Posts Tagged ‘religion’

We are on the front side of a cold snap, up here in the interior of Alaska. It’s just starting to get cold, with temperatures this morning in downtown Fairbanks hovering right around 30 below Fahrenheit.

The weather forecasters are threatening us with an extended cold spell, indicating temperatures should drop into the negative 40’s in the days ahead, with no break to the cold in the foreseeable future.  But what do they know?

I like the cold.

More honestly, I like extreme weather.

I find that it is nature’s way of reminding us who is in charge, of the limits to our own knowledge, technology, and power.

The wilderness, or natural world, restores my spirit. Whenever I can, I like to go to the mountains, the forests, or sea to do just that.  I don’t get there as often as Id like.

So when the weather turns inclement, it’s like a house call from God.

It redeems me, renews my understanding of my place in the world, and the universe. Despite all our folly, our destruction of ecosystems and life (possibly even our own), weather reassures me the natural world will persevere.

We may not recognize the outcome, or be able to exist in it, but nature and all its intricacies will remain.

And that comforts me.

So today when I come in from the cold, fingers swollen, icicles and frost on my beard, don’t pity me.

Celebrate with me.

For I’ve been dancing with the gods.

In the oh so, glorious cold.


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I’ve been walking to and from work downtown recently, depending on when I go relative to kids going to school or my wife going to work.

Today I rolled out of bed while everybody else was sleeping in, taking off to work in one of those beautiful mid-winter mornings in Fairbanks. New snow had blanketed the town during the late morning, and was still drifting down.

Snow in Fairbanks is unique to any place I’ve lived. It falls silently, rarely accompanied by any wind, and stacks quietly on any limbs, wires, or even twigs; forming an intricately woven organic lace of white on every tree, willow, or blade of grass long enough to still emerge from earlier snows.

It was a beautiful day for a walk, even if just to work.

After work, I headed home via the post office. It gave me an opportunity to cross the Cushman Street Bridge and pass by the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, as opposed to the pedestrian bridge where I usually cross the river.

I grew up Catholic, and although my views on religion stray far from the church these days, I still long for the spirituality and mysticism that can envelop a traditional mass. So much so, as I passed their front door, that I eyed the times for mass and even considered recruiting, or drafting, my family for a Christmas service.

I continued down the path, freshly cleaned of snow (the only disturbance during my early morning walk was the snow blower running over the church’s walks); to the little altar of stone for the Virgin Mary built in the Church’s front yard. The snow had been carefully brushed away from the altar. Within the apse, a statue of the virgin mother stands, surrounded by pots of brightly colored plastic flowers.

The irony of this little scene didn’t escape me.

So I stood there, in the low winter light of the Alaska midday sun, rays filtering through the branches of the snow covered birch trees, snow still softly falling upon me, surrounded by divinity as it was meant to be, in front of a poorly crafted altar to the mother of a god made in mankind’s own image.

I walked on, struck by the folly of man.

Of religion.

Of the obscenity of plastic flowers replacing real ones made by god.

Man does do it better, after all.

Meanwhile the pope is in Rome, railing against the evils of homosexuality, proclaiming how it will be the downfall of humanity.

Not overpopulation.

Not the disease, starvation, war, torture, abuse, injury, rape, environmental ruin or death brought on by overpopulation.

Just homosexuality.


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excavating Christmas

After several moves in the past year or two, we have ended up with a couple of unheated storage units haphazardly packed with everything from caribou antlers to furniture, drafting tables to fishing nets, sewing fabric to tarps (brown, not the classic Alaska blue variety).

Of course, mixed in with the above, is box after box of who knows what. (I know what, but given this is a “G-rated” blog I can’t say).

I might add, none of it is mine.

Except maybe those caribou antlers. And maybe the fishing nets……. Oh, the drafting table might also be mine. And that tarp sure was handy last time I went camping.

Anyways, on this not particularly cold Saturday (about 0 degrees Fahrenheit) I was charged with the task of extracting the Christmas decorations from those storage units. Not an easy task.

Accompanying me on this expedition were the intrepid Jolie and Ali, renowned explorers of the subarctic. Of course, neither of them brought hats or mittens and ended up spending the bulk of the time in the running car while I entered the realm of the lost and forgotten.

Before going on, I should add that when it comes to Christmas, I consider the Grinch and Scrooge as great failures. Once great fighters for the cause, they succumbed to temptation, celebrated Christmas and led many a young recruit away from crotchety obscurity.

May they be crucified upon Christmas trees.

Back to Saturday.

While I dove bravely into the storage units, mumbling about how the temperature inside the units was a good ten degrees colder, and the boxes and artifacts a good ten degrees colder still, the girls sat in the car arguing.

After 30 minutes of shifting boxes around, it came upon the midday clear, that Christmas sucks and I was cold.

Actually, after thirty minutes of listening to the girls fight while I froze trying to get “their” Christmas decorations out, I lost it. Let’s just say, if Santa was indeed watching there is one not so little boy who will be getting coal in his stocking for Christmas.

By the time I was done with my rant, it was clear to not only the girls but to anyone within a mile that we wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas again until they had children of their own if they so much as uttered another word against each other.

Returning to the storage units, fully heated, I extricated the green and red tubs of Christmas décor, and lodged them ever so gently into the car.  (Sarcasm.)

About this time, a light went off in my head, causing me to duck and whirl about in surprise. (Those lights don’t go off very often, and always catch me by surprise.)

My Christmas shopping dilemma was solved. The solution was right in front of me, in those storage units. Inside, box upon box of forgotten possessions sat, waiting to be rediscovered………. under the Christmas tree.

I can wrap those boxes, stick them under the tree, and we can rediscover lost treasures!!!

It’s free!!!!

It’s easy!!!!

The kids will love it, after all, the one time they emerged from the car long enough to peek into storage they were trying to grab on to anything that looked like theirs to take back home. This way, they can have it all!!!

And talk about boxes of stuff. Jane will get more presents then she ever has. Boxes and boxes of fabric, sewing patterns, unfinished projects!!


I’ll let you know how it works out- I will save myself days of shopping agony!!!





Come to think of it, just guessing, I may need a place to stay for a while after Christmas.

After arriving home, and unloading the precious cargo, my two little helpers and I headed inside, me to thaw out, them to pick up the house before we could unpack the Christmas goods.

It took another day, but eventually they did just that. And, for the most part, they took my threat to cancel the next 18 years of Christmas seriously.

By Sunday night, the house was clean, the tree was up, and the kids were excitedly watching Christmas movies.

And I, believe it or not, had enjoyed it. It is, perhaps for a long time, the first time in recent memory that I enjoyed the process of decorating for Christmas.

It may have been the excitement of the girls, or just the process of spending a weekend with them, and at home, that wore down my resolve.

Or perhaps it was frostbite.

Or a thawing of the discontinuous permafrost between my ears.

In the end, the process of excavating Christmas had proved to be as much internal as external.

And in a year of change, why not one more?

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and exactly where was God?

I came across this article today as I was reading the news.

13 Year Old Girl Confirmed Dead

Now, tell me, exactly where was God?

Perhaps he was in the shower when she was raped.

Her crime was being raped by 3 men.

Or using the bathroom when they found her guilty of adultery.

When she reported the rape to the militia who control Kismayo, Somalia, she was charged with fornication (adultery)

Maybe in the middle of catching a Pat Robertson newscast while she was convicted.

and sentenced to death by stoning.

At 13.

At 13.

Maybe he was cheering on his football team while she was prepared for her sentence.  Everyone knows god picks favorites.

Kicking and screaming in terror, the girl was carried into the stadium.

Reading the last, suspenseful chapters of the DaVinci Code.

1,000 onlookers watched as her hands and legs were forcefully bound

Just possibly he turned away, unconcerned because she wasn’t an American.

13 year old  Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was buried up to her neck and a cape was placed over her head, leaving only her face exposed.

Or a Christian.

50 men hurled stones at her face from the truckload unloaded earlier that day.

I wonder if he flinched, just a little, as the first stone struck.

According to onlookers, 3 times nurses were instructed to check whether she was still alive.

Or went back to talking United States foreign policy with George W. Bush.

They pulled the teen from the ground,

Not once.

declared she was still alive

Not twice.

and put her back in the hole for the stoning to continue.

But three times.

Now, pray tell me, where was God?

Yeah. That’s what I thought.

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I’m participating in a religious exploration group, known as a Chalice Circle, at our local UU Fellowship. For about 8 weeks we are meeting one evening a week to discuss Unitarian-Universalism, our own beliefs, and how they mesh. Its a wonderfully diverse group, with a wide range of opinions, religious experiences, and beliefs. Amazingly, unlike many places on the earth, we can all sit down together and talk about it without resorting to violence.

Therein is where the beauty of UU lies, that while we may have Buddhist, Christian, Atheist, Agnostics, Humanists, Naturalists, possibly even a Unitarian or Universalist in the group, we are all together on a search for greater knowledge and meaning. So what if we have each chosen a separate path.

For me, it has been and continues to be a challenge emotionally and intellectually. In short, I’m enjoying it immensely.

Last week I put the following blurb together for our newsletter, and thought I would share it here today (since I’m home with the flu and not attending Fellowship).

Each Monday evening since early January, a group of 15 strangers has come together at UUFF to participate in an adult religious exploration group, known as a Chalice Circle. We all share one thing, that we chose to be there, to participate in an opportunity to explore our chosen faith, Unitarian-Universalism. We are quite a diverse group, with an equally divergent path of arriving at UUFF. We have people who are new to the Fellowship, having just discovered UU after a lifelong quest for spiritual meaning. There are lifelong UUs. And, like any good UU group, there are at least few recovering Catholics, myself included.

Our group is led by, facilitated by, and participated in by Jeff and Rebecca. They open each meeting by having one of us light the chalice, then each of us shares a high and a low of our week. We’ve had some great highs, and some tragic lows in our short time together. Our early meetings focused on sharing our spiritual journeys with each other, learning to trust one another with some of our most intimate thoughts and fears. We sit quietly, intently listening to each other’s stories, alternately laughing and crying together.

In our short time together, I think we’ve come to understand how we further our religious and spiritual understanding by sharing our questions, insights, and experiences with one another. Together, we’ve discovered many commonalities among our spiritual stories, despite all our other apparent differences.

We are close to the midway point of the eight week schedule now. As the tide slackens, we are turning away speaking about our spiritual past, and becoming more focused on the future. What we don’t know, but want to. What lies ahead for us in our spiritual journey. And what guidance we can provide one another as we move forward, and learn more about UU along the way.

When our Chalice Circle ends, what began as a group of strangers, I expect will be a group of friends. A group of people who have explored the past, but will share the future, in Fellowship.

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One of the interesting things I find about attending a Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship is that it is a wonderfully undefined entity. By self-definition, it is a group that avoids adherence to any creed. As a result, we have a wide variety of faiths, traditions, and beliefs melding under one roof. In short, unorganized religion.

In contrast, organized religions exist under a very strict structure, a result of adherence to tradition and scripture. It is a system that relies onunquestioned belief and faith. By default, dogma rules the day and diversity of beliefs do not exist.

Unlike organized religion, unorganized religion (as I like to call UU) operates under a big umbrella. There are no creeds or dogma to guide the process, or to answer our questions. Our closest attempt at creating structure are the seven principles.

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

One can question how these differ from the dogma, or creeds, of organized religion. The difference, which I feel is significant, is that the principles are rules of conscience, and require the person to use thought and reason to arrive at the proper action in concurrence with the principles. People followtheir own course of action, given it concurs with the principles.

Organized religious dogma, on the other hand, gives you no such liberty to use internal reason. “Thou shalt keep the Sabbath Day holy” is pretty straightforward. It externalizes personal responsibility and eliminates conscience . You simply do as told. If a person runs upon a problem where the proper course of action is not delineated like the 10 Commandments, they are suddenly placed in a position where they must think for themselves, or allow a minister to do it for them.

While unorganized religion has its benefits, it also has its challenges. I suspect the only thing we might agree upon is that we should have service on Sunday. Anything other issue is likely subject to more opinions than congregation members. God settles that dispute for the faithful, and if he doesn’t, his mouthpiece theminister does. We have no such authority in unorganized religion, and it leaves us with a challenge, getting organized.

Which isn’t to say we are ineffective. Our fellowship, the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Fairbanks (UUFF), has succeeded in building a new sanctuary, growing membership, and provided a rich variety of lay led sermons. But it isn’t easy.

Another challenge with unorganized religion is how to invite people into the membership. People who have stepped off of the path of traditional religion are notoriously independent. And private. And a little bit defensive, having been beaten about the head with those same traditional religions for a lifetime. Likewise, those of us who are members don’t want to impose ourselves or our beliefs on anyone, anymore than any one of us would want to be imposed upon.

Which leaves us in a difficult position in engaging new people without overstepping the boundaries of telling them what they should believe. That is the tactic of organized religion, and they employ it effectively. It is important that we remain true to our principles, and don’t adopt those practices that run counter to our principles.

Due to our unorganized nature there is a strong chance we will hit a limit in growth, a capacity of disorder, where ability to function as a group becomes impossible without finding some unifying element to organize around. A minister is a possibility, their leadership may bridge the gap between organized and unorganized, allowing for continued growth among the interested.

As it is, unorganized religion has much to offer. Freedom to explore the spiritual, without judgement, and encouragement to ask, and to seek out answers to, the hard questions. Unlike organized religion, we won’t pretend to have all the answers, just a community within which to ask the questions, where we can share the struggle in seeking answers.

Many of those questions, despite our quest, will remain unanswered in this lifetime. It is their nature, as it is human nature to attempt to organize the unorganizable, to plant trees in rows when they are meant to be scattered randomly, to build square houses on round hills.

It is important to remember the beauty and organic nature of an unorganized, or human, fellowship.

In closing, I remind myself; What is more divine, and which is more human? The heights of a gothic cathedral, a metal warehouse turned mega-church, the rigid construct of organized religion? Or the sublime beauty and randomness of a summer thunderstorm, of Nature, of unorganized religion?

Will we find god in chaos, or in order?

In organized religion, you’ll find an answer.

In unorganized religion, you’ll find the question.

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Recently we got an e-mail from someone ranting about the dangers of the movie The Golden Compass, based on the book of the same name by Philip Pullman.  For those that don’t know, Pullman is an admitted atheist/agnostic.  The letter warned us about the dangers of subverting our children by allowing them to watch a movie authored by a heathen, etc., and so on.  It didn’t say what we were subverting them to.

We responded nicely to the e-mail, stating we would give our children the tools to decide for themselves.  The reply to the reply was that they would rather give their money to the lord.  (I wonder if they actually write their checks to Jesus Christ.  I bet not, and suspect the intermediary takes a big cut before Jesus sees any of it if he ever does.)

Unknown to the e-mail sender, I had already read the book and I intend on reading the next two in the series, before seeing the movie.  My daughter is reading a children’s book by Pullman, and is enjoying it immensely, though on occasion her head rotates 360 degrees and she spits up pea soup.

The e-mail sender has not read the book, nor screened the movie.  Their judgment is based upon what they have heard or been told, and certainly some religious leaders have condemned the work.  Not to mention it was written by an AETHIST, the most evil of beings.  What more needs said?

Recollecting on the story, the only concern I can see a religious leader having is that the bad things that happen in the book bear an uncanny resemblance to the bad things that religion can do and does in real life.  Perhaps it’s like studying their own imperfections in a mirror?

What concerns me about all this, really, isn’t the belief of other people.  It is what appears to be a mass willingness to replace thought with blind belief.  It is as though people want to be told what to do, who to vote for, what movie to see; rather than decide for themselves.

If god had intended for us to believe, not think, he would have placed a bible between our ears instead of a brain.

Or perhaps the pope.

Or a pastor.

A cleric.

A politician.

Or a TV pundit.

Maybe even Bill O’Reilly.

But god didn’t, he gave us each a brain and the ability to reason, and, at least in this country and at this time, the freedom to use it without fear of persecution and punishment.

That is not to say there are not consequences for free thinking in this country, it is just that they aren’t, for the most part, state sponsored.

What freedoms have, and are, our soldiers defending and dying for if not the freedom to think for yourself?

It amazes me that so many Americans give up that right without a moment’s hesitation, when people died to get it.  To concede what I consider god’s greatest gift, the ability to think and to reason.  You could get more use out of their head by cutting it in half and using it as a candy dish.

Of course, that would prove fatal.  But hey, if you are willing to let someone else fill up your head, why not let it be me?  And I promise whatever goes in will be sweet, tasteful, and generously shared.

And most certainly more palatable than dogmatic belief.

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