Tag Archives: Rotary

Santa Claus is Definitely No Republican

One of the, shall we say, more charming practices of my Rotary Club is that of having someone play the role of “Ratfink” at most meetings. The Ratfink usually resembles either a stand up comedy routine or a roast. Either way, members of the club are generally involved, though when the roast format is used it can get a little snarky . . . to say the least.

My club’s last meeting was treated to a bit of a roast and, for the first time in the slightly over two years I’ve been a member, I was the butt of the routine. The presenter was a gentleman who is a political operative for a local, Conservative Republican of some stature and I know him reasonably well. He and his wife recently celebrated the arrival of their second child and I believe he is a good, devoted husband and father. We are Facebook “friends”.

Let me say something about Rotary International, in general, and my club, The Rotary Club of Simi Sunrise, in particular. Without getting into too much detail, I have come to see Rotary as a challenging, useful organization with goals I have no trouble agreeing with. The motto “Service above self” has always been dear to me, though my experience with it was mostly exhibited in how I performed my job and in my willingness and ability to help others around me. The Four Way Test is also a statement of principle I am in complete agreement with, to wit:

Of the things we think, say, or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOOD WILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Now, I truly have a hard time arguing with these principles, yet have no trouble recognizing there are some for whom they are merely words and the reason they are involved in Rotary is either because they’re looking for business or social connections or because it’s a way to be “charitable” without too much effort. I do believe those people are a small minority, though. But, I digress.

I live in what I believe is a reasonably conservative city; the home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. My Rotary Club consists of some very (did I say “very”?) politically conservative individuals. I make no secret of my political proclivities, which tend to lean far to the left and many of my fellow Rotarians, like last meeting’s Ratfink, are Facebook “friends” who, since I am pretty prolific in my postings, must see some of the stuff (sometimes rants) I post. I do fret a little about upsetting them too much, as I believe we all want the best for our City, though we may disagree on how to get there. I do not question the motives of most, while reserving judgment on some who I believe are either horribly misguided or total assholes.

Santa's a Socialist

That Fat Bastard is at it Again!

The man who served as Ratfink, however, is not one of the latter. He had me stand up, which is customary during a roast-like rendition of the role, and pointed out that one of the “drawbacks” of being as vocal and public as I am on Facebook is that others who might not agree with me can see who I really am (or something like that). I should point out, at this stage of my life I don’t much care. In the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” I have had to spend the vast majority of my life being very careful what I said in order to avoid being ostracized. I don’t plan on going to my grave without showing my “true colors”, so to speak.

He then went on to point out to me that Santa is a Republican, evidenced by the fact he wears red. Now I’m quite certain there were many watching who relished this bit of roasting I was “receiving”, though I couldn’t see as I was at a table closest to the front and I was facing forward toward the speaker. I quietly took my medicine and, when he was finished with me and moved on to the next person, I sat down. However, when he was finished and was returning to his seat, which was only a table away from mine, I audibly pointed out my conclusion that Santa was actually a socialist, as he gives toys to children everywhere in the world. Never mind that red is in most of the world considered a color of revolution and that the old Soviet Union’s and the current People’s Republic of China’s flags are mostly red.

I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with him since, as we had a wonderful program of carolers provide us with entertainment and, afterward, everyone scurried off to their jobs or whatever it was their day was going to bring them. We also won’t have our next meeting for another two weeks as both Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Thursdays, which is the day we meet. However, I know I will be speaking with him. In fact, he has offered to help introduce me to the right people within our City government so I can introduce my concepts regarding the future of work, the collaborative economy, and the use of social media to facilitate the governance and conduct the business of the City and its inhabitants. I’m looking forward to it.

I trust everyone has had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus (for the rest of us) or whatever (if any) holiday you might observe. We also just experienced the Winter solstice; the shortest day of the year and many have celebrated the beginning of a new cycle in which the days will now begin getting longer until the end of June. Truly a festive time of the year. Now we have New Year’s revelry before us and I have a lot of work to do for the first time in quite a while. I wish everyone who comes to my little slice of the blogosphere much joy and happiness. With those two, prosperity is a relative thing and, of course, I wish for your health and well-being as well.


Damn The Contradictions! Giving Feels Good.

Last night my Rotary Club of Simi Sunrise led a community effort to assemble the bicycles we had raised money for and purchased to distribute to children in our community whose families could not otherwise afford to get them one this year. We planned on buying, assembling, and distributing 300 bikes, but were only able to get 272, because there just weren’t any more available.

Bikes

A sample of the 272 bicycles assembled for community gifting.

Above is a pic showing some of these bikes. They were all assembled, put through a final quality check to ensure everything was done correctly, and loaded into trucks for distribution to the various groups and agencies who were participating in this event in approximately 2.5 hours. Kudos to everyone involved. It really was an amazing event, topped off by free pizza from The Junkyard, which was delicious.


PS – The title I used for this post reflects my knowledge that things like philanthropy and volunteerism (especially the former) can be indications of a failure in our society to meet the basic needs of many of our citizens. While I recognize there is, indeed, a problem of economic justice inherent in the ways we distribute goods and services, I also recognize there remains a real need regardless of the theories and concepts we can develop to describe and explain them. I therefore wish to opt for doing what I can (and Rotary seems an excellent avenue with which to do it) to alleviate some of the discomfort caused by the imbalance. 


Giving Thanks is a Year-Round Affair

Senior Center at Thanksgiving

Some carving, some cooking, and the calm before the storm.

Last night’s dinner at the Simi Valley Senior Center, organized by my Rotary Club, and for which I was a co-Chair, was a resounding success. There were a few less people than the past couple of years, but we still fed around 350 – 400 seniors, plus a ton of volunteers. It is so gratifying to see so many people come together to make something happen like this and, truthfully, it is all the Thanksgiving I need.

Today will be a lagniappe; a little something extra; a little more than I need or have any reason to expect.

I have so much to be grateful for. My family and, especially, the two beautiful girls without whom my life would be so much poorer (though I’m having some doubts about the 13 y/o 😉 ). My wife, Linda, who puts up with my volatility, especially since I retired from the job I expected to work at until I dropped dead at my desk. My life after retirement, which is slowly resolving into something considerably different than I thought it would, but that I’m settling into rather comfortably. The wonderful people I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from. My numerous friends, both irl and virtual, whose sharing, comfort, and kindness have kept me from despondency and buoyed my spirits when things weren’t looking all that good, and who have also helped me continue to grow as a human being.

I’m also grateful for the ability to think critically and the strength to seek out the truth and accept its lessons, no matter how challenging or harsh they may be, without losing faith or diminishing the love I feel for the human race and this beautiful world we live in.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. Be well, be strong, be faithful to the truth. Much love and respect to you all.


Finally! I Gave My Secular Invocation

As I wrote about almost two years ago, I knew there would come a time when it was my turn to give the invocation at the beginning of my Rotary Club‘s weekly meeting. I won’t say I agonized over it, nor did I obsess over it. I did, however, worry about what I would say when that day rolled around. I have opted out of being the “Ratfink”, which is a role that requires the skills of a stand up comedian. I am not suited for that role. I am suited, in my less than humble opinion, to give an invocation. In fact, I really wanted to do it, as I have some thoughts about who, why, and how we are.

Actually, I became an ordained minister nearly 50 years ago, via The First Church of God The Father. It isn’t much different than the Universal Life Church, though I was actually nominated for the position and went through a very cursory ordination ceremony, as opposed to merely sending in a request. I’m not sure it exists any longer as a recognized entity. In the eyes of the State, a church is a business entity (albeit a tax-exempt one) and I am but an agent – if that – of the organization. Frankly, I did it so I could perform non-sexist, non-religious wedding ceremonies . . . and I’ve done over fifty of them over the years. Some were very interesting, to say the least.

Stellar Evolution

Example of Stellar Evolution and the Creation of Heavier Elements

I never did one that didn’t keep me up a night or two, fretting over whether or not either or both sets of parents might be offended. As far as I can remember, nobody ever was. My brother once told me a particular ceremony I did was too short, his argument being, since people are there for a ritual they want their money’s worth. Walking that thin line between too short and too long is (at least was for me) a harrowing task.

I’m so glad to have this behind me. I know I worry a little too much about pleasing people, but it’s my nature. I don’t think I’ve suffered all that much because of it, though there has been some gnashing of the teeth and beating of the breast, and let’s not forget the aforementioned occasional sleeping difficulties. Thankfully, I slept well last night (a full five hours, which is quite normal for me), but I did a final edit — and made some changes — when I got up. What follows is the text of my invocation. I wrote the first part, though it’s a riff on one of my favorite quotes, “Hydrogen, given enough time, eventually wonders where it came from, and where it’s going.” The rest is partly from other secular invocations I found online, somewhat heavily edited to fit the way I see things. The second question in Rotary’s Four-Way Test is, “Is it fair to all concerned” and to address that in the last paragraph, which also relates to one of Rotary‘s official mottoes, “Service Above Self.”

Let us be mindful of our place in this amazing universe as well as our place on this beautiful planet. As cosmic beings we have developed the extraordinary ability to wonder where we came from and to contemplate where we’re going. We are also capable of reflecting on the circumstance of our existence on this tiny blue dot floating in a vast ocean of near emptiness.

As human beings, let us be thankful for the sustenance and joy we receive from nature’s bounty and, especially, for the hard work and dedication of those who grow, harvest, transport, prepare, and serve its fruits for us. Not to mention cleaning up our mess.

May our efforts be measured through insight, undertaken with compassion, and guided by understanding and wisdom. We seek to serve with respect for all. May our personal faiths give us the strength to act well and honestly in all matters before us.

I have to add it was very well received. I was given kudos be several people, including the Director of Spiritual Care Services at Simi Valley Hospital. I was even asked to email a copy to one of our long-time members. I am both gratified . . . and immensely relieved to put it behind me, though I am sure I will be asked again. It’s a rotating duty. I’m surprised it took this long to get around to me.


The Route Home From Rotary Meetings

Alamo Street in Simi Valley

My Route Home From Rotary Meetings

Although I took this pic a year and a half ago, it’s the route I take to and from my Rotary Club meeting every Thursday morning. As I was coming home today, I couldn’t help but reflect on how lucky I am. Despite the drastic change in my situation since my early, somewhat forced, retirement, I really do have a good life . . . and for that I am exceedingly grateful.

My children, alone, continue to give me so much pleasure and satisfaction, despite the difficulties associated with raising children in general, and the circumstances of the huge disparity in our ages, in particular. They have given me new meaning I never had before, and I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity I’ve been given to provide for them, as well as having the wherewithal to do so. I don’t have what I used to have, but we’re not hurting and there are still opportunities in front of me. I remain, as ever, optimistic and satisfied.

If I were religious, I suppose I would be thanking whatever deity I believed in, but I’m not, so I look out at this incredible universe we’ve evolved the intelligence to comprehend our place in and . . . mind blown! I would also say I have been blessed, but I’ll just leave it at being grateful for where I was born, who I was born to, and the opportunities I’ve been given, as well as the abilities I’ve been able to bring to bear on making the most of these things. Thank you, hydrogen and gravity. You’re pretty awesome.


Out of The Final Closet?

Atheism and the Earth

Our Real Common Bond is our Life on Earth . . . in This Cosmos.

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?


2013 Cajun-Blues Festival

A few months back I became a member of the Simi Sunrise Rotary club. Our biggest fundraiser is a Cajun-Blues Music Festival. It funds nearly all of our other philanthropic activities. The lineup is set for both days, all day long and we just put out a new poster, which I thought I would share here. I will post more about this as the date approaches.

The Festival is held during Memorial Day weekend, this year occurring on May 25th and May 26th. Two whole days of Blues and Zydeco, plus lots of good food and drink. There will also be a Mardi Gras parade each afternoon and lessons in Cajun and Zydeco dancing. This is our 24th year of putting on this growing and popular festival. You can learn more on Twitter here.

Simi Sunrise Cajun-Blues Festival

Cajun-Blues Festival Lineup and Info


Can I Get an Amen?

Amen Corner at Augusta National Golf Course

The word “Amen” isn’t confined to prayer, though it’s generally closely related.

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:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

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.


A Slight Change of Course

Since my presentation to the American Oil Chemists’ Society at the end of April, I’ve been seeking out other engagements to talk about using social media for managing communities within an enterprise. All of my experience heretofore has been inside the firewall of a large (very large) aerospace corporation, and it was the essence of my presentation to the AOCS.

I haven’t been actually hustling engagements; rather I’ve just been suggesting I’m available and that I might have something worthwhile to say. Today, nearly four months later, I finally had the opportunity to present to an organization that could use social media to improve their ability to achieve their goals, which are manifold – but not commercial.

The organization I spoke with today is a local Rotary Club that has two major fund-raisers each year. Originally, I had spoken with my friend and former Manager who, since retiring, has joined this Club and had suggested I might present, about the one I gave to the AOCS. However, after having dinner with the President of the Club it became clear he wanted to at least partially address the difficulty he’d been having with getting the membership to “like” their Fan pages and join and engage with their group page.

So . . . I put this together somewhat hastily and concentrated primarily on the benefits social media provide for communicating and sharing knowledge, as well as addressing the issue of reluctance to participate. I finished with a little info on how its use is disruptive and pointed out how they could use Clayton Christensen‘s concept of Jobs-to-be-done (disruptive innovation is one of his as well) to address the direction they might take their new efforts in.

I also prepared the presentation exclusively using Google Docs; the first time I have ever done that. The only exception is that I imported a couple of slides from my AOCS preso, which I originally prepared using PowerPoint. I also heavily annotated the slides, which I do not normally do, and printed out a copy of them and the notes. However, I did not use them during the presentation. Once I got going I just winged it, which seems to fit my style perfectly. Having the notes kept me from being nervous, but turned out to be mostly superfluous. I only experienced one moment when I couldn’t think of the right word I wanted to make a point, but it came to me reasonably quickly.

So . . . here ’tis. I don’t know how intelligible it is without the notes. Especially considering I made these slides last close to 25 minutes, I believe. I guess having a long history and lots of stories comes in handy when you tend toward loquaciousness. 🙂

One more thing. I uploaded the .pdf to Slideshare in the early evening and shortly afterward received an email from them that my presentation was the most talked about one on Facebook (where I had shared it) and so they were featuring it on their home page. Frankly, I didn’t see any evidence of the discussion, but the preso had been viewed close to 180 times last I looked, so maybe I’m getting some traction there. Hope you enjoy it.


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