The Word Responsible Has a Meaning

Below is a sourced version of a letter I wrote to the editors or the Denton Record Chronicle. Not knowing if it will be published, and knowing that the facts will be questioned, I invite you to share this with anyone who still has questions about the drilling ban. We can always revoke the ban if the slogan of “Responsible Drilling” is ever more than a campaign promise. We cannot undo some of the damage that will be done if we allow things to continue as they are. Additionally, I feel that I must point out the foolishness of shouting about “energy independence” while stumping for fossil fuels that are rapidly running out rather than backing the development of renewable and, preferably, non-centralized sources of energy like residential solar and wind power. We need better than status quo if we are going to prepare for a bright and healthy future for Denton.


The “Vote No” campaign against the ban of hydraulic fracture gas mining in the City of Denton uses the word “Responsible” without any context or meaning.

How can “responsible drilling” not include new regulations, oversight, or accountability? They say they want support for “Responsible Drilling”, but that is not what they offer as the alternative to the ban. If it were, the ban might not be needed.

Rachael Rawlins, of UT’s School of Architecture, as published in the Virginia Environmental Law Journal, shows that state and federal regulatory programs fail to effectively address emissions, the risk of malfunctions, encroaching land uses, or the potential interactive effects of fracking chemicals. Her studies show that “rates of childhood leukemia and lymphoma in Flower Mound are significantly higher than expected”,  tying these findings to the exploitation of the Barnett Shale.

If health risks aren’t enough of a concern, there is considerable risk to the local economy. Fracking sites provide lower tax revenue than most other land use; their equipment taxes our roads, our water supply, and other resources. Worse than that, fracking presents an imminent risk to Americans’ most important financial investment: their home. Scientists across the country collaborated on a geological study, finding “fluid migration from high-rate disposal wells in Oklahoma is potentially responsible for the largest swarm” of otherwise unexplained earthquakes 3 hours north of us. Add the fact that pollution fears are driving home prices down already, according to Forbes, and oil companies seem like very irresponsible neighbors to have.

Obligations and calling: decision point

I have had a strange life, so far. In most respects, I have been very lucky. I admit that, and I honor the people who have helped me get to where I am. Part of how I honor them is to keep trying to be my best, and to give my best to the world. The I Am UU ministry is part of me trying hard to give back to the world in a way that promotes the best in humanity.

Another way is that I try to return what favors I can. I give back to those who have given to me with glee and fervor, because I want to encourage the doing of good and reward those who do it.

I was adopted. I was days old when my parents claimed me, and I have only ever known one family, and it has always been a part of my life. It was not a perfect family. It isn’t one that I am now particularly proud of. I am sure that a lot of liberals raised in Texas have those feelings some times. Family still matters, as a part of who I am and how I got here, and family is an obligation that I cannot ignore.

To that end, I took on the care of my mother several years ago. She has cancer that she doesn’t wish to treat, and she has dementia at a very young age. At 67, she has the body and mind that her doctors compare to patients in their 80s. Being her caretaker has been hard, and at times rewarding. More over, her income being part of the household has allowed me to create the I Am UU project, staying at home to handle her appointments and help her with daily tasks as well as those of my kids.

My ability to care for her is now stretched to the breaking point. I will not be able to keep it up another full year, and we may not make it to the end of this one.

This is hard to admit, because I know that we cannot afford to put her in a facility that will be anywhere near as nice as the home we’ve worked to provide. I want her to have a quality of life, but it has come the point where I cannot provide that here, either.

That part is internal. It is something I will have to deal with. It is hard, but I need to admit that the time will come, soon, that I cannot do what she needs here at home, and I will have to trust skilled professionals to help her in her daily life. I want what every American wants for their family: one more Christmas (or relevant winter-time holiday). I don’t know if that is realistic.

Another serious hurdle is the financial burden that we will face when her income is removed from our household. We moved into the house and the neighborhood that we did because we needed room for my Mom. We love it here, now, and more over, moving would be a huge expense all at once. In order to pay the rent, I need an income to replace what we are loosing. More than just making up that income, finding a regular job will mean paying for daycare, as well as a few other expenses we have been able to avoid thanks to me being home, like not absolutely needing a second car so far.

I am facing a serious dilemma: I cannot continue to grow the I Am UU project that I have come to love, and will likely have to scale it back quite a bit if I have to find a regular job.  I will not be able to continue to give what I have come to think of as the best of me. I fight my demons now by knowing that what I am doing matters to a lot of people, and matters a great deal to some.

So, this is me, begging. Help me save my family AND the one accomplishment outside my family that I am truly proud of. Help me do the right thing for my mother without doing the wrong thing for myself. Help me find a way to support my ministry, or to find a paying gig with similar benefit to the world. I put this out there to the universe, because I need all the help I can get.

Faitify, an all UU crowd funding site, has launched, and I am hopeful that it will change the way that Unitarian Universalist think about funding, because the 1st report on GA from UU World clearly shows that we need to. Sadly, Faitify is set up for goal-oriented projects needing one large push to get started or to move to the next level.

I would love to have the relative security of people pledging small monthly gifts via Patreon, but will gladly accept gifts through Square Cash (sign up now and they’ll give you a dollar!). As the only designer on the I Am UU team so far, I also get some money from the purchases on Cafe Press, though it is a very small percentage (on purpose; I want people to have these things to wear). I want to keep this ministry going. I want to honor the trust that these thousands of people have given me by choosing to read, comment on, and share this content. I want to keep reaching people, because I know that I have helped people find Unitarian Universalism through this work, both as new visitors and as UUs who needed a push to deepen their connection. I need something like that to be proud of in my life.

I am not a feminist, but you can call me that if you want to.

That’s right: I rarely refer to myself as a feminist. I don’t like the term. I don’t think it applies to me. This frustrates my significant other at times, and so I thought I might share my thoughts, because others might find them equally maddening, and that is good for page hits. Let me explain further with a comparison:

I am not gay, transgendered, or otherwise “Queer”. I don’t cal myself a part of the LGBT community, though I fully support their right to be heard and included and their civil rights. I do not have their experiences, and I cannot rightly claim to be one of them. I mess up all the time when talking about the issues of homosexuals, including the fact that many of them now dislike the term “homosexual”. I certainly mess up when speaking about and with transgendered persons and it is nearly impossible to speak about the gender-nonbinary without an introductory lesson in each person’s preferred lexicon.

I am, likewise, uncomfortable calling myself a feminist. I support equality and representation and empowerment, but I do not have the personal experience with discrimination to draw from. I do not have a connection with “feminism” that runs any deeper than my connection with the LGBTQ community: I love these people, and I support them, but it feels wrong to claim to be a part of their struggle. I am an ally for equality and justice, but that is the only label I am comfortable with. It is not that I am against feminism, or even just the word; it just doesn’t speak to who I am or what I am for.

I am an ally for all those people who need to be heard and who need to be treated better. I am strongly against gender bias, and actually against the concept of binary gender even as I am very happy and comfortable as a man. I want my penis to matter less in other people’s valuation of me than what I give back to the world. I want that for everyone no matter what their biology, how they dress, or how they identify. If you think that makes me a feminist, then so be it. I don’t call myself by that term except when it must be defended against people who use it as a slur.

To the School Board (any of them)

This post is an open letter to all school boards and administrators, but it was written in repsonceto this post about Strasburg, Colorado by author John Green over on his Tumblr.

I have read that there are some members of your community who have registered complaints that certain books currently being used to educate your teenaged students are “profane, pornographic, violent, criminal, crass, crude, vile, and will result in the irreparable erosion of my students’ moral character.” I am familiar with most of these books, and with the broader world. I counter their claims by saying that the world is profane, pornographic, violent, criminal, crass, crude, and vile, and that we need young adults who are prepared for that. We need them to learn empathy and problem solving. We need them to be aware of the struggles of others and to be able to imagine the thoughts of people who have lead very different lives. That is what fiction can do for us.

We can only protect children for so long. That time is better spent preparing them to be adults. We can give them books full of bad words and bad decisions, and offer a safe place to talk about how those choices effect the outcomes. We can show them young people involved in adult situations, and if those situations are written well, as in “Go Ask Alice” and “The Fault in Our Stars”, our children can learn to make better choices while at the same time learning empathy for those to whom life has been less kind.

There are bad books written for young adults. There are good books which were not written for young adults. Don’t let the content be the primary thing on which you judge them. Look at the language, the style, the overall theme, and determine if there is something in them that your students can learn from. We don’t learn unless we are exposed to new ideas. We aren’t even able to judge our values if they are never questioned. If you want your students to be able to defend the values you hope to instill, then you have to train them in that defense, and this can only be done by challenging those values in safe, structured environments, like the classroom of a dedicated teacher.

Please consider the value that comes from bringing the big, crude, profane world to your children on your own terms before they are let loose into it. We don’t teach kindergartners about witches and wolves anymore. We shelter our kids far too long. As a member of Generation X, I can tell you that the tendency to sterilize fair tales and choose impotent novels has set up a lot of young adults for failure. They don’t know how to make the tough choices. No one taught them how to have emotionally healthy relationships or to defend their ideas and values in a world where you have to stand for something.

Children need fiction. They need stories that challenge them and ask them to look at the world very differently. They need to learn from the mistakes of others, or they will have to go out and make those mistakes themselves.

Thank you for your time.
Thomas Earthman

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Non-Proselytizing Evangelism and the Heart of the Church

Earthman:

The post links to a PDF that is worth opening. It says a lot about the difference between Evangelism and Proselytizing from both a liberal and a conservative point of view. A favorite section:
“When the Church changed from movement to religion, evangelism changed with it. Until that time the idea of evangelism as converting people to a new religion simply did not exist. In fact, the word ‘evangelism’ does not exist in Scripture, though the word ‘evangel/evangelist’ does. In the general culture, an evangelist was literally ‘a bearer of good news.’ “

Originally posted on Paradoxical Thoughts:

Non-Proselytizing Evangelism: Returning to the Roots of Anglican-Episcopal Tradition and the Incarnational Heart of Christianity (PDF)

Rumor-EvangelizeWhen I broach the subject of evangelism to members of my own Anglican-Episcopal tradition, I get two distinct kinds of responses, depending on whether the hearers are conservative or liberal in their theology. Conservatives Anglicans, while a distinct minority in the denomination, are pretty gung-ho on the evangelism thing. They make jokes like, “to most Episcopalians evangelism is a “four-letter word,” and try to encourage the rest of us to get out there and start making converts for Christ.  Liberal (and even moderate) Anglicans, on the other hand, tend to be rather uncomfortable with the whole idea of evangelism. Oddly enough, they tell the same evangelism jokes as conservative but they sound a bit more nervous when they do, because to them it really does feel like a four-letter word.

Several years ago, when…

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Everyone else is doing it: Logo edition

This is a short post with my fairly unrefined thoughts on the new UA Logo.

Firstly, it is the corporate logo of the national organization. I like it less than the current logo, which I like less than the previous one. It feels like we are visually moving further from the Universalists, which is where our core message is these days. I do appreciate that it looks less… forced than the last logo, which seemed like someone was told to take the Flaming Chalice and Circles and make it look “clean”. It wasn’t at all inspiring to me. This one isn’t either, but it at least looks like this was designed from the start to look like a logo, rather than taking the existing image and making it look corporate. It isn’t moving, but it is eye-catching.

I wish it looked more like a chalice (I see a torch) and the circle was our nod to the Universalists old image, and I will miss it. I do like the font, and I like it in red, though I am not sure how I feel about the fading color gradient. It was pointed out, and I cannot now ignore, that it looks rather like a tongue.

There has been much made that this is just the first release in a wave of new outreach. We are targeting the millennial generation and those who have never been part of a religion before, to tell them how we are different. That is a good thing. They need to be told, and I’ve devoted a LOT of my time over the last few years to trying to get the word out. I am eager to see what else they have planned. I hope it is more inspiring than this image is.

Finally, though, I worry about the text. Not the font, but the actual words. It says “Unitarian Universalist Association” down at the bottom. That, to me, misses the mark in one very real way, and one that is complete fantasy. First, the organization that this new image represents is the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. That last part matters. The UUA is not the leading end of Unitarian Universalism. Our religion starts in the hearts of the individual, is shaped in the congregations, is mobilized by the covenant between the congregations, and the UUA is there to moderate that covenant. Without those two final words, we miss the chance to tell people that their involvement at the congregational level is the driving force behind Unitarian Universalism. We miss the chance to make it clear that our congregations each have their own way of doing worship, and just because you didn’t like one 5 years ago shouldn’t stop you from visiting another, or even the same one again, because they are each empowered to find their own tone and tempo, and to change it as needed.

The other thing that I wish they had spent energy and money on, which they have no real power to do (as outlined in the last thought) is to look at the real hurdle we face in communicating who we are. The real albatross is that name; those two long, technical sounding, non-descriptive words. What does “Unitarian Universalist” mean to us at this point? We need to either take the time to define that term, or to come up with a new name that can mean something to the movement we’ve become. It may take some time before we can find words that fit well enough to please people, but maybe that would have been a better use of resources if our goal is being approachable and inviting.

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