Tuesday, January 01, 2008

"Announcing 'Ron's Authentic Frontier Gibberish' blog!"
A little something new to start off the new year. Over at the "Faith of the Free" message board, we've added a little blog section (you're invited to participate, by the way), and I'll be saving some of my more opinionated posts for that blog. Mostly, it will be on topics of religion and politics, but no matter what the subject, I promise to keep my gibberish very authentic, and at least a little frontierish (I prefer to think of it as "cutting edge"). Again, the "Faith of the Free" message board can be found at...
--and my personal blog there is at...
The message board continues to grow, but (as seems to always be the case with UU's) only a precious few actually "converse." Most of the recent new members lately (-- who do actually converse, bless their hearts --) have been from the UK (No, not that University in Kentucky...the other one, across the Atlantic.) Nice folks. Most of them (with whom I've chatted so far) are from various parts of England and the Glasgow area of Scotland. They have their own message board and online community, called National Unitarian Fellowship.
I know, some people have proclaimed the death of message boards, but I still like them. To me, they're more like "community centers," or at least ideally so. They have to be carefully moderated to watch for the "evil-doers" (spammers, trolls, etc.), but they have great flexibility and "editability." To me, there's plenty of room on the internet for as many formats of meaningful communication about Unitarian Universalism, our ideals and concerns as possible. As we say here in the "UU hinterlands," y'all come see us...pull up a chair and sit a spell!"

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Little Message-Board Announcement

Just wanted to let everybody know that our little “all-UU message board,” formerly located at "choosingfaith.informe.com" has moved to a new address.

You can now find it at...


...and, of course, visitors and new members are always welcome!

The "Faith of the Free" message board is intended to serve as an informal (unofficial), "one-stop shop" for the sharing of information, inspiration and all sorts of conversation on subjects of mutual interest. Included will be categories relating to the values, principles, premises, and priorities of Unitarian Universalism; to our mission, vision and the "spreading of our UU gospel," so to speak; to discussion of the issues of the day; a UU history forum; several places for networking of UU's and religious liberals worldwide; also a "quotes archive" (...which, of course, has a place for those "UU jokes"),..and pretty much anything else we/you can think that may be of interest to Unitarian Universalists, locally and globally.

If you like it, please be sure to spread the word, OK? (Maybe this information can be included as “filler” for your newsletter, or at your website?)

As always, thanks so much for your help!


Thursday, February 08, 2007

More on "Religious Identification" in the U. S.
You've probably seen these or similar reports in the past few years. They list the percentages of Americans who categorize their religious inclinations one way or another;

Perhaps the main trend that I've noticed in recent years is a steady rise in the number of people who select "no religion." A more recent study (than this one) showed that total to be even higher...closer to 20 percent, and I suspect it will continue a slow and steady rise in the near future. To me, this just echoes a pattern that's been taking place in Europe for quite some time now.

On the other hand, in the "other religions" category (in this 2001 study), Unitarian Universalism shares a 3.7 percent share with "Hindus; Pagans; Wiccans; Spiritualists; Native Americans; Bahai Faith; New Age; Sikhs; Scientologists; Taoists; Druids; Santaria; Rastafarian, etc." I just can't help but wonder how many of those "twenty percent or so" who, for whatever reasons, are so obviously turned off by "organized religion" might find spiritual support and genuine camaraderie within our "Faith of the Free" if such an opportunity should present itself? Even if just a tenth of those folks were to find a meaningful connection with Unitarian Universalism, that would be...well, let's see... millions. Is it such a stretch to think that we already have a lot in common with those folks?

By the way, I'm still testing the waters with a new "UU message board," and one month into the project, we have 25 signed-on members. Come and give it a look! There's plenty of room. Free parking. No charge. "Our Choosing Faith" forum can be found at this link...

Still trying to figure out how best to make it work. As always, your ideas for improvement would be much appreciated!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

New Message Board Update

I want to thank those of you who have already joined the new "Our Choosing Faith" UU message board! As of this morning, sixteen brave souls have joined me there as together we try to blaze some new trails and add something a little different to the "larger UU conversation." Yes, there are already plenty of Yahoo groups, MySpace pages, Livejournal, Beliefnet, a lot of blogs, etc....but I'm not aware of any other multi-purpose message boards that are run "of, by and for UU's." I think the message board format has its place (along with all the others).

It's nothing fancy, of course, but we're off to a pretty good start I'd say. (My first such venture last year never got beyond 10 members.) It's still very much a work in progress.

To make it go, however, we need to get the word out and to have more people routinely checking in and (ideally) participating. That's where my brothers and sisters "of kindred spirit" here in the UU blogosphere can help. I'd appreciate anything you can do to spread the word---maybe a few mentions here and there, or maybe adding links to it---so that we can make this a true "community board" for Unitarian Universalists.

Again, the message board can be reached at...


Thanks in advance!


Thursday, January 11, 2007

"On Growing UU: The Example of Norbert Capek"

"It is my ideal that unitarian religion in our country should mean a higher culture. . . new attitudes toward life and practically a new race. . . .The church's task must be to place truth above any tradition, spirit above any scripture, freedom above authority, and progress above all reaction."

-- Norbert Fabian Capek

Anybody who knows me (any Unitarian Universalist) also knows that I'm a "UU cheerleader" of sorts, and am always interested in learning and sharing new ways to better grow our liberal faith. One of my "pet theories" on how we might be able to do this--at least here in the United States--is something I'll call (for the lack of a better term) "the patriotic free church" premise.

The "patriotic free church premise" suggests that what is now emerging--within modern-day Unitarian Universalism--- is a legitimate and still highly relevant---expression of the "liberal, rational, and naturalistic faith" which was common among the primary founders of the United States in the late 1700's and early 1800s--and upon which some of them devoutly believed that this brand-new, democracy-friendly republic should be anchored. Jefferson was particularly explicit in that regard, repeatedly predicting (in private letters) that Unitarianism would one day become the general "religion of the land from north to south," and that there was not a young man then alive who would not die a Unitarian. He was speaking, not so much in a sectarian spirit, but of the general prospects of a liberal, naturalistic, "Enlightenment mode of faith" (however it might become manifested)---the kind of church that could encourage utmost personal freedom and uniqueness, honesty and integrity in matters of religion; which could respect individual differences and diversity as natural qualities of being human; and could affirm the ultimate religious goal to be a growing of unity—rather than uniformity. In other words, Jefferson (as well as Adams, Paine and others) believed that a radically liberal, rational church—a sort of "Faith of the Free"--would naturally rise to nurture and keep the democratic experiment alive and well for generations to come. Jefferson had come to believe that Unitarianism was such a liberal, Enlightenment faith.

"The Revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people--a change in their religious sentiments...This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution."

-- John Adams

"I trust however that the same free exercise of private judgment which gave us our political reformation will extend its effects to that of religion."

-- Thomas Jefferson

"I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion."

-- Thomas Paine

Among other ministers who, over the past two centuries, have caught glimpses of this "patriotic free church premise" was A. Powell Davies. In the middle of the 20th century, Dr. Davies wrote several books describing "America's real religion"--the faith behind freedom--and, together with his successful DC-area ministry--he attracted thousands to Unitarianism. (See the related story in the Winter edition of UU World.)

It seems entirely possible to me that such a faith may finally be coming of age: Not just a "liberal Christian" faith; not just a nature-based deism; not just a faith for the intellect...but one which could actually reclaim and be an organized religious embodiment of those "Enlightenment premises"---of that unity within diversity, that "e pluribus unum"---upon which this "Land of the Free" was founded. There's nothing in religion quite like it: The real question is how to grow it.

Now, you may be asking, what does all of this have to do with the title of this post…with Norbert Fabian Capek (1870-1942), founder of Unitarianism in what is now the Czech Republic? Well, I believe that Rev. Capek may have some important lessons to teach us about how to actually grow such a "Faith of the Free." His successful efforts which resulted in what was to become the largest Unitarian church in the world--in the period between World Wars I and II-- could genuinely inspire us in our own such efforts.

According to several narratives I've read about him, including the wonderful book "NorbertNorbert Capek : A Spiritual Journey" (Skinner House, 1999), he was born in the province of Bohemia. Even as a teenager, his "stubbornly free-thinking tendencies" had already become evident when his Catholic relatives discovered (to their horror) that Norbert was rejecting his Catholicism and secretly meeting with some local Baptists. His studies later led him to an ever-greater appreciation for 15th century religious reformer John Hus, for his Bohemian Brethren followers, and for their emphasis upon "ethics over dogma" in matters of religion. He wrote that he "considered the practice of the principlies taught by Jesus, not the doctrinal views of him promoted by the Roman Catholic—or later the Evangelical—Church, to be the heart of religion." Describing his own liberal group of Baptists, he wrote that…

"We do not favor dogmas, they are but lifeless formulas. We love reality, whatever moves the mind, the heart and the muscles. Let us do away with all numbness, all dying ideals. We seek new ideas and new kinds of mental effort. Freedom: that's something we get enthusiastic about! Let's free ourselves from superstition and prejudice and then truth, in its full beauty, will appear…Let us inscribe on our banner: `Freedom of Conscience' and let us win battles with it everywhere....Keep your mediators, your crutches and shepherds crooks! We want our freedom."

Now, if that sounds familiar to my fellow Unitarian Universalists, it really should! In 1909, at the age of 39, he wrote in his diary that "The fire of new desires, new worlds, is burning inside me and it must be fed somehow." As early as 1911 a trusted friend, a university professor, told Capek that his views were "really not Baptist at all, but more Unitarian." Therefore, over the next ten years or so, he tried to interest American Unitarians in helping him start a Unitarian congregation in Czechoslovakia. Then, finally, upon moving to America (after joining a Unitarian church in New Jersey in 1921), he was successful in enlisting the help of the American Unitarian Association to begin sowing the seeds for his "new kind of church"--a church of abundant freedom and radical inclusion—back in his homeland in the increasingly fertile soil of post-war Czechoslovakia. In planting his new "free church," Rev. Capek made it clear that his goal was to reclaim, for this newly-independent nation, its liberal-religious birthright. (Again, does that sound familiar?) He wanted a new church to rise that would honor the spirit of their greatest hero, Jan Hus.

Obviously, Capek was the right person at the right time, because (again, with some assistance from the American Unitarian Association), his Free Religious Fellowship in Prague quickly grew to become the largest Unitarian congregation in the world, with between 3,000 and 5,000 members, and spawned satellite congregations in at least six other towns. This came to an abrupt halt, however, with the arrival of, first the Nazis, and then a long Communist regime of control, suppression and persecution.

I believe that modern Unitarian Universalists everywhere should all know at least a little something about the life and works, eventual imprisonment at Dachau and tragic death (in a Dresden gas chamber), of Norbert Capek. I believe that all of us who truly want this liberal movement to grow should consider his example of building a "new kind of church" in a "patriotic context"—a reclamation project of sorts aimed at embracing what he, too, perceived as his country's spiritual heritage of personal freedom, diversity and integrity--and of unity more than uniformity--extended even to matters of religion. I believe that Rev. Capek's enormously successful example of what can happen when people set out to grow such a "Faith of the Free"--upon an unapologetically patriotic premise and heritage—is well worth our consideration, even here and now, in our own "Land of the Free."

Here, by the way, is the Dictionary of UU Biographies listing on Norbert Capek;

Friday, January 05, 2007

A Little Housekeeping

While working on some future topics, I wanted to take a moment to do some "thinking out loud" here about the creation of a new "UU discussion forum."

Like most Unitarian Universalists, I tend to have a lot of opinions (on a lot of subjects), and am more than willing to share them with all who care to listen. Not that any of them are any special "pearls of wisdom" of course. Admittedly, I also share with many of you the typical UU "catlike stubbornness"--and am not always quickly swayed that those opinions I hold are necessarily flawed and in need of revision. On the other hand, I'm a firm believer in growth: I at least try to stay open to "new light and truth," even when it comes from unexpected directions. My views on many subjects have indeed changed/evolved over the years--in some cases even more so than Francis David's theology--and I'm not done yet!

Also, like most UU's, I appreciate a good conversation, even when I'm just listening from the sidelines. I'd like to see more and more honest, thoughtful, courteous (and., yes, ideally humble) sharing of issues of concern to UU's, dialogue about our principles and values; our priorities; our living, still-unfolding heritage; and about such things as how to better share the "good news" about our UU faith--in a respectful, non-proselytizing manner that is in keeping with our highest values and principles.

In a continuing search for not only the best way to "speak my mind" but also to find the best possible venue (online, anyway) for the discussion of a wide range of topics, I have decided to (once again) test the "message board" route. I did this a while back, and my discussion forum never really achieved much of a "critical mass"--it had ten "members" at its peak. So, stubborn tomcat that I am, I've decided to give it one more try.

Therefore, I am hereby announcing the formation of "Our Choosing Faith" forum, and you are all cordially invited to join me there. You can find it at the address below, and please do consider bookmarking it for future use. (I'll also add a link to it here from this page.) "Our Choosing Faith" can be found at...

Please feel free to jump right in and post new topics for discussion there, or to make format suggestions, OK? We'll see how this little experiment works, and if it fails to take off, then at least we will have tried. In the future, I expect that much of what I'll be posting here (in this blog) will also get cross-posted over at this new forum for further discussion.

Thanks so much for your help!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"We Play Both Kinds Here…Country AND Western!”

Some additional reflections on my "small-town deep-Southern" upbringing, some forty to fifty years ago (--and, yes, I promise to get over this very soon and move on). I was recently watching that old “Blues Brothers” movie, and hearing that line from the bartender at “Bob’s Country Bunker”--that we "play both kinds of music here...country and western"-- has brought back some pretty strong and vivid memories. As I’ve already mentioned, my hometown was largely Southern Baptist, with much smaller populations of Methodists, Presbyterians, etc. It was not until I joined the military, as a young adult, that I ever (knowingly) got to know any Catholics, Episcopalians or Lutherans, or had the pleasure of being friends with someone of Jewish faith.

The religious (and to a large extent social) makeup of my hometown was similar to the selection of barbecue sauces at a local restaurant—mild, hotter and torrid. (Yes, they played all three kinds of music.) My parents and I attended the “relatively mild” First Baptist Church, but others in our family belonged to those “hotter and more torrid” congregations…with no disrespect (that I know of, at least) we called them “holy rollers.” I remembr quite well how their congregations would dance and scream, and the ministers would slam their Bibles down on the pulpit in their sermons. I never heard of any of them actually “picking up poisonous snakes” as a show of their faith, but I guess it could have happened. Perhaps some of you will recognize some of what I'm talking about here. For better or worse, the environment in which I was raised was definitely one of "variations on the same theme."

In another post, I talked about “positive liberty” and “negative liberty,” and I suppose my eventual migration to liberal religion came from a need for both. There was definitely a “negative liberty” component—I had seen, first-hand, the hypocrisy that grew under the surface in that “Godly” community. The same people who made such a fuss about how evil it was for a person to mow his lawn on a Sunday saw no problem with their “Klan rallies” (which took place in a field behind my house. Though I kept my distance, I can still recall the glow of those big bonfires and the blaring loudspeakers on a crisp winter night).

My church had a youth group called the “Royal Ambassadors” (I don't know if they still exist or not), and one of the strongest of all my childhood memories was the “initiation” ceremony they had, where new recruits (like myself) were expected to run through a gauntlet—a belt-line is what they called it--of exuberant boys beating you with their belts. I remember actually being slightly injured by it—but arguably the worse part of it all is that it occurred inside a church.

On the other hand, there were also far more pleasant memories, of caring, and compassion, and friendships, and I did like being a part of the church's music program (in a children’s choir), and those church summer camps were pretty enjoyable as well. I certainly wouldn't want anybody to think that it was all bad. (OK, I'll admit, however, that I probably could have done without some of that seemingly endless preaching…Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings…and, if that was not enough, there were those out-of-town trips during the week to multi-night “revivals” in other churches. )

While reflecting on all of this, I saw a news story, in the past week or two , about a U. S. Congressman from Southern Virginia (I believe his name is Goode), who was warning of the dangers of allowing more immigration of Muslims into the United States, and of more Muslims being elected to public office. As it turns out, the Congressman’s statements---and his steadfast refusal to retract or apologize for any of them---were met with overwhelming support from the voters back home, in the small towns which he represents. (Stories like that tend to make me want to scream from the rooftops "can't we all just get along?" )

Obviously, even now, in this information and internet age, and in a nation which now is home to more than 300 million people of so many varied ethic, and cultural, and religious backgrounds, a few things are just so deeply engrained that they are slow to change. Though the “Klan rallies” may have become less numerous, and those “beltlines” may have been toned down a bit over the years, in some places they are still perfectly satisfied with going on playing “both kinds of music,” while at the same time (it seems to me) they often miss the very core-message of the religious leader they so fervently claim to worship, a message of "unconditional love and of walking humbly together," even with our inevitable differences.

As the years have gone by, I have become all the more convinced that we UU’s--and religious liberals in general--represent an attempt at creating and growing something ultimately far healthier and wholesome than dogmatic provincialism—not just an exercise of “negative liberty,”for breaking free from those aspects of religion that seem so objectionable to us, but also the “positive liberty” to use our precious freedom as a "means, rather than an end"---as a sort of “enabler” to help us to do whatever we can to grow a less brutish and more loving, a less provincial and more open and accepting, less self-righteous and more respectful, peaceful and civil world...a home to many different rhythms and melodies.