spirituality

FSG and accessibility

Hi friends. Some rumors have been going around relating to the Free Spirit Gathering and access for the disabled, and I wanted to clear up a few facts. This is my own opinion as an event staffer, not an official FSA declaration, but hopefully it will put to rest some disinformation that's going around.

First of all, the Free Spirit Alliance is committed to making our events as assessable as we can. While we -- like all religious organizations, and programs operated by them -- are exempt from the accessibility requirements of Title III of the ADA, we still take proactive steps like offering point-to-point transportation throughout the campground, and maintaining a cabin especially for accessible housing. After all, some of our valued staffers have disabilities, and we all recognize that in a few decades we might need a hand ourselves!

The safety of festival goers is another priority for us, and for this reason powered vehicles are generally disallowed from FSG, except for a couple of golf carts used by staff -- to do things like offer point-to-point transportation. But, as our web site explains, we do make exceptions for mobility aids for the disabled -- though we request and require that they be operated in a safe manner.

As with all elements of our events, we seek constant improvement in accessibility. We are considing developing a FAQ document on the subject, and we welcome your input; or if you have any other questions or concerns about accessibility or safety, we invite your comments. Please contact me privately and I'll forward them as appropriate. Thanks!

"All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace"

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
by Richard Brautigan

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
       (right now please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
       (it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Chaos, Robert's Rules, and messages from the Goddess

Since last fall, I've been on a push to get the Free Spirit Alliance -- a Pagan/Pantheist organization I've been involved with for several years, and of which I'm currently vice-president -- to move away from the use of Robert's Rules of Order at its business meetings. I found a more consensus oriented alternative called Martha's Rules, and was going to give a presentation on it at the FSA business meeting Saturday during the Free Spirit Gathering, our main event.

To that end, I spend several hours coming up with a handout to distribute at the meeting, listing Martha's Rules and giving my arguments against Robert's. I printed out a bunch of copies.

Saturday, getting ready for the meeting, I grabbed my print-outs -- and found that all but the top one were gibberish. I recall that there was a paper jam during the printing; perhaps after clearing that, some settings got bollixed up. I don't know. Point is, I only had one useful copy.

I went up to the "White House", the historic house at Camp Ramblewood that serves as the base of operations for our event, to see if more copies could be made. No luck. While I was up there, I had the need for a rest room break, so I left my one good copy in a safe place (on top of the White House mini-fridge).

When I returned a few minutes later, it had vanished.

Arrrggghhh! Now I couldn't even read off of my notes.

Fortunately, I am a Discordian. When Chaos and Disorder appear, I know them as manifestations of the One True Goddess, Eris. Clearly, this was a divine message.

And what was the message? To go off book, and speak from the heart.

So I did. Rather than going from my notes, I talked about how I had come to my first FSA business meeting during the lead-up to the Great Split of 2003 (if you were there, you know; if not, it's a long story not necessarily suitable for discussion here); how I thought that our president at the time, Kalibran, did a fantastic job of guiding a very contentious discussion; and how I had wanted to acknowledge that. I spoke of how I tried to bring up a motion to express our thanks to Kal -- and was told that I could not, that the floor was closed or some such bit of Robert's Rule-ness. My first experience of an FSA meeting, in other words, was Robert's Rules squashing an attempt at a sincerce expression of thanks.

I don't think that's a good thing for an organization whose chartered purposes include "Maintaining communication between congregations" and "Promoting harmony and good will within the pantheist community".

To my delight, I found that my points were well received; so much so that, rather than scheduling a vote for the next meeting on a bylaws change to use Martha's Rules, the membership decided to adopt them on a trial basis starting at the next meeting. (It certainly helped that, in the course of our discussion, we got four or five layers deep in the Rules, with a motion, an amended motion, a point of order, and a point of information all floating around at one point. I couldn't have asked for a better illustration what what we Do Not Want.)

Saturday evening, after the meeting, my friend Sigre came up me. "I have something for you," she said, and produced the missing copy of my notes -- which she had found right where I had left it. So not only did it disappear in order to prompt a change in my presentation, it reappeared afterwards.

Such is the magical path. Keep doing it long enough, and weird little things like this happen. (See, for example, the case of the confounding keys.) What does it mean? Did someone, for reasons unknown, pick up that paper in the few minutes I was gone, and replace it later? Did I go temporarily nuts, and miss seeing it sitting where I had left it? Did the forces of chaos (Hail Eris!) decide to spin me around and do-si-do? I can only report my observations.

George Carlin on religion

"Religion, at best, is like a lift in your shoe. If you need it for a while, and it makes you walk straight and feel better, fine. But you don't need it forever, or you can become permanently disabled. Religion is like a lift in your shoe, and I say just don't ask me to wear your shoes. And let's not go down and nail lifts on to the native's feet." -- George Carlin (Saturday Night Live, Season 1)

here and now with the Buddha, Walt Whitman, Dale Carnegie, and Calvin and Hobbes

Some of the feedback I received on the first draft of the book suggested that a final chapter, a sort of capstone to tie it all together, might be useful. I've been banging that idea around for a bit, and I think this week I got the core of it down: nothing really new of course, but I do like the variety of sources I'm quoting, and thanks to Amy Wilde for the first Dale Carnegie quote.

The religions that have been inflicted upon us for centuries have declared that this life is nothing but a preparation or a test for some eternal, non-physical life to come. It's certainly a useful idea for maintaining hierarchical power structures: if you're getting the short end of the stick now, hey, relax, no need to work for equality or anything crazy like that. Keep quiet and you'll get your Eternal Reward in the Great Beyond.

But more than that: in putting forth the existence of some more important supernatural realm, these religions have denigrated the physical world, calling it "mere matter" -- as if there were anything "mere" about atoms forged in the heart of an exploding supernova, slowly organizing into complex forms, pulling on and being pulled by every other particle in the Universe through the mystery of gravity; as if the stuff that makes you and me and whales and diamonds and the rings of Saturn and the Orion nebula, is deficient, worthy of contempt.

Why? Largely because it changes: it cycles around, it is subject to birth and decay. And rather than accept that is is our desire for changelessness that is at fault, mainstream religions -- as well as Spiritualism and many "New Age" beliefs that derive from it -- have held the Universe guilty for not being what we think we want.

But in contrast, the naturalism out of which Paganism emerged tells us that this world and everything in it is a wonder; in Whitman's words, "a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars".

And a famous Zen koan tells us that the Buddha-nature is present even in the lowliest objects. The story goes that Master Yun-men was just coming out of the outhouse when a student asked him, "What is the Buddha?" As it happened, the master happened to see the paddle used to spread the outhouse manure into compost piles, and answered, "Dry shit on a stick!"

It's all about this world, here, now.

And I mean now! Here! Wherever you are, reading an electronic copy on your computer screen, or sitting with a dead trees version in the library, or outside under a tree, or inside on the crapper. The dust on your keyboard, the ant crawling on your foot, the annoying guy talking too loud, the shit stain in the toilet bowl, that funny smell, the ache in your knee, the ache in your heart, this is IT, the dance of atoms, the net of jewels. There's nothing to wait for. The universe has a billion billion billion tellers, no lines, no waiting, instant service. Enlightenment? "You're soaking in it", as an old TV commercial for dish soap said.

what would Spock do?

Somewhere in my parents' house is an old elementary school photo of me in a Spock shirt. I don't mean a t-shirt with a picture of Mr. Spock on it (I've got one of those now), I mean a dark blue tunic with a black collar and a silver patch in the shape of the swooshy stylized rocketship of the Enterprise (later, Star Fleet) logo, with the Science department symbol (an oval inside a circle, that always looks like a basketball to me).

When I was in high school, my physics teacher dubbed me with the nickname "Spock".

Clearly, as you can tell by the beard, I grew up to be the Evil Spock; nevertheless, this article at io9, "How You Can Live Like A Vulcan Without Bleeding Green", is right up my alley.

Vulcans have something most made-up races can only dream of: a central contradiction that's ultra-compelling. They're overflowing cauldrons of passion, who have mastered their emotions to such a high degree they appear almost robotic. No matter how pissed off or freaked out you might ever get, you can't be as hot-blooded as a Vulcan. And you'll have to work pretty hard to be half as cool.

Vulcans have a philosophy, a way of life, and a spiritual discipline. And they get things done. Best of all, you don't really need alien physiology and fancy powers to embrace the Vulcan way of life.

...

So here are ten ways you can live like a Vulcan, starting today.

Their advice is pretty good, including items such as: wish other people long life and prosperity, celebrate diversity, become a vegetarian (Spock was, as best I can recall, my only example when I stopped eating meat in the early 80s -- vegetarians were not yet everywhere!), and learn to meditate.

a study of joke religions

As a genuine and authorized Discordian Pope, as well as an ordained minister of the Church of the SubGenius, and an early evangelist for Pastafarianism, I would be remiss if I did not share this thought-provoking paper by Laurel Narizny:

Satirical and parody religions developed in accord with what Agehananda Bharati calls the “pizza effect.” The original pizza was a hot baked bread exported to America, embellished, and returned to Italy, where it became a national dish; similarly, the first
joke religions cobbled together numerous aspects of popular culture, occulture, and counterculture; synthesized them with postmodern ideas about religion; and are now subtly transforming religion in the United States. Joke religions are, in effect, a synthesis of and a vernacular reaction to both institutional religions, such as Christianity, and the more loosely defined “institutional” occult and counterculture groups, such as neo-paganism.

David Chidester -— the only scholar so far, as noted above, to publish anything more than a passing mention of joke religions -— calls joke religions “authentic fakes.” They are authentic because they negotiate the politics of being human in relation to the divine, which is essentially how I have defined religion, but are also explicit parodies of religion—“simultaneously simulations and the real thing.”

...

Many people consider joke religions “fakes” because of their use of startling, even offensive, humor. As we have seen, however, religious humor is a form of “deep play” that works to renegotiate ideas about tradition, space, identity, community, and the body,
and uses paradox to further one’s progress toward enlightenment.

Theseus's ship, emptiness/no-self, and a Baltimore landmark

The puzzle of Theseus's Ship is an ancient philosophical head-scratcher, that ask us to ponder this question: over time, all the timbers and parts and pieces of a ship are replaced. Is it still the same ship? (I recall hearing this asked about the ship of Ulysses/Odysseus, but apparently Theseus's boat is the canonical example.)

I've found that if you chase this question around and around enough, you eventually see that it's meaningless. We can agree that it's the same ship, or not, for different purposes. The sailor who says "I've sailed on the same same for twenty years!" is right, but so is the helmsman who complains "This is not the same ship since we replaced her rudder and sails and keel!" "Same" is an idea of convenience, a mental construct for sorting out the buzzy spiky world of sensory experience, not a deep truth.

This is, I think, essentially the Buddhist idea of sunyata ("emptiness").

The famous Heart Sutra tells us that everything is "empty", that Avalokitesvara (a.k.a. Kwan Yin, Kannon, Kanzeon, Kwan Seum Bosal) saw this and "overcame all pain". In his commentary The Heart of Understanding (which I cannot recommend highly enough), Thich Nhat Hahn points out that we have to ask, "Mr. Avalokita, empty of what?" The answer is that all things are empty of a separate self, empty of an existence separate from the rest of the world. The ship does not have a "self" separate from the boards and nails and rigging and crew -- and these elements are always changing.

And -- this is the really radical part of Buddhism, as I understand it -- the same is true for our "selves". This is the idea called anatman, "no self". I go around with the idea that there's a "me" separate from my body and my mind, that remains constant even as body and mind change, but 'tain't so, any more than there's a ship separate from the bits that make her up. If that sounds depressing, trying looking at it from a different angle: if there is no self separate from the Universe, that doesn't mean that you are nothing, that means that you are one with the whole Universe.

Consult your local Zen master for further enlightenment, because I want to move on to a fascinating example of Theseus's ship: that good old boat that every local kid visits on a school field trip, that National Historic Landmark, that Baltimore class-A tourist attraction, the USS Constellation.

There was a frigate, authorized in 1794 and launced on September 7, 1797, called the Constellation. This ship went to the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia in June 1853, where it was "broken down". In 1854, a corvette (or "war sloop") called the Constellation came out of that same shipyard -- according to some sources, using timbers from the broken-up frigate.

Apparently, the question of whether the 1854 ship is the "same" as the 1797 has been tossed around for decades. Defenders of the "same!" theory point out that the frigate was never stricken from the Naval Vessel Register — a wooden, sailing man-of-war called Constellation was continuously listed from 1797-1955. Defenders of the "different!" point of view say that the sloop was a new design and was planned to be built even if the frigate had not been around.

I suppose a salty sea-captain Zen master might say, "If you say these ships are the same, thirty lashes with the cat o' nine tails! If you say they are different, thirty lashes with the cat o' nine tails!"

coffeehouse Facebook musings: "but I *like* to complain"

Just something I posted in a comment thread on Facebook that seems like it has poetic potential for later:

Oh, but I *like* to complain about the weather -- and about my state of mind. But at the same time, knowing it's ridiculous. "I like my anger, my grouchy furious love," says Ikkyu. And I sit melancholy, sighing over lost love, looking out at the rain, marinating in my own mind, knowing that I'm tasting nothing more and nothing less than my own cooking, that the weather just *is* but also so is my mind, that being okay with "things as they are" means being okay with my mind's reaction to "things as they are" because that's part of "things as they are" (and if I'm not okay with my mind's reaction to "things as they are", that also is part of "things as they are", and so on to infinity).

help me track down a story/parable?

There's this little story/parable that I half remember. Can anyone identify the source? It goes something like this: "You know how you drive a fish insane? You pick him up and hold him just above the water, just for a few seconds, until you see a look of surprise on his face, and then you drop him back in. Then he goes up to all his fish friends and says, 'This is water! We're swimming in water! I've seen it!' And all the other fish say, 'Poor fellow. Ever since that accident he's been going on and on about this "water" nonsense.'"

Googling "how to drive fish crazy" mostly turns up fishing websites. The closest thing I've found is a very short variant in a David Foster Wallace speech, but that's not quite it.

Though that speech is very, very good:

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