Moonrise

I was coming back from a long walk down the beach to see if there were any Piping Plovers nesting at Goosefare Brook, looking down at my feet in the fading light to see if there were any interesting shells or stones worth picking up. Ahead of me, a man was aiming a camera with a large telephoto lens on a tripod at something. I looked in the direction his camera was pointed, and there was the moon rising up out of the Atlantic Ocean. If the moon is about 30 arcminutes wide, it was about 90 arcminutes above the surface of the ocean when I first looked. It was pink and a little brighter than the medium blue sky; it hung just above a distant line of darker blue clouds tipped with pink along their tops.

The moon sat in the sky above the gap between Eagle Island and Wood Island. As I walked on down the beach, past the man struggling to aim his camera, the moon appeared to move towards Wood Island, until it stood over the eastern end of the island. The last light of the sun lit up the distant white tower of Wood Island lighthouse; a long shimmering reflection of the moon shone in the waters of the bay.

A couple of hours later, I was on the beach with forty or fifty other people for a bridging ceremony for this year’s high school seniors in the youth program at the Ferry Beach religious education conference; these were youth I had watched grow up summer after summer; one of them was the daughter of someone who had been in my own high school youth group. The moon was high in the sky; a long white reflection of it brightened up the calm bay; it was almost bright enough to read by. The air was cool enough to require a jacket and to keep the mosquitoes away, and two foot waves crashed regularly on the beach below us. What a perfect night, said the person next to me.

Dinner for gulls

Walking down the beach this afternoon, I paused to watch a Herring Gull flying along with something in its mouth. It landed near me, and dropped a good sized crab on the sand. The crab landed on its legs and started to scuttle away, but after fumbling once, the gull expertly flipped the crab on its back. The crab weakly waved its legs in the air while the gull tilted its head on one side so it could look at the crab with one eye.

I walked over so I could better see the crab. The gull kept an eye on me, and when I got within ten feet of it, it flapped its wings, rose in the air, and settled down twenty feet away, screeching at me. The body of the crab was a good four or five inches across — perhaps a foot across with the legs. With the toe of my shoe, I flipped it over to get a better look. The upper side of the carapace was a reddish-brown color, so it was probably Cancer irroratus or Cancer borealis. The crab plowed its head end into the sand and began to move slowly and feebly along. I walked about twenty feet away, and turned to watch.

When I was a safe distance away, the gull flew back in. Again, it expertly flipped the crab onto its back. Then it stabbed sharply into the crab’s vulnerable underside; the crab’s legs waved feebly; the gull stabbed again; and once more, on this last stab bringing a chunk of flesh up. The crab’s legs twitched a little. The gull flipped its head back and swallowed the piece of flesh, then stabbed again and again. The gull was a messy eater, and little chunks of carapace and flesh and bits of leg got scattered around on the sand. The crab had stopped moving by this point. I left the gull to its dinner, and walked on down the beach.

Cookie blog by a UU

Someone introduced me to My Cookie Project. This isn’t a recipe blog, although blogger K. Grober provides links to the recipes, usually on the Martha Stewart Web site. I’d call it a documentary blog: using photos and text, the blog documents baking process, ingredients, cookies, taste and texture of the cookies, and sometimes the positive reaction of the local soup kitchen upon being given the gift of dozens of cookies. Of course a Unitarian Universalist blogger would give cookies to the local soup kitchen.

“The problem of retention in Unitarian Universalism”

Here’s a link to an important paper by Rev. Christana Wille-McKnight on how few of our Unitarian Universalist children and youth we retain once they grow up — “The problem of retention in Unitarian Universalism.” Here’s the first paragraph of the paper, to get you interested:

Over the last 40 years, Unitarian Universalism has emerged as a transformative movement in the United States. Our denomination has become a haven for people from a variety of faith backgrounds, well regarded for its acceptance of people regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical or mental ability. Despite our success in welcoming people from other faiths into the Unitarian Universalist fold, we have not been as successful retaining as adult members people who have been raised from childhood as Unitarian Universalists. The cost of losing so many of the adult children that are raised in our faith is staggering….

This is for participants in the Renaissance module on ministry with youth that I am co-leading with Betty-Jeanne Rueters-Ward at Ferry Beach this week. Christana is now working on a UU church start in Norton, Massachusetts.

Neuroscience and religious education

Outline of an informal talk given July 10, 2011, at Ferry Beach Religious Education Week, held at the Universalist conference center in Saco, Maine.

Welcome to this porch chat on neuroscience and religious education. What I’d like to do in this porch chat is this — First, find out what you know about neuroscience as it applies to religious education. Second, to tell you a little bit about what I have been learning about the exciting new developments in this area. And third, to talk about ways we can all continue our own education in this area.

(1) Let’s begin with what you know about neuroscience and religious education. And before you say “nothing,” I suspect at least some of you know something about Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. How many of you have run into multiple intelligences work before?

What you may not realize (or may forget) is that Gardner drew upon new scientific insights in the way brain works to develop this theory. According to a paper by the Multiple Intelligences Institute, “to determine and articulate these separate faculties, or intelligences, Gardner turned to the various discrete disciplinary lenses in his initial investigations, including psychology, neurology, biology, sociology, anthropology, and the arts and humanities.” [p. 6] So Gardner represents one attempt to apply scientific insights into the brain to educational practice.

So now let me ask: what (if anything) do you know about neuroscience and religious education?

[summary of some of the responses]

  • the brain’s plasticity
  • answering the question: is there a genetic quality to empathy?
  • the god gene
  • how like things like mediation, music, etc., can change the brain
  • kids who have deficits with empathy
  • you can make new neural pathways
  • visualing brain pathways through brain imaging

(2) Now let me tell you a little bit about what I’ve been learning about how to apply scientific understandings of the brain to religious education.

I’d like to begin by reading you a paragraph from a 2000 report by the National Academy of Sciences titled “How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School.” (You can download a free PDF of this book here.) I was introduced to this book by Joe Chee, a teacher educator and UU who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in education and technology; Joe recommended this as a great introduction to the topic. And right at the beginning of this book, the authors tell us why we should care about the topic:

The revolution in the study of the mind that has occurred in the last three or four decades has important implications for education. As we illustrate [in this book], a new theory of learning is coming into focus that leads to very different approaches to the design of curriculum, teaching, and assessment than those often found in schools today. Equally important, the growth of interdisciplinary inquiries and new kinds of scientific collaborations have begun to make the path from basic research to educational practice somewhat more visible, if not yet easy to travel. Thirty years ago, educators paid little attention to the work of cognitive scientists, and researchers in the nascent field of cognitive science worked far removed from classrooms. Today, cognitive researchers are spending more time working with teachers, testing and refining their theories in real classrooms where they can see how different settings and classroom interactions influence applications of their theories.

Continue reading “Neuroscience and religious education”

Google+!

So I got an invite to Google+ (thanks, Scott). First impressions: it looks well-designed and fairly easy to use. But there also appears to be some real depth to Google+: Will posted a link to an online article titled “How Google+ ends social networking fatigue,” which outlines ways to use Google+ to replace Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and even email. One big lack: Google+ still doesn’t support RSS; I’m assuming that will be added.

So far, so good. The real test will come as I see if Google+ takes up more of my time, or whether it makes my life easier.

Travelers’ story

Waiting for the bus to Portland, Maine, I turned to the man and woman standing near by and said, This is the place you pick up the bus to Portland, right? They said it was; and that they were going to Portland, then getting on another bus to go to Bangor, and from there heading on down the coast. They both had eastern New England accents, so I asked them if they were heading back home.

Well, they said, not exactly. They were from Alaska, living in a small town near Juneau.They had been sailing a 34 foot sloop, a live-aboard, but it sank.

It sank? I said.

Well, it was sunk. They had been sailing in among a pod of humpback whales. The whales were all around them, and some of them were breaching, coming completely up out of the water and crashing back down. Usually when the whales started doing that, they moved their boat farther away. But a big bull humpback came up right where their boat was. Drove the keel up through the boat. The whale almost tipped them over, the whale rolled over, they were on its belly, they almost capsized, they could see the flukes up in the air next to the boat, the whale rolled back, so at least they didn’t tip over. The whale was feeling a little stunned, they said.

They had enough time to send off a mayday call. The Coast Guard picked up the call and relayed it to a fishing vessel that was nearer to them. The boat sank in about five minutes. She had just enough time to grab her credit cards and driver’s license, and then they were in the water. Fortunately, the fishing vessel came within ten minutes of the time the boat sank, because the water was cold, in the forties.

So you lost everything? I said. Yup, they said cheerfully, but we’re alive. And you know, he said, it’s hard to see everything go down like that, but then you feel — lighter. Well, I said, you’ll be dining out on that story for the next twenty years. They laughed. We already have, they said, we told some of the Tlinglit in our village, and even they were impressed. They’re water people, and they could relate to us.

I said goodbye to them in Portland. They’re going to sell a house they own beyond Bangor, and buy another boat, and head back to Alaska.

Back in the homeland

Carol’s flight into Boston was on time, but mine was delayed, and it was late when i got to the hotel. I went straight to the hotel bar to get a burger.

The Red Sox game was showing on the TV in the hotel bar. Bottom of the eighth, the Sox leading the Orioles 9 to 3, and big David Ortiz is at bat. Gregg, the Baltimore pitcher throws a pitch so far inside that Ortiz has to take a step back. “Didja see that look Ortiz gave him?” says the guy next to me in his Boston accent. Two more pitches exactly like that, and Ortiz yells something at Gregg. The guy sitting next to me says, “Jeez, Ortiz is not happy with that.” One more pitch, Ortiz pops up to center field, Gregg makes some kind of gesture at him, next thing you know both dugouts and both bullpens are out in the field mixing it up — desultory commentary provided by two guys with Boston accents sitting at a Boston bar.

OK, I live in the Bay Area now, and of course I like northern California weather better, and yes everyone is friendlier there, and people don’t drive like crazed maniacs the way they do in Boston. But for someone who grew up in eastern New England, there’s nothing like sitting in a bar watching the Sox with other people who speak God’s own English. It’s like being back in the homeland or something.