Thursday, June 28, 2007

Expectations?

I am part of the ministers review committee for my church. Last night we had our final review with them for the year. It was tough. I like both of our ministers, which makes reviewing their performance very tricky. I don't know how many of you out there are ministers or participate in a minister review process, but it is a fine line. How do you set concrete goals, when the job can change daily? How do you review a person's people skills when a lot of their work is confidential? There aren't any strict Unitarian minister "guidelines". We are congregationaly based, so they job/responsibilities can vary greatly. Each minister signs a covenant with the congregation when they begin their call. This outlines the congregations expectations of them, and their expectations of the congregation. Unfortunately, they tend to be very generalized. Thus, very difficult to review.

As part of the committee, I try really hard to gauge what the congregation is feeling about our ministers. Some of it is great, some of it not. How do you balance that? What do you say when 80% of the congregation is feeling satisfied with the ministers, but the core 20% are not? Does that constitute and ministerial problem? Are expectations too high? Can we really expect the ministers to be everywhere all the time? Is that humanly possible?

I have spent a lot of time lately trying to figure out what I would want from my minister. I know I would want someone who generally seems to care about me and my family. I would want someone who can create a community where other people want to belong to and participate in. This doesn't seem too hard. Now multiply that by 500 (the number of people in our congregation), and now it doesn't seem too easy. Being a minister is a hard job, but, to me, as long as they appeared to be listening and trying, then I will cut them a little more slack.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Seven

How did my little baby get to be SEVEN so fast?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Evangelizing Our Children

I have just read this fascinating essay by Tony A. Larsen (compiled in: "Salted with Fire", Scott W. Alexander, ed.). In the essay, he discusses the various reasons why Unitarian parents are reluctant to "push" their Unitarian faith on their children. He lays out a curriculum plan to help them understand the faith and other world religions. Finally, he talks about what a disservice it is to our faith not to relate to our children that no matter what spiritual path they end up taking, they are always welcome back.

As many Unitarian will attest, we are, as a group, very reluctant to talk about our faith. I tend to feel that this is due to that fact that many of us are not exactly sure what we believe. Some of us came from very structured religions that pretty much told you exactly what the "religion" believes - therefore, that is what you believe. Unitarians are a diverse group. We come from lots of backgrounds with lots of different ideas about God/divine one/spirit. We can't even agree on what words we should use! Thus, as parents, we don't have the convenience of saying (for example), "Well, the church believes in an all-forgiving God - therefore, that is what I believe". To be a Unitarian requires a lot of thought on our part. Some of us are more comfortable with definite ideas, but not everyone. I really would encourage all Unitarians, especially parents, to read various spiritual literature (my side bar has a lot of great Unitarian author listings) to help them develop their beliefs. It is much easier to talk to your children when you have spent the time delving into your own beliefs.

As T. Larsen points out, we should share our beliefs. This is different from pushing them. How can we foster a strong spiritual community, if we don't, at least, let our children know why we come together? In my own congregation, I have found it very interesting how receptive parents are to teaching their children about other religions (which I do think is important), but spend very little time at home talking about our religion - in particular, what they receive from Unitarianism. Why are they Unitarians? What beliefs do they have about the greater world and Spirituality? How does that fit in with being a UU? I thought my household was doing a decent job of this, but I was wrong. After I read this essay, I asked my almost 7 y/o "what religion are we?" A very innocent (and easy) question. Not so. After hemming and hawing, she was struggling with the name. My almost 6 y/o finally piped up and said "that Uniiiittttar.... one?" How many other main stream religions do you know where, if the children are going to Sunday school (or the equivalent) every week, as we do, would not know the name of the religion? I can pretty much guarantee every 7 y/o Lutheran, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. would easily answer it correctly. Whose fault is this? I would say mine. My husband and I are very involved in the church. Obviously we need to bring it home. Religious education only at church can not be expected to fill in the gaps.

Finally, I do want my children to fully explore their spirituality. If this means leaving Unitarian Universalism, then that is ok. I will always let them know, though, that they will be welcome back. As a faith, I feel we need to do a better job of reaching out to young adults. We need to tell our children that they are valued members of the congregation. I feel that in doing this, when they look back on their days in the UU church, they will have positive feelings and wherever their path takes them, they will have come from a solid foundation.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Faith in Politics

Although it is hard to believe, there has already been two presidential debates. (I find this mind boggling, as the election is well over a year away.) A key point in both the Republican and Democratic debate was each of the candidates view/reliance on their faith. This always gets my hackles up. One part of me wants to scream "What about separation of church and state? Why is this even asked?" You wouldn't ask someone in a job interview what their religion is (or isn't). In fact, it would constitute a lawsuit. Another part wants to say "I don't care. As long as you seem reasonably ethical, that is fine." But that isn't completely true. I find it very unnerving when politicians talk about how their faith guides them.

First, it is very exclusionary. I know that many of them feel that they are appealing to the larger audience, reassuring people that they are answering to a higher power - not just their own human mind. The larger audience, though, are not all Christians. Most are not born-again. As a Unitarian, I find no comfort in the fact that they are calling to a higher power (Jesus) that I do not believe is my Savior. I have a feeling that atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, etc. also find this less then reassuring. Additionally, it resonates with other non-Christian countries as Christendom's continual tries for domination. It makes it very hard for them to find common ground with which to work for peace and acceptance.

Second, I find it is a way for political leaders to absolve themselves of responsibility. It is much easier to justify the deaths of innocent civilians and soldiers when you claim that there is a higher reason for your war. Obviously, our own president is an excellent example of this. How many political or religious leaders have "fallen" only to ask for forgiveness for their human nature? As if their humanity was to blame - not their own, very real, decision making.

Finally, as a Unitarian, I am very uncomfortable using the word faith - especially in regards to political decision making. One of the main reasons I am drawn to Unitarian Universalism is the emphasis it puts on the ability for humankind to be rational, ethical people. I truly believe this. I don't feel you have to have faith to make responsible, appropriate decisions. I believe in the ability of the human mind to reason, without the need for "divine" intervention. I do think there is room in politics for people of all beliefs, but it should not be the driving force in their political campaign. As UUs know, actions speak a whole lot louder then words.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Enough is Enough

Recently a news report came out stating that US economic growth is the lowest it has been in years. Somewhere around 2%. There is also non-stop talk about the decline in the housing market - especially in housing starts. Yesterday, a local company announced it is being bought out by a much larger institution - allowing it even greater growth. Last fall, I was saddened to see Burt's Bees and The Body Shop sold, also to allow them greater "growth".

I am not against growth, I am just frustrated by the great emphasis put on it. Of course, there needs to be a certain amount of growth . Companies need to be able to cover their expenses, support themselves and their employees, and allow for innovation. But, when is enough enough? Obviously some people would say, "the sky's the limit. Why would we even consider limiting our growth? That is antithetical to our entrepreneurial values." But where does it really get you?

I would posit that, in the end, you lose a lot. There is a loss of quality and connectedness with the customer, employee satisfaction often diminishes thus product output decreases, and there becomes a disconnect between the corporation goals and the actual needs of society. I am most disappointed with companies that started out with an ethical and sustainable vision and, in the end - to "reach a greater audience" -have sold themselves to large conglomerates. What is wrong with staying at the level you are at? Why is there always a strong push for more? We are so wrapped up in the bottom line, we fail to see the bigger picture.

This obviously spills into the rest of our lives. The whole phrase "keeping up with the Jones'" pervades advertising. People are confronted constantly with the need to have more. Somehow having more will make your life better. There is little talk of the downside to having more: higher mortgages, more clutter, more debt, more reponsibilities, less time to enjoy life, questionable values, depletion of natural resources and, finally, exhaustion! I am very encouraged by the growing simplicity and taking back childhood movements. I would also add responsible consumerism. Shop local, buy from the farmer's market and CSA, make a difference in your community. I feel grateful that I have friends that have similar values and we try the best we can. Plus, it is a lot of fun to get out there and see what our community has to offer!