My Blog Is Moving!

Tue Dec 23, 2008 9:41 pm

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It'll be at "Beliefnet" from now on--under the name "MUUsings"--and it's at this address;

Come and join me there, won't you?
Posted By: uufreespirit
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Weather and Human Nature...Not So Different Really

Mon Mar 31, 2008 12:35 pm

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"Change is certain. Peace is followed by disturbances; departure of evil men by their return. Such recurrences should not constitute occasions for sadness but realities for awareness, so that one may be happy in the interim."

-- I Ching

As you may have read elsewhere my career has been in the meteorology field, and over the years I have come to realize just how many correlations there are between weather and human nature. It's been a while since I talked about this, so...

Recently I talked about a blog post (by a fellow UU) which basically advanced the notion that war is inevitable...that it's a basic human need. I subsequently responded that I thought this was erroneous, and that it may be simply a way to absolve us from doing the sufficient deep thinking and acting on the matter to make it somewhat less "basic."

To be fair, however, I must agree that some degree of instability is itself a basic part of our human nature, along with a perceived urge to respond to it in some manner. Instability is a given, from unequal justice to unequal economic status, etc., etc., and we're constantly faced with how we're going to deal and cope with it (both individually and collectively). So, in a sense, that blogger was correct...that instability is indeed a part of human nature, although I would argue that the story doesn't stop there--that how we choose to respond to this inevitable instability and conflict is (at least to some extent) up to us.

A co-worker at the weather office recently related to me a conversation with a friend in which the question arose about "why is the weather so unstable these days? Is it a sign of something?" My co-worker and I both agreed that instability is really the norm in weather...always has been, and always will be: It's really just a constant effort by the atmosphere to respond to inequalities of pressure, temperature, moisture, etc...a never-ending dance of both necessity and futility. Sometimes the equalization effort is relatively tame, but at other times it can be quite violent. Sure, there are periods of relative stability, but they never last very long. Flow and change are about the most basic characteristic we can know about the universe. In weather (and elsewhere), nature utterly abhors stability so much that it quickly injects new instability into the mix--and the dynamic "process of responding" to the new equalities starts all over again. Nature is built around the inevitability of flow and change, and if there's any "norm" to be found within it, we can discover it in the constant efforts within nature to try respond to it. In the weather, it can be seen in the constant interplay between high and low pressure; between cold and warm air; between convergence and divergence; confluence and diffluence; between the urge for order (cosmos) and the inevitability of chaos,

We human beings have the same cosmic DNA within us as well: We're constantly trying to respond to (and cope with) an ever-changing environment (both human and otherwise). We possess the same tendencies -- of "self-assertiveness" (ego, or diffluence) and "integrativeness" (relationship, or confluence)-- that are found in the weather patterns. Our lives are a constant dance between the two...our yins and yangs...trying to respond and cope with inequalities and instabilities between the two. And, just when we think we've gotten it about right--in relative instability (like in the dogmas of our religions)--along comes something to upset the balance once again. Our lives are an interplay between cosmos and chaos. We structure what we think is ultimately true about the universe, only to be thrown one new curve after another by nature. After all, no matter how hard we may try to "capture" Truth in a bottle, and "possess" real power, flow and change always seem to have the upper hand. Try as we may, the effort to eliminate instability for once and for all time will end in futility. The best we can do is adopt a response to the universe that includes that realization, that appreciation for flow and change as a basic.

I've stated a number of times how I believe that this thing we call "democracy" comes about as close as anything we humans have yet devised to embrace both the cosmos and the chaos, both the individual and the community, both our diversity and our commonality. Other ways of living may appear more stable, but alas nature has other ideas. By innoculating ourselves with some degree of instability, with accommodations for change and flow...for diversity of thought (respectful clash of opinions) and flexibility to deal with unforeseen situations and to resolve conflicts before they devour us, we are able to cope in ways that a rigid, authoritarian society cannot. It's not a perfect system, but it's perhaps the most perfect system that's likely to be available to us, as we prepare ourselves to deal as best we can with yet more changes and yet more instability. it is with liberal religion, a mode of faith in which cosmos and chaos, unity and diversity--stability and change-- are expected--even embraced as normal and perfectly natural. Accommodations for both personal uniqueness and ultimate connectedness--both free agency and cooperation, both our yins and yangs, our self-assertive and integrative tendencies--are hardwired into the very DNA of our liberal approach to religion.

Can we stop all war...all human conflict? Of course not, but we can--with great effort, intelligence and sacrifice--mitigate its causes and we can expose it for what it is, and we can put a saddle upon its back and ride it until it falls from exhaustion. Still, nature will bring us yet more instability (of one form or another). The rains and storms will come again. They always do. A mature faith, however--one in which change and flow are incorporated into its very core--will be ready for them...ready to accommodate and cope with them yet again.

We UU's will never enjoy the kind of "stability" of the more tightly-structured, more dogma-driven, more authoritarian faiths, but (at our best) what we do have has a kind of authenticity that resonates throughout nature, and (when done well) is the kind of "ongoing reform-oriented" religious movement which can effectively respond to many of those instabilities and inequalities of human society--without any naive expectation of ever being fully victorious over them. We'll be "wrestling our dragons" as long as we live, at which time the charge will only be passed along to new generations of reform-oriented, free-thinking religious liberals -- who will wrestle with new generations of dragons. And so it goes...

At least that's my general take on it: I'd love to hear yours as well!

Posted By: uufreespirit
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Global Warming, from a UU Perspective

Wed Mar 05, 2008 2:55 am

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-- Recently I was "cornered" by a co-worker who had obviously just dined on a healthy course of political propaganda. He said (in the presence of several other people) something along these lines..."Tell me something, Ron! If you 'global warming' folks are right, then how come we're getting so much snow?" Well, I only partly took the bait: I questioned why he called me "global warming folks," and then told him that the amount of snow really has little to do with the presence or absence of global warming. It only takes about 32 degrees fahrenheit, or 0 celsius to have snow...that the amount of snowfall is far more a matter of how much moisture is available and of how stormy the weather patterns are...than whether the overall temperatures are colder. IMHO, it's far more relevant to know how much ice remains around the poles and how deep it is. And, if that's not enough, some of the larger snowfalls come from so-called "lake-effect" snows, which are most intense when the lakes are relatively warm (not frozen).

-- Now, whenever I can avoid it I resist the discussion of religion or politics at the office. If I had really, really wanted to dive into the deep end of this pool, however, I would have first suggested that his question may not be all that sincere...that what he's talking about it less about climate change than about political choreography. However, if we really want to talk about climate change, then OK: First, let's acknowledge that measurable changes are occurring. What it all really means--and the extent to which human activity has contributed to it--is a legitimate subject for vigorous debate (if the political posturing can be set aside long enough).

-- For my part--as a student of the "scientific way" (extended even to religion)--I believe we should first look at the evidence and honestly assess what is there to see. Again, changes indeed are occurring. I believe we also have an abundance of evidence to suggest that human beings are inextricably tied to our environment....that we cannot possibly escape from having some kind of effect upon the world around us. The clearing of the jungles for pasture-land, the leveling of mountaintops, the redirection of natural much of what we do...has already shown us that our actions have consequences...often harmful ones. That's what the evidence tell us. How, then, can we...should we...respond to these facts?

-- As a UU, I believe--from evidence--that ecosystems are real, and that they exist for a reason. I believe--from evidence--that there is both "cosmos" and "chaos" within a healthy ecosystem...that its "unity" depends upon the richness and interactiveness of its diversity. This eco-diversity, to me, is a central article of faith, and informs my attitudes regarding human relationships as well. It nurtures my belief in "community among unique individuals" and in a faith-tradition which is gathered around that premise.

-- Therefore, all I can say, with any great degree of confidence, is that global changes are occurring, and that we human beings are intimately and inextricably involved in our environment, and have a personal stake in keeping it healthy. I believe the same can be said about human society...that we have a personal stake in growing an appreciation for the sanctity of the human personality with unique individual life-experiences; and of the inherent need for this "chaos" to exist--and for constructive interaction to occur--in order to ensure and maintain the quality of a larger "human ecosystem." You see, to me radically-liberal, freedom-affirming, progressive reform-minded religious faith is not only good science but also good religion.

-- So, to me, the only way to adequately deal with such issues as global climate change (in a sustainable way) is to make mindset changes and disciplined lifestyle changes that honor both our natural eco-diversity and our eco-responsibility. Call it religious or not--I obviously do--to me it's well-grounded, not in the pretense of dogma but in the fertile, life-giving soil of honest and disciplined scientific inquiry...not on a "Rock of Ages," but in a sufficiently solid, usable and soundly-reasoned body of evidence, on a sober working knowledge of the nature of the universe, and of the human beings who occupy at least a small portion of it.

But...that's just me...what about you? What do you think?

Posted By: uufreespirit
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The "Brubakers" of Reformist Religion?

Tue Mar 04, 2008 2:15 pm

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-- There's a section in our "Faith of the Free" board that focuses upon "UU-themed" movies...upon those which, in our opinion, express the premises, values, priorities and general temperament of our particular mode of liberal religion. So far, there have been posts about such movies as "Pleasantville," "A Christmas Carol," "Inherit the Wind," etc., but I don't believe there is any better example of a "UU-themed movie" than the Robert Redford movie "Brubaker." That may sound a little odd, given the subject-matter, but a deeper investigation I believe reveals something that goes right to the very heart of "what we're about" as UU' a liberal-religious movement.

-- The movie "Brubaker" is about life and conditions in a rural state penitentiary which has come to reflect the worst kind of "correctional" atmosphere and attitudes--and a new warden who comes to make systemic reforms within it. To me, the underlying (or overarching) theme of this movie is about some of the same identity-issues that also face Unitarian Universalism as a "radical reform-oriented" religious movement. Again, Robert Redford is "an outsider" who came to the prison to make real and fundamental changes...systemic spite of a system that sought to block his progress at any turn. It's a constant struggle between tradition...the status-quo, "business as usual" (no matter how corrupt and morally bankrupt) and, on the other hand, a perceived need to "blow the lid off" the whole infrastructure and build anew. Warden Brubaker even suggested that the most expedient way to solve the many problems facing that "Wakefield prison" would be to blow it up and start over.

-- The movie features an interaction between two opposing and sometimes incompatible forces--the radical approach to reform (which Brubaker passionately advocated), and a slower, more measured approach that was being advanced by several of his collegues. In religion, this same interaction can be seen in the thorough-going, radical-reform emphasis of Unitarian Universalism, and, on the other hand, the "modifying liberalism" of some of our friends who espouse other, "less radical" manifestions of liberal faith. As you may have noticed from some of my other posts, I believe our particular mission in religion is pretty clear. The world already has enough modifying religious movements, but there's a monumental calling for at least one "Brubaker-style" religious movement.

-- At the end of the movie, actor Yaphet Kotto, who had earlier repeatedly questioned the warden's methods, simply said to Redford "I'm gonna' tell you something were right!" He meant, of course, that sometimes there is indeed a calling for that kind of radical-reform and systemic change. We UU's would extend that same belief also to matters of religion and religious community.

-- In reality, we need both the gradual reforms of the "modifying progressives" and the shock-reforms of the "thorough-going progressives," and in religion that means we need both the progressive Christians (and counterparts in other faith-traditions) and at least one movement where ongoing, systemic reform is a fundamental part of its very DNA. We currently are calling such a faith-community "Unitarian Universalism."

"I believe I can offer one important testimonial; and that is, that having spent the last twelve years in public life, I've become more and more conscious of the importance of Unitarian groups, Unitarian communities. I don't mean just our church services, just our worship, but Unitarian people--who appear in my life constantly. They're the sort of people who do the advance thinking, who are, for the most part, rocking the boat, who are cutting the furrows, who are ahead of the procession in contemporary thought in our country about our great social and political problems, as well as our theological discussion. This is the active agent in the body politic that is most necessary. "

"I think that one of our most important tasks as Unitarians is to convince ourselves and others that there is nothing to fear in difference; that difference, in fact, is one of the healthiest and most invigorating of human characteristics, without which life would become lifeless. Here lies the power of the liberal way—not in making the whole world Unitarian; but in helping ourselves and others to see some of the possibilities inherent in viewpoints other than one's own; in encouraging the free interchange of ideas; in welcoming fresh approaches to the problems of life; in urging the fullest, most vigorous use of critical self-examination. Thus we can learn to grow together, to unite in our common search for the truth beneath a better and a happier world"

-- Adlai Stevenson, Jr.

-- As a "Brubaker-style" approach to religion, we occupy a distinct, arguably unique place along the religious spectrum. We have our own reason for being...simply because the ways of gradual reform are often insufficient, too little, too late. Sometimes even religion needs its boat-rockers...its "devil's advocates" point the way to new ways of looking at things, and of responding to the needs of this human race and this planet.

-- In the movie, Redford calls the "slow change from within the system" kind of liberalism one of "pseudo-reform" and "token liberalism"-- which I'll admit is at least a little overstated. However, I hope nobody will miss the fundamental point he's making. He's saying that sometimes there's a genuine need for radical, revolutionary, systemic changes, the kind that goes all the way to attitudes and mindsets as well as to bricks, mortar and infrastructure.

-- I hope all of you will consider taking advantage of any opportunity you may have to see the movie "Brubaker," or to go back again and consider it from the standpoint of the current state of religion and of religious reform. I obviously believe pretty deeply in this particular reform-oriented religious movement that we have come to currently call Unitarian Universalism. I believe in both its rich, inspiring legacy and its present calling. And, like Yaphet Kotto, I believe the legacy and calling of this "Brubaker faith" are "right"--not that we're the only ones who are "right," of course, or that we are in any way perfect in what we try to accomplish; and not that our reform-work is ever finished, or that we're ever allowed to settle back and rest on past reforms--but because we, too, have a legitimate and vital "reason for being"--at this unique place on the religious spectrum. Like Warden Brubaker, we, too are engaged in doing something thoroughly worthwhile, and in speaking with a progressive voice that could not be more important in this fast-moving society and ever-changing world...a work which, yes, extends even to meaningful prison and corrections-system reforms!

So...have you seen the movie lately? What do you think?

Posted By: uufreespirit
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The Rules Are Different Here

Thu Feb 28, 2008 11:57 am

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There's been quite a discussion on the "UU blogs" recently about just what is the role of our congregations in "this thing we call UU." How important are they? Why are they not adequately meeting the needs of the majority of those people who identify themselves as Unitarian Universalists? It's a healthy conversation to have, but some of the angst is unwarranted, IMHO.

While some UU bloggers are just now coming to this realization --that UU is more of a movement that extends beyond our institutions, arguably even beyond UUA--some of us have recognized it for years. UUA has itself struggled with this fact (and continues to do so, it seems to me). There's even a hint of authoritarianism in its assumptions that it can somehow speak for an entire movement...for all UU's through a common set of "principles and purposes" (as admirable as they may be, and upon which I voted favorably as a delegate back in 1985, by the way).

The tendency to conflate this particular mode of liberal religion that we currently are calling Unitarian Universalism with any one single religious institution or denomination is a fundamental error. This "movement" is older than the UUA, and I would argue is much, much larger. Surveys have only recently begun to reflect the fact, having discovered that people are (by the hundreds of thousands) adopting the name Unitarian or Unitarian Universalist who have no personal relationship with any UU organization. This thing that we call Unitarian Universalism--largely for the sake of convenience, and the lack of any better name at the moment--reflects a "whole 'nother way" of looking at religion, a far different paradigm of progressive, dynamic, non-dogmatic, radical-reform oriented and Enlightenment-spirited religion, which simply refuses to be confined by the old boundaries, or to be judged or measured according by the old rules and standards. Yes, it has--and will continue to possess--both communal and individual aspects, as it sees religion itself to be an expression and embodiment of both diversity and unity.

There will, no doubt, be room for "congregations" in some form, but the old rules need not apply any more--should not apply. Ours is a "new wineskins of ongoing-reformation" kind of faith--one which, by its very nature and DNA is tasked to respond to the new needs of an ever-shrinking, ever-changing, faster-moving world. The "new paradigm" will inevitably give birth to new models of community, of networking, of extended family. Rather than bemoan that fact, we should learn how to accept this new mode of religion, and adapt ourselves to its different "new world" demands and its different rules and standards.

As our liberal prophets have been insisting for centuries, the ways of the fifth and fifteenth centuries will simply not do for ours. Whether intended or not, we've hitched our horses to something distinctly a "whole 'nother way" in religion, a way of critical questioning; of nondogmatic, inductively-reasoned, "free and open marketplace" scientific discipline; of democratic human relations which respect both diversity and unity; of personal free-agency in matters of conscience and ultimate truth and meaning; of radical belonging and of an inextricable cosmic connectedness with the very heartbeat of the universe...with the "interdependent web" of life. The sooner we come to grips with just how distinct is this particular legacy in religion...of this still-emerging new paradigm of "thorough-going liberalism," of sound reasoning and utmost personal honesty applied even to matters of the spirit, the sooner we will begin to meet the needs of a world that simply refuses to comply with the dogmatic, authoritarian, patriarchal constructs of religion which we humans have sought to impose upon it for far too long. The universe itself is calling for a different mode of human relationships...for a different kind of civility...a different set of standards...a different mindset. As a Universalist once suggested, we who call ourselves Universalists have an obligation to either "improve the premises" or step aside and allow others to do it.

But...I could be wrong. What do you think?

Posted By: uufreespirit
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-- Personal commentary on society and religion straight from the "UU hinterlands." Visitors welcome! (Knowledge of "Blazing Saddles" movie-quotes is not necessary...but it might help!) --
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