Instead of attending services — whether in a Church, Synagogue, Mosque, or Temple — watch this. It’s far more powerful than any scripture I’ve ever encountered.
Instead of attending services — whether in a Church, Synagogue, Mosque, or Temple — watch this. It’s far more powerful than any scripture I’ve ever encountered.
What do we mean when we talk about diversity? Merriam-Webster online’s first definition is “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.” Not bad. Not bad at all. How about the second definition? It’s presented as “the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization.”
I find this second definition somewhat troublesome and simplistic, in large part because I think a large percentage, if not an overwhelming majority, of people think of diversity in a very limited form. In my experience, within organizations — i.e. enterprise-size businesses — race, ethnicity, physical ability, and gender are about the only classifications in which “diversity” is interpreted to matter. This in spite of definitions that suggest far more inclusiveness, like this one from the University of Oregon’s website:
The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.1
Getting back to M-W’s first definition. Although it only mentions different forms, types, and ideas, it does manage to throw in an “etc.”, thereby inviting us to expand on the inclusiveness of its meaning. Here’s where I’d like to see a little more creative (and empathetic) thinking about diversity.
For instance, a few simple areas in which we find diversity that aren’t usually thought of as important are: handedness, learning style, personal style, interests and hobbies, hair length and type, gregariousness, public speaking ability, etc. Without belaboring the subject, I’m sure I could come up with dozens of other ways in which we find “diversity”. As the University of Oregon’s definition states, “. . . each individual is unique . . .”.
Isn’t it time we started treating people in terms of the larger context of their lives and experiences, rather than categorizing them — somewhat restrictively — in just a few, largely useless boxes? I’m not suggesting the categories we’ve been using are completely useless, merely that they’re terribly restrictive and overly broad. What’s your opinion? There should be quite a few out there. ;)
In October of last year, I posted about a dilemma I was having with the possibility I would, at some time, be asked to give the pre-meeting invocation at one of my Rotary Club’s weekly meetings. I haven’t been asked yet and, even though there are no comments to the post, I have received a couple of emails from others who have dealt with the problem before.
As I said, I haven’t been asked and I’m not in the lineup for at least another month or so. Neither have I bothered to write anything. I will likely wait until it’s absolutely necessary prior to doing so. I need the actual pressure of a deadline sometimes to get things done. I do, however, think about what to say quite frequently, especially when I come across a story that touches on the issues.
Today, a friend shared a link to an Arizona publication that posted a story about a State Legislator – Juan Mendez, of Tempe – who gave a prayer-less “invocation” before a session of the Arizona House of Representatives. The story pointed out, as well, that he quoted Carl Sagan in closing. Here’s a link and, just in case you don’t bother to go there but would like to know a bit more, here’s an excerpt:
“Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads,” Mendez said. “I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.”
He went on to say:
“This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But this is also a room where, as my secular humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love.”
And closed with:
“Carl Sagan once wrote, ‘For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.'”
He said one more thing I think is especially pertinent to what happened yesterday (May 21, 2013) in Arizona. It also reflects how I feel about the importance of “coming out” for those of us who profess no belief in a supreme deity, and it’s something I’ve struggled with for years. It hasn’t shaken the strength of my convictions, but it has been a royal pain in the ass at times.
When I worked on the SSME program at Rocketdyne, I felt it necessary to be very careful about expressing my beliefs for at least a decade. When I first started working there (late 80s) it was practically a shrine to Ronald Reagan, and overtly identifying myself as an atheist I’m pretty sure would have been counter-productive, if not self-destructive :).
As an ordained Minister (in the eyes of the State, a “Church” is a corporation) I have performed somewhere around fifty weddings over the years. All of them have been non-religious, non-sexist ceremonies, using a combination of portions of The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran, descriptions of folklore and customs I had learned about, and the occasional poem written especially for the couple. I was pretty close to a lot of the people I performed the ritual for, including my brother and sister-in-law and my sister and brother-in-law. Crafting something especially for them was pretty easy. I usually worried, however, that someone’s parents would be offended though, of course, no one ever was. Come to think of it, Gibran uses the word “God” a couple of times in one of the pieces I used repeatedly.
Here’s the final quote I think is so important, in light of my experiences and those of so many others:
“I hope today marks the beginning of a new era in which Arizona’s non believers can feel as welcome and valued here as believers.”
The part of me that’s remains Jewish wants to say “from his lips to G-d’s ears”, but that would be just silly, right?
Yesterday I was inducted into one of several local Rotary clubs here in Simi Valley, CA. The name of this club is Simi Sunrise and, not coincidentally, it meets at 7:00 am every Thursday at the Grand Vista Hotel. I had some trepidations about joining an organization such as Rotary International, best explained by the question a friend asked me when informed of my desire to join; “Aren’t they a really conservative organization?”
Truth to tell, I wasn’t entirely sure they would accept me, especially since this is a fairly conservative city I live in and I’ve made it abundantly clear I am not a conservative – at least not politically. I didn’t really know a lot about Rotary and I knew an awful lot of the people who were in this club. Most of them were quite conservative – politically. At the same time, I live and work with them and know them to be good, decent people. Especially the ones in Rotary 1 and other service organizations.
Fortunately, I got to know a person who ended up convincing – and sponsoring – me to join. Due to an unlikely confluence of events I ended up being the guest who wouldn’t go away, and a process which normally takes a couple of weeks ended up taking a couple of months. Nevertheless, she insisted I continue showing up and, because she had to pay for my breakfast each week, I have offered to do some data input for her at her discretion. It’s the least I can do.
Yesterday was the culmination of two months of meetings and thinking about what I was getting myself into. Now that I’m officially a member I will not only have an ongoing financial obligation and an expectation of service in the form of volunteerism, I will also be expected to perform various duties at the meetings, e.g. greeting members as they arrive, checking attendance, etc. There is one duty I’m somewhat concerned about. Leading the invocation.
I have now heard approximately eight different invocations. I don’t recall any of them being identifiably denominational, though some referenced “our heavenly father”. I believe at least one ended a bit irreverently . . . and comically. They all end with “amen”, a word of Hebrew origin defined by Merriam-Webster online as: “used to express solemn ratification (as of an expression of faith) or hearty approval (as of an assertion).” Although used primarily at the end of a prayer or hymn, it is clearly not limited to religious expression. So it looks like an invocation avoiding the mention of God would most likely be acceptable, even if hard to author.
However, as an atheist I have a lot of experience with people who misunderstand my kind of “faith” and are likely to exhibit one or more of the following traits or attitudes in response to an expression they perceive to be anti-religion: Anger; disgust; defensiveness; dismissiveness; revulsion; incredulity; hatred; need I go on? When you think of invocation, you just don’t think of atheism now, do you?
So . . . my dilemma. I’m going to assume I will, at some point in time, be asked to give the invocation. I suppose I could respectfully decline, but I kind of want to do it. The issue for me is how to do so without offending anyone. Part of me believes that’s a tall order, precisely because of the responses I’ve experienced or observed for so many years, while another part of me believes it isn’t as big an issue as it at first appears. I’ll post the text . . . when I write it!
1 Rotary is very attractive to me as it espouses values I believe are important and progressive. I find it a little ironic so many of the members are staunch conservatives, yet the values they ascribe to can just as easily fit the most progressive agenda. If words are important, and I believe they are, then their foundational writings should matter a lot when determining what kind of an organization they (at the very least) aspire to be. For instance, there’s The Four-Way Test:
Coupled with numerous other writings, which I will not get into now but will surely bring up as I gain more experiences with this new facet of my life, I think Rotary paints itself as an organization dedicated to the same things I am – Peace, Justice, Goodwill, Internationalism, Fairness, etc.
There’s likely an argument lying beneath the surface here as to the role volunteerism plays in an inherently unfair economic system, but – in my opinion – it is more a philosophical one and should in no way minimize the pain alleviated through the actions of Rotary and other organizations like it. More on this some other time.
I had an experience this morning that reminded me of something Neil deGrasse Tyson said, which I’ve read in many places. I’ve also had the experience many times in my life and consider myself somewhat lucky so far having managed not to suffer the final indignity the experience portends.
I’m speaking about nearly choking to death because I fell victim to the inherent – as Neil points out – stupid design of my body that has me breathing, eating, and talking through the same hole.
I was at my weekly QBN (Quality Business Network) breakfast meeting. We meet each week on Tuesday, at 7:00 – 8:30 am at The Junkyard Cafe here in Simi Valley, CA. Most of what is on a breakfast menu I can’t conscientiously eat if I want to keep my blood sugar under control. Pancakes, waffles, french toast, regular toast, potatoes, syrup, jam . . . they’re all verboten. I can have a plate of bacon, eggs, and cheese . . . and sometimes do.
However, today I asked for a salad, with ranch dressing and balsamic vinegar. I don’t have a cholesterol problem, so I don’t worry about the dressing too much. I’ve long liked ranch and Italian, which the vinegar substitutes for nicely.
No sooner did I start shoveling food in my mouth than a stream of vinegar squirted off the salad on my fork into my throat. I inhaled it slightly and immediately started coughing; nearly choking. It was so bad others started to get alarmed for my safety and I had to leave the room to keep from interrupting the presentation that one of our members was giving.
Obviously, I made it. It wasn’t the first time this has happened. I once inhaled some hot sake at a sushi bar in Venice Beach. The owner was horrified. He thought I was going to die right there in the restaurant and indicated how much he would like me to die outside on the sidewalk. I ignored him.
Anyway, back to Mr. deGrasse Tyson. I thought I would share this lovely video of his explaining – by pointing out how stupidly we, and the universe, are designed for life – how there is no such thing as intelligent design. Keep in mind, please, I’m not attacking religion, faith, or spirituality. I don’t care what you believe in. However, if it’s intelligent design, I (and Neil) maintain there is absolutely no evidence for it and only someone who refuses to face reality would entertain such a belief. Here’s the video:
Actually, I’m not going to discuss religion here. I’m not even really going to talk about a lack of religion, except to set up what I really want to talk about. Sit still! I’ll get to it shortly.
I was raised a reasonably devout Jew. Brought up in the Conservative “wing” of the Tribe, I spent four years in Hebrew School and am Bar Mitzvah, a son of the commandments. Sometime after I became a man in the eyes of Judaism, however, I began to question the existence of such a thing as G-d (that’s how Jews spell “his” name . . . in English, that is). I can remember laying on the grass in front of our home, staring out at the night sky, and wondering what might be at the end of the Universe. Was there a wall and, if so, what was on the other side? After all, there’s always another side if there’s a wall.
I don’t remember when I became an atheist, which is the best term I can use to describe how I relate to the question of a deity and his – or her – existence. There was no magic moment, forever imprinted on my memory, that marked the occasion. It just, apparently, happened without my actually marking the moment. It did happen, though. Of that there is no doubt. Some time in my early twenties I also became aware of both Hinduism and Buddhism. If I recall, it was the writings of Herman Hesse that first opened my eyes to these philosophies. Shortly thereafter, when I was experiencing a deep depression brought on by the unrequited love I felt for a young woman I was in a relationship with, I encountered a book that would change my life – The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts.
Now, before I go on any further I would like you, dear reader, to take a moment and watch this short video. It is a beautiful visualization set to the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson answering the question, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” When I watched this I got goosebumps and experienced a moment of bliss so powerful it brought tears to my eyes. I hope it affects you at least fractionally as deeply as it did me. After that I want to share an experience with you.
Neil mentions connectivity, and it’s the essence of my story; an experience I’ve never repeated and likely never will . . . because it isn’t necessary. This happened to me sometime in the Summer of 1990 or thereabouts. I was living on the third floor of a well-kept apartment building, a block from my place of employment. I had a nice one-bedroom apartment, with a balcony overlooking a garden area with a fountain. My view was to the West and there was a hill not far away. It was late in the afternoon on a beautiful, temperate day. The Sun had gone behind the hill and, though I was standing in shadow, the sky was still a bright, luminescent blue.
The situation was reminiscent of many late afternoons I’d spent in Palm Springs when I was a boy, where my family used to spend long holiday weekends in the late 50s and early 60s. The city was hard up against the San Jacinto Mountains to the West and the sun would disappear behind them very early in the day, creating an almost cathedral-like atmosphere as the town rested in shadow, the sky remaining a vibrant, cerulean blue, made even more so by the contrast with the city streets.
As I stood on the balcony I looked up and noticed a hawk lazily circling on the thermals created by the hill and watching it I became more relaxed, beginning to enter a somewhat meditative state. I can’t explain why – perhaps I had seen a program on quantum theory; maybe I’d read an article in Science News; or possibly I’d had a recent conversation with one or more of the scientists I worked with – but I experienced a transition that felt like I left my body. My mind’s eye began to soar above the hawk, out into low Earth orbit, beyond Geosynchronous orbit and, eventually, deep into the cosmos.
I became more and more disassociated from my body, for how long I can’t say (thought it couldn’t possibly have been very long), and came to feel as though every fiber of my being was interwoven with the entire Universe . . . everywhere and everywhen. I experienced a sense of peace and a calmness I had never before quite known, and have yet to experience like that again. The sensation, the feeling I was part of everything that ever existed, or ever would exist, was profound. It has changed me forever.
I earlier mentioned a book by Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity, which was the catalyst for a life-changing experience and, now that I think of it, that book may have triggered my transformative moment. I had read it at least 15 years prior to this and, perhaps, had read it again. This was not too long after my father’s death and was right around my 40th birthday, so I may have been particularly engaged with contemplating my mortality. I’ve now read it at least three times, the last being when I was diagnosed with a melanoma and was required to once again face the possibility of my death . . . at least until the surgery to remove it was over and the biopsies all came back negative. <whew>
So . . . back to Mr. deGrasse Tyson and his most astounding fact. We are, indeed, stardust (“We are golden, we are billion year old carbon” Thank you, Joni*) and the things we’re made of, on a quantum level, have likely existed since the beginning of time; perhaps before, whatever that might mean. Zen (this is what Alan Watts ultimately wrote about) holds that we are all part of the Godhead (which I interpret to mean the entirety of the Universe) and all that matters is now so, perhaps the nature of time is irrelevant. I don’t know. Mostly I don’t care. My idea of faith is to accept the Universe as unfolding rather nicely all by itself, regardless of what you or I believe. We have but to pay attention – using science, not blind faith – and our understanding can continue growing.
What I have gained from my experience and my reading and contemplating, and what I get out of this marvelous video and this most astounding fact, is that we are very special and very lucky . . . and that we are all connected, intimately, with time, space, and matter (and each other) in a way we have only begun to understand. Is there an afterlife? Frankly, I don’t much care. Mostly, I hope not. Imagine how boring it would be to spend eternity with some of the people who think they’re going to Heaven. If my feelings that day are any indication, beforelife and afterlife have no meaning. There is only now that matters. I believe if you understand this, you can’t possibly fear death and you have no need of an afterlife. So sue me.
* God (or whoever’s in charge of these things) bless you, Joni. You wrote these lyrics and the music, but I’m a rock n’ roll guy at heart and this rendition of your song is the one that floats my boat.
Circling Hawk Pic courtesy of 68photobug