Recently, I’ve been going through some spiritual turmoil. Now hearing about other people’s spiritual turmoil can be boring. Nevertheless, spiritual turmoil is a common enough problem that I think it’s worth spending some time thinking through what spiritual turmoil is, and what one does about it.

First of all, I think it’s very important to remember that spiritual turmoil is not pathological; it is uncomfortable, but it is not an illness. Our society shies away from discomfort; our default setting (especially amongst the middle class and upper middle class) is to try to buy our way out of discomfort; we might try to find a convenient pill or medication that will remove our discomfort, or go shopping or take a vacation to cover up the discomfort in the undeniable pleasure of buying new possessions or buying new experiences.

But spiritual turmoil is not an illness; it is not pathological. In my own experience, and in talking with others about their experiences, spiritual turmoil results when you can no longer adequately answer one of the big spiritual questions. The big spiritual questions include: Who am I? What ought I do? What is the ultimate nature of reality? What is the final destination of human beings? (These days, I’d add the question: How should we raise the children? — it is important enough to stand on its own, I now think, and not be lumped in with the question What ought I do?) Most of the time, most of us have come up with answers to these questions that serve us well. Continue reading “Turmoil”

Another eclipse photo

Carol took this photo of last night’s lunar eclipse, just as the earth’s shadow had covered all but the tiniest sliver of the full moon. The moon was partly obscured by the faintest of cloud cover — the clouds obscure some of the detail, but they also cast a romantic halo at the bright edge of the moon.

Lunar eclipse, April 14, 2014

Lunar eclipses are just so amazing; photos cannot do them justice. Watching the progress of the eclipse is like watching mathematics happen in front of your eyes; it’s as good as listening to music.

Photo copyright (c) 2014 Carol Steinfeld. Used by permission.

Diné bahané, part two

2. The Second World

Because of the strife in the First World, First Man, First Woman, the Great-Coyote-Who-Was-Formed-in-the-Water, and the Coyote called First Angry, followed by all the others, climbed up from the First World, the World of Darkness and Dampness, to the Second World, Ni’hodotl’ish, or the Blue World.

When they came to the Second World, they found a number of people already living there: Bluebirds, Blue Hawks, Blue Jays, Blue Herons, and all the blue-feathered beings.

The powerful Swallow People lived there also, and these people made the Second World unpleasant for those who had come from the First World. There was fighting and killing.

The First Four found an opening in the World of Blue Haze; and they climbed through this and led the people up into the Third or Yellow World.

Dine Bahane: First Angry Coyote

Above: Illustration of First Angry Coyote, drawn by a child in the UUCPA Sunday school after seeing images of Navajo rugs and sand paintings.

3. Arriving in the Third World

The Bluebird was the first to reach the Third or Yellow World. After him came the First Four and all the others.

A great river crossed this land from north to south. It was the Female River.

There was another river crossing it from east to West, it was the Male River. This Male River flowed through the Female River and on; and the name of this place is Tqo alna’osdli, the Crossing of the Waters. Continue reading “Diné bahané, part two”

Diné bahané, part one

Here’s the first installment of an abridged version of the Diné bahané, or Navajo creation story, that I put together for a small class of 5th and 6th graders a couple of years ago. This version of the Diné bahané is adapted from a public domain source edited by Aileen O’Bryan, The Dîné: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians, Bulletin 163 of the Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution, (1956), pp. 1-13. (It’s in the public domain because it is a U.S. government document.)

When I presented the Diné bahané to the 5th and 6th graders, they were fascinated. They quickly noticed this story is very different from the two creation stories most familiar to Western culture, the creation story in the Bible where God creates the universe in seven days, or the creation story of ancient Greece in which the universe comes into being from Xaos (Chaos). They also noticed the story has a different understanding of gender roles, particularly in light of the character of Turquoise Boy, who is of ambiguous gender (who will appear in a later installment). They also noticed that this story does not assume such a strong distinction between humans and other animals, as do the Western creation stories. Reading such a different creation story helps us to reflect on the dominant stories in our own culture.

Here, then, is my abridged version of the Diné bahané:


The Diné bahané is the traditional Navajo creation story. This long story has never been written down by the Navajos, even though it is as long as a book. Instead, there are people who have memorized the story, and who retell it to others. This version of the Navajo creation story that you’re about to read came to be as follows:

These stories were told to Sandoval, Hastin Tlo’tsi hee, by his grandmother, Esdzan Hosh kige. Her ancestor was Esdzanata’, the medicine woman who had the Calendar Stone in her keeping. Sandoval told these stories to Aileen O’Bryan at Mesa Verde in 1928, and she wrote them down. Here are the stories of the Four Worlds that had no sun, and of the Fifth, the world we live in, which some call the Changeable World.

Dine Bahane: First Man and First Woman

Above: Illustration of First Man and First Woman drawn by a child in the UUCPA Sunday school, after having seen images of Navajo rugs and sand paintings.

1. The First World

The First World, Ni’hodilqil, — which was also called Red Earth, One Speech, Floating Land, and One Tree — was black as black wool. It had four corners, and over these appeared four clouds. These four clouds contained within themselves the elements of the First World. They were in color, black, white, blue, and yellow.

The Black Cloud represented the Female Being. For as a child sleeps when being nursed, so life slept in the darkness of the Female Being. The White Cloud represented the Male Being or Substance. He was the Dawn, the Light-Which-Awakens, of the First World. Continue reading “Diné bahané, part one”

Non-competitive games

We’re running our Peace Experiments program, in which we try to give kids a positive experience of peacefulness through activities like meditation, stories, conversation, songs, learning to ride unicycles — and this week we’ll be playing non-competitive games.

Actually the games are not precisely non-cometitive. They can be very competitive, there’s just not a clear binary distinction between winner(s) and loser(s). Our society tends to train us to perceive the world in terms of winners and losers. So what happens when you mess with that perception, by playing games where winning and losing are redefined? That’s what we’ll be experimenting with this week.

Below are 9 different tag games, all of which mess with the binary distinction between winners and losers.

Continue reading “Non-competitive games”

Consumer confidence and contributions

I have long wondered if there is any kind of correlation between consumer confidence, and annual contributions to congregations. I would expect giving to go down during times of lower consumer confidence, and giving to go up in times of higher consumer confidence.

Of course, there are many other variables that affect congregational giving. But I would expect consumer giving to be a major influence. What do you think?

U. Michigan Consumer Confidence index

Above: 10 year chart of the Index of Consumer Sentiment, produced by University of Michigan.


Conversation I had with our senior minister yesterday:

Senior minister: I’ve been thinking about low turnout in our evening classes. What are we going to do about adultery?

Me: Wha—? Oh! — you mean “adult RE.”

Senior minister: Um, that’s what I said. [Looks at me strangely.]

Me: [explaining that when one pronounces “adult” with a soft “a” sound and the accent on the second syllable, “adult RE” sounds like “ah-DULT-ah-ree.”] So you have to say it: “A-dult”.

Senior minister: [laughing]

The problems of Web casting

Those of us who have looked into Web casting our Sunday services know that it can be tremendously difficult to navigate that new legal landscape. Music poses some especially difficult challenges for Web casting. In the following video, the chaplain at King’s College in England describes one solution to the problem of legal minors appearing on Web casts: