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Monday, May 28, 2007

This week at Liberalizing the graveyard.

Did you know that the transition from frightening skull-emblazoned graveyards to memorial garden cemeteries is related to the rise of Unitarianism in post-Revolutionary War Boston? Kimberly French describes the Unitarian connection to 175-year-old Mount Auburn Cemetery, America's first garden cemetery.

From the archives for this Memorial Day: Last year, Navy chaplain Cynthia Kane offered a tribute to the sailors, soldiers, and marines with whom she serves; back in 2003, Neil Shister wondered how UUs support the troops while opposing the war. (The UUA's Beacon Press, meanwhile, is offering this somber Memorial Day reading list.)

In the news, Don Skinner reports that the UUA is the first national religious body to join the new immigrant sanctuary movement. (Here's the UUA's announcement.) Jane Greer reports that Meadville Lombard has announced a new merit-based scholarship. And Sonja Cohen tracks another week of Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Posted by Philocrites, May 28, 2007, at 10:22 AM | 2 comments

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Gary Dorrien: When imperial powers won't plan their exit.

Peter Steinfels interviews Gary Dorrien, the exceptionally talented theologian, social ethicist, and historian at Columbia and Union Theological Seminary, in today's New York Times about the legacy of Reinhold Niebuhr in contemporary foreign policy debates. This section of the interview isn't directly about Niebuhr, but highlights the disastrous mistake the Bush administration is now making:

We had a precious moment after 9/11. Not since the end of World War II was there such a possibility to move toward a community of nations. If the U.S. had sent NATO and American forces after Al Qaeda and rebuilt Afghanistan while creating new networks of collective security against terrorism, we could be in a very different world than we are in today. Instead, the U.S. took a course of action that caused an explosion of anti-American hostility throughout the world.

Now we are faced only with bad choices. The cross-fire of sectarian war in Iraq is so complex that it defies concise description. Continuing American occupation will fuel it rather than repress it. Jihadi terrorists are thriving in the chaos.

Whenever an occupier refuses to acknowledge the necessity of pulling out, the aftermath is worse. President Bush warns of chaos if we leave. Indeed, if we simply leave, there will be chaos. Leaving chaos behind is what happens when imperial powers refuse to acknowledge their defeat and the necessity of planning an exit that causes the least possible harm.

("Two social ethicists and the national landscape," Peter Steinfels, New York Times 5.26.07)

Posted by Philocrites, May 26, 2007, at 08:49 AM | 1 comments

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tithing, Meadville Lombard's plan, and better websites.

Worth reading on the UU blogs: LT says it's about time Unitarian Universalists started encouraging people to tithe — and recognizing people who tithe more than big donors. Scott Wells and Co. are not especially impressed by Meadville Lombard's "integrated enrollment plan." Mom to the Left says seeing "Jesus Camp" threw cold water on her identification as a UU Christian; PeaceBang responds.

Meanwhile, several bloggers have been dreaming of better tools for congregational websites. Dan Harper wants a team of open-source developers to build and support a customized platform for church websites. Anna Belle Leiserson (whose wonderful blog is entirely dedicated to excellence in church websites) wishes improved congregational website tools were one of the UUA's top programmatic priorities. And Left Coast Unitarian thinks a model technology plan for congregations would help congregations assess their tech needs much more effectively.

Just a fraction of the good, provocative content out on the interdependent Web this week. What else are you reading?

Update: I also meant to call your attention to Phil Lund's perfect response to a news story last week reporting that a Canadian congregation has banned bottled water and posted signs to that effect in its meeting space: "Canadian Unitarians to Enforce Visitor Repulsion Policy." Ouch.

Posted by Philocrites, May 23, 2007, at 11:11 PM | 1 comments

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Announcing the new and improved guide to UU blogs.

Whew. I hadn't updated my Guide to UU blogs since last October, and did it ever need some pruning! I think I remembered to list every blog I've added or dropped, although I haven't gone to the trouble of notating address changes or moves from one category to another. Please note: This is a terrible time of year to try to determine the status of seminarian blogs because a bunch of bloggers are graduating and it isn't clear yet whether the blogs will lapse, be reborn as minister blogs, or take some other turn, so don't be surprised to see that section morph.

The biggest apparent change to the guide is that I've reorganized the sections. There's no longer a "religious professionals" section because there are too few active blogs with that focus. (Some moved into the ministers section; others are now in religious commentary.) I've also bumped religious commentary and spirituality and inspiration higher up in the Guide as a number of wonderful new blogs have spurred new activity in those areas.

You'd think that with 145 blogs I'd have the territory pretty thoroughly mapped, but my guide actually covers only a fraction of the UU blogosphere. UUpdates tracks many more, although some of the blogs listed there have lapsed. I rely on UUpdates as my UU blog aggregator, but have really come to appreciate its My UUpdates feature, which I use to screen out several dozen blogs that hold no interest for me. Keeping up with the "interdependent web" strikes me as increasingly impossible; even now I can read only a handful of posts a day.

The proliferating number of UU blogs makes me think it might soon be incredibly useful to identify networks or "neighborhoods" within the UU blogoshere. A few of these networks have been evident for a few years: The "young turks" in the UU Christian Fellowship, for example, or young adults at the UU Congregation in Atlanta, or seminarians at Meadville Lombard, or exiles from the Beliefnet UU discussion forums. But other networks form almost entirely through blog interaction, like the sizable communities of readers and fellow bloggers that interact with The Happy Feminist or PeaceBang's Beauty Tips for Ministers. Maybe most people really do just follow links from whatever blogs they like, gradually locating a handful of favorites to return to again and again, but maybe they'd also like recommendations. (My guide does give little medallions to the blogs I think are worth checking out first.)

There's also one big back-end improvement that should make future updates a bit easier to manage: I've created a spreadsheet to track the 145 blogs that are currently on the list (plus alternate blogs by you multi-blog authors out there), and am merging that data into an HTML template rather than trying to wade through an HTML list. It's not yet perfect, but I hope it will mean more frequent updates in the future.

As always, I appreciate hearing about blogs that discuss Unitarian Universalism. Feel free to promote them in the comments below or down at the bottom of the comments on the guide itself.

Posted by Philocrites, May 22, 2007, at 07:31 PM | 5 comments

Monday, May 21, 2007

This week at The UU in the lotus.

Rick Heller introduces several Unitarian Universalist Buddhist groups and describes the appeal of UU congregations for Western followers of the Eightfold Path. James Ishmael Ford describes the long history of Unitarian Universalist interest in Buddhism and explains some of the appeal. (Conveniently for conversation, both Rick and James have blogs, if you'd like to chat with them with their articles.)

In the news, Jane Greer reports that the UUA is pressuring Fidelity Investments to divest from two companies whose Sudanese projects are implicated in the genocide in Darfur. Sonja Cohen tracks another week of Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Posted by Philocrites, May 21, 2007, at 07:57 AM | 2 comments

Guide to UU blogs.

This guide is no longer being updated. Please visit the new and improved guide to Unitarian Universalist blogs and promote your UU blog. This guide, begun 1.3.04, was last updated 5.21.07.

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, May 21, 2007, at 07:25 AM | 181 comments

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Uh oh, here come the Unitarians and Universalists!

The email list for the UUA General Assembly, which is usually buzzing with roommate requests and worries about the expense of attending, has taken an interesting turn towards basic questions of polity and religious identity. But not in a good way.

Last weekend, someone posted the transcript of the Anderson Cooper CNN segment on All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington. Surprisingly, the conversation on the list turned immediately not to criticism of the show's odd portrayal of the church as liberal Christian but to its portrayal of the church as Unitarian. Oh, yes: and also to the fact that it's a Unitarian church. Both words, you see, are not up to date. The UUA should make them (and the media) stop using these anachronistic terms.

We are not Unitarians, insisted most of the list participants; we are Unitarian Universalists. And it's insensitive beyond words for congregations to call themselves churches, because that's a Christian word.

Sigh. Here's what I wrote in response:

The consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America in 1961 did not force historically Unitarian or Universalist-identified congregations to adopt a new identity or shed their old one, nor did it rule out the possibility of people identifying with one branch rather than both. (Indeed, many members of our churches don't identify with either!) The merger did create a new, third option, however: "UU" — which many congregations and many individuals have embraced. Meanwhile, some member congregations have never had a "denominational" name at all, like the Society of King's Chapel or The Community Church of Boston.

Although some people see the UUA as "one faith," another equally valid interpretation is that the UUA is a community of autonomous congregations that have covenanted to work together. The first vision is denominational and unified; the second vision is congregational and diversified. Each is a legitimate view.

One can certainly try to persuade people that all Unitarians should be Unitarian Universalists, or that all Universalists really are UUs, or that no UU congregation can legitimately claim to be a "church," but our history and polity make it just as legitimate to argue that we are and should remain a theologically diverse movement.

None of this is to defend media errors when referring to the Unitarian-Universalist movement as a whole. But if a news story is about a local congregation where people tend overwhelmingly to talk about themselves and their congregation's tradition as "Unitarian" or (less often) "Universalist," the reporter should go with the facts they've got.

Posted by Philocrites, May 17, 2007, at 08:21 AM | 12 comments

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Summer issue of UU World now online, in the mail.

UU World cover, Summer 2007The summer issue of the quarterly UU World magazine is arriving in mailboxes starting this week, but you can also browse the issue's contents online. Subscriptions are provided to members of UUA-affiliated congregations as a benefit of membership; others can subscribe for only $14 a year. And, although regular Philocritics may depend on my weekly blog posts about featured stories and news, you can also sign up for the magazine's email newsletter or access its feeds. (For true groupies, there's also the magazine's MySpace and Facebook tribes!)

After you've indulged in all this promotional hoopla, I'd draw your attention to two developments at UU World's weekly online version: I've relaunched the General Assembly blog [feed] as GA approaches. And in my editor's column I introduce the online magazine's new columnists, Doug Muder and Meg Barnhouse, whose regular contributions you'll start to see on the site later this spring.

Posted by Philocrites, May 16, 2007, at 10:04 PM | 0 comments

Update: Boston-area UU bloggers picnic, June 16.

I know, I know, I originally suggested May 19 — this coming Saturday — for the third annual Boston-area UU bloggers picnic, but here's the truth: I can't make it. Not only that, our location fell through. (Besides, have you looked outside today? Do you think we could avoid picnicking in the rain if we went ahead with this Saturday?)

So I've been corresponding with everyone who attended the picnic in the last two years and everyone who let me know they were interested in attending this year, and the best revised date that emerged for this year's picnic is Saturday, June 16. Details about location and times will be forthcoming, but pencil it into your calendars now.

Update 5.17.07: We'll be returning to our customary picnic location, the First Parish in Milton, from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 16. (Check out their fancy new website!) I hope to see many of you there.

Posted by Philocrites, May 16, 2007, at 06:40 PM | 2 comments

Monday, May 14, 2007

This week at Don't be stingy.

John Gibb Millspaugh suggests that it's a kind of stinginess not to let people know about the religious community that means so much to you. He suggests spending a few minutes working not just on an "elevator speech" describing Unitarian Universalism, but on a more personal summary of what makes your congregation meaningful to you. (His essay is from the Summer issue of UU World, which goes in the mail this week; you'll find the complete contents online in a few days.)

In the news, Michelle Deakin reports on the formation of a network of Unitarian Universalist spiritual directors and the rising interest in spiritual direction for UUs. Sonja Cohen rounds up another week's worth of Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Posted by Philocrites, May 14, 2007, at 08:01 AM | 1 comments

An entire week celebrating UU earnestness...

Through mockery! Yes, Chutney has announced a week of snark — and already the UU bloggers are mauling the particularly annoying UU habit of bah-humbugging holidays: Lizard Eater channels the censor and Kinsi rants about the Hallmark Holiday Syndrome. (Say, when will Hallmark make cards for bloggers? "Thanks for the smackdown!" "Wishing your stylesheet a full recovery." "Yr blog is teh bomb." "Friend me, please!")

In other diversions, PeaceBang is bored of online acronyms like LOL. She proposes MMHLIT and GGNC and invites your novel abbreviations. (I will kick myself later for encouraging this.) And Chalicechick explains — and diagrams! — the rules of "Wink," the rowdy game beloved by several generations of youth groups. Find more blog rowdiness via UUpdates.

Posted by Philocrites, May 14, 2007, at 07:51 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, May 10, 2007

More spring photos: Swans return to the Public Garden.

Swans in the Boston Public Garden, by Chris Walton

When I headed over to eat my sandwich in the Public Garden yesterday and took a few pictures of the swans, I didn't realize that the city had only released them back into the park for the season earlier that morning. While you're browsing my pictures, you can also ogle the goslings.

Posted by Philocrites, May 10, 2007, at 06:19 PM | 0 comments

Tagging resources for the UUA General Assembly.

Scott Wells has proposed a very simple, very useful way for bloggers and others to assemble a resource guide to this summer's UUA General Assembly. Whenever you find a web page that is relevant to the General Assembly — from business resolutions and background materials to great sandwich shops near the convention center — tag it at the bookmarking site Use as many tags as you like, as long as you also include uuaga and 2007. (Here's a handy guide to using tags.) Then others can search for pages tagged uuaga+2007 and they'll find it all. In time, the resource list will grow large enough that users will want to try refined searches, like uuaga+2007+restaurants or uuaga+2007+worship. is incredibly easy to use. I have a bookmark in my browser that saves the title and URL of whatever page I'm reading to my account and asks me to add tags and a description. After I've saved it, I'm sent right back to the page I was reading. I've found it so useful, my account has become my most rudimentary blog.

Great idea, Scott!

Posted by Philocrites, May 10, 2007, at 07:37 AM | 1 comments

Monday, May 7, 2007

Carbon credits, for-benefit corporations, and pre-nups.

A few business stories this past weekend caught my attention:

Dan Mitchell's "What's Online" column asks, "How clean is your carbon credit?" (New York Times 5.5.07), and points to this in-depth Financial Times package on carbon trading.

Stephanie Strom's article, "Make money, save the world: Businesses and nonprofits are spawning corporate hybrids" (New York Times 5.6.07), discusses a range of enterprises sometimes called "the fourth sector":

The result is a small but budding practice — what some label the fourth sector — composed of organizations driven by both social purpose and financial promise that fall somewhere between traditional companies and charities. The term "fourth sector" derives from the fact that participants are creating hybrid organizations distinct from those operating in the government, business and nonprofit sectors. But because the types of participants vary widely and much of the activity is nascent, no single name for what is occurring has gained broad use.

"There's a big movement out there that is not yet recognized as a movement," said R. Todd Johnson, a lawyer in San Francisco who is working to create an online wiki to engage in the give and take of information for what he calls "for-benefit corporations," another name for fourth-sector activities.

Consumers, employees, managers and — perhaps most important — investors are driving the phenomenon.

"Young M.B.A. students are not satisfied with going to work for a normal corporation because they are passionate to do good in the world and do it in business," Mr. Johnson said. "People of faith want exactly the same thing, and there is a whole generation of people who've become extraordinarily wealthy as a result of the technological revolution and are now asking themselves if they can create change in the world."

Those desires are reflected in the growth of so-called sustainable enterprise programs at the nation's most prestigious business schools, in the corporate marketing campaigns that emphasize social benefits instead of mere sex appeal, and a blossoming of new investment vehicles like Good Capital, Investors' Circle, Underdog Ventures and the Social Venture Network.

I think it's worth noting in this context that the LDS Church's vast corporate holdings may work exactly this way for the church.

Finally, in a story about a couple trying to decide whether their surprisingly uncomplicated finances are sufficiently in order to get married, a financial advisor proves to me that I do not think like a financial advisor:

And regarding that monstrous prenup, she advises all her clients to have one: "It's better to essentially write your own divorce when you like each other." ("Anxieties surface as couple considers tying the knot," Linda Tucci, Boston Globe 5.6.07)

There's a thought.

Posted by Philocrites, May 7, 2007, at 08:10 AM | 0 comments

This week at Seven Principles playground.

Michelle Deakin writes about a Texas UU congregation's new playground — designed to represent the UUA's Seven Principles and keep kids from playing in a nearby creek. From the archives, Warren Ross described the process that created the Seven Principles; one year ago, Don Skinner reported that the Principles are currently under review by the Commission on Appraisal. (In January 2007 the Commission mailed each congregation a packet to help generate local feedback.)

In the news, Jane Greer reports that the UUA Board of Trustees has asked for a change in how funds for theological education are distributed. As always, Sonja Cohen monitors another week of Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Posted by Philocrites, May 7, 2007, at 07:09 AM | 3 comments

Sunday, May 6, 2007

What's the Unitarian Universalist/Esalen connection?

Reading Diane Johnson's review of Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion reminded me just how big the gap is in my understanding of Unitarian Universalism in the 1970s and early 1980s. Sure, I've heard people speak about "hot tub Unitarianism," and I've always had the impression that when some UUs complain about their religious community's tendency to embrace spiritual fads, they're often talking about the '70s. But I confess that I don't know very much about how UU adults actually lived during that period. Isn't that strange?

I know more about how the denominational structures managed to stay afloat through a tumultuous period. (UUA President Bob West, who was president from 1969 through 1977, has a new memoir out about those years.) And, from Mark Oppenheimer's excellent book on countercultural influences on American religion in the late '60s and early '70s, I learned how the black power movement, early feminism, and the gay liberation movement came to speak a similar language in UU circles. But the whole period — good, bad, and ugly — is still almost wholly foreign to me as an adult convert whose childhood (Mormon in Orem, Utah!) was almost completely impervious to the sixties counterculture. My essential squarehood is revealed.

So this is actually a sincere request for input from UUs of a certain age who may have taken part in "encounter groups" in their congregations, dabbled in the human potential movement, headed off to Esalen or Taos or wherever else things were in alignment, or took part in any other aspect of the period's general sense of religious trippiness. What was it like? What did you learn? How did it affect congregational life at the time?

P.S. My family's closest connection to countercultural religion came in the mid-1980s, when the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers abandoned the Oregon town they had renamed Rajneeshpuram. My mom's large Idaho family, which holds a camping reunion each summer, bought a bunch of the orange tents from the Rajneeshis to house our Mormon throng. From free love to family togetherness!

("Sex, Drugs and Hot Tubs," Diane Johnson, New York Times Book Review 5.6.07, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, May 6, 2007, at 10:30 PM | 5 comments

A bit of springtime photography.

Cambridge Public Library construction, ©2007 by Chris Walton

Yesterday Mrs Philocrites and I were walking past the Cambridge Public Library's fenced-off construction zone — the city is excavating an underground expansion and upgrading the old building — when I happened to catch a glimpse of a bright orange construction vehicle between slats in the fence. I stuck my camera's lens through the fence, took the shot, and then got to see what's on the other side. A very nice mix of oranges and blues, perfect for a bit of website illustration, don't you think?

Yellow blossoms, by Chris WaltonThis past week, most of the flowering trees in Boston and Cambridge seem to have finally bloomed (two weeks later than last year). This thumbnail is from a picture of a tree I especially love. I also paid attention to a tree near Harvard Square that blossomed January 6 during our mid-winter heat wave; it's struggling to look festive now. Happy spring at last, my fellow New Englanders!

Posted by Philocrites, May 6, 2007, at 08:10 PM | 0 comments

Friday, May 4, 2007

How much traffic does your UU blog get?

I'm doing a bit of informal research as I get ready to help lead two General Assembly workshops this year. (I'll hype them soon, but for the advance planners out there, I'm speaking in back-to-back workshops about the Web on Thursday morning, June 21.) I'd love to know what your Unitarian Universalist-related blog's average daily traffic is.

Feel free to email me — especially if you'd prefer not to publicize your traffic; I won't reveal your numbers unless you give me permission — but you could also post a comment here if you don't mind sharing. Please tell me about "daily unique visitors" or "daily visitors," not page views, just so I can compare roughly similar measurements.


Posted by Philocrites, May 4, 2007, at 08:07 AM | 16 comments

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Dine with other bloggers at Portland General Assembly.

It's the second annual General Assembly blogger dinner, hosted by Kit Ketcham of Ms Kitty's Saloon and Roadshow. I'll be announcing some other blogger events soon, but the dinner will undoubtedly be our most festive gathering. Get on the guest list.

Posted by Philocrites, May 3, 2007, at 07:33 AM

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Help me update my Guide to UU blogs.

Okay, it's that time again: My annotated guide to Unitarian Universalist blogs is almost six months out of date, and I need your help updating it. If you have a UU-related blog, please check to see if you're on the list — and if I've listed you properly. Since the last update, seminarians have hatched into ministers; blogs have switched names or URLs; new blogs have burst onto the scene. Other blogs have faded away. Now would be a good time to send me corrections, point out newbies, alert me to broken links and lapsed blogs, and otherwise chime in.

Posted by Philocrites, May 1, 2007, at 05:07 PM | 24 comments

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