Thursday, December 20, 2007


I value history and what we can learn from its study (and what we can learn from our rose-tinted view from the present). We often say that the people of the past are either more sophisticated than we are (more in tune with nature or the seasons, better at predicting the weather, etc.) or more gullible, superstitious and naïve. We choose one way or another depending on what we want to convey with our story (or sermon). Let me be clear: I am not casting aspersions on this practice. It is by comparing some current practice with a similar past practice and noticing the similarities and differences that we learn from our past.

This came to mind as I was listening to some of the Earth-centered mythology around Winter Solstice. The story is often told that people way back noticed that the sun was getting lower in the sky, nights were getting longer and the days shorter and the weather getting colder, trees lost their leaves and plants died. All valid observations. For me, the iffy part starts with the interpretation of the observations. The stories say that the people feared that the sun was dying or was leaving would not come back. The people who built Stonehenge knew that the year was a cycle and they knew it to the point where they could build a sophisticated physical observatory to mark the seasons. My guess is that the people back then told their children that the people long before them feared that the sun was dying, etc. and so on back a long way. This isn't to say that they approached this time of year without fear. In fact, I would venture to guess that one of the reasons they wanted to know the exact day of the winter solstice is to be able to figure out how far their food supplies had to stretch. No one had a supermarket down the street, back then, with fresh fruit from Chile in January!

History is a wonderful source for lessons and warnings but be sure to peer beyond the top layer.

Right Relationship

Sometimes, I find myself waking up at the end of a dream that I want to have ended differently. That happened this morning and, while the events of the dream have elements that are related to my waking world, as a whole they are fictional and dreamish.

The situation was that I was participating in a workshop at my church. There was a large group of people, both my fellow parishioners and visiting people, UUs all, including several ministers. We filed into a large hall set with rows of long folding tables and sat on both sides of the first three rows. We couldn't all see each other and groups (cliques) formed based on personal prior relationships (ministers sat together, board members sat together, etc.). The workshop was something yarn-related (don't ask me!, clearly something related to the fact that both my daughters are knitting and crocheting Solstice presents but, otherwise not relevant).

We hadn't formally started, yet, or checked in but some were already talking about the subject of the workshop. One person (not a real person as far as I know but definitely an archetype) was quite animated, a little too boisterous with a puppyish enthusiasm for the subject and who didn't seem to be in touch with the decorum of the group. One of the visiting ministers (again, not someone real) said something to the group which embarrassed this person (intentionally) and in the awkward moments that followed the person and one of the people that was with him got up and left.

In the stunned silence that followed it was clear that quite a few people were happy that the disruptive person was gone and that others were aghast! It was this discomfort that started to wake me up and took me to the partially awake state where I tried to "fix" the dream. As usual with this sort of thing (for me), I wasn't trying to fix the original situation but to fix my response to it. The final revision is that I stood up and said something to the effect that I was surprised and disappointed by the callous disregard and disrespect shown to a member of the group and that I felt that the group and, specifically, people that we look up to as leaders were no longer in "right relationship" and that I couldn't attend the workshop while that cloud was hanging over it.

There are aspects of this dream that have real-world components. I am on the board of my church and have been dealing with a situation involving a conflict between the professional staff and some people in our congregation. I deal with people that deal with other people and crowds in - shall we say - less than people-wise ways (an aside: when I talk about this sort of behavior, why is it almost inevitable that the diagnosis "Asperger's Syndrome" comes up?).

That's not the point, though. First, it seems to me that this kind of dream is talking more about me and my reactions (and actions or lack thereof) than it is about whatever real-life seeds germinated in my dream world. In this case, I am usually someone who, in a crowd, lets someone else call "bullshit" and take others to task. Alone, I usually let it slide though it is getting more uncomfortable for me to do so. I am getting more comfortable speaking out in defense of my principles (Hmmm... What are they? New post idea!); in situations where I know and trust the people involved and soon, hopefully, in situations where I need to push out of my comfort zone.

Second, it is becoming more clear that the concept of "right relationship" and reconciliation is very important to me. I am inspired by the personal example of one of my church's interim ministers several years ago and by the efforts of a retired minister in my congregation, now.

Right relationship is clearly an important idea and tool for achieving an anti-racist, anti-oppressive community. Right relationship also has spiritual and ecological overtones. One way I see it is that if you are not in right relationship (with another person, a community, or the whole society) then that relationship contains oppressive elements.

So, on to Taarna's question; What do I value most? I value being in, and working for, right relationship.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I haven't written for a while but I have been thinking about it (the Question). I've also noticed that this blog may also begin to look like a gratitude journal. I really have a lot to be grateful for. Sometimes it seems silly to list them out but I'm guessing it'll be more surprising that embarrassing. Usually, the idea is that I should write down five things that I am grateful for. (Yeah, I know: "...for which I am grateful." Grammar is good.)

1) I have my family and friends
2) I have my church community
3) I have my Aikido community
4) I have a job
5) I have a home

Obviously, these are high-level things - categories, even. Refine, refine, refine.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


I do not value debt, or, to put it in positive terms, I value being debt-free. I am not there, yet. Consumer debt is using money I hope to have in the future to buy stuff now. Seems like a good deal until you actually think about it. You will end up paying extra for every item you buy unless you pay off your debt before it accrues any interest. Going forward, I need to reduce my debt load. That will reduce the money lost to interest payments and increase the money I can put to implementing my values.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Job

I've been struggling with my attitude about my job for a long time. Considering this question, though, I have to admit that I've got a pretty sweet deal. I get paid well enough to support my family on one income in San Diego - no mean feat! I am not called on to work outrageous hours. I work with good people. The job is does not require me to work against my principles and values: It's not a Department of Defense job (a big employer, here). It is not involved with deceit or fraud (except to catch it). It has reasonable employment practices and there are people in management who do care about their employees.

In the Circle after Aikido

I told the story of Taarna's Question, tonight, and asked people to consider what they value.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

At the Board Meeting

At check-in, tonight, I told the story of Taarna's Question. I still choke up a bit when telling it. It was well-received. It also occurred to me that I might make a button with the question on it. Hmmm... Or maybe one of those Livestrong-style bracelets.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Question of the Day (or Your Whole Life)

"What do you value most?"

A young woman died in an car accident in November. She was the daughter of friends and a friend of my daughter. My friends are living out one of my all-time worst nightmares.

At her service last weekend a young man who rode with her part of the way on her last trip told how she had really gotten him thinking that day with one question: "What do you value most?" She followed her question with the statement to the effect that if you didn't know the answer to that question how would you know what to do? It might seem superficial but with that context it is a very powerful question.

This is a good question in that context. I've started telling people a bit about her and her question. As a person with a tendency toward Process Theology, I believe that our impact on other people is our best form of immortality.

One of the greatest laments about the death of such a young person is that she had so much potential to change the world and that the world would no longer have the benefit of her unique presence. I am going to start asking other people her question. I will also pass along a bit of her story so that people will know a little about her. In this way, she will continue to make a difference in this world.