Posted by: Frank Mandt | July 6, 2009

President Peter Morales

I was a little surprised, but pleased, that Rev. Peter Morales was elected President of the UUA.  I didn’t attend GA this year and so missed out on the ‘election fervor’ that I’m sure was there in both camps. 

Peter Morales

I heard both Peter and Laurel Hallman in a forum at the Annual General Meeting of the Pacific Northwest District of the UUA in Salem, Oregon this February.  I was more impressed with Peter than with Laurel.  I was impressed with what he had to say about growth, and his realism about what it would take to get there.  Someone in the audience asked both candidates to talk about where they thought the UUA would be 100 years from now.  Laurel painted what seemed to me to be a rather rosy forecast about the size of the UUA and our impact on society.  Peter took a more realistic and blunt view.  He said that if we didn’t change what we were doing, we wouldn’t even be here 100 years from now.

This bluntness, along with a sense of urgency to do some things differently impressed me.  I had some hope that under the leadership of someone like Peter, the UUA might be able to break through the stagnant membership numbers that have remained essentially unchanged since the merger in the 1960s.  While the numbers have remained essentially the same, in terms of percentage of the population, we have been on a long, slow decline.  It would be nice to see that trend reverse.  Peter seems to know what makes growth happen, as evidenced by the sustained growth of his church in Colorado.  So here’s to a brighter future.  I remain hopeful.

Posted by: Frank Mandt | April 5, 2009

Elevator Speeches

For years, I’ve been told I need an Elevator Speech, something I could say about what I believe as a Unitarian Universalist in the time it took for a short ride in an elevator.  This has been one of Bill Sinkford’s themes at GAs I have attended.  I’ve also hear it from a number of local ministers.  Yet I still don’t have one.  Perhaps it’s the contrarian in me.  I slip into the tendencies that I think many UUs have: I can tell you what I don’t believe more easily than I can tell you what I believe.  I can expound a bit on some of the principles, though I certainly don’t have them memorized.  I even generally agree with them; at least I don’t oppose any of them.  I’ve always found that little red fold-out card “What do Unitarian Universalists believe?” (it’s been around for years) that is handed out at our Welcome Table to visitors on Sunday morning to be somewhat of a curiosity. I first encountered it in 1980 at the first Unitarian church that I joined (it really was just “Unitarian”).  At the time, I thought that it should be blank on the inside, perhaps with lines so the owner could fill in what worked for him/her.  I’ve since become a bit more serious about UUism.

So how does one relate one’s belief about a “complex” religion in a media culture that looks for a two-word sound bite?  “Unitarian Universalism” is two words, but not all that snappy.  Maybe we should change our name.  Many UUs don’t subscribe to, or even know, the original tenets of Unitarianism or Universalism.  But I am at a loss to come up with a name that relates the beliefs of such a diverse group of people, especially one that fits into a neat sound bite. 

How do I, as an atheist, explain to anyone why I would even attend a church?  I was originally drawn to the intellectual emphasis in the sermons I heard.  There was a rationality there that appealed to me.  I liked the fact that we had no problems changing the words to the hymns or to the anthems that the choir sang.  I discovered that I was there for the community, and not all that much for the spirituality.  I notice that there has been much more emphasis on spirituality lately, and I’m not sure that I’m all that pleased with the trend.  I miss some of the intellectuality of the sermons.

I suppose I can always fall back on my pat answer when asked what I believe: I believe that I’ll have another cookie.  But that seems a little flippant now. The fact remains that I still don’t have a good Elevator Speech.  I don’t expect I’ll have an answer any time soon.

Posted by: Frank Mandt | March 23, 2009

Southern (Hemisphere) Enlightement

I ran across this ad for an Argentinean bank on the blog ministrare, the blog of Rev Sean Parker Dennison, minister of the South Valley UU Society in Salt Lake City, UT.  It is an ad featuring a positive view of a transgendered woman which has a lot to teach about tolerance and forgiveness.  I found it quite inspiring.  I had originally posted this at the end of a previous post, where I suspect it got lost.  As I thought about it, I decided that it was important enough to deserve it’s own post.  My hope is that this gives it wider dissemination.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Frank Mandt | March 22, 2009

Condoms & Catholics

I read where the Pope has denounced the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS in Africa.  What is it with this guy?  Or I should say these guys, since the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy is really a guy’s club.  They seem petrified that the purpose of the condom may actually prevent a pregnancy instead of a deadly disease, never mind the potential of brining more children infected with AIDS at birth into an already poverty-stricken environment.  Just say “No” doesn’t work with drugs, and it doesn’t work with sex.  Would there be a similar ban on, say, the polio or smallpox vaccines if it were discovered that they reduced sperm count, or caused ova not to attach to the uterus?  This reminds me of the Monty Python song: Every Sperm is Sacred:

 

Every sperm is sacred,

Every sperm is great.

If a sperm is wasted,

God get’s real irate!

 

While I’m tempted to say that the church is still firmly entrenched in the Middle Ages, I think that this anti-sex bias is a more recent phenomenon, perhaps in the last couple of hundred years.  I’m certainly not a scholar when it comes to the Roman Catholic Church, and I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.

 

This stance comes as no surprise though.  The Pope didn’t get where he is by taking a stance that opposed doctrine, fallible as it is.  How long did it take the church to admit that the Earth rotated around the Sun?

 

 

Posted by: Frank Mandt | March 15, 2009

The Democratic Process

In light of the upcoming election of a new UUA President, I’ve been wondering about the democratic process and how it’s working in the Association.  The UUA’s Fifth Principle is: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. 

 

There appears to be a more or less vigorous campaign among the two declared candidates, which I think is good.  However, other than a few e-mails and reading about it on some blogs, had I not attended the Annual General Meeting in my district and gone to the candidate’s forum, I could easily be blissfully unaware of the election, let alone the issues.  There is no discussion of it in my congregation, other than a mention in our newsletter of the forum and the fact that the candidates would be appearing at the district meeting (which I, as newsletter editor, inserted).  I don’t anticipate that there will be much in the way of congregational discussion of the candidates, nor direction to delegates to GA regarding the position of my congregation.

 

So my question is: who in the UUA actually gets to elect the president and other people in elective office?  Let me do some fuzzy math here.  We have approximately 150,000 members.  Each congregation is allotted one delegate to GA per 50 members, with a minimum of two.  That would allow for 3,000 delegates, more or less.  So two percent (potentially) of our members would decide who would lead the UUA for the next four years.  While I have no real statistics on the number of delegates that show up for GA, or the number of congregations that participate, my sense is that there are less than 3,000 delegates.  It strikes me that while the process may be democratic; the actual election is far from “one person, one vote.”

 

Having said all that, I think that we have managed to elect some very good people to the presidency.  It seems to me that it would not be all that difficult to send a ballot to the membership of the UUA.  This might actually trigger some interest and discussion on the congregational level.  Perhaps I’m too optimistic, given the level of participation in Study/Action Issues and Statements of Conscience at the congregational level.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

 

Then there are elections at the congregational level, but that’s another post.

Posted by: Frank Mandt | March 9, 2009

The Un Denomination?

I read an article in USA Today about shifting religious identities which points out that most religious groups have lost ground in the last generation.  Those who identify themselves as Christian in one form or another have declined by 11%.  Fifteen percent claim no religion at all.  Could there be opportunity for Unitarian Universalism here?  Perhaps we should consider a new marketing campaign: The Un Denomination or The None Denomination, instead of the Uncommon Denomination.  Just a thought.

Posted by: Frank Mandt | February 21, 2009

PNW District Annual General Meeting in Salem, OR

The annual event was held at the Red Lion hotel in Salem, OR this year.  It seems that AGM was smaller this year than in recent years and the vendor/bookstore area had fewer vendors this year.  The economy is probably having an impact here too.  The enthusiasm of the crowd, however, was undiminished.  The Friday evening Opening Ceremony began with the traditional banner procession, and was a highly energetic affair led by Matt Meyer, who calls himself a UU percussionist who combines music, spirituality, and social justice work.  The ceremony was included lots of participatory singing mixed in with a message of social action and peace.

 

Prior to the Opening Ceremony, I attended the a candidate forum in which the candidates for UUA President, Rev. Laurel Hallman and Rev. Peter Morales, discussed their views and the goals they would pursue if elected.  Both candidates presented themselves well, and both seem very competent candidates.  For a clear vision of the future of the UUA, and the changes that are required, I have to give the edge to Peter Morales. Given that the membership of the UUA has been static since the merger which created the UUA, which in actuality means a decline in the percentage of UUs in this country, something needs to be done differently.  In spite of all of the effort put into various growth programs, what we’ve been doing simply has not been working.  I like the ideas that Peter articulated.

 

On Saturday, I discussed fund raising ideas with the District’s Program Specialist, connected with some other people I hadn’t seen in a while, and attended a workshop on blogging, let by bloggers Kit Ketchum (Ms. Kitty’s Saloon and Road Show) and Kari Kopnick (Chalice Spark).  The attendees ranged from those with no experience at all to a number of experiences blogger.  It was an informative session which explored the UU blogosphere, and ended by constructed a new blog as part of the workshop.

 

The Saturday evening banquet was a sold out affair; the entertainment was a short re-enactment of the Scopes “monkey trial” held in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925.  The play was based on the transcripts from the trial.

 

AGM concludes on Sunday morning with a worship service led by Amanda Aikman, who is associated with the UU Church in Shoreline, WA.

Posted by: Frank Mandt | February 6, 2009

Congregational Governance

There is an interesting discussion taking place on the Philocrates blog (Philocrates is the blog of Chris Walton, editor of the UU World) about the Purposes of the UUA.  The part of the discussion that interests me most is the discussion of Policy Governance, specifically that which is based upon the Carver model.  This is the model that the PNWD board is moving to, if it is not already there.  The Cedars’ board is in theory a policy governance board, though it seems not to have followed that strictly, since there are a few committees that have liaisons.

 

Philocrates thinks that polity of the UUA is currently a bit confusing.  I won’t even try to go there to figure that out.  I think that’s what people like Philocrates are for.  In his comment on the post, Dan Harper takes the policy governance model discussion down to the congregational level, a level to which I can more easily relate.  I’ll admit that I know little about the Carver model, but Dan says some interesting things about its effects on organizations such as ours, and I wonder if that applies to any policy governance model.  The comment that most intrigues me is:

 

“But I believe the Carver model is a poor fit for membership organizations in which membership meetings set policy, and hand that policy off to a Board and an Executive Director (ED) (where ministers often function as an ED in our churches) for implementation.

 

“In such membership organizations, it is the membership who set policy, not the Board, which means that you cannot follow the Carver model of having the Board set policy (which is what the UUA is trying to do here). Instead, there should be a different process for setting policy, involving the annual membership meeting …  You can do strategic plans and goal-setting in membership organizations in a way that involves the whole membership, but the Carver model does not give you an adequate process for that.”

 

This raises a number of questions in my mind for my UU congregation: Can the membership actually set policy? If not, why not?  If the board sets policy, how does it get membership input, and more importantly, membership buy-in?  Does the board have a vision?  Does the congregation have a vision?  How can the membership find out about and have input into the board’s thinking so that it can thoughtfully consider what it is asked to vote upon at the annual congregational meeting?  Can the board communicate more effectively and transparently to the congregation?  Can there really be congregational polity if the membership has little or no input on board decisions?

 

I think that these are questions that vex many UU congregations. 

Posted by: Frank Mandt | February 5, 2009

Cheney Unleashed

Someone needs to put Dick Cheney back in his burrow; he missed Groundhog Day by two days.  The Dickster crawled out of his undisclosed location, which rumor has it is actually in a strip mall in the DC area, to try to scare that pants off everyone again.  With luck, he saw his shadow and we won’t see him again for six weeks.

Posted by: Frank Mandt | February 5, 2009

Mea Culpa

While it is refreshing to hear Barack Obama apologize for “screwing up,” it was an unfortunate distraction from the work that he’s trying to do.  I was beginning to worry that he was going to give away the farm to the Republicans in the Senate (you remember: the ones who lost the election) when he came out fighting yesterday.  I’m glad he reminded everyone that the policies of Reagan, Bush, the Former Occupant, and even Clinton to a large extent, were resoundingly repudiated on the November election.

 

The Republicans need to reacquaint themselves Keynesian economics.  Reaganomics is exactly walk George HW Bush said it was when he was running against Reagan: Voodoo Economics.  Even David Stockman admitted that they basically made it up.   I think that the November election was not just a repudiation of the last eight years, but of the policies that got us into this mess in the first place, starting with Reagan.

 

So-called “Trickle Down” economics has been nothing more than a ploy to make the wealthy even wealthier, and has been the primary cause for at least three economic bubbles and associated stock market crashes since Reagan took office.  Tax cuts do not increase jobs.  Only demand for products and services does that, which means the middle class has to have money to spend, not the rich.

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