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  • 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.

  • Friday, June 14, 2019 1:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I announced this at our NoVES meeting last Sunday and I wanted to make sure that members who did not attend were aware of this important human rights situation.

    One of my main take-aways from the Humanists International General Assembly that I recently attended in Iceland is the alarming position of a Humanists International board member.

    Gulalai Ismail, a women’s and human rights activist in Pakistan is under legal threat from the Pakistani government that has charged her with “sedition”.  This charge poses a serious threat to her liberty and her life.

    Hearing of the consequences of Gulalai Ismail advocating for a full investigation of the murder of a minor girl, highlights the peril that humanists face in many parts of the world.

    Earlier this year, Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International, urged Gulalai to stay in the United Kingdom and seek asylum.  She replied that she needed to return to Pakistan to continue her work for women’s and human rights.  She said that if she was killed because of her efforts, it would serve as inspiration to others to take up the cause.

    I am overwhelmed by Gulalai’s moral courage and selfless dedication.  She is paying a high price for living her humanist values.  It underscores the personal safety and freedom of expression that I experience.

    The full article from the Humanists International website is included below.

    Supporting “humanists at risk” is one of the activities of Humanists International.  If you feel moved to help, consider making a donation to:

    Additional information about the activities of Humanists International, can be found on their website:

    May 23, 2019

    Gulalai Ismail faces “sedition” accusation for protesting injustice in child murder case

    Human rights defender Gulalai Ismail faces the threat of arrest for “sedition” under the anti-terrorism act, after campaigning for justice in the case of a girl who was raped and murdered.

    Gulalai Ismail is a women’s right activist, human rights defender, and was elected to the Board of Humanists International in 2017.

    It was reported in Pakistani media today that an FIR (First Information Report) was raised against Gulalai Ismail in relation to a speech she gave at a rally earlier in the week. The accusation falls under the anti-terrorism act for “delivering seditious speeches and instigating masses against the state institutions”. Gulalai’s speech earlier in the week was widely circulated on social media. The rally and the speech were held to protest the rape and murder of a minor girl known as Farishta.

    The body of Farishta was found near the capital’s Shahzad Town area after being allegedly raped. Her family said they had tried to file a missing person report with the police on 15 May, but it took police until 19 May to register the FIR in that case and, even then, a proper search was not initiated.

    Protesters at the rally this week were objecting to the perceived lack of interest or progress in the case up to that point. Subsequent to the protests, the government and state authorities have pledged to take action on the case and investigate the apparent inaction of police services.

    The accusation in the FIR is that this speech was “anti-state” or “seditious”. It is very common for some activists to be branded as “anti-state” or “seditious” in particular when they are critical of military or government actions constituting human rights violations.

    Ismail has previously faced accusations of “blasphemy” for example around her work promoting women’s equality, and accusations of being “anti-state” for taking part in Pashtun rights protests and criticizing authorities including the military for human rights violations or failures of justice.

    It is particularly concerning that Gulalai Ismail faces the prospect of arrest and detention again, having faced similar accusations several times in the past few years.

    There is also significant social media activity surrounding the speech and the FIR, with elements accusing her of “anti-state” activities and posting photographs of her with international NGO contacts (including Humanists International Board members) with the hashtag: “#GulalaiPTMExposed”. (The repeated insinuation is that she is connected to or funded by “foreign” agencies. This is a common allegation against human rights defenders, which endangers the accused by casting them as traitors, terrorists or seditionists.)

  • Friday, May 31, 2019 7:11 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I enjoy traveling by myself.  Moving through the world at my own pace.  Deceiding what I will do next with minimal negotiation.  Traveling becomes a contemplative experience played out in the unfamiliar.

    I have been let loose in Reykjavik since Tuesday morning.  I thought that a four-hour time difference would not amount to much, yet I am having trouble sleeping at the right times.  I spend my time wandering about and drifting into random museums and restaurants.

    I find it interesting when the English word for a country differs greatly from the native name.  I may be wrong about this in this case but the art museum was called “Listasafn Islands - National Gallery of Iceland”.  Googling “Listasafn Islands” only produces pages in Icelandic so I have more research to do.

    The museum displayed interesting historical and contemporary Icelandic art.  There was a special exhibit about an Icelandic video artist Stenia Vasulka and her Moravian husband Woody.  After meeting in Europe and working there for a while, they relocated to New York City where they opened “The Kitchen”, a performance space in a hotel basement in 1971 (The Kitchen still exists, albeit in a different location – my daughter Madeline won a modern dance lighting design Obie award for a show that was in this space).  The Vasulkas eventually moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where their work continues.  I spent two hours absorbing various video snippets, everything from a Filmore East montage including Jimi Hendrix and Jethro Tull, to the artists talking about the meaning and purpose of art.  Artists talking about their Art and Musicians talking their music fascinate me.

    I am told that I am experiencing unusually favorable weather – cool crisp blue skies.  The city is beautiful.  It has its own unique domestic architecture with a welcome lack of reflective glass tall buildings.

    Yesterday I did the tourist bit and visited the Blue Lagoon.  The creativity involved in turning the hot water run-off from a geo-thermal power plant into a tourist spa shows some ingenuity.  It was worth going - though I did not stay long.

    After a few days of roaming about without successfully engaging in much conversation with any of the locals, I was pleased to meet a local musician, Teitur Magnusson, at a café over breakfast.  I showed him my daughter Alicia’s Band (A Different Thread) YouTube channel and got a suggestion where I could go to hear some local music.  Our conversation ranged from about music to the fate of the world. I bought his CD.

    The Humanists International Conference starts this afternoon.  I will switch gears and become social.  I’m looking forward to it.

  • Saturday, May 11, 2019 1:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Over the last several years, I have attended annual clergy seminars held at Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, North Carolina (my first home).  The purpose of these seminars is to promote the understanding of Judaism among other denominations.

    The subject of this year’s seminar was “Violence in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament”.

    I thought that this would be very useful for me since my Biblical literacy is minimal and I cringe with incomprehension when reading some of the passages in the Old Testament (OT).  I have always gotten something out of attending these seminars in the past and was ready to do so again.

    Two Jewish Biblical scholars from Duke, Professors Carol and Eric Myers, and Rabbi Daniel Greybar, from Durham’s Temple Beth El, comprised the presentation panel.

    Eric Myers led with the idea that a 2,500-year-old text, with portions that are even older, is bound to be challenging to people today who may have difficulty engaging with it in a meaningful way.

    He acknowledged that the OT is replete with violence, genocide, and wholesale slaughter.  He cautioned that it is important to avoid a literal interpretation of the text.  Biblical stories are there to illustrate some lesson.  The Jewish tradition of biblical analysis and commentary has produced, and continues to produce, deeper interpretations of the text.

    Eric Myers suggested that different readings of the OT produce greater insights – redemptive readings, liberation readings, readings of justice and righteousness.

    Carol Myers scholarship looks at the OT from a feminist perspective.  She pointed out that violence against women in the OT has been used to justify subordination and violence against women.   She sees stories in the OT as literary constructs – not historical accounts.

    She gave examples of how particularly horrific OT accounts such as Judges 19 that contains mob violence, sexual assault, gang rape, and dismemberment must be read in context of the first and last passages that book-end this section.  The first section reads – this is what happens when the nation is not united.  The last section reads – this is what happens without a united support of the monarchy.  Read this way the passage becomes a warning rather than a chronicle of actual events.

    Carol Myers followed this with other examples, some with analysis of the societal traditions of that time.

    Rabbi Daniel Greybar spoke of the challenges of steering communities that consider these texts to be sacred.  His approach is that we must be claimed by these texts, balancing this commitment with the potential for abuse.  It is necessary to reclaim scripture from those who use it to justify violence.

    All of the panelists dispelled the stereotypical understanding that the Hebrew Bible is a nasty piece of work that has been superseded by the New Testament, the simplistic trope that the Old Testament God is Violent and the New Testament is Loving.  It is more nuanced and complicated than that.

    My understanding of violence in the OT was broadened by the panel’s presentation.  I remain puzzled by the power that ancient words and the traditions they have produced have on contemporary people.  Saddled with horrific biblical passages, scholars and clerics have found ways to understand historical context and come to different interpretations.  I suppose that there is little choice given the material that they have to work with.

    Afterwards, I began reflecting on my Humanist/Ethical Culture tradition and what shortcomings exist in our literature and practices.

    Ethical Culture’s congregational movement began in the late 1800’s.  It’s founder, Felix Adler, introduced some new ideas about universal human worth and dignity, social justice, and societal reform.  Unfortunately, Adler also had a traditional Victorian view of women’s roles and limitations.  It was many years later that Ethical Culture recognized the equality of women and had women serving as Ethical Society Leaders.  Although Ethical Culture always affirmed the worth and dignity of everyone, only recently have people of color assumed leadership roles in Ethical Culture. 

    The Humanist Manifesto (1933), Humanist Manifesto II (1973), and Humanism and Its Aspirations (2003) are other sources that I look to for inspiration.  Full of ideas and commitments about making a better world these documents were written by Americans, mostly men, and reflect this bias – not so much by what they include but by what they leave out.  Voices of oppressed and marginalized groups were not included.

    I may be at an advantage in not needing to explain the moral values contained in iron-age stories, but there is much to be done in Ethical Humanism to fully live out my values.  I am heartened that there are many women Ethical Culture Leaders and that there are people of color in our Leader Training program.  This diversity in leadership has expanded my humanist outlook and is creating a more inclusive humanism.  Ethical Humanism is expanding by incorporating new humanist perspectives.  It is exciting to be part of this process.

  • Thursday, April 18, 2019 12:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    After the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral, David Roberts from VOX News, posted on the March for Science Facebook Group)

    Watching something that took centuries to develop, something that can never entirely be recreated, disappear in the comparative blink of an eye – that, in slow motion is going to be the dominant feeling of the 21st century.  Only instead of buildings: glaciers, forests, species.

    I would add that the deaths of tens of millions of people fighting for resources is another likely outcome of unchecked Climate Change.

    It is curious what captures the human imagination.

    Over $1 billion has been pledged by wealthy donors and corporations to restore Notre Dame.  I do not begrudge the emotional connection that many have for this iconic Paris building.  I wonder how to focus international imagination on taking steps to avert climate disaster.

    Teen Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg commented:

    “Yesterday, the whole world witnessed with sadness and despair the fire at Notre-Dame de Paris, but Notre-Dame will be rebuilt,” she said in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. “I hope it has strong foundations and I hope we have strong foundations, but I’m not so sure.”

    “I want to make you panic, I want you to act as if your house was on fire,” she said. “A lot of politicians have told me that panicking does not do any good. I agree, but when your house is on fire and you want to prevent it from collapsing, it is better to panic a little.”

    “If your house were falling apart, you would no longer fly around the world in business class,” said the high school student, who came to Strasbourg by train from Stockholm. “You would not organize three emergency summits on Brexit and none on climate change.

    “Well, our house is falling apart and yet nothing is happening. We’ll have to switch to cathedral mode. I ask you to wake up and do what is necessary,” she said.

    Cathedrals can be restored and so can the Earth’s climate, but necessary action on Climate Change is proceeding all too slowly.

    Yet I do find hope in the words and actions of Greta Thunberg and the movement that she started, “Youth Climate Strike”.

    Last month I attended a “Youth Climate Strike” gathering at the Capitol protesting the lack of action to combat Climate Change.  This rekindled feelings that change is indeed possible.

    About 1,500 youth were there with older folk hovering around the sidelines.  The organizers determined that to counteract the lack of women in leadership positions, all of today’s presenters would be women, as are the three leaders of Youth Climate Strike.

    It was energizing to hear “Generation Z” articulate many of the problems that face us and how they are interrelated.  Here are some of the words that I heard:

    Gen Z must confront: Climate Change, Racism, Classism, Colonialism, and Capitalism.  Shake the system to the ground.  Confront pollution.  Eliminate single use plastic. Gen Z will be the first generation to experience the devastating effects of climate change.

    Take back the Earth.  Take it to the streets.  Take it to the polls.

    Climate Justice/Climate Action/Right to a livable Planet

    Climate Justice, poverty, pollution – all are connected.

    Invitations were sent to women in Congress to address the gathering.  Ilhan Omar was the only person who showed up.  Here are some of her words:

    I ran on the Green New Deal.  We cannot let fossil fuel CEO’s dictate how we use our planet.  We cannot let this administration continue to put corporate interests over taking action to reduce global carbon levels.

    I have introduced a Bill to end $20 billion in corporate welfare.  This $20 billion will instead end homelessness in this country.

    Representative Omar then turned to podium over to her teenage daughter, Isra Hirsi, who is one of the three national leaders of Youth Climate Strike.  She spoke about how her climate activism began by joining the Green Club in her high school.  She was the only person of color in the group.  At first she did not fit in, but she stuck it out and became a national leader.

    There were several interesting crowd chants that punctuated breaks in the presentations.  My favorite was this call and response:

    Solid as a Rock

    Rooted as a Tree

    We are here

    Standing Strong

    In our rightful place

    I was inspired by the dedication and commitment of the people at this event to wok to ward saving the planet and ourselves.

    After this gathering, my spirit was lifted and I smiled on my 12-mile bike ride home.

    - Randy Best

  • Wednesday, November 07, 2018 5:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Yesterday’s election results lifted my spirits.  There were important races across the country where candidates ran on healthcare, and economic and social justice issues.

    I am encouraged.  I get to continue resisting and protesting policies from an administration that supports white nationalism, racism, sexism, and trans-phobia.  I refuse to normalize the words and actions of the national political theater in the white house.

    I am encouraged.  I now have more allies in the U.S. House of Representatives, many of them women and people of color.

    I am encouraged.  The process of change takes time.  There are the beginnings of a swell toward increased concern for the welfare of others.

    Where will the country be after two more years when the presidential election rolls around?

    I hold on to a naïve notion of human progress, despite the setbacks that I can see wherever I look.  For, after all. I am encouraged.

    Randy Best

    NoVES Leader

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