Sunday, August 15, 2010

Climate Change Books

Just the other day I got another request to post a bibliography of some of my climate change readings and recommendations. Below is the list of books along with some comments.

If you're going to read just one or two books on the subject, please start with Hamilton and Hansen.

Please note that I have not read all the books from cover to cover. They keep coming in faster than I have been able to absorb them, and this is one field in which new info arrives every day.

I will do future posts on websites, blogs, films, and videos

The place to start: Requiem for a Species, Clive Hamilton (2010)

Time to awaken:
  • Climate Wars, Gwynne Dyer (2008, 2010)
  • Six Degrees, Mark Lynas (2008), also an excellent video
Good general guides:
  • The Rough Guide to Climate Change, 2nd ed., Robert Henson (2008)
  • Our Choice, Al Gore (2009)
From the pens of scientists:
  • Beyond Smoke and Mirrors, Burton Richter (2010)
  • The Flooded Earth, Peter D. Ward (2010)
  • Storms of My Grandchildren, James Hansen (2009)
Politics and Psychology of Misunderstanding and Manipulation:
  • Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway (2010)
  • Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely (2008)
  • The Science of Fear, Daniel Gardner
The movement and societal consequences:
  • Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken 2007
  • Climate Hope, Ted Nace (2010)
  • Eaarth, Bill McKibben (2010)
  • Hope for a Heated Planet, Robert K. Musil (2009)
  • The Necessary Revolution, Peter Senge et. al. (2008, 2010)
  • Overshoot, William R. Catton, Jr. (1980)
  • A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit (2009)
  • Archetype of the Apocalypse, Edward F. Edinger (1999), technically psychology; however, with significant theological implications
  • The Comforting Whirlwind, Bill McKibben (2005)
  • Longing for Running Water, Ivone Gebara (1999)
  • A New Climate for Theology, Sallie McFague (2008)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Should Have Thunk It: Creationists & Deniers

Ever have one of those moments when you either literally or metaphorically hit your forehead with the palm of your hand thinking "Of course!" When I saw this blog post (link) by Stephen Stromberg of the Washington Post, I thought, "Of course, climate change deniers kissing cousins of creationists. The inbreeding is obvious."
  • Creationists imagine an impossible past and demand from scientists certainty that is contrary to the scientific method;
  • Deniers imagine a nearly impossible future and demand from scientists certainty that is contrary to the scientific method.
Please notice the insertion of the word "nearly" when referring to the future. Anyone who believes that s/he has the future on lockdown should be sentenced to watching endless reruns of the movie Minority Report, where "precogs" are used to arrest people for "precrimes" that haven't happened yet. Naturally, in the movie someone messes with the system to get the results he wants. The fact that I can't predict how many people will die from climate change next year--much less in 20, 50, or 100 years--is not an argument against acting now.

Reading the comments below Mr. Stromberg's post, I feel like I'm in a rerun of Inherit the Wind, a thinly veiled retelling of the Scopes Monkey Trial. In this case, the wind we will inherit will be fatal, especially to the poorest and most vulnerable. Are the deniers making these foolish and offensive comments real people, or are they the paid minions of Big Coal?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hopeful News - Climate Change

Sunday morning, I saw this Candorville comic (link) and felt hopeful. If even the comics are recognizing the difference between weather and climate, the word is getting out. Then I looked up Darrin Bell, the author of Candorville, on the web, and found out that he's a fellow Berkeley resident. Goddess, is the word escaping the Berkeley bubble?

Well, this U.S. News and World Report article tells us:
Eight Nobel-prize winning economists and scientists have joined more than 2,000 others in signing a letter today that urges the Senate to take swift action on climate change.
Now, how do we help the Senate find the political will and courage to take that action?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Evil & Climate Change

"Evil" is not a word I normally use, especially in reference to people. Instead words such as ignorant, misinformed, deluded, and ill, more easily trip off the tongue.

Yet now I'm increasingly drawn to the word evil when I read articles such as "Attack on the Clean Air Act." We've come a long way from Profiles in Courage.

None of these politicians would strangle their own children. Yet by their actions they are threatening to strangle their children and grandchildren and ours as well.

This debate has brought to mind the Robert Lewis Stevenson's story The Bottle Imp. Like the sailor at the end of the story, have these people decided that they're already condemned to hell and have nothing to lose, or are they merely self-deluding?

This wonderful video of Dan Gilbert may explain what's going on with the climate deniers and help us step back from condemnation and return to the search for collaboration. We and they must not "remain sleeping on our burning bed."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The MFC & the Olympics

No, I'm not about to suggest that interviewing become an Olympic event, even though some schools have interviewing competitions and prizes.

Rather I was caught by the parallels between the MFC interview and an Olympic event when a speed skater said that she had had an emotional breakdown on the day of her event. Her statement was part of an NPR segment on the psychological preparation and coaching. It was good to hear of the preparation and that the skater recovered from her breakdown and earned a silver metal.

Both Olympic athletes and ministerial candidates spend years preparing for "tests" that are over in minutes. The emotional and psychological tension can be quite intense.

An MFC member once said, "We're not so scary." Another posited that successful candidates will face much greater challenges once they become ministers. Yet there is something special about the years of preparation and the few brief moments of the "test" that is different than other challenges. The parallels should led us to question how we prepare ministerial candidates and what we might learn from Olympic coaching.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Babies, shoes, climate change

I'm a long-time lover of philosophy. Yesterday, I was watching the philosopher Peter Singer in the film Examined Life (2008), which I am pleased to say is available instantly on Netflix and was distributed by my cousin's company Zeitgeist.

Singer was standing in front of a Manhattan shoe store, selling, I believe, Manolo Blahniks--Carrie Bradshaw's favorite shoes in Sex and the City. Singer said that the setting reminded him of a hypothetical that he developed early in his career.

Suppose you were walking along and saw an infant in a very shallow body of water. You quickly determine that the infant will drown unless you instantly rescue her, but you will destroy your shoes as you run into the water.

Singer reports that nearly everyone says that they will save the child and damn the shoes. Yet for the price of a pair of expensive shoes, several starving children might be saved.

I see some limitations to Singer's argument, but it did get me thinking: What would people do if they realized that our current activities will be condemning billions of children to horrible and unnecessary deaths by starvation and dehydration?

The answer isn't obvious. At the website "Global Issues," Anup Shah reports that around the world 25,000 children die everyday:
The silent killers are poverty, hunger, easily preventable diseases and illnesses, and other related causes. In spite of the scale of this daily/ongoing catastrophe, it rarely manages to achieve, much less sustain, prime-time, headline coverage.
The question that floats through my head is how do we present the risk of global catastrophe in a way that compels action. Normally reasonable people who would never have a second thought about ruining their shoes to save a baby will argue that we need to build more coal-burning power plants.

An optimistic friend of mine believes that we will develop the technology to mitigate the effects of carbon and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. I sure hope he's right.

In the meantime, thank the Goddess for Annie Leonard, the creator of The Story of Stuff and this new video on cap and trade, who turns these complex issues into messages that are easy to understand and share.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Leaving Legacies

Yesterday I attended a program on "Faithful Generosity" sponsored by the Pacific Central District of the UUA and led by Laurel Amabile, Director of the UUA Annual Program Fund. It got me thinking once again about legacies, a subject that has been much on my mind of late.

Although UUism as measured by the average age of members isn't aging as quickly as I am, the last figure I saw on the former was that it was at 50-something and rising. My experience with the Berkeley Fellowship of UUs, where the average age was and remains much higher (it's coming down), made me more aware of the need for action if my generation -- the front spear of the Baby Boomers -- and the generation that preceded it are to leave a legacy of UUism to the generations that follow.

I've also been thinking about "legacy" in negative terms as well. I fear the environmental legacy we are leaving future generations.

I'm happy to report that I see a positive nexus between the two concerns. We can leave a legacy of UUism and a more positive environmental legacy by increasing UU focus on environmental issues. In our ranks, we have the scientists and engineers; the organizational specialists, community organizers, and therapists; and the ministers to create change. We also have the capacity to engage young adults and youth around these issues. Now is the time to face these challenges. Now is the time to rejuvenate UUism.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ambivalence & Ambiguity

"I hate to write."

"But you're blogging."

So went part of my quasi job interview earlier this week.

I absolutely hated writing as a child. I write left-handed, and started writing back in the days of fountain pens. I spend excruciating hours writing a simple thank you note because I didn't know what to say (beyond "thank you"), I couldn't spell, my hand would smudge the ink, and my father insisted that the product be perfect. I was, however, productive in filling the trashcan with failed efforts.

For years I struggled with pens, pencils, erasers, correction fluid, and typewriters. Thirty years ago, I bought an IBM Selectric with a memory for my then wife the writer (tho it was way outside our budget). It was one of those presents that was more like a loan because I was looking forward to using it myself.

When a word processor was installed in the office, I would sit next to the typist as she entered my work. Soon I was using the machine myself, despite the ridicule of my peers, e.g., "Finally found a job commensurate with your skills." Of course, in time, the shoe was on the other foot as my peers turned to me for guidance on using our first computers.

I tried and failed with speech recognition software. Then when David Pogue, the NYTs tech columnist, announced that Dragon was greatly improved, I tried it again and fell in love. (How appropriate to retell this tale on Valentine's Day.) I have been a Dragon evangelist ever since.

Yet with all these improvements in the process of writing that have removed so much of the frustration and drudgery, I still found myself not writing as much as I thought I should. It then occurred to me that some of the reluctance had more to do with potential outcomes than with process.

When I speak to you to person, I get to watch your reactions and to clarify and correct and even apologize when necessary. When I speak to you over the phone, there is a wealth of information in the timing and the tone of your replies. Writing is much more iffy. It lacks immediate feedback.

The man who was my main mentor in strategic planning was fond of saying that high tolerance for ambiguity is a key competency of creative and effective leaders. (There's a good intro to the topic at this Wikipedia article.) It's also critical for creative planning.

The science on climate change is clear: it's happening and human actions are contributing to it. What will happen 20 years from now, much less 50 or 100, is more ambiguous.

Woody Allen once noted that life is full of opportunities and obstacles. He wrote that the purpose of life was to seize the opportunities, avoid the obstacles, and still catch the 5:30 train to Long Island. May we seize the opportunities to go green, avoid the obstacles of ambivalence and ambiguity, and catch the movement to reverse the damage we've done.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Climate Change

The sharp-eyed among you will notice that I've added "Climate Change" to the subtitle of this blog. It is not from a lost of interest in ministerial interviewing and examining, but from being drawn to a ministry of climate change. I am becoming increasingly convinced that we are headed toward an avoidable disaster if we do not address the amount of carbon we are pumping into the atmosphere.

The topics of ministerial examining and climate change are related. If we do not form and develop ministers ready to address this issue, we do a disservice to humanity and to all life on this planet.

Over at the blog 10 Minutes or Less, Mike Durall recently posted the following quote from Robert Wuthnow, Christianity in the 21st Century: Reflections on the Challenges Ahead:
Liberalism should be a counterculture to secularism, not a reaction to fundamentalism. It needs to present itself as a third way.
Though I'm not a Christian, I am a liberal. gives 13 definitions of the adjective form of "liberal." Some that are relevant here are the following:
1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
8. open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.
11. not strict or rigorous; free; not literal: a liberal interpretation of a rule.
With some hyperbole, Tom Brokaw referred to my parent's generation as The Greatest Generation. I do not want our children or our grandchildren to refer to us as "The Infamous Generation" or "The Inept Generation," the generation that failed to act even though we knew we were undermining the conditions that sustain life on this planet.

Working in strategic planning for many years, I learned that my (and your) crystal ball is cloudy. In The Art of the Long View, Peter Schwartz persuasively argues that we can't predict the future and provides useful "scenaric" approaches for developing strategic vision.

We cannot "know" the outcomes of current environmental damage the way we can know the history of environmental damage and our contributions to current and historical damage. Caution in making predictions is warranted. However, such caution does not argue against prudence and action. It's time for change.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Enemies List

During the Nixon Administration, some of his staffers complied a list of enemies (political opponents) with the intent to harass them. More info about it is here. Though it was complied nearly 40 years ago, last year I heard Daniel Schorr, then of CBS, now of NPR, speak w/ quiet pride of having been on the list.

Before I matriculated at Starr King School for the Ministry, I thought of Walmart as a great place to get reasonable quality at excellent prices. I loved the greeters and the courtesy of the staff. On one of my early visits, I had trouble locating cleaning supplies. A staffer walked me half way across the store and pointed to the right shelf. Reading The Discipline of Market Leaders, helped me understand its business model and sources of its success.

At Starr King, I learned that Walmart was the enemy. It didn't treat its workers fairly. It had had a devastating impact on small local businesses.

Now Walmart is making headlines for its sustainability efforts. According to their website, their sustainability goals are "to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain people and the environment. " This Fast Company article concludes that there will be some challenges along the way.

The future of UU ministry will be about conflict and collaboration. It's easy to identify mistakes and problems. It's harder to identify strengths and opportunities to collaborate. UU ministers should be prepared to do both.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

New Century Summit & the Future of UUism

Well, the New Century Summit of the UUA Pacific Central District is over, and and follow-up actions are planned. The topics identified for cross-congregational teams were youth, global/public engagement, community, generosity, outreach/evangelism, spiritual deepening, diversity, and transformation.

Many of the participants share my passion for addressing climate change. One of them, who works for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, told us that the Aquarium is preparing an exhibit on the impact of climate change on the world's oceans.

There's a beautiful view of the SF Bay from the UUC Berkeley, which hosted the Summit. Overlooking the Bay, I found it almost inconceivable that humanity has the capacity to wreck the atmosphere that is needed to sustain life. It reminds me that Henry Nelson Wieman, a UU theologian, once defined "God" as that upon which life depends. It's a special kind of hubris to deny the consequences of our actions, yet the experience gave me a new understanding of deniers.

On a lighter note, I just commented on this post at "Ten Minutes or Less," Mike Durall's blog of helpful hints for busy clergy and lay leaders. Mike and UU moderator Gini Courter were the keynoters at the Summit. His post reminds us that competencies for UU ministry are a moving target because the expectations of UU (and other) congregants are changing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sausage Making, Blind Men, & the Elephant in the Room

In response to my 1/25 post about the "Pluperfect Storm," AKA the 4 reviews of UU ministry, Politywonk wrote the following:
Sausage-making comes to Boston... If they are serious about democracy, they will take the time to coordinate all of this into a simple proposal that Denominational Affairs Committees can pick apart point by point.
If she means that by putting together lots of ingredients we'll end up with a yummy product, then I'm in agreement.

I'm reminded of the Indian story of the blind men (or men in the dark) and the elephant found at this Wikipedia link. In my mind, the point of the story is that we each are limited in our perspectives and rather than trumpet their finality, we should be in dialogue to generate a more complete picture. In that light, I hope that multiple scenarios are developed that inspire rich reflections by denominational affairs committees.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Go Tell It on the Mountain

This weekend the Pacific Central District of the UUA is holding a New Century Summit with Gini Courter, the UUA Moderator, and Michael Durall, congregational consultant and author of The Almost Church Revitalized: Envisioning the Future of Unitarian Universalism. Along with the other issues that may arise there, hopefully intercongregational issue groups will be formed to address climate change and the future of lay and professional UU ministry in the District. I will report my impressions after the Summit.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Pluperfect Storm -- Commission on Appraisal

There's a pluperfect storm of ministerial review on the horizon. tells us that one definition of "pluperfect" is "more than perfect."

Wikipedia says a "perfect storm" is:
The confluence of three different weather-related phenomena that combined to create what Case referred to as the "perfect situation" to generate such a storm:

* warm air from a low-pressure system coming from one direction,
* a flow of cool and dry air generated by a high-pressure from another direction, and
* tropical moisture provided by Hurricane Grace.
We now have a pluperfect storm for ministerial review:
  • In October, the UUA President announced a comprehensive review of UU ministry;
  • In December, the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee created a process review subgroup;
  • This month, the UUA Board appointed a workgroup on credentialing that will report to the Panel on Theological Education; and
  • This weekend the Commission on Appraisal decided to review UU ministry.
As Bob Dylan said, "you don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing." May the winds of change bless the imperiled climate of this planet.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tactics, Emergency Preparedness, and Ministry

Thanks to Elizabeth Curtiss, AKA PolityWonk, wrote the following on Facebook in response to Friday's "Health, Trust, and Testing" post:

Today's post at PolityWonk says that with all the money flying into Congress from greedy corporations -- and all the elected officials who love that life -- we need to change tactics completely.
Elizabeth's post was prompted by the Supreme Court decision by this week's Supreme Court decision on corporate campaign financing described in this New Yorker article. She suggests ways of taking political and social justice actions to take back government from corporations.

I too want to take back government to help us veer off our environmentally destructive path. There's something in the air: both literally as in too much carbon and figuratively in terms of sensing it's time for a change. Recently, there was a outpouring of interest in trauma ministry among local UU community ministers. You could attribute this interest to our being in the earthquake-threatened SF Bay Area and the horror in Haiti, and you might be right. However, there are also predictions that water accumulating under the Greenland and Antarctica glaciers may result in their sliding into the oceans and raising sea levels 200 feet within 12-24 hours. This would put much of the SF Bay Area, including the humble abode of this author, underwater.

It's hard to write about this topic without appearing to be the friar from the old New Yorker cartoons who carried a sign "The end of the world is nigh." It's also hard to not to think about Gore's metaphor of the boiled frog (frogs won't jump into hot water but you can boil them by gradually increasing the temperature of the water that they're in because they can't sense the gradual increase).

During the years I worked in strategic planning, I had lots of opportunities to say that my crystal ball is cloudy. However, cloudy isn't the same empty. Look around you, what do you see? What does it say about ministry and our denomination?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Health, Trust, and Testing

Thanks to Christine Robinson, AKA iMinister, for the following comment in reply to my last post:
I think that it is dicey for the denomination to decide what the issue of the future is going to be and require it as a ministerial competency. We tried that with Anti-Racism/Multiculturalism and the result has been minimal. It is healthy churches, healthy leaders, and spiritual and emotional centeredness that we need to look for, and look hard for. Then we need to trust the bending arc that that spiritually, emotionally centered person will lead their congregations into whatever the future brings.
I always appreciate Christine's thoughtful comments and believe that this one warrants a new post.

I have a confession to make. The title of the last post, "The Critical Competency," was intended to be provocative and slightly disingenuous. You could have inferred from it that I was proposing that we add another competency to the 16 we already have. Please, please note that that's not what I had in mind. Three competencies -- UU Identity, Ethics & Justice, and the Practice of Ministry (Ministerial Praxis) -- should be sufficient.

Also, I agree with Christine that's it's dicey to try to decide the issue of the future and require it as a ministerial competency. However, healthy organizations and healthy leaders do imagine futures, plan for them, and adjust those plans and preparations as new information becomes available. Being/becoming spiritually and emotionally centered presents us with the opportunity to see the future as it is emerging and to develop the skills and abilities needed to prepare for it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Critical Competency

Climate change, quite simply, is the issue of the 21st century. It is not one issue among many, but, like the canary in the mine, it is warning us that the way we are living on our planet is causing us to head for disaster. We must change. All of the other issues we care about--social justice, peace, prosperity, freedom--cannot occur unless our planet is healthy. It is the unifying issue of our time; it is our "World War II," as it were: the concern that must develop into a worldwide movement for change of mind and change of action.
--Sallie McFague A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming
McFague goes on to argue that our individualist theology, philosophy, and anthropology are exhausted and must be replaced by a communitarian (from "communitarianism" not "communism") perspective. How are we preparing UU ministers to lead this change?

Since we're talking communitarianism and a whole new view of humanity and divinity, how are we preparing UU laity to lead this change?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Demolition Advocates v. Tinkerers

In my discussions with individuals who have felt wounded by the current ministerial examining process, there are always those who'd like to blow up the whole thing. Why do we need ministerial examining in the first place? If we need it, why does it pivot on the interview? Shouldn't we have a process, like "in-care" in the United Church of Christ (UCC), that is more supportive and affirming of those striving to enter professional ministry and calls for greater involvement of the local congregation as a key partner in the process?

On the other hand, some of us are tinkerers. Why can't we, like the American Baptists, limit the interview to questions of character and find other ways to examine for content knowledge? Are there other ways to demystify the process?

I'm more in the tinkerer than the demolition camp, arguing for some form of centralized or regionalized examining and that some (and probably most) members of the examining committee should not personally know the examinee. Despite all post-modern claims to the contrary, there are arguments for objectivity, or, at least, what Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia calls neutrality in his TED video.

I'm also a believer in innovation and continuous process improvement. Mostly this involves tinkering, but occasionally it requires demolition.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reflecting Theologically on Ministerial Credentialing

I'm daunted by the challenge of the title of this post which was inspired by Scott Gerald Prinster's comment to my post on "Ministerial Examining & Climate Change" and thoughts about the differences between ministry and organizational development consultancy. Scott points out that ministry is distinguished from activism and politics by reflection upon the deeper issues that form the basis for the latter two activities. His comment caused me to wonder about the project of this blog: Where would theological reflection about ministerial examining/credentialing lead?

The other thread was a comment made to me that while I may serve as an organizational development consultant as a minister, my clients would also expect me to minister to them. This distinction is more subtle than it may first appear. Consultants often do minister to their clients. While consultancy, therefore, can be a ministry, there is a different intention or at least a greater intentionally in fellowshipped ministry than in consultancy and different expectations from those served by ministers than those served by consultants.

Reflecting theologically on ministerial examining starts with "respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person," UUism's first principle and the first principle of this blog. Ministerial formation is a transitional time of great vulnerability, and like other transitions, calls for a greater measure of care. Think of all the people who enter our congregations at times of person crisis and transition and our call for radical hospitality.

Jungians refer to periods of transition as liminal space. This term derives from the Latin word "limen," which means threshold. Aspirants for ministry hope to cross the threshold into candidacy, candidates into preliminary fellowship, and preliminary fellows into final fellowship. These thoughts about thresholds lead to thoughts of hospitality supported by the UU source of "Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves." The Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee literally welcomes successful candidates into UU ministry.

What is sometimes difficult to remember in the midst of preparation for exams is that some covenantal expectations of hospitality/ministry also fall upon the guest. Candidates and aspirants must learn to welcome the concerns of Committee and Subcommittee members as they will be expected in their ministries to welcome the concerns of congregants and community members.

Finally, this blog has reminded me of the 7th UU principle, "Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part." Ministerial examining is connected to ministerial competencies, formation, and development. These are connected to the role of professional ministry which is connected to the role of lay ministry. These roles are performed in the context of the covenant and principles of UUism. Just as candidates for ministry are expected to minister to their examiners as their examiners minister to them, our living covenant is embodied in and informed by how we welcome and examine candidates for ministry.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

New Century Summit

Out here in the wild, wild West, AKA the Pacific Central District of the UUA, we're gearing up for a New Century Summit later this month. Gini Courter, the UUA Moderator, and Michael Durall, author of several books, including The Almost Church Revitalized: Envisioning the Future of Unitarian Universalism, will be the keynote speakers. The purpose of the Summit is the look at the meaning/future of UUism in the PCD in the 21st century.

A perfect storm of climate change and the future of UUism in the 21st century is on the horizon. We would be deluding ourselves if we tried to contemplate the latter without considering the former. This Grist article refers to a booklet available online from the Columbia University Center for Research on Environmental Decisions on "The Psychology of Climate Change," which tells us a lot about why we might be in denial.

Hey, I'm sympathetic with the denial and the deniers. I can think of a whole bunch of reasons to stick my fingers in my ears and shout la-la-la-la when it comes to climate change. Yet it is one of the challenges of ministry to be prophetic, to tell a truth that your audience is not yet ready to hear.

Prophecy has at least two meanings. Often people think of Nostradamus making "prophecies" about events 100s of years into the future or of prophets who hear God's voice and tell the people what they've learned. But prophecy in the context of UU ministry and climate change has much more to do with telling truth to power and truth to the populace. Though prophets have been ascribed mysterious powers, usually what prophecy requires is seeing clearly what's happening, making reasonable inferences about what's next, and telling your truth.

We are in a time that calls for prophecy. May the Summit be an opportunity to respond to that call. And may we help UU ministry prepare for their roles as prophets.

Friday, January 8, 2010

FBI Geologists; VA Anthropologist

I've been listening to Irons in the Fire, a collection of essays by John McPhee. Among other topics, he writes about investigations of FBI geologists.

Despite having watched and read lots of crime stories, books, movies, and TV shows, it never occurred to me that the FBI would employ geologists. Yet, there's a whole field of forensic geology in which geological evidence is used in criminal and civil investigation and litigation. For example, in one of McPhee's essays, a murder investigation is supported by analysis of the soil on the undercarriage of an abandoned getaway car. Geologists can now pinpoint with amazing accuracy the source (location) of soil samples.

FBI geologists put me in mind of a VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) anthropologist with whom I worked. She told me that for the first 20 years of her career, she always got the fish eye from other VA employees. Why did the VA have an anthropologist? During that time, most of her work was supported medical research and wasn't seen as being directly relevant to health care delivery.

However, when I met her during the 1990s, she said that during the previous five years of her career, she'd had more work than she could handle and that other VA employees were enthusiastic rather than suspicious of her presence.

What was the difference?

VA employees, especially VA leadership, had glommed onto the fact that VA itself had a culture and that the functioning of that culture significantly impacted VA effectiveness and efficiency. Of course, soon after they'd had that insight, they'd started asking themselves: Who knows about culture?

Well, organizational development types like myself and social psychologists and sociologists all have knowledge of and information about culture. Yet, anthropology is the study of culture, and anthropologists can offer insights that elude the rest of us. That's how my friend the anthropologist went from pariah to rock star.

I bring these thoughts to this blog because U.S. and world culture is changing at an accelerating rate and UU culture is due for an overhaul. What will be the role of UU ministers in this transformation and how can we help prepare them to fulfill that role?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ministerial Examining & Climate Change

When I came up w/ the above topic, I thought of the folowing:
  • the old Reese's commercials about accidentally getting chocolate in peanut butter and vice versa;
  • a poetry workshop in which we were given the task of creating poems using randomly selected words to start each line (a great exercise that produces amazing results);
  • a desire to let you know that I do not spend all my time thinking about ministerial examining; and
  • my interest in discovering links between ministerial examining and climate change, two of my current passions.
I went from a mild interest in climate change straight to despair (do not pass GO; do not collect $200) after attending Dan Miller's "A Really Inconvenient Truth" presentation (summary here) at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland. Miller claimed that we must reduce dramatically the release of of carbon into the atmosphere within the next 2 or 3 years if we are to avoid environmental disaster within the next 20 years. With my knowledge of the glacial speed of cultural change, I interpreted him as saying that we would face the inevitable if we didn't do the impossible. (And, considering how quickly the glaciers are melting, I may need to come up w/ another metaphor, like "bowling in the sand," to describe the slowness of cultural change.)

I'm grateful to report that my trip to despair was quite brief. (Not a nice place; don't recommend it.) It occurred to me that UU communities, littered as they are with scientists and engineers, might be a good place to start tackling climate change. Naturally, at least for all of you who have been paying more attention than I have, I found that many UUs and others such as Bill McKibbon of (YouTube video here) had preceded me in this thought.

So what does all this have to do with ministerial examining? Before I answer that question, one more aside.

I just finished listening to the book Change or Die, which I highly recommend. In it, the author tells the story of Madison Avenue advertising account reps who made quite a good living placing ads on broadcast television. As the audience for that medium shrank, the cost of the ads increased. This could not go on forever, and in time, many account reps saw their commission income drop significantly as more and more advertising dollars moved to the Internet.

There are many types of "climate change." The "climate" in which UU ministry is practiced is changing, as the new UUA President frequently reminds us. Like the advertising account representatives, UU ministers may need new knowledge and competencies to thrive in the midst of change. If that's the case, then ministerial formation, examining, and development will be enhanced by changing too.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

See a UU Minister?

In reply to my 12/10/09 post "See a Minister?", Scott Gerard Prinster wrote the following comment:
My first thought about this elusive "ministerial presence" is that a strong candidate demonstrates the ability to reflect critically on questions in light of our UU traditions and values. Our congregations expect us to be able to provide leadership in responding thoughtfully from a UU perspective to difficult questions and situations.
His comment closely tracks my thinking about the 16 competencies (Sexual Health, Sexual Boundaries, Sexual Justice was added at the 12/09 MFC meeting) for UU ministry. When the MFC evaluates candidates, it's not just trying to answer the "See a Minister?" question. Rather it's looking at the more specific "See a UU Minister?" question. It wants to know whether the candidate is grounded in "UU traditions and values" and understands theology, church history, Hebrew & Christian scriptures, etc., from a UU perspective.

This lens for looking at the other competencies can be helpful in studying for the MFC interview. For example, candidates are less expected to memorize scripture than they are expected to see it as a UU and to "respond thoughtfully from a UU perspective."

One can advocate this study method without slipping into the dangers of orthodoxy. It's not necessary nor wise to parrot a UU "party line." Instead reflect on how your theology, ethics, and understanding are aligned with UUism. For example, my theology had its roots in Asian Indian philosophy. Learning that Mary Moody Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and others had trod this path before me and the impact of Asian philosophies on modern UUism put me on solid UU ground.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Blind Spots

Happy New Year!

Maybe you've had this experience. You get a notice from an airline frequent flyer program that you'll lose your miles unless you either fly or extend their life by using some for a magazine subscription. Since you're not a real frequent flyer, but someone who's accumulated a few miles from the occasional trip, you go for the magazine subscription. Thus I became a Wired subscriber.

I'm loving it. Tho I don't have the quals to be a card-carrying geek, I have the nerd's love of things of the mind and have found many wonderful articles in Wired, including this one about the neuroscience of illusion, staring Teller of "Penn & Teller" fame.

An aside: It's a great article, and I still have a fondness for reading paper rather than a computer screen, but there are clear advantages of the net as is illustrated by the embedding in the online version of the article of YouTube videos showing Teller performing the illusions/magic which are only described/pictured in the paper version.

Teller is now a co-author of an article in a neuroscience journal on the new field of "magicology, the mining of stage illusions (magic) for insights into brain function." Not only is the hand quicker than the eye; the brain is so enamored of its perceptual heuristics that it still can't perceive/understand what's happening when the secrets of some illusions are revealed. As Jonah Learner, the author of the article and the books How We Decide, and Proust Was a Neuroscientist, writes:

What's surprising is just how limited the repertoire of magical illusions actually is. The Nature Reviews Neuroscience paper lists nine fundamental "conjuring effects" of modern magic, from the vanish and the restoration to telekinesis and ESP. While these basic tricks have been varied endlessly—you can "restore" a cut rope, a sawed-in-half assistant, a shredded piece of paper—each of the effects relies on a specific perceptual phenomenon. This may be why exposing the "secret" of a magic trick is so often deflating. Most of the time, the secret is that we're gullible and our brains are riddled with blind spots.
OK, you who have been reading this blog for a while know what's coming. I read the above and immediately thought about the implications for interviewing and examining. Good design is critical for examinations precisely because "our brains are riddled with blind spots" and cognitive frames that are usually functional but sometimes misleading. We interview in groups partially in hope of reducing our blind spots and confirmation biases (ignoring evidence contrary to our beliefs), but then we risk group polarization, the tendency of people with shared beliefs to become more certain of those beliefs when they congregate.

Knowing these limitations to human perception and understanding encourages the spiritual practice of humility. In this new year, may we wear our beliefs like comfortable old garments, soft to the touch and with room for growth.