Thursday, September 30, 2010

church do & do not list

Strong medicine from Michael Durall:

I. Things churches should do

Once and For All, Get Serious About Your Congregation’s Purpose. Seeking beauty and truth doesn’t cut it. Church is more important than that.

Finding Capable Leaders is Worth the Time and Effort. Church leaders create a congregation in their own image, for better or worse.

Create a Growing, Healthy Church. The #1 way to accomplish this is to raise the expectations of membership. Uncommitted souls and hangers-on do not a congregation make.

Your Church May Not Be For Everyone. If potential new members don’t agree with your expectations, do not let them join the membership ranks.

Identify Unmet Needs In Your Community. You don’t have to look far to find someone who needs a helping hand.

Touch People’s Hearts and Souls. People don’t always act for rational reasons.

[Expect More.] Don’t Settle for Less. Going to church means we are not satisfied with the fern-bar quality of contemporary life.

Evangelism Could Be Fun If Your Church is Worth Talking About. Don’t want to talk about your church with others? If something truly important is going on, you would.

Develop a Sense of Urgency. When the devil hired a representative to do his work on earth, he hired the one who said, “I will tell people there is no hurry.”

Everyone’s a greeter. If first-time visitors experience loneliness, a very common occurrence, they won’t return for a repeat performance.

Ask new members to reach the 5-10 percent giving level. Why not? They may say OK. Actually, all members should be asked to do this.

Give away the Sunday offering and 5-10 percent of the operating budget to outreach beyond your own four walls. Not a single person should say your church can’t afford it.

II. Things churches should not do

Don’t allow too many laypeople in the Sunday service. Sunday morning cannot be amateur hour. The quality goes in before the invitation goes out.

Don’t sit around and wait until new people show up. Reach out to cohorts, such as single-parent families, or those recently divorced or widowed. There’s a lot of loneliness out there.

Church shouldn’t be just one more thing on the calendar. Church is not akin to a kid’s soccer game.

Don’t let the same people run the church for years on end. Even though they will try to.

Don’t perpetuate the past. Most churches appeal to those born before 1955.

Don’t try to keep malcontents happy. An unhappy person can remain unhappy for a very long time.

Don’t let uninvolved members make major decisions by forcing congregational votes. Keep membership roles current.

Don’t form unnecessary committees. The fewer, the better. The less frequently they meet is even better. Church is about reaching out, not just committee meetings.

Don’t let members hold the congregation hostage by threatening to withhold pledges. If they have become that unhappy, maybe they should look for another church. See malcontents, above.

Don’t tell people a job will be easy and doesn’t require much time or effort. Especially true of key leadership roles.

Don’t take excessive money from endowments or income-producing properties to supplement the operating budget. This creates an uninvolved, low-pledging congregation.

Don’t keep pledge records secret. The ministers, board chair, and stewardship committee members should have the pledge records. The higher the secrecy, the lower the level of giving.

Visit Michael Durall online at and

via UU Growth Blog.

Friday, September 24, 2010

crisis, flux--practice as usual

"How morally to respond to change when even our moral sources are changing – is an ancient question," blogs Mike Hogue, in his blog on Tikkun magazine's site.

Changing moral grounding has always been part of the human predicament, but the pace of that change is becoming itself a challenge: "The problem is that the increasing velocity of change in our world, and the scale and intensification of our moral problems may be out-pacing (velocity) and out-spacing (scale) and out-deepening (intensity) our existing moral visions."

He asks, "Are we up to it? Are our moral and religious traditions capable of the radical changes called for by our contemporary challenges?"

Hogue reminds us that "Religious and moral revolutions are not about tweaking things; they are not simply about adjusting principles and norms or reinterpreting symbols and rituals. They emerge through deeper change – change in the deeper infrastructure of religious consciousness and moral practice: changing the world depends on changing lives (minds, hearts and hands)."

He then writes, "Of course not all change is morally constructive, and religious communities have an ambiguous moral history. But our religious communities and institutions, for good and for ill, are the world’s most powerful transformers of cultural imagination and moral practice."

I wonder if this is still true. Perhaps television and/or the internet are more powerful--again for good and for ill.

Or perhaps those technologies are simply tools, for we humans to use. As individuals and as gathered communities, we are still doing the work of co-creating justice, in whatever context we find ourselves.

For example, a number of contemporary spiritual practitioners and philosophers are engaged in an ongoing conversation, the Beyond Awakening series of conference calls, to which over 20,000 people are listening (and downloading), as the leaders discuss how we might adapt/recreate spiritual practices to better ground ourselves as we face the needs of our present time. Perhaps this is just a different form of ecclesia.

Whatever practices we use, however we gather, I agree with Hogue that "Justice is co-created through the joining of deep neighbor-love with delight in the holy.”

There is also a nice conversation in the comments section, as Erik Walker Wikstrom summarizes Tom Driver's book, "Christ in a Changing World"--The one place we will *not* find the Christ is in the past, because Christ is change, is transformation. Hogue agrees, "The Christ need not be a singular historical person, but a character continually calling out for imitation in the present...the Christ can be understood as a model of the kenotic (self-emptying), radically other-regarding life of faith."

It does seem as though the pace--and scale, and intensity--of change is daunting. I know I am struggling to find and embody a practice that grounds me and guides me. But I *am* seeking that practice, and Hogue and the "Beyond Awakening" folks *are* searching for such practices, and we humans have always been engaged in adapting our selves to meet our contexts. Transforming ourselves and our moral practices is *critical* to the survival of our species. Just like it always has been.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Easy A review

Easy A is a fun movie, with many liberal values on the surface, but it undermines its own message, IMHO. I had a great time watching it, and I would recommend it as a good starting point for conversations about teen-aged sex and morality. However, I assume that virtually all mainstream movies ultimately *support* the status quo, and "Easy A" is consistent with that belief.

Without many spoilers, the film appears to be pro-feminist, pro-gay, and pro-racial-harmony. Alas, the deeper message is to conform to conventional values--they explicitly say, "you can blend in, or you can choose to not care." Hard to "not care" when you're being beaten or oppressed every day.

Our heroine, supposedly a wiser-than-her-years young woman coming into her feminist power, making her own choices about her own sexuality, reacts with horror and disgust whenever her mother (the *sole* positive adult female role model) talks about sex. The implicit message is that "good girls do not talk about (or enjoy!) sex." (See one final comment under *spoilers* below)

I did laugh a lot during the film; there is witty banter and lip service paid to many liberal values. I would absolutely show it to a youth group, to talk about the issues raised. And I would point out how the film subtly *reinforces* the traditional values it seems to be questioning, as part of that conversation.

Further note: there is a *lot* of Christian-bashing. A conversation about that part of the film could reasonably note that the movie attacks a sort of shallow, hypocritical form of Christianity. Still, if I were having a deep conversation about the values in the film, I would want to raise this topic.

Well, it may not be much of a spoiler--there is a happy ending, of course. How it comes about is the strongest example of how the film actually supports the status quo.
Initially, our heroine rebels against the "madonna or whore" dichotomy forced onto young girls, but she finally redeems herself by ending her rebellion, telling the truth, and reclaiming her virginity and "good" reputation.

Monday, September 20, 2010

easy to be hard

Tea Partiers are driven by Status Anxiety; unless we provide an alternative status, their fear and anger will continue to escalate, until it bubbles over into real violence. The traditional markers of status in the USA--wealth and white skin--are changing. We cannot (and would not choose to) stop that evolution, but we can respond to the anxiety it causes. We can present a wider, more universal status (the inherent worth dignity of every person!) to soothe the fear and defuse the anger. Not only would this address the current crises (e.g. immigration reform and Islamophobia), it would provide a basis for a more just society going forward.

Writing at, Jacob Weisberg calls the Tea Party "the Right's version of the 1960s New Left. It's an unorganized and unorganizable community of people coming together to assert their individualism and subvert the established order."

Weisberg says the "strongest note in its tannic brew is nostalgia [and the second] strongest emotion at Tea Parties is resentment, defined as placing blame for one's woes on those either above or below you in the social hierarchy."

His main point is that "Nostalgia, resentment, and reality-denial are all expressions of the same underlying anxiety about losing one's place in the country or of losing control of it to someone else. When you look at the surveys, the Tea Partiers are not primarily the victims of economic transformation, but rather people whose position is threatened by social change...Of no previous movement has Richard Hofstadter's depiction of populism as driven by 'status anxiety' been so apt."

I think Weisberg is slightly wrong here--I think that many Tea Partiers *are* victims of economic transformation--but that doesn't detract from his main point. There is a great deal of status anxiety. The Tea Partiers fear losing their position, as a result of both economic distress and social change. Like many humans, their fear can translate into rage.

It is easy to say "the world is changing, the world is getting more diverse, get over it." That only increases the anxiety, and makes violence more likely. If, however, we on the left demonstrate that we understand the values that the Tea Partiers feel are threatened; if we present a compelling alternative, that sincerely addresses both "liberal" and "conservative" values; if we show them that they do have inherent worth and dignity (at least in part by refraining from mocking them), then we may create an alternative status that will soothe fear and anger, thus freeing up all that energy, to be used in more productive pursuits.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

cruel to be kind

A newspaper has apologized for depicting Muslims in a *positive* light.

On September 11th, the Portland Press Herald published a story titled "A Show of Faith and Forgiveness: Muslims mark the end of Ramadan with a celebration of life and an outpouring for those less fortunate."

Almost immediately, complaints began pouring in, and the paper apologized: "We have acknowledged that we erred by at least not offering balance to the story and its prominent position on the front page."

In his Time blog, James Poniewozik wrote, "Here's where we are in America, 2010: There is now one group of Americans whose peaceful religious observance cannot be noted by decent people, unless it is "balanced" by the mention of a vile crime committed in 2001 by people, with a perverted idea of the same religion, from the other side of the world."

Poniewozik concludes, "If there's one silver lining, it's that the apology drew its own storm of complaints. From one: 'These people and their faith had nothing whatsoever to do with the horrific attack of nine years ago. Our state needs to be more tolerant, not less. Your apology implies that it is in some way OK to connect everyday Muslims and the attackers. I abhor such thinking.' Well said. The paper owed no one an apology. But it does now."

I recently wrote that we need to understand the viewpoints of those who support SB1070. I also think we need to understand the feelings and thoughts of people who are so frightened/angered by Muslims that they cannot abide any presentation of Islam in a peaceful way. However, trying to understand someone, and changing the facts of a story, or apologizing for speaking or printing the truth, sets a dangerous precedent.

via Slatest.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

guilty bystander?

"For us to claim we are 'on the side of love,' implying others are not, feels dangerously self-righteous to me," posts Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig. She continues, "Please hear me: I don't want us to sit on our hands or stay silent about what we believe. I feel so blessed to be part of a movement with brave people willing to put themselves on the line for justice. I just hope we can practice with humility, seeking to understand the human lives of those who do not agree with us, even as we do what we need to do. I hope our GA and our continued work for justice will have room for that spirit."

I responded on her blog, but I am not sure it saved, so I'll repeat it here:

Speaking only for my own life, a call to humility is virtually *always* appropriate. I do not disagree with the phrase "Standing on the Side of Love" (I think it is documentable that many of our human cousins are acting from fear or anger, rather than love), and I still think it would serve us well to write, speak and act with humility. Maybe part of GA12 could include working to understand the lives & issues of those who *support* SB1070.

Monday, September 13, 2010

identity exercise

Choose an identity that has been alive for you recently...What has been good about that identity? What's been hard about it? What is something you'd like us to know/remember about that identity in your life?

Thanks to Toniann Read, the Director of Ministry with Children and Youth at UU Metro Atlanta North, for sharing the above questions, which they use as a check-in at their monthly RE Council meetings.

I have a hard time with such questions as check-ins--or any check-in process, really, if the participants are not prepared to delay the business of the meeting when something deep comes up in check-in. The business of being human is sometimes more important than getting through an agenda.

That said, I think Toniann's questions could be entrances into vital conversations.

Being a son has been good recently in that my parents email and call me regularly, and let me know they love me. It has been difficult recently in that my mother would like to retire sometime soon, but she cannot afford to do so. I worry about her future--and my inability to do much to help her. I know there are many adults in the same circumstance.

Being a white male was good this last weekend, when the police officer gave me a ticket for doing 60 in a 55 zone--and I was actually doing 70. Had I been a minority, I might have been given a more expensive sentence (or worse). It's been hard to see people who look like me spouting their intolerance and hate all over the TV and radio waves.

Being a fan of the Ohio State University football team has been good recently because they are living into their #2 ranking, and because it provided an entry into several nice conversations with other college football fans, while on vacation this last weekend. It has been hard because it has created a difference, a distinction between people, in several other conversations. Though in many ways it is a meaningless difference, it still demonstrates a difference, when it would have been preferable to underscore our common humanity. I want to remember to choose my head gear more carefully, even in the rain.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

0.02 on GA.12

Dear UUA Trustees,

Thank you for asking my input about GA12.

If we are to ask UUs of color, and UUs with green cards, to risk their safety and their freedom by going to Arizona, then we must make it worth that risk: let us do real work in Phoenix. Even if SB1070 has been wholly repealed by June of 2012, we made a commitment in Minneapolis to focus on justice work. Let us do the necessary business of the Association (including budgets, high-profile worship, the Ware lecture and the Service of the Living Tradition), and let us focus much of our time on collaboration with Puente! and NDLON and our local congregations, to make a real difference in that community. We could do some AIW and other justice work, particularly if much of it focuses on immigration reform, Islamophobia, and similar oppressions.

It will be hot; many of our attendees may not be able to be outside much during the day. It would be nice to have some indoor methods of participation for them. Again, though, if some of us are risking our freedom, then the majority of us should be willing to risk some comfort (there are those for whom this could be a medical issue, not mere comfort).

In the best possible scenario, many of our congregations and delegates will have done some work on immigration reform in their local community, before arrriving in Phoenix. Like in college, coming prepared really does help. However, some "crash courses" in basic education will probably be necessary. Some education opportunities on advanced topics would be good, too: immigration reform, U.S. history, U/U/UU history on such matters, effective public witness, Islamophobia, real Islam (both challenging and affirming passages & interpretations), etc. Most importantly, we should do some real work in Arizona, and I think we need to ask our partners on the ground there which activities we should pursue. Whatever we do, it would also be good to publicize it well, in many different ways. Publicity is not the first priority, but getting our salvific message out *is* important.

Finally, let me reiterate the necessity of good preparation. This will be much more effective--in terms of work in Arizona and work in the hearts of UUs around the country--if we do appropriate preparation work, over the course of the next two program years, including GA11, and as many district and UUMA chapter gatherings as possible.

I am excited about the possibilities! Thank you for all your work in advancing our religious movement,

--this is in response to the UUA Board asking for input about GA12, about which I blogged below.

help plan GA12

Tell the UUA Board what you want Justice GA 2012 to look like: click here to learn more, or just mail your input to "secretary AT" or "gamap AT" Input received by September 13 "will receive the most consideration."

From the link:
"Delegates at the 2010 General Assembly (GA) in Minneapolis overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution committing themselves to holding a special “Justice” General Assembly in Phoenix in 2012...In order to provide concrete direction to the GA Planning Committee and UUA staff, the Board is requesting input from congregations (vis à vis their elected leadership) to help it make informed decisions about what GA 2012 should be. The Board is interested in questions, comments, concerns and observations from leaders, affiliates, interest groups and others. This information will be reviewed by the Board and shared with the Planning Committee and UUA staff."

The page includes links to the actual resolution, and to other justice-themed UU links.

Monday, September 06, 2010

river, not rock

"Unitarian Universalism is not a rock to hold onto. It is a river to swim in.

If you want a set of beliefs to hold onto, if you want rules to guide your life in all situations, if you want a foundation for a spiritual fortress, you will probably be disappointed with us.
However, if you want to dive into the river and explore, if you think that what you experience and what you do is more important than what you believe, if you want to be with people who engage in this world to promote well being for all, we may have something to offer.
Life itself is more like a river than a rock. Life is in flux, it changes, twists and turns, ebbs and flows. When a river encounters a boulder, the boulder may win for a while. But eventually, even the most massive stone is worn away by the currents of time. Unitarian Universalism is about learning to swim in the river rather than climbing out of it onto a rock."

--the Rev. Mr. Doug Kraft, of the UU Society of Sacramento.

Thanks, Laura.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Hawking speaks out of turn

Stephen Hawking writes that "It is not necessary to invoke God [to] set the universe going," in an excerpt from his new book, as reported in a BBC News story.

I might agree with him that far, but then he writes, "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing." This is a poor metaphysic and worse physics. Do I really have to remind one of the greatest minds of our time that if there is no universe, then there is no gravity? And if we allow him to postulate a law of gravity *outside* our universe, which makes it possible for the universe to create itself, than Hawking has merely replaced the symbol "God" with the symbol "law such as gravity" as the First Cause. It is a faith statement, not a scientifically provable (or disprovable) assertion.

Hawking is allowed to believe anything he wishes, as long as his actions do not harm others. I don't know that he is actually hurting anyone by writing this, but it certainly doesn't help. I respect him for his scienctific work; I wish he'd stick to that.