Archive for the 'religion' Category



Honestly, I can’t imagine how anyone can say this is a bad thing. Seriously–what arguments can possibly be made against this ideal?

I’ve signed the charter. I hope you do, too.


Eliding from one month to another

It’s been a busy weekend. October ended with a Halloween double-whammy: Sylvia’s first holiday celebration at school (complete with a parade of costumed kids, followed by a concert of songs sung by the kids for their parents—and their camcorders, of course), and trick-or-treating. Sylvia chose to be a “flower fairy” this year (completely her own idea), so we put together an outfit made up of stuff she already had in her closet: tutu, fairy wings, polka-dotted tights, purple shirt, cardigan handknitted by me, black shoes. Jan and I made her a flower wreath (out of pipe cleaners, florist tape, artificial flowers, and ribbons) and a wand (out of a dowel, plus everything that was in the wreath except for the pipe cleaners). She loved it. We spent about five bucks, and she got a costume that was totally unique. Awesome.

pb014464poopsign.jpgYesterday we headed to the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey. Tickets for the three of us were priced at $53. Thanks to one of Jan’s coworkers—who is a long-time volunteer there (he scuba dives into the shark tank to clean it)—we had free passes for the day. WOOT! When we told Sylvia where we were going, she wasn’t really into the idea…until we described the aquarium as “like a zoo for fish.” Then she couldn’t wait to get there.

We had a great time there. The giant tanks are just amazing. They’re well lit, located in dark rooms and (of course) covered with glass, so most of my attempts at photography didn’t turn out too well. One of the best pictures I took was this one, in the area two hippopotamuses (the singular of which is not, as Allan Sherman sang, “one hippopotami”) and an African porcupine share with lots and lots of bird.

pb024547trees.jpgThis morning we went to church (where the minister talked about the Unitarian and Universalist legacies of working toward justice and urged everyone to vote on Tuesday*), then headed to Winterthur, one of the DuPont estates in northern Delaware. We met up with some friends who live in the D.C. area, and our three kids had a ball running around together. (How is it that two-, three-, and four-year-olds can play outside in not much more than long-sleeve shirts and pants while their parents—bundled up in coats, hats, and gloves—and freezing? Seriously—I wonder if there’s been any scientific research on age-related temperature tolerance.) The fall colors were at their peak. In another couple of weeks, I suspect most of the trees there will be bare.


*She used an interesting device: an imagined conversation among the ghosts of Joseph Priestly, Dorothea Dix, Robert Gould Shaw, and other prominent, dead Unitarians and Universalists. I wish the wrap-up section had been more…well, more exhortation and less purple prose. I can appreciate the UU unwillingness to tell anyone what to do, but in this case I would love to hear someone stand up and say, “Hey! If you’re here because you believe in justice and human rights and the inherent value of all people and beliefs and want to save the planet, then you need to vote for the candidates and proposals that support your beliefs!” Obviously, a minister can’t tell you to vote for a particular candidate or party, but he or she can certainly prod you more engagingly—more energetically and strenuously—to vote for your beliefs. I went away from the service feeling not particularly inspired (even though I’m certain my minister and I are on the same page politically)—in agreement, but not fired up.


God, explained

As an academic, I’ve examined religion through a scholarly lens. In my undergraduate studies, the most memorable excursions into this territory were various anthropology classes and a course in Greek and Roman classical mythology; religion–specifically, the author’s Catholicism, was also at the forefront in discussions of Un noeud de vipères (Vipers’ Tangle), by François Mauriac, in my 20th-century French literature course. In graduate school, I took an anthropology course dedicated to religion, wrote about ecofeminism in my master’s thesis, taught about the intersection of art and religion in Bali, and read and wrote about religion in various other places.

In my personal life, too, I’ve done a lot of thinking about religion. I was raised Catholic but became apathetic about it during high school and completely disillusioned with it during college. After dipping my toes into the water of atheism, agnosticism, Quakerism, and Buddhism, I eventually found my way to Unitarian Universalism. That doesn’t mean I’ve found any answers: UUs themselves like to joke that theirs is an “anything goes” religion. (Although UU congregations vary widely–some are Christian, some are neopagan, some shun any mention of the word “god” within their walls, etc.–they are united by an adherence to the seven principles, often referred to as “the bookmark princlples” because they figure prominently on the “about UU” bookmark available on the literature table in most church lobbies. These principles more or less boil down to “be nice to everyone else and to the planet, too.”)

After all of those wanderings, though, it was only parenthood that enabled me to truly understand the nature of god. My two-year-old daughter is heavily into a “Why?” phase now, and my husband and I do our best to answer her questions as best as we can. Sometimes we reach “I don’t know” before she tires of the question chain. And sometimes, when we do make it to “I don’t know,” she still isn’t satisfied.

A few days ago, a post-dinner conversation (during a thunderstorm) reached this point. And at that moment, I had a religious epiphany.

Sylvia: I’m not scared of thunder.

Me: Great! And don’t forget that when there’s thunder, that usually means rain is coming, so the trees and plants and flowers will get a good drink.

Sylvia: Why?

Jan: When the Sun warms the water on the ground, it causes a phase change, which converts some of the liquid water molecules to gas, and they rise up into the air and form clouds.

Sylvia: Why?

Jan: Water vapor in the air condenses around dust particles, forming liquid again that falls to the earth as rain.

Sylvia: Why?

Jan: I don’t know why it rains.

Sylvia: Why?

Jan: It’s just something I don’t know.

Sylvia: Why?

Me: Now I understand why humans developed the concept of a god: in order to have the ultimate “because”-type answer to these sorts of questions from two-year-olds.

(P.S. Ever since David Byrne’s fabulous album Uh-Oh came out in 1992, it always pops into my mind whenever I start thinking about god. Take a peek at the cover and you’ll see why.)