Friday, June 17, 2011

smaller, better UUA Board

I support our UUA Board of Trustees’ proposal to shrink the Board from 26 members to 14, and to change the way Trustees are nominated & elected. I agree that this will make the Board both *more* efficient and diverse (pdf). For more details, please see their FAQ (pdf).

My colleague, Tom Schade, wrote: “Dear Friends…I have been thinking about UUA governance for a while. Most of our frustrations with the UUA come from its ineffective governance. We all have the experience of being frustrated with our ‘denomination’, but loving the people we know who staff it, and lead it. That says the problem is in the system not the people.

We have had since merger, a continuation of the Unitarian governance mode which is Strong President who leads the Staff and Weak Board. We assume this — the election of the President is where we focus all our hopes for the future. The problem is that the President has weak control of the staff. The board has been ineffective, in part because it is large and because it is constituted as regional representatives. (Regional representatives are based on the theory that somebody has to stop the organization from doing something stupid in my geographic area. It’s negative power. It’s not based on building a leadership team.)

We have had all the frustrations of the President/staff led organization, of which I would list these as particularly important: lack of priority decision making, mission creep, deferred decision-making, lack of follow-through on decisions, procedural inertia and occasional rogue processes. Staffs keep doing what they are doing; they add new tasks and priorities without giving up any; they adopt new rhetoric but continue without change. The big change in our system, which are still working our way through is that switch to policy governance. Some think PG is just a buzzword, but it is actually a shift in power and has set off a power struggle. The Board claims the power to set the direction and the priorities for the staff. The Board claims that its democratic mandate is greater than the President and the staff to set the purposes and priorities for which our considerable resources will be put.

The fact that the UUA President is elected, and not a hired Executive Director, is a still unresolved complication to this scheme.

The Board Downsizing proposal is a part of the Board’s desire to be able to be a strong leadership Board. First of all, it strengthens their democratic mandate: one third of the Board will be elected at large every year. Secondly, it aims at a board small enough to be effective in setting direction and goals, to make real decisions about resources and ends. It imagines that the way that people will try to influence the future of the UUA is by participating in and focusing on the annual board elections. Are the candidates people who will lead the UUA in the direction we want to go? Instead of asking that question every four years at President electing time, every year it will come up.

That’s the issue: do we want to have a leadership Board that exercises positive power (make what we think are good things happen), or are we hoping for a representative board that exercises negative power (stop what we think are bad things from happening.)?

Nominations: If we were satisfied with the fact that our leadership
represents the majority culture in the UUA, then it would OK to do away with a nominating committee for Board positions. In a cultural majority dominated organization, there is a contradiction between straight democracy and the work of diversifying the leadership. If all the elections were people nominating themselves, we would probably continue as we have, and feel somehow guilty about it. What we need is a conscious leadership development process that scans the organization from the margins to the center and finds and promotes the leaders we need. The leaders we need to move into new communities and cultures are not the obvious candidates coming up through the established channels of informal leadership development. The nominating committee should be the structure of that leadership development process.

The ultimate goal of the board downsizing is to imagine a strong, unified board that is forward looking, able to imagine a broader Unitarian Universalism and able to direct the deployment of our resources toward expanding Unitarian Universalism.”

We can either continue to distrust and hobble our leaders, or we can work to find excellent people and give them the freedom (and responsibility) to advance our shared mission. I want us to be an important, powerful voice for justice and freedom–-that requires a strong governance system. Yes, we’ll need to watch and verify that this new structure does deliver the promised efficiency and diversity. As Andrew Jackson reminded us, vigilance is the price of liberty.

Please vote in support of this proposal, at GA next week.

(original text, with links *and* the FAQ reproduced as a comment instead of a PDF file, at So May We Be)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Top Ten People to NOT Serve on Your Board

Top Ten People Who Should NOT Be On Your Board – and the worst and best reasons to ask someone to serve. This is slightly adapted from the classic list created by the Rev. Ms. Suzanne Meyer. NB: some of her characterizations are a bit harsh, but the core truths hold, IMHO.

1. Joe Blow-Hard. He’s the loudmouth who always has an opinion about everything. Rationale: Let him see that running a church is not as easy as he thinks. Reality: He is all talk and no action. Give the nominating committee his name only if you want the Board meetings to go on past midnight.

2. Sue Sweet. The dear soul who has been responsible for chancel flowers for the last 30 years. Rationale: Let’s put her on the Board to reward her for a job well done. Reality: If you want to reward her, get her a gift certificate. She has been doing what she loves for years–leave her alone! She will be totally ineffectual on the Board of Trustees.

3. Enya Absentia. Very active way back when her kids were young, but Enya and her husband have only been sporadically involved for the last decade. Rationale: Let’s get Enya and her husband involved again, by giving her a seat on the Board. Reality: Enya has been out of the loop for years. A lot has happened in that time. She will be the one to block change by saying, “that’s not the way we used to do things.”

4. Isaiah Newby. Very new to the church, and eager to be involved in everything. Rationale: Let’s get some new blood on the Board! Reality: Get Isaiah involved in education or fellowship groups, or justice work, if you want to keep him. Nobody joins a church because they want to serve on the Board. Let him get a few of his needs met before you show him how the sausage is really made.

5. Ima Needy. Lost her husband, her job, and her dog all within the last six months. Rationale: We want to affirm Ima, and give her a reason to live. Reality: The Board is not a support group.

6. Tara Teen. Member of the youth group. Rationale: We need to hear from our young people. Reality: While hearing from our young people is an excellent idea, Tara will like as not find the workings of the Board a giant bore. There are other, better ways to involve children and youth in the life of the congregation. If you want to affirm the young people in your church, what about buying some decent furniture for the YRUU room? Those old beat-up sofas and broken-down tables suck.

7. Byron Busy. Corporate Big Shot, who travels constantly for his business. Rationale: He will bring his expertise from the business world to the Board. Reality: He’ll miss over half the meetings.

8. Anne Agenda. Anne is *so* passionate–we could use that kind of energy on the Board! Rationale: She does have a lot of passion. Reality: She is passionate about her one single issue. If you want to hear all about homeless pussy cats, or the plight of the three-toed sloth at Board Meetings (in addition to the five minutes she takes up every Sunday morning during Joys and Concerns), then go ahead and put her on the Board.

9. Buck Saplenty. Buck has money coming out his wahzoo, but his annual pledge is remarkably low. Rationale: Once he understands why we need the money, his pledge will go up. Reality: His cheapskate ways and scarcity thinking will poison the rest of the Board.

10. Oley Hipster. Nobody told him that the 60′s are over. He’s still fighting those running dog lackeys of the establishment. Rationale: Oley has been around for a long time, and knows all the verses of “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Reality: Oley overdosed, back in the day. He is a rebel without a cause, not a good trustee. Save him for the hootenanny.

World’s Worst Reasons for nominating someone to serve on the Board of your congregation: To affirm them; to show how much we care; because they make a lot of noise; because we need new blood, old blood or young blood; because we have a hidden agenda (we want her money, hir property or his pool for a party); because they’ve been around forever; because they are brand new; because we can’t get anyone else to serve.

World’s Best Reasons for nominating someone to serve on the Board: they have shown support for the institution in the past; they are generous with their time and money; they have enough time in their lives to attend the meetings and do the work; they have a good sense of humor; they embody the values of the congregation in their personal lives; their knees do not tend to jerk much…

Bonus Wisdom:

Never nominate an active alcoholic or addict to seve as Treasurer or Canvass Chair.

If your Board meetings last past 9:30pm, your Board is doing too much micromanaging. Take a hard look at the agenda, a week prior. Put the most important items at the top of the agenda. Cull out the items that are not Board business.

If your Board is micromanaging: It probably means that they don’t want to deal with the real issue(s). Your job is to name that elephant in the middle of the table. What is the one thing they don’t want to address?

(list also available at So May We Be)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Won Park, money origamist

Won Park folds dollar bills into remarkable shapes. His origami is really gorgeous – note how the penguin even has an eye.

Elsewhere on the web, you may read that Won Park lives in a garbage truck; that part of the story is untrue. The vehicle is real, but it is not his. It tickles me that his astonishing artwork is not enough of an accomplishment, but folks feel it necessary to tack on the garbage truck (actually the UNICAT EX63-HD / MAN TGA 6×6) myth.

If you like origami, do yourself a favor and check out Vanessa Gould’s film, Between the Folds. It shows ten other origamists who do virtual magic with paper. Some make their own paper, to get the resilience, strength and color just right. Others do origami as mathematical exercises.

Check out some of Won Park's work at So May We Be.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

UU smart phone app?

What would you want in a UU app on your smartphone? That is the question posed by our UUA. The Rev. Ms. Naomi King, one of our most tech-savvy leaders, who regularly ministers to people via Twitter and Facebook, has already blogged a number of good suggestions for a religious app. Naomi included news, podcasts, “find a church”, aids for spiritual practice, faith-development-based games, music, texts (“mobile faith libraries”), and ritual calendars, among other things. She suggested that the app be useful for all ages, and work across many platforms.

I am embarrassed that I did not come up with music in my list, but I am used to Naomi being more comprehensive and more thoughtful than I. Some other things which would be nice to have in a mobile app: links to our UUA bookstore, with a featured “book of the week” (with a discount?); a “Today in U/U/UU History” feature; and a daily chalice lighting (which Naomi regularly collects on Twitter–search on #chalicelight or #chaliceout). When Naomi posted this question on FB, the Rev. Mr. Craig Schwalenberg said that he is still waiting for a virtual chalice. I can imagine the UU app including a choice of chalices (chalii?), which you could “light” by tapping the screen, whereupon a flame would appear (and even flicker a bit).

A daily quote would be nice, sort of a mobile Wayside Pulpit. That could be a specialized subset of the Mobile Faith Library (which would also include our Principles and Purposes / Sources from the bylaws). I assume a mobile UU News feed would include the Pastoral Letters written by our UUA president, and news about our congregations–both when they do good things, and when they are affected by natural disasters, etc.

In addition to daily featured podcasts and blog posts, there should be links to “Discover UU,” the Interdependent Web, UUpdates, UU TV, and other aggregators.

I like Naomi’s idea of a ritual calendar. The congregation I served in 2009 put together a booklet called “Advent-ure Season,” with things to celebrate every day from December 6th to January 3rd. We included activities for all ages, and conversation starters, for each day. A daily thing to celebrate, and recipes or games or crafts and conversation starters would be a wonderful thing–-and could be its own app, really.

What else would you like to see in a UU app? You can answer here and/or the UUA’s original question.

(original post, with links, at So May We Be)

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

manly to live longer?

Men die five years earlier than women, on average. This is partially biological, and mostly cultural: men die sooner because they have “poorer health care behaviors and lower use of health care,” according to author Bridget Murray-Law, quoted in Tom Matlack’s article. Matlack writes, “the way to extend male life isn’t to feminize us but build upon traditionally male attributes that turn out to promote healthier choices.” Matlack quotes Murray-Law’s article: “Men high in traits that are often considered masculine ideals—-self-reliance, responsibility, emotional maturity and an even-keeled approach—-are more prone to visit their physicians and avoid risky behaviors, findings suggest.”

Matlack turns to Will Courtenay’s Dying to be Men: Psychosocial, Environmental, and Biobehavioral Directions in Promoting the Health of Men and Boys to suggest six “masculine” approaches to better health:

1. Humanize – men too often think that health concerns are wimpy or unmanly. Let us accept that virtually all humans have concerns about their health.

2. Educate! Men are less knowledgeable about health matters. Those with less knowledge make poorer choices.

3. Reality check. Men tend to deny or minimize their symptoms. Get real.

4. Buddy System: men have fewer friends and smaller social networks than women. Courtenay says “start a poker night, or join a church.”

5. Maintenance. Many men have better maintenance plans for their car than for themselves.

6. Compete. Stereotypically competitive, men can learn to use that nature to overcome disease or to create healthier habits.

Of the five fewer years that men live, compared to women, Murray-Law quotes one researcher that, “one year is biological and the rest is cultural.” Men have been taught *not* to care about their health; we can change that.

(original post, with links, at So May We Be)