Places of worship in south Palo Alto

A few days ago, I started at my office in the Unitarian Universalist Church, and took a walk around the neighborhood. In less than an hour, I walked past or near 7 different faith communities.

I walked to the corner of Charleston and Middlefield; down the street and just out of sight on my left was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at 3865 Middlefield Rd., which is locally famous for the annual Christmas Creche exhibit that is erected in its front yard in December.

Continuing down Charleston, I crossed Fabian Way; to my left, a few blocks down at 3900 Fabian Way is Kehillah Jewish High School, where the Keddem Congregation, a Reconstructionist Jewish faith community, holds its larger events and services.

At the corner of Charleston and San Antonio Road, I walked next to the Jewish Community Center, where, every Sunday, the C3 Silicon Valley Church rents their auditorium for a worship service. The C3 Church is a worldwide movement based in Pentecostal Christianity.

Turning left on San Antonio, I came to Anjuman-e-Jamali, a new Dahwoodi Bohra mosque, an impressive stone-clad building; the minaret is over 60 feet tall, though supposedly it isn’t functional.

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I crossed back over Charleston Rd., and went a block or two into the city of Mountain View, where I saw the Abundant Life Christian Fellowship, in a large building that looks like a corporate headquarters or maybe a big-box store. The Web site lists no denominational connection, but recent pastors have had connections to Pentecostalism.

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Back over the city line in Palo Alto, along San Antonio Rd., I walked by the small Central Chinese Christian Church. Unfortunately, the Web site is in Chinese, so I don’t know which branch of Christianity this church comes from.

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I walked back down Charleston Rd., and returned to the Unitarian Universalist Church.

The final tally for a one-hour, 2-12 mile walk:
1 Jewish congregation: Reconstructionist Jewish congregation, rented space
1 Muslim congregation: Dahwoodi Bohra (a sect of Shia Islam)
4 Christian congregations:
— Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), Restorationist Christian
— C3 Church, Pentecostal Christian
— Abundant Life Christian Fellowship, nondenominational Christian
— Central Chinese Christian Church, unknown Christian
1 post-Christian congregation, Unitarian Universalist

Catherine Keller on “Ecologies of Diversity”

Catherine Keller, author of From a Broken Web, was the keynote speaker at the opening session of the 2016 Sacred Texts and Human Contexts conference at Nazareth College, Rochester, New York. This year’s conference theme is “Nature and Environment in World Religions.”

Keller’s address was titled “Ecologies of Diversity: Beyond Religious and Human Exceptionalism.”

To help address the global environmental crisis, Keller believes religions must move beyond human exceptionalism — that is, religions have to get over the notion that humans are somehow more privileged than other organisms. Furthermore, she believes that we must also move beyond religious exceptionalism.

She said she assumed that those of us attending the conference are participants in a faith that is “planetary.” “By talking together, we hope to get and give some hope,” she said, “Hope for the planetary future.” She added: “Those hopes come encoded in our sacred texts.”

Keller went on to make three main points:

First, the unprecedented planetary emergency should not be treated as exceptional, she said. The current ecological crisis is driven both by politics that use emergency powers to prolong the crisis, and by various types of exceptionalism. Instead, she said the planetary emergency can be understood as “an emergence.”

Second, Keller believes “an alternative politics” is needed. “The key to this alternative is, I believe, what might be called ‘entangled difference’.” Her 2015 book Cloud of the Impossible: Negative Theology and Planetary Entanglement goes into more detail on “entanglement,” which she relates to the concept of quantum entanglement.

“Difference is not a separation, but a relation,” she pointed out. Thus, difference and entanglement can go hand in hand. “And so while difference may exclude or ignore” that from which it is different, there is still a relationship between the things that are different.

Third, Keller said, “If we can turn catastrophe into catalyst, the answer is hope.” In fact, she said that “catastrophe must become a catalyst” in order for positive action to happen.

Continue reading “Catherine Keller on “Ecologies of Diversity””

List of faith communities near Palo Alto

I’ve been compiling a list of religious organizations mostly in Silicon Valley, from San Jose to San Francisco. The middle school class of our congregation visits other faith communities, and this list is designed to be used as a resource to help the class find places to visit.

Even though I was familiar with the work of Harvard’s Pluralism Project, even though I expected a wide diversity of religious traditions, I was still astonished at the religious diversity I found: there are hundreds of faith communities, ranging from Anabaptists to Zoroastrians, within an hour’s drive of our congregation.

Most of the research I did was online. It proved difficult to research some faith communities online, as quite a few do not have Web sites, or they have Web sites that are so outdated you don’t trust them. Yelp proved to an excellent source of information about many faith communities, especially when there were recent reviews (search for “Religious organizations” in a given locale). Youtube also proved a good source of information in a few cases; sometimes faith communities have inadequate Web sites but their members may post videos that provide useful information. One or two congregations had Facebook pages that provided the most recent information.

This list also relies on some real-world research. Our middle school class has visited some of these congregations, as noted on the list below. I also relied a lot on word-of-mouth information — people telling me about some faith community that they knew about, or had friends in, or belonged to.

Perhaps the most difficult part of making this list was figuring out a reasonable way to organize it. I started with the eight major world religions identified in Stephen Prothero’s book God Is Not One; added Zoroastrian, Sikh, Baha’i, and Jain to the list; then finished off with a list of New Religious Movements organized according to the categories in the book New Religious Movements, ed. Christopher Partridge. That takes care of the major divisions. It was more difficult to know how to categorize sub-groups within Christianity and Islam. Christianity is arguably the most diverse of the major world religions, and I did the best I could based on various scholarly reference works. Islam was also challenging to categorize, and I finally decided to use the categories from the Salatomatic Web site.

If you live in Silicon Valley, I’d love it if you looked over the list — then let me know if you see any errors or obvious omissions.

And now: the list! Continue reading “List of faith communities near Palo Alto”

Chart of Christian churches

Another handout I developed for our “Neighboring Faith Communities” course for middle schoolers, a timeline of Christian churches and their derivatives:

Christian Church timeline thumbnail

Christian church timeline (PDF)

This is a revision of an earlier version of this timeline, which I originally posted here.

One purpose of this chart is to introduce middle schoolers to the incredible diversity of Christian churches, especially churches that are not well know in the West (i.e., Oriental Orthodox Churches, African Independent Churches), and groups that are often passed over or ignored by religious liberals (i.e., Restorationist groups including Mormons, Pentecostals).

Another purpose of the chart is to show how Unitarian Universalists do in fact derive from Christian churches — and further to show how very few in number we Unitarian Universalists are compared to the various Christian churches.

Chart edited. See comments.

How to take your Sunday school back to the year 29

Every couple of years, we run a five-week Sunday school program called “Judean Village,” in which we travel back to the year 29 to be in a predominantly Jewish village in the Roman-controlled territory of Judea.

The Judean Village program has us travel back in time during Sunday school. We gather in the village square, where the artisans and shopkeepers of the village (i.e., the Sunday school teachers) exchange gossip and rumors — gossip about what the hated tax collector has been up to this week, what the Roman overlords are doing, etc. — and rumors about the wandering rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth who is rumored to actually sit down to share meals with tax collectors (horrors!), who is rumored to be healing people and even raising them from the dead, and who may or may not be planning a revolution that will drive the Romans out of Judea and reestablish Jewish rule. The artisans and shopkeepers are all wearing long tunics with rope belts and head cloths (available from www.christiancostumes.com). We supplemented the costumes we purchased with ones made by volunteers in the program.

The village song leader comes by, and teaches the villagers a song: Continue reading “How to take your Sunday school back to the year 29”

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.

Women and organized religion

Last summer, Barna Research Group released a report in which they examined trends in 14 different religious variables for the period 1991-2011. One of their more interesting findings was that women, long the majority in many congregations, have been dropping out of organized religion:

Church attendance among women sank by 11 percentage points since 1991, declining to 44%. A majority of women no longer attend church services during a typical week. [Link to report.]

A year earlier, Jim Henderson, an evangelical Christian author and minister, had contracted with Barna Group to conduct a survey of how self-described “Christian” women who attended church regularly felt about their experience of church. The vast majority of those women felt satisfied with their church, with their church’s leadership, and with their church’s views of women.

It sure looks like the self-described Christian women who go to church regularly like their churches. But Henderson asked himself why so many other women were leaving church. According to a Washington Post report on his new book, The Resignation of Eve, Henderson came to a logical conclusion: women in Christian churches are getting increasingly disillusioned by the sexism that’s all too common in those churches:

In [The Resignation of Eve], the author, an evangelical minister named Jim Henderson, argues that unless the male leaders of conservative Christian churches do some serious soul-searching — pronto — the women who have always sustained those churches with their time, sweat and cash will leave. In droves. And they won’t come back. Their children, traditionally brought to church by their mothers, will thus join the growing numbers of Americans who call themselves “un-churched.”

Never mind that the Bible talks about women submitting to men and sitting silently in church, Henderson declaims. That’s ancient history. “Until those with power (men) decide to give it away to those who lack it (women), I believe we will continue to misrepresent Jesus’ heart and mar the beauty of his Kingdom,” Henderson writes.

Henderson bolsters his argument with data from the Barna Research Group…. And although the Barna data have been disputed by other researchers, Henderson goes further. Even those women who go to church regularly, he says, are really only half there: Their discontent keeps them from engaging fully with the project of being Christian. He calls this malaise among women “a spiritual brain drain.”

I wouldn’t expect many of those Christian women to transfer to their local Unitarian Universalist congregation. Instead, I would expect them to join the growing ranks of Americans who are “spiritual but not religious” — i.e., those who have religious leanings but who stay away from organized religion.

However, all this does lead me to believe that we need to continue the feminist revolution that has stalled within Unitarian Universalism. While most of our ministers are now women, men still get the majority of the prestigious, well-paid jobs in the biggest congregations; and while I can’t find any hard data to back this up, I’m inclined to believe the average female minister makes less than the average male minister. Furthermore, the vast majority of professional religious educators are women, who are most often part-time and poorly paid. I think it would be wise for us to correct the existing gender inequities within Unitarian Universalism before we start alienating Unitarian Universalist women and men.

Top ten best things about liberal religion in 2011, pt. 6

4. I have found more and more people are willing to look at religion in new ways: more openly, with fewer preconceptions. I believe this is because ours has become an increasingly secular society, which means Christianity is less and less normative, which means that more people are more likely to look at religion without Christian preconceptions. The political and commercial realms are still several decades behind the rest of society, and politics and commerce both still claim Christianity as normative of all religion.

But forget about politics and commerce for the moment. Within liberal religion, I’m meeting a few people for whom religion is yet another form of cultural production, similar to other forms of cultural production like dance, writing, performance art and theatre, film, music, etc. I find it enormously freeing to talk with people with this understanding — and exciting, too, for when I talk with these people, all kinds of possibilities begin to open up.

Top ten best things about liberal religion in 2011, pt. 5

The new year is getting close, and to finish this top ten list before the end of the old year, I’m going to have to

6. I’m not sure this has really been happening, but it seems to me there has been decreasing tolerance within Unitarian Universalism for anti-Christian bias. You know what I mean by anti-Christian bias: the willingness to explore any major world’s religion except Christianity; a fear of acknowledging that we once came out of Christianity; a willful blindness towards our Christian past and the associated refusal to use certain words (“God,” “worship,” “Jesus,” etc.) that remind of us whence we came.

We Unitarian Universalists have good reason to be anti-Christian: from our beginnings we got called heretics by other Christians, and a hundred years ago we got kicked out of various Christian clubs like the National Council of Churches, and in the middle of the twentieth century the Neo-Orthodox dismissed us. Even today, a scholar like Gary Dorrien can’t quite keep the scorn out of his authorial voice when he writes about nineteenth century Unitarians in his histories. So we got in the habit of thinking: Hey, if the Christians don’t want us in their club, why should we want anything to do with Christianity?

Yet though we have grown into something that is no longer a Christian denomination but something else (we’re not quite sure what), we still carry grew out of the fertile ground of the Radical Reformation, and of the English free church movement, and of American freethinking Christians. The roots of our commitment to social justice, the roots of our use of reason in religion, the roots of our belief that love is the most powerful force in the universe, all go back to that fertile ground.

Thus I have been pleased to see what I believe is a growing respect both for our Christian past, and for those among us who still claim the name “Christian.” Maybe we have gotten so far from Christianity, maybe we are so obviously no longer a Christian sect, that we can relax a little bit.

5. We have definitely made some real progress in preventing clergy sexual misconduct this year. Most of this progress has been made by the UU Ministers Association (UUMA), which is remarkable in of itself: ministers have generally been woefully bad at policing themselves when it comes to sexual misconduct. But the UUMA has begun to make some real progress.

In one example of progress, Rev. Deborah Pope-Lance was invited to give this year’s Berry Street Lecture, she spoke on clergy sexual misconduct, and hundreds of ministers sat and listened to her in rapt silence. Mind you, Deborah has been speaking out for years on the evils of clergy sexual misconduct, but it has too often seemed as though other ministers were not particularly willing to listen to her — what was remarkable was seeing so many ministers watching with apparent approval and interest.

In another example of progress, the members of the UUMA voted in June to approve a new amendment to the professional guidelines — but there was a sense that even the new amendment wasn’t strong enough, and so a committee has already drafted a new, stricter, amendment. One could be cynical and say that by telling clergy that they can’t have sexual contact with anyone they serve in their ministries, the UUMA is merely catching up with what is already the law in 27 states in the U.S. But I’m not cynical, because it would be very easy to ignore those state laws; and besides, my impressions is that the new amendment will be even stricter than those state laws.

Obviously, there is still lots of work to be done. I would love it if the Unitarian Universalist Association didn’t take quite such mushy stands on clergy sexual misconduct. I would love it if some of the Unitarian Universalists who work on legislative action would start actively pushing for laws against clergy having sex with congregants in the 23 states without such laws. But after years of very little progress in this area, I’ll take what I can get.

Humanism and liberationist theologies

In a recent comment on a post I wrote about Cornel West, Kim Hampton makes a statement that I quite agree with:

I agree that the biggest reason that West is not talked about [among Unitarian Universalists] is the fact that he speaks from a liberationist standpoint … but I think you may be downplaying the fact part of the reason he is such a liberationist is that he is a forthright Christian. And Unitarian Universalism is still trying to figure out its relationship to Christianity.

This raises another interesting issue for me. In the contemporary theological landscape, socialism is almost exclusively associated with either a Christian liberationist theology perspective (e.g., Cornel West), or a Neo-pagan liberationist theology perspective (e.g., Starhawk). Humanists, by contrast, tend to be associated with a more moderate political philosophy. So humanist William Schulz, former director of Amnesty International, sounds like pretty straightforward natural-law human rights advocate and political liberal; and humanist Sharon Welch, ethicist and theologian, sounds to me like a pretty straightforward second-wave feminist and political liberal. Of put it this way: while I can think of some prominent Christians and Neo-pagans whom I would call socialists or leftist councilists, all the prominent humanists I know of seem to accept late capitalism without making a serious challenge to it.

In addition, it seems to me that much of humanist dialogue in recent years — at least, among the humanists I know — has largely divorced theology and religion from social justice theories. This is not to say that humanists aren’t concerned with social justice; indeed, the opposite is true in my experience, as the humanists I know tend to be strongly committed to social justice and political action. But most of the humanists I know seem to remove ethics from religion, and their theology focuses on ontotheology almost exclusively. Sharon Welch is an excellent example of this: over the years, the trend she has followed has been to remove explicit religious concerns from her ethics, to the point where I would not longer call her a theologian and instead I’d call her simply an ethicist (without a qualifier).

Any thoughts on this from you, dear reader? I’m willing to hear counterexamples that disprove my hypothesis, but I’m far more interested in a broader analysis: are humanists tending to move to the political right of socialist Christians and Neo-pagans? and is there something inherent in the trend of humanist thought today that is moving humanism in that direction? and aside from William R. Jones, is there such a thing as a liberationist humanist thinker?