Monday, March 31, 2008
Although I hope this won't really be the last time I update my annotated guide to Unitarian Universalist blogs — thanks to the advent of the Philocritot! — it's certainly going to the last time for the foreseeable future. So, if you have or know about a high-quality Unitarian Universalism-related blog that I haven't already listed here (and that you haven't already called to my attention here), please promote it in the comments below. I'll be posting the updated Guide with new additions soon.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Peter Bowden has launched a very useful site at UUPlanet.tv: A web video channel where he's gathering Unitarian Universalism-related film from YouTube and other places. I'm especially grateful that he managed to find the excellent promotional clip developed for the UUA by Faith and Values Media years ago for broadcast on the Hallmark Channel (although the ad was never used by the UUA itself) — and for finding the clip from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that very briefly featured Philocrites back in 2005 (my comments here).
Incidentally, I'm wondering when some intrepid fan of podcasts will figure out a fancier way of promoting UU audio than the labor-intensive and outdated podcast directories we now depend on. Aaron Sawyer's snazzy new blog aggregator, DiscoverUU.com, includes a few highly selective podcasts, but it's hardly comprehensive.
Once again, UU Enforcer is collecting announcements of new ministerial settlements [oops! these are actually announcements of ministerial candidates] on his definitely unofficial "Hot Stove List," just in case you're wondering where clergy types are going to see where their colleagues are landing.
Agendas and reports are now available for the April meeting of the UUA Board of Trustees in Boston, April 18-20. Meetings are open to the public. Folks interested in the hot-ticket topics of YRUU, C*UUYAN, independent affiliates, and denominational elections will want to pay attention to the Friday, April 18, meeting of the Association Working Group.
On a related note, a revised and significantly condensed version of the Youth and Young Adult Empowerment Resolution, which will show up as a responsive resolution at the end of the General Assembly in June, is now circulating.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
With great anticipation, Mrs Philocrites and I are looking forward to the birth of our first child in May. Being the oldest of five children, and having grown up in the baby capital of America, I'm no stranger to babies and young children, and in many ways I feel like I'm finally getting around to something I've always meant, and perhaps was meant, to do. But there's also no getting around the fact that my life is changing and is about to change quite dramatically.
Which brings me, dear readers, to what this means for you. On your behalf, I've interviewed myself (I know: how clever!) about what impending parenthood means to the future of this blog:
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Prepared text: "A more perfect union" 3.18.08.
Update 3.20.08: The Obama campaign has also posted their own video of the speech, without the CNN ticker.
Andrew Sullivan makes the crucial point about the controversy that is currently engulfing Barack Obama over statements made by Jeremiah Wright:
The relevant — the only relevant — question is: are Obama's beliefs represented by the handful of video clips of the most incendiary of Wright's sermons? Or to unpack it a little further: Does Obama believe that black people should damn America? Does he believe that racial separatism is a viable option? Is he a black liberation theologian?
Seriously, I can find absolutely no evidence that he is, and if anyone can, I will gladly eagerly air it.
Give me a speech or a sentence or an off-hand remark in the last twenty years in which Obama has said such a thing or reflected such a worldview and I will gladly post it. On the other hand, we have many, many, many examples of Obama's own thoughts on these issues, several extraordinary sermons and speeches, two books, one of which is searingly honest about race and faith and identity. The notion that this immense record should be displaced by a few YouTubes by someone else seems, well, disproportionate.
I still believe airing all this is important and salient. God knows there is plenty in Wright's theology I find repugnant — although my knowledge of the tradition from which he springs is limited. But the same could be said for the Southern Baptist Convention, for example, or the eccentric but obviously sincere former hippie, Arthur Blessit, who brought our current president to Christ. Or my own [Roman Catholic] church, for that matter. What they have all said about gay people is horrifying to me, and I do not share all the political views of my spiritual leaders. The key — it seems to me — is the candidate's public positions on these issues — not what his pastor has said and says in the pulpit. I remain in a church which describes gay people as "intrinsically disordered." But my own record in the secular world is obviously radically different. Exactly the same standard should apply to Romney or Obama or McCain. No one should get a pass; but they also all deserve a chance to say what they think in the secular world on the relevant issues.
Read the rest. Obama plans to deliver a speech later today on race in America, which will refer in part to the controversy about Wright's statements. I've been collecting other links to relevant coverage.
Monday, March 17, 2008
UU World kicks off its coverage of the 2009 UUA presidential election. I introduce the race, and Jane Greer offers profiles of Laurel Hallman and Peter Morales, the two current candidates for president. (UUA.org will be gathering elections-related content at UUA.org/elections. Hallman's website has been redesigned and now offers RSS; Morales's website now includes a blog with RSS.)
In the news, Don Skinner reports that two UU ministers were arrested at an interfaith antiwar demonstration in Washington last week to mark the anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Barack Obama is in the unenviable position this week of trying to distance himself from his own pastor and from a theological tradition that has strongly informed his Christianity. ABC News reported Thursday on statements that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright has made in the course of his impressive ministry on Chicago's South Side — including "God damn America" — wondering whether Wright was a "liability" for Obama. Fox News flogged video of part of a sermon Wright delivered at Trinity United Church of Christ in which Wright compared America's white ruling class to the Roman Empire in Jesus' time and all but endorsed Obama from the pulpit. ("Hillary ain't never been called a nigger" is perhaps the most provocative statement in the clip, although it's probably true.) Obama quickly did the politically expedient thing and denounced Wright's statements and removed Wright from his campaign's group of spiritual advisors, although he tried not to repudiate Wright himself, whom Obama has called a father-figure.
Saturday's Times gave an overview of the whole two-day media frenzy about Wright, helpfully providing a bit of context around Wright's Afrocentric Christianity and briefly introducing black liberation theology. I can't stress enough that anyone who is trying to understand Wright's theology and its roots must read Jason Byassee's profile of Trinity UCC in the May 29, 2007, issue of the Christian Century: "Africentric church: A visit to Chicago's Trinity UCC." But the black church, liberation theology, and the social gospel tradition aren't the only branches of Christianity that don't line up neatly with American nationalism or rah-rah celebrations of American political power and mainstream American culture. The New Testament itself is shot through with denunciations of political structures that oppress people — and its apocalyptic texts (especially Revelation) can get pretty wild-eyed about it. (Even the nativity story, James Carroll writes, has a strongly political dimension that we often overlook.)
Now perhaps earlier generations of preachers would have condemned the nation's sinfulness in slightly more orotund ways than Wright's "God damn America," but that's hardly a new sentiment from the pulpit. Wright said God damns America for its violence, its oppression, its racism. Republican-aligned or right-leaning pastors routinely say God damns America for a different set of "sins" ranging from legalized abortion to gay marriage to liberalism. Sadly, what will probably startle many white Americans is the discovery that resentment and anger about white racism is very much alive and well in the black church, and in the church that Obama belongs to.
That's not to say that Wright's sermons and speeches aren't problematic from a political perspective — but I don't think Wright was speaking politically. He was preaching, in ways consistent with his church's theology, the broader tradition of black liberation theology, and with the gospel itself. And the goal of his preaching, I assume, was to emphasize God's sympathy for his audience, which has a strikingly different experience of American life than the pundit class. (Or than I do!) One could disagree with parts of what Wright has said, but I find it disturbing that much of the outrage focused on him is targeted at the true and defensible things he has said.
Obama's political problem, in other words, is not necessarily Jeremiah Wright's problem. Most of us hear messages in church that we don't always agree with. And if there's a certain degree of political paranoia in some of Wright's sermons, well I'll be damned if there isn't a degree of political paranoia in some of the preaching you're likely to hear in conservative, moderate, and liberal churches all over this country.
But even discounting the demagoguery that preachers sometimes (or often) lapse into, there's a stronger point to make about sermons: If you're not hearing something you disagree with in church, I'd say you're attending a shallow, narrow church. The church has to take an oppositional stance (as best it can) toward aspects of our own behavior and toward aspects of our cultural and national life; otherwise, what's its point? Giving benediction to the conventional wisdom and the dominant ethos of the country is not what Jesus had in mind, even for life in a liberal democracy. A point worth keeping in mind during Holy Week.
("Obama's spiritual mentor may put church in hot water," Jeff Goldblatt, FoxNews.com 3.12.08; "Obama's preacher: The Wright message?" ABC News 3.13.08; "On my faith and my church," Barack Obama, Huffington Post 3.14.08; "Obama denounces his pastor's statements," Jodi Kantor, New York Times 3.15.08)
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Details about the June meeting to plan the future of C*UUYAN (the Continental UU Young Adult Network, an organization of 18- to 35-year-old UUs) are now available. (The meeting was mentioned in the uuworld.org article about the UUA's decision to stop funding the organization.) The C*UUYAN steering committee has now announced that the meeting will take place in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, convention center on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 24 and 25, just before the start of the UUA's General Assembly in the same location.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Alas, I don't yet have cable and so will have to wait to rent the upcoming HBO miniseries about John Adams, based on David McCullough's sympathetic biography. The seven-part miniseries airs on Sundays starting March 16. Here's a trailer:
Jill Lepore, in reviewing the series for The New Yorker, says that Paul Giametti's Adams is "the Ebenezer Scrooge of the American Revolution, slouchy, grouchy, and crusty, but mushy on the inside."
Meanwhile, if you haven't already picked up a copy of Forrest Church's lively history of the separation of church and state, this would be a great time to do it. The chapters on John Adams are among my favorites. An abridged section in UU World introduces Adams this way:
John Adams is the most vivid American founder. Everything Adams touched bore the imprint of his nature: petty, querulous, and vain; yet also candid, playful, and curious. Adams elevated self-scrutiny into an art. His diary drips with Puritan angst, yet Adams fell several tenets short of the basic requirements of Christian orthodoxy. For starters, he rejected original sin and the doctrine of predestination; the Atonement — "Christ died for our sins" — fit nowhere in his theology. He didn't think like a true believer, but he felt like a true believer. A lifelong churchgoing animal like his fathers and mothers before him, to Adams the Bible was the best book in the world and Christianity the one indispensable guarantor of public morality.
A character like that deserves dramatization. My favorite to date is William Daniels as Adams in the 1972 musical 1776, even though the script mashes bits of Sam Adams into the character, too.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
But before I get to this week's stories, an announcement that uuworld.org has added a new homepage for its slowly growing roster of blogs. Unitarian Universalists in the Media has been calling attention to news stories about Unitarian Universalists and their congregations ever since uuworld.org went live. And now UU blogger Shelby Meyerhoff (who also writes at Looking for Faith and Street Prophets) is monitoring the UU blogosphere for uuworld.org's weekly roundup of buzz at The Interdependent Web. (Each June, the magazine dusts off its General Assembly Blog for daily coverage of the UUA's annual meeting.) Each page at uuworld.org now has a spiffy purple Blogs button right along with the Spirit, Ideas, Life, and News buttons in the main navigation, so you can easily find them. Enjoy!
This week, Kimberly French looks back at two centuries of Unitarian and Universalist religious education for children. Did you know that a Unitarian church launched the first congregational Sunday school in America? (From the archives: I profiled Sophia Lyon Fahs, who modernized Unitarian religious education in the 1930s and '40s.)
Today is the anniversary of the death of James Reeb, the Unitarian minister who was murdered in Selma, Alabama, during the 1965 civil rights campaign. Back in 2000, the UUA and UU World tracked down a recording of Martin Luther King Jr's eulogy for Reeb, and the magazine published it for the first time in 2001. Read King's eulogy and the other stories about Unitarian Universalist engagement with the Selma campaign.
In the news this week, Jane Greer profiles a California UU community minister who produces a public-access TV show as part of her mental health ministry.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
The illustration in today's New York Times celebrating geek culture (and accompanying a column about the cultural significance of Dungeons and Dragons creator Gary Gygax, who died last week) amused me because I think I narrowly missed falling headlong into geek culture — but only just barely. The illustration is a flow-chart with the initial question, "Exposed to D&D early in life." If you answer "No" on the chart, follow the line through "sunlight" to "girls." I, of course, must truthfully answer "Yes." Oh the nerdiness of my youth. A parody drives me to nostalgia:
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Last week, the dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge announced he would be resigning in May. His resignation letter mentioned negotiations for a partnership with nearby Lesley University. Such a partnership makes sense, since EDS is losing its current partner — the Weston Jesuit School of Theology — to Boston College. Today's Boston Globe reports that Lesley University will purchase seven buildings on the EDS campus for $33.5 million, and will share ownership of the library. There's more from the Cambridge Chronicle.
("EDS dean to resign; partnership being weighed," Steve Waring, Living Church News Service 3.3.08; "Lesley campus expected to grow," Jillian Jorgensen, Boston Globe 3.8.08; "Lesley University to expand into Harvard Square," Cambridge Chronicle and Cambridge TAB 3.7.08)
I've wondered how many people skip the final plenary session at each summer's UUA General Assembly in order to avoid the spectacle of the debate on Actions of Immediate Witness. (AIWs are social justice resolutions submitted by petition at GA.) Maybe the hundreds of empty chairs were vacated by ministers who had to get home a day early, or by exhibitors who needed to help take down their exhibit hall booths, or by people who desperately needed a nap, but then again, if comments from friends of mine are any indication, maybe the process strikes many people as tedious and inconsequential. (Disclosure: Although I've attended eleven General Assemblies since 1995, I've never been a delegate. Since 2001 I've attended GA as a journalist. So I may be a bit jaded.)
But in the last few years, AIW resolutions have been joined by the new and unpredictable spectacle of "responsive resolutions," which have emerged as a way to do denominational "business" more or less spontaneously at the very end of the Assembly. This year, a responsive resolution rooted in the controversy about the future of YRUU and C*UUYAN may make the final plenary session especially lively.
In theory, groups of congregations, individual district assemblies, or large groups of individual church members (from at least 25 congregations) can introduce "business resolutions." The Board of Trustees, its executive committee, and the Commission on Appraisal can also introduce business resolutions. But the last business resolution was adopted back in 1998. (The business resolution process is defined in Bylaw Section 4.11, Rule G-4.18.2, Rule G-4.18.3, and Rule G-4.18.4, although there may also be other relevant sections. Alas, I'm not aware of a simplified guide to the process.) Organizing a business resolution probably seems like a time-consuming and complicated way to engage the General Assembly, and I suspect that few congregational leaders can imagine what worthwhile thing they could accomplish by introducing a business resolution.
But if the lengthy, formal, theoretically congregationally-accountable business resolution process hasn't captured people's attention, the do-it-yourself responsive resolution process certainly has. The General Assembly has adopted responsive resolutions every year since 2000 (except 2003) — and the number of resolutions has been going up. There were two in 2005, four in 2006, and six in 2007. At least one has been a rejiggered Action of Immediate Witness that the Commission on Social Witness had turned down. The process is astonishingly straight-forward: A delegate may introduce a resolution "in response to a substantive portion of a report by an officer or committee reporting to a regular General Assembly." A two-thirds vote is required for adoption. (See Bylaw Section 4.16.c.) Voila!
I can't recall any debate on any of the responsive resolutions presented to the General Assembly — nor is it easy to imagine how a debate could emerge. The resolutions aren't (usually) circulated in advance, and unless someone shows up at the Con microphone almost immediately after the resolution is introduced, the delegates vote without further ado. It's the quick and easy way to get the General Assembly to approve something.
This year, some folks are planning their responsive resolutions in advance. Victoria Mitchell and Kimberlee Tomczak are circulating a resolution for district assemblies and for this summer's General Assembly reaffirming the ideal of "youth empowerment" in response to news about changes in the UUA's relationship to the youth organization YRUU and the young adult organization C*UUYAN. (See UU World's coverage of the YRUU story and the C*UUYAN story for background.) The Youth and Young Adult Empowerment Resolution is available on Mitchell and Tomczak's new blog, which also provides some personal background on the matter. (Mitchell writes that Daniel O'Connell encouraged the resolution idea, which is interesting because O'Connell has written about districts submitting General Assembly business resolutions at his UUA Politics blog.)
Because they're planning this resolution in advance, it will be interesting to see how (or whether) different models of youth ministry are discussed at GA — and whether this particular resolution generates meaningful discussion during a plenary session rather than simply a perfunctory vote affirming youth. In many respects, this resolution looks more like a business resolution than a responsive resolution, although its funding and staffing recommendations are fairly general. Will delegates see it as an affirmation of the board and administration's new vision of youth ministry, or will they see it as a rebuke?
Don't go home early this year: We might get a lively debate about how our Association does its work at the very end.
Update 5.6.08: At its April meeting, the UUA Board of Trustees placed the Youth and Young Adult Empowerment Resolution (as revised) on the General Assembly agenda as a business resolution. This means that delegates will get to see it in advance, and increases the likelihood that the resolution will be discussed rather than simply being adopted.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Bill Doherty's cover story in the Spring UU World, "Home Grown Unitarian Universalism," raises lots of provocative ideas. He describes the efforts of a group of UU adults in the Minneapolis/St Paul area to explore Unitarian-Universalist history and theology. What makes the group interesting is their conviction that UU kids grow up without an adequate sense of their own religious heritage in large part because the adults haven't bothered to understand, celebrate, and pass on that heritage. They're trying to bring Unitarian Universalism's heritage into their homes, not just into their churches. One fruit of their Family Chalice Project, which Doherty describes at the end of the article, is an intergenerational, home-based community event called the "Sources Supper" — something like a UU history seder.
From the archives, Barbara Wells ten Hove laments that UUs often describe Unitarian Universalism as a "religion of exiles." She writes: "Too often lifelong Unitarian Universalists are left out of the story of our religion. We are made to feel that if we lack an experience of exile, we are not truly UU."
In the news, Don Skinner reports on UU-sponsored drop-in centers and support groups for gay teens. Jane Greer reports that a small Pennsylvania church is struggling to raise money to clean up an oil spill on their property.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
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