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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.

Heartbroken in America, Blue Christmas, and human connections

Heartbroken in America

Jim Foti challenges us to live up the the American ideal—extending to all the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We are a country of mass distraction, a country where the comfortable can decide not to look or see or do anything. But our country must look and see and listen, and acknowledge its realities.

That is where our work has begun, by looking, by seeing, by bringing reason and reality into the public square and onto the streets. By embodying love and making it visible. By listening with humility to those whose lives are different from our own. By finding ways to move from sympathy to solidarity. By knowing when to follow. (Quest for Meaning, December 18)

The Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyons writes that the “forces of fear and ignorance are alive in Portland.”

The Portland State University Board has authorized arming security forces with weapons that can kill. . . . As our children of color face persistently experience threats of violence and disproportionately pay the ultimate price of #whitesupremacy, the choice to put more guns into our education learning environment demonstrates the corruption of leadership. (Radicalhapa, December 12)

Doug Muder lists five things to understand about the Senate’s report on torture.

When something this long and detailed comes out and says things a lot of people don’t want to hear, it’s easy to get drawn off into arguments that miss the point. So here are my “findings”, the main things that I think the average American needs to understand:

  1. We tortured people.
  2. A lot of people.
  3. We gained virtually nothing from it.
  4. It was illegal.
  5. No one has been held accountable for it.

(The Weekly Sift, December 15)

Sometimes it’s a Blue Christmas

The Rev. Mary Wellemeyer admits that some of us are having a Blue Christmas.

Maybe this is the first Winter Holiday season since a dear one in your family has died, when all the old traditions bring back memories of times when you were all together, sharing the special joys of the season. Or maybe there has been a separation, estrangement, divorce from someone living—a partner, a child, someone else—with whom you used to share these times. Or maybe you are living in a different place, at loose ends when the holiday comes around, missing everyone who used to be around to share the holidays. (Open Road, December 16)

John Beckett agrees that this has been a difficult season.

These seven weeks between Samhain and Yule have been the most difficult season I can remember. There have been great conflicts abroad and gross injustices at home. There have been natural disasters, untimely deaths, and personal misfortunes. . . .

The dark times we are experiencing now will not disappear when we light our Solstice candles. I cannot promise you a bright new calendar year. Yet we light our Solstice candles anyway. We do what we do not because it will make everything nice and easy but because this is who we are. (Under the Ancient Oaks, December 18)

The Rev. Nori Rost encourages us to embrace the beauty of darkness.

[It] is only when we can learn to love the beauty of the darkness that we can be fully alive and centered in our light. (sUbteXt, December 18)

At this time of year, many people find the ancient symbols of darkness and light meaningful. As Kenny Wiley notes, however, that language can be problematic: “I’ve long struggled, as a black man, with our society & world’s language around darkness as bad and light as good.” (Facebook, December 12) Wiley’s comments took place as part of a long conversation about a UU winter solstice event, in which participants wrestled honestly with these issues.

Human connections

Instead of being a homebody, Katy Carpman ventures out, and two encounters remind her that “We are all connected and have so very much in common.” (Remembering Attention, December 11)

Diana McLean is grateful for people who push her to be her best self.

Sometimes being pushed to be my best self feels a little like having my feet off the ground while someone asks me to trust them while they run me off a cliff.

But oh my goodness, when you realize that the push you just got launched you toward your goal faster than you’d have gotten there alone, that’s worth it. And maybe the push actually sends you flying right past a goal that you thought was pretty lofty, but in hindsight, it was settling for good enough. And then you thank God or the Universe or fate for bringing someone a little pushy into your life. (Poetic Justice, December 14)

The Interdependent Web will return January 9, after a break for the holidays. We hope your celebrations are joyful!

Stories, strategies—and everything else


The Rev. Shelley Page inspires a march for peace in Ogden, Utah.

The New Zion Baptist minister told the crowd that he was inspired to do the march because an unknown clergy colleague had called him expressing solidarity. He felt it was a sign from God that now was a time to stand together, as a new beginning, to address these issues. When I met him for the first time in person today, he embraced me like a long lost friend, and told me that my call made the difference, gave him heart. (The Lively Tradition, December 6)

Karen Johnston tells the story of arriving, with an elderly fellow protester, in the back of a state police cruiser at a “rally about too many Black and Brown men dying at the hands of police officers.” (irrevspeckay, December 8)

At a different protest, Cindy Pincus has a different experience with the police—a nasty head wound—but plans to continue protesting..

I’m returning to the protests tonight (Monday night, as I write). Every life is made in the image of the Divine and violence to any body is violence to everybody. Just because I was hit, doesn’t mean I will be the last one and I certainly wasn’t the first. Police brutality and indiscriminate violence is a blight on the great American experiment of freedom. As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to participate in that experiment time and again and we have and will always be warriors of peace and justice for all. (UUSF, December 10)

The Rev. Meg Riley tells the story of her “guerilla grandma” protest strategies, and concludes that “too many White people are simply stewing in blogs and news accounts and Facebook updates and feeling helpless.”

If that’s you, Grandma is speaking now, so listen up: This isn’t a time to sit home with your feelings. This is a movement! With the reins securely in the hand of young Black leaders, in Minneapolis and in Ferguson and in countless other cities, do what you can to support whatever they’re doing—go to their events, give them bail money if you have it, tell them how inspiring they are—and meanwhile deploy your own identities and skills, whatever they are.

You’ve read enough; you know what happened. Now act. Find a buddy to support you. Think creatively about how to speak out in unlikely places. (Huffington Post, December 9)


The Rev. Scott Wells pushes back against UU preferences for protests over policy-making.

What do we have to gain by (what amounts to) an exercise in collective holiness? Less, I contend, than we have to offer by participating constantly in the nitty-gritty of public policy.

And I think we avoid this opportunity because we have grown unaccustomed to political power, and perhaps find it awkward or distasteful as a religious people. And if that’s the case, we need to get over that. So many people view governance and public policy with suspicion, but in doing so surrender their power to those who are left claim it. (Boy in the Bands, December 10)

Kenny Wiley is a moderate protester, marching “with ‘radicals’ as well as (relative) conservatives.”

It is often said that we have to work together for this movement to work. Indeed. But “working together” doesn’t mean silencing anyone who disagrees with us. Working together doesn’t mean men silencing women. Working together doesn’t mean older civil rights activists running over younger ones. Working together doesn’t mean white people taking the mic or otherwise telling black folks how to respond.

Working together means understanding not just how each of us is disadvantaged but also how we are privileged. Working togethermeans knowing when to talk, and when to listen. Working together means having hard conversations. (A Full Day, December 11)

Crystal St. Marie Lewis has a message: Stop derailing the discussion.

I suppose if I could say something to a large group of people about the current outcry against police brutality towards Black people, I’d say that this issue is not to be conflated with other challenges in the Black community. The issue of violence against Black people by the police is an epidemic unto itself and deserves the undivided attention it’s receiving now. (Window on Religion, December 8)

Responding to pushback some UU ministers have received about speaking out about racism, the Rev. Tom Schade writes an imaginary newsletter column.

It is not the duty of a UU minister to represent all views in the congregation. It is not the duty of a UU minister to facilitate the discussions between opposing views in the congregation on the vital issues of the day. It is not the duty of a UU minister to argue every point with every congregant. It is not the duty of a UU minister to be above the fray. . . .

In today’s context, it is the duty of UU ministers to lead congregations into the social movements against racism, even if it makes some members of those congregations angry or uncomfortable. The call of conscience and the demands of religious conviction are often disruptive of our comfortable opinions. That’s the point of having them. (The Lively Tradition, December 5)

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Landrum explains why we are not waiting for Rosa Parks.

Michael Brown’s tragedy isn’t the wrong tragedy to wake this country up—it’s exactly the right tragedy, because for whatever reason, it did wake people up. We don’t need more unarmed black men to die, and we don’t need to wait for Rosa. (The Lively Tradition, December 9)

Kim Hampton writes, “While we are talking about #blacklivesmatters, we need to expand that to also include #blackbodiesmatter too.”

The treatment of these black men’s bodies by those in authority/positions of power is shameful and is just another manifestation of this society’s thinking about black people.

Anthony Pinn wrote: “Black bodies are complex signs that represent something both appealing and repulsive for the society in which we dwell.”

There’s something to that, I think. (East of Midnight, December 8)

And everything else

Responding to this week’s news about the United States’ use of torture, the Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern commits to a new practice.

Whenever I hear or read the term “waterboarding,” unless it’s clarified by “as the CIA calls it” and replaced in subsequent uses by an accurate term, I’m going to write to the source in question and tell them their job is to give us news, not Newspeak. (Sermon in Stones, December 10)

Drawing on the metaphor of childbirth, Liz James writes about “the blood-spattered pause.”

The moment when you are up to your neck in it and there’s no going back, but suddenly you stop. In life, it is too easy to mistake this moment for cowardice. You can’t quite finish coming out of the closet, or you can’t leave the job with the horrible boss even though you’ve set everything up, or you can’t quite speak all the truth to power you were hoping to, and you suddenly become . . . frozen.

It is not cowardice. You were not mistaken. You are not too tired, or not adequate to the task. This is not the beginning of self doubt or failure.

It is just the blood-spattered pause. (Rebel with a Labelmaker, December 11)

James also shares a personal update about her health—along with her physican husband’s advice about living with a difficult diagnosis:

Life is not a countdown to “dead.” It’s a count up from “born.” There’s only one real diagnosis, and we’ve all got it. And it’s not a license to wait. It’s the reason to stop waiting. (Rebel with a Labelmaker, December 8)

Christine Organ has a guest post in The New York Times, writing about why her family goes to church.

For our family, the right-decision-for-us-for-now means listening to a few grumbles from the back seat on the way to our liberal-in-a-suburban-kind-of-way Unitarian church. It means a family prayer before dinner, learning about other faiths and talking about what we might believe. (Motherlode, December 7)

Responding to The Lively Tradition‘s recent anonymous seminarian posts, Claire Curole speaks out about her experiences as a seminarian—and her hopes for a better way.

We could start from our deep shared values, and consider the question, “What will Unitarian Universalist ministry need to look like if it is to be relevant in the 21st century?” and then create a process that selects for and supports that vision instead of continually repainting the language and adding knobs and widgets (or milestones and competencies) to a model whose baseline assumptions about the people entering ministry are rooted in the wealthy Anglo-Saxon Protestant norms of the early 20th century. The world has changed. Can we? (The Sand Hill Diaries, December 8)

Caskets going by, canaries in the mines of ministry, and more

Caskets going by

Enraged by the grand jury’s failure to indict Eric Garner’s killer, the Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein challenges “the intellectual condescension of white liberals.”

[To] sit back in the armchair because we’re too tired of reading articles does not honor the witness being borne by the African-American community right now. Perhaps taking to the streets is not your style, or is not possible for you. For many white folks, the longest and most important distance to travel in our claims to be an anti-racist, justice-seeking people may be from our heads to our hearts. Our longest march may be the one that takes us down from the dais of competitive debate and rational inquiry to the common ground of listening, witnessing, mourning and embracing.

Put down the newspaper and the computer. There are caskets going by. (PeaceBang, December 4)

Kim Hampton writes, “As someone who has been trained for the ministry, I am supposed to be all about preaching healing, reconciliation, and redemption. Yet right now the last thing I need or want is to heal or reconcile. There is no redemption to be had in this slow genocide.” (East of Midnight, December 1)

Hampton also writes that now is not the time for UUs to quote Martin Luther King, Jr, and suggests other sources. (East of Midnight, December 4)

Liz James recounts a conversation with her sons, Anthony and Eric, about police violence toward black men.

“Who is Eric Garner?” asked Anthony . . . .

I quickly recounted the story ending with “and then he died.” I didn’t even get to the part about the lack of indictment when I looked over to see my son looking at me with blank horror, and beginning to shriek. His whole body crumpled, and he slid onto the floor, sobbing with this horrible sick sound coming from his gut. I picked him up and carried him to the couch, trying to reverse what I had done.

“Mom.” Eric said. “He doesn’t know the world is like that. You have to be careful.” (Facebook, December 4)

Doug Muder asks, “This time, will the outrage matter?”

If we want anything different to happen this time, I think we need to re-establish the notion that there is an objective truth to this matter—the kind that persuades the uncommitted and converts some of the opposition—and that objectively, the system did not work. More than that, we need to argue that the reasons it did not work are not specific to the details of the Brown shooting; the same reasons will continue to endanger innocent people until something changes. (The Weekly Sift, December 1)

Claire Curole pushes back against people who want to argue away the racism in these incidents.

It’s not about the individual data points, the litany of names and places that are but a sample of those incidents of police violence against men of color, particularly Black men. I hear other white folks argue sometimes that this one or that one wasn’t really about that—and what it most reminds me of are the people who argue against anthropogenic climate change by coming up with a perfectly plausible reason why this time or that time it wasn’t so. I want to pound on the pulpit and yell some. It’s not about the data points, but the pattern they reveal when viewed at some remove: like a Seurrat or a Monet, all dots and splotches up close, but caught in a glance from the far end of a gallery the image jumps out, water lilies, or a fine walk in the park. (The Sand Hill Diaries, November 30)

The Rev. Krista Taves draws connections between clergy and cops—both positions of authority, both held to a higher standard, both facing strong criticism when they fall short.

I keep looking for some indication that some cops understand that the protest they face, at its roots, is not about being anti-police. None of the actions and the criticism, even the angriest of words, are about being anti-police. It is actually being very much FOR the police. What it is against is the abuse of power and authority. When we call the police to a higher standard, when we ask for their policies and procedures to change, when we ask them to reconsider the way they make choices, when we ask them to welcome accountability, we are wanting them to become the fullest manifestation of what they are supposed to be, servants of the community. (And the stones shall cry, December 4)

Canaries in the ministry mines

The Rev. Dawn Cooley addresses the ongoing controversy at Starr King School for the Ministry, suggesting that “Strapped Student” step forward and accept responsibility.

I ask you, Strapped Student, I ask you as someone who has no affiliation with SKSM but who sees that there is indeed much dysfunction in this whole messy situation, I ask you to please look into your heart and imagine coming forward. Find someone you trust who knows you and will have your back, or find a lawyer to speak through. Come forward so that these two students can continue on with their lives, so that the burden of their futures is lifted from you, and so that you can do the work you really wanted to do in revealing those documents.

It won’t be easy. Ministry rarely is. (Speaking of, November 22)

The Rev. Tom Schade publishes a two-part series by an anonymous seminarian, questioning whether the fellowship process creates bold leaders—or timid, compliant ones; and also suggests in a third post that “seminarians are the canaries in the coal mines of ministry.”

Seminarians are afraid to speak up because we want to be granted preliminary fellowship. Those ministers in preliminary fellowship are afraid to speak up because they want to achieve final fellowship. And once ministers are in final fellowship, they are so deeply immersed in their careers, the plight of struggling seminarians falls down the list of priorities in the face of the sheer volume of things demanding immediate attention. (The Lively Tradition, November 28 and 30)

Several bloggers responded to an onslaught of criticism of the posts’ anonymity. (The Lively Tradition, November 30 and December 2; Boy in the Bands, December 1)

Liz James writes that ministerial formation should be hard, but the current process is the wrong kind of hard.

We are being trained to be martyrs. We are told we must accept unreasonable workloads and unreasonable financial burden, or be seen as whiners. This system skews Ministry to be filled with people who are either independently wealthy or delusionally optimistic about debt. And, once we are trained, we are financially shackled and unable to take risks and be creative. A pulpit in debt is not a free pulpit. We get stuck when we look for solutions, because we cannot squeeze money out of people and organizations that don’t have it to give. The only solution left, then, is to think radically and creatively about making the whole thing less expensive. (Free Range Seminarian, December 3)

Lighter fare

The Rev. Nori Rost shares her “acts of kindness” Advent calendar practice. (sUbteXt, December 4)

The Rev. Adam Eliot offers a guide to making Christmas gifts. (The Burbania Posts, December 3)

The Rev. Jeff Liebmann provides a guide to holiday conversations. (uujeff’s muse kennel and pizzatorium, December 1)

The Rev. Amy Freedman suggests seven ways to savor the holidays. (Amy Freedman, December 1)

Suzyn Smith Webb shares a practice for “making yourself happier, starting right about now.” (Loved for Who You Are, December 1)