Kavita Ramdas on women’s rights and social entrepreneurship

Kavita Ramdas spoke beautifully and eloquently on the topic of women’s rights and social entrepreneurship. I meant to take comprehensive notes, but didn’t. Instead of comprehensive notes, here are some highlights of her talk:

— Kavita likes to broaden the definition of “social entrepreneur.” Typically, a “social entrepreneur” is someone who works in the social sector; that is, a risk-taking innovative social entrepreneur is more concerned with changing and improving culture and society than with making a profit. But she would like to broaden the definition to include social activists. To make her point, she pointed out that an activist like Gandhi was a risk-taking innovator who worked to change broader culture and society.

— She said that in the United States, we have made great progress in women’s rights. Even though we never managed to put the Equal Rights Amendment into the U.S. Constitution, women’s rights are enshrined in law. Compared to her home country, India, the U.S. has made great progress in women’s rights. However, there is another aspect to feminism, and that is allowing persons to have both feminine and masculine characteristics, and in this respect she feels India has done better than the U.S. Continue reading “Kavita Ramdas on women’s rights and social entrepreneurship”

The ceiling gods

Waking up in the middle of the night and talking to the ceiling gods:— This refers to those moments when you come out of sleep filled with thoughts of all the problems you have to face, at least some of which are probably unsolvable. You lie there in bed, your mind turning those problems around, and you can’t get back to sleep for a long time. This is talking to the ceiling gods. (I think I first heard Wynne using this phrase.)

I suspect the ceiling gods are descendants of the old Roman household gods, the Lares. We have tried to replace the old household gods with the altars of personal computers, and portable shrines of tablets and smartphones. But for every problem my laptop solves, it dumps three more problems in my lap via email; I’m not sure our replacements for the Lares are really doing us any favors. The ceiling gods seem more effective. Perhaps I will start pouring them libations, and leaving them small offerings.

A book that changed your life

The monthly memoir writing group at our church follows a standard format: people in the group can read something they have written since the last meeting (usually based on last month’s writing assignment); then I read a passage from a published memoir, and give an assignment based on that example; then the last hour is devoted to writing.

We can’t meet this month. I was going to send out the assignment via email, but it seems to me it’s important to hear the example read out loud. So I made a video of this month’s writing assignment:

For those who prefer to read it, the full text of the video is below.

Continue reading “A book that changed your life”

Kavita Ramdas to speak at UU Church of Palo Alto

On Tuesday, August 28, Kavita Ramdas will speak on the topic “Women’s Rights and Culture: Social Entrepreneurship,” at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto (UUCPA). The talk will begin at 7:00 p.m.

Kavita Ramdas is the Executive Director of the Program on Social Entrepreneurship for the Center on Democracy, Development, and Rule of Law of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. She is the former CEO and President of the Global Fund for Women. She is an advocate for human rights, open and civil societies, and a respected advisor and commentator on issues of social entrepreneurship, global development, women’s leadership, education, health, and philanthropy. She spends her professional life shaping a world where gender equality can help ensure human rights and dignity for all. She was was born and raised in India and educated at Delhi University, Mount Holyoke College, and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. And she’s been attending UUCPA!

I’ll be at this talk. I’m fascinated by the growth of social entrepreneurship, and I’m committed to women’s rights, so I’m looking forward to learning how these two things can be linked in powerful ways. And did I mention she’s part of UUCPA? Oh yeah, I already did.

Funeral etiquette

Bill “Spaceman” Lee, famed left-handed pitcher who played with the Boston Red Sox for many years, and now 65, was on the mound yesterday pitching for the minor league San Rafael Pacifics. He not only won, he pitched a complete game: 94 pitches, with 69 strikes and a fastball clocked at 70 m.p.h.

Daniel Brown, a sports writer for the San Jose Mercury-News, reported that Lee came to the Bay Area immediately after a trip to Boston. There Lee attended the funeral of Johnny Pesky, who played second base when Lee was with the Sox. This was back in the days when baseball players actually stayed with a team for more than half a season, so they got to know each other, and we got to know them, and they and we were all loyal to the local team.

Anyway, back to Johnny Pesky’s funeral service. I’ll let Daniel Brown tell the story from here:

Lee said that when his cab from Fenway Park pulled up curbside for services, he noticed a New York Yankees fan in the car behind him.

“So I flipped him off,” Lee said.

Wait. At a funeral?

“Johnny would have wanted it that way,” Lee explained.

[Daniel Brown, “‘Spaceman’ touches down in Marin,” San Mateo County Times, p. 1,3.]

So you can add this to your funeral etiquette book: when in Boston attending a funeral of a Red Sox player, can you give the bird to someone wearing Yankees paraphernalia? Heck, yeah. Bill Lee said so.


When Max Planck turned sixty, he was honored by the Physical Society of Berlin. Several scientists gave short talks in his honor, including Emil Gabriel Warburg, Max Von Laue, Arnold Sommerfeld, and Albert Einstein.

Einstein spoke about the motives for engaging in scientific research, “Motive de Forschung.” He said that some people take to science out of a sense of superior intellect, some as a kind of sport, some out of ambition, some for utilitarian purposes. But, said Einstein, some people — including Planck himself — engage in scientific research out of a very different motive:

I believe with Schopenhauer that one of the strongest motives that leads men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one’s own ever shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from personal life into the world of objective perception and thought; this desire may be compared with the townsman’s irresistible longing to escape from his noisy, cramped surroundings into the silence of high mountains, where the eye ranges freely through the still, pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity.

And there are many people like this in our liberal congregations: finely tempered natures who need to range through pure air and look into eternity.

In the next paragraph of the talk, Einstein went on to explain that this motive for doing scientific research is not simply a negative one of escapism:

With this negative emotion there goes a positive one. Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that best suits him a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus to overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience. [Bibliographic information below.]

And again, there are many people in our liberal congregations who engage in religion for the same motive: like the poet and the painter, these are people who do religion the way an artist does art, to help make sense out the world. Among religious liberals, this motive does not impel people to replace science with religion, any more than religious liberals would try to replace painting with poetry. Religion, especially I think for those who are mystics, can be another way to make sense of the world, to look into eternity, to place oneself in the context of the cosmos.

Of course there are other motives for doing religion, just as there are other motives for doing science. Many religious liberals conceive of religion in utilitarian terms: religion is a way to promote justice, religion is way to build social capital, and so on. But there are also the poets and painters and scientists among us, who want to look into eternity and seek to understand our places in the cosmos.


Bibliographic information: Albert Einstein, “Principles of Research,” 1918, address delivered at a celebration of Max Planck’s sixtieth birthday to the Physical Society, Berlin. Published in German in a collection of essays: Emil Gabriel Warburg. Max Von Laue, Arnold Sommerfeld, Albert Einstein, and Max Planck, “Zu Max Plancks Sechzegstem Geburtstag; Ansprachen, Gehalten Am 26. April 1918 in Der Deutschen Physikalischen Gesellschaft” (Karlsruhe; Müller, 1918). Reprinted in: ed. Carl Seelig, Mein Weltbild (1934, 1953). Published in English: ed. Carl Seelig, trans. Sonia Bargman, Ideas and Opinions (New York: Crown Publishers, 1954). The complete text of the English translation of this talk is available online, among other places, here.

Religious education staffer: administrator, educator, theological resource?

Based on a conversation with a friend, here’s a question about religious education and the role of the religious educator in a congregation:

Should that person spend any Sunday morning time teaching?

This is one of those simple questions that produces a long and interesting answer.

Years ago, religious education theorist Maria Harris suggested that the duties of people doing religious education in a congregation can be divided up into three main categories: theological resource, education, and administration (see her The DRE Book [Paulist Press, 1976], pp. 1-12). Harris further implied that full-time religious education professionals might be able to carry out all three duties, but part-time staff might be able to carry out only one or two of these duties, depending on how many hours they work. I have found this a useful framework in planning out the duties of a religious education professional, both as a religious education professional myself, and as someone who has supervised a DRE when I was a parish minister. Continue reading “Religious education staffer: administrator, educator, theological resource?”