Monday, January 29, 2007

Who, Me? - The UU Blog Awards


I went to vote for the UU Blog Awards this morning, and was surprised to find votes for my little blog! It's very gratifying, though I hold out no hope of actually winning anything. Thank you, whoever you are (and an fyi for everyone else: you'll find it under "Best New Blog.") Otherwise - there are a lot of wonderful nominations, worthy of your vote. Go, read, vote, and let all of us UU bloggers know you care. Your votes are much appreciated.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Grrr...

About language usage, spell-checkers, and copyeditors.

One doesn't pour over a newspaper for the news of the day. However, one might pour a cup of coffee to drink while one pores over the newspaper.

One doesn't free the masses from the yolk of oppression. That would be the yoke. The yolk is the yellow part of one's sunny-side-up egg.

One is not lead (with a short "e") down the path, one is led; though one may certainly lead (with a long "e") others. Lead, with the short "e" sound, is a type of gray metal.

Am I the last person on earth to have been taught about homonyms, sometimes called homophones?

I think I'll go pare a pair of pears, and try to continue reading the poorly copy-edited book I picked up at the library yesterday...

sigh...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Fledgling - A Review


I'm mourning the loss of writer Octavia Butler, who died in February of 2006, all over again...

I've finally had a chance to read her last novel, Fledgling, published in late 2005. This was a departure for her in some ways - writing in the sub-genre of a vampire story. But, in other ways it was vintage Butler: using speculative fiction to take on the difficult subjects of race, bigotry, and genetic modification in the guise of looking at another intelligent species and its symbiotic relationship with humanity.

Main character Shori Matthews awakens in the woods, badly burned, in horrible pain, unable to see, barely able to move. But move she does, dragging herself to makeshift shelter in the woods where she lies in the darkness in terror and voracious hunger. She kills and eats the first animal to investigate her hiding place. A few days later, feeling somewhat stronger, she hunts and kills a deer. Dragging the carcass up into a tree, she feeds on the meat for several days until it begins to rot. When she judges herself healed enough, she ventures out of the relative safety of the forest.

As created by Butler, Shori looks like an African-American girl, about 10-12 years old. As the story develops, we learn that while she's not yet mature, she's over 50 years old and already a strong Ina (vampire) - a separate species from humans. She's also the product of a genetic experiment, and the only survivor of an arsonous attack on the compound of women and children where she lived. Living in symbiotic relationship with humans, her parents decided to attempt manipulating their childrens' DNA by adding some human DNA via a virus in an attempt to ameliorate the conditions that make it nearly impossible for their species to be awake and active in the daylight. These abilities are crucial to Shori's eventual survival.

Butler uses the plot to develop some familiar themes. She plays with the relationship between Shori and her symbionts (the humans who become dependent upon her), shredding the idea of a "master-slave" relationship between them as it gradually becomes clear that Shori needs the humans as much as they need her. The consequences of racism - though here it would be more accurately called 'species-ism' - are explored when Shori is accused of being no more than a "clever dog" by one older Ina, who refuses to see her as Ina because of her human DNA.

As in one of Butler's previous novels, Shori gathers a group of companions to travel with for mutual protection. In Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina's group became a community creating a new religion. Here, Shori's chosen symbionts and those she accidentally inherits become the basis for her new Ina family. There's also a sidelong glance at sexual mores, since the Ina have mates for childbearing of their own species, separate from the human symbionts who provide nourishment as well as enjoying sexual pleasure with their particular Ina. The human symbionts also form relationships with each other, marry and have children. One character describes the arrangement as a sort of open marriage.

On one level, Fledgling is a fast-paced vampire adventure story, complete with some semi-gruesome deaths and Shori's desperate quest for the truth, the key to her survival. On another level all of the social justice issues described above are explored: race, gender, sexuality. But, on a deeper level, the symbiosis between the Ina and humans symbolizes interdependence. The various Ina families are dependent on each other for survival, but they are also ultimately dependent on humanity. The survival of the whole species is dependent on all the Ina learning this lesson. In the same way, humans are dependent on each other - not just within our immediate circles and communities, but across the physical borders of nations and artificial boundaries of race, gender, sexual preference, religion, politics, and so on. We're also dependent on the abundance and diversity of other species. Our survival depends on learning this lesson, and learning to live more simply and compassionately.

May it be so. May Octavia Butler rest in peace - she will be missed for a long time.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Dialog with a Christian, Part 1 - Creeds

Way back at the beginning of December, 2006, I stumbled upon a blog called "Bridget Jones Goes to Seminary" written by a friend of one of my seminary classmates. "Bridget"/Meg was asking for a dialog with a non-christian, not to convert, but to understand. You can read the post & comments here: Help Wanted. I answered Meg's "Help Wanted" ad. By the way, I've asked Meg if it's o.k. to post about our dialog, including some quotes, and she's given permission for me to "blog about it, quote me, use my name, direct people to my website, whatever. The dialog is good for both sides!"

After a couple of emails & delays due to final exams and the holidays, we've begun our dialog. I'm someone who spent a lot of time hanging out with Christians in high school, and walked away from the faith primarily because of the patriarchal problem (Meg alludes to this in her post), and secondarily because of just not believing - or being able to believe - the doctrines set forth by the church. Unitarian Universalism is a perfect fit for me - I don't have to believe what I'm told, I do have to (in the words of a seminary professor) believe what I must.

One of her first questions concerned the Apostle's Creed. She wrote: "What is your take on the Apostle's Creed? Are there points of departure from this document on your part? What and why might they be?"

My response: "Unitarian Universalists don't have a unifying creed, certainly not the Apostles' creed. We are a creedless faith, however most folks do appropriate the principles of the covenant of congregations as guidelines for living a UU faith. The principles and purposes of our association of congregations can be found here: Principles and Purposes." I also said there are UUs who do consider themselves Christians, and I can't speak for them. I only know that the only part of the Apostle's Creed that I might agree with is that Jesus lived, was crucified, and died. (And even that's up for debate among some people.)

While I'm well aware the Principles and Purposes do not constitute a creed for UUs, it is true that many UUs refer to them as guidelines in living a life in accordance with the highest ideals of Unitarian Universalism. I've heard the Principles & Purposes are due for review, and I'm wondering how they might emerge changed from committee meetings, congregational dialogs, and plenary session votes. I'm looking forward to seeing if the language changes from the formal stiltedness of the present to more poetic, reverent, religious language -- sort of the way the language changed from the first to the third versions of the Humanist Manifesto.

A creed is a system of belief, like the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, and such. I think of our Principles as a statement of how we aspire to act, which may well reflect what we believe. It's hard to imagine affirming and promoting the inherent worth of every person, if one doesn't in fact believe that every person has inherent worth. Setting aside the question of who is a person, this is how I think we describe ourselves as a faith of "deeds, not creeds." In many ways it's a very pragmatic approach. We agree we cannot know which belief system describes Truth-with-a-capital-T. We've agreed to allow difference in belief, while requesting agreement in action. For me, at least, belief is not the point.

Meg's response to my question about why she believes what is stated in the Apostle's Creed included the following:
"When I look at the world, I cannot see it as a place which exists for its own sake. There are portions of the Himalayas and the Amazon which no person, perhaps even no creature has ever seen. I could believe that the vistas and majesty go to waste or else I could believe in a Creator God who delights over it all. The beauty in the world makes more sense if there is, in fact, a God who delights in it and teaches us to do the same." and "So, because of the beauty I find in the world, I believe in a transcendant God. Because I know that I am not - nor will I ever be - the person I want to be, I believe in the necessity of asking for help from this transcendant God."
More about that next post...

I'm finding this dialog with Meg to be stimulating and challenging, in a way that I don't always find classes to be. I want to be able to articulate what I think and believe about religious ideas better - not so I can convert anyone to Unitarian Universalism, just so I can more easily find the common ground - or common language - to discuss these ideas with others. I have this, perhaps naive, hope that understanding leads to tolerance/acceptance.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

My Favorite Blog posts

I've been perusing other folks' lists of their favorite blog posts, and decided to note a few of my own. (UU Blog Awards Nominations are going on, you know?) Note that this is a new blog, written by a seminarian - not yet a minister, no longer just a layperson. What I noticed about my own writing is that the categories aren't always nice and neat. Personally, I'm nominating other peoples' work which I admire, but if the spirit moves you to nominate something of mine - go for it.

Anecdotes:

Mothers
Unexpected Grace
Mourning Too Young
In Remembrance
On a Rock? (could also be theological commentary...)

Religion/Theological Commentary:

Do UUs Pray?
Getting Through the Hard Night
What I Worship

Political Commentary:

Post Election Pastoral Prayer

Cultural Commentary:

Random Thoughts: Weddings, Commitments, Unions
A Little More on Weddings
Penguin Theology (though this could be theology...)

Monday, January 08, 2007

On a Rock?


In my spiritual wanderings and explorations, what has brought me the most comfort and discomfort together has been the Buddhist notion of impermanence. It is difficult to conceive of not possessing a permanent “self” that persists. This Earthbound Spirit is essentially the same as the Earthbound Spirit of yesterday, or so I like to think. On the other hand, raising teenagers made me grateful for impermanence. I can always remind myself “This, too, shall pass. S/he won’t be 14, 15, 16… forever.”

I offer a story. When I was a child, my family vacationed often in the northern part of a northern state. One of our favorite destinations was a state park which featured bluffs to climb and huge waterfalls.

As a child, the falls seemed majestic… and scary. All that water flowing over those big, sharp rocks! And the sound – a roaring and rushing that would surely drown out any call for help. You can be sure this little spirit always held tightly to one of her parents’ hands when we went up close to see. We vacationed there often, and always hiked to look at the falls. I confess, I preferred the beach and the droplets of penny-colored water that would collect in the pail I used to create sand castles.

Many years passed. I grew up, moved away from home, married, and had little spirits of my own. One day, after suffering complications after surgery, my father’s earthly life ended, and he returned to – as poet Wendell Berry says – rest in the grace of the world. My spouse and I were given the old movie projector, and reels and reels of movies taken by my father, most of them of those childhood vacations. With our children, we watched the movies of the waterfalls at the state park, and decided to include it in our next family vacation.

When we arrived, we explored the park. There were now new buildings and nice new paths and walkways offering convenient and accessible views of the natural wonders. As we looked at the waterfall, I commented that it seemed smaller than in the movies – or in my memory. The dh teased me, saying that it looked smaller because I was now bigger! But – a sign at the next viewing spot informed us that the falls were indeed shorter than they had been. The water had frozen a few years earlier, during an unusually cold winter, with the subsequent expansion of cracks in the rocks causing the falls to (ahem) fall!

What a demonstration of impermanence. The solid rock that seemed destined to be there forever, was no more. This gave me a whole new perspective on building one’s house on a rock. It might postpone change – but change will eventually occur. Whatever may seem to be forever will change. What we have the ability to do is sometimes limited to choosing what our response will be to the changes that occur.

As children grow, we can choose to embrace the new people they become – or to mourn losing our “little babies.” As relationships change, we can choose to change as well, to hang in there even if we can’t change – or to part company. As the world changes, sometimes we have little choice but to accept it – but we can do so gracefully or not. Sometimes we have the opportunity to influence change, sometimes not. Sadly, history is filled with wars fought to protest or try to prevent change.

And, no matter what we do, there will always be changes we can’t predict. As the saying goes, “If you want to make God laugh, make plans.” Well, I continue to make plans, and listen for the laughter, knowing that things will happen beyond my control. I may as well try to make friends with change, since I know change and I will be together for the rest of my life…