Len Weis was a child of the Ethical Movement, with two grandfathers as founding members of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. As a young adult he moved away from Ethical Culture, but only literally, away from New York to a land where there were no Ethical Societies. How fortunate we have been that Len Weis and Ethical Culture found each other again, and found ways to be supportive of each other through the Ethical Society Without Walls. I was privileged to be able to speak with him, and hear just how much it meant to him to have an Ethical Culture connection again. And how fortunate they were in Appleton, WI, to have Len and Donna Weis as part of their community as they raised their two children, Stephen and Becky.
Len and I appreciated another connection we had - I had worked at the Weis Ecology Center in its very early days, had met his mother, May, and his daughter Becky. The ecology center, nestled in the woods of northern NJ, is a gem. The Weis family has certainly been an important part of environmental education and preservation, and their good work continues. Read more »
Last weekend I spoke at the Ethical Humanist Society of the Triangle, which meets in Chapel Hill, NC. I went down to NC a few days early to visit with my colleague Randy Best. Little did I know when I made my travel plans that I would also get to visit a home funeral which was leading up to a green burial.
We visited at the home of Clark Wang, Randy's friend, who had died several days before. My initial interest was to see the coffin he was in; I had seen pictures of Randy building it about a year before out of reclaimed wood, wooden pegs, and hemp rope for handles. I was pleased to see the coffin and touch it, and could tell all the thought and care that went into the design and construction of this simple, but important box. It held the body of someone who had lived and then died. People who knew Clark had done all the care for his body - washing, applying oils to help with odor control, and placing him on dry ice in the coffin to maintain his body for the several days before the green burial.
Clark's body was draped, leaving his face exposed. Flowers were arranged over the sheet, having been placed there with love and care. I didn't have a reference point, never having met him in person, but after seeing many pictures and videos, I had the sense that his face was quite bloated. I don't know if that was from his illness and medical treatment or just from having been dead for several days.
It was a little strange going to a viewing and gathering for someone I had never met before when I wasn't officially there as a clergy person. People asked me "how did you know Clark?" My answer had to be that I didn't, but I knew Randy who helped build the coffin. That seemed to satisfy everyone. Read more »
Hope without action doesn't go very far. A praxis - reflection and action, is what gives me the most hope for us working together to make the world a more just place for everyone.
I was excited weeks ago, hearing about the demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, but in the back of my mind was the thought that it would be nice to see some demonstrating for democracy in the United States.
So I'm even more excited now by the demonstrations that begun in Wisconsin, are also taking place in Ohio and Indiana with demonstrations of support for true democracy around the whole country. I see these demonstrations also being demands for truth-telling. The changes the WI governor is trying to push through are not about budget cuts, but about democracy.
I was so pleased to be standing in front of the Massachussetts state house last Tuesday with hundreds (maybe even 1,000) other demonstrators. The energy and enthusiasm of the crowd gave me hope. Among all the homemade signs, the one I liked the best said "Working for Democracy - from the Mid-East to the Mid-West."
ESWoW member Brian Solomon is a gradaute of the Sunday School program at the Baltimore Ethical Society. He is also an alder on the Madison, WI City Council. I was so pleased to find the blog Brian wrote, reflecting on the demonstrations in Wisconsin, and especially noticing that it is not enough. Brian's blog clearly spells out for us that in order to continue having hope, we must continue to have action. Yes, it is possible for people to demonstrate and make changes. I'm hopeful that what we take from this demonstrating is that it is worthwhile to demonstrate, it is worthwhile to make our opinions known, to our legislators and to our neighbors. Read more »
I offer a yin-and-yang of topics on this ESWoW blog: love and dictators Over the past couple of weeks much of my attention has been split between following the remarkable events unfolding in the Middle East and working to advance marriage equality here in Maryland. Both issues have induced in me a sense of rising idealism. I find myself framing them in terms of inevitable and joyous movement toward a better world. And yet, there is so much ugliness and pragmatic reality to sort through.
First, let's start with dictators. Now on the surface they are not generally the sort of individuals moderate Americans like myself support I respect freedom and democracy, condemn authoritarian rule, and cheer on the common people marching through Cairo. It is, however, disconcerting to discover how ignorant I am about Egypt. I did not realize how oppressive Mubarak’s rule – made possible in small part to my tax dollars - had been over the past 30 years I did not know, for example, that he had extended Egypt’s "state of emergency" which had been in effect virtually continuously since the 1950’s. This status allowed for the suspension of constitutional rights and gave the government the legal right to censor and to detain political prisoners without trial. In recent years estimates placed the number of such prisoners as high as 30,000. How convenient it was for me to be blithely unaware of my complicity in such oppression until the masses began marching allowing me to cheer them on. Read more »
... in the Ethical religion, hope is not an illusion. We each live in history, not in general, but in the here and now in particular. Our own life is always at stake and that poses the deepest spiritual issue of our entire existence. Hope is a gift which requires our total involvement. It is not sentimental, not passively "hoping for the best." The hopeful person is an emotionally active person, for hope does not come gift-wrapped. The heart of the matter is always that we each must find our own help and that does not come over the bargain counter. On the contrary, hope depends upon our response to life. It is the burden and promise for people like ourselves, not intellectual giants, but people who want to base their lives upon what we can understand and upon what our hands can find to do. Hope resides in that which is as yet unawakened in us, pregnant within us, what we can urge into birth by deepening our lives. That is the religious humanist position and it can provide us with a sense of confidence about our place in life. - Matthew Ies Spetter
In looking for a piece I wrote years ago about hope, I came across a Platform Address with the title "Reasons for Hope" given by Dr. Matthew Ies Spetter in 1986. Dr. Spetter was the Leader of the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture (in the Bronx, NY) for over 40 years, retiring from there in the mid 1990's. This Platform was given at the American Ethical Union Assembly held that year in St. Louis, MO, and was given as part of the presentation of the Elliott-Black Award to Helen Caldicott. Read more »
Living with hope is my focus this month for a year of living ethically. While shoveling snow on a gray day earlier this week, adding to the piles that are already 5 feet high, I needed to dig deep to connect to my sense of hope. Read more »
It’s all too much! It is enough to make me want to scream. But I won’t. I will count to ten. (1…,2…,3…,4…,5…,6…,7…,8…9,…10. There, that’s better.)
I am talking about all the spin coming out of the tragedy in Tuscon. The networks are offering too much coverage of this dramatic event, clearly appealing to our ghoulish predilection to participate vicariously in violent tragedy. I have seen way too much of Jared Lee Loughner’s smiling face anytime I go to a news source, only multiplying the crazed motives of psychopaths around the country seeking fame and significance, albeit of a notorious nature.
But mostly I am talking about how there is too much political hay being made out of the shooting. Even before Representative Giffords has had a chance to survive the critical three-day peak of brain swelling, the pundits were out in force explaining how this awful event proves that the other side is evil.
First, many people rushed to judgment that the seemingly disturbed Mr. Loughner was motivated by the cross-hair targets on Sarah Palin’s website or by Giffords’ Republican opponent last fall, Jesse Kelly. His campaign placed an advertisement saying, "Get on target for victory in November/ Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office/ Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.” We don’t know Mr. Loughner’s state of mind, but I am sure we will find out much too much more over the coming weeks. But, that obscures the larger point: both Palin and Kelly’s use of violent images is deplorable, that is certain. Read more »
Living for a year having no impact on the environment. That's quite a challenge. Yet that is what Colin Beaven and his family, wife Michelle Conlin and daughter Isabella did. I'm not sure why, but I resisted watching the video I got out from the library. I don't know if I expected someone who was holier than thou about living in an ecological manner, maybe I thought I'd feel guilty that I am not doing enough to protect the environment, to conserve energy.
It didn't help when someone told me that they were less impressed because the documentary was about a family with lots of financial resources, living on Fifth Ave. in Manhattan.
But I knew I needed to watch it, so I finally popped the DVD in and thought I'd give it at least ten minutes. I was hooked right from the start. Here was a real family and they were making real choices and sacrifices, and at the same time, were going to make a lot more people aware of how their consumption affects the planet, and especially the future of our planet.
I found myself thinking yes, I can pay more attention to not buying things with lots of plastic packaging, I can be more careful to bring bags to the supermarket, I can take more political action around energy legislation. And as someone who uses my bicycle as my main means of transportation I was pleased to see them getting around in NY on bicycles.
There were some things they did which I can't see myself doing - going without electricity for months, but it does make me think more about seeking alternative forms of power generation for my home. I've been told that this location won't work well for wind generation, and my house isn't pointed in the right direction for solar panels, but that was a while ago and I know advances are being made all the time, so who knows. Read more »
Ethics begins with judgment and choice, and we know that how we choose to treat others is what is most important, as the kind of world in which we live radiates from personal decisions and interactions. The values and principles that guide our choices rest on a natural interpretation of experience, and are derived from the emotional capacities and intellectual abilities of human beings and the culture they create.
What would it be like to have a very intentional focus on living more ethically for a year? How can we pay more attention to our actions - and reactions, being more reflective in the choices we make when we interact with people, the choices we make in our daily lives, the choices we make as we try to make the world a better place? Could we do this for a year? What would we do?
Quite a few people have written books in recent years chronicling their experiences of spending a year living according to a certain set of specifications. The Year of Living Biblically and The Year of Living Like Jesus are perhaps the most well-known examples of this genre. But my library catalog also has One Year to an Organized Life, A Year of Living Your Yoga, The Artist's Way Every Day: A Year of Creative Living, and even Living Oprah: my one-year experiment to walk the walk of the queen of talk. Of great interest to me now is No Impact Man, since we are invited to a conference call with Colin Beaven, the man who for a year lived with minimal environmental impact, on Sunday, January 16, 2011. We'll have more information to share about this soon. Read more »