A lousy human being. Literally. Heh, heh.

We had some excitement at home this morning: we discovered that we have an infestation of head lice in our house. So we’re following the recommendations of the CDC: treat heads with over-the-counter pyrethrin or permethrin preparations; wash clothing and bedding in hot water and dry at high heat (lice die at over 130 degrees); anything that can’t be washed goes in a sealed plastic bag for two weeks (adult lice and eggs die after two weeks away from humans).

And yes, Carol and I being who we are, we did make stupid jokes while dealing with the head lice: [Pointing to one another:] “Hey, you’re a lousy human being. Literally! Heh, heh, heh.” [While applying head lice shampoo, speaking to lice:] “Die for your crime against humanity, you louse! Heh, heh, heh.” And so on.

Why mention this on a religion blog? Because one of the things that liberal congregations have been very good at over the past century or two is promoting public health initiatives. It can be hard to talk about things like lice, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), etc., and congregations have been pretty effective at making it easier to talk openly about such topics. A shining example is the grade 7-9 unit of the Our Whole Lives comprehensive sexuality education program developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ — by the end of that program, young adolescents are able to talk openly and honestly about STDs and sexual health. It’s yet another reason to participate in a congregation.

OWL dollars

We’re running the Our Whole Lives (OWL) comprehensive sexuality education program for grades 7-9 here in the Palo Alto congregation, and today we did the second session, which includes an activity known as the “Values Auction,” where the youth bid on values like being honest, living a good life, etc. The curriculum suggests that you use play money from a board game such as Monopoly — but you also need $300 in play twenties, which is more money than most board games give you. So I made some OWL dollars.

Since I’m sure other people running the OWL program run into the same problem, I figured I’d post the OWL dollars online here as a PDF. You print out the whole sheet, then trim each OWL dollar to exactly 2 inches by four and a quarter inches (it goes really quickly using a paper cutter). Each sheet has ten OWL dollars, so you need one and a half sheets per participant. It’s a big file, so it may take a while to open.

Sheet of 10 “OWL dollars” (3.9 MB PDF file)

Cell phone

“What happened to your phone?” said the saleswoman sympathetically. She was holding my cell phone between her thumb and forefinger, because it was dripping wet.

“It went into the laundry,” I said.

“Oh, your poor phone,” she said. “I’m going to turn it off so it will stop vibrating.” It wouldn’t turn off, so she took the battery out.

She got me a new phone, but had difficulties with the computer. The other salesman came over to hep her out. He looked at the phone. “What happened to your phone?” he said sympathetically.

“I was doing laundry,” I said. “Then I was like, Where’s my phone? It was in my pants. I opened the washing machine, it was full of water and going goosh, goosh, goosh; I reached in to my pants pocket, and there was my phone — bzzzt — vibrating continuously and totally dead.” I had them both laughing.

I asked the man if they were on commission, and he said they were. I apologized that they weren’t going to make much of a commission off my new phone. He said it was OK. I admitted that I used to be in sales. We got to talking about commissions, building relationships, meeting targets, all the things that salespeople talk about. Both these salespeople obviously followed the soft-sell school of sales. I like soft-sell salespeople: they’re easy-going, they have good people skills, they’re relentlessly positive, and they like to talk.

While we were talking, the man walked the woman through the process of updating my account. When we were done, I asked her if she was new. She said she was. “You’ll do great,” I said, “you have a good sales personality.” And I wasn’t just being an upbeat optimistic positive salesperson: she will be a good salesperson. We all said goodbye, and I walked out into the sunshine with my new phone.

How you can change three negative trends in 2012, pt. 2

The second of three negative trends for 2012 is this:

Liberal congregations will continue to focus more on short-term financial goals than on long term ministry and mission goals.

And here are three possible steps you can take to reverse this negative trend:

Step 1: Let’s begin by asking what is absolutely essential for a liberal congregation.

Only three things are absolutely essential:
— A liberal congregation must have weekly Sunday services.
— A liberal congregation must raise up the next generation.
— A liberal congregation must provide pastoral care and nurture to those who are part of it.

Nothing else is absolutely essential. Nothing. Really.

Step 2: Now let’s look at what is not essential, and what to do about the on-essentials.

— Owning and maintaining a building may be very important, but it is not essential; plenty of congregations rent space.
— Having paid staff may be very important, but it is not essential; there are congregations that have no paid staff.
— Carrying out social justice in the name of the congregation is very important, but it is not essential; what is essential is providing weekly religious services, and pastoral care and nurture, to support those who are doing social justice. Continue reading “How you can change three negative trends in 2012, pt. 2”

How you can change three negative trends in 2012, pt. 1

In my last post, I made three safe predictions for 2012:

1. Baby Boomers will continue to run most liberal religious congregations to suit themselves.
2. Liberal congregations will continue to focus more on short-term financial goals than on long term ministry and mission goals.
3. Fewer kids will be part of liberal religious congregations.

Each of these three trends, if left unchecked, will lead to continued decline of liberal religion. I’ll take these on in separate posts. Here are my thoughts on fighting the first of these trends:

Liberal congregations can learn basic volunteer management and leadership development skills.

The way you move entrenched leadership out of positions of power is by training up new leaders to take their place. The way you train up new leaders is to revamp your volunteer management system. Continue reading “How you can change three negative trends in 2012, pt. 1”

Three safe predictions for 2012

Allow me to make three safe predictions for liberal religion in 2012. Here’s a summary of my three predictions:

1. Baby Boomers will continue to run most liberal religious congregations to suit themselves.
2. Liberal congregations will continue to focus more on short-term financial goals than on long term ministry and mission goals.
3. Fewer kids will be part of liberal religious congregations.

Now on to my reasons for making these predictions: Continue reading “Three safe predictions for 2012”

Another folk-type hymn

I ran across a poem by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper variously titled “Let the Light Enter” or “The Dying Words of Goethe.” I thought it would make a good hymn: it’s a poem by a liberal religious writer, and we religious liberals have too few poems on the topic of death and dying. So I wrote a simple folk-type melody to go with the poem — it’s a little schmaltzy, but not (I hope) too schmaltzy — and provided a basic harmonic structure, with guitar chords, and an easy bass line to fill that out a little.

Somehow I can’t see many religious liberals using this in a Sunday service. But I’ve found it fun to sing, and I can see it as a campfire song, or something along those lines. On the off chance that someone else might have fun with it, here’s a PDF of the sheet music (you humanists will want to lose the sixth and last verse):

Let the Light Enter (The Dying Words of Goethe)

2011 in review: the liberal religious blogosphere

The most important trend in liberal religious blogging in 2011 was the continued growth of other forms of social media. Facebook and Twitter are obvious cases in point. Compared to blogging, it’s so much easier to post a quick status update to Facebook or Twitter, so much easier to let someone else manage the technical infrastructure, so much easier to stay in touch with your friends and family without juggling RSS feeds. At the same time, Facebook and Twitter (and Tumblr and Google Plus and LinkedIn and Pintrest and all the other multitudinous social media outlets) are different from blogs, they help to spread good blog posts to a wider readership, and they serve more to supplement blogs than to supplant them.

The second most important trend in liberal religious blogging: plenty of people are still writing and reading blogs. The main aggregator of Unitarian Universalist blogs, Uupdates.net, is now tracking over 500 blogs. This represents, I believe, a slight increase over last year, and on the order of a tenfold increase over five years ago. It’s impossible to keep track of that many Unitarian Universalist blogs, and I would say there is no longer a coherent UU blogosphere — there are just a lot of blogs, a lot of bloggers, and a lot of blog readers.

As an example of the ongoing strength of blogs, “Yet Another Unitarian Universalist” continues to rise slowly in readership; last time I checked, back in October, this site was approaching ten thousand unique visitors a month. (I’m not keeping track at the moment — my Web host got rid of their analytic tools, and I haven’t had time to install an alternative.) And there are plenty of other liberal religious blogs out there with bigger readerships.

And speaking only for myself, the third most important trend in liberal religious blogging has been my return to non-Unitarian Universalist blogs. In 2003 when I first started reading religious blogs regularly, there were only half a dozen Unitarian Universalist blogs; you were almost forced to read read non-UU blogs. Then for a while I tried read every UU blog at least a couple of times a year. I continue to look at uuworld.org’s UU blog round up, and I try to scan UUpdates.net periodically. But I I find myself going back to my 203 habits, and reading lots of non-UU blogs. I scan the blog of Steve Thorngate — he’s an associate editor at Christian Century — for religion news, and the intersection of religion and politics. I sometimes read Carol Merritt’s blog “Tribal Church,” mostly about young adults and religion, which is also on the Christian Century Web site. For leadership and growth issues, I regularly scan the weekly Alban Institute “Conversations” posts, which are linked to from their “Roundtable” blog. Recently, I rediscovered The Velveteen Rabbi, and am enjoying the personal take on spirituality there. So yes, I’m reading lots of non-UU blogs these days, and I’ve been enjoying the wider perspective that I’ve been getting.