Tuesday, October 30, 2007
I celebrated the Red Sox World Series championship on my lunch break as the duck boat parade approached Government Center. Here are more of my photos of the players and the fans; I like this one because you can see the colored confetti glimmering in the background.
From the archives, Patricia Montley examines the ways even the commercialized version of Halloween gives ritual expression to our ultimate date with death.
In the news, Don Skinner reports that the fires in Southern California last week forced approximately 300 Unitarian Universalists from their homes but did not damage any UU churches. Jane Greer reports that UUA President Bill Sinkford is urging UU congregations to seek international partner churches. And Sonja Cohen tracks Unitarian Universalists in the media for the news blog.
Watch your mailboxes for the Winter issue of UU World, which goes into the mail November 1.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Tomorrow, the House subcommittee that oversees the US Postal Service is holding a hearing on the periodicals postage rate increase that is causing havoc with small and independent magazines. I wrote about the impact the rate increase may have on UU World in the Fall issue. (Check out the links there to related resources, and see also my earlier urgent appeal.) Since I wrote that column, we've determined that the new rates — which give discounts to media giants — will boost UU World's mailing costs by 21 percent. Late last month, the liberal National Catholic Reporter announced that the 23-percent increase in its mailing costs had led the newspaper to cut back from 42 to 24 issues a year.
If you have not already urged your Congressional representatives to reverse the unfair rate increase, please do so today.
Here's the subcommittee meeting announcement, which was rescheduled from earlier this month to October 30. If you are represented by one of the subcommittee members, consider giving them a call: Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), chairman; Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.); John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.); Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.); Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio); William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.); Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.); Kenny Marchant (R-Texas); John M. McHugh (R-N.Y.); John L. Mica (R-Fla.); Darrell E. Issa (R-Calif.); Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
Update 11.8.07: The Association for Postal Commerce has posted a summary of the testimony at the congressional subcommittee hearing. Hilary Goldstein and Isabel Macdonald of FAIR say that seven Representatives attended the hearing. The Nation's John Nichols quotes from some of the written testimony (including somewhat idiosyncratic views from Victor Navasky of The Nation and CJR), but he also quotes a passage from my written testimony.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Unlike a few of my friends who have eagerly embraced Creative Commons licenses for their writing and other creative work (rather than sticking with the conventional intellectual property conventions of copyright), I've been a late and partial adapter. Here's what I've learned so far.
David D. Kirkpatrick's long article in today's New York Times Magazine about the political fragmentation of white American Evangelicalism — the core of the "religious right" — is simply excellent. He offers political, sociological, theological, and generational explanations for the fact that Evangelicals in the pews aren't lining up anymore with the old-line leaders of the Republican-Evangelical alliance. Read it. Quotes and commentary below.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
The Unitarian Universalist Association's second Time magazine ad appeared Friday in the November 5 edition. (See pages 71 and 72.) The pair of ads announces the launch of a UUA-sponsored Time.com religion archive called The Religion Pages, which features links to Time articles alongside links to UUA promotional content. You'll also see the UUA's first online banner ads on the Time.com site.
Fortuitously, the UUA ads appear in the print edition on the spread with Time's article about Dumbledore's coming out.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
At least two trustees on the board of the Unitarian Universalist Association are blogging about the quarterly board meeting held this past weekend in Boston. (How transparent!) At UUA View from Berkeley, Linda Laskowski, the new trustee from the Pacific Central District, offers general comments about the experience of being a new trustee, but promises an upcoming post on changes in the rules governing independent affiliates [link added 10.25.07]. She wrote earlier posts about independent affiliates and funds for theological education, two of the hot topics on the board's agenda recently.
Her colleague from the fire-ravaged Pacific Southwest District, Tom Loughrey, also offers general observations and promises more, although I can imagine that the fires may have taken his attention in other directions since the weekend. [Here's Tom's report. 10.29.07]
UU World senior editor Jane Greer attended the board meetings and will be writing about them for uuworld.org.
Monday, October 22, 2007
The wildfires that are spreading rapidly in southern California forced the evacuation of 250,000 people from their homes in San Diego today, according to the Los Angeles Times. Here's a map showing the locations of the fires in seven counties from Santa Barbara and Los Angeles south to the Mexican border [link updated 10.24.07]. Here's a lot more coverage.
Although I have only a handful of details about the effects of the fire on UU congregations and their members right now, Ken Brown, the UUA district executive in the area, said that the evacuations had already forced 90 percent of the members of the Chalice Congregation in Escondido to flee. (Here's a map of the San Diego-area congregations.) Members of other congregations are offering housing to displaced UUs, and the district has set up an emergency relief fund. Send donations to the Fire Relief Fund, Pacific Southwest District, 2052 Norma Street, Oxnard CA 93036.
More details to come.
Update 10.23.07: An announcement from the UUA today regarding the Fire Relief Fund says that "a district committee will disburse all funds collected to UU congregations, UUs in need, community groups in relationship with UU congregations, and other groups supporting those most in need." You can now donate online.
Update 10.24.07: Here's the official UUA.org page about the fires in Southern California, which have now forced the evacuation of 881,500 people.
Don Skinner shares the stories of three groups of dedicated people who have started a Unitarian Universalist congregation from scratch. Jane Greer profiles the virtual-reality architecture of the UU Church of Second Life. (Kenneth Sutton reported on the creation of the Second Life church earlier this year.)
In the news, Jane Greer reports that leaders of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ gathered 73,000 signatures opposing the U.S. occupation of Iraq and presented them to Congress last week. Sonja Cohen tracks last week's Unitarian Universalists in the media.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
With Youkilis's home run off the Coke bottle above Fenway's Green Monster — 11-2 in the eighth — I'm pretty sure I'll be losing sleep cheering for my team in the World Series once again. Pedroia, Drew, Youk: The Philocrites family loves ya. Go Sox!
In an otherwise fascinating Boston Globe article about an archeological dig on the grounds of the Indian College in Harvard Yard that has uncovered some of the metal type used to print the Bible in Algonquin at Harvard College in the 1660s — a truly interesting bit of early colonial history — reporter Colin Nickerson offers this somewhat anachronistic description of Harvard's origins:
Although college-educated Puritans often became ministers, Harvard was not affiliated with any denomination. English and Indians were required to complete courses that included grammar, logic, arithmetic, astronomy, metaphysics, ethics, natural science, and Hebrew. Historians speculate that Harvard's intention might have been to groom Indians as spiritual leaders of New England's "praying towns," or settlements of Christianized Indians. But promising Indian youths may also have been dispatched to Harvard by tribal sachems as envoys — or even spies, of a sort — to suss out the ways of the English.
Hmm. That first sentence isn't exactly true, although one could make a fussy definitional case that it's accurate. Harvard most certainly was established as a Puritan college to train Puritan ministers, and it remained true to that mission right on through the period of the Indian College. (Could this Harvard boilerplate have misled the writer?: "Although many of its early graduates became ministers in Puritan congregations throughout New England, the College was never formally affiliated with a specific religious denomination. An early brochure, published in 1643, justified the College's existence: 'To advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches.'") Harvard may not have been "denominational," but that's because what we think of as denominations didn't quite exist then. After all, it was against the law in mid-17th century Massachusetts to establish a non-Puritan church. Although there were many people in Massachusetts in the 1600s who were not church members, the churches and their clergy were cut from the same cloth — and supported by taxes. Harvard was a church-and-state college when there was only one church and one school training its clergy.
Later, of course, after Anglicans, Baptists, Quakers, and Universalists found footholds in Massachusetts and as the state-supported Congregational churches started to divide into "liberal" (Unitarian) and "orthodox" (Congregationalist) camps in the late-18th and early-19th centuries, Harvard's ministerial education program became identified with the liberals and, for many decades, with the Unitarian denomination. (Massachusetts was the last state to end tax support for its established churches, in 1833. You may remember Henry David Thoreau's annoyance at being taxed to support the First Parish in Concord, where he had been baptized as a child but which he had never joined. It was a Unitarian church by then.)
In the mid-20th century, Harvard's Divinity School self-consciously embraced a nondenominational identity. The college itself shed its sectarian connections in the 19th century, although it retains an ecumenically Protestant chapel and preacher to this day.
For more on the Indian College, see the resources from the Harvard University Archives.
("Harvard connecting to its Indian soul," Colin Nickerson, Boston Globe 10.21.07)
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Alan Wolfe reviews a new collection celebrating the centennial of Walter Rauschenbusch's landmark book, Christianity and the Social Crisis, which became the bestselling expression of the "social gospel" movement in American Protestantism. Wolfe says Rauschenbusch's book and Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle were the two books "most responsible for tempering the rule of rapacious capitalism and helping Theodore Roosevelt to define a new progressive agenda." Many politically progressive Christians see the social gospel movement as a forerunner to their own attempts to combine Christian faith and progressive politics today. (Both Jim Wallis and Cornel West have contributed essays to the centennial collection, Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century: The Classic That Woke Up the Church.)
Wolfe says one thing I'd challenge and one thing I want to amplify. He writes:
A clergyman, Rauschenbusch wrote, should "be the master of politics by creating the issues which parties will have to espouse." It is unlikely that Jerry Falwell ever read Rauschenbusch, and he certainly would have disagreed with his political views. But he would have liked that part about creating issues. In a democracy, the people choose the questions they want to discuss, and in our time more of them want the religious spirit to concern itself with abortion and homosexuality rather than race relations or a just wage. By opening the door for the one, Rauschenbusch inadvertently gave freedom of entry to the other.
Rauschenbusch didn't open that door; American Protestants already had a long history of creating grassroots political movements around particular moral or theological issues before the social gospel movement came along — forming anti-Masonic political parties and fueling the temperance and abolition movements, for example. The real difference is that Rauschenbusch focused on economic systems and helped a new kind of national liberalism emerge, which focused on using government power to restrict unjust corporate power. But it doesn't seem fair to blame him for the modern Religious Right's political approach; politicizing religious issues is a much older American phenomenon. Indeed, the political elite on the Religious Right seem more united around efforts to roll back the state's capacity to intervene in the economy than on any other particular moral issue, no matter how much they talk about abortion and homosexuality.
Wolfe also makes a distinction I want to amplify:
In his essay, Cornel West compares Rauschenbusch to such great theologians as Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl Barth; all of these thinkers, West insists, "believed that the riches of the Christian tradition can be brought to bear on the social misery, spiritual vacuity and political hypocrisy of our day." This misses all the nuance. Barth's attack on the Nazis was based on the premise that the German church had involved itself with politics far too much, and Niebuhr, while writing broadly within the Social Gospel tradition, adhered to a form of liberalism more premised on a realistic assessment of human nature than Rauschenbusch's naïve progressivism was.
Barth and Niebuhr — born a generation later than Rauschenbusch — both saw progressive optimism crushed by World War I. They each had to account for the failures of progressivism and "Christian civilization" in ways that Rauschenbusch did not. But the contrast between progressive confidence that history unfolds in a tale of expanding justice and a tempered liberalism alert to the tragic consequences of even the best ideas is worth highlighting.
Incidentally, Niebuhr is the subject of an essay in the latest Atlantic Monthly. Paul Elie looks at the ways contemporary thinkers with widely divergent political views have tried to claim Niebuhr as their own. The article is only available online to the magazine's subscribers, but since it's the magazine's 150th anniversary issue, you'll probably buy a copy anyway.
Okay, there's no news coverage of it yet, but I think it's worth announcing. Harvard's Memorial Church introduces its new hymnal tomorrow. (I learned this from the small ad in the Boston Globe's nearly dead religion advertisements section.) The new Harvard Hymnal interests me for three reasons: The editor, Matthew Burt, was a classmate of mine at Harvard Divinity School; I love the ecumenical hymn tradition; and Memorial Church has been a champion of excellence in hymnody (classic and modern) for decades. I won't be able to attend, but I'll look forward to getting a copy of the collection.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Natalie Gulbrandsen, who served as moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association from 1985 to 1993, died today. Gulbrandsen also volunteered extensively with the UU Women's Federation, the International Association for Religious Freedom, the Partner Church Council, and her congregation in Wellesley Hills, Mass. I'll update this entry with links to obituaries, memorials, and additional material about her as I come across them.
Update 10.19.07: William F. Schulz, who served as UUA president when Gulbrandsen was moderator, writes an appreciation of her life and work for UUA.org. Here's the funeral home's obituary and announcement of a memorial service Saturday, November 10, 2007, at 10:30 AM at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Wellesley Hills.
Update 10.21.07: This brief notice appears in today's Boston Globe.
Update 11.29.07: A full obituary ran in the November 13 Boston Globe: "Natalie W. Gulbrandsen; helped Scouts, battled nuclear tests".
Sorry about this week's delayed update: I've been on vacation and blissfully away from a computer.
Kimberly French tells the story of Quillen Shinn, the Universalist circuit rider whose ministry at the turn of the 20th century brought Universalism to thousands, especially in the South.
(I think of Shinn's story as one of many eddies in the stream of UU history. Shinn was something of an anachronism even in his own time — Universalist leaders were increasingly urban and modernist, while Shinn was dedicated to rural people and biblicism — and it may not be easy for many UUs to recognize their relationship to him. These days, his message is still being preached to doctrinally conservative Protestants — but not by UUs; the Christian doctrine of universal salvation now belongs to people like Carlton Pearson and Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. Still, even the eddies and side currents of our history have things to teach us.)
In the news, Don Skinner reports that the panel appointed three years ago to review Unitarian Universalist youth ministry has completed its report and will be presenting its recommendations to the UUA Board of Trustees this weekend. (Report junkies will want to click the links to the summary report and recommendations of the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth in the story's sidebar.) Sonja Cohen, meanwhile, tracks Unitarian Universalists in the media.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Update 10.24.07: As commenter Russell pointed out, the Directory is no longer available online. Questions about the removal of the PDF version should be addressed to the UUA's Public Information Office.
Monday, October 8, 2007
Doug Muder attends a ceremony honoring Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) for acknowledging that he doesn't believe in God, but discovers that Stark can't understand what the fuss is about. Stark is one of two Unitarian Universalists currently serving in Congress. (Related from the UU World archives: Bill Murry on the emerging religious humanism and William F. Schulz on the history of humanism in the Unitarian Universalist tradition.)
In the news, Don Skinner reports that independent UU organizations are adapting and responding to the loss of affiliate status under new rules applied by the UUA Board earlier this year. Forty of 46 affiliates that applied to renew their status have been turned down; two applications will be reviewed at the board's October meeting. (Earlier coverage: "UUA board approves two affiliates," Tom Stites, 6.29.07.)
And Sonja Cohen rounds up another week of Unitarian Universalists in the media.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Lots of bloggers are calling attention today to the plight of the people of Burma, whose peaceful pro-democracy protests were violently crushed by the government of Myanmar last week. I'm still way behind on this story, so I hope you'll share updates in the comments, but here are a few of the articles I've found most illuminating:
"The politics of the belly: Who's enabling Burma's junta?" (Daniel Pepper, MotherJones.com 10.1.07)
"What makes a monk mad": Seth Mydans explains some of the internal politics in Burma's Buddhist monasteries. (New York Times 9.30.07)
"The new totalitarians": Joshua Kurlantzick looks at signs that the Myanmar junta craves a totalitarian state. (Boston Globe 9.30.07)
Amnesty International is collecting news updates and promoting a letter-writing campaign calling for the release of political prisoners. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee has issued a bulletin on Burma.
Here's a letter about the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship's prison ministries and its response to the federal Bureau of Prisons' "Standardized Chapel Library Project." (You'll recall that no UU books appeared on the approved lists that the New York Times published last month; since then, the Bureau of Prisons has said it is delaying the purge of unapproved books.) Jane Rzepka, senior minister of CLF, and Patty Franz, director of ministries for CLF prisoner members, write:
Thank you to all those who have contacted the Church of the Larger Fellowship's Prison Ministry in the wake of the federal Bureau of Prisons' [BoP] recent decision to remove all but "pre-approved" books from federal prison libraries. We hope you saw the news that the BoP has decided to postpone the implementation of this decision, and has allowed prison chaplains to again make available books that had been removed from circulation in recent weeks (more info below).
We'd like to take this opportunity to tell you some steps the CLF has taken, and offer some observations about liberal religious literature in prisons.
Over 300 prisoners all around the country have joined the UU Church of the Larger Fellowship [CLF] seeking liberal spiritual support by mail. The CLF allows our prisoner-members to borrow books from the CLF Lending Library if their facility allows them to receive "used" books (many don't) and if they can afford to mail the books back to the CLF (many can't). As more and more prisons place restrictions on the books that prisoners may receive, and as fewer and fewer prisoners have the financial resources to purchase or even borrow religious materials, the CLF's new "BOOK PROJECT" is becoming more important and more timely.
Rev. Patty Franz, the Director of Ministries for CLF prisoner-members, has been in conversation with the staff of Skinner House books (the UUA's in-house publisher), to secure permission to download and re-format the texts of core UU books, so that chapters of these books can be printed on regular 8.5x11 paper and mailed as a first-class "letter" to CLF prisoner-members on request — thereby circumventing the increasing restrictions that prison facilities are putting on which/how many bound books prisoners may receive.
As the UU congregation serving isolated religious liberals, the CLF is committed to making UU spiritual support available to prisoners who are seeking a liberal religious alternative to the conservative Christian programming that dominates most U.S. prison programs. See http://clf.uua.org/penpals.html for more information about the CLF Prison Ministry, and https://secure.uua.org/clf/giving/pledgeonline.html to make a gift to support the CLF and this important outreach ministry.
It may also help to note that the recent decisions by the Bureau of Prisons were directed only to federal prisons, which hold fewer than 200,000 prisoners, or less than 10% of the more than two million prisoners incarcerated in the U.S. Most prisoners in this country are held in state prisons or county jails, where such decisions about religious materials and programming are made by the individual states, by county officials, or by the chaplains and librarians (and mailroom personnel) staffing each facility.
Since the original story was reported, many UUs have wondered how many UU books were "removed from the shelves" as a result of this order. Our guess is — very few, as it's doubtful there were/are many UU books available to prisoners through prison libraries or chaplains' libraries. We know of no UU program that makes a concerted effort to send UU books or religious materials to prisons and jails in the U.S.
Even if a UU program had the funds to just mail UU books to prisons across the country, it's doubtful how many of those books would make it into the hands of prisoners, as they would have to pass through the gauntlet of prison mailroom personnel and prison chaplains and/or librarians — any one of whom could make the decision that such materials were "not appropriate" for distribution to prisoners, and consign them to "permanent storage" or dispose of them before prisoners ever saw them.
If UUs want to be sure that prisoners have access to UU materials, the best way to do so is to reach out personally to the chaplains and/or librarians at the prisons and jails near you, to educate them about Unitarian Universalism and what it has to offer those prisoners who "fall between the cracks" of most denominationally-oriented religious programming. When you know that a facility chaplain/librarian is open to receiving UU materials, and is committed to seeing that these materials will be made available to prisoners, that's the time to purchase a selection of basic UU materials to donate to that facility.
Click here for background on the Standardized Chapel Library Project.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
A 10-minute film, "Voices of a Liberal Faith," which the UUA developed as a tool to help congregations introduce Unitarian Universalism to newcomers, is now available for viewing online in the RealVideo and WindowsMedia formats. DVDs of the film have been sent to all UUA congregations. You can order additional copies and find out more about the film at UUA.org. (You'll also notice that the clips that ended up in the 30-second TV ad are from the shooting of this film.)
I make my TV pundit debut about 6:20 into the film, explaining how the Unitarian and Universalist traditions came together in 1961, and again a minute later with a comment about UU involvement in the Selma civil rights campaign. How'd I do?
Update 10.3.07: And here's the YouTube version!
Monday, October 1, 2007
Kimberly French profiles Carolyn McDade, the fascinating woman who wrote what has become contemporary Unitarian Universalism's anthem, "Spirit of Life."
In the news, Don Skinner reports on the UUA's first national marketing campaign and on the regional marketing campaign underway in the San Francisco Bay Area. (I called attention to this story when it was published on Friday.) And Kenneth Sutton tracks this week's Unitarian Universalists in the media.