Sunday, February 27, 2011

10 Reasons to Attend General Assembly

General Assembly housing and early bird registration open March 1st. General Assembly is an expensive proposition.  I can only afford it... well, actually, I can't afford it.  My professional expenses are usually depleted by the time GA rolls around, and so it's out-of-pocket on a small church minister's budget when I go, which is usually every-other year.  There are ways I cut costs -- I drive, when possible (and go less frequently when it's not); I stay at a cheap hotel on the outskirts and commute in to the city.  I usually consider registering for only part of GA, but then break down and register for the whole thing anyway.  But this year, despite the expense and the fact that I went last year, I'm planning on going again.  Here's why you should, too.  And, no, the UUA isn't paying me to do this.  I really mean it.  I have a feeling this year is particularly important, as is next year. 
  1. Celebrate the anniversary!  This GA, Unitarian Universalism turns 50.  You don't want to miss this big party for our faith.  
  2. Hear the Ware Lecture!  The Ware Lecture is the most important lecture of General Assembly, and has featured some really fabulous speakers, including Martin Luther King, Jr.  This year we're fortunate to have Karen Armstrong, author of many religious books.  There are Ware Lectures that say such important, revelatory things for our faith that they're discussed for years.  They're that good.
  3. Participate in the business of our association!  This may not sound exciting, but it actually is, and is really important for us as a faith, as well.  We're a democratic faith, but if we don't participate in that democracy then, well...  Every year there are "Actions of Immediate Witness" which are voted on, and these AIWs are part of how we respond, as a faith, to those things that are happening in the world.  Last year the business of GA focused in several votes on how we respond to the issue of immigration, particularly in Arizona, but also in copycat legislation such as what we're facing here in Michigan.  This year that discussion is sure to continue, along with, I predict, AIWs about the emerging democracies around the world and the anti-union legislation being pushed in Wisconsin and other states.  Do you think our faith should take stands on these kind of issues?  If you do, or if you don't, you should go to GA to get your voice here and be part of the process of democracy.
  4. Experience UUism on a larger scale!  If you've never been to a GA before, it's a really wonderful feeling to go to your first GA.  There's a sudden understanding, on a new level, that we're not alone in our little churches (particularly for those of us where the next UU church is over 45 minutes away).  You begin to see how UUism does have a larger culture that we're a part of, and how that matters.  It goes way beyond reading the UU World, much as that helps.  I think the first time I watched the Banner Parade during the opening ceremony, wherein each congregation is invited to have someone march with the congregational banner, well, I think I cried. 
  5. Shop!  There are lots of cool vendors there with neat stuff, and, of course, Beacon Press and the UUA Bookstore have all the UU books you've been wanting.  But there are also some really wonderful resources for your congregation -- worship, music, religious education, financial, staffing, administration, you name it.  If you can't find something you want for yourself or your congregation, well, then, get your favorite blogging minister a new stole--maybe one in rainbow colors.
  6. Get ready for the Justice GA in 2012!  Our GA in 2012 in Arizona will be a special justice-focused GA.  Last year there was much debate about whether or not to move the GA out of Arizona, to have a justice-focused GA, or to do business as usual.  Justice-GA was the conclusion of that discussion, and this GA there will be a lot going on as we discuss exactly what that will look like and how to prepare for it.
  7. Attend fabulous programs!  I'm excited to see that the "Ground Zero Mosque" imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, will be joining us at GA this year.  There are always wonderful authors and theologians and activists to learn from at our GAs.
  8. Worship!  It's a great opportunity to experience some of the breadth and depth of UU worship.  And do be sure to attend the Service of the Living Tradition, where we honor ministers and religious educators who died, who are retiring and those who are just emerging.
  9. Public Witness!  There is often an opportunity at General Assembly to not just learn about justice work, but to participate in it among a community of UUs.  The public witness opportunity for 2011 isn't announced yet, but I'm sure it will be energizing & important. 
  10. Keep your minister company!  We want you there sharing this experience with us, and bringing that experience back to the congregation. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Drops of water turn a mill, singly none...

I was fascinated to read Rev. Dan Harper's musing, "I’m fascinated by the way Unitarian Universalists pick and choose among politically liberal causes, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on why this might be so. Specifically, why don’t we support unionism (with the exception of Cesar Chavez’s farmworkers union, but then maybe that was more about immigrants than about unions)?"  My response:  We don't support unionism?  Somebody forgot to tell me this, apparently.  I thought we did.  But perhaps he's right about the larger UU culture--there is a classism we're constantly accusing ourselves of that I can forget from my social location here in Jackson, MI, in a more working-class church.  The colleagues I see posting on Facebook are full of union spirit right now.  Perhaps we bloggers are just slow to be posting about it.  Rev. James Ford just put out a nice post today saying, "Personally I blame the short term 'in it for me' philosophy that under girds libertarianism which is becoming the state religion here in the good old US of A, and what is increasingly looking like the dismantling of government by people who think it will liberate them, when in fact it will simply shake off the constraints on the rich and powerful."  A couple of years ago we invited a union leader to speak on unions at our church for Labor Day Sunday, and it was a memorable event that I'm sure will be repeated periodically.  I think I'll put it in the hopper for next year's JXN Community Forum series, or later this year if an opening exists when I return from sabbatical. 

On the other side, I have heard UUs talking negatively about unions. I've heard some call the UUMA a union with a negative tone--mostly because of the same reasons corporations are against unions--it costs more when we're organized.  This despite the truth of the comment Amy Zucker Morgenstern wrote in the comments on Dan's post saying, "I don’t think of the UUMA as a union. It doesn’t, for example, press us to refuse positions that are below fair compensation; we can undercut each other all we want."  Too true.

But rather than debate whether we do or don't support unions as a movement, let me write about what I think about unions.

Professor and theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite nailed it when she wrote:
The rights of workers to join together and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions is not just a civil right, it is a fundamental way we recognize that human beings have an inherent dignity and worth. This idea, that human dignity, what Christians call "the image of God," is what connects Christian moral reasoning and action for worker rights in the Social Gospel, the Civil Rights movement, in the Solidarity movement in Poland as seen in the work of John Paul II, and now, I believe, in a reawakened American labor movement. 
Read the whole article.  It's an important one.  And I think James Ford was right on in blaming a me-first culture for what we're seeing now from the Republicans and the amount of popular support for their position.

Over and over again, we hear arguments from the right which say, "People in unions are making more than their non-unionized counterparts.  This is unfair and needs to stop."  And people are buying into this ridiculous argument because of a deep individualism and selfishness that resents anybody who gets more than they do.  The better response to this argument would be to say, "Yes, people in unions are getting more out of the corporations and governments than their non-union counterparts.  This shows the power in collective bargaining.  Rather than tear that down, let's find ways to support and grow unions so that all workers can get these benefits."  How did the American people become convinced that it's in their interests to keep people from making a living wage?  How did we lose sight of the fact that the unions brought us the 40-hour work week, the vacation time and benefits we have, and the minimum wage? 

Yes, people in unions have better health insurance packages than most of the rest of us.  That's great for them.  How can we expand that model?  Too many people are crushed by health care debt, and now we want to increase that number?  Amazingly, the unions, with their currently good health care, advocated for health care reform, even though they were not the ones needing it.  They understand, in unions, that we're all related, that we need to care about each other, that the rising tide does lift all boats, that it takes many drops to turn a mill, singly none.  And we repay them by wanting to limit their benefits more, and take away the right to collectively bargain?

Americans need to wake up to what's being done in the name of budget emergencies and realize that it's a red herring thrown out there to tear down their rights, strip them of wages and benefits, and put more in the pockets of those who already have the most.  The budget emergency in Wisconsin, it's been shown, was created for just this purpose by taking a surplus budget and cutting corporate taxes and money coming in from the rich until a deficit resulted which then could be used to cut down the workers.

Thistlethwaite writes, "We need a new American populism that will fight for the rights of workers in this country as they are threatened yet again."  If our right to collective bargaining is stripped from us, we need to take this battle to the streets until we gain it back.  Bravo to my colleagues and friends in the streets of Madison.  I know that some Unitarian Universalists are with you in person and many more are with you in spirit.  This is the heart of our principles, the inherent worth and dignity of every person, at stake.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Trouble with Bookstores

Anyone who has ever helped me move in or out of a house knows that I have a lot of books.  What my husband and I do for fun, when other people go to clubs or the movies, is go to the bookstore and read for a few hours.  We used to do this about once or twice a week, before our child was born.  Even after, it has been a staple of her life.  It is a sadness to us that we keep moving further and further from good bookstores, as we've moved in our last three locations.  Our definition of a good bookstore is one that has chairs to read in, a good selection of books, a children's section with a train table or play structure, coffee and snacks, and is open until 10 or 11 p.m., and open on my off-times (Monday, Sunday evening).   If we can get 10-20% off as a matter of course, we're pretty satisfied with the deal, too.

As most will know, Borders is closing many book stores across the country.  There are four closing here in Michigan.  Store closings are part of our landscape right now.  The Borders that is closing in Ann Arbor is in the same strip mall, Arborland, where an empty storefront sits that used to be a Circuit City.  Once Borders is gone, I'm sure the whole strip mall will suffer.  Some may see the closings as holding potential for independent book stores to bloom.  Ann Arbor has a fair number of those, but not as many as it used to when I was in college.  Perhaps they can once again grow.  But in Ann Arbor, Borders was the local independent bookstore once, before it grew into the national chain we know today, so there's a special melancholy for the bookstore closing there.  It's not the flagship store in downtown Ann Arbor (which actually sits across the street from where the original was housed, in the building that used to house Jacobson's, a long-gone from Michigan department store chain.  

Here in Jackson, there is only one book store left in town, and it happens to be a Waldenbooks (owned by Borders) in one of the two malls.  When I moved to Jackson there was a little independent bookstore in a free-standing building on one of the main roads, another little bookstore in a strip mall, and a small independent bookstore in the other mall.  I doubt any of them were driven out by the Waldenbooks, nor was the little independent store that opened later (and then went out of business) downtown.  Of course, as we know, they were all, including Borders, affected by the online competition of Amazon.  One might argue that Shaman Drum in Ann Arbor was negatively affected by Borders.  Shaman Drum, a wonderful independent that for years existed on the same section of road as the downtown Borders, went out of business not too long ago (2009). Shaman Drum specialized in some of the liberal arts and academic presses. When I was in college, the whole religion department ordered text books through Shaman Drum. However, when I went to find some specific theological titles a few years ago, I went first to Shaman Drum, didn't find them, and then went across the street to Borders, and did.  Honestly, if I hadn't found them there, I would've ordered them through Amazon.  With both bookstores 45 minutes away, both convenience and price were on Amazon's side.  However, Shaman Drum says that the problem was in the decrease of textbook sales.  Those textbook sales didn't go to Borders.  They went to Amazon.  As someone teaching at a community college, I honestly do tell my students, many of whom are scraping together the funds for college, to look for deals on textbooks online.  With the price of textbooks as high as it is, they need to save whatever they can on them.  The used textbook market online is much more advantageous to students than the way we used to be only able to get used books if that class had been offered the semester before, and even then, only a few might be available.

So it was with some sadness, some guilt, and some sense that this was really the fault of an industry that hadn't adapted to change that I went to the store in Ann Arbor that is closing during the first day of the store-closing sale.  Honestly, there are some reasons why this store is closing.  I think Ann Arbor never could support three Borders, a Barnes and Noble, plus all their independent book stores.  When the third Borders opened up, the second one was bound to suffer -- it didn't have the downtown college advantage, and the new one had a better selection, more chairs to read in, a better media section, and, crucially for us, a train table and a small slide in the children's section.  The Arborland Borders had a Barnes and Noble right up the street, too, so before the third Borders opened we often went to Barnes and Noble.  We liked the book selection at Borders better, but Barnes and Noble had better chairs, more of them, and, again, that train table!  It helped that Barnes and Noble, at the time, had a better discount program.  When the little independent store in Jackson finally opened, we often went there, but its hours weren't as lengthy, it's selection was not as varied, and there were no discounts on books.  The Borders also had the disadvantage of a really weird parking lot, not that that would've stopped us.

So here we were, at the Borders we had abadoned, on Saturday evening.  The store had its store closing signs everywhere proclaiming its steep discounts -- 20-40% off everything.  "20-40% is a closing sale?  Can't I get that much off at Amazon all the time?"  I wondered.  I heard others wondering the same thing out loud, as well.  Yes, there were some discounts that went steeper -- 70% off seasonal Valentine's Day items -- again something you would find when a store wasn't closing.  All calendars were $1, again, not too shocking in February.  Almost everything we put in our basket was only 20% off, and a couple items were 30%.  We got an extra 10% for being members of their rewards system.  We've gotten that much off on a good coupon before.  It was underwhelming.  But it was an experience to be there, feeling melancholy with hundreds of others.  "I feel like a vulture," I heard one man saying, "I hope I'm not a vulture.  I don't think I'm a vulture."  "This is sad," I heard a woman say to a friend.  "Yeah, it is crazy," her friend responded.  "No, sad," the first woman said.  "Crazy and sad," I said as I passed.  The books were in disarray, and the coffee shop was closed, with a sign saying that it wouldn't be reopened.  Bottles of specialty sodas and some personal-sized milk cartons were sitting in the case.  I wondered if I should just take one.  I hope they gave them to the employees to drink after closing.  In the children's section, I looked for the newly-released book my child had been wanting.  It wasn't on the shelves, which were already picked over.  Not surprised, I sat down on the seats in the area, and looked down at the pile of books that had been abandoned there which was at about the same height as the bench.  Amazed, I reached down and found the book I was looking for near the top with the corner and spine sticking out for me to see.  The line for this not-so-great deal stretched from the front of the store to the back and then back to the front again.  My husband jumped almost immediately into the almost two-hour line, while I shopped for different family members who called in their orders.  My father actually wanted a calendar, so he got the best deal, except that I forgot to give it to him when I saw him.  We experienced this same thing when our local bookstore in Jackson went out of business. We shopped and bought a lot of books, really just to support the owner, but the discount was about the same as we could've gotten at Amazon.  I tried to focus on things that I know Amazon not to have great discounts on, honestly.  And when I looked things up later, I had gotten deals. 

They'll be selling the fixtures next, of course.  My child suggested we get some bookshelves, until I asked where we would put them.  Our walls are already full.  Honestly, the move to electronic books was what needed to happen before my floors collapse. 

I wish I could be a purist who would only shop at small, local, independent book stores.  I tried to do that for a while.  It helps if you actually have one, and have the money to routinely pay an extra 20%.  It's not cheap to be idealistic.  But without driving 45 minutes, I'm down to one Waldenbooks in the mall now, and I've got that new Kindle with 3G which will download books anywhere.  More and more often when I want a book and to spend a few hours hanging out reading while my child plays at a train table I'll be doing it in my basement.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Facebook Ministry 201: Pages, Old Groups, and New Groups

Many Facebook users are confused by the difference between "Pages" and "Groups," and between the new "Groups" and the old "Groups."  Here's a brief-ish primer.


If you're wanting to create a Facebook presence for your church, what you want is a "Page."  See my church's page at for an example.  To create a page, go to another page and scroll down to the bottom.  On the bottom of the left column will be a link that says "Create a Page."  If you click on that, it'll walk you through the steps.  With pages you can post status updates which will appear in the news feed of the people who "like" (formerly "fan") the page.  You can post blog posts or videos or whatever, just like with your own personal status update.  You can create invents and invite all the followers to them.  Pages also have the advantage of getting their own distinctive URL, which makes it easier to tell people where to find you than if your URL is something like!/pages/Unitarian-Universalist-Church-of-Arlington-VA/165807771102 (not to pick on Arlington--it was just the top of the list).  If you have a long URL like that and you want to fix it, it's as easy as going to, selecting your page, and giving it a name.  This is a good thing to do for branding/marketing your church.  I recommend using the same name as your church's website URL and also making it the same if you're on Twitter.  Our church is known in all three places by "libertyuu" --, and @libertyuu on Twitter.

For ministers and other public figures, I also suggest creating a Facebook Page for yourself.  Politicians and actors and musicians have these -- they're the ones you "like" and follow.  Creating a Facebook Page for yourself allows you to keep your personal and professional lives a little more separate on Facebook.  My page is, and I use it to post ministry-related links, my blog, ministry topics and questions.  That way my other friends and family aren't inundated with this type of material unless they choose to follow the RevCyn page.

Old Groups

The old Facebook "Groups" were very similar to pages.  They were so similar that it was hard to tell which an organization had or which you should choose when creating one.  One advantage with these groups is that you can list the officers of a group.  Another is that you can message all the group members at once.  On face value, they seem more set up for churches.  However, this is if you are thinking of your church's Facebook presence as for the current members only.  If you're thinking of your church's Facebook presence as outreach and marketing to new potential members, then Pages are the way to go.  Groups can be open, closed or secret -- you can limit who can join and who can even see that it exists.  They are, therefore, more of an insider thing than a Page, which is open to everyone to see.  Some examples of organizations that set themselves up as Groups are Meadville Lombard Theological School and the Church of the Larger Fellowship.  Both groups still exist, but both later also created Facebook pages, which is telling about the flexibility and features of Groups for organizations like these.  I'm not sure it's possible to create these sorts of larger Groups anymore.  There's no "create a group" link at the bottom of their groups, like there is with pages.

New Groups

Not too long ago, Facebook released a new Groups feature.  With these new Groups,  you can think of them as similar to Friends Lists (see my last post), but with more flexibility, and also as similar to old groups.  You create these groups by going to the left-hand column on your home page, and there will be an item in the middle that says "Create a group."  If there's not, click on some of the "more" options to expand your list.  Once you create a group or are in a group, these groups will appear in this same column.  You can post status updates in the group, and only the group members will see them, and they will appear in the news feed of members.  Unless you turn off the feature, any time a member posts, you'll get a notification.  In the group, click "Edit Settings" on the upper right to change these settings.  What was controversial about these groups when Facebook released them is that you can put people in these groups without their permission, and then they have to opt out to get out of them, rather than opting in to get in.  These groups are idea for small groups.  I have one set up for my immediate family, and we post family get-togethers and family photos there.  A minister might find it helpful to set up one for a committee or board.  You do have to be friends with someone to add them to the group.  But if you set the settings open enough, people who you are not friends with can get added, too, by another group member adding them or by finding the group through search functions, if you haven't made it a secret group.  One weird thing about these groups is the status update that has been commented on most recently will appear at the top, rather than the one that was posted most recently.  Also, you don't have to hit "share," just a return, to comment, making it a little more like a chat.  And, speaking of chat, you can now use the Facebook chat feature to open up a chat with the whole group at once.  I keep my chat "Offline," so this is a feature I haven't explored, but could come in handy. 

Hope this helps with understanding the difference as you're setting up online presences, or exploring uses of Facebook in your lives.  Let me know what other Facebook questions are out there, and I'll try to address them.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Facebook Ministry 101: How to Create & Use Friends Lists in Facebook

One of my Facebook friends asked me for this information, and I said I'd write it up as a note, so I decided to write it up as a note here so that others could learn, if interested.

This can be useful information for anyone, but I think for ministers who friend congregants it's a particular must-know.  The basic concept is that in Facebook you can create "lists" for your friends, and then you can do various things with these lists, including blocking access to certain information.  This is somewhat different from "Groups" which I'll talk about another time, if it seems like people need to know.

Step One: Create a Friends List

Under the account link on the top left on your blue bar in Facebook there is an option called "Edit Friends."  Click on that.  Then there should be a button on the top that's labeled "+ Create a List."  If it's not there, look on the left-hand column.  Sometimes my menus look different because I've already done this than someone new's look.  Click on the Create a List button.  Enter a name at the top of the box that pops up, say "Congregants" and then click on the pictures of everybody who would belong in that group.  Then hit the button on the bottom to create, and you're done.  Congratulations!  You've created your first friends group!  Make as many more as you want -- I suggest starting with Congregants, Colleagues, Family, High School Friends, and College Friends.  If you're anything like me, that will cover a whole lot of people.  Oh, and then I have Girl Scout Parents, Jackson Residents, Family Friends, and so on...

Step Two: Sort Your Friends

After you've created a few lists like this, come back into the whole list of friends by clicking "Friends" at the top of the left column.  You're now seeing everybody again.  Scroll down the list systematically and make sure you've put everybody into the lists that are appropriate.  It doesn't hurt to have dozens of lists, or to put people in more than one list, or to have someone who is in no lists.  Think about two things as you're doing this.  First, if you want to bar access to certain information to a certain group, for example minors, who needs to be in that list?  Second, if you want to specifically grant access to a certain piece of information to a list, for example pictures of your child, who needs to be in that list?

Step Three: Viewing Friends Lists 

When you've got 500 friends, as I do, one nice feature of the Friends Lists is that you can sort your status updates by lists.  On the Home page, up at the top by the words "Most Recent" there is a little triangle.  If you click on that, you can select a list, and you'll be seeing only the posts from that list.  This can be helpful to use Facebook to check on how members of your congregation are doing -- spend a little time designated for pastoral care just perusing this list for issues going on.  People may be using their status updates to let you know they're having a hard time.  You can also sort it to see only your colleagues now, so that you can see who is posting about the latest big issue, or who else is doing sermon writing who you can procrastinate with.  You can sort it by your family, so you don't lose their posts in the hundreds that fly by.  It's helpful if you play a Facebook game, and you want to look for status updates from game players, too.   Sometimes it's helpful to sort by only status updates, so that you can just see what people are writing about themselves and not all the videos and articles they're linking to.

Step Four: Barring Access

Now you're ready to start limiting permissions.  Back up at that Account menu on the top left of the blue bar, click on privacy settings.  If you haven't familiarized yourself with your privacy settings, you really should take some time to do so.  But, for now, click on "Custom" on the left, and then on the center near the bottom, click on the little link that says, "Customize Settings."  This is where all the action happens.  This takes you to a list of different kinds of content everybody is setting.  To the right of each item is a box where you can pick who sees it.  Start by setting them all to "Friends Only" if they're set on "Everyone."  "Everyone" means everyone -- whether they even have a Facebook account or not.  You're open to Google.  "Friends Only" will be those people who you've accepted as friends.  Once you've done that, you're ready to get more in-depth.  If you click on "Custom Edit" a dialog box will pop up.  Here you can choose to limit a specific item to only a specific group, or you can bar a specific group.  Under "Make Visible to" you pick "specific group" and then say that you want only family to see pictures, if that is the case, or you can enter a group under "hide this from" to keep congregants from seeing your pictures.

I suggest focusing on specifically "Photos and videos I'm tagged in."  I limit access to this a lot, because anybody can tag you in any video or picture they want, even if it's not you.  If there might be a photo of you somewhere that you don't want everybody to see, and you don't 100% trust everybody involved, then absolutely right now set your permissions on this item.  I've lived a pretty tame life, but I don't trust everybody's sense of humor or sense of what's appropriate.  And if you've friended any minors, this is where somebody might just think it's funny to tag you on an obscene photo, and then it pops up in that minor's newsfeed.  Limit access to this in the way described above.

After that one, you can do the same to any other item.  Right now, members of my congregation are limited from everything, because I want to protect my sabbatical space.  I didn't have to de-friend them, just block them from commenting and block them from my posts, and then after sabbatical I can open things up again. 

Just as a note, you can also list individuals as well as friend lists in all these settings.

Step Five: Individual Posts & Pictures

Once you've mastered this, you're ready for the advanced level.  What you've just done on global settings can be done individually.  Each and every status update, note, video, or link you post has a little box next to the "Share" button that has a picture of a lock on it.  Click on that lock box and change the settings the same way you did in the security menus.  You can choose with each status update who you want to see it and who you don't.   You can even do this with those annoying pop-up posts for any games you play.  So if you're complaining about work, you can block that individual status update from work people.  Makes sense, yes?  Be careful, though, that you don't accidentally type in the wrong group!

What can be done for individual posts can also be done for photo albums.  Click on the album and then on "Edit Album" on the lower left.  Once you're there, you'll see a privacy menu that works using the same concepts as the other. 

That's it & good luck.

The Tiger Mom and the Real Debate

Okay, I know you've all been waiting for me to weigh in on the "Tiger Mom" issue.  But, really, does anybody who knows me think that I'm just going to say, "Oh yeah, we're totally like that"?  For those of you who don't know me, I suspect I'm pretty universally regarded as not exactly a strict parent.

For those not familiar with it, Amy Chua launched a national debate with her article, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" in the Wall Street Journal.  Chua has more recently said that, first, she didn't pick the title of the article and wouldn't have put it that way, and also that her book is about how she learned to back off of this model, and some if it is meant humorously.  But that doesn't stop the debate from going on about whether or not the "Tiger Mom" model is the best model of parenting.  Chua's children were not allowed to:
• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.
Her backing off from this model included letting one daughter quit violin.  A subsequent Time Magazine article, "Tiger Moms: Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer?" brought the question of whether or not we should follow Chua's example to ensure greater success for our children.

The problem is, that we're asking the wrong question.  There are clearly some extremes in Chua's model, and there are clearly some ways in which her model works towards creating the outcome she desires.  Children perform better when they're rewarded for trying, for example.  When you reward the effort, children learn to keep trying, rather than give up.  Chua's example of not accepting a card her daughter made because she could tell it had no effort put into it may sound extreme, and her language was extreme, but the concept was solid.  Her daughter admits she put no effort into that piece, and that she learned by doing it over.

This isn't the question that we should be asking, however.  Instead, we should be questioning the initial assumption of what kind of children we want to produce.  While a few articles have pointed at this, saying that Chua's model creates good outcomes for certain types of professions, it doesn't work for enhancing creativity, for example, most articles have taken at face value that what she wants to produce is what is good, and the only option for what a child should grow up to be.  And Chua is raising intelligent, cultured daughters. But not all children are equally suited for the violin or piano.  Some have gifts in other areas that Chua is neglecting--the not being allowed to be in a school play, for example.  Is it more valuable to be a violinist than to be an actor?  Chua allows only one answer to this question, and we accept it at face value, and then avoid the real discussion by trying to decide if she's right that she would produce a better violinist.  The question is, do we want to all be violinists?  She says her children can't choose their own extracurricular activities because they won't choose valuable choices, but she has set the values to only allow one outcome.

If what we want for our children is financial and material success, Chua's model is a good one.  It had a greater likelihood of producing it.  But is financial and material success all we want for our children?  The old saying, "Money can't buy happiness" has some elements of truth to it.  And even happiness isn't the only thing we might want for our children.  We might also care that they're good citizens, or that they're creative and artistic, or that they bring meaning into their lives, or that they bring meaning into the lives of others.  We need children to grow up to be doctors, but we also need children to grow up to be poets and philosophers.

But beyond this, all these things are thinking of childhood as a means to an end, something Chua admits.  She's not focused on happy children, but on making sure they have the tools they need for adulthood.  But children are not just future people, they're people in their own rights, right now.  I let my child have a say in what her extracurricular activities are now not because of what it might mean for her future, but because of who she is right now -- a person.  She's a person with interests and passions of her own, even during the early elementary years.  And often they're not my own interests at all.  Her tastes are not always my own.  But I help her to develop and explore them.  I'm a guide, not a god.  I teach, guide, encourage, and share along her journey to adulthood, but I don't make the person she will become.  She is already a person right now.  

None of this means that childhood is without its limits--homework has to be done, and if it's not done at an acceptable level, or if grades come in too low, we, too, will make a child sit down and do it right.  But I encourage not only her social development, as well, but her social being right now.  Childhood is not just a means to an end.  It is not only a state of future potential.

Similarly, in Unitarian Universalism we've been growing in our understanding of children's spirituality as, well, something that exists!  We're not just educating them for the adults they will become, although we don't want to neglect that, we're also teaching them to be fully who they are now, and in touch with their own spiritual beings as they currently are.  That means encouraging their natural awe and wonder.  It means talking with them about their budding sense of justice and peace.  My daughter has had, from a young age, a strong sense that there is, as she puts it, "someone who looks out for all of us."  I help her by sharing the theological language for these concepts, by exploring the questions in this concept and alternative concepts, and by helping her touch base with this ground of all being that she senses.  I share our Unitarian Universalist values and ideals.  I am with her on her spiritual journey.  As a minister, I've long said that I'm the minister for the children, too, not just the adults. 

The Tiger Mom debate makes for great headlines and people can have great fun getting worked up about it, but let's not just take the debate on face value.  Look deeper to the question of what the values underlying the assumptions are.  That's where the real debate should be.