Monthly Archives: September 2007

Now, what do you think of this?

In an earlier post, I asked about whether or not you would welcome “outside” teens, that is, teens whose parents were not part of your church. Now, here’s a more specific question along these same lines. In the most recent issue of Interconnections, the newsletter for church leaders put out by the Unitarian Universalist Association, someone writes in to ask:

“A 16-year-old girl whose parents do not attend our church is attending our Exploring Membership class. She assures us that her parents are OK with this, however I am concerned about allowing someone under the age of 18 to sign our membership book without our knowing what the parents think about it. How do other churches handle these situations?”

I won’t include the answer printed in Interconnections — instead, how would you answer this question? And if you immediately say that you would let a 16-year-old girl sign the membership book, how young would you go — if she were ten years old, would that make a difference, and why?

Notes on our theological boundaries

These notes are addressed to my fellow Unitarian Universalists, although they may be of some interest to other liberal religious persons. I’ve been thinking about this question: Where do we draw our theological boundaries? Having some sense of where our boundaries are will help us to answer another questions: whom do we keep out, and whom should we be seeking out to welcome in? Mind you, these are just notes — which means your thoughts, reactions, and comments will be most welcome. Continue reading

25,000 for Peace — 100,000 for Peace

Rev. Bill Sinkford, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and Rev. John H. Thomas, the president of the United Church of Christ (UCC), will be headed to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on October 10. They’ll be visiting the offices of elected representatives to deliver the message that religious liberals want to end the war in Iraq. Continue reading

Of tug boats, birds, and quahoggers

On my afternoon walk yesterday, I was heading along Route 6 towards Fairhaven when I faintly heard someone yelling at me over the traffic: “Hey, Dan!” I looked down, and there was Carol near the future site of the Fish Island Yacht Club, standing and talking with the Tugboat Captain.

I slipped down past a fence or two, and Carol introduced me to the Tugboat Captain. Here’s the back story:

The Tugboat Captain is from Barbados originally, and he and his Haitian business partner came up to New Bedford to buy a tugboat and a barge to use down in the West Indies, for such things as hauling fill from Haiti to some of the smaller islands. Carol met the Tugboat Captain when she was looking in to renting office and storage space on Fish Island: an office for her writing, and storage for the composting toilets she imports from Sweden.

Tugboat Captain’s business partner has run into difficulties moving money from Haiti to the United States, and so Tugboat Captain has been stuck here for two months (so far), keeping an eye on the tugboat they bought. Carol got friendly with him, and as the weather got cold, we found him a hat and some other warmer clothing. Carol also got Tugboat Captain some work weeding at an organic farm in South Dartmouth, which gets him a little cash and (more to the point) a chance to get away from the tug for awhile, and which also gets some much needed help for Carol’s friend the organic farmer.

Thus ends the back story.

So there we were standing there, chatting about this and that, when the Ornithologist’s small orange boat appeared in the distance, coming up the harbor. The Tugboat Captain turned to watch them critically as they came in. “You see their radar,” he said, in his soft Barbados accent, “You know how radar goes around like this…” — he demonstrates, and we nod — “Well, his can go like this…” — he showed us the axis of rotation tilting until it’s parallel to the ground — “so that he can point it straight up, and track birds.”

“Where is he working?” I asked.

“Out the harbor, to the port,” Tugboat Captain said, still watching the boat come in, “about ten miles.” In other words, out in the middle of Buzzard’s Bay.

Carol and Tugboat Captain discussed who was piloting the boat today, and at last they figured out which one of the two men it was who work with the Ornithologist (it was the one they don’t know as well). The Tugboat Captain continued watching as the small orange boat slipped in beside the tugboat, the Ornithologist standing at the bow with a rope ready to tie up. “You see,” he said, turning to us to explain, “most people would bring the bow in first, tie up, and then swing the stern over. But not him. He likes to bring the stern in first, and then swing the bow over.”

The two men from the small orange boat tied up, walked across the tug and onto the little wharf, and came up to say hello. The Tugboat Captain introduced us all around. It turns out the Ornithologist, who lives in Maine, makes his living by working for engineering firms, researching whether wind power installations will damage bird life. He left academia, he said, because he didn’t care for teaching. Carol got into a long discussion with him about the relative merits of various offshore wind power projects.

I turned to the other conversation, between the Tugboat Captain and the pilot of the small orange boat. The swing span bridge was opening to allow one of the deep-sea quahogging boats [*see note below] to pass through and up to the North Terminal. Even I could see that the quahogger was sitting poorly in the water, wallowing as it tried to come about and head up the harbor once the bridge opened. The whole boat tilted towards the bow, and there wasn’t much freeboard. The Tugboat Captain and the pilot were shaking their heads. One of them said something like, “Either you have to be lucky, or you have to have a really good skipper.”

“What’s with that boat?” I asked curiously.

The pilot said, “It looks like the boat was built for something else, and modified for quahogging.”

“He’s got a full load of clams,” said the Tugboat Captain, to clarify further.

“Geez,” I said, “I don’t know anything about boats, but even I can see that’s one boat I wouldn’t want to set foot on.”

They both shook their heads.

I’m always fascinated how people in different professions see the world. All I saw was a boat that looked kind of funny, but they could see far more than I. The Ornithologist and Carol, sunk deep in their conversations of alternative energy and environmental impacts, didn’t even notice the quahogger. As for me, really the main reason I noticed the quahogger is that as a minister, I’ve been trained to watch people — I didn’t see the quahogger per se; I actually saw that the Tugboat Captain and the pilot were seriously interested in something, and followed their gaze.

* If you’re unfamiliar with the term “quahog,” it refers to a species of clam, known in the kitchen as littlenecks, cherrystones, steamers, etc., depending on their size. Here in New Bedford, they pronounce it “ko-hog,” but my mother, whose family was from Nantucket, always said “kwa-hog.” Wikipedia on quahogs.

What do you think of this?

Recently, our tiny little youth group here at First Unitarian in New Bedford has been adding one or two new people, who have come at the invitation of a regular attender of the youth group. These newcomers have no prior affiliation with our church.

Now, in the evangelical church world, this would be considered normal. Indeed, youth groups and youth ministries are often used by evangelical churches to promote rapid growth. Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago was founded in 1975 as a youth ministry, and now boasts an average worship attendance of 20,000 people each week (Wikipedia on Willow Creek).

By contrast, in the Unitarian Universalist church world — or indeed, in many liberal churches — we may become quite uncomfortable if “outsiders” begin to attend our youth groups. I have heard various reasons for this discomfort, and I’ll give you three such reasons (these are fictional reasons, but based on actual conversations I’ve had):– (1) The church is not able to expend human resources (volunteer or paid) or financial resources on “outside” youth; (2) The church faces legal and/or insurance trouble if “outside” youth are allowed to participate in church activities without written permission, and/or with parents/guardians present on church grounds; (3) The church cannot guarantee that “outside” youth will behave appropriately. That’s what some people say.

Personally, I’ve always supported the right of “outsiders” of any age to participate in the activities of any liberal church, although I do feel that children under 12 should be accompanied by parents or guardians during Sunday school because I think it’s better for the children to have parent involvement at that age. In previous churches I have served, we welcomed “outside” youth, about half of whom became pledging church members — and of course I am continuing that practice here in New Bedford. But I know there’s debate on the topic, and I’d love to hear from you — I’d like both your opinions on if and how your congregation should allow “outsiders” to participate, and whether you think youth ministry could or should be a way for liberal congregations to grow.

Autumn watch

In this part of the world, this is the best time of year for food.

At the downtown farmer’s market on Thursday, the produce was incredible, and cheap. From Mary, I bought the usual dozen eggs and two loaves of her oatmeal bread, a few pounds of her freshly dug red potatoes, some other vegetables — and she had the first Westport Macomber turnips of the year: huge white mild turnips, originally a cross between radishes and more traditional turnips, which you can eat raw or cooked, a local vegetable that you can’t find outside of southeastern Massachusetts. This turnip is one of the finest fall vegetables and its arrival should be heralded with a trumpet fanfare: a fanfare for the uncommon turnip. From the fruit grower, I got several pounds of Cortland apples; I used to be a big fan of Winesaps and Northern Spies, but his firm white-fleshed Cortlands have a superb texture and make just about the smoothest and best apple sauce: substantial, not at all watery, and nicely flavored. From the Mattapoisett farmers, I got carrots and cantaloupe (they’re still picking cataloupes) and cauliflower and, best of all, cranberries — real cranberries, with little bits of twigs and tiny leaves from the cranberry plant, in all shades of red from deepest crimson to pale green faintly tinged with red: just as small blueberries taste better than the huge agribusiness blueberries you find wrapped in plastic in the supermarket, so real cranberries are more flavorful, both more tart and sweeter at the same time. The next day, we drove out to Alderbrook Farm in Russell’s Mills and bought some local honey, and I made a huge pot of apple cranberry sauce, made from the Cortland apples and the Mattapoisett cranberries and the local honey — it turned a warm reddish-pink color — and I spread it on the oatmeal bread, and ate until I’d eaten too much.

On Friday, Carol called me on my cell phone and said, would I like to go to dinner at the farmer’s house? Carol worked for a couple of days pulling weeds at a nearby organic farm this week; she needed to get out of the house and away from the computer and the freelance writing, besides the fact that a little extra money is always welcome in our household. So we went for dinner at the farmer’s house, with another couple we know slightly. Before dinner, we walked around the farm; it is in its glory in this season. The summer squash spill out over the edges of the raised beds, covered with flowers and half-grown squash; the celery stands large and robust; the fall beets have grown tall leaves, rooted in deep red balls shouldering their way up out of the dirt; the salad greens show bright colors against the dark earth, light green and dark green and deep red. And the herbs were just as beautiful as the salad greens — curly parsley and Italian parsley, rosemary (Carol had weeded the rosemary bed that morning), different kinds of sage, chives, and other herbs I couldn’t recognize. After we met young Murphy, an Irish Jack Russell terrier who is being trained to catch the voles which plague the farm, and Murphy’s owner who was plowing up one bed of the farm with a tractor-mounted rototiller, we went in for dinner. Dinner included New Bedford scallops sauteed in fresh leeks and herbs, boiled potatoes newly dug, sweet and tender, and some kind of wild mushroom I had never eaten before.

So what if today is the autumnal equinox? So what if the nighttime will be longer than the daylight for the next six months? So what if winter is coming in? This is the best time of year for food, the best time of the year to be alive.

September 20 in Jena, Louisiana

Meg Riley, Board President for Faith in Public Life and Director of Advocacy and Witness at the Unitarian Universalist Association, was in Jena, Louisiana, on Thursday for the big demonstration in support of the Jena Six. A letter from Riley describing the demonstration is on the Faith in Public Life blog here.

Riley brought her eleven year old daughter, which sounds like some of the best religious education you could give.

The Harvard Coop is evil

In a Harvard Crimson article from 19 September 2007 titled “Coop discourages note-taking in bookstore”, reporter Gabriel Daly writes that students are getting thrown out of the Coop for noting down prices and ISBN numbers of books in the store:

Coop President Jerry P. Murphy ’73 said that while there is no Coop policy against individual students copying down book information, “we discourage people who are taking down a lot of notes.”

The apparent new policy could be a response to efforts by—an online database that allows students to find the books they need for each course at discounted prices from several online booksellers—from writing down the ISBN identification numbers for books at the Coop and then using that information for their Web site.

Murphy said the Coop considers that information the Coop’s intellectual property.

Umm, no an ISBN number is not the Coop’s intellectual property. What a flagrant example of misusing intellectual property law to intimidate people.

But wait, the Harvard Crimson reports that the Coop has gotten even more hostile.

The Coop has not been the same since they asked the Borg, er, Barnes and Noble to manage the store. I spend hundreds of dollars a year on books, but you can be sure I’ll pass by the Coop and walk a few blocks down the street to Harvard Bookstore, the last remaining independent leftist bookstore in Harvard Square.