Autumn 2020: Responsibility and Wonder; by Starstuff, Contemplating

Wonder and responsibility speak to me as we enter fall.  As Naturalistic Pagans, our focus is on this real world – giving us both the awe of the world we live in and the commitment to build a better world to help future generations.    My son, asking about the morning mist around a heron, reminds me of both.

Nature Speaks to us!

We are part of the natural world – just as “natural” as a tree or waterfall.  We cycle atoms through ourselves and the rest of our enormous family tree of life on Earth, enmeshed in a web of existence born of supernovae and stellar furnaces.  The stunning wonder around us brings us joy, humility, transcendence, and so much more.  It can also, sometimes, speak to us.  Not literally, of course, but metaphorically, in our rituals, observances, and often unexpectedly at any time during our lives.  Many of these happen when some small part our incredible world sparks a realization in our minds, bringing out an important thought which we had previously had shadowy glimpses of, but which now jumps to the front of our awareness.

These powerful moments of insight are a central part of my spirituality – a living, empowering stream of motivation that my childhood religion lacked.  Near the Equinox, the mist spoke to me about our vital responsibility to this Earth which we are part of.  As alluded to in the Equinox announcement, this happened when my son and I were watching a heron hunting in the mist on a lake.  (Heron get much of their food by silently, motionlessly standing over the water, and spearing fish with a blindly rapid strike of their sharp beak.  Hunting? Fishing?  I guess it’s both.)
Mesmerized by the scene, we watched until, in a flash of speed, the heron struck down at a fish in the water.  As it launched from the water and flew back through the mist, my son asked quietly “why is there so much mist only in the morning?”.  I explained why – pointing out that not only is this a morning event, but that the mist is most likely in the late summer and early fall – a special celebration of the Equinox!  I go through the details of the mist formation later in this post.

For the Future

I realized that like so much else, this understanding makes the grandeur of the mist so much more vivid – so much deeper than just “oh, that’s a cool thing to see”.  I hoped that this was the case with him as well.  I hoped that this was helping his life, both the appreciation of our world, of the wildlife, and because understanding helps one feel more able to affect one’s own life.  But why? For many of us (parents or not), we feel better knowing we are helping future generations like this.

I also realized that this was, at it’s core, very similar to another activity I am spending time on.  This year, part of my political action has been to volunteer to help the Biden campaign.  With Naturalistic Paganism (and indeed, any naturalistic religion) focused on this real world, political action is an important part of our spirituality for many of us.  For me, knowing I’m helping future generations makes this a fulfilling, enjoyable activity, even if the work at the time is, well, work.  My volunteer action has been phone bank calling – yes, that unexpected call from a political party person could be me!  I had realized that each minute I spent facebook arguing with Trumpsters (who aren’t going to change their minds) was a minute stolen from actually helping defeat Trump’s re-election.  I had never done phone bank calling before.  It’s great!  It’s really making a difference and a lot less maddening too!  Try it out – we need your help, especially now that RGB has died.  With voting already going on in many states, and millions of votes already cast (see the schedule at right), it’s important to jump in now if you can – or help in other ways.  Here is the link for you to help.  Also, there are additional links and resources in my earlier post about this election, here.

Why “No Politics Here” is Already Political

One of the more subtle, but still powerful, ways that political positions are enforced is through avoiding “politics” by those who oppose change (and especially by shutting down we who point out the improvements needed).  This is covered well in John Halstead’s excellent post about this on Gods & Radicals.

From his facebook post summary:

Politics is about power: who gets to use it, when, and how. When, like me, you belong to the group which has access to power–i.e., White people–then it may seem like there can be politics-free zones. But for people of color, there is no place that is free of politics, because everywhere they go, they are being told implicitly, if not explicitly, that they do not belong, that they do not have the same rights as Whites, that the exercise of power over them right and justified and even sanctioned by divinity. What I as a White person perceive as politically neutral spaces are in fact highly adversarial spaces for people who do not look like me.
At all times, we are either working to reform these power relationships or we are reinforcing the status quo by our passivity. You’re either doing one or the other. There’s no escaping it. And if you’re not doing it consciously, then it’s happening tacitly. And this applies to religious spaces too. The church & state/religion & politics separation is a myth, and it is one which perpetuates White supremacy (as well as patriarchy, heteronormativity, etc.)

This is why those who say “I don’t get involved in politics” or “I’m not political” are, in fact, political, and quite “involved in politics” – usually to enforce current privilege (be that white, male, Christian, straight, etc.).

As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel pointed out:On neutrality or rather..,.cowardice. I quoted Elie Wiesel. Photo source: http://tinyurl.com/6od6joo | Seeing quotes, Funny phrases, Me quotes

  “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”

Many others, including Martin Luther King, Jr., have also echoed this reality.  There are many other ways that this realization affects our lives and the controversies and discussions of our current political landscape.

Ignoring Voting Impact Supports Privilege for the Same Reasons

Ignoring the real impact of one’s vote (such as by voting 3rd party “protest votes” in narrow elections or “boycotting the vote” because none of the candidates are perfect) works the same way.  The easiest way to see this is to re-read the section above, with 3rd party “protest” voters in mind, and see how clearly these are the same issue.
To be clear – I fully support voting 3rd party in some cases – such as when the 3rd party has a real chance of winning, or when the race between the two main parties is nowhere near close (like, say, in Wyoming or California).  Similarly, I fully support a vibrant primary, and nearly always pledge to support the winner even if my favorite candidate doesn’t win.  I also hope to see the day when this very question is rendered moot by the implementation of ranked-choice voting, which solves this problem.
But I don’t, at all, support the outright lie that the two major parties are “the same”.  Anyone with any knowledge of history and the part’s platforms can see that on nearly every issue – women’s health, LGBTQ rights, racism, Christian dominionism/privilege, BLM, minimum wage, taxation, pollution, climate change, and so many more – they are practically night and day.  And that’s in addition to areas like corruption, nepotism, lying to the public, the Republican war on science, and so on.

r/Enough_Sanders_Spam - Gotta love the extreme privilege coming from people who claim to be aware of their privilege

All of this is not new.  It’s been pointed out again and again, and including by people in 2016.  Since then, the incredible damage caused by the Trump presidency to all of the areas mentioned above, and more, shows that the impact is even worse than I expected then.  Those progressives who vote in ways that keep people like Trump in power only offer distractions, such as the demographics of those who don’t vote, when of course none of that changes the real impact seen.  In the (hopefully foreseeable) future, when we don’t have over 40% of the voting population intent on implementing the worst sides of all of the issues listed earlier, another party might have a viable chance – but the hard reality is that we are nowhere near that.RBG2

To look at just one example of so many – consider the Supreme Court, highlighted now by the death of a true hero, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  She will likely be replaced by a far-right zealot who considers the goal of a legal career to be “the advancement of God’s Kingdom on Earth”.  We saw that the numbers show that in both 2000 (in Florida) and 2016 (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania), those progressives who voted 3rd party, write-in, or “boycotted” the vote very likely gave the republicans the presidency.  If Gore had won in 2000, then of course Bush wouldn’t have had a second term in 2004.  With that, look at what a huge difference this made in the Supreme Court (which, in a few weeks, will resolve any major election disputes, which Trump is already talking repeatedly about).  This could have been our reality, but instead, a tiny sliver of progressives chose (often unwittingly, I would think) our current Trumpian reality instead.

Yes, I know that alternative histories are always uncertain, and that hindsight is 2020 (ouch, that pun was too close to home).  But as shown by the fact that this point has been raised often in 2000, 2008 and 2016, this is a well known and often supported result.
And it’s even more important with structural reality giving republicans an unfair advantage in all three branches of government.  In the executive branch, the electoral college means that we literally have to get over 52% of the vote to be likely to win the presidency.  In the Judicial branch, as we see in the table at right (yes “right”), the Senate has the actual control over the Supreme Court, and the Senate, by being based on state, is radically biased toward Republicans.  OK, so what about the legislative branch?  As we saw, the Senate is already radically biased toward Republicans, but what about the House of Representatives?  Oh, yeah, that Gerrymandering thing.  This system is much better than anarchy, and can be incrementally improved, but we all have to work to improve it, and not throw up our hands and hurt future generations.  That means being involved, and helping those working to improve the situation who have a reasonable chance of winning.

About that Mist….

At the start of this post, I mentioned the lake mist as a celebration of the Fall Equinox.  Here is why I like to think of it like that.
The visible mist forms in several steps, and the factors needed for mist formation are most common in the fall and late summer here in Michigan.  For the mist to form, rising off from a lake, the water has to be warm (over ~60 degrees F, the warmer the better).  This is so that the water has a high vapor pressure, which is a direct function of the temperature (for nearly any liquid).  OK, so if the water has a high vapor pressure, then a lot of water can evaporate from the surface.  But, water vapor (water in the gas phase) is invisible (that’s why it’s incorrect to say that clouds are “water vapor” – they aren’t – they are instead made up of tiny drops of liquid water).  This already means that mist formation can’t happen much in the first half of the year – the water simply isn’t warm enough for much water to leave the surface.

This also means that the mist can’t form when the air is warm or very dry.  This is because, with water vapor being invisible, you will have nothing to see if the water vapor stays in the air as a gas (water vapor) – no matter how much water evaporates to form water vapor.  The second step is what makes the mist – and for that, the air above the lake has to be cool enough that the water vapor condenses out, forming tiny water droplets – visible mist!

So we need warm water, *and* cool or cold air.  That won’t happen in the spring.  Because the water warms and cools more slowly than the air (both over the year and in the daily cycle), the springtime situation of cool/cold lakewater and warming air is exactly the opposite of what is needed for mist to form.  Similarly, during the daytime, the air is too warm for much mist.  In the evening, the air is still warm, and at night it’s hard to see the mist anyway, hence, mornings are the time to see the mist.

Seasonally, the late summer/early fall is the most likely time to have both warm water and cool air.  So the mist is a Fall Equinox, morning celebration!  Happy Equinox!

 

Starstuff, Contemplating by Jon Cleland Host

We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.

Jon Cleland Host

Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997.  He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature.  He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University.  Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org).  Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality.  He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.

See Starstuff, Contemplating posts.

See all of Dr. Jon Cleland Host’s posts.

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