Friday, March 27, 2009

cage match: Laurel v. Peter

First, "Morales" buttons and literature appeared, then "Hallman" paraphernalia, on a table in the church entrance. Lay leaders read one of Peter's sermons, two Sundays ago (including a very gracious letter from Peter); other lay leaders will present one of Laurel's sermons, two Sundays from now. People have been asking "how do we vote?" "what other positions will be elected?" "how can we participate?"

For a congregation that sent *one* non-staff-member to our district annual assembly last year, and will send no non-staffers this year, and whose GA attendance has been largely staff-only the last few years, this election is creating excitement. The buzz after hearing Peter's "A Religion for Our Time" sermon was wonderful to see--people were talking about taking UUism not only outside our walls, but outside our town. All of a sudden, there is interest in becoming a delegate, if only to mail it in, in absentia. I expect Laurel's sermon to further energize these discussions.

For myself, I expect to vote for the Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, three months from now. And I am most grateful to the Rev. Mr. Peter Morales, for stepping into the ring, and creating interest and debate and energy in our movement. Whoever wins, may we harness that energy and use it well.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

one year's visits

The above picture shows the locations of visitors to this blog, since 25 March 2008. You can usually see such a picture at the lower right--you have to scroll down a bit. Tomorrow, all of the lovely red dots on that map will disappear, as the good people of ClustrMaps have just archived the information. Then, as people again visit, the red dots will begin to re-appear. I enjoy watching the dots, imagining friends ("Oh, that must be Ruth! Or "those dots are probably from the Gryffindor class!") and speculating about readers in countries which I've never visited.

Thank you all for visiting. Please come again, and you are always welcome to participate in the ongoing conversations.

Friday, March 20, 2009

if you seek Amy (or Kay)

We've been exploring shame, so it's time for something shameful. Britney Spears' "dirty" pun, in the title of her most recent song, was prefigured by James Joyce and Shakespeare, writes Jesse Sheidlower. Joyce wrote "If you see Kay" in Ulysses, which sounds like "F-U-C..." when read; he and Shakespeare both have a similar pun, which may have come from an Eve Ensler work. As it turns out, at least according to Sheidlower, Ms. Spears is the first to seek *Amy* and not merely Kay.

I think it is a bit tawdry and sad, that she feels she has to sing about such things, in order to keep her place in the grand cultural machine--but I do appreciate her wordplay.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mudwitch, for shame

Thank you, Mudwitch, for your comments. You suggest that "moral codes are our human fine tuning of our genetically inherited shaming mechanisms" and quote Heifetz, "some of us are ambivalent about giving power, and other are ambivalent about taking it. Having been disappointed or abused in these relationships, some of which may strongly resemble dominance, many of us do not like to be dependent, or depended upon." You conclude, "I'd like to see UUs redeem shame, give it the respect it deserves as parent to our individual conscience and guardian of our cohesiveness, while never, ever underestimating its power."

I think we're on the same page. Too often we liberals deny the power of shame, usually by trying to overcome it with mere intellectualism. Or we operate out of our shame, unconsciously. Speaking only for myself, I would like to acknowledge my shame, drag it into fuller awareness, then work with it more consciously. I could then embrace any life-affirming shame (that children in my town go to bed hungry and homeless; that my government tortures) and work through any shame that is life-denying. As Christine Robinson noted, I have experienced shame around my spirituality; as Thandeka diagnosed, I experience shame around race and class. Such shame inhibits authentic relationship with people of different faith traditions, races or classes. (And following Heifetz, part of my authority issues stem from shame, too?)

I think Geertz wrote about religion orienting emotion within larger ideological frameworks. So far, much of my shame has been oriented in unproductive, even counterproductive, directions. Perhaps UUism can yet find a way to effectively and gracefully acknowledge and orient our human shame.

more than a few good men

More Than A Few Good Men is the title of a forthcoming anthology about "what it means to be a good man today." The book will include essays from a variety of sources: businessmen, convicts, soldiers, street musicians, etc. There is also a contest, wherein the winning essay will be included in the book. Essays are due by May 1st; follow the link above, and good luck.

Friday, March 06, 2009

morality, anti-racism, Haidt and Thandeka

"...the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way." When Republicans say that Democrats 'just don't get it,' this is the 'it' to which they refer."

So writes Jonathan Haidt. He also gives "the first rule of moral psychology: feelings come first and tilt the mental playing field on which reasons and arguments compete. If people want to reach a conclusion, they can usually find a way to do so. The Democrats have historically failed to grasp this rule, choosing uninspiring and aloof candidates who thought that policy arguments were forms of persuasion." This is what Thandeka wrote in Tikkun years ago.

Haidt gives this example: "The book of Leviticus makes a lot more sense when you think of ancient lawgivers first sorting everything into two categories: 'disgusts [the ancient lawgiver]' (gay male sex, menstruation, pigs, swarming insects) and 'disgusts [that lawgiver] less' (gay female sex, urination, cows, grasshoppers )."

Moral laws were formulated to explain, or at least codify, their disgust. And note that their common disgusts contributed to their group identity.

Haidt offers this definition: "morality is any system of interlocking values, practices, institutions, and psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible." He believes that societies must do five things: protect the vulnerable, legislate fairness, and promote loyalty, respect and purity. The first two are class Liberal values; the latter are classic Conservative values.

Haidt says these five foundations, harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity, are all part of our evolutionary past, and all necessary for a rich society. He offers ways for Liberals to understand and authentically promote all five of these. ("Environmental and animal welfare issues are easily promoted using the language of harm/care, but such appeals might be more effective when supplemented with hints of purity/sanctity.")

At first, I disagreed with this paragraph: "A recent study by Robert Putnam (titled E Pluribus Unum) found that ethnic diversity increases anomie and social isolation by decreasing people's sense of belonging to a shared community. Democrats should think carefully, therefore, about why they celebrate diversity. If the purpose of diversity programs is to fight racism and discrimination (worthy goals based on fairness concerns), then these goals might be better served by encouraging assimilation and a sense of shared identity."

Then I imagined doing both--upholding individual rights and fairness, *and* building shared identity. The ol' UU "both/and." That seems like a better--more inclusive, probably more effective--approach. *Ding!* This is Thandeka, too: rather than beginning from "fairness," honor our shared identity (all human, all wounded, all doing what we can) and build toward fairness from there.

This post is already way too long, but it feels like something important is happening here. Feedback is welcome.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Conrad J. Floridia, RIP

Conrad J. Floridia died March 2nd, 2009. Mr. Floridia taught me chemistry and physics in high school; he taught my friends Advanced Biology and he was the faculty advisor of the National Honor Society. He had an eight-track player in his classroom, with quadrophonic sound and light boxes that pulsed with the music. He threw textbooks to each student, on the first day of class--with remarkable accuracy. He threw marvelous Christmas parties every year. He taught us the same rigor in note-taking (and recopying!) as his Jesuit professors taught him. He was one of my earliest mentors, and I grieve his death.

My Physics class built, out of milk crates, the "Conrad J. Floridia Memorial Bookshelves" in his preparation room, 28 years ago. I suppose those bookcrates have been torn down, but they still exist in my heart.