Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A "Just and Lasting Peace"

Quakers at the 2014 St. Pat's Peace Parade in South Boston.
My heart breaks, along with so many others, at the war in Gaza. My heart breaks, and I feel helpless. What can we do? What should we do? There are no easy answers. This is not a new problem.

This past Sunday, I worshipped with the local Quakers, as I sometimes do when I have a Sunday "off". I love the Religious Society of Friends, and feel a strong affinity with them. I suppose the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, because when my father was deciding which religion was for him back in the 50s, he was drawn to both the Unitarians and the Quakers. Ultimately, he became a Unitarian Universalist (after the 1961 merger of the Unitarians and Universalists). But it was a close call! And I totally understand.

There are a few things about the Quakers that I really love. I love that they are a "peace church" with a strong stand against war. I did not always feel this way; I am a Navy veteran, after all. But nowadays, I sometimes find myself wishing that the UUA were a "peace church".

In any case, the Quakers -- and specifically the American Friends Service Committee -- have put an enormous amount of energy into thinking about the issues of war and peace.  I appreciate both the commitment to peace and the thoughtfulness.  At this time, I find it helpful to read the AFSC piece on "Principles for a just and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis" (linked here). Perhaps you will find it helpful, too.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Stop the Pipeline!

Photo I took at the Dracut rally/march today.
Today I went to a "Stop the Pipeline" rally and march in Dracut. Concerned citizens got together to rally against the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline that would run through several towns in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  This was all part of a "rolling march" that has been going across the state.

If you want to learn more about the proposed pipeline, here are some relevant links:

No Fracked Gas in Massachusetts
Mass Plan (PipelineAwarenessNetwork)

Those Blasted Towns 

There will be a "Stop the Pipeline Action Day" in Boston this Wednesday, July 30. Learn more at the event Facebook page.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Friends New Underground Railroad

Picture found here.
There has been so much tragic news lately, with wars and planes crashing or being shot down, and so much more. It is easy to let the news get you down, but it's important to "remember the helpers", as Mr. Rogers would say.

One shining light that I learned about recently are the American Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends) and the "Friends New Underground Railroad", which is helping LGBT Ugandans to reach safety. You can read about their amazing work in this Newsweek article. What an inspirational effort!

I have always loved and admired the Friends/Quakers, and this just reinforces my feelings.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Praying for peace in the Middle East

This is a sad time. I am at a loss for words, so I share those of UU minister Rev. Linda Hansen:

"We pray for the power to see that we are all connected ... and that we ultimately help or harm ourselves in helping or harming one another. Out of this vision, may we have the will and the courage to work for a just and peaceful world in which every individual is treated with dignity."

(This prayer was offered, among others, at an interfaith prayer event in Milwaukee this week. You can read more here.)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Mad Men"'s Don Draper: Sympathetic?

I have been binge-watching Mad Men this summer. I'm only a little ashamed, because it really is an amazing show.

If you haven't seen the show and are planning to watch it on Netflix (or some other means) in the future, please stop reading as this post will have spoilers. (And I do recommend watching it!)

Now. Don Draper. The main character of Mad Men.  Is he a sympathetic character, or not?  I've read some other online commentary on the topic (asking if he is "likeable" and such). And I've read actor Jon Hamm's own take (he does not find Don Draper sympathetic). Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, of course.  As for me, I do find him sympathetic, ultimately, in spite of his many flaws.

So, let's acknowledge some of the flaws. First of all, he assumed the identity of a fellow soldier after an explosion in the Korean War. In the process, he upended the life of the original (or "real") Don Draper's family and his own family of origin too. Also, therefore, he is technically a deserter.

He's a horrible womanizer, throughout the series.

He's fairly ruthless in his work.

He doesn't appear to care about much other than life's creature comforts... he doesn't seem to have much social consciousness, and the 60s is lost on him in many ways.

There are other things, too, but those are some of the most obvious flaws.

Now, his central secret of having assumed another man's identity? Ultimately, I find this oddly sympathetic. He was very young, in shock from an explosion and the terror of battle, and he makes a quick decision. His punishment, really, is having to live with this secret and the stress it produces.  He does, of course, also become close to Anna Draper (the "real" Don Draper's widow) and helps her out.

It's harder for me to overlook the other flaws, really. But we also know that he grew up in a horrible and miserable situation that wounded him deeply. In that sense (and literally I suppose) he is a survivor. And so he has learned to "look out for number one" at all costs. Again, not a pretty picture, but somewhat sympathetic when you know how tough his start in life was.

There are two scenes that stay with me as summing up Don Draper's tragic predicament. One is when Marilyn Monroe dies. In one scene, Don is in the elevator with Peggy, discussing the death and how surprising it was that she was so miserable in spite of outwardly seeming to have it all. The elevator operator says, "Some people hide in plain sight". And that, of course, could be referring to Don Draper himself. If Marilyn Monroe was miserable "hiding in plain sight", surely so is Don Draper. And so I find him sympathetic in part because one of the tragedies of his life is that his first priority is taking care of himself and being successful and comfortable, but in spite of his efforts, he's clearly miserable. (As is noted here, of course, the elevator operator himself is "hiding in plain sight", being an "invisible" African American in a White Man's World.)

The other scene that stays with me is when he reads Frank O'hara's Meditations in an Emergency (pictured here). He sees someone reading it in a bar, asks about it, and the person reading it says something like "you probably wouldn't like it" (probably assuming Don Draper to be square or what have you). Later, we see him reading this very book. And we hear lines from the poem "Mayakovsky" (you can read the poem here): "Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again, and interesting, and modern." We get the sense that perhaps Don Draper feels that beneath it all, his personality is a bit of a catastrophe. He seems outwardly confident, but deep down he's full of self-doubt.

And so, in spite of his flaws, I wish Don Draper well. I want him to stop being miserable and hurting himself and others in the process. I want him to assess where he's "a catastrophe" and work on setting it right.  We've seen hints of his good side (e.g., when he's with Anna Draper, and his daughter Sally and son Bobby; when he's helping Peggy's career, etc.); I want him to bring that out more. Hopefully he'll learn (as Bert Cooper sang in the season 7 "half finale") that "the best things in life are free". I eagerly await the final episodes. I do hope that somehow he can find peace.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Image found here.
Today on Facebook, political economist Robert Reich posted this:

"One of the most enduring American traits is our belief in progress. Even in the direst times – the Great Depression, world wars, the Cold War – polls have shown a majority of us believing the future will be better, we and our families eventually will do better economically, our children will be better off than we are, the nation as a whole will progress, even the world will become a better place. But over the last two decades, that fundamental belief in progress has been shaken. Polls show fewer and fewer optimists, to the point where now a majority no longer believes the future will be better. This is one of the most fundamental changes in American character in history with all sorts of implications for how we act. (For the record, I'm still a strong believer in progress, and I’ll explain why in a future post). How about you? Do you believe the future will be better, and why?"

This is truly worth pondering. I think Reich is correct that optimism has always been an American trait. But there are a few things here that make me want to back up a little. What does "a better future" mean? What does "progress" look like?

If "a better future" means endless economic growth -- children making more money and having more possessions and a bigger home than their parents -- then no, I don't think that's going to happen. But I also don't think that's better.  We've based the American dream on materialism for too long -- on boundless growth and expansion. But it's time for a new American dream... or better yet, a new dream for the world, for all its peoples. Do I believe that we might "progress" to a future based on new and better values than endless material growth (and the environmental degradation that comes with it)? Yes, I do believe that that "better future" is possible.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

UU General Assembly... my own experience

I enjoy writing brief summaries of my UU General Assembly experiences on this blog... In part, posting here helps me share with others. But in part, it helps me to remember! As much as I love GA, you do so many things packed into a few days that it's hard to remember just what you did (and all that happened) when it's over! Blogging here helps me to remember GA better, in addition to sharing my experiences.

What a GA this was, 2014 in Providence! My only regret is that, as a commuter, I didn't have the "total immersion" that I usually have. Still, the things I got to participate in were quite wonderful.

It's always so hard to decide what things to attend at GA -- so many great things are happening at once! In the past, I sometimes went to the beginning part of one workshop, and then walked over to catch the end of a different workshop! I tried to be more kind to myself this year. Here are some highlights of the workshops I attended: I am very glad that I went to "Just Good Food" with Frances Moore Lappe (Diet for a Small Planet), Melanie Joy (Why We Love Dogs & Eat Pigs), Marisa Miller Wolfson, and facilitated by Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh. It was a very good overview of ethical eating, though I wish climate change had been discussed more. What an incredible line-up of speakers! One thing I learned about that I was very glad to be acquainted with is Carnism.org. I was left thinking the words of Frances Moore Lappe: "Shift from scarcity mind to ecomind".

Another very good workshop was "When Everything You Thought You Knew Isn't Enough" with Rev. Stefan Jonasson and Rev. Tandi Rogers. They talked about UU growth strategies and learnings. Some highlights for me were Jonasson reminding us to "fail boldly" and "more frequently"; this isn't a time to be timid.  He also told us to "get over" our "obsession with governance and organizational structure". Jonasson and Rogers reminded us that mission matters; "congregations must discern and embrace their distinctive mission"; "our mission is almost always thrust upon us rather than chosen by us"; and "congregations must be aware of their specific context and strive to make their mission relevant in that context". They asked us to consider where we are called to serve with these questions: "what are the three most exciting places in your community?" "What three places break your heart?" and "Is your congregation present in these places? If not, why not? If so, what difference are you making?"

I also attended "#UUsGetSocial: Digging into Facebook, Twitter, and Video-Making/Sharing" with Rev. Dr. Andrew Pakula, Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford, Rev. Dr. Daniel O'Connell, and Peter Bowden. It was reassuring that my Facebook and Twitter skills are actually already strong, but I did learn a few new good tricks of the trade. The Video Making/Sharing is the new area for me, the place where I have the most to learn. This is something I want to work on in the coming year. I did learn that the hashtag most often associated with UU is #hot. Go figure!

I went to a great play created by friends from UU Mass Action: "Be the Change: Activist Worship Theater". The dinner party play was written by the Rev. Steve Wilson. Lots of friends acted it all out. It was a ton of fun! I particularly enjoyed seeing Rev. Hank Peirce play Jesus in a Vegas-era Elvis jumpsuit! I would like to try this play at the UUCiA sometime... (I had the special offstage role of calling Rev. Alice Anacheka-Nasemann's cell phone at a certain point early on in the play. That was fun.)

Friday's General Session (formerly known as Plenary) was an exciting one.  We voted on a Congregational Study Action Issue (CSAI), and selected "Escalating Inequality". They were all excellent possible CSAIs, but I think we chose the right one. Saturday's General Session was possibly even more exciting as we delegates voted that the UUA should divest from fossil fuels! (Here I am at the General Session with my "divest" button from the UU Ministry for Earth booth.)

Saturday night's Ware Lecture was given by Sister Simone Campbell, one of the "nuns on a bus". She was really wonderful. I heard her speak once before, at the 2013 UU Mass Action Advocacy Day, but I think her Ware Lecture was even more wonderful.  She spoke about "walking toward trouble", which I think is a great way to frame justice work. She said that when you walk toward trouble, you encounter uncomfortable truths.  But also, when you walk toward trouble, you find hope. (In some ways, this was one of the themes of this GA in general: the need to get out there and engage with the world, something I thought and spoke about a lot this past year... it certainly resonates for me.)  Sr. Simone noted that the first three words of the Constitution are "we the people", and she said that "individualism is an unpatriotic lie".
Sr. Simone Campbell speaks, with P-Bruins banners above.

Quick final thoughts: All in all, this was another great GA, but it went too fast. Sadly, I had to watch the "Service of the Living Tradition" and the "WaterFire" event from livestream at home, because of constraints related to my commute. I saw some old friends, which is always a GA highlight, and I made a few new ones. It was a time, as always, to get a better sense of what the UUA headquarters folks are thinking about, and to learn what exciting things some congregations out there are doing.

A real highlight for me this year was being joined by several members of the UUCiA this weekend at GA! That's the first time I was able to meet up with so many congregants at GA, and it felt just great.

And a bit of nostalgia: Here's a picture of the message board at UU GA this year. At my first GA (1995), message boards were THE thing. There were no cell phones and no texting in those days. If you wanted to connect with someone, you had to leave a note on the boards, alphabetically by last name. You'd walk by the boards compulsively throughout GA, checking for notes. Wow, it was a different time! Last time I went to GA (2012) I put a note on the board for a friend, as a nostalgic joke. Three days later, the note was still there. I had to text her to tell her to check the message board! And there used to be many boards to hold all the messages -- this year, one side of one board was plenty.