Improving prayerbook typography

So, last time I said I was putting off a post about improving prayerbook typography to focus on the times. Then I started writing it and began to grow into a sermon. No thanks.

Here’s the deal. I nicely arranged the 1894 Universalist prayerbook with proper small caps and the rest for my own use last year. Then I shared a copy with a minister who I thought could use it, and now I’m sharing it with you.

  1. To learn more,  fead PracticalTypography.com “Typography in Ten Minutes” by Matthew Butterick. If you find that useful, keep reading and seriously consider buying the book. (It’s on the honor system, but it sends a message that the work has value and that others can be created by the same model and without advertising.)
  2. Download LibreOffice.org, the leading free and open-source office suite. In its last big update, it started supporting advanced OpenType features. This means using the real small caps and old-style numerals often embedded in typefaces.
  3. I use the Linux Libertine font in the prayerbook, and many of my projects. I think it’s included with LibreOffice.org, but if not get it here.
  4. Download the prayerbook file here. (ODT file, 9.5 Mb) Even if you’re not interested in the contents, you can see how I styled it. I’m not a designer, but I think this works pretty well. You should be able to open it in Microsoft Word. (Let me know in the comments.)
  5. Or a PDF of just the Morning Prayer section (80 kb) to use or to see the concept. Print double-sided on U.S. letter paper and fold.

That’ll do for now. Again, the  comments are open.

A word about the situation we’re in

I usually write on a narrow set of subjects — worship, theology and church administration — so leave subjects of national or international importance to those who have a greater depth of experience or better vantage point. Say, the merciless change in policy that means migrant parents in custody are separated from their children. I can’t imagine their horror, or the life-long damage this causes them all.  The UUA made this statement; my heart is closer to this Greek Orthodox statement. There’s lots of religious objection from many quarters to this policy, and the Attorney General’s presumption of quoting Romans to defend his actions.

Of course I detest it. I want it to end. I want decency, democratic norms and accountability to guide national and international governance. But the list of the unbelievable and the unimaginable keeps getting longer. Defend against this, and the White House lobs that grenade into the crowd.

Overcoming these assaults will mean a lot of hard, wearing work, and success is not given. Things I used to care about deeply — employment rights for gay people, or the end of the death penalty — are (to me) now less important than the calculated and empowered de-humanization of target groups by the current Administration. God willing, we may step out of crisis in a few years, but I’m not banking on it.

I paused to make this statement because I was going to write a little post about automating and improving prayerbook typography, and that seems so small by contrast. Even a bit callous. But here’s part of my thinking: we will be called to fight and sacrifice for a very long time. There won’t be as much money or time to enjoy pleasantries, also because the economy is rigged against all but the very rich. We should make as much of what we can, that we might enjoy it the more. If the organ is broken or the plaster crumbles or can’t put a down payment of a church building of our own, we can at least have well-ordered services and (in this case) attractive printed material. We can have that much, and try not to be jealous for more. We must be careful not to be anesthetized to evil by heaping up things or meeting or processes. More than a policy change, the situation we’re in calls for a change in how we live.

So if the flower fund becomes someone else’s legal defense fund, we might better see the beauty of the Lord, and worship in spirit and in truth.

Sermon impression: “Teaching of the Holy Spirit” (June 10, 2018)

What follows is not a manuscript of the June 10 morning sermon at Universalist National Memorial Church, or even a reconstruction, but an impression to share with those who were not present. The morning’s texts from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians and the Gospel of Mark may be found here.

I had planned to preach from a manuscript, but the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain so close together raised a consciousness and care that I knew it would be on our minds at church. Better to speak from the heart and with with short notes…

I would like us to speak clearly about suicide, generally, and about the people we’ve known and lost personally. My call to the ministry began after the suicide of a dormmate in college, nearly thirty years ago. I’m sure it has touched people here.

Spade and Bourdain’s deaths are troubling, in part, because they were styish and adventuresome and well-known. Our culture values these things but they is no protection. And their deaths reminds us of the unrecognized courage and suffering borne by unfamous (but much loved) people who died from suicide, or who struggle with it. Silence is a deadly enemy, and their deaths is both a loss in themselves and a threat to our sense of self. There is help available, and I recommend you keep these numbers handy in your phone: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) and text 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line.

It is important as Universalists to make a public, matter-of-course profession of the hope we share, and claim God’s care for those who die in suicide. There are people who claim that “a spirit of suicide” is loose in the world, or that Spade, Bourdain and others who take their own lives will suffer hell for their act. But this is not so, and a terrible, cruel thing to say. Should someone say this to you, say back, “I’m a member of a church that believes no such thing.”

For we each rely on God’s nature and not our own actions, and God’s nature is love. Ill health (including mental health) and misfortune can afflict any of us. But God made us, and God cares for those who take thoir own lives. Hold on to that.

We could spend much time reflecting on these realities, but let’s also review the text from the Gospel of Mark. It is not easy to hear — say, “Satan casting out Satan.” What would that mean? But there is one part that stands out more and has long been a difficulty for Universalists.

With this in mind, let’s turn to the passage in Mark 3, about the eternal sin and the blasphemy against the holy spirit.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”– for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Blasphemy is one of those words that might make us chuckle because it so lost in time, like haughty, wicked or naughty. Each of these meant something very serious, but that was a long time ago. So it’s easy to under-estimate the point of the passage. In some sense, it is about demeaning or not adequately showing honor to some deity, and by extension to a text or holy person. Most of the remaining blasphemy laws are in Muslim countries, but this hides the fact that they existed in many other countries, including in western Europe until very recently. Denmark had a blasphemy law until last year, its repeal triggered by an active prosecution. The past, as the saying goes, isn’t even in the past. It has long been the perogative of civil authority to police blasphemy.

Jesus was engaging in theological jujitsu with blasphemy hunters in religious leadership. He was suspect of blasphemy and were hoping he would entrap himself. So that blasphemy against the holy spirit is blasphemy against what was working within Jesus, and as he had just commissioned the apostles, presumably the work within them. This seems not so far removed from our ideas of the violation of conscience, except that the “conscientousness” comes as a divine gift, we would call that grace. Then it seems to me that the blasphemy against the holy spirit is tied to an intrusion, a violation against our inward soul. That picking and digging that others so easily do, perhaps because they think they have the right to do.

Blasphemy against the holy spirit is insulting the grace God gives us, and souls by which we meet God. Anyone who stood out for the three and a half hours of the Pride parade yesterday saw evidence of this. The mistake grows by reading “eternal sin” as “something that needs punishment (after death) without end.”

There’s a problem here with the word translated eternal. … not a succession of years stacked end to end without beginning or end. The short version is that the word translated eternal pertains to God’s nature, much as we might speak of God as the Eternal One. A sin against God’s nature, which is not ours to forgive.

The answer is to defend the work of God as it grows in each of us, through care and forbearance, and not act in hubris against one another.

New congregations to join the UUA?

I had been waiting for the UUA Board agenda and packet for their meetings that surround General Assembly; they published them last night.

Why? To see what great things the UUA is planning? No. Something simpler. Will there be a new member congregation celebrated at General Assembly? Not that many years ago, welcoming new congregations was quite the event. Pictures of smiling faces, maps pointing out the new starts and delegations on stage. Then fewer. Then one. Last year, none.

The last congregation to join the UUA was two years ago, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Benton County, Bentonville, Arkansas. Meanwhile a few others, all very small, have since disbanded or disaffiliated. I have my opinions why this is the case, and no, the covenanted communities aren’t a replacement, but I’m not keen on shouting into the wind.

Instead, I’ll say thank you to the people of the recently-disbanded Peter Cooper Fellowship, Memphis, Tennessee (as noted in the packet) and wish them well for whatever the future brings.

The Saturday mission

To get a better idea of how Unitarian Universalists might organize new churches, I look at what others do. I found similar behavior between two Christian churches that are about as far apart on the ecclesiological spectrum as could be. Clearly there was something to learn.

  • Worship on Saturday morning. (These are not sabbatarian churches.) Check.
  • And not every Saturday. Perhaps once a month. Check.
  • The mission church is distant from the next nearest church at the same communion. Check.
  • The mission church rents “secular” space. Check.

The groups are Copts and Primitive Baptists respectively. The churches are in the Southern states and Manhattan respectively. I don’t think it’s too far to say that each is culturally out of the mainstream in their own settings. And that both are short of clergy. (The Primitive Baptists in Manhattan are a branch of a church in Maryland, three hours’ drive away, and that’s probably the closest one.)

I won’t labor this. What they have have in common is the economical use of resources. Don’t build too fast, if at all. Monthly Saturday services are a service and a sacrifice for the sponsoring church, but I’d bet it’s manageable. And not so “heavy” that if it need to change or be suspended that it imperils another mission opportunity.

Here are some links.

Worth remembering.

 

New Effective Altruism guide to download

I mentioned the concept of Effective Altruism in the last post. I think it’s a helpful framework for making life decisions about charitable work and giving. Maybe because I’m an American, I tend to see it as useful through the lens of pragmatism, to be held gently and carefully like one would hold a baby bird. Some actions aren’t worth funding, not only for their inefficiency, but because the outcomes are untested or the same outcome would have happened anyway.

But I won’t try to explain it, or even suggest the 2015 book Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference by William MacAskill (which I just finished) when you can get the same concepts free of charge in a PDF or e-reader formats from the Effective Altruism site.  This is a new, second edition and while I’ve not finished it, it looks like it would take you from initial concepts to intermediate action.

It may be unrelated, but I also find Effective Altruism sites to be well-designed and easy to use, for those who care about that kind of thing. Animal Charity Evaluators, for instance. And note how they report on their past mistakes. That’s worth emulating alone.

Thoughts about the UUA #8, Money

I’ll wrap up this series tighter than I like so I can move on.

I don’t like how the Unitarian Universalist Association spends money, and the common “that’s scarcity thinking” line reads as self-serving. I’ve been reading and thinking about the Effective Altruism movement, which advocates making change though the most effective and tested means. It’s not sentimental, nor should it be, if wasted time, money, patience and effort risks the lives of the world’s most poor. Even wasted on the merely good, when we can support the exceptionally good.

It’s as much an accident of the tax code as anything that lumps churches in with these charities, but since so much of American charitable giving goes into our churches and denominations, their work must be scrutinized. Not so far as saying no money for churches before the end of extreme global poverty, but that equation remains in the background. At least, is the money well spent? Does it set out to fulfill the church’s mission? How do you know? These are questions for each church, too, but the answers would be too variable to make judgments here. (I also avoid meddling in the internal matters of churches.)

The problem with the Unitarian Universalist Association is that so much of its work today is focused on itself. As if the UUA is its own problem — and cure. The old liberal slogans are gone, the ones that pressed us to “the vital issues of the day”; the ones about religious liberty, international peace, even spiritual growth. So much of the external good work would happen without us, if ever so slightly smaller. If you read the board of trustee’s minutes and packets, you end up feeling like the UUA is itself a special and profound seat of sin. Why, then, give it money?

But my beef is the services that are gone. It will be fascinating to see if the five regions can do what the many districts once did, or were supposed to have done. Church planting was relegated to the districts and the pipeline of new churches has dried up. There has been no new church join the UUA in two years despite it being one of the primary purposes (as in Principles and Purposes) of the UUA. (See below.) No extension ministry program. No new hymnal in horizon. No national youth and young adult program.

Lacking competition and having the donors, the UUA has lost its way as a service provider. Unless it finds its way back, it can do without our money. Money and effort that can be applied to find an alternative.

From the UUA Bylaws, Section C-2-2 “The primary purpose of the Association is to serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles.”

Thoughts about the UUA #7, tl;dr

If you’re not familiar, the notation tl;dr means “too long; didn’t read”. That doesn’t apply specifically to the UUA — liberals can’t seem to make a brief statement anywhere — but does include it. A long written thought could be deep and generous, but they’re usually crowded and undisciplined. The caveat kills, the editor giveth life.

I wouldn’t expect you to slog through a long work of mine, either. That’s why if items in this series seem short — well, that’s on purpose.

 

Thoughts about the UUA #6, Honesty

I’m laying in bed scuffed and sore after taking a bad spill on concrete earlier today. It’s nothing I would want to repeat, and I didn’t lose consciousness, break bones or chip teeth. It could have been a lot worse. Repeating the tale to some friends, also Unitarian Universalist Christians, I expressed my gratitude in terms of providence. Clearly (to me) God was watching out.

I’m not as bashful about this kind of expressed piety as I once was. And it reminded me of one unexpected upside to Unitarian Universalism: nobody’s going to reward you for your conventional expressions of theology. You might even get an earful.

For the record, I think of myself as orthodox as anyone in the mainline. I can (and do) recite the Nicene Creed without mental reservation, understanding that it’s not an evasion to have a complex approach to some issues. Indeed, I may be notably conservative for some liberal Christians. So be it. (Universalism is not a heresy but that — and why some Universalists would want to make hay claiming it is — is a discussion for another time.)

The fact is I got here theologically entirely in my time as a Unitarian Universalist. This process took years, and a lot of soul searching. Previously, I was a low christology Unitarian Christian and before that (as a teenager) would have caucused with the Humanists. I’m not a hold-over or an entryist, but very much a part of the Unitarian Universalist narrative.

My theological orthodoxy doesn’t provide me any benefit among Unitarian Universalists, which also means I’m not penalized for believing the wrong thing. There’s no reward for lying about believing something I don’t believe in. It’s a lot easier to be honest as a Unitarian Universalist, and that’s something I highly treasure, even if it means I’m in a small minority.

Which is why I find the idea of a political orthodoxy so repellent. Not meaning political parties per se, but having to adhere to a particular theory and vision of human relations, including the present form of anti-oppression work. The imputed value and rightness of the work does not justify the intrusion, the mental evasion needed to survive, and above all the dishonesty such an orthodoxy necessarily demands.

Thoughts about the UUA #5, Not today

I could write about the problems of the UUA. But the weather is nice today, and the winter was long.

There’s no point going out of my way to think about if it missing out on the fleetingly pleasant parts of life.

Though I would hope it would be its own source of joy.