Anesthesia

In college, I took a class with Lucius Outlaw, Jr., in which we read Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations. Husserl’s book opened up the possibility of observing the stream of one’s own consciousness, something I’ve been interested in, and have practiced, ever since. So when I went in for a colonoscopy yesterday, I decided to take the opportunity to try to observe what happened as I was given anesthesia, and later how I came out of anesthesia

Thinking back to a previous colonoscopy, I realized that I simply couldn’t remember some things I knew had happened after coming out of the anesthesia. I couldn’t, for example, remember getting dressed, though I knew I had done so. Before I underwent anesthesia yesterday, I wanted to see what I could retain in memory from the time I went under anesthesia until I arrived back at home.

I have a clear memory of when I lost consciousness. One of the nurses asked me to settle myself slightly differently on the gurney, which I did, and then — nothing.

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Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1891-1905

Part One of a history I’m writing, which tells the story of Unitarians in Palo Alto from the founding of the town in 1891 up to the dissolution of the old Unitarian Church of Palo Alto in 1934. Rather than telling history as the story of a succession of (mostly male) ministers, my focus is on the lay people who made up the congregation. If you want the footnotes, you’ll have to wait until the print version of this history comes out in the spring of 2022.

The first Unitarian and Universalists in Palo Alto, 1891-1895

Unitarianism and Universalism arrived in Palo Alto before there was a congregation. Some of the first residents who arrived in Palo Alto in 1891, the year Stanford University opened, were already Unitarians and Universalists.

Emma Meyer Rendtorff began studying at Stanford University in 1894, eight months before Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes, a Universalist and Unitarian minister, preached the first Unitarian Universalist sermon in Palo Alto, at Stanford’s Memorial Church. Emma’s parents had been Unitarians, and as a girl she had attended Sunday school the Church of the Unity, a Unitarian church in St. Louis, Missouri. She was a lifelong Unitarian, and would play a key role when the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto was organized in 1905.

David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford, grew up in a Universalist family. As a young adult he briefly joined a Congregational church. While president of Stanford he disavowed any denominational affiliation, although he often spoke in Unitarian churches and at Unitarian gatherings. Whether or not he would have called himself a Unitarian or Universalist when he arrived in Palo Alto, he was often perceived as a Unitarian and often provided financial and moral support to the Palo Alto Unitarians. And when he retired from Stanford, he finally did join the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto.

Luna, Minnie, and Leander Hoskins were probably Unitarians before arriving in Palo Alto. Minnie moved in Palo Alto in 1892 when her husband Leander became a Stanford professor, and Luna had joined them in Palo Alto soon after. Luna and Minnie Hoskins were recognized as delegates by the Committee on Credentials of the Pacific Unitarian Conference at San Jose on May 1-4, 1895, a few days before Eliza Tupper Wilkes arrived in Palo Alto. Since they knew about Unitarianism before Eliza Tupper Wilkes arrived, she couldn’t have been the one to introduce them to Unitarianism, so it seems likely they had been Unitarians when they came to Palo Alto.

Eleanor Brooks Pearson, who came to Palo Alto in 1891 from South Sudbury, Massachusetts, may have been a Unitarian before she arrived in Palo Alto; her childhood home in South Sudbury would have been close to the Unitarian church in Sudbury Center, she was one of the organizers of the Unity Society in 1895, and she later married a Unitarian, Frederic Bartlett Huntington. Some sources hint that there were others who were Unitarians or Universalists before arriving in Palo Alto, but so far it has proved impossible to name them.

The Unity Society, 1895-1897

In November, 1892, the very first issue of the Pacific Unitarian, a periodical devoted to promoting liberal religion up and down the West Coast, declared that a Unitarian church should be organized in Palo Alto:

“The University town of Palo Alto is growing fast. Never was there a field that offered more in the way of influence and education than this. A [building] lot for a church ought to be secured at once, and the preliminary steps taken towards the organization of a Unitarian Society.”

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Conspiracy theories and religion

In the latest podcast at the Religious Studies Project, Carmen Celestini, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre on Hate, Bias, and Extremism, talks about her research into conspiracy theories. She begins by offering one of the best definitions I’ve ever heard of what a conspiracy theory actually is:

“A conspiracy theory is usually some articulation of fear and trying to find an answer to what’s causing the fear or causing sustained sense of disaster. It’s an explanation when some of the things that you would normally turn to aren’t providing the answers you’re looking for.”

Then she offers a fascinating overview of conspiracy theories in North America, from the Know-Nothings in the 19th century, to the John Birch Society in the 20th century, to QAnon in the 21st century. She covers a bunch of topics that I’m currently fascinated with, including the resurgence of the John Birch Society in recent years, “Blue Beam,” “White Lives Matter,” the Council for National Policy, and the role of religion among people who refuse to get vaccinated.

She concludes by saying that it’s not helpful to merely dismiss conspiracy theories, because they’re not going to simply disappear:

“Possibly when people get back to work and the pandemic is over and people start engaging with social groups again, [the prevalence of conspiracy theories] might lessen a little bit, but those ideas of distrust are not going to simply go away. Those ideas of distressing the media or government are not going to go away. And it is something that the government and media and all of us have to articulate. We have to be out there in our public intellectualism talking about these things and not dismissing people but engaging and trying to understand.”

This is useful advice for religious liberals who may be inclined to dismiss conspiracy theories, and the religious impulses associated with them. Instead of dismissing them, we’d be better off using our skills in interfaith and cross-cultural understanding. The distrust underlying conspiracy theories is real, and it behooves us to try to understand.

Teaching resource

I’ve been looking — for quite a while now — for a teaching resource of some kind that shows how some Christians and some Christian groups do in fact support persons of non-binary gender.

The anti-LGBTQ+ Christians are loud and vocal, and they dominate both media and the popular imagination. But I know there are plenty of progressive Christians who feel their religion is fully compatible with being LGBTQIA+. Unfortunately, as is so often the case in our society, most people think it’s a zero-sum game, so the loudest group gets to take charge of the discourse. In addition, as is so often the case in our religiously illiterate society, everyone seems to assume that all religions are monolithic; everyone assumes that one Christian group gets to represent all Christian groups everywhere, ignoring the fact that Christianity has tremendous internal diversity.

As a religious educator, I’ve long tried to teach people both about Christianity’s internal diversity, and about how some Christians are fully supportive of LGBTQIA people. But in a the context of our zero-sum-game, religiously-illiterate society, I haven’t had much success. I kept thinking: If only I had some great teaching resource that showed how some Christians do not have a binary understanding of gender.

So I was pleased to discover this video, which profiles several interesting non-binary Christians. The interviewer, Grace Selmer Baldridge, happen to be a non-binary Christian, which I think makes this video especially powerful. I could wish that Grace Baldridge had been able to interview some non-white non-binary Christians, but aside from that weakness, the interviewees are diverse in their gender identity, in their age, in their expression of their Christianity.

This video may not work well as a teaching resource for those Unitarian Universalists who suffer from anti-Christian bias. Nevertheless, I’m thinking this video could be a great teaching tool for showing both the internal diversity of Christianity, and showing how some Christians believe their religion calls them to a non-binary understanding of gender.

To watch the video on Youtube, click on the image above.

To whet your appetite, here are some quotes from the video:

“We just have to be honest that using the pronoun ‘he’ for God is a habit, but it has no theological justification.” — Dr. Lizzie Berne DeGear, independent scholar

“When I imagine a trans child coming to understand, ‘I might be a girl in this boy body,’ I’m like, ‘Thank you, God, the child is becoming aware of who they really are.’…. God creates out of love. God creates love out of love. We who are in the image of God are all awesome. So when I’m talking to you, I’m learning a little more about God. Because you’re in God’s image. And when you’re talking to me, the same is true.” — Rev. Dr. Jacqueline J. Lewis, senior minister, Middle Collegiate Church

“As a church, we said: We’re publicly going to affirm the LGBTQIA community. We don’t have to be uniform in that belief right away, we can question it, we can disagree, but this is the stance our church is going to take from here on out.… We lost lots of people. We lost thousands of dollars. And it was such a good move. We can sit here and be comfortable, and say OK, the money’s still rolling in and there’s a lot of people coming through my doors, and we can feel good about that. But when there’s literally people out there who are told that they’re not loved, people whose families are disowning them for this, we need to step up and become safe spaces.” — Jonathan Williams, former lead pastor, Forefront Church, Brooklyn, and son of a trans woman

“We really feel that the only way we can combat that negativity [about LGBTQIA people] is with people of faith standing up and saying: No, this is actually not in alignment with how we understand our faith, that you can be Christian and trans, and you can be Christian and gay, and that they’re not mutually exclusive.” — Jamie Brusesehof, mother of a trans child

COVID games, online curriculum

I just updated the selection of games on my curriculum Web site. In-person games now either have adaptations to make them COVID-safe, or they’re clearly marked “not suitable for COVID.” There’s also a modest selection of field-tested online games for online classes and groups. There are games for all ages from school-aged children up to adults. These games can be used in Sunday school classes, youth groups, adult classes, and other small groups.

Games Web page with COVID-safe games and online games.

We’ve now been teaching my Neighboring Religions curriculum online since March, 2020. This curriculum has transferred extremely well to online teaching. Now I’m writing out the adaptations that we’ve used to make it work so well.

Neighboring Religions curriculum with online adaptations.

If you have any feedback or comments about either the games, or Neighboring Religions, please leave them here.

The Doctor who rode a hyena to Mecca

Another story for liberal religious children. This story comes from Hausa Folklore, stories told by Maalam Shaihua and translated by R. Sutherland Rattray (Clarendon Press, 1913). The Hausa, who live in what is now Nigeria, were one of North Africa’s major trading powers. By the 14th century, many Hausa people had converted to Sunni Islam, and eventually Hausaland became a Caliphate. Traditional Hausa religion (called “Bori” or “Maguzanci”) persisted in the countryside, and still does today. The present story appears to combine elements from older Hausa folklore (talking animals) with Islamic elements (trip to Mecca). This story reminds us that Islam has been a feature of West Africa for centuries.

A certain doctor, a man of great learning who wrote elegant Arabic script and who was well-versed in the complicated legal, historical, and religious learning of the Hausa people, set out to go on the Hajj. This is the pilgrimage to Mecca that all good Muslims hope to make, so that they might add to their rewards in the afterlife.

This doctor had a very thin mare. He saddled her, mounted her, and began the long journey to Mecca. He was deep into the forest when be saw a hyena. The hyena saw that the doctor’s mare was very weary.

“Doctor, where are you going?” said the hyena.

The doctor said, “I am going to Mecca.”

“But something seems to be the matter,” said the hyena.

“It is the mare,” said the doctor. “She is weary.”

“Give the mare to me,” said the hyena. “I shall kill her, and eat her up. Then you can mount me and we shall set out to Mecca.”

The doctor said, “So?”

The hyena said, “Yes, it is so.”

The doctor said, “You must not deceive me.”

She replied, “Come now, Doctor, it is because I have seen that your mare is unable to go on that I speak. For my part, if you mount me, this instant I will carry you to Mecca.”

The doctor said, “All right, catch the mare and eat it.”

The hyena seized the mare, tore it up, picked up the meat and took it home. She ate it with her children. The doctor waited and waited for her to return, but she did not come back. At last a jackal came along and saw the doctor sitting there.

“Doctor, what has happened?” said the jackal.

“I was on my way to Mecca,” said the doctor. “My mare got tired, so I sat down. The hyena came along and asked what was the matter, and I said that that I was on my way to Mecca but my mare was tired.

“And the hyena said, ‘Oh, this thing can never take you to Mecca. Give her to me to eat so I can increase my strength, then I can carry you to Mecca.’ I then said,” the doctor went on,, “‘Hyena, you must not deceive me, by eating my mare then running away.’ But she replied, ‘Why would I do that? it is the truth I told you.’ I thought what she told me was true, but after she caught the mare she went off and I haven’t seen her again.”

“Stop worrying, Doctor,” said the jackal. “I will bring her to you.”

The jackal took up all the horse tack — the saddle and saddle-cloth, the bit and halter, the spurs and whip — and off he went. On the way, he found a lump of meat and took it along as well. He dropped the tack, piece by piece, dropping the saddlecloth last of all, when he was near the mouth of the hyena’s hole.

When he got to the hyena’s hole, he stood and announced his arrival.

But the hyena had told her children, “Whoever comes here looking for me, you must say I am not here.” So when the jackal hailed, the children said, “She is not here.”

“Allah curse her, she has no luck,” said the jackal. “Here I have brought her good news, and bad luck prevents her from hearing it. For a cow has died, a very fat one, and I have come to call her and show her. But you say, she is not here. So I will leave.”

Then the hyena said, “Who is seeking me?”

“I am seeking you<” said the jackal. “A fat cow has died, but these children say you are not here. Here, I cut off a big lump of meat and have brought it to you”

“There is no God but Allah!” said the hyena. “You worthless children, I was asleep, but you say I am not here.” And the hyena came out of her hole.

The jackal offered her some of the lump of meat, saying, “Taste it.”

She swallowed the meat, giving none to her children. Then she said, “Let us be off.”

The hyena was eager to get to the fat cow, and she was a long way in front of the jackal. “Here,” said the hyena, “you cannot walk fast enough. Climb up and ride me so that we may go quickly.”

The jackal rode her, and soon they came to the saddle cloth. The jackal said, “Let me spread this thin on your back, for the hair on your back is getting ruffled.” When he had the saddle-cloth on her, he mounted once again and they rode off.

Soon they came to the bit and halter. “Let me lift up this thing and put it in your mouth,” said the jackal. “Perhaps it will be better for me to hold.”

“Put it on quickly and let us get on,” said the hyena. The jackal put on the bit, took hold of the halter, and they rode off again.

Soon they came to the spurs and whip. The jackal dismounted, took up the whip and put the spurs on his feet, and mounted again.

As they drew near where the doctor was waiting, the hyena said, “You must not take this way.” For she did not wish to meet the doctor again, so she took another path. But when they were opposite where the doctor sat, the jackal struck her with the spurs and turned the bit towards the doctor. Then the hyena sprang forward, saying, “Oou, oou.”

The jackal pulled up in front of the doctor, dismounted, and said, “Doctor, behold your debtor. Mount her, and do not get off until you reach where you are going. If you dismount, even at the water, do not take her to a stream of water.”

The doctor replied, “I have heard.” He mounted, and did not dismount until they had ridden all the way to Mecca, over a thousand miles.

When he got to Mecca, his dismounted from the hyena. He asked some children to hold her, saying, “You must not mount her, and you must not take her to the stream.” Then the doctor entered the mosque where they were praying.

But the children did not listen. They mounted they hyena, and rode her to a nearby stream. As soon as she got out of the town, she began to gallop into the bush. She threw them off, and ran away. So when the doctor came out of the mosque, he saw neither the children, nor the hyena.

That is all.

The Mood Pillow

Another story for liberal religious kids. I think I originally wrote this story for the First Parish in Watertown, Mass., back in the mid 1990s. I rewrote it in 2004 when I was at the UU Society of Geneva, Ill., and then forgot about it. Here’s the 2004 version:

Once upon a time, about a hundred and fifty years ago in the town of Concord, Massachusetts, a family lived in a house they called “Apple Slump.” There were four children in the family, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, along with their father, Mr. March, and Marmee, their mother. At the time this story takes place, Mr. March was far away, serving in the army during the Civil War.

Jo had long, chestnut-colored hair. She was a tall tomboy who didn’t really like being a girl. Jo also had a terrible temper; she had a hard time controlling their anger. But Jo figured out a way to keep her temper under control. She had what I think of as a “mood pillow.” 

“Apple Slump,” the house that the March family lived in, was a big, old, rambling New England farmhouse. Jo thought the best room in the house was the garret, a room up in the attic that had a nice, sunny window. Next to the window stood an old sofa.

The sofa was long, and broad, and low. It had been the perfect thing for the girls to play on when they were little. They had slept on it, ridden on the arms as if they were horses, and crawled under it pretending they were animals. As they got older, they had long, serious talks sitting on it, they lay down and dreamed daydreams on it.

Jo liked the sofa more than the other girls. It was her favorite place to read. She would curl up in one corner with a good book, and half a dozen russet apples to eat. As she sat reading and eating her apples, a tame little rat would stick its head out and enjoy her quiet company.

But sometimes Jo went up into the garret for a different reason. She had a terrible temper, and sometimes she would get in a horrible nasty mood. Sometimes, when she was in a particularly bad mood, she just needed to be alone.

She would run up into the garret, and pick up the pillow that was on the sofa. This was an old, hard, round pillow shaped liked a sausage. This repulsive-looking old thing was her special property. If she stood it on its end, that was a sign that any one of her sisters, or her best friend Laurence, or her mother, was allowed to come and sit down next to her on the sofa and chat; but if it lay flat across the sofa, “woe to the man, woman, or child who dared disturb it!” When they were younger, her sisters and Laurence had been pummeled mercilessly by this pillow, and now they knew better than to try to sit next to Jo when it lay flat.

I call this her “mood pillow,” and I think it’s a great idea. When Jo was in a bad mood, or angry about something, or when she just needed to be alone, she could use the pillow to let her family and friends know that they should leave her alone for a while. That way, she wouldn’t hurt those around her when she was in a bad mood.

When you’re in a bad mood, what do you do to keep from hurting those around you?

P. T. Barnum’s elephant

Another story for liberal religious kids. Originally written c. 2000 for First Parish in Lexington, Mass. I dusted off this old story and fixed it up a little because my current congregation’s Sunday school will be learning about P. T. Barnum this year. This story comes from his 1872 autobiography, Struggles and Triumphs.

He was the greatest showman in America! He was a man who was known and loved everywhere, the most famous person in the United States in the nineteenth century! He was the man who created “the greatest show on earth”! His name was Phineas Taylor Barnum.

P. T. Barnum was a showman, the greatest showman of all time, a man who put on shows of strange and wonderful things in his giant Museum in New York City. He exhibited the very first live hippopotamus ever seen in North America. His museum was known for its amazing and incredible animals. He even exhibited the amazing Feejee Mermaid. (Well, actually he later admitted that the Feejee Mermaid was a fake that had been glued together.)

He was a showman, but more than that he was an expert at making money. He had a two-part secret for making money. First, give the public good value. Second, get all the free advertising that you can. Here’s an example of how Barnum gave good value, and got free advertising for his fabulous American Museum….

P. T. Barnum brought thirteen elephants Asia to North America. He exhibited them in New York and all across the North American continent. After four years, he sold all but one. He kept that one for his farm in Connecticut. He figured out a way that the elephant could draw a plow. Then he hired a man to use the elephant to plow a tiny corner of Barnum’s farm, which just happened to be right next to the main line of the New York and New Haven Railroad.

P. T. Barnum gave this man a time-table for the railroad. Every time a passenger train was due to pass by, the man made sure the elephant was busily engaged in drawing the plow, right where all the passengers could see.

Hundreds of people each day rode the train past Barnum’s elephant. Everyone who saw it was amazed and astonished. Barnum was using an elephant to draw a plow! Reporters from all the New York newspapers came to write stories on this amazing spectacle. People wrote letters to Barnum from far and wide, asking his advice on how they, too, might use an elephant to draw a plow on their farms.

When Barnum responded to these letters, he always wrote: “Now this is strictly confidential, but for goodness sake don’t even think of getting an elephant. They eat far too much hay and you would lose money. I’m just doing it to draw attention to my museum in New York.”

Pictures of Barnum’s elephant pulling the plow began to appear in newspapers all across the United States, and even overseas in Europe. People came out to Connecticut on purpose just to see Barnum’s elephant at work. They would say, “Why look at that! That’s a real elephant drawing that plow! If Barnum can use an elephant on his farm, he must have all kinds of animals at his Museum. Guess I’ll go to Barnum’s Museum next time I’m in New York city.”

One day, an old farmer friend of Barnum’s came to visit. This farmer wanted to see the elephant at work. By this time, that six acre plot of land beside the railroad had been plowed over about sixty times. The farmer watched the elephant work for a while, and then he turned to Barnum and said, “My team of oxen could pull harder than that elephant any day.”

“Oh, I think that elephant can draw better than your oxen,” said Barnum.

“I don’t want to doubt your word,” said his farmer friend, “but tell me how that elephant can draw better than my oxen.”

Barnum replied, “That elephant is drawing the attention of twenty million people to Barnum’s Museum.”

P. T. Barnum later became famous for his circus, but not many people know that he was also a Universalist. He’s one of my favorite Unitarian Universalists, precisely because he wasn’t perfect. He didn’t always tell the truth, but at least he later admitted when he tried to fool people. He made too much money, but he made sure to give lots of his money away to help other people. He gave money to poor people, and he gave money to help people stop drinking, and he built parks that everyone could use, and he gave lots of money to his Universalist church. I like P. T. Barnum because I know I’m not perfect. But even though I make mistakes, I can follow Barnum’s example and help make the world a better place.

“Elephantine Agriculture,” engraving from the book Struggles and Triumphs by P.T. Barnum (1872). Public domain image courtesy Project Gutenberg.

COVID’s impact on health care providers

The Wild Hunt, a pagan news blog, has a good post on how health care providers are dealing with the current COVID surge: “Pagan health providers respond to the Delta variant surge.” The author, Stacy Psaros, interviews several nurses who say things like, “You have healthcare workers being driven out of the industry due to burnout, physical and emotional stress of the situation.” Psaros also includes a few facts about how the current surge is different, including that in the week ending August 19, 22.4% of the weekly reported COVID cases were children, according to the American Pediatric Association.

Towards the end of the article, Psaros spends too much time quoting a nurse who doesn’t believe in vaccine mandates for health care providers and doesn’t think the experts are to be trusted — so much so that the editors of The Wild Hunt had to insert a disclaimer refuting some of this interviewee’s more ridiculous assertions. Sadly, it sounds like Psaros agrees with this interviewee, while not really understanding how this kind of libertarianism actually contributes to the health care provider burnout she’s reporting on. Nevertheless, despite this serious flaw, the article is worth reading so you can hear from some health care providers about what they’re experiencing.