Sunday, December 26, 2010

Perfect Storm

 Well, this Christmas went better than Christmas has in quite a few years. Just as I posted the previous entry noting that I seem to recognize the nature-centric elements of the holiday a bit more this year than usual, the nature spirits seem to have appeared to say hello and present me with gifts of their own.


First, was the occurrence Christmas Eve night/Christmas Day morning, around midnight. I was online in the family room (where my parents' computer is located) when my mom called me to the window of my bedroom. There, trotting around the Nativity scene and trying to get into the birdfeeder, were at least six or seven beautiful deer, right there next to my bedroom window. I watched them for at least ten or fifteen minutes before they wandered off.

Christmas morning went smoothly. We had breakfast and opened gifts at my parents' house, followed by lunch and gifts at my aunt's house. I will probably be spending the remainder of my vacation (until Jan 4) being generally unproductive and watching the movies I got for Christmas, and catching up on reading. At around 9:00AM it began snowing. Within the hour, the ground was covered in snow, and by the end of the day it was up to almost my ankles, if not higher. We've gotten snow before or after Christmas before, but the news stations report that this is the first time we've had a large amount of snow fall on Christmas Day since 1947. I took quite a few pictures, some of which I may post here once I get back to my computer and uploaded. I walked around outside several times, taking in the scenery and meditating and praying to the beauty of it all. I wandered to a section of what's left of the small forest behind the house, and came across what was once a small "tree house" that my sister and I used to play in as little kids. I use that term loosely, because as my sister is disabled, the treehouse is a treehouse in the sense that it is a bunch of plywood nailed around tree trunks. At that time I was into shows like "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?", and the big thing for us was to pretend we were secret agents, and the treehouse was our headquarters. I was somewhat saddened to see that the structure had finally collapsed on itself with age. By this time, my mom had joined me, and we dug through to see what could be found. All that was still remotely intact was my sister's old Pocahontas bookbag, which contained some of her old toys and two diaries. One was locked; the other had only been written in on one page, dated, coincidentally, December 25 - we found it on the exact anniversary of its first usage. It had been given to her by our now deceased grandmother, who died when I was in 9th grade, which would put this entry probably about 3-4 years prior. 

In all honesty, I'm hoping these are all omens of some sort for a good 2011. God knows I need a really good year for a change.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas

 One thing I like to do around holidays, particularly Christmas and Easter, is, strangely enough, watch documentaries on the History Channel, Discovery Channel, etc., about whatever holiday is at hand.

One particular documentary I saw today (not for the first time) discussed the history behind the different aspects of the Nativity story, and the scientific plausibility of the various elements. Now, this time watching it, I was watching it with my literalist Christian mother, as I am in North Carolina visiting family for the holidays. All whilst hearing the various theologians discuss how the virgin birth is a metaphor for this-and-that and not historically accurate (I am inclined to agree), I hear my mom asking me "you don't really believe what they're saying, right?" and lamenting "If you don't believe in the virgin birth, you may as well just not even bother with any of it". As can be imagined, I find holidays very difficult with my family, no matter how much I love them. I struggle to come up with ways the more mainstream religious holidays that I include in my spiritual practice can have meaning to me as a Gnostic Druid, whilst simultaneously celebrating them with a family I seem to have only genetics and family history in common with. At times I feel like I'm being a fake, for not being forthcoming about the true extent of my religious beliefs as of current - instead I smile and nod and go along with it, telling myself that I only see them a few times a year and everybody does basically the same thing over the holidays. I answer questions only when directly asked (such as, incidentally, just a few minutes ago, when my mom asked about The Infancy Gospel of James, after hearing about it in the documentary), or in other cases such as her "Do you really believe this?" accusatory question, I just answer vaguely or don't even acknowledge I heard her, pretending to be absorbed in the book/tv show/whatever. Not exactly healthy confrontational skills, I know.

Nonetheless, Christmas this year does have a different "feel" to it than some years past, as it were. I seem to be more aware of the nature symbolism behind the traditions - the Christmas tree as a symbol of life in the death of winter; the lights as a symbol of the coming light in the darkness of winter. I feel more connected to the nature aspects of the holiday and the history behind the traditions. As such, it is becoming a more meaningful holiday to me this year than it has since I first began this path (even though, unfortunately, on the Winter Solstice I held little celebration, doing so a day late, and could not see the eclipse very well). I even read my current favorite version of the Christmas story, the aforementioned Infancy Gospel of James  online.

I'm not yet sure why I like this version so much. Perhaps because it is different from the standard version of the Christmas story that we read every year in the canonical Bible, quoted in my favorite Charlie Brown Christmas special. In addition to that, it's the first Infancy Gospel I have finally had the chance to read in its entirety.  This version begins with Anna, Mary's mother, lamenting that she has not had children, and she and her husband are old. An angel appears to her, and she is told she would conceive. Of course, she then has Mary. A couple of more stories regarding Mary in the temple and things that show her specialness compared to other girls, and Joseph not wanting to marry her because of her age, and the fact that he is older and has children from a previous marriage. But he does take her in, she is visited by Gabriel, etc. etc. I think my favorite passage, probably due to how different it is from anything else I'd heard or read up to this point, is when Joseph is looking for a midwife while Mary is in labor in a cave, as quoted in this post:
Now I Joseph was walking, and I walked not. And I looked up to the air and saw the air in amazement. And I looked up unto the pole of the heaven and saw it standing still, and the fowls of the heaven without motion. And I looked upon the earth and saw a dish set, and workmen lying by it, and their hands were in the dish: and they that were chewing chewed not, and they that were lifting the food lifted it not, and they that put it to their mouth put it not thereto, but the faces of all of them were looking upward. And behold there were sheep being driven, and they went not forward but stood still; and the shepherd lifted his hand to smite them with his staff, and his hand remained up. And I looked upon the stream of the river and saw the mouths of the kids upon the water and they drank not. And of a sudden all things moved onward in their course.
In other words, Pleroma, the True God, stopped time so that Joseph could find a midwife before Jesus' birth. It goes on to say that the midwife went to get a second midwife, Salome, to assist, and Salome disbelieved the first midwife's story about Mary, so when she arrived she "tested God". As a result, her hand falls off. She prays for forgiveness and is healed.

I think to me, just like the mainstream versions, this version serves as a metaphor of Pleroma's love for us, for the Divinity within us, and the importance of Jesus as a Wayshower, alongside Buddha, Krishna, and other prophets from all religions. To me, they all lead to the same Source, and Christmas is the celebration of just one path, celebrated alongside a commemoration of the natural world around us near the Winter Solstice, a conjunction of the spiritual and material. So, on that note, I hope everyone had a Merry Yule and has a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dreams and Shooting Stars

 I had a strange dream a couple of nights ago, which makes me wonder if it's a message from the Divine (a symbolic one, obviously, and you'll know why when I describe it), or if I've simply been watching/reading too much sci-fi. Either way, it had me feeling a little weird when I woke up, and I haven't quite shaken it off, even now.

In the dream, a young woman, with blonde-ish, curly hair (sort of reminded me of that actress who played in Felicity and August Rush, if you've ever seen any of those), is drowning. There are flashbacks, and I somehow know that she can't swim because she almost drowned as a child. I jump in and rescue her, because, in the dream at least, I'm a great swimmer (in reality, I love to swim, of course - I'm a water-based person - but didn't learn to swim until I was 12, so my swimming abilities is kind of mediocre). Also, in the dream, I possess hydrokinesis/aquakinesis, or the ability to manipulate and control water. Flash forward a few scenes, and I'm fighting this bad guy, who I don't recall really knowing what he looks like. Most of the time, his back is facing me, and I just have this feeling, of knowing that he's evil. I'm fighting him using the aforementioned hydrokinesis - water touches my hands, and I blast the water at him in waves. Jump ahead again, and I'm hiding in this room with the same young blond woman. She is being kept prisoner by the same guy from the previous scene. I am discovered by the captor, and I jump out of the window into the water below. The emotions around the dream all seem to center around the "unseen bad guy", the mysterious woman, and water.

I will note at this time, that I do not know any women with curly blond hair (curly hair, sure; blondes, yes; but the combo, not so much). However, even as I type this entry, the writing process brings to mind my first encounter with Brighid during my Pagan days (remember a few posts back, how I was writing of my struggles to sort out how my experiences as a Pagan mesh with my experiences since becoming Gnostic, and how Brighid is one I still follow in her Christianized Saint form?). Well, when I first met Her, it was through a dream, involving a woman with silvery blond hair and surrounded by water. For at least a month, I thought I was being spoken to by some water deity. So, I researched and prayed to various water goddesses from various cultures. But nothing clicked. Then I stumbled upon Brighid, and learned of Her associations with creativity and inspirations. Although she is typically associated with fire and smithwork, the common phrase immediately came to my mind, that which refers to "the flows of inspiration", and the way, in our culture, inspiration and creativity are often referred to by artists and writers as something fluid, flowing. It was that moment I decided that it was Brighid who was speaking to me. Perhaps this dream has something else to do with Her.

Another interesting event happened today on my way home from doing my last round of home visits before Christmas break: I saw a beautiful shooting star.  I can't recall where, but I read somewhere recently that shooting stars symbolize rebirth and change. Certainly fitting timing, since I just finished a new semester at school, and am about to start a new one. Better be careful how I interpret it though, as in the past when I make a seemingly obvious interpretation, I turn out to be completely, totally wrong. So, we'll see what happens next, I suppose.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Celebrations

December is a time for holidays. It seems like every religion celebrates some kind of coming of light in the dark of winter, in or around this time of year. The liturgical/religious calendars I follow have two sets of holidays:
 
- the Gnostic calendar, as laid out in the book Living Gnosticism, includes Christmas. As a further Christian extension of this, I also celebrate Advent, which began this year on November 28th. There are Advent meditations for each Sunday listed in The Gnosis Archive, as well as a daily Advent devotional I printed out from The Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship,

- The Pagan/Druidic Calendar lists December 21 as Yule, or the Pagan equivalent of Christmas. It is the official first day of winter, and anticipates the return of spring and warmth.

In addition, on occasion I may feel drawn to a holiday of another religion that I may want to experiment with. It is in this vein that I celebrate my inner eclectic/Unitarian Universalist, and experiment with such holidays for approximately 3 years. My logic is that if I feel drawn to it to the point of feeling compelled to experiment with it, then 3 years will give me enough time to celebrate it, research the meaning behind it and various customs for it, and decide if I can relate to it enough to continue on and make it part of my "official" religious calendar. This year, I have two:

- Chalica = a recently invented (as in, around 2005ish) Unitarian-Universalist specific holiday. Modeled after Hannukah and Kwanzaa, it is a seven day long celebration. On each day the celebrant lights a candle honoring each of the 7 Principles of Unitarian-Universalism. It begins on the first Monday of December. For example, Monday will honor the first Principle (the inherent worth and dignity of every person), Tuesday the 2nd Principle, etc. This is my 2nd year experimenting with Chalica. So far, I feel that I relate to it quite well. Many of its' practices so far include giving some kind of gift to someone that represents that day's principle, and I don't really have anyone to give gifts to, and right now I also have inadequate time to be more creative in other external expressions of the holiday. So, I light the candle for the day, and try to keep that Principle in mind when I go about the day's activities. Today was particularly difficult, as my caseload at the internship was shifted around so much I don't really know who my caseload is at this point, and on top of that, they did all this the day before my technical last day with them until January. The positive thing about this holiday is that in typical UU fashion, there is no official way to celebrate it, or even any requirement to celebrate it. It is growing in popularity among UUs and the closest to an 'official' holiday they've ever had. Many UUs are celebrating it along with whatever other religion-specific holidays they may practice. As such, if I feel compelled to celebrate it in some way, how I do so is completely up to me. In any case, so far it looks as though this will become an official holiday for me.

- Hannukah - a couple of years ago, while in a Christian bookstore Christmas shopping for family, I came across a menorah. I felt drawn to it, as I'm interested in Jewish culture and at the time I was briefly looking more into Kabbalah (which I will look into again once I get to that section of my reading list and have more time), so I bought it. This is also my 2nd year experimenting with this one. On a small level, I feel I can relate to the overall message of the holiday - celebrating light in the darkness; miracles when you feel you're at the end of your resources and have done all you can; overcoming oppression. However, ways to celebrate it are so cultural specific, and I'm not a Jew (and the last Jew I dated was a cultural, rather than practicing, Jew), so I feel that I may not be able to relate to it in a way that I feel I would need to in order to keep it in my list of practices. So, I will continue the rest of this year, and next year, to complete my "3 year rule", but if I don't feel any different after that, I will acknowledge and appreciate it for the beautiful holiday that it is, and say goodbye to it.



To finish, here is a picture of my new seasonal altar. In the center is my Advent wreath. To the right, of course, is the menorah. And to the left, a chalice candleholder with a tealight candle inside, for Chalica. Under it is a meditation board, tarot deck, and oracle card deck.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Simple Things

So, today's my birthday. I'm 28 years old now. In typical fashion, it's been an interesting day - some parts amusing, some parts not.

I woke up to a text message from one of my foster parents, informing me that one of the foster kids got into a fight last night, which resulted in a broken nose. Then, as I'm about to leave for work, exiting my house while simultaneously taking a bite out of a pop-tart, I drop the pop-tart. As I'm trying to catch it, the storm door hits me in the head. I arrive to work to find a no-longer-employed-there colleague there using the intern computer(which, since I'm an intern, is my computer). This of course had me very confused. So, in any case, I decided to work on some of the forms/files which didn't require a computer. Then I realized I had left those files at home (I have folders for each of my foster kids, plus a 5th folder dedicated to forms that need to be filed in the agency files, and other "to do" list items that I keep with me in case I get to work on them from home during the week when I'm not in the office). So, I go back home to get my folder and also go ahead and bring my laptop as well, so I'll have a computer. Spent the rest of the afternoon working on my paperwork, before going on my last home visit with this one extra client I picked up from another colleague to help him out for the month of November. They weren't home. So, I went to my youngest foster kid's house to have a visit with him. I do believe it's just as therapeutic to me to visit him, as it is him. He's 7 years old, and has cerebral palsy. One of his behavioral targets is speaking loud enough to be heard, as he has a tendency to whisper. However, from what I've seen, he only does that when I first get there, and when I tell him it's time for me to leave, or if he's asking me if I have to leave yet (which he does any time I start talking to his foster mom). Anytime I'm stressed or frustrated, all I have to do is spend an hour playing with this foster kid, and I feel better. Classic case of the old cliche, where people in helping fields learn more from the ones they're helping, than vice versa.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. Television, the usual stuff. Decided not to do much, or any for that matter, homework today as a birthday gift to myself.

Between the birthday wishes from friends, and the time spent with the youngest foster kid, I was already in a bit of a contemplative/nostalgic mood, which is typical of me on these days. I think, however, the highlight was a voice message I just got a little bit ago.

Back in June, before I went part-time at my current job, I quit the part-time job I was also working at as a 2nd job, at a low management group home. While I was there, there was this 13(now 14) year old I really connected with. By the time I left, I was almost the only one who could get him to take his ADHD meds with little struggle, and he was actually going around telling other staff I was his dad. On my last day there, he spent the whole day with me. When he had to go to another part of campus to practice for some kind of skit that he was supposed to be in the following week, he became argumentative and defiant. It wasn't until I promised that I wouldn't leave until after he finished, that he calmed down and went to the practice. After the practice, we said our goodbyes. Before I left, I gave him my phone number (this group home didn't have as strict a policy on that as the mental hospital, that I knew of, and if they did, they're even worse about following it), and also told my co-workers that they're all welcome to call me anytime and say hi. As of now, I keep in contact with a few of my old co-workers, and a couple of the kids, via myspace/facebook.

Anyways, a little bit ago, I received a voice message on my cell, it was from him and a couple of the other boys from the group home, wishing me happy birthday. Now, they're not supposed to have cellphones, but, it's something I haven't pushed since I'm no longer there - a large part of me feels that, the agency makes it so easy to sneak things on campus, they kind of deserve it. I confiscated the phones if I happened to see them while I was working there, but didn't go to great efforts to look for them. All they had to do was on the next Wal-mart trip, buy a pay-as-you-go phone.

This one simple voice message seems to have thrown me into a stage of nostalgia and even pride. To know that these kids wished me happy birthday when I haven't even seen them since June, makes me feel like I actually did something right in spite of the office politics and weird structure (or lack thereof) of the place. I miss the kids, and even most of the co-workers. One old co-worker has said I should come visit(although technically I'd be trespassing since I no longer work there), but I don't think I would know how to act, it's been so long.

It's funny the things that make you thankful. That make you remember that in the end, everything is worthwhile.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving

 Tuesday night, a friend and I went to an interfaith service at a local Conservative Jewish synagogue, sponsored by the local Christian-Jewish Council. It was quite interesting. There were responsive readings, prayers, and readings from the Jewish prayerbook, the Siddur. Although it wasn't a passage that was read, one that I glanced at which caught my eye. It is Pirkei Avot 1:14, which states:

"Hillel used to say: If I am not for myself who will be for me? Yet, if I am for myself only, what am I? And if not now, when?"

In a way, it fits with the holiday, for me. It talks about helping others, and standing up for others. It reminds me of how thankful I am to have had friends over the years who have helped me through some very dark times; and likewise I have tried to be there for them as well. Yes, my life isn't quite where I want it to be at the moment, as can probably be gathered in previous posts. But it could be a lot worse off as well!

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it!

Recurring Themes

     Ever have times in your life where things seem to happen in a pattern? Like, you'll wake up thinking of something, and for the next day or two, everything that happens around you will somehow seem to relate to that particular thought. That seems to have been happening to me the last few days.

     This time of year is always a bit contemplative for me. Tomorrow (well, technically today) is Thanksgiving. The time when we remember everything we're thankful for. On Tuesday is my 28th birthday, which I will inevitably spend, at some point, mulling over what I've accomplished over the last 28 years, and what I thought I would have accomplished by this point in my life. Once I started actually gaining some self-esteem and became comfortable with the concept that I actually did have a future, I fully expected to, in similar vein as most other Southern young adults, be married with a kid, blah blah blah. Instead, I haven't had a relationship since 2007, and have had maybe 3-4 dates this entire year, all with different girls - and that's a step up from 2008 and 2009. I'm not saying I regret this - I've definitely needed the time to figure myself out and recover from a lot of drama that happened in my last serious relationship - it's just not where I expected to be at this point in my life. Likewise, I fully expected to be finished (or at least, almost finished) with school at this point, going to grad school straight from undergrad. Instead, I ended up having to wait three years between finishing undergrad and starting grad school, during which time I dealt with an abortion, unemployment, virtual homelessness, and moving no less than, but perhaps more than, 5 times between graduation and starting grad school.

     I will admit that I do get frustrated and lonely sometimes. I have great friends that I hang out with when I can, but I feel like I am actually finally at a point emotionally where I'm ready for a relationship, should the right person come my way. Yes, I have a lot going on with school, but if I put the rest of my life on hold to focus only on career and academics, how unbalanced is that? The truth is, with the field I have chosen, I may always have to be doing something to advance my career - once I do get my MSW, and later my licensure, I'll have to even continue attending seminars and classes to keep that licensure. The problem seems to be that while I have met and befriended several girls that I feel I would be compatible with and am attracted to, the timing always seems off. Either they start asking about my work, and I (assumedly) freak them out, or otherwise talk a little too much about it (my view = "they asked, I have to talk a lot about it to really answer their questions!"), or they end up saying they have too much going on to date (which, personally, doesn't make much sense to me - if you know this, then don't go on a date with someone, and tell them such afterward, it looks like you're making excuses!).

     Anyways, such seems to be the theme lately. Been feeling a little more restless, frustrated, and lonely, in part due to the holiday season, in part due to the fact that my defenses seem to be lower overall due to frustrations with school assignments I have been working on, and so I get frustrated more easily. Saturday morning I had a nice brunch date with someone that went well, although we haven't talked much since. Downside is that later that day (like, an hour after I got home), she said she had fun, and I'm really cool, but she realized she's not ready to date again yet due to some recent break-ups. Which is understandable, but still had me kind of disappointed and feeling like I just had a date with yet another "one hit wonder". And then on Monday, in the true sense of humor the Divine seems to have, the designated scripture passage in my Celtic Daily Prayer book, is the one where Abraham's servant is sent to find Isaac a wife, and finds Rebekah. The thought went through my head "Really? Are You trying to make me feel better, or worse?"

Themes are hard to understand, sometimes. Maybe someday I'll understand mine.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Daily Practice

 One thing I didn't learn very well growing up: how to actually live out your faith. Sure, I learned the basics, such as The Golden Rule, which is a large part of my life even today. But obviously, people of any spirituality - or none at all - hold The Golden Rule and similar concepts as key components of their moral codes concerning how to treat others. What I never learned was how to express my spirituality in a way unique to my personality and my understanding of the Divine. My family was very active in the church. Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings, youth group, church Christmas/Easter plays, that kind of public spirituality. But at home, the most spiritual we got was praying before meals, and reading the traditionally read Scripture passages on Christmas Eve. Aside from these practices, and from occasional periods of "family Bible time" here and there, the only other time they would show any practice of spirituality at the home would be during times of conflict. During these times, they would typically whip out their KJV Bible and read some kind of passage that they could basically twist into some rendition of "I'm a good parent, you're a bad son, God's going to punish you for your disobedience".

This seems to have carried into my adult life. Even though I have a chosen spiritual path far different from that of my parents, one that encourages and allows for personal exploration (and indeed, emphasizes personal experiences as an important facet), I struggle with ways to keep my spiritual practices fresh and consistent. My Celtic Daily Prayer prayerbook helps, and around this time of year I tend to become more consistent due to my practices related to the winter holidays (Advent, Christmas, Yule, last year I even experimented a little with Hannukah just to get a feel for it, and a recent UU-specific invention called "Chalica"), I still am at times lost as to how to live out my spiritual beliefs in day-to-day life. I'm working on becoming more aware of everything around me, the more spiritual nature of life. But I still feel like I need more structure to improve my self-discipline.

Therefore, something I may gradually incorporate after the holidays, will be the First Degree Curriculum laid out within the AODA. As I've previously mentioned, I am planning on delving more in-depth into that organization once I get out of grad school and get my career goals more settled. In the meantime, though, maybe if I start to incorporate elements of their practices into my life now, then by the time I get to that point, I will be already have become more self-disciplined in my lifestyle. I really do need to work on self-discipline.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What Kind of Christian Are You?- Beliefnet.com

What Kind of Christian Are You?- Beliefnet.com



You are A Brian McLaren Christian
Brian McLaren Christian

A.k.a. a Rob Bell, Phyllis Tickle, N.T. Wright, Tim Keller, Eugene Peterson Christian. You subscribe to Sojourners or Relevant...or, more likely, Rolling Stone, Paste and The Atlantic. (And maybe even Geez!) Your Christian history is rooted in St. Francis, who leads (through Gandhi) to Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. You emphasize social justice as an element of God's kingdom. You might be "emergent" or "progressive," but you're probably post-evangelical.

Want more? Watch videos with Brian McLaren. See Rob Bell on the resurrection. Read Phyllis Tickle's Lent blog. Read our interview with N.T. Wright.

I took this quiz on Beliefnet. I don't know who Brian McLaren is, but in short, it says I'm a liberal Christian. Some of the questions on it have gotten me to thinking a little. What does it mean to be "Christian"? I believe in Jesus' teachings on helping the poor, "suffer not the little children", etc.... the social tendencies to welcome the outcasts that he exhibited. Love God (however you define God) and love your neighbor(including, for me, our non-human neighbors). I don't believe in literal virgin birth, death, resurrection. I believe possibly that he was able to understand more and perhaps become a Christ figure via progressive rebirths, similar to the belief that Siddhartha was able to attain Buddhahood thanks to multiple rebirths that finally led to the life in which he understood Enlightenment. I don't believe in a literal heaven or hell..... well, heaven as a possibility, hell definitely no. But I also believe in reincarnation as a possibility. And lately, Buddhism is starting to appeal more to me. So why not become Buddhist? This is something I've been thinking about a bit lately, as I'm reading The Complete Idiot's Guide to Zen Living, and desperately attempting to utilize my Zen practices to balance the most stressful semester of school I've had yet - I didn't do very well on a recent major paper in class, and I'm (temporarily) up to 8 foster kids in my internship.

One thing about Gnosticism is that it is kind of a blend of both. It is Gnostic, Buddhist, Pagan, whatever else, yet it is also above all of that. Being a Gnostic means the practitioner seeks the esoteric similarities within all religions of study, seeking the Divine Spark, the Divine Inspiration, that is the source of it all. Some Pagans(and indeed, a lot of Gnostics), view divinity like a diamond. With the Wiccan "All Gods are One God" view, the belief is that whether you are praying to Zeus, Hades, Apollo, whoever, you are simply praying to different aspects of the same Being. Gnostics seek to find that Being, the big jewel that all the facets make up. That's why you find many Gnostics who, although they consider themselves Christian and pray to Jesus, also pray to Isis, Horus, and other deities(usually of middle-Eastern or Egyptian pantheons). That's something I still struggle with, myself. Before embracing Gnosticism, when I was Pagan, I was a polytheist, and followed a number of deities, primarily from the Celtic pantheon. While I did eventually come back to Christianity as a Gnostic, and recommit myself to Jesus (albeit a different interpretation of him), and even attend a Christian church, what of those other deities? I fully believe that I connected with them. My first experience with Brighid was a very powerful experience, part of why I still feel connected with her and follow her in her Saint form. I don't believe that my experiences as a Pagan were any less real than my experiences as a Gnostic have been, just because my faith has evolved. What I struggle with, even now, is how to integrate the two to make my spirituality as holistic as fits my generally eclectic personality and approach to everything, including spirituality. Maybe it is okay to pray to Jesus, and Manannan, and Brighid, and Isis. I'm hoping the next book on my reading list, Christopaganism, will give me some ideas and insights.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Little Things

First, an order of housekeeping: I've added three more links to the links section, three forums I frequent when I can: The Center for Progressive Christianity, Pagan Journeys, and The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids.

Today, I'm learning to appreciate the little things. Since I haven't been working at the mental hospital as frequently, I've been generally able to manage my anxiety and emotions better while I'm there, because I don't feel as burned out - for now. At church yesterday, the head of the southeast association for my church's denomination spoke at our church, and officially instated our Interim Minister. It was also All Saint's Sunday, where we lit candles to remember those who have passed away in the past year(as Monday of last week was All Saint's Day, and Halloween was their Harvest Sunday, All Saint's Day was commemorated this past Sunday). I have been fortunate to not have had any relatives die within the past year. But as it was my first All Saint's experience, my mind was brought to other relatives I have been, or considered myself, close to, who have died. My paternal grandparents, of lung cancer and emphysema respectively; my maternal grandfather, who I never met, who died in a car accident when he was 22 years old, three months before my mother's birth (somehow I do feel a connection with him, although we never met); my uncle, who died in a freak accident while I was in undergrad. I wondered where they are now, if they've reincarnated, or are still in the spiritual world. I admit the afterlife is one area this Gnostic is more "agnostic" about. I know I don't believe in Hell, but I don't know what I truly believe happens - reincarnation just makes the most sense to me so far. I try not to worry about it, as how does that really help me live my life in the here and now?

Today, I had an amazing experience connecting with one of the foster kids on my caseload. He's seven years old, and suffers from cerebral palsy. We played Mancala, a kind of Chinese marble game. He was so excited to count how many he could fit into his hand, as compared to how many I could. He counted those things over and over and over, pausing only a couple of times to let me know he had to go to the bathroom, or to ask me when I have to leave. It's moments like these that make the frustration, the near mental breakdown that this semester is bringing me, worthwhile. It's how I know I'm doing what I'm meant to do.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Stopping to Breathe

I've come to recognize that, in general, I'm a very busy person. I'm always either going to church, to class, to my paid job, to my internship, or doing homework. As I'm becoming more accustomed to and consistent in my Zen practice, I'm very slowly learning to calm my mind more and take a few minutes to just "exist".

On Samhain/Halloween, a good friend and I spent the evening in downtown Charleston. First, we had dinner at Tommy Condon's, one of my favorite Irish pubs/restaurants. Then, we walked through the battery and Waterfront Park. It was so quiet and peaceful. I just lay there for a few minutes on a seat on the deck, looking at the stars. I don't even remember the last time I really looked at the stars. The ocean, yes. The trees, yes. But the stars have a beauty of their own. Our ancestors used to navigate by them. We are made from them. This put me into an adequately somber mood for the final event of the evening - a haunted ghost tour. It was probably the most interesting "haunted tour" I've ever been on, in terms of learning about legend. Granted, I've only been on two, including this one. And, granted, the first one was a little more exciting, thanks to a streetlight flickering just as the guide was telling the story of a body buried beneath the candy shop directly across from the light. But this one had many more stories - makes sense, since Charleston is such an old city. And two of the stories actually centered around my church. So I thought that was an extra interesting bit. Because I was so tired, I held my own private prayers honoring my physical and spiritual ancestors on Monday, All Saint's Day.

Today, in between a meeting with one of my foster families and their caseworker(even though today was technically my day off....), an eye doctor appointment to order new contacts, and meeting with some classmates to work on a roleplay that we have to do for our counseling/micro-level class(I'm roleplaying a Jewish guy.... apparently everybody thinks I look Jewish), I went browsing around for some Christmas shopping ideas, since I want to start early so I give myself enough time, with all the other things going on in my schedule.

I'm amazed at how early people are starting to play Christmas music and put out Christmas decorations. Now, granted, I'm probably going to go ahead and decorate my seasonal altar for Christmas/Yule on my next day off with my Advent wreath, etc. But that's because as far as seasonal-related holidays go that are religiously oriented, that's the next one. Thanksgiving is mostly a secular holiday, a day to give thanks. There are no real decorations for that, as Druidry has other harvest-related holidays(and I struggle with harvest-related themes anyways since, at the moment, I don't garden). But still, Thanksgiving is completely overlooked in the media and shopping centers it seems. I feel giving thanks is important. And it just goes to show how we are always jumping from one thing to another.

I think that's the biggest lesson I've been learning these last few days. I need to stop and live in the moment, because that's all I have. The more I recognize that, my spirituality will grow. Appreciate life. Live in the moment. Corny, I know. But if we just learned this, how much better could we be? 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pervasive attitudes

Yesterday, I posted this article on my Facebook page. It's an article from Sojourners, a liberal Christian magazine. The cliff notes version of the article is this: True Christians should stand up against bullies in school. Jesus reached out to and befriended the outcasts, and so should we. Even if someone disagrees with homosexuality, that person should defend someone being persecuted for their (real or perceived) sexual orientation anyways, because it is the decent, human thing to do.

A couple of responses were posted that caught my eye. Well, one really, but it is a response(I think) to a previous comment, so I'll post both. The first comment in question was this:

"I wish more "Christians" stood up to the hate crowd within their ranks."

I very much agree, obviously. Then, another comment was posted:

"I never feel that bullying is okay in ANY situation; including a gay lifestyle. It is, however, contrary to scripture if you believe the Bible to be inerrant. It is not my place to tell others how to live,nor should I feel bad for feeling ...the way I feel. Bullying, when done by Christians is what gives Christianity a bad name. Promoting the gay lifestyle or endorsing it, knowing it is against God, is not what I consider to be the answer either. Where do we draw the line on what we call sin anymore? Everyone that knows me knows that I do not have a mean bone in my body towards others, but I have to speak up once in a while too. I know many do not agree and thats okay too :-) When we can no longer agree to disagree, we really have a problem right?"

On a surface level, and initially, it seemed like she was basically agreeing with the article, with the exception that, unlike the author, she disagreed with homosexuality. I'll admit that over the years, this person has learned to become much more respectful in how she states her opinion, although I unfortunately still can't get into deep conversations with her because we are just too different. Therefore, our relationship remains superficial(I will add here that this person is a close relative, so it's not like I can just end the relationship due to irreconcilable differences).

However, the more I thought about it, the more this comment angered me. Yes, fundamentalist, literalist Christians disagree with the rest of us on many issues, including homosexuality. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. If it were all polite discussion or even "I'll respect you, you respect me" in an adult fashion, that would be fine. But it's not. Even semi-polite, somewhat respectful tones such as this leads to the bullying and violence. Take the lines she said, where she commented that it is against God, referencing the scriptures as inerrant, and lamenting what is and is not considered "sin" in our society. If a young child were to hear that from his or her parents, that child would begin to see GLBT peers as "sinners'", and therefore "outsiders" or "unclean". And I need not go into detail about how harshly young kids treat outsiders. Or what if the child hears that from his parents, and comes to realize that he is a GLBT youth himself? Now, on top of struggling with sexuality, he will probably struggle with spiritual guilt as well. In fact, this study even points out that many Americans very well believe that churches are a contributing factor in GLBT-related suicides.

I'll never understand fundamentalism, even in its most polite forms.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It Gets Better

I'll begin by saying, that I've done a little bit of redecorating of the blog. I've reorganized the location of the blog archive, list of followers, etc. But the most significant change is a links section. To the right, below the list of blogs I follow, you will find a list of recommended links. It is small for now, but will of course grow as I have time to add things, and find new links. They will be about anything I feel strongly about, be it social justice or spirituality. Listed alphabetically, the beginning list is as follows:

- The Ancient Order of Druids of America = a Druidry organization providing resources and knowledge in Revival Druidry, which I plan to pursue more once I'm finished with my secular academic pursuits

- LEARN Horse Rescue = a local horse rescue that assists neglected horses

- The Gnostic Druid Fellowship = a Gnostic Druid organization with membership in both the AODA and the Universal Gnostic Church

- The Trevor Project = a resource for youth and young adults who struggle with depression and suicide, geared particularly towards GLBT youth and those who are perceived as such

-Unitarian Universalist Church of the Younger Fellowship = online fellowship for UU young adults ages 18-35



Last night, I attended a workshop centering around Social Work and Spirituality. It addressed the fact that the NASW does not officially have services to assist with spiritual struggles in the sense that they have assistance for substance abuse, mental illness, etc. Yet spiritual beliefs are often a major component of the client's life, and often is a running thread to both the client's strengths and weaknesses. So what is a social worker to do then? It was a great workshop, held by the local Unity minister (Unity is an interesting New Thought belief in itself, which I will likely devote an entry to in the future).

On a final note, there is the current "activist fad". Remember a couple of years ago, when everybody was talking about Darfur? Particularly on social networking sites like Facebook. Likely, the problems in Darfur have made little progress, yet when is the last time it has been discussed? That's the sad consequence of social justice projects becoming mainstream, I guess - eventually, interest dies out, just like with every fad.

However, the current one is one that has affected me in ways that I don't recall having been affected since I became interested in the environmental movement. The environmental movement seems to be doing well becoming more mainstream, while keeping in touch with the original grassroots goals. Hopefully this one will as well.

The fad that I speak of is The Trevor Project. In the last couple of months, there have been a string of well-publicized adolescent suicides due to being bullied for being gay, or even just being "perceived" as gay, due to somehow being different from most other heterosexuals. And that's not even considering the number of bullying-related suicides that likely happen that don't get publicized. Due to this, yesterday was a day designated to raising awareness of bullying and those who struggle with suicidal ideations because of it, particularly within the GLBT community. Supporters were encouraged to wear purple, or change their facebook profile picture to a provided "It Gets Better" logo.

I've been there. I know what it's like to go to sleep, hoping you don't wake up because you just don't want to deal with it. I'm straight(although I'll admit I've had my periods of questioning), but due to being smaller, more underweight, and much less athletic than other boys my age, I was one of those that was at times "perceived to be gay". I was very shy, and through one circumstance or another, most, if not all, of my closest friends would be females. One of my earliest elementary school memories was being in kindergarten, on the school bus, and a 5th grader calling me a "fag". By late middle/early high school, people generally finally started leaving me alone, and I was fortunate in that I was never physically attacked or threatened. But words were plentiful. There was another time an older kid on a bus showed me a picture of a naked baby and asked if I liked it. Or the time, my freshman year of college, I returned from visiting my (at that time primarily female) group of friends and someone had drawn a large penis on the markerboard outside my dorm room(if I recall right, "fag" was written next to it as well). So being persecuted for being "different" and struggling with major self-esteem issues because of it really hits home with me, I guess. I will close with a very powerful video by a Texas senator at his local council meeting. Watch it, and show your support for him, and encourage your own local politicians to be as empathetic as this guy. Then, tell others about it, raise awareness about resourcing to stop bullying. It starts with us, the adults. One at a time, we can make it better.

Friday, October 15, 2010

God in America

Recently, PBS aired a miniseries over three nights(Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday) called God in America, which chronicles the religious history of the United States, and the impact of religious beliefs on nationwide events, such as the American Revolution, the Civil War, abolition, etc.

Obviously the focus was on the Abrahamic faiths, in particular Christianity, with a small section on Judaism. That was what has been most prominent in our history, after all, even if our founding fathers were primarily Deists. I was pleased to see the documentary carried out in an objective, informative way, yet also in a way that allowed the viewer to vicariously experience, to the extent possible, the struggles that the people went through in their lives, and emotionally connect with the material. I didn't get to watch it on television, but I watched it online. I may get this as a gift for an uncle who is a bit of a history buff. Good watch!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Believe

It's funny how life is. I've been in a bit of a nostalgic, "deep" mood(melancholy, perhaps?) the last couple of days. I think it started the other day, after the kids were asleep, and a coworker and I started talking about our younger years of high school, college, etc. I just kind of realized how far I've come in life, and how far I really need to go still.

Then there was an event that was a little bit furthered later on, while browsing facebook. Anyone who has a facebook and risks addiction to it, has probably at some point stumbled upon former classmates, acquaintances, etc. via mutual friends. Although I did not talk to him in this instance, one I stumbled upon was a former college roommate, from freshman year. We didn't talk very much that year - I actually thought he was kind of arrogant/snobbish at the time - so I didn't, nor do I currently, feel the need to contact him. Just happened to notice him. Turns out he's gay, in a partnership with someone else from our university, and active in a growing organization for Baptists who are accepting of homosexuality.


My first thought was surprise at his orientation - through the mindset I had back in college, he didn't really "come across" as such, didn't fit the stereotype. My second thought was "wait, there are Baptists who are actually ok with gays?", which led to my third thought "So, even a gay guy found someone at a Christian university before I did."

Then, I realized, I was letting my desires get to me. I was doing the very thing, albeit on a lesser scale, as what I complained about in my previous entry. I was being judgmental towards this person based on the opinion I had of him when we were roommates, and letting myself get jealous because I know all of these people in fulfilling relationships, and I average about one date every three months, if even.  In general I'm okay with that - I would rather be single than be in yet another destructive relationship. But sometimes, I must admit, it does get kind of dull and depressing when you live in a region of the country where people tend to be married and with families by the time they're 30, and here I am, still in school, at times wondering if I really have anything to show for my life at this point. I think that's always been one of my biggest downfalls - I don't really remember the last time I actually felt like I accomplished something, or did something that really made any kind of lasting impact in the world around me. Where is my sense of purpose in life? Did I ever even have a sense of purpose in life?


I'll finish this one out with another music video. It's a song that gets in my head fairly often lately, somehow especially when I get into melancholic moods. The video is a fan-made video, as I couldn't find an "official" video(guess it hasn't been released yet), so I don't like that very much. But it does at least include the lyrics, so I don't have to type that out. The song is "Believe" by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.





Monday, October 11, 2010

Druidry is made an official religion in the UK

Here is an article that laments the fact that Druidry is now an official, charitable religion in the UK.

It saddens me that people are still so narrowminded and arrogant to believe that only Christianity(or, at best, theistic faiths) deserves special recognition. I'm not sure about in the UK, but I know that here in the US Buddhism is pretty much an established religion. And Buddhists aren't theistic, or at least it isn't a requirement to be theistic, and any belief in gods is kind of a "side comment" to their religion, not a focal point. Indeed, many Zen practitioners believe that Buddhism isn't just a religion, but can also be a spiritual practice to supplement the practitioner's primary religion(as I am beginning to incorporate Zen practices into my practice, I tend to subscribe to this viewpoint myself). Druidry is similar - most practice it as a spiritual supplement, but indeed many Druids do consider Druidry to be their primary religion.

"Judge not, lest you be judged." Too bad so many Christians have forgotten this.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Animals Said to Have Spiritual Experiences

This article on MSNBC discusses scientific evidence that animals, like humans, have spiritual experiences, based on experiments involving the areas of the brain that are connected with spiritual experiences, such as near death experiences, out of body experiences, etc.

I've believed for a long time that animals have souls. There's nothing new here, for me. However, it is nice when science and faith interconnect and kind of "meet in the middle". Being someone who sees no conflict between science and faith, such scientific evidence serves only to confirm and strengthen my faith.

 And who knows, maybe the more research such as this is done and confirmed, the more humans will learn to be more respectful of our non-human neighbors.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Playing Catch-up

So, I recognized I haven't been consistent in blogging lately. So I thought I'd kind of catch everyone up to where I've been.

I'm off of work today. Thank goodness.I actually was scheduled to work. Sort of. For this month, in attempt to experiment with a more consistent schedule between work and internship, I put down day shift hours(7am-3:30pm) for my weekdays on my October calendar of availability for my paid job. This is an attempt to have a fairly consistent sleep/homework schedule across all days. I will be changing it up again starting next month, though, as I'm taking on more responsibilities at my internship(i.e.I finally have a caseload to manage) and will need to be able to attend Friday morning meetings. And of course, due to church and classes, my weekends will always be evening hours.

But near the end of the year, my place of employment tends to change things up to help their budget, and give us flex/part-time staff less time. I'm definitely on schedule for my weekend hours I put down - although the admin that does the schedules messed up on the hours, and scheduled me to work 3pm-10pm on my Saturdays, even though I don't get out of class until 4. So, I talked with my direct supervisors, and those days I will be working 5-11:30, as I originally put on my calendar of availability. And Fall break from school(Oct. 14-17) I'm taking off of work too, in order to have a scheduled, definite break and finish up a project that's due on the 23rd.

Anyways, while the admin kept my weekend hours basically definite and only the hours needed to be changed, my weekdays(typically Wed-Fri), rather than scheduling me for 7am-3:30pm, she put me down as "A1". They do this with most flex staff during this time of year to help with their year-end budget crunch - list them as "A" rather than officially scheduling them. "A1" means that I'm available to work first shift that day if the supervisors need me to come in, i.e. short staffed due to call-outs, etc. However, if they don't call, then I don't work unless I choose to go in(and then if they have too many staff, I may get sent home). Today, they didn't call and I chose to not work. I've decided that, at least this month, I'm probably not going to go to work on my "A1" days unless I'm called in, at least as long as I can afford it. For one, I hate being there. I'm trying to get another job as it is, whether it's a paid position at my current internship, another group home, or even the local Barnes and Noble. The place is insane, unsafe, and as much as I love working with the kids and have connected with them well, I'm just tired of being there, been there two and a half years. So why would I choose to come in if I don't have to? So if I only work 5 days this month at the paid job, so be it. I'll use the extra time to finish my paper, and after that get a head start on my Christmas shopping. I have money in a savings account that I put money in with each financial aid overage check I get for such circumstances. The only financial reason I'll need to work is for holiday shopping money and to start saving for a DC trip I'm hoping to take with a friend for spring break - and that won't be too expensive, since we'll both be contributing, and all we have to pay for will be the trip there and back, the hotel, food, and souvenirs, as most tourist attractions in DC are free to get into.

Since my Wednesday evenings are more available, as even after this month I'll be putting myself down as Day shift on my work availability calendars for Wednesday(or not at all)(only Thursday and Friday hours will be changing, the days will generally stay the same, and I'm going to give myself at least one day a week off from both job and internship for "me time"[typically Sunday, but if I have to work a Sunday to complete the required number of weekend hours at work, I'm giving myself that Wednesday off]), I'm going to try out a local Buddhist Meditation group at a downtown center for Tibetan Buddhism. I really need it, especially after an aggravating conversation I just had with one of our most incompetent supervisors whilst typing this. I go flex to help with school schedule, they know this, nobody tells me there are or aren't restrictions concerning what hours to put myself down for, and then I get hassled for doing what flex staff are allowed to do? Hell no.

Anyways, the other thing I've done, is clear out space for a seasonal altar. The altar I have previously put pictures up of is my permanent altar. This one will be devoted to holidays/seasons. For now I'm going to use another TV dinner table.

I've actually found three altars on Abaxion that I really like, that I may buy over time: the "Magical Mini Altar"
the Triquetra Altar , and the Dragon Magic Altar Table . Since they're all relatively small, I may buy one for spellwork/divination, one for my seasonal altar, and one to replace my current permanent altar.

So that's how things have been in a nutshell. Now I have to go to the library. Fun.  

Monday, October 4, 2010

Druidry and Wicca: Syncretized

This Witchvox article discusses the growing practice of blending the religion of Wicca with the spirituality of Druidry. Early on in my path, I did this myself. As anyone who has read this blog knows, I no longer consider myself Wiccan, but have returned to Christianity, most heavily influenced by Gnosticism. Although my actual spiritual practice has diminished lately - something I'm trying to work on - I do still consider myself a Druid. And, like Druidic Wiccans, my Druidry does have elements of Witchcraft still in it.

To me, Druidry seems more solar, more masculine. It has a wealth of rites and rituals. The Ancient Order of Druids of America, the organization I plan on joining once I finish grad school and therefore have time to focus more on such things, has grades/levels and corresponding curriculum for enhancing your spiritual practice. Each Degree has required readings or practices to choose from, ranging from divination to herbalism, learning about local nature, etc. There is a large focus on interacting with nature and growing in knowledge and philosophy.

Wicca, and subsequently Witchcraft, however, seems more lunar/feminine to me. The focus is more on the energies that surround us, lunar practices, and spellwork. Druidcraft, as mentioned in the article, is the blending of the two. In my case, I do practice spellwork on occasion - although it has been awhile, as I've been too busy and haven't felt the need. What I have done has seemed to work pretty well, and what hasn't, I attribute more to my own lack of focus or mindset. I suppose spellwork is just like any spiritual practice - like the theme of the movie Skeleton Key, if you believe in it, it works, if not, it won't. Sometimes I feel like I may need one to help out in a situation, but the words/methods won't properly formulate in my mind, a kind of spiritual writer's block. I've found that if that happens, even after looking for inspiration in a reference material such as The Element Encyclopedia of 1000 Spells, it's not meant to be, at least not yet. When I need a spell the most, the words seem to come naturally. And it's been those times that they have worked the best. I do wonder sometimes though if my current lack of use is not only because I haven't needed it, but also because I've become spiritually unfocused over the last month and a half since school resumed. I am finding myself slowly coming back to spirituality, one step at a time. I'm now going to church consistently, even attending Religious Education - my church's version of "Sunday School". And I'm starting to get back into my daily spiritual readings. Maybe that's been the problem with my spiritual practice - maybe I've been trying to force myself to do too much too quick, instead of easing back into it gradually. I didn't exactly learn spiritual discipline growing up. My family went to church and was very involved superficially, but there was no real depth. That kind of mindset and habit doesn't go away completely, I believe. It takes hard work, and maybe gradually resuming more practices is the best thing for me.

Not to mention needing to work on time management skills in general.

Friday, September 17, 2010

We interrupt this program.....

for a non-spiritual mini-rant, because I just need to vent.

I really hate my damn job. I'm sick of being mistreated by staff, belittled, overworked, and threatened. I got off of work 5 hours later than I was supposed to, meaning I worked a 13 hour shift with one damn meal break. Meantime, all hell is breaking loose, and I'm informed by one kid that two of the other kids are deliberately causing confusion in an effort to get the chance to attack me. After all that, another staff bitched at me when I finally did leave, and some of them hadn't gotten to eat yet. Well sorry, would've stayed if I could, but it's not my problem. Try 13 hours with one meal break, asswipe. I need to get out of that shithole. I actually am one of the few staff that attempt to enforce the rules, and NOTHING happens. The kids get no consequences. Nobody gives a damn. We're just babysitting the next generation of inmates. Our only contribution to society is our recidivism. Hell, even the kids that leave "successfully", I know of at least TWO, graduates from the sex offender program of all places, that have gotten some teenage girl knocked up within 4 months of leaving. And these are our success stories? What the fuck.

There, I feel a little better now.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

I've been feeling in a bit of a funk lately. Dealing with a lot of loneliness. I feel like such a recluse sometimes, holed up in my house(when I'm not at work) somewhat doing my studies, or when I do go out, always going, again, alone. Depressed at the fact that I haven't had a serious relationship(or for that matter, anything beyond a first date) since 2007. I look at those who have achieved goals I thought I would have accomplished by now, and it just adds to it.

And I realized that the minister's (paraphrased) prayer at church today hits it spot on: "Help me not to envy the talents and gifts of others, but to enjoy what I have been given." That's at the heart of it all, I suppose: I want what, at least at the moment, I can't have. I see my family pressuring me to get married and have kids, I see others enjoying their social lives while I'm still in school, I see myself in a job where there's no real room for creativity or growth, and I want to change it all. I want the wife, 2.5 kids and a picket fence, the job where I feel like I'm actually accomplishing something, and friends to go out with on payday, or to go hiking or swimming or kayaking with.

I try to reframe it. For the most part, life is actually going pretty good for the time being. Yes, I'm single. But when I do find the right person, I'll appreciate her that much more. Yes, I'm still in school, but when I am finished, it will qualify me for better jobs(hopefully) and further enable me to help the population I have chosen to work with. Yes, I'm in a dead-end job where supervisors try to belittle me and take advantage of me and disrespect me, but I'm also in an internship where, even after only being there for two weeks, I've managed to get them signed up to participate in a major local festival that's going on this month, that they had never even heard of prior to my mentioning it, and they're talking about the possibility of me being an intern again there next school year and making it a paid part-time position, with intent of going full-time after I graduate. So if things go well there, the light at the end of my bad-job-tunnel is that much closer. So why can't I be happy with my life as-is?

I guess it just takes time. I caught my first real glimpse of true inner happiness in undergrad, thanks to a couple of years' worth of therapy, a support group for adult children of dysfunctional families at a nearby church, and learning how to make real, meaningful friendships which helped me learn that I actually was capable of being a happy, functioning human being. I question my life now - have I really had such a dramatic and deep string of negative circumstances in the years following undergrad that I lost all of the progress I made in those years? As a mental health worker and aspiring therapist/social worker, a part of me wonders if we really truly "lose" such life lessons, or whether we just get "sidetracked" and have to figure out how those life lessons fit in to new circumstances and things that happen. Since I do my internship on Mondays and Tuesdays, and will probably be switching to Day shift at my paid job during my weekdays(since I'm part-time, I make up my own schedule - I have to keep my weekends Evening shift because of work and class, but I'll probably go Day shift on my weekdays, to keep a more consistent sleep/homework schedule during the week), I've been debating going to a local ACA group. ACA is Adult Children of Alcoholics. It's geared towards, obviously, adult children of alcoholics, but it also welcomes people from dysfunctional families in general, because while my parents weren't alcoholics, my mom was raised by alcoholics, and therefore the behavioral patterns are still there, even if the alcohol isn't(what one co-worker once referred to as a "dry drunk"). Maybe that will at least help me keep my own issues in check, because, if I can't sort out my own life, how can I really help others?

Monday, August 23, 2010

When sociology students visit Creation Museum - CSMonitor.com

When sociology students visit Creation Museum - CSMonitor.com


Somehow, I actually want to visit this museum. I just wouldn't want to do anything to contribute to its funding.

I hope to have more deeper entries soon. Getting settled into my internship and class.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fear

"You have nothing to fear but fear itself."

This is a concept I have been trying to remember a lot more lately. Although I hide it well from most people, those who really know me well, know that I can be kind of a high anxiety person. New situations make me nervous, sometimes even to the point of feeling sick to my stomach. Both in my current job and the former part-time job, I had to call in sick within a couple of weeks of starting due to stomach bugs, and I'm sure that my nervousness of a new job was a contributing factor as well. I have anxiety about a lot of things. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday it was over working part of first shift in addition to part of my usual second shift(Saturday I worked 11:00am-11:30pm, Sunday I worked 8:30am-9:00pm, Monday I worked 1:00pm-9:30pm - a big part of why I haven't updated in a week); yesterday it was nervous about student orientation for interns, which further overwhelmed me and made me more nervous than I already was - a 30 page paper involving our internship? A biopsychosocial assessment? A checklist of things we should look at involving the organization we're interning at? I don't know how much of this my field supervisor at the agency knows about what I'll have to do this semester, considering when I got accepted she simply said I would "be in charge of 2 or 3 clients", whatever that means. And considering I start Thursday, but somehow she thought I was supposed to start on way back on the 6th, I'm a little apprehensive.

But why do we have fear? It can be a great thing when it's protecting us from something dangerous, like our prehistoric predators or jumping off of a building without a parachute. But a lot of times it just gets in the way, it seems. Keeping us from finishing school, applying for that job we want, walking up to that cute stranger who could or could not become our soulmate. What's the point of feeling things that hold us back from our potential? In my case, why does having had a stressful childhood that led to high anxiety, have to affect me now? Where's the faith?

Maybe someday these questions will be answered. If not, there's always Xanax.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pastor sticks up for modern view of God - Religion - NewsObserver.com

Pastor sticks up for modern view of God - Religion - NewsObserver.com


All I really have to say on this one, is that it's good to see Christian leaders sticking up for their more progressive views. If more of them did so(and this article seems to imply that there are many "closet liberals" who don't see God in the traditional sense, that are pastoring churches), maybe the rest of the religion would follow suit and become at least a little more tolerant.


Sad to say I return home, and therefore back to work, tomorrow. NOT looking forward to going back to the craziness!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Review: The Circular Church

My most recent completed book is The Circular Church: Three Centuries of Charleston History, by Joanne Calhoun, one of the members of the church I attend. The church truly has experienced a lot in its lifetime. It was begun in 1681, and has been housed in four different buildings, which have at various times been decimated due to:

-The Revolutionary War
-The Civil War
- a fire that was pretty much Charleston's equivalent of the Great Chicago Fire
-a major earthquake in the mid-1800s.

The church has always been the equivalent of a "liberal church" throughout the various eras it has been functioning in. While most of its members were slaveowners, slavery was an issue they constantly struggled with. They were the first church that allowed blacks into their services in slave days, and black churchmembers were given a great deal of responsibility within church operations compared to others in the day. It is even speculated that at least one minister may have been involved in helping slaves to read, which of course was a big issue of the day. Several other churches in the area are splits from Circular, including the local French Hugenot church and the Unitarian church(there is actually still a lot of interaction between my church and the Unitarian church today - the current minister at the Unitarian church is a member of Circular, and the former Unitarian minister has visited Circular on occasion since his resignation). During the Civil Rights movement, they were one of the first(if not the first) church to openly invite blacks to visit the church, when other churches were actually posting guards at the doors to keep blacks out. Today, they advertise their welcoming attitudes towards LGBTs as part of the UCC's "Open and Affirming" campaign, and have a "green" addition to Lance Hall(their "Sunday School" building, which was built to house the  congregation during one of the renovations made to a previous churchbuilding) which is one of the most environmentally friendly buildings in the South(if I remember correctly), and was made by one of the top eco-friendly  architects in the country.

Overall, a good read about a good church, which also gives a lot of insight into the local history of one of the oldest cities in the country.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Nature Walk


I think one of the highlights of the vacation turned out to be when we visited Cades Cove. Cades Cove is this little nature preserve area that you can drive through to see various nature scenery. There are several stopping points where you can pull over to take pictures, etc. There are also hiking, biking and horseback riding trails. There is also a visitor's center/gift shop, where I bought a poster of a waterfall and a book on Cherokee mythology and history. As I learned this year, there are also several historic buildings near the far end of the property - an empty house; a mill(waterwheel shown left) where a man demonstrated old ways of making corn meal; a little river; a barn. It gave me a wonderful opportunity to embrace my inner photographer and take pictures with my digital camera, some of which are showcased throughout this entry. Consequently, there is not as much spiritual "talk" in this entry, but the scenes I photographed definitely bring spiritual matters to my mind.

It started out as a very cool, foggy morning. The fog in these mountains are beautiful - and the reason that they are called the "Smoky Mountains". Although where we went in Tennessee was about four hours away from my parents' house, I grew up just a couple of hours away from a part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I remember many times as a kid, our family getting KFC after church and driving up the parkway for a picnic. Some of my favorite childhood memories took place in Blowing Rock, NC, Grandfather Mountain, and Linville Caverns. I don't think I really, truly appreciated their beauty, power, and inspiration until I moved away. Such is life.





 Throughout our trip to Cades Cove, we saw a total of four wild turkeys, thirty-four deer, and two bears. I personally only saw one bear, but my grandma did see the other one. We've seen quite a few deer before on other trips, but this was certainly the most I had seen in one trip.










 The river running through the cove was quiet, secluded, and peaceful. While my family went on ahead, I took the opportunity to stand by the river for a minute, thanking the water spirits for their inspiration, and just talking with Pleroma for a bit.









Near one of the houses that were open for touring, were some beautiful white flowers. I'm not exactly sure what kind they were. White flowers I find especially pretty. They seem to represent peace and purity to me. My favorites are the white roses. Of the flowers next to the house, I took two pictures - one is my default picture now, the other one is on the left.








This has turned out to be one of my favorite pictures of the trip. This little butterfly happened to land, and I was fortunate enough to figure out the extreme close-up features on my digital camera before it flew away. If it had happened to land on a flower rather than an open window of one of the buildings open for touring, it would have been even more perfect.
 I also experimented with my camera's (no sound) video feature, and I will close the entry with that video, hopefully it will work.

Coming back to North Carolina today was difficult. Along the way we stopped by Cherokee, NC for a little bit. We went into a couple of shops, where I bought a small medicine bag, which will probably be more decoration until I decide if I feel drawn to it for any particular spiritual purpose. 

In a way, the visit to Cherokee also made me kind of sad. Native Americans are the most poverty-stricken ethnicity in the country, and have the highest mortality, alcoholism, etc. rates. As a white person, I don't have to show off aspects of my culture to make money - it's just kind of there, everybody knows about it. On the other hand, I am glad to see that people are working hard to maintain native cultures and pass it on to others, and educate people on how we're really not all that different from each other.

I am now back in North Carolina with the family until Thursday, at which point I will have to make the dreaded return to "the real world".  I hope that this vacation will come to mind when I need to re-center myself in the midst of the craziness of life.

video

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Rainy Days and Museums

 I'm once again sitting outside on our screened-in porch. It is peaceful, in spite of the loud rain and thunder I am hearing. I used to hate rain. It meant I couldn't go outside, and my mother was so paranoid about having electricity on during a storm that I often wasn't allowed to bathe or even watch television until the storm subsided. But I've come to love rain. It's very cleansing. Even the sound of it invokes images of washing away sadness and negativity, watering the seeds of hope and life within. As long as I'm not driving in it, I've become very appreciative of rain. We were planning on going into Gatlinburg tonight for some shopping, but if this rain stops us from going, I'm okay with that. I really am starting to feel more balanced.

Today we visited one of Pigeon Forge's newest attractions, the Titanic Museum. It's one of the largest in the world, and holds not only antiques recovered from the wreckage, but photos of victims, survivors, their families, newspaper articles, and the history around the making - and sinking - of the Titanic. If anyone is ever in Tennessee, I definitely recommend it. It was a very somber experience for me, almost on par with the time I visited the Holocaust Museum, and heard a Holocaust survivor speak in a Raleigh, NC, synagogue with my high school English class.

To catch a glimpse of the passengers' lives and what they went through really affected me. Seeing handwritten letters and postcards that were written by passengers just prior to boarding, telling their families how they would be seeing them soon, I wondered what was going through their heads as they realized they would not be seeing their families alive. What could have possibly gone through their heads? There was an exhibit telling the story of a 47-year old woman offering her space in a life raft to a young cabin boy, stating that she had lived her life, and it was his turn. He subsequently placed her in the boat and stayed behind on the ship. Upon entering the museum, you are given a "boarding pass", a ticket with the story of an actual passenger. The one I received  was that of a Daniel Marvin, I believe(I don't have it with me right this moment), a 19year old newlywed who was returning from his honeymoon with his wife. He guided her onto a lifeboat and stayed behind himself, saying his last goodbyes.  There were photo albums and jewelry, donated to the museum by various historians, historical societies, and descendants of passengers. The only thing I didn't really like was the gift shop had some things within that I felt were a little disrespectful. And they had this woman who took a picture, similar to some other attractions - where they take your picture, put it against a background showcasing whatever the attraction was about, and then you could buy it. I thought those were a little bit irreverent of the people who suffered on the ship, and their surviving relatives, but I digress.

I think there were two exhibits that just really struck me. I was already in a deep, somber mood by what I had already seen, but what almost brought me to tears was the exhibit that contained actual pictures of sailors on the McKay-Bennet, the ship charged with searching for bodies in the following weeks of the sinking. These pictures were actual pictures of an embalmed body, and sailors pulling bodies out of the water. To have seen that firsthand, I can't even imagine.

The second exhibit was this very cold room that was intended to show the visitor what it was actually like on the deck on the night the Titanic hit the iceberg. It was dark, with lights in the ceiling portraying stars. There was a large slab of ice on the wall that you could touch to feel what the ice would have felt like. The room was at the temperature that it would have been on that April night. There was a stream of saltwater that was kept at the temperature of the water of that night(about 28degrees), so that you could feel just how cold the water actually would've been to the people as they fell into the water. My hand felt tingly and had that "pins and needles" feeling in it after just a few seconds in the water. Anyone who actually survived the actual sinking was in the water for four hours, the length of time it took for the Carpathia to reach the site. A display, and a tour guide, explained the symptoms of hypothermia. Most of the people in the water would have been dead within 40 minutes of going in the water.

Maybe it's my own empathic nature. Maybe I've become even more connected to previous generations, since my practice of Druidry includes the honoring of my spiritual and physical ancestors. Or maybe I feel a connection because of my own draw to the sea. But somehow, this museum experience affected me far more than any other I've been to, outside the aforementioned Holocaust Museum. And I think I will end this entry with that. Because I can't even begin to put into words the depth of what this museum experience brought to me.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Life's Lullaby

So after getting to bed at around 12:30am, I woke up at around 4:10am, at which point my parents, sister, and I packed into my parents' minivan and went to the mountains of Tennessee to join my grandparents in a cabin in the wooded mountains of Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge. It was actually a decent ride, for the most part. I finished the book I was reading, which will be reviewed soon in an upcoming book review. We arrived at our cabin at around 10:00am - pictures to come soon, hopefully. The only real incident was when my sister had a temper tantrum, crying and giving me the silent treatment for almost an hour because I grew tired of hearing her talk about the music group Hanson. Don't get me wrong, I like Hanson myself. I have their latest CD, and have posted a video or two of them on my facebook. They are very involved in some humanitarian efforts that I support. But I don't want to hear about them every five minutes. I guess I should mention at this point that my sister is 22 years old! The only other frustration today has been general fatigue and difficulties getting this mobile broadband to work. Now that I have it going(hopefully), it's great. I'm not on the computer as much as I normally am, I mainly got it in case I needed to check email or email my professors or field placement instructor. But it's also great to blog while out in nature.


Like right now. I'm sitting on the back porch of our cabin, tucked away in a mountainous forest, listening to crickets and cicadas singing to each other. The sun will likely set soon. What a great way to celebrate life, to renew yourself, to get to know Pleroma! Though Pleroma didn't exactly have a direct hand in this worldly creation, I feel Its life within it all. I feel anger and sadness over some of the bears that are kept caged up and made into local tourist traps around here. I feel a connection with the trees in front of me and all the miniscule, yet infinitely important, insects, rodents, reptiles.... everything. They all have a place. Without one, the others would not be able to exist either. Only humans seem to have truly been able to, at least momentarily, break away from this connection, at least superficially. Too bad we don't realize yet just what that disconnect has done to everything else on the planet.

It is in this respect that I feel like I am truly beginning to understand Abraxas more clearly as well. I already know that he is the Aeon of balance, the Gnostic version of the yin and yang. But what is more balancing than an evening out in nature? In nature, something dies so that something else can live. Others work together for mutual survival. They live day in and day out, eating, sleeping, mating, giving no thought to the past or the future. The forces of nature threaten life, and life gets right back up and survives anyways, in one form or another. Life seems to seek balance.

And for now, I feel balanced. Even cooped up in a cabin in the middle of nowhere with a family that is crazier than I've ever known, for this second, with the crickets and cicadas, I feel at home.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Billboard Spirituality

"Abstinence Works!"

"America Bless God"


 On my drive to North Carolina to visit family for my vacation, those are just a couple of billboards I saw. Living in the Bible Belt really is sad sometimes. That last one really had me annoyed. "America Bless God?" I thought, "What the hell is that even supposed to mean?" It seems very arrogant. If God does indeed exist in one form or another, why would said God need America's blessing? Sometimes, I feel like evidence of Pleroma's all-encompassing love for us is found by the simple fact that he hasn't smitten us all for blasphemy like the fundies seem to expect him to. I remember one that used to be up, that was very derogatory of Muslims. I guess someone finally got the ACLU on those people, because I didn't see it coming up this time.

That's all I really wanted to say for today. We're leaving for the mountains of Tennessee tomorrow. I really need the time in nature. Not too sure about being in a cabin that long with the family, though - we're already grinding each others' nerves a bit, and I just got here today. I may post some while I'm there, as contemplation strikes me, if I can manage to get my mobile broadband to work. If not, I'll see you all when I get back!

Sixx:A.M. - "Life Is Beautiful" Eleven Seven Music

This song has been one of my favorites ever since I heard it. It really is quite a spiritual song to me - you really do sometimes have to go through the worst, to really appreciate the beauty in life.

You can't quit until you try
You can't live until you die
You can't learn to tell the truth
Until you learn to lie

You can't breathe until you choke
You gotta laugh when you're the joke
There's nothing like a funeral to make you feel alive

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

I know some things that you don't
I've done things that you won't
There's nothing like a trail of blood to find your way back home

I was waiting for my hearse
What came next was so much worse
It took a funeral to make me feel alive

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

Alive...
Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?


Monday, August 2, 2010

Anne Rice asks us, 'What does it mean to be Christian anyway?'

Anne Rice asks us, 'What does it mean to be Christian anyway?'


As some may know, recently famed author Anne Rice renounced her Christian faith because she could no longer tolerate their views concerning womens' rights, LGBT issues, birth control, etc. The mistake she(and many others) makes, is taking the denomination she was part of(Roman Catholicism) and lumping all Christians in that category. There are many mainline/liberal denominations that are very much on the liberal end of many social issues. Here is an article my denomination, the United Church of Christ, published on the matter.