Monday, September 18, 2017

Acceptance in a Time of Climate Change

Is it hopeless? Is humanity doomed to near term extinction?

Well, if you are pinning your hopes on the myth of progress, the answer is "yes." Progress had been foundational to my belief system, and it's been very, very hard to give it up. Doing so depressed the hell out of me. My sense of urgency around the need to address climate change brought me to the edge of burnout.

I figured, or I was forced to do so by depression, I must step back and slow down. I used the time I regained to read, speak, and correspond. I have also been preaching about my evolving understanding and adjustment.

I'm feeling much better now because I have accepted the near certainty that things are going to get a lot worse, and that it is very unlikely that we will acquire the political power and the technological know-how to significantly slow - much less reverse - environmental degradation. My research has also pointed out that this, not all the crap I learned in high school, college, and through the media, has been the history of humankind. Humanity is a cancer on the planet. It has finally grown to the point where it is very likely to kill its host.

To be hopeless isn't to be helpless. However, it does lead one to continually reconsider tactics and strategy. The goal no longer is progress, it's closer to hospice. Now isn't the time for despair; it's the time for compassion and courage. Here my experience as a chaplain is of particular use.

When ministering to the dying and their families, it was not my role to predict the time of death. It was to be present for others. In these circumstances, I always found that truth was more healing than bullshit. Without lying, I still could provide comfort to the dying.

Mother Nature is a serial killer. We have all known from a certain age that we were going to die: we just didn't know when. What I find most intensely disturbing is that the future I once imagined for my children is not likely to be available for them. That grief exceeds my fear of my own death.

It is absolutely appropriate to react to loss and even the anticipation of loss with fear, sadness, and anger. Acceptance is not surrender. It is humility, wisdom, and recovery.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Time for Solidarity (Updated)

Part 3 of 3

For many years the Unitarian Universalist Association has been trying to become more diverse across many spectrums including age, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. While we've had some successes, we have a long, long way to go.

So the provocative question from the UU minister was to imagine that you were sitting in a church pew and both the pew and the congregation were diverse. How would you feel?

Well, I felt all warm and fuzzy. It reminded me of my religious experiences growing up and how much I enjoyed being in diversity. All white congregations and associations make me nervous. There is over a 2,000 year history of Jews being oppressed by Christians and by Romans before them. Though I have never been a practicing Jew, I will always be tied to that ethnicity.

I am claiming no special virtue here. It's just that I was never "Carefully Taught."

The people who are due our admiration are those who were carefully taught and yet somehow managed to throw off the teachings.

I once believed that we were becoming a kinder, gentler, and wiser species. I will let people more knowledgeable than I argue over the direction we're heading. What I sadly, angrily, and confidently assert is that we are not moving quickly enough to avoid a massive human die-off.

Yet my assertion doesn't lead me to despair, it argues for courage in the face of a common enemy. Even though everyone is somewhat accountable for the situation that we are in, we are far from being equally accountable. Those of us living in a middle-class lifestyle in the US are more accountable than most. However, many of our sins are venal compared to those promoting fascism, nativism, sexism, racism, and other oppressions to line their pockets and retain their power. These people are more evil than any who preceded them because they are leading us on the path of ecocide.

We must resist their power and build our own through education and activism. We are called to be in solidarity. Do not fear your neighbor; fear those who are attempting to manipulate you and your neighbor for their own devious ends.


Part 2 of 3

In mid August, I attended and led workshops at a justice retreat for Unitarian Universalists in California. One of the other presenters was a woman, whom I admire, who is both a parish minister and a seminary professor.

She asked a question which I presume she thought would be provocative. It was very provocative for me, but not in the way that most people would imagine.

First a little background. When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Unitarians were working very hard to attract more members of color, particularly African-Americans. This Sundays is school I attended in downtown Washington, DC, was quite diverse. I didn't know that this diversity was unusual.

It became even more unusual in the late 1960s when the majority of African-American UUs walked out. I'm sure there were many reasons for the walkout, but the proximate reason was the Association's refusal to release funds that had been promised for organizing efforts.

Fast forward 20 years. In the 1980s, I returned to UUism in Fairfax County, Virginia, a well-off suburb of DC. I noted a lack of diversity, but attributed it to the difference between the city and the suburbs.

In 2003, I entered seminary to find myself in a war zone. The level of meanness and mean spiritedness was amazing. However, like the psychologist who assures you that there is a pony underneath that pile of horseshit, I decided to stick it out.

I came out of seminary with a battered head that would not stay bowed. And, yes, there were many kind and helpful people who picked me up when I faltered.

My next big mistake was going to a lecture on climate change. I came out of the lecture wanting to take a long walk off a short pier, praying that the speaker was off his meds.

"We are all going to die!" Can either be a trope in a horror movie or a simple statement of fact. On the other hand, I love this little story:
The seer came to the Queen and told her that he had wonderful news.
"What is it?"
"You are going to die, your children are going to die, their children are going to die, their grandchildren are going to die, and their great grandchildren are going to die."
"Fool! Why do you give me such news? I should have your head removed from your shoulders."
"Majesty, you not understand. You are blessed. You will die before your children die as they will die before their children die unto five generations. The greatest sorrow in life is watching your children die. None of you will suffer this."
After listening to the lecture on climate change and confirming the accuracy of the information presented, I knew that billions of parents would not be as lucky as the Queen.

(The story continues in part three: A Time for Solidarity.)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Angry All the Time

Angry All the Time

No, I am not, but I feel I could be.

14 years ago I started Unitarian Universalist seminary. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I was a lifelong Unitarian and already had one career behind me.

This rant was interrupted by getting coffee, feeding the cat, and feeding one of the squirrels. The squirrel, whom I call my brave boy, put a smile on my face. Though he was the first I tamed, I hadn't seen him for a while.

I also have a brave girl. She has a notch in her right ear which makes her readily identifiable. The boy also has a conspicuous protuberance.

Back to seminary. What I found in seminary was a battleground worse than I had ever experienced at work, even worse than high school. There were just a few seminarians who were painfully obnoxious, but there was no adult supervision. Professors who did try to enforce some basic ethics were fired.

After I graduated from the seminary, the seminary president announced her retirement. The underhanded, unethical tactics she used to place her favorite candidate on the throne would have made Machiavelli blush.

I did an internship and a residency as a chaplain, specializing in psychiatric chaplaincy. I'd always been interested in both psychology and philosophy, having majored in the former and minored in the latter as an undergraduate, and this brought in both. Psychiatric patients are often questioning reality. How Socratic.

After residency, I decided to review the examining process for Unitarian Universalist ministers. I had developed expertise in examining during my first career and was appalled by what I learned of the UU process. An association that prides itself on its antiracism work was doing little to assure that its examining procedures would protect against systemic, often unconscious, racism and other forms of discrimination.

Recently the president, the COO, and the chief of operations of the UU Association resigned in disgrace because a selection process revealed the shortcomings that they had been warned about for over a decade. The joy of schadenfreude did not match the anger and disgust I felt.

Growing up half Jewish and half Christian, yet really neither as a Unitarian, was both a gift and a curse. It was a curse because I always felt like an outsider, often an invisible one because neither my name nor my appearance kept me from passing when I wanted to. It was a gift in giving me an unusual viewpoint.

(This blog post will be continued in the one below called "Home.")

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Grumpy Old Man Replies to "Wake Me Up," Part II

Okay, I don't know why but it is taken me a little while to get my grump back on again.

As I wrote in part one of this post (link), I love the lyrics to this song. I also really like the song itself. I started getting grumpy when I watched the two music videos.

I must admit that if I had seen these 50 years ago I would've had a very different reaction. I would've focused solely on the beauty and the joy. But now I am disturbed by the narrative, particularly the narrative of the first video which is the official one. It supports ageism, lookism, and classism. It basically excludes all but the young and beautiful.

The other thing that disturbs me in both videos is that there is no evidence of a search for wisdom, only a search for joy. And joy, like hope, is quite suspect when we are in the process of making the planet uninhabitable.

No, I am not so grumpy as to want to banish hope and joy. I just want them to be mixed with grief and reflection. Our hope and joy will be deeper and richer once they have passed through the cauldron of anger and sadness.

So I say, wake me up now. I am sure to fall asleep again and cannot depend upon a single awakening to give me the wisdom to find true joy.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Grumpy Old Man Replies to "Wake Me Up," Part I

I love the lyrics to this song:
Wake Me Up
Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beating heart
I can't tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

They tell me I'm too young to understand
They say I'm caught up in a dream
Well life will pass me by if I don't open up my eyes
Well that's fine by me

I tried carrying the weight of the world
But I only have two hands
I hope I get the chance to travel the world
But I don't have any plans

I wish that I could stay forever this young
Not afraid to close my eyes
Life's a game made for everyone
And love is the prize

So wake me up when it's all over
When I'm wiser and I'm older
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn't know I was lost

Now that does sound very grumpy does it? Well, grumpy comes in Part II. First I wish to express my appreciation for these lyrics.

The songwriter, Tim Bergling, AKA Avicii or Î›VICII, was born in 1989. As I was listening to the song, as I have done several times, I was blown away by the maturity of the lyrics and their applicability to me, a man more than twice his age.

I have recently had an awakening. Coming out of the period of fear and despair from knowing how terrible a planetary crisis we're and the likelihood that environmental degradation will continue to accelerate, I was feeling pretty hopeless. I was also feeling impotent because despite best efforts of many of us Earth becomes increasingly inhospitable to life, and there is good reason to believe that we are either past, at, or will soon reach the point of no return.

Thinking about the song and my depression reminded me of Parsifal, a version of The Legend of the Holy Grail. Parsifal while still a young man sees the Grail, but fails on his quest for it because he does not ask the question, "Who does the Grail serve?" He is still wearing his homespun under his armor, and he fails to ask the question because he was taught it was impolite ask questions

When he wakes up in the morning, the Grail Castle has disappeared, and he is forced to wander and face many challenges for decades before he develops the maturity in the confidence to be able to see the castle again.

Regardless of gender, many of us see a spark of divinity in our youth, but are too timid or too conforming to reach for it. We slog through midlife sometimes remembering and regretting our failure.

Old age is no easy journey either, but if we are very lucky, it may provide freedom for reflection and from the conformity into which we were raised. We reach point when we realize that it may be all over soon, so it's past time to wake up.

Waking up is not easy for most of us. Of course, even when we get a glimpse, a moment of insight, the temptation to go back to sleep is usually irresistible. Yet, over time, if we are blessed, our understanding of awakening and resting evolve.

Well, I've gone on long enough. I will save the grumpy for Part II. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Lions and Tigers and Sunflowers oh my

Believe it or not, the Wizard of Oz - both the book and the movie - predate me. (In fact, the book even predates my father's birth.)  The first time I saw the movie, it was on a very small screen black-and-white TV. I was young enough to wonder whether an "oh my" was something I should fear.

The Sunflower Alliance is of much more recent vintage.  It was formed to organize a protest on the first anniversary of the 2002 fire and explosion at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California. We chose the sunflower because we are told that sunflowers remove toxins from the soil.

One of my readers wrote a lovely note about expanding my concern with human extinction to nonhuman extinction. We are in the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction. My friends at the Center for Biological Diversity Convinced me that without biological diversity humanity was doomed to extinction. So my reader's comment was right on track.

Here's where things get a little sticky. while I am concerned about the extinction of other species, I am not as concerned as I am about the extinction of my own.

When I made the mistake of getting involved in climate and environmental justice, I was overwhelmed by the injustices I discovered. I also met many people who were very passionate about the justice issues in which they were engaged.

For a while, I was nervous as a longtailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Everywhere I turned there was another injustice calling my name. For a while, I made the stupid move of arguing that the issues that most concerned me were more important than the issues that concerned others. Now I am grateful for their passions, and I ask what will happen to their issue as the planet becomes increasingly uninhabitable. I also ask them how their issue relates to other issues so that we and others might work in solidarity. 

As someone once said, the ship is sinking and the poor and the underserved are on the lower decks. If we don't find a way to work in solidarity, we will all drown in the same ocean.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hope and Hopium Part II

Hope and Hopium, or Where are the Princess Bride & Westley When We Need Them? Part II

If you haven't read Part I, please do so before you continue.

As Paul Harvey used to say, and now for the rest of the story.

So the answer to the question is that the Princes Bride and Westley are characters in a fairy story and a movie. Though the Princess Bride and Westley may inspire - and I certainly hope they do, they cannot make a difference in the reality in which we participate.

Which leads me to discuss the difference between hope and hopium. Now some of you have never been exposed to the word hopium. It refers to the drug, a liberal placebo not a literate drug, that is been ingested by many of our allies. 

We are headed to a future that is so much darker than our present. Our present is so much darker than my childhood in the 50s and my adolescence in the 60s. If you don't get this, please, please drop me a line and explain what you are missing. 

For the first time in human history, we are actively colluding with the extinction of our species. Before, we only colluded with the collapse of particular civilization. But we've run out of space. 

Previously when a civilization collapsed the survivors moved somewhere else. We've run out of somewhere else, and we now threaten the biosphere. We have become a cancer on the planet.

I may be wrong. I would be most grateful if I were wrong. Please give me feedback that that will help you and me differentiate between hope and hopium.