Showing posts from 2009

Garrison Keillor Is no "Companion" for Unitarian Universalists

Many Unitarian Universalists, myself included, are regular NPR listeners.  And among them, many listen regularly to Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion."  It's on weekly at about the time I leave church, so I have listened to it many times.  Garrison Keillor makes a regular practice of poking fun at Unitarian Universalists on his show.  I've often had church members come and tell me he mentioned us again, often with delight, because we're so rarely mentioned in the media.  One example of a Unitarian Universalist joke attributed to Garrison Keillor is: "A sign at the Unitarian church said: Bible study at 7:00. Bring your Bible and a pair of scissors."  So, yes, some of the joke are funny, some point out our foibles and idiosyncrasies.  But lately I've been turning off NPR whenever "A Prairie Home Companion" comes on.  Listening to him talk about us over the years it's becoming more and more evident that he isn't laughi…

December 17th: The Unitarian Christmas Holiday?

Last year I did a series of post about "Chalica," a holiday that's been invented in which Unitarian Universalists may spend the first full week of December reflecting and acting on the seven Principles. Last year I focused on Chalica for the whole week, and I did find that meaningful.

This year, however, I'm focused on a different idea for a Unitarian Holiday. December 17th is the day Unitarian Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol was published. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all spent every December 17th remembering the Unitarian ideals he brought to Christmas with that publication, and acting in a way consistent with Scrooge's transformation?

God is Love?

My uncle asks, "If God is love, how does that work?" To elaborate, he means does God still act in people's lives the way God does in the Old Testament? How is a God who is love different from a God who loves? Does it mean God is all kinds of love--eros, agape, etc.--or just some?

Paul Rasor writes in Unitarian Universalist views of God, "Others may use the term God to convey very different ideas, such as the creative power of evolution in the universe, or the power that makes transformation possible in our lives, or the ongoing power of love, or simply the ultimate mystery within which we all must live" (emphasis mine). God, in Rasor's description, is not the God of the Old Testament who acts directly in people's lives, who is a larger-than-human but human-like personality who speaks and makes demands and rewards and punishes. This God who is love is more like a power, as he uses the word in the two preceding phrases about God. God is the power of l…

Costs of Becoming a Minister - Part Two, Including a Modest Proposal

In Part One, I left off here: I think the only options that are really viable and just are to either fund our seminarians or ministers better or to decrease our expectations about the seminary process.

Decrease Expectations?

Some people have proposed interesting models of becoming a minister that are not seminary-focused. These are certainly intriguing. As a seminary-trained minister, I see the value in seminary and I am perhaps too invested in this system to step outside of this box adequately. I see our "learned ministry" as an important and defining tradition that is part of our make-up as Unitarian Universalism. It is also in keeping with the denominations that we are closest to. I'm not quite willing to drop seminary altogether. However, there are some interesting proposals about modifying the process. Here's mine.

Shortening seminary is entirely doable. A four-year process to become a minister does seem a bit outrageous. What about a one-year process of …

Costs of Becoming a Minister - Part One

A number of UU bloggers have been taking on the issue of the cost of becoming a UU minister. To see some of that discussion, check out PolityWonk, Elizabeth's Little Blog, iMinister, the Interdependent Web, Planting God Communities, Rev. Scott Wells... iMinister, in particular, has been doing a number of blog posts looking at every angle.

In a previous post I outlined the process for becoming a UU minister. The issue is that this standard process is too expensive, given the wages that many UU ministers will make, particularly in smaller churches, which we have a lot of in the UUA. (For full-time ministers, which right there is an assumption, the range starts at 37,600.)

The cost of seminary is around $15,000 per year for tuition alone, and then books and whatnot, until you're looking at a cost of around $35,000 for the year. Remember that four main choices for seminary for UUs are Andover Newton, Harvard, Meadville Lombard, and Starr King. They are in the Boston area, Bos…

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Here's what I shared at the interfaith Thanksgiving Eve service in Jackson...

In Unitarian Universalism, we’re a blend of loving and embracing tradition, coming out of an American Christian tradition, and a blend of beliefs from different world religions, cultures, and some we’ve come up with on our own. When it comes time for the holidays, therefore, we balance doing the traditional, customary American and Christian rituals with bringing in new ideas, older ideas from other places, and, always, a focus on justice. Thanksgiving is a time when we celebrate togetherness and thankfulness and abundance, but also mourn the brokenness, the brokenness of our connection to the earth, the brokenness of peace, the brokenness of our relationship to the First Nations people on whose land we stand.

I want to share with you a short reading from my colleague the Rev. Chris Buice. He speaks humorously about the dilemma we in a pluralistic faith encounter. He writes:

Ministerial Formation

There's a discussion going on in the blogosphere about the costs of ministerial formation, and I was going to jump right in, but realized it's hard to do so without first describing what goes into becoming a minister in our denomination. So this is a description of that process. The UUA describes the process here. I'll go into some detail in a way that will hopefully be shorter and easier to follow. I may mix things up a bit, because the process has substantially changed since I went through it. You go through three stages with the UUA in becoming a UU minister: Applicant, Aspirant, and Candidate.

As an applicant, one applies to the UUA to be in the process of becoming a minister, and starts theological school. UU ministers may attend any accredited theological school. I went to one of the two UU schools: Meadville Lombard Theological School. The standard path to becoming a UU minister right now is a four-year process, although some manage to do it faster and some t…

Reimagining GA

A popular UU blogger asked recently on Facebook what we think of this preliminary and much-changed GA schedule. Some of the reasons for the changes are explained by the fact that they are working towards some goals outlined in this document from the Fifth Principle Task Force. Here's my response, which I posted on Facebook.

I think the advantages of this schedule are outweighed by the disadvantages. The main advantages I see is that people who are not delegates can leave early and people who are only focused on business can arrive late if they have no pre-GA events to attend. Also, if you're primarily focused on either workshops or plenaries you have big blocks you're not focused on where you can skip out to go sight-seeing.

Disadvantages: ***People really do start leaving early by the droves on Sunday. They have to get to work on Monday, and their flight leaves early, etc. You're going to lose huge amounts of involvement in the plenary Sunday afternoon. Also, I think …
The column "Annie's Mailbox" appears in our daily paper, and the column yesterday got me irritated enough to write a response.

Dear Annie, I usually enjoy your column, but you missed the mark in your 11/18 column in two very significant ways. First, your advice to "Frustrated" urged a parent to talk first to the teacher. I agree. The problem comes with your next piece of advice, which was that this was an opportunity for the son to learn how to deal with difficult people. Annie, the letter said the teacher "is mean and degrading and belittles the children on a daily basis." She also said, the children "are tormented each day." While this may be hyperbole, it's possible it's true. And if it is true, it is absolutely unacceptable, and she needs to remove her child from that atmosphere immediately. Too often we let things that are outrageous pass because they are done by authority figures. Being in a …

Spiral Dynamics

So right now I'm struggling with the concept of Spiral Dynamics. I've encountered this before, but it's interesting to right now consider how it applies to ministry and our movement. Look at Table 1 in this paper for more information. What meme/worldview do you see Unitarian Universalism as operating from? Where do you see yourself? Where do you see your congregation? What are the limitations of the worldview from which you operate? Meme 1 - Beige: SurvivalSense - survival, protection Meme 2 - Purple: KinSpirits - tribalistic Meme 3 - Red: PowerGods - Power, ego Meme 4 - Blue: TruthForce - Authority, one right answer Meme 5 - Orange: StriveDrive - Success Meme 6 - Green: HumanBond - caring, community Meme 7 - Yellow: FlexFlow - flexability, adaptability Meme 8 - Turquoise: WholeView - spirituality, wholeness (And do be polite in your response, even if you struggle with another's worldview.)

Music to My Soul

Today is my last morning at the UUMA Convocation in Ottawa. This morning Meg Barnhouse provided worship. Her song "All Will Be Well," in which she struggles with the words of Julian of Norwich, was amazing. Her storytelling was intimate and funny and deep with meaning as well. What a joy.

The Smallest Thing - It All Comes Together

The other day in a workshop on environmentalism, we heard about how people feel confronted by the overwhelming amount of what needs to be done, so they push it all away and do nothing.

Last night our UUA president was talking about how UUism can become more ethnically and racially diverse. He said that we don't get from here, where we are, to there, the true reflection of the diversity of the world, in one step. What we need to do is take the first step, perhaps the easiest step or perhaps the hardest.

Today Thomas Moore is talking about where we start in soul work, and he said something similar. We need to whittle it down to the smallest thing, the smallest change we can make. That's the change we need to make. That's a big challenge.

All too often in our lives we avoid doing anything because the task is too large. The truth is we need to take the small step. Letting ourselves be overwhelmed by the big picture gives us the luxury to not act at all. What we need to do is much…

The Way of Emptiness

Thomas Moore began his lecture at the UUMA Convo in Ottawa today with a story about emptiness. Nazruddin went to preach to a group of people, and when he got there he asked, "How many of you have heard me preach before?" The excited group of fans all raised their hands. He said, "Very good. You've heard me before, and so you already know what I would say." And he left. The next day he came back and asked the group, "How many of you have heard me preach before?" They'd learned their lesson, so none raised their hands. Then he said, "Well, if you've never heard me preach before, you won't understand what I was going to say." And he left. The next day he came back and asked, "How many of you have heard me preach before?" This time the confused crowd was split, and half raised their hands and half didn't. Nazruddin said, "Good. Those of you who heard me preach before, explain what I said to those who h…

Canadian Concert

Today we had a real treat at the UUMA Convocation. There was a concert of great Canadian performers. I didn't stay until the end, but I think I caught the real highlight: two Inuit throat singers, Becky and Kendra. They did a wonderful job explaining how Inuit throat singing is done in pairs with one person leading and the other person following, copying. It's a contest to see who can make the other person laugh, so it always ends in laughter. (Here's a link to a page with a video of throat singing, and I think it's the two of them. Sorry I couldn't embed it.) They performed a number of songs, explaining each one, and then had all of us try throat singing. If you can imagine a hall full of Unitarian Universalist ministers, paired into two teams, throat singing and trying to make the other team laugh, well, you're likely to laugh yourself at the image. But even funnier was the sight of UU ministers trying to do the dance... Now that I wish I had the video of to …

International Perspective

Here at UUMA Convocation 2009 in Ottawa, we are, necessarily, more aware of our international relations with other Unitarian and Universalist associations. The UUMA is our professional association for ministers serving or affiliated with UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) congregations, but also for ministers serving or affiliated with CUC (Candadian Unitarian Council) churches. We are not, here, the ministers of one religious organization.

At the ICUU (International Council of Unitarians and Universalists) workshop this afternoon, the point was really brought home that Unitarian Universalism is not a global religion. To paraphrase the ICUU president, we (the association of churches that is the UUA) are a global collection of religions that express liberal religion.

Thomas Moore vs. the New Atheists? Buy Me Tickets!

So I'm here at the UUMA Convocation, and the keynote speaker this morning was Thomas Moore.

What I took from what Thomas Moore shared with us is that there is a divorce in American culture between science and religion, which is the split between mind/intellect and soul. There's nothing surprising in that idea, of course. But Thomas Moore put it simply pointedly, saying (or this is my interpretation of what he said) that most people stop developing their idea of God as children, and the ideas of God put out there the most in our culture are essentially the God we learn at age 6 or 7. Now, reflecting a bit on what he said, imagine if you stopped your understanding of what math is or literature is or science is or medicine is at age 6 or 7. Why do we think that this childhood idea of God is sufficient? My own question is why do even ministers support, uphold, even preach this childish idea of God?

One question that was put to Thomas Moore in the question and answer time was ab…

Convo Stories

Here at the UUMA Convocation in Ottawa, Ontario, a continent-wide gathering of Unitarian Universalist ministers. The last Convo was in 2002 in Birmingham, AL, so it's been seven years since we've had this meeting. Our keynote lecture is from Thomas Moore.Thomas Moore began our lecture today with a Sufi story: Nazruddin asked a couple of men, what do you want people to say about you when you're lying there in the coffin and people are talking about you. The first one said he wanted to remembered as a good man. The second one wanted to be remembered as someone with a big heart. Then they asked Nazruddin what he wanted them to say about him. Nazruddin said, "I'd like them to look at me and say, 'Look! He's moving!'"

Great story. Of course, Thomas Moore tells it better.

To Maine, with Love

Today in the English composition class I teach, we studied Frederick Douglass's 1852 speech, "What, to a Slave, is the Fourth of July?" In it he says he is not going to make an argument, which he proceeds to make:
Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. and then:
Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. and then:
What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman cannot be divine. Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may - I cannot. The time for such argument is past.After the vote in Maine this week, I ask:

Would you have me argue that gay and lesbians are people? That their families are families? That their partnerships are true marriages? That their love is lo…

A Prayer

I was asked to give the prayer at the Jackson Democratic Party's annual dinner tonight. What follows is the prayer I gave.
We all pray in different ways, and we often use different words for God—God, Yahweh, Allah, and some of us pray to the Goddess, or to others, and some of us don't pray at all. But here, in this place, we all join in united hope for the needs of the people of our region, and of all of Michigan, this country, and this world, so please join with me in bowing heads or holding hands.

Spirit of Life:

Today, in this hall, we pray for the people of Michigan, this country, and the world. We pray especially for the people of this state of Michigan, whom we are all called to serve in different ways. We pray especially for those among us who are called to service in our government, that they might find the strength, throughout all the pressures they face, to follow their conscience. And we pray for Democrats and Republicans, for the rich and the poor, for gay and …

Technology and Our Faith

Thinking about the openness of our faith to many sources, and the way we use technology, I ran across this video of the Rev. Christine Robinson talking about open source technology and our faith, and our faith as an open source faith. Very cool. I think this should be a starting point from which we talk about technology and our faith.

*Note to readers of this blog on facebook: videos may not come through to facebook. To view the original post, go to


Episcopal Bishop and well-known theologian John Shelby Spong issued a "Manifesto" last week, in which he said, "I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility."

I admire this stance, and am very glad he has taken it. However, I disagree very much with his reasoning: "I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be."

I very much believe that the arc of the universe bends towards justice, and that this is what the final outcome will be. However, I don't think that victory has already been won. That may sound a little like predestination for some, that the victory will ultimate…

Social Media - Uses in Ministry

Some thoughts on the new social media, as I'm wool-gathering this morning: In the last year and a half, I've started writing/using a blog, Twitter, and Facebook. I've also created a Facebook fan page for my church. Right now these things are all interwoven, and I see each as enhancing my ministry in different ways.


My blog is a public site, with no hidden posts, so it's entirely open to the public. My blog is That might seem pretty obvious to the people who read it directly from my blog, but I also have the blog posting automatically to the church's Facebook fan page, and people comment on it there more than they do back at the home site. I sometimes also let it post to my personal Facebook page. Since in both places it comes through as Facebook "notes," it's not always apparent to people who read it there that it's really the blog from Having the blog post to Facebook has prob…

Peace Prize

So Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, and arguments broke out immediately across America. The comments that made me the saddest today were from Rush Limbaugh: "And with this 'award' the elites of the world are urging Obama, THE MAN OF PEACE, to not do the surge in Afghanistan, not take action against Iran and its nuclear program and to basically continue his intentions to emasculate the United States."

As I've thought about this over the day, listening to different takes on the issue, what it comes down to for me is something a colleague said, which reminded me that Obama is creating a paradigm shift in America and in the world, and that this is putting us on a path towards peace. No, peace isn't achieved yet; that's not the point.

Part of what this paradigm shift is about is getting the American people to wake up to our role in creating a world of peace--individually. Here's some of Obama's words from his acceptance speech:
I do not view it as…

How Health Care is Our Moral Issue

Here's the sermon I gave on health care last Sunday (September 27, 2009). Please keep in mind if you weren't there that much of the passion is in the delivery. If you were there, the same thing goes.
In eight years I’ve been in ministry, there have been a handful of national issues that have seemed to me to demand a loud, clear, moral voice from the faith community. I felt the need to speak up about the violence and discrimination I saw against the Muslim community following September 11th, 2001. I felt the need to talk about and organize forums in opposition to our going to war in Iraq. I mourned the victims of and the seemingly overwhelming racism revealed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There are all sorts of moral outrages, threats to the environment, racism, heterosexism, classism, and all sorts of other evils to confront in our society, but these national-level issues took a demanding center stage in their time, commanded my attention, and absorbed my thou…

Back to Health Care Reform: What is Insurance Anyway?

I've taken a couple weeks off from posting about health care reform, but this week I'm preaching on it, so it's very much on my mind. Of course, sermon writing and blog writing are two very different things, so I'm writing this in hopes that it will get some of the stuff I'm feeling out of the way and I can get down to writing a real sermon tomorrow. That will be focusing on the moral issues of health care reform--our moral obligation as a society in how we deal with suffering, for example.

So today, you get how I really feel about insurance. I got in an argument with a friend recently about what the purpose of insurance is/should be. I think maybe she was arguing what it is, and I was arguing what it should be.

Essentially, what I believe insurance should be is it should be a capitalist system wherein we essentially socialize a system--we spread costs that would be unbearable for any individual person across a whole group. We collect insurance premiums in order…

More on Atheism, Agnosticism, and Humanism, and the Nature of God

First, some general definitions.
Atheist: Someone who does not believe in God. There are many distinctions you can make among atheist--strong, weak, implicit, explicit, practical, theological--but the two major ones are strong atheism vs. weak atheism. A strong Atheist believes that it is certain and clear that there is no God. A weak Atheist does not believe in God, but doesn't assert the lack of God--it could be said to include all forms of non-theists.

Non-theist: Someone who does not assert a belief in God. I would include Agnostics, Atheists, most Buddhists, and many others in this group. Some would argue any non-theist is an atheist. I generally reserve the term "Atheist" for the group that is really strong Atheists, and use "non-theists" as the catch-all term.

Agnostic: Someone who does not know whether or not God exists. Again, can be divided into many categories, the main ones being strong or weak. A weak Agnostic does not know if there is a God, …