Ethical Culture is my religion. It's been my religion for 50 years now. As I look forward in my life, I see my enrichment from Ethical Culture growing stronger and my commitment to the Ethical Society Without Walls growing stronger still.
Having Ethical Culture as my religion gives me a community of people to go through life with, to practice ethical relationships with and to work with to make the world a more humane and just place. Ethical Culture gives me structure in my life and makes it easier to go through times of transition. I know whom to call when someone close to me dies, I know whom to call if I want to get married or have naming ceremonies for my children.
I resonate with the roots of the word religion which mean to bind together. I see this binding together as a connection. I want to be connected to other people who have a naturalistic view of existence, who believe what we do in this world makes a difference, who believe that we have an obligation to try to make the world a better place, a more just place for everyone. I want to be connected to a community of people who appreciate the world and understand that we have a responsibility to care for it.
And I want support to do the best I can to live my life as well as possible. It's very hard to live an ethical life, and I am grateful that I have a community of people who are also on a quest to live the most ethical lives possible.
One of the clearest memories I have of understanding why it is important to me to be part of Ethical Culture, to be part of an ethical society, came when my mother died. As soon as I knew that my mother had died, I called the Leader of the society I belonged to at the time and without hesitation he agreed to meet me at the hospital to claim her body. Another Leader gave me information about how to arrange for my mother's body to be cremated as was her wish. Read more »
New Year's Eve comes with such great expectations. But those expectations can also make it a very hard time of year. It is a time of review -- what was the year like for you? Did you start the year with resolutions that you're pleased you kept, or are you wondering why your resolve didn't last more than a week?
In a reflection I wrote two years ago I talked about why I didn't really try to make resolutions. I will report, however, that I am much, much better about returning library books on-time now. It really helps to have a library I can walk to on my lunch break!
I hated New Year's Eve as a kid. I hated that the best thing I had to do was baby-sit. It wasn't until my last couple of years in high school that someone in my group of friends had a family who invited the whole gang to their house for a party. It was a pretty interesting, multi-generational and multi-cultural party, although I don't think those terms were in common usage back then. If anyone knows Luis Rosado, tell him I say hello and thanks for such wonderful parties.
In my college years I remember resonating with a line from a Phoebe Snow song: "December 31st is the very worst time of the year." I didn't get the context then, I just knew it was a hard time for me and other people.
In my twenties I was happy that the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture hosted a party on New Year's Eve. I remember them as fun times. Lots of friends were there, it was family-friendly, there was good food and good company. Read more »
We think of winter as a time of darkness. Once the autumnal equinox passes, we find ourselves in days that have less and less daylight, and more and more hours of darkness. We look forward as the winter solstice comes upon us. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, that is in late December. Times of darkness have often been accompanied by fear. People of ancient times took many measures to bring light into this time of darkness as many still do in our current times.
Do we as Ethical Culturists need to find ways to observe, to celebrate the winter? I think it is good to ground ourselves in the cycles of nature around us. Most of us live rather insulated lives, with so much time spent indoors, sometimes even in rooms without windows. It is too easy to loose track of the change from the long days of summer to the long nights of winter. Celebrating winter brings our attention, to the changes around us and their effect on us.
How can we find ways to appreciate the darkness, without which we could not appreciate the light? We might adapt practices from religions we have grown up with. And we can find ways to uphold our humanist values, to bring them to light and to bring them to life. Many years ago I participated in a Winter Celebration at the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island, in which candles were lit for the Humanist values of Hope, Love, Peace, and Freedom. Members were able to share their thoughts about how their lives were touched by these values. The glowing of all the candles connected us, enlightened us, reminded us of what we believe and how we want to live our lives.
In celebration, in recognition, in ceremony we can take the opportunity to focus on our beliefs, to remember and reflect on our values and to think about ways in which we have incorporated our values into our lives and ways that we want to put further effort into living our lives out of our values. Read more »
Some people wonder why we need ceremonies and rituals, celebrations and observances. Certainly there are rituals and ceremonies which are limiting at best and harmful at worst, but that is not always the case.
I find ceremonies, celebrations and observances to be very important to me. They are a way to bring meaning to my life, to mark changes in my life and to connect me to others and the world around me.
As I started to write this, I noticed that I even have a ritual related to my weekly writing here. I stopped to first put on some music. I was listening to Judy Collins and thought I'd start writing to that, but no, it didn't work and I needed to put my blog writing playlist on. So now I'm listening to Cantaloupe Island and will run through other songs including Alan Pasqua's "Stick Slap," "Spinning Wheel" and Billy Dechand's "When the Sand is Dry."
Because life for most of is very full, often too full, ceremonies and celebrations can give us a chance to pause and more deeply notice what is happening in our lives or the lives of others who are important to us. They can also be a chance to notice what is happening in the natural world around us. Read more »
Opening Thought: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." - Dom Helda Camara
I've been writing about conscious consuming this month and was planning to conclude with this newsletter and make the transition to next month's theme which will be Celebrations/Observations. I had some ideas about what to say, but when my son came to visit this afternoon we were talking a bit about Buy Nothing Day and then he asked me if I'd heard the news about what happened at a Wal-Mart store in Long Island, NY. I hadn't.
If you haven't heard yet, here's the beginning of the NY Times article:
"Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death"
By Jack Healy and Angela Macropoulos
Published: November 28, 2008
A Wal-Mart employee in suburban New York died after he was trampled by a crush of shoppers who tore down the front doors and thronged into the store early Friday morning, turning the annual rite of post-Thanksgiving bargain hunting into a Hobbesian frenzy."
I feel so saddened and sickened to hear this news. I didn't realize that when I was urging people to buy nothing on "Black Friday" that I was potentially giving safety advice.
Many other people were injured and the reports I was listening to were mostly that people were hurt while fighting over large-screen TV sets. Not something that anyone could consider a necessity for life. Read more »
Having a day to be intentional about not buying things helps us pay attention to our actions. For 16 years the day after US Thanksgiving has been designated as Buy Nothing Day. It is promoted and observed around the world. I wouldn't be shopping on the day that is traditionally the most crowded and frenzied shopping day of the year, but I appreciate the opportunity to be very intentional about it and encourage others to think about not shopping on that day also.
The day is such a busy shopping day because many people are doing much of their shopping for holiday gifts. Why has buying lots of things for someone become a way to show how much you care about them? Perhaps there are other ways to show someone you care? Is all the purchasing that traditionally accompanies the winter holidays (especially when you don't really celebrate them) really necessary?
It's weird having an ethical action being to Not do something. I wrote that and then realized that is not true at all. I grew up and continue to actively boycott products sold by companies whose policies I don't like. (I remember my mother buying Gallo wine when one of the United Farm Workers No Compra Uvas - Don't Buy Grapes boycotts was over. My parents didn't drink wine, but she said she wanted to make sure the company knew that the boycott had been effective.)
This year, I'm going to try to not only not buy things, but to spend some time thinking about what I can give to family and friends that doesn't require a purchase. Is there something I can make for them, is there something I can do, can we spend some special time together?
What do you think? Have you changed any of your purchasing habits, or giving habits over the years? Have you found ways to give and share that do not require an outlay of money? Read more »
As we move into what is traditionally the period of greatest consumer spending in the United States, I'm inviting us all to take a look at what is often unconscious consuming. There are so many forces encouraging us to buy, buy, buy. I don't think any of us, certainly not most of us, can avoid being consumers, but we can try to do so in ways that bring our awareness to our consumption.
I've been actively trying to pay attention to my consuming for well over twenty years. What do I buy, do I really need new clothes, do I really need more clothes, can I find what I need at a thrift store or yard sale? (I love going to yard sales! I also know that often they are the result of people having bought items expecting them to fulfill some need or want without the desired result.) Do I need to buy a car just because mine died, what do I need to buy for my children, can I make something instead of buying something, is it worth the time to do that, can I borrow something I will only need for a short time? Where is the item I want to buy made? Are there companies I am currently boycotting? Can I just wait and maybe the need to buy something will go away?
These are some of the questions I try to keep in mind before buying something. Sometimes I feel better about how I'm doing than at other times, but to me it feels like an ethical path that I try to follow. And people in differing life circumstances may have more or less energy to use in become conservers more than consumers.
There are many reasons to be on this path of conscious consuming. Some are economic. Conscious consuming tends to include spending less money and that can be important to most and a necessity for some. Some people don't have enough to even consider making choices; their basic needs for shelter and food aren't met on a regular basis. Read more »
I'm assuming you all voted. I've been trying very hard to observe the non-partisan clergy thing, and think I've done a good job. A lot of the outcome's of the election this year pleased me. I was especially pleased that my home state of Massachusetts defeated a proposal to eliminate income tax. More people were concerned about having funding to meet everyone's needs and that feels good.
There's been a lot of talk given the outcome of the presidential election that "we've finally overcome the racial barrier" and all kinds of self-congratulatory things like that. That's not the way I see it.
Yes, we've made some progress that an African American man with dark skin can be elected as president. But some of what I've heard and read makes it seem like we're done with needing to be aware about racism. I don't think so. The fact that so much was made and continues to be made of Barack Obama's race and heritage indicates that indeed, race is still a big factor in how people in this country (most of our readers being in the United States) relate to each other. Perhaps a good indication will be when a person whose skin isn't white can be elected and that isn't what most people are talking about the next day.
And why can't we remember that it isn't ok to pat ourselves on the back for overcoming one kind of discrimination and blithely condone other forms of discrimination such as the three states that passed bans on same-sex marriage? Why don't more people get it? It is not ok to discriminate against certain groups of people because of some characteristic they have that you don't like - such as discriminating against who support same-sex marriage. Read more »
My bank lets me do ethical action in a very easy way. I put my money in the bank, I use my credit card from my bank, and money is contributed to causes I support.
I’ve been banking at the Wainwright Bank and Trust Company for almost 15 years, as long as I’ve lived in the Boston area. I also bank at a small neighborhood cooperative bank, a bank, which holds mortgages on properties in our immediate vicinity.
The mission statement of Wainwright reads: "With a sense of inclusion and diversity that extends from the boardroom to the mailroom, Wainwright Bank & Trust Company resolves to be a leading socially progressive bank committed equally to all its stakeholders - employees, customers, communities and shareholders alike." Pretty cool.
I knew that the bank did good work and that it worked on lots of causes I support. But until this past Monday I didn’t have a very specific sense of the work they did. I knew that the branch I mostly used over the last two years had moved and that the new location was a green bank – literally and figuratively – they are applying for LEED certification and it sure looks neat with bright green and brown all over. On Monday, I was able to attend the annual Social Justice Awards ceremony they hold each year. That I was invited to this ceremony is also part of what I love about this bank. Over the last several years I got to know the manager of the branch I used and had conversations with about how I appreciated the work of Wainwright Bank. He thought I would enjoy the presentation and he was right. Much nicer than an ATM. Read more »
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us...
-- John Lennon, "Imagine"
I first heard those words in an Ethical Culture Society in Brooklyn. I know they weren't written to invite people to join an Ethical Society, although John Lennon lived very close to the NY Society. But today, as I was thinking about my vision of the future of the Ethical Culture Movement, particularly the Ethical Society Without Walls, the notes of "Imagine" started drifting into my brain.
The first verse of the song resonates strongly with me as a non-theist: "Imagine there's no heaven... No hell below us..." And most significantly to me: "Imagine all the people living for today..."
In Ethical Culture, we do imagine all the people living for today, for this life -- as S. Burns Weston put it -- "for this life only." In Ethical Culture our desire to live an ethical life is grounded in a belief that human beings have the ability, the capabilities to use human judgment and human connections to guide us in living an ethical life.
The world really needs Ethical Culture now. So much of what happens in the world is not based in a belief in the primacy of ethics, with a concern for others, for meeting the most basic needs of all human beings, for treating all human beings with respect and concern for the dignity that we in Ethical Culture ascribe to every person. We need to bring that concern to others. We need to have a world where more people are working to make the world a better and more just place, where more people are working to take care of the earth, our home.
So how do I see us bringing Ethical Culture to more of the World? ESWoW of course. Read more »