30 September 2007

Just imagine the remake of Mr. Ed ...

With the recent "reboots" of old TV sci-fi franchises like Battlestar Galactica and Bionic Woman, I'm wondering what old TV series will be made over next.

Will they make a "reboot" of Mister Ed where the ethical issues of recombinant DNA experiments using horse and human DNA are explored through science fiction?

29 September 2007

"Gangs of America"

The Unitarian Universalist Association has criticized the legal fiction of "corporate personhood" as part of its social and economic justice work. Some of this was covered in the May/June 2003 issue of UU World.
Another non-UU resource related to this issue is the book Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy by Peachpit Press founder Ted Nace. You can download this book free from the author's website as a free Adobe Acrobat PDF.

[Hat tip to Glenn Fleishman of the Tidbits Macintosh news web site for pointing out this resource.]

23 September 2007

Hatred found in online comments shocking (Shreveport Times Letter to the Editor)

Today, The Shreveport Times published my letter about the racist online comments from the newspaper readers in response the the recent "Jena Six" coverage.

I'm reprinting it for you below.
On Sept. 16, my church hosted a prayer worship service in support of the six black youths accused of crimes in Jena. I read the news coverage about this story ("Religious groups unite, pray for Jena Six," Sept. 17). I read the online reader comments and I was shocked at the level of hatred and racist invective. Here are a few sample quotes that were found on the shreveporttimes.com web site:

  • "Everywhere Black people integrate, crime and deterioration and hate sets in. Integration is the problem with our schools." (written by the anonymous author "CHILIDOG")
  • "Let's see, how do we start this prayer? Oh God let us pray for these kids that are only black, because we don't care about the white kid that they tried to kill. Now God it is off to the next place where we can help only blacks that is why we call ourselves the Rainbow Coalition." (written by the anonymous author "Creekdweller")

I also read about the upcoming prayer service ("
Community Briefly: Church holding rally today to support 'Jena Six,'" Sept. 15). This article also elicited racism and hatred from our community in the online reader comments.

This story's comments also contain some ignorant religious bigotry directed towards my Unitarian Universalist faith as well.

I'm in favor of free speech even when it's racist and religious bigotry like the examples cited above. I would never want to see expression banned even though it hurts our community both morally and economically. Ask yourself: What would a business leader think about Shreveport after reading these comments online?

I also question the tacit endorsement of The Times and Gannett in publishing these comments online on the shreveporttimes.com Web site.

I disagree with The Times policy of allowing bigots to hide behind anonymous screen names. I suspect those who post anonymous hatred online would not if their real identity were attached to their comments.

22 September 2007

"Jena Six" Photo Diary (Part I)

Here's a collection of photographs from the Shreveport Times and from my cell phone camera.

The entire gallery of Shreveport Times photos showing local church members departing early on Thursday morning can be found online in the online collection "Leaving for Jena."

(Members of All Souls Shreveport waiting to get on the bus - 20 September 2007, from the Shreveport Times)

(Daniel and Ashley modeling the event t-shirts provided by our minister - 20 September 2007, from the Shreveport Times)

(On the right in the red polo shirt, Len Frank, member of Steeple Chase Baptist Church and retired GM employee who sat across the bus aisle from me - 20 September 2007, from the Shreveport Times)

(On the left in the clerical shirt, Rev. Eliza Galagher, minister of Wildflower Unitarian Universalist Church, Austin TX - 20 September 2007, from the Shreveport Times)

(On the left in the "Justice for Jena" t-shirt, Rev. Lyn Oglesby, minister of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, Shreveport LA - 20 September 2007, from the Shreveport Times)

(I'm holding a pillow and rushing to catch the bus - 20 September 2007, from the Shreveport Times)

(View from my bus window while stopped in Pineville LA - photo provided by Steve Caldwell, 20 September 2007)

(View of charter buses stopped on the roadside in Pineville LA - photo provided by Steve Caldwell, 20 September 2007)

(View of charter buses stopped on the roadside in Pineville LA - photo provided by Steve Caldwell, 20 September 2007)

(View from the crowd in Jena LA - photo provided by Steve Caldwell, 20 September 2007)

(View from the crowd in Jena LA - photo provided by Steve Caldwell, 20 September 2007)

(View from the crowd in Jena LA - photo provided by Steve Caldwell, 20 September 2007)

I really need to get a digital camera for documenting things like this.

"I wish we had a charge in Louisiana for aggravated ignorance"

This story was briefly reported in the Shreveport Times today:
"And Thursday night, police in nearby Alexandria arrested two people after they stopped a red pickup that was traveling through the city with nooses hanging from it.

'I wish we had a charge in Louisiana for aggravated ignorance, because this is a classic case,' Alexandria police Sgt. Clifford Gatlin said of the incident in his city the same day rallies in support of the Jena Six — the name given to six black teenagers charged in a December incident that left a white teen unconscious and bleeding — were held in Jena. Some supporters used Alexandria as a staging area for the march on Jena."

21 September 2007

Initial Comments After "Jena Six" March

On Thursday (20 September 2007), two buses full of people representing three congregations traveled from Shreveport, Louisiana to Jena, Louisiana to participate in the 20 September 2007 National Day of Action to support the "Jena Six" defendants. These congregations were Evergreen Baptist Church, Steeple Chase Baptist Church, and All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church.

As part of this group, we had 3 Unitarian Universalist ministers traveling with us (Rev. Lyn Oglesby - All Souls Shreveport, Rev. Fred Hammond - UU Jackson MS, and Rev. Eliza Galaher - Wildflower UU Austin TX). We also had several laypeople from All Souls Shreveport who also traveled to Jena as well.

After catching this bus at 5 AM, I'm still a bit tired from the trip and walking around Jena.

The crowd in Jena was huge yesterday. The Shreveport Times was estimating as many as 60,000 people were at the event.

As we exited I-49 in Alexandria towards Jena, there was a traffic jam of chartered buses headed towards Jena. As we drove through Pineville, the local and state law enforcement folks had a large group of charter buses pull over. They were planning on having us go into Jena as a bus caravan.

While waiting by the roadside, I saw dozens of buses waiting for the last leg of this trip into Jena.

Just before getting off the bus, one of Baptist ministers led us in a prayer where he quoted Amos' words that are used in the familiar hymn "Come Build A Land."

We got off the bus just outside Jena near their Wal-Mart and walked into town.

The only retail business that I saw as open for business was Wal-Mart (the only event that Wal-Mart would close for is Jesus' birthday every December). The rest of the local businesses in Jena were closed and many of them had yellow plastic "crime scene" tape and "no tresspassing" signs marking their property boundaries.

A group was "passing the hat" to raise the bail money for Mychel Bell -- they raised over $17,000 of the required $10,000 bail bond to get the remaining Jena Six defendant out of jail (Mychel's bail was set at $90,000). This money was given to Mychel's grandmother and Mychel should be out of jail as he is re-tried as a minor for the incident real soon. Mychel has been in jail since last December -- he's served over 8 months in the parish jail for a schoolyard fight.

We wandered around some more and found that folks wanted to photograph and interview us. Susan said that she hadn't been photographed this much in one day since our wedding. The All Souls members were wearing cream-colored t-shirts that said "Justice for Jena" on the front and had our church name on the back. Susan said that one person thanked her for being there because it meant that our black neighbors were not alone in protesting the racial and class injustice in the Louisiana legal system.

One very puzzling thing in Jena for me was the lack of trash cans for our trash. After finishing a bottle of water, I had to search behind a closed business for a trash can to dispose of my trash. I kept the rest of my lunch trash in my backpack. But it was very puzzling -- if tens of thousands were visiting my town, it would make sense to have trash cans for our trash.

I've already seen a few conservative critics complain on the Shreveport Times web site reader comments about the trash left by the crowd. I expect that some Jena residents are going to complain about the costs of the cleanup. But there were no trash cans on the sidewalks or other public spaces in Jena. I'm not in favor of littering but I realize that the backpacker "pack it in, pack it out" ethic is not a universal one especially in populated areas. The post-event litter is partly the responsibility of the town that didn't provide trash cans for this event.

I've got some pictures from my cell phone camera (I really need to get a digital camera) and from the local paper for this event. I will also get some digital photographs from church members as well. The photo diary on this blog will happen later.

16 September 2007

The "Old South" Is Not Dead -- Shreveport Times Reader Responses to the "Jena Six" Rally

Tonight, All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church of Shreveport, Louisiana hosted an interfaith rally and prayer service in support of the "Jena Six" youth. Here's the article about this rally from The Shreveport Times:
"Several local religious groups will hold a prayer service and rally to support the 'Jena Six' at 6 p.m. today at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 9449 Ellerbe Road.

The Rev. Aaron Dobynes, pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church, will speak, along with local attorney Henry Walker. It is hosted by All Souls and Northern/Central Louisiana Interfaith.

They are seeking justice for six black high school students who were charged with attempted murder in connection with the beating of a white student."
The Shreveport Times allows for reader comment on news stories and even allows for anonymous comments. Here are two anonymous comments on the news story about our church:
dr duke -- "this darn church, and many like it, would rally for the jena thug 6 even it they had killed the white boy...but they call themselves "christian" and not racist.....hypocrisy knows no bounds.... no rally is needed - the two mlk jr wannabes are in control of the situation - unforunately for jena...."

Phalanx -- "I used to wonder why the KKK bombed and burned Colored Churches. Now I know."
In case anyone was wondering, the "Old South" is not dead at all.

And "Old South" attitudes like these will keep the South from flourishing.

Yes, this is offensive ...

... but when an organization has covered up and indirectly supported the criminal assault of minors, this criticism is not surprising:

(Hat tip to the Friendly Atheist blog)

11 September 2007

How Do Our Churches Survive in a Non-Religious World?

On Chalice Chick's Chaliceblog, she mentioned a member of her congregation speaking this concern during a public forum:
"This year, a lady said 'I went to a book signing Richard Dawkins did a few weeks ago, and there were SO MANY young atheists there. We need more young people, and I think the problems is that our services are too theist. How can we make our church more atheist as to attract more people? If we don't, our church is going to die ... '"
Chalice Chick made the following comment about this:
"It's been my observation that cold war era kids all had justifications why their hometown, wherever they grew up, was the first place the Russians were going to attack.

I can't help but think "There are billions of people out there who believe what I do, and the church is dying because it has not properly conformed itself to what I believe. If only UUism were more theist / atheist / spiritual / pagan / multicultural / activist, then it might have a chance, but it's not and indeed my people are terribly discriminated against, so it is surely doomed" comes from the same impulse.

Why do so many of us get off on feeling so persecuted,while at the same time believing that our message will be salvific for UUism?"
And Ms. Kitty made the following observation in the comment section of this blog:
"I'll bet the ministers in the porch chat just quietly and internally sighed at the shortsightedness of this questioner."
I think that there is a kernel of truth the congregant's concern about Unitarian Universalist churches becoming less friendly and welcoming for non-theists (Atheists, Agnostics, and other non-believers).

I think we're in danger of losing Will's "Denomination of Last Resort" market niche because church attendance as a behavior and the expectation of church attendance is dropping in North America. There is no need for a "Denomination of Last Resort" if there is no community pressure to attend church weekly.

Prior to the baby boomer generation, there was a community norm that everyone should be at church on Sunday morning.

Perhaps an exception would be made for Jewish folks and Christians who held their sabbath on the 7th day of the week.

But the idea that a person would sit at home or do something else other than church on Sunday morning would be a violation of community norms.

I suggest that this may have been a reason for many older Atheist, Agnostic, and Humanist Unitarian and Unitarian Universalists joining our congregations.

If your neighbors expect you to go to church, you're going to find the one that is most Atheist-friendly. We didn't require a belief in God -- because of our non-creedal nature, we were a welcome home for Atheists and Agnostics.

But our society has changed. Sunday church attendance isn't a community norm any more.

40% of Americans (according to social science survey data) SAY they attend church weekly. When behavior is observed, the actual figure is a two-fold over-estimate. Observed weekly church attendance is closer to 20%. See the information on the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance web site for details behind this change.

To further complicate this, Christianity is shrinking relative to the US population (7.3% between 1990 and 2001 according to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). The "No Religion - Atheist - Agnostic" category has grown by 6.6% during this same period (8.4% of the population in 1990 vs. 15.0% of the population in 2001 according to the ARIS data).

To summarize:

(1) Church attendance isn't a social norm anymore.

(2) Because of changes in social norms (item 1), we shouldn't assume that our Atheist, Agnostic, and Humanist friends will always be in our congregations.

(3) Christianity is losing "market share" in North America.

(4) The "No Religion - Atheist - Agnostic" is gaining market share.

Given these trends, can Unitarian Universalism adapt to a North American culture that is becoming less traditionally religious and can we provide a welcoming home for the growing North American non-religious demographic?

Or will we compete over a shrinking theistic market share with our Mainline Protestant church neighbors?

What we can offer as a religion is salvation for a world badly in need of salvation here-and-now and not in the afterlife (see my blog posts here about Unitarian Universalist salvation).

How do we survive as a religious community that offers salvation in a world that is becoming less traditionally theistic and less traditionally religious so we can continue to provide this salvation?

Update: All Souls Shreveport Responses to "Jena Six" Case

Here are two responses from All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church of Shreveport, Louisiana to the recent events in Jena, Louisiana.

Both documents require Adobe Acrobat Reader software or other PDF viewer software to read.

If you want additional information about the "Jena Six" case, please check out this online Google video also available on my blog:

Watch "This World: Race Hate in Louisiana" (BBC Documentary)

01 September 2007

Modernism, Post-Modernism -- How to Explain the Difference?

This past Thursday, I was talking with a dear Unitarian Universalist friend about the differences between modernist and post-modernist world views that we find in Unitarian Universalism today.

I should provide a disclaimer -- I'm not a professional philosopher or theologian -- I'm just a person who has read a lot of books and web sites. And the analogy that I used is the baseball umpire analogy.

This analogy was recently quoted in a theology paper presented at the 2007 Wheaton Theology Conference by Tony Jones on emergent theological perspectives in Evangelical Christianity. Tony's paper was not published by Wheaton College with the other papers presented at this conference due to the theological disapproval of Wheaton College's officials (you can read about this incident and find the original paper on Tony's blog).

Here's the analogy:
"Of course, it’'s not lost on me that since the earliest days of the postmodern conversation, there’'s been story floating around about three umpires,
  • The pre-modern umpire says, 'I call 'em as they are!'
  • The modern umpire says, 'I call 'em as I see ’em!'
  • The postmodern umpire says, 'They ain't nothin' 'till I call 'em!'"
This is an off-shoot of a story told by literary theorist Stanley Fish about the baseball umpire Bill Klem to explain "interpretive communities":
"[Stanley] Fish defines as the function of interpretive communities are seen here: The first of these involves baseball umpire Bill Klem, who once waited a long time to call a particular pitch. The player asked him, impatiently, 'Well, is it a ball or strike?' Klem's reply: 'Sonny, it ain't nothing 'til I call it.' What Fish is presenting here exemplifies the idea of interpretation: while baseball supplies a rulebook, it is the discretion of the umpire to judge whether or not a pitch falls into the category of ball or strike. Balls and strikes are not undeniable truths."