Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Remote Office Hours Today in Orangevale: God, Coffee, You & Rev Roger

Hey, suburban UUs and other spiritual progressives!
Today is the first of my Remote Office Hours for those who live a distance from the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento (UUSS). Today, May 1, from 11:30-1:30. Look for our group around a table in conversation, or at least look for me all by my lonesome!
I can be available for private pastoral appointments in each location before and after that time frame. Now accepting café/city suggestions for May 21 and June 5.

FOR TODAY, Friday, May 1, 11:30-1:30: The café in Raley’s at 8870 Madison and Hazel in Fair Oaks/Orangevale.

Liberal THEOLOGY IS NOT for the faint of heart–essay

My colleague Jay Atkinson, now retired from our ministry, has long been a minister-scholar.  Last August he held a UUSS  group spellbound as he charted the origins and subsequent development of our liberal faith tradition and theologies.  He spoke for 90 minutes from a bare outline! 

Here is an essay he gave us as a handout. This is the Epilogue the from the book of another UU colleague, Paul Rasor, who is a professor in Virginia.

Liberal THEOLOGY IS NOT for the faint of heart. It points us in a general direction without telling us the specific destination.  It refuses to make our commitments for us but holds us accountable for the commitments we make. The liberal religious tradition is an invitation, not a mandate. It invites us to live with ambiguity without giving in to facile compromise; to engage in dialogue without trying to control the conversation; to be open to change without accepting change too casually; to take commitment seriously but not blindly; and to be engaged in the culture without succumbing to the culture’s values.  Liberal religion calls us to strength without rigidity, conviction without ideology, openness without laziness. It asks us to pay attention.  It is an eyes-wide-open faith, a faith without certainty.

This book has been both descriptive and critical. At the descriptive level, I have sought to provide a basic introduction to liberal theology. I have done this not simply by describing liberal theology’s identifying characteristics, but also by locating it within its historical, intellectual, and social context. Liberal theology—like any other theology—is not merely a collection of free-standing ideas. It exists in specific places and times, and it belongs to an ongoing and multi-faceted religious tradition.

A vital feature of the liberal theological tradition is constructive self-examination. This is an important process. It helps keep liberal theology relevant to the needs of each succeeding generation. It guards against staleness and rigidity. It becomes a method of built-in accountability. In this spirit, then, I have addressed a few of liberalism’s internal weaknesses and contradictions, and at some points have been quite critical. I have also tackled head-on the difficult issues of race and class that continue to confront liberal theology and sometimes cause us to stumble over our own best intentions. In each case I have offered some constructive suggestions as well. At the same time, I have tried to bring liberal theology into conversation with other currents in the contemporary theological stream. Some of these, such as liberation theology and postliberal theology, are highly critical of liberalism. My working assumption has been that while liberal theology need not adjust to all its critics’ complaints—it could not remain liberal if it did—there is nevertheless much we can learn from them.

Critical self-examination also points to liberal theology’s great strengths. These include its principled open-mindedness, its intellectual honesty, and its commitment to social justice. These are among the hallmarks of the liberal tradition, and they are worth preserving. Today’s theological landscape is highly pluralistic. Many voices struggle to be heard. Some seek dialogue and engagement; others seek merely to shout the loudest. It is precisely in these circumstances that liberal theology’s prophetic and mediating voice is most needed. The early twenty-first century in the United States is a time of increasing dogmatic rigidity in both politics and religion. We are confronted by a worldview of simplistic dualisms. Dissent—even asking hard questions—is seen as a threat; data that do not support pre-set ideas are ignored; deeper analysis of complex issues is avoided. Liberal theology rejects this way of being. It seeks deeper and more nuanced explanations. It understands the inherent complexity and interrelatedness of things. It has learned to live with tensions and ambiguities.  Liberal theology’s willingness to engage in ongoing and thoughtful critique offers an important corrective voice in the public dialogue.

This is important work. But none of us can do this work alone. As much as we need constructive self-examination and critical dialogue, we need each other. We may never come to think alike or to act alike. I hope not. But by participating in each other’s faith journeys, by reaching out to each other and sharing in each other’s struggles to name and claim our theologies, we can strengthen our public prophetic voice and deepen our sense of community and our commitment to a shared faith tradition.

May it be so.

Epilogue from Paul Rasor’s Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the 21st Century (Boston, Skinner House, 2005)

A Really Big Weekend!

Friday Night is our monthly Games Night for All Ages– doors open at 5:30, potluck supper at 6:00, game playing at 6:30.  Thanks to our volunteers for organizing this!

Saturday evening is our annual Dinner/Silent Auction/Live Auction fundraiser, with musical guests Eric and Mindy, known as Heartroot.   Dinner/auction/concert tickets are $20 but please call the office to reserve one.  Tickets to the auction and concert only are $10.  Hope you can make it!

Saturday morning is our quarterly Newcomers’ Orientation to Membership.  Over 15 people have registered for this 5-hour workshop.  Thanks to our lay leaders and Congregational Support Coordinator for arranging for food and hospitality for this event.

Sunday morning we have two all-ages worship services featuring The Snail People.  Music, good message, fun!  Doug and I will be here too.  We will have a ritual of blessing and farewell for Alice, a young woman who grew up here and who is about to depart for a year of service with Americorps.

Sunday night my colleague from Livermore will be here to lead a class on the free-church theology of  the late UU minister and seminary professor James Luther Adams.

Yours with joy,



“How to Die in Oregon” — film and discussion at UUSS

“How to Die in Oregon” documentary film and discussion — Sunday. January 13, 12:45 pm – 2:45 pm.  This film has won awards from The Sundance Film Festival, Ashland Independent Film Festival, Center for Documentary Studies, and was nominated for an Emmy.

“In 1994, Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. As a result, any individual whom two physicians diagnose as having less than six months to live can lawfully request a fatal dose of barbiturate to end his or her life. Since 1994, more than 500 Oregonians have taken their mortality into their own hands. In “How to Die in Oregon”, filmmaker Peter Richardson gently enters the lives of the terminally ill as they consider whether – and when – to end their lives by lethal overdose. Richardson examines both sides of this complex, emotionally charged issue. What emerges is a life-affirming, staggeringly powerful portrait of what it means to die with dignity.”  (Source:  www.howtodieinoregon/abouthtemovie)


Former UUSS Worship Leader Bill Pieper will show the film and lead a discussion afterwards. Bill is a widely published short story writer.  His novel What You Wish For deals with assisted dying.  This is a Soup Sunday, so pick up some soup or bring a sack lunch or snack and join us for this compelling film.

The Buddha’s Map–New Meditation Class for Folks at UUSS


>The Buddha’s Map:  Ascending the Path of Meditation He Actually Taught, led by Rev. Doug Kraft.  Sifting through the earliest records of the Buddha’s talks, looking for what he actually said about meditation, we find an elegant, nuanced and amazingly effective practice. It is a cousin to Insight Meditation as it is often taught in this country. And, it has differences. It rejects one pointed concentration and emphasized relaxation, ease and a sense of humor. It blends the cultivation of ease with cultivation of insight. As the practice deepens, the instructions shift to take advantage of the skills you have gained. This eight-week class introduces you to this meditation.


Meditation can only be learned through regular practice. So, before signing up be sure you can commit to meditating daily for a minimum of a half hour (longer is better). If you already have a meditation practice, you’ll be asked to set it aside for the duration of the class and use the practice taught in class.


From 3:00 to 5:30 on 8 Wednesday afternoons, January 9-February 27. PLUS an all day retreat Saturday, February 23. If you have to miss several classes or the all-day retreat, please hold off from signing up for this series.  Class limited to 25.

Fee: No explicit fee, but donations to support UUSS are accepted in the Buddhist practice of dana (generosity).

Classes will include periods of meditation, talks about the practice, personalized instruction and time for questions, answers and discussion. Beginning as well as experienced meditators are welcome. The book The Buddha’s Meditation:  Awakening the Ease, Serenity and Insight in the Hearth of His Path is available.

Please sign up for the class at the Adult Enrichment table at Sunday Connection Central.

Racism, Poverty and American Punishment

In 1856, Universalist minister George Washington Quimby published a book entitled The Gallows, the Prison and the Poor House.  Quimby argued that American criminal justice unfairly harmed the poor in favor of those who are better off.

Last year, Michelle Alexander published The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. A legal scholar, Alexander explains racial inequities and racist patterns of criminal justice in the U. S.   Around the country, members in UU congregations will be reading this book together next month. It is our “Unitarian Universalist Common Read” for October.  Find out more at this link.

If you are in our congregation, or in our area, let me know if you’d be interested and willing to come to a class at church to discuss it.

A ministry and life cut short by cancer: In Memory of Nancy Shaffer

The Rev. Nancy Morgan Shaffer
August 11, 1950 – June 5, 2012

The Rev. Nancy Morgan Shaffer, a Unitarian Universalist minister known both for her poetry and for cutting-edge work in the ministry of lifespan faith development, died Tuesday, June 5th, at her home in Davis, after a yearlong struggle with cancer.

She was born Aug. 11, 1950, as Nancy Kathryn Brooks, the only daughter of Marjorie Ruth Tallmon Brooks and Lee Murphy Brooks. She was the sister of Michael Raymond Brooks, and the niece of George William Rutledge Tallmon and Robert Tallmon. She was married for two years to William Limon of Atascadero; they had no children.

She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from University of California, Davis, in 1972 and received certification in psychology at Sacramento State University, before beginning a career as a school psychologist in Vacaville and in the Chicago public schools.

She studied for the ministry at Starr King School for the Ministry, where she earned a Master of Divinity degree. She served an internship under the Rev. Dr. Frederic Muir in Annapolis, MD, where she was ordained to the Unitarian Universalist ministry in October 2003. Rev. Shaffer served as Interim Minister of Religious Education in Monterey, CA, 2004-05; Parish Minister in Glen Allen, VA, 2005-07; Interim Minister of Religious Education in Evanston, IL, 2007-08, and Associate Minister for Religious Education in Ann Arbor, MI, from 2008 to 2012. It was during this settlement that she was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer.

Rev. Shaffer was grateful to the Rev. Chris Fry, who encouraged her to submit her poems to Skinner House, which published them in 2002 as a Unitarian Universalist Meditation Manual, Instructions in Joy. Of  her poetry, the late Rev. Dr. Forrest Church wrote, “Nancy’s world is riddled with epiphanies, her kitchen table an altar set for communion, her anger pure, her sorrow sacramental. Nancy reaches my soul.”

A volume of poetry and journal entries she wrote chronicling her year of living with a brain tumor is expected to be forthcoming soon as “Large Enough Thanks: Ministry After a Brain Tumor.”

As a minister, Rev. Shaffer was known among her colleagues and congregants as a deeply spiritual presence. Her work with children invited them gently into mystery and awe, especially through art and through original stories that presented possibility far more than conclusion.

Rev. Shaffer is survived by her parents, Marjorie and Lee Brooks. She leaves special, beloved colleagues, including the Rev. Beth Banks, the Rev. Roger Jones, the Rev. Leslie Takahashi Morris, the Rev. David Keyes, and the Rev. Mary McKinnon Ganz. She also leaves beloved friends, including MaryAnn Gholson, to whom she was grateful for organizing and providing end of life care. And, she leaves two beloved cats, Eliza and Hope.

She was a member of both the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis and St. Martins Episcopal Church.

A Memorial Celebration of Rev. Shaffer’s life will be held on Friday, June 15, at 2 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Living Tradition Fund of the Unitarian Universalist Association.