Showing posts with label Pipher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pipher. Show all posts

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Green Boat by Mary Pipher

God calls us to be faithful. Whether we are successful or not is in God's hands.

Mary Pipher has written another wonderful book when she wrote, The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves In Our Capsized Culture. While she has her Bachelor's degree in anthropology and her Ph.D in psychology, she has the mind and sensitivity of a poet and a humanist. She writes in her last chapter, "Former Czech president Vaclav Havel wrote of a moment when societies come their senses and decide to live 'outside the lie.'" p. 215. Certainly the United States has not yet arrived at that moment to 'live outside the lie' with its commitment and foundation planted squarely on the ground of predatory capitalism which has bought the three branches of our government lock stock and barrel with the United States Supreme Court ruling that money is speech allowing billionaires and corporations to buy their representatives in our congress, senate,  Presidency, Governorships and state houses.

And yet, Pipher writes a few paragraphs later, "More and more of us are grasping that we are all connected and part of one living organism, our biosphere. p.216

She writes on the next page, "Nobody knows what will happen to the planet, but we do know what makes humans stronger, healthier, and more resilient. That is facing the truth, dealing with it emotionally, and transforming it. Regardless of the results of our work, when we are doing our best, we feel happier and less alone. With the right attitude, we can withstand any storm." p.217 This seems to be a matter of faith, a faith of Pipher's. Not everyone would share it. Will humans ever get "the right attitude?" And if they don't, they won't be able to "withstand any storm." Hundreds of people didn't in New Orleans with Katrina or on Staten Island and in New York City with Hurricane Sandy, and with the other droughts and floods and the rising of the Atlantic Ocean faster than predicted on the upper east coast of the United States we shall see how well we "withstand" these environmental and planetary changes. I, and I assume you who are reading this, hope that Pipher is right as well that we will be resilient enough to not only to withstand it but learn from it and correct our dysfunctional beliefs and practices.

There are two more quotes I would like to share with you that Pipher writes at the end of her book. First, she writes:

"Happiness and sustainability depend on everyone healing everyone else. As we repair our relationships with the web of life, the web of life will repair us. Healing the earth is not a liberal or a conservative idea - it is a form of prayer." pp.217-218. It has been the prayer of Unitarian Universalists since 1985 when the seven principles were revised and adopted at that year's UUA general convention including the seventh principle, a "respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."

Second, Pipher writes in her last paragraph of the book, "Most of us take care of what we love and we grow to love what we take care of. Every place has the potential to be beautiful and filled with love - in other words, sacred." p. 219

And so, The Green Boat by Mary Pipher ends. It is a wonderful book describing depression, fear, frustration, discouragement, impending doom which ends with hope, faith, and love for ourselves and future generations and all living things on earth. While Mary describes herself as the "world's worst Buddhist" she, as I suggested earlier, should be nominated for an award as a Unitarian Universalist luminary as her work exemplifies the UU values.

The moral of the story is that we need not be depressed as long as we work in loving, joyful, fun ways with others to create a better world. Like Mother Teresa, Dr. Pipher seems to advise that we not worry so much about success, the results of our efforts, because we can easily become discouraged being thwarted and beaten by opposing forces with more money and resources and power, but we should take comfort and satisfaction and fulfillment in doing our best with grace, courage, persistence and love. As Mother Teresa said, "God calls us to be faithful, not to be successful." Whether we are successful or not is in God's hands. Our faith inspires us to answer the call. If Pipher and other like minded people in Nebraska can join together, forge new relationships and work together to protect the earth, we can too.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Have we become co-creators with God of the universe?

In Chapter Twelve of The Green Boat, her last chapter, Mary Pipher discusses hope as an ingredient in a life well lived.

"I have learned that reviving the planet and reviving ourselves are not opposed, but rather deeply congruent behaviors. Fixing inner and outer space are the same process. We can't heal ourselves without healing our environments, and we can't be mentally healthy when the green boat is sinking and we are pretending that trauma isn't happening. As the Great Acceleration occurs, unless we are part of the Great Turning, we will drown in global storms." p. 214

Pipher writes a little further:

"We are tumbling though time like shells on  a breaking wave. On what shore will we land, we don't know. We cannot go backward in time; we can only go forward." p. 215

"I try  not to be too caught up in my fluctuating emotions and I especially don't predict the future. I know it will not be like the past. To quote John Gorka, 'Our old future is gone.'" p. 215

For sure, life will continue to evolve. That we know. As conscious beings we are at a point in our evolutionary trajectory where we humans have the power to influence this evolutionary process not only on planet earth but in our solar system and a little bit beyond with the probes we have sent into deep space beyond our solar system.

And what meaning can we make of this evolutionary phenomenon where we humans can collaborate with God, the Life Force, to influence not only our own destiny but the destiny of other living things? The sixth principle of Unitarian Universalism is that we covenant to affirm and promote the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Nice sentiment, but perhaps too pedestrian. We need to enlarge our vision to include at least the solar system, and probably the universe as long as we advocate with humility and not with hubris. And it is not just a world community that we should be seeking peace, liberty, and justice for but the evolutionary future of our planet and solar system. As Pipher quotes John Gorka, "Our old future is gone."

As the Great Acceleration is teaching us during the Great Turning humans have become aware that they are co-creators with God as they influence their own evolution. This can inspire great hope, but also requires tremendous responsibilities and it is easy to despair whether we will be able to overcome our greed, our egotistical power trips, our denial to join with the creative force in not only respecting, but protecting and advocating for the health of the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.

It is a great time in history to be a Unitarian Universalist because our faith provides us with the tools to move with hope into the future and to take on the tasks that God is calling us to assume. We can either despair as we consider our possible future or we can choose hope. This hope is not blind or false hope, but based on UUs seven principles, it is hope based on positive, constructive values which will guide us to a satisfying and fulfilling future life for ourselves and the diverse life forms on our planet.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fighting for the environment: resilience in the face of defeat

In Chapter eleven of The Green Boat by Mary Pipher she describes the setbacks and defeats as she and her Transcanada Keystone XL pipeline coalition try to block its construction across her beloved state of Nebraska. It appears that the Nebraska legislature and Governor have been bought out by the lobbyists for Transcanada.

It is a familiar story these days to anyone who follows what has happened to the corruption of our legislative processes at county, state, and the federal levels as "lobbyists" have put our legislators into office to do their bidding and in many cases actually write the legislation which their legislative flunkies are expected to pass. The voters, the citizens, the people the legislators and Governors and President have sworn to serve and whose interests they have sworn to represent are so marginalized and disenfranchised from the actual legislative process that democracy in the twenty first century has become a joke because it is a travesty of justice and equity and this way of doing business has brought great shame to our country, its government, and the future of our country and planet.

How is a sane person to operate on such an uneven playing field in advocating and achieving the best policies that serve all the people not just vested interests?

Pipher asks the members of the coalition, "I'd like to ask everyone how they keep going and caring in the face of continual defeat?" p.206. Pipher then gives snippets of the answers for the various members who say multiple things like I do it for my kids's future. I do it because they expect me to give up and I don't want to give them the satisfaction. I do it because I've always been an activist and it's part of my identity. I do it simply because I like the work and the people I'm working with. I do it to be true to myself and my deepest values and beliefs. I do it because even though it looks like we will be defeated I have great faith that if we are patient and persistrent, we will win. I do it because I am a nurse and I see the earth as my patient and I want to keep her healthy. I do it because I like the people and the food we share when we get together and its more fun being with you folks than watching TV or going bowling. I like the process because I develop satisfying and fulfilling relationships with other people and whether we are successful or not I can't control, but I can still enjoy the relationships I have made with some great people.

Pipher ends her chapter with a couple of great lines which are well worth repeating and sharing.

"Yet, almost all truly great causes, world peace, the abolition of slavery, the eradication of hunger offer no quick victories." p. 212. I would add women's suffrage. Susan B. Anthony and her contemporaries never saw it in their lifetime after a lifetime of advocacy, but it did come in 1920 finally after Susan's body was rotting in its grave, but her spirit, dedication, values, beliefs are still alive and well and now days her's and the other early suffragettes victory is taken for granted as "normal" by contemporary females.

The second great line at the end of the chapter is, "My aunt Grace often said, 'I get what I want because I know what to want.'"

Unitarian Universalists covenanting together to affirm and support their seven principles know what to want and their seventh principle calling for "respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part" is a value that serves not only UUs very well, but all of humanity and all other living things.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What drives evolution?

Mary Pipher, in the ninth chapter of her book, The Green Boat, goes deep when she writes on page 188, “One of the most healing practices in terms of coping with the Great Acceleration is to connect with deep time, which I define as the time since the world began to the time when the world will end.” The Jesuit paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin, describes this evolutionary trajectory as “from alpha to omega” the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.

When we as Unitarian Universalists reflect on our seventh principle, “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we a part” we might well consider not only breadth of that web in all its rich diversity, but also its depth, how it has historically developed and evolved, and also its future complexity which we cannot even begin to comprehend or understand except in science fiction and reading the speculations of our scientists as they try to understand and predict the evolutionary patterns that could develop and emerge.

Pipher writes a little further into the text:
“Recently, my friend Jeremy and I were weeding my garden, and he asked me what I thought drove evolution. I realized as I pondered this question that even though I had a degree in anthropology, I had never seriously considered it before. Obviously I could explain the scientific facts of evolution, but Jeremy was asking me why evolution occurred. He might as well have asked what motivates God.” p.189

Pipher, as she ponders Jeremy’s question, has to admit that she doesn’t know the answer, has no clue, but does say that the answer lies in the arena of what she calls “moral imagination.” She goes on to write that as far as her moral imagination goes, “I think the goal of all living beings is to fully realize their incipient gifts and to grow into more complete, differentiated, and integrated beings.” p. 189 Okay, well, that answer is as good as any I would guess and probably better than most. I would say that the purpose of Life is for all living things to actualize their potential, and could that potential involve mutation into something else which then has a new potential? That seems to be how evolution and natural selection works in its most basic formulation.

When we consider all this, the breadth of Life, and the depth of Life, we are usually awestruck by its wondrous magnitude and our seemingly small insignificance in the whole big picture. Pipher writes, god bless her, “One of the wonderful benefits of realizing one’s smallness in the context of an immeasurable universe is that, contrary to logic, this experience does not make people feel powerless and insignificant. Rather, it allows us to feel safe, connected, and comforted.” p190
Laying on your back in a grassy place and looking up at the cloudless night sky with all the stars, planets, and maybe moon is enough to provide a transcendent sense of bliss and wonder until the moisture vapor from a jet plane at 35,000 feet jars you out of the appreciation of the majesty of the heavens.

And yet, even in our modern space age, most of us are not so easily jaded that we still don’t have some small smidgen of wonder, and awe, and reverence, and mystery with our incarnated consciousness in this weary, pedestrian, mercenary hell which we humans have created in this entire splendor. As Unitarian Universalists who covenant together to affirm and promote our seven divine and inspired principles, we more than any other people on this planet Earth, should appreciate and be grateful for the experience of what we have here and stay vigilant and diligent in not only respecting it, but protecting it, and cooperating with the Spirit of Life in its continued evolution and development.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Can we enlarge our moral imaginations to include all living things in our circle of caring?

Chapter 10 in The Green Boat by Mary Pipher is entitled, “The Vast Sea Around Us: Interconnection, Deep Time, and Bliss.” She opens her chapter with this paragraph:

“Our species is consuming, contaminating, or destroying almost everything: rivers, oceans, topsoil, prairies, fisheries, and forests, not to mention cultures. We are not behaving this way because we are cruel but because we are caught up in the Great Acceleration and having a hard time slowing ourselves down and thinking things through. We are living in fragmented ways, disconnected from not only each other and the natural world, but from our pasts and our futures.” p. 180.

Pipher is preaching to the choir when it comes to Unitarian Universalists who are way ahead of their fellow Americans and Earth Planetarians because for several decades now, UUs have had one of their principles, the seventh, “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part,” as one of its primary values.

On page 185 Pipher tells a wonderful story she got from a book called, Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose and Deb Tilley. Apparently as part of the story there is a song about a conversation between an ant and a boy on the playground with all his friends watching. The boy wants to squish the ant just for fun, but the ant sings that he has a home and family too. As Pipher writes, “He sings to show the boy that his life is as precious to his ant family as the boy’s life is to his human family. The song ends with a question for the listener to ponder, ‘Should the ant get squished? Should the ant go free?/ It’s up to the kid, not up to me./ We’ll leave the kid with a raised up shoe./ What do you think that kid should do?’”

Piper writes on that she is telling this story to her grandkids and she asks them what they would do. The nine year old granddaughter, Kate, tells Pipher she will never squish an ant again, and her seven year old grandson, Aidan, promises to let all the ants go free, but her five year old granddaughter, Claire, tells Pipher, “Nonna, I still like to squish ants but I won’t kill any talking ants.” Pipher comments jokingly, “Sigh. She’ll have a growth spurt soon enough.” P. 185

And it seems that when Claire’s pre-frontal cortex develops further and is able to control her amygdale she will indeed outgrow the instinctual urge to kill things different from her own species, but unfortunately, it takes more than just a chronological growth spurt because Americans, especially, are a violent people who love to kill things and, even each other, in far greater numbers than any other first world country or primitive cultures. We might speculate about why American culture is so violent and this fact seems, obviously, to be multi-determined, and the obvious thing is that “old time religion” hasn't helped but rather is used to justify killing as the Old Testament of the Bible gives human beings an injunction to dominate the earth, and as our American Presidents have sent our soldiers off to Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan they end their rationalized arguments for the necessity of killing with “And may God bless America.” The ludicrous observation is what kind of God is it that Presidents and Americans are invoking when they justify their ant squishing with “shock and awe” by asking for a blessing from this imagined entity?

Once again it is apparent that if Unitarian Universalists are to live their espoused values, the principles that they covenant to affirm and promote, they will be in a counter cultural position vis a vis their fellow Americans.

Pipher, though a Buddhist, thinks like a Unitarian Universalist when she writes, “If we do not expand our vehicles of mercy and ways of helping each other, we will destroy ourselves. To adaptively cope with our global storm, we need to enlarge our moral imaginations in order to include all living things in our circle of caring.” p.181 If only a President of the United States would call on someone with the moral imagination of Mary Pipher and Unitarian Universalists to bless the country and his policies.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The blind leading the blind or a transcendent miracle?

In Chapter 9 of her book, The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture, Mary Pipher writes about the growth of the Nebraskan coalition to fight the TransCanada XL pipeline crossing their state. Pipher describes the Festival activities sponsored across the State of Nebraska for the purpose of convincing the Governor and State legislature to block and not approve the legislation necessary for the building of the pipeline. Pipher writes:

“That night, we had crested a wave. But Monday morning we were exactly in the same situation with our politicians that we had been in before the festival. This bittersweet phenomenon of a successful event paired with no discernible political gain seemed to be a chronic problem for our group.

However, we were experiencing a victory that could not be taken away from us. That is, we were by now a transcendent, connected community. We were learning that relationships always trump agendas, and that a good process is sustaining, regardless of outcome. I cannot emphasize how important relationships were to us at this point.

In fact, what I came to realize from my work with the coalition is that in individuals, families, communities, cultures, and even on earth itself, nothing good and beautiful lasts unless it is grounded in loving, interconnected relationships.” P.175-176

In reading this passage I am reminded of several of the Unitarian Universalist principles like number 7, “respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part,” and number one, “the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” and number 5, “the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society and large,” and number three, “the acceptance of one another and the encouragement to spiritual growth,” and number two, “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.”

Piper’s story in The Green Boat is a story about bringing UU principles into application and the frustration, discouragement, and difficulties this entails as well as the satisfaction, fulfillment, and transcendent quality of working with others towards a positive social goal beyond our individual selves but which benefits all living things and the planet. Pipher describes herself, like many of us, depressed, despondent, even despairing before this coalition building effort but as they say “misery likes company” and joining with others they have transcended their own individual darkness. Jesus says that where two or more are gathered in my name there I will be. I don’t think that you necessarily need to believe that Jesus is God to observe this phenomenon. It can be seen in any city and some small towns in America and around the world where there are 12 step meetings held like Alcoholics Anonymous. It appears very counter-intuitive to put a couple of drunks in a room together and they help each other become sober. What happened to the cynical statement about “the blind leading the blind?” It happens that when the blind lead the blind they sometimes develop the ability to see.

This counter-intuitive, nonsensical faith in the transcendent power of recognition and acknowledgement and support for our interdependence leads to miraculous awareness of what A Course In Miracles calls the At-one-ment, the Atonement which is the end point of human evolution when human beings become one with everything or as I define it, when everybody loves everybody all the time.

The coalition which Pipher describes in Nebraska in 2010-2011 has this quality of a step towards the Atonement. This is a religious experience, a spiritual experience, which Unitarian Universalism recognizes, acknowledges, and actively promotes. While Pipher describes herself as the world’s worst Buddhist, the UUA might consider asking her if she would like to accept an honorary designation as a Unitarian Universalist luminary since she and her coalition light the way which the rest of us might do well to emulate.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Can UU principles (values) enhance American culture and help us become a better people?

In chapters 7 and 8 in The Green Boat author Mary Pipher discusses the power of working with others towards a goal to overcome one’s own individual demoralization and to raise consciousness and functioning to achieve a higher quality of life for everyone on the planet and enhance the well being of Mother Nature. Pipher writes, “Healthy people build healthy communities, which create healthy cultures.” p. 140. This statement at first reading struck me as trite, and somewhat of a cliché, but then I wondered if our culture is healthy? As much as I would like to be positive and optimistic, I think American culture is not especially healthy if the norms and the mores of our American culture are compared to our Unitarian Universalist principles. The more I have tried to apply the principles in my daily life, the more it strikes me how counter cultural UU principles (sometimes I think of them as values) are.

Pipher writes “Margaret Mead wrote, ‘The ideal culture is one that finds a place for every human gift.’ I would paraphrase her and say the ideal group finds a place for every member’s gifts.” p. 156
Unitarian Universalists practice inclusivity and abhor exclusivity. The Universalist in us believes that everyone has inherent worth and dignity and will be saved. By “saved” I mean become, eventually, one with the all, a part of the At-one-ment. The path to the At-one-ment is forgiveness. Piper writes, “Out best stories were about our own inconsistencies and failings or about our emotional struggles…” p.162. Forgiveness begins with ourselves first and then we can extend it to others.

The question to be considered here is how to build a better culture? A culture is made up of values, beliefs, practices, history, traditions, preferences, and vision for a future. American culture is in rapid change and flux brought about by the digital age, the changing economy, the growing planetary population, and climate change. As human beings we have seen significant changes in the 20th century, and they will be even greater in the 21st century. The greatest need for change is not necessarily for new scientific knowledge and technology, but for an ethical imperative guiding us in the use of that scientific knowledge and technology for the benefit of all living things and the planet, not just for the privileged few. Pipher uses a quote from Star Trek: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” At an age of ever increasing income and wealth inequality we see this negative dynamic expanding until it will collapse probably in some kind of revolution which just began to stir with the Occupy movement after the 2008 financial crisis.

Whether American culture will collapse or slowly evolve remains to be seen. I not only have faith but certainty that Unitarian Universalist principles will provide the basis for the ethical imperative not only for UUs but for our society in the coming decades. Much work needs to be done to mine the principles for their meaning, application, and benefit as human beings and life on earth continue to evolve. You, dear reader, are an important part of that evolution. Please help spread the good words and join the effort to encourage the spiritual growth of yourself, your family, congregation, community, nation, and the world. Where to start? Forgive and love the persons who cross our path today.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Intentional living may be what saves us

In chapter 6 of The Green Boat, Mary Pipher gets tough. She overcomes her pessimism and decides it is time to do something about climate change. She writes, “Implied in the term, ‘new healthy normal’ is my assumption that it is not mentally healthy to sit idly by while the human race destroys its mother ship.” P.117 And I want to holler across the pages, “You go girl!”

Pipher then goes on to describe what she calls “intentional living.” She writes, “In my book The Shelter Of Each Other, I argued that if we just let the culture happen to us we end up rushed, stressed, addicted, unhealthy, and broke. I want to advance that argument by suggesting that we be intentional with our time and money not only for ourselves and our families but for the entire planet.” Pp.120-121
Most of us do not live intentional lives, but rather lives for any number of reasons we have lost control of and then we complain of stress, fatigue, and aches and pains. Even worse, we blame other people telling ourselves that we would be happier if only x would do y and z. We give up our power and delude ourselves into thinking that our happiness depends on what other people do in which case we only become more frustrated, disillusioned, and depressed. Relief seems to be available in alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, gambling, eating, excessive exercising, excessive working, surfing the web, getting caught up in drama on the internet, texting, etc. We begin to protect ourselves by compartmentalizing our lives and rationalizing. Pipher writes:

“In Western Culture, we have a tendency to compartmentalize the ways we earn our living from what we call real life. Many decent people learn to check their integrity and values at the office door at eight a.m., then reclaim them at five p.m. How they spend their workdays doesn’t connect to how they define themselves as people. For example, kind and conscientious parents can somehow find themselves making products harmful to children.

This kind of compartmentalization of identity, at its extreme, is what the Nazis did. In The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, R.L. Lifton interviewed Germans who had been involved in the slaughter of innocents. He concluded that many people would do anything with a relatively clear conscience as long as they could label it work. If they were obeying orders from a superior they would behave in ways they would never consider in their off-duty lives. In the early 1960s, Stanley Milgram learned this same thing in psychological studies.”  Pp. 124-125

People spit off, they disassociate one part of their lives from others, and play multiple roles which sometimes are quite conflicting and contradictory. In the 60s we had some wonderful expressions about people “having their shit together” or “not having their shit together.” When we met people who “had their shit together” we usually would get “good vibes” and when people “didn’t have their shit together” we got “bad vibes.” Pipher writes, “We could define the authentic life as one in which one’s values and behaviors are congruent. That is what the Buddhists call ‘right livelihood,’…” p.125

Intentional living requires that we slow down and don’t allow ourselves to be pressured by external circumstances any more than we have to. Pipher notes that a group at the Women’s Theological Center in Boston has a motto: “We must go slowly, there is not much time.” P.130 Pipher then tells a story about a developmentally disabled man who was a bagger at her super market who made a mistake when he was hurriedly packing an order which he then had to redo and said, “This is what happens when I get in a hurry. It always slows me down.” Pp.130-131 Pipher notes that we should slow down and “savor the world we have” instead of always wanting more, going faster, trying to get to a illusionary tomorrow when things will be better. 

Intentional living should help us achieve the sixth principle of Unitarian Universalism, a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Intentional living, in the last and deepest analysis, is about Love, Unconditional Love, which, while it cannot be defined, we can become more aware of once we remove the obstacles and barriers we busily create that prevent us from the awareness of Love’s presence.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Religion = multiplication of courage?

In her fifth chapter of The Green Boat entitled, “Finding Shipmates,” Mary Pipher describes the coalition she got involved in during 2010 – 2011 in Nebraska to fight against the TransCanada, XL pipeline crossing Nebraska from Alberta, Canada to Illinois and Oklahoma. Here is part of what Pipher writes, “All of us were progressives who had worked for causes all our lives. None of us seemed to vote for a candidate who won.” P. 101 I laughed to myself when I read those two sentences. I thought to myself, these are my kind of people. I would fit right in. I wondered if Mary Pipher might be a Unitarian Universalist, but alas, she calls herself the world’s worst Buddhist.

Pipher discusses the community organizing that went on and the unlikely alliances that formed such as between liberal tree-huggers and conservative ranchers. She writes, “Our coalition was allowing us to turn our individual anger, fear, and sorrow into something better and stronger. Working together, we were experiencing what Nelson Mandela called ‘the multiplication of courage.’” P. 113

Pipher’s sentences above remind me of the Beatles lyric in their song, With A Little Help From My Friends: “Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends. Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends. Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends.”

The values, the principles of Unitarian Universalism are very counter cultural, when they are applied and brought to bear in American society. In the situation, Pipher is concerned with in the Green Boat, the concerns are climate change and ecological integrity which are directly related to UU seventh principle, “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part”, and the second principle, “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.” It would seem odd, at the face of them, that these principles, which everyone superficially agrees with, would place UUs at odds with people, and corporations, who want to build a possibly toxic pipeline of oil through the heart land of the United States only to allow the production of more carbon into the atmosphere from America.

It is easy for a single individual to feel defeated, demoralized, overwhelmed by a sense of impending doom, until that individual finds other like minded people to stand in solidarity with to advocate for principles and values that will significantly affect policy making and legislation that govern our communal life together in our community, state, nation, and planet.

It takes energy and courage and bravery to stand up for what is right not just profitable and expedient, and it is easier to do when one is not alone but is supported in the effort. Religion can provide this support on many levels, the cognitive, emotional, spiritual, social, and cultural. The Unitarian Universalist faith is a faith for this time in human history and provides what Mary Pipher wrote that Nelson Mandela called the “multiplication of courage.” This religion may be helpful for a progressive person of faith whose beliefs never seem to gain the popular support of the majority nor whose candidates usually win.

Mary Pipher seems to have overcome her depression, and I have too, and hopefully you will never become depressed, but if you do, remember it is temporary and you can get by with a little help from friends.

My Kind Of Church Music - With A Little Help From My Friends, the Beatles

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ignorance is bliss, and awareness is the grace of God

Mary Pipher tells an endearing story in the fourth chapter of her book the Green Boat about her granddaughter, Kate. “I asked, ‘Kate, you are the big sister and the oldest. Why can’t you be as brave as your sister and brother?’ She wailed, ‘Nonna, they are little. They don’t know enough to be scared.’” P.73-74 And there in is the rub as they say. Ignorance is bliss. Knowledge in the short term can sometimes be a curse because our inappropriate sense of security and comfort is disturbed.

Social Activist Mother Jones is reported to have said one time, “My business is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” And the question when it comes to climate change is how to do both. 

Those greatly distressed, depressed, pessimistic, filled with a sense of impending doom need understanding and then comforting by standing in solidarity not with their dysphoria but with their knowledge of what is happening on our planet. Human consciousness and science at this point is to be celebrated for it is a great blessing which gives us the evolutionary advantage of being able to influence the life of the planet. We become aware that we, human beings, are not just pawns and victims in God’s creation but co-creators who have the power to influence our own evolution.

Pipher recommends transcendence as the means of comforting the afflicted in the sense of rising above and moving towards wholeness or what Unitarian Univeralists call in their seventh principle, the interdependent web of all existence. It is a comfort to know we are not in this climate change thing alone but have the company of all other living creatures and with a healthy respect we can, as Pipher puts it, revive ourselves in our capsized culture.

Unitarain Univeralists who are not just church goers but people who have made the faith a way of life are in an especially positive position to not only save themselves, but others, and the planet, based on the values articulated in the seven principles. Unitarian Universalist values while counter cultural in the United States provide a travel plan as it were to get from our current state of affairs to a more desirable society and planet in the future.

Different Unitarian Univeralist thinkers advocate for different virtues as a basis for an ethical imperative for Unitarian Universalism. Rev. Galen Guengerich advocates for gratitude as being the basis, while Rev. James Ford advocates for the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and respect for the interdependent web. As a student of A Course In Miracles, I advocate for forgiveness as the basis of an ethical imperative for until we can acknowledge the brokenness and suffering of human beings and animals we can’t be grateful, or respectful or see the goodness in other beings.

There are many things that can provide solace in the face of  a sense of impending doom,  and while there are no silver bullets or magic keys, probably one of the most important antidotes to depression and despair is forgiveness, first for ourselves and then for others who have offended and hurt us. As the palliative care physician Ira Byrock has written, the four most important things that need to be said to a dying person are: I hope you can forgive me. I forgive you. Good bye. I love you.

Ignorance can be bliss but sometimes short lived, and while awareness can be disturbing it usually is the grace of God afflicting us when we are too comfortable letting us know that God needs us to get to work.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Media literacy and critical thinking can save the world

     In Chapter 3 of the Green Boat, entitled “Our Foundering Ship of State”,  Mary Pipher describes some of the dysfunctional aspects of our democracy. There are many factors that contribute to this dysfunction and they all can be related to the Unitarian Universalist forth principle, “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning,” because this dysfunction can be attributed to the opposite of that principle, namely, irresponsible spreading of disinformation and a failure to name what appears to be the truth because it is opposed to vested interests.
Pipher cites a professor from Stanford, Robert Proctor, who coined a new term, “agnotology” for the study of ignorance deliberately manufactured because of political considerations. George Orwell in his book, 1984, called it “newspeak”. In our every day, colloquial conversations, we might describe it as “double talk,” “spin,”, or the more pedestrian, “bull shit.” Pipher quotes Proctor as saying in a 2009 interview in Wired magazine, “People always assume that if they don’t know something, it’s because they haven’t paid attention or haven’t figured it out. But ignorance also comes from people literally suppressing truth – or drowning it out – or trying to make it so confusing that people stop caring about what’s true and what’s not.” P.59
 In psychotherapy we often describe the marginalization of local knowledge by oppressive, dominating authority figures as “silencing.” People are made to feel that they are stupid, or their beliefs and opinions are not welcome, and the tactics of silencing are too numerous to describe here, but the most prevalent is those in power simply ignoring what marginalized people have to say. If that doesn’t work some form of mockery and ridicule is used, and if that doesn’t work some more aggressive, hostile attack will be employed. History is full of examples of people who engaged in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning that threatened the power structure of the time, the so called “dominant discourse,” who were killed or otherwise significantly punished to coerce their silence and eliminate the perceived threat to the status quo.

 Pipher goes on to point out that the media in the United States is now owned by a handful of corporations with their vested interests who chose what stories to present every day. As Pipher articulately writes, “Our media don’t necessarily tell us what to think but they can and do tell us what to think about, simply by what they chose to cover or ignore.” P.60  Or as I like to say, who gets to set the agenda, frame the debate, skew the conversation in preferred directions? This is the hidden power of the media as part of their editorial activity to decide what stories will have what priority on any given day. And being passive lambs led to the slaughter, American TV viewers, radio listeners, internet browsers tend to watch and accept whatever they are dished out. Sometimes more media literate viewers might question the content and format, but for the most part Americans are easily propagandized as evidenced by the billions of dollars spent every year on campaign ads, and other corporate advertising.  Pipher writes:

“Journalism uses the ‘Chad rule’ for topics. That is, don’t report on topics that don’t interest most people. The thought is – how many Americans really care about the African country Chad? And how many people are losing sleep over the earth’s current CO2 levels? This all becomes a vicious circle, of course. It is hard to care about what we don’t know about and difficult to inform people about what they appear not to care about.” P.61  

The first two principles of Unitarian Universalism are the “inherent worth and dignity of every person,” and “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations,” and neither of these principles can be effectively applied in a person’s life without an element of curiosity. Are we interested in the well being of other people, or only ourselves? There was a time what it was easier to be self absorbed and self protected, but since the mid 90s with the advent of the world wide web, and the global economy, this attitude of national protectionism doesn’t work anymore and especially in the age of the possibility of nuclear war and climate change we, homo sapiens, have become more aware than ever that we are part of a global community on planet earth.

Here in the United States we engage in ritual rather than truth seeking. One of the rituals that Americans have fallen into is that there are at least two sides to every story and political position and so Fox news crows about its news coverage being “fair and balanced”, and other media producers are careful to provide, ritualistically, “both sides of a story.” This ritual creates an assumption that there are “two sides to a story”, but are there two sides to truth, to scientific facts?  There is great confusion over the types of knowledge as outlined in the study of epistemology. When it comes to science or logic there are not two sides to a story. Water is made up of a molecular structure of H2O. 2+2=4. How could there be two sides to these stories? As former New York Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, said “A person is entitled to his own opinion, but he is not entitled to his own facts.”

There is no scientific debate between evolution and creationism. There is no debate about climate change. Both evolution and climate change are scientific facts which are based on empirical evidence. A person could have different opinions about what evolution and climate change means for humanity, but a person can’t, in good faith, argue against the reality of their existence.  Pipher  writes, “For an honest analysis of a situation, we need the media and the talking heads to distinguish between experts and propagandists and between objective analysis and public relations.” P.63

Most Americans, unfortunately, are stuck at the lower levels of wisdom and faith development. Pipher quotes John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union as telling her, “It’s virtually impossible to reason someone out of a position they were never reasoned into.” P.67 Most Americans accept what they are told, and never have acquired the skills of media literacy and critical thinking. If there is any doubt about this, just watch our political decisions and policy making. However we are at a point in our evolutionary history where ignorance and stupidity are dangerous and put life as we know it on this planet at great risk.

Unitarian Universalists while a very tiny denomination in the United States are at a level of faith development, for the most part, that provides an awareness of the interdependence of life on our planet that leads us to a role of enlightened witnesses. We can tell the truth even if no one will listen and they ignore us, or they are threatened and mock us, or they become greatly disturbed that their vested interests are in peril and they attempt to punish and even kill us.

Truth telling is a critical role without which nothing else positive can happen in an intentional, constructive way. Turn off your television, read the media critically, sift out the nuggets of wisdom, and share them with your family, friends, and neighbors. Together we can make a difference and save our world.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Denial is not a river in Egypt but a defense mechanism that does not serve us well at this point in evolutionary history

Mary Pipher in the second chapter of her book, The Green Boat, named "Denial" uses as an epigraph a quote of Arthur Schopenhauer, "All truth goes through three steps. First, it is ridiculed, then it is violently opposed, and finally it is accepted as self evident." p.29

Pipher then goes on to discuss what she calls the "fog of climate collapse" making a reference to former defense secretary, Robert McNamara's comment about U.S. policy regarding the Vietnam war as the "fog of war."

Pipher points out that people do much better with problems that are immediate and concrete compared to problems which are more distant and abstract. Americans have been terrorized by their politicians since the end of the second world war, and the development of the military/industrial complex, with the idea of an external bogey man whether it be "duck and cover" as defense against nuclear attack with the development of bomb shelters during the cold war to the yellow, orange, and red terror alert color scheme developed by Homeland Security under Tom Ridge in the early 2000s after 9/11.

All people, but Americans especially, seem easily bamboozled by politicians and large weapon manufacturing corporations to believe that there is a terrorist, communist, hater of democracy around every curve and behind every tree waiting to attack and kill us. Hermann Goering, Hitler's right hand man, said at the Nuremberg trials after World War II:

"Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on
a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of
it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people
don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in
Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the
country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to
drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist
dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no
voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.
That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked,
and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the
country to danger. It works the same in any country."

It is apparent in our contemporary world that the people can no longer rely on politicians or corporations for the truth because their primary concern is not the common good but self interest. To whom are the people to turn for consultation, moral direction, ethical guidance? It is to educational institutions of higher learning and religion. What does Unitarian Universalism have to say about the human tendency to utilize the defense mechanism of denial? It says in its fourth principle that we covenant together to affirm and promote the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. We support each other in affirming and promoting the other 6 UU principles which make us less vulnerable to anxiety and fears and less likely to be manipulated in dysfunctional ways by people looking out for their own interests eschewing the common good.

Denial at this point in our evolutionary history about climate change does not serve us well and endangers not only our species but the species of all other living things on the planet. We need to emerge from our fog so we can see our future clearly and make informed choices.

My Kind Of Church Music - I Can See Clearly Now, Jimmy Cliff

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Antidote for incapacitating knowledge is a rich interior spiritual life

We have the internet and google and as Pipher quotes a school administrator she interviewed, "Sometimes in the early 1990s problems stopped being solvable." A friend put it this way, 'There are no simple problems anymore.'" p.16 Pipher doesn't say this, but I sensed that what the school administrator said was true and I wondered why, and then it dawned on me, the mid 90s was when the world wide web began to come into common use. We are overwhelmed with information. You know the old saying "Ignorance is bliss?" Well, we aren't ignorant any more. The information is at our finger tips, and our bliss has quickly evaporated.

Pipher writes a little further, "We constantly are told - and we tell ourselves - that whatever topic is being considered is the most important thing. Every day we are admonished that it is essential to ___________. ...........Everything can't be the most important thing." p.17

As we have become more enamored with the electronic media a new phenomenon has emerged called FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out. We see it hourly with people transfixed by robots such as smart phones, tablets, laptops, Ipods.

Pipher writes further "Sociologist Barbara Katz Rothman has a phrase for information which makes life seem more complicated and disturbing than it already is. She calls it 'incapacitating knowledge'" p.23

Pipher observes, "Psychologists know that delivering too much bad news at once leads to emotional shutdown. But sugarcoating facts doesn't inspire positive change, either. In therapy, clients need a certain amount of anxiety to propel them toward change, but not so much as to discourage their hopeful efforts." p.25

If it is accurate to say that we live in a time of "incapacitating knowledge" people need to be encouraged to turn the media off, to strategically withdraw and turn their attention from the ego plane which increasingly has become a hell to the kingdom within. I, as a therapist, have increasingly been asking my clients, "What's your interior spiritual life like?" and surprisingly for me, people usually respond readily. I have never had a client object to the question and almost always the client articulates some description. The antidote to the vicarious trauma what we all are increasingly subjected to is the development of an interior spiritual life. We have seen the rise of popularity in yoga and meditation classes in the United States. The self-help sections of the bookstore are loaded with books on "mindfulness" and relaxation techniques.

What does Unitarian Universalism have to offer to help people develop an interior spiritual life that enhances awareness of Love's presence? Unitarian Universalism draws from its six sources but it seems Unitarian Universalists are pretty much left on their own to explore and draw from these sources rather than access an integrated approach unique to Unitarian Universalism itself. It would seem that the one thing than Unitarian Universalism possesses and can convey is the idea the God loves each and everyone of us unconditionally. UUs have a long history in the belief in universal salvation. How this is brought about is in not only the belief but the action of loving one another. In my early Roman Catholic upbringing I learned the latin expressions, "Pax vobiscum", peace be with you, and the answer was "et cum spiritu tuo." and may the spirit be with you." As UU ministers like to end their sermons, "May it be so."

Monday, August 4, 2014

Which god do you love more, Mammon or Mother Nature?

Mary Pipher writes in her book, The Green Boat, on page 7, "Then, in President Obama's post reelection speech, he told listeners, 'We want out children to live in an America that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.' This breaking of the silence surrounding global climate change give me hope that, at last, we as a society might have a conversation about the fate of our beloved planet. We cannot solve a problem we won't discuss. But now that the spell of silence has been broken, perhaps we can stay awake and go to work."

It's not like President Obama let the cat out the bag. Climate warming has been well known for a decade. What's new is not the information, but that someone with power like the President of the United States would acknowledge the truth.

Pipher's point that if you can't name it, you can't manage it, is a good one. We are, and can be, easily victimized by forces we don't understand. We understand the phenomenon of climate change very well, at the least the scientific community does. The science is clear. What is questionable are our values and ethics. Ethical responsibility lags far behind scientific knowledge which might leave an observer of this fact to conclude that scientific institutions are doing their job, but religious institutions aren't. Mammon, our contemporary god, has far exceeded its influence on the American public than Mother Nature.

Which god does America love more? Mammon hands down. To this idol of American worship, the religious institutions of the country have not only acquiesced, but supported, with the so called "gospel of prosperity". This worship of this false god, Mammon, has grown increasingly untenable with climate change, and Mother Nature will hold her exceptional species accountable for their destruction of Her other beloved species up to and including the destruction of that exceptional species itself if it does not change its ways of living on its evolutionary trajectory.

Unitarian Universalism pays lip service to Mother Nature in its seventh principle, respect for the interdependent web, but UUs continue to worship Mammon as well, and its hard to tell which god they love more if one is to watch their behavior. UUs certainly are not the Amish and Mennonite who have been clear in their practice that Mother Nature is a priority for them. Does Unitarian Universalism have something to offer the inhabitants of the Green Boat? It appears that they do, but it will have to be preached and practiced more vigorously, if what UUs say is to be taken seriously by the rest of the world.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

To fix our environment we are going to have to change our people, places, and things

The UU A Way Of Life book of the month for August, 2014, is Mary Pipher's, The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves In Our Capsized Culture.

In the introduction, Mary Pipher describes her anguish at what appears to be a collapsing society and world. She writes: "But when I turned on the news or read about the environment, war, and daily global injustices, I felt like jumping out of my skin.
     I sensed that many people felt this way. For example, most of my news-junkie friends no longer read the news. And people who had once loved intense political conversations avoided any talk about national and international affairs. People were rushed, stressed, and edgy. Everyone looked tired. We were all confused about what was going on and about how to fix it." p.1

And so Pipher tries to describe the problem. She is depressed and because of her depression she is perceiving depression all around her. You might say that with the collapse of the climate, the whole world, Mother Nature, is depressed. And what are we, any of us, to do about it?

As I read Pipher, and I think we are about the same age in our late 60s, I mutter to myself, "Been there, done that." I went though my depression about 5 years ago, and climate change was one of the top items I perseverated about with my sense of impending doom.

Pipher writes that there are great changes which we are experiencing at this time in the world that scientist, Will Steffen, calls the "Great Acceleration" which is a tsunami of urgent and life-threatening planetary changes that can be traumatic to experience and become aware of. Pipher writes further that this trauma can best be managed with transcendence which allows us  to " present and focused, to stay calm and balanced, and to attend to the world around us with great love." p.3

Pipher writes:

In his book, Steps to an Ecology Of Mind, Gregory Bateson writes, 'The unit of survival is the organism and its environment.' We cannot protect our inner life unless we protect our outer life. The external is not so external after all. the only way we can be healthy as individuals is to create healthy environments around us. We are all mixed up together; our survival is contingent on the survival of other living things." p.5

What Pipher is describing what we Unitarian Universalists already covenant to affirm and promote in our seventh principle, the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.

As people in recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction are taught, the success of their continued recovery may require that they change their people, places, and things. If you are in recovery you can't hang around with the same old people, in the same old places, doing the same old stuff because that's where your triggers are. Once we realize that the "unit of survival" as Gregory Bateson defines it is the organism and its environment, then we realize, to return to a healthier balance of interdependence on a road of recovery, we are going to have to change some of our people, places, and things. In order to do this we need to develop a sober support group, a  group of like minded people who will support our recovery. Do you know such people?

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