30 June 2008

Congregations, Ministers, and the New "Incompetence" Rule

There has been some concern in the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere over the new rule concerning ministerial incompetence that was approved at the 2008 UUA General Assembly. You can read about it here, here, and here.

See the UU World online article titled "Ministers can be terminated for incompetence" for more details. Here's a summary of the new rule change:
"The fellowship of a minister may be terminated by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee for unbecoming conduct, incompetence, or other specified cause."
First, it seems funny to me that any professionals should be this concerned about protecting colleagues who are incompetent in their profession.

A minister who demonstrates serial incompetence through several congregational postings does impact the public perception of ministry throughout the UUA. This requirement to be professionally competent is just as "vague" as the requirement to not engage in "unbecoming conduct."

This is especially important in light of the fact that our denomination considers ordained clergy to be an option for congregational formation and sustainment within the UUA. Ordained clergy are not a requirement for a congregation to be in the UUA and many congregations exist and even thrive without ordained clergy.

However, payment of pro-rated fair share contribution to the UUA Annual Program Fund and 30 members at the time of application are requirements to be a UUA member congregation -- check out Article III and Rule III in the UUA Bylaws for what it takes to create a new UUA member congregation.

If we want to see lay-led congregations grow to the size where professional leadership is needed for further growth, then these lay-led congregations should be satisfied that ministry as a profession is generally competent. A few negative examples will be enough to convince these smaller congregations to forgo hiring a minister.

Second, in spite of the language we use to describe ministers as "called," what we're really doing is "hiring" a religious professional through a formal congregational vote. I'm not a big fan of high-falutin' language. Ministers are employed by congregations (even if they are treated as "self-employed" for IRS purposes).

Third, Scott Wells is right that the UUA does very little to require competency in the various local "franchises" that carry out the local business of this association of congregations.

For example, my local congregation did a horrendous job with the Welcoming Congregation program a few years ago -- you can read about my congregation's "incompetence" here.

The local congregation's decisions have impacted our growth and outreach efforts to folks in the bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender communities. Our decisions have also affected outreach to allies (e.g. families who have BGLT relatives). We have lost members over our Welcoming Congregation decisions and many in the BGLT communities perceive us as unwelcoming.

The really strange thing about the Welcoming Congregation issue for our congregation is that one of our board members sent an email out to our minister and 31 of his closest friends where he wrote that our minister was "incompetent" for speaking in favor of the Welcoming Congregation program in our pulpit back in the fall of 2007 (we all know that email is always the best way to communicate in a congregation where there is a disagreement).

The sermon podcast audio where our minister spoke in favor of the Welcoming Congregation can be listened to here ... judge for yourself if this is "ministerial incompetence" or simply a sermon that made one board member uncomfortable.

23 June 2008

Ubuntu "Hardy Heron" -- Observations After Upgrading

Yes -- I know that Ubuntu Linux 8.04 ("Hardy Heron") has been available for free downloading since 21 April 2008.

I just don't like being an "early adopter" for a new operating system because this role can morph into being a "beta tester."

As much as I enjoy trouble-shooting computer software and hardware problems, my laptop is something that I want to "just work" and not be an experimental project most of the time.

Last night work life, church life, and home life all allowed me to upgrade my laptop to the latest Ubuntu release.

I have been using Ubuntu Linux on my laptop full-time since June 2007 -- having gone from version 7.04 ("Feisty Fawn) to 7.10 ("Gutsy Gibbon") to 8.04 ("Hardy Heron").

Ubuntu's philosophy is to provide a totally free and open-source computer when installed with the default selections.

However, there are multimedia resources (sound and video) and data file formats that many computer users outside the open-source community use daily. Philosophical purity may conflict with real-world interoperability.

For these practical considerations, one needs to be able to use the wide range of multimedia data available online even if it involves proprietary software.

The "Ubuntu restricted extras" package will allow you to play most common multimedia formats, including MP3, DVD, Flash, Quicktime, WMA and WMV, including both standalone files and multimedia content embedded in web pages.

Any other multimedia content requirements can be satisfied through the Medibuntu Project web site. The "how-to" instructions on this page will walk you through the steps needed to play commercial encrypted DVDs on your Ubuntu Linux computer. I've also installed the VLC video player for use with DVDs. I watched a few minutes of Battlestar Galactica Razor DVD last night to confirm commercial encrypted DVD operation.

These multimedia resources take care of nearly every multimedia requirement that was formerly provided to me through Automatix -- Automatix and EasyUbuntu were automated install tools for these multimedia options for earlier versions of Ubuntu Linux.

Both Automatix and EasyUbuntu are now unsupported orphan software or "abandonware" at this time. However, their ease-of-use multimedia features have now been replaced by the incorporation of the restricted extras and Medibuntu resources available to all Ubuntu users.

To ensure that I can open any Microsoft Office 2007 documents sent to me, I installed the "odf-converter-integrator" package -- this allows me to open any Microsoft Office 2007 file (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) using OpenOffice. Instructions for installing these Office 2007 converters can be found here.

For those who are not familiar with Ubuntu Linux, here's a brief description adapted from the Wikipedia article text on Ubuntu Linux:
Ubuntu is a computer operating system. It has consistently been rated among the most popular of the many Linux distributions. Ubuntu's goals include providing an up-to-date yet stable Linux distribution for the average user and having a strong focus on usability and ease of installation. Ubuntu is a derivative of Debian, another free operating system.
Ubuntu also emphasizes accessibility and internationalization, to reach as many people as possible.

The most recent version of Ubuntu comes installed with a wide range of software including: the OpenOffice.org productivity suite, the internet browser Firefox, the instant messenger Pidgin, and the raster graphics editor GIMP.
The amazing thing about Ubuntu Linux is that one can take an older computer that would be considered "obsolete" for Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office use and keep it useful through more efficient and leaner software. This is an advantage for churches and other non-profit organizations that depend on cash and used property donations to meet their needs.

When a church member or community non-profit supporter gets a new computer, he/she should consider asking if the church or non-profit can use the older hardware as a potential Ubuntu Linux workstation.

The gift of an "old computer" may mean the difference between a volunteer or staff person having or not having a computer in some cash-strapped churches or non-profits.

Ubuntu Linux provides the same functionality that Microsoft Windows XP and Microsoft Office provides (web surfing, email, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc) on older hardware that would not support or would poorly support Windows XP or Microsoft Office (not to mention the resource hogs Microsoft Windows Vista or Microsoft Office 2007).

Ubuntu Linux is available for PC, 64-Bit and Mac architectures. The alternate installation CDs require at least 256 MB of RAM (the standard installation CD requires 384MB of RAM). Install requires at least 3 GB of disk space.

For example, my son's homework/web surfing computer is a used Compaq Pentium III (800 Mhz) with just 256 megabytes of RAM and 20 gigabytes of hard drive storage. It provides enough power for light word processing and web surfing. All of this is done with a "free" operating system that isn't susceptable to the many computer virus and spyware threats that plague Microsoft Windows.

Tonight, I updated my congregation's web site to reflect next Sunday's worship service info and I also prepared last Sunday's sermon podcast audio using Audacity and the LAME mp3 encoder on my laptop's new "Hardy Heron" setup -- so far everything is working as advertised.

My next two "Hardy Heron" installs will happen in the next few weeks -- updating the sermon podcast digital recorder computer and a spare loaner Pentium III computer that we provide to congregation members or staff who need a computer for home use (this loaner computer is identical to my son's computer).

Then I'll update my congregation's part-time chaplain's computer (yet another Pentium III identical to my son's computer).

19 June 2008

A Question For Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman

Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman made the following comment on her UUA Presidential Candidate web site in answering a question:
"Thanks for the website of the Freedom of Religion Foundation. If you had said Freedom from Religion I would have been concerned."
The person with the question had typed "Freedom of Religion Foundation" but provided the URL for the "Freedom from Religion Foundation" in her question.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation is a non-profit group dedicated to promoting church-state separation and educating the public on matters related to non-theism. This group's social justice work sounds like something that many Unitarian Universalists would support and affirm.

Are you suggesting that Unitarian Universalists should reverse their past social justice positions affirming church-state separation?

Are you suggesting that we should not support non-theism education when we know that non-theists are marginalized in our culture?

A 2006 University of Minnesota study reported that atheists are perceived as a group worthy of marginalization and exclusion by many Americans. They are viewed as the least-trustworthy group according to this survey.

I know the disputes within Unitarian Universalism over "language of reverence" and theological diversity can and often do get heated.

However, we do need to remember that our churches have a duty to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" -- part of this duty may include finding a way to be welcoming to all and not excluding the non-theists in our congregations in order to improve our "marketability" in the religious marketplace.

16 June 2008

Not just "better living through chemistry" ...

... all living happened through chemistry and time:

There may be very little need for the supernatural in creating life on Earth.