Religious Liberty and the Flying Spaghetti Monster: Mandatory Pasta Wednesday Everyone!

There seems to be some confusion over what religious liberty means.

Religious liberty means that I have the ability to believe whatever I want to believe in the privacy of my own home.   I can buy whatever books support my religion, I can watch whatever TV shows support my religion, and I can go to any place of worship without fear of being arrested, harassed, or any repercussions.  It’s my faith.  Since faith is a private issue and I am a public servant, I can do whatever I want in my home but I am not allowed to impose my faith upon those I work with – or for.  I am guaranteed religious liberty by our constitution and if I invoke the document to protect my private faith practices, then I must absolutely invoke it equally to all citizens of this nation and allow them their private faith practices.  As a public servant, I do not get to choose which clientele to help based upon my beliefs, the constitution guarantees all citizens equal treatment in public circumstances.

Touched_by_His_Noodly_Appendage_566_356_c1

Touched by His Noodly Appendage, featuring the Flying Spaghetti Monster, was originally created in August 2005 by the Swedish designer Niklas Jansson as a parody of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. Courtesy JewishJournal.com

I’m an unofficial member of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). For reasons I’ll forego here, I’ve chosen this particular faith as my one true religion.   I say the daily Pastafarian Prayer and faithfully eat only pasta for dinner on Wednesday nights as decreed in The Holy Book of Colander, received from His Noodly Appendage and set forth verbatim by Chef La La Foutaise, Chapter 12, verse 3, I think.  I’ve even managed a few times to ‘fast’ according to the Holy Book of Colander, which involves a strict diet of only Manchurin noodles and red wine – breakfast, lunch, and dinner.   According to tradition, Chef La La Foutaise set the standard fast at the typical hero duration of forty days, I managed to last two on the rare occasion I was reaching for spiritual enlightenment. “But fasting is certainly not a requirement in order for His Noodly Appendage to appease one’s requests. Our Breaded Entity doth heareth thy pleadings for more Olive Garden restaurants anyhow.” Chef Foutaise, probably.

Because of the guaranty of the constitution, I can do whatever I damn well please with regards to my relationship to His Noodly Appendage – within the four walls of my home and/or local meeting place of fellow church members, uh, Olive Garden.  What I don’t get to do is insist that everyone else eat pasta on Wednesday nights because I am convinced that my religion is the one true religion and Our Breaded Entity the one true god.   What I don’t get to do is refuse to do my job as a public servant because you refuse my religion in the private realm.   I can’t refuse your marriage license, wedding cake, ability to adopt children, right to buy flowers, or right to live according to your faith simply because pesto and breadsticks do not make up at least thirty percent of your diet (as suggested by His Noodly Appendage for robust health – and for the prevention of zombie attacks).

Religious liberty is a private matter.  When we enter the public sphere where we’ve all accepted the premise of democracy through the exercise of equal rights and equal opportunities, we are bound by the constitution to a certain degree to leave our private matters at home.  With religion this idea must be especially true since beliefs and faiths vary across a wide spectrum. Thanks to the constitution we have the ability and permission to believe whatever we wish to believe within the four walls of our home and cranium.  So have at it.  Have fun!   But when we meet at the coffee shop or bakery or courthouse, I expect us to serve each other to the best of our abilities.  And I won’t hold it against you if you don’t eat pasta on Wednesdays.

Yours with a serious snark…

Frankie


On Water, Wolves, and Wind : Civilized Compromise

Human civilization is often forced to compromise with mother nature, there isn’t much choice in the matter.

I live in northern California where water is a serious issue right now and salmon are exacerbating the problem. Shasta Dam is the cornerstone of the Trinity Dam Project that supplies power and water to much of the region, but it comes at a high price:  dams block centuries old salmon runs in the San Joaquin delta.  As a compromise, the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) has long had water release rights to the Dam during spawning seasons in order to keep the runs viable. In years of severe drought however, releasing sacred water for ‘fish’ doesn’t seem like the brightest idea in the box and there have been some protests over the issue.

The issue of releasing wolves back into the Yellowstone Park environment caused a lot more protests, most from area farmers who were concerned about their livestock.  Wolves were hunted to near extinction early in the twentieth century to protect valuable farm animals. But that also meant that wild grazing animals were protected as well and before the century’s end bison and deer were overpopulated to the point of devastating the park.  Creeks and rivers were unable to form banks because the trees and shrubs required to do so were being eaten or trampled.  As a compromise, wolves were brought back to the Park to hunt grazing animals.  The grazer population returned to a more balanced number which in turn created healthier water banks and greenery.

Healthy air is the motivation behind wind turbines.   In an effort to reduce carbon emissions and take advantage of a morewind sustainable energy source, turbines are proving to be excellent generators of electricity.  But there’s a significant backlash to their presence:  people complain about wind turbines ruining the visual landscape of an area.  I can understand the argument to some degree, but we currently have miles of wire running through older neighborhoods with big wooden poles every hundred feet to keep them elevated so we are quite accustomed to a skyline full of man made objects.  In the long run, wind turbines save our planet and air quality. So even if they do take some enjoyment out of our horizon gazing, implementing wind energy is a compromise we must make as civilized human beings interested in keeping our atmosphere clean.

Each day I am amazed at the way we homo sapiens can manipulate nature and make it work for us. But in our advancement, in our quest to create a high-functioning society we managed to strangle nature at some very serious junctions. We’ve had to learn to give a little along the way as a matter of consequence.  That is as it should be.  We are the conscious party after all, we have a certain accountability to  other living beings on the planet.   So while water gets released during drought years, and the first wolves have recently made their way to California, and wind turbines continue to provide clean energy, we ourselves must make adjustments to our perceptions by understanding that the cost of civilization comes at the price of compromise with mother nature.

Yours,

Frankie


What’s Your Element?

One of my favorite things to do is watch someone in their element, doing what they love most to do.

I had a dog whose element was swimming.  She would swim for up to an hour at a time.  On a few occasions I worried that she’d cross the small lake we frequented, come out on the other side and wonder where I was!  She was happy though, oblivious to the family she left on the shore, and content to paddle along without any direction in mind. I couldn’t help but marvel as I watched her in her element, doing what she obviously enjoyed most.

I have a son whose element is on the gridiron.  Since he was eight, something happened whenever he put on his pads andcamp2 helmet and stepped on the green field. The gentle boy with a wont to please disappeared; replaced by a fierce competitor that took this mother a couple of years to get to know.  He’s a junior in high school this fall, playing starting defense and his passion has only increased.  Over the years I’ve watched him discipline himself to go on early morning runs, hit the gym in the off season and during summer break, and absorb the stories of his heroes on “A Football Life.”  Tonight we kickoff the season with the traditional scrimmage and as I sit in the stands and watch him play, I’ll do so knowing he’s happy to finally be competing, content in the challenge to do his best and lead his team. Completely in his element.

For some of us, writing is our element.  Tucked away from the world in order to create an imaginary world for others, we spend countless moments absorbed in a thesaurus or staring out the window in search of just the right words and phrase.  As grueling and demanding as the process of editing is, we find immense satisfaction in the activity of creating the perfect sentence (I am thankful to live in the computer age. There’s something seductive about highlighting a group of words, capturing them with my mouse, and moving them. Poof!  Magically the sentence I struggled with now reads and flows with elegance.  It’s like Lego’s with words!).  We writers are never happier than when we are agonizing over vocabulary or the structure of our next work, because we are in our element.

But what if you aren’t in your element?  What if you aren’t doing what you love to do and what you are passionate about? Then I challenge you to make a change. Life’s too short kids!

Yours,

Frankie


Digital Noise – A Poem Concerning Life With Social Media

Digital noise hijacks our thoughts.  Leaves little room to consider reality, if we are not careful.

A Facebook feed full of contention.

To reply or not to reply?

That is the question. I do.  I regret.

Back and forth ensues, a day is wasted.

*****

“I came here for the comments!”

Forget the story, I want the schadenfreude.

Then I can ignore my life, yours becomes the target.

Perfect projection of my faults onto your worldwideweb  face.

*****

Twitter feuds rife with subterfuge,

Not even my own but I’ll claim a stake anyway.

Team Swift!  Team Perry!

Turns my thoughts from important things: Children are starving.

*****

Turn it off.  Refuse to click.

I’ll take a literal swipe at negativity.

I will choose to focus on here and now.

Who is sitting next to me?  What can I do to help?

Digital Noise, seductive and caustic.  Leaves little room to consider reality, if we are not careful.


Lost Souls: An Atheist ‘s Sacrifice

Nate heard his girlfriend’s sobs when he entered their apartment and followed them to the spare room where she sat in her favorite wicker chair.

“What’s wrong Ange?” He smoothed her hair out of her face and waited for her to speak.

“Brenda called today.  We got into a bit of an argument.  It ended with her unfriending me on Friendlink and everything.”

“Why did you argue?”  Nate was concerned. Brenda and Angie had been friends since high school and though they lived two states apart, they kept a close relationship.

“Oh, she said she felt led to question me  about my lack of faith.  She kept bringing up that whole ‘I’m being led astray’ idea.   She was nice enough, I knew she was acting out of concern.  I wore the same shoes once, so to speak, so I just let her ramble on about returning to church and repenting.  I didn’t really respond at first because I was hoping I could just change the subject or something.  Finally she asked me if I could see the error of my ways.  I said that in no way could I unlearn what I’ve learned about gods and evolution and the fallibility of the bible.   I brought up the comparison of Helios. I told Angie I can’t make the leap of faith our ancestors did and believe that he drives the sun across the sky anymore.    In the same way I can’t make the leap of faith required to believe in the god of the bible because we know the bible has been contrived and tampered with, plus evolution, plus our habit of inventing gods…”  Angie stopped to wipe her face and gather her thoughts.   Nate waited beside his partner and allowed her to continue at her own pace.  Long moments passed.

“She couldn’t really ‘argue’ with my points and so she went on the defensive and said she’d have to really think and pray about our friendship.   She didn’t know if she could be friends with an atheist, she said.   I reminded her that in the past year of my godlessness I’ve still been loving, I’m still faithful to you, and even I’m involved in the community.  She responded by telling me that none of that matters if I don’t have Jesus in my heart and then she said she had to hang up.   When I checked my Friendlink page later I saw a message from her that she just couldn’t be my friend anymore but if I had a change of heart to please call her and she would welcome me with open arms.   Then she unfriended me.”  Angie let out a heap of sobs after the last statement and Nate, empathizing with her pain, held her close and concentrated on even breaths so she would sense his calm.

He understood her pain.  He’d been ostracized by some of his own family.  The justified anger and hurt took some time to work through. Nate hated to see his beloved endure the same.

After a while Angie sat up and spoke. “I know you’ve been through this with your own family.  Maybe I shouldn’t complain about losing a friend.”

“That’s not the point.  Ending any relationship is painful and requires a mourning process.  Pain is pain no matter what the circumstances.  We’ve talked about it before remember? We’re going to lose friends and family over the gig.  But we support each other in the process and we do get through the grief.”

She allowed his words to soothe the wound in her heart and by degrees the conversation lightened. Soon they were discussing the evening’s basketball game and choosing teams. The loser had dinner and dishes duty tomorrow night.

It was a few months before Angie worked through the pain of losing her friend however.  A twist of timing meant that she had to endure Brenda’s birthday without the traditional phone call and homemade card.  She made the card anyway.  It sat on the kitchen table for a few days before she tucked it deep within her armoire. Nate was brilliant.  He held her when she cried over her lost friend and provided silence when she needed time to think.  She focused on a couple of newer friendships and they did help some to make up for the hole left by Brenda’s exit from her life.

Still, the prodding of her friend’s questions caused her to examine her decision to leave church.   She found herself going through a cycle of thought:  was I right to leave religion?  could I really go back? how?  How can I go back when I see the landscape of evidence before me compared to the narrow view the bible offers?

She couldn’t.   The thought of returning to the four walls of limited thought and knowledge even evoked a sense of claustrophobia in Angie.  If it came down the to choice of acquiescing to religion and keeping friends and family, or living in the reality of what we observe and losing friends and family, she always came out on the side of the latter. Always. After going through the same cycle and coming out on the same side repeatedly, Angie found a deeper strength in her decision. She gained a greater measure of peace.

At their high school reunion three years later, Angie and Brenda managed a cordial but shallow conversation and then moved on to other people.   Angie reflected later that night at the memory of their breakup and looked back to see how far she’d come since then.  She had no regrets.  Like Nate said once, sometimes losing a friend is an atheist’s sacrifice, but we do get through it.


*Author’s note.  This is a complete work of fiction but it was born out of the many testimonies I’ve read in online forums.  I’ve had a bit of fortune myself in that most of my friends are accepting and loving even though I’ve abandon the faith.  A few have distanced themselves but I’ve not experienced the ‘breakup’ that Angie did.   At times familial relationships become strained but love always overcomes and we’ve pretty much all learned to avoid the topic in order to retain our rapport.  Some are not so fortunate and I wish for them strength and grace as they work through their own sacrifices. Yours, Frankie


Inspiration from Competition

One of my sisters planted a seed in my mind and its grown to become a full-fledged entity to deal with:  Why don’t you enter  a writing contest?

I’d never thought of it before.   My focus has been on magazine submissions, building my web presence (many thanks to you readers for tuning in), and working on my latest manuscript. When I began to investigate what opportunities were out there, my competitive drive took over and I find myself happily grooming a couple of works for submission.   I’m enjoying the process and as I prepare to send off my first entry, I would plant the same seed in your mind:  Why not enter your best work in a writing contest?   You’ll be challenged in ways unimaginable but fruitful.  You’ll be inspired in the face of competition.

Here a few contests I am eyeing, but there are hundreds out there.

Manchester Writing Competition – Deadline for entries is September 15, 2015.

The Gift of Freedom (A Room of Her Own Foundation for Women: Artists and Writers) – Deadline for entries is November 2, 2015

2015 RRofihe Trophy ‘no fee’ short story competition – Deadline is October 15, 2015

Best of luck, and here’s to creating some winning work.

Yours, Frankie


R.I.P. Cecil: A Thought On Trophy Hunting

I don’t have a problem with hunting.  Or hunters.  Or eating some tasty wild game for that matter.  I’ve helped raised three boys, they all know how to handle a firearm properly and two of them are avid hunters.  They’ve grown up on wild pig, venison, elk, bear, buffalo (culled from a local farm), squirrel, duck, dove, and turkey.   Most of the game is hunted with a bow, and with a religious foundation of ethical hunting tenets – you kill it you eat it, abide by hunting laws, and respect the privilege.  I’ve always supported the ability to hunt even in an age where I can ‘buy organically’ because I understand that thousands of years of evolutionary behavior cannot be tamed. (We don’t need to have sex anymore in order to procreate, but……)

I do have a problem with trophy hunting, particularly in this day and age of fragile ecosystems and endangered species.   When we take out the elk with the biggest rack, the tom with the longest beard, or the lion with the largest head, we aren’t just eliminating an old animal that would die soon anyway.  We are eliminating the best gene pool from the species and this is costing us in the long run.  It also belies a level of disrespect for nature, something many hunters claim to possess in great quantities.

Cecil_the_Lion

photo courtesy wikipedia

Cecil got to his ripe old age because he fought and clawed his way there.  His genetic make-up is obviously strong and in the scheme of things its desirable to have those valuable genes passed down as often and as much as possible.   Cecil was old, but even another two years of breeding allows for a better family in the long run. Translating the idea to other animals, take deer hunting for example, when we continue to hunt trophy animals we eventually deplete the strongest gene pools and we end up with fewer and fewer six- and seven-point bucks.   It’s a very real issue in my area.

There’s another issue to consider as well.  We bi-pedals are obligated to take a moral high road.  Cecil earned his stripes by being top of the line for years, doesn’t he also earn a certain amount of conscious respect from his fellow animals for having done so – especially in the wild?   I mean  if we claim to have some sort of spiritual respect for nature and the place that hunting has within it, then the achievement of a long lived life in the wild deserves respect in its own right.   Cecil’s life got no respect from the man who shot him and the guides that enabled the action.  No wonder plenty of people are outraged.

When Gandalf gave the sword Sting to Bilbo Baggins, he advised him strongly with these words: “True courage is about knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare one.”

Here’s to you Cecil, for a life long lived, a life well lived, and a life that reached far beyond the norm.  We should all hope to have the same.

Yours, Frankie


Working!

Myself and my illustrator in a creative jam sesh for a children’s book I converted from a short story. Go write something today kids……

caseyandi


Third Person

I’m a morning kind of guy and like to sit out on my deck with a hot cup of coffee so that I can watch the world wake up.   Across the lane from me is a canal with an easement road on the other side of it.  A variety of persons use the dirt road: runners, groups of kids going to school, and a few walkers. There is one who stands out among them.

She comes round three or four times a week with her dog.  The road is gated and ends just where my back yard sits across from it and instead of turning around and making her way home like everyone else, she’ll sit there on the bank of the canal. This is one of the reasons she stands out; what kind of person stops and just watches the water?

I mean, this girl watches the water.   Her pose does not change for moments at a time (she’s inevitably interrupted in her meditations by the dog as it shakes off the water from its coat right next to her after a dip in the canal).  She seems purposeful in her thought.   What is it she ponders, I wonder myself as warm coffee keeps out the cool morning chill, or does she? Maybe she only notices the sway of the algae in the current and thinks of nothing else.   Perhaps just the action of the water dragging against a low hung tree branch is enough to encapsulate her thoughts.

Whatever the content of her imaginations, it must be important for her to sit there and commune with her surroundings as she does.  She makes it a point.  An appointment, in fact, with herself and her world with which she seems to interact on as intimate a level as anyone I’ve seen in my long life.

Take her dogs for example.  I’ve seen her with two over the years.  The one with her this morning she’s only had for a while, still a pup.  The first one must have passed on.  I watched one morning as it chased a squirrel and fell over on its side in convulsions.   She ran to the animal, soothed it, calmed it, and after a while she picked it up to carry it to where ever home was. Their walks were less frequent after that, and then one week she was back on schedule, this time with a small black thing that is now a big black thing.  She’s good with the dog.  She’ll call it to her on occasion, rewarding it with some treat or other.  She makes it sit and does so with just a slight hand gesture, impressive.

Besides the way she interacts with her dogs there are other clues to her connection with nature.  She almost always touches the low hanging tree limbs of the aged oak tree that provides a canopy over the easement road. She can call a horse or two to the fence and pet them. There are times I see her with a feather tucked in her hat; once I watched her reach among the reeds to claim a nice size turkey feather. She promptly stuck it in her hair.

She always has a baseball hat on.   She pulls her long hair through the opening in the back.  They vary in color and insignia and I’ve queried on some quiet mornings if she chooses the hat specifically or randomly?

Specifically, I think.  She dresses neatly and appropriate to the weather.  She walks upright, shoulders square, eyes in front (this too sets her apart since most walk with a slumped shoulder or head down). She’s fit so she doesn’t slack in the exercise department. These are the actions of a person who is deliberate in her choices.   Which particular hat to wear must weigh in her mind I would think.

There’s a bit of a rebel in her despite the meticulous presentation.  I notice a few tattoos, on the ankles and forearms (I suppose I could make them out if I employed my binoculars, but I’m not one to be that nosy.  Besides, I sort of like the mystery).  They hint at a kind of contradiction, I think.  Proper in just about every way, the ink belies the undercurrent of an unorthodox life, especially in this conservative town.   The contrast makes her even more mysterious:  does she know what the conflict is?  Has she made peace with herself over it, or is it something she still navigates? I’ll never know, most likely, but the preponderance is worth my time somehow.   Maybe I’ll find answers to my own contradictions.

She’s taught me a couple of things, and that’s saying something for this old man.  She taught me to just watch. The power of observation and quiet is a tool I am happy to have acquired, thanks to her.   She’s taught me to be freer.   She apparently is unaware that she’s observed since all her actions are without restraint, without inhibition.  She is open to her world more than any other person I have seen, and the example inspires me. She’s sure to have her faults, she’s human after all.  But she seems to live on a more interactive level of life than most and I for one am fascinated by her ability to do so.

She’s come and gone for the day which means my time for musing should come to an end as well. Those chores aren’t gonna do themselves. Thanks for listening.

*author’s note:  Aldous Huxley sez, ” To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift.” The Doors of Perception, 1954.  The quote hounded me and this short story is the result of its persistence.  I turned it into a writing exercise, a challenging one at that.   It’s tempting to divulge too much, give away a small detail, or step out of character and yield to my own interpretation.  I’m not so sure I succeeded in every way, its difficult to remain objective about oneself, but the introspection was worth.   Keep writing kids……Frankie.


The Harry Potter Effect: Religion, Fear, and Reality

Harry Potter’s influence reaches far beyond the sphere of providing an entertaining story for children to read. When the first book arrived  here in the US there was all kinds of uproar in the christian community about its defamation of Jesus and apparent blatant attempts to sway children towards satanism and magic – I received an email from a dear church friend of mine saying so.

At the time I was still in deep in the church, a worship leader and children’s church director, but bubbles of doubt had been making their way to the surface of my conscious thought for a couple of years , instigated by my observations about the world within christianity and the world outside of it.   When the email hit my inbox I read it, followed up on the links and also researched what other christian parents were saying about the book.   In the end, I realized the only way I could make a reasonable decision about Harry Potter was to read the book myself.

It was a watershed moment for me.   First, there was no defamation of Jesus, no promotion of Satan.  There are no religious connections in the book whatsoever which means the email circulating was a complete lie and the author of the note either read the book and lied about it anyway, or didn’t read the book and decided to promote a fear-inducing story based on ignorance.

Then, I began to look at other issues the church was talking about by reading the leading publications.  Instead of taking their word for it, I did the research myself. In each instance I found that the church was absolutely promoting false information and with an obvious overtone of fear.  Whether or not there was a god, I made my decision to leave the church.   Even HE couldn’t condone the obvious lies, I thought.

A recent article published by Christianity Today takes a look at the tornado of fear stirred up by Harry Potter and other issues and confesses that on the whole, there really is much ado about nothing.  To this day I am willing to research just about anything that pops up on my facebook feed in the hopes that someone, somewhere may just get it right.  Alas, there’s always more hype and subterfuge than reality reveals, and the fear inducing rhetoric is blatant as always.

I shouldn’t be surprised.  The premise for converting to christianity is fear of going to hell so using fear to keep the congregation clinging to something more hopeful is of course the preferred modus operandi.   What saddens me, what concerns me, what “really grinds my gears” is the blind acceptance of it all.   Even the author of the CT article stops short of actually admitting that their assertions were lies.  Instead he provides a short analysis on the idea that maybe the church is becoming more accepting – thereby missing the point that all the issues he exemplifies have been circulated as a means to promote fear.  Whether or not Harry Potter actually affected millions of young minds didn’t matter, what mattered was successfully creating a shroud of fear and anxiety so that we couldn’t see for ourselves the reality of the issue – this was a harmless book that reiterated the same hero theme as Jesus’ own story.   Sigh.  Even in the admission that there’s been much ado about nothing, we are still unable to admit that fear is used as an effective tool by the church to keep its people isolated from reality.

Here’s to those who are willing to look beyond the fear.

Frankie


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