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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.

Celebrating the good, debating political correctness, and more

Celebrating the good

Unitarian Universalists tend to be reflexively self-critical; this week UUs celebrate the good things we do.

John Beckett, a UU Pagan, applies a lesson he’s learned from UUs to a conflict happening within the Pagan community.

I encourage our most ardent atheists and our most pious polytheists to talk about what they do, what they believe, and why. I encourage them to explain their assumptions, their experiences, and their interpretations. But I encourage them to do so in ways that are honest and respectful and perhaps even friendly.

It’s a good idea this polytheist learned from the Unitarian Universalists. (Under the Ancient Oaks, February 1)

In an era when people increasingly find church irrelevant, Andrew Hidas tells the story of his congregation making a difference in one person’s life—a formerly homeless jazz musician whose concert the church hosted.

“Thanks, friends, on behalf of Vinnie,” our minister had written on our church’s listserv. “Vinnie is a talented musician, but not a talented planner, so we could use a number of volunteers to make sure that the event is a success . . . This event is going to be one of the highlights of his entire life. Really.” (Traversing, February 1)

The Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern thinks too many of us hide the light of Unitarian Universalism under a bushel.

Too many of us, which is why I don’t give in to the temptation to lie about my profession on airplanes, but tell those who ask that I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister. And when they start witnessing to me about their faith, which happens as often as their saying “I’m spiritual but not religious,” I tell them about us: that my congregation welcomes humanists and atheists (including me) as well as theists and Christians, that we encourage people to follow their own spiritual impulses in community, that we see the Bible as a document created by and for humans, that science and our observations of nature are one of the sources of our tradition, and of course, that we unreservedly affirm LGBTQ people (again including me). (Sermons in Stones, February 4)

The Rev. Dr. David Breeden responds to David Brooks of The New York Times, whose recent column suggested that secularists have build their ethics and beliefs from scratch, and on their own.

I am the senior minister of a congregation that has been Humanist for ninety-nine years. (That’s almost a century!) That’s a bit of time to have developed some community, morality, and motivation. All without reference to any gods or supernatural woo-woo. It’s not all that new after all, unless you see Claude Monet is the hottest new trend. (Quest for Meaning, February 5)

Debating political correctness

Doug Muder reviews responses to an article by Jonathan Chait about political correctness, before adding his own perspective.

When you belong to a powerful group—say, men or whites or straights or something similarly normative in our culture—you can take for granted that nearly everyone you run into has a general appreciation of your point of view and knows better than to piss you off in obvious ways. Members of marginalized groups can’t assume that. They’re constantly being jostled or hassled or put on the spot; occasionally by haters, but more often by ordinary folks who can’t be bothered to think too hard about them. PC is the attempt to raise the overall level of consideration to the level that powerful groups take for granted. (The Weekly Sift, February 2)

Personal stories

Liz James participates in Eating Disorder Awareness Week, sharing strong words of advice from her own experience.

When I was 19, I read The Beauty Myth, and I took it to heart. I decided to fight back, to limit my exposure to media containing those photoshopped cookie cutter perfect bodies. To spend my time and energy looking at real people, connecting with them. I went on a low bullshit diet. None of those stupid women’s magazines, none of those TV shows, very few movies. It took discipline, but not nearly the discipline that bulimia does. . . .

Be as strict with what you let into your eyes as you would be with what you let into your mouth. Reject that way of thinking about your body, and any images that feed it. Go on a strict no-bullshit diet for six months. Or forever. (Rebel With a Labelmaker, February 5)

Theresa Ines Soto responds to ableist language.

Your words are one of the tools at your disposal to make justice.

It is not appropriate for you to use someone else’s condition as a metaphor for your own purposes.

All of the metaphors that we use have the possibility of creating more love and more liberation in the world. When we use metaphors of the bodies of others to say that the conditions they have signify inferiority and weakness, we have both transgressed the boundary of the body of another and have also used our words to devalue their physical home and lived experience. (Theresa Loves You, February 4)

When her father shows up in her dreams, Tina Porter has learned to pay attention.

Why in the world would my dad be in Shell Cottage when there is absolutely nothing connecting him to the Harry Potter world (I don’t think he even watched any of the movies with my daughters on any of his visits). It makes no sense at all except in my head, where I’m putting my father and his wisdom in the bedrooms in Shell Cottage which is where Harry gets the information he needs to finish off Voldemort. (Ugly Pies, February 4)

Ask a seminarian

A group of UU seminarians participated in an “Ask Us Anything” discussion this week.

There’s a statistic floating around that there are twice as many ministers entering fellowship every year as their are open parish positions; the exact validity of that is questionable, but many of us will, by necessity, be faithing entrepreneurs. I am called, I believe, to be one of those who embraces this changing reality early and well. (Reddit, February 3)

Jordinn Nelson Long writes about how becoming a seminarian has changed her blogging.

There are things you give up on this journey, and no edits, no take-backs, write-what-you-feel is among the first.

And it should be. Do you want a minister who says, in print, whatever enters her mind at any given moment? As a representative of your congregation? As a representative of Unitarian Universalism, or of people of faith, generally?

Of course you don’t. And so, there are tradeoffs. You learn, in short, to govern yourself. (Raising Faith, February 3)

Remembering the Holocaust, conversations about #BlackLivesMatter, and more

Remembering the Holocaust

Marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, Patrick Murfin recounts the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet army.

Coming in the midst of the Yalta Conference and other war news, the liberation received scant news attention at the time. And the Soviets, who were at best ambivalent at the highest levels about what to do with the liberated Jews, did little to publicly celebrate their role in the liberation, at least at first.

It was only after survivors reached the West and eventually Israel as refugees, that Auschwitz emerged as a special, horrific symbol of the whole Holocaust. (Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout, January 27)

Black lives matter

The Church of the Larger Fellowship hosts a video conversation about #BlackLivesMatter.


Alex Kapitan asks liberal religious white people to stop using #AllLivesMatter.

It is a deeply spiritual thing to say that despite hundreds of cultural messages every day that teach me a black life is worth less than my white life, despite the actions and impacts of the criminal-legal system on black people, despite extreme disparities in a thousand markers of well-being amongst black communities, despite all this and more—Black Lives Matter. Affirming this truth is one important step toward the day in which we can live the truth that all lives matter—and that we are all different, yet all one. (roots grow the tree, January 25)

Kim Hampton also pushes back against pressure to replace #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter.

The killing of unarmed civilians by agents of the state is always tragic. However, let’s be real; if this were happening in any white community every 28 hours on average, there is no way that white people would let racial minorities co-opt their movement by saying—in essence—“Yeah, it’s a shame what’s happening to you, but that’s not as important as these cases where it happened to us too.” I might have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. (East of Midnight, January 28)

Life is complicated

John Beckett rants about our tendency to want simple answers.

And since this is a religious blog, let’s not forget how Christianity is a religion of oppression, unless it’s a religion of love. Islam is a religion of terrorism, unless it’s a religion of peace. Or perhaps Christopher Hitchens was right and “religion poisons everything.”

Simple. Black and white. Good and evil. Just one thing.

Complete and utter bullshit.

The science of life is complicated and the living of life is even more so. (Under the Ancient Oaks, January 25)

Doug Muder investigates the simplistic claim—made by religious fundamentalists and New Atheists—that there is no such thing as liberal Islam.

Plenty of Americans—many of whom are anything but ignorant of the scriptures of their traditions—are liberal Christians or liberal Jews, so it’s not hard to find defenses of the liberal versions of those faiths. But the idea that there is no authentic liberal Islam is fairly widespread in this country.

As a result, while almost everyone acknowledges that some Christians or Jews take their religiosity to crazy extremes, craziness and extremism are often attributed to Islam itself. (The Weekly Sift, January 26)

A place in the web

The Rev. Dr. David Breeden denies that humanists promote individualism.

We are all in this together. That’s the wisdom of humanism. We are all in this together because our littleness is huge. Because we [are] primates trying to do better. Because we are on a planet that is like “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” And our hope is for a global civilization “in which love is pretty much the only law.” (Quest for Meaning, January 29)

The Rev. Scott Wells asks, “Is there a place for poor Unitarian Universalists?”

I don’t mean one, or two, or a small handful of poor people within a congregation of prosperous people, but a vital presence of Unitarian Universalists in a particularly poor community, or coming out of the experience and responding to the poor people in a mixed community. (Boy in the Bands, January 24)

Honest disbelief

The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg encourages us to follow the example of “honest heretic” Joseph Priestley.

When faced with secondhand information that we discover to be untrue, may we listen to the still small voice of our conscience and be honest to what we know is true in the crucible of our own firsthand experience.

May the “honest heretics” among our ancestors inspire the legacy that we shall leave to future generations.

May we may choose for ourselves with integrity and authenticity. (Pluralism, Pragmatism, Progressivism, January 28)

For the Rev. James Ford, the line between material and spiritual is a blurry one.

Anything that appears in the world is subject to . . . testing. Everything.

Also all the “truths” we find through this process are provisional, subject to change with more information.

Actually, everything is provisional. And something else. Something very important to notice. Everything is in motion, changing with every encounter in smaller and larger ways. This includes you and me.

So, a question. Should this perspective be called material or spiritual? (Monkey Mind, January 27)

Sing out loud

The Rev. Dan Harper acknowledges that most people don’t sing in church anymore, and celebrates the quality of singing in the congregation he serves.

[C]ongregational singing does not need spectators, over-professionalism, blare, or crappy songs. Congregational singing can aim towards joy, towards ecstatic union with the universe through song. Congregational singing can be — should be — cynical kids belting out a favorite hymn at the tops of their voices, completely lost in the moment. (Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, January 28)

The Rev. Dawn Cooley brags, just a bit, about the congregation she serves, sharing three videos they made about thriving during her sabbatical. (Speaking of, January 27)

Complicated stories, meeting Jesus, and more UU blogging

Complicated stories

The Rev. Dr. David Breeden notes that the movie Selma changes some of the stories we tell ourselves about the Civil Rights movement.

An old African proverb says it better than 99% of postmodernist writing: “Until lions have historians, tales of the hunt will glorify the hunter.”

Director Ava DuVernay (Paul Webb shares the writing credit) has some incredulity going on, and her film blows apart several sacred metanarratives. One metanarrative is that the “good” federal government swept in and curtailed the power of “bad” state government. Another is that white liberals played a starring role in the struggle. Another is that black men led the struggle. Finally, the lions have a historian. (Quest for Meaning, January 22)

The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg, drawing on a recent biography of Rosa Parks, writes that Parks was far more complex than most of us know.

Almost universally she was remembered as “quiet,” “humble,” “dignified,” “soft-spoken,” “not angry” and “never raised her voice”—and she was remembered almost exclusively for that one moment in time when she refused to give up her seat.

This romanticized view of Rosa Parks masks the fullness of her life that included “nearly seventy years of activism.” Her refusal on December 1, 1955 to not give up her seat was deeply shaped her previous decade of activism. And she continued social justice work for decades to come. And although she recognized the strategic value of nonviolence—far from being meek and mild—Rosa Park’s “hero was Malcolm X.” (Pluralism, Pragmatism, Progressivism, January 19)

Like other UUs, the Rev. Gretchen Haley wishes that James Reeb had been identified as a Unitarian minister.

I get it. We have a stake in this story; we want it to feel true. And yet, I worry that these questions about the film’s representation of the past can be a distraction from its urgent message for us today. While it’s not true that James Reeb was a priest—he was a Unitarian minister, and while it’s unlikely that one of the leaders in Selma called him a priest, it is critically important to pay attention to the fact that this African American female director in 2015 doesn’t seem to care one way or another, and to be open to the possibility that not many others do either. (Another Possibility, January 21)

Tradition and innovation

Katy Carpman draws a lesson about tradition and innovation from baking experiments.

Sometimes we go for tradition–using recipes and methods that our great-great-great grandmothers might have used way back when. Other times we try something very new, maybe taking a chance with something even our grandmothers couldn’t have bought in any store. It might be for the sheer novelty of it, or it might be a deliberate choice to be more inclusive to whomever walks in the door.

May it be delicious! (Remembering Attention, January 15)

The Rev. Sharon Wylie continues her “Church 101” series with the first of two posts about giving money.

[Pledging] is an important spiritual practice. I’m not saying that as a minister; I’m saying that as a congregant. My life changed when I began including the church on my list of monthly payments. It feels similar (to me) to making a commitment to regular exercise or healthful eating; it is saying, “this aspect of my life is important enough to me that I am willing to make it a priority.” (Ministry in Steel Toe Shoes, January 18)

The Rev. Scott Wells wonders, “Perhaps the problem isn’t that we’re too small, but too large.”

I’m half-joking, half-serious. We are institutionally too complex, with structures that are just large enough that they have to invest a high level of resources to keep going, but without the benefit of an economy of scale. (Boy in the Bands, January 19)

Meeting Jesus

The Rev. Fiona Heath describes UU perspectives about Jesus.

UUs do not believe Jesus performed miracles, and not all UUs would even agree that Jesus was a rabble rousing activist. Some see Jesus as a mythic figure, not a real person, pointing to the lack of any contemporary accounts of his life and the story of his cruxification resembling ancient Egyptian and Babylonian tales of death and resurrection. Others believe he may have been a visionary during his life, but his story has been so refracted and amplified by the Gospels, by Paul and church doctrine and systems, that it is impossible to know the truth about Jesus. (The Empty Chalice, January 20)

The Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom remembers scholar Marcus Borg, who died this week, thanking him for “reintroducing me to an old friend.”

Marcus Borg was one of the people who helped me to see a way to bring together my, if you will, post-Christian understanding of the world with my deeply rooted Christian identity. . . . And his invitation to “meet Jesus again for the first time” was incredibly exciting—I had, of course, previous “met” Jesus in the Presbyterian and Methodist churches of my youth, but this would be the “first time” I did so with my more mature perspectives. . . . I was not the same person who’d encountered Jesus before and, as Borg showed me, neither was Jesus. (A Minister’s Musings, January 22)

Prayers and podcasts

Karen Johnston offers a prayer for the nation of Myanmar, where she has been visiting.

May the people stay on the land.
May the land and the peoples be healed and rebuilt.
May I bring home the lessons of hospitality
given so freely and open-heartedly.
May the so much that is right
triumph over
the so much that is wrong. (Irrevspeckay, January 20)

The Rev. Jude Geiger announces that he’s beginning a podcast about the spirituality of Dr. Who. (RevWho, January 17)