Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Solstice!

Happy Solstice to one and all.

We let our girls stay up last night to watch the spectacular solstice lunar eclipse. We had great visibility from our deck except for right when the moon was totally eclipsed; the clouds had rolled in by then. The huge silver moon that set this morning was almost as beautiful. All in all, it is the start of a lovely solstice. Even if nothing else goes right today, knowing that the days start getting longer tomorrow makes me glad.

Staying up late had another benefit. Wrapping presents, listening to Christmas music the girls and I ended up having a great conversation about how we each see religion and how important it is to respect others’ viewpoints. The girls never really want to discuss religion with me when I try to teach them something, but this was a really honest and organic conversation that one of them started. I talked to them a little about what UU has meant to me. We decided that we all three have different beliefs and agreed to respect them. I am glad we had that time to talk. We also learned how to wrap presents around the new kitten-type members of the family – a useful skill.

I haven’t posted here is a while. I think I have been avoiding introspection, trying to keep everything together for the holidays. I have a couple of issues I have been rolling over in my mind and I should be putting them down to screen here soon. Till then, enjoy whatever holiday you are yours cherish.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Slow Christmas

I have just had the last busy weekend I want to have until the new year. I am focusing on having what I call a Slow Christmas this year – fewer presents, fewer activities, fewer obligations, less stress. I want to reclaim enjoying the holiday season. I simply refuse to spend any time in malls on the weekends for the rest of the month. I will do things with my family that I enjoy doing and will take on fewer things that I have to do. I will be mindfull and present for one of the last Christmases I will probably have with both my girls at home full time. I really mean it this year.

In our house tonight we will have one of my favorite parts of the season – putting up the Christmas tree!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In Contrast to Yesterday's Post

Sunday was a day of highs and lows; the evening could not have been more different from the emotional tumult of the morning. Several women from and related to our Fellowship gathered together in a ritual of support for one of our own. It was beautiful, moving, and profound. Those women filled that house will such love and unwavering faith. I was honored and grateful to have been asked to be a part of it.

I am still reeling a bit, but grateful to have been shown the other side of the coin. This connection, this support, this love for each other, this is why I ventured back into religious life. It is not about theology or the expectations of others. It is not about us vs. them. It is about me and we. All is not lost or dark or despairing. I am still hanging in there.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ghosts of Protestants Past

Yesterday was a difficult Sunday at church. We are doing a series in which various members share those positive aspects of their childhood faiths that they brought with them into their UU practice and we started things off with Protestants. I was interested in the subject matter, but totally unaware of how it would hit me. I have been trying to put emphasis lately on moving forward into positive faith rather than dwelling on rebelling against the past. I don’t want to continue to define myself as a former anything. I thought I had made a lot of progress.

Sometimes we are not very honest with ourselves. I was so uncomfortable while people were sharing it was all I could do not to just get up and leave. I bolted out of there as soon as the service was over. I had a really strong emotional reaction and it wasn’t to what was being said; it was to my own response. I felt myself interpreting people through old filters. I didn’t like what I was showing myself about who I still am on the inside. I would like to be an open minded agnostic Unitarian Universalist, and part of me is. But the truth is that my base setting is that of a lapsed, disillusioned, and guilty Pentecostal. It made me question, whether or not I can really do Unitarian Universalism.

So I read Soul Seeds this morning. Anthony has a great post and this part in particular leapt off the screen at me.

Many books have been written recently about the Christian Right. One that does a particularly good job of getting inside the movement’s worldview, particularly that of its working-class members, is Spirit and Flesh: Life Inside a Fundamentalist Baptist Church by James M. Ault Jr…. Ault, like George Lakoff and several other authors, locates the heart of the Christian Right worldview in its overall vision of family life—not just in the positions it takes on a handful of specific “family values” issues like abortion or same-sex marriage.

[According to this overall vision of family life,] a child … is born into a network of mutual obligations and depends for its survival on the fulfillment of those obligations. As it grows, the child takes an ever more active role in upholding that network. At no point in the process is the individual in a position to stand outside the network and choose whether or not its obligations apply to him or her. The only choice the individual has is whether to fulfill his/her obligations or to renege on them. This is what fundamentalists mean when they say that moral values are “absolute” rather than “relative.”

Regular readers know that I struggle with relationships in my family and that second paragraph clarified things for me.

I feel like a bad daughter for leaving the faith.

I feel like I have betrayed my family and their sacrifices. I know it isn’t true, in my head that is. I know that I had to choose a different path. I can't live those values. Pretending to worship Christ to protect their feelings was eating at me. The dishonesty was toxic and it affected my children more than I realized at the time. I know leaving the church was the right thing for me. And still. And still I feel like I have let them down. I feel their disappointment. I often wonder why it is so hard for me to get over my former religion when I had so many positive experiences growing up in it. But it is this, it is so tied up with my family and my place in it. I don’t think I can get over one issue without the other.

I generally feel like I have my act together, but it is a times like these that I think maybe I am a lot more fucked up than I realize.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

For Veterans and Armistice

Today, like every November 11, is Veteran’s Day in the U.S. It is right and fitting that we honor and thank our military veterans and their families for their service and their sacrifice.

We should also remember today’s older name - Armistice Day. This day we set aside to be thankful for the end of a tragic and wasteful war. My wish this Veteran’s/Armistice Day is for all of our service members engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan to come home safely.

“In Flanders Field”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Happy Carl Sagan Day

Happy Carl Sagan Day!

The winter holidays can be a struggle, but this is one I can get behind. For those of you with Netflix instant streaming Cosmos is available. I think I know what I am watching tonight.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Looking for Church Website Recommendations

A few of us have been talking for a while about updating our church’s website. I have been digging around looking at other churches’ sites, but I would like to get your recommendations.

Which churches are doing it right? What do you like about their sites? What do you look for in a church website either as a longtime member or as a newcomer trying to find a new church? What do you hate about church websites?

Any and all construction recommendations and suggestions are welcome. Thanks for your input.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Voting Against Women

I voted against several women today and I am rooting for more of them to lose. I feel a little disloyal.

I view voting as a personally sacred act. Whenever I vote, I think of women’s suffragists who worked so hard and sacrificed so much so that I could have my vote count. I wish Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and others could see me and millions of other American women cast their votes. I feel like they are looking over my shoulder and it becomes a pleasure to wait in line for a ballot.

So it feels wrong to vote against so many women. Discounting judges, of the five races on my ballot I voted for exactly one woman and against three. I wish that wasn’t so, but as much as I want to see more women elected I am not willing to vote to support the lock that social conservatives have on the government of this state. I wish that progressive women got the attention that women of the Tea Party get.

Every time I discuss the news around my daughters and I criticize one high profile candidate or another, I hope they are not getting the message that women shouldn’t be leaders. I flinch when I hear myself criticize the sisterhood. So I am trying to see this as a positive development. Women are credibly running for office in large enough numbers that they are being judged by their capabilities and their character, rather than their gender. I don’t feel like I have to vote for every woman on the ballot just so that we have some gender parity in government. I still hope to vote for a woman and to see her win the presidency in my lifetime, but I want to vote for her because she is the best person for the job and not because of our shared gender. Oh, and she absolutely positively cannot be from Wasilla.

Still, it feels wrong.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Making Peace and a Non-theist's Samhain

This year, due to a family obligation, I will not be able to attend our women’s circle Samhain celebration. Knowing that I am going to miss out of that has me thinking about the holiday ahead of time as I look for my own way to observe it.

Recently, Heather at Nagoonberry and I have been talking about the things we miss about theism. There is comfort in many theistic beliefs and I sometimes miss them even if I don’t believe their underpinnings are true. Normally, I think about the things I miss about Christian practice, but in reading articles on Samhain, there is something else I almost wish I believed.
Many theistic Pagans will use this Sunday as an opportunity to reach out to their ancestors and their beloved dead. It is a beautiful idea, really. The problem is I do not believe in any type of afterlife that involves spirits waiting to be summoned. In fact, I am extremely skeptical about any afterlife at all, but I am a little jealous of those who take comfort from this day.

Reading about how some Pagans experienced Samhain, I got to thinking about my maternal grandmother and how I wish I could make peace with her. I am her namesake and she died just a few years before I was born. It is strange that I was the one to get her name as our personalities couldn’t be more different. From all accounts she was a gentle and loving saint of a woman, but she was very sad. She provided love for her children while struggling with the family depression her whole adult life, and her premature death cast a pall over her children. She has been dead for 40 years and none of them can discuss her without something changing and dampening in them. It is like the guilt suppresses their spark. I have always felt like I could never really understand my mother and who she is or my relationship with her without knowing more about my grandmother and why no one in the family has ever gotten over her death.

Most of the time I am a happy non-theist. The world is so filled with wonder it can satisfy curious seekers for far more than a lifetime. Sometime, though, sometimes I wish I could cast a circle and find peace with someone whose memory haunts me even though we never met. Whatever I end up doing this Samhain, I will dedicate it to the memory of my grandmother.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lessons Learned From Project Runway

It is easy to bash fashion-y “girly” things like Project Runway. They are trivial and silly, not nearly so meaningful as something like, I don’t know… football. More than that, they are for girls, so not interesting or important. But I think the show is interesting and chock full of lessons if you focus on the process and not the outcome.

Tiny Daughter and I have become addicted to Project Runway, mainly because we both love pretty clothes and Tim Gunn. But a careful reading reveals how much a show like this can teach about the creative process and how to go for your dreams while still treating others with compassion. Yes, it is a reality show and heavily edited. No, I don’t think it really shows reality but here are a few of the topics that come to mind as teachable moments, times when we have hit pause to discuss what is happening and how we would like to be treated in such a scenario.

Showing leadership
Showing compassion
How to realize that you are not the center of the world and other people have legitimate feelings, too.
How to pick yourself up from a failure and to learn from it.
Winners aren’t the ones gossiping. They are the ones working on their own goals.
There are many sides to a story and everyone can be a little bit right and a little bit wrong.
Bad behavior doesn’t always mean someone is a villain; sometimes it just means they are human.
Forgive people for what they say when they are tired and stressed.
Stay true to your own creative vision.
How to work as a team.
Your way of doing things is not the only correct one.
How to admit that you misjudged someone and apologize.
Laughing at someone’s tears is not nice!
Accept people for who they are even if it is very different than you.

Not bad for a trivial fashion show. Those are just the ones that come to mind right now. I am sure there have been others. The most heartbreaking thing about this season is seeing the pain so many of the designers bear from not being accepted by their families because of their homosexuality, even when they work in an industry where many of their peers are also gay. Last night, watching Michael Costello break down because he was afraid to admit to his family that he failed was tough. Without making it to the finals he felt he could not prove to his family that he was successful in his chosen life and that they would try to force him back into a heteronormative lifestyle. Even with a supportive partner he did not want to face them.

Another contestant Mondo Guerra, announced his HIV positive status on the show. You could see the there-but-the-grace-of-God-go-I horror on the face of almost every man there. To a person, everyone offered him compassion, support, and encouragement. To see him again last night with his family, who clearly still wish he had grown up to be a construction worker was discouraging. They love their talented son, but they have never stopped reminding him that he did not turn out quite the way they hoped.

Twice we have also seen loving supportive gay relationships. I am glad they showed that things are not always gloom and doom. There are people out there who will love you for who you are. We will value our loved one for who they are and not for who we wish they would be.

When we first started watching PR together, I was a little concerned that it would focus too much on the material and vain. Quite to the contrary, I cannot think of any other show that we watch that has offered us so many good opportunities to talk about our values. People still tease me for watching it because it is “silly and girly” but I won’t be apologizing for my interest anymore.

On a personal note, it is time for me to stop feeling sorry for myself because of my differences with my family. My family is disappointed that I no longer believe in God. There is tension and disapproval because of that. My wound over that is not as special as I would like to believe it to be. Some of these people face constant criticism from their families because of who they are. One of them lost his access to his child. What the hell am I complaining about?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wearing Purple is Not Enough

So about the whole purple thing. I am wearing purple today to show my support for LGBT rights and youth. But the thing is…who cares?

Any decent person is saddened by the recent rash of young gay suicides. We all wish we could do something to help kids and make them feel loved for who they are. But this plan to wear purple on October 20 just makes us feel better and does nothing to solve the problem. It makes us feel better. It makes us feel like we have done something to counter prejudice. I don’t want to feel better about anti-gay bigotry; I want there to be no anti-gay bigotry and wearing purple does not solve that.

Maybe I would feel differently if I worked with children or youth. Maybe if I worked in a school, hospital, library, etc., I might be lending support to a young person who needs it. But I don’t and the people who live and work with me already know that I support gay rights. My children already know that I love and support them no matter what they their sexual preference is. My clothes have not reached out to one single young LGBT person.

If today’s Spirit Day galvanizes people to reach out and get involved with gay youth, then that is great, but if it just makes us all feel like we have done our part to fight bigotry then it is worthless. We all get to pat each other on the back for being so broad-minded. We get to identify ourselves as the kind of person who supports gay rights. It is the same kind of armchair activism that makes us feel like we are fighting back against breast cancer because we bought special Yoplait yogurt. My concern is that efforts like that can actually encourage complacency because we feel like we have already done our part. “Well, I wore purple, what more do you want from me?”

I know that many Unitarian Universalists are actively and courageously involved in working for gay rights and with youth, and in no way so I mean to diminish their efforts. The aim of this little rant is those of us who are not that wearing purple is not enough.

Great article here on the changing media representation of queer suicides.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Physics and Goodnight Moon

OK, one more sciency thing and then I will settle down. Like many of you I overdosed on Goodnight Moon when my kids were little and now a physicist approaches the beloved and obligatory tiny tome.

Nerdcore parenting. Word.

Monday, October 18, 2010

RIP Benoit Mandelbrot

This weekend Benoit Mandelbrot died of pancreatic cancer. Mandelbrot was arguably the most important mathematician of the last 50 years and was one of the founders of Chaos or Complexity Theory. He coined the term fractal to describe irregular self-repeating shapes the most famous of which bears his name. Check this out to see it in increasing magnifications. Even if you are not into science, it is really cool. This article does a lovely job of explaining his work simply.

I won’t pretend to have the mathematics to truly understand his work, but my introduction to chaos theory changed the way I see the world. I am a head-before-heart kind of person and I need to grasp something intellectually before I get it emotionally. As strange as and unconventional as it sounds, chaos theory was a doorway to spirituality for me. Without chaos, I would not have been open to Buddhism, or mindfulness, or Unitarian Universalism. The buddhabrot fractal is a tweaked subset of the Mandelbrot and there is a reason you see it on this blog.

When I think of connectivity, I think of chaos. This post is a small thank you to M. Mandelbrot for helping to blast open my mind.

Isaac Newton & Alchemy

This article is for other fans of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, which I highly recommend if you like your sci-fi mixed with historical fiction and a cast of thousands.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Non-Believer's Hallelujah

Yesterday morning while trying to summon the energy to get out of bed, I was thinking about the recent debate about appropriate UU worship music. Don’t ask me, my mind goes to weird places when trying to justify my body’s sloth. I started thinking about writing a blog post defending so-called 7/11 style praise music. I grew up with these songs, as well as hymns, and many of them will be engrained in my brain until I die. One simple song consisting of just the word Hallelujah repeated with a peaceful and almost lullaby like melody floated into my mind and just stayed there.

After sending Tall Daughter E off to school I had a few minutes to meditate before waking up Tiny Daughter M. As I sat down and tried to focus on my breath, that song just kept cycling through my thoughts and refused to go away. Since I had just been thinking about praise music as a form of religious chanting I decided to work with it instead of fighting it. I generally stay away from Christian terminology in my practices, but I wanted to see where this went so I used the song I couldn’t get rid of anyway as a chant.

Now I know, OK? I know what hallelujah really means. I know it is an exhortation to praise specifically the deity known as YHWH, a deity I reject. I hope that my intentional miss-use of the term doesn’t offend those who use it in a more traditional manner because I sure did appropriate the heck out of it and change its subjective meaning to my own needs.

Having said that… I really enjoyed the results of my experimentation. The melody is so familiar to me from childhood that I never had to think about it at all, which helped me to really be in the moment. The hallelujah that I breathed in and out me became an expression of deep gratitude for everything. I experienced amazement as the intricate interconnectivity of the universe and personal gratitude for my small existence and my part in it. It was a humbling and amazing moment. I don’t really know why this particular combination of notes and syllables worked for me so well. I don’t think there is any magic in the phrase itself, but maybe it is there in the memories.

Then I got up and rousted the daughter from bed because life goes on after the mat. All morning the memory of that moment stayed with me like the song. Hallelujah.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Finishing Up 30 Poems 30 Days

So obviously I did not stick with the 30 Poems 30 challenge. Even so, I enjoyed the experiment. I may return to writing poetry now and then, but without the time constraint. I think I will enjoy the writing more if I can take time with the poems to make them good instead of quick. My thanks to Jacqueline Wolven for dreaming up this challenge and encouraging me to do something I had given up on being able to do. I love language and this was right in line with my effort this year to force myself to get more creative. I have this notion that I have to be an expert at something or it is not worth doing. This year I have been reminding myself that anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

The other half of the challenge was to read a poem every day and so I end September with Neil Gaiman’s “Blueberry Girl”. This is a lovely clip of the author reading his work. I’ve been a fan of Gaiman for a long time, but I just came across this and I love it. I found out today that a co-worker is having a girl so I’m sure the picture book version of this poem will be part of her shower gift. I wish this poem for every little girl I know, including mine and all of yours, and for every other little girl, too.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Can't Get Her Out of My Head

Thanks to last night’s episode of Glee, I cannot get the songs of one Ms. Britney Spears out of my head. This is not a state of mind I welcome or relish. However, it put me in mind of my favorite type of musical cover. Most singers can sing a great song well, but I really enjoy it when someone can take a song of dubious artistic value and make it great.

There is something there about taking what you find and making it better than you found it by sheer talent, hard work, and passion that speaks to me. In this spirit I give you Richard Thompson’s version of “Oops, I did It Again”.* He brings meaning, heft, and yes, irony to a song that did not have it before he got ahold of it.

*I realize this comes perilously close to a Stuff White People Like entry, but Richard Thompson is a genius so I can live with being a walking UU cliche.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Atheists & Agnostics Best Informed on Religion

An interesting Pew study found that American atheists and agnostics had a better overall knowledge of religion than did believers. You can read the longer Pew article and shorter L.A. Times overview here. Not surprised by any of this, not even the finding that Mormons knew the New Testament better than evangelicals.

The study did not break out UU's as a group, but it would be interesting to see where we fit. I would guess that many non-born-and-raised UU's would do well for the same reasons as the atheists and agnostics. It would also be nice to see how those who grow up in UU RE compare.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Close Encounter of the Moose Kind

Anchorage is the type of city that incorporates a lot of park land and the wildlife that come with that. You really can see eagles, foxes, the occasional bear, and yes, moose within city limits. We all teach our kids how to avoid and deal with moose the same way we teach them to look both ways before crossing the street. Generally, we just live our lives around them. I once actually called in to work because a moose was grazing my tree and standing between me and my car. I would be to work when it left. In Anchorage this is considered an acceptable excuse.

So now we get to today’s story. The bike path I ride to work runs by a lake in a small valley. You ride down one side and up the other. Today this path held a surprise for me as a bull moose was waiting at the bottom of the hill. Now, moose are big. They are not deer-sized. When drivers hit moose on the road the car is totaled and the driver does not always survive. Unfortunately, I could not see him from the top before I went down. So I am zipping down the hill and about halfway down he sort of shuffles out RIGHT NEXT TO THE BIKE PATH and now I can see him. It is a little too late to stop and turn around as I am blasting down the hill at what now feels like MACH 4.

I decide to continue past him AS FAST AS I CAN hoping he will not charge. They don’t look it, but moose are fast and they can run you down. As I get close to Mr. Moose he startles and does a little scaredy-dance that brings him even closer. This brings him about a foot or so from me and I pass him and I am SCARED TO DEATH that he is going to starting kicking out at me. I will be in the newspaper, “local woman is trampled by moose while commuting on bike trail.” Debates will rage in the press about who has more right to the park land – people or wildlife. My children will hate moose for the rest of their lives.

Anyway, continuing with my plan to haul ass, I race up the next hill. Dear readers, I have never before made it to the top of that hill so quickly. I pull over in an intersection there and check behind me hoping not to see angry moose antlers heading my way, fortunately, no moose. He had headed off back to the woods probably to tell him moosey friends about this crazy cyclist. After a huge sigh of relief I realize I am shaking and I am still only halfway to work. Not wanting to invite more trouble, I kept riding my shaky way down the path.

I was going to continue riding my bike to work until the first frost, but this encounter has changed that plan. We will be seeing more moose this time of year as they come further into town to look for food and it is mating season so the males are in rut. Repeat encounters with scared sexually frustrated ungulates does not seem wise so I am done.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

UU Salon - An It Harm None...

This month the UU Salon asks - What is evil?

Outside of fiction, I don’t normally think in terms of good vs. evil, but rather right and wrong. There is an implication in the use of the word evil that implies a universal standard. An action cannot be sometimes evil and sometimes good, but it can be sometimes right and sometimes wrong.

I do not believe in an omnipotent judge with a universal standard who determines which acts happen to be evil, but I would define evil or wrong as intentionally harming others. Sex is not evil, but sleeping with your best friend’s husband is, not because of the act but because of the harm done to your friend and the trust betrayed. We could quibble here about violence committed in self-defense, but I am totally willing to harm someone who is trying to hurt me or my family. I can live with that.

Where does evil come from? Desires to help and to harm others are intrinsically part of human nature and we choose which compulsion to follow on a continual basis. People are not inherently evil, but hold tremendous capacity both to help and to harm. Evil is not an independent entity that acts upon us, but it is a result of selfish choices we make. Good and evil are both aspects of human nature.

Nature cannot be evil as it does not possess free will; nature merely is. I find funny that we are often happy to ascribe goodness to nature when we like it. We may believe that a warm sunbeam is good or a beautiful stretch of coastline is good, but we don’t say a hurricane is evil when it kills so many people. This is a good reminder to me that while I may enjoy certain aspects of nature very much, nature just is. The universe exists, but it does not have good and evil sections.

I do not know who first said it, but I have often thought my favorite definition of evil is the absence of empathy. If you truly try to understand another person or creature, you do not want to hurt him or her. Empathy is a big things with me, but the more I learn about sociopaths the more I wonder if that definition is adequate. I am not in any way a mental health expert, but if my understanding of the current research is correct and sociopathy is an incurable condition is which the subject is not hard-wired for empathy from birth then we need to rethink this. If we believe in the inherent dignity of every person then we cannot declare that anyone born a sociopath is inherently evil. OK, I went off on a rabbit trail with that one, but I have been mulling this over lately.

Evil actions do not bring about our eternal damnation, but they do make us miserable. Currently, I do not believe in any type of afterlife, so I am not afraid to go to hell if I am bad, but evil does distract me from what I am supposed to be doing with this life of mine. I can’t make the world a better place if I am harming others. I can’t raise happy healthy daughters if I take out my aggressions on them. I can’t have a meaningful marriage if I abuse my spouse. The things that are important to me are not achievable through evil.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Poem for Equinox

Still chugging along at this poetry challenge, in a haphazard sort of way. Here is a poem just for today. After today, I have decided to stop writing about autumn. I need out of the rut.

Autumn Equinox

A day
in the balance,
in autumn we feel our
age and our beauty, but only

Friday, September 17, 2010

Creep Morning Poem

It was the morning that was creepy, not the poem (I hope.) Here I am, leaping back into the poetry fray. Today's poem that I read was "The Cord" by Leanne O'Sullivan

Foggy Morning

A ghostly fog
wraps itself around my spruce
and lingers in front of the mountains.
It silvers the sun so well
that it looks like the morning moon

The radio
talks of zombies and monsters,
and I look around to make sure they aren’t nearby.

teases me with its sense of mystery
and the unseen.

poses in soft focus
like an aging film star
waiting for her close up.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Big Deal OWL Registration

My husband and I have decided to sign up Tiny Daughter M for Our Whole Lives classes. This is a big deal. I was pleasantly surprised he went along with it as he dislikes “indoctrinating” our kids, but we both think the program will be good for her.

This is the first time any of my family members have gotten involved in anything UU related. I have assured Tiny Daughter that it is not like Sunday school and no one will be telling Bible stories and that was quite a relief to her. Still, I am kind of nervous. Neither of my girls have any interest in doing anything related to a church ever again and I am starting to look at the role I have played in that.

Both of my girls attended church regularly when they were little. I took them most Sundays to the Assembly of God church that I grew up in and my parents still attend. When I stopped going, I told them that church attendance was their decision; I was willing to drop them off at church, or not, as they pleased. I would not force them to go to church ever again. Neither one of them have the slightest interest in attending. At all. (OK, they do make an exception for the annual Christmas sleigh ride party.) Many people at AUUF have informed me about the wonderful RE program and how great it would be for my kids, but I have to respect their decision to stay home, even if I think they should give it a try before they dismiss it. This puzzles some people, but I cannot go back on my word to them. I cannot respect their search for meaning and coerce them at the same time.

This week I have been thinking about how my actions played a part in this. For years I hated going to church, but I went to please my mother. I was so stressed out and cranky by the time I got home on Sunday afternoons that the whole family experienced an improved quality of life when I stopped going. I never thought about how that affected them before. I am sure that watching their mother grit her teeth and endure something did not instill in them a desire to participate. I felt so alienated from my true self there, but I didn’t know that they could see it as small children. Looking back, it is kind of stupid to think that they could not. I am not beating myself up about this; I just want to look at the situation and understand it.

I have always found religion to be fascinating. Even as a non-theist, I worry that the girls are missing out on a fundamental aspect of human nature. You don’t have to be a theist to understand about religions and the role they play in human societies. Something like 90% of people in the world believe in some type of divinity and I don’t want to leave the girls ignorant about that aspect of humanity, but in no way do I want to force any sort of religion on them. They remain fantastically uninterested in any of it.

Still, this OWL registration is a big deal. Tiny Daughter M was reassured to know that next year, a high school level class will be offered and Tall Daughter E will not escape her turn.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Some Pretty Fractals

I love fractals. I love what they tell me about the nature of the world. Check out Wired's collection of a few gorgeous fractals found in nature.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Making Decisions

I have been thinking lately about how I make decisions. I am not widely known for my decisiveness so making a choice can be a lengthy process and it just gets worse in groups. When deciding where to eat for lunch, this is only a minor annoyance and, hopefully, something more along the lines of an endearing quirk (wishful thinking, I know).

While considering more important choices, this trait is more troublesome. I spend so much time anxiously going over all the drawbacks and benefits of each choice when I could spend that time productively doing something. Eventually I bounce my ideas off of someone, often my long suffering husband, to help clarify my ideas. This sometimes exhausts the patience of the idea-bouncing recipient. Contrary to his belief, I do not ask his opinion only to do the opposite.

Here is what I have noticed. Often, I know quite early on what I really want to do; I just need to time to come to peace with the decision or to give myself permission to do it. Other times I use that time “deciding” to come to terms and buck up to do something I don’t really want to do, but needs doing. I had my time to mentally whine about it, now I have to put on my big girl pants and do what is important. So if somewhere is my head, I know all along what I am going to choose, why do I prolong the process? Why can’t I accept my decision as the right one before I hash out every little detail?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Out of the UU Closet

Well, frak.

I guess I am out now as a UU to my family. Here is the story. Since I informed my mother that I would no longer be attending church with them a few years ago, my family and I never discuss religion. In the past they politely invited me to various church events and I politely declined. It is the one subject we discuss even less often than politics and it sometimes hangs there in the air while none of us acknowledge it in our WASPy way. I know that my rejection of her religion and refusal to bring up my daughters in it is very painful for my mother. I wish there was some way around that, but there isn't. She did every thing she could to bring me up in a godly manner and it didn't work. My father sometimes worked two jobs so that my middle sister and I could go to Christian school, and still I left the flock. She is respectful enough of my choices not to browbeat me with that disappointment, but it is still there, obvious and unaddressed.

I am not ashamed of any of my spiritual beliefs, but I don't bring them up with the family because I believe it will just cause more pain. My personal beliefs are not any of their business. However, when my mother informs my daughter that she cannot have a trinket featuring a peace symbols because it is satanic - it can be tough.

The AUUF is starting an official Facebook page and I have volunteered to keep it up to date. This requires me to "like" the page. My personal Facebook page doesn't have a lot of details for reasons such as these. I figure if you know me, then you know I love the Beatles and Dune without me having to make it part of my profile.

So now my extremely devout Baptist sister is requesting an explanation about why I would "like" something like the Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. I guess being a "backslider" and skipping church was one thing, but at least I wasn't an out-and-out heathen. (Not the Odin & Freya kind of heathen, but more like the totally misguided and much to be pitied fallen one in need of rescue.)

I think I am going to ignore this request as Facebook does not seem like the best place to discuss theology. If she cares enough she will call. I love my sister, but she lives 3,000 miles away from me and has for over half my life. My choice of house of worship is not her business. If my family chooses to gossip about my fallen state, well, that won't be any worse than when I was 20 years old, single, and pregnant.

Thanks, blogosphere, for helping me to work some of this out. I feel a little better. The point of this blog was for me to chronicle my journey to UU and the experience of a new member. I guess this had to be one of the chapters eventually. Still, I am not looking forward to that phone call.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

44 Years of Star Trek

Happy Belated Birthday to Star Trek!

Yesterday for the 44th anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek. I cannot over emphasize the effect Trek had on my growing up. Tolerance, reason, diplomacy, courage, leadership, responsibility, curiosity, loyalty, and friendship - these are just some of the traits I learned from the various crews of the starships Enterprise.

I've said it before, but I would not be a UU today if not for Star Trek.

Thank you, Gene Roddenberry, for making this universe where a strange brainy girl felt welcome and like she could make the galaxy a better place.

30 Poems - Getting Back on Track

So I thought I would have a lot more time this week to write and post here, but it seems the opposite has happened. My schedule gets totally thrown off and discipline goes out the door. Add sick kids to that and writing has taken a back seat. Fortunately, the 30 poems 30 days challenge happens to coincide with the annual Anchorage Press Haiku Contest. So expect to see a lot of haiku about weird Alaska stuff you probably don't care about helping me make up lost ground.

The following is a bad poem. I wanted to experiment with some rhyme and I haven't made the time to write a better one. It was a really cool moment and I wish I captured it better, here it is.

A Moment of Peace in Chaos

Early September
The air still smells like last night's rain.
A moment caught in amber
here written down in vain.

All my plans gone awry,
so now a quiet calm birthday
I walk beneath a clouded sky,
Nature's chaos on display.
The mountains looks like Mordor wreathed in gloom
Chaff from trees litters the ground
and hated cottonwoods loom.
Yellow birch leaves swirl around
me in a personal dance
I feel at the center of it all
in this moment caught by chance.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

30 Poems 30 Days: Day 4

It late on Day 4, but I'm in time for posting today's and yesterday's poems. I am not happy with these, but as Jacqueline reminds me, sometimes it is better to get something done instead of waiting for the perfect version.

Sun Salutation

Reach, stretch, bend
Extend, press, hold
Feel your body glide
between the movements.
Marvel that you can.
how much better you feel
Be thankful.

And for today, a hasty haiku

We walk in the rain
Her boots splash in the puddles
We giggle and smile

The poem is read today, appropriately enough, was "Football" by Louis Jenkins.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Well is Running Dry

It is only day 3 of Jacqueline Wolven’s poetry challenge and I already feeling out of inspiration. Our family has had a tough couple of weeks and I am just fried.

I want to at least include the poetry I have been reading here. Yesterday, I forgot to include the poem I read so here is “Break” by Dorianne Laux. I loved this poem, maybe because I am raising a teenage daughter and it spoke to me. I liked today's peom even better. In fact, it may be my favorite thing I have read in a really long time. This western-style senryu is by George Swede. It is so beautiful I have been thinking about it all day.

at the height
of the argument the old couple
pour each other tea

Maybe that is part of my writing difficulty today – I am frustrated that I will never be able to write something like that. I know that is not what this exercise is about, but have I ever mentioned that I can be a perfectionist? I’ll keep turning some things over in my mind and hopefully post a new poem by midnight.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

30 Poems 30 Days: Day 2

Today I am feeling strung out and overwhelmed so researching and learning a poetry form just seemed a bit much. Today’s poem will be free form, but I promise I will return to exploring various forms soon. I hate to abandon a plan so soon, but I am not taking any more on my plate today.

I had a hard time coming up with a fresh gratitude today so you see where we are.

There Are Only Days

All summer I struggled with this steep hill
at the end of the woods, by the lake.
Yesterday I finally crested it,
pedaling, panting,
Today that success feels fleeting.
I inch upwards and almost admit defeat.
Then I tell myself the truth.

There are not days when I can reach the top
and other days when I cannot.
There are only days.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

30 Poems 30 Days, Day 1

I have joined Jaqueline Wolven in her 30 Poems, 30 days challenge so I will be writing and posting one original poem for each day in September. Please do not expect for these to be good poems, as I don’t expect them to be so. The idea of posting my own bad poetry for the world to read is a little scary, but I think that is part of the idea. Creatively, I respond well to structure as long as there is room to play within that structure; I get bored doing the same thing all the time. So I will be experimenting with different poetry forms throughout the month. I’m thinking mostly simple forms throughout the week with maybe some experimentation with more complex forms on the weekends.

The other half of the challenge is to read a poem a day. In April I posted several poems on Facebook for National Poetry Month so this month I will be looking for poems and poets who are new to me. I decided to start the month with, fittingly enough, “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins.

Today’s original poem is a cinquain.

Loons at Sand Lake

Loons on
the Lake call out
their eerie cry, only
if we keep very still and quiet,

Friday, August 27, 2010

Grace & Whales in the Deep Blue Sea

I have not been feeling well this week and I was grateful my kids had plans with their grandparents Monday evening. I was lying in bed watching TV with wonderful Husband S when the phone rang with a call from Tall Daughter E. My peace and quiet having been disrupted, I was not feeling nurturing as I answered the phone.

“Mom, guess what?” Good lord, what trivial thing has she called me about knowing that I am trying to rest? That part stayed in my head, what came out was an impatient sounding, “What?”
“Baby belugas, mom, I see a baby beluga. A real life one.” She and my dad were going fishing near Girdwood and were driving by a spot called Beluga Point on Turnagain Arm. It is a beautiful spot along Cook Inlet where you can, indeed, see beluga whales at the right time of year if you are lucky. We’ve seen whales there before, but never a baby. She went on to describe it to me.

Now understand that in general I am not a fan of children’s music. When my girls were toddlers I saw no reason why they could not listen to the Beatles or CSN&Y or Billie Holliday along with me. Many of their lullabies are old folk songs or Beatles tunes. I saw no reason why I should subject myself to more earworms than I already got from Sesame Street. But there was one exception, Tall Daughter learned Raffi’s “Baby Beluga” in kindergarten and I liked it. It was the one piece of kiddie music we listened to and we sang it together often.

At her age, it would have taken a death threat to get me to call my mother to remind her of a pleasant childhood memory we shared. I would have only brought something like that up if I could frame it ironically. But here she is, so excited that her wildlife encounter echoes this memory that she took time out to call me instead of just telling me about it when she got home like she usually would. I felt simultaneously touched and ashamed for having been so annoyed.
Like many many other mothers, I sometimes feel like a failure as a parent. Tall Daughter is so difficult to motivate that I sometimes despair. But here was a moment when I knew that I was doing something right. She may not grow into my vision for her, but we have a closeness that not even adolescence can shake. And adolescence is very trying indeed, for both of us. I should appreciate this bond more and reframe “needy” as “loving”.

A few weeks ago our minister spoke on moments of grace, even for non-theists like me. In this small moment I felt grace, and gratitude, and humility.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Big Red Crazy State

In light of yesterday's primary election you may all be forgiven for thinking the whole state of Alaska is crazy. I won't even argue.

Just please don't mention HER, OK? Thanks.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Confessions of a Poltical Junkie

Today is Election Day in Alaska and I love politics. Love it. I have always been a political junkie. I was the weird kid who, at the age of seven, begged to be allowed to stay up and watch presidential election results. Don’t ask me why I was rooting for John Anderson, but my penchant for iconoclasm revealed itself early. I still take the day off after major elections so I can stay up all night watching the results. Partly, I love the game of it all, but I learned to love the way it can affect and improve people lives, and create history in front of us. Through disillusionment and the switching of teams, I have been passionate about it my whole life.

Even so, sometimes I have to take a break and pull back. I have never been successful at getting myself to not pay attention, but sometimes I have to not care so much. I know that the triumph of evil happens when good people do nothing. I know that apathy helps nothing, but I also wonder about the effect of caring on myself. I pull back when I start to feel like I am spending too much time in anger and despair: Anger at the other side and despair at my own. Regardless of what some might tell you, it is a tough time to be a liberal when even winning elections doesn’t guarantee results. As much as I love Rachel Maddow, I find that I am less happy when I watch her five days a week. I spend more time being upset about things I cannot control. Two or three times per week and I feel informed, but there is a point where it is too much.

So the question is, how to I protect my own mental and spiritual health and still stay well enough enformed to try to make a difference? No, I am not saying I get all my news from Rachel Maddow, but I do find her to be well informed, thoughtful, intelligent, and refreshingly civil. She is also a kick-ass role model for my girls.

As an aside, my most evangelical, Bible-thumping, small government, anti-tax, pro-war, Sarah Palin & Dr. Laura loving, social conservative colleague and I are actually voting the same way on a ballot proposition. I do not believe this has ever happened before in the almost eight years we have worked together. It is like a tiny Election Day miracle.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

UU Bloggers Hair Jinx

This is for those of you who look for bad news to come in threes. First, it started with Peacebang and her annual hair color disaster. Then, Matt Kinsi discovered unwanted, and most pre-mature, gray hair. Now I have managed to make a monstrosity of the back of my head.

I wear my hair very short and have taken to cutting it myself (I can be quite notional at times). So yesterday, I cut my hair and the front looks very cute, if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, there was an accident with the clippers in the back and I am now left with something horrible. This is not just my hyper-sensitive opinion; every member of my family will verify that this is indeed at hot mess. It is gamine in the front and punk in the back. The only possibly solution is to make like Lizard Eater and buzz my whole head and I am not quite willing to go that far. By the way, LE, you have truly glorious hair and I admire your bravery.

So I dyed my hair a darker color last night to help camouflage the disparity in length, and now I hate the color. I think I am just in for a pretty ugly month while I wait for this to grow out. I will just have to face everyone for a while.

Strangely, I am not nearly as upset about this as I would have been in the past. I have really bad hair for the next month or so no matter what I do. There are worse things than that. I am quite surprised that I am so calm about this; I wouldn’t have been in the past. As a matter of fact, I am much happier with my emotional state than I am upset about my hair.

So for the rest of you UU bloggers out there, as well as other readers, it should be safe to go the barber/hairdresser now. We’ve got the jinx covered.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Clash of the Titans - With Spoilers

I know I am a little behind the times, but I just watched the re-make of Clash of the Titans this weekend and I was quite surprised at the tack the film took towards religion. For my purposes here, I will not be addressing the shallow misunderstanding of Greek religion that seems like it came from a children’s book listing only the gods’ names and spheres of influence. Nor will I belabor the criminal waste of truly talented actors, besmirching their otherwise outstanding resumes. (I weep for you, Liam and Ralph.) If you want to read mean, snotty reviews of the film there are many available and they are all correct.

I was surprised at the way the film portrays the relationship between men and gods, and the not so subtle real life message. Religion is bad, gods are mean and bad, people should just figure out the world on their own with no goals other than that. Perseus’s whole goal is to kill and bring down the gods of Olympus, especially Hades. He is not interested in saving Argos, or brave Andromeda, he just wants to avenge his family and destroy the gods. How the world would continue to work after the gods are gone was not clear, but dammit, it would work for men. Not people, mind you, men.

As a science-loving non-theist, I’m as down as anybody for art that teaches people to rely on reason rather than superstition, but this was really heavy handed. Scene after scene, we hear Perseus attest to his goal of vengeance against the gods. I cannot call this film Humanist as it never tries to say how people would do better for themselves, than by serving Olympus. Nowhere does it attempt to define what is great about being a human or what can be achieved if not held back by the gods. Sure, the gods kill a few people, but are people any better to each other?

I tend to roll my eyes when conservative Christians talk about Hollywood being anti-religious, but this is the type of film that gives credence to their argument. It criticizes religion, but to no purpose other than lashing out that gods are bad. Hint, hint, get it, gods are bad.

Another aspect that jumped out at me, was how much of the action in the film is motivated by hate. Hades hates Zeus, Caliban hates Zeus, Perseus hates Hades. No one, save perhaps Andromeda, seems motivated to benefit anyone, even themselves. It is not about salvation, or greater glory, or love, it is about implacable hate, which is pretty dark for a sword & sandals type film. I think they were going for a Gladiator vibe, but even that film has a restore-the-glory-of-Rome subplot.

Maybe I just don’t like people picking on the gods of Greece, with whom I fell in love as a child. Do yourself a favor and avoid this film. Save those two hours of your life.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Joys and Concerns

Can I just say how much I love spoken Joys and Concerns? I really really like it. I know it can be an opportunity for blowhards to blow, but it also a chance for people to share their lives with their community. I want to know if the folks sitting around me have had a death or a birth in the family, or have lost or gained a job, not for the sake of gossip, but so that we can support and affirm them. It makes it easy to let people know where you are in your own life without feeling like to have to reveal too much in a conversation, or figure out how to work it in. It builds a closeness and a trust that silent candle lighting does not.

No matters how much I am encouraged to do so, I am not going to come up to someone after the service and say, “I say you lit a candle today; is there anything you want to tell me about?” I’m just not.

It reminds me of the time for prayer requests from my childhood. Each child got to feel like they had their moment that was important. Their life and concerns, no matter how small, were important to God. Now Joys and Concerns is like that, but without the necessity for belief in the Almighty. My triumphs and struggles, as much as I choose to share them, are important to the community and we take the time to recognize that all of us have a place in the service.

For me, Joys & Concerns helps to keep the focus on the democracy of US, rather than the hierarchy of YOU and WE that often develops in organizations. I don’t know if it has become blasé to longtime UU’s, but as a newcomer, Joys and Concerns has become one of my favorite parts of Sunday mornings.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Not Just Ted Stevens

Tough day today. Several co-workers and friends knew the pilot who died along with Sen. Ted Stevens last night. Terry Smith was very well-regarded and will be missed. He just attended a memorial service a few weeks ago for his son-in-law, who also died in an aviation accident. I can't even image what it must be like for that family right now. Things are pretty somber around here.

A close friend of mine works with Smith's other daughter and used to work with him. I had to call her to tell her when I found out that he definitely was one of the fatalities. People had been on pins and needles all day; we knew there were four survivors, but not their identities.

I felt pretty down after I called her and heard about the reactions of his former associates on her side of the airport. A few minutes later Eva Cassidy's version of "How Can I Keep From Singing" came on my iPod. It helped. It's still a tough day, but it helped.

Feministing & Religious Institutions

There is a lot of food for thought in this post from Feministing on how to view religious institutions which advocate political positions and their members. She makes several interesting points, but this really stood out to me.

And I wonder what society would be like if folks like my friend defended my right to not be burdened by the laws of someone else’s church with as much passion as they defend the rights of religious institutions to advocate for public policy that plants their dogma on my neck.

But maybe that's just the week I'm having. The bigger question is do we hold believers responsible for the teachings of their religious institutions if they choose to stay? I've been on both sides of that question and I lean towards "yes", but you can easily make the other arguement. Your thoughts?

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Wedding Anniversary

Today is my wedding anniversary. For 16 years, Husband S has been legally obligated to put up with me, and he does a pretty damn fine job. There is some argument as to whether I am low or medium maintenance, but a maintenance program for my happiness and sanity does, indeed, exist.

S has always stuck by me and supported me, even when he doesn’t have to. He has faith in me even when I don’t and he always encourages me to try something new even when he doesn’t agree with what I want to try, like joining a UU fellowship for instance. He frequently puts my wants ahead of his and he deals with my family – even on holidays. He holds me accountable for my actions, which pisses me off, but it makes me a better person. He is patient with my impatience. He is my favorite person in the world.

Old age isn’t scary when I think about growing old with him.

Today won’t be the anniversary celebration that we hoped for, but it will be just us and that is enough. I love you, S.

P.S. Congratulations to all of the same-sex couples in California who can now celebrate their own wedding anniversaries, U.S. Supreme Court willing.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Happy Belated Lughnassadh

I missed both Lughnassadh/Lammas celebrations this weekend due to travelling for work. On the plus side I can now say I have been above the Arctic Circle, and what better time than now? I will also miss our women’s circle’s Lammas retreat due to a conflict with my wedding anniversary. As much as I would like to go, I don’t miss our anniversary for anything.

This is the third year in a row that Lughnassadh just hasn’t worked out for me. It always seems to be this festival that has the problem. Also, it is hard to get in the mood to celebrate the fruits of summer when we have seen nothing but rain for a month.

Best wishes for a meaningful holiday for all of you who celebrated this weekend or who have celebrations yet to come. Here’s to looking forward to Mabon!

Friday, July 30, 2010


So, forgiveness, huh? Yeah, about that. Let me tell you, it is way easier to give some lessons than to receive them. This week Tiny Daughter and I have been talking a lot about the need for forgiveness. She is a natural grudge holder and I have been trying to convince her that holding those grudges hurts her much more than the other person, and that she will be happier if she learns to forgive people. Y’know, basic standards that A) I truly believe and B) all parents and supposed to try to teach their kids.

And most of the time I believe it. Most of the time forgiveness is not a big struggle for me. I tend to get angry quickly and easily, but I get over it quickly as well. Most of the time. And then there are days like today. Today I discovered that someone who I believed was a mentor sabotaged me professionally. I liked her, I respected her; although not part of our congregation, she is one of the tiny steps that brought be to my UU fellowship, and I am terribly, terribly hurt.

I don’t want to forgive her. I want to nurse my wound in self-righteous wrath. I feel betrayed and I have earned that emotion. I want to stay angry at her. I want to enjoy her suffering. None of that is any kind of good idea. None of it really hurts her or affects her in any way. I feel like I am inside the moral lesson I was trying to teach my daughter and if I really mean it, I have to live it. If I really believe in compassion and connectivity I have to let it go. The pain won't get any smaller if I feed it. If I really believe in forgiving the human failings of others, I have to include her in that forgiveness.

I’m not totally naïve or dumb, so I don’t have to trust her in the future. I am no longer in a position where she can affect me professionally, but we will continue to deal with each other and network in the same industry. I learned a great deal from her in our previous working relationship; now I have learned from her how not to treat others. I suspect I will be working on this for a little while, so here is the first step.

I forgive you. Whatever happened in the past is done. I forgive you.

Friday, July 23, 2010

RIP Daniel Schorr

NPR reports that Daniel Schorr died today at the age of 93. His depth of understanding in understanding Washington will not easily be replaced. I will miss him not being part of my drive home anymore.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Plea For Kindness

I know it is always there, but this week I am seeing a need for kindness in the world. We know that we are all human; we all want to be understood and forgiven our weaknesses, but we don’t do it. Can’t we all just extend that understanding out to others just a little bit? Wouldn’t we all rather be treated that way?

I am speaking as much to myself as to anyone else, since it is difficult to remember to be compassionate and understanding with a teenager. This week everything from ugly national political stories to workplace cranks makes me wonder, what if we were all just a little more kind to each other? Is it so important to win that we must trash someone’s good name? People need to be seen as so put together and blameless so that they vilify another for a small human mistake. When my colleague makes a mistake, he or she is probably not a moron as some would attest; she is most likely a human being who made an error. If I can help her fix it, maybe she will understand the next time I make a mistake. Because I’m human I will make a mistake again.

You know what; this even applies to Sarah Palin. I don’t like Sarah Palin. I don’t like what she says about others and I am sick beyond all belief of hearing about everything she and her family does and says. But if I spend all of my time mocking every grammatically-challenged thing that comes out of her mouth then I am just being negative and not hurting her at all. Her supporters don’t even care. Look at me, I’m clever and snarky; I don’t mangle the English language. So what? How have I improved my life by watching and criticizing her every move? It doesn’t help create any positive changes; it just makes me feel superior. I still reserve the right to criticize and disagree with her political actions and speech, but let’s leave her parenting and hair out of it. Deep breath. Even Sarah Palin deserves respect and compassion. (Realistically, someone may have to remind me I said that in the future.)

I didn’t even know I was going to write about She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

The Dalai Lama famously said, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” I need to remind myself of that more often. Couldn’t we all be happier and more at ease if we could look past our initial frustration and see each other as flawed and human people, instead of obstacles in our personal paths to happiness? As a person with a long and loving relationship with snark, I’m changing. Just watching people treat each other callously disturbs me and stresses me out. I wish I could stop people from being awful to each other, but as a proper child of psychology, I know I can only change my own actions. So my mantra this week is Kindness, everyone else is human, too.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Lesson Fron My Bike

As I have written before, I have been riding my bike to work this summer and it has been a surprisingly great exercise in gratitude. Every day when I ride I am reminded of so many things that I generally take for granted.

For many people in the world, a bicycle is a treasure. It is the means to start a business, or commute to a job and still come home to family, or to be able to go to school. For me, it is a luxury; I get to choose to take my bike instead of driving. It seems strange that the method requiring more work is actually the luxury here in the U.S., but it’s true.

I have the physical ability to ride a bicycle. I work close enough to home that it is not a burden to commute this way; I don’t have to choose between supporting my family and seeing them every night. My workplace is safe and clean enough that I can breathe while riding. These are not benefits that I would even think about having most of the time. An unexpected side effect of this change has been a repeated reminder of my own privilege. Every morning I think about billions of people around the world and how different their experiences and points of view are from mine. Still, we are interconnected and their struggles are not any less worthy than mine.

I have also been surprised at the response I have gotten from several co-workers. While a few people have been supportive, most seem to view me as a trick pony or a dancing bear. Isn’t it just adorable the way she rides her bike? No cheek pinching, so far.

It’s funny, when we find spiritual growth in the most unexpected places.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

No Memory of Peacetime

Yesterday I realized that my 10 year old daughter has no memory of the United States not being at war. No experience with prosperous peacetime at all. That is really sad.

She doesn’t know what this war is all about or why we are fighting it. She doesn’t know anyone who had to fight in it. It is just an abstract notion to her. American soldiers killing and being killed in foreign lands for some unknown reason is just normal to her.

That shouldn’t be normal.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dreaming of a White Lughnassadh

It looks like I will be spending Lughnassadh above the Arctic Circle this year with my evangelical Christian boss. This ought to make for an interesting holiday. It might be hard to think about the first fruits of the harvest at 32 degrees. I know two years isn’t much of a pattern, but it seems like Lughnassadh is becoming the day to expect surprises.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Of Tantrums & Revelations

You know how sometimes you feel mad about something pretty small only to realize, while ranting, that you are actually mad about something really big that you have not addressed? Yeah, I had that day yesterday. It sucked.

I don't know if pride truly goeth before a fall, but it does go before a temper tantrum.

Here is my quote for the day; it's from Marianne Williamson. "Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you". Pardon my vulgarity but screw that. Screw shrinking and then being angry when people think you are small.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On Agnosticism

Slate has a good article on agnosticism and the value of spiritual uncertainty today. It is worth checking out. I like that he stakes it out as a viable third option, and not just weak theism or atheism.

Your thoughts?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Not Content With Homelessness

Yeah, I know I’m rockin’ the UU stereotype, but I loves me my NPR. Last night I was making dinner while listening to an episode of This American Life from a couple of weeks ago. (I also love their iPhone app.) The third act was about crazy myths that immigrants believe about America that turn out to be true. Most of it was pretty lighthearted stuff, Christmas lights, overweight people, public kissing, but what struck me was their shock at homelessness.

They couldn’t believe it was true. People flee from lands of poverty and tyranny, war-torn lands that offer little hope to come to the America that they pray is a land of plenty only to find that we allow our people to sleep on the street. One man commented that where he came from families would be ashamed to allow this to happen to a family member.

How did this happen? How did we become so comfortable with allowing Americans to live this way as long as we are lucky enough not to be among them? Why are we not ashamed of that? My cousin is mentally ill and formerly homeless; how did we as a family let that happen?

My fellowship has a commitment to helping Safe Harbor Inn, which provides transition housing for homeless families and I am proud that we are doing that, but I am not at all proud of the part I have played thus far. My United Way contact tells me that the average age of a homeless person in Anchorage, AK is 9 years old. Why are we OK with that? I don’t want to be OK with that anymore.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sweet 16 for Midsummer Girl

Yesterday Big Daughter E turned 16. As I’ve mentioned before, I have been raising her almost my entire adult life. My sense of being a grown up is wrapped up in caring for her and now she is almost grown. I am a little overwhelmed.

E and I talk the same way and have some behavior similarities, but emotionally we are such totally different creatures. This does not enhance communication between a teenager and her mother. She drives me crazy. Just crazy. I have no idea how she is going to fend for herself in the real world in a couple of years.

But here’s the thing, she loves fiercely. She loves with a devotion like that of my mother who is the most nurturing person I have ever known. E has loved me every day of her life and I have never doubted that. I fear for the day when someone breaks her heart because that is going to be ugly. I named her for a woman of power and I hope she carries that strength throughout her life. She is so secure in herself and impervious to peer pressure. This makes it hard for her parents to influence her as well, but she is so confident in her own self and doesn't look for outside superficial validation. Whatever her life may hold for her, I know that she will find her own way.

16 is an exciting and scary age to be. I just hope we both make it through it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Summer Solstice

I love love love the Summer Solstice! It is my firm and unassailable opinion that no one loves the solstice like we northerners. The sun decided to come out and play for the celebrations yesterday and we are having a beautiful solstice today. I walked down to the nearby lake last night and just watched the sun and the birds and the trees. I felt so at peace and this morning’s ride was giddy and joyful. I am just happy.

I am really coming to love my women’s ritual group. Even though our Solstice celebration was rained out on Saturday we had a lovely time as one of us opened her home. It was a small part of what was said and done, but one passage stuck with me. As glorious as it is, Solstice highlights impermanence for us. When summer is at its zenith, it begins to wane again. I usually try not to think about that and focus on all the glorious night we have left all summer long. But the reason this day is so joyous is because I know winter is coming. Those long dark nights make this day so much sweeter, but I am sure I wouldn’t care about it if I lived near the equator.

I love it when my interests in Paganism and Buddhism overlap like that. This day reminds me to savor every sweet and wonderful thing I see without begrudging its eventual loss. Without impermanence, it wouldn’t be so beautiful. I hope I can hang on to this lesson this winter and remember that it is OK to lose something, because that means that I once had it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chronic Complainers

I have reached a point in my life where I am out of patience with chronically unhappy people who spend all their time complaining about everything that is wrong with everything. I am not talking about people who struggle with mental illness or depression. I do not mean people who are living through truly horrible life experiences. I mean people who live the same sheltered and well cared for middle class American experience that most of us do, but cannot find one single thing to be happy or grateful about.

Once you get fed up with this type they are everywhere and I just find them exhausting. For most of us, life is full of problems and struggles, but it also has some pretty wonderful stuff going on too. And for cryin’ out loud, not everything is that big a deal, y’know.

I am a rescuer and I have to deal with that. I grew up in a home where depression was a major issue, many of my friends deal with depression on various levels. I frequently take it upon myself to “fix” them and make them happy. That is my own struggle that I have to deal with and I will continue to be there for family members and friends who really need me. Having said that, I refuse to continue to be a sounding board for people who refuse to take any steps at all to change their circumstances, but seem to enjoy reveling in their own unhappiness. It does not make you cool to see what sucks about everything; it makes you a drag. My life is too short and too precious to spend it listening to people constantly complain.


*Note to my husband – I reserve the right to make an exception for our friend the Comic Book Guy because I know you will call me on it later. At least he and I can fight honestly.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Two More Years

Two short years. While taking a walk with my girls last night I realized that two years is all I have left until everything changes. In two years Big Daughter E will be out of high school and turning 18, and Tiny Daughter M will be done with elementary school and heading into the hormonal morass of middle school.

Due to some less than stellar planning, I have been parenting E almost as long as I have been an adult. Two years from this month, she will be a grown woman making her own way in the world. Even if she continues to live at home I won’t be actively parenting her the same way anymore. In two years my baby will be almost a teenager and not a baby anymore. The small children stage of parenting will be over and I will become increasingly annoying and stupid to her. That’s it. That’s all I have left.

I need to slow down and cherish these next two years. After that, we will be playing a whole new ballgame that I am not ready for yet. Gretchen Rubin frequently quotes, “the days are long, but the years are short” and I am hearing that message loud and clear today. Slow down and be mindful of this time I have left to raise my girls together. Stop taking their time and attention for granted. Pay attention. Just two more years.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Demographics and Multiracial Americans

The Huffington Post posted this article about the latest demographic numbers and America's path to becoming a minority-White nation. It is mostly information that we have all heard before, but what caught my eye was that multiracial is the largest growing demographic in the United States, I assume, it is growing fast than even Latinos.

Does this bode good news for race relations? With a growing number of people who belong to different ethnicities or who have family members of different ethnicities will we see an increase in acceptance of differences? Studies show that people with gay family members are much less likely to discriminate against gays; does it work the same for racial issues? Do you stop seeing other races as “the other” if your grandchildren belong to their race as well as yours? It is very easy to dislike or fear those lousy, no good, fill-in-the-blanks, but it is much harder to hate your nephew, or sister-in-law, or cousin.

Maybe I am hanging a lot on very little data, but made me hopeful for our future.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Humanist Pilgrimage to Mauna Kea

I went on a spiritual pilgrimage last week. A Humanist pilgrimage.
While visiting Hawai’i I got the chance to go the summit of Mauna Kea to see the astronomical observatories located there and it was a deeply moving experience for me. I just wish I had been better dressed for it. There are seven observatories on Mauna Kea which are run and supported by countries from North America, Asia, and Europe for the purpose of peering outside this little planet of ours.

Out of the entire world, Mauna Kea has been deemed to be the best spot on Earth for astronomical observation. There are also big telescopes in Chile, but Mauna Kea is generally judged Number 1. This is the one place in all the world where the people of Earth come together to try to figure out the answers. That is a powerful idea. All of the big cosmic questions about the universe, its origins and destiny, and our place in it are addressed here. Where did we come from and where are we going? The eternal human need to know, to wonder, and explore finds expression in those massive telescopes. Our connection to the rest of the universe is underscored on that summit.

The whole way up the mountain I was so excited. We were going to the best place to see the stars. Metaphorically, it seemed like the place closest to the rest of the universe, closest to the unknown, closest to creation. The wind blew so hard at the summit that we didn’t stay long, but the drive up and down the mountain was unforgettable. The view was absolutely spectacular and I only worried about our driver running us off the road a few times. At some point halfway up I realized I was on a religious pilgrimage. This journey was every bit as loaded with meaning for me as other holy sites are for their own adherents. This spot was sacred for me.

People of every religious faith I can think of have sites considered holy, places where believers travel and sometimes gather to grow closer to their faith. If ever there was a place for Humanists do the same, Mauna Kea was it for me. There are no shrines or temples, just telescopes that stand as monuments to international cooperation and the undying human need to know what is out there. They stand as testimony to the idea that answers are knowable and that we should continue to strive for them. There is an amazing universe out there beyond our globe, and our tiny place in that vast network is so awe inspiring that I don’t need a belief in the supernatural to feel humbled and connected there.

The Hawai’ians have long considered Mauna Kea sacred for their own reasons. I am happy that they share their sacred mountain with the rest of the human race, and with me.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Biking My Values

Now that school is out and summer is here I started riding my bike to work yesterday. I write about this here not to brag or to be more environmental-than-thou, but to commit myself. It’s much harder to back out when you have made a public declaration.

I have been saying I will ride my bike to work in the summer for two years now and it has not happened. I even tried to talk myself out of it on Sunday night; I was sore and thought I should let myself rest up a bit. I live less than a mile from my office so this is not some type of huge burden I am placing upon myself.

It comes down to this, I either need to stop making excuses and start pedaling, or I need to shut up and stop claiming I care. I can’t have it both ways. Either I care about reducing petroleum consumption or I don’t. Either I care about living a healthy lifestyle and avoiding my family’s pattern of heart disease or I don’t. Either I reject the modern day ethic that values more and bigger above all or I respect the value of simplicity.

I realize most of you reading this drive to work and you may have good reasons for doing so. I would if I still lived 10 miles away from the office and I will drive again in the winter. This is not a blanket proclamation or accusation; it is something I feel like I need to do to live in accordance with my values.

From a health point of view, this program locks me in. I am a horribly inconsistent exerciser, but it is much harder to put it off when it means that I have to get my husband up early to take me to work (we are a one-car family) and at the end of the day I pretty much have to exercise in order to get home. Making exercise a necessity instead of a choice may be the way to get me to stick with it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

I've Been Outed


So, I had this fantasy that if I kept names and pictures out of it, that no one notice my little blog enough to wonder who wrote it. I started this blog to have a place to explore this spiritual journey I found myself on. I needed a safe place to explore and archive the thoughts I was having because I sure wasn’t ready to talk about them much.

Now two wonderful women from our fellowship have separately and casually mentioned something they read on my blog to me. The first time caused a moment of panic. While I am normally pale, I’m pretty sure I turned white and there may have been babbling. I tried to think of anything offensive I may have written that she might have read. I got a reminder that the old rule still applies to the internet: don’t say anything behind someone’s back that you wouldn’t say to his or her face.

I am going to keep this blog anonymous for the time being. Mainly, I don’t really want it to be searchable with my name. Some of my opinions may not enhance my career working in a red industry in a red state. I still want the freedom to speak my mind without hurting the feelings of family members. If any of you reading attend the Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and you find anything here remotely interesting, feel free to ask or argue with me about my blog. ‘Cause I guess I’m out.

For now I will remain,

Yours always,

Strange Attractor

P.S. I’ve been on a great vacation for the last two weeks and I thought of a lot of things I want to write about so you will be reading more about that soon.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mad Props for The Secret of Kells

I had never heard of The Secret of Kells until it was nominated for an Academy Award a few months ago, but I have been eagerly waiting for it to play here in town ever since. I just can’t recommend this film highly enough. Everyone in my group, ages 10 – 67, loved it.

It is so beautiful.

The hand drawn animation is based on Irish art, but also manages to remind me of Samurai Jack, of blessed memory. All I can say is vive la 2-D! I am pretty sure that if I saw this film in Greek without subtitles I still would have loved watching the images. It is fluid and graceful: no portion of the screen is boring and it is 100 times more entertaining than Avatar.

The film is about a boy named Brenden living in the monastery of Kells in the Middle Ages and the creation and preservation of the famous Book of Kells, but really, plot is not what compels this movie. In fact, a few of the plot points towards the end of the film felt a little rushed and I wished they had been developed a little more. This film, full of beautiful imagery, is about imagery and its power. It stresses the importance of beauty and imagination and faith in the most dreary and dangerous of worlds.

If you are at all interested in Irish history, celtic myth, the history of the medieval church, the role of art and faith, syncreticism, or pretty pictures than this film is for you. Maybe if you are a big fan of Vikings, not so much.

The portrayal of the rival religions in Ireland was balanced: neither one was the bad or the good faith. Both religious systems were given a point of view and both had sympathetic and scary/dictatorial aspects. Pagan magic is delightfully represented by the fey girl Aisling and is treated as no less real than anything else in the film, but Cromm Cruach shows a dark and scary aspect of the same pagan belief system. The Christian monks are shown as trying to hold onto the light of their civilization against a violent force who wants to wipe them out, but the Abbot is rigid and has forgotten the art and joy of his youth and tries to block out the outside world. Brother Aidan is an example of the Irish style of Christianity that stressed reverence of nature more than the fear of God.

My girls loved this movie enough to insist we buy the soundtrack as soon as we got home. They have never done that before. Though it chagrins their mother and grandmother, they are not in general fans of traditional Irish music, and yet we will be listening to the soundtrack tonight while I cook dinner.

The Secret of Kells would be a great film to show in RE, but it might be too scary for very little children. It could be a great spring board for discussing how religions effect and influence each other, when and why should be listen to authority, how to we respond to outside dangers while still preserving what is important about ourselves, the relative importance of symbols , what is worth dying for, and I’m sure other great topics that haven’t occurred to me.

I almost never buy DVD’s anymore, preferring to keep my collection in the Netflix cloud, but this one I will buy as soon as it available. Maybe we will make it our new St. Patrick’s Day tradition as it is much more thought provoking than Darby O’Gill. Slainte.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Anxiety of Motherhood

Is there anything in our culture more anxiety producing than motherhood?

I saw this over and over on blogs and Twitter leading up to Mother’s Day, intelligent and dedicated women torn up over whether or not they are good mothers. A SAHM who left her career behind to raise her two young children feels like she is not doing it right, working moms who probably spend more time with their children that the average 1050’s housewife who feel guilty about shortchanging their children. Has it always been like this?

Is this how motherhood has always been or if there something really toxic going on? Why do so many mothers feel like total failures at the most important job we will ever have?
I don’t have any answers about this, but I am really disturbed by the question. I am not immune to this anxiety so this is not in any way a criticism of women who question their mothering skills. But if motherhood is supposed to be the greatest joy in our lives, why do so many of us feel like shit about it?

I have sometimes thought that I love my girls so much that I wish they had a better mother than me. I wish they had someone who wouldn’t yell at them or be selfish or be depressed. Someone who could raise them to be the awesome women they are. I hope I haven’t raised them to live with this same sense of self-doubt if and when it is their turn to be mothers.

Next year, instead of the rainbow and orchids and other Hallmark-designated trappings of Mother’s Day, let a mother know she is doing a good job. Tell her that you know mothering is not easy and that she isn’t the only one why worries about not being any good at it. In fact, why not do it today?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

For UU Salon - Soulfully Agnostic

So the question of the month at UU Salon is What is a soul? And here is my attempt to answer.

Short version: ye gods, I have no idea.

Longer version:
I think I can say that I am truly agnostic on the subject of the soul. Central to the question of the existence of the soul is the idea of life after death. It’s sort of the big granddaddy of religious questions. I can’t say without a shadow of a doubt that I do not believe in life after death, but I see no compelling reason to believe in it either. I find the idea of reincarnation to be really beautiful and compelling. I hope it’s true, but hoping never made something so, especially in metaphysics.

In favor of the soul, most western and many eastern religious and philosophical traditions posit a belief in souls. Is there something in human nature that makes so many different points of view converge on the idea of the soul, or are we all just sharing a need to believe we don’t end when we die?

I don’t know about the soul, but I sure feel like a have a self, a meness that separates me from everyone else. Buddhism tells us that this is an illusion*, that we are the convergence of a multitude of connections and happenings in the universe and create our selves for a brief moment. I also find this to be a beautiful idea and much easier to swallow than reincarnation. Not to get all Our Town or anything, but if this brief flickering life is all we get each moment of it becomes so much more precious. Elements of the universe come together in just such a way as to make each of us possible for just a moment before they recombine to make something else. Each and every one of us, then, is a miracle self, a conscious and improbable little piece of self-awareness. Each person seems so much more precious and irreplaceable when I view them through this lens. It makes me feel grateful for my life that I get to experience it and realize how lucky I am to even be.

To some extent, I think the question of the soul puts the emphasis in the wrong place. To me, the most sacred moments are not about the individual, but about connection. Connecting to another person, to Nature, to a sense of the divine, these are the moments that give us meaning. Giving birth, falling in love, prayer and meditation, helping others, all of these make our lives better and richer in a way that focusing on my soul never has.

I know this is pretty scattered and all over the place, but it is a big question.

*Buddhists can feel free to correct me if I have gotten this wrong. I’m still learning.

Monday, May 3, 2010

One Hungry Vegetarian

I’ve hit a bumpy patch in my meatless 40/40/40 challenge. I am hungry ALL THE TIME. I have been making sure to keep plenty of protein and fats in my diet; it’s not like I have been living on carrot sticks. I am really not liking this trend. Any advice from you vegetarians out there?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Atheism and the Goddess

Yesterday our Fellowship held a service with the theme of the Divine Feminine and one of the readings was an excerpt from “Atheism and the Goddess” by Margaret Pearce. This, for me, was the highlight of the service and it felt tailor made for someone like me.

I do not believe in a divine being and have not for quite some time. When I was a believer, I never felt any such being. I am perfectly happy in this state of unbelief. The world and the universe are so awesome and fascinating on their own. But. I have always felt engaged and inspired by images and stories of goddesses. I enjoy so many pagan practices and ideas and I want to engage with them, but my more rational side argues with me. Is it really honest to participate in rituals, etc. when you don’t actually believe in these deities? Is it any better than when I used to pretend in the Christian church in which I was raised?

It sounds like Pearce struggled with these same issues and that, in itself, was validating. I don’t need to believe in a literal divine being to think about or meditate on a deity who looks like me. The values of goddess worship are ones I hold dear and these practices are a good way to integrate them into my life. I am not being any more honest to pretend these archetypes don’t have a pull on me.

This balance is why I enjoy the women’s group I have found so much. As women, we come together to celebrate and strengthen aspects our lives through focus on various goddesses and the cycle of the year. No one requires me to check my brains at the door, but the ritualistic elements help me to involve other sides of myself as well. I don’t know if I mentioned it here, but I have pretty much given up the local CUUPS group. I don’t think I am in sync with what they are trying to do, so it is best for me to step back and allow them to enjoy their rituals as they want. CUUPS helped to bring me to both UU’ism and my women’s group and I am very grateful for that. I wish them all the best, but I don’t plan on joining them anymore.

I don’t remember who it was, but someone in Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon referred to his pagan practice as not irrational, but arational. This works for me and it provides an important balance so that I am not being so damn Apollonian all the time. A rational atheist and an arational pagan, that may just describe me.