Periodically you see posted signs with large type, bolded lettering at the top: NOTICE! Sometimes this lettering is underlined or italicized in an attempt to raise it from mere prominence to attention-grabbing radiance. The sign writer seems to believe that this simple written command will seduce its reader into paying extra attention to the message. Every now and then it even works; but when it does, commanding attention is the least of the posting. There is usually also an action component. NOTICE: report finding lost items to campus police. NOTICE: The Astronomy Club is looking for new members, inquire with ______ (president) or _______ (faculty advisor).

Paying attention to things around you is a good idea in general. But understanding the implications of what you’re seeing and then ACTING on those implication is even better. Simply “noticing” is not enough. One of the best examples of the difference between noticing a fact and understanding a fact I’ve seen so far is within one of the first few chapters (chapter 4, I think) of Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. The scene I refer to is when Delauney asks Phedre to describe what she’d observed about the carriage and horses she’d just arrived in. She gives a very good description of them and thought herself very observant when Delauney praised her. Then Delauney asks Alcuin (who’d only seen the horse and carriage long enough for Phedre and Delauney to disembark and Delauney to pay the driver) to describe what he’d observed. Instead of describing the physicality of the horses and carriage, he describes that the unmarked carriage meant a livery stable, that matched white horses were rare and thus valuable (so that the stable was probably prosperous), that the driver had the mannerisms of someone country-bred but had been in the city long enough “not to bite the coin given by a gentleman”, and thus it would not be too difficult to trace the coachman if he needed to be questioned.

The more information you have in your mind, the easier and faster it is to do this. Also the ability to make connections between multiple disciplines is a good skill to train. (For instance: The reason why stars are dimmer than our sun follows the same principle why we do not bleed out every time our heart beats.) It’s one reason I love learning. Every time I find a connection between disciplines, I feel like I’ve pulled a gem from a bog. This is what I try to impart in my “running woman” exercise.

I’d been trying to get my students to think in this manner for many years before Kushiel’s Dart was published. I’d been giving my students a simplified example and asking them to come up with possible scenarios for what they see. I start with something like: “You see a woman running. What’s going on?” I usually address newer students first and rarely get anything other than “She’s running from someone.” Occasionally, I get “She’s out exercising.” Given that the “running woman” exercise is done in the context of a martial arts or self-defense class, the answers are understandable. If no one asks clarifying questions, I start adding details: “She’s dressed in slacks and a nice blouse.” There goes the out for a jog explanation.  “She doesn’t look back and her head is up.” Probably not running from someone. And so on. Depending on how quick the students are, I may end with “She has nothing in her hands, but everyone else on the street is carrying a closed umbrella.” If they need something a little more obvious, I throw in “The sky is filled with low, black rainclouds.” So instead of running from danger, she is trying to get home before she gets soaked. Depending on the level of interest and the number of light bulbs I see going off above people’s heads, I take it further into possible habits and thinking patterns.

Unfortunately, this sometimes gets me into trouble. As a very shy extrovert (not really a contradiction), I spend a lot of time around people without directly interacting with them. I also tend to score very high on empathy. Since I tend to think in sensations rather than words, it’s not difficult for me to see someone in distress and get “sympathy pangs”. It’s also very easy for me to get sucked into their problems. This is one reason I’m not a therapist despite many people telling me I have a talent for making people feel comfortable and safe; until I get these responses under conscious control, I would get burned out too fast be of use to anyone. I recently told someone, “If I see someone in distress, I can’t not respond.” As I said, seeing, understand, and responding sometimes gets me into trouble.

Seeing a NOTICE! sign, or posting one, is all well and good, but it is rarely sufficient to the underlying reason why the sign was posted in the first place. A notice sign calls for understanding and action. A paper posted on a bulletin board is usually about a matter simple enough to understand and act upon. But paper notices aren’t the only notice signs out there. Many of those notice signs are hidden beneath other things, and in order to see them you have to understand the implications of what you’re seeing on the surface. “Reading between the lines” is often hard enough in print. Graduating from the two dimensional of text on a page (or screen) to the four dimensional world of life is much harder, but it can be done.

MeMe and UU

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Every now and then, I encounter a situation where my thoughts return to the question of “What is Unitarian Universalism?” The most recent occurred when a conversation I was involved in turned to the topic of one person switching churches. She had moved from a church in a nearby small town to Shoreline. The reason she gave is her previous church had done away with the smaller touchstone groups commonly used in large churches so its members do not feel lost in a crowd. A few more comments were spoken about the purposes and uses of such groups and the topic shifted again as conversations tend to do. I came away from that conversation pondering, not the topic of churches and religion, but the attitudes and assumptions made by the others in the group.

The first is the unsurprising (given where I live) assumption that everyone you meet is Christian. The second is that everyone goes to church. No one asked anyone else, “What church do you go to?” or even “Do you go to church?” From there, my mind wandered a bit and it eventually landed back on the question, “How do I define Unitarian Universalism?”

One of the first things I keep coming back to is, while the words “unitarian” and “universalism” can be defined, Unitarian Universalism can only be described. There is no central creed, though there are principles by which we follow our path. This has caused lots of problems in creating dialog with those of other faiths. Here’s a simplified example conversation I’ve had many times:

Other person: “I believe in Christ the Redeemer. What do you believe in?”

Me: “I believe.”

Other: “Believe in what?”

Me: “I believe.”

You can imagine how frustrating this can be for both sides. I recently came up with two analogies, one for the religion and one for the church.

Members of a UU congregation go through life as though going on a hike with a bunch of friends. No one person experiences the same hike, though they go through the same terrain. One may focus on the trees, one may focus on the creeks they cross, one may focus on the sky or the mountains in the distance. It is not the object of focus, but the hike itself that brings enjoyment.

As for the church itself, think of greeting cards. There are lots of greeting card companies, each with its own type of artwork, its own character of message. I tend to view many churches in this way. “Here is what we offer,” they say, “and here is how we approach life and the divine.” Walking into a UU church is far more likely to be like walking into a crafts store than walking into a Hallmark. “Here is everything you need to make your cards. Try not to tear up other people’s cards to get your materials.”

Does this mean we believe whatever we want? No. Our beliefs follow seven principles we call “basic”. (That doesn’t mean they’re easy.)

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part


What do these have to do with God? Nothing. What do they have to do with religion? They are the boundary markers for how we search for, express, and tie ourselves to that which is beyond ourselves and our total comprehension.



Blogging Will Recommence!

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Now that school has started, I have consistent access to a computer and the internet. Blogging will recommence.

This semester looks a bit tough: lots of labs, research, etc. In an attempt to consolidate time and effort, I will probably use my “Maunderings” blog as a study session. Looking ahead at possible topic categories in physiology, exercise program design, exercise prescription, and fitness in general, plus my usual potpourri of topics.

Despite the challenging course I’ve plotted, I’m looking forward to the semester. My high school self would be shocked to hear me say this, but I really enjoy school. I love learning. I love making connections. It’s a wonderful world of mental Legos. I can build random constructs that look beautiful but fall apart at a tap. I can build strong frameworks on which I can base entire libraries of ideas. I can build modules that themselves become building blocks for other structures. It’s an infinite Louvre of possibilities, of art, of design, of growth, of hope.