Arizona Rightwing Agitators Back At It

Arizona Rightwing Agitators Back At It

This article erases any doubt that the Arizona right-to-refuse bill reflected addiction to power politics rather than participation in democratic dialogue. It is unlikely Arizona is unique in this regard.

The late Rabbi Edwin Friedman explained family systems theory in his book Generation to Generation, saying it was important to identify the difference between an expression of a family system (essentially a cycle of ingrained behavior choices) and reasoned dialogue. The value of making the distinction is in choosing one’s response. In reasoned dialogue, information acquired through education and research play a major role. This approach is called “inductive reasoning,” meaning, reason comes in to you, from data. A family system situation involves either no reasoning — just pure reflex — or “deductive reasoning,” which is, to assert certain premises and then argue that from them come certain conclusions about the situation at hand. So if someone is reactive or deductive, inductive reasoning won’t work.

So what to do?

Rabbi Friedman said that the best thing to do is to move away from logic and debate altogether and simply ask the person what they are doing and how it is working for them. The key value of this approach is that it turns attention onto the person involved and asks, not for their opinion, but for their experience. Unitarian Universalists have been attracted to this approach because it employs our First Principle of Faith, namely, that we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person (many say “being”). This approach guides sociologist Michael Kimmel, in his excellent book, Angry White Men, which is full of stories from people of the title’s description.

Kimmels’ book showed me that right wing activism of the sort described in this New York Times article is really a failure to approach a group of Americans through their family system, relying insteadl on power politics against them (boycotts, demonstrations, bullying and caricatures). This cycle — essentially of induction-based family systems like mine against addictive and deductive family systems like theirs — is dragging our nation into the pit from which emerge eras like Weimar Germany (hyper polarization and hedonism in response to economic collapse) and Nazism (rebuilding the economy and national pride via militarized industry and discrimination as a tool to eliminate competitors for work and commerce). My objection to my religion’s failure to engage publicly at a family cycle level reflects the fear with which every German-heritage person is raised, that is, “I can’t let this happen again.”

The stunning effectiveness of the Koch brothers and other plutocrats is that they listened to the idealistic premises of a disempowered people and manipulated the resultant flow of deductive reasoning. We who try to argue with “facts” or competing ideals get nowhere because we do not begin with respect.

I have mentioned — as have others — the need for another “Freedom Summer,” massive voter support campaigns. But it might be more effective to put down the placards, stow away the slogans, and visit from door to door amongst the population with the rapid downward spiral, namely, working class white men. Not the Alpha male white guys that generate the stereotype of “white male privilege,” but the ones whose dads had salaried middle class careers and solid pensions, but who now rely on their wives’ minimum wage earnings to stay afloat. Ask them what they need, what they want. Show a little First Principle in the place where it hurts not them, but us.

The Reverend Scott Wells pulled up an old symbol of Unitarian Universalist merger the other day, which perfectly demonstrates this approach to public strife: two circles next to each other, with slight interlocking areas. This perfectly captures my wish. Again I defer to fellow blogger, Patrick Murfin, and his Edwin Markham epigraph,

“Love and I had the strength to win/ We drew a circle that took him in.”

Governor Brewer Has A Duty to Serve All Her People, But It’s Too Late to Keep the Superbowl

As I write, the nation waits anxiously for Jan Brewer, governor of Arizona, to veto yet another crazy right-wing bill that causes the rest of the nation to say we’re not moving there, not vacationing there, and frankly, at this point, I don’t even care about your drought. One of my Facebook friends — who lives in Arizona and most definitely is hoping for a veto, because it would indeed improve life for people she knows and loves — has reposted that meme which says, “I can’t believe we have to protest this same shit again.”

And that explains why it doesn’t matter whether Governor Brewer signs the bill: these people are not doing policy, they’re acting out an unhealthy family system. Indeed, Arizona history itself demonstrates this: the objects of discrimination keep changing, but the mechanism is the same every time. A majority gets their adrenaline power fix by passing one of these bills, the outcry rises, a few “sensible voices” rise up to roll back the policy, and after a decent interval, the cycle begins again.

It is time right now to quit trying to deal with the crazies and go after their enablers. That is why I am telling Jan Brewer and her business community that it doesn’t matter what they do: Arizona — and my fantasy of a Grand Canyon honeymoon — are already dead to me. These measures are on a roll in Arizona — the “papers please” law, the “medicaid expansion,” and who knows what else. The crazies cannot sustain themselves: the problem is that we keep applauding their enablers.

I recognize these enablers. They are the “just one drink won’t hurt her” uncle at the wedding, the “he only takes that for pain” parents, the “I know how to control him when he gets like this” spouse. And after awhile, when you get that next wedding invitation, you don’t just ask if so-and-so is coming, you also ask whether they’ll have their enabler in tow.

Family systems is different from political dialogue, because it makes no pretense of persuasion. It doesn’t talk about “I know you’re gonna get better,” or, “what a hard time you’re having.” It just says, “I’ve got certain things I have to do, which are right, which are natural, which are not easy. So long as you’re in my way, I can’t have you in my life.”

Universalism has a hard time with family systems, because saying, “I can’t have you in my life” sounds so much like, “You might as well go to hell.” Yes, it hurts to be mean, and manipulators will easily exploit your pain to get their way. My answer to that is simple: “In my religion, God forgives everything. That is the difference between God and me.” When asked about that line in The Prayer of Jesus, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” I answer: “Forgive does not mean putting them in a position to wrong me again. Indeed, Jesus called us to help sinners avoid falling back into their sin. That is why it is so important to understand your definition of sin.”

Well, at this point, my definition of sin would be for me to consider another visit to Arizona. I will probably check my vegetable labels to make sure they don’t come from that state, despite my compassion for their organic farming movement. I promise to contribute my little bit to making sure the Superbowl next year doesn’t go there, regardless of what the governor does. Major corporations should be removing their headquarters from this state until it gets healthy.

At this moment, the enablers are under more pressure from us than are the addicts. We have to relieve their pressure by helping them do the right thing. And at this point, the way we do that is to tell them they have already forfeited the Superbowl. They can only get another one, and not in my lifetime (I am sixty), by spending a generation without giving in to the sweet temptation of enabling their hate-mongering crowd.

Now that Solchi is Over, Let’s Learn about Ukraine

First, let’s take a look at this part of the world, and see where Ukraine, Georgia, and a few other countries lie in relation to Moscow. Imagine you’re in Washington, DC, where are these borders? Not too far away. Notice, also, that these nations stand squarely between you — Moscow — and the best market for your natural gas and other exports, namely, Western Europe.

Now, let’s learn the history. From the time of the Tsars, Russia has looked at these nations in about the way Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson looked at the Louisiana Purchase. The Russian strategy has been, for centuries, to support frontier settlements of Russians among people who valued their land, their culture, their history of living that culture on that land. So when you hear, today, that the President of Ukraine has moved from the west of his nation to the east, he has, in effect, gone back into the stockade. If you have Native American ancestors, you know what he’s doing.

This is not going to end, and it’s not going to easier. And if you think it’s not relevant to the US, just notice the locations of Turkey and Iran, in relation to all this. Whatever one thinks about our nation’s involvements in those locations, those involvements exist, and ultimately, loom large.

When enough time passed to release the transcripts of what happened during The Cuban Missile Crisis, it was clear that Russians cared nothing about their ideological ally in Cuban, compared to getting US long range missiles out of Turkey.

Americans are starting to wonder if we have to pay attention to Ukraine. Is this gonna be another Egypt — “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” — or is something more important going on? What are our interests in Ukraine and these other little countries? Well, if we’re counting on Western Europe to support us on the world stage, militarily, economically, even culturally, it’s time to get very serious.


Rev. Matt Tittle Sees Good Conversations Coming Out of the New Logo

Reverend Matt Tittle is a retired UU parish minister who now does this and that for UU organizations and individuals, mostly in Texas. We share a lot on Facebook, where he posted this reflection:

Here is my two cents on the new UUA logo. Artistically and aesthetically, I’m not a fan, but that is neither here nor there. I understand and support branding and marketing in religion, as long as it comes with a theological and relational foundation. But I only see a promise that that foundation will be rolled out based on popular opinion about “who we are, what we do, and why it matters.” At least that’s what is currently on the homepage of Any other more deeply buried official explanation is simply a reinforcement of our verbosity and insider culture, neither of which are good marketing or religion. For now–just a logo. We shouldn’t be surprised that it’s going to rile people up. It’s an empty container. We don’t yet know what the UUA plans to put into the container. Nor does the container have a label, so no one will be able to tell what’s in it once it’s there. 

This all would have been more effective if rolled out at the UUA General Assembly, with in-person explanation and discussion of its foundation, importance, and potential impact. I’m guessing this partial rollout was designed to coincide with the UUA headquarters moving across town. But the congregations don’t really care about that move. In my experience, what the rank and file members of our congregations constantly struggle with is how to share the good news of UUism, let alone what to share. This logo, by itself, won’t solve that. An explanation of the strategy to attract the “nones” (not a very viable strategy in my opinion, but that’s another post altogether) will not solve that because it’s like getting converted vegans to return to the life of an omnivore. Even answers to the questions of who we are, what we do, and why it matters won’t solve that. 

For better or worse, we are congregationalists. Our congregations have a strong and accurate belief that the UUA headquarters can’t tell them what to do, and a mistaken belief that the same headquarters is trying to do just that. The UUA needs to work on how to overcome the latter. If this new branding is an attempt to overcome that mistaken belief, I don’t think it’s very effective, and is probably counterproductive. 

I propose three different questions for the UUA:
1) What is the theological foundation of Unitarian Universalism? 
2) How has it transformed and evolved over time (which it must if we believe that revelation is continuous)? 
3) How do we communicate our good news both to our congregations and to the broader communities surrounding them? 

I also propose that these questions don’t have specific answers, but that they spark additional and continuous conversation and revelation. 

I think of the current taglines of Scientology and the United Church of Christ. Strange bedfellows, to be sure, but both of which have done a better job than the UUA in spreading their good news. Scientology has “spiritual technology.” Huh? Exactly! This simple tagline evokes the question, “What does that mean?” I expect they are trying to appeal primarily to millennials for whom both of these words have deep meaning. The UCC tagline is “God is still speaking.” A declaration which probably appeals to a wider demographic, but which evokes the equally salient question, “What is God saying?” The real genius here lies in the dual reality that each person needs to decide that for themselves, and that it expresses the theology of continuous revelation.

What is our evocative tagline? What grounds the new logo? What good news will come from this most recent attempt to explain ourselves and to create a “just and loving community?”

Lessons from Paul About Successful Branding

Personal note:

When people reference your response as an example of overreaction to a proposed change, and you are in covenant with those people, you pay attention. When people in this same covenant show you alternative views of the proposed change, you look it again through their eyes. These things I have done. As to someone who said of complainers like me that we are just angry not to have been consulted, I reiterate that that is the essence of the Radical Reformation: the leaders look for God by listening to the people. But yes, it is probably harder to listen to someone who yells at you.

That said, I woke up this morning with one of my favorite books of the Bible open before my sleep-encrusted eyes. Not a physical Bible. Some words that I treasure, read, preach from — and criticize — so often that apparently they pop up in my dreams:

Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

Paul spent his life arguing about the image and form of a religion that was just arriving on its cultural landscape. One of the most amazing, and frankly cheering, developments in my lifetime is that Unitarian Universalism has now arrived on the national religious and cultural landscape. We have outlasted the better branded Unification Church, for which we used to be mistaken. Other liberal religions and interfaith-minded clergy include us without the long debates that mattered so much as recently as the 1980s. So, in effect, we are in the stage that Paul faced after the death of Jesus: a crisis of opportunity. Not “how shall we get started?” but, “which direction shall we go now?”

When liberal Christians talked about following “The Religion of Jesus,” they did not just mean, “not Islam” or “not Judaism,” they also meant, “not the religion of Paul.” But whatever you may think of him, Paul succeeded at what our denomination is trying to do: He stamped his brand on a religious movement in rapid ascent. That doesn’t mean he captured all of it, which was his intent. He did not win unquestioned adoration, either in his time or through the ages. Rather, he proclaimed some particulars that have stood the test of time. Some of his particulars were liberal, expansive, inclusive, and others were particular, judgmental, organizational.

Both sets of particulars have adherents today. We liberals spontaneously cite his sermon on Mars Hill (Acts 17:19-32) when we speak of the “unknown God within… in Whom we live and move and have our being.” Conservatives cite his admonitions placing men above women, particularly in marriage, and try to reconcile his claim that “women should keep silent in church” with his praising salutations to female church leaders of various congregations.

Now THAT is successful branding.

Romans is pretty much the place where Paul established the Cross (‘all have sinned and have no righteousness except through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”) as the preeminent symbol for Christianity. Even today, liberals who prefer Matthew 25 (“you fed me, you visited me in prison”) lift up the symbol of the double fish; you might find this in your congregation’s stained glass sermons. Thre’s a revival these days also of the dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit’s empowering visits to humanity in times of need or crisis. Old Christian tombs also had IHS (“In Christ is Our Hope”) and that fish with IXOYE inside it (also means “In Christ is our hope” but in Greek).

This is what the fight is really about: not whether Unitarian Universalists have a symbol that matters to the small groups who know it, but whether we can establish a symbol that dominates the conversation about the things we believe.  At this moment, the United Church of Christ and even the Vatican are “on top” of liberal religious imagery, with “Christ is still speaking” and the simple garb and life-shaping liberation theology of Pope Francis I. In the political arena to which Unitarian Universalism aspires, we already have launched “Standing on the Side of Love” as our contender in their league.

So who is this new logo addressing? Is Standing on the Side of Love going to be phased out or retired? Is this new logo going to compete with SSOL within our own houses and ranks? I mean, I don’t like SSOL, but I do recognize it, and it does seem to be popular with everyone but me, so I applaud that much, at least.

Although it has not set the world on fire, the flaming chalice has engraved itself on UU congregational culture far more than I ever imagined would be possible. If our current leaders have Pauline aspirations, perhaps they see the flaming chalice as a comforting message for house churches.

Does that mean they are going to keep trying logos on us until they come up with something that works like a liberal “Sword of Constantine,” in James Carroll’s immortal title?

If so, let me be the first to clarify: the problem with Constantine’s  Christian vision wasn’t the logo — which Paul accelerated and Francis is  trying to refurbish — it was the authoritarianism.  When Marxism landed on the trash heap of history, it was because Lenin had made of it an authoritarianism.

So before our leaders march one step further, let’s be clear about two things:

1) When it comes to cultural transformation, we are already far more successful than my generation of UUs ever dreamed would be possible, and

2) We are succeeding by participating in mutually respectful coalitions, not by taking them over.

Which brings us back to the question that plagued Paul’s ministry until the end, the issue his successors have not resolved yet:

How do you nurture, connect, but still coordinate the house churches?


Other Models for Liberal Religious Evangelism

It has been rightly pointed out that the real problem with the new UU logo is the larger campaign it represents. Some would say “obscures,” since we haven’t been given the larger picture of what the assocation hopes to do. But the theme seems to be that it’s time for us to become an agent for transforming culture in positive ways.

Which is kind of redundant because

a) all religions want to do that, so it’s kinda assumed we already were, and
b) if you are participating in, supporting, working toward same sex marriage equality, you are enjoying a cultural transformation that we ourselves launched, way back in the early 1970s.

So, in other words, the question is not whether we want to be a cultural transformation agent, but toward what transformation next want us to promote?

Whatever that answer might be, I can already tell you that we are going to bump up against other religions, at every level from the neighborhood to the planet, who are also feeling called to work cultural transformation. By which they do not mean, liberal religious cultural transformation.

If the association sees this as the moment to gather our strength for the final push to total triumph, let me just say right now, That ain’t gonna happen. There will indeed always be people who see the value of what we offer, or who cherish what we have given them, and some of these folks will definitely step up and step in. 

But no, there is not gonna be Heaven on Earth. We might have a moment — we’re actually having one now, much to my amazement — but it won’t last. I’m a historian. Trust me. Poland had Unitarian kings, and now they have Jesuit control. Massachusetts had the Standing Order, and now it has — religious and cultural diversity. 

So, assuming that religious and cultural diversity actually is our definition of Heaven, how do we evangelize our faith in a religiously competitive marketplace? Here are three strategies which, in a successful religious movement, coexist. They complement each other because they respond to diverse human spiritual conditions, and each of these conditions manifests itself at every level religion is called to serve.

Strategy One: Systematic Theological Evangelism.

Twentieth and twenty-first UUs suppress education about systematic theology the way fundamentalists suppress education about birth control. In each case, the fear is that “to know it is to want to use it.” The result is that UUs believe systematic theology is the evil other religions do. In fact, it used to be the primary tool our religious parents used to reach into people’s souls across racial, cultural, ethnic, age divisions. We had various systematic theologies, which disagreed in details but rested on congruent visions and assumptions. When Unitarians say “we have no creed,” they refer to not requiring people to subscribe to any particular set of details. And when the Standing Order rotated different preachers through the pulpits every Sunday afternoon, it was to provide preaching, praying, and religious education across the continuum of what their people believed.

This, to me, is the key to successful exhumation of the lamented (by me at least) Flaming Chalice: UUs have a right to see the various systematic theologies of our forebears (NOT all of which were Christian, by the way; it was an issue even in 1726), choose the one that works for them, and embrace its clear, careful language in public religious debate about “first causes.”

Strategy Two: Truce with Family Systems with Which We Will Never Agree and Whose Members We Will Never Convert

Family systems are tricky things. But any time a person starts describing right and wrong in terms of what they learned from their forebears, listens to what you have to say, and then says, “That’s not what we do,” you’ve left the realm of theology and entered family systems. Some of us, in fact, are here more from family systems than theological affirmation. I, for instance, am a UU Christian, but I worship among the HUUmanists, because they take such good care of my fiancee and me.

There are family systems whose bottom line is not the ability to persuade, but the power to use force. They do not subscribe to The Golden Rule (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), because they will tell you right off that people do not agree on what they want done to them.

For these folks, there is a different standard. It was taught to me by my father, and based in the premise that the world is full of evil people who will do everything in their power to hurt others. The answer to those people is: “Your rights end where another person’s begin.”

The older I get, the more it seems to me my father was right. We need to quit trying to save the culture, the country, the planet, by appealing to other people’s better natures. We need to give up on the idea that we are going to replace their theology with one of ours, because, frankly, we can’t even explain our theologies to ourselves.

And, ironically, the whole reason equal marriage has succeeded is because it followed Strategy Two. “My marriage doesn’t hurt your marriage, so you have no right to judge, exclude, or demean it.”