Monthly Archives: February 2007

Hey, doesn’t that guy on TV look familiar…

Yeah, I was on TV tonight — for about two seconds, on channel 10 news in Providence, in a story about how First Unitarian is transferring ownership of a late 19th C. painting to a local museum. The painting, by Edward Emerson Simmons, son of a Unitarian minister, depicts the boy Jesus, so there I am on TV talking about Jesus. They also show me moving a refrigerator. I kid you not. Link.

More about the painting at the First Unitarian Web site: link.

Live at the New Bedford peace rally

Blogging live from the peace rally here in New Bedford, organized by the Coalition for Social Justice, held in the sanctuary of First Unitarian in New Bedford (yes, the sanctuary here at First Unitarian is a wifi hotspot — bring your laptop to church and get free wifi!).

Quick summary so far: Rev. Ann Fox, the minister at the Unitarian Universalist church in Fairhaven, and I gave the invocation. Poet Everett Hoagland, a member here at First Unitarian, read a powerful poem that linked the war in Iraq and Afghanistan to other forms of injustice such as racism. John Oliveira, a local Iraq veteran, told about the personal price he has paid for the war due to post-traumatic stress disorder. Drae Perkins, who comes from a military family and served inn the Army from 1976-1979, spoke eloquently about how he cannot support this war. Kyle Viera, a young spoken word artist from 3rd Eye, performed one of his pieces, an imaginary letter home from a soldier stationed in Iraq. Nina Pitts, a student from Bristol Community College, pointed out that the current cost of the war in over $400 billion, with another $800 billion projected to replace hardware and equipment damaged in the war, and long-term costs of perhaps $500 billion to take care of wounded veterans.

It’s a multi-racial crowd. It’s a multi-generational crowd, with two year olds and elders and every age in between. But — I did a quick head count, and there are only about 130 people came out tonight. Not exactly the way to send a strong message to our elected officials. If you’re against the war, and you’re not here right now, please take a moment right now to send email to your senators and your representative expressing your displeasure with our continuing presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.


February is my least favorite month. Even when we’ve had a relatively easy winter, as we have this year, by February I’ve had enough — had enough cold, had enough darkness, had enough snow and freezing rain and miserable weather.

Years ago, I remember talking with housemates about which months were our favorites. Joel liked one of the summer months, I forget which one. I said I liked November best, because the mosquitoes are gone and as long as the snow held off it’s the best month for hiking. Sue said her favorite month was February.

“February?” said Joel and I incredulously. February was one of the worst months of the year, said Joel. The only good thing about February, I said, was that it only lasted twenty-eight days. But Sue said she liked February because by February you can really tell that the days are getting longer, and she also loved those clear blue days you sometimes get.

Joel and I realized that Sue’s birthday was in February — no wonder it was her favorite month. Then Sue pointed out that Joel’s favorite month happened to be the month in which he was born, and of course I was born in November. So we decided that our favorite months were our favorites simply because those were the months in which we were born.

Ever since Sue told us that this is her favorite month, at least I’ve been able to appreciate that by February you can really tell that the days are growing rapidly longer — and when we do get a clear day in February, I can look up and appreciate the deep blue of the sky.

And I’m cranky and irritable and ready for spring, and I’m still glad February only lasts twenty-eight days.

Scams and dishonesty

In the most recent newsletter here at First Unitarian, I included a warning about scams and dishonest practices. I just heard from another minister who has been seeing similar scams, and is running a similar warning in his congregation’s newsletter. So I thought I’d share the warning, slightly modified, with the readership of this blog….


There are a number of scams and dishonest practices going around right now of which you should be aware.

First, some Sunday morning scams. I have noticed that on a number of Sundays over the past few months, we have had people showing up just as our worship service ends and asking for money. In each case, the story is almost exactly the same: the person or the couple has been traveling from one place to another place, and their car happened to break down in New Bedford that morning, or the night before, and they are hoping that the good people of First Unitarian will give them some money. (The cover stories change over time. Six months ago, we were hearing a different story, with people came saying they needed eleven dollars to buy a bus ticket to Boston. But eight years ago, when I was at the Lexington, Mass., congregation, we were hearing the “we-were-traveling-and-broke-down” scam.)

While it is possible that one or more of these people are honest, this is in fact a common scam run by people who go to places of worship, a scam which I have seen over and over during my years working in urban and suburban congregations. I have instructed the staff of First Unitarian to say that we give no money out to anyone, and that we keep no cash on hand anywhere in the building. If anyone approaches you during coffee hour asking for money, refer them to the minister, or tell them that they should come to the office first thing Monday morning and ask for the minister.

Second, email scams. I have been seeing a huge number of email scams coming into both the office email address and my own email address. My current advice is simple. Do not respond to any request for money that you receive via email. Do not click on any Web site address that appears in any email message — retype the Web address yourself into your Web browser. And never, never, never give out any personal information via email. Even if the email message seems to be a legitimate charity, do not send money or personal information via email.

Third, when you are in any house of worship, remember that houses of worship are public buildings. Hold on to your personal belongings at all times, especially purses and wallets and anything valuable. There are thieves who specifically target houses of worship, both during worship services and the rest of the week, because these thieves know that some people let down their guard in a house of worship. Suburban churches are probably more vulnerable to this kind of theft, but last January a thief stole a laptop computer and digital camera during a worship service from the organ loft here. So guard your personal belongings.

The world is mostly filled with good people, but unfortunately just a few bad people can make things miserable for all the good people. Please be careful.

Spring watch

As usual, I went out to greet people in front of the church before worship service this morning. Arthur, the Sunday sexton, pointed out three small white flowers blooming beside the gate, right next to the sidewalk. They’re snowdrops, of course (Galanthus species), the earliest garden flower, blooming right on schedule.

Carol and I walked out to Pope’s Island this afternoon, where we bought the Sunday newspapers and then sat in Dunkin’ Donuts reading and sipping coffee, and looking out the big plate glass window at the lower harbor with Palmer’s Island lighthouse in the distance. With the warm weather this past week, most of the ice has disappeared from the harbor.

But spring’s not here yet. I still see all the familiar winter waterfowl on the harbor. And the forecast is for more snow tonight.

More songs

Four new songs/chants added to the main Web site — Link.

The songs:

  • “Alleluia Round” attributed to Mozart
  • “Listen, Listen, Listen,” a chant by Paramahansa Yogananda
  • “May the Long Time Sun Shine Upon You,” an anonymous contemporary chant (in 7/4 time, how cool is that?)
  • “The Ocean Refuses No River,” a chant supposedly of Sufi origin.

As far as I know, these are copyright-free songs. I’ve included lyrics, along with abc notation which allows you to hear the melody and the chords by using the “abc Convertamatic” Web site [link].

Oo, oo, I get one of those…

I don’t usually post images on this blog (I’m trying to keep my bandwidth down because I’m a cheapskate), but I can’t resist this one. Thanks to Boing Boing, I found the Order of Science Scouts, who are dedicated to “an ideal where science communicators can meet firstly, for drinks; secondly, for communicating; and ultimately, for networking.” They are issuing merit badges. I actually qualify for one of the merit badges.

Waitaminute, you ask, how can Dan (who is after all a minister) consider himself a Science Scout? Well, campers, I started out my academic career as a physics major, switching to philosophy as an undergrad under the impression that I would be able to answer deeper questions about cosmology as a philosopher than as a physicist, and because I mistakenly thought I’d meet more women. And I figure I actually do communicate about science just like a real Science Scout, since I have asserted on this blog that the current president of the United States is anti-science; and I sometimes identify birds, mammals, invertebrates, and plants that I mention on this blog in binomial nomenclature (e.g., Carol and I saw a Phoca vitulina on our walk today). Admittedly, my use of binomial nomenclature is pretty sad, but I do feel that calling George Bush anti-science should get me enough points to call myself a Science Scout.

So here’s the merit badge I qualify for: The “I left the respectable sciences to pursue humanistic studies of the sciences” badge, in which the recipient is now probably having a lot more fun than he/she did before….

science merit badge

I would also qualify for the “Experienced with electrical shock” badge (Level III), except I got shocked when working as a carpenter, not in the physics lab. I won’t admit to qualifying for the “setting things on fire” (Level III) badge. Or the “freezing things” badge.

Busy? Yeah.

This turned out to be a day that filled up with meetings and administrative work: checking in with office staff in the morning, a phone appointment with the consultant I work with, checking email, proofing the newsletter, checking in with the editor of the congregational cookbook, home for a quick lunch, then back for a meeting with the architect who’s developing a master plan for maintaining our building, followed by a special meeting of the Board of Trustees, grab a quick take-out dinner at the Thai place down the street, followed by a meeting for the community sustainability group of which Carol and I members. Speaking from experience, I’d say that serving as minister of a small congregation can actually be more demanding than serving as minister of a larger congregation, because in a small congregation, I’m it, there isn’t another minister on staff who can cover a meeting instead of me. In my experience, you’re more vulnerable as the sole minister in a small congregation — and the congregation is much more vulnerable, too, because if something happens to you (you go into the hospital, God forbid, or have a family crisis, or just go on sabbatical ), there’s no one there to take up the slack. I’m not complaining or looking for sympathy. I love my work, and I’m happy in my congregation. But when you think that more than half of all mainline congregations in the United States are small, that means that more than half the congregations in the United States are pretty vulnerable in this way. If you’re looking for reasons why mainline congregations are sturggling, I don’t think you have to look any farther than this.

The spam saga continues…

After a sudden spike in comment spam, I had to add some new defenses. You could unwittingly trigger my new anti-spam defenses (especially those of you who post comments from university computer systems), and if that happens you may have to take one of those “captcha” tests to prove that you’re a human and not an evil spam robot. If the worst happens, and you are unable to post a comment, please let me know via email (danrharper AT aol DOT com) so I can tweak the settings on my defenses.