Monday, April 30, 2007
Chris Hedges caught a lot of Unitarian Universalists' attention when he started invoking UU theologian and social ethicist James Luther Adams to promote his argument that the United States is on the brink of Christian theocracy. Hedges says that, in the 1980s when he was a student at Harvard Divinity School, Adams predicted that "we would all be fighting the 'Christian fascists'" by the time Hedges was Adams's age. I noticed Hedges talking about Adams in a "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly" interview, then in articles in Harper's and Truthdig, and finally in his new book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America. George Kimmich Beach, the most prominent UU interpreter of Adams's work, writes that Hedges's new book misses key elements of Adams's thought and misrepresents what Adams would have to say about contemporary religious politics.
For people who just can't get enough of JLA, here's my 2005 review of Beach's book, Transforming Liberalism: The Theology of James Luther Adams.
In the news, Don Skinner reports that Wiccans who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces can at last have their religious symbol on their military tombstones. (Don had reported back in December on the lawsuit that pushed the Veterans Administration to approve the symbol.) Sonja Cohen tracks yet another fascinating week of Unitarian Universalists in the media.
P.S. Sorry for the late posting; Mrs Philocrites and I were out of the country for a long weekend — ah, Montreal! — and didn't get back to Boston until this afternoon.
Monday, April 23, 2007
For Earth Day, Jon Luoma offers some steps you can take to address global warming.
In the news, Don Skinner reports on the impact of the Virginia Tech shootings on the UU congregation in Blacksburg. Jane Greer reports that UUA shareholder activism persuaded the Starwood hotel company to improve its environmental reporting practices. And Sonja Cohen rounds up another full week of Unitarian Universalists in the media.
Appeal: Please take a moment today to call your Congressional representatives about the new periodicals postage rate hike that will unfairly hit small magazines. There's a very brief window for public comment on this surprise change in the postal regulations, which may boost postage costs as high as 25 percent on many smaller magazines while giving lower costs to media giants like Time Warner — which, coincidentally, recommended the new rate structure. Read more about the campaign by independent publishers to challenge the new rates.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
In a surprising and evidently complicated turn of events, the Postal Board of Governors ditched the US Postal Service's own recommendations for a new periodicals rate — the postage paid to get a magazine to you — and instead adopted a proposal from the media giant Time Warner that may cripple America's small magazines.
Magazine publishers had been bracing for a proposed rate hike of 11.7 percent for more than a year, but when the new regulations were finally introduced at the beginning of April, publishers were shocked to learn the new rates will instead hit many magazines at rates of up to 20 percent and more. (No one really knows how much individual publishers will end up paying when the new rates go into effect July 15 because programmers are still scrambling to develop computer programs that can calculate the variables introduced by the new regulations. You can imagine that this has me on edge.) You can read a lot more about how the impact on the magazine industry as a whole here.
This is where things get troubling: The regulations Time Warner proposed and the Board of Governors adopted let magazines with the highest circulations — People, for example — enjoy significant savings that smaller magazines — like Image and The Nation — have no way to achieve. The new rates reward periodicals that travel the shortest distances in the mail (from regional distribution centers rather than from single printers) and that are mailed on pallets rather than in bags (which really means that a magazine that lots of your neighbors also get will pay a lower rate than a magazine that very few of your neighbors get). Weekly magazines will be hardest hit because they depend on prompt delivery; The Nation estimates that its postage costs may go up as much as $500,000 a year.
A coalition of unlikely partners has mobilized as quickly as they could to protest the new rates before the public comment period ends on Monday, April 23. (Yes, this did take people off guard.) Small-circulation public-interest magazines — from National Review and The Weekly Standard on the right to Mother Jones and The Nation on the left — have been joined by many others asking Congress to urge the Postal Service to implement fairer rates. UU World, which I edit, and the Unitarian Universalist Association, which publishes it, have signed on to the letter these publishers are submitting.
I urge you to add your voice, too.
For more information, please read the following:
What's at stake — Free Press
Stamp out the rate hikes — Peter Rothberg, The Nation 4.17.07
NR needs you — Jack Fowler, National Review Online 4.18.07
Net neutrality, the dead trees version — Steve Katz, MoJoBlog [Mother Jones] 4.17.07
Emergency report: Postal rate strategies — Jill Ambroz, Folio Magazine 4.2.07
Ouch! The Onion mocks the New York Times Sunday Magazine and all its metro imitators, their brunch-loving readership, and Unitarian Universalism (perhaps only indirectly) in a wonderful parody of educated upper-middle-class preferences. Yes, that is a picture of the First Unitarian Society of Madison's Frank Lloyd Wright-designed church — home of the largest UU congregation in the U.S. — on the mock-magazine cover promoting a story about "finding a religion that doesn't interrupt your current lifestyle." (Thanks, TB!)
Monday, April 16, 2007
Alice Blair Wesley writes that people are drawn to congregations that help them be more loving. But cultivating love isn't about being mushy:
No doubt you've heard some say we're too rational. I don't. We need to say that at our best, we are a loving people joined in a covenant to find and live out together the ways of love. But God help us if ever we suppose these ways are easy to identify, or to live out, in so complex a world as ours. God help us if we are ever embarrassed to confess that finding them and living in accordance with them requires that we think rationally about them together in our churches, hard and well.
In the news, Don Skinner reports that the UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund is launching a new drive to fund volunteer efforts in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast now that the $3.5 million raised in response to Hurricane Katrina has been distributed to relief and social justice agencies in the area. Michelle Bates Deakin reports that an anonymous donor gave $100 to each kid in the Boise UU fellowship's Coming of Class as a "pay it forward challenge"; by the end of the month, that $1,700 donation had turned into $3,475. And Sonja Cohen monitors another week of Unitarian Universalists in the media.
P.S. Did you know about UU World's MySpace page and Facebook group (membership req'd)? You can also put uuworld.org headlines on your blog, MySpace profile, or website; here are three different options.
Update: In honor of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, here is Michelle Deakin's feature story from last summer on Unitarians Martha and Waitstill Sharp, who were posthumously honored as "righteous among the nations" for their work saving almost 2,000 Jews and others from the Nazis.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
PeaceBang reports that our hosts for the last two Unitarian Universalist blogger picnics want to know if we're coming back to Milton this year. Only three people have responded so far to my first query, so it's time to get serious about planning: Who wants to come to the third annual Boston-area UU blogger picnic, Saturday, May 19? (Friends, fans, and families welcome!) I'll make my famous potato salad, though with a tad less vinegar than last year.
Update 5.16.07: Change of plans! We'll hold the picnic June 16.
Daniel O'Connell, the first blogger focused entirely on UUA politics, says only one candidate appears to have emerged from the early back-channel precandidating period of discernment for the 2009 UUA presidential race. (I interpret this to mean the period of rounding up major donors and support from key power-brokers in the Association.) Scott Wells follows up by reading between the lines of Daniel's post.
A bit of context for new denominational politics watchers: President William Sinkford's second and final term ends in June 2009, when the General Assembly will elect his successor. Individuals can declare their candidacy for president as late as February 1, 2009, but the Nominating Committee will introduce a slate of candidates to the June 2008 General Assembly. Candidates are not allowed to conduct public meetings or openly declare their intentions until January 1, 2008. People seriously interested in running will want to contact UUA Secretary Paul Rickter, the liaison between candidates and the elections process.
Uncontested elections are becoming more common in the UUA: At the upcoming General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, for example, no race is contested [pdf]. In 2005, there were contested races only for the General Assembly Planning Committee and the Commission on Social Witness. Would-be reformers take note: You want to befriend the Nominating Committee. Viva la fifth Principle!
Last year, I wondered how the Web might factor into the 2009 race, but if we really get a one-candidate race, who cares?
(Disclosure: Once real campaigning begins, I won't be able to comment on the races because I'm a UUA employee. Until then, commenting on the process itself strikes me as fair.)
The Board of Trustees meets in Boston April 20-22. Here are the agenda and reports they'll be discussing.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Aha! Here's a simple way to add uuworld.org headlines to your blog, MySpace page, or website. Click that "Grab this Headline Animator" link below and follow the instructions for your site and — presto! — the latest headlines will be scrolling on your site. The animator is 468x60 pixels, an ad-standards size that may not suit everyone; I'm checking into other sizes and snazzier designs.
Monday, April 9, 2007
Updated! A longtime reader who works for the U.S. Air Force sent me email early last week saying that his work computer can no longer access this site. Instead, typing "www.philocrites.com" into his browser brings up the following amazing legalese:
Victoria Weinstein describes her religious odyssey as a Unitarian Universalist who found Jesus at the center of her faith. Her essay is from a recent Skinner House collection, Christian Voices in Unitarian Universalism: Contemporary Essays.
Other Easter-related articles from the UU World archives: "Jesus and the modern seeker" by Erik Walker Wikstrom; "Suffering does not redeem us," my introduction to the work of feminist theologians Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker; and "Skeptical of sacred stories?" by Jane Rzepka, who shares your skepticism.
In the news, Leah Rubin-Cadrain profiles two seminarians at Meadville Lombard Theological School who are studying to be UU military chaplains. Sonja Cohen monitors other Unitarian Universalists in the media for her weekly news blog.
Sunday, April 8, 2007
Cast off the cloak of night and greet the dawn
Clothed in the new-spun radiance of the sun;
Your shadowed ways, my soul, are now undone —
In grace and brilliant light continue on.
The stars may flicker but they fade away
As heralds of the advent of one star,
Their light a scattered brilliance from afar —
My orbit rounds one fire and source of day.
My soul is held and, turning, is returned
By love unseen, a gravity sublime.
Though light had failed, as my heart in its time,
Your dawn, O God, has graced my life unearned.
Toward the tomb I turn, but not in fear.
Night's captive for a season, but then freed.
In waiting earth, my soul a planted seed —
Christ is the rising sun; now day is here.
— Christopher L. Walton, 1998
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
This post from deep in the Philocrites archives was originally written December 12, 1996, for the UUs-L email list. I offer it as a reflection on the meaning Holy Week's stories might have for Unitarian Universalists.
In a message to the UUs-L email list, Michaele M. wrote:
A friend of mine is struggling with persistent depression and has been intermittently struggling with religious issues which he's not sure are related, after all.
LoAnn Behold, I ran across this really irritating poem by Christina Rossetti:
A Better Resurrection
I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears.
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.
My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall—the sap of spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.
My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perished thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.
Now, folks . . . is this a legitimate, comforting hope, a delusion (healing or hurtful), or just a damn nuisance? Even if you chop & channel the name of the deity to suit yourself?
I don't think the real question is whether the word "Jesus" in the final line of each stanza is a "legitimate, comforting hope, a delusion, or just a damn nuisance." What if the last lines of each stanza were left off? What if she refused to point to hope at all, and only described the despair? Would that be more legitimate? I think the poem's evocation of despair is extremely accurate. The real question is whether there is any legitimate reason to hope for anything beyond brokenness, frozenness, tedium, and inexpression. If someone feels that their life really has been broken, why not just give up? Why not end the first stanza, and the whole poem, with "This is the end of me."
Why, for instance, does a poet go to the bother of finely arranging a poem like this if she has no hope of regaining her "wit, words, and tears"? (Is it legitimate to write even if one feels that one has no words?) If despair creeps in and begins to tighten its hand around my heart, do I have any right at all to hope that somehow I might pull through? If I know the story of a man who had seemed to embody all the hopes of his friends, and who was crushed by the powerful tyrants of his day, and yet whose life seemed to continue even stronger after his death among the people who must have been devastated by his murder, can I not see in this story a powerful affirmation that the tyrants need not be granted their brutal victory? What if those destructive forces are in my own life? Can I not hope for the resurrection of my stronger self even when I feel crushed and destroyed? Where is the illegitimacy or false comfort in that?
If none of us had ever seen any evidence that people can emerge well and strong from depression, would we not simply dismiss this poem out of hand? Once someone slides into despair, we would all give up on them; and why not? Who can believe in resurrections, even small ones?
But the image of resurrection is not, I think, a meaningless image for religious liberals. I think the poet here does three very powerful things, and even abandoning the whole theological apparatus of Christianity, I think the lessons are profound for our understanding of renewed life. When the poet despairs, she calls for attention; she clings to examples of renewal; and she asks to be refashioned so that she can bear what seems unbearable now.
Monday, April 2, 2007
Okay, baseball fans, here's a great moment in parody for Opening Day from Jill Lepore's New Yorker article about Jamestown's famous diarist, Captain John Smith:
Two historians, James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle, once tried to imagine how Smith might have reported a July afternoon spent at Yankee Stadium:Being assembled about a great field of open grass, a score of their greatest men ran out upon the field, adorned each in brightly hued jackets and breeches, with letters cunningly woven upon their Chestes, and wearinge caps . . . upon their heades, of a sort I know not what. One of their chiefs stood in the midst and would at his pleasure hurl a white ball at another chief, whose attire was of a different colour, and whether by chance or artifyce I know not the ball flew exceeding close to the man yet never injured him, but sometimes he would strike att it with a wooden club and so giveing it a hard blow would throw down his club and run away.
In other words, you can count on Smith for abundant detail, and admirable accuracy, but he's fairly likely to leave out what you most want to know: "Yankees 10, Red Sox 3."
("Our Town: Four centuries on, the battles over John Smith and Jamestown still rage," Jill Lepore, New Yorker 4.2.07; article not available online)
Kimberly French writes about the anxieties of parenting and considers the advice offered by one Unitarian Universalist psychologist, Boston College professor John S. Dacey. (Here's some of Dacey's advice from The Safe Child Handbook: How to Protect Your Family and Cope with Anxiety in a Threat-Filled World.) She also profiles Dacey's personal struggle with anxiety.
In honor of Passover, which begins tonight, here's a meditation by Lynn Ungar from the UU World archives.
In the news, Michelle Bates Deakin writes about a nine-day interfaith walk across Massachusetts to raise awareness of global climate change; UU minister Fred Small helped organize the walk. Jane Greer reports on lobbying efforts by the UUA and the United Church of Christ for an end to abstinence-only sex education. And Sonja Cohen tracks Unitarian Universalists in the media for the news blog.
Sunday, April 1, 2007
Francis Stokes reports on the emergence of "water-cooler UUs," whose innovative new church recently affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association. The congregation celebrates each individual's capacity to find truth through workplace gossip. (Such discipline!) My favorite part of the story:
"Will we be celebrating Easter? Of course we will!" attests Rev. Erskine Grantham jovially, tugging at the edge of his silver beard. "The birth of Jesus is important to us."
Ba dum ching.