Riddles as Cosmology

I think that the Old English love of riddles captures something of the way they approached life: life is a puzzle, but one to be encountered with joy and wit rather than despair. A lot of art is mimetic, but the relationship between riddles and reality is ironic, playful, tricky. Something similar can be said of the two modes of art, ‘realism’ (mimetic) and Fantasy (ironic).

The Anglo-Saxon world from which Tolkien took so much inspiration saw the universe as a riddle, and prized an ironic stance with respect to it. Not that courage and loyalty and strength were unimportant (of course, they were vitally important), but that a warrior hold his strength lightly, that he face death with a smile, that he fight more fiercely in the teeth of certain defeat. I am not talking about flippancy, or a more clumsy disrespectful. I am talking about accepting that there is a mismatch between our human abilities to understand and the brute fact of the cosmos.–Adam Roberts, via i09

Night One

I started last night. Last year’s was not usual, not… not good, but not what I had hoped for. It turns out that you can’t sit that close to Death for real and then come hang out by the gate again for comfort or wisdom or whatever. They shoo you off, encourage you to remember but not linger.

But, I’ll be honest. A ritual like that can leave you feeling like maybe the magic is over–whatever it was doing for you at one point in your life, now that you’re at another, it can’t do it for you anymore. And the truth is that I do imagine that there will come a day when I might stop, when I might give up on it. I feel that impulse in myself every year, to believe that it’s stupid or means I’m crazy or at least foolish. Even though I think it does important things for me.

This is one of the important things it does–it shows me things about myself that I otherwise cannot see. How I will let go rather than feel foolish, even if the thing I’m letting go of brings me great pleasure. My investment in believing myself to be so fucking smart isn’t always good for me. I am trying to learn to be gracefully foolish. Or even gracelessly. I’m trying to be willing to be shown to know nothing.

And I’m trying to learn to be open. I feel like I spent the first twenty years of my life never being able to say no to things. I spent the next twenty years learning to say no and to not feel bad about it. I’d like to spend the next twenty years learning some balance between the two–to be open to things and people while also not feeling like my own will has no meaning.

Anyway, I was glad to get back at it.


I’m fascinated to learn that the very first mention of Herne the Hunter is in fucking Shakespeare. He’s a ghost, not a god.

Well, except that now he is a god. At this point, you can’t unring the bell.


I think the most satisfying curse in most cases is just where you aim for the person troubling you to get back what they’re putting out in the universe.

But I notice that, in books, people always realize they’re cursed. It’s rarely so satisfying in real life.

Even when it’s just mundane–when people’s lives are going poorly because they just keep making stupid decisions–people have a hard time seeing their own role in their misery.

This is How It Happens

I’ve been thinking about that Aquinas nun running all over telling kids that masturbation makes you gay. It’s more than that. Apparently distant, unloving fathers and being molested also make you gay. Being gay might doom you to having hundreds of sexual partners. And on and on. Aquinas is defending her. She’s apparently out there showing God’s love.

Because, these days, they don’t hate you because you’re gay. They feel so very sorry for you because you’re gay because it means something bad has happened to you and you don’t have the necessary coping skills to do anything other than sin in response.

I spent much of the evening rolling my eyes. That an organization that sat back for decades while priests raped children is now going to turn around and lecture kids about proper sexuality? Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha.

But it’s interesting, isn’t it? Let me back up and say that the Butcher watches a hell of a lot of The Young Turks and I often play video games while they’re nattering on. So, I half listened and then became transfixed by the end of this piece:

I’ve read my fair share of the Los Angeles files–the ones that are available pertaining to Tennessee–and I can attest that what Jimmy Dore is talking about here is pretty typical. Folks often know something is the fuck wrong. They act all surprised and outraged later, but they know something is wrong all the while and they blame the victims for forcing them to feel uncomfortable feelings. Dore’s biting observation that the priest just disappears and that everyone is encouraged to pray for him, like his is the most difficult journey being taken in the congregation is pretty much how it works. The suffering of the children is rarely reckoned with. And the safety of children wherever the priest might next land is just not considered.

And child-molesting and homosexuality are, of course, conflated in ways that totally are awesome for the hidden child molester–after all if child-molesting is the provenance of gay men and gay men are easily distinguishable from straight men through all these stereotypes we have about their behavior and looks, then you have no reason to worry about any priest that doesn’t hit those gay stereotypes.

But what we’re seeing is that, here, even the rear-guard can’t make the “gay people molest children” argument anymore. Now gay people are the victims of child molesters. So, now, finally, in a twisted way, the consideration for suffering is now extended to victims of child molestation. And gay people. Who are the same or something.

But I also want to point out that this is more of that “I can bring apocalypse” thinking. And let me be clear, I am not saying that people who feel like being molested ruined them in some way are wrong for thinking so. What I firmly stand for is your right to understand your own experience in your own terms. And I stand in hope of you not believing that is the only truth of your life. But the perpetrators of evil and the bystanders don’t get to rest assured (either in satisfaction or in guilt) that they have witnessed someone’s total ruination. They don’t get to point and say “Oh, you’re gay. That means someone broke you.”

To me, it’s just the flip side of what Jimmy Dore experienced–either victims are just treated like nothing happened or they’re now treated like something happened so devastating that they’re ruined for life. Either way, the starkness of those choices lets people off the hook. The problem is too small/too large for anything to be done about it.

They still get to use their homophobia as a shield to keep from seeing what’s going on in their midst.

Like a Landscape

One thing that confuses me, just a a fundamental level, are Biblical literalists. Like people who believe that the earth was literally created in six days. Which means that I’m conversely confused by people who think that an argument against Christianity is that the earth wasn’t made in six days. Maybe as someone who can’t ever remember not being able to read (I remember learning to write but I know I was reading long before then) and as someone who experiences the world as being almost indescribably strange and mystical, I just always thought those stories were metaphors–like a language that speaks to and has meaning to your soul first and then your brain scrambles to catch up.

I was reminded of that again yesterday at the doctor’s office, as I sat in front of a big machine and a woman peered deep into my eyeball, and took pictures of every inch of the back of it, and then made a giant map that would show the doctor this small portion of the landscape of my body.

Because I felt like a land there–a place that could be mapped. And I know that we think of goddesses being associated with the land and gods with being associated with the sky because of how a dude “plows the field” of his wife. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

But I swear, yesterday, I felt like I was realizing something different about what it means to be an embodiment of the land. Like some fundamental mystical truth was closer to being in a form I could articulate.

And, frankly, I’m not sure what that truth is. But the back of my eye tells you I grew up in Illinois. The shape I grew in is because of the land I grew on. Like, how much difference is there between me and dirt, in that case?


Even Modern Vikings Do Not Think the World Ends This Weekend

Everything about this story irritates me. Actual, ancient Vikings didn’t think the world was going to end this weekend. That’s a complete misrepresentation of, oh, everything. I can’t even imagine why an actual Viking would sit around predicting the end of the world. It just misunderstands everything about an Old Norse, pagan, worldview to think that this would even be a concern of theirs. The point was that even the gods die, but that things have a pattern. I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but, in the Poetic Edda, the story of the end of the world is told in the past tense.

And, yes, there are many interesting reasons why this might be–the volva is merely saying what she saw in her vision and her vision is now over. Or that fate is set, so it’s completely knowable. Or, and my favorite, it’s an indication that time doesn’t work for the gods like it works for us. Balder is dead and has not yet died. Everyone knows how Balder will die and he is already dining with Hel. The gods fear Ragnarok and Ragnarok has already played out.

But old Norse folks had a very pragmatic view of death. Like, you might as well just do the shit that needs to be done because, if it’s your time to go, nothing you can do will forestall it and, if it’s not, nothing you can do will bring it on. But it’s also clear that no one thought you could know for sure how long a life you’d been granted. So, if you shouldn’t sit around worrying about when you’re going to die, why the fuck should you sit around worrying about when the world is going to end?

Also, apocalypse fantasies are for religions where there’s either pressure because of already occurring calamity–Why are we all dying from this strange rash? Oh, I predict the whole world is ending.–or because, fuck you, you’ll see I’m right when the world ends, you fuckers. Modern heathens aren’t under any more stress from already occurring calamity than the rest of our societies and Norse-ish paganisms aren’t exclusive. I can like Odin and believe that your love of Jesus is genuine and sincere. Just because Jesus isn’t the dude for me doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s real. And, I don’t give a shit if you think Odin is real. I’m not convinced Odin is real in the way people believe Jesus is real. And, of course, Odin wasn’t ever a person. And, even if you do think that Odin is as real as Jesus in the exact way Jesus is real, what polytheist is going to stand around going, “Well, these gods exist, but you’re delusional about those gods, so clean up your act, and worship like us, or you’ll be sorry!!!!” So, there’s no promise of final vindication in Ragnarok.

Not to mention that it’s hard for me to understand why/if the Norse would have thought that Ragnarok would have ended our actual world or if it was some kind of mystic metaphor. I mean, these are people who traveled extensively. They knew there wasn’t a serpent around the edges of this physical world. Yes, Midgard is our realm, but it’s also a mythic place. I’m not convinced that things that happen there have a 1 to 1 correlation with things that happen here.

But worse yet, this all appears to have started as a bit of a lark–as a way to advertise a cool event. And rather than take it as a kind of joking way to advertise a cool event, we’ve now got this nonsense, where news outlets are passing it off as an actual Viking belief.

Dropping Duck Dynasty

I don’t have a big point to make about this other than “ha ha,” but I do have a small point to make. I think the mistake A&E and, in fact, the Robertsons have made here is to believe that there is but one type of conservative Christianity and it aligns with the one practiced by the Robertsons. See, the thing is that, as popular as the prosperity gospel is, it is, among folks who look demographically identical, also as unpopular. It’s a deep split in Christianity–can a rich person be a good Christian? Or, if you were a good Christian, would you have been giving so much away along the way that you would, in fact, not be able to be rich?

As a conservative Christian asked me, “Why should I listen to a rich guy’s opinion about what God thinks of homosexuals, since he’s not listening to Jesus about money?” And this is someone I think agrees with Phil Robertson about gay people.

So, it’s weird. It’s like the old “Preach, preach, now you’re just meddling” joke got short-circuited and people who should have been primed to shout “preach” at the first “gay people are wrong” remark all instead were like “who’s this hypocrite to speak for us?”

I mean, I think people like me turned away. But we weren’t that big a part of the demographic who watched the show. What should frighten people who think they’re marketing to conservative Christians is that that’s the market Duck Dynasty is losing. That indicates they don’t know that demographic as well as they think they do.

Not Like

So, there’s a moment in the Ben & Sue project when Sue’s pissed that something’s done to her and she turns around and does the same thing to another character and Moll launches into this pondering of how radical Jesus’ idea of treating others as you want to be treated is, how hard it is for people to put it into practice. And nm was like “Um, that’s not Jesus’ idea. It’s so-and-so’s, and probably earlier than him.”

And I haven’t fixed this part yet because I’m not quite sure how I want to tackle it. One of the themes in my manuscript is the trouble with surety, how being certain you have the true interpretation of events no place good and how uncertainty, though harder, gets us closer to the truth. Kind of. And this seems like a good place to kind of reinforce that.

But it’s also got me thinking a lot about the problem of antisemitism at the heart of how a lot of Christianity is taught. Look at me. Even ten years ago, I would have told you that, if I was raised any way, it was to be not antisemitic, but respectful of the fact that people have different beliefs than I do, beliefs that are, yes, wrong, but not our business if they are so. And, once I moved places where there were Jewish people to knew, I knew and liked and became friends with people who are Jewish. Then my own beliefs changed and I let go of the idea that being non-Christian is some kind of mistake of imagination that will be cured, eventually, by the awesomeness of Jesus, which I’m sure made me a less obnoxious person to be friends with.

These days, thanks to the kinds of scholarship there’s been on sundown towns, it’s impossible for me to view my upbringing in white, Christian towns as a coincidence of circumstances. Those places were deliberately white and Christian and how they were kept white and Christian was mostly kept hidden from me as a child.

And just in my own being around a while, it’s impossible for me to not see how a lot of the ways I was taught Christianity involves a constant, implicit rebuke of a fantasy Judaism. And what I mean by “fantasy Judaism” is that it’s this made-up version of Judaism, this idea that, just by reading the Old Testament and other Christian scholarship on the Old Testament, you know what Judaism is. It’s a fun-house mirror version of real Judaism, except that the people who study the reflection don’t seem to ever realize that.

Here’s a good example of what I mean. I was taught that Jesus was an outsider to the Jewish power structures he was critiquing. The scribes and the pharisees were those people who were doing it wrong and Jesus was sent along to bring them and everyone else new information that supplanted the “rules” (Oh, how we loved to go on about how Jesus turned his nose up and people who paid more attention to the rules than to loving people, because how stupid that was. Only look at how Christians tread gay people. And then look at the words other Christians use to critique the Christians who use rules as an excuse to ostracize gay people–“They’re modern-day pharisees.” Don’t even deny it. I KNOW  a few of you were getting ready to type that in the comments below. Because you, too, have been taught a version of Christianity that sets Jesus in opposition to Jewish people and Jewish social structures, even though Jesus was Jewish.). The scribes and the pharisees are the villains. Jesus is the hero. Don’t be like the scribes and the pharisees. Be like Jesus. Who had all new ideas.

So, that’s the reason I’ve been thinking so hard on nm’s “but this wasn’t new with Jesus” comment.  Because, of course it wasn’t. There’s a theory (and I say theory, but it’s stronger than that) that Jesus was a pharisee, himself. That, if you look at what we know about his life and the intellectual tradition he’s so deeply versed in–which would mean knowing the intellectual tradition he’s deeply versed in–it’s obvious. Like the way you’d know that a guy with pocket scales deals a little dope, even if you never smelled it on him, knowing who Jesus quotes tells you what intellectual tradition he was a part of and that he was, indeed, a pharisee.

Now, at this point in my life, I like this tidbit. Because I know it can be harder to critique a group from the inside–that calling people you love and respect to task is often more difficult than standing on the outside yelling in. But it also undermines a lot about how Christians in this country see themselves as a threatened minority, since they see themselves as a threatened minority like martyrs and in the tradition of Jesus, the ultimate outsider.

And I’m not sure what it would mean for Christianity to more firmly reject the “refutation of Judaism” model.

But I know, when I saw nm’s comment, I felt like I had made my character a liar in a way I hadn’t intended, because I, myself, have been a liar in that fashion. And it’s not my own lie. I didn’t know better, but tell that anyway. Well, okay, it’s not quite that simple. I do know better now. And I lie to myself and to others when it’s easier, as a kind of shorthand way of signalling that I know the tropes of Christianity, which includes the refutation of the fun-house Judaism. But I didn’t always know it was a lie. When I first started telling it, I believed it was the truth–that Jesus was somehow in opposition to the very culture and religion he was clearly deeply engaged with.

And this is the part I wonder about–what does it look like to let go of the lie? What would a Church like that look like?

When They Are Who You Know They Must Be

This and this.

I have this fantasy that we can all just get along, that we can see people living different lives than us and say “Hey, butt-fucking is not for me, but you guys are obviously in love so, carry on, my fellow Americans!” Or maybe we say, “Oh, you know, I don’t really get the duck hunting part, but I get the part where the family clearly loves each other, so I’m just going to trust that the duck hunting is not for me but is not something I need to worry about.”

And I really like watching Duck Dynasty. I don’t need the Robertsons to be like me in order to recognize that they’re a loving family who’s living their values. But I do, in order to keep watching, need to feel like they respect my not being like them. And they don’t, so fuck ‘em.

But I still fucking hate it.

Here’s another thing, and I admit that it strikes so close to home that I have a hard time thinking about it rationally. I get the idea of a man being the head of his household. Again, it’s not for me and not how I would organize my life or my family, but I get it.

Here’s the thing I don’t get. If you said to me, “Betsy, I’m putting you in charge of this group of people I deeply care about, some of whom are going to be incredibly dependent on you, and not only are you in charge of their physical well-being, you’re in charge of their spiritual well-being,” I’d be nervous as fuck and I’d be not only studying the guidebook, but I’d be humbled by the responsibility. I might fuck up but you know it wouldn’t be from lack of over-thinking every part of it. The weight of that kind of responsibility would weigh on me. And the weight of knowing that you’re going to come back and ask for an accounting of how I treated your loved ones? I’d be constantly going over the ways I’d fucked up in my head. I would strive so hard to be the kind of person who deserved the trust you showed in me and the responsibility you’d given me.

And you’re not God.

But I keep butting heads with this attitude that is all the “God put me in charge” with none of the commiserate “So, I should act like the kind of person who deserves this responsibility.”

And there’s fucking Phil Robertson talking about drinking and drugging it up and THROWING HIS WIFE AND KIDS OUT OF THE HOUSE. And then he finds God and now he’s all back in charge and the past is in the past. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that, in his worldview, he still has to be in charge. It’s how it works. But is there any sense of what a huge second chance he’s gotten? Any remorse for how that had to fuck up his kids? Any sense that, knowing he’s the kind of guy that could fuck up that bad, maybe he shouldn’t be too comfortable being seen as an authority on anything?


There’s no sense that Phil doesn’t think he’s got a God-given right to do whatever the fuck he wants, damn the consequences, and it’s cool, because that’s just how things are. No sense that he’s got a God-given responsibility that he has already royally screwed the pooch on once.

It doesn’t make me angry. It makes me really, really anxious. Okay, think of submission this way. We are trapeze artists. I am the leaper who tumbles through the air and you, my head-of-household partner, are the one who must catch me. I do what you say how you say to do it when we’re performing the trick (marriage in this analogy) because I need you to keep me from plummeting to the floor.

Phil dropped his wife and kids. They hit the ground. And, yeah, he recommitted to paying closer attention to the guidelines of trapeze use. But he dropped them.

Maybe being a little humble about whether the trapeze act is for everyone is in order, when you know what can happen when it goes wrong.

But, not just in Phil’s case, but in other cases, I see a lot of an attitude that, if the women and children fall, well, it’s their own faults or that’s what women and children do, so what does that have to do with the heads-of-household? No indication of the proper sense of fear you’d think a person in that situation would have, if they truly understood the responsibility that comes with the authority they want to have.

Hell and Hel

I think one big problem with Christianity’s emphasis on Hell is that they’ve set up a dichotomy where Hell actually has an incredibly good quality–like the old saying about family, Hell is a place where, when you go there, they have to take you in. Everyone who is lost, who falls off the path, who wanders away–all the kinds of folks you worry about and don’t know how to help or where you will meet up with them again–ends up there.

No one is lost forever. They are someplace.

Hell works as something to fear if you feel certain that you are or could be good enough to get out of going there. And it works if you want to believe that you’ll get to gloat in the suffering of your enemies.

But for people whose pain is great or for people who’ve always been outcasts, doesn’t Hell at least hold the promise of there being some place that cannot turn you away?

I heard a story about a nun who lives in a prison, so that she can be there for her flock, so to speak, whenever they need her. This is the other problem with Hell. If Heaven is as truly wonderful as they say and Hell as truly awful, what good people would be in Heaven? You see suffering you think you can alleviate, don’t you try?

I’ve also been thinking about Hel, who a lot of scholars don’t think was always a person. Like, first it was a place and then, later on she became an entity. This is often framed in a way as to discount her “real”ness.

And yet, scholars also think that, way back in the day, the sky god would drift across Europe and get paired with every local land goddess, which is why Tyr and Jupiter have similar qualities, but Hera and Frigg don’t. So, if Frigg can be the personification of land, why can’t Hel? I don’t get it.

Talking to My Dad

So, as soon as my dad got me in the van and got going 40 miles an hour, he brought up the Methodist Reporter piece. I was hugely nervous. I know it probably seems silly because I’m all the time fighting with my dad about this or that. But I don’t like to and never want to have a fight with him about religion because it is so fundamental to who he is as a person. I don’t want him to think that I think his life’s work is stupid or useless or to be mocked, especially because one of the things I most admire about him is his commitment and passion to ministry and his belief in a God so radically better than you’d think a guy like my dad would believe in.

But it turned out that he really liked the piece. He was just upset that I was upset at the ways he’d been treated as a minister. He quoted the Bible and tried to reassure me that, if, as a minister, you’re not pissing someone off, you’re not doing it right.

He said those things when I was young, too. But again, I think this is a place where we’re just going to differ. I think it’s fine for God to say to a grown person (or, hell–and maybe you’ll think this is weird, but I believe it–a child who He wants in the ministry eventually) that it’s going to be a rough go for him or her and sometimes the very people in his or her congregation are going to hate him or her. But God can’t expect me, as a child of a minister, to be okay with that. God can make that arrangement with my dad–This part is going to suck, but I need you to do it. God cannot demand that I watch the suffering of my father and pretend it’s cool. I can accept that my Dad has made an arrangement I would not and I can respect that and not try to talk him out of it or work to undermine him from doing it, but no, I cannot warp my heart so that it doesn’t pain me when the bad things he knew were going to happen happen.

It’s not fine and it never was. But I appreciate my dad trying to make me feel like it is and was.

Me and the Methodists

The United Methodist Reporter, which, weirdly enough, is something I grew up reading in the bathroom, asked me to write some more about the ugliness of the United Methodist Publishing House building. So, I did. But it ended up being about more than that.

I feel weird about it. I told Jay, the editor, that I didn’t want to write something that fell into the dynamic of “Here’s how you’ve wronged me, Church!” where it seems like the complainer wants the church to beg them to come back, because they’ll change, they promise, they’ll change.

I don’t want to come back. But, as I get older, I find myself wanting to be at peace with the Church. As I grow stranger from it, it’s easier to see its good parts. But I am growing into a stranger from it.

Oh well, anyway, I hope it doesn’t hurt my dad’s feelings.

Lunch with Ministers

We had a weird lunch on Saturday. We went out for my mom’s birthday and it was me and the Butcher, our parents, the Red-Headed Kid, my parent’s minister friend and his wife (who were in town because their son and his wife live in Spring Hill and I guess meeting us at the Madison Red Lobster gave them something to do?), and their son and his wife (who is an exquisite jewelry maker).

Anyway, on the one hand, my parents really like this other couple. They are the kinds of buddies who see each other every couple of days up where they live.

On the other hand, lunch started awkwardly because the other minister insisted we pray before the meal and then he tossed the prayer to my dad. My dad loathes showy public prayers. You want to say a quiet private prayer over a restaurant meal? Go right ahead. But this nonsense? And there was a brief scripture-off where Other Minister quoted some verse about how God’s children shouldn’t be embarrassed to be known as such in public and my dad was all “Don’t pray in public like the hypocrites do” and then something about how Jesus says God already knows what’s in our hearts. And then there was a weird stoney silence. Then my dad prayed.

And later I was all “It’s the South, Dad. No one is going to be surprised by a group praying publicly.” But he was still kind of put out by it.

Anyway, that’s just to give you background.

The part I want to talk about is how, at one point, the Other Minister looked over at the Red-Headed Kid and was all “I see you have a Celtic cross tattoo. Why did you get that?” The tattoo is actually of a Celtic cross headstone.

And the Red-Headed Kid just goes right ahead and says “That’s where I buried my religion.”

Another deathly silence falls over the table.

“Excuse me?” The Other Minister asks. And then the Red-Headed Kid remembers that he’s also a minister and says, “I was raised Catholic. I’m messed up,” shrugs and turns to talk to the Butcher instead.

Then, Other Minister, I guess in an effort to keep talking about God or something, asks me if I have a church home! I said, “No” but that I take the folks over to Old Hickory United Methodist Church when they’re here. Again with some weird silence and my dad jumps in to tell them all about the minister there.

And then the wife asks me how I liked being a minister’s kid. And I was honest that there was a lot about it I didn’t like.

Which they also seemed kind of taken aback by. Her son was like “I thought it built character.” Which, you know, fine, but I’m not sure that’s an unalloyed good.

And they asked the Butcher about going to California and he was all “I failed,” which made me a little sad. And then I threw in something about being excited for Rose’s arrival.

So, you know, there it was–these kids who don’t go to church, who don’t have their shit together, who hang out with people who are pissed at God. And we’re all teasing my parents and laughing at each other. And finally even the wife joined in on it, which was a great relief, because, otherwise, it was just going to be us and an audience.

But I came away feeling like the Other Minister both looked down on us and was terribly jealous of us.

So, that was weird.

But I sometimes even see that in my dad–that he wants happiness, but he doesn’t trust it. Like it’s some fleeting illusion that might tempt you away from God.

At some point, it came up whether the Red-Headed Kid was worried about going to Hell (I can’t remember if the Other Minister brought it up first or if the Red-Headed Kid made some joke about it), but it just struck me as such a stupid thing to worry about. Like what kind of asshole wouldn’t let the Red-Headed Kid into Heaven? It’s ludicrous.

But even among Methodist ministers, there’s this belief in the God as Abusive Parent model, in which you have to sit around and appease, appease, appease or else the punishment rains down.

And I realized at lunch, this is what’s killing the Church in the United States. We’ve undergone a great cultural shift. We marry for love. When we feel mistreated or unappreciated, we can easily dissolve those unions. Parents “tough-love” their kids out of the house. Kids decide they can’t have relationships with their abusive parents. We have a cultural expectation that we are in relationship with people where both parties are benefiting from it or we don’t have those relationships. It’s not always worked out that way, but that’s the overarching cultural narrative.

We choose who we love.

But the Church–as a whole–still serves God out of fear. Even when it gives lip-service to serving God out of love, when you spend enough time observing the sales pitch, even the one ministers give to each other, you see what it comes down to. Don’t say that, do this, pray this way, etc. or God’s going to be pissed.

And He gets so pissed, so easily, that he will torment you for eternity if you can’t manage to appease him in the brief decades you have on earth.

If your friend were dating a woman like that, you’d do all in your power to steer him away from marrying her.

Don’t get me wrong. Even if the Church were suddenly like “yes, God is love, real love, not love redefined as abuse” and acted like it, I just can’t change my heart. I just can’t experience there being only one god. I don’t foresee some way that I could ever become a Christian again, but it’s much more likely that I’d become a Christian than I’d ever become a monotheist. It’s just contrary to my experience of the world.

And the Butcher doesn’t seem to believe in the divinity of Christ, so he’s out.

But someone like the Red-Headed Kid might be open to an experience of God that wasn’t fear based. But I know my dad’s friend put the day when the Red-Headed Kid might go back to church for his own reasons (and not to mollify his mom) further off.

Ungenerous Complaining

I hate this story. I hate the Christian supremacy of our daily paper running story after story after story about Christians and their god doing even the most mundane crap people in a religion are supposed to do as if that’s news and nobody with other belief systems gets to have those belief systems presented to the public as an ordinary force for good in the community. I also hate that God is quoted as if He’s a person but that the reporter then never follows up with the Source.

So, we get to hear all about what God told this pastor to do, as if it’s a real thing, but there’s no fact checking?

I mean, if I told a reporter that Bill Clinton said I had nice hooters and therefore I was going to go work at Hooters, even if I did indeed go working at Hooters, wouldn’t the reporter want to check to see if Clinton said that to me? There’s no “Lyle said God told him…” or “Lyle interpreted the dream to mean…” It’s all “God said…” “God wanted…” Did the reporter talk to God?

(This story would be awesome if the reporter did. It could have also been salvaged with “When asked to speak on the record for this story, God had no comment.”)

And I’m sorry but who has ever heard of God saying “Go do this hard crap for four days and here’s exactly why.”? I defy you to show me one place in the Bible where anyone gets called to do anything difficult and they are given a full and clear explanation of why they should do it and what they should get out of it, let alone that they only have to do it for a few days and then they get their lives right back how they were.

I mean, my god, when Jesus told the rich kid to take all he had and give it to the poor, he didn’t mean “And then go out and get your old life back and go on with things.”

When God decides to fuck with you, you stay fucked with. You don’t do four days of unpleasantness and then make a triumphant unveiling like something has happened to you. Either that or God has dropped his standards. I mean, how convenient that you don’t even have to miss a Sunday of work?

And why couldn’t the pastor just go talk to the homeless people in his community and see what they need/want? He could have gone to them as a member of the community, not as a tourist playing homeless.

Plus, I’m sorry. But the problem with being homeless isn’t that you have to sleep outside or navigate charities or hide from the police. It’s that you have to do those things without knowing when or if you will ever be able to stop doing them. Four days on the street, when you KNOW your wife is coming to get you on Friday, when you KNOW you could call her at any time to come get you right then, isn’t a reasonable approximation of homelessness. It’s urban camping.

Wild Men

Here’s the article. Here’s the photos.

There’s a book that is a collection of these that one of you recommended to me and I tried to buy it, but Amazon couldn’t get it for me. It’s hard to articulate how these make me feel. I look at them and I feel like something is working on my brain right below a level I’m used to feeling my brain firing on.

But I feel really drawn to them, like I’m seeing something that means something to me, only I never knew it.

That’s Not What Little Girls Are Made Of!

A number of you are fired for not telling me about this… and I’m going to apologize ahead of time for this pun, but I cannot resist… cockamamie theory that Eve was not made out of Adam’s rib but his, you know, “rib.”

From here:

The authors then continue to support their argument with alternate translations of the Hebrew word for “rib” (which they say could mean “support beam”) and claim the raphe of the human male scrotum is what Genesis 2:21 is referring to when it says “The Lord God closed up the flesh.”

I have been laughing all afternoon at the idea of a woman being formed out of a baculum. Thanks for passing it along, Rachel. The post, not the baculum. Though, it would be cool to have Adam’s baculum. I wonder if that would be considered a relic of Adam or Eve? I wonder if Adam and eve are even saints? (The internet says ‘no.’)


One Last Thing about the Brief Tiny Cat

When I took the box out of the back seat he was in and I poked him and asked him if he was dead, there was a moment between that and when his paw moved. And I felt like he was reluctantly coming back from some place to move his paw, and that someplace was somehow below us and around us. I don’t quite know how to explain it. It was like he was pulling himself together from someplace way outside his body. He was nearby, but he mostly wasn’t in that body anymore.

On the other hand, I keep waiting for my phone to ring and for them to tell me that they got him to the vet and the vet saved him. Even though he was clearly not moving in the box anymore. Even though the woman I left him with looked like she was about to cry every time she looked at him. Even though there was something wrong with both his legs and obviously some major internal damage. Even though I didn’t leave them my number.

My brain just really, really wants that to be true.

Let’s Be Honest about Paul for a Second

Paul is an asshole. He was an asshole when he was Saul and he was an asshole after the incident on the road to Damascus. He’s the only Christian whose martyrdom was probably a result of having annoyed the shit out of everyone standing within 100 yards of him, and not his religion. It’s nice of people to pretend he was crucified upside down, but I personally believe the beheading version, because who would want to listen to him gripe for the hours it takes to die by crucifixion?

Anyway, this doesn’t mean that Paul wasn’t an effective leader–effective leaders tend to be giant assholes. In fact, if I were speculating on why Paul was given the job of setting up and setting on their ways so many early churches, I would bet it was this particular personality quirk that made him stand out as an effective leader. In other words, he excelled at what he did because he was a giant asshole with a singular vision for how to set up and run the organization necessary to perpetuate a belief system.

I don’t remind you that Paul was an asshole in order to discredit the good he did. But I do remind you that, before you say, “Well, it says in the Bible…” that many books in the New Testament were written by a giant asshole and that, whenever the giant asshole says something, it needs to be weighed against the words in red. If they go along with what the words in red say, run with it. If they contradict the words in red or seem to contradict the spirit of the words in red, then just blow it off.

Or start calling your religion Paulianity, just so everyone knows where you stand.

The Aliens Hate Us Because We Killed Jesus

I stumbled upon this interpretation of Prometheus.

I have no words.

Well, I have words. They go like this. I get that, for a lot of people, “the unknown” all live down the same hall in their head. If not Zeus, why not aliens? But I actually find aliens kind of boring. I assume they exist. I assume they’re probably not interacting with us. If they are, it’s weird and cool, but it wouldn’t fuck me up.

But, for me, there’s a continuum with things I know don’t exist–like vampires–on one end–and things I’m not sure exist–like gods–at the other that I know, with my whole being, are ways we have of trying to make sense of the inexplicable. (Imagine it like this. You know you live in a house with windows. You don’t know for sure what’s outside your house, only that you both can see there’s stuff out there and you have a strong sense that what you see through your windows is not the full totality of what’s outside your house. Now, imagine that you start to see things out there and you want to somehow capture an image of them to show your friends, so you can all talk about what you see out there, beyond the house. Now, say that you, for some reason, decide to draw on the window in butter what you’re seeing. So, there’s the trick of remembering that you’re rendering in two dimensions what you’re seeing in three. And remembering that your finger in butter isn’t a great medium. And, when the sun warms the glass, things are going to slip and slid. And you might not be that great an artist in the first place. etc. And then it’s not you who’s going to look at your window paintings–it’s your kids and grand kids and great grandkids. So, clearly, you saw something out the window. I’m chalking vampires up to mostly butter-smear. I think your blond-haired blue-eyed Jesus is not quite right, but I’m sure you saw something human-like that moved you. We’re all grasping to try to find a language to explain what we’re seeing out there.) And I find the hallway down which that continuum lives to be extraordinarily interesting.

In my own psychic landscape, though, aliens don’t live down that hall. And I really hate when that’s the explanation behind things. I mean, I find the Bermuda Triangle a lot more compelling than Area 51, because Area 51 involves a certain truth that’s being kept from us by a conspiracy and the Bermuda Triangle… well, who can even say if that’s a real thing? I prefer mysterious and unclear to grand conspiracies. I guess in part because I don’t believe that people are good at keeping secrets.

Anyway, so I strongly dislike the Alien Jesus theory, no matter how much Ridley Scott thinks it’s too on the nose. To me, it’s too halls that go different places being forced into one.

Baba What-ga?

So, I was watching “Lost Girl” last night–it’s the story of Canadians who, apparently, are shirtless a lot more than you think would be practical in a country so far north. Seriously, every other scene, someone is whipping off his or her shirt. No wonder they had to sell it to SciFi. There’s twenty-three days in Canada when it’s suitable to be half-naked. Otherwise, the production costs for heating the set must just be staggering. I mean, sure, they’re making up for some of it with the lesser costuming costs, but I still worry about the producers of “Lost Girl” who must make Canada warm enough for the massive amounts of random undressing that go on on that show.

I’m sorry. I’m now completely distracted. Oh, right, so anyway, I’m watching the episode where they encounter Baba Yaga. And they keep saying her name “Baba Yeeh-gah,” with the most emphasis put on the “gah.” Now, I do feel slightly cheated that we didn’t do much folklore in my Russian classes, so I haven’t ever heard the name pronounced by a native Russian speaker AND the tiny girl on the show, Ksenia Solo, is, according to Wikipedia, a Latvian-born Russian. But I swear, it never occurred to me that this is how you would say it. I have always been saying it to myself “Baba Yaga” like “Lady Gaga.” And I went back and looked at in in Russian–Баба Яга–and I still would pronounce that “Baba Yaga.”

On the other hand, I was regularly told I spoke Russian like a peasant. On the third hand, come on! Clearly the peasants would have the best Baba Yaga stories, so who the fuck doesn’t want to speak in a way they would understand? So, I kind of wonder if I’ve just been fucking this up all these years or if it’s a difference in accents. After all, someone who learned English from a Californian is going to be confused when she hears a word she’s only ever read in English pronounced by a Scottish dude, if it doesn’t sound like it did in her head. And it doesn’t mean either pronunciation is wrong.

But anyway, that got me poking around and, apparently, there’s some wondering if Baba Yaga isn’t the same or similar to Perchta who might be the same or similar to Holda. And I would like to read about that. So, holler if you know of any good resources.


Thinking of West

I’m completely superstitious about this week, for exactly this kind of reason. I left natural disasters and industrial accidents off my list, because I know they’re not related to why Americans find this an attractive week in an attractive month to injure/kill each other. But they’re also there.

I have a theory. It’s complete and total woo, so read on in that spirit.

My theory is this, in a very broad and ancient sense, we know there is (or have long ago created) what we might call a “hinge” (if we were stealing from Ursula Le Guin) in the year at the end of October and we know that time of year is about dying and coming to terms with the dead. And we have all kinds of cultural things in place to help us navigate toward that one night, when the veil between life and death is so thin we can whisper across it to each other. Religious things and secular things. Plus nature is dying and blowing away and baring itself. Everything about that time of year is set up to help us navigate this turning point.

But we’ve got another huge turning point here at the opposite side of the year–Walpurgis night. And if October 31/November 1 is bringing life and death close enough together so that death can burst through, April 30/May 1 is the moment when life and death come close enough together that life can burst through. You can see the hints of it in the kinds of bad things that happen in April–all designed to set things on a different course, to change things, to put things right, to shake things up. The impulse is to force a kind of birth (or rebirth). May 1 is a world-wide symbolic day of revolution. New beginnings.

We’ve uncoupled our spring cultural rituals from this month. Or failed to line them up with this month, when we need them in the first place. We could use Easter to always be the first Sunday in May, which would bring Christians through April in a Lenten state and which would place the rebirth of Christ right at this spring turning point. That would bring a lot of our culture into alignment with the month.

But instead, we’ve forgotten the power of this month and we make no efforts to bring ourselves through it okay. We’ve developed no secular or sacred ways to navigate this month. Or we’ve lost them. We have no collective rituals to acknowledge and channel the energy struggling to be born. So we get these individuals and small groups trying to birth their own terrible bullshit. Right now. Because of some dim memory that this is the best time.

The witches run wild before they run home. We used to know that.

Forgetting it doesn’t change it.

Moving Away From Pain Isn’t Selfish

Marcus Mumford doesn’t call himself a Christian anymore. His parents started a church, which makes him a minister’s kid and then some. As I’ve said, I know very few ministers’ kids who transition easily from childhood church attendance into butt-in-pew Christianity in adulthood. Even if they eventually end up butt-in-pew Christians, it’s not been an easy transition. There’s had to be some moment of reckoning from the grief of their childhoods, some way of reconciling themselves to what happened.

A lot of us can’t do that.

Reverend Lillian Daniel takes him to task for that failure. And I’m going to say that her piece literally makes me want to vomit.

When people tell me they can’t stand Christianity, they are usually describing a Church that bears very little resemblance to the open-minded church I serve. They describe judgmental hypocrites who hate people of other faiths and are only after your money. They attribute all the world’s problems to the Church, from sexism to sexual abuse to warfare.

In very few arenas would we tolerate a similar discussion about another group of people. And yet open-minded people listen to such meandering musings with a sympathetic ear, as if they are hearing something wise, brave or original. When in reality, they are hearing something shallow, uninformed and insulting.

A minister’s kid might be a lot of things, but uninformed is just not one of them.

Anyway, I wrote her a letter.


Dear Reverend Daniel,

This morning someone shared your piece on Marcus Mumford on Twitter. I read it and, frankly, it made me want to throw up. Normally, I would not write to tell someone that I had such a negative reaction to her writing, but you are a minister who a lot of other ministers look up to and you have a staff full of ministers.

So, I’m writing on behalf of their children. I, myself, am a minister’s kid–Methodist. I haven’t lived in a parsonage in roughly twenty years and I haven’t been in a church except to keep the peace with my father in about that long.

I know a lot of ministers’ kids. Some I’ve known my whole life and some I’ve met as adults. It’s amazing to find people–even ministers’ kids of different denominations–who get it, what you’ve been through. And it seems that there are only three paths ministers’ kids go down. We either stop considering ourselves Christian or we become ministers, in very rare cases, we eventually find some way to get back to church.

I know my sample size is small–maybe just thirty people. But most of us no longer consider ourselves Christian.

It was unfair of you to say that Marcus Mumford was coming from a place of “shallow, uninformed and insulting” knowledge of Christianity. Ministers’ kids are not uninformed. It’s not a matter, either, of just bumping into humanity. My father’s parishioners regularly made me aware of how much they thought he sucked. They also called and complained to my dad about who my friends were and the way I dressed and what kind of music I listened to. They told me they thought my dad should beat my brother. They felt free to criticize my mom’s clothing and the fact that she worked as a teacher.

And, when I tried to find a church home here, one of the places I went, my very first time visiting, someone pulled me aside to tell me that they knew their minister sucked, but they were looking to get rid of him. As if I would naturally take the side of the church against a man with the same job as my father.

I could tell you worse stories from my friends. But I know–I know–you know similar stories. I know there’s a group of people in your church right now who, if they could, would make your life miserable. Or the lives of some of your support staff. And those people are not decent enough to shield children from those things.

Marcus Mumford isn’t just some dude who decided to stop calling himself Christian. He’s a minister’s kid who decided to stop calling himself Christian. And we decide for very different reasons–reasons that are bound up in our feelings for our parents–than the people you seem to be addressing in your piece.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t believe we’re required to stand in a painful place just to suit others, to continue to open ourselves up to abuse, just because that’s “humanity” for you.

I also imagine he spend his whole life being an object lesson to his parents’ congregation. And here he is, yet again, being used as an object lesson to further your theological ends. That part sucks, too.

I hope, in the future, when you see a minister’s kid who can’t call himself a Christian any more, you, at least, consider that his decision is not uninformed. Perhaps you could consider what, exactly, his decision is informed by.


Betsy Phillips

The Song I Sang This Morning

I occasionally realize I’m singing toward the end of my walks. It just dawns on me slowly–that I hear someone singing and then, a few seconds later, that it’s me. I don’t know how often this happens. I want to say not very, but it could be that I’m singing all the time while walking and just only occasionally notice it.

Today, I realized I was singing right as I was singing “Take me for granted, leaving love unsure.” And I was like “What the fuck song is this?” It was weird. Like, clearly, this is a song I know well enough to sing to myself when walking. But, trying to play “Name that tune” from “Take me for granted, leaving love unsure?” I had no clue. And the idea of singing a song I couldn’t recognize was so startling to me that I, of course, stopped singing. Which meant that I couldn’t hear how the rest of the song went. So, all morning, I had no idea what fucking song it was.

Until I thought to google just that part.

But here’s what weirds me out most about it. It’s the same thing that always weirds me out when I have panic attacks or when I have those weird heights-related bouts. That feeling that I am just this thin veneer of this particular kind of consciousness riding around on an animal. Like 90% of the time, I get to have the illusion that my conscious self–me with all that being me entails–is the same thing as the body you see before you. And then, sometimes, almost all of them fear based, I get it slammed into me hard that there is this animal always with me that has its own opinions on things–like whether we can cross that bridge or step up to that ledge–and when the animal wants to be in control, it is. End of discussion.

It’s kind of terrifying. And this whole singing thing makes me also feel like it has its own opinions about music, about the things it likes. Aretha Franklin, apparently. Not that I don’t also like her. And it could be worse. What if this animal were a big classical music fan? Ugh, that would be boring as shit.

There are many cultures that have this idea that you don’t have just one soul–that, instead, your innards, your non-physical you, is split up into all kinds of interconnected overlapping parts. (Like in Haitian voodoo where you have a petit bon ange and a gros bon ange and your gros bon ange is what goes wandering around when you dream or what gets replaced when the lwa ride horse. But there are other people who divide the soul up into even more parts.) Even we in our secular way try to acknowledge this–ego, id, superego. We who are not one, indeed.

Anyway, its unsettling. But sometimes nice.