December 2008

Our house was built by an interesting and innovative gentleman who is now building his family another house in the next town over. Part of his research has been into energy efficiency. All fuels have problems of storage, of transportation, of pollution–some more than others. But this new trend in Germany looks at the problem of heating from the other direction: reducing fuel demand to zero while staying comfortable. The NYT writes about it here. Fabulous.

The UUA has been working hard to get Unitarian Universalism into cyberspace, both as an institution and as individuals. UU Planet collects all kinds of video related to or produced by Unitarian Universalists. The Reverend Shana Lynngood, associate minister at All Souls church in Washington DC, was interviewed for an “I Believe” segment several years ago. Now the show is available here:
I Believe (Shana Lynngood).

you know the funny thing about openness is you never know what’s going to come next. And that’s really, really important to remember. So when you finally get to that place where you say, “Yes God, I am open to myself and to my story and to learning about myself,” you kind of have to let go because you really don’t know what comes next. –Rev. Lea Brown

Sometimes people call Unitarian Universalist churches “gay”, as in, “Oh, the UUs? Aren’t they that gay church?” And while it’s true that we have a long history of supporting LGBT/queer rights, including full inclusion in our communities of faith, ordination, and ministries, we haven’t ever been focused enough on sexual orientation to qualify for that title. The Metropolitan Community Church, on the other hand, did (as I understand it) really start as a gay church. They are a Christian denomination which understands their ministry as one of inclusion and welcome to Christian faith practice, with the emphasis on the queer/glbt community. Read more here.

Much of what they do is a lot like what we do–they have services about being religious, they have social gatherings, they have fundraisers. But because of their focus, their origins, and their population, they have some perspectives that would be harder to explain from a UU pulpit.

The full practice of religion, and a faithful understanding of our every day, can be found everywhere, and lessons on how to do it better can be found everywhere. There’s a sermon from an evening service at the San Francisco MCC church during the Folsom Street Fair that is an elegant example.

The sermon is out there for anyone to read, but I’d encourage parents to pre-read it before sharing it with your children; it uses some edgy sexuality as an extended example. Although it never gets explicit, your children might have questions that you’d rather know about ahead of time. If you’re easily shocked or offended, under sixteen or so (everyone is different) and definitely if you’re under 14 you should talk to your parents or a trusted adult before looking it up.

I don’t want anyone accidentally clicking through if they’d rather not, so rather than linking I’ll just give you the information you need to find it on your own. Look for “Radical Relationships in Beloved Community; Radical Openness: The Spirituality of Leather” by Rev. Lea Brown. It was delivered in 2003 at the Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco.

My Baptist colleague Gordon Atkinson has done it again. At his Real Live Preacher blog he’s written a beautiful piece about science and religion. If you need a lovely moment in your day, go drink his words in. They are beautiful.

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka Yarn Harlot, has got to be one of the best unofficial ambassadors Canada has. Here she lays out what was going on with much more clarity and detail than I managed. I highly recommend her post if you want to understand not just the current situation, but Canadian politics in general.

And for the next 53 days Harper is operating with no Parliament to answer to. But they will be back. Here’s hoping he does something good.

Odetta died on Tuesday. It seems there’s been a lot going on this week. Her voice, her power, her healing work will be sorely missed. I read about it here, but I’m sure there are ways to find it without going all the way to Australia.

For all the people whose poll-watching for two years of US campaigning left them desperate for political intrigue, this is way better than Obama’s cabinet picks:

Ever since I served in Canada, I’ve tried to make a point of keeping track of Canada–major issues, political events, that sort of thing. But what with Mumbai’s crisis and the economy and the rollout of a number of new church projects, I’d sort of lost track. So imagine my surprise when I popped over to catch up on Yarn Harlot‘s writing and saw her PPPs at the bottom of a post: “If you’re Canadian, can you believe what’s happening?”. I promptly felt guilty for letting my Canadian tracking slack, and popped over to the Ottawa Citizen for a look at Canadian news.

Turns out Prime Minister Harper, recently reelected with one of the lowest-ever Canadian voter turnouts (precariously close to some of our US HIGHEST voter turnouts) has lost the confidence of Parliament. Now ordinarily, when a PM is messing up, the House of Commons calls a vote of no-confidence, in which everyone votes on whether or not they think the PM should remain the PM. If the PM loses, this means another election.

Strange things sometimes happen as a result. In India in 2000 there was such a vote, the PM lost, they had an election, and THE SAME PARTY won, meaning that they ended up electing the guy who had just lost the vote of no-confidence.

All this is much more exciting than our usual politics because in most countries with a parliamentary system, they have lots of parties. So apparently in this case the Liberals (moderately liberal) and the NDP (more liberal than the Liberals) have gotten the support of the Bloc Quebecois (did I spell that right?) which is a party whose primary goal has historically been the secession of Quebec and whose liberal-conservative identity tends to be a little hard to discern, at least for an outsider like me. This makes them a coalition majority, more than capable of unseating the sitting PM if they all vote together. And they’re all upset about Harper’s handling of the economic crisis and apparently over the government’s plan to pull funding for all political parties.

That’s all normal politics in a parliamentary system. Here’s the kicker: apparently Harper is asking the Governor General to suspend parliament so that he will not be subjected to a no-confidence vote.

What?! Who’s the GG? The Governor General has a job that we don’t really have here in the States. The GG is the Queen’s representative in Canada. She (in this case) is also the head of state. In the US we roll “head of state” and “head of government” into one job, and we call that person the President. In Canada they figured that cutting ribbons and representing the country at formal affairs and being commander-in-chief of the armed forces really might require a different set of skills than wrangling with Parliament over the latest economic relief package (although they do sometimes cross over–Harper is going to cut a ribbon at a new Toyota plant this week). So they split them up. The head of government is chosen by the parliament (by tradition and by default, the leader of the party that wins the majority of the seats in the House of Commons). Technically the head of state in Canada is still the Queen, but the Queen gives power and permission to the GG to take care of things without consulting her all the time. You can read more about her here. She is appointed by the Queen at the recommendation of the Prime Minister, but then serves independent of the PM and at her majesty’s pleasure, although terms tend to correspond with the terms of Prime Ministers. (Wikipedia offers more here.

So one of the GG’s primary jobs is to see that there is always a functioning government in place in Canada, which is why Harper is appealing to her to suspend Parliament.

At any rate, some very interesting things are afoot with our neighbors to the north. That will teach me to get behind on my reading. If you want a really in-depth, thorough primer (and you don’t mind some knitting content) read the comments on this post.

These are not new ideas, but I’m mulling anyway.

After years and years (and years) of anticipation and speculation, the future of my childhood has arrived. We have video phone calls and virtual reality surround-rooms; we have 3-D video games and robots who mow lawns and vacuum floors. We have instant transfer of most kinds of data to many, many places around the world. It’s incredible.

But the technology that was supposed to free our hands for more interesting work and more leisure has instead sped us up. If we can transfer a letter in ten seconds, then we need not drink tea while we wait for a reply. We need not go for a walk, pick up our mail at the post office, pet the dog, kiss our sweetheart, cook dinner, go to bed. We can just stare at the computer until the reply comes through.

So the arrival of the technology they warned us about is calling us, I think, to mindfulness, to stillness, to resist the rush. What if the standard reply time were still five days? What if we didn’t change things at the spur of the moment because there was no way to get in touch with people? And where is the balance between efficiency and sanity?

Just wondering.