Sunday Sermon

Last week, I promised to talk about the second half of my vow - "to do what is right" - without really considering how hard a sermon like that would be to write. What is right to one person will naturally be wrong to another, and trying to enforce absolute morality is the path to tyranny. Organized religions often provide lists of rights and wrongs like the ten commandments of the Bible or the ten grave precepts from Zen, but these lists are subject to so much personal interpretation that instead of getting everyone on the same moral page, they tend to create divisions within the ranks of the faithful. The societal construct of right and wrong is no better, as it shifts and changes with time, location, gender, race, class, government, and a host of other factors.

In any given situation, we are faced with myriad possibilities, and usually there are several courses of action that could be the "right" one. We tend to approach each decision with a vague notion of our own ethical template in hand, assuming that it will fit every situation - or making it fit if it doesn't quite cover the situation. This can also lead to ill-informed absolutist positions. I have certainly had the experience of saying, "That is just plain wrong...who could do such a thing" - only to find out later that the topic was much more complex than I had thought, and the people involved were not so different from myself. I think it is safe to say that EVERY situation is more complex than you think it is, because you simply can't know what the people directly involved in it are going through. Your understanding of any other person's actions is based in your own perceptions of them, and may not have much in common with their reality.

Given all of that, how do we know what is right in a given moment? Is there some litmus test that can guide us in all situations?

I hate to sound like a typical Buddhist, but I think the answer resides in realizing that you are part of everything, and everything is a part of you.

On whatever level you wish to examine it - economic, environmental, physical, spiritual, etc. - every decision you make affects others; it stands to reason that you should think of others while you make them. When faced with a hard decision, I often "try out" the possible choices in my head; I imagine the outcome of a given choice in as much detail as I can, and then ask myself, "can I live with that?" Perhaps the real question is, "can my neighbor live with that?"

What I'm suggesting is exactly what Jesus, the Buddha, Ghandi, Bahá’u’lláh, and a host of others have suggested over the years - a fundamental shift in worldview. A shift away from self, in favor of unity. A shift away from the petty ( and ultimately illusory) personal issues of the moment, and a shift toward concern for everyone. In essence, it is about compassion for others - it's about love.

I realize that this is not particularly shocking news. In fact, I now recall that I've said it here before - it's always about love. (That's right - even I don't remember what my previous sermons were about...)

So here is your litmus test for right action; "Is this the loving thing to do?" I have yet to encounter a situation to which it doesn't apply. If you can look at the situation with love for everyone involved, you will find the correct course for yourself everytime. That's not to say that it's the profitable course, or the easy course, or the fun course, or the pleasant course, or the satisfying course, or the expected course...

Go in Peace.

O frabjous day!

Today is the birthday of two unique men. Both were misunderstood in their times, both had huge personal issues, and both left a creative legacy that is integral to the canons of their respective fields.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - born January 27, 1756. He left more than 600 musical works, even though he died before his 36th birthday. He is considered one of the greatest musical minds in history. Take a minute to listen to some of his work today. You can get it for free here.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson - born January 27, 1832. Wrote, as Lewis Carroll, a prodigious body of children's literature which has been translated into over 30 languages, as well as numerous books on mathematics under his own name. Despite the intended audience, there are few adults who can catch all of the nuanced subtleties of the Alice books, or the less read "Sylvie and Bruno." Perhaps his most well-known work is the bloody story of the "beamish boy" and his foe, the Jabberwock.


`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

Read the rest here. Go on, read it - it's only five more quatrains. Just for fun, copy and paste it into Word and try to spell check it...

"Suicide Hotline, please hold..."

I have an odd schedule. Last night, I was in bed, dead asleep by 6:30 PM, and I got up at 2:00 AM this morning. My friends and roommates know this, and they are pretty good about trying to not wake me in the evening. This is made easier by the fact that I can sleep through just about anything - living next to a trainyard and a major overpass for a semester will do that for you. I keep these hours so that I can be done with work each day by 9:00 AM. While most of you are snug in your beds, I am making sure that the procrastinators, the homeless, the drunk, and the generally sleepless who come to my lab don't break anything.

Because I am the only person most of you know who can be counted upon to be awake at, say, 3:30 AM, I've gotten some choice phone calls and text messages while working. I've been called on account of nightmares, insomnia, illness, horniness, and deep, dark depression, but my favorites are the drunk dials.

"Hey Linusss..."
"Hey (name withheld), how are you?"
"I'm doin' jus great..."
"I can hear that. Did you go out tonight?"
"This iss not my house..."
"How much have you had to drink?"
"All uv it."
"You drank all of the alcohol at the club?"
(giggling) "No... all tha we had at home...then some uv the some uv some uv the some uv the club's."
"Where are you now?"
"At home. Well, i's somebody's home, anyway..."
"I see. So have you had anything to eat lately?" (At this point, I've given up on trying to figure out why they called me and moved on to recovery and hang-over prevention.)
"Oh yeah, had some gummy bears... you know what, Linusss?"
"I wanna' get up your kilt."
"Ok, see, that's not going to happen..."
"I jus wanna' see for m'self..."

The nightmare calls are great too. One friend called to tell me that she had dreamt that Henry Rollins was her dance partner for a recital that determined her semester grade - and he was such a good dancer that he was making her look bad. Another was wandering a cemetery, but all of the grave markers had been replaced with spoons - big, terrifying spoons. One person called to tell me about a horrible dream she had, then as soon as I answered the phone she forgot all the details.

One friend called to tell me that he had finally finished a big project that he had been stressing over for months. He had finished it about midnight, and he called me around 4:45 AM. After I congratulated him, he confessed that even though it was now done he had been in a state of anxiety about it for so long, he still couldn't sleep.

Another odd category of calls is the "don't let me fall asleep" call. I have talked or texted people into Denver to catch the red eye, into Laramie from Denver, and into Greeley from Fort Collins. Those are pretty nerve-wracking - what can I really do if they drift off while talking to me, or don't return my text? Helplessly listening to a car crash through my cell phone is one of MY nightmares...

Some nights I am happy to get them... but I'm not saying that everyone should call me in the wee hours of the morning. In fact, it would suck if my quiet hours were to be plagued by the phone, but I don't mind the occassional call or text. And isn't it nice to know that the Black Pope is there for you?

Three Small Victories

1) Strategic Victory
I just cracked the top 10 on the It's Your Turn Pente Ladder - I'm currently ranked number 6! There are over 200 players on the ladder and I started at the very bottom, so I feel pretty good about that...
By the way, everyone should belong to It's Your Turn. It's the easiest on-line game site I've found for correspondence style play. It's like playing with friends by email, but they take care of all the pesky record keeping and message sending for you. In addition to Pente they have Chess, Backgammon, Stratego, and a bunch more. Join, and be crushed by me...

2) Wardrobe Victory
Last year, I ordered the super sweet "I am ten ninjas" tee shirt from Diesel Sweeties.

Due to a shipping mishap, I got a shirt with my own personal robot Jesus instead.

I totally understand the mix-up - they are very similar, ninjas and R2D2. So this year, I ordered ten ninjas again - and I'm wearing it right now! (I also got one which reads, "1f u c4n r34d th1s u r3411y n33d t0 g37 141d")

3)Literary Victory
I finally finished reading "The Morgesons" by Elizabeth Stoddard. If you aren't familiar with this 250+ page abdominal cramp count yourself lucky, and take my word for it - reading it cover to cover is an accomplishment. I've also finished "Daisy Miller" by Henry James, but that is not as big a deal. It's like treating your own ingrown toenail, where "The Morgesons" is more like giving yourself an appendectomy with your car keys...

So I have three reasons to feel good about the day. What have you got?

Shameless Plugs

I have noticed that some of my favorite blogs are suffering from low circulation of late. This is a blatant attempt to bring the awesome might of the Minsitry to bear upon these small, but deserving blogs.

Flock Hall is a lovely little blog about our experimental commune in Laramie. Catch a glimpse of what it is like to live with Sqee Piddly, Ben Ben Our Ben Bad Ben, the Travisi, His Sinfulness the Black Pope, and Ajax the WonderGrey; featuring special guest appearances by G-Fresh and the Good Doctor Smith...

Zombies are a serious threat. Given the performance of FEMA during the Katrina disaster, I feel better getting my zombie preparedness info from the good people at the Zombie Blog. The Hopeless Romantic and company really know their stuff - they keep you abreast of all the latest developments in zombie entertainment, theory, and survival. Become a regular reader, and when the dead rise, everyone will look to you for guidance.

Just to make sure you don't think this is all about blogs to which I contribute, I bring you... Danger Hazzard. This blog is a breath of fresh air in the fart-filled elevator of the blogsphere. Irreverent, indignant, and indie, Levi serves up a steaming torrent of student angst couched in literary finery, with a dash of white boy humor to keep it real. He is my choice for angry young Man of the Year.

Ever wonder why retail employees do the things they do? The Rambling Retailer takes you to the dark side of the counter, and explains the arcane ways of this ancient cult of commercialism. He is occassionally pedantic and preachy, but always revealing - worth a read if you ever shop at the Evil Empire or the Temple of K.

It wouldn't be me if I didn't hype a religious site. This one, Pilgrims & Parish is a very interesting mix of Catholic and Protestant doctrine. Fascinating. Confused, but fascinating...

Enjoy these gems of the blogosphere, and find some of your own. Go forth, search, and report back.

Sunday Sermon

It's been a long while since I posted a Sunday Sermon. I got out of the habit last March, and it never realy seemed like the right time to begin again. It seemed to me that the sermons had gotten stale, so I stopped. I know now why priests and pastors rely so heavily on the calendar for topics - it's not easy to come up with something relevant and pithy every week. Sometimes, I wish the Flock had an agreed-upon calendar - to simply look up the date and be referred to the relevant scripture for each Sunday of the year would make sermons much easier to generate.

Instead, the Flock is a diverse group, and not everyone is at the same place spiritually. In fact, not everyone who reads this blog even believes in the spirit... so where does an honest shepherd like myself look for inspiration? I decided to go back to the very beginning of this - back to my ordination.

On Saturday, February 21st, 2004, I agreed to "pomote the freedom of religion and do that which is right." That's all the Universal Life Church requires of you for ordination. They go on to say, "it is up to the individual to determine what is right as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others and is within the law. That is as close to the Golden Rule as one can come." When I really pondered that vow tonight, I realized that I've not kept it very well. We'll examine the first half - promoting freedom of religion - today, and perhaps I'll talk about doing that which is right next week.

As a scholar of religions, it is my job to study and try to understand all religions. Perhaps one could even say that what I am really studying is the religious impulse - the human tendency to seek out the Divine. Naturally, my own likes and dislikes have colored that study, and I tend to be more kindly disposed toward Eastern modes of thought. When I am presenting ideas that come from the Buddhist, Hindu, or Taoist traditions, I tend to be gentle and respectful of them, while Christian, Jewish, or Islamic concepts usually receive pretty harsh treatment from me. Looking back over the posts on this blog, I feel I've been particularly harsh to the alphabet soup crowd (JW, LDS, SDA), but Roman Catholics and Evangelicals have felt my pen's caustic sting as well.

As a scholar, this is just simple bias, something to be watched for and edited out of academic writing - but as the shepherd of the Flock, it is a violation of my vow. I should be making this a safe and welcoming place for all faiths, not just my chosen favorites. The religious freedom that I have promoted has really been only freedom for those who agreed with me, those who were comfortable making light of the faiths spawned of Abraham.

It may seem obvious to say this, but tolerance is not about learning to like every faith out there - it's about tolerating them. Think about the way we use that word - we tolerate the noise of small children, we tolerate our parents or spouses nagging us, we tolerate our neighbors playing their music too loud, we tolerate aches and pains after we work out. We put up with these things in order to get along in our homes, in our families, in our lives, and in our neighborhoods.

I think this blog, this virtual neighborhood, needs to get along better. I'm not saying we all need to join in a group hug with Fred Phelps, Osama bin Laden, and Peter Gilmore, but we can accept that they exist, and that they have reasons to believe and promulgate the faiths they embrace.

Before anyone thinks that this means the Ministry is going to become a wussified mutual appreciation society, let me clarify - I'll still be dishing out the fire and brimstone where it is warranted, but I plan to do so in a more respectful way. I encourage you all to try it too.

When you hear of the latest pronouncment on god's wrath by Pat Robertson, or when a new tape is released by Osama talking about how it's god's will that Americans die, instead of rolling your eyes and thinking, "fucking fundies...", take a minute to put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself if your version of the divine leads you to beliefs that are viewed as odd or dangerous by others. In other words, seek out similarities rather than differences. Once you have established common ground with the other (even if all you can find in common with them is that you are both air-breathers), it is more likely that any criticism you may have of their faith will be rational, and presented in a respectful way.

As for me, I'll try to practice what I just preached. And beginning today, there will be regular preaching again - every Sunday.

Go in Peace.

Your Lucky Day

I have been feeling a bit grumpy of late. The weather is chilly, the skies are frequently grey, and I don't really need to be here (my degree is done). I keep telling myself that I could be in California right now, where the lows are in the 50s. To complete my malaise, I left my cell phone in the AG building last night, and naturally, the classroom I left it in was locked up when I returned to retrieve it.

I know that I'm not the only one who feels this way... This is a February kind of mood, and February is a ways off yet. To shake this feeling (or at least to put it off until its appointed time) I've decided to look instead at all the reasons today is actually a good day for me and all of my loyal readers.

Today is a good day because...

You didn't leave your window down overnight

Your job doesn't suck as much as his

This isn't your Lazyboy

You are neither of these two

You don't have to pay his therapy bills

And most importantly, you are spending your free time reading this blog, rather than writing Danish Phantom of the Opera Fanfic, then translating it into English...

Yes, you are fortunate indeed.

Easy Post

My last lojong post seems to have silenced everyone but The Hopeless Romantic, so I feel compelled to put up something that reassures my other readers that my blog is a safe place for your brain to let down its hair. I think I have found just the thing - sit back and let your jaw go slack with wonder...

When it is too cold to practice your snorkeling skills outdoors, you naturally turn to pool diving. Bogdats (Breathe Once, Go Down And Touch) might hold your interest for a few minutes, but what then?

Well, you could gather some friends together and play Underwater Hockey. Also known as "Octopush", this game has a worldwide following, and hotly contested national and world championships.

Written descriptions don't do it justice. Check out these videos from a couple college teams (if you turn up the sound you can hear the puck and sticks scraping along the bottom...).

Clip 1
Clip 2
Clip 3

Clip 1
Clip 2
Clip 3

Makes boomeranging and kiting seem positively ordinary by comparison...

Lojong #9

#9 In all activities, train with slogans.

Chogyam Trungpa:
The point is to catch the first thought... The idea is that in catching the first thought, that first thought should have some words.

In this case, whenever you feel that quality of me-ness, whenever you feel "I" - and maybe "am" as well - then you should think of these two sayings:

[1] May I receive all evils; may my virtues go to others.

[2] Profit and victory to others; loss and defeat to myself.

It takes quite a lot of effort because it is a big job. That is why it is called the Mahayana [big vehicle]; it is a big deal. You cannot fall asleep when you are driving on this big highway...

Dilgo Khyentse:
An example of these maxims would be: 'May the evil deeds of others ripen as my suffering; may all my virtuous acts bear fruit as others' happiness.' This is what the Kadampa masters always used to recite. It is good to repeat such verses in the post-meditation period. If we do so, Bodhicitta is sure to grow in us and therefore we should devote much time and energy to this practice.

Linus Furious:
I know you thought (hoped, maybe?) that I had given up on this line of posts, but my need for tonglen became quite apparent recently. I respond very poorly to passive aggressive behavior, and I was reminded by several people yesterday that we live in a passive aggressive society (don't worry - they narrowly escaped, so no one got hurt). Slogans like #2 above are (or should be) central to my practice - on good days, they keep me calm and smiling. On days not so good, they just keep me from going on a multi-state killing spree..

For those of you who have been playing along since the beginning, today we have a little quiz...

What is Bodhicitta?
(Before you just Google it, delve in your own mind and see if you can dredge it up from previous posts here.)
Once you remember what it is, please give us an example of how you are working toward it.

If you missed the explanation of the lojong sayings and tonglen meditation, click here.

It hardly seems possible...

I went shopping at a certain large electronics store chain this weekend. I don't want to get sued, so in the interest of anonymity, I'll refer to it as "Optimum Purchase." I recently decided to replace some of my beloved old cassettes with CDs, beginning with the 1990 Concrete Blonde classic, "Bloodletting." I searched the aisle and to my shock it was there, for a mere $11.99. I snatched it up with glee, planning to listen to it on the drive back to Hell - I mean Laramie.

I was about halfway up College Avenue when it was finally opened and loaded up. I cued the first song, anticipating "The Vampire Song"... yet some sort of horrible hillbilly bluegrass abortion fell from the speakers. I looked at the CD case - the cover art was right, the liner notes were as I remembered from the days when I had this album on vinyl. I ejected the CD, and it also claimed to be Concrete Blonde, "Bloodletting." I popped it back in and checked several other tracks - every song was a whining tenor and a nasal alto yowling about prison sentences and how their parents had been siblings, over a pack of banjos and fiddles.

I returned to Optimum Purchase, and calmly explained to the young man at the customer service desk that although it said Concrete Blonde, it was not, in fact, Concrete Blonde. He looked at me as if I had suddenly sneezed up several live goldfish on his countertop. I explained it again. Then I explained it to his supervisor. Then once again. Despite my explanations, and my confession that I have owned this album three times before and thus know what it is supposed to sound like, they clearly did not believe me.

Finally, they said I could exchange it. I told the manager that I would only accept an exchange if they opened the new one and played it for me to be certain that it really was Concrete Blonde. He initially shook his head, but once he saw the "don't make me tip your building over" look on my face, he agreed. I checked the aisle, and naturally, the inbred Appalachian wailing was the only copy. After explaining it to another manager (twice), they finally decided that they should give me a refund, lest I begin to cough up larger, deadlier fishes.

I want to hear "The Sky is a Poisonous Garden" while I drive - is that so much to ask?

Karmic Funk

The janitor just ruined the belt on his vacuum cleaner. It smells like Bigfoot's penis wearing a burnt fur condom (don't ask me how I know, just take my word for it). It's that unique combination of dead skin cells, singed hair, and melting rubber that only a vacuum cleaner can give you. Seriously, it smells like a smoldering tire set in the middle of a hog pen in August, or like a fire broke out in a colostomy ward the morning after Enchilada Wednesday. It once made a proud skunk cry itself to sleep out of sheer frustration.

This smell is so strong that it has opinions and a personality. It's a Sagittarius, likes to rollerblade, and isn't ready to settle down yet. It's pro life, votes Republican, lies on its taxes, supports the gun lobby, and believes the death penalty is a deterrent. It also roots for the Cubs, buys "girls gone wild" videos, and wets the bed.

At any rate, it smells bad in here, and will for a few more minutes. In the meantime, I'll just sit here gagging quietly to myself. What kind of karma could possibly have brought this smell to me? Was I an evil perfume maker in a previous life?


I almost never post twice in one day, but this is seriously damaging my calm...

How does a guy get so wrong? Take, for instance, this guy (believe it or not, it is completely work safe).

It's a joke, right? I know it must be a joke. I'm fervently hoping it's a joke. Please tell me it's a joke. With your grandma? When does that get fun?

Psychic or just Psychotic?

While driving home from California I kept having these momentary visions of a wreck, or rather, the aftermath of a wreck. I hope it was just sleep deprivation, and not some kind of psychic foreshadowing...

The car was crushed about me, upside down and tilted at an odd angle, as though it sat in a deep ditch beside the road. I was injured, and to make these flashes of a possible future more realistic, my mind dredged up every hurt, large or small, that I had ever felt and used them to concoct the bloody aftermath of a high speed roll-over. Nicks while shaving became slivers of windshield glass, chipped teeth from junior high baseball filled in for the bitten steering wheel, and a little stab wound from my late teens simulated the gear shift impaling my guts. Cracked ribs, bloody lips and noses, concussions, busted knuckles, torn ligaments, and a dislocated shoulder from twenty years of dangerous, adrenaline-junky pursuits came alive simultaneously as the results of not wearing a seat belt.

Trapped in the wreck of my body, trapped in the wreck of my car, I could feel life leaking away through all the broken spots. The change from my pockets, two CDs, and a map of the western states sat soaking in a pool of blood on the headliner right next to my face. It was clear to me that even if they could pry me from the car, I, like it, was totaled.

So... who's up for a roadtrip with the Black Pope?

The Midnight Run

I lied (duh, "Black Pope"... ). I never went to Kingman. I went to Vegas, then boldly raced (observing all posted speed limits) across the land of Mor-mon. Prophet avoidance be damned!!! 18 straight hours of driving, and as of now, I have been awake for 39 hours.

Utah is really much better at night - what you can't see can't bore you to death. Because of this the trip was unfortunately quite dull in the hallucination category. Aside from a random dinosaur siting (turned out to be a construction crane), there were no other bonafide visions. No Helena Bonham Carter on the shoulder, no crocodiles in the median, not even a flash of the Sock God. If you have no idea what I am talking about, then you have some archives to catch up on...

Somebody remind me to tell you all about the waking nightmare I kept having about slowly bleeding to death in the wreckage of the car; that was a good one.

I have Magners!

Remember, a sleepless, drunk Pope is a fun Pope! (You should lighten up Benedict...)


Black Pope on the move...

Later today, I depart the unHoly Land. I'll be taking a southern route, to avoid crossing into the lands of Mor-mon; the Prophet and I have recently negotiated a pact of mutual avoidance. I'll be skipping the great Citadel of Las Vegas, in favor of revisiting Kingman, Arizona, where our tour bus broke down for 3 interminable days in the summer of 1983...

See you at Flock Hall.

Time Warp

I wrote this post about a month ago, saved it as a draft, and then forgot to ever post it. I thought about saving it for next Christmas, but I knew I'd just forget it again. Instead, we're all pretending today is December 22nd...

Some churches don't seem to feel the holiday spirit...

Technically, they are correct. Saint Nicholas was not martyred - he only used all of his family's considerable wealth to aid the poor and the sick during an epidemic in his village of Patara, in what is now Turkey. Oh, and he also served as the Bishop of Myra during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, known for his ruthless persecution of Christians. Ol' Nick was imprisoned, tortured, and eventually exiled, but he didn't die at the hands of the Romans.

When he finally did die, however, he was buried in the cathedral at Myra, and it is said that his tomb filled with liquid manna which healed the sick. Let's see Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson manage that...