Peter Morales gave the invocation at Barack Obama’s campaign event in Golden, Colorado!
Peter Morales gave the invocation at Barack Obama’s campaign event in Golden, Colorado!
A long time family friend, Inge, died at 64 this week in my home town in Germany after a four year torture by Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Two weeks earlier she had decided she wanted to end this crippling condition on the only terms still left to her, by refusing to be fed. When my mother visited her one last time two days before she died she wrote on her magic drawing tablet (she had been unable to speak for the past 7 months): “You just went to Ireland – do you have photos?” It was an honest interest, characteristic of her caring personality.
My 4 yr old daughter Kira and I had just seen her and her husband in May, and Kira was at first curious why an adult would use a drawing tablet, and then sad to learn why. She, too, could tell that our friend was just like everyone else at the table, but simply could not speak or eat. In an instant, she accepted it and engaged her in her usual extroverted way.
In addition to being powerless in facing her encroaching, cruel and untimely death Inge carried another burden. She had a great love for children but her daughter-in-law allowed her extremely little contact with her four grandchildren. Inge was not the least bit pushy, nor judgmental, nor ideologically warped, and yet, somehow this young mother thought of her children as exclusively her own, and didn’t want to share. It’s a constellation that I’ve seen an awful lot.
My personal transcript of the Question One in the candidate debate of Saturday, June 28, 2008.
A link to the video file may still be available here but at present is not listed among the viewable UUA GA sessions http://s2.netro.ca/uuasscod/4059.wmv
Question One: What would be your top priorities as you begin your administration, and looking back in four or eight years, what would constitute a successful presidency?
Rev Peter Morales:
Everything that we want to do depends on our ability to grow our movement, and so that is the one great measure. And sadly, everything that we’ve tried in the last generation has not been effective. And yet I have seen in my own congregation and dozens of others who have grown very rapidly (we are one of the rapid growing congregations) that real practical stuff can transform a congregation and make it different. What we need to do as a movement is to partner with our congregations – because we will only grow when hundreds of our cong grow – what we need to do is to unleash the commitment, the idealism of the people that are already in our cong. And as I said the other enormous thing by the time four or 8 years go by we will have a plan and have implemented that plan to ensure that there are dynamic, thoughtful and diverse religious leaders for the new America that we are living into. [applause]. (182 words)
Rev Dr Laurel Hallman:
I hope you take this in the seriousness with which I say it: My highest priority is to convince people that they need to focus in the nursercy and that they need to focus on their young people the first year out of high school. Now, let me, let me talk about that. I have one grand daughter who at the time she came to visit me along with her parents, she came to church, I wanted to introduce them in church and so I asked them to come with me into the church with her so that people would realize I hadn’t really made them up, and so they did, and I said: “And if she is fussy and you need to take her out just take her over to the nursery. And my daughter in law looked at me like I’d said “Just throw her out on Preston Road”, she was just stunned. And of course, I introduced them, it was lovely and then in time she became fussy and her mother took her out. And she went to nursery and came back to the service at the end of the service and said: “You have a fabulous nursery”. And when she said it she held our silent beeper that we give to parents who leave their babies in the nursery. It was kind of umbilical cord to the nursery and I think it was this that meant we had that marvelous nursery. If she were not living in another city, if she were an example of a mother bringing her child perhaps for the first time, maybe the first time away from them as she went to the service – this is one way to have them come back. It means we understand the bond and we want to take care of it. The nursery is crucial and of course now it also means all kinds of things: about safe places, about clean places, about taking care of what we have and cherishing our youngest. So my highest priority – and I’m not being fascetious – is the nurseries on our congregations. And then going along with that is the first year out of high school. I know Lyle Schaller who is a consultant to religion, to congregations, says that this is one of the most important factors in the growth of the Mormon church, their young people go out into an act of service for two years that reengages or engages the young people and their parents are paying for it which reengages the parents at a time where they would leave. It brings them back into the church for a new chapter in their lives, and it’s crucial. I’ve got lots of other priorities but that will be for starters. (512 words)
[I’ll correct typos along the way]
Peter Morales clearly has a long track record of pushing for achievable growth that includes teaching at seminary, leading growth workshops nationwide , co-producing and participating in video manuals for growth. Having seen the two videos I assert that those ideas are cheap, imminently practical, and effective, which has also been the general feedback from congregations. I also see his second priority – to ensure we have capable ministers that are racially diverse so that they will relate to the rapidly changing demographics – as addressing a harsh reality that is not yet on everybody’s radar, but should be.
Laurel Hallman illustrates her priority – to focus congregations’ attention on providing superior nursery care to demonstrate how much we care and understand a visitor’s trust – in a great many words (512). She then cites the Mormon practice of sending young adults to do two years of missionary work as an effective glue for both the kids and the parents to the church but fails to say what the practical lesson for UUA might be.
My take: I find Peter’s priorities on growth and developing a ministry capable of reaching changing demographics are indeed the most pressing issues, and his track record indicates he’ll be able to follow through. Laurel’s priority on the nursery: To me it is merely one valid problem that needs be addressed and has been addressed well at her large church. Adapting such superb practices to small and tiny congregations will be hard as it requires critical numbers of members, staff, rooms, and cash. The UUA has no resources to offer for this whereas a UUA field staff that fosters many cheap, tested, and adaptable ideas for growth can have a huge impact.
The candidate forum is no longer listed among the webcasts. Here is my transcript of the two elevator speeches from my saved audio copy.
Laurel Hallman: We’re a church that was founded – at least in America – along with the freedom of our government. We believe that no Pope should tell us what we should believe and no rabbi or minister of priest should stand between us and our relationship with God. It’s unmediated. It’s a free church now, their definitions of what makes it free have expanded dramatically since those early years but those founders of the democracy of our country and also of our free faith were able to put in place a structure that could contain much more than they could even imagine. [111 words] hallmanforuuapresident.com
Peter Morales: I believe – and if you look at the history of religion: it’s true – that religion is much less about what we think than about what we love. And we are a group of people who loves life, who believes in compassion for one another, who believes in human dignity, who believes in peace and compassion. And if you believe in that, we have the same religion. [78 words] moralesforuuapresident.org
Rev Hallman proceeded to say:
“Now, just as a matter of commentary, of ministerial commentary, it helps people connect with our country and with something they know and it aligns us with that in a way that is helpful and they can relate to even though is also expands the definition. So, I found that to be a helpful elevator speech.”
Rev Morales speech was followed by applause, then the moderator read the next question.
Feel free to comment.
Dan Harper’s “Yet Another Unitarian Universalist” blog entry at http://www.danielharper.org/blog/?p=1382 called for UU elevator speeches.
(During Saturday’s debate the two Presidential candidates Peter Morales and Laurel Hallman were also asked to give one. Check it out online. I have to warn you though: Laurel’s speech was apparently designed for the elevator of the Empire State Building.)
So at first I explored some ideas about comparing our relationship between UUs and the Seven Principles with those of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but that went nowhere. A next attempt to start with history had my imaginary elevator compagnera yawning instantly.
And all in only ten seconds? Impossible! More like fourty (think: tall buildings).
Anyway, here goes:
(since the embedded video image (above) is so ugly, below a screen shot, the T-shirt reads: When Religion Ruled They Called It The Dark Ages. I bought it from Denver anthropologist David Eller, author of Natural Atheism. I’ll write more about the book at a later point. Until then: Details are at naturalatheism.us
Here’s the transcript:
“It’s a progressive religion with Christian roots. There’s no one holy book, instead, we find useful ethics and wisdom among many religious and humanist traditions. For us, real spirituality shows itself in what a person does for others, not in what they believe about God or no god. For instance, many UUs do not believe in a God, but practically all believe that you should try to be a good person regardless. So our focus is on social justice, on tolerance, on listening, on empathy. But also on joy. Sex, for example, is seen as a wonderful thing. What was your room number again?”
I just read (and highly recommend) the book by Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi: The Great Derangement (May 2008). It addresses the 9/11 conspiracy crowd, the appallingly corrupt workings of the Congress and Senate, and the phenomenal success of lunatic right wing fundamentalism. For that third topic he went undercover for months and joined a hugely successful if ideologically evil Texas megachurch. (See the linked excerpt article below: “Jesus made me puke”. The provocative title refers to being made to spew out ‘demons’ into a barf bag during a ‘healing service’.)
What fills the pews in those 5000 seat arenas? (according to Matt Taibbi)
1) People are (as sociologists can prove) lonely and disconnected on an unprecedented scale. (I failed to dig out the statistics that I recently saw, their measure or indicator was how many persons someone had other than spouses or parents in whom they could trust to discuss deep emotional issues. Please respond if you can identify the study.)
2) People are hurt. Financially, emotionally, they suffer from evil jobs, endless commutes, they have little life outside their consuming drudgery. Addiction also figures prominently, as do abuse and bad relationships.
These churches are effective, Taibbi writes, not because of their often ludicrous ideologies but because they offer real support in those areas of affliction. (Whether they support is effective is another question, but at least they offer support, and starting to address a problem is always a step in the right direction).
They are also good at retaining folks because they form small groups inside their larger settings (sometimes called ‘tribes’) where people get connected through bible study etc with a regular subset of the same few people. It combines the pleasure of being part of a large group or movement (I call it the ‘stadium effect’) with the joy of really getting to know well a few people who embark on the same journey.
What can UUs learn here?
If a church wants to grow it must first make a visitor feel welcome as a person and then have a mechanism where s/he gets involved and makes lasting acquaintances. My minister, Peter Morales, explained recently that in his experience (both here at JUC and in congregations he’s visited nationwide) almost all visitors have already thoroughly checked out a church online (read sermons, been to http://beliefnet.org etc) before they step through the door.
So their question is (says Peter): Are these my people? and not: Do they believe what I believe?
If they are not actively welcomed and made to feel that, yes, there might well develop a deeper connection, they won’t return.
Many congregations apparently fail to make visitors return. Peter Morales thinks it’s not because of intentional snobbery but rather because our culture of welcoming is underdeveloped, too timid, or simply unreflected.
In a recent campaign event he said about the art of welcoming people: “You don’t have to do it perfectly, and we don’t do it perfectly, and the churches that grow like crazy don’t do it perfectly but they pay attention and they care. The first thing is to get people to care and then to pay attention.”
Since this post now has half turned into a campaign pitch I might as well give a direct link – to both candidates!
Don’t miss the candidate forum webcast this Saturday: 6:45 – 8:00 p.m Eastern time (it takes days until it’s available archived, you have to tune in live or you’ll miss it)
4059 UUA Presidential Candidates’ Forum with Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman and Rev. Peter Morales, Candidates: http://www.uua.org/events/generalassembly/2008/112314.shtml
Note: Our church, JUC, gets small Amazon referral fees when purchases are made through a JUC link. I suggest you look into that for your own congregation. People are slow to pick it up but I spend loads on Amazon and simply bookmarked JUCs referral button and use it religiously