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Thursday, June 29, 2006

How I understand 'God language.'

The sermon that follows contains most of what I feel able to add to a Unitarian Universalist conversation about the metaphors and names we use for God. PeaceBang kicked off a lively blog conversation about the (un)availability of Christian language in a UU context with a list of assumptions "God talk"-wary UUs cultivate in others, followed it up with a post on the near impossibilty of speaking devotionally about Jesus, and then (just to keep things lively) put in a good word for "Lord." You can see how far the ripples go on the other blogs via Technorati.

I post this old sermon (which I preached back in 1999) because it conveys something about what religious language — devotional language — means to me, and because it quotes a marvelous hymn by Thomas Troeger that highlights the diversity of biblical metaphors for God.

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, June 29, 2006, at 09:08 PM | 11 comments

UU bloggers at the General Assembly.

UU BloggersA definite high point of GA was meeting so many of my fellow Unitarian Universalist bloggers. Here's some of us at PeaceBang's dinner at Mirasol. (CK has better pictures, including a beta test of my nefarious scheme to sell advertising on my bright shiny forehead.) The food was very nice, the company charming, but I felt almost overwhelmed by wanting to spend two hours with each person. GA cruelly defeats my desire to kick back with people I rarely see: There's always too much I have to do! The dinner reminded me, more than anything I've experienced in many years, how much I enjoyed my Unitarian young adult group in Salt Lake City. Now I'm filled with nostalgia.

I was a bit awestruck sitting next to Chutney, for example, whom I've admired for years but never met. I'm trying to invent an excuse to drag Mrs Philocrites to Atlanta just to have a beer with him and his wife. I already knew how much I enjoyed John and Jess's company, and PeaceBang and I cracked each other up on multiple occasions throughout GA (the pictures are on their way, my dear), and let's see: CK and her partner were delightful, even though we didn't really talk about Alfred North Whitehead. Chalicechick joined me the next day for part of the plenary, providing entertaining commentary as she admired Gini Courter's parliamentary skill. RevThom and I had a very nice breakfast, Clyde Grubbs and I enjoyed dessert together, and I was spotted having a drink with the UU Enforcer. Ogre, who may be the most active UU participant at Street Prophets as well as keeping his own UU blog, did almost everything a person could do at GA and was still serenely blogging away in the Renaissance Grand lobby late into the night. Hafidha addressed a plenary session (!) with eloquence and grace, but I hoped I'd get to talk to her more at the dinner.

I still feel guilty that on the way back to the convention center after dinner we abandoned Ron Robinson and his family on the train platform. They were stuck at the ticket machine, while the rest of us had our tickets by the time the train arrived. He says he's forgiven me, but I'm just gonna apologize all over again here.

Also at dinner were E—, who reminded me that I have met her before — back when she had quite different hair! There ya go. (There are people at GA who remember me with quite different hair, too.) Chalicechick's guest star, LinguistFriend, was there. Errant Frogs was there, though not especially errant. I also met Chasing Bubbles and her husband, who kindly gave PeaceBang and me a ride to dinner when RevThom vouched for our general sanity.

Shawn Anthony of Lo-Fi Tribe and his long-suffering wife came to GA, but had to leave before the dinner. (She would have enjoyed the other non-bloggers at the dinner, I have to say; our other blog events were pretty uniformly geeky affairs.) Other bloggers I saw: Doug Muder, who quasi-blogged GA as part of the UUA's official coverage; Dan Harper, who discussed my blog in his GA program on content-rich UU websites; Sean Parker Denison, who I always manage to get a few minutes to see every GA, no matter how busy he is; and Lynn Calvin, with whom I've corresponded for maybe 13 years (and who offered the insight that LiveJournalers approach writing online a bit more like "covenant groups" whereas bloggers approach it a bit more like columnists or even preachers).

Surely I'm forgetting others! How wonderful it was to see you all.

[Modified 12.13.06; 3.30.07.]

Posted by Philocrites, June 29, 2006, at 07:14 PM | 5 comments

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

'Poetry' laugh attack.

The July issue of Poetry (update: now online!) has the Philocrites household in stitches. Yes, it's the Humor Issue, well worth an English major's hard-earned $3.75. The best bit so far is Joan Murray's "We Old Dudes," which takes Gwendolyn Brooks's "We Real Cool" out to the suburban country club. In deference to the copyright laws, I hesitate to quote the whole poem — but here's the beginning:

We old dudes. We
White shoes. We

Golf ball. We
Eat mall. . . . (299)

Oh, my sides! (There's a blue-state cultural sneer in the final stanza that will give academic culture warriors a cheap thrill.) If you're in the bookstore looking for this issue of Poetry, it's the one that misspells the name of the magazine in bright red letters: Peotry. The Contributors pages are very funny, too. And Albert Goldbarth contributes two lines in a limerick stanza worth pondering: "The world is cell-phoney / With bloggish baloney" (323). As litterateur Glenn Reynolds might say, Indeed.

Posted by Philocrites, June 28, 2006, at 08:10 PM | 1 comments

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Worst clergy name ever.

As Mrs Philocrites and I continue to debrief each other about our respective denominational conventions, she can't stop laughing at the worst clergy name ever — which happens to belong to a former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and for whom the church has formally set aside a day of commemoration. Yes, we're talking about the Rt Rev Philander Chase (1775-1852), founder of Kenyon College. It gets better, of course: Philander's nephew was Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase. Let us now praise famous funny names! (Which means, if you can come up with a funnier but real clergy name — without embarrassing the living, of course — trump good ol' Philander.)

Posted by Philocrites, June 27, 2006, at 10:50 PM | 7 comments

Unauthorized mass email from

Someone is fraudulently using "" email addresses in spam email campaigns. (I discovered this when hundreds of bounces started showing up in my inbox this afternoon.) Please note: I never send and will never authorize any mass mailings from this domain. I'm mortified to see my domain used this way and angry at the criminals who are doing it. Unfortunately, there's not a thing I can do to stop it.

Posted by Philocrites, June 27, 2006, at 05:04 PM | 5 comments

Smallest GA workshop in UUA history?

How I love the ten people who showed up for the workshop I led with UUA webmaster Julie Albanese Saturday evening about the UUA's new face on the Web. (We were scheduled during the abysmal workshop slot between the dinner break and Mary Oliver's Ware Lecture. And Forrest Church was debuting his Hallmark Channel TV program, "The American Creed" at the same time, among other apparently more compelling things.) I love those ten people even though four of them work for the UUA or volunteer for its GA Web reporting team. The other six of you are now my favorite people. You may have yawned once or twice between 7:15 and 8:30, but you did not fall asleep, even when I tried to explain RSS. That counts for something, in my book.

I suppose the low turnout could also be attributed to the success of executive vice president Kay Montgomery's brief introduction to and the coming-soon relaunch of during her plenary report that afternoon, which included my first appearance on the General Assembly stage. (Skip ahead to the 30-minute mark in the video of Plenary VI.) If that doesn't give you enough of a glimpse of the exciting changes in store for, check out the PowerPoint presentation about the redesigned site.

Posted by Philocrites, June 27, 2006, at 07:38 AM | 4 comments

Monday, June 26, 2006

This week at Mary Oliver.

Several thousand people at the UUA's General Assembly in St Louis this past weekend got to hear Mary Oliver read her poetry for an hour as this year's Ware Lecturer. One of her new poems, "Those Days," is featured at this week. (I'll add a link to the Ware Lecture once the video is online; I'm eager to watch it because I had to duck out of the hall to avoid fainting with hunger.)

Also this week, Rich Higgins interviews Forrest Church about a TV program he wrote, "The American Creed." (The program aired on the Hallmark Channel on Sunday night. I'm hoping it will be rebroadcast or made available on DVD.) Don Skinner reports that 410 people attended the UU University lay leadership training conference in St Louis just before the start of General Assembly. And Don also interviews UU same-sex couples who have been married in Massachusetts since the state legalized gay marriage in 2004.

On's blogs, Sonja Cohen is keeping track of Unitarian Universalists in the media, and I've been filing news updates from the UUA General Assembly.

Posted by Philocrites, June 26, 2006, at 07:14 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Doug Muder dreams of Coffee Hour 2.0.

Doug Muder is writing a General Assembly journal — a blog without RSS or comments — as part of's coverage of GA. Here's his commentary about Wednesday night's UUA reception for bloggers:

I made it to the reception for UU bloggers after the evening plenary. We didn't get started until almost 10 p.m., and then ran until about 11:30. People trickled in by twos and threes, and we ultimately wound up with about two dozen bloggers in the room.

The reception was sponsored by the Information Technology Services staff group of the UUA, which seems to be fascinated by the blogging community and wonders how the UUA and UU bloggers can work together to our mutual advantage. I don't think the UUA people knew exactly what question they wanted to ask, and the question we ended up discussing was something like: How can the UUA create the kind of buzz it wants among bloggers?

It was an interesting conversation that I'm sure will be adequately covered by the other bloggers—I'll try to point you to their blogs as they show up. But I came out of the room thinking about the conversation we might have had, so I think I'll say a little about that. The question they should have asked—and maybe they even did ask it, but we misinterpreted—is more like: How can the UUA help UU bloggers become more effective at spreading the values of liberal religion?

That question has an answer that is very simple to state: Create community infrastructure that helps us find readers and helps readers find us. A very good example is what DailyKos did for politically liberal bloggers. Someone who is totally new to blogging can post a piece on DailyKos, and if it strikes a nerve, that post can wind up with tens of thousands of readers in a few days. Hundreds of them will leave comments. That's not going to happen if you create a political blog on Blogspot and wait to see who notices it. (I speak from experience. You can still be the first commenter at my Open Source Journalism blog.

Nothing similar exists for UU bloggers or religiously liberal bloggers in general. (A DailyKos spin-off called Street Prophets provides a home for bloggers whose liberal political values are religiously inspired, but that's not the same thing.) If the UUA could get such a thing off the ground, it could develop a community spirit in much the same way that DailyKos did, and could develop into a strong collective voice for liberal religion.

Sounds like Doug is looking seriously for ways to revive something like the community site Coffee Hour, which several of us UU bloggers slapped together two years ago and which we shuttered last fall. I agree that such a site is needed; I think it would be more viable, however, if it were developed independently of the UUA.

Posted by Philocrites, June 24, 2006, at 11:04 PM | 9 comments

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Everything you ever wanted to know about UU blogs.

On Thursday I'm convening an informal lunch conversation called "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about UU Blogging but Were Afraid to Ask." Unlike the hotel with free wireless in Fort Worth last year, the Renaissance Grand across the street from the main entrance to the convention center has a rather small lobby without much space for congregating -- but there's a nice lounge right behind the concierge desk that would make a great meeting space if we can colonize it quickly enough. I'll be there from 11:15 to 12:45 and hope you'll stop by. With the free wireless, we might even be able to demo a few things you can try at home.

(I've also posted a little flyer on the message board with these details. It's under "P" for Philocrites, natch.)

Posted by Philocrites, June 21, 2006, at 10:46 PM | 0 comments

Monday, June 19, 2006

This week at Meet the GA blog.

I introduce the magazine's General Assembly blog, where I'll be providing daily updates on the business of the Unitarian Universalist Association's annual gathering Wednesday through Sunday. Suzanne Meyer describes the Unitarian history of St. Louis, a city where Unitarians founded many civic institutions after establishing a Unitarian church in 1835. (I was surprised to realize that the denomination has never before held its annual meeting in St. Louis.)

In the news, Michelle Bates Deakin covers the ceremony in Jerusalem last week commemorating Martha and Waitstill Sharp, cofounders of the Unitarian Service Committee, as Righteous Among the Nations for their work to save Jews and others from the Holocaust. Sonja Cohen tracks media coverage of the event at the news blog. She also finds a 15-minute radio interview with UUA President Bill Sinkford that you will want to listen to. (Scroll down to Show #24, June 9, 2006.) It's the most extended interview with Sinkford I've come across, and he talks about everything from Unitarian Universalist history and theology to the Association's advocacy work.

Posted by Philocrites, June 19, 2006, at 07:59 AM | 3 comments

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Episcopal Church elects woman bishop as new leader.

Mrs Philocrites called a few minutes ago from the floor of the House of Deputies at the Episcopal Church General Convention to tell me that the Rt Rev Katharine Jefferts Schori has been elected the church's next presiding bishop. Schori will be the first woman to lead a national church in the Anglican Communion. (Most Anglican provinces, including the Church of England itself, do not currently allow women bishops. That should make Lambeth fun!) Here's the AP report.

My money was on Alabama's moderate and widely respected bishop, which is why you should never ask me for gambling advice. If Schori is as impressive a leader as my wife has heard from delegates in Columbus, the election will change the tenor of the church's homosexuality debates. Bishops in the U.S. like the Rt Rev Robert Duncan and would-be pontiffs like the Rt Rev Peter Akinola of Nigeria have readily employed a divide-and-conquer strategy around homosexuality that simply won't get them as far when their opposition to ordained women pops back into focus. Complaining about deviations from "tradition" is easier when we're just picking on gay people, but when it involves dismissing women priests and bishops in a church that has become increasingly grateful for their leadership, I think the number of willing culture warriors drops off. It will be illuminating for people to see just how conservative the schismatics are.

(I don't actually know if Duncan still opposes the ordination of women, by the way, but many of the traditionalists in his network definitely do — and soon I think it will be worth finding out what the Anglican Network folks really think about women's leadership.)

Mrs Philocrites, by the way, is having a wonderful time at her first General Convention.

Posted by Philocrites, June 18, 2006, at 04:31 PM | 5 comments

Saturday, June 17, 2006

No simple way to keep up with G.A. blogs.

Wouldn't it be convenient to track only UUA General Assembly-related blog posts next week? Unfortunately, I can't find an easy way to track everything in one place. UUpdates already limits searches to known UU blogs, but that leaves out the bazillion MySpace and LiveJournal pages that gossip hounds will want to watch. But I can't figure out how to limit the number of false positives at Technorati, which tracks MySpace and LiveJournal — but which also picks up all sorts of band listings for groups performing in Georgia and in Unitarian churches. If anyone else has a better search algorithm to suggest, please let me know. Here's what I'll be checking daily:

"GA" or "G.A." entries
"General Assembly" entries
"St. Louis" entries
"General Assembly" or "GA" entries that also mention "UUA" or "Unitarian"
Update: Scott Wells offers this even better algorithm
Google Blog Search
"GA" or "General Assembly" and "UUA"

Any other ideas?

Update 10:30pm: Denise, Dan, and Scott suggest including a unique tag — uuga06 or uuaga06 — in each G.A.-related post. Simply including the phrase in the body of your blog entry will help Google classify it properly. Those of us who can set categories or other tags for Technorati can do so, making the whole process much simpler. I've followed their advice and set up a UUGA06 category for Technorati's benefit.

Posted by Philocrites, June 17, 2006, at 12:05 PM | 3 comments

Friday, June 16, 2006

Blogging the UUA General Assembly.

Announcements and miscellaneous notes: There are three events especially for UU bloggers at next week's General Assembly in St. Louis, plus a whole lot of other things I'm sure bloggers (and their readers) will find interesting.

Events for bloggers
UUA reception for bloggers: Wednesday night, June 21, after the Opening Celebration (9:45 to 11:15 pm) in the in the Benton Room at the Renaissance Grand Hotel. Sponsored by the UUA Office of Electronic Communication, with beverages and snacks. (RSVPs were due to Deb Weiner earlier in the week, but I've heard that there's enough food for more than the bunch of us who've already said we'll be there. Come on by!) I'll be there in my editorial role representing UU World.
Everything you always wanted to know about UU blogging, but were afraid to ask! Brown-bag lunch and informal conversation with me (wearing my Philocrites hat) and other UU bloggers, Thursday, June 22, almost certainly in the lobby area of the Renaissance Grand Hotel, 11:15 am to 12:45 pm. Pick up a sandwich and come by to meet other bloggers or ask for input on your own wacky project. I'll post more information about this event — including any updates about the location — on the message board in the Convention Center (under "Philocrites") by Wednesday night. I'll also update this entry if the location changes.
Tapas with the stars! PeaceBang invites us out to Mirasol for some yummy Spanish delicacies Friday, June 23, at 6:00 pm, but space is really limited and you must RSVP (to her) mundo pronto. And what a cast: PeaceBang, Chalicechick, Chutney, Arbitrary Marks, Hafidha Sofia, John & Jess Cullinan, the Errant Frog himself, Dame Olympia, RevThom, and others. I can't wait. (Update 6.17.06: Reservations are now closed.)

A few other things: I'll be blogging daily for's brand-spankin' new General Assembly Blog. Newsy stuff. (Tips welcome.) If I get an itch to write about theology or other less official stuff, it might end up over here instead. liberal religion and lifeI'm also on the General Assembly program. Come find out all about and the new from me and UUA webmaster Julie Albanese on Saturday evening from 7:15 to 8:30 pm. It's session 4106, "The UUA's New Face on the Web," in America's Center 264. The sneak preview of is something you'll definitely want to see. If you can't make the workshop, the superbrief version will be part of executive vice president Kay Montgomery's plenary report on Saturday morning.

(Many other bloggers are on the program, too, but I haven't had time to list them all, so please feel free to promote your program in the comments below.)

I'm working nonstop at GA for the magazine — mild-mannered reporter, UUA employee, etc. — but I've recognized that whatever bifurcation of roles I maintain in my head doesn't exactly play out neatly in person. To most people at GA, I'm executive editor of UU World, and that's the role that takes me to St. Louis. But to some, I'm both "Christopher L. Walton: magazine editor" and "Philocrites omigod it's him!" (Just kidding. But last year it really was odd to have people pull me aside and whisper, I read your blog, as if we were both in on some amazing secret.) It's even possible that there are GA-goers who read Philocrites but don't even bother with my real work. So, when we meet at GA, you can call me Chris — or Philo — but I really am a magazine editor who has a blog, not a blogger who happens to work for the UUA. In case this is helpful to keep in mind.

Posted by Philocrites, June 16, 2006, at 08:09 PM | 0 comments

Monday, June 12, 2006

This week at One Muslim's odyssey.

Hafidha Acuay describes her transition from being a devout Muslim to embracing liberal religion among the Unitarian Universalists. (My favorite part of her essay highlights the impact of Star Trek: The Next Generation.) In the news, Jane Greer writes about the UUA's Social Justice Empowerment Program, which helps congregations focus and strengthen their social justice work. And Sonja Cohen keeps on finding Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Posted by Philocrites, June 12, 2006, at 07:21 AM | 3 comments

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Nothing like a carnival to get us organized!

Arbitrary Marks has suggested launching a "UU Blog Carnival" — essentially a monthly round-up of writing by Unitarian Universalist bloggers, selected and introduced by a volunteer host. A very good idea, especially with new UU blogs springing up faster than you can say "lay-led summer services"! At least at first, the carnival will be organized around a monthly theme, much like we were trying to do back in the days of the late lamented Coffee Hour. You can keep up with the revelry at UU Carnival and its feed, which I certainly hope you'll do.

Posted by Philocrites, June 11, 2006, at 06:09 PM | 3 comments

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The season of church picnics is upon me.

I've been busy lately with celebrations: A dear friend who started at Harvard Divinity School with me back in 1996 picked up his PhD in theology from Harvard this week. (We were roommates for four years; he was a groomsman at my wedding.) Another friend and roommate — a German political philosopher who convinced the two of us to join him on a three-week cross-country road trip the Monday after I received my MDiv — came to town with his wife for the occasion, and they stayed at Casa Philocrites for the week. (Mrs P and I had attended their church wedding in Germany during our European vacation last summer.) So various reunions with too-rarely seen friends took up most of my non-work time this past week. What a joy!

And then there are the church picnics. Today we celebrated the retirement of the beloved priest at Mrs Philocrites' sponsoring parish in Cambridge. Due to the rain, of course, it was an indoor picnic, but with music by a steel-drum band from St Cyprian's Church in Boston, it still felt a bit like summer. Tomorrow Mrs P is preaching on the final Sunday of the church school year at the suburban parish where she directs the ministries for children and families, and an all-church picnic will follow. She has announced that she is leaving her position after three years, so there will also be farewells. I'm fond of the people in both communities, but we're still talking a lot of church picnics.

On top of all this celebrating, my responsibilities at work continue to expand — and with the General Assembly looming, I can see that blogging may be erratic at best. There are so many topics I'd love to formulate a complete thought about, but who knows when I'll find the time? I like the way readers are engaging with each other in the comments on topics only tangentially related to whatever it is I've written, so please do keep that up.

I will post more about General Assembly events soon, and I'll keep highlighting contents, but you may not get much more than that over the next few weeks. As always, thanks for stopping by!

Posted by Philocrites, June 10, 2006, at 09:29 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Mrs Philocrites at 'Beauty Tips for Ministers.'

Peacebang has enticed my wife to write her first guest blog entry over at Beauty Tips for Ministers. Her subject? The petite religious fashionista. Important background: Mrs Philocrites is a candidate for ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. (For Pentecost, I watched her serve as Bishop Tom Shaw's chaplain at Trinity Church in Copley Square. Now that's an amazing bit of liturgy in an amazing space. Mrs P said they use a blackboard to map out the liturgy in advance, just like in a football game, and the head of the acolytes takes a picture of the diagram with his cellphone and refers to it during the service.) Enjoy!

Posted by Philocrites, June 6, 2006, at 07:58 AM | 2 comments

Monday, June 5, 2006

This week at Heroes' dilemma.

Next Tuesday, two founders of the Unitarian Service Committee will be posthumously inducted into Israel's Yad Vashem memorial honoring people who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust. Michelle Bates Deakin writes an in-depth profile of Martha Sharp and the Rev. Waitstill Sharp — highlighting the sacrifices they and their family made. It's a complex portrait that raises the question, how much would you give up to help people in need? (You'll find links to Michelle's earlier coverage of this story in the article's sidebar, just under the Sharps' picture.)

Also this week, Keith Kron reviews the Newbery award winner, Criss Cross, written by Unitarian Universalist Lynne Rae Perkins.

And in the news, Don Skinner reports that the 500th Unitarian Universalist congregation has completed the denomination's Welcoming Program — which means that almost half of UUA congregations are now formally and self-consciously welcoming to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. (Copyediting factoid of the day: Did you know that the UUA is one of the few organizations that uses "BGLT" rather than "LGBT" or "GLBT" to refer to them?) Don also reports that First UU Church in New Orleans can now house volunteer crews that sign up through the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge's Hurricane Relief and Social Justice Project. And Sonja Cohen keeps the news blog humming with links to Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Posted by Philocrites, June 5, 2006, at 07:42 AM | 29 comments

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Unitarian Universalists in Mass.'s ten cultural regions.

Okay, amateur sociologists, here's an exercise I hope someone will have the time to try. (Trained sociologists, I'd like to hear from you, too, if you really do study this kind of thing.) Today's Globe divides up Massachusetts into ten roughly equal regions in terms of electoral influence and identifies key cultural trends as they show up in voting patterns. (Cambridge, naturally, is part of the region called the "Left Fields.") What interests me about this cultural-political breakdown is that Massachusetts also has the largest number of Unitarian Universalist congregations in the U.S., and so it would seem that we could map those congregations onto this regional map to ask a series of questions:

How many congregations are in each region? How many members are claimed by those congregations? Does the proportion of Unitarian Universalists in a region reflect in any meaningful way the number of, say, Democrats in the region? To what extent do congregational cultures reflect and challenge the predominant cultural ethos in their areas? How many congregations are small, medium, or large in each region? Wouldn't it be fun to find out?

One premise of the article is that the regions reflect in microcosm some of the larger cultural divisions within the U.S. as a whole, although of course the whole state tilts a bit farther to the left within each region. So if we completed our Massachusetts study, we might have an hypothesis or two to apply to the county-by-county map Andy McIntire prepared showing 2004 presidential election results with the locations of UU congregations superimposed.

What do you need to jump in and play amateur sociologist here? Free registration at MassInc's CommonWealth magazine site will let you look at the full report, where additional maps show town boundaries. Here are current membership figures for Massachusetts UU congregations (click the "By State" button to get all the Mass. churches together). Unfortunately, you'll probably need the UUA Directory to locate the churches by ZIP code — but who needs to be that accurate? We're amateur sociologists! Let's just assume that the church accurately names the town it's in.

Any takers? Anyone? Anyone?

("The state I'm in: Politically, Massachusetts in really 10 states, not one," Robert David Sullivan, Boston Globe 6.4.06, reg req'd; "Shifting ground," Robert David Sullivan, CommonWealth Spring 2006, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, June 4, 2006, at 03:40 PM | 2 comments

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Two cheers for conservative liberals.

I see that my friend Thom has preached a sermon — "Is there such a thing as a conservative UU?" — that draws extensively from a comment I attached to a blog entry more than a year ago. I figure if Thom can find something worth quoting in that comment, I might as well dig it out, dust it off, and publish it as its own entry. It's my partial defense of "conservative Unitarian Universalists":

How I sometimes hate the words "conservative" and "liberal." But I use them anyway because they do, in fact, mean something — or several somethings, not all of them well coordinated. Here we go:

I have to appeal to an a-ha moment I had way back in high school, when for some God-only-knows reason I read Clinton Rossiter's 1962 book Conservatism in America: The Thankless Persuasion. (Yes, those were strange, lonely years for young Philocrites.) What stood out for me about that book was Rossiter's contention that almost all major American political movements could be classified as varieties of liberalism, and that conservatism as such had never really flourished in America.

This may strike many UUs as so deeply counterintuitive as to be simply false, but I've never quite shaken off Rossiter’s basic premise. The U.S. is a liberal constitutional democracy; ours is a liberal society; and yet "liberal" is now, thanks to the calculated work of a band of people who ought to be ashamed of themselves, a bad word. (Today's "conservatives" often prefer the word "freedom" instead. Which is a liberal idea. Oops.) My contention is that even those UUs who claim to be conservatives are, in fact, liberals who disagree with the narrowed definition of liberalism embraced by so-called "liberal Democrats." I dare you to find a genuine conservative in Unitarian Universalism; I'd love to know exactly how their individualist, post-traditional religious beliefs line up with conservatism.

A bit of historical review: The early Unitarians — who tended to be Federalists and Whigs — were conservative liberals; they embraced what you might call a pessimistic liberalism. They rejected the idea that an aristocratic or ecclesiastical hierarchy simply deserved to rule. They embraced a constitutional democracy that derived its authority from the consent of the governed. These things made them liberal in their political philosophy. But it's significant that they also embraced a limited franchise, representative democracy, a system of checks and balances, and inalienable individual liberties that neither the state nor the will of the people could take away. They were wary of popular democracy, in other words, and in many other respects were cautious and tradition-minded. But the only way to describe their political orientation as "conservative" would be to take their liberalism for granted, and to say that they were relatively conservative given their liberalism.

On the other hand, the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian Democrats were much more populist and much more radical. They were what you might call optimistic liberals. The Jacksonian revolution introduced a very different variety of liberalism and shocked the staid gentility of the Whigs by significantly expanding the ranks of voters and empowering "rude" people to political prominence. They trusted common people to shape policy directly and generally distrusted intellectuals and elites. But this, too, is a variety of liberalism.

In the last century, the old school Jefferson-revering Southern Democrats — their racism and anti-modernism notwithstanding — were still drawing on liberal themes. We find some of these themes alive and well in contemporary Libertarianism and conservative Republicanism: self-reliance, small government, deference to the legislative branch rather than the judicial branch, etc. I happen to disagree on the substance of a lot of the particular claims, but I can recognize the liberal pedigree of many contemporary “conservative” ideas.

At the same time, the Northern liberal Democrats — the Adlai Stevensons, for example — were elitists, proceduralists, and internationalists — themes that also have liberal roots. For historical reasons, these Democrats embraced the “liberal” label, while Libertarians embraced a variation on the theme, and Republicans over time staked their political fortunes on becoming anti-liberal. It’s an open question whether the Republican Party is also becoming fundamentally illiberal.

Until you make it all the way over to the theocratic (James Dobson) or aristocratic (William F. Buckley) wings of the post-Barry Goldwater Republican Party, you almost could not find a philosophically conservative major political movement in the U.S. Unfortunately, now we have one [or perhaps more than one] with a vengeance. But I bet almost none of our "conservative" UUs identify with these wings of the Republican Party; I'd bet instead that they identify with the socially moderate, fiscally conservative, essentially secular wing of the Party.

If you embrace the idea that individuals can legitimately question and challenge the authority of inherited privilege or inherited submission; if you believe that in political and religious matters people have the moral right and should have the political freedom to reject established doctrines and organize around new ones; if you root the legitimacy of institutions not in their God-given, timeless, eternal Truths but in their responsiveness to evolving human needs; well, if you tend in those directions, you're a liberal whether you want the label or not. Own it, people, even if you're a proud Republican. The Republican Party, after all, is rooted historically in liberal ideals, Barry Goldwater be damned.

I fully endorse your right to be a conservative liberal. (One could make the case that I'm one, although I'd rather not make that case myself right now.) If you're a conservative conservative trying to make your home among Unitarian Universalists, however, I wonder what you're thinking.

Posted by Philocrites, June 1, 2006, at 09:05 PM | 12 comments

Is it time for 'UU Voice' to abandon paper?

Michael Durall writes in the latest issue of the independent UU Voice that the Spring 2006 issue may be the publication's last:

This newsletter is an all-volunteer effort, though it costs about $6500 per year for layout and design, printing, and mailing. If a benefactor or congregation wishes to fund an issue or two of The UU Voice, I'll continue publishing. Please contact me if you're interested.

Even though suspicious types might distrust me on this — I edit the "official" magazine, after all — I would be sorry to see UU Voice join the long line of defunct independent periodicals addressed to Unitarian Universalists. But the Voice might be even more effective for a whole lot less money if it used the next $5000 or so to launch a fully modern periodical on the Web. The truth is that after it's built, the right kind of Web site requires next to no expense for design, publishing, or distribution. For the cost of printing one issue, you could get yourself a mighty fine Web magazine full of state-of-the-art publicity features and run the thing for practically nothing.

Sure, it could be done on the Web for less money. But does that mean it could have as much impact? Durall may not yet have grasped how much the media environment has changed, especially for younger Unitarian Universalists. If he's interested in finding a new way to leverage change, I'd suggest he look more seriously at the Web. (Oh yes, I'm also looking out at other, as-yet-unknown folks who may have their own visions for new publishing alternatives.) After all, the UU blogs are already inclined toward critical examination of denominational and congregational cultures; they resist the "party line"; and they tend to attract cranks — just like niche publications! Go where the action is, I say.

An open-source content management system (like Scoop or Drupal) or a free or fairly inexpensive non-profit license for a highly adaptable high-end blogging application (like Movable Type or Word Press) could provide the technical infrastructure. These low-cost publishing platforms come with RSS publishing, email newsletters, comments, and other highly interactive and useful features built in. That's like getting postage for nothing. Some even have a kind of constituent management component, enabling you to keep track of your supporters.

These tools aren't expensive, although it's worth spending money to have them adapted to your specifications and designed to project your distinctive brand. And, using these publicity tools, an independent periodical could plug itself directly into the conversations among UU bloggers — amplifying its voice and expanding its audience. As you can imagine, I'm keenly interested in how UU World can adapt to the Web, too, even though the print magazine remains a vital service to congregations and their members. (Or so I dearly hope.)

My point is very simple: Don't let a few thousand dollars kill off your interest in an independent periodical. Focus UU Advance's vision through new Web technologies and reach out to a new audience.

In the lead editorial, Durall writes:

I never envisioned The UU Voice to be anything comparable to Zion's Herald [an independent, financially strapped, progressive Methodist magazine that is about to relaunch as The Progressive Christian], but I do yearn for a UU publication that takes into account wider issues of contemporary religion beyond Unitarian Universalism. I wish we had a publication that included the voices of today's theologians; that published pro and con opinions on current religious issues; that contained in-depth book reviews; and that brought the world of religion into the day-to-day lives of UUs across the land.

Me, too! But the reality is that neither UU World nor UU Voice's publishing models can accommodate this vision right now. I hope that can grow to accommodate some of it by opening up space for articles that don't fit within the limited constraints of four 64-page issues of UU World or its mission as a general-interest magazine. But I especially think that the Web can help independent, volunteer publishers economize and focus on attracting an audience to important content rather than worrying over printing and postage costs.

After all, think how inexpensively individual UU bloggers have attracted significant audiences without spending a penny. Did Peacebang have to spend $6,500 every six months to attract a couple hundred readers a day? Nope. She did it for nothin'. There's a lesson there.

Posted by Philocrites, June 1, 2006, at 08:40 PM | 14 comments

Sophia Peabody Hawthorne in the news.

Okay, American literature and Transcendentalism lovers, here's a story: After Nathaniel Hawthorne died, his wife Sophia (sister of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody) and their three daughters moved to England. Sophia and their daughter Una died in England in the 1870s and were buried there; Nathaniel, of course, was buried at Sleepy Hollow in Concord, Mass. They've been apart a long time. But at long last, Sophia and Una's remains are being brought back to Concord and interred in the family plot. I knew you'd want to know.

Intriguing fact I hadn't heard before: One of the other Hawthorne daughters founded a Catholic order dedicated to caring for cancer patients — the Dominican Order of Hawthorne!

("Hawthornes to be reunited," Raja Mishra and Sally Heaney, Boston Globe 6.1.06, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, June 1, 2006, at 07:54 AM | 3 comments

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