Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Where Is Thankful?

July 27th, 2011

preacherwifeSurely I have read and seen too many horror entertainments. A massive double tombstone in Hyde Park’s Fairview Cemetery stopped me.

On the left side of the marble book, Rev. Elisha B. Bradford was noted to live from 1811 to 1895. On the right, his wife, Thankful T. Faunce, was born in 1818…

He was a Methodist minister known for his powerful preaching on the circuit. However, we have no reason to believe there was an on-the-third-day miracle here. We can be sure we would have gotten the word if she were still walking around at nearly 200.

Where is Thankful?

If you pardon, I am thankful for the internet and its trove of obscure data. We can learn:

  • There is a biography in an old Methodist Conference book that Google digitized.
  • Elisha was a seventh-generation direct descendant of MA Gov. William Bradford.
  • Smart and ambitious, he started in manufacturing with the aim of wealth.
  • He heard his God ask him, “Are you willing to become poor for Jesus sake?” and he resolved that he was. He chose the demanding life of a Methodist, riding among churches.
  • On May 30, 1838, he and Thankful wed and remained so until his death.
  • They had a happy life, with one major exception. Their first-born and only son died at six months. That was “Brother Bradfords great grief, and on that really shadowed his whole life.” Two daughters grew to adulthood and outlived the parents.
  • Thankful lived with one daughter after Elisha’s death. She died at 93 in 1912 (date from the Mormon genealogy site).

That daughter remained local. I found no record of Thankful’s interment. Yet, I surmise that she almost certainly is there by her page of the marble book. Discarding the notion that she walks among us, I wonder then did New England frugality win out and no carver was contracted to fill in the right side of the hyphen?

Rapture Time Already?

May 21st, 2011

I honestly had forgotten my childhood brush with the heaven bound. We have the current Rapture ranter, a depressed woman who smothers her six-year-old and wants to die so the two of them will be together, and who knows how many terrorists who believe that their religion will guarantee them eternal bliss for dying while blowing others to pieces.

If you were inclined to ecstatic paradise and personal identity after death stuff, the believers acting out in front of you should give pause.

Nevertheless, back when I was maybe 8 or 9, our family got a personal taste in Danville, Virginia. Our weekly cleaning lady showed up at our mother’s office to take her to heaven with her.

Our divorced mom, Wanda, worked long and hard running the Red Cross chapter as well as raising two kids solo. While it bothered her not to also handle all the cleaning even with the meager help of her elementary-school children, she accepted that she needed someone a couple of afternoons a week to take care of laundry and such. Lena was that person.

A young, married woman with two children of her own, she was a cheerful presence. She had a family support system in town to help her with her kids and worked for several folk to supplement her husband’s income. We got along well.

One afternoon though, Wanda returned home distressed, which was unusual for someone so together. She told us how Lena had died.

I don’t have time today

She was at her desk, managing away, when Lena appeared. The normally calm Lena was instead both agitated and smiling. She announced that it was time to go to heaven. She said that of all the people she knew Wanda was the one deserving of joining her.

My mother said she explained that she had a lot of work to do and wanted to take care of her children. She really did not have time and was not in a position to go to heaven that afternoon.

She said that Lena accepted that and calmly left the office. Lena then went a few blocks away, waited for the bus, and threw herself directly in front of it. She died on the spot.

We were also Christians in our apartment. We had the behaviors as well as, attending both Sunday School and church ever week, taking communion, believing  in personal salvation through Jesus, and planning on heaven (eventually). I also had read the whole KJV Bible and had favorite parts.

Yet, even as young kids, my sister and I did not go for suicide. Wanda had made us far too pragmatic and fix-it for that already.

Of course, in retrospect, I figure Lena had been mentally unstable for quite awhile and had had a break, a psychotic episode. We didn’t know those terms yet, didn’t know depressed or bipolar people yet, and no one in our family was a fundamentalist religious sort of any flavor.

I recall though asking about Lena’s husband and kids. Why didn’t she want them to go with her if she figured she was heading heavenward that day? As it turned out, her husband wondered too. He threatened Wanda and us with death for somehow in his mind causing his wife to kill herself.

He got over that with some discussion with the police. I got over my puerile religion as well a few years later.

Yet, our very human, often emotional needs seem to drive us at the oddest times and with the great power of a surging, swollen river. I like to think I am immune to such relentless forces. I can’t be positive, but I’m not buying into rapture today.

Clean Streets and Small Favors

April 23rd, 2011

milletgleanersBusiness-card shame was the order of the afternoon in a midtown NYC bar among us trade journalists. Most of us who had worked for the huge Conover-Mast chain of magazines did not want to leave the city for either Chicago or Boston. We scattered to local jobs when the Boston-based acquirer Cahners Publishing moved our books, as we were wont to call the magazines.

As we swapped our new cards, one poor fellow was slow to flip his on the table. He would be well paid, but he had not adjusted to the shift from Purchasing to Solid Waste Management.

Well, way back then and today, trash is big business and not just in the romance-novel and porn industries. He did just fine, but I don’t think he ever did adjust to the name.

Street flotsam

My Boston City Councilor, Rob Consalvo is learning that. He is figuratively hip deep in trash.

Among the numerous tedious problems very important to some constituents is trash-day trash leavings. Residents in his Hyde Park and Roslindale neighborhoods, and abutting areas, are disgusted, irate and want some fixes.

Paper and garbage clogging or blowing around sidewalks and streets are not the stuff of movies or important novels. They certainly aren’t what pols claim as their legacies. Yet, trash is unpleasant to look at or smell, it brings squirrels, dogs, cats, raccoons, opossums and crows, and no one sane longs to pick up other folk’s rubbish.

This week’s Hyde Park Bulletin has the messy story. (You have to pay $12 a year to read the articles and can only see an image of the lastest week’s front page otherwise.)

It’s complex and Consalvo is forced into a multi-phasic set of problems and solutions. It’ll likely lead to public hearings. Issues include:

  • Trash on the curb in boxes, paper bags, and plastic bags, often not in trash cans or barrels.
  • People looking for deposit cans and bottles opening up those before the garbage trucks get there, scattering trash about or leaving the bags open for animals.
  • Garbage crews spilling partial loads through inattention or because of poor packaging — and leaving the stuff on the sidewalk or road.
  • Trash put on the curb up to 24 or more hours before pickup day, which exacerbates the likelihood of its ending up loose.

Already, Consalvo sees a couple of partial solutions. One would be to copy the requirement in higher-density areas with restaurants, like the North End, for all trash to go into lidded barrels. That was largely a reaction to the rodent problems there. However, we in more suburban, single family Boston neighborhoods know the destructive capabilities of hungry ‘possums and dogs.

Another would be to make sure that street sweeping schedules follow trash pickup the next day.

Consider the gleaners

Among his messages was also the awareness that bottle pickers can open bags in their quest for deposit money. There’s a chance for an education/cultural solution here.

In a town that fancies itself as Catholic and otherwise religious, the modest consideration for such gleaners should be an easy sell. It goes back to the Torah and Old Testament, and is well covered in the Book of Ruth. The law in agarian communities was to allow the less fortunate to pick the leavings in the fields after harvest.

Likewise, we have weekly (or three times a week in places like Beacon Hill) harvest in a sense. Most people don’t bother with nickel deposits on soda and beer cans and bottles. Even in such hard times, there are plenty of pickings on the curb as well as in downtown public trash cans.

All we need to do in front of our houses is to put out a separate container with the deposit containers. We have that single-stream monster recycling bin, but we use the old, small rectangular blue one for deposit bottles and cans.

Modern gleaners come around a few hours before the garbage and recycling trucks. Where they see separate containers with the deposit containers, they don’t mess with trash cans or the big bin.

It’s better for us and for them. Consalvo is likely right on this aspect too. We don’t see damaged bags or papers pulled out of the big bin.

The old texts commanded that gleanings be left for the poor, orphans, widows and strangers. The principle remains much the same. What is a small thing for most of us can be substantial to another.

Plus, it makes for spiffier neighborhoods.

Tags: harrumphharrumphergarbagerecyclinggleanerbottle depositConsalvo

On the 3rd Day, They Fudged

April 22nd, 2011

balanceFor well-meaning equivocation, it’s hard to outdo UUs on Easter. The wings of many Unitarian ministers stretch and strain as they try to include all, offend none, and somehow blend Easter, Passover, and jelly beans and Peeps.

Frankly, UU jokes are too common, too easy, too cheap. Having been a UU for decades, I attended and joined knowing what was up with liberal religious sorts, both in history and present. I also came from the stereotypical return-to-church-and-become-UU profile. Raised as a serious Methodist,  I was a devote little Christian, but as the Monty Python character says, “Got better.”

Younger folk should be aware that this was before the United Methodist Church. There were separate white and black churches, plus the white ones had both Southern and Wesley branches. Members of the former looked askance at those of us in the latter, also known as high-church Methodist. We were considered almost Episcopalian, which was almost Roman Catholic. Oooooo.

Regardless, my small self always attended both Sunday School and church, joined the youth fellowship, was in the choir and on and on. I knew the comfort of belief in a personal savior, an all-powerful, everywhere present God, life everlasting, Christ’s resurrection, and transubstantiation. To this day, I recall my young self rolling in the mystical sense of transformation in my mouth and throat during communion.

Now I am more typical of American UUs. Few are Christians and around here many of those are former Roman Catholics psychically roughed up by the clerics of their youth. Many say they are or were Jews. Others came from the camp of the amusingly condescending term of UUs unchurched.

Many UU churches specialize in social action, contributing self as well as money to good causes for the life, betterment and comfort of others. Most UUs I have known are not just write-a-check-and-praise-yourself types.

No Hell

So imagine being a minister on Easter Sunday carrying that many hearts and minds in your arms, not wanting to harm, damn, or offend any subcategory of congregant.  This exacerbates the weekly problem of including the Christian and specifically Protestant history of Unitarianism and the everybody-can-find-salvation heritage of Universalism with the current reality that most members are not Christians. Some even are affronted by Christ lingo. Too many UU churches give least consideration to Christian members.

I am to terms with my ex-Christianity in early adolescence. I got there on my own, struggling all the way, coming from a church-going family. It became an oft-told tale among my relatives and chums about confessing this to my mother. She was a long-time Sunday School teacher and her father has been in various offices in churches. She smiled broadly when I told her and said, “Finally, I can stop teaching Sunday School!” She had been doing that for me and was a closet humanist in her own right.

So there you are on Easter Sunday, in the pulpit before of the two most populated congregations of the church year. You make the wheezing joke about the church being open on other Sundays. You know that maybe half the folk don’t come regularly, that many have never been there before, that quite a few don’t understand what UUs are about, and that church members want that spiritual ambrosia. They want a sensitive blend of acknowledgement of Judaism/Passover with another joke about bunnies lugging candy about with cautious allusions to the Jesus story.

So the easiest mix has springtime/renewal concepts, equivocations about some believe a Messiah has never appeared, others that one is out of the question, and others that there was what today’s youth have profanely chosen to term Zombie Jesus. No one group will be totally satisfied — the universe in the pews is simply too diverse and stratified.

How much easier it would be to provide a homily for the religiously homogeneous. On Friday, Jews can hear a pure Passover message. On Sunday, Christians get the powerful message of hope for a heaven and permanent bliss.

Instead, most UU ministers stand before an often prickly crowd. They know they are sure to bore some, offend others, and leave out still others. Ministers tell me that typically congregants will let know them how they have failed on Easter Sunday.

Oddly, there seems to be less pressure on the services around Christmas. Even ex-Christians or lapsed Catholics let the infectious joy of the season compensate for loose talk about a savior being born. That rising from the dead to sit at the right hand of God is another matter.

Jews I know who attend and belong to UU churches seem much more flexible about service content. In most UU churches, you’re not going to find a crucifix or Christian communion. Instead, they tend to have highly adapted versions and even water communions, similar to how they name children instead of Christen them. Even Catholics tell me that is a big improvement over the baptism in their churches that intends to drive the devil out of newborns.

I feel for UU preachers come Easter. I do believe most need to show more guts though. In too many UU churches I have attended, there are subtle or plain derision of Christians as though all of them are intolerant and dull-witted. Yet, I know UU Christians and some of the greatest, most generous, hardest working social activists are in that camp. Fortunately for the UU ministers, that splendid set of good souls are, like the UU Jews, forgivable and flexible. I have heard a few mention in passing to a minister or worship committee member something like, “You know, I am a Christian.” This seems not to whine, but just to remind others that the history and shared religion includes Christians, as well as the astonishing range of Jewish, Sufi, Buddhist, and many other traditions often cited.

This sermon juggling pressure falls on the UU ministers or perhaps they take it on themselves. This seems in stark contrast to the fundy churches that openly deride homosexuals as doomed to a hell and shout often that only one man/one women couples are worthy of producing children. I try to imagine how the many couples who adopt or turn to IVF to grow their families must feel hearing such irrational hate. Likewise, I have heard gay black folk I know say the compartmentalize their religion from the homophobic rhetoric they hear so often from the pulpit.

It seems to be the UU preachers who try to accommodate the worshipers in contrast to expecting anyone coming in the door to shut up and do what they’re told…and sing a psalm of praise. As UU ministers have often said to me with a smile and laugh, they don’t have the threat of eternal damnation and suffering to use.

I have never heard a UU minister speak on the deep and simple joys that Christians feel in their belief in resurrection and hope in their belief of a heaven and relief in their belief that Jesus took away their sins by his death. I don’t believe any of that, but I recall believing it all.

I am pretty sure that UUs would not be hurt and might be more tolerant of the Christians among them and in the larger world if they considered life and afterlife from their view and experience.

Tags: harrumphharrumpherEasterUUChristiansJewstolerance

Evil Eye, Snow Setting

January 27th, 2011

My latest curse is on a Salvo plow operator on Fairmount Hill in Boston’s Hyde park neighborhood. May he be bedeviled daily until March 22nd — Spring — by vicious and malicious people who inconvenience him. May each jerk repeat the cruel act and make him clean up after their messes as though he were Sisyphus.

This driver exceeded my tolerance for those doing the necessary work of clearing out from our latest snow dump. Up here, we did get over a foot on top of all the other snow. My unfortunate 17-year-old, Isaac, did not get to loll in his non-school day. Instead, he joined me in hours of clearing snow. His was the 60-some foot driveway. Lackaday.

The evil plowman returned three times after his initial run, each time undoing considerable of my work, replacing open spaces at two points on our 50 feet of sidewalk as well as the wide driveway. I even waved him off twice, to no response. I have no doubt he was hanging around the neighborhood and reworking dry streets just to keep his hourly rate in play. He is an imp of no breeding and low morality.

I had cleared a wide walkway opposite the sidewalk run from the city street to our front door. That was for John, or mailman, and the newpaper delivery guy. Down near the driveway, I had made a similar, prolonged clearing for the huge wheeled recycling cart and the trash can, so those crews could have reasonable access on trash day. Of course, the biggest task was to clear the sodden heaps of road slush three feet tall from the driveway entrance.

The Salvo satan returned, pushing as much slush from that collected on the blade. It naturally flowed into the three open spaces. Instead, a slight turn of his wheel or lift of the plow would have maintained my open spaces. He clearly sought to punish someone obeying the law and respecting others.

He doesn’t deserve a pox, which would be too good on him. Instead, I think first of the Talmud, whose version of the golden rule is perfection — That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is all the law. The rest is commentary.

For the violation, he deserves my curse. He needs to have the same happen to him, repeatedly.

Do You Smell Pork?

January 26th, 2011

LanierWho knew? We certainly were not aware that we rented an apartment in a very historic home in Danville, VA, when I was a lad. No one, not even the owner told us.

Now there’s a marker at 770 Main Street, it is on the historic walking tour, and may have the additional cachet of being haunted. To us, Dr. Samuel Newman and his wife, whose first name I likely never knew, occupied the first floor for living and his pediatric practice. To historians, this is the oldest known residence in the city. The first mayor, Capt. James Lanier, had it built in 1830.

We were across the street from the Main Street Methodist Church. We attended it several times a week, as was the Southern wont of the time — choir practice, Methodist Youth Fellowship, volunteer sessions, prayer meetings, and over two hours each Sunday with an hour for kids and adults in Sunday school, followed by about 90 minutes of service with lots of hymns and 20 to 30-minute prayers buttressing the sermon. The YMCA was right down the road, as were three movie theaters. We had little reason to venture off Main Street.

The pic above is of that same 770 Main Street. That is a postal card in a compilation of them as a history of the city. Clara Garrett Fountain was somehow inspired to share part of her 100-year collection. Thanks to her and as the image is long out of anyone’s copyright I claim fair use, as I do to her cut line:

The nearby house at 770 Main Street, currently the office of Garrett & Garrett, attorneys, is the oldest documented residence in the city. Built in 1830 by Danville’s first  mayor, Captain James Lanier, it is remembered by many as the office of Dr. Samuel Newman, the city’s first pediatrician.

Dr. Newman turned out to be more than that. To us, he was the guy who jabbed penicillin hypos in my butt for my recurrent tonsil inflammations. As I found out later, he was also well known in Danville and several nearby cities and towns for his children’s clinics and forward looking preventative medicine for kids.

There’s a wonderful symmetry there in that the house served as a children’s clinic during the Civil War over 80 years before Dr. Newman bought it.  It also turns out that a clinic in nearby Martinsville was named for him. Scholarships from the Charity League of Martinsville and Henry County go to high school grads and college students in his name.

Dr. Newman and his wife were Jewish. That’s not all that remarkable here and now, although it seemed nearly everyone three miles above the North Carolina border in the middle of the state was Christian, some flavor of Protestant, in the 1950s. Catholics were rare and Jews much more so.

However, he was also a Virginian. As nearly everyone else around, he appreciated the long, skillful tradition of the region for its smoked porks — hams and particularly bacon. He worked long days and liked to start with some protein.

His wife was short and round. She always wore a purple ribbon around her neck, with a small key on the bottom. She kept the cashbox and took the payments for those who visited the practice. While her dresses were both fashionable and well pressed, over the years, the ribbon got dingy and a bit raveled.

In general, she kept a kosher table even though they were not Orthodox. She was a bit old world and put up with his breakfast preferences. However, many mornings when my sister and I came down the main stairs to the ground floor on our way to school, we’d see her running up and down the hall separating their living half from his office. She’d wave a hand fan or just her arms as she walked up and down, asking us at high volume, “Do you smell pork? Do you smell pork?”

I was reminded of her today while looking through Good Book (overly long subtitle) by David Plotz, self-defined as “never a very observant” (but proud) Jew. First of all, can that really be his name, asks someone with the last name of Ball? In Yiddish, of course, plotz means to burst, as if from strong emotion.

Regardless, he writes of poring through the Bible (at least the Old Testament) and finding remarkable passages, upon which he remarks. He did after writing this rush through the New Testament, in a defensive skim to prepare for an appearance on The Colbert Show. He wasted his time in the sense that Stephen didn’t ask a single question about the new stuff.

His section on Leviticus includes:

…God says that the pig, because it doesn’t chew the cud, is “impure.” Understood. But then the Lord describes lots and lots of other animals – including lobster, shrimp, ostrich, and most insects – as “abominations.” “Abomination” is a much stronger word than “impure.” Does this imply that bacon, pork chops, pulled pork, and ham are less bad than lobster? Can it really be that eating pork is a minor dietary offense, the kashruth equivalent of a parking ticket? God, I hope so!


Snoozers, Users and Lusers

September 5th, 2010

Being from a family of fixers seemed normal enough, but has proven otherwise. Being able to repair a machine and more only works consistently on one condition. You have to understand how things function and often how they are put together.

As it turns out, I have an earned reputation for fixing, assembling and configuring machines, computers and more. Lackaday, it seems most folk are quick to blame a poorly maintained inanimate servant for its failures. Often, it only needs a tweak.

My alleged magic is nothing more than applying an understanding of components and functions.

That came to mind this afternoon when my wife noted that one of the electronically controlled garage doors would not close with the remote controls. I looked out the back door and from 30 feet could see the issue.

The little beam at the base of the door track is part of a safety system. It won’t let the door move when something is in the way. It’s an ignorant optical/mechanical system and doesn’t know if that something is a human body part or a car trunk or a rake. If its light circuit is broken, it stops the motor. Period. The way I grew up, I notice such things and file them in wetware just in case.

I could see that number two son’s mountain bike was just inside the beam area. To the unusual who grew up taught to file away how things work, that was instantly obvious. I long ago accepted that even the otherwise bright generally would not see that. I liken it to my poorly developed musical skills and senses. I have musician friends and a musical spouse who hear notes and keys that are just music to me. I love music, but can’t begin to replicate it or explain how to make it.

Who You Callin’ Loser?

Specifically in the computer/internet world, there are derogatory terms for the ignorant and unobservant. Perhaps none is more common among the cyber-savvy as luser. A pun playing off a combination of user and loser, it expresses the exasperation of support types, sys admins (those bastard operators from hell) , and we alpha geeks who put together and troubleshoot family and friends’ system.

Given the rapid changes in and spread of technology, one slice of logic would suggest that oldsters are bound to be lusers and youngsters computer, internet and new media experts. Sigh. Not so.

To the contrary, from what I see, most 20 somethings and teens fail in far more ways than not being able to make change without the cash register lighting up the amount. Most are users only, a.k.a. lusers. They learn now to apply the most basic functions of software. They never went through any process that required them to understand what goes no behind the scenes and are helpless when anything unusual occurs, as it frequently does.

Indeed, as I am wont to allude to, these become the Eloi. Even if they have good hearts, the processes that keep their world perking are unknown.

In that tedious sniping between the Mac and PC universes, we see variations. The Mac types are compelled to say their computers are so superior that they plug in peripherals and connect to this or that without having to do or know anything. Isn’t that wonderful?

bombWell I suppose in the Eloi future that might be OK, if all systems were perfect. As a PC alter kaker, I know better and recall observing and working with my wife’s company’s struggles in the original Mac office decades ago. Mac lovers said their machines were well worth the 100% or more premium because they just worked. That is, until that bomb appeared. They worked until they didn’t. Then what?

Somehow, the Mac failure was supposed to be substantially different from the PC’s blue screen of death. In reality, both meant you had to reboot the computer to try again. Somehow the Mac folk had to feel their double-the-price failure was a better one.

The double seeds were planted way back then (nearly 30 years ag0). One was the Spple system and the other was the Microsoft fantasy.

The Apple system was expensive for two reasons. One was simple greed; they made everything proprietary and did not let anyone make cheaper versions, thus keeping the price up. The other was that they required much faster, more capable and expensive processors, with obscene amounts of RAM to hide the functions. The Mac was plug-and-play with peripherals before the PC because the operating system did tons of work behind the scenes.

For Bill Gates’ minions, they spawned the software version — that each of us is a perfect multitasking machine in a human’s shell. That’s absurd on the face of it. The vast majority of us do one thing at a time well and our efficiency deteriorates badly beyond that. Multitasking is cruel overload for nearly all of us.

Yet, managers love that concept and love to tell their lackeys that they expect them to use every second, meaning keeping open many documents, spreadsheets, email and more, spinning from one to another like a honeybee in a field of flowers. It is a recipe for assured failure, one that both bosses and workers cook from daily.

Me Worry?

So in this century, we allegedly have kids born tech savvy. They grew up with the internet, computers, smart phones, social networking and infinite varieties of applications for all those.

But big sigh, ask a teen or 20-something how anything works or what to do when it doesn’t and they are Eloi quivering before you. It’s like asking a high school or college student at the register to handle making change on a $41.67 bill when you hand over $50.17. If the register is not ready to do the calculation, the kid almost certainly can’t. If a software package punks out or the cable modem stops downloading, the lads and lasses get that idiot look.

Can you blame them? Well, yes.

I think of oldies, my late mother for one and a 93-year-old UU minister friend for another. They came with great period names, Wanda and Farley.

Wanda was sort of retired, although she never got the hang of not working and not volunteering. She grew up in a manual typewriter world, was a manager in the IBM Selectric days, and in her late 50s, semi-retired and moved to Santa Fe, learned to use computers in a state job. She then wanted 1) to communicate with distant children and grandchildren, and 2) to build and maintain a database for a local community college’s library. I got her the hardware and software (including what she needed for her impinging macular degeneration) and taught her how to use email, DB software and more. I set up her systems but, she was an ace.

Farley was a bit of a harder sell. He was interim minister at a Boston UU church were I chaired the board. His son and I worked him from different towns and angles. He was not a natural, but in his early 70s, he started using a computer writing sermons, using the net and emailing like a champ.

He and I laugh about the number of times he called late with, “Damn. I’ve worked on this sermon for 8 hours and it’s gone, just gone.” Almost always, I could recover it for him and off he went again. On his side, his son figured he’d move him from Windows to Mac. Surely Farley couldn’t goof up a Mac. Surely he could and did, but we perked along and still do over 20 years later. He’s moved to Mexico but is a regular email correspondent.

Neither Farley nor Wanda evolved much beyond the user/luser class. I had to help both regardless of how many times I explained how to avoid this or that on PC or Mac.

Unitarians v. Computers

Moreover, a couple of decade ago, Farley and I did a counterpoint sermon from the high pulpit of the Arlington Street Church. The sheer altitude of that locale, plus looking out to upwards of 1,000 congregants, focuses the mind and inspires.

He spoke on the human aspects of life so often lost in the modern technological times. He was truly the stereotypical humanist. I gave my view of how computers and the net (before the World Wide Web) enabled communications and advocacy, a trend that would only accelerate and magnify.

Farley’s attitude I consider unfortunate and one he and I still debate in person and by email. Many ministers, UU and otherwise, exhibit a computers v. people mindset. I don’t see the conflict. To me, computers are like cars or planes or telephones…only more so in each case.

Instead, I fret when I see the lameness of young lusers. There’s nothing I can do effectively beyond my three kids for the many who never had to master multiplication tables or learn subtraction and division. I think the boomers, under the Sputnik era pressures, did get a more rigorous education.

It’s still not too late for those in their teens, 20s and 30s to be inspired. It’s not too late for them to become aware and savvy.

The eldest of my three sons is an anomaly in his cohort. Actually he and one other of his high school chums have extensive IT experience and understand how networks, computers, routers and more work. They don’t whimper. They fix.

Truth be told though, he wasn’t always the guru. As a boy, he was absolutely fabulous in taking things, mechanical and electric alike, apart. Reassembling or fixing was an entirely different matter. Whether it was a toy or clock or radio, we’d often find non-functional groupings of parts.

Unfortunately or fortunately, he had a dad who was the fly in the ear or mosquito on the neck. “What do we need to do? What can we learn from this? Where does this part belong?”

Whether I had experience with and knowledge of the device in pieces before us, I could help or lead in the healing process. It appears many young adults and their younger siblings never got any of that. They simply don’t know how things work. They are willing to blame problems on the failure of this or than inanimate object. They have no curiosity about the problem or the solution.

I fear for a nation of Eloi. I’m not sure there are Morlocks who’ll keep our machines and processes in tune. I wonder how inert and paralyzed we might become if there are too many figurative Mac bombs.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

No Bragging, Y’all

May 10th, 2010

Yes, it must be Southern week. This time, I checked in on an old college newspaper to see a clear Yankee/Southerner distinction.

7minutesUp here in New England, I’ve told locals who never get below Hartford that a lot more than dialects differs. One clear distinction has to do with what Southerners call with disdain bragging on yourself. Granny warned them abaout that, so did their teacher, as did their minister.

Of course, as with so much, there’s some biblical grounding for the admonitions against pride. Think Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel, having to eat grass with the cattle because of his pride. Then in Proverbs, “When pride cometh, then cometh shame” (11:2) and “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (16:18). Front to back, the book is full of such.

On a personal level, Southerners consider bragging a great personal flaw. That’s not to say there aren’t loudmouth, arrogant types down there, rather that the larger society looks down on them.

Up in Boston and larger New England, the culture is quite different. We consider it honest and necessary to establish our bona fides (that would be Latin for good faith, as in a type of notice) when we meet.

Seven-Minute Drill

Some sociologists might compare it to dogs sniffing each other’s  nether regions, or various beasts thumping their chests or making other displays. Regardless, by the watch, you can expect New Englanders to display everything, every last thing, they are proud of within seven minutes of meeting them.

That should include their colleges, prep schools, and most notable employers. They circle back to famous forebears, from whom they infer genetic transference of alleged virtues. They don’t talk absolute money, but they will certainly list big-deal property they or their immediate families own or owned.

In short, they do exactly what a Southerner finds reprehensible — brag about themselves with an aim to impress. Yet, in this culture, they are wont to say this is necessary to place themselves in context.

Ancient Voices

This came to mind as I read, “Braggers should learn humility:
Those who advertise accomplishments appear conceited, alienate peers
” by Chelsey Seidel in the Daily Gamecock. She’s in the same journalism college and sequence (print) I attended, lo those decades ago. More important, she clearly heard the same admonitions I did as a child.

seidelcropShe delineates three kinds of braggarts — the classroom achiever, the MVP type, and to her the worst, the out-doer. The latter tops everyone’s contribution to conversation and brags to the point of lying to appear the best at everything.

Yankees should know that such predictable and expected behavior here has its costs there, as in people not wanting you around or “the out-doer usually ends up pitifully walking home alone at the end of the night.” In a culture that prizes sociability, those aren’t light punishments.

Seidel, whose cropped face appears here, offers a moral to the column. Southerners also prize storytelling and often end with a take-home, in this case, “Braggers need to realize that people would be much more congratulatory of their accomplishments if they learned to show humility instead of constantly making others feel inadequate.”

Of course, Bostonians aren’t about that. They want others to feel inadequate, in least in contrast to their magnificent selves. It’s different there and here.

Maybe you do learn more about someone else in the New England style and timing. I certainly grew up parceling out good stories and personal history to keep friendships spiced and fresh. In a way, this contrast is of two kinds of showmanship. Do you throw everything on the stage in the single act or make a real show out of it?

By the bye, the columnist is a fair scold from the look of her work. For example, a man trying to be his companion’s “best girlfriend” turns him into a “girlie man” who waxes his chest and eats small salads. Then too, she finds public displays of affection by teens disgusting.

She actually offers quite a sample of Southern manners and culture. It’s different there, but even after all the decades in Boston, I could talk with her.

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Cardinal Pitches Wholly Holy

March 31st, 2010

Every priest a saint…right?

Well, to listen to local Archbishop, Sean Cardinal O’Malley, all that will take will be some focus.

Keen. Foolishly I had thought it might be time 1) to take legal and moral responsibility and 2) to rethink that father-come-lately mandatory celibacy thingummy.

However, at least the message he delivered to hundreds of local priests in his Holy Week homily was that even with proof that thousands upon thousands of their number are linked to child abuse and in a few cases heterosexual adultery and fornication, they can each and all live lives of holiness.

Cynicism aside, I note that he was a couple of steps above the simple-minded just-say-no rhetoric about drugs and premarital sex foisted on teens for decades. He had specific, detailed steps. Those include the three-part plan of:

  • Annual personal retreat “for silence prayer, and spiritual direction, and a review of our life.”
  • Supporting and holding each other accountable in regular activities.
  • Leading a balanced life.

Unfortunately, that balanced life is heavily edited for the priesthood. It does not resemble the self-help and development that has worked for billions of non-clerics for centuries. Instead, according to that Boston Globe recap above, that would instead be “setting aside at least an hour a day for prayer and meditation, allowing time for sleep and exercise, eating properly, and getting regular medical checkups.”

One might note that this strategy does not mention a fulfilling emotional and sexual side to life. Under strictures of being married to the church and Christ, requisite celibacy and sublimation, the urges of hormones and the thoughts and feelings normal to nearly all of us are flat out.

For the many Roman Catholic clerics, as well as the parallels in a few other Eastern and Western religious groups, a pivotal ideal dominates. The superior practitioner transcends the physical and mental drives. In the R.C. priesthood in particular, the guys are supposed to direct their thoughts, feelings, energies and actions to the service of God, the Church and their parishioners (and sometimes their orders or specific causes). That’s supposed to happen all day, every day and to become that life of holiness.

Well, in the few centuries since celibacy became mandatory, that endless ideal seems to have escaped the capability of many, if not most, of this group. Forgive my incredulity, Cardinal, but a three-part strategy to refocus seems scant ammunition and weaponry in a relentless battle against very human needs.

Cross-post: This appears at Marry in Massachusetts.

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Color Me UU: 2 and New

March 30th, 2010

Good timing, Globe! A short feature today dovetails with my recent post on UU hand-wringing over lack of racial diversity.

After 378 years in Cambridge, MA, First Parish will have a Latina minister, Rev. Livia Cuervo. In a religious group striving to mix up its very, very white membership and very white ministry, that’s good. Unitarians founded and ran Harvard from the start, but has somehow fallen far behind in diversity efforts.

Cynics may ask:

  • What took so long?
  • How serious is this for adding her as an associate minister?
  • How serious is this for hiring a 72-year-old?

Don’t sneer too long. The parent UUA most recently elected an Hispanic, Rev. Peter Morales, to its presidency.  Plus, the senior minister in Cambridge is Rev. Fred Small, who is also a hippy-dippy style folksinger (pretty good and pretty well known IMHO). I have no doubt he wants to build on this choice.

UU v. US by raceUUs are actively trying to diversify. They seem to be doing better in attracting and growing ministers of color than folks in the pews. See this chart from UU data with the maroon being they and the blue all US church goers by race in 2008.

Rev. Cuervo is coming in with a good attitude at least. The Globe‘s Lisa Wangeness quotes her as, “This is really breaking the tradition — it’s big for everybody…I want to help them nurture the dream they have.”

From my experience in the UUA and in particularly with the Arlington Street Church, I’m looking to see whether this will translate into more Latinos coming to a not-necessarily-Christian and pretty white church.  I think back to over 20 years ago at the ASC when we replaced the standard UU minister (white, male, graybeard) with a young, very out lesbian adoptive mother, Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie.

She was already well known in the LGBT communities around here as the minister at the P-town church. Very few of our members feared her presence might turn the ASC into an all-gay church; truth be told, we already had the reputation as the UUA chapel for the number of ministers and staff from HQ who worshiped there and we were already welcoming to all.

However, we were quite surprised in her first year at how many lesbian couples her ministry attracted, many adoptive parents and quite a few from Somerville. Most of those turned out to be tire-kickers as they say in the sales biz. When we asked those who stopped coming why, we typically heard that they’d rather sit in a café with the papers on Sunday mornings or that the 12 mile drive or subway seemed too much or that the kid’s classrooms were not nice enough for their children.

Rev. Cuervo might pack folk in by virtue of being a dynamite preacher, if she is. She might attract non-Catholic Hispanic worshipers. She might be just another good UU minister. Regardless, the calling was good. The effect and longevity are to be determined.

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