Red Sox clergy

What’s the well-dressed clergyperson from Red Sox Nation wearing today? Well, obviously it depends on which faith tradition you’re part of. Since I’m from a faith tradition that requires Biblical knowledge in its clergy, an obvious choice for me is some kind of Red Sox garb in a Biblical language. No, not Koine Greek — that message of loving your enemies is not a good fit with the World Series. The teleology of Revelation is not exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for either. Definitely not Koine Greek.

Hebrew, on the other hand — the language of Moses and the story of the journey to the Promised Land — and, in case the Sox lose, the language of Jeremiah — Hebrew strikes me as a good Biblical language for Red Sox clergy. So today I’m wearing the hat that my friend the rabbi gave to me:


Yeah. Go, Sox!


Reflection delivered by Samuel Erickson at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, Calif., 13 October 2013

As a member of the male gender, and a United States citizen, when I turn 18 I am required to register for the draft. When I do so, I plan on registering as a conscientious objector. For those who might be unclear about what that means, and certainly what it means for me specifically, being a conscientious objector means that I, as a conscious and thought out decision, believe that military force, in fact force at all, should not be used. In the end force does not solve whatever problem it is aimed at. Were I to get conscientious objector status, I would not be conscripted to fight and kill but rather would be assigned to other tasks that would not contribute to the killing of others.

The first question you may have is why? Why, when a draft is so unlikely? Why devote my time to something that in the end has little to no actual significance at a time when my schedule is crammed with so many things — college applications, music, sports, classes, and even the occasional bit of social life. What makes it worth it?

In the end this is not about time in my schedule, it is not just another thing in a long list of things, it is the right thing to do for who I am, and therefore I must do it. Following my own moral ideology, and indeed even being able to say I have a moral ideology, is not about following the way that is easy, but that if I don’t say and recognize what I believe I simply wouldn’t be me. For the person who I am it is the logical step, and therefore the one I take.

So where does that belief come from? Where? Where, when the anti-military movement was at its peak during Vietnam two decades before I was even born, when most of the organizations that assisted conscientious objectors have shut down due to lack of interest, where does it come from? First and foremost, my beliefs come from my family, and then from my community, namely this church.

My parents — most vocally my dad — have always, when commenting on the news and talking to me, discussed issues through the lens of nonviolence: wars don’t solve problems, they create them. Always take the nonviolent approach, talk about problems rather that react to them physically.

As for this Unitarian Universalist church, I know we do not specifically teach pacifism, but I believe what we do value directs itself to such. This church, I think we can agree, highly values basic humanism. We should help and assist those in need, provide essential services to those who cannot afford them or get them themselves. Those ideas generally clash with the feeling that there are people in the world who need to die.

Along with my other influences, I believe my mindset perpetuates such a mentality. I would like to think that I live my life with a little more logic than those some of those around me. That logic supports to the argument that indeed force is no longer needed to compel countries and individuals to act in a certain way.

Pacifism, for me, and indeed for the world we live in, does not, and should not, mean that you are incapable of ever thinking a violent thought, that you should never play really any video game ever, or even that you can’t once in a while recognize that it would feel really good to punch that really irritating person in the face.

No, pacifism is when we stop and think about any situation, you and I realize that violence will never accomplish anything, death will not solve problems. When we extrapolate our actions from there and to the rest of our lives, that is what means to be a conscientious objector.


Copyright (c) 2013 Samuel Erickson. Used by permission. If you would like to reproduce this reflection elsewhere, I’d be happy to pass your request on to Sam.

Samuel Erickson is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, and is on the Board of Trustees. He is a senior in high school.

UNCO13 — last thoughts

A few last thoughts and observations from UNCO13 West:

— The worship services were very low church. UNCO worship reminded me a little bit of the very best youth and young adult worship in which I have participated in Unitarian Universalist circles — highly participatory, lots of singing and guitars and drums, often mildly chaotic and planned at the last minute — but UNCO worship services were led with more skill, and with far more theological depth.

— The worshipping community of UNCO welcomed kids wholeheartedly. Kids could play on the floor, or sit on parent laps, or vocalize, and no one minded. The service was not dumbed-down to kid level; there were no “moments for children,” no talking down to children during the sermon. Everyone accepted, with love, the autistic five year old who needed to run around (and occasionally be corralled by his parents) during the services. Yes, it could get a little chaotic, but between the love in the community, and the seriousness of purpose, it all worked out. I want to belong to a church that worships like this every week.

— Online connections and face-to-face connections were nicely woven together. I liked watching the Twitter feed which was projected at the front of the room during the plenary sessions; sure it got silly at times, but it also allowed for a much higher level of interaction than just having one person talking at a time. I also liked the combination of low-church and high-tech. (By the way, Megan told me that finding a location for UNCO is difficult because of the heavy technology demands — fast Internet service, plenty of bandwidth, lots of IP addresses, etc.)

— The unconference format worked well. Of course it worked well: most of the attendees at UNCO are clergy with advanced degrees, and with tons of experience in widely varied settings and ministries. Too often, I have seen clergy conferences built around expensive “experts,” who only give one approach to an issue, and who may in fact be less expert than one or more of the participants. (Which makes me want to say: Humility may be a virtue, but underestimating the expertise of oneself and one’s professional colleagues is foolish.)

— The unconference format does away with that jockeying for position that you see when planning traditional clergy conferences. In traditional clergy conferences, there can only be a few presenters; plan a traditional clergy conference, and watch as clergy jockey for position to try to land a precious slot as one of the presenters, or to try to get their favored “expert” called in as a presenter. The result: politics rather than relevance decides what gets presented; important viewpoints get left out; and the expertise of the participants is deprecated. (Alas, Unitarian Universalist clergy seem to prefer their outside experts and the associated hierarchical approach to clergy conferences; and I think they prefer their methodological rigidity, too;— don’t expect Unitarian Universalist clergy unconferences any time soon.)

— And finally, this Twitter exchange from two UNCO participants made the whole thing worthwhile: “Talking worship styles. That whole debate is a boomer debate, not a question for young adults.” (David L. Hansen) “Exactly. And it’s not helping to project it onto the Gen-X and Millennial generations.” (Anna Woofenden)


Back to the first post in the series



Megan took this photo of me racing B—— through the labyrinth during Kid UNCO. He won. (What can I say? Four year olds can turn corners better than adults.)

UNCO pt. 5

On the last day of UNCO 13 West, we opened with a short prayer service. Then we shared some of the results of yesterday’s breakout sessions, and talked about what might be topics for some final breakout sessions. What needed ongoing attention? What might be some projects that “have legs,” i.e., are ready to be implemented? These are the topics that emerged for the closing breakout groups:

— A group to talk about vocation and identity for ministers who aren’t doing traditional ministry, including the following: ministers who aren’t serving a congregation; ministers who are taking a break from formal ministries to raise kids; etc.

— A group to talk about transitional roles, including the following: how to manage transition in a congregation or other setting; how to talk about change without freaking people out; how to help a local congregation to die (congregational death being a perfectly natural thing; someone reminded us that none of the churches Paul of Tarsus started are now in existence); etc.

— A group to talk about the issues that face ministers and leaders who are starting new ministries (i.e., church planters, etc.), and to talk about the loneliness of pastors serving in those roles.

The person who had signed up to volunteer with the kid’s program said she really wanted to join one of these groups, so I immediately volunteered to take her place as one of the adults working in Kid UNCO. Continue reading “UNCO pt. 5”

Can’t watch

Now that the Red Sox are in the World Series, I can’t follow them.

No, no, you don’t understand. I first began following the Sox in 1967, during the Year of the Impossible Dream. They lost the Series. I followed them through the 1975 Series. They lost. In 1986, I watched the Series with my then-housemates. The Sox lost again. I followed them through the 2003 AL playoffs. They lost.

In 2004, when they made it into the Series again, I didn’t watch any of the World Series games on TV, nor did I read any coverage in the sports pages. They won. I followed them in 2005. They lost in the first round of the playoffs. I didn’t follow them in 2007, and they won the Series.

I’ve learned my lesson. If I want the Sox to win, I can’t follow them. So don’t talk to me about the Series, OK? I don’t want to know.

UNCO13 pt. 4

For the first afternoon breakout session, I went to a discussion on creative worship ideas. It turned out to be a wide-ranging discussion. Early on, this question came up: When might a minister wear a t-shirt in the pulpit, and when might a minister wear a robe? — and which is more authentic, and why? We had no final answer; sometimes a t-shirt is appropriate, and in other congregations or contexts robes and vestments might be best.

We talked about how congregations sometimes embrace innovation in worship, and sometimes reject it, and that spun off an interesting conversation about sometimes innovation and creativity in worship is not the right thing to do. Someone pointed out that most of us in the creative worship breakout group personally enjoy traditional worship services, with Bach and organs and pews; yet at the same time all of us are interested in creative innovation in worship. It occurs to me that the best creative worship probably comes from those who really love traditional worship, but see its limitations, and want to move beyond its limitations.

As a mystic myself, I particularly appreciated on comment from this breakout session: “There’s a burning bush in our service and we don’t even know it.” — Annie Dillard says much the same thing in Teaching a Stone To Talkwhen she says, “Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” Continue reading “UNCO13 pt. 4”

UNCO13 pt. 3

UNCO is an unconference. According to Carol Howard Merritt, one of the organizers of UNCO 13 West, here’s how the UNCO process goes:

“• First step — Create a graffiti wall. We write down all of the cares/concerns/dreams/ideas that we carry into the conference.
• Second step — Host discussions on particular topics.
• Third step — If there‚Äôs a particular project that needs further fleshing out, then we hold a planning session to decide who/what/how it’s going to happen.
• Fourth step — Report back to the group.
• Fifth step — Stay in contact with one another, encouraging one another throughout the year.”

So a brief worship service this morning, we were all asked to write on the graffiti wall, and within half an hour we had generated a list of half a dozen discussion topics for each of the four hour-long breakout sessions — and had identified a facilitator for each discussion session. In addition to the discussions sessions, Megan also needed an assistant each hour to help out with Kid UNCO, the children’s program. I decided to spend the first two hours with Kid UNCO.

Since we’re meeting during the week, most older kids had to be in school. And kids have to be toilet trained to attend Kid UNCO. So we had just two boys, Adrian and Burke (not their real names to protect their privacy). Adrian is 5 years old, likes to play horsie with adults, and is autistic; Burke is 4 years old, brought two Dinobots with him, and showed us he can count to 100.

Megan talked about the story of Noah while she and Burke (mostly Burke) drew a mural of the Noah story. Adrian didn’t feel like drawing, although he did enjoy playing with the crayons. Since the kids were just 4 and 5, their attention wandered, and I was impressed by the way Megan kept bringing us back to the story, and back to the mural. I mostly work with older kids — school-age children and up — so it was helpful for me to spend two hours with a four year old. It was also really helpful for me to spend two hours with a child with autism. It was perhaps the best two hours of RE professional development I’ve done since Ferry Beach Religious Education Week last summer.


Above is the Noah mural Kid UNCO made this morning. The rainbow is at right; lots of water and an ark in the middle.

More on the afternoon sessions in part 4….

UNCO13 pt. 2

The other reason I’m feeling comfortable at UNCO13 — aside from the fact that it’s a gathering of clergy and other congregational leaders that welcomes kids — is that people here speak geek. The conference is also taking place on Twitter, allowing people who can’t be here physically to participate

Yesterday evening, at “coffee hour” (the evening social time), I wound up speaking geek with Jeff, an interim minister serving a UCC church in San Jose, and Rob, a church communications expert working for the Presbyterians. And then our conversation got tweeted by @jazzpastord:


And Jeff was blogging about it as we talked. Speaking geek is not just talking about tech, it’s also extending that conversation online, and it’s also openness to continually learning about the ever-changing world of online communications.

Mind you, face-to-face still has its place. Face-to-face, Jeff and I could talk about challenging moments in congregational life that we would never post online. And one of the things I’m liking about UNCO13 is the mix of online and face-to-face.

On to part three…

UNCO13 pt. 1

As I write this, I’m attending UNCO13 West, which is “an unconference for church leaders, pastors, families, and seminarians.” I heard about it as a gathering for people who are doing creative innovative things with religion and technology and churches reaching out to people under 40. But what made me decide to attend was this statement on the UNCO Web site: “If church is for families, and UNCO is about doing church in new, different and better ways, then UNCO is for families.”

By way of comparison, on Friday and Saturday I was at retreat for Unitarian Universalist ministers:— no spouses, no children, not even any child care. There is a feeling among this group of ministers that they need to have time away from anyone who is not ordained. Although I understand the desire for a time and place where ministers feel they can talk completely openly about their ministries, I’m not sure this desire for complete separation serves us particularly well. We’re not that special, that we have to hold ourselves apart from non-ministers.

So the opening meeting of UNCO13 West has just finished. And yes, there were children: a couple of babies, a couple of toddlers, and three or four older kids. During the opening prayer, some of the babies were vocalizing, but no one cared. Children were wandering around during the orientation, and no one minded. It was nice — a powerful statement that here was a group of people who, as they figure out new ways to do religion, were committed to including everyone.

On to part two….

Autumnal battle

The window of my office looks out on a patch of lawn about thirty by fifty feet. In the middle of the lawn there’s a live oak tree. This oak tree appears to have produced a bumper crop of acorns this year. This afternoon, I counted at least six Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) on the grass, the surrounding sidewalks, or in the tree; three of them were the black color morph of S. carolinensis.

The squirrels have been digging furiously in the lawn, and in a few places have completely dug up all the grass, leaving a network of small holes about two inches across and one inch deep. Every so often, one squirrel will get too close to another one, which can lead to vocal squabbling and one squirrel chasing another. I also saw at least three American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), who would land on the grass periodically and peck at the ground where the squirrels had been digging. Sometimes a squirrel would run at a crow; and the crow, even though it was somewhat larger than the squirrel, would flap its wings a couple of times and fly out of the way.

Amy and I were watching the squirrels a couple of days ago. “If they would only get organized,” said Amy, “they could run all us humans out of here and take over.” Of course she was exaggerating, but they are aggressive. They have come right into my office while I’ve been sitting at my desk with the door open, looking for food. It’s worth noting that since Eastern Gray Squirrels have been introduced to the Bay area, the native Western Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus) has essentially be extirpated from the region.

I went over to look at the damage the squirrels had done to the lawn. There is nothing in the holes they have dug. The ground is littered with the outer husks of acorns; some of the husks look green and new, some look brown and old. There are plenty of new acorns on the ground. I’m not sure why they are digging so furiously this year; this is not something they have done in past years. Maybe there’s a good reason behind it, or maybe they’re just — well, maybe they’re nuts.