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Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

Right about now, 149 years ago, more than 12,000 Confederate soldiers under the command of General Robert E. Lee set off across three-quarters of a mile of open field in Pennsylvania, just south of the town of Gettysburg, in a desperate attempt to break the Union line.

The Rebels advanced under withering artillery and musket fire from their front and flanks, but were not turned until after their charge reached the Union line and they were engaged in hand-to-hand combat. They suffered greater than 50% casualties.

This moment will forever hold me in its grip, and I’ll be damned if I really know why. But William Faulkner spelled it out to an extent in Intruder in the Dust:

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.

And apparently that instant is there for Southern boys thirty-three years old, too, because it is there for me right now. Every time I read an account of the battle. Every time I watch Gettysburg. Every time I even think about it, I find myself crossing my fingers and whispering, maybe this time it will work. Maybe this time we will win. I don’t know if I can really explain it to you any more clearly if it’s not lodged into your psyche the way it is lodged into mine. I think its something that has to be felt: brave and sad, hopeful and hopeless.

But whether you understand it or not, I do, and so I salute the heroes who fell on that day.

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Let’s talk about the Bible, fratres et sorores.

Luke 17:20-21 says,

20. And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
21. Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

This passage comes from the end of a big section of the Gospel of Luke that contains things Jesus taught on the way to Jerusalem, in the transition between his earlier Galilean ministry and the final road to his Crucifixion.

For the sake of context, verses 20-21 are the lead-in to a longer sermon about the coming kingdom:

22. And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.
23. And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.
24. For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.
25. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.
26. And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.
27. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.
28. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;
29. But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
30. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.
31. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.
32. Remember Lot’s wife.
33. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.
34. I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
35. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
36. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
37. And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.

What I really want to focus on, though, is that bombshell in verse 21: “for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you”.

So think about it, chew on it, put it in your gospel pipe and smoke it for awhile, and then come back and leave a comment about it. Feel free to let your theology hang out boldly, whatever kind of a dox it is. I’ve got a follow-up I’ll post once we get some ideas in the air.

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Born 11/11/11. Middle name (one of them, at least) Apollo. Baby and his mom, my beautiful and sexy wife, are doing great, but c-section recovery can be a bit harrowing, so they’ll be in the hospital for a few days while I herd our other two here at home.

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My son and I, arrayed for a night of trick-or-treating of which the bards will tell in tale and song for all the ages.

It is glorious.

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A couple of years ago when I was in the Army National Guard, we flew down to Puerto Rico for an excellent weekend of training that culminated in a live-fire exercise.

Before my squad ran through the live-fire exercise, we were (as is typical) sitting around our rucksacks, taking care of our equipment, sleeping, and generally bullshitting. Since our turn on the lane was coming up, I pulled out my white portable altar-cloth, lit a candle, and prayed to Ares. My pagan-friendly classics-major buddy joined in while our Christian platoon leader looked on. We sacrificed a bag of M&Ms from an MRE to the Lord of War, and at the end, I handed one of the M&Msto the PL. He got all nervous and said “If I eat this, will it make me pagan?” I told him that was ultimately up to him. So he ate it. Big shocker, it did not “make him pagan…”

The live-fire exercise was brutal, but it went well and nobody got hurt. The weather was dry and everything pretty much burst into flame. By “everything” I mean an entire mountain. I’m not going to lie; it was completely awesome.

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Paganism is about honoring the fundamental aspects of authentic human experience. It’s about looking at the parts of existence that are terrifying and overwhelming and trying to figure out what they mean: things like birth, death, sex, war, love, art, and even the powerful, capricious, and unpredictable forces of the natural world. The gods give rise to these essential facets of human experience (and/or are themselves born from them), and to deny one or more of the gods because there is no place in your life or your worldview or your schema for the things they represent is to deny a fundamental part of who you are.

War is a part of being human. It may be ugly, brutal, and horrifying, but it is omnipresent. To be truly human is to know war. To reject Ares because you reject war is to reject a part of what it means to be you. And to reject Ares because you reject war means also rejecting warlike aspects of many of the other gods as well: Athena, Aphrodite, Zeus, Dionyus just off the top of my head.

Who would Ares be without war? A god of mental conflict? A god of physical exertion? We already have those gods. Ares is a god of a lot of things, and there are a lot of lenses through which to view Ares, but he is primarily a god of war. Trying to edit the war out of Ares is like trying to edit the sex out of Aphrodite. I don’t know what you’re left with, but it isn’t the real deal. That kind of selective approach to the gods is apparently pretty popular among neopagans, but I honestly don’t think it’s a road that is going to take you anywhere worth being.

Think about it: the soldier knows both war and peace, but the pacifist tries to know only peace. The pacifist is rejecting an entire part of human existence because it does not suit him or her. Whether that’s a thing worth doing, or a thing we should be doing, is not actually the issue. But I would maintain that trying to edit human existence to remove the bits we don’t like is just not what any kind of real paganism is about. Christianity does that, with its vision of a new heaven and a new earth. Not paganism.

I also don’t think, with regards to Ares, that it’s a question of whether violence is necessary or justified, but merely whether it is an essential facet of human existence. Violence IS. War IS. We can play at quasi-Christianity if we want and imagine a utopia where violence no longer exists, but even in Christianity that requires massive divine intervention. The overwhelming, unanimous weight of human history tells us in no uncertain terms and with no exceptions that war and violence are fundamentally a part of the human condition.

Whether or not this reality is morally acceptable is a question that is, in my opinion, not even on paganism’s radar. Violence is a part of human reality, and paganism is about how we honor and respond to human reality. The ethics of paganism ask not whether a violent society is morally acceptable, but instead ask “given that violence and war exist as a part of the human condition, how do you respond virtuously?”

Look to the epics, the philosophers, and the myths. Look to the maxims. Tell me what the answer is. The world is violent–we honor that when we honor Ares. The question is how you respond with virtue when presented with that violence, whether you’re a kid in the hall at school getting beaten up by bullies, a young man who just got his draft notice, or a parent whose family is threatened.

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No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn.

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This morning, as my beautiful and sexy wife and I were lazing in bed, avoiding getting up and starting the day, our two wild beasts, by which I mean “children,” climbed (inevitably) into bed with us and started acting rambunctiously. I called them the beasts that they are, which my five-year-old son thought was hilarious, and so he proceeded to describe himself, dramatically, as a beast.

“I’m bigger than a house!” he growled, “Bigger than a temple!”

I tensed immediately and sat up. Where did that come from? I asked curtly, “What do you mean, a temple?”

“You know,” he replied “like the temple of Zeus and Hera.”

I smiled and relaxed and settled back down into my pillow. Mission accomplished.

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As I mentioned earlier this year, I am officiating at my sister-in-law’s wedding. To this end, I have written a nice, broadly nonsectarian spiritual-but-not-religious ceremony (from which I will post excerpts probably after the wedding), and I have done a bit of work to look the part. I bought a black suit (I needed a new suit anyway, as I am in a suit-wearing career), and even a clergy shirt with a tab collar (from Mercy Robes–great people to deal with by the way).

I’m not going to lie; I look smashing in my clerical duds, but I used the phrase “look the part” intentionally above. In my black suit and clergy collar, I don’t feel like a cleric; I feel like I am wearing a cleric’s costume. And I don’t want to feel like that, because all silliness aside, I take this kind of thing seriously. I’m not going to be playing a priest on TV; I am a priest. I don’t need an organization to validate my faith or my earnestness in acting in the name of the gods, and even if I did, I’ve got that in the bag.

What’s missing from the equation is my faith. Now, the wedding is not about me, and to my knowledge, nobody at this wedding shares my spiritual leanings to even the remotest degree. But if I’m going to perform the ceremony, my authority comes from my gods, whether I name them by name or not.

So to tack a short ending on a long story, I talked my mother into making me a clerical stole to wear over my black suit, in plain white, with peacock feathers for Hera, the goddess of marriage. I will be in her service when I perform this wedding, and I want to show it. But subtly, and tastefully. Because it’s not my wedding, after all. But if anybody asks, I’ll not hesitate to tell them: peacock feathers are a symbol of Hera, the goddess of marriage. But it doesn’t need to go further than that. The gods are a part of all of our cultural heritage, whether we call ourselves pagans or not.

So here’s my stole. It was sweet of my mother to make it for me, and on insanely short notice. She is both talented and skilled. The picture quality s not fantastic, but I will post a picture of me all dressed up soon.

Thanks, Mom.

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Zeus is our Heavenly Father, but let’s face it: most of us have shitty relationships with our fathers, and that can carry over into our relationships with our Heavenly Father.

It’s alright though, ’cause we’ve got Ares.

Ares is the older brother who tells you all about girls and the real deal about sex, who turns you on to heavy metal and cars and gives you your first beer and your first cigarette.  But he expects you to keep your cool, to be tough, to roll with the punches and not to be a mama’s boy.

Ares is the upperclassman you respect and admire, who lets you be one of the guys, who shows you how to tie a tie and button your cuffs, who makes you feel accepted and doesn’t treat you like a dumb kid. But he expects you to do the right thing, to study hard, to treat girls well, and to show respect and earn the respect of everyone around you.

Ares is the uncle who takes you camping and shows you how to build a fire, to hunt and fish, to shoot a rifle and take care of yourself.  But he expects you to do hard things, to not complain or whine, to learn fast, to try hard and to tough it out when things get shitty.

Ares is the team captain who gives his all, who holds the team together and who understands exactly what you’re going through because he is right in the middle of it too.  But he expects you to train hard, to play hard, to keep your head in the game, to take care of your teammates, and to win.  

Ares is the squad leader who laughs with you, drinks with you, teaches you to be a warrior, and leads you into battle.  But he expects you to fight hard, to have integrity, to have courage and a good attitude, to take care of your battle buddies, and to kill every last one of the enemy motherfuckers.   He does his damnedest to make sure you make it back home, but he makes damn sure you are never forgotten when you don’t.

Just because you’re born with a penis doesn’t mean you know how to be a man. Don’t worry; Ares will show you.

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