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Dignity, holding on, and Thanksgiving turkeys

Questions for spiritual reflection and adult group discussions.
By Jane Greer
Winter 2008 11.1.08

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Interfaith partnering. The Rev. William G. Sinkford talks about the need for UUs to work with those of other faiths.“What I believe is that we can reach across the divides of religious language and belief,” he writes, “that we can partner with Baptists as well as Buddhists.” (“Our Calling,” page 7)

How has your congregation worked in partnership with other religious groups in your community? What points of commonality did you have?

Turning points. Christine Nielsen describes the childhood event that led her to choose a career in international business: a summer spent visiting relatives in Denmark. The significance of this event didn’t strike her until much later. “Events that transform our lives often pass unnoticed at first,” she writes. “They occur within the flurry of our daily lives while we’re focusing on other things.” (“Forum,” page 14)

Which events in your life, which may have seemed unimportant at the time, have actually been pivotal?

Worship’s power. In his essay, “Assembly of a Lesser God,” Doug Muder talks about the power of worship and belief. Muder created a successful ritual dedicated to the “spirit of inquiry,” to help him get through the day at work. His wife had a totem—a dragonfly—that helped get her through a serious illness. “The conclusion I’ve drawn over the years,” Muder writes, “is that evolution, for whatever reason, has made us a believing, worshiping species. And whether we approve of that decision or not, we’re stuck working with the mind we have.” (page 23)

What rituals do you have? What area of your life might deserve to have its own ritual?

Hanging on. William F. Schulz describes the panic that suffering can bring in “Hold On.” But this panic doesn’t last, he says. He cites the example of people thwarted from jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. “Only 6 percent of those who tried but were stopped went on to complete the deed later,” he writes, the trick is to hang on. (page 28)

Which situations have you been in that were so painful you might have despaired? How did that situation end? What helped you get through it?

Ethical eating. John Gibb Millspaugh, author of “Dinner Dilemmas: Trying to Eat Ethically” analyzes the ethical issues involved in producing a Thanksgiving dinner, by tracing the path of turkey, potatoes, and cranberries as they make their way from their places of origin to the table. Some of the factors he uses in his analysis include: environmental impact, worker justice, and animal welfare. (page 30)

With all of the competing factors to consider, which are the most important to you: environmental impact, worker justice, animal welfare, cost, taste, tradition? And in what order?

Dignity. In their article “Be a Dignitarian,” Robert W. Fuller and Pamela A. Gerloff describe “rankism” as “abuse of the power attached to rank.” Rankism, they say, can be on an individual, societal, organizational, or governmental level. Everyone, they claim, has experienced it. “Most likely, we have played both roles: target and perpetrator,” they write.” (pages 34, 35)

When have you been the target of rankism? When have you been a perpetrator? When have you used rankism in a positive way?

Change in fortune. Fuller and Gerloff talk about how rank can change from one situation to another. “We may be a somebody at work but a nobody at home, or vice versa.” (page 35)

How would you assess your rank in the various settings of your life: home, church, work, or recreation? How might these ranks change over the course of a lifetime?

Dumbing down? In his “Bookshelf” essay “Reason for Alarm,” Edd Doerr reviews Susan Jacoby’s book The Age of American Unreason in which Jacoby bemoans the “dumbing down” of American public discourse. She describes “a new species of semi-conscious anti-rationalism, feeding on and fed by an ignorant popular culture of video images and unremitting noise.” We live, she says, in a “culture of distraction.” (page 58)

What can we do, as individuals or as a society, to counter this “culture of distraction”? Is there a way to responsibly control some of the distractions?

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