29 December 2006

Resources on History of Congregational Polity Within Unitarian Universalism

In a recent post, Paul Wilczynski mentioned the Cambridge Platform. The Cambridge Platform is an important historical document for the Unitarian part of our heritage. It is the foundation of our congregational polity.

Congregational polity is a subset of a larger topic -- ecclesiastical polity. Wikipedia defines "ecclesiastical polity" as:
" ... the operational and governance structure of a church or Christian denomination. It also denotes the ministerial structure of the church and the authority relationships between churches. Polity is closely related to Ecclesiology, the study of doctrine and theology relating to church organization."
And Wikipedia defines "congregational polity" as:
"Congregationalist polity dispenses with elders or bishops as a requirement of church structure. The local congregation rules itself, though local leaders and councils may be appointed.

Members may be sent from the congregation to associations that are sometimes identified with the church bodies formed by Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and other non-congregational Protestants. The similarity is deceptive, however, because the congregationalist associations do not exercise control over their members (other than ending their membership in the association). Many congregationalist churches are complete independent on principle.

It is a principle of congregationalism that ministers do not govern congregations by themselves. They may preside over the congregation, but it is the congregation which exerts its authority in the end.

Congregational polity is sometimes called "baptist polity", as it is the characteristic polity of baptist churches."
Two resources on congregational polity can be found on the UUA web site:
Both of these resources talk about the Cambridge Platform within the context of Unitarian Universalist history. And both are free downloads from the Unitarian Universalist Association's web site.

26 December 2006

24 December 2006

"Gifts To The World" -- Rock Music Commentary on the "Meaning of Christmas"

Is Christmas a "Christian" holiday where we celebrate the birth of Jesus? Or is it a syncrestic holiday blend of Pagan and Christian elements? Or is it a totally secular holiday where we get presents?

Related to the mishmash of Christian and Pagan elements is the recent rock video from the band Sin Destroyers. Their video can be seen online here via youtube or Google video:

They appear to be a tongue-in-cheek parody of a heavy metal Christian rock band -- one press quote about them says:
“If Iron Maiden had attended Catholic school, this would be their garage band."

20 December 2006

Concerns Over Southwest District Youth Camp Decision Process

This morning I received a link to an online petition from a fellow youth advisor in my district regarding the decision process used with a radical restructuring of our district's very successful youth summer camp.

Before you get into the petition, here's a brief glossary of the acronyms used in it:

SWUUC -- Southwest Unitarian Universalist Conference (aka "Southwest District")
SWUUSI -- Southwest Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute
YRUU -- Young Religious Unitarian Universalists

The petition is copied here:
To: SWUUC Board

Whereas the SWUUSI Youth camp has for many years been a popular and successful youth-governed program that convenes the same week as the SWUUSI intergenerational camp at a separate site on Lake Murray in Oklahoma,

Whereas Jennifer Nichols-Payne reported to district SWUUC that the SWUUSI Board agreed to change the Youth Camp to a different time and place (July 3-8 at Briarwood Retreat Center in North Texas) without involving the YRUU in that decision,

We, the undersigned, propose that SWUUSI youth camp take place at the same time and place as it has in past years for the summer of 2007. We further propose that a task force involving youth, parents, and advisors be formed to discuss the concerns articulated by Jennifer Nichols-Payne and that the task force make changes to address those concerns while maintaining the youth-centered character of the camp.


The Undersigned

And you can sign the petition using this link. Thanks for your support.

08 December 2006

Non-Transgender Privilege

I learned about this non-transgender privilege list at a recent workshop at my church that was presented by the founder of the Transgender Alternatives Project (TGAP) in Shreveport, Louisiana.

The author of this list is the very prolific "unknown author" according to the web site were this list was found. This list is based on Peggy McIntosh's White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.
1) Strangers don't assume they can ask me what my genitals look like and how I have sex.

2) My validity as a man/woman/human is not based upon how much surgery I've had or how well I "pass" as a non-Trans person.

3) When initiating sex with someone, I do not have to worry that they won't be able to deal with my parts or that having sex with me will cause my partner to question his or her own sexual orientation.

4) I am not excluded from events which are either explicitly or de facto* men-born-men or women-born-women only. (*basically anything involving nudity)

5) My politics are not questioned based on the choices I make with regard to my body.

6) I don't have to hear "so have you had THE surgery?" or "oh, so you're REALLY a [incorrect sex or gender]?" each time I come out to someone.

7) I am not expected to constantly defend my medical decisions.

8) Strangers do not ask me what my "real name" [birth name] is and then assume that they have a right to call me by that name.

9) People do not disrespect me by using incorrect pronouns even after they've been corrected.

10) I do not have to worry that someone wants to be my friend or have sex with me in order to prove his or her "hipness" or good politics.

11) I do not have to worry about whether I will be able to find a bathroom to use or whether I will be safe changing in a locker room.

12) When engaging in political action, I do not have to worry about the *gendered* repercussions of being arrested. (i.e. what will happen to me if the cops find out that my genitals do not match my gendered appearance? Will I end up in a cell with people of my own gender?)

13) I do not have to defend my right to be a part of "Queer" and gays and lesbians will not try to exclude me from OUR movement in order to gain political legitimacy for themselves.

14) My experience of gender (or gendered spaces) is not viewed as "baggage" by others of the gender in which I live.

15) I do not have to choose between either invisibility ("passing") or being consistently "othered" and/or tokenized based on my gender.

16) I am not told that my sexual orientation and gender identity are mutually exclusive.

17) When I go to the gym or a public pool, I can use the showers.

18) If I end up in the emergency room, I do not have to worry that my gender will keep me from receiving appropriate treatment nor will all of my medical issues be seen as a product of my gender. ("Your nose is running and your throat hurts? Must be due to the hormones!")

19) My health insurance provider (or public health system) does not specifically exclude me from receiving benefits or treatments available to others because of my gender.

20) When I express my internal identities in my daily life, I am not considered "mentally ill" by the medical establishment.

21) I am not required to undergo extensive psychological evaluation in order to receive basic medical care.

22) The medical establishment does not serve as a "gatekeeper" which disallows self-determination of what happens to my body.

23) People do not use me as a scapegoat for their own unresolved gender issues.
While searching for this list online, I also learned a new bit of jargon. Instead of using the term "non-transgender," one can use the term "cisgender." According to Wikipedia:

"Cis is a Latin noun or prefix, meaning "on the same side [of]" or "on this side [of]". It is the opposite of trans, which means "on the opposite side"."

A cisgender person is a person who presents a gender identity that society considers a match for the person's biological sex. Wikipedia has a page on cisgender here.

Cisgender is an example of inclusive language. Other terms like "normal" and "non-transgender" implicitly suggest that cisgender is normative and everything else isn't (sorta like describing men as non-female or women as non-male).

Nostalgia for "About Your Sexuality" Curriculum?

During recent Our Whole Lives (OWL) curriculum training workshops for Grades 7-9 and Grades 10-12, I've heard adult participants who attended the earlier Unitarian Universalist About Your Sexuality (AYS) program while they were adolescents voice nostalgia for the earlier AYS program and the sexually explicit filmstrip visuals used in AYS.

I've also heard some criticism of the decision in the OWL Grades 7-9 program to use hand-drawn images instead of photographs in this program's visuals.

I mentioned this AYS nostalgia on another blog as a comment. This blog's author said that she isn't nostalgic for the AYS images, would never be nostalgic for the AYS images, and the AYS images almost turned her off sex entirely.

This wide range of observed recollections (nostalgic memories and unpleasant memories) is very normal. This probably reflects a very normal human variation ("your actual mileage may vary" as they say in the TV ads).

I suspect that there's a self-selection involved when a person decides to attend an OWL facilitator training workshop. If a person was uncomfortable with the earlier AYS filmstrips, then he or she probably won't decide to spend 2 1/2 days in an OWL Grades 7-9/10-12 facilitator training workshop.

This wide range of reactions has me curious. If you attended AYS as an adolescent and would feel comfortable sharing your reaction to the AYS filmstrips, please comment on this thread.


PS -- Here's some background history on AYS for those who are curious about the sexuality education program offered before OWL:

Our Whole Lives -- Interfaith Roots (from the UUA web site)

When The Public Eye met a private institution's program: Taking sexuality education out of context (article by Rev. Sarah Gibb, former Outreach Coordinator Sexuality Education Task Force -- Unitarian Universalist Association and United Church of Christ and current Adult Programs Director -- Lifespan Faith Development Staff Group, Unitarian Universalist Association

About Your Sexuality (Wikipedia article)

04 December 2006

Online Youth Ministry Survey

The Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth is a two-year process to revision, renew and support the Unitarian Universalist Association's ministry to and with youth. This process is intended to gather inputs from the widest possible spectrum of stakeholders in Unitarian Universalist youth ministry.

Part of this gathering of inputs is an online youth advisor survey. Check out the information below on this survey:
Dear Youth Advisor,

Thank you for your commitment to Unitarian Universalist youth. The Task Force of the Consultation on Ministry To and With Youth would like to better understand the vital roles and complex experiences of adults who work directly with youth. That's you!

Not only do we wish to learn from your expertise and feedback, but we also hope to better understand the diversity of adult involvement in the spiritual lives of youth across the Association. To do this, we ask you to complete this survey.

In these 20 to 30 minutes of questions, we ask you to reflect on support, training, vision for youth ministry, and the definition of youth empowerment as well as offer demographic information. We realize the limitations of survey data; however, we hope that open-ended questions create the space to communicate your unique and significant knowledge.

As a religious community, we can and must do a better job of supporting and sustaining you in your ministry to and with youth. In the spirit of youth ministry, we hope that this survey serves as a window into the lived experiences of youth advisors.

We will keep the link to this survey "live" from December 1, 2006, until February 28, 2007. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact us by email or phone.

In faith,

Megan Dowdell
(508) 314-0783

Jesse Jaeger
Youth Program Director
(617) 948-4359

29 November 2006

Garrison Keillor Bashes Non-Christians

Garrison Keillor's latest salon.com essay is entirely too full of Christian Triumphalism. Some reader responses have suggested that his essay has drifted into coded anti-Semitism.

Here's a brief quote from his essay:
There are people who feel "excluded" by Christian symbolism and are offended by the manger and the angels and the Child, but there have always been humorless, legalistic people. Complaint is an American art form, and in our time it has been raised to an operatic level. To which one can only say: Get a life. When you go to France, you don't expect a stack of buckwheat pancakes for breakfast or Le Monde to print box scores. You're in France. Now you're in America. It's a Christian culture. Work with it.
According to a 2001 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) survey of religious identification, 76.5% of the US population (159 million Americans) identify themselves as Christian. Given this current majority, it's very easy for the Christian Triumphalist bully to tell us "It's a Christian culture. Work with it."

However, it's never safe to assume that one can always be the bully.

The 76.5% of persons identifying as Christian is a decline from 86.2% in 1990.

Christian self-identification has dropped 9.7% in 11 years.

This decline is identical to that observed in Canada between 1981 and 2001. If this trend continues, then by about the year 2042, non-Christians will outnumber the Christians in the U.S. By about the year 2023, non-Christians will outnumber Christians in Canada.

Given this demographic trend in the US and Canada, perhaps a dose of Christian humility is in order here?

21 November 2006

Internet Porn - Its Role in Reducing Rape

If you haven't seen this article on Salon.com' s "Broadsheet" segment that covers issues related to feminism and gender politics, it appears that the empirical evidence (availability of internet porn correlates with a reduction in rape) contradicts the prevailing "conventional wisdom" that porn leads to increased violence against women.

Here's a brief snippet from "Broadsheet" about internet porn:

Here's some food for thought for conservative groups demanding restrictions on Internet porn to safeguard the minds of innocent boys (an oxymoron if ever there was one): As it turns out, all those clips on Hustler.com may be protecting womens' safety. A reader tipped us off to Slate columnist Steven E. Landsburg's analysis of how the increase in use and availability of Internet porn has, contrary to popular opinion, contributed to the national decline in reported rapes. As he puts it, "The rise of the Internet offers a gigantic natural experiment. Better yet, because Internet usage caught on at different times in different states, it offers 50 natural experiments." The results, according to a study by Clemson University professor Todd Kendall, indicate that a 10 percent increase in Internet access yielded around a 7.3 percent decrease in reported rapes, with states that had greater Internet access seeing the largest and fastest declines.

Still, as Landsburg points out, how do we know the Web use-rape link is connected to porn? Maybe online gaming, sports chat rooms or other male-dominated sites are in fact catching the attention of potential rapists. Kendall responds to this argument by offering murder rates; while the data consistently ties increased Internet use to decreased rapes, no such correlation exists for homicides. "It's hard to see how Wikipedia can deter rape without deterring other violent crimes at the same time," Landsburg noted. "On the other hand, it's easy to imagine how porn might serve as a substitute for rape." Coming as no surprise, the effects are strongest among boys ages 14 to 19, a demographic that Kendall, and common sense, identify as the group that relies most heavily on the Internet for porn access.

I've read about surveys that report an increase in misogynistic attitudes after viewing pornography. Apparently, they are due to an obviously behavioral research design flaw that was noted in the "Broadsheet" article:

As for psychological studies showing that male subjects are more likely to articulate misogynistic attitudes immediately after viewing pornography, Kendall dismisses the results by pointing out defects in the experiments themselves. As Landsburg delicately rephrases, watching porn in a controlled laboratory setting with teams of researchers looking on is hardly comparable to "the experience of viewing porn on the Internet, in the privacy of one's own room, [which] typically culminates in a slightly messier but far more satisfying experience."
Or ... in the paraphrased words of the comic Norm McDonald ... "Porn doesn't make me violent. When I watch porn I get sleepy."

09 November 2006

Ubuntu Wireless LAN Card Recommendation

On some liberal religious blogs (Michelle Murrain and Scott Wells), there has been discussion of open-source alternatives to the proprietary and costly Microsoft and Apple operating systems.

Most of this discussion has been on using the Ubuntu Linux versions as a free alternative.

Last night, I was setting up some old cast-off PCs with Ubuntu Linux 6.06.

These older PCs were a generic clone with an AMD Athlon CPU and a Compaq with a Pentium III CPU. I also wanted to put these systems on our church's wireless LAN and I found that the following card was reported to work "out of the box" with Ubuntu Linux 6.06 and 6.10 versions on the user support sites for Ubuntu:

D-Link WDA-1320 PCI 802.11g Wireless Adaptor for Desktop PCs

This card can be found for the $40.00 to $50.00 range. I found them in Shreveport for $39.95 and for $49.95 with $10.00 mail-in rebate.

Ubuntu 6.06 recognized these cards and there were no special Linux "tricks" needed to make them work.

This card worked with both PCs and I'll probably purchase the same card for use with the three additional cast-off Compaq Pentium III systems as well.

The card found our Wi-Fi LAN and connected with no problems once I used the "hexadecimal" choice for entering the WEP code. These wireless cards when used with Ubuntu were as painless as wireless networking with Windows XP and Mac OS X.

If your congregants have donated older computer hardware to your congregation, this wireless LAN cards is worth considering for use with Ubuntu.

09 October 2006

The Scientologists Get Tom Cruise and The Fundamentalist Christians Are Stuck With This Guy ...

Check out how a washed-up Hollywood actor finds religion, condemns Bono for promoting Third World debt relief, and is advising the President ... click here for the salon.com article.

07 October 2006

An Open Letter to Sen. Brownback (R - Kansas)

Below is an email that I sent to Senator Brownback in response to his criticism of Judge Neff's participation in a United Church of Christ holy union ceremony in 2002:
Sen. Brownback,

This email is in reply to the news coverage surrounding your criticism of Judge Janet T. Neff and her participation in a holy union ceremony in a United Church of Christ religious setting.

Judge Neff was taking part in a religious ceremony that is grounded in the United Church of Christ's understanding of God, Jesus, and the Bible.

Article VI of the US Constitution states that " ... no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States" and your criticism of Judge Neff's religious beliefs would be a religious test.

It's my understanding that the US Constitution expressly forbids religious disqualification for judicial nominees and your endorsement of religious disqualification shows that you have no respect for our nation, our constitution, and the values of religious freedom that most Americans share.

With your suggestion that participation in a same-sex holy union ceremony would disqualify someone from serving as a federal judge, you have disqualified many liberal Christians, liberal Jews, members of the United Church of Christ churches, and members of Unitarian Universalist Churches from serving as judges.

To see my religious faith as a Unitarian Universalist and the faith of our United Church of Christ neighbors treated this way tells me that you have no respect for the Constitution, our laws, or religious freedom.

Steve Caldwell

19 September 2006

George Allen's Anger Over Jewish "Aspersions"

This salon.com commentary about the Virginia Senate race says a lot about George Allen. I'm posting the commentary in its entirety:

George Allen and the "aspersion" of Judaism

George Allen insists that he didn't mean anything by it when he called an Indian-American college student "macaca." But when a reporter asks Allen whether some of his ancestors were Jewish -- well, now, that's an "aspersion" worthy of boos, hisses and public condemnation.

The question came up Monday as Allen debated Jim Webb in Tysons Corner, Va. Allen, asked yet again about his "macaca" moment, underscored his long-standing belief in tolerance and acceptance -- all those Confederate flags notwithstanding -- by noting that his grandfather had been "incarcerated by the Nazis in World War II." WUSA-TV's Peggy Fox followed up by noting that Allen's grandfather was Jewish and asking him "at what point" his family's "Jewish identity" may have ended.

As the Washington Post's
Dana Milbank reports, Allen "recoiled as if he had been struck," and his supporters in the audience "hissed and booed." Allen, who likes to say he was raised on the "four Fs" -- faith, family, freedom and football --demanded to know why religion was relevant in the Senate race. He told Fox to "ask questions about issues that really matter to people here in Virginia" and to stop "making aspersions" about him.

Fox says she was just looking for "honesty" from Allen, a Californian by birth who has reinvented himself as a cowboy-boot-wearing, tobacco-chewing Southern darling of the religious right. And while Milbank says that Fox's question may have seemed a little out of place at a candidate's debate, Allen's wrath seemed entirely out of proportion to the provocation. He said he was glad that the crowd had booed Fox, and he accused her of "making aspersions about people because of their religious beliefs." Even after the debate ended, Allen was still fuming. When somebody asked why Fox's question had made him so angry, he shot back: "What do you mean, 'make me so angry'?" He complained about Fox's attempt to bring his family's history into the debate -- then mentioned again that his grandfather had been "incarcerated by the Nazis in World War II."

So why is Allen so upset? It seems pretty simple to us. When you paint yourself as one with rednecks and racists -- wrapping yourself in the Confederate flag, hanging a noose from your office tree, cozying up to the modern version of the Ku Klux Klan, calling out the dark-skinned college kid in your midst -- you don't take it kindly when someone asks whether you might be on the other side of the line you've been drawing.

Macaca is always the other guy. It can't possibly be me.

26 July 2006

Susie Bright and Greta Christina -- Commentary on Awestruck Skepticism

I would recommend reading Greta Christina's blog and Susie Bright's blog commentary on transcendent skepticism.

I think it's relevant to the "language of reverence" discussions happening in Unitarian Universalism and what role that skeptical Humanists will have in developing a language of reverence. Here's a brief sample from Susie Bright's blog where she quotes Greta's blog:
Blogger Greta Christina has just lost her temper with notion that "God is in the details," as lovely as that may sound from a lyrical perspective.
It is entirely possible to be a skeptic, an agnostic, and/or an atheist— regarding all metaphysical beliefs, not just deities or organized religions— and still lead a rich, satisfying life, full of creativity and connection and love.

More to the point, it is possible to be a skeptic, an agnostic, and/or an atheist, and still experience awestruck wonder at the mysterious majesty of the universe, and a feeling of transcendent oneness with it.

09 July 2006

"Follow The Money" - Episcopal Diocese of Washington DC Report on the IRD

More info on IRD political dirty tricks ...
When the General Convention of the Episcopal Church meets June 13 in Columbus, Ohio, a small network of theologically conservative organizations will be on hand to warn deputies that they must repent of their liberal attitudes on homosexuality or face serious consequences. The groups represent a small minority of church members, but relationships with wealthy American donors and powerful African bishops have made them key players in the fight for the future of the Anglican Communion.
The entire report can be downloaded here (requires Adobe Acrobat or other PDF reader software).

IRD and Political Dirty Tricks in Religion

This blog excerpt comes from Rev. Susan Russell's blog where she is quoting Peter Laarman's recent column "A Canterbury Tale: U.S. Episcopalians in Manufactured Schism."

Rev. Russell is President of Integrity, the Episcopal Church's "leading grassroots voice for the full inclusion of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) persons in the Episcopal Church and our equal access to its rites."

Here's the interesting excerpt.
It's the old liberals' dilemma, ecclesiastical version. They fight dirty; we don't. They organize; we temporize. They seize the pendulum and give it a rightward shove; we wait meekly for the pendulum to swing back.

The liberals could at least point out -- and I hope that Bishop Jefferts Schori will be the first to do so -- how shamelessly the rift within the U.S. denomination has been manipulated and exacerbated for many years by a little-known but well-financed and quite deadly operation called the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD).

Created by cunning Schactmanites and by ex-CIA operatives during the time of Reagan's dirty wars in Central America, the IRD's core work plan has always called for dividing and disabling the larger Mainline Protestant denominations -- the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, United Methodists, and Evangelical Lutherans -- using any means necessary. The means that has worked best by far is relentlessly flogging the issue of homosexuality and accusing religious progressives of departing from the true faith by preaching that God really does love everybody.

Thanks to the IRD's skillful fingering of this hot button through the different front groups it operates within each body, all four national denominations have been pretty much AWOL from the more urgent moral debates this moment: e.g., imperial wars of choice, torture, civil liberties, Katrina, climate change, and economic terrorism from above. The denoms just don't have the energy. Nearly all their attention and focus have been consumed by internal debates on matters Levitical.

I was reliably informed that the IRD operated right out in the open at the Episcopal convention back there in Columbus. And why shouldn't they crawl out of the woodwork and get kinda jiggy at this point? In Ohio they scored their biggest coup in a quarter-century of patient stalinoid boring from within.

One final irony: several of the guiding spirits in forming the IRD went on to create the intellectual foundations of the Bush-Cheney "dominance doctrine." So it's not that these folks doubt for one minute that Americans should rule the world; they are in fact quite passionately committed to taking up the White Man's Burden. It's just that in order for American dominance to be secured against all possible sources of domestic opposition, the liberal churches needed to be silenced. And for this purpose, what better CIA-like cover could possibly be contrived than multicultural deference to the spiritual interests and biblical views of the very same ex-colonials -- Africans, Asians, and Latins -- whose material interests and worldly aspirations our peerless American Empire will continue to shunt aside with total and utter contempt.
The IRD covert involvement in creating schism in Mainline Protestant Churches as a way to neutralize their prophetic voices for social justice has been very successful. Our Congregationalist cousins in the United Church of Christ are dealing with their IRD-supported schism called the Biblical Witness Fellowship.

I suspect the reason that the IRD isn't interested in creating schism within the UUA is we just aren't big enough to worry about. If we were to grow larger as a denomination, I wouldn't be surprised to see IRD support of schism movements within the UUA.

07 July 2006

Interview with Sam Harris (Author of "The End of Faith")

Salon.com has an interview with Sam Harris:

The disbeliever
Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith," on why religious moderates are worse than fundamentalists, 9/11 led us into a deranged holy war, and believers should be treated like alien-abduction kooks.

Sam Harris isn't totally anti-religious. His criticism is mostly directed towards scripture-based God-of-Abraham monotheism. With our historical roots in this tradition, this book might be a good resource for a book discussion group to explore how to responsibly exist in our tradition.

Here's a brief quote from the Salon.com interview where he talks about Buddhism:

You can't get the same kind of death cult brewing in Buddhism, or at least not as readily. And that's why we don't see Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers.

You know, the Tibetans have suffered a terrible occupation under the Chinese. Many people estimate that 1.1 or 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a result of that occupation. We should see Tibetan Buddhists blowing themselves up on Chinese buses, if all religions are equivalent. But we don't see that. What we do see in Tibetan Buddhism -- which is impossible to even imagine in Islam at the moment -- we see Tibetans who have been tortured for decades in Chinese prisons, coming out and saying things like, "My greatest fear while I was in prison was that I would lose the strength of my compassion and come to hate my torturers." Now, that said, there's nothing in Buddhism that's held dogmatically that I would support. It's just that all dogmas are not equal and don't have equal behavioral consequences.

25 June 2006

General Assembly Workshop on 2005 Closing Ceremony Events

This was added to the Unitarian Universalist Assocation's 2006 General Assembly web pages today:
The Special Review Commission held this workshop as a forum for further conversation about events that occurred during and prior to General Assembly in Fort Worth, Texas in June, 2005. The Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) formed the Commission following last year's General Assembly, charging the Commission "to review the trajectory of events which impacted the Unitarian Universalist community of color, especially the youth of color community, leading up to and during the Fort Worth General Assembly." This complex series of racially-charged events revealed racist attitudes among Unitarian Universalists.
The rest of the workshop summary can be found online here.

The Special Review Commission Final Report can be found online here (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader or other PDF reader software).

24 June 2006

Welcoming Congregation Failure -- Looking Back After One Year

I've been thinking about the Welcoming Congregation failure we experienced in Spring 2005 at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana.

I'm also curious about when or if we are going to re-examine the Welcoming Congregation program at All Souls.

The following text is copied from the June 2005 Advisory Commission Report on Welcoming Congregation conflicts (text pasted in as a graphic):

[Note: The entire report can be read online here. This file requires Adobe Acrobat Reader or other compatible PDF reader software.]

It's been over a year since report was released to the congregation and our settled minister has been at All Souls for nearly a year. I suspect that she has a good idea about who we are and what our congregational life is like.

I would suggest that we need to start talking about Welcoming Congregation again at All Souls.

As a congregation, we stumbled very badly in our internal reflection and study of homophobia, heterosexism, and oppression at All Souls.

I know that our retreat from this social justice issue has led to a loss of some members and the perception by some in the non-Unitarian Universalist Shreveport bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender communities that we're not living up to our ideals as a congregation that affirms the worth and dignity of every person along with justice, equality, and compassion in our relationships.

It's also hurt me personally as well and has caused me to question if I really fit in here as a member of this congregation.

I suspect that our failure is affecting our congregational growth in Shreveport ... especially when we compare ourselves to our nearest UU neighbors in Longview TX (who are growing at 10-15% a year and had to purchase a new worship space in order to comply with building fire code occupancy requirements on Sunday mornings).

In a larger sense, we may want to ask ourselves why we are not experiencing the sort of growth one sees in the Longview congregation. Perhaps we should send some of our folks to visit them on Sunday and see what they have done that is different from All Souls?

There is plenty of evidence that we still have work to do internally with our congregation's attitudes towards homophobia and heterosexism.

Here's a few additional quotes from All Souls members in the June 2005 report that provide us evidence of this homophobia and heterosexism (text from June 2005 report pasted in as graphics):

Folks, it's pretty disingenuous to say that we're not homophobic and we don't have a problem with gays, but we don't want to be known as the "gay church" in Shreveport.

To examine why this "gay church" concern may suggest that we still have some work to do, it's worth using a resource developed by psychologist Dorothy Riddle:
Riddle Homophobia Scale: Attitudes Toward Differences
In a clinical sense, homophobia is defined as an intense, irrational fear of same sex relationships that becomes overwhelming to the person. In common usage, homophobia is the fear of intimate relationships with persons of the same sex. Below are listed four negative homophobic levels, and four positive levels of attitudes towards lesbian and gay relationships / people. They were developed by Dr. Dorothy Riddle, a psychologist from Tucson, Arizona.

Homophobic Levels of Attitude
Repulsion: Homosexuality is seen as a "crime against nature." Gays/lesbians are sick, crazy, immoral, sinful, wicked, etc. Anything is justified to change them: prison, hospitalization, behavior therapy, electroshock therapy, etc.

Pity: Heterosexual chauvinism. Heterosexuality is more mature and certainly to be preferred. Any possibility of "becoming straight" should be reinforced, and those who seem to be born "that way" should be pitied, "the poor dears."

Tolerance: Homosexuality is just a phase of adolescent development that many people go through and most people "grow out of." Thus, lesbians/gays are less mature than "straights" and should be treated with the protectiveness and indulgence one uses with a child. Lesbians/gays should not be given positions of authority because they are still working through their adolescent behavior.

Acceptance: Still implies there is something to accept. Characterized by such statements as "You're not lesbian to me, you're a person!" or "What you do in bed is your own business." or "That's fine with me as long as you don't flaunt it!"

Positive Levels of Attitudes
Support: The basic ACLU position. Work to safeguard the rights of lesbians and gays. People at this level may be uncomfortable themselves, but they are aware of the homophobic climate and the irrational unfairness.

Admiration: Acknowledges that being lesbian/gay in our society takes strength. People at this level are willing to truly examine their homophobic attitudes, values, and behaviors.

Appreciation: Value the diversity of people and see lesbians/gays as a valid part of that diversity. These people are willing to combat homophobia in themselves and others.

Nurturance: Assumes that gay/lesbian people are indispensable in our society. They view lesbians/gays with genuine affection and delight, and are willing to be allies and advocates.
Source - http://www.d.umn.edu/~hrallis/professional/presentations/ally_training/riddle_scale.htm
My experience with the Welcoming Congregation process suggests that our congregation is stuck at the "tolerance" and "acceptance" positions on the Riddle Scale.

As a congregation, we are a long way from "support" ... especially if we are unwilling to be personally "uncomfortable" (e.g. not willing to be known as the "gay church).

We still have some unresolved work to do on congregational homophobia and heterosexism at All Souls.

27 May 2006

Tim Berners-Lee and Net Neutrality

The Unitarian Universalist computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee has recently started a blog. His most recent post is on the "net neutrality" issue.

As Unitarian Universalists with a committment to affirm and promote the "free and responsible search for truth and meaning," the "net neutrality" issue is important to us.

Here's a brief quote from Tim's blog:
The Internet is increasingly becoming the dominant medium binding us. The neutral communications medium is essential to our society. It is the basis of a fair competitive market economy. It is the basis of democracy, by which a community should decide what to do. It is the basis of science, by which humankind should decide what is true.

Let us protect the neutrality of the net.
... and you can read the rest of it online here.

12 May 2006

NEWS: House Injects Prayer Into Defense Bill

"House Injects Prayer Into Defense Bill" by Alan Cooperman and Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post Staff Writers - Friday, 12 May 2006 - Page A05 - see the excerpts copied below and this link for the entire article) :

The House passed a $513 billion defense authorization bill yesterday that includes language intended to allow chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus at public military ceremonies, undercutting new Air Force and Navy guidelines on religion.


Before the bill reached the House floor, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee added the provision on military chaplains. It says each chaplain "shall have the prerogative to pray according to the dictates of the chaplain's own conscience, except as must be limited by military necessity, with any such limitation being imposed in the least restrictive manner feasible."

Air Force and Navy rules issued in recent months allow chaplains to pray as they wish in voluntary worship services. But the rules call for nonsectarian prayers, or a moment of silence, at public meetings or ceremonies, especially when attendance is mandatory for service members of all faiths.

Focus on the Family, the Christian Coalition and other evangelical Christian groups have lobbied vigorously against the Air Force and Navy rules, urging President Bush to issue an executive order guaranteeing the right of chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus under any circumstances. Because the White House has not acted, sympathetic members of Congress stepped in.

"We felt there needed to be a clarification" of the rules "because there is political correctness creeping into the chaplains corps," said Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.). "I don't understand anyone being opposed to a chaplain having the freedom to pray to God in the way his conscience calls him to pray."

Among the provision's opponents is the chief of Navy chaplains, Rear Adm. Louis V. Iasiello, a Roman Catholic priest.

"The language ignores and negates the primary duties of the chaplain to support the religious needs of the entire crew" and "will, in the end, marginalize chaplains and degrade their use and effectiveness," Iasiello wrote in a letter to a committee member.

Book Excerpt from "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism"

This is worth checking out ...

Across the United States, religious activists are organizing to establish an American theocracy. A frightening look inside the growing right-wing movement.

Here's a brief snippet of this book excerpt:
A few days before Bush's second inauguration, The New York Times carried a story headlined "Warning from a Student of Democracy's Collapse" about Fritz Stern, a refugee from Nazi Germany, professor emeritus of history at Columbia, and scholar of fascism. It quoted a speech he had given in Germany that drew parallels between Nazism and the American religious right. "Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics," he was quoted saying of prewar Germany, "but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured [Hitler's] success, notably in Protestant areas."

It's not surprising that Stern is alarmed. Reading his forty-five-year-old book "The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology," I shivered at its contemporary resonance. "The ideologists of the conservative revolution superimposed a vision of national redemption upon their dissatisfaction with liberal culture and with the loss of authoritative faith," he wrote in the introduction. "They posed as the true champions of nationalism, and berated the socialists for their internationalism, and the liberals for their pacifism and their indifference to national greatness."

Fascism isn't imminent in America. But its language and aesthetics are distressingly common among Christian nationalists. History professor Roger Griffin described the "mobilizing vision" of fascist movements as "the national community rising Phoenix-like after a period of encroaching decadence which all but destroyed it" (his italics). The Ten Commandments has become a potent symbol of this dreamed-for resurrection on the American right.

True, our homegrown quasi-fascists often appear so absurd as to seem harmless. Take, for example, American Veterans in Domestic Defense, the organization that took the Ten Commandments on tour. The group says it exists to "neutralize the destructiveness" of America's "domestic enemies," which include "biased liberal, socialist news media," "the ACLU," and "the conspiracy of an immoral film industry." To do this, it aims to recruit former military men. "AVIDD reminds all American Veterans that you took an oath to defend the United States against all enemies, 'both foreign and domestic,'" its Web site says. "In your military capacity, you were called upon to defend the United States against foreign enemies. AVIDD now calls upon you to continue to fulfill your oath and help us defend this nation on the political front, against equally dangerous domestic enemies."

According to Jim Cabaniss, the seventy-two-year-old Korean War veteran who founded AVIDD, the group now has thirty-three chapters across the country. It's entirely likely that some of these chapters just represent one or two men, and as of 2005, AVIDD didn't seem large enough to be much of a danger to anyone.

Still, it's worth noting that thousands of Americans nationwide have flocked to rallies at which military men don uniforms and pledge to seize the reins of power in America on behalf of Christianity. In many places, local religious leaders and politicians lend their support to AVIDD's cause. And at least some of the people at these rallies speak with seething resentment about the tyranny of Jews over America's Christian majority. "People who call themselves Jews represent maybe 2 or 3 percent of our people," Cabaniss told me after a January 2005 rally in Austin. "Christians represent a huge percent, and we don't believe that a small percentage should destroy the values of the larger percentage."

The rest of the excerpt can be read here.

NEWS: United Methodist invitation to Indigo Girls singer draws fire

This item is forwarded from the United Church of Christ News Web Site:
The choice of lesbian singer Emily Saliers of the music duo Indigo Girls as a keynote speaker at the United Methodist Women’s Assembly in Anaheim, Calif., has created controversy.

Saliers spoke May 6 at the conference along with her father, the Rev. Don E. Saliers of Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. They addressed an estimated 8,000 women on their new co-written book entitled "A Song to Sing, A Life to Live."

Saliers' sexual orientation has been the topic of controversy for some conservatives, but event organizers instead have cited her "spiritual and theological understandings and (her) commitment to justice for women and children" as reasons for the invitation.

The Indigo Girls have devoted much of their 14 records spanning 18 years to themes of social justice and environmental awareness. The elder Saliers is the author of a dozen books and is president of the North American Academy of Liturgy and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality.

Some groups, however, have criticized the church for giving a prominent speaking slot to a lesbian, noting that the Methodists' constitution says the church cannot "condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."

"...Even if Ms. Saliers does not openly advocate for the acceptance of homosexual practice in the Assembly presentations, her public recognition as a lesbian icon puts the Women's Division in the place of endorsing the lesbian lifestyle and of offending the women of the church," said Faye Short, president of RENEW, a conservative women's organization.

The Indigo Girls won a Grammy award for "Best Contemporary Folk Recording" in 1989. Singer Amy Ray is the other half of the duo.
Someone needs to explain to me why God cares so much about our sexual orientations.

I guess the RENEW leadership and other conservative Christians know what God would want done if God had all the facts at hand.

01 May 2006

The truthiness hurts

Worth checking out ...

Colbert's smart bomb (White House Correspondents' Association Dinner video clip)

Dining on the press corps (White House Correspondents' Association Dinner video clip)

The truthiness hurts (salon.com analysis of Stephen Cobert's comments)
Stephen Colbert's brilliant performance unplugged the Bush myth machine -- and left the clueless D.C. press corps gaping

27 April 2006

Carl Sagan's "Baloney Detection Kit"

One of our sources for our living tradition are "Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit."

In the spirit of our Humanist tradition within Unitarian Universalism, I'm posting a version of the "Baloney Detection Kit" from Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World.

The following are suggested as tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments:

Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts.

Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.

Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no "authorities").

Spin more than one hypothesis - don't simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.

Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours.

Quantify, wherever possible.

If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work.

Occam's razor - if there are two hypotheses that explain the data equally well choose the simpler.

Ask whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown to be false by some unambiguous test). In other words, it is testable? Can others duplicate the experiment and get the same result?

Additional issues are:

Conduct control experiments - especially "double blind" experiments where the person taking measurements is not aware of the test and control subjects.

Check for confounding factors - separate the variables.

Common fallacies of logic and rhetoric

Ad hominem - attacking the arguer and not the argument.

Argument from "authority".

Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an "unfavorable" decision).

Appeal to ignorance (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).

Special pleading (typically referring to god's will).

Begging the question (assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased).

Observational selection (counting the hits and forgetting the misses).

Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes).

Misunderstanding the nature of statistics (President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!)

Inconsistency (e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios but scientific projections on environmental dangers thriftily ignored because they are not "proved").

Non sequitur - "it does not follow" - the logic falls down.

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc - "it happened after so it was caused by" - confusion of cause and effect.

Meaningless question ("what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?).

Excluded middle - considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities (making the "other side" look worse than it really is).

Short-term v. long-term - a subset of excluded middle ("why pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?").

Slippery slope - a subset of excluded middle - unwarranted extrapolation of the effects (give an inch and they will take a mile).

Confusion of correlation and causation.

Caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack.

Suppressed evidence or half-truths.

Weasel words - for example, use of euphemisms for war such as "police action" to get around limitations on Presidential powers. "An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public."

Louisiana Abortion Ban Passes in State Senate

This article comes from Jeff Crouere, a local political journalist in Louisiana:

Yesterday, the Louisiana State Senate approved by a vote of 30-7, Senate Bill 33, authored by Senator Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa), which would outlaw all abortions in the state except when the life of the mother is in danger. The bill would subject the abortionist to criminal penalties, not the woman undergoing the abortion. This follows an abortion ban that was passed in South Dakota earlier in the year. Pro-life measures are not being introduced in multiple states as anti-abortion advocates try to take advantage of momentum in this divisive issue.

By a 20-17 vote, the Senate turned down an amendment to the bill that would have added exceptions for rape and incest. Back in 1991, the Legislature passed a law that banned abortions except in the case of rape, incest and when the life of the mother was in danger. The 1991 law was signed by Governor Roemer, but later reversed in federal court. This time, supporters of Nevers’ bill believe it will pass court tests because it is not scheduled to take effect until Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, is overturned.

With the appointment of Justices Alito and Roberts, the Supreme Court is definitely more conservative and more likely to overturn Roe v. Wade, but most analysts believe that a pro-life majority does not yet exist on the court. One more conservative Supreme Court Justice is probably needed for a pro-life majority and that could come if President Bush is given an opportunity to make another court appointment.

Louisiana is one of the most pro-life states in the country. A large majority of voters in Louisiana are opposed to abortion. The state has a large Catholic and evangelical Christian population. In Louisiana, almost all Republicans and most Democrats who are elected to statewide office are pro-life. Governor Kathleen Blanco, a pro-life Democrat, likes the Nevers’ bill because it does not take effect until Roe v. Wade is overturned. Blanco knows the electorate in the state and will not risk the negative political ramifications of vetoing the bill. Back in 1991, then Governor Buddy Roemer vetoed an anti-abortion bill with no exceptions. He was never forgiven by pro-life voters and the controversy contributed to his defeat at the polls later that year. Blanco does not want the same problems one year before her re-election campaign.

Blanco “likes” the provision in the Nevers’ bill which mandates that it take effect only after the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. Blanco believes that it is “realistic” because it will preclude lengthy and costly court challenges to the law. The bill now moves to the State House, where a pitched battle is certain to occur.

The scary thing about this bill is that a majority of the legislature rejected amendments to this bill that would have allowed for exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

26 April 2006

Louisiana State Senate Voting to Ban Abortion Today (26 April 2006)

On Wednesday, 26 April 2006, the Louisiana State Senate will vote on SB 33 -- a bill that would criminalize abortion in Louisiana.

Here's a description of the proposed law from the KATC TV News web site:
La. lawmaker expects a fight over abortion bill
BATON ROUGE, La. -- State senators disagree over a bill that would outlaw nearly all abortions, and several will probably try to add exceptions for victims of rape and incest when it comes up for a vote on Wednesday, the measure's sponsor said.

Sen. Ben Nevers' bill would allow abortions only to save the life of the mother. He said he knows of several senators who will attempt to amend it to add the two additional exceptions. Sen. Joel Chaisson, D-Destrehan, a supporter, has said he feared the measure would not get support of the full Legislature unless the exceptions were added.

Nevers said he would fight any such change. He said he agrees with churches and religious groups -- backers of the bill -- that it should be "as pro-life as it can be."

"They want a bill that has the least exceptions, one that would protect as many unborn lives as we can," said Nevers, D-Bogalusa.

Under the measure, doctors found guilty of performing abortions would face up to 10 years in prison and fines of $100,000.

Opponents include Planned Parenthood, which held a rally on the Capitol steps Tuesday and lobbied senators to vote against the bill.

The bill is set for Senate floor debate on Wednesday afternoon.

The measure is similar to a South Dakota law passed earlier this year that is expected to land before the U.S. Supreme Court. If the high court takes up such an appeal, it would constitute a reconsideration of its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established the right to an abortion. A majority of the Supreme Court's nine justices have voted to uphold Roe v. Wade in the past.

Nevers said some opposition to the measure has disappeared because he amended it to allay concerns that the bill would provoke lawsuits -- and cost the state money -- if it passed. Nevers changed the measure to give it a "trigger" mechanism, meaning it would only go into effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned or if a federal constitutional amendment outlawing abortion is ratified.

Nevers said opponents worried about lawsuits have disappeared because it could not have any effect unless one of those two events occur.

"Those concerns were done away with," he said.

A competing bill, by Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville, includes rape and incest exceptions but has not come up for a vote.
If you're interested in working to defeat this proposed law, Planned Parenthood of Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta has pro-choice advocacy information here:

URGENT! SB 33 on the Senate Floor Wednesday, 4/26!

18 April 2006

What kind of Christian are you? -- Beliefnet Quiz

With all the post-Easter blog posts from Unitarian Universalist ministers and laypeople that touch on Jesus, resurrection, and miracles, I thought folks might be interested in the Beliefnet.com quiz "What kind of Christian are you?"

Like any online quiz, this takes one's complex and nuanced personal theology and reduces it to a simplification in order that it fits into a few defined sorting categories. This particular quiz uses five broad categories for sorting people:
When I took this quiz, it sorted me into the "Bishop Spong" category. I was initially surprised by this result with my background as a humanist "recovering dogmatic agnostic."

I suppose this result comes from the reading and reflection that I've done with "Biblical Revisionist" writers like Spong, Crossan, Borg, Funk, Pagels, and others. Much of my personal reflection was presented in a sermon I presented in my congregation several years ago.

I suspect that nearly all Unitarian Universalists would find themselves sorted into the "Jesse Ventura" category or the "Bishop Spong" category. And it may be a fun way to start conversations about how present-day Unitarian Universalists view Jesus, the Bible, and God.

06 April 2006

A Simple Gospel That All Are Welcome Is "Too Political"??

I wasn't surprised to hear that the latest United Church of Christ (UCC) TV ad would not be shown on several broadcast networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and WB) because these networks viewed their previous "Bouncer" ad as a controversial, issue-advocacy ad. The "Ejector Seat" ad and the "Bouncer" ad can be seen online here.

However, the latest UCC ad ("Ejector Seat") started this week and the UCC was told that the ad was inappropriate for use even on several cable networks owned by NBC and Viacom. These cable networks include MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Bravo, lesbian/gay-oriented LOGO network, USA, and Telemundo.

The MTV Network's rejection of this ad cited the "political nature of its content."

Nick@Night and TV Land networks rejected this ad because they don't accept " ... religious advertisements that take a position on controversial issues or may be deemed as disparaging to another religion ... "

So for a large portion of the broadcast and cable TV spectrum, we are being told that the message that God welcomes everyone into church is too political, too controversial, and disparaging of other religions. Ironically, one cannot advertise a gay-friendly church on the gay-lesbian-bi-trans friendly LOGO network.

So much for having equal access to the marketplace of ideas.

[Thanks to Philocrites for pointing this news story out to all of us.]

02 April 2006

When the Anti-Choice Choose -- "The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion"

In mid-March 2006, Susie Bright posted a blog article titled "If These Wombs Could Talk ..." where she mentions cases where "pro-life" women using the services of abortion clinics and in many cases remaining "pro-life" after the procedure.

The article about "pro-life" women obtaining abortions is titled "The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion" -- When the Anti-Choice Choose.

This online article is worth reading ... here are a few selections from it:

"I've had several cases over the years in which the anti-abortion patient had rationalized in one way or another that her case was the only exception, but the one that really made an impression was the college senior who was the president of her campus Right-to-Life organization, meaning that she had worked very hard in that organization for several years. As I was completing her procedure, I asked what she planned to do about her high office in the RTL organization. Her response was a wide-eyed, 'You're not going to tell them, are you!?' When assured that I was not, she breathed a sigh of relief, explaining how important that position was to her and how she wouldn't want this to interfere with it." (Physician, Texas)

"In 1973, after Roe v. Wade, abortion became legal but had to be performed in a hospital. That of course was changed later. For the first 'legal abortion day' I had scheduled five procedures. While scrubbing between cases, I was accosted by the Chief of the OB/Gyn service. He asked me, 'How many children are you going to kill today?' My response, out of anger, was a familiar vulgar retort. About three months later, this born-again Christian called me to explain that he was against abortion but his daughter was only a junior in high school and was too young to have a baby and he was also afraid that if she did have a baby she would not want to put it up for adoption. I told him he did not need to explain the situation to me. 'All I need to know', I said, 'is that SHE wants an abortion.' Two years later I performed a second abortion on her during her college break. She thanked me and pleaded, 'Please don't tell my dad, he is still anti-abortion.'" (Physician, Washington State)

"When a patient comes in with my 'favorite' sentiment: 'The only moral abortion is my abortion,' I try to expand her understanding that a few more of us have had and deserve a 'moral' abortion. When a woman expands her need for care beyond herself, you no longer have an 'anti'." (Clinic Administrator, Louisiana)

"I never dreamed, in my wildest nightmares, that there would ever be a situation where I personally would choose such an act. Of course, we would each like to think that our reasons for a termination are the exception to the rule. But the bottom line is that you people spend your lives, reputations, careers and energy fighting for, maintaining, and providing an option that I needed, while I spent my energy lambasting you. Yet you still allowed me to make use of your services even though I had been one of your enemies. You treated us as kindly and warmly as you did all of your patients and never once pointed an 'I told you so' finger in our direction. I got the impression that you cared equally about each woman in the facility and what each woman was going through, regardless of her reasons for choosing the procedure. I have never met a group of purely non-judgmental people like yourselves."

"I was born into a very Catholic family, and was politically pro-life during college. After dating my first real boyfriend for three years, we broke up, and the day my boyfriend moved out, I discovered I was pregnant. It was an agonizing decision, and something I never thought I would do, but I decided an abortion was the only realistic option. Thanks to Planned Parenthood counseling, I worked through some very tough conflicts within myself. I had to learn that my decision was a loving one. That 'my god' was actually a loving and supportive god. And that men don't have to make this decision, only women do. That it is a very personal, individual decision. I had to own it. I became much more compassionate towards myself and others as a result of my experience. Two years later I began medical school. When it came time to choose a practice, an abortion clinic opportunity came up. In working there, I began to feel that this was my calling. Having been in my patients' shoes, and coming from an unforgiving background, I could honestly say to patients, 'I know how you feel.' Deciding to have an abortion was THE hardest decision I've ever made in my life. Yet it has brought me the greatest transformation, fulfillment, and now joy. I am a more loving person because of it, and a better doctor for having experienced it. I love the work that I do, and the opportunity to support women seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy. My patients and my work are life's gifts to me, and I think my compassion and support are my gifts in return."

27 March 2006

Agenda and Packet for April 2006 UUA Board Meeting

The meeting packet for the April 2006 Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Board of Trustees can be found online here:


Some items of interest in this packet are the following reports and documents (all require Adobe Acrobat reader software):

Report of the Pathways Review Panel (contains "lessons learned" from Dallas - Ft. Worth large church project)

Lifespan Faith Development (contains info on the Our Whole Lives for Young Adults curriculum that will be field testing between September and December 2006).

Special Review Commission Report – Final Report (contains findings and recommendations from the events surrounding the closing ceremony incidents at the 2005 Ft. Worth UUA General Assembly)

Unitarian Universalist Youth Ministry Survey Results Now Online

Between January and February 2006, current and former Unitarian Universalist youth between the ages of 12 and 20 were asked to participate in a survey to find out how we can create diverse and robust youth ministry programs (plural - not singular) that serve all Unitarian Universalist youth.

A summary of the results tabulated from this survey can be found online (requires Adobe Acrobat PDF to read).

This survey is the first step in the "Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth."

This consultation is a two-year process to revision, renew and support our Association's ministry to and with youth. It will solicit the input and commitment of the widest possible spectrum of stakeholders in Unitarian Universalist youth ministry. Conversations within congregations, districts, and stakeholder organizations will focus on what they can do to support youth ministry at their level, and what the Association can do to support youth ministry as a whole.

19 February 2006

Religious Education and Youth Ministry Resources -- What's Happening Next and What's Available Now?

On another blog, the following observation was made about available resources for religious education and youth ministry:
I'm not sure the UUA has much to offer any UU congregation right now in these last two areas. RE materials? -- UUA hasn't really published anything of value in over a decade, aside from Our Whole Lives (which was developed in cooperation with the UCC). Youth ministry? -- lots of congregations, of all theological persuasions, have been finding little of value in district and denominational youth programming.
I would like to have more curriculum resources available (who wouldn't?), but I wonder if folks are really aware of the Unitarian Universalist resources we currently have today in our districts and in our denomination for religious education and youth ministry.

During the 90s, I suspect that much of the denominational work in religious education curriculum development was directed towards the Our Whole Lives (OWL) lifespan series. Other than OWL Grades 7-9 [which served as an update and replacement for the 70s era About Your Sexuality (AYS) program], there really wasn't a good "state of the art" lifespan sexuality education series for use in liberal religious settings. And OWL is something that our faith community should be proud about. We didn't just develop a good curriculum for use in our congregations. We developed something that many secular community sexuality educators consider to be the best curriculum currently available (based on comments from SIECUS and Planned Parenthood folks I've met and worked with).

You're probably saying "well ... sex education is great but we need other resources in our congregations" for lifespan religious education resources and youth ministry resources. A large part of this is the new Tapestry of Faith series (link requires Adobe Acrobat reader).
"Embodying a faith development focus for our congregations, Tapestry of Faith is a series of programs and resources for all ages that nurture Unitarian Universalist identity, spiritual growth, a transforming faith, and vital communities of justice and love."
This Tapestry of Faith will include:
  • age-appropriate programs for children, youth, and adults of all ages, including young adults
  • resources for parents to support them in their role as the primary religious educators of their children
  • resources for teachers to support them in their role as facilitators of faith development
  • resources for religious professionals to support them in their role as nurturers of communities of lifespan religious growth and learning.
The really cool thing about this is many of the Tapestry resources will be published online for free download and use by congregations and other UU communities. Folks using these downloaded resources will be encouraged to provide feedback for further revision. In other words, the UUA is using a "spiral development" model with this new curriculum project. Spiral development is often used in software engineering and other technology projects. Here's a summary of what spiral development is:
"Because software engineers all too often designed and built large software programs with little ongoing consultation from customers, the resulting programs did not meet the end-user requirements or were delayed by unforeseen obstacles. Boehm stressed a cyclical approach in which customers evaluated early results and in-house engineers identified potential trouble spots at an early stage."
Between 2006 and 2011, we will start receiving Tapestry of Faith resources as online resources available for every Unitarian Universalist congregation who wants them.

The other resources that are currently provided by the Lifespan Faith Development Staff Group (current name for what was formerly called the "Religious Education Department") may not be curriculum-related but there is value here for UU congregations in that they support congregational religious education. Here's what you can find on their web page today:

  • Resource Lists: Includes resources such as curricula, books, organizations, and websites for elected topics
  • Children, Families and Current Events: Links to resources
  • Families: Resources for spiritual development, education, social justice, and connection between congregation and home
  • Loan Library: Loans curricula and other lifespan religious education resources for a two-week period
  • Email Lists: E-mail discussion lists on a range of faith development topics
Teacher Development
  • Teacher Development Survey: Reports generated from the Teacher Development Survey of religious educators conducted by the UUA in the fall of 2004
  • Framing Teaching: Models of Teacher Development -- perspectives on how to frame teaching as spiritual development
  • Understanding Learners: Materials to better understand children, youth and adults as evolving and developing individuals. Includes resources on human development and paths of faith and spiritual growth
  • Sustaining Teachers: Practical resources developed in congregations that help sustain teaching
  • Supporting Teachers: Resources, including covenants and behavior guidelines, which strengthen communities and support teaching
  • Teaching as Social Justice Work: Resources on social justice and religious education -- "branches of the same tree" -- for and about teachers and learners
  • Enriching Teaching: Resources for and about families, faith and worship that can enrich the experience of teaching in faith
Regarding the comment about finding little value in district and denominational youth programming, I can only speak from my experience in the Southwest District and your experiences with youth ministry may be different in your district.

The SW District YRUU Rallies ("rallies" are what our district calls "cons") and SWUUSI Youth Camp don't meet the needs of every UU youth in our district.

I don't think it's realistic to expect that any district or denominational program will meet the needs of every Unitarian Universalist youth. But a very large percentage of our youth in the SW District find YRUU and SWUUSI Youth Camp to be a religious experience that is very hard to duplicate in their home congregations. And this includes youth in my own congregation and youth in my household.

The various UUA Youth Office-sponsored trainings that I've attended in my district (Youth Advisor Training, Leadership Development Conference, Spirituality Development Conference) have all been worthwhile for youth advisor work at local and district events. If I had to take one and only one advisor training workshop, I would choose the Leadership Development Conference as it provides the best mix of resources and materials for the new advisor.

Finally, some of the best youth advisor training that I've had happens during SW District YRUU events. Out-of-town events allow inexperienced advisors to learn from experienced advisors and see an effective model of youth-adult partnership.

Now, folks may have different experiences with youth ministry in their own districts. If you're finding that your district's youth ministry and programs are not meeting your needs, you may want to check out the "JAHNNY DEPP" program (Joining And Helpfully Networking Neighboring YACs District Exchange Program Packet -- if nothing else, it's an impressive attempt at constructing an acronym). JAHNNY DEPP allows youth and advisors to visit other districts and see how they do things and bring these ideas back to their home districts.

It seems to me that it's "fashionable" for a lot of UU bloggers to gripe about how the UUA basically "sucks" -- however, I think a lot of this criticism overlooks the good work being done by volunteers working on behalf of the UUA and their districts, district staff, and UUA staff.

17 February 2006

Unitarian Universalist Congregations and "Sundown Towns"

I've heard Unitarian Universalists comment on how little racial diversity we have in many Unitarian Universalist congregations. Two things I've recently read about this made me think about a potential connection between "sundown towns" and our current demographics.

Recently, Jess wrote the following words in a reply on Dan Harper's blog:
"Personally, I'd like to see us do more for our immediate neighbors than pontificate over why we don't have more persons of color in our pews in the rural Midwest."
And the Unitarian Universalist Association's Special Review Commission provided a lot of historical background in their report about the events impacting "the Unitarian Universalist community of color, especially youth," surrounding the 2005 General Assembly in Fort Worth, Texas. The following commentary is about the community where the host church for the Youth and Young Adult of Color Leadership Development Conference (LDC) that happened just before the 2005 GA:
"Adding to the tension of the LDC is the fact that the church is located in University Park in Dallas, originally a white-flight suburb now engulfed by the expanding city. The area is de facto segregated by class and there remains overt racism in the University Park Police Department. There are reports from the youth participants of harassment from law enforcement officers and residents in the area. Apparently the LDC leaders were not aware of the history of the area."
The reason that I'm seeing a potential connection between these quotes is from reading Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Racism in America by James Loewen.

Sundown towns have been very common in the Midwest and other regions outside the traditional South. For example, Loewen's book documents that Illinois (his home state and the state that he researched the most) had 424 sundown towns with populations greater than 1000 in 1970. Loewen also found that 231 Indiana towns were sundown towns as well. Loewen also talks about the sundown town history of University Park, Texas (the Dallas suburb mentioned in the 2005 GA Report).

Perhaps we should ask ourselves what impact does locating in a current or former sundown town or white-flight suburb has on Unitarian Universalist congregational demographics. We may discover that many of our congregations have moved to communities and neighborhoods that are not welcoming to people of color and that may be responsible in part for the current level of "diversity" in many of our congregations.

Top Ten Dick Cheney Excuses

Thanks for the Late Show with David Letterman for this response to the Cheney's recent shooting of Harry Whittington:
10. "Heart palpitation caused trigger finger to spasm"

9. "Wanted to get the Iraq mess off the front page"

8. "Not enough Jim Beam"

7. "Trying to stop the spread of bird flu"

6. "I love to shoot people"

5. "Guy was making cracks about my lesbian daughter"

4. "I thought the guy was trying to go 'gay cowboy' on me"

3. "Excuse? I hit him, didn't I?"

2. "Until Democrats approve medicare reform, we have to make some tough choices for the elderly"

1. "Made a bet with Gretzky's wife"

Curriculum for "Engaging Our Theological Diversity"

This info comes from the Unitarian Universalist Association's "Adult-RE" email discussion list (Thanks to Rev. Sarah Gibb, Adult Program Director, for providing this info on the Adult-RE email list):
A complete curriculum designed for "Engaging Our Theological Diversity" has been posted to the Commission's website:


This curriculum was created by Connie Dunn, Director of Lifespan Religious Education, and Patty Davis of the Greenville UU Fellowship. They have been kind enough to make it available to the whole world! It is designed for use in a multi-session adult RE class. Please take a look.

Dr. James Casebolt
Chair, UUA Commission on Appraisal
The link for Connie's and Patty's curriculum is actually here (PDF file -- requires Adobe Acrobat). Thanks to Connie and Patty for providing this resource to the wider UU community.

The UUA Commission on Appraisal's report on Engaging Our Theological Diversity can be downloaded here for free (PDF file -- requires Adobe Acrobat). At this time, this report is not available from the UUA Bookstore in bound form.