— Revisited: $10 Million UU Wedding — What Was I Thinking?

July 10, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Posted in Online Ministry | 1 Comment

A little more than a year ago, I posted a piece about the UU clergy officiated $10 million wedding of Sean Parker (b. 1979), a billionaire who founded Napster, an Internet company that tectonically changed the music industry worldwide and who was facebook’s first president. He also created Causes, a pioneering web-based non-profit that is a clearinghouse for non-profit fundraising. I said in that post that there was significant benefit to all the publicity the wedding attracted.  A year later, I’ve changed my mind 180 degrees. More on why in a sec. But first, a little bit more to refresh your memory about what was in the news at the time about this event.

Some people then wondered what a UU minister was doing officiating such an over-the-top wedding. It ended with the groom being fined by a government body for what was done to the public forest/park to accommodate the wedding.

I suggested in my original post that if we put aside the obscene spend for part of Parker’s nuptials, we could see that UU ism couldn’t get better free international coverage.  It was international news because Parker spent $10M to create a sanctuary in a park for the ceremony. He designed it after scenes in the HBO series, King of Thrones.

I have been watching the first season and part of the second season of this show and can’t go any further. I shouldn’t have gone this far. King of Thrones is a well marketed, disguised vehicle to promote excruciating violence against women – rape is the least of it. And violence against even new borns. Routine mutilations and murders of babies and kids, my friends, are portrayed graphically. I’ve come to the conclusion that many dramas cloak themselves in historical garb and easily believable representations of days of yore to get away with behavior that is not tolerated today. I don’t watch Mad Men for this reason. Costume dramas, visually, aren’t about the modern day. They make it harder to see that the show is a gratuitous ruse to express behavior that belies the values of a growing majority of people in the USA. The underlying contemporary rage that’s created  King of Thrones is spectacularly obscene. It’s historical slash and burn porn.

Somebody, please tell me what redeeming values you see in this show? Its fantasy-genre leitmotifs are nothing new. It’s aesthetic homage to massively multi-player online games is stale. To me it’s nothing more than a nighttime soap opera based on rage against anything but white male western power structures.

Which brings me back to the UU Game of Thrones inspired wedding. I believe that the environments in which we conduct sacred acts, such as wedding ceremonies, shouldn’t be taken for granted, or oooh-ed and ahhhhh-ed for their splendor, without an understanding of what inspired them.  And yet I got giddy thinking about the marketing potential of such an act. I wrote the blog post about the marketing benefit of the wedding to UUism without any knowledge of the show.

A wedding in a Game of Thrones-inspired environment speaks of the wedding party’s likes and dislikes. I don’t know any of the people involved but had I been invited, based on previous behavior, I would have  walked out. The “sanctuary” made for this wedding was pretty for despots, despoilers, kings etc. It is hell on earth in the HBO series for everyone else.

If you’re looking for very good entertainment that echos UU values in a costume drama, try “From Lark Rise to Candleford,” a British show that portrayed a country life in the 1800s. It portrays life in a town and how its people worked together, regardless of class and gender, to solve community and individuals problems, caused by power imbalances. You can see it through Netflix.

— Updated: Possibility & Relentless Creativity

June 17, 2014 at 5:49 am | Posted in Online Ministry | 3 Comments

I concluded several months ago that I was no longer a New UU; hence no reason to continue this blog. Plus, there’s the part about feeling as if I failed to attract enough enthusiasm for digital ministry to warrant a continued discussion – despite the fact that all warnings about Facebook have continued to be proven true. It’s free and more and more UUs employ it for some form of digital church and faith life.

Last time I’ll say this: Facebook is anything but alternative culture. The spaces we inhabit influence greatly our activities, our perceptions and our unconscious acts. Activity online directly impacts how we treat each other offline. It shapes our perceptions and expectations with everything and everyone we interact with offline. Meanwhile, the latest privacy transgressions that Facebook is planning confirm what I have said about Facebook timelines and other tools. 

Now, I’m a new at dealing with another reality of UUism – I’ve joined the ranks of those who identify as UU but don’t go to church. I’m struggling to hold on to devotional practices that reinforce my beliefs. One of them requires constant effort to live in boundless possibility and relentless creativity, something I suspect may be difficult for many, including UUs despite our principles and beliefs.

I’ve coined this phrase “boundless possibility and relentless creativity” after reading the book, Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-Up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts For Actors, Performers, Writers and Artists of Every Kind, by Anna Deavere Smith. This book, plus The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster, by Michael D. Watkins, are the two best sources of advice I’ve come across in 30 years for starting any new adventure in my life that involves a system in which people collaborate.

I believe everyone has an artist in side of them. Artists personify creativity. I believe that life is the embodiment of creativity. An artist sensibility permeates everything we do if we let it. And herein lies the source of my practice of striving for boundless possibility and relentless creativity.

To paraphrase Maya Angelou: Creativity begets creativity exponentially. You can’t run out of it if you use it.

I tweeted about this a week ago. A follower’s comment challenged me to explain because I said that boundless possibility and relentless creativity protects personal boundaries. If you think about this, what I tweeted sounded like a contradiction.

It takes discipline, a well-developed sense of oneself; and a belief that authentic creativity happens – but not at the expense of others or oneself. It is the opposite of doing business; of power-plays in personal relationships; of manipulation. And it is the lack of manipulation that is misunderstood by many people because humans naturally gravitate and use manipulation in various forms to experience many aspects of life.

When personal boundaries are crossed, it means some form of manipulation or acquiescence is present or is a motivating factor.  Boundlessness to me, is less about boundaries and more about the inexhaustible. It’s an adjective that emphasizes the potential of living daily out of a well-spring of possibility.

As Anna Deavere Smith writes, for some, the practice can be twisted into a violation of the boundaries of others and also ones own. She cites an example of agents taking advantage of the rights of performers, who as creative individuals, focus on their craft and not on whether they are being exploited by the business of art or entertainment. The responsibility to prevent and stop this kind of abuse lies with the artist, she writes. It’s about accountability for one’s own possibilities and creativity. I don’t like the motivational phrase, “dwell in possibility,” because it’s passive. What comes of dwelling in possibility? It’s not clear enough for me.

Deavere Smith also discusses the relationship between teachers and students. Teachers open doors and expose wide expanses of possibility to students. Good ministers inspire the same. In turn, students (and church members) may be so giddy by this gift, that they may interpret the rush of feelings as sexual attraction.

The great male masters of painting in our western culture reinforced this notion of muse or model as sexual object. And many contemporary female artist have turned the table on that in their work. But not everyone gets a hard on or lusts after painting a nude of the opposite or same sex. Great creative or intimate collaborations abound throughout history in all forms of art and relationships that sprang from attractions but that weren’t sexual.

I’m very lucky. Heather, my legally wedded spouse, gets it, and in her own way she too strives for the same.  Working with her artist, designer colleagues means a great deal to her. They incorporate forms of play in their daily interactions. I admit, that once and a great while feelings of insecurity arise in me because of her zeal for creative play. Years ago, she went to extraordinary lengths to find enough rooster feathers and zany winged mementos to completely fill her colleague Andrew’s office with goose down. He had a thing for birdies. He opened his door, only to plunge into a gigantic comforter. He waded through to find all the chicken tchoch she bought.

At the time I was traveling constantly. I missed her. And for a sec I wondered whether her display was an indication of something other than good fun. It had been a while since we both conjured up goofy situations to make us giggle. The thought was a projection of my own insecurities.  It was fleeting. Heather kept playing like that with Andrew and others on her team. She produced some of her best work with those colleagues.

Unfortunately, people come and go in our lives because they or others are suspect, jealous or envious of  creative relationships.  Individuals who aspire to live in boundless possibility adapt.  It’s just a blip in the EKG of creativity and the journey continues.


— Does This Twit Tweet? Follow @TheNewUU

January 8, 2014 at 8:33 am | Posted in Online Ministry | Leave a comment

Dear NewUU Blog Readers: In 2014, I will no longer blog in this space. I will leave up all of REACH: A UU Digital Ministry for several months. I will notify you when I pull it down. When I have something to share or say, I will tweet on Twitter. You can find my late Dec. 2013 and early Jan. 2014 tweets in the right-hand column of this blog.

Please follow me on Twitter: @TheNewUU

Hope to see you there and thanks for your interest in TheNewUU

— Could The NewUU Fill The Sydney Opera House For Three Sold-Out Performance?

December 31, 2013 at 9:15 am | Posted in Online Ministry | 2 Comments

I guess so! That’s the answer to the question in the headline of this post based on the WordPress analysis of it for 2013.

Here’s an excerpt from the blog’s statistical report for 2013:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,300 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Take a look at the report. It’s visualized nicely as fireworks bursting over a city skyline.

But I ask: Who cares? I’d rather that my annual compared the numbers to people who regularly attend the average mid-sized UU church. Then maybe it would help more to underscore how digital ministry can reach and sustain many people. If just one lay person can do this; imagine the exponential power of UU congregations, ministers and individuals if they followed some of the principles of REACH: A UU Digital Ministry program. Right now the UU world online is disaggregated. It needs to be unified in order for the faith to be a movement. Facebook is currently the largest disaggregated, aggregator of UUs and congregations. It doesn’t so much to move us along, IMHO. Google only returns Facebook when an individual, company, or group/organization has a Facebook page. And that exposure means next to nothing for Facebook traffic is generated by Facebook pages, not Google.

My post on the World New England Quilt show garnered the most views and most number of people who read any of my posts. Thank you Google. Why thank Google? My posts and headlines are written to maximize search engine optimization and marketing. I do this to reach people who would not likely land on a UU-inspired site but who would be interested in the subjects of the posts. I brought some UU identity to more than 700 individuals — some from the quilting world, artists, and from people looking for pictures of naked middle aged women!! Boy were they surprised!!!
Look at the stats and notice how small the number of comments were in 2013. Many readers did contact me through other channels to express their thoughts. However, most didn’t. And this is one of the main reasons why, I have decided to stop writing about digital ministry. There are other reasons which I realized threatened to hold me back from growing and moving along on my journey.
In the last two years, I can look back and remember that 12,544 individuals read my blog and 688 readers subscribed to email notifications. I have analyzed these numbers and figure they are likely inflated by 1-3% but in general are accurate.

— Updated: Pastoral Care, The Unemployed & LinkedIn

November 14, 2013 at 9:08 am | Posted in Online Ministry | Leave a comment

Although I’m preparing to stop writing about digital ministry  in this space, I must tell you about a very potent way for your congregation to really know what professional skills are sitting in your pews. This is important because many people – especially newcomers – enter  your church when they are hurting or vulnerable and also unemployed.

Sync other contact sources with LinkedIn

Sync other contact sources with LinkedIn

In particular, the folks who are 50+ and looking for jobs are facing extraordinary ageism. I don’t need to tell you how difficult the 50s can be — caring for children, possibly paying their higher education and, at the same time, caring for elderly parents — while your financial needs in retirement loom large. Unemployment raises the level of stress to new highs for many individuals in this age group. Meanwhile, for all those who are younger, the church could provide a leg up if it encourages networking within to help people find work, in general.

The how-to message in this blog is a form of pastoral care. It will  help people connect and get through unemployment. It’s about syncing your online email and iPhone contacts through the most used work-based social network, LinkedIn, on the Web. It focuses on career networking, job hunting, recruiting and niche group-trade talk in nearly any industry you can think of.  Career networking sites on the Web trade in all kinds of jobs from no-skill to service industry, to the trades and to professionals. Blue collar and white collar.

An earlier version of this post sounded as if direct connections between Facebook and LinkedIn can occur. They can’t at least for now. But when that syncing is enabled, it will be very powerful because the majority of active UUs are on Facebook.

There’s a way right now to get Facebook contacts into LinkedIn but it’s a work around that some people just won’t want to fuss with. You should tell people about it anyway. For chronically unemployed individuals or people who are filing for unemployment right now, it is worth setting up this work around. More on that in a minute.

But first a question: Are our congregations able to help the unemployed? I venture to say that they aren’t. Many churches don’t keep a database of members. And even those that do don’t have the time to manage and leverage such a database for its full potential. LinkedIn offers a way to bypass those shortcomings.

My biggest frustration at my former church was most people didn’t have a clue about the working lives – past and present – of individuals sitting next to them at church. While many retirees in our pews do not have to work now, retirees of the future may not be retirees at all. They will be working out of necessity. For people who are unemployed, there could be others in the sanctuary who could really help them find jobs by simply spreading the word offline and online to personal networks of friends and family. The exponential power of a few hundred people in a congregation passing along word of a good person looking for work to their own facebook, LinkedIn and twitter networks could make a big difference.

Work is something we do. And while I believe it doesn’t define us, sometimes I wonder if work is a four-letter word in UUism if it doesn’t mean non-profit or activist careers. To me alternative culture embraces and is compassionate in the mainstream world, which includes the 8-14 hour days of our most productive time spent outside of the home. Talking about it is also a good icebreaker for getting to know people.

My former church had about 1,000 individuals on its roster. The member database only included family contact information. It knew nothing about work histories or interests. Probably most UU churches don’t know this on an institutional level as well. Good software could really help our congregations to create databases that could bring like minds and like skills together. If you are reading this blog and have such a database for your church, please click the “Comment” link under the headline and tell us what you use and why.

The Web can step in and bypass database needs like this. LinkedIn now is very powerful for helping congregants find each other based on career information. It can make the connection between your Yahoo Mail, Google Mail and other sources if you allow it to. Set up these connections in the “Manage Contacts” area of your LinkedIn settings.

LinkedIn is likely going to offer the ability to connect directly to Facebook friends in the near future. That will be a boon for UU congregations because the majority of UUs in pews have Facebook accounts. Right now, though there isn’t a direct way to do this. However, you can import Facebook friends into Yahoo email, through a Yahoo account. Once the Facebook friends are in a yahoo or gmail account, LinkedIn can sync with those accounts. This is cumbersome but you can get step by step help here to do it.  For those of you who have iPhones, however, it’s easy to import contacts from that phone into LinkedIn.

I’ve included a picture of the “Manage Contacts” page in LinkedIn in this post to show you what it looks  like.

As part of your Digital Ministry practice, I recommend you encourage people to create profiles on LinkedIn if they don’t already have one — even if they are recently retired or relatively new to the job market.

— The NewUU Isn’t New Anymore and Thinking of Closing Shop

November 7, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Posted in Online Ministry | 8 Comments

Dear NewUU friends, I’m considering ending this blog. I’ve enjoyed writing it and learned from your comments. It houses REACH: A UU Digital Ministry program. I will keep the REACH information on this url for several more months and let you know when it’s coming down. You can download all of it for your files.

I’m proud of the work, and I think it’s helped some of you. I hope it’s helped the faith. Really, though, only one person, Rev. Meg Riley, told me two years ago that I had contributed something very meaningful to UUism. And she was able to articulate why and not just utter platitudes.

Certainly words of support and encouragement came from lay leaders (Larry S. you’re in this bunch), but Meg really understood, from the beginning, the potential of REACH.

Rev. Nate Walker’s ministry benefited from some of my ideas, and he was very supportive. I learned a lot from both Nate and Meg. I asked Nate if he thought I should convert REACH into a book. He took the time to look over the material and give me several action steps to do just that. Thank you again Nate. But I just cannot muster the enthusiasm to spend inordinate amounts of time jumping through what I believe to be unnecessary hurdles for the sake of getting a UU imprint interested. I can self publish if I really want to. But I don’t because the enthusiasm for the work just hasn’t been strong enough.

I  haven’t heard from too many others. However, someone new has emerged and she could make a significant contribution to the faith:  Susan Intriligator, the UUA’s new online strategist. She’s terrific. She’s a former editor at Ms Magazine and a Harvard Divinity School ordained UU minister. I’ve given her names of people I recommend she talk to. She’s reached out to several. Some have responded but, alas, others haven’t. Perseverance, Susan! And readers, if you hear from her, please respond.

She recently spent a day with me at my home on Cape Cod. As far as I can tell, she is the only person who has completely absorbed what I created, understands what it took to do it, and has all the necessary skills to take from it what she needs to do her job and to advance the REACH ideas. I’m grateful for her and will help her anyway I can going forward.

I hope she is listened to and allowed to be a strategist and not just another body in an office to throw work at. All too often in this digital age, people create strategy jobs but don’t really know what it takes to create something meaningful and so the effort gets hijacked for short-sighted reasons.

I titled this blog TheNewUU for all the double entendre reasons you can think of.  One of which, was to try to illustrate how someone completely new to organized religion took it all in. I figured I was in the demographic that Rev. Peter Morales and others discuss as the “nones” or the people “with our values” who should be involved with organized UUism but aren’t. In all the research cited by the UUA about “nones,” I didn’t find any stories or profiles of a “none” that spoke for itself. Perhaps those accounts exist in the research. I didn’t aggressively seek it out. I thought, instead, I’d share parts of my journey online to throw a face into the mix of anecdotal evidence.

I don’t feel that I can authentically continue to blog about digital ministry or my UU experience because I haven’t been able to find a new church in which I feel comfortable.  After all, I believe all digital ministry should be intricately tied to an offline religious experience. How can I authentically continue to talk about this if I don’t belong to a church?

The other realization I had about 2 years ago, is that I have no interest in being a lay digital minister at a congregation. I create and invent at a high level. I then carry out aspects of a first implementation (or launch) but collaborate with others to hand off the work for an institution or company to internalize the project’s operations and make it stable for the long haul. I found that people in churches assumed I’d want to lead or do digital ministry at other churches I occasionally attended or considered joining. Nope. 

One of the problems of digital ministry at the local level is, that few people want to do the work. It’s assumed to be hard. A few people assume that the retirees in the church don’t use the Internet. That’s a laugh. Our older generations are among the heaviest users of all things digital. Other aspects of congregational life, though, pose challenges. Constant turnover in volunteer help, for example. Part-time staff doesn’t have time, even to drop wasteful practices in favor of more green-like digital tasks. Then there’s the issue of the interim minister and the notion that a congregation has to go through four years of preparation for a new senior minister. There are the multi-million dollar capital campaigns going on to repair and expand 40+ year-old physical churches but next to no money to properly be present online. I summarized a strategy for the faith to approach digital ministry in a way that would nullify most of these challenges.

I now have a new local community, to be sure. And it’s full of potters, painters, quilters, photographers, poets, authors, retired academicians, musicians, teachers, athletes and shop keepers. None of these people attend a church. We talk about faith sometimes but not one of them feels comfortable in a “religious” environment. I find this very sad. I am grateful to my new friends for introducing me to Brene Brown. Brown’s definition of living “wholeheartedly” is what I think the UU Journey Toward Wholeness is about. I had come to the conclusion that one key aspect of wholeness is to live without unecessary fear. I think, though, that Brown has it right about vulnerability.

At it’s core, Brown says, wholeness is a willingness to be comfortable with vulnerability. That rings so true. I have practiced vulnerability and it has opened doors, slammed others shut and lead to threatening situations. I’ve learned from those experiences and continue to draw new meanings from them as life goes on. I think many UUs have a major problem with vulnerability. I think it can be prayed upon in congregations, not nurtured. One of the most vulnerable things an interested party does is to walk into a congregation for the first time. One of the most vulnerable things a newcomer or visitor can do is to talk earnestly with a few congregants who are total strangers.

Here’s a thought that I’ve had and have had too much evidence in its support: The opposite of a famous UU citation seems to be true in many places: We think alike but we don’t love alike. — No one seems to be considering whether the reality of what we say in church community is actually the opposite of what is transpiring.

Early on, a minister told me that people go in and out of church communities throughout their lives for many reasons.  I understand that now.

I’m a UU but I’m wandering. And for this reason, this post is most likely the last for a long time if ever again.

I wish all of you happiness and courage and am grateful you took interest in what TheNewUU had to say. If you’re ever on the Cape, look me up. Let’s grab coffee and head out for a walk on the beach.

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