The Unitarian Universalist Association unveiled its new logo the other day, and it has generated a tremendous amount of heat and light.
For your consideration, here’s the most recent logo:
I remember when this one came out. Some hated the “vagina dentata” toothiness of the radiant orb surrounding the chalice. Others liked how much the image hearkened to folk art images of La Virgen de Guadalupe.
We had many opinions and modes of expressing them. The earnest and heart-felt collided with the snarky. The self-appointed crowd control agents informed everyone that they should just calm down, it’s just a slogan. Those who bristle at being silenced bristled at being silenced.
Here is the new logo:
I like it. I like the warmth and lines of the design, I like the use of negative space that creates two Us (which was pointed out to me by a lay leader of my congregation who is a graphic designer), I like that it evokes for me the Ottoman tulip design of which I am extremely fond.
But logos and symbols evoke visceral and very personal reactions, so it does not offend or upset me that so many of my co-religionists hate the new logo and see in it a phallus, or a vagina, or a bomb.
Let me tip my hand here and admit that I am much more interested in the phenomenon of community reaction than I am in the actual logo. FWIW, my own congregation has its own favorite chalice logo that we use in all our materials in order to create a consistent visual message (yes, a “brand”) throughout our organization and community. We may or may not use the new logo ourselves, but I certainly assume we’ll interact or cross-pollinate with it somehow.
We have always had tensions between our independent association of congregations and our covenanted “denominational” identity. One proof of this is how many Unitarian Universalists think that our 7 Principles are their own congregation’s covenant. They are not: The Principles are the covenant between member congregations of the UUA. Each autonomous congregation may have its own congregational covenant (and, I believe, should — just as much to experience the process of crafting it together than to be bonded in a meaningful way by the resulting statement). None of our congregations has to have anything to do with this logo if they don’t want to.
Putting on my congregational consultant hat, I would have recommended that the UUA leaders be aware that times have changed a LOT since the last time they rolled out a new logo, and that they could expect a huge reaction to explode on Facebook, where thousands of their ministers and lay people would have instant access to the image and where reactions to it would go viral among our little community, with major seepage into the broader community of liberals, who are highly networked on Facebook. If you believe that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, the last 24 hours of UUA-wide conversation, hand-wringing, shade throwing and thoughtful reflection has been a fabulous PR campaign. Whether we have shown ourselves in the best light during this moment or not is a matter of opinion.
In addition to instantaneous Facebook reaction, UUs have taken to other social media outlets to express their opinions. This blog post, which might seem to be “of the moment” in terms of the logo roll-out, is actually quite belated in social media concepts of time. By the time I have gotten around to writing this, many of my colleagues have already posted lengthy reflections on the new logo on their own blogs; some have written multiple posts.
If I was consulting with the UUA leadership (and I’m not) I would recommend that they make a list of UU Influencers and enlist their support and involvement before such a big roll-out, not afterwards. There is nothing unethical about being savvy about how social media works and reaching out to influencers in your field. I read the recent UU World articles about board issues and read the president’s report, appreciate that the Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, the UUA’s Programs and Strategy Officer, went onto the UU on-line talk show the VUU to discuss the new logo and to give some of the denominational (technically “associational,” but let’s not open that can of worms) perspective on the new logo.
I watched the VUU episode, but it’s a lot to expect the average UU to sit through an hour of talking heads to get to the part where Dr. Cooley fills them in on this latest branding effort. I love the VUU because the panelists are close friends of mine, and I have lots of patience for the, let’s say, homegrown production values of the show. It’s a Google Hangout with five or six people chatting from various locations around the country, and although it’s a very pleasant hour, it has a small viewership and can’t be expected to do much heavy lifting by way of associational communication. One of the most provocative remarks Rev. Dr. Cooley made on the show was that she felt that the UUA had been presenting an “inconsistent message” in the past that confused people. I have no idea what she means by that but it’s a really interesting thing to say. I would love to hear more about that.
I personally think that the furor about the logo has revealed the identity crisis within our Association, and the serious rift between ministers/lay people (people in the local congregation, and especially the little ones) and our UUA leadership. I know that I am very confused by the roll-out of campaigns and initiatives from what used to be referred to as “25 Beacon Street” (we’re moving — but I am guessing that the nickname might stick). We’re drowning in lingo, but the bottom line is that people in the Association have opposing ideas about what our focus is and should be.
Last night around midnight, as the Facebook comments were flying fast and furiously and we were in full Family Feud mode, I posted on my own page that I felt that the negative reaction to the logo might be about much more than just the logo. I wrote,
I think a lot of the criticism coming out about the new UU logo is sideways hurt, anger and defensiveness from clergy who don’t feel included in the UUA leadership’s new vision. There’s a communication crisis, possible misunderstanding or just good old-fashioned disagreement about the future of the movement, and a logo is a safe place to vent fear and resentment. I’m a huge supporter of “beyond congregations” ministry and UU evangelism, and yet I also happily serve a local congregation. Along with many of my colleagues, I am sometimes unsure if our denominational leaders have much patience or respect left for our local communities of faith. However, unlike enough of my colleagues, I guess, I have received recent, meaningful support from denominational leaders that illustrate their care for the local congregation and its ministers. I think the tulip is fine. What isn’t fine is the level of anxiety in our system, which I think is there for totally legitimate reasons that would be really good to address.
A UUA staffer popped in to ask me to say more, and I did (of course!). One of the things I talked about was how everyone needs to be clear about the authority and the job description of the leader before effective leadership and “followership” can happen. I am not at all clear what kind of “followership” the UUA leaders really want from me as a clergyperson, and I want to encourage them to be clearer with us. Yes, we’re in a partnership, we’re in mutual relationship. But there are some things (like managing our public image in the extra-congregational setting) that I feel fine being told are under the authority of the UUA staff, and I support everyone getting clearer and more mutually supportive around that.
I get thumped for not reading all the UUA board reports and getting confused between statements that are made by the board versus the President, and etc., but I represent the average Joe UU who does her best to keep up with the news out of “25 Beacon” (now in quotes!) while serving a very busy congregation. When I read the UUA materials about vision and mission and the future, I come away with a headache from trying to figure out what is actually being said. We definitely have a communication problem, Houston, because although there’s lots of information, there’s very little that I can actually understand. Is this because we are all afraid to say where we have authority and where we expect someone else to have their own and do a better job with it? I suspect that might be part of the issue. I have recently moved to a congregation that has policy governance, and I can’t tell you how much I love being clearer about what is actually my job, and where I have actual, rubber-meets-the-road authority. This allows me to take full responsibility where I need to, but also to be clearer with my community about where they have authority and a job to do (that I am covenantally obligated to support to the best of my ability as long as we have discerned together that it all connects with integrity to our mission).
Tandi Rogers, UUA Growth Strategist, explained to me that there is a UUA staff shift from “being capacity” to “building capacity,” which I intuitively understand and definitely support. But I am not sure where that puts me in terms of my covenantal obligation to the UUA leaders. What is our relationship? In responding to Tandi, I talked about needing clarity about what my “job” is vis-a-vis the UUA leadership, and how I would like to be asked to do that job after actually being brought up to speed on what it IS. Obviously the relationship between our UUA staff and our clergy has changed significantly. I get the feeling that I’m supposed to understand how, exactly, and to get on board with it. But I genuinely do not understand the shift, as it seems to be a subject that is being discussed while everyone stands around on eggshells trying desperately not to crunch. I wrote to Tandi,
I still feel a residual “top down” hierarchical thing happening out of our HQ, because that’s our past and it’s hard to give up. I’m not at all adverse to hierarchy, but we all have to know what’s on top of that hierarchy, and right now there’s serious disagreement about what belongs up there. We have to find some common “ultimate” up there to which we all feel ultimately committed, and right now, it could be Growth, it could be Mission, it could be AR/AO work, it could be Congregations. it could be God… no one knows, and there’s a real battle raging about it that is manifesting in very challenging ways.
Here’s a great comment from my colleague, The Rev. Patrick McLaughlin, who expresses a similar kind of frustration. His frustrations are a bit different from mine, but he echoes what I am hearing again and again from my colleagues: “We’re sort of informed about the new direction the UUA wants to take, but it’s a dramatic shift and we’re not clear on the details and what our role is in it.” Of course we all know that we’re called to rally the faithful, preach the message, support and minister to our congregations, bring the UU good news into the broader community, promote the latest initiatives and attend the marches but what are we supposed to do with a new marketing campaign? That involves us, too, and while I don’t think it would be necessary or advisable to send out proofs for pre-approval (Good Lord, what a nightmare!), some form of advance communication would have gone over well.
…Although I’ve been a supporter of the UUA, I’m not sure that I’ve really felt “included in the UUA leadership’s… vision” (new or not), ever. What gets articulated, when it does, is buried in jargon that one needs to be an insider to fathom (both because it’s insider jargon, and because the nuances of what that kind of jargon mean within the walls of the UUA is an unknown). Until they can — and do — express that vision in a way that newcomers can hear and understand, it’s well intended chatter inside the echo chamber. The critique is precisely what I’d give a seminarian who offered a sermon full of theological insider jargon. Hunh? I’ve no idea what the new vision *means*. I see lofty words, but can’t figure out what’s between the foggy vision of the castle (in the air or not?) and the ground, where the rubber meets the road.
But I’m puzzled by the notion that I have a job, as a minister, vis-a-vis the UUA (and its staff) that the UUA Board gets to decide, determine, define, and express. Maybe I missed it unmooring from being the board and staff of an association of congregations, a ground *up* movement, not a top down “movement.” The UUA was created to serve the member congregations and to help grow the faith–to foster the establishment of new congregations. From my perspectives, it’s allowed itself to be captured by those hurt in the incredibly successful Fellowship Movement (version 1.0), which like any new and major and effective thing, had drawbacks. But instead of figuring out how to do that sort of incredibly effective and efficient faith and congregation growth thing *again* (only much better, based on learning from the problems of 1.0), it’s been off pursuing spending resources ineffectively and inefficiently to build single, new, top-down congregations (and failing dismally). Or engaging in “denominational” led social justice work (which has at least been more substantive) — which is great, but not clearly serving congregational needs, Nor growing the faith.
If the UUA has decided that it’s going to convert itself into a missional organization that’s saving the world, I’m ok with that. The world needs a hell of a lot of saving. But if so, we really do need an association that is of congregations and seeking to serve their needs and that of growing the faith.
The logo? It’s a logo. I think it’s cute, but has no appreciable UU character. It’s red (or whatever). And it doesn’t seem to achieve *any* of the things that were said to justify trashing the new-old one and getting a replacement. But yes, it’s au courant. And if that’s its real saving grace, we’ll see another one inside the next decade. So don’t get attached to the tulip, or put it on stoles, or anything.
As I said, I like the tulip, but what I like much better is this opportunity to talk about what’s going on, what our various roles are meant to be in what’s going on, and what we need to be able to ask of each other.
Social media has radically changed the terms of our communication. It is now impossible to slowly roll out a new message or platform, or to finesse it in the classical sense of honing the message before hordes of opinionated big mouths like me get hold of it, smell it, roll it down the alley to see if it hits any pins, and starts messing with it to improve it.All leaders everywhere probably have to get used to this idea and learn to make the Beast work for them rather than against them. We’re nothing BUT instantly and constantly connected these days. Let’s learn to make the most of it.
More later, but that’s way more than enough for now. Thanks for reading.