Category Archives: This is Worker Speaking

In the Library, with a Lead Pipe

Here’s the scenario… I’m sitting in my local UU congregation, and we have a guest, a Sikh guru, who gives our sermon that week on the history and basic teachings of Sikhism. After the guru has gone home I find I can’t get the ideas out of my head… they’re really speaking to me, and seem to really align with my understanding of Unitarian Universalism. I want to explore this more, so I…

What, exactly?

Over at Irregular Times jclifford made a couple of posts about … failings in Unitarian Universalism’s official channels. (Note: jclifford’s site appears to be defunct as of Jan. 10, 2019. -SM)

The first post notes that there is a definite paucity of books in a particular UU congregation’s library of titles having to do with anything other than Christianity. Indeed, of the 87 titles he noted, only Jewish Days and Holidays,  “12 books on NeoPaganism” and a general dictionary and the phone book offer anything explicitly non-Christian.

On receiving some criticism from post commenters for picking on a single congregation, jclifford expanded the search to the UUA bookstore, and then–I think most usefully–to the UUA website in the next post.

In short, the UUs come up short. Precious little intellectual space is given over to Sources other than those explicitly coming from a Christian background. At least in that one congregation, in the UUA bookstore, and on the UUA’s web site.

In the actual UU services I’ve attended, however (and in the sermons I’ve heard thanks to podcasts), there hasn’t been a lack of exposure to humanism, wisdom expressed in popular song, religious naturalism, Goddess worship, Biblical God talk as non-personalistic, and shamanism–for instance and off the top of my head.

So I think focusing on the books on offer at a given congregation, or the items for sale through the UUA bookstore sort of misses the point of the UU religious experience. I’m also unsure that a strict word-count-based review of the UUA’s web site is a terribly useful a way of critiquing Unitarian Universalism’s level of support for individual Unitarian Universalists’s exploration and spiritual growth of the wisdom from the world’s religions.

Unitarian Universalism is not, after all, the Mall of Religion. Or, slightly more scholarly-ly, it would probably be a mistake for the UUA book store or even the UUA web site to attempt to speak with much authority on religious traditions from around the world–illegitimate appropriation, intellectual imperialism, just plain gettin it wrong, and all like that.

Which puts us in a bind. We say we welcome all religious seekers, and in my experience we do. But we don’t have anywhere near the level of institutional support for non-Christian traditions as we plainly have for our Christian institutional heritage. This makes some sense; we’re only 50 years old, and the AUA and the UCA came together in part because each was pretty much the only Christian organization willing to recognize that the other one was, in fact, Christian.

There are special interest UU groups, such as: CUUPS, HUUmanists, Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship, Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness. Hardly a wide spectrum, but wider than implied by a simple word-count.

The implicit critique of the two posts it a good one, though. What does it actually mean, in the real world of our congregations and our religion, when we “affirm and promote… acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth… [in a] free and responsible search for truth and meaning” and to “draw from many sources” in that search?

What is our responsibility to provide direct access to those sources, and to provide actual (physical and/or digital) space to explore traditions within our congregations and the association for our individuals?

Just as importantly, what is our ability to do so?

I dunno. What have other congregations done when faced with someone whose search lead them in directions the congregation isn’t able to provide for? I mean someone who’s UU, planning to stay UU, but really wants to expand their understanding of the UU religion by digging into and exploring another tradition.

(Note on old UU posts.)

JLA Occupies Liberal Religion

“In contrast …Giacometti perceives contemporary humanity as having no reliable basis on which to order and delineate the space around us.”

I’ve been working my way through Being Human Religiously by James Luther Adams, slowly slowy, because his prose is like a big mouthful of Tootsie-Rolls. But the quotes in “Art, Psyche, and Society” I’m including in this post jumped out at me.

“The first criterion, then, of freedom for the individual in relation to society is that it requires the creation of a space; it requires it own turf, its own toehold, its own terra firma in face of dominating powers in the surrounding territory. In our day this means economic resources and political and economic rights–a dwelling, a job, freedom to move and to associate–enabling the individual to occupy a space in which he or she can make choices, choices that concern not only the individuals’ privacy but also a concrete relationship to society.”

“The first criterion involves a second. Since a viable space is a shared space, effective freedom must be a collective phenomenon…. Psychological space, if unsupported by social space, is an illusion. Psychological space supported by social space and social space supported by psychological space gives power to freedom–power in the sense of capacity to participate in the making of social decisions regarding public policy.”

With his talk about psychological space and social space, it can get lost that he is also, and essentially, talking about the space-space actually occupied by physical objects. Like people. Giacometti sculptures, those spindly uneven bodies frozen in action, show people pressed in space.

Adams is saying for an individual to be free, she has to have a place to act, a belief that action is possible, and a social agreement that action is meaningful. He is also saying that it takes a lot of freedom in order for there to be any freedom, and that the ability to act on freedom is the ability to help change the way the world operates.

People feel hemmed in, unable to meaningfully act in the world. Their psychological space is compressed. The social space presses in on them–they cannot find a dwelling, a job, a way of connecting that relieves that pressure. But a physical space opens up, and they go to the park. A small community forms, and the pressures of the social space lessen, the psychological spaces open up, and the power of freedom exercised by a relative few changes–maybe only a little bit, and maybe only for several weeks–the way a nation understands its potential.

Quotes from “Art, Psyche, and Society” in On Being Human Religiously, originally published in the Perkins Journal, Fall 1972.

(Note on old UU posts.)

Again with the Freerangers?

I’m still gnawing on this bone.

Peter Bowden drew my attention to a current UUA effort to grasp the circumstances surrounding freerange UUs. Please share this survey as widely as you can. (Note: this was a 2011 thing. -SM Jan. 10, 2019.)

Here’s the announcement from the Blue Boat youth and young adult ministries blog:

The UUA Office of Growth Strategies is seeking to better understand Unitarian Universalism outside our congregations. If you’re a “Free-Range Unitarian Universalist,” please take this survey. If you’re active in a congregation, but know people who aren’t, but identify as Unitarian Universalist, please pass this on to them. Thank you!! Help me transform the way we live into our faith!

In faith, Tandi

Tandi Rogers is the Growth Strategy Specialist at The UUA Office of Growth Strategies.  She can be reached at trogers at uua.org

While I’m all for the idea of freerange UUs, and want to stress that they’re not a problem as such, the existence of freerangers highlights a core UU identity problem, which many others have discussed, but which I’ve only recently had pointed out to me. Again by Peter Bowden.

That UU identity problem is this: what is the UUA? Legally it’s the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Sort of like a Chamber of Commerce. Each congregation remains its own thing, but through the shared Principals and Sources, covenants to … be together.

Catch that? Congregations. But congregations are made up of people, and only people can read the six sources, and only people can act on the seven principles. Sometimes those people do that with the support of a congregation. But sometimes, for any of many reasons (some of which Peter notes), individuals find themselves acting like Unitarian-Universalists, even without the support of a congregation.

That’s when a more nuanced question arises. Somewhere (possibly in the archives of Liberal Faith Development–can someone recommend a good way to organize interesting web pages for later review?), I recently read about the question: did consolidation create a new religion, or was it merely a merger of two organizations? Somehow in my previous What Does it Mean to be a Unitarian Universalist posts that question never occurred to me. Not as such, anyway; on review, I can see that I assumed that it had created a new religion, and that over the last 50 years that new religion has been feeling itself out, and finding its way of being in the world.

Meanwhile, people have been going on their merry way, being Unitarian-Universalists as best they can. Sometimes that works out pretty well, especially for those in healthy congregations and in like-minded groupings like UUSC or the UUCF. Sometimes not so well, like when individuals find themselves talking so much trying to explain UUism that people’s eyes (even their own) glaze over.

Like now.

(Note on old UU posts.)

I really like this man’s sermons…

What’s wrong with church? There’s a noticeable amount of discussion on some of the blogs I follow about the problems with the traditional type of congregational life found in so many UU congregations. I have experience with 2 UU congregations, so I’m no judge. But…

Critiques from the point of view of congregational growth, Associational growth, the health of these along any sort of metric you might care to mention, and so on are all reasonable.

It seems every so often, maybe even fairly frequently, one of the blogs I follow has a post thinking there’s a problem with the way (or even the fact) that UU congregations do ‘church.’ By which I mean… getting together on Sunday morning, sitting in rows facing someone in charge, singing a song (maybe… probably… badly), clanging a bell, lighting a candle or chalice, some sharing time, some kid time before they’re hustled off to RE, some sort of reading, a sermon, some more singing, a responsive reading, passing a basket to collect some loot, maybe a bit more singing, out goes the candle, and clang goes the bell.

It seems reasonable to want to see some changes in this form, since it’s largely habitual. But in broad strokes, as a lay member, I like the form. Any one or combination of these elements is ripe for the targeting, I’m sure.

http://www.firstparish.org/cms/sermons/478-running-into-a-new-year
Post Oct 7, 2011 at 7:12pm


Update, Jan. 10, 2018.

Well. That link is broken, and I cannot find an updated link to that content. It points to First Parish in Concord (Concord, MA). These things will happen on the internet, which is one of the reasons I am reviewing old posts.

However, I am embarrassed to admit this: I cannot remember the name of the First Parish minister I was referring to in the title of this post. I also can’t recall why I thought it was a good idea to connect that man to a brief look at UU order of service trellises.

However, I continue to feel that, for a small congregation, the outline in the original post still sounds good to me. Each congregation needs to decide for itself, and–even for me–sometimes Joys & Concerns needs to be… refocused.

I’ll probably write an actual new post about order of service in the Sunday Gathering we currently attend in the not too distant future.

(Note on old UU posts.)

Who UU Lay Bloggers Should I be Reading?

Who has time to read? I find I have somewhat more than I sometimes think. Over there, on the left side of this blog, is a list of “Others.” These are blogs I’ve stumbled across, or been pointed to by twitter or The Interdependent Web. (Note: this list was on a more UU-focused blog, on Grumble Flap I keep a shorter, broader, and more fluid list. -SM, Jan. 10, 2019.)

There are a lot of Rev. people in that list, and that’s fine. But recently I’ve become aware that the voices I’m missing are the voices like my own–UU laity.
So, in the comments leave blog recommendations from UU laity. Or, use the #uulaity hashtag on twitter, and I’ll run a roll here.

(Note on old UU posts.)

Small, Lay-led Congreagtion’s Order of Service

I’ve mentioned my congregation in the past, and this blog isn’t really about my congregational life, but I found a recent service particularly… something good… So I wanted to share what we did.

Order of Service
Prelude: EST Trio (We are giving our orchestra and chorus a break this week–much of the music provided will be recorded)
Welcome and Announcements
Introductory Remarks
Silent Moments for Reflection
Lighting the Chalice: #563 “A person will worship something”
Hymn: Pete Seeger “Turn, Turn Turn (To Everything there is a Season)”
Responsorial Reading: #466 (ending with “…and of courage”)
Sharing of Joys/Concerns
Children Temporarily Depart…
Offertory: (Music by Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny)
“Three American UU Saints, 1 & 2”
Children Return with Presentation
“Three American UU Saints, 3”
Hymn: #103 “For all the Saints”
Extinguishing the Chalice: remainder of #466

This is the Order of Service that we received when we arrived. Shortly before the service began, a member went around the room handing out little slips of paper with the lyrics to Pete Seeger’s “Old Hundredth,” which we sang instead of “Turn, Turn, Turn.” Our children’s programming is hit-and-miss, which I’ll return to in a moment, so they didn’t depart (except for our son, in an informal way, who kept getting up to look at his new sister). In our congregation, Announcements takes but a moment, and Joys & Concerns takes a few moments. The only thing I’ll share here is that it was our first time back to a service in two months, so we introduced our new daughter.

The part of the service which got me to want to share was the lay leader’s brief UU-focused biographies of the “Unitarian Universalist Saints.” I won’t rehash the content, but the three were Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Christopher Reeve, and Pete Seeger.

We’re a small, small congregation. If I say there are 50 of us, I’m probably inflating the number. As a result, there aren’t many children (though more than I would have expected), and since not all families attend each service, children’s programming is a challenge for those who do it. (And who, from my ability to judge, do a very good job overcoming the challenges I’ve indicated.)

Anyway. Nothing even pretending to being profound this time. I like our congregation, individually and corporately, and if you find yourself in Northern Michigan, drop me a line, and I’ll send you directions.

(Note on old UU posts.)

James Luther Adams

I’m still here, slooowwly making my way through JLA’s On Being Human Religiously.

Slowly because, now that our new baby’s home (been about 3 weeks now), I don’t have time (the energy) to read more than a page or three at a go.

Slowly because, honestly, if you’ve ever read him, it’s just slow going. The prose style is mid-century academic, with a heavy dose of technical terminology layered on a mound of theological ideas I’ve never thought much about.

Except when I have. Once I got through the flavor of the writing (made somewhat easier by the semester of Jung I had as an undergrad–tip: just keep reading, you’ll find many of the strange terms eventually become clearer simply through the fact that they cross reference each other), I found that much of what he’s saying is either something I’ve said or been groping toward. Said, of course, better, more clear-eyed, and academically.

I’m enjoying this collection of essays, and I’m taking a break having gotten about half way though. I’ll let it settle a bit, and probably come back to it before the end of the year. And maybe even have something to say about the content… For the moment I’m picking my way through The Graveyard Book (Gaiman), Winnie the Pooh (Millne), and The Book of God (Josipovici). Each of these, in particular ways, as palate cleansers for my mind.