Wednesday, April 27, 2005

"Minister shoes"

I was talking about church with my daughter on Sunday morning. We go to a lay led fellowship and she think of whoever leads the service as a minister. (This comes from a great kid's book she loves called Welcoming Babies. The diversity references are very subtle in the book, aside from the basic premise of exploring all the ways that babies are welcomed around the world. A careful reading reveals an interracial Quaker couple in one of the pictures (the baby is being welcomed by being passed from person to person in the meeting and one of the children is very excited about her turn to hold the baby) and a same sex parenting couple in another (they are planting a tree to welcome their second baby). Another baby is baptized by Reverend Lawson (sn African American woman). Luna was convinced at first that Rverend Lawson must be the baby's grandmother, but we discussed it and she learned the word minister to understand who Reverend Lawson was and what I am studying at seminary.

My kids are used to a lay led fellowship and when we visit other congregations they are usually in RE or nursery. The last time Luna went to a housed church with a settled minister, she tried to put away the chairs after the service was done.

So to make a short story long, Luna was asking if I was leading the service. Later that day we were unpacking some clothes from a trip and Luna found a pair of wing tips that I only wear with my suit. She said "Daddy, I see your minister shoes."

I was reminded of the fairly heated exchange at Boy in the Bands about Unitarian Universalist ministerial vesture. I'll admit that I am very low church in my outlook and my family tradition is particularly against special garments for ministers, but there has to be some alternative to my Blues Brothers bible salesman black suit.

Im sure I will never go as far as Scott (despite all my best efforts to the contrary, I'm too much of a nerd and a hippie to really pull it off) but do I have to look like Johnny Cash every time a give a sermon in church? I try to balance between giving a greater sense of liturgy or even sacraemnt with a conscious effort to not "play minister" as a seminarian in a lay led fellowship. In our fellowship, the custom is a suit for men who lead a service. One member who is a retired minister wears a stole with his suit (as does a visiting minister who leads service regularly).

Maybe I just need a nicer suit.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Hybrid Car UU's in Fresno?

The Fresno Bee has an article about a retired biologist who is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno who was involved in the original Earth Day at Fresno State University who has

The Prius buying spree at the Unitarian church was pretty grass roots, too. It wasn't a group decision, Haas explained. "We don't do that kind of thing generally."

However, the church believes strongly "in the interconnectedness of life on the planet," Haas said. "We are part of the whole thing, so that gives us certain responsibilities. We're very attentive to the needs of our children and their health and well being."

Cars contribute to the production of smog which can affect the lungs, skin and eyes and can trigger asthma attacks and other breathing disorders. Smog and other pollutants cause the San Joaquin Valley to rank as one of the dirtiest air basins in the country. "Most of the people in the church try to walk their talk," Haas said. "And if we talk about the need for children to breathe fresh air and you drive a SUV, that would be pretty hypocritical."

The Fresno church is building a new building and is involved in the Green Sanctuary effort.

Recently, 16 of the Prius-loving Unitarians parked their cars in front of property in northeast Fresno where they plan to build a new church soon. They took a photo and want to see whether Toyota would be interested in it, Haas said.

The new church will be a "green" building, meaning its positioning on the property and the materials used to build it will promote the conservation of energy, Haas said.

He plans to observe Earth Day 2005 by staying home and taking solace that people today better recognize "the changes that must occur if we want to leave a fairly green place for children to grow into."

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Obligatory, gratuitous Unitarian Jihad post

It was rather interesting being offline at the Pacific Central District Assembly in the bay area just as the Unitarian Jihad column came out in the San Francisco Chronicle. I had been avoiding being online because of eyestrain. People were circulating xeroxed copies of the article like the web did not even exist. Demographically, I'd say boomers liked it, older folks did not want to be a joke, and most folks younger than me had not seen it in the paper or online yet.

I have my issues with it, but in general I think it is a very funny parody of UU culture. There is one section that I differ with most:

We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: "Sincerity is not enough." We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it's true doesn't make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn't mean you are not doing harm.

Would that this were true. If there was one disfunctional belief that contributes to worst excesses of contemporary psychotherapeutic expressive individualism in UU culture, I believe it is precisely the idea that sincerity is enough. We pass resolutions, sign internet petitions, attend solemn vigils and vote every other year for candidates and pat ourselves on the back for our earnest sincerity with only the vaguest concern for the effectiveness of our actions.

There is the old joke about the recently departed UU who chooses going to a discussion about heaven over actually going to heaven. Sadly I fear too many UUs would choose to make a sincere personal statement about the ills of the world rather than actually doing something to bring about justice.

Fortunately, some of my favorite UUs are not in thrall with the idea that equanimity and self expression are more important that effectiveness. Just because our motives our pure does not mean we are accomplishing anything.

Oy Vey, maybe Mr. Crankypants has taken over my blog now.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Prophetic Sisterhood

I was reading Prophetic Sisterhood: Liberal Women Ministers of the Frontier, 1880-1930 this evening. I had to stop and laugh after making a slight miscue in my decoding.

These twenty or so Unitarian women, some of whom first met when they were young girls, were held together for half a century by a webring of common ideals and a shared history.

Ok. So it didn't say webring. But thats how I read it.

Alas, back to A. Bronson Alcott's Conversations With Children on the Gospels.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Thin Chicken Soup for the Young UU Soul

I've been thinking about the reaction Rev. Phil got to the Family Chalice group's explanation of the message of Unitarianism and Universalism.

And I've found a few less-than-favorable responses on the web to my posting of the Family Chalice group's explication of that essential message:
• You are loved in this world (the simple message of Universalism) and
• You are good (the simple message of Unitarianism).
Here's what people are saying: One blogger agrees that "Our children should know these things. Our adults should know them." However, "Watering it down to 'you are loved and you are good' is thin soup, indeed." Another commented that "I’m not a fan of watering down religious theology and tradition just to make it 'easy.' Those two statements utterly fail, in my opinion, to capture the heart and soul of either tradition."

I rather think the simplicity of the combination of You are loved and You are good is its genius.

I think the reduction of Unitarianism to just a kind of Arminianism is a little frustrating, but acceptable. I would want to complicate it a little and say "You can be good, but you must live and feel and think and experience the world to figure out what it means to be good," in an attempt to give a little transcendentalist/Parker/Channing flavor to it.

In thinking developmentally, I suspect the more simple formulation is more appropriate. How does one build an understanding of something rather abstract (even for adults) for children?

Constructivist learning theory (via Vygotsky among others) suggests that all new learning is based upon the structure of all prior knowledge that is successfully activated by the learner (there is some tentative indirect evidence from brain research that there is something to this).

Many theories of early childhood development (though I will work loosely from Erikson's stages of development) suggest that the earliest developmental task is to develop a sense of a contingent universe. Infants are apparently not born with "object permanency." They do not know if people or objects persist outside of their perception.

Children learn this permanency from the consistent care of their family environment. Parents and other care givers consistently return to the infant’s environment and provide love and nurturing. Erikson calls this stage Trust vs. Mistrust. Children learn to have some trust in their needs being met and in the constancy of their family’s love.

The absolute connection to this notion “You are loved” should be clear.

As the child develops, an awareness develops that the world (at this point mostly the family environment) responds to the child’s actions. Crying or otherwise communicating will generally bring someone to help. The ability to move and manipulate objects develops. To borrow a classic example from Piaget, the toddler learns that a ball rolled under the sofa still exists even when unable to see it. The child starts to develop a sense of autonomy. (Erikson calls the 3 developmental stages after infancy: Autonomy vs. Shame, Initiative vs. Guilt and Industry vs. Inferiority, though I would like to avoid the Freudian baggage of these constructs).

Each of these stages involves the development of a sense of one’s self as an actor in the world with the ability to have an effect. While the idea “You are good” might be intended to suggest “You are good” regardless of what you do, I prefer to suggest that one has the ability to be good (or to be perfectable if we want to go to the Arminian core of this notion).

In this light, the simple formulation of “You are loved” and “You are good” may be a brilliant developmentally appropriate scaffold for the abstract principles (not Principles) that define our faith tradition. Certainly it is over simplified for adults (or rather it may be a necessary first step but certainly not a sufficient formulation for a mature understanding of the U and U traditions). Sometimes “thin soup” is exactly what the body needs.