Peacemaking and the REA

I just learned that the “Call for Papers Committee” of the Religious Education Association (REA) has accepted my proposal to present a workshop on our Peace Experiments program at the annual REA conference in November, 2014. The REA is an international, interfaith association of scholars and practitioners of religious education — it’s exciting that this prestigious association is interested in what our UU congregation has been doing with Peace Experiments.

While I’m all too well aware of the weaknesses of our “Peace Experiments” program, I think what we’re doing does have some interesting features. In particular, while most of the peacemaking curricula that I know about these days tend towards an essentialist educational philosophy (i.e., there are certain essential peacemaking skills that children must learn), our peacemaking program is grounded in an existentialist educational philosophy: we are trying to get children to define themselves as peacemakers, and to help them realize that who they are and the choices they make will shape the world around them.

This is what chaos looks like

Today was the first day of Peace Camp at the San Jose UU Church. One of the things we did today was to play non-competitive games (of course). All kids who live here on the Peninsula seem to know a game they call Chaos Tag. This quickly became the favorite Peace Camp game. It’s fast, frenetic, it takes skill to play well but it can be played with pleasure by mixed age groups, from 5 to adults — a perfect game for a peace camp.

This is what Chaos Tag looks like:


I’m interested in the fact that this game is such a big part of of kids’ folklore here on the Peninsula. Every kid I’ve met from San Jose to Atherton seems to know and and love this game, and they’ll play for hours. (However, when I worked at the Berkeley UU church a decade ago, I don’t remember kids ever playing Chaos Tag; and one of the young adults on Peace Camp staff who grew up in the East Bay knew the game with slightly different rules under the name “Everybody’s It.”) I’m fascinated with the way this non-competitive game has sunk so deeply into Peninsula kids’ culture — how much they enjoy it, how hard and how long they play.

Sometimes education is a matter of finding out that the kids are already doing the right thing, and then telling them to do more of it.


(Note on the photo above: We do have media releases for the kids in Peace Camp, but nevertheless I deliberately blurred facial features in the photo above to preserve anonymity.)

Where we are, where we’re not

The Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB) has produced some interesting maps on the geographic distribution of various religious groups, as of 2010. You can search for specific religious groups, including the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). For the UUA, you can pull up the following types of maps: adherent change, adherent quintile, cartogram, locations, location change, penetration, etc.

I also found county-by-county data in CSV format, which I dumped into a spreadsheet, and played around with. Here’s some numbers for you to think about: Just 5 U.S. counties show a population penetration of between 1.0% and 4.99%: Nantucket County in Massachusetts (1.97%); Jefferson County in Washington (1.45%); Charlottesville County in Virginia (1.37%); Los Alamos County in New Mexico (1.19%); and Windsor County in Vermont (1.15%).

Click on the low-resolution map below (showing population penetration) to go to the ASRAB Web page where you can get high-resolution maps and other data:


Or read on for a few more facts and figures about Unitarian Universalism that I got from the ASRAB Web site: Continue reading “Where we are, where we’re not”

Meme graphic

Jess Cullinane created a meme graphic, using a quote from a sermon I did a few years ago. Wow, someone made a meme graphic from something I wrote; does that make me one of the cool kids now? OK, I’ll admit that I’ll never be one of the cool kids. But Jess did a really nice job. Here it is:


Questions for discussion

Driving home from the youth service trip yesterday, we were delayed by a major accident on I-5; what should have been a six-hour trip turned into a nine-hour trip. We spent a lot of time talking, and one of the more interesting conversations was a long discussion of the Harry Potter universe.

Here are some of the questions we discussed (spoiler alert: plot twists are revealed in these questions):

(1) J.K. Rowling has said she thought of Dumbledore as being gay, but when she started publishing the books it wouldn’t do to have GLBTQ characters in books aimed at young people. We speculated that other characters might actually be GLBT or Q. Question for discussion: Which characters did you picture as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning, and why?

(2) At the end of the series, we learn that Harry marries Ginny. There has been, of course, lots of online discussion about whether Harry should have married Hermione. But Harry could also have married one of the minor characters, instead of one of the central characters. Question for discussion: If Harry had to marry one of the minor characters, which one would he marry, and why?

(3) Final question for discussion: If you could be any character or creature in the Harry Potter universe, which one would you be?

How to keep UUism from dying out

Nice blog post by Andrew, a member of the Palo Alto UU congregation, on what Unitarian Universalism needs to do if it’s going to survive. Here’s one quote from his post:

“What sustains me and my religious community? Social justice and egalitarian mores, yes, but the Human Rights Campaign can say the same thing. A large chunk of congregants came from another faith, sometimes a very aggressive and zealous one. There’s a certain fear of religion built into UU communities, even if it’s not admitted….”

So we need to be more than a social justice organization, or a social club. Andrew has lots more to say, and it’s worth reading the whole post.


Southern California

I’m in the Los Angeles area with my congregation’s youth group, headed towards Big Oak Canyon where we’ll be working at an ecology school. Tonight we’re staying at a motel in Irvine, and I went out for a walk to stretch our legs after the long drive. In amongst the malls and corporate office parks and suburban subdivisions, I found the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Area. I walked up Borrengo Canyon Trail, leaving behind the well-irrigated world of suburbia. I looked up, and there was the moon above the canyon:


Just about then, I saw Sam, who had gone out running before I left. He was headed back down the trail. It was time to head back to the motel.


Today is the seventieth anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Nazi-controlled Normandy by Allied forces.

My dad was a ground-based radio operator in the 437th Troop Carrier Group. An article on the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command Web site — “437th Airlift Wing honors its history,” written on the occasion of the last reunion of the 437th TCG in 2012 — tells a little about what the 437th did on D-Day:

“The 437th TCG, flying C-47 Skytrain transport units, played a vital role during the early morning hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944, and the remainder of World War II. During the Normandy campaign, the group towed and released glider planes, as well as carried troops, weapons, ammunition, rations and other supplies for the 82nd Airborne Division.” (More history of the 437th is available on this military history Web page.)

Radio operators like Dad provided a communication link to the C-47s flying missions, including high-frequency (HF) radio direction finding assistance. Although strict radio silence was observed at the beginning of each of the four missions flown during the D-Day actions, on the return trip, planes that were in trouble could radio in and ask for a bearing to help them return to the airbase.

Dad said the 437th TCG began flying before midnight on D-Day, dropping paratroopers at Sainte-Mère-Église. Later during the invasion, the 437th TCG also towed gliders full of troops. Something on the order of a hundred planes flew each mission on D-Day. When he wasn’t on duty as a radio operator, Dad said he stood out on the flight line, counting the planes that were in formation waiting to land, seeing how many made it back. The 437th TCG only lost a few planes; by contrast, the 434th TCG lost something like half its planes.

According to the “Friends of the WW2 437th Troop Carrier Group” Facebook page, a couple of former members of that unit are in England right now for the 70th anniversary of D-Day — you can see pictures on the Friends of 437th TCG Facebook page.

Maxine Greene

Educator and philosopher Maxine Greene died on May 29. Associated with Teachers College, she was a towering figure in the philosophy of education. I would place her firmly within the educational tradition of John Dewey: someone who cared deeply about democracy, someone who cared deeply about children. She pushed back against dehumanizing models of education — she was critical of factory models of education; she did not approve of mindless standardized testing; she did not believe education could be reduced to information theory.

Greene was an ardent feminist. She thought women and girls were just as good as men and boys; of course we all pay lip service to that, these days. But Greene went further than that, and engaged in sophisticated critical analysis to show the ways in which our thinking remains dominated by perceptions that men are somehow better than women, and the ways that social structures reinforce those perceptions. She was also a staunch defender of multiculturalism in education; she took on such prominent writers as Allan Bloom, and exposed the intellectual weakness of their attacks on multiculturalism.

In the area of religion, Greene was an existentialist and a humanist, and she was one of the original signers of the 1973 Humanist Manifesto II. She also spoke out strongly against religious intolerance, especially anti-Semitism.

As a religious educator, I have found myself drawn to Maxine Green’s writing in the past couple of years — not because she is a humanist (I don’t consider myself a humanist), but because she is an existentialist. I have come to think that Greene offers an existentialist philosophy of education that provides a needed corrective to the educational philosophies used in contemporary Unitarian Universalist (UU) religious education.

UU religious education today is dominated by essentialist philosophies of education:— there are essential things we want children to know, and that is what we will teach them. The Tapestry of Faith curriculum series produced by the UUA is typical example of UU curriculum permeated by an essentialist philosophy: we want children to learn certain moral values, we want them to learn certain facts about religion. This essentialist philosophy goes beyond the printed curriculum guides; for one obvious example, we consider doing social justice projects to be an essential item on our educational checklist, and so we ensure that children do social justice projects as part of their religious education.

I have long been quite comfortable with essentialist philosophies of education. But Maxine Greene has helped me see that perhaps an essentialist philosophy of education is not the best match with UU religious education. Greene emphasizes the importance of the arts and imagination in education; these are things that cannot be reduced to essential educational components that get checked off a list. In my teaching praxis with UU kids over the past few years, imagination and the arts have come to seem more and more central to what we do in UU religious education.

And so Green’s existentialist educational philosophy has come to seem more and more relevant to my work in UU religious education. Not that her thinking is going to solve all of UU religious education’s problems — but her existentialist thinking can serve as a useful corrective to some of the essentialist excesses we face today. I can only hope that her death will prompt some of us to delve more deeply into her thought.

New York Times obituary

The Maxine Greene Center for Aesthetic Education and Social Imagination, with links to some of Greene’s articles

“Diversity and Inclusion: Toward a Curriculum for Human Beings,” an essay by Greene with applications for UU religious education