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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.

People to bring the casseroles, lessons in grief, and more

People to bring the casseroles

The Rev. Sharon Wylie has hard truths to tell the “spiritual but not religious” crowd.

Nobody wants a minister
Until
Suddenly they do.
And nobody wants a church
Until
A loved one is dying or dead and
Suddenly
It would be nice to have someone give the eulogy
And people to bring the casseroles
And friends to sit and cry with. (Ministry in Steel Toe Shoes, October 29)

Safe congregations

The Rev. Sarah Stewart publishes a sermon about the complex issues involved in creating safe congregations, and concludes:

Our work as a human community is simply to love one another, to do no harm to our neighbor, but to create the place where true honesty and relationship to the holy may be sought. It’s our job to be good neighbors and to create a neighborly and loving church. Let us hold in our hearts our true goal and value: a safer community where we seek authentic relationship in peace. (Stereoscope, October 30)

Bidden or unbidden

“God” has been an unexpected guest in Karen Johnston’s life, tempering her previously caustic atheism.

I am noticing a shift in my voice. . . . When we make our clever jokes about god’s presence in our lives, the mock and the snark seems to be dissipating. . . . The word isn’t so charged as it was before, leaving room for god to be something other than limb-ridden and narrow, a god who saves parking places for lucky bastards while allowing free-lance journalists to be beheaded. (irrevspeckay, October 27)

Canadian perspectives

The Rev. Brian Kiely has been proud of his fellow Canadians this week, but he does fear what comes next.

I fear exploitation of these dramatic, but ultimately—to all except families and friends— insignificant acts. I fear what Mr. Harper and his government might do. The fact is, our security measures by and large worked. The violence was limited to the kinds of acts that could not realistically have been prevented no matter how large and intrusive our security services. . . . It is likely we will have to step up security to a degree, but the question that concerns me is to what degree? (Ministerial Musings, October 26)

Liz James is also proud of Canadian responses to the Ottawa shootings.

A refusal to abdicate our responsibility to choose how we will respond. Seen as a whole, the underlying theme of our conversation is unmistakable. “You do not extinguish terror with war. These two things are not opposites. The opposites of terror are reassurance, compassion, and reason. When faced with terror we do not declare war. We declare calm.”

Maturity, order, and the occasional idiotic speech from Harper. It doesn’t get more Canadian that that. (Rebel with a Label Maker, October 27)

James also writes an open letter to Susan Bibeau, the shooter’s mother.

There are many people who need comfort right now, and our hearts ache to reach out and to stand beside every one of those people. I want to you to know that tonight I think of you, and I hope that in some part of your mind, some part of your grief you are aware of the mothers all over the country who cannot reach you, who can never fully understand what you are going through, but who nevertheless stand beside you in spirit. (Rebel with a Label Maker, October 23)

Lessons in grief

Diana McLean learns a valuable lesson about setting setting aside her identity as a seminarian and ministerial intern, and allowing herself to grieve her father’s death.

On Friday, as we prepared for yesterday’s service, Rev. Gail Geisenhainer, the senior minister at my parents’ church . . . gave me an important gift. She talked to me about role clarity, about how this weekend, I’m not a minister (or a ministerial intern or a seminarian). I’m the daughter. In the pulpit as the grieving daughter instead of the intern, I can’t put up the shield of professionalism, can’t have professional distance. It’s not my job. (Poetic Justice, October 26)

Claire Curole writes an open letter to the Rev. Lee Devoe, a former interim minister at her church, who died recently.

You guided us through [a] difficult transition, leaving your mark on my church like the line traced by a potter’s thumb on soft, wobbling, spinning clay as the vessel takes its shape. And this congregation that you held together with grace and love is the one that in its own turn shaped me, as I grew from a church-phobic newcomer into a student discerning my own call to the ministry. In this way the work I am only just beginning picks up and takes in loose threads of the work you leave unfinished. We are connected. We are all connected. (The Sand Hill Diary, October 27)

Deeds not creeds

The Rev. Andrew Weber encourages us to wear social justice ribbons and buttons, not just to church, but also in public.

The question is, are you open and public about the unpopular or difficult beliefs you hold? Do you wear your ribbon only when it is comfortable—or also where it might promote difficult and possibly transformative conversation?

May we all have the courage and pride to live our values publicly—to wear our ribbons outside. For it is by living our values that we earn and wear our “awards” in life. (Drive Like a Minister, October 27)

Justin Almeida participated in a poverty immersion, and shares some of what he learned from the experience.

I’ve never thought of asking a person for forgiveness when I hand them a dollar outside a supermarket. But it makes sense. By asking for their forgiveness and blessing, I’m reaffirming their inherent worth and dignity by treating them with respect; I’m asking them for something only they can give. And I need to stop caring how they ended up being homeless. It’s not my place to judge and I’m not qualified to ask. (What’s My Age Again?, October 30)

The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg highlights a Jewish, “deeds, not creeds” reading of Christian parables—a companion to a previous post about how Christians read Jewish texts. (Pluralism, Pragmatism, Progressivism, October 24)

Canada, autumn, Ebola, and more UU writing

O Canada

The Rev. Bill Sinkford reacts to this week’s shooting in the Canadian Parliament.

I . . . heard the MP’s speak about yesterday’s attack and renew their commitment to preserve an open society. An open society? How long has it been since you could describe ours as an open society? . . .

At what sacrifice in personal privacy can safety from such attackers be purchased, if at all?

Is this the new normal, not just in Washington but throughout the world? (Rev. Sinkford’s Blog, October 23)

A season of letting go

Catherine Clarenbach writes about autumn as a season of relinquishment—and shares a personal story of grieving the loss of her father.

[Relinquishment] is not the same as giving up. Rather, we are making space as the leaf does, as the squash vine does, as the wind itself does. We can choose the manner of our relinquishments—not always, but sometimes. Sometimes we will resist with everything we have—denial, anger, bargaining—and sometimes it takes a while for our hands to stop trying to grasp so hard what is already gone. (The Way of the River, October 20)

The Rev. Dr. David Breeden celebrates the “sloppy wet kiss of here and now.”

Perhaps you
remember
from last year
those leaves,
that glow. Yet it
is here and only
here, this fall
only falls here. (Theopoetics, October 22)

Thoughts about Ebola

The Rev. Jude Geiger sees a common thread tying together ISIS, Ebola, and immigration.

I think the fear around ISIS (a Middle Eastern horror) and Ebola (a West African horror) and our Mexican border (where human beings are trying to work, migrate and find better homes for their children) is not about ISIS and Ebola, it’s about racism. We can’t argue against immigration reform with integrity, because most of us are descendants of immigrants from the past 100 years, so we need to come up with another way to keep Americans from trusting our neighbors from the South. (HuffPo Religion, October 21)

Doug Muder lists seven liberal lessons of Ebola, beginning with this:

Ebola points out why we need government. Libertarian rhetoric about sovereign individuals has a lot of superficial charm. But biology knows nothing about that; humanity is a species, and sometimes we have to act as a species. We do this through government. (The Weekly Sift, October 20)

Reading the Hebrew Scriptures

The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg explores “the ways Christians have often appropriated Jewish scripture in a way that does not fully appreciate the ways that Jews understand their own texts in very differently.”

The conservative Christian tradition of my childhood taught me, when I read a passage in which a Gospel writer quoted a passage from the Hebrew prophets, that I should think, “Isn’t it amazing how that ancient prophecy predicted details about Jesus’ ministry?” But the more I explore the original context of the Hebrew prophets, the more I think that Isaiah would be dumbfounded by Matthew’s interpretation of his words.

So, how do we read the Bible more responsibly in light of this awareness? (Pluralism, Pragmatism, Progressivism, October 23)

The Rev. Tamara Lebak discovers that Leviticus mentions the Golden Rule twice—once as “love your neighbor,” and once as “love the stranger.”

In lifting up both neighbor and stranger, Leviticus seems to be lifting up that you cannot simply stop the conversation with those like you and pushes us to think about how we have indeed been strangers ourselves. (Under the Collar in Oklahoma, October 22)

Congregational life

The Rev. Dan Harper’s congregation is experiencing an increase in attendance—with a resulting increase in conflict, and in demands for time, energy, and space.

If you are wishing for your congregation to grow, remember that growth injects stress into the institution. In the short term, it is much easier and more pleasant to stay the same size, even if it does mean chasing lots of newcomers away. Only a fool, or someone committed to making the utopian ideals of liberal religion accessible to all who want them, would seek congregational growth. (Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, October 19)

Harper also writes a series of posts about participating in UNCO 14 West (“an unconference for church leaders, pastors, families, and seminarians”). (Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, October 20)

The Rev. Dawn Cooley considers ways to remove barriers to participation in UUA governance.

I believe that we need a robust Unitarian Universalist Association that can serve stakeholders that may or may not belong to a congregation. A UUA where all who meet certain “citizenship” requirements are able to participate, whether or not they are affiliated with a congregation. We have more free-range Unitarian Universalists than we do congregation members. Many of these folks were raised in our congregations. Might we want to allow them to have a say in the future of our faith tradition? (Speaking of, October 21)

The Rev. Adam Tierney Eliot writes about the rhythms of preaching—and the reality of dry spells.

For a good preaching ministry there must be a steady pattern of “study . . . preach . . . study again . . . preach again” that runs in the background seven days a week. When this stream is flowing steadily and well, worship is invested with the spirit and has spirit in the moment. If not, then the process is more like a person looking for the car key. There is a lot of wandering, swearing, self-doubt, and foolish relief at its final discovery. (The Burbania Posts, October 17)

Who are my people? and more UU commentary

Who are my people?

Kenny Wiley, who is both UU and black, wonders if his UU community cares more about remembering Selma than engaging in Ferguson.

Unitarian Universalists, you are my people. And UUs, my ‘other’ people—of which some of you are—need you. We need you to show up. We need you to listen and go beyond platitudes. Not everyone can travel hundreds of miles, but we can all do something—something beyond what we thought we could do. Oct. 22 is National Day Against Police Brutality, and several cities are hosting events.

The next call to action for racial justice has arrived. My people: Will we answer?

My people want to know. (A Full Day, October 15)

The Rev. Tom Schade explores the reasons why there has been no national UU call to Ferguson, and proposes more grassroots, local-driven engagement.

The tragedy is that each of those 59 congregations within 250 miles of Ferguson had some people who wanted to go Ferguson, but didn’t hear the invitation, or feel encouraged by their local congregational leaders and minister. And even more tragic, in each of those 59 communities and cities, there were many more people who wanted to go to Ferguson, but were not connected with anyone, any group, who could help them make that happen.

We need to get to the next stage. We don’t need to count how many UU’s turn out for events like Ferguson, or Raleigh, or New York, or Arizona. We need to start to count how many non-UU’s we bring with us. (The Lively Tradition, October 15)

The St. Louis-area UU congregations are organizing their responses through the St. Louis Standing on the Side of Love Facebook page.

Faithful relationships

In a widely-shared post, the Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein responds to the news that the new president of Andover Newton Theological School admitted to a four-year affair.

I am first and foremost personally concerned about covenantal relationships –marriage being the most important one in this situation. It concerns me that my alma mater’s president should have violated the covenant of marriage for a long period of time, and that he and the board of trustees ask our forgiveness for that violation. (PeaceBang, October 4; published in modified form at The Narthex, October 6; quoted in the Boston Globe, October 12)

Liz James writes a searingly honest post about her own struggles with marital fidelity, and concludes that relationships need better tools and supports.

If we care about these stories, if we truly see pain and harm caused by this pattern, and we want to prevent it, we will not frame this conversation solely in terms of what this guy did wrong (not that there isn’t a place for this conversation, but that place sure isn’t my blog). We will ask what better support and context we can provide people as a community to support them in building relationships that are loving, sustainable, honest, and rewarding. We will talk real stories and real life.

Because this matters WAY too much to waste time getting judgemental when we could be getting creative and wise. (Rebel With a Label Maker, October 16)

The stories of our lives

Recovering from a migraine, the Rev. Cynthia Cain boards an airplane, and her seatmate’s drunkenness triggers memories of family dysfunction; after her first feelings of anger, she finds her way to compassion.

I looked at Mr. Reeking of Alcohol, and his one eye was completely bloodshot, and I felt so much sadness and compassion for him. I knew that like some people very close to me he was trapped in a place he could not get out of and didn’t need my scorn and anger.

So when he suggested I relax, instead of launching into aforementioned rant, I smiled at him.

“I’m trying, bro.” I said. (A Jersey Girl in Kentucky, October 14)

Karen Johnston urges a mourner to “forget pious blessing chatter.”

Forget pious blessing chatter.
The nice-nice that assures polite company
the world still spins properly.

It doesn’t.
It’s off kilter.
Your son is gone.
All is not right
in the world. (irrevspeckay, October 15)

The problem of oversimplification

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Landrum pushes back against oversimplification in how schools react to students’ infractions.

We need to, as a society, rethink “zero tolerance” and “three strikes” laws. We need to rethink them when it comes to our prisons, but we also need to rethink them when it comes to our schools, and we need to stop treating children like criminals. We need to give the schools the ability to look at the situation and look at the individual child, to think about what’s best for the school and what’s best for the child.

In liberal religion, we often talk about how much we value education. It’s time for us to recognize that this is a major way in which some children are not getting the same access to education that others are, and work to make a change. (The Lively Tradition, October 14)

Doug Muder writes that the real problem with Sam Harris and Bill Maher, and their comments about Islam, is “Orientalism,” fencing off a group of people, and then presuming to be an expert about their lives.

The reason to pause before you criticize Islam or religion isn’t that these topics are or should be surrounded by some special aura of protection. It’s that there’s really no such thing as Islam or religion, at least not in the sense that most critics would like to assume. (The Weekly Sift, October 13)