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Monday, February 27, 2006

This week at

First, an announcement: At long last, offers RSS feeds. I know, I know, you're asking what took so long. One thing that contributed to the delay was that I turned out not to be a very good technical writer: I think I went through four or five drafts of the how-to text before my colleagues said, "Okay, that actually makes sense." I hope you find it useful.

Of course, avid UU blog readers have already been taking advantage of the magazine's RSS feeds through UUpdates and the UU Blogs Digest. But now you can sign up for headlines directly through Bloglines and any number of other RSS-reading services. (Sign up and you'll never have to wait for me to announce what's on the website.) If you're a Windows user who finds talk about RSS mystifying, you may find this version of the latest stories feed the easiest one to use.

Oh, yes, the headlines: This week Jane Greer profiles the oldest Universalist church in America, the 227-year-old Independent Christian Church in Gloucester, Mass., which has slowly but surely been brought back to life. Kathleen McTigue, in a brief excerpt from a new book of meditations about children, reflects on the spiritual challenges of parenting young children. Don Skinner reports on the UUA's two-year initiative to rethink ministry to and with youth. Skinner also reports on the next round of grants to community agencies in the Gulf Coast region from the UUA-UUSC hurricane relief fund. And Sonja Cohen keeps watch on Unitarian Universalists in the media. Enjoy!

(If you have feedback or questions about the RSS feeds, please email

Posted by Philocrites, February 27, 2006, at 10:25 PM | 2 comments

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Class-based definitions of freedom and choice.

Here's something for my friends who wring their hands about, say, Unitarian Universalism's middle-classness: "As behavioral scientists, we have found that the people who frame freedom in terms of choice are usually the ones who get to make a lot of choices — that is, middle- and upper-class white Americans." Focusing on a four-year college degree as the marker for belonging to the middle class, three contributors to the New York Times Magazine find that Americans who do not have a college degree — most Americans, in fact — identify freedom with being left alone, not with personal choice.

And what a fascinating series of studies they offer as evidence. My favorite:

Another study that compared people in different occupations showed that those employed in middle-class jobs got upset when a friend or neighbor bought the same car as theirs because they felt that the uniqueness of their choice had been undercut. But those in working-class jobs liked it when others chose the same car because it affirmed that they had made a good choice.

Also intriguing: a comparison between rock music's "do what I want" vibe and country music's tragic notion of choice, as in "Now I'm living and dying with the choices I've made."

A not very difficult thought experiment: Apply this article to Unitarian Universalism's DIY-approach to theology, ethics, and religious observance, and tell me whether you notice a class bias in what you find.

("Is Freedom Just Another Word for Many Things to Buy?," Barry Schwartz, Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner Snibbe, New York Times Magazine 2.26.06, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, February 26, 2006, at 05:13 PM | 16 comments

Unitarian fiction watch.

Magazine fiction hasn't been high on my reading list for several years, so I'm grateful to news blogger Sonja Cohen for calling attention to John Updike's latest short story for the New Yorker. This isn't the first time that a Unitarian has shown up in Updike's fiction — or nonfiction, for that matter — but it's worth pondering the impression Unitarianism made on him (and his narrators).

The narrator's father-in-law was "an eminent Unitarian minister [in the mid-20th century], who preached in a gray neo-Gothic edifice built for eternity near the Washington University campus" in St Louis. This would be the venerable church founded by William Greenleaf Eliot — the first Unitarian church west of the Mississippi — which is to say that Updike is alluding to the Unitarianism that T.S. Eliot rejected. Reverend Whitworth is remembered rather than seen in the story — and he is remembered in his Vermont cabin more than in his Missouri church, where he could let out his inner Thoreau.

Here's the longest passage about Whitworth's religion, a description of the narrator's first encounter with mid-century Unitarianism:

As for Unitarianism, it seemed so milky, so smugly vague and evasive: an unimpeachably featureless dilution of the Christian religion as I had met it in its Lutheran form—the whole implausible, colorful, comforting tapestry of the Incarnation and the Magi, Christmas carols and Santa Claus, Adam and Eve, nakedness and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the serpent and the Fall, betrayal in the garden and Redemption on the Cross, “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” and Pilate washing his hands and Resurrection on the third day, posthumous suppers in an upper room and doubting Thomas and angels haunting the shadier margins of Jerusalem, the instructions to the disciples and Paul’s being knocked from his donkey on the road to Damascus and the disciples talking in tongues (a practice at which the stolid churchgoers of Alton and its environs did draw the line). Our public-school day began with a Bible reading and the Lord’s Prayer; our teachers and bankers and undertakers and mailmen all professed to be conventional Christians, and what was good enough for them should have been, I think I thought, good enough for Unitarians. I had read enough Kierkegaard and Barth and Unamuno to know about the leap of faith, and Reverend Whitworth was not making that leap; he was taking naps and building stone walls instead. In his bedroom I spotted a paperback Tillich, “The Courage to Be,” probably, but I never caught him reading it, or “The Master Works of World Philosophy,” either. The only time I felt him as a holy man was when, speaking with deliberate tenderness to one of his three daughters, he slipped into a “thee” or “thou” from his Quaker boyhood.

This is a story laced with nostalgia for intellectual excitements several decades old. The narrator later says, somewhat appreciatively:

His theology, or lack of it, seems one of the spacious views I enjoyed thanks to him. His was a cosmos from which the mists of superstition had almost cleared. His parish, there in the Gateway to the West, included university existentialists, and some of their hip philosophy buffed up his old-fashioned transcendentalist sermons, which he delivered in a beautiful voice, tentatively. Though Unitarian, he was of the theist branch, Deb would tell me in bed, hoping to mediate between us. I wasn’t, as I remember it, graceless enough to quarrel with him often, but he could not have been ignorant of my Harvard neo-orthodoxy, with its Eliotic undercurrent of panic.

Ooh, Eliotic panic: that's good.

The story isn't especially concerned with religion beyond the passages I've quoted: Deb and Jim (the narrator) choose a Cambridge Congregational church as a compromise between his childhood Pennsylvania Lutheranism and her St Louis Unitarianism; they divorce; he grows old. And I don't think Updike's portrayal of Unitarianism differs much from the way it has cropped up in other stories. In fact, Peter Raible's essay "Images of Protestant Clergy in American Novels" (the Berry Street Lecture delivered at the 1978 Boston General Assembly) mentions another Updike story in which the Unitarian father-in-law performs a baptism that includes a joke about holy water. So Updike may be repeating himself. For what it's worth, I didn't find the story very gripping.

("My father's tears," John Updike, New Yorker 2.27.06)

Update 3.13.06: I learned from a reliable source that Updike's own father-in-law was Leslie T. Pennington (1899-1974), who was minister in St Louis and retired to a farm in Vermont, and that the New Yorker story is very clearly autobiographical. Alan Seaburg's biographical entry about Pennington for the Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography says:

In 1953 Pennington's oldest daughter married American novelist and poet John Updike. Updike in his memoirs wrote: "My father-in-law, a Unitarian minister, had been raised as a Quaker. I loved hearing him 'thee' and 'thou,' without self-consciousness, in his gentle Midwestern voice, his wife and two daughters . . . Though my gentle father-in-law and I had some tense early arguments, in which I, blushing and stammering, insisted that an object of faith must have some concrete attributes, and he suggested that our human need for transcendence should be met with minimal embarrassments to reason, at bottom I loved him."

See also James Luther Adams's remembrance of Pennington at Herb Vetter's excellent Notable American Unitarians site.

Posted by Philocrites, February 26, 2006, at 09:20 AM | 5 comments

Visualize yourselves.

A Frappr update: The handy map feature that enables friends and readers of this site to identify their location has been growing and adding new features. (More than 100 people have put their pin on the map.) If you haven't been there in a while, you may be surprised by the range of things you can do there and by the newly customized color scheme that should remind you of someplace vaguely blue and orange.

But even more exciting, map-lovers, is the prospect of the Unitarian Universalists map. Hurry on over, pick a gender, and watch your religion grow.

Posted by Philocrites, February 26, 2006, at 08:52 AM | 0 comments

Friday, February 24, 2006

More on Episcopal 'sacramental showdown' ad.

Remember the amazing "Sacramental Showdown" monster-truck-style radio ad for St Andrew's Episcopal Church I mentioned here a few weeks back? The senior warden writes in to confirm what Scott Wells suspected: "[W]hen one of our members who works for a local radio station put this ad together, in fun, the rector agreed that it would be interesting to find out what would happen if we let it loose on the internet, via e-mail." The ad never ran on the radio. I still love it.

Posted by Philocrites, February 24, 2006, at 09:37 PM | 3 comments

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Olympics open thread.

So, how are the Winter Olympics treating you? As a broadcast-TV-only, no-Tivo household, we're captives to Bob Costas and company, but he seems to have a kind of sense of humor this year. (Puts on a cape after work? Oh yeah, me, too.) And while I enjoy the skating events, I'm ready to come out and say it: ballet should be an Olympic sport, too. Why not?

Even though I grew up at the base of Provo Canyon — Robert Redford's Sundance Resort is on the other side of the mountain — my family never took up downhill skiing, and I've always perceived most of the Winter Olympic sports as rich-people events; my winter sport was competitive inner-tubing. But I don't hold any grudges: some of my jumps were, as they say, big and huge.

Feel free to share highlights, lowlights, favorite links to Olympics commentary and trivia about the games in the comments.

Posted by Philocrites, February 21, 2006, at 11:07 PM | 6 comments

Monday, February 20, 2006

Good news in Christian-Jewish relations.

For once there's a religion story about liberal religion that isn't about the so-called "religious left." Instead, the New York Times focuses on what appears to be deepening interfaith dialogue between Christian seminarians at Andover-Newton Theological School and rabbinical students at Hebrew College, which moved onto Andover-Newton's campus back in 2001. (The campus is on a hill top in nearby Newton, Mass.; Andover-Newton, a non-denominational seminary, enrolls many Unitarian Universalists.) For the last two years, Katie Zezima writes, the two neighboring schools have worked to open up channels for Christian-Jewish dialogue: "Now the colleges share courses, Seders, Sunday church services and lectures, as well as location."

Why is this a story about liberal religion? I'm using "liberal" here to point to a willingness to see other religious traditions as valid and one's own tradition as open to criticism and revision. It's a characteristic that has been more common in mainline Protestant Christianity and Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism than in other denominations of each faith, as the story hints:

Curtis Freeman, a professor of religion at the Duke Divinity School, said he did not know of other institutions that had such a close proximity and collaboration. He said the idea of a partnership would probably not have been broached if one of the colleges were evangelical or Orthodox.

"I think there's much more of an interfaith inclination among mainline Protestants than evangelical Protestants," Professor Freeman said. "But the fact of the matter is it's a wonderful thing for Jews and Christians to be in a conversation together."

Students and faculty members said they had not only learned about another religion, but had also forged a deeper connection with their own faith by re-examining basic religious tenets.

It's a brief story and it's hard to tell yet how these shared experiences will affect the churches and synagogues the students will lead. Of course I'm also curious to learn how Unitarian Universalists participate in these interfaith events and how their involvement will shape their ministries.

Which brings me to say, however, that you can find aspects of this kind of liberalism among Evangelicals, contrary to Freeman's claim. In January, for example, a group of Jewish leaders met for two days with people from the "emergent" community — a fascinating group of largely Evangelical Christians — to learn from each other about building spiritually vital communities of young people. I didn't see much in the media beyond this AP report, but I did see a lot on the emergent-oriented blogs and at Velveteen Rabbi about it. See Synagogue 3000 for more.

("Hebrew and Christian schools in Massachusetts share space and an interfaith vision," Katie Zezima, New York Times 2.18.06, reg req'd; "Dissatisfied Jews, Christians share ideas," Gillian Flaccus, Associated Press 1.18.06)

Posted by Philocrites, February 20, 2006, at 10:39 AM | 3 comments

This week at

Meet Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd, itinerant missionaries of an evolutionary gospel they call "The Great Story." Author Amy Hassinger writes: "The Great Story brings mysticism to humanism. It brings science to paganism and our historical Transcendentalist roots. Within our denomination, the Great Story may just be the theological bridge we’ve long been searching for in our collective spiritual journey." What do you think?

Also this week: Jane Greer and Tom Stites offer a Freedom to Marry-week round-up of Unitarian Universalist gay marriage advocacy while Sonja Cohen's news blog tracks stories about UUs and gay marriage from newspapers around the country.

Finally, the Spring 2006 issue of UU World is in the mail — my copy arrived Thursday — and is now online. I have a too-brief review of Restless Souls and Knocking on Heaven's Door in the Bookshelf section, and I'll get around to some extended comments about both books later.

Posted by Philocrites, February 20, 2006, at 09:41 AM | 9 comments

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Church and state; faith voices against torture; more.

Three announcements: Readers in Alabama will especially be interested in a March 31 conference, "The Harmonies of Liberty: A Symposium on the Role of Religion in Public Life," sponsored by the University of Alabama School of Law. It looks like a great program.

I'd also encourage you to consider supporting the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. I've added my name to its list of endorsers — something I don't often do — because I continue to find it almost beyond comprehension that my country is engaged in barbarity. Please let your congresspeople know how you feel about this issue. I'll have a link up to the campaign at the top of the sidebar for the forseeable future.

Finally, Harvard Divinity School, my alma mater, is marking the fiftieth anniversary of admitting women to its degree programs. "Celebration" would not quite be the right word, since it's an uncomfortable fact that HDS didn't admit women during the entire duration of its Unitarian affiliation. But I do celebrate the difference fifty years has made: I can't imagine how my experience there would have suffered if I hadn't known the extraordinary classmates and professors that change made possible — not to mention that I wouldn't have met Mrs Philocrites if she hadn't moved to Cambridge to enroll.

Which leads me to pass along word that a group of students, staff, and faculty is performing "The Vagina Monologues" this week to raise money for Casa Myrna Vazquez, a Boston-based organization dedicated to ending domestic violence in the lives of women and children. Performances are tonight, Thursday night, and Saturday night at 7:30 in the Andover Hall chapel. The show is apparently the only student-sponsored event marking the anniversary.

I learned about all three of these things from announcements sent by readers. I don't announce everything sent my way, but I'm always grateful to hear from you. Thanks!

Posted by Philocrites, February 14, 2006, at 08:25 AM | 2 comments

Monday, February 13, 2006

This week at

Just in time for Valentine's Day, longtime contributor Neil Chethik shares three things he learned in writing a new book about the ways men express love in their marriages. (His book is called VoiceMale: What Husbands Really Think About Their Wives, Their Marriages, Sex, Housework, and Commitment.) Also this week: Don Skinner reports on the first UUSC-sponsored work camps in the hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast. And Sonja Cohen keeps watch on Unitarian Universalists in the media for the ol' news blog, where this week you can keep up with universalist Pentecostal preacher Carlton Pearson, among other things.

Oh, yes: RSS junkies using Firefox or Safari will notice that is quietly offering RSS feeds. A tutorial page for the rest of us is coming soon.

Posted by Philocrites, February 13, 2006, at 05:09 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Cheney shoots friend; office holds info 24 hours.

Vice President Cheney accidentally shot a hunting buddy yesterday, the AP reports — but his office didn't say anything about it for almost 24 hours until a Texas newspaper reported about it. That's not okay.

Posted by Philocrites, February 12, 2006, at 09:17 PM | 6 comments

Snow day.

Mrs Philocrites cancelled Sunday school this morning, so I made pancakes. Somehow our paper carrier managed to get the Globe and the Times to our front porch. The snow plows made it to our side street by 8 a.m., something almost as rare as getting the paper at all when a major snowstorm hits overnight. The snow is still falling, but I shoveled about 14 inches of powder from the sidewalk a little while ago when the storm let up a bit. All the birds in the neighborhood roused themselves to eat from the birdfeeders in the neighbor's yard before the wind kicked up again, but otherwise it's very quiet here in Cambridge. Here's the backyard view from our kitchen window this morning. I hope everyone else on the east coast is keeping warm!

Posted by Philocrites, February 12, 2006, at 03:49 PM | 4 comments

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The cowardly superintendent.

All it takes to set the knees of one school superintendent a-knocking is three letters of hearsay from squeamish members of one conservative church. Dr Mark Enderle canceled Fulton High School's production of The Crucible in order to forestall another round of letters like the ones that followed the school's production of Grease:

Although the letters did not say so, the three writers were members of a small group linked by e-mail, all members of the same congregation, Callaway Christian Church.

Each criticized the show, complaining that scenes of drinking, smoking and a couple kissing went too far, and glorified conduct that the community tries to discourage. One letter, from someone who had not seen the show but only heard about it, criticized "immoral behavior veiled behind the excuse of acting out a play."

Dr. Enderle watched a video of the play, ultimately agreeing that "Grease" was unsuitable for the high school, despite his having approved it beforehand, without looking at the script. Hoping to avoid similar complaints in the future, he decided to ban the scheduled spring play, "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller.

"That was me in my worst Joe McCarthy moment, to some," Dr. Enderle said.

He called "The Crucible" "a fine play," but said he dropped it to keep the school from being "mired in controversy" all spring.

Ooh, small-town controversy: we wouldn't want that. (Recipe: Take one school board reelection, add one superintendent's contract renewal, stir in 1 cup pissy church, and bake.) The article spends some time on the irony of cancelling a play that obliquely criticizes the McCarthy era, but I wish the writer had gone to the religious heart of the matter: Drama itself is threatening to certain kinds of religion. (Who banned theater in 17th-century England? Why, the English Puritans — during the very same period that the New England Puritans were killing "witches." Hmm.) Which brings us to the irony of Fulton High School's second choice when The Crucible got the ax: Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

For the moment, Dr. Enderle acknowledged, the controversy has shrunk the boundaries of what is acceptable for the community. He added that "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was "not a totally vanilla play."

Dear Dr Enderle, this is the part of your job when you're supposed to get a spine. Education isn't about avoiding controversy altogether. It's about learning how to think critically and discussing our differences in public. I know, it's hard to get angry letters; as an editor, I get them myself. But think of this as a teachable moment: Shakespeare's plays were banned by Puritans, earnest religious folk who very seriously believed that vice should not be depicted. At all. You do in fact need to decide whether contemporary Puritans or any other religious group get a veto over the curriculum. And that's a controversy that can't be ducked.

Sure, we could limit the discussion of what's controversial to the teen behavior in Grease, but it's not as if there's a lot of panties or swearing in The Crucible. The drama teacher is right:

Ms. DeVore believes it was canceled because it portrays the Salem witch trials, "a time in history that makes Christians look bad."

"In a Bible Belt community," she added, "it makes people nervous."

("In small town, 'Grease' ignites a culture war," Diana Jean Schemo, New York Times 2.11.06, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, February 11, 2006, at 11:01 AM | 13 comments

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

UU blog awards down to the wire.

UU Blog Award Winner, 2006Update 2.11.06: Winners are announced! In a nail-biter, this blog was voted Best UU-Themed Blog and Best Links. I'm very grateful for the honor and for everyone who voted — but I'm much more pleased to see the community of Unitarian Universalist blog-writers and -readers keep growing in numbers and quality. You can keep up with all the UU blogs (and other RSS-generating UU websites) at UUpdates or follow a more selective group at the UU Blogs Digest. And, if your UU-related blog isn't already in my Guide to UU Blogs, please leave a comment or send me email. Keep up the good work! And congratulations to all the other winners and nominees!

Original post: Okay, readers, we're coming down to the wire on the second annual UU blog awards. This humble blog is up for six awards, but let's face it: In the categories where I'm currently polling only, um, 2% of the vote, I don't really see a comeback happening. Unless you all rally by Friday night's deadline, dear readers, and send shockwaves through the Interdependent Web.

But — and this is why I'm coming to you on bended knee, all humble-like — there are two races in which I'm still a contender: Best Links and Best UU-Themed Blog. This is where you come in. Even Mrs Philocrites promises to cast a vote. Losing won't be awful because the competition this year is so excellent, but I gotta give you that last nudge, folks.

Posted by Philocrites, February 8, 2006, at 10:16 PM | 4 comments

Best church radio ad. Ever.

An Episcopal priest friend of ours sent the following link to a radio ad for an Episcopal church in Alabama. "Sacramental Showdown" [mp3], friends, is one funny, gutsy spot. ("See the St. Andrew's Acolyte Drill Team amaze the crowd with feats of liturgical acrobatics!" Indeed!)

Here's the church website, although I can't find any mention of the radio spot on the site. Sean McConnell reports that the spot is scheduled for broadcast but has not aired yet.

(Here, by the way, is the website of the Episcopal Church Ad Collaborative, the denominational agency developing a broad range of marketing materials, and here's the Episcopal Media Center, an independent nonprofit media outreach group.)

Posted by Philocrites, February 8, 2006, at 08:03 PM | 5 comments

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Fastest growing congregations in 2005.

Here are some of the fastest growing UU congregations in 2005-2006:

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Thom Belote, February 7, 2006, at 05:44 PM | 7 comments

Large congregations addendum.

I had been asked to calculate the growth of large UU churches. Here are the results:

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Thom Belote, February 7, 2006, at 04:05 PM | 0 comments

Monday, February 6, 2006

Final numbers from annual UUA certification.

I've crunched the numbers just about as much as I'm willing to crunch them. In case you haven't been following, I've been tracking the returns over at the on-line annual membership certification of UU congregations. The deadline to report was February 1.

Here are the results:

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Thom Belote, February 6, 2006, at 10:59 PM | 7 comments

This week at

Patricia Montley finds common ground across religious traditions in reverence for the earth. Tom Stites and I follow up on a new report to the UUA board of trustees about allegations of racist behavior towards UU youth of color at the 2005 General Assembly in Fort Worth, Texas; an excerpt from the report shows how differently two people can experience the same event. (You'll find a link to the full report in the sidebar to the news story.) And Sonja Cohen's news blog keeps an eye on Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Posted by Philocrites, February 6, 2006, at 07:39 AM | 4 comments

Sunday, February 5, 2006

The Web and the 2009 UUA presidential race.

How will the Web become a factor in Unitarian Universalist denominational politics? I think this is a good time to ask because the next contested race for the presidency of the UUA isn't until 2009 and I'm not yet aware of people who plan to run, which makes what follows abstract and yet still timely. Three years allows plenty of time for all sorts of new developments — and, for those who will be campaigning, plenty of time to consider options.

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, February 5, 2006, at 06:51 PM | 2 comments

A Universalist heritage center in Winchester, N.H.

The Winter 2006 issue of the New Massachusetts Universalist Convention Newsletter – not online, unfortunately – features an unflattering critique of the new UUA logo. (Richard Trudeau calls it the "flaming birdbath" and writes: "The UUA's previous logo, for all its problems, at least made an attempt – by placing the chalice off-center – to acknowledge that our heritage is more than Unitarianism alone. The new logo says simply: we're Unitarian." Hmm.) But I'm more interested in a document that arrived with the newsletter announcing an opportunity to establish a Universalist Heritage Center in Winchester, New Hampshire, where in 1803 the Universalists adopted the statement of faith that defined Universalism throughout the nineteenth century.

The only online description of the project is in the January 2006 report from the UUA district staff to the board of trustees [pdf], which says:

"We have a dream — of a Universalist Heritage Foundation." The church in Winchester, NH, site of the historic Universalist document, "The Winchester Profession of Faith," has in recent decades been owned by the United Church of Winchester, a UCC and Universalist federated congregation. The United Church of Winchester has decided to sell the Universalist structure. On the deed, the NH/VT District has the right of first refusal for purchase of the building. The handsome brick building is in excellent condition and is assessed at nearly one million dollars. The United Church of Winchester, in an extraordinary gesture of generosity, has offered to sell it to the district for just $18,000, much of which they will re-invest in our proposed Universalist Heritage Foundation. We have already received commitments for more than $14,000.

The vision is for the building to become a Universalist Heritage Center, and the starting point of a Universalist Heritage Trail with visits to Hosea Ballou's nearby birthplace, Ballou family graves, and several significant historic Universalist churches in that corner where Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire come together. A NH/VT District group called The Winchester Universalist Explorers is gathering a broad coalition of interested individuals and forming an independent non-profit corporation to carry this vision forward. This group will launch a capital campaign in the near future to fund renovations, startup and staffing costs, and to build an endowment to sustain this project.

You can reach the coordinating committee by writing to Winchester Universalist Explorers, c/o New Hampshire–Vermont District of the UUA, 41A South State Street, Concord NH 03301. I hope we'll hear more about this.

Posted by Philocrites, February 5, 2006, at 02:35 PM | 0 comments

Meet the moderate undergraduates.

Because I'm not yet bored of demographic, psychological, and sociological studies of political affiliation, I recommend Erin O'Donnell's "Twigs bent left of right: Understanding how liberals and conservatives differ, from conception on" (Harvard Magazine Jan/Feb 2006).

An item for religious politics junkies: 21 percent of college students in a 2005 survey fall midway between traditional liberal and traditional conservative political views. Among the things they have in common: "faith" is important to them. One-third of these students are African American or Hispanic. John Della Volpe, who conducted the study, says about them: "They're very concerned about the moral direction of the country. They believe that religion should play a more important role in government, and they believe in school choice. But they also believe that healthcare is a right if it can't be afforded, and they're very, very strong advocates for the environment." They were equally divided between Bush and Kerry in the last election.

Posted by Philocrites, February 5, 2006, at 09:09 AM | 1 comments

Saturday, February 4, 2006

Reform Judaism's boy problem.

Hot on the heels of Doug Muder's commentary on ways Unitarian Universalist congregational culture can be overly feminized comes Debra Nussbaum-Cohen's article in the New York Times about another liberal denomination's difficulty keeping boys involved. She writes:

Rabbi Michael Friedman, director of junior and senior high school programs at the Union for Reform Judaism, which serves [Reform] congregations, recently surveyed all of the movement's youth group, leadership training, camping and Israel programs for teenagers and young adults.

Attendance records since 2003 showed that girls accounted for 57 percent to 78 percent of participants in each activity.

Rabbi Friedman said there had been a major cultural change in the past 25 years.

"The change has been not only who the leaders are but also in their leadership style," he said. "Before, it was always a man high up on a bimah wearing a big robe in a deep voice, a model of leadership that was male-only and top-down."

"With growing egalitarianism, which I totally support, we've seen a major cultural change," Rabbi Friedman said. "Those synagogues now have everybody sitting in a circle with someone playing a guitar sharing feelings. It's much more participatory. These are all good things, but they are styles that women may be more comfortable with than men.

"I don't think boys have a problem with it, but they don't necessarily see themselves there."

("Reform Jews Examining Ways to Retain Their Young Men," Debra Nussbaum-Cohen, New York Times 2.4.06, reg req'd)

I have two related questions for people familiar with the youth programs in their congregations: What's the gender balance like in the groups and classes for teenagers? And what's the gender of the group's leaders?

On a related note, Unitarian Universalists will want to participate in the UUA Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth, a revisioning process that involves surveying young people and adults about their experiences and needs. Especially if you have been frustrated by programs or services in the past, please share your perspectives.

Posted by Philocrites, February 4, 2006, at 02:55 PM | 1 comments

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Academic freedom and procedural liberalism.

Two articles you should read:

"Shutting out a voice for Islam" by Diana Eck (Boston Globe 2.2.06, reg req'd): The director of Harvard's Pluralism Project and professor of comparative religion and Indian studies writes about a lawsuit brought by the American Academy of Religion against the Bush administration over its refusal (under the PATRIOT Act) to let a leading scholar of Islam back into the United States.

And "Recent attacks on academic freedom: What's going on?" by Michael Bérubé (Michael Bérubé Online 1.27.06): A speech by a Penn State University literature professor (and excellent blogger) about the coordinated and perverse political campaign to limit academic freedom in the name of "academic freedom."

I know Bérubé's lecture is 5,000 words long, but please don't comment on what you think he might be saying or should be saying until you've read what he actually says. Here's part of his conclusion, which highlights the threat posed by critics of independent scholarship:

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, February 2, 2006, at 09:36 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

A glitch in the UU blogs digest.

A boring technical post [updated below!]:

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, February 1, 2006, at 07:14 PM | 0 comments

Update on an embattled parish.

Remember the Archdiocese of Boston's questionable ouster last fall of the Rev. Walter Cuenin, the popular liberal priest in Newton who had openly challenged the archdiocese's coverup of clergy sexual abuse? There are two updates worth noting: Cuenin has been appointed Catholic chaplain at Brandeis University — and the archdiocesan spokesman who replaced Cuenin at the Newton parish he had served for twelve years has stepped down after only four months. Who couldn't see this coming?

("Pastor whose ouster caused rift is given Brandeis post," Michael Paulson, Boston Globe 1.31.06, reg req'd; "New pastor will leave embattled Newton parish," Matt Viser and Michael Paulson, Boston Globe 2.1.06, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, February 1, 2006, at 08:09 AM | 0 comments

Anglicans turn UK Unitarians out of cathedral.

The January 28 issue of The Inquirer, a British Unitarian magazine (not online), reports that the annual Anniversary Service of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches in the UK will no longer be held in Chester Cathedral, where the service has been held since 2001. "A complaint following the 2005 service prompted a review of the cathedral statutes, according to Nicholas Fry, spokesman for the cathedral," the article says.

"Usual circumstances require worship to be according to Anglican forms or, occasionally, according to forms used by churches that are membrs of 'Churches Together in England,'" the spokesman continued.

The Rev. Andrew Hill, minister of St Mark's Unitarian Church in Edinburgh, said, "This is an impoverished understanding of Christianity, that the only valid expressions of religious faith in this day and age are those associated with Churches Together or with the Council of Churches. On a wider plane, in light of the relationship between people of different faiths within Britain, this is simply setting a poor example."

The magazine's editorial observes: "In the entry hall to Chester Cathedral, there are signs saying 'Welcome' in 26 languages. A Unitarian could be forgiven for doubting their sincerity."

("In response to complaint, Cathedral says no to GA," MC Burns, The Inquirer 1.28.06: 3; "Cathedral's bad example," editorial, The Inquirer 1.28.06: 2)

This story highlights for me the decades-old erosion of a model of catholicity that, for a while in the early 20th century, seemed capable of encompassing Unitarians and Universalists along with many other Christian denominations. It's a model that saw Christian unity proceeding on an ethical basis rather than a doctrinal one. So much for that! The ethical model is almost entirely dead now as a model for the "church universal"; instead, questions of doctrine and authority are the central concerns.

This poses an uncomfortable dilemma for theologically liberal Christians like those of us you can still find in non-credal or heterodox denominations: Do we have a way to engage in ecumenical dialogue anymore, especially when our denominations are not set up to make truth claims or negotiate them with other denominations? I know this is an entirely irrelevant question for most UUs, for whom we're simply engaged in interfaith dialogue as non-Christians, but I still want to see a way to engage in Christian fellowship as a theological liberal.

Update 3.1.06: A month late, the Times of London picks up the story: "'Heretical' Unitarians cast out by cathedral" (Ruth Gledhill, The Times 3.1.06; via CT Weblog).

Posted by Philocrites, February 1, 2006, at 07:50 AM | 10 comments

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