Sunday, March 17, 2013

In Which I Muse on Personal Relativity

I am feeling rather existential today.

I find I am caught up in the wonder of what it is to differ between one moment of life and another based entirely upon one's perception at that instant. I am reminded of Einstein's quote expressing the basis of relativity: "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it feels like an hour. Speak with a beautiful woman for an hour and it feels like a minute. That's relativity." Today has been a cerebral smorgasbord of the relative.

Little sleep can often do this -- but how is one to sleep when your mind is ablaze with stress, poetry, friendship, good company, drinks, dancing, and a pair of all-too-innocent glacial eyes? Who wishes to sleep when the world around you churns with the excitement of a new day and young life (despite my constant proclamations of the contrary)? 

As I and my good friend Scoob stepped out of his vehicle, pipes fuming, eyes weary, dreading the next rehearsal that gave us but a couple of hours for some down time, a child rode by us on his bicycle. I was suddenly struck by his energy (and not merely because he sported a lurid green mustache in light of the St. Patrick's holiday). He pressed down on the petals with a vigor that I remembered having myself when it felt like I was whirring past the pathetic, stationary objects that could not begin to imagine my mercurial speed. His smile was absolute, his eyes wide. But now, being older, being taller, having actually traveled at great velocities, he seems so slow. The end of the block looked to be a million miles away for his hobbit-esque journey. It was so strange and curious, to recall how the gallop of my own bicycling felt at that age, and then to witness the reality of it: all the enthusiasm and awe of the bi-wheeled flight existed only within, and that from the outside the spectacle wasn't incredibly epic after all. 

My waxing is masturbatory today, I suppose. Oh well -- one is allowed a reprieve from the dialectal at times. 

Perhaps it is because life seems to be going awkwardly well at a time when I assumed nothing could ever go right again. Perhaps it is because I am so tired. Perhaps it is because I am being challenged artistically, socially, and emotionally. Whatever it is, it seems as though time has simultaneously slowed and sped up, that people are both highlighted in wonderful unique lights of their own while being pieces of the visual bacchanal of my new social atmosphere, which is both encouraging and humbling. 

All right, cranial emissions finished. I'll write more constructively next time.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Out of the Flying Nun, Into the Friar

Greetings, friends. 

I have been inundated with questions about my opinion concerning the resignation of the previous papal monstrosity, Josef Ratzinger, and the implementation of a new unsettling pontificate, Jorge Bergoglio. I must say, those who know me well enough might have been able to divine my answer before the smoke had even risen from the hushed whispers of conclave. 

Papal authority only stretches so far -- a change in dogma or a new interpretation of scripture is only as powerful as two things: those willing to follow it and the life of the apostolic prince to enforce it. The rather naive optimism of those holding their breath for a progressive pope (especially those who are not Catholic) and the somber disappointment at seeing another homo-hating, wrinkled virgin don the Fisherman's Ring is a spectacle I have now had to witness twice in my young life: it must be addressed. 

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are looking toward a harmonious world where the vicissitudes of religion are quelled, where morality becomes universal and in which our unifying ties as brothers and supporters of human solidarity are validated -- you will not find this event come to pass with the election of a new papal administration. The most recent excuse for holy fraudulence is an excellent example: after years of covering up extensive details of priestly pedophilia in Catholic schools and parishes across the globe, he then uses his tri-regnum-crowned authority to welcome back into the Church's grace the Society of Pius X which was vastly anti-Semitic -- this after 60 years of backwards and ungainly attempts from the Catholic Church to apologize to the Jewish community for the Vatican's treacherous role in the Holocaust and forgiveness of the Jews for the truly laughable crime of 'deicide'. (Ratzinger himself made the same pseudo-benevolence in his book "Jesus of Nazareth - Part II".) John Paul II removed the office of advocatis diabolo in order to put his verve for the beatification and canonization of holy peoples on the fast-track. Julius II grew a beard, directly flouting canon law, when he rode into battle against the French. This is all to show how very subjective the effects of the vicar of Christ can be: when one pope dies (or in this very rare instance, steps down), whatever pieces of lordly legislation he introduced can be wiped away with the ascension of the next charlatan in a funny hat, or greeted by a appropriately subjective congregation with scorn and dislike. (Alexander VI, anyone?) 

Beyond any of this, why are we so elated that he is particularly Argentinian? That in itself seems a racism of a kind, if not at least a nationalism. And, gentle reader, does one really need your humble servant to remind you that the close bonds of fascism in the far west -- namely Argentina -- are what allowed Eva Peron to simultaneously harbor Nazi fugitives in the Casa Rosada on the run from world justice, bankrupt the economy of her own nation and present herself to an adoring and tyrannical General Franco? These are the allies which the Vatican put to good use previous to the end of World War II. All Argentina was missing to be of sincere prominence to the papacies of Pius XI and XII was an army, a wealth of gold, an an Argentinian version of the Reichskonkordat or the Lateran Treaty of 1929. The only people who should be proud of an Argentinian pope is Argentinians -- the rest of the world should be less-than-surprised. 

But there is one constant that should be acknowledged: there will never be a pope in the history of the Church that will deny the veracity of the Bible or the revelations of the Patriarchs and the Prophets (at least further than private rumination or, in the name of symbolism and allegory, claim them to be spiritual puzzles given to us by the almighty through which to decipher his will). This means that the subjugation of women, the horrid concept of the Crucifixion and everything it implies, the elucidation of god's hatred against homosexuals and the rest of the torpid, useless tome will always be center-points of conservative Catholicism (better known by its extreme moniker "fascism"). A single pope will never change this -- and if he tried (because we know that a "she" will never get the chance to try) the lack of an impeachment process wouldn't be an obstacle to his downfall at all: raving lunatics shouting "anti-Christ" would lead assassination attempts en masse. Even if Pope Popular the Gay Redeemer managed to survive until the end of his papacy and institute the progressive and wonderful changes everyone prays for with each new barring of the Sistine Chapel, those changes would just as easily be removed by the withered hand of the next senile, altar-kissing gorgon. 

So, my friends, please do yourselves a favor -- stop hoping for it. Stop being disappointed. Bergoglio's election should have been no surprise to you, and the discovery of his narrow mind and dutiful following of conservative Catholicism should be no more painful. The Vatican will never see a progressive pope sooner than McDonald's will announce its change to a vegan menu. Instead, take pride in knowing that the foolish whim of the leader of the world's smallest country (given sovereignty only because of that country's illicit dealings with Mussolini, I might add) have no bearing on your morality, your politics, your life, or your pride. Stop hoping for a better leader and instead start hoping for a better institution. No pope will make a Catholicism worth tolerating. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

In Which I Visit a Catholic School With a Troupe of Clowns

The fan of paradox and irony that I am, I was at once horrified and overjoyed to hear that my Physical Performance II class (which I call Physical Perforation due to the discomfort it causes my corpulent figure) would be visiting a local Catholic school for very young people to perform a series of clown acts that we had been working on during the semester. Thankfully, I have an unfair advantage at this, since because of my reputedly gruff demeanor and impatience with slapstick, the very act of me even putting on a clown nose is considered quite funny to anyone who knows me. "Worth the price of admission, right there," as Joe Legate is wont to smirk.  

Due to various circumstances, I wasn't able to perform in the clown set anyhow, but I traveled along with the rest of the group to watch and be a designated holder of coats, purses, phones and keys (undoubtedly training for my future career as the ever-helpful butler of a superhero). But before I could be resigned to this task, I was overwhelmed with the sudden timidity that seethes into me whenever I am striding that fine tightrope between sorrow and rage, which was inspired in me by the garish horror of the school that I had just stepped into. 

Most people are unaware of the rather ambiguous content of the stories of Joseph. It is told in differing ways between the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, for example: in one Joseph and family live in Nazareth and then travel to Bethlehem in accordance with a census levied by Roman authorities; in another, they flee from Bethlehem to Nazareth after Herod's expiration. Matthew's is also the only Gospel to mention the infant massacre or the holy family's sojourn into Egypt and back. He is barely mentioned in the Bible outside of these events yet is regarded as a saint by many Orthodox faiths, despite his never performing of a miracle, which is a requirement in numerous current dogmas. It's also conveniently forgotten that he very much wanted to leave Mary (as they were not yet married, "divorce" is a not an applicable term) when he discovered her pregnancy, but was apparently dissuaded when an angel appeared to him in a dream confirming that Mary's vagina does indeed work merely one-way. None of these seem to be praiseworthy enough to name a school after the man, let alone mark him as a saint. 

Upon my entrance into St. Joseph's, I was instantly greeted by a large portrait depicting various biblical stories, across the top of which was emblazoned "Ite Incendite Mundum", which for those even more unfamiliar with Latin than myself reads: "Set the World on Fire". This harrowing epigram was at least as ominous to me as "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here" or "Welcome to the State of Alabama." Needless to say, there are plenty of metaphorical and symbolic justifications to the text argued by theists (when are there not?) but the outright banner of it was unsettling nonetheless. This was only bolstered by the fact that everywhere I turned I saw not only hanging crosses, which are macabre enough in themselves for anyone who chooses to remember the shape as a blood-streaked instrument of the worst devised torture that could be conjured by men at the time; but crucifixes, which instead of suggesting the barbarism, display it in gruesome detail. Everywhere I turned, I saw a man spitted and thrashed and nailed to the wood, just above the eye-level of hundreds of children no higher than my knee, laughing and chittering away obliviously. My gorge rose at it. 

Enter: the Clowns into the Classroom. More crucifixes and admonitions from prophets. The Beatitudes hung on a wall (starting the bribery lessons early, I suppose). As the tiny humans congregated in a none-too-quiet fashion to watch my peers mime missed handshakes, shoddy ballet, and other such sets, my eyes roved the room, picking up the details. I noticed to my childish delight that an orbital map of the world hung on one wall, in an institution which for centuries maintained that the earth was a disc in the middle of a geocentric universe. As the laughter of young ones swelled, my eye caught a picture of a priest whom I suppose is an administrator of some sort in the school, and my mind washed with images of Father Murphy, the deplorable subject of Mea Maxima Culpa; or of Doubt's Flynn; of the desiccated and haggish face of Josef Ratzinger, who very near to that day was to lay down his  crosier and give up the triregnum, who had for years received to his desk every allocation and detail of every sexual abuse travesty in every church under Vatican authority and deftly covered them up. I wondered quietly to myself if I, unknowingly, sat in a school wherein the same indescribable horror might have occurred. Do not think, gentle reader, that I bring up such a morbid fantasy merely to make chills run down your spine: the possibility is as definite as the sun rising in the east. 

In any case, I remain despondent at the fact that school such as this exist, which teach untruths and false moralities, which cost undoubtedly more than is comfortable for those whose faiths are so stubborn that they must manage in order for their offspring to see and respect god in all his wonder; schools that portray madmen and liars and charlatans and pedophiles as righteous and learned ministers of humanity; institutions that house all the potential for bright-mindedness and free-thinking, and squander it on ritual, surrender, and a love of death. It must be said that, despite the wonderful, clownish antics of my comrades, I left St. Joseph's with a sad and weary heart.  

Saturday, March 2, 2013

In Which I Attend a Pagan Yule Celebration and Share My Thoughts

It is a rare event indeed when one is invited to observe or participate in a decidedly taboo religious celebration. I could hardly call myself a commentator on all things credulous if I declined such an extension; besides which, the only blasphemy I could ever put to words would be the refusal to spend time with good people and deliciously strong waters. Since the last twelve months have hardly been the annus mirabilis for me, anyhow, what possibly could one have to lose? If nothing else, I would learn something. So it was that against all odds I attended a Yule celebration in the company of various cloaked and beshawled pagans of a plethora of denominations. 

West of Kalispell, the Yule celebration in particular was to begin at sundown. A couple of glasses of absinthe were a prerequisite for myself but those about to give homage to the Holly King abstained until the opening ritual was completed (for both social and dogmatic reasons, as I was later to discover.) I stood quietly in a wide swath of snow, a shoddily louched cup of absinthe in my hands (a nearly redundant description, since the verb for adding iced water to the verdant spirit and sugar in a cup is also an adjective for something shady or unkempt) while a congregation of people ranging from ages under a decade to their middle years entered a circular sacred space and called the corners, praising the corresponding elements that represented them as well as the cardinal directions. While modern clothing was prevalent  one could also glean the sound of a trailing cloak over the crispy snow and the occasional click of a staff on stone. The praises and adulations both to the goddess and the Holly King, thanking them for an end of the darkness of winter and the return of the light of spring rang soundful and full of purpose through the setting shadows. One thing that must always be said for polytheisms: those participating never seem to let themselves sit in the spiritual doldrums of the average Sunday mass or dreary midnight matins - there was an unmistakable air of gratefulness and dedication that seems at best feigned in other religious circles. Perhaps it is because such sabbats are chronologically rare in comparison to the weekly times and tithes of the Christian schedule, so they were simply making the most of it while it happened. I think, however, that the necessary invocations might require a spirit more vocal and passionate rather than the tempered, quiet prayers of a congregation whose most sapient metaphor aptly compares the followers to sheep. Either way, as the songs were sung and the circle traversed I could not help but feel as though I was witnessing a rite that was far more purposeful than most others I had watched - though that is not to say it resonated with me any more. My typical stoic skepticism made up my own mask for the evening, though it was tempered with genuine politeness for the generosity of those who had accepted both my witness of their worship and my partaking of their alcohol. It may amuse most to know that while the ritual was performed, a nimble and friendly cat did indeed leap onto my shoulder and perch there as though I were a bust of Pallas on a chamber door and watch the rite with wide amber eyes. A rattle of Hogwartian irony did pass through me. 

For those unaware, Yule is the ritualistic foundation of the more commonly accepted holidays of this time of year, in which pagans celebrate the return of the light to the land after the Winter Solstice, and many elements which we find intrinsic to Christmas such as Yule logs, holly wreaths, red and green and white floras and the giving of gifts are all tropes of a tradition much older than those which we have cozied up to since the calendar made the coin-toss shift from B.C.E. to C.E. All of these themes were, of course, manifest in this particular Yule ceremony, as well as the lighting of an all-night fire in tribute to the sun god or Holly King. Beyond this, merry-making and general frivolity were the hallmarks of this particular coven's way of giving thanks and ringing in the new year, as it were. While I didn't expect blood to be shed or unfortunate fowl to meet its occult end, the talk that pervaded the both the fire-area and the dining room spoke as if another occasion might have merited either, and I was promptly informed that Yule was a much more dogmatically relaxed occasion. I must say, I think in these cases the foreboding statements were more of a joke at the expense of the only unbeliever in the group --- a failed one, in any case, since I am lucky enough to have a scant but passing familiarity with general sabbat themes and know they typically contain none of these macabre elements. Nonetheless, I cannot disappoint those hoping that there was some eerie presence or power that was strong or perhaps lewd enough to arouse my senses and make me consider the premise: there was a moving portent to the things I witnessed. However, this was merely theatrical in its potency --- the watching of a ritual of any kind has always inspired the moving thrill of a stage presence in me. It would be remiss of me not to indulge the moment any more than the mild wonder that I inhabit when observing a baptism or listening to the call to prayer undulated from the throat of an imam in a towering minaret. Of course, none of this has ever tipped me further than an academic interest or in many cases repulsion --- those hoping for a theistic convert, even to paganism, can move along with breath unbated. 

Incidentally, I found myself enthralled with a marvelously social point that was particular to this religious tribute that I cannot say I have experienced in any other. Wholly different from the attempted prolonging of the point through pacified conversation that so often ensues post-mass or service (i.e. "Wasn't that a lovely sermon? God truly does speak through Reverend So-and-so..."), the mood instantaneously shifted to all topics and actvities engaging and delightful. Nor, I hurry to point out, was I barraged by a slough of questions or concerns regarding my non-faith, which I found most refreshing (the fact that I was an outsider was at least evident given that I had literally stood outside of the entire procession during their ritual). I hesitate to admire this outright as an intrinsic quality of the character of these strangers and near-friends, as that would be a little naive of an appraisal. Rather, I am sure that the subject of anti-theism is at least as taboo and inherently contrarian as paganism to the grand scheme of the world, and these people were no doubt paisan-like with the concept of ostracisism, and wouldn't wish to inflict it on another. I was touched and grateful, to say the least. I was a reminded of a good many Christian friends whom I cherish that are hell-bent (if I can use so low an irony) to make sure I never feel persecuted and who will always remain in the highest of accord.  

All in all, those who have never attended a Yule might do well to appreciate the near-secular quality of the holy day (it seems trite in this case to make the conventional contraction to the quotidian "holiday") much as I do now of Christmas. As one can begin to blur away the mangers and archangels of one brand of mythology to see the much more palpable and worth-celebrating virtues of family and thankfulness and friendship, so too can we find these traits abundant sans Holly King or circle-casting or corner-calling. I was reinforced in my small contingent of pagan friends, young and old, who have never uttered a piece of their faith that bordered discriminatory or particularly dark, and again I can only assume that this nature has evolved from an ideology that was itself discriminated against for so long. It is difficult to imagine a widely persecuted philosophy to make itself a vehicle for persecution (though the Zionist movement seems to be the grandest and most heartbreaking exception), and it showed, at the very least, in this instance of Yule. Obviously, I have attended many a Christmas party, even mass or service, wherein the same rather enjoyable experience occurred, in which no deity of any particular flavor played a single part. I should think, given the spirit of the season (as well as the spirit residing in my sanguine constitution) that this solidarity and brotherhood and companionship is in itself worth celebrating. A glass of mine is raised to anyone who is grateful for the same excuse, standing in church or circle!