Thursday, August 31, 2006

What gets me through the night

Rev. Sean will be hosting the Third UU Blog Carnival, and he’s chosen as his topic “ “What gets you through the hard night?” More specifically, what is it in our faith tradition, that brings you the strength and/or comfort you need to face difficult times?” UU Blog Carnival #3

I do have some favorite prayers from childhood, and some favorite hymns- Morning Has Broken never fails to raise my spirits, make me feel as fresh as that first morning. But what really gets me through that long dark night are my Pagan beliefs, truths I instinctively knew even as a child before the term “Neopagan” had ever been coined.

Neopagan faiths are called “Earth based religions”; most people think that means we worship the Earth itself. Some in fact do- there is that old joke that Wiccans make the best lovers, because they really do worship the ground you walk on! But it also means that we are oriented on this world, not the next. The Abrahamic faiths teach that the next world is the real one, that this life is merely an entrance exam. Most Neopagans believe in a form of reincarnation- either as an entity, or that the energies we have gathered are recycled, like a rock band breaking up to form new groups with new sounds. Even those that do believe in an afterlife- primarily those that call themselves heathens- believe that any judgment they face is based on their performance in this world, not on the mental gyrations they went through to prepare for the next. The essence of all these possibilities is one reality at a time... if you make yourself truly worthy of this world, you have nothing to fear from any other.

But there is yet another depth to the term “Earth centered”- that we must live in the present tense. Here is what I have written in my personal Book of Shadows:

The Divine has given you this day; do not waste it by attempting to live in the past. Reliving glory days is not harmful per se, but misty eyes are blind to the joy of the moment. If overindulged, it can sap your will to drive for new accomplishments. Obsessing over past pains or guilt is worse still. You are required to learn from your sorrows, to incorporate whatever lessons can be gleaned from them; but having done so, it is your duty to The Divine to move on. Do not squander the gift of the day.

Living in the future is equally futile. It is your duty of the day to make plans for the future; but having done so, lay them aside and enjoy the moment. Anticipation of future joy is foolish. The expected event may or may not happen; if it happens, it may or may not live up to your expectations- in which case the joys it did possess have been spoiled.

Fear of the future is equally foolish. Again, the event dreaded may or may not happen; if it does, it may be better or worse than you imagine. Either way, there will be plenty of time to suffer when the time comes- are you so eager for pain that you must borrow it from the future to spoil the day? To live in fear is to suffer the pains of injuries you have not received. Make what preparations you can do today- and then let tomorrow deal with tomorrow.

And the pains of today? All pains are growing pains, all experiences are learning experiences. Sometimes we are lucky enough to learn from the pain of others; sometimes we must be the lesson. I know that this too shall pass, and that I will be a different person tomorrow. I may not understand the lesson today; perhaps not even in this lifetime- perhaps this must be entered into that enormous volume of things I do not understand. My duty is to try to learn; I have not failed if I die still trying.

Lastly, I know that my responsibility is mine alone; no one can take it from me even if I wished they could. Nor can I take responsibility for another, even if I wish to make the sacrifice. If I have done all that can be expected of me today, I can sleep soundly... if the world goes to Hell as I sleep, it will be my sorrow in the morning, but it is not my responsibility tonight. I trust that whether or not it is clear to me, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Ranting Rev nails it

As a Goldwater/Reagan conservative- think of a Libertarian who doesn’t want to legalize crystal meth- I’ve been dismayed by big-spending, homophobic Republican congressmen. Being more devoted to a cause than a party, I’ve been hoping that Republicans would loose seats, so that we old-timers can reclaim a party that’s more interested in foreign policy and sound currency than who marries whom. The problem has been that the Democratic party is not cooperating!

For four years I’ve been begging the Democrats to come up with a party line and campaign on it- but for six solid years their candidates have run on a single issue: Bush is a doody-head. Some of the more sophisticated have added that he wasn’t elected, he was appointed... but when the chips were down, they still joined hands and chanted “Bush is a doody-head”. When I correctly predicted the last two election cycles in Beliefnet and CFUU and AUC forums, saying that you can’t win votes by spewing hatred and venom, that incumbents can only be unseated by earnest-sounding candidates with real ideas, I was ridiculed. When I said that you can’t win by saying, “Your man is a Nazi and you’re a fool- oh, by the way, can I have your vote?”, I got more than one response of “He just wants us to stop telling the truth so that the conservatives can call us names themselves.” Well, a liberal is now echoing my sentiments: The Ranting Rev: Can These Bones Live? - A Sermon for the Democratic Party

How did the Republicans win control of Congress in the first place? Yes, yes, I hear you- by lying. But that glib answer is simply wrong. They won because of Newt’s “Contract with America”. And don’t bother telling me they broke the contract- that’ll simply prove you still haven’t gotten the point. They had a unified message, they talked about issues, not their opponents- in short, they sounded like statesmen, whether they were or not. That wins votes. That wins elections. And that’s a lesson the Democratic party has still not learned. Back on December 10, ‘05, I predicted the following in comments on the ChaliceBlog: “I now predict that if there's not a big shake-up the Democratic party leadership within the next three months, Republicans will retain majority in both houses in the upcoming election. I further predict that if Republicans retain control of Congress, a Republican will be elected president in 2008.” I stand by it, absent a major disaster like a second Katrina occurring. Not because the Republicans have earned it; they haven’t- but because the Democratic party has been throwing it away. The triumvirate of Howard Dean, Michael Moore, and have so crippled the Democratic party that a conspiracy minded person might wonder if they were undercover Republican operatives. Had someone like “The Happy Warrior” Humphrey or Pat Moynihan had been the party chairman, they’d control both houses of Congress by now.

Why am I, a conservative, so concerned with saving the Democratic party? Because I want to separate the religious right from the traditional right, and that will never happen as long as Republicans keep winning under the current coalition. Because I’m worried that the Democrats will decide that they have to cater to the religious right, too- I’ve seen some evidence of it. This country is ready to elect a Libertarian, but neither party will nominate one- and the Libertarian Party can never elect one while the two major parties control “election reform”.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More thought on Peacebang’s “Vague Buddhism”

I’ve been neglecting the blog (don’t you hate when the “real world” interferes with what you really want to do?), but I have been pondering- primarily Peacebang’s Humanists or vague Buddhists? , by way of Oversoul’s Response to Peacebang‘s blog and Lizard Eater’s No More Elevator Speech . I realized that much of what I written in response to Christian questions about my Pagan beliefs is applicable to the discussion within UU.

The question I was asked as a Pagan was “If your tradition contradicts the tradition of another Wiccan, can they both be objectively true? If you cater/construct your religion according to your desires, then isn't it nothing more than your own invention?” Here was my answer: Yes, they are both objectively true- and no, they are not merely our inventions. The freedom to choose is not license for catering to whims, it’s an obligation, a duty- you are required to find through study, soul-searching, and prayer the way to the Divine. Both the Wiccan and the Christian can say “The Earth is real; I can touch it. God is real; I can touch him.” To them both, each experience was equally factual. We are each of us prisoners within our own skulls; I cannot know exactly what a Pentecostal is experiencing when the spirit takes them anymore than they can experience what I feel in circle- we each come to the Divine one at a time. In a very real sense, there are six billion religions! My body will reject an organ transplant even from a close relative (absent drugs); objectively, only my kidney will work for me, and yours for you... each is different, and each is the only true way for each other. My need for that specific kidney- or that specific faith- is not my invention.

I would modify that answer only slightly for a UU, by substituting “Truth” for “The Divine”, as there are many atheist UUs... but so altered, I believe it to be true: by becoming UU, you have assumed an obligation to find your truth. We have rejected the other denominations’ set answers, but the human psyche is not built to live with a vacuum; therefore we must be seekers. This is where I disagree with Peacebang’s reply to Lizard Eater, when she said “I absolutely agree with you that personal witness is more powerful than trying to stammer out a definition of Unitarian Universalist. However, while the Christian witness is testifying to the saving grace of God/Christ in their life, we're witnessing to the saving grace of a congregation in our life. When I try to answer the question "what are we worshiping?" your post validates my sad conclusion that we are, in fact, worshiping ourselves.” If a graduate of Harvard’s Divinity school sings its saving virtues, it is understood that he is not worshipping it; he is praising its part in bringing him to that which he does worship. When I praise All Souls Indianapolis, I’m expressing gratitude for its help in my own spiritual growth; I am not worshipping All Souls.

Our duty to seek truth is also why I disagree with Oversoul’s statement:
"Someday, UUism will have to squarely confront three fundamental questions:
1. Is there a Higher Power?
2. If yes, what is its nature and how do we relate to it as a religious community?
3. How do the answers to questions 1 and 2 inform the way we live our lives?"
UUs have this obligation- but the UUA does not. Those questions are my responsibility, and as I wrote in my creed, “I believe that responsibility, for good or ill, is my one irrevocable possession.” In their hearts, all people know this to be true- is there a single faith more than fifty years old that has not schismed into multiple denominations? Even within those denominations, is there one with 100% agreement between congregates?

Worshipping together does not have to mean worshipping the same thing.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

9/11 Conspiracies

This month’s Popular Mechanics magazine has an editorial letter from Senator John McCain about the various wingnut 9/11 conspiracy theories. Hardly surprising that they are still news, I guess, with 36% of the American people believing it’s possible, Third of Americans suspect 9-11 government conspiracy , but it’s still disheartening that it’s necessary to even print it. On the off-chance one of your friends believes this crap, here’s a few resources to show them: 9/11: Debunking The Myths , Pentagon & Boeing 757 Engine Investigation , and Pentagon & Boeing 757 Ground Effect that address most of the conspiracy theories in layman’s terms.

What amazes me is the mentality of the conspiracy nuts. They doubt the word of the mainstream media- which is fine, any intelligent person does- but then accept as gospel the word of home-grown “experts” on the internet without demanding their credentials and without peer review of their competing claims. It never occurs to them that if there was anything at all to their claims, if they were as “obvious” to trained engineers as they claim, foreign governments would leap at the chance to damage Bush and/or the U.S. by publicizing it- but of course, not even Cuba or North Korea or Iran is willing to put their national prestige behind claims that can be debunked that easily. Nor does it bother them that of all the people who would have to have been involved- the CIA, most of the upper Pentagon brass, the airlines involved, civilian air traffic control, the building demolition experts (and there aren’t that many capable of guaranteeing the results desired, they could be tracked down easily), no one has come forward.

They are great at examining the official timeline, but never consider the timeline of a conspiracy. Bush had only been in office less than 8 months, and hadn’t had his own people confirmed in place for more than weeks; many of the necessary people mentioned above were still Clinton personnel. (unless this was actually a Clinton plot to ruin Bush’s first term...) Bush would have had only weeks to conceive of the plot, recruit hundreds if not thousands of top government and military staff so loyal to him personally that they were willing to commit treason and mass murder for their beloved leader, run feasibility studies, arrange secret financing, pull it off, then cover up so perfectly that not only was the Congressional inquiry fooled, but also the intelligence services of the world- even the nations that hate us. To believe those theories is to believe Bush to be the most brilliantly competent conspirator in history.

Yes, disheartening. Disheartening to think that there are so many citizens who vote and serve on juries who can believe in such things, and even one Congresswoman- Cynthia McKinnon. I know P.T. Barnum said there was one born every minute, but I had always hoped that was mere hyperbole.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Vague Buddhism?

Peacebang has started a fascinating discussion with her two latest posts, Humanists, or "Vague Buddhists?" , Humanism or Vague Buddhism, Part II ,and ChaliceChick continues with The ChaliceBlog: Response to PB's "Vague Buddhists" post . The timing is, for me, amusing, as our last small groups meeting was about Buddhism!

I think Peacebang has something in concept- I believe we are headed for “Buddhism Lite” as a denomination. First consider Buddhism stripped of the cultural trappings such as vegetarianism or reincarnation, and look only at the 4 Noble Truths, and the 8fold path, and the Middle Way. The Middle Way is merely avoiding extremism- don’t we hear that every single week in a UU congregation? If you reworded the 8 fold path such as to make its Buddhist origins less obvious, any humanist would be happy to claim it, and if you’re careful with the translations of the 4 Truths, (I’m told the word “suffering” is not exact), the same is true of them as well. Buddhism and Humanism both put the emphasis on behavior rather than belief. Where Buddhism differs from Humanism is that Buddhism does not require a deity, but has no trouble with your worshipping of one, whereas the wording of the Humanist Manifestos denies the possibility of the existence of a deity. One could say that a Buddhist is a Humanist who has no beef with god-Talk.

This difference is where UU comes in. It seems as if it were a near thing, but the UUA could never quite bring itself to become formally atheistic- in fact, the pendulum now seems to be swinging in the other direction, with the recent “Language of Reverence” debates. Oh, we’re still embarrassed by words such as “God” or “Prayer”, but openly expressed hostility is no longer common. It seems, just from my limited experience, that what growth we are enjoying is because of that, that we’re getting religious humanists, often young families who believe in God, but not religion, and are looking for a generically religious tradition for their children.

It seems inevitable to me that the UUA head in that direction. There are very few of the old-school “anti-theist” type of humanists left; vocal as they are, they’re starting to get drowned out in debate. More and more New-Age types are joining, largely people who have been unchurched for 20 years, and are starting to want fellowship again. There are the UU Pagans and the UU Christians who are getting more vocal. All of these trends, it seems to me, are bound to result in a denomination that will more openly embrace Divine inspiration, but retain the behavior-oriented posture of our humanist tradition. If you were to take Buddhism and intentionally rewrite it for western ears and cultural references, is that not exactly what you would get? Is there a better word for that than Peacebang’s, “Vague Buddhism”?

Peacebang asks “What I was wondering was whether or not we were mostly putting Buddhist teachings and readings and quasi-spiritual practices (like 30- second 'meditation') where Christian instruction and ritual used to be.” Well, of course! Inertia is the most powerful force in the universe- the forms and trappings will change last, if ever; the content is much less important than the format. After all, in any religion not one congregate in a thousand truly understands their own creed and liturgy- ask the man on the street the theological differences separating the Methodists from the Episcopalians. in fact, the way our own members treat the PPs like a creed should demonstrate that point. So if the content must change to permit more open acceptance of theists and spiritual issues without the minister being accused of sounding too Christian, the only way to do it is to insert Buddhist teachings into an otherwise normal Protestant church format.

Monday, August 07, 2006

War news

11 dead, seven injured in 72 hours... no, not Beirut, not Haifa, not Baghdad- Indianapolis. So many arrests that 30 criminals a day are released on their own recognizance; not because of their record, but because the jail is so overcrowded that a judge ruled that adding any more would be inhumane. although still more comfortable than the conditions the men and women stationed in Iraq are enduring.

One of the major reasons for this crime spree is Indianapolis’ position as crossroads of the nation; not just for commercial freight operations, but for illegal drugs as well- drug distributors from Mexico are fighting gangs from Chicago for control of the vital hub. Of course, anyone calling for control of our borders is a racist- crying crime is just an excuse. The UUA has the real answer- first legalize the drugs, Of course, drug dealers who will kill other drug dealers to control their market share would never dream of killing a corporate drug representative to control that same market, and impose tighter gun control. One of the gun battles involved automatic weapons- weapons that that have already been illegal for 70 years. But I’m sure that if we went from really illegal to really, really, illegal, they’d stop.

Only an old reactionary could even think of putting any of the blame on the modern “gangsta” urban culture, despite 3 deaths in 3 days at clubs, a number held artificially low by one of the clubs “voluntarily” closing Saturday and Sunday after a Friday killing, obviously the real cause is poverty; we need jobs programs. Of course the gangbangers who wiped out an entire family a couple weeks ago in a home invasion robbery looking for a big stash would gladly lay down their arms for $9.00 an hour jobs. And again, legalizing drugs would drop their prices, naturally, a corporation who obeys OSHA and EPA and FDA and labor laws and union contracts is going to be cheaper than criminals who can ignore all those laws so people wouldn’t have to break the law to afford them. And the young woman convicted recently of pimping her 8 year old daughter to buy crack would have no trouble finding an employer willing to allow her to stay stoned all day long.


UPDATE: Two more murders overnight... 13 in 5 days. With domestic totals like this, who needs foreign terrorists?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Who killed the electric car?

This is the title and subject of a new documentary out this week. I haven’t seen it, nor do I plan to- it’s the kind of movie that makes me heave a mighty sigh. Why do we have to assign conspiracy to everything we disagree with or disapprove of?

Don’t get me wrong; from what I’ve read, this is no Michael Moore propaganda piece- the facts are accurate, and not artificially sensationalized. But facts are not truths. Nobody “killed” the electric car, there is no conspiracy to keep electric cars off the market- they simply are not yet a viable option for enough car buyers to sell them profitably. Nor does the nation have the infrastructure to support them if we bought them. Nor would they reduce pollution- they would merely shift it to different venues.

The key log in the electric car traffic jam is the question of infrastructure. We simply do not have the electric generating capacity to recharge millions of electric cars. Depending on size and performance, electric cars need between 12 and 25 kilowatt-hours to fully charge- let’s use 15 kwh for a low average. 15 kwh times 75 million cars (there are actually 400 million cars registered in the US, but only 75 million in use on any given work day) equals one and an eighth billion kwh... on top of what we’re already using! The electric grid doesn’t have even a fraction of that available- the only reason we’re not having rolling blackouts during the current heat wave is that people have learned from past blackouts and are turning their thermostats up and their large appliances off. I think an automobile qualifies as a “large appliance”. Nor are any more power plants being built or even planned- ironically, the same environmentalists who want us to drive electric cars are preventing us from building new generators.

Infrastructure means more than generating power- you also have to deliver it, and we can’t. Every “destination” facility- hotels and motels, convention centers, sports arenas, ball parks, amusement centers, museums, state and national parks, resorts- would need a recharge socket for every parking slot. After all, the entire point of these places is to draw crowds from hundreds of miles away- go to any Cincinnati Reds game and you’ll find the parking lot full of Indianapolis license plates; without a recharge socket, not one of those cars would be there. No tourist attraction could survive depending on only those within round-trip (25-35 miles) range. Each facility would require the electrical service of a major factory, which means tens of thousands of miles of high-tension lines strung through virgin countryside, something else the environmentalists are not crazy about.

The infrastructure question alone means that the electric car can never be the only car in a family; it would have to be a second car, used only for work and shopping trips. Especially in the suburban and rural communities- you’ll notice that all the rave revues electric cars get are from people who live in big cities, where everything is close together. This would keep sales so low that the price per unit becomes unbearable- according to Wikipedia, the cost of the EV1 (the car the movie was about) was $40,000 without subsidies, the Honda EV Plus $53,000, Ford Ranger EV $50,000 without subsidies. In addition, those prices do not include the taxpayer subsidized research that went into the cars mentioned above- I saw one estimate that the true cost of the EV1, including everything that was needed to take concept to street, divided by the number of vehicles actually produced, would have been $900,000 each.

This is why serious environmentalists are concentrating on hybrid and hydrogen technologies instead of battery powered cars. A hydrogen fueled internal combustion vehicle has all the advantages of a gasoline car, the zero emissions an electric car promises but doesn‘t truly deliver, (the power plant that recharges it, at least here in Indiana, belches coal smoke) and no toxic batteries to dispose of in hazardous waste facilities. And, as all the technology except the fuel tank is off-the-shelf, it would be priced competitively with the gasoline vehicle. Is it any wonder car companies are turning their attention there, rather than the EV1? No conspiracy, only reality.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

My favorite word of reverence

CC asks for essays on the subject of “Religion words that move us, religion words that don't.” The ChaliceBlog: No, seriously, the UU Blog Carnival is getting close For me, it’s no contest- the most profoundly moving word is “Thanks”. Thanksgiving is my favorite prayer and my favorite holiday.

The church I was raised in stressed the petitionary prayer- heal the sick, feed the hungry, and pay the rent. The Bible specifically instructs you to use this type of prayer. When I first started questioning what I was taught, it came to me that this was a very negative process. It comes from the common Christian view of the world as a broken place that needs fixing, the view that holds “worldly” as a pejorative. Petitionary prayers reinforce this by forcing you to concentrate on misery, keeping your mind on what’s wrong with the world, your mate, yourself. They require you to focus on unhappiness. They require you to believe that you’re powerless to change things on your own... simultaneously telling you that you can’t make a difference, and setting you up for failure if you try. Even if unconsciously, they set performance standards for God, making your love conditional. In some cultures it’s not unconscious- they will neglect or even vandalize their God’s shrine if he doesn’t come through!

Prayers of gratitude are altogether different. They force you to concentrate on all the innocent delights she offers us. They leave your soul refreshed by the memory of joy, not anxious about a future that could go wrong. Gratitude for gifts bestowed is pure and unconditional- as unconditional as the love of the Divine that keeps pouring those gifts out. And there is so much to be grateful for! I right about it in detail here: CUUMBAYA: How do we know God loves us?

A grateful soul is a happy soul; one cannot be depressed while remembering joys. A happy soul wants everyone else to be happy, too, and is in his/her most charitable and giving mood. A grateful soul knows that they are truly loved, and will- at least at that moment- share that love with the world... may we all be more grateful!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Rich getting richer?

Thanks to Will Shetterly It‘s All One Thing for pointing out this list of The wealthy 100: a ranking of the richest Americans past and present This list is very interesting, as it ranks them by their percentage of the Gross National Product, a surer comparison even than trying to correct for inflation, and a clearer vision of their impact on society. Bill Gates, for example, only ranks at no. 31 on this list; no. 1 is John D. Rockeller, which most historians would agree is a fair comparison of their respective social and political power.

The other interesting thing I noticed is that this listing belies the conventional wisdom that the rich are getting richer. While the list doesn’t say exactly when their fortunes were earned, it does list their birth and death, and I think we can safely say their money was made before their death- possibly not counting Elvis and Tupak who kept recording and releasing new albums long after they died. I have broken down how many of these vast fortunes were earned by historical eras:
Before 1800: 4
1800-1850: 8
1850-1900: 24
1900-1950: 48
1950-2000: 7
Still alive: 9

84% of all American mega fortunes were made before most of us were born- and clearly nowadays, one must do something that truly changes the course of society to make it, as Bill Gates or Sam Walton did. (leaving aside the issue of whether those changes were positive or negative) And even so, they won’t have the power that the rich did in the past- J.D. Rockefeller was 1/65 of the entire nation’s economy; Bill gates, despite all his billions, is only 1/425 of today’s GDP. The rich are getting less influential with each passing day. This is a good thing.