Thursday, August 31, 2006
I'm catching up on articles I missed while I was vacationing in Finland. The New Yorker ran a great story about religious politics in the corrupt state of Ohio last month, focusing not just on megachurch holy warrior Rod Parsley but also on the center-left religious response from We Believe Ohio.
And, though I'm sure no Unitarian Universalists are seriously considering PowerPointing their worship services, here's an article from the Christian Century that makes the case for just how distracting that technology is:
To use PowerPoint in worship is to unwittingly set up a competition between what's projected on the screen and the human voice doing the preaching, praying or singing. And it's a contest that PowerPoint always wins because, as Richard Lischer has observed, when the brain is asked to listen and watch at the same time, it always quits listening. What PowerPoint enthusiasts see as enhancing the worship experience — projecting pictures of water during a baptism or images of fire and wind on Pentecost — is instead a form of sensory overload that manipulates emotions and stifles imagination. It is difficult to cultivate an awareness and appreciation of ambiguity and mystery in worship when images are projected at strategically timed moments in the liturgy for the purpose of instructing worshipers what to think and feel.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Marta Valentín — the minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in New Orleans — tells a story of hope about her city as the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches. Check back at uuworld.org tomorrow for a special group of news stories marking the hurricane's anniversary. [Update: Don Skinner reports on anniversary commemorations and on a group of monthly volunteers called the Weekend Warriors.] Meanwhile, UUA.org has also been telling stories about some of the Gulf Coast groups that donors to the UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund have helped in the past year.
Also one year ago, Unitarians in the villages of Transylvania — where Unitarianism has existed since the 16th century — suffered extensive damages from flash floods. Another relief fund, sponsored by the UUA and the Partner Church Council, raised money to help with the cleanup. Jane Greer reports on major progress in rebuilding in the past twelve months.
And Sonja Cohen reports on Unitarian Universalists in the media at uuworld.org's news blog. Sonja clicks "publish" on Thursday afternoon, so she missed out on UU World itself popping up in the media on Friday: Utne featured the magazine's fall issue in its roundup of noteworthy August magazines. Cool!
Sunday, August 27, 2006
I know that a bunch of Unitarian Universalist bloggers talked about putting together a program on blogging for the 2007 General Assembly of the UUA when we were meeting informally at this past summer's GA in St Louis. Now it's time to act if people want some funding and sponsorship. I received an email announcement from the GA Planning Committee's Beth McGregor this weekend; the deadline for program proposals sponsored by the Planning Committee is August 31:
The Planning Committee will sponsor up to four Featured Presentations at the GA; each program will be eligible for funding up to $3000. The Planning Committee will also sponsor up to fifteen programs; ten programs selected will be eligible for funding up to $500 and five programs will also be selected without funding. The Planning Committee will award sponsorship to proposals submitted by UU Organizations, UU Congregations, individual UUs and/or UUA Staff.
The GA Planning Committee is looking for significant, innovative programs that will appeal to many UUs attending GA. All applications must be received by August 31, 2006.
It had never occurred to me before reading this announcement that the Planning Committee made program slots available for programs sponsored by UUA staff — the staff groups compete with each other separately for the limited number of staff program slots — but frankly I have quite a bit on my plate this week and would prefer not to have to put together a blogging-related program proposal if I knew that a group of you were jumping on it. Who wants to jump?
What do you say? What would make a great blog-related GA workshop next year in Portland, Oregon?
Update 8.28.06: Peter Bowden of UU Planet has volunteered to put a basic proposal together with me on Wednesday and Thursday. (The deadline is 5 pm EDT Thursday.) Check out the program guidelines [pdf] — and if you have suggestions or input, please email Peter directly. We'll report back here later in the week.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
There's a Unitarian Universalist footnote to the news that Pluto is no longer a planet: The discover of the ill-fated astronomical entity formerly known as the ninth planet was, of course, a Unitarian. Poor Clyde Tombaugh. His widow, 94-year-old Patricia Tombaugh, tells Reuters that he would have accepted the scientific community's decision that eight is enough with equanimity: "Clyde would have said, 'Science is a progressive thing and if you're going to be a scientist and put your neck out, you're apt to have it bitten upon.'" I still say ouch.
Here's an interview with the new prior of Taizé, Brother Alois Loeser, whom Brother Roger had appointed as his successor several years before his death last August: "A year without Brother Roger: Interview with Taizé founder's successor" (by Daniele Zappalà, orig. published as "A Taizé è ancora viva l'eredità di frére Roger" in Avvenire 8.13.06, trans. by Zenit 8.16.06).
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
In a small way, it looks like the Anti-Defamation League of New England is doing some of what I was yearning to see in my sermon about Taizé: They're inviting religious teens to a weeklong camp where they can encounter each other's religious traditions through worship and conversation and form personal connections across often contentious differences. The audio of this morning's WBUR story about Camp IF isn't online (update: it is now!), but yesterday's Boston Globe front-page story includes lots of interesting stuff.
Camp IF (for "Interfaith") is the first part of the ADL's five-month Interfaith Youth Leadership Program. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Unitarian Universalist teens participated. (The WBUR report was explicit about UU involvement; the Globe alluded to it. I'd love to check in with UUs who've participated in this program.) One day was focused on Islam, with prayer, Q&A, and small-group discussions. Another day was all about Judaism. And Sunday introduced Christianity.
Joyce Dowling, who has helped her Maryland congregation conduct its own Google AdWords campaign for more than a year and who manages the UUA's public relations email list, is coordinating a new grassroots advertising initiative to promote Unitarian Universalism. She describes the campaign at her LiveJournal and says: "This is the time of year people search for churches and religious education programs for their families, but many have never heard about UUism." She's hoping to offer one small way to change that.
Monday, August 21, 2006
The Fall issue of the quarterly UU World magazine is arriving in mailboxes now. This week's edition of its online companion, uuworld.org, features Don Skinner's look at the trend of providing religious education programs for children during the summer months. Also featured: my brief review of the new UU Musicians' Network songbook for children.
In the news, Don and I report on the findings of a recent survey of UU congregations that shows that the number of growing congregations is on the rise. And Sonja Cohen keeps her weekly watch on Unitarian Universalists in the media.
The study that Don and I report about, incidentally, is chock full of interesting data that Charlotte Cowtan has broken out into a variety of reports.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
A sermon delivered to the First Unitarian Church in Worcester, Mass., on Sunday, August 20, 2006, by Christopher L. Walton.
I have come today with a reflection on an experience that took me by surprise, something that my life as an American and as a Unitarian Universalist had not quite prepared me to expect. That surprise has deepened and renewed my hope for friendships that transcend our divisions and that lead us beyond ourselves.
Sixty-six years ago this very morning, on August 20, 1940, a 25-year-old Swiss Protestant theology student named Roger Louis Schutz-Marsauche rode a bicycle into a nearly abandoned rural village in France. He had come from Switzerland looking to buy a house, and the tiny impoverished hamlet of Taizé seemed perfect: A farm was for sale, its buildings solid but neglected. And another feature made the property especially compelling to the young man: It stood only a few miles south of the German demarcation line.
Roger, the young theology student, was looking for a place, as he would later say, "to start a life of prayer alone." But the life of prayer he pursued there over the course of the next sixty-five years would touch millions of lives.
In August of 1940, Roger watched the war in Europe with increasing sorrow. He felt that his Christian faith obliged him to find a way to help Jews and other refugees who were fleeing Nazi persecution into neutral Switzerland. It grieved him to see Christians fighting Christians once again. He yearned for reconciliation, and so he began with an impoverished farm where he welcomed refugees, hid them, fed them, and sent them safely on their way. Three times a day, he prayed.
What grew up in that spot in rural Burgundy is one of the great spiritual awakenings of the twentieth century. At the end of the war, three more young Protestant men came to live at Taizé, the beginnings of an unusual ecumenical community that has grown to include about 100 brothers today from Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches. The emergence of such a community would be notable in itself, but the Community at Taizé has become famous in other parts of the world especially for its appeal to young people.
That hillside where Brother Roger founded his community of prayer and service 66 years ago attracts tens of thousands of young people each year for weeklong "pilgrimages of trust." If only there were something like it in the United States.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
As you may have noticed, I've had less time to keep up with Unitarian Universalist blogs lately. I'm committed to keeping my Guide to UU blogs up-to-date, however — and I need your help. If there are blogs you think I should know about (and don't be shy about mentioning your own new blogs), please leave a link in the comments here. Thanks!
In case you'd like to expand your music library just a bit, I've set up a small guide to jazz recordings I especially love. I'll update the selection every now and then — and I'd welcome your recommendations, too.
On a related note, while I was on vacation in Finland earlier this month I finally read a novel a dear friend sent me several years ago, Rafi Zabor's jazz novel The Bear Comes Home, which has some really wonderful writing about music and musicians. Inspired by the book, I've been trying to listen even more attentively.
(The guide is part of the Amazon Associates program, which means that when you visit Amazon from a link on my site, a little bit of money comes my way.)
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
I will be the guest worship leader at the First Unitarian Church in Worcester, Mass., this Sunday, August 20, at 10:30 a.m. My topic: "A Vacation in Pentecost: What draws thousands of young people — Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians, speaking dozens of languages — to a monastery in rural France every week all summer long? A simple, generous spirituality." Yup, it's a sermon about the Taizé Community. (I may also throw in a word or two about the Thomas Mass, an innovative worshipping community in Finland that is also finding great success at welcoming young people, which Mrs Philocrites and I got to experience in Helsinki two Sundays ago.)
Postscript: I realize I've forgotten to say that I spent part of my Web sabbatical in glorious Finland! Although I haven't had time to write a travelogue yet, you can take a peek at a few of my Finland photos. They don't provide much context, but at least one of them might make you hungry.
Monday, August 14, 2006
From the Fall issue of the print UU World, Tom Stites provides a comprehensive report on this summer's General Assembly of the UUA. Be sure to look at the links to dozens of reports and related documents, which run down the side of Tom's story. Also this week: Jane Greer and Don Skinner take a look at the Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation first year as an advocacy and research funding organization. And Sonja L. Cohen keeps on keeping track of Unitarian Universalists in the media.
While I was away from the Web, uuworld.org published two stories I'd hate for you to miss: Kendyl Gibbons's argument that religious humanists and Unitarian Universalists need languages of reverence, and Paige Grant's essay on natural pilgrimages.
The fall issue of the print magazine goes in the mail this week. You can find its contents online later this week.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
As I'm catching up on my church newsletter reading, I came across an announcement I think many of you will be interested in. Carl Scovel, the retired minister of King's Chapel in Boston, is leading a weekend of prayer, study, and fellowship focused on Jesus' parables describing God's kingdom. The retreat is Friday, October 13, through Sunday, October 15, at Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, Mass., which Mrs Philocrites says is a very nice place to stay. (It's a Benedictine monastery.) The cost is $130 plus a contribution to the King's Chapel Minister's Discretionary Fund. Contact Carl if you're interested in going.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Boston's historic Old West Church, which was built 200 years ago by one of the city's most influential early liberal congregations and which now houses a small United Methodist congregation and a Metropolitan Community Church congregation, was seriously vandalized early Thursday morning. The Boston Globe reports that "the church's beloved old pulpit Bible was torn in half. Its hymnals were violently scattered about the sanctuary. Four old paintings of previous pastors were ripped from the walls and torn. A 5-foot tall painting of Jesus on the Cross was slashed."
Unitarian history buffs will recognize the church for at least three of its ministers: Jonathan Mayhew, a proto-Unitarian, was active in the early years of the American Revolution and coined the phrase "no taxation without representation." Charles Lowell, father of the writer James Russell Lowell, was the first minister in the present building, constructed in 1806. Lowell opposed segregation and slavery along with his assistant minister, the abolitionist Cyrus Bartol, who succeeded him. Bartol hosted the first meeting of the group of religious radicals who organized the Free Religious Association in 1867. The Unitarian congregation disbanded in 1887. (Here's some historical background on the church.)
The church building served as a public library branch for more than sixty years. It returned to use as a worship space when the United Methodists bought it in 1961. I fear that the vandalized paintings depicted Mayhew, Lowell, Bartol, and Simeon Howard (minister during the Revolution) — figures important not only to the present congregation, but to Unitarian Universalists and indeed to American history.
The Globe reports that the motives of the vandals are unclear at this time.
("Vandals tear a Bible in half, ransack Old West Church," Raja Mishra and LeMont Calloway, Boston Globe 8.12.06, reg req'd)
Update 8.14.06: Today's Globe confirms that the vandalized portraits depict the church's four late-18th and early-19th century ministers, major figures in the development of American Unitarianism.
("Undaunted by vandalism, West End church bands together," Adrienne P. Samuels, Boston Globe 8.14.06, reg req'd)
Thursday, August 10, 2006
I am not paying particular attention to the blog-inflamed Senate race in Connecticut, where Ned Lamont just defeated the incumbent Joseph Lieberman. While reading Jacob Weisberg's latest article on how Lamont's victory means trouble for Democrats in November, I noticed something I hadn't before: Lamont's great uncle was the Humanist philosopher Corliss Lamont, who probably still means a great deal to a certain generation of Unitarian Universalists. Hey Fausto, wouldn't you love to tell us more about Corliss? And does anyone know how Humanism played out in the Lamont clan?
(It seems I'm very slowly returning from my sabbatical.)
Update 8.15.06: Be sure to read Fausto's excellent responses below.