Was School Integration Worth It?

On this extra last-day of Black History Month I thought I would pose a question that comes up often enough in some circles I run in…was school integration worth it?

I could come down on either side.

But with all the statistics and studies that have come up recently about the state of African American boys in American education, it’s reasonable to ask whether fighting to integrate schools has really brought about the goal of quality education for children of color; or would fighting for the equal in “separate but equal” have been the better fight?

Giving Up Unitarian Universalism For Lent

Happy Lent!

Lent is my favorite season of the liturgical year. While I haven’t actively given up anything for the past few years, this year I think I’m giving up Unitarian Universalism for Lent.

Why? Because I hear the same conversations going on now that I heard when I first started being involved in Unitarian Universalism more than 10+ years ago. So it’s time to step back and see if my expectations are out-of-line with reality.

This Lent I’m going to go in search of black Madonnas and continue my research on memory and remembering.

Happy Lent!

Methodists Do It, Presbyterians Do It…Why Don’t We Do It?

So I’ve been asked to prepare a curriculum for a series of workshops/seminars for African American clergy to acquaint (or reaquaint) them with the variety/breath and depth of biblical scholarship that there is out there.

In working up this curriculum, I’ve been putting together a reading list of commentaries and other books  that I think would be really helpful. That’s when it struck me.

The Methodists have Abingdon Press  with the Abingdon Old/New Testament Commentaries and the Interpreting Biblical Texts Series.

The Presbyterians/Reformed have Westminster-John Knox Press and the Interpretation series.

The Lutherans (at least the ELCA and the like) have Augsburg-Fortress Press and their commentary series.

Even the free-range/freelance folk have Yale Univ. Press and the Anchor Bible series.

Notice who’s missing? Us.

For all of our talk that the world needs our saving message, why aren’t we putting our message out there in as many places as can be seen. Why don’t we have a biblical commentary series? Or a Koranic commentary series? A commentary on the Vedas? The Tao? The sayings of Confucius? Hell, why not even commentary on the poetry of Rumi or Hafiz or Rilke?

For all of our talk, why aren’t we putting our ideas out in the religious marketplace for others to see?

Religion Beyond Belief Exists Only In Fantasy Land

On any given Sunday I guess somewhere around 5% of UU congregations use the reading by Sophia Lyon Fahs:

It matters what we believe.

Some beliefs are like walled gardens. They encourage exclusiveness, and the feeling of being especially privileged.

Other beliefs are expansive and lead the way into wider and deeper sympathies.

Some beliefs are like shadows, clouding [children’s] days with fears of unknown calamities.

Other beliefs are like sunshine, blessing [children] with the warmth of happiness.

Some beliefs are divisive, separating the saved from the unsaved, friends from enemies.

Other beliefs are bonds in a world community, where sincere differences beautify the pattern.

Some beliefs are like blinders, shutting off the power to choose one’s own direction.

Other beliefs are like gateways opening wide vistas for exploration.

Some beliefs weaken a person’s selfhood. They blight the growth of resourcefulness.

Other beliefs nurture self-confidence and ignite the feeling of personal worth.

Some beliefs are rigid, like the body of death, impotent in a changing world.

Other beliefs are pliable, like the young sapling, ever growing with the upward thrust of life.

Yet there seems to be a cadre of UUs who think that we can be a religion beyond belief–at least if I’m reading the conversation on the “Congregations and Beyond” facebook page right.

Let’s be clear about one thing friends…this cannot be had both ways–either UUism is a religion beyond belief or it matters what we believe.

Now…why do I say that religion beyond belief exists only in fantasy land? Simple. Religion, at its base, is about what one believes about humans, the nature of humanity and their relationships thereof. So to say that there is a religion beyond belief means that there is religion beyond humans. And that is not possible.

UUs need to stop being afraid of religion. It is easy to be religious without being dogmatic/doctrinaire. But you must believe something. Maybe if we took Fahs seriously we would grow.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (or in this case UU History)?

I happened to hear an interview with Kirk Cameron yesterday after he gave a speech to CPAC. One of the questions he was asked was if his theological impulses were present in his new film. And he responded that yes it was but what he found really important was the faith that brought the pilgrims to these shores and how that shaped the founding of the nation. I wish the interviewer had asked Kirk if he included that those same people killed Quakers and banished everybody else. But the conversation got me to thinking.   

Every time I’ve written something about thinking that UUs ought to know something about UU history a couple of things happen. One, I get called an elitist. Two, I get told that the reason I know whatever bit of history I’m talking about is because I went to seminary and not everybody goes to seminary. On the first, I’m not really worried…if someone thinks I’ll an elitist, so be it. But the second I think is more ruinous. Let me explain why I think this is so.

I’ll start with the obvious. Yes, I went to seminary. Yet I think it should be pointed out again that I didn’t go to either Starr King or Meadville. (and neither school has a professor of history full-time on staff)  I went to Earlham–a Quaker seminary–so UU history is not going to be high on their list of priorities. I did my UU History course as an independent study, and while I was able to learn things I didn’t previously know (mostly about our religious cousins in Central and Eastern Europe) I did know some things before I started.

What I don’t like is the assumption that the only reason that one would want to know UU history is because one is going to become a minister; and on the other hand that UU history is only important to those who are studying for the ministry. I think this attitude puts us in a position of re-inventing the wheel and going nowhere.

For example, let’s look at the conversation around “Congregations and Beyond.” How many people are looking to times in our history where we have confronted a similar situation to see what they did? (I’m thinking about John Haynes Holmes in the early 20th century, but I’m sure a case could be made for other periods in our history.) Why do we have to act as if there is nothing in our past that we could learn from and move forward with? What is it with our “terminal uniqueness” (to borrow the phrase from Rev. Victoria Weinstein)? Do we really think we are the only (or the first) ones to confront changes in the religious landscape? Or do we think that we are so much smarter than they were that there is nothing we can (or need) learn?

Or is the real issue that we’re afraid of what we’ll learn once we do look back?

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf–UU history in this case? I fear that far too many UUs are.

Sick And Tired Of Being Sick And Tired…or Is There A Difference Between UUism And Rotary International?

So I’m on the ‘Congregations and Beyond’ Facebook page and I keep hearing that language is a problem and that we shouldn’t be using words like “ministries” or “congregation” or “theology”.  And because I think that those words, all religious words really, are important, this conversation is making me feel like I’m some 19th century holdover (even though I know that I probably wouldn’t have been a U or U in the 19th century).

All of this leads me to ask this question…if we as a religious community aren’t supposed to use religious words, what makes UUism different than the town Rotary Club?

The Emperor Has No Clothes…or Yet Another View On “Congregations and Beyond”

Maybe it’s because I’m exploring my options with the Disciples of Christ.

Maybe it’s because this reads as four pages of words signifying nothing.

 Maybe it’s because, as usual, there is no dreaming big in this document–when all it talks about is making some kind of inroads with the 500,000 who say they are UUs, but not really; yet seems to ignore the fact that there are 300,000,000 people in this country who have never HEARD of Unitarian Universalism.    

The emperor has no clothes my friends. The emperor has no clothes.

I know that sounds harsh. It is. And I mean every word of it. But there is a reason I’m that harsh.

The longer that I’ve sat with “Congregations and Beyond” the more I get stuck on a question that I don’t think this document even remotely tries to answer–how do you measure success?

If you look at the second part of the two-part strategy I think my question becomes clear. It states:

The UUA’s role would be to provide the container, the technological foundation, leadership and coordination. We become a resource, a platform and a hub. This is not just about developing a set of programs, but finding a way for us to learn a new way as an institution.

So I’ll ask my question again; how do you measure success? How do you know if something is working or not working? Isn’t this too ephemeral?

The last sentence of the paragraph right before this says, “We cannot predict the groups that would form or which ones would be the most vital.” If that is true (and I believe that it is), how can the UUA provide the container, the technological foundation, leadership and coordination?

The Disciples have a growth program called Dreaming Big. Its goal is to plant 700 new churches by 2021. That is a measurable goal; they either plant those 700 new churches or they don’t.

How would the UUA (or anybody else) be able to tell whether people have “connected” with the “movement”?

If “Congregations and Beyond” is a growth white paper, it fails. There is no there there.