Category: General


I took some time off from writing. Sadly, when you have a chronic illness, you do not feel like writing. I lost the battle with convincing myself to write the past week or so, and for that I apologize to anyone who missed my witty ramblings about religion. (Seriously, I love you guys. My readers are awesome!)

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As a culture, we have become hypersensitive to criticism and questions. Most of us, particularly when it comes to questions from people of other religions, do not know how to separate frustration over not knowing the answer to a question and thinking people are personally trying to attack our beliefs. When we feel comfortable in our views, we do not like that comfort to be challenged, especially, if we find not knowing the answer troubling. On the bright side, many of the questions faced by both believers and non-believers are philosophical questions that have been examined by people for a very long time.

Both believers and non-believers have something to lose if we cannot learn to treat each other’s opinions with respect. The ability to think for ourselves and choose what we believe is something that most cultures have only tolerated for the last century, and some cultures still do not tolerate this. If we want to avoid the need to take up arms against our neighbors who do not share our beliefs, we need to stop trying to impose our beliefs on others. It is one thing to try to discuss in a respectful manner why you think someone has not thought through what they believe, but we need to stop name-calling and intimidation.

If you have a question, phrase it in a manner that is deferential or at least polite. If you do not know the answer, be honest. Nobody knows everything and it is usually better to be honest about what you do not yet know than to try to make something up. If you are interested in looking in to the subject deeper, then do so.

We have reached a point where we have learned to shout at each other, but ignore what the other person is saying. It has led to a major cultural clash because all sides want to be able to impose their beliefs on others, but we have seen from generations of societal experiments where religions have been banned entirely, such as in the USSR, or some religions have been banned, such as the treatment of Native American religions in the 19th and early 20th centuries, that people rebel. Oppression is not a welcomed part of the human condition.

My call to you is this: be tolerant, be willing to ask questions, give questioners the benefit of the doubt (they may be genuinely interested and if you shut them down you kill the chance for dialog) be willing to admit when you don’t know, and respect the honesty it takes to make that admission. We live in a world that is troubled by religious conflicts. People are persecuted every day for their beliefs, or their lack thereof. This is the 21st century. We should be able to move beyond this and respect the rights of everyone to worship whatever god or goddess they choose or choose to believe there is not god at all without penalty, without fear for their safety, and without having the religious beliefs of others imposed on them.

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Freedom

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I want to talk about freedom.  Many people believe that freedom gives them the right to do anything they want.  This is problematic because if that were true, that would mean you have the right to infringe on the freedom of others.  This means that in order for there to be anything resembling freedom for everyone, then that freedom is naturally limited to those things that do not infringe on the rights and freedoms of others.

It is also important to note that freedom isn’t free.  I am not even talking about the traditional way this statement is used.  For freedom, soldiers give up their freedoms.  Freedom costs money.  If you have money, you have more freedom than others in America do.  Not only that, you have the “freedom” to provide your employees with a salary below the poverty level, insuring they have fewer freedoms than you do.

What do I mean by freedom isn’t monetarily free?  Let’s talk about college, which is supposed to be the great equalizer, but statistically students who go to good colleges tend to do better than those who do not.  The thing is, as a first generation college student, I know getting into those colleges isn’t the hurdle.  I had no problem getting in, where the problems arose was actually being able to afford to go.  Where you go to college, limits what you can study and what you will end up doing.  Ultimately, money limits opportunity.

Money determines your access to healthcare, too.  In light of the recent Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, your employer can determine what is covered by your health insurance compensation and you then would be responsible if, for example, your insurance does not meet your medical needs.  If you were rich, you could just pay for it yourself, but when it costs 2 weeks’ pay to cover your medication (which is about what an IUD would cost if you make around $13 an hour. Many Americans affected by this law make less than that).  If you are rich, you also have the freedom to buy political favors.  In theory, all of this influences the freedoms of everyone else, but in the United States, the so-called “Land of the Free” we are all supposed to be free.

This is why I support a single payer health care system, so all Americans have equal access to the medical care they need.  This eliminates the employer religious concerns over covering whatever birth control a woman and her doctor decide she needs because instead of covering insurance as part of her compensation for working for you, it would be provided through the government.  Yes, this has tax implications, as did the billions of dollars we have paid on wars.

Since we are talking about my politics, I also support big government.  I think there are certain important roles to be played by the government.  These roles should include: education, health care, employment oversight, environmental oversight, and the protection of the equal rights to freedom of everyone under the law.  The problem I see in our country is the unfortunate lack of free and open elections.  This has been further impacted by the Citizens United ruling, which codifies the rich being able to manipulate elections and buy political favors.  The American government no longer is for the people by the people, it is for the few and by the few.

This needs to change.  Just because I see serious flaws in the system, I love this country and I believe it has the ability to be better than it is.  In fact, as Americans we should insist on whatever it takes to make our country the best in the world.  The first step is to seek true equality of freedom.  This means giving people equal access to opportunities, an equal voice in deciding the future of America, and an equal right to practice their religion, so long as that practice doesn’t prevent others from being able to freely practice their religion.

How do we do this? You didn’t really think I was just going to write a philosophy article without giving you some sort of suggestions did you?

First, we need to work to overturn Citizens United.  It is going to be very difficult to have anything resembling equality of access to opportunities if we continually give the rich a megaphone while forcing the poor to whisper.  Check out the Mayday PAC

Second, you need to vote.  Your vote is important.  You should do your research and think critically about what you are told.  Who is saying talking, who is paying for it, and what do they have to gain from it?  I don’t care if you vote against my beliefs, but you should still make your voice heard.

Third, you need to stay engaged. Sign petitions, run for office, write and call your representatives, and keep informed on the issues.

Ultimately, I believe your ability to live freely, impact elections, and decide how to practice your religion should not depend on your personal wealth.  Freedom shouldn’t be dependent on the socioeconomic status of your birth.  While we are on that topic, my friend Marie posted today on Freedom, particularly freedom from slavery http://t.co/ZfM09mMlw6.  July fourth is a fantastic day to talk about freedom, particularly as “patriotism” in the United States focuses a lot on the idea of freedom. For me your freedom to do something should not impede the freedoms of others. You should read Marie’s post before you continue because what she has to say here is the first half of what I have to say.

I’ll wait… seriously, this blog isn’t going anywhere.

Now, that you have read that, I’m sure half of you are thinking “but Crystal, I’m not a Christian,” so I would like to amend Marie’s conclusion with this.  My changes are in italics.

 Good people of the world, it’s time we came clean. It’s time we stopped hiding … behind the term “addiction.” Certainly one can be addicted to almost anything, but let’s at least call it what it is. Every time we click the link, flip the page or pay the john, we are exploiting someone. A person. A human being just like you. It is nothing short of evil for anyone to abuse another in this way.

The wealthy using their privileged position to impact legislation in their favor at the expense of everyone else is also a form of exploitation, particularly when the legislation there are seeking is specifically formulated to ensure that the poor stay poor.  We have a crisis of exploitation in our society and much of it revolves around the privileges of wealth, maleness, and whiteness, but that is a topic for another day.

photo credit: blinkingidiot via photopin cc

Exhale

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It’s five minute Friday, and I wasn’t going to participate on two hours sleep, but I enjoyed participating last week so much I’m going to try my hand at it again. #FMFParty
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I tend to be a high strung individual, but sometimes I need to just be able to take a moment and exhale, remembering that life doesn’t have to be the serious endeavor I try to make it.

One of the best exhales of my life happened at 4:12 am this morning when I finally finished a massive rewrite of my MA thesis. This was particularly difficult because I have been struggling to be able to get motivated lately. The lack of motivation doesn’t stem from laziness; unfortunately, I am starting to think my depression is showing its ugly little head again. It doesn’t help that I have been quite sick from unwittingly poisoning myself for several days last week.

Exhales are one of the great and under-appreciated joys in life. When done correctly, they offer so much in return for something you were going to do anyway. As the breath leaves my body, I relax a little. Focusing on my breathing allows me to live in the moment. This has helped me so much because like most Americans, I tend to be using technology and multitasking a lot, but taking a moment to feel the exhale makes me feel a little more alive.

Five Minute Friday Join in! It’s fun I promise.

photo credit: Dani_vr via photopin cc

In Dreams We Find

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I just awoke from a very strange dream, but it is a dream I feel is trying to tell me something.  I was in a dark cave with a couple of people.  They had Biblical concordances, and they were trying to prove to me that other gods or goddesses are not mentioned in the Bible and therefore there are no other deities.  Everything they showed me continued to convince me that not only were other gods mentioned in the Bible, but they were real.  I just knew deep down that their God wasn’t the only one.  What I didn’t know is what this meant for me.

When I got up, I picked up a Biblical concordance and the first thing I found was an article about Artemis, who was worshipped by the Ephesians.  I have always felt a close affinity to Artemis, so I found this to be really quite fascinating.  The article claims that Artemis worship died out, and that no one worships her now.  This is not true.  I have found a number of Artemis worshipers throughout my life, but I am certain that when this article was written you could only have found them if you knew what you were looking for.

In fact, what I found makes no indication that the other gods and goddesses worshipped by other regions in Biblical times weren’t real, but rather that the Hebrew God was jealous and did not want his followers to worship anyone else.  From an anthropological/folklore standpoint, I would argue it is unlikely that anyone writing the Bible would have been willing to claim the other gods and goddesses simply did not exist, something I hear often from modern Christians.  Their argument that not only is there God superior to other gods, other gods simply do not exist.  If they did then people would still worship them.  I think this ignores the actual history of the Western World where people even under suspicion of worshiping another god would have been put to death.  Worship of any other deity would have gone underground.  It simply wasn’t safe, much in the same way that it isn’t particularly safe to be a Christian in Sudan.

From a scientific standpoint, I can neither prove nor disprove the existence of the divine.  I have had experiences that indicate to me that magick is real.  My first inclination of this was actually at church camp in fourth grade.  We did light as a feather stiff as a board in the cabin under the leadership of our camp counselor.  I do not remember if the girl actually levitated, but I do remember feeling something was very strong in the room with us.  It was rather incredible.

I think my subconscious is trying to figure out whether any sort of divinity is real, and I still am falling on the side of yes.  Is there just one Christian God?  I don’t know.  The Bible seems to indicate that not only are there other gods, but humans have a tendency to idolize things.  Are there two aspects of one god as suggested by some Wiccans?  It seems possible to me, though the goddess-focused Earth-based spiritual movement beyond Wicca is in many ways a response to the patriarchal rule of Christians.  This doesn’t invalidate the importance of this worship; however, it could explain why there are many groups who ignore male deities entirely.

I have spent my whole spiritually conscious life oscillating between Paganism and Christianity.  I believe this is because of several issues:

  1. My mother is very strongly convinced of her God’s powers and constantly forces me to evaluate my beliefs.  I think this is actually a very good thing because unlike many people I have to justify my beliefs.  As an intellectual, I dislike the idea of blind faith; therefore, I find this to be very useful.
  2. Sometimes I just want to fit in.  The majority of my family, my boyfriend, and the majority of the people in the United States are Christian, so I begin to question my feelings on God every so often.
  3. I always end up back at Paganism because I haven’t had that moment of spiritual conversion to Christianity.  Some Christians argue that I’m trying to make God do all the work, but I struggle to believe that trying daily prayers and asking for help from their deity is me not trying hard enough.  Something is missing.
  4. I also end up back at Paganism because I am a scientist and most apologists I have struggled through either reject my field of science entirely, or pick and choose what parts to accept.  This doesn’t work for me.
  5. I end up back at Christianity because while blind faith is thoroughly unappealing to me, I find faith in general to be beautiful.  I like to see people who have experienced something so deeply that it means everything to them.
  6. I ask a lot of questions and hold my beliefs up to a high level of scrutiny.  Some things about spirituality, I suspect, cannot be explained by science at the level it is at now, and so I end up trying to make sense of what I know in terms of the faith I am not following at the time.

So I suppose I will continue to oscillate until I either become an Atheist, have a conversion experience, or accept my Paganism aha moment as the foundational moment for understanding the spiritual realm for me.

Farewell Dan Wheldon

I haven’t posted a blog in quite some time.  To say that life has become busy would be an understatement.  Life always throws little bumps in the road and often I do not deal with them the way I should.  Today one of my heroes passed away and I find myself simultaneously at a loss for words and so desperate to say something.

“Dan Wheldon injured in massive 15-car wreck in Sunday’s IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas”, read the text message my sister Joyce sent me around 5pm EST.  To be honest, I didn’t think much of it, until my other sister posted on Facebook that he had passed away about an hour and a half later.  I’ve grown up around racing, and this very moment is what it took to recognize why my mom made my dad quite racing so many years ago.  You see, as race fans, we assume that everything is so safe, and the cars are so much safer than when my dad was drag racing in the 1970s, but racing can still be fatal, especially in open-wheel race cars.

Last night when Jimmie Johnson hit the wall at Charlotte Motor Speedway, my boyfriend jokingly told me that Kasey Kahne was his new favorite driver.  I smiled and agreed; after all it seemed like for so long Johnson had more luck than any one person should reasonable have.  Then I saw the replay.  Just a decade ago and motorsports would have lost two great drivers in one weekend.  The physics of Johnson’s crash should have broken his neck; fortunately, his HANS device saved his life.

Racing is a big business in America, and even throughout the hard economic times most Americans are facing, we still tune in to our favorite sports.  We need something to believe in and distract us when times are tough.  Unfortunately, I am distracted tonight by the thoughts of how devastating it is to lose someone who is only 33 years old.   Dan Wheldon was only 33 years old.  He leaves a wife, two young children and his parents behind.  Yes, the whole motorsports family lost a friend a colleague this weekend, but tonight I struggle with what all this means for his family.

Before I was born, my dad gave up a successful career as an NHRA driver to move out west with my mom and sisters.  As I understand it, he had a horrific accident early in the 1973 season that would have taken him out for most of the season.  In fact, nearly 20 years later he still had a bone fragment floating around his elbow.  It wasn’t a career ending injury, but my dad never raced again.  In many ways I am so lucky that he didn’t.  I was born 10 years after my father retired from racing.  As long as I can remember, I wished my dad was still a race car driver growing up.  We even discussed me taking up motocross, which my mother refused to consent to; she insisted racing is too dangerous.

Dan Wheldon’s death is a reminder to me that even as the major racing sanctioning bodies take action to make motorsports safer, there is always an inherent risk.  If the man who won the Indy 500 five months ago can get caught up in a fatal accident, so can everyone else.  No matter how safe we make the cars, they will never be 100% safe.

It’s hard to say what Dan Wheldon meant to me.  I cried when I saw him win the Indy  500 in May.  It was emotional and he seemed like such a genuinely nice guy.  I saw him in August at the Brickyard 400 and was impressed by his jovial nature.  In some ways for me Dan Wheldon was the best that IndyCar racing had to offer.  He was articulate, charismatic and talented.  It was hard to not like him.

My heart goes out to Dan’s family and friends tonight.  Their suffering is more than I can imagine, and even though their tragedy has managed to touch my heart and wretch at my soul, it is nothing compared to the pain I am sure they are enduring.  I wish them peace and comfort over the days to come.

Goodbye Dan Wheldon. You will be missed!

Lent and Compassion

I started the project of letting go and letting God at the start of Lent with the hope of better understanding my Christian friends.  I wanted to understand their relationship with God.  For me, God is often nothing more than an afterthought; I think it is like that for most people.  We only really consider the idea of a higher power when we need something.  When life seems out of control we begin to call on God for help, but the rest of the time we forget.  We live our lives, making decisions, rarely considering God in that process.

I can’t live that kind of life, which might explain why I have not committed to a devoted Christian lifestyle.  I don’t know what that really means for my life though.  I mean if I truly believed in a God that is everything my friends claim he is, then I don’t know how I could live my life and not be committed to pleasing him.  All things considered, I am someone who strives to please the people around her.  If I were a faithful Christian, I would be nothing less.

So what’s holding me back?  I would argue that several things are keeping me from becoming a devoted Christian, and one of them is a perception of Christians.  I find that so many of them profess one thing on Sunday and live a completely different life the other six days.  They judge others for their weaknesses and generally do not love people the way they claim to, they simply pity them for failing to live up to impossible standards.  Not only that, most do not seem to respect other people’s rights not to share their beliefs. It often seems to me that if most Christians had their way, it would be illegal to live beyond their thinly defined morality code.  The trouble is that a lot of the doctrine of the Christian church is things that aren’t agreed upon between denominations.  I think love should generally trump hate, and I feel that disrespecting people and trying to impose your belief system on them is hateful.

I collect pins and my mom once gave me one that said “Dear God, Please protect me from your followers”, and in a lot of cases I think that is a prayer worth praying.  My problem is not with God, but rather with his people that distort his teachings, I struggle with people who are so overcome by their own pride that they cannot imagine anything beyond their own interpretation of religion.  This is admittedly not all Christians.  I have met some amazing Christians that truly live what they preach; however, I still find that even many of them seem to be filled with hate for anything that is alien to their belief system.

So what I have learned so far is that I’m a long way from being a church going Christian.  I still need to figure out who I am and what beliefs fit in where, but I can’t do that with people who are constantly judging my every action. I grew up in a church where I would present myself one way on Sunday and the rest of the time I would just be myself.  I was baptized at 14, the same year I started performer pagan rituals in my backyard.

I don’t regret performing those rituals in my back yard.  They were part of a process of understanding who I am and what I believe.  I think that one thing that most Christian churches lack is a strong connection to ritual.  I am, of course, not suggesting that Christians sit in their backyard surrounded by candles praying, but rather that they connect with the traditions of their religion, such as lent and actually facilitate the relationship that they claim to have.  It is difficult to believe that anyone has a “relationship” with God when they forget about him 363 days a year.  I am still not sure what I’m seeking, but I can say without hesitation that this time of connecting with God has left me feeling like most of his followers have forgotten his message.  People do not even try to live Jesus’ message; they just emulate Old Testament God because wrath we understand, forgiveness eludes us.

So another few weeks of my experiment remains.  I don’t know if this adventure will leave me following the Christian faith or seeking something else.  What I do know is that there is something seriously lacking in the Christian church today, and I think it is a number of things ranging from compassion to genuine faith in God.

Suffering

Dear friends,

Many terrible things have happened in the world the past couple days, most notably the earthquake in Japan. Unfortunately, it is very annoying to try to blog from my phone and my hard drive decided to die yesterday. Therefore, I ask you to pray, meditate, send positive energy, whatever you do in your spiritual practice for all the people who are suffering this weekend in Japan, Hawaii, Libya, Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, New Zealand, Wisconsin, and all around the world. We often forget that when something stops being headline news people are still there suffering. So I may be off the grid for a while, but until next time, remember all those who are suffering.

I’ve never been much for blogging.  Certainly I have written a few over the years, usually blatant attempts at trying to inform my friends of something that I thought they should know more about, such as the conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008 or something as mundane as a great new song I thought someone should listen to.

Generally, I am the kind of woman who wants to be in the center of things, but ends up spending a lot of time observing others, sometimes at the expense of her own needs.  This is going to be an attempt at dealing sorting through some of these issues.  I welcome comments from anyone who should stumble across this, but be constructive.  Name calling is childish and will not be tolerated.

I am graduate student.  I hope to focus my research on the effect of rock music on revolutionary activity in Eastern Europe.  I play guitar, though not particularly well, but I am making an effort to put more time into playing.  I live with my boyfriend in the Midwest, which generally means I tell a lot of older people that I’m married even though I’m not because I get frustrated by the judgmental comments made when older folks discover that I’m 27, unmarried and living with a man.  I am a feminist, but probably not in the way you think of feminist.  I believe in equality.  I believe that society treats women unfairly and tries to force every woman into a tiny little box that encourages her to disappear.

I’m also a NASCAR fan, which depending upon your perspective makes the feminist comment an oxymoron.  After one particularly educational trip to Talladega, I have observed that at their heart, most NASCAR fans are very nice people, who have a world view that does not jive with my own.  That does not mean that I cannot enjoy racing, it just means that I’m not going to throw my beer at someone who likes a driver from a foreign country (it happened to me, cheering for Juan Pablo at Talladega could probably get someone beaten up pretty badly).  As I result, I only enjoy certain race fans.

I love metal music.  It is music the way music should be: passionate, intense, driven and emotional.  It took me years to embrace this.  I’m a contrary, stubborn, dark humored woman who listened to Metallica in secret because she figured the people around her wouldn’t like it.  I’m an adult now though and as such am embracing my love of music that is so intense that it demands attention.

So I guess that’s it.  From crazy commentary on Russia to poetry, this blog will be my way of connecting with myself and hopefully a few new friends along the way.

~Crystal Wraith