Shareable economy

“Shareable economy” and “the new mutualism” are new and trendy terms for new-fashioned things like bikesharing programs, coworking, hacker spaces, etc. — and also names for old-fashioned things like public libraries, public parks, credit unions, co-ops, etc.

Two blogs on the shareable economy that seem worth reading:



Both blogs encourage social entrepreneurship. Both blogs look beyond North America to Europe, South America, Australia, and beyond. Not sure I’d read either blog on a regular basis, but both are worth looking at for ideas at least once.

“The Race That Long in Darkness Pined”

It’s way too early for Christmas, but….

My favorite reading for the Christmas season is the King James translation of Isaiah 9.1-8. I love the rhythm of the language, and the beauty of the imagery. From a theological perspective, I’m not willing to say that Isaiah 9.1-8 predicts the coming of Jesus as the one and only Messiah (capital “M”) — I’m in the camp that says there have been and will continue to be messiahs (lower case “m”), of whom Jesus of Nazareth was one. Whatever my theological position, it’s a beautiful piece of prose.

Recently, I stumbled across a metrical paraphrase of Isaiah 9.1-8, done by John Morison for the 1650 Scottish Psalter. It’s not as good a rendition as the King James translation — but because it’s a metrical paraphrase, you could sing it, and how cool is that? So I wrote a hymn tune for it. A polyphonic tune. In Dorian mode. Between the music and the words, this would never be used as a hymn in a Unitarian Universalist congregation. But I had fun writing it, and there are one or two hymn geeks out there who might actually enjoy seeing it, so here it is:


(Click the image for a PDF. Complete words below.) Continue reading ““The Race That Long in Darkness Pined””

Each in his own tongue

William Herbert Carruth was a poet, a professor of literature and writing at Stanford where he taught John Steinbeck (more about Steinbeck in a moment), and a member of the old Palo Alto Unitarian Church. One of his signature poems strikes me as quite characteristic of early twentieth century west coast Unitarianism:

Each in His Own Tongue

A fire-mist and a planet,
   A crystal and a cell,
A jelly-fish and a saurian,
   And caves where the cave-men dwell;
Then a sense of law and beauty
   And a face turned from the clod,—
Some call it Evolution,
   And others call it God. Continue reading “Each in his own tongue”

Theology deadlock

One of the things I see as I watch the slow-motion train wreck that is the budget deadlock in Congress is a battle between two competing theologies.

These two competing theologies have, above all, differing notions of sin and salvation (soteriology):

On the one side, the possibility of salvation is understood to reside primarily in individual humans. To put it another way, fighting sin is primarily the responsibility of an individual. The way to fight sin, and move towards salvation, is to assign the highest level of responsibility to individuals. This theological position tends to deplore government intervention in social problems, such as providing health insurance; thus in the context of this theological position, individuals, not impersonal social structures, are ultimately responsible for saving themselves and, e.g., taking care of their own health.

On the other side, the possibility of salvation is understood to reside both in the individual and in social institutions; however, in practice the emphasis tends to be on social salvation and social sin, since social sin is perceived to be so much more powerful a force than individual sin. To put it another way, fighting sin is primarily a battle that must be fought in social institutions. The way to move towards salvation is to assign the highest priority to fighting sin in society. This theological position tends to urge governmental solutions to social problems; thus in the context of this theological position, individuals are not powerful enough in themselves to fight social sin, and must use social structures such as government to fight sin and reach salvation by establishing a moral society.

These two different theological positions also have differing understandings of the nature of human beings (theological anthropology): Continue reading “Theology deadlock”


The first time I visited California was in October, 1987. Everything about California was mind-blowing to a young guy like me who had, although I had been to Europe, had never been further west than Washington, D.C. It was my first experience of the Pacific Rim: the landscape of the Rim of Fire, the cultural encounter between east Asia and North America, the climate; even the sight of the sun setting in the Pacific Ocean was mind-blowing, for though I could have seen that sight from western Europe, watching the sun set into the endless Pacific was a very different experience than watching the sun set into the gray North Atlantic.

I stayed for a few days with my cousin Nancy in Oakland. She was the ideal host. She drove me up to Grizzly Peaks where I looked down with amazement on the city of Berkeley a thousand feet below me, and the bridges in San Francisco Bay beyond the city; I could not have imagined then that sixteen years later, that road would be part of my daily commute to work. She took me out to Cliff House to watch the sun set in the Pacific; she took me into Chinatown and Japantown; and she introduced me to locally-grown persimmons (Diospyros kaki).

Nancy had a few persimmons ripening in her kitchen. She found one that was ripe, cut it open, and showed me how you use a spoon to eat it. The combination of the jelly-like texture, the flavor, and the bright orange color were unlike any food I had ever eaten before. After I got back to Massachusetts, I found persimmons in the supermarket, but they never tasted as good as the ones I had eaten in California; they just weren’t worth buying.

Now here I am, living in California, and when I saw a sign in the local supermarket for “Locally Grown Persimmons” of course I bought some. I put them on the kitchen counter next to some late tomatoes that I had just picked in our garden. Nancy tells me that the Chinese word for tomato is xihongshi, meaning “western red persimmon,” and the two fruits do look remarkably alike from a certain angle (the tomato is the smaller one on the left):


The problem with eating persimmons is that if you eat them before they are fully ripe, the high level of tannins will make your mouth feel furry on the inside. You can also get so-called fuyu persimmons, funny stubby little things that contain less tannin in them so you can eat them when they’re not quite ripe. If you’re impatient, as Carol is, perhaps it’s best to eat fuyu persimmons. I’m impatient, and I rarely wait quite long enough before I eat a persimmon; but I’ve come to appreciate the light astringency of a not-entirely ripe persimmon, and to enjoy the faint furry feeling that lingers in your mouth after you’ve eaten one.

The three persimmons I bought have been sitting on the kitchen counter for two whole days now, tempting me. I kept feeling them gently: were they soft all the way down to the stem? Did they feel as though they would collapse in my hand if I picked them up? Finally I decided that one of them was ripe enough to eat. I cut off the end, and scooped out some of the fruit:


Oh, it was good! — I couldn’t believe that I had actually waited long enough for my first persimmon of the season to ripen fully! I ate the whole thing in about five seconds. And then, sure enough, I started to feel that faint furry sensation on the inside of my mouth. It was a very faint sensation, and not unpleasant, but it was enough to remind me that once again I had been too impatient.

The real America

In his 1994 introduction to his 1981 novel Hello, America, J. G. Ballard writes: “The United States has given birth to most of our century’s dreams, and to a good many of its nightmares. No other country has created such a potent vision of itself, and exported that vision so successfully to the rest of the world…. Whenever I visit the United States I often feel that the real ‘America’ lies not in the streets of Manhattan or Chicago, or the farm towns of the mid-west, but in the imaginary America created by Hollywood and the media landscape.”

The real America is the imaginary America which is presented in pop culture; this makes sense to me. And this raises a question for me: should religion accommodate to this imaginary America, as for example Rick Warren and his version of the prosperity gospel do? — or should religion take pains to point out that the “real America” is really an imaginary America? — or should religion ignore altogether the problems caused by the imaginary America being the real America? Or put more starkly: should religion resist pop culture, or embrace it?


One of the personal characteristics that most troubles religious liberals is charisma. We religious liberals think religion should be rooted in reason and rationality, and charisma is very upsetting to those of us who claim rationality as a highest value. A charismatic person can make a reasonable person think unreasonable thoughts, by the sheer attractiveness of that charismatic person’s personality; no wonder we rationalists find charisma so upsetting! We sometimes forget that the ancient Greeks knew that the power of rhetoric and rhetorical argument could be greater than the power of reason. We also sometimes forget that the science of psychology has shown over and over again how human beings are convinced by the power of that which is not rational, such as advertisements, sexuality, tyranny, etc. Of course we forget; we have an unreasoning faith in reason.

What, then, do we religious liberals do when we meet up with another religious liberal who happens to be charismatic? If we’re honest, we’d admit that our immediate response is distrust. So it is that we actually prefer our ministers to be a little drab and colorless, rather than dynamic and exciting. Lay leaders who show signs of being charismatic are often subtly disabled; the nail that sticks up will get hammered down. Charismatic ministers and lay leaders quickly learn to hide their charisma behind a mask of bureaucratic grayness, or even assumed incompetence.

I’m not sure I would want to change our liberal religious response to charisma all that much. I don’t trust charisma myself, even on the rare occasions when I find it in myself; no, especially on those rare occasions when I find it in myself. It’s too easy for someone with charisma to get carried away by the power of their charisma. However, charisma can be extraordinarily useful to human institutions. What we laud as great leadership in business or politics is often little more than the power of charisma in a given individual; I doubt Steve Jobs was the genius he is made out to be, but by all reports he was powerfully charismatic; the same seems to be true of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Charismatic individuals can drive institutions and make things happen.

But although your charisma can drive human institutions, it is wise to recall that your charisma does not inhere in your personal being; it comes from the outside, a gift of the spirit; or, more properly, given by the Spirit, it comes into you from something or somebody or some place beyond the narrow confines of the self. If you’re charismatic, your charisma doesn’t belong to you, wretched mortal individual that you are; it is ageless; it belongs to humanity; so don’t take credit for it — this is the religious liberal’s attitude. We religious liberals can tolerate charisma only when it is combined with serious humility.

I think they did it again…

“Oops, I Did It Again,” a song written by Max Martin and Rami Yacoub, has gotten a bad reputation. In an introduction to his own version of the song, Richard Thompson says that unfortunately, the best-known performance of the song was done by “a rather crass pop artist”; yet, Thompson says, the song itself is lovely, with a chord structure “reminiscent of other centuries,” and “if we just take it out of the original hands, and give it a slightly different interpretation, … we can reveal its splendor.” 1

Since this is such a splendid song, it seems a prime candidate for adaptation: instead of a song addressed to a confused lover, why not make it into a song addressed to some of the people who are behind the growing economic inequality in the U.S.?

Oops, They Did It Again

I think they did it again,
They made us believe
That they were our friends.
Oh, baby,
They might think act like they care
But it doesn’t mean
That they’re serious;
‘Cause to make empty promises
That is just what CEOs do.
Oh, baby, baby —

Oops, they did it again,
They played with our hearts,
To them it’s a game.
Oh, baby, baby,
Oops, they cut back our pay,
Took benefits away;
They’re not so innocent! Continue reading “I think they did it again…”

Bitter melon

One sunday morning, Dora came up to me with something in her hand. “You said you like bitter food, right?” she said.

“I love bitter things,” I said.

“Then you should try this,” she said, holding out a small, wrinkled green vegetable. “It’s called bitter melon.”

She told me how to prepare it: slice it open, scoop the seeds and pulp out, slice it up and stir-fry it, maybe mixing it with some other vegetables and perhaps some kind of meat, like sausages. Dora comes from a Chinese family, but bitter melon is not just Chinese; when Hong, who is Vietnamese, saw the bitter melon, her eyes lit up, and it turns out she loves it, too — sauteed with garlic, in her case. Both of them agreed that not everyone likes bitter melon.

You’d think a New England Yankee like me, raised on mild and restrained flavors, would not care for bitter melon. But I love it. It’s not an extreme taste; I think of it as being mildly bitter, maybe about as bitter as strong turnips. I haven’t been able to find it in any supermarkets, but fortunately there is one farmer at the San Mateo farmer’s market who carries both the white and green varieties.

Bitter melon


If you haven’t yet seen it, I recommend an article in the October, 2013, issue of Atlantic magazine.

The article is titled “My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me.” For one week, the author does homework alongside his 13 year old daughter — and it’s more work than he bargained for. The author finds he has doubts about whether the homework is worth spending so much time on, and he also cites studies that claim there is little correlation between the amount of homework and academic performance. Also of interest — the author says that the amount of homework increases and decreases in a 30 year cycle, and we are currently at the peak of heavy homework. You can read this article online here.

I was interested in this article because I often hear from kids in middle school and high school how overwhelmed they are by the amount of homework they have. Of course, from my point of view as a religious educator, I care less about academic performance than about whether kids are growing up to be ethical, sensitive, and caring human beings — and as far as I know, homework has not helped kids become more ethical, sensitive, and caring. But I have definitely noticed that kids are getting more homework now than, say, a decade ago.

I wonder what you think about homework — especially those of you who are parents of middle school and high school students. Are kids getting too much homework these days? Do you think kids need lots of homework in order to remain competitive in today’s academic environment? How is homework affecting their lives — and your life as a parent? I’d love to hear from you!

Originally posted here.