Category Archives: Religion

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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Filed under Art, Culture, Modern Life, Religion

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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Filed under Death, Modern Life, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Politics, Religion, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Culture, Magic, Modern Life, Proselytizing, The Gods

Sunday Morning Ultimatums..,

“You live, you die. There are 2 destinations. There is no 3rd choice. Believe in Jesus before it’s too late.”

An old friend of mine from high school posted this yesterday morning.

He followed it up with a bible verse, but I didn’t bother to read any further. I lost my taste for Sunday morning ultimatums a long time ago.

And usually, I just let these things drift by, unnoticed and unremarked upon. My social media feed is chock full of Jesus, and it all just becomes so much white noise after a while.

For the most part, these posts and comments are of the “god is love” variety. “God shaped me, Jesus is my reason, God guides my every step…,” And I might occasionally smile to myself and wonder how the poor fellow ever gets anything important done when he’s so busy playing ‘seeing-eye dog’ to a population of folks who are too bloody insecure to get up and walk on their own.

But once in a while you get one of these “believe in him or you’re going to burn” comments, which so perfectly illustrate the lie behind all those other love filled exhortations.

Because, my friends, if you feel like the best you can do is to frighten folks into believing, I have to assume that either you are desperately trying to shore up your own lack of faith, or you’ve noticed that donations are down and that new private jet isn’t going to just buy itself.

The world we live in is not so black and white as they would have us believe. And neither, I am sure, is the next.

We live, we die, we live again, and I’ve little doubt that there are a multitude of realms in between, where we might wander for a spell, before we make our way back.

So save your threats, my Christian friends, because if you have to resort to these kinds of tactics, you’ve already lost the argument.

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Chasing that hole in the sky.

“So, is this a religious thing, or do you just think it’s cool?”

We were sitting in the office at work, one of my managers and I, and I was making arrangements to leave a little early for the evening.  One of my co-workers had agreed to finish out my shift, and when my manager asked me what the occasion was, I’d told her that the wife and I were planning on driving straight through to Tennessee to secure our campsite for Monday’s eclipse.

She was adjusting my schedule in the system, shifting the little bars that represent my comings and goings, when she glanced up and asked the question.

Most of the folks in leadership at my job are at least somewhat aware of my spiritual leanings, if only in the abstract.  I’m the guy who asks off for unusual days on the calendar, and marks them down as religious observance – often followed by an unpronounceable series of letters:

Imbolc…Beltane…Lughnasadh…Samhain…,

I’d been planning for the Eclipse trip for a while, but I’d only been able to secure three days off from work, Sunday thru Tuesday, during which we’d make the twelve hour trip to our chosen spot along the path of totality, set up camp, watch the big show, enjoy some nature, break the whole thing down and drive back again.

As the trip grew closer, I’d been fussing with the itinerary, worried that our campsite might be over crowded, about traffic congestion in the area, about arriving so late in the afternoon that I’d be setting up camp in the dark.  And finally, with only a week to spare, I’d come to the conclusion that the best course of action was to just drive in over night and through the morning.

“So, is this a religious thing, or do you just think it’s cool?”

One of the other managers, who is fairly new and doesn’t know me as well, glanced over at us with a confused look on his face.

“No, I just think it’s cool.”

It was an honest answer, I thought.

I had no rituals planned, neither prayer nor sacrifice was on the agenda.

This was about a maybe once in a lifetime chance to watch the moon completely obscure the sun.  It was about science, and timing, and prepping to get the best photo I could with the equipment I have.  It was about being in the right place at the right time and seeing something remarkable and rare.

As the date of the eclipse grew closer, I’d seen more and more discussion groups showing up online, asking what were the proper traditions and ceremonies for pagans to observe during the eclipse.  And I’d sigh and shake my head.  Because there are none, not really.

An eclipse is too random, too site specific, and never repeating at the same locations at the same intervals.  The ancients didn’t leave us any eclipse related traditions, at least none that I’ve ever heard of, because there are none.

If spirits that live in the rocks and trees of central Tennessee decided they wanted to speak to me, certainly I would listen.  But maybe, if they could just hold that thought for another 2-minutes and 32-seconds…, that would be fantastic.

I was there for the sun, and the moon, and to see the thing that I’d missed too many times before.

I’d seen five eclipses already in my lifetime, all of them partial.

When I was a kid and the other children in my class had their shoebox viewers at the ready, I came to class with my fathers telescope, sun-lens equipped, and ready to share a first hand look with the rest of the class.

I’d watched that yellow disk slowly consumed by the interposing body of the moon, and I’d watched that shadow slip away again, its mission unfulfilled.  I’d felt the strange cooling in the air, listened to the hush of bird and insect, and watched as daylight faded into the semi-twilight that a partial eclipse can bring.  All that I was missing was that elusive moment of totality.

“No, I just think it’s cool.”

You’d think, after all these years and misadventures, that it wouldn’t still be so humbling to discover that I am an idiot.

Totality.

It was like nothing I have ever experienced and yet powerfully familiar.

Watching the last vestiges of the sun slip away through a pair of solar binoculars, I was visually disconnected from the world around me in the last few minutes before it hit.  And while I was expecting a long, gradual progression, I was totally unprepared to feel the sudden and repeated shifts in the world around me, as layer after layer of the sun’s atmosphere was blocked from view.

And when totality struck, I was unprepared for the noise it made.  There WAS a noise, although I couldn’t tell you if it came from outside or from within, but it sounded to me like something that the sound editor of an effects ridden disaster flick would be compelled to add, because you can’t just have the sun whiff out on screen, without some auditory cue – something between a deep throb and a gasp.

I was unprepared for the glowing white ring in the sky, for the deep red clouds on the horizon, and for the overwhelming feeling that this, THIS, is what the otherworld must feel like: detached and superimposed over our own world, always there just beneath the surface, and yet almost entirely out of reach.

Of course it was a “religious thing.”

Or no, not a religious thing at all.  A spiritual quest, maybe.

Because religion implies organization and planning and ritual, and try as you might, I just don’t think you can plan on an eclipse.  We do rituals to try and find our way, if only partially, into the otherworld of the gods and the ancestors.

But from time to time the Earth conducts a ritual of her own, and if we are very lucky, or very privileged, we may just stumble upon her and her sister moon, as they weave and dance in and around the fire of the sun.

And why else would so many of us travel so far to share in a single event, except in pilgrimage?  Each and every one of us, chasing that hole in the sky, and finding ourselves forever changed by what we have seen and felt.

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Filed under Nature, Religion, Science, Spiritual Journey, Traditions