Ducks

Yesterday I went for a walk along Charleston Slough in Palo Alto at high tide. It was a gray day, and the light seemed to make the colors of the ducks appear more dramatic than usual. Looking at the ducks helped me forget the crazy stuff that’s in the news these days.

Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca carolinensis)
American Wigeon (Anas americana)
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

Notes: Common and Latin names from Dunn and Alderfer, Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 7th ed. (2017); however, the AOU now assigns American Wigeon to its own genus, Mareca. Photos: inexpensive superzoom camera (cheaper than your smart phone) and free image manipulation software.

Wasp

This evening, I went out to look at the paper wasp nest that is well-hidden in the native plants garden at the church. I’ve learned that in the hour before sunset, the founder wasp rests herself on the nest, between the nest and its supporting twig, just below the petiole. And that’s exactly where she was when I got out there.

My camera is a good tool for getting a close look at her without getting too close; I have a healthy respect of wasps and have no desire to provoke her into stinging me. Looking at the photos I took of her, it looks like she has added some cells to the nest. The light began fading rapidly while I was taking photos, and it wasn’t long before the camera would no longer focus on the nest; as a result, I didn’t get any photos looking into the ends of the cells, so I’m not sure whether the cells contain any eggs or larvae.

Polistes

Nancy saw a paper wasp beginning to build a nest. We watched it for a few minutes. The nest is still small, with perhaps 16 cells. We saw one adult, who sat quite still on the nest for more than a minute at a time; then she (presumably it was a female) would fly off and return after a minute or so. I wondered if she were working on building the nest; but she was working on the underside of the nest, and the nest was located where we couldn’t see the underside without disturbing her, we could not confirm my conjecture. I did, however, manage to take two photos with Carol’s phone:

I feel fairly confident assigning this individual to genus Polistes, a genus which includes dozens of species of paper wasps. The online “Bug Guide” of the University of Iowa’s Department of Entomology says of genus Polistes: “Predatory on other insects (predominantly caterpillars) to feed larvae.” Nancy left the nest there so the wasps could serve as a biological control on voracious caterpillars and other herbivorous insects.

Religious Diversity in Silicon Valley

(Excerpts from a talk I gave at the UU Church of Palo Alto)

Over the past seven years, I’ve been exploring the religious diversity of Silicon Valley. This project started out because I was supporting the middle school class that goes to visit other faith communities. But over the years, it has taken on a life of its own, and has helped me better understand the role of religious organizations play in strengthening democracy, and it has also caused me to substantially revise my definition of what religion is.

So that’s what I’d like to do today: explore religious diversity in Silicon Valley, and maybe go on some interesting tangents.

And I’m going to start off by setting a limit around this exploration: I’m NOT going to look at solo practitioners of religion, or individual spirituality. This happens to be an important limit, since we are in an era of anti-institutionalism in which an increasing number of individuals refuse to identify with any organized religious community, even when they profess to have some kind of individual religiosity.

The role of faith communities in democracy

But I AM interested in exploring religiosity as it is expressed in a faith community, because I believe that faith communities can help sustain democracy. James Luther Adams, a theologian and sociologist, studied the role of voluntary associations — including faith communities — in democracies, and he concluded that they played a fundamental role in keeping democracy healthy. Among other things, he studied the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s (he even visited Nazi Germany himself in the mid-thirties), and found that one of the ways that the authoritarian Nazi regime came to power was by severely limiting voluntary associations. Thus Adams found that the right of free association is in fact critical to democracy; free association is critical at keeping authoritarianism in check.

This should be a major concern for us in the United States today. What we saw in the past two presidential administrations was a willingness to extend the powers of the presidency to an unprecedented degree; the rapidly rising use of executive orders is perhaps the most prominent example of this. The current presidential administration seems to be further extending the use of executive orders, further extending the powers of the presidency, and this administration seems to have tendencies towards centralization of power and decision-making in a smaller group of people. This should cause us to pay attention to the possibility of rising authoritarianism. This is coupled with a wider cultural tendency: some of the greatest popular culture heroes today are people in the business world who rule their business as authoritarian regimes, and these authoritarian business leaders are taken as positive examples to be emulated.

I find these trends and tendencies to be moderately alarming. Out of my alarm, I think, springs my deepening interest in voluntary associations such as organized religion. Although there is a lot of talk today about “resistance,” such talk strikes me as promoting a negative or passive approach, which is doomed to fail. Instead, I would like to promote positive responses to authoritarian trends; rather than merely saying, “Authoritarianism is bad,” I want to be able to say, “Here are some interesting and fun things we can do that strengthen democracy.”

And one of those interesting and fun things we can do to strengthen democracy is to celebrate the vibrancy of religious diversity, as it expressed in faith communities.

What is a “faith community”?

When I talk about “faith communities,” I mean something quite specific. A “faith community,” in my definition, is a voluntary association in which people have come together around matters of religion and spirituality. This definition is tailored for the U.S. context; it would work less well in certain European countries where there are still established churches funded by the government; and it would work less well in certain East Asian contexts where religion is less tied to voluntary associations.

But here in the United States, there is a strong connection between religion and voluntary associations, and defining a “faith community” as a voluntary association in which people have come together around matters of religion and spirituality — this definition proves to be useful and interesting.

At this point, you should be asking yourself: “What does he mean by ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’?” It may look like I’ve been avoiding a firm definition of these terms, but as it happens, I do have a fairly precise definition in mind, a definition which works well in the context of a discussion of religious diversity, a definition which is primarily functional but not ontological or metaphysical. Therefore, from a functional standpoint, I’m not going to insist on a strong distinction between “religion” and “spirituality,” because in our democratic society we don’t have a distinction between these two terms that is widely accepted.

Here’s my functional definition: “religion” is what we point at when we say the word “religion.” This may sound like I’m avoiding the issue, but I’m not; I find that mostly when I point at something that looks like religion, most people will say, “That’s religion.” Sure, there are things that we point at which we can’t get wide agreement on as to whether they constitute religion or not. If I point at Scientology, some people will say, “That’s a religion,” and others will say, “That’s a massive con game.” So my definition does not have really crisp boundary lines. But mostly, when I point to a Christian church or a Jewish synagogue, or a Shinto shrine, or a Sikh gurdwara, or a Hindu temple, or Humanist gathering, or a Neo-Pagan ritual, most of us are going to say, “Yes, that’s something to do with religion.” We may go on to say, “That is a kind of religion that I think is disgusting or heretical or appalling,” but we acknowledge that it is religion.

Now I want to go a little farther, and place religion in a broad category that includes various kinds of cultural production. This broad category also includes the arts; and I would include organized sports as an art form, too. I find it helpful to think of religion as part of a broader category of “Arts and Religion,” and there has been some interested scholarly study of how certain art forms and certain sports activities look a great deal like religion.

To sum up, then: a faith community is a voluntary association that does religion, where “religion” is defined as what I point to when I say the word, and where religion is part of a broader category of cultural production that we can call “Arts and Religion.”

And I think you will find all this becomes very useful when we start looking at religious diversity. So let’s do that — we’ve got the preliminaries out of the way, let’s start looking at religious diversity in Silicon Valley.

Religious Diversity in South Palo Alto and Midtown

Let’s begin with our immediate neighborhood. Recently, I went looking for all the faith communities near our congregation, in a rectangle one mile wide by mile-and-a-half long, bounded by roughly by Oregon Expressway to the north, El Camino Real to the west, San Antonio Road to the south, and Highway 101 to the east. I came up with more than thirty faith communities that met regularly within this rectangle. I was astounded at this number — that’s a lot of faith communities located in such a small area.

Now let’s look at the religious diversity that is represented in this rectangle.

Denominational diversity

When Americans think of religious diversity, they usually think of how many denominations they can find. So we’ll start with denominations, though really the concept of denomination really works best for Protestant Christianity, and not so well for other types of faith community. Here are the denominations represented in this rectangle:

— 9 mainline Protestant Christian faith communities
— 1 Roman Catholic faith community
— 1 Orthodox Christian faith community
— 12 other Christian faith communities
— 1 Post-Christian faith community (that’s us)
— 4 Jewish faith communities
— 1 Muslim faith community
— 2 Buddhist faith communities
— 4 New Religious Movements (one of which would probably identify itself as Christian)
———
— 35 total denominations identified

The amazing diversity of Christian faith communities

Not surprisingly, the majority of these faith communities are Christian, as is true of American society as a whole: most of the faith communities in the U.S. are Christian. But don’t make the mistake of lumping together all these Christian faith communities as some kind of monolith. Christianity arguably has as much or more internal religious diversity as any of the major world religions; you could make a strong case that Christianity is as diverse or more diverse than either Hinduism or Orisa Devotion, and that’s saying a lot.

Compare, for example, an Orthodox Christian worship service, with its incense and chanting and elaborate decorative arts and music — compare that with the simplicity of Quaker silent meeting for worship. Or compare the social structure of Roman Catholicism, with its tradition of strong central authority, with the radically decentralized congregational polity of the Disciples of Christ. Or compare the cool emotional tenor of Lutheranism to the ecstatic worship of some Pentecostal groups. Compare the religious narratives of the Latter Day Saints, with the religious narrative told by a liberal Baptist church; the Latter Day Saints draw on the Bible and the Book of Mormon, whereas the Baptists are going to limit their narrative to what they find in the Bible.

Religious liberals and secularists often close their eyes to the religious diversity within Christianity by reducing Christianity to one statement: “Christians believe in God and Jesus.” This is a mistake on two levels. First, it trivializes the vast differences in Christian beliefs about God and Jesus. If you believe that all Christians believe the same things about God and Jesus, remember the amazing diversity of Christianity; so I’d challenge you to rethink that belief, because it doesn’t hold up.

There’s a second problem with reducing Christianity to one statement: “Christians believe in God and Jesus.” To do so reduces Christianity to a belief system, but no religion can be reduced to a belief system. The scholar Ninian Smart has come up with seven dimensions of religions. These seven dimensions are:

1. the practical and ritual dimension
2. the experiential and emotional dimension
3. the narrative dimension
4. the doctrinal and philosophical dimension
5. the ethical and legal dimension
6. the social and institutional dimension
7. the material dimension (which includes the arts and material culture)

So even if it were true that all Christians believe exactly the same thing about God and Jesus, you cannot reduce religion to the doctrinal and philosophical dimension, while ignoring the other six dimensions. Now it is true that you will find some religions emphasize one or more of these seven dimensions, and certainly Christianity emphasizes the doctrinal dimension. (Parenthetically, it is worth mentioning that most atheists are very similar to Christians, insofar as they emphasize the doctrinal dimension of religion.) But that being said, the person who is serious about investigating religious diversity needs to take into account all dimensions of religion — not just the dimensions that most concern them, but all dimensions.

For those who wish to study religious diversity seriously, a helpful analogy might be made between Christianity and arachnids. Now, there are people who are creeped out by spiders, and these people have some level of arachnophobia, that is, an irrational fear of spiders. Ssimilarly, there are secularists, atheists, and even some Unitarian Universalists who have some level of “Christian-phobia,” an irrational fear of Christianity.

When an arachnophobe sees a spider, they become immediately and irrationally fearful and say, “Ugh, a spider, step on it!” Compare the arachnophove to someone like Jack Owicki, a very knowledgeable amateur student of arachnids — when Jack sees a spider, he is able to appreciate it for what it is, classify it by family and genus and maybe even species, and determine its place in the wider ecosystem. If you want to be serious about studying religious diversity, you have to act towards Christians the way Jack Owicki acts towards spiders; in other words, don’t let your irrational fears get the better of you.

Diversity of race, ethnicity, language

Next, let’s consider the fact that many faith communities deliberately limit themselves in one way or another by linguistic, racial, and/or ethnic boundaries.

This is a troubling concept to many Unitarian Universalists, and other religious liberals. We like to think that our religion should be open to everyone, and one of our ideals is that we would like our faith community to reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our immediate surroundings. When we do this, we are following the example of Protestant Christianity, from which historically we emerged. Protestant Christianity, like Catholicism and Buddhism, is proselytizing religion: it seeks to draw new people in. Proselytizing religions assume that everyone could join their religion, and they actively figure out how to incorporate new people. Compare this to a religion like Zoroastrianism, which does not actively seek out converts, and doesn’t have an established procedure for accepting converts.

Thus we find that different faith communities have quite different approaches to racial and ethnic diversity: some strive for diversity, some avoid diversity. And this also makes clear that we should not automatically assume that our own religious assumptions translate to other faith communities.

And in fact, it is useful and very interesting to look at faith communities in terms of what racial, ethnic, and/or linguistic groups they serve. Let’s start by looking at some of the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of faith communities in South Palo Alto:

— 2 faith communities aimed at Korean Americans (Bridgway and Cornerstone), including both Korean and English speakers
— 4 faith communities consisting primarily of those born Jewish, including many who speak or read at least some Hebrew
— 1 faith community aimed at Chinese Americans (Central Chinese Christian), apparent emphasis on Chinese speakers
— 1 faith community aimed at Russian Americans (Holy Virgin), apparent emphasis on Russian speakers
— 1 faith community aimed at Japanese Americans (Palo Alto Buddhist Temple)
— 1 faith community consisting primarily of Gujaratis (Hatemi Masjid)
— 1 faith community aimed primarily at blacks (University AME Zion)

— We also find 2 Pentecostal faith communities that are multiracial both in their ideals and in practice (Abundant Life and Vive Church).

As it happens, most of the remaining faith communities in South Palo Alto, including our own faith community, are Anglophone congregations that are mostly white racially. But we should remain aware that there are ethnic white faith communities, too; for example, there are still some Roman Catholic parishes that cater to one specific white ethnic or national group, such as Irish Americans or Italian Americans.

In short, we can categorize faith communities by which linguistic group, which racial group, and/or which ethnic or national group they predominantly serve. This becomes particularly important in certain religious traditions, such as Therevada Buddhism, where individual faith communities will serve one linguistic and/or national group, for example, a Cambodian Buddhist faith community or a Sri Lankan Buddhist faith community.

Further ways to categorize faith communities

Let’s take a step back, and review some of the ways we can categorize a given faith community:

We can say which broad religious tradition they consider themselves a part of.

Here in the U.S., we can often categorize by denomination.

We can categorize by dominant socio-economic class.

And by now you may well be thinking about other ways to categorize different faith communities.

— Stance on same-sex relationships: If you know something about mainline Protestant denominations, you will know that local churches may differ as to whether they accept LGBTQ persons or not; so there might be two churches of the same Christian denomination fairly close to one another, one of which if fully accepting of LGBTQ persons, and another of which condemns homosexuality as a sin. You can find similar divisions on LGBTQ persons in Buddhist and Jewish and other faith communities.

— Worship style: We can also categorize faith communities by the style of their services. Are they informal, or formal? Are they friendly, or reserved? Look up faith communities on Yelp, and you will find them rated based on these categories.

And there are still other useful ways to categorize faith communities.

Finding religious diversity near you

All this is actually leading us to a super important question:

How do you go about finding faith communities near you?

Living here in Silicon Valley, of course we think that the best way to find neighboring faith communities is by doing a Web search. There are two main problems with this: first, the Web is generally not a trustworthy source of unbiased information about religion; and second, it can be hard to find geographically targeted information about religion on the Web. There is another problem: Some faith communities have no Web presence at all, either because they are trying to avoid notice, or because it just isn’t a priority for them.

Fortunately, there is one pretty good source of localized information about religion on the Web, and that is the online review site Yelp.

Here’s how to generate a geographically restricted listing of fatih communities using Yelp.

Bring up Yelp.com on your Web browser. In the search box labeled “Find” at the top of the screen, type in “Religious Organizations.” In the search box labeled “Near,” type in your location. And voilà: Yelp generates a little map of your area, and a list of religious organizations that have reviews.

Now there are problems with Yelp: there are often duplicates of the same religious organization under slightly different names; the category of religious organization includes things that I would not consider a faith community; some faith communities are not listed on Yelp; their geographical restriction works only moderately well. But overall it’s better than any other online resource, and it’s a great starting point. Yelp may help you will turn up faith communities that do not have a Web page, or only an obscure Facebook page, faith communities that you might otherwise miss.

So: you can start your Web search with Yelp. But online resources will only take you so far, and should be supplemented with on-the-ground research, such a driving or walking in the area, and asking friends and neighbors if they know of any additional faith communities.

Cliff Swallow nest

I went out the Baylands Nature Preserve to check on the Cliff Swallow nesting colony. There are now at least thirty completed nests, most of which appeared to be active (that is, I either saw birds flying into or out of them, or I saw a bird poking its head out the entrance). Many of the nests are built right next to other nests, which may cut down on the amount of construction the birds have to do since they can utilize existing walls (thus saving energy).

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Most of the nests are under a large overhang that faces roughly south, which means they get little or no sun during the day (because the overhand shades them). One nest has been built on a west-facing wall; even though there is plenty of room for more nests nearby, no other birds have built nests there, though it looks like some birds started placing mud there. I can only speculate why no other birds built nests there: too much sun late in the day heats up the nest? the mud dries too quickly in the afternoon sun? there is no fence around that wall as there is along the other wall to keep curious humans at a distance? In any case, the nest on that west-facing wall is active, and a Cliff Swallow poked its head out as I came close.

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Some swallows are still building nests, which means the nesting season is going to extend for at least another couple weeks. Yet for the past two years (at least) Cliff Swallows have not built nests in this location.

Nest building

On my dinner break this evening, I made a quick visit to Baylands Nature Preserve, where Cliff Swallows are building nests along the wall of the small building that controls the outflow from Casey Forebay into the flood control basin.

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Yesterday, I watched as swallows flew down to get a bill-full of mud in the forebay, then up to the building where they clung to the wall with their feet while placing the mud on the growing nest. They worked for about twenty minutes then stopped, presumably to let the mud dry: you could see the layer of wet mud sitting on top of the previously dried mud.

This evening the swallows were again picking up mud and placing it on the nests. The nest have not increased all that much in size since yesterday; this appears to be a fairly slow process.

Environmentalism: from sacred texts… pt. 3

Read part one

The worm composter and the tire garden are right next to Adobe Creek, and some of the children look down to see how much water remains from the rain we had last week. Adobe Creek flows for about 14 miles from Black Mountain, a peak on the Monte Bello Ridge west of Palo Alto, to San Francisco Bay, draining about 10 square miles of land. (14) The creek runs in a concrete channel for its last two miles, including the stretch past the church. (15) The children stretch over the chain link fence that keeps people from falling in the ten foot deep channel to look. Water just covering the bottom of the creek flows quickly past. One of the children points at a pair of Mallards in the water.

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Every time we visit the worm composter and the tire garden, we look in the creek, and we once made a special point of visiting Adobe Creek after a big rain storm so the children could video the turbid chocolate-brown waters rushing past. We are trying to make the children feel connected to our local watershed. Anabaptist theologian Ched Myers argues that too often environmentalists and eco-theologians tend to think in broad abstractions while neglecting their immediate ecological context, a tendency that can lead congregations to engage in environmental justice work that is merely “cosmetic.” Myers wants religious communities to engage in what he calls “watershed discipleship,” environmental justice centered on the bioregion of their local watershed. (16) For Myers, “watershed discipleship” should be rooted in scripture, in the Bible, though he is careful to add that the natural world is a kind of scripture; and he argues that “liturgy and spirituality” and “church practices” should also be firmly rooted in the specific bioregion of a watershed. (17) We’re teaching sixth graders in this class, most of whom are still at the concrete operational stage of cognitive development, and we’re in a post-Christian congregation. But even though Myers’s “watershed discipleship” is too abstract and too Christian to accurately describe what we’re doing, it helps explain why I and the other teachers insist on taking the children to see dirty water flowing through a concrete channel.

We walk from Adobe Creek back to our classroom, then out the back door to a covered patio to work on the half-finished nesting boxes. Before we start working, I bring up our conversation from the previous week, about House Sparrows, an invasive species, who sometimes take over nesting boxes, thus depriving native swallows of nesting habitat. Last week, I had told the children that ornithologists recommend removing and destroying House Sparrow nests in swallow nesting boxes. The children did not like the idea of destroying House Sparrow eggs, even if theses birds are a destructive invasive species. This week I admit that I probably couldn’t destroy a House Sparrow nest myself, and I ask what they think we should do. Zoe finally says she would be willing to remove a House Sparrow nest, though she wouldn’t destroy it, she would put it on the ground somewhere. “What if a cat gets the nest?” asks Toby. “Well, at least we didn’t kill it,” Zoe says.

This is our third week building nesting boxes. By now, most of the children know what to do. Catalina, who hadn’t worked on the nesting boxes before, is taken in hand by some of the other girls, who show her the plans, and some partially assembled nesting boxes. Soon Catalina is sitting on a board to hold it while Eva cuts it with the hand saw. I’m at the table where we drill pilot holes for nails. We have a system where one person holds the piece of wood, another person holds the handle of the hand drill, and a third person turns the crank handle. We keep working until the worship service ends. Frank, an older adult, happens to walk past us, and stops to see what we are doing, and soon he is working, too. The children want to keep on working , but both Lorraine and I have other commitments, so we have to end the class.

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“OK, everyone stand in a circle and hold hands,” I say. “You, too, Frank.” When everyone is in a circle, and more or less holding hands, I ask everyone to say one thing that they learned, or that they’re taking away from today’s class. “Sawing is hard.” “I learned how to drill.” (Becky doesn’t say anything.) “Fun!” “Our worms are happy.” Finally we all say the unison benediction that the adults say at the end of each worship service:

Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.

This is our version of a widely-used benediction derived from 1 Thessalonians 5:13-15, 21-22, (18) adapted by other Unitarian Universalists, and further adapted by our church’s senior minister when she added the phrase “Rejoice in beauty.” Most of the children in the class have memorized our version of the benediction; they mostly like saying it together; sometimes their comments make it seem that they have even thought about its meaning. I suspect that some of them would be displeased to learn that the benediction they like so well comes from the Bible.

Many of these children are from families in the middle of what political scientists Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell call “a gaping chasm between those who are highly religious and those who are highly secular.” (19) They fall in the middle because they’re both religious and secular at the same time. They are secular because, like the senior minister and more than half the congregation, they are atheists, they don’t pray, and/or they rarely read sacred texts—they are secular by definition, since religiosity is commonly determined in the U.S. by belief in God, the act of praying, and devotional reading of the Bible or other sacred text. (20) For further confirmation of the congregation’s “secularity,” I have learned from listening to and talking with the children and teens that most of them think of “religious” persons as intolerant; in this, their views correspond to the views Putnam and Campbell have found in highly secular Americans. (21) Yet the sixth graders in this class are “religious” if we measure religiosity, not by belief in God or prayer, but by regular attendance in a local faith community. Some of them are aware of their awkward status as both religious and secular, and sometimes they’ll say that they don’t like telling their friends they go to church because it’s hard to explain that their church doesn’t make them believe in God.

The teens in the class I teach later on Sunday morning feel this awkwardness more acutely—these teens are older, in grades 8 and 9, ranging in age from 12 to 15. They are in our “Coming of Age” class, which corresponds roughly to a confirmation class in a Protestant Christian church, or a bar/bat mitzvah class in some Jewish synagogues. In a recent Coming of Age class, I led a session on Biblical literacy, reviewing material about the Bible to which they had already been introduced in previous years in Sunday school. When I asked some pre-assessment questions, I found that the fourteen teenagers in the class could say little about the Bible; even though I know they had been exposed to this knowledge in other Sunday school classes, they are very resistant to remembering anything that smacks of “religion.” I am sympathetic to their resistance to “religion,” given how religion has been used in the West as a form of “colonial control.” (22) Given our congregation’s commitment to social justice, no wonder our children and teens resist a label that that they associate with the opposite of social justice. Yet I also I hear from teens and from their parents that they love coming to the Coming of Age class, because they get to talk about big religious questions like the nature of human beings, good and evil, etc.; they resist the label, but they love the content. All this presents a formidable pedagogical challenge: introducing children and teens to the resources of religion, without provoking further resistance.

With that in mind, let’s return to the sixth grade Ecojustice class, to see what happens after the closing circle: After the closing circle, several children volunteer, without being asked, to stay and help put away tools and materials. Several of them, almost half the class members, walk back and forth between the covered patio and my office, carrying half-finished projects, supplies, and tools. It takes fifteen minutes to get everything put away, and some of the children linger, ready to stay longer if there is something to do; but I have to get ready for the Coming of Age class, so they drift away. These sixth graders show no resistance to the religious bioregionalism of Ecojustice class; exactly the opposite: they like to know how they are connected to Violet-green Swallows and House Sparrows, to worms and compost, to Adobe Creek.

On to the final section.

 

Notes:

(14) Chris D. Pilson, “Urban creek restoration, Adobe Creek, Santa Clara County, California” (Master’s thesis, San Jose State University, 2009), 10, 13.

(15) The channelization of Adobe Creek is just one of many human-induced changes. Adobe Creek may have originally terminated in a “bird’s foot distributary pattern” before it reached the bay, perhaps close to the present-day location of the church (Pilson, 58). It is probably no longer possible to reconstruct what the creek was like before Europeans arrived, and rather than focusing on the past we want children to know the creek as it is now.

(16) Ched Myers, “From ‘Creation Care’ to ‘Watershed Discipleship’: Re-Placing Ecological Theology and Practice,” The Conrad Grebel Review 32, no.3 (2014), 257, accessed March 31, 2016: link.

(17) Ibid., 266-268.

(18) Versions of this benediction, used widely in U.S. mainline congregations, may be found in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and in the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship.

(19) Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010), 494.

(20) Putnam and Campbell measure religiosity by asking “How frequently do you attend religious services? How frequently do you pray outside of religious services? How important is religion in your daily life? How important is your religion to your sense of who you are? Are you a strong believer in your religion? How strong is your belief in God?” (Putnam and Campbell, 18). Since half these questions involve belief and prayer, atheists who don’t pray will not be scored as highly religious. Putnam and Campbell admit there might possibly be some bias in these questions (ibid., 20).

(21) Ibid., 499-501.

(22) Robert F. Shedinger, “Jesus and Jihad: Transcending the Politics of the Sacred,” in Sacred Texts and Human Contexts: A North American Response to “A Common Word between Us and You” (Rochester, New York: Nazareth College, 2014), 120-121.

Each in his own tongue

William Herbert Carruth was a poet, a professor of literature and writing at Stanford where he taught John Steinbeck (more about Steinbeck in a moment), and a member of the old Palo Alto Unitarian Church. One of his signature poems strikes me as quite characteristic of early twentieth century west coast Unitarianism:

Each in His Own Tongue

A fire-mist and a planet,
   A crystal and a cell,
A jelly-fish and a saurian,
   And caves where the cave-men dwell;
Then a sense of law and beauty
   And a face turned from the clod,—
Some call it Evolution,
   And others call it God. Continue reading “Each in his own tongue”

Transit of Venus

I’m taking a break from work here at the Palo Alto church, and watching the transit of Venus. I’m projecting an image of the sun using a pair of 7×25 binoculars mounted to a tripod. I have a white card set up about six feet from the binoculars, resulting in an image that’s approximately five and three quarters of an inch in diameter. The optics in the binoculars are not particularly good, and there’s enough chromatic aberration that I don’t get a particularly crisp image. Nevertheless, I can clearly see the shadow Venus is casting as it crosses the sun; on this projection, it’s approximately three-sixteenths of an inch in diameter, and at this time about one and three sixteenths inches from the nearest edge of the sun. The card I’m projecting the image on is eight and a half by eleven inches oriented horizontally; the earth moves such that I have to readjust the binoculars every sixty or seventy seconds in order to keep a complete image on the card.

Venus does not appear to be moving in relation to the sun. I suppose if I sat out here long enough, I’d be able to see some relative motion; but the transit is going to take four hours, and I don’t suppose I can take that much time away from work.

And yes, the transit is a pretty amazing phenomenon to watch, even with my crude projection device.

Corrected per Erp’s comment.

Fog

I had to drive up to San Francisco early this afternoon. When I left Palo Alto, it was sunny and warm. Heading north on highway 101, when I got to San Mateo I started seeing low clouds to the north. By the time I got to San Francisco, the sky was gray, and some people were driving with their headlights on.

In San Francisco, it was cloudy, damp, and down to 60 degrees, a good ten degrees cooler than it had been in Palo Alto, with a bracing northwest wind. You could sense the huge old mass of water in the Pacific Ocean just a few miles away.

At 4:30 I drove back to San Mateo along Interstate 280, around the Pacific Ocean side of San Bruno Mountain, and then up into the hills of the Coastal Range. Fingers of fog were creeping over the mountains, winding down through the tree-covered hills around Crystal Springs, but the sun evaporated them before they got very far.

When I arrived home in San Mateo, it was sunny and warm. But almost as soon as the sun set, the fog drifted over the Coastal Range, and became low clouds that now cover the sky above us. The temperature is down to 60 degrees, and outside it feels like it did in San Francisco this afternoon: cloudy, damp, and cool.