When it gets Too Cold
to throw boomerangs, what will we do instead to get our manual dexterity fix?
Well, I will be playing with this...

GTO Aluminum yoyo by Dif-e-yo

How is this similar to boomerangs?

Glad you asked.

Both boomerangs and yoyos are physics toys, and both reward consistent practice and teach patience and other overrated Christian virtues, but those are the same lame reasons that Duncan has used for years to try to convince parents that yoyos are actually educational. The real similarity is the possiblity for injury; both can bite you on the return...

This machined aluminum yo has a patented bearing system and weighs in at a knuckle-busting 69.5 grams (that's about double the weight of the WalMart special that maimed you as a kid). It's easily capable of sleep times in the 5-6 minute range, which is more than enough time for me to get the string wrapped around my neck, and it can do some insane RPMs that give it sufficent zip on an early return to chip a tooth or administer a nasty black eye... because it's not really fun if it can't kill you.

If yoyos are too common for your tastes, try spin tops. These are the old-fashioned wooden tops that you wind a string around and then throw to the ground - of course today they are made of polycarbonate and aluminum, have sealed bearing sets in the tips, and it's no longer enough to just toss them to the sidewalk.

Spintastic's Hollow Point

The top spinners in the world are doing tricks that bring the top back to the hand that threw it (a trick called, naturally, a "boomerang"), as well as all sorts of string catches. It's hard to describe - go here and look at any of the advanced videos, like the "Sewing Machine" or "Speed Bumps" to see what I mean. These guys make it look easy, but it's clear that the potential for personal injury and property damage is quite high for the beginner. The Hollow Point shown above, for example, is a solid hunk of aluminum weighing around 80 grams - and it's intended to have another top stacked inside it for advanced (read: "more deadly") tricks.

I guess the common thread here is really the desperate un-coolness of all three. You're not going to be a big hit with the ladies (or the gents for that matter) by mastering any of these skills. Not as bad as being a Whovian or LARPer, but pretty damn dorky none the less. That's probably why I feel at home with these hobbies.

Once the snow flies, perhaps the Flock can meet on Sundays at some indoor site (the Fine Arts lobby?) and try to give each other concussions in one of these new ways. The Ice Cream Rule can still apply.

Sunday Sermon
Bringing Home the Mountain

We had our usual Sunday morning boomerang throw. Had 7 throwers on the suicide round... pretty crazy, but a lot of fun.

After that, I went hiking with Mark, Ben, Nicole, Julia, and Clay. The past few years of sedentary academic pursuit have left my once athletic frame a shambles, and my always fragile knees are now many miles past their warranty. The snow on the trail made footing sketchy, and every time I slipped I would brace myself for that odd ripping/popping/exploding sensation that accompanies an ACL tear. That discomfort aside, it was beautiful. The views were spectacular, and the weather was wonderful.

The mountains always seem to bring the mind to a clearer place. It is no surprise that holy men throughout history have made trekked up into the mountains to search for God, themselves, truth, and peace.

Perhaps spurred on by that rarified air, Julia and I talked religion. The hows and whys of it, the role of women, and her refusal to accept rules just for the sake of rules. Soon we asked Clay to join us and the discussion ranged far and wide, from LDS doctrine and pratice to the Jataka tales to core ideas about life, eternity, and death... all while slipping and sliding down the slushy slope, heading for the cars.

We arrived at no consensus. We started the discussion as Agnostic, Buddhist, and LDS, and we ended there as well. And that was OK. The view from the mountain made it clear that our different positions are just different facets of the same reality, seen from where we are standing at the moment. All we can really do is roll the die and read the face that comes out on top.

I'm going to work on remembering that. I'd like to have that "mountain view" all the time, even here on flat ground.

Go in Peace.

Feeling kind of mean today...
On the back cover of "The Watchtower" (the semi-monthly publication of the Jehovah's Witnesses) I found the following:

"Would you Welcome a Visit?
Even in this troubled world, you can gain happiness from accurate Bible knowledge of God, his Kingdom, and his wonderful purpose for mankind. If you would welcome further information or would like to have someone call at your home to conduct a free Bible study with you, please write to Jehovah's Witnesses at..."

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? I'm thinking that you could sic the Jehovah's Witnesses on anyone... Just send off a convincing letter, then sit back and watch while the hilarity ensues.

"Dear Jehovah's Witnesses,

I would love to have a Bible Study in my home. I have an odd work schedule, so please come early on a Saturday, perhaps around 5:30 A.M.


Gotta' go. I've got some letters to write...

(Click here for an example of a JW Bible study... not.)

Questions of Faith, Part VIII

This installment is by yours truly. I hope you find it enlightening... and if you find errors they are entirely mine; evidence of my poor scholarship, that should in no way reflect badly on my teachers.

Spelling disclaimer: Since many of the terms I'll be using here are transliterated from Sanskrit, Japanese, and Chinese, the spellings are quite flexible. I have tried to use the most common spellings, but you will no doubt see different spellings of the same words. My apologies for any confusion.

What faith do you espouse?
I am Buddhist. There are many flavors of the Path Buddha, but these responses are based mostly on my study of Zen Buddhism, as taught in the U.S. by Robert Aitken Roshi, Philip Kapleau Roshi, and many others.

Who was the founder of your faith? When did he/she live?
Technically, the term "Buddha" simply means, "awakened one" or "one who thus comes" and there have been many Buddhas, and there will be many more. However, when we refer to THE Buddha we are usually speaking of Siddhattha Gotama, a prince born to the Shakya clan around 623 B.C. in the Lumbini Park at Kapilavatthu, an area that is now on the border of Nepal in India. He is also commonly called Shakyamuni, which means, "Sage of the Shakya Clan."

Shakyamuni Buddha

There are many fine books, movies, and websites that tell the Buddha's life story, so I won't try to do it here. The key elements are that at 29 he left home to seek a cure for the affliction of suffering, he tried many different ascetic practices, and eventually he discovered the "Middle Way", which he later expounded as "the Noble Eightfold Path" that is the core of Buddhism.

What are the sacred texts of your faith?
There are many. The Buddha himself did not write anything, but his disciples began to commit his teachings to paper (well, to leaves, actually...) after his death because they feared they would be lost. There are also writings that are not teachings of the Buddha but were penned by later masters, that are also considered a part of the cannon of Buddhist scripture.

Tibetan boys study the sutras

There are three main schools of Buddhism - Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana - and they each emphasize different writings.

Main scriptures: The Tipitaka
Most Popular: The Dhammapada - The Sayings of Buddha (one of my favorites)

Mahayana (this includes Zen)
Main scriptures: The Sutras (sacred texts)- 2184 sacred writings.
Most Popular: The Lotus Sutra - A sermon by the Buddha on the Bodhisattva, buddha-nature, etc.
The Perfection of Wisdom Sutra (Prajna-paramita)- Describes emptiness and other key philosophical concepts.
The Heart Sutra- Describes nirvana, emptiness, and Ultimate Reality.
The "Land of Bliss" Sutra - Describes the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha.

Main Scriptures: The Tantric texts and commentaries- Deals mainly with Ultimate Reality as singular Unity, and the sexual union of world (male) and cosmos (female).
Most Popular: Great Stages of Enlightenment - Deals with ethical behavior and control of mind.
Tibetan Book of the Dead - Deals with stages of dying, death, and rebirth.

What is the central teaching of your faith?
The Buddha's teachings are deceptively simple. The whole of Buddhist philosophy is summed up in...
The Four Noble Truths
1)Suffering exists - sometimes translated as, "To live is to suffer."
2)Suffering arises from attachment to desires - or, "We suffer from our wants."
3)Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases - "It is possible to end suffering."
4)Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path - "The end to suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path."


The Noble Eightfold Path
Right Understanding
Right Thought
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Meditation

I feel that I should clarify something right here, before it becomes a problem for you. Most Western readers latch onto the third noble truth and say, "this is impossible! I'll never be free from my desires - in fact, I LIKE my desires, so Buddhism is not for me." What they are missing is that the Buddha never said we should give up desire - partly because he knew that was impossible. He simply said we can stop suffering from it. By practicing the Eight Fold Path, we can feel desire without being attached to it.

As for the specifics of the Eightfold Path, again I will defer to the many fine texts on the subject. A basic primer can be found here.

How does your faith define sin? What are the major sins, and how is
one absolved?

If you search a database of Buddhist texts, you are unlikely to find the word "sin" unless the translator is trying to present Buddhism in Judaeo-Christian terms. There are simply actions that lead toward Enlightenment, and those that do not.

That is not to say that there is no code of ethics in Buddhism - there is, and it is summed up in the Eightfold Path. Individual schools of Buddhism have written lists of rules to make it easier for followers, but they are all just rewordings and logical extensions of the Eightfold Path. These vary greatly in specificity. Where Zen has its Ten Grave Precepts, the Thai Forest Monks adhere to the Vinaya - a core of 227 Paatimokkha rules, together with many other ordinances for the right living and harmony of the community of monks.

Buddhists generally don't think in terms of absolution. Because most Buddhists believe in karma, it is attonement that matters most. In a gross oversimplification of the doctrine of karma, I'll simply put it this way - Evil deeds are balanced or erased by good deeds. As Mark once said to me, "Karma is like moral gravity."

Roughly how many adherents does your faith have?
Around 350-360 million - about 6% of the world's population. An increasing number of them reside in the West.

What are the practices of your faith? (Daily, weekly, etc.)
The practices vary for each school, but the common thread is meditation. Because this was the method by which the Buddha achieved enlightenment, meditation is considered the primary practice of most schools of Buddhism.

This is the posture of zazen (seated meditation)

In Zen, it is called zazen, meaning "seated meditation," and it is referred to casually as "sitting." I thought I'd clarify this point because it can sound very odd to those outside the practice. This coversation is an example;

"What did you do yesterday?
"I sat."
"Cool. I wish I had time to sit more. I sat last week at the Zendo (Zen temple). My sitting was so poor they used the kyosaku ("encouragement stick") on me."
"I've been spending more time on my sitting, and I think it's helped. I sat very well yesterday."

That sounds perfectly normal to a Zen Buddhist, but it has been the cause of more than a little confusion with my family. My grandmother never understood how I could go to the Zendo and "pay for the priveledge of sitting on their cushions."

Most Zen practitioners try to sit daily. Some like to sit twice a day, in the morning and evening. Average duration is about 25-30 minutes per session. A person living in a monastic setting may sit as much as 6 hours per day during the regular periods of the year, and up to 12 or 14 hours per day during the one week intensive periods called sesshin. The biggest sesshin of the year is called Rohatsu, and it commemorates the Buddha's enlightenment. It is normally held in December.

One important note on sitting. Anyone can sit. You do not have to consider yourself a Buddhist, or renounce your current path. Many faithful adherents of other faiths find Buddhist meditation to be a usefull adjunct to their own practices. One of the Roshis at the Zendo in L.A. that I used to attend is also a practicing Rabbi, so clearly there are no prohibitions on practicing other religions at the same time.

What does your faith teach about the afterlife? Is there heaven, and
how do you get there?

Most Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and also in escaping the cycle of death and rebirth. There are voluminous treatises on this esoteric area of Buddhist philosophy, but Zen Buddhists have taken a very practical approach to it. We belive that although you may have had many thousands of previous lives, and you may have many more to come, the one that matter most is THIS ONE. Time spent speculating about karma, past and future incarnations, and all the other logistical and metaphysical ramifications of reincarnation is time that COULD have been spent sitting!

How is your faith organized? Are there priests and bishops and
archbishops (oh my!)?

In America the organization of Zen is very loose. It is based on lineage, so temples usually are identified by the Master who founded them, and any famous or important teachers in that Master's lineage. Because most temples in America are relatively young (less than 30-40 years) the lineage usually only goes back one generation. In Asia, it is another story. The recitation of lineage can take quite a while, and monks pride themselves on being able to recount the history of their monastery back into the mists of antiquity.

The only really important titles in Zen are Roshi and Sensei. Roshi means "old teacher" and denotes a fully realized master - that is, one who is fully enlightened. Sensei refers to teachers who may have had an enlightenment experience, but whose vision is still maturing. These titles are conferred after examination by an existing Roshi.

Are there regular services available to you locally? If so, where?
There is a sitting group in Laramie, but I have been told that they are practicing in the Theravada style, not Zen. There is a tiny little Zendo down in Fort Collins that I used to sit at every morning, and it is affiliated with a big Zendo in Denver, but both are a bit of a drive for daily practice.

There has been talk of starting a regular sitting group for the Flock... let me know if you are interested.

How did you come to be a believer?
One of the beauties of Buddhism is that belief is not essential. Try it - if you find that it helps, keep doing it. That's what happened to me. I tried seated meditation and liked the way I felt afterwards. I was calmer, clearer, and more focused, so I kept doing it. Nothing fancy, no thunderous religious expereince - just a simple assessment of the results.

What do you wish others knew about your faith?
We do not worship the Buddha as a god. He was a human - in fact, only humans can become Buddhas.
We are not all bald monks.
We are not all vegetarians.
We are not all martial arts masters (although that would be cool...).

Buddhists have the best hats...

Those deeply embroiled in religious discussions are encouraged to continue below. For the rest of us, it is time to play
Guess what's in the Reverend's pocket!*

I am wearing a black utilikilt.
I am referring to my left pocket.
It is not a knife (it's on my belt today).
It is not, nor was it ever, alive or edible.
It is snowing as I write this.
Somewhere, as you read this, Prince is still trying to grow a moustache.
It is not a soothing salve of any kind.

A personalized blessing from the Black Pope will be given for the most inventive answers, and the person who posts the correct (or closest) answer will receive a fabulous prize!**

For 5 extra Salvation Points, what is different about my blog today?

*For amusement purposes only - please, no wagering.
**The International Ministry of Linus and Black Vatican Inc. may hold to a different definition of "fabulous" than that to which you are accustomed. If you win, you'll take what you get and you'll like it, capiche?

Questions of Faith, Part VII

For the Sunday Sermon this week, we will hear from another Earth-honoring tradition. The Pink Princess, Mandy, gives us a brief overview of Wicca. As usual, feel free to comment!

Wiccan ritual implements

What faith?
This response took much longer than I thought. I found myself trying to cover both Wicca in general and my own beliefs. While extremely similar, I don’t feel right just giving my beliefs and letting you (as readers) think that what I say goes for the majority of the Wiccan community. It doesn’t. There are just too many ways of personalizing this religion to give you everything you will need.

If I must choose a title for my religion, I will go with Wicca, as most of my beliefs find their roots in Wiccan teachings. Why? I have done a lot of searching when it comes to religions and have taken to heart the parts that affected me. No matter what religion they came from they became part of mine. My personal beliefs include the notion that all things have a spirit. My path has space for Goddess and God, as well as a myriad of other spirits/minor deities. Other paths choose their own combination, select few, or single deity that suits them.

Who is the founder?
The founder of my faith is hard to point to as Wicca, like many earth religions, was part of the daily lives of many people long ago. My personal beliefs are gathered from Celtic and Viking influences.

The Neo-Pagan or New Wiccan movements that most people are aware of are quite recent. The religions were re-found by several different people including Gerald Gardner, Alexander Saunders, and Alistair Crowley. These traditions all formed sometime between the 1940’s and the 1960’s.

What are the sacred texts?
Most Wiccans will keep a “Book of Shadows”. This is a spooky, mysterious name for a book that is very similar to a journal. Recipes, journal entries, dreams, anything deemed important can be put in.

The Rede and the Three-fold Law also qualify as sacred texts.

Central Teaching?
No matter which tradition or branch a Wiccan follows, the central teachings are generally the same. Most traditions will include some form of the Rede and the Three-fold Law.

Travis, in his earlier response, included the whole of the Rede, but just as a reminder – “If it harms none-Do what you will.”

The three-fold law is exactly what it sounds like. Ever hear the phrase “Good (bad) things come in threes”? This is where it came from. Any energy you send/give out will come back to you three-fold. Basically, it is a reminder to treat others as you want to be treated.

This is where it gets tricky. The actual concept of sin does not exist in this religion. There are, however, things you just shouldn’t do. How do you know what these are? Look to the three-fold law and Rede. If you are doing something that will hurt someone or yourself, intentionally or not, this is not a good plan. The Powers that Be will see that the negative energy and pain will be returned to you (3 times).

Some paths include the idea of a Summerland which is very much like a Utopia or Heaven concept. Your spirit will get there when it is time for it to get there. It may take many lifetimes or just one. This leads to the question of reincarnation. Yes, many Wiccans, including me, believe in reincarnation. But unlike that of other religions starting another life may have nothing to do with unfinished tasks and/ or karmic deeds. In some cases it may not be your spirits time, you may have learned what you need to learn in this life, you may not have learned what you needed to in the last life… there are hundreds of reasons why a spirit will/ can come back. The death of a person is not neglected however. Death is part of the life cycle, all things in nature die. The person is mourned, remembered and celebrated.

Depending on your tradition there are opportunities for daily, weekly, and holiday specific rituals. Holidays are centered on the seasons, moon phases, and equinoxes.

Personally, daily (if not then weekly), I find time to sit and meditate, dream journey, and work with anything else I need to.

As I practice mostly by myself there really is not hierarchy. Many who practice in groups do have some form of structure. Usually these groups are called Covens, and there tends to be at least one High Priestess leading the group. There is the possibility for Priests, (regular) Priestess, and any other forms of division deemed necessary.

Regular services?
Yes there are. As a solitary practitioner opportunities always present themselves. For others….there are gatherings on a weekly basis, as well as on the holidays, for anyone who wants to join. Being respectful of the various earth religions is the only requirement.

What do I want others to know?
Just to dispel some myths and stereotypes I have encountered.

- Please don’t ask if I am a good witch or a bad witch. Not only do I not identify myself as a witch…but that is like asking “Are you a good Methodist or a bad Methodist?” There are good people and bad people in every society and in every religion. (It is a funny question though, if you get the reference.)
- I don’t worship Satan. I believe each person is responsible for his or her own actions. Satan is a Christian angel. So, in a sense all Satanists are Christian.
- The Pentagram is not a Satanic symbol. The symbol has a long history of being used to mean many good things such as health (Pythagoras and his followers wore it for this reason), and protection (in Medieval time Christian knights would wear it on their shields). The five points represent the four elements- air, fire, water, earth – and the top point is spirit.
- I do NOT do blood sacrifices! I believe in the sanctity of all living creatures. This is also the thoughts of most other traditions.
- Spells, at their most basic, are nothing more than wishes, hopes, and prayers. At times special herbs or other ingredients will be added as a “sacrifice” or offering to help the spell manifest. I will not cast a spell on anyone or for anyone. I won’t hex anyone; I don’t want the three fold law to bite me.
- Ritual Orgies? For this I will take an answer from a Wiccan website that answers it better than I can. “Orgies? These are rumors come from our lack of taboos regarding sex. We have no rules which prohibit homosexuality, nudity or pre-marital sex. Sex as the generative force in nature is seen by most pagans as something utterly sacred. We feel that the physical act of love is to be approached with great respect and responsibility.”
- Not all Wiccans wear black. I have an affinity for being as brightly colored as I can be. Black rarely enters my clothing except to bring out a different color, or for dress-up/club type clothes. I don’t even own any pentagram jewelry or a pentagram at all for that matter.
- Men, women, and children can all be witches, Wiccans, Pagans. There is no sex based distinction. The term Warlock, generally used for males, is a derogatory term, a religious slur. Warlock is an old Scottish word meaning traitor or oath-breaker.
- I (we) don’t convert new Wiccans/Pagans. To do so would be a form of bigotry. It would value one religion over another. Trying to convert someone is assuming that the person’s beliefs are not as valid as your own.


If you have a personal question for Mandy, feel free to send it to the Email address in my profile, and I'll forward it along to her.

Questions of Faith, Part VI.V

Thanks to Clay for such a complete picture of his faith, and to everyone who responded with questions - keep 'em coming!. Clay's answers were a bit too long for the comment window, so they are posted here - the questions that spawned these answers can be found in the comment window for his original post.


In response to Linus:
Wow, so many questions already. Yell at me if I forget any...

I believe people calling us Mormons came about simply because Joseph Smith introduced this radical new concept (a religious text beyond the Bible?! Blasphemy!) to America in the form of the Book of Mormon. They quickly latched on to one of our more distinguishing features that they knew of and associated us with it.

Yes we still have family home evening--a night set aside to spend with family, sharing spiritual thoughts and having food and fun.

Proxy baptism: Because those of us that have died may still want to accept the ordinances of the gospel (remember, we think the other dead have ministries among them), but have no bodies to do so (it's hard to immerse the body if you don't currently have one), we stand in for them and have the ordinances performed in their names. This is why Mormons find genealogy so important. When we exhaust the list of names (not gonna’ happen for a long time), we believe that the books of life and death will be opened and we'll have access to the names of those humans that were forgotten by time. We also do other proxy ordinances. All of them happen in the temple (we currently have over 100 temples worldwide). This is one of the more controversial practices of the LDS faith, but we stand by it.

The special undergarments are inscribed with holy symbols that remind us of certain religious principals. Any LDS person who has gone to the temple and gotten their endowments (a religious ceremony) should be wearing them. There is a top shirt and a bottom set of well... boxers is the only word I can think of that works. Not especially sexy, but that's not the point. So more than just missionaries wear them, girls wear them too (thought of a different cut of course), and I wear them myself. And yes, you can change them :P

In response to Mandy:
None of the clergy positions for the church are paid; they are all volunteers (though the church does hire people for non-clergy positions, such as church psychologists etc.). Therefore, all these men are doing their priesthood duties in their spare time, and believe me, that's a lot. The responsibilities of a bishop alone (care for and constantly talk to 200+ members, interview people to check for temple readiness, assign positions within the ward, organize the talks each Sunday, receive and interview for tithing, decide how to disperse church welfare, just to name a few) are daunting. And then you have the more holy stuff. For instance, if Ms. Shermiester the old widow falls and breaks her hip, the bishops gonna’ make a visit and give her a blessing to get better. So you can start to see how all of this is burden.

That's not to say that women don't have power and responsibility within the church. Women are in charge of the relief society (an all female, LDS organization), and the children's Sunday school program. Women even wield the power of the priesthood during certain rituals within the temple. In addition, while women may not typically have the priesthood in their everyday lives if they don't have access to a man that has it, they do have the right to pray for the things that we believe a priesthood blessing could provide. For instance, there is a famous story of how Joseph Smith's widow was on her way west when her Ox fell ill. Reputedly, she prayed for the health of the Ox, and it immediately sprang up.

But I won't pussyfoot around the issue that I think you're really concerned about, Mandy. The treatment of women in the church is highly criticized both from within and without. LDS leaders keep emphasizing that motherhood is a sacred duty, and as you can imagine in today’s political climate that irks some people. I can only weigh in on the issue by saying that I hope at least one parent stays home to raise the kids, and I'm glad that in my case it was my mom. Also of concern is the issue of the Heavenly Mother. We don't pray to Her, and the official reason is because She is incredibly sacred, but there are feminists within the church that want to pray to her and get women more of the priesthood pie.

Now Julie:
If Eve had never broken the rule and eaten that little apple, not only would she and Adam have never changed (i.e. become mortals capable of reproduction--LDS concepts here), but the concept of repentance (an essential component to Jesus' plan of free will mentioned earlier) would never have a reason for being. In other words, Eve started the world going by transgressing (yes you have to repent for transgressing). The whole serpent-tempting thing still happened, but Lucifer didn't really conceive that he was playing right into God's plan. Also, there is no doubt some symbolism going on in this whole story.

So anyways, Eve started the world going by using her brain and realizing what had to be done, and for that she is a hero. Also of importance is that the LDS faith rejects the concept of original sin; we are not born in sin, nor are we bound by Eve or Adam's transgression. Of course, we don't stay sinless for long, and that is where redemption comes in. See how it all comes together?

I think that's everyone for this round.

Questions of Faith, Part VI

LDS Temple, Salt Lake

Once again we turn our attentions to a branch of Christianity, as Clay gives us the scoop on the LDS Church. (Even though we are moving on, feel free to continue any of the discussions on earlier posts...)


Here be my answers, as an unofficial representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (you can call us LDS for short; calling us Mormon is in a slight way derogatory and inaccurate, but it is in common use in America).

What faith do you espouse?
The faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Or, to put it more succinctly, I espouse faith in Jesus, the Christ.

Who was the founder of your faith? When did he/she live?
In a general sense, we'd like to think it's God. In a supra-historical sense, we believe it was old testament figures like Adam, Abraham etc that did the earthly part of the religion leading up to the fulfillment and refinement of the religion by Jesus Christ.

In a localized sense, we believe that in this dispensation Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-1844) was charged to restore the gospel on earth (LDS people believe that the fullness of the gospel and priesthood authority was lost from the earth shortly after Jesus left us and the 12 apostles were murdered/exiled). A timeline of Joseph Smith's achievements compared with U.S. events can be seen here.

What are the sacred texts of your faith?
By LDS reckoning, all holy writings we have received are slightly flawed by the process of translating infinite wisdom and eternal principles to mere human terms. Therefore, I'm not sure that we can consider any texts as literally sacred. However, LDS people look to the Old and New Testaments (the Holy Bible) and the book of Mormon for spiritual guidance. Other works of religious significance, such as the dead sea scrolls, Apocrypha, Bhagavad-Gita etc. also have religious merit and should be studied with a discerning mind.

Bonus question: The Book of Mormon? What's that?
The book of Mormon is considered by LDS people to be the "most right" (read: best translated) book of all the holy books. Joseph Smith has told us that he received directions from an angel as to the location of the plates of brass from which the book of Mormon was translated. The Book of Mormon is a history of what happened in the American region (though how much and where is up to speculation) during ancient times. It tells of two groups that migrated from the middle east to the Americas and their religious struggles.

The main theme of the book can be seen in a cycle where the righteous become prosperous, then proud, then sinful, and fall from grace, and in their humility they start to become righteous again, thus starting anew a cycle that we can see in our own lives.

Perhaps the most significant event in the Book of Mormon is the visitation of the Christ to the Americas (taking place after his Resurrection). Many LDS people see the existence of myths like Quetzaquotal as evidence of this visitation. Of course, physical evidence of Book of Mormon events is scarce and debatable, but what archeologists have found is compelling to the faithful.

Anything else while you're being so longwinded, Clay?
As a matter of fact there is. Joseph Smith provided the LDS faith with continuing revelations and scriptures. He translated Egyptian scrolls he acquired to give us The Pearl of Great Price (which retells the stories of Moses and Abraham, and with some interesting new insights). In addition, the Doctrine and Covenants is a book of latter day revelations that can still be added to, if God so directs (the President of the church would be the one to do this). Typically, LDS people combine the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants into one bound book for their own studies.

One other source of holy writing is found in the transcripts of one's patriarchal blessing. Every LDS person is entitled to get such a blessing from the area's patriarch (we'll discuss that later), and that blessing is written down and kept by the blessed individual for future reference.

What is the central teaching of your faith?
Jesus said: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." If this precept is followed, all others fall into place.

How does your faith define sin? What are the major sins, and how is one absolved?
A distinction should be made here: There is a difference between sin and transgression. Sin is any action that harms another (or yourself for that matter), while transgression is against holy law or mandate. (This is important, because it shows how LDS people do not believe Adam and Eve are sinners, but transgressors, and this helps LDS people to see Eve as a hero who performed a necessary transgression--complicated, I know).

One is absolved of either sin or transgression in many ways, including taking the sacrament and prayer. The absolution process involves recognizing the sin, praying for forgiveness, and mending one's ways.

Roughly how many adherents does your faith have?
15 million and growing by approximately 300,000 per year.

What does your faith teach about the afterlife? Is there heaven, and how do you get there?
Afterlife is a bit of a misnomer. Existence is eternal and time goes infinitely in both directions. Let me clarify, and to do that, I'll have to tell a story...

LDS people have a concept of a period of time called the pre-existence, where all of us existed as spiritual beings before our temporary, earthly existence. At some point, God, who organized our essences from primordial intelligences into spirits, let us know that we had to have an earthly existence if we wanted to be more like Him. He then asked for proposals on salvation. The being that would become known as Lucifer suggested that we should NOT have free will so that we would not risk sin and thus all return to God. The one who would become known as Jesus suggested that humans needed free will, or the ability to choose for themselves if they would disobey God and return to His presence. Lucifer was proud and wrathful, and when God decided that plan of Jesus was wise, Lucifer started an ideological war. Lucifer and his follower were eventually cast into outer darkness. So our Earthly existence is temporary, but we gain wisdom and a physical form that we will carry with us into the eternities. During our current period of time, the earth is a host to both physical and spiritual beings. Those that die during our current period are put into one of two camps, those that knew of and accepted the covenants of the gospel and those that did not accept or have the opportunity two. The first group has ministries among the second group.

However, things change a little with the coming of Judgment Day. After that period the earth will become a perfected being (we believe it has a spirit), as will the entirety of humanity, who will all be resurrected. People will then spend their existence in one of several places:

Outer Darkness: The closest LDS equivalent to hell. Lucifer and his cohorts exist in this sad place, as well as a very miniscule (only a handful) group of humans that dealt with God Himself and yet rejected him. Cain would be the only example we know of. This is not a place of eternal physical torment, but of eternal sorrow and guilt.

There are then three glories that everyone else achieves. You could think of these as different versions of heaven, enlightenment, etc. The glories are as follows:

The Telestial Kingdom: The glory of the stars, this will be the remade earth. While being the lowest of the three glories, is still a place of incomprehensible joy. This is where "bad" people go.

The Terrestrial Kingdom: The glory of the moon. Location unknown (this universe maybe?). This is where the moderately good go.

The Celestial Kingdom: The glory of the sun. Location: Probably extremely hard to define and metaphysical. The best of the best go here. And it is further divided into three strata of goodness levels. It is also often speculated (though the speculation is not by any means doctrine) that those who attain the glory of the Celestial achieve apotheosis, or a state much like it.

It is conceived that LDS families, being sealed together for all time and eternity, experience the post-mortal existence together, but how this figures into the eventuality that some will achieve higher glories than others is unknown.

One other thing should be pointed out. God, in His infinite mercy has decided that only the most virtuous attain his presence. How is this merciful? Because to be in his presence while being unworthy of it would wrack the soul with guilt. Therefore, a person in the Telestial kingdom will feel content and deserving of their eternal lot in infinity.

What are the practices of your faith? (Daily, weekly, etc.)
Daily: Pray upon rising and before sleep, and each meal, and whenever. Read scriptures. It is also beneficial to meditate upon spiritual matters and pay heed to the promptings of the Spirit.

Weekly: Attend church on Sunday and set it aside as a holy day without labors. Take the sacrament.

Monthly: Fast upon the first Sunday of the month and give the money that you would have spent on food to the poor.

How is your faith organized? Are there priests and bishops?
Indeed, but not in a Catholic sense of those words. Typically, at age 12, males are confirmed with the power and responsibility of the priesthood and given the title of deacon. They take care of simple tasks, such as collecting fast offerings (a form of alms mentioned above) and passing the sacrament.

At age 16, they become priests and their responsibilities increase (blessing sacrament, baptizing and so on).

At 19, they become elders, get more responsibility, and generally serve missions. You may notice LDS people call missionaries elders to distinguish them, though many of them, myself included, are actually elders.

A bishop is an elder chosen to serve and watch over a ward (wards are groupings of about 200 members of the faith).

Stake presidents look over and direct stakes, which are the collections of the local wards. They appoint bishops and other offices.

Mission presidents are responsible for the safety and conduct of missionaries in a given area.

The quorum of the seventy is a group in control of church issues on a more global scale. They appoint stake and mission presidents.

The quorum of the twelve is the twelve guys at the top of it all. Big decisions, appointments, and declarations come from these guys. Out of the twelve, the three oldest (in terms of age) members make up the presidency of the church with the Prophet (also known as the president) being the most influential member of these three, not to mention of the church as a whole. The prophet is the mouthpiece of God on earth, and he alone is considered to have all the keys of the priesthood. The process of becoming a prophet is relatively simple: you just have to be the oldest member of the quorum of the twelve.

The patriarch lies outside of these groupings (though he is an elder it should be pointed out). The patriarch is chosen to give patriarchal blessings to members of the stake in which he resides. In terms of power, he has very little power over the organization or direction of the church, but he still fulfills a vital and sacred position.

Are there regular services available to you locally? If so, where?
In Wyoming, there are tons of LDS churches. There are three in this town alone; I usually attend at the church on 13th street, which doubles as an institute of religion (much like a seminary).

How did you come to be a believer?
I had the good fortune to be born to a family with parents that were members of the religion. Like Most LDS people, I took the plunge and became baptized at age 8 (our age of accountability), and became a member.

What do you wish others knew about your faith?
Oh so much. I wish they knew that Mormons espouse Christian virtues. I wish the British didn't believe we have horns on our head. I wish they knew that LDS people are encouraged to explore the concepts of other religions and find their divine merits. I wish people knew that we constantly renew our beliefs and religious reform does happen. I wish people knew that we embrace minorities, and in fact have more members outside the U.S. than within. Not all of the LDS peoples live in Utah (the state in the U.S. with the greatest number of members is in fact California). I wish that people knew the priesthood is not some form of misogynist control, and in fact a bit of a burden to the males. I wish people knew that LDS people believe in a heavenly mother as well as a heavenly father.


As always, comments are welcome here, or on his blog. If you have a
question of a more personal nature, Email it to the address on my
profile and I will pass it along.

Questions of Faith, Part V

Today, Jim turns our attentions back to the Earth-honoring traditions... but remember that the door is still open for discussion of previous posts as well.

Shaman at work

What faith do you espouse?
Er...many of them? I've worn the title Shama-Wicca-Paga-Druid, though
most of my recent instruction has been in Curanderismo, or Peruvian
Shamanism. I am continually examining aspects of Earth-honoring
traditions and blending them into my own spiritual practice.

Who was the founder of your faith? When did he/she live?
Like so many of the Earth-honoring traditions, there isn't a single
founder, at least not in recorded history. Most of them are quite
ancient, tracing back centuries or even millennia. From the Celts to
the Mayan Civilization, it's been around.

What are the sacred texts of your faith?
Most of the traditions I have studied and incorporated into my spiritual
practice do not have sacred texts like the Bible or Koran. They were
primarily oral traditions, handed down from one generation to the next.
As Zeus talked about in his discussion of Druidism, many traditions had
written materials and relics destroyed as Christianity became
more...active...in its spread. Many of my teachers to date have
maintained those traditions and ways, though there are many reference
books and printed resources now available for those interested.

What is the central teaching of your faith?
Most of my practice revolves around the concept that all things are
alive and connected to one another. Respecting that connection is
paramount, and being cognizant of it, the goal. There are energies that
flow in paths through the Earth, that bind human beings within the
natural realms, and that move between different worlds and realities.
Some of these energies can be harnessed or focused for direct purpose,
though "power" is not the focus; it's about healing. There is a
logical order to this, described well by a Native American healer.
First, we heal ourselves. Then our families. Then our community. Then
the world. Unless we are complete and focused ourselves, we're not of
much use to others.

How does your faith define sin? What are the major sins, and how is one

Sin isn't exactly the right terminology here. Things are usually right
or wrong, but the concept of sin would be an imposed construct here.
The closest I can come would be "harming others." As Zeus described,
one of my tenets is "And it harm none, do what ye will." Shamans are
focused on the highest good, both for an individual and for Pachamama
(Mother Earth). We do deal with jucha (pronounced hoo-cha), or dense
energy. This is typically picked up thanks to negativity, either our
own or from those around us. This can be ceremonially or ritually
cleansed. Sometimes we can cleanse ourselves; sometimes we need the
help of others.

Roughly how many adherents does your faith have?
Answer 1) Lots. Yes, that's the technical term. This is just too
difficult to calculate, as there are so many people who could be
solitary practitioners. The number is growing, I do know that.

Answer 2) One. Me. Part of what works best for me is that I can determine my
own practice. I am combining aspects of several like-minded traditions.
Some have prescribed ceremonies or rituals. Some are much less
structured. So in a way, my practice is entirely unique, though I
believe it's directly connected to many other traditions.

What does your faith teach about the afterlife? Is there heaven, and how do you get there?
All of my traditions agree that there is something beyond death, and
that there is a spiritual realm one can access. It's based on the idea
that we are all composed of energy, and that energy never dies. We
simply transmute, transform, or otherwise cross over. Those barriers
are not absolute, and to me, allows for the existence of ESP, ghosts,
demons, etc...all phenomena in which I believe. Many of my traditions
also believe in reincarnation.

What are the practices of your faith? (Daily, weekly, etc.)
It's much more based on "as needed," though the Shamans I work with
"link up" spiritually every Wednesday night. There are regular
gatherings and observances of new/full moons, solstices/equinoxes, and
various holidays. Personally, I try to meditate or commune at least

How is your faith organized? Are there priests and bishops and
archbishops, etc...?

There isn't a clearly defined hierarchy, to be sure. There are some who
are considered leaders, though their power or influence is not absolute.
They're the first people to admit they will make mistakes and are
imperfect. We believe that we are all teachers, and all students. Even
someone with no "training" or experience can impart great wisdom.

Are there regular services available to you locally? If so, where?
A group of us gather regularly. For more information, email me and I'll
hook you up with the leader of our local allyu (Circle/Family).

How did you come to be a believer?
I'm a recovering Lutheran. Christianity never seemed to resonate within
me. It also dismissed or ignored many things I have either witnessed or
believe in (ESP, ghosts, etc). The more I studied Earth-honoring
traditions, the more it seemed to fit. When a close friend of mine
began her path, I followed along not far behind.

What do you wish others knew about your faith?
It's not about casting spells, making sacrifices, or obtaining power.
It's not about sorcery, Merlin, or turning lead into gold. It's about
being a good person, honoring all life around us, and working toward a
more peaceful and harmonious existence.


As usual, comments can be posted here or on his blog. If your question is of a more personal nature, feel free to Email me at the address on my profile and I'll forward them on to him.

Sunday Sermon

"Skippy stared blankly as Tessa explained Transubstantiation..."

Questions of Faith, Part IV

The Religious experience is diverse, even amongst followers of the same Faith. Today, Tessa gives us a different slant on Catholicism...


What faith do you espouse?
I am Roman Catholic, and though I love my Church I have issues with
some of the teachings. I remain Catholic because I believe that the
best way to effect change is from within.

Who was the founder of your faith? When did he/she live?
To the best of my historical knowledge, a man called Jesus of Nazareth was alive from around the year 4 BCE to the year 30 CE. His message was not "hey, I have this great new church" - that came later. He did seem to think that love was a good idea though.

What are the sacred texts of your faith?
There are several texts that the Catholic Church considers sacred. The most obvious would be the Bible, with an emphasis on the New Testament, where we find the stories of Jesus, and the letters establishing the meaning and way of life for Christians in the early Church. There are also the writings of the saints and the Episcopal Letters from various popes and bishops, addressing key issues in the world at the time when they were written.

What is the central teaching of your faith?
The central teaching can be found in the creed that we profess:
"We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.

He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen. "

This is the creed that was decided on initially at the Council of
Nicaea in 325. There was one line added later, "and the Son" which I
italicized and though philosophically the same, this insertion is one
of the primary acts that led to the split of the Western and Eastern
Rite Churches. The creed covers creation, the Trinity, the virgin
birth, and apostolic succession, and that is the core of what we believe.

The only primary belief that is not in some way mentioned in this
creed is the Eucharist (which actually falls under the auspices of
apostolic succession). That is our belief that the bread and wine
actually become the Body and Blood of Christ. This is tricky for a
couple reasons; first, if this were a physical actuality that would
just be icky. This is a spiritual process called transubstantiation,
and basically means we believe that though all we are able to perceive is the bread and wine, the Body and Blood are also present, not just represented.

How does your faith define sin? What are the major sins, and how is one absolved?

Catechism Definition: Sin is an utterance, a deed, or a desire
contrary to the eternal law (St. Augustine). It is an Offence against
God. It is an act contrary to reason. It wounds man's nature and
injures human solidarity. The kinds and the gravity of sins are
determined by the object. To choose deliberately - knowingly and
willingly - something gravely contrary to the divine law and the ultimate end of man is a mortal sin (the eternal death kind). A moral disorder that is reparable by charity is a venial sin.

I would agree that a sin is an offense against reason, truth and right
conscience - to sin you have to knowingly and willingly commit that offense. Everyone's conscience is informed to a different degree and in a different manner, and each case is specific unto itself, but as general broad definitions go, I guess that one is ok.

Absolution is a bit more complicated. This is one of the things that I
had a hard time coming to terms with, and I continue to struggle with
it. The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus gave authority to the
apostles to forgive sins, and that authority has passed down through
the priesthood. The process happens through the Sacrament of
Reconciliation. I don't believe that the only way sins can be
forgiven is through reconciliation (even mortal sins, which is a point
of difference from the Church). The value of the sacrament comes not from the list of sins I rattle of to the priest. God knows them and has already forgiven me. The value is in the vocalization of forgiveness. The words "I absolve you" are very powerful both spiritually and psychologically. That is what is important about
Reconciliation. It helps me to forgive myself and to work towards reconciling with those whom I have hurt.

Roughly how many adherents does your faith have?
1,050,000,000 according to adherents.com. I don't know them all either...

What does your faith teach about the afterlife? Is there heaven,
and how do you get there?

Catechism Definition: Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definite happiness, where we are all like God forever. The choices you make in this life effect whether you will see God in the next one. It is a state of being in perfect union with God.

There are lots of images given and speculation done, but it is ultimately a mystery until we die. I believe that we live out our afterlife now. Every moment we either live closer to God or farther away. The only moment you have is the present one and how you live it is what matters. Because "heaven" is a state of being, you can be there whenever you wish.

What are the practices of your faith? (Daily, weekly, etc.)
Holy days of obligation:
1) January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
2) Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, the solemnity of the Ascension
3) August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
4) November 1, the solemnity of All Saints
5) December 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
6) December 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
[list numbers are not in original]

Whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated. (Code of Canon Law)

Catholics are also supposed to attend Mass on Sundays and of course on Easter.

Devotions beyond that are according to your personal practices and beliefs.

How is your faith organized? Are there priests and bishops and
archbishops (oh my!)?
There are deacons, priests, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals all
organized hierarchically under the authority of the Pope. Currently,
all of those ordained ministers must be men. Interesting fact - all
Catholics are baptized prophet, priest, and king. Makes the debate on women priests slightly more heated.

Are there regular services available to you locally? If so, where?
I go to the Newman Center Catholic Parish. There is also St.
Laurence, for the more traditionally minded.

How did you come to be a believer?
I am what is affectionately (or not so) referred to as a "Cradle
Catholic" I was raised Catholic (read: forced to go to church and
other various activities until I left for college). At school though, I
started evaluating my faith and learning more than the answers that
had been fed to me all my life. I am still searching, but have come
to terms with my faith and will continue to struggle and grow.

What do you wish others knew about your faith?
We don't worship Mary. We don't believe that everyone but us is going to hell. I don't always agree with everything we are supposed to believe.


As usual, feel free to make comments here; if you have a more private message, send them to the Email address on my profile and I'll forward them on to her.

Questions of Faith, Part III

In the place of the Sunday Sermon, our next guest blogger, Rachel, gives us the scoop on Baha'i.

Baha'i House of Worship in Illinois

What faith do you espouse?
The Baha’i Faith

Who was the founder of your faith? When did he/she live?
Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, was born in Persia in 1817. His ministry lasted from 1863 to 1892, during which He was banished from Persia, then from Constantinople to Adrianople, and eventually to Akka.

What are the sacred texts of your faith?
Baha’u’llah revealed somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 million verses. The Most Holy Book, the Kitab’I’Aqdas, is the Book of Laws. Other significant texts include the Kitab’I’Iqan, the Hidden Words, and a collection of Tablets written to the rulers of the world. As you can imagine, however, the list goes on and on.

What is the central teaching of your faith?
Baha’u’llah emphasized unity. He taught that all people are created noble and therefore all prejudices of race, gender, socio-economic status, and so on are unfounded and must be overcome through love and understanding. Also central to this unity is the concept of “progressive revelation.” Basically, we believe that God has been providing mankind with guidance from the beginning, through various religious/spiritual Teachers, including but not limited to, Jesus Christ, Muhammed, Buddha, Abraham, Krishna, and Moses. A good metaphor for this is school. Each year students have a different teacher who applies social rules appropriate to the needs of that age, but continues to build on the universal lessons of math, literacy, and science. With each new grade level, the students’ understanding of these topics deepens just as humanity’s ability to understand their spirituality grows with each Divine Teacher, though the social practices of their religions differ.

How does your faith define sin? What are the major sins, and how is one absolved?
Sin is very simply not obeying the laws of God, which for Baha’is are outlined in the above mentioned Book of Laws. There are the basics like don’t kill, steal, or adulter, but the most serious sin is backbiting, that is, saying bad things about others, regardless of whether it is true. The absolution of sin comes largely from praying for forgiveness and amending one’s behavior. However, for certain transgressions there are specific penances that go along with prayers for forgiveness. Adultery, for example, is punishable with a hefty fine which doubles with each repeat occurrence.

Roughly how many adherents does your faith have?
Somewhere shy of 7 million. It’s pretty small for being the second widest spread religion in the world.

What does your faith teach about the afterlife? Is there heaven, and how do you get there?
A friend once described us as spiritual beings having a physical experience rather than physical beings having a spiritual experience. Baha’u’llah wrote,
“Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving kindness and bounty.”

The concept of heaven and hell comes into play in the discussion of nearness to God. We do no believe that there is a bad place where certain souls are sent for all eternity. Everyone progresses. However, the purpose of this life is to strengthen the attributes of the soul which draw us nearer to God (i.e. trustworthiness, honesty, love, kindness, humility, forgiveness, respect, justice etc.) which is heavenly joy. If we turn our back on God in this life than we are farther from God in the next, which is a misery that can be likened to hell and which makes the progress towards God more difficult.

Note: God is best described as “the Unknowable Essence” and the human soul is immaterial, therefore the description of nearness is metaphysical and not subject to physical distance.

What are the practices of your faith? (Daily, weekly, etc.)
On a daily basis Baha’is pray and reflect on the words of Baha’u’llah morning and evening, recite one of three obligatory prayers, and repeat the phrase “Allah’u’Abha,” meaning “God is Most Glorious,” 95 times. We attend the 19 Day Feast every, well, 19 days which is a time for Baha’is to come together, read the Writings, consult about community issues, and socialize. We also fast for 19 days in the spring (sunrise to sunset), and observe nine holy days each year. We go on pilgrimage, at least once in our lifetime, if we can afford it, to the Shrines in Israel. Lastly, we pay the Huququ’llah, 19 percent from inheritances or excess income, which will later be used for the welfare of those who are in need.

How is your faith organized? Are there priests and bishops and
archbishops, etc…?

There is no clergy. Instead we have elected bodies that govern and guide the communities. Each local community with 9 or more adult Baha’is has a Spiritual Assembly that is elected each year from the community. That group can then consult on matters of concern for individuals or the community, plan events, and give support to individual activities. There are National Spiritual Assemblies in most countries which perform the same function on the national scale, and to whom the local assemblies turn for guidance or assistance. And finally there is the Universal House of Justice which is elected every five years and provides the guidance and united force for the Baha’i communities around the world. Though members of any of these bodies are elected for their moral character, they have no authority or special station as individuals within the community (i.e. a member of the Universal House of Justice has no more authority than I do, though I suspect they have more wisdom, unless they are acting as a part of that institution).

Another interesting aspect of the Faith is the two figures who guided the Faith after the ascension of Baha’u’llah. In His will, Baha’u’llah specified that His son, Abdu’l-Baha was to act as the Center of the Covenant. He had the exclusive right to interpret Baha’u’llah’s writings. When he passed away, his will designated his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as the Guardian, who then took over the responsibility of interpreting Baha’u’llah’s writings. Individual Baha’is have the right and responsibility to determine how Baha’u’llah’s teachings apply to their own lives, and can thus interpret meaning for themselves, however, only the Shoghi Effendi and Abdu’l-Baha could make authoritative interpretations. The writings of both of these men remain as sources of further wisdom and explanation. This precaution has guarded the Baha’i Faith from splintering under clashes of individual opinion.

Are there regular services available to you locally? If so, where?
Because our community is small we hold Feast, Devotions, Holy Day observance and other Baha’i events in the homes of community members. We do have regular dinners and devotions which are open to anyone who cares to come. Larger communities frequently have centers for these events.

How did you come to be a believer?
I was raised a Baha’i. I always agreed with the social tenets of the Faith. But I didn’t really become a Baha’i until I was 14 and I began to look at other religions. I went to various churches with friends, meditated at a Buddhist center, celebrated Passover and Solstice, and read about Islam. I saw the value and truth in each one which led me back to the teachings of Baha’u’llah. As I studied the history of the Faith and read more independently, I became increasingly confident that being a Baha’i was right for me. .

What do you wish others knew about your faith?
I would just like for people to know about the Baha’i Faith. It is still a somewhat obscure religion in spite of its wide spread state and its continued efforts to promote justice and equality throughout the world. And while I’m at it, I guess I would like to clarify that the Baha’i Faith is not a sect of Islam, which is a common misconception due to its Persian origins.


As always, feel free to direct your comments here or to her blog. More private messages can be sent to the Email on my profile and I will forward them on to her.

Go in Peace.

Mental Break

To give you a break from all the pondering that has been going on around here lately, today we are playing the Guess the Martyred Saints Game!*

Honestly, who doesn't enjoy a good martyring? Post your results in comments and amaze your friends with your knowledge of obscure Catholic history!

*For amusement purposes only - please, no wagering.

Questions of Faith, Part II.V

(Mark had longer responses to our questions than would fit in the comment window, so this post is a continuation of that discussion.)


Thanks for the comments and questions.

To reply to Zeus, bigotry is the same no matter where it is
encountered. When I encounter it I am usuaully filled with sadness
and anger, not because of that person or those people but rather
because of the ignorance that is found there. And I deal with it like
I deal with anything fear-based, I "smile upon it as if to wash a
stain from their mind" (from a poem of mine). And I do this more to
give myself peace and release from the fear that they hold that is so
potent. Most things I do, I do for personal peace.

And for Linus' question about the trinity... the trinity is found
everywhere that a dualistic nature cannot be applied. For example,
black and white, male/female, big/tall, etc... are all things
associated with what I call "the worldly realm", and the worldly realm
has one great property: all is neutral. Meaning, that a chair is
neither good nor bad until you apply a value upon it. But as for the
trinity, all truth is tunneled through that paradox.

Traditionally, it is named as the father, the son, and the holy
spirit. But that naming was more applicable when people understood
the symbolism behind said names. Since then they have been perverted to not mean anything at all. I see them as the seed, the fruit, and the life... the mind, body, and soul... the I AM, the I EXPERIENCE, and the I BEING...

It can best be understood as a learning experience. The father is the
knowledge or the I AM, the son (us) is the experience or testing of
said knowledge (because experience speaks more deeply to our soul than words can ever do), and then the holy spirit is the state of being, nirvana, and heaven that comes from knowing it and then experiencing it. The holy spirit is said to give wisdom, and wisdom comes from experience.

So the trinity is truly "catholic" or universal and applicable to anything.

Peace to all...


Feel free to continue this with comments here or on Mark's new blog, "Conversations with God".

We will be hearing from Rachel next... look for it on Sunday!

Questions of Faith, Part II

While the discussion on Druidism continues below (see the comments), our next guest blogger, Mark, gives us a look at his unique take on Catholicism.


What faith do you espouse?

Who was the founder of your faith? When did he/she live?
Jesus of Nazareth is the inspiration for the
original church, but to say that he is the sole
founder may or may not be wholey accurate. It might
be better to say that it is the memory of Jesus that
founded the Roman Catholic Church.

What are the sacred texts of your faith?
The Hebrew scriptures and the "new testament" which
includes the gopsels, acts, and the letters; commonly known as the Bible.

What is the central teaching of your faith?
Of my own faith the central teaching is love. God
is love. And to love as God loves is to love without

How does your faith define sin?
Separation from God (or love) by the influence of
fear. Once again this is my own perspective.

What are the major sins, and how is
one absolved?

There are specific "cardinal" sins, but only the
person who commits a sin can truely judge how majorly
that sin affects their life. And it is only them that
can reconcile or re-connect with God.

Roughly how many adherents does your faith have?
I am sure that "on the books" somewhere that there
is an exact number, but I could safely guess somewhere
over a hundred. (and I certain don't know them all)

What does your faith teach about the afterlife? Is
there a heaven, and how do you get there?

There is always some sort of class on it but it is
never very concrete. The closest definition that I
have received is that heaven is either now...here, or
nowhere. In other words, heaven is right now if you
choose to experience it.

What are the practices of your faith? (Daily,
weekly, etc.)

Daily personal prayer, the rosary, comtemplative
prayer (christian meditation) and weekly mass. Weekly
mass is the only major weekly obligation, however, and
the other areas of persoanl prayer are determined by
tradition and personal preference.

How is your faith organized? Are there priests and
bishops and archbishops, (oh my!) etc.?

It is extremely structured with the Pope at the
top and your local pastor at the grassroots.

Are there regular services available to you
locally? If so, where?

Yes, St. Paul's Newman Center is my choice.

How did you come to be a believer?
Life, loss, pain, joy, fear, and love in my
personal experience has shaped the path and life that I lead.

What do you wish others knew about your faith?I wish that others knew what real catholics are
like, not what the pope pushing, bigoted, and
super-traditional Catholics show to the world. The
word catholic means universal, liberal, and sensitive.
And that is the backbone of my faith.

Peace, love, and all good things...


As always, you are welcome to make comments on this either here or on Mark's blog. If you would prefer to address Mark via Email, send your messages to the address listed in my profile and I will forward them on to him.

Questions of Faith

The first installment in our guest blogger series is Travis, AKA Zeus...


What faith do you espouse?
My faith is to follow, as closely as possible, the teachings of the Druids. I realize this is vague, but hopefully it won’t be by the time I am done. Druid is an old Celtic word meaning – “OAK WISE.”

I am but one of many who follow this faith; I do not speak for all. There are too many diverse people and opinions represented by this faith to begin to do so. Further, I do not speak for the God or Goddess or any of their representative lower deities within this faith. I am not qualified to do so via this medium or on such broad questions. What is contained herein is a culmination of my knowledge from my years of researching, practicing, meditating, and living within this faith.

Who was the founder of your faith? When did he/she live?
There is no single identifiable founder of the principles of faith that I follow. I acknowledge and understand the argument that true Druidism died during the time of the Roman Empire. The Romans made an official policy of wiping out the Druids as the clergy of the Celts. Two factors, however, allow me to base my beliefs on the tenets of the Druidic teachings.

First, the practice of a nature-based pagan tradition was not wiped out by the Romans. As there was no policy of targeting women, they were largely responsible for passing down many of the traditions. Further, in order for the Roman Catholic Church to make inroads into Celtic society, they adopted several of the holidays and founding principles of the Celts. This made Catholicism more palatable to the people and helped to preserve those holidays and principles.

Second, the conquering Romans were very meticulous at studying their adversary. They left detailed accounts of the practices of the Druids, both in the reality of what occurred as well as the beliefs of the people. Due to these texts we know that Druids were the advocates, negotiators, and judges of the Celtic society. We know that the Druids would consult the natural world around them for the advice they would give. Also, we know that there was a strong belief in these persons as advisors to warlords, to the extent that societies would act, or not act at the advice of a single Druid. There was also a very high faith among the people in the Druid’s ability to perform acts of what are today called magic. These acts range from the blessing/creating of holy water to control of the weather.

What are the sacred texts of your faith?
There are no texts that I know to be sacred in the Druidic faith. There are many that explain the main tenets of the faith, and prescribe how one should act to be called a Druid. The closest thing a Druid keeps to a “sacred text” is his own journal in which he documents his own actions and prescriptions for how others should act. For the most part this tradition was a verbal one, passed down from a practicing Druid to his apprentice, who was expected to memorize the full extent of his teacher’s knowledge and expand upon that knowledge as he became a practicing Druid himself.

What is the central teaching of your faith?
The central idea for those following the path of the Druid is to live a good life. This means living in harmony with nature, and with your fellow man. For many practitioners today this means following the Wiccan rede. Due to the fact that the tradition is almost entirely a verbal one, there are few other overarching guiding principles. The idea of what is just and right is left up to the solitary practitioner. This is surely the most common reason given individuals of the faith may disagree, and these disagreements are part of the reason that negotiation was always a highly honed craft amongst Druids. There are several sub-groups who all call themselves Druids. They run a gamut of beliefs ranging from simply providing moral ideals through the writings of the Romans all the way to finding “true” druidic spell-craft embedded in surviving documents such as the Bible and English common law. Most practitioners fall somewhere in the middle relying on personal judgment as to whether a proposed ceremony is true to ancient or modern-adapted traditions.

How does your faith define sin? What are the major sins, and how is one absolved?
The Wiccan Rede, as stated, is a prime source for many who profess to be of a Celtic faith. Just about anything that can be said about it has also been said of the “Golden Rule.”

“Bide this wiccan law ye must
Be in perfect love and perfect trust
Eight words this wiccan rede fulfill
‘and it harm none do what ye will’
Lest in self defense it be
Always mind the rule of three
Follow this in mind and heart
And merry ye meet and merry ye part.”

The piece, which bears explaining, is the rule of three. The basic premise of which is that everything you do comes back on you threefold. A very common application of this rule is, “do not hate, lest ye can bear its threefold return upon you.”

Roughly how many adherents does your faith have?
That depends on what you believe allows one to be called a Druid. Some believe, as I do, that you must be called a Druid by others, or even be formally initiated before you can adopt that moniker for yourself. This calls one to act as truly in the path he believes a Druid would follow without any reward from it, possibly for his entire lifetime. Others believe that you can initiate yourself, or simply by calling yourself a follower of the faith can call yourself a Druid. To those who disagree, it could be likened to every Catholic calling himself a priest.

What does your faith teach about the afterlife? Is there a heaven, and how do you get there?
Most Druids have a very real belief in the afterlife. Many ceremonies operate with the belief that those who have gone before us watch out for us on the other side. Druids believe that there is a ‘veil,’ of sorts, between the place where those who have passed now exist and this reality. This veil is crossed by the practitioner for purposes of communing with the dead, protecting oneself or others (only at their request) from negative energies, and even communing with friends from far away.

In my work with other people who practice Shamanic traditions (because we have this idea of brotherly love and a global society) from around the world, I have found it interesting that a similar view of the ‘otherworlds’ exists and is routinely used to the extent that both practitioners have very similar accounts of what has occurred between them.

What are the practices of your faith? (Daily, weekly, etc.)
The basic daily function of a modern Druid is nothing more than to live by the Rede. Beyond that there are religious ceremonies for almost every phase of the moon, although only full moon and new moon are regularly observed.

Druids also have several “high-holidays,” which mark the calendar. Both of the solstices are observed, as well as the Autumnal and Vernal equinoxes. There are also annual festivals to a handful of sub-deities representing everything from the “lord of fire” to “the lord of our local plains.”

Traditionally, Druids also held festivals in relationship to the harvests. Most villages would wait for specific festivals to be held before planting, harvesting, and even in some cases weeding their crops. Modern Druids still hold these festivals, but in a much less formal manner as few people still base their crop harvests on them.

How is your faith organized? Are there priests and bishops and archbishops (oh my!) etc…?
Druids are not organized by any specific social hierarchy. It is generally assumed that all druids are equal, even between those of us who disagree on matters such as initiation to the ranks of Druid. Like I said before, one of the major pieces of our tradition that we get from the Roman historians is the idea that we solve disputes rather than create them. When large groups meet, a general leader is usually recognized. I find that to be unnecessary between a group meeting in “perfect love and perfect trust.”

Are there regular services available to you locally? If so, where?
There are many local services available to all earth-honoring practitioners. It depends on what you are into, what you are looking for, and on what level you believe in things like the practice of what some see as “real magic.”

How did you come to be a believer?
I could write a series of blogs about my story of becoming a believer in this tradition. The bottom line is that in my search for a tradition, this one DOES NOT tell me who I have to be or conversely who I cannot be. Members of this faith do not pass judgment on me for being gay, as a matter of fact it is considered to be an asset. And most importantly, I received a very obvious, very clear, and very powerful sign, in nature, that this was the path for me to follow.

A word about being a believer: Many people try to debunk this faith by saying things like; you can’t honestly believe that you can commune with the spirits in some ‘otherworld’ can you? Or, those tarot cards don’t really tell you shit do they? My answer has always been, nope they won’t. This is something, like all other faiths that you have to believe in. There is no magic / magick / majik without believing. It is a lot like Santa Clause. If you are expecting a man in a red suit with a fake beard that is what you are going to get. If you are expecting the spirit of Christmas, you are in for one hell of a ride.

What do you wish others knew about your faith?
First, there is nothing, I have found, in this faith that keeps women from calling themselves Druids. There are some who would say otherwise, but some of the best books I have read in the gamut of historical to religious practices of Druids are written by women. These women practice the faith and so too should any woman who wishes to do so. I recognize that many men as well as women look to the Roman’s accounts as evidence against this. However, so much of our tradition survived on account of women, that many of us believe they have a very important place in our circles.

Secondly, this is not about making fogs appear from thin air or calling dragons down from the sky. A large component of the craft was/is/and always will be understanding the world around the Druid and therefore being able to predict when the fog will roll away from a battlefield in such a way as to be advantageous to the side the Druid represents.

Finally, while I may have gone a little overboard with the notion that the Druids have a 'choose your own adventure' religion; there are still many formal traditions that most of us follow. The only way to truly appreciate them is to be introduced to them. If you would like more information I would be more than happy to point you in the direction of some great reading to get you started.


Please feel free to leave comments for Travis here, or on his blog. If you have questions that would be better handled by Email, you can mail them to me at the address in my profile and I will forward them on to him.