Northern Virginia Ethical Society (NoVES)

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  • Friday, January 03, 2020 2:29 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Like many of you, this morning I woke up to the news that an American drone strike had killed

    Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force unit near Baghdad International Airport, in Iraq.  The airstrike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy of the Popular Mobilization Units, an Iraqi Shiite Militia that has been incorporated into the Iraqi Army.  President Donald Trump personally authorized this action.

    This is seen as a good thing by some, showing how tough and relentless the United States is in protecting its citizens and its interests.  Others are skeptical about the probable outcome of this killing, and I include myself among them.

    After the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, ostensibly to overthrow Saddam Hussein and his “weapons of mass destruction”, it soon became clear that there was no after-battle plan for establishing peace and security in Iraq.  The region was immediately thrown into chaos and armed conflict as various ethnic groups, nations, and their proxies, vied for power and control.  Political instability in Iraq spilled over into Syria leading to civil war and creation of the radical ISIS caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.  Alliances formed that ultimately defeated ISIS. This brief moment of cooperation dissolved along with the caliphate as former allies turned on each other.

    Iraq and much of Syria remain an unstable mess with decimated populations and infrastructure and tens of thousands of refugees seeking safety in Europe.  The human cost to the people of the region is over one million dead in Iraq and Syria.

    I do not understand how assassinating Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis makes anyone any safer.  Both of these men are part of military institutions with existing command structures.  They are easily replaced by others who will continue to pursue similar policies. 

    These assassinations escalate the animus currently directed at Americans in Iraq and encourage retaliation by others, such as Iran.

    All of this strategic calculus misses the larger moral point.  Killing is wrong.  Assassination is even more heinous.  Extraordinary justification must be provided to exercise killing at the press of a button.  No compelling justification has been provided.  Killing these men will not prevent their organizations from continuing to pursue their plans for Iraq.  It will only inflame the outrage and hate. 

    My cynical side sees this morning’s news as the first step in escalating conflict in Iraq leading to direct military confrontation with Iran.  War presidents are more likely to be re-elected.

    Gandhi said, “An eye for and eye makes the whole world blind.”  I think that he had something here.  This morning’s assassinations will not let me sleep better at night.

    Randy Best, NoVES Leader

  • Monday, December 02, 2019 3:35 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The afternoon before Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law, Nancy Howe, died at age 95.  She was surrounded by family members and listening to my daughter Alicia's music as her body shut down.

    Nancy was an avid gardener and loved walking in the woods.  She had considered cremation, but was drawn to Green Burial as a better way for her to return to nature and nurture the earth.  Green Burials need to happen fairly quickly since no preservatives are added to the body.

    It is always a good time to consider what you want to have done for you when your time comes and to communicate your wishes to those who will be making the decisions for you.  Nancy had done this.

    I am posting a few pictures of the Green Burial as a meditation on life, death, and our closeness to nature.  

    The Gravesite is prepared.

    Nancy's  Shroud is lowered.

    Petals and Leaves are added.

    Everyone helps fill the grave.

    Shrubs are planted.  The Earth abides.

  • Monday, November 25, 2019 10:45 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    A not so tense family moment

    Holidays can be great family times.  Holidays can also be times of stress with multi-leveled, complex family relationships.

    My opening words today were:

    Do not kid yourself, a conflict is never about the surface issue.  It’s about one’s unsaid, untreated, and unhealed wounds.

    This can be very true and is something to always keep in mind… though sometimes a disagreement, is just a difference of opinion.

    Many of you may live inside your own information bubble, interacting mostly with others who mostly agree with you.  I know that I spend most of my time in my information bubble.  Holiday events can be a time when we venture outside of our information bubbles and spend time with family members.  We may be with people - who we care deeply about - whose opinions are very different than our own.

    How do you react to a relative saying, “Trump is the greatest president ever!”

    Laughter, while tempting, would probably not lead to a considerate exchange.

    Instead, pause, take a moment to reflect, before responding. Consider…

    What is the history of this relationship?

    Do you want to repeat familiar patterns of disagreement and conflict?

    Is it necessary to address this disagreement?  Can it be avoided?

    This could be a time to value relationship over opinion.

    Instead of confronting your relative, it may be a chance to lean in

    “Tell me more about why you think that Trump is the greatest president?”

    Listen.  Ask honest questions.  Listen some more.  Thank them for helping you better understand where they are coming from.

    Leaning in might help, or you may choose another way to respond. 

    Family can disagree about many things.  Many are much more personal than political disagreement.  In such cases I think that my opening words are worth considering:

    Do not kid yourself, a conflict is never about the surface issue.  It’s about one’s unsaid, untreated, and unhealed wounds.

    Whatever you do, do it with the commitment to bringing out the best in others.  Consideration can make a difference.

    Yours in Ethical Community,

    Randy Best

  • Wednesday, September 18, 2019 6:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In December 2018, I presented a NoVES platform titled “The Moral Necessity of Geo-Engineering”.  I advocated investigating how we could use technology to reduce global temperature increases as a temporary stop gap while the world moved to minimizing our carbon emissions.

    Like many others (excluding the President and Republican members of Congress) I believe that the Climate Crisis poses an existential threat to life on earth as we know it.


        On September 20, three days before the UN Climate Summit in NYC,          young people and adults will strike all across the US and world to                  demand transformative action be taken to address the climate crisis.            Millions of us will take the streets to demand a right to a future, and              we’re inviting you to


        Find a strike near you… Whether you’re 7 or 77, you’re invited to join the      movement.

        For more information, please visit

    I invite you to attend a Climate Strike event near you.  Nearby events are:

    Falls Church City Climate Strike
    Friday, September 20, 2019 • 8:00 AM
    Browns Hardware
    100 W Broad St
    Falls Church , VA 22046

    Herndon Climate Strike
    Friday, September 20, 2019 • 7:00 AM
    Spring Street Park 38.9637, -77.3833
    500 Van Buren St
    Herndon, VA 20170

    Arlington VA Strike
    Friday, September 20, 2019 • 12:00 PM
    In front of Ellen M. Bozman Government Center
    2100 Clarendon Blvd
    Arlington, VA 22207

    DC Climate Strike
    Friday, September 20, 2019 • 11:00 AM
    Starting at John Marshall Park and marching to the Capitol Building
    John Marshall Park
    Washington, DC 20001

    It is essential that we start responding to the need to reduce or eliminate human contributions to global temperature increases.

    For me, attending a Climate Strike is an important step for me to acknowledge the magnitude of this problem and begin to make changes in my life to do my part.

    Together we can become the force to change our consumption and save the planet.

  • Tuesday, July 16, 2019 3:38 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    What does August in my neck of the woods in North Carolina have that is magical and truly special?  The Paperhand Puppet Intervention's annual show at the Forest Theater on UNC Campus in Chapel Hill.  This year's show is...

    The show uses giant puppets on bamboo poles, people wearing puppet heads, dancers, costumed people on stilts, and a live band with original music.

    Various family members participated in this show over the past 20 years - my wife Sarah has been a company member for the past 19 years.  I was even in the show once and was the front house manager for 6 years.

    The Artistry, stories, and originally of Paperhand Puppet Intervention is extraordinary.  I think that the company is in a class by itself.

    I am inviting any and all of you to take a break in August and come down for the weekend show.  Yes, it will be very hot.  I solve this by showing up early at the outdoor theater to get good seats (its open seating) and having a picnic supper before the show. 

    Showtimes are:

    Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening in August at 7:00 PM (pre-show music at 6:20).  Admission is a suggested contribution of $20 for adults and $10 for kids (no one is turned away for lack of funds).

    My house can accommodate several visitors, and I am happy to do so (be warned, we don't have AC but lots of fans).  There are also many Air BnB places nearby.

    It is a 4 and one half hour drive from Northern Virginia (which I know well).  Well worth the trip!

    Come one, come all - you will not be disappointed.

    Drop me a line if you are coming.

    - Randy Best

  • Friday, July 05, 2019 8:14 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    What to do on the 5th of July?  Go to the historical Stageville Plantation outside of Durham.  Go to Horton Grove, the place where the slave quarters built in 1851 still stand on what was a 30,000 acre plantation with 900 slaves.  Go to this place.  Feel, imagine what life must have been like for these enslaved people.  Participate in a community reading of Frederick Douglass' famous speech, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? 

    Historical note: 

    In 1852, the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Association invited abolitionist, activist and statesman Frederick Douglass to speak at their July Fourth Independence Day Celebration in Rochester, N.Y.

    He refused.

    But he agreed to speak on July 5 instead.

    Before an audience composed of Washington politicians, white abolitionists, and President Millard Fillmore, Douglass presented what still stands as one of history’s greatest example of speaking truth to power. Douglass’ unapologetic criticism of America’s hypocrisy still rings true to this very day. 

    Frederick Douglass' speech was printed out in numbered paragraphs so that participants could sign up to read a paragraph or two.  Several children participated.  Here is the section that I read.

    What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is past.

    At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

    I was moved by this experience.  I was dumbfounded that the slave quarters that I was standing in front of were built at around the same time that Frederick Douglas delivered his address.

    Before the reading, the N.C. State historical site staff person read from the July 5th, 1865 Raleigh newspaper about the Independence Day celebration after the Civil War.  She mentioned jubilation in the streets - for it was a time of great hope for many. 

    She did not mention that it was a brief window of opportunity for a better society, what could be, before reconstruction was abandoned and white supremacy reasserted itself.

    This was the first reading of Frederick Douglas at Horton Grove.  It will now be an annual event.  If I am in Durham next July 5th, I will definitely go again.  My hope will need recharging by then.

    - Randy

  • Thursday, July 04, 2019 3:19 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I thought that I would be able to do a daily posting from the AEU Assembly in Tampa.  As the level of activity accelerated on Saturday and Sunday, things happened too fast for me to record them.

    I planned to catch up during the five days after the assembly when I was taking care of my brother-in-law Ben, who has frontal lobe dementia, so that Tricia, my sister-in-law, could have a break.  The care-taking was not too difficult but I was too distracted to accomplish much.  We walked on the beach, I cooked and froze meals, Ben binge watched season after season of West Wing.  Being there became a meditation on the fragility of life and the importance of being present.

                                   Ben builds a drip sandcastle on the beach.

    Now much time has passed and rather than mining my memory and trying to make sense of my notes, I thought that I would leave it to the professionals and share an article on the Assembly written by Emily Newman, a communications staffer for the AEU and AHA.

    Please do check it out.  I found it to be informative and inspiring.


  • Saturday, June 22, 2019 9:25 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As always, Friday was a busy day at the Assembly.

    After the State of the Ethical Union presented by Bart Worden, I presented an afternoon workshop on How Democracy is Practiced in Ethical Societies.

    Afterwords, I went to a workshop on Engaging Your Group - and You - in Electoral Politics.  It was presented by Ron Millar (Center for Freethought Equality), Sarah Levin (Secular Coalition for America), David Williamson (Central Florida Freethought Community), and Florida State Representative Jennifer Webb.

    Some of my take-aways from this workshop:

    • Many State Legislatures have Secular Caucuses, work with them
    • Ethics and Religion are not synonyms (I knew that)
    • Promote secular values of Freedom, Inclusion, Equality, and Knowledge
    • We need more "sustained thoughtful conversations"
    • Nobody is going to come save us - we must mobilize
    • Canvasing - Deep Canvasing is very important
    • Voter participation of non-religious is half that of evangelicals
    • Need to reinforce behavior of politicians whose ideas you support

    After dinner, we were treated to the rousing music of Lindsey Wilson.

    This was followed by seeing Leader-in-Training Je' Hoopers movie of his unique re-imaging of encounters between Felix Adler and W.E.B. DuBois, HUMANITAS.

    A busy day.  Great events.  Great conversations.  

  • Friday, June 21, 2019 9:01 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Last night at the AEU Assembly in Tampa, to get the show on the road Je' Hooper orchestrated a version of "Family Feud" he called "Society Feud" where teams played the game.  It was tremendous fun and very, very funny.  A good time was had by all.

  • Wednesday, June 19, 2019 10:23 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I am in Tampa at a meeting of the National Leaders Council  prior to the AEU Assembly that starts on Friday.

    I am inspired to share a letter to the editor written by Bart Worden published this morning in the Tampa  Bay Times:

    Column: After Pulse and Parkland, let’s put our faith in ethics

    Tampa Bay Times/Bart Worden

    Last week the country mourned as we remembered the 49 who were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Two days earlier, we witnessed more lives lost at Virginia Beach. Politicians once again offered thoughts and prayers but, as has become increasingly clear, prayers are not putting an end to senseless violence. We need to put more time and resources into making positive connections between people and building trust in, and appreciation for, one another. We need to build a more ethical culture.

    Americans from across the country will converge in Tampa this week for the American Ethical Union’s (AEU) 104th annual assembly. Our members follow ethical humanism, a non-theistic religion of ethics founded in 1876. Today, 23 Ethical Culture Societies exist across the country, including the beginnings of one here in Tampa. The people gravitating toward ethical humanism reflect a growing national trend of Americans losing faith in legacy religions in the face of seemingly intractable issues such as the plague of gun violence.

    Florida is part of this trend. While 70 percent of Floridians identify as Christians, the second highest percentage belongs to “unaffiliated” (24 percent), according to the Pew Forum. Nationally, there has been a sharp decline in church attendance over the past 20 years and a 2004 poll found that on any given weekend, only about 14 percent of Floridians attended church. A key factor in that decline, according to Gallup, is an increasing number of Americans with no religion at all.

    To be sure, faith is still tremendously important to Americans. Pew found that the majority of Floridians have some sort of belief in God. And I’ve been heartened to see faith leaders support advocacy for gun reform. But as more Americans search for ways to do their part to affect positive change in the country, they are seeking ways to combine their faith with activism.

    Members of the ethical culture movement focus on how to live an ethical life rather than worship a particular god or gods. We aim to build communities in which each person’s unique worth is appreciated, communities who work to build an ethical culture that fair and compassionate. We recognize that faith can divide people rather than bring them together so we focus on ethical understanding and action rather than on belief or disbelief in deity.

    People seek out ethical culture because they want communities that value action over words. That’s why our motto is “deed before creed.” It’s also why we put so much emphasis on positive action and why we are putting more energy into establishing more groups in more places — including the Tampa Bay Area.

    We know there are like-hearted people in Florida who strive to make a more ethical culture. One of our oldest members, Dunedin resident Ed Ericson, was raised as a Southern Baptist but found ethical humanism inspired him toward ethical action. A leader of both the New York Society for Ethical Culture and the Washington Ethical Society, Ed led desegregation efforts, founded the Center for Moral Democracy, and lobbied Congress and the Selective Service System to eliminate built-in discrimination against non-theists. He was later told it was his testimony that convinced senators to make this change.

    Prioritizing ethics and social action over belief may be the best way to prevent tragedies like Parkland and Pulse and, ultimately, get our country back on track. Christian leaders like Shane Claiborne are advocating for gun control and distancing themselves from extreme interpretations of religion. He and others like him stand on the same side of youth activists like the brave students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. Their activism was a driving force behind then-Gov. Rick Scott signing a bill to ban bump stocks. We will honor two teachers from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas — Kimberly Krawczyk and Dr. Jacob Anderson — at our assembly in Tampa this weekend for their school’s remarkable activism.

    The continued mass shootings since Pulse and Parkland show that our prayers are not being answered. People of all faiths must move beyond prayer to demand action from our elected officials to protect our citizens from the violence and terror of guns. There are ethical people all over. Let’s find each other, build communities, and work together to build a more caring — and less violent — society.

    Bart Worden is the executive director of the American Ethical Union, and clergy leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Westchester in New York.

    Hope that you enjoy this as I did.

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