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  • Sunday, April 05, 2020 7:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear NoVES Members and Friends -

    I promised to post the Platform Talk given by Hugh Taft-Morales, the Leader of the Baltimore and Philadelphia Ethical Societies.

    It was an excellent talk.  Here it is.

    The “7 Deadly Sins” through a Humanist Lens, Hugh Taft-Morales – 3/29/20

    INTRO

    As we struggle with the early weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, I read a blog by Ralph Drollinger of Capitol Ministries who serves as one of Trump’s “faith advisors.” He wrote in our health challenge we were “experiencing the consequential wrath of God.” He continued, “Since God is just and sin must and will be paid for, wrath…is an inevitable consequence.” In my talk today about the “7 deadly sins,” Drollinger reminds me of what I have always rejected about this particular approach to sin. It only makes sense in the context of a god who allowed his own son to suffer crucifixion.  It’s simply awful.

    But I reject this version of “sin.” I agree with Aviad Kleinberg who in his book, 7 Deadly Sins: A very partial list, states at the beginning, “Sin is a cultural construct.” I agree. I believe most humanists would agree as well. The word is used today colloquially in secular explorations of human psychology and ethics. But, Christianity did shape its meaning, so I’ll start there.

    While people use different terms in naming the seven deadly sins, I will the traditional list offered by Dante: pride, sloth, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and greed. 

    My plan for this talk is that after exploring sin in general as well as these particular sins, I’ll suggest that humanists respond to the angry god approach to sin as follows. First, rather than wasting time and energy punishing oneself for imagined sins, focus on approaching pleasures by cultivating moderation.  Second, while we may fall short of our own ideals, that’s a part of life. With humility and grace, we should continue reaching for our ideals.  And third, life offers enough good, pleasurable, fulfilling things for us all to live a flourishing life. We just need to learn how better to share.

    FOUNDED ON SIN – CHRISTIANITY

    Kleinberg states flatly that Christianity was “founded on sin.” It began with Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the garden for daring to eat from the tree of knowledge.  It came to this country through the fixation Calvinists had about inherent sin and wrathful divine punishment. As Great Awakening preacher Jonathan Edwards warns his followers, due to their sinful nature, “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire….

    He goes on and on threatening hellfire and inducing fear, guilt + shame. It can make life a living hell.  Professor Wendell Watters writes, “The Christian is brainwashed to believe that he or she was born wicked, should suffer as Christ suffered, and should aspire to a humanly impossible level of perfection nonetheless….. A true Christian must always be in a state of torment.” Again I say that this is a terrible way to look at life.

    It’s a worldview that can have particularly devastating effects on young children. That’s why Dale McGowan, the author of Parenting Beyond Belief who once served as Director of Education for the American Ethical Union, told his children that there is no such thing as hell. To imagine that original sin condemns us all to intense suffering for all eternity can damage young psyches.  While Dale wanted his children to come to their beliefs on their own, he wanted the possibility of hell off the table. 

    SLOTH

    Given the self-isolation necessary during this pandemic, and the occasional urge to just curl up on the couch and do nothing, I’ll start with sloth.  Unlike the other deadly sins, sloth results from an absence of something.  It’s about the absence of love – love for self, or for others, or for the good things in life, or for god. Dante describes it as, "failure to love God with all one's heart, all one's mind and all one's soul." Without a love of god, or for anything else, an inertia sets in - physical laziness and psychologically paralysis ensue. It can lead to despair and even suicide.

    In colonial New England where the Puritan work ethic ruled, sloth was condemned with particular venom.  In Dante’s Purgatorio, those guilty of sloth are sentenced to run as fast as they can at top speed forever, like gerbils on a running wheel – a particularly ironic punishment for sloth.

    HURTFUL DESIRES – PRIDE, WRATH AND ENVY

    Unlike sloth, the other deadly sins are marked by the presence of some negative characteristic. Pride, wrath, and envy results from “hurtful desires” – desires to harm others and place yourself above them.

    Pride is seen by many Christian as “the father of all sins” – the original sin. Some say that Adam ate the apple because he wanted to be “like god,” wise and self-sufficient as only “He” can be. Jonathan Edwards warned his audiences that “pride is the worst viper that is in the heart…. [I]t was the first sin that ever was, and lies lowest in the foundation of Satan's whole building, and is the most difficultly rooted out….” It is a particularly infectious sin, one that author C. S. Lewis said was the most egregious affront to God. 

    Not surprisingly, pride is seen as the devil's most prominent trait. Lewis writes, “Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind."

    In Dante’s Divine Comedy, those condemned by god for pride must wear heavy stone slabs around their necks so that their heads remain bowed forever. It’s the price they pay for their hubris.  Might Ralph Drollinger say that the virus we face is our divine punishment?

    Let me turn now to wrath. Wrath is defined by Aristotle as “a desire, accompanied by pain, for a conspicuous revenge….” (Kleinberg 115) It is uncontrolled and indiscriminate. God of the Old Testament is an angry god, “vengeful, vindictive, irritable.” As Kleinberg wrote, “Christ himself often spoke and acted like an angry man, expressing rage toward the Pharisees, toward the money changers in the Temple, even toward a barren fig tree.”

    Many warrior cultures embrace wrath as useful in maintaining order and winning wars.  Kleinberg explains that “[v]iolence…is a way of life in many societies. Anger in such societies is both feared and praised.”

    But warrior cultures have wreaked havoc and caused much suffering. The god of the old testament gets away with wrath. But for us humans, uncontrolled anger can hurt even those who are angry. They can be self-destructive. As Henry Edward Manning, nineteenth century English Cardinal said, angry people are "slaves to themselves."

    Envy is related to wrath in that it seeks to injure and seems insatiable. Human’s have always coveted what others have in terms of prestige, power or possessions. Cain killed his brother Abel just due to envy about Abel being God’s favorite. Envy corrodes relationships.

    Envy can also be self-destructive. It’s not pleasant to be “green with envy.” When it persists, it can slide easily into a state of permanent self-pity. Kleinberg says of envy, “[t]he green-eyed monster, with its malevolent gaze, pursues us from cradle to grave.” Everyone has more than me, has better than me. Woe is me! And what punishment does Dante contrive for the envious? Having your eyes sewn shut! No more seeing what others have that you do not!

    DISTORTED LOVE – LUST, GLUTTONY, AND GREED

    The final three sins – lust, gluttony, and greed - all flow from what some describe as “a distorted or excessive love of good things.” They connect with our animal nature and bodily desires. Lust usually fixates on sex, gluttony on food, and greed on money. To me, the pleasure of sex, food, and money are not bad in and of themselves. Most people welcome the pleasures of sex, food, and money. It’s when their place in one’s life becomes excessive or distorted that problems arise.

    In many puritan cultures sex was a dirty word and lust was considered more dangerous than enjoyable. Eros has the power to corrupt us and drag us into debauchery. Cardinal Manning said that lust turns us into “a slave of the devil.” One of a number of instances of using slavery as a metaphor to describe our relationships to sin.

    Because lust is so powerful, every culture imposes some limits on sexual choice. There are taboos against certain forms of sexual expression: sex with yourself, with others of the same sex, with family, with children, with unconsenting partners, with animals. Some condemn masturbation as “self-abuse”? What about sodomy, child abuse, incest, rape, or bestiality? 

    Many conclude that, as Kleinberg puts it, “[t]he only safe way to avoid the slippery slope of lust is to abstain entirely from sex.” Dante wrote that to purge yourself of lust requires you to walk through flames. Unforgiven lustful sinners pay for their lack of control by being blown around by turbulent hurricane winds forever.

    The humanist in me asks: why not just practice a little self-control and take into account the feelings of anyone else involved? Can’t a deep breath and some respectful conversation avoid that slippery slope?

    Another sin of “excessive love of a good thing” is gluttony. Pope Gregory the Great wrote, “The glutton eats before he’s hungry and continues to eat when he is no longer hungry; he craves costly and gratuitously sophisticated dishes; he eats too much and with excessive eagerness; he seeks not sustenance, but pleasure; he becomes the slave of his stomach and of his palate.” Gregory believes we need sufficient nutrition to assure health, but nothing more. As the Stoic philosopher Seneca explained it, “The body’s needs are few: it wants to be free from cold, to banish hunger and thirst with nourishment. If we long for anything more, we are exerting ourselves to serve our vices, not our needs.”

    Perhaps that’s true, but over-eating can have deep psychological roots and threats of hell may not work so well.  The anxiety it produces might even lead to more binge eating. Many people go to the marketplace for answers and spend some of the $22 billion dollars a year spent by Americans on weight loss products. 

    I would encourage a combination of behavioral supports – drinking water before meals, keeping junk food out of the house, and using smaller plates – and individual or group counseling. Eating is such a primal part of being human that it may take time, but adding the threat of damnation for such a sin seems counter-productive.

    Regarding the third sin arising from excessive love of good things is greed. According to the church, greed arises when materialism obscures things of higher value. Thomas Aquinas wrote that greed takes over when “man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things." Cardinal Manning explained that greed "plunges a man deep into the mire of this world, so that he makes it to be his god".

    Perhaps. But isn’t the devil in the details? How much is enough? After all, people are hoarding toilet paper now.

    Some may say that most – not all - of us in this room are guilty of the sin of greed. I know I have more than I need. Perhaps I should be punished as Dante suggests -  tied up and laid face down for all eternity, our faces mired in the dirt for our pursuit of earthly things. That will teach us that money is the “root of all evil.”

    While I agree that personally I have more things than I need, I think the biggest problem with greed is that it has been encouraged by our system and taken to extremes.  So let me talk some about some problems with capitalism.

    CAPITALISM AND SIN

    In much western culture, greed is encouraged. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argued that individual avarice leads to collective good. Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in the film Wall Street, preached that “Greed is Good…. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.”  Greed is good!

    Advertisers promote the urges behind lust and gluttony and tell us not to worry about greed. “You deserve limitless sexual satisfaction, and we’ll sell you Viagra and pornography to help. You deserve the finest foods and the largest helpings. Go ahead – get an extra-large popcorn – it’s only ten cents more, for goodness sakes. In the drive through, make that a Whopper, and – what the heck - supersize me! In capitalism there are no sins of “excessive love” because there’s no such thing as excess.

    Consumerism encourages envy. Advertisements glorify having better looks, better car, better lawn than your neighbor. With the illusion of unbounded abundance, capitalism promotes unceasing purchases and easy credit. On top of that, spending is patriotic!

    Adler started Ethical Culture to fight raging capitalism and rampant materialism. To promote the best that we can be.

    HUMANIST PSYCHOLOGY AND SIN

    So, what are humanists to do with sin in general? I don’t think we should accept the Christian version of sin nor the capitalist rejection of it in favor of consumerism. But I think we have to address it more fully, especially because some think we humanists are most responsible for it. Had Adam obeyed God, we might still be innocently lounging about in paradise!  Ethical Culture Leader Joe Chuman links sin to the very birth of humanism in his book, Speaking of Ethics. He writes, “Adam’s eating of the fruit was therefore the first act of secularization, of creating a world in which God was not necessary. In a sense, Adam was the first humanist.” (p. 60)

    While Adam is a fictional character, Petrarch is identified by many as the real father of humanism. Even though he was a Christian, he believed that human reason, creativity, and goodness gave our species tremendous potential and responsibility for building civilization. Such optimism inspired Renaissance humanism.

    This optimism arises centuries later in “humanist psychology.” While it acknowledges the horrible things that humans do – we lie, we cheat, we pillage – humanist psychology rejects the notion of unforgivable original sin. Pioneers in humanist psychology, like Charlotte Buhler stressed the positive and self-regulating agency of human beings.  Another pioneer, Abraham Maslow, wrote, “As far as I know we just don’t have any intrinsic instincts for evil.”

    Another humanist psychologist, Carl Rogers, sums it up this way: “For myself, though I am very well aware of the incredible amount of destructive, cruel, malevolent behavior in today’s world—from the threats of war to the senseless violence in the streets—I do not find that this evil is inherent in human nature.” Humanist psychology celebrates our many acts of random kindness.

    The underlying optimism of humanist psychology is absent in much Christian portrayals of sin. In his article entitled, “A Humanist Looks at Sin,” Joe Chuman explains, “[t]he problem with the notion of sin is that it makes a fetish and a celebration out of a particular aspect of human experience. It seizes upon and dogmatizes pessimism. In this sense it partakes of its own romanticism. But it is a joyless celebration that we could well do without. I submit that life is hard enough without the additional burdens imposed by the concept of sin.”  

    Indeed. Life is hard enough without beating ourselves up for being flesh and blood; for being animals with needs and desires. Do these needs and desires lead us astray now and then? Of course, but so too do our over-zealous attacks on them. No one is perfect, and we shouldn’t demand others be perfect. Isn’t that what Jesus was trying to get at when he confronted a mob about to attack an adulterous woman and called forth, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 

    In An Ethical Philosophy of Life, in a chapter entitled “The Shadow of Sin,” Felix Adler writes, “No one can escape doing evil. If not in its grosser forms, then in ways subtler and more complex, but not therefore less evil, every one is bound to make acquaintance with guilt. He need not go out of his way to seek occasion, let him see to it that he improves the occasion when it comes, as inevitably it will, to his spiritual advantage.” In other words, we should learn from our shortcomings.  It is to our “spiritual advantage,” Adler reminds us, to curb the excesses of our imperfect biological nature.

    David Breeden, senior minister of the First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis and a leading religious humanist, points out that the seven deadly sins are generally “internal, instinctive drives that — when over-indulged — lead to poor personal health and anti-social actions.” This is true regarding the sins of excessive love of good things: lust, gluttony, and greed. Over-indulgence is, for Breeden, not an affront to God, but a “failure in genuine love for nature and humanity.”

    How do we as humanists responsibly check hurtful desires and nurture genuine love of good things? I conclude by exploring three suggestions: nurture moderation; humbly accept limitations; and keep working to share good things with others.

    NURTURE MODERATION

    Let’s start by nurturing moderation.  One lesser known of the aphorisms etched into the Temple of Apollo is simply, “Nothing too much.” This spirit guides Aristotle’s ethics. I believe it flowed out of the fact that he was the most naturalistic of the great ancient philosophers.  He studied animals and plants. He saw how often they flourished when avoiding extremes such as drought or flood, burning sunlight or icy darkness.  Moderation helps us grow.

    For Aristotle, reason is not in constant opposition to bodily urges, but rather functions as a guide to help bodily needs be appeased in the right way, in the right place, at the right time. For Aristotle, it’s good to enjoy pleasurable things. Regarding food for example, it’s best not to over-indulge and not starve. Find that middle ground which cultivates the virtue of temperance.  For Aristotle, Similarly, it is good to have a sense of self-worth. It is a healthy love of a good thing. Too little will lead into undue humility; too much will lead to vanity. The middle ground is appropriate pride, a “golden mean” between too much and too little. People sum up Aristotle teaching with the phrase, “all things in moderation.

    Humanists often appreciate the wisdom of taking the “middle way” in navigating the Christian world of extremes - of light and dark, of good and evil, of god and the devil. In Humanism needs and desires of the body are not really “right” or “wrong”.  Perhaps they are appropriate and inappropriate, depending on the time and place.  But, sin is a social construct, and its meaning depends on context. In our lives let’s check hurtful desires and nurture genuine love through moderation.

    HUMBLY ACCEPT LIMITATIONS

    A second piece of advice: in the light of our ideals let us also humbly accept our limitations. Thanks to Joe Chuman I understand how theologian Reinhold Niebuhr saw sin arising from a paradox at the heart of human experience: while we live in this world, we can imagine a better one.  For Niebuhr, humans live between two worlds – the ideal and the actual. In our actual world we live in a world where we fall short of our goals, and where our president is unable to deal effectively with our pandemic, with global change, and with many other important issues. It our ideal world we live up to our all our goals and we have political leadership that does the same.  We have to learn to accept this inevitable gap between our ideals and our lived existence.

    What, after all, are our alternatives? Here are alternatives: three false escapes, if you will. 1) We could deny the ideal, accept life for what it is, and do nothing to change it into something better.  2) We could turn to “mechanisms of escape,” as Niebuhr writes, “obliterate our anxiety or desensitize it by losing ourselves in drink or drugs.” A Christian might describe that as being lost in sin.

    3) We try to escape the existential gap between ideal and actual by dissolving our selves into something greater than ourselves. We could deny individual autonomy and responsibility by giving up our will to God. We could do the same by joining a cult. Or a fascist group. Plenty of Germans escaped the painful dissonance of ideal memories of German glory clashing with the actual humiliation of World War I by joining the Nazi party. We choose too often to be led into deadly myth than be responsible for a painful presence.

    A more noble path for humanists is to acknowledge the gap between the ideal and the actual, to carry the burden of unfulfilled aspirations. After all, for those of us privileged enough to have dreams in our lives, there is a duty to see the world as it is. As Teddy Roosevelt put it, “Keep your eyes on the stars, but feet on the ground.” What other choice do we have if we are to live fully?

    SHARE GOOD THINGS WITH OTHERS

    Third piece of advice: let’s share good things with others.  In seeking a Humanist response to “sin,” it should be of no surprise to you that I will conclude with an Ethical Humanist moral: we need to share good things with others.  Too often classic Christian and western approaches to sin are self-referential.  It’s all about the purity of our own souls. It’s all about our own damnation or redemption. It’s going to hell or sitting at the right hand of god. 

    Both sin and the extreme methods to purge ourselves of it distract from our relationships with other people. Let’s not revel in sins of the flesh nor waste precious energy punishing ourselves for being animals. Let’s work to extend the good life to the millions of people struggling to survive, struggling to enjoy the pleasures we are lucky enough to enjoy.

    So as humanists working together, let’s reject the punishing concept of sin and instead nurture moderation, humbly accept our limitations, and work to share the good things in life 

    Thank you.

    The “7 Deadly Sins” through a Humanist Lens

    Most humanists reject the concept of “sin” as it relates to divine judgment. Many liberal religions embrace the idea that human nature, as flawed as it is, is basically good.  So how do humanists process those personality traits condemned by the bible as “deadly”? How should we regard pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth? Come explore with Hugh Taft-Morales some of the different approaches to how we biological creatures might process these traits within the context of our lofty ideals. 


  • Tuesday, March 31, 2020 11:20 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear NoVES Members and Friends -

    I hope that all of you are doing as well as possible during our times of "sheltering in place".  Isolation can be a time of loneliness and not being able to work is a source of financial hardship to many of us.  I am available for conversations  and I welcome phone calls to break up my day.  Call me at 919-672-9076 for a chat if you need a listening ear.

    I am sharing the American Ethical Union's response to COVUD-19.  It was sent out earlier on the AEU's President's List.  I thought that it should receive wider distribution.  It provides links to useful resources, articles, and meetings.

    May your virus be brief and your quarantine peaceful,

    Randy

    AEU Response to COVID-19

    The AEU is providing or considering providing the following services for our member societies during this current crisis. Feedback about other services you would like to see are very welcome!

    • Shared “Connections” Calendar on the AEU web site, listing platforms and other events offered by member Societies.

    • “Connections” forum to allow members to share information about the current situation. There is already a lot of great information there. 

    • Virtual Sunday Ethical Education for Kids -- This is envisioned as a collaborative effort between the AEU and interested Societies. The goal is to offer a joint program with breakout rooms for different age groups. Existing SEEKhttps://docs.google.com/document/d/1RKFW2oZGKzdyrNv0cuJVs4coV2MGFUYxaWIH-6fTtxg/edit?usp=sharing volunteers or staff from the interested Societies would help to plan and run the sessions. 

      • Timeline: First Virtual SEEK session on Sunday, April 5

      • Planning meeting on Thursday, April 2 at 7pm Eastern Time. https://zoom.us/j/349334424

    • Support call for Societies with Buildings, on coping with COVID-19. 

    • Information about conducting Virtual Platforms and other events. 

      • Document about online Platforms has been drafted and is being reviewed. You are welcome to add your own comments. 

      • A similar document about other kinds of gatherings will also be created. 

      • An information-sharing call will be scheduled for next week. Feedback about whether a “Zoom Platforms 101” session or a cross-Society information sharing session would be more useful is most welcome! If there is enough interest, happy to do both. 

    • The AEU is exploring whether it is possible to offer a pastoral counseling service for Societies which do not have a Leader.

      • Timeline: we expect to have determined if this is possible by early next week. 

      • If it is not possible to do this with our current Leaders, alternate possibilities are being explored. 

    • The AEU is interested in feedback about how the Visiting Leaders’ Program can be useful to Societies during this time. 

    What else can we do to support our Member Societies at this time? 

    For your enjoyment, there have been a number of articles published mentioning Ethical Societies and the AEU during this crisis. 


  • Friday, March 20, 2020 9:18 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    My wife Sarah found this poem in a Newsletter that she receives.  It spoke to my feelings at this present moment.  

    Randy

    An Imagined Letter from Covid-19 to Humans

    Stop. Just stop.
    It is no longer a request. It is a mandate.
    We will help you.
    We will bring the supersonic, high speed merry-go-round to a halt
    We will stop
    the planes
    the trains
    the schools
    the malls
    the meetings
    the frenetic, furied rush of illusions and “obligations” that keep you from hearing our
    single and shared beating heart,
    the way we breathe together, in unison.
    Our obligation is to each other,
    As it has always been, even if, even though, you have forgotten.
    We will interrupt this broadcast, the endless cacophonous broadcast of divisions and distractions,
    to bring you this long-breaking news:
    We are not well.
    None of us; all of us are suffering.
    Last year, the firestorms that scorched the lungs of the earth
    did not give you pause.
    Nor the typhoons in Africa, China, Japan.
    Nor the fevered climates in Japan and India.
    You have not been listening.
    It is hard to listen when you are so busy all the time, hustling to uphold the comforts and conveniences that scaffold your lives.
    But the foundation is giving way,
    buckling under the weight of your needs and desires.
    We will help you.
    We will bring the firestorms to your body
    We will bring the fever to your body
    We will bring the burning, searing, and flooding to your lungs
    that you might hear:
    We are not well.
    Despite what you might think or feel, we are not the enemy.
    We are Messenger. We are Ally. We are a balancing force.
    We are asking you:
    To stop, to be still, to listen;
    To move beyond your individual concerns and consider the concerns of all;
    To be with your ignorance, to find your humility, to relinquish your thinking minds and travel deep into the mind of the heart;
    To look up into the sky, streaked with fewer planes, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, smoky, smoggy, rainy? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
    To look at a tree, and see it, to notice its condition: how does its health contribute to the health of the sky, to the air you need to be healthy?
    To visit a river, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, clean, murky, polluted? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy? How does its health contribute to the health of the tree, who contributes to the health of the sky, so that you may also be healthy?
    Many are afraid now.
    Do not demonize your fear, and also, do not let it rule you. Instead, let it speak to you—in your stillness,
    listen for its wisdom.
    What might it be telling you about what is at work, at issue, at risk, beyond the threats of personal inconvenience and illness?
    As the health of a tree, a river, the sky tells you about quality of your own health, what might the quality of your health tell you about the health of the rivers, the trees, the sky, and all of us who share this planet with you?
    Stop.
    Notice if you are resisting.
    Notice what you are resisting.
    Ask why.
    Stop. Just stop.
    Be still.
    Listen.
    Ask us what we might teach you about illness and healing, about what might be required so that all may be well.
    We will help you, if you listen.

    -Kristin Flyntz



  • Wednesday, March 18, 2020 1:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Over the weekend concern about Coronavirus COVID-19 continued to accelerate.  I posted a Facebook Live mini-platform Sunday morning and the NoVES Board met Sunday afternoon to consider ways of moving forward.

    I drove back to Durham on Monday intending to fly to St. Louis on Wednesday to visit my mother and sister.  Initially I thought that this would be all right.  I last visited in October.  I rationalized that my visit was past due and could be considered necessary travel.  After discussing it with Sarah, I decided that I was being selfish.  Traveling would go against the necessary social isolation needed to make it less likely that COVID-19 cases would spike and exceed the capacity of our healthcare system to provide necessary treatment.  I canceled my flights (a time-consuming process) and car rental (just a click of a button).

    A pandemic simulation article from the Washington Post appeared in my inbox.  It illustrates the effects of unchecked spread, quarantine, and various levels of social distancing.  It can be found here:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/

    This article reinforced in my mind the need for effective social distancing as a means to decrease the number of people who are ill at any given time.  The main benefit of social distancing is not so much as decreasing the spread of the pandemic (although this could be part of the outcome), as it is spreading it out over time to avoid exceeding our ability to care for those who become seriously ill from COVID-19.

    I am hunkered down in Durham.  My daughter Madeline, her husband Jon, and their two sons, David (5) and Orson (3) along with their day care person Laura, escaped from New York City, driving through the night on Monday to join us.  Like other families, we are social distancing as a group from the world outside of our yard.

    I realize that I am privileged in my response to the necessary social distancing.  I am not by myself and am actually experiencing more social interaction than usual.  It is great to be in the company of others.  I realize that many people are much more isolated and, over the next several weeks, loneliness and depression may become issues for them.

    I am also fortunate that I can work from home, exploring ways to connect with others through social media.  I am also fortunate that my financial resources are sufficient to keep me going over the next several weeks – or even months if necessary.

    As I said in my Facebook Live mini-platform, there is opportunity in this crisis.  I wish this was true for everyone.  There are many who will lose income, or even their jobs.  It is not surprising that social distancing will have the greatest impact on the poor.

    The Federal Government was slow to respond, initially meeting the crisis with misinformation and denials.  Legislation that can provide relief is now being considered.  I hope that it is directed at those who are financially struggling rather than corporations.  It remains to be seen.  I will certainly contact my representatives to advocate for assistance to those who need it most.

    Meanwhile, our community can try new things, new ways to socially interact at a distance.  New ways of encouraging and supporting each other.  Expect to see announcements of specific events in the near future.

    Also, please let NoVES know if you need help by reaching out to our Caring Committee at caring@noves.org.  We will figure out how to get you the help that you need.

    Call or e-mail friends when you think of them.  Stay more in touch than usual.  It can lift spirits and help us get through this time of social distancing.

    Take good care of yourselves.

    Yours in Ethical Community,

    Randy


  • Thursday, February 06, 2020 10:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    It is interesting in the verbal exchanges surrounding the Senate’s impeachment trial, whatever claims and insinuations made by the Republican Defense Team, and the President, were the opposite of the truth.

    It was not a perfect call.  The “transcript” call summary did not exonerate the President.  There was clearly a quid pro quo to extort a sham investigation of the Bidens by Ukraine.  The President impeded witness testimony and withheld documents.  If the President’s actions are not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable and this President is truly above the law.

    The House rose to its Constitutional responsibility to hold the President accountable for his “high crimes and misdemeanors”.  The Republican party engaged in a wholly partisan denial of these facts fearing losing their grip on power and reprisals from the Whitehouse.  In a craven act of political irresponsibility, the Senate enabled the President’s actions.  Worse misbehavior will surely follow.

    I never thought that I would be admiring the political courage of Mitt Romney, who voted to convict on one of the articles of Impeachment.  Romney was guided by the seriousness that he held his commitment to be a fair and impartial juror.  He felt bound by his oath to do so.  That he was the sole Senator who did was profoundly disturbing.  He has my admiration. 

    Acquittal by the Senate was no surprise.  Everyone saw it coming.  I am saddened nonetheless.  When facts are established, then ignored in such a spectacular fashion, then Presidential power reigns unchecked, I fear for the fate of our democracy.

    Other than being frustrated and sad, what can I do?

    Recently I have started writing my representatives and calling their offices in response to requests that appear in my e-mail.  I do not know exactly why I was reluctant to do so previously.  I felt that my voice would not make a difference.  I justified inaction by claiming more pressing concerns.  I am making this small change – even though it may be mostly for my sense that I am doing something rather than nothing.  I want to extend my action to signing the petitions that also pop up in my inbox.  I do sometimes, although so many of them seem more interested in soliciting contributions.  I know that these changes of mine are not much.  I will continue anyway.

    Another avenue that I pursue to assuage my feeling of helplessness and despair is to seek out the company of family and friends.  Being with those that I care about lifts my spirits.  Sharing my frustrations and concerns, and listening to the concerns of others lets me feel that I am not alone. 

    Dark times are one possible future that I want to prevent.  I cannot do it alone.

    Coming together in community takes more effort for me when I am downhearted.  I find that takes an extra effort to get out of the house.  I never regret making the effort.

    I want to encourage all of you to check out the NoVES meeting this Sunday when Louis Clark will present: Truth-Telling in the Trump Era: Harnessing the Power of Whistleblowing to Help Preserve Democracy.  Community could lift your spirits and hearing his words could rekindle hope.

    Yours in Ethical Community,

    Randy Best, NoVES Leader

  • 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.

    [from https://actionnetwork.org/event_campaigns/us-climate-strikes?source=nextgen-america&referrer=group-nextgen-america]

        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

    #strikewithus

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

        For more information, please visit strikewithus.org.

    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


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