New online magazine: The Liberal Christian

On February 15, I will release the first issue of my online magazine, The Liberal Christian, at its home www.liberalchristian.net.

I hope you will download a copy, and share word of it with your friends and associates. My goal is to produce a regular bimonthly publication dedicated to intelligent, independent and international coverage of news vital to Unitarian, Universalist and kindred Christians.

I welcome inquiry about the project.

The Liberal Christian

So, what happened to FUUSE?

Was the once-much-acclaimed youth and young adult site FUUSE.com simply a victim of social networking concentration -- mainly to Facebook -- or is there something more to the story? 'Cause I went over there to see what was new and it's a ghost town.

Not that I have much love for anything name with a pronounceable UU in the middle of it -- one of the least pleasing Unitarian Universalist habits -- but it's not like I wanted to see it die. (OK, maybe a little because of its "Voice of the RevoUUtion" tag.)

If you know some of the backstory, do tell.

"The Duties of Hard Times"

As a way of testing my PDF scanning workflow, I wanted to publish a document that was plainly in the public domain and potentially interesting to my readership.

I had on hand a sermon by the Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham, the minister of the (Unitarian) First Church of Boston, preached there April 23, 1837, entitled "The Duties of Hard Times". The United States was in first spasms of a major financial crisis, so it seemed timely and appropriate.

On the whole, it is rather telling of its merchant-to-Brahmin readership -- do read it aloud to yourself, as printed sermons ought to be read -- in its praise of commercial forces and uncritical handling of the mysteries of economics. And classic Unitarianism in its appeals to the strength of character and the implicit priority given to moral over material joy.

A telling line:

In the instance now before us, the question is to how we shall make the times any better; -- that were a hopeless undertaking; -- but how we shall make ourselves better by the reasons of the times. (pp. 8-9)

In short: keep a cool head; our situation could be a lot worse (to which I tend to agree) and America is a prosperous and peaceful land. Of interest to my readers from Spain, Frothingham cites as recent example of how bad things could be in the siege of Bilbao, during the First Carlist War.

Colophon: I created this PDF in the same way as the Esperanto hymnal, except that I set format to line art and the threshold to 40. Tried to generated a text using OCR -- and while the tesseract modules did a much better job than the GOCR ones -- I didn't find an easy way to automate distinguishing between the two pages per scan. I'll try OCR again when I have modern typed pages to work on.

Download "The Duties of Hard Times" (2.1 Mb)

Unitarian, Universalist images in Life magazine archive

Photographs from the late, lamented Life magazine are now searchable on Google Images. A search for Unitarians and Universalists identified a few interesting tidbits: several views of the the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society building, scenes of church life, pictures of the union service of the American Unitarian Association and Universalist Church of America, and scenes from Norwell, Massachusetts, including the church where our own well-loved ministerial blogger Victoria Weinstein pastors.

The missing tradition

More of a musing than a blog post -- but I cannot help think that the real missing tradition within Unitarian Universalism today is not Universalist Christianity, but "classic" Unitarian theism. The kind that uses the Bible, knows Jesus (if not vitally or even immediately) as inspiration or friend and tries to cultivate a religion based on comprehension: in the sense of cultivating the best of current research, public participation and internationalist interests. Where people could make some religious sense, say, of the new collider in Geneva without resorting to gratuitous God-bashing. I know it was around 25 years ago, when I started with "the Unitarians."

Perhaps it's hiding out somewhere, but I've seen no vital signs in the UU press or blogosphere. Is it a victim of Postmodernism, or perhaps just of changing tastes?

The danger, humor of Christian culture

There's a long-standing tension among the Christians within Unitarian Universalism over what is Christian: is culture enough? can one be reared Christian, and this upbringing be sufficient to hold and maintain the faith?

I think this belief in Christian culture -- as a high call of character formation -- is fading in part because it normalizes certain virtues (civic, middle-class and Western ones especially) and hallows them without a necessary distance for self-reflection.

But perhaps the more potent reason why Christian culture has lost its cachet is by what most people mean by "Christian culture." On the one hand, there's the pretty but remote Christian culture of soaring music, stonework, cloisters and long-dead patrons. On the other, there's the democratic but -- let's face it -- tacky order of Evangelical and Catholic kitsch, domesticity and respectability. And with a remarkable capacity for both grinning and condemning. The kind of things highlighted in the Stuff Christian Culture Likes blog.

I won't have either, and won't appeal to either to try to share and expand Christian fellowship. Unitarian Universalist Christians -- and many others -- would do well to make a clear alternative.

Principles and Purposes revision — get the PDF

I got this a few minutes ago. Because I was asked to spread the word, I've attached the cover emails and PDF without alteration (except for formatting).

Feel free to comment here about it. -- Scott

Dear Unitarian Universalists:

On behalf of the UUA Commission on Appraisal, I am sending this letter and the enclosed draft to notify you that the Commission is going to recommend changes in Article II, usually referred to as “the Principles and Purposes” in the Association’s By-Laws. We invite you to review the draft and comment on the changes we are thinking of proposing. Article II of the By-Laws includes other important sections on the Sources of Unitarian Universalism, Non-discrimination, and Freedom of Belief. A little background as to how the Commission has come to recommend these changes and planned timetable for the future of this review process might also be helpful.

October 16, 2008 Deadline for congregational and other responses

  • reached out to every UU congregation, held a number of regional hearings and one at each of the General Assemblies in 2007 and 2008, interviewed staff of the UUA, read sermons by UU ministers, consulted with many UU “identity groups,” interviewed many leading UU scholars, and received dozens of unsolicited, but very welcome, e-mails, letters and telephone calls;
  • devoted time between and during quarterly meetings reviewing, compiling, organizing and reflecting on the mass of data we received; and
  • developed the enclosed draft.

Now, it’s your turn. Once again we are asking for your assistance in engaging more voices in this process. As a leader in your UU organization, please make every effort to circulate this as widely as possible. We hope to hear from as many UUs as possible by October 16, 2008. You may send your response by letter addressed to the Commission at 25 Beacon Street Boston MA 02108, by e-mail to coa@uua.org, or, preferably, by responding to the survey found on the first page of the Commission’s web page at http://www25.uua.org/coa/.

The time line for the rest of this process is:

  • October 16, 2008 Deadline for congregational and other responses
  • October 23-26, 2008 COA meets to consider responses
  • December 15, 2008 Final draft of our proposal sent to UUA Board
  • June 24-28, 2009 General Assembly. At GA the CoA will hold a hearing, provide a written and verbal report, and host a Mini-assembly. Delegates will vote on preliminary approval (simple majority required).
  • June 23-27, 2010 General Assembly. 2/3 majority vote required for adoption.

Please accept our deepest gratitude for the responses you have already given regarding the Article II review and for all you do working to create the Beloved Community.

Sincerely,

Orlanda Brugnola, Chair

For the Commission on Appraisal

That came within an email:

I am writing you in your role as contact person for a listserv posted on the UUA website. The below letter announces the Commission on Appraisal has drafted a revison to Article II, known as the Principle and Purposes, describes some of the work undertaken so far and asks for additional comments. The deadline for comments is October 16 so we need your help getting word to those on the list(s) you administer to reach as many people as possible.

Thank you for your help,

Jacqui C. Williams

Member, UUA Commission on Appraisal

Again, the PDF.

What is our gospel?

OK: I've asked before and I'll surely ask again, but what is the "saving gospel" that I hear some Unitarian Universalists talk about? You know: the one "the world needs to hear."

There's something rather Rorschach test-like about it, in that the discussion of a gospel is in relation to the desirability for one. Still, I trust that it exists, but I'm not so sure that there's a consensus of what it may be. Or perhaps, even more likely, there are multiple gospels and vagueness is our way of holding them together. (I know what I believe as a Christian, and it's not belief or a Unitarian Universalist version of the gospel that keeps me attracted.)

So what is it, or are they? I'm not asking for anything prescriptive, merely some detail that would help me distinguish Unitarian Universalism from cultural endowments of goodwill, self-esteem or beauty.

Knoxville: Sympathetic reportage from non-Unitarian Universalists

I figured it was worth a look to see if there were any "they deserved it" posts in the blogosphere, particularly from self-identified Christian sources. (Had there been, though, I doubt I would have brought it up, and certainly not now.) While I'm sure there's some crank out there, especially since the notorious Fox News has depicted TVUUC as a pro-gay church, I have found nothing but concern and sympathy coming from a number of distinct backgrounds, including:

Unitarian Universalism is a Christian religion

At least for me it is.

The aspects of Universalism and Unitarianism that inform my religious life are Christian and my Christian faith is distinguished by Universalism (and to a lesser degree, the ethos of Unitarianism.) If you've read my blog much, you've gathered that. Yes, of course, I know that most Unitarian Universalist aren't Christian and perhaps don't want to be. But if so many people are pining for the hundreds of thousands of "lost" Unitarian Universalists that the recent Pew study suggests live in the United States -- of which we know almost nothing -- then who's to say that there's not a significant corpus of silent and unknown Unitarian and Universalist Christians out there, perhaps even a majority? Or more to the point, I'm hacked off that it's acceptable to verbally minimize the import of Unitarian and Universalist Christians and not expect pushback.

Which brings me back the all-to-familiar refrain, following by Fred L. Hammond, the eponymous author of A Unitarian Universalist Minister in Mississippi, who wrote

If we see ourselves as a denomination that means that we are a denomination of a specific faith tradition such as Christianity. Yet, we no longer identify as a Christian faith. We may have people who honor their Christian heritage and identify as Christian but Unitarian Universalism is not a Christian faith.

I think this is fundamentally an error, and he's only the most recent -- and far from the most grating -- to make it. Rather, it is that the Unitarian Universalist Association is not a Christian organization. But the UUA and Unitarian Universalism are not the same thing.

The Unitarian Universalist Association is essentially a service and coordinating body, not an ecclesiastical organization. Consider this: if the UUA Board of Trustees -- even the General Assembly itself -- adopted a resolution which defined what a Unitarian Universalist is, how would we collectively act? I suspect there'd be howling from the rooftops. And before the howling, quick calls from many quarters that their particular constituencies not be excluded. Basic questions of membership and leadership are invested in the congregation and that's detailed in the UUA bylaws. Doctrinal teaching, too? A particular church can make that call; the UUA can't. (Which, for instance, is why I flinch when the president of the UUA gets deliberately "pastoral." Bill Sinkford isn't my pastor.)

But informally, because it has had the coordinating power and bridged congregations, ministers, schools and other institutions including the independent/cast-off affiliates, the UUA has had more power to shape congregational internal identity than it could ever hope to acquire. That's going to change. The promise of distributed social networks -- welcome to this blog! -- and a deliberate constriction of role by the UUA means that the constellation of Unitarian Universalism is going to get bigger.

Even if we weren't liberal, and generally comfortable with pluralism, we would still have to describe ourselves -- inasmuch as that's possible -- in a plural way. If someone asks, we'll have to continue to hedge and give caveats and realize that the dreaded "elevator speech" can't mean anything more than a dictionary definition or a personal testimony. In other words, I don't expect to say you're a Christian if you're not, and I demand you not write me out because you prefer to paint in broad strokes.