Monthly Archives: July 2008

Priestess, Pastor, Pope, Preacher, Prophet?

Last weekend I performed my fifth wedding ceremony as a minister of the Universal Life Church. I love doing these ceremonies: it’s a blending of some of my best skills: public speaker, workshop leader, Unitarian worship leader. It’s also in my genes.

My dad was a Justice of the Peace in Connecticut – and his all-time favorite task was performing weddings. My mom, my sisters and I were often called in to be witnesses because he often did the service at our house. When he died in 1994, the headline on the front page of the local paper said, “Fred Kimball dies: famed for 700 marriages.”  This would have totally cracked him up. (He and my mom were married 56 years.)

So far I’ve done a pagan handfasting ceremony, a “surprise” wedding where the guests didn’t realize what was about to happen, a wedding on a boat, and a couple of non-denominational ones. I’ve also officiated at a memorial service… whew.

I’ve been ordained by ULC since 1992 (it’s free online) but just realized I could go so much further… for a contribution of just $10.95 I can choose a reverential honorific from the following list at the ULC headquarters:

Abbe, Reverend of Rock ‘n Roll, Abbess, Abbot, Ananda, Angel, Apostle of Humility, Apostolic Scribe, Arch Deacon, Arch Priest, Archbishop, Arch cardinal, Ascetic Gnostic, Bible Historian, Bishop, Brahman, Brother, Canon, Cantor, Cardinal, Channel, Chaplain, Colonel, Cure, Deacon, Dervish, Directress, Disciple, Druid, Elder, Faith Healer, Evangelist, Emissary, Father, Field Missionary, Flying Missionary, Free Thinker, Friar, Goddess, Guru, Hadji, Healing Minister, High Priest, High Priestess, Imam, Lama, Lay Sister, Magus, Martyr, Messenger, Metropolitan, Minister of Music, Minister of Peace, Missionary, Missionary Doctor, Missionary Healer, Missionary of Music, Missionary Priest, Monk, Monsignor, Most Reverend, Mystical Philosopher, Orthodox Monk, Parochial Educator, Pastor General, Patriarch, Peace Counselor, Preacher, Preceptor, Priest, Priestess, Prophet, Rector, Rabbi, Religious Preacher, Revelator, Reverend, Reverend Father, Reverend Mother, Right Reverend, Saintly Healer, Scribe, Seer, Shaman, Soul Therapist, Sister, Spiritual Counselor, Spiritual Warrior, Starets, Swami, Teller, Thanatologist, The Very Esteemed, Universal Rabbi, Universal Religious Philosopher, Vicar, Universal Philosopher of Absolute Reality, Wizard, Gothi, Gythia, Psychic Healer, Minister of Rock ‘n Roll, Rock ‘n Roll Missionary, Rock Doctor (R.D), Rock ‘n Roll Minister, Child of the Universe, Prince, Spiritual Healer, Saint, Pope

I especially like Saint Joy, but my friends and family would cough, sputter, choke and gasp if I tried it.

Patches, poverty and pesticides

Every time my son comes home for a visit he brings his jeans with him. Or what’s left of his jeans. At this point they’re literally threadbare.  Except for the places they’ve been patched; those are holding up nicely. Pretty soon he’ll have more patch than original denim.

These were jeans that cost $100+ when new, a figure I find appalling.  When you’re a 24 year old who lives in L.A. it’s all about the brand – I doubt they’re as sturdy as Levis at half the price. The holes are air-conditioning?

If he had more money he’d toss the lot of them and start fresh, but he’s broke and I have a sewing machine, so he’s adding one more layer of patches.

America has been living on borrowed clothing for a long time.From a 5/29/08  article in the NY Times:

As consumers adjust to soaring prices for gasoline, food, education and medical care, just about the only thing that seems a bargain today is clothes — mainstream clothes, anyway.

Clothing is one of the few categories in the federal Consumer Price Index in which overall prices have declined — about 10 percent — since 1998 (the cost of communication is another). That news may be of solace to anyone whose budget has been stretched just to drive to work or to stop at the supermarket; in fashion, at least, there are still deals to be had…

Over all, apparel prices have gone down primarily because of two factors: the overwhelming movement of manufacturing to countries with cheaper labor, where the clothes are made, and increased competition between traditional retailers and discounters, where the clothes are sold.

But how low can we go?…

The divergence of price extremes has become so striking that some fashion executives are openly asking whether prices have reached both their nadir and apex at the same moment. “As far as bottom costs go, we’re there,” Mr. Konheim said. “I think we’ve exploited all the countries on earth for people who really want to work for nothing.”

All denim is produced in the US then sent abroad to be sewn. But cotton growing is problematic itself. From an Alternet article “Dress for Excess”:

The United States produces 8.5 billion pounds of cotton fiber each year, but that fills less than a third of the nation’s always expanding demand for textiles. Fully 25 percent of the world’s cotton crop, in the form of lint, thread, fabric or finished products, ends up in the United States or Canada. Cotton is grown on less than 2 percent of farmland but accounts for one of every four pounds of pesticides sprayed. Currently in the global south, estimates suggest that half of total pesticide use is on cotton.

Parenting problem: parceling out a 25-year old

My ex and I have been living separately for more than six years, since our youngest went off to college. Most of that time the ex has had a girlfriend (several different ones, actually) so when this son came home for a visit he stayed with me and the ex would come by to see him when it suited his schedule.

Now the ex is girlfriendless and lonely.

The son, almost 25, has been working in LA since college (personal assistant in the film industry AKA “dogsbody”), but is ready to re-assess his life plan. He wants to move home for a few months of earning money rent-free with the goal of doing some foreign volunteer/travel as a way of gaining perspective.

Suddenly the ex wants to know if I intend to hog his company, or if he gets equal time.  Crap!!! Our son is a grown man and his dad is ready for some kind of custody battle.

I’m not playing.  Our son is no dummy. I don’t think he’ll play either. He can choose. And maybe he’ll decide that coming home was a bad idea after all..

Our two older children each did a 6-month boomerang stay with us after graduation but at that time the family was intact.  They turned out ok and our time together did too, but the first month or two were uncomfortable.

The “custody” issue is unique, but the boomerang issue is not: about 18 million young adults ages 18 to 34 now live back at home. Someone has even written a book about it: Boomerang Nation: How to Survive Living With Your Parents the Second Time Around by Elina Furman.

One advice column suggests creating a contract with the kid:

Writing this down in a “contract” that you all sign is a great way to make sure you’re working from the same page. You don’t need a formal document; create your own by using the following points as a guide:

  1. Jim will move back into his old room beginning June 1 and will have saved enough money to move out by _____(date).
  2. He will pay $100 a month for his room and $100 a month for food, beginning with his second monthly paycheck.
  3. He will be responsible for buying and caring for his own clothing, doing his own laundry and purchasing items for personal use.
  4. He agrees to wash the car every Saturday.
  5. He will alternate cooking and grocery shopping with Mom.
  6. He will contribute half the cost of cable TV.
  7. He may play music and watch TV in his room, but agrees to keep the volume low after midnight.

Randy Pausch: Positive person, Unitarian Universalist – RIP

I think Unitarian Universalism offers the thinking caring person a wonderful spiritual home. But we are not evangelical (to our detriment…there are way too few of us) so I’m always happy to learn that some well-known person I deeply respect turns out to be a UU.

Unfortunately, in the case of folks like Christopher Reeve and Randy Pausch, they leave us too early. But at least they leave us with important lessons. Randy’s Last Lecture has been an internet phenomenon.  His message is typical UU: make the most of your time on earth, do good, love each other, follow your dreams. It’s about the here and now, not the hereafter.

Here’s the obituary from the denomination’s website, which includes an interview they did with him last month.

In Memoriam: Randy Pausch, Unitarian Universalist,
Author of “The Last Lecture”

Randy Pausch, Computer Science Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, died on July 25 after a two-year struggle with pancreatic cancer. A Unitarian Universalist who first came to this faith as a member of the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), Pausch was 47 years old.

Celebrated in his field for co-founding the pioneering Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center and for creating the innovative educational software tool known as “Alice,” Pausch earned his greatest worldwide fame for his inspirational The Last Lecture which was subsequently published by Hyperion Books. Pausch was interviewed by this past June. The Last Lecture has been a huge bestseller, and you have subsequently received much public attention from Oprah Winfrey, ABC-TV, and more. You once said in an interview that you wrote this book to deliver a “message in a bottle” to your children. Surely you never imagined such publicity as you’ve received…how did all this happen?

Pausch: What’s happened is way beyond my imagination. It’s sort of a classic “viral internet” event; some of my colleagues could not be at the talk [given at Carnegie Mellon University] and asked if we would make the video available online. Jeff Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal wrote a column on it, and then it just took off. The thing that I find most gratifying is that people are telling me both the lecture and the book are helping them communicate with their own kids. What is your religious background, and what is it about being a Unitarian Universalist that attracted you to this faith?

Pausch: I was raised Presbyterian and attended church regularly until I was about 17. I like the fact that [Unitarian Universalism] appeals to reason and thought more than dogma. How important has faith been in your life? And what role did your congregation in Pittsburgh play as you have moved through your illness?

Pausch: That’s a hard question to answer; [but] I would say that the community of people who share our faith has been extremely important recently. The [Pittsburgh] congregation was very supportive; people brought meals, helped with our kids, and helped keep our spirits up. One member of the congregation has been just unbelievable: M.R. Kelsey has spent so much time with me when I’ve been sick, even after our move to Virginia. You spent a bit of time being an “Imagineer” with the Disney organization. Disney’s slogan, you note, is, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” You seem like a very positive person…living that slogan. What might be possible for you at this time in your life, and what is it that you imagine?

Pausch: Well, I’m not opposed to miracles, so I still dream of some scenario where my disease is cured or goes away…. But I’m enough of a realist to know that’s very, very unlikely. So at this time in my life, what’s possible is spending as much time as possible with my family and minimizing my physical pain as we go through the endgame. What are the things that bring you the most joy?

Pausch: Oh, my wife and children, without a doubt. All three of our kids are so young that each day they can do something they didn’t do yesterday, which is just so wonderful to be a part of. You write, “No matter how bad things are, you can always make things worse. At the same time, it is often within your power to make them better.” What is it—at this point in the journey—that gives you hope?

Pausch: Well, I see so much goodness in so many people, and that has really been intensified by this experience. If you could influence such a thing, what would you want your legacy to be?

Pausch: That I was a good husband and father, and that I tried to live my life the best I could, and that I was able to help other people along the way.

Randy Pausch is survived by his wife, Jai, and their three children, Dylan, Logan and Chloe. Also surviving are his mother, Virginia Pausch of Columbia, Maryland, and a sister, Tamara Mason of Lynchburg, Virginia. The family plans a private burial in Virginia, where they relocated last fall. A memorial service on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University is also being planned, with details to be announced at a later date.

Donations in Pausch’s memory may be directed to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 2141 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 7000, El Segundo, CA 90245, or to Carnegie Mellon’s Randy Pausch Memorial Fund, which primarily supports the university’s continued work on the Alice project.

Profundity in poetry

Profundity: depth of intellect, feeling or meaning.

Instead of a sermon this morning, folks were asked to share a short reading that inspired them, if they wished. As Unitarian Universalists we believe wisdom is not confined to a few “sacred scriptures” but can be found in many places.  Our congregation has a decidedly Buddhist leaning, so this poem tickled all of us:

Bugs in a Bowl by David Budbill, from Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse

Han Shan, that great and crazy, wonder-filled Chinese poet of a thousand years ago, said:
We’re just like bugs in a bowl. All day going around never leaving their bowl.

I say, That’s right! Every day climbing up
the steep sides, sliding back.

Over and over again. Around and around.
Up and back down.

Sit in the bottom of the bowl, head in your hands,
cry, moan, feel sorry for yourself.

Or. Look around. See your fellow bugs.

Walk around.
Say, “Hey, how you doin’?”
Say, “Nice bowl!”

My offering (even though I do not fish) was a song I love by Nashville songwriter and motivational speaker Tim Bays:

The Important Part of Fishin’ (follow the link to hear the swing of it!)

The important part of fishin’ ain’t the fish but the fishin’
The important part of lovin’ is to love
The important part of doin’ most anything you’re doin’
Is doin’ it with all of your heart.

‘Cause if the fish don’t bite
You still got the water and the trees and the sky up above
And if your lover’s not with you
Don’t be sad that you miss him
Be glad your little boat is still afloat.

The important part of fishin’ ain’t the fish but the fishin’
The important part of lovin’ is to love
The important part of doin’ most anything you’re doin’
Is doin’ it with all of your heart.

‘Cause if the fish don’t bite
You get some time for thinking and your life is what you’re thinking about
And if your lover’s not with you
You get more time for fishin’
It’s amazing how it all works out.

The important part of fishin’ ain’t the fish but the fishin’
The important part of lovin’ is to love
The important part of doin’ most anything you’re doin’
Is doin’ it with all of your heart.

Do it now with all of your heart,
Do it now with all of your heart.

Positively presidential: Obama in Berlin

Some amazing photos were posted yesterday and today on DailyKos regarding Obama’s visit to Berlin. Al Rodgers collected some truly wonderful ones:

My favorite post on the subject was by blogger MLDB who has two pre-schoolers. After dinner last night they were playing in the other room and things were quiet enough the parents asked what was going on. “Obama is speaking,” said one. The other said “Help get the stadium filled.” On investigation, this is what was going on:

Plastics pandemic

From “The Graduate” 1967.  Mr. McGuire’s career advice to the young Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman):

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Just how do you mean that, sir?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
Ben: Yes I will.
Mr. McGuire: Shh! Enough said. That’s a deal.

Oh how right Mr. McGuire was.  From various websites I’ve culled a few of the dozens of terrifying facts about our love affair with plastic.

When I was in Vietnam and Cambodia this spring I saw what happens when everybody uses plastic and plastic waste management is virtually non-existent.  This photo is from the Phillippines, but I saw the same thing in Cambodia:

Plastic Bags

Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.

Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food web when animals accidentally ingest.

Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up harvesting bags and using them to weave hats, and even bags. According to the BBC, one group harvests 30,000 per month.

Plastic water bottles

Americans bought 8.3 billion gallons of bottled water in 2006.

Producing PET bottles uses more than 17 million barrels of oil and produces over 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.  For each gallon of water that goes into a PET bottle, two gallons of water are used to make the plastic bottles and purify the water . 462 million gallons of oil are needed each year to transport water bottles from the factory to the point of sale.

Plastic residues

In the North Pacific, an enormous gyre (slowly circulating spiral of water) is now known as the “Eastern Garbage Patch. The currents here tend to force any floating material into the low energy central area of the gyre where it stays in the gyre, in astounding quantities estimated at six kilos of plastic for every kilo of naturally occurring plankton.  This tower of trash covers an area the size of Texas. This is only one of several gigantic gyres in the world’s oceans.

Larger plastic items are consumed by seabirds and other animals which mistake them for prey. Many seabirds and their chicks have been found dead, their stomachs filled with medium sized plastic items such as bottle tops, lighters and balloons. It has been estimated that over a million sea-birds and one hundred thousand marine mammals and sea turtles are killed each year by ingestion of plastics or entanglement.

This poor albatross must have had a horrible stomach ache before he died.

Dutch scientists have counted around 110 pieces of litter for every square kilometre of the seabed, a staggering 600,000 tons in the North Sea alone. These plastics can smother the sea bottom and kill the marine life which is found there.

For more information see Green Sangha – Lots and lots of good stuff, including a Powerpoint presentation  you can use to spread the word.

Also see Reusable Bags

Best of Life magazine on the ocean gyres.

And this video on the Garbage Patch:

I’ve been using cloth bags when I shop for a long time. Now I’m washing and re-using the plastic baggies that I seem to accumulate regardless.  Your ideas welcome.

Postprandial plunge: to nap or not to nap?

Postprandial: following a meal

Plunge: to descend precipitously

Perhaps I exaggerate – but plunge was the only p-word that comes close to what happens to me after lunch most days… (and after as little as one glass of wine w. dinner) – I want to get horizontal and shut my eyes.

Supposedly it has something to do with blood sugar levels, but it doesn’t seem to matter whether I eat a low or high carb meal; I just get sleepy.

And then I resist it.  I sit at my computer trying to write, trying to compute, trying to think through a problem — gaining no traction but refusing to succumb.  If I get up and tackle a physical chore I can sometimes barrel through it, but at a detriment to my effectiveness.

Half an hour after a nap it’s as if I rebooted my whole system, and all the resource-hogging resident programs in my brain have cleared out.  My question to myself is this: why don’t I just go with the flow and make room in my schedule for a daily nap?

Napping is a high art in some cultures; there’s no shame attached to it. It’s probably good for your health, as a recent study from Greece indicates.   From that story in the NY Times:

Now, out of Greece, comes permission to do exactly that. A study of more than 23,000 adults shows that those who napped for about 30 minutes each week had a 37 percent lower risk of dying from a heart attack than those who did not.

So this should mean that all working Americans will receive permission from their bosses to close their eyes every afternoon at about 4 p.m., right?

Don’t bet your blankie on it.

This is hardly the first study showing that sleep is more than simply time when we really should be at work. Other studies, though few as extensive as the Greek research, show that short periods of sleep during the day increase productivity and creativity while reducing stress. And even without surveys, we know this from experience.

When you need a nap, you need a nap. Nothing — not caffeine, not a chocolate bar, not a pill — recharges the battery in the same way.

I welcome you to join me…

Precipice postponed: procrastination #3

Precipice: the edge of an extremely dangerous situation; a cliff with a steep dropoff

Postpone: to delay until a future time, put off

I can breathe again. I made my maiden Powerpoint voyage and managed to stay afloat for the duration of the presentation.  Obviously I should have done another run-thru on a wall more than 2 feet wide, because if I had, I’d have noticed that the right-hand 25% of each slide was truncated… for reasons I don’t yet know.

I talked to the screen rather than the audience more than I should have, and I had some issues with the remote control…   Fortunately, I know my feng shui material well enough that I could talk my way through the glitches, and my Toastmasters club is very supportive of anyone trying something challenging.

As I said earlier, I put off preparing this presentation until the last possible moment…  I usually love putting together presentations, but this one filled me with the desire to change my sheets, reorganize my file drawer, clean the toilets…. ANYTHING else.  And all this when I absolutely LUSTED for the projector which would enable me to do illustrated presentations.

According to the study center at Cal Poly there are four reasons we procrastinate:

1. Difficult – the task seems hard to do; we naturally tend to avoid difficult things in favor of those which seem easy to us. [this would explain my desire to clean toilets]

2. Time-consuming – the task will take large blocks of time, and large blocks of time are unavailable until the weekend. [especially if you have no idea how you’re going to structure the talk to take advantage of a new medium]

3. Lack of knowledge or skills – no one wants to make mistakes, so wait until you learn how before you start. [I’ve heard so many horror stories about AV equipment failures that I was scared even to try the projector!]

4. Fears – everyone will know how you screwed up. [This didn’t bother me for the Toastmasters talk, but I am preparing for a much lengthier illustrated talk for paying customers next week and screw-ups aren’t really cool.]

Cal Poly suggests the following steps to cure yourself:

  1. Realize you are delaying something unnecessarily. (Duh… but maybe it’s the “unnecessarily” we need to come to grips with. You have to realize this before days and weeks have passed – like as soon as you feel that twinge of uneasiness.)
  2. Discover the real reasons for your delay. List them.
  3. Dispute those real reasons and overcome them. Be vigorous.
  4. Begin the task.

I do think the secret is just to start anywhere.  Set a timer and commit to working at it for 15 minutes.  Wait awhile and do it again.  This is the swiss cheese approach. Once you’ve eaten a few holes in the project it suddenly seems like no big deal, and you’re halfway there.

What’s your formula?

Procrastination #2: the Powerpoint Presentation

Procrastination: putting off intentionally something that should be done,
from the Latin, pro (forward) and crastinus (of tomorrow)

I am giving a talk tonight at Toastmasters, a dry run if you will, of a much longer presentation on feng shui I’m doing next week.  I can talk on this topic, no problem. I know my stuff.

So why oh why have I put off preparations until just last night (not that I’ve not been thinking about it, obsessing, even)?  It’s because I’ll be working with my new projector and Powerpoint for the first time.

I am actually an accomplished geek so I’ve been surprised at my reluctance to put this presentation together.  I figured out the PPt stuff easily – made a bunch of attractive simple slides last night.

What has held me back is fear of new territory – simultaneous talking and technology.  I’m one of those people who has to turn off the car radio when navigating unfamiliar roads – I may even be someone who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.  But since I don’t chew gum, I haven’t tested this possibility.

I am writing this post when I should be loading the presentation onto my laptop, hooking up the projector and seeing what happens….  structured procrastination, as Ken Perry would say.