Friday, February 26, 2010

The High Price of Democracy

Registration for General Assembly starts on Monday.  I haven't been to the last two General Assemblies -- I haven't felt like I could afford it.  This year I intend to go, even though, well, I still can't afford it.  There are some ways to cut expenses for GA--you can have a roommate, or stay in a cheaper hotel far away from the conference center, and spend the time and energy and money to figure out how to get to and from the conference center.  I will most likely do this.  But there are some ways that the expenses can't be cut--there's no reduced rate based on financial need for the GA registration.  I look forward to the day when I can vote on everything from my home computer, watch the events on the streaming video, and have no need to travel across the country to participate in our democratic process.  This past year it got closer--I was able to vote for president by absentee ballot, and I was able to watch some of the proceedings.  Meanwhile, here's a look at the cost of our democracy:

GA early bird registration:  $310
Registration for UUMA Ministry Days: $165
Single room at cheapest GA hotel for six nights: $690
(I usually travel with a child, and the U of MN option doesn't allow young children.)
Childcare program: $175 (no childcare currently available during Ministry Days, however)
Travel for one: $342
(Cheapest flight on Travelocity today.  Mileage would be $676, and I'll probably drive.)
So far that is: $1682. 
This doesn't include: meals, incidentals, cost of extra programs (i.e. alumni dinner), or purchasing anything in the exhibit hall.  The overall cost of GA for a minister actually and easily tops $2000. 

But, you say, don't ministers have professional expenses to cover this?  Well, yes.  And that's about what's left in my professional expenses for the year right now, after having paid for two conferences, my UUMA chapter meeting and my minister's study group, in the fall.  The problem is I haven't turned in the expenses for my winter chapter meeting, or for our district assembly, or for any books, meals, or other mileage.  Once I turn in those?  General Assembly will be out of my pocket.  So I can choose to pay for it out of pocket, or not attend for the third year in a row.  I'm sure I'm not the only minister for whom this is true.

Until we get a GA that's fully accessible from one's office desk, we need to have a recognition that the high cost of GA is prohibitive for people on low incomes, and also our religious professionals serving small and rural churches. 

What does this mean?  It means our business is being voted on by those who can afford GA, and that's a limited percentage of our UU members.  It's a classist system, wherein we are ruled by the wealthy elite.  That's the harsh and extreme way of putting it.  But it's essentially true.  Churches can try to change this by setting aside money to help members attend General Assembly, but I've yet to see a church where $2000 is set aside for each delegate.  The vast majority of delegates to General Assembly fund themselves.

In recent articles in the UU World, Paul Rasor asked, "Can Unitarian Universalism Change?" and Rosemary Bray McNatt answered, "We Must Change."  They were speaking of the alienating culture of UU churches to racial and ethnic minorities, primarily.  But we must also change in our alienation of people by class groups.  There's an assumption in many of our churches and in our association that all of our members are college-educated working middle-class professionals.  And, granted, there are many churches that look like that.  But there are those that don't, and we need to honor that they need a vote, too.

During my past five years as minister in this small, rural church, with many working-class folk, only two members have attended General Assembly, and I've attended twice.  That means we cast four votes out of a possible fifteen.  I hope this year, with GA in the Midwest in a town where several of my members have connections, we can increase our percentage.  But more than that, I hope that we can change our GA culture to make it more accessible for all. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Immersed in Social Networking...

Last Sunday I did that presentation on Social Networking with my parents in the Detroit area, but I'm still immersed in Social Networking because I'm working on a webinar on the subject for our district... and I'm procrastinating on sermon writing, of course. What better time to blog?

MySpace

Having heard an NPR report and read a New York Times article (see below) which suggest that while Facebook is gaining popularity overall, MySpace is still more popular with certain minority groups, I wonder if UU churches might be further perpetuating our problem of addressing primarily white culture by being on Facebook and not MySpace.  I, and my church, have Facebook accounts and not MySpace ones.  Looking for UU churches on MySpace, I encountered only a couple.  Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church is one. 

So I decided the other day to try to create a MySpace account for the church.  My idea was to see if I could, like I did with the Ning page I set up a while ago, use it mostly as part of a loop of web presences for the church, and bring in a Twitter widget, a Facebook widget, an RSS feed for my blog, and the church's Google Calendar.

The answer was that I found MySpace difficult, frustrating, and deleted the account only an hour after setting it up.  I was frustrated from the very beginning when it demanded my sex and my birthdate (and wouldn't accept a date 150+ years old, which the church is).  What sex is my church?  I really didn't want to answer that.  But I went with female, because I am, basically.  The long name of the church also presented problems, and had to be divided up into a first name and a last name.  There didn't seem to be a way to tell MySpace that I was an organization, not a person.  (And by the way, I find it very annoying when people set up Facebook accounts for their organizations by treating their organization as a person, rather than setting up a Facebook fan page.  I don't want to be a "friend" of the organization, letting it have all the access a friend gets.)

But the problems got deeper than just the signing up.  I was able to change the look of my page quickly, but it wanted me to do blogging on the site itself, rather than bring in an RSS feed, and it wasn't very obvious if it was possible to bring in widgets like that.  I couldn't figure out how to delete all the things I didn't want.  A quick look at those other UU churches I found on MySpace showed me that none were doing the things with their MySpace page that I was interested in doing. Perhaps they can't be done.  At any rate, I'm not particularly looking to have one more social networking platform that I have to maintain.  The beauty of the Twitter account, for example, is that I have it pulling in everything from Facebook, so I don't have to post to it directly.  I would be happy to have a MySpace account, if I could get it to do the same.  Perhaps that is possible, but since it was neither obvious or intuitive, for now I'm still not on MySpace.  If any readers out there have familiarity with MySpace and are advocates for having a presence there, let me know.  I'd be interested in hearing more.

The articles I mention above can be found at:

Facebook, MySpace Divide Along Social Lines,” NPR, July 2009.
Does Social Networking Breed Social Division” by Riva Richmond, New York Times, July 2009.

Calendaring

I've been using Google Calendar as our church's calendar.  We print it out and post it at church, where people can add items to it and then they get added back in electronically by our newsletter editors.  The Google calendar appears on our website, and I've also got it in a box on our Facebook page.  But I'm frustrated with its limitations.  For example, when trying to print it out for the worship committee, which has a separate Google calendar, I can't print out more than a week at a time in the outline list view.  Printing out the whole month grid view doesn't make sense, because we're trying to look at the Sunday detail.

What I would like is an on-line calendar that:
  1. Can be brought into a page on our church website and set it to look like a grid calendar (and other views, if desired).  (Google can do.)
  2. Can have multiple people adding to it.  (Google can do.)
  3. Sync with my Outlook.  (Google can do.)
  4. Print in multiple formats.  (Google is limited.)
  5. Has an RSS feed for it (Google cannot do, I believe) so that I can have a box on the front page of our website which is feeding in upcoming events, and people can subscribe to the RSS feed.
  6. Can be added to the church Facebook page.  (Google can do, but it's in a box that probably no one looks at.)
  7. Can send out event notifications to people if desired by e-mail.  (And it would be awesome if this could also automatically do a Facebook event, but that's probably impossible for anything outside of Facebook to automatically create.)  (Google can do.)
  8. Interacts with Twitter in some way.
The Facebook page has a calendar that might do some of these things, but I think it's pretty limited in it's ability to do anything outside of Facebook.  The Ning page has a calendar with features I haven't explored.  Anybody out there got a great calendaring option for their church? 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Getting the Message Out: Standing on the Side of Love

The Standing on the Side of Love campaign did a great job of getting a consistent message out through UU churches and ministers this week.  I saw numerous blog posts, newspaper editorials, and other writings on the subject this week.  Here's a sampling:

The Rev. Cecilia Kingman said in the Wenatchee World:
As for us, though, we proclaim God’s love for all people — that great, redeeming love which has no limit. And we invite everyone who places compassion, justice and love at the center of your faith to join us in standing on the side of love.
In Potsdam, Austin Kenyon said on "News 10":
This weekend is a symbol, it's done purposefully, to reimagine Valentine's Day as a holiday. To reimagine it not as just a holiday of candy and Hallmark cards. But as a day of love and acceptance for everyone.
In Maryland, on the Beltway, the Rev. Diane Teichert told dcagenda.com that she would no longer sign marriage licenses, saying:
Valentine’s Day is about more than romance and chocolates… It’s about the transforming power of love in our lives.
In Ogden, Utah, the minister Rev. Theresa Novak told the local "Standard-Examiner":
We understand love to be a verb, an act that transcends fear and extends beyond individuals to embrace a community.
In Redwood City, California, the Rev. Sean Dennison blogged about a rally saying:
I believe that every major religion has compassion and love at its center. The message of love may get lost or warped, or coopted by power, but at its heart, staying true to our religious values means standing on the side of Love—not only romantic love, but love that demands fairness, equity, compassion, and justice for all.
In Minnesota, the Rev. Meg Riley said, kicking off the Standing on the Side of Love campaign:
I love all of the ripples that spread out over the waters from this one event. Ripples which extend out to hold a wide variety of religious people, who share the same conviction about marriage equality. Ripples which extend out to a national day of love and justice which 100 other religious communities are committing themselves to in a wide variety of arenas, and even to Uganda, where people of faith will stand on the side of love in the face of draconian legislation against glbt people.
In such moments, when we experience being one people, I feel that I am living my religious mission. We all know that the forces of hate and fear are strong. Here’s our chance to know that the force of love, when we stand on the side of love, is even stronger.
And in Boston, our UUA president the Rev. Peter Morales said:
This Valentine’s Day has been proclaimed Standing on the Side of Love Day. People of many faiths across America are worshipping, meeting, and taking action to stand with those who most need our love and compassion today. We are calling on our fellow citizens and elected officials at all levels to stand on the side of love as well.
This Valentine’s Day, as we cherish those closest to us and as we celebrate the divine gift of love, let us dare to embrace a larger love. Join with thousands across America who are standing on the side of love for all people.
Well said, Unitarian Universalists.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jackson Citizen Patriot Opinion Editorial

One of the reasons I've been blogging less is that I was working on the Opinion Editorial that ran in today's Jackson Citizen Patriot.  If you'd rather read it here, here's the text:
State must recognize committed same-sex couples

With Valentine's Day right around the corner, our thoughts naturally go to the subject of love. Many loving couples will get engaged or married to celebrate their commitment.

But there are a lot of loving couples in our community who cannot celebrate in this way because of our state's limitations on same-sex marriage.

Many of the same-sex couples that I know are in relationships that have lasted longer than my marriage. These couples are raising children. They own houses together; they are an asset to our community. They are in every significant way like my husband and me, except under the law.

The majority of Americans now believe in something we call "civil unions," and are willing to give same-sex couples the same rights that we give to heterosexual couples. For some, however, the sticking point comes with calling this "marriage."

In many countries, civil marriage and religious marriage are separate. It's because of our combination of the two that this is such a contentious issue. For example, as a minister, I perform a state function when I sign marriage licenses. In many other countries, religious ceremonies have no legal function.

Civil marriage or civil union is a civil right. And if we gave the same rights to civil union that we give to civil marriage, there really wouldn't be a problem with calling it "union."  But doing so is logistically impossible, with differing state and international laws. And these same-sex partnerships really are marriages in every meaningful way.

The same-sex couples I know have marriages that are every bit as real, loving, committed and important as the marriages of the heterosexuals in our community. And there is in no way that these loving relationships threaten the institution of marriage. If marriage as an institution is threatened, it is by those who take it casually, which is done by heterosexuals all the time. None of the same-sex couples I know take the issue of marriage casually at all.

Religious marriage, on the other hand, is a sacrament of the church or other religious institution. Since we have separation of church and state, religious beliefs should have no bearing on civil marriage. People often mistakenly believe that if we legalize civil marriage for same-sex couples, then ministers who object will be forced to perform those marriages. This is simply not true.

A minister can refuse to perform any marriage, for any reason, but particularly when he or she has religious objections. Several years ago, when I was a minister in Massachusetts, I signed a vow saying that I wouldn't sign any marriage licenses until the state allowed me to sign them for same-sex couples as well. Happily, I was able to sign some of those licenses before I left the state to come home to Michigan.

I would expect that if same-sex marriages were legalized, many ministers might similarly refuse to be agents of the state when they believe the state's actions are wrong. This is one of the privileges of freedom of religion, and I respect their right to not perform same-sex marriage. Likewise, I am proud to stand on the side of love on this issue and perform same-sex marriages in our community, whether the state recognizes them or not.

Marriage is a bond of love, a sacred trust between two people. Any couple taking this vow seriously and able to make this commitment to each other deserves the legal benefits of marriage. As a community and state, we need to stand on the side of love.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Social Networking for Congregations & Ministers

I spent the morning working on a PowerPoint slide explaining how I do social networking (for a presentation that I'm helping my father on for an organization named SEMCO). So the picture below is how one minister does social networking for a congregation. It basically amounts to this: I try to blog once a week, and I try to post on the church's Facebook page once a week. The rest pretty much automatically happens.

Added note: Of course, now that I've done this picture, things seem to be not working anymore.  It's been over an hour since I posted this, and it hasn't fed into either my Twitter or the church Facebook.  Perhaps it's just a blogger delay?

Second Addition:  It did eventually work and go to the Twitter and the Facebook, just like it should.  Meanwhile, I've unscrambled the picture a bit.  Here it is below:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Let's Save Michigan

My usual blogging time was spent writing an opinion editorial this week, so unless I get jazzed about something tomorrow, it's looking like there's no real blog post this week. So meanwhile, Let's Save Michigan.

(This site also has an open letter to sign onto about the need Michigan has for more federal money for light rail - see here.  And there's an awesome pledge, which includes things you can do such as shopping at small local businesses, attending cultural events, and being an informed voter.  Very doable.  So let's do it.)