Thursday, October 28, 2010

Making Peace and a Non-theist's Samhain

This year, due to a family obligation, I will not be able to attend our women’s circle Samhain celebration. Knowing that I am going to miss out of that has me thinking about the holiday ahead of time as I look for my own way to observe it.

Recently, Heather at Nagoonberry and I have been talking about the things we miss about theism. There is comfort in many theistic beliefs and I sometimes miss them even if I don’t believe their underpinnings are true. Normally, I think about the things I miss about Christian practice, but in reading articles on Samhain, there is something else I almost wish I believed.
Many theistic Pagans will use this Sunday as an opportunity to reach out to their ancestors and their beloved dead. It is a beautiful idea, really. The problem is I do not believe in any type of afterlife that involves spirits waiting to be summoned. In fact, I am extremely skeptical about any afterlife at all, but I am a little jealous of those who take comfort from this day.

Reading about how some Pagans experienced Samhain, I got to thinking about my maternal grandmother and how I wish I could make peace with her. I am her namesake and she died just a few years before I was born. It is strange that I was the one to get her name as our personalities couldn’t be more different. From all accounts she was a gentle and loving saint of a woman, but she was very sad. She provided love for her children while struggling with the family depression her whole adult life, and her premature death cast a pall over her children. She has been dead for 40 years and none of them can discuss her without something changing and dampening in them. It is like the guilt suppresses their spark. I have always felt like I could never really understand my mother and who she is or my relationship with her without knowing more about my grandmother and why no one in the family has ever gotten over her death.

Most of the time I am a happy non-theist. The world is so filled with wonder it can satisfy curious seekers for far more than a lifetime. Sometime, though, sometimes I wish I could cast a circle and find peace with someone whose memory haunts me even though we never met. Whatever I end up doing this Samhain, I will dedicate it to the memory of my grandmother.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lessons Learned From Project Runway

It is easy to bash fashion-y “girly” things like Project Runway. They are trivial and silly, not nearly so meaningful as something like, I don’t know… football. More than that, they are for girls, so not interesting or important. But I think the show is interesting and chock full of lessons if you focus on the process and not the outcome.

Tiny Daughter and I have become addicted to Project Runway, mainly because we both love pretty clothes and Tim Gunn. But a careful reading reveals how much a show like this can teach about the creative process and how to go for your dreams while still treating others with compassion. Yes, it is a reality show and heavily edited. No, I don’t think it really shows reality but here are a few of the topics that come to mind as teachable moments, times when we have hit pause to discuss what is happening and how we would like to be treated in such a scenario.

Showing leadership
Showing compassion
How to realize that you are not the center of the world and other people have legitimate feelings, too.
How to pick yourself up from a failure and to learn from it.
Winners aren’t the ones gossiping. They are the ones working on their own goals.
There are many sides to a story and everyone can be a little bit right and a little bit wrong.
Bad behavior doesn’t always mean someone is a villain; sometimes it just means they are human.
Forgive people for what they say when they are tired and stressed.
Stay true to your own creative vision.
How to work as a team.
Your way of doing things is not the only correct one.
How to admit that you misjudged someone and apologize.
Laughing at someone’s tears is not nice!
Accept people for who they are even if it is very different than you.

Not bad for a trivial fashion show. Those are just the ones that come to mind right now. I am sure there have been others. The most heartbreaking thing about this season is seeing the pain so many of the designers bear from not being accepted by their families because of their homosexuality, even when they work in an industry where many of their peers are also gay. Last night, watching Michael Costello break down because he was afraid to admit to his family that he failed was tough. Without making it to the finals he felt he could not prove to his family that he was successful in his chosen life and that they would try to force him back into a heteronormative lifestyle. Even with a supportive partner he did not want to face them.

Another contestant Mondo Guerra, announced his HIV positive status on the show. You could see the there-but-the-grace-of-God-go-I horror on the face of almost every man there. To a person, everyone offered him compassion, support, and encouragement. To see him again last night with his family, who clearly still wish he had grown up to be a construction worker was discouraging. They love their talented son, but they have never stopped reminding him that he did not turn out quite the way they hoped.

Twice we have also seen loving supportive gay relationships. I am glad they showed that things are not always gloom and doom. There are people out there who will love you for who you are. We will value our loved one for who they are and not for who we wish they would be.

When we first started watching PR together, I was a little concerned that it would focus too much on the material and vain. Quite to the contrary, I cannot think of any other show that we watch that has offered us so many good opportunities to talk about our values. People still tease me for watching it because it is “silly and girly” but I won’t be apologizing for my interest anymore.

On a personal note, it is time for me to stop feeling sorry for myself because of my differences with my family. My family is disappointed that I no longer believe in God. There is tension and disapproval because of that. My wound over that is not as special as I would like to believe it to be. Some of these people face constant criticism from their families because of who they are. One of them lost his access to his child. What the hell am I complaining about?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wearing Purple is Not Enough

So about the whole purple thing. I am wearing purple today to show my support for LGBT rights and youth. But the thing is…who cares?

Any decent person is saddened by the recent rash of young gay suicides. We all wish we could do something to help kids and make them feel loved for who they are. But this plan to wear purple on October 20 just makes us feel better and does nothing to solve the problem. It makes us feel better. It makes us feel like we have done something to counter prejudice. I don’t want to feel better about anti-gay bigotry; I want there to be no anti-gay bigotry and wearing purple does not solve that.

Maybe I would feel differently if I worked with children or youth. Maybe if I worked in a school, hospital, library, etc., I might be lending support to a young person who needs it. But I don’t and the people who live and work with me already know that I support gay rights. My children already know that I love and support them no matter what they their sexual preference is. My clothes have not reached out to one single young LGBT person.

If today’s Spirit Day galvanizes people to reach out and get involved with gay youth, then that is great, but if it just makes us all feel like we have done our part to fight bigotry then it is worthless. We all get to pat each other on the back for being so broad-minded. We get to identify ourselves as the kind of person who supports gay rights. It is the same kind of armchair activism that makes us feel like we are fighting back against breast cancer because we bought special Yoplait yogurt. My concern is that efforts like that can actually encourage complacency because we feel like we have already done our part. “Well, I wore purple, what more do you want from me?”

I know that many Unitarian Universalists are actively and courageously involved in working for gay rights and with youth, and in no way so I mean to diminish their efforts. The aim of this little rant is those of us who are not that wearing purple is not enough.

Great article here on the changing media representation of queer suicides.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Physics and Goodnight Moon

OK, one more sciency thing and then I will settle down. Like many of you I overdosed on Goodnight Moon when my kids were little and now a physicist approaches the beloved and obligatory tiny tome.

Nerdcore parenting. Word.

Monday, October 18, 2010

RIP Benoit Mandelbrot

This weekend Benoit Mandelbrot died of pancreatic cancer. Mandelbrot was arguably the most important mathematician of the last 50 years and was one of the founders of Chaos or Complexity Theory. He coined the term fractal to describe irregular self-repeating shapes the most famous of which bears his name. Check this out to see it in increasing magnifications. Even if you are not into science, it is really cool. This article does a lovely job of explaining his work simply.

I won’t pretend to have the mathematics to truly understand his work, but my introduction to chaos theory changed the way I see the world. I am a head-before-heart kind of person and I need to grasp something intellectually before I get it emotionally. As strange as and unconventional as it sounds, chaos theory was a doorway to spirituality for me. Without chaos, I would not have been open to Buddhism, or mindfulness, or Unitarian Universalism. The buddhabrot fractal is a tweaked subset of the Mandelbrot and there is a reason you see it on this blog.

When I think of connectivity, I think of chaos. This post is a small thank you to M. Mandelbrot for helping to blast open my mind.

Isaac Newton & Alchemy

This article is for other fans of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, which I highly recommend if you like your sci-fi mixed with historical fiction and a cast of thousands.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Non-Believer's Hallelujah

Yesterday morning while trying to summon the energy to get out of bed, I was thinking about the recent debate about appropriate UU worship music. Don’t ask me, my mind goes to weird places when trying to justify my body’s sloth. I started thinking about writing a blog post defending so-called 7/11 style praise music. I grew up with these songs, as well as hymns, and many of them will be engrained in my brain until I die. One simple song consisting of just the word Hallelujah repeated with a peaceful and almost lullaby like melody floated into my mind and just stayed there.

After sending Tall Daughter E off to school I had a few minutes to meditate before waking up Tiny Daughter M. As I sat down and tried to focus on my breath, that song just kept cycling through my thoughts and refused to go away. Since I had just been thinking about praise music as a form of religious chanting I decided to work with it instead of fighting it. I generally stay away from Christian terminology in my practices, but I wanted to see where this went so I used the song I couldn’t get rid of anyway as a chant.

Now I know, OK? I know what hallelujah really means. I know it is an exhortation to praise specifically the deity known as YHWH, a deity I reject. I hope that my intentional miss-use of the term doesn’t offend those who use it in a more traditional manner because I sure did appropriate the heck out of it and change its subjective meaning to my own needs.

Having said that… I really enjoyed the results of my experimentation. The melody is so familiar to me from childhood that I never had to think about it at all, which helped me to really be in the moment. The hallelujah that I breathed in and out me became an expression of deep gratitude for everything. I experienced amazement as the intricate interconnectivity of the universe and personal gratitude for my small existence and my part in it. It was a humbling and amazing moment. I don’t really know why this particular combination of notes and syllables worked for me so well. I don’t think there is any magic in the phrase itself, but maybe it is there in the memories.

Then I got up and rousted the daughter from bed because life goes on after the mat. All morning the memory of that moment stayed with me like the song. Hallelujah.