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Interdependent Web edited by Heather Christensen; a weekly roundup of blogs about Unitarian Universalism

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 interdependentweb@uua.org.

Ongoing UU reactions to Zimmerman’s acquittal, and more

Last Monday, we published a roundup of early Unitarian Universalist reactions to the acquittal of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who admitted killing an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, in February 2012. Since then, UUs have continued responding to the verdict in a variety of ways.

Several UUs write about conversations with their children about what Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal mean for their children of color, including the Rev. Meg Riley (Huffpost, 7.15.13), the Rev. Dr. Lynn Ungar (Quest for Meaning: A UU Collective, 7.15.13), and MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, who says:

I have experienced the killing of Trayvon Martin, this trial, and this verdict as a political scientist and television host. But I have also felt it, in my gut, as the parent of a black child. (7.15.13)

Kim Hampton writes, “In America, to love a black man means that one walks around with the knowledge that much of the larger society fears them because of who they are.” (East of Midnight, 7.15.13) In a subsequent post, she observes: “The mistake Trayvon made was to walk down the street after dark . . . in a modern-day ‘sundown town.’” (7.16.13)

The Rev. Josh Pawelek writes:

I tremble for my country because we aren’t treating young black men in a way that is consistent with the teachings, the longings, the vision, the commands and the love of that God[, "who expects us to struggle and fight for justice and to not quit"]. (Hartford Faith & Values, 7.15.13)

Pawelek follows up with a proposal: “Imagine a faith-based revolution with love at its center that offers and sustains a radically new message to America’s Black and Brown youth: You matter.” (Hartford Faith & Values, 7.18.13)

The Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, whose earlier published meditation about fearing for her black husband’s safety inspired Kim Hampton’s post, endorses Stevie Wonder’s call for a boycott of Florida. (Rev. Rose, 7.16.13)

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Landrum writes about “stand-your-ground” laws while urging activists to oppose Michigan’s version of the law:

What we’ve basically been slowly instituting in this country is a system of shoot first and ask questions later; a system of bring a gun to a fist fight; and a system where guilt and innocence is decided by who is the fastest, quickest draw. . . . In this system, the innocent person is the one with the gun. The innocent person is the last person standing. (Rev. Cyn, 7.16.13)

The Rev. Jude Geiger writes, “As a white man, I can walk in circles foolishly arguing whether race is a factor for hate and harm in our country, or I can simply pay attention to the world around me.” (HuffPost, 7.17.13)

Will Shetterly takes a class-based look at stand-your-ground laws:

So long as the US’s class system is racially disproportionate, teasing out what’s racism and what’s class-prejudice is difficult, but what’s clear is that stand-your-ground laws favor property owners. (It’s All One Thing, 7.18.13)

The Rev. Tom Schade traces “white privilege” to specific features of the slave economy:

White privilege is not simply that white people were given privileges and benefits that black people were not. It stems also from a system in white people were given authority over black people. (thelivelytradition, 7.17.13)

Massmarrier brainstorms grounds for federal challenges to state stand-your-ground laws. (Marry in Massachusetts, 7.17.13)

The Rev. James Ford reflects on the “casual bigotry which I see [as] the worm at the heart of our culture” (Monkey Mind, 7.15.13).

Peter Bowden follows up on his earlier post about congregations that didn’t address the verdict the next morning in their worship services.

I’m feeling like this is more of a social media lesson than anything else. Those who are active via social media have the tools to better gauge in real time when national/[world] events require an immediate pastoral response. (UU Planet, 7.16.13)

On her Facebook page the Sunday afternoon after the verdict, former UUA Moderator Gini Courter criticized the UUA staff for not publishing responses yet:

Our national silence at this time is another symptom of our institutional disengagement. If we are to be a worthy religious voice for all of our people, we must be able to authentically embrace and address a much wider range of joys, sorrows, failure, pain, and possibility. (Facebook, 7.14.13)

In our first round up of UU responses, we pointed to UUA President Peter Morales’s statement early Monday afternoon. Others followed quickly. In an “open letter to white people,” the Rev. Dr. Monica Cummings, the UUA’s program associate for ministry to youth and young adults of color, writes:

If you’re someone who has avoided thinking about white privilege—the unearned advantages that white people benefit from because of how institutions are set up and how history has unfolded—now is a great time to unstick your head from the sand. If Trayvon Martin had been white, he’d still be alive. (Living Mosaic, 7.15.13)

Tacquiena Boston, UUA director of Multicultural Growth and Witness, writes on the Standing on the Side of Love blog:

Trayvon Martin wasn’t just a victim of a trigger-happy George Zimmerman. Trayvon was a victim of Florida’s bad laws. He was a victim of a society that criminalizes dark skin, criminalizes poverty, and criminalizes youth. (Standing on the Side of Love, 7.15.13)

The Rev. Tom Schade thinks about the differences between ministers’ reactions on social media and the kind of statements religious leaders make in sermons and press releases, and asks:

If you want to know what a UU minister really thinks and feels about an important event, would it make more sense to follow them on Twitter, or come to church on Sunday morning? (thelivelytradition, 7.19.13)

Other conversations

Jason Pitzl-Waters unpacks a Public Religion Research Institute study that shows that the number of religious progressives is rising as the number of religious conservatives is falling. (The Wild Hunt, 7.18.13)

The Rev. Chip Roush reflects on the meaning of a scene in the new movie Frances Ha that takes place in a Unitarian Universalist church. “I couldn’t help but feel that the writers included a scene in a UU congregation to help the viewers understand how bohemian and not-completely-developed Frances is. Her extended adolescence is directly comparable to the un-serious reputation of her faith tradition.” (So May We Be, 7.16.13)

The Rev. Sean Parker Dennison explains how the artist Amanda Palmer has “reinvigorated—resurrected, really—my passion for ministry and my vision of what liberal religious community can be.” (ministrare, 7.18.13)

The Rev. Scott Wells is annoyed that the latest Commission on Appraisal report isn’t available as a free PDF, but is instead available as a $10 ebook. (Boy in the Bands, 7.16.13)

‘It all must change’: early UU responses to verdict in Trayvon Martin murder case

Saturday night’s not-guilty verdict in the murder case against George Zimmerman, who fired the shot that killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012, provoked prayers, reflections, and expressions of outrage from Unitarian Universalists. A few of the early reactions published on public sites (many more were published semi-publically on Facebook):

The Rev. Meg Riley, minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, posted a prayer “for those whose hearts are on fire,” which included this line: “May I live my life so that Trayvon Martin did not die in vain.” (Quest for Meaning, 7.13.13)

The Rev. Jeff Liebmann wrote Sunday morning: “I mourn for the family of Trayvon Martin. I mourn for every person of color who feels even less safe now than they did yesterday. I mourn for us all as a society when we care more about unfettered gun possession than we do the sanctity of life.” (uujeff’s muse kennel and pizzatorium, 7.14.13)

Seminarian Karen G. Johnston offered a prayer “for peaceful and loud persistence” (irrevspeckay, 7.15.13).

The Rev. Gary Kowalski reflects on way racism has historically corrupted the jury trial system in the U.S. “But blacks and whites have such different experiences regarding the law, the police, the veracity of sworn testimony and the reliability of the criminal justice system that ‘peerage’ (or an equivalence of attitude) is almost impossible between them.” (Revolutionary Spirits, 7.14.13)

The Rev. Colin Bossen added a reflection and a prayer to the sermon he had already prepared. “We know that what happened to Trayvon Martin happens to hundreds of black men in this country every year. This is true even if we remember but a handful of their names—Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant. . . . And we know that for this to change everything must change: the judiciary; the police; the enduring structures of white supremacy; the way we relate, as individuals and as a society, to guns and violence; what we hold in our hearts. It all must change.” (Colin Bossen, 7.14.13)

The Rev. Sam Trumbore observed, “When black men stand their ground, they overwhelmingly go to jail When white men stand their ground, they get reasonable doubt.” But, he added, “Many more people know of the racial profiling that happens every day than before February of 2012.” (TimesUnion.com, 7.14.13)

But Peter Bowden expressed frustration that many UU congregations inadequately addressed Saturday night’s verdict in their Sunday worship services. “If you are going to open your doors for worship, you have responsibilities. This includes creating space for ministering to people through your worship service in the wake of major national/world events. You have a very real responsibility to check the news.” (UU Planet, 7.14.13)

[Update 1:20 p.m.:] UUA President Peter Morales issued a statement Monday afternoon: “The legal system has had its say, but justice has not been served. . . . We must respond to our society’s violence, hatred, and fear with compassion and justice.” (UUA.org, 7.15.13)

Blog roundup: UUA layoffs, digital natives, and Hot Stove ’10

Layoffs and advocacy at the UUA

Several bloggers responded to UU World‘s coverage of layoffs at the Unitarian Universalist Association and to UUA President Peter Morales’s March 8 letter about staff changes.

The Rev. Scott Wells, in a much-commented-on post, says he has “no sympathy” for people who see good news in the layoffs of the staff of the UUA’s Washington Office for Advocacy. Many of the comments discuss the state of UU church-planting. (“Boy in the Bands,” March 6; see also “Possible Next Steps after the UUA Staff Cuts,” March 10)

Joel Monka, however, has long favored eliminating the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy:

My primary complaint is that the UUAWO, and our other social justice organizations, for that matter, often do not take their stands strictly on principle but on political expediency. . . . But my objections to the UUAWO go beyond the fact that they make us appear to be not an independent church, but merely the Democratic Party’s chaplain office. . . . [O]ur efforts are so ineffectual as to be a waste of resources. There’s no reason to believe that our efforts have ever changed a single vote in Congress. (“CUUMBAYA,” March 7)

The Rev. Kit Ketcham is sad about the staff changes and wants to know more. In the process, she starts off a spirited discussion thread (now closed). (“Ms. Kitty’s Saloon and Road Show,” March 8)

Kim Hampton criticized the view that “advocacy is at the core of Unitarian Universalism” in response to discussions of the staff reorganization on the UUA-GA email list:

If advocacy is at the core of UUism…we’re a dead religious movement walking.

I hear you asking…Kim…if advocacy isn’t at the core of UUism…what should be? Well friends…let’s try something new for UUism…how about RELIGION being at the core of UUism? How about the exploration of the sacred/mystery being at the core? (“East of Midnight,” March 9)

Jacqueline Wolven dislikes Kim Hampton’s prescription—and criticizes UUA President Peter Morales at the same time:

Be more religious. Get more religion. Aren’t we a religion? Ugh. I was so exhausted after just reading the UUA Presidents column in the UU World this month that I couldn’t even continue. (“MoxieLife,” March 10)

Desmond Ravenstone writes: “At the end of the day, however, I believe the real question is what we mean by ‘advocacy.’ Is it just lobbying for Federal legislation, or are there other ways we can bend the moral arc of the universe?” He points to several ways his Boston congregation engages in public witness and advocacy. (“Ravenstone’s Reflections,” March 9)

People have also been discussing the layoffs and organizational restructuring at the UUA’s Election-L email list (about UUA governance), on UU World’s Facebook page, and on the UUA’s Facebook page.

‘Journalism from the readers up’

Former UU World editor Tom Stites spoke at the We Media conference in Miami on March 10 about “relational journalism” and the Banyan Project, the journalism initiative he has been leading since his retirement from UU World. Josh Wilson profiled Stites and his project on the We Media website (3.9.10). The Miami Herald quoted from his speech: “This is journalism from the readers up, not from the institutions and the experts down. We better respond to the challenge . . . or we can just pucker up and kiss democracy goodbye” (3.11.10).

Liberal religion’s ‘diversity problem’

At Tikkun magazine’s website, UU columnist Dave Belden drew many comments with his reflections on the cover stories in the Spring UU World about multiculturalism and liberal religion.

I am one of those UUs who long for more emotional expression, more recognition of suffering and evocation of joy, more moving music and inspiration in UU services. But not every UU I know agrees with me. If they would find a more expressive style alienating, then why should they do it? If the traditional style is a good place for their true spirituality to flourish, then it will show, love will be present, and people will feel it. (“Tikkun Daily,” March 12)

PolityWonk looks at several films about African American experiences:

These films suggest that UUs are so white not because of anything we do — so much of which I saw these various protagonists doing as well — from going to college to chanting Buddhism and even looking to pagan roots — but because we prefer examination to embrace. No total immersion for us, we’re not even dippers. We sip and write reveiws. We sip and reach for mirrors to see if we somehow look different. (“PolityWonk,” March 14)

Seminarian and military chaplain candidate David Pyle describes his own experience of distancing himself from his parents’ religion in a post on “religions of differentiation”:

I am not disturbed by the trend in our Unitarian Universalist congregations of our teens leaving to practice other faiths, or to join the military, or to declare themselves secular. When you are raised in a faith tradition that allows for the creative exploration and building of a sense of self, differentiation can be difficult to find. Of course they have to step away from Unitarian Universalism for a time. (“Celestial Lands,” March 13)

ChaliceChick looks at another cultural divide as it plays out in UU congregations—the divide between so-called “digital natives” (younger Americans who grew up using computers and the Web) and “digital immigrants” (who grew up without the technologies but have learned to use them).

I think the challenges as far as UUism is concerned are specifically interesting because the contrast seems especially dramatic with UUs given that we talk a lot about freedom. For example, board members often like to be conservative about things like information, yet Digital Natives tend to view information, and lots of it, as crucial to the functioning of the Democratic principles that UUism preaches.

Do you see this issue as one your church is facing? How are y’all dealing with it? How should we approach it as a denomination? Will ignoring it be one more thing that convinces people my age and younger that UUism (or protestantism or Catholicism or Judaism) has nothing for them except RE?

Or is this a totally false dichotomy and am I worried over nothing? (“The Chaliceblog,” March 14; see also Kinsi at “Spirituality and Sunflowers,” March 12)

Nicholas Axam, at “UK Spirituality,” observes that “since 9/11 religion has been the new rock and roll and no, not in a good way,” which leads him to wonder how Unitarianism fits in:

So if religion is the new rock and roll, Unitarianism to me is the new Indi. It’s unconventional, sometimes quirky; it’s not afraid to say the unsayable, think outside the box. It doesn’t yell rock and roll, whoop and wave its shirt about in the air. It’s the skinny, dark-eyed kid in the corner at parties who actually has something interesting to say, the kid who’s going to leave town someday and amount to something. Not yet though – it’s wedged against the wall with a few oddball friends, largely overlooked.

But I know who I’d rather hang out with. (March 13; click “more” to read the full post)

Unitarianism is ‘indi’ now, was Christian then

The Rev. Andy Pakula, a Unitarian minister in Great Britain, writes about Scientologists and other religious evangelists who offer their versions of salvation in the public square. “Perhaps what bothers me most about these tactics is that I’m not using them and that I’m not willing to use them.” (“Throw Yourself Like Seed,” March 15)

At “American Creation,” a blog about religion and the American Revolution, Brad Hart highlights ways that 19th-century Unitarians were more “Christian” than people today might guess. He shares the story of how a Unitarian minister, John Sullivan Dwight, translated and popularized the Christmas carol “O Holy Night.” The comments numbered 67 the last time we checked. (March 8; see also UU World‘s article about another Unitarian Christmas carol, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” Nov./Dec. 2002.)

Maine novelist and DownEast.com columnist Richard Grant writes about his neighbor, UU minister and writer Kate Braestrup, in a post about progressive religion. “Remember love? It was big for a while, back in the 60s. You heard a lot about it in the same context as other, now-passé notions like peace, brotherhood, and charity for the poor.” (March 8)

The Rev. Ron Robinson offers a summary of the innovative community ministry he leads in Turley, Okla., at A Third Place Community Center. (“Planting God Communities,” March 10; see also “Church Founders Thrive on Different Challenges,” InterConnections July 2008)

Criticism, conflict, and more

The Rev. Dr. Marilyn Sewell decries the Vatican’s defense of Pope Benedict XVI’s role, as archbishop of Munich and Friesing in the 1980s, in covering up sexual abuse of Roman Catholic priests in his archdiocese. “This is an old, old story–it’s called ‘passing the buck.’” (March 13)

Jacqueline Wolven wonders why we are so quick to criticize others: “There is no right way to sweep a sidewalk. Be grateful, or get out there and help. Don’t stand on the side giving your 2 cents.” (“MoxieLife,” March 6)

The Rev. Kit Ketcham helped organize a workshop on nonviolent communication:

One of the most helpful thoughts that I use to deal with those who frustrate or annoy me is to ask myself “under what circumstances might I behave the same way?” I don’t know why, always, the person is so annoying, but if I can frame it in a personal way, it helps me get to a place of understanding and, hopefully, compassion. And that’s the point of NVC—getting to compassion. (“Miss Kity’s Saloon and Road Show,” March 7)

This season’s ministerial settlements

The Rev. Dan Harper hails the arrival of this year’s “hot stove” conversation—the discussion of which clergy candidates have been named for open ministerial positions (“Yet Another Unitarian Universalist,” March 14). The Rev. Hank Peirce has set up a “Hot Stove Report” page on Facebook; here’s the list of open positions.

Kenneth Sutton contributed to this week’s roundup.