Monthly Archives: September 2012

Hazy and hot

We’re having one of those Bay area hot spells that come in late September or October. As I drove across the San Mateo Bridge, I looked ahead at the Peninsula. The hills of the Coastal Range were pale blue in the haze. I could see horizontal bands where the hills were more or less obscured: temperature inversions. When I got back to San Mateo and rolled down the car windows, there was a faint smell of smog in the air, and the temperature must have been over ninety degrees. And it’s supposed to be hotter tomorrow. And it’s supposed to continue for several days….

William R. Jones in 1975

I discovered an article on William R. Jones from a 1975 Grinnell College newspaper. The views attributed to Jones in the article correspond closely to some of his writings from the early 1970s, including the book Is God a White Racist? and the essay “Humanism and Theism: The Chasm Narrows.” But the article is still worth reading for two quotations, both of which sound like they accurately report Jones’s thoughts: “Humanism does not require the death of God. All it requires is the affirmation of human freedom” and “The humanist does not regard the Christian God as ultimate reality, but he does not disregard ultimate reality.” I wish some scholar would go through Jones’s papers to see if the texts of the two lectures reported in the article are still extant; I find the first quotation particularly interesting, and would like to be sure of its accuracy.

The text of the article follows: Continue reading

Shame and congregational decline

Best single explanation I have yet heard for the decline of congregations comes from Karen A. McClintock, a psychologist who teaches at Southern Oregon University and specializes in “shame recovery.” She believes that congregations send out messages of shame to newcomers. She gives an example of a 22 year old college student named Amanda who tried going to church once, but felt the congregation was “suspicious” of her:

Without knowing it, this congregation was sending out messages of shame. They were suspicious of Amanda because the possibility of taking a fresh look at their worship and fellowship evoked uncomfortable feelings inside them too. Perhaps their worship had become rote and boring. Amanda might come along and ask too many questions, learn of a conflict they had not resolved or an incident of sexual misconduct that they were keeping secret. Seeing her painfully reminded older members that their own children and grandchildren had long ago abandoned the institutional church. They felt shame about this and about not being able to meet Amanda’s needs by providing her with a group of peers within the congregation. And the shame passed to her and back again to them. This shame tossing is all too often the present-day congregational landscape. [“The Challenge To Change,” Alban Institute weekly no. 426, 24 Sept. 2012]

Notice that this kind of shame is not tied to any one theological position; this could describe many of the Unitarian Universalist humanist congregations I have attended, as well as more orthodox Christian congregations.

Battleground

The battle isn’t between science and religion, not any more. (Sometimes I wonder how there ever was such a battle; it must have arisen from very narrow definitions of both science and religion.)

The battle is between religion and … soccer, celebrity worship, rock concerts, tarot card readings, what’s left of the human potential movement, yoga classes, art museums and art classes, spoken word performances and hip hop, the cult of personality in politics, the Web (smartphones are the icons before which we worship the Web) … and it’s not a battle, for these are all manifestations of the same human impulse to join with other human beings to celebrate and mourn and have festivals and pretend death doesn’t end everything, and to try to make sense of the world.

Education reform and technology

Are today’s young people, immersed in social media and similar technology, qualitatively different from the young people of twenty years ago? Many education reformers argue that young people are indeed different, and that we must reform educational practice so that we can engage them effectively.

However, Joe sent me a link to an online peer-reviewed journal article in which Grinnell Smith of San Jose State University “questions the validity of the claim that technology has changed our children in ways relevant to the way we should structure education” (“A critical look at the role of technology as a transformative agent,” THEN [technology, humanities, education and narrative] Journal, issue no. 8, winter, 2011). Smith begins by challenging the notion that children have been fundamentally changed by technology:

A typical approach to supporting the premise that children have been transformed by technology is not to refer to empirical evidence but rather to drag out a few suitably stunning statistics about the pace of technological breakthroughs or to provide a few overwhelming anecdotes illustrating the comfort of adolescents and young adults with regard to technology in the hope that the reader will leap to the “obvious” conclusion that today’s youth is qualitatively different….

Smith then argues that despite the prevalence of such anecdotes, there is little real evidence that young people are learning differently:

In the large view, rather than the creation of something entirely new, what our latest explosion of technological advances has done for us, by and large, is to provide us with new ways to do the same old things we’ve been doing since we drifted out of the Olduvai Gorge across the Serengeti and fanned out into Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Therefore, Smith says we should be skeptical of claims that today’s young people are all that different from the young people of a generation ago — and we should be skeptical of claims that we need extensive educational reform because of social media and/or other technological innovations.

Calvinism and the American League East

The Red Sox are in the cellar, sixteen and a half games behind Baltimore and the hated Yankees, who are tied for first in the division. The Sox are so bad that when manager Bobby Valentine was asked where the team could use help, he replied:

Are you kidding? This is the weakest roster we’ve ever had in September in the history of baseball. It could use help everywhere.

The Red Sox are obviously the virtuous team; so why have they been relegated to last place in their division? It is because of Calvinism: according to Calvinism, God does not choose the Elect based on any actual merit they may have. As this Web site on Calvinism puts it, “chooses the elect according to the kind intention of His will (Eph. 1:4-8; Rom. 9:11) without any consideration of merit within the individual.” The Yankees are in first place, not because of any merit they may have, but simply because God put them there.

No wonder I’m a Universalist.

Quote of the day

Here’s a quote about entrepreneurs, which may also apply to congregations:

Thinking like a business still seems to be something many entrepreneurs feel is beneath them. [Chris O’Brien, “Twitter bruised by wheels of industry,” San Jose Mercury-News, 24 August 2012, p. C1.]

See, some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs think all they have to do is create some beautiful new idea, and everything else will take care of itself. This is analogous to congregations that think all they have to do is religion (or not even religion, but mere community), and everything else will take care of itself.

But somehow the utility bills have to be paid, payroll has to be met, insuarnace has to be purchased, and so on. Much as we’d all like to think we’re above thinking like a business, we’re not.

Connected by water

Because someone asked, here’s the story we tell every two or three years as part of our water communion service in early September. I based this story on something Steve Hersey said in the water communion service at the First Parish in Watertown, Massachusetts, circa 1995.

This story requires that you make two simple props. First, click on the images below, and print out the PDF files:

Now take the “602” sheet and tape 7 sheets of “,000” to the right hand edge; carefully fold the “,000” sheets behind the “602” sheet with an accordion fold. Then take the “22” sheet and tape 9 sheets of “,000” to the right hand edge; fold as above. Now you have the two props you will need.

Continue reading

Shower planter

We had to trim our pothos plant. Rather than compost the trimmings, Carol decided to make a home for them in the shower. She got me to cut a big round hole in the side of a plastic soda water bottle using my pocket knife; then she got me to drill two holes at the top of the bottle so we could hang it; I drilled those two holes using the awl in my pocket knife. She attached the bottle to the shower rod using a big twist tie left over from something, added some water, and put the pothos cuttings through the big round hole.

Over the next few days, the pothos cuttings twisted towards the light, and their butt ends pulled out of the water. So I drilled two small holes about an inch back of the big round hole on either side, above the water level, and threaded a piece of straight brass wire through; the wire keeps the pothos cuttings aimed down at the water.

Our shower planter has been up for a month now. Here’s what it looks like: