Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Religious Humanists & Secular Ones: The Difference?

Religious Humanists and Secular Ones

From the interim minister’s sermon for UU Association Sunday,

October 14, 2007, Minnesota Valley UU Fellowship, Bloomington, Minnesota

I would say that a religion is a set of beliefs, practices, and institutions. The diverse members of our many Unitarian Universalist congregations practice their beliefs, observe common rituals, and support and care for their institution.

Many of the longer-term members of this Fellowship may not identify as religious, but I think they are.  They are humanists, to be sure, but religious humanists.  I can think of no other term for the commitment I’ve seen to their values and their congregation than a religious one. 

What’s the difference between a religious humanist and a secular one?  A religious humanist goes to church!  And a secular one has little use for it.  A religious humanist says things like:  this community has been my lifeline.  A religious one says: the people in my congregation are a source of inspiration to me, and a source of love.  A religious one stands up for humanistic values with the joy and commitment of any person of deep and sincere faith. 

The early members of this Fellowship established a pattern of devotion and care for their church home and congregational family.  This culture lives among the current members—so many more people than the Fellowship had in the early years. 

I learned about this church’s culture of devotion and enthusiasm this on my first Sunday on the job.  I rose early, reviewed my sermon, had breakfast, cleaned up, and headed over here.  I arrived more than an hour before church, expecting to impress you when my car was the first one in the parking lot.  Well, when I got here at 9:30 the lot was over half full.  And one person was speeding off after having come to start the coffee.  Volunteers and staff were setting up display tables.  The choir was in rehearsal, the basement was buzzing with children, parents and teachers. 

The only latecomers we had were a few members and first time guests—by latecomers, I mean they arrived 10 minutes before the service.  Such interest in the church, such curiosity and joy in seeking, such devotion, gratitude and care—I call these impulses religious.  I say we’ve got religion!  And it’s pretty darn wonderful.  And to that I say, Amen.  This congregation makes me proud to be part of our religious movement. 

In my view, the purpose of religion—good religion—is connection.    We exist to connect with our innermost selves and with others.  We stretch to connect with those who think differently as well as with those who think like us.  We encourage connections with the natural world, with the spirit of life and the call to compassion.   We help one another to connect with our personal courage and our imagination and hope.  This is our work–religious work.

What’s in a Name… for a Church (or Fellowship or Society)?

What’s in a Church Name?

From a weekly email to congregation  members, November 2007, Bloomington, MN

UU congregations have named themselves in a variety of ways, not all of which use the cumbersome terms for the two theologies (Unitarian and Universalist) that were the original, defining traits of this two-headed, two-hearted movement of liberal religion. 

Any congregation is free to name itself however it chooses to. There are historical and geographical trends, but not any rules.  Of course, it is good not to get caught up in names, for it is the work that we do together that matters.  But I think it’s interesting.

We have 32 “parishes,” as in First Parish of Quaint Old Town, all of which are in New England.  All over the USA we have 126 “congregations,” 101 “societies” (like Sacramento, San Francisco, and First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis), 495 “churches,” and 277 “fellowships.”  In the 1950s and 1960s the American Unitarian Association created the Fellowship Movement to establish churches throughout the continent.  Most of them had no ministerial leadership and little music; they were small and remained so.  Minnesota Valley UUF is one fellowship that’s changed, however, with growth in music, adult and child attendance, and professional ministry.  (Other examples are the fellowship in Appleton, WI, where they have two ministers and 565 adult members, and the Eno River Fellowship in Durham, NC, with about 700.)

Our kindred congregations include three each of “chapel” and “meeting house,” and one “temple” (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the folks in Oak Park, IL).  There are 30 smaller, newer churches that call themselves something like the Bull Run UUs, though a church in California recently renamed itself the UUs of San Mateo, and they are neither new nor small. 

I’m fond of the few older congregations named “All Souls Church.”  For me this evokes the liberating messages of our forbears in faith, as well as our ongoing work of compassion, inclusion and the affirmation of the worth of every human being. 

Yes, what matters is the work we do together.  Shalom!

What Is Leadership?

What Is Leadership?

From the sermon on September 30, 2007; Minnesota Valley UU Fellowship, Bloomington, MN

Leadership does not reside necessarily in bosses, officials, experts or authority figures.  Leadership can reside in anyone.  It can take many forms.  Leadership is not about giving easy answers as much as it is about asking the right questions.  This is the message of Ronald Heifitz, a professor at Harvard University.  He’s the author of Leadership without Easy Answers.


Leadership is not the same thing as having technical expertise.  A technical expert fixes problems that have clear solutions.  This is important in any enterprise. 


But leadership is different.  A leader helps the members of an organization or a community face up to an adaptive challenge, helps them confront it and walk through it. 


By adaptive challenge, Ronald Heifitz means a dilemma with no easy answers.  It’s a crisis or problem which  requires members of the group to make hard choices, and to learn new ways of working together.  Responsible leaders avoid making extreme, either/or statements and ultimatums.  Responsible leaders try to keep a space open for new possibilities and new options.  A leader asks questions, and listens, and speaks, and listens more.  A leader helps us frame the problem and reflect on it.  A leader takes responsibility, while also sharing it with others. . . .


Leadership is as much about asking hard questions as it is about coming up with answers.  It’s not about quick fixes.  Leadership is about presence.  It’s about showing up.  Showing up is something almost everybody can do. 


Can you listen to the point of view of someone with whom you disagree?  Then you can practice leadership.  If anxiety rises as your community faces a dilemma, but you stick around, you are practicing leadership–you are adding a sense of order and hope for the future. 


If you find yourself a lightening rod for the anxiety of another person or a group, and instead of lashing out or walking out, you keep the attention on the important work at hand, you show leadership. 


If, in the midst of crisis and chaos, you can invite others to take some time with you in reflection, you will practice leadership.


Occasionally I hear someone say, “I’m not a leader; I’m just a facilitator, or a coordinator.” I disagree!  Facilitating the participation and work of others is a form of influence on others, and it is leadership.   


When you draw a community’s attention to an issue of importance, you exercise leadership.  When you ask a question to help others to frame their priorities, you are leading.  Even when you feel anxiety, if you can stay engaged as your group is dealing with the challenges, you are leading in a quiet but powerful way.


It is leadership to help a group notice its blind spots and consider new perspectives, even if by asking timid questions. When you speak up, even if your voice trembles or your knees knock, you exercise leadership. 


Edward Everrett Hale said, “I cannot do everything.  But still I can do something.  And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”


Can you can help another person to speak up?  Can you can make space in a group for a differing voice to be heard?  If so, that’s leadership. 


If you can invite someone to a meeting, ask them to pitch in and help, or show them where the signup sheets are, you can practice leadership. 


You practice leadership if you can raise questions and then stay around to hear the responses.  None of us can do all these things all the time or in every situation.  I know I cannot.  But sometimes we can, and it can make a difference.


Leadership belongs to those who show up, listen, speak up and stick around. 


Let us give thanks to the leadership that rests in our own hands, our own minds, our own hearts.  Let us give thanks for those who help us to bring it forth.

Are Unitarian Universalists Christian?

Are Unitarian Universalists Christian?
The answer to this question depends on whom you ask. “Are UUs Christian?”

No, not anymore…. Not necessarily…. Some of us are…. Some of us used to be…. Some of us never were…. Some Trinitarians and even more Evangelicals would say we’re not, no matter what any one of us would say. I say: Whether or not we are “still” Christian, we are still Protestant.

Let me start from the beginning. Universalism was at first a Christian theological heresy, then a movement, then a church. Unitarianism also was a heresy, then a movement, then a church (first in Europe in the 1570s, then in America in the 1800s). Both movements took place in Protestant churches. Our congregational culture is a Protestant one. Our worship service’s structure is Protestant in its origin, especially in the emphasis on the sermon.

The oldest existing UU churches were founded as Protestant ones. Until a few decades ago, what we know as the UU World magazine was the Christian Register. Historically, we are part of Mainline Protestantism. Sociologically, the Mainline has been middle-class, educated, socially aware, socially tolerant, and not politically radical. The Mainline is not Evangelical or Pentecostal or Catholic or Orthodox. It is not fundamentalist.

Within our inherited Protestant structure and culture we have fostered a rich, varied mixture of theological perspectives. Our mixture of Jews, agnostics, atheists, Buddhists, Pagans, Animists, Transcendentalists, etc., makes us distinctive in the Protestant world. But we are of the Protestant world.

As a liberal religious movement, we affirm the freedom of conscience and the evolving nature of the truth about God, the universe, and human life and purpose. In terms of these values, we have more in common with liberal Christians than liberal Christians have in common with fundamentalist or traditionalist Christians. I’ve learned this from interfaith friendships and from reading a liberal Protestant magazine, The Christian Century .

In 2008, when I was the interim minister in Bloomington, Minnesota, we hosted a showing of the documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So” to an interfaith crowd. Members of area Christian churches came to watch it with us and pastors as well as parents of gay people spoke as Christians against homophobia and for the practice of compassion and the celebration of love in all its forms.

My UU ministry colleague and professor of theology Dr. Paul Rasor allows that Unitarian Universalism is “post-Christian” as a religious movement. He says also that it matters very much that it is “Christian that we are post.”

Introductory Words for Peace Vigil 3/19/09
March 19, 2009, 9:11 pm
Filed under: Social Action & Social Justice | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Introductory Words for Peace Vigil
By Roger Jones, Thursday, March 19, 2009
Vigil Hosted by Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento’s UU Peacemakers

Good evening. Welcome to all of you, and thanks for showing up. Thank you to the organizers, volunteers, musicians, sculptors and other artists.
My name is Roger Jones and I have been serving in the role of Family Minister at this church since August. The Reverend Doug Kraft, our Lead Minister, is not here tonight due to a family commitment, but he sends his greetings and his thanks for your attendance.
This is the third annual peace vigil we have hosted. Who was here last year? The year before that? Who is here for the first time?
This is also the anniversary, the 6th anniversary, of this nation’s invasion of Iraq. It happened in the midst of lies and fear-mongering perpetrated by our elected leaders but not without protest, across the nation and around the world.
It is almost unbearable to consider all of the destruction, grief and misery our government has caused both our American military families and the people of Iraq. It is cause for outrage that this has been done with our tax dollars and in our name.
Now we have cause for hope. A year ago the Bush/Cheney administration had engineered an escalation called a surge. A year ago we were in the midst of a hard-fought primary election campaign. What a difference a year makes. The country elected a candidate for president who had opposed the invasion of Iraq from the start, and who said we had no business there. Maybe some of you had a hand in making that election happen!
Last November this country also elected a vice president skilled in the realm of foreign relations and wise about the need for diplomacy in all international matters. And both of them show faith in our founding principles and loyalty to the words of the United States Constitution. This new administration repudiates torture instead of shielding its ineffectiveness and cruelty in double-speak.
Of course, our new leaders are not perfect or pure. The political nature of their jobs makes that an unrealistic hope. That’s why they have you…and me and others like us. We keep on watching and listening, reading and learning, writing and speaking up. We keep on standing up… for the values that matter to us…standing up for progress toward non-violence, equity and justice.
This is what a vigil is all about. It’s about staying vigilant! It’s so easy to be complacent, given the change in presidents. It is easy to be distracted, as so many are by a financial system in collapse and unemployment rising. This is understandable. But we cannot let it be ignored that the nation still has thousands of men and women in harm’s way, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. We cannot forget that over 4,000 have perished and many thousands more have been devastated physically, emotionally, and spiritually by what has been done to them and by what their country led them to do. We cannot forget.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died. Iraqi families endure deprivation and illness, they flee their homeland regions, and they live in fear. We cannot forget that. Our tax dollars continue to fund the mercenary soldiers of military contractors. We cannot forget that. Our country continues to build bombs and deal out weapons to a world full of eager buyers. Let us not forget any of this. By our gathering here, let our spirit of vigilance be renewed.
We call this candle light vigil a celebration of hope. Yet it is also a time of grief. We gather here with a diversity of emotions, feelings, and experiences. In a few moments we will be invited to speak briefly, to speak from the heart, and to listen from the heart to what one another might say. Later on we’ll hear briefly from a few local organizations. And of course, we will sing together, and we will hear others sing to us. Thank you again.

Nomination of Child/Youth RE Volunteers for UUA PCD Award

Dear UUA Pacific Central District
Awards Committee and Board of Directors:

For the Junella Hanson Award for Excellence in Religious Education we nominate this couple:

Sally Lewis and David Libby, members of the UU Society of Sacramento  since 1991.

David and Sally’s dedication to the church, support of their staff and volunteer colleagues, and creative openness to new ideas have been exemplary.

They have been a regular and loyal teaching team every two years for
Our Whole Lives (OWL) in grades 4-6. This summer Sally will conclude her seventh and
final year of serving as chair of the Child/Youth RE Committee, during
which tenure she has worked collaboratively with three different RE
ministers and three different RE coordinators or directors. Her work
is often done behind the scenes, but she celebrates and promotes the
RE program through regular newsletter articles and communication with
volunteers and our church board and program council.

Two years ago David was a Coming of Age mentor for a youth, and he
went with the group on their celebrated UU Heritage Tour to Boston. Because of that
experience (or in spite it), this year he volunteered to organize and
co-lead the congregation’s biennial Coming of Age program. With the
help of David, his current co-chair, and our Coming of Age mentors,
the participating youth are baking their way to Boston with four bake

sales, as well as planning a talent show fundraiser (April 11). David also joined the Worship
Leaders’ team this year.

Of course the accomplishment which gives this church couple
–and us–the most pride is their son, Ted Lewis Libby,
who has grown up in this congregation. He is a graduate of OWL, a
regular member of the Senior High Youth Group and currently in the
Coming of Age program. We are proud of our many RE families and
volunteers of all ages, to be sure, and there are many who deserve our
thanks. This year, we recognize the Lewis-Libby family for their
continuing dedication to our church and its ministry of liberal
religious education.

Rev. Roger Jones, Family Minister
Rev. Doug Kraft, Lead Minister
Janet Lopes, Religious Education Assistant

Clown Circus March 22!
March 9, 2009, 2:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Clown Circus Returns March 22
By Rev. Roger Jones
UUSS welcomes the Swan Brothers Clown Circus Sunday, March 22, 12:45-1:30 PM under the Classroom 7/8 Big Top. These two guys’ jokes are the most lo-cal cheese around! Their tricks will make you squeal, or roll your eyes, depending on your age. See for info. Thanks to Les Corbin for bringing them here.
This is an all-ages worship day, so families can come to the 11:15 service and stay for the show, or come at 9:30, go to lunch nearby and buzz on back to church.
Even if you are tired of the antics of our two in-house clergy clowns, be a good sport and save this date! Our services on March 22 will conclude and celebrate the 2009-10 Stewardship Campaign. Let’s do our best during the final weeks of the pledge drive to put a smile on our clowns’ faces and keep Doug & Roger from getting shot out of a cannon.