Thoughts on Meditation

During the summer sessions, the college I work for likes to go to a four-day work schedule. This means ten-hour work days, and a three-day weekend.  Sounds great, right?  Unless you drive as far as I do to get to work. For those that live near the campus they work on – its a great schedule. For those who commute an hour or more to campus — it sucks. My ten-hour work day turns into a thirteen hour day. That gives me enough time to make dinner, spend an hour doing what I want to – and then its off to bed to repeat the cycle the next day. It also means that I don’t get my usual meditation times – and after an hour-plus in DFW traffic, it means I am usually not in the right frame of mind for meditation either. So what is a $Pagan (programming notation for naming a variable) to do??

My current habit has me taking short walks around the campus — when the weather permits. It takes me away from my desk, and allows me to decompress a little. That decompression allows me the chance to think about any data studies or data retrieval or (more frequently these days) any data modeling that I am undertaking. But there’s always the opportunity to sit down somewhere under a tree and just “empty” myself for a few minutes. Again, that’s when the weather permits. When its raining, I steal away to my Forester, and I sit and just listen to the rain beating on the roof. Frequently, I’ll sit in the back seat instead of the front seat – to avoid the temptation to turn the car on and have the radio spoil the mood.

My Backyard Stone Circle
My Backyard Stone Circle
But that’s only one instance. What about other times? Other places? One particular instance I am contemplating is my upcoming trip across the Atlantic ocean to the United Kingdom. Its not a particular lengthy flight – at least by my own standards. But it will take place over a pair of my usual meditation time frames. Well, in this case, its a matter of making due with what I have in hand. I can sit in one spot, I can put headphones on to remove auditory distractions, and I can close my eyes. To everyone else, I will be sleeping. For me, I’ll be taking my cleansing breaths, focusing on my intention, and entering my desired state of consciousness. Sure, I won’t have my favored setting of the backyard, with my nice tree, my stone circle, and the birds chattering all around me. But I will still have my inner grove to work with, and my Dream Crows to provide my “music”.

One of my favorite meditation techniques is walking. For this to work, you have to have your eyes open. You have to be aware of your surroundings (I walk the sidewalks in a suburban neighborhood – not paying attention can be the difference to watching a car go by, and feeling the car go over you). So how do I manage two different states of being? Well, that’s not as difficult as it sounds. I don’t go into my deeper meditations when I do this. I am not trying to focus and find my inner grove. Rather, I am trying to empty my mind of all the “noise” around me, and find my calmer center. And by noise, I mean all the thoughts that my over-worked, and over-stressed brain wants to focus on for a few seconds, before flitting on to the next topic. Over and over and over. All I am trying to do on my walks is to remove all of that noise – all those work thoughts, all those worries about this or that – for just a short while. All of that will be there once I finish my walk, but during my walk – its just stuff that can wait and be ignored for a short while.

Sadly, many people think that meditation is all about emptying your mind and thinking of nothing. That is a technique that is utilized by some. I am not one of those. I do empty my mind, but I retain one single thought through it all – whatever I decided was going to be my focus during my meditation. Sometimes, its a focus on my inner grove, so I can achieve my desired state of consciousness. Sometimes, its a focus on a particular ache or issue – so that I can sort out the tangibles versus the intangibles — healing myself, in a manner of speaking. Sometimes its just focusing on one particular thought: RELAX. That’s the usual message during my walking meditations.

In the end, meditation is a tool, a technique — something that you can utilize to achieve focus. I tend to think of it as one of the many tools I have in my spiritual practice. It works well for me — it may not work at all for you. And to be honest, that’s perfectly fine. Spell work is a great tool for others, its not something I even bother with. Same reasoning. But if you’ve never tried it before — I would say that you have. You just don’t call it meditation. Athletes have the narrow focus of the moment in their sport. Writers have that time frame, where the words flow clearly and the rest of the world just does not exist. Take a focused, and reasoned look at your daily life…I’ll bet you can find it. Sitting at your dining room table, sipping a cup of tea, watching the birds and squirrels play in the bird bath and hunt for food. A warm tub, filled with scented bath oils or just a massive amount of bubbles, waiting for you to slide beneath the surface after closing and locking the bathroom door from intrusions. In my not so humble opinion, meditation is the process of achieving an altered state of consciousness through everyday techniques of personal relaxation and/or focus. There’s no right way to do it, there’s no wrong way. There’s just YOUR way.

So ditch the sitting lotus position, particularly if it hurts your knees (as it does mine) and the pain keeps you from focusing. Lay down, sit down, stand, walk, jog, lift weights, go to the batting cage and hit softballs….whatever works. Just focus on the moment….on relaxing…and forget everything else. All that shit will be there when you return, with the same urgency as before. Just focus on the moment, forget all of that, and relax. Experience the moment. Remember that feeling of calm, focused, relaxed energy…and remember how to get back there again. Its not a one-time vacation – its that place you go to unwind. That place where the rest of the world sits in timeout…

–Tommy /|\

Book Review: Creating Change Through Humanism

cover_final_web2Earlier this morning, I reviewed a book on interfaith dialogue – Celebrating Planet Earth. It was a delightful read on how people from diverse backgrounds and points of view can come together for a discussion, and locate common ground.  “Creating Change Through Humanism” by Roy Speckhardt, which I was reading at the same time – is nothing of the sort. However, before I get any further, let me make this one statement: the intended audience for this book is most assuredly not me. I am a very religious Pagan. Mr. Speckhardt is a very anti-theist individual. We will approach topics from a very different point of view.

Anti-theist. Not Atheist. No, this book is definitely geared towards the individual who does not have a spiritual or religious bend to their nature. Furthermore, this book BARELY addresses the idea of creating change – unless that change is to drop whatever “superstitions and imaginary beliefs” you may have to embrace the anti-theist point of view. Outside of that, there’s some nods towards aiming towards a political recourse to effect change, but the author spends the other 99.5% of the book railing against the concepts of theology and religious belief.

Some of the credit for this shift in thinking is due to those we’re less inclined to thank. We’ve seen Religious Right leaders like Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed in the ’90’s, followed by right-wing politicos like Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum, and the anti-intellectual George W. Bush, followed by new creationist/intelligent design advocates like Ken Ham and Sarah Palin, followed by tea partiers like Rand Paul and Michelle Bachmann. Each of these people, by shoving their extreme beliefs in our faces at every turn, made a contribution to galvanizing our struggle for a more humanistic view.  (p. xi)

In this quote from the introduction, I notice that the author tends to lean towards holding up more extreme elements as the primary examples of the “enemy of the cause”. The reality is that most Christians (his primary target here) are not really like this particular loud, cartoonish examples. Each would believe that they are a leading element of ALL of Christianity but are really leaders of more radical, far louder, far smaller groupings of individuals who twist their own theology to accommodate their own personal hatred. Interestingly enough, the author also engages in an insult by referring to former President George W. Bush as an “anti-intellectualist” in order to add another glossy coat to his own thinly disguised point. Let’s be clear — these “pillars” that the author holds up as examples, are the same people that would have no compunction towards having me swinging from the end of a rope draped over a high tree branch. So I have no real interest in defending these particular people. However…this type of attack does nothing to bolster one’s argument — particularly when trying to hold yourself and your cause up as a shining example of “something better”.

The large majority of the book is a treatise on why Humanism and Anti-theism are what society should choose – complete with more thinly veiled insults and attacks against the Christian belief system in much the same manner. And that’s a shame. There are elements of Humanist thought that could be excellent vessels towards creating a more tolerant, and understanding society. In the end, the author chooses to utilize the book as an attack vehicle and as an odd Chick-like tract evangelizing his particular brand of non-belief. The title is certainly misleading in this regard. A real shame….

Rating:  one-half (reluctant) star out of five

Book Review: Celebrating Planet Earth

Celebrating Planet EarthI am a big fan of causes that cross faith lines. After all, we all live on this massive floating rock in space, there has to be something that we can all agree on — aside from killing one another in pointless battles over whose religion is right/wrong. The human race can certainly agree that pointless actions such as this are certainly the “vogue” moment in time. No, setting the sarcasm to the side, I have just finished an interesting title from Moon Books – Celebrating Planet Earth, a Pagan/Christian Conversation: First Steps in Interfaith Dialogue. Unlike many interfaith dialogue titles that I have come across, the point of this book is not to solve a problem and provide a conclusion that sets the steps towards a solution. Rather, the point – as I discerned it – was to seek that rarest of positions: common ground. And to achieve this, the individuals who are involved start by discussing the negative perceptions that each area of belief has towards the other. There’s no debate. There’s a lengthy discussion of how negative perceptions come about, an honest acknowledgement of where differences are, and an offering of where common ground can be achieved. Once this is established, a discussion of how each side of the discussion sees the environment is made.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this – for me – was that this took place in the physical sense. The event started as a face-to-face meeting/discussion between Druids and Christians in Somerset, UK. Then, the event was widened considerably to include more Pagans into the conversation. I certainly wish that I had been included in a discussion like this. As a book read, it was a very interesting, and compelling discussion. I can only imagine how dynamic it was when it happened in person!

I’m quite a bit biased when I say that this is definitely something to pick up and read. The topic – the natural aspect of this planet we all inhabit – is one that is near and dear to my own heart and beliefs. The idea – an interfaith conversation between Pagans and Christians in order to find common ground – is a concept that I have been championing for many years. Plus, there’s no debate held here. Each side acknowledges and understands that we have a role as a caretaker of our environment. Its the first steps of a dialogue – a conversation. And if I may be so bold to say – its not only rather ambitious, but also spot-on!

Rating: Five enthusiastic stars out of five!

My Money is in Jail

So, this morning finds me writing this blog post on my Windows 7 workstation. Most people know my aversion to Windows workstations – and should find this an odd combination.  After all, I have my iMac — why would I move over to a workstation that I use primarily for playing games? Well, at this moment, the iMac has not been behaving properly – shutting down after a few minutes of work. It looks like it may be a graphics card, or perhaps the dreaded Logic Board. Either way, I had decided to replace the iMac with a more powerful machine. No, its not this Windows machine or even another machine running Windows. I will be installing a Mac Pro workstation on my desktop this morning. But what I wanted to tell you isn’t about the Mac pro – but rather the process in which it was purchased.

Mac Pro workstations are not cheap machines. The configurations can run somewhere between $8000 US to upwards of $12,000 US. The configuration I settled on is somewhere mid-range of that. With the sale of my late father’s house, I happened to have enough funds to cover this, and made the decision to purchase. Shortly after I made the purchase, I received a notification from Apple that my charge had been denied by my bank, Wells Fargo. I have been with Wells Fargo for close to fifteen years now, so this seemed puzzling to me. It was late in the evening, so I did some online research of my account, and discovered that I had a daily limit of spending for my account type. I could only purchase approximately 1/5th of my Apple purchase per day. So, I spent some time finding out where I could make a bump in my daily limit. I discovered a blurb of text, buried under approximately six layers of links, that directed me to call the Wells Fargo customer assistance line. So, I followed those directions…

My conversation with the service agent was pleasant enough. When I queried on how to up the limit to purchase the computer, I was placed on hold – presumably the individual was asking a supervisor about the manner in which this could be done. For all I know, he was laughing his ass off at my idiot question – I have a free checking account with Wells Fargo. When he returns to the phone, he informs me that I cannot have my daily limit changed, unless I would like to purchase the Premium Plan for $15 per month. Then, I could “negotiate” a change to my daily limit. What the fsck? I can “negotiate” upping my daily limit on spending *MY* money AFTER I pay extra for the PRIVILEGE of being able to ASK? I was a little more composed when I asked him this nearly identical question. That was correct, I was told. I politely thanked the young man, and hung up the phone.

Currently, I have enough in my account to pay for MULTIPLE Mac Pros of the configuration I was requesting. And yet, here I was being denied the capability of using my funds in the manner in which I choose. By the bank that was being charged with protecting my funds from theft. And apprently protecting my funds from me as well. Or, as I stated to Pam:

…my money is in jail. Apparently, its crime is existing in large quantities, and I can’t even get visiting hours.

I contacted Apple to determine if there was a payment plan – and was told that there was not.  The only payment options were those listed on the site. Its even there in plain text for me to read (if I had done so). No six-level deep clicking of links. But the Apple agent was helpful.  She noted that this happens all the time. She suggested that I purchase Apple gift cards at $2000 apiece and use those to pay the large majority of the configuration, and then charge the balance when I was below my daily spending limit. This worked as she stated, but I was still a bit pissed at having to handle this process. It wasn’t Apple’s fault – rather its Wells Fargo’s desire to treat my money like it was theirs and not mine.

The process is completed, and here sitting next to my desk are the boxes that contain all the aspects of the Mac Pro configuration that I purchased. I will utilize the early part of the morning setting it up, and connecting it to the network. However, I am left thinking about the state of banking here in the United States. Many of us use banks for our paychecks. Many of us have our savings and retirement accounts in banking systems – Wells Fargo being among those. When I drop my money into these banks, am I still the owner of my money?? My experience obviously points to “No”. And in a society where the pushback is to use Debit and Credit Cards rather than cash — I have to start speculating on the level of “why”?

Spending on a credit card or debit card is rather easy to do — a simply swipe of the card. But do we keep track of these transactions?  Or do we let the bank do that for us?? I remember when I had to write a physical check, there was a little balance ledger there to use. I always viewed it as a nuisance. Now I begin to wonder…  The idea that people don’t know enough about their balances leads me to think that over-charging on an account may be more common than one may think. Who benefits from that?  The banks do – with over-draft fees. Use your ATM card in an ATM that is not your bank’s? Be prepared for an extra fee for doing so. And if you are unlucky enough to have an account that has to have a minimum balance…there’s a fee for that too. And it will be charged to your account — even if there are no funds there to cover it.

What the fsck?  All these fees and rules concerning how you can spend your money – the amounts you can spend – where you can get it from. I don’t know about the rest of you — but this sounds an awful lot like being handed an allowance from my late-parents. That stopped for me when I was 16 years of age. I can only look at this and see that my cash is definitely in jail…when I am using Wells Fargo.

Thoughts on a Future With Paganism

The Past.  We’ve talked a lot about that throughout the blog. We’ve also talked a little bit about the Future. Sort of. There are blog posts out there about the next ten years, the next fifteen, the next twenty. What will be the state of Paganism at those points? How can we possibly steer our current state of Paganism towards the goals so far down the road? This morning, this was on my mind as I was trying to write this blog post. I had no idea just how I was going to write this. During my second cup of coffee, I decided to meditate for a bit on the topic.

DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013

I turned it over and over in my mind. What would I like to see Paganism be like in the future? Well, there’s the obvious – a little more into the mainstream, a religious alternative that is treated as being “serious” by the everyday person – not just the Pagan practitioners. And as I struggled to move forward with my list, a small voice whispered out of the dark trees at the edge of my Sacred Grove:

What if you don’t have that much time?

What do you mean?  Me?  I am nearing 50, an age I once that was ‘ancient’. Then I realized, it wasn’t a literal you, but rather a wider ranging you – meaning all of us. And the hamster start trotting faster on the wheel in my head.

There are a lot of ways to place out this scenario of not having a lot of time. Each one, is a doomsday scene in its own right. What if the Conservative Christians get power here in the United States, and force law changes that put my beliefs in a position of being illegal. Yeah, I know – very “Left Behind” in thought – however as unlikely as it seems, there is a degree of plausibility. Then there’s the thought of global warming, famine, global unrest over natural resources such as drinking water — Pagans are a minority belief system. When resources become scarce, how long before the thought of one group of people over another for resources begins?

There is another way to view this, in my opinion. We can dream about ten-plus years down the road and how Paganism can be set forth as a vanguard towards respect and care of our planet. I truly believe that this can happen. However, the true start of the future is today. The steps we take today are the ones that echo into eternity.

We have people creating strife and chaos in the name of their beliefs. To my Christian friends, I apologize for painting with a broad brush here, but it helps illustrate the point more clearly. We fight wars in the name of the Christian God, the Jewish God, the Muslim God…why? To spread the dominance of one belief system over another? Really? That’s no different than killing people simply because they are black or Jewish. That’s been done before…and the results were outstandingly disturbing. We fight wars over resources, because those resources give our nation of people an advantage over others. How long before we start having wars over the control of fresh drinking water? In all honesty – not long.

What can we do? How about living our lives as Pagans. You don’t have to claim the title to live the life, ya know? Care for our Earth, find ways to use reusable product packaging, look into sustainable farming for your backyard, be kind to your neighbors, be kind to strangers, be your beliefs. You don’t have to make your neighbors believe in the Gods, the Goddesses or the Spirits of the Land. They can still be Christians, Agnostics, Atheists or whatever – but we can show them a better way of living by following some of our own principles where Mother Earth is concerned. We can show that hunting is good, but over-hunting is a terrible thing. That hospitality is not dead — its just merely slumbering underneath the skin of everyone.

Yes, we are looking to the future of our Paganism — seeing young adults coming to Paganism, and embracing its principles. But those same principles are being embraced by other beliefs and their adherents as well. Its true, we may not have that much time. But I am optimistic enough that I believe that change is about to start — that Pagans have the chance to lead the way into the future. We Pagans of today may have to take a hard, bloody stand against those that view the Earth as a resource to be used, as proclaimed by their holy scripture. And that stand may be here sooner than we think…but there is a foreseeable future, where we work together to make a planet that will be the home of future generations to come.

I am the voice of the next generation…
…Start a revolution now!
–Amaranthe, Digital World

Mesa Verde – Crow, the Spirits of the Land, and the Petroglyph Point Trail

Yes, I am on vacation. Yes I am blogging while on vacation. This particular trip was planned about two years ago. Southwest Colorado has always been something of a mystery when it came to planning a vacation. But the draw of Mesa Verde, and Chaco Canyon have been too great to ignore. Chaco Canyon will happen in two days – Mesa Verde was yesterday.

Arriving at Mesa Verde, you could feel the “old” in the air. Walking into the visitor’s center at the main gate, you can see Point Lookout looming up the way. The visitor’s center is full of the typical tourist stuff. I managed to come away with a good book on the Ancestral Puebloans which had a DVD companion packaged with it. From there, the trip took us to the gate to purchase our ticket into Mesa Verde, and on down the trail we drove.

Or I should say “up” the trail, as the winding road took us up and around Lookout Point, along several ridgelines before bringing us to the first of the Cliff Dwellings that can be visited – Spruce Tree House. Its named for the large number of spruce trees located around the dwelling. While walking down the trail to the cave dwellig, I spotted the entrance to a walking trail called “Petroglyph Point” and something said “you gotta see that.” I had two hours before I had to be on the Cliff Palace tour – and a round trip of under two miles meant I could do this easily.

I definitely wasn’t thinking things through when I set out from the Spruce Tree dwelling and back down to the start of the Petroglyph Point trail. This was not a paved sidewalk in suburban DFW I was going to be walking on. It was broken terrain, where I was going to need to take care of where I stepped. And I was walking this alone. Not the brightest thought in the world, looking back. I could have turned an ankle, broken a leg, fallen face-first into the various stones I was walking over, or even slipped off a few of the “staircases” and found myself hurtling downward to the base of the canyon. But something said I HAD to go. And I followed that voice to my two-plus hour excursion along a broken, ragged trail across the cliff face of the canyon.

The Start of the Trail

At first, I thought I was merely walking the trail to see a set of petroglyphs. Fifteen minutes into my walk, I halted after a particular steep climb to catch my breath. I could feel the touch of a hand on the back of my neck. At first I tried to be casual about it and dismiss the touch of the wind. But I have felt this touch before. I knew it was Crow. A scream from on high brought my attention skyward to see a crow freewheeling on the currents of the canyon. I lifted my camera and took a series of sports shots to try and catch the crow’s image. When I pulled the camera down, I felt the caress against my neck again. I sat very still, and listened. And heard the sound of the wind in the trees, another scream from the crow above, and the thought arrived in my mind: keep walking. 

 
So I stood up and continued along the trail. Soon, I came to a VERY narrow passageway – and I nearly balked at going through. I’m not the skinnest guy in the world. But the voice told me to hold for a moment, and think of who I am, and where I want to be in my life going forward. I stopped for a few moments, brought to my thoughts where I am now in my life. All the changes that have happened over the last two years, and how those changed have changed me as a person. Then I switched gears and thought about where I wanted to be, what I wanted to really do with my life, and how those changes were just inches away from my fingertip touch. Then I made my way through the very narrow passage.  When I made it to the other side, I realized that I had just participated in a ceremony of some sort – making my transition from one life to be born anew in the next. What that holds for me, I cannot say just yet — only that its happened, and this is very much on my mind.

A Second Passageway

After thirty more minutes on the trail, I came to a second passageway. This time, I heard no thoughts, I felt no reassuring touch on my neck and shoulder – so I stopped, opened my feelings and emotions to the environment around me – and I felt them. LOTS of them. The Spirits of the Land, or if you will, the Spirits of Place. They were literally everywhere. And not one of them was paying attention to the humans around them. After all, why should they? Its not like we are all that significant to them. They have been here far longer then we have. They would not perceive us as anything, until we threatened the environment that they protect. And all I was doing was walking along a rocky path to view some carvings on a nearby wall. I was literally nothing to them.  So I drew a big breath, walked through the passage – taking care not to fall down the makeshift stone stairs that had been added here – and once again felt Crow’s reassuring touch. “Keep going” was the message. And I did.

  
I was now nearly two hours into my walk. The tour of the Cliff Palace certainly seemed an unlikely happeneing (it turned out that it was unlikely – I was physically drained when I finished the hike). But I continued on to the petroglyphs. I started this hike, I was damn sure going to see these petroglyphs! Twenty minutes later, after scrambling through three harrowing downward jaunts and two very hallenging upward climbs, I arrived at the petroglyphs. Through the first two-thirds of my hike, I had seen no one. It was only me on the hiking trail. Arriving at the petroglyphs, I encountered three families that were taking a break. The next upward climb involved some handhold/foothold pulls to get to the top of the Mesa for the journey back to the museum. I watied until they started their upward climb, and then I spent time looking at the petroglyphs. The symbology seemed a little simplistic to me, until I remembered – these folks were not exactly Picaso or Rembrandt. They were merely depicting what they knew on the wall in the closest approximation that they could make. 

 

It was here that I realized my third mistake – I had taken no water with me whatsoever. Again, not the smartest thing in the entire world. When I made it to the top of the mesa, I was greeted by a cool wind that had not been there before. Apparently, someone was looking out for me enough to cool me off. The rest of the walk was over fairly flat land, which proved to be the area directly overhead from the Spruce Tree dwelling. When I arrived back at the museum, I knew I was far too spent to make the trek through the Cliff Palace cliff dwelling. Crow whispered that it wasn’t important – what I had just done was what had been needed.

Final Thoughts

Its hard to say what you will do when one of the Gods or Goddesses calls you to somewhere. A little more forethought, and I would not have left myself so vulnerable to my environment. Perhaps this was by design – to place me in a certain frame of thought as I approcahed that first passageway. Perhaps not, all I know is that I didn’t THINK about precautions and safety measures. IIt never entered my mind – and I am typically an overly cautious hiker. But now – I have something new on my plate. And I have some serious choices to make going forward. I know there are going to be many more meditative circles where I approach Crow and seek further advice. There’s a lot to think about. But when the Gods come calling – sometimes you don’t get the choice of packing a day-lunch for the trip…

The Politics of Fear

At this moment, I am sitting in a cabin, about fifteen miles north-northeast of Mesa Verda in southern Colorado. The air is a little thinner than what I am typically used to, and I am waiting for the percolating coffee maker (sigh – no Keurig) to finish pumping out some of the nectar of the Gods for me. I will have plenty to write on all that I will experience in the coming days though. Instead, for this morning’s post, I wanted to focus on something that I have been listening to on the radio airwaves:  the closing of the survelliance aspects of the so-called “Patriot” Act, which was followed on by the passage of similar survelliance aspects under the title of the “Freedom” Act by what is meant to be the vice of the people here in the United States — the Congress.

Senator (and Presidential hopeful) Rand Paul gave an empassioned…well, it wasn’t quite a speech, and it was far more than just him talking about why the “Patriot” Act needed to lapse instead of being extended. I’m not sure what to call it – so I’ll settle on diatribe, even though that doesn’t quite cover it either. Anyways, Rand Paul provide an empassioned diatribe against the “Patriot” Act even stating at one point: “…isn’t this what we fought the revolution over?” That’s not the real reason, but it is the one that gets stated openly so that voters think these folks in Congress are actually DOING something. No, the real reason that the “revolution” was “fought” was to insert new players into the positions of power and authority of Congress, and push out the older folks. But (as usual), I digress. On the opposite point – as opposite as it could get – was Mitch McConnell, from the same party as Senator Paul, arguing in his dull monotone about the virtues of the program. He lacked any kind of passion in his statements, and sounded more like he could care less if the measures were extended or not. That’s because there was the “Freedom” Act, with much the same measures installed in its wording, to take its place. This particular bll has been around since 2013, and lately, there have been a few amendments added to it – presumably to make things palatable to the American public.

But how does a bill like this, curtailing the freedoms that Americans treasure within the Constitution even see the light of day? For that, we have to stop talking about the “Patriot” and “Freedom” Acts and look instead at who benefits from this. This boils down to a single point – fear. After the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, the United States public demanded answers. How could plans such as these have been stopped? Security measures at airports were severely tightened. What we were allowed to bring on a flight was scrutinized and scrutinized again. After a terrorist attempted to ignite his shoes that were lined with C4 explosives during in incoming overseas flight into Detroit, we were forced to remove our shoes at the security check-in line. We, the public, expressed a fear that these attacks would happen. We implored our government to do what they should be doing:  protecting us. In response, the government noted that to protect us, they would need to remove a few of our basic freedoms to ferret out would-be attackers. And the American public agreed, provided that the measures were only temporary. We just saw the temporary status in play, as the provisions under the “Patriot” Act were allowed to lapse. And just mere hours later, we see the Congress using a different tactic to bring this back under a different measure.

The politics of fear is a lucrative business. We need TSA screening agents on the front lines. At the screening locations – but surely these folks din’t plop from the womb knowing everything about being a TSA screening agent, right? Of course not. They have to be trained properly. That means money. That means business contracts with third-party security firms who will train TSA screening agents. That also means bloated government contracts, and mis-management of funding. Let’s not kid ourselves, the government is terrible at third-party vendor contracts. Added along with the TSA screening agents are the new security measures that businesses will need to add in to keep from being attacked or a potential loss of data. I know a lot about this side of the business, I have worked in many places as a Disaster Recovery technician. These processes and the associated equipment and software do not come cheap. Added to that, these security companies and disaster recovery firms have strong lobbies in the halls of Congress. Its certainly not difficult to bend the arm of a congressperson to enact legislation that benefits your company, when Congress was one of the persumed targets on 9/11. Add to all of this, high profile security breaches of military data by WikiLeaks and Eric Snowden – and you have the perfect hammer to effect the drumbeat of fear in the halls of Congress.

Make no bones about it, unraveling this sticky ball of politics, legislation, and fear will be difficult. Senator Paul had the correct idea on allowing aspects of the “Patriot” Act to lapse. It will certainly be interesting to see if he continues that drumbeat against the “Freedom” Act or not. If he is lead by his principles, he will have very similar arguments against the Freedom Act. If he is lead by the lobbyists in the halls of Congress, he will be wanting to enact the new “Freedom” Act measures, along with all of its associated funding for equipment, procedures, staffing, and contractual bloat. It will certainly be an interesting measure to watch in the coming days – particularly on where the voting lines get drawn. 

Which Wolf Will You Feed?

Last weekend, I went to the movies and watched Tomorrowland from Disney. It was an interesting film — once it got going. Its painfully slow in getting started, but there’s a message in all of it. The movie discusses how the chance to reach for the unknown – for a future that remains possible – can drive the dreamers forward. Or to put it another way, so long as we know that there is a chance for any number of outcomes, we will strive towards our dreams. There are far more statements within the movie, but I wanted to focus on this one for a bit.

Two Wolves

I have a little rubber bracelet that I got from a trip to NASA in Houston a few years back. It has the iconic statement emblazoned on it: “Failure is not an Option.” For the longest time, I applied that statement to my students. When I was in the classroom, I tried to be as upbeat and encouraging with them as much as I could. I’m quite sure that a few of them understood where I was coming from. Even more probably viewed me as some sort of Pollyanna, and dismissed me out of hand. After all, I focused very intensely on very positive outcomes. But it wasn’t because I refused to see the negative outcomes, not at all. Its because I believe intent is driven by what we consume. Or to put it in the words of Tomorrowland‘s heroine, Casey:

There are two wolves who are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. The question is… which wolf wins?

The answer is “the one you feed”. I found another aspect of this on the Nanticoke Indians website located here. Interesting, is it not? What we are talking about here is a concept very similar to magickal workings. We form our intention – to feed whichever wolf we want to – and then move forward in our actions to do just what our intentions are aimed towards. I will come back to this in a short bit.

Further in the movie, Governor Nix (played by Hugh Laurie) has a long statement about how humanity embraces the concept of the “end of the world.” At the end of this monologue, he states:

…because the wonderful thing about giving up on the future is that it doesn’t require you to do anything right now.

Which brings me back to the point of knowing the outcome, as well as branching into another point of thought I will get to in a moment. When we know the outcome, without the shadow of a doubt, human beings are more likely to give up, embrace the outcome, and find a way to adapt (if there is one). Tomorrowland points out how this kills creativity and the desire to reach for the unknown. After all, if the outcome is already known…who cares about what we don’t know about already? In the end, its a useless activity to find out more, particularly when there is no changing the outcome. But if the outcome is only 99.999% certain, there are some human beings that will strive with every fiber of their being to find that 0.001% chance of a different outcome. Where there is a hope of altering an outcome, there is always the struggle to utilize our creativity to find that/those other solution(s).

The End Times

So, we come to one of the biggest differences between Christianity and Paganism, at least in my mind. Pagans embrace an idea that we can change the outcome in our world. If we put into motion the idea that we are a part of our environment, rather than the environment being a resource that we can dominate, and use – we find that there’s no need for an “End Times” scenario. We can live within our environment forever (whatever that means), provided we see ourselves as a part of it – rather than the environment as a resource to devour. Christianity, on the other hand, points to a Dystopian future on the Earth. When the time is over, Christians will be pulled into Heaven, a Utopian environment that cannot be accessed until your death or the Rapture. The Earth will be left to Satan and his minions, and setup as a Dystopian environment of misery, pain, and suffering for those non-believers who were “left behind”. Its fairly obvious to see there’s no need to conserve resources for the future. There’s no need to be a responsible caretaker of the environment. After all, in the end, God will take us from here, to another place. A Paradise. Oddly enough, my favorite Eagle’s song “The Last Resort” addresses just this point.

Call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.

Tomorrowland doesn’t paint a rosy picture of the future. Because the future isn’t determined yet. There’s still hope that things can be changed. There’s still a chance that we can make things better, that we can reach for our dreams. And that, is my point here. There’s always hope. There will always be room in my environment for my dreams. My dreams of a world where our environment is a treasured part of who we are, not merely something to admire or use. My dreams of a world where we choose to live together and are respectful of our differences. How do we get there? Well, I am not completely sure. But I have started walking down that Path myself. And I see things that I need to change in who I am. I need to find ways to be more understanding of the followers of the Christian faith. I see where I need to find commonalities between my Independent political leanings and those of the Right and Left in the political spectrum. That little bit of understanding, those commonalities – that’s common ground. And from fertile common ground – that is where I believe the dreams I have will be cultivated from.

Which wolf, indeed….

My very first sight of Space Shuttle Atlantis
My very first sight of Space Shuttle Atlantis

The Pagan Community Statement on the Environment – A Few Thoughts

So, we’ve all seen the petition:  “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment”. I have watched many, many folks not only sign it, but then send out messages imploring others to sign the petition as well. And yet, to this moment, I have resisted signing the petition. I have continually found myself in the grips of an argument as to “why”. So this morning, after receiving a few more “invitations”, I thought it may be time to explore that path of thought a little more.

The Introduction

Perhaps the first thing to do is to look at the statement itself. Its quite lengthy, so the best option would be for you to hop on over to the website hosting it. Instead of attempting the longer task of going through the declaration step-by-step, I thought it would be better if I tackled what I considered to be the prime pieces for my own understanding and consideration of the overall statement. This does not mean that I think something that calls out to you is insignificant, merely that it was not something that I – as an individual – found compelling for my own understanding. I cannot speak for what is in your mind, or what calling is on your heart — if I could, then I would be you, and not me.

The opening statement, in my mind, is perhaps the most crucial towards how many folks will identify with the overall statement. After all, we may all identify within the scope of Paganism, but we are definitely not all the same. Some individuals approach their beliefs from a perspective where politics bleeds over into everything that they do. Some others, myself included, may choose the opposite part of that: keeping the political waters and the spiritual waters separate as much as possible. I have come across folks who disagree with my stance, which for me is perfectly fine. I follow this Path because it gives me the freedom to dance before my ancestors in a manner of my own choosing. But, like I usually do – I digress from my topic.

Paganism is a family of spiritual paths rooted in ancestral religions throughout the world and predating recorded history. As explained by the Pagan Federation, Paganism includes polytheistic and pantheistic nature-worshipping religions, and often includes deities of all genders, ancestor veneration, and celebrations in tune with our Earth. A full discussion of the many varieties of Paganism is beyond the scope of this statement, but we, the signatories, value life and the natural world as sacred. Thus, Pagan thought leads us to live in harmony with the rhythms of our great Earth.

This is the opening statement that is a declaration of identity for the under-signed. I guess I am slightly disappointed that there is no language for non-Pagans, but then this is a “Pagan Community” statement, so my disappointment is a minor, minor one. But the statement does note that this is not a time or place to have the wide-ranging, and free-wheeling discussion of what typifies a “Pagan” — and for that simple notation, I am extremely grateful to read.

On Towards the Statement Itself

The rest of the statement is broken into other parts: “Nature is Sacred”, “We Are a Part of the Web of Life”, “How We Are Damaging the Ecosystem”, and “What We Can Do”. The first two sections, “Nature is Sacred”, and “We Are a Part of the Web of Life” are fairly straight-forward declarations of how many Pagans, including myself see the environment around them. As an animist, I wish there was an addition how everything has life – sometimes in manners we cannot readily perceive. But that’s merely my own manner of Spirituality stepping forward.

The next two sections are where things might get problematic. After all, not everyone will subscribe to the idea of how we are damaging the ecosystem around us. But one particular sentence mended all those fences and erased all my doubts.

Our global systems of exploitation are not easily dismantled.

That one small, seemingly insignificant statement says a lot. With the advancement of the internet – not just as a means of conveying information from point-to-point, but also as a means of providing access into local economies that we have only had access to through physical travel – our local, regional, and national economies are tied together. Any changes made to any level of these economies will have ripple effects throughout the infrastructure, and those effects can have astounding, unforeseen consequences to people in ways we might not understand just yet. So, we have to tread carefully here. We have to be responsible with how we go about working the solution.

What is the Solution?

I am not sure what solutions are to be implemented. I’m not an Economist, or even a Biologist. But I do know where I would like to see changes. It comes in the next-to-last paragraph of the statement.

Fundamentally, we believe that a change in spirit is required, one that fosters a new relationship between humanity and other species and Earth as a whole.

Currently, in a global economy that views the planet and other species of plant and animal as fungible resources – there is very little value placed on things that does not have a monetary descriptive driving it. Painting with a broad brush here, we do not see the beauty in a natural view in the mountains or the forests for what it is. Rather we see how many tourist dollars can be made bringing people from other areas to see it. And those tourists miss the spiritual aspects of what they are seeing, focusing instead on the experience of “having been there” instead. Our planet is a place to see, not a place to experience.

So how do we bridge that gap? How can we change the spirit of those individuals that are driven through living in a pre-packaged, fast-food, disposable life? As dumb as it sounds, the movie “Field of Dreams” has the ultimate answer. Yes,

…build it and they will come.

Or put in another manner: show them how reverence for our environment, celebrating how we are part of our environment, finding ways to live as a part of our environment — this is where we can make the difference. There will be the naysayers. There will be those who attempt to be derisive with names like: “tree-huggers”, “dirty hippies”, “people out of touch with a modern age”. But instead of arguing with them, instead of engaging in a war of words – let’s step to the forefront, and just be ourselves. In my personal estimation, that’s more than enough. Its what I strive to do in my everyday life.

American Eagles Gold Mine Near Cripple Creek, CO
American Eagles Gold Mine Near Cripple Creek, CO

Yes, I am a Pagan, and proud to be so. Every moment of my day is spent trying to live my life the best way I know how. Trying to connect better with my environment. Doing the best I can to connect with the Gods – and to connect with my ancestors. Greeting the Sun each morning with delight, and finding beauty among the living entities everywhere around me — even here in suburban America. My actions aren’t going to change opinions overnight. Nor will anyone else’s. But I am not going to be deterred by that. This is where I draw a line in the dirt…and refuse to be what a pre-packaged, fast-food, non-spiritual world wants me to be: a cog in their machine.

Have I signed the statement with my own name?  As of ten seconds, yes I have. My consternation came more from a perspective that has always been a part of my personal makeup:  I don’t like to be told what to do. Its a leftover from growing up in Catholic schools with strict, regimented rules. But I have spent the time to investigate the Community Statement. And for me, the statement fits into what I believe. I’m not going to beat you over the head and tell you that you HAVE to sign it. But I will say, head over to the website, and read it for yourself. If its something you feel strongly enough to attach your name to it. Please do so. But don’t feel like you HAVE to sign anything. After all, you have your own mind…use it.

–Thomas Van Hook, signatory 4,988

United We Stand — When There’s Common Ground

Imagine you could rid the Earth
Of anyone you choose
Which ones would you need the most
And which ones would you lose?

Do we want to judge another
Lest we be judged too?
Careful now… The next one might be you
–Prince, Planet Earth

So, I sit here – trying to figure out what to write for this particular blog post. There’s a hundred, million things swirling around in my thoughts. “Being scared of politics” — well, not really that one. That’s more a private joke these days than anything else. But there are lots of other things swirling around in here. As is my typical method for writing – I put iTunes into a random rotation, and let it pick something to color my aural landscape. What I get is the above Prince song that I have quoted from. Because it has touched on something that is becoming a stronger voice in my ears: community. Plus, the song touches on aspects of taking care of our environment, another cause I am hearing louder and louder with every day.

Looking at Community From Another Angle

Community is an interesting concept, so much so – I have written about it numerous times here in the blog. But community isn’t just about identifying with a group of people over belief, politics, hobbies, or even the geographical area that you are living in. Its about connections. Its about relationships. Its about inclusion. Its nearly the opposite of our modern society.

Take, for instance, my local community. I live on a block of houses that totals five down my street, and three more on the opposite side of the block. Eight houses total. That’s not including the houses directly across the street from me. Just the houses right here. Remove me from the equation – that’s just seven houses….or if you will, seven families. I have been here right around seven years in this house. In all that time, I have had direct contact with only three of the families here. The neighbors on either side of me, and the family immediately to the other side of one of these neighbors (the other lives on the corner). In seven years, I have spoken to all three of these families – right around a dozen times. Total. The other families, I would never know who they were, if they passed me in the frozen foods aisle at Wal-Mart.

Its not from a lack of trying to talk to these folks.  We are all friendly enough to one another to wave an acknowledgement of our existences to one another. But that’s as far as it goes. Granted, I live in what is termed a “commuter town” in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. People who live here generally work elsewhere – so they spend their time driving to work, or in some instances, taking the train to and from work. The majority of their time is spent with co-workers. On weekends, there is the obligatory maintenance of our respective yards, and then into our routines of spending time with loved ones and the friends that we don’t see during the week. In other words, we cherish our weekends and holidays to spend with the people we consider to be our “community” — our friends, and relatives. Individuals whom we choose to spend our time with. The people that live around us? They just “happen” to live near us.

Then there is the time-suck fashion of the internet. Its an awesome tool for closing the distance between us and family that are geographically living a distance from us. Or connecting with friends who live in another part of the world. We can spend time chatting via text, or over a video connection – catching up on one another’s lives – reconnecting with our chosen community members who just don’t live close enough to visit on a whimsical weekend.

So, we have what has become the modern-day aspect of a community. Let’s remember, this doesn’t describe EVERY community, but can be utilized to describe many aspects of what has become a modern community within today’s society. We’re not just disconnected from one another. We’re also disconnected from our environment, from the plight of our planet. Take, for example, the political football that Global Climate Change has become. We have individuals that say that its a “myth” – something that is just made up from whole cloth in order to bilk people out of their monies as donations to help support the cause come in. On the other hand, there are those that point to climate data to support their assertions. This leads to the opposition raising their tone to drown out the other side. And the other side increasing their volume and urgency to offset that from the opposition. In the end, we wind up with a lot of yelling, point-counter-point silliness — and nothing gets accomplished.

Breaking For an Opinion

Rainbow near Divide, Colorado
Rainbow near Divide, Colorado

I do have an opinion on this — and so I don’t get accused of not providing my opinion. I shall do so here. I’m no scientist, but I am a numbers-cruncher and an analyst in my mundane job. I can look at the data that is provided and see the trends that are pointed out. By both sides. However, I do not blindly believe one side over another. If I did, I would already have told you to ignore the climate-change-deniers. However, I’m not that person. I don’t believe either of the data models provided. By either side. I would honestly like to see what data was thrown out of the study by both sides, where the raw data is, and have a quick look for myself. Being someone that observes the weather on a regular basis, I would submit that the wild weather fluctuations are something that provides inference that the Climate Change is a problem. How far mankind goes into contributing to that – and mankind DOES contribute to some of the changes, its just a question if its 5% or 500% or anywhere between or beyond – that’s not something I can endorse one way or another without seeing the raw stats. SO, to provide it in a single statement:  I do believe that Climate Change is a real issue facing our combined populations on this planet. I am sure that if we take the appropriate steps to reduce carbon emissions, we can help bring this issue to something more “normal”. I also believe every day we wait, the longer it will take for human kind’s efforts to reverse the extreme intensity shift we have been watching happen. In other words, I am not all that interested in ascribing blame. I’m more interested in what we – as a population – can do to bring balance back to our environment. We are, after all, only now beginning to understand how we affect our environment through our interactions.

Back to the Point

We all talk about making a “community”. We want like-minded individuals. We want to be inclusive – of Pagans and Pagan friendly folks. We want those who believe in building a utopia of our thoughts. No monies. Barter and trade for goods and services. Removal of capitalist structures that we deem to be “evil”. Why do we oppose these things?  Because each provides “power” to a select few. We exclude those things that we believe to be evil or bad — we will kick Christians, and Muslims to the curbs because neither can spend time with others without starting to wars to eradicate those that don’t believe as they do. They exclude others. Isn’t that we’re doing here? Excluding Christians and Muslims based on the actions of others in the near and distant past that may or may not practice the same Christianity and Muslim faiths of the people we have before us.

Do we want to judge another
Lest we be judged too?
Careful now… The next one might be you

Yeah.

Making a Community is Messy

Let’s be realistic and honest here. Making a utopian community can be done. If you are willing to build the walls, man the gates, prepare to fight off the hordes of “undesirables” that do not conform with what you want. But is it really necessary to build all of this from scratch again? The under-pinnings are already here. We have our desired “chosen” communities. Perhaps, we need to find a way to integrate some of those “chosen” communities back into how we interact with everyone else. Rather than building up walls to keep our “chosen” communities free of what we term as “riff-raff” – we can find ways to interact and communicate with folks of different faiths, ideologies, backgrounds….and locate our common ground. Or as Rage Against the Machine reminds us:

How long? Not long, cause what you reap is what you sow

Time to cultivate common ground. And see if we can provide a crop that gives the power to the have-nots.

 

Jazz-Style Paganism – the Song I Sing for Today

“You’re a Pagan, right?”  A little absent-mindedly, I nod in the affirmative.  “So, are you a re-constructionist?”  And I draw a very deep breath and slowly release my inevitable sigh.

That particular scenario has not played out for some time. My somewhat addled mind strains to recall how far back in time that goes. Six years?  Eight?  Perhaps further than that. Shit, it could have been yesterday. But here it is again. And its the same answer it has always been – No. Which leads to a ton of other questions from my querent. And the start of what could be a promising discussion, or a series of frustrating question-and-answer sessions.

I’m not a re-constructionist by any means. I wouldn’t even consider myself a “constructionist” of any sort either. I know in some minds that this may disqualify me as a “Pagan” in their eyes – but to be frank, that does not matter to me. I don’t follow my beliefs, practice my rites, and learn to expand my consciousness and connectedness to my environment to appease someone else. I follow my somewhat unmarked trail of Paganism through the forest because its the Path that works for me. But, here we are diverging from the trail of this subject slightly – so let me set us back on the Path somewhat.

As I said, I’m not a constructionist or a re-constructionist. I draw my inspiration from the long cold ashes of a belief system that has very little documentation to it. But I have no desire to build it up into a vision for everyone, nor do I have a desire to try and recreate it from those ashes into something close to what it may (or may not) have been. I merely want to follow my Path to wherever it may lead, and spend my time trying to connect more with my own environment.

Now, before the re-constructionists start to freak out as their blood gets warmer than my freshly brewed cup of coffee – let me make something crystal-clear here. I am not saying that the path of re-constructionism is wrong. Nor am I saying it is right. FOR ME. It works for those that are on that Path – and more power to them. I’m not about to say what’s right or wrong for anyone else – particularly in a spiritual sense. I’m not a spokesperson for Paganism. I am; however, a spokesperson for myself. And with that out of the way…

jazzSo, how do I approach my beliefs? Well, perhaps the best way to describe it is with the phrase: “its just Jazz, man.”  The musical form of Jazz is so vibrant and alive, in my opinion. The musician doesn’t just play the music, they play the music that’s inside of them. No true set form, Jazz is improvisational – coming from within, to be played as a tribute to the world around the musician in that moment. There are many people that find this style of playing harmonious, beautiful, and very in the moment. I am one of those people. But there are others who find it discordant, out of sync, and sometimes just purely random. I can understand that. Not everyone has the same connection to the world around them. Some folks prefer a bit more structure to what they do.

Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put, and it never will.  –J.J. Johnson, Bebop Jazz Trombonist

I have talked about this previously on the blog. I am not that big on structured ritual. It has its place in my daily Spirituality – mostly tied to the Wheel of the Year – but my improvisational rituals are far more relevant to me. And there is nothing “formal” to my processes either. Things can be as simple as a walk through the wooded area just south and west of my home in the swampy area of Lake Lewisville’s north shore near the Goatman’s Bridge. if you went walking with me, we might stop along the way to listen to the birds singing their morning song, or clumsily dance together in a sandy section of the trail – just because. For me, its celebrating the world around me for this very day, which the Gods have unveiled before my eyes. Or I can hold my ritual at my desk at work, wearing my headphones – lost in the teen-age wastelands that “Baba O’Riley” is conjuring in my mind. I can grab a hold of the strong energy of The Who and let that flow through me – a celebration of the Awen that created the song.

Much like the Jazz soloist, waiting for the bass player and the drummer to lay down the syncopated backdrop against he/she will paint their feelings against in a fountain of musical notes, I hold my rituals in the same fashion.

The quest for spiritual experience begins with the quest for feeling. What moves you? Has anything in your life been beautiful enough to make you cry? What took your breath away, put you on your knees with awe, turned your world over and shook it?  —Nimue Brown, Spirituality Without Structure, p.22

Nimue’s wonderful book put into words much of what I already knew. I already understood the “why” and the “how” of my rituals. I lacked the lexicon to explain it adequately. I still do – in my opinion – a lackluster job of explaining things. A lot of that has to do with my brain running far faster than I can type or talk.

If you’re gonna sing meaningful songs, you have to be committed to living a life that backs that up.  –Joan Baez

This one quote of Baez’ brings me back to a semi-grounded state. Celebrating the day is one thing…I still have to live my life with integrity. I remind myself that I need to remain grounded and centered in the face of the world that doesn’t accept me for who I am. Exploding in anger and rage for the lack of respect or recognition of who I am and what I believe does nothing for me – and only fuels their argument that what I do has no basis in a reality that they choose to define. I may declare myself as not being a “Priest” of any type – but I am still viewed as a “Pagan” in that vein by others. I MUST follow my Path…

I am ok with being looked upon with disdain by re-constructionist folks. I only need to remind myself – I am the one working with my own spirituality. I only need to have my own permission to do what I need to. And much like the Jazz musician…I play what I feel. I feel the environment around me, and let that influence the pattern of notes that I will play – the song I will sing for today….

Give Me Something To Believe In — an Opinion

Thich Quang Duc
Thich Quang Duc

Extremists. A simple descriptive that conjures all kinds of mental imagery for the reader. Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc utilizing self-immolation as a means to garner attention to his cause within Vietnam in the early 1960s. The many acts of property vandalization and destruction carried out in the name of the Earth Liberation Front over the past few decades. The suicide bombers who have strapped explosives to their bodies and then walked into targeted areas and calmly detonated their payload in an effort to cause maximum property damage and loss of life. The nineteen individuals who hijacked aircraft on September 11th and crashed the four aircraft into various targets (with one supposedly being downed in a struggle with passengers and aircraft). The concept of extreme activity is not a very far reach for many to comprehend. Or is it?

Many of today’s modern extremists tend to fall under the guise of Muslim-oriented activity, which lends itself very easily to an “Us v. Them” mentality, that westerners are very well trained to pick up on – and run with it. Groups or people that are far more indicative of “everyday” western concepts and perceptions — such as Timothy McVeigh — are painted with a different broad brush, typically that of white supremacy or racism, even when it doesn’t apply very well. Recently, I have watched opponents of fracking and oil exploration in various locations painted with the same brush and colors that the ultra-violent members of E.L.F. have been colored and branded with. Words such as “war” and “battle” and “enemy of the state” have been bandied back and forth in various discussions on the subject, with opponents of fracking being branded further as “unpatriotic” where their opposition has been pulled into the spotlight.

The spattered droplets from this massive “throw the paint on” campaign has splattered such organizations, movements and belief systems as Native Americans, First Nations, and even the Pagan community. And rather than apologizing for the over-spray caused by reckless flinging of words – the mainstream folks of western society seem to regard the over-spray of their statements to be “ok”. Not because they think its an appropriate description, but more to the point that its ok if the “weird” people get lumped into all of this too.

The true reality is that very few of the people being painted with that broad-brush stroke are actually going to be “extremists” – in fact, it might be better to describe these people as average, everyday people. They have the same needs, desires, and dreams of a society that includes everyone that any of the so-called “normal” people do. They seemingly push the envelope a little further where personal expression is concerned in comparison to other people. The extremists are still the individuals that are willing to commit violent, indiscriminate acts against environment, property, and people – just to get their point recognized.

For the moment, let’s remember that these extremists make up a small percentage of the overall population. Anyone who has been to the Middle East can attest that there is not a terrorist carrying a shoulder-fired RPG and a vest of explosives to the bus station on the way to work. Utilizing either measure takes measured thought, and implicit intention — both of which fall outside the area of a position of an inclusive, societal mindset. But without relevant statistics to back up the point — after all, how do you count the number of extremists bent on violent, calculated, uncaring action? — let’s make an assumption that 10% of the total population have these extremist tendencies. I would believe that number to be a little on the high side, but relevant statistics are not readily available – so we have to make a few assumptions.

Are we really content in our lives to sit back and let one out of every ten people drive our entire societal paradigm? I do realize that making changes in one’s social understanding of this planet — for instance, understanding and properly reacting to Global Warming — is a slow one. Particularly when they nay-sayers are loud, obnoxious and very aggressive in the manner in which they present their arguments. I admit, I am turned off to a conversation when someone butts in with this mannerism. But that’s the whole point of their argument isn’t it?  To make people shut up and go away. Not to debate the proper aspects of Science. Just to make you shut up. And whoever shouts the loudest wins the argument in that approach.

ArgumentUnless you try another approach. I have had many coffee shop discussions get hijacked from an individual wanting to shout down a discussion merely because we were not taking that person’s unspoken opinion seriously — even when they were never invited into the conversation in the first place. The easiest methodology to work from, is to accept the common ground theory – and argue at the same fervor, depth, pitch, volume with the interloper (or sometimes someone who was brought into the conversation purposefully). But this sets you on the same footing with these folks. In a manner of speaking, an argument with a Tea Party member would mean that I needed to come to their level of argument, and then escalate a bit more for the winning effect. Let’s say, I decide to fire an RPG into their local headquarters as a means of bringing my point about. I have now approached and stepped waaaay across the line towards the level of being an extremist. A more appropriate method – I have found – is to close your mouth, let these folks have their extremely loud, opinionated say – and when they run out of steam, step right back into your point from where you got interrupted. And if you happen to be a bit steamy in your points (I have a temper too, people) – just look at your watch or phone, proclaim it to be a late point in your day, and excuse yourself from the table. Its far better, in my opinion, to step away from the discussion when it starts to leave the arena of discussion – then to stay and participate in the escalation towards an argument or a senseless debate.

Sometimes, people will feel the need to be somewhat extreme in their response to something. For instance, many fracking opponents have taken to chaining themselves to equipment to stop its usage, or blockading roads to sites so that men and equipment cannot get through. In my opinion, these measures are good – be prepared to step in and take the place of someone that is protesting and gets arrested. Be prepared to be arrested yourself. Don’t resist, be non-violent. Don’t look to destroy property to make your point, because it doesn’t. It only bolsters your opposition to mark your protest as being something extreme.

Now, most of this (I would argue all of it) is my opinion. I am a non-violent person. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll crack you between the eyes and cave in your testicles with my steel-toe combat boots if you attack me. But I am not going to be the instigator. I am a firm believer that talking and discussing makes more progress on an issue than torching Sport Utility Vehicles or buildings. I also hold a belief that extremist actions do nothing but steel your opponent in a manner that is not easily undone. Express your voice – but be responsible with how you do it…the future of this planet could well depend on it. The manner in which future generations bring their voices into the mix will very much depend on it as well.

You take the high road and I’ll take the low road

Sometimes I wish to God I didn’t know now

The things I didn’t know then
And give me something to believe in

–“Something to Believe In’ by Poison

Want Some Tea??? An Opinion…

About five years ago, a friend asked me what I thought was more likely: a revolution based on race, a civil war centered on religious beliefs, or a governmental overthrow based on politics? At the time, I laughed and said “All three. At the same time. For the same reasons.” I knew he actually wanted to debate the entire ball of wax, I just wasn’t that interested in listening to the same, tired arguments over the same, overly-rehashed points. Thus I handed him an answer that sound plausible, but really wasn’t.

Tea BagsBut I have had an advantage since that conversation. I’ve been sitting on the outside, for the most, and just observing. There’s still major divisions in today’s societal culture over race, religion, and politics. We’re still fighting battles all over the world based on whose religion is right or wrong. We spend time talking about whether “black lives matter” or not, and sometimes the talking isn’t enough. We spend time destroying things, battling police offers and other branches of law enforcement – trying to get the government to acknowledge the issue in a manner that we can agree with and accept. With a Presidential cycle on the near horizon here in the United States, the political rhetoric and anger seems to get thicker every single day. Insults and veiled threats are seemingly the common cry of the day. I just found out that someone I know threatened a public official a few months back…and I would never have guessed that this person would ever do something like that.

We have talked about how the “Us v. Them” syndrome helps no one’s cause. In fact, it drives the wedge of difference further down between all of us, emphasizing that each of us is not only individual in our makeup, ideas, and thoughts. It also galvanizes the driving rhetoric between us to take those emphasized differences and turn these into factors of why we should dislike one another. It changes the alchemy from one of working together to resolve issues, and work together to make this planet better for all, to a metal where we claim parts of the environment and the resources contained within our Mother Earth as something for only one group of people.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

–Genesis 1:28, English Standard Version

And that’s only one of a handful of Biblical verses that dictate that the Earth was placed here for Christian consumption. Its merely a resource to use and flip over our shoulder when done. Just like a soda can.

Luckily, a lot of folks have started to realize that there is more than just them on this planet – that we all share in its fate. But not everyone. Political groups, such as the Tea Party, see the earth’s resources as something to use. Something to profit from. Furthermore, the services provided by the government, for the people who pay the taxes, are also under fire from the Tea Party movement. The idea is to cut back spending by the Federal government and give taxes back to the people. I heard this concept most recently on today’s Fox 4 News, where Tea Party radio yapping head, Mark Davis made a handful of statements.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao8wTQaj_ow

Notice the heavy emphasis on tax dollars. This is the Tea Party’s religion: money. Money over everything. There’s no desire to make the world better for everyone, just to make their pocketbooks a little better than before. To the Nine Hells with everyone else. And yet, I watch more and more people become entrapped by their dangerous ideology.

Folks, its not the Christians that are dangerous. Its not the politicians that are dangerous – its the extremist fundamentals, such as the Tea Party movement, that are dangerous. These people advocate their pocket book above all else. Yes, they utilize Biblical statements to augment their arguments…that doesn’t make them Christians. It makes them opportunists.

A Dollar is a Dollar; a Human is a Human

The damage that my neighbor's falling tree did to the fence line
The damage that my neighbor’s falling tree did to the fence line

As I sit here and type this, I am listening to the distant rumblings of thunder. This is announcing the fourth round of thunderstorms to come through my local area in the last three days. Yes, that means it really is Spring here in Texas. The first round of storms blew my neighbor’s Cottonwood tree over with 80mph wind gusts. It tore up about six panels of my fence line, but thankfully the tree landed in his backyard and not on his house. When I approached my neighbor about the damage, his first response was “our insurance will get the fence replaced.” My response was a little different than he expected (I guess): “That’s fine, I’m just glad that no one was hurt or killed by it falling down.” Its an odd little statement of difference, but its really another indicator on some of the misplaced emphasis that I see in the communities around me.

Earlier in the week, I had gotten into a protracted argument with someone about what the purpose of the Community College was. I argued that we turn out a product: educated students – some that graduate from our program, some that take our credits (at a lower cost) and move on to a four year institution. But they leave with a measure of knowledge that they did not have before. The counter argument was that we turn out a single product: money. Our students go back into the work force, where their education allows them to become more productive employees, earning a higher wage, and thus bringing more taxable income into the pool of workers in the region. For my stance, I was openly labeled as a “liberal” — and that’s fine with me. Labels don’t bother me as much as they have previously. They are, after all, just labels. Whether I choose to allow them to adhere to me or not is another thing – and another post for another time.

I understood the sentiment, and the reasoning behind it. But its the emphasis that I have a problem with – Money. Now, before you start freaking out and calling me a hippy (thank you very much) that wants to destroy the monetary lynch-pin that holds up our market economies throughout the world which I am not advocating whatsoever. Currency in whatever form, permeates our lives. We all work jobs. Those jobs pay us currency to do the jobs they hired us for. In turn, we take that money, pay a tax for the “appropriate” care-taking of our governmental system by others, and use the rest to purchase petrol for our vehicles, pay our various bills, and purchase groceries and clothing. There’s nothing wrong with what the concept of currency represents. But when currency gets a higher position within our measure of needs and concerns than the people around us – in my estimation, there’s a problem.

So when did we become a society of people that essentially worships money? When did we start clamoring for a governmental structure that emphasizes how much money we can save by cutting this project or that program without worrying about the impact it will have on people? And even more important – how do we change this?

Without spending a major ton of time looking through the histories of the various parts of the world or even the United States, I can say that I don’t have an answer for the first two questions. And to be honest, where/when/how this starts is not nearly as important as making some kind of change where its all concerned. Furthermore, there is one political movement that emphasizes this more than any other – the Conservative Tea Party.

Ok, those of you who are rolling your eyes and mumbling about me being a liberal or a hippy — ya’ll can stop reading, and find another web page to be at. There’s honestly nothing I can do or say that will change your opinion. Those of you that are cheering my statement and saying “right on!” — you can move along as well. For a lot of the same reasons.

Now for those of you that are still here – listen up for a second. Before we pan the Conservative Tea Party movement and lay blame anywhere, let’s remember a few things. There are good points that the Conservative Tea Party makes, particularly where government spending and taxation of the citizenry is concerned. Their problem is taking it far beyond the scope it should be intended for. To dismiss the movement out of hand without finding where its merits might possibly be is just as bad. To do so removes any vantage point of critical thinking we may hope to achieve. Finally, let’s remember, this post isn’t about the merits or the toxic nature that the Tea Party and its adherents bring to the table. My point is about how we can change our own perceptions – something we do have control over.

We all attach some dollar figure to various things in our lives. My iMac has a very high price tag, and yet I find that dollar figure to be negligible for what it allows me to do. My beloved Subaru Forester has a typical car value associated with it. If I sat down and did the calculations, I am sure I could come up with a dollar value for each one of my three cats. All of that can be figured into a budget, which I can then calculate against my salary. If the money came up short, I would have to decide what will happen. Do I get another job to make due? Or do I figure that one of the cats is too expensive, and send her out into the world of the Animal Control folks because she is too expensive? Under the dictums of the Tea Party philosophy, I would turn one of my precious girls out or remove one of the expensive items I mentioned from the equation and make due without it. For me, it would be the removal of one of the expensive items or getting another job. My previous girls are part of my family, and I am fiercely protective of my young ladies.

But what about a government that makes a similar choice where a food-for-the-poor program may be in question? Utilizing Tea Party philosophy, as I have come to understand it by watching and reading Tea Party adherents discuss these issues, the program would be cancelled. “So those people starve, so what?” “If they just got themselves a little cleaner, they would be able to get a job. Right?” “Dirty, scummy, hippy-types. The world would be a better place without them.”

What the Dormouse SaidWould it? Most people don’t realize that it was hippy-types dropping LSD and other psychedelic drugs that came up with the concept for the Graphical User Interface (GUI), and spent time making it work within the experimental computer research labs of AT&T and other companies. For those who would scoff at such a statement, read John Markoff’s book “What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Computer Industry” and find out differently. And yet, in today’s environment most businesses would never allow such innovation to take place. Not because they want to stifle the innovation, but because the stigma attached to engineering types dropping acid and becoming inspired from their trips would be too much to sustain a good business model in today’s society. In other words, it would cost too much money in lost prestige in the business market. Yes, we are placing a monetary value on these people.

Its done in your jobs too. Every employee has a dollar value associated with them. Their salaries, their training, their medical benefits packages, their retirement packages…all calculated together to put a monetary value on the individual. And when the individual becomes too costly compared to their output? They are terminated on some meager pretense, and a younger individual willing to work at a lower wage, and less benefits is hired in their place. For a cost savings to the company. All designed to buffer the bottom line profit, and keep the shareholders happy with increased margins.

Occasionally, you will find a company that eschews this business model. Employees are considered to be individual human beings – all with differing needs and differing levels associated with those needs. If you have ever encountered one of these places, you find happy employees who care about their product. And when the company places the employees before the product, the employees seemingly are motivated to turn out a far superior product in terms of quality. Because the company gives a shit about the employees, the employees care about their company and in turn care about their product. Monetary value of the employee? Well, its the same as any other employee in the company. The pay scale may differ, but the company treats all employees as necessary and indispensable, from the janitor to the Chief Executive Officer. This, in my opinion, is how you build undying loyalty from your employees. You care about them and how they are doing – they will give a shit about what they do and the product they make.

So, smart-ass Tommy – how does that equate to how we need to change our perceptions? How does this make our world any better?

Well, let’s draw the dots a little together. Most people do not know the neighbors on their street. I confess, I am one of them – but not from a lack of trying. My neighbors tend to close in around themselves and not congregate together in the front yard and occasionally talk. Corinth is a commuter town, and most people here pull inside of themselves, and only open up to the people that they want to consider friends. But have you ever tried to talk with your neighbors? You don’t have to be pals – just know enough about them to recognize when there might be problems. And when you perceive that, offer a hand. If its rejected, thank them for the consideration, and remind them that if they have need – they only need to say something, no strings attached. You are letting them know that you care enough to help, and that you are willing to do so on their terms. Instead of treating them as commodities and dollar figures or what they can do for you in the future, you are setting them on equal footing with yourself and saying that they are people too.

Ever give money to a homeless person on the street? I have been told by other people not to do that. That these homeless people will just go out and buy a bottle of booze with it. So? Who am I to judge on what got them to this point? If its a bottle of booze that helps them make it through another day – fine. Perhaps, by making it to the next day, they will encounter that person that will be able to give them what is necessary to change their way of life. When I worked for the Texas State Medicare program, I would pass a homeless guy under the interstate bridge right near the data center. He had the same sign always: “Will work for food”. One day, when I started back home – I saw that he was under the bridge because it was a rainy day. I turned around, went back to the McDonald’s that was nearby and bought seven cheeseburgers, three large fries, and two large cokes. I then went under the bridge and introduced myself. He seemed to expect me to reach into my pocket and give him money. Instead, I sat down next to him, removed one cheeseburger, and one of the fries, and offered the rest to him. “I’m having lunch, and I thought it would be nice to join you.” I sat and let him talk between mouthfuls. I found out that he was an Army veteran who had been discharged dishonorably for striking an officer. That stigma had followed him since his discharge in 1983. Since he couldn’t get a job, he worked odd jobs that paid cash. Essentially, he slipped between the cracks in a system that didn’t care enough to help him. For the next two weeks, I stopped by each day I worked at the Data Center (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) and brought lunch for Patrick. We would talk about our mutual employment history – he in the United States Army, and mine from the United States Air Force. Then I stopped seeing him there. I never found out what happened to him. Perhaps the Dallas police had rounded him up for vagrancy. Perhaps another pan-handler had chased him from that location. Or perhaps something else. I only know that I was greeted every day during that time with a smile. And that smile reminded me that this guy was a person, just like me.

I work with data and numbers that are about our students. Its very easy to get sucked into the numbers and forget that each one represents a student. We typically have about 10,000 students registered in our classes per semester. Sometimes the number is higher and sometimes its lower. But each and every one of them is a unique story. How they got to this point in their life, what brings them to the college for education, what their dreams are, what they are doing to achieve those dreams, how their lives are now…they are all people, and all deserving of respect for whatever they are trying to accomplish in their lives. To forget that is to disrespect who they are, and to treat them merely as dollar values. And that alone — THAT is the problem.

We forget that people that are not in our immediate circle of influence are human beings with hopes, dreams, lives, and the stories that are associated with all of that. And when we forget that, those people cease to be people. They become dollar values that need to be maintained and controlled. They become tax dollars that we perceive as being “wasted” or “stolen” because we have no value for these people. Or place value on them by the amount of money that they earn, and the taxes that they contribute to the running of the government. The more they have, the more we respect them. That, ladies and gentleman, is the way of the Conservative Tea Party – monetary values attached to everything in life.

Sorry, but money is not the be-all, end-all for my life. Its merely the currency that I need to live my life the way that I choose to do so. I choose to see Life in a very different way….or as Damh the Bard says:

‘…Life is more than the money that you earn.’

Enslavement Through Analysis

or “How Categorization, Data Analysis, and Factoring Out the Outliers Continues to Enslave Us Outside of Dr. King’s Dream — An Opinion

My job tends to present some weird moments to me. I work with data. Just electronic ones and zeroes. If you were to take my job back a short ways in history – I would be described as a wizard with an abacus. After all, my job is basically to count students, faculty and administration at a community college – and then find new ways to describe that some population set, and count it again. And again. And again. I work under terminology that the average lay-person would not quite understanding:  Success-rate, Withdrawal-rate, Completion-rate, data broken down into gender and racial categories – diced up further over the five physical campuses we have, the method that the class is delivered to the student. Believe me, there’s so many ways to describe the same population of data – merely by re-categorizing the members of the population and running the same mathematical formulas against those. Yah. Exciting stuff, eh? Another way I’ve heard this job position described is “Inside Baseball” stuff. Any baseball stats junkie (like me) would not only catch the reference, but also understand the context it is being placed in.

However, there are so many ways this categorize, calculate, re-categorize, recalculate stuff can be hurtful. Data manipulation has to be approached from a clean, ethical manner. Those of you that know me can stop hiding your smirks and sniggering behind your hands. Yes, even I have to follow some basic rules — such as not harming the individuals from whom I glean the information from. How can I do that? Its really not that difficult. Re-categorization can be done by gender, or by race, or by economic status, or by relationship status, whether the student has children of their own, whether they currently have a job, pay their tuition by financial aid, or out of their own pockets, the type of financial aid they receive or any combination of those factors. Its not all that difficult to play up one side versus another. Its really a matter of how you cut the data. That’s why I spend 90% of my time writing out my methodologies, reasonings, and analysis of the data. So the people reading the reports can understand the whys of my findings. I cannot guarantee that anyone reads that part of my analysis, but I require that it is in any data study I work on when I present the findings. To me, its the most important thing that I do.

I have a dream this evening that one day we will recognize the words of Jefferson that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I have a dream this afternoon.

I have a dream this afternoon that the brotherhood of man will become a reality in this day.

And with this faith I will go out and carve a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair. With this faith, I will go out with you and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. With this faith, we will be able to achieve this new day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing with the Negroes in the spiritual of old:

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these words in his speech at the Great March in Detroit on June 23, 1963. Now some people may get hung up on the Christian phrasing. Or that Dr. King only addresses the races of black and white. Or the religious aspects of Jews, Gentiles, Protestants, Catholics or even that he only seems to aim his speech towards men. My take? Whatever. You’re letting wording of a time frame that is two years prior to my own birth over-shadow the wording of the overall message. Your right to do so – but that’s not what I am addressing here.

Within the narrow bounds that “modern American” society of his time afforded to him, Dr. King could see a land where divisions created through race, religion, creed – and eventually gender – would be broken down. Where people would see one another as equals with differences such as pigmentation, belief, and gender no longer mattering in the scope of daily life.

Binary WorldHave we reached that point? In some ways, yes. In many other ways, no. We still see racial inequality within the bounds of the United States. We still see how Christianity continues to dominate the cultural landscape in America, and attempt to crowd out all other faiths. We still have an Upper class that dominates a Lower class, while the ever-so necessary Middle-Class continues to shrink ever so much more than before.

Dr. King’s message wasn’t just about equality. Providing equality in a legal aspect is very easily attained – and has been done so in countless manners. His message is not about cracking skulls and forcing a position of equality. His message is about stepping up, being socially aware, being a force towards the one thing that equality cannot give you: respect.

His message was about carving a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair – BUILDING ways towards the future. Paving the road for Hope and Respect for one another. And that’s not going to happen overnight either. The storm clouds will be dark, the rain will be cold and disheartening. People want very fast changes to take effect NOW. If it were only so that we could change hearts of people that quickly…

And violence is not going to solve the problem. In fact, it will only make it worse. Take for example the shooting that happened here in the DFW area just a few days ago. One group of people hid behind the Constitution in order to be as hurtful and insulting as they could towards members of the Muslim faith. During the day of their “event”, a protest area had been setup for Muslims to gather and express their outrage over the “event”. Not one person showed up and utilized the space. The usage of the space was where these folks wanted the media to film and watch. So that angry epitaphs and insults could be filmed and utilized as a “See? Did we not tell you what animals these people are?” However, two individuals in Arizona took enough offense and outrage to drive to Dallas, and open fire on law enforcement in the parking lot of the event. While these two may have felt their actions were vindicated — all they really did was prove the point that these folks were making with the event. Violence did not solve the problem – it only made the issue boil and fester in a way it would never have done if they had never shown up. Instead, the local news and talk radio stations are eating up this entire scenario, and spinning it one way or another to bludgeon their foes in the debate of the danger of Muslims within ANY country in the world. A totally stupid, irrational argument from both sides – which is now being provided the precious oxygen it needs to be “talked about”.

No, Dr. King is right in his words – we need to focus on the hope that we want. As President Obama mentioned several times in his first campaign: We are the ones who will affect change in the world around us. We are the people we have been waiting for. We have the power to change things, by merely making our intention known that we want a world where people are people. Regardless of color, regardless of belief, economic status, and what have you. But sometimes I wonder if this is what we really want? We – Pagans – talk about wanting equal footing, and yet we express our disdain for the entire Christian faith when we hear of a minister doing something wrong – or even an entire group of people (Westboro Baptist Church) do something repugnant. Instead of viewing these people as individuals – statistical aberrations – we paint the entire Christian faith as being just like these folks. I’ve seen it done the other way as well – where Pagans are branded as immoral, child rapists when a Pagan gets arrested for child porn or molestation. Perhaps we just broad-brush everything because its easier to do so – rather than to pick out the small pieces of garbage and differentiate them rather than the other way around.

In statistical analysis, broad-brushing an entire population by a result is done far too often. Particularly when the statistical percentage is over 75% in size. Very rarely do you see an analysis that points out that there were [x] number of points that were outside of the statistical curve. Sometimes, the outliers paint a far more descriptive understanding of the data than the overwhelming population does.

Somewhere…somewhere…I see a single point of data crying out to the rest of the digital environment:

I have a dream this nanosecond that one day we will all be recognized as individual data points. All with differing aspects that provide a unique descriptor of each of us. That one day, ones and zeroes will walk down the broadband avenue towards a user’s GUI presentation, hand-in-hand in the knowledge that we will be given equal representation within the interface by both the CPU and the End User. And we will then be free at last!

::sigh:: Until that day…I continue to fight my own fight within my own part of the world. That each data point represents a person. And regardless of the demographic breakdown of that student – they are an individual, with a unique story – and deserve to be represented as such within any analysis.

Flying Solo

This weekend has definitely had a plethora of Beltane celebrations – a few of which I was invited to – none of which I accepted. I have previously discussed why I prefer my Solo Path during this time of year. Quite a few times I have heard the statements of “But you’ve not experienced a good Beltane celebration before, so you need to come join ours.” Which typically winds up with me trying to smile nicely and politely decline the offer a second time. Its this scenario that I have found is particularly maddening for an individual following a solo path. Group ritual, celebration, and study can be a wonderful thing, but…for me, at least…its not nearly as fulfilling as working solo.

What an anti-social perspective!

How elitist of you!

You have no idea what being a Pagan is all about!

::sigh:: If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard these statements hurled back at me during conversations about being a solo Pagan, I’d be able to pay my taxes from somewhere other than my work salary. However, I think its worth looking at each statement in turn – and seeing what we can glean from it. Learning about things does not always have to be rose-water and glitter. Most of the rational behind the “explanations” are going to be coming from my own personal perspective…after all, I’m a spokes-person for no one beyond myself. Essentially, I’m a kingdom of one. So when trying to apply this to other solo Pagans — be careful. You may have to make adjustments to what I say…and some may be 180-degree perspectives from my own.

Solo Pagans are Anti-Social

This is sort of an unfair statement, but it does get made about the solo Pagan from time to time. Essentially, if the solo Pagan would just be nice and talk with other Pagans – they would find no need to be solo followers of their respective Paths. You know, the old “birds of a feather…” analogy (sort of). I can seriously be anti-social with the best of them – ask anyone at work. My preference is to stay in my office, where I can get my job done. However, I am part of a community too – so I also attend little gatherings for things such as co-worker birthdays, celebrations of work anniversaries, and the occasional coffee-clutch at the gazebo out by the little pond near the parking lot. if my preference is to stay in my office, why attend these celebrations and events?  As I said before, I am part of a community. Now, that doesn’t mean I attend EVERY SINGLE EVENT that comes down the pike. If I did that, I would never get my job done. I select those times that work for me, and attend those events. The same holds true for Pagan events.

If I attended every single Pagan event that I could within the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex (and beyond), I would spend all my free-time traveling to these events, And as wonderful as that time, spent with people I know and people I don’t know yet, can be it is time that gets removed from my own personal spiritual work. So I do what I can about being in the public eye and spending time with others, while trying to insure that I can still handle my own Spiritual needs as a solo adherent. As I have stated before, I have been nudged to be far more out in the public arena, so I am learning to handle a new balance in that mixture.

You Elitist, You

This is, in my estimation, more a personal insult than anything else. Seemingly, it is provided with trajectory and air-cushioning when the hurler finds a problem with my inability to see things from their perspective or to agree with their point of view 100%. I have found the best response to statements like these is that of silence. Arguing with the individual over the correctness or incorrectness of the statement is not likely to change their mind. It creates a charged atmosphere, where insults become the bullets and artillery of mindless warfare.

However, not responding also allows the control of the perspective to be handled in only one direction. For decades, we have heard Christians splatter Pagans with claims of “Satanism”, “ritual sex with minors”, and other slanderous statements. Its far more productive, in my mind, to make a singular statement in a calm manner – and then leave the “battlefield”. So here goes…

I am far from being an elitist. As an individual who practices my beliefs, I fall under no definition where I believe a system is to be governed by an elite class or group of individuals. In fact, I believe that an individual is responsible for their own spiritual growth, and those that follow their spiritual growth through a group of individuals do so under the same mandate. Your spiritual growth is your responsibility, even when learning from others. How that classifies me as an ‘elitist’ I am unsure, and frankly am not even concerned with beyond this statement.

No Idea What Paganism is All About

Typically, once one insult does not work, the next is to go deeper. Instead of striking at who I am, the blow comes against what I know or understand. To be completely honest, this is the point where I typically tune folks out on things like this. I am far more interested in learning what I can in my own studies, than trying to tell people that they are doing it all wrong. I am a lot more receptive to people who will state:

Here’s what I learned on the topic, and the teacher/book/column/blog-post/podcast/television-show/movie/documentary/whatever that opened my mind in that way of thinking.

After all, when stated this way, someone is not condemning you for not following their particular path. Instead, they are merely sharing what worked for them, and they are not stating that it will most definitely work for you too. They are only asking that you give it a look. And there’s nothing wrong with that…

Flying Solo

I like the perspective of flying solo. Occasionally, its nice to meet others that follow a similar path – as I did during Hearthstone Grove’s Imbolc Retreat, and the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering, both earlier this year. I am looking forward to doing the same at this year’s OBOD East Coast Gathering as well. Its always wonderful to be among fellow folks on various points in their own Druidry studies – as well as those folks not on a Path of Druidry. The conversations are always fun, fascinating, and sometimes even provocative. However, none of that is going to change the fact that my little bi-plane has a cockpit for one. We can, occasionally, fly together in formation though…

Yes, I spend a lot of time reading - even when I go to the beach
Yes, I spend a lot of time reading – even when I go to the beach

Freezing Up

Ever tried to do anything one finger short??  Typing, driving, carrying things…all of that is so much more difficult without the use of the ol’ ring finger on the right hand. I’m adjusting, but I make many more typos than I used to. LOL The finger is not nearly as swollen as before, but wearing the splint makes for some interesting challenges – such as hand-writing notes, and trying to sign my name. But its an adjustment.

Adjustments are interesting things. Its basically compensating for something that either showed up by surprise or has disappeared fairly recently. In my above notation, its the temporary loss of the use of one finger. There’s a few other instances that are added in there, such as the continued covering and rewashing of my gash in my right elbow. (For those who are unaware, I managed to do all of this by falling out of the back of the moving truck while trying to tie down the load before heading down the road) What about adjusting for things such as rituals? Spell-work (for those of you do that)? Well, since I don’t do spell-work (my personal choice), let’s stick with rituals for the moment, shall we?

We’ve all been in ritual and had the momentary, unexpected issue arise. During the ADF Imbolc Retreat earlier this year, I found it very interesting that portions of a particular ritual were punctuated with the crows of a nearby rooster. For some, it may have felt like an odd thing to happen, but for me it was a perfect moment of auditory addition. But seriously, we’ve all had those moments. As a solo practitioner, I’ve had more than my fair share of those moments.

One Beltane sticks out particularly strong in my mind. Most people know I tend to celebrate this term of year as an individual practitioner. Now thanks to the manner in which I set out that particular point of view, I’ve had the snide commentary made via Email that this is the time of year that I look to my right and/or left hand for a date. Cute. A little crude, but cute none-the-less. Anyways, back to what I was discussing….

SunriseOne Beltane, I had decided to celebrate by driving a little west of where I live to a semi-wooded area and following a walking trail. The trail, for those who live here in the DFW area, is actually an old stretch of Highway 377 that has been bypassed for better roadway just to the west of it. The trail is used by hikers and horse-riders, just as another set of trails near my house at Old Alton Bridge (The Goatman’s Bridge) is also utilized. The trail out on Highway 377 is a little difficult to walk by foot, being a little rocky and a bit uneven going up/down the hilly terrain. However, its not far from the road, so I figured walking by myself was not going to be a bad thing. It only took a little under fifteen minutes to reach the old Highway 377 road, where the walking was a bit easier. In the distance, I saw one individual doing the same that I was – walking to enjoy the nice Texas day. After twenty minutes, I reached where the old bridge was no longer standing, and decided that this would be a good place to hold my meditation/ritual. I settled down, grounded, centered, and started down the way of working through my ritual welcoming the Summer into its place on the Wheel. After a few minutes, I felt a presence with me – opened my eyes, and spotted the individual I had seen before on the other side of Denton creek. I never heard him splash across, and saw no immediate way to get across. The creek is a little difficult to cross in this area.

We stared at one another for a few moments, until he waved slowly at me with a jovial smile on his face. I waved back, probably with a look of confusion on my own. In the distance i heard the whoosh of cars passing by on the newer portion of Highway 377, which is substantially higher than where the old road is – probably to keep it from washing away during the rainy parts of the year.

“Please continue,” he said. I must have looked even more stupefied than I was before. He spoke in a normal voice, which I should never have heard. “Please…” he stated again, still smiling. Silently I continued through my ritual, this time with my eyes wide open. I scattered my birdseed I had brought with me. He clapped his hands together once and beamed the widest smile I had seen yet. I offered a libation of water from my water bottle to the Gods, Spirits and Animals of the area. His smile was still bright and clean. And he never moved from his seated position. Our eyes remain locked together through the entire exchange.

When I finished, I looked across the way, a question on my face. He continued to smile, and stood. I noticed then that he had been sitting back on his haunches. Deer legs. His lower torso was a pair of deer legs and the hind end of a deer! “You will understand soon enough!” his voice called out on the breeze, as he turned and melted back into the wooded area on the western bank. I don’t even remember making it back to the Forester or even getting back on to the north-eastern drive of Highway 377 until I was nearly in Argyle.

I have often thought about what else I could have done. What I could have said. How I could have reacted. A better manner of communicating. And I come up with blanks. For a long while, I thought I should see a therapist. That perhaps something psychological could explain all of this. A short while later, Coyote entered into my Life, and I started to understand that the Gods were more than simple archetypes that allowed me to compartmentalize my thoughts in a particular direction. They exist. It was a rather large step for me.

It was an unforeseen moment, and I froze. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I didn’t understand what I was being presented with. I’ve been in combat situations before. A frozen moment like that can get you killed or worse, the people depending on your decisions killed or injured. And yet I froze. Despite all my military training, the constant discussions of unknown variables in a battlefield environment. And none were a true training for that moment – that moment when everything I understood about my spiritual beliefs was opened up before me, and shown to be something I could not comprehend.

I can’t really say that I’m going to be ready for anything beyond that frozen moment. Perhaps I am better prepared with the knowledge that the Gods exist, that one God in particular takes an interest in me, and that I have found it far easier to find the Spirits of Place than ever before. But I am better prepared to understand that at any given time, my understanding can be stood on its head, spun repeatedly in a tight circle, and made to stand up speaking Japanese. I might still be awe-struck by the moment…but still…

 

When Gods and Goddesses Come Knocking at the Door

My Backyard Stone CircleI have been touched by the Gods. Back when I first started along my Path in Paganism, I never truly understood that statement. Just a year earlier, I had walked away from a Pentecostal Christian friend over a very similar statement. He had claimed to have the direct connection to God through the use of his ability to speak in tongues, as well as translate directly for those who were touched in a similar manner. I questioned him as to the origin of his “new” language. He responded back that he wasn’t sure, and that it didn’t matter to him.

“But it matters to me,” I fired back, “You are wanting me to take on faith that you are not making this up as you go.”

“Of course you have to take it on faith, you have to trust implicitly in God,” Mike tossed back at me. He had a rather smarmy smile to begin with, and his statement preceding his smile at that moment only bolstered my image of him as a used-car salesman trying to hustle a deal.

I kept hammering away at his statement, trying to get him to reveal this mystery language that he had suddenly been provided through a George Malley moment (for those confused – in the movie Phenomenon George Malley learns enough Portuguese from a book in twenty minutes to comfortably converse with a native conversation). After a short period of time, I found that he was following the incoherent babble of Robert Tilton, a TV evangelist who swiped money from people that mailed in “love offerings”.

So, when I hear the statement of being “touched by the Gods” my mind immediately ran to this scenario, and my skeptical brain kicked into over-drive. And stayed there for the better part of fourteen years. It was, after all, the only reference I really had to work with.

Now, I know very different. Its not difficult to find where the Gods touch our lives. Its just not nearly as dramatic as it gets made out to be on TV or the movies. Its more a manner of understanding, comprehension, and opening your mind a little further. No God or Goddess is going to just pop down right in front of you and say “its time for a good fucking – get your clothes off.” Although, I’m understanding that Hemsworth’s Thor could have a significant pull for the ladies. However, if we’re going there, I’m a little partial to Hudson Leick’s portrayal of Callisto or Aphrodite as played by the lusciously gorgeous Alexandra Tydings. Just saying…

But while the Gods may not be dropping in for a bit of lewd coupling, there are times that the Gods call on specific individuals. For this, I was equally skeptical. I’ve always been of the mind that the Gods ignore humans for the most part – in much the same way that humans ignore ants. There are folks that I know that make it publicly known that a God or Goddess has tasked them with something to do, or have laid a claim on them as individuals. Quite a few years back, I would roll my eyes and quietly laugh behind their backs. Again, why would the Gods lay any claim into our lives? We’re just silly humans after all – with far little value to the Gods in whom we place a ton of faith. That is – I believed that way until found myself being influenced and led in a particular direction by Coyote.

My time with Coyote turned out to be rather short, because it was a lesson I was being tasked to learn. When it came to ritual and religious stuff, I was a bit stern. Ok, it was like I had a super long stick shoved up my rear. Through Coyote, I learned that the sacred could include laughter and frivolity. But I also found myself eventually dealing with Crow.

‘Its just another Trickster,’ I would tell myself. Just a furthering of the lesson from Coyote. But after a time, my meditations came to be more significant with Crow, and Coyote became far less frequent. Everywhere I went, there was some form of blackbird following me around. At work, there are two Crows that greet me nearly every morning. In the afternoons, I leave them whatever crumbs I can manage to gather. And Crows actually have the capacity to remember people’s faces. So far, no one at work has really noticed that these Crows that are sitting on the parking lot lights always ‘qwork’ whenever I come out of the building. Plus, I know its more than a coincidence.

Crow was insistent that I change the format of the podcast. Instead of me talking, I was to provide a platform for others to talk. ‘People need to hear about the Pagan Path,’ I was told in one meditation.

“Isn’t that evangelizing?”

“Only if you try to convert them to your Path. You are only letting them hear about the various Paths. They will make their own choice to walk those Paths or not.”

Since that time, the podcast has made its changes. People other than myself are being featured on the show. And I am quite happy with the result. Plus, I am getting people in front of a microphone that normally are never heard of or from. Yes, I am interviewing the average, everyday Pagan for shows. And all because the God that has literally taken me under His wing told me I had to do something for him. Many folks, including myself, do not realize that Crow is a messenger.

Like many folks who have had the Gods enter into their lives, I have had my moments of doubt. My moments where I bristle at the requirements that are laid upon me. Listen to the first year of Upon a Pagan Path, you’ll hear it (and there’s not that many episodes either). I paid the price for that piece of defiance. I saw Crows EVERYWHERE – even in my dreams and meditations. To be fair, I ALWAYS see Crows in my dreams and meditations. There are five of them. Except that during my period of defiance, I saw HUNDREDS of them! Eventually I got the message: get back to what you are supposed to be doing.

If you have ever wondered what it can be like having a God or Goddess putting themselves directly into your life, I found a video that seems to explain just that. Its from the Rock Opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and specifically is the song ‘Gethsemane (I Only Want to Know)’. I chose this specifically because of the facial expressions and the way the actor – in this case Glenn Carter from the 2000 TV adaptation – managed to get the vocal inflections into his voice during the entire segment. Particularly moving is where he finally accepts his role as the sacrifice, and still has a hint of defiance towards God for putting him in a position with no choice.

Is there a choice? Certainly. I could have chosen not to agree to Crow’s expectations for me as a podcaster. Before the bargain was struck, I could have walked away without any repercussions. Now…that’s a completely different issue.

Not everyone is going to have a God or Goddess hanging over their shoulder. And there will be people who doubt that it even happens to those that are claimed by their Gods and Goddesses. You won’t find me arguing with those folks. Its far easier to just nod, and let them go along their Path, smug in the knowledge that they pulled one over on me. After I get finished wiping up the blood where Crow’s talons have dug into my shoulder in anger at their statements – I’ll just get back to what I meant to do.

Stop. Center. Balance. Remember.

Yep.  Its been a while. Which means there’s been a lot going on. Some of it was good.  Other parts of it..well, let’s just say I would rather not have fallen out of the back of the moving truck and landed on the driveway face-first. So let’s get that out of the way first, shall we?

Most of you know my father passed away suddenly around a month ago. Since then, I have been out to the house three separate times to move furniture and other items out before the estate sale. Well, last weekend was the final time to move larger furniture items. Once I had movers put those items into the truck, I went about the task of tying things down with rope and bungee cord. I dropped a bungee cord on the ground, and decided to step down out of the truck to get it. I moved my foot backwards to stand on the bumper, shifted my entire weight at the same time…and missed the bumper. My entire weight shift pulled me out of the truck, and I landed face-down on the concrete driveway below. A drop of about two feet, but an unexpected one. I tried to brace myself with my right arm, and fractured the ring finger on my right hand. I also skinned up my right forearm very nicely (read: bloody), and hit my head directly on the concrete driveway. Thankfully, it wasn’t much. It definitely could have been much worse. Needless to say, typing and signing my name with a broken finger on my dominate hand is somewhat comical to watch. Anyways…

UponPaganPathI saw a news report that was pushed to Facebook by Troy Young…I’m too lazy to get it at the moment….but it alluded to the idea that walking in the woods is a great way to essentially refresh one’s soul. Or something like that. Hold on a second, let me find it and paste it in here. (Yes I talk while I type) Its actually a blog post by Tess Whitehurst over at Witches and Pagans and is called “How Simply Taking a Walk Can Activate Your Intuition and Magical Power“. The post is an interesting read – but it reminds me how far away I have gotten from something that is a major part of who I am – my daily walk.

Where I work, I drive nearly an hour one way to get there.I spend a little more than eight hours there. So added with the commute, that’s ten hours out of my day. That makes walking through my neighborhood a little dicey. When I was an adjunct and could walk at whatever time in the late morning or early afternoon that I desired, I could choose times that were a little less trafficked by vehicles. Like any neighborhood, there are a multitude of streets that I have to cross, and all are heavily populated with vehicle traffic in early morning and early evening hours. I sincerely wish that there was a walking trail on my side of the interstate (our “city” is split by the interstate). And then my weekends are sometimes very heavily populated with things that have to get done – which takes away more of the time I want to go walking with. Since I can’t seem to talk the Gods into adding a few more hours into the day – I have to literally ask myself: “What the Nine Hells is a busy Pagan to do?”

Stop. Center. Balance. Remember.

These four phrases are my gentle reminders that sometimes the Path doesn’t look the way that I would always want it to. Instead of warm, green grass or the gritty feel of sand and dirt punctuated with an occasional rock – I may have ceramic tile or industrial-brown carpet underneath my loafer-encased feet. Instead of a clear blue sky peering between the brown and green dome of tree branches above, I may have fluorescent light fixtures plastered against an anti-septic egg-shell white ceiling. I may not be able to do the awesome tree meditation in the video below…but I can easily stop, step to the side, close my eyes, and find my Inner Grove.

There’s plenty of stuff in the news, as well, that gives me a very similar “unbalanced” feeling. Police brutality. Nutball politicians on the Left and Right side of the political spectrum. Crazy legislative measures that seem to be aimed at fracturing the Constitution of the United States through thousands of small paper cuts. All of that erodes the small barriers I have put up for sanity’s sake. At some point, I can literally hit my knees, look up at the sky, and plead with the Gods to pull me into the land of the Fay, far beyond the reach of these humans that seem bent on gathering power to themselves to subjugate and diminish those that they disagree with. And when I finally feel like I am totally out of control, these four words get whispered into my hearing.

Stop. Center. Balance. Remember.

There’s another thought that comes to mind as well:  pick your battles. I can be outraged over police brutality in places like Missouri and Maryland. But I am in neither place, and its not likely going to do any good or be helpful for me to find the nearest Denton County Sheriff and get agitated with them over it. I can be outraged by whatever thing a politician may do, say or advocate. The real measure of my “voice” doesn’t come from some idiotic meme on Facebook, but rather by going to my local polling location – and voting. For instance, my city is about to elect a new mayor. I have read up on the candidates, and do not like any of them. But rather than staying away from the polling location, I will show up and vote – leaving the mayor election blank. There are, after all, other measures on the ballot too. The matter is not just getting out and doing, its also a matter of understand where your own limitations are. Finding the Center and the Balance.

So what am I about to do for my walks? Well, I can’t walk every day like I have done in the past. I will have to pick my where and when – and work more within my meditations for those times when I cannot. I might not be able to get out into the woods or even the neighborhood on as regular a basis as I have done, but that doesn’t mean that my connections to my environment are gone. And its those connections that I need to focus on and work with now.

One final thought on this. This works for me. That does not mean it will be appropriate for you to utilize. You may need to tweak parts of what I am talking about to work for you. You may find that none of it works for you whatsoever. You may find its spot-on for you. Whatever the case may be – find what works for you in those instances where you cannot get out and take your walks in the outdoors. So what if it doesn’t match what I do. What I do works for me. What works for you, works for you. No judgment whatsoever.

Doing Means More Than Titles

A long while back, I wrote a post about accepting the idea of being a “Priest”. In that post, I made the following statement:

Yes, I am a Priest – just as you are. I may not fully embrace the title or the term, but I embrace the workings that are part of it. And in my estimation, that is far more important than whatever descriptor I attach to it. I celebrate Life every day. In every breath that I take. In every action I perform. When I add mindfulness to that equation, I discover where I am on the Pattern, and how my strand of the Song fits in. And at the end of the day, when I step out on to my porch to wish the Sun well on its journey to the other side of the Planet, and greet the Moon as She rises in His place – I celebrate what I have managed to create. I celebrate my workings as a Priest.

I have always thought that this final statement was a fairly good closing descriptor of my position, but apparently it was not. A few weeks ago, I received an Email from a reader noting that following a Pagan Path – particularly a Path of Druidry – is to follow a path towards priesthood. I have to say, it was a little difficult to not fire back in a sarcastic retort, but I maintained my calm the best that I could – and attempted to write a reply Email….and didn’t get very far.

To be perfectly honest, it would have been far easier to write a sarcastic retort – but that would have also been far less productive. So I let the entire issue sit and percolate in my brain-meats for a couple of weeks (three now), before I decided to write this blog post as a response – of sorts.

I am a Priest – Sort Of

Every day that I rise from bed, my eyes look to the skies to find the sun. Yes, even on cloudy days. The Sun is my constant companion throughout the daylight hours – and even into the night-time hours through the reflection cast across the face of the Moon. Each day provides me with a new opportunity to explore new-found connections with my

environment, as well as finding even more connections that I was not aware of. I work in a data analysis position, so I am given time to explore connections through data-centric models – a connective measure I had not really considered until a few months after I accepted the job (I started in September of last year). I perform rituals, for myself, on a daily basis as well as on marked aspects of the Wheel of the Year. I commune with my patron God, and the Spirits of the Land in a large variety of ways. And I am aware that every moment I have in the “here” moment of Life is unique, even when it seems very similar to another moment from the previous day(s). Its taken a lot of time for me to get beyond the idea that being a Priest means that I have followers, students, and a congregation of some sort.

Titles Mean Little to Me

Followers. Students. Congregation. Yeah, I have to shake my head at that notion. That is steeped in Christian definition. An individual that practices on their own is not a Priest within the Christian definitions. Rather, that image is provided a different definition, such as Lay-man, Monk, Mystic. But honestly, I could embrace the notion of any of these terms. And yet, I would rather eschew titles such as these. If I was to ascribe myself to a title, it would be this:  Me. Yeah, I follow some of the concepts that define the term “Priest” in what I do on a daily basis on my own Path, but I really doubt that a title is going to transform me into any sort of a holy man. My actions and studies will do that for me. Smeg, if a title was going to instantly transform me into something — I’d like to be a jedi, please.

If Titles Mean Nothing….

So, if titles mean nothing, then why am I studying the OBOD Bardic Grade course? Why am I taking a class with Cat Treadwell on Druidry? Why do I hold a Bachelors degree in Computer Science? Why do I hold a Masters degree in Information Systems Management? Why do I hold a Masters degree in Business Administration? Why am I continuing my education towards a Bachelors degree in History?

Well, its not some wildly complicated answer. I do all of these things because I like to learn. Each of those areas of learning afford me a different angle in Life. And seeing through that myriad of angles, I can find even more connections to the world around me. And the people within it. And the animals within it. And the plants within it. And the Gods. And the Spirits of the Land. And myself. I do these things because I want to understand the connections to the world around me. I do these things because I want to experience the world around me. I do these things because this is who I am.

Just Being…

Its really hard to explain any of this beyond those words. This Path works for me. I could give a hang about the titles. Call me whatever you like. Priest, Solitaire, Solo Practitioner, Me, whatever…it makes no difference to me. I know who I am. I know why my feet leave footsteps on this Path. I want to know more and experience more on this Path. I am only starting to understand my thread within the complex rhythm and sound of the Song we all sing together. And that alone compels me to continue my daily exploration – finding the connections within this world, and others.