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Global warming, prison ministry, and metaphors

Questions for spiritual reflection and adult group discussions.
By Jane Greer
May/June 2005 5.1.05

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Growing pains.

In Our Calling," UUA President William G. Sinkford notes that the growth of membership in UU congregations, which is up 1.2 percent from last year, could be interpreted both positively and negatively. "Many are gratified that our numbers have grown consistently. . . . Others see recent annual growth rates, averaging about 1 percent, as minuscule and forecast the demise of this faith that we love."

What is lost and gained when memberships in congregations grow? How would more people affect your congregation?

Pagan ritual.

Anika Stafford describes the pagan holiday Beltaine: "Beltaine, a time of fertility and growth, celebrates how our sexuality, spirituality, and creativity are all part of the same sacred source." To celebrate the holiday, she suggests decorating an altar using objects that appeal to the five senses. ("Beltaine (May 1)")

How are the five senses employed in your congregation's worship services? How do you use them in private rituals?

Beauty's price.

In "Slaves to Energy," Jon Luoma explores what it will take to control global warming. He uses the example of a proposed wind farm, a nonpolluting energy source, off Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, that has raised ire because it would spoil the view.

If a wind farm was proposed for a particularly beautiful spot in your area, how would you react and why? Under what circumstances does beauty trump need?

Reducing waste.

Luoma says that there are many things we can do at a personal level to save energy and cut pollution. He offers some suggestions: buy a hybrid or high-mileage car, buy energy-saving appliances, and purchase Green Tag energy subsidies. ("What You Can Do")

What would you be willing to give up or change in your life to promote a cleaner environment? How much extra would you be willing to pay for this? What can you do to make controlling global warming a priority? What can your congregation do?

Prison industry.

Warren Ross writes that the American prison population has multiplied sevenfold in the last thirty years. He quotes a New York Times op-ed that says, "The business of building and running the jailhouse has become a mammoth industry." ("Ministry Behind Bars")

What is the cause of the burgeoning prison population? How do you think we, as a society, should deal with the issue of punishment? How does one determine a just punishment for a crime?

Sources of salvation.

Both Warren Ross and Stefan Jonasson talk about how Unitarian Universalism has literally saved people. Jonasson writes, "Unitarian Univeralism offers salvation to longing, sometimes broken spirits who stumble along in this fragmented world of ours. It saved a young woman in Georgia. It's saved me." ("Kindness and Hope")

Has Unitarian Universalism saved you or someone you know? What are your sources of salvation?

Powerful Metaphors.

Doug Muder dives into the work of linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff in his review of books about the Christian right ("Making Sense of the Conservative Worldview"). Lakoff believes that we interpret events through an unconscious "frame" of metaphors. He gives the example of how people use the time-as-money metaphor in expressions such as "saving time," "wasting time," and "investing time." Lakoff believes an important component of the Christian right's success has been the care with which it has defined its ideas and chosen its language.

What phrases do you hear that might carry an unconscious meaning? Think especially about political phrases such as "war on terror," "tax relief," "liberal elite," etc.

Red vs. Blue?

Despite clear differences, George Lakoff finds some commonality between liberals and conservatives in their use of nation-as-family metaphors, in which the government is portrayed as the parent, and citizens as siblings. ("Making Sense of the Conservative Worldview")

What other common ground can you find between liberals and conservatives? How do you explain the growing divide between these two groups? Is there a way to reverse this process?

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