Wakey Wakey.
reveille precedes revelation

Sep
23

The Origin of Rights

“But it’s my right!” If you haven’t made the claim verbally, you’ve likely thought it at one time or another. My kids haven’t explicitly stated they have rights, but they implicitly make the claim regularly.

The Declaration of Independence claims that all have an unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Unalienable as in it’s not foreign, it’s inherent, part of our nature as humans.

We’ve been talking a lot about happiness and contentment over the past few months of Gray’s Theology. Tomorrow, we’ll go a bit deeper to the issue of rights.

Specifically, where do we get our rights from?

Are they inherent in our being? As the Declaration claims, are they “endowed by a Creator”? Have enlightened generations discovered them after millennia of human existence in the deserts of “Might Makes Right”? Have we manufactured them so as to attain the greatest good?

What happens when my “rights” conflict with yours?

That’s what we’ll explore this week at Gray’s Theology. It’s your right to be there.

Jul
29

“Contentment is natural wealth” (Socrates)

In Hermann Hesse’s novel, Steppenwolf, the main character, Harry Haller is an intellectual loner who states near the beginning of the book, “I always hated contentment.” The book is a journey through Haller’s inability to truly be content or joyful. Hesse’s conclusion seems to be that we must use humor, drugs, and sex to find meaning and joy in life.

Is that true? Is that reality? Is contentment even a good life goal or does it lead to complacency? Is discontentment what leads to improvement?

There will always be more out there – more experiences to have, more items to consume, more people to meet, more ladders to come. What leads people to be content and joyful?

So this week we’ll explore the nature of contentment. Is it possible and, if so, how do we get there?

If you’d like to be a part of that discussion, join us tomorrow night at Gray’s Theology. Commenting here is reserved for those who have attended there.

Jun
23

Hey, happy July 4.

Enshrined in our U.S. Constitution, we say that people have the right to the “Pursuit of Happiness.” It’s a rather upbeat thing for such an august document to say, isn’t it? I was talking to our good friend and Gray’s Theology charter member Anthony today about this phrase, and he said something to the effect of, “To deny the right to pursue happiness is like saying you don’t have the right to breathe. We just try to be happy, that’s part of being human.”

I think Anthony’s right. Whether we’re oppressed under some dictator, or we’re living large in a free country, we all still have things that we try to accomplish, things we try to change about our situation to bring ourselves a little closer to our vision of what will be happier.

So with that in mind, what the heck do you think our founding fathers were talking about? Also, is happiness a worthy pursuit? And finally, if yes, what specifically are you trying to pursue when you “pursue happiness”? If no, what *do* you think is a worthy pursuit?

Credit where credit’s due: Another good friend of ours, Jedidiah, planted the seeds of the topic. Actually, I pushed it in a different direction than his also-sweet original idea (which was: Do we really have a right to happiness, anyway?), which I hope we’ll get to next month.

If you’re confused about why I have making some of my statements in first person plural, it’s because I’m referring to the ridiculously awesome meetup group this blog serves, Gray’s Theology. Comments are reserved to folks who have attended in the meatspace. If you’re in the Verona, Wisconsin area, head over to the meetup site and find out how to join us.

May
25

Hey, Happy Memorial Day!

Hope you enjoyed the day off and the cookout. I certainly did.

So Memorial Day is an interesting holiday. I don’t think I’ve spent many Memorial Days spending time thinking about past wars or those who died in them, or those who survived them. I’m grateful for my country and those who served, but I confess Memorial Day is looked forward to as a long weekend and perhaps a chance to road trip rather than a day to… well… remember.

Beyond the simple lack of reflection described in the above paragraph, we’ve got a growing ambiguous relationship with our wars lately. On the one hand, there’s tremendous pressure in our culture to unquestioningly honor soldiers. On the personal level, too, most of us have at least one friend or relative who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan. At the same time, many of us in America today aren’t big fans of some of the recent American military operations. We’ve heard news of acts done by American soldiers that don’t always make us proud.

Depending on who you are, what kinds or relationships you have, and what sort of political persuasion persuades you, the voices on one side or the other may sound louder and even drown out the other. But the question is out there–cultural pressure to honor veterans or decry recent wars aside, what’s your real personal relationship with those who have served in America’s wars? That’s the question up for discussion this week.

So–regardless of what you think about the war in Iraq (I’m not really interested in a political discussion this week) – should those of us who have not been in battle take time to honor those who fell in battle? Why or why not? And if we should, how should we? What should the relationship between civilians and veterans be? How do you respond when you meet someone who served in Iraq or Afghanistan? How would you like to respond?

I hope this month’s discussion goes back and forth between real life practical discussion and the more philosophical level. The philosophical question is real: What is the relationship between the civilian and the soldier (living or dead)? Does the civilian “owe” the soldier anything, on an individual level? Does it muddy the waters at all if the civilian disapproves of the war in which the soldier fought?

Obviously the philosophical question has practical implications, and we’re going to be interacting with more and more veterans who are being assimilated into normal civilian life. And I daresay many of us would do well to think about how to interact with this population. We’ll all have different experiences and existing relationships with soldiers, and so I think we’ll benefit from each others’ perspectives on a practical level.

See you Thursday! This will be fun.

P.S. New to this site? Welcome! Comments are reserved for those who have attended Gray’s Theology in person. If you live in the Madison, Wisconsin area, you’d be welcome to join us.

Apr
29

Is Love Blind?

So I’ve got a couple questions about love, folks. Not just romantic love, but we can include romantic love in our conversation.

Is love blind? There are a couple ways to go with this:
A. Do people love because they have an ideal in their head that they think is the object of their love? Is it wiser to stay in that illusion; overlooking the things you don’t like? Does doing so promote love? Can it?
OK, that was easy. How about this one:
B. What kinds of situations is it loving to overlook something that someone you love has done wrong? What kinds of situations is it unloving to overlook those things? (I think the more specific, real-life, and personal we can get here, the better.)
C. Does love ever exclude? Do you have to love everybody and everything to be a loving person?

Ultimately, what does truth have to do with love?

That’s our topic this week at our in-person conversation Gray’s Theology. Visitors welcome; comments here on the blog are restricted to folks who have attended in person before.

Mar
24

What’s our relationship to the world?

Hi, folks–

Let’s have a Gray’s Theology discussion topic, shall we?

So there are lots of good reasons to protect the earth’s ecosystems, not consume as much, not throw away as much, etc. And it’s pretty much a given that we all can do better with those kinds of things and that if we keep doing things the way we are doing them, things will get much worse, and they’re already very, very bad. So… why? What’s our relationship, as humans, to this world we live in? Are we obligated to preserve things for future generations? Is it really important that future generations exist and flourish? What about future generations of various species? I’m sure everyone who comes to something like Gray’s thinks yes, it’s important that future generations of humans and other species flourish. It probably actually is, regardless of what we think. But why?

Which of the traditional models from various worldviews describe well what kinds of beings humans are in relationship to the rest of the world. Are we cells within an organism? Lords and masters? Animals on equal footing with other animals? Are we stewards over creation? Part of a world soul where everything is one? Which of those models (and others you can think of) are helpful? What are the limitations of those models (and others you can think of)? What’s the basis of your opinion of these models?

Looking forward to talking with you. For visitors, this is a topic posting for an in-person meetup in Verona, Wisconsin. Comments online are reserved for folks who have attended the meetup in person. If you live in or around the Madison- Verona area, I hope you will sign up and show up.

Feb
24

Sacred texts

Alright, by popular demand. Or at least, at the cautious recommendation of a bunch of you during a straw poll. Sing with me, everybody now:

Let’s talk about texts, baby!
Let’s talk about you and me!
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that we read!
Let’s talk ABOUT texts.

Hey, so the Bible and the Qu’ran and all sorts of other texts are really important to a lot of people. And those same texts are not so important to other people. And some of us say certain books are really important to us, but we don’t read them very much or feel like we understand them very well. Some of us probably sometimes feel like we must live on the wrong planet because all these people think the Bible is just great but we’re like, “That book? Really?”

So let’s talk about that. Do you think that some books are more holy, special, and/or authoritative than all other books? If so, which books? What does it mean to you that they are holy, special, and/or authoritative? What about those other books that other people think are holy, special, and/or authoritative? If you don’t believe that some books are more special than others, do you have any other sources of authority you rely on? Where do you think people should seek wisdom?

If we beat those questions to death, we can discuss some more: Have you ever tried to take a book seriously that you didn’t believe was holy, but someone else did think it was holy? What was that experience like? Are there ways that we can be respectful of written traditions that we outright disagree with? What would that look like? Should we even try?

People on Newsweek’s On Faith panel are writing on a similar topic. For some interesting reading, check it out:

http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/2009/02/reading_sacred_texts/all.html

I’ll be interested to hear what you all have to say. See you on Thursday at Gray’s Tied House. You can RSVP here:

http://www.meetup.com/graystheology/calendar/9634105/

When you get there, don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic. Cuz that ain’t gonna stop it.

Jan
15

Happy new year everyone!

I love getting topic suggestions from you, and I got a good one from Jedidiah this month. He originally pitched it to me as, “We all think community is a good thing we should foster; we all hate communism and think it’s bad. What’s the difference?” I thought this was fantastic. So I’ve asked him to guest-blog about it. Here’s Jedidiah:

In what is sometimes called the Fourth Great Awakening, a sea-change in worldview within the United States, 1000s of people became involved in communal living, sharing everything in common, and putting the good of the group before the good of the individual. Christian communes at the time claimed that this was the way the first Christians lived, and that it was a continual theme within that faith.  However, many communes were attacked for being cults or simply communism, especially after Jonestown.  Today, a milder version of this movement continues among people of all faiths or no faith in the cohousing movement in the United States, although some 60s communes remain.

Is communal living basically the same as communism?  Are there any significant differences?  Is one form preferable to another?  What are the positives or negatives to that lifestyle choice?  Is this an approach that can help us significantly develop deeper, healthy relationships with others, learning to care for others better?  Or is it something that does too much harm to the psyche, treading on our individual rights?

Jedidiah grew up in one of the communes he describes, so he’s got some interesting perspective on community. But you do too! I hope this topic challenges us and generates some lively discussion. See you soon!

For those of you wondering what “see you soon” means, this blog posts topics for a monthly meetup in Verona, Wisconsin. You’d be welcome to join us! If you’ve been to the meetup before, your comments will be allowed here.
Nov
15

Quite often, when I sit down to write these discussion topics, I take my idea and look up the topic on wikipedia to get a nice little summary about what kinds of things are being said about said topic. Wikipedia’s great. So much information, so little effort.

Usually when someone says, “Wikipedia is great”, someone has to say, “Yeah but…” or make a joke about the reliablity of “an encyclopedia anyone can edit”. And well we should–I often feel a little uneasy about how much faith I put in those articles, no matter how many citations appear. But wikipedia is so easy to use, and gets it right surprisingly often, so I keep using it.

Whether you use wikipedia or not, chances are you take shortcuts to learn the things you need to know. You don’t know everything you know because you’ve investigated everything yourself–you know most of what you know because someone or something you trust taught you what you know. We put our faith in things that we haven’t personally validated every day. So the question for the week is: Is that okay? What makes it okay or not okay? Are there things that you’ve been taught to take for granted that you should’t take for granted? How do you strike a balance between your desire for certainty vs. your limited time and resources?

While you’re thinking about that, you really should check out this article on wikipedia and truth in Technology Review by Simson Garfunkel (It’s the inspiration for this post, actually). It’s 4 medium-sized pages, and you can find it here:

http://www.technologyreview.com/web/21558/page1/

Registration on that website is required, and if you don’t want to register, use the usernames/passwords that can be found here:

http://www.bugmenot.com/view/technologyreview.com

Speaking of “registration required”, just a reminder that this site is used to publicize topics for a Verona, Wisconsin meetup group. Details can be found here. If you’ve been there before (physically), you can comment here. If you haven’t, you’re welcome to visit us in real life.

Oct
29

Happy Halloween, everyone!

This month, as we gather for Gray’s on Halloween’een (that is, 10/30), we’ve got a scary topic–What fears are irrational? And what fears are rational? What’s the difference?

Explanation: Most of the things we’re afraid of have some basis in real, actual risk. Even irrational fears–fear of spiders–is based in the fact that some spiders can kill people. Beyond classic phobias, there are probably people in your life who freak out about life situations in ways that you would call “irrational.” But you probably have things that you worry about that seems like they’re genuine risk. So, when is it rational to be afraid of something? What kinds of things are you afraid of?

This conversation could go in a lot of different directions depending on where the group wants to go. One possible direction – we could get to another more specific topic–the fear of death. Is it rational to fear death? What are we really afraid of? What about people who fear life more than death? Are they being rational?

Visitors to the blog – welcome. This blog exists to introduce topics to a in-person group that meets in Verona Wisconsin, and as such, comments are restricted to folks who’ve been a part of that conversation already. Feel free to sign up and join us at meetup.com.