Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Some Thoughts About the Bishop Election

All, I this is the text of an e-mail I sent to Maureen, David and Rick --our representatives in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington convention some days ago. For those of you who read this blog and are not Episcopalians, please try to understand the primary audience for this missive -- and the others on this topic.

Here's the e-mail:

I have been thinking about the upcoming bishop election. We do have five excellent candidates. I will discuss some of my thoughts about each in alphabetical order by last name.

Ronald Abrams has an interesting history. He's a native New Yorker who has spent much of his career in the South -- including one stint where he had significant dealings with the military. I was impressed with the fact that, while he sees value in the new technologies for communications, he thinks that personal contact is more important. You might be surprised, but I agree with him on that. You would not believe what I have read on the Internet -- and from people who don't come off as nuts as soon as you meet them. We are still learning how to communicate decently over electronic devices. Remember in 1811 the fastest way to get a message from New York City to Philadelphia was via men on horseback and an overnight stop in Trenton, N.J. People had more time to think back then. Our communications technologies may have evolved -- but we humans have not. Abrams came off as friendly and quite interested in strengthening our church with some good ideas on how to make this happen. Reaching out to the young especially with things like Theology Pubs has real merit. Getting our youth to think about their futures and our church is also a good idea.

Mariann Budde has had significant experience in Minnesota with turning around parishes that had fallen on hard times. I was very interested when she mentioned that the Episcopal Church does not have any sort of "brand" to the general public. We can change that. She seems aware of the problems with Washington National Cathedral -- possibly the church that is most identified with the Episcopal Church. We need a strong, healthy cathedral Given her interests, knowledge and overall energy, I think she would do well in bringing the cathedral back to health.

Let me interject a note about our lack of public attention at this point. I will cite one recent example here in Maryland. Former Governor William Donald Shaefer died in April. The man was not only respected as a great governor and before that mayor of Baltimore, but the man was positively loved. "He Cared." is on the front cover of the program of the celebration of his life. I am rather well informed about Maryland politics. Besides the Democratic Party, I am on the Episcopal Public Policy Network. When did I learn Shaefer was an Episcopalian? When I read his obituary. That is appalling.

Samuel Candler is a real Southerner -- but a very open minded one. He's led large churches that are doing well in this world. He seems able to communicate well with a wide variety of people. We need people such as him. I was quite impressed that he responded to my request for a joke with one that was funny. Later on we had a chance encounter during which he spoke appreciatively about my request. He recognized what I was getting at by making such an unusual request. In general he seems quite prepared to handle the real challenges of being Bishop of Washington, leading Episcopalians, interacting with politicians and the general public.

Jane Gould is originally from this area. I wonder if, for some reason, she is seeking to return. Boston is a fine area, but she might miss things about DC. I will note, though, that this area and diocese is sufficiently attractive in so many ways I won't hold the fact that she would be returning to the diocese of her youth against her. In some ways that makes her a strong candidate. I was very impressed that she manages to be both the priest that leads a quite multicultural parish and be Episcopal Chaplain at MIT, Tending to the spiritual needs of engineers and scientists who are willing to participate in a religion is quite a challenge.

John Harmon is a priest in our diocese. He. along with Jane Gould, probably understands our diocese best at present. He's also described himself as a product of Episcopalian education. He knows his way around DC politics -- both local and national. While he describes himself as a life long Episcopalian, his accent gave me the idea that he was born outside of the U.S. and spent some time living there. I could be wrong, of course. He is sharp and aware of both the challenges and opportunities we have with our church.

I think St. Mark's will be able to work well with any of these candidates. This is my first time actually paying attention to the internal politics of the Episcopal Church, at least regarding election of a bishop. I may even be able to rank the candidates in my eyes before the election. Yes, in one sense I am a good Episcopalian in that I have been a cradle Episcopalian born to cradle Episcopalians. Now I am starting to pay attention about the way things currently work in our diocese. I think I have much to learn. I also suspect I have much to offer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mensa and the Larger World

This started life as a column for the local Mensa newsletter. I happen to be Member at Large for Metro Washington Mensa. Our group covers Washington, DC, the inner suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, but part of the group extends out to West Virginia. Believe it or not, you can reach West Virginia in a few hours of driving. OK, maybe not at rush hour. This column might have some interest for people even in other parts of the world.

Here's the column -- unedited.

During my time as Member at Large – and even before –I've participated a bit in discussions about Mensa, especially our Metro Washington section, and the larger world. Some of us have noticed that we don't seem to have as many Saturday evening parties as we once did. Other activities have scaled back. People we used to see often and know well we now see rarely or not at all.

Some of these things can be considered normal. Some bright young people join Mensa in hopes of finding a similarly bright mate. Even some older people become active in Mensa for similar reasons. Just because you are, for example, over 70, does not mean you have completely lost interest in romance, for example (using a gentle term). The actor Tony Randall had, by all reports, a long happy marriage with his first wife. She was not able to have children. She died. What did Tony do? He eventually remarried to a woman 50 years younger than him. He became a father for the first time at 75 – yes, 75. In any event, some of the people who join Mensa for such reasons will become less active with the larger group after having achieved their goal. There are other social reasons for joining Mensa that, once the need has been met, may lead to less activity in the larger group.

There are other things at work as well. Some times an organization is born and grows to be large and active, but then people drift away for other activities. People may join a ski club in their 20s or 30s, but move on to other kinds of groups (e.g., a sailing club) in their 40s and 50s. A teenager may join a model rocket club but move on to a professional society by the time they are 30. People in Mensa could drift off to a local astronomy club, an arts organization, a fraternal organization such as the Elks, and so forth. When things like this happen, the leadership of the organization in decline – as well as the active membership – may want to learn why such things are happening and, if they truly value the organization, work on changes that will make the organization healthy again.

Today, however, there are factors at work that are affecting too many independent groups. It doesn't seem to matter whether the group is a civic organization such as Rotary, a social organization such as Mensa, or even various religions. Membership and activity are declining in too many places.

Let's look at the lives of our members.

I have in my role as Member at Large attended both Gen X and Gen Y events. Gen Y people have sometimes raised the point that they are very busy – too busy. Demands of work or school or both are very high. Too many young people don't even have enough time for a good night's sleep. The organizations for which they work want not just 40 hours/week, but 60, 70, 80 – and sometimes even more. That kind of schedule crowds out other kinds of things. Recently in a Rutgers alumni magazine I read how young graduate students would put in the long hours in the library and laboratory working to advance science – and also some time at a second job to bring in some needed money. This isn't healthy for those young people or the larger world. It isn't even healthy for the school that demands such sacrifices. People get tired from too much work. They make mistakes . They fail to notice important things. There are many reasons why people used to work only 40 hours/week.

Some of our older members face different kinds of challenges. Large numbers of people in their 50s are losing their jobs. Some have put the number as high as 40%. – and that was before the economy got so bad. People in their 50s used to have some sort of financial freedom. They'd saved their entire lives. Their children were grown and out on their own. Between loss of work and helping children with bills from their schooling, a good bit of that financial freedom has been lost. When someone goes from traveling to the Annual Gathering, favorite Regional Gatherings – or trips to Europe – to worrying about finding odd jobs to put food on the table, don't expect nearly as much social activity during remaining free time – even if it very low cost. This doesn't even consider what such a life does to free time.

What can we do about this kind of thing? Some of you know I am active in a variety of groups. Last month I wrote about St. Mark's. Some of you have seen my art on display in various galleries and other exhibit spaces (think Artomatic). I've occasionally brought up professional groups with a technical focus. Then there is political activity. I know I am not the only MWM member active in politics. Mensans are brighter than most people. Most of us are better educated as well. We can speak up in public forums better than most people – at least quite of few of us can.

We can also learn more about this social problem. One place to start is Take Back Your Time, an organization with a website at

That's enough for now. I am quite willing to discuss this and related things at any of our events.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Bit About Myself and the Ways I Think and Act

Every so often I will post something here that is more about myself than some topic in the larger world. This is one of those posts. I do this to help people understand my perspective on the world on which we live.

Two years ago I wrote a posting titled An Interesting Side Comment by Michael Griffin, The point of that post was to get people -- especially engineers and scientists -- to think about the way they worked and conducted their lives and the impact such things had on their work. It can be hard to convince some people that they will accomplish more and produce better results if they go home and get some rest. Some people want to believe that the person who spends 80 hours/week at work is far more committed and is accomplishing far more than the person who works only 40 hours/week. Yes, for a short stretch, you can put in a great number of hours -- but over the long haul you cannot.

That posting got a few comments on the blog. What is interesting are some of the criticisms I received in person. People told me the piece was more about myself than anything else. I did use myself as an example of an outlier and compared myself to people who were even more outliers than I was to help illustrate the phenomenon. If you read the piece, though, you will note that I cite books that I have read as well as other people describing the situation in various ways. I don't think the piece is about myself. The people who challenged my piece all had some professional commitment to aerospace in general and NASA in particular. Currently I am on the outs with these people. They even sent me a letter banning me from their meetings. I did go to one of their luncheons -- and was given a warm welcome by some of the people there. I wasn't chased away. Perhaps my status has not been communicated to all -- even all in leadership positions.

In some ways I am an advocate of change in society. One change I would particularly like to see is more time for rest. More rest makes learning new things easier. Get a teenager up at 4 AM for ice hockey practice and that teenager will have much greater difficulty learning something like calculus or, even worse, quantum physics. Let's not even consider dating.

People who are under attack of some kind are most interested in getting some peace. One way some people choose is simply to surrender to the people attacking them. That isn't all that healthy, though. What is more likely to happen is said people will become even more entrenched in the ways they think and act. That's why I normally try to establish friendly, respectful relationships with said people. Sometimes that approach works. I'm also willing to change my views sometimes. I don't claim to be some sort of godlike figure who is always right. I've made too many mistakes in my own life.

One way I try to communicate my ideas is by bringing up something surprising in a hopefully friendly way. Telling a conservative Roman Catholic that they share one belief with the most liberal of Episcopalians can get their attention. Telling these people that they, like the most liberal of Episcopalians, approve of men and women getting married and having children, surprises them. Who on earth would disapprove of such a thing? Informing them that work life balance for too many young people in tech fields essentially makes marriage and family nearly impossible gets their attention.

I will say I am under attack in some ways. I have been all my life a member of the American middle class. In recent decades people such as myself have been put under some very severe attacks. 40% -- perhaps more -- of people in their 50s are being fired out of their jobs. Most lose practically everything they have saved up in their lives. I'm not quite as bad off as that, but that is probably because of a more frugal than most lifestyle. Still, though, I can see ways that this strain has shaped me. One way involves religion. I and my family has been Episcopalian or Anglican for centuries. This is an important part of my being. 20 years ago I was friendly to just about anyone, regardless of religious belief. Now I have to watch myself that I do not react negatively to the views of somebody else just based upon religious differences. That;s just one example.

Enough for now. I don't want to bore people too much.