"For ye have the poor always with you" — a quandry about homeless men

No judgment, none at all, or at least for the space of this post because it is a whole lot harder in the real world. By which I include the 7-11 across the street where there is usually a small crowd of panhandlers. Or I can go behind my building the other way to the CVS and the Whole Foods and see the same, but the men (and a few women) are not identical and interchangable. There is usually a particular confident and put-together man selling Street Sense; one man with a respirator and a bundle of incense; and another offering his services to paint your house. Not all are mentally ill or addicted, I’m sure, but I see the bottles and know someone’s been hitting cheap bottles of vodka. Perhaps not all are homeless, but the area, though increasingly affulent, has three homeless person’s shelters within walking distance. The poor and afflicted are very much with us here in Logan Circle.

So what do you do if you’re not poor and not particularly afflicted? Hubby has homeless services on his resume, and I served a church here in the city, so I think we’re probably ahead of the curve but I’m still troubled. The big question is about giving money. Neither Hubby nor I give money on the street; in part, I don’t think it is wise to trade in money on the street. But there is a tension between thinking any money given would do no good, knowing that the problems they face cannot be addressed by fifty cents or a dollar, and feeling that the Gospel doesn’t care that they may use the money unwisely (but is concerned with responding to a plea.) And there’s the feeling you’re being used, and that you just don’t want to be bothered.

From there, the quandry just gets deeper and murkier. Feel free to comment below. J. D. at Get Rich Slowly considers this matter, and got me thinking again: Beggars on the Streets of San Francisco

"Clean" clothing: starting with undies

I started writing this post before my earlier Justice Clothing post, thus the out-of-order title. But underwear is a good place to start the day.

There is an interesting forum discussion that lays out the players in Sweatshop-free underwear thread (Vegan Represent) that’s worth going to. I’ve bough boxer-briefs from (and made for) Union House, and shall buy undershirts from Justice Clothing. This site, from the manufacturer, Lifewear, Inc., won’t sell direct to you but will outline how they treat their staff.

Justice Clothing Company for "clean" togs

I don’t accept advertising, but I do laud companies that help me live out my Christian faith. When I buy clothes, I want good assurance that the people who make and sell them receive a fair wage and decent work standard. I prefer clothes that, through their materials and manufacture, depend on less energy to transport and will wear well. I’m not willing to spend any sum “to do the right thing” and I am not prone to fashion experiments. In sum, I buy US-made, union-made clothing but it isn’t easy to find them for retail sale.

I found a company I have a good experience of: Justice Clothing Company of Bangor, Maine. (Adam, see, Maine.)
Here’s where they stand. (They are also an employee-controlled cooperative. So are Frontier Natural Products and Equal Exchange, the coffee company many Unitarian Universalist congregations get their morning brew from.)

The black casual slacks (a closeout, I’m afraid; smaller sizes as a special order) I got are now my favorites and made to last, but impressed me more was how they handled a return. I didn’t like the shade of blue of a second pair of slacks. An easy return, no interrogation and I got the credit slip today.

And a handwritten note on the slip, closing “In solidarity . . . .”

Gotta love that.

So you're gay and ordained. What challenges you? Helps?

The title says it all. Since I’m gay, ordained and out, I thought I should bring up the subject.

This is an open post for ordained gay men and lesbians. What are your challenges? What could help you in your ministry? What has been offered to help that doesn’t help? What advice would you give a gay man or lesbian entering ministry today? You may post anonymously if you leave a real email address. As always, these are confidential but I might email you to confirm or to ask a follow-up.

This is not an opening for debating homosexuality; there is place for that elsewhere and it rarely produces anything constructive. I’m offering a space for a little constructive sharing. Argumentative and trolling comments will be deleted.

(Bisexuals are welcome too, because there’s little forum for bisexuals, but I think they have a different situation.)

Making a church website sub-blog: 2. cleaning some features off

I really like the Simplr style, but it is too bloggy for use as a church website, so first I wanted to remove a few things that get in the way. The trial site is here.

  • I removed the aggregation feed links since they’re duplicated in the footer and most people who use them at all will use software that will auto-detect them.
  • I removed — from the front page so far — all reference to comments. This is only an invitation for spam, or worse irresponsible public bickering about the church.
  • I have dropped “site admin” and “logout” (not visible until you login) to the footer.
  • After deleting elements, I had to tweek the template because it was causing everything below a certain point to read in emphasized text.

These will be included in the template I will later release.

To read part one in this series, click here.

Slovak Lutheran preaching bands fabulousness

I wrote before that I was concentrating on lay-related matters for the next little while, with one noticable exception. This is it. I’ve made Geneva bands my schtick because it plays in so well with a gay male Protestant minister pun, and there aren’t a lot of those. You gotta use what you got.

When the Unitarian bishop of Transylvania and his assistant led communion at the 2003 UUCF Revival, I offered them the contents of my office closet (including what two past ministers left behind) for vesture: gowns, Geneva bands, and stoles. They only took the black gowns. As the Bishop put it, “we do not wear the Moses’ tablets.”

It seems bands are how you can tell a Transylvanian Unitarian from a Lutheran. A couple of weeks ago, for kicks, I decided to see what the Mittle Europa “Loo-trins” wear, ministerially. And I found them in Slovakia.

An English-language international church in Brataslava has a helpful page called “Things to know about Slovak Lutheran Liturgy” which includes details about the vesture:

  • black gown as used by the German Lutheran Church (academic robe from the 16th century worn by university professors) — called “luterák” (Luther Rock/Luther Skirt)
  • collar — two white-cloth rectangular strips symbolizing the two tables of the Decalogue — called “tablicky” (pronounced as “tublichky”)
  • white vestment worn over the gown on many occasions (by pastors only, not by chaplains) — called “kamza” (pronounced “kumzhah”)
  • stoles are not used, all robes are black-and-white

OK, there’s the reference to the tablets of the Ten Commandments again. Hmm. The gown is more like the cape like gown of the Transylvanian Unitarians, too. Has a nifty collar, too. I now want one. The kazma sounded nifty (and perhaps an alternative to cassock and surplice?) until I saw one. Looks more like a frilly duster of the kind that even my dear departed maternal grandmother wouldn’t wear.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Some event in 2005; you have to scroll a ways down.

Synod pictures from 2003, I think.

And then there are the pictures at the bottom of this page. Note that one minister is not dressed like the others. Purple shirt? Form fitting alb? No cape-gown, bands or duster. Obviously not from around there. She’s the Rev. Wilma S. Kucharek, the bishop of the US Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s Slovak Zion Synod, and I presume an honored guest. Kind of a shame that the ethnic vesture didn’t persist in the ELCA’s one ethnic synod.

Oh, and some Hungarian Lutheran ministers getting in on the fun. (See upper left hand corner.)

Chutney rants (correctly) about ministry

Chutney (Making Chutney) has a little rant about ministerial ordination and education where he throws a big wet blanket on the conventional mainline ministerial formation process. I read it in context of some of the tight-sphinctered replies at the infamous post at PeaceBang’s Beauty Tips for Ministers. For the record, he and I both have seminary M.Div.s.

Let me riff on where Chuts was going, though he might disagree with my output. I am high-church enough (but just barely) to believe that there can be no substantive Christian formation outside the church. I don’t truck with some Reaganesque tickle-down idea of formation from a pontiff, synod or central office, but private notions of Christianity in full bloom grow in weird, dysfunctional and sometimes harmful ways. Pass the Kool Aid. (I’ve long heard that Jim Jones tried to be a Unitarian Universalist minister but was sloughed out of the process. Does anyone know if there’s any truth in that? The Disciples of Christ ended up with him — I went to a Disciples seminary — which has since caused a great deal of soul-searching and accountability-making.)

Behind the people who demonstrate grace and wisdom to help make Christian believers is the church: the support system and conduit of tradition and story. Sometimes the behind the scenes part of the church is hard to identify. I take my own experience as one example. I was brought up unchurched. Almost. My recently deceased paternal grandmother saw to it that my brother and I were baptized and I held on to my baptism when I had nothing else (and little understanding) Christian to fall back on. The church, particularly the Baptists and Lutherans, provided the cultural images that supplemented my parents’ moral sense.

Sometimes Christians — especially on the Evangelical side of things — harbor a “Great Man” view of Christian formation. Something like John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience. Sure it’s grace that coverts the sinner, but it sounds like grace plus, with the plus being some particular effort or strength of character. Every time I hear the story of Wesley’s conversion or read the snow storm passage in Emerson’s Divinity School Address, I get the feeling that the other people in worship are completely incidental — “merely spectral” — to Truth. Not a healthy way to be Christian, if it is Christian at all. (I can forbear John Wesley more than Emerson considering how each ministry turned out.)

In a related point, the peril of Christianity in the UUA is that the ties to the Church Universal can be stretched but only to a point. After two generations or so, the cord snaps. Either the remaining Christians will need to find some deep communion with a Christian body — mainly through the reaffiliation or plural affiliation of churches, I guess; church planting seems hopeless — or it will die out in my lifetime.

This has rather gone on farther than I planned and I have strayed from the matter of ministerial formation; I blame my rhuemy eyes and headcold. Let me be plain. Better a minister unschooled but nurtured at length by a church than a minister seminary-trained but oblivious to the charism of the church. I’ve seen both; they exist. The former can pick up an education — and often do — and the latter can be “re-tooled” to be churchly and often do.

My objection is thinking that the seminary degree is, of itself, sufficient and exclusive formation for anyone doing God’s ordained work beacuse that’s what it sounds like some people are saying. And I bet that’s what the laity hear.

This is post #1500.

Making a church website sub-blog: 1. starting up

For years now I’ve been trying to come up with a reasonably-flexible middle option for churches (and temples, mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras, spiritual assemblies, or other worshipping congregations) that want a clean, attractive, usable website but don’t have a lot of patience or native tech ability. Or where the tech person doesn’t have a lot of patience. You get what I mean. I’m not going to ask anyone to typeout HTML like I have in some of my legacy sites.

I’ve been trying to tease out what opportunities lie in WordPress because they are easy to install, or at least you can borrow someone who knows what their doing for five minutes to get the dang thing up. (I used to have a fetish for flatfile database powered site, but SQL accounts have gotten as cheap, and flatfile content management systems tend to be under-developed, so . . . )

That would be about 80% of the battle. A plain, unaltered default WordPress install would be a better church website than many or most that litter the Internet. But we can do better.

This means that a helpful gift to the churchly (templish, etc.) blogging community would be to create a theme and some documentation.

Right now, I assume that you can or can learn to

  1. rent or borrow some hosting space with MySQL
  2. get a domain name if you need one, and point it to said space
  3. download, uncompress and install WordPress and the Simplr template
  4. create the MySQL database
  5. alter the config file (easier than it sounds)
  6. upload it all
  7. activate the new theme

With practice, steps 3-7 literally take less than ten minutes, and I know a bunch of y’bloggers have done it.

I’ve got the test site up this far — I’ve added a fake entry; there’s a bug unless there’s two entries — at http://www.universalistchurch.net/trialchurchsite/

I’d like some commentary, but note that I want to release any documentation under a liberal license, probably CC-by-nc-sa 2.5 — but I will correspond with any contributers and work out an agreement before moving forward with a license.

The new template itself will be rereleased as GPL since that’s how I got Simplr.

Next step: what can we take down from this template.

Havurot: a parallel for Christians?

I have a soft spot, in personal terms, for Jews.

In high school, my brother and I were thought to be Jews. We chalked it up to our olive complexon and the fact — noteworthy in suburban Augusta, Georgia — that we didn’t attend a church. (Or at least a church anyone knew of; I was a member at the Unitarian Church of Augusta from age 16 to 18. This did impress my various English teachers.) I was very bookish. We both had a wry humor. Go figure.

I also have a soft stop, in ecclesiastic terms, for Jews. If that’s not a misplaced notion.

Since the 1970s, the havurah movement (havurot, plural) has created small (and not so small) communities for Jewish living, study, service and prayer. They are more often than not described as “egalitarian and participatory.” This isn’t “your parents’ synagogue.” Egalitarian often means non-sexist, democratic, respectful without regard to experience or education or all of these. The largest number are lay-led. Some are quite experimental in worship. Reading the Jewish blogosphere, I see that they are also the site of living experiments in pluralism. (Which should be required reading for anyone concerned with missiology, and all Unitarian Universalists.)

So, let me ask the obvious question. Given that there are distinct differences in Jewish and Christian ideas of organization, why isn’t there more evidence of havurah-like Christian congregations? I’d join one. I think a lot of us would. I’ve heard of some but they are far more exceptional than havurot are in the “Jewish ecology.” Or is that what Emerging/Emergent churches is supposed to evoke, if about thirty years late?
Please discuss. Havurah members especially welcome. Note, if you will, if you are lay or ordained.

Focus on lay ministries and leadership

The ad hoc  “what I expect in a minister” thread at PeaceBang’s Beauty Tips for Ministers blog seems to be winding down; it seems to have hit a few nerves but has still only scratched the surface of ministerial formation, ethics, expectations and the implied spectre of clericalism.

I’m going to take the next few days of posts and dedicate them to questions of lay ministries and leadership, including the “neither fish nor fowl” status of licensed and commissioned ministries commonly found in some Protestant churches.

Except for one post, dedicated to one of my eccentric clerical interests. You will be able to tell it apart.