Saturday, October 23, 2010

pure sense of purpose

Lt. G. is surprised at how much he misses some aspects of war. In his post in Doonesbury's Sandbox, Matt Gallagher writes,

"I've been out of the military for just over a year now, and I've been shocked at how much I miss (parts of) it. The camaraderie, of course, can't be replaced in the civilian world, nor can the ability to act like a boorish 16-year old with a gun. (I'll leave it to the reader's judgment whether or not the latter is a positive or a negative). But the pure sense of purpose we had in combat is what I long for the most."

You can see that Gallagher has a knack for the truth. There are parts of his post that concern me, and at least one phrase, uttered by one of Lt. G's friends, is genuinely offensive. And still, I resonate with his human need for purpose.

Gallagher closes with, "I joined the Army to lead, and lead I did. But I got out because I didn't want to manage, and manage I would." Many, many of us in this culture are managers, whether in business or in households. Management may, in fact, be quite important. But our human need for meaning is critical.

How do we in the meaning-making business offer Lt.G, and Ms. H, and Mr. J and Dr. K opportunities to co-create a real sense of purpose? Isn't this what Tom Schade was writing about, here? Doesn't a "better life for all" include a palpable sense of purpose? How are we co-creating this in our congregations?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

purple up

John Dickerson's objection to the phrase "man up" does not go far enough. In his article on, Dickerson complains that "man up" has become a cliche', that it has lost its orginial meaning. However, it is *precisely* that original meaning with which I disagree.

Dickerson appreciated the phrase when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (then running for that office), said his opponent should stop hinting about Christie's weight, and just "man up and say I'm fat." Now that Palin and many others are saying "man up," Dickerson writes, "It is dreary to watch, boring to listen to, and tells us nothing about the politician or the issue he or she is talking about."

My objection is that it is based in a harmful stereotype. To insist that men be tough and strong is just as harmful as insisting that women be pretty and weak. People who go against these stereotypes are often attacked, usually by calling them names associated with homosexuality. The phrase "man up" can usually be translated as "do this, or we will consider you 'gay' which, to our impoverished minds, is a bad thing."

Particularly today, on GLAAD's Spirit Day, when people are wearing purple to support bglt youth, and to end anti-bglt bullying, we should stand up and stop saying "man up."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

a UU vision

Our task is to challenge coercive religious (and/or political) movements, and offer an alternative that offers *both* a more accurate map of reality and will enable a better life for all, according to the Rev. Mr. Tom Schade:

"I think that it would be useful for us to understand ourselves as a particular form of 'liberal religion', a broad movement that (1) considers all religions as culturally relative expressions of a universal human impulse and (2) has a tempered belief in human progress rather than a belief in an apocalyptic eschatology and (3) a pragmatism that evaluates religious expression on its results in daily life. There are lots of expressions of 'liberal religion' in the world, and Unitarian Universalism is a small peculiar denomination of liberal protestantism. Many of the unchurched and unaffiliated are religious liberals.

So our evangelical tasks are two: one is to contest vigorously exclusivist, apocalyptic and coercive religions, to call them out by name, persuading people that the general approaches of liberal religion are a more accurate description of reality and will enable a better life for all. And two, among religious liberals who are unaffiliated to offer Unitarian Universalist religious community as a spiritual path. Our traditions, our rituals, our agenda for ourselves match up to many people's ways."

I appreciate his definition, and the tasks he derives from that definition. May clarity help us achieve our goals.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

does it get better?

Is the It Gets Better project anything more than a feel-good panacea, diverting energy away from real activism for BGLT rights? Alana Smith blogs that for some (too many!), their lives will likely *not* get better. Smith also links to Zoe Melisa's ten points against the Dan Savage-inspired YouTube channel, where many different people and groups encourage bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender youth to refrain from suicide, and soldier on, because "it gets better."

Smith decides that this "activism or encouragment" is a false choice; that we need to do both. She concludes, "The hard truth is that whether we are fighting an oppressive social system or struggling with an oppressive psychological problem, it is going to take a lot of hard work for things to get any better – but a diet of hard truths and tireless struggle must be supplemented with gentle compassion and hope. Political victories are absolutely essential, but no less necessary for our survival is something as simple as an occasional hand on our shoulder and someone saying, 'I know just how you feel.' It Gets Better found a way to collectivize this personal gesture, and without mistaking it for a political program, I’d like to say that I’m grateful for it."

So, let us contine the struggle. And in the meantime, may we draw strength from such performances as the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus' It Gets Better.
So may we be.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

new "men's magazines"

Relationship advice in a men's magazine? While old-school magazines like Playboy and Esquire celebrate sex *without* relationships, and encourage high-end "manly" products like cigars, whisky and $3000 shoes, newer websites are catering to the concerns of men in the 21st century.

The Good Men Project recently wrote "Many men are in crisis. Most guys I talk to quietly acknowledge that they’re struggling to 'do it all.' Sound familiar? That’s what women have faced all along: how to have a career while also being a [parent]...The most macho thing in the world is to be a loving father. To be a faithful husband. To put food on the table. Even more macho is to come clean about how hard it is to try to try to be all those things at the same time."

Not all the new men's mags are *that* touchy-feely; The Art of Manliness offers advice on how to keep a long-distance relationship alive, but it also includes tips on "basic" manly skills like tying a tie, building a fire without matches, and lists of "Men's Essential" books and movies.

Made Possible focuses on younger (under 35) men: it offers "an inside look at the Made Possible Generation: Its hopes. Its fears. And the game-changing strategies emerging for the decades ahead." These strategies run the gamut from investment advice to how to form/find a supportive men's group.

Man of the House works in the "fatherhood" niche. In addition to fashion advice, and how to buy inexpensive groceries, it also has an articles on prostate health, and how to buy musical instruments for your children.

I am grateful to Greg Beato, for teaching me about some of these sites, in his article in However, I am a little peeved at his tone. He rightly cautions, "In feeling the pain of today's beleaguered males, these new men's mags also co-opt the dog-whistle decree that has informed women's magazines for years: You're not good enough. Try harder. With these 13 steps you can be a better person," but then he goes too far. Calling these new magazines "intolerable," he writes, "Just as there's an unwritten law that you can't show traffic jams or trips to the mechanic in car commercials, you can't show the real responsibilities of male adulthood in men's magazines."

I am as sex-positive as the next person, and I enjoy a cigar once in a while--and I *do* need advice on how to use handtools properly; I have been considering shaving like my grandpa; and I absolutely yearn for real relationship.

Friday, October 08, 2010


Who gets to call themself a feminist, and are there core beliefs which one must affirm to claim that label? Several women are debating this, in a series on The genesis of the article is whether Sarah Palin and other politicians should be allowed to use the term, but it moves beyond that pretty widely.

Amy Bloom writes, "Feminism, I'm pretty sure, means a commitment to equal opportunity, equal ability, and equal potential for all women. It doesn't mean (and I realize that reasonable women differ on the definition of feminism—that's why it's feminism and not algebra) that a possession of a womb brings with it a special spiritual gift, or that women are avatars of goodness, entitled to yell, 'Misogynist!' whenever it is to their advantage...
there are, apparently, honest-to-God feminists who believe that abortion is murder and even though I think that that's not true, I have to respect that...But there is no such thing as free market/anti-legislation/I've-got-mine feminism."

Nora Ephron disagrees: "You can't call yourself a feminist if you don't believe in the right to abortion."

Katha Pollitt weighs in: "In the 1970s, feminists alienated a lot of women by being too censorious about clothes, makeup, and other personal choices; these days, feminism seems to mean supporting a woman's 'choice' to do just about anything, no matter how degrading or disempowering or socially harmful or foolish. Eventually, this kind of feminism bites its own tail: If choices cannot be discussed or (horrors!) criticized, there is no way to challenge, or even examine, their social context."

Anna Holmes notes that the term "feminism" has often been "rejected by minority and working-class progressive women, whose concerns, efforts, and agitations toward gender equality have historically been ignored or dismissed by the progressive movement's overwhelmingly white, wealthy standard-bearers."

Amanda Marcotte quotes Lisa Jervis, "Real feminists support a society in which biological gender 'doesn't determine social roles or expected behavior.'"

I like Jervis' definition, because it would dovetail nicely with a form of "masculinism" that would also support a society where being born male does not require being strong, silent and self-sacrificing. There is some complexity here: being born male *does* mean that I cannot conceive, nor nourish and carry a child in my body. But widening our understanding of social roles and expected behavior seems like a good goal.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

interconnected web of the sea

Underwated life is much more connected than previously understood, according to a decade-long study just released. The Census of Marine Life found that ocean creatures are tightly inter-related.

According to a Yahoo News story, a tiny shrimp-like being, Ceratonotus steiningeri, "has several spikes and claws and looks intimidating — if it weren't a mere two-hundredths of an inch long. Five years ago this critter had never been seen before...Then, off the Atlantic coast of Africa as part of the census, it was found at a depth of more than three miles below the surface." More astonishing--it is also found in the central Pacific, 8,000 miles away.

Sea creatures routinely roam wide territories. One 33-pound tuna crossed the Pacific Ocean three times in 600 days. Another species of tuna migrates 3700 miles, from North America to Europe. Some whales complete a 5,000 mile excursion north and south.

Besides laterally, ocean creatures mix between the shallows and the depths. Some species travel thousands of feet up and down. Some elephant seals can dive 1.5 miles below the surface.

Finally, just as humans and other primates share as much as 95% of their DNA, most sea life shares a similar proportion of genetic material: 85-98%, according to current estimates.

via The Daily Beast