29 January 2005

No on Gonzales - No to Torture

Torture of prisoners is incompatible with what my Unitarian Universalist faith teaches about promoting the "inherent worth and dignity of every person" and also affirming "justice, equity and compassion in human relations."

I'm joining the call by Daily Kos to oppose Alberto Gonzales' nomination to be Attorney General of the United States. This call is reprinted below.

"No on Gonzales" by Armando (Tue Jan 25th, 2005 at 12:43:07 PST -- posted on the Daily Kos blog)

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. In this case, we, the undersigned bloggers, have decided to speak as one and collectively author a document of opposition. We oppose the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to the position of Attorney General of the United States, and we urge every United States Senator to vote against him.

As the prime legal architect for the policy of torture adopted by the Bush Administration, Gonzales's advice led directly to the abandonment of longstanding federal laws, the Geneva Conventions, and the United States Constitution itself. Our country, in following Gonzales's legal opinions, has forsaken its commitment to human rights and the rule of law and shamed itself before the world with our conduct at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The United States, a nation founded on respect for law and human rights, should not have as its Attorney General the architect of the law's undoing.

In January 2002, Gonzales advised the President that the United States Constitution does not apply to his actions as Commander in Chief, and thus the President could declare the Geneva Conventions inoperative. Gonzales's endorsement of the August 2002 Bybee/Yoo Memorandum approved a definition of torture so vague and evasive as to declare it nonexistent. Most shockingly, he has embraced the unacceptable view that the President has the power to ignore the Constitution, laws duly enacted by Congress and International treaties duly ratified by the United States. He has called the Geneva Conventions "quaint."

Legal opinions at the highest level have grave consequences. What were the consequences of Gonzales's actions? The policies for which Gonzales provided a cover of legality - views which he expressly reasserted in his Senate confirmation hearings - inexorably led to abuses that have undermined military discipline and the moral authority our nation once carried. His actions led directly to documented violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and widespread abusive conduct in locales around the world.

Michael Posner of Human Rights First observed: "After the horrific images from Abu Ghraib became public last year, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the world should 'judge us by our actions [and] watch how a democracy deals with the wrongdoing and with scandal and the pain of acknowledging and correcting our own mistakes.'" We agree. It is because of this that we believe the only proper course of action is for the Senate to reject Alberto Gonzales's nomination for Attorney General. As Posner notes, "[t]he world is indeed watching." Will the Senate condone torture? Will the Senate condone the rejection of the rule of law?

With this nomination, we have arrived at a crossroads as a nation. Now is the time for all citizens of conscience to stand up and take responsibility for what the world saw, and, truly, much that we have not seen, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. We oppose the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States, and we urge the Senate to reject him.

27 January 2005

Education Secretary condemns PBS cartoon with lesbian characters

First it was SpongeBob Squarepants who was in trouble for being too gay-friendly.

Now the PBS cartoon series for children, "Postcards from Buster" is under attack. The US Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling has condemned the PBS series for showing a family with two moms in Vermont.

Read "Education Secretary condemns PBS cartoon with lesbian characters" for more details.

22 January 2005

U.S. Christians Issue Gay Warning Over Kid Video

Now Sponge-Bob can join the ranks of other gay characters who entertain children like Tinky-Winky, Bert and Ernie, Dr. Quest and Race Bannon, Snagglepuss, Peppermint Patty, C3PO in Star Wars, etc.

I'm glad to see that the Religious Right is concerned about important matters affecting our culture.

Online Unitarian Universalist Worship Planning Resources (based on an article written for my congregation's newsletter)

You've just found out that you're responsible for planning all or part of an upcoming worship service. You don't need to panic. Help may be just a mouse-click away.

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has online worship planning resources for nearly every type of worship experience we have at All Souls ... intergenerational, children, youth, young adults, and general worship planning. Here's a listing of what you can find online to help you:

UUA WorshipWeb -- An online resource for ordained and lay worship leaders.

WORSHIP-L Email Discussion List -- Discussion on presenting good worship services -- This email list is ideal for Worship Committee Chairs and members, Directors of Religious Education, musicians, ministers and others with an interest in worship.

Worship Resources from "InterConnections" -- "InterConnections" is the magazine for UU lay leaders.

SW District Speakers Database -- A listing of speakers available to speak at UU churches in the Southwest District (a resource for planning when our minister is out of the pulpit).

"Faith Works" Archives (formerly know as the "REACH" Religious Educator archives) Go to "Faith Works" and search for "worship" (without quotes) to see what is available. Or you can browse the back issues of "Faith Works" and "REACH" for ideas for worship and other church activities.

"Blessings to All Beings: A Youth Spiritual Anthology" -- A resource for creating youth worship. This resource includes homilies, sermons, poems, and readings about and by youth. This can be valuable for planning youth-led Sunday Services as well. The link provided requires Adobe Acrobat to use it.

A Guide to Planning a Youth Sunday -- The following is presented as a guideline to putting together Youth Sunday services. While it addresses Youth Sunday services, the guidelines and checklist on this resource can also be used by adults and would be comforting to Myers-Brigs "J" personalities. The downloadable Adobe Acrobat PDF version can be found here.

"Deep Fun: A Compendium of YRUU Games" -- An exciting combination of new and old games, divided into sections based on the "Five Steps of Building Community" used in UU youth ministry. Everything from the silly to the profound -- some of the activities here can be used in worship, adult RE, and other settings. The link provided above is an HTML resource. The downloadable Adobe Acrobat PDF version can be found online here.

Young Adult Worship Archives -- Resources from congregations and UU young adult groups across the US and Canada.

Unitarian Universalist Contemporary Worship -- This site is designed as a resource for congregations seeking to design more contemporary worship services to attract young adults and others who are largely absent from our communities of faith.

Please keep in mind that age-specific resources provided for children, youth, young adults, and adults may be adaptable for other age ranges. It may be helpful to think outside the age-range "boxes" when planning a worship service.

These worship planning resources are provided to our congregation through the generous financial contributions that our congregation and other UU congregations make to the UUA each year.

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

[Note: this resource has been updated on 22 July 2005 to fix two broken links and to add a link for contemporary worship planning.]

17 January 2005

My Survey Responses in the Ministerial Search Process - Part 5

This is my response to the eight, ninth, and tenth open-ended questions in the survey provided by my congregation's Ministerial Search Committee. The first response and the background behind these survey questions can be found here.

Would you like to see the church’s membership grow? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of growing?
I would like to see the congregation grow so much that we need to create new UU congregations in Shreveport to handle the numbers and theological diversity.

It would be very selfish of me to not want congregational growth. We don’t realize it but Unitarian Universalism does offer salvation. We can save people in Shreveport from those things that deny life or make it less whole.

Our UU tradition of offering health-promoting and sexuality-positive information for our youth is one very concrete example of how we offer salvation in our world. Since the early 1970s, UU churches have provided “About Your Sexuality” for youth. Today we offer the “Our Whole Lives” lifespan sexuality education program for children, youth, and adults.

Are there any special issues that you would like our Ministerial Search Committee to consider and on which you would like to express your views?
- How comfortable would a ministerial candidate be with promoting lifespan sexuality education and other matters related to congregational sexual health at All Souls?

- How comfortable would a ministerial candidate be with promoting the theological foundation of Unitarian Universalist youth ministry found in YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists)? These concepts include “youth empowerment,” shared youth-adult leadership, “power shared equals power multiplied,” youth ministry as a form of anti-oppression work that addresses ageism, etc.

- How comfortable would a ministerial candidate be with promoting congregational involvement in other types of anti-oppression work like “Welcoming Congregation” and “Journey Towards Wholeness”?

What would make you want to attend Sunday Services more often?
I usually don’t attend Sunday worship because I’m in the RE wing for most Sundays. Given that fact, you probably don’t want to listen to my thoughts.

But I’ve also found that what most Unitarian Universalist congregations offer on Sunday morning to be much less spiritual, less deep, and less intense than the typical worship experience I’ve seen at weekend YRUU rallies, SWUUSI youth camp, and UU young adult conferences.

From my experience with youth and young adult conferences, I would like to see us break out of the traditional Protestant “Sermon Sandwich” model for our worship services. There are UU models for doing alternative and contemporary worship that would free us from the mostly non-participatory, unidirectional communication style, lecture-sermon worship model that we inherited from our Protestant history.

Could our worship be done in a “circle worship” format instead of the current “rectangular” format?

Could it happen outside from time to time? Does it have to happen on Sunday morning? From a circadian rhythm point of view, Sunday morning is a bad time of day for some youth and young adults.

For youth and young adults who attend school five days a week, a worship experience that is a lecture-sermon is just another day of school work for them … do we want to add an extra day of work to their school schedule? Or do we want to offer a worship experience that allows one a chance to let his or her soul catch up with him or her … a refreshing break from the very busy lives we all lead?

My Survey Responses in the Ministerial Search Process - Part 4

This is my response to the sixth and seventh open-ended questions in the survey provided by my congregation's Ministerial Search Committee. The first response and the background behind these survey questions can be found here.

Describe the worst mistake your new minister could make.
Given that All Souls is one of the most conservative UU congregations I’ve attended, anything that moves us away from mainstream UU denominational practices would be a mistake. Within my experience within UU congregations, conferences, etc, we are at the conservative margins already.

Also, it would be to call a minister who is unwilling to take principled social justice stands on issues in our community. Our ordained religious professional (Angie) and our non-ordained religious professional (Susan) have both made some very courageous statements in favor of love, equality, and justice during the anti-same sex marriage amendment debates last fall. While I understand there has been some grumbling from some individuals over these social justice stands, I feel that we should be proud of standing up for justice and love.

Any UU minister who is unwilling to speak out like Angie and Susan on these social justice matters would not be good for our congregation, Unitarian Universalism, or Shreveport.

What expectations, however unstated, do you have about the minister’s family and personal life?
Since we are a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association, I think we should comply with the recommendations that have been created through the open and democratic governance of our association:

“… the 1980 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association urge the UUA and its member churches, fellowships and organizations to renew their commitment to end discrimination against gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons through educational programs at the local, district, and continental levels and calls upon the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association and the UUA Department of Ministerial and Congregational Services to lend full assistance in the settlement of qualified openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual religious leaders.” [1980 General Assembly Business Resolution]

“The MFC declares and affirms its special responsibility to value all persons without regard to race, color, gender, disability, affectional or sexual orientation, family structure, age, ethnicity, or national origin in making its credentialing decisions.” [Ministerial Fellowship Committee policy update, reported to the UUA Board of Trustees, 8 December 2003]

To me, this means our search committee should fairly consider any and all qualified candidates without regard to race, color, gender, gender expression, affectional or sexual orientation, family structure, age, ethnicity, or national origin.

I don’t have anything else to add here except that we as a congregation need to set healthy boundaries so our future minister had enough time away from us so she can have a personal and family life.

My Survey Responses in the Ministerial Search Process - Part 3

This is my response to the fourth and fifth open-ended questions in the survey provided by my congregation's Ministerial Search Committee. The first response and the background behind these survey questions can be found here.

What qualities (professional skills/expertise and personal) should our next minister possess? What is your profile of our hoped-for minister?
I would like to see a minister that reflects what is best in current Unitarian Universalist social justice thought. To call a minister like that, we will have to accept that she will be more like “Boston,” “San Francisco,” or “Starr King Seminary” and certainly not representative of Shreveport’s popular or political culture.

Given the rampant racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, etc already present in our town, we need a minister that causes us to question the norms, the “structural oppression,” and other non-intentional evils in Shreveport.

What achievements will make you say, “I’m glad the minister is among us?”
I would be glad to have any minister among us who can get widespread congregational acceptance of the importance of anti-oppression work in our congregation.

Anti-oppression work is spiritual work and is rooted in Unitarian Universalist principles, values, and historical tradition. Anti-oppression work represents Unitarian Universalists' commitment to living our principles and purposes.

Our goal of making our congregation anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural, and inclusive demonstrates our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all people. Applying anti-racism and other anti-oppression lenses (e.g. “Welcoming Congregation”) to our structures and standard operating procedures is practicing our responsible search for truth and meaning.

Involving and engaging marginalized communities in our decision-making, and following the leadership of those communities, deepens our commitment to the democratic process, enables us to exercise justice, compassion and equity at more profound levels of our community, and shows our recognition of the importance of interdependence in creating the beloved community.

Furthermore, anti oppression work is consistent with Unitarian Universalism's heretical tradition. We are challengers and questioners of the status quo. We celebrate our role in the vanguard of liberal religious, social and political movements.

Any minister who can encourage our indifferent board and congregation members along with our conservative naysayers to work together in Welcoming Congregation work, Journey Towards Wholeness anti-racism work, and other UU anti-oppression work social justice work would make me say “I’m glad the minister is among us.”

My Survey Responses in the Ministerial Search Process - Part 2

This is my response to the second and third open-ended questions in the survey provided by my congregation's Ministerial Search Committee. The first response and the background behind these survey questions can be found here.

What are the main things you would like the congregation to accomplish or get involved in within the next three to five years?
We should strive to be an inclusive congregation that is intentionally willing to struggle to dismantle legal and social barriers to equal association, act with integrity, and honor the many gifts that each of us brings to All Souls.

What current church problems/issues concern you? What problems/issues are likely to be pressing in five years?

Lack of Congregational Commitment to Anti-Oppression Work such as Anti-Racism programs like “Journey Towards Wholeness” and the “Welcoming Congregation” program that explores homophobia and heterosexism - From my experience in other UU settings in our district and elsewhere, we need to start on something easier like “Welcoming Congregation” before we attempt the more difficult anti-racism work. If we cannot find the spiritual strength to explore personal, cultural, and institutional biases towards BGLT folks, then I don’t think we have the strength to explore personal, cultural, and institutional biases towards people of color.

Demographic Changes That Affect Both Denominational and Congregational Growth – 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. This may be another reason for us to be more like “San Francisco” or “Boston” and less like “Shreveport” as a congregation. We won’t attract young liberal families to our congregation and its RE program if we act theologically conservative and retreat from UU social justice work.

How Do We Promote Ourselves When Being “Unchurched” Is Socially Acceptable Even in the “Bible Belt? – 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.

My Survey Responses in the Ministerial Search Process - Part 1

My congregation (All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana) is currently in the search process for a settled minister.

As part of this search process, our search committee is surveying the congregation for their views on the role of the minister, personal spiritual leanings, and more. The survey used by search committee is the one recommended by the Unitarian Universalist Association's Ministry and Professional Leadership Staff Group.

The final portion of this survey is a series of ten open-ended questions. The following blog entry is written in response to the the first question in the list of open-ended survey questions:

What current strengths does our congregation possess that you would like to either see maintained or developed in the immediate future?
In my opinion, our biggest strength is our religious “brand name” and the marketing niche associated with our denomination in North American religious life.

In much of North America and certainly in Shreveport/Bossier City, where can a political liberal go and feel affirmed on Sunday morning at church?

Where can a bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender person and/or family go and be affirmed on Sunday morning at church?

Where can an interracial couple go and be affirmed on Sunday morning at church?

The obvious answer should be “All Souls Shreveport.”

In terms of denominational “brand names” and theological marketing niches, we are the only Unitarian Universalist congregation within 70 miles. This means we have a potential strength that we can use to grow both in numbers and also grow the souls in our congregation.

Being a Unitarian Universalist doesn’t mean we can believe “anything we want to believe.” We are not a “consumer-driven” religion but rather one that should both comfort and challenge us.

As a faith community, we have a history and a shared theology that we have inherited, inhabit today, and will be passed along to later generations after we are gone.

This theology and its components that we have inherited are distinctively Unitarian Universalist and reflect our history as a North American religious movement … how we view humanity and God, how we form church communities, the “end result” of our theology, how we view other faith communities, how we view salvation, etc are distinctively “different” from most Shreveport churches. Hiding this difference would be a grave mistake.

[Note: See Karen LoBracco's sermon based on Dr. Rebecca Parker's Liberal Religious Educator Association talks on UU theology of religious education presented at the 2002 LREDA Fall Conference for details about what I think we offer that is unique in Shreveport.]

We cannot use this unique marketing strength if we market ourselves as a “Protestant-Lite” church in Shreveport and Bossier City … other churches can do “Protestant-Lite” better than we can and we’re the only church in town who can offer Unitarian Universalist theology.

Programs like “Welcoming Congregation,” “Journey Towards Wholeness,” “Young Religious Unitarian Universalists,” and “Our Whole Lives” do run counter to prevailing cultural norms of Shreveport and Bossier City. Given the stifling and unhealthy cultural norms in our community, being “out of step” should be a marketing plus and not a problem for us in our marketing.

Our Unitarian Universalist neighbors in Longview, TX have marketed themselves as a distinctive religious community that is different from other Longview churches. When they offered Unitarian Universalist sexuality education for their adults, they sent a press release to the local paper religion editor. This informed their community that their church was uniquely sexuality-positive. When they started the Welcoming Congregation study process (about a year before they took the congregational vote to become a Welcoming Congregation), they sent out a press release to the local paper again. This informed their community that they were uniquely BGLT-friendly. One end result of the Longview UU fellowship’s positioning of themselves as a unique congregation in the Bible Belt has been numeric growth … so much growth that they are outgrowing their building and will be receiving the next SW District “Chalice Lighter” grant to assist them in growing further.

However, we also have some other strengths that should be mentioned as well:

- Children and Youth Faith Development Programs (“Religious Education”)

- Dedicated church staff who work incredibly hard for us

- Dedicated volunteers who support the life of the congregation.

05 January 2005

Puzzled and Concerned Over Criticism of UU Youth Anti-Racism Work

In case you hadn't seen it, there's a discussion thread on the Philocrites blog on the withdrawal of official UUA support for the Young Religious Unitarian Universalist (YRUU) Continental Conference ("Con Con"):

"So much for 'Con Con: The Movie.'"

The author/editor of the Philocrites blog is Chris Walton, the Senior Editor for the UU World magazine.

Frankly, I'm both puzzled and disappointed by the "blame anti-racism" attitudes in the original blog posting and the replies to that posting.

My only experience with Continental YRUU anti-racism work was at the 2003 YRUU Long Range Planning Conference and it was an overall positive experience for me. However, I've also encountered anti-racism work in other UU settings.

The anti-racism and anti-oppression work I've experienced in other UU settings (congregational workshops, LREDA Fall Conference, SWUUSI youth camp, YRUU Cons, ConCentric) have varied greatly from being highly effective and challenging to highly ineffective due to a lack of participant support.

I have seen the same lack of interest in my congregation's adult community with the Welcoming Congregation program. We've even had some of our naysaying members complain that the Welcoming Congregation program is out of touch for the "real UUs" in our congregation, the UUA staff has been taken over by "hippies," etc.

To me, this suggests that the problem with Con Con isn't one of "elite" YRUU vs. local congregational youth. It's more like our UU youth (non-congregational and congregational) simply reflect the rest of the UUA in microcosm. Face it -- most adults and most youth are not involved in UUA denominational events outside the walls of their congregations. Oftentimes, the results of our denominational decision-making surprise who are not connected with the wider association.

If Con Con and Youth Council are "out of touch" with local youth groups, isn't the same "out of touch" situation also present with General Assembly and adults in UU congregations, SWUUSI and adults in the SW District congregations, etc?

Most adults in my district don't attend my district's summer institute, district conferences, General Assembly, etc. Most youth don't attend the Con Con, the summer institute's youth camp, or YRUU rallies (what my district calls YRUU cons). This is often called "not meetings the needs of all youth" but it's considered acceptable for adults though.

The "fragility" of our youth programs that Philocrites refers to on his blog is also present in our adult UU programming. As an "association of congregations" or a "denomination" (pick whatever term is appropriate for your view of our polity), too many adults know too little about what is going on in other UU congregations, in their districts, and throughout the UUA.

This is not a youth-only issue but apparently a denominational issue in my opinion. I see the same trends in UU adults. We are not a well-interconnected cooperative network of congregations promoting faith development throughout the lifespan. And part of this is due to our congregationalism being taken to the point of unhealthy "idolatry."