shaktinah's blog

The Social (In)Justice of Thermostat Settings

San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area experienced an historic heatwave this weekend, with recorded temperatures in the city exceeding 100 degrees two days in a row. To give you some context, up until this week there had only been ten 100 degree or more days since 1904. That's only ten 100 degree or more days in 113 years. Because San Francisco so rarely gets hot, most houses do not have air conditioning. In the surrounding areas, temps average 10-20 degrees higher so some homes do have AC while others do not.

The thing is, air conditioning requires power. And so long as our energy comes from fossil fuels, running the AC burns more fossil fuels, which increases global warming, which results in hotter temperatures, which causes more people and businesses to run air-conditioners, which use more fossil fuels, which will make the temps even hotter....

Thriving In Difficult Times

When Mom was diagnosed with a virulent cancer in 2009, I took a leave from my job with the UUA in DC to come back to San Francisco where my parents still lived, and watched helplessly while the cancer tortured and killed her over the course of seven weeks.

Shortly after the funeral I was weeding the yard, and I noticed that a plant was growing from underneath the building. Somehow, against the odds, a seed had landed through one of the small holes of a ventilation grate, taken root under what I imagine are not hospitable conditions, and then sent a stalk back through the grate to reach the life-giving sunlight.

Revisiting Ethics 101

When I was in college I double-majored in neurobiology and cognitive psychology, which meant the vast majority of my classes were in or related to those areas. Berkeley required me to take a few humanities courses in the hopes that they would make me a well-rounded person, but the young, earnest me filled those breadth requirements with classes on Logic, "Eastern Philosophy," and Art (painting). I wanted all my classes to be "useful." Utilitarian, if you will. Bottom line, I did not have a liberal arts education.[1]

The Pure Land on Earth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I've mentioned before that my family is what I call Chinese Buddhist - a mixture of Zen, Pure Land, and indigenous traditions. Most of you likely know about Zen, but you might not have heard of Pure Land.

The ultimate goal is still nirvana, as it is with all Buddhism, but Pure Land adherents believe in the existence of a Western paradise, created by the beneficence of the Amitabha Buddha. If one is fortunate enough to be reborn into this place of bliss, free from the distractions of suffering, one will easily attain nirvana. And one becomes so fortunate by praying to Amitabha for help. In his compassion for our suffering, he intervenes when we would not have made it by ourselves. One could call it grace.

Left-Wing Credentials

I have a lot of pet peeves, I know. I’m also aware that often times the things that peeve us do so because they remind us of something we don’t like about ourselves.

One of my pet peeves is that every time there is a story about a conservative who has had a change of heart because of personal experience — whether it’s someone who initially opposed Obamacare until they got sick, or someone who was trans/homophobic until they learned their child is trans/gay — every time there is a story like that, a lefty inevitably snarks about how the person should have known better in the first place.

Hope for Pessimists

When the worship associates met to decide the speaking schedule, I at first tried to avoid January, which by now you should know has been about “hope.” That is, until I remembered that the theme for February is “love.”

You see, whether it’s due to living with recurring depression or being the child of Chinese immigrants traumatized by war (and those two things may be related), I find it difficult to express positive sentiments, and to believe them when expressed by others. In our house, we never talked about “love.” And while I’m not exactly pessimistic, I do tend to be suspicious when things seem too easy. The values our parents emphasized were things like duty, responsibility, and sacrifice. Words that sound a lot less positive than love and hope. In fact, they sound and often feel like a burden. But there is a connection. I knew my parents loved me, and what they hoped for their children, not by what they said but what they did.

"A New King"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Season of Wonder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you look in the dictionary, there are two uses of the word “wonder.” The first meaning curiosity, as in “I wonder how that works.” And the second meaning awe, as in “They gazed in wonder at the star(s).” The two meanings feel different to me. When we wonder about something, there is the sense – whether it’s true or not – that we can use observation and reason to eventually discover the answer. When we wonder at something - marvel, behold in awe - there is more the sense that this is something so grand, so amazing, that all we can do is experience it. Yet the two definitions of wonder are clearly related; both start with the recognition of not knowing. As I thought about it, I realized that the times when I do not know - whether it’s curiosity or awe - are the times I feel most alive; and that I’ve pursued that feeling throughout my life.

It Matters Where We Came From

Between my serving as worship associate on this Sunday and helping to create the accompanying communal altar for the congregation, I’ve been thinking about Day of the Dead and ancestors a lot these past few days. The other night while Dad was watching the Warrior game, a commercial for a beer came on - Modelo Especial. The commercial ended with “It doesn’t matter where you came from; It matters what you’re made of.” And I thought to myself, “Wow, they’re using a uniquely USAmerican perspective to sell a Mexican beer.” Because Day of the Dead, or Dia de Muertos, is a recognition that it does matter where we came from, that what we’re made of is in large part due to where we came from.

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