Technology and the classroom (and youth group and…)

We were sitting in youth group today, talking about plans for a trip later in the year. One youth was checking his online calendar on his smart phone; I lent my laptop to another youth so he could set up a Google Plus group for the youth group to use. And a couple of us talked about how we spend way too much time use the Internet.

And this evening I happened upon a blog post by April DeConick, a professor at Rice Unviersity. She writes in part:

I guess what I am saying is that technology is ahead of us. We are enthralled with it. It has become essential to how we live and work. But we have yet to figure out how to control it. We are like that kid in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory who loves chocolate so much he jumps into the chocolate sea and nearly drowns.

Yeah. That would be me.

So I put this out into cyberspace as a kind of call, especially to other teachers. We need to get caught up with the technology and establish technology boundaries in our classrooms. We need to take back the classroom.

Anyway. If you work with young people, you might want to read DeConick’s post.

Star Wars and me

Carol was telling me about her trip to the video rental store. They have a big fancy entertainment center with surround-sound speakers where they show videos, and when Carol went they were showing the fourth Star Wars movie. I admitted that I had never seen that one, and then I had to admit that the only Star Wars movie that I had ever seen in its entirety was the first movie. “But I saw the first Star Wars on opening day,” I said.

“Really,” said Carol, expressing mild interest.

“Haven’t I ever told you that story?” I said. “I went with my friend Mike. We were in the high school science fiction club together. The auditorium was filled with people from the New England Science Fiction Association. When — what’s his name, Harrison Ford’s character —”

“Han Solo,” said Carol.

“Yeah, when he’s talking about how fast his spaceship will go,” I said, “he says something like, ‘Yeah, it’s so fast it’ll go 32 parsecs.’ And all around us you could hear people murmuring, ‘Parsecs? Parsecs per what?’ And then people started booing.”

Carol laughed at the image of a movie theatre full of science fiction geeks booing.

“And when we came out of the movie, they offered us buttons that said, ‘May the Force be with you.’ And I didn’t take one. Mike and I were sure that the only people who would like the movie would be science fiction geeks.”

“That button would probably be valuable now,” Carol said.

“Yeah,” I said. “I figured it would be like George Lucas’s first movie, ‘THX-1138’ or whatever it was called. Good movie, but no one watched it.”

Carol said that when she learned about George Lucas’s connection with Joseph Campbell, she realized how powerful those Star Wars movies could be. I had no such intimation; I didn’t get that Star Wars was myth, religion even, wrapped up in pop culture. And because of that, today I do not own a valuable button reading “May the Force be with you.”

The news from CERN

The news from CERN is — very interesting. According to the BBC: “Puzzling results from Cern, home of the Large Hadron Colider, have confounded physicists because it appears subatomic particles have exceeded the speed of light.” CERN scientists are releasing their results to allow wider investigation and debate in the scientific community.

Whether or not this experimental result winds up being confirmed, what particularly interests me is the willingness to challenge one of the cornerstones of physics. Fallibilism is a powerful principle: even the special theory of relativity has to be up for grabs; everything has to be up for grabs.

Is there a Unitarian Universalist “preferential option for the poor”?

I’m wondering why people join Unitarian Universalist congregations. Do we join in order to find a posse to help us further our existing social justice commitments? Do we join in order to help us stay in our current jobs, and maybe get better jobs? In other words, do we join in order to meet our own needs?

I’m a fan of liberation theologies. Liberation theologies talk about a preferential option for persons who don’t have as much power as the rest of the world. So Latin American liberation theologies talked about a preferential option for the poor: the purpose of religious communities was to live out Jesus’s consistent teachings to help people who were poor. Feminist liberation theologies say that religion communities must recognize that women and girls are as fully human as men and should be treated as such. And so on through black liberation theologies, queer liberation theologies, etc., etc.

Why have a preferential option for the poor? In liberation theology’s terms, the preferential option of the poor is how a religious community can begin to establish the Kingdom of Heaven, whether you believe the Kingdom of Heaven is something that’s here on earth waiting to burst out into reality if we give it a chance, or whether it is a reward that awaits you after death.

We can contrast liberation theologies with prosperity spirituality, which is “characterized by the doctrine that God desires Christians to be prosperous.” (William Kay, “Prosperity Spirituality,” in New Religions: A Guide, ed. Christopher Partridge [Oxford University: 2004], p. 91). Prosperity spirituality is designed to appeal to those who find the prospects for the future to be bleak and who don’t want to wait until the afterlife to enjoy the rewards of religion. Oral Roberts was the first great purveyor of prosperity spirituality.

Unitarian Universalism, and liberal religion more generally, strike me as being much closer to prosperity spirituality than to liberation theology. Many Unitarian Universalists are skeptical about heaven, and the rest are probably more concerned with getting heaven into people now, than in getting people into heaven later (to paraphrase John Corrado). Either way, we’re more concerned with how we can make our lives better, than we are in how we can enjoy the rewards of the afterlife. To my mind, this has pushed us into a kind of prosperity spirituality: Join our congregation because your life will be better due to improved mental and emotional health — join our congregation and do social justice to others which will make you feel better about yourself.

Sure, I’m exaggerating and engaging in polemic (as usual). But I also think I’m right: we Unitarian Universalists are far more likely to engage in our form of prosperity spirituality than we are to believe in a preferential option for the poor.

‘Tis the day to talk like a pirate, arr!

Ahoy there, me hearty, ’tis “International Talk Like a Pirate Day.” Avast with that landlubber talk! Hoist up a dipper o’ the finest, strongest grog and drink it down wi’ a wannion, for when ye’re three sheets t’ the wind, ye’ll find it easy enough to belay that landlubber talk. By the Powers, ’tis great grand thing t’ have the the Jolly Roger flyin’ on the yardarm above while ye say “Shiver me timbers!” t’ the parrot perched on yer shoulder.


Survival is overrated

The summary for a recent post on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog reads as follows: “The sector needs to shift the definition of success from organizations that survive to organizations that actually achieve their missions.” The actual post was less interesting than this summary because it narrowly addressed specific challenges faced by social entrepreneurs. I want to rewrite it to apply to congregations….

Congregations need to shift the definition of success from being institutions that survive, to becoming living organizations that actually achieve their missions.

At the founding of a congregation, you can feel the excitement among the founding members. They are thinking, saying, and feeling: This congregation is going to be where we bring into being our dream of a warm community that holds us accountable to our highest shared ideals while supporting us through the difficulties we have in our individual lives. These people are willing to try something new and untried, and it’s exciting.

Sixty years later, in many congregations you can feel the anxiety among all the members: We have to raise money to keep the congregation going, so we need enough new members who will supply that money, but not so many that they will use too much of our existing programs, programs which exist solely to draw in new people who will give us more money.

But the truly successful congregation will feel little anxiety, and a lot of excitement. Sixty years after their founding, the truly successful congregation doesn’t care much about raising money, but does care a great deal about bringing into being our dream of a warm community that holds us accountable to our highest shared ideals while supporting us through the difficulties we have in our individual lives. We are the people who are willing to try new and untried things, and it’s exciting.

I hate Facebook (again)

Facebook has done it again: they have made their inefficient, poorly designed privacy system even worse. Obviously feeling some heat from Google Plus, they instituted something that looks a great deal like Google Plus’s “circles” feature. Except unlike Google Plus, their “circles” feature is hard to customize, and arbitrarily divides your Facebook “friends” into seemingly random categories.

Since I have an intense distrust of Facebook (their motto: “Have we done our evil quotient today?”), I’m assuming they have really just weakened their privacy yet again. So now instead of merely suspecting that everything you post on Facebook goes out to people you don’t want it to go out to, you can now be sure that everything you post on Facebook may be made completely public at any time without you knowing about it.

Not that Google Plus is any better: it still lacks important features that would make it worth while for me. The only thing social networking sites are good for is the purpose for which they were designed: to sell advertisements.

“Domesticated eristic debate”

There’s an interesting post with a long comment thread at the blog Warp, Weft, and Way that touches on the differences between Chinese and Western philosophical traditions. The opening paragraphs captured my attention, but then I found myself questioning whether Western philosophy is defined too narrowly:

A core feature of philosophical culture in the Western tradition is the supposition that debating about abstract matters is productive of insight, and that it encourages (or at least comports with) the attainment of appealing moral and religious goals. The canonical thinkers of classical Greece and China all deplore eristic debate, where the point of articulating and defending theses is simply to gain victory over the opponent. Plato and Aristotle, however, domesticate the procedures of eristic debate, yoking precise definition and dogged discussion of entailments and justification to ideals of friendship and inquiry.

I think this kind of domestication never took place in classical China: the moralists with lasting influence (Confucians and Daoists) were not inclined to think friendship and inquiry well-served by prolonged argumentative discussion….

From my perspective as a former student of philosophy who now does theology, the cases of Plato and Aristotle are interesting and foundational to Western thought — but these two philosophers do not adequately represent the full spectrum of Western thought.

Western theology, which has been understood as both a subset and a superset of Western philosophy, includes several mystical traditions that tend more towards enigmatical pronouncements than towards reasoned debate (or domesticated eristic debate). For example, in the American intellectual tradition, Emerson tends towards mysticism; and it can be very hard to try to engage in reasoned debate with Emerson, since he tends to transrational and aphoristic pronouncements that depend more on intuition than reason. Another example from ancient times might be Jesus of Nazareth’s parables, as reported by later followers.

The Western theological tradition draws not just on Greek philosophy, but also on the deep reservoir of the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish intellectual tradition. This expands the Western theological repertoire well beyond reasoned debate. Neither Ecclesiastes nor the parables of Jesus can be characterized as reasoned debate, yet both have serious intellectual content. None of this is to deny that there is a distinct difference between Chinese and Western intellectual traditions, but whether theology is a subset or superset of Western philosophy, I’m not convinced Western philosophy can be reduced to domesticated eristic debate.

Fewer committee meetings, more talking about life

It’s still start-up season, that time when many congregations increase their activity levels after a summer slow-down. This start-up season has been as busy as any since I started working in congregation in 1994, and more intense than any other start-up. And then in staff meeting this week, Amy, our senior minister, said she was experiencing a very busy start-up season as well.

Perhaps it is just coincidence that we’re both experiencing busy start-ups at the same time our congregation appears to be on the brink of a size transition, from a pastoral-size congregation to a program-size congregation (that is, from less than 150 average attendance to over 200 average attendance). But I don’t think it is a coincidence. Other ministers who have been in congregations in this same size transition zone have also reported feeling intensely busy; so have lay leaders.

The thing is, sometimes that feeling of intense busy-ness can lead to burnout among clergy or lay leaders. I have documented a few instances of clergy burning out to the point of leaving the ministry. (I’m half convinced that some clergy sexual misconduct can be traced to burned-out ministers in transitional congregations who engage in stupid and/or self-destructive behavior.) Because when a congregation is growing, the first impulse of most people is to do more. You do more, but all it gets you is exhaustion. And it scares newcomers away — who wants to be part of a congregation where the clergy and lay leaders look burned out?

So I’m thinking the best way to handle an intense start-up, especially in a congregation that is on the edge of a pastoral- to program-size transition, is to spend less time doing, and more time just being. Fewer committee meetings, and more time spent in small groups just talking with one another about life. Less email and more face-to-face conversations about matters of the heart. Less writing of reports and more singing. Fewer tasks and more meditation, prayer, and worship. Doesn’t that sound more pleasant?

Finding documents relating to the sexual revolution within UUism, 1965-1985

The sexual revolution has both direct and indirect effects on Unitarian Universalism. Persons who were part of Unitarian Universalism experienced the sexual revolution in their personal lives, the work place, etc., and these experiences indirectly affected Unitarian Universalism; since experiences are not peculiar to Unitarian Universalists, strictly speaking they do not relate to the history of the sexual revolution within Unitarian Universalism.

When I think about those aspects of the sexual revolution that most directly affected Unitarian Universalism, I think of the following, in no particular order: sexuality education, sexual experimentation, LGBTQ rights, theological stances, feminism and the Women and Religion movement, marriage and divorce. Each of these aspects of the sexual revolution had a direct impact on local congregations and the denomination as a whole, as well as on individual Unitarian Universalists.

For each of these aspects of the sexual revolution, I have tried to brainstorm a list of where we might find relevant documents dating from the era 1965-1985.

For all these topic areas, Unitarian Universalist periodicals from that era that should be reviewed for relevant materials, and the two official denominational periodicals, UU Register-Leader (to 1970) and UU World (1970 on), are of primary importance. Independent publications which may contain relevant material include First Day’s Record, published by and for clergy, and Unitarian Universalist Voice. Congregational newsletters may also have relevant information; since there are probably tens of thousands of such documents, a researcher can only sift through a small portion of them.

Here, then, are some preliminary ideas of where we might find documentation dating from 1965 to 1985 on the general topic of the sexual revolution: Continue reading “Finding documents relating to the sexual revolution within UUism, 1965-1985”