Friday, November 27, 2009

selling Meadville by the pound

I am saddened that we must sell the buildings and land currently occupied by the Meadville Theological School at Lombard College. I have a deep and abiding emotional attachment to the people whom I've met in those walls, and therefore to the walls themselves. I hope we keep a UU presence in Hyde Park, but I am more concerned that we keep alive UU theological education and research, wherever that might work best. I also hope we keep Starr King School for the Ministry alive and well; it's just as a Meadville grad, I am more aware of (and concerned for) its path.

Elsewhere in the UU blogosphere, folks are explaining and decrying the high cost of theological education.

This is part of a larger trend, of course. Seminaries from all kinds of traditions are experiencing financial woes, all around the USA. Yet I think our UU-ness makes us more susceptible to this crunch--and it might present a unique salvation.

Professor David Bumbaugh taught me that UUism is defined less by its liberal theology than by its middle class -ness. And "Middle Class" is defined by "anxiety about losing that 'middle class' economic status." I think the reason we UUs do not fund our seminaries (or our seminarians) adequately is directly related to the fact that we UUs do not fund our congregations very generously. In general, UUs donate less to their congregations than do people in the vast majority of religious traditions. Anxious about appearing--and feeling--"wealthy enough," we must spend on ourselves, and thus give less to our churches, and even less to our seminaries.

However, this class-based Achilles Heel might also save us. If we openly address this shadow, if we engage it with the same courage and openness that we've used on other justice issues, then we'll not only defuse our anxiety, we'll soothe it. This is the true salvation we offer--liberation from our deep (Calvinist) fears of sinking into a lower economic class. Our members and friends will feel so much joy at this liberation that they will support each other--and our congregations, and our seminaries--with much more generosity than they were able to feel previously.

And in the current economic climate, there are many millions of other people who are feeling a similar anxiety. Our salvific message would appeal to them, and swell our ranks. And it might just dovetail with our work on racial justice, too--rather than doggedly addressing race as separate from class, we could finally engage both issues, from a whole spectrum of approaches.

It's too late to save 5701 S. Woodlawn Avenue, but we might save 25 Beacon Street.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Landsburg on Dawkins, God

Steven Landsburg blogs "Richard Dawkins is an international treasure and one of my personal heroes, but he’s got this God thing all wrong... Darwinian evolution can’t replace God, because Darwinian evolution (at best) explains life, and explaining life was never the hard part. The Big Question is not: Why is there life? The Big Question is: Why is there anything?"

I don't agree with everything Landsburg writes, but he is usually interesting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

charter for compassion

from the Charter for Compassion:
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Sinkford is Meadville's newest trustee

Bill Sinkford was just elected to the Meadville Lombard Board of Trustees. After an eight-year UUA Presidency, during which he did a great deal of good in the world *and* strengthened our faith tradition, I hoped he might get some needed rest. Of course, he still felt called to good work--his position with the UU Urban Ministry seemed like an excellent post, again doing good work in the world and revitalizing our justicemaking efforts.

And then he joined the Meadville Board. On one hand, I do feel bad for his aching back and his family. On the other hand I am absolutely thrilled for the future of the school and our movement. Theological education in general is in a world of hurt, and our two remaining UU schools are even worse off than most. The next months and years will be difficult, and still his presence gives me hope. I know the other Trustees are also good people, committed and passionate about UUism. I pledge to work with them--and with Bill Sinkford!--as they endeavor to keep UU-specific theological education alive and thriving. Mazeltov!