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Monday, May 22, 2017

While we remember the victims of Manchester...


While we remember in our thoughts and prayers the victims of the Manchester bombing, let us be mindful--
  • Before certain politicians and media companies begin a fresh round of demonizing an entire religion in the self-serving lust to garner votes, clicks, and tweets...
  • Before this tragedy is used as a fresh excuse to ramp up the  militarized security state and kick down on refugees fleeing similar daily atrocities...
  • Before governments with a tenuous hold on the electorate beat more loudly on the drums of war...
  • Before the rush to judgement and condemnation...
--that the innocent kids we see fleeing the concert bombing have their counterparts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and other places.

Yes they do.

We see young Mancunians run from a bombing. We do not see people in Muslim countries running from bombs every day. Getting out, getting anywhere away from daily round of destruction, carnage, and 24-hour climate of fear. Getting all the way, sometimes, to Manus and Nauru.

We see young Mancunians, wounded or terrified, desperately seeking help, refuge, safety, comfort, We do not see (or do not allow ourselves to see) wounded or terrified Muslims fleeing their homelands to seek help, refuge, safety, comfort. Sometimes from us.

We see young Mancunians apparently intentionally targeted by a crude device. We do not see the schools, hospitals, wedding parties, markets, and workplaces intentionally targeted by sophisticated devices like drones and laser-guided missiles. Delivered and sanctioned by us.

We grieve for the young Mancunian survivors who will have to live the rest of their lives with the images of body parts, pools of gore, and children's corpses burned into their memories. We do not grieve for those who see such things as a matter of daily routine. Routinely ignored by us.

When people are slaughtered, survivors run away, whether in Manchester or in Fallujah. This is a equally normal response.

No child should have to witness the human form blasted into chunks of meat, whether in Manchester or in Aleppo. The trauma they will carry is equally inescapable.

"Why us?" they cry with one voice. "It's not fair to target us."

No, it's not fair, no matter where you are.

Why does distance and difference blind us to the simple truth that people are people are people?

Writing in a different time about a similarly oppressed and demonized people (the Jews), Shakespeare wrote:

"If you cut us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? And if you wrong us, shall we not seek revenge?" God (or whatever means The Good) forbid that the full measure of their revenge is not visited upon us.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us: what fearsome words to pray.















Sunday, February 5, 2017

Users' Guide to the RobOTT, your new robotic Minister

Pax Vobiscum RoboticsTM congratulates you on your purchase of the new 2000-series RobOTT fully robotized Minister!

Better than a flesh and blood human Minister; somewhat better than no Minister at all!


Key features of the RobOTT 2000 fully robotized Minister:

1. Available in a comforting white male appearance, creating the impression of the high intelligence, privilege, authority, soundness of judgement, etc., of the modern urban professional. Included package as standard:

a. Blue blazer and bland suits
b. Conservative ties
c. Spectacles
d. Neutral accent/ethnicity cues

2. Is precision-crafted to balance the wisdom of age and the energy of youth.

3. Is pre-programmed to offer an inexhaustible variety of comforting words, gestures, and sounds when prompted.

4. Is firewalled against corruption by over-generous donors, over-flattering members, and anyone projecting anima/animus archetypes onto it.

5. Is inherently disembodied--sexless and free of vices; requires no privacy or private life.

6. Is equipped to absorb from users a full range of inputs--indifference, condescension, disdain, hero-worship, praise, projection, blame, judgement, vilification, micro-analysis, etc.--with 100% equanimity.

7. Is equipped with a 'light entertainment' mode, enabling it to output an endless archive of clean jokes, folksy anecdotes, interesting scriptural minutiae, toasts, and the odd old favorite song.

8. Is interfaced with Belief.net and Wikipedia data streams, so omniscience is virtually guaranteed.

9. Is finely tuned with an "Academic Equivocation" failsafe output monitor, so is able to remain 100% objective and disinterested in any exchange; has no inherent moral/ethical/political leanings.

10. Is programmed to produce verbal output which is more or less what new owners want to hear or already think; discomfort calibration set at the factory to absolute zero.

11. Is clairvoyant; programmed to sense immediately when a member falls ill or wants (or simply feels entitled to) on-site visits; arrives without being asked or, indeed, even notified.

12. Is programmed to refresh its sensibility hard-drive with simple verbal cues from its owners. For example: "Great service" or "I'm only sorry X wasn't here to hear that" or "You should have wider audience".

Our Guarantee:

1. Maximum moral and existential comfort; zero offence

2. Perpetual activity; minimum maintenance

3. High output at low on-pulpit costs: With only a minimum of routine maintenance, it will provide many years of reliable service. Your up-keep costs are capped  well below the average wage of your country of residence--locked in for the life of your RobOTT!

"If it's not OTT, it's not a RobOTT."



Tuesday, January 31, 2017

When 'tolerance' is intolerable

Many of the folks who seek out our church/movement/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, do so because we used to pitch ourselves with a handy 3-word slogan: "Freedom, Reason, Tolerance." This slogan, I claim, has done us as much harm as good, and should be consigned to our history.


To many, this looked like heaven-sent succour from the dark side of conventional religious affiliation--control, dogma, judgment. And indeed it is a wonderful gift, or it can be. Though individual congregations may have their own theological 'flavour', we do have certain principles to gently hold us together. For instance, we encourage each member to undertake a 'free and responsible search for truth and meaning'. We largely refrain from the language of 'sin' and suspend judgement on matters of lifestyle in free societies. For example, UU churches have been the place people came when the faith of their forebears prevents them from engaging rites of passage--for example, getting married after divorce or to someone of another faith, demanding oaths to a particular faith when welcoming children into the world, or enforcing a fairytale cosmology into the burial of a loved one. A UU congregation gave them the space to accept and make their own peace with how difficult and uncertain living this life can be.

But to some, that 3-word slogan looks like everything is permitted. A UU church will give them space to nurture and declaim intolerant bigotries. A UU church will give them room to exercise long-pent-up feelings of powerlessness by pushing others around without fear of push-back, because...freedom, man. A UU church will provide an endless and ready supply of easy-going folk for the narcissist's appetite for attention. A UU church will provide an open platform to construct and furnish the house they want to live in. No one will judge you, because we're free and tolerant. So, if you want to, you can get away with every damn thing you want. As with the current Trumpian governmental crisis in America, once the judiciary in rendered impotent, everything becomes possible.


We say we welcome all comers, and we do. But one of the more difficult aspects of UU ministry is having to confront and challenge those few who are so damaged, or whose maturity is so arrested, that they see our openness as a place to finally indulge themselves. In short, to draw perceptible limits to what tolerable, to remind them the free exercise of truth MUST be a responsible one, or everything's okay. And when you confront and challenge, our unhandy, archaic, 3-word slogan gets thrown in your face. "So much for tolerance! You're all hypocrites!" Tolerance is the serpent that eats its own tail.

My esteemed colleague, Rev. Peter Boullatta, put this better than I ever could in this seminal article some little while ago: https://peterboullata.com/2011/12/29/the-liberal-church-finding-its-mission-its-not-about-you/

If you haven't read that before, you really should.

Any parent of a nascent teenager will know that how you challenge and confront those who are simply not equipped to handle sudden, new-found freedom is a subtle art, and hard to get right. Largely, it's a matter of pastoral judgement--matching tone to content and matching those to what you know of the person's self-image, background, way of thinking. My experience is that, just as people who are mad don't think they're mad, people who use a UU church the way a baby uses a diaper likewise don't think they're doing anything amiss. Nine times out of ten, it's a no-win, and they stalk off somewhere else, a living bad PR-generating machine for the beloved community we try to build. Hey ho.

I have to say to any prospective ministers who may be reading--this is part of the job. In fact, this IS the job, the whole job. To see people's brokenness, to love them anyway since we are all broken, to teach and admonish when needed because you're the Minister, dammit, and to let go of controlling the result, even if it means losing them entirely.

Look at it this way, too: most of the faces you see before you in the church probably weren't there 20 years ago, and may not be in another 20. People come and go for many reasons, and none of it is entirely due to what ministers do or don't do.

So stick to your principles, and cut yourself a break.