Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I'll Have What (S)he's Having!

A minister I respect deeply has written his third blog post expressing his disquiet about the "Whose Are We" training.  I share his misgivings and more.

"Whose Are We" is a training taking place during UU Ministerial Association (UUMA) chapter retreats around the country, starting in the Fall of 2010.  The training starts with a sermon by Sarah Lammert (now Director of Ministries and Faith Development at the UUA), followed by a series of exercises. 

The Introduction
Rev. Lammert tells of attending a UU summit meeting focused on lay and professional ministerial formation.

We started with a worship service, and the very first words uttered were those of Rev. Jon Luopo, the minister of the University Unitarian Church of Seattle. He told this story:

It seems that in Seattle the interfaith clergy organization has a tradition of asking senior colleagues to share their life odysseys. On this particular occasion, a Roman Catholic Priest was telling his story, and he said that his life had been in large measure a failure. He remembered the heady days of Vatican II and how hopeful he and his generation of liberal priests had been that real change was coming to the church he loved so dearly. And yet; these many years later he felt that the church had if anything become hardened and deeply conservative, and his dreams had not been realized.

Now, this priest was someone who was valued among his interfaith colleagues, and they were somewhat hurt and stunned by his revelation. And yet; one colleague noted, despite the severity of his words, his demeanor seemed quite peaceful and content. “How can you claim that your life was a failure, and yet appear so calm and serene?” “I know whose I am.” replied the priest. “I know whose I am.”

The priest knows the ground of his faith - even though the institution of the church has let him down, his God is still there, permanent, reliable, and certain.  Most UUs don't share the God of the priest.  Even among UU theists, few pray to a personal God.  And no UUs inhabit the certainty conferred by two thousand years of tradition.

The UU ministers are like the woman at the next table in When Harry Met Sally:  "I'll have what she's having!"  In an attempt to find the priest's spiritual peace, they have taken a shortcut.  Skip the path common to many faith traditions -- years of religious practice and submission to God and Church.  More importantly, skip the Certainty.

The certainty that underlies the priest's response is fundamentally inconsistent with Unitarian Universalism.  Inherent to liberal religion is humility with respect to the certainty of our beliefs, our experience, and our conclusions.  Whether willingly or not, we left the comfort of certainty behind in the Enlightenment.  Certainty is the price we paid when we turned away from revealed truth to accept religious plurality -- and gained the freedom to find and follow our own spiritual path.

The First Exercise:  "Whose are You"
The participants split into pairs, and sit facing each other.  They take the role of Questioner and Responder.

Questioner:  "Whose are you?”
Responder:  a short phrase or word that comes to mind
Questioner:  “God be merciful. Whose are you?”
Responder:  another short phrase or word that comes to mind
Questioner:  “God be merciful. Whose are you?”

They continue in this way until bell rings, after about five minutes.  (If you have every done an exercise like this, five minutes can be a long time.)

When I read this, my immediate reaction was "Oh no - I know this exercise!"  This is straight out of various Mind Dynamics trainings.  I have been in it.  To sit across from someone and focus on them for an extended period of time evokes a powerful emotional response.  It is not something we normally do.  Depending on your perspective, it is a powerful method for getting deep inside the participants, or a cheap psychological parlor trick.  You can evoke the emotional response, but you don't get deep answers out of cheap parlor tricks.  This exercise is fundamentally manipulative.  I'm not sure if it has any appropriate use.

Then I recognized the words of the Responder.  It is the Kyrie!  Kýrie, eléison:  Lord have mercy.  These words have power - so powerful that they have been used for over a millennium in the Catholic Mass.  Like the exercise, the Mass uses the Kyrie in a repetitive fashion.  So the UU ministers have reached out to an ancient liturgy and put it in a training exercise.  (Talk about cultural and religious misappropriation.)  After a few repetitions of "God be merciful," where is the Responder's mind expected to go?

Take note - I do not have problem with God language.  But I think the story and the exercise go way beyond God language - it's hard to work with the story and exercise without evoking theism - which is a different thing entirely.  And there's the problem.  Unitarian Universalism, as understood by a great many of its congregants, allows for a non-theistic stance.  But this training does not.  It comprehends spirituality in a dualistic theistic fashion - God as an entity not identical with the world, who acts in the world.

This training has chosen a cheap answer.  The broader culture understands a deity.  Many who have come in to Unitarian Universalism also understand a deity; they just don't like the one in their old religion.  "Whose are We" takes the approach, to bring back spirituality, let's bring back a deity.  A personal, dualistic God is a short path to spirituality - but it is not the only path.  And it is a path that Unitarian Universalists left with Theodore Parker's search for the Transient and Permanent.

Liberal skepticism was not totally absent.  In some trainings, the participants revolted - they resisted the "God be merciful" response, and chose their own less theistic response.
After the Training (1)
The ministers were encouraged to write sermons relating to the Whose Are We training.  Many did so. 

One esteemed minister here the in Bay Area gave such a sermon.  She named who she belonged to - her family, her partner, her parents, her ministerial colleagues; the body of the earth, whales, dolphins, and her watershed.

Missing from the list was her congregation.  Later that year she left her church for a fund-raising job at the UUA.  I guess we know whose she wasn't.

After the Training (2)
The Pacific Central District of the UUMA held their training in Fall 2010.  During the same three day retreat the ministers "heard each other's pain" about their relationship with Cilla Raughley, the District Executive, and wrote a letter effectively requesting her firing.  I question the professional wisdom of mixing a training session designed to evoke emotional response with what should have been a thoughtful discussion about a covenantal relationship with District staff and lay leadership. 

God be merciful, indeed.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Movie Review: "The Heart of the Game"

Four thumbs up.  The plot twists are unbelievable, except it's a documentary, and real life is sometimes like that.  The film follows the coach and players of a Seattle high school girls basketball team for six seasons.  Heart-warming but not sappy, thought-provoking but not polemical.  Get it, watch it, you'll be glad you did.

Documentaries that span long time periods always make me wonder about the world of film-makers.  When they start, they have no idea that the process will go on for years.  For every one of these multi-year documentaries that go where no one could have seen, there must be many more that just start and stop, and maybe turn into some short documentary.

It reminds me of two other multi-year documentaries that you should watch:

"The Congregation", about a new minister in a Methodist church.  Events go places no one could have expected.  (

"Preacher's Sons", about the Unitarian minister Greg Stewart, his partner, and their five adopted sons.  (

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Minister Says "Go Get Your Own Denomination"

Holy Grail or Sacred Cow?  Perhaps both.  A respected UU minister asserts that if you are not on board with Policy Governance, you should find another denomination.

In the Policy Governance mailing list, some participants have questioned aspects of Policy Governance and whether it is the only or best approach to church growth.

Minister X, referring to a previous post extolling Policy Governance, writes
…  I kind of think it should be the last word for this chat group, which could now be split in two--one chat for those who want to move forward with a kind of governance that will bring us a brighter future, and one chat for those who want to bitch and moan about the loss of what was comfortable.. Those of you in the latter group, please go get your own chat, if not your own denomination.
First, consider what this means coming from a UU minister.  Is your higher calling really to reorganize the church and be sure that those that dissent leave?

The pros and cons of Policy Governance and or any organizational structure are unimportant.  What is important is what these debates say about the state of the movement and its leadership.  There is no mission, no vision.  If there was, how we organize would be a minor task.  We would choose some approaches that work and move on - it would not be such a large subject of Board and congregational focus.  The UUA is on a quest for salvation by re-organization.

What lies behind the contempt for dissent?  The dismissive tone fits a widespread UU pattern of first characterizing someone as resistant to change, negative, or anti-clerical, then shunning them.  Maybe two centuries as the Standing Order in Massachusetts runs deep in the Unitarian cultural DNA.  (The Unitarians were the state-sanctioned, tax-supported church in Massachusetts until 1835.)  This is not a pastoral voice.  It is a management voice - and a rather harsh one at that.  It puts Policy Governance as its doctrine, and the quest for organizational efficiency as its sacrament.

Folks, this is a church.  As a free-thinking, non-creedal community, we are supposed to care for all, even the dissenters.  We are in business of saving souls - all of them, not just the ones that agree with you.  And if you don't understand that, maybe you're in the wrong line of work.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What Did Your Church Do This Sunday?

We are going through the greatest economic disaster in most of our lifetimes, one that is taking a huge human toll all around us.  Was it appropriate last Sunday (Labor Day) to reflect on issues like the value of work, the history of the Labor movement, the massive injustices in the distribution of income and wealth in our country, the pain in the lives of so many of our fellow citizens, and what our response should be?

This Sunday is one of those Round Number anniversaries of September 11, 2001.  One of our cultural rituals on these special anniversaries is to pause  and take stock of where we have been.  The 9/11 attacks provide a host of spiritual, moral, and social issues on which we could reflect.

In the midst of the Great Recession, and a Sunday that falls exactly 10 years after the attacks of 9/11, you might think that the choice of sermon topics was compelling, even obligatory.  What did UU churches choose to celebrate or commemorate on the first two Sundays of September, 2011? 

While two thirds of our Bay Area churches had in-gatherings and Water Communion, less than half commemorated either Labor Day or September 11th.  Out of 20 churches, only three addressed  both.

What world do Unitarian Universalists live in and what do they hold important?

Yes, we have friends and neighbors who have lost jobs and lost homes, but the Great Recession hasn't fallen as hard on us as on most Americans.  Most UUs have college degrees.  As of August 2011, 76% of those with a college degree were in the labor force, compared to 60% of those with a high school degree.  And the college educated are mostly finding jobs:  their unemployment rate was 4.3% versus 9.6% for those with a high school education.  This is Somebody Else's recession.

Our usual religious language is completely inadequate to the task of confronting 9/11.  The Seven Principles don't say anything about suffering, sin, evil, or a moral framework to judge good and bad responses to 9/11.  Most of our congregations have few members in the military, police, or firefighters.   We don't see the face of those who bear the burden of our government's decisions in responding to 9/11.

So we once again look inward after taking the summer off from religion?  The past two Sundays offered the opportunity to give witness to important moral issues of the day and, perhaps more importantly,  to minister to those to who come to us seeking comfort .  What would a visitor think we are about?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Unitarian Universalist Conversion Experience

Once upon a time in a younger universe my wife and I were in the long-distance dating phase.  It was the first trip where I had flown to her city.  On Saturday, she asked if I would be willing to go to church in the morning.

Church!?  Huh!?  She's cute, she's smart, but she has a religion thing?  Deep breath.  What kind of church?  Unitarian.  What kind of religion do you believe in?  I think of myself as a kind of Christian.

OK, bring out my personal way-back machine.  In my high school years I had what William James refers to as a Variety of Religious Experience.  (And as a good nerd I promptly read James.)  I interpreted this experience in a cultural context and got baptized.  A nice civilized Methodist water-on-the-head baptism in my mother's church, after my girlfriend's Lutheran minister wisely refused me.

In college I discovered the group Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF.)  IVCF was right up my alley.  They had a an emphasis on careful reading of the Bible with analysis of the historical background and meaning of a passage, not just quoting Bible verses.  I went on weekend retreats to learn to do Bible study and then lead a study group in my dorm room.  I was a self-professed Jesus Freak.

But I never really got to the point of "witnessing" and attempting to "bring someone to Jesus."  The pull to me was that the Jesus I was studying in the New Testament was not the insipid twit of my childhood surrounded by lambs and lions with a sickly sweet smile.  This Jesus talked about justice and tough commandments to love everyone.  And in a slap to the moralizing modern Christians, his very first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding when Mom tells him the drinks are running out; and the wine was so good that everyone noted how odd the host was for holding back the good stuff until the end of the party.  Great moral teacher, cool miracles.

While IVCF emphasized the reading of scriptural texts, we all knew the answers in the back of the book.  Jesus might be clever, tough, loving, and critical, but we all knew he was part of the Trinity, was born of a Virgin, and rose from the dead.  Just like good Marxists, analysis was encouraged, but it all had to stay within the confines of overall correct doctrine.

As the years stretched into graduate school, the IVCF model didn't really provide anything for me, and I felt no need to attend any church.  I reset to a vague mystical-atheist stance - I suggested that I thought that there might be some kind of Deity on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; I was comfortable with the Tao and Buddhism.

Pop out of my way-back machine.  There I am sitting with Mary asking me if I'll go to church, and claiming to be some kind of Christian.  From the very start, our relationship was always intellectually engaged.  Let's see what the hell she's talking about.  Take a deep breath and walk into this intellectual minefield.
Christian, huh?  So do you believe in the Resurrection?
Virgin birth?
But those are standard Christian doctrine - if you say you're Christian, you have to believe in those.
Unitarians don't.

Pause.  As a good liberally-educated nerd, I knew the name vaguely.  I hadn't parsed it.  Unitarians - I knew of Anti-Trinitarians.  But that was a battle of centuries past.  Wait a minute - you're a heretic!  I thought they were all killed off a long time ago.  Nope - we've got a whole church full.  Some think of themselves as Christian, some Buddhist, some Pagan.  The ministers refers to a fair amount of Buddhism in his sermons.

Hmm.  This is a whole different kind of church.  Heretics, that's OK.  All right, I'll go to church with you.

* * * * *

More than fifteen years later I'm in still in that church.  It's my community - the people who visit me in the hospital and bring over food to us when I come home.

My home church falls far short of its potential.  The larger UUA movement is maddening and infuriating and possibly fatally flawed.  But I am reminded of Thomas Jefferson who wrote "I rejoice that that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief … that there is not now a young man living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian."  His forecast was off, but his position sound.  Unitarian Universalism is my theological home - where else could I go when starting from a position of  Reason as arbiter of belief?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Scene:  7 AM at Grand Teton National Park.  I'm walking sleepily over to the lodge to get us coffee.  Walking behind me are two girls in their late teens.  They're going on about this and that.  Then one girl says
So I was in my room last night, and Jason texts me.  It's like 11:10 at night, so I text back "It's 11 at night.  Where are you?"  He texts "I'm at a party."  I text back, "Dude - you're at a party.  Stop texting me and talk to the people you're with."
'Nuff said.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dodged that Bullet!

My wife and I went in to the oncologist's about a week ago expecting my next treatment.  I had received the drug it as part of the clinical trials.  Now it is FDA approved, and the plan was for me to get ongoing maintenance doses.

The doctor comes into the examination room, and says the insurance company has refused approval - I had already received it four times during the trial, and that was their intrepretation of the lifetime limit for the drug.  He said, "I don't know what your financial situation is... but one dose of the drug is $45,000."  Ouch.  Big Ouch.  He said he was still arguing with them - this a new drug and studies are still begin done; someone had done a study that showed value in maintenance doses for those who had responded to the initial round of four doses.  I am one of the lucky ones who had responded (big time) to this drug.  So he had been in the office the previous night faxing 30 pages of research study to the insurance company.

Five days later we got word that treatment was approved, one again proving my oncologist's prowess at an important medical skill - navigating the insurance world.

So here are some thoughts.

The System (My Thoughts as a Patient)
A note to the anti-healthcare reform folks:  I sure am glad that there is not a faceless bureacracy between me and my doctor, and instead I have the caring folks at the insurance company looking after me.

Is this really the best use of the doctor's time?  I agree that medical procedures should be the ones that are proven effective; but it seems like the decision is being done retail, one physician at a time arguing with the drug company.

And faxing?  This is just one example of how the medical system has not come into the 21st century.  He should have at least been able to send a PDF with a click; or better, just send a link to the original of the study.  As part of this process, I had my first email interaction ever with the billing/scheduling people at the oncologist's office - it's always been by phone tag.  (Although the head nurse and I have been doing email for years, on prescription requests, etc.)

On Medical Statistics
This is a pretty classic example of the misleading nature (to the layman) of medical statistics.  The study reported that this drug extended the median lifetime by 2 months.  But a median is not an average.  Some people had no response; in my case, it is quite possible that it has added years.  The classic paper discussing medical statistics is by Stephen Jay Gould, The Median Isn't the Message.

The Economics (My Thoughts as an Economist)
It costs money to do drug research.  Some drugs never pan out.  Some are expensive to produce - this one is produced with monoclonal antibodies - bacteria where we have inserted a gene to make them produce the protein that is the drug, then we kill the bacteria and refine out the protein.  But I do not believe that the production cost is $45,000 per dose.  Instead, the $45K is going to be a combination of (a) the actual costs of producing the drug (b) return on the capital to build the factory to make the drug (c) return on the investment to discover this drug (d) return on all the other drug investment that didn't pan out (e) allocated costs of all those drug reps and advertising (f) whatever profit margin that someone thinks they can get because they have a monopoly on this drug, at least for the life of the patent.

The economic social optimum is reached when the price is equal to the "long-run marginal cost" of producing the drug.  Long-run marginal cost includes the production cost, plus the cost of the factory allocated over its life ((a) and (b)).  The research costs of this and failed drugs get a bit tricky.  Once the drug is discovered, these are fixed sunk costs - they don't affect the cost of producing an additional unit of the drug.  But if we don't allow companies to get back this money, they won't invest in research.  This has been recognized for a long time - European kings issued the rights to a patent for the unique right to produce a good.  It was recognized as such a fundamental function of government that it appears in the U.S. Constitution (Article 1 Section 8.8) - although even then it was recognized that the patent be for a limited time.  So we allow a return on costs of an invention - but for how much and how long?  And finally, drug companies have a lot of self-imposed costs - there are a lot of drug representative traipsing in and out of my oncologist's office, and drug company advertising is pervasive.  They can't spend that money without recovering it somewhere.

So it would be interesting to know the breakdown:  what is the fundamental cost of producing this drug, versus the research costs (and the rate of return the drug companies getting on their monopoly)  and the amount spent on marketing and advertising (over which we've already seen much journalistic ink spilled.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's So Good to be Us

Word comes that the Thomas Jefferson District the of UUA has renamed itself the Southeast District.

This is a complex subject. At the purely academic level, we question whether Jefferson was really Unitarian, and whether it makes sense to claim him by naming a district after him. However, that is not the reason for the un-naming - it is our reaction to the fact of his slaveholding and his relationship with Sally Hemings.  Given the understandable depth of feelings on the issue, I concur in the the necessity and symbolic importance of the change in name.

But I am bothered by the triumphalism of some of those announcing the change. The editor of the UU Updates mailing list posted the link along with the cheery note, "The third time is the charm: Thomas Jefferson District changes its name."  The District President said “This district has had more conversations and is further along at becoming multiracial and multicultural than any other district because of those conversations.” It's important to know who is most righteous among us. Humility has never been an important Unitarian virtue.

Having now washed away a spot on our soul, we can engage in self-congratulation, because unlike Jefferson, we do not persist in actions that we know to be wrong, and have nothing to fear from the judgment of those two centuries hence.

While in a different tone, we have these statements from Jefferson: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever... The whole commerce between master and slave … is despotism… Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free."

A Piece of Wisdom Literature (Luke 18:9-14)
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
An Afterthought
Some within Unitarian Universalism note that William Ellery Channing was deficient in his views on slavery. Maybe renaming the Ballou Channing District should be next?

Additional References
A long statement by Jefferson on the moral problem of slavery:

A discussion thread on Beliefnet:  ttp://,_now_Southeast

Monday, March 21, 2011

Positive Tax News from IRS for Domestic Partners

I was talking with a friend a few days ago and he said he was re-doing his taxes back to 2007.  I'm kind of nerdly about tax rules, and I had not heard of this, so I assume that there may be others who have not either.

A May, 2010 IRS letter allows domestic partners in community property states to split income between the partners (who still have to file separately.)  If one partner makes significantly more than the other, this has advantages because they then fall into a lower tax rate.  He and his husband (married during the window before California Prop 8) have been domestic partners for many years, so they are allowed to restate their taxes back through 2007 (a three-year IRS window on re-filing for a refund.)
I haven't researched this, but there is apparently a time constraint of April 15th, 2011 for refiling some or all of the prior years (since my friend is rushing to get his 2007 re-done by then.)

IRS Chief Counsel Advisory 201021050:
Private Letter Ruling 201021048:
A 90 minute webinar from January 2011:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Are You a Closet Dissenter?

In What's the Moral Here, Scott Wells writes that all the recent top hits on his blog site have been "posts critical of the Unitarian Universalist Association, or something Unitarian Universalist," which is not really the goal of his blog.  But he notes that there is clearly a market for that kind of material.  I had been thinking of writing a similar piece myself.  My posts and guest posts about the firing of the PCD district executive have received approximately 500 hits.  But when I posted about the Turley, Oklahoma church that was covered in the UU World, I got maybe 50 total hits.
Pledge break:  if you want to do something useful instead of reading blogs, go read my previous post right now, click through and give them some money.  Twenty bucks will do.  Then come back here for some more analysis.
Maybe the moral is that there is pent-up dissent within Unitarian Universalism?  In Beatitudes for a New Day, revtony wrote, "Unitarian Universalists do not bless dissent."  In Giving up Unitarian Universalism for Lent, Scott Wells wrote, "If I hear covenant used as a coded message to clam up and step back in line, I’ll scream so loud that Cotton Mather will rise from his grave."  Today my wife (a life-long UU) was talking to another old-time UU, and she noted that over that last decade it seemed like there was less tolerance for dissent in our home church; and she had thought that it was just our church.  But it seems to be widespread.  I have had a few responses to my blogs by people who said they had been UUs for decades, but were just getting tired of it.  Engaging in a bit of armchair psychology, I think there are multiple sources or manifestations of this problem, in no particular order.

1.  Church members who have found a wonderful spiritual home that is not beating over them the head about whatever failing that other churches (or the wider world) saw in them don't want dissent.  Their new home is wonderful, and they don't want to have discord in this place that offers them comfort.

2.  Tension between those who do and don't think that Unitarian Universalism is the religious wing of the Democratic Party.  News flash:  it is possible to have different ideas about governments and still be a religious liberal.  Full disclosure:  I'm as Democratic as the next person here in the City of Pelosi, but I have friends who are UU Republicans who are marginalized, and that's just wrong.

3.  Tension between the various religious wings - old-line Humanists, Universalist Christians, Pagans, New-Agers, Social Actionists, Post-Modernisits, and the rest of our 31 flavors.  No matter which of these you are, you know in your heart of hearts that some of your fellows are just cranky, illogical, or silly.  Rather than engage in reasoned dialog about our views, we just suppress them in the interest of false comity, and seethe about it instead.

4.  A wider cultural trend that equates support with agreement.

5.  Self-censorship.  We see what happens to those who dissent - you get labelled a troublemaker, and marginalized.

6.  A funny feeling that I get about UU ministers being scared.  Revtony alludes to this in  Beatitudes for a New Day:
Beyond the congregation, my experience is that for all our talk of congregational polity, our tiny little religious association is like a small national business or law firm and if you expect to have a career as religious professional in this business, you quickly learn to play by the rules, make allies, and certainly don’t question the powers that be and prevailing (although by no means successful) way of doing things, at least until you have final fellowship. For all of our storied history as heretics, I see us as a conservative bunch that doesn’t really like dissent.
I have seen some of this in the events at the PCD - comments suggesting that ministers are afraid of their congregations and the District Executive.  I can only guess at the reasons, but I think some of it is related to worrying about their current position, and moving to the next position.  I have heard of multiple Committees of Ministry at different churches, including my own, where the minister had no interest in critique, and packed the committee with minister groupies.  In a congregation, this can play out in a minister having an interest in suppressing dissent because they are afraid that it might turn on them.  Reading between the lines of the UUMA Guidelines, it's pretty clear that ministers are not to criticize each other.  (My observation of this pattern is what led to All the Other Ministers.)
So where does this leave us?  We have no cultural capacity of dealing with dissent - no habits of presenting reasoned arguments, finding points of agreement, understanding the reasons for why we disagree (even if I disagree with you, I assume you reason - and if you don't, you should just retire from the discussion), and moving to a new point.  But this does not happen.

The result is that a lot of dissent is bottled up.  And blog posts about dissent become attractors for someone who says "gee, someone else besides me has a beef with Unitarian Universalism."  The number of blog hits that we get are probably a measure of this suppression.

So what's your dissent?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Creeping Creedalism, Batman!

What words are missing in this page that I found on the Starr King web site?
Unitarian Universalists covenant to affirm and promote:
The inherent worth and dignity of every person
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to …..
Unitarian Universalists will recognize the Seven Priniciples, taken from the UUA By-Laws and the front of the hymnal. The By-Laws read, "the Member Congregations covenant to affirm and promote….," but Starr King says individual UUs, a very different thing.  I have seen the exact same re-wording elsewhere, including the bulletin board of my own home congregation.

In the context of the By-Laws, these are just some principles for which an association of congregations is formed. But minus the "congregations affirm" wording, this starts to look like creeping creedalism.

And there is zero mention of the Sources, as if Unitarian Universalism sprung fully formed from the brow of Zeus.  In 1961, the Sources came first; in 1986 they moved to second place; now they apparently don't rate a mention on the seminary's web page.

I have even had a discussion (with a member of UUA officialdom, no less) who asked, "you do believe in the Seven Principles, don't you?"  Well, actually, I never considered them as an article for "belief," and if that is what they are there for, they're pretty thin beer.  However, that's a discussion for another blog, and others have done a better critique of the Principles than I am likely to produce.

So ignoring the critique - is there anyone else who is bothered by the transformation of the Seven Principles from an enumeration of plausible points of agreement in organizational by-laws into articles of belief?  (And I'm not interested in subtle word games on the difference between "affirm" and "belief.")

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Clara Barton District Executive Forced Out by UUA

In this guest post Ms. Lynn Thomas tells of her "resignation" as District Executive of the Clara Barton District (CBD).  The Clara Barton District comprises western Massachusetts and the Connecticut Valley. She served as District Executive from 2001 through the end of 2009.

In reading the entries on this blog, and in particular your Tragedy in Four Acts, The Recent Unpleasantness, I realized that the sequence of events for Cilla in the PCD was eerily similar to my experience as (now former) District Executive in the Clara Barton District.

I spoke out several times against regionalization - at two consecutive all-district staff meetings (called Big Complex Meetings), with my board, and with a small group of the board finance committee and UUA trustee. (The UUA trustee is Jacki Shanti, now UUA first vice moderator to Gini Courter as moderator.) Clearly all was impolitic.

Terasa Cooley was the Massachusetts Bay District DE, so we were in the same staff cluster. On more than one occasion, she asked me how long I was going to stay in the position.

Prior to Terasa Cooley's joining the UUA staff, Harlan Limpert requested the then-CBD Board president Ken Wagner to have the board members poll ministers about my performance. The results reported to the CBD board, in my presence, were all stellar. Now of course they did not poll every minister in the district. I recall that Harlan then contacted specific ministers and received negative input. One minister had, from the time of my becoming DE 8 years previously, refused to interact or meet with me because I was not a minister. I had been told by ministers that one other had been quite vociferous at UUMA chapter meetings that he did not want me there because I was not a minister. His wishes did not prevail among the other ministers, who regularly welcomed me to meetings. However, that minister then married Terasa Cooley. I am far from perfect, but it felt like Harlan was building a case against me.

A new CBD board president took over and was almost immediately contacted by Harlan Limpert to broach the subject of ending my employment. She was taken aback, didn't even really know who he was or who she could talk to about it, so she went along to see where it would go. She didn't inform the rest of the board.

Harlan called me into his office to tell me my work was not good enough and he wanted my resignation. He told me that if I fought it and he went to the board with details, "it would not be pretty."  This was September 2009, and I told him I was prepared to resign effective the following June.  He wanted me to leave immediately. My response was that I had not embezzled any funds nor did I commit any sexual misconduct, etc., so I refused. We finally agreed that I would continue employment until December 31.

I wrote a retirement letter and presented it to the board at the October 2009 meeting. The board was quite surprised and offered much support and appreciation. Harlan was waiting in the other room. Immediately upon my leaving the meeting room, Harlan entered and began to discuss details of regionalization, complete with drawings. Afterwards, a board member remarked  about the suddenness of learning of my retirement and this UUA regionalization plan, and that he was not alone with feeling a bit stunned.

My personal circumstances were different from Cilla's in several respects. First, I had been contemplating (but speaking to no one) about retiring at the end of the church year. Second, I was older and knew my social security and retirement would kick in, so that enabled me to retire. In addition, the Board was not in a position to take a strong stand, and I knew that.

So it seems to me that the UUA staff members are working from the same plan, and at times, the same script. I have been a UU for about 55 years (not quite birthright), wherever I have lived across the country including California. I have been active and appreciated in multitudes of lay positions at the congregational, district, and UUA levels. I had served as a paid Organization Development Consultant to UU and other religious and not for profit organizations.  My educational credentials and experience are in Clinical Social Work and Organizational Development. I have been disappointed and frustrated by our faith many times, but never previously felt the deep betrayal of our principles and lack of trust that I do now.

Lynn Thomas

Editor's Postscript
Terasa Cooley became Director of Congregational Life at UUA Headquarters effective September 1, 2010. Almost immediately she began the process of firing Cilla Raughley, District Executive of the Pacific Central District.

Since Ms. Thomas left the position more than a year ago, there has been no replacement District Executive and no plans for one - a single DE is in charge of Clara Barton and Massachusetts Bay Districts.  The last independent newlsetter of CBD (May 2010) notes the District office was combined with Mass Bay and "the District administrator ... has left our employ and ... we wish her well in future endeavors."

The Clara Barton District decided March 5th, 2011 to end co-employment of their District Executive.  The UUA is now in charge.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A House for Hope: Church Gets Challenge Grant

I've been a little hard on ministers lately but here's a chance to support UU values in action. The "abandoned place" featured in this month's UU World has received a challenge grant for much-needed capital improvements.

I have driven through this area and it's pretty grim. (My wife grew up in Tulsa, and her mother still lives there.)  The census data for this area shows a median household income of $20,000 to $25,000 per year.  Per household.  Think about it. Where I live that wouldn't even make the payments on a Lexus SUV.  Although like many UU churches, this church is located in the "well-off" area -- the census tracts just south of them have a median household income of only $11,000 to $15,000 per year, down a whopping 45% since 2000.  As Rev. Robinson says, this is an abandoned place.  Payday loan shops instead of Starbucks.  Abandoned places, and abandoned people, need a lot of things -- not least among them hope. I may not be able to fix Turley or the social and economic forces that are sharpening the income divide across our country (although I'll try).  But I can send hope in the form of money for a roof. I can tell this small church they may have been left behind but they are not abandoned and they are not forgotten.

You can help too.  Click here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

PCD Ministers' Statement on Firing of District Executive (and Commentary)

The PCD UU Ministers Association (UUMA) has launched a spin campaign justifying their role in firing the District Executive, Cilla Raughley. I have posted a full copy here. In this post I comment on selected portions of that message.

This preamble was included on one Facebook posting and a number of ministers took it to heart:
Please forward this letter (attached and included below) today to your congregations, boards, key leaders, UU email lists, etc. Post it on your blog, FaceBook page, tweet a link, send it to colleagues from other districts who have inquired about the situation here in the PCD.

We do not have access to an email list that would reach all the recipients of PCD Currents - but I know we can reach just as many folks, if not more, grass-roots style.

Onward and upward,
Meghan Cefalu
The preamble implies the UUMA has some urgent need to get their "side" of story out. Is that where the ministers want to be - in opposition to lay leaders? It's certainly contrary to the final paragraph, "We have full confidence in our congregational leaders, [and] the PCD Board…" and hardly strikes me as "onward and upward" or the path to right relationship. I am curious what triggered this stance - the only statements via the PCD Currents newsletter were the initial announcement of Cilla's firing and a joint statement from the Board and UUA.
... we write to share our understanding of Cilla Raughley's departure ...
Departure?  It sounds like maybe she went to a sunnier clime for vacation.  Please drop the Orwellian double-speak - you told the UUA to fire her and they did.
At our Fall 2010 minister's meeting and retreat in October, it became apparent to those attending that Cilla's relationship with many ministers and congregations had become strained to the point that, from our perspective, she was no longer serving the whole effectively. In a congregation, if a minister is no longer effective with a large percentage of the congregation, the minister is no longer in good ministry with the whole congregation. Similarly, when the District Executive is no longer in right relationship with a large percentage of the congregations, something vital is no longer working. In our business meeting, we expressed with a 40-0 vote (5 abstaining) our lack of trust and confidence in Cilla's leadership as District Executive, and we requested new leadership for our district.
Several points on this paragraph. First, the part about problems with congregations is not true. One of the signers of this note has already admitted to her congregation that the problem was with the ministers, not the congregations. Second, the argument about a strained relationship is specious. The District Executive is not a minister to the ministers. She is their co-worker and colleague.  She is not even a minister to the congregations. And even if she were - can you name a single example of a minister who has been dismissed with (a) no knowledge of the charges against her, (b) no chance to respond to her accusers, and (c) a secret vote against her?
We first conveyed the results of our October 2010 … The PCD Board's Personnel Committee invited seven of these ministers to a meeting a few weeks later, to ask further questions and hear their concerns. The meeting lasted three and a half hours and was both frank and respectful.
And after hearing them, the PCD Board did not view those concerns as rising to the level of cause for dismissal, but sought additional conversations with both ministers and laity throughout the district. This proposal was rejected by the UUA.
The contracted employment agreement with the District Executive stipulates that if any of the three parties to the contract (the UUA, the PCD Board or the DE) withdraw their consent, the contract is ended. As we ministers are not one of the three parties to this contract…
So your hands are clean?

Is it consistent with Unitarian Universalist values of justice and mercy that Cilla was asked to resign without hearing your anonymous charges or having a chance to respond?

Meghan, the ministers won. Cilla is fired. Do letters full of half truths serve our congregations or our ministers?

"What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?"

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Anniversaries, Horses, and Seasons

Today is our 14th wedding anniversary. Once upon a time I did not think that I would see our ninth and certainly not our tenth. In July 2005 I was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. Stage IV means the cancer has left the original site and moved into the rest of my body - gone metastatic. For melanoma at stage IV, the median survival time was quoted as seven to nine months. So far I'm at five and half years and counting.

It's been tough. I've done my time in hell. The first treatment was called bio-chemotherapy. First get a heart scan first to see if you're up to it. Then go into the intensive care unit for 5 days, receiving a cocktail of three different chemotherapy drugs and two immune-system drugs. Get really good at projectile vomiting. Come home and recover for two weeks; repeat six times total. Something like one third of the patients can't finish the full course. I finished all six.

That treatment worked, but the cancer came back. I did radiation; the cancer came back. I did another chemo drug; the cancer came back. I'm on a new wonder drug, which has made the cancer retreat, but it's still there, just smaller.

When I was first diagnosed as stage IV, I had several reactions.

One was how to think about the struggle with cancer. Melanoma is aggressive without any good treatments. So how do you mentally approach going through these treatment? There is a story I know, sometimes attributed to the Greek historian Herodotus, but also told by writer Idries Shah. Here is one version.
Once there was a thief who was to be executed. As he was taken away he made a bargain with the king: in one year he would teach the king's favorite horse to sing hymns. The other prisoners watched the thief singing to the horse and laughed.

"You will not succeed," they told him. "No one can."

To which the thief replied, "I have a year, and who knows what might happen in that time. The king might die. The horse might die. I might die.

"Or, perhaps the horse will learn to sing." 
Another reaction is to look back on your life. What lessons or stories might you want to pass on to someone else? The first, and my favorite, story that I wrote is about my Grandmother teaching me to knit.

Another perspective comes from Ecclesiastes. It is worth reading the whole first three chapters; I include some here. Chapter 1 starts off in despair.
The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
   Everything is meaningless.”
What do people gain from all their labors
   at which they toil under the sun? ….
No one remembers the former generations,
   and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
   by those who follow them.
In chapter 2, he tells how he turns to wisdom and folly, pleasure and toil.  All are meaningless.  But in chapter 3, the writer moves into a more philosophical vein:

There is a time for everything,
   and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
   a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
   a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
   a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
   a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
   a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
   a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
   a time for war and a time for peace.
So that's my combination: there is a time for everything; tell your stories; and maybe the horse will learn to sing.

My wife says we don't just walk in the Valley of the Shadow of Death - we go camping there.

Some may talk about doing battle with the Angel of Death. Movie buffs might instead depict a person playing chess with with Death (or perhaps badminton.) But in the real world I think the best game to play with Death is hide and seek.

The horse hasn't learned to sing, but sometimes I think maybe I can hear him humming along with me.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Why I am Called to Write on the PCD Firing

"They have taken my church from me." These are the words of my wife, a lifelong UU and a member of the PCD Board, in response to the events of the last five months.

I write because it is a moral issue.

I write because I am angry at the harm caused by the UUA and the ministers to a set of dedicated, long-serving laity.

I write because, for the members of the PCD Board and those close to them, these events have been a crisis of faith.

The PCD Board members are not some random cranks. They are twelve people who have been chosen as leaders in their own churches - seven have been a congregational president, nine have been members of search committees. More than half have been members of committees on stewardship, ministerial relations, and membership. On average they have been a UU for 30 years - an aggregate of over 360 years of UU experience across the twelve board members. This is a deep, committed pool of leaders. They understand how church works, and people like them are the ones that make church work. If you are a lay person reading this, they are you.

But now, many are uncomfortable attending worship and other church activities. Many also felt the need for pastoral support, yet most felt uncomfortable asking their own minister for such support. I myself cannot do so. Another measure of this crisis is that several of the members of the board do not expect to continue in their own congregations and do not see how they can remain UUs. One board member has already quit the board and resigned from his church.

How did this happen? Why would this group take a public position opposing the UUA's decision to fire the District Executive? It's simple and sad. Some at the UUA wanted to fire Cilla, and a few ministers had long-standing grievances. The rest of the ministers gave them the tool they needed.

Cilla is no saint. She is a perfectionist, and not afraid to express her opinion. That may not make for a warm and fuzzy working relationship, but those are qualities I want on my team at work. And that this what the District Executive is - a co-worker and a colleague. She is not their minister, and she is not there to support the ministers. She is there to support the congregations.

UUA staff told the PCD Board that they wanted to get rid of Cilla. When the PCD Board resisted, the UUA staff person, herself a minister, went to the PCD ministers. The ministers became an instrument of the UUA's will. Some among them led, the rest followed in solidarity.

Clerical solidarity has a long and sometimes inglorious history. It's a Unitarian tradition - when I read about Theodore Parker being shunned by the other ministers in Boston I wrote All the Other Ministers. (And don't even ask about our Puritan forebears - the culture runs deep.)

Under the UUMA's rules, they will not disclose what they call the compelling stories of their peers. But after the letter, some ministers described their complaints to the PCD Personnel Committee. Their testimony was weighed and found wanting. There were some problems in working relations, but nothing that rose to the level of firing. The deeds and attitudes of the ministers are profoundly disillusioning. This caused me to think about ministers and their role, and I wrote On Clergy.

I am not greatly disillusioned by the UUA hierarchy in Boston. They are a bureaucracy, doing what bureaucracies do. My only desire for them is that we should stop funding them - I cannot tell what useful things happen with their $20 million per year. I am, however, disappointed in Peter Morales, who did not slow or stop the process after a direct appeal by PCD Board members.

But the degree to which the ministers view their action as something they had to do, and now as just something to paper over, is disillusioning. They say that they didn't fire her - it was the UUA. But what did they think would happen with a letter requesting a new district exec? Their request for Cilla's removal is the reason for her firing. But now they suggest that we cannot talk about it because it is a "personnel issue" that must remain confidential, and we must all move on. I suggest that it is a conflict of values, and the crisis was caused by them.

I used to see ministers as a source of moral authority, and as partners in building our churches. I was not anti-clerical. I look at UU ministers differently now. They have an explicit covenant with other ministers that keeps the rest of us out. Their Code of Conduct has many words about accountability and process between ministers. If Cilla had been a minister, all these would have applied; but she is not. So the ministers have one standard for dealing with themselves, but nothing for the rest of us.

The ministers talk a lot about covenant. The traditional Covenant was with God. I do not believe in God (and don't ask me to describe the God I don't believe in, it's unbelief all the way down.) So I cannot be in covenant with God. But I have fealty to certain ideals, including Truth, Justice, and Mercy. The action by the UUMA was none of these.

Both Unitarians and Universalists started in Christianity. Theodore Parker's wish was to separate out the permanent Truths of Christianity from its mystical trappings. We have moved beyond our Christian roots; we must not leave behind Jesus's ideals. We must not accept anything lower than the standards set by Jesus: love your neighbor as yourself; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Ministers, as doctors to the soul, should also be guided by the medical maxim, First do no harm.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble." (Luke 17:1-2)

Kyrie, eleison.

Monday, February 14, 2011

PCD Board Statement on Firing of District Executive

The following is the full text of the official PCD Board response to the firing by the UUA of the District Executive, Cilla Raughley.  This text has previously been sent individually to persons making an inquiry at

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your comments, concerns, and questions. We pledge to provide straight answers to your many specific questions as soon as possible. Meanwhile this letter provides some background.

We understand the stress our sudden announcement of Cilla's Raughley’s termination as Pacific Central District Executive has caused. The extremely short transition period has turned many lives upside down. We deeply regret that.

Obviously the announcement raised many questions. Many of you have asked why Cilla’s contract was terminated by the UUA. The reasons are complex – and not completely transparent to the PCD – but we assure you that there was no suggestion (by anyone) of malfeasance on Cilla’s part.

Per the hiring letter of agreement for Cilla (and other District Executives who are co-employed by their District Boards and by the UUA), any party to the agreement may terminate the agreement without the concurrence of the other parties. That is what happened in this case.

The PCD began this process when a UUA staff member came to the PCD Board requesting that Cilla’s employment be terminated. When the PCD Board would not support the UUA’s recommendation without going through a discernment process, the staff member continued to contact ministers to obtain feedback on the PCD DE’s performance. The following month, the topic of concerns about Cilla was brought up at the UUMA retreat. There, 40 ministers who were present (of the 100 PCD ministers in the district) voted “no confidence in Cilla” (with 5 abstentions).

At that point the UUA began termination negotiations, which ended before the PCD Board could finish our discernment process. It must be noted that many of the 40 ministers who voted in solidarity with their colleagues have since reported to PCD Board members and to Cilla that they personally had never had an issue with her work with them or their congregations.

This vote at the retreat was taken with no advance notice to the PCD Board, no advance notice to Cilla, no opportunity for Cilla to defend herself in any way and no way for anyone who was not already present at the meeting to have any input. The current members of the PCD Board had never been told by any minister of any dissatisfaction with Cilla's performance. Members of the board were shocked to learn of the vote at this meeting.

In addition, other members of the UUMA Chapter, in whose name the request for new leadership was made, were not made aware of the vote or the request. The PCD Board discovered this fact in their discernment process, talking with ministers.

The PCD Board had been in conversation with the UUA, but had no reason to believe that things would come to such a precipitous end. We got the news at our Board meeting on Saturday, January 29. Monday and Tuesday were spent negotiating an 11-day transition period (the original effective date was January 31) and crafting a statement for release via PCD Currents. We felt very strongly our responsibility to provide as much notice to our District's congregations as we could.

We are reorganizing PCD Board Committees to ensure as little disruption of District services as possible and met with UUA representatives on February 12 to discuss interim staffing needs. Once we have the work of the District on track we will turn our attention to answering more questions.

We did not take lightly the decision to oppose the UUA's action publicly. We feel that the UUA’s process violated both polity and fundamental UU values of justice. We believe that respectful but vigorous dissent is called for where moral issues are at stake.

The PCD Board and staff are working together to ensure that planned events, such as District Assembly, will take place. An exciting DA is scheduled for May 13-15, in Fremont. Watch for more information.

We will keep the lines of communication open and continue to welcome your comments and questions.

PCD Transitions

PCD Board Member Resigns over Firing of District Executive

The following is the full text of a letter that was sent to the UUA District Presidents' mailing list.  I post it here with his permission.

From: John Schick
Date: Mon, Feb 7, 2011 at 10:17 PM
Subject: The true story of the unilateral firing of Cilla Raughley

Hello everyone,

My name is John Schick and until two days ago I was a member of the Board of Directors of the PCD. I had been in that position since 2007, having been elected to two terms by the lay members of this district at our annual District Assembly. I resigned on February 5, 2011, due to the way in which this matter of Cilla Raughley's unilateral termination was handled by both the UUA and the UUMA. I have read Meghan Cefalo's note and it is full of half truths and self-serving words from the ministers. As a person who was present during the entire situation and who is no longer under any constraints about telling the truth, I will let you know what REALLY happened. I do this not out of spite, but because this group -- district presidents -- need to be aware of what I believe are the long term goals of the UUA in its regionalization plan and the lengths to which they will go to achieve that goal. What you and your districts choose to do or not to do is up to you. But I have always believed that having all the facts is important in making any important decision.

First, personal background. I am 65 years of age, and have been a member of the Stockton, California church since 1973. Until about a month ago, I was in the choir and for the past four and a half years was chair of the Worship Associates, a group that helps plan services. I have written and delivered several sermons and been in charge of services in the absence of the minister. I have served as president of my congregation, been on two search teams, been called to serve on the Committee on Ministry about 10 years when our then minister relapsed into an alcohol problem, and until recently took pride in being a UU. My father was a Lutheran minister, and so I know what it is like to be in a family where there is a professional minister and the problems that come with that job. Professionally, I am currently a law school professor and have been full-time for the past three years and before that was a trial attorney for 37 years, defending five death penalty cases, thirty murder cases and countless other cases. I think I bring to this message a great understanding of human nature and the problems that power brings to people's lives. I am the president of the law school alumni association at King Hall, the law school at UC Davis where I attended 40 years ago and thus have great experience in working with people on committees and doing board work. I do not think I am a difficult person to work with, but I do have a strong sense of right and wrong.

What I am about to tell you is my opinion, but it is based on many facts which I have learned during our meetings and also during the minister interviews that I and others on the board conducted over the past few months. The issue with Cilla Raughley has little or nothing to do with her job performance. What it has to do with is the perception on the part of those in the higher ranks of the UUA that the PCD was going to resist their efforts to regionalize and thus water down the work our district had been doing in its ongoing efforts to grow the faith that supposedly motivates those who work for the UUA and the professional ministers.

Let me expand on that. We board members first heard of regionalization about a year and a half ago. We were told that there was nothing concrete on the drawing board but the outline of the plan meant that there would be one district or region encompassing almost all UU churches west of the Mississippi River. This would replace our district and three others in the west. This seemed odd to us, but we adopted a wait and see attitude. Then at our DA in April of 2010, Gini Courter came out to discuss this issue. During the Q/A session she held, many of our board members asked somewhat difficult questions. This obviously distressed her and in my opinion she became quite abrupt and rude in her answers. This only exacerbated the feelings of our board members that the plan was not going to be one that benefited us.

As a point of information, the PCD is an independent 501(c)(3) organization which is not controlled by the UUA. Then in August of this year, a letter was sent to our board from a lawyer in southern California. The thrust of the letter was that Cilla had allegedly said something less than flattering about the former president of our district, Mary Ellen Morgan. Some of you may know her since she was until May of this year the PCD president. Although the letter said no legal action was going to be taken, there was an implied threat in the letter that something had been done that was wrong.

As a lawyer, I made inquiry of what this was about. Everything that may have been said was legally privileged and gave no basis for any legal action. However, on the pretext that this letter represented some wrongdoing by Cilla, Teresa Cooley, Director of Congregational Services for this area, made contact with our current board president prior to our regularly scheduled meeting in September of 2010. Teresa told Ed Massey, our current president, that she wanted Ed to ask the board to fire Cilla. The basis for taking this action was the letter I just referred to. Ed refused and did not even want Teresa at our board meeting. She came anyway and briefly spoke in general terms about regionalization. After that meeting in Marin County, she said she had a meeting with a group of ministers. This is likely where the plot to write the letter from the UUMA was hatched.

So in October of 2010, a letter was drafted and signed by the then president of the UUMA. The letter expressed dissatisfaction with Cilla and said "we request new leadership." To say that we board members were shocked is an understatement. During my tenure on the board and before, we have ALWAYS had a minister as one of our board members. And NO ONE ever expressed this feeling. And there were surveys done wherein these same people could have anonymously expressed their dissatisfaction. None did so. In short, it is my opinion that this letter was nothing but a pretext which the UUA could seize upon as a basis for terminating Cilla. Cilla is co employed by the UUA and our district. Either side can unilaterally fire her and she also had that option of terminating her employment.

It is my opinion that some within the ranks of the ministers have had a long relationship with Teresa and were frankly willing to do her bidding. Her marching orders were to fire Cilla and the means mattered not a whit, only the end mattered. This does not sound like an adherence to our first principle in my opinion. We did decide as a board that we should investigate the matter and our executive committee began the first in a series of tasks dedicated to finding out what the truth was. While many ministers explained some concerns, most of them did not rise close to the level of being a basis for termination. Some seemed related to hurt feelings and perceptions that were not true. Without subjecting this minister to any harassment by colleagues, I will quote the context of the most revealing interview I had with a minister.

This person told me that when she was doing a start up, she was bargaining to get a four week study leave put into her contract. Cilla was present but did not speak up in favor of the minister, but took a neutral position with the board. The minister was upset, thinking that Cilla should have been HER ADVOCATE. Then upon reflection the minister said that she realized that Cilla had to represent ALL of the district.

This is the crux of the problem. Ministers are in my opinion much more concerned about their compensation packages than they are about the welfare of their churches. Cilla did not reflexively back their demands but sought to represent all sides, which is what a DE should do. Our district has about 6,700 members, and only 100 ministers. It would seem that an elementary school student should be able to see that a proper executive would not put the interests of a small group over those of the entirety. But this is exactly what the UUA has done.

When Peter Morales got involved in this matter, he referred only to the letter signed by the ministers as a basis for agreeing to terminate Cilla unilaterally. I continue to be surprised that even he would fail to see the significance of getting ALL points of view before making this decision. And it was his role in this debacle that eventually led me to conclude that I could no longer be on the board and will ultimately lead me to resign as a member of my former church.

Some of you may regard what I think as extreme. But I can say that we took a survey of our board a few weeks back and I am not the only person who is nearing the conclusion that being a UU will no longer be a part of our life. This may be sad, but it is the eventual outcome of the raw exercise of power. And the sad thing is that the ministers, a group of well educated people, still don't realize how they have been manipulated by what I would opine are Machiavellian minds.

UUism will certainly go on without me and without some of my colleagues who are about to quit. But the movement will experience some shock waves as we speak truth to power and let the public know that there are many clay feet standing on that statue of Unitarian Universalism.

John Schick

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Recent Unpleasantness

A long time ago in a small religious institution far, far, away....
A Tragedy in Four Acts

Dramatis Personae
LRC – the Liberal Religious Church
WCD - The Western Coast District of the LRC
NANCI - Chairman of the LRC National Board
SUE-ANN - former president of the WCD Board
GALINDA - Director for Congregational Control, LRC
ALICE - the District Executive of the WCD
WCD Board – the volunteer board of the Western Coast District of the LRC
LRMA - the Liberal Religious Ministers Association
JOHN CLEESE - special cameo appearance

Act I (The Bad Beginning)

Scene 1: (A Moderator Immoderate)
WCD 2010 District Assembly, a meeting on Regionalization

NANCI:  presents standard LRC talking points about why the current districts are too complicated.
ATTENDEE:  But the regions are weird.  How can we have a single region for everything west of the Mississippi?  How would we travel to district events?
NANCI:  That's not an official map.  There is no official plan.
ATTENDEE:  Your talking points are very general.  What specifics will this address?  How will it work?
NANCI:  Look at this complicated organization chart.  This is what we have to deal with.
ATTENDEE:  That's just a chart of the LRC.  The districts are just a little corner on it.  That diagram is not an argument.  It's deliberate obfuscation.
NANCI (haranguing):  The current system is too complicated.  You're all just standing in the way.
ATTENDEE (a person of age, member of the LRC for 30 years)(plaintive): But what's broken about our district?
NANCI:  You're just being selfish!
   (pause - all are taken aback)
SUE-ANN (appeasing):   We were at the meeting of the Board Presidents, and we, like, just had this epiphany - why do we need Districts?
WCD BOARD MEMBERS:  Huh?  We've all been talking at our board meetings about how we were not in favor of regionalization, you included!
   (Exeunt NANCI, SUE-ANN, most of the attendees)
Some of THE WCD BOARD:  What's up with Sue-Ann? She's been telling us that she was presenting our views against regionalization. Should one of us run for board president?
SEVERAL:  It's not really what I want to do, but we need someone to represent our views to the LRC.  I guess I could run.
ALL:  OK, one of us will have to take it on.

Scene 2 (I'll take my marbles and go home)
Some days after District Assembly
SUE-ANN:  If I can't be president, I'll resign from the Board.
ALL:  Sue-Ann, you don't have to leave the Board!
SUE-ANN:  No, I'm quitting, but not until after General Assembly.
Scene 3 (After General Assembly)
SUE-ANN:  Messenger, send this to Alice, the WCD Board, and the LRC.  I have heard from anonymous sources that Alice has been defaming me.  She has to stop or I will sue her.
Scene 4 (WCD Board Meeting)
Moderator:  Next item of business, we have this letter from Sue-Ann. 
Member 1:  That's just a parting shot from Sue-Ann.  Nothing will come of it.
Member 2:  I wonder...
(Fade to dark, then curtain comes down)
Act II (The LRC Strikes Back)
Scene 1 (There's a new sheriff in town)
LRC High Command
GALINDA (alone, in her office):  The WCD Board members are puppets of Alice.  She's been putting them up to this opposition to regionalization.  And there was that business with the Dead Elm congregation.  But now I have this letter from Sue-Ann.  I can use that to start an investigation.  Harold was too easy on them - I can get this done right.  I'll show them what a Texas girl with a degree from Harvard University can do.  I'll get the ministers to do the work - I'll just ask them for things they don't like about her.  The group dynamics will be great - once you get it started, everyone just piles on.

Scene 2 (She's a witch!)
WCD LRMA Retreat
(The curtain rises on a dimly lit stage with gauze in front.  45 ministers are on stage, some in front and most behind in a chorus.  We cannot make out their features.)
VOICE 1:  I have a request from Galinda asking for all the bad things that you have to say about Alice.
VOICE 2:  She made a comment a few years ago that I thought was disrespectful of ministers.  I've never gotten over it.
VOICE 3:  She questioned whether I should vote on a grant making committee that gave money to my church.  How dare she question the integrity of a minister!
VOICE 4:  She expressed a different opinion from me in front of MY congregation.
JOHN CLEESE:  She turned me into a newt!
ALL:  You don't look like a newt!
CLEESE:  I got better.
ALL:  Right.  We'll leave that bit out.
CHORUS:  We like her, and she has helped us.  But your stories are compelling and we feel your pain, so we will stand in solidarity with our fellow ministers.
   (They vote)
VOICE 1:  So the vote is 40 to 0, with 5 abstaining.  We will send a letter to the WCD that we do not trust her and she should be fired. Two of us will hand-deliver the message to Alice.
   (exeunt Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with the letter.)
VOICE 2:  And remember the code of omerta - no one can speak of the contents of these proceedings.
VOICE 3:  Omerta is such an ugly word.  What about covenant?
   (Ministers disappear off stage.  As they leave, a new minister appears)
MINISTER:  What about compassion?
VOICE 1:  You weren't here.  We have voted.  'Twere well it were done quickly.
(Stage to black)
Act III (What a mess!)
Scene 1
 (WCD Board Meeting)
PRESIDENT:  We have a letter from the ministers telling us to fire Alice.
BOARD:  For what!?
PRESIDENT:  They don't say.  They just say they don't trust her, and want us to fire her.
BOARD:  We can't just fire her for without a reason.  We have to talk to them, to find out what has made them so upset.  We can arrange a special meeting and see how many will come in on a single day, and then we can talk to the rest later.

Scene 2 (The dog that didn't bark in the night)
(Board meets with some Ministers one by one)
BOARD:  What is your experience with Alice?
EACH MINISTER:  (Tells their story)
   (at the end of one interview)
MEMBER: Is there no way to reconcile?  Doesn't our Liberversalist heritage does hold up salvation for all?
MINISTER: Only in the afterlife. And we don't believe in that any more.
   (Exeunt ministers)
ALL: That was really weird.  There was nothing there that rose to the level of firing Alice.
BOARD (various, speaking)
  -  A lot of that was tragic misunderstandings and differences in communication styles.
  -  Some of it was petty issues from years ago.  A minister is supposed to be more grown up.
  -  A few items were upsetting - we need to hear Alice's side of the story.
  -  Harold came out a year ago to deal with some of that.  It was supposed to be settled.
  -  Some of those were issues left over from before the time Alice was hired.  And some of it just wasn't true.
  -  And to think I used to respect that minister....
MEMBER:  There was a minister on the the board with us for the whole eight years that Alice has been working for the WCD.  Why didn't they ever say anything?

Scene 3 (John Rawls rolls over in his grave)
BOARD MEMBER:  If Alice had been a minister, the LRMA rules allow her to hear the complaints, face her accusers, and defend herself.
MINISTER:  But she's not a minister.
BOARD MEMBER:  But that's a double standard!
MINISTER:  I don't understand your point - she's not a minister.

Scene 4
(Email and phone)
GALINDA: We'll define an 8 week plan for Alice to fix the issues. (aside) And THEN we'll fire her.
WCD BOARD:  No, we need a process to talk to the ministers and understand the complaints.
WCD BOARD sends a letter to LRC asking for the LRC to respect their timetable and process for finding truth by talking to the ministers, and also sends a copy of this letter to LRMA.

Act IV (Off with her head!)

Scene 1
(Email and phone)
GALINDA:  This has gone on long enough.
WCD BOARD:  But you never even started the plan!
GALINDA:  Enough is enough.
WCD BOARD sends a letter to the LRC trustees appealing for the WCD process to be respected
WCD BOARD sends a letter to the LRMA congregational ministers asking for the ministers to stop the LRC.
GALINDA:  Alice, sign this letter of resignation or you will be fired on 1/31.
ALICE:  Signs letter.
WCD BOARD:  Sends out message announcing Alice's unilateral termination by the LRC.

Scene 2
(In a living room, two people with laptops)
BOARD MEMBER:  What are you working on?
SPOUSE:  Oh nothing, just my blog.
BOARD MEMBER:  That's nice, dear.

(With apologies to Monty Python, Shakespeare, and The Anti-Racism Trainings by David Reich)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Guest Post - Censorship at the UUA

This is a guest posting from a concerned UU. Ms. Skagerberg has been a member of the her congregation for 31 years, is a past president of their Board, was a member of their most recent Search committee, and is currently chair of the Financial Stewardship council.

From: Ellen Skagerberg
Sent: Saturday, February 05, 2011 12:09 PM

When I received notice on February 2 that Cilla Raughley's employment as District Executive of the PCD had been terminated, I posted something along the lines of this to the UUA Facebook site:

Please comment on the removal of Cilla Raughley as District Executive of the Pacific Central District, against the wishes of the PCD Board. Cilla has served for 8 years and writes "PCD Currents," a model of district communication. How about offering a pay cut, or another job in the denomination? This is outrageous. (Hint: Try working with the PCD Board.) 
I'm quoting from memory, since my post was deleted from the UUA Facebook site. I received the following private message in reply:
Subject: Responding to Your Facebook Post
Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2011 12:13:27 -0500
From: "Shelby Meyerhoff"
To: Ellen Skagerberg

Hi Ellen,

I’m writing about your post on the UUA’s Facebook Page this morning about Cilla. After careful thought, I removed the post out of concern for Cilla’s privacy. I’ve also shared the text of your post with the appropriate personnel here.

Best wishes,

Shelby Meyerhoff
Public Witness Specialist
Unitarian Universalist Association
25 Beacon St.
Boston, MA 02108
Still waiting ... for any response. Shelby Meyerhoff says my Facebook post was forwarded to "the appropriate personnel" but does not say who that is, and so far there has been a truly resounding silence (although there's plenty of offline buzz). Naturally we shouldn't jump to conclusions without knowing "the full situation" (as the Rev. Chris Bell put it), but how exactly are we supposed to know? That no one with organizational power will commit to a written explanation leads me to conclude that someone who should not be crossed had a personality conflict and the clout to follow through, with the repercussions falling on Cilla.

Since the PCD Board has been satisfied with Cilla's performance, I'm assuming no actionable misconduct on Cilla's part. I'm most shocked that a new UUA supervisor could override the Pacific Central District as a co-employer, which bodes poorly for our principle of upholding the democratic process. If this "leadership change" is part of district restructuring, SAY SO, and stop making it sound like Cilla was fired for dreadful, secret reasons that can't be shared because they would make her look bad.

Now that my Facebook post has been summarily removed with a comment about it being a privacy matter (the go-to response when one wants to shut down discussion about a firing, whether justified or not), I'm questioning whether I have organizational permission to challenge the actions of the Unitarian Universalist Association in open and honest discussion. If I were to further pursue this on the UUA Facebook page, would I be blocked? Am I becoming a "disruptive person" because I require an explanation about a precipitous firing, one that, astonishingly, overrides our elected PCD Board? Are we even allowed to discuss this on my congregation's email discussion list? The new UUA appears to be a culture of cohesion that works by silencing dissent in its public face.

It's disingenuous to call a controversial firing "a personnel matter" so as not to explain the reasons behind it. That leads to firing with impunity, which is, now that I think about it, what's happening here. I had believed our religion to be more participatory and less dictatorial than that.

If nothing else, perhaps the Unitarian Universalist Association can take a lesson from this public relations fiasco about open communication, the democratic process, and inclusive decision-making. I understand that it's faster and more organizationally efficient to take action and reassure the membership that the UUA knows what's best for us, but that too is unfaithful to our religious values.

~~ Ellen Skagerberg
UU Congregation, Santa Rosa