Monthly Archives: October 2007

Someone call Matt Groenig, now!

All hail to commenter Paul, who has imagined what it might be like if the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) managed to get some product placement in one of Matt Groenig’s productions. Quick, someone have the UUA ad agency call Matt Groenig with these little snippets to be incorporated in the next Futurama movie:

Bender greeting visitors at a “Welcome Table” at his Unitarian Universalist church:
    â€œWho are you, and why should I care?”

Bender on an anti-racist Journey Towards Wholeness:
    â€œThis is the worst kind of discrimination. The kind against me.”

Bender contemplates the Ultimate:
    God: Bender, being God isn’t easy. If you do too much, people get dependent on you. And if you do nothing, they lose hope. You have to use a light touch, like a safecracker or a pickpocket.
    Bender: Or a guy who burns down a bar for the insurance money.
    God: Yes, if he makes it look like an electrical thing. If you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.

Bender, the Unitarian Universalist congregant:
    â€œHey. Do I preach at you when you’re lying stoned in the gutter?”

(I made some slight edits for clarity, but the funny bits are Paul’s. Thanks, Paul! As a Futurama fan myself, I just had to post this on the main page.)

Church marketing sucks — or does it?

My mother-out-law (Carol and I aren’t married, so she’s an out-law, not an in-law) sent me a fascinating piece from the October 23 Wall Street Journal. In an article titled “A Congregation of Consumers,” Naomi Schaefer Riley reviews the book “Shopping for God,” by James B. Twitchell (Simon & Schuster). Riley says, in part:

Choosing a religion, [Twitchell] argues, is much like choosing any other product — from breakfast food to beer. He sets out to determine why the “spiritual marketplace” in the U.S. seems so hot right now, and, more pointedly, why evangelical megachurches have become, well, so mega. His theme can be summed up in one of the book’s smug chapter titles: “Christian Consumers Are Consumers First.”

Sociologists have long noted that religiously tolerant societies actually inspire greater religious allegiance than societies in which piety is imposed by government fiat. But “Shopping for God” adds a twist: “In a highly competitive market, suppliers have to stay on their toes. . . . Coke sells more going up against Pepsi. McDonald’s needs Burger King. When markets are supplying interchangeable products, selling can become frantic. Brand war! The complacent get killed.” The “complacent” are the mainline churches, according to Mr. Twitchell; they have basically dropped out of the competition. The evangelical churches, by contrast, are competing wildly and thriving even if, like Coke and Pepsi, they are are offering similar “products.”

So far, I basically agree with Twitchell. The mainline churches — Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and so on — have faced dwindling memberships for years, primarily because they are unwilling to get their hands dirty in marketing and publicity. Unitarian Universalists have been holding steady or slightly increasing, not because we have paid any attention to marketing, but because we have what Seth Goodin calls a “purple cow” product:– our “religious product” is so different, it advertises itself. But back to the main point of this post.

Naomi Riley does not like the idea that churches have to market themselves. She argues that churches have to answer to a higher calling than mere marketing:

If you can find a way of seeing religion primarily as a form of consumerism — skipping the (how to put it?) faith and truth part of religious belief — then Mr. Twitchell’s analysis makes some sense. And in fact there are churches out there self-consciously engaged in marketing. They hire consultants and public-relations experts to “grow” their flock, and they obey a market discipline. Mr. Twitchell notices a sign hanging in Mr. Hybels’s megachurch office that quotes Peter Drucker, the business guru.

But consultants can only do so much, and the point of church outreach surely has less to do with improving “brands” than with saving souls. Mr. Twitchell concludes by noting that, “in the Land of Plentitude, the customer is king.” Thus he asks: “Why should religion be different?” The answer to that question comes from another book.

So do you agree with Naomi Riley, or with James Twitchell? In a society that is dominated by marketing mentalities, how far may religious organizations accommodate themselves to market forces?

Let me make this question more pointed:– If your congregation is faced with declining membership, to what extent do you feel it is acceptable to employ marketing strategies to boost membership? Which specific marketing techniques are acceptable (ads in traditional media, Web and new media marketing, assisting current members to engage in word-of-mouth marketing, door-to-door solicitation, etc.), and which are not? I don’t have a firm answer myself, so consider this a brainstorming session where we’re all thinking out loud….

Assabet Lumber: late August, 1980

An installment in a spiritual autobiography. For other installments, search tags for “assabet lumber“. Cast of characters here. Names have been changed, and some identifying characteristics and events have been fictionalized, to protect privacy. These are early drafts and may be a little rough; bear with me….

The next Monday, I showed up for my first day of work. All the guys who worked out in the yard — the truck drivers, and Willie Hildebrand who stayed in the yard — stood around waiting for seven-thirty to come, when the yard opened for business. Someone pointed out that I had the same first name as someone else at Assabet Lumber, so they decided to call me “Slim,” because I was tall and thin.

The truck drivers showed me how to punch the time clock — I hadn’t ever punched a time clock before, because the job I had had in high school had been piece work. I had to go in the back office to fill out some paperwork, and by the time I had done that, the yard foreman was ready to show me around the yard.

The yard foreman was called Carolina because he came from a little town in South Carolina. The name stitched over the left front pocket of his uniform shirt said “Carl,” but everyone called him Carolina. He was thin, and loose-jointed, and wore the brim of his cap low over his eyes and tipped to one side, and could swear with great inventiveness and at great length. He had a thin face, leathery and expressive, and the lines around his eyes crinkled when he smiled. I instinctively liked him.

“This here’s the number two common pine,” he said in his soft Southern drawl, walking me down the A-frame racks just inside the right front door of the warehouse. Long knotty pine boards leaned up against the racks. He showed me how the common pine was organized, starting with the one-by-twos, which were arranged by height, from sixteen footers which nearly touched the rafters down to six footers; then came one-by-threes, also arranged by height; around the corner on the other side of that rack stood the one-by-fours and one-by-fives; across a narrow aisle from them in another rack stood one-by-sixes and one-by-eights; and on the other side of that rack were the one-by-tens and one-by-twelves.

“Now a one-by-four is really three-quarters thick and a three and a half inches wide,” Carolina continued, and he told me that, unlike some lumber yards which carried number three and better, we carried number two and better common pine. I asked what the difference was between number two and number three, and Carolina told me it was the size of the knots and how many knots, and that there were grading books that explained all that. I felt a little confused. Continue reading

Podcamp Boston 2

Podcamp Boston 2 is over, it was inspiring, and here is one reflection on Podcamp (ban Powerpoint presentations!) along with a little about three inspiring sessions I attended.

Oh, and I really mean it about the non-linearity. (3:46)

Note: video host is defunct, so this video no longer exists.

Podcamp Boston 2: day one

Today I went to Podcamp. I learned a lot. People wore lots of black. At lunchtime, I went to a peace really. Then I went back. There were laptops everywhere. There was a lot of cheering going on. Tomorrow I get to go back to Podcamp. Woo, hoo! (0:26, wicked short)

Note: video host is defunct, so this video no longer exists.


The freighter Green Honduras (a reefer out of Nassau, Bahamas, 420 ft. length overall, gross tonnage 7,743) is in port right now. Looks like they’re unloading fruit, perhaps citrus from Africa. I spent some time this afternoon just standing there watching them unload the cargo, and I made this video to justify wasting all that time spent doing nothing. (2:16)

Note: video host is defunct, so this video no longer exists.

Advice to new vegetarians

After the vigil in support of victims and survivors of domestic violence was over last night, I wound up talking to a twenty-something woman who had been a vegetarian for two weeks. She was having difficulty adjusting to her new way of eating, and when she found out I had been a vegetarian for years, she wanted some advice.

My advice for her wasn’t all that good. While for the most part I still am a vegetarian, now my priority is eating organic and/or locally-grown food, and I realized that I’ve lost touch with the reasons for and mechanics of vegetarianism. So I recommended that she read Diet for a Small Planet, but then I realized that book was written before she was born, and is probably horribly dated. She said she had been reading a book called Skinny Bitch, but she wondered if there were other, easy-to-read, books on vegetarianism.

I was able to give her one piece of advicae based on my own experience as a vegetarian: be sure to take vitamin B-12 supplements (not the mega-doses — it’s a fat-soluble vitamin, and too much of it won’t do you any good). I also told her to be sure to get complete protein, and asked if she was a vegan or a vegetarian who would eat eggs and cheese. She hadn’t thought that through, and I couldn’t think of a good resource to help her figure out what kind of vegetarian she was.

In short, I realized that I’m out of touch with the world of vegetarianism and veganism. But I know that many of my readers are sure to be vegans and vegetarians, and you will be able to give me some good advice. Here are my questions for you:

  • If you were giving advice to a new vegetarian, what one book would you recommend? The book should give some of the moral, ethical, and political implications of vegetarianism — and it should provide enough recipes (or cookbook recommendations) to get someone through the first month.
  • Same question for a new vegan: If you were giving advice to a new vegan, what one book would you recommend?
  • What are the top three pieces of advice you’d give to a new vegetarian?
  • Same question for vegans: top three pieces of advice to a new vegan.

Or any other comments or help you think would be pertinent to new vegetarians/vegans….

Unprovability of Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law is as follows: If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. But a corollary to Murphy’s Law states that it is impossible to prove Murphy’s Law.

Proof: If anything can go wrong it will go wrong; when you are trying to prove that things go wrong, your proof will go wrong; thus during the proof everything will go right, thus disproving (rather than proving) Murphy’s Law. Q.E.D.

It should therefore also be obvious that any attempt to apply either Murphy’s Law, or this corollary of Murphy’s Law, to religion will result in failure; which in itself has some profound religious implications. (And you thought Kurt Godel’s Unprovability Theorem was mind-blowing when applied to religion….)

Union organizers

My partner, Carol, found a video online showing a lunch-time protest staged by local unions two months ago outside City Hall here in New Bedford. The city wants to tear down the Cliftex building, a historic mill building on the waterfront. Local unions want the mill building renovated for housing and buisnesses — the renovation will provide union jobs, whereas if the building gets torn down we’ll be lucky to get a parking lot, or a big-box retail store providing minimum wages jobs.

In any case, I went and stood with the union people, and I was impressed with the quietly effective way they made the protest happen. No chanting, no screaming. They talked to passers-by, they distributed flyers to passing motorists, they button-holed people coming and going from City Hall, they were politely articulate about why the city should save the building.

During that lunch hour, they reached a lot of people. They did it without the street theatre that usually characterizes demonstrations done by leftists since the 1960’s. They did it without polarizing opposition, as most leftists today seem to do. The emphasis was on making face-to-face connections with as many people as possible.

Link, if you want to watch the video.