In the Latin, “bene + dictus” connotes the idea of “good word” or “well said.” In English, “benediction” has come to mean good wishes or a blessing.
The 2013 AMS Annual Meeting featured a number of such good words. We’re told that each of us speaks about 10,000-20,000 words every day. Taking the attendance to be some 3000 (despite the travel restrictions facing many federal participants… thanks to all of you who paid part or all of the travel expenses yourselves so that we might hear from you yet again this year!), and multiplying by the 5 days of the meeting, that translates to something like 150-300 million words over the course of the event. Most of these… the overwhelming majority… were “good.”
Encouraging, uplifting, constructive, positive. Advancing the science. Celebrating new technology, and opportunities to serve a user public. The negatives? So negligibly small as to be experimental error. What a privilege to be part of such a positive, supportive community.
Many of these good words were voiced in public, beginning with Mr. T. Boone Pickens’ remarks Sunday evening and those of Alan Thorpe, Major General General Walsh, Tony Hey, and Nigel Snoad in AMS President Louis Uccellini’s Monday morning plenary session. These continued across a broad sweep of oral sessions and over posters, extending into the Awards banquet on Wednesday night, the NWS International workshop the next day, and more. Many more were voiced in private… in thousands upon thousands of side conversations of every description. Some rode the wings of social media, in blogs and tweets, and in other communications to the extended outside community to which we belong.
Embedded in the midst of all this was one session that caught my interest…that seemed a little out of the ordinary for an AMS Meeting… a Town Hall on spirituality and the atmospheric sciences. It didn’t just interest me. Something in the neighborhood of 100 people showed up. These ran the gamut from senior to early-career and included folks from all three of our sectors: public-, private-, and academic. Based on a show of hands, they included self-identified Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindi, Buddhists, unaffiliated, and atheists, both domestic US and international.
The session was the inspiration of Tim Miner. I’m failing to describe adequately his interesting… indeed unique… background here, but it goes something like this. (I think) he said he’s former air force, and currently a pilot for American Airlines. He’s a co-founder of the Order of Universal Interfaith. He is a self-described Interfaith-, Interspiritual-, Integral Minister. [There’s much more to Mr. Miner, but this is a start. You can find a bit of what he means by these terms here. Hopefully he will correct or expand on any errors or omissions.]
As I volunteered at the meeting, the session reminded me “of the early stages of a Friday-night high school dance. The evening would always start out with the girls on one side of the gym and the guys on the other. You knew good things would happen as the evening wore on, but there was some initial awkwardness.” Mr. Miner did a good job of navigating the group through some of that, inviting us to get in touch with the unfamiliarity of discussing spiritual matters at an AMS session, etc. He then segued into a discussion of possible broader purposes.
Here is the text of an e-mail Mr. Miner sent out following the session, verbatim:
“Hello and blessings to all:
First, I want to express my sincere joy that you attended the townhall on “Spirituality and the Atmospheric Sciences.” Thank you for taking a chance on our “stretching the limits” of what we can do in the AMS. I want to especially thank Keith Seitter and the staff of the AMS for letting us take a chance with this topic.
Second, I feel sincerely blessed that you wanted to keep the dialogue going in the future. The religion editor for the local Austin American-Statesman newspaper was in the room with us and he interviewed me after our townhall. He was very impressed with our session and will soon be publishing something about it. He was most impressed by the interfaith nature of our community and the level of science that we can add to the discussion locally, nationally and internationally.
So, where do you see us going next?
Now that we are coming together as an AMS “interest group,” I would like to suggest several ideas and ask several questions:
1. Should we hold a “town hall” again next year, or, with so much wisdom in our group, would a workshop or a joint-special-(sacred) session be in order or possible?
2. Is our role to organize as a “AMS outreach” group that can publicize the experience and knowledge in the AMS and then share it with faith-based groups and organizations locally, nationally and internationally? Are we a “speaker’s bureau?”
3. The AMS Publication staff is VERY interested in us creating and publishing an anthology of individual wisdom and experiences in educating faith groups about climate change and global warming. We could also bridge the gap between faith and science. Would you be interested in helping us do that? Would you be willing to contribute a “chapter” to this effort?
What other ideas or vision do YOU have that will help the group remain in contact, move forward and to change the world?
Thank you again for all that you have already done and will do in the future.
Blessings on your spiritual path and your science-work,
Reverend Tim Miner OUnI
I’ve taken the liberty of adding his contact information here, so that you may contact him directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the e-mail suggests, among other possibilities Mr. Miner sees a special potential for scientists of faith to reach out to faith-based communities in an effective way on subjects such as climate change.
There may be equal potential for much good starting a bit closer to home. As Thoreau observed, most of us… including scientists… “lead lives of quiet desperation.” To the extent we scientists are able to get in touch with a loving God at the core of our being, and derive comfort, encouragement, and meaning from that single relationship, as opposed to being dependent upon and therefore vulnerable to external circumstances or people that can harm as well as bless, we’re less needy ourselves and more able to give to others.
This has many benefits, but the greatest is a change in the tone of our message on subjects of resources, environment, and hazards…a change that might make our words a true benediction for others rather than something less.