Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Ragged Old Flag

Veterans Day makes me think of these two old guys, Ray and Gus, who used to go to all the Eagle scout ceremony's that I was ever at. They would give out a flag to all the new Eagle scouts and recite The Ragged Old Flag. I knew better then to smile ironically at anything at a Eagle ceremony, but it was pretty cornball.

It grew on me though. They never missed a ceremony! When my own son went to design his Eagle ceremony he said "yeah, I'm not sure what I want but I want those two old dudes doing the flag poem".

Ray and Gus kept getting older and more feeble. Ray was the extrovert and he would get up and make little jokes and recite the poem and Gus would stand there holding the flag. They did a wonderful handshake and always wore suits. Finally Gus started showing up alone. He gave reports about Ray who had had a stroke, but we never saw him again. Gus didn't have Ray's glibness and when Gus recited the poem it had a seriousness and sadness it hadn't had before. Gus wanted those boys to know that patriotism was a serious business.

And somehow it was.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Faith Journal: First entry

A friend asked me to tell the story of my beliefs and how I became a UU. It might make a nice counterpoint to my more polemic pieces.

Here is a start:

Michael and I were living in Arizona in the 80's. We had met in Oregon but wooed and married in the hot desert away from both of our families. Not being part of a church was fine with us. Our wedding was officiated by a judge. I was a former Catholic and Michael grew up without going to church.

I got pregnant and had a baby boy. Motherhood was a surprise because it was so darned emotional. I fell in love with my son and used to wonder why they didn't write top forty songs about mothers and their children. Why all these songs about romantic love when maternal love was equally as strong and true? I was gaga. I was also working full time and was often tired, stressed and lonely for my Oregon family.

One day we went to a Catholic wedding that included a Catholic Mass. I hadn't been to a mass in 5 to 10 years but I knew when to sit, stand and kneel. The prayers and responses came out of my mouth without thinking. I beat my breast in time while I said " through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault". My eyes began to fill with tears for here were the ritual words and movements of my childhood all in celebration of this lovely young couple. She wore a long white dress and was attended by five pink-cheeked flower girls. He was tall, handsome and gazed worshipfully at his new wife. Both families beamed at them from their respective pews.

When we got out to our car to drive to the reception, I burst into tears. Michael was aghast of course and wanted to know what was wrong. I told him about my strong feelings during the mass, about its familiarity and how it connected me with something I hadn't known I was missing. He listened and finally said "Well, if you feel so strongly about it. I guess we had better find ourselves a Catholic church."

That just made me cry harder, I lifted my face to him and choked out "But Michael, I don't BELIEVE a word of it."

It was only a few weeks later that we packed up our son, went exploring and discovered the UU church in Mesa Arizona.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Little Cat Feet

"THE fog comes on little cat feet. " is a fragment from a Carl Sandburg poem I half remember from childhood. It's a textbook perfect image with the staying power of an advertising jingle.

I think of quiet cat feet when I think of global warming.

Now Iraq, Iraq's a big noisy deal, especially if you have a son or daughter over there. It's the loudest deal in town, dragging your heart and attention toward it's exploding center.

The warming is a quiet crisis that comes to us in the pale blue shades of ice dripping and changing into water.

Iraq is the red, beating heart of human suffering. Children are crying. Women raped. Every day men are found on the street with drill holes in their bodies. These horrors are punctuated by daily car bombs. How can we look anywhere but there?

When will we feel the water seeping into our shoes?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Working Class II

A friend of mine from Eastrose read my last post and e-mailed me. I thought I would share what she wrote.

Good old class differences! They divide us in ways personal and profound.

"I too read the article on the working class in the UU World, as well as your comments on your blog. I didn't see the mechanism to post a response on your blog, but this has always been a deeply personal issue for me. I wrote something to respond to both the article and your blog that I wanted to share with you. It's too long for the UU World, but I would value your thoughts and comments. Maybe we can start a dialogue in our congregation!
Here it is:
As the daughter of a working class family, I have so often wanted to loudly tell my UU friends to WAKE UP! I’ve found over and over that UU’s are unaware of the real life situations of the majority of Americans who are “working class.”
My father, who did not finish 6th grade, was a logger and later a truck driver (and a Teamster). My mother was a bookkeeper. Higher education was not valued in my family; my father considered it elitist and was convinced that people who went to college did not want to dirty their hands with real work. My mother, like so many in my family, was a fundamentalist, born-again Christian, and allowed her independent thinking capacity to be subsumed into the rigidity of that faith.
While I did not go to college, I did succeed in a “professional” career, and eventually found my way to a UU church in Maryland where I felt somewhat comfortable. But even there, one UU woman told me that she (of course) did not expect our church to reach out to people without college degrees. When I told a friend that I had not gone to college, his jaw dropped open and he eventually said, “Jean, I won’t hold that against you.” I referenced the fact that one-half of American high school youth did not go on to college in a conversation with a PhD physicist. He refused to believe me, even though I had a valid citation. So often I felt excluded when it was assumed that everyone had advanced degrees, had traveled extensively, and had children who were accomplished both in education and careers.
One of the reasons I moved back to Oregon from the Washington, D.C. area was that I was tired of upper middle class pretensions. From my childhood in Portland, I remembered positive values, such as the integrity of a full day’s hard work, personal sacrifice for the needs of your family, relying on yourself, commitment to your extended family no matter how much conflict there might be, keeping your children safe, taking care of aged parents, and returning your library books on time. I never heard about such things as personal choice, fulfillment, and career rewards. And there was certainly no assumption that parents would pay for college for their children -- their goals were paying the bills on time and saving a penny for a rainy day.
After he died, I learned that my father was brilliant in his own way, with a patent for a mechanical device he had designed. I think he would have been comfortable with UU religious principles, but would never have been comfortable in a UU congregation. There are others like my father and myself out there who could benefit, and could contribute, to Unitarian Universalism.
If you’re wondering how to provide a safe religious home for working class individuals, I suggest that you begin by learning more about the working class, realize that you already have working class members, and reflect this knowledge in the language that is used in worship services and sermons."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Working Class

There is a great article by Doug Muder in The World magazine about why Unitarian Universalism doesn't appeal to the working class.

My first reaction to the article was he got it just right. I was pretty excited because it pulled together ideas I had had over the years into a coherent argument.

I have wondered why we don't attract more working class people or people of color to Unitarian Universalist congregations. I had put it down to culture rather than religion, but Muder makes the case that there is a difference between classes in what they need from religion. For example, in a consumer culture,successful people need help making good choices. He writes "The primary spiritual challenge of the professional class is discernment."

For the working class, its more about sucking up and doing what needs to be done, without being consumed by rage and going off the deep end. In short, the spiritual message that resonates with the working class is "Resist temptation."

Muder does a good job of drawing distinctions between the working class and the professional class without judging either. But he draws a picture of very different worlds -- so different that when he calls for unity in the end, its hard to think it could happen.

Muder says we don't have to give up anything, we need 'both subtle discernment and doing the obvious hard thing. Inspiration and self-control'. Without the unity of those ideas we aren't anything but a boutique religion. Its at this point that I need to get stop thinking of models of behavior and hear just how this is new robust religion is done. What would it look like? What would a sermon sound like and would I want to hear it?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Pollyanna Post

It took a while for me to come up with the name of my blog. The quote from E.M. Forester 'Only connect' was just a chance resonance. I ran into it while I was looking for something from the American Unitarian past-- some Emerson perhaps -- a little Over-soul reference. But here was a quote from a British author that I knew nothing about.

Only connect. It had the right Bloggy qualities. I didn't even know the context of the words. After I picked it, I found myself saying it to myself like a little mantra. Only Connect.

Then I found myself saying it when I was facing generic personal encounters like grocery store check-stand money hand-offs. I would say it to myself and look at the check-out clerk directly and listen. The irritation and the blankness dropped away.

I tried it for other encounters where there was more at stake. Especially when there was an element of fear, complexity, competition, irritation, all the nasty things that can interfere with, well, connecting! Just saying it to myself drops my shoulders down from my ears. I relax.

I think it works as a reminder that success in the encounter is not about the transactional aspect of our being together. Its not about if they do what I want, check my groceries quickly and error free, or consider me the smartest person in the room. Its whether I connect.

I've since looked up the quote and Forester used it differently. He was writing about connecting the parts of a single person. Loosely paraphrased, connecting the practical to the emotional. Making a whole person.

But I like my interpretation of the phrase. Try it yourself -- OnlyConnect.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Old critique style VS instant blogging feedback

My writing group met last night.

Rather than come to the group empty handed I brought one of my blog posts. A day or two before the meeting I send out this blog address so they could see the whole thing.

I got a traditional critique from my writing mates on this new medium. It was a mix of the old with the new and very helpful!

E wanted more connections. "if you are writing about Unitarian Universalism, why isn't there a link somewhere." Good point! She was using it as a blog and found herself taking the Enneagram quiz to see what she was. She found all that on her own because I hadn't done a link. She wanted me to do more about MY credo, MY journey My beliefs.

Its been so long since I became a UU that I don't find that story as fresh as hearing others. Then N said, speaking as a devote and entirely liberal Catholic, "I think it would be interesting to see why your sister stayed a Catholic and you became a UU." Does anyone have that kind of time!

They all chastised me for having such a negative "about me". I was trying to be funny! I knew it clunked a bit. My excuse, and its a true one, is I found it difficult to compose in that tiny little box Blogger gives you to write your profile in. Going back and forth between the box and the final reminded me of the old days of computing when you had to save, do three more things, look at it, go back. Enough! I will compose it somewhere else where I have elbow room and then plop it in. It will be much more polished.

They thought the blog was fun, and showed a side of myself they hadn't seen. There wasn't much said about the writing. In all the rush to publish, the fast pace of putting words out there is a blog really about the writing? I say yes, but its definitely a different style from a carefully crafted story.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Credo Service

If you're a UU and reading this, you probably know what a Credo Service is. If not, a credo service is built around several UU's standing up in church and telling the congregation what they believe.

It must be a uniquely UU style of service. I can't imagine any other faith where we all sit and avidly listen not at all sure what we are going to hear. It could be anything really.

We hadn't had a credo service at Eastrose in quite a while. I had forgotten how powerful they can be.

We had four strong speakers this time. What strikes me is how much there is that is common in all our stories. For most UU's there is usually a background of questioning the beliefs they grew up with (except for those unusual people who grew up as UU's). The questioning persists until the person no longer feels authentic and makes a change. The beliefs expressed in a credo service are rarely surprising. We all seem to need the freedom to question, we have a comfort with knowing that we will never really know about the existence of God. Somehow we all come to a belief that this world is important and how we live in it matters. Not because of God, but just because.

Interesting how we still want a religious community and don't just stay home or go for long walks. I bet a lot of people never do find a community. Perhaps they don't need one. I do.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Body World

My husband and I went to Body World this week-end at OMSI.

I had put it off, the way I put of watching a 'heavy' video until I'm in the right mood. Sometimes I end up sending them back to netflix because I've had the damn thing for three weeks and life hasn't reached the right philosophical balance and never will.

But here I was at Body World, not feeling especially good anyway. My stomach had been rebelling against some aspect of my recent life. It didn't feel any better at Body World where I could look at an actual stomach, either alone, or in the company of its fellow organs.

My husband was in heaven. Scary stuff revealed! Here is a man who loves science fiction, science, horror movies.

I suffered. The big questions were coming at me. Is this ethical? Would this be ethical if they didn't display the bodies doing skateboard tricks? Are we just meat? How big a wuss am I? (that last question was easy to answer -- a pretty big wuss)

But never mind the big questions how about the big exclamations. He is holding his own skin! The circulation system! That's where the heart is! Liver! Spleen! Oh my god look at the size of those male sex organs. Her butt is in the air showing everything! You name it, I had no idea where it was.

I really wonder what everyone else trooping through the exhibit was thinking. My mind was following two tracks. On the first track I was horrified at the whole jolly show. Everything was merrily transgressive. Here you have a dead person and they are chopped up in artful ways and doing some sporting maneuver. The showmanship, which is integral to the whole show was the opposite of respectful. I guess I think a little dullness is in order when dealing with the human body.

I had to admit though, and this is track two, that it was amazing. Could it be that the people who donated really don't care that their bodies are used in this way -- might even think its a good thing? The crowd wasn't solemn but they were respectful. Lots of parents were there with well behaved children. The children didn't look traumatized like I did.

My one take away that I wasn't expecting was an empathy for social conservatives. They are always going crazy about a movie, a fashion. They think its terrible; it doesn't show respect. The rest of society goes, 'huh! What's the big deal! if you don't like it don't wear it or see it." I'm usually the no big deal person. Now I know how it feels.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Hope Global Warming isn't a Step Function

I don't have a lot I remember from my engineering degree. What I have are some graphs that stick in my mind with metaphorical weight. One of those graphs is a step function.

An example of a step function is an on-off switch. When you flip the lights on the current goes from 0 to full instantly. A graph of someone flipping the lights on and off is a series of boxes like you are stepping up on a step and then down from a step.

Most change is linear or exponential. Sea level rises in increments of inches, or feet over years. If the rate of change is constant its easy to deal with. Not so easy to deal with is exponential change. That's when the rate of change starts increasing and suddenly a population of rabbits goes from 10 rabbits to 100 and then the next time you measure its 1000. Hmm. That's the worry when we talk about temperature and sea levels. How can we keep it linear and stop the move to exponential change.

We worry and fuss and start slowly to action.

But what if it's step! We think of linear change as natural change, but step functions are common in nature. A Tsunami hitting the shore is a step function. Every year in Northern lakes there is a day where the warm water at the bottom flips up to the top when the seasons change. All the fish in the lake wobble around for a week or so trying to figure out what just happened. Its drastic but its natural. Its a great day to go fishing!

There is one more perfectly natural step function that we are all familiar with. Its the step we all have to face one day. Death is a step function. One day we are alive, the next we are dead and nothing is more natural then that.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Lady Bird

She has been out of the public eye so long its a rediscovery to hear her name. In the paper I see a clear-eyed woman of evident sense. She's an attractive brunette who looks engaged with life. My, who knew that Lady Bird Johnson was a beauty.

I was young in the sixties and didn't bother being fair to a president who could send my brothers to fight in Vietnam. My disdain extended to his family. Add on to that, Lady Bird followed Jackie Kennedy who was in some other category of cool. What an act to follow. The picture of Lyndon Johnson being sworn in says it all. They are on the plane back to Washington. Jackie is standing next to Lyndon in the place that Lady Bird should be. Lady Bird stands to one side, an onlooker, giving first place to the shocked and suffering widow.

We made fun of her. We made fun of all the Bird girls also, as if their Texas background was the most ludicrous thing on earth. Lady Bird wasn't as young, thin or photogenic as Jackie was, end of story. I realize I do the same thing to Laura Bush and to those little Bush girls. I think I need to knock it off. They don't deserve it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The New Standard for Renewable Energy

I stopped at the brow of a hill in my car,where I could see the freeway right at eye level. The road I was on continues down the hill and through an underpass. I probably stop there every day or so without thinking about it. if anything I look past the freeway at the Columbia River and the mountains on the skyline.

An enormous white blade like a huge feather or a gigantic whale bone went by on the freeway. It was strapped on to the back of trailer rig taking up the whole trailer. So much natural grace went by, it took my breath away. It must of been the blade for a wind turbine heading out to the Columbia Gorge. It looked like it wanted the air; it looked like it grew into its form rather than being engineered. It was, at one fast glance, some organic thing that needed to be strapped down so it wouldn't fly away.

Perhaps that is how we should judge the new renewable energy sources we need to reduce carbon emissions. Does it look like it belongs in the natural world? Does it make your heart stop with it's beauty? Yes? Then it is both useful and beautiful. What more can we want in this world.


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

When did we become the bad guys

It seems right on the Fourth of July to speak out about torture done by the United States or condoned by the United States.

It isn't often that I feel unambiguously in the right. Even on issues like the war, gay marriage and stem cell research, part of me understands the red state point of view. Torture though is different. I don't even want to understand the other sides reasoning.

It isn't just the pain, fear and injustice to torture victims that gets me angry. It's the damage to ourselves. Taking part in something so debased, corrupts everyone that touches it: our allies, our armed forces, the CIA, the state department. There should be a special place in hell for people in power who direct others to use unlawful torture.

Torture works hand in hand with secrecy and lack of habeas corpus.

In a democracy when you allow your leaders to break the law, you are breaking the law.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Identity Crisis

It was not a good portent for my first blog that setting it up got me stalled for a night and a day.

I was stymied by the blank space I needed to fill with my blogging name! Identity for this blogger is always an issue. What should I call myself? Should I go with something cute, regional, religious or perhaps all three? I intend this to be a Unitarian Universalist blog and so considered many options that included the characteristic UU initials. They are lovely pillars that when pronounced point our attention away from ourselves - you and you. However, they can also look strident, standing there as if they are blocking something off.

I couldn't decide on a name, and had to sleep on it. I woke thinking of E.M. Forester's admonition, "Only Connect". And so here I am OnlyConnect. It will remind me, when I write that that is my intention in doing the blog. Connecting with others is at least one of my intentions, the other are self expression, keeping myself writing and giving myself a ready forum for ideas and feelings.