Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Spirit

I've been thinking a lot about Christmas (oddly enough) and the "meaning" of it and all lately, particularly in relationship to my atheism (pantheism, you know)

I'm dating someone who doesn't like christmas, which in a way is nice for me. There are no expectations, no family gatherings that not only are family-gathering-awkward, but which I am an outsider to to boot! This year we painted my upstairs apartment, which badly needed doing. we kinds exchanged gifts (I bought her a $6 hat a few weeks before and said this is your xmas present, she bought me a used dvd at the blockbuster going out of business in her neighborhood)

Anyway, I love being free of obligations on Christmas, I really do.

But sometimes I miss it, a little bit. I don't miss buying stupid stuff you know someone doesn't need or want because you need to have a present for them and you haven't found the right thing yet, I don't miss the stress of wanting it to be perfect, which almost always made it awful when I was younger. But there are parts I still love, that I wish we shared more easily.

When I was a kid I was particularly present focused. It was all about the "haul" - I do think about if there's a way to steer children away from that in the US without having them simply feel terribly deprived. I have no clue.

But one year, when I was six or seven, I "got" it - I really did (or thought I did) and I LOVED Christmas, without regard to presents. I felt all warm and as one with humanity, full of love and light. Awed at the wonder of birth (any birth) and light in the darkness and warmth in the cold, and the essential humbleness of even the most important people. None of that came in words, it just was.

And it felt wonderful.

And for moments of each year, I feel it again. Very fleeting moments. I love Christmas lights on houses. I know that they're run by nuclear power and coal plants, but in the moments I forget that they bring me joy.

I love knowing that light is returning (which is solstice, not christmas, but really now, to those of us who don't attach mystical importance to the dates and the myths, it's really all the same, no?) - it makes no sense, it's still dark. It's still gonna be dark for a good long time, but it's getting better..... Hope, especially this year, is crucial to survival sometimes.

And I feel alienated, cranky and petty that someone might question my right to celebrate. Cause I'm not excited that that baby born among the critters (how cool!) will grow up to be tortured to death (how awful!) - supposedly in some sort of payment for my sins (how really awful!)

My favorite Christmas Carol from my childhood was Good King Wenceslas, a carol that really has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, it clearly states that it happens the NEXT day (St. Stephen's), and Christmas never come into it. What I love about it is the spirit of generosity. I guess that's what Christmas Spirit is to me, maybe, a concern for other humans, in the part of the year that's hard to get through, where people might freeze or starve or catch pneumonia so much more easily. Like maybe we wake up to each other and feel a real sense of urgency to save us all, not just our own skins. And true connection. The king doesn't just order that help be sent, he GOES, he walks through the snow and bitter cold himself. He doesn't have to (like the page does, he was ordered, poor thing!) - at least not technically, but he does. That thing I call God (and don't) tells him he has to, and so he does. (Of course there's so much in that song about wealth and privilege and obligation and charity and justice - I could tear it to shreds too, but not today)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Facebook is eating my brain

seriously, I think my lack of blogging coincided pretty closely with getting a facebook account, it's AMAZING how hard it is to actually get myself to think for five minutes about an interesting concept, and come up with something to say about it.

It's so much easier to just "update my status" and I get so much more feedback, you know?

It's pretty sad.

Like junkfood for the electronic soul.

I dreamt last night that a blogger I'm facebook friends with published a link to a blogpost of theirs, and I tried to write this long, elaborate response in the facebook comments section and then I remember that I HAD A BLOG.

It was kind of scary. So I thought I'd check back in here, and see if I can think of something worthwhile to say.

I also dreamt I was in love with a guy I barely knew in high school, who I now know to be gay (like me, more or less) - he liked me back, but we kept both saying, "but wait, we're gay!"

I don't KNOW what the answer to that one is

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pagan Values

Yike, It's nice to have something to write about, since I seem to have been "blocked" for over a year now.

At the same time, it makes me want to giggle, like I'm nervous.

It feels weird, rebellious, contrary, to try to take over "values" (not like exclusively, but like really own that we have them too)

How did they (yes, "they" you know, "them") manage to cordon off that word for themselves? no fair!

and then, like I said, I don't know if I have "pagan values"

I've been intrigued for a while by the fact that "pagan" and "heathen" kind of mean the same thing, and that isn't really about religion, it means like country folk, right? people too far from the city centers to be hip to the church. Now the city folk seem more likely to be pagan or atheist than the country folk, but I don't have stats on that, so don't quote me.

But I like to think of it meaning "just regular folks" - living our lives, not so caught up in the stories people tell each other that we forget the basics.


I have values, and they're rooted in something, but they're rooted in like truth, or they try to be, which feels different from being rooted in religion. You can't disprove something that would uproot my values. At least I don't think so, is there something like that out there?

At least I HOPE they're rooted in truth.

Right now I cant' think of much beyond

Reverence for life

Is that my only value?


Now, for me that doesn't translate into being opposed to legal abortion, it doesn't even translate directly into opposing the death penalty (though as it stands, I do)

It's not so much about that kind of stubbornness. It's never that easy, life is way complicated

and quality of life is important, fullness of life, being able to fully blossom as a human being (or a flower, or a bug, or a giraffe), so equality is important, respect is important, kindness is important, justice is important.

But it's NOT simple.

Today at the dogpark, I was like COVERED with caterpillars and inchworms and things (ok, not covered, but seemed always to be finding a new one on me) and I kept moving them, not killing them, and putting them on trees and leaves and things - reverence for life, right? Except, I wonder about the trees, and what those caterpillars grow into, and what they consume to do it. If I was focusing on the plants they will go on to eat, killing them would most likely have been "best"

So my values often don't give me answers, they give me questions I don't know the answers to

(and it's not June yet, so maybe this doesnt' count?)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

How to label myself re: religion - Quaker Pagan Atheist Pantheist, what? (maybe Buddhist too)

So, in my last post which really didn't say much, Pax commented and asked/said:

"I am curious though that you do not consider yourself a Pagan, is this because of your Atheism? Yet you also describe yourself as a Pantheist?

I guess I am confused, or perhaps intrigued, by your use of the word Pantheist..."

Ah, words, I love 'em and I hate 'em.

First let me say that words don't play a part, any part at all, in my spiritual experience. I sort of assume that's true for everyone, but it's easy to forget.

I would guess that when I am having a particularly spritually "in tune" moment, it might well be measurable in various ways (though I've never tried) - my heartrate, my breathing, what my skin is doing, etc., but, at least so far, there are not words inherent to that experience.

They come later, to try to communicate with other human beings about what happened, and if it's similar for us, or different, or whatever. Sometimes I wonder if this is even a useful practice, but there it is, I do it.

So, various words and how they might or might not apply to me.

Pagan- I think I goofed, and what I really meant is that I'm not a Wiccan. I don't have a chalice and a blade, I don't do coven-y things. I marched with the pagans in an earth day parade about 20 years ago, cause they were the most fun group close to where I was standing, but that's about all I can say. I don't find myself desiring to celebrate pagan holidays with the people I see around me who self identify as pagans (though I do tend to acknowledge solstice and equinox, and occasionally the ones in between, whose names I'm worse with - but sometimes with just a word to a friend, sometimes with a picnic, the bonfire idea intrigues me, but I've never done it as a holiday thing)

So, am I a pagan? I don't think so, but I'm not so sure. I'm a non-christian with a sense of spirituality, does that count? I find forests and lakes more spiritually infused than churches, does that count? I don't apply the word to myself much, though I toy with doing so as a kind of short hand for, well, "earthfreak" really :)

Atheist - by this I mean, first, that I don't believe in the god I thought I believed in when I was a child at catholic school. I don't believe in a father figure god, I don't think there's a guy (or a person of any sort) I can pray to when I need something (though when I'm desperate I have been known to do so anyway)

I mean second that I have not replaced him with another god, not the horned god, not zeus, not athena for that matter.

I mean third that the word "supernatural" just seems downright silly to me. Plastic might be outside nature (I"m not sure) but I'm sure as hell not gonna worship it. As far as some force that is inherent in reality/the universe/being being somehow outside nature, that seems like the stupidest contradiction in terms I have ever heard of.

I also HATE the term, "higher being" or "higher power." I absolutely reject the hierarchy inherent in the religion I was raised with (and in the vast majority of what I've been exposed to since)

That does not mean that I think I am the highest being/power, or maybe it does. I have toyed with the term "broader power" - I can believe in the spiritual relevance of the interconnectedness of life and being, and the power inherent in the whole that we are all a part of.

But I don't think it's supernatural. I think what's amazing and compelling about it is just how damn basic and natural it is.

Pantheist - I have actually settled on this as more true for me than "Atheist" -

What I still recognize, that I used to think was "god" is everything, is life, is the world and the mystery and wonder of it all.

What I was praying to when, at 6 or 7 at that catholic school, I wrote in a notebook (was it an assignment? I don't know) "Dear Lood, thank you for my cat and my dog and love" (is it telling that the only word I misspelled was "Lord"?) - turns out that feeling wasn't "Lood" it was my cat, and my dog, and love.

Makes a lot more sense that way, at least to me.

So that's how I'm a pantheist.

How I'm an atheist too is, I don't know if it's honest (since, going back to the beginning, the word "God" is not part of my spiritual experience, but part of trying to talk to other people about it) If "God" is everything, if God is love and life and being and the universe and all that is and mystery, then

Is it useful, and is it honest to use a word that so many people use to mean something very different? To mean something OUTSIDE or beyond of all of those things? I don't feel that it is.

I was on some Quaker forum/list/thingy years ago where the word panENtheist kept coming up, and to some (the majority) of people there is was VERY important to distinguish that God is IN everything, but transcends it too, that God is supernatural, that God goes beyond nature, it is VERY important to me that that's not true (not that I'd be that upset if it were true, though the God of the Bible is a meanie, in my opinion) but it seems very much not true, again not in a way I can argue with words (though I might give it a shot another day) but in a way I know without words.

And Buddhism, which is sort of an awkward tagalong topic here, but felt dishonest to leave it out for the sake of some sort of efficiency...... I don't identify as a buddhist, and I don't tend to follow buddhist practice very much at all. When I studied comparative relgion in college it "spoke to me" the most of anything I studied, but I also had an advisor who was adamant that one can't "be" a religion outside the contact of the culture that religion belongs to. Americans often pick and choose what they like from "foreign" religions, and to me there's something very cool about that, and also something really annoying.

I have heard Buddhism described as an atheist relgion, and that makes sense to me. It is a religion in that it seeks to address the mystery and in that it is about how we should be in the world (should is the wrong word there, I'm at a loss) but it is not theist in that is does not appeal to an outside source to answer any of those questions for us. It is about practice, not about believing something in particular. That makes sense to me, as does most of what the buddha (the one we talk about anyway) is quoted as having said, so there's that.

Interestingly, I am quite aware that buddhism has its practicioners who are all about superstition and not at all about how to be in the world, just as christianity (oh yeah, christianity....) has its followers who are all about how to be in the world (following some really good suggestions attributed to Jesus) and not at all about superstition really.

In fact, I was describing my atheism to a christian quaker a few weeks ago, and he kept insisting that what I was talking about wasn't atheism at all, but true christianity.

It's damn confusing.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

June 2009 is International Pagan Values Blogging Month!

Stasa turned me onto this, which was actually started over here at "Chrysalis"

Now, I'm not exactly a pagan. I mean, in lots of ways I'm REALLY not a pagan, I don't know much at all about the trappings and ritual involved.

But my spirituality is most manifest in natural settings, or something.

Besides, Stasa says atheists are invited too :)

So, something to write about.

The implication, which seems to be all over in these past years/decades that morals come from religion sort of baffles me. Which I suppose is very different from challenging the implication that they come from christianity, with the idea that they can come from another religion. Good fodder, but I'm sleepy and incoherent right now :)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 ruckus

So, I'm serious hepped up about this

I blogged about the difference between Amazon and indpendent bookstores over three years ago. Since then the independent bookstore I was talking about sort of folded and sort of got bought out. I hate to admit that, now that I don't know anyone who works there, I visit much less frequently, and I get most of my books at the library anyway.

But all the uproar, or most of it, as far as I've seen, so far has been about what choices we want Amazon to make about censorship and who reads what and what gets promoted. Sometimes criticism will touch on the fact that it really matters what Amazon lets us read (well, find, they're not policing used bookstores or anything, isn't that a relief?) because they're huge, and so many people never look anywhere else for a book.

If it's not on Amazon, it doesn't exist, right? So it's really important that Amazon doesn't begin to randomly diss major subsets of the population.

But how/when/why did we come to accept that it's just fine that if it's not on Amazon, it doesn't exist?

That's SCARY people!

And I know, that's not exactly a catch phrase, but it is very true for publishers and authors- the ex mentioned in the three year old post above used Amazon rather than "books in print" for preliminary searches on customer requests (to find out if it's in print, the ISBN, the publisher, whatever)

And, she told me once (and this is old, second-hand hearsay, so don't sue me, Amazon, I acknowledge it) that they (independent Amazon bookstore) called a vendor (a small regional press, I think) whom they had somehow neglected to pay for six months because they felt just awful about it, and the person she got there informed her that they'd just assumed that it wouldn't get paid cause they thought it was and not the independent Amazon. They "sell" (or give) books to Amazon because no one would know that they exist if they didn't. (I assume they do pay some of their vendors)

It seems like something people can't even wrap their brains around, somehow. I came across this great bookstore blog about it, but the comments all go back to, "well, it was a hacker, it's not their fault" - or someone else who's had independent bookstores refuse to order books with gay themes for him (so independents aren't any better, as if that's a competing chain) or whatever.

I don't even CARE (much) if it was a hacker - the point is, even if Amazon is completely "pure" by whatever standards I could dream up (and it will never be) - diversity is essential.

Potatoes were GREAT food in Ireland, good producers, nutritious, everything you could want

Until they weren't

And there was nothing else to eat

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spritual or Religious?

a f/Friend posted a question about this on his facebook page today, and I think maybe it's worthy of some chatter on my part. I was surprised at how many responses there were, without one being at all like mine.

I used to use this phrase more for myself, about ten years ago, when it didn't feel quite so cliched or flaky. I wrote it in a personals ad (of all places, how embarrassing!) of all things, and explained it as, "anti-dogma, pro-awe" - which probably is a better all around phrase, and unlikely to catch on and become overdone.

So, for me, "spiritual" is, or has been, a way to say, I experience something that feels like God (being atheist, I wouldn't actually name it god, at least not without extensive hedging) - I get that, I'm part of it (it being creation, lifeforce, mysticism, I"m not even sure)

and "Religious" is tainted with, essentially, for me, well, believing stupid things. I was trying to think of a better way to say it, but that's not my gift, so there it is.

If you're religious, maybe you believe the pope when he says that condoms are the enemy when combating AIDS. This essentially goes against reason, logic, and, well, reality. But if you're that kind of Catholic, he's right because he's the pope.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Fit for Freedom, not for Friendship

I'm excited for this book coming out.

My recent ex (I'm still very sad) asked me a while ago about why there weren't many black quakers, especially seeing that we were so involved in the antislavery movement. I just choked out a really long and rambly, guilt-laden, essentially, "I dont' know"

Turns out quakers can't claim nearly as much credit as we'd like to for being above/beyond this racist world and country we live in.

Still haven't figured out how to get there, but I'm pondering it.