Thursday, June 28, 2007
The Boston Globe today commemorates Eric Parkman Smith, the tenth-generation Concordian who so courteously corrected my pronunciation of "Thoreau" after I preached an entire sermon ten years ago about Henry David's strained relationship with the First Parish in Concord. Smith wrote a church history, served as a trustee at First Parish for 36 years, and felt a personal connection to the town's nineteenth-century history. (His mother met Louisa May Alcott, and he used to portray Bronson Alcott in living history exhibits, according to the obituary.) He was utterly charming — the obituary gives great examples of his Victorian courtesies — and I'm grateful to have known him.
("Eric P. Smith, authority on the history of Concord, at 97," Brian Marquard, Boston Globe 6.28.07)
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Did you enjoy the UU Christian Fellowship's communion service at the General Assembly? Did you find out about it only after it happened, only to wish you had gone? Here's a great chance to gather with other liberal Christians and seekers who find inspiration in the life and teachings of Jesus: Check out the UUCF Revival 2007 website, with details about the November 1-4 conference at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church near Cleveland, Ohio. Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan will be the featured speaker this year.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Kimberly French tells the story of the Women and Religion Resolution, which transformed the Unitarian Universalist Association thirty years ago.
In the news, Tom Stites reports that the UUA Board of Trustees approved 10 percent funding cuts to the two UUA-affiliated seminaries last week and launched an 18-month process to set a strategy for funding excellence in the ministry. (The Panel on Theological Education's proposal [pdf] will zero out the direct grants to Meadville Lombard and Starr King over the next three years.)
In other news, Michelle Deakin profiles new UUA treasurer and vice president of finance Tim Brennan, who is a vigorous proponent of socially responsible investing. Jane Greer tracks Unitarian Universalists in the media and Tom Stites files updates from the plenary sessions at the UUA General Assembly for uuworld.org's blogs.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
This is the text Christine Robinson and I prepared for a workshop we led with Peter Bowden and ChaliceChick at this year's Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly.
What is a blog?
A blog is a website that makes it easy for someone to publish their thoughts online. Some blogs are personal journals. Others offer commentary on specific topics. And others simply collect useful and interesting links from across the Web. Most blogs have a handful of readers, but some attract as many readers as prominent magazines.
The latest post (or blog entry) is published at the top of a blog, with earlier posts below. Many blogs also invite readers to post a comment in response, which makes blogs interactive as well as current. And, using a tool called "RSS" or syndication, blogs can automatically notify you when a new post has been published, making it easy to keep up with your favorites.
Visit a blog the same way you'd visit any other website: Type its address into your web browser. The workshop presenters' blogs are:
iMinister — Rev. Christine Robinson
The Chalice Blog — Chalicechick
Philocrites — Chris Walton
UU Planet — Peter Bowden
Bookmark the blogs you like and read them whenever you wish.
A more convenient way to read blogs
If you have a personalized homepage — like MyYahoo!, iGoogle, My AOL, or Netvibes — you can add your favorite blogs to your homepage. Your homepage will then automatically show you the latest headlines from your favorite blogs, saving you a lot of browsing.
Some blogs invite you to subscribe to receive new posts by e-mail. If you can't find a subscription invitation on a blog you'd like to get by e-mail, try a service like Feedblitz, which will set up your own personal e-mail subscription with nothing more than the address of your favorite blog.
How to comment on a blog
Most blog posts have a place near the bottom to click if you want to read comments or add a comment. You may have to register the first time you comment on a particular blog, and you may need to follow some simple anti-spam, like entering a code that the blog will give you.
(If you are trying to attract readers to your new blog, commenting on other people's blogs is a great way to draw notice!)
How to start a blog
Decide what kind of blog you want to launch — and what kind of attention you are comfortable attracting. A personal diary is simple enough: Launch your blog, and say whatever strikes your fancy, so long as you recognize that blog posts are easy to find using a search engine. When you post something to a blog, remember that you are making it public. That's the whole point! (Some blog services, like LiveJournal and Vox, allow you to set up blogs that only designated friends or family can read.)
If you want to set up a more topically focused blog or are thinking about reaching a broader audience, you may want to consult one of the many helpful books about blogging; try Essential Blogging: Selecting and Using Weblog Tools or Blogging For Dummies. Religious professionals will find The Blogging Church especially helpful.
[During the Q&A period, many congregational webmasters asked about blogs as part of congregational websites. This is a question Anna Belle can address much more competently than I can at her blog about church websites: Faith and Web. Update 6.26.07: Ask and ye shall receive! See Top 10 Tips for Church Blogging.]
Most new blogs use Blogger or WordPress. [I also recommend TypePad and Movable Type.] Blogger has exceptionally good instructions for beginners. There are endless toys and personalizations, and even ways to make a little money on the side, but if what you mostly want to do is write, you can be set up in a half an hour. Once you're set up, write your first post!
If you intend to write about Unitarian Universalism, notify UUpdates and me about your new blog so you'll be added to the UU blog guides. Read other blogs and leave comments, and soon you'll have a blog audience. Here are some tips about writing blog entries:
Keep posts short. Blog readers tend to have short attention spans. Two paragraphs is fine, five is usually too many.
Learn to add images, which, as we all know, are worth many words.
Learn to add links to your blog and give your readers ways to get more information.
When you build on someone else's writing, which is considered very good in the Blogging world, link to blog entry that inspired you. That way your readers can follow the train of thought.
Think about your blogging boundaries. This really is a public medium.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Blog coverage of the UUA General Assembly in Portland includes several blogs I am encountering for the first time:
CLF Delegates' Notes —Louise and Sean (Blogger)
Newbie's View of General Assembly —Rick Merritt (Blogger)
Sharing the Knowledge: Evangelism for Unitarian Universalists —Dean (WordPress)
Sunflower Chalice —The Rev. Tony Lorenzen (WordPress)
And Sara Robinson, a contributor to the superstar progressive blog Orcinus, is also writing about General Assembly. I had no idea Orcinus had a UU connection!
Monday, June 18, 2007
David Rynick offers a simple but transformative spiritual practice: Welcoming people to church.
Practicing hospitality is not something we can appoint people to do, nor is it a set of techniques or behaviors we "use" on new people. Rather, it is an individual work of intentional action, action that creates the quality of relationships in our churches that will nourish newcomers and longtime members alike.
This week's edition also features a fine art collage by Brandy Bergenstock that appears in the Summer UU World's "Reflections" section.
In the news, I introduce uuworld.org's General Assembly blog, which will be providing daily business updates from the UUA's General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, later this week. (Here's the blog.) Michelle Deakin reports that Blake Goud, a 26-year-old UU in Portland, is the executive director of a foundation that promotes "halal" investing — financial services that observe Islamic principles. And Sonja Cohen tracks another week of Unitarian Universalists in the media.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Good news from the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention today:
A proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was defeated today by a joint session of the Legislature by a vote of 45 to 151, eliminating any chance of getting it on the ballot in November 2008. At least 50 votes were needed to advance the measure.
The vote came after House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, Senate President Therese Murray, and Governor Deval Patrick conferred this morning and concluded that they have the votes to kill the proposal. . . .
Because fewer than 50 of the state's 200 lawmakers supported the amendment, it will not appear on the 2008 ballot, giving gay marriage advocates a major victory in their battle with social conservatives to keep same-sex marriage legal in Massachusetts.
Opponents of gay marriage face an increasingly tough battle to win legislative approval of any future petitions to appear on a statewide ballot. The next election available to them is 2012.
("Legislators vote to defeat same-sex marriage ban," Frank Phillips, Boston.com 6.14.07)
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association will hold its June meeting in Portland, Oregon, in two parts just before and just after the Association's General Assembly, June 19 and June 26. The agenda and reports for their meeting are available at UUA.org. The board's meetings are open to the public and will take place in the Doubletree Hotel's Oregon Room.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
I'm helping present two workshops at the UUA General Assembly, which meets in Portland, Oregon, next week:
Using the Web to Nurture the Spirit (#3055; Friday 2:45-4:00pm, Convention Center Portland Ballroom 255) — I'll be wearing my uuworld.org editor's hat in this presentation with UUA electronic communications director Deborah Weiner and Beacon Press associate publisher Tom Hallock; we'll explore the variety of ways UU organizations and individuals are providing powerful ministries online.
Blogs: A New Generation in Communication (#3064; Friday 4:30-5:45pm, Convention Center Oregon Ballroom 204) — I'll be wearing my Philocrites hat in a presentation about the brave new world of Unitarian Universalist blogs with fellow UU bloggers Peter Bowden, ChaliceChick, and Christine Robinson. (What a perfect appetizer for the UU bloggers dinner at 6:00!)
UU World and InterConnections, the two print periodicals my office produces, are sponsoring two more workshops:
InterConnections: What Is It About Some Congregations? (#2021; Thursday 10:45am-12:00pm, Convention Center D136) — InterConnections editor Don Skinner will talk about what he has learned from ten years of talking to congregational leaders about their successes and stumbles. The InterConnections newsletter is mailed quarterly to congregational leaders.
UU Spiritual Writing (#2023; Thursday 10:45am-12:00pm, Convention Center E143-E144) — UU World managing editor Kenneth Sutton asks if there is a distinctively UU tradition of spiritual writing in a conversation with UU World contributors Meg Barnhouse and Doug Muder. (They're uuworld.org's new columnists, and they write for Skinner House Books, too.)
Yes, alas, those two programs take place concurrently.
Also this year: UU World has a comfy booth in the exhibit hall. Stop by, browse uuworld.org, talk to business manager Scott Ullrich about advertising opportunities, and visit with the editors. Kenneth, Don, and I will spend some time there; you'll see our schedule posted on an easel at the booth. Our team also includes assistant editor (and news blogger) Sonja Cohen and retiring publisher Tom Stites, whose final days on the UUA payroll will be spent covering GA business for uuworld.org's General Assembly blog.
Please do come up and say hi.
Saturday, June 16, is the third-annual Boston-area Unitarian Universalist bloggers picnic for friends, family, and fans. Bring some food to share and join us at the First Parish in Milton from noon to 3:00. Hopefully the third time's the charm and we'll have sunshine rather than rain this year; if it rains again, I'll dub the fourth annual event a regatta next year!
I sent evites to people who have expressed some interest in attending, but please don't feel slighted if I somehow didn't send you one; let me know that you're planning to come and I'll add you to the list. See you Saturday!
Monday, June 11, 2007
Almost two years ago, I cheered a Boston Globe story reporting that the annual Generosity Index — which always shows Massachusetts coming in at the parsimonious bottom — is inherently flawed. Yesterday's Globe takes another whack at the index. Two researchers at Boston College have spent the last two years examining charitable giving in the state in what the Globe calls unprecedented detail, and they've turned up some interesting facts:
Wealthy givers and the middle-class pinch: The rich in Massachusetts give a lot more than in other states, but those of us whose households make less than $100,000 a year give a lot less. The average American household earns $60,000 a year and gives about 4 percent to charity. In Massachusetts, households earning more than $100,000 a year give a whopping 7.4 percent of their after-tax income; households earning between $25,000 and $100,000 give only 2.3 percent; the poor give 2.8 percent.
Of course, charitable giving by the rich is unlike the giving the rest of us do because, as the story notes, "donations from affluent residents . . . come from investments and assets rather than household budgets." The rest of us are giving away part of our salaries. The article notes another factor: middle- and lower-income households give less in part because the cost of living and taxes take a much bigger bite here than elsewhere.
Secular giving and underfunded churches: Massachusetts households give much more to secular charities than to churches — $1,057 on average per household, compared to $776 per household nationally. It isn't just that Roman Catholics, the state's largest religious group, don't give much, either:
"New England is the only section of the country in which secular giving is more than church giving," said Paul G. Schervish, a co author of the study and the director of Boston College's Center on Wealth and Philanthropy. The trend is strong among the state's wealthy donors, the study found.
Louise Burnham Packard, executive director of the Trinity Boston Foundation, was not surprised by the report's findings that only four states contribute less proportionately to religious institutions than Massachusetts.
"It's in our culture," she said. "We don't think churches need that much money and we're not used to them raising it."
The Trinity Boston Foundation, incidentally, is the fundraising arm of Trinity Church in Copley Square, the monumental Episcopal Church that recently completed a multi-million dollar restoration and expansion project. Burnham Packard tells the Globe that Trinity's successful capital campaign stressed secular benefits when approaching potential major donors.
("Wide gap shown in Mass. charitable giving," Peter Schworm, Boston Globe 6.10.07, reg req'd)
As the General Assembly approaches, Don Skinner and Tom Stites report on congregational efforts to understand and encourage racial, cultural, and class diversity in Unitarian Universalism. This year's GA marks the tenth anniversary of a resolution committing the UUA to "comprehensive institutionalization of anti-racism and multi-culturalism." UUA President William G. Sinkford writes that the UUA has been presented with a real opportunity to embrace diversity in the large number of people of color who are currently preparing for UU ministry; he introduces a plan to develop ministry opportunities for them by working with select congregations that are committed to becoming multicultural churches.
In the news, Jane Greer writes that two New England districts of the UUA have approved plans to consolidate. At their April meetings, the New Hampshire-Vermont District and the Northeast District (made up of Maine congregations) voted to merge; the consolidation with take effect in July 2008. Sonja Cohen tracks another week of Unitarian Universalists in the media for uuworld.org's news blog.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Tom Schade churns out even more substantive commentary about the UUA Board's decision to disaffiliate the "independent affiliate organizations." In his first new post, he argues that the independent affiliates have served as idea incubators for the Association as a whole and have played important roles in ministerial formation and networking. If, to use Isaiah Berlin's famous contrast between the fox and the hedgehog, congregations are hedgehogs — devoted to their particularity and resistant to novelty — then the independent affiliates are foxes — boundary-crossers who inject novel ideas into the system.
In a second, even more provocative post, Tom argues that true believers in "congregational polity" — which used to mean the ecclesiastical traditionalists — seem to have carried the day in the long-running UU quarrel between denominationalists and congregationalists. (The denominationalists tend to look to Boston or to the General Assembly for their coordinated, unified center; the congregationalists tend to insist on diverse, independent, local centers.) But Tom says the victory has not actually empowered congregations in the UUA's political structure. The Board's motto may be "congregations come first," but (and here I'm putting words in Tom's mouth) the decision-making structures don't yet reflect that. He explains:
[A] rhetorical unity has been reached that "serving the congregations" is the highest level value of National Unitarian Universalism. And this is good, but it raises a lot of questions.
Alice Blair Wesley's argument was that first the AUA, and then, the UUA was and is organized, in fact, as a non-profit corporation, governed by its board. It is not really an association of congregations and the General Assembly is not truly a representative body of the congregations doing the work of the association. It appears to be, but it is not.
So, what happens when the Board and the National officers and staff adopt the language of working always on behalf of the congregations? The temptation will be that it will become an all-purpose slogan, and a language that justifies anything and everything.
He argues that the new rules for independent affiliates empower the Board to decide what constitutes service to congregations while leaving the congregations themselves out of the process. "A statement is being asked for, and the Board will decide on whether Party A is serving the needs of Party B," he writes. "Who has the power in that situation? Party B? I don't think so."
Very interesting. To encourage readers to engage with Tom directly, I'm turning off comments here; please head on over to thelivelytradition to hash it out with him.
Update 6.8.07: And here's yet another post in the series.
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
I've been so busy that I keep forgetting to let you know that Harvey Cox's James Luther Adams Forum on Religion and Society [pdf], delivered at Harvard Divinity School in March, is available at the JLA Foundation website. Although initially promoted with the title, "James Luther Adams: Unitarian Evangelical or Evangelical Unitarian?," Cox decided instead to ask how well Adams's theories about the Protestant roots of voluntary associations — and the rise of democratic politics — apply to Brazil, where booming Evangelical and Pentecostal movements are challenging the religious and cultural status quo. The crente churches, as they're called, are showing signs of challenging the political status quo, too.
I especially appreciated getting yanked out of my North American context to be reminded that Protestantism — which has so comprehensively shaped U.S. religious politics, left and right — brings with it a set of political assumptions that simply don't exist in every culture. For one thing, as Cox puts it, "Blessed are the list makers": Protestants track and organize people. For another, the Protestant emphasis on conversion and personal decision breaks people out of inherited roles. Check it out.
Do read Jason Byassee's article about Trinity United Church of Christ, the "Africentric" South Chicago congregation where Sen. Barack Obama is a member. (Bonus trivia: Oprah Winfrey is a member, too.) It's a rich and nuanced piece about the contemporary black church. The same issue also features Gary Dorrien's profile of Obama, in the guise of a review of The Audacity of Hope.
Update: Sean calls attention to the fact that Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor, is the featured presenter at the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association meeting in Portland, Oregon, on Tuesday, June 19.
Monday, June 4, 2007
Doug Muder attends the "New Humanism" conference at Harvard and wonders, does humanism need to be new? (It's Doug's first column for uuworld.org; see my From the Editor column for more about the online magazine's new columnists.) From the archives, William F. Schulz explores humanism's legacy in Unitarian Universalism.
In the news, Jane Greer reports that UU activist-folksinger Pat Scanlon has gelled an antiwar coalition that includes the Unitarian Universalist Association and the UU Service Committee around one of his songs, "Where Is the Rage?"
Don Skinner reports that the upcoming UUA General Assembly will use "Open Space Technology," a discussion and decision-making method, to identify goals for the Association. Helen Bishop, the coordinator of the initiative, explains the significance the Board sees in the conversations:
"It's been many years since the UUA as a body has examined its mission and vision statements and thought deeply about how we should position ourselves as a faith community. It's time to do that. Also, the Board of Trustees is looking at policy governance [a management process in which the board makes policy decisions, delegating the execution of these policies to staff], and the Commission on Appraisal is doing a multiyear examination of the UUA Principles and Purposes, something that is required by our bylaws every few years. There is also a discussion across the UUA about how we should be doing ministry to and with youth."
"All of these things will be informed by what congregational leaders consider to be important issues," said Bishop, "and that's what Open Space can be helpful with. It permits the participants to bring their own concerns to the fore without a framework being imposed by the board. The board will respond to what the participants come up with."
As always, Sonja Cohen rounds up another week of Unitarian Universalists in the media. As GA approaches, UUA news junkies will also want to bookmark or subscribe to uuworld.org's General Assembly news blog, which will provide coverage of GA business.
Friday, June 1, 2007
Hoo boy, what a week in UU blogs! Too bad I'm busy preparing for Mrs Philocrites' ordination this weekend — to say nothing of General Assembly preparations and other work excitement — so I'll simply point you to the box office hits of the first week of the Summer of Blog.
PeaceBang rouses the Starr King student body and alumni by questioning the school's decision to stop calling brown bag lunches "brown bag lunches." (Racism, natch.) Before you read her post, though, here's the Quest newsletter article PeaceBang is responding to. Sturm und Drang erupts in PeaceBang's comments thread — the fastest institutional response to a blog post in UU history is here — with additional defenses of Starr King's "countering oppression" curriculum [pdf] from RevSean, Left Coast Unitarian, Berry's Mom, and (new to me) Andy Karlson.
Skeptics of the racist connotations of brown bag lunches and the general tenor of Starr King rhetoric include Fausto, ChaliceChick, Ms Theologian, and Scott Wells. A second day of brown bag commentary brings in Jess and The Lively Tradition (twice!) and further thoughts from ChaliceChick and Ms Theologian before the conversation "goes meta" in a third round. Jamie Goodwin is the first to cry, Enough!
I have one observation to add, gingerly walking through our denominational language sensitivity minefield: When I was enrolled in my MDiv program (at Harvard Div School), it seemed to me that most of us came down with cases of terminal earnestness. I'd go so far as to say that extremism in the cause of sincerity was no vice among us. Perhaps we saw that the general demeanor of seriousness in graduate school helps others understand the gravity of one's intellectual or moral or political or ministerial insights even when they cannot comprehend what one is saying at any given moment. It's the deep thought that counts.
Happily, some of my more afflicted colleagues largely recovered from the worst symptoms of Seminarian Seriousis after a year or two in the ministry. They may be more earnest than the average Unitarian Universalist, but still, give credit!
My point is this: Although I am temperamentally and intellectually predisposed toward the skeptical side, I think it's a tad unfair to take after the earnestness of the seminarians too aggressively. If we did, we'd easily find outbreaks of groupthink at Meadville Lombard, Harvard, Andover Newton, and anywhere else two or three have gathered to dine on their professors' jargon-rich food for thought.
If that weren't enough blog excitement for the week, we also have the fate of the independent affiliates to ponder. The Lively Tradition posts the list of UU organizations that failed to meet the UUA Board's significantly changed requirements for independent affiliate organizations and follows up with several posts trying to make sense of the decision. (UU World's coverage of the Board's decision appeared in its report on the April Board meeting, which went to press before the Board had publicized its full list.) Update! Here is the published version of the Board's letter to the leaders of independent organizations and a schedule of meetings at GA for independent organizations that hints at how the Board may hope the groups will band together.
Finally, I want to introduce a few noteworthy newcomers to the interdependent Web: Scott Gerard Prinster launches Occam's Trowel as part of his exploration of the history of science and the radical Reformation. (How amazingly cool is that?) Sociology grad student Stephen Merino, a new UU with Mormon roots like me, writes at Reason and Reverence. And Jess launches a new version of her Best of Unitarian Universalism project, collecting inspiring and provocative content from around the Web; she welcomes your recommendations.
Those of you in the Boston area, please remember that the Third Annual UU Bloggers Picnic is Saturday, June 16, from noon to 3:00 at First Parish in Milton. Hope to see you there!