Lake Shore Limited — Hiawatha Service

I awakened in the middle of the night and looked out the window of the upper berth. Rain blurred the view. The GPS on my phone said we were in Buffalo, but I saw nothing distinctive.

A blurred photo of a dark night, with bright lights reflecting off rain-slicked pavement.
Buffalo, N.Y., at 12:45 a.m., from the train window.

I had gone to bed before nine o’clock, so it was no surprise when I awakened at half past six. I tried to doze, but I was awake. I washed my face and shaved, got dressed, and tried to read for a while. At last it started to grow light outside. I opened the curtains of the roomette to watch the world go by. We passed a brightly-painted, brightly-lit water tower in Bryan, Ohio.

The sky barely turning light, a brightly painted-and blurry sight of a water tower.
Bryan, Ohio

We mostly pass through farm fields, with a few patches of woodland, a few small towns, and a few areas of light industry.

Early morning, a grain tower appears through some trees.
Waterloo, Indiana

I saw no snow anywhere. I’ve taken the Lake Shore Limited several times before in January, and there is always snow on the ground at this time of year. But not this year. Global climate change is taking hold.

Elkhart, Indiana

Before I knew it, we were in Chicago, arriving at Union Station just before ten o’clock, ahead of schedule. I went up to the Great Hall, to see if it was as spectacular as I remembered it being. It was, and is. The sight was spoiled somewhat by the fact that Amtrak plays bad Muzak which sounds echo-y and terrible in that high space. I did my best to ignore the bad Muzak, and just enjoyed the light and space. It was a very peaceful place to spend a couple of hours while waiting for the connecting train to Milwaukee.

The Great Hall, Union Station, Chicago

Hiawatha Service, the service to Milwaukee, was delayed half and hour due to a computer glitch. At last we were on our way. I enjoyed looking down the streets of Chicago and trying to imagine who lived there.

Looking down a Chicago street from the window of the train.
Leavitt St., Near West Side, Chicago

I dozed off, and awakened again when we were in Wisconsin. It was a short ride, just under 90 minutes. The downtown Milwaukee train station was nothing special — it looked like a bus terminal, and actually it was a bus terminal as well as a train station.

Downtown Milwaukee intermodal station, passngers waiting to board the southbound Hiawatha Service (faces blurred to protect privacy).

Carol and her dad were waiting to pick me up outside the station. Supposedly there’s a move to extend train service all the way up the coast of Lake Michigan to Green Bay. That would have saved Carol an hour and a half drive down to pick me up.

While my trip took much longer than the two hour flight from Boston to Milwaukee, my carbon footprint was much, much smaller. And I enjoyed it more, because instead of being treated like animated cargo (that’s how TSA and the airlines treat you), I was treated like an actual human being.

Lake Shore Limited

I boarded the Lake Shore Limited at the Framingham station. I would have taken the commuter rail from Cohasset to South Station, except I have a complicated parking situation, and had to leave my car in overnight parking.

The section of the Lake Shore Limited that runs from Boston to Albany is a small consist: one sleeper car, a club car, two coaches, all pulled by one locomotive. I had no trouble finding the correct car to board.

I quickly settled in, and then I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew we were in Worcester. The sun had gone away, leaving a harsh gray sky. I was glad to be inside my nice warm roomette.

View from train window showing freight cars on another track.
CSX intermodal yard, Worcester

I dozed off again, and awakened as we slowed down to enter Springfield. We passed a lonely-looking tent encampment in some trees next to the tracks. We stopped briefly at the Springfield station, where a few people got on and more seemed to get off the train.

View from the train window showing people walking along damp pavement towards a ramp.
Springfield station

We crossed the Connecticut River….

Connecticut River crossing

…and began to climb into the hills of western Massachusetts. We passed an old paper manufacturing plant.

Old Strahmore paper plant, Russell, Massachusetts

The route ran along the Westfield River for an hour or so. At times the train ran right next to the river, and then the river would wind away into the woods and disappear. Steep hills surrounded us.

Westfield River, Montgomery, Massachusetts

By the time we go into the Berkshires, it was dusk. We wound through the hills as night set in.

Albany Station platforms; the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited is on the right (on the other side of the stairwell); Empire service is just leaving the station in the center

At Albany, we had a one hour layover while we were connected with the New York City section of the Lake Shore Limited. I walked up to the station, mostly to stretch my legs, and bought a copy of the Financial Times. Now I’m waiting for dinner, and before you know it I’ll be bedded down in the upper berth sound asleep.

MLK and Royce

I recently learned that Martin Luther King’s famous idea of the “Beloved Community” apparently derives from pragmatist philosopher Josiah Royce. So on this Martin Luther King holiday, I decided to look into Royce.

I’ve started looking through Royce’s The Problem of Christianity (New York: MacMillan Co., 1913), a series of lecture he delivered at Manchester College, the Unitarian college at Oxford University. It’s available at the Internet Archive. And while I’m just getting started in this book, I skimmed through it to look for references to the Beloved Community. It looks like Royce equates the Beloved Community with the Kingdom of Heaven:

“The Christian churches and nations of mankind [sic] have done as yet but the very least fragment of what it was their task to accomplish; namely, to bring the Beloved Community into existence, or to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.” [p. 371]

Later on, it seems to me that Royce is saying the Beloved Community is the Spirit (note the capital “S”) in institutional Christianity (p. 428): “Let your Christology be the practical acknowledgement of the Spirit of the Universal and Beloved Community.” And then a page later: “The core of the faith is the Spirit, the Beloved Community, the work of grace, the atoning deed, and the saving power of the loyal life.”

In this and other passages, it sure sounds like Royce is providing a sort of theology or philosophy of institutionalism. Which is right up my alley. In fact, this is exactly what I’ve been thinking about recently: what is my philosophy or theology of religious institutions? In the past I’ve used a little Bernard Loomer and a little Starhawk and a lot of handwaving. But with the rapid decline of religious institutions, clearly this is an area to which I need to devote a lot more thought.

So I decided I had better start studying Royce myself. I immediately went to the Seminary Coop Bookstore website and ordered a recent scholarly edition of The Problem of Christianity. That’s a special order, but they also had in stock two basic introductions to Royce, Basic Writing of Josiah Royce: Logic, Loyalty, and Community, and The Philosophy of Josiah Royce. (On a whim, I also ordered Varieties of Transcendental Experience: A Study in Constructive Postmodernism, which apparently references Royce.)

What a great way to spend MLK Day.

Bring back blogging

Twitter is in meltdown. Ash and Ryan want to bring back blogging. So they created a site called Bring Back Blogging. They have a simple idea:

  • Create some longer-form content
  • Serve it up through an RSS feed (blog, Tumblr, Substack, whatever)
  • Commit to three posts inJanuary
  • Submit your blog to their site, and they put it in their directory.
  • Follow other people’s RSS feeds.

I’d add:

  • Comment on, or blog about, someone else’s blog. (In fact, you don’t have to have your own blog, you can comment on other people’s blogs)

Ash and Ryan aimed their pitch at artists, writers, etc., so I didn’t submit my blog to their directory. But the rest of us can do this, too. And if you start blogging (again), post a comment here.

(Thanks to Scott for this link.)

Distorting Martin Luther King’s legacy

In a Religion News Service interview with Adelle Banks, Lewis V. Baldwin, a scholar of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s works, makes the following point:

“[Dr. King’s] legacy is being hijacked, misinterpreted. For an example, on the extreme right of the political spectrum, there are those who argue that Dr. King was opposed to affirmative action, and they make that argument without any proof at all. There are also those on the right who make the argument that Dr. King, if he were alive, would be opposed to critical race theory. Some have argued that he would be a Republican if he were alive. So all of these claims are made without any foundation whatsoever. Because the people who make the claims obviously have not read Dr. King. They don’t understand his message.”

Banks then asks if political liberals a distorting King’s legacy. Baldwin replies:

“The only problem I have with the left is that there has not been enough of a pushback on what is happening on the right, in terms of their [the right’s] distortion of Dr. King’s message, his ideals.”

Jane Doe Inc.

As those of us here in Cohasset continue to follow the story of Ana Walshe — she’s the woman who disappeared on January 1, and whose husband has been arrested for lying to investigators — I thought it might be worth highlighting the work of Jane Doe Inc.: The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence (JDI).

The JDI website has excellent resources for learning more about “sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, harassment, violence against women, and other forms of gender-based violence.” I’ve been reading through some of them, and I can recommend them as honest and factual. Do be aware that the detailed lists and narratives for domestic violence homicide victims can be difficult reading.

This is such an important issue that cuts across class, race, and community. I just wish more of my fellow Unitarian Universalists paid more attention to ending domestic violence.

If you’re worried about domestic violence in your life, JDI lists the following:
Safelink: 1-877-785-2020 is a 24-hour, free and confidential multi-lingual domestic violence hotline in Massachusetts
To find the domestic violence program nearest you outside of Massachusetts, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233).

Words of wisdom to media representatives

We’re having an interfaith prayer vigil this afternoon, for Cohasset resident Ana Walshe. (I just tested positive for COVID, so I can’t go.) Since this is a story that’s been in the news, as soon as word got out about the prayer vigil, our church started getting calls from media representatives.

One of the media representatives who called First Parish was just plain rude. An email we got sounded pushy and not at all sympathetic. Another church got a call offering to help publicize the event for us, something we really don’t want. The attitude of media representatives seems to be, “We need news, and you’re going to provide it for us!”

So here are some words of wisdom to media representatives:

  • It would be wise for you to remember to follow the norms of ordinary politeness. If you are rude, we won’t forget.
  • It would be wise for you to remember that you may be talking to someone who has strong feelings about this issue. If you sound callous or uncaring, we won’t forget.
  • It would be wise for you to remember that we don’t need you any more to publicize local events. Social media and word of mouth work better.

All of which can be boiled down to: Treat people nicely.

Update: This afternoon, I received email from a reporter asking for an interview. I replied that I had COVID and was not able to give an interview. The reporter said they hoped I’d feel better. How nice! You can be sure that I remembered that person’s name, and if they contact me again I will be predisposed to talk with them.

How to make congee in a rice cooker

Congee (rice porridge) is my go-to food when I’m ill. But because I’m feeling ill, I didn’t want to make congee the traditional way, cooking it on the stove and stirring it by hand for hours. I wanted to make congee in a rice cooker.

All the recipes I found online used the wrong proportion of rice to water. Typically, congee is made with 1 part rice to ten parts water. But the rice-cooker congee recipes I saw gave proportions more like 1 to 4 or 1 to 5. That doesn’t really make congee, it just makes sloppy rice.

So here’s what I did:

For a one-quart rice cooker, start with half a cup of rice.

Wash the rice to remove as much rice starch as possible. Pour some water in, and use your fingers to massage the rice until the water turns cloudy. Dump out the cloudy water. Repeat until the water runs clear, about 6-9 changes of water. (If you don’t wash the rice, you’ll wind up with a glutinous mass, which is not congee.)

After the rice is washed, add a cup and a half of water. (I know this is only a 1 to 3 proportion, but wait!) Turn the rice cooker on.

When the rice cooker shuts off, leave it on the “warming” setting. Boil a cup and a half of water, and add it to the rice cooker. Stir well. You’re now at a 1 to 6 proportion.

After an hour on the “warming” setting, the rice should absorb a lot more water, and the mix will now be fairly stiff. Boil another cup of water, and add it to the rice cooker. Stir well. That’s a 1 to 8 ratio, which seems to be about right for my rice cooker. Yours may vary, and you can add a little more water if you prefer a thinner consistency. Be careful, though. When I make congee in a rice cooker, it seems to require less water.

A rice cooker with congee in it.
Here’s my rice cooker, showing the consistency of my congee.

Songs and signs — Isaiah 13:15-16 and Genesis 19:6-8

Religion News Service reports:

“If you’re an exvangelical who has been scrolling through TikTok lately, you may have stumbled across a duo singing what sounds suspiciously like evangelical worship music. Until you hear the lyrics. ‘Anyone who is captured will be cut down and run through with a sword,’ they sing in harmony, guitar strums in sync. ‘Their little children will be dashed to death before their eyes.'” [They’re quoting Isaiah 13:15-16 from the Bible.]

I recommend watching the TikTok video. It’s quite well done. And it makes you think.

It reminds me of some Unitarian Universalist teens I knew twenty years ago, long before the days of TikTok. Their eyes had been caught by the fans at sports events who held up signs reading “John 3:16.” This Bible verse is the favorite of traditional Christians: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It is supposed to entice nonbelievers into becoming Christians.

In response, these Unitarian Universalist teens decided that they were going to make a sign that read “Genesis 19:6-8” and hold it up during a Red Sox game. That’s the Bible passage where a mob besieges Lot’s house, because he’s hiding some angels from God. The mob demands that Lot throw the angels out to them, so they can lynch them. But instead Lots offers to throw his virgin daughters out to the mob to be raped by them. He’d rather sacrifice his daughters than betray the angels.

The Bible is a complex book. It contains some good ethical writing, it has some profound mystical moments, but it also contains passages that are difficult to interpret, and it has icky bits as well. You can’t just pick out the dozen verses you especially enjoy, and ignore the difficult parts and the icky bits.

“Somebody who’s asleep will not say no”

ANDRE: “OK. Yes. We’re bored now. We’re all bored. But has it ever occurred to you, Wally, that the process which creates this boredom that we see in the world now may very well be a self-perpetuating unconscious form of brain-washing created by a world totalitarian government based on money? And that all of this is much more dangerous, really, than one thinks? And that it’s not just q question of individual survival, Wally, but that somebody who’d bored is asleep? And somebody who’s asleep will not say no?” — My Dinner with Andre: A screenplay for the film by Louis Malle, by Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory (New York: Grove Press, 1981), pp. 91-92

If we were bored back in 1981 when this screenplay was written, we are even more bored now. We try to keep our boredom at bay with social media — reading Facebook posts from people we don’t really care about instead of talking to neighbors, looking at Instagram photos instead of at our children — and as a result, we’re not just bored, we’re lonely.

And too many of us are not saying no. We’re not saying no to demagogues and Christian nationalists and sadistic employers.

Maybe we need to wake up.