Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Rose By Any Other Name

Indulge me in a bit of shop talk.

Imagine an entrepreneur pitching a new venture to a VC over lunch in a swanky restaurant.

The concept is a spiritual community, a church.

"What makes this different from all the other churches, all the other religions?" asks the VC.

The attraction for people (value proposition in marketing parlance) is a DIY (do it yourself) theology — meaning the freedom to form your own spiritual beliefs. Add to this a strong and supportive community that welcomes and affirms everyone, and programs that engage the members to make the world better.

"What members? Who's the target market?"

The entrepreneur responds enthusiastically that there's a huge pool to draw from. First, many people in the country don't have a religious affiliation, yet feel the need for meaning and community in their lives. Many others feel constrained by their present church, where asking questions isn't comfortable, at best, grounds for excommunication, at worst. Add those who are marginalized or rejected by their churches, like many in the GLBT community.

The VC gets it. The concept makes sense. It's compelling and could even go viral. That raises areas to probe, like how the support infrastructure scales and the quality of the management team. Can they manage the growth, articulate the message to the market?

"So what is the name? What do you call this spiritual community?"

"Uh, Unitarian Universalism."

"Huh?"
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I serve on the board of a credit union. The credit union was formed in 1958 to provide financial services to the employees of a company. 52 years later, the company has been bought and sold, sliced and diced, and is no longer the raison d'etre for the credit union.

Seeing the pending demise of our target market, several years ago we opened a branch in the center of the city and are refocusing our strategy to serve that community. However the credit union still carries the name of the company.

Earlier this week, the board met with a branding firm to discuss changing the name, creating a new brand — name, logo, theme — that will be relevant to the community we now wish to serve. The creative director of the firm, in pretty strong language, confirmed what we had feared: despite the downtown location with lots of foot traffic, we are losing potential members who not only don't identify with the name, but who feel the name excludes them.
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Many names of religious denominations tie to the origins of their movements, relevant even today to the core of their beliefs. Baptist, Buddhist, Lutheran. Unitarian Universalism, too, reflects the ideas that led to the Unitarian and Universalist movements, although perhaps the name is not as relevant to the theological diversity found in our churches today.

Without disparaging any of the richness and history of our tradition, I wonder how many potential members of our churches don't get beyond the 10 syllables of our name. If we are, indeed, to become the religion of our time, we should understand the image and visceral reaction that our name creates — especially if it is impeding the realization of our vision.

Thoughts?

(Chalice art by Deborah Stille, All Souls UU Church, Shreveport, LA)

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Be Spiritual - Episode 17

Fred Shirley's spiritual journey is captivating. For a young man, Christianity provided much-needed answers following a very difficult childhood. His new-found faith led him to the Baptist and Congregational churches, where he and his wife raised their family.

Discovering the UU church, Fred found the freedom to face and explore the religious questions that had appeared in the margins over the years. When he joined the UU church, Fred retained his membership and participation in the Congregational church, which continues to nurture his Christian faith.

Interestingly, it's the UU church that feeds his spirituality. As Fred explains, "I feel the Unitarian Universalist church has been more consistently spiritual than any other church I've ever been in."

Fred also speaks of the values he's trying to embody in living a "good" life and refers to this photo, which he took on the summit of Mt. Washington, as a metaphor for his path to a higher spiritual place.

I hope you enjoy Fred's remarkable and inspiring journey.



This episode runs about 42 minutes. You may listen with the above audio player, download the mp3 file here, or access it via iTunes.

I welcome your feedback, which you may leave by posting a comment below or by sending an e-mail to comments at bespiritual dot info.

The theme music is Floating Souls by Ambrish, courtesy of the Podsafe Music Network. The chalice artwork was created by Inga Johannesen, of the UU Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Be Spiritual - Episode 16

Gail Donahue is our guest for Episode 16 of Be Spiritual. Gail was raised Irish Catholic, both religiously and culturally. Ironically, it was the Catholic Church that pointed her to Unitarian Universalism. Today, Gail considers herself a proud atheist with a church — not at all paradoxical for a UU.

During the conversation, you'll hear Gail refer to Cakes for the Queen of Heaven. If you're interested in more information about this curriculum in feminist theology, check this web site.



Episode 16 runs about 37 minutes. You may listen with the above audio player, download the mp3 file here, or access it via iTunes.

I welcome your feedback, which you may leave by posting a comment below or by sending an e-mail to comments at bespiritual dot info.

The theme music is Floating Souls by Ambrish, courtesy of the Podsafe Music Network. The chalice artwork was created by Inga Johannesen, of the UU Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

What's a Unitarian Universalist?

One of the challenges we UUs face is answering the question "What’s a Unitarian Universalist?"

Not that we don’t have answers, rather our answers tend to be rather lengthy, laborious, and conditional. Hence, the need for a cogent answer, both for us and the poor questioner — who may have neither time for nor interest in a college lecture!

In this spirit, here are a few elevator speeches that were submitted to the UU World magazine. See if these resonate with you.

You may also wish to draft your own. If so, consider sharing it with the rest of us on the Discussions tab of our Facebook page.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Be Spiritual - Episode 13

Episode 13 features the continuing spiritual journey of John Sanders. From a childhood of limited religious exposure, John has assembled a rich potpourri of coexisting beliefs and practices: Religious Humanist, Panentheist, Buddhist, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist. Listen to John’s and my conversation to understand how they fit together.

John serves as President of the Board of the Northern New England District of the Unitarian Universalist Association and President of the Board of the Universalist Heritage Foundation. Previously he was President of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua.



Listen to John's religious odyssey using the above audio player or download the mp3 file here. You may also listen and subscribe to the podcast with iTunes.

I welcome your feedback, which you may leave by posting a comment on the blog or by sending an e-mail to comments at bespiritual dot info.

The theme music is Floating Souls by Ambrish, courtesy of the Podsafe Music Network. The chalice artwork was created by Inga Johannesen, of the UU Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Be Spiritual - Episode 12

If you want to understand the essence of Unitarian Universalism, spend a half-hour listening to this episode. You'll hear voices from previous conversations, distilled to the core of our spirituality as a faith community.

I find this episode quite moving and hope you, too, will find it meaningful. If you're new to Unitarian Universalism and this podcast, this is a good episode to start with.



You can listen using the above audio player or download the mp3 file here. You may also listen and subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

The voices you'll hear, in order, are
  • Tess George - Episode 5
  • Sue Chadwick - Episode 10
  • Patricia Rose - Episode 11
  • Jenn Morton - Episode 9
  • Sue Chadwick - Episode 10
  • Patricia Rose - Episode 11
  • Bob Keating - Episode 8
  • Ellen McCormick - Episode 1
  • Anya - Episode 2
  • Roy Goodman - Episode 3
  • Tess George - Episode 5
  • Elaine Thomas - Episode 4
  • Roy Goodman - Episode 3
  • Tess George - Episode 5
  • Bob Keating - Episode 8
  • Ellen McCormick - Episode 1
  • Roy Goodman - Episode 3
  • Anya - Episode 2
  • Jenn Morton - Episode 9
  • Sue Chadwick - Episode 10
I welcome your feedback, which you may leave by posting a comment below or by sending an e-mail to comments at bespiritual dot info.

The theme music is Floating Souls by Ambrish, courtesy of the Podsafe Music Network. The chalice artwork was created by Inga Johannesen, of the UU Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Noteworthy

I came across a couple of items this week that you may find interesting.

Garrison Keillor wrote a column in Salon, Don't Mess with Christmas, in which his subtitle reads
It's a Christian holiday, dammit, and it's plain wrong to rewrite "Silent Night." Unitarians, I'm talking to you!
Keillor's thoughts have prompted a bit of a tempest, judging from the response by UUs.

You can sample the discussion coursing through a number of blogs. A good place to start is Peter Bowden's response on his UU Growth Blog. Peter is the growth consultant for the Ballou Channing district and the creative energy behind UU Planet Media.

From my own perusing, I found Paul Oakley's blog post a thoughtful response to Keillor, which he articulated without jumping over the proverbial horse.

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The Word of Mouth program on New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) featured an interview with Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University and author of the recent book Good without God. You can hear the interview here.

Listening to Greg, I was struck by two items.

First, he articulates humanism very eloquently and understandably, which is inspiration for honing our own elevator speeches.

His advocacy for faith communities — for non-believers as well as those who identify with a religion — is the second and more profound thought. At one point during the interview, Greg says that congregations are more about community than their underlying religious beliefs. Yes. Through community we can nurture each other and combine our efforts to do good works in the world.

Greg is working hard to build such a community at Harvard. If you're not in that neighborhood, though, and don't have such a community, try a UU church. Whether your inclinations are humanist, atheist, agnostic, Pagan, Buddhist, or your own mash-up, you'll be most welcome.

And do try one of our Christmas Eve candlelight services, where you'll get to sing our version of Silent Night.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Be Spiritual Check-In

This is not an episode, per se, but I do have a few topics to cover, topics that don’t fit neatly into the podcast format. So I would appreciate your listening for about five minutes.









You may listen using the above audio player, download the mp3 file here, or listen and subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

As I record this, the Be Spiritual podcast has 11 episodes with almost 1,000 downloads. That’s a remarkable milestone and quite gratifying, as I’ve done relatively little marketing to publicize the series. I really appreciate your listening and hope that you’re finding the programs meaningful and worth coming back to.

I welcome your feedback, which you may leave by posting a comment here (see the link below) or by sending an e-mail to comments at bespiritual dot info.

The sound of the rainstick at the end is from our theme music, Floating Souls, composed by Ambrish, and is used courtesy of the Podsafe Music Network. The chalice artwork was created by Inga Johannesen, of the UU Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Be Spiritual - Episode 9

Jenn Morton attended a UU church for several years when she was a child. Years later, after discovering she was lesbian, she brought her partner and children to a UU church, knowing they would be welcomed and accepted.

Now, the family is busy planning a wedding, scheduled for 12:01 am New Year's Day, when New Hampshire legalizes same-sex marriage. The church will be there, as well, to celebrate the attainment of a long-sought goal for Jenn and Michelle and many other same-sex couples in New Hampshire.

Jenn describes her spirituality simply as pay it forward. She tries to give back and live in the moment, appreciating the gifts each day brings. Like family.

I deeply appreciate Jenn's willingness to share her story with us, which I think you'll find moving and inspiring.

I'm proud to say that UUs have shown great leadership in advocating for acceptance and equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. You'll find a brief history of our faith tradition's advocacy here on the UUA web site.

Thankfully, society is moving in our direction. Yet the journey before us remains long.














Listen to Jenn's story using the above audio player or download the mp3 file here. You may also listen and subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

We welcome your feedback, which you may leave by posting a comment on the blog or by sending an e-mail to comments at bespiritual dot info.

Our theme music is Floating Souls by Ambrish, courtesy of the Podsafe Music Network. The chalice artwork was created by Inga Johannesen, of the UU Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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