Noted without comment

Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn now lives in the Bay Area, where he attends the Lighthouse Church in San Francisco, and plays in the worship band. According to a recent news article — about how he recently recorded four songs that will benefit the church’s homeless ministries — being a Christian in the U.S. may require apology:

“While he doesn’t have ‘any hesitation’ identifying as a Christian, [Cockburn] is starting to wonder if that’s such a good thing to say in public in the U.S. these days. If someone asks if he’s a Christian, he still says, ‘Yes, I’m a Christian, but I got vaccinated.'”

Sunrise on Black Mountain

We took some kids backpacking to the Black Mountain Trail Camp last night. The trailhead is a short drive from Palo Alto, and the hike in is just two miles with only 500 foot elevation gain, making it a nice get-away for both church and Ecojustice Camp kids.

I got up before sunrise and heard some Great Horned Owls. And then, as the muted chorus of autumn birds was starting up, watched “rosy-fingered Dawn [Eos]” cast her glow on low-hanging stratus over Black Mountain.

It was a good way to start the day.

Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1905-1910

Part Twoof a history I’m writing, telling 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. If you want the footnotes, you’ll have to wait until the print version of this history comes out in the spring of 2022.

Part one, 1891-1905

The Unitarian Church of Palo Alto Begins, 1905-1910

In 1905, Ewald and Helene Flügel invited Rev. George Whitefield Stone, the Field Secretary of the American Unitarian Association for the Pacific States, to come to Palo Alto to christen their children. When Stone arrived in September, 1905, the Flügel children were aged 4, 10, 13, and 15 years old. The family had lived in Palo Alto since 1892; it may be Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes had christened the two eldest children in 1895. In any case, Stone came to Palo Alto, and while there he conducted Unitarian services each Sunday from September 10 through October 8. At the conclusion of the service on October 8, Stone said he was willing to continue with weekly worship services if those assembled showed sufficient interest. Karl Rendtorff made a motion “that a Unitarian Church be formed at once,” giving Stone the authority to appoint a “Provisional Committee” to transact any necessary business until a regular congregational organization could be formed. The motion was seconded by Melville Anderson, and “carried by a rising vote.”

Stone promptly appointed five men and two women to the Provisional Committee: Melville Anderson, John S. Butler, Henry Gray, Agnes Kitchen, Ernest Martin, Fannie Rosebrook, and Karl Rendtorff, who became the Secretary-Treasurer. Melville Anderson, Henry Gray, Ernest Martin, and Karl Rendtorff were all professors at Stanford. John Butler and Fannie Rosebrook had both been on the executive committee of the old Unity Society. Agnes Kitchen was active in civic affairs in Palo Alto, including the Woman’s Club. Once again, women filled leadership positions in the new Unitarian congregation from the very beginning.

Collection of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, used by permission.

Just two weeks later, on October 23, the women formed their own Unitarian organization. The Women’s Alliance, formally known as the “Branch Alliance of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto,” became a local chapter of the National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women. How did the Palo Alto women decide to form their own Branch Alliance so quickly? Perhaps George Stone promoted the idea. The national organization existed to “to quicken the life of our Unitarian churches,” which would have suited Stone’s goal of building a self-sustaining Unitarian church. But it’s equally possible that some of the women had already belonged to a Unitarian women’s group. The National Alliance had roots in several earlier organizations, including the Western Women’s Unitarian Conference, organized in St. Louis in 1881; Emma Rendtorff and her mother Emma Meyer were active Unitarians in St. Louis in that year. Closer to Palo Alto, the women’s organization of the San Francisco Unitarian church, called the Channing Auxiliary had been active in promoting Unitarianism along the entire Pacific Coast ever since it was formed in 1873; perhaps some of the early members of the Palo Alto Alliance had contact with the Channing Auxiliary.

Continue reading “Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1905-1910”

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.”

Continue reading “Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1891-1905”

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

CSI Seagull

What happened here?

It’s like one of those crime scenes you see in pop culture. Except that instead of human remains, it’s the remains of a bird. I found this on the dike next to Adobe Creek in Palo Alto, right across from the island in the marsh where there’s a California Gull nesting colony. The rib cage in the upper right corner of the photo is big enough to be from a gull — it’s about eight inches long — and check out that huge breast bone for the flight muscles to attach to. The other bones are scattered in the center of the photo, though there appear to be some bones missing. There are lots of feathers — grey feathers characteristic of juvenile gulls.

Before you start mourning the death of a young gull, remember that the mortality rate of young gulls is high. Something on the order of 75% of nestlings die before they develop flight feathers (Patricia Baird, Comparative Ecology of California and Ring-billed Gulls [Larus californicus and L. delawarensis], Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. of Montana, 1976). After the birds learn to fly, but before they move on to winter quarters, mortality rates are on the order of 5%, although in bad years post-fledging mortality rates could be as high as 70% (Kristie N. Nelson, Nora Livingston, and Teague Scott, “Population size and reproductive success of California Gulls at Mono Lake, California,” Point Blue, 2015). In short, perhaps 75-90% of young California Gulls die before they’re six months old. Predators

So it would not be surprising if a juvenile California Gull were killed here. Any number of predators might have killed it — a raptor, a dog off leash, a raccoon, a coyote. But any clues to what the predator was have doubtless been obliterated by the carrion eaters that came along after the predator was finished — Turkey Vultures, American Crows, rats, and other critters must have further scattered the bones and feathers.

About all we can say for certain is that a juvenile gull died here. It died some time after it fledged — California Gull nestlings were fledging beginning about a month and a half ago — but long enough ago that the bones are been picked clean and are now dry and without odor.

The Ten-minute Wedding

Over the years, I’ve performed a number of ten-minute weddings. What’s the point of a ten-minute wedding? I’ve done these weddings for couples who had a friend officiate at their wedding ceremony then needed a legal wedding, and for other couples whose wedding ceremony was not, for some reason or other, a legal wedding. These weddings are also useful for those who want a courthouse-type wedding, but who prefer not to go to city hall to be married. Mostly I’ve done this type of wedding in my office at church, but memorably I did one for a couple at a restaurant where the waitress was one of the witnesses (the couple gave her a really big tip).

I realized I’ve never put this ten-minute wedding on my Web site. In case it might be useful to someone else, here’s the form I use:


The Ten-Minute Wedding

Intention: A and B, it is now time to begin your passage into marriage, by declaring your intent to marry and then by making your vows to each other. Are you now ready to begin your passage into marriage? [Answer “I am.”]

Vows:

I, A, take you, B, to be my spouse,
to join our visions for a better future,
to join our voices for equality and love,
to have and to hold,
from this day forward,
as long as we both shall live.

I, B, take you, A, to be my spouse,
to join our visions for a better future,
to join our voices for equality and love,
to have and to hold,
from this day forward,
as long as we both shall live.

[Or use these more traditional vows: “I, A, take you, B, to be my spouse, / to have and to hold, / from this day forward, / as long as we both shall live.”]

Declaration: Inasmuch as A and B have agreed in their desire to go forward in life together, seeking an ever richer, deepening relationship, and because they have pledged themselves to meet sorrow and joy as one, we rejoice to recognize them as married.

CC0


As far as I know, all these words are in the public domain, so I slapped a Creative Commons CC0 “No rights reserved” label on the wedding above (the words in blue type). That means it’s in the public domain, so you can use it, modify it, etc.

Here are some thoughts on this wedding from:

(1) Obviously, other vows may be used.

(2) While I’m pretty insistent on making weddings absolutely gender-neutral —I feel vows should be the same for both persons in the couple, and I use the gender-neutral “spouse” — you may have different views on gender neutrality. Feel free to use words like “husband” and “wife,” or to have one spouse to say they’ll “honor and obey” the other spouse (just so long as I don’t have to attend the wedding).

(3) An unspoken assumption in this wedding form is that both persons involved know exactly what they’re getting into, and both freely consent to the marriage. I wouldn’t perform a wedding unless both parties are fluent in English, or unless there’s a certified interpreter — many courthouse officiants have similar requirements. All the usual criteria for consent also apply: e.g., I won’t perform a wedding where one member of the couple appears to be dominating or abusing the other, or where one member of the couple appears to be intoxicated, or where one member of the couple is under the age of consent.

(4) I feel it’s archaic and ridiculous for the officiant to say, “You may now kiss.” (And no way would I ever utter the sexist words, “You may kiss the bride.”) If both members of the couple are above the age of consent, why do they need my permission? But at the end of the brief ceremony, I might remind them that this a a time when couples often kids each other, if they choose to do so.

(5) Although I call this a Ten-minute Wedding, if you’re the officiant you’ll want to schedule at least 15 minutes. You’ll need five minutes to check the marriage license, and get the couple settled down. The actual wedding takes about five minutes. Then another five minutes for you to sign the marriage license, and to have any witnesses sign as well (if your state requires witness signatures).

Finally — yes, I can do a Ten-minute Wedding for you if you need one. Email me to schedule a time to meet in my office. If I don’t know you, I’ll require a minimum $50 donation to LifeMoves, a nonprofit that provides services and housing to homeless people; if you can’t afford $50, let me know and we’ll work out a sliding scale. (Also, if you want anything more than the wedding shown above in blue — that means any customization, including writing your own vows — my fee immediately goes to $500, because customization requires more time from me.)

Masks for employees

A couple of weeks ago, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) decided that masks would be required in workplaces, unless all employees in a given area proved that they were vaccinated. Then the business community leaned on Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, and the rules quickly changed. Requiring businesses to determine the vaccination status of their employees would hamper the economy, said the business owners. Newsom is facing a recall vote so he quickly agreed, and Cal/OSHA had to fall into line, and now employees who say they’re vaccinated (no proof required) won’t have to wear masks.

Mitch Steiger of the California Labor Federation, AFL/CIO, disagrees with Newsom. Steiger pointed out that workers in rural areas — some rural counties in California have vaccination rates on the order of 25% — will especially be at risk. When the San Jose Mercury News asked for comment, Steiger said, “We will literally have decided to sacrifice workers’ lives in order to spare employers the inconvenience of looking at a vaccination card.”

It happened again

The state of California just changed the COVID rules again. As reported by Bay Area News Group:

“Under mounting pressure, California’s workplace-safety board on Wednesday voted to drop controversial new rules that would have required many workers to keep their masks on for months — just hours after state officials announced that vaccinated Californians can go mask free in most settings starting next week.”

(The “mounting pressure” was from business groups, who out-pressured employee groups and unions who emphasized the safety of workers. Next time some politician says, “We follow the science,” remember that there are still many things scientists don’t know about COVID, which means that politicians are responding to political pressure as much as they’re “following the science.”)

The most difficult aspect of complying with COVID rules is that they’re constantly changing. Those of us who work with children are going to be dealing with changing COVID rules for at least six more months, assuming the vaccine trials for children aged 5 to 11 are completed by late this year. And those of us who also work with children under age 5 may be dealing with changing COVID rules for another year.

It’s exhausting. You learn one set of rules, and they change. This is inevitable. Our knowledge of COVID keeps changing. Though Americans love to blame people — the Democrats blame the Republicans, the Republicans blame the Democrats — in this case, there are no people to blame. We can only blame the virus. It’s silly to blame an unthinking virus. So there’s no blame.

But it’s still exhausting. COVID rules are changing on a weekly basis. It’s impossible to keep up.

Limantour Beach

Photos from our trip to Point Reyes National Seashore:

American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) feeding in Estero de Limantour, watched by a Great Egret (Ardea alba)

Moonglow Anemone (Anthopleura artemisia) in a tidal pool formed from a ship’s engine block on Limantour Spit

One of about 145 Giant Bell Jellies that we saw stranded on Limantour Beach. Not a true jellyfish, this organism is actually a colony of smaller hydrozoans. The purple spots are ocelli, or primitive eyes.