Category Archives: Grumble Flap

Correct me

There’s no such thing as a free-range UU. I took the position that one must be a member of a congregation to be UU at the end of my “What does it mean…” series. Looking at the way the terms are defined and cross-referenced, it seems to me that the only way to be UU is to be a member of a congregation that’s accepted as part of the UUA.

I don’t like such a hard-edged opinion, even if it has the same sort of hard edge as a snuggly down comforter: warm, generally comfortable, and–while not difficult to find–difficult to actually pin down.

But my opinion is not that to be UU, one has to belive X, Y, or Z, or durf, qrtsh, or 8igw:. Or anything. One just has to accept the congregation one is in, and be in a congregation that’s in the UUA.

I don’t even have any particular prejudicial conception of what a congregation has to be. Could there be a congregation of One? (Given the unitarian heritage of the UUA, it seems it should be possible…) Conceptually, I’d have to say–yeah, of course. It’s far from my place to say how there might be a single-individual congregation that could meet standards of UUA associationalism (to make up a word). And doesn’t ‘congregation’ mean, at least in part, ‘more than one?’

There’s already the Church of the Larger Fellowship, so there’s no conceptual reason why there can’t be congregations of membership rather than gathering. To use a dumb-ass model as an example, Blackboard (which some universities use to supplement or substitute for classroom interaction) makes it possible for congregations (if you will) to meet and do their missional work. Which means the obstacles to individuals joining congregations are circumstantial rather than conceptual. On the one side of the relationship maybe the UUA isn’t properly positioned as an organization to cope with congregations that don’t meet someplace. On the other side, maybe notional-but-unaffiliated ‘UUs’ aren’t finding membership congregations because there’s not enough outreach, or they’re not looking to join a congregation of any type (so outreach wouldn’t work), or who-knows?

So correct me. Help me see a way that an individual, outside of a congregation, can be a UU in a way that doesn’t make a hash of what it means to be UU. And in what way is the UUA currently unable to cope with “congregations of membership without place” as opposed to typical congregations?

(Note on old UU posts.)

Sonnet Number One

Entering Seattle, my guts knuckled
around my spine, squeezing, racing my heart.
My friend, who thought up this dumb trip, chuckled.
A thousand miles and at the end a hurt

woman. Years had passed but my harm still stung
her. Now worry about her anger as fresh
as showers wormed within me. Her sharp tongue
would never forgive my failure of flesh.

Guilt digs out the holes filled by life and hones
and stabs our tender souls with jagged bones.

CongPolIntel (WDIMTOAUU part 7)

CongPolIntel. How’s that for a bureaucratic neologism? I just made it up. It means Congretational Polity Intelligence. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s got the right feel, I think. The UUA is an association of congregations, you see. CongPolIntel feels right, because it sounds like it means something, but it means something only from the inside. The UUA is an insider’s thing, it seems to me, at this point. Friendly-seeming, to be sure, but it’s an association, you see.

Congregational polity means that each congregation is its own thing. It self-organizes, self-funds, and finds its own ministers. There are other ways of organizing a religion. Roman Catholics, for instance, have carved up the world into dioceses of varying geographic coverage, ruled over by bishops (Princes of the Church) loyal to the first among equals–the Pope, and then within each diocese are the parishes, which are like children in a family independent but subordinate to the bishop.

The UUA is more like the Chamber of Commerce.

And this is where the 7s and 6s really come into play. Because, you see, they begin, not with a list, but with a promise: “There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote.” See that thing there? The UUA doesn’t lay any direct responsibilities on individual UUs. Non-creedal. Some future series on this blog will be me looking at the 7s and then the 6s, digging into the UUA web site, and all like that.

Like the Chamber of Commerce, the UUA is group of groups (businesses on the one hand, congregations on the other). There are some things that the congregations have in common (currently articulated in the 7s and 6s), and finding that those things are worthy, they got together and created the association. It wasn’t that simple, of course. The roots of the UUA run deep, and in the US, go back to the Pilgrims (which I continue to find jaw-dropping, and go on about why in the future).


However the UUA came together, it is, in theory, a body organized by and for the benefit of congregations. In practice, like so many other groups, it has a life of its own now, and even acts as a gate-keeper. Congregations have to get approval to enter the association from the UUA. And that’s OK–it’s not an association if just anyone (or just any congregation) can walk in the door and say “here I am! Serve me!” That’s a tavern. Or a brothel.

But the gate-keeping function can sometimes look like a franchiser–that the UUA creates (somehow) the congregations as subordinate units. The gate-keeping is where the insidery feeling I mentions above comes from–all those organizational questions about board membership, geographical disbursement, staff support, offices open and closed. And so on. But that said, I have found directly helpful support from the UUA in working with religious questions. So the Intel part of CogPolIntel isn’t totally ironical.

Just because the UUA is a congregational-level entity doesn’t mean it doesn’t support the individual. Can you be a UU congregation without being, at least tangentially in (or near-to in) the UUA? Can you be a UU individual without being in a congregation?

But enough about theory, let’s talk about me (and look at those questions). Next time.

(Note on old UU posts.)

Hydrox? Isn’t that a drug or something?

Not a drug. A cookie. Named for hydrogen and oxygen, and made of two cookies and a creme filling, like water, you see. I haven’t had a Hydrox in years. Years and years. I don’t actually remember the last time I had a Hydrox. It was probably some time in the middle 1990’s.

For a long, long time I assumed that Hydrox was a knock-off of Oreo. Not true, by–according to Wikipedia–about four years. You see, I grew up with Oreos, and probably threw some sort of snotty fit if my mom ever got anything like, but not actually, Oreos.

This opinion was probably grounded in more than just a “this is what I know” bias. It probably had to do with the actual differences between Hydrox and Oreo. Hydrox cookies are thinner and crisper, and have a stronger chocolate flavor. The creme filling is less sweet, and crumblier.

As I recall, I went through a phase of preferring Hydrox to Oreo. This was probably snootiness. A bit of underdog worship, a bit of not supporting the big guy. You know, liking something not because of its internal qualities, but because of its relative qualities.

I used to work with a guy who liked Hydrox because he liked Hydrox. That buying Hydrox had those other relative qualities was, if you will, icing on the cake. It also added a bit of adventure to his shopping, since by this time, Hydrox was on the wane. Finding them was hit-or-miss.

Now they’re gone, and, while I’m not feeling nostalgic, I would like to try a pack to see if I actually do like them for what they are.

“I am the very model…”

Over at The Dish, I came across a video which seems to be supportive of President Obama. It touts his Presidential accomplishments, and touches on some of his personal qualities, too. It’s in the form of a walk around the White House while he and, presumably, his staff and family sing a copy-change of “The Major-General’s Song” from Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance.

The original is a terrifically fun song from a very entertaining light opera, premiered in New York on New Year’s Eve, 1879. It’s been used as a base for–allegedly–humorous copy-changes since, probably, the very, very early morning of New Year’s Day, 1880. It’s catchy, and it has just enough metric challenge that creative types can impress the proles by playing with it. A notable version is Tom Lehrer’s performance of the periodic table of the elements.

We’ve been enjoying, or, as some would have been, subjected, to these renditions for more than 130 years so far, with no sign of let-up. When are they OK, and when are they not?

Copy-change is the process of taking some existing written work and changing the words, but keeping the grammar, syntax, and structure, to make a new work. Usually a parody, and often a satire. It’s a low form, since by tying oneself to the original, one cannot really present a well-worked-out new work. But, it can be an effective way of introducing something to a fresh audience. Particularly if you’re copy-changing a well-known song. Even if the song is mainly well known because it’s been used for copy-changes for 130 years.

Because it’s low, limiting, and essentially derivative, it’s good for pedagogical purposes and politics. In school, the familiarity of the source material affords a way into the actual content material, it’s a mnemonic scaffolding for the stuff you really want to convey. In politics, it has that advantage, but also the advantage of being amusing. In political advertising, there’s basically SCARY and amusing. If an ad isn’t SCARY, then, by default, it’s amusing. That’s not a high bar to clear, and even copy-changes can clear it.

Both of these uses are also, essentially, ephemeral. They aren’t meant to last. The copy-change is intended merely to draw attention to itself long enough to redirect it to the substance it wishes to convey. And–particularly for political advertising–that substance is itself ephemeral. So, in the context of a political campaign, a copy-change is OK. But that’s all it is: OK. Of course, in a political campaign, OK is actually pretty unusual.

Here’s the video itself, in case you care, but not enough to follow the Dish link above: