Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Magpies, Parrots, Flickers, and Fathers - All God's Children Grieve


This past week an article appeared about magpies grieving
for their dead Mail OnLine I don't know if anyone can say what emotions
another species is experiencing, let alone another of our own species,
human.  By studying avian behavior,
however, it does seem to me that birds do experience emotion, and part of those
emotions may include sadness, confusion, and loneliness. When working as an
avian veterinarian, I've seen parrots whose mates have died going into
"mourning" by being quiet, still, and refusing to eat for a day or
longer.  I imagine that bird brains, like
our own, need to rewire after losing another individual that was so much a part
of a social, cultural, and neural network. 
This liminal time we humans know as grieving.

Once when a teenager 
I saw a Northern Flicker grieving. 
I was a teenager on an errand with my father driving when the car in
front of us struck a flicker.  The mate
that had been flying ahead, turned, and flew back to the ground to stand by his
companion.  My father stopped the car to
see if there was anything we could do.  There wasn't. 
Her beauty was now stilled.   We could not believe that the male  bird did not fly away as we approached, his
quiet stillness beyond words.  I could
never really guess what my father was thinking or feeling, he being  rather stoic and undemonstrative.  On this occasion he had tears trailing down
his face to see such sadness and loss, echoed in his own heart I do believe.

I never asked him what the dead bird meant to him, or the
loyalty of her mate.  I did not ask the surviving
flicker either.  Furthermore, science and
cognitive ethology may never answer what magpies or parrots experience.   But whatever other experience, I do believe
that emotions are the substance that makes up interspecies communion that sounds
along the ages as echoes of loss and joy in our hearts.


 Norther Flicker

Monday, October 12, 2009

Speciesist Reporting in Gainesville Sun


The confluence of articles on the front page of the "Local
and State" section of the Gainesville Sun October 11th, 2009 tells us much
about humanity. The news portrayed how we care for and admire plants, bats , and
dogs, and also our own species as we muddle through our health care reform
attempts.  Embedded on this page though
were children chasing a pig, as intelligent and feeling as the dog, and a man
cooking pigs and chickens, who feel, suffer, and have inherent worth and
dignity comparable to the other species mentioned.   We are a remarkable species in how much we
can care for those unlike us, and our ability to form relationships and see
beauty around us is an incredible resource to enrich our lives and other beings
on this planet.  It is a resource that is
underused and undervalued.  My dream for
the beloved community of all species is that we might grow our inclinations of concern
and compassion in a more consistent and thoughtful fashion.   I 
mourn that we do not examine our speciesist views that assign
more value to some species, and hence treat other species with less respect.  I lament not just the immense suffering of
other species, but of our own.  When we
treat others as objects and not as beautiful beings we live in denial that we
make tragic choices in our lives that negatively and painfully impact other
species, environments, and human communities. 
Because of this denial we perpetuate the misconceived notion that the
desires of the powerful  naturally trump
the flourishing of the less powerful, and this hurts us all.  For deep down, I believe that we all long for
a beautiful world of peace and health for everyone, and if we can live according
to these values, we would find greater joy and satisfaction.

(shortened version of this appeared as a letter to the editor 


Friday, October 2, 2009

The Downside of Spirituality - Guest Minister Rev. Meredith Garmon

My cominister Rev. Meredith Garmon delivered this sermon on September 27, 2009 at the Unitarian Univeralist Fellowship of Gainesville (audio below for listening or for downloading.  Written manuscript available upon request or for UUFG members on the website:  UUFG).  I followed his sermon with some spontaneous comments; the written excerpt follows below.

    For me the "downside of spirituality" is that our various practices often do not tell us how to deal with the pain, hurt, and suffering that exists in the  world.  If spirituality means we are to open our hearts and minds to all that is, this means that we must make meaning not just of beauty, but of tragedy, and the tragic choices each of us makes, or that our communties and species makes.  How do we do this?

    I got a glimpse how one person answers this this past weekend.  I had the honor to officiate a godparenting ceremony outdoors at Payne's Prairie State Park. Before the ceremony began a park ranger walked up with a whip on his belt, "to control gators" he replied when asked about it's function.  He watched the ceremony and at the end he said:

   "I don't know if your bible is my bible. But my bible says 'to walk circumspectly.' Out here at night walking around under the stars you never know what is around the corner - lizards, snakes, gators, bison, horses, feral pigs.  There is much that can harm you and you've got to be careful.  I mean, I don't think we can stop what's coming, the bad stuff, but we can walk carefully to ward off some of it.  And as we go, we walk under those beautiful stars."

   So maybe spirituality helps us walk open to beauty and to tragedy, and my guess is that there is so much beauty that it might just be harder to make meaning of the incredible beauty than the immense tragedy." 

    How do you hold the pain? 

    Is it worth trying to grow your awareness of interconnection, to both beauty and tragedy when you can't stop the tragedy?

    How can you grow your sense of interconnection and meaning with others?


Download Downside of Spirituality


(Payne's Prairie)