Why Gini Courter’s endorsement of Laurel Hallman rings hollow

March 2, 2009

The following is a comment I sent to the UUA’s Election-l mailing list which serves as a forum for the UUA presidential candidates. Gini Courter (pictured below) is the UUA’s elected moderator (their highest volunteer position, presiding at GAs and meetings of the Board of Trustees).

But her endorsement of Laurel Hallman (which you can read at http://hallmanforuuapresident.com ) is not to my liking, as you’re about to find out.

Gini Courter’s endorsement rings hollow

Gini Courter’s endorsement for Laurel Hallman may well backfire. Her
‘listening to congregations’ rhetoric sounds to me like the Bush
administration’s response to Global Warming scientists: ‘Let’s delay
action indefinitely by studying this some more.’ By contrast, Peter
Morales reminds us that we have already gathered plenty of actionable,
practical knowledge on fostering growth because we have been actively
listening to and working with the full spectrum of congregations for a
long time. His training DVDs, workshops, and success stories
(including the growth at his own congregation) prove conclusively that
neither miracles nor gobs of cash but only dedication are required.
However, too few congregations have yet seized on or even realized
their own potential.

Peter would be an inspiring leader who can make congregations aware
that various solutions adaptable to their local situations exist, have
been identified for some time, and are within their means. He would
impress on congregations that none of these solutions will likely work
if they skip the necessary self inspection to identify with painful
honesty why they still shrink or stagnate.

But most importantly, he gives it a distinctive religious thrust, even
mandate: We are the religion for our time, and we owe it to those who
are seeking a liberal spiritual home to truly welcome them.
My experience, as a humanist and atheist, is that UU offers the Good
of religion without the Bad (not counting committee meetings):
community, deep reflection about what is important in life, social
justice, good deeds and activism, joy, music, and caffeine. We reject
religious dogma as the arbitrary and often cruelly inhumane traditions
that they are and insist on thinking for ourselves.

Peter tells us Unitarian Universalism ought to be a life changing
offering for a very large number of Americans, and that we must get
our act together to become the denomination that makes good on that
liberating promise. This time of economic crisis presents an
opportunity not to retreat and refocus on our existing membership but
to invite others in to share what we have.

To me, Gini Courter’s talk about ‘listening’ further sounds like a
calculated appeal to those congregations who don’t want to change, who
neither want to listen nor to share, and to tell them that Laurel
Hallman is the candidate who will happily leave them to their own
devices. Her appeal sounds like fishing for votes among those who
don’t care about the association anyway. Peter has stated that he,
too, won’t force anyone to change. But it is because he wants to focus
the UUA’s energy on those congregations who have declared a desire to

Furthermore, Gini Courter’s harping on ‘listening’ ignores that Peter
(but not Laurel!) has identified and publicized new upcoming problems
for the UU movement that many ministers and lay leaders are not
sufficiently aware of (such as the demographic steamroller bound to
flatten us in just a few years, or the almost total absence of non-
white ministers in the training pipeline). Someone has to alert them
and call on them to jointly work on solutions. Listening goes both ways.

Gini Courter then claims we need a leader “grounded in our polity”
which seems to imply that only a ‘UU lifer’ could ever be eligible.
First, this denies the fact that our denomination would long have gone
extinct if not for the influx of adult seekers from other religions or
no religion at all. Peter is one of those, and he represents that
large, and active, segment of members who arrived here later in life.
For him, UU is not a family tradition but a deliberate choice. He has
turned his own calling into a call to expand our role and turn our
liberal and liberating approach to faith from a feeble and marginal
one to a clear and relevant voice in American religious life.

Secondly, our stagnation is bigger trouble than many realize (we are
in effect shrinking relative to population growth). It is often easier
for someone who has not been an insider his or her entire career to
provide a more helpful diagnosis. Organizations who managed to survive
crisis have typically brought in leaders from the outside. Peter,
fortunately, offers both: he has years of intimate inside UU
experience on the national, regional, and congregational level, as
well as perspectives gained working in business, government, and the

By contrast, Laurel lacks an outside perspective, and her
overoptimistic leadership in the failed million dollar Pathways “Fast
Start” Congregation endeavor is perhaps indicative that a UUA
president needs broader qualifications than long tenure and a
successful ministry. Had she googled “why churches fail” she would
have found out immediately that among two dozen options to create a
new congregation they picked the most expensive one, and the one least
likely to succeed. Optimism alone doesn’t cut it.

Finally, Gini Courter’s evocation ‘treat them not like customers’ is
empty rhetoric. Obviously, the UUA – by nature of its contingent of
fiercely independent members – will never be ‘top down’ or a mere
service pool. But of course Boston headquarters has a much appreciated
and needed role to be of service to congregations and to allocate and
steer resources. For that, we could make due simply with an
administrative manager, and that’s not the job up for a vote.

But to instigate our necessary national dialogue about directions,
problems, and solutions we need a president with a clear vision and a
voice that wakes us from complacency and tells us that, yes: We can be
the religion for our time. Peter Morales is that leader.

M.V., Golden, Colorado,
(a member of Peter Morales’ congregation, Jefferson Unitarian Church)
You can sign up for theElection-l mailing list here:



Two future presidents? Peter Morales gives invocation for Barack Obama in Golden, Colorado

September 16, 2008

Peter Morales gave the invocation at Barack Obama’s campaign event in Golden, Colorado!

Sunday morning, our Golden Obama office looked a bit like UU coffee hour: a quarter of the volunteers, or so it seemed, are also members at Jefferson Unitarian Church, and among the hundreds queuing up for tickets outside were many familiar faces (and I saw most of them again for the 11am service as the church was full!).
That’s where I first heard a rumor: 
Peter Morales had been asked to give the convocation for Barack Obama’s speech today at the Colorado School of Mines.
Low and behold, this morning it came to pass! 
Even though I have a deep dislike for linking politics and religion I’m very heartened by that decision by the Obama campaign to let a Unitarian Universalist minister invite the audience to reflection. What better religion to call for inclusiveness and openness! As you will see, Peter Morales had the courage of his conviction, calling faiths that preach hatred false! Thank you, Peter, for saying what few others dare to say.
Here’s my video: 
[blip.tv ?posts_id=1273224&dest=-1]
Here is Peter’s convocation transcribed from the video:
“As we gather today for a political event in a heated election season, at a time of great uncertainty in our nation, let us remind ourselves that we are one people – and here in Colorado: “Somos un pueblo!” In this troubled time, let us remember the lessons of all the great religious traditions, let us remember that the task of a leader is to serve the people.
All the great traditions – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism – teach that we are all connected to each other. They teach us that we best demonstrate our religious faith by showing compassion for one another. If we are to be faithful, we are to help one another, we will work for justice, we will work for peace.
When God works through us, we will marginalize no one.
When we are truly faithful we will see that religion is what ties us together. Any faith that divides us, that creates enemies, that preaches hatred, is false.
Finally let us remember that being faithful to our ideals of peace and justice is far greater than this campaign: it’s the work of our lives. It’s easy to pray for peace and compassion and justice, [but] our faiths call us to do much more than pray with words.
Our lives speak much louder and more truthfully than our words. 
Oh, loving spirit, use us. Use us, guide us, give us courage. Our time demands courageous acts from each and everyone of us.
Let each of us say, in the words of the prophet Isaiah: Here I am, send me.
May it be so, amen.”


Bad karma? What would you do with a rattlesnake hanging out under the tomatoes?

August 4, 2008

Our house borders the open space of a dry table mountain (mesa) in Golden, Colorado. Last week my wife had quite a shock: bending down to pick some ripe tomatoes she noticed – just barely in time – a rattlesnake coiled up under the tomato bush. We took some pictures, called in the neighbors and their kids so they would learn to recognize one and know to keep their distance, and then shooed it away with a ski pole. The rattle sounded exactly like one of those pop-up lawn sprinklers. Also, the snake turned out to be quite a bit longer than it appeared rolled up, 26 inches as we now know.

Anyway, we thought that encounter should have frightened her more than us and that we’d never see her again. Wrong. Four days later is was me who almost got bitten. I had looked carefully before going near the tomatoes but had seen nothing. But when I turned to the plum tomatoes there it was, 2 feet away, coiled to strike and rattling full throttle. I jumped back instantly, ‘enjoying’ a huge rush of adrenalin, and losing some cherry tomatoes.

It didn’t take me long to decide. We have a five year old girl, a clumsy St. Bernard, the kids across the street are even younger, and this deadly critter seemed undeterred and comfortable under those tomato plants by the brick wall that was radiating back the day’s heat until late at night. I got my camera, took a few last pictures and then hit it with a long shovel. 

Despite its partially severed head the body continued to writhe for another 20 minutes. My daughter was fascinated. I finally sawed the head off (with the shovel), sealed it into an empty can in the trash, and my neighbor moved the body onto a rock where birds of prey could easily spot it. 

Live and let live – sometimes. Still, I felt lousy and shaken.

In hindsight, I probably could have ushered the rattler into a tall garbage bin and let it out on top of the mesa. But it’s amazing how visceral those emotions get, and how they affected me.

Maybe that’s what I’ll do next time. Coincidentally, the authoritative book on rattlesnakes by Laurence M. Klauber “Rattlesnakes: Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind, Abridged edition”  had arrived that same afternoon. I had hoped to find more information on how to handle this slithery situation there but hadn’t checked the mail yet.

nothing moderate about the fundamentalist, apocalyptic, Christian-right ideology of Pastor Hagee

July 30, 2008


I highly recommend the article Going Undercover at Mad Pastor Hagee’s Christians United for Israel Summit” by Ali Gharib published on alternet.org on July 26.

Why undercover? Because in an effort to control the message the press was kept out of the conference.

There was nothing moderate about the fundamentalist, apocalyptic, Christian-right ideology of the attendants and speakers at the CUFI conference.

 “For us,” Hagee said, “there are only two ways to live: The Bible way and the wrong way. Christians United for Israel is a Bible-based organization now, tomorrow and forever, without apology to anyone for anything.”


on Alternet.org: Do Shock Jocks Spur Murder? Opportunity to chime in.

July 30, 2008

People may want to chime in and perhaps also educate other readers about Unitarian Universalism on alternet.org (registration required).

Editor Joshua Holland asks Did Right-Wing Shock Jocks Motivate Knoxville Killer?


astrological signs on blogger accounts – how to get rid of them

July 29, 2008

In the course commenting about the UUA elections and reading about this Sunday’s tragedy in Knoxville I’ve come across many UU blogs and have often encountered a blogger’s astrological signs listed in their profile. And lo and behold, my own profile showed them!


Most of you know that astrology is a pseudo science that has conclusively been proven to be utter bunk. There’s no mechanism to effect the supposed influence of ‘the stars’, the so called alignment points to empty space in the sky because the earth has rotated away from the position that it had when the ‘constellations’ were first put on paper, the attribution of ‘properties’ is totally arbitrary and assigned differently in different cultures, the predictive track record of astrology is zero and always has been, and the psychological mechanism of ‘recognizing’ horoscope descriptions as personally valid are well studied as cognitive delusions.

It’s utter rubbish for the gullible.

People have an aversion to hearing that something is false, claiming we can’t ‘really’ know what is true. This is a logical reverse that doesn’t hold up. Astrology’s claims have been shown to be false, unsupported and contradicted by evidence, and without predictive power. There is no way to assign astrology any likelihood of being somehow true. That’s when you have no choice but to call it false.

I would urge you to get rid of those absurd ‘descriptors’ if you have a blogger account. Just go to your profile and look for the appropriate check box. Unfortunately, it’s checked by default.

What’s next, I’d like to ask Blogger? Make it mandatory to indicate my “personal Feng Shui color”?


(The image is linked from the fabulous James Randi Education Foundation whose aim is “to promote critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural ideas so widespread in our society today.”)

sorrow, survivor’s guilt, and censored rants

July 28, 2008

Saturday evening I chatted on the phone with the woman who had designed and then made all the costumes for our childrens’ musical at church. Today I saw her crying in the pews after her husband, also fighting back tears, announced the terrible news from Knoxville from the pulpit. The woman who had had the exact same job at Tennessee Valley UU Church is now a widow, Greg McKendry was her husband.

Our emotions are in turmoil. Our thoughts are with the victims, and at the same time something not unlike survivor’s guilt is creeping up. It could have been us. They were us. We are them. Here in the Denver area, we still sometimes see bleached stickers: Columbine is everywhere.

A footnote on the horrible events: I was reading the comments by viewers of the local station. Apparently, several posts had been marked as abusive and were taken off, leaving the reader to wonder what was said. Reactions from other readers tell me they were (probably) of two kinds: 1) an angry atheist who made assumptions and generalizations about a dogmatically motivated attack by a fanatic Christian; 2) someone who derided UUs, knocked the performance of an ‘un-Christian’ musical, and said something to the effect of ‘serves them right’, or “God’s wrath”.

Part of me wishes those deleted posts were still there. Maybe I’m naive and we can’t really learn anything from them, but this is the country where “free speech” is a universal idea, and yet, we’re timid and censorious in many situations.

My guess is that uncivilized ranters often say things that are an undercurrent in certain groups of society, expressing prejudice, irrational fears, rumors and hate speech that are prevalent but not on the surface.

The other part of me hopes we can minimize the pain for the victims who have already suffered too much. 

But what also surfaced in the reader statements was that some people either couldn’t place UU or had some odd ideas about it. In these coming days we may be asked about our faith, be ready.

Of course, this may turn out to be just a sad case of untreated mental illness, a specter that is haunting the United States whose voters so far have been denied inclusive healthcare available to most other industrial nations. We may know more soon. Let’s hope we don’t have reason to be fearful that UUs are now an identified target.

Finally, if you are sending letters to Tennessee don’t forget that several visiting members of the Westside Unitarian Universalist Church were also injured and traumatized (one, Linda Kraeger, is among the dead).