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Evil and Nazis

09.23.10 | Permalink | 6 Comments

September’s UU Blog Salon topic is the nature of evil.  In full awareness that I’m in danger of violating Godwin’s Law, here’s my response:

After December 1941 (if not before) it was a good thing to kill Nazis. If it was December 1941 again, it would be good to kill Nazis again. Picketing and petitions would not have stopped the Holocaust at that point (if they ever would have). Any take on evil that doesn’t deal with the Holocaust, and real ways to end it, is bunk.

Killing Nazi zombies, however, is another matter entirely.

Facebook Won’t “Like” Your Church

09.23.10 | Permalink | 5 Comments

I’ve written about Facebook before, but this time I have a bit of a cautionary tale.

We consolidated our congregation’s Facebook Page and Group into a new Page not too long ago. A volunteer stepped up to make it happen and reinvited everyone to come over to the new Page, and we now have more fans on our new Page than we did for the old. Photos were moved over, and we added our blog feed so that posts would automatically show up on our Facebook Page, where they can be “liked” and commented on.

Then the feed stopped working. Fine. I deleted the feed and readded it, and the new posts appeared.

Came back a week later. New posts not showing up again. Fine. Deleted and readded again.

Came back another week later. New posts not showing up yet again. Fine. Deleted the feed, but now it won’t let me add it back in, giving me a nondescript error message. No more time to work on it, so I put it off until the next week.

The next week I tried again. No dice. Same nondescript error message. I google it and find that others are having the same problem, with no solution from Facebook. Wait, there’s one search result pointing to a WordPress plugin that will serve as a workaround. I go to the plugin’s page to see that the plugin is broken in the current version of WordPress. Oh well.

I go back the next day to try again. Maybe it usually works, and I’m just winning the downtime lottery. Still doesn’t work. I search the Facebook help forum to find others having the same problem and finding no solution. I fill out the help ticket.

The help ticket sends me a robo-response asking for a screenshot. A screenshot of what? Of a feed not importing to my page? How am I supposed to take a screenshot of nothing happening? I ignore the message. Maybe they’ll actually read my support ticket and get back to me.

Next day, no response. So I fill out the ticket again. This time I respond to the robo-response, explaining that the feed isn’t importing and listing the six different iterations of the feed’s address that I’ve tried to import.

Which brings us to today. No response still. At least now when I try to add the feed, it give me a preview of the items it’s trying to add. But then it gives me a new nondescript error message when I confirm I want to add the feed. At least this time the error message apologizes for the error. I press the “Go back” link in the error message to try again. Rinse. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Now our Page won’t even load. I check other websites to make sure it’s not the connection. Nope, it’s Facebook. And still no feed re-added.

I tell my tale of techno-woe to point out that Facebook does not work for us—Facebook works for advertisers. It provides a “Religious Organization” category for its Pages so it can sell ads to churchfolk, not because it likes our congregations.

There are some good things to be done with a congregational Facebook Page. But we need to remember that Facebook is a for-profit corporation that makes money off our personal information. Let’s keep one eye on Facebook at all times and make sure we don’t move functions of our congregations’ lives over to Facebook that we can’t also run off Facebook, or do without. Facebook isn’t our friend, and we shouldn’t depend on it.

Quick Takes

09.21.10 | Permalink | Comment?

Thinking of taking this online course on media ethics called “Program or Be Programmed” with Douglas Rushkoff.  Looks like some good reading and good discussion.  Neato graphic summarizing his approach here.

Thank god for the honesty of “Broken Buddha.”  No need for “Love. Every. Minute.” pietism, no matter what god-talk you dress it up in.  It’s just spiritual violence with a smile.

White Collarist Volunteerism

09.16.10 | Permalink | 6 Comments

I came across a PDF put out by the Corporation for National & Community Service called “The New Volunteer Workforce.”  It’s a good, quick take on the current conventional wisdom on nonprofit volunteer management.  It’s worth the read.

But it seems to make several assumptions that I question, some of which I’m running into elsewhere in “volunteer management literature”:

  1. 66% annual retention of volunteers is a failure.
  2. White collar professionals should stay “in class” when volunteering; they should not do work that doesn’t make use of their education and training.  (So much for church choirs.)
  3. The volunteerism of white collar professionals is more valuable than the volunteerism of other kinds of workers.
  4. If a dollar value is not formally attached to each volunteer’s efforts, organizations do not value their volunteers.
  5. Volunteer managers are not professional in their work unless they have formal education in volunteer management.
  6. Volunteer management must be professionalized in order to be successful.
  7. Generation X is not a promising pool of potential volunteers compared to Boomers and Millennials.
  8. Even though the article acknowledges that more volunteers choose to serve in religious communities more than in any other type of organization, it uses a professionalized nonprofit management model as the only lens, not asking why religious volunteerism is so much more successful than its own model and modeling itself after that.

My responses:

  1. Volunteer retention can almost always be improved, and sometimes should be, but at some point increasing volunteer retention starts to cost more than its costs to find new volunteers.  I’d like to that point acknowledged, and also see something about how to know when you’re at that point and what to do about it.  There’s no point in trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip.
  2. I won’t even address the clear white collarism here.  I’ll just point out that some white collar professionals want nothing to do with their professional skill set when they volunteer.  And whatever you do for a living, it can be good do something completely different when you volunteer.
  3. More white collarism here.  Why isn’t there any talk of finding interesting volunteer roles for, say, retail workers that makes use of the skill sets they use all week at work?
  4. I can see how it could be helpful to know this dollar amount, but it’s certainly not necessary.
  5. Must we create masters degrees for everything?  I’m sure it’s often helpful to send a couple of staff to a weekend volunteer management training conference, but it’s also possible that someone with no formal training in volunteer management would know their stuff so well that those sorts of conferences would be useless for them.  When people started teaching volunteer management for the first time, none of them had any formal training in it, and yet they felt they knew enough about it to teach others.
  6. See response #5.
  7. Obvious ageism.
  8. I’m not saying religious communities can’t do a better job with volunteers; they often can.  But they’re obviously doing something right.  Let’s start with appreciation of what they’re already doing well instead of starting with the assumption that they don’t know what they’re doing and need to adopt the professionalized volunteer management model wholesale in order to succeed.

It’s great when a white collar professional who is good at their work and enjoys it volunteers some of their expertise. But let’s not set that up as the end-all, be-all of volunteerism.  Or call people failures if they kept “only” two out of three volunteer RE teachers/ushers/choir/committee members from last year.  I think we owe each other more grace than that.

All groups starting to formally professionalize their job roles will learn to employ rhetoric that puts them on the same level as groups that have already professionalized themselves,1 or even rhetoric that advocates on behalf of other professionalized groups, as it to say, “Hey, we’re on your side. Why don’t you be on our side too?”  The article’s placement on a pedestal of the volunteer work of white collar professionals is a clear example of this.  Let’s keep in mind how this sort of rhetoric benefits those trying to professionalize volunteer management and not give it an easy equation to a benefit to nonprofit organizations, even if the two will sometimes overlap.

  1. I’m told this is one of the reasons why a seminary degree, for example, is now a Master of Divinity, not a Bachelor of Divinity as it once was in many schools.[]

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Wesleyan Quadrilateral Fixed: Part Two

09.08.10 | Permalink | 2 Comments

Last week I talked about my problems with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. This week I propose a revision that I hope Unitarian Universalists (and others) will find more helpful.  Super cool graphic toward the end (I promise).

To review, the main problem with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is that experience is always primary—there is no direct access to scripture, or to reason or tradition for that matter.  A revision of the WQ that makes sense will need to place experience in the central spot that it actually holds.

Another problem for making sense of religious life and where it draws authority from is that pure experience is damn near useless.  Unless you’re a bonafide Zen Buddhist, pure experience will be pretty useless to you—you’re going to need to talk about it some way in order to make sense of it and use it.  For religious purposes, talk about experience is going to take three shapes: reason, tradition, and scripture.

Now, Ogre is right in his comments to the last post.  Technically, scripture is always a part of tradition, along with liturgy, art, music, church polity, and so much more.  The Catholics got that part right in the Reformation.

Still, I’m attached enough to Wesley’s take that I’m going to stick with a division between scripture and tradition.  Besides my Methodist nostalgia, I think it’s important to recognize that certain texts of sacred literature have risen to the top and earned a special status.

Sure, everyone has their own individual canon of texts that have played a special role in their own journey. But there are some texts that deserve special recognition for the role they’ve played over centuries of human religious experience.  Yes, T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” has a special place in my heart, but I’m not going to pretend that it deserves the same recognition as the Quran; even if I found the Quran overbearing personally, I won’t deny that importance it plays, and deserves to play.  In time, “The Hollow Men” might rise to the status of scripture, and I’ll be rooting for it, but until then, it’s no Quran (or Genesis or Tao te Ching).1

Okay, enough tangents.  I promised you a super cool graphic of a redrawn Wesleyan Quadrilateral, and here’s the best I can do.  I present (drum roll please) the Wesleyan Triangle:

Wesleyan Triangle

The Wesleyan Triangle. Click to enlarge.

The first thing to point out is that experience has been given the place it deserves: the center. Religious life starts with experience and ultimately returns to experience.

The second thing to point out is that there’s no direct access to experience: you have to go through reason, scripture, and tradition to be able to articulate experience and make use of it.  You can stick with pure experience if you want to, but you’re not going to be able to talk to anyone about it.

No, I’m not saying that you have to stick to only established scriptures, traditions, and reasons to talk about your religious experience.  All three of those sources are always growing, and we should do what we can to contribute to that growth.2  The more scriptures, traditions, and reasons, the better, but there’s no reason to start from scratch.  A lot of wise people have collected their wisdom over millennia into these sources, and we would be wise to draw upon their wisdom as much as we’re able.

Finally, if you think you’re not relying on scriptures and traditions, think again.  We stand on the shoulders of giants, and even our most independent thoughts rely on the work of those who have gone before us.  Let’s be grateful for the head start they’ve given us and give credit where credit is due.  Even Christopher Hitchens’ atheism relies on a long tradition of Christian humanism and Western skepticism.3

  1. I long for a copy of the Orange Catholic Bible from Dune so I can have all these scriptures together![]
  2. Remember, I’m rooting for “The Hollow Men.”[]
  3. And, yes, Western philosophy  and skepticism are traditions worthy of religion.[]

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Wesleyan Quadrilateral Fixed: Part One

09.01.10 | Permalink | 5 Comments

One of my first moves away from orthodox Christianity as a Methodist seminary student was when I realized I disagreed with John Wesley about the primacy of scripture.

Wesley taught that religious understanding comes to us in four ways:

  1. Revealed in Scripture
  2. Illimined by Tradition
  3. Vivified in Experience, and
  4. Confirmed by Reason

Scripture, though, is home base. The other three are extras. A 20th century theologian came to call this the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” and the name stuck in Methodist circles. It’s usually drawn as two rows of two boxes, one source to each.  (Scroll down a few screens here.)

What got to me all those years ago was the realization that there is no direct access to scripture. Sure, you can pick it up and read it yourself, but you’re always bringing your own biases—your own traditions, experiences, and reasons—to it. There’s no God’s eye view of Scripture this side of God.  Any Christian who believes otherwise is lying to themselves and doesn’t take Original Sin as seriously as they’d like to think they do.

Really, the home base for religious understanding should be experience. It all comes down to our experience of scripture, experience of tradition, experience of reasons—and when we’re being especially reflective, our experience of experience itself.

And when we look at our experience of these four sources, we notice that they’re not singular but plural.  There are a multitude of reasons, traditions, experiences, and scriptures that we can bring to bear in trying to understand religious life.  Sometimes they agree with each other and sometimes they don’t.

Even the Bible itself is plural.  It certainly doesn’t speak with one voice, which is a large part of why it has endured through centuries of change.  66+ books gets you a lot of variety to draw upon.

I also realized that if Jesus was supposed to be the central message of the Bible, then the Bible had to take a back seat to Jesus, his life experience, and the experience of those who knew him.  Scripture was one collection of those experiences, a compelling one and the earliest one written down.  But if Christians mean to make the life of Jesus primary, making the Bible the primary source of religious knowledge is idolatry of the highest order.

Either Jesus is primary and the Bible a helpful secondary source—even if it’s the most important secondary source—or else the Bible is what saves Christians and Jesus is merely incidental to it.1

Next time: I redraw the Wesleyan Quadrilateral in a way that makes sense for Unitarian Universalists.

  1. If you’ve ever endured a Bible Study with someone who uses the Scofield Reference Bible, you know first hand that there are plenty of Christians who put the Bible above the person of Jesus, and everything else, whether they acknowledge it or not. I knew one woman who for the life of her would not believe that the study notes at the bottom of the page were not just as much the Bible as the, well, Bible on the top of the page.[]
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