Monthly Archives: August 2008

Dropped through our mail slot

When I went down the stairs to go to work this morning, I found that someone had dropped a flyer through the mail slot. This is what it said (I am retaining all the capital letters used in the original):

watch online at:

As usual, the conservative evangelical Christians seem to be well ahead of religious liberals in their use of new media. Won’t some nice liberal religious philanthropist step forward to fund a Unitarian Universalist online video series that’s also shown on cable TV? No? You say they big ads in dead tree publications like Time magazine? Oh well….

Labor Day parable

I’m incorporating the following parable, which is attributed to Jesus by the writers of the Christian scriptures. Conventional Christianity interprets this parable something as follows: Doesn’t matter when you convert to Christianity, you will get to go to heaven after you die. But what if this conventional interpretation is wrong?

Instead, how about this interpretation: In this absurd parable, Jesus asks us to contemplate the idea of an employer who treats his workers better than we expect. This parable sounds absurd because most anyone who has worked for someone else has experienced being stiffed by an employer, but not many of us have experienced being treated better than we expected to be treated. Jesus asks us to contemplate an absurd world in which employers are more moral than they need to be; and he calls this absurd world “heaven’s imperial rule.” Could it be that Jesus is telling us that we could create heaven here on earth? You decide for yourself….


“For Heaven’s imperial rule is like a proprietor who went out the first thing in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers for a silver coin a day he sent them into his vineyard.

“And coming out around 9 a.m. he saw others loitering in the marketplace and said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and I’ll pay you whatever is fair.’ So they went.

“Around noon he went out again, and at 3 p.m., and repeated the process. About 5 p.m. he went out and found othes loitering about and says to them, ‘Why do you stand around here idle the whole day?’

“They reply, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“He tells them, ‘You go into the vineyard as well.’

“When evening came the owner of the vineyard tells his foreman: ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages staring with those hired last and ending with those hired first.’

“Those hired at 5 p.m. came up and received a silver coin each. Those hired first approached thinking they would receive more. But they also got a silver coin apiece. They took it and began to grumble against the proprietor: ‘These guys hired last worked only an hour but you have made them the equal to us who did most of the work during the heat of the day.’

“In response he said to one of them, ‘Look, pal, did I wrong you? you did agree with me for a silver coin, didn’t you? Take your wage and get out! I intend to treat the one hired last the same way I treat you. Is there some law forbidding me to do with my money as I please? Or is your eye filled with envy because I am generous?’ ” [Mt. 20.1-14, as translated by the Jesus Seminar]


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The gulls woke me up at the crack of dawn. Every morning they sit on the rooftops around our building screaming: Auw! Auw! Kee! Kee! Kee! Kee! Kyoh! Kyoh! Kyoh! Kyoh! With an effort of will I tuned them out and went back to sleep. I don’t know when Carol got up.

A cicada wakes me up much later. It must be sitting on the volunteer maple that sprouted up right next the the building behind us and which is now twelve feet tall. This cicada sounds just like the cicadas I listened to on hot summer afternoons when I was a kid. It almost lulls me back to sleep: zzzZZZZZ…. It seems to go on forever.

When it stops, I get up. I happen to glance in the mirror. If I’m not going to kid myself, my hair is more gray than blond now. It’s my day off and it’s still summer, so I forget to shave.

I stand in the kitchen. A cicada buzzes in the tree across the street. I hear a gull screaming in the distance. We bought a blueberry pie yesterday at the farmers market, and there is one small slice left this morning. I know I’m going to eat it for breakfast. There’s one slice of pie left, I say to Carol. It’s yours, she says, and looks back at her computer. I make a pot of tea, and slide the blueberry pie onto a dark green plate.

The last ones of the year

It was 3:30, an hour and a half after the farmer’s market opened. I walked around the corner and saw that there weren’t any lines of people waiting any more. It doesn’t pay to be late at our farmer’s market.

I stopped at the fruit stand. “No blueberries, huh?” I said. Just in case he had a few stray pints hidden away in the coolers in the back of his truck. He had pears and apples and peaches, but no blueberries.

“No, sorry,” he said. “I had a few pints earlier but they sold out quick.”

“Any more coming?” I asked, even though he had already said last week that this week would be the end.

“Nope,” he said, “That’s it, the end of the season.”

After I did all my shopping, I had cherry tomatoes for Carol, squash, Swiss chard, two loaves of bread, two dozen eggs, carrots, beets, and some sunflowers to put on the table at home, and a few other things. It was a lot of food to carry the four blocks to our apartment. It was a lot of food, but even so I kept thinking: I was too late for the last blueberries of the year.

On a busy day

In the course of my job, I sometimes get to do things that might actually make the world very slightly better, in very small ways. I was very busy at work today, and once or twice I might have made the world ever-so-slightly better, so I feel like I actually accomplished something. I came home to eat dinner on the run before I had to head off for an evening meeting, and while I was home I watered the chrysanthemums I planted last week in our tiny little garden. We have had no rain for two weeks, the soil was so dry it was like powder, the plants needed the water.

Of all the many things I did today, watering those flowers was without doubt the best thing I did all day long:– the sun was shining, the air was cool and delightful, and I knew the plants benefited from my actions.


Mr. Crankypants was pleased to learn that the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has been standing up for religious liberal values in the aftermath of the shootings during a worship service at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church back in July. It is the Right Thing To Do.

But Mr. Crankypants wishes to point out that taking out a full-page newspaper ad in the New York Times on Sunday, August 10, may not be the most effective way of standing up for religious liberal values. For example, here’s what marketing guru Seth Godin has to say about full-page newspaper ads, taken from a short essay titled “Why The Wall Street Journal annoys me so much,” from his book Purple Cow:–

“The Journal is the poster child for marketing old-think. Every day, more than a million dollars’ worth of full-age ads run in this paper — testimony to traditional marketers’ belief that the old ways are still valid.

“A full-age ad in the Journal costs more than a house in Buffalo, New York [Mr. Crankypants notes that the August 10 full-page ad cost the UUA $130,000]. Page after page of dull gray ads…. If you took 90% of these ads, and switched the logos around, no one could tell…. One morning, with time to kill at a fine hotel, I interrupted a few people who were reading the Journal over breakfast. I waited until they had finished the first section, and then I asked them if they could name just two of the companies that had run full-page ads. Not one person could….

“Finally, I asked them the million-dollar question (literally). Had they ever requested more information about a product because they’d seen a full-page ad in the Journal?

“You can probably guess the answer.”

Thank you for that insight, Seth.

OK, now here’s a quiz — and no cheating (which includes no texting your friends to ask them for the right answer):

(a) Did you read the ad in the New York Slime? Actually, did you even see the ad, let alone read it?
(b) If you do read dead-tree news publications, do you ever read the ads?
(c) If you had $130,000 to spend on anything relating to publicity around the shootings at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, how would you spend that money?

Mr. Crankypants awaits the appearance of your answers to this quiz in the comments section below….