Monday, March 28, 2011

Haiti, Darfur, handbasket...still hope!

Frankly, I get a little overwhelmed by such widespread misery. It is all-too-tempting to live in denial; to ignore others' distress, to distract myself from my own discomfort at living in such relative plenty while others watch their children starving. However, denial does not really solve these issues—-as with many things, awareness is central to right living.

Every person in this room knows suffering. We acknowledge that; let us meet each other with compassion. Without diminishing—-in any way—-our suffering, virtually all of our six billion human cousins are also suffering. Let us acknowledge that, with compassion and courage.

In the midst of such colossal suffering, for most of us, the world is still a beautiful place, and life is worth living. Let us open ourselves to both the beauty and the suffering around us, and together do our part for the "web of life, that's often torn and always healing."*
So may we be.

Full UUSC Justice Sunday service, including story for all ages, and links, at So May We Be.

* from "Fault Lines" by Robert R. Walsh

Thursday, March 24, 2011

religion evolving, not going extinct

Religion is dying out in nine countries, according to a study published recently. The BBC reports that religion may go virtually extinct in Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland. (They can’t make a prediction about the United States because the U.S. census doesn’t ask about religion, lead author Daniel Abrams told CNN.)

The authors–Abrams, Yaple and Wiener–used nonlinear dynamics and group social behavior to make their prediction. Dr Weiner notes, “In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%.”

That’s where I challenge the headline: religion is not dying out, but people are no longer affiliating with traditional religious organizations. The mysteries of life and death, and our human hunger for purpose, will not die out. Our desire to make meaning together will not go extinct. We are finding new forms of meaning-making, and some old forms may well go extinct, but organized religion will not disappear.

Full post, with links, at So May We Be.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Water vortices can generate electricity in a sustainable, mostly-fish-friendly way. According to University of Michigan professor, Michael Bernitsas, water flowing past a cylindrical object creates vortices along the side. A vortex occurs on one side, then on the other, alternating back and forth. This can be destructive (as with oil rigs or the Tacoma Narrows Bridge). Bernitsas was working on ways to reduce or eliminate vortex-induced oscillations, when he realized that a better solution might be to *harness* the oscillations.

Bernitsas’ company, Vortex Hydro Energy, notes that VIVACE (Vortex Induced Vibrations Aquatic Clean Energy) can be produced in currents as slow as 2-4 knots. Most conventional turbines require at least four knots–and most rivers and ocean currents in the USA flow at 3 knots or less. VIVACE does not use turbines, so it is safer for fish.

(full post, with links, at So May We Be)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Halfhearted Covenant?

Many congregations require too little of their members. There are no minimum pledges listed, and no consequences for missing seventeen Sunday mornings in a row. Neither the congregational bylaws nor its lived customs indicate that it takes real work to be a member of that church community.

Now, I can hear hyperventilating around the blogosphere. I am not talking about inflexible, hard and fast requirements. Obviously, accommodations are made for differing levels of physical or mental ability; and there are confidential and compassionate avenues for handling financial hardship. There are creative ways that every person can contribute *something* to the common good.

The idea is not to have absolute minimums on the amounts of time and money each donates; rather, it is to allow every person to start where she is, and challenge himself to grow into doing a little more. Members of healthy, high-commitment congregations challenge themselves and each other to set lofty goals, and to pursue those goals with integrity. And however things work out, the congregation promotes forgiveness and resilience and celebration as they mark the progress they made, and they begin setting new goals, together.

Now, I think I *do* understand why our congregations might not have such high requirements. Apart from the legendary UU anti-authoritarianism—our knee-jerk response against requirements of any kind—many of our congregations were created by people who were harmed by the inflexible doctrines and dogmas of other faith traditions. Affirming the right and responsibility of each person to follow hir own path, they deliberately did *not* make many requirements.

Furthermore, there is a pastoral issue. Most of us are busy already; we are stressed by the commitments we have already made. At least some of us are truly concerned that we could not do even one more thing. Knowing that we ourselves are over-busy, we do not set high expectations for church membership, because we do not want to further stress—or drive away!—our fellow church participants.

I get why our customs evolved, but I fear that, just like the Half-Way Covenant of centuries past, our modern Half-Hearted Covenant may also backfire. The Puritans wanted to welcome their descendants into the Kingdom of God; but some of their great-great-grandchildren gave up on God entirely. Our congregations wanted to welcome people into church on their own terms…but an awful lot of our human cousins are giving up on church entirely.

And that is a crying shame, when we know that congregations with high expectations offer some of the most effective means around for making our world a better place; and they transform the lives of the church members who live out those high expectations...

(Full sermon at So May We Be)

Monday, March 14, 2011

not Dems but democracy attacked

Over the last week or so, we have seen an audacious attack on the very fabric of our society. Governors and legislators have used dirty tricks in several states to undermine the public good.

In Wisconsin, Governor Walker insisted that he was not trying to break the unions—the last voice with any power to speak for the middle and working class peoples. He insisted this was a budget issue, not a political ploy to bust the unions. He said this right up until the moment when he instead took all the financial aspects out of his bill, stripping public employees of their basic right to collective bargaining. He was attempting to *use* the financial crisis in order to accomplish his other goals; but his own actions prove that it was not about the budget. It was about power.

The Ohio government also had an eleventh-hour switch in order to pass similar legislation ripping workers’ rights away.

And the worst attack—thus far, at least—has come in our own state of Michigan. Our House and Senate have passed similar bills that undermine the very fabric of democracy. According to the compromise bill that the state Senate just passed, and which the House is expected to pass tomorrow, the Governor will have the power to declare a town, or city or school district to be in grave financial danger, and to therefore appoint an emergency financial manager to oversee that town or district.

This is where the scary part comes in: any such emergency financial manager will have the power to establish bonds without voter approval; to dismiss locally elected officials; to cancel any contracts made by a local unit of government; to overturn any local ordinances, previously passed by residents or their democratically elected leaders—even to dissolve the charter of the town or district.

This is not “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” This is oppression of the people by the appointed poerful for the self interests of other powerful people, cororations and organizations.

In our state of Michigan, it will soon no longer matter what we citizens say, on election day. If our local balance sheet does not meet certain criteria—and, by the way, Gov. Snyder’s proposed budget will make sure that many places do *not* have the resources to meet such criteria—if our local bottom line is not good enough, then somebody *will* be appointed to take over with no accountability whatsoever to the will of the people she or he is “serving.”

Please call your local representatives and tell them to vote against this monstrosity: House Bill 4214.

When the fourteen state senators returned to Wisconsin, over 100,000 people greeted them. The governors and legislators are passing some truly frightening laws, but they may have over-reached, at last. They are awakening the American people. It may be a long battle, but we the people have prevailed in the past. So may we again.

(full post, with links, at So May We Be)

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Rango funny, racist

“Rango” is a funny movie, but it has too many stereotypes for me to endorse wholeheartedly. I agree with Roger Ebert, who called it an “animated comedy for smart moviegoers, wonderfully made, great to look at, wickedly satirical.” Gore Verbinski’s film has visual quotes from many movies (“Star Wars,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” etc.), which were delightful for the adults in the crowd.

However, there are several troubling stereotypes. Stephen Bridenstine notes, “Wounded Bird plays a bit part as the token town Indian. He’s quiet, mystical, and knows exactly how to track in the wilderness, just like the classic Hollywood Indian…[when] Rango refers to Wounded Bird’s ‘ingenuity’ only to say ‘no pun intended’ [it] put a bad taste in my mouth.”

Furthermore, the villain in the picture, the Mayor, is almost always seen in a wheelchair. Whether this is age-ism or able-ism, I cannot tell for sure, but it bothered me. My wife notes, “at least they’re depicting the person in the chair as powerful.” I thought it just served to make the character more creepy.

The band of Mexican owls and the wise old armadillo were also pretty stereotypical, although they were mostly shown in a positive light.

The final regrettable element is the usual western culture trope of a solitary hero. Even though it takes heroism from *many* characters (including several females), when they save the town, everyone calls Rango their hero, and he accepts all the credit.

It was the #1 film last weekend; it will probably be around a while. It does at least offer an opportunity to talk about racist/ageist/ableist depictions, and why the director chose to use such characterizations. Definitely ask your children, “do you think Rango should get all the credit, when so many other characters helped him?”

(full post, with links, available at So May We Be.

Monday, March 07, 2011

refuting Hymowitz...slackers, flappers

...according to Kay S. Hymowitz, maybe the females are to blame for the males’ lack of success. Her new book is titled "Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys." Her descriptions of confused young men, uncertain about their roles in a feminist world, do match some of the statistics from Rosin’s article. Hymowitz seems to sympathize with this “generation dropped onto…the stage without scripts.”

I agree with some of her analysis. Our culture does lack appropriate coming-of-age rituals, and there are few truly good masculine role models. However, while I agree with some of her findings, Hymowitz is way off base when she blames the phenomenon on women. Correlation does not imply causation.

Furthermore, testosterone is built for challenge. If young men were not already opting out of competition, then they would *enjoy* competing with women. I believe that Hymowitz has it backward: young women are not pushing young men off the playing field, the men are abandoning it, and leaving it to the women to excel.

Please note: I am not saying that women can only win if men allow them to. I am saying that women and men are basically equal, and since men are essentially giving up, women are surging ahead.

So why are men giving up? My hypothesis is this: the slackers of today are like the flappers of a century ago.

Not quite 100 years ago, “flappers” were young women who experimented with their yang, masculine energy. They left behind traditional notions of “femininity” and instead, took control of their sexuality and smoked, drank and drove automobiles. Nowadays, the pendulum is swinging the other way, and young men are experimenting with their yin, feminine energy. They are abandoning outmoded understandings of masculinity, competing less and relating more...

Full sermon at So May We Be.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

sex not dishonorable, but sacred

Brandon Davies has been dismissed from the BYU basketball team–for having sex with his girlfriend. The Brigham Young University Honor Code includes “live a chaste and virtuous life,” according to an ESPN story. I do admire BYU for sticking by its code, even though losing a star player may hurt their chances to win the NCAA Tournament (the Cougars are ranked as high as #3 in the country, currently).

However, I wish their code did not confuse “chastity” and “virtue.” Sex between consenting adults, who are not married to other people, is *not* dishonorable. As the Religious Institute points out, sex is a life-giving and life-fulfilling gift…sexuality is “central to our humanity” and “integral to our spirituality.”

The Institute’s “Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing” stipulates, “Our faith traditions celebrate the goodness of creation, including our bodies and our sexuality. We sin when this sacred gift is abused or exploited. However, the great promise of our traditions is love, healing and restored relationship.”

Please consider joining the “Faithful Voices on Sexuality and Religion,” whose pledge is simply “As a person of faith, I support sexual health, education and justice in faith communities and society.”

Original post, with links, at So May We Be.