“The Molten Chalice,” the manuscript about liturgy that I’ve been working on, is about ready for Beta testing (if anyone wants to read a PDF, just ask and I’ll email it) and I’m beginning to send out queries. So far I don’t have a written list of publishers and/or editors, but there were about six obvious places to query. The first two have turned me down. Until I get out there to maybe a hundred queries, I’ll hold off on self-publishing.
1. Wendy Strothman was at the U of Chicago Divinity School at the same as myself. She was the brilliant (and beautiful) person who “saved” Beacon Press from dying after it got the tourniquet from the money flow of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which had included it in their “portfolio.” Strothman went on to other publishers and then started her own agency, which is focused on “major ideas.”
2. Orbis is the publisher that published “Building Local Theology” by Robert Schreiter, which is one of the building blocks of the book. The editor is Daniel Ellsberg’s son, Robert Ellsberg. But this press is specifically Catholic and is focused on peace. Schreiter’s book was subsidized by organizations.
There are two Unitarian Universalist publishers if you still include Beacon. The second one is “Skinner House” which is specifically for UU materials. I have a big section on UU Religious Humanist liturgy -- partly PNWD Leadership School, partly Von Ogden Vogt and Kenneth Patton who were historical forces, and partly Abraxas, the movement at the time I was in seminary -- which played a part in inspiring this manuscript, originally my doctoral thesis.
A host of “spiritual” houses are out there because it is such a hot topic, but they tend to be quite Christian and sort of -- well, like weight-loss clinics. Overblown, not particularly educated, generally kind of downscale, unless they are Buddhist. But this is not a particularly Buddhist theory and they are as politically and structurally knit together into as closed a community as the various Christian denominations.
Another angle is the Atheist movement, which is as much a sort of loose dogmatic group as any Christian group, though it is based on resistance and contention. They spend all their time railing against the pre-existing instead of scouting out a new path. Also, they enjoy the political and personal sparring among themselves. it’s too bad that Christopher Hitchens is dead -- at least he was witty.
Which brings up another problem with writing about religion: not only are dogmatists contentious in that agonistic Western way, but they are legalistic and dogmatic. it’s all theology to them and they want theology to be set in stone, a set of commandments enforced by an authority (friendly to them).
Because of that, they’ve become conflated with the American political parties so that to be Republican has come to mean being conservative, fundamentalistic, evangelical, prosperity-based mega-church Christian, while to be a Democrat has come to mean liberal, progressive, mainline, small-church, and marginally agnostic. Both are devoted to rule-making, one in the interest of personal success which they feel sure can happen if they are unregulated (being unregulated also relates to rules) and the other in the interest of the protection of the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the old, the very young, and the atypical. Both want to control the rules, one based on “last-man-standing-means-best,” and the other based on “minorities must be protected for the good of the whole.” Both are bent on survival, but the right wing thinks they know what survival entails (they can read God’s mind) and the other thinks the key to survival may be hidden in a wheelchair or a prison or a gay bar. In the middle, of course, are the unchurched and uncommitted.
It’s an opportunity, but also a problem. This schism makes it hard to “sell” the liturgical idea of how to reach spiritual experience because it does not respond to this war between extremes. And since the un-religious either don’t get out of bed on the weekend or leap forth to go climb mountains, they have no use for liturgy.
Religion has been captured by institutions, whose primary guideline is their own survival as an institution, so Beacon and Skinner will look at a manuscript and ask, “Will this make the UUA grow?” and also “Will this make our publishing house grow?” It would be even better if competitors were scooped.
Institutions, which is what denominations are, though there’s always a minority opinion that claims the UUA is a voluntary association (that’s the A) of independent congregations, generally operate like corporations (though they claim to be cooperatives). This means that there is a superstructure of administrators as well as a “sales force.” The UUA is no different. The ministers are plainly the network of sales persons who persuade the congregations to grow on grounds that this is the best of all possible denominations. A cadre of CEO’s in Boston and stationed at each of the Districts, mostly ministers, are supposed to be developing materials and guiding and encouraging growth. They tend to be self-serving rather than risky visionaries. Friends stick together.
The seminaries might be considered Research and Development arms, but little innovation comes out of them and now -- for lack of support -- the students are dispersing among Christian seminaries. Many of the leaders on all fronts are older, trying to secure their retirement (money) if not their prestige (speaking engagements), and committed to what they’ve been doing for the last decades. All these folks are increasingly Christian in style if not content and methods. That’s where the juice is so far.
The counterforce is the last of the nineteen-fifties Fellowship Movement, which is where I developed my own theories but consequently I never developed a network of denominational relationships among ministers and administrators. My work was done directly with small groups of mostly Western (prairie) people who were explicitly free thinkers and sometimes mystical humanists, meaning that they had strong spiritual experiences, but not related to any deity or dogma. There are secular groups that have some of the same earmarks. Quakers come closest in denominational terms, though Quakers themselves are divided between more and less Christian. I have not explored whether the UU Fellowships have developed a sub-group. I know that the big ones have a loose affiliation mostly focused on business practices: growth and money management. I was part of a wave of growth workshops in the nineteen-eighties. Anyway, I'm not particularly interested in limiting my audience to UU's.
It’s an interesting reflection that though one would think ministers would be the most likely persons to be interested in liturgy, they turn out to be the least. Ministers are sermon-centered. Also, usually male. This means a bias towards dogma and structure. As I turn towards “sales” and “promotion,” I must think like them in order to communicate with them. Sigh.