Friday, January 29, 2010

Why I attend church


"Why do you attend church? If you don't go, why not?" These were questions asked by Jacqueline at MoxieLife ; she was expanding the audience for these queries from her daughter Paige , who asked them in a letter to her hometown congregation.

I don't have perfect attendance by any means. I miss many summer services, especially Labor Day; how many times can one listen to the local head of the AFL-CIO? I frequently miss guest sermons as well, especially "special musical guests"; how many times can one listen to an overage hippy who sounds like Raffi performing songs written by Al Gore? And sometimes I just need that Sunday morning as a mental health day. (OK, I was up too late Saturday night- stop smirking) But I make around thirty Sundays a year, plus special events, such as graduation parties, going aways, holidays- the only Christmas Eve we've missed was when our plane was snowed in at O'Hare. Plus I facilitate a small group, belong to a service club, and a CUUPs group at another congregation; I spend a fair amount of time at church. Why?

I'll begin with a double negative; what things that deter others fail to deter me? Jacqueline started drifting away while she was caring for her dad, and I can understand that one quite well; sometimes the concern of others can be overwhelming, as I learned when my father in law died . But I had the opposite emotional reaction- as long as people are still talking about him, he's still there.

Neither am I deterred by Paige's complaint: "As UUs it isn't our belief in a god that brings us together, it's a belief in peace and understanding. I don't feel that overwhelming peace when I walk into the doors of our church on Sunday afternoons, and I wish I did." I don't enjoy the battles within our church- regular readers have heard me on the subject repeatedly- but it doesn't keep me away. Why? Maybe it's my advanced age, maybe it's my years in politics, but I never expected anything different. People have opinions, and I expect them to argue about them; a lack of arguing demonstrates only a lack of passion. "Overwhelming peace" is for retreats and contemplative orders of monks and nuns.

Now for the active voice reasons. First, I go because I'm a social creature, and I enjoy the company of others. It's the largest organization I'm interested in joining wherein I'm certain of my welcome. Closely related to this reason is comfort and nostalgia; I was married there, and that wedding was perhaps the last public event my mother was functional enough to attend. People there remember my father in law, and ask about my mother in law, who while alive and well is 3/4 a continent away.

I go because I learn a lot. Not just from Rev. Clear's excellent presentations, but also from coffee hours and general discussions. Where else can I go to have a discussion with hundreds of people who disagree with me? And I'm completely serious- one learns nothing if one only keeps company with those one agrees with- after all, you already know what they think.

I go because I'm "modeling", or what we used to call "living your faith" back in the days before everyone spoke like a humorless philosophy undergrad. If anyone at my congregation is going to say "There are no good reasons to vote against Obama, just one bad one" or "The division isn't between atheist and theist, it's between rational and irrational" or "conservatives aren't capable of rational thought; at best, they can memorize a few facts and parrot them back", they'll have to do it while looking at me- and after 14 years at that congregation, I don't think they can anymore. It's important to see the human face of those one despises; the contrast with the preconceptions usually reveal the stereotypes for what they are. And it's important for me to see the human faces of liberals and atheists, too.

I go to be part of change. All Souls has evolved a lot over the years, and I've been part of that- and I'd like to be part of it in the future as well.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

That's just wrong

I've written about our senior cat Laurie, before , but this is a new one. Even for a senile elder kitty who was a winter-depressive even when young.

Big grocery trip, which meant dumping bags on the table and going out to the car for more. Laurie climbed up on the table to inspect the groceries before they were put away, but that's normal, and there was nothing in the bags she could get into without help, as she has neither teeth nor front claws. Or so I thought...

When I came back in with the second load, I saw behavior that was strange even for Laurie. Yes, I know she freaks out when the universe betrays her and snows on her world. Yes, I know it must feel like a thousand years to her since she's been able to roll in the grass and eat the flowers... but to find her hugging the celery and chewing on the leaves was just wrong.

Some grammar advice

A cartoon about the semicolon, The most feared punctuation on Earth .

Friday, January 22, 2010

By nerds, for nerds, about nerds redux

I wrote before about Ginger's Sims 3 , but lately she's been doing something called "The Apocalypse Challenge". For those of you who are not Simmers (which includes me), it has to do with imposed obstacles and multi-generational accomplishments. Ginger has started blogging the story of this Sim family, complete with illustrations, and even as a non-Simmer I'm finding it fascinating- especially as some chapters are told from the Grim Reaper's point of view! Check out Varland Story .

I can't think of a witty title for this one

And if you can, I don't really want to hear it. WARM SPRINGS, Ga. (AP) Police have arrested a Georgia woman who they say forced her son to kill his pet hamster with a hammer as punishment for earning a bad grade.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A New Blog

I have decided to create a new blog to offer as a public service to the Unitarian Universalist Blogosphere. This was inspired by an escalation of the verbal warfare surrounding the dispute between Robin Edgar, the UCM, and the UU world in general. Relations have degenerated in recent months and years, to the point where many bloggers- myself included- simply stopped permitting Robin to comment. Then in the last few weeks, things went further downhill yet; more emotion from Robin's blog, and two new blogs, equally emotional, created about him- one with an obscene name, and one that's a parody of Robin's own.

To defuse this situation, and to attempt to reconcile the aggrieved parties, I have created a new blog for their use: Reason and Reconciliation This blog is intended to be a neutral ground where all can discuss their issues. I felt this necessary because both Robin and those who disagree with him have many good points that need to be heard, but they are never aired because of past baggage. This is an attempt to start afresh, to discuss these issues calmly and rationally. Whatever your past issues, bring only current discussion.

The only ground rules are these: No personal insults, no armchair psychoanalyzing, no spamming. Address people by their proper names; no nicknames or "cute" references; something you may find funny another may find offensive. No links unless they are absolutely necessary to understand the issue. Keep the discussion about the discussion; don't label the arguments made (such as "DIM" or "irrational")- labels do not advance understanding. Simply agree with them or refute them.

Robin, feel free to post there; you will never be banned from that blog. Individual posts may be bounced for rewording- blogger doesn't seem to permit detail editing- but you will be able to post reworded versions of a bounced post. Feel free to post issues you have with the UUA, or any member congregation. The only sort of posts not welcome are generic attacks; as this is for discussion, issues would need to be specific.

All other commenters, feel free to discuss any issues raised, and to raise your own... BUT... discuss only the issues raised, be logical and to the point. Anonymous comments are acceptable, as long as they conform. If you are going to use a pseudonym, please choose a unique one and stick with it, as an aid to understanding and following the discussion. (nothing more confusing than having more than one "anonymous"!!)

I invite all those knowledgeable in church policy and procedures to watch the discussions, to jump in if there seems to be a misunderstanding of policies, etc.
I am not moderating this blog for two reasons: first, that dialogue can begin immediately, without having to wait for me to log in and approve things, and secondly, because I'm so busy I've been neglecting my own blog- I have notes for dozens of posts I simply haven't had time to write. But I took time to do this because I thought it was important; please do not abuse the license I'm giving everyone.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Another argument against gay marriage disproved

One of the most used arguments against gay marriage is that it devalues the institution of marriage itself. The obvious counters- how does what two other people you've never even met live affect your marriage, and how can gays do any more damage to the state of marriage than Hollywood stars have done- are rejected out of hand by opponents of gay marriage. But neither side has been convincing, because they were opinions; there weren't any real numbers or hard evidence to support either position. Until now.

The most obvious test of the health of the state of marriage is the rate of divorce, and at the national level, it's been improving the last decade or so; divorce rates are down. But that's the national average; individual states vary wildly, with many showing an increase in divorce. Could gay marriage be having an effect? Nate Silver at the blog FiveThirtyEight has put numbers to it. 538 used marriage and divorce rates from the CDC - 43 states reporting, from the 2004-2008 period- and correlated them against the level of marriage equality, using a four-stage rating: Legal, Not Performed, Forbidden By Statute, Forbidden By State Constitution, displayed as a chart.

The results? "As is somewhat visually apparent, those states which have tended to take more liberal policies toward gay marriage have tended also to have larger declines in their divorce rates. In Massachusetts, which legalized gay marriage in 2004, the divorce rate has declined by 21 percent and is the lowest in the country by some margin. It is joined at the top of the list by Rhode Island and New Mexico, which do not perform same-sex marriages but idiosyncratically also have no statute or constitutional provision expressly forbidding them, as well as Maine, whose legislature approved same-sex marriage only to have it overturned (although not banned constitutionally) by its voters.

On the other hand, the seven states at the bottom of the chart all had constitutional prohibitions on same-sex marriage in place throughout 2008. The state which experienced the highest increase in its divorce rate over the period (Alaska, at 17.2 percent) also happens to be the first one to have altered its constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage, in 1998."

In fact, looking at his chart, it's immediately obvious from the chart that all 24 states in which divorce rates declined had either become more liberal or remained the same through the reporting period. While this does not imply a cause and effect- there's no reason to believe that liberalizing marriage will reduce divorce rates- it does in fact demolish the claim that liberalizing marriage laws harm marriages.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A stunning performance


As bad as "reality" TV shows can be, there's one that seems to regularly pull heart-touching performances out of people who would never have been given a chance any other way- the "(insert country here)'s Got Talent". Here's one from the Ukraine that had the audience in tears: a young woman using sand-painting on a light box to tell the story of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

I find it interesting that a large part of the music used to set the mood in the background is Metallica.

Friday, January 01, 2010

2009 in science

A lot of discoveries were made in 2009. Here's a list of important discoveries that may seem counterintuitive, even wild or controversial, but I assure you that each was the result of diligent- often expensive- research by respected colleges and institutes, published in prestigious journals and peer reviewed:

1. High Heels Lead to Foot Pain
2. Men Much More Interested Than Women in Casual Sex
3. Children Are Affected When a Parent Suffers From Depression
4. Coed Dorms Fuel Sex and Drinking
5. Sweets Taste Better When You're High
6. G-Rated Children’s Films Are Very Straight
7. Eating Lots of Red Meat and Processed Meat Is Bad for You
8. Kids' TV Is Full of Ads for High-Fat and High-Sugar Foods

I find it gratifying that there are still scientists willing to tackle such hot potato issues, and more importantly, get the funding to do so. More details here