Anecdotes collected by
Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd

while sharing The Great Story
of an evolutionary universe

(updated August 2012)

  


Click
for
Stories
of
Awakening

to:
   
  

♦ Great Story Beads       ♦ We Are Stardust

♦ Learning the Universe Story       ♦ Evolutionary Parables

♦ Bridging Spiritual Diversity       ♦ Your Brain's Creation Story

♦ Death Through Deep-Time Eyes       ♦ Climate Crisis

 

  



"Great Story Beads"    

1. "Pick a bead, any bead, and I'll tell you its story!"
Soon after we created our "Great Story Beads", Connie was wearing her double-loop necklace while browsing in a bead store down the street from where Michael was doing a presentation in Asheville, NC. A woman commented to Connie, "Oh, I like your beads." Connie responded, "This necklace represents the entire 14 billion year story of the Universe. Pick a bead, any bead, and I will tell you its story!" A crowd began to gather, including the storeowner, who said she'd love to hold a class on Great Story Beads. "Just go to our website and download the
timeline and the instructions," said Connie.

2. "The kids just want to keep working on their beads."
At a Unitarian Universalist church in California, the Religious Education director uses the Universe Story as one of the class components for kids every third year. Her experience is that when the theme culminates with 2 sessions of beads selection and stringing "the kids don't want to leave class. They just want to keep working on their beads." Especially for children who have a hard time sitting still and listening, she is amazed at how quickly they grasp the concept and immediately get to work at the long table: first selecting their beads, event by event, and then stringing them in the proper order.

   

3. "Is this purple bead Darwin?"
Several times in Montessori elementary schools, Connie has had an opportunity to spend time showing children her Great Story Beads. At a public Montessori school in Denver, a handful of kids hung around after class, asking about one bead or another. Eighteen months later, Connie returned to the same school, wearing her beads, but not speaking about them. Afterwards, a 6th grade girl approached her and asked, "Is this purple bead Darwin?" Yes, how did you know that? "I remember from the last time you were here. I was in 4th grade, and I asked you about that bead."

4. "The whole school is going to make one."
A week after Connie presented a program on seeds and showed her Great Story Beads to a Montessori classroom in St. Paul, MN, she received a package of drawings from the students thanking her for her program. Here are two of the comments: "We liked your necklace so much that the whole school is going to make one. I hope you can come again." — Love, Lucas. "I like your necklace I want to mak one too. mine will have the Big Bang. the Big Bang bead will be red." — Love, Andrew.

   Children wearing Great Story Beads they created at a Montessori school in St. Paul, MN.   

5. "Let me tell you about this bead!"
At a private Montessori school in Portland, Connie went in to observe a class in the morning, before she was scheduled to present her participatory North American Continent program to another class in the afternoon. So she sat at one of the work stations, took off her beads and laid them on the table. Then all she did was respond to questions. Two 11-year-olds (a boy and a girl) sat at that work station for an hour, asking about the beads, while other students streamed in and out. After an hour, Connie left that table and sat observing from another table, while the 2 kids encouraged their peers to come and ask about the beads. Then they alone were the ones to respond, sometimes using the printed timeline Connie had left them to try to figure out which bead was which. Between the two of them, they had memorized correctly at least 60 of the 135 total beads.

6. "Cosmic Rosaries for Catholics"
Sharon Abercrombie wrote an article for EarthLight magazine on Great Story Beads as a kind of "cosmic rosary." She told us by phone that she wanted to place a similar story in another publication, and was seeking our advice. Michael asked her, "Don't you work for a magazine?" She responded that she worked for The National Catholic Reporter. "Oh, I'm sure they won't go for it," she said. "Try it," advised Michael. She did, and the result was an article on cosmic rosaries for Catholics.

7. "It all really happened"
In 2009, our Michigan colleague Jon Host showed us his detailed and extraordinarily creative set of Great Story Beads, which he has begun to use in kid's programs at his church and for scouts. A photo detail at the right shows a bead that is a map of the supercontinent Pangaea and (earlier in his bead set) the transitional fish-amphibian Tiktaalik, which was discovered just a few years earlier. Jon made both out of sculpey clay. He emailed us later, "To peruse my beads or think about any of the time periods of the past — the struggles, the grandeur, the creatures, the massive explosions, the drama, and so much more — fills me with so much more amazement than any theater movie. Added to that, it's all real! It all really happened, right here in our Universe. With stunning stories like that accessible at any time, I'm never bored."

   


"We are made of stardust!"    

1. "Oh, I must have been stardust!"
We visited southwestern Colorado in the summer of 2004, and again in the summer of 2006. On our return, a woman said to Connie, "I have to tell you something amazing. Last time you told a story to the kids about how our bodies are made of stardust. My son was 3 years old then, so it is surprising that he remembered anything. But obviously he did, because awhile ago I was telling him about something that happened in the past. He asked, 'Was I born yet'? I told him no. "Was I in your belly yet?" Again, no. "Oh, I must have still been stardust!"
2. "Even bugs are made of stardust!"
In northern Georgia (January 2005), the woman who was hosting our programs at her Unitarian Universalist congregation invited Connie to do a program on stardust for the kids at the private school that rented the UU classrooms during the weekdays. Connie spent an hour and a half with the elementary age kids. The next day a teacher reported overhearing one boy tell another on the playground, "Even bugs are made of stardust!"

3. "I am a mystical atheist — and I was in tears!"
In northern California (July 2005), Connie was presenting the guest sermon on a Sunday morning at a large Unitarian Universalist Church. The sermon was on stardust, and she concluded with a "Cosmic Communion", in which children and adults may choose to come forward and be "glittered" on their forehead or back of a hand to symbolize our ancient heritage with the stars. A man in his 80s approached Connie afterwards, and said, "I'm a mystical atheist, and I was in tears — so much so that I couldn't partake of the Stardust Communion. Thank you!"

  

4. "My grandmother became an ancestor on January 26, 2004."
In New Jersey (September 2004), Connie spent an evening with children in a large Unitarian Universalist Church, teaching the science and meaning of stardust. One of the reasons she loves to tell the story of stardust is that it provides an opportunity to see death as a natural and creative part of the cosmos: Without the death of ancestral stars who then recycled the atoms they had made, there could be no planets or life. She asked the children, "Do any of you have a grandparent who has already become an ancestor?" Instead of hesitancy, the children had pride in raising their hands. One boy said, "My grandma became an ancestor on January 26, 2004."
      In February 2005, Connie did her stardust program for a small group of Unitarian Universalist children in Mississippi. She ended by having all sit in a circle on the floor, and sing a song and glitter one another to represent that we are truly made of stardust. While still sitting in circle she asked, "Did any of you learn something here that you didn't know before and that you think you will remember for the rest of your life?" An 8-year-old Christian girl who had come to church with her grandmother, and thus was visiting, responded, "I learned that my grandmother will die."

5. "What a mindbender, dude!"
In January 2003, Michael and Connie spent a week teaching the evolutionary story of the universe in meaningful ways to Navaho and Hopi high school students at a BIA boarding school near Gallup, New Mexico. Michael was recruited to teach the stardust/chemistry story to the most challenging class in the school, which teachers had nicknamed "The Science Class from Hell" because it contained seniors who had not yet passed a science class, yet who needed to pass this one in order to graduate. It took awhile for some of the youth to warm up to Michael, but after he delivered the basic science, Michael placed this all in the context of who we humans are in the universe: "Do you get this? I mean, do you GET this?" he asked dramatically. "We are stardust now evolved to the place that the stardust can think about itself!" He then paused, looking straight at the kids. After seven or eight seconds, like popcorn, one face after another lit up with delight. One particularly vocal boy (the kingpin of the class, we discovered later) exclaimed, "Wow, what a mind bender, dude!" From that point on, Michael had the rapt attention of virtually everyone.

  

6. "I knew I was related to everything!"
Connie presented several plenary talks at an ecospiritual conference held in Lexington KY in the summer of 2004. During her stardust program, she recited a quotation from the closing episode of Carl Sagan's Cosmos series, which aired in 1980: "We are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins — star stuff pondering the stars!" Afterwards, a young woman came up to her and tearfully exclaimed, "I was 7 years old when I watched him say that. It changed my life!" "How?" Connie asked. Her reply: "I knew I was related to everything!"

7. "Stars don't have families!"
In the spring of 2006, Connie was doing her stardust program for a group of elementary-age children at a Montessori school in Houston. After presenting the science of stardust, she asked, "Do you think it is a good thing that stars die?" The first child to respond said, "Yes, because if stars didn't die there wouldn't be any planets." Another boy said, "It's not a good thing for the families of the stars." A third retorted, "Stars don't have families!"

8. "I am at peace with his death."
In the summer of 2004, Connie and Michael were jointly presenting an evening workshop at a Unitarian Universalist church in Ohio. Connie did a component on the creation of atoms inside of stars, and the importance of those stars dying and giving back to the galaxy all that they had created during their lives. A woman sent us an email afterwards, which read: "During Connie's talk about stardust, I knew why I had come. My father, who took his own life in May, always told me I was made of 'star-stuff'. After hearing you, I am at peace with his death. His spirit is with the goddess, but even stars die, and his substance will continue on as new life. Thanks so much!"
   As the years pass, examples continue to accrue of how this perspective can restore hope after the death of a loved one. In the summer of 2007, Connie's sermon on stardust at a Unitarian Universalist church evoked this tearful comment from a woman: "I lost my son six months ago, and this is the first thing that has helped me with my grief. Thank you!" In autumn of 2008, Michael's talk at a spiritual retreat center in Cleveland evoked another tearful expression of gratitude — this time from a woman who finally felt she could come to terms with the death of her three-year-old grandchild.

9. "I think I'm from that star!"
Connie was doing a program on stardust at a Unitarian Universalist church, and the minister took her aside afterwards and said, "I first learned that we are made of stardust when I read Brian Swimme's book. It meant so much to me that I've been teaching it ever since, including at a summer retreat for teens. I delivered my program, and that evening my co-leader and I wonder why it was so quiet. Where are the kids? Well, we found them outdoors lying on the grass, feet touching in a star formation, saying things like, 'I think I'm from that star!' The next day, during a private counseling session, a boy told me that he had come to camp thinking that he might commit suicide here, but that hearing the stardust story made that feeling go away."

  

10. "Where did iron come from?"
In 2003, Connie was doing a children's religious education class at a Unity church in the Chicago area, while Michael was providing the morning "lesson" (sermon) for the adults. Connie was helping kids collectively recall what they already know about the chemical elements, as a prelude to teaching that all those elements came from the stars. When she asked, "Where did the iron in our blood and in cars come from?", the children offered, "the store," "the dump," "food," "recycling." Nobody guessed, "Earth." At first Connie was disturbed that children did not know that elements come from the Earth, but then she realized that maybe they are so advanced in their thinking that they assume that everything must be kept in motion in the human economy, rather than extracting anything from Earth anymore.

  

11. "I had forgotten how much I loved learning about the stars."
Connie was presenting on stardust to a public gathering in California, when a woman began to weep. Afterward, she told Connie that in junior high she was reading a book by George Gamow for her science fair project and was thrilled by it. But she grew up with alchoholism in the family, and something happened that prevented her from finishing her project. "I had forgotten how much I loved learning about the stars."

12. "Humans will probably extinct ourselves soon."
Connie presented an hour-long religious education program for middle school kids while their parents were at the Sunday morning service at a Unitarian Universalist church in Massachusetts. While presenting on stardust, she told the kids that our own star, the sun, was about halfway through its life, and would turn into a red giant and then die in about 5 billion years. The two parent-teachers in the classroom started getting really concerned, saying things like, "But what will happen to humans then?" None of the kids seemed concerned. In fact, one said, "Why should the death of the sun concern me? Humans will probably extinct ourselves soon."
      Similarly, Connie presented an interactive stardust program with high school students at a private school in Vermont. She asked, "Does it bother you to learn that our sun will die in 5 billion years?" Here were the responses: "No, because death of stars is natural." "By then, our technology will take us to other star systems." "We will have extincted ourselves by pollution and war long before then."

13. "Just like the Lion King!"
Connie and Michael were staying at the home of a minister in New England. His son was in tenth grade, so Connie asked whether he was learning in chemistry class where the chemical elements came from. He was not, so Connie gave him a brief lesson in the science of stardust, and how that understanding now helps us to reconnect with the stars as our ancestors. The boy was exclaimed, "That's just like The Lion King!" "Yes!" Connie affirmed, as she draws the same connnection when teaching a full-length class on stardust. The boy continued, "That's my favorite movie!"
     Indeed! When Connie asks elementary age kids who has seen The Lion King there is rarely a child over the age of 7 who has not seen it — and some kids claim to have seen it more than 20 times. Connie recalls one 6th grade girl saying that for a time in her life, she watched a bit of it every day. Another boy told her that he watched it a lot while in the hospital.
     Finally, while presenting on stardust to an adult group at a Unitarian Universalist church, Connie talked about how The Lion King had, as an important teaching, for the young hero to connect with the stars as ancestors. One man grumbled, "I never watched The Lion King because I don't approve of inherited succession."

  

14. "It's more accurate to say we are made of star guts!"
Connie was presenting her stardust program in Ontario, Canada. Taking issue with her reference to humans being made of stardust, a physics professor advised her afterward, "It's more accurate to say we are made of star guts!"

15. "What's my magic name?"
Connie was presenting her interactive stardust programs to 4 different classes of students at a Catholic elementary school in Ohio. On the first day, one class was kindergartners — an age group that is younger than Connie characteristically works with. So she had to hugely amend her program. She talked about chemical elements having "magic numbers" (atomic number; number of protons in the nucleus). She concluded by whispering in each child's ear a "magic number", in order around the circle. Then she called the kids forward one by one. The teacher glittered the child's hand, and then Connie looked them in the eye very seriously and said, (for example) "You are helium! Your magic number is 2! You are found inside of birthday balloons! You are helium!" Then we rang a chime. And then the next child came forward. Those who came forward were all very serious, but their peers giggled quietly each time a magic number was spoken. The next day, I came to school to do a program for the older kids, and a kindergartner came up to me and asked, "What is my magic name again?" She then asked that I write it down for her, and then the rest of the kids each came forward to have me write down their magic names.

16. "I feel limitless."
Here is a clip of an email we received in July 2006: "Whenever I read about us being stardust, I feel, even if only for a fleeting moment, limitless. I may only be 19, but no other religion, philosophy or theory I have encountered has ever been able to do that."

17. "It helped me be the foundation."
In the spring of 2009, a woman told us that Connie's stardust program had helped her in the face of a family crisis. She told Connie that her 18-month-old grandchild had been born with a rare genetic disorder, which has resulted in long stays in the hospital and through which he is ultimately not expected to live. "When I visit him in the hospital, I sing to him about his origins as stardust. I feel a very special bond with him in that way." She concluded that this perspective has "helped me be the foundation" of emotional support for the family.

   

18. "Kinship with the Cosmos"
This 8-minute YouTube video of Neil deGrasse Tyson (today's dynamic astrophysicist and science popularizer) is a gem. Click to be inspired by his personal story of how how he became a scientist and his peak spiritual experiences in doing science — including his comprehension that "we are made of stardust!"


"Learning the Universe Story"     

  

1. "Grandma? Is that how it really happened?"
Diana Spiegel in Dayton, Ohio, is active in the Universe Story movement, so as soon as Jennifer Morgan and Dana Lynne Andersen's book, Born with a Bang, was published, she read it to her 4-year-old grand-daughter. The child responded, "Grandma? Is that how it really happened?" It seems that children are so used to being told fairy tales that when something as awesome as the real Universe Story is presented in a way that children can enjoy, they have a hard time believing that it is actually true.

2. "The Universe is inside of me, too!"
Michael was presenting on The Great Story for a group of Catholic sisters in the Midwest. Immediately afterward, an elderly sister came up to Connie bursting with excitement. I'm familiar with the Universe Story, but I just now realized that the Universe is inside of me, too!"

3. "It's unsettling and reassuring at the same time."
Michael was using large posters of Hubble Space photos at a church program in California. When he talked about "The Hubble Deep Field Photo" one man remarked, "It's unsettling and reassuring at the same time."

4. "That's where baby stars are born!"
Connie was setting up her large posters of Hubble space photos in the classroom where she would be teaching a special kid's program on stardust at a Unitarian Universalist church in Tennessee. A 7-year-old girl and her younger sister came into the room early and immediately stepped up to the posters. She pointed to a greenish one and asked, "Is that the Eagle Nebula?" Yes! said Connie with excitement. Then the girl continued, "That's where baby stars are born!"
      At a Unitarian church in Maryland, a woman came up to Connie after a Stardust talk and pointed to the famous Eagle Nebula photo and said, "My grandson had that photo on his bedroom wall when he was in highschool."

  

5. "Is a cheetah my cousin?"
At the same Unitarian church in Tennessee where the little girl had recognized the Eagle Nebula photo, Connie asked the kids whether we are related to monkeys. One boy declared, "Fish, too, and even microbes!" Then the same girl asked, "Is a cheetah my cousin?" Yes! replied Connie. Beside herself with joy, the girl responded, "Cheetah is my favorite animal!"
     In November 2007, Connie presented her highly participatory
River of Life program to 35 elementary and middle school kids at the Unitarian Universalist church in Wilmington, NC. Based on the story of our 3.8 billion year ancestry presented by Richard Dawkins in his book, Ancestors Tale, Connie's goal is to have the kids not only know in their bones but delight in the fact that they are related to every creature alive today. Periodically she pauses and asks the class playfully, "How many of you are proud to be related to a tree shrew [lungfish, etc.]?" Well, after this particular class, the teacher told Connie that she heard a girl greet her mother after the class saying with great excitement and happiness, "I'm related to a duck-billed platypus!"

6. "I feel such hope now!"
At the 2006 annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association, a woman interrupted a conversation Michael was having in a cafe in order to relay something of great importance. "My husband attended one of your workshops and he brought home your DVD and said I had to watch it. I was deeply depressed, near suicidal, at the time time. Yet watching your DVD, in that one sitting, brought me out of my depression. I feel such hope now!"

7. "He said it changed his life!"
The day after Michael presented his 2-hour "Evolutionary Epiphanies" powerpoint presentation at a Unitarian Universalist church in Texas, Michael received this email: "I brought my 9-year-old son to your program tonight. He said it changed his life and made him feel better about many things. He talked about it all the way home and then wished he didn't have to go to bed so he could stay up and talk about it some more. Thanks for putting poetry and magic to the things I have been telling him."

  

8. "You're a church — and you want to hear about evolution?!"
In spring 2006, Connie conducted a teacher training for the annual UU kids day camp held at the Unitarian church of Dallas. This year's camp theme was to be, "EvolUUtion." The assistant director of religious education told Connie that when she called the natural history museum to request a staff person to visit camp with some fossils, the person on the phone responded, "Let me get this right: You say you are a church, and you want to hear about evolution in a positive way?"

9. "Cosmic whiplash!"
At a Unitarian Universalist church in Texas, a man who teaches astronomy told us that "When I teach my students, I try to present astronomy in a way that changes them forever: that gives them cosmic whiplash."

10. "A Story of their own"
In 2006, Connie presented a guest sermon, "We Are Made of Stardust!", at a Unitarian Universalist church in Maine. She also told a 5-minute version of the stardust story to kids gathered at the beginning of the Sunday service. A woman who had previously learned about the Universe Story talked to Connie after the service and bought the Born With a Bang trilogy to read to her young kids. She sent us this email a week later:

"My children are 6 and 8 and I have been floundering with how to raise them spiritually. I liked the idea of exposing them to all the stories, to teaching them that different people and different cultures have different pathways to the same thing — to that great mystery. The Unitarian Universalist church is a good fit for that, but something was missing: a story of their own. Thanks to the Born with a Bang books, now my kids have a story of their own, and they both really get it!
   "My daughter said to me as I was tucking her into bed the other night, 'Mom did you know our sun will die in about 5 billion years? That's kind of sad.' I couldn't comfort her by saying she won't be here, now that she knows she has been here for nearly 14 billion years. And just as I was searching for something to say, she continued in a very hopeful tone, "Maybe I'll see it! Maybe I'll be an animal like a deer by then because it probably takes a really long time to become an animal.'
    "I loved the way that she didn't dwell on the death of the sun because she realizes now that she has always been here and always will be here in some way. She knows she is part of something much larger. She knows that death is part of the cycle of life. I have tried to teach her that all along, but it definitely makes more sense to her now. And I loved the way she placed the animals on a higher plane, as she has always had a great respect and connection to animals.
    "Thankyou for teaching my children that they are stardust, for giving them a story, and for being there at just the right time for me."

11. "The first creation story I could relate to"
In 2006, Connie was presenting her "Death Through Deep-Time Eyes" sermon at a Unitarian Universalist church in the Midwest. A young woman came up to her teary-eyed, and then sent her this email:

"I am a funeral director intern and will be getting my license within the next couple of months. Every day I deal with death. Every day I hear sermons about Adam's sin, and death's sting. I always feel strange, sitting at the back listening to whichever preacher happens to be the pick of the day. I always knew I didn't believe what they spoke. I learned about evolution on the Discovery Channel. I believe it. But I have never had it put into a story that could define me. It was always distant, something that happened in the past. You brought to me the first creation story that I could relate to. No talking snake in a tree tempting a nude woman. No, you gave me words to a story that is based in fact — something I can make my own. Something that is my own. And for that, I thank you."
  

12. "The relief you provided for both of my sons"

"Dear Michael: Thank you for the absolutely great talk you gave last night. I am most happy about the relief you provided for both of my sons who attended. They have worried about what will happen to them when they die — perhaps too many fundamentalist views floating around landed on their heads and became fact. I have struggled with helping them. Last night you really helped them to see things differently and gave them a sense of relief about their own salvation.
   "Prior to your talk, my 15 year old son couldn't let himself believe in evolution because he wanted to believe in the biblical teachings. He thought if he believed in evolution he couldn't really believe in God. But now he tells me that evolution makes sense where the biblical teachings were questionable. You helped him to connect the dots. Now he can believe in both. He now feels free to trust his instincts about God and not worry about it anymore.
   "My 13 year old son picked up the Jesus loves Darwin fishes bumper sticker at your book table after your talk. He now has it hanging above his bed. He says he looks up at it at night and smiles because he is not afraid anymore." [excerpts of email received October 2008, from a woman in southern Wisconsin]

13. "I had no idea that evolution was my creation story."
At a Unitarian Universalist church in Oklahoma in 2009, a woman told Michael Dowd after his presentation there, "I had no idea that evolution was my creation story. It makes sense of everything now!"

14. "An evolutionary worldview helps me respond with kindness."
In 2009, a man sent us his "testimonial" of how an appreciation of evolution has bettered his life. He wrote, "An evolutionary worldview helps me respond with kindness when faced with difficulties, especially among adult loved ones. This is because when people are mean, selfish, hurtful, or greedy, there usually is an evolutionary reason behind the selection of that kind of behavior in our ancestors. Thus, I can take a minute to see the origin of that behavior, allowing my immediate anger to be defused. This keeps issues from escalating while at the same time prompting me to respond in an appropriate and firm way that is fair to all.
     One example that doesn't involve any bad behavior has been the persistent fear my kids experience when they go to bed. They are afraid of being left alone, especially if it's dark. Our ancestors would of course have been selected to be afraid of these things as children, because back then being left alone in the dark as a child was often perilous. The fact that modern houses and police protection exist doesn't change our heritage, so our kids still have these fears. I've explained this to my kids and it helped — if I needed to, I could have left it at that and been better off than if I didn't have the evolutionary explanation. As it was, my recognition of that helped me realize how real their fear is, and so I help them go to bed by staying there as they drift off, which usually takes only minutes after reading with them."

15. "An evolutionary worldview fills me with gratitude."
This, from an email: "An evolutionary worldview fills me with gratitude on a regular basis by reminding me of struggles of my Ancestors that allowed me to live today. It's hard to be bitter or stagnant when one is so grateful."


"Evolutionary Parables"     

1. "You've just invented a new form of science teaching!"
Before launching our itinerant ministry, Connie came up with an idea to teach science and values combined in a playful way by creating "Evolutionary Parables". The first parables she wrote were all in the form of narrated stories. Then she had a chance to recruit Denny O'Neil, the legendary comic book writer (Batman and Superman), to this effort. She sent him the science for the evolutionary transition of vertebrates coming onto land and Denny wrote a parable in which dialogue between two imaginary fish characters was central. With Denny's parable,
"Ozzie and the Snortlefish" in hand, she was able to recruit paleontologist Mark McMenamin to follow the same format in writing a parable about his area of expertise: the origin of land plants. The result was "The Lucky Little Seaweed". Connie then converted both parables into script form, and has been using them in workshops and kids programs ever since — recruiting volunteers to play the roles of protagonist, antagonist, and narrator. When Mark McMenamin emailed her his draft of the seaweed parable, he wrote her, "Connie, you've just invented a new form of science teaching!"

  

2. "Oooh! That's the Lucky Little Seaweed!"
In April 2003, Connie brought her Great Story Beads to an upper elementary Montessori classroom in Beaverton, Oregon. As usual, the lesson proceeded by Connie simply responding to questions of "What's this bead? What's that bead?" Soon, a girl pointed to a mossy green bead, and Connie explained that it symbolized the coming of plants onto land. "Oooh!" the girl squealed. "That's the Lucky Little Seaweed!" (Her teacher had downloaded that script from our website a few days earlier and had the kids perform it.)

3. "Pluto is an adopted planet!"
In 2002, Michael presented the sermon, and Connie the children's story, during a Unitarian Universalist church service near Princeton, New Jersey. The kids came forward to participate in the children's story, which Connie introduced by asking the kids to call out the names of all the planets. After someone said Pluto, a pre-teen boy stood up near the front of the congregation and proclaimed, "Pluto is no longer considered to be a planet." Connie knew that the Hayden Planetarium in New York City had removed Pluto from its exhibit of planets, but a church service was not the place for a science lesson or debate. Somehow she muddled through the story. The next day, she confided in her friend Leslie Pilder, recounting not only her embarrassment but also the science underlying the controversy. Leslie responded immediately, "Pluto is an adopted planet!" With that, Connie was determined to write a parable about Pluto as an adopted planet — although it took her a year to create a suitable storyline. (Click to access "The Pluto Parable".)


"Bridging Spiritual Diversity"     

1. "I can now say it again!"
At a workshop in New England for Unitarian Universalists, a woman came up to Michael after he presented his powerpoint program in which a key component was how The Great Story can bridge spiritual diversity. She told him, "I grew up in the Episcopal Church, and, as a young girl, I used to love greeting the morning by stepping outside and proclaiming as I was taught, 'This is the day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!' When I could no longer believe the words, I stopped saying it, but I deeply missed that practice. After hearing you speak about God language, I know I can now say it again!"

  

2. "Read me a night-time book, Mommy."
A woman who was trained as a scientist told us this story after listening to Michael distinguish day language from night language. "When my daughter was young, I would read her bed-time stories. I remember trying to read her an age-appropriate science book one night. But she protested, saying, 'That's a day-time book. Read me a night-time book, Mommy." That's exactly what you are talking about, too!"

3. "We don't have to check out our brains at the door."
The day after we got our new logo up on the side of our van of the Jesus fish and Darwin fish kissing, a woman ran up to Connie in the parking lot of a Catholic college and declared, "I don't know who you are, but you are wonderful! We don't have to check out our brains at the door."

  

4. "But if what you mean by God is . . ."
In the summer of 2009, a woman told Michael after his program, "My 10-year-old nephew loves teaching himself about physics, and I enjoy learning with him. I know that this year he has also been studying for his bar mitzvah, so I was really curious about how he was putting religion together with his passion for science. So I asked him, hesitantly, what he thought about God. He answered, 'Well, if what you mean by God is an old man up in the sky who controls things, then no: I don't believe in God. But if what you mean is black holes and supernovas and how we are made of stardust, then that's what I believe in!'"

4. "Now I know how to support our minister!"
In 2014, Michael Dowd delivered a sermon in which he said, "I wish every pastor, priest, and rabbi would subscribe to Science News and then preach once a month on how God is speaking today through evidence." He then advised that the scientists in the congregation could help the minister understand new discoveries and how to interpret those discoveries to foster healthy worldviews and behaviors. Afterward, a man thanked Michael, saying, "I'm a geologist, and now I know how to support our minister!"


"Your Brain's Creation Story"        

1. "The Great Story is the best tool."
A woman in Colorado sent us this response to the new program on evolutionary brain science and evolutionary psychology we began developing in 2006. She wrote, "I think everyone can relate to the destructiveness of subconscious drives. And who wouldn't want the tools to overcome them? In this way, the Great Story perspective is the best tool I've come across for overcoming these destructive tendencies. I realize now that this is exactly why I'm so enthusiastic about the Great Story. I could never understand my crazy, destructive drives: why I ate so much when I was full and why I fell in love with the wrong men. With the understanding of evolution, it all makes sense."

  

2. "He couldn't stop talking about it!"
In 2007, Connie Barlow led a group of teens at a Unitarian Universalist church in Kentucky through a dialogue for understanding "Your Brain's Creation Story", using the two charts of the quadrune brain pictured above. The session culminated with 5 student volunteers reading dramatic scripts for "Menagerie of the Mind", and embellishing their roles by using the hand puppets pictured at left. Clearly, it was great fun for all. Most telling, the next evening a mother of one of the boys, who was attending Michael Dowd's evening program, came up to me with a look of wonder on her face. She said, "My son was in your class, and afterwards, he told me about it excitedly—he must have kept talking for a half hour!" The religious education director later told me that several of the teens said they would love to have tee-shirts bearing the animal symbols of the quadrune brain (above right), so we are now making those available through the "store" webpage at ThankGodforEvoulution.com.

3. "I have never told anyone this before."
In 2007, as part of his "Thank God for Evolution" presentation, Michael talked about our evolved Quadrune Brain and mentioned how scientists have discovered that "If we get a promotion, are voted into office, or in some other way experience a big boost in status, our testosterone levels shoot through the roof. Because testosterone is the hormone that influences the sex drive, unless we are aware of this and take precautions to ensure accountability, we can wreak havoc in our lives and those of our loved ones." Afterwards, a man drew Michael aside and said, "I have never told anyone this before, but when I was promoted to head my division, my life began to fall apart. I couldn't understand it. But I ended up with 5 affairs all going on at the same time and my marriage was in ruins. Thank you for helping me understand how this could have happened to me!"

4. "I just point to the refrigerator."
In late 2007, Connie was giving her digital slide presentation, "Ancestor's Within: Your Brain's Creation Story," for a group of adults at a Unitarian Universalist church in Georgia. In it, Connie uses a chart of the Quadrune Brain, in which
animal figures playfully substitute for the 4 parts of our brain that evolved in this order: Lizard Legacy (reptilian), Furry Li'l Mammal (paleomammalian), Monkey Mind (neomammalian), and Higher Porpoise (advanced). Connie mentioned that the Higher Porpoise, which is our name for the frontal lobes, or prefrontal cortex, is not only the most recently evolved component of our brain but is the last to mature — maturing at about age 25. Without a fully functioning prefrontal cortex, we tend to follow our lower drives, even when part of us rationally knows that there is a better choice. In the Q&A that followed, a woman who is a high school guidance counselor told this story: "I have a 15-year-old daughter. A few weeks ago she asked me if she could stay out later than usual at a party — till 1 am. I responded as I often do now. I took her to the refrigerator and pointed to the article I have posted there, on how the prefrontal cortex doesn't mature till well past the teen years. She responded, "Oh, why do I have to have a mom who is a guidance counselor!"

5. "It's so ironic that science leads to this virtue!"
In January 2008, Michael was presenting an evening program on his Thank God for Evolution! book at a Unitarian Universalist church in New Orleans. His talk included a section on science's new evolutionary understanding of the human brain — and thus our new understanding of the human psyche. Afterward, a woman made this remark, "I am studying neuroscience, and the more I learn, the more compassion I have for myself and others. It's so ironic that science leads to this virtue!"

6. "Calm down Monkey Mind."
A director of religious education at a Unitarian Universalist church, used puppets to present the core concepts of our brain's creation story to children in elementary school. Later that week, her own son (in first grade) came home from school and told her about "what he was saying in his head" during a fire drill that day: "Calm down Monkey mind. Lizard Legacy, you are NOT hungry."

7. "Why my marriage failed."
In February 2008, we (Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow) were leading an all-day workshop in southern California. After our presentation on evolutionary brain science, a woman stood up and enthusiastically offered this testimonial: "I finally understand why my marriage failed." Humorously, she then added, "When dating I used to ask, 'What's your sign?' Now I can see a better question would be, 'What was your uterine environment?'" (Note: A woman stressed during preganancy will have levels of cortisol in her bloodstream that induces fetal brain growth in the more ancient sections, to the detriment of higher brain functions.)

  

8. Parenthood and Higher Porpoise
At one of our presentations, an elderly woman commented, "I gave birth to 4 of my 5 children before my Higher Porpoise matured!" Michael then quipped, "For most of human history, our ancestors produced offspring not because they chose to, but because sex was so pleasurable. If having or not having kids was just a rational decision, we'd have far fewer!"

9. "I ended up in a mental hospital."
In February 2008, the conversation at a workshop turned to the fallen pop music icon, Britney Spears, who was then being hospitalized for mental breakdown. Connie suggested that an evolutionary understanding of our brain can help us have compassion for her predicament. Connie said, "Britney lost custody of her kids, and then was banned from even seeing them. At about the same time her status plummeted from top of the world to profound humiliation. Both events were terrible blows to the Furry Li'l Mammal part of her brain. Who among us would not go crazy under such circumstances?"
    Immediately, a woman rose to offer this testimonial, "When my husband and I divorced, I lost custody of my kids. I was also discharged from the military and was thereafter banned from attending church at the military base. It was too much for me, and I ended up in the mental hospital."

10. "Women younger than 25 are different."
After learning that the frontal lobes of the brain (Higher Porpoise) do not fully mature till between the ages of 22 and 25, a man told Connie privately, "I'm 31, and I date women between the ages of 21 and 39. I've noticed that women under that age of 25 are different from those who are older. Now I understand why!

11. "His testosterone suit"
In Oregon in 2008, Michael was telling the church audience about how an increase in status will cause a rise in testosterone. A woman excitedly raised her hand and told this story: "My husband has a suit that, when he puts it on, turns him into a real jerk. He swaggers about the room, and I just try to stay away from him. I call it his "testosterone suit."

12. "I sounded so assured."
The day afternoon The Testosterone Suit episode, Michael was sharing the ancecdote with one of his male friends. "That happened to me!" the friend said. "I was scheduled to meet with a high government official, so I went to a thrift store to buy a suit. I tried it on at the store and the staff commented on on how powerful I looked. The next day at the meeting I was shocked to hear myself talking in a new way. I didn't sound quite like myself. I sounded so assured, and I felt that way too. Somehow the suit on the outside made me feel different on the inside."

  

13. "Hi, I'm Michael."
In autumn 2008, Michael was preparing for his workshop talk at the largest Unity church in the country, Renaissance Unity, north of Detroit. He noticed that this church hosted a vast assortment of recovery groups during the week: Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous, Nar-Anon, Co-Dependents in Recovery, Emotions Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Gam-Anon, Overeaters Anonymous, and Shoplifters Anonymous. So he added a few more elements to the evolutionary brain science part of his program, including this slide: "Hi, I'm Michael, and I'm a human being with mismatched instincts." He also blogged on this experience:

"This statement is, of course, my evolutionary rewrite of the standard way of introducing oneself at a 12-step meeting. It evoked audience laughter, yet it also shows that the evolutionary sciences can indeed enrich not only the faith traditions but also the recovery movement. The evolutionary sciences thus offer a perspective through which those who need help might more readily be willing to receive it. As I like to say, It's not your fault. But it is your responsibility. That is, the reason we can so can easily fall to addictions of all sorts is that our ancestors lived in very different environments than surround us today. What was there, after all, to become addicted to 10,000 years ago?"

14. "And his Furry L'il Mammal just checked out"
Connie had delivered her talk, "A Walk on the Wild Side: Your Brain's Creation Story," at a Unitarian Universalist church in Portland, OR. During the response period, a man reported that he had a whole new way to understand his 5-year-old son's meltdown the day before. "His Lizard Legacy trounced his Higher Porpoise, and his Furry L'il Mammal just checked out!"

15. "Is he rich?"
A woman was more than a week into her 2 week silent meditation retreat with several dozen other long-time practitioners of vipassana meditation. Standard discipline was to keep one's eyes averted from others at all times. Nevertheless, sitting silently at lunch that day, she noticed her mind obsessed with wanting her to raise her eyes, just for a moment, to examine the face of the man sitting directly across the table. For 15 minutes she noticed and let pass the urge, but it was relentless. Finally, she glanced up and quickly back down again. Her mind instantly registered an observation and a question: "He's good-looking!" "I wonder if he's rich?" Yes, Furry L'il Mammal will have its way, even on a meditation retreat!

16. "I no longer feel like an angsty mutant"
In 2008, Connie was in communication with a young woman who had struggled for months to rouse herself from the emotional ruins of the end of a multi-year romantic relationship. Connie urged her to watch two YouTube presentations by the evolutionary psychologist Helen Fisher, who (by presenting romantic love as triggering the same brain responses as addictions) helps us understand our distress as normal — and thus helps us develop a capacity to "witness" the emotions at the same time that we are feeling them. The young woman watched the videos. This was her response:

"I no longer feel like an angsty mutant. It was rather comforting and a little romantic to hear Dr. Fisher reiterate that humans have suffered for love for millions of years. All of humanity is my support group. My feelings are completely natural and I don't have to hate or attempt to control them. I am, however, the master of my actions. Which is a big responsiblity."
Helen Fisher: "The Brain in Love"
Helen Fisher: "Love, Lust, and Antidepressants"

16. Re-storying a traumatic event
Connie had the opportunity to spend an hour with a man who had recently encountered an act of violence on innocent people that propelled him to act at the scene of the disaster. He was still struggling to come to terms with the course of events and his role in it.
     Connie began by guiding him through a short course for understanding the evolutionary brain charts (pictured above) and then helped him re-story his memories through witnessing how different parts of his brain took control at different points in the episode. Notably, all actions (and inaction) could now be authentically appreciated — either for how they benefitted the situation at hand or for how those very same actions would have benefitted one's ancestors. Thus, even if we wish we might have acted differently, we can at least appreciate that we probably wouldn't have been born if that particular deeply ingrained impulse had not also guided one or more of our ancestors. The key, thus, is (1) ceasing to use "I" as the lead character in one's storytelling, but rather Lizard Legacy, Furry Li'l Mammal, Monkey Mind, and/or Higher Porpoise, and (2) finding a way to appreciate whatever action or inaction one's Menagerie of the Mind actually brought forth. Connie was gratified to see the man ocasionally smile when he grasped a satisfying new insight or found a way to appreciate something that had, up to then, troubled him.

17. New insights on humans and their animal companions
Note: Our friend, Laura Wood, sent us the following email, which we now incorporate into our evolutionary brain science presentations:
     "Therapy as it exists now is permeated with the assumption that the issues people struggle with arise out of their personal histories. It's not that this assumption is necessarily wrong, but very often the issues we struggle with are the same ones our ancestors (both human and prehuman) struggled with for millions of years. Many people go to therapy because of a vague feeling of discontent that cannot be articulated, because in reality it springs from a preverbal ancient source. As Michael Dowd outlines in his book, Thank God for Evolution, we humans have four brains in our head that evolved over time. Our old mammalian brain, our 'Furry Li'l Mammal', freaks out if it doesn't have a burrow and someone furry to cuddle with. No amount of talking can take away this brain's sadness and dis-ease if these conditions are not satisfied.
     "If you live alone, the real solution is to save the money you would have spent on therapy trying to discover some painful childhood memory and bring a furry mammal into your life. Most typically a cat or dog, the furry mammal who cuddles with you can fulfill a need that all of our ancestors have had far back into the distant past. The attachment that people have to their animal companions is often mistaken for anthropomorphism, but it's the other way around. Cats and dogs have the same Furry Lil Mammal brain that we do and these brains understand each other. As Richard Dawkins explains in his book Ancestors' Tale, cats, dogs, and humans shared a common ancestor 85 million years ago. We all hail from the bloodline Laurasiathere.
     Late at night, Fatima the Cat and I snuggle next to the fire in my cozy brick burrow, and I know deep down that all is right with the world."
     NOTE: Three years later (in 2011), Michael Dowd was using this quotation in one of his powerpoint programs at a church in Kansas. In the Q&A period, a woman in her 50s whose voice was breaking with emotion, told of how she has lived her entire adult life alone and how her animal companions "saved my life." She then thanked Michael for "validating what I already know and feel."

  

18. "No question, I would have given myself to him"
[Michael Dowd reports] A woman came up to me after my program and thanked me profusely for mentioning the effects on women's sex drive when in the presence of high-status men. She told me this story:
     "When my kids were really young, Bill Clinton's motorcade drove past my house, and I actually saw him in the car. I felt this sudden wave of desire wash over me. If he'd have stopped, no question I would have given myself to him — and I was happily married!"
     NOTE: When Michael was recounting this story to an audience of 90 people at a church in 2010, a woman made this comment during the Q&A: "I am so relieved that you told the story about the woman seeing Bill Clinton in his motorcade, because a very similar thing happened to me when I met him (as part of a governmental panel) while he was president. I'm a lesbian, but the powerful attraction I felt toward him for an instant made me question whether I really was!"

19. "My compassion for men went up four-fold"
[Michael Dowd reports] After my program on evolutionary brain science at a large Christian church, a woman told me this story:
     "There was a time when I had to take testosterone supplements, and it increased my compassion for men four-fold. Not only did my sex drive go up, but I felt more aggressive and a lot more willing to take risks. It was amazing!"

20. "When my husband became a celebrity . . ."
[Michael Dowd reports] After a program I did in Los Angeles, a very attractive young woman told me this story:
     'I loved your program. I particularly resonated with the part on the brain science and how men's testosterone levels rise with status. My husband just became a major celebrity in a foreign country — and now we're getting a divorce. While he was away he told me on the phone that he would, in fact, be flirting with and probably being sexual with other women. Learning from you that there is a biological basis for this helps me not take it as something personal, as something wrong about me.'

21. "Helps me control the obsolete urges"
A man sent us this email in 2009, testifying to the benefits of learning our brain's creation story: "An evolutionary worldview helps me control the obsolete urges of our evolutionary past. Understanding evolution transforms the drives of hatred, fear, unhealthy lust, overeating, excessive alcohol use, and others from demonic temptations into understandable, controllable influences. Understanding evolution robs them of much of their power by dragging them into the open, where they can be openly discussed and controlled. If I had to leave them in their dark lairs, they could much more easily take control of my actions."

22. What about HOOK-UP culture?
When Connie read the People Magazine interview with Ashley Dupre, the call-girl who brought down the Governor of New York, she was stunned by Dupre's explanation of how she got into prostitution. Dupre said, "This wasn't any different than going on a date with someone you barely knew and hooking up with them. The only difference is I can pay my rent." The narrative of the article continues, "The straightforwardness of the transactions appealed as well. 'I knew what my purpose was, they knew what their purpose was—there weren't any games."
    Connie then began reading online to learn more about what is called "hook-up culture." She also sought the perspective of a young female friend who responded. "Hook-up culture is modern youth culture based upon sexuality free from the constraints of emotionality. Or is it sexuality bound to the constraints of physicality? Either way, it's totally one dimensional and anti-human. At the risk of sounding like an irate feminist, even men thrive off the thrill of the chase which is a very emotional conquest. And women, well, come on, denying our emotions is next to denying our need for oxygen."

  

24. "Romantic movies could be the female version of porn"
A woman reflecting on how an evolutionary understanding of our brain and our instincts offers new and practical insights wrote to Connie:

"Romantic movies could be the female version of porn because they invite unrealistic expectations of what a relationship should be. If porn distorts mens' perceptions of what women should look/act like in bed, then romance novels and chick flicks can lead a woman to think that a man will dote on her forever. This false picture comes to us as kids through our very first viewing of The Little Mermaid. I know women who read a lot of romance novels, and they shrug and say that it's a good 'escape.' I bet many men would say the same thing about porn."

25. Deep-time sense of "paying it forward" as a new source of moral motivation
In 2010, Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd posted an audio interview of scientist and family advocate Jon Cleland-Host on their "Inspiring Naturalism Podcast" series. In that interview, Jon speaks of how a fully naturalistic understanding of life and the universe actually enhances his sense of moral commitments. One of our regular listeners notified us that this particular podcast was very helpful in grounding his evolutionary worldview not in an easy moral lassitude but in one of great rigor. He reported that Jon's discussion of an evolutionary grounding in morality was powerful for him: "The answer he gave about gratefulness to all our ancestors, from the primordial single cell to my mother and father, struggling for existence and loving so that I could be here now to accrue the benefits anatomically, skeletally, physiologically, neuro-endocrinally, culturally, linguistically psychologically, etc) and to 'pay it forward' to my descendents through my children, wife, and community really tapped a new source of motivation for me."

26. "It was easy to have compassion for myself."
Michael Dowd asked his 25-year-old son, Shane, to watch a narrated slide program that he had posted online. Shane responded, "The main thing that struck me watching the first half-hour of your Evolutionize Your Life program was when you were talking about the fact that the way we are has taken millions of years to develop, refine, and ingrain. This struck me because I thought about the times when I seem to be acting on autopilot or in an involuntary way. And when I realized that the universe has been conspiring to make me exactly that way for millions of years, it was easy to have compassion for myself. Now, what I'm excited about even further is understanding all the ways in which these unchosen moments of mine make complete evolutionary sense. And I can recognize those moments more easily and quickly and have compassion and humor for myself and others."

27. "He was googling 'Sexy Girls'"
Michael Dowd and I expanded our educational work in 2012 by alerting our audiences to digital addictions, notably, internet gaming and internet porn. As to the latter, we always recommend physiologist Gary Wilson's website: Your Brain on Porn. When we mention to people our age and older that data indicate that most American boys begin sampling free video porn on the Internet by the time they are 10 (and often younger), listeners tend to be shocked — even incredulous. Two weeks after delivering such news to a couple we were staying with, we heard from them this story: "We gave our two grandsons i-Pads last Christmas, so when we visited them this summer we were surprised not to see the i-Pads in use. Our daughter then told us that the 7 year old had outed the 8 year old for using his i-Pad to "google 'sexy girls'" while he was hiding in the closet.

FOR MORE ON "OUR BRAIN'S CREATION STORY", see chapters 8-11 of Michael Dowd's 2007 book, Thank God for Evolution!. See also a blog written by Connie Barlow: Zoey 101, Brain Science 101, and these blogs written by Michael Dowd: Lizard Legacy Bites 3 More Alphas; "I'm a Human with Mismatched Instincts"; "Sex and the Olympics"; and our webpages on evolutionary brain science, beginning at evolved-brain.html".


"Death Through
Deep-Time Eyes"
   

1. "Every day I deal with death"
Connie received this email in 2007, from a young woman, after Connie's sermon on death at a Unitarian Universalist church in the Midwest: "I am a funeral director intern and will be getting my license within the next couple of months. Every day I deal with death. Every day I hear sermons about Adam's sin and death's sting. I always feel strange, sitting at the back listening to whichever preacher happens to be the pick of the day. I always knew I didn't believe what they spoke.
    I learned about evolution and the Big Bang from teachers who didn't believe in it, but who had to teach it. I watch programs on it on the Discovery Channel. I believe it. But I have never had it put into a story that could define me. It was always distant, something that heppened in the past. You brought to me the first creation story that I could relate to. No talking snake in a tree tempting a nude woman. No. You gave me words to a story that is based in fact — something I can make my own, something that is my own. And for that, I thank you."

2. "I am at peace with his death"
In the summer of 2004, Connie and Michael were jointly presenting an evening workshop at a Unitarian Universalist church in Ohio. Connie did a component on the creation of atoms inside of stars, and the importance of those stars dying and giving back to the galaxy all that they had created during their lives. A woman sent us an email afterwards, which read: "During Connie's talk about stardust, I knew why I had come. My father, who took his own life in May, always told me I was made of 'star-stuff'. After hearing you, I am at peace with his death. His spirit is with the goddess, but even stars die, and his substance will continue on as new life. Thanks so much!"
   As the years pass, examples continue to accrue of how this perspective can restore hope after the death of a loved one. In the summer of 2007, Connie's sermon on stardust at a Unitarian Universalist church evoked this tearful comment from a woman: "I lost my son six months ago, and this is the first thing that has helped me with my grief. Thank you!" In autumn of 2008, Michael's talk at a spiritual retreat center in Cleveland evoked another tearful expression of gratitude — this time from a woman who finally felt she could come to terms with the death of her three-year-old grandchild.

3. "I learned that my grandmother will die"
In New Jersey (September 2004), Connie spent an evening with children in a large Unitarian Universalist Church, teaching the science and meaning of stardust. One of the reasons she loves to tell the story of stardust is that it provides an opportunity to see death as a natural and creative part of the cosmos: Without the death of ancestral stars who then recycled the atoms they had made, there could be no planets or life. She asked the children, "Do any of you have a grandparent who has already become an ancestor?" Instead of hesitancy, the children had pride in raising their hands. One boy said, "My grandma became an ancestor on January 26, 2004."
      In February 2005, Connie did her stardust program for a small group of Unitarian Universalist children in Mississippi. She ended by having all sit in a circle on the floor, and sing a song and glitter one another to represent that we are truly made of stardust. While still sitting in circle she asked, "Did any of you learn something here that you didn't know before and that you think you will remember for the rest of your life?" An 8-year-old Christian girl who had come to church with her grandmother, and thus was visiting, responded, "I learned that my grandmother will die."

4. "To help me with my grief"
In 2009 Connie delivered a
sermon titled, "Death Through Deep-Time Eyes" in a Unitarian Universalist church. Immediately afterward a tearful woman told Connie, "My son died six months ago, and your sermon was the first time I have felt that there is something to help me with my grief."

5. Gratitude for "my deeper understanding of plate tectonics"
After the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan, Michael received this email from a woman who had encountered a deep-time understanding of death via Michael's book and had watched Connie's YouTube videos on death. She wrote, "Feeling really grateful for you and Connie this morning. As I awoke and heard of the devastating earthquake I felt connected to those who experienced it in a new and more profound way. I know that it is totally due to my deeper understanding of science and plate tectonics. The two of you gave me my first deep-time glimpse. For that my gratitude is immense and unspeakable. 'How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation.' Isaiah 52:7."

6. ". . . and dolphins?"
Jon and Heather Cleland-Host reported the following conversation with two of their young sons just a week after their fourth son was born. They began their report by noting that for the previous five months Rowan (age 4) had been saying he was pregnant, too.

Rowan (age 4): My babies haven't come out yet.

Mommy: Rowan, I'm sorry but you don't have babies in you. You can't have babies growing in you because you aren't a girl, and even girls have to be older than you.

Rowan: What will I be when I grow more?

Adair (age 7): You'll always be a boy. After you grow up some more you'll be bigger like Kaedon.

Rowan: And after that will I be bigger?

Adair: Yeah, you'll be bigger like a teenager.

Rowan: And after that?

Adair: You'll be as big as daddy.

Rowan: And after that?

Adair: You'll be older like grandpa.

Rowan: And after that?

Adair: Well, then you'll die. (with a tone as if he were giving tomorrow's weather report)

Rowan looks a little concerned, as if he's considering whether an offer is a good deal or not.

Mommy: Rowan, it's OK. After you die your atoms will move out across the world, and be in trees, birds, and everything.

Rowan: (long, thoughtful pause) . . . and . . . dolphins?

Mommy: Yes, and dolphins too.

Rowan: (relieved) OK! (and he trots off to play)



"The Climate Crisis"    

  

1. Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow wake up to climate change
In early December 2012, we ourselves (Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd) woke up to the immediacy and magnitude of climate change, thanks to an article (left) in the Atlantic Magazine that was reposted in the Huffington Post. The 5 charts featured within it of events in 2012 (Greenland surface ice melt, Arctic sea-ice loss, and so on) were powerful. But what really energized us was the 17 minute TEDx Talk video embeddded at the end:

"Climate Change Is Simple - David Roberts Remix"

  

2. "When were you planning on telling us?!"
Three days after our December 2012 "waking up" to climate change, we made our own video, which was a composite of graphs and video excerpts that had meant the most to us. We titled that video, "Climate Change and Intergenerational Evil", and then let our e-list know about it. A half dozen churches and colleges contacted us for permission to use it, and surely at least that many more streamed it without our knowing. Afterwards, I asked one of the college teachers how the students had responded. He told me that one student raised his hand and demanded, "You knew about this?!" [Yes] "Well, when were you planning on telling us?!"

3. "We have an opportunity to redeem ourselves"
Fired up about the moral imperative of reducing our society's impact on the climate, we began speaking about this issue wherever we went. Michael included in his church sermons this call to "Baby Boomers: we have an opportunity to redeem ourselves". Our generation in power has the moral imperative to speak out and take action for drastically reducing our collective fossil fuel use.

Watch (right) a 90-second VIDEO clip of the climax of a sermon, a call to action, which Michael delivered in Colorado in January 2013.

     

4. "I didn't know how important it is . . ."
Together, we taught the latest science (Connie) and spoke about the moral imperative (Michael) of climate action in 4 churches in Kentucky in May 2013, sponsored by Kentucky Interfaith Power & Light. Connie taught about how the loss of Arctic sea ice is shifting the dynamics of the northern jet stream — and how this leads to longer episodes of extreme weather. Audience evaluations of the program consistently ranked learning about the jet stream as a favored part of our program. One commenter said, "I didn't know how important it is to take a stand now!" Another: "I am promising myself to continue doing something about it."

     

  

5. Stepping into action — online
Connie Barlow stepped into action online right after waking up to the climate crisis. First she shortened and re-mixed a video of a long conference talk given by jet stream expert Jennifer Francis in January 2013. She titled the 40-minute version "Climate Change and Extreme Weather: Jennifer Francis".

Then, right around the time Earth's CO2 content reached 400 ppm, she excerpted from 4 separate videos to create a compelling 43-minute science video: "Hot Climate Women Scientists in Cool Places".

Connie Barlow also created (and is ever updating) a webpage intended to help teachers and others quickly access the best educational science VIDEOS on climate change.



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