Field guide to the airport

When you’re sitting in the airport waiting for a flight, it’s fun to look around you for typical airport fauna. I’m sitting here in San Francisco airport, looking around (keeping quiet so as not to scare the fauna away), and here’s what I see:

— Largemouth Cellphoner: The loud braying call first drew my attention to this male of the species. This typical individual has all the diagnostic field marks: potbelly, self-important air, aggressive strutting walk, expensive but schlubby clothes. However, this individual is exhibiting atypical behavior: he is off in a quiet corner instead of giving his loud call in a densely packed public space.

— Hunchback Gamer: This species is most often found close to a power outlet, and this individual is no exception. She exhibits the typical behavior of the species, hunched over a laptop playing a video game, earphones in place, completely oblivious to the world. Given how shut off from the world the species always appears, one does wonder how they find mates.

— Redfaced Bigmouthed Boobies: A mated couple of this species, a close relative of the Largemouth Cellphoner, are currently shouting across the terminal to each other: “What did you do to this phone?” “Nothing!” “Every time you touch this, it breaks!” Diagnostic field marks include faces red from anger, and aggressive behavior towards others of the same species.

— Common Geek: This individual is a fairly common color morph of khakis and blue button-down shirt. The individual is exhibiting the common behavior of typing madly at a laptop while ignoring his mate. Oh wait: I’m actually staring into a mirror here.

Interfaith clergy action with Occupy SF

Just heard through the Unitarian Universalist ministers grapevine (thanks, Craig!) that an interfaith clergy group will be supporting Occupy SF. Presumably other clergy groups will be providing similar support to other Occupy groups in other cities. Here are the details for the San Francisco event:

Clergy & Religious Leaders of all Faiths:

Monday, October 24, from 10:30-1:30
Meet at Justin Herman Plaza (near to Embarcadero BART stop), Stuart & Market St., in San Francisco.

Be part of an important interfaith clergy gathering and action to offer solidarity and faith-based support to the Occupy Wall Street movement and to show our commitment to working for long-term economic justice for all people.

Clergy & Religious leaders are asked to wear identifying clerical clothing (i.e. the religious garb, vestments, etc. of your faith and role). We will begin with prayer and ritual to rededicate ourselves to justice and prepare ourselves spiritually. Then we walk to the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank (101 Market St.) to join in solidarity with “Occupy Wall Street — San Francisco” where we will offer our blessings and commitments of support as part of that witness for justice. We will then have an opportunity to go in smaller groups to key sites throughout the financial district for prayer.

Please share with your colleagues!

Info contact:
Twitter: IntrfaithClergy
Facebook page:

Moving away from the humanist-theist debate

Tonight Amy Zucker Morgenstern, the senior minister at the Palo Alto church, and I led a class on humanism, theism, and naturalism, part of a series of classes we’re doing on current issues in liberal religion. We each began with a presentation on the topic; the text of my presentation is below. Our presentations were followed by a lively and enjoyable conversation with the 14 people who came, a conversation that ranged from metaphysics to demographics.

When Amy and I started talking about this class, I knew right away what I wanted to talk about: I wanted to talk about religious naturalism. I wanted to talk about religious naturalism because at the moment it is the only theological “ism” that I have any interest in associating with.

The reason I wanted to talk about religious naturalism is because in my experience it is the only theological position within Unitarian Universalism that doesn’t by definition shut out one or more other theological positions. Humanists and theists each want to shut the other group out, even force the other group out. Humanists and christian theists want to keep those doggone pagans out, and pagans, given half a chance, would shut out the humanists and christian theists. The Buddhists sit there smiling smugly at everyone else as if they have the real answers, and they’re willing to tolerate us until such a time that the rest of us get with their program. And so on.

This is all very fine and good. I like a good knock-down, drag-out argument as much as anyone. (Though I will admit I prefer theological bar fights to what academic theologians do — that is, I prefer an out-and-out fight with shouting, throwing of bar stools, and fisticuffs, to the refined intellectual backstabbing that is too often characteristic of the academy.) In fact, I think arguments are a lot of fun, as long as those who are involved are all basically healthy, and all basically want to get involved in the fight. Continue reading “Moving away from the humanist-theist debate”

Regionalization news

The staff of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) are slowly developing what has come to be known as “regionalization.” Although as I understand it regionalization originally came out of initiatives by districts to share and pool scarce resources, now the UUA is being driven towards regionalization by economic necessity. In a recent presentation to district staff, made available on YouTube, Teresa Cooley, Director of Congregational Life, says this:

“We have reduced resources, we have an obligation to steward our resources better, and one of the recognitions we have is: to have administrative structures for nineteen different districts is not necessarily the most cost effective way of doing things.”

I’ll embed the video below. Continue reading “Regionalization news”

Occupy SF

We stopped by City Lights Bookstore, the leftist poetry bookstore, this evening so I could buy a copy of Margaret Atwood’s new book of poems. On the way back, we stopped by Occupy SF to see how they’re doing.

I estimated that there were only three or four dozen people there at 10:30, certainly fewer people than were there a week ago. But the mood seemed good and upbeat.

Carol took some photographs (I put four of them on Flickr), and while she was doing so I talked to these two occupiers. I asked the man on the left if they lost people after the police raid earlier this week, when the police came in and confiscated all the occupiers’ belongings (sleeping bags, food, etc.) in the middle of the night. He said that he thought that was so, but that actually he had arrived after the police raid. The man on the right said that he had driven six hours to get there, coming down from far northern California. Both men were in good spirits, and seemed committed to a long stay.

I was pleased that it wasn’t the usual hippie scene. yes, the occupiers looked a little bedraggled, but that is to be expected if you’ve been spending a few nights on the street. Yes, there was drumming, but it was actually really good drumming, quite a bit more skilled than I’d expected. And the occupiers were friendly, willing to talk, and they made eye contact regularly with passers-by.

It’s Fleet Week in San Francisco, and we saw a lot of sailors and marines out in dress uniforms. While we were there, four sailors walked through the occupiers. They sped up a little and their body language said that they were a little wary, but the occupiers were relaxed: they lived up to their stated commitment that most people, including servicemen and servicewomen, are part of the 99% that they aim to represent.

I don’t feel any calling or leading to join the occupiers myself. While direct action might be important, there is still room for poets and writers and preachers and teachers to effect change through touching hearts and minds. The goal is the same: to challenge the consumer culture that threatens to send more people into poverty, and lower the standard of living for most of us, while increasing the wealth of a tiny minority.

An item of concern

For the past decade or so, I’ve been most concerned with the institutional health of liberal religion: there are human values which are carried best by human institutions, and without a strong institutional structure those values seem likely to wither like a plant without water and adequate soil.

But recently I have become increasingly concerned about the spiritual health of liberal religion in general, and Unitarian Universalism in particular. We religious liberals spend so much time on social justice — and there is indeed an overwhelming amount of social justice work to be done — and we spend so much time on the health of our institutions — and again, there is indeed an overwhelming amount of institutional work to be done — that it has come to seem to me that we are slighting our spiritual well-being.

Along with that, we have come to understand “spiritual well-being” in such individualistic terms that the phrase has almost no meaning within the context of institutional Unitarian Universalism. In the past month or so, I have heard the following mentioned, and even glorified, as activities that foster spiritual well-being: yoga; Zen retreats; shamanic training; dream work; walking the labyrinth; meditation that is rooted in non-Western practices. These are either highly individualistic practices, or practices rooted in another spiritual community; or both.

Yet I rarely hear religious liberals speak lovingly of the core practices that lie at the center of our own liberal religious tradition. Those core liberal religious practices include the following: Continue reading “An item of concern”

Morning fog in the Coastal Range

When I first started looking at classical Chinese landscape painting seriously, I never thought of it as realism: those steep fantastical hills, the mists that so conveniently provide a sense of distance and perspective, none of that looked real to me. But when you live on the Pacific Rim, you see that much of classical Chinese landscape painting is realism.

For the past couple of days, I have been staying at a retreat center on a steep hillside in a redwood grove in the Coastal Range of northern California. This morning the mist drifted in the valley below us, and this is what I saw when I looked out my window at about eight o’clock:

A definition

This morning, Robert Latham, our interim district executive is meeting with the district’s ministers. One of the things he said is sticking with me:

“One way to define dysfunctionality is: to dream big and act small. Then one way to define funtionality is: to dream big and act big.”

The first rain

Camp Meeker, California

As I drove up here to where the ministers meeting would take place, it started to rain. By the time I arrived, it was raining steadily. I got out of the car, and it smelled like rain and wet ground. It was the first rain I had seen and felt and smelled since last spring. I took a deep breath.

This evening, Carol texted me: “Where do we have tarp for rowing machine?” This summer, Carol bought a rowing machine for ten dollars, and we had set it out on our little second floor deck so we could sit outdoors while we were using it. But now it was getting wet. I texted back: “Crap. Look in basement.” I hope she managed to find the tarp and protect the rowing machine from the rain.