COVID, again

Carol came back from a conference a week ago feeling a little under the weather. Last Sunday, she tested positive for COVID. Our apartment is too small and is not laid out properly for quarantining, so I moved into a hotel. But yesterday morning, I tested positive for COVID.

Neither one of us is especially ill; we both feel like we have a head cold. But with COVID, it doesn’t matter how you feel, the main issue is that you don’t want to spread the disease to someone else. So we’re staying in quarantine until we’re sure we’re not going to spread the virus to others.

Which meant that I could not preach this morning. I emailed the sermon text (and everything else) to Worship Associate Eric, and then all I could do was sit at home watch the livestream. Eric did a fabulous job leading the service, with help from Worship Associate Nancy.

Prior to COVID, I almost never missed a Sunday. You just always showed up on Sunday. (I remember preaching when I had bronchitis. I think the only Sunday I missed was 15 years ago when I had a norovirus and had to be near a toilet.) But these days, if you have COVID or any respiratory ailment, the CDC tells you to stay home. I feel guilty staying home, but I’d feel way more guilty if I gave someone else COVID.

Doing democracy in the UUA

I just received email from the folks running the General Assembly business meeting. They say in part:

“The GA business process has begun. It begins early to be more accessible, inclusive, and democratic.”

Um, well, no it’s not more accessible and inclusive to some of us. It’s not very accessible to parents of young children, or to people caring for elderly parents. It’s not especially accessible to people like me who are working more than full time (because that’s the sad reality for many of us these days, we’re expected to work long hours). So I guess this is more accessible for people who are retired, or who only have to work 40 hours a week with no child care or elder care responsibilities.

This, by the way, is one of the major threats to democracy today. Most of us can’t carve out enough time from job and family responsibilities to participate fully in democracy.

Honestly, given how little time I have to spend on democratic process, local government is going to be my first priority, with state and federal government next. And when it comes to Unitarian Universalism, my top priority is keeping my local congregation going. So I’m sympathetic to the folks running General Assembly — they have a minimum amount of time that they feel needs to be spent on the democratic process — but I just don’t have the kind of time they’re asking for.

The Universalist church in Assinippi

White clapboard church building with steeple

I stopped by the First Universalist Church of Assinippi; Assinippi is a village in Norwell, Mass. It is beautifully sited on a small rise just a few feet from the boundary between Norwell and Hanover. The congregation dates back to 1766, when people living in the area petitioned to be set off as a separate congregation. At that time, this was a part of the town of Scituate, and the people who lived here had to travel several miles to get to church. Their petition was denied, although they kept petitioning to become a separate congregation.

Over the next couple of decades, they built a spare meetinghouse. They also became convinced of the truth of universal salvation; both John Murray and Hosea Ballou were said to preach to the congregation, probably beginning in the late 18th century. Finally in 1812, Massachusetts allowed them to formally organize as a Universalist congregation.

In recent years, their numbers have declined. The latest UUA Directory places their membership at 8. But they have a long and proud history as a center for Universalism in southeastern Massachusetts.

I’ll include excerpts from some local histories below the fold that give more details about the congregation.

Continue reading “The Universalist church in Assinippi”

Garlic Mustard song

The invasive species problem remains one of the top threats to Earth’s life-sustaining systems. Yes, global climate change is scary, especially now that it looks like we’re now on track for a 2.5 degree increase. Sigh. But it’s also scary to watch familiar landscapes rapidly lose their biodiversity as they are overrun by invasives — native trees literally being pulled down by Oriental Bittersweet, native songbirds being driven out their nesting sites by invasive House Sparrows, native plants being killed off by the chemicals released into the soil by invasive Garlic Mustard…. Anyway, I decided to write a song about what we can do to Garlic Mustard.

Image of sheet music

(Yes I claim copyright, but I hereby grant you permission to sing it, reproduce it, record it, etc.)

Recipe for Garlic Mustard Pesto.

“Transcendental Meditation” lawsuit, and more

Yesterday, Religion News service (RNS) posted an article titled “Lawsuit alleges religious coercion through meditation in Chicago Public Schools.” The story tells about a former student in a Chicago public school who is suing the Chicago public schools and the David Lynch Foundation for engaging in religious instruction in a public school by teaching “Transcendental Meditation.” I put “Transcendental Meditation” in quotation marks because it’s a trademarked term for a specific form of meditation, originally taught in the U.S. by the self-styled Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi (birth name not known for certain). The RNS story is definitely worth reading, because the reporter makes clear the difference between teaching about religion, which is allowed in public schools, and actual religious instruction, which is not allowed in public schools.

The article also led me to the TM-Free Blog, which presents a critical view of “Transcendental Meditation.” This blog makes it clear, among other things, that “Transcendental Meditation” is a religious movement — I’d characterize it as a New Religious Movement based on Hinduism. Also of interest, a 2022 post alleges that “Transcendental Meditation” has links to right-wing politicians in India. And there’s a link to a document produced by the “Transcendental Meditation” folks titled “Introduction to the Holy Tradition,” which is worth reading by anyone interested in religious texts produced by New Religious Movements.

Another link from the article led me to a Penn State news release titled “People with anxiety may strategically choose worrying over relaxing” about a psychological study showing that persons with anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder may experience negative effects while using relaxation techniques — this is another study in a growing body of research showing that the benefits of relaxation techniques do not work equally well for all persons.

Ecojustice and music education

I’ve started reading an article about combining ecojustice education with music education. It’s kind of theoretical, but there’s good content buried beneath the academic prose style. I’m fascinated with the topic, because our ecojustice camp curriculum includes singing and natural soundscapes as crucial curriculum components.

Below is the abstract of the article (followed by a full citation and a link to the full article):

“Children who are supported throughout childhood and adolescence to both
maintain their sense of wonder in nature, and honor and explore their
wild human nature, are well positioned to mature into soulcentric adults
capable of living into their purpose in service to both their culture
and the whole of life. However, our society’s ecocidal culture and
unjust institutions often replicate oppressions and promote egocentric
behaviors that preclude thriving. Additionally, many children are
alienated from nature and are thought to have nature-deficit disorder,
which can include both mental and physical maladies. In this article I
explore conceptions of ecojustice education to further illustrate
pathways for curriculum development in music education that might
encourage children and adolescents to maintain their sense of wonder in
nature, fully develop their sensory capacities, support their mental and
emotional wellbeing, attune more carefully to their wild nature and
soul’s purpose, and contribute to the environmental and social
commons — all which might support human flourishing and the continued
survival of our species.”

Citation: “Music Education for Surviving and Thriving: Cultivating Children’s Wonder, Senses, Emotional Wellbeing, and Wild Nature as a Means to Discover and Fulfill Their Life’s Purpose,” by Tawnya D. Smith, Music Education, School of Music, College of Fine Arts, Boston University, Boston, MA, United States. Frontiers in Education, 16 April 2021, Sec. Educational Psychology, vol. 6, 2021 — https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2021.648799 — Link to the article.

Child protection resource

Our congregation here in Cohasset, Mass., operates a preschool. The school is currently updating its child protection policy. As part of their research, the school’s governing board found the YMCA’s Child Abuse Prevention Policies.

If you deal with child safety issues, the whole policy is worth reading. But I especially appreciated three parts of this policy document.

1. First, they offer guidance on what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate physical interactions. Appropriate physical interactions include:

  • Side hugs
  • Shoulder-to-shoulder…hugs
  • Pats on the shoulder or back
  • Handshakes
  • High-fives and hand slapping
  • Verbal praise
  • Pats on the head when culturally appropriate
  • Touching hands, shoulders, and arms
  • Arms around shoulders
  • Holding hands (with young children in escorting situations)

Personally, I’d be more restrictive than this list— e.g., I’d be very reluctant to pat a child on the head, or touch shoulders. And I’d only put arms around shoulders in extreme situations, e.g., when comforting a crying child. Nevertheless, I think this is a good summary. I’ll let you look at the actual document to see what constitutes inappropriate touch. (No sitting on laps! No piggyback rides!)

2. Also worth looking at is the YMCA’s straightforward summary of appropriate electronic communications. No private messaging with a Facebook “friend” who is under age! No “friending” under age people on any social media!

3. Third, I really appreciated their policy on “Managing the risk when one staff member is alone with one youth.” We have policies where you should never be alone one-on-one with a legal minor. And there are always times when it seems necessary, e.g., when talking about a young person about behavior issues. Straightforward guidance — if you have to have a one-on-one, do so in a public place where you are in full view of others (I’ve done this where I made sure my supervisor was nearby, and deliberately watching). If you have to meet in a room, leave the door open. If a young person discloses abuse, etc., document it immediately.

A final comment: What I especially like about this document is that it answers just about all the questions I’ve ever gotten from volunteers and paid staff when I’ve done training in child abuse prevention policies.

History resource

Our congregation — as is true, I suspect, of many older congregations — is in the process of researching our past relationship with non-White people. Some of the questions we’re currently wondering about:

  • Was slave labor used to build our 1747 meetinghouse? (Almost assuredly yes, but we can’t document it yet.)
  • What was the social status of non-White people? (People of African and Native descent could not sit on the main floor in the 18th C.; we believe this was also true of indentured White servants, but we can’t yet document that.)
  • Did the congregation have non-White members in the 18th or 19th centuries? (A couple in the first half of the 18th century, both Native, then apparently none until the 20th century.)

These questions are difficult to research. So I was grateful to learn about the Atlantic Black Box website. The subtitle of the website sums up their efforts: “Researching and Reckoning with New England’s Role in Colonization and Enslavement.” I’ve been finding lots of resources for doing local history research on non-White people. Their short essay on “Researching Slavery and Black Life in Early New England” alone has already proved to be quite helpful to me.

If you’re part of an older congregation in New England — definitely worth checking this out.

Update, 23 April: Of related interest: Congregational Library’s “Black and Indigenous Research Guide” for New England Congregational churches, whichincludes a number of digitized 18th C. documents.

Tortoise and a man named Tela

Another story for liberal religious kids. This one is from the Yoruba tradition. While this story has a mythological elements — it tells how Tortoise got the joints in its shell — it is also a morality tale. Tortoise is another animal trickster figure who is featured in many stories — sometimes he gets the better of others, but sometimes, as in this story, his greed gets the better of him. Another Yoruba story about Tortoise.

Once there was a shortage of food throughout the land. Àjàpá the Tortoise, who was a very sensible animal, was friendly with a man named Tela. Tortoise was sick with hunger, because he didn’t know where he could get food. But Tela knew where he could get food. Now and again Tela went to this place, and got food and ate it there.

At last Tortoise said to Tela, “You look well-fed, but I get nothing to eat. You are my friend, yet you never show me where you get food.”

“I thought of taking you,” said Tela, “but I know you to be very clever. I fear that you will go to my place without my permission. Because of that, I have not told you.”

Tortoise kept asking, though, and at last Tela promised to take him to the place. When they got to the place, Tortoise saw it was just a rock. But Tela sang:

“This rock must open because I, Prince Tela, the owner of the house have come!”

Then the rock opened and Tela and Tortoise went inside. They found plenty of food, and they ate until they were full. After they had finished, they left the place, each going to his own home.

The next day Tela was away from home. So Tortoise went all around the countryside, inviting all the people to come to Tela’s place to get food. When everyone arrived at the place, Tortoise sang:

“This rock must open because I, Prince Tela, the owner of the house have come!”

The rock did not know that it was not Tela who sang, but Tortoise. So the rock opened, all the animals went inside, and they finished all the food in the store.

When they had finished eating, Tortoise said, “I will be the last to go.” But just as Tortoise was leaving, the rock closed and trapped him, half in and half out.

Just then, Tela felt hungry. When he got to the rock, he saw the head of Tortoise sticking. Tela said, “How is it that I find you here? When I brought you here the day before yesterday you promised you would not come, but now you have come, and from all the footprints in the dirt it looks like you brought friends with you.”

But Tortoise was in pain, and said only, “Get me out and don’t talk.” Tela, being hungry, commenced to sing:

“This rock must open because I, Prince Tela, the owner of the house have come!”

Just as before, the rock opened. Now Tela was very hungry, and because of the food he thought lay before him, did not stop to talk with Tortoise. But when Tela went in, he saw that all was eaten, and nothing was left.

Tela was so angry that he caught Tortoise up and was about to crush him. “Have patience and I will tell you all,” said Tortoise, and he told the entire story. And Tortoise added, “I have to admit that there is something that always makes me tell things I ought not to tell.”

“I have no time for this sort of thing,” said angry, hungry Tela. He dropped Tortoise on the rock and smashed his shell all to pieces.

Then the big ants and other insects gathered round, and tried to put Tortoise together again. They did the best they could, but they could not mend his back properly. So it is that the joints where the insects mended the Tortoise show on his back to this day.

Source

John Parkinson, “Yoruba Folk-Lore,” African Affairs, vol. VIII, no. XXX, January 1909, pp. 180-181 doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.afraf.a098993

For a different version of this story, see ?gb??n ju agbára on The Yoruba blog.

Line drawing of a tortoise
Centrochelys sulcata, from Tortoises, Terrapins, and Turtles (London: Sotheran Baer & co., 1872).

Tortoise and Elephant

Another story for liberal religious kids, this time from the Yoruba people.

Tortoise one day told the other animals that he would ride Elephant, the way humans ride horses. But all the other animals said: “No, you can’t ride Elephant.”

Tortoise said, “Well, I will make a bet with you that I will ride Elephant into town.”

All the other animals agreed to the bet.

Tortoise went into the forest and met Elephant. He said, “Elephant, all the animals say you are too fat and too big to go into town.”

Hearing this, Elephant grew angry. He said, “The animals are fools. I do not go into town because I would rather stay in the forest. Besides, I do not know which path leads to town.”

“Oh, if that’s all,” said Tortoise, “you can come with me. I will show you the path that leads to town, and you can put all the other animals to shame.”

So Elephant followed along, and when they were near to town, Tortoise said: “Oh, Elephant, I am tired. Will you kindly allow me to get on your back?”

“Of course,” said Elephant. He knelt down, and Tortoise climbed up on his back. Then they continued along the path to town.

Then Tortoise said, “Elephant, you need to put on a good show when you get to town. So when I scratch your back, run. When I knock my head against your back, run faster. Then you will impress all the other animals.”

Elephant agreed that this sounded like a good idea.

When they came near the town, Tortoise scratched Elephant’s back. Elephant began to run. Next, Tortoise knocked Elephant’s back with his head. Elephant ran even faster.

The animals, when they saw this, were frightened. They went into their houses, but they looked out of their windows. And Tortoise called out to them: “Did I not say I would ride to town the way humans ride horses?”

“What do you mean that you ride me like humans ride horses?” said Elephant, growing angry.

“I am only praising you,” said Tortoise.

But Elephant saw the other animals laughing, and grew more angry. “I will throw you down on the hard stones here, and break you to pieces,” he cried.

“Yes, yes, that is right,” said Tortoise. “Throw me down here. That will be all right. Then I shall not be hurt. If you really wanted to kill me, you would carry me to a swamp. If you threw me in a swamp, I would die at once, for the mud and water would drown me.”

So Elephant ran to the swamp, and threw Tortoise into the mud. Then Elephant stretched out his foot to kick Tortoise, but Tortoise dived in the muddy water, and came up in another place.

The other animals were there, looking on, and Tortoise called out to them, “Did I not say I would ride Elephant the way humans ride horses?”

When Elephant found that he could not catch Tortoise, he ran back to the forest. There he said to the other elephants, “Do you know what Tortoise has done to me?” And he told the other elephants the story.

But the other elephants only said, “You were a fool to carry Tortoise to town.”

Since then Elephant has not come to town any more.

Source: Alfred Burdon Ellis, The Yoruba-speaking peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa : their religion, manners, customs, laws, language, etc : with an appendix containing a comparison of the Tshi, Gã, ?we, and Yoruba languages (London: Chapman and Hall, 1894).