Teaching About a Post-Scarcity Society in a Unitarian Universalist RE Class

This morning I taught RE (Religious Education…it’s what Unitarian Universalists call our Sunday School) again. I’m one of three people who volunteered at the beginning of the school year to take turns teaching the 6th/7th grade class for the second service. The big theme of the year for this grade is Social Justice, and today my lesson was about Abundance and Scarcity. Although we are provided a prepared lesson outline to teach, we’re at liberty to change it as we see fit for the class. Oddly, there was a little bit of math in there for today, and that just won’t do. I also felt it was a little too slow. What’s a Humanist teaching Sunday School to do? I used Star Trek, of course.

I began the class with the usual chalice lighting and greeting, then talked a bit about water with the group. We were supposed to have a glass of water in the class anyway, but I decided to use it differently. I had a volunteer go and put water the glass, and then we talked about how 663 million people in the world don’t have reliable access to clean, safe drinking water. Unsafe water kills more people each year than war.

That’s pretty bad.

We had a pretty good discussion about water, including the crisis in Flint, Michigan, and then I moved on to something a little lighter. I showed them three clips from episodes of two different Star Trek series involving food replicators. This is where I introduced the idea of a post-scarcity society, but I did so lightly, asking the kids that if they had a food replicator, what they would ask for first.

From there we read an African folktale about a poor old woman ‘stealing’ the aroma of her neighbor’s good food while she ate her simple soup, and then worked on defining what we meant by ‘abundance’ and ‘scarcity.’

All in all, it was a great discussion, and I capped it off with another clip from Star Trek, one in which Captain Picard explains the economics of his day to a woman from the past (from his perspective). A ‘big idea’ of Star Trek is that one day we could have a post-scarcity society. One of the kids suggested that we would overpopulate if there were no limits on resources, but I pointed out that people in more developed nations with access to education and health care tend to have fewer children, not more. The final word I left with the kids was simply that the ultimate goal of social justice work is to promote human flourishing. I could have also mentioned beloved community, but that didn’t occur to me at the time.

The playlist is at the top of this post. Perhaps something here will be of value to other RE/Sunday School teachers or youth workers. 

Scrum: Flipping Pennies & Individual Velocity

Where I work we had a workshop to explain Agile principles, and one of the exercises involved flipping pennies. The group was split in half, with ‘workers’ seated at a long table and ‘managers’ standing behind them. 20 pennies were laid out at one end of the row, and we were told that each worker would flip the coins over, using only their left hand, one-by-one before passing them all down to the next worker in the row. The manager standing behind would track the time of their worker. The results were illuminating.

We did the above first having the 20 passed all at once when complete, then 10 and a time, then five at a time, then one-by-one. We found that individual times for 20, 10, and 5 were roughly the same. However, going flipping each coin and immediately passing it on ended up with workers each taking nearly twice as long in total. Clearly, this last was the worst method, right?

Wrong.

One of the workshop coordinator had been timing the group as a whole all along, and we found that while individual times slowed down, the group as a whole had gone faster. The difference? By the last go-round, passing each coin as it was flipped, wait time was eliminating. Where passing 20 flipped coins at a time took 2 ½ minutes, passing each one as it was flipped took a total of less than a minute for the team.

Some time back I blogged about what a foolish and terrible idea individual velocity is, and how it is not permitted in Agile. Here is a clear illustration of this truth, since if we were going by individual velocity, the fastest method for the team would have been the worst for the individual.

Don’t Panic, It’s Just a Little Fantasy

Before I was 10 my oldest brother had introduced me to the world of role-playing games (RPGs). Although I was only able to play a couple of times, I was hooked. I got copies of The Arcanum and used these with friends to act out our own stories in the woods. Later I bought the Lone Wolf series of game books, up through the Magnakai series. These also fed my imagination, and served as a therapeutic distraction from the stresses I faced as a teenager. After I became evangelical my appreciations of fantasy in general, and RPGs in particular, never wavered. When a classmate at Bible college expressed shock that one of the campers she’d met that summer played Dungeons & Dragons, I kept my mouth shut. In my defence, I was a freshman, and later on I was not so silent.

The video above tells the story of the ‘satanic panic’ of the 80s, when many parents grew alarmed about D&D through wildly exaggerated media reports. I’m glad that for the most part we’re past all that.

By the way, I’ve written a few fanfic short stories set in a world based on The Atlantean Trilogy:

What Is Life Really Like In Lithuania (Video)

When I was in my early teens, way back in the late 1980s, early 1990s, there was no Internet for us common folk. At that time only researches, scientists, and the military made use of the Internet, such as it was. Living on a farm in northeast Missouri, my access to the wider world came through TV, books, and magazines. Fortunately, my parents were big on knowing what was going on in the world, and they could find most countries on the map easily as well. Their influence rubbed off on me. Still, I wanted to know more, and more directly. As a result, I joined a penpal organization that sent my name and address to other kids my age around the world, and they also sent me a list of (different) names. 

Most of the contacts flamed out rather quickly. One that has lingered up to today is with a guy in Lithuania. All those years ago I thought I’d like to visit his country, and that’s still the case. I’d like to visit its historic sites and beautiful forests. I’d also like to see what Vilnius is like.

A Change of Course For This Blog

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For just over 11 years I’ve been blogging regularly. Though I had a makeshift blog on a Tripod site when I was doing mission work in Brazil, I didn’t take this on as a hobby until January 2006. In those days the kids were on MySpace and the adults were blogging. Then Facebook and Twitter came along, followed by a slew of social networking apps. Still, I blog. The subject matter has changed over the years, as I went from sorting out my religious beliefs to moving on to a post-theistic outlook and, at the same time, went through a major career change from ministry to customer service to site production and on into project management. I bought domains, split my blogging into three or four platforms, then merged them together again before migrating to Tumblr just last year. Lately I’ve been thinking about making a change again, though not in terms of blogging/site platform. Instead, I’ve been taking a long hard look at the content itself.

Since just before moving to Tumblr I’ve gone from writing long-form posts to sharing mostly videos and memes. That’s all well and good, but I’m doubtful it’s the best use of the site bearing my name. This week I went through the queued posts and reverted everything to draft that I considered too short, and have been thinking about the message I want to convey here about myself.

Going forward, most posts here will be personal reflections on the things that interest and/or concern me. This includes science, technology, social justice, and religion, as well as lighter or more personal topics like language learning, German longsword, travel, conventions/conferences, geek culture, etc. There will also be posts relevant to my work in Agile project management. Essentially, I want this blog to be a better reflection of who I am and where I am at this point in my life.

Since writing posts – even if only two or three paragraphs long at times – is more labor-intensive than merely sharing a video, meme, or article, don’t expect daily posts. Oh…that might happen, just don’t expect it!

In close, I hope that someone finds this all of interest. In truth, my blogging began back in 1996, when I began posting messages on the hallway-side of my dorm room door. Every so often someone would knock and share a comment. If you are so inclined, feel free to do so – civilly – over on Twitter.

Thanks for reading.