Monday, September 28, 2009

Over at Balloon Juice they are composing a left-blogospheric dictionary. Last night they were discussing the current meanings for "liberal" and "conservative." But I stopped reading at the 6th comment because I think El Cruzado nailed it perfectly:

Conservative: anything that self-proclaimed conservatives like or are in favor of.
Liberal: anything that self-proclaimed conservatives dislike or are against.

Anyone looking for a more coherent or consistent stance is missing the point.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday morning brought a breezy, leafy rain. Betty's sermon was about the church as a container for growing one's heart. She donned a beflowered gardener's hat, mud-stained gloves and brandished a flower pot when the children gathered around her.

And later after the children were gone she expounded on one of her favorite names for us, faith community. I'm not sure that I followed everything she said about faith and how it is lived. I agree that one of the welcome things about church is that it is a faith community, but I get a sense that I was working from a narrower (I might even say crisper) definition of what faith means. To me (as a scientist and son of a science teacher) faith is irrevocably about the unreasoning leap one takes when one reaches the outer limit of reason/science/empiricism -- call it what you will. Unitarian-Universalists generally value that reasoned, material-experience-based working out of life's questions and answers. And that may make them interesting philosophers, humanists, neighbors, activists and so on.

But what makes them a UU is often-enough an act of faith; is as Betty put it, laying the heart down on a set of principles. These principles don't have to be (and I think can't be and probably shouldn't be) reasoned out, or argued for, or proved in some objective sense. The act of faith is taking that leap and saying that, "I don't need proof that every human being deserves my love and respect -- I'm just going to lay my heart down on that precept and simply declare it so."

(Of course, what I see as a leap of faith, other people experience as knowing what is ineffably true, and that creates some tension when the term faith seems a disparagement . . . .)

There's nothing inherently constructive or activating about leaps of faith. Most people's acts of faith are pretty misguided and counter-productive as far as I'm concerned. But when you have legitimately taken reason and argument as far as you can take them -- and you've looked into the word-less and reason-less regions of self and other and found a place beyond that, where it seems right to lay down your heart -- then faith is the act we have.

And a faith community is nothing more than the band of people that happens when a group of people make the same leap.

Maybe that's what Betty said and I just needed to put things in my own words, or maybe she was adding something to that. In any case I can thank church and leafy rain for once again for keeping the spiritual and philosophical juices flowing . . .

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Monica, Alberto and Porter climbed into the car and headed for Vermont to see the maples turning orange and red.

Nico and I headed to Connecticut, to the corn maze in Preston where his class was gathering for the fall social. B. had a few things organized for the kids, like visiting the calves, a hay ride and pizza.

When it comes to supervision, parents at the school keep their kids on leashes of varying lengths, but I gladly let Nico off to do as he liked -- which was to race immediately off into the maze. This was annoying to some of the parents who were trying to keep their kids from disappearing until after the pizza, etc. But I was coming off three days fighting a bad cold and just wanted to sit in the glorious September sunshine. Besides, cornfields remind me too vividly of the wilderness of childhood, and I had no interest in interfering in Nico's day.

Eventually all of the kids would disappear in the maze -- some with adults attached, some without. But one of the themes of the idle, pleasant, desultory parental conversation was about how much free reign to give kids. Some feared that a child who merrily wandered the maze, might panic as soon as they decided they wanted out. Others feared that they might meet harassing teens in the maze. Others, like me shrugged it off and saw our prejudices confirmed each time happy, sweating kids emerged from the maze to grab a drink or to show how many stamps they'd found. We'd get reports on who they'd run with or run into in the maze.

Alejandra was one who worried, though she had let her son, Matteo, go off with a group of the others, accompanied by an adult. When she heard from others that he wasn't with that group any longer, she contained her worry. Time went by and no one reported seeing him. Finally, the afternoon was stretching when Nico came out and sat with me. Alejandra asked him if he'd seen Matteo and Nico said, "He was with us, but then he separated from us." "How did that happen?" asked Alejandra. "He went off with some guy." "Who?" Nico didn't know -- hadn't seen him before. It was some man who said he'd show him where to get one of the stamps.

Adult faces went suddenly stony, and the worst fears of parenthood didn't need to be voiced. Alejandra and B. were out of their seats heading for the maze. I was talking seriously to Nico to make sure he wasn't making anything up - that Matteo had gone off with a strange adult.

In the end, it turned out that it was the farmer who had taken Matteo and Nick around the maze showing them each and every stamp station. (Nico had not recognized him because he hadn't gone on the hayride.) But there was an unpleasant 10 or 15 minutes as a half-dozen parents went around calling for Matteo. (I suspect, as I kind of hope Alejandra doesn't, that Matteo ignored the calls for at least a while because he was on the trail of the last of the stamps.)

Nico hadn't seemed troubled during the search, and had happily helped call out his name from a bridge with Annabelle and Anya. But before we left he hugged Matteo from behind and began to cry. I asked him why he was crying and he said because he'd been afraid for Matteo being lost. Matteo looked wide-eyed at his mother who knelt to comfort Nico and told him, "that's exactly how I was when I couldn't find him. I felt terrible and I cried, too." Matteo asked her seriously, "You really cried? Like tears?", turning where Nico still gripped his shirt. "I stood on the bridge there and I cried," she told him. I don't think she had, actually -- I think she'd gone steely. But I know she was grateful now to Nico, who had made Matteo so suddenly aware.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sometimes my membership in a Unitarian-Universalist church doesn't sit comfortably on me. And today's service, which dwelt on Universalism, and God and salvation -- and hearkened back to the sect's history of Christian dissent found no welcome in me. It didn't help that Nico was in an uncooperative mood and sighing from boredom and weary misery beside me. Reverend Betty's distinction between a capricious God and an all-loving God had no resonance for someone with no interest in questions about gods or whether or not the Universe is a welcoming or indifferent place. And the old-fashioned hymns, which I should have at least taken as entertaining historical artifacts simply pushed me away further -- one of them was a temperance hymn -- Touch not the cup!

So, I was in a souring mood, and when Nico grumped about sticking around for the picnic after, I took the opportunity to grump back, and we all left -- with me angry, Nico on the verge of tears and Porter staying out of it.

Hours later, in the afternoon, I found myself in my true church. I sat on a granite boulder along a flooded woodland pond. The beaver's berm of sticks and mud and stones zig-zagged over to a rocky outcropping that was crowned with maple and beech. The black branches and the leaves of green and yellow and red were twinned with perfect felicity in the blue black mirror of the lake. Invisible minnows below made ripples. And circles that were as sharp and perfect and deep as cut-glass over-wrote the fractal geometry of leaf and branch. I don't think I've ever seen anything more beautiful.

Above the gurgle of the escaping brook I could hear the whistle of an aggrieved duck and the laughter of Kingfishers. A green heron, hunting upon a raft of lily pads was startled by a diving cormorant, and stretched its beak heavenward, bitternish, as though blending itself to an imaginary stand of reeds.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

So, the summer passed. I won't try to reconstruct the sequences of swimming; days spent at the computer or upon the lawn; meals eaten; arguments won, lost and discarded; road trips and visitors; things bought and given and thrown away.

The boys grew not just taller, but more complicated and rich in words and experience. Monica's unhappiness waxed and then waned -- and my own sloshed tide-like in response.

Storms came and pounded the beaches; dragonflies came and succeeded the spring's plague of mosquitos; I pried into the thought processes of a thousand culture-bound informants; and the paper wasps methodically peeled away the weathering skin of the garden furniture.

And the summer passed.