30 December 2005

Change of mission

I edited my mission statement above from "Passionate teachers teaching enthusiastic students in joyful schools" to "Enthusiastic human beings living passionate lives in a joyful society"

The change is a reflection of how important the opportunity to revision the Social Justice Committee at QUUF is to me and how it fits in with my calling to serve. I believe that the universe has provided and it is up to me to respond. This is the beginning of something big in my life, it simply remains to be seen what that something turns out to be.

09 December 2005

Let’s talk about Social Justice and QUUF

The following is a piece I wrote to give to people with whom I have set an appointment to discuss the topic of Social Justice and QUUF:

Here are some thoughts that might help give us a common starting point for our discussion. I took the liberty of asking myself a couple questions just to give every one I talk with a similar foundation for building our conversation:

What’s the push for change in the Social Justice Committee (SJC)?

I suspect that when most people think of serving on the SJC they imagine they would be subjected to a constant barrage of bad news and then feel compelled to respond by making endless demands for money, time, and energy. At least, that is what I imagined when I first thought about it. And I was right. Every time I get another story of unjust persecution or heroic efforts to save people from pain and suffering in the SJC mail box my immediate reactions are a series of compassionate feelings backed by a moral logic to make every sacrifice to help. This creates an ever present temptation to either shut down my feelings to protect myself from being overwhelmed (which is not a viable option) or to demand more money, time and energy from the congregation.

The problem with giving in to the temptation of making demands is that if SJC becomes a constant harbinger of bad news accompanied by persistent requests for attention, then the congregation will eventually cease to give the SJC full consideration. Good UU’s will all listen to the words out of dutiful respect, but in our hearts and minds we will already be shielded against the expected assault. If the committee is one of the key ways that the church can accomplish the goal of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, then the first responsibility of the SJC is to cultivate and maintain a trusting relationship with the congregation in which the congregation can count on the SJC to wield the scalpel of affliction and the salve of comfort in ways that will heal, not just make random stabs into the open wound of our conscientious awareness of flaws in the world.

If the job is so personally demanding then what could possess me to accept it? What pulls me, personally, to champion a change in the SJC?

I stand convicted of the possibility of creating a world that works for all. I am sentenced to work on manifesting that possibility and I suspect it may be a life sentence. The prison I occupy to serve out this sentence is a life of affluence and material freedom. Being a healthy, educated, white, middle-class, heterosexual, male, citizen of the United States of America at the dawn of the 21st century at least partly defines the inescapable walls that I am condemned to work within. The prison that I inhabit is one in which every one of those characteristics is supposed to be accompanied by a wealth of privileges and benefits, the world described by those labels is supposed to be one that works, but it doesn’t. Of course, those who say they would kill to have the freedom of my position in the world cannot conceive of it as a prison, but what kind of freedom is it when I have to shield myself from the realities of the world? I may have physical and mental freedom, but if I cannot deal with the world as it truly is then I do not have emotional freedom, and certainly not true spiritual freedom.

Taking on the SJC is the forefront of my quest for true freedom, a freedom that transcends the accidents of my circumstances. I have put myself in a place in which I have the responsibility to see the world for what it truly is. And I have also accepted the responsibility to assist the congregation to formulate a practical strategic response to that world. By accepting these responsibilities I expect to have many opportunities to face whatever it is that binds me and prevents me from truly seeing and accepting reality. Facing those bonds will give me the opportunity to become a powerful creator of the possible, specifically, the possibility of creating a world that works for all.

But, I don’t know exactly what to do, so I am asking for help. First, I have to work out how the SJC can become a better vehicle for QUUF to embody it’s mission of service beyond the church. Once I’ve got a handle on that, then the rest might be clearer.

Questions to consider in preparation for our meeting. I do not expect you to answer every question, they are just food for thought and give you a good idea of where I am coming from:

What is Social Justice to you?

Someone suggested that a Social Justice Committee is a way for the congregation and the church to look outward towards the rest of the world, whereas most of the other committees are primarily concerned with looking inward at the needs of the congregation and the church itself. The converse of this metaphor is that Social Justice is also partly responsible for the face that the church presents to the wider world because we will be known by our deeds (or unknown due to the lack of them) in our local community. Why do you think the Social Justice Committee is important to QUUF?

Our resources are limited, how can we say “no” to a worthy cause?

How do you define an “unworthy cause”?

Is there a way that we can say “yes” to every worthy cause even when we have neither money nor volunteers to offer?

How can we help cultivate enthusiastic responses to SJC news and recruiting messages?

How do we find and follow the passionate energy that inspires service? How can we become trustworthy stewards of a congregational conscience that goads the church into action when it’s the right thing to do and dampens the fires of enthusiasm when they threaten to burn us?

Finally, what can we do to lead the way towards joyfully healing the horrors of the world? (By joyfully, I mean in a way that fully engages an individual’s attention, not merely in a way that amuses them. Full engagement of attention is one of the symptoms of deep learning, it leads to increasingly complex understanding, is always challenging and sometimes involves pain and discomfort.)

07 December 2005

Santa's New List

Santa’s sitting in his office proudly reviewing a press release about how his operations have finally entered the twenty-first century with the launch of a new NASA-style mission control computer system for making his list and checking it twice.

Just as he is about to put his seal of approval on the release he sees a note slide under his door and hears someone running down the hall. When he reads the note it turns out to be a hand written warning that there could be serious problems with the new computer’s integrity.

Santa is very concerned because he has invested immense amounts of time and energy in this system and hates the idea that he might deliver coal to the wrong stockings. He decides to head to mission control to check on the system directly. Upon arrival he can tell things are not going well.

The Chief Mission Control Specialist is going through an emergency check list on all systems. The young elves who run this elite space-age operation took the 60's NASA geek image seriously so over their green tights they wear white button down shirts with pocket protectors in the breast pocket. Every elf in the room has visible sweat rings emanating from their armpits as they are all frantically pushing buttons to double check every single system or running around to manually cross check the data. There is constant low level din punctuated periodically by shouted reports to the Chief Mission Control Specialist that a particular system is "A-Ok" or "30% operational" or whatever.

Santa puts on his best game face with a warm and reassuring smile of concern as he checks in with his Chief-Elf-In-Charge. But, his Chief-Elf-In-Charge is red-faced and looks like he's about to pass a kidney stone.

Santa figures he’s seen it all, so he plays it cool. "What's the situation, Sparky?"

Sparky, the Chief-Elf-In-Charge is a young 500 years old and has only been at this job for a few years since the last Chief-Elf-In-Charge (who was over 1000 years old) quit in protest as soon as the list checking computer system was approved. So, Sparky takes a deep breath after his Chief Mission Control Specialist finishes giving him a quick status report.

"Well, Santa, it looks like we've got a problem."

"Is that right, Sparky? Is it the computer?"

Sparky replies, "Well, sir, it may not be the computer. We're currently running every diagnostic in the book and several that aren't because the data that we're getting is, um, bizarre."

"What do you mean by 'bizarre,’ Sparky?"

"Well, sir, when we decided to develop the computerized list checking system the programmers were ecstatic that they would have a chance to work with real world systems instead of the usual gaming stuff. So, they decided they should collect real time data to accurately capture the actual complexity of day-to-day living and then run that data through a few well chosen culturally correct morality filters to sort the data and then crunch the resulting numbers to arrive at a clear and appropriate decision about who should receive coal in their stocking instead of presents. Everything was fine until they went to test the system last month.

"What they found was that the system seemed to work very well, except for one small glitch. You see when they do this kind of initial systems test they compare their test output decisions with a control set of data from the old system..."

"Sparky, cut to the chase."

"Well, sir, the old elves from the List Checking, Twice Bureau pointed out that while the computer did a good job with stuff like your basic lying, cheating and stealing, it was completely missing the ability to detect when children would say one thing but actually do another without an outright lie."

"Since hypocrisy is so much more subtle than lying, it had been overlooked in the original design so the input systems had to be redesigned and the programming reworked, which put everything badly behind schedule so when they launched the whole system this morning they went live without having tested the hypocrisy sub-system thoroughly."

"So, you think there is a problem with the hypocrisy sub-system?"

"Well, not exactly, sir."

"Come on, Sparky, I'm a very patient man, or so the legend has it, but you're pushing it aren't you?"

"Sorry, Santa, Sir, I just can't believe the data we're getting."

"So what's the data, then?"

"Well, the programmers for the hypocrisy sub-system had to come up with a way to quantify the hypocrisy in a way that would allow them to calculate each transgression, so they asked the old elves in the List Checking, Twice Bureau for how they dealt with hypocrisy.

"The old elves told the programmers that when they judged hypocrisy it was important to estimate the relationship between the hypocrisy of the society and the hypocrisy of the individual. 'It is a fact of human nature,' they said, 'that the individual cannot be expected to have any less than their fair share of the hypocrisy of the whole society.'"

"Yes, I remember back in the day how it was such a guessing game, at best." agreed Santa.

"So, you see, sir, this means that our computer has to calculate not only the hypocrisy of the individual, but the hypocrisy of the whole society, in order to be fair. And we now have the advantage, for the first time, of calculating a precise ratio. And true to form, the list team came up with a brilliant solution and also discovered that the burden of hypocrisy is a weight on society."

Just then the Chief Mission Control Specialist Elf ran up to the Chief-Elf-In-Charge and frantically whispered a report in his ear and showed him a series of printouts that were on the clip board in his hand.

"Ahhhh, I see.... Ohh? But... Uh-huh," said the Chief-Elf-In-Charge as he heard the report. Finally, he turned back to Santa with a dire look on his face. "I'm really sorry to have drawn this explanation out, but I think it is very important for you to understand the situation completely and I have just gotten the final report on the computer diagnostics."

"And?" said Santa.

"Sir, the computer is working fine, even better than expected actually."

"But, you say that as if it’s not good news?"

"No sir, that means that our data is correct and that the number of people who are saying one thing and doing something different this holiday season is rising extremely fast. The trend is so strong that the whole of human society is going to implode as soon they reach hypocritical mass."