What Would a National Day of Mercy Look Like?

If you have read more than one of my previous essays, then you know that I frequently play “what if?”  For instance, what if time travel were a reality?  Where might I want to go, and who would I want to meet?  Or what if there were seven modern deadly sins to counterbalance the seven traditional deadly sins?  In that particular exercise, I included smirking, whining and procrastination, among others, as modern deadly sins.

So, here is another “what if”: “What if there were a national day of mercy?”  What might that look like and what kinds of activities might take place on such a day?  First, to be truly merciful is something that requires practice.  Karen Armstrong, in her book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, says that compassion is a practically acquired knowledge, like dancing.  You must practice diligently day by day.  Mercy is a close cousin to compassion with the added component of a degree of authority or control being present with one person, with one having some degree of power over the other.  So, like compassion, mercy takes some practice too.  So maybe on the national day of mercy, we would have an opportunity to practice mindful acts of mercy, get a good grasp on how that feels.

With a bit of brainstorming you could think of any number of things that could take place.  Parents might practice mercy when punishing their children for unruly behavior.  You might be more apt to smile and say a kind word to a store clerk, the young man who bags your groceries, or smile at a fast food worker as you whiz through the drive-thru at Taco Bell or Burger King.  Maybe you would leave a bigger tip for a waitress or waiter at your favorite fine dining venue.

That’s just for starters.  Maybe state troopers and traffic cops would give out more verbal warnings and fewer citations.  Maybe judges and juries in court cases would award, or consider awarding, more lenient sentences.  Maybe governors would stay executions.  Maybe there would be no evictions from housing and apartments, or no bank foreclosures.  Maybe debt collectors would take a day off from those nasty phone calls threatening to send out a big dog to bite your ankle if you don’t pay up within ten days.  Maybe you would participate in a peaceful demonstration for a cause you believe in.  If your job involves supervising or managing the work of others, maybe you would be kinder in the way you explain to an employee how you need behavior to change in order to improve work performance.  If it is within their power, maybe some bosses would let employees leave a couple hours early in order to get a jump on traffic.  Maybe you would buy two boxes of Girl Scout cookies instead of one, when you see a young Girl Scout standing outside a super market entrance.  Of course, you would give the second box away, rather than eat both boxes yourself.  At animal shelters, maybe there would be no euthanasia procedures performed on the National Day of Mercy.  Instead maybe a focused effort would be placed on finding foster homes and adoption placements on that day.  Maybe you would volunteer at a homeless shelter or senior living facility, or be available to provide rides to doctor appointments.  Maybe you would read to a person who has lost most of their sight to macular degeneration.  Maybe you would do some grocery shopping for a home-bound person.  Maybe you would sign up for a social action project in your community, like taking a training class to prepare for tutoring illiterates.  Maybe you would join with others in sorting and donating clothing to a battered women’s shelter.  Maybe you would be merciful to your pet for chewing your favorite shoes, or scratching the furniture.  Or maybe you could just listen with empathy to a friend, coworker or family member who is going through a rough patch in their life.

Showing mercy doesn’t mean that on the national day of mercy you have to put on your Mother Teresa frock and pick up the suffering on skid row and take them home with you.  But you could start with becoming mindful of how you could be more warm and kind to the materially and spiritually poor here in Orange County, and with attaching real human faces to the concept of the worth and dignity of every person.

We’ve had Taco Tuesday and Throwback Thursday for years now, along with Wednesday as “Hump Day,” so maybe you could add Merciful Monday to the mix.  On Mondays, you would practice mindful merciful acts diligently, until they become part of your daily routine, as writer Karen Armstrong suggests.  Mercy, what a concept – no, it’s not just for saints any more.


The Sky Isn’t Falling, It is Just a Bit Tilted

Every day we hear atrocities on the news:  another plane crash, in the French Alps or in the Orient; Islamic extremists have bombed a museum or a mosque or yet another site; Robert Durst, serial killer, is suspected of killing yet more women over many years; yet another black unarmed youth is shot by a white police officer.  Yet another celebrity or journalist or politician or sports figure or campus-based group is behaving badly, cringe-worthy.  And there is Ebola in Western Africa.  And on and on it goes.

With these thoughts in the periphery of my mind, I read a newsletter entry by the pastor of a church I attend, and he said the following:

You would never know it from reading the newspaper, but our world is more peaceful that it has ever been in human history. And, though it is far from perfect, we have made indisputable progress toward equality on a global scale.

Local news tells us stories of crimes and house fires. National news tells us about global terrorism, vindictive national politics and environmental devastation, even as a greater and greater majority of humanity lives in peace and dies of old age.

The world is not falling apart. The kinds of violence that affect most people—homicide, rape, battering, child abuse—have been in steady decline in most of the world. Autocracy is giving way to democracy. Wars between states, by far the most destructive of all conflicts, are nearly obsolete.

From time to time I hear talk of a broken and hurting world. I drift in that direction myself from time to time. But at our core we are a tradition of hope and gratitude. As we embrace the season of renewal and hope, let’s remember the sky is not falling. In fact this is an absolutely amazing time to be alive.

Well, he hasn’t cited statistics to bolster his comments, but if he is right, then I think this is a good example of “glass half full;” vs.“glass half empty.”  And yet I still have this nagging feeling that things aren’t quite right with the world; after all, these atrocities being cited on the news aren’t invented.  OK, some networks might over-catastrophize a bit much or put a negative spin on things, but some are more “just the facts” than others.  Drive by shootings and child abductions are not a figment of my imagination.

So what if we made a vow that each day, or each week, we would look through the news to find some positive stories – people giving back, local heroes, social activists supporting worthy causes?  This is one way to restore your mind to some semblance of calm.

So to put my actions where my mouth is, I looked through the news and found the following.  For instance KNX 1070, local CBS radio affiliate, honors people who make extraordinary contributions to the community.  They name a Hero of the Week every week.  One such nominee is actually a group involving three teenage girls who founded a service called “A Call Away.”  Each of them had at one point had some family emergencies that threw their families into disarray and chaos, disrupting regular meals and shopping, involving increases in medical bills.  Regular bills went unpaid while they attended to the plight of ill or hospitalized family members.  So their service, “A Call Away,” provides such services as grocery shopping, running errands, homework help, delivering meals to families, playing with kids while adults make hospital visits, pet care, laundry, etc.  These services are rendered to those who have family members in a hospital, or dealing with a sudden death in family.  The girls do this on a complimentary basis, except for out-of-pocket expenses actually incurred, like the cost of groceries.  It would be noteworthy for persons of any age to extend themselves like this, but these are young teens with studying and school assignments to complete regularly.  Yet, they use their spare time to help others.  Surely they are role models for peers and younger kids they meet.  Instead of hanging out at the mall, or tagging neighborhood block walls, they are actually making a difference.

I also recently was reminded of an activist faith-based group in Orange County that works on restorative justice, peace-building from the ground up, and allows members of the community to gather and tell their stories about living with crime, bombings, sniper shots, homelessness, school drop outs, poverty, unemployment.  Together, they seek positive ways to change the social, environmental and behavioral realities in their world to bring about positive change, even though it may start slowly and build gradually.

Another group I know visits detainees at a local Orange County immigrant detention center, detained while they await a court date, to find out if they will be deported or allowed to remain in the US.  After concerted effort, the visitors were able to get their visitation program approved by ICE.  The detainees request visits using a signup sheet posted in their dorms.  Some of them have been detained for months, their families in their native countries not knowing of their plight.  Some have fled a country of violence and unrest and are seeking asylum.  Some have children they have not seen for a long time.  Some have had no visitors for months and are just grateful to see another human presence.  I know many who think these folks should just be deported and they have their reasons, their arguments, their points of view, their justifications, and their biases.  But after I hear my friends, who are part of the visitor program, talk about their feelings after hearing the stories of the detainees they’ve visited, I realize there are almost always two sides to each story.  And these visitors are taking the time to listen to the stories.  And they are changed, transformed by the listening.  As one visitor says: “I realize that I cannot solve all the problems of the immigration system, but for 30 minutes I can listen and remind someone that they are not alone.”

Another local news station is having a “Puppypalooza,” an adoption effort to help hundreds of homeless puppies and dogs find homes.  There is a real need and it is a feel good story as well.  It is much more heartening than hearing about another roadside bombing in a third world country.

So, when I hear news that is dreadful, I think of these positive examples, and look for more, and I almost always find one.  It is my touchstone, a reminder that the sky isn’t falling, even though at times I am sure it is tilting.

A Beautiful Thing That floats

written 11/4/13

posted 3/24/15

In a previous essay I wrote about the idea of creating a “Secretary of Imagination.”  I got the idea from Robert Fulghum’s quote about releasing a Crayola bomb:  “A happiness weapon.  A beauty bomb.  And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one.  It would explode high in the air – explode softly – and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air.  Floating down to earth – boxes of Crayolas.”  And I thought that if we had a Secretary of Imagination, we could have more such happenings at regular intervals, because the world was in need of a bit more joy and happiness.

Sometime later I found a sermon published on the web site of a UU church about happiness.  It resonated with the same theme – the basic theme was “Let happiness find you, hold your hand.  Know what it’s like to float in a world that can feel so heavy.”

At any given time there have always been dreadful things going on in many parts of the world.  I attended a play recently – Time Stands Still.  It was nominated for a Tony Award in 2010.  The play deals with two social activists, a photographer and a journalist, both dedicated to covering wars in places like Afghanistan and other violence-torn parts of the world.  And there is a line from a monologue by another character who provides a counterpoint:  “The people who are killing each other have always been killing each other, and the world has always watched while terrible things happened, and terrible things are always going to happen.”

And she goes on to make the point that she’d rather concentrate on happiness and happy events because there is nothing she can do about atrocities in far off places, like Afghanistan.  But she does have some degree of control over her own happiness. And her viewpoint really resonated with me.  It’s like the Serenity Prayer in a way:

Grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

I know it is hard to accept that war and atrocities are things we cannot change, or maybe to a limited degree, and sometimes not even the most ardent social activist can change them either.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try.  But at some point, even they might need to accept that the change they can effect is minimal.  But there are some things I can change.  I can choose to let a little more happiness into my life.  Rev. Makar, in his sermon on happiness, said “Part of the human experience is to feel resistance to happiness but [we should learn] to soften that resistance, to learn eventually the spiritual art of how to hold a beautiful thing that floats and cannot be contained….”  That is how he characterized happiness:  “a beautiful thing that floats and cannot be contained.”  And he also said that “Life is joy and woe woven fine, and there is no enduring the woe, without the joy.”

Actually, it may very well be that launching happiness is a part of our UU heritage as much as the wisdom of Emerson and the social conscience of Thoreau.  Hosea Ballou, a revered and influential 19th century Universalist preacher is given credit for coining a new word – “happify”.   He said that we are “happified” when we believe that we are held in the arms of Love and that those arms will never let us go, no matter what.  That God created us because God thought we might like it.  And if you don’t believe in God, then perhaps you could anthropomorphize the Universe and think of it this way:  the Universe released millions upon millions of bits of stardust in the big bang, stardust that could become human, because the Universe thought we might like it.

Now I like that – I’d rather think that we are here on this earth to be “happified” rather than make reparation over and over again for the sin of Adam and Eve.  I realize that life is a mix of joys and sorrows– joy and woe woven fine – and that we can’t be “happified” all the time.  But I think it is about finding balance.

The Greeks had a word for such balance, and it was an important part of their world view.  They called it “sophrosyne.”  Webster’s defines sophrosyne as “moderation; discretion; prudence” though scholars point out that the word itself has no direct translation into English.  And even scholars have some difficulty in defining it precisely.  It is part moderation, part balance, and part “know thyself.”  Plato and the Greeks considered sophrosyne the ultimate ideal toward which a person should strive.  It meant trying to come as close to excellence as one can within the frailties of human nature, restraining impulses to unrestricted freedom, to all excesses, and obeying the inner laws of harmony and proportion.  In short, being in right relationship with the universe and with the self.  The goal is to be in balance in all areas of one’s life.

So to that end – balance – I think we should try to practice Hosea Ballou’s idea of happification.  This is my formula:  in the morning as I get ready for work, I watch the local news, followed by the first few minutes of Good Morning America.  I learn about the latest atrocities in Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Egypt or other hot spot du jour.  I hear about the latest traffic fatalities, police shootings, road rage incidents, spouses who’ve killed their partners on their honeymoon by throwing them off a cruise ship, latest child abductions, and latest mass shooting at a school, a mall, an airport or a fast food emporium.  I marvel at the latest political shenanigans and shake my head at some of the spoken gaffes of elected officials who should know better.  While I watch TV news out of one corner of my eye, I hold one of my cats on my lap and feel her purr.  It is a multi-tasking means of self-preservation in the modern world.  Studiers of cat behavior say that it is an accepted fact that cat owners have lower blood pressure, especially in older people.  The human-feline bond is never quite so close as when a person is holding and petting a purring, vibrating bundle of fur on her lap, and all is well with the world.  So, given a world full of madness on the one hand, I balance that with the purr of a cat.  It happifies me.  Dogs can provide similar therapeutic value.

To continue on – at least once each day I go on the internet and look for some tidbit that I might find amusing.  I am drawn to such sites as The Oatmeal, Reddit, The Daily Currant, UTube, and sometimes Facebook for at least one daily chuckle.  And when I find it, I usually share it with some friends – sending a web link to one or more like-minded individuals so that they can chuckle along with me.  It is one of my ways of spreading happification.

It is possible that one reason we resist or stifle happiness, is that we just don’t know what to do with it.  If you’re really happy, you resist skipping down the street, turning cartwheels, humming or grinning idiotically in public.  Why?  Because you don’t want to look foolish.

Naomi Shihab Nye, says in her poem, “So Much Happiness”:

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records….. 

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.


The People We Never Meet and Never Know

“All the lives I could live, all the people I will never know, never will be, they are everywhere. That is all that the world is.” [Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project]

This quote is used as an epigraph at the beginning of Colum McCann’s novel Let the Great World Spin, and gives the reader a hint at what is coming, a glimpse into lives of a variety of New Yorkers we’ll never meet, never know, never understand, never appreciate. Yet through his writing McCann gives us entrée into the closely held secrets, treasures, sorrows and joys of strangers.

In my travels, and even in my daily wanderings – to restaurants, and 7-11s, and Starbucks, and workplaces – I pass people: in elevators, in subways, in waiting lines, and traffic snarls, in bank queues, at checkout stands, at plays, concerts and public gatherings. And if I am not preoccupied with where I have to be in ten minutes, or guilt over the donut I ate that wasn’t healthy for me, or what I will wear to a dinner party tonight, or the need to buy new tires for the car because mine are wearing thin, or the birthday card I forgot to send, then I look around me and marvel at the people I will never know. And even more than that, I sometimes marvel at the people whom I do know, but don’t really know deep down where the sorrows are lodged.

I have thought, more than once, that if I were a teacher of creative writing, perhaps a teacher of “How to Write an Essay’ or “How to Write a Short Story,” that I might task the students to go to some public place, book store coffee bar, library reading room, doctor’s office waiting room, food court in a large mall, airport departure gate, a viewing platform at Niagara Falls, a lecture on goal setting, you name it. And while there, they are to observe a person, or perhaps a couple conversing. You might overhear snippets of conversation. Take careful note of their apparel, demeanor, grooming, accoutrements (back pack, gym bag, type of shoes, name brand of shoes or handbag or man purse, type of wallet or watch, or cell phone) and from this observation write an essay or short story about that person or couple, about what their life is like, about what might be going through their minds, about their backstory, about their hopes, dreams, their resignation, or their despair. Then, we would all come back together again in a week or two, and share the essays, and comment on what we thought. Continue reading

Storm Watch SoCal 2014

If you live in Southern California, you know that we don’t have rain often.  In fact, the years 2012 through 2014 have been some of the driest, drought-impending years on record.  It is the diametric opposite of the state of Washington.  Governor Jerry Brown is doing commercials about water conservation, and a state agency is running commercials about saving water if you love California – cute commercials showing people hugging an animated cartoon shape, shaped like the state.  Residents of SoCal are ripping out their lawns and planting drought tolerant native plants to conserve water – succulents, cacti, aloes, and such – and some are going so far as to install expensive Astroturf in their yards, not willing to give up that “lush look.”  Their yards now look like high end miniature golf courses, minus the windmills.  And Home Owner Associations (HOAs) are distributing notes tacked to tenants’ garage doors about conserving water – those residents overwatering sufficiently to cause run-off will be cited after the second warning.

So when a Pacific storm comes along, albeit infrequently, it is big news.  All the local TV stations have STORM WATCH coverage.  The local weather reporters are suddenly supplanted by bona fide meteorologists showing Doppler radar maps of the impending storm, hanging off the Pacific coast, with prognostication about how exactly the storm, when it materializes, will affect your particular area.  These meteorologists often pontificate in a way that reminds you of Ted Baxter from the old Mary Tyler Moore show.  Their forecasts could vary, depending on whether you live in a beach community, a canyon or the mountains, or near a recent burn area following last season’s wild fires.  You aren’t sure whether to be alarmed or laugh. Continue reading

Becoming a Seeker of Wow

I happened to listen to a sermon recently given by a minister with a Christian background, although he now seems to be more of a progressive/liberal spiritual thinker than he might have been in his early days.  His topic related to connecting with something greater than ourselves, regardless of what name we choose to give it: God, nature, the Oversoul, the transcendant other, etc.  He commented that many progressives these days have stopped using word “God” because it has too much baggage.  I am one of those. 

He said that the job of religion was to help the finite (we humans) meet the infinite (that which can never be completely reached).  He also talked about the role of philosophy and religious thought as being an invitation into authenticity.  Religion should facilitate our becoming the best at living into who we are.  That would be for me to be and become the very best, unique Connie I could, not some other person.  That is the job I was put here to do, to live into being the best authentic me I can be.  Then I can appreciate the amazing authenticism or authenticity of others around me, as they are living their lives authentically. 

We are the divine expression of “wow.”  This is expressed by other words and phrases in various religious writings.  We are supposed to be the people of “wow.”  He mentioned that we need to spend more time with small children, who haven’t yet lost touch with “wow.”  We should find more ways to enjoy “wow.”  We should be so captivated by life and each other that we walk around all the time as the “people of wow” who just can’t get over how amazing life is.

I found this very intriguing and I had never heard it put quite this way before.  I certainly found this more captivating than being told I was here on earth to atone for the sin of Adam.  I think I may have been travelling down some paths to wow throughout my life, without calling it by that name.  I have been wowed by books I’ve read, and music I’ve heard, and films I’ve watched, and travel experiences.  I was wowed in Africa walking with lions and petting them and watching a parade of elephants cross a river in the Okavango Delta.  I was wowed seeing icebergs in Greenland, visiting Port Meirion in Wales, visiting Normandy Beach and the American military cemetery there, by cruising down the Rhine, by the beautiful architecture in Prague.  I was wowed seeing the giant Buddha statue on Lantau Island in Hong Kong.  I’ve been wowed by some tour guides I’ve met and some fellow travelers.  I’ve been wowed having conversations with really interesting people.  I was wowed seeing Willie Nelson live.  I’ve been wowed going to botanical gardens, like Butchart Gardens in Canada or the Huntington Library, or Descanso Gardens in southern California.  I was wowed earlier this year taking a garden tour around south Orange County (the Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour).  I am often wowed by talented people I run into, musicians, artists, jewelers, teachers, professors.  My life has been transformed by some of those meetings.  And I could go on and on. Continue reading

Mickey Mouse Will Never Know Walt Disney

There was a man who came to my church on a Sunday and brought his guitar, and made himself fit right in, accompanying the pianist and the choir at the service.  It was like the appearance of Mary Poppins – unexpected, as if he just flew in on an East wind.  He was personable and chatted with a lot of the long-time members, including myself.  Then after the service, he joined us at a nearby park, where we were having a previously planned picnic to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and May Day.  He was in the 50s or 60s I’d say, and his name was Richard.  Later I learned he was a dentist with a local practice.  Well one thing led to another on this particular Sunday.  Another member was present with her flute, and Richard and she collaborated on a few tunes and chords, jamming and fooling around as musicians are wont to do.  At one point, Richard strummed a few tunes from the 60s and 70s and several of us sang along:  The Boxer, Norwegian Wood, She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah, Obladi Oblada, The House of the Rising Sun.  Great fun. 

Somehow this segued into his mentioning that he had written a song, and it might appeal to Unitarian Universalists (as we were part of a UU congregation). And he went on to sing it for us.  On one level, it could be a kid’s song, but it was really more for adults.  It was a song about Mickey Mouse, the cartoon character.  It was about how Mickey is a great little guy and has had a lot of success, and been in a lot of movies, and helped launch an empire of sorts, but with all his success and talent there is one thing he is not capable of – he will never know or understand Walt Disney, his creator.  This is supposed to be a little parable about how man, in his quest to know God, will never be able to do so.

Okay, on first pass, it sounds simple enough, and clever, and yes something to mentally munch on.  But the more I thought about it, the more it became a real mind bender, and started to hurt my head.  And then I started to think about existentialism (only I would leap that far afield) and the belief that some existentialists hold, that God, if he does exist (a big “if”), is indifferent to man, and stays out of the picture, a fairly hands off kind of guy.  Or so many perceive him to be, if he’s there at all.  Well, we know that someone directs Mickey Mouse’s activities all along the way, all through his “life.”  He is told what to say and how to say it by a cartoonist (first Walt and then others), and his roles and dialogue are scripted for him (though he doesn’t know it), and his activities at Disneyland are pre-planned by a staff of hundreds.  Continue reading

Some Comments on Liberal Spirituality

An acquaintance of mine, a Facebook Friend, commented on a post and shared it on FB.  It is a two-year old post, but it is still circulating and causing some reactions, mostly among Unitarian Universalists and freethinkers, and some open-minded liberal Christians. Here is the link to the original post:


The post was written by a former Unitarian Universalist (UU) who has decided that UUism isn’t working for her, and has decided to seek another spiritual path and another faith community. It is well written and while I disagree with much of it, I support the writer’s freedom to her own opinion.  It brings up some of the issues we UUs discuss from time to time, about exploring various spiritual paths, examining what we believe, our individual guiding principles, living a chosen life, deciding what works “for me personally,” etc.

First of all, I made a mistake in reading this in the middle of the night.  I don’t think I’ll do this again.  I got up in wee hours of the morning to go to the bathroom, and my cell phone is sitting there on my bedside table, and I use it as an alarm clock.  Foolishly, I thought I’d check the Facebook posts as long as I was awake and came upon this shared item.  Then I couldn’t turn my brain off and didn’t sleep well after that.  Warning to others – don’t read FB posts or email in the middle of the night!

One of my thoughts upon reading the blog was that perhaps this person was throwing out the baby with the bathwater, in a manner of speaking.  So UUism isn’t perfect.  Maybe there were some aspects she could still embrace.  It sounded like some of her issues had to do with individual personalities that rubbed her the wrong way, as much as she was disillusioned with what she perceived as the lack of depth or passion in the denomination.

I guess, for me personally, what I like about UUism are some of the very components and aspects that WonderTwisted took issue with.  There are hundreds, thousands even, of large and small denominations, permutations, and stripes of Christian congregations out there, some liberal, some Evangelistic, some middle of the road, some of the born-again variety who believe in the literal words of the Bible (with all its contradictions).  And then there are the more extreme versions of faith communities – Catholicism and orthodox leaning Judaism.  And all seem to appeal, in some way, shape or form to “believers.”  If you are a believer, wherever you are along the continuum of liberal to conservative, you have many choices.  You can shop around, visit many churches, and find one where the fit seems right for you – much like Goldilocks did in the fairy tale.  You look for the right combination of beliefs, tenets, hymns and services you like, plus a place where you find people you are comfortable with, who think like you, and are most likely from the same socio-economic strata as you, enjoying similar books, movies, TV programs, and enjoying dining at the same eateries and coffee houses you frequent.  It is a trait of the human animal to be drawn to those who are most “like us.”  That is our comfort zone.

So here is my “dilemma”:  the search and trying on process I’ve described is just great for the believers, but the freethinkers, skeptics, agnostics and atheists have fewer viable venues to visit in looking for a “spiritual home.”  No I don’t think this is a contradiction – that  non-believers or skeptics can be spiritual and yearn for some way to experience spirituality in the absence of a belief in a supreme being.  You can be a non-believer, grounded in science and reason, and still experience awe, wonder and amazement over events in nature, in the cosmos, the sunrises and sunsets, in meteor showers, in the animal world, in the beauty of trees, forests and plants, in icebergs in Greenland and whales migrating in Baja.  You can be moved by poetry, art, drama and literature, Greek architecture and Roman ruins.  You can be amazed by the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or the ruins of Pompeii, or the woodworking of Sam Maloof.  You can be bowled over by the theology of Forrest Church or Teilhard de Chardin or CS Lewis, even if you don’t agree totally with everything they say.  You can be moved by a Mary Oliver or a Kay Ryan poem.  Or maybe you are one of those souls who have a foot in more than one world – questioning this idea and that, such that one day you think maybe there is a divine plan, and the next week you think such a notion is poppycock.  Maybe you vacillate back and forth from time to time, depending on whose book you read recently, whose sermon you listened to recently, and which NPR program you heard this week on your commute to or from work.

For years I never knew about UUism, and more’s the pity.  There are limited places that freethinkers and questioners can go to find the spiritual.  So it doesn’t work for WonderTwisted, but it is a touchstone for many of us.  Yes, you can go to college lectures, hang out with professors and college grads, attend a lecture series at Cal Tech, you can watch PBS and listen to NPR, but maybe you still want just a bit more.  And UUism provides it for many of us.  Yes, as with any group of thinkers, you find some arrogant, know-it-all types who think they have all the answers, who lack humility and social graces, but I find those kinds of folks in other places as well, including the work place.  But my odds of finding “like minded” people have improved substantially since I hooked up with the UUs.  Do I find it an absolutely perfect fit?  Not always. 

I have found some ministers whose sermons amazed me, consistently.  And I encountered some who didn’t appeal to me.  But, by and large, it is the best milieu I have found for intellectual stimulation and meaningful conversation, perhaps since I left academia.  I found a book group, a movie group and traveling companions for foreign trips.  I’ve had more amazement and “aha moments” in the last ten years than I had in the previous ten years.  I’ve had many, many thoughtful conversations in homes, restaurants, diners and coffee houses about books and ideas, current events, politics, science and religion.  If all the people whose company I truly enjoy moved away, maybe I would have to find another congregation.  But in the meantime, it works for me.  I value it.  Maybe I just got really lucky and landed in a congregation with a lucky mix of individuals.  Or maybe I’ve worked some to create my own luck by striking up conversations with people and probing their minds to see what I could find.  I probably took some risks sharing opinions with a few people – many have agreed with my viewpoints, but not all.  And that’s the chance you take. 

Who knows – maybe I’ll think differently five years hence.  Maybe I’ll have one of those “on the road to Damascus” moments where I experience the sacred in a mug of hot chocolate when the marshmallows form the shape of Christ’s face, or I hear voice speak to me from a date palm tree in the desert.  Or maybe not.  But in the meantime, I’m thankful for UUism.  It has filled a void for me and fed my mind and my soul.  And it has given me much enrichment, many laughs and great friends.  And in the modern world where many are feeling isolated and alienated, that is saying a lot.  Perhaps I’ll have more to say at some later time as I ponder more about life, the universe and everything.

What’s in a Snug?

This could be a good follow-on to my essay “What’s in a Hug?”, included in my book Did Jesus Have a Cat.  I recently learned, on the ABC News on a Sunday morning as I was getting ready to go to my usual Sunday service of choice, that a woman is offering professional snuggling services.  She says it is just snuggling, no sex, clothes stay on.  For an additional fee she will spend the night.  She says this is not prostitution.  Some people disagree. 

So of course, being a more than average “inquiring mind,” I tried to access the web site; www.thesnuggery.org.  On my first try, I couldn’t get to the site – it was overrun by high traffic.  Surprise, surprise.  A million other viewers had done the same thing – immediately rushed to their computers or smart phones and tried to Google the site.

I‘d recently hit a dry period in my writing and was waiting for just the right stimulus or ping to get me going again.  This may be it.  According to the web site:

“Research provides us with ample evidence that physical contact with others has a positive effect on our physical and mental health.  Yet, we live in a culture that does not sanction touch simply for the sake of touch.  We’re afraid of touch. Studies have found that people in theUnited Statestouch openly less frequently and with less positive feeling than people in many other countries throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, Central andSouth America.  Consequently, we tend to be more agitated and aggressive, both verbally and physically, than people from places where affectionate touch is open and normal.”

The web site goes on to explain how, during touching, the brain produces more serotonin and endorphins.  “Happy chemicals” are produced (duh – she’s not just whistlin’ Dixie here).  Similarly, fewer bad chemicals that produce depression and suppress the immune system are produced.  Her web site explains that a staff of snugglers are available to, well….snuggle with you.  The snugglers are pictured on the site with their bios and it all seems very touchy-feely, therapeutic and beneficial to mankind. Continue reading

Stop, You’re Killing My Langwitch! (or, Channeling Yogi Berra)

Just after writing my “awesome essay” (“What’s Next after Awesome?”), I happened upon a short internet blog/article about the misuse and overuse of certain words, some of which are not actually words, or are made up, or are common mispronunciations of actual words.  Some notable ones are:

  •  Administrate (rather than administer)
  •  Commentate (rather than comment)
  •  Firstly (rather than using first and so on when ticking off points)
  •  Height (should be pronounced “hite” with no “th” sound)
  •  Irregardless (a made up word, when irrespective or regardless would be better choices)
  •  Orientate (should be orient)
  •  Supposably (as opposed to supposedly)

And then online readers commented with quite a diverse medley of their own pet language peeves, and gave various opinions about language change, and some commented on the “dumbing down” of our language vs. normal language change and evolution.  I had to smile at some of them and nod my head at others.

One misuse I heard in a meeting not long ago was “citate” (when I believe the speaker should have used “cite”).  My inner grammarian winced and tears came to her eyes.  Yes, I agree it is a problem.  So let me comment on this issue further by using some of those citated words (from the internet article) to exemplify a point.  When words are used wrong it has a very impactful affect on listeners and readers, even if you don’t realize it, like children for instance.  Every time a kid hears some bozo say “nucular” on a newscast, he is probably flustrated because his mother has been correcting him often and telling him to say it “nuclear.”  How is a kid supposed to develop correct grammar when all around him people are saying things wrong with the best intentionality?

The constructure of the English language is hard enough without people messing it up with wrong pronounciations.  Foreigners and other adaptaters to our odd ways of speaking and writing are especially challenged, and that is real shame now that we have more immigrunts in our population.  I hear it all the time in the greater Los Angeles area, which is heavily hispanically influenced.  How will they ever get it right, when us native speakers do such a good job of messing it up?

This whole thing is one ginormus challenge for the educassional system to quantifite.  Firstly, you have to documentate and divine the various problems before you can begin to develop a pacific plan of action to rectifine the problem.  Especially when some educators these days are an inturcle part of the problem, misusing words regularly themselves. 

Just look at the Bushisms of our past president George W. Bush.  Humorists filled up a whole book with them, and the late night comicals had a field day.  How does it incentivize a young person to practice correct utility of the language, when our own president has gotten to the top, so to speak, talking almost like an illiterate?  A kid hears that, and thinks, obviously correct grammar utilization is not a big deal.  I think voters should take note — when you hear a person running for office, misusing words like Bush and Sarah Palin out on the campaign trail, think twice about giving them your vote.  Is this the person you want for a roll model for our young people?  Whatever you think of Barrack Obama, at least you have to admit that he is a better speaker than Bush.  That alone is a step toward stopping the verbosinality that seems to have taken over some people’s speech. 

I’ll admit it is a thorny problem.  We need some seriously ingenuitive people to step up and be willing to be accountable for setting proper example so the problem, already bad, doesn’t proliferate into something too massive to bufferize.

I know many reading this will be band wagging in agreeance.