Saturday, September 30, 2006

Paddling and Torture

There was a NYT article this morning about school districts which allow "paddling" of students. Mostly in the South and apparently all Mid and High schools, a last resort to create order in the schools. Paddling means, with a wooden paddle, maybe with holes drilled in it to increase the sting. "It can be abused," said one principal, "but it is very useful." but he gives himself away. He's got a kindergarten euphemism for the practice, "Giving pops." Doesn't that sound cheerful? There are schools where 15% of the kids (probably nearly 30% of the boys, since they get paddled much more than girls) have been "paddled" (another kindergarten euphemism) in a year's time. So let's call it like it is. If it's with a stick, it's a beating. If it leaves bruises, it's a beating. If such a large percentage of students "need" this to manage themselves in school, something is really wrong.

I wonder what beating kids is useful for, and what the unintended consequences are. It may keep order in school, but it's got to drive some kids to drop out. (so, just expel them, for pity's sake!) It may calm the halls temporarily, but it may also fuel rage over the long haul. It's probably used as a desperation tactic which really only covers over the problems. Which then go unsolved. And it can be abused. No doubt has been, will be, is being abused. No matter. Apparently, the practice is not outlawed everywhere and where it's not, it's being revived.

Beating school kids aims to teach kids a lesson about behaving or else the person in power will hurt you. Torture aims to get someone to talk or else the person in power will hurt you. It's having a comeback in our nation, too. It's unintended consequences are also problematic, but the powerful and desperate people who use it apparently don't care about that. Being powerful and having the right to really hurt it a kid in your school or a prisoner in your jail, is just too exciting. Lord have mercy on us all.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Speaking in UU tongues

"What's GA?" a reader asks.
Oops...I've been speaking in tongues again. What's speaking in tongues? Some say it's a gift of the Spirit, but I say it's displaying one's special relationship with the divine in public and in a way which leaves others out. I find that off-putting. In this case, speaking in UU tongues is thoughtlessly displaying one's special knowledge of the goingings on of a church in ways which leave others out. As in using all our special code words without explanation. GA, MDD, YRUU, and Cluster, come immediately to mind.

GA is General Assembly, our yearly denominational delegate assembly. Thanks for asking. I know how off-putting it is when people around me start spouting terms, acronyms, and in-talk. I feel left out, dumb, and not invited in. Very unpleasant feeling.

And it happens all the time. Understandably, but unpleasantly. The folks who have been putting on a quarterly meal for the homeless in an interfaith effort for five years know what "Project Share" is. But the forget that many people don't have a clue when the announcement says, "Project Share is coming up this month! Please sign up to provide brownies, salad, beans..."

Not only does that "in group" announcement mean that some people who might feel very good about participating in this worthy project don't because they thought it was a church picnic, but they get the message, "You don't really belong. You don't know the lingo. You're not initiated."

It's not a good feeling. Leaving people clueless is not even marginally, much less radically hospitable. (We've been talking about radical hospitality in our denomination lately.) Speaking in UU tongues is something we should all be on the watch for.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sunday Morning Worship at GA

There's rumor going around the UU blog world, that there will not be a worship service on Sunday morning at GA this year, but that that service will be "combined" with the closing ceremony on Sunday afternoon. I hope it is a rumor, but it's all too likely not. The GA folks have changed the GA schedule to make Sunday the last day, you have to have some kind of ceremonial closing, and to have that and a worship service means there's not much of a day left for meeting. It's easy for a GA planner to think that combining two utterly unlike events into one would solve the problem, but it won't.

In spite of the outrage of (ministerial) bloggers, I have to point out that we UU's are wont to cancel worship for any number of logistical inconveniences. We cancel worship to have a congregational meeting, because December 25 is a Sunday morning, because ministers of past centuries became accustomed to not preaching between mid June and early September and are loath to change their ways with changing times. Now, we'll skip worship because there's just not enough time for the denominational business to be done if we include it. It's all a pity, all reason that we don't attract as many people as we think we should to our life together.

It's not that there is something sacred about Sunday morning; I would venture a guess that there's not a soul among us who believes that God cares when we worship together. But there is something highly symbolic about Sunday morning worship; that's when the whole community gathers in its dispersed places. Sunday morning after Sunday morning, a great wave of chalice-lighting and voices raised in song works its way from east to west. Sunday morning worship is our most widely shared spiritual discipline. To ditch it in favor of a closing ceremony says a lot about the values of the people who are arranging GA. In particular, it says what lots of us have suspected; these are people who are more in tune with denominational work and social justice than they are with the work of the local congregation and the spiritual health of UU's. And that's a pity.

It's also out of tune with UU's who show with their feet in every church in the nation that they prefer worship to meetings! So, hold the service from 7 to 8 in the morning and you'll still have a huge crowd, I promise, and the rest of the day to get the work done. It will be better work for the fact that at least many of the delegates will have been reminded of their deep values and will have rested in the arms of the spirit for a few minutes. And such a service will continue to teach us important lessons about new ways to worship in local churches which closing ceremonies/worship service couldn't possibly do.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Contemporary Worship

There's a movement gaining strength in my denomination that is pushing for a radical new way of doing worship. This is arising out of our Youth groups and the participatory , circle style worship that they do. There's a call for more voices and ways to get a message across (not just a sermon, but a dialogue, a discussion, a set of readings, a skit, or a combination thereof) And because it's basically a youth movement, there's more than a small tendency to not only push for something new but to be derisive about what is old. ("Corpse Cold Unitarianism" thundered the Transcendentalists, and our youth are almost as derisive about what they term "Sermon Sandwich Worship")

It seems reasonable on the surface that this multi-tasking, multi-media generation would crave or just assume the same variety in worship that they have embraced in their lives, and I'm all for their and our experimenting with this kind of worship to see how it develops. In Albuquerque, for instance, we've adopted the occasional practice of having all who wish come up to light a candle for some aspect of the morning theme as a meditation practice, and this seems to have worked well for us.

But I also note that churches like the Evangelical, multi-site mega-church I visited last Spring featured a 47 minute sermon by one person. I don't myself remember much of it. What I do remember is the lively singing that we engaged in before and after that sermon, and how much that singing "got me out of myself" and let me relax into my own center.

My experience in ministry tells me that every UU generation from boomers on, and including much of the female side of the silent, or pre-boomer generation, has asked for two things of it's worship leaders, a solid interpretation of our lives (as in, "good sermons"), and a sense of the holy in a worship service, a way to "get out of one's self", a place of quiet, an empty center, a deep connection to others present, and a break from the multi-tasking, multi-media world in which we all live, most of us uncomfortably.

Whether that interpretation, and that sense of the presence of the holy, and that space to find it in one's self is produced by lighting candles, a pastoral prayer, a hymn or a praise song, a well chosen set of readings, a skit, or even a sermon...what will be a matter of individual taste and experience. What we UU's have difficulty with is creating that sense of the Holy, and we're most likely to produce it, as if by accident, in our close knit groups, the tender moments of sharing Joys and Concerns, or in the enforced silence and inwardness of various ceremonies.

I'm all for continuing to see how we can use those elements in worship. But I maintain that we will not thrive as a religious movement until we learn to produce a sense of the Holy in readings, skits, prayers, sermons, singing, taking the offering, and greeting each other.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Faith and Aging

This week's Christian Century has an article about Faith and Aging, in which one study is quoted saying that, contrary to popular stereotype, persons tend to become less dogmatic as they age and express less interest in the specific theologies of the faiths of their younger years. They still believe in some kind of higher power, and they still experience having a spiritual life, but they tend to move away from organized religion, especially if they have sufficient social support in family and friends. (The "fortunate old").

They also become Unitarian Universalists.

I've long noted the unusual number of people who join us after retirement, often after a life in another church, or as a firm secularist. I had always assumed that this change was due to paying attention to their spiritual lives with their extra leisure time, and checked this out with a small group of interfaith colleagues, once. They were baffled. It's not common, in their experience, for people to join a Lutheran or Methodist church for the first time as 70 year olds. Their "new" older members are people who have newly moved to the city and were members of a similar church in their former city. But we get new, older members who are new to Unitarian Universalism all the time.'s a new market, and new demographic whom we might serve; those who, as they age become less dogmatic, less interested in articles of faith, but who still have a spiritual life that they can tend, expand, and share, but who no longer feel at home with the creeds and dogmas of their earlier years and therefore, now leave congregations entirely. How many, I wonder, will never find us?

Friday, September 15, 2006

What's a Hero?

I've been in Washington DC for most of this week, participating in a meeting of the Clergy Advisory Group of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and in a ceremony at the National Holocaust Museum honoring Martha and Waitstill Sharp, founders of the Service Committee, for their work saving Jews from the Nazi's before and during WWII.

Now, those were heros.

Here's the article, which first appeared in the Washington Post. (Article Link)

Provdince RI Journal article

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Who's For Choice?

I've been following a blogging discussion which has been very disappointing, but kind of telling about the traps liberals and conservatives can fall into. It started when a UU sexuality educator of some fame posted a diatribe in her blog against an OBGYN practice which only deals with Natural Family Planning. (For those not in the know, NFP is a 30 year old scientific update of the old Rhythm method and is the only method approved by the Catholic church. For many women who have regular cycles and who (with are their partner) are willing to enjoy sex only at safe times of the month, it's quite effective...but it's a big commitment.)

It was sad to me to see someone who holds herself out as an expert be so reflexively negative and apparently ignorant about a very popular family planning method, which is used, not only by Catholic women but by 'whole wheat' women who don't care for other methods, and women who can't use other methods. And she really got an earful from many commentors extolling the virtues of their chosen menthod. She got some hate mail too vile to post, she said, which is an unfortunate tactic that conservatives resort to way too much, and quite a few proponents of NFP not only think it's their favorite birth control method, they think it should be the ONLY birth control method.

But it was even sadder to hear so many liberal proponents of the right of conscience in matters of abortion deny the right of conscience of physicians to limit their practice (with notice to patients) to a particular set of options. A shocking number of liberal commenters sounded their fury against the notion that someone would have to shop around for a congenial physician to get birth control prescriptions. Liberals can have such a reflexive attitude of privelege over some matters, and this is one.

Conscience is Sacred. I would no more be a slaveholder than a slave, said Abraham Lincoln, and I myself say, I would no more force a physician to offer medical care that violates her conscience than I would allow her to force me to accept medical care which violates mine.

The Debate is here

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Graceful Aging

Over the years, I've been watching church members, relatives, and neighbors age gracefully...or not. I'm amassing my list of successful strategies. I get old, please remind me...

1. to keep making new friends, especially friends who are younger than I am. Young friends make for a younger mind-set, an up-to-date set of technological skills (but please, may this IM phase pass), and people to come to my Memorial Service. Young friends...real friends...will tell me if my appearance has become eccentric or worse, and will lovingly warn me that I need to curtail my driving. And May I remember that the by the first time somebody works up the courage to bring up this subject, it will be time to stop driving.

2. to get rid of the things I don't need any ladders when I don't climb, my car when I don't drive, my sewing machine (and my stash of fabric!) when I can't see. Remind me please, to do these things as they come along, when I can choose to whom I will give them and spare the ones who will have to help me pack up my home at last.

3. to give up the idea, right now, that I will live independently in my own, too-big house all my life. To be ready to make the change to Assisted housing in time that I'll have the energy to make new friends and enjoy new activities there.

4. to stay in touch with my relatives.

5. and to take care of my body. It's got to last as long as I do.