Archive for the ‘Unitarian Universalism’ Category

Harriet Tubman, an American hero

July 24, 2016

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The following is notes for a lay sermon at First Universalist Church of Rochester, NY, on July 24, 2016.

Before the present announcement that Harriet Tubman’s face will appear on the $20 bill, all I knew about her was that she was connected with the Underground Railroad.

I’ve since learned something about her, and come to realize that she is truly a great American – but with a different kind of greatness than that of historical figures such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, U.S. Grant or Benjamin Franklin.

It is not just that those others were white, and she was black.  It is not just that they were all men, and she was a woman.  She was poor and illiterate, and earned her living through most of her life by physical labor.  Unlike her, they were commanders and lawgivers at the pinnacle of power.  She showed the power and position are not necessary for greatness.

What did her greatness consist of?  Her greatness consisted of the willingness to risk everything for freedom – first her own freedom, and then the freedom of others.

As a young girl, born into slavery, she resisted efforts to force her to accept submission, and eventually escaped.  Then, at great personal risk, she returned to the place she had been held in bondage, and rescued others.

During the Civil War, she volunteered as a scout for the Union Army and led other enslaved people into freedom.  During the final phase of her life, she supported equal rights for both African Americans and women.

She lived according to the ethic of Jesus in a way that few people today, including Unitarian Universalists, can understand.  She had a deep faith in God, and was guided by her visions of God.  She shared everything she had with those more in want that she was, and trusted in God to provide.

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Racial diversity and American religion

August 2, 2015

FT_15.07.23_religionDiversityIndex-1

We Unitarian Universalists value diversity and try to welcome all people, regardless of race.  So why are we so much more racially homogeneous than the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

I think the reason is that the intensity of the Adventists’ and Witnesses’ belief in their dogmas makes other considerations, such as race, unimportant.  The same thing is true of the Bahai.

We UUs are a big tent in terms of religious belief (even if relatively few people are under it).  But a non-creedal religion is something that college-educated white people tend to want more than people of other ethnicities and backgrounds do.

Should we give up our distinctive trait in order to broaden our appeal?  I don’t think that anybody—white or black—would want to affiliate with a group of people who are embarrassed about what they are.

One question that this chart raises is whether diversity within groups is compatible with diversity among groups.

I wouldn’t want to see the African Methodist Episcopal Church or the National Baptist Convention give up their identity as black churches.  And I don’t see how you could have a strong AME Church if the United Methodists recruited a large number of their members.

Likewise, it may be the case that the Missouri Synod Lutherans or the Evangelical Lutheran Church have traditions thjat are more meaningful to Germans or German-Americans than to the general public..

Religion is supposed to express universal values, but these values are rooted in particular heritages.  Get rid of these heritages and there might not be much left.

LINK

The most and least racially diverse U.S. religious groups by Pew Research.

The persistence of American racism

June 22, 2015

Some thoughts inspired by the Charleston, S.C., church massacre.

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As a college-educated white person whose friends are mostly other college-educated white people, I think of overt racism as a thing of the past.  Racial prejudice, yes, but not the ideology of white supremacy.

What the premeditated murder of the nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shows is that white supremacist racism has not disappeared, but just gone underground.

confederate_flagI can remember the bombings and burnings of black churches in the Deep South during the Civil Rights era, in particular the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.

White racists claim to fear the black underclass.  But what they hate the most are the God-fearing respectable members of the black middle class, because the existence of such people undermines their feeling of superiority.

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The murder victims’ loved ones said they forgive the murderer, just as Jesus taught and the Rev. Martin Luther King preached.  I ask my secular humanist friends whether they could be capable of such forgiveness.  I know I wouldn’t.

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Racial discrimination is not a thing of the past.  Just because we liberal white people don’t come in contact with it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still exist.

One of the members of the Sunday morning discussion group at First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y., is a white woman with an adopted black son.   I’ve met him, and he is a fine young man—intelligent, courteous and much more self-controlled than I ever felt the need to be at his age.

He once was traveling with white friends, stopped at a motel and was told there were no vacancies.  He went back to the car, and one of the white friends went in.  Unsurprisingly there was a vacancy after all.

He likes to visit Canada, but whenever he is driving the car with white friends, he says the car is inevitably stopped and searched.  When a white friend is driving, the car is always waved through.  When he is driving alone, he sometimes is refused entry to Canada—no explanation given.

He once was ticketed for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk and spent the night in jail.  I’ve never heard of anybody else here ever being jailed for a traffic offense.

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Mark Morrison-Reed and the minefield of race

January 25, 2015

Mark Morrison-Reed is the author of In Between: Memoir of an Integration Baby (2009), which is about his attempt to live in a color-blind world that doesn’t exist.  He was also my minister in the early 1980s.

The video above shows him talking about his book and about race in American life.  The first 25 minutes is his talk, and the rest is questions and answers.  Mark manifests his great ability to listen to people, and to understand and respond to where they’re coming from.

I met Mark in 1980 or 1981, I forget which, when he and his wife Donna were co-ministers of First Universalist Church of Rochester, New York.

I joined the church, which I still attend, in 1985 because of my great esteem for Mark and Donna.  Mark didn’t wear dreadlocks then. I remember Mark telling me something once that I was always remember.

He told me that I was committed to a philosophy that someday would fail me, which was that my self-esteem depended on “earning your keep”—that is, always repaying obligations.  He told me that philosophy would fail me because someday I would be in a situation in which I depended on the unearned kindness of others, which I would never be able to repay.  This has proved true.

Mark came from a background that was privileged compared to mine.  His father was a physicist on the faculty of the University of Chicago, who worked on the Manhattan Project and also was honored by NASA.  His mother was active in Chicago politics and knew Mayor Harold Washington.

But he was an outsider in a way that I never was.  He always had to deal with the fact that people, black and white, made assumptions, because of his race, about what he was and what he should be.

I never had to deal with that.  Maybe black people make assumptions about me because of my race, but this doesn’t control my life.

LINKS

‘True to my lineage’: Mark Morrison-Reed’s quest for spiritual integration by Kimberly French for UU World (2009)

Laying claim to my own blackness, an excerpt from In Between in UU World (2009)

Selma’s challenge by Mark Morrison-Reed for UU World (2014)

The empowerment tragedy by Mark Morrison-Reed for UU World (2011)

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Religion and the burden of proof

January 11, 2015

The late Carl Sagan used to say that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

What makes something an “extraordinary claim”?  For Sagan, a humanist and freethinker, the reality of the supernatural, of supernatural religion or of anything outside the scientific consensus was an extraordinary claim.

I think this is perfectly reasonable.  I, too, have made up my mind about certain things, and it would take extraordinary evidence to shake my conviction.

But for a great many people, it is atheism that makes the extraordinary claim and must assume the burden of proof.  They include:

  • prayer11People who are committed to certain religious practices and disciplines because they find them a good way to live.
  • People who’ve had transcendent spiritual experiences, and find the religion is a way to make sense of those experiences.
  • People who find that religious practices help them to deal with their troubles.  Members of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs are examples.
  • People who admire someone who is wise and good, and adopt that person’s religious practice to become wiser and better themselves.

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Reproductive justice and infant mortality

November 15, 2014

Liberals believe in a woman’s right to choose whether to become pregnant or not.  This right includes access to sex education, birth control and legal abortion.  But if the right to choose is to be fully realized, it should include the right to have a child and ensure the child is well cared for.

imrsThe United States in general, and my home city of Rochester, NY, in particular, have an unusually high rate of infant mortality, especially among poor African-American women.  It’s not quite as bad as the statistics indicate, because the USA counts as infant deaths what many other industrial countries count as miscarriages.  But even taking that into account, it’s pretty bad.

If you break down the figures, the American problem is mainly a high infant mortality rate among African-Americans.  In 2010, 614 out of every 100,000 American babies died in the first year of life.  Broken down by race, the rate per 100,000 was 1,146 black babies, 518 non-Hispanic white babies and 528 Hispanic babies.

This is partly due to lack of good medical care and advice, and partly due to a much higher rate of premature births among African-American mothers.  Nobody is sure why African American women have more premature births, but one factor is stress.  Women in Medicaid, single mothers and mothers whose husbands are deployed in the military are more likely to have premature births.

infantmortalitybyraceethnicitySome people think that the stress of racism is a factor.  I would not dismiss that idea out of hand.  I’ve felt extremely self-conscious on occasions when I was the only white person in the room, and I have often wondered what it would be like to be black and have to deal with this feeling all the time.

Immigrant black women have fewer premature births than native-born black women, which supports the theory, although, as the third chart indicates, immigrant white women also have fewer premature births.  Another fact that supports the stress theory is there is the same disparity between upper-class black and white mothers as among the poor.

My city of Rochester, NY, is known for medical research and excellent medical care.  Back in the 1990s, First Lady Hillary Clinton visited to praise Rochester’s community-rated health insurance.  But the figures indicate that our city as a whole, and our African-American residents are much worse and that, for some reason, the infant mortality rate among Hispanics is unusually high.

infantmortalitybyraceimmigrationstatus12The infant mortality rate in Monroe County is reported 1,420 per 100,000 births for African-Americans, 1,170 for Hispanics and 450 for whites.  The infant mortality rate in the city of Rochester is also 1,170 per 100,000, but 420 in the predominantly white Monroe County suburbs.

I don’t see anything obvious to be done about the stress of racism, but there is a lot that can be done to make sure pregnant women and new mothers get medical help and adequate nutrition.

The infant mortality rate is going down, although slowly, and there are programs that have made dramatic improvements, such as Kaiser Permanente Northeast California Early Start, Syracuse’s Health Start and the University of Rochester’s Baby Love.  The Affordable Care Act includes the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which provides grants for such local programs.

It seems to me that if you believe in women’s right to choose, the right to choice does not end at birth.  If you believe in the right to life, the right to life does not end at birth, either.  Preventing deaths of infants in childbirth should be a purpose all Americans support.

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The great SF writer Frederik Pohl is dead

September 6, 2013

Frederick Pohl, the great science fiction writer, died earlier this month at the age of 93.  He was politically aware, scientifically literate and a fine storyteller.  His stories are imbued with a hopeful cynicism—a knowingness about how the world actually works and the possibility it can be made better.

I have read and admired Pohl’s work for 60 years, since as a teenager in 1952, I read “Gravy Planet,” a serialized novel in Galaxy magazine by Pohl and his friend Cyril M. Kornbluth about a future United States ruled by advertising agencies and corporations.  Pohl’s imagined future society has no tolerance for subversives known as the “Consies”—conservationists, or what we’d now call environmentalists, who oppose unlimited consumption.  One of the characters says that these fears were unfounded.  When the world’s oil and gas was used up, “science invented the pedi-cab.”

waythefuturewasThe serial was published the following year in book form as The Space Merchants, which critics consider to be one of Pohl’s two greatest novels, along with Gateway, published in 1977.  If you have any liking for grown-up science-fiction—as distinguished from science fiction as wish-fulfillment fantasy [1]—I’d recommend one of these two novels or Slave Ship, The Age of the Pussyfoot, Man Plus, Jem or The World at the End of Time.

Pohl  also was a fine short-story writer.  Some of his best were “The Midas Plague,” “The Gold at Starbow’s End,” “The Merchants of Venus” and “The Tunnel Under the World”—the latter a Philip K. Dick-type story written before Philip K. Dick was ever heard of.

He was a Unitarian-Universalist, like me, and UUs will be amused by the Unitarian minister protagonist in The Cool War and the Unitarian exorcism performed in A Plague of Pythons.  

While nothing Pohl wrote was completely without interest, some of his works—especially sequels to his most popular works—were not as good as his best.  If you’re curious about Pohl and not familiar with his work, I’d recommend you keep your eye open for the titles I mentioned the next time you’re in a used-book store or the stacks of your public library.  They’re better than 99 percent of what you’ll see in the SF section of Barnes & Noble.

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George Tyger’s War Zone Faith

May 27, 2013

The Rev. George Tyger was my minister at First Universalist Church here in Rochester, NY, before he enlisted as a U.S. Army chaplain.  He has written War Zone Faith, a book of reflections based on his two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

WarZoneFaithWar Zone Faith is not a book that glorifies war and killing, but neither is it a book that depicts American troops as victims.  It is about courage, comradeship and loss.  Tyger depicts combat as an extreme form of the human condition, of having to do your best under circumstances not of your choosing.

Unlike him, I have come to think that U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan was a terrible mistake, but like him, I have a high regard for people who serve in the U.S. military.   There are those who enlist in the military out of economic necessity, but there are those, some overlapping with the first group, who want to do something for the good of their country.   There are military families, who generation after generation.

And if willingness to serve is used for unworthy purposes, that is not the fault of those who serve.  They do not send themselves into war zones overseas.   They are sent by the President and Congress, who cannot act without the consent of we, the people.  If our policy is a mistake, the responsibility lies with the citizenry, not the troops.

We Unitarian Universalists like to say that we respect human diversity, but the U.S. military has greater diversity than any other American institution I can think of.  American troops are of all races, all ethnicities, all religions, all social and economic classes, all kinds of family backgrounds.

Rev. George Tyger

Rev. George Tyger

In recent years United States military chaplains have come to be disproportionately from fundamentalist Protestant backgrounds.  Andrew Bachevich, in The New American Militarism, said this dates from the 1970s when many of the mainstream American denominations turned away from the U.S. military because of their opposition to intervention in Vietnam.   The religious conservatives were the main ones that still honored the military.  At the same time, Bachevich noted, the strict, fundamentalist type of Christianity was well-suited to counteract the drug abuse and all the other military discipline problems of that era.

At the same time, conservative Christianity has certain limitations.  Chaplains are supposed to represent their own faiths, but serve everyone.  But if a chaplain thinks that someone of my religious belief is going to hell, I don’t see how I can confide in that chaplain.  That is why a chaplain of the eclectic Unitarian Universalist faith, which looks for the good in all religions, might be able to serve men and women of any and all religions.

I originally was in favor of the invasion of Afghanistan.  I thought the United States was justified in invading a nation whose government harbored the terrorists who attacked the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.   And I thought the result of the invasion would be to liberate Afghanistan from the rule of cruel religious fanatics.   George Tyger still thinks that, and I don’t, but I thinks his choice is an honorable one.  George Tyger, thank you for your service.

Click on UU minister joins Army as a chaplain for a 2008 article in UU World about George Tyger’s enlistment.

Click on Meaning in the Midst of War for an excerpt from Tyger’s book.

Click on Things That Go Boom in the Night for Tyger’s reflections on returning home from Afghanistan.

A religious pilgrimage of upstate New York

March 29, 2013

The newest addition to my Blogroll page is Chris and Luke Explore the Burned Over DistrictIt is by a couple of young men who go around visiting places of worship and other religious sites in and around Rochester, N.Y., and reporting on what they see and hear.  Their blog is well worth following if you’re interested in the diversity of religion.  They visited my church, First Universalist Church of Rochestersome weeks ago.  

The Burned Over District

The Burned Over District

Western and central New York came to be called the Burned Over District after a series of powerful religious revivals in the early 19th century.  Revival preachers said the area was burned over because there was no more fuel (unsaved souls) to feed the fire of religious fervor.  But that was just the beginning of religious movements in this part of New York state.   At least two religions, Mormonism and Spiritualism, have roots here.

Joseph Smith Jr. lived in Palmyra, N.Y., just to the east of Rochester, and stated he was led by the Angel Moroni to the golden plates, whose inscriptions he translated into the Book of Mormon.  Each year the events of the Book of Mormon are enacted in the annual Hill Cumorah Pageant on the original site.  It is as if the events of the Book of Exodus were annually reenacted in a pageant at the real Mount Sinai.

The Fox sisters of Hydesville, N.Y., conducted their first table-rapping seánces in the area to communicate with the dead, leading to the Spiritualist movement, whose centers include the Lily Dale retreat center in Chautauqua County, NY, and Plymouth Spiritualist Church here in Rochester.

The Oneida Society was a successful communal utopian society in central New York, led by the prophet John Humphrey Noyes who said it is possible to live without sin in this world.  His most striking teaching was “complex marriage,” which included no unique partners, adolescent boys and girls being initiated into sex by older women and men and distinctive practices on birth control and eugenics.  After Noyes abdicated leadership in old age, the society reorganized as the Oneida silverware company.  The <Shakers were also an important part of upstate New York’s 19th century religious ferment.

First Universalist Church

First Universalist Church of Rochester, NY

People of diverse religions are good neighbors here.  In 1874, Unitarians, Universalists and Jews began a Union Thanksgiving Service which has been held annually since then, and now includes Catholics, Protestants and Muslims.

Roshi Philip Kapleau started his Zen Center, one of the first American Buddhist communities, in Rochester in 1966.  He had never before visited the city, but his reading led him to believe the area had spiritual significance.  Chris and Luke haven’t visited the Zen Center as yet, but they have visited three other Buddhist places of worship as well as the local Hindu temple and the Islamic Center

As for myself, I do not believe in the doctrines of any one religion, and I think some religions at some periods of history have fostered hatred and oppression, but I think the teachings of most religions contain valuable wisdom, and I think all religions express the yearnings and creativity of the human spirit.

“Dear Earth…”

April 22, 2012

Max Kapp was a Universalist minister who served a number of churches, including First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y., from 1938 to 1943.  He taught theology at St. Lawrence University and held positions in the Universalist Church of America and later the Unitarian Universalist Association.  But he was known for his sermons, meditations and poetry.  Here is a sample of his poetry.

For what my eyes have seen these many years
and what my heart has loved
and often I have tried to start my lines:
“Dear Earth,” I say,
and then I pause
to look once more.
Soon I am bemused
and far away in wonder.
So I never get beyond “Dear Earth.”

Click on Max Kapp for his entry in the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biolgraphy.

Rochester’s Union Thanksgiving Service

November 24, 2011

Third Presbyterian

I celebrated Thanksgiving by attending an interfaith Union Thanksgiving Service this morning at Third Presbyterian Church here in Rochester, N.Y., with participating clergy from the home church, First Baptist Church, First Unitarian Church, First Universalist Church, Temple Beth El, Temple B’rith Kodesh, and Temple Sinai.

A Muslim representing the Islamic Center of Rochester preached the sermon, on the Quran’s teaching of the duty to be grateful for God’s blessings.  A member of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church played the organ.

Union Thanksgiving Services have been held in Rochester every year starting in 1874, when First Unitarian, First Universalist and Temple B’rith Kodesh held a joint Thanksgiving service.  Our claim is that it is the longest-running Union Thanksgiving Service in the United States.

The hosting of the services is rotated among the participating congregations, and the different parts of the service are rotated among the participating clergy.  Next year Temple B’rith Kodesh will host the service, and somebody from First Baptist Church will give the sermon.

One exception to the rotation is the Muslim call to prayer, which is part of each year’s service.  When done properly, it is very powerful and penetrating, and I can imagine someone on a minaret being heard for a mile or more.  This year’s caller was a college student, who wasn’t quite as powerful as some of the more experience callers in prior years.

Another thing we always have is the blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn, which is part of Jewish worship.  This year the blower played a kind of tune on the shofar, which I’d never heard before and wouldn’t have been sure was possible.

Giving of thanks for blessings, and celebration of harvest-time festivals around harvest-time, are part of every religion and culture of which I know.  Knowing I live in a world where people are still killing each other in the name of religion, I feel good when I am able to attend an interfaith service such as this.

I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim that interfaith religious services happen only in America, but I think they represent what is good in American life—the willingness of people of diverse heritages to seek common ground.

Immigration is a moral issue

October 30, 2011

My refrigerator is covered with pictures of family, friends, children, library receipts and my son’s artwork.  However in Arizona, parents who are undocumented are clearing their refrigerators and placing prominently on them a single sheet of paper.  This one piece of paper tells social services what to do with their children if they are arrested.

==The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray

The Unitarian Universalist Association has recommended “immigration as a moral issue” as a study-action issue for its congregations for 2010-2014.  On Saturday, I attended a social justice conference Saturday at First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y.,  sponsored by the UUA St. Lawrence District.

The principal speaker at the conference was the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, parish minister of the UU Congregation of Phoenix and part of the UU Immigration ministry.  Others were Diane Chappell-Daly, an immigration lawyer from Syracuse; David Friedman, a St. Lawrence district trustee; and Pacho Lane, an American who identifies with Mexican culture and nationalism.

I learned things I didn’t know.  One is the cruel manner in which unauthorized Mexican migrants are deported.  Immigration authorities confiscate their property, including medications, cell phones, all forms of ID and any cash above $15, and deport them to a city in Mexico where they’ve never been.  Husbands are separated from wives, and parents from children.  Sometimes legal residents or even American citizens are caught up in these sweeps because they happen to be without proper documentation.  Reasonable people may differ about overall immigration policy, but no decent person can think this is right.

“Illegal immigrant” is a misleading term.  To reside in the United States without proper authorization is not a violation of American criminal law, although it is a crime to re-enter the United States once you have been deported.  “Undocumented migrant” is inaccurate, since many have documents; it is just that the documents are expired or invalid.  Arizona’s hard immigration law is not just a restatement of federal law.  It goes beyond federal law.

Frederick-Gray pointed out that until 1924, there were no restrictions on crossing the Mexico-U.S. border.  For many decades after that, Border Patrol enforcement was lax, and people routinely crossed back and forth.

During the past 10 or so years, there has been a crackdown that has made crossing more dangerous, and therefore more lucrative.  The Mexican drug cartel has taken over the business of smuggling people and combines it with smuggling drugs.

The private prison industry is an important lobby for a crackdown on immigration, and an important employer in Arizona.  In the current bad economy, it may be the only growth industry there.

The best estimate is that there are 12 million unauthorized migrants in the United States, and this can’t help but contribute to the high unemployment rate and depressed wages of American citizens.  The uproar over illegal immigration is perfectly understandable, but deportation is unlikely to change the situation.  The Obama administration is deporting roughly 400,000 unauthorized migrants a year which means that, even if no new migrants enter the United States, it would take 30 years to deport them all.

President Obama has stepped up deportation of unauthorized migrants in hopes of gaining support for a path to citizenship for those remaining in the country.  But such support is not forthcoming.  If Republicans would not support this idea when proposed by President George W. Bush, it is unlikely that President Obama would change their minds.  The best that can be hoped for is the Dream Act, which allows children who grew up in the United States a path to American citizenship.

The focus of the conference was on unauthorized migration from Mexico into the American Southwest, but migrants come from many countries and enter all regions of the United States.  Upstate New York is an important agricultural region, and many farmers employ unauthorized migrants.

It is not that American citizens don’t want to do farm work.  Employers who pay minimum [*] wage and obey American labor law can get all the workers they want.  But the economic incentive is to hire workers outside the protection of U.S. law.  Chappell-Daly said U.S. courts have ruled that it is legal for an employer to refuse to pay back wages to an unauthorized migrant.  Somebody in the audience, however, said that the New York Department of Labor will try to get workers the wages they’re owed—if they can find the person after they’ve been deported.

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My personal 10 commandments

April 17, 2011

One.  The truth is whatever it is.  Do not prefer lies or illusions to fact.

Two.  Do not devote your life to the pursuit of money, popularity or social status.

Three.  Do not use the language of religion, patriotism or idealism to justify superstition, intolerance or cruelty.

Four.  Take time to rededicate yourself to your best aspirations.

Five.  Honor those who nurtured and taught you.

Six.  Do not treat the lives of other people as less valuable than your own.

Seven.  Do not break promises or betray trusts.

Eight.  Do not cheat or exploit people, nor deny them what is due to them.

Nine.  Do not speak of other people falsely or maliciously.

Ten.  Do not envy someone else’s possessions, reputation, achievements or happiness, nor make yourself unhappy by comparing yourself to others.

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

December 24, 2010

I wish everyone a

Merry Christmas

Felix Natividad

Joyeux Noel

Froliche Weinachten

Buon Natale

Happy Hanukkah (retroactively).

Quality Kwanzaa

Splendid Solstice

Pleasant Pancha Ganapati

Beautiful Bodhi Day (belatedly)

Excellent Eid (very, very belatedly)

Fabulous Festivus

Happy New Year

or, if you’re not covered by any of the above, Season’s Greetings

or a Bah! Humbug! if you reject any expression of good will because it is politically or doctrinally incorrect.

Upstate New York and the Spiritualists

February 18, 2010

I just finished reading The Heyday of Spiritualism by Slater Brown, a used paperback I bought the other day at Bookends, a used-book store on Jefferson Road in suburban Rochester.  It told me a couple of things I hadn’t known about the Spiritualist movement.

I always thought Spiritualism originated with the Fox sisters in Hydesville, near Newark, N.Y.  That would make Spiritualism one of two major religious movements to originate in Wayne County (the other being Mormonism, originating in nearby Palmyra). But according to Slater Brown, it has a long history, going back to the origins of hypnotism and Mesmerism in 18th century France and including the visions of Immanual Swedenborg in 18th century Sweden.  I always thought that the Fox sisters when old admitted their mysterious spirit rappings were a hoax. But according to Brown, that also is wrong. The source of information of the alleged confession is a hostile and unreliable source that the Fox women would hardly have confided in.

Reading the book made me recall what a great intellectual ferment took place in upstate New York during the 19th century. The women’s suffrage movement originated in Seneca Falls, N.Y.  The Shakers and the Oneida Communithy were based in upstate New York.  Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass not only both lived in Rochester, but they knew each other and were good friends. Upstate New York was a stronghold of abolitionism and Universalism (and many Universalists were strongly interested in Spiritualism).

Later on upstate New York became a center of manufacturing industry – Bausch & Lomb Inc., Carrier Corp., Eastman Kodak Co., General Electric Co., IBM Corp. and Xerox Corp. For the most part they were located in this region of the country not because of any geographic advantages or natural resources, but because certain creative individuals happened to live here.

All this seems a contrast to upstate New York today. (If I’m missing something, please add a comment). What is it that makes a region or a nation a hotbed of creativity in a particular era? Is it a matter of chance? Is it a result of certain talented and enterprising individuals happening to be born in one place rather than another? Or are there historical and social factors that can be understood and – maybe – duplicated?

George Tyger’s Rules of the Trail

February 14, 2010

George Tyger was minister of First Universalist Church of Rochester for six years, then in 2007 enlisted in the U.S. Army as a chaplain. He loved mountaineering and extreme sports. He came up with these rules for mountain hikers that he also applied to walking the path of life.

1. Hike your own hike.
2. Set your own pace, but set a pace.
3. Never pass water without filling up.
4. It is your pack; you decide what goes in it.
5. When lost, look behind you.
6. Never fail to stop at a good view.
7. Look down the trail but watch where you put your feet.
8. Know when to turn around.
9. Hike in the rain.
10. The goal is not the peak; it is the parking lot.