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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

My favorite blog posts of 2006.

Here are my favorite Philocrites posts from the past year, just in case you've run out of year-end reading:

I hope you've enjoyed this site this year. I can't thank you enough for your comments, tips, and letters — and I'm especially grateful to the donors who helped fund the UU Blogs marketing campaign this spring.

Posted by Philocrites, December 27, 2006, at 04:35 PM | 0 comments

My ten most-visited blog entries of 2006.

'Tis the season for meaningless lists — like the ten most-visited blog entries posted here in 2006:

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, December 27, 2006, at 10:14 AM | 0 comments

Monday, December 25, 2006

This week at Mayhem and the manger.

Carl Scovel responds to a Christmas card he received from a new minister, who asks: "Why didn't you warn me about Christmas pageants?" (His essay is an excerpt from his Skinner House collection, Never Far from Home: Stories from the Radio Pulpit, a personal favorite of mine.)

From the holiday archives: Michael Timko writes about Ebenezer Scrooge's conversion, Ken Sawyer reflects on what may be the most famous Unitarian Christmas carol, and Patricia Montley suggests that we value the dark of the winter solstice.

In the news, Don Skinner reports that members of the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, New York, vowed to cut their holiday spending in half this year, giving the rest to charitable causes. They raised $60,000. And Sonja Cohen keeps her eye on Unitarian Universalists in the media, including congregations that generated press with their winter solstice celebrations. (The magazine offices are closed this week, so Sonja won't be updating the news blog again until January 4.)

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone!

Posted by Philocrites, December 25, 2006, at 12:42 PM | 2 comments

Saturday, December 23, 2006

'Tis the season to be syncretists.

Although it's trapped behind the TimesSelect firewall, Orlando Patterson's New York Times column today on the historical roots of Christmas in America is worth reading if you'd like a straightforward account of how the holiday has always been a mashup of pagan, Christian, and "secular" elements — and how Puritan opposition to the holiday kept Massachusetts kids at school and their parents at work on December 25 into the 1860s: "A holiday for us all" (12.23.06, sub req'd).

Being a festive state of mind, I've decorated the site in Christmas colors. Don't worry, we'll return to the good old blue-and-orange as soon as Baby Jesus is finished celebrating the twelve days of saturnalian debauchery with Tiny Tim up at the Burlington Mall. Welcome, Yule!

Posted by Philocrites, December 23, 2006, at 08:09 AM | 4 comments

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Eve: A great night for Jewish singles!

What a great story:

Christmas Eve is perhaps the most important night of the year for the city's Jewish singles. While Boston's gentiles are tucked away with their eggnog, plastic Santas, and enough sugar cookies to feed the population of Luxembourg, something massive has happened in the clubs. Christmas Eve has evolved into Jewish Valentine's Day.

("A Christmas Eve klatch," Christopher Muther, Boston Globe 12.21.06, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, December 21, 2006, at 07:46 AM | 0 comments

Important conversation on UU advocacy.

Chalicechick raises great questions about the way Unitarian Universalists go about promoting social justice.

Posted by Philocrites, December 21, 2006, at 07:41 AM | 0 comments

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Some UU approaches to 'contemporary worship.'

Thanks to a message at FUUSE, I've become aware of a new resource on so-called contemporary worship for Unitarian Universalist congregations, put together by the UUA's Young Adult Network and Campus Ministries folks. They're hosting a conference on the topic at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego February 22 through 24. The keynote presenter is Marcia McFee, a United Methodist worship innovator.

Posted by Philocrites, December 19, 2006, at 10:03 PM | 1 comments

Remembering Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006).

Jason Shelton was the first to let me know this morning that the highly-regarded composer and long-time King's Chapel music director Daniel Pinkham died Monday morning. Here's the Boston Globe obituary, the PlaybillArts obit, an appreciation from the New England Conservatory where he taught for many decades, and Daniel Pinkham's website. A memorial service is scheduled at King's Chapel for Saturday, January 20, at 2 o'clock.

I have several enduring memories of Dan. Of course I encountered him as a parishioner at King's Chapel, where I loved the mix of baroque and modern church music he conducted and performed, but it was during my three summers as a tour guide at the historic church that I got to know Dan just a bit more personally. One weekday afternoon, he called down to me from the gallery after I had finished leading a large group through the church and told me that he had enjoyed my tour. (If I had known he was eavesdropping, I'm sure I would have lowered my voice!) To think that he had been in my audience was humbling, embarrassing, but also gratifying.

In July 1997, he and Carl Scovel, the minister at King's Chapel, acknowledged the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley by including the great Mormon hymn "Come, come ye saints" in the Sunday morning service — a choice that moved me to tears as a post-Mormon Unitarian. I couldn't sing, but it was marvelous and strange to hear my ancestral music performed in my Unitarian home, and I was very grateful.

Dan's sense of humor was always evident, his musicianship was superb, and I was always quite in awe of him. And that's partly because I had the privilege of singing with Harvard Divinity School's Schola Cantorum in a performance of his "O magnum mysterium" (a work for choir, organ, and brass) in 1998 or 1999 — the most difficult and perhaps the most exciting thing I've ever sung. I wish I could find a recording.

This month, countless choirs are performing his music, including his "Christmas Cantata." In a way, I think of Pinkham as one of the last great gifts of Unitarian Universalist Christianity to the rest of the church: Although I have no idea if he ever especially considered himself a "UU" — I rather doubt it — he composed liturgical music for a liturgical UU church that many churches, running the theological gamut, could embrace in their worship. I can't tell you how much that example means to me.

What a wonderful gift to leave music for others.

Posted by Philocrites, December 19, 2006, at 09:02 PM | 3 comments

Ancient Unitarian silver in the news.

A front-page story in the Boston Globe this morning features one of the UUA's most venerable congregations. The good people at Christie's may see the auction of some of the church's 70-piece silver collection as "wildly exciting from an antique silver perspective," but I think it's more exciting to see the church deliberately look for ways to reach out, welcome new people, and wear its past lightly but well:

The First Church in Salem, which was founded in 1629 and counted victims as well as judges in the Salem witch trials among its early members, is auctioning off 14 silver tankards, flagons, and beakers in hope of raising $1 million to accelerate growth in membership and programming that began in the late 1990s. . . .

This is the second high-profile sale of early American silver by a Massachusetts church in recent years. In 2001, United First Parish Church in Quincy, which was founded in 1639 and is the burial place of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, sold 11 pieces, the value of which at auction had been estimated at around $1 million. The pieces sold for about $3 million.

In that sale, some people, including a former pastor, complained that the church was selling off its heritage; others were unhappy with the sale but felt the church had no choice, given a dwindling membership and a desperate need to fund repairs.

First Church in Salem has no such problems, Barz-Snell said.

"There is no urgency pushing this," he said. "It is the recognition that the church is growing, Salem is growing, and the church is poised, as a progressive Christian church, to become more involved with the broader community."

And, yes, I couldn't help but notice the intradenominational compare-and-contrast. Perhaps a Quincy commenter can give us an update.

("Salem church sets storied silver work on auction block," Charles A. Radin, Boston Globe 12.19.06, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, December 19, 2006, at 07:39 AM | 2 comments

Monday, December 18, 2006

This week at Santa and James Fowler.

Susan M. Smith looks at the place of stories in a rational religion like Unitarian Universalism. She reflects on Santa Claus and faith-development theorist James Fowler, who identifies a basic dilemma for UUs:

When I met James Fowler, he told me that he was familiar with Unitarian Universalists. He said, "Your problem is that you have Stage Four adults (those demythologizers) teaching Stage Two children (the literalists). So they tell them a story and then say, 'But of course, it's not true.'"

In the news, Don Skinner reports that the UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund has issued another $130,000 in grants. Jane Greer reports that Meadville Lombard has announced a new scholarship with a gift from former Meadville Lombard president Spencer Lavan and his wife Susan. And Sonja Cohen monitors Unitarian Universalists in the media for the news blog.

Posted by Philocrites, December 18, 2006, at 07:53 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Taize comes to Montreal, April 27-29, 2007.

Exciting ecumenical news from Canada:

[T]he Taizé community (France) is organizing a gathering of young adults that will take place in Montréal from 27 to 29 April 2007. Participants, 17-35 year old [sic], will come from various regions in Canada and the U.S.A. They will be hosted by families and churches in Montreal.

The Montreal meeting is being held in collaboration with the Montreal Catholic Church Diocese, the Anglican Church and the United Church of Canada. This will be a new step in the "Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth". Brother Roger, founder of the Taizé community, launched this "pilgrimage" as a way of stimulating young people to be bearers of peace, trust and reconciliation in the places where they live.

A provisional programme of the weekend is available on the website:

Brother Alois, Brother Roger's successor, will be present at the Montreal meeting and will address the participants each evening. During the meeting, there will be periods of prayer with Taizé songs alternated with moments of reflection and small group discussion.

College and church young adult groups will be especially interested in participating, although individuals can also register to attend. You can read about my trip to Taizé, France, in my sermon, "A vacation in Pentecost."

Posted by Philocrites, December 17, 2006, at 06:58 PM | 0 comments

Friday, December 15, 2006

Starring Unitarians as open-minded Christians.

Anderson Cooper's "360 Degrees" program last night asked, "What is a Christian?" And, falling conveniently (for UU publicity) into a stark right-left pattern, the options he presents in the hour-long program include: (a) politically-conservative Evangelical Protestants, (b) environmentally-conscious Evangelical Protestants (including both Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals and Jim Wallis of Sojourners), and (c) Unitarian Universalists. Mrs Philocrites is gnashing her progressive-pilgrim Episcopal teeth, but this is the best press UU Christians have had in ages. Better luck next time, mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Mormons, et al.! Maybe you could send Anderson Cooper a Christmas card. ("We're the Episcopal Church. Maybe you've heard of us? We own lots of extremely beautiful churches, including the National Cathedral right here in DC. And we're in the news all the time for pissing off our conservative minority because we ordain women and elected a gay bishop in New Hampshire. Please enjoy this complimentary Book of Common Prayer. A holy Advent and a blessed Christmastide to you and yours!")

The Unitarian Universalists, who are featured in the show's final segment (captured in this YouTube clip), are great representatives of the things I love best about Unitarian Universalism. My friend Rob Hardies, minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington DC, and two of his parishioners, former Baptists Billy and Christy Wynne, talk to reporter Randi Kaye. Rob explains: "We see a lot of people who grew up as Christians and who left the church for whatever reason and who are coming back now to reclaim the core of their faith without — without some of the baggage that came in the more orthodox traditions."

You can see the rest of the program — for now, anyway — courtesy of Faith in Public Life.

Posted by Philocrites, December 15, 2006, at 05:55 PM | 10 comments

Moral ambiguity in 'Left Behind' videogame.

The P.R. stunt to pressure Wal-Mart to stop carrying the "Left Behind" videogame — led by the anti-Christian Right watchdog group Talk2Action and the left-leaning Christian Alliance for Progress, whose leaders I met last summer at the Progressive Religious Blog Con — has brought the game itself back into the spotlight just in time for the war against the war against Christmas, but I wonder if the game's opponents are presenting it fairly.

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, December 15, 2006, at 08:01 AM | 13 comments

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Is Church 2.0 better or just more digital?

Dan Harper and Peter Bowden are engaged in some provocative thinking about "Church 2.0" — an ecclesiastical analogy to Web 2.0, the term used to describe the rise of user-generated, interactive, "community"-oriented Internet services like MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, and blogging. Dan and Peter have set up a wiki (another supergeeky Web 2.0 tool) to collect Church 2.0 ideas.

I'll confess: I really admire the ambition of what they're doing and will look forward to seeing how experiments along these lines play out, but I can't help but think that the church is almost by nature an analog instrument rather than a digital one. Sure, I listen to sermons and religious music on the stereo or on my iPod, but almost everything I value about the church takes place in real time, in a real place, face-to-face, with next to no digital additions. When it comes right down to it, I see the church as an embodied social reality, and I see other kinds of interaction as supplemental — even highly desirable — but not central. (I am apparently thinking incarnational thoughts during Advent.) A newsletter is great, so is a website, so is a radio program, so is a TV show, so is a podcast — but these are incidental or tactical; they're aren't essential.

I do think there is an enormous opportunity for religious liberals to see online communication and interaction as an important part of our broader religious mandate, but I'm also not sure that congregations are the obvious sources or channels for this kind of communication. Very few churches can provide high-quality experiences in a wide range of media. Each medium requires specialized expertise and attention, and perhaps only a dozen UUA congregations have the infrastructure to take on very many of the ideas Dan has already proposed. I also realize that Dan is not really thinking about technology in every case, but is finding analogies for new ways of organizing people. It may simply be that I'm resisting the technocentric allure of his metaphor.

Parachurch groups, however, could form to support online communities in a way that wouldn't compete with the local church and wouldn't demand a concentration of technical talent and energy in each local church. I've been intrigued for many years by the mid-century success of the Unitarian Laymen's League at promoting Unitarian growth through newspaper advertising and regional events. They're famous for the ads that asked, "Are you a Unitarian without knowing it?" The Laymen's League wasn't congregational and it wasn't denominational; it also didn't survive past the formation of the UUA in the mid-1960s. I'd love to know how they cultivated participants in their work and coordinated their efforts. Something similar could be done to develop "Church 2.0" resources not for local congregations so much as for the broader community of Unitarian Universalists.

Some of these resources might prove extremely useful to local congregations, but in the end I think almost every church will continue to be a real-time, real-space community of people who don't need a computer to interact with each other, to hear the good news, or to touch life's depths and find new strength.

P.S. If the funding existed for developing some Web 2.0 tools at a certain magazine I know, I'd be implementing them now. And if some independent enterprise were trying to develop non-geeky, sophisticated, but easy-to-use communication tools for UUs, you can bet that I'd be eager to see them succeed. But I hate PowerPoint in church. That's a line I won't cross!

Posted by Philocrites, December 14, 2006, at 10:19 PM | 11 comments

Monday, December 11, 2006

This week at Partners in the Gulf.

Michelle Bates Deakin reports on partner groups on the Gulf Coast who are using funds raised by Unitarian Universalists to help disadvantaged communities rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Her article is the cover story in the Winter issue of UU World. And, in an online-only extra, she visits Phoenix, Louisiana, to profile the Rev. Tyrone Edwards, who is leading his small community's recovery with help from the UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund.

Also this week: Doug Muder takes a look at the Evangelical gay-conversion movement with a review of Tanya Erzen's book, Straight to Jesus.

In the news, Jane Greer reports on congregational responses to the global AIDS crisis. Don Skinner reports on the ordination of 100-year-old Muriel Davies, whose husband, A. Powell Davies, led a church-growth movement in the Washington, D.C., area fifty years ago. And, as always, Sonja Cohen tracks Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Posted by Philocrites, December 11, 2006, at 07:52 AM | 1 comments

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Looking high and low for influential UUs.

The indefatigable Chutney is pondering influence — and wants you to vote for the most influential living Unitarian Universalist. (I think it would be interesting to sort out how each of the candidates identifies with Unitarian Universalism, but try not to get lost in the nuance just this once.)

Posted by Philocrites, December 9, 2006, at 01:59 PM | 8 comments

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Philocrites in the pulpit: King's Chapel, Dec. 13.

I'll be preaching at the midweek worship service at King's Chapel in downtown Boston on Wednesday, December 13, at 12:15 as part of the church's Advent preaching series. King's Chapel, if you're unfamiliar with it, is a liberal Christian church in the Unitarian Universalist Association that started out, way back in 1686, as the first Anglican church in New England; it became independent and unitarian in the 1780s, but has continued to use the Book of Common Prayer in its own distinctive way ever since. Holy Communion will be offered during the 40-minute service.

Posted by Philocrites, December 5, 2006, at 10:00 PM | 6 comments

Monday, December 4, 2006

Boston University forum on the conflict in Darfur.

A heads-up for people in the Boston area concerned about the violence in Darfur: The Boston University School of Public Health is hosting a forum to help students "get involved in advocating for solutions to the current conflict in Darfur" tomorrow evening, Tuesday, December 5, at 6:30. The event features Alex De Waal and several local experts on the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. The forum will be held in the auditorium at 871 Commonwealth Ave. in Boston. (Thanks to the folks at the Save Darfur Coalition for an email notice about the event.)

Posted by Philocrites, December 4, 2006, at 09:16 PM | 1 comments

Favorite Christmas CDs.

Christmas CarolsI've loved "Yule B' Swingin' Too" — loved it as much as "Jingle Bell Jam," in fact — and so I thought its predecessor "Yule B' Swingin'" would be even better. Whoa, Dasher! Two stars. I should have picked up Verve's "Very Best of Christmas Jazz." [Later: Yeah, the Verve CD is much better.]

As for classical Christmas albums, here are my two favorites (in addition to Bach's Christmas Oratorio and Handel's Messiah, of course): the extremely satisfying a cappella "Traditional & Modern Carols" featuring the Pro Arte Singers (with "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" and a marvelous Shaker hymn, "Give Good Gifts," that ought to be revived for congregational singing) and its rival for my all-time favorite Christmas CD, "Christmas Carols" with the Choir of Westminster Abbey (featuring a thrilling modern setting of the 16th-century "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day").

Mrs Philocrites just picked up the Blind Boys of Alabama's "Go Tell It On the Mountain," on which Tom Waits helps sing the title track and "Away in a Manger" is transformed (appropriately) into a blues song. I wish a few of the guest singers had stayed home, though. (The Blind Boys' version of Waits's "Jesus Gonna Be Here," on "Spirit of the Century," is awesome, however. That's a must-have disc.)

What are your favorite holiday albums?

(Originally published December 5, 2004. Purchases through Amazon help support this site.)

Posted by Philocrites, December 4, 2006, at 08:06 AM | 22 comments

This week at The power of stories.

Need a story break? Try "The storyteller by the sea" from award-winning Unitarian Universalist storyteller Josh Searle-White's new collection Magic Wanda's Travel Emporium. (It might be fodder for the blog conversation PeaceBang launched when she asked why there's not yet a Chicken Soup for the UU Soul.)

In the news, Don Skinner reports that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has allowed veterans' gravestones to be incised with the symbols of all sorts of minority religions — including the UU flaming chalice — but continues to deny the use of the Wiccan pentacle. He also reports that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden, N.J., evicted a UU congregation from the meeting space it has leased from a Catholic campus center because the UUs invited a speaker from a gay advocacy group. (It looks to me like the UUs got caught in the middle of an intra-Catholic culture war between the more liberal campus center and the conservative Knights of Columbus.) As always, Sonja Cohen keeps watch on Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Posted by Philocrites, December 4, 2006, at 07:25 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Episcopalians concerned about demands from traditionalists for "alternative primatial oversight" for bishops and dioceses that do not want to recognize the authority of Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, will want to read (and consider signing) this open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Church's official recommendation to Canterbury is here. (Hat tip, Fr Jake)

Update 12.3.06: The small, reactionary Diocese of San Joaquin, Calif., voted yesterday to secede from the Episcopal Church. (Laurie Goodstein and Carolyn Marshall, New York Times 12.3.06, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, December 2, 2006, at 06:14 PM | 2 comments

Friday, December 1, 2006

A few resources for World AIDS Day.

The Center for Public Integrity, an group of investigative journalists, has released the results of its year-long study of the impact of President Bush's initiative to fight HIV/AIDS in countries around the world. The short version: Too little choice, too much ideology.

From the UU World archives, see Jonah Eller-Isaacs's first-person report on the way Africans are using music to respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Meanwhile, UUA President Bill Sinkford spoke at a World AIDS Day event in Washington today; his remarks have been published at

("Divine intervention: U.S. AIDS policy abroad," Center for Public Integrity; "Bush's AIDS initiative: Too little choice, too much ideology," Wendell Rawls Jr, Center for Public Integrity 11.30.06; "Singing in the shadow of death," Jonah Eller-Isaacs, UU World Summer 2006; "Sinkford speaks at Washington DC World AIDS Day event; urges congressional action," 12.1.06)

Posted by Philocrites, December 1, 2006, at 05:22 PM | 11 comments

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