No (more?) Mr. Nice Guy

Make that no more Rev. Mr. Nice Guy. I’ll continue to hammer on with what’s wrong in our general fellowship.

There’s been some — and shall be more — action by bloggers I respect to talk about what they love about Unitarian Universalism now that what they don’t love about Unitarian Universalism has been aired. I encourage all to resist this urge.

I’ve seen it before at conferences, between friends, via mailing lists, in print: a moment of critique (without productive reform) makes some people uneasy and a charge of disloyalty or lovelessness gets laid at the accusers. This causes them to back up, swear their love and fealty. Nothing changes, except it is another nail in the coffin for those who do want things to change. The message is thus: niceness is more valued than effectiveness. Feh.

We read about denominations with real, core-level conflict. Somehow they hold together, and if they didn’t, I imagine the bigger pieces would survive. On the other hand, we’re still haunted by our biggest dust-up and that was in 1968. We relive, replay, and even celebrate it. I have some grey hair and Oil of Olay’s trademark “first signs of aging” and that was still a full year before I was born. The current commission on “what happened in Fort Worth” is an echo of, and gives it more energy that seems necessary. (Were that we had such passion for church staff health insurance or church planting. Or heck, I’d take affordable GAs.)

It is no solution, but I think we need to keep unapologetic and creative reform-making front and center. Not every idea is good or workable. Indeed, few are. I’d settle for one. But we need to break the habit of thinking we’re disruptive or disloyal for the effort. The opposite seems far more true.

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

9 thoughts on “No (more?) Mr. Nice Guy”

  1. So, when might you comment on the issue of sectarian seminaries, and ecumenical seminaries? As you suggested you might blog about, on the “List That Shall Not Be Named”.

    I think we might do well to model the method used by the Swedenborgians at Pacific School of Religion. An affiliated house of studies would be an excellent middle ground between denominational special concerns, and a need for engagement beyond sectarianism.

  2. My purpose in beginning a collection of “Best of UU” is not to merely engage the cheerleading urge, or to negate discussion of many needed reforms. Rather, it is to give those who are searching for positive information about Unitarian Universalism a place to start. I take James Field’s point when he asks how accessible UU blogs are to newcomers – I don’t think that we, as a group, are very accessible to those just coming to this faith. Consider this a small form of outreach.

    There are many things that need to be changed in the way we do things – particularly at the national level, but also every week in Coffee Hour. And yes, we should talk/write outloud and freely about them. But, we shouldn’t ONLY talk about the things we want to change or the things that we outright can’t stand. We should also engage what drew us to Unitarian Universalism in the first place, or those things that make us stay. We shouldn’t assume that the good goes without saying – if we never engage our ideals, we can’t really live them.

    And if we want to welcome those people who are searching for their spiritual home, we certainly won’t do it by ONLY airing the laundry.

  3. Well, shock and horror, but I disagree with Chalicechick and Jess. (Derek, I’ll get to the seminary question later,)

    First, keeping the pressure on is balance. UUs — nationally, anyway — do niceness and conflict avoidance far better than most. The heat doesn’t stay on long enough to create change. (The exception that proves the rule: the 70s and 80s Women in Religion crowd.) I think it is because we have the unspoken fear that if we have conflict, we’ll disintergrate.

    Second, referring to Jess, I think blogs do speak to the in-group and there’s little evidence they speak to seeking newcomers. I imagine they’d refer to local congregational sites or UUA.org. Which is fine: academic journals and leadership resources exist, too, and should be public to be read. Plus, call me strange, but when I join something or make a habit of something I like to know plainly where the warts are.

  4. I’m going to have to disagree with one thing my friend Scott is saying: Blogs do speak to people who aren’t in the “in-group.” I hear from non-UUs all the time. I have also come to believe that the farther “inside” one is, the less one would ever rely on out-in-public channels for information.

    Religious seekers are of course more interested in institutional sites than personal sites — but that’s for informational purposes. Readers are interested in blogs because they sound more authentic than institutional voices and because they put you in touch with a person, not a spokesperson.

    For the record, I’m in favor of sustained critical thinking in public as well as entrepreneurial evangelism. I think they’re both things blogs can do very well — and I don’t see a reason to believe that you someone can’t value or engage in both.

  5. So, Scott, you’re saying we shouldn’t ever write anything positive about our religion ever?

    Philo hits my point on the money – why can’t we have both reform and celebration?

    Hits on my site are about 50-50 regular readers and Google searches on all sorts of terms. Just tonight, a search for “Standing on the side of love lyrics” and one for “Rob Hardies” (minister at All Souls in D.C.) – and in the past, such terms as “Unitarian Prayer,” “UU theology,” and “visiting a UU church.”

    So what, exactly, is so wrong about finding something positive when one searches for it? It’s not like anyone is advocating that we hide those warts you’re so fond of – they’re currently much easier to find than the positive aspects of living a UU faith.

  6. I’m not UU; indeed I live somewhere without any UU presence (as far as I know).

    Generally I find institutional sites to be almost useless for a seeker – they present the clean and the nice. They may give some very simple background info, but I can usually get that in a million other places. To engage with a spiritual path I need to know where the fuzzy and the contested bits are – where the rubber hits the road.

    Personal blogs are fantastic for this because they are written by real people and not by committees. They are not trying to tell me what they think will best influence me, but rather what they think I should know.

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