ET and God

Monday, December 1, 2014

Yeah, it’s a headline that might raise a few eyebrows and bring about some heated discussions, and yet that was the topic of Vanderbilt professor David Weintraub at the Rotary Club of Murfreesboro recently. He has just published a book called Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal With It?

During his presentation to the club, I learned that in 1995 the scientific community only knew about one planet in one universe other than our own. With the development of new technologies in just 20 years almost 2,000 planets have been discovered in more than 475 galaxies far far away. I had no clue. I thought movies like Interstellar were pure fantasy. Not so much any more. But then, my flip cell phone did look a lot like an original Star Trek communicator.

Question of God and Conact

What does finding all of these new planets have to do with God? Well, God as we see him (or her), no matter your faith, is Earth-centric. So, if there is intelligent life out there on another planet, would our concept of God fit whatever that life might be? Anyone see the movie Contact? The question of God and faith on earth was a huge part of the story.

It is food for thought. If we met ET, would that meeting transform our view of God? Even in my lifetime I have seen massive changes in the faith I grew up with. Somewhere in the last – let’s say more than 20+ - years my faith “lost” purgatory. I have often wondered about all those souls stuck someplace that no longer exists. And Catholic Pope Francis has made accepting comments about evolution. There have even been many stories in the news about finding the “God Particle.” That particle had a “role” in the movie Angels and Demons.

Historical Perspective

Recently I have been reading a lot about religion. All religions. Going as far back as the earliest archeological finds mankind has had a sense of a spiritual force. Historically, religious dogma have changed as man has developed, but the belief in a greater power has always remained strong. The fertile mother. The father who watches over us from above. Sometimes the gods are nurturing. Sometimes they are terrifying. But they are always the creators of mankind and all the creatures of the world. If religion is ever evolving, then I think Dr. Weintraub’s discussion certainly brings up an interesting question.

Anthropological studies show that as mankind has grown and developed, the gods have changed. The gods of hunter gathering societies 10,000 years ago were different than those of agricultural societies. And the gods of societies with no written language were different than those of societies with alphabets. Peaceful societies had different gods than warrior nations. Those who lived in areas of plenty had much gentler gods than those living in harsh conditions who had gods who craved human blood.

Can We Learn From Sci-Fi?

In Gene Roddenberry’s StarTrek world, humankind accepts all creatures that live out there in the stars and their beliefs. Can we find this acceptance and move on? Will our faith change with the altered circumstances? Or will there be a clash of faiths in the stars, as we have on the earth?

 I think of the message from the movie Independence Day, when all the peoples of the world come together to defeat a common enemy from space. Will having a peaceful visitor from space bring us together? Or will we need an alien like Klaatu, from The Day the Earth Stood Still (original version), to slap our hands and threaten us before we can all get along? I wonder?

For another view on the subject, catch this article in a 2003 Atlantic Monthly.

Lee Rennick is a freelance writer, former Vice-President of Marketing and past Executive Director of the Business Education Foundation of Rutherford County, TN. She shares her interests and knowledge about working, learning and living at

photo: morgue files: thechunkymonkey

Beyond the Lemonade Stand: Breaking the Ice

Friday, November 14, 2014

So far in my discussion about teaching economics to middle school students (or anyone) in a camp (like State Farm Summer Business Camp), workshop or classroom setting, I have discussed getting buy-in and rules. This blog will talk about playing games to get the program started. Since this is group work, the group will need to get to know each other. Here are some fun games to get things started.

These are not random games chosen because they are fun (although they are), but they are teaching opportunities. Some of these I borrowed from Lions Quest. Some I borrowed from a former intern who used them when he was helping to prepare American students to stay in Japan for the summer. I have to say I do not remember the name of the group he was working with. Of course, I had to modify!

Game #1: What I Like

The object of this game is to get participants to introduce themselves to others in the camp. There needs to be a big open space in which to play this.

I’m short, so I stand on a chair or a table to play this game. I have all of the participants and adult helpers stand in a big group facing me.

n  Round 1: From my perch on the table I say “Everyone who is a morning person please move to my left. Those who are most awake in the middle of the day stand in front of me. Those who are night owls, please stand to my right.” Make sure that each of the groups has space between them.  Then tell each person within a group to meet all of the other people in their group. There will be more “night owls” than anything else if you have a bunch of kids.
n  Round 2: “Everyone who likes English class most move to my left. Math class to the right. And Science in the middle.” Repeat the process of having everyone introduce themselves to everyone else in their group.
n  Round 3: “Everyone who likes to read for fun to my left. Watch TV in the middle. Play on the internet or video games to the right.” I think you get the idea. 

This particular breakdown of questions will help you discover the different interests and strengths of the individual students. You should ask these questions on a written questionnaire at the orientation so you, as the camp organizer, can use this skills information to break the kids down into groups, but this game lets everyone in on skills information.

Game #2: Common Ground

For this game all participants get in a big circle with the camp director in the middle. Each person takes off their shoes and put them behind them to mark their spot. It is somewhat like musical chairs. There will always be one set of shoes too few, as the person in the center at the beginning has no shoes to start with.

The center person will say “I have common ground with people who like to go shopping (for example).” Anyone in the circle who likes to shop has to run in into the middle of the circle and then find a space that is free in front of someone else’s shoes. They cannot just step to the right or left of where there were. They have to go into the center of the circle. This gives the person who was in the center a chance to run for an open spot. Whoever is left is now “it” and will start over again with the statement “I have common ground with...” adding their own end of the sentence.

It is a very popular game and I usually let it go on for a little while to give the kids time to run off some energy, and to get to have fun with each other.

Game #3: Idea Exchange

Based on a game for two people called “dialectics,” I throw a bunch of random partial statements and quotes on strips of colored paper up in the air in the middle of the circle of students. Starting with me, I go into the middle of the circle, pick up a piece of paper and complete the sentence on that scrap. Everyone gets to pick up one piece of paper. You go around the circle clockwise.

Here are a few sample 'questions" to put on the paper scraps. You can create your own. I try to make all of the questions related to what is being taught in some way. Make sure that you have twice as many questions as you have participants.

Sample questions:

1.     I think that in business “return on investment” means …
2.     If I was the CEO of a company I think my duties would be …
3.     What do you think this means?
“Sales arecontingent upon the attitude of the salesman - not the attitude of the prospect.”                                                W. Clement Stone
 When you are done with these games, the participants will have had a chance to get to know a bit more about each other and themselves. Knowledge of the talents and interests of those on a team will help during the next part of the camp -- learning all about business plans and deciding what kind of business to create.

TN Distillers Find Common Ground With New Executive Director Appointment

Friday, November 7, 2014

Nashville, TN – The Tennessee Distillers’ Guild is ready to pour its energy into achieving the goal of making high quality spirits in Tennessee and supporting the growing interests of distilleries.

The Guild, formed in early 2014, includes many of the state’s newer, small distilleries, as well as Tennessee’s older, more well-known distilleries, Jack Daniel's, George Dickel and Prichard’s.

In its first major step toward cohesion and a unified voice, the Guild has hired Jill Talbert as executive director.

With her strong background in government relations, Talbert will be able to work with all parties involved to move forward on common ground towards the development of new tourism opportunities, a better atmosphere for creating top shelf products throughout the state, and the branding of Tennessee as the “go to” state for fine spirits.

"We are so pleased to have Jill on our team. She has excellent credentials and the right temperament to navigate through many large personalities and issues as we work to build Tennessee brands," says Guild president Billy Kaufman, owner of Short Mountain Distilleries.

An article in Louisville Business First stated that what is actually firing up the interest in Tennessee Whiskey is the ever increasing sales in the entire category of North American whiskey. Fanning the flames is the ever-increasing growth of small batch distillers with recent changes in the Tennessee liquor laws allowing distilleries to be established in 41 additional counties. For many years, the law limited the distillation of drinkable spirits to just three of Tennessee's 95 counties- Lincoln, Moore, and Coffee.  As a result, only a few short years ago there were only three distillers in the state. There are now almost thirty.                    

What people are drinking is changing, too. Interest in craft beer, wine, and liquor brought on by the farm-to-table and “maker” movements have loosened the grip of the “old school” hard liquors like gin and scotch, making it an international phenomenon. And younger drinkers’ continual desire for something new has created a mixology craze. American whiskey makes a much smoother mixed drink.

Growth of craft distillers and the desire for standards to insure Tennessee Whiskey quality across the state inadvertently created a heated legislative debate over the legal definition of Tennessee Whiskey. Regardless of the final decision state lawmakers reach for the definition, all parties agree that only with a quality product will Tennessee distillers be able to compete in the global contest for customers, which means more jobs in the state.

With this huge opportunity for growth for Tennessee Whiskey, Talbert will quickly put into action her experience representing various clients in the state legislative, executive, and regulatory arenas when she steps into her new position. She is a licensed attorney who has spent the majority of her career in trade association representation. Among other duties, Talbert will primarily serve as the Guild’s lobbyist in Nashville.

“The exciting growth of Tennessee distilleries provides a strong link to our state’s famous heritage and a promising tourism boost for Tennessee’s future. I am proud to represent the Tennessee Distillers’ Guild and am energized by the opportunities ahead. We will all move forward together to help our distillers thrive and enhance Tennessee’s international reputation for producing superb spirits,” says Jill Talbert. 

Whiskey photo by

Beyond the Lemonade Stand: Guiding Rules (Part II)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Out of all of the blogs I have written about teaching business and economics to kids, the article that has had the fewest readers is my first one about my Biz Camp rules.

People don’t like rules. Especially tough ones with consequences. And yet, when we work for a company there are always rules to follow. Rules give context. They give structure. They define the boundaries. And they give a foundation. If you can’t live within the rules of the company you are working for, you probably don’t belong there.  I have found this to be too true.

You will see, as I continue these blogs, that the kids participating in the Biz Camp had a lot of flexibility once they started exploring the different aspects of business, but they had to have some place to start. As a matter of fact, as the camp went along, many of the kids wanted more rules. But, there are some parts of business that just don’t have cut and dried answers, which was the point of the whole exercise. So, the rules they did receive at the beginning became more important.

So, here are my other four rules:

Rule # 5: Be on time. Be on time. Be on time. Business people donate their time to teach these classes. And businesses donate classroom space. There is an old saying that time is money. It applies here. We do not want to waste anyone’s time, as there is a cost applied to it. Nothing is totally free. Participants will need to learn to be on time for when they work, when they get older.

Rule #6: Listen to what people are talking about at the different businesses you visit. You may think that what is being said is boring, but trust me, it will apply to your life in the future. If you do not understand, ask questions. And you will need all of the information for your final project. The more you hear, the better that final business plan will be.

Rule #7: Keep a list of words that are new to you. Business has its own language, as if it is a foreign country. Each part of business – finance, marketing, human resources, management and sales – has its own language. And each industry has its own vocabulary. It is kind of like Americans and the English speaking the same language, but it is different. Or talking in text-speak to your parents. Only when both the sender of the message and receiver understand the vocabulary being used is there actual communication. As the nubie, it is up to you to learn the business language, not for the people already there to use your way of communicating.

Rule #8: Take notes! If you do not know how, ask questions about what is important to write down. Notes are important for two reasons. First, you are getting a ton of information, a lot of it completely new concepts. You cannot remember it all. Second, you will be referring back to it on your final project. That final project will kind of be like an open book test, but a lot harder. 

Okay. I am done with the rules.

Next up, a few fun games to get the party started, before learning all about writing a business plan.

Lee Rennick is a freelance writer, former Vice-President of Marketing and past Executive Director of the Business Education Foundation of Rutherford County, TN. She shares her interests and knowledge about working, learning and living at This is blog is part of a series about how to teach business and economics to middle school students based on her time developing and coordinating the State Farm Summer Business Camp in Rutherford County, Tennessee for 10 years.

Dracula Annotated: Another Excerpt

Monday, October 27, 2014

(As the wolves begin to howl again, JONATHAN HARKER enters carrying a suitcase and a briefcase. He stands before the front doors of the decaying medieval Castle Dracula, located in the Carpathian Mountains. HARKER pulls his coat more tightly around him as the cries of the wolf pack surround him. Joining the wolf call, ILONA and ELIZABETA creep towards HARKER from the shadows. As HARKER’s terror peaks, DRACULA appears at the top of the stairs. The wolves stop howling. ILONA and ELIZABETA run off. DRACULA descends the stairs and extends his hand to HARKER in greeting. HARKER takes a step back at the sight of him.)

Mr. Harker, I am Dracula. I bid you welcome to my home. 
(Noticing HARKER’s distress, he shows concern)
Have you become unwell on your journey?

I have just had the most disconcerting experience. Your coach raced through the woods barely out-running a hungry wolf-pack. They followed me to your door. Until you appeared, I thought I was about to be attacked.

Within these walls lies haven from the creeping dangers found in the surrounding forest.

Coming from the city, I am not used to such wild and untamed lands. I must confess I have felt a sense of impending danger since we left the Borgo Pass.

My apologies, I take my surroundings for granted. Had I any comprehension of how the primordial nature of these mountains would affect you, I would have warned you in one of my missives.

(Laughing nervously)
It was quite an introduction to Transylvania. I shall not soon forget it. I am grateful to be within the safety of your walls. Now I know to stay within them during my visit.

(Extending his hand to shake)
Count Dracula, I’m honored to finally meet you after so many months of correspondence. I fear I have embarrassed myself.

(Shaking hands)
Nonsense. It is intimidating to be a stranger in a strange land.

(HARKER is overwhelmed by DRACULA’s vice-like grip.)
You will need to refresh yourself after such a long journey.
(DRACULA picks up HARKER’s luggage.)
My people are disposing of another matter. I will see to your comfort myself. Come.

(He starts back up the stairs motioning for HARKER to follow.)

(Reaching for his luggage)
A man of your position shouldn’t be carrying my traps. Please, let me --

Never! You are my guest.
He motions HARKER to enter a bedroom where he has put down the luggage.)
I trust you will find all you need.

Your welcome is most courteous.

When you are ready, join me below in the drawing room.
(DRACULA goes back down the stairs to the drawing room where he sets a table for dinner as HARKER washes up and changes into formal evening attire. HARKER descends the stairs carrying his briefcase and enters the drawing room as DRACULA finishes.)
Mr. Harker, be seated and sup. I have ...
(Pouring a glass of red wine for HARKER.)
...dined already, and I do not sup.

(Removing a sealed letter from his briefcase)
Then please be so good as to read this letter from my employer, Mr. Hawkins, while I dine. He regrets that he couldn’t meet you himself. His doctors warned him that the journey would worsen the gout from which he constantly suffers.
(DRACULA takes the letter, opens it, and reads as HARKER dines.) 

Mr. Hawkins says he has complete confidence in your ability to fulfill my every desire.

I’ll do all I can to live up to his wishes. He’s like a father to me. He took me in after my parents died and trained me to be a solicitor.

What a kind fellow. You have no other family?

We just have each other. His wife died a few years ago. Do you have family?

Sadly, I am the last of my line. 


You never married?

I have buried three wives with no issue. Katrina died in childbirth, Elizabeta took her own life, and Ilona was lost to politics.

My condolences.

So, we of different heritage find common ground in death and abandonment.
A great sadness passes over his features for an instant, and is gone.)
And travel to foreign lands. Tell me of your journey 
...before the wolves. My driver says your coach arrived early at the Borgo Pass.

Yes. I was afraid we’d miss your caliché. Then, suddenly, it appeared out of the fog and the darkness, terrifying several of the passengers. One of them said the oddest thing. He said that our coach was fast, but the dead travel faster. Is this some local colloquialism?

Our people are a superstitious lot. They believe these mountains surrounding this castle are haunted by the damned.

That would explain why the innkeeper’s wife spoke to me hysterically of ‘Ordog’ and ‘vrokol’ when she heard I was traveling this way. I’ve found the words to mean ‘Satan’ and ‘undead.’ When I told her I wouldn’t cancel my journey, she gave me this...
(HARKER pulls rosary beads out from under his shirt. DRACULA will not look at the crucifix and hides physical pain.)

This is foolishness!
Surprised by the reaction, HARKER puts the rosary away, DRACULA relaxes.)

While I don’t take your peasant’s superstitions seriously, after my experiences on the way here, I can see how this area plays on their minds. The earth itself emanated a sinister presence as we passed through the thick pine forest and it felt as if something was spurring on the wolves’ pursuit. My rational mind knows it’s distance from the civilization of a large city which plays on my fears, yet I swear I feel a darkness here that seems to suck at my soul.

I can assure you the only hostile creatures in the area are wolves. As a youth I played in those darkened woods. My childhood bedtimes stories were tales of the godless spirits of the vanquished who supposedly walk in their midst. You see, for many centuries these lands buffered Christian Europe from the Ottoman Empire. We of the Dracul my family -- were the proud warriors who defended this country again and again as the Sultan’s forces bore down upon it. We drove fear into the hearts of the infidels at the end of pike and sword, face to face, slaughtering all who stood in our path. The land was a thirsty beast quenched by a river of red, until blood became too precious a thing. Action gave way to diplomacy. Diplomacy led to betrayal, slicing through my heart long before an assassin’s blade reached it.

You speak as if you were there.

I am Voivode, and to us, the pride of our ancestors is our own pride. Their pain is our pain.

With such a long family history here, I am surprised you wish to leave.

Until recently we had very little contact with the peoples of the world beyond our mountains, but I have been reenergized by the new blood which has found its way to my door. The steam engine has brought several adventurous spirits to our country. They fed my own need for adventure. These visitors told me that England is the greatest power in the world, wetting my appetite for a taste of what your country has to offer. Tell me of my new home there.

The estate is called Carfax. A stone wall and forest of trees hides the house and a chapel with thick walls and few windows.
(Pulling papers from his briefcase)
Here are some photographs of the property for your perusal.

(Glancing at the photographs)
I rejoice that there is a medieval chapel. We Transylvanian nobles do not love to think that our remains may lie among the common dead.

Your only neighbor, though close to a mile away, is a lunatic asylum. You’ll not, however, see it from your grounds. Here is the contract we discussed in our correspondence.

(He signs the contract.)