Transparency, part two

A follow up on yesterday’s post on transparency:

If we want to maintain trust in clergy, we have to be able to name names when clergy have been proven to engage in misconduct. By naming names, we demonstrate that we are willing to hold ministers accountable for their actions. If we don’t name names, if we keep secrets, then we cannot maintain trust.

The Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association hosts the Berry Street lecture, an annual lecture given by a respected minister. In 2016, Gail Seavey gave the Berry Street lecture, and she named names. She named Forrest Church as a minister who engaged in sexual misconduct. She called out Bill Schulz, who told her she was a “new Puritan” for speaking out against Church’s sexual misconduct. And she named David Maynard, who engaged in sexual misconduct over many years at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville.

You won’t find Gail Seavey’s Berry Street Lecture on the UUMA website, though. Nor will you find Deborah Pope-Lance’s Berry Street lecture on clergy misconduct. As I heard the story, the UUMA wouldn’t post the texts of those two lectures unless there were revisions made, and those two women refused to make revisions. Fortunately, you can read Gail Seavey’s Berry Street lecture on Deborah’s website.

It’s hard to name names. Clergy who have engaged in misconduct have been known to threaten lawsuits if someone named their name. Sure, they probably wouldn’t prevail in court, because if what you say is true then it’s not slander or libel — but the mere threat of a law suit is enough to silence someone like me. I don’t have the money to hire a lawyer to defend me. In other words, someone like me can’t afford to name names of misconducting clergy, as long as they are still alive and able to sue me.

We need the kind of transparency that Gail Seavey’s Berry Street lecture provides. When a clergyperson has been proven to have committed misconduct, we need to be open about that fact. But when the UUMA refused to place Gail Seavey’s unrevised Berry Street Lecture on their website, that’s not promoting transparency, that’s keeping secrets. When the Unitarian Universalist Association refuses to post lists of clergy who have been disciplined for misconduct, that’s not promoting transparency, that’s keeping secrets.

Transparency equals trust. We need to build trust.

Transparency

The Rabbinical Assembly, which credentials rabbis in the Conservative movement, has begun posting a publicly available list of “Rabbis Expelled from the Rabbinical Assembly.” Included on the list are all eight rabbis expelled since 2004, along with an apologetic note reading, “Please note the RA began posting this information in 2021 and this list does not reflect decisions prior to 2004.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) was equally transparent about ministers who have been expelled from fellowship? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the web page of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, and click on a link that would lead to a list of all the Unitarian Universalist ministers from 2004 on who have been expelled or suspended from fellowship with the UUA?

Religion News Service, where I learned about this story, interviewed the head of the Rabbinical Assembly, and he told why they adopted this new policy:

“‘An important part of preserving the safety of anyone who comes into a religious institution is trust in the integrity of their clergy,’ said Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, chief executive of the Rabbinical Assembly and CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement’s congregational arm. ‘When we have rabbis who fail to meet our ethical standards and have been expelled or suspended, it’s important to be transparent about that.'”

If we Unitarian Universalists want to preserve safety and maintain trust in our institutions, we should follow the Rabbinical Assembly’s lead. But our denominational leadership — including the UUA Board, UUA staff, the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA), and the Ministerial Fellowship Committee — haven’t been willing to provide this level of transparency.

(Footnote for goyim: “Conservative” in this context doesn’t mean what most Unitarian Universalists mean when they say “conservative.” The Conservatives ordain both women and LGBT people as rabbis, use critical-scientific methods, and are open to a variety of opinions on religious matters. And when it comes to this new policy of transparency around clergy misconduct, Conservative Jews may be said to be far more progressive than Unitarian Universalists.)

Bad UU hiring practices

Over the past year, I’ve talked to quite a few UU professionals who are thinking about changing jobs. Mind you, this happens every year. If you have a professional job in a small nonprofit, the typical path for job advancement is to find a job at another, slightly larger, nonprofit. This is obviously true for part-time directors of religious education — the quickest path for a part-time professional to advance in their career is to find a similar position elsewhere that’s full-time. There’s also the classic career path for full-time senior ministers — stay in a small congregation for about seven years (until you get your first sabbatical), then move to a larger congregation that pays more.

The result of all this is a constant movement of professional employees — directors of religious education and parish ministers — among UU congregations. This kind of movement is actually a good thing, because it helps spread best practices and new ideas from one UU congregation to another. It also provides an obvious upward career path, which means we all can continue to attract the best talent into our congregations.

Problem is, there are too many UU congregations who do a lousy job of hiring new employees. I’m going to give three examples of lousy hiring practices by UU congregations. I’m going to change details to protect the innocent — and by “protect the innocent,” I don’t mean I’m going to protect the UU congregations who have lousy hiring practices — no, I mean I’m going to protect the UU professionals who provided some of these examples for me.

Requiring more than full-time work

Several months ago, a colleague showed me a job posting where a UU congregation in the northeastern U.S. posted a job that required eight hours a day, six days a week.

The first problem with this is that it’s stupid. Back in June, 2019, Shainaz Firfiray, Associate Professor of Organisation and Human Resource Management at the Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, England, wrote a piece for The Conversation titled “Long hours at the office could be killing you,” in which she cites growing evidence that a 35 hour work week is most efficient, whereas longer work weeks can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. That’s even more true in the middle of the pandemic, where I’m seeing a huge increase in stress, anxiety, and depression among UU professionals.

I know we have congregational polity, so no one can stop your congregation from being stupid and demanding six day work weeks of your professionals. But if you do that, please do not complain to me or express surprise when your professionals grow stressed, anxious, and depressed — and then become less efficient and effectual — and even in the worst case scenario engage get driven into unethical or unprofessional behavior. Do not complain or express surprise, and also, please, accept full responsibility for being stupid.

The second problem with demanding a six day work week is that it’s unethical. Why? Well, first of all, if you claim to be paying a salary that conforms to UUA guidelines for this six-day-a-week job, you’re lying. The UUA guidelines are for full-time work, so if you’re demanding more than full-time hours, then you’re not paying the salary required by guidelines. I’ll walk you through this. Let’s take the example of a parish minister in a small congregation with fewer than 150 members in Geo Index 3. For full-time work, the UUA guidelines call for a range of $54,100 to $76,500. If you’re demanding a six-day work week, then on an hourly basis you should pay time-and-a-half for every hour over 40 hours. That gives a salary range of $70,330 to $99, 450. So if you advertise a salary range of $54,100 to $76,500, require a six-day workweek, and claim to be meeting UUA guidelines, you are in effect lying.

There’s another reason why this is unethical. It’s treating your professional employee like a wage slave. Actually, a congregation that demands a six day work week of its professionals is treating them worse than wage slaves. I spent twelve years punching a time clock, and when you punch a time clock your employer tends to be very respectful of your extra hours. But an unscrupulous employer will ask for more and more hours from a more-than-full-time salaried employee, because demanding more doesn’t cost them a cent.

Not publicly advertising the salary

Recently, BBC News reported on “Why companies don’t post salaries in job adverts.” UU congregations appear to be part of this world-wide trend. Over the past year, UU colleagues have pointed out to me several instances of UU congregations posting jobs that give no indication of what the salary is.

In addition, there now seems to be a trend of posting jobs with the vague claim that the congregation “pays UUA guidelines.” Except that when you get to the interview, it turns out that the salary that’s offered is the lowest possible salary the congregation can get away with. A year ago, I was shown one job posting for a religious educator that claimed to “pay UUA guidelines.” Now for religious educators, there are five different salary levels based on your level of experience and training. For example, the salary ranges for a full-time religious educator position in a mid-sized II (250-349 members) congregation in Geo Index 3 range from $55,100 to $65,200 for a Credentialed Masters Level religious educator, down to a range from $34,700 to $37,900 for an inexperienced, untrained Religious Education Coordinator. When my colleague got to the interview, this congregation that claimed to “pay UUA guidelines” for a Director of Religious Education was actually only offering $34,700, the lowest possible salary for a Religious Education Coordinator. That’s dishonest.

It’s not only dishonest, it’s stupid. As the BBC reports, “knowing the expected salary upfront lets a candidate understand whether a job will be financially viable for them.” So the hiring committee is actually wasting its own time reviewing applications and conducting interviews with people who are going to turn them down when they hear what the salary is. Furthermore, it’s also stupid because, according to the BBC, “organisations that are more transparent about their salaries can win over the best candidates and attract diverse applicants.” BBC quotes one expert as saying, “if the salary banding isn’t there, I think there can be a tendency for some of the better talent on the market to not apply.” In short, lack of salary transparency means you’ll attract a lower-quality and less diverse talent pool.

Finally, it’s not only dishonest and stupid, it’s also illegal in some states. As of 2019, Colorado requires employers to disclose pay ranges in all job listings. Similar legislation is pending in other states. The very title of the Colorado law makes it clear that this is a justice issue — “Equal Pay for Equal Work At” –and the law is designed to eliminate the gender pay gap, and all other pay disparities. So to avoid potential fines, and to hep further justice in the work world, you might as well get in the habit of posting the salary range in your job listings.

Cheating on benefits

Some UU congregations post jobs where they claim to compensate at UUA salary guidelines, but then they don’t offer the full benefits package called for under UUA guidelines. So technically, they’re not lying — the congregation is in fact paying the salary called for under UUA guidelines. But the total compensation package does not meet UUA guidelines. That’s dishonest. It’s the old bait-and-switch game.

Actually, sometimes it goes beyond dishonest into stupid. A colleague showed me one job posting where the congregation claimed to pay at UUA salary guidelines. Of course the actual salary wasn’t listed. But they did list the benefits. And the benefits package wasn’t even close to the UUA recommendations. I guess they assumed that applicants were going to be either desperate enough not to care, or ignorant enough not to look at the UUA guidelines. It’s stupid when you go out of your way to try and attract applicants who are desperate and/or ignorant. It’s also stupid to assume applicants are going to be desperate, when in actuality there’s a nationwide labor shortage.

Lessons to be learned

First lesson to be learned: There’s a labor shortage right now. If UU congregations want to attract the best candidates, especially if they want to attract more diverse candidates, they need to offer reasonable hours, they need to be transparent in their job postings, and they need to offer a decent benefits package.

Second lesson to be learned: If the congregation’s budget won’t pay for all the staff they want, trying to squeeze more work out of your staffers for less pay is not the way to go. You’ll get lower quality work, and pissed-off staffers. Either raise more money, or reduce your expectations of what you can get out of staff.

Third lesson to be learned: Financially, it’s gotten to be a harsh world for small nonprofits. We all know that staff cuts are going to be the norm for most congregations for the foreseeable future. We all know that the way to attract the best talent in this harsh world is to be fair and transparent. And I’m predicting that the congregations that attract the best talent, the most diverse talent, are going to be the congregations that survive — and even thrive — in the face of today’s harsh financial realities.

Noted without comment

Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn now lives in the Bay Area, where he attends the Lighthouse Church in San Francisco, and plays in the worship band. According to a recent news article — about how he recently recorded four songs that will benefit the church’s homeless ministries — being a Christian in the U.S. may require apology:

“While he doesn’t have ‘any hesitation’ identifying as a Christian, [Cockburn] is starting to wonder if that’s such a good thing to say in public in the U.S. these days. If someone asks if he’s a Christian, he still says, ‘Yes, I’m a Christian, but I got vaccinated.'”

Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1905-1910

Part Twoof a history I’m writing, telling the story of Unitarians in Palo Alto from the founding of the town in 1891 up to the dissolution of the old Unitarian Church of Palo Alto in 1934. If you want the footnotes, you’ll have to wait until the print version of this history comes out in the spring of 2022.

Part one, 1891-1905

The Unitarian Church of Palo Alto Begins, 1905-1910

In 1905, Ewald and Helene Flügel invited Rev. George Whitefield Stone, the Field Secretary of the American Unitarian Association for the Pacific States, to come to Palo Alto to christen their children. When Stone arrived in September, 1905, the Flügel children were aged 4, 10, 13, and 15 years old. The family had lived in Palo Alto since 1892; it may be Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes had christened the two eldest children in 1895. In any case, Stone came to Palo Alto, and while there he conducted Unitarian services each Sunday from September 10 through October 8. At the conclusion of the service on October 8, Stone said he was willing to continue with weekly worship services if those assembled showed sufficient interest. Karl Rendtorff made a motion “that a Unitarian Church be formed at once,” giving Stone the authority to appoint a “Provisional Committee” to transact any necessary business until a regular congregational organization could be formed. The motion was seconded by Melville Anderson, and “carried by a rising vote.”

Stone promptly appointed five men and two women to the Provisional Committee: Melville Anderson, John S. Butler, Henry Gray, Agnes Kitchen, Ernest Martin, Fannie Rosebrook, and Karl Rendtorff, who became the Secretary-Treasurer. Melville Anderson, Henry Gray, Ernest Martin, and Karl Rendtorff were all professors at Stanford. John Butler and Fannie Rosebrook had both been on the executive committee of the old Unity Society. Agnes Kitchen was active in civic affairs in Palo Alto, including the Woman’s Club. Once again, women filled leadership positions in the new Unitarian congregation from the very beginning.

Collection of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, used by permission.

Just two weeks later, on October 23, the women formed their own Unitarian organization. The Women’s Alliance, formally known as the “Branch Alliance of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto,” became a local chapter of the National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women. How did the Palo Alto women decide to form their own Branch Alliance so quickly? Perhaps George Stone promoted the idea. The national organization existed to “to quicken the life of our Unitarian churches,” which would have suited Stone’s goal of building a self-sustaining Unitarian church. But it’s equally possible that some of the women had already belonged to a Unitarian women’s group. The National Alliance had roots in several earlier organizations, including the Western Women’s Unitarian Conference, organized in St. Louis in 1881; Emma Rendtorff and her mother Emma Meyer were active Unitarians in St. Louis in that year. Closer to Palo Alto, the women’s organization of the San Francisco Unitarian church, called the Channing Auxiliary had been active in promoting Unitarianism along the entire Pacific Coast ever since it was formed in 1873; perhaps some of the early members of the Palo Alto Alliance had contact with the Channing Auxiliary.

Continue reading “Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1905-1910”

Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1891-1905

Part One of a history I’m writing, which tells the story of Unitarians in Palo Alto from the founding of the town in 1891 up to the dissolution of the old Unitarian Church of Palo Alto in 1934. Rather than telling history as the story of a succession of (mostly male) ministers, my focus is on the lay people who made up the congregation. If you want the footnotes, you’ll have to wait until the print version of this history comes out in the spring of 2022.

The first Unitarian and Universalists in Palo Alto, 1891-1895

Unitarianism and Universalism arrived in Palo Alto before there was a congregation. Some of the first residents who arrived in Palo Alto in 1891, the year Stanford University opened, were already Unitarians and Universalists.

Emma Meyer Rendtorff began studying at Stanford University in 1894, eight months before Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes, a Universalist and Unitarian minister, preached the first Unitarian Universalist sermon in Palo Alto, at Stanford’s Memorial Church. Emma’s parents had been Unitarians, and as a girl she had attended Sunday school the Church of the Unity, a Unitarian church in St. Louis, Missouri. She was a lifelong Unitarian, and would play a key role when the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto was organized in 1905.

David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford, grew up in a Universalist family. As a young adult he briefly joined a Congregational church. While president of Stanford he disavowed any denominational affiliation, although he often spoke in Unitarian churches and at Unitarian gatherings. Whether or not he would have called himself a Unitarian or Universalist when he arrived in Palo Alto, he was often perceived as a Unitarian and often provided financial and moral support to the Palo Alto Unitarians. And when he retired from Stanford, he finally did join the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto.

Luna, Minnie, and Leander Hoskins were probably Unitarians before arriving in Palo Alto. Minnie moved in Palo Alto in 1892 when her husband Leander became a Stanford professor, and Luna had joined them in Palo Alto soon after. Luna and Minnie Hoskins were recognized as delegates by the Committee on Credentials of the Pacific Unitarian Conference at San Jose on May 1-4, 1895, a few days before Eliza Tupper Wilkes arrived in Palo Alto. Since they knew about Unitarianism before Eliza Tupper Wilkes arrived, she couldn’t have been the one to introduce them to Unitarianism, so it seems likely they had been Unitarians when they came to Palo Alto.

Eleanor Brooks Pearson, who came to Palo Alto in 1891 from South Sudbury, Massachusetts, may have been a Unitarian before she arrived in Palo Alto; her childhood home in South Sudbury would have been close to the Unitarian church in Sudbury Center, she was one of the organizers of the Unity Society in 1895, and she later married a Unitarian, Frederic Bartlett Huntington. Some sources hint that there were others who were Unitarians or Universalists before arriving in Palo Alto, but so far it has proved impossible to name them.

The Unity Society, 1895-1897

In November, 1892, the very first issue of the Pacific Unitarian, a periodical devoted to promoting liberal religion up and down the West Coast, declared that a Unitarian church should be organized in Palo Alto:

“The University town of Palo Alto is growing fast. Never was there a field that offered more in the way of influence and education than this. A [building] lot for a church ought to be secured at once, and the preliminary steps taken towards the organization of a Unitarian Society.”

Continue reading “Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1891-1905”

Conspiracy theories and religion

In the latest podcast at the Religious Studies Project, Carmen Celestini, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre on Hate, Bias, and Extremism, talks about her research into conspiracy theories. She begins by offering one of the best definitions I’ve ever heard of what a conspiracy theory actually is:

“A conspiracy theory is usually some articulation of fear and trying to find an answer to what’s causing the fear or causing sustained sense of disaster. It’s an explanation when some of the things that you would normally turn to aren’t providing the answers you’re looking for.”

Then she offers a fascinating overview of conspiracy theories in North America, from the Know-Nothings in the 19th century, to the John Birch Society in the 20th century, to QAnon in the 21st century. She covers a bunch of topics that I’m currently fascinated with, including the resurgence of the John Birch Society in recent years, “Blue Beam,” “White Lives Matter,” the Council for National Policy, and the role of religion among people who refuse to get vaccinated.

She concludes by saying that it’s not helpful to merely dismiss conspiracy theories, because they’re not going to simply disappear:

“Possibly when people get back to work and the pandemic is over and people start engaging with social groups again, [the prevalence of conspiracy theories] might lessen a little bit, but those ideas of distrust are not going to simply go away. Those ideas of distressing the media or government are not going to go away. And it is something that the government and media and all of us have to articulate. We have to be out there in our public intellectualism talking about these things and not dismissing people but engaging and trying to understand.”

This is useful advice for religious liberals who may be inclined to dismiss conspiracy theories, and the religious impulses associated with them. Instead of dismissing them, we’d be better off using our skills in interfaith and cross-cultural understanding. The distrust underlying conspiracy theories is real, and it behooves us to try to understand.

COVID games, online curriculum

I just updated the selection of games on my curriculum Web site. In-person games now either have adaptations to make them COVID-safe, or they’re clearly marked “not suitable for COVID.” There’s also a modest selection of field-tested online games for online classes and groups. There are games for all ages from school-aged children up to adults. These games can be used in Sunday school classes, youth groups, adult classes, and other small groups.

Games Web page with COVID-safe games and online games.

We’ve now been teaching my Neighboring Religions curriculum online since March, 2020. This curriculum has transferred extremely well to online teaching. Now I’m writing out the adaptations that we’ve used to make it work so well.

Neighboring Religions curriculum with online adaptations.

If you have any feedback or comments about either the games, or Neighboring Religions, please leave them here.

The Doctor who rode a hyena to Mecca

Another story for liberal religious children. This story comes from Hausa Folklore, stories told by Maalam Shaihua and translated by R. Sutherland Rattray (Clarendon Press, 1913). The Hausa, who live in what is now Nigeria, were one of North Africa’s major trading powers. By the 14th century, many Hausa people had converted to Sunni Islam, and eventually Hausaland became a Caliphate. Traditional Hausa religion (called “Bori” or “Maguzanci”) persisted in the countryside, and still does today. The present story appears to combine elements from older Hausa folklore (talking animals) with Islamic elements (trip to Mecca). This story reminds us that Islam has been a feature of West Africa for centuries.

A certain doctor, a man of great learning who wrote elegant Arabic script and who was well-versed in the complicated legal, historical, and religious learning of the Hausa people, set out to go on the Hajj. This is the pilgrimage to Mecca that all good Muslims hope to make, so that they might add to their rewards in the afterlife.

This doctor had a very thin mare. He saddled her, mounted her, and began the long journey to Mecca. He was deep into the forest when be saw a hyena. The hyena saw that the doctor’s mare was very weary.

“Doctor, where are you going?” said the hyena.

The doctor said, “I am going to Mecca.”

“But something seems to be the matter,” said the hyena.

“It is the mare,” said the doctor. “She is weary.”

“Give the mare to me,” said the hyena. “I shall kill her, and eat her up. Then you can mount me and we shall set out to Mecca.”

The doctor said, “So?”

The hyena said, “Yes, it is so.”

The doctor said, “You must not deceive me.”

She replied, “Come now, Doctor, it is because I have seen that your mare is unable to go on that I speak. For my part, if you mount me, this instant I will carry you to Mecca.”

The doctor said, “All right, catch the mare and eat it.”

The hyena seized the mare, tore it up, picked up the meat and took it home. She ate it with her children. The doctor waited and waited for her to return, but she did not come back. At last a jackal came along and saw the doctor sitting there.

“Doctor, what has happened?” said the jackal.

“I was on my way to Mecca,” said the doctor. “My mare got tired, so I sat down. The hyena came along and asked what was the matter, and I said that that I was on my way to Mecca but my mare was tired.

“And the hyena said, ‘Oh, this thing can never take you to Mecca. Give her to me to eat so I can increase my strength, then I can carry you to Mecca.’ I then said,” the doctor went on,, “‘Hyena, you must not deceive me, by eating my mare then running away.’ But she replied, ‘Why would I do that? it is the truth I told you.’ I thought what she told me was true, but after she caught the mare she went off and I haven’t seen her again.”

“Stop worrying, Doctor,” said the jackal. “I will bring her to you.”

The jackal took up all the horse tack — the saddle and saddle-cloth, the bit and halter, the spurs and whip — and off he went. On the way, he found a lump of meat and took it along as well. He dropped the tack, piece by piece, dropping the saddlecloth last of all, when he was near the mouth of the hyena’s hole.

When he got to the hyena’s hole, he stood and announced his arrival.

But the hyena had told her children, “Whoever comes here looking for me, you must say I am not here.” So when the jackal hailed, the children said, “She is not here.”

“Allah curse her, she has no luck,” said the jackal. “Here I have brought her good news, and bad luck prevents her from hearing it. For a cow has died, a very fat one, and I have come to call her and show her. But you say, she is not here. So I will leave.”

Then the hyena said, “Who is seeking me?”

“I am seeking you<” said the jackal. “A fat cow has died, but these children say you are not here. Here, I cut off a big lump of meat and have brought it to you”

“There is no God but Allah!” said the hyena. “You worthless children, I was asleep, but you say I am not here.” And the hyena came out of her hole.

The jackal offered her some of the lump of meat, saying, “Taste it.”

She swallowed the meat, giving none to her children. Then she said, “Let us be off.”

The hyena was eager to get to the fat cow, and she was a long way in front of the jackal. “Here,” said the hyena, “you cannot walk fast enough. Climb up and ride me so that we may go quickly.”

The jackal rode her, and soon they came to the saddle cloth. The jackal said, “Let me spread this thin on your back, for the hair on your back is getting ruffled.” When he had the saddle-cloth on her, he mounted once again and they rode off.

Soon they came to the bit and halter. “Let me lift up this thing and put it in your mouth,” said the jackal. “Perhaps it will be better for me to hold.”

“Put it on quickly and let us get on,” said the hyena. The jackal put on the bit, took hold of the halter, and they rode off again.

Soon they came to the spurs and whip. The jackal dismounted, took up the whip and put the spurs on his feet, and mounted again.

As they drew near where the doctor was waiting, the hyena said, “You must not take this way.” For she did not wish to meet the doctor again, so she took another path. But when they were opposite where the doctor sat, the jackal struck her with the spurs and turned the bit towards the doctor. Then the hyena sprang forward, saying, “Oou, oou.”

The jackal pulled up in front of the doctor, dismounted, and said, “Doctor, behold your debtor. Mount her, and do not get off until you reach where you are going. If you dismount, even at the water, do not take her to a stream of water.”

The doctor replied, “I have heard.” He mounted, and did not dismount until they had ridden all the way to Mecca, over a thousand miles.

When he got to Mecca, his dismounted from the hyena. He asked some children to hold her, saying, “You must not mount her, and you must not take her to the stream.” Then the doctor entered the mosque where they were praying.

But the children did not listen. They mounted they hyena, and rode her to a nearby stream. As soon as she got out of the town, she began to gallop into the bush. She threw them off, and ran away. So when the doctor came out of the mosque, he saw neither the children, nor the hyena.

That is all.

The Mood Pillow

Another story for liberal religious kids. I think I originally wrote this story for the First Parish in Watertown, Mass., back in the mid 1990s. I rewrote it in 2004 when I was at the UU Society of Geneva, Ill., and then forgot about it. Here’s the 2004 version:

Once upon a time, about a hundred and fifty years ago in the town of Concord, Massachusetts, a family lived in a house they called “Apple Slump.” There were four children in the family, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, along with their father, Mr. March, and Marmee, their mother. At the time this story takes place, Mr. March was far away, serving in the army during the Civil War.

Jo had long, chestnut-colored hair. She was a tall tomboy who didn’t really like being a girl. Jo also had a terrible temper; she had a hard time controlling their anger. But Jo figured out a way to keep her temper under control. She had what I think of as a “mood pillow.” 

“Apple Slump,” the house that the March family lived in, was a big, old, rambling New England farmhouse. Jo thought the best room in the house was the garret, a room up in the attic that had a nice, sunny window. Next to the window stood an old sofa.

The sofa was long, and broad, and low. It had been the perfect thing for the girls to play on when they were little. They had slept on it, ridden on the arms as if they were horses, and crawled under it pretending they were animals. As they got older, they had long, serious talks sitting on it, they lay down and dreamed daydreams on it.

Jo liked the sofa more than the other girls. It was her favorite place to read. She would curl up in one corner with a good book, and half a dozen russet apples to eat. As she sat reading and eating her apples, a tame little rat would stick its head out and enjoy her quiet company.

But sometimes Jo went up into the garret for a different reason. She had a terrible temper, and sometimes she would get in a horrible nasty mood. Sometimes, when she was in a particularly bad mood, she just needed to be alone.

She would run up into the garret, and pick up the pillow that was on the sofa. This was an old, hard, round pillow shaped liked a sausage. This repulsive-looking old thing was her special property. If she stood it on its end, that was a sign that any one of her sisters, or her best friend Laurence, or her mother, was allowed to come and sit down next to her on the sofa and chat; but if it lay flat across the sofa, “woe to the man, woman, or child who dared disturb it!” When they were younger, her sisters and Laurence had been pummeled mercilessly by this pillow, and now they knew better than to try to sit next to Jo when it lay flat.

I call this her “mood pillow,” and I think it’s a great idea. When Jo was in a bad mood, or angry about something, or when she just needed to be alone, she could use the pillow to let her family and friends know that they should leave her alone for a while. That way, she wouldn’t hurt those around her when she was in a bad mood.

When you’re in a bad mood, what do you do to keep from hurting those around you?