Monthly Archives: February 2008

Stupid joke

Having bronchitis has tired me out, and today I only have enough energy to pass on this stupid joke. Thanks for the inspiration.

A man walks into the bar with a loud Hawai’ian shirt and an alligator on a leash.

The bartender takes one look at him and says, “Look, pal, we don’t serve banjo players here.”

“Do you serve ukulele players?” says the man.

“Sure,” says the bartender.

“Good,” says the man, “then how about a beer for me, and a fried ukulele player for my alligator here.”

More on Hadith in Turkey

So what’s going on with the Turkish government’s reported revision of the Hadith, as reported by the BBC on Tuesday? Over on the Guardian Unlimited (U.K.) Web site, in their “Comment Is Free” section, regular contributor Martin Kettle writes:

Ever since the BBC Today programme announced this morning that Turkey’s department of religious affairs has begun a major revision of the hadith — the non-Qur’anic commentary on the words and deeds of Muhammad — I’ve been trying to find out more. But on the basis of what I have been able to find out so far, this story is the one that got away. The BBC website has nothing further about it. The Reuters, AP and other wire services say nothing either. For the non-Turkish speaker, it’s a deeply frustrating experience.

Kettle says he is frustrated about the lack of coverage because “if true, this is surely a serious event in the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds alike”; adding that his frustration is only increased because “there is no more interesting country in Europe today than Turkey.” However, there’s more coverage than Kettle may be aware of….
Continue reading

Statistics, precision, and slide rules

A number of Unitarian Universalist bloggers have reported on the recently released Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape survey. However…. I’d like to suggest everyone be more cautious about trying to calculate exact number of Unitarian Universalists in the United States based on this survey.

The survey reported that 0.3% of United States residents are, to use the Pew study’s exact terminology, “Unitarian (Universalist)”. First question I asked was, How accurate is this number? Well, we don’t know how accurate this number is because unfortunately the margin of error for the Unitarian Universalist subgroup is not reported. Can we extrapolate the margin of error from another subgroup which has approximately the same percentage, e.g., Hindus with 0.4% of U.S. residents? No, we can’t because a different survey methodology was used for Hindus — the survey boosted the sample size of certain low-incidence groups (Hindus, Buddhists, and Orthodox Christians) by calling additional pre-screened households.

It is worth noting that the worst margin of error they report for a religious subgroup is plus or minus 10.5%; this for Muslims, with 0.6% of the population, or twice the sample size for Unitarian Universalists. I would expect that the smaller the sample size, the larger the margin of error, so I suspect the margin of error for Unitarian Universalists is greater than or equal to 10.5%. But really we don’t even know the margin of error.

Another problem is revealed when you Continue reading

Muslim reformation?…

Currently in the works, a radical revision of the Hadith:

Turkey is preparing to publish a document that represents a revolutionary reinterpretation of Islam – and a controversial and radical modernisation of the religion.

The country’s powerful Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians at Ankara University to carry out a fundamental revision of the Hadith, the second most sacred text in Islam after the Koran.

Link to BBC story.

Wow. For us religion geeks, this is huge news. It seems unlikely that U.S. news media will cover the story in any meaningful way, so now I’m trying to figure out where I can go for solid coverage of this story. Any ideas?


In the waiting room

On Friday, it finally became clear that I wasn’t going to shake the chest cold I’ve had since November, so I made an appointment with a nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office. My appointment was this morning.

It’s always a long wait when you go to a doctor’s office. The TV yammered softly away on one corner of the big waiting room; voices coming from the TV are compressed to be more intelligible, so it was hard to overhear other people’s conversations. A woman got up and stood facing into a corner of the waiting room, talking softly on her cell phone: “I can’t heeear you,” she said in a gentle voice; of course she couldn’t leave the room, because you have to be there when they call your name. She lowered her voice even more, switched to Portuguese, and all I could hear were sibilants: “zh — ss — zzh.”

An older man and a middle-aged woman sat next to me. He had an oxygen bottle beside him. The woman said, “There’s a lot of people here today who were here yesterday.” The man said: “What?” She repeated herself. “Busy,” he said.

A medical assistant poked her head out of one of the doors leading into the offices. “John So-and-so,” she said. Behind me, I heard a man say, “I can’t be-lieve it! You’re calling me? I can’t be-lieve it.” — in a deep booming sarcastic voice with working class New England accent.

The older man and the woman next to me talk in low voices, keeping up a continuous, and often hilarious, commentary on people in the waiting room, and on mutual acquaintances. “—- said he’s cut back on eating meat,” said the woman. “Huh,” snorted the man, “when he came over to my place, he ate plenty of meat.” “He’s putting on weight,” she said. “Look at her,” he said, “what, do you have to be 200 pounds to get a job here?” “What do you weigh,” she said innocently, “240?” “Nah, 220,” he said, sounding disgusted with himself, “I used to be 240 but being sick I’ve been losing weight like anything.” He started describing the spaghetti he was going to make for a friend of his, with shrimp and a sauce with lemon and white wine. “Why’re you going to make that for him,” she said, “he won’t appreciate it.” “You’re right, I’ll make spaghetti and meatballs,” he said, “two or three meatballs.” “Two meatballs,” she asked incredulously, “that’s all?” “Yeah, I’ll eat one, and I’ll give him one,” said the man. They both laughed quietly.

Another medical assistant poked her head out of one of the doors. “George So-and-so,” she said. “About time,” said a cigarette-ravaged voice from across the room, “fer chrise sakes.” A woman sitting right behind me said softly to her friend, “Boy, the place mobbed today.”

The older man said to the woman next to me, “What’d he say?” She replied, “About time for Christ sake.” They both laughed. “Nobody likes to wait,” he said. The woman opened her cell phone to check the time. “10:30. That’s pretty bad,” she said. “What’s pretty bad?” he said. “We’ve been waiting an hour for a 9:30 appointment. He said something about spending his life in a doctor’s waiting room.

Then they called my name, so I got up and walked into the doctor’s office. I got examined, they took chest X-rays, it’s official: I have bronchitis.

Four types of emergent church

Back in January on the blog Gathering in Light, Wess Daniels offered a typology of emergent churches, and he names his four categories Deconstructionist, Pre-Modern/Augustinian, Emerging Peace Church, and Foundationalist. Curiously, I find myself most in sympathy with the Emerging Peace Church model of emerging church, which Wess describes as follows:

This model of the emerging church stresses the non-conformist tendencies of Jesus, and thus the church should follow in his footsteps through non-violence, love of enemy and caring for the poor. This one may be closest to a kind of new monasticism that has so often been written about in recent times. While there are people from the various peace churches involved in this type of church, there are also people from a variety of traditions who are seeking to contextualize the Gospel within our culture. This group does not accept any one style of culture as being good, thus their non-conformist attitude is directed at modernity and postmodernity alike. They see Jesus (and his incarnation) as their primary model for engaging culture….

As a post-Christian Transcendentalist, my Christology would doubtless differ substantially (!) from those who might claim identity with this model, and doubtless many of them would be less than thrilled by having a post-Christian identify with them. But Wess’s description of this type this comes pretty close to summing up why I consider myself in sympathy with the emergent movement.

Another caveat:– While Wess’s typology is useful for understanding the emergent movement, he leaves out important parts of the movement — e.g., emergent Jews. Along these lines, the real task for emergent Unitarian Universalists is not to fit oursevles into a pre-exiting category, but to articulate what, exactly, we find so frustrating with the existing (20th C., late modern, unreflective, methodologically conservative, smug) practice and theology of Unitarian Universalism as we find it in most of our congregations — to be true to our own unique community of memory, while moving forward methodologically.

The words of the teacher

Screen grab from the video.

In which a toy car is a Biblical prophet.

[OK, this may be a little too “post-modern” or non-linear for some of you, but it’s short (only 1:52). Bible geeks: yes, the text is from Ecclesiastes 1.1-9, 15; KJV; a little bit re-arranged.]

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

3rd anniversary

On February 22, 2005, this blog went live. Three years and 1,132 posts later, where the heck are we?

The blog continues to be reasonably healthy. Last month, this site saw just under 4,000 unique visitors; during calendar year 2007, the site received approximately 38,000 unique visitors. By the standards of the Big Blogs, these are tiny numbers — the Big Blogs get tens of thousands of unique visitors each day. But for a personal blog on liberal religion, over a hundred unique visitors a day is fine and dandy.

Of greater interest is the current healthy state of the liberal religious blogosphere. UUpdates, a site that aggregates Unitarian Universalist blogs, now tracks some 323 blogs. Many of these blogs are well worth reading — in fact, there are so many good ones that I can’t keep up with all the blogs I like. I’m also finding more and more liberal Christian, humanist, liberal Jewish, and Pagan blogs out there that are worth reading.

What I continue to miss about the liberal religious blogosphere is the lack of face-to-face contact. Here in Boston, Unitarian Universalist bloggers have managed to gather for an annual picnic; and Unitarian Universalist bloggers typically meet a couple of times at General Assembly. As we see more and more Unitarian Universalist bloggers, my hope is that we start building regional networks — ideally, we’d include not just bloggers, but those who read the blogs as well; and not just Unitarian Universalists, but other religious liberals, too. And ideally, we will become more place-based, instead of being place-less.