Monthly Archives: April 2007


Maybe it’s the flu, maybe it’s just another cold, but I’ve been less than fully functional for the past five days. I feel like I’m walking around in a world full of jello. People look at me and say, “What’s wrong with you today?” “Uh…,” I respond, “uh, I’ve got a cold or something.”

All of which brings up an interesting point in church administration. At eleven o’clock this morning I realized that I was doing little more than staring at the pile on my desk and the unread email on my computer screen. Then I realized that I have a really long day tomorrow. So I came home, had some chicken soup, and now I’m going to bed. And probably no one will miss me at church, unless someone calls and asks for me directly.

One design feature that every administrative system should have is redundancy. Any administrative system that is too dependent on just one person is too vulnerable — if that person resigns, or gets sick, the whole system grinds to a halt. Therefore, church administrative systems should be designed so that if one person has to step out of the system, the rest of the staff and volunteers can immediately step in and take over.

At the most basic level, this means that filing systems should be understandable to everyone, computer passwords stored in a secure but accessible place, etc. At a higher level, staff and volunteers should have basic knowledge of the jobs of people around them, and training in what to do in case of someone else’s absence.

The key concept in this whole discussion is that administrative systems are designed — which also implies intentional thought, overarching goals, and ongoing maintenance.

The implicit conclusion for all this is that smaller congregations (under 50 active members, which is determined by average worship attendance in my denomination) will have the most vulnerable administrative systems, because the absence of one individual will have a proportionately greater impact — which means that small congregations like mine really have to concentrate on designing a robust, redundant administrative system.

I hope this all makes sense. My brain feels like it’s full of jello, so I’m not sure if what I just wrote is nonsensical or sensical. Is “sensical” a word? I’m going to go take a nap.

Increasing social connectivity in this corner of the blogosphere

Discover Magazine has a great, short piece on the connectivity of the blogosphere:

The blogosphere is the most explosive social network you’ll never see. Recent studies suggest that nearly 60 million blogs exist online, and about 175,000 more crop up daily (that’s about 2 every second). Even though the vast majority of blogs are either abandoned or isolated, many bloggers like to link to other Web sites. These links allow analysts to track trends in blogs and identify the most popular topics of data exchange. Social media expert Matthew Hurst recently collected link data for six weeks and produced this plot of the most active and interconnected parts of the blogosphere.

Link with incredible graphic. (Thanks, Techyum.)

And who’s at the center of this vast social network? Daily Kos, BoingBoing, Michelle Malkin, gadget freaks, porn lovers, and sports fanatics. Good grief. People who blog about religion and culture don’t even show up. Which doesn’t surprise me — bloggers in my tiny corner of the blogosphere don’t talk to one another much, we don’t link to one another’s posts, and basically we don’t exploit the potential of social connectivity that exists in the medium of blogging. To change that a little tiny bit, here are some links to the best blog posts I’ve read recently:

ck at Arbitrary Marks posts a thoughtful video commentary on women blogging without having to deal with stalkers and crazies (I’ve already commented over there, no need to repeat here): Link.

Will Shetterly is moving “It’s All One Thing” from Blogger over to Live Journal. He promises less religion, which probably means more science fiction. That works for me. I’m liking the new cat story: Link.

Jeremy at Voltage Gate provides links to dozens of bloggers who have bioblitzed over the past week. I’ve been following his links to some very cool ecosystems from Ontario to Panama, and enjoying citizen science in action: Link.

Abby at Children and Books has a great post about teaching, where one of the kids she’s teaching gets a complicated concept. Short as it is, this post is really sticking with me, and I’m still mulling it over: Link.

Blogger BioBlitz 2007 final list

Today was my only day off this week, and I had planned to do my Blogger BioBlitz survey today, trying to find how many of each different species — plant, animal, fungi and anything in between — live within the small area I chose to survey (the garden at First Unitarian in New Bedford). We had heavy downpours most of the day, so I had to cut the survey short. In between rain squalls, I took as many photos of living things as possible; I also relied on photos and notes I had taken earlier in the week when I was surveying the area. Unfortunately, the weather meant that I didn’t have time to search out many animals (e.g., I wasn’t able to dig up some soil and look through it for invertebrates, etc.).

My identification of many plants was hampered because it’s still early in spring and many plants have just begun to emerge from dormancy or sprout from seeds; and only a few of the flowering plants were actually in flower. I’m thinking I may continue with this survey of living things over the course of the summer, to see if I can do additional identifications.

I’ve included my list of organisms below, arranged in rough taxonomic order. Over the next week, I’ll be working on further identifications as well as filling in the taxonomic order, and when done I’ll update this entry. (Final update, 28 April, link to final data sheet included.)

Video tour of the site.
Photos from field work.
First post on Blogger Bioblitz 2007.
Second post on Blogger Bioblitz 2007.

Continue reading

Axiocentrism, whatever that is

Browsing the articles at the excellent Religion Online Web site, I came across a 1979 article about Unitarian Universalism by Robert Tapp. It’s fascinating to read an outsider scholar’s view of our denomination, written at the moment when we were about to start growing (very slowly, but growing at last instead of declining). I found the second-to-last paragraph especially interesting. While we haven’t seen that theological convergence with humanism, the emergence of liturgical innovations in the 1980’s (flaming chalice, joys and concerns, etc.) makes the comment about feeling and acting like a minority group seem prescient. And the idea of “axiocentrism” just might be useful in our ongoing attempts at defining ourselves:

What of the future [of Unitarian Universalism] — if we assume that membership shrinkage has stabilized, that fiscal stringencies have been effected, and that a theological convergence toward a religious humanism has not only occurred but has at last received official recognition? A possible pattern is that of the Quakers — smallness, integrity and influence. But the Friends’ ethos and ways are difficult and must be learned — a kind of orthopraxy. A pattern of orthodoxy — precise beliefs, precisely enforced — seems even less likely. A third communal pattern could be based on shared values, both explicitly and implicitly religious — an “axiocentrism.” This model seems to characterize today’s UUs. Many of these shared beliefs and values are by-products of modernity and higher education. To the extent that U.S. culture is now tilting toward conservatism, those who hold such values may come to feel and act like a minority group — which seeks mutual support, recognizable in-group styles, viable defense patterns.

Full article: Link.

Spring watch

Three years ago, we lived a mile away from Verrill Farm in Concord, Massachusetts. We used to walk down and buy our vegetables there. In the winter, they’d bring in vegetables from California or Florida, but at about this time of year they would start having some of their own vegetables for sale.

I drove up to see Carol’s parents this afternoon, and I took the route that went by Verrill’s Farm. Sure enough, they had their own spinach on sale, the first vegetables out of their greenhouse: nice, crisp, curly, succulent, bright green leaves of spinach. I bought a big bag of their spinach. By this time in the spring, I’m desperate for fresh local vegetables. The stuff they truck in from California and Florida always tastes a little limp and flat.

It’s a quarter to ten, and I just got back home. I was tempted to cook up some spinach before I went to sleep, but it’s really too late. Now I can hardly wait until tomorrow: spinach salad for lunch, steamed spinach for dinner….

Plan ahead

Anne Principe, the Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist church in Brookline, Mass., pointed out to me that the Religious Education Association (REA) annual meeting and conference will take place in Boston this year. I have never been able to attend the REA annual meeting due to travel costs, but this will be close enough to commute. And this year’s topic sounds fascinating: “Culture that Matters: Intercultural Explorations in Religious Education.” I’ve already put it on my calendar.

November 2-4, 2007 — Religious Education Association annual meeting, Hyatt Harborside Hotel, Boston.


Bioblitz in an urban garden

As part of the Blogger BioBlitz this week, I’m looking for biodiversity in an urban garden in downtown New Bedford, Mass. I actually found more biodiversity than you might expect.

Next post on Blogger Bioblitz 2007: Link.
Previous post on Blogger Bioblitz 2007: Link.

Note: video host is defunct, so this video no longer exists.

Blogger BioBlitz 2007 update

My two assistants were unable to join me in the Blogger BioBlitz this afternoon as we had planned, so we’re going to put off our main effort to document the biodiversity of the church garden here in urban New Bedford until later in the week.

However, I went out this afternoon for an hour and did some preliminary research. Counting only non-cultivated species, I found at least two species of bryophytes, several species of lichens, at least one species of algae, at least five species of arthropods (4 of these in class Insecta), at least four species of non-cultivated flowering plants which are currently in bloom (and lots of other non-cultivated plants), 5 species of birds (2 native, 3 non-native and invasive species), and one mammal. Not bad for a cultivated, very human-dominated half acre plot of land.

First post on Blogger Bioblitz 2007: Link.
Next post on Blogger Bioblitz 2007: Link.

This is for you, Mass. clergy

The Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, a Massachusetts interfaith organization devoted to maintaining the right to same-sex marriage in our state, aims to get one thousand clergypersons to sign the Massachusetts Declaration of Religious Support for the Freedom of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. For faith traditions that do not have clergy, duly appointed lay leaders from a given congregation should sign. Deadline is May 9th, the earliest possible date of the Constitutional Convention at which the Massachusetts legislature could vote to send an anti-gay marriage amendment to a ballot vote.

If you know an eligible Massachusetts clergyperson or lay leader who should sign, send them to this page.