I awakened this morning in the grip of an unpleasant memory.

The memory was from the end of the last semester of my last year of undergraduate study. I had majored in philosophy because it had the least amount of required coursework. That meant I had plenty of time to take classes in fine arts and music, and do lots of reading on my own.

Even if I had taken more philosophy classes, I knew I was a mediocre and uninspired philosophy student. I knew it, and the department chair knew it, and I knew he knew it. But I didn’t think I was anything worse than mediocre and uninspired. So I was a little taken aback when the department chair pulled me aside one day and said that sometimes the philosophy faculty needed to talk a little more with one of the seniors….

At first I had no idea what he was talking about. He seemed to be talking around in circles. Then it became clear he was saying I had to meet with philosophy faculty for some kind of oral exam. The exam would take place in two days.

Two days. Holy shit. I still didn’t understand what was going on. I felt too burned out to study.

By the time of the oral exam, I was terrified. I have a vivid memory of walking into an office and confronting the entire philosophy faculty. As soon as they started questioning me, though, I realized I had been mistaken about the purpose of the oral exam. Apparently someone had proposed me for academic honors. That’s what they were going to examine about. This was not at all what I had expected. I froze, and could barely speak. Some of the faculty looked disappointed and even disdainful. It was humiliating. At least they had the kindness to let me go quickly.

Of course I didn’t get honors. Nor did I deserve them — I had done as little coursework as possible in philosophy. I was pretty sure that the department chair also felt I didn’t deserve honors, which helped explain why he couldn’t bring himself to tell me that I was being considered for honors. He and I had clashed a number of times — I thought he was a pompous ass who had coasted on a brilliant PhD dissertation but never published anything — and he thought I was intellectually immature and needed his special guidance. He cornered me at breakfast on graduation and insisted on telling me that he knew I was a prejudiced New England Yankee who hated French Canadians like him and that’s why we never got along. Actually, in my town there were no French Canadians, and that just happened to be the one form of New England ethnic/racial hatred that I had not learned. But I knew what he meant. No wonder he found me distasteful. And recognizing the justice of his opinion of me didn’t change my opinion of him: that he was a pompous ass and an intellectual pretender.

At graduation, we had to sit through an incredibly boring commencement speech about the glories of capitalism (I’m not making this up). I hadn’t wanted to attend graduation, but my parents insisted. Since they had paid for a third of my college degree, I knew they deserved something for their investment, so I bought the robe and the funny hat and sat there through the boring ceremony. We had been instructed that when it came our turn to walk across the stage and receive our diploma, we were supposed to shake the hand of the college president first, then take our diploma from his other hand. I grabbed the diploma first, then shook his hand — I wasn’t taking a chance on them yanking it away from me at the last minute on some pretext or another.

A couple of footnotes: After failing miserably in that oral exam, I was asked to apply for the department prize in philosophy by submitting a list of books I had read on my own, outside of coursework, during my final two years of college. It was an impressively long list, and I got the prize — a gift certificate for $40 worth of books (worth $120 in 2022 dollars). Those books probably were worth more to me than honors, because after graduation I spent 12 years in the residential construction business where no one cared if I went to college, let alone whether I got honors or not. And I met a fair number of former philosophy majors working construction who didn’t use their degrees, either.

The next frontier

We all know about the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic church. It continues to get a lot of press, to the point where if you say “child sexual abuse” a lot of people immediately think “Catholic church.” Which isn’t all that fair. While the Catholic sex abuse crisis has gotten the most publicity (and honestly, it deserves all the publicity it has gotten), it’s pretty clear that other institutions have their own sex abuse crises. The Boy Scouts come to mind, again because they’ve gotten a lot of publicity. But I’m willing to bet that the sexual abuse crisis goes beyond religion and scouting….

I suspect the next big frontier for the revelation of sexual abuse could be in sports. I’ve been thinking about this as I read about what’s happening in India. Olympic medalists have accused a politically-connected wrestling coach with child sexual abuse. There’s the usual denial and obfuscation. Eventually the coach has to step down from his coaching duties, but he doesn’t get arrested or prosecuted. The Olympic medalists engage in public protests, and the government arrests them instead of the former coach.

I’m willing to bet that school and youth sports provides many opportunities for sexual predators on the prowl. Many school sports programs have little accountability to anyone outside of the tight little world of sports — too often, coaches are essentially free from oversight by school administrators, and no one else is trying to hold them accountable. Some youth sports leagues might have even less accountability. When you hear coaches screaming and swearing at the kids during practices, you begin to wonder. If I acted like that towards kids in a church program, I’d lose my job — so if coaches can get away with that kind of abusive behavior, I have to wonder.

Sports is even more sacrosanct than religion. I’m not expecting any movement towards reform to come from sporting organizations (remember how everyone covered for Larry Nasser?). We might wish that more athletes blow the whistle, as is happening in India — but look at the price they’re paying.

I now believe the best solution is uniform child protection regulations that cover all youth programs, like California’s Assembly Bill 506, enacted in 2022. AB506 has some major problems — honestly, it’s not a well-written law — but the fact that it applies to all youth programs is really important. Sports programs have to comply, along with churches and schools. Of course, laws like AB506 still doesn’t address sexual abuse of persons over age 18. But it’s a start, a step in the right direction.

Florence Price children’s song

Composer Elaine Fine found a children’s song by composer Florence Price. This is kind of cool because Florence Price has recently been rediscovered by the classical music cognescenti as an exceedingly talented mid-twentieth century American composer who got forgotten because she was both Black and female.

Now I wonder if Price wrote other children’s songs. And this also makes me think of another fabulous mid-twentieth century American woman composer, Ruth Crawford Seeger, who produced some books of children’s songs, containing her transcriptions and harmonizations of American folk tunes. And finally, wouldn’t it be nice if some of today’s “serious” composers turned their talents to children’s music?

Slight change

For many years, the tagline of this blog read: “A post-modern heretic’s spiritual journey.” I finally decided a more accurate tagline is: “A post-modern heretic’s journey through ecological spirituality.” Maybe that’s too specific… but for now it feels like “ecological spirituality” is a better descriptor.

Update, 1 Aug 2023: I changed the tagline back to the original one.


Someone left a comment asking me to ordain them as a minister in their own made-up religion. Uh, yeah, no. An easy web search would have revealed that only Unitarian Universalist congregations (not individuals) can ordain. Another easy web search would have revealed lots of websites that will ordain you upon request. So I deleted the comment, because I’m guessing it’s one of the spammers and scammers who attack this blog on a daily basis.

But this does raise the interesting question of the meaning of ordination. There is not a universal understanding of what it means to be ordained.

Unitarian Universalists in the United States have our own understandings of what ordination means. Not only that, our understandings may differ from congregation to congregation. And U.S. Unitarian Universalist understandings of ordination differ substantially from Unitarian Universalists in, say, Romania or the Philippines.

That’s just within one religious tradition. Beyond that, Unitarian Universalist understandings of ordination may differ greatly from other religious traditions. For example, Roman Catholics understand ordination as a “sacrament” (honestly, I’m not quite sure what a sacrament is). In another example, some Buddhist groups ordain people into monastic orders, which is a different thing than ordaining someone to be a leader of a congregation consisting mostly of lay people. Then there are all those religious traditions that do not have ordination rituals.

This brings us to the interesting point about ordination. In a multicultural, multi-religious society like the United States today, ordination can only be understood in relation to a specific religious tradition — or even only in relation to a specific local religious community. What you mean by ordination might not be what I mean by ordination. This is not to say that ordination is meaningless. Ordination does have meaning, but only in relation to a specific religious tradition.

Eco Fest

This afternoon, Eco Fest took place on Cohasset Common, right across the street from First Parish in Cohasset. Four of us — Ngoc, Matt, Carol, and I — staffed a table where kids could make seed bombs.

(What’s a seed bomb, you ask? Make a thin wafer, maybe two inches in diameter, out of some air-dry clay. Put a pinch of potting soil in the middle, add a dozen or so seeds, then fold the clay up around the seeds and soil to make a little ball. That’s a seed bomb. You can toss it anywhere. The clay holds in moisture, and the soil provides a medium so the seeds can begin sprouting.)

Our seed bombs were made with seeds from native plants. When older kids made seed bombs with us, we explained about the importance of native plants, and how native plants can attract a wider diversity of pollinators. Ngoc had a cool book with photos of 50 or so native pollinators, which I showed to kids, pointing out pictures of my favorite native pollinators — metallic green bees (genus Agapostemon).

We had a constant stream of kids coming to our booth, so I never even got to visit any other booths. But I could see there were some interesting groups present. In addition to commercial vendors, I saw booths staffed by the Cohasset High School Green Team, the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a group providing recycling information, the Cohasset Garden Club, and more. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Orcas having fun

Orcas off the Iberian Peninsula have been ramming sailboats, and have even managed to sink three boats, according to Live Science. Humans who claim to be experts on orcas think they know the reason why:

“Experts suspect that a female orca they call White Gladis suffered a ‘critical moment of agony’ — a collision with a boat or entrapment during illegal fishing — that flipped a behavioral switch. ‘That traumatized orca is the one that started this behavior of physical contact with the boat,’ López Fernandez said.”

I’m mildly skeptical of this explanation only because trauma has recently become a popular human explanation for everything. I don’t mean to minimize the effect of traumatic events on humans (or other organisms). But I’m reminded of the mid-twentieth century when, under the influence of Freudianism, sex was the popular explanation for everything. In that time period, trauma was not regularly invoked to explain mammal behavior, so I can imagine mid-twentieth century cetologists explaining orcas sinking boats as somehow being motivated by sex.

NPR reported on the same story, with some additional details, including the fact that orcas seem to like biting sailboat rudders:

“Jared Towers, the director of Bay Cetology, a research organization in British Columbia, says ‘there’s something about moving parts … that seem to stimulate them…. Perhaps that’s why they’re focused on the rudders….'”

Ultimately, we humans don’t know why orcas are ramming sailboats and biting rudders. (Actually, we really know why humans do many of the things we do.) I suspect this has become a news story mostly because humans who are part of Western cultures get worried when other animals threaten us or make us feel that we might not be the apex predator. This attitude is in part due to the influence of Western religions — both Judaism and Christianity have a sacred text that claims that a deity gave to human beings the right to have dominion over all other living beings. But orcas have not read the Bible, and they didn’t get the memo that humans are in charge.


My younger sister was awarded her second master’s degree today. She now has twice as many master’s degrees as either of her siblings. So that must mean she’s twice as smart as us.

Partway through the ceremony, I realized that it felt a little bit strange attending an in-person ceremony like this. There are fewer and fewer in-person ceremonies any more. Plus, during COVID we just didn’t have in-person ceremonies, so we’ve gotten out of the habit of

I also thought about how much technology has changed in-person ceremonies. We were sitting way up in the top balcony in the auditorium where the ceremony was held, but we could text with my sister. And the program was online. And when you got bored partway through — it took more than two hours for every graduate to walk across the stage — you could look at your cell phone to keep from being bored.

(Of course, being a minister I began thinking about how all this applies to in-person Sunday worship services: they feel a little bit strange, we’re out of the habit of doing in-person ceremonies, technology has changed things.)

Anyway. Congratulations to my sister, who is now officially twice as smart as I am.

Person in academic cap and gown walking across a stage to receive a diploma.

Citizen science project

Another worthy citizen science project…. Here in New England, the Native Plant Trust trains people to be Plant Conservation Volunteers (PCVs) for the New England Plant Conservation Program (NEPCoP):

“PCVs support professional botanists and State Heritage Programs by gathering vital data in the field. Across the six states of New England, PCVs conduct field monitoring, seed collection, and habitat management. PCVs now number in the hundreds, but as native plant habitats face mounting stresses, we need even more passionate volunteers to help save New England’s native plants.”