UU 102: Turmoil at Starr King

This had dropped out of my active memory until this morning brought an email from the new president of Starr King School for the Ministry, the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt. She’s quite a good writer. If you haven’t read her memoir, you’re missing out:

You shouldn’t miss the email, either. This is the paragraph that jumped out at me:

I thank both Elaine McArdle of UU World and Mark Oppenheimer of The New York Times for giving us at Starr King the opportunity to speak about our school. Unfortunately, these articles were not as objective or positive as I had hoped. Each of the articles contains several factual inaccuracies and mischaracterizations that paint the school, members of our community and our efforts toward resolution in an inaccurate and unfair light. Even more distressing, these two articles have caused anxiety, distress, fear, and hurt to members of our Starr King community. I am saddened that these articles have reopened a wound that, for many at Starr King and in our larger progressive religious community, had not yet healed.

There are three things to find objectionable in this paragraph.

First, if there are factual inaccuracies in these stories in UU World and The New York Times, I’d like to have them enumerated for correction. I’d also like to have the stories linked from the email so I can easily read them for myself and make up my own mind.

Second, I am troubled by the claim that causing “anxiety, distress, fear, and hurt to members of our Starr King community” is more distressing than “factual inaccuracies and mischaracterization” about Starr King (and by extension Unitarian Universalism) appearing in the national media. I don’t mean to diminish any worries some members of the Starr King community experience, but I also can’t regard them as more important than the rest of Unitarian Universalism, or even the rest of the Starr King community.

Third and finally, I am sick and tired generally of loose and irresponsible talk about wounds and the healing process. The use of such language here is a prime example. Is this a “reopened” wound? Starr King may want to move on and heal up, but must I privilege their point of view? There are others who have been wounded in this process. Do they feel it’s time for healing? Possibly they feel the wounding process is still going on. Perhaps they would like calls for healing to be preceeded by taking the knife out of the wound.

I’ve been trying not to take sides on this, but it’s getting harder to watch. From here, it sounds like every other story about powerful people doing stupid things, a problem so acutely experienced in academia, especially when student rights are set against administrative expedience. My rule of thumb in dealing with administrators when I was a student was they they lie more easily than they breathe and cannot be trusted. My greatest regrets include trusting them from time to time and getting screwed.

And yet, that’s how most administrative practice works. It’s designed for a result and what looks like trampling underfoot is often just motion along the straightest line. And I’m clearly biased in favor of students. So I don’t know, but this all smells very bad.

What do you think?

UU 102: Current and Future State of Unitarian Universalist Scholarship

A few weeks ago, Rev. Colin Bossen asked people to self-identify as clergy, lay person, or academic, then answer these three questions:

  1. Who are the five most influential Unitarian Universalist or liberal religious thinkers today?
  2. What magazines, academic journals, and blogs most impact your work?
  3. What is the most important issue for Unitarian Universalist scholars to address?

It’s not my story to tell, but I’ll add my two cents worth.

I was one of the dozen lay respondents out of seventy-four total, also including eight academics.

I was unsurprised to see Rebecca Parker was one of the common choices; i was a little surprised to hear more than half named her. I wasn’t surprised to see Mark Morrison-Reed or Sharon Welch, either, and had I thought of Anthony Pinn, he’d’ve been on my list.

(Note to self: Try again to get Paul Rasor’s book.)

There’s much more in the survey, so here are my questions, most of which could be resolved by having the raw data or something like it.

  1. Were there significant differences among the three groups of respondents?
  2. Which of the scholars named are Unitarian Universalists? Which ones aren’t? Are any not easily classifiable? Does it matter?
  3. Can our congregations develop and support more scholar-ministers?

Okay, the answer to that last one isn’t in the data, but the others?

UU 102: What I Want in a UUA President

We’ve heard what Tony Lorenzen and Tom Schade want from the next UUA President. Now Rev. Cynthia Landrum speaks, and she’s using my language–numbers! Did you know the last four presidents of the UUA were born between 1946 and 1949? True fact:

I think it’s time for a woman or transgender president, and it’s time for Generation X to step up to the lead.  Generation X ministers now have 10-20 years of experience, so we’re right in the bracket of what we expect from a UUA president.  The oldest Gen-Xers are now turning 50; with ages in our thirties and forties now, we’re the right age to govern, if our history is any marker of what we’re looking for.

What do you think? What and who must the next president of the UUA be?

UU 102: IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Waited Until My Wedding Night to Lose My Virginity and I Wish I Hadn’t

My niece flagged this article by Samantha Pugsley and that brought it to my attention.  This is the age at which we begin to teach the second Our Whole Lives (OWL) class:

At the age of 10, I took a pledge at my church alongside a group of other girls to remain a virgin until marriage. Yes, you read that right — I was 10 years old.

This kind of thinking is as much our competition as is the hypersexualized culture we float in. Which is worse? Perhaps that depends on each person’s experience:

Sex hurt. I knew it would. Everyone told me it would be uncomfortable the first time. What they didn’t tell me is that I would be back in the bathroom afterward, crying quietly for reasons I didn’t yet comprehend. They didn’t tell me that I’d be on my honeymoon, crying again, because sex felt dirty and wrong and sinful even though I was married and it was supposed to be okay now.

What I despise so about that is that it isn’t even true the first time always has to hurt. The lousiness and the lies in the sex-hating story are fundamental to how it works. What we do in OWL class is fact-based and intended to help each person become a better human.

So, I ask two questions:

  1. How do we bring the benefits of OWL to more people?
  2. What other areas of life desperately need this type of humane education?

And a bonus item! This wonderful short book by Jessica Valenti, The Purity Myth. If you’re wondering about how this story hurts girls (and boys) and shapes much of our culture, you could do a lot worse than to pick this book up. Read about it on Jessica Valenti’s website.

Cover of The Purity Myth

UU 102: Lessons From My Parents: What Does Farting Have to Do With Love and Commitment?

Helping those we love in their times of trouble has occupied my mind these last few days. Here, the Rev. Katie Norris wonders:

Can you be the wind beneath each other’s sheets?

It’s written with a light touch and it shines that light on dark places. What does constitute a deal-breaker in a committed relationship? Does “in sickness and in health” come with the footnote “unless you are sick in a hard-to-handle way”?

Let me connect this to another thing I hear people say: “What if you change your mind about that tattoo?” My goodness! The idea that someone would commit to something for their entire life! But you’ve heard that, too, haven’t you?

We all know now that no job is safe and no stockholder owes anyone anything, that times are engineered to be uncertain unless you have a long fat wallet, that our world can be ended in a moment, and having being beaten with those corrupt ideas, we flinch at our commitments.

When the idea of mutual commitment goes away, our peer relations based on such mutual commitment weaken, as does the top-down, noblesse oblige commitment of old-school bosses, and our commitment to good work becomes fear-based.

I’m sure this greatly troubles those who rule us.

UPDATE: Mountain Home incidents not thought connected

Last week, a story broke about the Unitarian Universalist Church of Mountain Home. Two incidents had occurred there in a two-week period: A member received a threatening letter and church windows were shot out with a pellet gun.

It is now believed the two incidents are not connected.

How do we react when this sort of news comes in? How should we react?

These are difficult and contentious times, in which one of the political factions in the country likes to go armed. That’s as much theatrics as it is threat, but much as the mind knows that, the lizard brain still twitches its tail when confronted with it. So we jump. At least, I jump.

Maybe that’s necessary. At least, it’s necessary for someone to be jumpy. And maybe spreading jumpiness around is the desired result.

Fear works against the new, against going forward, against so many of the things we must do to survive in this beautiful, indifferent world.

There’s a balance somewhere between watchfulness and nervousness. If you find it, send directions. I’ll head right over. Till then, I expect I’ll stay jumpy. And I expect I’ll be posting a lot of updates. But more quickly next time!

UU 102: Housekeeping note AND Just Friends: A Meditation on Friendship as Spiritual Practice

First, the housekeeping note: I’ve had two family-type issues this last week, one with my family of raising and one with my family of choice. I’ve missed a few days and while I’m not going to try to catch up, I will post a few things besides the daily item.

I’m also breaking a personal guideline with this item: I’d said to myself I wouldn’t repeat authors for a while. This spoke directly to my life as I am living it right now, and so Rev. James Ishmael Ford is here to tell you about friendship as spiritual practice:

So, what does this look like in real life? How are we friends? Is it taking time to sign up for the care crew? Is it noticing someone you know here at church hasn’t been around for a while and giving her a call? Perhaps it’s that monthly commitment to the food pantry or preparing meals for Harrington Hall. These days I write much of sermon in the living room. My auntie, who was sitting next to me watching my furious typing, asked what I was writing about. I said friendship and asked if she had a thought? She said sometimes being a friend is knowing when to say no.

Yoko Ono tells us “Yes”; Ayn Rand tells us “No”; Sonic Youth says “Turn off the past and just say yes”; Nancy Reagan says “Just Say No”;  Larry Kramer wrote “Just Say Yes: A play about a farce”; Amy Winehouse said “No No No”; James Joyce wrote “yes I said yes I will Yes.

What do you say?

Unitarian Universalist Church of Mountain Home gets threatening letter, windows shot out

This is not the right mood for me to go to choir practice in. As Brother Wayne Kramer says, “Bomb-loving leaders get bomb-loving citizens.” It doesn’t surprise me this happened at this point in history, after that election, not one bit.

This is the most complete story I’ve seen so far:

I talked later with Mrs. Hurley, 82, lay leader of the small congregation. The anonymous letter was sent to Bill Rhodes, the president of the congregation about two weeks ago. What appeared to be pellet gun holes were found in a church window Sunday, though she’s drawing no conclusions about cause and effect in the case of either the letter or the holes in the window. The church sits by a traffic light and teenagers with a BB gun might have just popped off a few shots, she noted.

It’s her town, and she knows more about their situation than I do. I hope she’s right. And I’m ready to support them.

Here’s the letter:

MH-UU.jpg

I am pretty sure that was written by someone a little more literate than it may first appear, but I could be wrong.

UU 102: What I Want in a UUA President

Last week, I put up Tony Lorenzen’s thoughts on what we need in the next president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). This week, it’s Tom Schade’s turn:

We need leadership that pushes us toward relevance. Unitarian Universalism will grow to the extent that it is relevant to people who are not now UU’s. Relevance does not grow out of intent, but impact. So, a criteria that we need to expect from our new younger, female President is: Can she lead people who are not UU’s?

What do you think we need?

UU 102: Deeds not Creeds, Behavior is Believable

The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg  has a lot to say here. It’s more wide-ranging than the title might indicate. And it gave me a John Adams quote I didn’t have before:

I do not attach much importance to creeds because I believe [one] cannot be wrong whose life is right

That’s pretty great, isn’t it?

There’s a lot in here about the value of covenant and being together, and I think this is my favorite of that:

Another way of expressing this difference is that some sociologists of religion have noted an important shift from a paradigm of Believe-Behave-Belong in which newcomers to a religious community first had to believe the right doctrines, then behave correctly, and finally were allowed to belongThe postmodern paradigm reverses the order to Belong-Behave-Believe. Today, most newcomers first want to feel like they belong (that they are in an open, safe, accepting community), then they are open to reflecting on ethics (how they behave) — and over time they may find that their beliefs are shifting through being in community. As the saying goes, “It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting.”

What would it change if we reversed that order?

There’s so much in this rich sermon–and it led me to something else perhaps more valuable. But that’ll be another day. Soon.