Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Intro to Sacred Drumming | Jan 31 & Feb 1

This class is conducted by an associate of mine from the School of Sacred Ministries:

Intro to Sacred Drumming Jan 31st & Feb 1st, 2009 Saturday & Sunday 10–5 pm. $150 suggested donation. At the Center For Vitality and Wellness in Berwyn, Pa. (directions on web site) Learning about playing Sacred Shamanic Rhythms as a form of meditation, prayer, healing and energy work. Going deep as a circle into rhythm vibration. You will learn and play simple rhythms within sacred circle. Shamanic drumming and rhythms can facilitate deep energy shifts, meditation and healing. We will play shamanic frame drums with a beater. This is not about being a musician, but about experiencing the healing vibration of shamanic rhythms. You do not need any experience in drumming. You don't even need to have a drum - we have drums for you to use. But bring a drum and a rattle if you have one, as our supply is limited! Tao is a Shamanic Healer/Teacher, Ordained Interfaith Minister, and Musician. Tao has been on a spiritual path for over 28 years, she has studied and practiced Shamanism intensely for over twelve years. A graduate of The Foundation for Shamanic Studies' advanced 3 year program, she also has been trained in teaching Shamanism by Sandra Ingerman (author of Soul Retrieval and Medicine for the Earth).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Thoughts on the Path

[The original version of this essay was submitted to my mentor in the Clergy Program. This version has slight changes to make it work as a blog post.]

My thoughts on the path.

I could have gone with a title like "This I Believe" or "How I See Asatru" or any other of 100 phrases that incorporate some form of belief/believe and Asatru. But Asatru is only one way to describe Germanic Reconstruction. Some might argue that that "Asatru" as a term is better suited to to the reconstruction going on in Scandinavian states, particularly Iceland, and that it is less than ideal as a descriptor of Germanic spiritualities. I'm not going into those arguments at this time. And belief can be a dangerous thing. The Abrahamic faiths have beliefs, beliefs that preclude all others, beliefs that motivate some toward violence, beliefs that are not up for debate. And all those beliefs are grounded in (dictated by?) a "holy" book of some sort. Hence ... "my thoughts on the path."

Now, I will admit I was in one of those Abrahamic camps for many years. Given where and when I was born, it's not at all surprising that I bought into the culture surrounding me. The only alternatives were differing flavors of Christianity. Sure there was a minor exposure to Judaism -- more of a token nod, if you will -- but that's to be expected. The point I am trying to make here is that there was a predominantly Judeo-Christian scene during my formative years. I had no contact whatsoever with Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, etc. Not until my high school years, but even then it was sparse.

My interest in (and modest aptitude for) science combined with what I had seen of several varieties of Christian expression led me to seriously doubt all the "one way" rhetoric that I had been exposed to ("One way? You cannot even agree on what that one way is!"). My Judeo-Christian foundation further cracked when I explored Taoism and Buddhism, which I started exploring during my study and practice of Okinawa Kenpo Karate-Kobudo (now called Ryukyu hon Kenpo Kobujitsu). As an aside, I must say I find comfortable parallels between Taoism and Heathenry, but not nearly so in Buddhism (though its mental discipline and philosophy are quite interesting).

Around this time I ejected Jesus as a deity in my life, but I still held to some concept of a generalized, amorphous "God" figure -- sort of a variable that could be filled with one's personal experience/concept of divinity. For a while, I even espoused the “All the gods are one god” kind of shtick, but I now seriously doubt I ever truly believed it.

Why do I bring all of that up here?

I don’t believe (oh no, there’s that word again) that spirituality exists in a vacuum. I can choose to reject a concept or even an experience, but I cannot remove its effect upon me. And each experience I have is affected by my earlier experiences in some shape or form. Not all experiences have direct causal affects on later ones; nor are all effects equal in application. Not too long ago, I told someone, “There is no God, and yet there is. There are no Gods; yet here they all are!” I would claim this statement as rather a wonderful pluralistic/polytheistic stance.

I am at this point because of how I see the process of experiencing the divine. The human brain, in my opinion, cannot fully comprehend/process/grasp/etc. the fullness of divinity. We can only catch a glimpse of it through the religious experience – those seemingly rare moments of transcendence that link a person to the greater mystery. This glimpse, or partial view, is then further filtered through the individual’s language, social class, culture, etc. And when that individual tries to share the experience with another, it must once again go through his filters and then be processed through a similar – though not necessarily identical – set of filters of his audience (be it one or several people). To me the development of dogma came about as a means of sharing religious experience or at least pointing the way to having one’s own experience. Rigid dogma, then, is the result of the sharing becoming more important than the actual experience.

This brings to my personal conclusion that all faiths (or spiritual paths) are simply means of experiencing divinity in this world. All faiths are, in one way or another, mere symbols in order to effectively communicate and share divine experiences. But they are not THE divine, which remain somewhat beyond our full comprehension -- at least while we remain in this world of forms.

I do not mean to give the impression that there is something wrong with our symbols. This could not be further from my heart. As human beings, we crave symbols and ritual because we need something tangible to help us relate to the intangible. We feel the need to DO something. That's where we are, and where we have come from.

And please note: I did not say that all faiths are EQUAL or the SAME. Nor do I say they are all EQUALLY TRUE. They are all, in their own ways, simply VALID. If a path works for an individual, then it is valid.

As I grow in my understanding of the ways of my pre-Christian ancestors, I find that the path(s) they blazed are the most practical for me. Polytheism – which did not exist until monotheism declared to be so – was simply the natural way of things. It is a way of seeing the world as it is, and accepting it, instead of trying to force little thing to comply with a rigid, and ultimately artificial, view of “why” things are they way they are. Granted, we cannot go back and practice exactly as our ancestors did; we need to make the faith relevant for the time in which we live. This is natural. The religion revealed by our source materials, our lore, is an imperfect snapshot (mostly taken by outside observers, if you will). While helpful, this snapshot does nothing to help us understand how the religion developed to that point. And it does less than nothing to tell us how it might have continued to progress to the present day. We can, however, extrapolate. Carefully. And this is the exact mission of reconstruction.

Frozen Lilac Branches Reaching Sunward.

"I Love Black And Gold"

Best use of Joan Jett's "I Love Rock'n'Roll" since "I Love Rocky Road"!

The Pop Rocks | "Heartbreaker" Steelers Fan Song

Even if you're not a Steelers fan, you might get a kick out of these kids performing their version of Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker." At the very least, it should warm your heart to know that some kids these days appreciate the classics.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sale to the Chief? Really??

Can someone please tell me why these sales were necessary for celebrating a Presidential Inauguration? Is this kind of thing any better, any different, than President Bush encouraging people to shop after the Sept. 11 terror attacks?

Quotable | The Public's Money

open quoteThe American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own [i.e., the public's] money.” -- Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 - 1859), French political thinker and historian, most famous for his work Democracy in America

Obama: The Unofficial Commemorative Plushie

OK. Today is historic. I get that. And people are excited about it. I get that, too. What I do not get, however, is the vast and diverse array of "commemorative" items that people are shilling for Obama's inauguration as our 44th president. Just perform a Google search on "obama commemorative" and you will see about 868,000 results. If you want to narrow it down to items you can actually purchase (or, rather, items that include the correct metadata to be pooled under shopping results), click Google's shopping link. Still, it's just under 10,000 (I got 9,778 results). But among the plates, cups, coins, and clocks (yes, clocks!), I did not see an official Obama plushie. Not in the top 50 at any rate. Now, it's not that I actually want an Obama plushie. I just became curious after seeing this particular LiveJournal post. Hence my entry's use of "unofficial" in the title. Seems that at least one LJ user is so excited about President Obama, is so enamored of him, that she created her very own tribute in the form of a plushie doll. Oh, and it comes complete with a Blackberry:
Now, I say she created her very own plushie, but it might be more accurate to say that she created "your" very own plushie. And by that, I mean they put it up for auction on eBay. Starting bid: 99 cents. Oh, and before you go looking for that auction, hoping to get your bid in ... the auction is over. It ended on January 18, with 27 bids. High bidder took the plushie for a capitalist-friendly final bid of $91.00.
[Click for larger image]
Remember kids: This is not a toy. It's a piece of hand crafted artwork (It's fanart! It's homemade!). This is not intended for children. Nor is it intended to make a mockery of the office of the President of the United States. Really, it's not. [Click for larger image]

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mr. Tolkien's Birthday and Kuhns Corner Books

I meant to post this on Monday, January 5 -- and that is when I started it -- but the whole thing got lost in the shuffle. I'm posting it now before I forget all about it again. Almost two weeks ago, I had a chance to visit a new independent bookstore near my home. Kuhns Corner Books ( opened, appropriately enough, on the corner of West Walnut and South 5th Streets in Perkasie, PA. I think it opened around the middle of 2008, but it could have happened much earlier. I just know I've been driving past it for a little while now. But on January 3rd, while bringing Milo and Otis back from their annual visit to the vet, Mrs. Brainwise and I passed Kuhns and I noticed that it was open. So I decided to visit it. But first I had to complete the return trip for the thoroughly traumatized kitties. Oh, how they love to travel, especially when it involves being poked and prodded and examined. After we got home and did our best to pacify the boys a bit, I asked if there was enough time before our next appointment (visiting Mrs. Brainwise's mother in Bethlehem, and then having dinner with her friends in Easton). The window was plenty wide enough, and there was even time on the clock to hit the local Post Office. So I bundled up, gathered my keys, envelopes, and iPod, and hit the road ... walking. Yes, the new bookstore is within walking distance from my home. How cool is that? Anyway, the store is great. It's small, rather quaint I would say. They sell new and used books, but don't expect a great deal of inventory -- only one or two copies per title. And it's the only bookstore I've yet seen with a kitchenette dividing the front showcase area from the back. I did mention this is an independent bookstore, right? So, I'm wandering around, checking out what they have and soaking up the atmosphere. It was a perfect day for taking a break in a bookstore -- bright and sunny, but cold and blustery. Crazy windy day. I made mental notes regarding a few of the books I found, but nothing really stood out as a potential purchase. Well, nothing stood out until I came across a used copy of Master of Middle Earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien by Paul H. Kocher. First edition softcover, 1972, good condition: Not exactly rare, but still pretty cool. It's a book that has been on my "to read" list for some time. And I want to support the local indie bookstore scene. So I purchased it and walked home. Upon arrival, I had just enough time to get some lunch and load up the car before we headed up to Bethlehem for the Mom-in-law and friends visits. I didn't have another thought about my new copy of Master of Middle Earth. That is, until the following Monday. January 5. Midway through the morning, I took one of my Google News breaks -- or maybe I was checking my email and I saw a Google Alert -- and I saw a story or two about Tolkien and his recent birthday. And then it hits me. I bought my book about Tolkien's writing on his birthday. On 116th anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien's birth, I purchased a book that was published about a year before his death. What a great way to "celebrate" one of my favorite writers! No fanfare. Nothing ostentatious. Just a quiet afternoon in a small bookstore. Let's hear it for the indies!
 500 West Walnut Street | Perkasie, PA 18944 | 215-258-2515

Update (8/13/2011): This update is more than a tad overdue, but I must point out that (misfortune of misfortunes) Kuhns Corner Books closed down within the last year or so. Well, they've closed down the physical location. They seem to be operating solely as an online book source now.

Odin to Take Over Eden

“Of course all Christian ideas on how the world was created will be wiped out so the Eden name has to go. It will become the Eye of Odin.” So says Gudbrandur Gíslason, leader of the Eye of Odin group. The Eye of Odin is in the final stages of negotiations for taking over the restaurant and tourist attraction known as Eden in south Iceland. Their plans? Turn it into a restaurant, entertainment and information center dedicated to old Norse culture. For the full story, go to IcelandReview - Online. [link] Here is a 2006 photo of Eden:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Steve Jobs Takes a Break

Wow. This sounds pretty serious. Apple's comeback over the last several years was due largely to Jobs being at the helm again. He is closely identified with both Apple's products and the company's image. While many will look only to the inevitable drop in Apple's share prices, I do hope that others will have some compassion for the man and his condition. And I hope that condition does not include cancer.
[News] Apple Inc. Chief Executive Steve Jobs says that because of his health issues he will take a medical leave of absence from the company until the end of June. See full story.

Khan is Gone

Today we lose another acting legend. Ricardo Montalban died this morning at his home. He was 88. I remember Mr. Montalban's work with fondness. I loved his portrayal of the civilized Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island and the outlaw warrior Khan from the Star Trek series (and the film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). I even watched some Kim Possible episodes simply because he was voicing the villain. I hope someone was there with him in his final moments, possibly letting out an ear-splitting, "Khaaaaaaaaaan!" just to let them know, over on the other side, that an actor with the heart of a warrior was on his way. From Fox News:

Montalban's death was announced at a meeting of the city council by president Eric Garcetti, who represents the district where the actor lived. Garcetti did not give a cause of death.

"The Ricardo Montalban Theatre in my Council District — where the next generations of performers participate in plays, musicals, and concerts — stands as a fitting tribute to this consummate performer," Garcetti said later in a written statement.,2933,479941,00.html

Sunday, January 11, 2009

2008 in (My) Review

Salutations, Gentle Reader! Here is my capsule view of 2008. This is not a review of major news and events; rather, it is a summary of my own activity last year and it is based on the annual "Holiday Greetings" letter that accompanies the cards Mrs. Brainwise and I send out. I should also point out that this post is not an exact duplicate of that letter -- I have removed (or severely edited down) my wife's individual entries from the letter because, well, it's not really for me to broadcast her business on here.

With that little bit of an intro, I invite you to read on (if you dare!).

Another year as a technical writer for a major ecommerce firm, and I find myself with another award. This time it was a team award for all the folks that support our suite of software tools, but I did receive my own statue (and a cash bonus). I was also promoted this year, so I am once again a Senior Technical Writer. And, yes, that is just as exciting as it sounds. In other work news, Mrs. Brainwise celebrated her 15th year at her company -- can you believe that? 15 years in one place! Kudos to her. I swear she is the heart of that place.
The basement renovation is nearly complete. After the installation of new windows and a coat of paint on the walls and floor, it looks brand new down there. The wait for a new steel door to be installed, however, continues. Until then, stuff from the basement is strewn around the rest of the house and Mom Sibley's basement (many thanks for her continued patience). Update: We shifted alot of stuff from the living room, dining room, office, and guest room back down to the basement just in time for the holidays. It's amazing how much room that reclaimed!
Milo and Otis started a new canned food diet and Mrs. Brainwise thinks they have never been happier. I think they have never been more annoying (at dinner and breakfast). But there is no denying the boys love their new food and it does seem to be helping their health. The newest cat news concerns Milo: For no discernible reason, he has taken to sitting on the couch with us. Oh, and it's not just sitting near us -- he is actually right up against us, especially when the heater is on. Otis has always been cuddly, so Milo's transformation as cuddler #2 has Mrs. Brainwise overjoyed.
Mrs. Brainwise traveled extensively this year: overnighting in Atlantic City with her mother a few times, and flying out to California to visit her sister. Aside from attending a few weekend retreats for the School of Sacred Ministries, my only travel occurred in late June/early July when we joined my family for a trip to Atlanta. My sister was scheduled to attend a school counselor conference so everyone tagged along for a vacation. The hotel was gorgeous if a tad crowded and noisy (a slew of high school kids were also attending a conference). I recommend the Botanical Gardens if you are ever in Atlanta – they are simply beautiful. But the real highlight of the trip came the day we left Atlanta and drove to the Smokey Mountain Ruby and Gold Mine in Cherokee, NC, where we panned for gemstones! It was so much fun finding all sorts of great gems. Next, Mrs. Brainwise and I struck out on our own to follow the Blue Ridge Parkway -- starting out by going the wrong direction (maybe we didn’t want to go home so soon). This was the most amazing drive ever, and we ended up in the most amazing town ever: Boone, NC. This little mountain community is perfect. It has that Penn State feel -- provided by Appalachian State University -- and it is a beautiful town. It could even become our annual vacation spot.
Mrs. Brainwise and I celebrated eight years of marriage and my 40th birthday this year. We observed these milestones by attending a football game in Philadelphia: the Philadelphia Eagles (her team) versus the Pittsburgh Steelers (my team). We sat in season ticket territory -- about 10 rows behind the Steelers bench -- and saw a great game (according to Mrs. Brainwise, that is). Lincoln Financial Field is a great place – from the workers, to the layout, to the food (not that there is much we can actually eat on a gluten free diet), to the game day feeling. It was Mrs. Brainwise’s day as her Eagles defeated the Steelers 15-6.
I've completed another season as Project Supervisor for the Montgomery Theater, a small professional theater in Souderton, PA. This year, I focused on upgrading and expanding music and sound effect control for Main Stage productions. For my efforts in this and other projects, I was honored with the 2008 Award of Excellence. Mrs. Brainwise schemed with the theater's staff to ensure that my parents and a few close friends were in the audience for the presentation. And, believe me, I was completely surprised. I just never saw it coming; never expected such an award.
I continue to serve on the School of Sacred Ministries' Advisory Circle, and have taken a leadership role as the Interim Co-Administrator. Earlier this year, I conducted my first class, Introduction to Indigenous European Spiritualities. This class replaces the previous topic of Celtic Spirituality and Earth Studies that had been part of the curriculum for years. One of my fellow graduates was a co-presenter with me, and our class was a great success. We not only expanded on the original topic -- as evidenced by the title change -- but (in the words of our previous Administrator, who is also the School's co-founder) our presentation was "probably the best class on Celtic spirituality the School has ever had." I am looking forward to teaching my next class, Introduction to Rituals and Ceremonies, at a retreat this coming March. Earlier this year, I was certified to offer premarital counseling and I conducted two more interfaith weddings over the summer -- both of which were outside. I am also honored to say that I am recognized as a gothi, performing spiritual observances for a growing community of Germanic Reconstructionists in the tri-state area.
And now here we are in 2009. I hope you enjoyed the recent holiday season, and I wish you a healthy and prosperous New Year.
2008 Collage