I am a smoker. I like to say that I’m a “social smoker”, because that makes it sound more acceptable (at least, to my ears), but that’s probably a fiction us social smokers invented. I started smoking in high school, because everyone else was doing it and because the cigarettes that I smoked (not tabacco, but cloves) made my lips taste fun. My classmates and I would hang out at our favorite local pub, drinking and smoking, talking, laughing, and doing what one does at pubs. My best friend and I would split a pack: she would buy it this time and I would buy it next time. I don’t really remember how quickly we went through the packs, but since each pack was often in the custody of the other, we only smoked when we were together. I don’t remember ever really wanting to have a cigarette unless we were drinking or about to drink.
When I moved to the United States, I discovered that drinking and smoking did not go together; at least not indoors. So I stopped. DH and I bought a case of my favorite clove cigarettes and, over the last five or so years, have smoked about half of it (6 packs?). I’m upfront about my smoking (and its frequency) with doctors, who often lecture me about how bad it is and try to convince me to stop. But I figure, I don’t smoke that often, so it’s probably not that bad.
Then I moved back to Germany. In the intervening 10 years, Germany has outlawed smoking in restaurants and bars, but smoking is still something that everyone does. So I started smoking again. I share my cigarettes with people, so not all of the packs are smoked by me, but I’m up to about a pack a week. And, I’ve discovered, I see it as a relaxing activity. I know, biologically speaking, that nicoteine does the opposite of relax one, but at the end of a long day at work, after a particularly hard class, or just when hanging out at a biergarten, I find that I like having a cigarette to relax with.
I think I have decided that it is the ritual of it that is so attractive. The comaraderie of smokers outside a bar, the choosing of the right cigarette, the lighting (or the asking for “a fire”), and the first drag all have more significance to me than the simple actions of an addict. Or maybe I’m just rationalizing some more…
Apparently some aspect of the LDS temple ceremony will be portrayed on HBO’s Big Love (tonight?). Here’s a picture that was forwarded to me, apparently from TV Guide:
Mormons are decrying this as sacrilegious and disrespectful, of course, but as one of thousands who was hoodwinked into going through the ceremony and socially coerced into accepting its secret oaths and tenets, I think that just about any public airing will help to diminish the power of the ritual. While I would hesitate to characterize Mormonism as a cult, the temple is where it gets the closest to acting like one. So this airing is a Good Thing. And it may be the first episode of Big Love I actually watch.
I told a professor here (who was running a forum on the Question of God) that my religious background is ex-Catholic but that I am an active blogger in the ex-Mormon part of the Bloggernacle; that my husband is humanist, my father-in-law is Buddhist, and my mother-in-law is First Nations/Pagan. I got an awesome look as he tried to process this. “…So, you grew up Mormon?”
Many of the readers here post on Twitter and I’m impressed by the number of people who are considering celebrating (and hashtagging) Lent this year. I had to ask a classmate the other day whether Mormons celebrated Lent or not. I’m thinking that I will this year. Today is Ash Wednesday (I missed one of my favorite holidays: Pancake Tuesday, when my mom would make breakfast for dinner), the first day of the 40 days of Lent (Sundays don’t count).
Most, if not all, religions recognize the spiritual purpose behind fasting. I think, sometimes, that we need a Deity poking us in the back with a sharp stick to get us to do what we should be doing. And I don’t mean “not eating chocolate” but “giving to the poor” or “volunteering time”. The way I was brought up, giving something up and giving something back went hand-in-hand: if you give up chocolate, the money you would have spent on chocolate goes into the Rice Bowl. The older I got, the less it was about giving something up (perhaps not doing something you shouldn’t do) but taking on something that you don’t normally do.
In that spirit, this year for Lent I am taking on Working Out. This is something that I should be doing for myself (since I’m slowly sliding into bad-body-image, which always annoys me), for my husband, and for my grades… I’ve been doing it pretty regularly recently and have been feeling amazing because of it. I have more energy and feel like my brain is working better. I wake up more easily and, though it’s still hard to get out of a warm bed, once I’m awake, it’s not harder to stay that way.
But I also know that a promise to a Deity I don’t believe in isn’t worth much. So I’m publicly drafting the following contract with myself:
I will do Yourself!Fitness for 15 minutes every weekday morning that I do not have a class at 8 am before I go to school. I will go to Judo every Saturday that I can (and this does not include Saturdays I just don’t want to). I can make up Y!F by doing an extra 15 minutes, either later in the day, or on a different day (hopefully this will not mean that I end up doing an hour and 15 minutes on Sundays…). For every Y!F I do not make up, or for every 15 minutes I fail to do, I will donate $10 to the charity noted below. For every Judo I fail to attend, I will donate $20.
I charity, so that I have something sharp to poke me in the back, is the creepiest one I could come up with—the people I want least to have my money. (DH suggested the RNC): Feminists for Life…or in the alternative, Human Life International.
Is any of you doing anything for Lent?
I can’t remember when I first wanted to get a tattoo, but it was sometime in high school. I wanted a yin yang on my ankle. In college, I finally got it, but at the last moment, I changed its placement to my lower back. It was amazing. It was transcendent. It was painful. It was crooked.
I love my tattoo, which is at my hara, a placement that means something to me in terms of focusing energy as well as balance. I love its imperfection, though it took me a bit to get there. I don’t like that it’s so hidden from me. I didn’t get it so that others would see it, I got it so that I would know it was there—a commitment to balance, an acknowledgement of imbalance. But ever since I got it, I have wanted another.
I once read somewhere that, if you think you want a tattoo, wait five years. If you still want it, then you really want it. Indeed, I’ve already decided on a third tattoo, but it has a few more years of thought left to go into it. It has been five years since my first tattoo and I’m ready for my second.
I’ve been wanting a spider tattoo for some time and only recently started thinking concretely about it (I had to give it 5 years, after all). I know where I want it (on my foot) and that I want it to be a realistic (rather than stylized or cartoony) spider. But what kind of spider? I did a lot of research & kept coming back to the black widow, a beautiful spider. But I knew I didn’t want the hourglass—I want the emphasis on the fact that she’s a beautiful spider, not that she’s a beautiful killer. I just recently realized that I could get a top view of a black, shiny, beautiful spider.
But who? When I got my first tattoo, I went into Venice (Beach) and stopped at the first place I found. Not a real sophisticated approach. I knew enough to make sure they were clean & ask the right questions, but I didn’t have a relationship with the place. My step-mother-in-law has recently gotten a few tattoos, each time developing a relationship with her artist and working together with him or her to develop a design. And they are beautiful. This has been what has been stopping me from heading back into Venice. I don’t just want a permanent mark. I want an experience.
At the Edwardian Ball recently, I saw & met (sort of) one of the sponsors: Zulu, of Zulu Tattoo. When I interacted with him, I didn’t realize he was someone, but he was kind and gracious and warm and friendly. So I looked up his parlor. I found following poem on his site (I’m doing it an injustice printing it statically, you should go to the website for the full effect):
Since the dawn of time…
Man has marked his body…
To associate with his tribe…
and his Gods
this ancient art is preserved by the Primal Spirit that dwells in us All
that Spirit which yearns to artistically express it’s Pride and Ancestry
Welcome to the Tribe
I want my next tattoo to be a deeper experience. Zulu Tattoo seems to be the right place to do it. Then I read Zulu’s message to his visitors: “My concern is to provide you with a custom design fitted for you alone. I encourage clients to get involved in the creation of their sacred markings as we work together to bring that which is within you to the surface. I look forward to having the pleasure and the honor of being chosen to give you your sacred mark.” That’s it. I want a sacred mark. And I want to get it at Zulu Tattoo.
For a few weeks when I first stopped being able to find time to blog, I kept windows open in Safari to the point that it was neigh on impossible to shut down my computer, for fear of losing all the wonderful and amazing links I was going to share! But then I got into the Zen of it and decided that blogging is impermanent and that you all would survive even if you didn’t read that screed I found about Palin or the funny-but-true pic I found about the Constitution. So I let them go.
But I’m back *fanfare* and to celebrate, I have three links to share:
The first is this “Coming Out as an Atheist” survey. It essentially compares atheism (and the social/familial stigmas attached to it) to homosexuality and asks, if applicable to you, which was harder to come out as. (My guess? Homosexual, but who knows.) It’s not the kind of survey where you get results (“Congratulations! You’re a Libertarian!”), but the kind of survey that’s part of a study. So I encourage people who are out-atheists, on-the-fence non-believers, and religion-doubters to go take it (sorry to all you actual religionists, I don’t think there are a lot of options for you).
The second link is for religion geeks (or geeky religionists): If Programming Languages were Religions.
Finally, for peaceniks, today is the Winter Solstice and someone has organized a minute of silence, followed by bell-ringing for peace at noon today. Not a bad way to remain present as the season ramps up in crazy.
That is all.
Thanksgiving is a religious holiday. When the pilgrims first gathered to give thanks that they made it through their first few months in a wild new world, they weren’t thanking the natives for helping them, they were thanking their god for making the natives to help them. As a harvest festival, it has its roots in pagan celebrations giving thanks to their gods for a good harvest. When we say that we “are thankful for” something in our lives, even as atheists, we’re generally thanking a nebulous “universe” or “luck” that things are the way that they are.
But there is value in acknowledging that we are lucky people, that we are people who have things to be thankful for. Here is my (far from exhaustive) list of things I am thankful for; from the universal “family and love” to the mundane. Please add your own—the meditation of giving thanks has value even for the secular.
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I had my first final today. In preparation, I spent some time on the library’s balcony, enjoying the view, the silence, and the not-school-ness. I also spent some time in the library’s prayer room. (I also spent some time watching the Shiba Inu Puppy Cam, but this post is not about that.)
Hanging out in these two places reminded me of all the praying I did when I was still pretending to be Catholic. It was boring, tedious, stressful, painful, and made me fall asleep. We prayed the rosary as a family when I was kid: we all knelt in a circle with beads dangling from our hands and intoning like zombies. This was the worst prayer for me. Kneeling on the ground was certainly not good for my knees, but even seiza would have been better than right-angle kneeling. Then there are the prayers. It’s deceptively simple: 10 Hail Marys (which come in two parts, one starting “Hail Mary” and the other starting “Holy Mary”—I constantly got them confused), an Our Father, a Glory Be…if you’re lucky. Then there are the prayers that only ever come up in the rosary, at the beginning and the end. One’s a creed, but it’s just different enough from the creed said in mass to mess you up. And you have to lead the rest of the group; that means, you say half the prayer and they respond. That means, if you’re the youngest or just don’t know the prayers as well, everybody knows when you mess up. If that weren’t enough, the prayers said between each decade (named for approximately how long it feels like you’ve been kneeling) change every day. By the time the rosary was over (50 years later, by carbon dating of my asleep feet), I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide of embarrassment, kill myself from the pain in my knees and the pins and needles in my feet, or just join a convent so I could take a vow of silence and never be caught saying the wrong words to a prayer again.
Non-public prayer was better, although I didn’t do a whole lot of it. I’ve had trouble falling asleep my whole life, but discovered in middle school that a few Hail Marys would put me out right quick. If I attended a public rosary today, they’d probably think I suffered from narcolepsy. The praying you did silently but in public (like after Communion, or before Mass) was pretty easy: a vacant stare toward the front of the church afforded a good opportunity to re-count the bricks in the wall, the pipes on the organ, the ceiling tiles on the ceiling, and, if I was lucky, the blades of a spinning fan (they’re harder to count while spinning). If I was feeling particularly pious, I’d close my eyes, or bow my head and let my imagination wander. I read a lot of fantasy books as a kid, including some filled with real gods (you know, the ones who answer prayers, whose priests can cause mystical happenings) and magic. I often went here and wondered what it would be like if I had a real god. This usually ended with me doing fantastical feats in church, to the amazement of all the parishioners; until a great chasm opened in the center of the aisle and I was swallowed whole by it.
Meditation, on the other hand, I learned in Judo. I learned to kneel in seiza before class started and simply breathe. I learned to become more aware of the things around me or block them out completely. I learned the meditation of sweeping the mats before practice, the one-mindedness of a really good practice, when no thoughts flit across your consciousness and your body moves like you think it should, unimpeded by gravity or other trivial considerations.
I went to yoga, where I learned the many kinds of breathing: the ones to calm and to excite; to cleanse mind and to cleanse lungs. I learned how stretching and deliberate motion put me in a place of peace and a feeling of unity with myself (not body and mind, but simply me).
I learned that hiking, walking on a rocky beach, and gardening brought the same peace, one-ness of mind, and relaxation as judo and yoga. I learned that many activities could be meditative, especially the mundane.
I learned that sometimes, words help focus the mind and developed or discovered “prayers” that helped me, rather than the ones I already knew would simply distract me (or put me to sleep). I learned that beads kept my body focused just as words focused my mind.
In short, I learned that meditation makes me a more complete person, calms me down, and helps me get through this stressful life intact. Something the prayer of my childhood could never have hoped to do.
Driving past the high school today, I saw a number of costumed people. Even at the law school, there are plenty of people dressed up. Halloween is the day that this society acknowledges that mask. We all wear different masks throughout the day, throughout the year (the corporate yes-person, the dutiful child, the loving spouse). Some masks are closer to the real skin underneath than are others. We all play our parts. But today, we get to change our mask—show the skin underneath, or what we wished it was.
Today, my mask is vampire hunter, and I’m reminded of my first Model Congress, when I had to be a democrat. The mask rankled. I wanted everyone to know that I wasn’t on the inside what I appeared on the outside. The mask was the antithesis of the skin. Today my skin is trying to be at home inside the mask. I look great! But a part of me just can’t get into it. The day is yet young, however
What masks are you wearing today? What do they say about the skin underneath?
I have to post this, since it’s lolreligion. By now, I’m sure everyone has heard that a particular Christian called others to join in prayer at the bronze bull on wall street to ask god to “shift from the bull and bear markets to what we feel will be the ‘Lion’s Market,’ or God’s control over the economic systems”. Which itself sounds super creepy. via etal. Now, attentive biblical scholars will tell you that there is a huge difference between worshipping a golden half and worshipping a bronze bull. I mean, they’re both metal cows, but that’s where the similarity ends. God didn’t say anything about bronze bulls. Just trees, golden calfs, & so on. So, they’re obviously in the clear. Still, this is funny:
from sf_drama stolen without permission.
California, post Supreme Court decision (that discrimination based on gender is discrimination), now uses marriage licenses that ask for the names of “Party A” and “Party B” to the marriage. As someone who still doesn’t feel like the word “wife” applies to her, I think this is pretty awesome. It is, however, causing waves.
I understand where the desire to take this stand comes from (being against gay marriage), however, is it really so bad to use gender-neutral language? Did “Bride” or “Groom” come first before and why? Doesn’t this provide people who are not in the men-are-better-than-women or the women-should-be-treated-with-more-respect-than-men camps with more freedom? Once again, how does this affect your [heteronormative] marriage/relationship/wedding?
My cousin does a lot of babysitting. She recently babysat a kid who was trying to tell her about a friend’s imaginary friend, Genius, who was a reverse zombie: he died but then, instead of wanting to eat your brains, he wants us to eat his. It took my (Catholic) cousin a long time to realize that this (obviously non-Christian) child was trying to explain that her friend’s imaginary friend was Jesus and that she was describing the Mass. At which point she laughed heartily.
This comes to mind because I just found these:
Kinda ironic that all religion really wants is to eat your brains. I also find it interesting that the only Christian I know I used to work with at the Apple Store was obsessed with zombies. Maybe the reason everyone thinks the End Times are at hand (besides the fact that, you know, they’re always at hand) is because zombies are in the zeitgeist. Anyone who hasn’t seen Shawn of the Dead run, don’t walk to Netflix and watch it. It will save your soul.
During Obama’s recent visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, according to tradition, he wrote a prayer on a piece of paper and left it there. However, since he is under media scrutiny right now, it was stolen by a young seminary student (who should have known better!). While I disagree completely with its theft, the text gives me great insight into the person I want to vote for.
The fact that he did it at all shows his respect for religions not his own (and the content seems to prove that he believes God Is One); both things I profoundly respect. Having brought stones to Jewish graveyards myself, I can attest to the fact that acting in the traditions of others gives one insight toward ones own beliefs.
The text itself, which I do not encourage anyone to read who does not want to, as this is more than reading one’s mail, but reading one’s thought-to-be private letter to the Divine, reminds me of King Solomon’s prayer. (For wisdom, rather than riches.)
Again, it gives me profound respect for the man and for the politician. May his prayer be answered.
(Prayer and links below the fold, but no other info, so don’t go if you don’t feel right doing it.) Read more >>