Category: Community

“Let ’em go”

Years ago, an automobile dealership’s advertising punch line was, “The boss said, ‘Let ’em go.'” As in, “Should we give a big discount on these vehicles? The boss said, ‘Let ’em go.'”

I’ve thought about that line as United Methodists move deeper into the “disaffiliation” process. It has been personally painful to watch it unfold, but Phyllis Tickle’s wise observation has been helpful. She said this era of deep change in our culture and all religions will be like the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s–the faith and the planet will emerge stronger as various groups go their separate ways.

The Lester Memorial UMC in Oneonta has worked out a relatively amicable divorce, where a sizable contingent of those not desiring to disaffiliate are forming a new congregation. In a large city, those wishing to stay with the denomination, but find themselves in a group where the majority want to leave, can easily join another UMC that intends to remain. In a small community like Oneonta, it takes more creativity.

From “Oneonta United Methodist Community,” by Rachel Simmons, The Blount Countian, January 11, 2023 (via StayUMC Facebook page)

This digital age

The underlying theme for Tuesday’s meeting about how to deal with rapid technological change was this: It’s a great time to be alive! Just as the industrial revolution brought greater complexity, this digital age brings a similar thoroughgoing change, with pluses and minuses of technical specialization. Some jobs disappear while others are created.

My friend Ernie named seven ethical issues for us to consider. Here are two: (1) workers displaced by smart machines; and (2) growing inequality. These require creativity regarding education, work and income. How do we educate for breadth and depth, while adapting to rapid change? How does our system of work adapt when machines generate much of the world’s wealth?

One change I’ve noticed is the increasing number of people in university teaching roles who are Professors of Practice, including Joyce Vance (University of Alabama School of Law), Ben Jealous (University of Pennsylvania School of Communication) and Andrew Weissmann (New York University School of Law).

From Never Forget Our People Were Always Free, by Ben Jealous, 2022

Elders

Our monthly meeting, pre-pandemic, was for lunch and discussion. Now, we meet for 60 minutes via Zoom. Yesterday’s 20 attendees came from Alabama, North Carolina (2), Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas (the home of yesterday’s presenter).

The group began many years ago as an informal gathering of laity and clergy, skewed toward older adults. Yesterday, one attendee was 92, one was 91. We have a strong 80s contingent. We’re living into our somewhat whimsical name, the Elders.

The largest group by vocation is clergy, mostly United Methodists, but yesterday’s group included two Baptists and an Episcopalian. Present were educators, engineers, counselors, a psychiatrist, an attorney, a financial advisor, and a military retiree.

We’re exploring the privilege and challenge of rapid technological change. How can we collaborate from our various disciplines for a healthier, more humane planet? I’ll share more in coming posts. Click the link below for a brief book review.

From a Kirkus Review of The Power of Crisis, by Ian Bremmer, 2022

Big, strong, fast, acrobatic precision

It’s hard to keep up with all the bowl games. We’re down to the national championship game on Monday night. We watched UT/Clemson and Bama/Kansas State, then bits and pieces of other games. By the time the semi-finals came around on Saturday, we recorded, then fast-forwarded through the TCU/Michigan and Georgia/Ohio State games. I caught the last minutes of Tulane/Southern Cal.

We never watched the British drama series The Crown, so we’re catching up. Queen Elizabeth II was two years younger than my mom and I’m two years younger than King Charles. I grew up closer to Mayberry than Buckingham, but The Crown brings back many memories. Last night, weary of football, we opted for two episodes of The Crown in lieu of the Bengals/Bills game.

A news app on my phone alerted me that Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field in Cincinnati, was given CPR and rushed to a hospital. As of midnight, he was in critical condition. Today’s players are big, strong, fast, and acrobatic. The sport’s leadership is trying to preserve the amazing precision of athletic skill while making the game safer. That’s a difficult task.

From “More than $1 million donated to Damar Hamlin’s foundation Monday night,” Fox 19 News, Cincinnati, January 2, 2023

The art of concession

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) kept a journal that became a syndicated column on 12/31/1935 published as “My Day” in many newspapers until 9/26/62. Her column for November 4, 1954 describes a visit by an old friend, Britain’s Queen Mother.

The column also includes two brief paragraphs:

I am writing this column on election day, so I know nothing as yet about the final results. Being a pessimist, I always expect to lose and therefore, if I happen to win, it is that much more of a surprise. I hope with all my heart that we are not going to lose, but whatever happens in this world one has to accept it and go forward with the intention of doing better next time.

If one wins one has to put the best one can into one’s service because that is all one can do to repay the voters who put their trust in a candidate. If one loses one must struggle equally hard to build up one’s party and to use one’s time usefully in business, even though one does intend to go back to politics in the future.

From “The art of the concession speech,” by Al Tompkins, Poynter, November 6, 2020

Taking Fox seriously

In the early days, the Fox News Channel declared themselves “fair and balanced.” I still cling to that expectation, even if Fox no longer strives for that goal. I’m not a regular viewer, though sometimes I record Fox to get their take on a news event and I get plenty of exposure through its ubiquitous presence of Fox in fast food restaurants.

A few months ago, while in Tennessee to visit a hospitalized relative, I was eating breakfast at a Comfort Inn. The TV was tuned to Fox. My ideological filter was activated, just as it is when I view MSNBC or CNBC. If “objective” news coverage is no longer a realistic goal, then “fair and balanced” remains a good expectation.

One of my 2023 projects is to become more familiar with Tucker Carlson in case we ever bump into each other at McDonald’s. I would enjoy engaging him about what it means to be a true conservative, my view of which was shaped by William Buckley, George Will, Bill Kristol, David Brooks, Charlie Sykes, et al. I don’t view Carlson, Sean Hannity, Marjorie Taylor Greene or Donald Trump as conservative.

It’s a worthwhile conversation. A good place to start is his book, Ship of Fools.

From “From colonialism to Putin: what did Tucker Carlson defend in 2022?“, by Adam Gabbatt, The Guardian, December 28, 2022

Consider the source

Elise Jordan’s October focus group conversation with Pittsburgh-area voters included an interesting comment by one of the folks about his sources of information. In my final years as a church staff person, I became increasingly aware that conversations with parishioners tended to be heavily shaped by their choice for TV or Internet news.

My two most recent posts (about Joyce Vance) reveals that she is one of several voices that help shape my understanding of current events. Others include Barbara McQuade, Chuck Rosenberg, Neal Katyal, Admiral James Stavridis, Ambassador Richard Haass, Ambassador William Taylor, and Eddie Glaude, Jr., to name a few.

Today, much of our information comes from a plethora of unvetted, sometimes anonymous sources on the Internet, supplied by individuals and organizations, including propaganda from various governments. Who and what are your information sources?

From “Trump voters in focus group say he couldn’t have stopped Jan 6 violence,” by Elise Jordan, Morning Joe, MSNBC, October 24, 2022.

The work of Christmas

At Saturday’s Christmas Eve candlelight service, I was flooded with powerful sights, sounds and scents. The liturgy proclaimed a radical acceptance based on unconditional love and a renewed hope for peace on earth.

Friends and strangers knelt to receive an ancient-yet-new gift. The range of emotions was embodied by one communicant who radiated a joy that couldn’t be contained while another wept with deep sobs of brokenness.

My mind went to war-ravaged Ukraine, to migrants at our southern border, to China’s current COVID-19 surge, and to folks in grief. The “hopes and fears of all the years” meet on Christmas Eve, and then our work begins.

From “The Work of Christmas,” by Howard Thurman (1899-1981)

Inextricably linked

The “oasis” theme has captured my imagination during this final week of Advent, so this week I’ll share some ideas, insights and reflections about oasis. It’s a worthy model, or paradigm for a community of faith, for a nation, and for planet earth.

I embraced the United Methodist version of Christianity in high school. I chose this “tribe” because I became part of a congregation that was an oasis of racial brotherhood/sisterhood in a desert of segregation known as Alabama.

Since 1970, I’ve been part of several gracious, beautiful faith communities in Alabama and Tennessee–blessed by engaging, thoughtful souls seeking to be faithful to the best tenets of the Christian faith. I now realize that I became comfortable with (and contributed to) a homogenized culture in an increasingly diverse world.

Since 2020, I’ve been part of a congregation that ten years ago made a commitment to be an “open place for all.” This oasis has broadened my cultural horizons and deepened my biblical faith. Two words leapt out from yesterday’s affirmation of faith:

We believe that creation is inextricably linked. We belong to one another in an undeniable way. We are bone of bone and flesh of flesh, life breathed into dust. We believe that God invites us to live into that truth to love without abandon, to see the good in one another, to trust that all belong to God. We know that this life of connection is easier said than done, which is why we gather in this space week after week, generation after generation, to be reminded: We see God in each other. This we believe. Amen.

From “Why Your Team Should Be Inextricably Linked And Fiercely Independent,” by Daniel Dworkin and Nick Petschek, Forbes, August 5, 2019.

Humbly confident adaptability

How can we use technology for ethical, healthy purposes while limiting its destructive uses? The daunting nature of rapid change can keep us humble while we muster the confidence to face the future with adaptability that is purposeful and flexible.

John E. Kelly III, in Thomas Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late, describes three eras of computing: (1) a tabulating era (1900s-1940s), with single purpose mechanical systems to count, sort and interpret data; (2) a programming era (1950s to 2007) of computers, the Internet and smart phones; and (3) an emerging cognitive era, with the capacity to write multiple algorithms that could teach a computer to make sense of unstructured data … and thereby enhance every aspect of human decision making.

Three examples: (1) the rise, fall and re-purposing of IBM’s Watson; (2) Nick Saban’s complex “process” that adapts to changing excellence in athletic acumen and skill; and (3) the Internet of Things (IOT) via the “cloud,” a word for connected data storage systems. The insurance industry is excited about self-driving vehicles because this technology will be safer than human drivers. I’m excited because it may get here before the kids take away my keys,

From “How Champions Think: Coach Nick Saban and the Process Thinking Mental Model,” by Ryan Duffy, Knowable, April 4, 2022.