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Labor Day Weekend Reading

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I’m seriously bored boring this Labor Day weekend.  Thank goodness there’s U.S. Open tennis on TV to keep me sorta halfway entertained.  If you need something to get you going, maybe one of these links will help.

  • A British cartographer thinks internet mapping is destroying history by leaving out local landmarks.  “We’re in real danger of losing what makes maps so unique,” she says.
  • One of the most stunning, exciting upsets of the Beijing Olympics was Matthew Mitcham’s win in platform diving.  In the last round, his nearly perfect dive allowed him to overtake China’s Zhou Luxin, who’d led from the very start of the finals.  Bafflingly, NBC—which spent an amazing amount of time discussing and detailing the friends and families of other divers—never mentioned that Mitcham, whose partner was in the stands, was one of the handful of openly gay men in the Games.  Later, NBC both defended and apologized for its decision.  (As always, Outsports is the place to look for news of interest to gay sports fans.)
  • In other news Olympic sports news, a United States archery coach faced criticism that his religious proselytizing crossed ethical boundaries.  In this NYT article, the coach, Kisik Lee, said archers needed an empty mind and that he wasn’t sure whether non-Christians could achieve that.  (None of the American archers earned medals in Beijing.)
  • The death of Dave Freeman, the man who wrote 100 Things to Do Before You Die, caused BBC News Magazine to ask why ‘before you die’ books are popular.  I own only one, 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die, but it’s just something I browse through once in awhile; it’s no life mission for me.  Are people really looking for life missions in checklist form?
  • In a fascinating Q&A in Salon, historian of religion James P. Carse, author of The Religious Case Against Belief, disputes the idea that the world’s great religions have any underlying unity at all.  Transcendence, for instance, is a Christian/Western notion, he says, one that’s difficult to find in Buddhism and not a real emphasis of Judaism.  Carse also argues that poets inspired religion.  I’m not entirely sure I fully understand Carse’s central thesis, but I’m putting The Religious Case into my to-be-read pile.

Written by Jimmy

August 30th, 2008 at 9:55 pm

Weekend Reading: The UU Edition (Part II)

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As promised, here are some of the Unitarian Universalist-flavored links that have held my interest lately:

  • In UU parlance, an “elevator speech” is the short spiel you give when someone asks you what it means to be a UU.  Mine—which, as always, needs a little polishing—emphasizes that we’re a non-creedal, purposefully diverse theological community that provides support for developing and living out our individual worldviews.  We’re allies, I say, who agree on the ground rules of mutual love and respect but not necessarily on religious substance.  We work together—in spite of and because of our religious differences.  Anyway, Matt Tittle, a UU minister in Houston who blogs for a site affiliated with the Houston Chronicle, recently devoted one of his posts to elevator speeches.  I enjoyed reading Rev. Tittle’s elevator speech as well as the various elevator speeches, from UUs and non-UUs alike, posted by commenters.
  • I grew up in northeastern Oklahoma, and the nearest UU church was well over an hour away.  Maybe that’s why I was particularly interested in this UU World article on how some established UU churches are establishing off-site locations.  These branch locations enable the geographically isolated to attend church, frequently with a recent sermon captured on DVD at the main site, without the worries of maintaining separate finances and bookkeeping.  For instance, First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, New Mexico, now has two branch locations, one 70 miles away in Socorro and another 30 miles away in Edgewood.  What a good idea!  I hope this catches on in other sparsely populated places.
  • Meadville Lombard Theological School, one of the two U.S. seminaries affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association, maintains The Journal of Liberal Religion.  If you’re looking for more theologically “scholarly” treatment of UU topics, you’ll definitely want to check it out.  The current issue, for instance, contains two articles addressed to the New Atheism of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.  Unfortunately, I can’t really recommend either article to you.  (One of them, Jason Giannetti’s critique of Dawkins, struck me as particularly flawed—as more of an angry legal brief against Dawkins’s atheism than anything else.)  I can recommend a third article, Kennan J. Pomeroy’s “Going Beyond God, and Discovering a Religion,” but be forewarned that I’m particularly sympathetic to his goal of sketching out an atheistic approach to being religious.  I also enjoyed, but did not entirely agree with, Marlin Lavanhar’s piece about UU uses and misuses of the Seven Principles and Six Sources of UUism.  (If I can find the time, I may have more to say on Lavanhar’s essay.)  Regardless, when there’s a new issue of JLR, it gets my attention.
  • Since a couple of the JLR articles didn’t treat the New Atheism with the respect it deserves, let me attempt to balance things out a little bit by linking to The Eloquent Atheist, a delightfully quirky site that explores the “positive aspects of Atheism and Humanism through various types of the written arts.”  Some of my favorite recent pieces: “Five Poems” (including an argument for theism, monotheism, polytheism, dystheism, and atheism) by Benjamin Nardolilli; “Truth in Free Will Advertising,” short fiction by Jan Steckel; “Prodigal,” a poem by co-editor Marilyn Westfall; and “Missionary Impossible,” a UU letter carrier’s account of his encounter with a proselytizing patron.  It’s good stuff, and I have to remember to keep up more often with The Eloquent Atheist.
  • Finally, there are so, so, so many good UU-oriented blogs out there right now.  We’re a blogging people!  A couple of UU blogs—Philocrites and The Chaliceblog—are already in my blogroll.  But if you’re interested in UUism, there are many others to explore.  Two good ways to find UU blogs are by visiting UUpdates and Discover UU, two (rather different) aggregators.  After a long day at work, I really enjoy sitting down at my computer and seeing what’s on everyone else’s mind.

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P.S. The chalice-graphic I used here was designed by George Milburn for the UU Church of Sarasota, Florida.

Written by Jimmy

August 3rd, 2008 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Links,Religion

Weekend Reading: The UU Edition (Part I)

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Given yesterday’s post about the tragedy in Knoxville, I’m going to devote this weekend’s collection of links to the topic of Unitarian Universalism.  We’re not evangelizers, but it just seems appropriate to provide a little information about UUism to anyone who happens to stumble onto my post about Knoxville.  This set of links is general and introductory.  Since I already have several other good links in my queue, I’ll separately post a few links that might be of interest to persons who are already UU-conversant.

  • If you know little or nothing about UUism, one good place to start would be the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Visitors page, which explains that ours is a non-creedal, purposefully diverse religion.  While you’re there, you’ll want to check out the Seven Principles that our congregations affirm and promote: It makes me proud that the first principle is the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.”  (Congregations have begun a reevaluation of the Seven Principles, but I don’t expect them to change much.  Let’s not mess the Seven Principles up, everybody!)  You can also check out the Six Sources from which UUs draw.
  • Several faith traditions are well-represented in UUism.  There are UU Christians, UU Pagans, UU Humanists, UU Buddhists, UU Jews, UU Atheists, and on and on.  You may have seen me describe myself as a non-theistic UU Humanist who’s been influenced particularly by secular Buddhism and liberal Christianity.  That’s the kind of mix you’ll find in UUs.  Anyway, the UUA’s Visitors Section has interesting essays on several of the faith traditions.  Just check the link in this bulleted section.
  • The Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua, New Hampshire, offers on its website a book called 100 Questions That Non-Members Ask About Unitarian Universalism by John Sias.  Perhaps I should’ve quoted one particular Q&A in yesterday’s post:

    Q: How do you explain that bad things happen?

    A: We have no religion-based explanation of life’s tragedies, horrors and heartbreaks.  Life can be senselessly lost, diminished and demeaned in many ways but most UUs do not attribute these losses to the will of God.  Instead, most UUs agree we live in an indifferent universe.  Rather than try to explain life’s inexplicable tragedies, we try to help people when such tragedies strike, and do all we can to restore them to hope again.

  • Other good introductions to UUism include The Unitarian Universalist Pocket Guide, ed. by William Sinkford, and A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism, by John A. Buehrens and Forrest Church, two of UUism’s most prominent ministers.  When you read about UUism, keep in mind that UUs probably do not agree about everything that a particular author says.  A few pages in one of Buehrens’s chapters in A Chosen Faith, for instance, gave me real pause as a Humanist.  I did more reading, though, and came to the conclusion that my own views were squarely within the UU mainstream, whatever that is.
  • If you’re interested in learning more about UUism, find a congregation.  Or if you live in a place without a UU congregation, check out the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which serves the needs of UUs who are isolated by geography or circumstance.

Written by Jimmy

August 3rd, 2008 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Links,Religion