Monthly Archives: November 2012

Quotation on congregational decline

I ran across the following in the notebook we hand out to Committee on Ministry members.

Staffing for growth

1 program professional for every 100 active members [active members defined as average Sunday attendance]
1 support FTE [full time equivalent] for the first program professional; 1/2 FTE for each subsequent professional
Ministerial interns don’t count in the equation

“If you staff below maintenance level, I can promise you that you will decline. And if you staff above the staffing for growth level, you will probably decline as well. Not having enough to do leads to low performance levels.”

Unfortunately, the quotation is given without an attribution. Search engines don’t turn up anything with quite this wording. Anyone have any idea where this comes from? I’d love to know, because it’s such an interesting assertion — that your congregation will decline if you have too many program and support staff.

Did God really say THAT?!

Chris Schriner has started writing a new blog titled “Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible.” Chris decided he wanted to take on Biblical literalism, so that’s what he’s writing about on his new blog. Chris is learned, funny, and provocative. He’s also a former psychotherapist, and a humanist who is sympathetic to theists. Who better to write such a blog? In his most recent posts, he’s been taking on capital punishment in the Bible, like the following words spoken by God in Exodus 20.15: “Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.” Wait, did God really say that? If so, as Chris points out in one post, then there are going to be a lot of toddlers on death row.

So what are you waiting for? Go join the fun by clicking here.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Scroogemas…

Susan and I were standing outside the Main Hall yesterday morning, waiting for the first service to begin. A fifth-grade girl walked up, wearing a red sparkly t-shirt. I asked if she was dressed for the Christmas season. She said she was.

I introduced her to Susan, and added, “Susan and I are both Scrooges.”

The fifth-grader looked a little surprised, and maybe skeptical.

“Here, we’ll show you,” I said. “Ready, Susan?” Susan nodded.

And in perfect unison we said: “Bah! Humbug!”

The fifth-grader laughed to see two otherwise respectable middle-aged adults act like Scrooges. This is why you bring your children to a Unitarian Universalist congregation: so they learn what adults are really like.

Conscientious objectors

Although it seems unlikely that the United States will reinstate compulsory military service any time soon, there are people who are so opposed to any form of military service that they may want to establish themselves as a conscientious objectors for personal and/or moral reasons rather than for practical reasons. Then too, the political climate in the United States could change very quickly, all young men are required by law to register with Selective Service at age 18, and it is not unreasonable to want to establish conscientious objector (CO) status now just in case you need it later.

When I had to register for the draft upon turning 18, the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) provided counseling and resources that helped me, but the CCCO died in 2010. And the big concern for most organizations in the present political climate is supporting people already in the military who discover that they are COs.

However, I have found some good online resources for non-military COs. Most important is the Center on Conscience and War (CCW) Web page titled “Advice to Youth Facing Selective Service Registration” which offers three main suggestions:

Print in legible black ink on the face of all Forms sent to Selective Service (not on the edges): I am a conscientious objector.

Make a photocopy all forms for your own records before you submit it to the postal clerk for date stamp and initials. Send all mail return-receipt requested.

Prepare a statement of your beliefs. Get it on file with your church or a reputable peace organization such as CCW. Such a statement could be helpful in getting the government to recognize your CO beliefs.

You can read the full article here. You can find a PDF of “Basic Draft and Registration Information,” a more comprehensive article, here.

What about Unitarian Universalists and conscientious objection? The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) offers a brochure titled “Conscientious Objectors and the Draft,” available online here. Unfortunately, this brochure is somewhat dated, but it’s still worth reading. According to this brochure, the UUA maintains a registry of conscientious objectors; with the demise of the CCCO registry, this is good news for UU COs.

All this makes me think back to how I documented my own conscientious objection to war as a Unitarian Universalist youth. The first thing I did was talk with Rev. Pat Green, the associate minister at my Unitarian Universalist church, about my religious objections to war and the military; he helped me sharpen my arguments in favor of pacifism, and find a religious basis for them. Pat also helped me to understand that although Unitarian Universalism does not have a specific peace witness (unlike, e.g., Quakerism), our religion nevertheless calls on us to follow our conscience in the face of difficult moral and ethical decisions. Thus I learned that as a Unitarian Universalist I could remain firmly opposed to participation in war on religious grounds, and other Unitarian Universalists could remain firmly committed to a career in the military on religious grounds. And Pat also pointed out that because of this, it was much harder for a Unitarian Universalist to convince a draft board that he was a CO than a Quaker (and yes, I do mean to use the word “he” here, since women have yet to be subject to compulsory military service in the United States).

I also registered with the CCCO — if I were doing this today, I would register with the UUA, my local congregation, and the Center on Conscience and War (CCW). I have vague memories of writing out a statement of my pacifism, but I don’t remember what I did with this. I got involved in the peace movement, specifically in campaigns to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal, attending demonstrations in Washington, etc. Before I turned 18, I found a qualified counselor who could give me advice about registering with Selective Service — the man I saw was trained by the CCCO, but as I understand it the CCW still trains such counselors. I also knew my Unitarian Universalist church would back me up if I ever needed to establish a claim, and I suppose that’s one thing that kept me involved in Unitarian Universalism.

If I were to give advice to a Unitarian Universalist youth today on how to establish CO status (and one recently asked me for just such advice), I might refer them to the Web page “How To Compile a CO Claim,” which suggests the following:

  • State that you are a CO when you register with Selective Service
  • Write a statement of your CO beliefs
  • Get three people who know you well to write a letter supporting your CO claim
  • Get active in peace work, and document your activity
  • Document other ways in which your pacifism has affected the way you live your life (at the very least, give money to CCW!)
  • Collect all these documents, and get them notarized
  • File copies of these documents with the UUA, your local UU congregation, and find out if the CCW will keep them on fiel as well
  • Keep the originals in a safe place

If you have any other suggestions or resources for UU youth who want to establish their conscientious objection to war, I’d love to hear them — leave them in the comments below.

Innovation and big egos

Silicon Valley innovator John McAfee is currently a “person of interest” in a murder investigation in Belize; he is on the run with a teenaged girl and hiding from Belizean police.

“Silicon Valley culture really rewards a certain kind of single-minded pursuit of success,” said Leslie Berlin, a historian with Stanford University’s Silicon Valley archives and a fellow at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences. “It’s a culture that rewards success with financial rewards and with a real lionization of the entrepreneur who really leaves it all on the field. The inevitable question becomes, ‘What next?'” (Dan Nakaso and Mike Cassidy, “Eccentric path put McAfee on wild trajectory,” San Jose Mercury News, Monday, November 19, p. 1)

Entrepreneurial innovation often comes as part of a package with enormous ego and a certain lack of concern about other people’s emotional needs and feelings. To certain innovators, what is important is the need to be hypercreative, to create whole new structures and patterns, regardless of who gets hurt when the old patterns are demolished. And once they start innovating, sometimes they can’t stop.

“A lot of times (Silicon Vally entrepreneurs) go a little crazy, and the end result is they get in trouble,” said Rob Enderle, a San Jose technology analyst. “They don’t want to be that one-hit wonder. They get excited about the celebrity of it all, and they start chasing that celebrity. Your behavior changes substantially.” (Nakaso and Cassigy, “Eccentric path put McAfee on wild trajectory”)

What is true for Silicon Valley innovators can be true for innovative religious leaders. The most familiar example a pastor grows a huge Christian megachurch, begins to think he (it’s usually a “he” in that field) is somehow exempt from ordinary rules, and next thing you know he’s embroiled in a sex scandal. The same kind of thing has happened to yoga gurus, and to Unitarian Universalist leaders.

We often seem to assume that innovation comes only from people that have big, overbearing egos, where the health of that person’s ego isn’t as important as their single-minded pursuit of success. I suspect this assumption is wrong on at least two counts: first, the innovator can have a healthy ego rather than an unhealthy singleminded ego; and second, I’m willing to bet that innovation isn’t ever the product of a single person (even if it’s only one person who gets credit). Or to put it another way:

“A lot of times (Silicon Valley entrepreneurs) go a little crazy, and the end result is they get in trouble,” said Rob Enderle, a San Jose technology analyst. “They don’t want to that one-hit wonder. They get excited about the celebrity of it all, and they start chasing that celebrity…. (Nakaso and Cassigy, “Eccentric path put McAfee on wild trajectory”)

This is precisely the kind of thing we want to avoid in congregations. We want innovation without leaders who get in trouble.

Transcript of a class

Joe and I have been talking about ways to document what goes on inside Sunday school classrooms. Joe is doing his Ph.D. in education right now, and one thing he has been doing lately is videotaping experienced teachers. Eventually he plans to produce video teaching tools to help new teachers learn how to teach.

This past Sunday, Joe hitched up an audio recorder to me while I was teaching our middle school group about Quakerism, in preparation for a field trip to a Quaker meeting that same morning. I decided to transcribe that audio recording to help me reflect on my teaching — what do I do well, where could I improve? The transcript appears below.

In the transcript, I recorded names of specific young people in the class where I could identify their voices (of course I have used pseudonyms), and one thing I noticed is that of the dozen or so kids in the class that day, most of my direct verbal interaction was with the same half dozen kids. I can hear the other kids talking in the background, but they don’t directly respond to my questions. Thus, one thing that I would like to improve is the number of young people with whom I have direct verbal interactions.

The transcript is long, but if you read through it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Obviously, a transcript like this does not convey tone of voice and body language, which means you’re missing some of the most important stuff that went on (and that’s why Joe is making videos of teachers). Nevertheless: What do you think I did well? Where could I have improved? Leave your answers in the comments.

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Making labels

Yesterday, my friend Lewis came over to our apartment. Lewis is a luthier who makes (among other things) Celtic bouzoukis, and he wanted me to make some labels for them.

He brought a bouzouki to show me where the labels would go. I talked to him about light-fast pigments and archival papers, while for his part he told me about the instruments he makes:— His Celtic bouzoukis are beautiful instruments, and each one differs slightly in small details from the others — a slightly different bracing pattern, an inlaid piece of ebony inside the sound box with the number of the instrument. When you look at one of his bouzoukis, he wants you to know that it was made by hand, not by a machine. And he wanted each label to look hand-made, beautiful but with small imperfections.

So we sat at the kitchen table, eating home-made soup Lewis brought, and we made labels. I had some 100% rag vellum which I cut into 1-1/2 by 2-1/2 inch rectangles. Lewis signed each one using a magic marker with light-fat archival ink. I carefully wrote the serial number and “CELTIC BOUZOUKI / Oak. CA” under his signature, and then put a band of red watercolor paint along the top edge of the label. I don’t make many things like this any more; most of the things I make are text or photos or videos meant to go on Web sites, things you cannot touch. Real papers have different textures; they feel good under your fingers and hands, the pen moves over them in different ways, the ink soaks in or adheres to the surface differently. Paints are incredibly sensuous: the pigments finely ground into some luscious medium — linseed oil, gum arabic, casein, beeswax, whatever — and you dip a brush or knife into that vivid blob of color, and as you spread it the color changes as it interacts with whatever you’re painting, and you can smell it, and feel it when you use your fingers to smooth or blend.

The tools you use to make things have their own sensuality. To put the paint on the labels, I used a red sable watercolor brush, a gorgeous tiny little cluster of perfect animal hairs at the end of a delightfully balanced wooden handle. I remember one painting teacher, years ago, who used to insist a good watercolor brush should be as firm as a partially tumescent penis (yes, he was a man). The subject of art is always love or sex or death, but making things is all about sex, all about the act of creation. Creating things to be viewed on a screen is very satisfying — I love the way the completed image or text glows with that faintly blue light that comes out of your screen — but you can’t touch it or smell it while you’re making it. If making things is like sex, then making things for the screen is like reading about sex; it all happens in your mind and eyes, not in your body.

But the metaphor has overwhelmed the subject, because all I was doing was making labels. What amazes me is that the labels I made yesterday — cutting out a rectangle of paper, adding some lettering and a spot of color — will wind up inside musical instruments which are works of art and which may well outlive me. Far fewer people will see the labels I made than will see this blog post, but making the labels was far more satisfying.