Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I wanna get a dog.

I'm gonna get a dog one of these days. I have started gazing with interest at the dogs featured in the WAIF videos on Facebook and fantasizing about taking walks with a lovely middle aged golden retriever who I may have rescued, who greets me with love in his or her eyes, thrilled to see me when I come home, grateful for my care.

I want a dog because I would like to find a man who will love me this way. The men I love tend to treat me like cats treat me. They are affectionate, but mostly so I'll feed them. They'll accept my affection but prefer that I not make any demands. They don't understand why I behave the way I do and they refuse to do what I ask, behaving in passive-aggressive ways----mostly by ignoring me or failing to hear me.

Max comes to me for petting when he has been outside all day and has missed me, but it's always on his terms, not mine. Loosy will pester me to sit down and let her hop up, but I can't pick her up to cuddle. Lily whines and moans around the house, ignoring my comforting words, and wants me to feed her from my plate but either gobbles down half my offering or totally ignores it, after begging for it.

I think a beautiful dog would be a way to show that I am a person who wants to be cherished, the way a dog cherishes his/her owner. I could walk the dog on the beach and meet people that way. A dog would express his or her own joy at the arrival of a guest; cats don't do that---they often hole up under the bed or in another room and refuse to socialize. Loosy is different that way, but she can be very annoying.

It may be that owning cats says something about a woman that invites men to treat her as her cats treat her. Not that I'd ever give up my cats completely, but I do wish for a companion who would treat me like a dog would treat me. (And hopefully housebroken.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Celebrating the Mystery

Rev. Kit Ketcham, March 27, 2011

What’s your most puzzling mystery? Let’s hear some of those thoughts! Just call them out.

How many of us like to read murder mysteries or watch detective shows or movies? How many of us enjoy doing puzzles---jigsaws, word games, logic problems? How many of us just plain enjoy figuring things out? And how many of us, once we’ve figured something out, let go of it and assume it will always be true?

Human beings are pattern finders, searchers for understanding, curious as cats, creators of fundamental concepts which underwrite our world views.

And we are puzzled by any number of things: the secret of life, why human beings are the way they are, how did we all get here, what is beyond the stars and planets that we can’t see---at least, not yet?

We wonder why people come to believe what they do about the way the world works. We wonder why we (or anyone else) are so unwilling to change our minds once we’ve made them up.
It can drive us humans nuts to realize that our logical thinking doesn’t seem to bring us to the same conclusions as others’ logical thinking and we may wonder who is wrong.

I remember thinking that if I could just explain to my parents exactly why I was a Democrat rather than a Republican, they would immediately become Democrats.

I remember thinking that if I could just show my family members why I didn’t believe that Jesus was God, they would quickly see the error of their thinking and change their minds.

I frequently carry on long imaginary conversations with various individuals who don’t agree with me, laying out ever so clearly and succinctly why they ought to agree with me, and then I realize that they probably never will agree with me and I might as well give up! But, of course, I don’t give up these futile imaginary conversations---I’m still having them!

These are such common human puzzles that the real mystery is why we still don’t understand them. Sort of like the common cold, which we can dissect and alleviate the symptoms of but can’t really cure.

As UUs, we love mystery. It’s an important part of our faith. In fact, our first source (if you look at the list of our sources on the back of our O/S) is “direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life.”

But mystery also makes us uncomfortable. If we can’t explain it, our rational minds get edgy. We want answers, so that we can go on to the next mystery. We want things to be explained because we want to go beyond the initial mystery through the new doorway that will open once the mystery is solved.

We thirst for knowledge, sometimes knowledge of the most trivial sort. I can be driving down the road, searching for knowledge and suddenly realize the triviality of what I’m searching for---which recently has been a confirmation of my belief that three chrome diamonds arranged in a particular order is the company logo for Mitsubishi cars. What a dumb thing to want to know! And yet, my human mind persists in looking at every car to see if I can prove this to myself. Once I’ve confirmed it, I can let go of it, but until then, my eyes are peeled for that particular industrial icon.

Why on earth would this be so? I hope there is some rational evolutionary or human survival explanation for it, because I think that this instinct for pattern-finding, for seeing how bits of information connect may have some redeeming value, no matter how irritating!

I read an article recently about coincidence and the human awareness of coincidence, unusual occurrences. The author, Tom Rees, pointed out a psychological link between belief and politics that has to do with noticing coincidences and finding meaning in those unusual occurrences.

The experiment involved a computer monitor which flashed dots and single words on a screen and participants were asked to push a button noting the position of the dot as above or below a word. Unexpectedly and randomly, a word would appear within a box, rather than simply written on the screen, and many participants hesitated a second or two before pushing the button to indicate the position of the dot. The take-away idea from the experiment was that participants were pondering the meaning of the unexpected change.

The interesting thing was that those who responded most strongly to the change were those who also reported being religious as a result of personal experience. They found it harder than others to dismiss the coincidence. For religious folk, unusual events had meaning.

We watch for patterns and draw links between coincidences. Sometimes those linkages are based on pretty lightweight assumptions, like my assumption that there must be very few Mitsubishi automobiles on the island because of the difficulty of my recent effort to discover their connection to a particular hood ornament of their logo. I will probably eventually give up and Google it, just to end the search with a new bit of knowledge.

Let’s think for a moment about the various forms of mystery that are part of our human existence. There is, of course, the mystery of existence itself. How did nothing turn into something? What is the reality of that something? Is this reality all there is?

How do we make sense of what science offers us, as the scientific process of forming and testing hypotheses reveals a spectrum of such mind-boggling concepts as quantum theory, relativity theory, string theory and the idea of an infinite, yet growing, universe and even parallel universes?

Though we may have unraveled the mysteries of physical conception, birth, growth, and death in many creatures, including humankind, we have not yet figured out the mystery of consciousness, the mystery of mind, one attribute which seems to differentiate humankind from the rest of the animal kingdom. We are not only alive, but we know that we are alive. Is our human consciousness part of a universal consciousness? In our mysterious personal experiences we may have sensed a connection with a consciousness beyond our own individual consciousness. What’s that about?

And what is Love? Really? And hate? What is that, and why do we love and hate? Where does the urge to create come from? We create much more than just additional human beings; we create beauty and music, art and dreams. These too are mysteries, mysteries of an everyday sort, mysteries we confront daily, mysteries whose answers seem to appear and then disappear, as our lives change.

As we age, the mysteries of the future confront us, as well as the mystery of death’s meaning. What will the world be like for our descendents? What will our children face, our grandchildren? What will the end of our individual lives bring? How will we die? And if time and space are one and the same, will anything ever really end?

The late Forrest Church, UU minister extraordinaire and prolific author, once wrote “My faith is grounded on two principles, humility and openness”. He went on to describe the importance of mystery in his own life. At the time, he was facing a terminal diagnosis of cancer; he knew that his life was ending within a few months and he was coming to the end of his writing life. Now there’s a mystery to contemplate!

Mystery, he said, fosters humility in our lives, reminding us of our limits, the limits of what we can know and of our individual perspectives. We are fallible, we are ignorant about many things, we are incapable of learning or understanding many things. And yet this is not a reason for despair, only a reason for humility, an awareness that we need not know everything in order to live good lives.

Mystery also encourages openness, reminding us to stay open to new learnings, new understandings, ready to face the unexpected with courage and strength. I have learned not to pray for certain outcomes, but rather to pray for the ability to cope, whatever the outcome might be.

As Dave and I were talking about this service and how we might design it, we had a great conversation about our own mysteries and the things about human life that boggle our minds.

And, interestingly, one of the mysteries we puzzled over the most is why some human beings are content NOT to engage with mystery but choose certainty instead, certainty that often seems to have a pretty flimsy foundation, certainty that often seems fearful of engagement with mystery.

One of those places in which certainty defeats mystery for many people is in the realm of religion. Another is in the realm of science. Another is in the realm of ethics and morality. And, of course, these overlap in many areas of their concern: the source of life, the creation of earth and its creatures, the origins of the universe, the purpose of human life, when human life begins, when human lives end and what happens after death.
What is so scary about mystery? Well, as I mentioned in our recent service on Evolution, people fear huge changes in their world view. If they take the chance of diverging from the familiar, the well-worn, the traditional or orthodox views or teachings, where do they go?

When I think back to when I took the leap of diverging from my family’s reliance on Baptist belief and practice, I knew I was taking a huge chance. I knew I might be estranged permanently from my family and the friends of my childhood. I hoped they would understand and continue to love me, but I had no real guarantees, other than trust in their love for me.

And when I did make the leap, I suffered some of those consequences. Not to the extent of shunning or dissociation, but they were hurt and angry for a long time. And so was I, as I felt they were reacting unfairly. We made it through this painful time partly because I was far away in Denver and didn’t come home very often. I also gradually learned how to talk with them about the values we hold in common, rather than specific theology.

It feels so sad to me to hear stories similar to mine in many ways, but which have a less positive outcome. I know people who turned to Unitarian Universalism or another religion different from their inherited faith and experienced much more drastic reactions: shunning, excommunication, disownment, physical rejection and expulsion.

Rejection by a family unit is severely painful and cruel and, instead of its resulting in a change of heart in the one rejected, it fosters deep anger and long-lived grief. These wounds may never heal. Is it any wonder that many people cling to a more orthodox and traditional world view? That they resist the curiosity that invites them to explore other views? That they fight any effort made by a changing culture to adapt to new knowledge and new understandings of human living?

We often criticize our fundamentalist friends and neighbors for their limited world view, whether they are religious or political or moral conservatives. We tend to think that there’s something wrong with anyone who declines to explore new knowledge and new ideas. WE made the leap to that new place; why are they so scared? Why don’t they trust themselves to think critically? Why are they satisfied with the measly, out-of-step religious rewards of security based on supernatural concepts? Or the desire to save money rather than serve the poor? Or the deeply embedded fear of sexuality?

What are they so afraid of? In addition to rejection by family and friends, many people are terrified of the challenge of changing everything they’ve come to believe about God, the Bible, homosexuality, evolution, sexual norms. Will they be able to cope with an influx of new ideas and permissions? Will they go crazy? Will they act out? Who will help them through this crisis of faith and culture?

If they make the leap, will their anger toward the apparent false teachings of their early years keep them from finding a new location in a new paradigm? We all know folks who are still angry with their parents or their former religious tradition or their teachers for the values and teachings imposed upon them as children. This anger can keep them immobile for a long time, preventing them from exploring the new avenues they see.

At about this point in our conversation, Dave had a great idea. “What if,” he said, “we did something to reach out? What if there was a way we could say, ‘ya know, it’s not so scary out here. We’ve learned how it’s going to play out and it’s okay. The world won’t end if you decide to explore it. It’s not a terrible thing, to change your mind. And you won’t be alone. We’re here. We will help.’”

As I thought about it, I realized what a much better approach Dave’s would be than the imaginary “what’s wrong with you?” conversations I often have with those people who don’t agree with me about any number of things! And I’ve decided to try to shape those imaginary conversations into something more receptive and sympathetic on my part.

And it occurred to me that maybe there are stepping stones on this path to a more progressive, less restrictive faith.

Remember the times when you’ve been out hiking in the hills and have come upon a rushing stream with only a set of rocks as a passageway across the water? On both banks, there is safety. To cross from one safe place to another requires courage, balance, and surefootedness. It’s possible we’ll get our feet wet, maybe even fall in. But if we don’t make the effort we won’t get to the other side, the other safe place, the next point on our journey.

In life, we start with the teachings we inherit from our families. Those may be religious teachings or morality lessons or opinions about any number of things, passed down through the generations before us.

We accept them pretty trustingly for many years, until our own experiences lead us to question their accuracy. That experience might be education or a friend or teacher who opens a door or our own maturing bodies and brains.

At this point, for many of us, the cognitive dissonance, the sense of our modern knowledge being out of sync with traditional knowledge, begins to work on us. Adolescence is the time when the ability to think abstractly clicks in and suddenly it’s clear that we don’t believe what our parents believe. How do we handle this? We’re still dependent on our families for support.

The choice to go or to stay must be made. And eventually, many of us stepped off of the safe bank of tradition and placed our feet on the first stepping stone, moving toward the solid ground on the other side of the stream.

Sometimes we get stuck and stay in the middle of the stream for a long time. If we have no companion on the path, we may not have the courage to go on alone and we retrace our steps to the safe place we just left. But if there’s someone nearby to fish us out of the creek, or if we have a sturdy walking staff, we are likely to take the next step and the next, with the faith that we will be okay on the other side.

So what does this all mean? It seems to me that it’s understandable that many people prefer the certainty of the answers of their inherited faith, political stance, or moral values. Fear prevents many people from risking the loss of a world view. Arguing doesn’t change minds---ours or theirs.

What can we do with this understanding? Can we be more compassionate? More willing to listen? More able to find the values we hold in common? Less likely to be scornful? More interested in making new friends than in excluding anyone who doesn’t agree with us? Because it seems to me that the more we disdain those who don’t agree with us, the more polarized our society becomes and the less able we are to change minds. Our only tool is modeling our values, not in rejecting people.

Mysteries abound in our human lives. Perhaps this is one we can solve. I’m reminded of a song called “Get Together”, from the 60’s: the last verse says “You hold the key to love and fear, all in your trembling hand; just one key unlocks them both, it’s there at your command. Come on, people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.”
Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that we can help to alleviate others’ fear by listening with compassion. May we have the courage to seek friendship with people who are different from us and may we live our values of justice, mercy, and love, in order that others may be free. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Ferry schedule between Whidbey and the mainland...

is going to be disrupted for three weekends, starting today, and folks are understandably upset about it. Instead of a reasonable 15 minute voyage between the dock on Whidbey and the mainland dock at Mukilteo every 30 minutes, we now will en(joy?dure?) a 50 minute voyage between Whidbey and the next south-most ferry dock at Edmonds, several miles farther away. Those sailings will be every 90 minutes, rather than 30. It's a major inconvenience and I predict long lines and much gnashing of teeth.

The thing is, it has to happen and we've had lots of warning and advice about how to make it less painful. The Mukilteo dock is badly in need of repair and weekends, though not the perfect time because there is no perfect time, at least mostly affects visitors, rather than commuters. Of course, we are a recreational destination and fewer visitors cuts into our economic base. It's mud season, but when the skies are not dumping water on us, we have a fairly steady stream of customers coming to our shores.

Isn't it interesting how we fuss and moan about unavoidable, relatively minor obstacles in our path? We spend a lot of time worrying about that kind of thing and much less time thinking about the ways they can actually enhance our lives.

I think it will be kinda fun to travel south on the ferry to Edmonds; it's a shoreline I've never seen. It will increase my travel time a lot, on my way to Vashon tomorrow, but it will give me a chance to open my newest book---"Cutting for Stone"---which I hope I'll remember to put in the car. Waiting in line to board may be a hassle, but, again, I've got my book and no drastic time table.

I know others aren't so lucky, but we can make it worse than it really is, just by fretting.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A sense of contentment despite...

all the awful things going on in the world. My mind can barely contain the sorrows ringing the world right now: earthquake and tsunami destruction of life and home; tyrants killing their own people in order to maintain power; countless people, animals, and even landforms in the grip of massive change. Even though I'm not turning on the news or reading it online, my consciousness reels at the pain and sorrow afoot in the world, now and forever. Makes my wet basement seem like a walk in the park.

I woke up this morning feeling a bit blue, creaky from vaccing out gallons of water in the basement for a couple of days now; I'm getting ready to travel to Vashon this weekend to preach and also to officiate a memorial service for one of their beloved community and congregation leaders, Jennie Hodgson. Jennie was a stalwart at the Vashon Island Unitarian Fellowship during the years I served them and I was honored to be asked to perform this service.

But it's hard. Doing a memorial service for someone so beloved--not only by the congregation but by me--is difficult. Much easier are those services where my main emotion is compassion for the bereaved and less pity for myself. The world is less jolly without Jennie, who was always able to see the funny side of life, always on the move organizing this or that, inventing new ways of doing things. She is much missed, even though I rarely saw her once I'd moved to Whidbey.

Still, I have the opportunity this time to write the eulogy and compile many of the memories offered by her family into a portrait of a woman whose cheery, indomitable spirit endeared her to all who knew her. Writing it this morning has given me a lift, as though her spirit came down and touched me on the shoulder, laughing as if to say "isn't this a hoot?"

And despite the aching back from vacuuming the basement, the scubbed knuckles from wrestling with installing the new windshield wiper blades, the annoyance of occasional internet interruptions, I feel content. I've done a good job for Jennie. I'm ready to lead that service with not only my heart but my head.

Now if I can just figure out the temporary ferry schedule for the weekend!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Evolution Rocks: the sermon

By Rev. Kit Ketcham, March 13, 2011

I wonder what my Dad was thinking as we sat side by side in the tiny theatre on the Linfield College campus, my freshman year. It was Parents’ weekend, and my folks had driven from Athena to McMinnville to spend the weekend with me. I was excited about the opportunity to introduce them to my college life, to some of my professors and my new friends, and to walk with them around our beautiful campus.

One of the highlights of the weekend was to be a theatre production by student actors, so I bought three tickets and after dinner on Saturday night in the campus dining room, we entered the small space and found our seats.

The play was “Inherit the Wind” by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee, a dramatization of the famous Tennessee trial, in which Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan squared off over the state law which prohibited the teaching of evolution in school classrooms.

I had had no teaching about evolution in my high school biology class. Somehow the creation of the earth had been skipped over entirely and we’d gone straight on to dissecting earthworms without considering where the earthworms came from. Every church in the county taught the story of Genesis as historical fact and I had never heard a dissenting voice on the matter. Nor had I heard any voice dissenting with the Genesis story.

Or should I say stories? Because there is more than one Genesis account of the creation of the earth and its creatures. We’ll get to that later.

But for now, I sat there oblivious, watching the play. I was more interested in the friends I had in the cast and how they were doing, than I was in what seemed to be yet another story about how we all got here. I was not a very adept theologian—or science student--at that point in my life!

The characters sparred over Biblical references that lacked logic, with one character needling the other with questions like “where did Cain’s wife come from if Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel were the first humans?” and “what would happen if the sun stood still as it is written in the story of Joshua who needed more time to win a battle?” and the other answering smugly that he believed God had his own ways of making these things happen and that he believed firmly that these things were God’s will, even though he couldn’t explain them any further.

I wonder what my mother thought as she listened politely, knowing that my father’s beliefs were being systematically questioned and shot down as we sat there. It took me long years to recognize how hard it must have been for both of them to sit quietly and not get up and leave the theatre. It may have been a relief to them that I was more interested in pointing out my friends in the cast than discussing the topic of the play.

I didn’t even realize at the time that “Inherit the Wind” was making another point as well: condemning the recently concluded anti-Communist investigations of the House Unamerican Activities Committee, headed up by Senator Joe McCarthy.

The play was about intellectual freedom, of course, not specifically about evolution, but for my parents, it must have been a shock to see that the nice Baptist college they had sent their innocent daughter to was a hotbed of modernism. To their credit, they did not yank me bodily out of school and make me go to Multnomah School of the Bible instead. They continued to help with my tuition, gave me encouragement at every turn and never criticized when I’d write home about all the exciting things I was doing.

But somehow I figured out that my parents and I were on two different tracks when it came to the Bible and Christianity.

And I began to be very careful about what I revealed about what I was learning. I did my best to stay within the lines they’d drawn, at least at home. My dad’s health was an issue and I was afraid to upset him, for fear it would trigger a heart attack or other setback. And I loved my parents deeply. I could not bear the thought of being estranged from my family.

So I got adept at finding the metaphorical meanings of the scripture, rather than the literal meaning, and when we did talk, I thought metaphorical truth while they undoubtedly thought literal truth. The Genesis stories were metaphorical and mythical, not historical, in my mind, but I was not going to tip my hand.

That metaphorical meaning of the Genesis account was underscored by my Old Testament professor in seminary many years later when he pointed out that there were actually two different stories of the creation in Genesis, not just one.

The first story is the poetic tale of seven days of work, six days of separate physical acts of creation, and ending with a day of rest on the seventh day. This story runs from Genesis 1, verse 1, through Genesis 2, verse 6, and then seems to change and tells a somewhat different version of the creation, with no mention of seven days and with an extended description of Adam and Eve and the life given to them in the garden of Eden.

This version brings forth the ancient tale of Eve’s being created from Adam’s rib and describes the story of the serpent’s temptation and betrayal, resulting in Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden for disobeying the order of God not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

If you read the King James Version, which is all we had for centuries, you would miss the distinctions between the two stories; it would look as though the author simply took a different tack and decided to retell the story from a new angle.

But Biblical scholarship over the past century has noted the use of two different names for God, one from Canaanite culture and one from Judean culture, two different emphases, (the first on physical creation and the second on moral issues), and two different orders of creation (the first naming plant creation before humans, the second naming human creation before plants).

These differences led most scholars to believe that these are two distinct stories, written down centuries apart, by two different sources. One story seemed clearly to be the sort of tale told around ancient campfires, a way of explaining the existence of human beings, the creatures who lived in proximity to those humans, the usages that humans were to make of those living things, and the need for rest after many days of hard work.

The second story is of moral importance, whereas the first is an oral legend of physical creation. The second story describes God’s relationship with his human creation; this story is of a parental figure who commands obedience, gives many gifts and requires discipline and resistance of temptation, even temptation he has set before them. When his children succumb to that temptation, he punishes and curses them.

The first story describes a benevolent creator; the second, a paternalistic, vengeful figure.

Editorial comment: It’s interesting to me to note that many, perhaps most, of the religious traditions which take these stories literally tend to worship a more paternalistic and harsh God, while those who understand the stories to be metaphorical have a softer, gentler deity in their hearts. Interestingly, too, the doctrines of literal-minded religious faiths tend to be more rigid, less open to acts of compassion. Not that metaphorical-minded religions are perfectly compassionate, but there seems to be more of an openness to new truth in most of the more progressive religious traditions.

The Clergy Letter Project, founded by Dr. Michael Zimmerman, a professor at Butler University, has had as its goal, for the past 6 years, proving that science and religion are not incompatible, that thousands and thousands of clergy from all faiths understand the importance of science and religion in human lives and believe that the two disciplines do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Dr. Zimmerman has written the following: Ever since the Scopes Trial in 1925, evolution has been under attack by those who think it is more important to promote their narrow religious perspective than to understand the natural world. In the immediate aftermath of the Scopes Trial, virtually all traces of evolution vanished from American science textbooks and evolution remained missing until the early 1960s, when Americans realized that Soviet science education was fast outpacing American science education.

Creationists, in the name of religion, first outlawed the teaching of human evolution and then, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional, they began to use a number of ruses to promote their religious doctrines by claiming they were in favor of freedom of inquiry. They pretended to turn their religion into science by calling it "creation science" and when that too was ruled unconstitutional they changed the name again and promoted "intelligent design." The U.S. courts also ruled that strategy unconstitutional. Despite all of these legal setbacks, creationists have kept up their relentless attack on evolution, the most important concept in all of biology. It has been termed a religion. It has been portrayed as nothing more than a "theory." And it has been characterized, by those with precious little biological background, as pseudoscientific claptrap.

Despite the lack of intellectual and scientific substance to the attacks on evolution, the constant refrain from creationists that evolution is responsible for virtually all of modern society's ills has largely shaped the public's perception of the issue. Large segments of the public, ignorant of both basic biology and common theology, reject evolution believing that it is bad science and contrary to their religious beliefs. Even as scientists, building upon the principles of evolutionary theory, make the most astounding breakthroughs in the understanding of the human genome, leading to medical advances previously only dreamed possible, creationists work tirelessly to keep evolution from being taught in our public schools. Most politicians are scared to endorse this basic biological principle fearing a backlash in the name of religion…

(The Project) purposefully brings attention to (an) issue that religious fundamentalists find most abhorrent. (Project) participants are not looking to deify Darwin, however. Instead, they are simply attempting to demonstrate that his ideas, reshaped enormously in the 152 years since he published On the Origin of Species, are important to a modern worldview and are fully compatible with modern religious teachings. By doing this, they are proudly taking active steps to publicly define religion in a positive manner.

Other authorities support and amplify Zimmerman’s case. Paul Horwitz, a physicist turned education researcher, in an online article published this month by Education Week, says this:

“My opinion is that creationism in all its forms, including intelligent design, is not science; and that it is vitally important that we not teach nonscience as if it were science… Creationism is not science because it introduces causes outside of nature in order to explain observations of nature… Theories like that do not foster inquiry; rather, they close off discussion…That’s why creationism shouldn’t be taught as science, not because it’s wrong, but because it isn’t science… The goal of science is to discover things, to create new knowledge, to understand new phenomena. Nonscience does none of these things… It also eliminates…any opportunity to discover natural explanations for natural phenomena… To allow nonscience to be taught as though it were science would be a mistake of literally global dimensions.”

Horwitz goes on to say that he would love to teach a class that contrasted creationism/intelligent design and science in order to help students appreciate the difference. I wish he would!

The intersection of religion and science has become a political issue, pitting those who would ban these scientific findings in classrooms against those who see it as an issue of intellectual freedom and a violation of the separation of church and state. Creationists tend to see the issue as a denial of God, of the existence of power beyond human power and often call their adversaries “atheists” and “heretics”.

Charles Darwin himself had doubts about his faith, as he explored his findings and the conclusions they led to. He struggled with friends and family who tried to get him to set aside his work and cleave to a traditional faith. But he could not set aside his reasoning and his integrity in order to stay within the bounds of his culture and society.

Charles Darwin was one of us, a Unitarian from birth, though in later life he attended Anglican schools. Eventually he married Emma Wedgwood, a strong Unitarian herself, who accepted his ideas but feared that his radical beliefs might separate them in the afterlife. (I guess she wasn’t also a Universalist, or she would have known better!)

Though Darwin’s findings were revolutionary and controversial, they gradually found acceptance across the scientific community and even among liberal clergy in the Anglican tradition. Darwin had started out an orthodox believer, but after his voyage on The Beagle, where he collected much of his information and knowledge, he became an avowed agnostic and no longer attended any church.

He died a wellknown, if not completely well-accepted, scientist and philosopher. He was wrongfully associated with the proliferation of such ideas as Eugenics and Social Darwinism, theories which invoked ethical concerns about treatment of the poor and sickly. He himself did believe that females were less eminent than males because of sexual selection, but a woman named Antoinette Brown Blackwell, the first woman ordained to parish ministry in the United States, disputed that claim eloquently in her own writings.

In recent years, I’ve become more and more concerned about what I see as the creeping miasma of distrust of and resistance to science and its contributions to human life and understandings.

Perhaps it’s because of the conflicting claims of the pharmaceutical industry, or because research seems to issue confusing and contradictory reports about the effects of any number of health issues. Whatever it is, we have begun to look askance at the claims of science.

It’s probably a good thing to be critical of science, to investigate for ourselves the claims of research and to be aware of the many temptations scientists have, as they scramble for funding of their research and deal with the promises of money in exchange for certain findings, particularly as our economy is stretched tighter and tighter and research is often paid for by corporations, not unbiased regulatory agencies.

But it feels to me like a place where Unitarian Universalists can contribute to a greater understanding of the scientific process, the findings of science, the ethical issues involved, the intended and unintended consequences of each new finding. And it was for this reason that we started, this past fall, the Lyceum 2.0 series of dialogues between Whidbey Islanders and scientists from the University of Washington and other agencies.

It feels like a social action project of sorts, to offer to the community an opportunity to discuss with women and men who are deeply involved in their various scientific discipline, to ask them pointed questions about the ethics and consequences of their discoveries, and to dispel some of the suspicion which is so prevalent in society. I am so glad that many of you attend those lectures and actively participate in the conversation. (The next one is a week from Wednesday!)

But, returning to the evolution debate, I am convinced that the issue for the fundamentalist community is one of fear, fear of changing beliefs, fear that the consequences of that change will be a crisis of faith.

For after all, humankind’s understanding of the power beyond human power, which many call God, has changed radically as science has advanced our knowledge of the universe. Our little world was once considered to be the center of creation and we believed that the sun, moon, and stars revolved around it every day and night. We were the most important place in the universe and under God’s special care. As our knowledge of the sun, moon, and stars grew, we began to understand that we were only one of billions of planets and solar systems, our sun only one of millions of suns, our world a speck in the sky to somebody else.

Change is hard. Change is scary. And though I still wonder about my parents’ thoughts on that night in 1960, I am confident that, if there is any consciousness left to them after death, they have more understanding of it all than I do. I can only do my best to comprehend the mystery of creation and what it means in our world today. And I think that, if they were able to tell me anything today, they would tell me that they love me and trust me to do my best to understand and to serve the world with my understanding.

Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that Science and Reasoning are foundational to our religious life but that they are not deities to be worshipped. They are tools to use as we discover the meaning of life. May we be gentle with those who disagree with us and may we serve our world with compassion and strength. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Evolution Rocks: the song, by Overman

Tomorrow's sermon is a belated contribution to the Clergy Letter Project's Evolution Weekend, which others tended to observe on Feb. 14. At my church we do Valentines Day on Valentines Day weekend, so we postponed our Evolution service for a month.

This song will be the special music/aka "reading" for the service. Ken Merrell will sing and play it on his ukulele. Should be a smash! Listen to it here (I can't get the link to publish, sorry): http://www.overman.info/evolutionrocks.html

You'll get the sermon tomorrow. I kinda like it myself.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

iPhone, uPhone, we all phone for iPhone...

Lame, yes. But no lamer than my resistance to actually carrying around my new iPhone. I've been taking it slow, learning to do one thing or another, but never actually tucking the phone in my pocket or purse so that I could pull it out and use it for something.

The Favorite Son called the other day to talk----on the iPhone----and, of course, there was nobody home. On the iPhone, that is. He had to call the landline to find me. I was, of course, home by the landline. He was disappointed, to say the least, and so was I. Because I bought the thing so that I could do all the kool things he can do with his iPhone. And I'm not doing them. Yet.

There's a piece of me that just doesn't want to be available all the time. I'm a little nervous that, if I carry my phone around TURNED ON, I will be inundated with calls. I will be one of those folks walking through the grocery store talking on the phone, doing pastoral care over the broccoli, checking out the nutrient count of an unlabeled product via Google, or GPSing my way home from downtown Freeland. This is not a pretty picture.

I need the right kind of pockets to carry an iPhone; that's one of my excuses. Jeans pockets are too tight and shirt pockets too loose. I don't want it clipped to my belt or waistband like guys do. I'd be forever (this is assuming, of course, that people actually did call me a lot) pulling up my shirt to get at my belt or waistband, and, again, this is not a pretty picture. I have a friend who wears hers in a little pouch around her neck, festooned with keys and nestled among the credit cards and driver's license. This would be handy for many occasions, but I'm not too sure about the dangling aspects of phonewear.

I am enchanted, however, with the iPhone's capability. How very easy it is to phone the FS or text him or send him a picture of my new hair color (though he did not comment when we talked, which I attribute to the seriousness of the conversation we had). It's a snap to take a picture of myself or the cats or the snowfall.

There's a philosophical aspect to all this too. As I think about it, my sense of my life right now is as a rock in the middle of a stream, just observing the life around me, letting it flow, not needing to document it constantly. I am less concerned about UUA politics or even the urgent issues of injustice the world is experiencing right now; I don't mind about the UUA politics part, but I am trying to understand my present less-than-avid passion for collective bargaining or MidEast revolution or reproductive rights or the like. I still care and support the same liberal issues, but I have been letting others do the passion part. (One important exception: bglt civil rights will always be something I'm passionate about---I have too many bglt friends right here on my doorstep to let that slide.)

Uh oh, another blog post. As I said before, don't get used to it! I'm not preaching again till March 13, and at that time you will be faced with "Evolution Rocks".