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Yahallelu, Alhamdulillah, etc.

By Billy | February 26, 2012

Oh, wide meadow, do you fear the reaper?
We who walk and run, we worry. From whom can we buy time?
Whence comes your endless love of reaching for the sun?
Teach us, I beg you, to honor the reaper
and the soil
and why you ever spring back.
And how (!)(?)

I found an old notebook — the one I carried with me everywhere for my junior year of college. OK so it’s not *that* old. Above is an updated rendition of a poem I found in one of the pages — hidden between notes for my Hinduisms class and my Gandhi and Global Nonviolence class.
The original version started as follows: “Oh! Grass, do you suffer as I do? Do you wince with every footfall?”
I don’t know exactly what was going through my head and heart at the time, but I can tell you what it wasn’t.


When I was in France, we had a week of bible discussion about Elijah. Elijah wasn’t, in my opinion, the best of prophets. He did a lot of improvisation that God hadn’t explicitly authorized, he was full of self pity, he exaggurated all of his problems, and apparently never doubted himself about these things — if anything, he doubted God when things weren’t going right. After a while, Elijah went to find some answers. He spends exactly one really long time in the desert (introspection) and then climbs up the mountains where it all started (meditation). On that mountain (in a state of meditation) Elijah meets God (). What happened was that a hurricane happened, and then a volcano, and an atomic bomb went off and all this crazy crap, but God was not in the hurricane, nor the earthquake, nor the atomic bomb, nor any of the tremendous things, but at the end, there was a “still small voice” in which Elijah finally found God. (This is all in 1 Kings 19:11ish)
In our discussion groups afterwards, we started talking about when we hear God’s still small voice.

Oh, crap! I’ve never listened for God’s still small voice. As a mystic, I can’t believe that God is not in the earthquake or the napalm strikes, and in fact, the worst situations in my life are the ones through which I feel most closely connected to the divine. I realized during that first week in Taize that it’s been my habit for the last 8 years or more to listen to God in the storms, but hardly ever in the stillness.

; I’m talking about just hearing God in the simplest of joys.
So then I started worrying. I started to notice patterns in my life where I actively make things more difficult than necessary, specifically so that I experience God strengthening me and carrying me through situations I otherwise wouldn’t be able to handle. A little sparrow once told me that God’s love isn’t supposed to hurt, I didn’t know what she meant at the time. So my meditations and prayers became focused on this cycle I kept perpetuating: make choices that point me directly into a disaster area, survive by the skin of my teeth, acknowledge God’s presence in all things, start looking for the next disaster. Presently, I started feeling decently self-loathing about this habit. What can I do?
Then one of the monks read the Gospel. I think it was during prayers before lunch. The story was about a crippled guy who wanted Jesus to put him into some healing waters, because occasionally people were healed in the pool. Jesus just told the guy to get up and walk. As the monk read, Jesus stepped out of the grave, teleported straight over to me and spoke the words as the monk read them, “Stand up and walk.”
That was it. There is no other way to solve your problems — they don’t exist. Jesus is unity with the divine. It’s like God is a black hole, and Jesus is the point of no return, where not even light can escape from the pull of infinity, and by his very existence, BAM, we’re all sucked into the singularity. You are already a Buddha. Just stand up and walk, don’t bother even worrying about it. Don’t regret the time you wasted (hard to do…), just go forward. Stand up and walk.
I felt amazing things after that lunch. I tasted Joy for the first time in my life. I no longer let myself feel guilty for being joyful (Take THAT Catholic school), I no longer felt afraid to be happy. It’s difficult to maintain, and it’s easy to forget, but it comes down to a simple smile.

On that day, I took the restraints off my ability to feel joy. It started (quite tentatively) to grow, and send down deeper roots. I couldn’t stop crying about everything.

Shortly after that, I went into 4 days of silence. During that time, I spent my hours letting joy soak into my bones, for it had no where else to express itself. I think being alone helped me really make sure this new Joy thing doesn’t go away. It was so difficult, especially after the snow, to hold everything in all to myself. I realized in that time, that I can share Joy with its Source and it doesn’t have to be as paradoxical as it sounds.

When I wrote that poem above, I thought that the grass might lament its being trodden upon, eaten, and harvested. I thought these things were terrible. I thought I had to put myself into a life of being cut down and trampled on, and I thought that this was the only way to feel God. The word “honor” did not appear in the original poem, because there was no gratitude. I guess right now I’m ready to accept a purpose, I’m ready to accept that I can’t see the purpose so well, and I’m ready to accept that I am powerful and part of a mighty thing. It’s not all blue skies, but it’s all perfect — and I am ready to honor the storms, but not worship them.

Topics: This is my life | Comments Off on Yahallelu, Alhamdulillah, etc.

The Songs of Taize

By Billy | February 7, 2012

A lot of things happened since the last time I’ve written. Let’s I’ll give you the 199 Proof version up til actually getting to Taize: I moved out of my guest family’s house in Austria, spent a week sick but well tended in Vienna, I got on a plane to Paris, got on a bus to get to Gare de Lyon, got on a train to the middle of no-where, got on another bus to go further into the middle of nowhere, France. When I got out, I was in a cloud.

There was literally nobody to be seen in Taize — in part because the population was only 6% of what it is in the summer, in part because one needed a machete to navigate the fog; I wasn’t allowed to bring mine on the plane, so I was out of luck. When I finally found the people in the community I was looking for, I had been trudging my 50 kilos of baggage for 9 hours almost nonstop, and was quite ready to sit myself down and get situated somewhere. I walked into the first building I found that had life in it, to find a group of beautiful humans who would later become very dear friends.

A French guy named Vivian greeted me at the door and helped me get my bearings. I don’t remember if I actually asked if I was where I wanted to be, but Vivian had apparently welcomed a lot of confused people in his lifetime, and calmed me instantly. Yes, I was at the right place. I dragged my stuff here and there for another 10 minutes, then moved myself into the cabin, which ended up being shared by a Dutch guy, 2 Koreans, 1 Portuguese, a Chilean, a Mexican, and me. We woke up every morning to this song from the Twilight soundtrack, which was a nice and synchronistic reminder of the witch in Vienna who made me magic potions to keep me healthy the week I spent bed ridden before France. The following week we had to make our own wake up music; do you think grad schools are looking for people who have “part time singing alarm clock” on their resumes? Cuz I’m an awesome singing alarm clock.

One night the guy from Chile came into the room singing a lovely song about a small mammoth with big aspirations. Namely, this little mammoth wanted to fly like his dove friend. So he tried and tried, but couldn’t fly. His friend took him up a tall building to get some more altitude from whence they could try better. What happened? Well. Shit. Shit happens, and it happened for this mammoth, as well. I thought this song was wonderful and tried to learn it with decent success.

While practicing one day, my friend from Berlin corrected me on the lyrics, because I wasn’t singing it quite perfectly. She said that it wasn’t about a mammoth, but rather two little foxes/wolves. In fact, it was about zwei Kleine Wolfe in a forest at night, who trip on roots and wish that the world were brightly illuminated by stars. I thought she was making it up, but then she sang and played the song on the guitar — then sang the same song but this time about frogs, then one more time about fish.

Someone from Belgium came over saying, “You’re singing the Eskimo song!” Because apparently the song for French people is about three Eskimos who play the banjo at the north pole. Now I started getting really excited. This tune was already ridiculously cute, with horrifically ironic lyrics about cute animals getting eaten, smushed on the pavement, hurt feet in the forest, etc., but I started to see something deeper: A connecting tie that has nestled itself into our various cultures. Now I had a Taize project. (Actually it wasn’t such a deep mystical thing, I just thought it was cool to find that this song has so many versions in so many languages.

So here is the most comprehensive collection of this famous song that exists. Is there a name for such a phenomenon? I want to know.

Here is the Danish version and lyrics:

Æblemand, kom indenfor
Æblemand, kom indenfor.
Har du nogle æbler, med til mig idag
Tak skal du ha.

It’s basically: apple man, come inside. Do you have any apples for me today?
I found this one fairly bland originally, but then I discovered that you can change Æblemand with just about any “mand” you can think of. The children in this song invite Supermand, but Spidermand, Machomand, Pacmand, and Snowmand are also possibilities. I pretty much love that.

The French version is about three Eskimos in Alaska, one of whom plays the banjo. This version maybe came from Canada? There are also verses about Africans and Parisians.

Trois esquimaux
Autour d’un brasero
Ecoutaient l’un d’eux
Qui sur son banjo
Chantait le mortel ennui
Du pays du soleil de minuit

Y’a pas de cerises en Alaska
Et outgi outgi outgi outgi ouh wa wa
Sur la banquise
Pas d’mimosa
Et outgi outgi outgi outgi ouh wa wa
Pas de petits moutons
Courant sur le gazon
Pas de macaronis
Et pas de bouillon gras
Balala lala lala boum balala
lala lala boum balala
lala lala boum balala

In Polish, this song is about two dogs who want to cross a river and fall through a crappy bridge into the water. — Well GoogleTranslate doesn’t say that’s what this song is about, but my friend tells me otherwise. Whom do I trust?!

Pieski małe dwa, chciały przejść się chwilkę,
Nie wiedziały jak, biegły przeszło milkę
I znalazły coś – taką dużą białą kość.

Si bon, si bon, la, la, la, la, la.

Pieski małe dwa, poszły raz na łąkę,
Zobaczyły tam czerwoną biedronkę,
A biedronka ta, dużo czarnych kropek ma.

Si bon ……….

Pieski małe dwa, chciały przejść przez rzeczkę,
Nie wiedziały jak, znalazły kładeczkę,
I choć była zła, po niej przeszły pieski dwa.

Si bon …………

Pieski małe dwa wróciły do domu,
O wycieczce swej nie rzekły nikomu,
Weszły w budę swą, teraz sobie smacznie śpią.

Si bon ……

In Luxembourgish (did you know that’s even a language!?) the song is about an elephant caught in a spider web. This is apparently the lyrical internet debut.

Een Elefant dee schaukelt sech
An engem riesen, riesen, riesen, riesen, Spannenetz
An de fennt dëst klengt Spill
Wirklich amüsant
An dofir ba-ba-bumm

Since I can’t find a video of this, we’ll have to wait until I can convince my Luxembourger friend to sing it, upload it to youtube, and then I’ll update the post. Til then, watch this Elephant paint a picture.

In Dutch, the song is about 10 fish in the sea. Also, Dutch, perhaps because the inflection pattern (due to word/syllable density?) is similar to English, sounds pretty much like Gibberish English:

Tien kleine visjes
Die zwommen naar de zee
Moeder zei:
Maar ik ga niet mee
Ik blijf lekker in die oude boeren sloot
Want in de zee zwemmen haaien
En die bijten je
blub, blub, blub, blub,blub
blub, blub, blub, blub, blub
blub, blub, blub, blub, blub
This song counts down from 10 to 0, because there’s also a shark involved in the song. This song seems to exist exactly the same way in German, too. (There’s also a German version that exists about frogs. Help me out, someone?)

Funny things that happened since I left Austria:
I met an Austrian woman named Marie who lived in a convent for 2 years in south-west Austria but was forced out for being too rambunctious. How do you solve a problem like Marie?
I met a woman whom I’ve seen play at my favorite restaurant in Harrisonburg. We have friends in common, we came to Europe 10 months apart from another, and happened to arrive in Taize for the same week.
I stayed in the middle of Paris in a Harry Potter closet-under-the-stairs. A woman I met in Taize opened her door for me and provided the best possible Parisian experience I can imagine. We, humans, have friends everywhere and don’t even know it.

When flying First Class, everything is free, but pacing yourself is important. Filet Mignon, fine wine, and comic book movies go together well. My airplane seat had a button that you could push and the whole seat would turn into a bed.

Also, if you haven’t figured it out yet/didn’t know it, this song also exists in English as a song you may have sung around a campfire in the scouts:

Here are the lyrics and staff music for the 4th German version and English version, which are basically the same thing:

Topics: This is my life | Comments Off on The Songs of Taize

Every New Beginning Comes From Some Other Beginning’s End

By Billy | January 7, 2012

It’s not that I haven’t wanted to write in a while, I promise. In fact, I’ve been doing so man amazing things that I’ve thought regularly that I have too much to write about and need to wait for things to calm down. That, obviously, don’t do a good job communicating my experiences to the people I love, nor does it help me wrap my head around the events taking place, nor is it actually logical because I usually spend my free time during these “busy days” pacing in circles. Last night I stared at a candle flame for 10 minutes or so, (with no other goal but to observe the candle) for example.

Since I’ve last written, my partner got off her plane and we enjoyed a month in the old world together. Since I’ve last written, I visited Germany for the first time. Since I’ve last written, I visited the Netherlands for the first time. Since I’ve last written, I visited the church in which my ancestors were baptized more than 200 years ago. Since I’ve last written, I’ve successfully cooked an entire Thanksgiving dinner (with a partner, of course) for 15+ people without any catastrophy. Since I’ve last written I have learned how to enjoy dancing with a partner, I got the guts to finish my banjo (another success), and I’ve remembered how much I enjoy playing board games.

Since I’ve last written, my host mother and I have decided that it is time for me to move on. We’ve decided that the kids are mature enough to take control of their own studies and that they can perform well enough without my help. I wasn’t surprised that this conversation came up; I wasn’t excited or disappointed by the change in my life. My first thoughts were: Well… what do I do now? Do I go hitch hike through Europe? Do I just go home?

After thinking hard about what it’s like to hitch hike, I decided that I don’t want to do that right now. Hitch hiking is easy in some places and impossible in others, and given my sex, my hairstyle, and the stories written on my skin, it’s especially difficult to get rides. I’ve spent hours walking on highways in the states, and I don’t really want to do that as a foreigner. I got stopped by two cops in Virginia and West Virginia — one actually gave me a ride and gave me the best place to pick up rides — that’s a conversation I don’t really want to try my French out with, for example.

So hitch hiking around Europe is out of the question for now. What I’d like to do is slowly travel, meeting lots of people, spending lots of time (and therefore little money), and really absorbing the culture and environment. This is a type of journey I can’t do with 3 huge bags (what I brought with me to be an au-pair).

So what am I going to do? Once upon a time, my University advisor told me “Go to Taize, France.” She didn’t know why she was telling me that, just that I needed to hear it.
So now I’m in Europe; I can’t stay long, I don’t have much dough, I have too many bags to move a lot… I guess now is the time that I’m going to Taize. A week later, I had a plane ticket booked for Paris. Today is the 7th of January. 10 days from now I will be in Paris; hopefully meeting someone who wants to host me and give me a couch for a couple days. If not, In exactly 10 days, I’ll be on a train between Taize and Paris.

I don’t know what I’ll learn in Taize, but I feel like I’m supposed to go there so I’m doing it. I hope I don’t feel like I learn anything. I hope it feels completely purposeless but completely where I need to be.

So that’s a bit about where I am right now. I may post a thing or two about Telgte, where Joan Grasmeder lived 200 years go, but don’t expect to hear from me until I’m writing back in Virginia. I know a lot of you are really disappointed that I’ll be back in the USA, but try to pretend to be glad to see me again. (btw, think Valentines Day when you’re wondering when I’ll be home).

OH! Also. Listen to this:

Topics: This is my life | Comments Off on Every New Beginning Comes From Some Other Beginning’s End

Waiting at an Airport

By Billy | November 11, 2011

Waiting is a hilarious thing. I’m sitting in the airport right now, waiting. Waiting for a gal I haven’t seen for more than 8 months. Eight months. The first month of that wait lasted for the last 8 months of my life. The last two hours have lasted the remaining 7 months. I wrote in my journal this morning, “I’m so excited right now. I’m totally living in the future. Huh. That’s not very Buddhist of me; if being Buddhist means I’m not allowed to get excited like this than I don’t want to be Buddhist.” I have the expectation that my partner will arrive safely in my arms today; I have the expectation that she will be exactly as fulfilling, mentally and spiritually stimulating, and as lovely as I have always known her to be.
Sometimes not having expectations because they perpetuate Samsara is like not getting a dog because the death of your last dog was so difficult. It’s like never letting yourself fall in love again just because that love you lost destroyed your sense of self and meaning. You’ll be glad you got a new dog. You’ll be glad you let yourself love again. Sometimes excitement and anticipation are part of the overall experience, donchathink? A full portion of the beauty in the change of seasons comes from the promise. When that first tree blooms, it’s hardly as exciting as we are excited; that tree is a promise — a stage to set up our expectations. Buddhism is not about not having desires and not having expectations. Buddhism is about seeing things as they really are. Sometimes things are exciting, sometimes they are enticing.
So now I have 9 minutes until Miranda’s scheduled arrival time. She was running late (grumble) but now she seems to have sped up. I must put forth effort with every cell not to explode. That means I’m going to go pay for my tea, I’m going to collect my things, then I’m going to go hand a rose and a kiss over to one of the most important people in my life.
Also, this is somewhat relevant:

Topics: Philosophy, This is my life | Comments Off on Waiting at an Airport

Is This Real Life?

By Billy | November 3, 2011

I feel funny. Is this going to be forever?
(no, of course not. this too shall pass)
Austria is unbearably beautiful right now. A thick and everpresent fog has descended upon us. If you can even see the mountains nuzzling whichever little hamlet you’re in, you certainly can’t see past them. Today I stepped outside into the crisp morning air at 6:37. It was as bright then as it will be all day. We are utterly timeless. I lost track of time five days ago.

There is an everpresent precipitation occuring of late. It’s real enough to see when you look at the sky, but magical enough that you don’t know there’s water falling on you when you go outside and play tag with the children. I’ve always had a hunch that I could live in Seattle or anywhere else where it rains more often than not. This summer it rained a lot, this Autumn it’s cloudy for weeks a time — a cloudiness I’ve never seen. It’s not in the sky, it’s on the ground. I absolutely love it.

It’s scarf season. I have loved scarves since I was a small child. Winnie the Pooh wore scarves and mittens, and I wanted to do the same. In my younger years, I thought only women could wear scarves and mittens, so if I ever found one in the closet, I would don it for a moment, imagine what it would be like to wear a scarf outside in the snow, and then I’d take it off and zip up my coat. Now I wear scarves probably every day.

I don’t have light weight gloves, so I wear socks on my hands. I made a child cry yesterday because I tagged her in a game of “Fangen” (which means catch. It’s confusing that they call “tag” “catch.”) with a sock on my hand and she didn’t want my socks to touch her. I told her they’d never been on my feet since I washed them, and she just whined the word, “trotzdem.” That’s one of my favorite words and it means something to the effect of “however” and “nonetheless.” Someday I cannot provide tough love for small children. I can be such a coddler.

Fog (der Nebel) smells, tastes, looks, and feels like… Hum.
Maybe this will help:

(Yes, Autumn feels like a song called Summer)
Life is ethereal, eternal, an has a subtle sense of infernality. Otherworldly. The leaves when you can see them spotting the mountain guardians in the distance scream success and triumph. (I congratulate you!) Amidst the evergreen forest, there are subversive camps of patient beeches and mighty oaks. They keep together, but occasionally one will go off on their own and start their own family. They want you to know that their fleeting nature is fleeting, too. They want you to know that their death necessitates a life, and their life demands a death. They want you to know that Living is different from biological aliveness. They want you to know it’s OK.

When the leaves started their leafing in August, I raged against their dying light. Now I’m begging the leaves to stay — just for a week, just for a week. Do not go gentle into that good night.
There’s someone I need you to meet. I am always backpaddling. Always backpaddling. Always backpaddling.

In the mean time, let’s all look at this kid who is stuck in a fog:

And what the hell? The Be Good Tanyas, too! Because, because!

Topics: This is my life | Comments Off on Is This Real Life?

Me Defining “Religion”

By Billy | October 29, 2011

I studied “Religion” in school. What the hell does that mean? Google’s definition of religion is: The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods. That’s wrong because belief is not necessary in the Jewish religion, worship was not even understood by the Hindus when white people found them, and Buddhism doesn’t hold any belief in controlling powers.

What does it mean to study religion, then? Every religion class without prerequisites spends at least the first class trying to answer the question, “what is religion.” Most people are frustrated to learn about Atheist Jews, Hindus, (even Christians), and often more frustrated to learn of non-theistic Taoists and Buddhists.

Religion is a social construct. This means it doesn’t exist without a social structure. Take away the people, you’ve got no religion. In fact, if you take away all the thoughts, there is no religion. This isn’t so convoluted as “The table doesn’t exist unless I see it,” nor is it “the cat is dead and alive unless I check.” This is simply the fact that religion cannot exist unless people are consciously doing something; they don’t have to call it a religion, though.

When Alexander the Great got across the Indus river, he asked the folks there about their religion and they didn’t understand. They purposely put some of their food in the fire in order to bring about good fortune, they purposely cast themselves away from society as the last chapter of their life, searching for some form of Truth, they purposely consulted people who supposedly knew more about god or the universe, but they didn’t call it religion. They didn’t make much distinction between themselves and their regional neighbors who performed different rituals and had differently named gods. They weren’t conscious of it, but they were consciously participating in religion. Feel me?

Are hydrogen atoms flying through space participating in religion? I didn’t think so when I started writing this blog post but now I do think so. The same goes for the Legos on the floor next to me. About 20 minutes ago I was ready to argue that thought is required for a socially constructed thing to exist, but I think my concept of society just exploded to an arbitrarily bigger size. Man.

I actually don’t know where to go from here. Wonderful. At some point, I wanted to mention the best definition I’d ever found of religion, “the most important things,” and complain about how it’s nice but doesn’t touch onto the community aspect of religion. As I understand it, a religion cannot be practiced alone. But can it exist through a single person?

This post came out of thinking about time. I think about time pretty for pretty much all of it. Lately I’ve been thinking of my time line as a single (one dimensional) slice of a field. The field holds an infinite number of other timelines, which are all me, too, participating in reality at the same time. Eventually the image gets so big in my head that I zoom out, and it takes the shape of a sphere. That sphere represents one single infinity.

But lo! that sphere is but a no dimensional point in another line that’s part of another field that’s representative of another speherical infinity. The zooming out zooms exponentially by this point, and the whole deal just turns into a mess in my head. As Alain de Lille, and later Blaise Paschal, the later still Dustin Hoffman, puts it, “C’est une sphère infinie, dont le centre est partout et la circonférence nulle part.” The universe is an infinite sphere whose centere is everywhere and whose circumference is nowehre.

Bam. All the sudden, not only have I been here before, but I’ve been it as every possible instance of myself and everyone else. How can Legos not have a religion, if Christians in churches can? To participate in a religion is to exist — even if it’s only in potential, memory, imagination, or eventuality. To breathe is part of the human religion, to die is part of it too. To shine is part of the religion of the stars. It’s necessity — (like those Hindus who did what they did because it was the thing that they did).

Does this land us anywhere closer to a functional definition of religion? I think it’s getting us there! It gives us a structure of Religion as well. We start with the transcendent and work our way down (or up?) into the individual, which tears itself apart and becomes the infinite and then once again the transendent. (So I guess ups and downs don’t really matter).

Before I choke on it, I’m going to start typing what I think is my final definition of religion. “What happens and why.” I’m gona try and poke it for a while to see if it gets any holes.

So the problem is that this definition is “religion” defined by a panentheist. I’m a process theologist. I just walked you thought a a slice of one of the various ways I think about the infinite nature of the universe, which is something I do pretty often. So my definition is obviously skewed towards the train of thought that puts atoms and humans on the same page of valuability, ability to do, etc.. There’s nothing inherently special about humans, because everything is the most special thing ever. This definition comes from my belief in an eternally refining existence (or happening). Religion is participating in this (which is unavoiable) + the seemingly intangible motivations behind events — like coincidence or randomness — which is real, but untouchable (thus the word “why” in the definition. So. I guess a definition born of bias is not inherently flawed. Moving on, then.

Religion is what happens and why. For humans, this means, what we do, what is done to us, what happens when we do things, and then apply the question of “why” to the study of these points — in every way “why” can be implied.

I actually really like that. This definition allows space for Ontology, Eschatology, and Metaphysics, to name a few of the things most people are caught up with regarding religion; it is Epistomologic in nature, as well.. This also deals with karma, the study of good and evil, happiness, Apocalypticism… Yeah, I’m digging it so far.

I’d really like to talk to Socrates about this definition, since I’d like to think he’d hate the definition until I converted him to Process Theology, then he’d dig it. Perhaps its indistinctivity is exaclty why I like it. It tells you EVERYTHING and absolutely nothing at the same time, which is important to remember when looking to endeavor on a study of “what’s most important,” for a person.

So there.

My definition of religion is, “What happens and why.” I think that why adequately covers the how and what reason questions.


Also, I don’t know where to put this, but most of this came out of a feeling that a lot of people decide to call themselves above religion, perhaps atheistic, then leave questions of infinity or unknowable size as questions but not call them relavent. Example: The question of the seat of consciousness is old and worn out. If you destroy a human brain completely, it loses consciousness, but if you destroy 50% of a human brain, consciousness still exists. If you destroy the other 50% of a human brain, consciousness still exists. Where is your consciousness?
Nobody knows, most people don’t care, but it’s still a question and it still demands that mysticism stay relevant in thought and discussion. If you’re comfortable with not knowing where your consciousness is (which is small-town baby frolics in the world of mysteries), but you think people in organized religions are foolish, then you are probably a member of the organzied atheistic religion and haven’t realized your own problem there. I feel a personal vendetta, apparently, to stand up for organized religion and speak against vocal atheists. Why?

So the following addendum is in response to my lovely partner who has challenged my post as coming in danger of stereotyping or generalizing atheists or atheism:

Makes sense

Anything can make sense if you want it to.

I think there’s no stereotyping going on. I am speaking to a very specific population within the atheistic crowd (religion). I’m saying if you do this, but you also do that, then you’re a hypocrite.

I’m aware that Atheism is as diverse as Hinduism or any other population you could mention, and I have respectful friends who don’t think about God… Remember that a Religious Studies degree is interpreted by many people as an open invitation for them to tell me their religious beliefs, and know that I get into just about as many conversations about Jesus is Lord as I do about Zombie Jesus is a money scam.

I didn’t articulate it well, but I a lot of people who are vocally opposed to organized religion appear to be members of a Science religion. When Christians say that God created the universe, Sciencers say that the Big Bang happened and we know exactly what happened up to .000086 seconds after it happened. They assume that this is unknown but will be knowable, and somehow the potential to know makes their theory superior to people who call it God, which is in many cases simply a word to represent infinity or unknowability.

I used consciousness as an example, but there are plenty of others. Another example would be atoms. We thought atoms were everything, then we discovered particles, then we discovered that the particles are made of particles, then we discovered that it’s likely those particles are made of particles. Whether a “smallest” particle exists or not, a believer in science at this point in the human timeline needs to make a “leap of faith” to sit down at the dinner table, because there’s no evidence that anything should stick together since it’s all made of mystery. (Actually think about it. Imagine when you cut an apple in half, and find it’s made of two mandarin oranges, then you cut them in half and they’re grapes, and you cut them in half and they’re lentils, and you cut them in half and they turn into quinoa. At some point you forget all that just happened because you wana eat an apple, but you have no idea what that apple is or how it could nurture you differently than grapes)

There are plenty of things about the Science religion that are better than many of the existent religions today. People don’t blow themselves up in the name of science (at least with the intent of killing other people) (Well, science makes bombs, but they don’t use them propogating science, mostly), we haven’t had many Crusades based on it, and though I know some people who think Capitalism is a necessity in a rational, scientific society, so the Crusades could be as inherent in Christianity (they’re not) as Capitalism is in Science.

BUT. My point of vocality against militant anti-theists comes from the elitism involved. My vocality comes from people making value judgements without having actually tried looking at both sides of the argument. It would be like a religious person debating the usefulness of an MRI machine without considering the physics of how it works, the utility of the machine, or the results of patient recovery.

I don’t constantly raise my counter-anti-theistic views indiscriminantly towards all atheists, but towards a derisive population who I have (had in Hburg) the joy of talking to openly.

Topics: Philosophy | Comments Off on Me Defining “Religion”

Powerful Music by Powerful Women

By Billy | October 26, 2011

I didn’t expect to write this now, but it’s hit me so it’s happening. I always have the inspiration to do one thing I’ve been meaning to do, when it’s really time to go do something else I wana do. Does this happen to you? I want to go make marionette puppets, but I simply must write.

This is another music post. It’s powerful music made by powerful women.


The place to start, then, is the first song I remember listening to on the internet practically non stop. This song was my comfort for many days as a child. I was ashamed to sing along, but when I was alone I did. India Arie. I don’t really like any of the other songs I’ve heard from her, but this one is spot on. This is what The Flying Spaghetti Monster’s voice sounds like.

So India Arie was one of the first women to make a song I was obsessed with. I don’t know just yet if this post is music I’ve been obsessed with or powerful music. I just don’t know!

To stay on the safe side, I’ll move on to Ani DiFranco. This lady. Just. Oh my gods. Which song do I put? There’s just too many. I guess I’ll go for the first one that I really fell in love with. This song also happened to be among those she played at Bonnaroo, and I’ve never been so joyful to say “Fuck you” to nobody in particular, and everyone at once.

Ani taught me taught to dance, be muddy, get wet, and be happy when I’m not. I’m glad to share.

Moving on. Hum. Still don’t know the scope of this post, so I’ll move on with Dessa. I downloaded this album because I read a random internet review that said, “Sounds like Ani Difranco made a rap album. This album’s got tits.” I like the idea of “having tits” being an admirable quality, I guess comparable to saying a man’s got some balls, but I think it still leaves place for undue oppression. In any case. Dessa:

There are so many quotable pieces of this song, and most of what I’ve heard Dessa say. Intelligent rap is a beautiful thing. At one time in this CD, (A Badly Broken Code) she mentions the Chicago Manual of Style, Sylvia Plath, and Alexander Pope all in one song.

So, Dessa is also a spoken word artist, and I’ve opened up a door to a different world. Enter: Andrea Gibson. In the States, I really enjoyed going to open mic nights at various locales around Harrisonburg. I only comfortable reading a few of my own poems in front of a huge crowd, but I think every single person on the planet needs to hear this, and I recite it as often as possible in front of as many people as possible.

But this brings me back to a musical spoken word combo. Rising Appalachia. Two women, a powerful message, powerful voices. More powerful than the nuclear bomb worth of explosives that blew up the Appalachian mountains this week, more powerful than the people singing, or doing the blowing up. Man. Truth has a power and a life of it’s own.

So I’ve figured out the scope. It’s whatever is big enough to fit Imogen Heap in. Once upon a time, I could NOT stop listening to this one song. Why? Because listen to it, that’s why.

And then from Imogen, it’s pretty hard to not think about Regina Spektor. Another one where I don’t know where to start… I have discussed with friends, and we have decided if you don’t like a Regina song, you’re just not ready. It’s your fault, not hers.
I don’t know why I’m choosing this song:

Since I think Samson is my favorite and Oedipus is her most genius. I guess it’s the Russian that tips me over today.

Speaking of languages ya gararyu nimnoga (I speak very little of)
Rebekah Del Rio! Because I dont know? Maybe it’s the movie that made me fall in love with it, and the ridiculous feeling the whole film gives me in my belly, but now I have a Pavlovian love for this song. Damn, I wish I invented that word, but it’s already real.

Aaaaand we finish it off with Christian Rock! …. ?
So. Jesus Culture. Things Churchians do in the name of Christ makes me ashamed to identify as a follower of Christ. (The inherent tautologic nature of the Christian faith is also a bummer, but that’s another book). Nonetheless, some Christians get it. Some Christians follow their Christ more than their Church, and I think this lady gets it, conveys it, and sounds pretty nice while doing it. I hated the prayer, and now I like it.

So. There are plenty more powerful women and songs out there, but that’s all I’ve thought of this afternoon, and my scope is certainly restricted to what’s had a heavy influence on my life in particular.

As an afterthought, Nina Simone!

Topics: Music | Comments Off on Powerful Music by Powerful Women

There’s No Such Thing As Dirt (Part 1?)

By Billy | October 13, 2011

I want to pay people to take trash apart for the production of new and better products. A customized society, tailored for you; can you imagine? Your computer breaks and what do you do? You sell or donate it and hope nobody steals your identity, you keep it in the museum that is your basement, or you throw it out. Even if you send it to a reputable company with a respectable recycling program, there is a decent chance your computer will end up getting burnt by poor people looking to harvest expensive metals out of it. (You’ll have to watch the whole documentary, really) A disproportionate part of you, compared to the rest of the beings on this planet and the rest of the human that have ever lived, will continue on doing absolutely nothing but taking up space (and possibly destroying more beneficial resources) for well after you and your family name have passed from this place. I want this process to change. I want an economically viable way to turn my old computer directly into a new and better computer, and I want the things that cannot immediately be used or melted down and re-used in the next generation to not be put on my computer in the first place. I’ll pay more, I’ll carry a heavier load, and I’ll be a repeat customer. If you take things apart, melt things down, and put things together while I’m there, you’ll never lose me as a customer.

My the Hebrew Bible teacher told me that there’s “no such thing as dirt.” What’s dirty for Jews is clean for Christians, what’s dirty for Christians is clean for Buddhists. Hell, in Zen Buddhism and many earth-centric religious, nothing at all can be “unclean.” Dirtiness is a socially constructed concept with no bearing whatsoever on true value. (Value might also be socially constructed, so we’ll define it as effectiveness, which somehow ties into phenomenon and logic, and is somewhat transcendent of society. Unless you practice Zen.) To believe in something that doesn’t exist (like Zen!) is to reify it. That means that dirt is a reification.

I’d like to introduce a new socioeconomic paradigm. There’s no such thing as trash. Trash is a reification. [Other reifications: Money, gender, labor, suffering] Now; there are a few words that go hand in hand with this word, “trash,” that must be reclaimed too, because they are also socially constructed notions. There’s no such thing as trash, there’s no such thing as waste, and there’s no such place as “away” when you throw things. I believe that abolishing these notions is one of the most important steps we as humans can take right now. If we stop believing in trash, waste, and “away,” most of, if not all of, our “problems” (also a construct) will go away or be resolved. Please note that I don’t think doing away with these notions will inherently resolve the problem, but I think that the steps necessary to do away with these problems happen to also collect solutions to the rest of the problems.

Let’s talk about throwing things “away.” Where is “away” when you throw things? I propose that as long as a thing remains on our planet, we can’t actually consider it away,” even for practical or intensive purposes. Trash cans play the same role as smokes stacks for our era. We use them so our troubles travel far enough away that we can’t see them anymore. Short of sending our “waste” to the sun or past it, I don’t see any way to practically send something “away,” and since I practice Zen I can’t see any action that would even make anything actually “away.”

But let’s not worry about where we throw our waste if we’re not throwing it “away,” because…

There’s no such thing as waste, so we can’t send it anywhere.

We’re told since for as long as we can remember that the universe is cyclical. The Circle of Life, The Water Cycle, The Carbon Cycle, The Krebs Cycle, there’s a lot of freaking cycles. Throughout the day, we’re vaguely conscious that trees are necessary for human survival because of their breathing mechanisms, but we hardly even notice that we depend on sucking up their waste products. The plant and animal kingdoms literally depend on each other’s waste. What if trees considered their waste “waste” like we do, and decided that it would be better to sequester (which is a fancy word for throw away) their waste down under the earth’s surface. Spoiler Alert! Everyone dies. [I’m not saying our industrial outputs are as good for plants as a forest’s output is for humans, bear in mind.]

Can you imagine what would happen if trees all organized and shipped (probably at the expense of smaller, less obviously important plants) their leaves to the desert, where there’s not enough life there to give a shit about? [Well actually, if every tree shipped their leaves (shit) to the desert, the desert would become remarkably more biodiverse.] But anyway, if trees tried to treat their crap like humans do, the shit would hit the fan right quick. [The phrase, “nobody gives a shit” speaks to our misunderstanding and misappropriation of waste. It implies that shit, and specifically shit, is bad, useless, undesirable, and problematic. Shit hitting any fan anywhere ever seems pretty much undesirable. BUT] If trees stopped crapping their leaves on the forest floor,  insects whose primary function is to eat leaves and serve as the only source of food for young fish would cease existing. Then the fish would die out in one generation. The soul (what a great typo for “soil”)… the soil of the forest wouldn’t keep its usual temperature, wouldn’t attract the right bugs and animals to be properly aired out, wouldn’t have the right fungus to communicate and regulate other organisms, water wouldn’t be retained, and eventually tree life would be affected.

But tree crap happens to be it’s fertilizer. Our human waste is… oh, also perfectly good fertilizer. Human waste produces food-ready fertilizer with pretty much no effort in about a year, and yet we piss in a resource that the Pentagon predicts will be so valuable a in the future, wars will be fought over it. Wouldn’t it be easier to, you know, turn a profit from your waste, rather than pay money to have someone provide a precious resource for you to destroy while shipping it “away?” Let’s keep it in the neighborhood and turn it into something useful. This isn’t about not doing something bad, this is about doing something easier and profitable. Effective, not “right.” Remember, I practice Zen and don’t believe in right, wrong, or working too hard.


Spooning is Easy

So. I’ve run out of steam So this will have to turn into 2 or 3 segments. If the muses are so kind, there will be more on this – and somehow this will all tie into upcycling, (which is like re-cycling, only you use old products to make better products, rather than old products to make worse products), planned obscelescence, turning waste management into… resource reclamation? Or just properly using resources… and maybe a 3rd part about how a world without the notion of trash doesn’t view people as commodities, doesn’t choose sides of a war for political gains, doesn’t marginalize entire civilizations or deem them insignificant,  doesn’t turn our home into a thing covered in pricetags, or worse; a buffet that is humankind’s birthright. And then a 4th part which is completely fantastical that somehow argues that this progresses into a world where Jews and Muslims get along. Ha.

Topics: Philosophy | Comments Off on There’s No Such Thing As Dirt (Part 1?)

I Forgot It

By Billy | October 12, 2011

I’m not afraid any more
like I have been.
Like I wanted to be.
I’m not proud,
I’m just ready.
I just am.
It’s not so lonely now;
to be alone.
I’m not afraid any more
of the bigger things.
I’ve learned to disagree.
and I don’t feel ungrateful
and I don’t feel confused.
I just feel right.
I don’t feel finished
but I’m on the way
And that’s enough.
It’s enough.
It’s enough for me now
like I said before.
This time it’s true;
as true as before but truer.

Topics: poetry | Comments Off on I Forgot It

A Look Into Morals.

By Billy | October 7, 2011

I have strange but very poignant morals. I don’t understand my opinion, so I’m going to do what every good United Statesian does and be very vocal about it.

When I was in 5th grade, in Mrs. B’s class, I realized that if the entire human population were buried in a cemetery like everyone I’d ever known had planned on doing, eventually the world would become a huge cemetery. I literally had visions of the future where we build cities for the dead; gigantic skyscrapers just for stacks of dead people.

Which would make it exactly like all of Japan?

So it was that I then, as a ten year old, decided it was immoral for a person to be buried conventionally with a tombstone and a six thousand pound slab of concrete protecting your body from the dirt. I assumed cremation was the only remaining option, so it became my plan to be burned. [Now I want to be buried in a simple wooden box and have a Virginia Dogwood planted in the middle.] I mention all this simply to exemplify the fact that I’ve always had a sense of duty, or a moral compass, and perhaps a general disagreement with the status quo. [Mind you, this was the year when my teacher took me in the hall to ask me, “did you take your medicine?”, held my hands during church so I couldn’t play, and lobbied for me to double the amount of brain drugs I took. Do I hold that against her? A little…]

I don’t actually feel much like getting into my past involving militant veganism, in-your-face-ahimsa, or why I thought getting arrested a couple of times might be a good idea. I churned through those phases and am writing about now.

I throw my teabags in the garbage every day and I feel no guilt about it whatsoever. I feel guilty about pretty much everything (did I mention I was in a Catholic school in 5th grade?) but not about my tea bags. I learned at Bonnaroo a couple years ago that 25% of landfills are compostable, and I learned on a talk that 25% of landfills are styrofoam. I’ve also heard that 25% of landfills are recyclable, so that leaves us with 25% of landfills being… what belongs in a landfill? Bonnaroo’s purpose for telling us to compost was so that landfills are filled more slowly, but frankly, I’d rather fill landfills up with… soil. Maybe we shouldn’t dig gigantic holes in the ground to throw stuff we don’t think is valuable anymore. [Couldn’t we employ people to take stuff apart and make it re-usable again?] So I throw my teabags in landfills because I’d be very happy if 100% of landfills was compostable. I actually don’t see any reason to NOT throw away compostable material if you’re not giving it directly to someone who is going to use it as soil. I kinda hope that all my teabags will help attract bacteria and worms and other crap that will someday evolve to eat the shitty styrofoam. I imagine my compostable material in a landfill is reclaiming the landfill from the noncompostable stuff we have there.

Before I drank my tea, I took a shower. I don’t shower but twice a week, but mainly because more than that makes me feel like I’m made of something synthetic. Day 2 or 3 feels just about perfect for me. But when I do shower, I really enjoy it. I turn the water up damn hot and I usually spend 20 minutes in the bathroom. I spend about 10-20% of my time actually making myself clean, and the rest of the time standing there and thinking, “I shouldn’t be wasting so much water. You know what, more water is wasted on watering front lawns in the US than showering, and even if I take a shorter shower, corporate America makes my change negligible. Why do I choose to feel empowered when it comes in handy to make me feel bad, but choose to feel unempowered when it comes to making me do something I’d like to do?” Good thoughts come of this, but that battle is most likely the black hole in the center of my thought galaxy. But in the end, I choose to stay there because enjoying a hot shower is not inherently evil. Heating water can be done in many sustainable ways, and if nothing else, shower water could be collected and turned into toilet flushing water so we don’t have to piss in drinking water, but if we as a society respected the cycle of resources on or planet more, showering could be done guiltlessly.

My morals are beginning to seem like they’re guided by what could be someday a moral decision, rather than what they are at the moment.

Huh. I’m outa steam and tired. Another dud post.

Topics: This is my life | Comments Off on A Look Into Morals.

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