This world. This place. This life.


How I curate UU content

Sometimes we develop our most useful skills without conscious intention.

I’ve always been a reader, and I’ve always been that friend who says, “Hey, I found this thing you should read.”

I never thought that would turn into something I felt called to do—much less that it has a name.

Almost three years ago, UU World magazine invited me to edit The Interdependent Web. My editor gave me freedom, support, and the opportunity to practice curation, week after week.

Here’s a window into my process.

  • Curation begins with love. This is demanding work, and passion sustains it. I care deeply about helping Unitarian Universalist voices find larger audiences. If you’re thinking about becoming a curator, choose something you love, because you’ll spend more hours doing it than you can hope to be paid for—if you’re lucky enough to find a curating gig that pays money; many people are giving away this kind of work.
  • Immersion is essential. A curator cannot expect to occasionally dip her toe into the waters of her subject. I spend hours, not just reading UU blogs, but also participating in UU forums on Facebook. As Unitarian Universalist content becomes more diverse, my daunting task is to follow it wherever it goes. Blogging is the area of UU content where I’m most comfortable; I’m hoping that some of you may begin curating other types of content—video, design, music, etc.
  • Gathering sources never ends. When I began reading UU blogs, Philocrites’ Guide to Unitarian Universalist Blogs was a great resource. Soon I learned about UUpdates, and taught myself how to use Google Reader. Once I began editing The Interdependent Web, my Reader was no longer just a few favorite UU blogs; instead I collected an exhaustive list of every single UU blogger I found. When Google retired Reader, I switched over to Feedly, where my “All UU Bloggers” folder has 391 blogs at last count. And I’m always looking for more. Are you a UU blogger? Do you suspect I don’t know about you? Introduce yourself . . .
  • Scanning and saving are the first steps each week. At this moment, there are seventeen new posts in my “All UU Bloggers” folder. I won’t read all of them. I’m looking for headlines that grab my attention. What grabs my attention? Specificity. Responses to other bloggers’ posts. Humor (including snark). Something that grabs my heart. A clear connection to Unitarian Universalism. Good writing (yes, that matters, even in your post titles). A great track record as a blogger. Anything that catches my attention earns a little green Feedly bookmark, which puts posts into a “Saved for Later” folder.
  • Reading and reducing is where the work gets hard. Eventually, I have to read all those “Saved for Later” posts. Beginning each Wednesday, I review what I’ve saved, and compile the best posts. My goal is around fifteen pieces of content, sometimes more, sometimes less. That means a lot of culling. Some weeks I wish I could send out apology notes to some of the bloggers whose excellent posts just don’t make the cut.
  • Arranging and distilling are the last steps. I could just list the best fifteen posts, images, videos, etc. But good curation is more than that. I look for intentional and coincidental conversations between posts, images and videos. I look for natural categories. Sometimes things get shoehorned together, and other times there are beautiful juxtapositions.  The format of The Interdependent Web—at least for blog posts—is “introduction, pull quote.” I usually arrange, then find the quotes, then write the intros, but not always in that order. It’s a great format, but it’s very blog-centric, as is most of my process. That’s the growing edge for me—tweaking this process so I remember to look for and include images, videos, tweets, Facebook conversations, Pinterest posts, etc.

Since August of last year, when I returned to The Interdependent Web from maternity leave, I have done this work while also adjusting to life as a new parent. Liesl comes home early on Thursday night to watch Willa while I put the finishing touches on the column, but for the most part, curating fits well into the daily schedule of a stay-at-home mom.

Did I answer your questions—or create more?

I’d love to hear from you about how you’re coping with the deluge of content that social media generates. Do you opt out? Are you grateful for your friends who help you choose what to read? Or are you, like me, the friend who says, “Hey, I found this article you should read”?



A stile in the Facebook garden wall

I like using HootSuite to post simultaneously to Facebook and Twitter, and today I figured out why.

Thanks to Chris Walton, I’ve been thinking since December about Facebook as a walled garden.

Chris said—and I’m paraphrasing here—that much of the public conversation of UU blogging had moved into the walled garden of Facebook. Particularly into the walled gardens of Facebook groups.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I love the energy of UU Facebook groups. They are an amazing place to meet people, have great conversations, spark new ideas.

But there is a downside, particularly for a religion where newcomers often say, after years of wandering in the wilderness, “I was a UU, and I didn’t know it!”

The downside is that we’re spending a lot of time and energy enclosed in private spaces, talking only to each other.

We’re having tea parties in our walled gardens—and tea parties have their place.

But we also need to host concerts in public parks.

We need to find ways to bridge private and public.

Which brings me back to HootSuite.

I think HootSuite is a stile in the Facebook garden wall.


What do you think? Are there times when you want to say something to your friends on Facebook—and also to the public at large? What are you using to bridge public and private?

Photo by Tim Green, used under a Creative Commons attribution license.

Leave a comment

There is no such thing as Facebook

Really. There is no such thing as Facebook.

Facebooks, yes. But no Facebook.

I was reading a particularly charming status update posted by one of my friends, and suddenly it hit me: no two people have the same experience of Facebook. (In our house, we call this a U-Haul moment—when you suddenly see something obvious, like “you haul.”)

Each of us has a unique combination of friends, groups we’ve joined, and pages we’ve liked. And Facebook does god knows what with its algorithms to vary the content in our newsfeeds, based on what we’ve “liked” or commented on that day.

So if I have witty friends who tell charming stories, and you have annoying friends who badger you about playing games with them, how can we debate the value of Facebook?

If the pages I’ve liked constantly try to sell me something, while the pages you’ve liked offer helpful information, how can we discuss a common experience that doesn’t exist?

And if the groups I’ve joined have given me a new outlet for creativity and connection, while the groups you’ve joined are conflict zones—or dead space—how can we decide if Facebook is a waste of time, or a productive tool?


Monsters in our closet

I have a working theory that many UUs are more afraid of the imagined beliefs of other UUs, than they would be if they knew what those other UUs actually believe.

Here’s what I mean. When I hear people insisting that we need to define our UU identity, that we need to name the core of what UUs believe, I get nervous. I’m afraid that the circle they might draw would shut me out.

But something changes for me when I hear what people really believe, rather than what I imagine. The bedroom light switches on, and the monsters in the closet are just shirts and shoes.

I first realized this when Patrick McLaughlin shared with me David Bumbaugh’s suggestions about UU core beliefs. Bumbaugh’s poetic language allows enough space for a range of interpretations, for a broad spectrum of UUs to say, “Yes, this is what I believe.”

Christine Robinson has also risked articulating our common beliefs. Here’s what she says:

Life is good, and so are you.

Reason and Intellectual Faculties are good.

You can trust them to understand life.

However it’s a Very Big Universe out there,

and many important things can’t be known

through reason and intellect.

For this we have intuition, heart, spirituality,

and other faculties which are useful

but don’t lead everyone to the same conclusions.

Truth on these Very Big matters

is best found in conversations,

actual, virtual, literary, and internal.

It is to be expected that there will be differences.

They enrich us.

That’s what we do as Unitarian Universalists…

grow in spirit, together.

It takes a certain amount of bravery to propose a list of “things commonly believed among us.” We’re a tough crowd. We attack imagined monsters before anyone has time to turn on the lights. We shred a lot of shirts and shoes.

I think it’s time for us to find our courage. Courage to speak our beliefs––and courage to listen to others without reflexive critique.

We are not children. We can expect more from ourselves. We can replace fearfulness with a deep and abiding trust that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”


Why do you write?

My Twitter feed has been sprinkled today with people explaining why they write. After a bit of exploration, I discovered that today is the National Day on Writing.

So here’s my answer: I write because a torrent of thoughts surges through my mind. Words on the screen are shiny bits of debris I pluck from the waters as they rage past.

What about you? Why do you write?


Why I believe in listening

Listening extends, deepens and corrects my thinking.

Sometimes listening is very hard work.  Sometimes the people we most need to hear are those whose voices are the most intolerable.  They are loud, harsh, off-key–and yet, even these discordant voices have truth to tell.

The Tea Party is one of those discordant voices for me.  Just imagining the voices of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann makes me want to cover my ears and say “La-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you” to drown them out.

But Monday’s Weekly Sift sent me to a video by Lawrence Lessig, whose lefty voice is very easy on my ears.  And while my guard was down, I heard something that the Tea Party folks have been saying.

I’ve been really frustrated with the GOP/Tea Party message that government isn’t the solution, government is the problem.  It drives me crazy when conservatives talk about taxes being our money that we give to the government.

My own voice rising in volume, becoming more harsh, I’ve been saying to anyone who will listen, “Don’t you know that WE are the government?  As in, ‘We the people of the United States.’ As in, ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people.’ ”

But then I watched Lessig’s video, and heard a helpful corrective.

Liberals are dreamers, idealists.  We love the idea of democratic government so much that sometimes we lose sight of reality.  And the reality is that government is the problem.  Not government of, by and for the people.  Government of, by and for the funders.

Doesn’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?

We don’t have the democratic ideal right now.  We have the age-old tyranny of the rich and powerful, masquerading as democracy.   The ideal isn’t completely gone, but there’s only a thin sliver of it left.

If we’re all covering our ears and shouting at the top of our lungs, democracy is doomed.  But if we can uncover our ears, and learn to listen past our differences, Goliath doesn’t stand a chance.


How we believe

I’ve been reading fashion blogs recently, most of them recommendations from my friend and fashion mentor, Strange Attractor.  What I’ve learned from my reading is simply this:  it’s not the what, it’s the how.

Sally McGraw at “Already Pretty” posts photos of her daily outfits, and my reaction to almost every photo is, “I would never wear that.”  But the message beyond the specifics of her choices is that what matters is wearing what makes us feel most confident, what helps us be our best, most world-changing selves.

Over in the UU Growth Lab on Facebook, we’ve had several rousing conversations about the struggle to have both a core identity and diverse beliefs. As I’ve thought about this, rattling around in the back of my mind has been the lesson I’ve learned from fashion:  it’s not the what, it’s the how.  It’s not what we believe, it’s how we believe.

So here’s the beginning of a list of “how” UUs believe.  Feel free to suggest additions–or subtractions.

  • Humility.  As the Rev. Christine Robinson of iMinister has written, “Agnosticism of various stripes is our default theology.”  Whatever our beliefs, no matter how passionately we embrace them, we do so with humility, acknowledging that we might be wrong.
  • Respect. Our congregations covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  As members of UU congregations, we challenge ourselves to respect the worth and dignity of others, particularly of those with whom we disagree.
  • Candor. UUs commit themselves both to speaking and to listening with candor.  We try to speak the truth about our spiritual experiences as clearly as possible.  We try set aside our own experiences long enough to hear the experiences of others without bias or judgment.
  • Commitment. The spiritual path of a Unitarian Universalist does not end at membership in a UU congregation.  The free and responsible search for truth and meaning is a life-long journey, and UUs commit to ongoing learning, wherever the path leads.
  • Courage. Unitarian Universalism is not an easy path.  A popular misconception is that UUs can believe whatever they want to believe. Instead, we are compelled to keep on searching for what it is we truly believe, deep down, in our heart of hearts.  At the same time, we covenant to stay in community with those whose beliefs differ from ours, and we risk unsettling our deeply held beliefs.   Searching for one’s own beliefs, and listening to the beliefs of others, are two practices that require an immense amount of psychological courage.
  • Integrity. UUs reject the hypocrisy of believing one way, and acting another.  We work hard to make sure our words don’t get too far ahead of our actions.
  • Love. When all else fails, UUs try to stand on the side of love. When we can’t figure out what to think or believe, we ask ourselves, “What is the loving thing to do?  How does love inform our beliefs?”

What do you think?  Do you have any suggestions?  “How” do you believe?