Define “human”

What does it mean to be human? It is the fashion in liberal theology today to state that humans are embodied beings; we are not just some disembodied soul temporarily trapped in flesh; rather, you can’t separate our being from our flesh. If you want to leave any transcendent reality out of this definition, you might wind up defining humans as the entirely biological product of evolution; extreme versions of this would say that humans are nothing more than DNA that wants to replicate itself.

Now consider the fact that less than half of the cells in your body carry your human DNA. In article posted today, the BBC reports on the latest research about the human microbiome; latest estimates hold that only 43% of the cells in your body carry your DNA; the rest are “bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea.”

This would imply that to be an embodied human means, not that you are a solitary organism, but rather you are an ecosystem. In fact, the boundaries of your ecosystem may be less well defined than you have thought. Indeed, the latest thinking in medical science is that we might want to begin monitoring the information stored in the DNA of all those organisms. The BBC quotes Rob Knight, professor at the University of California San Diego:

“It’s incredible to think each teaspoon of your stool contains more data in the DNA of those microbes than it would take literally a ton of DVDs to store. At the moment every time you’re taking one of those data dumps, as it were, you’re just flushing that information away.”

“Data dumps”? Ah yes, the Brits do seem to find ways to include poop jokes where you least expect it. But seriously, this seems to bring us back to that older definition of what it means to be an embodied human, but with a twist: to be an embodied human is still to be a collection of information encoded on DNA; but now there’s a lot more information, not just from humans but also from archaea, bacteria, viruses, etc.

New potatoes

We planted a four foot row of potatoes right after we moved in to our new place, back in November. Something ate most of the leaves from the plants, and they slowly withered and died. This evening, Carol said we should look to see if there were any potatoes. I turned the heavy black soil over with a spading fork, and she sifted through looking for potatoes. We wound up with about a pound and a half of new potatoes. I took them in to the kitchen and carefully scrubbed them, trying to keep as much of the tender skin as I could.

When they were washed, I cut up the larger ones. I put them in a pot of simmering water for a few minutes. We served them with nothing more than some olive oil, a little kosher salt, and a sprinkling of black pepper.

Less than an hour after we pulled them out out of the soil, we were eating them. They tasted wonderful: faintly earthy, with a delicate texture.

Things I’ve dreamed of doing but have never done

1. Go to Labrador and take the mail boat up and down the coast: I grew fascinated with Labrador in my teens when I read an old book I think once belonged to my father, or maybe his father: The Lure of the Labrador Wild by Dillon Wallace. At 19, my first full time job was yardman in a lumberyard, and on coffee breaks I used to sit and talk with the dispatcher, Robin R., about where we wanted to travel; I always wanted to go to Labrador. I even went so far as to get a road map of Labrador, but there was no way I ever could have afforded to travel that far.

I still can’t afford to go to Labrador, but even if I could I’m not sure I want to go, not now. Now Labrador is far less remote: there’s a road to Goose Bay, and the coastal communities have much more contact with the outside world. I still want to go to the Labrador of 1980, but that’s impossible.

2. Live in Paris for six months: In my mid-twenties, I was still working at the lumberyard, now as a salesman. I was making more money by now, and arranged to spend one vacation in London and Paris. I took French classes to prepare for the trip, but when I got to Paris I realized how little of the language I knew. A friend of mine, William J., was living in Paris then. I dreamed of saving up my money and living there myself and studying French.

The unexpected ending to this story: When I went to Europe, I flew on Icelandair, and the flights stopped in Rekjavik. There was no jetway in those days, so you walked down those rolling stairs and across the tarmac to the terminal while they serviced the plane. I told a friend, Eddie J., how beautiful Iceland looked — and how beautiful the women were. At that time, Eddie worked seven days a week for six months each summer and fall painting houses, then spent the other six months of the year skiing in the Alps. The next winter instead of going skiing in the Alps, he went to Iceland, met an Icelandic woman, fell in love, married her, and as far as I know still lives there.

3. Publish a science fiction story: I met Mike F. in my first year of college. We were both science fiction fanatics, and we started a science fiction club. Mike was a good friend, but I felt competitive with him because he was a better writer than I; we talked about who would publish a science fiction story first, though I was pretty sure it would be him. A decade later, in an abortive attempt to get a master’s degree in writing, I learned that I am unable to write convincing fiction; I dropped out of that graduate program and went to work for a carpenter (working as a carpenter was then a dream of mine), and have never bothered to try to write fiction again.

The unexpected ending to this story: Mike and I both wound up working as clergy, and we both wound up doing a lot of online writing. In the 1980s, Michael became a rabbi and by the 1990s was known as the rabbi who wrote on America Online; I finally got ordained in 2003, and started this blog in 2005 (Michael always was more talented and driven than I). I now suspect that writing sermons and writing science fiction stories require a similar kind of imagination: both science fiction and sermons need to be firmly rooted in the here and now, and both need to be connected with infinite possibility.

So there are some things I’ve always dreamed of doing, but have never done; dreams that never quite let go of me, no matter how irrational or impossible.

Too much Old Time Religion

29 parody verses of Old Time Religion, plus the traditional last verse (traditional, that is, if you’re a filker). Collected from many different places on the Web (maybe I made a few of them up), edited (both for style and for a vague correspondence to the religion that is parodied), and neatly assembled so that it can be printed (double-sided) on a single sheet of paper. One verse per religion, so you don’t have to sing endless verses based on, e.g., deities from Ancient Greek religions. And guitar chords. I’ll be bringing this to our local song circle, but you’re welcome to print it out and use it for the cat box.

Old Time Religion (parody version), PDF

For Web-based reference, the text of the PDF appears below the fold…

Continue reading “Too much Old Time Religion”

Still more Old Time Religion

I’ve collected a few more parody verses of Old Time Religion, which might be of interest to religious liberals:

Flying spaghetti monster:

If we laugh ourselves unsteady
And keep criticism ready,
Flying monsters of spaghetti
Will be good enough for me!


I am quite sure there are good odds
All who see God are just drunk sods,
So I’d rather worship no gods,
Nothing’s good enough for me!


There are those who worship science
‘Cause they value our reliance
On electrical appliance-es
It’s good enough for me!

In a subsequent post, I’ll post a PDF including these and 27 other verses I’ve collected….

Even more Old Time Religion

Recently I came across a couple more parody verses for “Old Time Religion”:

We will pray to blue-skinned Rama,
After far too long a drama,
He at last killed old Ravana
And that’s good enough for me!

We will pray to Hanuman, a
Monkey whose strength is uncommon,
Cause he dines on curry ramen,
And that’s good enough for me!

Finally, here’s one I came up with for Unitarian Universalists — and as much as I dislike the abbreviation “UUs” (pronounced “you-youse,” which always sounds to me like someone from New York telling how to form the second person plural possessive), it’s fun to rhyme:

We will worship like the UUs
And believe whatever we choose
As through sermons gently we snooze,
And that’s good enough for me!

(And yes, this is my post for April Fool’s Day.)