A weekly roundup of blogs and other user-generated web content about Unitarian Universalism, collected by uuworld.org. Find more UU blogs at UUpdates. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Living with vulnerability
Rebecca Hecking’s forty-seventh birthday brings reflections about mortality.
Mortality is our companion on the human journey, whether we acknowledge it or not. . . Lately, I turn and nod. Mortality smiles gently back at me. We see each other. We are not yet well acquainted, but I expect we will be in due time. She has become a companion, this goddess of the finite. And I’m finding that instead of fearing her, I rather like her. She keeps me grounded. She nudges me in the direction of being mindful. She points to the night sky, to billions of unknowable galaxies stretching back countless eons, and keeps me in my place. (Breath and Water, May 16)
John Beckett writes about loving Nature during tornado season in Texas.
Nature is beautiful and terrible, creative and destructive. We are a part of Nature, but only a part: not the center and not the head. When we learn to see things as they are, we can develop a deep connection with Nature and a love for Nature, even as we mourn the losses caused by Nature. (Under the Ancient Oaks, May 16)
Terri Pahucki affirms the underlying trust that upholds us in the uncertainty of life.
Life whispers—I cannot give you promises that you will not die. I cannot give you promises that you will succeed. I cannot give you promises that there will not be pain. But I do know—yes, I know this rose will open. Get closer, and let your fears burn away by the quiet fire. Get closer, and listen, Life cries—touch me. Touch me and let your soul unfurl its wings. (Walking the Journey, May 15)
Losing ourselves, gaining ourselves
The Rev. Tom Schade invites Unitarian Universalists to see our “peculiar history” as a path toward increasing universality.
The present generation of Unitarian Universalists are anxious and full of self-doubt. They live in a world where they think that it 5% or 10% growth in our tiny numbers would be astonishing. They think that only those who understand their very peculiar historical path would be willing to join them.
What they don’t realize is that their very peculiar history has been a process of shedding everything that stands in the way of their universality. They now stand naked, shorn of dogma, shedding their ethnicity and class, clothed only in their willingness to be open, to be reverent, to be in solidarity with others, to embrace the limits of their knowledge, to hold to their own self-possession. (The Lively Tradition, May 15)
For the Rev. Dr. David Breeden, the day when marriage equality became the law in Minnesota was “a bad day for creeds,” and a good day for the living, ever-evolving revelation of Thoreau and Emerson.
A bad day for creeds;
a bad day for stares;
a bad day for blind
obedience to blundering
oracles, as Henry put
it long ago. A bad day
for obedience. . . .
A good day to speak
of Henry and Ralph
into revelation, to
you, on and on, a good
day to write ourselves. (Way of Oneness, May 16)
Walter Clark makes an extended metaphor from the skin-shedding “blue period” of his daughter’s corn snake, whose eyes are clouded and colors muted during the process.
When we think of change, we often think about our “blue period” where we will be itchy and our vision will be clouded. We may think that hibernation is a better option than change, to just sit still and let everything grow around us. We cannot grow without changing in some way, and we are always growing. Like Butterscotch, change can be difficult to adapt to, but without it, our colors will always be a little gray. (Lack of a Clever Title, May 11)
Jessica Ferguson creates a graphic from the words of the Rev. Jim Robinson: ”Being part of a Unitarian Universalist community means being on an adventure of discovery.” (UU Media Collaborative Works, May 14)
Practicing good manners
The Rev. Lynn Ungar writes about the importance of consent in negotiating boundaries between ourselves and our neighbors.
Civility presumes a) that you understand that you are not the center of the universe, which means that other people have needs and desires that are different than your own and b) that you can find out people’s needs and desires by asking. Really, does that seem so very difficult?
. . . . We human beings are a community. We belong with one another. But we do not belong to one another, and the sooner we start acting like it, the better. (Quest for Meaning, May 15)
Thalassa shares her list of “Interfaith Etiquette” guidelines, including a “netiquette” version geared toward blog posting and commenting.
Disagreement is not a statement of unworthiness of another, or superiority of one’s self. . . . But maybe we need to learn to disagree with one another better. This is where manners come into the picture. I don’t think that having manners means leaving disagreement behind. In all actuality, I think that part of having manners is being respectfully honest. (Musings of a Kitchen Witch, May 15)
Questioning ‘beloved community’
The Rev. Christine Robinson questions a too-glib use of the term “beloved community.”
This bit of jargon might be best used only with church leaders who can appreciate its history and unpack its meaning. Less committed folks might feel like they are being sucked into something more than they bargain for or, alternatively, may discover that the church actually can’t promise them the level of help and intimacy which is implied by that term, “beloved.” (iMinister, May 12)
June Herold wonders if “beloved community” is aspirational, particularly considering the challenge of living in right relationship.
The way congregants treat each other and ministers, and vice versa, is often way out of line. The way the UUA and congregations relate to one another at times appears disingenuous, if not in direct conflict. . . . Meanwhile, many congregations can feel like community centers and not houses of faith tied together by a denominational identity, despite the UUA’s best efforts to bring us all together. (The New UU, May 16)
Snubbed by an usher at a bricks-and-mortar UU congregation, and welcomed by friends in an online worship service, Sean Neil-Barron writes about the differences between the two experiences.
I found God more in a Hangout than in flesh and blood church last week. I found more connection from singing awkwardly in my living room than singing with hundreds of fellow UUs in a historic church. I found more relief from seeing my friends’ faces than listening to a great sermon in a community that seemed to pass me by.
Church is more than community. It’s more than a message. It’s more than a welcome. It’s more than just living out your values together. But when one of these things isn’t there, no matter how good the rest of it is, I know I won’t be staying. (Spark Within, May 12)
Advocacy and celebration
Talking with a stranger on a flight out of Orlando, Diane Daniel reveals that she is partnered with a woman, but stays in the closet about the fact that her wife used to be her husband.
I was digging myself deeper and deeper, all the while telling him how I felt like living an authentic life was important, and the more people could “come out” the better. . . . While I was “coming out,” I was also “staying in.”
. . . . So, who knows, maybe our exchange will help make a closeted lesbian’s life a little better and further the push toward gay marriage. I certainly didn’t help the transgender cause one little bit. Maybe next time? I’ll see how I feel. (She Was the Man of My Dreams, May 16)
The Rev. Meg Riley shares why Minnesota’s marriage equality victory is so sweet for her.
The self-righteous, narrow-minded, divisive thinking that led Republicans to put constitutional bans on same sex marriage into constitutions in 30 prior states—shamelessly hurting families as a Get Out The Vote strategy—backfired spectacularly in Minnesota. . . .
By the end of the Vote No campaign, 27,000 people had talked with people they knew and loved, barely knew, or didn’t know at all about marriage, love, commitment, and what kind of state we want Minnesota to be. Conversations were civil, respectful, dialogues, not name-calling or rejection. (HuffPost Religion, May 15)
Conversation continued this week about the proposed consultant who will help the Board and Administration find common ground.
The Rev. Tom Schade suggests that we have been shame-obsessed for too long, always asking ourselves the unhelpful question, “What’s wrong with us?”
Our shame is so great that we split it into two different emotions. One is grandiosity. Officially, we believe that Unitarian Universalism is the bestest, coolest, most wonderful religion possible in the whole wide world. . . . The other piece of our coping strategy is project the shame onto some other group of UU’s, whom we blame for what’s wrong with us. . . .
The question that ought to be foremost in our thinking is this: what can we do to nurture and develop open-hearted, reverent, fair-minded, self-possessed, generous and grateful people. (The Lively Tradition, May 3)
The Rev. Christine Robinson, senior minister of the thriving First Unitarian of Albuquerque, writes about the difficulty of planning and budgeting for growth, and the imperative to move beyond conflict.
Budgeting for vitality and growth is a matter of guesses, hopes, and projections. Strategic planning is a matter of courageous guessing, not of reassuring a skeptical boss who wants guarantees of outcomes.
I do know one thing about growth and vitality, however, which has nothing to do with reports and budgets, and that is that growth and vitality do not co-exist with the kind of conflict that the board and administration have engaged in over the past four years. . . . We live in a cultural era unfavorable to the health and vitality of religious institutions, which are shrinking, threatened, and dying all around us. This is no small matter and we are so tiny that we can not afford to waste our time on conflict. (iMinister, May 6)
UUA Trustee Linda Laskowski clarifies the consultant’s purpose.
This is not about “marriage counseling” or “a consultant to work out their relationship”; it is about a nuanced and complex set of skills needed to “measure the unmeasurable.”
. . . . How willing are you to continue to invest in an organization whose mission has lofty goals, but can’t tell you if we are making progress towards them? I do not think this is easy, nor do I think it is impossible. (UUA View from Berkeley, May 5)
The Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern wonders how we might measure maturational growth, rather than numerical growth.
What if we randomly sampled a group of members each year and asked them some questions that would reveal the maturity of their spiritual lives? Or followed several over the course of several years, in a longitudinal survey? What questions might we ask? (Sermons in Stones, May 3)
Kari Kopnick writes that one of the most important tasks for UU congregations is taking care of their non-clergy workers—particularly their religious educators.
I know there’s a fuss about metrics and growth and mission and vision and leadership in the big picture UU stuff right now. I don’t know what to do about that, either. But we could remember that these are people who do the work, and people who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. . . .
Pay a living wage, give time off, support professional development. And hey all you big-wigs, remember that ministers and metrics and end statements are not the only reason churches and institutions thrive or fail. Start with people, end with people and take care of the people in between. It’s not the big answer, but it’s a place to start. (Chalice Spark, May 9)
Tim Atkins proposes a UU “center for innovation” that promotes skill-sharing and skill-building.
We as a faith need a place where innovators can go and get nurtured. To learn and get those skills they need. To meet and network with other innovators, to share struggles and strategies and victories. Whether they be ordained or lay. (Tim Atkins, May 9)
The Rev. Sean Dennison quotes Tim Atkins in this image from the UU Media Collaborative.
After working hard to defeat last year’s anti-equality amendment in Minnesota, the Rev. Meg Riley is delighted that marriage equality seems to be moving through the state’s legislature with ease.
The thing is, if the Traditional Marriage zealots hadn’t pushed that awful ballot initiative at us, I don’t think we’d be doing this. But all of that grassroots organizing morphed seamlessly into a fight for marriage equality we’d never thought we could win. . . . So today I’ll be walking around the Minnesota House and the State Capitol with a big grin on my face, talking to people about when, where and how they plan to get married. (HuffPost Religion, May 9)
“Marry in Massachusetts” notes, with some surprise, that marriage equality seems to have passed a tipping point.
I thought getting this far would take another decade or two. Once I saw that my boomer generation was little better than our parents on gay rights, I feared for the nation until most of us from both groups had died. I, fortunately, was wrong. America is tired of the irrational and emotional crap and its distractions. (Marry in Massachusetts, May 9)
A resting place
Several UU bloggers weighed in on the issue of a burial place for Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
For the Rev. Gary Kowalski, who currently serves as interim minister at the First Unitarian Church of Worcester, providing a proper burial is a mark of a civilized society.
Whether you consider him a heinous murderer, a misguided soul, a terrorist, or all of the above, he was also a human being: not an animal, an object or a piece of refuse. I have zero tolerance for his cause and condemn his actions, even as I grieve his victims and sympathize with the families of those who were killed or injured by his crimes.
But this is one of those decision points that reveals our own character as a people. Are we brutes, or are we members of a civilized nation?
Only the residents of Worcester can decide. (Revolutionary Spirits, May 6)
The Rev. Fred Hammond draws on our Universalist heritage.
[Providing] a burial site for Tsarnaev is a very strong proclamation of the Love that loves us all, in spite of his sins, in spite of all the hatred he spewed in his acts of violence. He is still that little baby boy that his mother held close to her breasts when he was born. He is still that laughing child on his father’s knee. He is still that child of god. And the god that loves unconditionally, our Universalist forebears taught, welcomes him home. (A Unitarian Universalist Minister in the South, May 8)
The Rev. Tony Lorenzen thinks that a Unitarian Universalist congregation should provide a burial place for Tsarnaev.
An offer to bury Tsarnaev calls our community to be its best self. We call people away from trying to punish his family, his uncle, his undertaker, or anyone else who is of and by necessity involved in the process. When we continue to rant and rave about how such a monster as Tsarnaev doesn’t deserve to have his remains put in the ground and forgotten . . . we also continue to give a murderous criminal more press than he deserves . . . . (Sunflower Chalice, May 7)
Celebrating Mother’s Day
The Rev. Lynn Ungar offers a virtual bouquet to all who do the work of mothering, no matter their gender or biological relation to their children.
I hope that sometime between now and Mother’s Day you get a quiet moment to remember the real gifts that you’ve gotten throughout the year: not only the hugs and the smiles and the sweet snuggling at bedtime, but also the moments when your child has trusted you enough to cry on your shoulder, the times when you genuinely laughed at your child’s joke or they laughed at yours, the flash of insight when you were able to see the world through their eyes. Truly, motherhood is the toughest job you’ll ever love. On a good day. (Quest for Meaning, May 8)
Sara Lewis reminds us that Mother’s Day began with Unitarian Julia Howe’s work for peace.
[As] Unitarian Universalists, we can lay claim to a tradition of seeing Mother’s Day as a day to call for peace. Yes, we still honor our own mothers, but if we expand that expression of love and caring to our global human family, if we recognize this as a day for honoring human relatedness and recognizing that peace is the only way to live if we are honoring that relatedness, then we have a holiday that is much more transformative and challenging. It is a truly religious holiday in this sense, calling us to reflect on that which binds us all together and seek to create a Beloved Community on earth. (The Children’s Chalice, May 9)
Beginning with an image created by Micah Bazant, Laura Evonne Steinman links Mother’s Day with the second UU principle of justice, equity and compassion; she writes, “To this day, many women are chained down while in labor giving birth in prison. Let us pray and work towards justice for all this Mama’s Day and always.”
The $100,000 question
Much of the heat in this week’s UU conversation online came in reaction to news of the UUA Board’s proposal to budget $100,000 to help the board and administration move past their disagreements.
The Rev. Tom Schade wrote a series of posts, beginning with the questions “How are we to evaluate the performance as Moderator of Gini Courter?” and “How do we apply the lessons of her tenure to the choice between Jim Key and Tamara Payne-Alex to succeed her?”
Gini Courter has been an extraordinarily ambitious Moderator, attempting to make the UUA Board the real leadership of the Association. By establishing Policy Governance, her plan was that the Board would begin to evaluate the work of the Administration and Staff, holding it accountable for effective work toward the goals of the Association. . . .
Behind the plan was an analysis that the problems of Unitarian Universalist drift was the a problem of governance: the people who worked for us were largely self-directed and unaccountable, even though they were talented and committed people. (The Lively Tradition, May 1)
For Kimberly Hampton, spending $100,000 on a “marriage counselor” makes no sense in a time of staffing and program cuts.
Let me see if I have this straight. There isn’t enough money to keep some really valuable employees. There isn’t enough money to keep the MFC and RSCCs from having backlogs. There isn’t enough money to do some real church planting. But there is enough money to hire a marriage counselor. (East of Midnight, April 30)
The Rev. Scott Wells writes that “the UUA acts like the kind of legacy organization or corporation that persons my age and younger than I mock.”
It’s impossible to think anyone not on the Board would have the time or stamina to be able to follow the process, and its product looks more like generating more process than say, new congregations, building loans, print or online publications, a new hymnal, religion education materials . . . .
Performance metrics, however well-loved in the nonprofit sector today, can lead staff to “work to the test” and (at their worst) can become a kind of performance art which steer the work of the Association staff away from practical work. (Boy in the Bands, April 29)
Tim Atkins doesn’t want “governance by platitudes.”
[When] I look at the UUA I don’t see a lot of concrete stuff coming out, especially from President Morales. I hear platitudes. I see people talking about how exciting and revolutionary those platitudes are, but I rarely see concrete action beyond a blog post. And I am all for “monitoring” with clear definitions/job roles/etc. because as someone who does contribute to the UUA I do want to know that the money is making an impact. (Tim Atkins, May 3)
The Rev. Sarah Stewart provides a board member’s perspective on the issues at hand.
Unitarian Universalists should not let any of us, the administration or the board, off the hook for accomplishing our ends, including the end of growth. Our faith can serve more people. It can thrive in the 21st century. We believe so; the administration believes so; our congregations and their leaders believe so. Demand this task of us, your leaders. It is what you elected us to do. (Stereoscope, May 2)
Finally, UUA President Peter Morales and Moderator Gini Courter have responded to questions about the board meeting in letters sent to the UU Ministers Association chat list and published with their permission on Tom Schade’s blog. (May 3)
The pivot toward equality
Responding to veteran NBA center Jason Collins coming out as gay, Andrew Mackay asks, “What is equality really about?”
Society is slowly pivoting to gays being part of the norm rather than an error, an aberration. . . . What is Collins’ action part of? The idea that gay people are woven into the fabric of this nation. . . . When he came out two days ago it was national news. Part of the goal is that one day an athlete will come out, and it’s not a media spectacle. It’s just someone living their life. (Unspoken Politics, April 30)
The Rev. Debra Haffner responds to suggestions that Jason Collins is not a Christian because he is gay.
When NBA player Jason Collins came out as gay, he noted “My parents instilled Christian values in me. They taught Sunday school, and I enjoyed lending a hand. I take the teachings of Jesus seriously, particularly the ones that touch on tolerance and understanding.”
After years of hiding who he was, this courageous basketball player needs our support. (Sexuality and Religion, May 2)
Seekers of meaning
UU World managing editor Kenneth Sutton invites us to “revel in the actual,” as he shares experiences from his recent sabbatical.
What a downer! Look at the real world and you die! Yes, exactly. Look at the real world, and the illusions and confusions of your life will, if you are lucky, die. (Refreshment in a Pint Glass, April 30)
After a weekend singing Sacred Harp music, the Rev. Dan Harper reflects on what it could teach Unitarian Universalism.
I still love my Unitarian Universalist church; Sacred Harp singing would not be an adequate substitute for what I get out of my religious community. But I can still wish the Unitarian Universalism would embrace the DIY ethos, welcome ecstasy and transcendence, include younger people, and sing better. (Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, May 2)
The Rev. Dr. David Breedon remembers trying to talk with his parents about the philosophy of Spinoza.
On that day driving along the New Madrid Fault, I realized that Spinoza could not speak to my parents. And I discovered something else: I had the power to destroy the faith of poor, oppressed people such as my parents who had nothing else to fall back on. I stopped the argument when I was eighteen, and I have never argued religion again.
The chance to think abstractly, to pursue truth wherever it leads, is a powerful gift. A privilege. As with all power and privilege, it must be used responsibly and humbly. (Quest for Meaning, May 2)
Christine Organ remembers the Sundays of her childhood, and recommits to a regular day of rest.
As a kid, there was no mistaking when Sunday rolled around. Sunday was so clearly different than any other day. . . . The day moved on a special schedule, with a cadence and rhythm all its own.The day was slower, quieter, calmer. The day was sacred. (Christine Organ, May 1)
John Beckett considers the relationship between truth and meaning.
My search for truth and meaning has led me to Nature. . . . Along the way I’ve found bits and pieces of truth. I’ve found meaning so strong that when I’m caught up in it I have no doubt it’s true. I order my life as though it’s true.
But I still recognize that meaning is not truth. If I find evidence my beliefs are false and my practices are unhelpful, or that something else is better, I’ll change what I believe and what I do. (Under the Ancient Oaks, April 30)