Back on February 22, 2005, I wrote the first post on a blog I called “Yet Another Unitarian Universalist Blog.” And here I am, eight years later, still writing.

The online world has changed drastically in those eight years. In 2005, blogging was still cutting edge social media, Facebook was still restricted to users with a .edu email address, and the big social networking site was MySpace. In the first few years of this blog, there were so few UU bloggers that we’d go out of our way to visit one another so we could have face-to-face meetings, and there were even UU blogger picnics.

For a few years, a lot Unitarian Universalists paid a lot of attention to the few Unitarian Universalist blogs. There were only about fifty of us, and we all had a wide audience. I still remember a meeting at General Assembly where members of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Board of Trustees sat a bunch of us bloggers down and asked how they could get their message out on our blogs.

Twitter came along. Youtube took off. Facebook got big, then huge, then ridiculously ginormous. Many of the conversations that were happening on blogs went over to other social media platforms. These days, the best bloggers are typically paid, or they’re professional writers blogging for exposure on commercial or paid sites. The transformation of Chris Walton, perhaps the best UU blogger ever, can be taken as a representative case: he wound up running UU World, the UUA’s official periodical; moved UUWorld into blogging; dropped his long-running personal blog “Philocrites”; and now he posts his personal thoughts on Facebook.

While the social media field has grown ever larger, ever more dominated by bigger and bigger players, I have kept on with this tiny little blog, with its tiny readership of ten thousand unique visitors a month (the Huffington Post gets more than three times that many unique visitors in one hour), many of which appear to be meaningless visits from questionable IP addresses in Russia and China. While more and more people turn to social media to carry on their online conversations, I stick with the outdated blogging format.

But then, I started my publishing career back in the 1980s, writing a fanzine that had a circulation of less than twenty people. I’m still a zine writer who wound up writing a religion blog by mistake. A zine writer is always looking for readers beyond his or her narrow social circle, which means Facebook will always feel restrictive. A zine writer is, by definition, long-winded, which means that Twitter will never offer enough space. A zine writer feels fondness towards outmoded publishing techniques, like cut-and-paste photocopying and hectographs, and by contrast feels little fondness for the newest and shiniest social media platform.

Finally, a zine writer publishes because he or she is expecting readers to write back. And you, dear readers, do write back — you write comments, you send email, sometimes you send me notes and books and dogtags and old magazines with interesting articles. Blogger and author John Scalzi sneers at tiny blogs like this (he really does; I went to a presentation he gave and heard him do so). Whatever. You, the readers, make this all worth while. Thank you for eight great years.

UU kid on Obama’s Facebook page

One of the middle schoolers from our congregation went to a gun control rally, and a photo with him in it appeared on Barack Obama’s Facebook page. How cool is that?

Obama's Facebook page

Click on the image above to see the caption inserted by Obama’s social media staff: “Harrison Frahn listens to a speech on reducing gun violence at a candlelight vigil in Palo Alto, CA.” I’m sure Obama never even saw this post; I’m sure Obama has forgotten the year or two he spent in a Unitarian Universalist Sunday school; I’m sure that Obama’s social media team merely posted this because it’s a good photo to further their political goals. Nevertheless, it’s really fun to see a UU kid recognized in this way — recognized for taking a public stand on something he cares about.

Marriage as a religious act

I received an interesting and thoughtful comment via email on a sermon titled “Marriage as a Religious Act” which I recently posted on my main Web site. I realized that this sermon relates to some issues you, dear readers, and I have addressed on this blog — most importantly, the sexual revolution within Unitarian Universalism, and the theological basis (if any) for marriage in our tradition. Since this is something we have talked about here, and since I greatly value the comments I get from you, I decided to post this sermon and see what you might have to say about it. The sermon beging below the fold.

Continue reading “Marriage as a religious act”

Blog makeover

I’ve revamped the appearance of the blog. It will display equally on well on tablets and smart phones as on a desktop or laptop. I’ve cleaned up the navigation, and moved it to the header. Links have been moved to a separate page.

These changes in appearance has mostly been prompted by outside factors. Tablets are rising in popularity, and I should have long since optimized this site for tablet users. WordPress has greatly improved its menu management, so I no longer have to rely on sidebar navigation. And search engines don’t like to see a blogroll on every page of your blog (because that’s what spammers do), so all links have been moved to a single page.

I hope you find the new design easy to use. As always, I welcome your comments or suggestions for improvement.

In the Holbrooke

In room 2 of the Holbrooke Hotel, supposedly California’s oldest hotel in continuous operation, there is a bookcase. In the bookcase there are a number of old books. In one of the old books (I won’t say which one) there is a dollar bill. On the lower edge of the front face of the dollar bill is written: “THE Beginning (1) Russ and Sue 8-5-12 (2)”. Don’t ask me what it means; I’m just telling you what I’ve seen.

One Transcendentalist’s religious naturalism

The following is the text of a talk I gave at a meeting of Humanist Roots Group of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto on Saturday 2 February 2013.

Religious naturalism defined

Let me begin with a capsule definition of religious naturalism. This comes from Jerome Stone’s book Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative. The very first paragraph reads:

“Religious naturalism, a once-forgotten option in religious thinking, is making a revival. It seeks to explore and encourage religious ways of responding to the world on a completely naturalistic basis without a supreme being or ground of being.”

Jerome Stone then goes on to list some thinkers who might be considered religious naturalists. If you’re a philosophy or theology geek, some of these names will be of interest to you: George Santayana, John Dewey, Henry Nelson Weiman, Bernard Loomer, Randolph Crump Miller (someone who influenced me through his work in religious education theory), perhaps Gordon Kaufman, and biologist Ursula Goodenough.

Historically, Jerome Stone says the roots of religious naturalism go back to Spinoza, and he also includes Henry David Thoreau as a religious naturalist. He also points out that some (not all) religious naturalists may be willing to use the term “God,” suitably defined. He writes:

“On the topic of God, I find that religious naturalists tend to fall into three groups: (1) those who conceive God as the creative process in the universe; (2) those who think of God as the totality of the universe considered religiously; and (3) those who do not speak of God yet still can be called religious.”

The first group, which includes people like Henry Nelson Weiman, would say that while the creative process (whatever that is, in terms of their definitions) is not ontologically distinct from the rest of the universe, they still think it is useful to name that creative process “God.” I am not particularly interested in this group of religious naturalists, and cannot speak intelligently about them; if this is a topic that interests you, Jerome Stone’s book would be a good place to start to learn more.

The second group, the people who think of God as the totality of the universe considered religiously, I find far more interesting. If you have some familiarity in Western philosophy, you will want to know that Stone places Spinoza in this group. And this group intersects with those pantheists who understand God as being the totality of the universe, where the universe is understood in completely naturalistic terms. Those who are advocates of the “Gaia hypothesis” — that’s the hypothesis that the entire biosphere of the planet Earth can be understood as one vast, perhaps sentient, organism — might be close to religious naturalism, although true pantheists who include the rest of the universe beyond the Earth, too. Continue reading “One Transcendentalist’s religious naturalism”

Timeline of Christian schisms

We’ve been running the “Church across the Street” or “Neighboring Faiths” program for our middle schoolers this year in the Palo Alto church. We’ve been going to different Christian churches all fall and into the winter, and I wanted to come up with a resource that would give our kids at least a general sense of how different Christian groups are related to one another. I finally decided that a timeline might do the job best.

However, as I worked on the project, I realized that most of the churches we visited were Protestant churches. And I realized that I would have to do a general timeline for Christianity, and another timeline (on a smaller time scale) for Protestantism. Below is the first part: a general timeline of Christian schisms and splits, showing the origins of the main Christian groups (including a couple of extinct Christian groups). Since I’m using this with Unitarian Universalist kids, I also placed Unitarians and Universalists on this timeline for reference. Click on the thumbnail to see the full-size PDF:

Timeline of Christianity

Update 2/5/13: The handout above has been updated thanks to your comments and email messages.