Thursday, May 28, 2009

Theodore Parker's destructive legacy....

Why did Theodore Parker die? He died prematurely worn out through this enormous activity, -- a warning, as well as an example.... Had he been a mere student, this had been less destructive. But to take the standard of study of a German professor, and superadd to that the separate exhaustions of a Sunday preacher, a lyceum lecturer, a radical leader, and a practical philanthropist was simply to apply half a dozen distinct suicides to the abbreviation of a single life. And as his younger companions had long assured him, the tendency of his career was not only to kill himself, but them; for each assumed that he must at least attempt what Theodore Parker accomplished.... [Thomas Wentworth Higginson]

There were quite a few 19th century Unitarian ministers whose exhausting work was felt to have contributed to their premature demise, Joseph Stevens Buckminster and Henry Ware Jr. to name only two. But Parker's persona as a constitutionally robust child of farmers was a sharp contrast to the frail, "spiritual" ectomorphic body-types generally associated with piety in that era.

More to the point though is Higginson's observation that for many of the generation of clergy who followed Parker, the challenge of his accomplishments as Preacher and Abolitionist Reformer, Scholar, Lecturer, "Practical Philanthropist" (a reference to Parker's active involvement in hands-on public/pastoral ministry as well his more radical political involvement), and general all-around busybodyness set an impossibly high standard, while implicitly encouraging neglect of many of the more run-of-the-mill institutional duties of parish ministry.

Yet even recognizing this, we still admire him to this day as one of the "Three Prophets" of Religious Liberalism. We point to the 28th Congregational Society as some sort of great institutional success, the 19th century equivalent of the modern Megachurch, and...

Let me just say this. There's a lot more to "the Golden Age of Unitarianism" that Parker, Emerson, and Channing. But most of us seem hard pressed even to understand them in their context. And so we find ourselves trapped by a form of idolatry, flirting with "half a dozen distinct suicides" as we attempt to minister effectively in our time and place based on a false knowledge of our past, and a mistaken understanding of our real charge.

And yes, I still adore Theodore Parker....

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Vote for Laurel Hallman if anyone really cares.

I don't know either of these candidates especially well personally, although over nearly thirty years of ministry (Laurel and I were by coincidence ordained on the exact same day in 1981) my life has crossed paths with Laurel's on several occasions. We are mutual friends of mutual friends, and I know her by reputation to be an outstanding and thoughtful religious leader. To my knowledge, Peter's and my paths have never crossed (although apparently he discovered UUism in Eugene Oregon in the mid-nineties, at exactly the same time I was completing my PhD there. But for some reason we never met personally). He certainly has many strong supporters among my friends in the PNWD, which is to his credit I'm sure. And I also believe that the issues he has identified as crucial -- radical hospitality and ministerial formation -- are the right ones, and will be priorities for whoever is elected next.

But here's the thing for me. When I look at Laurel's resume I see someone with three decades of solid experience in the ministry, and who has literally given her entire adult life in service to our movement. She has successfully served two very different churches, been a Berry Street essayist and the Living Tradition preacher, and served on more boards, committees, commissions, whatever than I can comfortably count. Perhaps most importantly (and I say this as an historian of our movement who was also there to witness with my own eyes), her work with Harry Scholefield on "Living By Heart" was one of the earliest, most influential, and perhaps even the single most important catalyst for the renewal of interest in All Things Spiritual among Unitarian Universalists.

Peter, by contrast, was only first discovering Unitarian Universalism at the moment Laurel was helping to profoundly change its face. After a year or two in the pews he headed off for seminary, and since then has successfully served the same church -- twice -- with a brief (and somewhat mysterious, at least to me) interlude at 25 in between. He's clearly an attractive and compelling speaker, who is capable of inspiring great loyalty in the people who hear him. And he has carefully positioned himself as the "outsider" candidate, who is going to bring to our movement new ideas from outside the box that are going to transform it into whatever it needs to be in order to thrive in the next century.

But I guess I'm just old school enough to think that the last thing we really need right now is more new ideas from outside the box. For too long I've watched our denomination chase after this "latest thing" and the next, every one of which is going to be "just the thing" to grow us to relevance and thus expand the impact and influence of our values and principles. But I'm not even certain that's the right problem, much less the best course. Instead, I feel what we really need is a leader who truly understands the heart and soul of our movement, not only at this moment in history, but throughout its history. Once again, Peter is certainly capable of saying all of the same right things so many of us have been thinking and saying for years (that we are not a social club, or a political party for instance). But Laurel "gets it" in a way and on a level that is difficult to put into words...although in my opinion she has certainly done so very effectively, over and over and over again.

That's why she won my vote. As if anyone really cares....

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Cyber-Stalker

Shortly after the Presidential Election, I drew the attention of a notorious U*U blogger (Robin Edgar, the so-called "Emerson Avenger") for posting this image on my blog, and comparing it to (among other things) a Phoenix rising from the ashes. Robin accused me of stealing my idea from him (which, I hope it goes without saying, I didn't) without giving him "credit where credit is due" (apparently, the truly important consideration in his mind), and then later (after I tried to defend myself) called me a plagiarist and "the Klepto Cleric," accused me of "conduct unbecoming a minister," and generally began to heap abuse upon me every chance he got (which was quite frequently, since he apparently has a lot of time on his hands).

Finally, when I got tired of the whole business and tried to disengage, I made the mistake of quoting an old folk saying I first heard from my grandmother: "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk. You both end up stinking, but the skunk LIKES it." Robin took to that like...well, like a skunk to a pissing match, he routinely warns his victims to stock up on tomato juice because when he's finished with them they'll need it!

But here's my point and my request. Robin is obviously free to write whatever he likes on his own blogs, and good for him if it keeps him off the streets, out of trouble and out of harm's way. But for God's sake, PLEASE will people stop linking to his site, publishing his comments, and allowing him to gain greater exposure for his slander and abuse than he can gather on his own! All the high-falutin' arguments about "a free and responsible search" notwithstanding, all you are doing is contributing to his hateful, hurtful campaign of lies and abuse. You're not doing him any good, and you're not making our movement smell too sweet either.

I also feel compassion for Robin, and all the things he's apparently suffered...but believe me, helping him to inflict that same hurt on others is NOT the appropriate, compassionate, humanitarian thing to do. So please, PLEASE, PLEASE! just cut him off, right now, today, Cold Turkey, and maybe we can begin to put an end to this long, international nightmare....

BTW & FWI, here are the links to MY ORIGINAL NOVEMBER 17 POST, along with the COMMENT ON CHRISTINE ROBINSON'S BLOG that Robin claims I stole. So setting aside the fact that I hadn't even seen this comment until Robin brought it to my attention, you can decide for yourself whether Robin's accusations of "plagiarism" are really supportable. And then maybe the entire blogosphere will start to stink just a little bit less.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Theodore Parker, the Great American Preacher

born August 24, 1810 - Lexington, Massachusetts.
died May 10, 1860 - Florence Italy.

Lest we forget, both the Parker birth bicentennial and the Parker death sesquicentennial are coming up next summer. Might make for an interesting opportunity to reassess the impact his inspiration and influence have had on our movement. But until then, enjoy these:

The English Cemetery in Florence

The Grave of Theodore Parker

Yes, that's me standing in the rain next to Parker's headstone in Florence, Spring 2000