February 2008

When you get mad, do something.
Don’t just sit there, fuming;
don’t let the thing you’re grieving sink its claws into your brilliant, loving heart
unless you can do something with the blood,
something amazing
something inspired
that will lift you up out of your chair and make

When you get mad
do something.
Do something to heal the world.

This was originally going to be a comment on UUlogy but I rapidly realized I had way too much to say so I have moved it here. It may sound odd out of context; go to the second blog entry at UUlogy and read the comments to see the conversation I was responding to. Most of this stands with or without the rest of the conversation. To keep things tidy, I suppose comments should go over there, so I’m keeping comments closed here.

So…I’m a minister, and a YRUU grad who did extensive research on the dissolution of LRY. Unlike Eric I haven’t been involved with youth advising, and have not engaged sufficiently/paid attention/been invited to the conversation (some combination of all of these) to know in detail what has been happening.
So in my retrospective way, I’m not sure I have much right to complain. I wasn’t part of the process, and some of that was my choice.
However, here are some things I know:

1) the UUA as a whole has been moving toward the congregational focus. Gini Courter and others have been talking about it for years. I had been hoping/assuming that YRUU and C*UUYAN would escape because of their relatively unique missions, but I guess not.

2) from the SC letter it looks like CG III was turned down by SC 04 BEFORE the consult really took hold. If that’s the case, I’m very curious about that choice. Looking back (starting in late LRY and working forward) the UUA didn’t offer LRY that option–the CG I and II processes came out of the relative void created by the dissolution of LRY. SCOYP (Special Committee on Youth Programming) was formed first. By contrast, the UUA started with the CG proposal this time. I’m wondering what was wrong with it.

3) I did see a shift from youth leadership (in LRY it was really youth-only leadership, which was problematic IMHO) to mixed leadership in YRUU. I really hope we aren’t moving farther from that model; I don’t know. The balance was good. I’m very curious to hear what Wayne Arnason (a key LRYer who was instrumental in creating YRUU and is now a minister) thinks about all this.

4) This strikes me as similar to a pattern I’ve seen with youth and college YA groups:
– year one. not much going on. a few youth show up and ask what the programming is, then discover they must create it for themselves. They begin to do so.
– year two. The first youth are now sophomores. The incoming youth know how hard they have to work to get things done. Everyone works hard, develops buy-in, and starts to gain the respect of the power center of the church. They do a conference, a few other events, and start to build a reputation.
– year three. The first youth are now juniors. conferences and lock-ins are a mainstay of youth group life. They have a youth rep on the board, a youth delegate to GA, a junior youth group starting, robust programming, incredible buy-in. They have a budget and a paid youth advisor. The program is vibrant. It starts to attract youth with less background in UUism, youth who are more interested in programming than in religion, and youth who are UU but are only interested if their specific agendas can be met. It also continues to attract the usual suspects.
– year four. The first youth are seniors, and are stepping back, letting the class below them (whom they have trained) take on leadership. The program is still strong. The seniors are around enough to help preserve the spirit in which the programming was created. The youth tell the advisors to show up and supervise, work with the RE committee and congregational board to develop their programming, and do at least three fabulous things that no one thought they were capable of.
– year five. The first class is now aged out. The current seniors remember how much leadership, responsibility, and work is required to have this program, and they put in the time and energy necessary. They are trying to train the new juniors, but those are youth who don’t remember a time without youth programming, and assume that it is institutionally-based, rather than youth-dependent. They and the class below them expect the youth advisor to provide programming; they don’t take the need for leadership or training seriously. They and the class below them see no obligation to show up on principle—they attend or not at a whim.
– year six. The second class is aged out. The new seniors don’t model commitment. Attendance has dropped as the quality of programming dropped. By the end of the year everyone has other commitments. The advisor and church board are perplexed because no one comes and no one is interested and no one seems to want to do anything except sit around. The program dissolves and waits for another group of youth to ask, “where’s the youth programming?”
It seems like the length of the cycle is longer, but after looking at LRY and YRUU go through this, I’m wondering what we can learn.

5) One of my major concerns is that YRUU helped me develop a strong sense of UU identity, not just localized this-church-of-this-place identity. That’s a sense I struggle to bring to my congregations, many members of which have never had contact with UUs outside of the local arena. I believe that broader identity is critical to our development as an association. I very much hope that the new structures support that. Grassroots or top-down, doesn’t matter. Just so there’s an understanding of the importance and a mechanism for supporting it. Truth be told, I never went to Con-Con or to SC; my continental YRUUism was all about Youth Caucus, which I do think is one of THE most valuable things we do to develop leadership in our youth. I’m glad to see that continuing, although some adult conversations about the inaccessibility of GA are similar to conversations which led to the eventual dissolution of Con-Con. So who knows?

6) Is it possible that youth systems need a finite lifespan because the institution keeps changing? Other programs within the UUA don’t become part of our identities the way youth and YA programs do. When we change most structures no one feels personally affronted. Youth and YA systems are different, but what if rather than waiting for a breakdown we simply built in a re-visioning (phoenix—death and rebirth) system every…let’ s see… 1989-2008, but conversations started earlier…every fifteen years or so? Maybe there’s a natural lifespan.

7) Youth empowerment doesn’t have to be a threat, but youth entitlement may well be. There’s a kind of power acknowledgement that the national UUA structure (we are, after all, the UUA!) demands of its component parts in order that the institution is well cared-for, and the systems continue to work. When you become a minister you go before a committee called the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, and as far as I can tell, part of a successful interview is demonstrating that you understand the importance of cooperation with the institution and deference to some measure of regulation and tradition. Any time there’s a power struggle it becomes very hard to offer that deference and not lose face; if you offer it first then the power-holders are much less likely to think that you’re going to do something to damage the institution. It is the job of the national leadership to protect the institution—not from change, but from damage. That can be a very hard call to make, and it is usually made conservatively. Perfectly good and reasonable people who are empowered and working within an institution for the common good can begin to take the resources and programming for granted. That.is.dangerous—both to the continuation of the program and to the larger institution. Often when the institution tries to change something, it turns into an oppositional rather than cooperative relationship, and that makes a mess.

WE are the UUA. All of us. Youth, adults, moderator and president right on down. Whatever happens is changeable. Nothing is carved in stone. And the institution is created by and for us, to serve us.

Grieving is good and right and important. This essay is part of my grief process. I imagine over the next months and years that there will be studies and essays and examinations and reexaminations. But whatever has happened, we are a living institution and we must move forward. Dwelling too long in our sorrow could mire us for generations. I have an immense amount of faith in youth creativity and strength and wisdom, and if we the adults will work well with the youth, and if you/they the youth will work well with us, I believe we can create dynamic and wonderful programming again.

Al Gore supports gay marriage. Now he does. Whether he disagreed with (Bill) Clinton’s position when they were serving together and was being a good vp or whether he’s changed his mind, I don’t know. I’m glad of it either way. Gay marriage may not be the most pressing social crisis in the queer community, but it has vast symbolic value, and I think that is why it’s such a hot topic.

Regardless, this recent announcement does remind me how terrifyingly difficult it is to serve as a leader and maintain one’s integrity. He’s been much more able to speak freely since he stepped sideways out of regular politics and into what might be called celebrity activism. There are kinds of activism that only famous people can do effectively. I think he’s found a niche, and is very effective there.

Just saying.