moral breakdown here in Boston.

    Now, I know that "moral relativism" is the explanation du jour for conservative Catholics — a phrase that makes a person sound National Review-smart while pointing precisely to nothing at all. It's bluster, the sound of intellectual desperation. When the beam in your own eye starts to itch, Senator Santorum, blame the culture. As you know better than anyone, it's the "liberal" thing to do.

    ("Fishers of Men," Rick Santorum, Catholic Online 7.12.0502)

    Update: Strange: Three different people told me about this column yesterday afternoon, which strongly planted the idea that this was a breaking story. When I found the column this morning via Google and saw — on the front page of the City/Region section in today's Boston Globe — that Ted Kennedy denounced it yesterday from the Senate floor, I didn't register that the "July 12" publication date for Santorum's column was back in 2002. Why the buzz now?

    Brian McGrory reminded Bostonians of Santorum's keen insights on the third anniversary of the senator's perspicacity — but I was busy celebrating my own wedding anniversary and missed it. McGrory wrote:

    Santorum's words about Boston, though written in 2002, weren't highlighted until the last couple of weeks, when a Philadelphia Daily News columnist, John Baer, raised them in print and prompted a running political discourse in the blogosphere. Perhaps so many imbecilic statements flow from Santorum's mouth and pen that this one was initially overlooked.

    So I asked a Santorum spokesman whether the senator still believed what he said about Boston. I mean, guilt might be our greatest natural resource, but do we really have to fall on our collective sword over wayward priests?

    "It's an open secret that you have Harvard University and MIT that tend to tilt to the left in terms of academic biases," said Robert Traynham, the Santorum aide. "I think that's what the senator was speaking to."

    Of course. The whole thing is MIT's fault. Why didn't we realize this sooner? Maybe the Globe should give its Pulitzer Prize back because it failed to get to the root cause of the scandal: Cambridge-based rocket science professors.

    I asked Mitt Romney about this. He's starting to hang out in this crowd, raising money for a conservative political action committee in Washington just last night.

    His spokeswoman, Julie Teer, called back and said: "What happened with the church sex abuse scandal was a tragedy, but it had nothing to do with geography or the culture of Boston. What we know now is that the sex abuse was occurring around the country and around the world. Boston was just the first to find out about it."

    And why was Boston the first to find about it? I have a word for you, Mr Santorum: Liberalism, which means people asking questions and eager to know the truth.

    ("Kennedy Rips Santorum Comments," Susan Milligan, Boston Globe 7.14.05, reg req'd; "In Sanctum Santorum," Brian McGrory, Boston Globe 7.12.05, reg req'd)

    Posted by Philocrites, July 14, 2005, at 07:55 AM | 9 comments

    Wednesday, July 13, 2005

    What to read this week.

    Ah, summertime, when I have almost no time to write! What should you read while I leave you on occasional unannounced hold? How about John Cullinan's review of the new UUA songbook, Singing the Journey (which you can buy here), or Jess Cullinan's song-by-song review of the songbook? (She introduces her review series and reviews the first eight songs today.)

    Or dive into your copy of the Commission on Appraisal report, Engaging Our Theological Diversity with Shawn Anthony. (Need a copy?)

    I hope to have something by the end of the week about the Roman Catholic cardinal who announced in a New York Times op-ed last Thursday that evolutionary biology is in conflict with Christian faith — contrary to earlier statements by Pope John Paul II. Otherwise, I regret to say that I'm very busy! I hope the living is easy where you are.

    Posted by Philocrites, July 13, 2005, at 04:50 PM | 2 comments

    Monday, July 11, 2005

    Anonymous and pseudonymous blogs.

    Jess has taken up a theme from a conversation about blog ethics we began over dinner two weeks ago in Fort Worth, and so far several UU bloggers who don't publish their legal names on their blogs have responded to her posts about the ethics of blogging under a pseudonym. It's an interesting and lively conversation.

    Jess has four posts on the theme so far, with responses from Chalicechick, Chutney, and Fausto, among others.

    I don't think there's one "right" approach. People write blogs for many different reasons, and I think it's important to think about the ethics of blog writing as it pertains to specific kinds of blogs.

    Click to continue . . .

    Posted by Philocrites, July 11, 2005, at 08:19 AM | 9 comments

    Sunday, July 10, 2005

    Ah, the language of reverence debate again!

    At last, it's the UU Infidels' day in the sun! The Fort Worth Star-Telegram offers a final bit of commentary on the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations in yesterday's paper and returns to the subject that had UUs talking about the newspaper two years ago: the "language of reverence" debate. ("Unitarian Universalists Debate God's Place in Church," Jim Jones, Star-Telegram 7.9.05, reg req'd; see also my review of A Language of Reverence edited by Dean Grodzins.)

    Posted by Philocrites, July 10, 2005, at 09:00 PM | 15 comments

    Friday, July 8, 2005

    We are all Londoners.

    The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, speaking for the best of liberal civilization in the aftermath of yesterday's terrorist attacks on London:

    I want to say one thing specifically to the world today. This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.

    That isn’t an ideology, it isn’t even a perverted faith - it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other. I said yesterday to the International Olympic Committee, that the city of London is the greatest in the world, because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I’m proud to be the mayor of that city.

    Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life.

    I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others - that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail.

    In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.

    They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.”

    (From, via Talking Points Memo 7.7.05)

    Posted by Philocrites, July 8, 2005, at 12:57 PM | 4 comments

    Thursday, July 7, 2005

    Technical difficulties with comments: Please stand by!

    You may run into an unfriendly "500 Internal Server Error" after trying to post a comment. I'm getting the same message from time to time when saving or resaving a post. I can't figure out why — it doesn't happen consistently — although it began last week when spam email swelled to more than 100M of my storage space.

    If you get such a message, please be patient: Your comment has been saved, and I will eventually be able to publish it, although it may take a while.

    Posted by Philocrites, July 7, 2005, at 08:16 AM | 2 comments

    Wednesday, July 6, 2005

    Presto! Torture-enabler Gonzales is a moderate!

    Stop Torture - Unitarian Universalist Service CommitteeKarl Rove is quite the magician. Efforts by the White House to quiet down the fundamentalists who are clamoring for a culture warrior on the Supreme Court seem focused on two underlying goals. First, the G.O.P. has to preserve the rousability of the radical right — a version of Xeno's Paradox in which the Christianists are always getting closer to and yet never quite achieving their goals, making them a perpetually indignant revenue stream. Giving them what they want would seriously undermine Bush's support among non-fundies, and Rove knows it.

    More importantly, however, the White House is intent on convincing the media that Alberto Gonzales is a safe, moderate compromise. He's not. Forget the debate about abortion for a moment; the real issue is torture and the president's "authority" to ignore the law.

    Gonzales is the legal architect of the Bush administration's policy of claiming that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to detainees in the so-called war on terror. As White House legal counsel, he provided the rationalizations that emboldened the Pentagon and the C.I.A. to torture detainees. From a constitutional standpoint, Gonzales's offense is his apparent belief that the president can choose to ignore the law. But the law is not disposable in a constitutional republic.

    Chris Suellentrop highlighted Gonzales's dangerous legal notion during his confirmation hearings in January:

    "Now, as attorney general, would you believe the president has the authority to exercise a commander-in-chief override and immunize acts of torture?" [Sen.] Leahy asks. That's "a hypothetical that's never going to occur," Gonzales says, because we don't torture people. He continues, "This president has said we're not going to engage in torture under any circumstances, and therefore that portion of the opinion was unnecessary and was the reason that we asked that that portion be withdrawn." Translation: Yes, I think the president has the legal authority to immunize acts of torture, but he doesn't want to, so I'm not going to bother with defending the idea.

    Pressed for an answer, Gonzales concedes, "I do believe there may come an occasion when the Congress might pass a statute that the president may view as unconstitutional," and therefore the president may ignore it. That's a general statement of principle, Leahy says, but I'm asking a specific question. Can the president immunize torture? Gonzales retreats to the that's-hypothetical-and-it's-not-gonna-happen defense. OK, Leahy says. What about leaders of other countries? Can they immunize torture? I'm not familiar with their laws, Gonzales replies. . . .

    Later, it's Sen. Dick Durbin's turn to try to get Gonzales to elucidate his views on the separation of powers. Can the president immunize people from prosecution for torture? Gonzales restates that it's theoretically possible for Congress to pass an unconstitutional law that the president can justifiably ignore. "Has the president ever invoked that authority?" Durbin asks. No, Gonzales says.

    Ask yourselves: How comfortable are you with a Supreme Court justice, much less an attorney general, who believes that the president — not the Court — gets to decide when Congress has unconstitutionally restricted his powers? Do you think a president has the right, by virtue of his office, to decide to ignore laws restricting the abuse of captives in war?

    Gonzales has no place on the Supreme Court. All Americans who value the Constitution's separation of powers should be extremely wary of "moderates" who defer so comprehensively to the wonder-working power of the president. We're a nation of laws, not of men. Gonzales, Bush's good pal, doesn't seem to believe that.

    ("G.O.P. Asks Conservative Allies to Cool Rhetoric Over the Court," David D. Kirkpatrick and Carl Hulse, New York Times 7.6.05, reg req'd; "Undiplomatic Immunity," Chris Suellentrop, Slate 1.6.05)

    Posted by Philocrites, July 6, 2005, at 09:24 PM | 5 comments

    UUA Trustees respond to racism at General Assembly.

    The UUA Board of Trustees has issued a letter responding to a series of racist or racially charged incidents that especially affected young people of color who were attending the General Assembly in Fort Worth. The letter isn't yet at the UUA website, but is at FUUSE and Radical Hapa.

    Update 7.7.05: Here's the official letter: "An open letter to UU youth of color and UU people of color who attended Fort Worth General Assembly and the broader UU community" (7.6.05).

    Update 7.16.05: The Religion News Service reports on the Board's response: "Unitarian Board Apologizes" (Nancy Glass [RNS], Charlotte [N.C.] Observer 7.16.05); see here for more.

    Posted by Philocrites, July 6, 2005, at 05:33 PM | 2 comments

    Tuesday, July 5, 2005

    Bloggers meet at the UUA General Assembly.

    Back in April, nine Unitarian Universalist bloggers from the Boston area and one from D.C. met to talk and barbecue in the rain. (We should do that again soon, maybe without rain.) During the last weekend in June I met even more UU bloggers in a series of conversations at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations in Fort Worth. Here's a quick recap:

    It was great to see Sean Parker Denison of Ministrare, Greg of (r)evolUUtions, Peter Bowden of Adventures in Small Group Ministry, and Steve Caldwell of Liberal Faith Development, although only Sean and I managed to talk for more than a few minutes.

    A bunch of us met as a group Friday night for a good long chat about UU blogging, including Enrique of The Blue Chalice, James Field of Left Coast Unitarian, Phil Lund of Phil's Little Blog on the Prairie, Dan Harper of Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, Joseph Santos-Lyons of Radical Hapa, and Anna Belle Leierson and Curtis Michelson of Talking UU Technology. (James took our picture.) We were joined by a handful of people — congregational webmasters, presidents, and ministers — who brought specific questions about using blog technologies in their own work.

    On Monday night, I had a very nice dinner and attended the closing celebration with John of Returning, Jess of Jess's Journal, and the newly-ordained Rev. Eric Posa — my roommate at the 1996 General Assembly and a very lapsed LiveJournaler.

    I also had the strange experience of being greeted by G.A.-goers who came up to me and whispered, "I read your blog." The whispering part was funny — but rest assured, secret readers, your secret is safe with me. And I'm glad you keep coming back.

    Aside from the joy of meeting all these people, several things stand out about our conversations:

    • Interest in Unitarian Universalist blogs is growing quickly. Some of this interest could be described as fascination with a new trend — ranging from enthusiasm to dismay about a new and quite possibly powerful communications tool. Some interest is focused on technical questions about how to start blogging or how to use blogging technologies to satisfy personal or institutional goals. (I heard several versions of these two questions a lot at G.A.: "What can a blog do?" and "Can a blog help me do what I want to do?") And some of the interest is focused on the practice of blogging — the nuts and bolts of finding a niche, establishing a pace, building an audience, and maximizing the tools that make blogging fun and interactive.

    • Blogs are enabling new kinds of interaction. Aggregators that collect headlines from multiple blogs using RSS — especially ones set up for public use like John Cooley's What's New with UU? (currently with feeds from 82 sites) and my own UU Blog Digest (with 65 feeds) — are making it much easier to get involved in and follow a wide range of conversations. Although I find it increasingly difficult to keep up with everybody, we'll soon see people organizing and reorganizing RSS from the full range of UU voices to suit particular audiences or reading habits. (The Mormon Archipelago represents one approach to organizing RSS feeds so that high-traffic and high-volume blogs don't drown out the smaller ones. Could What's New with UU? grow into something similar?)

    • Some of this interaction might be better served on group blogs than on a growing number of solo blogs. (I say this from the point of view of someone who wants to follow good conversation but who has a limited amount of time to spend checking back on the comment threads on several sites.) Although I don't have time to do much about this for a few months, I hope to get a conversation started about relaunching and refining Coffee Hour, perhaps restructuring it so that readers can set up their own diaries within the group blog as they do as TPMCafe or Daily Kos.

    • Finally, I heard a number of questions and concerns about the ethics of blogging. What if a blog says something about you or your organization that doesn't reflect your view of the facts or your sense of priorities? How should you respond? What are the differences between blogging anonymously and blogging under one's professional name? How do bloggers decide what's too personal — or perhaps too professional — to write about? And how do family members, colleagues, employers, and parishioners perceive fragments of their lives and opinions showing up "on the Internet"? Good questions, all of them.

    Of course, we didn't have time to do more than identify a bunch of topics and questions we'd like to explore further. Anna Belle said she would welcome conversation about the geeky side of blogging over at Talking UU Technology (how appropriate!); I said I would try to focus more on content questions here.

    After our Boston-area bloggers picnic, we set up some resource forums at Coffee Hour to share tips and resources for four of the most popular blogging technologies. I encourage you to use them. Maybe there's also a need for resource forums about blogging practices.

    If we were still sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Fort Worth, talking about UU blogging, what questions would you want to ask?

    Posted by Philocrites, July 5, 2005, at 10:19 PM | 4 comments

    Sunday, July 3, 2005

    America: Second or third choice of emigrants.

    Where do people in other countries urge young people to go in search of the good life? People from India prefer the United States — but they're the only people among sixteen nations polled by the Pew Global Attitudes Survey who put the U.S. first on their list. How would you have answered?

    Click to continue . . .

    Posted by Philocrites, July 3, 2005, at 11:13 AM | 3 comments

    Friday, July 1, 2005

    Friday Middle English recipe blogging.

    With apologies to fans of our obscure and frivolous Middle English cooking feature, who surely must have wondered where their promised recipe went last week, we return to form — this time with a 15th-century recipe for "monamy":

    Take thick creme of cow mylke, and boyle hit over the fire, and then take hit up and set hit on the side; and thane take swete cowe cruddes and press out the qway, and bray hom in a morter, and cast hom into the same creme, and boyle al togedur; and put thereto sugre, and saffron, and May buttur; and take yolkes of ayren strayned, and beten, and in the settynge downe of the pot bete in the yolkes thereto, and stere hit wel, and make the potage stondynge; and dress fyve or seaven leches in a dissh, and plaunt with floures of violet, and serve hit forthe.

    A dish that Little Miss Muffet would surely love. By the way, I've become a big fan of "serve hit forthe." I'm thinking about appending it to all of Mrs Philocrites' Moosewood Cookbook recipes. P.S. to Fausto: Still looking for fish recipes . . .

    Happy Independence Day, everyone!

    Posted by Philocrites, July 1, 2005, at 08:08 AM | 6 comments

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