Speaking anonymously for public engagement

Unitarian Universalist minister and blogger Ken Collier blogs about civil disobedience and anonymity. A recent two-part series (first, second) by an anonymous seminarian, posted by Unitarian Universalist minister and blogger Tom Schade, overlaps this and he’s just posted a defence of his publishing anonymous posts as I’m putting this post together (Sunday night). I’ll respond to these because those blog posts and comments are public, but I’m also responding to comments on Facebook and elsewhere, and these are almost impossible to reply-to here.

There’s a lot of interest — again Facebook hides much — and some denunciation, both on the content of what has been written, and by the fact that some has been published anonymously or pseudonymously. I care about the second issue, and in particular whether it’s improper to be anonymous. The logic goes thus: if you have a complaint, be bold and up front with it; this is the path of those who use in as civil disobedience. And without knowing who you are, how can we reach the goal: a discussion.

As if there was an etiquette for this sort of thing. I’ve found an article I read before called “Is Snowden Obliged to Accept Punishment?“, by Michael J. Glennon, persuasive. In particular, accepting punishment has been, for most of the people who conducted it, non-optional. To be present to resist is to be present to be prosecuted, or at least known. Given the sacramental esteem a protest arrest has among some Unitarian Universalists — one that never gets the white privilege treatment, by the way — little wonder that rules might be assumed.

And we are talking about more than integrity, but about punishment, real or suspected. The kind of thing you can’t get bailed out for and be praised as a hero. Standing up by name sounds noble, but only if you think a world without whistleblowers is worth having.

Part of the problem comes from our own self-conception: as family of faith with close bonds, rather than a network of persons and institutions that have competing priorities and values. Like all people, those with authority (including well-established ministers who may not think of themselves so) think their actions are fair, and don’t appreciate being challenged, or sometimes even having their authority pointed out. Money and settlements are insufficient, so it pays to not be identified as a problem in a structure built on relationships and policed by covenant, a concept that gets expanded and abused as convenient. (I’ll be coming back to this some other time.)

I mentioned whistle-blowing before, and inasmuch as the testimony of an anonymous complainant is a disclosure, this is also a kind of whistle-blowing. It’s certainly a call of alarm. The value of an anonymous disclosure and complaint is to get the item in public discourse, something that’s easier in the Internet era than ever before. It tests the general merit of the complain, pulls out disputants who don’t wish to be anonymous and flushes out devil’s advocates. And this testing and discourse shows if it’s safe to be more public and candid. People who have less to lose go on the record about something they would have never otherwise chosen. (And accordingly my opinions of some people are much lower now; others, much higher.)

For the record, I require signed comments unless there’s a good reason to keep an identity hid from others. But I demand a working email address and some evidence that the person is who she or he claims to be, and I did (and) allow anonymous commentary about Starr King School for the Ministry and the credentialing process.

Resuming blogging etc.

It has been an eventful month or so, with many challenges and opportunities. None, other than Daisy’s injury, is worth mentioning in public, but together they’ve left me exhausted and occasionally discouraged. None all that exceptional, but as a group… whew.

Daisy, I’m glad to say, is almost healed. Vitamin E on the scar tissue, for instance. The end of this episode is in sight, and I’m also ready to resume my public work. Ready, meaning desiring, if not prepared.

For one thing, I’m not convinced that this is either the best level of ministry activity for me, or the right (that is to say, exclusive) vehicle. And I will be considering my options — and how I may need your help and advice — for future work.

Upcoming blogging in October 2014

Given Daisy the Dog’s recovery and other must-dos, I think the blogging for the rest of the month (and early November?) will be light, and restricted to:

  1. Thoughts in progress about Universalist polity, particularly as it applies today.
  2. Historical documents which later blogging will reference.
  3. Perhaps some liturgical tidbits I’ll use myself and would want to share.
2014-08-20 18.38.17
Daisy, in August when she was in better shape.

The purpose of blogging? ministry? churches?

I’ve enjoyed blogging less lately. Looking back, the every-day blogging schedule was too demanding. The main reason I would write some days was the certain knowledge that, once the daily chain broke, my readership would decline. Indeed, I now get about half the readers I got when I’d post once a day or more.

And why do the numbers matter? It’s not that I have to justify my reach to anyone, and I don’t accept advertising. The numbers matter because I was willing to let increased readership feed my self-esteem. I didn’t write — or don’t think I wrote — anything I don’t believe, but I did appreciate the feedback and the spikes in readership.

But — not to put too fine a point on it — it isn’t worth it. What is worth it?

One of the lessons of the ministry is that you get early-on is that you may not know where or when you do some good, and I suppose the same is true for churches, too. Sometimes it’s the listening ear, the kind word or the open door that does more good — or so we hear, or imagine — than programs, or planning or a fine education or stained glass. But I wonder if that’s not face saving; perhaps not untrue, at least in the past, but a less-than-productive use of time, talent and treasure. And in a secularizing world, we can make a clear and candid review of the work of the church and the ministry, or others will do it for us.

The same thought occurs: what is the value of our work, what reason do we have to engage it, and its value to others?

Why I only write about Christianity in the UUA

It’s a bit of an overstretch — after all, I have an interest in Stanton Coit and denominational data generally — but I only write substantively about Christianity in the UUA. I write about worship in Christian terms. I write about mission in Christian terms. I write about connections among Unitarian Universalist Christians, and in ecumenical settings. I write about problems Christians have.

What about everyone else?

Well, for one thing, I know more about Christians than other Unitarian Universalists. There are fewer Christians, so there are fewer people to write. Many are personal friends. I am a member of a Christian church that’s a member of the UUA. And Christians make up a small minority among Unitarian Universalists.

For another, much of what I write applies to other Unitarian Universalists, especially since our habits and opportunities rest on a common foundation. If you’re willing to apply it to your own situation, you might discover some insights. (Christians are asked to translate meta-narratives all the time; it can be done.)

But the most important reason, is that I want to cultivate a particular voice that speaks consistently and predictably to and from the faith situation I dwell in. Unitarian Universalist Christians, while often spoken of as a singular group, really is remarkably diverse in theology, applied polity, politics and life situations.

There’s enough of a there there to give it some focus, to support the faithful and upbuild the body. I hope to do this by writing. I hope many people find this valuable (including non-Unitarian Universalist Christians) and it seems to be the work God has set out for me. It’s enough without planning to speak for or about those with whom I have a too-thin understanding.

The most-read blog posts (and the lesson it tells)

My recent “This blog post is not about Starr King” post is the most read (or at least, clicked) item I’ve ever written here — at least that I have records for, to some point in 2013. (Earlier records lost.)

Below are the top twenty blog posts, as opposed to people who land on the front page. Suggests that “if it bleeds it leads” works for niche blogs, too. That and long-posted niche resources.

My point is not to aggravate people, but our little fellowship within the Unitarian Universalist Association has some bad habits that need correcting. So I’ll write tougher items and not be shocked when people read them. (An inexhaustive list includes clannishness, conflict avoidance, “terminal uniqueness” as Victoria Weinstein puts it, valuing internal conformity and minimizing poor people. One of the reasons I’m such an advocate of new church planting is that it might give us a project we can be proud of, and convert some of this restless energy.) If I wasn’t happy with my friends and congregation, I’d be happy to go alone. But I am otherwise happy and so I won’t be quiet. I’m also grateful for all the kind private messages I got this last week.

Now, on to the list.

  1. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/this-blog-post-is-not-about-starr-king-school-for-the-ministry/
  2. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/the-sunday-only-calendar/
  3. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/christian-emblems-not-a-cross-the-seven-pointed-star/
  4. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/heres-where-i-lay-out-my-problems-with-the-uua/
  5. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/dawn-of-the-movementarians/
  6. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/why-starr-king/
  7. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/fred-phelps-1929-2014/
  8. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/what-hymns-are-distinctive-for-unitarian-and-universalist-christians-lists-proffered/
  9. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/why-take-your-punishment-falls-flat/
  10. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/churches-merged-disaffiliated-and-dead/
  11. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/gnucash-for-a-nonprofit-organization/
  12. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/universalist-churches-unseen/
  13. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/bold-experiment-in-ministry/
  14. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/data-check-on-the-emerging-churches-in-the-uua/
  15. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/say-no-fiv-times-sure-to-irritate-everyone/
  16. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/giving-up-unitarian-universalism-for-lent/
  17. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/reviewing-unitarian-universalist-websites/
  18. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/on-the-moral-march/
  19. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/what-do-these-unitarian-universalist-websites-have-in-common/
  20. http://boyinthebands.com/archives/its-not-polity-larping-or-worship-re-enacting/

Blog improvements planned

Blog improvements in the hopper. Hope to have them done by General Assembly.

  1. A good way for readers to subscribe to new posts by email. By request.
  2. A new, non-generic header image.
  3. A new body text that supports Esperanto. (So you don’t see question marks in anta?en or ali?ilo.)
  4. A way — widget, workflow? — to promote older best-of content.