Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sign of the Devil

Have you every wondered why the stars on the Grand Ol' Party logo are upside down?  They weren't always this way, they were changed I believe around 2000 or so.

Traditionally, the upside down five pointed star was the sign of Satan or the occult.

Just wondering.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Sawdust Toilet comes Full Circle

Well, I guess I'd have to grow food in the compost and eat it and then it would be full circle.  But until later this spring when that comes to pass, the news is for now.  The bin has been sitting for a week short of a year, and I had some time today so I decided to break into it and see what was in there.  

 This first picture was what I saw when I first took the pallet off.

 Closer view here.  The grassy stuff is compost, grass, paper etc. that I put on top of the pile as it condensed.  No point in wasting good composting space.

Then I started to dig out a section to see what I was getting into.

Here you can see a good cross section of the pile.  There are four distinct layers.  The top layer is uncomposted organic material.  The next layer is composted bathroom waste.  The black layer is a layer of leaves that I put on the pile between the times the pile was in use because for a few months, I ran out of sawdust.  The red/brown layer on the bottom is the oldest of the bathroom waste compost.

Here it is in the wheel barrow.  There are some spots you can see with uncomposted material, that is pieces of plastic from various sources, cardboard tape, shredded envelope windows and the like.  It should photo-degrade pretty quickly when it gets exposed to the sun.

Finally, here is a sample in my hand.  I did have the thought "This is poo in my hand" but then I realized "No it isn't, it's compost, it's not poo any more."  The consistency shown is that of worm castings, if you click on the picture, you can see a much larger view.

The biggest thing I noticed was that I expected the compost to be much darker.  I think that my be due to the fact that in this pile, I did not use rotted sawdust, but fresh stuff from a cabinet shop.  Therefore, it may be more powerful when finally composted in comparison to the nitrogen rich materials.  Other than that, I can't wait to get this stuff on the garden and see some results.  My corn has been poor here, I hope to change that.  If you have any questions or comments at all, please leave a comment, even if you wish to do so anonymously.  I read every comment and answer nearly every one.

I spread the first wheelbarrow full on the strawberries.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The F Word and the R Word

Recently, I’ve undertaken to explore the differences between faith and religion. I guess the greatest reason for doing this is because I’ve ceased to identify myself with the American Christian church at large. What I’m really looking for is an intermediate term that identifies me with Jesus the Messiah, but not with the American church and Christian Conservatism, and especially not with conservatives and republicans. They do not represent me as a Christian, or represent Christ either.

There are a lot of problems as I see them with the way we use the words faith and religion and how they compare with how they were used traditionally and originally especially in a Christian context. Western thought now often espouses the idea of a spiritual life separated from a work life, a sex life, a financial life, and the overall concept of life as it is. In Jesus time and in ancient thought in the near east in general, there was no such thing as a spiritual life, there was just life. It was expected that everything you did affected and was affected by everything you were and believed. Fortunately, thinkers today are in some ways returning to this mode of thought. Today, faith and religion are used almost interchangeably, and even some try to delineate them in ever more creative vocabularial gymnastics. Contemporary preachers are now heard describing religion as a bad thing, a set of rules, while faith is what we should do if we follow Jesus.

I myself find that I want to get away from those rules and focus on a more personal faith. Faith after all is only as efficacious as the object in which it is placed. However, I do want to associate myself with the orthodox Christian faith, and am definitely interested in the history of the church. One of the ways I’ve explored this is by studying the Mennonites recently. Since the inception of their tradition, they have been committed to non-violence (well, most of them, you know how it is.) Jesus said “Blessed are the Peacemakers” so, naturally, I assumed that meant that it was a good idea not to be starting wars and killing people. Apparently, according to the Christian conservatives, I was mistaken. I’ve come to understand a completely new (to me) meaning of the Beatitudes as well. For as long as I can remember, the beatitudes have been another list of things that you should do if you want to be blessed by God. This is not the correct interpretation. If the beatitudes are a new law, then Jesus did not fulfill the law, he made a new one. This stands in the face of everything Jesus actually did, to restore the universe to its rightful order. Read the text carefully, it does not say “Blessed are you when you do such and such.” It says “Blessed are you when you are such and such.” Blessed are you, fortunate are you when you are just as you are, broken, wrecked, and longing for a better way. This interpretational difference really codifies the difference between faith and religion for me.

Recently, a friend, in a moment of startling lucidity, explained it in this way. "There IS a difference between religion and faith. Faith is something that is very personal and is understood by an individual. Religion is an attempt by man to explain faith and allow a group to understand the faith of the individual." In some cases, I’d say it is an attempt to coerce or convince a group to understand the faith of the individual or even to fall in line with a certain dogma.

One of the unfortunate things the church is doing is getting the attention of the world, but in a bad way. The ones who are getting the attention of the world lately are the unfortunately conspicuous like Pat Robertson, Joel Osteen, and James Inhofe. Ask a non believer what they think of Christians and they will say “hypocrite.” Ask a non believer what they think Christians should be doing and they’ll say “helping the poor.” One of these things Jesus preached for, the other he preached against. Lately it seems, more than anything, that the world knows Christians for only one narrow set of political doctrines, being against abortion and gay marriage. Abortion aside, it’s not just good enough to be against gay marriage, but further to try to make it illegal, to take it so far as to desire to soil the great Constitution of this Union with the requirement that marriage be between only one man and one woman. Interestingly enough, the Bible only makes that stipulation for leaders of the church. Are politicians to be leaders of the church?

I want to be noticed by the world for positive things. The Christians who get noticed for the good they do today are those like Mother Theresa who live in poverty to help the poor. They notice those like Shane Claiborne who made national news by going to Iraq and comforting the people as the bombing started. They notice teachers like Rob Bell who like the Mennonites eschew words like “heretic” for words like “love” and “community.” The world sometimes notices people like me who believe so strongly in caring for creation that they decide not to waste water by pooping in it. That kind of radical lifestyle gets people’s attention. When you dare to be different in a positive way, the world takes notice.

For a while now, I’ve been saying that I am spiritual but not religious, because I love Jesus but I’m not a republican. But I’m not only spiritual; I also want to reach out to the larger faith movement of my day. And I do mean movement, I am a progressive, I believe in moving forward and making things better. It’s not a movement if it’s not moving. And it’s not a certain church or ideology that I follow. I follow progressive radical faith movements, like Mars Hill Bible Church who are doing and thinking of things so differently. I follow movements like Cornerstone in Simi Valley who decided to give up their nice building so they could devote more money to humanitarianism.

The truth is you can have faith and religion apart from one another. You can be faithful without belonging to an organized religion. And you can certainly belong to a religion, or be religious without having the faith. It’s like James talks about with faith and works. In a very literal sense, you cannot have faith without it being unconsciously outpoured through what you do. But you can have good works without even having the slightest positive attitude about it. People hear me say this and try to pass it off as legalism, but it is so much beyond legalism. Legalism says “You have to do this or you’re not in.” Faith says “People who are in do this.” You have to make your own conclusion.

One of the things I’ve come to realize is that non believers don’t really care what happens to me after I die. Much of evangelism has included as part of its message threats of hell. The thing is, when you use fear to motivate someone, you only motivate them if they are actually afraid. How does a person fear hell when they don’t even believe it exists? Non believers don’t care what I do after I die; they care what I’m doing when I’m alive. You can’t manipulate people with the threat of hell if they aren’t threatened by hell.  All those years of studying apologetics, and I find that I have all the answers to the questions no one is asking.

The kind of Christianity I want to get away from is the kind that can’t be distinguished from other parts of the culture. Today, we have “God and Country” when in reality it’s just “God.” Jesus doesn’t want Christians who act like Muslims with their understanding of revenge. Revenge is an entirely non-biblical concept while Islam is undeniably a revenge incorporating religion. We can’t fight the “War on Terror” with guns and bombs. Muslims wreak violence, because first, they’re hungry, and second, it’s like we want them to hate us. We keep working by their system, you kill one of them, their brother vows to kill you, so you kill him too, so his wife and children vow to kill you, and you kill them so their siblings and cousins vow to kill you, so you kill them, so very quickly, you have thousands of family members making death threats and generally trying to destroy you. This is not Jesus’ system of peacemaking. Jesus’ way involves sacrifice. He says you have to feed them, pray for them, and love them like you love yourself.

According to Wikipedia, the definition of religion is: “A religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a supernatural agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” The definition I was taught in World Religions class was this: “Religion is the belief that there is an unseen order, and our good as a people lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.” I like the second definition just a little better because you can interpret it to include atheism as well. For atheists, the unseen order can be naturalism, or entropy, or simply lack of an unseen order, and our good as a people, or as individuals would lie in adjusting ourselves to that understanding. At any rate, a religion does not require actual belief in any god, or even following a specific set of guidelines. And this is where religion meets with philosophy, but that’s a discussion for a different day.

Individually, the concept of faith really works well in the Christian context, even among conservatives, and I believe that individual people are really rather good in the world. When we all have to work as individual agents, having only one to a team, peace tends to reign because one is less likely to make waves with few allies. On the other hand, you rarely see large groups of people storming around fixing things. You see large groups of people roaming around and destroying things. Individually, people are nice, generally friendly and sane. Corporately, humanity is a bunch of bastard coated bastards sprinkled with bastard and with a bastard filling. This is where faith meets religion. This is where the practices of the individual meet the practices of the group.

In this study and the several weeks of research I’ve undertaken to gather ideas, the one aspect of faith and religion that I have grabbed hold of is the discipline. Spiritual disciplines are important to one’s wellbeing. And I’m not just talking about reading the Bible and praying, I’m also talking about practicing silence, purity, and moderation. It’s not just about not doing the don’ts; it’s really about doing the dos. Remember, Jesus had disciples, and a disciple, as you may know is one who comes under the discipline of another. However, the word disciple is used in many contexts I’m not willing to adhere to as well, so I’m going to go with something a little more complex. From now on, under religious affiliation, I’m going to use the term “Under the discipline of Jesus of Nazareth.” I want to fully embrace the faith, but also the movement, the man, the messiah, the message and the commission.


A Little Zionism for the FacePalm

I hear so much pro-Israel talk, though it has abated somewhat lately.  The very missions minded folks tend to be more in this genre, connecting it with mission theology.  However, they take it too far.  What was meant to be a prophecy to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ is now used to defend the actions of the State of Israel, most certainly a brutal secular nation.

24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

 It is clear that Peter is speaking of the fact that through the line of Abraham the whole earth would be blessed and the specific channel for that blessing was through Christ.  The blessing was not from Israel, but as you can see, came out of Israel and then was turned around to try to bless them first.  As history will show, most of the very early Christians were Jews, but as the Jews did with the prophets, and with every other blessing God had provided them, they turned it away, persecuting the messengers God had sent until they killed God himself.  40 years later, the very symbol of their religion, the temple was leveled, and the people dispersed into the world where they have been often persecuted since then.  Is persecution of the Jews okay, absolutely not, I'm just saying what happened.  Through the lense of scripture, and with a proper understanding of history, it is clear what the Abrahamic blessing meant. 

But clarity has never prevented all misunderstanding.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Strategic Move

I needed to get that post off the front page, it was discouraging traffic.  However, I was disappointed that it did not generate more traffic, or at least discussion.  Discussion is more what I'm looking for.

I like something I heard on "Pushing Daisies."  You wouldn't be dragging that much bait if you had a belly full of fish.  So, I want discussion, I drag bait around here to try to fish some up.

Keep an eye out for a new post coming up discussing the differences between faith and religion and quite a bit of discussion thereof.  It will be a long one, takes a lot of research, talking to a lot of people to find out different points of view.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

One Curse

I was coming home from Encounter this evening, and I heard on the radio a news story about Afghan police accidently killing seven civilians who were just out collecting fire wood.  Now I'm loathe to actually let these words escape my mouth but...

God damn it.

God damn war.

God damn violence.

God damn it, God damn every bit of it.

God damn countries that start wars.

God damn world leaders who wreak of death and destruction.

God damn those who kill or cause to be killed people who are innocent.

I don't use these words as simple obscenity.  I'm not screaming them after smashing my finger with a hammer, I am legitimately calling down a curse from God.  I hurt on the inside about people on the other side of the world who are dying pointlessly.  And there's nothing I can do about it.  So I use my influence with God to call down curses on the people who kill the innocent and the poor.

I call down a curse on my own country for being responsible for murdering countless thousands over the past 250 years because of its greed and bigotry.  America is not blessed, it's cursed.  Our culture is responsible for the destruction of Native American culture and lives.  We were responsible for disgusting wars.  We were responsible for racism, lynchings, carpet bombing, chemical warfare, and the deaths of brown people the world over.  You know, when I heard Jeremiah Wright's tirade when he said "God damn America," I didn't see what the big deal was.  He was making a valid point, and one that I agree with.

Because it's not a curse word, it's a curse.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Movie Review: Heckler

Heckler is Jamie Kennedy's exploration into hecklers and critics of movies and comedians.  It is a very insightful look into a very critical and overly celebrity possessed culture.

Watch it, it's pretty good.  7/10.  Lot of swearing, but hey, they're dirty comedians, what do you expect.

P.S.  Watch the movie and you'll realize why this review is so short.

Movie Review: "The Future of Food"

I've had "The Future of Food" DVD lying around for some time now, but it's one of those things that you put on your Netflix queue and by the time it gets here, you forgot why you put it on there to begin with.  As I was watching it, I think I remembered that Thom Hartmann had recommended it last summer or fall.

But once I got into it, this is the kind of documentary that talks about the things that "The Way" is really all about.  This film starts out by explaining how foods came to be genetically modified and how in the United States GMO crops do not have to be labeled as such even though they may present a significant danger of allergic reactions.

Throughout the film, Monsanto is continually implicated in the continued degradation of the food system through the manipulation of genes and the patents of the same.  The patenting of critical parts of living things is of course ludicrous, but it continues down the same path as corporate person-hood recently has.  The only fighting back that has been done is by a few states who have amended their constitutions.  What really needs to be done is a significant rewrite of the first amendment to stipulate that only humans, living organisms are persons, and that patent laws apply only to inventions or innovations, and not discoveries.

Fortunately, there is some populist backlash against the agricultural corporations.  In the last twenty years, farmers markets have approximately doubled, and thanks to green movements, more and more poeple are trying their hand at growing their own food.  But the problem is, courts have ordered that if a Monsanto owned gene somehow gets into your crops, even if your crops are distant descendants of a single seed blown off a Monsanto seed truck, Monsanto owns it.  Further, a termination gene has been developed that sterilizes the second generation of a seed thus rendering it unable to be replanted.  What happens if this gene is cross bred into other populations of crops.  In a few generations (plant years) an entire species of food plant could be wiped out.

Don't buy the lies that genetically modified crops will feed the world's hungry, it is not the truth and is meant to deceive you and allow agribusiness to continue allowing them to take you to the cleaners.  For years now, the world food problem has had more to do with distribution than with supply.  It is a problem actually created by corporations driving former subsistence farmers off their land and into cities.

It's up to us, like it or not, though I am but a small voice, it needs to be heard.  Regulations on business are not just about controlling business or keeping certain things from happening.  It is about keeping the human as the dominant force on earth, and not business whose only motivating factor is greed.

Overall, I give this film a 9/10, I think the area that could be the most improved is the narrator's voice.  Should have had James Earl Jones.

Grow your own food or buy at a farmer's market.  Your future ability to eat may depend on it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Avatar and Pantheism

 I was reading an acquaintance's Facebook page recently and he had commented on how he had some problems with Avatar, in how it was pantheistic.  And while the thought crossed my mind, as it would yours when you watch the movie, there are deeper, or perhaps shallower interpretations which are far more valid in this case.

When I saw the movie the first time, rather than jump straight to pantheism, I, being vastly more educated on environmentalist philosophies than the average Arkansan, jumped rather to the Gaia Hypothesis.  Part of the Gaia Hypothesis states that the sum total of the organisms and processes on the planet act as a large organism in itself.  

Pantheism on the other hand is the view that the universe and God are identical.  They are the same thing.  Everything is God, God is everything, God is in everything and everything is in God.  More or less.

Avatar is most definitely not an example of pantheism, just as the religion of the Watchtower Society is not monotheism.  The first half of the movie or so, you get the view of the humans for the most part and this is where you'd get the idea that there is a pantheistic philosophy in the movie.  Jake says something to the effect that when you want someone from someone, you make them to be the enemy so you feel justified in taking it.  In the same way the humans made the Na'vi to be terrorists or whatever, they also derided their "religion" calling Eywa their "deity."  The poor primitive savages still believe in a god, how silly and delusional they must be, let's sweep them aside so we can have their unobtainium.

However, Eywa, unlike in pantheism, is not simply everything, is not imagined or part of a religious system, and is not really a deity.  Eywa is a sort of a neural network made up of every tree and plant on the planet acting as neurons and synapses in a brain.  Additionally, most organisms have a way of directly connecting to Eywa through their tentacles (or whatever you call them) in a sort of computer/peripheral sort of relationship.  Instead of Eywa being a philosophical ideal of God, it's a living brain, a living computer which stores information in the form of downloaded thoughts and feelings from the living creatures able to connect at access points such as "The Tree of Souls."

There is really no religious tone whatsoever in the minds of the natives, those actually experiencing it.  The humans, unable to understand the true nature of the system only deride it as such.  Eywa is a real living thing. 

So how do people get the idea that this is pantheism?  Firstly, they start out with their preconceived notions of what the "Hollywood liberal elites" are trying to communicate and ignore the things that actually take place in the movie.  Secondly, they are not very well educated in religion, that is to say, they haven't studied religion much, either their own or others'.  It's very unfortunate that there is a lack of religious education in this country and no, I'm not talking about teaching creation in class, I'm talking about teaching about religion in class.  There is absolutely no prohibition in the constitution or anywhere else that says that there shall be no education regarding the nature, history, existence, or tenets of religion.  But those willing to argue on either side of the issue always want their own propaganda inserted into said education and thus the war goes on between the secular progressives and the religious fundamentalists.  We, like countries in Europe need rounded education that tells us about world religions.  Without it, we are just asking to make more worldwide political blunders because we don't understand the people.

I'm here to say, I'm a religious progressive, but it does depend on your definition of religious.  Stay tuned for an upcoming post on what religion really is.