Friday, December 31, 2010

Profane Words

It's no secret that I'm very immersed in religion, even if it's in a non-personal-Deity kind of way. And in spite of my criticism of religion, I tend to think that all the world's religions have something to offer. I think atheism has something to offer as well.

However, over the years, I've noticed that I have more and more irritation towards the name "Jesus". Before you call for the exorcist, I should tell you that I know the root cause of the irritation, and it's hardly demons. It's profane over-use.

I did a Google search on "Jesus name profane", and came up with all sorts of invectives from various places that "the name of Jesus shall not be profaned". Which is ironic, because the name of Jesus is profaned all the time. And I think it's why I--and many other people--don't really want to hear it anymore.

It was once said that if you say the same thing over and over again enough times, people will believe it. Perhaps that is a missionary tactic of evangelicals. It might not be a good place to mention that this was said by Adolph Hitler. But there is truth to it.

We like to think that we're sharp enough to evade propaganda. But not when the propaganda sounds like our worldview. If it's close enough, then we consider it plausible. And unfortunately, the name of Jesus has been used a lot as propaganda--and as a propagator of fear. Yes, I know that this has nothing to do with the message or mission of Jesus. But if words are powerful, so are associations. When you start to associate a sacred name with hucksters trying to get your money, to sell you "miracle Bible oil", to spread lies and prejudice about marginalized groups--it's really hard to taste the sweetness of the name. It's like beer that 's gone "skunky".

I get that people are moved in very devotional ways. I'm not against that, if it is meaningful to you. But often times there is a lot of phony grandstanding in the name of religion--usually Christian religion in this country. And it's not inspiring; it's nauseating.

I never really believed in the sacred/profane split until I considered this. Some things really need to be left in the holiest of places.

I've studied most of the world's religions. My spiritual path has taken me to some obscure places. Out of every type of prayer, meditation, and ritual that I've engaged in, there's only one experience that I've found to be genuinely profound in a spiritual sense. There were no visions of any gods or teachers, no angels singing. It was an experience of nothing. Silence. The closest thing I can liken it to is what Teresa of Avila called "the prayer of quiet". There wasn't any need for words or incantations, though the vibration of certain words can bring you to that quiet state. In this state, the Buddhist notion of "living in the present" makes sense in a way that can't be described. It sounds inconsequential, but it isn't--the impact of the experience is astounding; the world never looks the same after that.

Perhaps I am thinking of this because I had that first experience 8 years ago today. And I always think back to it when I get too overwhelmed by my life obligations.

On a different note--I've updated the bbfiction blog in the past week with a couple new poems. You can check them out here if you haven't already.

And with that, this is my last post of 2010. Everyone enjoy New Year's Eve. I plan to spend mine visiting friends in the afternoon, then drinking wine and playing Scrabble with my mother. If that sounds lame, I would argue that standing around Times Square with 1 million drunks, or sitting in a crowded restaurant or club with a bunch of drunks does not fit my notion of a "good time". The last time I planned to celebrate New Year's Eve in a big way was when I was in London 2 years ago. Then I got the flu, and that put an end to that. Spent all of New Year's Day sleeping, punctuated by searches for orange juice. Perhaps I am just getting old.

Of course, with every year that passes--never mind every day--we're all getting older. Happy new year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010


My dresser drawer was starting to remind me of the cat's toy basket this week. The stuff on top was well-used, while the stuff at the bottom was almost forgotten. With my cat, I try to be egalitarian about the toys, and I occasionally rotate the bottom toys to the top, so that nothing is neglected. With my clothes it is not so simple; everything at the bottom has been there so long, it needs to be ironed to make it presentable. So, it had become inevitable that I would have to begin hours of ironing to reclaim my wardrobe.

While ironing, I brought my Macbook upstairs so I could watch some Ghost Hunters re-runs. There was some discussion a few weeks back about their last show, that featured the Real Housewives of Atlanta (one of many mind-numbing reality shows on TV these days). The producers really seem to have jumped the shark with this one; while the investigation wasn't a total catastrophe, it was hardly their shining moment. Even the TAPS members seemed rather tentative and uneasy with the arrangement, but were clearly making the best of it.

In the midst of discussion about this, someone asked me if anyone ever saw or heard anything remotely like a ghost on this show. The answer is yes. For your convenience, I've made a list of the stand-out episodes in this category, mostly from the first 3 seasons, which I will now share with you:

Race Rock Lighthouse
--an empty chair in an unoccupied room slides across the floor--twice.
Eastern State Penitentiary--full body apparition caught on upper floors (This is the original episode from Season 1--the "Dude, Run!" episode)
Crescent Hotel--Full body apparition caught on thermal cam.
Ellis Home--weird psychedelic light show between the owner of the house (who's a medium) and Jason Hawes.
St. Augustine Lighthouse--voices, shadows, and a full-body apparition looking over the railing at the camera.
Stanley Hotel--Jason's closet door opens and shuts by itself, and the glass on his nightstand cracks from the inside by itself. Also--a table and chair lifts up and drops by itself.
Bird Cage Theater--A cord unravels itself from the bell it's wrapped around and hits the floor.
Leap Castle--Dustin Pari gets picked up and thrown to the ground by the Elemental that is supposed to haunt the place.
Lisheen Ruins--Weird figures show up on thermal cam, and a ghostly face appears on camera--the same face seen by Irish investigator Barry FitzGerald.
Northern State Hospital--apparition steps out, and then back into the darkness on camera. Plus you hear eerie singing in the attic.
Lullaby Lane--crazy electronic voice phenomena--responds directly to questions.
Gibbons House--full body apparition rises out of the floor and walks away.
Fort Mifflin--more creepy electronic voice phenomena. One voice asks for a drink of water after seeing a sound guy drinking from a bottle of water.

Ah, ghosts. On a tangentially-related note, I was reading an article on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and the stages of death (and grieving). She is famous for the traditional "5 steps" in the grieving process (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). Psychologists have taken this pretty literally, and as the article points out (and Kubler-Ross herself), that the neat packaging of the process in this manner belies its complexity. There is a sense that grief is linear, that we move forward or backward, when in fact this is not how loss manifests itself at all.

Nor anything else, for that matter.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

At the Threshold of Year's End

Yesterday I visited a childhood friend at her parents' retirement house, which is only 25 miles from where I live. Sitting in the dining room drinking tea, our conversation drifted across many topics--what we'd been doing over the last couple of years, what became of certain family members and friends. There was a curious blending of the past and the future in this comfortable threshold of the present. I was reminded of the fact that this was the family that shaped my childhood more than my own family. In my own family I was largely an outsider--6 years younger than my youngest sibling. My father was always working, and my mother too busy running around trying to keep tabs on the 5 of us.

By contrast, it seemed my friend's family was always going out doing interesting things, visiting new places. As I got older, I realized that they drank a lot of wine. I admired them for this. My family never drank. Sounds strange, but I have a great appreciation for good beer and wine. This interest of mine has never set quite well with my family, who have an underlying belief that anyone who enjoys alcohol is destined to be an alcoholic. Sure, they dip in themselves once in awhile, but it's pretty rare. It's odd when you consider that my father is of Irish/English descent, and my mother of Eastern European descent. Of course, my mother saw marriages and families within her own family ripped apart by drinking and its abuse, so perhaps her attitude is not so surprising. And my father's grandfather died of wood alcohol poisoning during Prohibition.

Really, though, it's not just the enjoyment of beer or wine--it's pretty much everything. I've always felt a bit out of step with everyone else in the family. And over the years I've learned not to be concerned about it. This annoys my mother, who feels I should put family first. Often I do, but generally speaking, there's no point. I don't consider this a problem. If my family had been more attentive to my life course, and we had ended up being more close-knit and traditional overall, maybe my life would have been a lot different, and I wouldn't want that. It was a wonderful moment when I suddenly realized that I didn't have to do things based on what others might think of me. There was no need to do what I was supposed to do by societal or familial decree. There's wonderful freedom in that, and also great responsibility.

In the course of my conversation with my friend, she mentioned a trip she took with friends to Berlin and Paris, once again whetting my appetite for Europe. She's heading for Umbria in Italy sometime this summer. I'm looking at financial logistics, and by Fall 2011, a week in Paris might not be out of the question. Still--too soon to say. But I was happy to be reminded that I should move forward, even when we'd been looking backward.

In the meantime, I'm still purging away. Got rid of 5 years worth of old papers, and I'm still cleaning out closets and drawers. This is an almost-vacation week for me (I still have an online class to teach). As the week progresses, I'm not sure if I'm getting lazier or just more relaxed. I find myself following the cat's example, and curling up in my bed for most of the day. I do have visits with friends, but not every day. Nonetheless, I have to snap out of it for at least some time, and get some writing, grading, and chores finished. Money is still tight, so I'm resisting the urge to go out. The recent snowstorm--which hardly affected us at all--has brought New York and East Jersey to a standstill. While not good for residents of those towns, it's been good for me--I have a reason not to go there.

I read today that New York City had a "good riddance" day--where they wrote down things they wanted to get rid of, and put it in a big ceremonial pile to be shredded. This is a great idea, and no better time for such a mass effort than the end of Mercury Retrograde (ends tomorrow, the 30th). 2010 has not been the greatest of years overall, though it did have its high points. I've never felt myself in more of a crunch than I have this year financially--not for at least 15 years.

On the other hand--I was going through some New Yorker magazines that I've allowed to stack up, and one had an article on North Koreans who defected to Yinji in China. One girl told her story--she was her family's one hope educationally, so they'd saved their money to send her to college. Then in one stroke--the North Korean government devalued their currency, and gave citizens 24 hours to cash in their won (North Korean money). In the end, the girl's family had only 15 dollars left to their name. Between that and the rampant starvation among the people there--I realized that my material difficulties in no way matched theirs. Even among Americans I'm not that bad off--I have a full-time job with benefits, and have the opportunity to get extra work. Being frugal will get rid of my debts. Others are not so lucky.

Let's hope 2011 is better for everyone. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Outcomes, or, The Universe is Way Smarter Than You (or I)

I have started about seven different blog posts since I wrote the last one. I can’t seem to finish any of them—if I can’t stand to re-read my text, or can’t get very far with it, I usually scrap it. If I’m bored by it, it’s likely you would be, too.
I love the silver and rose colored skies this time of year—especially at sunrise or sunset—but I can’t stand being outdoors. It’s been ridiculously cold this month—average January temperatures rather than December temperatures.

The day I was supposed to fly to London ended up being a snowy one in the UK—some places got a foot or more of snow, highly unusual. It is very likely that even if the Troxy gig went forward on that date, not many people would have made it. I’m not sure I would have made it—many flights were canceled. Chalk another event up to “the universe is way smarter than you” category. The snow enabled many Foxx fans with non-refundable arrangements to actually get refunds on account of the weather.

I had another John Foxx non-event that was similar—I was waffling on going to an exhibition opening in London that Foxx “might” be attending last April. I got no definite reply as to whether he’d be there, but my instincts told me not to go. I was upset when I learned that he actually did turn up—but as it happened, Eyjafjallajökull also erupted that weekend. It is likely I would have been stuck in London for quite some time with nowhere to go if I had made the trip. The universe is way smarter than you and me.

In reviewing some of my blog posts, I was reminded that I had made some predictions for 2010. I re-read them, and I would say none of them happened. Things exploded in a way I don’t think any sane person could have imagined in the U.S. Which shows you that I am much better at focusing on the present than to try to be prophetic. On the other hand—sometimes my predictions are only for me, even when I want them to be for everyone. So, I should go back again and see if they pertain to me at all.

It’s funny how we always want to know the outcomes of things before they happen. The whole uncertainty business leaves everyone feeling so very...well, uncertain. If you think about it, the fear of death is just another version of the fear of uncertainty. We have all sorts of metrics and reasoning tactics to determine the probable outcome of things. But that’s all it is—a probable outcome. We don’t really know, we just make logical guesses. And as I’ve mentioned hundreds of times before, life isn’t really all that logical.

Sometimes we cling to the past as a way of feeling comforted, a counterbalance to our fear of the future. Sometimes we look to others to predict the future. I think this is why psychics are so popular, in spite of any attempts to discredit them—if they consistently predict things with accuracy, then people feel there is a certain amount of reliability in their determination of the future. However—even during the years when research into ESP and psychic phenomena was fashionable, it was noted that the very best psychics were only accurate 80% of the time. So, you still have a 20% chance they will be dead wrong.

After meeting my guru and receiving a mantra from her, I noticed a common pattern in my life. An event would be coming up—I would plan for it, have expectations for it. I would even be sure about exactly how it would turn out, being I’d been to the same event before, did the same thing, etc., more than once. And then I would get there—everything would be screwed up, there would be many moments of panic—and then everything would turn out fine. Not as expected, but fine. Sometimes—the results of this whirlwind were better than expected.

So, you can probably see now why I don’t have a “5-year plan”, and why I don’t have expectations. Any plan I have must be flexible, because everything can change at a moment’s notice. And the more wedded you are to your expected outcome, the more freaked out you will become.

If you add this to the “universe is way smarter than you” factor—it’s as my guru says in 2 of the few English words that she knows—“Don’t worry”.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

John Foxx at the Troxy

Raise your hand if you read the title of this post and thought that somehow this gig was rescheduled earlier and you missed it. Good. Now put your hands down. I can't see them anyway.

You didn't miss anything. The gig has indeed been postponed until April. Another dark spot in an already dark year. So what of my title? This isn't a review of a show, it's more of a review of the postponement. Or, at least my thoughts since hearing the gig was postponed.

On the Metamatic forum, there is a lot of discussion about a re-release of John Foxx and Louis Gordon's "Sideways" and "Crash and Burn" albums. I am frequently amused at how such forum threads take on a theological air. The devout raging against the heretics. We are not here to question the good things John Foxx has wrought. Others argue it is not wrong to question--how do you come into relationship with John Foxx if the conversation only has one side?

Of course, I'm speaking figuratively about John Foxx here. John Foxx the electronica god, in his black shirt, trousers, and jacket with his silver hair and piercing blue eyes. Always smiling and magnanimous towards his faithful brethren. And amidst the flurry of autograph seekers, photo takers, and fans looking to shake his hand and testify to his genius, the question always arises from the chaos: Why are you here? John has asked me that question many times before, though it's less of a question, more of a statement. "Brigid, I can't believe you've traveled so far for this." Or, "I hope this has been worth your trip."

Last year around this time, John did a gig in Bath. At the pub afterwards, he was making his rounds and sat across from me, arms folded, looking at me with an interrogative look in his eyes, as though he was going to penetrate my thoughts, dammit. He was going to figure out the mystery of why I come so far. (And he wanted to know something else too, but that's another story). My response to both types of insinuation was to smile politely, shrug and say nothing. I could tell from the exasperated eye-roll that I got from him that this was not the response he was looking for. But it couldn't be helped. There are no short answers, and the pub at midnight in the middle of a pre-Christmas party was hardly the place for discussion.

All that is last year's news, but it does bring me back to the question. I asked myself that question when I made my travel arrangements in September, in spite of my precarious financial position. Why are you going, Brigid? People have defended my going with lots of answers, all of them good points, but none of them the real answer.

In interviews, John will make the distinction between John Foxx and Dennis Leigh, as though they are two separate people. John Foxx is his public persona. The electronica god mentioned above--calm, cool, self-assured, and handsome. To hear him tell it, Dennis Leigh is apparently some teeming flaw colony, or at least terribly uninteresting, and he doesn't want people to see that. I find the split fascinating, because he often thinks his "John" disguise is impenetrable. As a matter of fact, it isn't--I've seen a lot of Dennis Leigh. And that's why I go to England so often.

Now, if John reads this, he will no doubt protest this point. He will swear that I don't know him that well, and that I certainly don't know "Dennis Leigh". And on this point, he would be wrong. No, that's too judgmental--he would be mistaken.

I read a book in one of my undergraduate Shakespeare courses called "The Daughter of Time" by Josephine Tey (pen name for Elizabeth Mackintosh). It's a mystery story--the basic plot involves a Scotland Yard detective that knows all the history of Richard III, but when he looks at Richard's portrait, he knows that he could not have committed the atrocities attributed to him, and then he attempts to solve the mystery of who really was to blame. Mackintosh was like me--a bit of an amateur psychologist, and fascinated with portraits, facial expressions, movement of the eyes, and body language. In short, a person can say nothing and tell you everything; or, if not everything, at least a sufficient amount.

John Foxx is like a cloudy day to me. The clouds may be beautifully and astonishingly arranged, but I'm delighted when the sun peeks from behind the clouds--even if it's just for a second. The man who comes in breathless from the train station, hair askew from the wind, dressed in his corduroy trousers, a large glob of earwax visible in his ear. The man who drops a cup of coffee with shaky hands. The man who is taken by surprise and makes a comment, a facial expression, a gesture that is out of line with the neatly presented image. The man who, in his surprise at seeing me, says things that I wouldn't expect him to say. While John Foxx's impeccable appearance and beautiful live performances are wonderful, I am more taken in by the beauty of the unscripted, unprompted, and off-guard man. I care for the real man more than the external packaging. The plain old Dennis Leigh, art college graduate and son of a coal miner, without all the special effects. And--I should add--the "old" man. While he was a beautiful young man, I have no yearning for him to return to his youth. He's beautiful as he is now.

You may read all this and have a protest of your own. Yes, but WHY? Why would you fly 3,700 miles, spend hundreds of dollars, stand on your feet for 40 hours, just to talk to John for a few minutes here and there? Because honestly, I could watch a DVD or listen to a CD if it was just about the music (or the art), and save my money. To answer that, I'm going to quote the wisdom of the Rolling Stones: You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.

Clear as mud, right? I will say this--I have never gone to see John expecting anything, and always end up with way more than I expect. In fact--if I review the last 2+ years I've been going to see him, I'm quite amazed at how things have developed. If you'd told me about all the events that would transpire between then and now at that time, I would have said you were crazy. Which proves my point that sometimes it's good to be crazy. Life is not logical.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


People in our culture have a fascination with the unseen. I have one too, but it occurs to me that we take the "seen" for granted. Or rather--how the seen reflects the unseen.

When I was in school, I was taught in language arts from the first grade onward that a noun was a "person, place, or a thing". When I got to high school, the definition was modified; a noun was now a "person, place, thing, or idea". The abstract had been introduced into the concrete.

I don't know when this change in definition officially occurred, or if it always was that way, but never stated explicitly. Whatever the case, it is true that our reality is made up of ideas in the 21st century. Ideas and numbers.

Money is an excellent example. When I get paid, I never see any physical money. It is directly deposited into my checking account. From there, it is electronically deposited into my creditors' accounts. Once I week I take out $100 in cash for my groceries, gasoline, and other expenses. And even the green twenty-dollar bills that spit out from the ATM machine are stand-ins for the "real" money, which still happens to be gold. The only reason it is gold is because someone decided that this was the most valuable of rocks a long time ago. And of course, someone decides the value.

I've never entirely understood the idea of "value". It seems to have something to do with supply and demand. For instance--if I own an LP in my record collection that I know is worth a lot of money, I may not get anything close to that if I sell it on eBay. Why? As my brother-in-law explained, "it's only worth what someone is willing to pay for it." How the value of rocks like gold is determined is a mystery to me. Is gold that scarce?

The whole system seems rather sketchy to me. It's a math game, and I'm not good at math. Basically, the number shown in my checking account must be higher than the number owed on my creditors' accounts. But there's no real money here. It's numbers being spit back and forth between computer servers. People have elaborate systems for increasing the numbers in their own accounts--many having to do with other hallucinations like stocks and bonds. Wall Street was built on such hallucinations. Alexander Hamilton had quite an imagination.

But now that world economies are falling like dominoes, you have to wonder even more about the system. I was chatting with a visiting art historian at our campus, an Irishman living in Cyprus. We were discussing the economic troubles of Ireland, and the likely EU bailout. His comment: "This is good for Ireland. They've based their economy on something transient for too long. They give all these breaks to companies to make them come there, when in an hour they can be somewhere else. They need to start over."

My tendency is to agree with him. But start over with what? Aren't most world economies based on the same thing to some degree? It will be interesting to see if something new--or a return to something old--is possible. People liked the new system because you could build a booming economy in a short time. Trouble is, you can lose everything just as quickly.

Back to the other kinds of nouns. It is ironic that in a world that is skeptical of what it cannot see, we are so out of touch with what we can see. Our lives are molded by this numerical hallucination we call the economy--you go to school, then you go to university, with the object of making a living--making money. Which, as we've discussed, is a numerical illusion. Besides the essentials, what do we need money for? Well, people with lots of money acquire a lot of stuff. If they are aficionados of something in particular, they may collect things related to that. But the stuff is often garish and gaudy. I hardly ever watch TV, but in the last 25 years, I've occasionally seen shows about the houses of the contemporary rich and famous. They all look the same, and all have the same uninspiring rooms full of expensive crap. A collection of stuff just for the sake of having it, for the sake of saying "Look, I'm wealthy!" Which translates in their minds as "Look, I'm successful!"

I don't think this is a healthy relationship to things. It may be funny to hear that from someone who practices a religion that says the material world is illusory. On some level, it is. But this is about connecting to the Earth, to Nature--and not just by being outdoors. As humans, we like to feel useful. We like to feel that what we produce--whether it's creative output or manufactured in some way--is useful to others. I think on some level, even the most selfish people have this desire, unless they're sociopaths. We want to contribute something to the world, and make a difference in the lives of others.

When a child is very small, he will often have a favorite stuffed toy that he or she carries around. They become very upset if they are separated from that toy. That toy is known in psychological parlance as a "transitional object". The child recognizes separation from the parents, and clings to the toy as a stand-in for parental comfort, especially when they are with babysitters or alone in their bed at night. At some point, the object is discarded, when it is no longer needed. It might be thrown out if it is really worn, or might be passed on to another child. The object becomes a subject. We interact with it; it has a meaning to us beyond any marketing hype at Christmastime.

I have always been impressed and awed by the simplest things. An exquisitely designed dinner plate. A well-made glass of wine. The smell of a fireplace in an old house. Even daily routines can be awe-inspiring experiences. Doing the dishes, raking the leaves, baking bread--I like to do these things myself because there's a certain pleasure involved. It's the interaction with things, doing them consciously. Or, as the Zen Buddhists would say, doing things with awareness. Looking at the stars at night, or looking at a beautiful sunrise, just for the sake of looking. If you're bored by these things, then you've lost something of your life. It is true that when we have too many things to do we become overwhelmed, and may want a break from all of it. But that's another problem--we rush around, worry about what we need to do next, rather than focusing on the present and taking our time. And often, individuals are not to blame; society demands it.

This sense of rushing, of needing to get ahead permeates my profession particularly, and I think it's to its detriment. I've attended three workshops on the new cataloging rules (RDA). What I'm being told is that description is no longer important; it's data. Data with which we can make lots of linkages to other data. Changing the way we do data is important, because we want to be part of this futuristic thing called "the Semantic Web". Our information is in "silos", and can only be accessed by going to individual library catalogs. The great irony here is that switching to a "Semantic Web" model and doing away with our very strict standard of description is going to make our information more inaccessible. Since there are few standards regarding entry, the librarians will be as lost as the users when they're trying to find things, because we can't be sure how the materials are being described. Sure, thesauri still exist for subjects, but which one is being used? Lately, library-land is trading its organizational principles for the chance to make some "neat" connections on the Web; connections which will be as overwhelming as the original keyword searches in the 1980s. The description is an art; making it fit the pre-defined rules makes it more of a challenge, though a necessary one if you want to be able to search catalogs nationally and internationally. But it will no longer be about describing the piece; it will be about "data" that's even more "meta".

But maybe they're right--in a world where people treat the world as an object, a means to an end, maybe no one wants description. Ideas are more important than things.

Still, I suspect that there's at least a nostalgia for the thingliness of things. Deep down people want that connection, even if they've forgotten how to make it. It's not hard, really. Just slow down and pay attention. And stop looking at the world as a means to an end.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fishbowl : A Meditation on Love and Family Life

I saw an ad on MySpace today: "9 secrets to get your boyfriend positively addicted to you for life". Why would anyone in their right mind want such a thing? "Boyfriend addicted to you for life" sounds a bit like "psychopathic stalker". How romantic.

I wonder why I still have a MySpace account. Really, no one uses it anymore. Except for John Foxx. Well, not John personally--his management runs the site. Still, that's the only reason I stay on MySpace. Because John doesn't have much of an official presence on Facebook. Yes, there is a Facebook page (run very competently by my friend Gem), but it's at least second or third-hand with regard to official information. This isn't anyone's fault; that's just how it is. MySpace still has the advantage of allowing you to preview songs and put them on your profile. The best that Facebook can do (thus far) is iLike. So, it's not surprising that musicians would prefer MySpace in that regard.

Back to the original quote--I was thinking about the condition of jealousy today--particularly jealousy in relationships. (That would be part of a romantic "addiction", I would imagine?) I've noticed that certain men try to gauge your interest in them by your level of jealousy. I'm not talking guys who are douchebags; I'm talking nice, respectful men. I've run into this a lot, whether in an actual relationship or not, and it's puzzling. Why would you torment someone who's interested in you--and who takes great pains and risks to see you--by trying to make them jealous when you do see them? It seems like a form of sadism.

On the flip side, these same men--who, I should add are not your boyfriend--in fact, are someone else's boyfriend--get very jealous when you either talk to other men or about other men. They indicate this by obvious cock-blocking when you strike up a conversation with a single man in the same room, or by pouting and making snippy remarks when you mention ANY other man that they don't know. I can almost see the cartoon, with the "WTF??" bubble appearing over the woman's head.

In relationships--there's sometimes the weird "power play" that goes on. The relationship starts off normally enough, but then the guy starts acting weird, and letting you know that you're not going to control HIS life. And you start wondering if you have a doppelganger dating in your place, that is evilly trying to control this person. Because it's definitely not you. No sarcasm here--it's definitely not you. And if there's no doppelganger, you have to wonder what their mother was like.

In any case, men have always been a puzzle to me, because they are so Quixotic, fighting dragons that are only windmills. Are they really that insecure about themselves? Or have they just been lucky enough to have only evil, controlling wenches for girlfriends, and therefore in abject terror when they get emotionally involved with a new woman? The pattern I've seen even in the most intelligent and mature of men is one of emotional superiority. They must feel more personally secure and confident than the girlfriend--if she's comfortable, then they're uncomfortable, and have to do something to make her doubt her sanity. As if they need to keep her on her toes.

Maybe this is why such nice men end up with bitches. It's really the only way for the woman to survive--by keeping the upper hand for herself.

But why does anyone need to have the upper hand? Is there such a thing as mutual respect and love? Or is that something made up, or only attained by sages and gurus? Who are not, I might add, in relationships? I'm guessing such a thing must exist somewhere, but it's a bit like the Loch Ness monster--we've only seen grainy photos of something that MIGHT be it. And even then it might be a hoax. But even if it is, it might still exist somewhere.

Can love exist in marriage and family life? I'm sure it must, at least in some families; I do have friends who are quite content with their marriages and family life. But it's not a life I could imagine for myself.

A few weeks ago I was in my old neighborhood, the one I grew up in. The neighborhood has changed a lot; it used to be a lot of vacation bungalows and colonials; now, most of the bungalows have been ripped down, and their yards totally overtaken by these huge McMansions that are at least 5,000 square feet. There are few trees, and almost no yard; it's all house. And the houses all look the same, with that faux brickwork and beige vinyl siding, along with huge windows and doors with tacky brass fixtures. I see the tenants of these homes get into their cars--bleach blonde women with day-glo nails getting into their white SUVs to go pick up the kids from soccer practice, yammering away illegally on their cell phones as they back out of their driveways without looking. I watched such a scene as I was at a stop sign, and I was suddenly filled with horror at the banality of it all. These women were probably the popular girls in school in their time. And this is what happened to them?

I just finished reading Muriel Barbery's "The Elegance of the Hedgehog", a book I highly recommend even though it's heartbreaking. In the beginning of the book, one of the main characters, Paloma Josse, talks about suicide. She is twelve-years-old, and already recognizes that adulthood is a "goldfish bowl"--there's no escaping from the life plan made for you. She comes from an affluent family, and is sure that the course of her life will be planned; her thoughts of suicide are her attempt to beat the plan and free herself. Because what do we grow up for, after all? We have big dreams as children--and then become soccer Moms with cheating husbands and garish, pre-fab houses?

I remind myself that I did escape from that, so it is possible. Like everyone else, I believed the myth that this was what I wanted. Then I got married and had a panic attack, realizing that for me, nothing could be worse than life as "Mom". It is true that I have to struggle financially since my divorce (not that my marriage was much different). But I largely get to do what I want to do. I work with old books. I write. I get to teach religion in a liberal arts context. I go to England often, get invited to interesting parties, and have interesting friends. I have a rambling old house with creaky floors, oak bookcases, purple glassware, shelves of occult grimoires, religious histories, and other eclectic books, and a big black cat for company. For me, all of these things are satisfying, and I wouldn't trade them for any boring, rich contractor husband and a brood of kids. It would be nice to have a partner to share my travels with, to have intelligent discussions with, to drink wine and enjoy wonderful foods with. But I also do well enough on my own, and the other will follow if it's meant to happen.

I feel the need to reiterate for the benefit of my married friends with family that I don't think such a life HAS to be banal--and I've seen many examples of very happy families. But it's definitely not the life for me.

I don't think I have a real point here. But then again--neither does anything else we do. That may be the point.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I have to say this has been a happy week. Not a whole lot has happened; work has been busy, I've managed to sell some of my Craigslist AND Edward Gorey items (to the respondents--thank you very much!), and had two very intelligent conversations this week. Plus, I'm thinking about Europe, particularly about taking a cruise in Southern France. This won't happen in 2011 unless my finances get significantly better, but you never know. I find that with money, the unexpected can go both ways--either you take a huge hit or end up with a huge windfall.

I'm not sure why I'm so fixated on getting out of the country these days. Maybe it's because Americans have been pissing me off lately. The recent elections are exactly what I expected, but disappointing nonetheless. No one has any patience, everyone is into instant gratification. Economy sucks? Obama-Jesus was supposed to wave his hand and fix it his first month in office! Never mind that he said right in his inaugural address that our problems might not get much better in his 4 years in office; after all, they weren't created overnight. No matter; Americans want it, they want it now, and if they don't get it, you're a loser and they'll support your opponent again. This goes around and around until you feel like a ping pong ball in a clothes dryer. The other problem with Americans is what I call the "action movie" problem. Too many Americans are influenced by the old Lethal Weapon--Die Hard--Deathwish kind of heroes, who solve problems by blowing the other guy away. Sure, it's fun to see the bad guys get their due in a movie, but they translate it to real life. Screw diplomacy and peace talks! That's for wimps! Real Americans just shove it in your face and you'll like it, or they'll just blow you up! Solves everything, right? Just don't do it to us!

Okay, I'm not interested in giving myself a headache today, so I won't go on about that. But this is definitely the mentality among the conservative factions in this country. I should know--I grew up in a family where this largely IS the mentality. Not my mother or siblings per se, but my father and aunts and uncles. And it's really tiresome. Lewis Black did a wonderful piece about this at his Broadway show several years ago:

I am not blind to the fact that the grass is not necessarily greener elsewhere. Europe definitely has its own set of problems, many just as serious, if not more so. But from what I've seen, Europeans spend their time fighting real problems, and they do it well. American protesters could learn a lot from Europe. And the press there does not suffer fools. If you're a greedy jerk, you're going to be called out for being a greedy jerk. People there seem to be smart enough to recognize that. I'm not a fan of violent protest--I don't think it solves anything. But some protests are quite creative. For instance, the French expressed their displeasure with President Sarkozy by going out en masse and buying the one book that he hated. People were reading it everywhere on the streets of France. No one would think to do that here, except maybe one of the library associations. And they wouldn't get the same buy-in.

In any case, whether it be for a nice long vacation or an eventual emigration, I really want to visit the rest of Europe. I say "rest of", because I spend a lot of time in England.I speak the same language, and I've gotten to know my way around. But I've never been to France, Italy, Germany, Spain--nor any part of Eastern Europe, which is where my mother's family is from. My biggest issue is language. I took 7 years of French instruction, but I haven't used it in years, and my vocabulary is quite rusty. The last time I had a chance to use it was when I visited Canada; I was staying in Ottawa, but had frequent cross-overs into Quebec. Canada is bi-lingual, but I found that when I attempted to speak French (and I remembered a lot more than I thought I would), they were obviously pleased. Not amused--pleased. I can tell the difference. But in general, I would be nervous about trying to hold an entire conversation in French--I need to seriously brush up. But French aside, I'm not that familiar with any other European languages. I usually can decipher writings in other Romance languages, because I also took 7 years of Latin. But I am nowhere near having any skill in speaking those languages.

Now, my friends who either live in Europe or have visited tell me that speaking the local language is not necessary--everyone speaks English. There are some places where I would want them to speak English--at the immigration counter at the airport, for instance. But beyond that, I feel like it's somehow morally wrong to not even attempt to learn at least some of the language of the place you're visiting. We expect foreigners visiting America to speak some English. Why do we think we can go to Europe and not give the native people the same courtesy? There's a certain arrogance to that, and it just underlines how isolated we are as a nation from the rest of the world. I realize some people are not good at languages, and may be afraid to sound like an idiot. Plus, we're not all linguists. Still--if you're going to spend any time abroad, it doesn't hurt to try to learn something new. In fact, one would hope you would go abroad with some intellectual curiosity, and not with the "Johnny Ramone mentality". (When the Ramones toured Europe, Johnny Ramone was known to complain--"F**k these old rocks, doesn't this place have a McDonald's?").

Native Americans aside, the United States as it is today has a cultural heritage borrowed almost completely from Europe. The colonists and founders of our government were Europeans. I'm always interested in getting to the roots of things, and Europe is certain part of our national roots. I've been to England many times, and never fail to be awed by the history that's there--something the English may take for granted, since they see it all the time. Even the visible England is relatively new--London has had so many fires, and has been rebuilt so many times, that you really have to look for the most ancient parts of the city. One of my favorite experiences of London was in an inexpensive hotel. My room was nothing special, but it overlooked the rooftops of the city, and was quite near to St. Pancras Church. There was something very sublime about sitting with the window open, with a summer breeze coming in at dawn, with my cup of tea. The horizon over the old chimneys turned from a deep blue to pink to orange, and you could hear the bells tolling on the church as the city was starting to wake up. I've been to many cities in the U.S.--many beautiful places in their own right--and never experienced anything quite like this. It's hard to put into words. You just feel the age of things, and it reminds you that you are just a small part of a large universe. It's as if the ancient city blends with the modern city, and resonates across time, and you're there to experience the music.

Ah yes. Time to pay things off and start saving my money again...

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

These Days

Before I begin this evening's blog post, here is a quick announcement:

I am selling some things on Craigslist. Yes, I used eBay like everyone else, but lately selling there has been a no-go, and it costs me a lot of money. These items are cheap enough to not be worth putting on eBay, so I have them listed here, if any of them strike your fancy.
Also--you can respond to that post if you're an Edward Gorey collector--I can contact you about some Edward Gorey first editions I'm looking to sell.

Normally, I would not do such shameless hawking on my blog. But I am beyond broke at the moment, so I'm taking any outlet available to me. Forgive me.

OK, now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

Mornings are a conflicted time. I wake up at 3:00 in the morning. My body's cortisol levels are not playing a cruel prank on me; I really have to get up at 3:00 in the morning, or 3:30 at the latest. I must leave by 5:00 to get to work, so I can record my Winter session lectures before my day starts. Recording later in the day won't work; I have too many interruptions, too many people are around.

Staggering and exhausted, my brain tries to compensate by chattering away at approximately 100 miles per hour about everything and nothing. This is not good, because I like to meditate first thing in the morning, and the worst thing for meditation is a chatty mind. Still, I slog through my morning routine of showering, getting dressed, meditating, feeding the cats, getting together the things I will need for work, and having breakfast. I need to make an effort to remember what day it is, so that I put out garbage or recycling on the appropriate day. After putting some tea in a travel mug and heading out to my car, I start the long trek to work. It's no wonder I'm dazed by the time I get there. I feel like I've done a day's worth of work already.

Each day is a new battle. My job isn't stressful, but I can be presented with unexpected projects or problems. If I had a different agenda in mind for the day, it usually ends up being shot. But that's a metaphor for life, isn't it? Some days I enjoy socializing with my co-workers, on others I just want to lock the office doors and focus on my work. This is not a reflection on my co-workers; on the whole, I work in a reasonably sane office, spiced up with some quirkiness here and there. And it isn't fatal.

One of my colleagues had a birthday today, so we all went to the student cafeteria for lunch. It's a flat $7.25 to get in (birthday people excepted--they eat for free), and I'm not sure the price is worth it. Still, we don't go to lunch together that often, and after some initial logistical confusion, it ended up being a nice group conversation. And I had afternoon coffee to boot. Just what I needed for a brain already in overdrive.

I received an e-mail from the University of Reading (UK) asking me to join their online alumni community. The registration page gave me a start. Under the drop-down menu for "Title", you expect to see 4 things--Mr., Miss, Ms., and Mrs. On this list, there were about 50 appellations. I am not exaggerating. I debated choosing "Air Commander" or "Squadron Leader", or perhaps sticking an "HRH" before my name just for fun. I have never seen such a list in my life. I was tempted to write and tell them that they forgot "Smt." (Srimata, the Hindu term for "Mrs."). Unless that's what "Smr" meant. If it means anything else, I couldn't tell you. One of the choices was "The". Just "The". "The Brigid Burke". As opposed to The Imposter Pretending To Be Brigid Burke, I guess...

I drove home in a zombified state this afternoon, probably from too much caffeine. This is good, because I'm less aware of irritating drivers around me, and I care less when someone tailgates me or cuts me off in traffic. Arriving at home, I note the 10,000,000 leaves in the yard that will require another 3 to 4 hours of labor to pick up. Mind you, I've picked up leaves almost every weekend since the beginning of September. It's a losing battle, like every other practical task in my life. I feel like Sisyphus. I open the mailbox, and find an advertisement for the Wall Street Journal. Just what I need--more Rupert Murdoch-influenced media. I toss the ad straight into the recycling bin, with the rest of the mail.

Evening arrives quickly now, and I am teetering on the edge of energetic productivity and the desire to sink into the futon with a glass of wine, watching re-runs of Ghost Hunters, or an old movie. Or reading my book. I am reading "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery, which was deserving of its place on the New York Times bestseller list. It is such a good book that it commands full attention and awareness, so it might not be a good idea to pick it up after work, when I am on a downward awareness spiral, heading towards sleepy-land. I hear a mooing sound in the living room; the cat, sitting inside his hooded, wool-lined bed, has reached out a lazy paw for a nearby cow-shaped cat toy that makes mooing sounds. He is ridiculously cute as he curls up to sleep in his bed with the toy between his paws.

Soon I will curl up in my own bed. I do have to get up at 3:00 in the morning, after all...

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Common Denominator

I visited my parents after work this week. I usually have a rather busy life, and don't get to stop by that often. On this particular day, I needed to borrow my father's VHS to DVD converter; I have a few VHS tapes that I like to re-watch that my VCR has suddenly decided it doesn't like. So, I made DVD copies.

My Dad is technologically hip in some ways. When it comes to visual media, he likes to have all of the new toys--except for things that have to be done on a computer. He bought this particular converter a few years ago, but almost never uses it. This is because he doesn't understand the difference between DVD-R/DVD-RW and DVD+R/DVD+RW. I can hardly blame him; when you look at the specs, your eyes drift to the letters, not the punctuation. Why would you think those were meaningful? Isn't a recordable DVD a recordable DVD? Sadly no; society has adopted Crowley's view that "standardisation is the bane of civilization". This is one area where that shouldn't be true. But this is all a digression.

While I was dubbing my tapes, my father went into the main living room to watch TV. It was time for Glenn Beck, and today, Glenn was going to talk about socialists using funny voices and hand puppets. I know that the recent Bill Maher piece criticizing the Rally to Restore Sanity is controversial, but Bill noted that Glenn Beck is "close to eating his own poop". I don't think this is an exaggeration.

Glenn Beck and everything else on Fox News is just one of several "obstacles to communication" that I face when I'm trying to visit with my family. Generally what happens is this: I sit talking to my mother who tells me everything she's worried about. My father sits in another room watching TV and shouting 4-letter insults at any Democrats that flash across the screen. When he finally comes out to dinner, conversation can be rather tense depending on the chosen topic. My mother likes to argue with him about politics, which is kind of a no-win venture.

There's also the go-round they have when she's asked him to do something. For instance: She'll leave him a note to make a doctor's appointment while she's at work. She'll ask if he made the appointment. My father will casually peruse the newspaper, and without looking at her, say "What appointment?" My mother, looking frustrated, will say, "The DOCTOR's appointment. I left you a note to call this morning!" My father will reply, "I don't remember any note." This will go around and around until my mother looks like she is going to blow a major artery, and my father finally decides to mention that yes, he made the appointment first thing when he got up. He is actually being funny, but she doesn't get it. Sometimes I take pity and let her in on the joke before she gets too worked up. The final obstacle usually revolves around family issues; usually my Dad and I agree on certain issues, and my Mom does not agree with either of us. The conversations always leave me uncomfortable and at odds with someone, and all I can think is "Can't we all just get along?" If our discussions were fruitful and thoughtful debates, that would be a different story. Instead, they're usually exercises in stubbornness.

This is where humor comes in. You may have noticed over the years that I can be rather "flip" about some things, and tend to make a joke out of others. This is not by accident. This is survival. A means of saying, "Hey guys, we're never going to agree, and we need to stop making this so deadly serious and depressing." Besides joking around and changing the subject, I will also bring strategic media with me if I'm visiting my parents for an extended time (e.g., for an entire evening). "Strategic media", of course, is usually DVDs of TV shows or movies that I know will keep my parents from talking about depressing things, and probably will make them laugh as well.

Here are some clips that have averted family discord. If you have similar family issues, maybe you can use these as well. Some of them may be more "Christmas-y", because that's usually the time of year that I wind up spending more time with them.

1. Mystery Science Theater 3000. Almost any of the movies will do, but the black-and-white ones are best. If you don't have time for a movie, the shorts are a good choice:

2. Found Footage Festival--any of the volumes will do, but to avoid awkwardness, keep the remote handy for such clips as "Disrobics" and "Venus II", so you can fast forward. Nothing more awkward than watching obviously sexual things with your parents. Even that last sentence makes me feel awkward. Found Footage Festival is a collection of "found" VHS tapes that are so awful, they're good:

Drop dead, in the name of Jesus Christ

3. Rich Little's A Christmas Carol--this one is only good at the Christmas holiday, obviously. I happen to own a copy--it's very hard to get these days. Rich Little is a comedian whose entire act revolves around impersonations. The people in my age group are probably the last ones who could watch this and have any idea about who the heck he is impersonating--anyone born later than 1975 is likely to be stumped. But my parents know exactly what he's about, and they find it funny.

Rich Little's Christmas Carol [VHS]

4. Not Necessarily the News--I've only found this recently on YouTube, and only certain clips. We all remember this show, and strangely enough, my father loves it, even though they spend a lot of time making fun of his favorite President, Ronald Reagan. Personally, I wish they would make an entire tape of Rich Hall's "Sniglets" segments. Those are still my favorite, and not available anywhere.

Best of Not Necessarily the News Part 1 of 6 (embedding disabled)

5. Saturday Night Live--this is one of those shows that was great when it first came out, but declined in quality over the years. Still, there are some classic pieces worthy of trying to find either on Google Video or by sifting through DVD compilations. Here is a Christmas one from Robert Smiegel's TV Funhouse animation clips:

TV Funhouse Peanuts (embedding doesn't work)

You might be surprised at some of the irreverent religious videos. But both of my parents are critical of religion, so this isn't a problem. However, if my aunts and uncles are visiting, that presents a different problem altogether...

Happy daylight savings time, and tell someone to turn on the's too dark in here for November.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Subject/Object (The Art of Negotiation)

I present to you two scenarios:

The first: my mother is concerned about another member of our family that she very much needs to talk to about a private matter. This person rarely calls or answers the phone, so my mother had sent a letter. This is all well and good, except that she didn't entirely stay on topic--she told me that she'd sent along books on managing diabetes (this person is diabetic), and other reading material for "improvement".

The second: This one is very familiar to Americans. The missionary who knocks on the door--whether they be Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, or some other group seeking to point out the error of your ways and "save" you, usually in the name of Jesus Christ.

It occurred to me that these scenarios have the following things in common:

1. An individual who reaches out to someone else in a caring attempt at communication.

2. An utter failure because they are objectifying the other person.

Let me see if I can explain. In both cases, the individuals reaching out (my Mom, the missionaries), are often doing so out of genuine caring. My mother genuinely cares about this person's health and well-being. The missionary often really believes what they are saying, and are also genuinely concerned. However, in both cases, they are approaching their subject by pointing out how they are wrong and how they must change. It doesn't matter whether the person is really wrong or not. What would you do if someone tried to tell you how you were wrong? Most likely, you would be on the defensive--you would either tell them to mind their own business, or dismiss them entirely and walk away with no response. Such an approach does not open up dialogue. It ends up coming across as demeaning or accusatory.

My mother does this kind of thing, and from what I hear from other friends, she is not alone in this "motherly" trait. About 15 years ago I had gained a fair amount of weight. Every time I saw my mother, she would eyeball me with this worried look, and shake her head. She would bring me a copy of a new diet she'd found in some health magazine or book. She was doing it "because she cared". However, when she did this, that was not the message I got. The message I got was, "you think I'm ugly and malformed--and obviously stupid". Yes, I know--she was not saying that at all. But that's how such gestures come across.

Returning to the second scenario--famous occult author Lon Milo DuQuette created a great little piece of animation about such a scenario. In this video, the character being preached at (presumably representing Lon) doesn't walk away, but explains to the proselytizer why they are offensive. And he says it very well, so I'll just let you watch it:


This brings me to the fine art of negotiation. Back in the day, I was a co-shop steward for a union, and occasionally had to negotiate gripes and grievances on behalf of employees with management. I knew the management of the place well--some were caring, some were not, but in general, if they could get away with avoiding things like raises and promotions, they would do it. Sometimes there was nothing you could do; they were within their rights as employers. Other times it was questionable. The stiffed employees were understandably angry.

I successfully negotiated a couple of these situations, and I would have gotten nowhere if I'd used the approaches in either of the above scenarios. If I had walked into administration and insinuated that they were trying to cheat the employee, I would have had the door slammed in my face. Even if my statement had been true, you don't ever negotiate by putting management on the defensive. Instead, my approach was to tell the administrator that I was there on behalf of the union, and that someone came to me with a problem. I assumed that the employee must be missing some piece of information, and I would appreciate if they could explain the situation to me, so that I could explain it to the employee. This approach works 99% of the time.

This works because it does 3 things--1. it validates the person you are talking to as an intelligent, thinking subject, 2. it doesn't dismiss or invalidate the claim of the griever--it assumes instead a miscommunication that needs clearing, and 3. it gives the employer an "out" if they have really done something wrong. In at least one case, they said, "let me look everything over, and let you know." Sure enough, they claimed an "oversight", and said they would fix it immediately. I wasn't so sure it really was an oversight, but I was not going to press that issue--the employee had finally gotten what they needed, and the employer saved face. If you're bent on getting revenge or making them look stupid, you will probably lose everything.

This is not about being a flatterer or being dishonest. No matter how flawed you think someone else is, chances are they think they are just fine. Employers are no different. You won't win if you set out to invalidate someone else's point of view. A lot of people have forgotten about this--particularly TV news analysts and most of Congress. How do you find common working ground with someone you're treating like an idiot--an idiot because they won't see things your way?

Because let's face it--no one is "perfect", everyone makes mistakes--and sometimes, it's not a mistake, simply a life choice or worldview that we can't understand because we wouldn't choose it for ourselves. If you spend your time judgmentally telling people what's "wrong" with them and how they should fix themselves when that input was not solicited, you're going to have a lot of trouble being taken seriously. And you probably won't have a lot of friends. Families are a bit different; mothers often see this kind of lecturing as their appropriate role. But it doesn't change the fact that people will be defensive if you approach them critically.

Friday, October 29, 2010


I don't know about you, but I was raised with certain expectations. Causes and effects. If you work hard, you'll be rewarded and successful. Honesty is always the best policy. Love always wins out over hate. The bad guys never win, crime doesn't pay. Etc., etc. You know the drill.

So what really happens? Sometimes these things are true, but just as often (if not more often) they are not. Hard work is rewarded with more work and no more pay, while those who don't work seem to reap more rewards. Bullshit and manipulation mean more than honesty if you want to get ahead. Love? What is that? And as for crime--well, refer back to the second item in this list.

This is a rare election year in the United States. I'm used to choosing between bad and worse. I'm not used to choosing between craven cowardice and bat-shit insanity. Outside of politics, human civility seems to be at an all-time low, and forget economics--the more you try to pay debts, the more companies try to milk you for more money, as though you're being penalized for trying to pay.

There's a lot that doesn't match up with everything I've learned. When I'm under a lot of stress, I find I have no patience for the disrespectful and clueless behaviors of others. And it seems to be getting worse, not better. After an evening thinking about this, I realized where the problem lies. It lies in "shoulds".

If you revisit the first sentence of this posting, you'll see a lot of "shoulds". This is the way the world "should" operate. Well, back up a second--in whose worldview? Well, mine obviously, and perhaps my family's, and perhaps the community I grew up in. I think if you ask most people, they will agree with many of those mentioned tenets. But their interpretation of them will be very different, depending on their worldview. And that's only the tip of the iceberg.

One of the things usually taught in a liberal arts education is some kind of philosophy course--something in logic, and perhaps also ethics. There is a myth that reason and logic are the critical ideals, that humans use these tools to make the best decisions. Even if that is true--well, it isn't true. I'm not suggesting that logic and reason should be discarded--they are hugely important, especially when trying to make decisions that affect many people with different worldviews. What I'm saying is that logic and reason do not make the world go round.

Humans are complex creatures; our psychology is baffling. I'm not even including religion in this, as I think it's more of a scapegoat than the real problem. Religion is a means of negotiating the unknown. It is true that doctrines and dogmas handed down by religious authorities can lead to certain unconscious myths and expectations--a whole lot of "shoulds". But religion is hardly the only culprit. Our society, popular culture, our communities, our family's values, and our own perceptions, as well as what's inherited from the collective unconscious, all make up the crazy mix that is our psychology (pun intended).

If you look first at individuals--we all are programmed, or program ourselves, with certain "myths". We accept certain things "a priori"--it's "the way things are". When someone does something outside of that purview, we scramble to make sense of the event--whether we reject the event and the person through our judgement, or try to find logical reasons for the event. Ironically, our mind doesn't work logically, but we always try to deal with unexpected events logically, or at least interpret them in terms of our internal myths.

To take a very simple example--say that you pass a co-worker every day and say "good morning" in the hallway. Then, for about 2 weeks, that person doesn't speak to you or make eye contact with you. The first thing you do is wonder if you've offended that person, you go over every possible encounter and conversation, you may ask others about them. If you can't come up with a reason, or you contrive one (you think perhaps they were offended by a comment you made, even though they never said anything), then you become defensive against that person. They are so terribly selfish and unwilling to understand you, aren't they? You're just misunderstood. Then--you find out that had a life-changing event--a spouse left them in an unhappy divorce, a parent died, or something else happened, which now puts their behavior in context. It's not about you, it's about what they're going through. And thus I've demonstrated a peculiarity of human psychology--we think everything that happens around us is because of us.

Fear is another good example. How many times have we been afraid of things when there's absolutely no good reason? And then put all these factors into groups--I've written in the past about group psychology and herd mentality. Then add a media that writes about and interprets the culture based on their own criteria (usually, what can be hyped to make a good story), and what have you got? Well, it's not a rational and logical humanity, whatever it is.

I think this is why detachment is considered to be such a value in meditation. Detachment is not cold and selfish, at least not in this sense. Detachment allows you to stand back and watch life as though you are watching a movie. When you really look at it, you may be able to see how absurd it is. But a lot of people equate this with not caring. I remember writing a poem about my impressions of others, how I interpreted the "vibes" I felt while riding the subway at rush hour. One woman who read my poem gave me a lot of attitude for "judging these people and not thinking it applies to you, too." She missed the point entirely. One has to look at things as though they're not happening to them once in awhile. Your impressions of the outside are the first step. How you fit in is the next step.

I don't wish to suggest that certain kinds of behavior are justified. But you will go crazy if you believe that the world is a rational place. Maybe it should be. But it isn't.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Own Ghost Stories

At 6:30, it is already dark. It's no wonder I keep going to bed early--I'm convinced that it's later than it is. Daylight Savings will not happen until November 7, so it will continue to be dark when I leave for work, and shortly after I get home. Any extra daylight won't last long.

Halloween is less than 2 weeks away. So far, I've listed ghostly children's and young adult books, ghostly TV shows and documentaries, and Victorian ghost stories. Tonight I thought it might be nice to tell some real ghost stories. And I haven't read these in books; these are my own.

I should start by noting that I am not the type that sees ghosts, no matter how badly I may want to do so. In fact, I have never "seen" a ghost--I have only been aware of them in other ways. One's ability to see ghosts has a lot to do with one's psychological barriers. A person who is a good subject for hypnosis is also a likely candidate for experiencing ghosts and other such phenomena. They are what you call "open" or "receptive". I tend to like being in control of myself, and I'm not very good at being receptive at all. I'm quite paranoid about leaving the psychic doors "wide open". However, with meditation and other practices, I've at least increased my sensitivity.

So, without further ado:

Story 1: I once lived in a house in Raven Rock, NJ with my then-husband. Raven Rock has always had an interesting vibe to it--the black, rocky cliffs seem to be bursting with some kind of earth energy. I lived in a house on top of those rocks; it was a rental, and we had another couple who lived on the other side of the house. On two occasions that I can remember, I woke up around 5:00 in the morning to the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs. We had cats, but this was not the sound of kitty feet--not unless kitties were wearing combat boots. My husband woke up and heard it as well. He said, "Oh shit, I think we have a burglar." He grabbed a heavy object and went carefully out into the hall, towards the stairs. Of course, no one was there. The second time this happened, he had the same reaction. "Oh, just forget it and go back to sleep," I told him. "It's only the ghost." Indeed, the second time--there also was no one there.

There is another part to this story, contributed by our neighbors at the time. My neighbors had a very strange dog--it was part beagle, part basset hound, and part yellow labrador. The dog had a number of toys, one of which was a rooster toy that made a "cock-a-doodle-do" sound when it was squeezed. The dog had ripped the side of this toy, and the stuffing was coming out, so my neighbor put the toy on top of their fridge, so that she could mend it later. Several months went by, and she'd forgotten about it. One night, she awoke to a "cock-a-doodle-do" sound. It was about 2:30 in the morning. She was confused at first about the sound, but then remembered that it was the sound of the dog toy. Then she became more aware and realized that her husband and the dog were both in bed with her, sleeping. "Oh forget it," she thought, and turned over to go back to sleep. Then she heard the sound again. "Okay, now this isn't funny," she thought, and got out of bed. Taking the dog with her, she made her way down the winding staircase, towards the kitchen. At the bottom of the stairs, the dog froze and began to growl. "Oh no, we have a burglar," she thought. She quickly snapped on the lights. No one was there. The dog toy was still on top of the fridge.

We laughed about it when we discussed our stories, but I noticed that when her husband was away on contracting jobs, she always asked us to come over and stay up with her for awhile. It made her quite nervous to be alone. A friend of theirs who was psychic claimed that he sensed the spirit of a young boy--about 8-years-old. Not malevolent, just playful. Whether that was the case or not, I don't know, but it certainly seemed to fit.

Story 2: I was in Ottawa, Canada, for a conference. I could not resist going on "Le Marche Hantee", the Haunted Walk of Ottawa (forgive my lack of diacritics). I went on the traditional walk around the city, and one of the stops was the Bytown Museum (Le Musee By). There were stories of hauntings in the gift shop, and people had reported experiences in the upper rooms as well. The head of the group that ran the haunted walks was afraid to be in there by himself after dark, and anyone who had to lock up usually fled the premises as quickly as possible. Intrigued, I decided to visit the museum the next day after sessions, not expecting too much because it was daytime. I entered through the gift shop area, and started to walk around the museum, starting from the first floor. Towards the back of the room behind the gift shop, there is a mannequin wearing a soldier's uniform behind glass in a little alcove. Behind that exhibition is a spiral staircase that leads to nowhere--it is simply bolted into the stone wall. As I walked into the alcove, the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I felt tingles going up and down my spine. For me, that's always been the indicator that something is--well, potentially paranormal. Suddenly I heard footsteps ringing on the spiral staircase, as though someone was coming down the stairs. As I turned around, the footsteps stopped. No one was there. Really, no living person could have been there--not unless they had been standing on the stairs when I got there, and they most definitely would have been seen.

I had a similar sensation in the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida. I was visiting St. Augustine with my family at the time of my niece's high school graduation. We paid a visit to the old fort, and as I walked into one of the old prison rooms, I had the same sensation, along with a striking cold feeling in the Florida heat. At that time, I did not see or hear anything, I just had the sensation.

Story 3: I blogged about my visit to the Red Mill in Clinton, NJ. I've visited there a number of times, but this was the time I went on a special event ghost hunt with Dustin Pari, Kris Williams, and Bruce Tango, all known from the Ghost Hunters TV show. Nothing happened for me while I was at the Mill, but when I went home, I had a curious thing happen the next day. While I was writing my blog post on the event, I heard a loud banging on the wall behind me--like a knock. I think the room even shook a little.  There is nothing that should have made that sound--it was not a heating pipe, nor any of the other familiar old-house sounds. One of the cat's toys, a cow that makes a mechanical "mooing" sound, suddenly jumped out of the cat's toy basket and went off.  My cat responded by jumping onto the sofa and staring intently at a picture of the Srichakra that I have on my living room wall. The feeling that someone else in the room was so overwhelming, I turned on the digital voice recorder I had in the living room, to give whatever it might be an opportunity to say something. But it didn't say anything, and eventually the feeling went away. The only thought in my head was that something followed me from the Mill. This was not a fancy--I had no reason to believe that was the case, it was just a thought that popped into my head, that I couldn't get rid of. I wasn't afraid of whatever it was, but it was curious.

Story 4: This one is quite recent. I'd blogged about a weird night when I found a spider walking on my chest. This is not so weird--I live in the country, and unfortunately, you do get spiders in the house. Fortunately, they're not usually really big, but I still don't like finding them in my bed. However, the spider is unrelated to this event, except that they both occurred on the same night. I woke up at around 3:00 in the morning, and looked at the clock. For some reason, I recalled the Amityville Horror case, and the business about the Lutzes waking up at 3:15 am. Suddenly, I felt something get into bed with me--it was a black mass with a vaguely human shape. It took a hold of my left arm. I felt paralyzed, and started to feel drained. However, I felt I'd encountered something like this many years prior, and I knew the right thing to do was to yell at it. I couldn't yell, so I  thought of my guru's name, and immediately whatever it was let go. I then turned and shouted at it, and it ran off. Even though it was gone, I still felt that breaking up of my energy. Usually I think of Kali or Shiva at moments like this, but for some reason I started reciting a Krishna mantra, and the words of a Krishna bhajan came into my head. Immediately it was like the room filled with light, and my the breaks in my energy suddenly disappeared, leaving me feeling whole again. Still, I did some banishing work when I got up--you can't be too careful with such things.

None of these experiences left me particularly frightened, which surprises me--I would have thought that I would have had a sense of terror. But only the last one was moderately disturbing, and even then, I didn't feel fear as much as I felt shock. Maybe if I actually saw an apparition it would be different.

So, these are my stories. Hopefully none of them will disturb your dreams.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Exorcist (Part 2 of 2): Occultists, Buddhists, and Other Non-Monotheists

Yesterday I posted about Father Lampert’s talk on exorcism in the Catholic Church. The talk was interesting and engaging, and he had many fascinating stories. But what came to light for me was the age-old problem I’ve had with the Church—it’s conception of things outside of the monotheistic purview, like pagan religions, Eastern religions, and occult practices.

First, there is the problem of the Church lumping everything that is “not monotheism” into one category. To the Church, spiritualists, table tappers, Satanists, and Buddhist monks all fall into the same category. They lump use of crystals or Tarot cards in with black magic and black masses. All of it is, of course, suspect, because it is not Catholicism. Father Lampert had quoted Deuteronomy 18. As I said earlier, this is dangerous, because Deuteronomy also advocates stoning wayward children to death (chapter 21), and suggests that any man with damage to his “manhood” cannot ever go to heaven (chapter 23). In short, I would not use an old law manual meant for nomadic Hebrews as your 21st century doctrine. At best, you’re going to look hypocritical because you follow some things and not others.

But that is not the most important consideration. It is the conception of occultists. To the Church, the occultist is someone who has turned their face away from God. They will cite rebellion, and in some cases, that may be true. But the rebellious teenager snubbing his parents’ religion is hardly the crux of the problem. I have met many occultists in my lifetime, and have practiced myself. Here is a scenario that illustrates a more accurate picture of one who “turns to the occult”:

Let’s assume a female subject. She is about 14, and a devout Catholic, goes to Catholic school. She has the kind of religious zeal that one has before they get interested in boys or horses. She wants to be a nun. Suddenly, one night, she has a startling vision—maybe not even entirely a vision, perhaps an experience. There is nothing suspect or evil about the experience—the result is overflowing joy and compassion. Yet there are elements of the experience that don’t quite match up to the Catholic worldview she’s been raised with. Catholic doctrine is a bit of a round hole to this square peg. She is not troubled by the vision, she is only troubled by the fact that it doesn’t line up precisely with what she’s been taught. She talks the matter over with her parish priest or school chaplain. She gets one of two possible responses:

“I don’t know what that is, so it’s probably of the devil, and just don’t pay attention to that. Read the Bible.”

“Are you having trouble at home? What’s the real problem you’re having?”

Both of these responses are irresponsible and inadequate for two reasons. One, it seeks to squelch a transformative experience for a budding soul. Two, it shows no respect to the girl—how could it be possible for her to have some kind of saintly experience? If anything, she must be “dabbling in the occult”, or doing something wrong. The first response will leave the girl in a state of anxiety, because now she feels she can’t trust her own spiritual experiences. The second diminishes her as a spiritual person—real people don’t have “spiritual visions”--only those that the priest thinks are truly “spiritual”. Coincidentally, these are usually the same people who give big collection plate offerings and run all their programs. (Sorry to be cynical, but this happens much more often than it should).

I will liken the girl’s vision to falling in love at first sight. The object of affection is the Divine, or God. She is appealing to the proper authorities, as she wants this relationship with God. And the authorities have told her she’s not suitable. So—she does what every storybook lover does, and she runs away to find her beloved in secret.

And that’s where the occult comes in. Contrary to popular belief, occult practices are designed to bring one into union with God, if you prefer that term. Only a small portion of magical practices center around Goetic evocation (i.e., summoning demons or devils). Usually in such cases mentioned above, demonic evocation would be the last thing they think of doing.

There could be many problems with this. Confronting the Divine means confronting the Collective Unconscious, and that’s a dangerous journey to make without a guide. In fact, with no guide, you’re likely to go crazy. Even if you find a guide, you need to be sure that guide has your best interests at heart, and is not foisting an agenda onto you. It can happen in any spiritual practice. Nonetheless, the pursuit of Divine bliss is enough to make people take the risk. If they weary of the journey, they may decide to return to the safety of organized religion. Many do not. Once you’ve dropped the mediator, there’s no need to ask them to come back. Mediators with the Divine (e.g., priests) can have agendas, too.

As for Satanism, I think I can count on one hand the number of Satanists and/or black magicians I’ve met in my lifetime. It’s hardly a common path. I think it’s most popular among teenage boys who think it’s a joke. Perhaps that is an area of concern for the Church, but it’s hardly an epidemic. A lot of Satanic worship is outright rebellion against the Church. There is a hatred of the Church that suggests that there was once love—love that was probably crushed by a dismissive and authoritarian clergyman. With regard to black magicians—they’re usually shunned by other occultists. I’ve known of a few who have been banned from magical societies. Occult practices should serve the same function as religious ritual—they are designed to get rid of your unwanted spiritual baggage and bring you closer to the Divine. Religion is a tool, and not everyone needs the same tool. Of course, that goes against Catholic exclusivist doctrine, but I don’t see either logically or intuitively how anything else could be true. If you are too wedded to the system, then the system becomes your idol; you are more interested in preserving your system than in fulfilling its intended results.

Now, with regard to Reiki and yoga. I’ve already talked about the Reiki fiasco in the Church, otherwise known as the “someone on the Council of Bishops never learned how to use a library” fiasco. Reiki was banned as a Catholic practice based on false information and poor research. Lately yoga has been a target of both Catholic and Protestant groups, probably more the latter. But I mention the former, since Father Lampert mentioned it in his remarks at the Q&A.

First—Reiki is an energy therapy. It means “universal energy”. In the East, there isn’t anything that isn’t infused with the Divine, but this is perhaps the only spiritual connection to Reiki. You might be able to view it as a type of acupuncture done through touch. It redirects the body’s energies. One does usually say a prayer at the beginning, but that can be to whomever they like—if they want to invoke Jesus’ help, then that is fine. Reiki has been a blessing to people in excruciating pain, and it’s beyond shameful that bishops would take this away from Catholics. The assertion is that Catholics should use healing methods “within their own religion”. Father Lampert had described it as idolatry—relying on something other than God (as they understand it) for help. But that doesn’t really wash, because it validates those Christian groups that will watch their child die from a treatable disease, because “they should only rely on God’s help”. One will argue from that view that God created the medicines for them to use, or allowed them to be created. Then why wouldn’t God create Reiki?

The objections to yoga can only be partially sustained. The objections to the studios that practice hatha yoga cannot be sustained at all. People really are doing it for exercise. Hatha yoga, for an Eastern spiritual practitioner, is designed to ready the body for other kinds of yoga. If you’ve ever had an experience of kundalini shakti, you know that while it brings great bliss, peace, and compassion, it can also leave you feeling like you have the flu when it subsides, if your body is not prepared for this energy burst. Hatha yoga prepares the body for that Divine flow. But—it can be used in isolation. They are only stretches, and they can be used just as well to loosen up stiff muscles and relax the body. They are not inexorably wedded to Divine aspirations.

Other kinds of yoga SHOULD be avoided, unless they are undertaken with a Master or Guru. I would agree that there is a real risk of damage if you mess with those energy centers in a careless fashion. The damage has nothing to do with “demons” or “evil spirits” (though it might leave one too psychologically “open”) —it has to do with the impact of this energy flow on your mind. It has to be regulated safely and properly, according to what your body can handle. Since Catholics would find it anathema for a believer to work with an Eastern Master (at least under the current Pope), then it’s probably a practice they should avoid.

I find it interesting that the Church reiterates their objections to these practices on the grounds that they invoke “spirits other than God”. That’s just mind-bogglingly false. No spirits are invoked at all. It demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of Eastern religious thought. In the East, God is not a separate Being “out there”; God is everywhere, and in every person. Any form the Divine might take is just a convenience; as Joseph Campbell said, “Deities are the vehicle, not the Source”. Our mind has to have images, so we must have gods to relate to the Mystery. But they are not worshipping something different or separate from the Christian God, except in name. To them, there is no separation, except in the mind. So, all actions are necessarily spiritual. You can go to a Hindu Temple and see the pujaris wash the feet of the deity, offer food, flowers and a camphor flame. By the same token, you can visit a Hindu Indian household, and be greeted by having your feet washed, being garlanded with flowers, and having a camphor flame waved in front of you. You are as much a vehicle of God as the statue in the Temple. It’s a different view, and the practices have nothing to do with invoking spirits or entities in the way it’s thought of in Western monotheism.

So—to conclude this very long post—if the Church is concerned about people “turning away from the path”—their path—to the occult, they’d better start taking a different approach. There is plenty in their theology that could support people who have these “mystical” experiences, but they choose to treat it dismissively, and to maintain willful ignorance and a closed mind to these alternate approaches and their effects. It shows a lack of respect for the person, and for the world at large to be so dismissive. They would keep more of their flock if they took it seriously and respectfully.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Exorcist (Part 1 of 2) : The Lecture

On Wednesday night, Montclair State University’s Newman Catholic Center sponsored a lecture by Father Vincent Lampert, who is one of only 24 appointed exorcists in the United States. I attended, because I was interested to see what the modern take is on this ancient (and perhaps antiquated) rite.

There will be 2 blog postings on this event, as my thoughts on it will not fit comfortably into one post. This post will be more of a summary of the event, and the subsequent post will address the issues raised by the theology discussed at the event. Even if you are not Catholic, you should find them interesting.

The lecture opened naturally enough with student board members for the Newman Center hawking their events, and the President of their FOCUS group (don’t remember what it stands for, but it’s basically a Catholic ministry) had to show a video advertising their next conference. Perhaps I should have expected that at a Catholic Center event, but I tend to find proselytization of this kind offensive. I even find it offensive when it’s done by followers of my own guru, so this is not about Catholicism per se. Still, it did not take up too much time, and shortly thereafter the chaplain introduced Father Lampert.

Father Lampert’s opening statement was, “So, do I look like an exorcist?” He seemed like a very grounded individual, on the level, and had an admirable sense of humor. He mentioned Pope Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical, “Caritas et Veritate” (Love and Truth), which addressed the current economic crisis in the world. Benedict suggested that our crises stem from a deeper moral crisis, with more people “turning away from God, and towards occultism and other such beliefs.”  Father Lampert suggested that he was there not to scare people with stories about exorcism and demons, but to help bring people back “to the path of God”. All of this is very reasonable for a Catholic priest to say, and is in line with Catholic theology. However, Benedict’s statement and this follow up are both problematic. But I’ll save that for my next post.

Father then went on to discuss the kinds of calls he gets for exorcisms. In many (if not most) cases, what the person needs is counseling of some sort, not an exorcism. People have things happen to them, and then decide to self-diagnose the problem on the Internet, and come to the conclusion that they are possessed or otherwise in need of an exorcist. Real possession is a very rare phenomenon. The exorcist always makes sure the person is evaluated by a mental health professional and works in consultation with such a person before even considering an exorcism.

There are 4 criteria for considering a person to be “possessed”—1. The ability to understand unknown languages, 2. Displays of extraordinary strength, 3. Elevated perception and knowledge (ability to know things they couldn’t possibly know), and 4. Strong resistance against divine influences (presumably prayers, holy objects, and holy water).

Father Lampert became an exorcist because “he was in the wrong place at the wrong time”. The previous exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis died in 2005, and the priests were avoiding the bishop, feeling certain that he was looking for a replacement. So, Father Lampert was at the bishop’s residence for a meeting, when he ended up passing the bishop in the hallway. The bishop stopped him and said, “Father, I have a favor to ask”. And he knew that he was stuck from that point onward. He went to Rome for mentoring with an exorcist there (one of the chief exorcists from the Vatican, I believe), and sat in on 40 exorcisms during his training.

The Rites of Exorcism are not easy to come by in the United States, though they are widely available in Italy for about 14 euros a copy. The Rites were one of the last documents to be revised by the Vatican in recent years—they hadn’t been revised since 1614. The doctrine of belief in demons and angelic beings goes back to 1215 and the Fourth Council of the Lateran. The Church teaching is that the Devil cannot act directly on the human soul, only on the human mind and imagination, and sometimes the body as well.  They believe that unclean spirits cannot read our thoughts; they can incite emotions and note their effects on us. Evil spirits vary in strength and specialty. How much power they have is relative to the effectiveness of the individual’s resistance. Father Lampert notes that God and the Devil are not of the same ilk—there is a difference between creature and creator, and the Devil is considered to be a creature.

In the Old Testament, only 2 orders of angels are noted—cherubim and seraphim. St. Paul extended the list to 9 orders—seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominations, virtues, powers, principalities, angels, and archangels.  Father Lampert suggested that just as Jesus incarnated as a human, the Devil wants to mimic God by entering or influencing a human body. The word “Devil” is from the Greek diabolos (adversary), and there is also the Hebrew “Satan” or Shaitan (opposer). The term “Lucifer” no longer applies, as that was the name given to the archangel (described as winged two-headed beasts) by God. In one of the exorcisms witnessed by Father Lampert, when the entity was asked if it was Lucifer, it said, “That was my name, but no longer”.

Demonic influence is said to be of 2 types, the “ordinary” and the “extraordinary”. The ordinary is the regular temptations we face in our lives. The extraordinary is of 4 different types: 1. Infestation (curses, haunted houses), 2. Oppression and/or physical attacks (often on those striving to become closer to God), 3. Obsession (intense and persistent attacks on the mind), and 4. Possession (temporary control of the person’s body and consciousness). Possession usually occurs during a time of crisis in the person’s life, when they are vulnerable to having their consciousness cut off. Their eyes may roll back, their jaws drop, and they may start foaming at the mouth and growling.

How does possession occur? According to Father Lampert, either directly or indirectly, and the Church considers 4 possible ways to invite possession: 1. Occult ties, 2. Curses, 3. Dedication to the Devil, 4. A life of hardship (and presumably a weak psyche as a result). With regard to the first way, he cites everything from crystals and Tarot cards to black magic rituals. He says that occult practices are considered idolatry, because you are seeing help from a spirit other than God. He quotes Deuteronomy 18—a theological slippery slope in my opinion, but again, I will save those comments for my next post.

There are actually 2 kinds of exorcism—imperative and supplicating. Anyone can perform a supplicating exorcism, which involves prayers  of deliverance to God to release the person from the demonic influence. Only trained exorcists are supposed to do imperative exorcisms, which address the demon directly with the authority of Christ.
In the fine tradition of list-making, Father gave us yet another list of the 10 preparations/steps for exorcism, and 12 questions you ask a person to determine if they are possessed. The first list is a matter of procedure and somewhat obvious . What I didn’t know is that exorcisms always take place in a sacred space—the notion of doing an exorcism at the victim’s home is apparently false. The 12 questions were rather interesting—they look at things like psychological history and drug abuse, but largely seem to center around one’s interest in the occult and affiliation with anyone who engages in occult practices—they include psychics and fortunetellers on that list.

At this point, Father Lambert opened up the floor for questions. I did not stay for the whole Q&A period, just long enough to be irritated by remarks about yoga and Reiki (which he suggested they should avoid, because they conjure up spirits). I understand that he has to toe the line of official doctrine, but if you really don’t know a topic, just say you don’t know, rather than make a sweeping generalization that may create problems for those who use those techniques. Neither has anything to do with conjuring spirits or appealing to spirits. He also brought up the “3 AM hour mocking the death of Christ” bit. If that’s part of doctrine, it’s just ridiculous. But it may well be that is the case. Besides those 2 questions, I could get behind his answers to the questions that were presented. One young man started with, “Hi, Father, I shook your hand before.” The priest responded, “Yes, I won’t wash it for a week.” (Points for the excellent reply). The last question I heard as I was leaving was, “Do you think Glenn Beck is possessed?”which generated a lot of laughter. Father Lambert said that he does not spend his time watching such negative shows, which drew applause. To be fair to the questioner, Glenn Beck has all the physical signs of possession—eyes rolling back, foaming at the mouth, jumping around and grunting like an animal. It ought to be considered.

On the whole, it was an extremely informative evening, and I don’t wish to give the impression that I have a quarrel with Father Lampert personally on points I disagreed with; I have no doubt that he is accurately reporting the Church’s position in all of his remarks. It’s the Church’s position, and ignorance about many of these things, that I find problematic. In the next blog post, I intend to address 2 things:  the Church’s conception of the occult and those who are drawn to it, and the Church’s conception of Eastern religious practices. If the Church wishes to have a legitimate future, it’s something they will have to reflect on themselves.