Wakey Wakey.
reveille precedes revelation



I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately–about what’s enough, what I need, what I don’t need, etc. The baby has provided a monthly windfall via smaller tax withholdings, yet, due to home repairs this summer (waiting on reimbursement checks from the insurance company) and being too busy to balance the checkbook–I bounced a couple checks last week, and had to dig deep into savings to pay the bills.

I tell you this to make you uncomfortable. 🙂 Regardless of the fact that this is a blog and people say anything on the internet, this is still the internet, and you didn’t come here to read the details of my financial situation, and it’s weird to hear me talking so openly about my finances. We just don’t do that.

The question for the week is, Why? Why is it so taboo to talk about personal financial matters? In answering this question, I think we may get near such topics as: What right does anyone have to tell anyone else how to live his or her life? But don’t we somtimes have some right to say another person’s actions are commendable or irresponsible? Even with money? Of all the things we like to keep private, why is money at or near the top of the list?

On another note, did you see it? We got a big picture and great article in the Verona paper. Thanks to Seth for such a kind, thorough, and generous write-up.

For those of you new to the site, comments are open to you once you’ve attended one of our in-person meetings. If you live in or around Verona, Wisconsin, we’d love to see you. Details here.

See you Thursday!


Civil Forum

First of all, welcome to all the folks who may have heard about us for the first time via Verona Press. Hope you enjoy your visit here, and that you join us on Thursday, 8/28 at Gray’s. All the meetup details are here, and you can use that site to RSVP and let us know you’re coming. If you are new, feel free to get an idea of why we exist by visiting our introductory post.

OK, the August topic. Last Saturday night there was a televised Civil Forum on the presidency held at a California megachurch.  Senators Obama and McCain were asked questions about their faith and beliefs, and how those beliefs would impact their policy decisions. It was an interesting discussion indeed, and you can check out the videos here.

Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren asked the questions, and in his introductory remarks, he said,

We [Saddleback Church] believe in the separation of church and state, but we do not believe in the separation of faith and politics. Faith is just a worldview, and everybody has some kind of worldview and it’s important to know what [a person’s worldview is].

So… what do you think about that? More specifically–

  • Is separation of church and state important? Why or why not?
  • What’s the difference between separation of church and state and the separation of faith and politics? Is Warren right that one is good and the other bad? Or are they the same thing?
  • If faith is worldview and everyone has a worldview, and our worldviews are so drastically different, how do we have a civil forum about the things that are important to us in, say, a presidential election? Was the Saddleback forum helpful at all, or hurtful for our public discourse?

Part of me gets a little scared bringing politics into Gray’s–yes, newcomers, this is the first time we’ve touched on anything political. And this is not only a conversation about politics–it’s one about politics and religion, at the same time, of all things. But I think we can rise to the challenge of civil conversation, even on this topic. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Gray’s is about the big questions and how they impact real life. So, I’m more interested in talking about church/state, faith/politics than I am about the candidates of this election or the individual issues discussed during the forum. We’ll need to bring in the the specifics of the forum as we talk about whether the forum enhances or hinders national discussion in a pluralistic society. Beyond the big questions of church/state, faith/politics, and what kinds of forums enhance the national conversation in a pluralistic society, there are so many divisive issues that we could talk about related to the election, the candidate’s views, the specific topics discussed in the forums… and those topics can drag the conversation down. We’re going to have to be very disciplined to stay on topic. The official “big questions” for this week will be challenging enough. So let’s make an extra effort to stay on topic.

If you want to read some interesting perspectives on this topic, check out the site where I ripped off this month’s question. There’s some good stuff in there. Unlike Gray’s, though, it’s not exactly a conversation. It’s a bunch of people talking. For the purposes of discussion, if you read some of those posts, I hope you don’t walk away with your predjudices hardened and your ears a little more closed than they were before (an effect that website sometimes has on me). Rather, I hope the posts open your ears to the very different perspectives out there on the topic, so you’re ready to challenge and be challenged by the folks around the table at Gray’s.

See you there!



Hi, folks…

A buncha new folks signed up on the meetup site this month. Welcome!

OK, so think about some times from your life when you really felt happy. You might think of a time that was just a fleeting moments, or you might think of a season of life that generally–you felt good. The times you think of might be recent, might be not so recent. Think of a few of those times, and write them down or tuck them away in your memory to bring with you on Thursday. Here’s the question to get the discussion rolling: For each of those times in your life–was it a time when you felt more in touch with reality than normal, or a time when you felt you were escaping something? It might have elements of both. A follow up question: When you’re trying to seek comfort, do you seek to escape reality or do you dig for a more truthful representation of it?

My guess is that many of us do both. Truth is unsettling, day-to-day reality sometimes is inconvenient and painful. Our culture provides us with many avenues of escape. But I also suspect that many of us will think that escape isn’t always the best strategy, and I’d really like to hear your perspectives on that tension.

Visitors–thanks for stopping by. This discussion topic is intended for folks who attend this meetup in Verona, Wisconsin. You’re welcome to come to that if you’re in the area, and you’re welcome to comment here if you’ve physically been at our meetup at least once.


Hey, friends! It’s an ethics topic this month.

Forgiveness is an important component of many religions. And most Americans, religious or not, think it’s important to forgive. There are good reasons for this. The popular arguments you usually hear in favor of forgiveness usually make sense. If you’re hanging onto a grudge, your friend might say, “Well, you’re not perfect either.” Or, they might say, “This grudge is eating you up and ruining your life. You need to just let it go.” In the first case, we say forgiveness is important because everyone does bad things and we’re all in the same boat. Therefore forgiveness is an important part of a functioning society–we all hurt each other, so we have to give each other a break if we want a break. In the second case, we look at the damage that not forgiving inflicts on the person who was originally wronged. If I’m the victim of some harm, and that harm sticks in my head and my heart and continues to affect and infect how I view the world and live my life, that harm lives long beyond the person’s initial action. And if I continue to have it affect me, I’m participating in my own victimization.

So, the popular “why you should forgive” arguments that you hear in America make sense most of the time. But if you’re really hurt, they stop making sense. The arguments break down, on an intellectual and/or emotional level. Why is this? Are there some crimes that are so bad that they cannot and perhaps should not be forgiven? Are there reasons that people should seek to forgive no matter what?

Let’s talk. For some interesting (sometimes accurate!) background on forgiveness to feed our discussion, visit forgiveness’ wikipedia page. See you Thursday.

Blogsurfers who found this post at random: This discussion topic is intended for folks who attend this meetup in Verona, Wisconsin. You’re welcome to come to that if you’re in the area, and you’re welcome to comment here if you’ve physically been at our meetup at least once.


A week ago slashdot posted a Wired story about some experiments where brain scanners could predict a subject’s “choice” before the subject was conscious of making the choice (thanks, Jess and Rich, for the link!). There’s some interesting dialogue in the comments section of the slashdot post as folks think through studies like this. The study’s conclusion may surprise most of us, since we as humans perceive that our choice is exercised in our conscious state. That is, we think that we are free to decide things because we experience the act of decision-making consciously. But if our decisions are determined before we’re conscious that we made the decision, are we really free?

In regards to this study, the question can boil down to the question–does free will have to operate in consciousness to exist? If a decision is predetermined before we’re made aware of it, do we have free will at all? Are there implications of this kind of thing on our ideas of personal responsibility? An interesting topic for discussion indeed. Another related question: There are other (scientific and philosophical) reasons for believing/disbelieving in free will. What are yours?

See you Thursday.


Hey, folks–

This week during Gray’s Theology, Mrs. Wakeywakey and I will be at a “new parents” class, learning all about the joys of changing diapers. As a result, I’m pleased to announce our very special guest discussion facilitator Josh Montague, known to many of you as “that guy Josh”. Josh is a regular contributer to Gray’s, a deep thinker, a good guy and will capably get you talking about this week’s fantastic topic.


Josh is not only a very special guest discussion faciliatator, he’s a very special guest blogger, here to introduce you to this month’s topic. Here’s Josh:

We all have some form of rules we live by – make it to work by 8 AM, change the oil every 3,000 miles, use only compact fluorescent bulbs. The Mel Gibson version of William Wallace said, “It’s all for nothing if you don’t have freedom.” Freedom versus rules … absolute freedom sounds so much more attractive, but we default to some set of life rules.

What are the “big rules” that govern your life? Do these get in the way of personal freedom or expression? When does a rule (or right) become universal, if it ever does? If it does, where is the source of authority?

All this and good beer at Gray’s Theology…

Enjoy the discussion–I am bummed I won’t be around to hear what everyone has to say. (I’m also bummed I won’t be around to talk. I like to talk.) Have a great time, and see you next month!


Where does morality come from?

That’s a topic Anthony recently suggested. A worthy topic indeed!

OK–the idea of morality is hard to pin down, but it’s also a huge part of human relatedness. Here’s what I mean:

Lots of human beings around the world seem to think and act as if they believe there are right ways and wrong ways to live. OK, not just lots. You could argue, all of us, or at least, nearly all of us. We might express this belief by abiding by a strict moral code, or by feeling guilty that we don’t abide by it, or by feeling superior than people who abide by strict moral codes because we think it’s superior to be more flexible and tolerant than strict. In those three examples, there’s this presupposition that there are right ways and wrong ways to live (or, at least better vs. worse ways). We differ on what the important moral issues are and what the right/wrong conclusions are on any ethical standpoint. We adopt, adapt to, and rebel against the cultural structures of morality around them. We differ on our theories of morality–what our moral sense is at its core. Moralities differ between cultures, times, and individuals.

Still, amidst these differences, some kind of morality is hard to avoid as a supposition in any of the many ways we humans live our lives and think about our lives. We care about what’s fair or what’s not fair. We are challenged by, inspired by, ashamed by, or disgusted by acts of love and self sacrifice. Because the human sense of morality is so diverse, it’s hard to pin down. Because it’s so prevalent, it’s hard to imagine human beings abstracted from their sense of right/wrong; good/bad; better/worse; appropriate/inappropriate.

Where does this elusive yet virtually inescapable part of our existence come from? Why are humans moral creatures?

That’s the February topic!  See you at Gray’s!


Lots of people wear their busy-ness like a badge. If you went to college, you probably have had a few “well, I slept less than you” contests. For many of us, the work world isn’t much different. I’ve heard stories about people trying to better themselves by making sure their car is in the parking lot on Saturday earlier than the other guy.

While most of us are more subtle than that, lots of us derive a lot of personal value out of how much we work. Or if it’s not the number of hours, it’s how efficient we are.

Do you identify with that good portion of American society that derives a lot of your personal feeling of worth out of what you accomplish at work? Do you think it’s a good measure of human value? If not, what alternatives would you propose?

Because at the end of this annual major deadline I’m up against, work is all I can think about. I’ll enjoy sharing time and beverages with you at Gray’s when it’s all over.


Getting this out of my system…

I read an interesting quote from Stephen King the other day:

I don’t know why [violent] movies like The Brave One (even the title suggests tacit approval) should appeal to me and so many others. I can only hope they serve as a mental gutter through which our worst fears and impulses are channeled safely out of our emotional systems. The Greek word is catharsis, and I have used it many times to justify my own violent creations, but I have never entirely trusted it. —Stephen King [Entertainment Weekly, 10/12/07]

Regardless of what you think of the movie in question, the genre in question, or Stephen King–the quote raises a number of interesting questions and observation. For our discussion, though, I’ll just mention one of each. Observation: At least in our culture, people like to think that we can get some undesirable behavior, thought, desire, emotion (etc.) “out of our system” by enacting it, rehearsing it, thinking about it, or talking about it in some controlled, safe environment. Question: Does that ever work? Or are we fooling ourselves so that we can continue doing what we want to do, but are ashamed of?

Chances are, the answer to this question is not black and white. Here are some possible examples:

1.  Teenage boy, frustrated with his uncooperative family, runs to his room and pounds away on his drum set (or blasts away on his trombone).

2. Bloggers…

3. Two friends confide in one another about frustrations in their respective marriages

4. Disenfranchised employee writes graphic fiction about the gruesome imagined deaths of her coworkers

Is any of this behavior appropriate? Is any of it inappropriate? When and what makes the difference between appropriate and inappropriate/helpful and not helpful? Can you think of a time when catharsis worked for you? Can you think of a time where you used it as self-justification to continue behavior you were ashamed of?
For those of you who sometimes wonder about the philosophical pedigree of the topics on this blog (as I myself do), keep in mind that this question is a key point of disagreement for Plato and Aristotle. Plato thought that individuals should be raised on stories that tell of noble characters. He also thought that poetry would make men less capable of controlling their emotions. Aristotle, on the other hand, advocated poetry as an appropriate way for people to purge inappropriate emotions, and tragedy as a way to learn to respond to awful situations with appropriate amounts of fear and pity. It’s an ethical question, and it’s a question about the nature of human beings.

But, despite the fact that this indeed is a philosophical and ethical question, I don’t think the discussion will go very far without bringing in some real life into the mix. So bring your experiences along with your philosophical musings. Fortunately, we’re good at that, which is why I’m looking forward to Thursday.


Happy end of October, everyone.

When I was a security guard, trying to pay for grad school while doing as little work as possible, I had a coworker from Haiti. He told me a story, with utmost sincerity, about a man in his hometown who was tormented by demons. I’m a bit hazy on the details (I heard the story years ago), but the main part of the story was this guy getting physically battered and bruised by unseen forces. My friend says he saw this with his own eyes. It was creepy to hear him tell it. He informed me that these kinds of experiences were not necessarily common for him when he lived in Haiti, but they were certainly common enough in his country that most people lived their lives in such a way as not to offend demons. At the same time, he said he didn’t have any experiences of demonic presences in the US. He believed that education makes the demons go away and be less powerful.

I’m guessing there’s something in that story, or at least in his telling of it, that doesn’t really fit with the all the rules that you use to organize your experience of the world. So how do you deal with that story? Do you think the story could possibly be true?

This world is a weird place. We organize our experience of it into rules of expected “how the world works” behavior based on our experience and what we’ve been taught (examples: gravity works, my spouse doesn’t like bugs, the Bible is true, Trader Joe’s is awesome). Some of our organizing beliefs are about the supernatural–whether we believe there’s anything “beyond nature” or not. Most of the time, our rules work. Every so often, though, most of us hear a story that contradicts some of those dearly held beliefs that we use to organize our lives.

This week’s topic: How do you deal with stories about experieces with the supernatural (other peoples’ or your own) that don’t square with your worldview? Can you give us some examples of those stories and how you’re dealing with them?

See you tonight!