Thursday, April 29, 2010

Landlords of the UUA

Fifth in a series of posts about the April 2010 UUA Board meeting

I find most of the Carver style "ends" established by congregations, districts, and the UUA Board (that's me) rather "fluffy" -- who could disagree with "our congregations are intentionally multi-generational and multi-cultural"?

It took me awhile to realize they are supposed to be that high-level -- it is the President/CEO who makes them "real" by coming up with an operational definition that you can touch and feel. It is part of the latitude given to the President -- as long as this definition is "reasonable", it is good to go, even if it wasn't precisely what the Board thought it would be.

That's why I was disappointed in the operational definitions provided to the Board at the last meeting. Saying the ends were too interrelated to interpret separately, the board was given a strategic plan that appears to have little if any foundation in ends. It is not necessarily a bad plan, just one that makes it very difficult for the board to say "yes, we are moving toward these goals, and holding the president accountable to them on behalf of those who are the source of the Board's authority." For example, how exactly does the President operationalize "multi-generational" (a sore point around youth leadership, and the only place where this is addressed in the ends) and what programs is he providing that will insure we get there? The resulting conversation between the board and staff on these issues was pretty direct, and resulted in the president requesting more ongoing collaboration with the Board to get a greater meeting of the minds. The Board appoint three people to do this -- Nancy Barlett from Mid-South, Donna Harrison from the Southwestern Conference, and me.

Is this just about format, or something deeper? Since I often do my best thinking by analogy, I tried it in terms of a landlord/tenant relationship. Assume I have a house you want to rent, and we decide to express the rental relationship in Carver terms. I have certain values in play around the property: insure the value of the property is maintained, the neighbors are not disturbed by the you the renter, and the rent is paid on time. I could make sure all these happen by direct inspection (walk through the house annually, check with the neighbors) but what if that is not an option? What would I need to know from you to be comfortable that my values were not being violated, to insure what I thought was good renter behavior? So we start with operational definitions: rather than me providing a long list of dos and don'ts, you could tell me what you are willing to do to maintain the property value (for example), and I can decide if it is reasonable to me. I may find you are willing to do improvements to the property that never occurred me, that give you better living space and me a more valuable asset.

What would not be acceptable is a list of all the good work you are doing, and not tying it back to my values-based list. I don't need a list of the parties you have thrown, but rather the precautions you have in place to insure they do not get out of hand, and a good word or two thrown in by the neighbors.

There is a paradigm shift between classic staff reporting and Policy Governance modeling reports that can be subtle and exasperating. A classic report gives a litany of all the things that have been done to address a certain issue -- a monitoring report asks "what systems do you have in place to know if what you are doing is working?" We are not monitoring the activities -- we are monitoring the accountability of the President, and how he knows something is or is not working. I am not suggesting this is easy, or that any of us have all the answers. But I do believe it is worth working through to really allow the staff the latitude that comes with the accountability. We need both.

[Please note there will not be any more posts until next week after the Pacific Central District Assembly.]

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Observer

Fourth in a series of posts about the April 2010 UUA Board meeting

I moderate posts to my blog, and other than the daily "spam" about wonder drugs and adventurous women that clog blog comments as much as they do your email, there are very few I do not publish. But clearly my comment about an observer with a "single minded pursuit of justice" hit a nerve. I am not going to publish the comments in response from bloggers who have been his target. I would like to explain why.

This blog is not about his claims, and will not include any judgment from me about their validity. I do not publish his comments unless they are relevant to my posting. If I publish the comments protesting my description, it does not seem fair to ban his inevitable response. It becomes a very long rabbit trail.

The Board typically meets in working groups on Friday -- when "the observer" showed up for the Board meeting, a helpful person directed him to one of those groups, which happened to be the "Excellence in Ministry" Working Group. He attended the meeting, and by all accounts was respectful and relevant to the conversations at hand, as he was at the Saturday and Sunday board meetings. He was accorded the same hospitality as any observer would, including recognition to speak to the Board, which he did concisely and in my opinion with respect and relevance to the topic(s).

Those of us who blog know him as a person who posts inflammatory comments on UU blogs about his treatment by a minister many years ago, condemning most of us (and Unitarian Universalism) with strong words. I have learned to check innocuous comments for hyperlinks to his own pages. Yet I thanked him after the meeting for the dignity he showed throughout the weekend.

What all this brought to mind was the powerful John Murray Distinguished Lecture at General Assembly last summer by the Rev. Nate Walker. Walker is the minister at First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, which was at the center of a storm over the church's rental to a "racist, homophobic, [anti-immigrant], hard core band". Local anti-hate groups and Unitarian Universalists all over the country demanded to know why the church would allow the band in the church. But rather than unilaterally banning them, Walker met with them. After a fascinating discussion detailed in the lecture, the band decided to cancel the show: "You have shown us respect so we’ll respect the church.” Walker goes on to say:

We use our imaginations to picture ourselves in another person’s shoes. We observe how misperceptions are born and how fear is fueled. We imagine the pain that has built up over time with those who have been in conflict for over a decade... Imagine but a simple truth: “hurt people hurt people.” To imagine is to empathize, to sympathize and to understand. And while understanding need not imply agreement, understanding is necessary in order to heal the poison found in a heart bound by fear and to heal the poison found in a mind bound by judgments. The discriminatory mind is healed when we imagine ourselves as the other, which leads me to close by reflecting upon the nature of pride and to pose a final question.

You would need to read Walker's lecture to fully understand his question:

Who do you save from the fire? Everyone. Why? Because we are all worthy of being saved from the fires, even the ones that we helped to create.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Healthy Relationships

Third in a series of posts about the April 2010 UUA Board meeting

What happens when 25 UUA board trustees start making "cold calls" to UUA congregations to ask about healthy relationships between the Board and their congregation?

Well, they are not all "cold calls" -- but the random selection of 100 congregations for this project means many trustees are calling congregations outside of their districts, in addition to the face to face meetings between trustees who know the leaders of the congregations they are meeting with well. We intentionally choose a representative sample of congregations, not members, so half of the congregations we are interviewing have less than 100 members (as do half of the UUA member congregations).

The interviews are not completed, but an early, consistent, and not surprising finding is that most congregations we have talked with feel they have no relationship with the Board, good or bad. When they think "UUA" they think staff. Congregations are appreciating the contact, as are the trustees. The interview process is based on Appreciative Inquiry, which asks people to identify some of the best of the past, so that it can be part of a bridge into the future. We are getting a number of concrete suggestions for how we create a future healthy relationship -- we will be providing a summary at General Assembly, and I will post more here when the interviews are completed.

What I am most struck by though, is how many of the conversations really do end up painting a picture of a UUA with fully engaged congregations achieving things that matter. Asked how she would feel if we really were able to work together to accomplish what had been identified, one interviewee simply said "I would cry".

Next post: The Observer

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Commission on Appraisal Funding

Second in a series of posts about the April 2010 UUA Board Meeting

In the end, the Board restored most (but not all) of the Commission on Appraisal (COA) funding for next year, as well as restoring part of the funding for the Commission on Social Witness (CSW). Because we require a balanced budget, about 40% of it came directly from the Board of Trustees budget, and 60% from the Administration. Before I left for the Board meeting, someone jokingly asked me if the COA wasn’t using their entire budget by attending the Board meeting. Aside from the “which budget year” timing issue, to their credit the Commissioners who came did so on their own dime, wanting to appear scrupulous about how they spend the money entrusted to them.

The COA is one of those committees that does not fall neatly into operational versus policy categories, as their recommendations over the years have fallen into either category. They are specified in our by-laws as an independent body, and are elected by General Assembly delegates. Since the Board is charged with conducting the affairs of the Association between GAs, we decided the funding decision was in fact the Board’s.

More fundamental though is the question of the purpose of the COA. Trustee Susan Ritchie, who teaches history and UU identity at Starr King, gave an excellent history of why the COA was formed in the 1930s, in an atmosphere of mistrust of the American Unitarian Association (AUA) administration, which had its own business meeting, separate from the delegates. There was no place to take issues when the board itself had no independence from the administration. Teed up, but not to resolution, is the question of whether or not there is a need for the commission going forward.

Assuming the existence of a COA, which we do until and if the by-laws are changed, I personally have two question:

1. What is the best way to get input on Commission areas of inquiry? The budget is almost entirely the travel expense of the Commissioners. When asked about electronic versus face-to-face meetings, we were told that face-to-face is necessary because not everyone is comfortable with technology. What is the trade-off between accommodating those who can physically attend a hearing (which I understand is seldom more than 50, and often less), and casting a wider net with those “willing to use technology”?

2. How do we insure that we are not duplicating effort, especially in difficult financial times? My understanding is that the Commission has chosen “ministry” as its focus this year, which topic has current ongoing efforts in the administration, the UUA Board, the Panel on Theological Education, and the UU Ministers Association. Acknowledging that the Commission is independent, to what degree are they willing to collaborate with those already engaged in these efforts?

The COA has played a valuable role throughout the history of the UUA. Its commissioners spend long hours of volunteer time. I am very grateful to the COA for taking on the Article II examination, as they could have said no to this required review. They did not, and in the end the Article II rewrite was defeated, with even some Board members voting against it. This would not feel like a "reward" (or much support, for that matter) for taking on something because the Board asked them to.

Next post: Linkage Update

Saturday, April 24, 2010

April 2010 Overview

First in a series of posts about the April 2010 UUA Board Meeting

The UUA Board is not necessarily one that relishes conflict, but this time it seemed inevitable: there were two topics on the agenda that had the potential for generating a fair amount of it. Three members of the Commission on Appraisal attended in person, with more by phone, to appeal their cut in funding. And three meetings into our monitoring schedule, we appeared to be at an impasse with the President in how we monitored our ends. Add to the mix an observer who is relatively well-known to most UU bloggers for his single-minded desire for justice. These topics, along with information on the UUA Retirement Plan changes, UUA finances, what the board is hearing in its direct conversations with congregations, my own AR/AO/MC journey and other topics will be posted over the next few weeks.

Next post: Commission on Appraisal funding

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ted Koppel, Glenn Beck, and the Little Red Church on the Hill

I love The Interdependent Web, a weekly round up of Unitarian Universalist blog posts by Chris Walton at UU World. It provides a brief description and intro into interesting posts by UUs everywhere -- if you are intrigued, you just click and follow the link to read the entire post.

I recently followed one of these threads to a video by Glenn Beck about President Obama's early childhood experience under the influence of his maternal grandparents, who were members of "the little red church on the hill". It reminded me of a presentation I recently attended by Ted Koppel, whose condemnation of most of today's media was pretty strong (NPR excepted). He encouraged the audience to take the time to read/watch what was going on out there, rather than sit back and blissfully watch only "ours". He made connections to the complacency of Germans in the 1930s, or other societies who just could not believe that anyone took "those idiots" seriously until it was too late. He predicted that Sarah Palin would be a serious presidential candidate, and could win.

As Unitarian Universalists, we are fairly good at not taking our freedoms for granted. And we are not so good at seeing/reading/talking with those we really disagree with, without dismissing what they believe in -- and why.