I wish Unitarian Universalism was a game!

One set of people suggests liberal religion, and Unitarian Universalism particularly, is easy, insincere and a mental or spiritual plaything because of its inherent looseness and high regard for personal autonomy.

Another set of people — that’s us — seems to take that that as a challenge, rather than opportunity to correct our behavior or refute the premise. (Or not care about the challenge.) The conventional answer is that Unitarian Universalism is the most difficult religion (because of all the decisions and so forth) and thus very sincere and serious and so forth. There’s a mountain of sermons like that. Cue the rueful laughter in the background.

This approach should die a quick death. It makes our religion look like a crashing bore, and without the payoff of grand institutions, a mass movement or a corps of spiritually exhalted leaders. It’s all the burden of our Puritan heritage with none of the value.

One of the things that makes religion appealing is its capacity for joy — sometimes spiritual, sometimes material, often unseen or unappreciated by outsiders.  The grinding, scolding earnestness that you so commonly find when two or three Unitarian Universalists are gathered makes me want to hide. Usually hide with friends at General Assembly.

Last night, reading the program guide for this month’s General Assembly was the proximate cause of this blog post. Reading it to stay informed, as I’ll not be there. (For the reduced number of workshop slots, don’t some people show up over and over?) Family comes first; see you in Columbus in 2016. I’m sure there will be good parts, but the earnestness leaps off the page. Even the fun doesn’t sound so fun.

I spent the rest of my evening improving my Esperanto skills. Now, Esperantists are a people who have the earnest-fun balance down pat. A group created well-game-ified lessons on the Duolingo site. I spent the evening taking little game-like tests, tracking my progress, and earning immaterial rewards. The subtext was “this is fun, this is possible, you can do it.” And so I kept doing it.

There’s a lesson in that.

Follow my progress in my Esperanto studies on Duolingo, if you like. And join in.

The Lord’s Prayer in Esperanto

I’m at that point in my Esperanto education that I had better move the next level or accept being left as an eterna komencanto: an “eternal beginner.” That’s not bad (article in English) per se, but I would like to attend conferences — organized, if off-beat, travel (esperante) is one of Esperanto culture’s big pay offs — and I’m hardly going to do well, if I can’t make dinner plans effectively. Some of the conferences are for and by Christians, (esperante) and they’re appealing and (once you fly to Europe) cheap. So I figure I’d better memorize the Lord’s Prayer.


Patro nia, kiu estas en la ĉielo,
sanktigata estu Via nomo.
Venu Via regno.
Fariĝu Via volo
kiel en la ĉielo, tiel ankaŭ sur la tero.

Nian panon ĉiutagan donu al ni hodiaŭ.
Kaj pardonu al ni niajn ŝuldojn,
kiel ankaŭ ni pardonas al nian ŝuldantojn.
Kaj ne konduku nin en tenton,
sed liberigu nin de la malbono.

Ĉar Via estas la regno
kaj la potenco
kaj la gloro eterne.


Changing the character set, or trying to

So, my blog is old enough that the character set is all goofy. Translation, when I try to write something in Esperanto with circumflexes, I get question marks or oddments in their place.

Example: ĉiutaga preĝejo. This will not do. This blog needs to display in UTF-8, but doesn’t. And converting the database is not risk free.

This notice is in case I ruin my blog for a few hours or a few days.

More on the simplified conference

I mentioned the concept of the Esperanto weekend before. Think low-cost, lightly pre-programmed meetings with a focus on fellowship. Perhaps the container for an unconference. Two more thoughts.

1. The next Esperanto weekend will be in Richmond, Virginia. (details in English and Esperanto). Here is a how-to, if you read Esperanto.

2. Buses. Megabus, the emerging intercity bus carrier, is expanding in the mid-Atlantic region.  When you look at their service map, consider supporting rail service and highways, good value, restaurant and services in “in-between” locations, some go-to cities pop up for further research. A goal is regional convenience, not national scope.

  • Harrisburg, Penn.
  • Richmond, Va.
  • Hampton, Va.
  • Morgantown, W.V.
  • perhaps Storrs, Conn.
  • perhaps Frederick, Md.
But I wonder about other regions.

Conferences, simplified

I believe I’ve praised the Esperanto culture of membership organizations and conferences. (You have to love a language that makes membership blank a basic vocabulary word. And for any number of internal cultural reasons, Esperanto conferences tend to be very, very good value. After all, the goal is to have Esperanto speakers meet and (since some of whom have their own additional interests, such as ham radio, keeping cats or Unitarian Universalists) conduct the work of organizations. With a focus on low-pressure fun. A time to make fellowship. Bring your ukulelo.

So consider the Mekaro, la Mez-Kanada Rekontigxo (The Mid-Canada Gathering). It’s a weekend of sightseeing, free time and dining in Kingston, Ontario. Tapas or Cambodian? Alehouse or coffeehouse? $50 for adults, including four museum entry fees, plus the cost of two dinners and a lunch, perhaps another $50. College housing available for about another $50, single. Exciting? Doubtful. But I bet it was fun.

And look at this weekend in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The main considerations seem to be that it is accessible to different people and that the costs are low. (Walking access to rail and bus help here.) Offers to share a room (that comes with breakfast) plus two meals (essentially a split check, and with cuisine that accommodates vegetarians) with a single outing and loosely structure fun time. A minimum of organizing that provides the introduction for people to have fun and an opportunity to do something else (plan another event; launch a website; teach a class?) if they want. Or not.

An opportunity, at a price and structure that promises little and risks little, has a lot to speak for it.

The lesson of the Esperantists’ conferences

Spend any time with Esperantists and you discover how important conferences — kongresoj — are. I think it’s because the community is so small that it helps to have intentional times together. That, and since one of the language’s selling points is your ability to speak with people from other countries through a non-national auxillary language, international travel is a frequent option. Little wonder that the word for registration form shows up on beginners’ wordlists.

No doubt due to the lack of sponsors, the likely fact that most attendees pay their own way and the long duration of conferences (perhaps due to custom — Esperantists have been doing this for more than a century — and the long distances traveled) great attention is made to keep costs down.

Discounts routinely go to the young, persons from particular sets of countries and early registrants.  The lodging costs are often very low — with comforts to match. Room-sharing is routine, and camping and floor-space accommodation (bring your sleeping bag) are well-known. Meal plans are common, and a vegetarian option is a given. Some conferences allow for cooking, and I even noted a United States conference info page that tacitly apologized for this option not being possible.

It’s possible to have a private room with a private bath. There are sometimes banquets and very often day trips. There’s little to help the cost of very long distance travel. One can spend money (and donate money to help offset others’ costs) but a conference trip, doubling as a modest and interesting vacation, is kept as affordable as possible.

A couple of examples. The Universala Kongresothe big international conference at the end of July this year — is in Copenhagen: a very expensive city. A 29-year old attendee from Poland, who is already a member of the Universala Esperanto-Asocio, registering before last December 31, would have paid €60 for the 8-day conference. Even my late-registering, non-UAE-joining, forty-something United State citizen self would only pay €300, which doesn’t seem unfair for occasion.  The whole conference in a college dorm share with one other is €190. No word about self-catering.

Or you can go to the Christian (mainly Protestant) Esperantist conference (PDF, in Esperanto, of course) the week following in the spa town of Poděbrady, Czech Republic. Our early booking Polish friend would get this 8-day conference for €160, shared room, meals and (perhaps) day trip included.

This is a long way around to saying that there’s nothing wrong about counting pennies when putting together a conference if it means more people can attend. I’m thinking of the next General Assembly. My first was was in Charlotte. I got the young adult rate, a shared room (thanks I think to Joseph Lyons) but had to live on vending-machine Cokes for three days because there were no grocery stores within walking distance and the restaurants were full and expensive. (I think the area is more built up now and in any case there’s a light rail system that did not then exist.) One dear minister — no longer with us on Earth — bought me lunch, under the excuse I’m sure of examining my interest in the ministry. It’s largely because of the experiences at the 1993 General Assembly that you have me today. So when I organized a seminarians’ breakfast the next year in Fort Worth, I found a place that everyone could afford, even if it wasn’t fancy.

Costs matter if people matter.



Do any Unitarian [Universalist] ministers speak Esperanto?

A simple question: do any other Unitarian Universalist (or Unitarian or Universalist or kindred) ministers speak Esperanto? I’m barely not a beginner, but I have to think UU ministers once learned the language. Thanks.

Simple, ĉu estas aliaj Unitariaj aŭ Universalistaj pastroj ĉe parolas esperante? Mi estas ekskomecanto, sed pensas ĉe UU-ajn pastrojn antaŭe lernis la lingvon. Dankon.