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.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

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

Image result for princess bride

As someone who played soldier through much of his childhood, it's a little embarrassing to admit how much I love The Princess Bride. Now it's true that I had much more admiration for Ulysses than Achilles and was much more interested in developing cunning than brute strength.

There is so much to admire in the characters of The Princess Bride. The courage of The Princess Bride, Westley, and Inigo Montoya. The cunning of Westley. The wisdom of The Grandfather. 

On the flipside, like Vizzini, I have often been too smart by half, and as inarticulate as The Impressive Clergyman. Like Prince Humperdinck, I have overplayed my hand and come to regret it.

I would love to live in a world where virtue is usually rewarded and vice punished. I visit such worlds in fiction, but they seem further and further removed from my understanding of reality.

Though this will seem an aside, when I bought a Volvo, I suddenly noticed there were a lot more Volvos on the road. This was in the early 1970s, and Volvos may have come more popular in my community. However, I suspect that the larger cause for my change in perception was my purchase.

I do sometimes question to what degree my newly acquired sense of the evil in this world is a consequence of the ministry that has called me. Have things gotten that worse, or is it merely that my perspective has changed?

While I make no claims to objectivity or omniscience, I definitely come down on the side that says that things have become much worse and will become even worse than they are now. We are making the planet increasingly inhospitable, and we are likely to make it uninhabitable. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Finding My Voice, Part 2

Okay, I don't expect to have it this bad. I do know climate scientists to have received death threats, but I am only likely to receive the curses of an annoyed reader.

No, what is held me back is fear of loss of reputation and/or employment. When I worked for the federal government, I regularly attended what I jokingly referred to as one of my bosses schools of diplomacy. My sense of injustice was often stronger than my discretion.

After I retired and started to prepare for the ministry, I had peers, professors, supervisors, and the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee to please. Life became a little easier once I was in final fellowship, but the habits of a lifetime are not easily discarded.

In both my careers, I liked to observe and assess the present and to predict and to prepare for the future. That's why I became a planner in the first and a justice advocate in the second.

However, you might say that I've been a court prophet in both my careers. It's safer and more lucrative to be in the court than in the wilderness, but it's hard to be entirely forthright when part of your job description is to please royalty. Even fools, whose job it was to tell the ruler unpleasant truths that everyone else was afraid to share, sometimes had their heads chopped off. While I never worked for the Red Queen, I did have a boss who often threatened to cut me off at the knees.

Now I'm entering the wilderness, or the wilderness is entering me. No person or organization has quite the hold on me that I once felt. Because the main challenges of prophecy aren't insight: They are compassion and courage.

In the Emperor's New Clothes, Hans Christian Anderson points to how an innocent can see clearly. However, most of us do not remain innocent beyond childhood and many of us don't even have that luxury.

And maybe even encourage courage is a wrong word. Many people whom we view as courageous do not think of themselves as being so. It's not all false modesty. Sometimes the most "courageous" actions occur without thought or through a feeling of compulsion to do the right thing.

After a lifetime of semi-obliviousness, a little over 10 years ago, I came to realize how catastrophic our future is likely to be. I have spent these last years honing my Chicken Little routine. Of course, the difference between me and Chicken Little is that the air is burning, the seas are rising, and the land and water are being polluted. Yet very few want to hear a story of doom and gloom, and even fewer are willing to take effective action.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Finding My Voice, Part I

I started this blog to guide Unitarian Universalist ministerial candidates through the fellowshipping process. Much of the material here is useful for anyone preparing for an interview.

My ministry has evolved from a focus on organizational development and human resources to one that's focused on climate and environmental justice. It is taken many years for me to find my voice as an environmental justice minister.

Though I have a reputation for being quite outspoken, I have been timid and tentative in my public writing. Though most people have a great fear of public speaking, my fear has been much more of public writing. Of course, the level of discourse that sometimes appears on the web has done nothing to assuage those fears.

But I'm getting older and more ornery as environmental degradation accelerates, threatening life on the planet. Facebook has also taught me how to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous readers.

My truth is that we need to prepare for a dramatic reduction in human population if not human extinction. I have been to the stages of grieving several times and will surely go through them again, but this is no longer a time for despair (a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there). It is time for discernment and for courage.

While the scope of our crisis is precedented, the nature of it has multiple precedents which we can document going back to the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago. I actually find it a relief to know that what is happening now merely a normal human pattern writ large

Ministers are taught to develop a prophetic voice. It's important to know the difference between the common understanding of prophecy and the religious understanding. The common understanding refers to Nostradamus and others who make vague predictions about future. Some of these prophets are called economists.

The religious understanding of prophecy is truth telling, especially telling truth to power. Prophets come in two varieties. There are prophets within the court who tell royalty what they want to hear. There are prophets in the wilderness who tell the elites what they don't want to hear.