29 March 2005

Christian and Non-Christian Unitarian Universalists -- Anti-Oppression Implications

On 23 March 2005, Paul Wilczynski wrote the following:
"As Unitarian Universalists we do get nervous around Jesus. One church member recently said to me that whenever I mention Jesus, he 'winces.' I expect that he is not alone. Why is that? If I were talk about Buddha, you would be interested, at worst puzzled, but I doubt that you would wince."

I suspect that part of the reason for the "wincing" isn't theology, but may be better understood using anti-oppression work that we've done in other contexts.

Even with the increased visibility and vitality of UU Christianity within the UUA and growth of UU congregations with UU Christian emphasis, I don't think anyone would think that Christianity gains you much power or privilege in many UU congregations. It's quite the opposite ... saying you're a Christian in many UU congregation will bring you puzzled curiosity at best, scorn at worst.

These attitudes towards Christianity within UU congregations are a reversal of the attitudes one would find outside UU congregations where Christianity is privileged with respect to other religions.

Non-Christian folks in our congregations who hear about the non-UU versions of Jesus and are immersed in a Christian-centric culture for the 166 hours each week that they are not in a UU church may instinctively "wince" when they hear "Jesus" mentioned in a UU pulpit (even if the "Jesus" is a UU version of Jesus and not Jerry Falwell's Jesus).

UU Non-Christians who are prone to "wincing" need to remember that our UU Christian friends (and liberal Christian friends like our UCC cousins) didn't create this world where Christianity has unearned power and privilege. Like everyone else in North America, we are all inheritors of a situation that was around before we were born. The responsibility that we non-Christian UUs have is to acknowledge this situation in the spirit of love and not blame our UU Christian (and other liberal Christian) friends for a situation they did not create nor desire.

UU Christians need to remember that they are walking in the door of a church wearing a garment of "power and privilege" that was not freely accepted but rather forced on them by our wider North American culture. UU Christians joining a predominantly non-Christian UU congregation are (unknowingly?) engaging in anti-oppression work by giving up unearned power and privilege granted to them by the wider culture. This is the theological equivalent of an adult advisor working with youth where the advisor gives up some of the unearned privilege that comes with being an adult.

The 2005 Consultation on Ministry To and With Youth

So ... when did "youth empowerment" become a dirty word in Unitarian Universalist circles?

My question is prompted by the thread on Philocrites blog ("Consultation on UU youth ministry") and I also posted a link to my comments there.

Why is it a bad thing to create youth groups where youth and adults work in partnership to learn, worship, share and celebrate joys, share and comfort sorrows, and work to make this world a better place?

Perhaps the problems we are having with youth ministry and our not raising our youth to be Unitarian Universalist when they grow up are partly congregational problems.

What would a congregation that valued youth involvement, youth contributions, and youth leadership in wider congregational life look like?

What would youth-friendly and adult-friendly worship look?

How would board meetings and committee meetings look if we truly wanted youth and adult participation?

In short ... what would a "youth-friendly congregation" look like?

Well ... I don't think a youth-friendly congregation that was also welcoming to older adult would look like a YRUU con.

But it wouldn't look like the typical UU congregation either.

One of the secular partners that helped the UUA and UCC develop the "Our Whole Lives" comprehensive sexuality education program is the organization Advocates for Youth. You really need to check out the October 2001 edition of their Transitions quarterly journal:

This edition is dedicated to creating effective youth-adult partnerships and there are plenty of resources in this journal edition that could be adapted for UU congregations so youth have a greater role in wider congregational life and leadership. This resource dovetails nicely with the UUA Youth Office resource created to promote awareness of youth opportunities for wider congregational life.

Instead of complaining about a congregation having a "paid but non-theologically-trained youth 'advisor'", why don't you lobby that the congregation spend the money for workshop fees and hourly wages for your youth advisor to attend 1 or 2 "renaissance modules" (professional education for DREs and others interested in lifespan faith development)? The "UU History" and "UU Identity" modules would provide some of the theological grounding that you want (I'm assuming here that your congregation has already sent your paid youth staff person to UU Youth Advisor Training and the "Leadership Development Conference" as these provide the basics for creating a safe youth-empowering community).

Or perhaps you could lobby to send your youth advisor to your district's leadership school for some UU theological education?

The hard part about all these suggestions is they cost money and too many UU congregations are unwilling to fund well-funded youth ministries at the congregational, cluster, or district levels.

The open secret that everyone seems to be overlooking here is that continental and district UU youth ministry reflect the UUA in microcosm (based on my experiences in the two congregations and the two UUA districts I've lived in) since 1992.

Most UU youth and most UU adults are not involved in Unitarian Univeralism beyond their congregational walls.

In my district, a complaint that district UU youth programming is flawed because only a small percentage of our district's youth participate is often voiced. It's often said that district youth programming needs to meet the needs of all youth.

What I think we overlook here is the same observation and the same complaint could be made about district programming for adults. In an 8000+ person district, our summer institute is lucky to get a 500 person enrollment. Our fall leadership conference and spring district business meeting are lucky to get 200-300 participants.

We don't say that this adult programming is a failure because most adults don't participate. Rather we acknowledge that the adults are looking for faith development enrichment opportunities for themselves personally and for their local UU congregations.

I suspect that the same may be true for many youth who attend UU youth events away from their congregation. Rather than punish youth for seeking these enrichment opportunities, why not acknowledge that they exist while simultaneously develop the best UU youth ministry materials we can for use in our local congregations?

Good night,
[The theologically "untrained" youth advisor who has read Conrad Wright's Congregational Polity, The Essex Conversations, the Commission on Appraisal's reports on congregational polity and membership issues, Rev. Bob Hill's book on small group ministry, and ... once or twice in the past ... has been able to use words like "soteriology" and "eschatology" correctly in a sentence.]

25 March 2005

Online Resources for Lay Leaders

Let's say that you've just stepped into a lay leadership role such as committee member, committee chair, or even board member. You want to learn as much as you can so you will be an effective leader. Where do you go for information for your new role? Luckily, there are plenty of online resources available to help you.
InterConnections Web Site - Starting point for finding the wide variety of congregational lay leader resources. This web page contains four major sections:
"Leadership Quick Start" Web Site - By selecting the appropriate choices on this web page (congregation size, leadership role, and area of responsibility), you can quickly find recommended book titles, web sites, and online UU magazine articles to assist you as a lay leader.

"Events for Leadership" Link - By selecting the appropriate web site for your location (for example, this would be the Southwest District for my congregation), you will be taken to your district's web site. On your district's web site, you will find information on upcoming conferences, training workshops, youth events, young adult events, and more.

InterConnections Online Magazine Web Site - This web page will allow you to browse by subject category or search the current and back issues of the "InterConnections" magazine for lay leaders.

Lay Leadership FAQ - This section of the InterConnections web site provides useful knowledge and resources that covers A to nearly Z in congregational life (Administration to Youth). It's available on the InterConnnections web site.

UUA-Sponsored Email Lists - The UUA hosts over 225 Email Lists on subjects ranging from district leadership discussions, to covenant group ministry, to large congregation leadership tips and discussions for religious professionals. The main list information page provides a complete listing of all available UUA lists.

Here's a very short sampler of email lists that would be useful for the UU lay leader:

UU-Leaders -- Sharing information & support among UU lay leaders

Memb-l -- Discussion of UU membership and growth issues

UU-Money -- Information Sharing among Society Finance Leaders

Covenant_group_ministry -- For congregations who are interested in or engaged in Covenant Group or Small Group Ministry

ChurchMgmtSoftware -- Discussion of Software for Membership, Contributions and Finances.

UU-editors -- A mailing list for UU Newsletter Editors

UU-plannedgiving -- Information and resource sharing about planned giving

The Congregational Handbook - How to Develop and Sustain Your Unitarian Universalist Congregation - This is the online version of The UUA Congregational Handbook resource available in many church offices. The advantage to this online edition is you can find it at 3 AM without waking up the church staff, leaving the house, or even getting dressed.

"Small Group Ministry Network" (An independent affiliate of the Unitarian Universalist Association) - According to their web site, their purpose is " ... to support small group ministry and related shared ministry models in Unitarian Universalist congregations through the development of new resources, networking and training opportunities. This site contains a growing library of UU small group resources. We hope you find it helpful in designing, launching and nurturing your shared ministry." This web resource will be very useful for UU lay leaders involved in "covenant group" ministry and other forms of small group ministry. The Southwest District Executive, Rev. Bob Hill, is on the advisory board for this group.

UUA Lifespan Faith Development Web Site - According to their web site, they " ... provide lifespan resources for education, worship, advocacy, and social action that nurture UU identity, spiritual growth, a transforming faith, and vital communities of justice and love" for UU congregations and other UU groups. Resources for children, youth, and adult religious education are available here.

Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU) - YRUU and the UUA Youth Office serve UU youth between the ages of 14 and 20 by providing resources, consultation, training, and advocacy. These YRUU resources online can be adapted for older and younger Unitarian Universalists.

Continental Unitarian Universalist Young Adult Network (C*UUYAN) and the UU Young Adult and Campus Ministry (YACM) Office - C*UUYAN and the UU YACM Office serve UU young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 by providing resources, consultation, training, and advocacy. These young adult resources online can be adapted for older and younger Unitarian Universalists.
These lay leadership resources are provided to our congregation through the generous financial contributions that our congregation and other UU congregations make to the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Southwest District of the UUA.

These resources reflect the cooperative - interdependent spirit of Unitarian Universalism and are freely available to all who need them.

24 March 2005

Why Would the GOP Pick a Gay Male Prostitute for Their "Fake News Reporter"

You can read all about here in this essay from Susie Bright's blog:

"Aggressive Verbal Dominant Top" Seeks Submissive Male Who Can Reinstate White House Press Pass

Susie is a sexuality-positive feminist writer and one of my favorite authors. Here's an excerpt from this essay about James Guckert (aka "Jeff Gannon," aka "Bulldog") and complicated relationship between closeted gay conservatives and the GOP:

I was reading some new posts on AmericaBlog, which is systemically outing every bigoted closet case, and fag-bashing fag in the GOP. You may know from their work, that Ken Mehlman, the chair of the Republican National Committee, is one of these gay-men-against-gay-men, the paradox of our age.

I know he isn’t a household name yet, but one day Mehlman and his brethren will be understood on the same level as Roy Cohn, or J. Edgar Hoover: classist, misogynist, elitist power whores who may be Kinsey 6 homosexuals, but who look in the mirror and whisper this:

“Mirror mirror on the wall, I am special and above it all.”

The Kinky Fascists feel entitled to fuck who they want and ruin who they want, because they believe they are a unique breed of men above other men. They say “to hell with gay marriage,” because they’d never do something that “weak.” Hate crimes are something that happens to nelly queens who deserve it. And women are bitches from hell that need to be kept on a leash until you need their venom for your enemies.

Sure, the hypocrites have deep-seated self loathing, but they’re in the driver’s seat of American conservative politics, baby! Power is better than a line of cocaine up their ass for that all-important self esteem buzz.

23 March 2005

Essay on Terri Schiavo and Judicial Responsibility

Matt Conigliaro, a Florida attorney and the co-author of the Abstract Appeal web site which is dedicated to covering Florida law and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently wrote on the state judge deciding many cases surrounding Terri Schiavo's case. Matt's comments on Judge Greer are worth reading:

Judging Courage (Thursday, March 24, 2005)
I'm disturbed. I've just finished watching a round of television programs where Judge Greer was once again assailed as lawless, power-grabbing, and out of control. On a mission to kill, it's said.

This is horribly difficult to watch. I cannot help but think that well meaning, honest Americans are home watching these programs, thinking there must be some truth behind the repeated assertions that a single judge or two have turned the justice system upside down. The public deserves better.

Florida law told Judge Greer what he had to do here. Once fate chose him as the judge in the case, he was responsible for following the law laid out by both the Florida Supreme Court and the Florida Legislature, all of which said that where those close to the incapacitated person cannot agree on what the ward would choose to do, then the court should resolve the matter.

Judge Greer is a Republican and a Southern Baptist. No doubt he has his own views about what he thinks he would do, or what he thinks might be in Terri's best interests. But he was charged with deciding only what Terri would do. He found the evidence presented at trial clear and convincing that Terri would choose not to have her life prolonged by the affirmative intervention of modern medicine. Three appellate judges unanimously affirmed that decision.

I receive email after email telling me that no judge has the authority to end someone's life. That life must be preserved where there is even unreasonable hope, or where there is any uncertainty regarding the person's wishes. That oral evidence can never be clear and convincing. That removing "life support" is okay, but removing a feeding tube is barbaric and unacceptable. Perhaps those sentiments are noble, but they are not the law, and it was not within Judge Greer's power to make them the law. It is perfectly acceptable to disagree with the law on these points, but to condemn the judge for following the law as it exists is irresponsible and contrary to the basic principles on which our government, with its separate branches, was created.

I continue to emphasize that I have no opinion on whether the trial judge reached the result Terri would truly want. I did not attend the trial, and having not seen the witnesses and heard them testify, experience has taught me that I am insufficiently informed to second-guess the decision -- no matter how many facts I learn about the case. I do know that a decision was made. I also know that the judicial system offers the checks necessary to ensure that the law has been properly followed. Judge Greer is part of that system, and he operated within it to perform his required role. Those who condemn him, and the judiciary that has thus far upheld his decisions, do not know what they do.

22 March 2005

Excerpt from "Children of a Different Tribe"

This excerpt is written by Sharon Hwang Colligan and it describes the differences in upbringing for children and youth in our Unitarian Universalist religious education programs:

We Are Children of a Different Tribe

I am not a Native American.

Nor am I a child of the dominant Christian (or anti-Christian) culture of America.

I grew up in the shelter of UU Societies (UU: a European-American free religious community, for tradition's sake named Unitarian Universalist, more accurately understood as Unitarian Universalist Trancendentalist Humanist Feminist Pagan.) I was taught by Jews, Hippies, Asians, Scientists, Montessorians. I learned in Sunday School to be skilled in trance journeying, to visualize myself as a tree, to cast circles invoking the Four Directions, to gather for celebration and meditation on the turning of the seasons, to invent my own ritual expressions as my spirit moves. The word God was not feared, but was translated for children as love, or mystery, or specialness. At thirteen I was gathered in a safe and sacred place with others of my age, and taught that sexuality was an interesting, good, and special thing, well worth making careful decisions about. We were taught about disease and birth control, about shyness and communication, about honoring homosexuality and masturbation, about the goodness of our bodies. We were taught to talk with one another with frankness, care, and trust. We were not divided by gender; I had never heard of a world ruled by an old white man in the sky. I slept in comforting embraces with friends of both sexes, knowing there is safety in togetherness, knowing our elders trusted our wisdom.

I was not taught that my upbringing was unusual; I was not taught that any of this was different from what other kids learn.

But our Youth know that they are different. They give all kinds of names to this feeling of difference: they say, I'm a vegan, I'm a queer, I'm a Pagan, I'm a punk rocker.

I'm here to say: the reason we feel we are different is because we are different. Our formative experiences-- of childhood, of youth, of spiritual transformation-- are profoundly different than those of the dominant culture. We are Children of a Different Tribe.

20 March 2005

Unitarian Universalism, Youth, and Young Adults

Scott Wells on his "Boy in the bands" Unitarian Universalist Christian blog writes the following about current efforts in UU youth and young adult ministry:
Oh dear: the younger generation. A quick disclaimer. From the first time I stepped into a Unitarian Universalist church (at age 15) I have avoided (Unitarian Universalist) youth and young adult activities respectively, and I’m looking to my next birthday (36) with a certain amount of relief. I know people are different and bring different gifts and have different needs, but UU youth and YA stuff comes with so much drama that I’ve always found it unsettling rather than inspiring or invigorating. When I read YA concerns that the leadership is elitist, I read self-selecting within a culture of drama. I well remember the shy teen girls (sisters perhaps) who came to the UUCF table a few years ago looking for literature because they didn’t feel welcomed in their home church youth group. But what I remember most about them is how normal they acted and looked, and I wondered then if that was the real problem.
As a parent of two Unitarian Universalist youth (ages 17 and 12), religious educator, and a long-time youth advisor (1999 to present), I find the "how normal they acted and looked" comment to be very insulting to many youth and young adults I have worked with over the years.

It's true that some UU youth and adults will very easily slide into extended Christian-bashing and we need to address this bashing when it happens (see my comments on Peacebang's blog about this)

Yes ... there is drama in UU youth communities. But there is also drama in UU older adult communities. Unfortunately, there's not enough of it.

The major difference with older adult communities is the drama stays mostly hidden with adults leaving disappointed or pissed off. It's rare in my congregation to see a town-hall meeting where an issue is fully aired and explored.

Then Scott wrote:
But UU youth and young adult culture expends so much of its energy on self-tending that I don’t see a lot of results. No great projects. Few leaders. Opting out of being a feeder into congregational life.
I don't see this as a youth and young adult community only issue. It's not just youth and young adults opting out of older adult church culture. It's also an older adult church culture that isn't doing its part in terms of "affirmative action" or "Welcoming Congregation outreach" with respect to ageism issues. How many congregations engage in outreach by recruiting youth to serve on committees, boards, task forces, etc? How many congregations do any sort of campus ministry outreach in their communities?

Breaking this congregational age barrier isn't just a responsibility of those who are disempowered through institutional ageism. It also requires outreach from those of us reaching across from the empowered age demographic.

12 March 2005

Community Demographics and Church Growth in Shreveport and Bossier City

Three recent news stories have popped up in the local media recently that are relevant to congregational growth strategies:
The common thread to these articles is a demographic trend that makes congregational growth very difficult ... we're demographically "swimming against the current" in a metaphorical sense.

Here is the description of the Presbyterian demographic problems in Bossier City:
Talks about merging the churches had been going on sporadically for about five years after several years of church members moving away or dying.

First Presbyterian, now 75 years old, experienced its peak in the 1950s and '60s when [Rev. Beth] Sentell said seven to 10 new families were joining the church each week. Population shifts, the casinos and children moving away led to the decline, she said.

"We depended on kids growing up to be Presbyterian, but that hasn't happened. We didn't emphasize it. We just thought it would happen."

John Knox Presbyterian began in 1951 as a mission church of First Presbyterian to reach out to the families of Barksdale Air Force Base. Changes on base during the late 1970s and '80s started the decline there.

"The church never changed the way it reaches out to the rest of the Bossier community," said the Rev. Dan Hignight.
And here's the Lutheran experience in Shreveport:
The one thing all of them agree on is a need for greater evangelism and outreach into the community. For too long, pastors said, the church relied on new Lutherans moving to town or being born. And when that slowed, so did church growth.
This demographic trend echos my concerns about demographic challenges facing our congregation and other Unitarian Universalist congregations that I've written about before:
For our denomination and our congregation, the increase in RE enrollment associated with the “Baby Boom” generation becoming parents is already going away. If we are viewing RE as the “engine” that drives congregational growth while families with children are a declining demographic group, this may not work for us. This is also compounded by the fact that we are an aging community. Our children want to move away when they grow up.


Prior to the 1960s and 1970s, there was a cultural expectation that one must be at church on Sunday mornings. This 1950s expectation died with the “Baby Boomer” generation and is not true today.

We can’t just say that we’re a “liberal alternative to Broadmoor Baptist” when sleeping in, golfing, etc are also acceptable Sunday Morning alternatives even in Shreveport.
So ... we need to address the "why should we go to church?" question when regular church attendance is declining and not the norm even in the southern "Bible Belt."

My Daughter At a Protest March

My daughter was at an anti-Bush protest rally yesterday at Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana. The President was in town to promote Social Security changes.

[Newspaper Caption - "Delia Caldwell, 17 and a student at Parkway High School, holds a war protest sign on Kings Highway near Centenary College where President Bush will talk about Social Security."]

I'm proud of her and I think it's an example of living one's religious values in the public square.

10 March 2005

Liberal Religious Involvement in Politics Examined

Check out the following article from salon.com:

What would Falwell do?
After years of near-invisibility, religious progressives want to regain their vanished political clout. But with conservatives claiming a monopoly on godliness, it's going to be a struggle of biblical proportions.

Farm workers, Taco Bell owners announce major labor settlement

Farm workers, Taco Bell owners announce major labor settlement
Deal includes first wage hike in 30 years

... the organizing and activism that the the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the UU Service Committee, the UU Migrant Ministry, other liberal faith communities, etc provided in this struggle have paid off.

... and we've won!!

06 March 2005

Public School Board Prayer -- What Would Jesus Do? (Response to "Let School Board say its prayers" Editorial, Shreveport Times -- 2 March 2005)

I'm really puzzled by the stubborn insistence on public prayer by our politicians on the Caddo and Bossier Parish School Boards. And I'm also puzzled by the Shreveport Times Editorial Page being in favor of public prayer at school board meetings ("Let School Board say its prayers" Shreveport Times Editorial, 2 March 2005).

Given the strong religious convictions of many in our community, perhaps we should examine this as a theological question and ask ourselves "What would Jesus do?" when it comes to public prayer.

According to Gospel of Matthew, it's pretty clear what Jesus taught us about public prayer:
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6: 5-6 -- NIV Translation)
I understand that people have the legal right to pray in some public settings and this may include school board meetings (depending on what higher courts decide on this issue). But the Caddo and Bossier School Boards opening their meetings with a prayer certainly isn't consistent with what Jesus taught us about public prayer.

Maybe the Caddo and Bossier School Board membership can explain why they think they know more than Jesus on this topic?

Adapting Young Adult Curriculum for Middle School Youth

I had volunteered to teach the "Jewish and Christian Heritage" pillar in my congregation's Religious Education program during the 2004-2005 school year.

This year, I decided to present some "family tree" information so our youth could see that Unitarian Universalism didn't suddenly appear out of thin air. Instead, our faith tradition has roots that go deep within the Protestant Reformation and Christianity within Europe.

Before even exploring these ideas, I wanted to see what preconceived notions they might have about Christianity through a "values voting" continuum activity.

Then we looked at the history of the "Abrahamic" religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- and the "phylogenetic" relationships between these traditions (this is what happens when you have a biologist teach Religious Education classes).

First we looked at the "big picture" family relationships between these three world religions:

"Abrahamic" Religions" - Click on graphic for expanded view

Then we examined with some detail the relationships between Unitarianism, Universalism, and other types of Christianity:

"Protestant Roots for Unitarian Universalism" - Click on graphic for expanded view

Then we explored how Unitarian Universalism does have an implicit theology that we can better understand if we talk about it explicitly and look at where it might need alterations.

For this part of our conversation, we used the "theological house" model developed and presented by Dr. Rebecca Parker at the 2002 Liberal Religious Educators Association Fall Conference. This model has been adapted for use in UU Young Adult small group ministry by Katie Tweedie Erslev (the author of "Traditions with a Wink!" and "Chalice Children")

Katie is also the author of Full Circle: Fifteen Ways to Grow Lifelong UUs.

And here is the "theological house" metaphor that I borrowed from Rebecca and Katie for use with my middle school youth:

"Theological House" - Click on graphic for expanded view

Katie's version of the "theological house" metaphor is described in the following free curriculum resource (freely downloaded in Adobe Acrobat format -- click here for Adobe Acrobat Reader Software):

"Unitarian Universalist Identity" by Kate Tweedie Erslev

You can find this "house" described in greater detail on pages 19-28 of Katie's curriculum.

The need to explore this model can be found here in Katie's words:
"All peoples have a culture. UU's have a culture and need to make it visible in order to know ourselves as a people among peoples in a multi-cultural world. We have inherited and inhabit a theological house. The House can be a metaphor for our faith. We will be using classical theological terms in this metaphor. In the words of one faculty member at Starr King, 'we will be committing theological acts!'"
and Rebecca's words:
"To whom does the house of our faith belong? It belongs not to us. It belongs to anyone who needs its shelter and might find the restoration of life that they need. Our lives belong to the Spirit of Life, not to us alone. The Spirit of Life calls us to the on-going transformation of our house."