- About Us
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Landrum is an agnostic doing God’s work.
What, then, is the purpose of religion, if not to spread faith? Why do we have churches, if not to bring people to a faith in God? One answer could be, we don’t need them. My answer is that the purpose of religion is not faiths but works. The purpose of the church is to create the beloved community here on earth. We can’t know for sure what happens after this life. We can know that in this life, people are suffering, the earth is hurting, and justice is denied. And so we engage in this work.
And so it is that I believe I’m an agnostic doing God’s work. Because the work of the church is love. (Loved for Who You Are, November 10)Peace is complicated
The Rev. Susan Maginn celebrates her acceptance into the Navy Chaplain Corps.
Years ago I would guess I was pretty typical among political and religious liberals who are more comfortable with pitying members of the military than with truly understanding the kind of motivation and commitment it takes to serve in the military. And now, I’m one of them!
I’m excited to count myself among our amazing Unitarian Universalist military chaplains. I’m excited to carry a ministry where I can be devoted to a unit of dynamic young adults who come from a variety of religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. I’m excited to serve a ministry that will have variety, likely changing focus and physical location at least every few years, perhaps on another coast, perhaps overseas. I’m excited about a ministry where the special role of the chaplain has high-stakes and is considered an essential component of a unit’s success. I’m excited about a ministry where being in great spiritual and physical health is not just an option, but a requirement. (Quest for Meaning, November 13)
The Rev. Ian White Maher walked out of this past year’s Service of the Living Tradition because it, “mostly through omission, normalized a vision of a nation at war that is inconsistent with who we say we are as a religious movement.”
[Chaplain Rebekah Montgomery’s] sermon did not tell the real story of what happens in war. It was a glorified retelling of America bringing light to the “backward” people, those who held worldviews that did not cohere with modern times. It was absolutely uncritical of our behavior, our motivations, and our responsibilities as people who believe in the sacredness of life.
The standing ovation was incredibly frightening to me. It seemed to mean that thousands of people who I consider faith partners could be swept up in a patriotic fervor that tells only about the glory and nothing about the real horror of what we are doing to people and the propaganda that we spread to diminish the worth of others and justify our own behaviors. (The Lively Tradition, November 13)
The Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom remembers, twenty-five years ago, helping dismantle the Berlin Wall.
Those in power took over the project of dismantling the wall, but for a while . . . for a while it was something that dozens, hundreds of average citizens had taken upon themselves to do for themselves. Piece by piece.
Something to think about—and remember. (A Minister’s Musings, November 11)
Patrick Murfin profiles Kurt Vonnegut, a veteran born on Veterans’ Day, whose life was shaped by his experience of war.
Vonnegut was hard to pin down—an idealist and a cynic, a humorist whose satire was tinged with the deepest melancholy of man who had been brought up to believe in human progress “onward and upward forever” only to witness the gravest savageries of the 20th Century. (Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout, November 11)Rising tensions in Ferguson
The Rev. Krista Taves writes about her congregation’s weekly vigil for racial justice in Chesterfield, MO, amidst rising tensions around the pending Ferguson grand jury announcement.
We knew things were not right in St. Louis, but the increasing boldness of whites to express outright racist ideas and beliefs, with no fear of impunity, has been sobering. The Ferguson situation has exposed a level of racism that has always been there, but more latent and under the surface. This is what our black and brown sisters and brothers have been living with all these years. It saddens and angers me.
This experience has confirmed for me what our primary job is as white allies standing in solidarity with people of color. Our job is to change the hearts and minds of white people because that’s where the institutional power is. (And the stones shall cry, November 12)
The Rev. Tom Schade is preparing his heart for the storm coming to Ferguson, Mo.
[I]f I give myself over to fear, I will drift into being more afraid of the anger of the protestors than the violence of the police. I will end up wanting things to get back to “normal.” I will be motivated by a desire for peace and reconciliation and what I call “love.” . . .
The anger of people of color over police killings is a good thing, not an unfortunate event. The more forcefully, persistently, and insistently it is expressed the better it is. (The Lively Tradition, November 12)Living with illness
The Rev. Elizabeth Curtiss writes about hospital errors, after a recent scare.
So what really killed Thomas Eric Duncan, depriving his fiancee and their son of the family life of which they long had dreamed? Was it really ebola? Or did he, as my own wife almost did, succumb to hospital error? (Politywonk, November 10)
With insider knowledge of both mental illness and Lewy Body Dementia, The Rev. Katie Farrell Norris discusses recent news about Robin Williams.
I live, every day, seeing the impact Lewy Body Dementia and mental illness have on people. I know death by suicide can be a result of both illnesses. . . . What we really need is more awareness of the different illnesses of the brain. We need to focus on quality of life, worth, and dignity. . . . We can work to make that a reality for people with all kinds of brain illnesses—even dementia and mental illness. We may or may not decrease the numbers of death by suicide, but we will decrease the shame around both of these illnesses and increase the likelihood of a better quality of life and more compassionate care for all. (Bipolar Spirit, November 13)Integrate this
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Landrum shares the first of a series of posts about practical aspects of bivocational ministry—in this post, talking about the amount of time it takes a UU minister to craft a sermon.
With all the discussion in recent months about bivocational ministry, it’s worth discussion what implications it has for that central role of the minister: the preacher.
My assertion is that Unitarian Universalist preaching for our ministers is a very different thing from preaching in Christian traditions, and from what lay people experience when they preach. And the reasons that this is different are also some of the reasons why many of our full-time ministers don’t preach every Sunday. (Rev. Cyn, November 13)
Jordinn Nelson Long questions the feasibility of so-called “work-life integration.”
There must be limits. We must make choices.
Including the choice of how to respond when “work life integration” is handed to us not as a point of exploration, but as a slippery non-answer to a request for consideration.
When that moment next comes,
We might choose to take what’s offered.
We might choose to view technology as another way to enforce scarcity.
Or we might just hand those shiny words back, raise our voices again, and ask that our real, live, bad mama selves be accommodated. (Raising Faith, November 12)
Brother of gun-violence victim joins peace walk
A Peace Walk sponsored by the Columbia, S.C., Faith Coalition on Gun Violence brought together members of the interfaith community, law enforcement, and civil rights activists last week to call for peace in the community and the nation. Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia member Michael Sullivan, whose brother was a victim of gun violence nearly 40 years ago, was present at the walk. “I want to see some sanity happen in the world and in the United States so that we don’t have such a devastating amount of gun violence,” Sullivan said. (The State – 11.8.14)
Two incidents at Arkansas church prompt investigation
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mountain Home, Ark., member Billy Rhodes recently received a disturbing piece of hate mail for his “liberal mindset” and opinions posted in a local paper’s letters to the editor section. A separate incident involving a church window being shot out with a BB gun was ruled by police to be unrelated. (Baxter Bulletin – 11.13.14)
Arkansas church gets threatening note in response to marriage equality support (The Advocate – 11.13.14)
Jacksonville interfaith group pushes for a better city
A Jacksonville, Fla., nonprofit group, Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation & Empowerment (ICARE), recently held a meeting for over 40 area churches to review the work accomplished over the past year and to begin preparing plans for the future. Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville minister the Rev. Phillip Barber addressed the assembly, saying, “We are blessed to have an opportunity to create a more just city.” (Florida-Times Union – 11.12.14)
More news from congregations
As anticipation mounts over the grand jury announcement on whether to indict the police officer involved in the shooting death of Missouri teen Michael Brown, the African American Clergy Coalition of Mid-Missouri hosted a community prayer vigil in Columbia, Mo. “It’s important that the community of Columbia show support for Ferguson,” said vigil attendee and minister of the UU Church of Columbia the Rev. Molly Gordon. (Mid-Missouri Public Radio – 11.10.14)
The second annual Festival of Faith and Culture in Salem, N.C., brought more than 200 youth and adults together earlier this month to learn about a wide range of cultures and faith traditions, including Unitarian Universalism. (The Chronicle – 11.13.14)
In response to a federal appellate court ruling earlier this month, which upheld Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, the Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Muskegon hosted a gathering and discussion on action and next steps for the LGBTQ community and advocates. (mlive.com – 11.11.14)
More than 40 people gathered outside of the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Boston for a prayer vigil in solidarity with the 250 undocumented immigrants detained inside. “These are not criminals. These are people,” said acting Executive Director of UU Mass Action Laura Wagner. “We’re going to continue to work to change laws, so this will no longer happen.” (Daily Free Press – 11.10.14)
Faith leaders arrested for crossing police barricade
The Rev. Deane Olivia, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Flint, Mich., was arrested with other faith leaders after crossing a police barricade in an act of non-confrontational civil disobedience. The protest, which saw over 50 arrests, took place in solidarity with the Ferguson, Mo., community, where unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was killed by police this past August. (mlive.com – 11.1.14)
South Carolina prepares to welcome same-sex marriage
With the U.S. Supreme Court declining to take up the 4th Circuit’s same-sex marriage decision, South Carolina is preparing to allow legal same-sex marriages. The Rev. Neal Jones of the UU Congregation of Columbia, S.C., and four other community and religious leaders voiced their views on the conversations taking place in their state. “If two people love each other, and want to commit their lives to each other, why would we want to deny any couple that? There’s nothing more American and wholesome than that,” Jones said. (The State – 11.1.14)
Same-sex marriage suffers setback in four states
A ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reversed district court rulings this week that had struck down same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. “It’s a sad day for Michigan,” said Margot Haynes, member of the Harbor UU Congregation Social Action Committee in Muskegon, Mich. (mlive.com – 11.6.14)
Related stories include:
Flint-area gay marriage advocates devastated after court upholds ban (mlive.com – 11.6.14)
Court’s upholding gay marriage ban is ‘crazy, disappointing,’ says pastor who conducted Muskegon marriages (mlive.com – 11.6.14)
Florida church sponsors self-help sobriety group
The Big Bend Secular Organizations for Sobriety, a self-empowered recovery based approach to sobriety sponsored by the UU Church of Tallahassee, Fla., offers an alternative to self-help groups that emphasize dependence on a higher power to attain sobriety. (Tallahassee Democrat – 10.31.14)
New hopes for immigration reform
President Obama’s recent pledge for immigration reform by the end of the year has rekindled hope for immigrants facing deportation, including Arturo Hernandez Garcia, who took sanctuary within the walls of the First Unitarian Society of Denver, Colo., last month. With a record number of deportations taking place under the Obama administration, the president is expected to take action to defer deportations, grant work permits, and offer more business visas. (CBS Denver – 11.6.14)
He lived in the U.S. for 15 years. Only church sanctuary saved him from deportation,” (Washington Post – 11.6.14)
The Rev. Diane Dowgiert commits to “loving the hell out of the world,” no matter who wins elections.
To love the hell out of the world means that we need to find our strong and brave heart. . . . We need the heart to stay together and not let ourselves become polarized by issues or by political parties. . . . We need each other if we are to remain strong hearted for the work ahead. Bending the arc of the universe toward justice takes strength. Strong is what we make each other. (Transforming Times, November 5)
The Rev. Dan Harper prepares to vote more thoroughly than many people do—and still feels like it’s not enough.
Democracy takes time, and I did not put in enough time. . . .
Today, I was reading Hannah Arendt’s On Revolution, and came across this quotation from Thomas Jefferson: “If once [our people] become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves.”
Is that howling I hear in the distance? (Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, November 5)
The Rev. Tony Lorenzen proposes a series of “technical fixes” to the problem of voter disenfranchisement. (Sunflower Chalice, November 5)
The Rev. Dan Schatz encourages us to keep on loving the world, even when current events discourage us.
Ours is still a world of wonder and beauty no less than hardship and tragedy. Remind yourself of the beauty. Let it feed you. If your soul is dry and parched, return to the well that nourishes you and drink deeply. . . .
There will be a time for the struggle; it has not gone away. There will be a time to dedicate our energies once again to campaign for what we believe in. Our work in that time will be far more effective if we come to it as whole people, spirits strengthened by the goodness around us.
Sometimes, the world can be hard. Love it anyway. (The Song and the Sigh, November 5)
The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg asks, “Can you be both a religious liberal and a political conservative?”
Just as Unitarian Universalism and other progressive religious movements intend ourselves to be liberal religious traditions in the best sense of the word liberal—open to new ideas, generous, open-handed, open-hearted, and open-minded—there has been room historically and there is room today within our big tents for those who are conservative in the best sense of the word: caring about conservation of nature, upholding the beauty of traditions and rituals that accrued deep meaning through the test of time, reminding us of the importance not only of individual rights and equality, but also of community, authority, sanctity, and loyalty. (Pluralism, Pragmatism, Progressivism, November 3)
The Rev. Lynn Ungar has learned a lot from her Cub-fan congregants.
The Cubs lose. Everyone knows that. Historically, currently, the Cubs are just not what you would call a winning team. Which doesn’t stop the fans from rooting for their beloved Cubbies, year in and year out.
You love what you love, and you go out and yell on its behalf, following the statistics or the players or whatever markers of success or defeat you might have. You show up and cheer. When your team wins you get a parade. But when your team loses you have the opportunity to gather with your friends and mourn the losses and plot how next year will be better. (Quest for Meaning, November 6)
The Rev. Tom Schade believes that racism played a powerful part in this election.
The power of Obama to frighten people is still potent. It is testament to the power of racism as an semi-conscious ideological force for many white voters. Fear of black power is what makes white voters hate Obama. Increasing African American participation in the political structure, including the development of black political leaders, has precipitated more white backlash.
This has to be confronted and resolved for progressive change to happen in the United States. (The Lively Tradition, November 5)More love somewhere
The Rev. Peter Boullata objects to UU revisions of the song, “There is More Love, Somewhere.”
Glibly rewriting a slavery-era African American expression of hope and determination should give us all pause.
There’s an air of hubris in this wordsmithing, and a lack of insight.
Joining together to sing “there is more love right here” to me smacks of self-satisfaction and self-centredness. In a world filled with have-nots, the haves glorying in their wealth, their abundance of blessings. We have hymns of thanksgiving. Can’t we sing them, instead of this awkward revision? (Held in the Light, November 1)
The Rev. Meg Riley shares seven ways to prepare for the Ferguson grand jury’s announcement, including this one:
Many perspectives will be vying with one another to dictate the narrative of what’s “really” happened. Pick a perspective that helps you stay present, and stick with it. For me, as a white, middle-class, middle-aged woman, even imagining what it is to be a young black man is virtually impossible. But I am a mother. I can imagine a mother’s grief, even if I don’t know what it means to be an African-American mother. For me, the person to stick with most closely—in my imagination, and in every news account possible—is Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden. (HuffPo Religion, November 5)Heroes and role models
The Rev. Sean Dennison likes having very human heroes—including musician Amanda Palmer.
Is Amanda Palmer perfect? No. And I am happy that she is not. While some want their role models to be perfect, I like mine to be human. Part of what keeps me engaged with Palmer and her art and music is that she is transparent about her mistakes. Like any of us, she tries and fails and tries again to live up to her own ideals. (ministrare, November 3)
As part of her November gratitude practice, Diana McLean honors the clergywomen who have been her role models. (Poetic Justice, November 2)‘Happy’ ‘holidays’
The Rev. James Ford explains why he’s afraid of Christians—it’s because of their outrage about people who say “Happy Holidays.”
There is something hanging in the back of my mind when living in a country dominated by a group of people who have an ideology that puts me at the moment of my death firmly into the fires of hell for, well, forever. And it’s hard not to be vaguely aware of how easy a step it is from seeing someone as firewood in the future to seeing one as killable in the present tense.
And, frankly, this seasonal outrage sparks that anxiety. (Monkey Mind, November 4)
The Rev. Adam Eliot offers a different perspective, and encourages ministers to make room for uncomplicated expressions of spirituality throughout the extended holiday season.
For many of the people in your community (not necessarily your congregation, but the community at large) this is the only time they think about all those things we think about the rest of the year. I mean in a focused way. This means while we are grinching our way along, we are getting killed by the secular culture and the religious right. They speak the language that others speak rather than speaking their own language slowly, expecting folks to understand.
The season starts (as I mentioned) on Halloween when we think about fear and death. Then there is Thanksgiving which is about gratitude, family and so on. Then there is XMas which is about presents (if you let it be) or about something so much more. (The Burbania Posts, November 5)
Denver UUs offer sanctuary despite deportation order
Stemming from a 2010 confrontation with a fellow contractor that led to his arrest and the flagging of his legal status, a 41-year-old father of two and 15-year Colorado resident, Artruro Hernandez Garcia, moved into the basement of First Unitarian Society of Denver last week to claim sanctuary from deportation. Though Garcia was found innocent of any charges associated with the altercation, a deportation order was issued to take effect on October 21. “There are so many families just like mine that have come here to work and look for a future for our children,” Garcia told the Denver congregation. “…we are a part of this country and not a threat.” (Raw Story – 10.27.14)
Related stories include:
Mexican claiming sanctuary in Unitarian church in Denver seeks asylum (TribLive – 10.27.14)
Six individuals claim refuge in US churches to avoid deportation (International Business News – 10.28.15)
Man facing deportation claims sanctuary in Denver church basement (Denver Post – 10.26.14)
Social Security benefits denied to lesbian widow
Last year’s landmark Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Windsor extended social security benefits to same-sex couples, but a Texas woman is now suing to claim those benefits. Widow Kathy Murphy, who married her longtime partner Sara Barker at the UUA in Boston in 2010, claims that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has continued to follow current Texas state laws in issuing benefits, and that the SSA policy violates the Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection. (Project Q – 10.28.14)
News from congregations
After recently receiving an Earth Keepers Grant to install their own solar panels, the Marquette Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Marquette, Mich., will be holding a forum to address what solar power is, and how it might further benefit their community. (ABC 10 News – 10.24.14)
After same-sex marriage was declared legal in Idaho last week, Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship welcomed all same-sex couples who wished to be legally wed or who wanted their existing marriages blessed. (KBOI 2 – 10.25)
The Beyond-These-Four-Walls initiative at Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church in Racine, Wisc., offers help and support to community endeavors that assist individuals and families. Funds for the initiative are obtained by splitting the proceeds of the church’s collections. (The Journal Times – 10.25-14)
The Rev. Sharon Wylie has hard truths to tell the “spiritual but not religious” crowd.
Nobody wants a minister
Suddenly they do.
And nobody wants a church
A loved one is dying or dead and
It would be nice to have someone give the eulogy
And people to bring the casseroles
And friends to sit and cry with. (Ministry in Steel Toe Shoes, October 29)
The Rev. Sarah Stewart publishes a sermon about the complex issues involved in creating safe congregations, and concludes:
Our work as a human community is simply to love one another, to do no harm to our neighbor, but to create the place where true honesty and relationship to the holy may be sought. It’s our job to be good neighbors and to create a neighborly and loving church. Let us hold in our hearts our true goal and value: a safer community where we seek authentic relationship in peace. (Stereoscope, October 30)Bidden or unbidden
“God” has been an unexpected guest in Karen Johnston’s life, tempering her previously caustic atheism.
I am noticing a shift in my voice. . . . When we make our clever jokes about god’s presence in our lives, the mock and the snark seems to be dissipating. . . . The word isn’t so charged as it was before, leaving room for god to be something other than limb-ridden and narrow, a god who saves parking places for lucky bastards while allowing free-lance journalists to be beheaded. (irrevspeckay, October 27)Canadian perspectives
The Rev. Brian Kiely has been proud of his fellow Canadians this week, but he does fear what comes next.
I fear exploitation of these dramatic, but ultimately—to all except families and friends— insignificant acts. I fear what Mr. Harper and his government might do. The fact is, our security measures by and large worked. The violence was limited to the kinds of acts that could not realistically have been prevented no matter how large and intrusive our security services. . . . It is likely we will have to step up security to a degree, but the question that concerns me is to what degree? (Ministerial Musings, October 26)
Liz James is also proud of Canadian responses to the Ottawa shootings.
A refusal to abdicate our responsibility to choose how we will respond. Seen as a whole, the underlying theme of our conversation is unmistakable. “You do not extinguish terror with war. These two things are not opposites. The opposites of terror are reassurance, compassion, and reason. When faced with terror we do not declare war. We declare calm.”
Maturity, order, and the occasional idiotic speech from Harper. It doesn’t get more Canadian that that. (Rebel with a Label Maker, October 27)
James also writes an open letter to Susan Bibeau, the shooter’s mother.
There are many people who need comfort right now, and our hearts ache to reach out and to stand beside every one of those people. I want to you to know that tonight I think of you, and I hope that in some part of your mind, some part of your grief you are aware of the mothers all over the country who cannot reach you, who can never fully understand what you are going through, but who nevertheless stand beside you in spirit. (Rebel with a Label Maker, October 23)Lessons in grief
Diana McLean learns a valuable lesson about setting setting aside her identity as a seminarian and ministerial intern, and allowing herself to grieve her father’s death.
On Friday, as we prepared for yesterday’s service, Rev. Gail Geisenhainer, the senior minister at my parents’ church . . . gave me an important gift. She talked to me about role clarity, about how this weekend, I’m not a minister (or a ministerial intern or a seminarian). I’m the daughter. In the pulpit as the grieving daughter instead of the intern, I can’t put up the shield of professionalism, can’t have professional distance. It’s not my job. (Poetic Justice, October 26)
Claire Curole writes an open letter to the Rev. Lee Devoe, a former interim minister at her church, who died recently.
You guided us through [a] difficult transition, leaving your mark on my church like the line traced by a potter’s thumb on soft, wobbling, spinning clay as the vessel takes its shape. And this congregation that you held together with grace and love is the one that in its own turn shaped me, as I grew from a church-phobic newcomer into a student discerning my own call to the ministry. In this way the work I am only just beginning picks up and takes in loose threads of the work you leave unfinished. We are connected. We are all connected. (The Sand Hill Diary, October 27)Deeds not creeds
The Rev. Andrew Weber encourages us to wear social justice ribbons and buttons, not just to church, but also in public.
The question is, are you open and public about the unpopular or difficult beliefs you hold? Do you wear your ribbon only when it is comfortable—or also where it might promote difficult and possibly transformative conversation?
May we all have the courage and pride to live our values publicly—to wear our ribbons outside. For it is by living our values that we earn and wear our “awards” in life. (Drive Like a Minister, October 27)
Justin Almeida participated in a poverty immersion, and shares some of what he learned from the experience.
I’ve never thought of asking a person for forgiveness when I hand them a dollar outside a supermarket. But it makes sense. By asking for their forgiveness and blessing, I’m reaffirming their inherent worth and dignity by treating them with respect; I’m asking them for something only they can give. And I need to stop caring how they ended up being homeless. It’s not my place to judge and I’m not qualified to ask. (What’s My Age Again?, October 30)
The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg highlights a Jewish, “deeds, not creeds” reading of Christian parables—a companion to a previous post about how Christians read Jewish texts. (Pluralism, Pragmatism, Progressivism, October 24)