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Archive for January, 2008

One of the interesting things I find about attending a Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship is that it is a wonderfully undefined entity. By self-definition, it is a group that avoids adherence to any creed. As a result, we have a wide variety of faiths, traditions, and beliefs melding under one roof. In short, unorganized religion.

In contrast, organized religions exist under a very strict structure, a result of adherence to tradition and scripture. It is a system that relies onunquestioned belief and faith. By default, dogma rules the day and diversity of beliefs do not exist.

Unlike organized religion, unorganized religion (as I like to call UU) operates under a big umbrella. There are no creeds or dogma to guide the process, or to answer our questions. Our closest attempt at creating structure are the seven principles.

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

One can question how these differ from the dogma, or creeds, of organized religion. The difference, which I feel is significant, is that the principles are rules of conscience, and require the person to use thought and reason to arrive at the proper action in concurrence with the principles. People followtheir own course of action, given it concurs with the principles.

Organized religious dogma, on the other hand, gives you no such liberty to use internal reason. “Thou shalt keep the Sabbath Day holy” is pretty straightforward. It externalizes personal responsibility and eliminates conscience . You simply do as told. If a person runs upon a problem where the proper course of action is not delineated like the 10 Commandments, they are suddenly placed in a position where they must think for themselves, or allow a minister to do it for them.

While unorganized religion has its benefits, it also has its challenges. I suspect the only thing we might agree upon is that we should have service on Sunday. Anything other issue is likely subject to more opinions than congregation members. God settles that dispute for the faithful, and if he doesn’t, his mouthpiece theminister does. We have no such authority in unorganized religion, and it leaves us with a challenge, getting organized.

Which isn’t to say we are ineffective. Our fellowship, the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Fairbanks (UUFF), has succeeded in building a new sanctuary, growing membership, and provided a rich variety of lay led sermons. But it isn’t easy.

Another challenge with unorganized religion is how to invite people into the membership. People who have stepped off of the path of traditional religion are notoriously independent. And private. And a little bit defensive, having been beaten about the head with those same traditional religions for a lifetime. Likewise, those of us who are members don’t want to impose ourselves or our beliefs on anyone, anymore than any one of us would want to be imposed upon.

Which leaves us in a difficult position in engaging new people without overstepping the boundaries of telling them what they should believe. That is the tactic of organized religion, and they employ it effectively. It is important that we remain true to our principles, and don’t adopt those practices that run counter to our principles.

Due to our unorganized nature there is a strong chance we will hit a limit in growth, a capacity of disorder, where ability to function as a group becomes impossible without finding some unifying element to organize around. A minister is a possibility, their leadership may bridge the gap between organized and unorganized, allowing for continued growth among the interested.

As it is, unorganized religion has much to offer. Freedom to explore the spiritual, without judgement, and encouragement to ask, and to seek out answers to, the hard questions. Unlike organized religion, we won’t pretend to have all the answers, just a community within which to ask the questions, where we can share the struggle in seeking answers.

Many of those questions, despite our quest, will remain unanswered in this lifetime. It is their nature, as it is human nature to attempt to organize the unorganizable, to plant trees in rows when they are meant to be scattered randomly, to build square houses on round hills.

It is important to remember the beauty and organic nature of an unorganized, or human, fellowship.

In closing, I remind myself; What is more divine, and which is more human? The heights of a gothic cathedral, a metal warehouse turned mega-church, the rigid construct of organized religion? Or the sublime beauty and randomness of a summer thunderstorm, of Nature, of unorganized religion?

Will we find god in chaos, or in order?

In organized religion, you’ll find an answer.

In unorganized religion, you’ll find the question.

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Today I had to stop and fill gas. It is one of my least favorite things to do, but I couldn’t put it off any longer. Let’s just say it is a good thing I live up hill from town. We always fill at the east Fairbanks Fred Meyer’s store because we get a 10 cents per gallon discount for being regular shoppers there. I pulled into the gas pumps, just missed getting hit by someone pulling out while looking at their dashboard, and parked at one of the center pumps.

Embarrassingly, despite my environmental leanings and tree hugging credentials, I drive a 96 GMC extended cab sierra pick-up. IE, gas guzzler. But the price was right (thanks Mom and Dad) and it has been a good vehicle for getting around on some of our ventures into the Alaska wilderness. None the less, it leaves me more than a little depressed when I fill it up, and not just because of the hit my bank account takes.

I climbed out of the car and into the brisk 25 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit, air. Depending on which bank thermometer you went with, it could have been as cold as 30 below, or as balmy as 22 below. Personally, I think the banks set their thermometers differently to give us some illusion that they aren’t all in cahoots. I, for one, don’t buy it.

Banks aside, I stood watching as the dollars on the meter quickly outpaced the gallons. It wasn’t much of a race, the dollars had a 3 to 1 advantage over the gallons (with my 10 cents discount).

As I was standing there, in my too light high water carhart pants and my boiled wool slippers, looking pretty much like a doofus (I’m entering my doofus phase), I spied the bundles of wood for sale next to pump attendants shack. Certainly, I’ve seen bundles of wood before. I’ve even seen this same brand. Today, standing in the cold, feeling guilty next to my inefficient truck, burdened by the necessity of having a gas fueled vehicle, the bundles of wood pushed me over the edge.

Let me clarify. Fairbanks sets in the middle of a boreal forest that stretches from Alaska to the Atlantic coast of Canada. We have no shortage of trees locally. Or firewood. But for some reason Fred Meyer is shipping logs in from Washington state. No less, using Oil to ship those logs in from Washington state. Oil that had probably been harvested on Alaska’s north slope, then shipped Seattle in order that it could power a barge to haul wood from Washington back to Fairbanks. (Like God, Football in Oklahoma, Oil gets the big ‘O’ in Alaska.)

Somebody, please explain the economy in that process. I don’t get it.

To top it off, the bundles are wrapped in plastic. PLASTIC. Not the stuff you want to burn in your wood stove, or use to start your fire with when burning your imported logs. (I didn’t check, maybe the logs are stamped with ‘Made in China’ somewhere.) Plastic, a non-renewable resource. Plastic, made of oil, that sometime in prior years may have flowed through Fairbanks heading south, returning now, to go into the landfill to be mined by some future generation in desperate need of petroleum products for things we take for granted, like say, medicine.

So, a wood industry, making a point of their “renewable” resource wood, uses plastic to keep their bundles together. Why not newsprint, or some other low-grade paper that could be used to start those logs on fire? Maybe it isn’t as cheap as plastic, but that may only be a matter of time, unless you figure all the oil making paper uses.

What about invasive species? We have infestations of insects threatening many of our trees and natural habitats in Alaska. Is there any threat from new invasions from these untreated woods being shipped in from the south? Honestly, I don’t know enough about it. But even if the likelihood of the imported wood being infected is minuscule, why expose our natural resources to any risk when we don’t need to?

And Fred Meyers, the store chain that brought re-usable grocery bags to the mainstream in Fairbanks, replacing their old plastic bags at the landfill with plastic wrap for logs. There are certainly sources for firewood locally, I wonder if they were explored? (That would be no.)

When the weight of our human folly comes crashing down upon, cleansing the surface of the earth of our collective stupidity, who do we have to blame besides ourselves?

OK, well maybe God.

And Exxon.

And Conoco-Philips.

And BP, how could I leave out BP?

But mostly just ourselves. Will we leave our children to bear that burden?

One last thing about the pallet of imported firewood bundles, it was almost sold out.

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I woke up and got moving early (for me) this morning. I got on the computer, checked the headlines, answered an e-mail or two, deleted all the spam, and got Jane (wife) and Jolie (8-year old) up to go to work and school, respectively. Normally it works the other way around, I get them out the door then get on the computer for a few minutes. OK, it may be longer than a few minutes. It used to be I never worried about checking the news. But ever since 9-11, when I walked into the doors at work to be met by my boss with the news that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Towers, followed a few weeks later by a similar meeting where I learned a client and friend had died in a plane crash, that now it is rare occasion that I step out the doors without checking the headlines.

So today I was up early, which not only gave me time to read the news but also to fix a hot breakfast. Jolie had been asking for an egg-muffin, a fried egg and cheese on a English muffin, so I decided to make her one this morning. As a bonus, Jane also got one. I was going to wait until later when 4-year old Ali got up, then I would make her and I each one.

All of this would have been well and good, but as of last night we had decided the girls needed to share a bedroom so that we could make the 2nd bedroom more of a playroom. So Jolie, in what I’m sure was her quietest, most considerate, sisterly way went into the shared room to get dressed. And emerged, with Ali fully awake. So much for letting the little sister sleep, who also happens to be fighting off a cold.

I set to work making Ali’s and my egg muffins. Note, I asked if she wanted one before making it for her. Not because I needed to know, but because I wanted to use her answer against her when she refused to eat it.

Janie and Jolie got out the door, so Ali and I set down to eat.

“Its too hot Daddy.”
“No it’s not, it has been cooling while I cooked mine.”
“No, the bottom is too hot.”
“OK, while just turn it over and wait for a minute.”

I proceeded to eat mine, which came off of the stove after hers.

“Ali, eat your muffin. It isn’t too hot, see I’m eating mine.”
“Its too hotttt!!!”
“No it isn’t, mine was done after yours and it isn’t too hot.”

Repeat the above three lines at least twice more.

Following that, I resorted to feeding it to her. She always feeds herself, except when I’m present. For some reason, I have to feed her. And I acquiesce. Maybe because I’m a wimp. Maybe because I spoil my kids. Maybe because we may not ever have another child and feeding her is as close as I’ll ever get to feeding one of my babies again. So, when she graduates high school, and college, and again at her wedding, and you see me feeding her at each of the celebratory dinners, please take pity and don’t embarrass her, or me, especially me, by asking why.

So, I picked up the muffin and moved in for the kill. Finally, after some coaxing, she took a bite.

“It’s too cold.”

Pause here to avoid any irrational but entirely justified acts of parental desperation.

Breathe deeply.

And again.

Alright, I’m back.

There are a few more instances of contrarianism gone awry in our household. I’ll begin with Ali, then end with Jolie. Note there are no stories here about Janie or I being contrary. Neither of us are. The trait skipped our generation entirely, landing squarely in the personalities of Jolie and Ali. It is entirely the grandparents fault, though no doubt they won’t admit it. They are contrarians after all.

Like the egg muffin, Ali has taken to disliking certain foods, at random times, and with no regard to what she ate and liked days or even hours before. Her dislikes also have no regard to flavor, texture, or appearance. It all has to do with a 4-year old’s attempt to establish her right of refusal. I’m alright with that, the girl needs to establish her own likes and dislikes. However, it makes it increasingly difficult to prepare meals for the whole family.

One of her latest victims is the hapless bean. Not green beans, but baked beans or kidney beans. We eat a lot of chili in our house, with kidney beans, so it makes it hard to feed her from the same pot. So, in a fit of exasperation, I applied my slightly skewed but effective sense of creativity and a dash of dishonesty to get around the impasse. Diplomacy, I think is what the politicians call it. Anyways, the negotiation went like this.

Ali, “I don’t like beans.” Add some cheese and crackers to that whine and we could have a party.
Dad (me), “They aren’t beans, they are frijoles.”
“Frajoles.”
“Frijoles.”
“They look like beans.”
“That’s right, they look like beans. But they are frijoles.”

She then proceeded to pick up her spoon and feed herself the whole bowl, and like it. Actually, I fed her the whole bowl, but she did like it.

Next up, mushrooms.

“I don’t like that pizza, it has mushrooms.”
“They aren’t mushrooms, they are toadstools.”
“Toadstools?”
“Toadstools.”
“They look like mushrooms.”
“They do, but they are toadstools.”

Once again, she picked up her pizza and gobbled it down. Or maybe I cut it up and fed her. The point is, she ate the mushrooms toadstools.

Now Ali goes around telling people, “I don’t like beans, and I don’t like mushrooms, but I like frajoles, and toadstools.” In her mind, I’m convinced, she knows that frijoles and mushrooms are just beans and mushrooms, but because we changed the terminology she won enough concessions to go ahead and eat them. Which, I think, is what diplomacy is all about, skewing the truth until everyone looks like a winner. Even the contrarians.

A final story, which happened yesterday, about Jolie. The stories above may give the impression that Ali is our contrarian princess, but in reality I think she would have to get up pretty early to outdo Jolie. We have to deal with each of them differently, Ali has to emerge with the appearance of winning, ie, diplomacy. Jolie will listen to reason. Eventually, if Jolie and I talk long enough I can convince her that being contrary isn’t always the right or healthy choice.

Do what I say, not what I do. I mean what your grandparents say, but don’t do. Or something like that.

Even with all that reasoning, Jolie’s nature still comes out. At church yesterday, our friend Jeff was leading a story for children, which we do early in the service. For the story, the children are invited to the front of the sanctuary. The topic of the day was choices, and how they affect others and the world around us. In order to convey this to the children, Jeff was having them gather on one side of the podium or the other based upon their answer to a question. One question was, “Would you rather win a race alone or finish it together with a friend?” Some kids went left, others right.

After a series of questions, Jeff asked “Would you rather have a piece of cake every night for a week, or have it all gone at a big party?” The kids parted. Jolie moved dead center and remained. Jeff queried her as to which way she was going to go.

“Neither, I don’t like cake.”

I can’t think of a better response for a crowd of Unitarian-Universalists, who know more than thing or two about being contrary.

Except me.

And Jane of course.

Though I wonder about her sometimes.

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I was asked to give my “Unitarian-Universalist” story to introduce today’s service, and to light the chalice, which we do to kick off our Sunday gathering. I had put something together last night, in order that I could sleep on it and get it settled into my brain for presenting to the Fellowship this morning.

I rely on this process a great deal when presenting or speaking. I have to visualize the presentation, with its content, several times in my head if I am going to give it smoothly in front of people. I have a problem presenting ad hoc, though I have done it, and on occasion done it well.

However, at non-scripted social settings my speech-thought pattern completely disconnects, more accurately self-destructs, leaving me with smoke coming out of my ears and glassy eyed. As a result, I have a terrible time engaging in what I view to be lively or interesting conversation. A visualization of a successful presentation helps me get through this pitfall when in front of a crowd.

Well, today I ran into a few hang ups with the system. First, our house is for sale and we had a showing scheduled for when we would be gone at church this morning.  That means clean-up. Because we were out all yesterday and didn’t clean up last night, that meant this morning. Because of that, I didn’t get much time to memorize my “story”, as written. 2nd, I wasn’t very comfortable with my story, and kept editing it in my head. Right on up to and through my talk. Last, what I did visualize was much too rigid. I had, in my mind, my family sitting to my right as I was in the front of the sanctuary, where I could have them stand and introduce them. I can visualize presenting in a chaotic setting, but for some reason didn’t this time and it hung me up a bit.

Last, because we were cleaning house, we were late. Not unusual for us, but not a good thing on the day I had to start the service. It also left me a bit scrambled, I didn’t have time to settle in like I prefer to do.  (Postscript, the interestedpart never showed up.  All that cleaning for nothing.)

Did I mention this story only had to be 2-4 minutes long?

The end result, I think, was alright. I did mumble a bit, a few ums and awes, and it may have been longer than 4 minutes. But in the end I hit the high points of my own personal UU story. Everyone I spoke to said they enjoyed it.  Aren’t UU’s considerate?  I was going to say dishonest but thought better of it.

See below for the full version. Ums and awes have been excluded for your reading pleasure. And take all the time you want, the 4 minute rule doesn’t apply here.

My first introduction to Unitarian-Universalism was in 1992. Jane and I had just gotten engaged, and at the recommendation of one Jane’s Mom’s friends we went to look at the All-Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is a beautiful church, had an opening that worked with our schedules (2 days after finals), and complied with our wishes to have a god-free (godless sounds so bad) wedding. I was particularly impressed with the rooms throughout the church, each named for one of our great freethinkers, Thoreau, Paine, Jefferson among others. In the back of my mind, I set aside the thought that I would have to look into this peculiar religion that celebrates free-thought some day in the future.

Our wedding was a success, a beautiful day by most accounts. We got married in their small chapel or sanctuary, which was perfectly sized for our small gathering. The ceremony itself lasted all of 5 minutes, if that. It took longer to seat the guests than to say our vows. The minister snuck God into the ceremony at least once, according to Jane. She was counting, I was just trying to get through the ceremony. If I had tried to make a break for it, all the exits were well covered. Leave it to the Unitarians to build a church without an escape route for the groom.

Following the wedding, we held a reception in the church’s courtyard garden. It was early May in Oklahoma, so the flowers were in full bloom, the temperature somewhere around 80. So perfect, I’ll never have to do it again.

Several years later, and several thousand miles away, we decided to return to a Unitarian-Universalist church, this time in Fairbanks. Our oldest daughter, Jolie, was getting old enough to ask questions about life, and death. And we were by no means ready to answer those questions.

On top of that, the tragedy of 9/11 had just occurred, followed quickly magnified by a succession of equally bad actions by our government. A client of mine tragically died in a plane crash a few weeks after 9/11. We had just received funding for to build a new head start she was the driving force behind. The push for war in Iraq was in full swing, and we were losing contact with friends and family because we wouldn’t get on the bandwagon. In short, we were isolated, and feeling quite alone.

We had a choice at that time to remain quiet and be part of the status quo, acquiescing to the demands of the majority and the Bush administration, or to speak up. If we hadn’t been parents, we may have let some of the slander slide by. As it was, every time I looked into Jolie’s face I felt we owed her more. How could we leave her a country and life full of fear, of persecution, of preemptive war, and not at least tell her we had spoken out against it? We spoke up, and have paid the price in friendships and relationships with family that will never be the same.

In the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Fairbanks we found a group of like minded people, a group of friends and family who believed in free speech and free thought. What a discovery!! There were others like us. We felt at home, and were no longer alone in the mass of American society.

Meetings were still held in the basement then. In my memory, those were dark days. Perhaps because the basement was dark, but I think it had more to do with the political climate of fear, a dark cloud of hysteria hovering overhead, the stench of corruption permeating every breath. We would gather downstairs, in the gray and gloom, sharing laughter and tears, hope and anger.

Jane and I found rays of light, stars in the darkness, in the elders of the fellowship. Jane and Red, Susan, Art. They were people that had lived their values, and continued to. They were happy, brave, successful by our account. We saw our future ahead of us, we didn’t need to concede our values, like Jane, like Susan, like Art, we would survive this period of, for lack of a better word stupidity, and would succeed.

The laughter during those times was incredibly important. I’ve only laughed one other time like I recall doing here at the fellowship. My grandparents were visiting us in Wyoming. My grandfather developed pneumonia. In the middle of one night, we got a call from the hospital. My grandfather had passed. We sat around the table, light shining brightly against the darkness outside the windows. There may have been tears. What I remember most clearly is our laughter, laughter of sorrow and anguish, a communal release of stress and grief. That’s what I experienced here, at fellowship, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the prelude to war.

Now, on one of those grey mornings, with everyone crowded into the basement, everyone there had a thought. The bowl was literally turning into a bonfire. There were the typical fears, sorrows, and of course laughter. Art, one of the points of light, one of those stars I alluded to earlier, eventually got up to the candles to say his peice.

At that time, at the end of the candle lighting, the lay leader would say “to all the thoughts and concerns left unspoken” and light one final candle.

In honor of Art, I’m going to quote him from that morning as I lite the chalice.

“To all the thoughts left unsmoking.”

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A phenomenon unique to Fairbanks, at least in my experience, is the hand held street corner sign. It isn’t rare to see the sign bearers out in every Fairbanks’ season; braving the ice fog throughout our 8 months of winter, dodging splashes from passing cars during the 1 soggy week of breakup (commonly referred to as spring by outsiders), basking in the continuous daylight over the next 2 months of our precious summer, and finally waving politely to all the armed hunters during that 1 golden week of fall. (I know, there are least six weeks of the year missing, rumor has it they are hiding out somewhere between fall and spring.) Year after year, the sign bearers are out there, lobbying for car dealerships, furniture stores, or the long overlooked issue of jury rights.

Before I go any further, it is worth noting something about these sign bearers. Local Fairbanksans already know this, but for the benefit of all you outsiders, the summertime sign bearers are certifiable. Insane. Anybody Alaskan that would waste a seconds time during the summer standing on a street corner breathing exhaust fumes from the only people left in town, tourists, has got serious priority issues. Winter sign bearers make more sense. Not much, but some. At 20 below, there isn’t a whole lot to do, so why not stand around on a street corner breathing exhaust fumes, at least they are local.

In recent years, the most prominent sign bearers have been anti-war protesters and their counterparts, the pro-war protesters. Personally, I sympathize with the anti-war movement. It generally makes sense to protest death and destruction. On the other hand, I have a hard time taking on the viewpoint of the pro-war camp.

I mean, what are they yelling at passers-by?

“More casualties, yea!!!”

“10 more dead, yea!!!”

“Children left fatherless (or motherless), yea!!!”

“Saddam hung by the neck until dead, see it on you-tube, yea!!!”

“No end in site, yea!!!”

“Tour extended 6 more months, yea!!!”

Haliburton gets billions more in no-bid contracts, yea!!!”

But they are out there cheering, none the less. Go figure.

This year promises to give us some new signs, and maybe some new sign bearers. Like the hot air that blows in from Juneau and Washington, these signs and their bearers make their most notable appearances during election years. And if you hadn’t noticed, this is one of those years.

Already, we’ve been seeing Ron Paul supporters picketing for months. They’ve been all over the Cushman Street Bridge, before some even knew who Ron Paul was, and those were Republicans. Just for the record, Ron Paul is a perfect fit for the libertarian/Alaska Independence Party mindset of many in Fairbanks. He may even have some sway with the far left, if for no other reason than his anti-war stance.

Personally, I view the political spectrum as more of a circle than a line.  Maybe a sphere, like the earth. You can only go so far west before you end up in the east, and vice versa. If you go far enough to the right, pretty soon you will find yourself hanging out with the far left. So, somewhere between the far west and the far east, you might find Ron Paul. And for those of you looking at a globe, that’s pretty close to Alaska.

Last week, as I was heading home, there was a large group of the sign bearers gathered around the intersection of 3rd and the Steese. There were signs for the constitution re-writing Huckabee, maybe a Romney sign or two, a plethora of Ron Paul signs, children forced to prostate themselves by packing signs for the presidential candidate of their parents’ choice (also Ron Paul), and maybe one or two of those ‘other’ Republican candidates. I didn’t see any McCain, which would probably be the only Republican I would consider (however briefly) a vote for.

The Democratic candidates, oddly enough, weren’t represented at all at this gathering of picketers. This could be a sign of several things. One, Democrats may realize spending time or money promoting a candidate in Alaska is a waste of time. We have too few electoral votes and the likelihood of the state swaying from the recent trend of Republican voting is, well, unlikely. Two, that liberals are smarter than conservatives and know that standing on a street corner in the cold won’t sway any informed voters, and all the uniformed ones are voting Republican anyways. A recent study provides evidence of this difference in intelligence. Of course, it is based on SCIENCE so it undoubtedly has a liberal bias and should, and will, be ignored by the conservative faithful. Thanks to “daranee” for pointing that study out to me.

Oddly enough, if you go back a little ways in Alaska history it was a Democratic state, around the time when the state constitution was written, at least from what I understand of Alaska’s political history. I wonder if that is why the radical conservatives dislike the state’s constitution so much. So far it has worked well, keeping them in their own bed, though often alongside an oilman (or women, I didn’t mean to indicate any same-sex hankypanky going on here by our moral leaders), and out of the private citizens’ beds. But, I do wonder how long that will last.

Which returns me to this post, and how long it will last, given its tendency to stray from the subject. Not much further, I promise.

Despite the jests above, I enjoy most of the sign bearers and their signs. Protest and political activism is alive and well in Fairbanks. They create a lively, interactive, personable street presence that we don’t often have in Fairbanks.

However, I do wonder why we see such a stronger street side presence of conservative picketers than liberal ones. I would venture that, in general, liberals have more of a live and let live attitude. As long as someone is not hurting someone else, literally, then they should be allowed freedom of opinion and action. On the flip side, conservatives are more dogmatic. They believe there is a right and a wrong, and not much gray matter in between (their ears, I say). Sorry, that was uncalled for. But seriously, when an individual or group believes they are right, and that there is only one right choice, it places them in a position where they are more likely to impose their will on others, because, for God’s sake, they are right.

Which takes us back to Ron Paul. By no means am I an expert on his platform, but it would appear his views of the Constitution would be described as constructivist. In Fairbanks, that interprets into the libertarian ideal that the government mind its own business. Which is where I wonder if there isn’t something of a conservative hypocrisy in dealing with constitutional matters, say where property rights are treated as sacred, but a person’s right to privacy in their own life is not. For example, do what you will with your property regardless of what damage it does to the community (safety, property values, aesthetics, environmental damage, etc), but by God don’t think about getting married to your partner if you happen to be of the same sex. (Or the same class of animals we commonly refer to as mammals, as some fear.)

It will be an interesting year to watch the sign bearers, and watch the morphing of the groups and signs as the primaries end and the race heats up. I expect there will be Democrats and Republicans on opposing corners in a few months, likely some of the same anti-war and pro-war people we’ve been experiencing for too many years now will be back. Wouldn’t it be funny to have anti-war Republicans and Democrats bearing signs against the pro-war, well, Republicans.

As to the folly of standing on a corner promoting your candidate, I hope after the debacle of our current president people are taking a better look at the candidates than can be considered in a 5 second drive by, 60 seconds if you catch the light at the wrong time. Hopefully there is a desire from members of both parties to look for a spark of intelligence in a candidates eyes instead of a folksy down home apparition. To that end, we’ll all benefit regardless of what party ends up in the White House.

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Last summer (summer of 2007), in the midst of a run of casualties suffered by Alaska based troops, I happened to travel to Anchorage on a business trip. During that time period it was fairly common for me to go from Fairbanks to Anchorage and back home again in a days time, catching the 6:00am flight down (to Anchorage) and an afternoon or evening flight home to Fairbanks. The meetings and trip down were uneventful, I can’t even recall now what the meetings were for. The return flight proved eventful, putting an exclamation point on an otherwise forgettable day.

I had come to dread the flights back and forth, yet cherished them as well. Over a course of time, and repeated flights, I had started feeling like I’d used all my ‘lucky’ flights up. On those days, I would lay in bed until I had overcome my phobia, then quietly get out bed, and head on out to Fairbanks International to catch the 6:00am early flight. What I enjoyed about the flights was the quiet time. That is, time without phones, children, spouse, or co-workers breaking into my thought process. It was an opportunity to write in my journal, to ponder the future, to read, and yes, to nap. Especially nap.

This day was no different. I checked in, headed down the familiar concourse of the Anchorage airport, to the familiar Alaska Airlines gate and on to the airplane. I took my seat, and started resting my eyes, reflecting on life, work, and how much I would like to nod off before the plane got off the ground.

Soon we pulled away from the gate, and began to make our way across the tarmac to the runway. Suddenly, the airplane stopped. Not unusual, though not a typical stopping point either.

A couple minutes later the Captain came onto the speaker and announced that one of the recently fallen soldiers based out of Fort Richardson would be passing by the plane on the left side in their motorcade. He requested our silence, though needlessly. The plane had suddenly taken on the solemness of a funeral, and rightly so.

Fortunately I was seated on the left side of the plan, by the window. I was able to observe the procession as it crept by. Other passengers unbuckled and looked over the window passenger’s shoulders, anxious to pay thanks to the returning soldier. Throughout this time, not a word was spoken nor a sound made.

For a moment everyone on that plane ceased to be Republican, Democrat, pro-war or anti-war; we were all Americans. It is one of the few times after the weeks following 9/11 I’ve felt this way.

As the motorcade passed, passengers returned to their seats. People began to murmur quietly to each other, clearly affected by the flag draped coffin as it had passed.

Eventually, someone in the plane began to clap. It is one of the most bizarre instances of applause I will ever witness, or participate in. Soon, everyone was clapping. It wasn’t the raucous cheering at a baseball game, or the polite tap-tap after a mediocre performance. The applause was brief, subdued, but intense and heartfelt.

It was nothing less that a communal sharing of grief, and of thanks. Everyone on that plane, though we could or did not exchange hugs or glances, shared that moment; the grief, the pride, the anger, and sorrow of a life ending too soon.

I think often of that solider, and that plane full of people. Every time I pickup the newspaper or check the news online and see more casualties. Sometimes I consider looking up his or her name, getting to know who he/she was, who they left behind. But I don’t.

Personally, I think it is because I like to picture each casualty I hear about as that young man or woman, moving slowly by, forever still beneath the flag. It makes each new death more tangible, more personable, more than a number or name in a paper that is easily tossed out with the daily trash. I fear if this soldier were to lose his/her anonymity, I would lose my ability to transpose that experience.

Then again, it may be as simple as me wanting to avoid feeling the sadness of death, more than I already do. And I know as deeply as it has moved me, what I feel is incomparable to the grief felt by his or her loved ones. What could I possibly do to comfort them?

I know that experience, and the honor and gratitude expressed by everyone on that plane, was possible because someone stood up to the president and insisted that the soldiers be brought home with respect and dignity, not under the cover of darkness. I am grateful to them for giving me that experience.

But mostly I’m grateful to that young man or woman, a fallen soldier, who gave something none of us will ever be able to return to him or her.

Last, I would encourage anyone who has an opportunity to observe the motorcade of a returning fallen soldier, please take the time to do so. It will put your daily worries in their proper perspective, and provide a chance to bond with strangers, your fellow Americans.

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Finally!!! A candidate for president finally said it. Let’s update the constitution to be in line with god’s laws. I couldn’t agree more. Kudos to Mike Huckabee for saying what so many have been thinking for so long. It is time to throw out the constitution, time to start over with an even older document, the Bible.

It is time for state sponsored religion.

I know, I know. Quite a few people are going to read this and think somebody hacked into my blog. They didn’t. Nor have I been struck by lighting, possessed by the Holy Spirit, or had my livelihood threatened by the establishment.

I just happen to agree with Mr. Huckabee that the constitution should be updated to agree with the bible. Mine.

Did I happen to mention that detail earlier? Well, I am now. Let me clarify, the constitution of the United States should be brought into alignment with god and the bible. Mine, in both cases.

Once more, my God, and my Bible.

Now, for those who know me, or think they do, you may recognize I belong to a UU (Unitarian-Universalist) Fellowship here in Fairbanks, Alaska. I recognize that UU’s exist on the fringe of Christianity, so we don’t necessarily endorse our own version of the Bible.

Whoa, whoa , whoa, before anybody gets upset, let me explain.

My roots are Catholic.

You bet, you read that correctly. Catholic. We should bring the Constitution into alignment with the Catholic bible. Now, before all you protestants get upset out there, remember, we are all Christians here. And what’s a protestantism but an unruly child of Catholicism. Some are more unruly than others but that’s what confession is for.

Come on, it is the oldest christian church, it brought humanity through the dark ages, and would have kept us there if you protestants hadn’t come along. Catholicism existed when churches had power, when non-believers (like Unitarian-Universalists) could be burned at the stake. What more could you ask for than absolute power to the church?

It was only after the reformation that the world went to hell, and you protestants are to blame. I mean, we had things under control. Along comes a few splinter groups, BANG!!, there goes the Renaissance. Certainly, Catholics did get some great art and buildings out of that. But somewhere along the line people started thinking; for themselves no less. Unacceptable.

And here we are today. We have a chance to set us back at least 500 years. We only need the chicks to gather under the hen, the flock to come home to roost, so on and so forth.

For the Pope’s benefit, I want to make it clear that while I said the Catholic Bible, I meant the MY Catholic Bible.

And while I’m at it, my Catholic God. (Who, despite all my attempts to exorcise him, has remained a deep and integral part of my being.)

So, all interpretations of the Bible and God will have to be made by me. Sorry Mr. Pope, you’ll have to leave the comforts and wealth of the Vatican to visit me here in Alaska if you need any interpretations. And I only meet in January. Hey, don’t blame me, I’m only God’s servant.

Oh yea, can somebody tell Mike to convert? Otherwise, he’ll be in violation of the constitution (mine).

Better yet, let’s skip the elections. God can appoint the president. For life. And we can call him King. (Don’t forget, my God speaks through me. Donations freely accepted for those who like to be considered.)

I’ll begin making modifications to the constitution right away.

As soon as I find my bible. Oh, and for that matter my god. I seem to have lost her.

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