The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Dealing with Bullies in 2017

Bullying seems to be on the rise and I suspect may be considered the norm in 2017. Bullying crops up everywhere like poison mushrooms, including places you least expect it.

The Anti-Defamation League has some wonderful advice on how to deal with bullies. It pays to take some time and equip ourselves against the eventualities to come. Keep these ideas close at hand and practice them whenever possible.

Best of luck to us all in 2017.

See: http://www.adl.org/assets/pdf/education-outreach/10-Ways-to-Respond-to-Bullying.pdf

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Life Post 11/9: Standing Up to Authoritarianism

Yale University Professor of History Timothy Snyder has some useful suggestions on how to stand up to an authoritarian regime and the people who arise under its rule. Whatever you may think of life today, this is worth consideration.

See: https://www.facebook.com/timothy.david.snyder/posts/1206636702716110

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Protecting Free Speech

Here is an article well worth reading and considering deeply in light of Trump's threat to manipulate libel laws in the U.S. so he can effectively sue papers and journalists who disagree with him. The author warns this is a step toward authoritarianism.

See: https://drexel.edu/law/about/news/in-the-news/2016/November/Trump-Libel-Cimino-11212016/


Being Civil in an Angry Age

Civility, a simple building block for a better
society
This is not a post about "political correctness." I'm not some delicate little snowflake, as so many try to dismiss people who stand up for a civil society. Civility is defined as formal politeness and courtesy in behavior and speech. It is absolutely necessary moving forward into 2017 and the Trump age of American politics and the Farage age of British politics.

The store across from our church had Nazi swastikas scrawled across its walls. I know a grade school crossing guard who has had to call in the police to monitor her crossing because too many drivers were becoming increasingly hostile to following simple, civil traffic rules in regards to children's safety. Recently, a grandmother's three year old granddaughter was gunned down at a stop sign because the enraged and armed man behind her became furious because she didn't pull away from the stop sign fast enough to suit Mr. Fast and Furious. In the new age of rage, his idea of a logical response was to open fire on the offending drivers car. Whether he intended to kill the three-year-old child is up for debate since this murderer has yet to be caught (at the time of this writing).

This is where we are headed in an age of anti-PC politics. We have emboldened all who live with simmering hatred and scores to settle. People are spewing all sorts of hateful things and taking all sorts of hateful actions against any group they consider "other" and therefore less than human, easy targets for their previously impotent rage.

The rest of us must work hard to be an example of civil society. Acts of politeness and courtesy have great power in a dark age. They become small beacons of light and hope in the fearful darkness. They also may save someone from suicide. Notes have been found repeatedly from people who have jumped to their deaths from the Bay Bridge stating if one person smiles at me between here and the bridge I won't jump. Imagine that, your simple act of kindness, your gentle smile of civility may save a life.

Now, to be civil in an angry age means to have a spine of steel. You have to be willing to intervene in cases of escalating bullying. There are many excellent posts on how to do so safely. You may have to call in the police, like the aforementioned crossing guard. You may need to become familiar with Facebook Live to record and shame some angry lout out of a dangerous course of action. Being civil is not being weak. Stand for civil society. Push back against the gathering darkness. It is how we become increasingly safe and help others to be safe as well. In the process you may save an angry person from committing a crime they cannot take back, one that will ruin their life and the lives of others forever. I'd say all of that is worth the effort, wouldn't you?

How to live stream from Facebook: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajRnToYSGyE

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Life Post 11/9: Insist on Truth

In the year and a half running up to the election and life post 11/9/16, the news organizations abandoned news, real news, in favor of D. Trump's latest tweets. They proved to be far more profitable than other stories and we ended up with one candidate receiving a ridiculous amount of air time. Now we hear the news folks pondering how they could have/should have done things differently. Phooey.

In recent days, we find that a great many Americans fell for fake news created by teens in foreign lands for a profit. Most of the stories were pro-Trump and anti-Clinton as those raked in the big bucks too. Stay away from those, folks. If you find a story stoking your personal ire or feeding your bias, be suspicious of the source.

Now, Trump lackeys are declaring we are in a "post-truth" age. I say, B.S. to that. No, now is the time to insist on the truth and to be skeptical. Hone your senses for B.S. and steer clear. Insist our politicians and news people work to uncover and deliver actual news, real facts, and not propaganda. We've live too long in the propaganda bubble and it has led us down a potentially incredibly harmful and destructive path.

Be particular in what you partake in with regards to all that is presented as news. This would be the time to pick up a reliable newspaper subscription actually. That retro source will serve you far better than anything on cable news. Steer clear of the truly partisan sources of information as they will be providing spun information of dubious quality. Steer absolutely clear of the most radical right and left publications as they have pretty well decided to go fact free.

We can insist on truth as best we understand it or we can allow our society and our lives to be distorted and freedoms stripped by the convenient lies of the moment. It is our choice. I choose to insist on truth ... even when I don't like the answers truth provides. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Stress Relief: Get a Hobby

The work I do for a living is fulfilling. It is also demanding and creates much stress in life.

Needing to relieve this stress, I rediscovered one of the great truths. A hobby takes your mind off your troubles. Years ago I had dabbled briefly in N scale model railroading as a hobby. I have some equipment, the beginnings of a layout, and a couple of models I had picked up and never built.

I started looking through this material literally decades after I stowed it away. I'm glad now I didn't get rid of it. I have had to reconcile myself to one truth, however, I really don't care about the trains. I have no concern over running a realistic railroad. What I find fascinating are the buildings and scenes to be created.

I have long felt that the town of Cumberland, Maryland, especially the central city, would make a wonderful layout. So, once the basic track is in place, I will turn my full attention on the portion of town I intend to recreate (fancifully, not reliably) back in the era of my childhood, the 1960s.

Having determined all this, I took out the simplest model kit I had--an old plastic boiler house kit. I figured I could practice on that and no harm done if the model didn't turn out. I was startled to discover all I had to learn to get this job done. There was no suggested paint scheme outside of the colors of the molded plastic. So, what did boiler houses, coal-fired, look like? For that matter, what does a pile of coal look like? Off to Google images, off to a marvelous hobby shop near my office, and off on an adventure.

What I discovered was that in the hours I was researching the modeling, painting techniques, and all the rest, hours flowed by (more of them than I had imagined) without a single worry about my work. I had also completely forgotten how pleasurable (and at times irritating) the actual construction could be after all the hours of painting. It was nice to learn how good a simple plastic model could look when properly painted.

One great thing I discovered as well that is a tremendous advantage now over when I originally tried this hobby. Almost anything you need to know about getting the job done and successfully starting your hobby is available online. I kept my tablet close at hand while I worked to look up what I did not yet know. Here's one handy tip: did you know your small hobby paint brushes clean up really well with an application of Windex? Go figure!

So, my advice to you, get yourself a hobby, any hobby, and give yourself a break from the news, from work, from electronic media, and get those hands busy. If it's a hobby where there is an end product to enjoy, so much the better.

Now, you'll have to excuse me, I've got a teeny-tiny world to plan. See you later.

Here's the result of my first experiment: the paint work included small brush work, dry brushing, and washes. It was a blast.

Started with my simplest plastic kit. Nothing to lose, right?
Detailing the base would come later, if I choose to use this model. 


Yeah, I know, a boiler house wouldn't have that detail over the door, but I
wanted to see if I had the dexterity to pull it off. Yep. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Life Post 11/9: Don't Criticize Without a Plan

There have been a whole lot of armchair critics in the post 11/9/16  world. It seems that every time someone or some organization offers suggestions on how we can be helpful to one another, somebody rises up with a scalding critique of that attempt. Safety pin wearing comes to mind. It's a simple gesture letting others know you are a safe person to approach if you have a crisis or feel threatened. Simple, direct, understated. One article that followed was so full of abuse and self-hatred it was amazing.

My humble suggestion is to behave in a variation of what your mom and Cowboy Bob used to say, if you don't have a constructive alternative to the suggestion offered, don't say anything at all.

It'll make life as we have to live it now in the U.S. a little more bearable.

Thanks.

Life Post 11/9: 5 Ways to Disrupt Racism



Please watch and internalize these approaches. In the U.S. and Britain after their respective elections, these approaches are absolutely necessary.

Life Post 11/9: Standing Against Hate

Here is a link to a guide from the Southern Poverty Law Center on standing against hate. There have been far too many hate crimes reported since 11/9, with many hateful people feeling empowered since the election. Here are useful ways to counter that hatred. Silence, ducking our heads and rushing by, fearfully doing nothing so as not to draw attention, all of that and more is the equal of saying YES to hate and all the violence that comes with it. Please read and share:

https://www.splcenter.org/20100216/ten-ways-fight-hate-community-response-guide

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Life Post-11/9: If Your Guy Won ... Don't Be a Hypocrite

Grief takes time
Let's all do our part to try to keep some semblance of civility in the Trump era.

If your guy won in the election, good for you. You have a right to feel happy, to feel in some way vindicated, but don't be a hypocrite. Here are a couple simple definitions:
a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs. 
a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements. (Thanks dictionary.com)
Don't ask a great many grieving (yeah, really, actually grieving) American voters who thought their gal would be the better choice to suddenly rally around "our" president, come together, pray for that president, and generally put on the happy face. That's just plain insulting in the light of the last 8 years of history.

Let's try to remember all the Republican obstructionism of everything President Obama tried to do, the YUGE number of times Republicans tried to repeal the ACA (so what is your alternative anyway), the overt and covert racism, the birther movement, all the conspiracy theories, and the great many vile things your guy and a whole lot of followers (I hope not you dear reader) said and did during this most damaging and damnable campaign season. Don't forget the incessant investigations of Hillary Clinton that turned up a grand total of zip, zero, squat, while spending whole wheelbarrow's full of American tax payer dollars for these political witch hunts. 

I could go on and on about the right wing media you all have generated with all its twisted fairly tales about the other side, stories so black even the Brothers Grimm would have flinched away from them. But I won't. In the weeks and months ahead, I'll strive for civility myself. However, I have to be honest with you. If your guy tries to implement the threats he made on all sorts of minorities and on women, I'll be in the streets with the protesters. 

So, really, don't be hypocrites. If this offends you, well, that I can't much help, because I'm not going to feign some attitude you'd find desirable right now. I'm not going to be a hypocrite either. 

I will try to love you and everyone else because I'm a Christian. But as a Christian, sometimes in that love you have to speak truth to power. Let's try for civility, let's try to listen to each other, let's try to find some way to heal together. But, if your guy won, give the rest of us voters time. We really do have to work through our grief ... and grapple with our fear over what this nation is about to become. A lot of us see absolutely no good coming of this election outcome. That IS life in the post 11/9 world.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hair Cut Advice for Balding Men

This is for the guys with thinning hair. Mine's been going for a long time. It's gone from the crown in the back and thinning all across the top. Nope, won't get hair plugs, no wigs, none of that.

From time to time when getting it cut, I tell whoever is doing the job to trim the top and don't leave anything long. I know I'm going bald. I don't want any comb-over hair waving around in the wind like a demented octopus. But, you know, you get tired of saying that and think you're being paranoid, so you stop. Then one windy day, you see the waving hairs.

So, instead of getting mad, I asked the next practitioner of the fine art of hair cuttery if that needs to be said every time. I was given an emphatic yes. Hair cutters don't know how we of the thinning hair crowd feel about our baring heads and so they err on the side of caution and cut long, leaving that dread comb over look.

If you don't want that, take it from the expert I asked, ASK each and every time for them not to leave you with comb-over hair. You'll be glad you did the next time the wind blows.

11/9 What WE Have Done

Well, it's happened. We've elected a populist with no practical experience in governance. I'm not going to try to tell you all the things pundits far more accomplished than myself have said. But, let's look at this. Notice how the Republican politicians in D.C. are rallying around the president elect, even those who spoke out strongly against him. Are they just spineless pols (note the "just")? No. They have learned a powerful lesson. Mr. Trump has a weakness for flattery. So, butter him up now, before he steps into the highest office in the land. Once he's there, manipulate the hell out of him. All these experienced power brokers will eat him for lunch. Like Jimmy Carter (a far more experienced pol, governor of Georgia but with no Washington experience), they will be able to keep him from doing a great deal of what they don't want done and steer him toward what they prefer.

Unfortunately, a great deal of harm will be done during this handling. We have already seen detrimental behavior arise at his rallies, spinning off into communities with toxic effect, bullying and violence, hatred and rage against everyone not just like themselves and who doesn't parrot whatever line currently comes into that sleep-deprived entrepreneurs head. It is a dangerous time.

Mr. Trump doesn't believe in science like I do. He thinks climate change is a hoax. He wishes to burn fossil fuel in ever greater amounts. He could very well become our next gigantic meteor. Way down the chain of evolution, the next sentient race may dig up our remains and find out our extinction was self-inflicted and they can ponder what that means for them ... while some of their own argue with the ancient archaeological record, saying it is just another hoax, and the cycle may repeat until the sun expands in its waning years and burns this place to cinders.

I have a recommendation for everyone who had a sleepless election night, who is in agony following 11/9, who watched Hillary Clinton's concession speech with teary eyes, who lives with burning rage because a child of theirs who has voted for the first time (a daughter let's say) reported late that sleepless night on Facebook, "I see who the next president will be and I'm afraid". Work against the toxic offerings of Mr. Trump. Work to see that the U.S. doesn't lurch far and painfully down a path of inward turning nationalistic xenophobia. And for God's sake and our own, listen to each other. Listen to the voters who supported Donald Trump. Get them in quiet calm rational discussion and LISTEN. Discovery where it hurts for them. Discover how and why they feel ignored or threatened. A great many are not the racists, misogynists, xenophobes we want to dismiss them as. Many are hurting human beings just like us, looking for someone, ANYONE who will listen to their fears and perhaps help them in their struggles.

Let's work together to get through this mess together. We may have to get out of our chairs, out from behind our devices, and march to be heard, to draw positive attention We will have to work for peace and justice and mercy. If we continue to tear at each other, hurling only insults, hating for all we're worth, we don't deserve to be the United States of America anymore. If we cannot come together, we the people, and work together, demanding our pols in D.C. and locally actually pay attention to us and WORK FOR US, we will not be a free people much longer.

That's it.

Oh, by the way, here's one other thing to try: https://lansdownebaptistchurch.blogspot.com/2016/11/our-job-never-changes.html

Lansdowne Baptist Church: Our Job Never Changes: Sermon for November 6, 2016...

Here's a link to an important message for all who are struggling ... And all who rejoice ... Following the Trump election. I personally challenge you to attempt to live differently based on these two commandments!

Lansdowne Baptist Church: Our Job Never Changes: Sermon for November 6, 2016...: Sermon based on Matthew 22:36-40, the greatest commandments. No matter the situation (even in a contentious election season), Christians ...




Monday, September 26, 2016

Plume Observations at Europa NASA Says

Europa. Courtesy of NASA
At the 2 p.m. news conference today, NASA's team states they believe they have recorded plumes coming intermittently from Europa. The plumes were seen in the infrared spectrum using an instrument of the Hubble Space Telescope to its limits to observe the plumes. They believe the broadband imaging technique has recorded plumes, strongly indicating a subsurface ocean envelopes Europa below miles of ice. What makes this an exciting announcement is that such plumes would allow for an analysis of water coming from the ocean below (and its potential for life) without needing to find a way to burrow through unknown miles worth of ice to reach that ocean.

It's technically exciting, opening up tantalizing possibilities ... but not as exciting as finding a monolith on Europa would be.

For all the details, see: http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-s-hubble-spots-possible-water-plumes-erupting-on-jupiters-moon-europa

Sunday, September 25, 2016

American Baptist Response to Unrest

I'm an American Baptist and proud to be part of the most diverse denomination in the US. In the past few months, the American Baptist Home Mission Societies has taken on some really volatile topics and done it with a great deal of compassion and grace. What you read in their work is the very opposite of what you so often hear in the mostly bungled and often confused reports centering on extremists that are always dredged up when some inflammatory quote is needed with which to tar all of Christianity.

Let the following readings counter some of that nonsense and give you some balm and encouragement in the face of the turmoil we currently face. See: http://abhms.org/resources/publications/christian-citizen/ for a digital magazine, the Christian Citizen, dealing with the current unrest in the U.S.

American Baptist Home Mission Societies also had a powerful response following the Orlando night club shootings: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2016/06/american-baptist-statements-following.html

Surprising Discovery at Europa Says NASA

Europa. Courtesy of NASA
I love this kind of story.

Tomorrow, Monday, September 26, at 2 p.m. NASA will hold a news conference to discuss surprising new finding from the moon Europa with all the water believed to be held in a massive ocean beneath its frozen surface. It is believed that Europa's gravitational interplay with Jupiter keeps the moon warm inside, creating a massive ocean with more water than that covering the earth.

With much hullabaloo upon the initial tease from NASA, they had to come back with a statement that, no, it isn't aliens. No, they haven't received a warning to steer clear of Europa from some alien super race, as in the novel 2010.

What we do know so far is that the Hubble Space Telescope has made some mighty interesting observation of that icy moon, something that may well have to do with better proof of the watery realm below the icy shell. One thing scientists have long said is that where there is liquid water there is likely to be life. We may well be on step closer to finding life outside of our bright and shining earth. Tomorrow we'll know for sure.

If you want to see for yourself what little there is to know today, check out the following: http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-to-hold-media-call-on-evidence-of-surprising-activity-on-europa

We'll return to this subject when the big reveal is made. I expect the information to be more "sciencey" than spectacular ... but you never know.

Your Life Is Too Important to be Eaten Alive!

We live in a society that tells you over and over again that you are your work, your work is vitally important, and very little else if anything comes first. Go to a party and what do people ask? "What do you do for a living?" they ask, or some variation of that.

Well, if you let it, that attitude will allow your work to eat you alive. How do you know this is happening? It's a lot of little things combined. You start putting in longer and longer hours at the job. You begin to fret when you can't solve each and every problem everyone brings to you. You stop doing the things you love and replace those things with work. Family life, social life, and private down time suffer as work consumes you whole. If you take solace in writing, the writing stops. You convince yourself that caffeine is an adequate substitute for sleep.

It is something that is insidious. The increased work load gives you a false sense of importance and a correspondent bloating of the ego, In time your health begins to suffer, your mental and emotional resources wane as well ... and in time some major physical damage is done as the body demands the abuse ends (either temporarily with a hospital stay and some return to sanity or permanently).

It has been a near thing with this blogger my friends. I caught myself before the physical symptoms could take hold, but am now forcing myself to take the time for all that I enjoy and truly need (including books on disc during my commute to and from work instead of a diet of news), novels and favorite shows at home, purposeful downtime now jealously guarded, and adequate sleep at night (well, truth be told, I'm still working on that one).

So, take heed, please. Don't let your job eat you alive. Or your worries, your fears, or whatever else is taking every greater control of you each and every day. Pull yourself back from the brink, while there is still time.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Threatening Fortune Cookie?

Is this another vaguely threatening fortune???

The other day I opened a fortune cookie and got the sneaking feeling I'd just been vaguely threatened. It was a weird feeling. I cracked open the cookie, took out that fateful strip of paper, and it read:

"Life is an adventure or nothing." Or nothing? If I wasn't adventurous to the writer was I targeted for removal? If I am not living a life of extreme action, am I worthless?

It is enough to make a person look over a shoulder now and then. Of course, perhaps that puts a little adventure into every life. Hmm. I'll have to give that some more thought.

Here's to the adventure.

Alternatives When US Senate Fails to Act on Gun Control


The U.S. Senate, Republican led, seems bound and determined to live down to expectations. Four bills seeking to provide better background checks for gun purchases and to keep guns out of the hands to people on the terrorist watch list utterly failed today. Our bought and paid for by the NRA Senators, almost every single Republican and a handful of Democrats, refused to do anything constructive even after the worst massacre in U.S. history in Orlando, Florida.

The American Baptist Home Mission Societies has a couple of suggestions of organizations to join to seek action by joining your voice with others. See: http://abhms.org/about-us/news/abhms-urges-american-baptists-advocate-gun-violence-prevention/ for details. The organizations are Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence (FUPGV) and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA). 

Of course, you can also vote out of office all the do nothing congresspeople and senators. I'd love to say there were politicians in office who actually listen to their constituency rather than the lobbyists. Good luck to us all.  

For a list of U.S. senators who refused to vote in favor of wanted gun control regulations, see: http://boingboing.net/2016/06/20/gun-control-defeated-in-senate.html or http://everytown.org/senate-vote-orlando/ Don't forget their names this fall during the elections, when it's OUR turn to vote. 

My Epiphany After Pulse Nightclub Murders in Orlando

Up front (full disclosure): if you haven't read my blog before, cards on the table, I'm an American Baptist minister with a complicated background, having been a editor and author, along with a professional archaeologist. I've been a Baptist all my life, starting with the Southern Baptists long ago when things there were different and now having moved on. I was trained at Palmer Theological Seminary, which taught working for others all over the world, treating all God's children (everybody just so we're clear) humanely, and serving humbly. I was raised to help others too. There you go. That's what you need to know where we are going next.

I believe in the power of God's Holy Spirit to give us good hard pushes when needed. I had never understood the phrase I'd heard over the years "the power of the Spirit burning within you." I understood when the earthquake in Haiti left so many people suffering back in 2010. Seeking what could be done, I ran across an article from the American Baptist Women's Ministry on creating shoe boxes filled with basic supplies or infant supplies that would be gathered at a central collection point and sent on the Haiti. For the first time in my life, I burned to do something in response. I felt an excitement in my chest unlike anything I'd ever felt. I didn't know exactly how every bit of the process was going to work, but I barreled forward anyway. Working with many people in my church, we all got to work and created a whole lot of those shoe boxes, which we sent on to help others. 

Well, on Sunday when the mass murder in Orlando first hit the news, I started to burn again. I was guided by the Spirit once more. I was schooled in the idea that just railing against this on social media would not get the job done. With the convergence of mass murder against one community based on hate speech, ridiculous laws, and loose canon mouths on politicians and media pundits inflaming the minds of those prone to violence, I was convicted to do more with my faith. Since then, I've written senators and congresspersons on a range of issues, joined several peace and justice organizations working against hate speech, violence, injustice, etc. and signed numerous petitions.

In a cynical world, you might ask what any of that will accomplish. Well, I firmly believe we are here to be agents for good in this world. Every act for justice, mercy, peace, and love makes a difference that is cumulative. I will always assert that in the long run, love will win out over evil. I will work for love. 

One of my pet peeves is fanatical fringe groups attempting to redefine my Christian or Baptist faith in twisted hateful terms of their own making, terms that have nothing to do with being a Christ follower. I have been infuriated that the news media have turned to such hate-twisted fringe speakers when needing a "Christian" voice for their story. So, when Faithful America (an advocacy group I joined some time ago) sent around an electronic petition calling for ABC This Week not to feature Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (which has been offering a great deal of false, vitriolic anti-LGBTQ disinformation) as representative of Christianity. 

It is a relief to see one of my many new efforts to work for love and justice pay off so quickly. It is affirming of the Holy Spirit's fire burning within me and my lifelong path working for justice from now on. 


If you wish to work against gun violence, please reference this article from my denomination and the organizations mentioned, join them, and let your voice join with many others as a powerful force working against violence, hatred and murder (sigh, and no, I don't want to take all your guns away, but I DO insist on sensible, reasoned ways to move forward in lowering the gun murder rate at home and abroad): http://www.abc-usa.org/2016/06/17/abhms-urges-american-baptists-to-advocate-for-gun-violence-prevention/

Update: Shame on MSNBC for picking up Tony Perkins after ABC dropped him. The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified him as the head of a hate group. MSNBC allowed him to represent Christians on the issue of Donald J. Trump and evangelicals. Let me state for the record that I do not recognize anyone as a Christ follower who peddles hate. That's not what Jesus stood for. Please find a way to let MSNBC know this is not acceptable behavior.

American Baptist Statements Following Shooting at Pulse in Orlando, Florida

I am an American Baptist. I'm very pleased with the statements coming from my denomination, American Baptist Churches USA. We American Baptists are a diverse bunch, the most diverse denomination in the US as a matter of fact. We are equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, we come in all races, and each church has a startling level of autonomy. So, we have a wide range of views in regards to current hot button cultural issues. However, as it states in the following released, we do not wish our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to think we do not love them while we work through competing interpretations of Scripture. We most certainly do. We also cannot stand by silently while any of God's children around the globe (and big hint here, everybody is a child of God as we see it) are injured or murdered in acts of hatred. In part, this response was encouraged by American Baptist pastors across the nation writing in to the national headquarters requesting statements dealing with this tragedy and our stance directly. Speaking up really does make a difference.

Here's the latest release: http://www.abc-usa.org/2016/06/17/abc-interim-general-secretary-addresses-orlando-shooting/

A few highlights:

“We offer our deepest sympathy to the families and friends of the victims of the horrible tragedy in Orlando. We extend love to those of our family directly affected. We grieve with our American Baptist brothers and sisters who are part of the LGBTQ community. My message to them is, never mistake our debates and disagreements with the depth of our love for you as part of our family. To the rest of the ABC family my message is, even in the midst of profound disagreement, let us love as Christ loved. 
~Interim General Secretary Dr. Susan Gillies


Following Gillies remarks, Rev. Judy Fackenthal said, “As President of ABCUSA, I concur with Interim General Secretary Susan Gillies that any act of violence against any part of the human family is fully outside the vision of God’s gracious love for all people. While American Baptists may not agree on a wide variety of issues, we claim God’s love as a just and all-encompassing love. I pray for the people of Orlando, particularly the LGBTQ community as well as the Hispanic community that has been particularly affected by this horrific violence. May we work together to seek to end hate and the outcomes associated with it.”


“The events of last week hurt me deeply, as a Christian, Baptist and as a Puerto Rican,” said Dr. Josue D. Gómez-Menéndez, vice president of ABC. “At this time I would like to express my solidarity with all the people who are suffering from the effects of violence, misconceptions and separation. In the end what we discover in the depth of love is that we find our essence and human reality, our claim to the dignity of the human being and our real choice to reflect Jesus in every step.”

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Scholarship Funds Being Raised By Favorite Church

My favorite church, Lansdowne Baptist in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, is currently raising funds via Go Fund Me (they like to try new things) to provide scholarship money to local high school graduates. They've been offering up $500 to $1000 scholarships annually to two deserving students for many years and want to continue in this mission to their community.

If you're interested in helping and/or sharing the word, please go to the following blog post: https://lansdownebaptistchurch.blogspot.com/2016/06/raising-scholarship-funds.html

Or you can cut to the chase and go straight to the Go Fund Me site if you are so bold: gofundme.com/29udut8s

Sunday, June 12, 2016

For All Who Can't Resist Telling Others They're Doing It Wrong

A friend and colleague of mine told this beautiful little story about someone who just couldn't resist nibbing in on somebody else's business and the results. According to the "Little Book of Celtic Saints" around 640 AD the travel weary Corman, Celtic Bishop of Northumbria, came back to his home monastery in Iona. There he complained bitterly about the Angles of Northumbria, who were far too stubborn to receive the gospel's good news. Aiden, an Irish monk, just couldn't resist and critiqued the irritated Bishop's work, declaring Corman had been too harsh and suggested a better option. Corman, Aiden pontificated, should "as the Apostle taught us, offer them the milk of less solid doctrine." The historian, Bede, wrote that this went over like a lead balloon and Corman, along with all the monks at Iona, immediately resolved to make Aiden a bishop and send him packing to serve in Northumbria.

Let that be a lesson to us all. Better to keep our mouths shut than to offer unsolicited and unwanted critiques, especially to aggravated people with the power to send us off to the hinterlands to demonstrate just how brilliant our critiques are in practice.

Beware!!!

Pray and Act following Orlando Nightclub Massacre

NO to hatred, NO to propaganda, NO to evil in all its corrupt forms!!!
After the horrific massacre at the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, by a man apparently steeped in a culture of violence and homophobia, with terrorist sympathies, we need to stop and pray. Pray for all the victims of this monstrous and obscene occurrence. Pray has a requirement few acknowledge. Once you've prayed for something, you need to put yourself into action to achieve the goal of that prayer. Pray for peace; become a peacemaker. Pray for an end to gun violence; become a advocate for gun control. You see how this works?

There are a lot of ways to go with this. We currently live in a culture steeped in fear and hatred. Hate speech is becoming part of everyday life, poisoning our society. Those who choose to spew hatred say they do not wish to be "politically correct." I'm sorry, keeping society from swimming in hate is not politically correct, it is humane, it is responsible, it is the grown up way to be. When politicians engage in hate speech, like the Lieutenant Governor of Texas saying the LGBTQ community sowed this and are reaping the results in death in Orlando, speak out loudly and strongly against this hatred trying to hide behind a faith it is perverting with such a misuse. When another politician uses the Psalms to call people to pray for the death of the president and his family, do not let that stand. When people speak out hatefully against those in the LGBTQ community, call them out on it. Especially when cable news networks are so incredibly irresponsible as to broadcast such hatred, really cry out against them. Refuse to have anything to do with media so perverted as to become a propaganda outlet for hate. Work for the ways of love, peace, and mutual understanding instead.

Call out all politicians and NRA officials who deliver the basest lies and spread fear in order to sell more guns. Demand change. Join groups that seek the CDC's freedom to research and suggest remedies to gun violence. Contest the ridiculous notion that anyone outside the military needs a semi automatic to protect their home, their family, or to hunt. No sport in hunting with such a weapon, which is designed to kill people, not hunt wildlife. What fool would actually discharge such a device within the confines of their own walls? The property damage would be outrageous. The notion that people and not guns kill if bizarre and twisted logic beyond measure. Hate addled people with guns, especially semi automatics have been empowered to kill people in large numbers in ways they would not be able to without access to such killing machines.

We need to pray and then get out from behind our screens and actually interact face to face in a civil manner. Discuss the issues, band together, work for peace, justice, and human rights. Become an organized community actively seeking a far more peaceful world.

If you seek immediately to help the victims of the Orlando massacre, you can go to the gofundme site set up for them and donate. You can donate blood as well.

Another route to take, especially if you live a sheltered life, is to get out and meet people very different from yourself. Get to know people of different orientations, of different religions, different nationalities, and even different political parties. Become familiar with them and stop fearing them. Stop seeing them as the dangerous "other" or the vile "them."  You might even become friends. Once that happens (it's knows as breaking bread with them in biblical terms), you'll have a much harder time accepting hateful propaganda spread about your new friends and you'll have a much easier time standing up for them.

Hate must not win. Hate must not pervert society any further than it already has. It will do so if good people fail to act and to speak out. Sitting on the sidelines, refusing to speak or to act, is no longer an option. Let's meet face to face and work for peace, for justice, for the oppressed, for minorities, for every bullied group, for all the world. Let's drive hatred back into the shadows and make sure it withers away there before it consumes us all.

Update: As of 11:42 p.m. I have emailed my senators and congressman asking for them to work on gun control legislation. It is one small first step in standing against the tide of hatred and murder awash in our country. More and better steps to come.

Update 2: See post for what I've done so far since: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2016/06/my-epiphany-after-pulse-nightclub.html

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Doctors and Nurses: Thanks

Hey, doctors and nurses, can I have a minute or two from your busy day?

I want to stop and say thank you.

My recent emergency eye surgery got me thinking of all the times you all have made a difference in my life and in the lives of family and friends I love.

The very best among you have always been really decent with me, even when I'm not at my best ... and when do you guys get to see any of us at our best? During the prep for the first eye surgery, the nurse was so upbeat she gave me courage before receiving two needles to my left eye. The surgeon himself explained what would happen and then had the wisdom to reassure me that it had taken longer to explain the procedure than the 20 seconds it would take to get the first of those two jobs done. I was reassured and went into that procedure with a calm I had not expected.

It's been that way with all my best encounters over the years with people in your most demanding professions The dentist who told me  he got into the field in part because he was an artist who likes to work with his hands. Talk about a point of view that reoriented my thinking on dentistry! He also said the hours were better than those of a surgeon, which made me laugh.

The nurse who responded when I observed it must to tough to work with people who all want to leave the hospital and them. She responded, "Oh no, you've got it wrong. We're glad for everyone who wants to leave. It means they're getting better. It's the people who don't care that scare us. They aren't recovering the way they should."

To the surgeons who worked on me in outpatient operations who said, "you tolerated that procedure well." That simple phase felt like I'd earned a medal, coming from you.

You guys work on the edge, the front line of mortality in some cases. You use all the training, all the new knowledge and equipment, or work near miracles with old equipment. You add skill, insight, years of experience, and sometimes daring to get the job done. You are there to offer congratulations or condolences afterwards.

We are all trained by our society that we ought to fix things. Yet, we all know we are mortal. We all know there will come a day when none of your skill, experience, amazing techniques or technologies will be able to defeat death one more time. I know there is a day coming when this is likely to happen to me (unless I'm killed in some disaster or pass away in my sleep) or a loved one. When it does, I want to say, I know you did your best and I know this was bound to happen. We are mortal. We die. It is our condition. I know you face this far more often than I do as a minister, and it is a regular part of my life. But let me say, don't beat yourself up. You work long hours, and sometimes you work against very long odds. When you lose that last battle and have to tell me or my loved ones of the loss, know that my faith and that of my family will see us through. You did all you could. My belief in God, my Christian hope in life eternal, that will carry me and mine on beyond what you are able to do.

Thank you for all you do for everyone you meet. Thank you for all the kindness, care, and concern shown along with the awesome skill sets. I hope you'll all take some time to take care of yourselves, especially on those miserable weeks when death wins time and time again. You've earned a little time to decompress and deal with the losses, to grieve when needed, to blow off steam when it's not.

Thanks again. I see more clearly now, following your most recent work on my eye ... and yeah, I mean that in more ways than one.

For the experience that led to this post, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2016/05/my-retinal-tear-what-you-should-know.html

Monday, May 16, 2016

Stories of Old Egypt, Dolch Folklore of the World

I stumbled across an old childhood nemesis of mine. The book Stories of Old Egypt from the Dolch Folklore of the World series, printed in 1964 by Garrard Publishing Company. I didn't read this book as a child because the image on the cover and to the story "The Sailor's Story" freaked me out. Remember, this was back in the 1960s when an articulated skeleton on a TV show or in a movie was scary business indeed, especially for an impressionable kid. The snake people with the human heads were nightmare fuel as far as I was concerned.

So, I've read some of the stories now, decades later. I'm sorry I didn't get past those images way back when. The stories, written for a grade 3 reading level but of interest for grades 2-8 according to the paper insert on this complimentary copy from the publisher, are pretty good. The first one, "Lady Doris," surprised me as it was a variant on the Cinderella story (well, at least the slipper, the beauty, and the prince). An eagle plays match maker, dropping off the lady's slipper, which remarkably will only fit one woman in all of Egypt--and that the most beautiful single woman of them all. "The Sailor's Story" is also a good tale in which the sailor washed up after a storm on the magical island of the Snake People is saved and sent home because of his storytelling abilities.

I highly recommend the two part story that is "The Prince" and "A Snake, a Crocodile, and a Dog." In this tale mortality is grappled with, along with how to live life well in spite of a dire circumstance in your life. It is an excellent morality tale.
Did not like the snake people as a kid!

Thanks to authors Edward W. & Marguerite P. Dolch for the compilation. Artist Gordon Laite provided all the imagery, including the scary snake people that kept me away for so long. 

Stop Empowering Stupidity, PLEASE

I never had that feeling that I had to carry the weight of somebody's ignorance around with me. And that was true for racists who wanted to use the 'n' word when talking about me or about my people, or the stupidity of people who really wanted to belittle other folks because they weren't pretty or they weren't rich or they weren't clever. ~ Maya Angelou*

The stories come fast and furious. Empowering stupid people seems to be the name of the game these. days. I mean those headstrong, stubborn folks who refuse to take in any new information that goes against some ingrained bias or prejudice they hold near and dear. The proudly hateful folks who divide the world into a very small tribe of "us" and a huge, never-to-be-trusted tribe of "them." Need examples? How about empowering the stupid person who suspected an economist of being a terrorist on an airline because this individual sitting next to him did not recognize mathematical notation for what it was and perhaps thought it was the plotting of a terror mastermind. This economist was taken off the plane and interviewed to determine he was not an inept terrorist. Couldn't someone on the plane have recognized mathematical formulas for what they were and quelled this troubled, ignorant person's fear? Couldn't someone have brought up how inept a terrorist this would be to be formulating some act of terrorism while on the airplane he wished to perform the terrorist act against? Please don't empower stupid people, giving in to their ignorance and enabling them to perform acts of stupidity yet again. This act of stupidity caused embarrassment (it could have been worse) for the economist and delayed the flight an hour and a half. For more on this story, see: http://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2016/05/07/economist-removed-american-airlines-flight-math/

Media outlets: please stop giving Donald Trump tons of free airtime at virtually the top of every news half hour. No other candidate has ever had so much coverage, nor been allowed to hold telephone interviews with your outlets back to back on the various networks. No candidate has been able to lie so blatantly and not been challenged on the lie. Please stop empowering stupidity on this highly dangerous level. Please stop allowing this individual to take advantage freely of the simmering frustrations of a group of people who have been left in many ways powerless. This has long been a favorite tactic of the elite when seeking the ensure the downtrodden didn't rise up against them. It worked for a Southern general of the Civil War who needed to make sure the poor who resented the fact that they could have had the jobs on plantations and fed their families had not slavery been in place would not rise up against the plantation owners and their government. Please guys, give us a week where the Donald isn't your lead story for some "trumped" up reason or other. For more, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/16/upshot/measuring-donald-trumps-mammoth-advantage-in-free-media.html?_r=0

I could go on to legislators pandering to base, stupid, bigoted ideas as an act of cultural warfare, but I've reached my limit for dealing with foolishness for one day.

Please, just stop empowering stupid people and stupid ideas. Let's empower learning, curiosity, social discourse, rational discourse, and other society building endeavors instead.

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” 
― George Carlin*
See Brainy Quotes for more.

My Retinal Tear: What You Should Know

I won't be flying for a month
and need to wear this until the bubble in my eye disappears.
Disclaimer: This is a personal experience post peppered with information I learned from my ophthalmologists (eye doctors or surgeon from here on out because those words are easier to spell). For medical facts, talk to the experts (the real live ones preferably).

Know this for starters: I am currently recovering from two emergency eye surgeries. Here's how it happened. I get aura migraines, which means I see the equivalent of sun glare in my eyes before the pain starts. When the glare disappears (you know, like the glare you get when the sun shines brightly off water or snow and dazzles your eyes), the pain begins. In my case, the glare didn't go away.

Ten years ago, my brother had a retinal tear and I learned the signs from him. So, I headed off to the eye doctors for a special visit. No tear was found but I was cautioned that didn't mean there would not be one. He was right ... although I'd wished he'd done one further test that happened later ... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The glare persisted, eyes open and eyes closed, located in the lower left of my left eye. When my eyes were closed the glare would slowly fade away. Then over a short time, things changed. The glare became a watery spot, a blurred place in my vision. This alternated back and forth between watery and fuzzy gray. When the fuzzy gray hit, I could see nothing but gray light in that area. Hold up my fingers in front of that area and only the tips outside the gray haze were visible.

I went back to the eye doctor's office quickly and had a full check up. At first it was thought to be a large floater (with age you get all sorts of company, floaters in your eyes included) I could see. Then the doctor decided on one further text, and I'm glad she did. It involved a very bright headlamp and a large handheld magnifier (ask for these if you suspect you have a tear). Sure enough, minutes later I had an appointment with a specialist for later that day.

Here's what were talking about when it comes to a retinal tear. It happens if you are nearsighted (especially really nearsighted) and have been on this earth for let's say five decades (or four in my brothers case). For the nearsighted, the eyeball isn't a ball, but an oblong shape. That makes it harder for the aging retina (attached to the back of your eye) to hang on, staying where it should and sending imagery from the outside world inside to your brain. As it ages, it can tear. Of course, if you play hard contact sports, you don't have to wait for fifty years to tear or fully detach a retina and can have this fun much earlier in life.

Okay, so it's off to the specialist. Now, let me say this, the procedures for a retinal tear or detachment can be scary, but don't put this off. Discomfort and being creeped out are nothing compared to permanent blindness in one eye. You'll get through this. If I can, you can, really! I want to commend the nursing staff. They were wonderful. The nurse who prepped me for surgery was upbeat and confident. Her mood was infectious and she made the procedure much easier to handle and me much more relaxed in dealing with it. The first day, my eye was photoed with equipment I've never seen before. It was like having your eye scanned. I saw the pictures later and they were fascinating. My eyes were dilated so a good look could be had by all, except me, eyes dilated and all. Then came six or so applications of a numbing agent (I was reassured when the nurse admitted to the same uncertainty I always have when asked if I think I'm numb yet ... how exactly do you know???). The surgeon came in and sketched out what he'd do for me. It was not my happiest moment as it involved two needles (very thin ones I was assured although I never saw them). In essence, I would receive a bubble in my left eye that would push the torn retina back into place. A second needle would then extract some excess fluid to keep the eye's pressure right. The best thing I was told was that the whole procedure would be completed in less time than it had taken to describe it and that proved correct. The surgeon was also correct in saying there would be pressure but no pain.

With the bubble in place, I was sent home. It's amazing what can be done to you and then you are sent off into the world like nothing happened.

I was lucky, the tear was in the upper left side of my eye (because the eye sends info into the brain in one orientation and the brain reverses it to see things right side up from the outside world, the apparent location of both the gray area and the bubble is reversed. That's why the trouble appeared to be in the bottom. That meant sleeping in a recliner with my head up and keeping my head up in a "neutral" position (shoe tying is interesting but really a person could do that with eyes closed so not as big a deal as one might think). That kept the bubble floating against the tear. That afternoon my eye was irritated for several hours (they gave me drops, used abundantly) by the sterilizing fluid they'd used to clean the area for surgery.

The next day was more interesting and intense. A surgical laser was used to, as the surgeon put it, "spot weld" the tear. This was more challenging as it took a lot longer to get the job done (and by that I mean somewhere between ten and twenty minutes ... or so I think as I was too distracted to look at my watch and time things). There was more pressure with this procedure and at times twinges that were uncomfortable but not exactly painful. It really was a weird feeling unlike any I've had before. The worst though was the disorientation. The light shining brightly from both the surgical headlamp and the laser was so bright after a few seconds I could no longer tell if my eye remained in the desired position required by the surgeon. I had to assume it was as I heard no different from him. The light was also so penetrating and distracting that if any imagery was coming in from my right eye, my brain was not processing that data at the level of my focused attention.

Still, after this procedure I was able to go home again. Unlike the first day, the muscles around my eye and on top of my head were offended by what had happened but some aspirin took care of that. This story is already longer than intended. Waiting for the follow up visit to receive the welcomed declaration that all had gone well and the retina was solidly restored to its original position was almost as challenging as anything else.

Long story short, if you get a bright lightning bolt across your vision, an aura that won't go away, or an area of your field of vision you can't see through well or at all, get yourself immediately to an eye doctor to have it checked out. This is nothing to mess around with and nothing to let fear get in the way of treatment. The surgeries are unlike anything else you've done, true. But they won't scar you for life and the experts treating you will handle you with all appropriate care. Best of all, corrected vision will return.  

Friday, May 13, 2016

NOSTALGIA Rode By: Classic Pedal Day San Francisco Schwinn Stingray Krate huffy murray

I was headed to work yesterday when a man rode by on something resembling a 1970s Schwinn Stingray. But it wasn't complete. Still, I was taken back to the day when that Schwinn was THE bike to have. I had a look-alike bike, but not the real thing. This guy had the low front tire, the big back, the high handlebars, the frame. But, after a moment, my reaction shocked me. I wanted to yell out, "Hey, get a banana seat and sissy bar on that thing!" If you lived that time, you'll get it. Nostalgia, it is strong with this one. Enjoy the video and have a great day.



For nostalgia from a decade earlier, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2010/09/gi-joe-commercial-1960s-hasbro.html and http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2016/04/captain-action-toy-commercial-from.html

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Potential for Habitable Worlds Just Improved

Trappist 1, a red dwarf star barely larger than Jupiter, apparently has three planets circling in close. That's good in this case. Small, dim, cool, Trappist 1 has a habitable zone snugged right up close to the star. There is a possibility for a habitable zone on one world at least, scientists suspect.

If this all proves out, then potential earths might be even more common, with many circling stars doing a very slow burn. Red dwarf stars burn low and slow, lasting far longer than our sun. Imagine a world with life around such a star. There'd be all sorts of time for intelligent life to develop there, perhaps several times as the eons drift by.

Keep your eyes on the skies. And for those dour party poopers who declare it is unlikely that two intelligent races will occupy anything like stars nearby during their lifetimes as time is long, space is vast, and extinction can come on suddenly ... well, guys, you've got a lot of work to do to prove that negative position. I'll take a more hopeful stance and wait for further news.

For the full story from NASA, see: http://www.nasa.gov/feature/promising-worlds-found-around-nearby-ultra-cool-dwarf-star

Science and Religion: Two Tools Quote


Here's a terrific quote from The Luminous Web about the compatibility of science and religion:
No scientific theory, including evolution, can pose any threat to religion--for these two great tools of human understanding operate in complementary (not contradictory) fashion in their totally separate realms: science as an inquiry about the factual state of the natural world, religion as a search for spiritual meaning and ethical values. ~Stephen Jay Gould
So relax and enjoy the awe and enlightenment each companionable realm of human understanding can provide.

For more on this book, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2016/05/science-and-religion-together.html

Kick Starting the Writing Habit Again

For a couple decades I wrote and edited books. I also wrote quite a few articles. However, since transitioning into my new field as a minister, I haven't had much time to write professionally. I was searching for a means to do so when a contest appeared in a Christian magazine I receive. It was a first person narrative piece focusing on a particular topic. Well, I've been in ministry long enough now to have a few stories and experiences relevant to the topic under my belt. I took on the project and found myself enjoying the process immensely. Now, truly, I don't care if I'm one of the published winners of this contest or not. I appreciated the opportunity to see if I could kick start the writing habit once again in a new field of endeavor.

Now, time to check out the possibilities and keep my creative juices flowing. I've taken my own advice. If you want to stick your toe into the waters of publication, new writers or returning writers, a contest is a great place to start. Having received an email acknowledging that my submission had arrived, I felt all the better about the process. Now, the old familiar waiting begins. 

Meaning Behind Inky the Octopus's Escape

Nope, not Inky
Back on April 13, 2016, the New York Times caught my attention with an article about a daring nighttime escape planned and executed flawlessly. It was the work of Inky, an octopus the National Aquarium of New Zealand just could not hold. One night, Inky took advantage of a small gap in his aquarium lid, dropped to the floor, crossed the room to a drain pipe, and made his way through 164 feet of narrow drainpipe to the sea.

I was astonished to find out that the only real limit an octopus has to the size of a hole or gap it can fit into is its one solid bit, the beak. If the beak fits, so follows the octopus (it's not a cat, so it doesn't sit if it fits). Inky made good his escape, Shawshank Redemption style. Inky's aquarium mate was not so freedom minded and remained behind in the tank.

We are not the only intelligent species on this planet of ours. Inky's successful exit more than proves that. I've read other stories of octopus antics that further drive this point home. But what really caught my notice was an opinion piece by a commentator on NPR. He noted that Inky was willing to give up the security of the tank, predator free as it was, along with free and regular meals, for the uncertainty of freedom in the sea, a sea filled with predators hungry for Inky's flesh and where food would only be obtained by the crafty octopus on the hunt. Inky chose freedom over security, life in the natural world over a lifetime (probably a longer lifetime) coddled by humanity.

Way to go, Inky!

Looks like we need to spend some more time with the intelligent others right here on planet earth before looking out to the stars. When we've wrapped our minds around all the other forms of intelligence right here, and found ways to make peace with them, and reconcile our place among them as part of this unique creation, then and only then will we be fit to encounter intelligence elsewhere.

For the New York Times article, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/14/world/asia/inky-octopus-new-zealand-aquarium.html?_r=0

For a companion post, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2016/05/religion-and-intelligent-aliens-survey.html

Religion and Intelligent Aliens? Survey Reaction

Yesterday on Facebook, one of those surveys that shows up with regularity appeared asking if religious faith would survive the discovery of intelligent life out in the universe. The assumption was that this would knock the whole idea of the special nature of humanity down, making us no longer the center of the universe, and that would lead many to a collapse of faith.

I find the question silly. The assumption that my faith makes me feel I'm at the center of creation is an antique assumption. For years I've reveled in any discovery that shows how much we have in common with the rest of creation. After watching one of those videos where people are their own worst enemies and do many stupid things on video, I believe the whole big brain and opposable thumb thing is highly overrated.

Looking at the comments (never a good idea or safe for your view of humanity), I found all sorts of folks who were of the "my way or the highway" persuasion, stating that whatever their point of view was all who disagreed with them are stupid and devolved.

I believe the question and premise are wrong (or at least long outdated). I believe the real question should be, Is your worldview inclusive enough to accept the idea of intelligent life elsewhere? From what I saw in the comments, there were plenty of folks of many different persuasions who simply couldn't handle another perspective on the universe. I believe if you can't handle all the different worldview prevalent on this one little planet, this tiny mote in the vastness of creation, you are not ready to handle life elsewhere.

It is long past time we spent our time and energy finding new ways to divide ourselves into ever smaller and more factious groups. We had better spend a lot more time and energy discovering what we have in common, making friends right here on planet earth with each other and all of creation, and then, perhaps, one day we'll be fit enough to face the reality of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

Here's a book seeking unity rather than division: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2016/05/science-and-religion-together.html

Science and Religion Together, Companionably, In One Book

In Barbara Brown Taylor's 2000 book, The Luminous Web, the author, an Episcopal priest with a flare for the written word, explores how religion and science can coexist well and assist each other, leaning on the strengths from each realm. It beats all the petty squabbles so well publicized in the various media (social and otherwise). If you are struggling or curious or seeking backing for your ability to hold both spheres in your mind without schism, this book is for you. It's a great little introduction, and at only 100 pages of text, it is a quick read.

I particularly like how the author explains that business about Christmas and Easter coming on earlier pagan holidays that atheists make so much hay over. The author states:

"Forever and ever, one way Christians have spread the gospel is by learning the stories of the dominant cultures in which they live and then retelling them from a Christian perspective. That is how the pagan festival of the winter solstice in late December became the festival of Jesus' birth. We took a celebration of the s-u-n and turned it into a celebration of the s-o-n. That is also why Easter falls on the first Sunday on or after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox. The date does not have anything to do with the exact day Jesus rose from the dead. We simply took over an ancient fertility festival of new life on earth and reinterpreted it as a sacred festival of new life in Christ." [pp. 35-360
There you have a quick and simple explanation that is easily understood. As one who has never had trouble reconciling my faith with science, happily living in both spheres and benefiting from the wonder, the awe, the magnificence to be had from both realms, I encourage others to read this book, think things over a bit, and then do some deeper digging.

Here's a useful companion post: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2016/05/social-media-skews-perception.html

For my reaction when we choose to brawl against each other (science and faith) instead of working together as we should, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/03/divided-on-new-series-cosmos.html

Independence Day Downingtown 2011

Small town Fourth of July celebration a few years back. I've got to get back to some of this. What is nice here is seeing all sorts of folks all having a good time together, nobody squabbling about anything. Best of all is the highly "competitive" big wheel races! I missed the rubber duckie race in the river, however. Maybe next time.

Social Media Skews Perception

We hear a lot in social media about strident religious or atheist folks attempting to argue people out of their system of belief and into that person's system. From some of the stuff I've read and watched, you'd think there was an all-out war out there over who is right and who isn't.

Well, as one cartoon from my misspent youth would say, "Hold on a minute there Baba Looey!" Don't ask me why I found this 2016 Pew Survey discussing this very issue. I do a great deal of research into all sorts of issues. It turns out that the most religious folks viewed as the most strident only try to persuade others of their position ... drum roll please ... ten percent of the time. Seventy percent will try to understand another person's belief system, whether they agree with them or not. For atheists, a mere four percent will try to persuade others to their point of view and 67 will listen. Now that's really not what you'd understand from social media and the most strident voices cultivated there. It is also not what you'd get from the news, which seems bound and determined to ferret out only the most noxious individuals with the most toxic points of view and absolutely no social grace.

So, beware of the messages being peddled. Avoid having your own view of others skewed by those messages. Go out and talk to people instead, make friends, be civil, and appreciate what other folks have to offer.

If you want to see the survey results for yourself (in case I'm skewing the results to my own perceptions, go to: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/04/15/many-americans-dont-argue-about-religion-or-even-talk-about-it/

Mystery Cemetery Lights Explained

Eerie lights were seen emanating from among the tombstones in a rural Indiana cemetery late at night (11 pm to midnight) in late June of 2011. Intrepid exploration revealed the source of these ghostly emanations. Have you seen these mysterious lights in other cemeteries? Why are they there? Who do they guide?

By way of explanation, I've always gotten a kick out of ghost stories and been pretty amused by the ghost hunting shows where ghosts have been reduced to dust motes and mumbles on recorders (sad when back in the day you might see a ghostly army marching through the woods and other more significant manifestations). So, this is my little tip of the hat to ghost hunting. I have to say, on first glance, back when the sources of these small blue lights were far less common or well known, this scene was startling out in the countryside of rural Indiana. 

I really enjoyed a couple comments this generated on YouTube when originally posted that took the whole thing far more seriously than I did.

Mystery Lights Rural Cemetery

Over three nights, between 11 pm and midnight, we encountered these dim, steadily glowing lights among the tombstones of a rural Indiana cemetery. They do not move, there is no sound, just the eerie lights. Care to guess what they might be?

For the big reveal, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2016/05/mystery-cemetery-lights-explainedmp4.html

Beagle vs Fairy Ball

I was looking back over the YouTube videos I've posted and found this one. Strange what suddenly becomes interesting to our beagle. It's been a long time since I've used this channel for anything except a professional purpose. I might have to reconsider that and repurpose the video camera to capture more amusing moments (well, amusing to me at least). Sorry about the Mac-centric video platform. This was back before I discovered you could translate the video to a more universal platform.