Monday, August 27, 2007
Roberta M. Nelson writes that even secular parents are religious educators. (Her essay is adapted from her contribution to a collection on secular parenting, though Nelson is a longtime minister of religious education in the UUA.) Meanwhile, I review the first children's book in ages that offers an explicitly UU view of Jesus.
If you've been following the burst of publicity about Kate Braestrup's new book, Here If You Need Me — including the excerpt in Oprah about Braestrup's decision to become a UU minister after her husband was killed in a car accident — you may want to revisit the UU World archives for this 2005 profile of Braestrup's ministry as a chaplain in the Maine wilderness.
In the news this week, Don Skinner writes about the UU congregation in Gulfport, Mississippi, which lost its property to Hurricane Katrina but now has plans to build a church. Sonja Cohen, meanwhile, tracks Unitarian Universalists in the media.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Friday's Washington Post includes a column that opens with this anecdote:
The sign outside Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church in Burke announces that it is a "liberal, welcoming religious community." For Rep. Tom Davis yesterday, it was more liberal than welcoming.
The Virginia Republican, a possible Senate candidate who supports the Iraq war, had bravely agreed to attend a meeting of the antiwar Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. It was a journey into the belly of the beast, and Davis got out in one piece. Almost.
He accepted -- but did not drink from -- the bottle of water with the sticker saying "Iraq War/Wrong Way." He spoke from the lectern with the poster demanding "Representative Davis . . . End This War." He politely endured shouts from the audience: "Chicken hawks! Impeach Bush! Our children are dying! You didn't answer the question!"
Then, as the moderator tried to bring the forum to an amicable close, a man in the second row stood up. "This has been a terrible meeting!" shouted David Kuebrich. "Let's not thank Representative Davis, who has been for the most part lock-stepping with the Bush administration."
Others applauded, booed Davis and joined in the protest. The congressman, buttonholed by angry activists, beat a hasty retreat, pushing aside chairs to get out of the church.
Be sure to watch the video report, too, which shows the event organizers doing a good job of trying to establish a civil meeting.
So: Does the fact that an antiwar group held a forum on a weeknight in a UU church sanctuary with a moderate Republican Congressman and a mainstream Democratic adviser mean that the congregation betrayed its "liberal, welcoming" self-image? If the congregation itself had hosted the event, I sure would have let the podium and the water bottles go unadorned. But the boorishness of some of the activists in the audience doesn't necessarily mean that the church itself is unfriendly. Then again, UU political activists are not always the folks I'd appoint to the church welcoming committee.
If this article were about your congregation, would you be more indignant at the reporter, the organization sponsoring the event, the people in the audience, the congregation, or the Congressman?
("For a man in the middle on Iraq, church provides no sanctuary," Dana Milbank, Washington Post 8.24.07)
Thursday, August 23, 2007
This week's New York Times Magazine gives religion bloggers the sort of story that almost defies blogging. Mark Lilla's 7,680-word essay, "The Politics of God" (excerpted from his new book, The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West), tells the story of how Western societies came to embrace the "Great Separation" of politics from questions about God's will. It deserves a very careful reading and raises more intriguing if not always satisfying arguments than I have time to take up here. I expect to come back to Lilla's narrative of liberal theology's "stillborn God," however, since his story of liberal theology's failure concentrates on the European (i.e., German) tradition of liberal theology and presents Rousseau as the archetype of liberalism. The story of liberal theology in America has hardly turned out to be free of the temptations he identifies with European theological liberalism, but then again, American liberalism didn't roll over for Nazism.
The one point I do want to raise now has to do with the question of "religious" violence. Lilla is a political philosopher and student of Isaiah Berlin, one of my favorite thinkers, and I always learn a great deal from him. One of his earlier books closely studied intellectuals who got weak in the knees for authoritarianism and totalitarianism (e.g., Heidegger, Benjamin, Foucault, Derrida). Lilla writes with a degree of abstraction and generality; he's writing about how people (especially ruling classes) think, not about what societies do. This is important because the Great Separation gave the state a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence but did not necessarily reduce the amount — or even the ideological intensity — of violence.
How I wish the Harvard Divinity Bulletin published its most provocative essays online. The most recent issue features an essay that brought me up short: In "Does Religion Cause Violence?" (35.2-3, Spring/Summer 2007: 22-35; here's an earlier lecture version of the essay [Word doc]), William T. Cavanaugh argues that "the division of ideologies and institutions into the categories 'religious' and 'secular' is an arbitrary and incoherent division." That part of his essay is interesting enough on its own, but isn't as important to thinking about Lilla's essay as his second argument:
I ask, "If the idea that there is something called 'religion' that is more violent than so-called 'secular' phenomena is so incoherent, why is the idea so pervasive?" . . . The myth of religious violence helps create a blind spot about the violence of the putatively secular nation-state. We like to believe that the liberal state arose to make peace between warring religious factions. Today, the Western liberal state is charged with the burden of creating peace in the face of the cruel religious fanaticism of the Muslim world. [This is of course the peg for Lilla's book, scheduled for release on September 11, although I don't think Lilla is making a case for war.] The myth of religious violence promotes a dichotomy between us in the secular West who are rational and peacemaking, and them, the hordes of religious fanatics in the Muslim world. Their violence is religious, and therefore irrational and divisive. Our violence, on the other hand, is rational, peacemaking, and necessary. Regrettably, we find ourselves forced to bomb them into the higher rationality. (24-25)
I'm not going to attempt to resolve the thinking between these two provocative writers just now; there's too much in what each of them says. But now you know what I'm thinking about. Given the lectionary for the Sunday I'm preaching at King's Chapel, maybe I'll have some refined thoughts about discipleship and the demands of faith by then.
P.S. A note to Tom Ashbrook and the producers of his excellent "On Point" program at WBUR: When you invite Lilla on to talk about his book, invite Cavanaugh — and the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, Gary Dorrien, an expert not only on Karl Barth but also on the history of liberal theology.
Monday, August 20, 2007
In her moving essay about love and acceptance, Kathleen McTigue writes about her father-in-law's dementia:
It's like watching someone we love sailing off in a little boat on a very still lake, slowly gliding away and away, alone, while we stand on the shore and wave farewell. The movement toward the horizon is relentless but incremental, the waving and the ache of saying goodbye seem endless.
In the news, Michelle Bates Deakin profiles Debra Haffner, the UU sexologist who challenged Fox News's Bill O'Reilly over his opposition to comprehensive sexuality education. Don Skinner reports on the congregational challenges the New Orleans-area North Shore UU Society has weathered in the two years since Hurricane Katrina hit; small-group ministry, says one member, has been the "spiritual glue" that held the church together. And Sonja Cohen reports on Unitarian Universalists in the media.
The Fall 2007 issue of the quarterly UU World magazine is in the mail. Browse the contents online! Members of UUA-affiliated congregations receive a subscription as a benefit of membership; others may subscribe for only $14 a year.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Good grief. The Boston Globe analyzes Mitt Romney's "Leave It to Beaver" language in a front-page story without raising the most plausible explanation for why Romney says things like, "Holy Moly!," "O grunt!," and "Darn." Say, isn't Romney somewhat famously LDS? If there's something you're unlikely to encounter on the lips of a pious Mormon, it's profanity. I'd attribute these verbal tics to the religious subculture in which he grew up and in which he has remained active.
Granted, Romney didn't grow up in Utah, as I did, but I'm strongly inclined to think that he comes by his G-rated vocabulary honestly. (I've never shaken the habit myself, despite my long years of heresy. Mrs Philocrites especially likes to tell the story of the winter morning when I looked outside, saw the heavy snowfall, and passionately exclaimed, "Good grief!" She just about died laughing.) So I'm going to say with some confidence that this liberal line on Romney doesn't wash:
Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley and author of "Talking Right," a study of how conservatives use language to defeat liberals, said he does not buy the "Happy Days" presentation.
"He's the son of a governor who went to Harvard Law and Harvard Business School, who ran a leveraged buyout firm — who talks like Jimmy Stewart," he said.
"It's condescending, because it implies listeners are going to be taken in by that sort of thing. It doesn't impute a very high level of intelligence to Republican voters."
Does Romney come across as a goody-two-shoes? Sure. But I don't think it's quite as calculated as Nunberg would have it. I think it's just his Mormonism. (Random tidbit: Jimmy Stewart left his papers to BYU, the Mormon university Romney attended.)
I left Mormonism 18 years ago, but I still can't bring myself to swear in even the most TV-friendly ways. Darn it.
("Life with Romney: Gee whiz rules," Lisa Wangness, Boston Globe 8.19.07)
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Ah! Mrs Philocrites and I vacationed this summer with a truckload of relatives who had gathered from the four corners of the continent to my parents' home in Orem, Utah, "Family City USA." Then the two of us scooted off to Southern Utah for several days of high-speed site-seeing.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Boston-area readers may be interested to know about my two upcoming preaching engagements. I'm preaching at the First Parish in Concord this Sunday, August 19, at 10:00 and at King's Chapel in Boston on September 9 at 11:00. I'd love to see you there. (Sermons at First Parish are often available as podcasts; I'll let you know if the audio becomes available.)
Doug Muder wonders if the Internet is changing society in ways that will help liberal religion thrive. The printing press, after all, made the Protestant Reformation possible; could the Web usher in a new era of liberalism in religion? [Update: Discuss Doug's essay with the author over at his blog, Free and Responsible Search. I've also launched a discussion of his essay at Street Prophets.]
In the news, Sonja Cohen reports on the General Assembly's "Open Space Technology" initiative; Tom Stites and I report on other General Assembly business and some of the gathering's larger themes; and Kenneth Sutton gathers a handful of quotes from major addresses. (The GA stories are from the Fall issue of UU World, which goes in the mail at the end of the week.) And Sonja Cohen tracks another week of Unitarian Universalists in the media.
(If you forgot to read last week's uuworld.org stories because I was on vacation and didn't tell you about them, check out Rosemary Bray McNatt's essay on Louisa May Alcott's Unitarianism and news stories about the First UU Church of New Orleans and a First Principle-themed theater group at the UU Church of Annapolis.)
Sunday, August 12, 2007
As I mentioned in the previous post, the UUA's Pacific Central District is trying some innovative marketing (for UUs). The YouTube initiative is a do-it-yourself, "viral marketing" approach — and will only cost the district the $250 it is offering in prize money to the winning promotional video. But the marketing initiative the district is launching in partnership with the UUA this fall is much more ambitious.
Highlights: Four weeks of ad spots on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report," four weeks of radio spots during NPR affiliate KQED's news broadcasts and "Prairie Home Companion," and a variety of print advertising. Also notable in the PCD announcement is a heads-up about national magazine ads that are part of the UUA's recently announced national marketing campaign. Update 8.13.07: Cilla writes in to clarify that the magazine ads are for the regional editions of those national magazines and are part of the Bay Area marketing initiative, not the UUA's national campaign. Ah, to be a magazine with regional editions!
The full announcement is after the jump:
The August 13 edition of PCD Currents, the email newsletter of the UUA's Pacific Central District, includes two marketing notices you'll find interesting. Here's the first: an appeal for youth- and young adult-created YouTube ads promoting Unitarian Universalism:
The Viral Video Contest deadline has been extended to September 15. If you missed the basics, we are offering $250 for the best youth/young adult produced video, promoting UUism, and posted on YouTube. If I were trying this, I would think about something in pop culture to parody, putting a UU spin on it. Maybe something like the current series of Macintosh ads, with a casual and unpretentious young adult "Mac" talking with a tradition-bound "PC." Imagine those same two characters talking about finding their faith. Or, take one of the scripts from the radio ads we ran in the spring of 2006, and act them out with finger puppets. Write the first UU rap. For more inspiration, see the entry into the UU Ad contest with an imaginary prize, and take a look at some of the videos produced for the American Humanist Association.
Cilla Raughley, the district executive, explains how to submit your video for consideration: "To enter, post your video on YouTube, and send me the link to it, along with your contact information, congregation, and anything you'd like our judges to know about your entry."