Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Circus Comes to Town


“The Circus Comes to Town”

That’s the title of a recent service, which featured belly dancers.  As Rev. John Gibbons says “It’s not like this every Sunday.”  The sermon was inspirational and brought home the point that this is a community with spiritFirst Parish in Bedford was recently featured in a UUWorld article Disco ball and candlelight as a breakthrough community.  It is a little surreal to read about how we built additions, music programs, social responsibility programs, and lots of other stuff that resulted in our doubling our membership in the past 20 years.

This post is intended to give my readers added context about people who influence my point of view, so let me share some personal observations related to this article.  I’ve been a member of this community for almost all of those 20 years, and was one of many, many people who worked to get the community to this point.  When we were all in the thick of it, I’m not sure I fully realized what was happening.  Fundraising and committee meetings have their rewards, but are also time-consuming and at times exhausting.  For me, this article is like a time-lapse video of a flower coming into bloom.  When it talks about all the children who have grown up together, I visualize my three kids in the mix; kids who view this place as an extension of their home.  When it talks about our response to the Iraq war in 2003, I remember being on the Parish Committee at the time and struggling with our choices about how to respond.  When it quotes Rev. Megan Lynes saying “A lot of young adults want to stand in a pew, hold a hymnal, and step into the living stream of ancient religions…” (full quote in article), I think about being part of the ministerial selection committee when we all said “she’s the one.”  It is really cool to look back and see all that has come to pass.

I like being part of a religious community where I don’t have to check my “scientist hat” at the door. I fondly recall learning about astronomy and celebrating Charles Darwin’s birthday.  I’m sure I could find people to teach me about many fields of science. After all, the use of reason is one of our core principles.  What’s even better is that use of reason does not lead to some dire conclusion about life without meaning as some might predict.  It is quite the opposite.  Growing in spirit is as much an exercise of the heart as it is the mind, which is why I enjoy the expression of spirit with dance, music, poetry and other forms.  People from a variety of backgrounds gather, share common principles, and grow in spirit (and finding meaning) in a unique way.  Diversity is the norm, as is freedom of thought.  This spirit transcends each individual by connecting us all into a community that more and more reaches out beyond the walls of the building.  In a time of tragedy, this is the place I would turn.

I think that First Parish will continue to help people of diverse beliefs to find common ground in 21st century.  As the world becomes more integrated, this will be essential.  Beyond finding common ground between faith traditions, First Parish will likely be an epicenter for bridging the gap between scientific and religious thought.  The building is done and the community is strong.  Now it is time to take the next step in our social and spiritual evolution.

My prediction for the close of 2012 is that the circus will be going on tour.

Have a Happy New Year.

Newtown, Lincoln and Froomkin

This weekend was bittersweet.  The news was sobering and sad due to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut; it was hard to take my mind off of it.  On the other hand, my wife’s birthday was yesterday, which is the day our family decorates our tree.  My father in law was visiting, kids were home from college, and so we continued with our traditions.  Life is complex.  I’ve been researching a few new posts, and was going to publish one this weekend, but now I was not in the mood.  I decided instead to write digest.

Today is the day

The conversation about guns has started, as it always does after a tragedy.  This time may be different, as suggested by the emergence of Twitter hash tags like #todayistheday.  If you’re someone who is not sure if gun laws need to be updated, then it is time to do some reading.  First start with Ezra Klein’s Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States.  Second, have a look at Paul Waldman’s Ten Arguments Gun Advocates Make, and Why They’re Wrong.  Third, study the far right and note how people like Eric Erickson from Redstate promote an abstract “good and evil” arguments as a substitute for concrete policy discussions. This is explained by Chris Haire’s The NRA’s Newtown massacre ‘no comment’ and the evil that men do.  Finally, if you agree that some change is needed, consider pushing for more discussion on this topic.

If you know me, you know that I fly a lot.  I’ve come to accept the loss of privacy (and reduction of my rights) as necessary for our times; I’ve re-evaluated the boundaries and the balance.  We need to do the same for guns.  Michael Cooper, in a Boston Globe article, explains why Stricter Gun Regulations may be a Tough Sell.  He quotes David A. Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, saying that “gun owners will not stand idly by as our constitutional rights are stripped from us.”  Well, this is a conversation we’ll have to have.  I think we can make meaningful change while protecting the second amendment.  I accept that there are legitimate reasons, such as sport and safety, for people to want to own a gun.  However, these considerations should not stop us from having common sense gun laws that would even be supported by gun owners and many NRA members as suggested by this poll.  Why would we not want to require background checks to purchase guns?  Why would we not want to forbid felons and the mentally ill from owning guns?  I decided to sign the petition to “Immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress” because this is a conversation that needs to happen.  Maybe others that read this post will sign too.

Lincoln (the movie)

If you plan to watch the movie Lincoln, then you should plan to read Doug Muder’s  A Short History of White Racism in the Two-Party System.  This post describes how our two parties have evolved since Lincoln’s time and the significant role of racism.  My only quibble with this article is in the first footnote where Doug talks about a “longstanding argument” about whether secession of the south was about slavery or state’s rights. I would be less diplomatic and say that the “states rights argument” is more an attempt at revisionist history.  States rights and other issues were entangled with the slavery issue, the situation was complex, but history becomes revisionist when so many references try to downplay the role of slavery. This is noted by Katharine Seeeye’s Celebrating Secession Without the Slaves.  Would secession have happened over an an abstract concept like “states rights” alone?  I think not.  Secession happened because the slave issue was a threat to the south’s way of life.  Adam Goodheart says “the only significant state right that people were arguing about in 1860 was the right to own what was known as slave property.” Doug gets it right; I’m just adding some emphasis here because I think it is important to remember the truth, as painful as that may be.

Dan Froomkin’s 2012 Campaign Story

Finally I bookmarked Dan Froomkin’s How the Mainstream Press Bungled the Single Biggest Story of the 2012 Campaign. People often lament that “both sides lie”, which is a position I would have likely agreed with 20 years ago.  Today the situation is different.  Two congressional scholars, Mann and Ornstein, with a bipartisan reputation, have publicly concluded that GOP leaders have become “ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”  The article goes on the explain how the media struggles with this reality, and how this turn of events means that “Mann and Ornstein don’t get invited to talk to the leaders of news organizations anymore.”  Well, one of the reasons I started this blog was because people are having more and more difficulty finding the truth.  So, I will be following this story as well as Dan Froomkin’s efforts to begin a “new accountability journalism project”.  I’ll leave you with this brief excerpt where Ornstein provides guidance to the press:

Ornstein said his message would be this: “I understand your concerns about advertisers. I understand your concerns about being labeled as biased. But what are you there for? What’s the whole notion of a free press for if you’re not going to report without fear or favor and you’re not going to report what your reporters, after doing their due diligence, see as the truth?

I’ll be on the lookout for reporters who take this advice.

Building this Blog

11637780-construction-plans-with-helmet-and-drawing-tools-on-blueprintsI’ve been reviewing blogs that I follow in an effort to update my recommended people page (11/25/13 now Online Community Page).  I started out thinking that it would be a simple task of compiling a list.  However, it  soon became apparent that there is a difference between people I read and people I want to recommend.  I decided that I needed to define my criteria more clearly, which I will do later in this post, but first let me discuss a key question:  should I recommend authors who are anonymous?

I can relate to anonymous authors because I went through this myself:  I’ve had a limited access blog and I’ve used multiple pseudonyms on various online forums.  I keep access to my social networking accounts limited.  And, the use of pseudonyms has a long tradition, for example Ben Franklin’s Silence Dogwood back in 1722.  However, I started this blog to interact with people in a public way.  I want people who read this blog to be able to discover others who I trust, and thus find their own connections in this vast (cess)pool of information we call the internet.  This question brings up the topic of internet privacy (possible future post), but for now let me say that I’ve decided to not recommend people who are anonymous.

To be clear, this does not mean that I won’t reference specific essays from anonymous people.  After all, a good argument, story, or poem remains worth reading even without knowing the identity of the author.  However, I believe that knowing the author is a benefit to the reader.  I believe that opinions carry more weight when the author speaks publicly.

There are good arguments for online privacy, no question about that.  However, we need to distinguish between personal information and personal opinions.  A lot of money is spent influencing public opinion, especially after the Citizens United decision.  One tactic to counter this trend is for more people to analyze the facts and share their opinions with others in their network.  This social networking trend is growing already, but I think there is an argument to be made that it serves the common good for more people to express their opinions publicly.

People that I lean toward recommending tend to share enough information about themselves to provide readers with some context about their life.  This is helpful in establishing trust.  Some do this in a funny or off-color way, but the people I like the best provide enough information for me to feel comfortable with them.  I may not always agree with their opinion, but at least I understand their point of view.  For this reason, I will add posts to this blog to provide context for my viewpoints.

I went back and forth on the question of recommending television personalities or not.  After all, these are likely to be people that readers know already, so why add to the media noise?  Well, all of us get some information from television, and, as with any source, there are only a few people that I follow.  So, I’ve decided that all media is fair game and I plan to post a mix of recommendations — from television, news, radio, and the blogosphere.

In summary, my criteria for recommending a person is that they are:

  • Interesting
  • Not anonymous
  • Transparent regarding reputation, affiliations, and life context
  • Open to a range of ideas
  • Willing to engage in reasoned debate
  • Committed to fact checking, providing references, and writing with integrity

Of course, I’ll do my best to live up to these standards as I contribute to this chorus of online, public voices.