The Reason for the Season

In much the same way that St. Patrick's Day irritates me because I'm Irish every day, Halloween is irritating to me because I am dark and a bit morbid all the time. I didn't wear a costume to work today - just didn't feel the need. My all-black wardrobe is the topic of much discussion at the office anyway. One of my coworkers said, "Linus doesn't need a costume; he's a vampire everyday." A few weeks ago, the boss asked if I was a goth. A while back, one of my female cubicle mates asked me if my underwear was also black (of course she was suitably horrified by my revelation that I never wear any).

I guess the point of all this is that I don't need a holiday to remind me that we are all going to die. I suppose it's good that there is a time each year when people might spend a moment thinking about their own mortality, but I am inclined to believe that the vast majority of healthy people avoid thinking about death as much as possible.

I, on the other hand, have become a bit obsessed over the last decade or so. Often, when I am in bed waiting for sleep to overtake me, I close my eyes and try to imagine the stillness of death. I imagine fighting off death for as long as possible, then taking what will be my last breath. I think of the dark, satin-covered closeness of a coffin, or sometimes I try to envision the sudden combustion of the crematorium chamber.

(I'm aware that I have issues.)

I fear it, of course, but many Buddhist masters over the centuries have encouraged their students to consider death - their own, and that of others - intimately. Some Buddhist paths still have a tradition of sending monks to the burial grounds to contemplate decomposing corpses. According to some versions of the story, when the Buddha needed new clothes following his enlightenment, he gathered strips of cloth from the decomposed bodies of the poor and washed them, then sewed them into a robe. His very clothing was a reminder of the fleeting nature of life, and how we all must prepare for that abrupt stop at the end.

So, when the little ghouls have finally stopped ringing your doorbell (or when the bartender rings his bell for last call) spend a little time thinking about the reason for all of this costumed madness. Think about the time when you can no longer stop death's arrival, and imagine how you'll face that moment. You may be surprised at yourself.

Sunday Sermon

Real Feelings

So we went to the Samhain ritual. It was surprisingly good. The celebrants were serious about it, and the feeling in the room was definitely as "spiritual" as any church service I've ever been to. I think they could definitely add to the visual impact of their rites by spending some money on better vestments, but that may just be the costuming/theatre wonk in me talking.

At the point in the ceremony where they asked the spirits of everyone's departed loved ones to enter and be with them, several of the participants became very emotional. After the ritual, I heard several say that their loved ones (including departed pets) came and joined them in the circle. It was very moving for several of them, and everyone seemed to be enjoying a bit of a post-ritual high. The socilaizing afterward reminded me of the post-service coffee hour at a presbyterian church, but there was an excitement that was tangible in the participants.

My point in telling you all this is to address an attitude that I have encountered (and been guilty of) whenever Paganism or any 'new' religious tradition is discussed. It is common for both academics and ordinary people to dismiss the spiritual experiences of adherents of new religious movements. Often, the greater the visible emotional content of a spiritual experience, the more that experience is discounted or used as proof of the "insanity" of the participants. While this same attitude might be found in a discussion of the spiritual experiences of adherents to the Abrahamic Faiths, it's rare that anyone will suggest that their experiences aren't real to them, or that they are based in a form of mental weakness or insanity.

Believe me, I understand the impulse to be dismissive. When the pagans I know start talking about how trees healed them or how their dead cat visited them last night, I have to force myself to not roll my eyes and say, "Really? Cool... those must have been some awesome mushrooms."

But I don't do that (anymore). I listen to them, and I take it at face value. If they believe that their dead cat came to see them last night, I see no reason to argue with them about it. Unlike so many other religious traditions, they aren't telling me that I'm an evil sinner because I don't share in their beliefs. They aren't raising their children to belive that sex is a sinful act, suitable only for procreation. They aren't teaching their children that all gays and lesbians are bound for hell. They don't see themselves as masters of the planet and all life forms on it. So I can let their beliefs, some of which may seem patently silly, go by without feeling the need to argue with them.

Of course, if they were trying to legislate how I live, or telling me that they alone were right, I'd go off on them just like I go off on fundies. I guess the message of this sermon is that personal spiritual experiences should be just that - personal. Believe whatever you like, practice however you wish... right up to the point that it starts to fuck with someone else.

Go in Peace.

I Got Nothing...

I had a great idea this year... I wanted to suggest a group acticity that was somewhat removed from the crass commercialism (and alcoholism) of Halloween. I wanted to get the Flock together, pick a costume theme, go to Fort Collins or maybe Denver and do something as the big disfuntional queer alternative religion-friendly family that we are. We left it at the discussion stage. That was almost a month ago.

Then I had to deal with unexpected bills, the weather turned cold, my racquetball hobby turned into an obsessive addiction, Congress killed Habeas Corpus, Mark Foley resigned, North Korea tested a nuke... at any rate, I came up with nothing terribly unique for Halloween.

The running theory now is that a few of us are going to a local Samhain ritual on Saturday evening. No costume theme, no trip out of town. Leave a comment if you want to join us, or if you have a better idea.

Are They People?

I'd like to redirect the discussion of speciesism to the concept of Great Ape Personhood (GAP). Proponents hold that the hominid apes (including chimps, gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans) should be treated as persons under the law, with limited rights. Due in part to pressure from groups supporting great ape personhood, a ban on research using great apes is in effect in the Netherlands, New Zealand, Great Britain, Sweden, Germany, and Japan.

Interesting ideas related to this topic can be found at the following sites:

Great Ape Status of Personhood - GRASP

The Great Ape Project

Project R&R - Release and Restitution for Chimpanzees in Research.

Famous Apes

Chantek, the First Orangutan Person
and Ambassador of the Rain Forest

I have mixed feelings on this topic. It seems that the proponents of GAP have some valid points, but I also wonder if it is the best move strategically. Fighting for the rights of certain species individually rather than advocating for all animals might backfire in a legal sense. What does the Flock think?

Sunday Sermon

Since the Disapproving Rabbits were such a hit, I thought we'd continue on the topic of animals.

I think they get a raw deal for the most part. For most of human existence we have used them as we pleased. For labor, for food, for their skins and bones. We've manipulated them, bred them to suit our needs, and exterminated whole species. Certainly, we do bring a few species into our lives and make them part of our families, but they are the pampered few; the vast majority of animals are better off when they have no interaction with humans at all.

Now, I'm not a radical animal rights activist by any means. I acknowledge that there was a time when humans needed to use animals in order to survive, and I understand that many scientific discoveries are the result of animal-based research. I would just ask if it's needed now.

Do we still need to exploit animals in order to survive?

I don't belong to PETA and I have never thrown paint on anyone wearing fur (although I can see how that could be fun...), but I do think that the answer is no. For the most part, we no longer NEED to treat animals that way - we choose to. We are guilty of speciesism.

Speciesism is prejudice against other life forms because they aren't humans. I know this will probably begin a row (if any of my 5 readers actually bother to argue with me...) but I think this is simply another form of injustice that needs to be fought.

Go in Peace. (And discuss.)

Animal Disapproval

Anyone who has ever shared their life with a companion animal knows that at times they disapprove of us. That is not to say that they stop loving us, but rather that they love us in spite of our obvious shortcomings...

"I'm Latte, and I disapprove of this message."

Ajax the WonderGrey frequently tells me of his disapproval - when I laugh too loudly while on the phone he will often say "No" in a very stern, authoritative voice (I wonder where he learned that...). Gandalf the White (the elderly ferret I addopted recently - more on that in a later post) usually shows his disapproval of me by dragging one of my shoes into the next room and hiding it. I believe this is an attempt to keep me from leaving the house until I shape up and behave in a fashion more acceptable to his delicate ferret sensibilities.

I once had an American Eskimo who would simply ignore my presence when she disapproved of me. She would still follow commands - she was far too serious about obedience trials to actually disobey - but she could do all of the AKC exercises without even making eye contact with me. Her irritation with me was nearly palpable.

My Jack Russell would give out a sigh that spoke volumes on her disgust with me, especially when I was trying to get her to come out from under the covers to go outside in the wee hours of the morning. My ex-wife had a Saint Bernard who would put on the most mournful face whenever she saw a slicker brush...

If you've never had a disapproving pet, I endorse it most heartily. It keeps one grounded and stifles all manner of hubris. Until recently, my recommendation for those seeking the ultimate in animal disdain would have been cats - they're terribly proficient at gazing down upon their human slaves with utter disrelish - but that was before I discovered the Disapproving Rabbits.

Ordinarily, I'd be tempted to write my own captions, but the woman who maintains this site is top notch - the captions are hers. Clearly, she has been disapproved of by many animals, and she has a remarkable grasp of animal disgust.

"Hazel: the rabbit that disapproved of Christmas."

"Nope, no sir, I don't like it."

That last one is very nearly my favorite. It is a fitting lead-in to "The Many Disapprovals of Cinnamon." Cinnamon is a veritable dynamo of disapproval. Click here to experience the full power of a withering bunny glare...

Template Issue

Yes, I know my template is whacked. No, I don't know what kind of bad karma could cause a template fart of this nature. Black Vatican Web Gnomes are working double shifts under the lash to restore the infernal service to which you are accustomed. Your patience is appreciated.

Sunday Sermon

Cultural Translation

I am one of those sentimental types who adheres to the idea that all people across the globe are seeking the same things - love, nourishment, shelter, peace, etc. If this is true, then it would stand to reason that the true wisdom that arises from thinking deeply on our shared needs should have a universal relevance, regardless of the place and time in which it is garnered. Unfortunately, the many unique social mechanisms that have evolved for securing those universal desires, as well as the means to convey the wisdom thus won, are the very basis of cultural difference. Because of these differences, it is often difficult to take the wisdom of one great thinker and make it accessible to seekers from other cultural groups.

There have been many attempts to translate the wisdom of a given culture into forms that can be understood by members of entirely different cultures - like trying to translate the ideas of a renunciant Indian prince or a Galilean carpenter into lessons that apply to the lives of Americans thousands of years later. Adepts spend lifetimes studying the minute details of other cultures attempting to make certain that the message is not lost in a tangle of misunderstood idiom. Those who are best suited for this work have a deep love of the material, and a fervent desire to make the message clear. All too often, it is only a limited success.

Occasionally, however, it is just about perfect. Observe...

Go in Peace

Waste Time Well

Here, in no particular order, are my current favorite time wasting thingies...






Ray Ray



Sunday Sermon

Filling the Pews

When I posted excerpts of the Brick Testament last Sunday a lot of readers wondered, "Why Legos?"

I wondered this as well, and charged the crack investigative reporters of the Black Vatican press corps with finding out. It turns out that the evangelical movement has been targeting the Lego, Duplo, and Megablok communities for some time now, and the photos below clearly show that their efforts have been successful.

I think the Flock needs to reach out to this community as well. Take the time to reconnect with the Lego people in your life. Welcome them into whatever form of worship you practice. Personally, I plan to strap a couple Lego people to my boomerangs this Sunday. Now that I mention it, anybody want to throw in the next few days? We haven't had a 'rang mass in ages...

Go in Peace.


Our country was built on it. Our governmental and societal processes are based on the premise that rational people can resolve even the most difficult of issues by means of civil discourse. Too bad being rational and civil is so out of fashion these days.

Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert in prime form. It's a few years old, but it's a classic...

Love Hate Hope Faith

Do not click here if you have anything important to do for the next few minutes...

If you do click there, definitely try number 42. Go ahead and try it now. I'll wait.

Fun, huh?

Number 79 is now the official flash animation of the Black Vatican...

Pick your favorite from the list, and analyze it in light of current theory. Use examples, be concise, and submit your response in haiku format. Extra credit is available for good use of gerunds.

Sunday Sermon

Getting the Word Out

In this modern world, all religions face the difficulty of presenting their core teachings in a way that will grab the attention of new readers. To be honest, most scripture is pretty dry, and often filled with ancient metaphors and idioms that will likely be lost on the first-time reader. Many different approaches have been tried, including graphic novels, movies, animation, and thousands of translations, with limited success. Finally, an enterprising minister has put the bible into what just might be the ultimate medium for it - Legos.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what hell looks like...

The Brick Testament was produced by The Reverend Brendon Powell Smith, and the power of the message has never been more clear... check out these links.

On Giving

On Lust

On the Law of Moses

I think we should all take some time to investigate these teachings. Perhaps other faiths should adopt this method. Imagine a Lego Dhammapada, or a Lego Koran... I think a Lego version of Lao Tszu would be a big seller.

I'll leave you with my favorite image from the Brick Testament. It come from the section On Marriage vs Castration...

Go in Peace.