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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

So, I thought I was going to be sent to Iraq with my National Guard unit this month.  Turns out it’s not happening.  If you have any experience with the military, you know how things can change at the last minute.  Anyway, I mentioned in an older post that I was reluctant to make any big decisions because of the upcoming mysterious, major life-changing event, and that’s what it was.  Now it isn’t happening.  So life goes on, and I no longer have an excuse for resting on my laurels.  But what do I do now?

We haven’t been going to church for awhile, and I have long stopped praying (since it started to seem mechanical and pointless).  Do I start again?  Do I give Christianity another go?  If so, what kind?  Back to Cedar Ridge?  Back to Grace Episcopal?  Just be a Christian on my own and don’t worry about church?  What does becoming a Christian even mean?  What does one do?  Becoming Mormon is a fairly regimented process: you take the missionary discussions, you read the Book of Mormon, you pray to know if it’s true (and get Your Testimony), you attend church meetings, you commit to live the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity, you get baptized, you get confirmed, you get the priesthood, you go to the temple, you get callings, and you endure to the end.  It’s all extremely structured.  I know how to become Mormon.  But I don’t know how you become Christian.  At what point do you become Christian?  What’s the right motivation for becoming Christian?  What does “being Christian” look like?

Do I even want to be Christian?  Right now, the answer feels like no.  Especially since Christmas is over.

Do I start a candidate year with the Ancient Order of Druids in America?  Do I want to?  Do I really want Druidry as a belief system?  Is it all just New Age flakery?  Do I want my whole life to be Celtic-y?  Do I always want to be thinking about ancient times and yearning for the forest?  Not really.  After I’m done with law school we’re moving back to New York, where we’ll probably stay.  I like the woods and nature, but I also love the city.  I feel compelled to be environmentally conscious and take care of the earth, but I actually think in many ways urban living is the best way to do that (it’s certainly more sustainable than suburban living).

There are a lot of things about Druidry that I find very appealing, but do I want to color my whole life with that crayon?  The answer feels like no?

Do I abandon the journey and just get on with life without God and without religion?  I’ve been sailing for awhile and it doesn’t seem like Byzantium is anywhere in sight.  I’m kind of getting tired of looking for it.  My main roadblock is clear (I was nervous about making any hasty decisions with such a major punctuation mark on the horizon), so what do I do?  Hinduism?  The Qur’an?  What?

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I’d be lying if I tried to continuously assert that faith issues and spiritual experience issues were the only things holding me back from committed belief in anything. There are major parts of me that are reluctant to decide for God or for Christ because I don’t want to decide for God or for Christ. Simply put, I have a religious/spiritual fear of commitment.

I’m not talking about the stereotype of the unbeliever who is unwilling to change his life, so he chooses atheism in order to live a life of immoral license. For me, the hard thing about being a Mormon was never the commandments. I’m not saying I never sinned, but I generally wanted to do the right thing, and I was generally successful in repenting of major wrongdoings and staying on the right track. The hard thing was never all of the rules. It was always intellectual.

What I’m trying to say is that Mormonism was so intellectually complete that it was stifling to me. There was no room for the unconventional, or the speculative. That may sound strange in light of rampant “Mormon folklore” and elders’ quorum-style speculation about Kolob, but I assert that it was/is nevertheless so. Sure, there was “room for speculation” in one sense, but it was always limited to certain narrowly defined directions, and even then you’re encouraged to focus on the essentials and warned of the consequences of straying too far out of bounds (just ask the September Six!).

I don’t really feel like I’m articulating this very well, and I’m sure that be failing to articulate it well, I’m inviting well-meaning Mormons to completely disassemble what I’m trying to say.

I like the idea that anything can be true. I like being able to read science fiction and wonder if that kind of thing will really happen someday (whereas the Second Coming of Christ sort of puts a damper on the voyages of the Starship Enterprise). I like entertaining possibilities. As much as religion appeals to me, uncertainty also appeals to me. Freedom to be as heretical as I please is a precious freedom.

I want to be able to wonder if – or even wish that – maybe some crazy thing is true without worrying that it is somehow beyond the walls of my religious/belief system and I need to repent. I want to be able to entertain any idea without feeling like I have to dismiss it for being unbiblical or unbookofmormonical. Or whatever.

I don’t like the idea of saying “I believe x is true” because it shuts down the possibility of a through w and y and z. To me, that is almost suffocating. I know I want spirituality, a spiritual path even, replete with practices and a way of life, but I don’t know if I am even really interested in a worldview. I don’t want to have to interpret everything I see through the lens of Mormonism, Christianity, or anything else for that matter. Maybe it’s the postmodernist in me that wants to be able to hit the buffet instead of ordering just one thing off the menu. I don’t know. Maybe this kind of thinking is intellectually dishonest of me, but if I am to be personally honest, I have to admit that it might be the biggest thing holding me back from belief of any kind.

Thinking about this, is sounds to me like I’m begging to be a Unitarian Universalist, but I have to admit that I’m not interested in the UU at all. I actually like traditional liturgical Christianity, and even Christian theology. And besides, like I said, I’m not reluctant about a spiritual path or well-defined spiritual practices, or even scriptures or many aspects of theology (by which I mean the philosophy of religion). It’s a stifling worldview that I’m spiritually claustrophobic about. I know it has a lot to do with gorwing up Mormon, but I also know it’s not an unjustified fear, because I see it in other belief systems, even more so than in Mormonism.

So one facet of my spiritual fear of commitment is this panicky spiritual claustrophobia that I don’t know how to deal with, or indeed if I even want to deal with it, and certainly I don’t want to have to deal with it.

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Just because I have decided that I am an atheist doesn’t mean I believe in nothing.  It doesn’t mean I am a fanatical devotee of the temple of Science, or that I am some kind of Nihilist.

Atheism isn’t a set of beliefs.  It’s not a positive affirmation of anything. All “atheism” says is that I don’t believe in God.  But I do believe in other things.

I believe in a fundamental unity of the universe, that separateness is an illusion.  Physically, we’re all made of the same stuff anyway, and there’s a cycle as we rotate mater into, through, and ultimately out of our bodies.  Our atoms don’t have our names written on them.  The illusion of separateness may have its advantages, but in the end it is an illusion.  Furthermore, if mind and body are really the same thing, then our consciousness is really just a part of everything else the same way our body is.  And if there really is some kind of mind-body dualism, then mind is still part of everything else either by virtue of being connected to body in some way, or in the sense that the mind/soul is all the same as all other mind/soul the same way body is.

I believe in dicsovery, in learning, and true progress.  I believe in the importance of figuring out as much as we can about the world and about ourselves, through all of the fantastic means we have at our hands.

I believe that there is a lot more out there than we can even imagine, that our models of the universe, useful though they may be, don’t come near to explaining everything in an exhausive sense.  I believe in mystery, and in the unknown.  I believe that “there are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in [our] philosophy.”

I believe in treating other people the way I would like to be treated.  I believe in empathy and compassion.  Even without God, these are the things that make us human and give value to the human experience.  I believe that human beings are important, not because some arbitrary supreme being says so on a whim, but because we have incredible potential.

I believe in being happy, both on an individual and a collective level.  I believe that the pursuit of happiness, again balancing the individual’s happiness against humanity’s happiness, will take us great places.

I believe in making the world better- I believe in taking care of each other and taking care of the world we live in and leaving the place better for the next generation than it was left for us.   Because humanity is wonderful, and the earth is our home.

I believe that love is the most wonderful thing that there is.

That’s all I can think of right now.  I’m sure there is more.

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After Hinduism and I (heart) Huckabees and thinking about there being no God, I’ve been wondering if everything is indeed everything else.

On a physical level, we’re all atoms, all made out of the same three particles or so.  Furthermore, I don’t have any specific claim on the particles that currently compose my body.  I’m constantly losing and regenerating this stuff.  I think I’ve heard that the body regenerates itself every seven years, and I don’t know if that’s really true or not, but certainly the body does regenerate itself, taking in material from outside to recompose cells and organs along pre-set self-perpetuating patterns.  but it means that I’m made up of parts of all kinds of things, and as I respirate, sweat, lose skin cells, and… expel waste, parts of me are pushed out into the environment where they are recycled and recombined on a molecular level into all kinds of other things.

I’m really just a part of a much larger system.  On a physical level, my separateness seems apparent, but it’s a trick.  A mental oversimplification.  On a physical level, everything is really the same as everything else.

What about consciousness?  If existence is merely physical, then consciousness is only a pattern of neurons firing and chemical reactions in my brain, and there is no mind-body dualism, which means that there really is no essential, fundamental division between things.  Between me and everything else.

But we know so little about consciousness, and we know even less about spirit (like, whether it even exists).  If mind and spirit are different from body, is it not possible that they would follow the pattern of physical existence?  That they would flow in and out of everything in the same cycle of assimilation, regeneration, and expulsion?  It doesn’t seem like my consciousness does that, but it also doesn;t seem like my body is made of the same protons, neutrons, and electrons that everything else is made of.

Maya is what the Hindus call it, the illusion of separateness.  Are mind ans spirit indeed even truly separate from body, or is there some kind of exchange that we can’t even perceive?  We know that mind and body, if they are separate, influence each other.  Psychosomatic illness, for example.  Or mental states that are dependent on physical effects like fatigue, drugs, or chemical imbalance.

Are things separate, or is everything really the same? Is everything really everything else?  Perhaps that unity or lack-of-separateness is what I would call “God.”  Very pantheistic, I guess.  I don’t know.  I don’t know anything, really.

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The world, life, and existence are wonderful.

There is so much beauty and pain, so much paradox.  It baffles the mind and blows me away, and I can breathe it all in and feel it to the edges of my limbs and fingers.  Yesterday we went to Rock Creek Park and I crossed the creek on seom fallen logs, and found myself off the beaten path.

The forest floor was thickly carpeted in some lush green plant with yellow flowers, going on as far as I could see.  It was amazing and breathtaking.

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For a few days I’ve been thinking about the possibility that there is no God.  For my whole life, I have assumed there was one, but I’ve never experienced him or had any kind of spiritual relationship with him.  So I have no personal basis for claiming that I know or even suspect that there is a deity.  I mean, I’d like there to be one, but that’s not really enough for me.  I’m too skeptical to be satisfied with believing based solely on the desire to believe (sorry, Alma- it’s just not going to happen).

What if there is no God?  What then?  Is there morality without God?  Of course there is.  Morality, to me, is instinctive and universal.  True morality at least.  Every religion teaches respect and kindness towards fellow humans- we don’t need a god to tell us that.  The things that aren’t universal, like whether God forbids the eating of pork or beef, are in my opinion clearly manmade morality.  Arbitrary garbage that has to do with human institutions, not with what’s really right or wrong.

What’s “morally wrong” with coffee?  Nothing; the very idea is preposteroous to everyone but Mormons.  But to them, it’s a moral issue because they believe God commanded it.  This is the kind of thing that I gleefully abandon.  We need God to tell us to not drink coffee, to not eat pork, and to adhere to specific religious observances.  We don’t need God to tell us to not be jerks.  We know to not be jerks on our own, and we manage to do it regardless, even when we’re told to not do it by “God.”

Anyway, I digress.  I don’t feel like  I need God to have morality, and anyway, that’s beside the point.  If there’s no God there’s no God regardless of whether we “need” him for something or not.

So if there is no God, what is there?  I don’t believe that the science we have describes everything, and I don’t believe that the material is all that is.  Maybe that’s ignorant and superstitious of me, but it’s who I am.  Does that mean I believe in spirit, or in mind that is separate from body?  I’m not sure.  Does it mean I believe in magic? Unfortunately, no.  As cool as magic would be, I don’t think it exists (unless you define it so broadly that it can’t help but exist, and then you’re not saying anything useful).  Likewise, in believing that there is something more than the material, I suppose I could formulate what I do believe in and call it “God,” but that would actually only confuse and mislead, since I would be talking about something that is a far cry from what most people mean when they use the term.

I’m not so sure I believe in a distinct divine being  with consciousness and personalty.  I certainly don’t believe in a God with a physical form (of flesh and bone or otherwise).  The thing is, the more I think about it, the more I think I may be comfortable with the idea of no God.  Not because it gives me license to do whatever I want or anything, because like I said, I still believe in morality.

I certainly do not have all the answers, and it doesn’t seem like anyone else does, either, no matter how adamantly they claim to have them.  I believe in mystery.  I believe in the unexplained, and perhaps in the unexplainable.  I believe that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.  But I don’t know if I believe in God.

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These posts are kind of rapid-fire, I know, but these are things I have been thinking about for a couple of days, and writing about them lets me take a break from writing my final exam appellate brief for my Legal Research and Writing class.

I have been trying to make peace with the idea of not being any religion.  Really, I would prefer to have a religion, all ready-made and off the shelf, with generations of theology to explore, and a sense of purpose and identity all wrapped up into one.  The problem is, I’m too skeptical absent soem kind of mystical impetus.  I just don;t believe that any of these religions out there are really true, or even true enough for me to be willing to commit.

I’m not turning my back on anything (in particular I am not turning my back on Christianity and openly rejecting/denouncing it), but by the same token, I may be at the point where I have to admit that my journay is not taking medown any one fo the well-trod paths.  at least for now.

I believe in the divine, mind you.  I believe there’s something out there, and sometimes I’m blown away by it, by the majesty and the grandeur of the big things and the little things that are actually the biggest things.  I feel it in the way my wife smiles, in the way the wind feels on my skin.  I feel it in sex, in poetry, and in music.   I feel it in the quiet spaces, and in the thunderstorms.  I feel it in churches, and I feel it in nature.  In life, in people, in the universe, and in your eyes.  I don’t know how to explain it better than that.

I am a believer.  For now, that simple declaration may need to be enough.

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Mine showed up in the mail yesterday, which was nice.  I didn’t want to have to wait for it.  On first glance, it appears to be more eco-centric and Celt-centric than I am necessarily excited about or that I generally feel speaks to me.

But I decided to read through it anyway- it’s a quick read, and I bought it after all.  Plus, it’s been so heavily reccomended.  I may as well take a look, right?

I find it interestingly compelling despite my reservations.  I shall continue to read and seriously think about it.

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Last night, I prayed,

God reveal yourself to me, and let me know You. 

If that means to know You through Jesus Christ, in the pages of the Bible, in the communty of Christians, or in the ritual and liturgy of the Church, then let me know You that way. 

If that means to know You through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, then let me know You that way.

If that means to know You in silence, in peace, in integrity, and in lisetning to the Light, then let me know You that way.

If that means to know You through the trees, through magick, the awesome power and majesty of nature, and through the beliefs of my most ancient ancestors, then let me know You that way.

If that means to know You through His holy word as revealed through his prophet, be it Moses of Muhammad, then let me know You that way.

If You are the Tao, or Brahman, or  Ahura Mazda, or simply the consciousness of the cosmos, let me know You in whatever way you would have me know You.  If that means to know You through whatever path or faith or religion You might choose for me, then let me know You that way. 

If You exist at all, I pray that I might know You.

But I did not get an answer.

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So, yesterday and today I’ve been pondering Druidry. And reading about it. I have some different things running through my head.

First, when I was a teenager and interested in such things, there was a time when I felt a connection ot the natural world. This wasn’t just a matter of liking nature, but I actually felt like the personified Wild, the world, whatever, had somehow singled me out for some kind of special connection.  It’s hard to explain, because it originally came out of the context of general occulty-goofing-around, but it was a sense that stayed with me long after I left the occult behind.

When I got serious about Mormonism and went on my mission, I just kind of locked all of that up in a cognitive closet soemwhere.

Furthermore, I haven’t spent much time in the woods or in the outdoors, in a decade.  I’ve lived in apartments and gone to universities and lived in large metro areas and I’ve been to busy to go out into the woods and just feel the wild places and the energy there.

Yesterday I became acutely aware of missing something because of that.  Partially because of that, and partially just because of the pretty snowfall, my wife and I packed up the baby and drove to Rock Creek Park, where we lit out into the woods and had a great time, and got cold and tired.  It was nice.

I didn’t have a mystical experience with nature, but I wasn’t really expecting to.  I feel like I’ve been a stranger to the natural world for too long, and I hardly expect to walk back outside and have it embrace me with mind-blowing spiritual experiences.  If that kind of thing even exists.  Plus, as much fun as it was being out there with my family, we were there for fun and to spend time together, not necessarily to commune or anything.

However, I am now resolved to go out of my way to get out into the trees more often.  And I’m resolved to do it in a serious and meditative way as well as a recreational way, on my own as well as with my family.  Unless of course I just change my mind again, like I do with religion every other damn day.

With nature and Druidry on my mind, I came back home and did some internet research.  If I had the internet as a teenager, I’m sure I would have joined some Druid group a long time ago.  I just didn’t know where to look, so I was trying to reconstruct Druidry on my own with my limited resources and limited knowledge, which meant that I didn’t really get anywhere.  But now, I have options, and that intrigues me.

I am not necessarily interested in things Celtic per se, which might raise the question “Why bother with Druidry then?  That makes no sense.”  But it seems that there are takes on Druidry that see it as a reflection of Indo-European indigenous religion in general, and that wakes me up and makes me take notice.  That hits something primal and fundamental inside me that hasn’t been hit in a long time, not since I was stoked about Joseph Campbell way back in the day.  I don’t know why.

That modern revivalist take on Druidry allows for the connection to Norse myth that I feel a desire for, while having an ethic and philosophy that I am more comfortable with than the philosophy of Asatru.

So, I’m idly thinking about taking a Druidry correspondence course, like the one that AODA has.

Of course, now I struggle with my religious morning-after problem.  What seemed cool and interesting and compelling one day seems just dumb and embarrassing the next day.  I don’t know what to do about that.  It seems to kick in no matter what religion or church or flavor of spirituality that I am interested in.  Also, I just may be too chicken to abandon Jesus.

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