Thursday, July 24, 2014

UU A Way Of Life August, 2014, theme

The theme of the month of August, 2014 on UU A Way Of Life will be the third principle of Unitarian Universalism, Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.

Please send your poems, essays, comments, ideas about this principle to davidgmarkham@gmail.com.

Book of the month for August, 2014, The Green Boat by Mary Pipher

The UU A Way Of Life book of the month for August, 2014 will be The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves In Our Capsized Culture by Mary Pipher.


Story of the day - The Bullshit Express

John Lago, the young hit man in Shane  Kuhn's novel, The Intern's Handbook, says on p. 37 "Our minds are not interested in truth. They are our private twenty-four hour news cycle putting a constant spin on reality. It's like the Matrix. Everyone is plugged into the Bullshit Express."

"That seems awfully cynical," said Alicia.

"Really," said Greg, "I think he hits it right on the money."

"I'm interested in the truth," said Alicia.

"Really?" said Gregg.

"Yeah," said Alicia, "Don't be such a prick."

"What about the cosmetics you wear that were tested on monkeys in that lab in Riverside? You think that's right, that animals get exploited to see if the chemicals they put in that shit will harm humans? They're just using them like guinea pigs. When did that term "guinea pig" even come to mean what it means if we humans didn't exploit animals for our own benefits which, at times, are pretty superficial and vain," said Greg.

"I don't think it's such a big deal," said Alicia. "Are the animals really harmed or inconvenienced?"

"Inconvenienced or harmed? Really? Listen to yourself. Like Lago said, you're not interested in the truth, you're plugged into the cosmetic industry's "Bullshit Express"  and you're not interested in finding out the truth which might conflict with your practices. You don't need all that make-up anyway. I love you just the way you are without all that crap."

"I don't know if you're sweet or being a dick," said Alicia.

"Maybe I'm a sweet dick," said Gregg laughing.

"I don't know if it's fair or not to be testing cosmetics on the monkey's. I guess they really don't have a say in it do they? And if they could talk would they agree to it? What do they get out of it except an allergic or toxic reaction sometimes. But they are well cared for, I assume, fed, looked after. They must get medical care. So I don't know how bad can it be?" Alicia mused.

"Go ahead, rationalize, justify, twist it around to make it seem okay."

"I don't want to talk about this anymore," said Alicia. "I have to go put my make-up on before we go out."

Fairness, equity, leads to compassion

When we are sensitive and aware of the drive and desire to be fair in our relationships with others we become naturally more compassionate. Compassion flows from an awareness that often in life things are not fair for reasons far beyond the individual's control. Our heart goes out to the person whom we perceive as suffering. We want to relieve the person's suffering as much as possible.

Of course, we are often told that life isn't fair. Suck it up. Nobody owes you a living. You have to take care of yourself, don't expect a handout. In the United States since the days of Ronald Reagan this libertarian ethic of dog eat dog has grown and proliferated and led to inequality greater than at any time in our history. How this has happened in the richest, most powerful nation on earth, where abundance is visible on a grand scale, can only be explained by the triumph of the ego which demands increasing levels of assuasion, and leds to the insane and nonsensical extreme attitude that nothing is ever good enough.

The opposite of compassion is the narcissistic grandiose sense of entitlement that not only doesn't want to share but doesn't even perceive or appreciate another's need and desires. In our fears and insecurities we even view other people's suffering with contempt and disdain and congratulate ourselves for not being like "them". Marie Antoinette is often quoted as saying, when she was told of the starvation of the peasants, "If they have no bread, let them eat cake." and that has become much of the attitude in the United States promoted by the 1% who have bought our government officials and design our policies which defines our inequalities as just. There is no compassion because the inequalities are of no concern other than the extent to which they are addressed would interfere with "business".

The ethic of predatory capitalism is based on greed and there is no room for compassion. Compassion interferes with the bottom line and cannot be considered in making sound business decisions which the stockholders will approve. Most of us are complicit in this predatory capitalist ethic when we consider our stock portfolios, our 401 Ks, our retirement funds. As much as we Unitarian Universalists like to promote our second principle, when we look more deeply at the values which contribute to our financial decisions, if we are honest, we will find that they are antithetical to what we superficially profess. When it comes to making money, compassion and equity are values which are marginalized, because winning and profit become paramount. We all want a "good deal."

Jesus was clear about all of this. In fact He couldn't have been clearer. He didn't mince His words. He said directly to the rich young man, "sell all you have. Give the money to the poor, and come follow me." And, the story goes on, the rich young man became sad and walked away. We, too, know better, but, let's be practical, equity and compassion are not really in the best interest of the ego, and we, become sad, and walk away too.

We are told by the public health professionals that depression and anxiety are large mental health problems in the United States with anti-depressants, and anti-anxiety drugs being the biggest type of medications sold in the United States. We have bought so deeply into the predatory capitalistic ethic that we don't even know what ails us. We are sad and anxious because our predominant social values are not congruent with The Good Life. We pay lip service to our second principle, but we eschew any close look at the implications it has for our behavior and life style. It is this cognitive dissonance that contributes to the psychological symptoms from which so many people in our society suffer.

We Unitarian Universalists know a better way. We covenant together to affirm and promote justice, equity, and compassion. Would that we actually practice what we preach.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

God Revised, revised available for free.


God Revised, revised is available both in hard copy and in a PDF for free. If you would like a hard copy, send your address to davidgmarkham@gmail.com. If you would like a PDF file request it in email to the same email address.

God Revised, revised contains 16 reflections on Rev. Dr. Galen Guengerich's book, God Revised, which was discussed on the UU A Way Of Life online magazine during the month of June, 2014. Introductions and discussion questions have been added to the 16 reflections which can be used for individual study and/or group discussion.

Here's what it says about God Revised, revised on the back cover:

God Revised, revised is a critical reading of Rev. Dr. Galen Guengerich’s book God Revised. Many new ideas are added to Rev. Guengerich’s articulation of a new religion based on the ethic of gratitude involving a new understanding of the transcendent having given up on a belief in a supernatural god. Markham’s argument with Guengerich is that gratitude is not enough to be the basis for a new ethic because it doesn’t deal with human suffering. Markham suggests that forgiveness is a better basis for an ethical model than gratitude because until human beings can accept and deal with their brokenness they cannot overcome their fears to find gratitude in their hearts.

This is a wonderful little book that really stimulates a lot of thoughts about the function of religion in our contemporary society. Both men provide many ideas for consideration, the depth of which I have not encountered before in Unitarian Universalism.
Betsy Griffin, Adjunct professor of humanities and writer.

These men certainly take their faith seriously and approach it thoughtfully searching to make sense of their lived experience from the inside out. This little book demonstrates what freethinking is truly about. It is a blessing to read and ponder.
Ken Appleton, Convert to Unitarian Universalism, and armchair philosopher.

Two thumbs up to Markham for taking Guengerich seriously. While there is some disagreement, Markham grapples with Guengerich’s ideas, and it makes the reading stimulating and sometimes intellectually provocative. Anyone who takes their faith seriously in the liberal tradition should read both books.

Barb McMullen, Lay minister, mother, member of church board.

Story of the day - Exposed at a young age to too many theme parks

Linda McCullough Moore writes in her short story, "Baby Doll" in her book This Road Will Take You Closer To The Moon, about Margaret who comes home after many years to visit with her family. The scene being described is a conversation among the family members and Moore writes about Margaret:

     "The only place we will not go tonight is me. Conversation never wanders there. I have been waiting ever since my first visit home from college, freshman year, for someone in the family to say, 'So. Margaret. How are you?' or, in some spoken way, to acknowledge my existence and the fact that I have been three states away, for weeks, for months, now suddenly, for thirty-seven years.

     "So tell me about Brandon," one of the sisters says.

     "Oh, he's too young for long-term care insurance, " Eileen says.

     Brandon, Eileen's son, a man who throughout his late teens and early twenties devoted his life to following professional wrestlers on tour. A natural consequence, I like to think, of his having been too exposed at a young age to one too many theme parks." p.54

My Kind Of Church Music - Fun, fun, fun, The Beach Birds

Can we depend on the proponents of predatory capitalism to save us?

Dr. Ovid Byron is the entomologist from California who has come to Tennessee to study the butterflies. He has set up his lab in Cub and Dellarobia's barn behind their house and even hired Dellarobia as an assistant and she is getting a lot of on the job training. One day, they are up on the mountain, collecting data on the butterflies and they take a lunch break and have a discussion about how climate change is not only affecting the butterflies but life on the planet. Here is part of how Kingsolver writes the scene:

They are talking about the carbon in the atmosphere and how it contributes to a warming of the temperature of the planet.

     "If you stop something, it stops," she said, sounding a little too fine.

     "We used to think so. But there are unstoppable processes. Like the loss of polar ice. White ice reflects the heat of the sun directly back to space. But when it melts, the dark land and water underneath hold on to the heat. The frozen ground melts. And that releases more carbon into the air. These feedback loops keep surprising us."

     How could this be true, she thought, if no one was talking about it? People with influence. Important people made such a big deal over infinitely smaller losses.

     "So it's not a question of having Floridian winters in Tennessee," he said. "That's not even under discussion."

     "Is there some part of this I can actually see?"

     "You don't believe in things you can't see?"

     She thought of Blancie Bise and Bible class. The flood of Noah, Jesus. She did try. "It's never been my long suit," she confessed.

     "Your children's adulthood?"

     That nearly floored her of course. Or creeked her. Since that's what was below this log, if she'd swooned off of it. How dare he belt her with that one?

     "A trend is intangible, but real," he said calmly. "A photo cannot prove a child is growing, but several of them show the change over time. Align them, and you can reliably predict what is coming. You never see it all at once. An attention span is required." pp.279-280

Ah, yes, an attention span is required, something that Americans with the 24 hour cable tv news cycle, social media, texting, etc. don't possess. We go through our days with blinders on from one task to the next, pursuing one desire after another, distracting ourselves with all kinds of drama to keep our minds off of the low level anxiety which rumbles constantly in our psyches as we attempt to deny the karma which we generate on an hour to hour and day to day basis which will hold us accountable not only for our guilty pleasures but for an irresponsible life style we take for granted and even feel entitled to.

And Dellarobia, like an innocent child wonders to herself, why people with influence, our leaders, the people who we depend on to lead us and take care of us, haven't concerned themselves with this impending planetary catastrophe. Good question! And the answer is............................

There are more immediate incentives and concerns like campaign contributions from fossil fuel corporations who lobby congress for policies and laws that enhance their bottom line based on the values of what Noam Chomsky called predatory capitalism. Protecting the commons, the air we breath, the climate of our planet is what the economists call an externality that interferes with the financial bottom line.

Every day people like Cub and Dellarobia, Hester and Bear, Dovey and Crystal have no idea what is being done to them, but Dellarobia is waking up. She senses something isn't right, and Dr. Bryon, a scientist, not a theologian or a philosopher of ethics, is sharing with her the science of what is happening which tells us truths contrary to the values of predatory capitalism and corporations, who, feeling financially threatened by the awakening to the truth, are cranking up the engines of what Shane Kuhn, in his novel, The Intern's Handbook, calls the Bull Shit express.

Like the disinformation campaign of the tobacco companies when science began to show that smoking caused cancer, the fossil fuel corporations are engaging in a disinformation campaign of climate change denial. Dellarobia is losing her innocence. Her naivete is giving way to disillusionment, and she begins to question why, if what the science says is happening, is really happening, the adults in our society on whom we would like to depend, have not been taking this information more seriously to protect us.

Unitarian Universalists covenant together to affirm and promote the seventh principle,  a respect for the interdependent web of existence, and in order to do this we need to have a right understanding of the world we are just a small part of, and this requires the application of the UU fourth principle, the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Dellarobia is a lukewarm evangelical Christian but she is awakening to the significance of the Unitarian Universalist principles. Dellarobia is growing and it is in the honor and privilege of witnessing her growth and we begin to have hope in the face of a growing sense of impending doom.