The risk in giving

The cathedral was burning.

It seemed like it was burning all day.

The images, when I could bring myself to look at them, were heartbreaking.

It seemed as if the whole thing were about to collapse. Indeed, memories of September 11th running through my mind, of that impossible moment when the first tower began to collapse in on itself, I could already feel the crushing weight of it coming down in flame and smoke.

Then…, it didn’t.

And the first images from inside came with a glimmer of hope.

She could be rebuilt, this thing of immense age and beauty.

She could be saved.

And almost as quickly, there was the rush of donations, most notably from the super rich, but from common folks too. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to help.

But then something else started to happen.

Judgement and scorn began to creep in.

What about the black churches, burned down in Louisiana?!

What about the drinking water in Flint?!?

You are donating to the WRONG cause, and if all of these rich fat-cats wanted to help, well there’s plenty of people going hungry all around them!

And suddenly we’ve got the “Cause Police” out there serving the public and making sure society knows which causes are worthy of their disposable income.

The Polar Bears are starving…, “Isn’t there a homeless vet you could feed?”

Doctors Without Borders? “Aren’t there any sick people in America you care about?”

What if I contribute to Public Radio? “FLINT FREAKING MICHIGAN!”

The Arbor Day Foundation? “I swear on all that is holy that WE will find you and punch you in the face if WE find out you’re giving it up for some shitty trees!”

What…is…happening?

Look, here’s the thing…,

It is good that people care about things. It’s absolutely vital, I’d say.

They do not have to care about the things that are important to me, or to you. And if they do care about those things, and it IS possible to care about more than one thing at a time, they don’t have to care about those things as much.

I’ve never been to Notre Dame de Paris, and I may never get the chance. Certainly, it seems unlikely that I’ll ever step foot through her doors, but I studied her during Art History classes, I’ve sketched her and painted her and poured over images of her. She’s an eight hundred and fifty year old marvel of art and architecture, and if I want to contribute to her preservation that’s MY business, requiring neither permission nor judgement from anyone.

And please spare me the diatribe against the Catholic Church.

I’m bloody PAGAN. I literally couldn’t care less if they ever hold another mass in the thing. I am never going to donate anything to a Christian church (and that includes those that got burned down in Louisiana, by the way).

The Church just leases the building, if you wondered. They don’t own it.

What I care about is irreplaceable art and architecture, handed down to us all, Christian and Infidel alike, which can still be preserved for generations to come, if enough people are willing to act.

If that’s not good enough for you, you’re welcome to f*ck off.

What’s more, if you want to get bent out of shape because some billionaire decided to spend money to preserve something beautiful, instead of throwing cash where YOU think they should, that’s time and energy better spent picking litter up off the side of the freeway.

Or don’t you care about the environment?!

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Shut up, Linus!

Several years ago now I thought it would be a neat idea to write a post which used the Peanuts characters, specifically excerpts from the animated Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, to illustrate what seemed a very simple point…,

That Thanksgiving is a holiday that does not belong to any particular group.

At the time I wrote it, I think I’d seen a few too many evangelical types trying to claim the holiday as their own, and felt the need to push back a bit.

Looking back on it now, I feel like it’s one of my more cringe worthy efforts.

It is too long, too clumsy, and…, well, it’s too popular.

Seriously!

That damn throw-away thanksgiving post from six years ago is consistently the most frequently read thing on this blog. Mostly, I am in no doubt, due to the work of search engine algorithms coughing it up to folks looking for links to the Holiday Special itself.

But I suppose I should be…, thankful.

After all, if only a fraction of the folks who stumble across it stick around to read anything else I’ve written, and maybe inspired to think about things in a way that they hadn’t previously…, then it’s worth every misplaced click.

My message this Thanksgiving is a bit more concise: “Shut up, Linus.”

Sure, the preachy kid is always there to yammer on, but the only one at that entire party who knows what’s really going on is that girl Marcy.

Oh, we’d all do well to thank our gods for the bounty of the harvest, but these days I think we’d do better to concentrate on thanking each other. Not just on the one day but every day.

And not just our family and friends either.

Thank our teachers, both the professionals, and those who teach us by example. Thank the warriors back from trenches past and present, and thank the desperate retail employees, fighting their own yearly war of attrition. Thank the neighbors, the strangers, the doctors, sanitation workers and bureaucrats that you encounter throughout your day. Even thank that preachy kid, once he finally pipes down and lets everyone get back to their meal.

Because we all touch each other’s lives, and the actions of a stranger we pass on the street can have every bit as much power over our personal prosperity as that of any deity.

A simple expression of genuine gratitude can make a difference that pays us back a thousand fold.

Give thanks where thanks is due.

And have a Happy Holiday.

And thank YOU for stopping by!

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Turn by Turn Directions

Imagine for a moment, that from the moment of your birth, there was a singular destination to which you were bound, and that the journey to that destination would occupy all the time and energy of your life.

Imagine further, that taking a wrong turn on that journey could have eternally dire and inescapable consequences.

That would suck.

Now imagine, once more, that as is often the case for us in this modern world of wonders, there were an App for that.

Sweet!

Life Directions

In this scenario, the algorithm behind the app is programmed in such a way that it not only knows where you are now and what direction you are heading, it knows about every obstacle and side street you will ever encounter.  It knows about all the other drivers, where they are heading, and when you will interact with them.  It knows about the traffic and weather conditions you will experience today, tomorrow, and every day for the rest of your life.

All of which would be profoundly handy, if the app could be expected to relay even a fraction of this information to you.

But that’s not how it works.

There’s no glowing blue dot on a map that moves when you move, and no artificially soothing voice badgering you to turn left in 300 feet.

The information is there, but by design it doesn’t display.

And there are no ‘In App’ purchases that will make it do so.

Seems a bit less convenient now, doesn’t it?

It gets worse.

The reason the algorithm knows about all the traffic holdups and twisting side streets to nowhere, is because it put them there.  What’s more, rather than directing you along the most direct and speedy route to your destination, the algorithm is designed to offer up vague guidelines and suggestions while purposely directing you through bad neighborhoods and into bumper to bumper traffic jams, all as a way to test your willingness to continue using the app.

You might think that the other drivers could provide some assistance, but you’d be wrong.  Most of them are too busy arguing about which version of the app you should be using and on which platform.  The dedicated UserGroups are typically more interested in increasing their own numbers, and less so with actual troubleshooting.

But the one thing they will all tell you, fervently, is that you’ve got to TRUST the APP.  If you don’t trust the app, you will never arrive at your destination.  At least, not the one you were hoping for.

And who’s fault would that be?

The other users will let you know, and with absolute certainty, that if you take a wrong turn along the way, or maybe you get sideswiped by a bus, you only have yourself to blame.  Obviously you couldn’t have been using the app correctly.

If, on the other hand, you navigate your way through some bad situation unscathed, that’s just the app doing its thing, and not something you should be taking any credit for.

Probably, you should think about making a contribution to the developer.

****

Occasionally, I feel the need to construct these little “What If’s” when trying to understand how Monotheists see the world.

Sometimes they are helpful.

Sometimes they are just entertaining.

Sometimes they scare the crap out of me.

All I can say about this one, is save yourself the trouble and don’t download the app.

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Hollow Eyes and Hallow’s Eve

It is a curious tradition, the carving of Jack-o-lanterns.

There are plenty of articles out there sharing the actual history of the practice, some folks claiming it is a strictly Christian tradition, while others claim a more ancient past, but what it all boils down to is that somewhere along the way, someone decided that carving faces in vegetables (and later fruit, right? A squash is a fruit) would repel evil spirits.

Doesn’t seem to be working.

Bombings, shootings…, plenty of evil spirits out and about these days.

Then again, most folks seem to be buying plastic jack-o-lanterns from Target and Walmart, so maybe that’s why the effectiveness has worn off. ‘Cause the the power can’t be in the fruit, or the candle, or even the scary face. If there’s any power at all behind those hollow eyes, anything there watching and guarding, it has to have been placed there by us.

It is up to us to work the magic that wards our homes and our land from those who would cause us harm.

Plastic pumpkins are probably just another symptom of us falling down on the job.

I really don’t care who came up with the tradition, I truly enjoy the the few hours I set aside every October to carve a few jack-o-lanterns.

And I love the looks on the faces of the trick-or-treaters, even the littlest ones, who can tell the difference between something real and original, and something bought in a store.

The parents notice too. Often they will say something about not being all that good at it, or struggling to find the time. But I always encourage them to make the effort. Skill comes from practice and power from persistence.

And the gods well know, we could use more jack-o-lanterns in the world these days.

A blessed Samhain to you all. And a Happy Halloween!

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For God(s) and Country

I have, I feel I must confess, an unsavory fascination with watching Christians arguing amongst themselves about matters of morality and ethics.

I do try to stay away from these debates.

And mostly I am successful.

But occasionally I’ll find myself caught up in the tawdry spectacle.

And afterwards…,

I usually feel dirty, and a little disappointed with myself. The same sort of feeling I remember coming away with after watching an episode of Jerry Springer, when it first started to get popular and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Most recently, I found myself reading an article, the link to which had been posted by an old high school friend, in which a Christian minister was trying to convince his extended flock that they ought to stop criticizing Donald Trump. Because ‘the Donald’ is our president, which means he was put there, by God, as all leaders are, for a purpose, and all the philandering, the tax evasion and lying, the caging of children and constant stream of reprehensible comments, is all completely beside the point.  It is the moral duty of every good Christian, he suggests, to fully support the President and his agenda.

Obviously, it was not an article written for me or mine.

No, it was a missive from Christians, to Christians, extolling the current President as an instrument of God for whom any moral qualms should be set aside.

secondcoming

And after I’d made sure that it wasn’t something published by The Onion, I read it again…,

…and double checked for signs of satire.

None.

Ooookay.

The President of the United States was placed in office by the Christian god.

They, the Christians, at least some of them, really believe this.

It seems unlikely, but it does bring up some interesting questions, like…,

How does that work with free will?

I mean, did God work his will upon just enough voters, in the right states, to sway the Electoral College? Should a vote even count if some random deity (who is not even an American citizen, by the way) has his way with your freedom of choice? Or did he work his dark miracle through the nimble fingers of Russian hackers and fake news accounts?

And what was the deal with Obama?

Did the Most High’s omnipotence come up short during those two elections?

Or did the Christian god decide to put the black guy in the Oval Office for those eight years. You know, the secret Muslim who wanted to destroy America, start a race war, throw all the republicans into FEMA Camps, cripple the economy, steal your money to pay for someone else’s healthcare…, THAT guy!

And if he DID put Obama into office, where was all that “He’s the instrument of God who’s failings you should ignore because it’s all part of God’s plan” bullshit that they trot out when it’s convenient for their agenda.

You’d have thought they wouldn’t have cared so much about a birth certificate, if he had a Biblical stamp of approval.

****

Sometimes I wonder how it would be different if we treated leadership as we did with the Celtic kings during pagan times.

The king was chosen not by any particular god, but by the elders of the tribe.

And in assuming kingship over the land, he ceremonially took the goddess of that domain as his wife. And if he pleased her, if he treated her well, with all the proper respect and worship that was due a woman and goddess, the soil would be bountiful, his wars successful, and his people, prosperous.

It’s an interesting line of thought.

But when I begin to consider how those among our present leadership actually treat women, the things they say, the decisions they make…,

No, it’s probably best we leave the true gods out of modern politics. We’re obviously not sophisticated enough for them.  Not just yet.

The time may come, however.

A time for gods and country.

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Flirting with Tyranny

ByCandlelight

It is easy for me to imagine them having dinner together on their anniversary.

The scene is dark and romantic, one of those undiscovered hole-in-the-wall restaurants that only the locals know, rugged brick walls and old wooden rafters, and the kind of food that men have quite literally died for.

They always come here.

Every year, the same restaurant, the same table even.

A happy tradition.

She’s wearing her favorite copper number.  

She wondered, earlier, as she pulled it out of her closet, if she shouldn’t start looking for something a little more fashionable, but sitting here now, basking in his smile, she knows she looks good by candlelight.

Mister top hat and tails, across the table, is looking pretty good himself.

Oh sure, he’s a little heavier and a little grayer around the temples, but he’s still the same sweet guy she’s carried a torch for these two-hundred and forty-two years.

Such a long time ago, and so much has changed.

Why, they were just children when they first met.

She was an entirely new idea, unrealized and untested in social situations.

And he was a brash bit of a country bumpkin, eager to get out from under daddy’s shadow, and prove his worth in the wide world.

The families were scandalized, she smiles to herself, enjoying the memory, but here we are, almost half way through a third century, and going strong.

He’s been talking to her, throughout her musing, chatting about work, or the neighbors or something, but now she notices that he’s stopped.

She’d been looking, not at him so much, as through him, and into memories of days bygone.

Now, she’s back, and along with the sudden silence, she notices that his eyes are no longer meeting her own, but are instead, glancing toward something just over her shoulder.

Something, or someone, behind her, at the bar.

And then, as if it had never happened, his gaze is back and he’s amiably chatting again, as if he’d never stopped.

But now she is studying him more closely, and listening more intently to the other voices in the restaurant.  She becomes aware of a group of male voices behind her, murmuring among themselves, and then the clear, bright laugh of a woman in their midst.

And his eyes move again, with the laughter, and she knows exactly what he’s looking at.

And his eyes come back, and she smiles and he keeps on with the small talk.

But they dart back again soon enough, as the noise behind her rises a bit.

She takes a sip of her wine, and then, while pretending to gauge its consistency by candlelight, she raises the glass to observe in reflection, the scene at the bar.

Half a dozen nation states, bumbling fools the lot of them, all fawning over a women she knows all too well.

Tyranny, in a little black dress, just soaking up the attention.

And not, mind you, from her little ‘admiration society’ at the bar.

Vamp!

Putting her glass down, carefully, she glances back to her husband, who seems lost in thought, his eyes averted.  And a moment later he snaps back into focus, guiltily, realizing he must have been caught.

“Yes Sam,” she says, using the old pet name, “you were saying?”

“Oh, well only that…,” he continues, with just the briefest look of relief.

And then just as quickly he is gone again, and this time his eyes narrow with the kind of obvious hunger she would have sworn, before tonight, that he’d kept for her alone.

“I wonder what that was,” she thinks to herself, “did she smile at him and toss her hair?”

“Or maybe she flashed him a little leg.”

“Or a military parade.”

She closes her eyes.

For just this moment she can’t bare to look at him, looking at Her.

She remembers him for a moment, as he was those many years ago, when he dropped to one knee in this very restaurant, and proposed.

“We hold these truths to be self evident…,” he’d said then.  She’d nearly swooned.

They’d had their share of troubles of course.

Early on, there was the slavery addiction that had nearly driven them apart.

Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, McCarthyism…, just bumps in the road she’d thought.

Smiling, she remembers how he’d taken her hand, all those years ago, and suddenly she feels his touch again now.

She opens her eyes to find a look of concern on his face.

“Are you all right love?” he asks, tenderly.

“Yes,” she answers back, holding his hand tightly for a moment before releasing it.

What had he been saying a moment ago about work?  Something about detention camps along the border?  What else had she missed?

“The wine may have given me a headache is all.”

“Would you like to leave then, call it an early night?”

“Oh, no dear, we haven’t even had dinner yet.  I’ll be fine.”

“I’m glad,” he says, and seems to mean it.

Then he glances over her shoulder again and smiles, like the brash young nation he used to be.  The one who had told her that she was all he ever wanted…,

“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

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Experiments in Nonconformist Blasphemy

One of the great truths which we learn from an early age is that words have power.

“Baby’s first words” are a much anticipated moment of celebration and achievement, captivating every parents attention.  And from there, their power only grows and expands, shaping the way we think, and molding the universe to our will, one small piece at a time.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…,”

There are not many passages from the Christian Bible that I’ll agree with as wholeheartedly as those first few words from the Gospel of John, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.

The Word, however, is not any individual God, it is a power that WE share with the gods, it is that which makes them our kin, which draws their attention to us, and ours to them.

Language is the medium through which the human will finds its greatest expression.

Words are power!

Even, sometimes especially, the bad words.

Which is why our parents take such pains to make us understand that certain words are beyond us.

These are the naughty words.  Not to be used or even thought of.

Because we haven’t earned the right.  Because we don’t know enough, as children, to take responsibility for the power in those words.  And because it’s embarrassing to have children throwing around phrases that you yourself normally wouldn’t use in public.

But the children see, and they listen most intently, and they learn.

They learn far more than we adults might want to believe.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

And if you believe that, you were probably raised by wolves.

Words can and do hurt you, as every child knows.

Why else did they invent the counter spell?

You caught that, right?

“Sticks a stones may break my bones…,” seriously, think about it.

Think back on your childhood and say it out loud.  Feel the sing song cadence in the words weaving a web of protection around you, diminishing the power behind the curses hurled at you by those other kids.

Because they ARE curses you know.

As kids we called it “cussing” but to cuss is to curse, it’s the same word.

I guess most of us never realized that the schoolyard was a hotbed of magical combat.

“I’m rubber and you’re glue…,” is another common counter spell used among the kiddos.  This one is actually pretty sweet, as it is designed to not only shield against an offensive curse, but to reflect the power of that spell back upon the child who uttered it.

But as children we never realized what was going on beneath the surface.  We just steadily increased our personal arsenal of “mean things to say,” picking up more colorful phrases from our parents and friends and media, along the way.

And these come in a number of categories.

There’s a whole litany of racial slurs available to bigots of every stripe.

I am happy to say that over time I have fully excised these from my speech, and with them, that specialist subcategory which deals exclusively with sexual orientation.  I was never particularly comfortable with this branch of profanity anyway.

Then there are the “dirty” words, those of a specifically biological nature and frequently sexual.

Crude?  Yes.

Course?  Obviously.

Convenient?  As fuck.

This whole category of words exhibit tremendous versatility while still retaining their inherent shock value, this despite repeated use in modern media.  Judicial use of profanity is one of the rights and privileges of adulthood.  Whereas, tossing these words around lightly and frequently is typically seen as the juvenile behavior of someone trying to prove something.

And finally, there is Blasphemy.

And this is a category that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

Here’s where we get into the real meat and drink of cursing.

“God Damn You!” – is a curse of the highest magnitude, essentially beseeching the Christian deity to cast your enemy into the pit.  As curses go, it’s both blatantly sinful and in most instances, extreme overkill.

This goes for most variations of that particular theme.

Even just uttering the word “God!” in either exasperation, disgust, or if you’re very lucky, extreme pleasure, is held as a sin of the first order by most of the modern monotheist traditions.

Now for those of us who don’t follow those traditions, it’s not that big a deal.

Atheists aren’t traditionally worried about offending anyone, particularly not folks they consider imaginary.

Polytheists, don’t typically believe in a hell to which anyone could be damned.

I usually just leave the damning business to the book thumpers.

“God” however, is just too ingrained as a part of speech for me to drop it entirely, so I just slap a plural on it and let the “gods” work it out amongst themselves who I’m talking to.

But now we come to the man himself.

“Jesus” – to his friends.

“Jesus Christ” – if you feel the need to be specific.

“Jesus H Christ” – on those particularly formal occasions.

“Jesus F*cking Christ” – if you accidentally drop a heavy weight on your foot or discover a family member listening to conservative talk radio.

What to do about Jesus, when you don’t believe in Jesus, but he’s stuck in your subconscious and pops out every time you’re stuck in traffic.

Well, for the longest time I tried not to worry about it.

Not my god, I thought, not my blasphemy.

But more and more, I’m thinking Moses got it wrong when he carved those tablets.

Any publicity is good publicity, and here I am, spitting out the name of a deity I don’t believe in, under my breath, and doing it with energy, with emotion, putting real energy behind the words.  It’s some kind of stealth proselytizing!

It’s doesn’t matter if I’m doing it with negative intent, I’m still evoking the name of “the Christ,” lending power to a spiritual construct that I firmly believe has been dragging our society down since the time of Constantine.

I am in no particular hurry to offend my gods, but I really think that we polytheists and pagans need our own blasphemy.

Why should we keep sending all that excess energy into the opposing camp?

So I’ve been experimenting lately.

Trying things out, but with limited success.

“Jesus Christ” is just so ingrained at this point, and the cadence of the words, in English at least, is a perfect bit of marketing genius.

So, coming at it from an Irish Celtic perspective, I’ve been trying…,

“Nuada’s Hand!”

As an expression of anger or disgust, invoking a deity who lost his hand and his kingship in a single blow feels somewhat fitting.

And maybe…,

“Nuada’s Shining Hand!”  For when you need that little extra oomph!

I don’t know.

It’s the best I’ve come up with so far.

I’ve been trying to meditate on them, to find that spot in my head that Jesus occupies and to transpose one god for another, but it doesn’t quite feel natural to me yet.

And that in itself is irksome.

If anyone out there has suggestions for me, I’m open to hearing them.

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