Monday, March 31, 2008

Religious News

A while back, on my previous blog (A Stab in the Dark - now resting at the bottom of the internet void), I posted a story about a Congressional investigation of televangelists who use the prosperity gospel message to rake in thousands, if not millions, of dollars from viewers. Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar (word of advice: NEVER, and I mean NEVER, follow a minister with the last name Dollar. Or any other type of currency for that matter!) are among the top names being investigated.

Well, I hadn't heard anything for months, so I assumed that it was a dead issue. I confess that because the main force behind the investigation, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, is himself an evangelical Christian, I had mixed feelings regarding the success of such a venture. Here's the original article.

But now it seems that the invesigation is rolling on and the televangelists are starting to buckle. According to an article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution posted on Melissa Rogers's blog, one of the last of the holdouts, a Rev. Eddie Long, has submitted documents pertaining to his ministry.

I would like to think that this action will curtail, if not eliminate, predation taking place under the guise of religious ministry. But the cynical side of me is reminded of P.T. Barnum, who said, "There's a sucker born every minute." What is truly repulsive to me is that the prosperity gospel movement, which has been stealing money from the desperate and needy since the 1920s, cannot be found in the Judeo-Christian texts. The verses used to back up the claims of the poponents of this theology (although I shudder to apply the word to their actions!) are used out of context and out of sync with the larger scriptural message. Think about it: if God wanted everyone to be surrounded with wealth and possessions, why then would Jesus be quoted as saying, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven." (Luke 18:25)?

At any rate, it's going to be interesting to see how this turns out.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Uhm, Yeah. About The Car . . .

So I ran off to the bookstore, as planned, in order to pick up something to read while I'm doing some volunteer chores at the nonprofit where I used to work. Basically minding the store while they do their thing getting ready for the Music City Half Marathon. Didn't find anything at the bookstore, so Whirling Dervish and I headed back to the office. That's when things went wrong.

I dropped him off at his office, then tried to back out onto the road that runs around the VA towards my office. Trouble was, they construction crews had dug up half the road in order to repave it. I'm not as good backing up as I am going forward. And since I couldn't see where the road was dug up, but could see the barrels marking the edge of the work zone, i figured I had enough clearance. Right? Wrong.

You see, the barrels were IN the ditch, not to the side of it. In fact, some were on the OTHER SIDE of the ditch. So in thinking I had enough room, I was actually backing right into the ditch. Which I did with aplomb.

The tow truck guy who got me out says that he thinks everything is okay, that the car was resting on the A-frame and not the axle, but if I have a problem with the alignment, I should get it checked out.

Yeah, thanks. I wouldn't have thought to take my car to the shop if the alignment was all screwed up. Grrr.

I want this week to end. Now. And I want next week to be better. So I'm going home. Now.

Have a good one.

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Friday Weirdness

Arrive at work on time? Check. Second cup of coffee consumed? Check. Emails red? Check. Morning visits accounted for? Check. Chart work done? Oh, please.

Yep, it's Friday, and all the work is wrap up and count the hours until 4:30. Although there is paper work and some more visits to be done, not to mention a couple of assessments scheduled for this afternoon, I have very low energy and motivation at the moment. So I've been surfing the web, and noting how my moods and interests change with the seasons.

Last year, from before summer almost to the end of December, I was full on into horror fiction, haunted houses (I tried to convince One Ring that we needed to go up to Massachussetts and spend the night at the Lizzie Borden house, now a Bed and Breakfast!), and especially the Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World. I still have an unfinished paper scale model of the mansion sitting atop a bookcase.

For the record, the HM model stopped when my dog Peanut died, and any attempts to restart it were finished when the brother of a friend committed suicide by hanging himself (for those of you who have not been to WDW, the "ghost host" is a character who is seen to be hanging from the rafters at the beginning of the ride). Death and poking fun of the afterlife just didn't seem that appealing for the time being, so the project is still unfinished. I'll probably get to it at some point, once life quiets down to the point where I have room for a hobby again, but for the time being, it's going to stay on top of that bookcase.

Anyway, once the cold weather came roaring in, and the holiday season passed, my thoughts strayed to warmer climates, namely memories of my trips to the Caribbean. Which led to thoughts of pirates, and my current interest in 18th century nautical history and piracy. I've been devouring the Patrick O'Brian Master and Commander series of books, and you can easily see the results of my interest on this blog.

Now cold is giving way to warmth, and I'm wondering which direction my interests will take me. One Ring exclaimed with horror and surprise last night, "You want Sea Monkeys for your office?!?" Sure, I answered, I need something like that when I get a new place! Seemed like a good idea at the time, although now I'm thinking that Triops might be even cooler than Sea Monkeys. The issue is moot, though, until I get an office to call my own, and not have one that I'm sharing with another poor soul who has to put up with my interests!

In my journeys across the web today, I also found several blogs relating to H.P. Lovecraft, one of my favorite authors and the father of modern horror fiction. One, in a long, long entry, tied in everything from Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End to jellyfish to the behavior of parasites and predators to "the madness of crowds" and the Clinton / Obama political struggle. It's worth a read, if only to see how all of these things fit together in the author's mind. I'm still confused, so I'll probably have to go take a second (or third) glance.

I also ended up at the Weird Tales website, which is the famous magazine that first published Lovecraft's work. Thought about running down to the bookstore on my lunch break to see if they carry it. Must resist temptation! Nah, Lent is over. Let temptation come! : )

So that's the weirdness of the day. I may post more as time allows. One Ring and her family are going to a musical tonight at the high school where her brother teaches. I have to be at the nonprofit where I used to work at 6:30 tomorrow morning to do some volunteer work, so I'm staying home and hopefully heading to bed early. Hopefully my absence will not cause too much irritation.

More later, if possible. Time to pretend to do some work.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

I Didn't Think These Things Still Existed!

Sea Monkeys! This is too cool. I actually had some when I was a kid, and am seriously considering ordering some, once I get an office to call my own again. Yeah, call them brine shrimp if you want (although the official website calls them a special hybrid that grows larger, and lives longer), they are still neat to have around.

So here's the set that I'm considering buying (and yes, it's pirate - related, of course!):

And here's the link in case some one wants to buy it for me! And you know that you do, because of course the way things have been going for me, you feel sad and want to do all sorts of things to cheer me up, right? Of course you do! : )

I've also posted a new link to a Sea Monkey related blog that I found. Yes, there is a Sea Monkey related blog. The link is over on the right hand side of the screen, and certainly not in the "All Things Pyratical" section. 'cause that would be wrong in all sorts of ways.

Okay, back to work.

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And Then There Were . . . 300?

So the war goes on. As of 8:30 this morning, we were winning. My boss sent signals to the fleet that our applications would indeed be received with joy and anticipation, and that we would be considered for the positions without any kind of negativity that one would expect from someone's whose ships have been sunk. Yeah, right, and if you buy that, then I've got a ship for sail that can get you from Tennessee to the Caribbean!

So now I'm back on track getting my application done, paperwork submitted, approval from high mucky-mucks worked on and various awards, certificates, and articles gathered. The thing is that once again the number of positions has changed. We're at 2. Yep, that's right. We've gone from 4 to 2, with a 3rd opening around June. Insert primal scream here.

Plus, now that our applications will be accepted, we are entering into competition with not a few, but over 300 other applicants whose paperwork has been gathering dust since January and before. At least two of those are friends of mine, which causes me to feel very uncomfortable about this whole process. It turns out, my boss tells me, that no other discipline at the VA works this way. Just us. It's insane.

But I do have some good news. I'm back in my office until next week. So until Wednesday or so, I will be able to do my work more efficiently than if I had to borrow space and equipment from other chaplains. After next week, though, I have no idea where I'm going or what's going to happen.

Hope your day is going well. I think this is what chaplaincy is going to look like around here! : )

And while we're on the topic, is it just me or is there a smiley face formed out of the blood splatter underneath the "300" logo? Seems kinda silly, if you ask me!)

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Job Drama Continues


Okay, so here's the latest on the current battle. After I signaled my boss yesterday and told him that I was demasted and blown off course by the powers that be in Head Chaplain Land, he went to the HR department and started a day long engagement that involved broadsides from both sides. As night fell and offices closed, neither side had the advantage. We sailed off to a sheltered cove to mend our wounds and repair the sails.

This morning, during a meeting o' the captains / chaplains, we were told that the battle would continue. Amid much "Huzzahs!" and "Send 'em to the Locker!" our brave leader shouted from the fo'c's'le that we would not back down, nor would we take prisoners. "There would be another engagement this afternoon," he said, stroking his beard and glaring out of his one good eye. "Expect blood to flow!"

And then we talked about chaplain stuff. We're not all pirates, after all!

Whirling Dervish (otherwise known as "my colleague" who has up to now been without a proper blog name) and I walked back away from today's meetings wondering what the future would hold. While I am locked in (I hope) for yet another residency at the hospital (making this my third - I have never heard of anyone with 3 residencies in chaplaincy! Most go on to get real jobs. Not me, apparently), Whirling Dervish missed a deadline when the boss was out sick. So now we're hoping that he can find good work. There's just not a lot of it out here. The only reason the VA can hire more chaplains is because of the Iraq and Afghan wars. Sad, really.

In other work related news, I am now sans office, which means that daytime posts will be reduced. One department - the substance abuse program - said they no longer had room for me, although they want me to keep working with them, and that I needed to move over the chaplain offices. The chaplain offices have zilch in the way of additional office space, too. So for now I'm adrift at sea in a dinghy!

At least the construction guys got the paint off my car. The power washer also stripped the Hyundai sticker off the trunk (shows how cheap my car is - it doesn't have an emblem, it has a sticker!), but that's okay. I'm just hoping that tomorrow is a better day than yesterday.


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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Perfect Ending to My Day

The workers who are painting the trim on my office building just sprayed my car with white paint. They are now powerwashing and detailing it, trying to restore it to it's previous filthy condition. I asked them why, if they were so inclined to drop things, couldn't they drop a load of bricks or something useful, so that I could get the insurance money and buy a better car. Alas, paint was what they had, and now paint is what I have.

I'm so stopping at the liquor store on my way home!


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The Anvil Fell

Remember in that post a day or so ago when I spoke of having a fear of failure, and thought that there was always a chance that a passing anvil was going to come crashing down on my world.

Yeah, thought you did. Well, funny thing.

Today, it fell.

The jobs that were about to be posted - the chaplain positions that I and several others have been salivating over for the last several months and working our collective butts off to get our applications ready - just went poof!

Near as I can figure, there's some sort of power struggle going on between my boss and the big whigs at national headquarters. They are saying, "Thanks, but we already have tons of qualified applications. We don't want anymore, least of all the guys you WANT to have the job!" While my boss is disagreeing vocally (and in NSFW language, I might add. Nothing is more amusing than watching a chaplain cuss like a sailor!)

Meanwhile, one of the patients with whom I had made the most progress just got himself booted out of the substance abuse program for testing positive and having opiate based pain-killers (that he got from THIS FACILITY!). Still, there's a zero tolerance order in place, and he's gone. I told him where he could get some homeless assistance, since he has nowhere to go and no one to care for him once he gets there.

And, finally, I had a consult with a schizophrenic patient who has melanoma that spread to his lungs. Terminal prognosis, but there's nothing in place to care for his pain or provide even palliative care. I'm going full on patient advocate here, and am on the verge of going postal. He's not in any condition to speak for himself, so I'm working with his social worker. Hopefully we can get him some help.

Oh, remember the office struggle over here? First I was moving, then not, then I was going to share an office, then not. Well, I'm in an empty office with boxes as I type this. They're sending me packing, and I'm now looking for office space.

Sigh. One hour more. I still have a case study to write, so I'll leave you with this:

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Did Easter Come Early, Or Was It Just Me?

Of all the holidays that come and go, I think Easter causes me the most angst. And I'm not talking about the issues of faith, science, myth, and legend that crop up every year when the latest passion movie or play comes out and the History Channel or Discovery Channel respond with their series of "did it really happen?" shows. No, I'm just talking about the angst that comes from trying to figure out when Easter is going to fall on the calendar!

Unlike Christmas, which always falls on the 25th of December, Easter roams the calendar between March and April. This causes difficulty for parish ministers, because programs and sermon series have to be prepared for the 40 days (Sundays are not included) of Lent that precede Easter. So sometimes clergy are just barely recovered (or not) from Christmas before the church calendar again demands a ton of work outside of the normal pastoral duties. It's no wonder that ministers and priests can't be found the week following Easter. They're all in comas! Chaplains, fortunately, are spared, though I confess I wouldn't mind having one more day off to rest and recover from yesterday's sunrise service and church breakfast!

So how is the Easter date set? Well, here's the Wikipedia entry:

The canonical rule is that Easter day is the first Sunday after the 14th day of the lunar month (the nominal full moon) that falls on or after 21 March (nominally the day of the vernal equinox). For determining the feast, Christian churches settled on a method to define a reckoned "ecclesiastical" full moon, rather than observations of the true Moon as the Jews did at the time. Eastern Orthodox Christians calculate the fixed date of 21 March according to the Julian Calendar rather than the modern Gregorian Calendar, and observe the additional rule that Easter may not precede or coincide with the first day of the Jewish Passover.

Get all that? Here's the rest of the article, which includes the algorithms (yes, there's MATH involved!).

There are two issues involved for the oddness of the movable date. One is Easter's connection to Passover - which, by the way, Jesus was celebrating at The Last Supper. It's amazing how many Christians overlook the simple fact that Jesus was Jewish, and never once deviated from that religion, save on ethical or moral principles in his teachings. Although I have attended several Passover events, I can't say I'm an expert, or know why Passover has a date tied to the lunar and solar calendars, so I'll leave that be for now.

The other issue is the connection to the Pagan celebrations that also occur on or near the beginning of Spring. The very word, Easter, comes from Eostre, who was a German pagan goddess. Her celebration time was on or around the Spring Equinox and, interestingly enough, had as parts of worship flowers, eggs, newly hatched birds, and newborn animals. Sounds familiar, huh? Chocolate came much later - we can thank the Aztecs for that!

The only reason I bring up the odd history of Easter and its movable date is because we need to remember that all religions, no matter how old (and I'm talking to you, Hinduism!), are connected to other religions. Christianity came from Judaism, which is connected to Islam by way of the Patriarch Abraham. Both Islam and Judaism were influenced by Zoroastrianism, which was in Persia (now Iran) much earlier. Christianity was also influenced by pagan mystery religions - see above, or ask me where the concept of "washed in the blood" came from! - Jewish seperatist groups such as the Essenes, and Greek philosophy (which created the Gnostic movement).

In the same way, Buddhism came out of Hinduism and radical Ascetic practices of the time. Over the centuries, it split into several lineages. When one ran into Christianity, Pure Land Buddhism was formed, resulting in a Buddha who guides people into nirvana (aka, the "Pure Land"), which looks a lot like the Christian idea of Heaven.

There's a couple of ways to look at this. One is in a negative vein, as in "there are no original ideas, so nothing anyone believes is true." That would be unfortunate, I think, because despite every faith being related to every other faith in some way shape or form, every religion brings a new and refreshing way of looking at the human condition, human relationships with one another and the divine, and the human potential for growth.

The other way to look at this, one that I espouse, is that because every religion brings something different to the table, it is vital that we all learn as much as we can about the religions of our neighbors. This was illustrated recently when Sen. John McCain was visiting Israel last week. As it was the celebration of Purim, he observed that children were moving about in costumes. He remarked to the media that Purim was the Jewish equivalent of Halloween. Which was unfortunate, because Halloween and Purim have next to nothing in common, save for the Purim celebrants use of costumes to dress up like characters in the story depicted in the book of Esther. Had he been more aware of religions other than his own, there wouldn't have been an awkward moment where Sen. Lieberman had to step in and explain the gaff.

Of course, knowing more about the beliefs of others is even more important when looking at the conflict in the Middle East, where both sides have used "God talk" to explain why they are engaged in this conflict. Perhaps if there was more talking instead of killing, we wouldn't be mourning 4,000+ of our soldiers and caring for the thousands more who are wounded, never mind the untold number of Iraqis (I've heard hundreds of thousands) who have been killed or injured.

Just a thought, as we move past the holiest of Christian festivals.


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Fear of Failure

I just completed a huge portion of my application for a full time, permanent position with the VA. Roughly 28 pages listing everything (and I mean everything, just short of "became physically ill following church pot luck dinner!") I have done over the last 10 years of religious work. Tedious, repetitious, and probably will be overlooked by the poor slob who has to read it. But it's done, and that's a minor victory today (now doing victory dance in the office!)

But I've been wondering why it's taken me so long to complete this portion, when there is so much more to be done. My colleague (who is still without a nickname) has completely finished his application, and is now on his way to Kinko's to make copies. At last count, his total application is almost 200 pages, but that includes about a ton of transcripts, diplomas, certificates, photocopied articles, newsletters, and so forth. Still, though, he's finished, and I still haven't even applied to receive my transcripts.

So what's the deal? What's kept me paralysed and playing pirate games (I had a major victory over a really tough opponent last night, sending two of his Ships of the Line to the bottom with just one of my Frigates, but I digress.) when I could be burning the midnight oil making phone calls, following up on requests for letters of reference and endorsements? At times, it's almost as if I would rather run for the hills and hide in a cave than get all this paperwork done and sent out.

I've been thinking about this for most of the weekend, as I've been plugging along at the silly thing. And what I keep coming back to is, as the title of this post says, the fear of failure. I'm scared to death of being rejected for the three positions coming up in April and June. I'm terrified of being passed over and seen as lacking in my credentials, experience, or abilities. Basically, I'm afraid of being "not good enough," or seen as being not good enough by others. One Ring tells me that the only way I could ensure failure is by not applying at all. To some extent, she's absolutely right. However, I fear that failing to get the position - and all that it entails in terms of financial security, health benefits, and an economic boom - is going to open up a huge wound in my psyche. In short, I fear being a failure.

Fears are irrational creatures. I've had patients talk to me about their fears of this or that and then follow up by saying, "That sounds silly, I know, but that's the way I feel." And oftentimes our fears do seem silly. Why should I be afraid of failing to get a job for which I'm more than qualified? Why should I think that all I'll ever be able to do is be a second rate, perpetual resident earning a meager wage doing the same work I did 10 years ago? It's very, very silly, when I think of it in those terms. But then, all monsters look silly when they're dragged out into the light at the end of the horror movie. It's when the monster is creeping around in the dark, and all you can hear are creaking floorboards and various gutteral monster noises that the fear level amps up. I think the same is true with any fear.

So say a prayer for me and all the other people out there fighting their fears and trying to move up in life. I'm going to keep on plugging away at this thing (I've left a bunch of messages on answering machines today, and just printed out transcript requests for my undergrad and graduate studies), and do my best to stop thinking that there's an anvil about to drop on my head, a'la some Tiny Toons cartoon!

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Now If I Could Only Get Barney to Do This!

I just caught this on the CNN website. Apparently a Buddhist monk in Japan has taughte his 1 1/2 year-old Chihuahua to assume proper postures before the altar and join in the daily prayers. Apparently the dog is tired of being a dog and hoping for a reincarnation into a higher life form!

Here is the link to the full article:
Zen (dog) master: A new take on prayer position

I have to admit that I'm a bit jealous. I can't get Barney to do much in the way of behavior training, even though I had - when we first adopted him - had dreams of using him as a therapy dog for my patients. He's a good dog, don't get me wrong, but prone to jumping up on people and acting like he's a much smaller, far more neurotic dog. Plus he's rather dense. To get him to stop barking the other night, I lightly popped him on the rear whenever he howled at One Ring's brother's dog. Barney wanted the dog to play with him, but she was having none of it. Anyway, he kept barking and I kept spanking. Eight times this went on in rapid succession - bark, pop; bark, pop; bark, pop! - before he finally got the clue that he needed to stop. I absolutely love him, but it's clear that our four legged son is not a candidate for Mensa!

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Five Years Gone By

And we're still in Iraq and Afghanistan, with no end in sight. So, as a tongue in cheek anniversary message, I give you this blast from the past.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter!

Oh, come on. Like you expected something deep and theological? : )

Have a great holiday weekend, everyone. I thought about being a downer and talking about the pagan origins of Easter, but I didn't want to rain on people's parade. So I'll save that post for later.

See you at the store when the candy goes on sale!

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Friday, March 21, 2008

You Must Read This Post!

I know, I said I was going home, and I am, in less than 15 minutes. But first you have to check this out. It's a posting from a guy who was kept out of a movie. Not just any movie, mind you, but an anti-evolution creationist movie. Just click the link below, will you? And see if you don't end up laughing as hard as I am now (okay, you can't really tell that I'm laughing, but believe, me, I am!).


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45 Minutes Left, And There's No Wind In M' Sails!

I had such high hopes for the day. Lots of paperwork to do, working on my application nightmare, visiting lots of patients, doing plenty of assessments and getting all my chart notes done for the week. Yeah. On a beautiful day like today? Not bloody likely! I got stuck in an ethics meeting for an hour and a half, talking about a patient who died months ago, sadly. Then, I went outside and headed out to lunch with my colleague (who really needs a nickname, because "my colleague" sounds very un-pirate-like!). After that, I was doomed.

There was simply no way that I could go out in the gorgeous day we are having and expect to come back and get much done. Well, some of it was completed, but only a few patients were visited, and one guy skipped his appointment. The chart notes were finished, thankfully, but absolutely nothing was done with my application. And none of my phone calls were returned! Grrr. If I live through this process, there's going to be some wreckage floatin' in the water, that's for certain!

I also learned upon my return from lunch that we're to be totally moved out of our offices by Wednesday. So I know what I'm going to be doing Monday and Tuesday! Fortunately there's not a lot of heavy things to be taken to the other building. Most of the books are already in my colleague's office, and another box is coming home with me today. That just leaves some files and some other stuff. I'll have to wipe the hard drive of my office computer of all my personal stuff - wallpaper, case studies, pics that I've posted here, and so forth. But that shouldn't take long, either.

Well, I had hoped also to blog on the anti-theocracy blogathon thingy that I mentioned earlier. Guess that will have to wait until tonight, too. I just hope I can get things done this weekend, in between the chaos of the holiday activities.

Time to close up shop. Have a good weekend, peeps.

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Blogs Against Theocracy

I wouldn't be much of a pirate chaplain if I didn't stir things up every now and then. So, this weekend, I direct you to Blogs Against Theocracy, a clearing house of links to posts relating to the defense of the First Amendment to the Constitution. These aren't anti-religious stances, at least most of them aren't. Rather, these are posts written in defense of the notion that religion is, as Thomas Jefferson stated on numerous occasions, "a deeply personal affair" and one that the government should play no part in organizing or supporting. Similarly, religion should not play a part in government, for if it does, than it is possible for the religious views of one group to dominate the religious views of those that the government is supposed to serve.

I have no idea what's going to pop up in the blogosphere over this weekend, no doubt chosen for this event because this is the time when certain groups of Christians tend to swing towards anti-Semitism while celebrating the arrest, torture, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (The Passion of the Christ, anyone?). But it should be interesting. And I'm of the opinion that any discussion relating to the relationship between religion and governement can be good for the nation. We have one party that has been controlled for years by the religious right, a president who has openly stated on a number of occasions that God told him that he was to be president, and a war in the Middle East that is often compared in many ways to the Crusades of the Middle Ages. Religion and politics are linked, and this isn't always good - most times, I feel, it's not. We need to talk about that, and this may be a good place to start.

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The Banging Sound You Hear . . .

. . . is my head hitting the wall.

So now it's official. There are soon to be three full time permanent chaplain positions opening up here. Which means we're all scrambling to get the metric ton of paperwork (this is the federal government, after all) accumulated and submitted. Yours truly, being behind the eight ball as usual, still has a great deal of writing to do. So today and this weekend will be spent typing furiously away so that the powers that be know in minute detail exactly what I've been doing every moment of my professional life.

But here's the rub. While I have every bit of information that the government could possibly want (and probably some that they don't want!), there's this little issue of an endorsement from the head office of the denomination. You see, the VA wants me to have it in writing from the UCC that I am, in fact, in possession of full credentials and not some nutjob who happened to get my ordination online and am fully endorsed by the First Church of Anything I Say Goes (Membership = 1). Trust me, there are a lot of those people running around!

But the UCC won't give me that letter until I have what they term a "call" (otherwise known as a job). So they told me, "Once you get hired by the VA, then we'll give you the endorsement." They're reasoning is that they don't want a bunch of endorsed clergy running amok without being held accountable by places of employment. Why that matters so much is beyond me, at this moment.

So now I'm in a catch 22 situation. The VA says endorsement, then job and the UCC says job, then endorsement. Neither side is budging, and I am now running back and forth between the two trying to negotiate this impasse. At stake is a very nice job with benefits, retirement, tons of security, and the notion that I won't have to panic when One Ring's Ph.D. funding runs out at the end of next year.

Oh, yeah. One more thing. It's Easter weekend, and no one is in the office. What gives? I have to work, why don't they?

Time for caffeine, then paperwork, then tons of writing. Shoot. Just remembered an ethics conference for today, too. Insert primal scream here, please!

Peace out.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

In Case You Missed It . . .

This is the speech that everyone is talking about. Barack Obama talking about the race issue in our country. It's worth watching, in full, before making comments. Too many people are talking without watching, without listening, without thinking. So give it a chance, let it sink in, and then consider what he's saying.


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A Literary Moment

I know this has already made the rounds, but I thought I'd post something about it anyway. Arthur C. Clarke died Tuesday in Sri Lanka, where he spent the last 50 years of his life. While good science fiction is out there, I don't think we'll ever see anyone who could envision a possible future like Clarke. Here's NPR's write up on his death and an audio interview with his agent and friend:

'Space Odyssey' Author Clarke Dies at 90

Meanwhile, a few days ago I alluded to a special day occuring on the 15th of March. Well, bonus points to you if you were able to guess that it was the death date of H.P. Lovecraft, noted pulp author, creator of the Cthulhu "mythos" (although it's a stretch to call it a mythos, really it was his friends and those who came after him who fleshed out the characters who all had near unpronouncable names!) and perhaps the father of modern horror fiction.

So let's tip a glass to Lovecraft, dead these 51 years but still keeping me up at nights!

Okay, back to work. Just got out of a meeting with my boss. Suffice to say that my life has become much more stressful.


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I Is A Highly Edumacated Pyrate!

Your Language Arts Grade: 100%

Way to go! You know not to trust the MS Grammar Check and you know "no" from "know." Now, go forth and spread the good word (or at least, the proper use of apostrophes).

Are You Gooder at Grammar?
Make a Quiz


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If Spring is Here . . .

. . . then why do I feel as if I've been plowed under?

Seriously, it's only 10 and I am already at the point of calling it a day. The day began with me trying a shortcut that resulted in my bcoming lost in the wilds of Murfreesboro, TN and arriving at work 45 minutes late. I've been trying to make up time ever since. The good news is that a meeting that I've been dreading was cancelled at the last minute, so I don't have to contemplate committing seppuku (yeah, I'm a sucker for the dramatic!) in order to escape the misery.

Yesterday was completely bizarre in the workplace. As usual, I went to Nashville to present a case study. That part went well. For some reason, though, two of the five chaplains who show up at this thing seem to have gone around the bend. I can't go into too much details, due to the whole blog / job thing. Suffice to say that one has entered into an inappropriate relationship with a patient, and the other started behaving extremely erratically during my presentation. Now, if you think things are going so badly that you need to pray, that's one thing. But if you're praying in such a way that it creates more distraction, rooting around in your bag for prayer beads and passing prayer and visit requests to other chaplains, then you need to be stopped. Yeah, it was bad. One of those kinds of bad that was so bad that I ended up wondering if I was the crazy one. Fortunately, one of the experts spoke to that chaplain, assuring me that I am, at least for the moment, still sane.

I'm up to my eyeballs in paperwork, so I'm feeling some stress. They've finally decided that there will be 3 full time positions opening up, so that means that I need to get all my paperwork done. Ugh. They even want transcripts of my college and grad work! The only upside to this is that if I do get hired, it's virtually a lifelong position - once you're in the system, you're set. So I guess I'm going to just do the work, as mind numbing and frustrating as it seems. Honestly, I have never seen an application process like this, and pray I never do again!

Oh, and as an aside, the next person to ask me about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and my opinion of his sermon comments as a fellow clergy member in the UCC, will be drawn, quartered and served up in a Lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a Mornay sauce garnished with truffle paté, brandy and with a fried egg on top and spam!* Yes, I'm that tired of hearing about it!

I don't care if you want to talk about it. No, you can't! : )

Okay, off to teach my Thursday morning class. Grumble, grumble.

*All gratitude and "we're not worthy" bows to Monty Python for their Spam sketch!

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Universe Has a Sense of Humor

So yesterday, after spouting off about how old I was feeling and wondering if I had accomplished all that much in my life, I dragged my tired carcass home. Once there, I checked my email, and lo and behold, found out that yet another friend from years of old not only has continued her successful career, but has also recently given birth to a very healthy and happy baby girl. Mother and baby are doing very well, and dad looks as proud as can be.

Later that night, right before bed, I received a totally unexpected email from a friend of mine who until recently was stationed in Japan with the Navy. He and I were inseperable in high school and college, but lost touch as the years went on and he joined the service and travelled the world. He's back in the states, and may visit us in the future.

There were also emails from my old fencing coach, and another friend who had a child recently. Just seems to be one of those times when everyone crawls out of the woodwork. Not that I mind, of course; I'm overjoyed to hear from old friends who have gone missing over the years. It's just weird that they've all come back into the world over the course of a few days. Some wrote because I first sent out emails, of course, but some, including my high school friend, sent their emails totally unexpectedly.

Guess what the universe is saying through these little random notes of kindness, is that even though I'm getting older and - on some days - feeling it, it's not something that I need to do alone. And for that, I'm grateful.

Now the presentation that I have to do tomorrow - and am not yet prepared for, that is something for which I am certainly not grateful!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Ireland and Pirates!

In an effort to keep my mind off my work (hey, it's Monday, after all, and my boss isn't here!) and my malaise, I decided to take an early lunch break and start a small bit of research. So, in honor of St. Patrick's Day and all things Irish, I give you the story of Grace O'Malley, Irish Pirate Queen!

I was somewhat disappointed to see that not much has been written about Pirates who operated out of Ireland. As wild as that nation's history has been through the years, I thought that someone must have done some research. It's common knowledge that raiders did operate out of Ireland, attacking settlements in England and Scotland from time to time, just as the Vikings, Saxons, and Normans did over the course of the centuries. But when I did a search this morning, only one name came up . . . Grace O'Malley. I have to say, though, that I was surprised as all get out. One, that a woman held such a powerful role in what seems to be an anarchic society during that time periond. Two, that she continued her warrior ways for so long. Grace (her name is really a bit of irony, all things considered) seems to be a historical Xena: Warrior Princess!

She was married to a shipping business magnate, but soon took over the work for him. When her ships were banned from docking in certain ports due to clan politics, she would harrass the shipping lanes, demanding payment for safe passage. If they refused, she'd reduce them to scraps, taking everything of value for her people's own gain. When her husband died during a conflict with Clan Joyce, she rallied his fallen troops and took their island and castle by force. When the British came to try and force her out and restore the rightful owners, she fought them off and established a base of operations out of that same castle, keeping a watch over all shipping that came in and out of that important pass.

Her life reads like an adventure novel, better than either of the last two Pirates of the Carribean movies I've seen. Let me tell you, Jack Sparrow can't hold a candle to what Grace pulled off in her lifetime! So if you're in the mood for a bit of escape today during a work break. check out the links below.

For there's plenty more about Grace O'Malley here and here.

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Time and Discontent

I've been feeling old lately (At this point, the line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail , "I'm 37. I'm not old!" is appropriate). It's not just that I didn't get much in the way of sleep last night, or that I'm moving heavy objects in my office in anticipation of a forced move to God only knows what broom closet they've set aside for me. Nope, I'm feeling old because I think time has betrayed me.

There have been other points in my life when I felt like life had passed me by. 30 was hard, as I was struggling in my first career, recently married, and totally unsure of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. 35 went a little smoother, although I still am plotting revenge on the friends who went with the "over the hill" and "one foot in the grave" theme! But now 37, almost 38, is here and I'm really wondering if I am, indeed, growing old

There's a couple of factors going on in this feeling. The first is the coming of my 20th high school reunion - a wonderful opportunity to see just how fat, bald, and disaffected my generation has become! There are several people (some of them actually read this blog!) that I haven't seen in years and would love to see again, and some that I can't even remember if I ever had a class with (is memory the first thing to go?). I went to my 10th, found it to be so-so, but if I can make it up to Virginia for the 20th, I'll try to make it. Hey, if it stinks, I don't have to worry about another one for ten years!

The next issue is children. In recent months two friends, one of whom I lost touch with until just this week, have had babies. Babies are a great way to feel old. It doesn't seem like too long ago that whenever I heard of someone having a child, I thought, "Wow, she's so young!" Now, the thought is, "Good thing she had a child now, she's getting to the point where it may be dangerous!"

I don't have children. One Ring and I have a dog, and we've been kicking around the idea of getting another once Barney the Dog of Destruction calms down. I know that One Ring would like to have kids at some point, but the thing is, when I look in the mirror, I still think of myself as someone who doesn't possess the maturity, wisdom, and intelligence to raise a healthy child. Honestly, I think that if I ever had a child, I wouldn't put money away in a college fund; I'd have to stuff it into a therapy fund!

So I read all the bios for my classmates of '88, and see that someone that I thought would be a total basket case by now has a family, career, and 2.5 children, and it gives me the feeling that somewhere along the way, I lost the manual on how to live a stable life that runs according to plan. Of course, in many ways that's a good thing, and there are days where I wouldn't change a thing. But today, as I look around at the barely restrained chaos that is the world around me, I feel old and tired. Hmmm, maybe a nap and a cup of tea would do the trick. Aggggh! What am I saying? See, I AM growing old! : )

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Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Apparently, though, the Catholic church moved the feast day to March 15th (which is another holiday that I'll get to in a bit). Anyway, for more information on St. Patrick, click here. He has a very colorful history, somewhat concealed in myth - such as the whole snake thing - so it makes for interesting reading, no matter what your religious tradition may be. In honor of the day, all the links to other sites that I make today will be green, and not orange, which has negative connotations in Ireland due to the years of unrest between Protestants and Catholics. Aren't you impressed by how considerate and compassionate I can be?

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Can I Go Home Now?

I've got an appointment coming in, unless the killer squid that apparently live in the puddles around here get him, too. At least the rain has stopped for the moment. It's been all kinds of nap weather here, and though I have plenty of paper work to keep me busy until the end of the day, I'd much rather sleep. So, in an effort to stay awake, I offer you the following:

Yeah, this is pretty accurate!

You Are Samuel Adams

You're fairly easy to please when it comes to beer - as long as it's not too cheap.

You tend to change favorite beers frequently, and you're the type most likely to take a "beers of the world" tour.

When you get drunk, you're fearless. You lose all your inhibitions.

You're just as likely to party with a group of strangers as you are to wake up in a very foreign place.

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Oh, My.

I used to be a pastor of a church. I know, I know, it's impossible to imagine, and who in their right mind would attend such a place? Well, some people did, and some weren't happy, but I digress. One of the things I know about pastoring is that sometimes, the things you say don't go over well. Sometimes you don't say what you mean, sometimes it doesn't come out right, and sometimes there's just outright rebellion in the pews. And then there's what Rev. Jeremiah Writght said to his church in his final sermon on February 10th that has sent member Barack Obama running and the congregation risking the wrath of the IRS.

Obama keeps pastor at a distance

Yes, race is an issue in this election. It can't not be an issue, not with our nation's history and not with the candidates being who they are. But that doesn't mean we have to lower ourselves to the level that we are seeing now. Between Geraldine Ferraro's comments and now this, we are seeing a reduction of the debate to issues of race and gender and nothing else. The issues at hand are being eclipsed by illogical assumptions that Obama and Clinton are an African-American man and a white woman, and nothing more. And all of this is just playing into Sen. McCain's hands. By keeping the debate at this level, all the Republicans have to do is gently stoke the fear of our nation being run by someone "different" and they'll have the White House for at least another four years.

Yes, Rev. Wright, Barack is black. Hillary is white. Thank you for pointing it out. And yes, a white person will never know what it means to be black, just as a man will never know what it is to be a woman. Thing is, we already knew that. Maybe some people needed to be reminded, but I doubt anyone in your church on that Sunday morning did. And your comment, "God damn America" did nothing more than provide ammo for the religious right and the Republican party. So thanks for nothing. In the future, could you just let Barack run his campaign and, like the rest of us, hope and pray for the best?

Thanks. And oh, by the way, you've been added to my list of ministers that I don't like, even though you and I are part of the same denomination. You and I both have the freedom to believe wholeheartedly what we choose, and to say what's on our mind. But your words hurt us all. And that's not good for anyone.

God help us all.

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Randomness and Meaning

I'm sitting here in my office, waiting for yet another patient who seems to have either 1. forgotten his appointment, 2. skipped his appointment, or 3. been eaten by squid. As there are no bodies of water nearby, I'm pretty sure #3 can be ruled out. However, positing infinity - as Roger Zelazny said - anything is possible.

Which brings me to a topic that often occupies my thoughts. That would be the randomness of events, and our ability to find meaning in those events.

I often talk about what I believe and don't believe in terms of religion, particularly Christianity. Looking back over posts from the old blog, I realize that more often than not, I have focused on the latter. I take a decidedly progressive view, and tend to lash out against those who espouse fundamentalist or evangelical beliefs of any religion, but again, particularly Christianity.

Which strikes many people as odd, especially considering the work I do and have grown to love. How could someone who doesn't believe in so much still work in the field of religion? I mentioned, in my long post entitled, What's with The Pirate Chaplain Thing? that I was labeled a maverick by someone after I presented a case study in which I doubted a person's religious experience as being anything other than a natural occurrence of his brain learning to operate under sober conditions. He (the patient, thought it was a message from God. I thought it was something else. No one can prove which of us is right, but the point is that there was shock amongst some present that I would suggest that it possibly wasn't God speaking, but something else going on.

It's not that I don't believe in the Divine, nor is it that I don't believe that we do not have a relationship with the Divine that is interpersonal, even intimate. Rather, I believe that when events such as those described above happen, it is not that these events have meaning in and of themselves. Rather, it is we who provide the meaning to the events.

Or, put differently, it is an issue of randomness vs. determinism. Since I started work as a chaplain in this location, I've met many patients who state that they are here because God wanted them here. This happened because God made it happen, while that happened because Satan did that, and so forth. In the extreme end of this view, a few patients have told me that everything that happens is because God wants it to happen. This includes weather phenomena such as the hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast, the War in Iraq, murders on the street, and whether or not patients live or die. In this view, God is literally and absolutely in control of everything, and we have no control over what happens in any way, shape, or form.

As an example of this, and how it relates to meaning, let me use as an example something that happened over the last few days. I work with a colleague who is doing some wonderful things with mentally ill patients through the use of mandalas. He has them color patterns in the circles, and then uses the designs as a means to focus their attention, bring them to a meditative state, and to help them pray.

Well, yesterday I happened by Blogickal, a blog written by an urban witch living in Boston, MA. In her Wiccan studies, she has found mandalas to be a wonderful form of meditation and prayer, and pointed out how she learned to create them using Photoshop. Even if you're not into Wicca, I encourage you to take a look, because they are beautifully kaleidoscopic! In a deterministic view, the Divine - and I use that term interchangeably with God, by the way - had me encounter my colleague who was doing that work, relate it to my own work that I've done with mandalas, and then find blogickal's website to find further interest in mandalas. All of this would be to, perhaps, give me a message of one kind or another, either that I need to start making mandalas myself, evangelize to blogickal, or whatever.

However, could it not also be that these events are all separate, and it is simply my brain that is drawing the obvious connection because they all fall under the topics of mandalas and spirituality? Could it not be that I am the one saying, "Wow, it's weird that all of a sudden I'm running into mandalas all over the place!" rather than God tapping me on the shoulder. In my thinking, these events are not connected, and the "Wow!" factor is my doing.

The reason I chafe at the idea of determinism is that human freedom is severely limited, if not outright destroyed, by the hand of an interfering deity. If we live in a deterministic universe, then I have no control, and thus no responsibility, over and for anything that goes on around me. As my patients sometimes seem to suggest, they became addicts because they were forced to by an evil force (Satan), and they are in recovery because they were brought here by the good force (God). Where is their responsibility? I suspect that this thought process is done partly to shield a fragile ego from the overwhelming crush of personal responsibility for their mistakes, problems, and screwed up relationships. For them, at least in the beginning of their recovery process, it is simply to painful for them to accept responsibility, so their lives become part of a larger good versus evil drama.

As I said, though, what I believe is going on is the randomness of the universe. There are simply so many people, doing so many things, that coincidences - such as the mandalas in the example above - are bound to happen. Add to that all the events in the natural world, and what we have is a system in which we live where everything literally affects everything else in seemingly random and wonderful ways. Mind you, I said, "affects" and not "controls" or "dictates." (This is caused Chaos, by the way, and has a famous example in "The Butterfly Effect")The really wonderful part of this reality is that we determine the meaning of these events; the meaning is not forced upon us by an outside force. So in the midst of all these events, we have the ability to decide whether or not they are important. Look at the picture of the pickup truck in my last post with the sign that reads "Jesus Wept" on the back window. It is you who decide if that message has any meaning for you. You, not me, not the owner of the truck, not the original writer of the Gospel of John.

So, does this blog post mean anything? Maybe, maybe not. But it's not up to me to decide, in the grand scheme of things. I just wanted to write about something I did believe in, as opposed to something I did not. Turns out I did both. So in that sense it meant something to me. : )

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Religion and Cars

When I lived in Virginia, one of the cultural quirks that irritated me was the frequent use of vanity plates. I confess to owning several, but I tried to keep mine clever. Most people, it seems, chose rather to put Biblical verses or theological statements (reduced to seven letters and numbers, of course) on their cars. Often the plates were so confusing that I would have to look at the car's bumperstickers to get a clue as to what they were trying to say. It usually wasn't worth the effort. Variations of "SAVED" or "BLESSED" or even "PRYD4IT" (Seen on a Cadillac) were common.

Well, out here in Tennessee, vanity plates are very expensive, and are only seen on really expensive cars driven by wealthy owners. Not to say that the messages are any better, though. One Ring saw "MID LYF" on a convertible yesterday, for example. So what's a religious minded person in Tennessee to do? Check this out:

Why "Jesus Wept"? I have no idea. Is it the answer to a trivia question (Name the shortest verse in the Bible?)? Is it to point out that there are only two points in the Gospels where Jesus shows emotion? Is it a commentary on the war in Iraq? Is it meant to refer to the story of the raising of Lazarus, where Jesus was moved by the emotions of his friends, or is there some modern reason where Jesus is still weeping?

As when I lived in Virginia, I really don't have an issue with people putting religious messages on their cars and trucks (Heck, tattoo them on your forehead if you want!). But if you are tempted to put a religious phrase or scripture verse or theological viewpoint on your vehicle, please at least put a clue as to why it's there and what message you're trying to get across. It's really irritating when patients ask me, "Why's that there? What's he trying to say?" and all I can say is "Dang if I know!"

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Thursday, March 13, 2008


Okay, everything seems good so far. Now if I could only figure out what happened to send Stabbing in the Dark down to Davy Jones' Locker!

Oh, well. I'm happy. And Whistling in the Dark can stop bragging that he's on his way to ruling the blogosphere! Now I need to go back and edit all my posts so that they're all neat and short. I'm doing the happy dance!


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Oh, How I Pray That This Worked!

I have spent the better part of my lunch hour working on this blog, praying that I could somehow get the "Read More" expandable entry dohicky (a very technical term, I assure you) to work. Honestly, I have no idea what the code I cut and pasted into the template meant. For all I know I could have just sent a signal to Mars. I'll let you know if they write back.

At any rate, I'm writing this and hoping and praying (I'd sacrifice a small animal if I thought it would have a positive effect!) that this works. I'm not sure I could stand to have two blogs sink in one week!

Since I'm writing, and since I may be busy for the rest of the day, I might as well bring everyone up to speed with what's going on here at work. Looks like I've been cleared for a second year of residency work here at the good ol' VA, though I'll still be applying for full time permanent positions while doing that work. At the very least it will buy me time to continue looking for real work.

Unfortunately, though, my colleague with whom I get along well, got a little behind the eight ball and didn't get his application in on time. So he didn't get it. This makes it a rather bittersweet moment. I'm hoping he finds something, though the job market out here for rebelious chaplain types is slim to nonexistent.

Also, I just found out that I need to completely vacate my office by Thursday of next week. They have no idea where I'm going, or how long I'll be without an office (3 months is what's being kicked about), but I'm going. And not a moment too soon, if you ask me. The chemical smell from the asbestos and lead paint removal work is getting a little too strong for my tastes today.

Okay, time for the moment of truth. Let's see if this works.

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One More Time

Going to try to alter the HTML code of this blog again, hopefully without sinking it like me last ship. Pirates were well known for reworking the ships they captured to make them leaner and meaner, so I have historical precedence!

Wish me luck. If you hear screaming, it means that I was unsuccessful . . . again.

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The Fairness Doctrine

The other day, President Bush rolled into town and spoke to the 2008 religious broadcasters convention at the Opryland Hotel and Conference center. During his speech, which focused mostly on Afghanistan and Iraq - and contained nothing that we haven't all heard before from him - he mentioned the "Fairness Doctrine," and said that the Democrats in congress were trying to bring it up again as an attempt to attack the religious broadcasters of our nation. He said that he would veto it if it ever came up during the remainder of his term.

Here's an article from the local news about his visit.

Thing is, though, the fairness doctrine hasn't been around since 1987, and although there has been a minimal buzz amongst Democrats to bring it back - I have to admit that it looks good on paper, assuming it's used the way it's intended - there have not been any concerted efforts to do so. Besides, what's wrong with having opposing viewpoints on at the same time in religious broadcasting. Seems to me that if an idea - any idea - is strong enough, it can stand up to debate. So if Pat Robertson, for example, says that the 9/11 attacks are God's wrath upon our nation due to our acceptance of homosexuality (though he and Jerry Falwell later retracted and apologized for these remarks after being condemned by just about everyone), shouldn't someone be able to come on and say, "You're full of it!"? I would also think that the religious broadcasters would be all for this, since they're so big on having creationism taught in public schools as an "alternate view." Why not put "alternate views" everywhere? My thought is that if you want your views held up against others in one place, you better be prepared to have them challenged in every place.

That, after all, is what dialogue and debate are all about, and it's what makes civilization advance over time.

But then, that's just my humble opinion.

I'm late for my class. Got to run.


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Aye, But Rum is Still Me Favorite . . .

Didn't think I'd see this in my lifetime. Back when I was going through college, and a little in grad school, I found myself gravitating towards the gothic movement. I didn't dress goth, mind you, and even if I had I would have been considered a "geriatric goth" anyway! But still, being that I was chronically depressed (long story), prone to thinking dark thoughts about the meaninglessness of life, and spending hours on end listening to The Cure, Nine Inch Nails (not really goth, I know, but give me some leeway!), Siouxie and the Banshees, et. al., I considered myself a kindred spirit to the all black wearing, wannabe vampire types - noting, of course, that the women could always pull off that look so much better than the guys! Must be a fashion thing.

Anyway, all of that to say that I became interesting in the alluring myth of Absinthe. The forbidden liquid, outlawed all over the civilized world, was so popular during the 19th century and early 20th century for its association with generally depressed, creative types for its rumored hallucinogenic properties. Even Earnest Hemingway had a drink that he created using Absinthe called - get this - "Death in the Afternoon." Can you get any more goth than that?

Well, now it appears that Absinthe is now available again. Now that I'm no longer depressed (most of the time), no longer kin to the goth movement (still love The Cure, though I think that Robert Smith looks rediculous still dressing the same way all these years later!), and certainly far less creative than I thought I was way back in the day. I may grab a bottle, though, if I ever see it at the local liquor store. Who knows what the green fairy has in store for me! ; )

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I'd Say This Is A Cry For Help

I caught this on the news this morning, and thought it was worth repeating. One Ring and I have thought about adopting another dog, or perhaps becoming foster "parents" for rescue dogs, once Barney the Dog of Destruction gets a little older and calms down a bit - though I sincerely hope we do not turn into this couple!

800 Dogs Seized From Couple's Home

They also had 80 parrots.

I wonder if there's a psychological condition underlying this type of behavior . . . aside from the "hoarding" personality aspect that the article mentions. Also, having just spent $40 for a large bag of dog food - none of that nasty Chinese import stuff for my Beagle! - I can't begin to imagine how much this couple spent feeding these dogs. CNN said that almost all of them are in good health, and the Humane Society will be adopting them out before too long.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

This Just In . . .

Actually it posted a couple of days ago, but I somehow missed it.

IRS grants three-week extension for UCC's response

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail over this issue, and nothing will come of it. Unfortunately, it so often seems that in conflicts such as this, the only people who profit are the lawyers. I did like John Thomas's comment at the end of the article, though.

Most of my colleagues seem to think that this will fade away, and that the IRS will find nothing worth removing the denomination's tax exempt status. My fear is, that in this conservative religious world, the powers that be (President Bush spoke to a group of fundementalist religious broadcasters and radio hosts in Nashville, TN the other day - more on that later), is that the UCC will take a pounding, and losing that status could be a fatal wound to what is a one of a very small number of progressive voices in the world of Christianity.

I guess time (and law suits) will tell.

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Oh, This Looks AWESOME!

In Theatres April 18th:

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Fighting Illness

For the last couple of days, I've been feeling the leading edge of an oncoming cold. No big deal, but it's been slowing me down dramatically. Today was my half day - case presentations in the morning, personal time (technically "research time," but we all know it as "drive home and do whatever you want") in the afternoon.

Today I drove home and immediately fell into a coma. A serious coma. As in my head hit the couch at 1 and I was awakened at 4 by the phone. I like naps as much as the next person, but that was pretty extreme, even by my lazy butt standards! : ) Hopefully the added rest has boosted my immune system and will allow me to bypass the cold. I've lost count of how many people in the hospital are down and out; my boss has been home for a week with the flu. And sniffling and sneezing are heard everywhere.

In other news, I just got off the phone with Tigger, who works in I.T. for a cable company. He said he's like to take a look at my old blog in order to see what's going on. So hopefully tonight or tomorrow he'll figure out what I did (or didn't do) to make everything vanish into thin air. I'll continue to post here, of course, since I've set everything up. Still, it would be nice to get the repairs done, if for no other reason than to know what I did wrong.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What's With the Pirate Chaplain Thing?

Now we come to the point in the blog where I re-introduce myself and come clean about all the craziness that you see upon this blog (I have a mental image of many people exiting this page as quickly as possible!). Why pirates? You're a chaplain? Who would hire YOU as a chaplain? All these questions will be answered, along with the big one, "What did you do to the guy who told you how to edit HTML and then caused your last blog to crash?"

Well, maybe all questions will be answered. Let's just say that dead men tell no tales and leave it at that! : )

Let's start with the last one first - no, not about the vict- , er, I mean friend. I mean the chaplain questions.

Yes, I work for a VA hospital as a chaplain, currently in the unrelated hospice, substance abuse, long term care and psychiatric units. Occasionally I tell stories of things I've seen or done here, but I try to keep it as anonymous as possible in order to keep my job safe. At least while I'm looking for a permanent position. I'm a resident chaplain, you see, with a one-year, renewable term. Not very stable, and I would like to hang onto this as long as possible.

I became a chaplain about three years ago, after serving in churches as a pastor for a total of eight years. Never did do well in churches. Always felt that I was doing more to remain popular with the congregation than remaining true to my thoughts and beliefs (more on that later). Inevitably, things went south fast, with the first church getting grumpy over racial issues (I was trying to foster interracial dialogue and joint worship services in a rural southern community) and the second growing hostile over the whole gay rights thing that exploded during the 2004 election. So, in order to protect my sanity, I took a job as a chaplain at a hospital and found that I loved it.

Now I've always liked pirates, pirate movies, tall ships, and the like. I'm a fencer, though there is nowhere in my current location to fence affordably, so for now my buckles go un-swashed, as it were. In Virginia, I fenced with a wonderful group of people over at the Isle of Wight Fencing Club. If ever out that way, check them out, and tell them I said hi.

But what really got this Pirate Chaplain thing going was a meeting where I presented a case study on a patient who claimed to have a religious experience. Somehow the conversation wound around to what I believed. It became apparent to the folks around the table that I don't really believe in religious experiences, since so many times they can be explained by other means. The patient in question was a recovering alcoholic and drug abuser with a history of psychosis (alcohol related). While I validated his experience and the meaning he attached to it, internally I doubted that it was anything more than changes in his thought processes due to the cessation of drug and alcohol use and his current medical treatment.

While some of my colleagues expressed shock and dismay at my lack of faith, I felt strangely liberated. Were I in the church, I could never have been free to disagree with certain theological or highly valued tenets. I had to tow the line, or risk losing my job - or at the very least inviting a world of grief from parishoners and other clergy. There I felt contrained, on my own in a chaplain setting I feel free to by myself and live by my own beliefs. As one psychologist who was sitting in on the meeting said, "You're a maverick, then." Damn right, buddy.

So then it dawned on me that in some respects historically, and definitely in fiction, pirates are depicted as people who don't fit in and ran by their own code. Yes, they stole and looted and pillaged and plundered and murdered, so there are plenty of negatives to go with the image. François l'Olonnais, for example, was very much the sociopath, and probably deserved what he got (eaten by cannibalistic Native Americans). Sam Bellamy, on the other hand, was well known for his mercy and generosity - his crew called themselves "Robin Hood's Men" for their tendency to be generous towards their prisoners.

Anyway, I digress. If one can assume that your average pirate is one who didn't fit in as a crew member of a "traditional" vessel - either a merchant ship or a military ship - where discipline often ran to levels of sadistic cruelty, and decided to strike out on his or her own, than I am a bit of a pirate. I decided I didn't like "traditional" work that someone with my education should do, and decided to do something different. For a variety of reasons, I do not subscribe to many of the beliefs of Christians in this (and many other) areas, and so do not fit in well. And that's why I'm out on the bleeding edge of the map, figuring out the meaning to life, death, and everything else to the best of my ability.

And that's why I'm a pirate chaplain. That and it's just so dang cool to be one!

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More Religious News

As you have no doubt deduced from previous posts, I am not a member of the Catholic church (although I did cause quite a bit of double takes at my 10th high school reunion by showing up in a clerical collar with my then fiance - now wife - as my date). Nope, I'm protestant, but since I work as a chaplain (I'll get more into that and the whole pirate thing later on) there's always room for plenty of confusion. Patients ask me to hear their confessions, give them communion, and so forth, often either thinking me to be Catholic then not caring when I tell them that I'm not, or not caring that they are Catholic. For the record, there are rules in the Catholic church as to who is allowed to do what and what is Verboten, shall we say.

All of that to say that I thought it very interesting, and ironically progressive, of the Catholic church to come out with a new list of the 7 Deadly Sins. Apparently, despite wanting to turn the clock back to Pre-Vatican II status, the powers that be decided that we needed a far less individualistic and a far more global way of looking at sin and its impact on humanity. Very interesting!

Here's the article, and the new list.

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More Trouble For My Denomination

A short while ago, over on my old blog, I posted a report on how the United Church of Christ was being investigated by the IRS for allegedly getting too close to Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Sen. Obama, a UCC member, spoke at the 2007 General Synod in Hartford, Conn. Reports, and opinions, differ widely as to what happened there, and since I wasn't, I can't comment on it, but at stake is the UCC's tax exempt status as a religious organization.

Well, yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that Sen. Obama's pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. of Trinity United Church of Christ, may have crossed the line when he made comments from the pulpit that seem to endorse Obama's campaign. You can get to the article via this link.

Obviously, I'm concerned about the recent turn of events. But I find it hard to believe that the UCC is the only denomination, and Trinity the only church, that may have violated the IRS's statutes. Am I to think that even though Mormons voted overwhelmingly for Gov. Mitt Romney, no leader of the LDS church endorsed his campaign? And when evangelicals rushed to the polls in huge numbers for Gov. Mike Huckabee, it was because of individual thought and choice, and not because churches urged their membership to the polls?

All of the candidates have been appearing in churches during this campaign, in order to suggest to voters that they are people of faith. What I find hard to believe is that only the UCC, and only Trinity UCC's pastor, are suspect in transgressing the rules. Or is it that they are the focus of these investigations because Sen. Obama is the Democratic front runner? If Sen. Clinton was ahead in the polls, votes, and delegate count, would her appearances in United Methodist churches be called into question?

Honestly, I believe so. And while I do not know if my own denomination is guilty or not, or what Trinity UCC is doing up there in Chicago, it does appear to me that the rules are being enforced unequally.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

All Over But for the Drive Home

Well, it's been a day. Only one of my appointments showed up - an immature brat more concerned with finding a way to support his way of life than his recovery. Oh, well. I did accomplish a few things this morning, such as finishing the second of four entries (10 sub-entries each) for my application for a permanent chaplain job here at the VA hospital.

On second thought, maybe I don't want this job. Guy just walked by dropping f-bombs all over the place. Think of the '80s cartoon The Smurfs, and how they talked, only replace "Smurf" with that wonderful word. Apparently he failed a drug test, failed to show up for appointments, and failed to let anyone know when he was coming in. Needless to say, he's no longer in the program and is out the door.

Sad, really. I keep having to remind myself that a person's emotional and psychological growth arrests when they begin their addiction. So I'm not talking to a 60 year old grandfather, I'm talking to a 19 year old trapped in a 60 year old's body that is beat up to the point where he might as well be 90. So that's one factor in what I just witnessed.

The other, putting aside all that gets brought along with the drug of choice and any potential co-morbidity (such as the individual using the drug of choice to self-medicate for a mental illness such as depression or bipolar or even schizophrenia), seems to be that of the human ego. I believe the ego to be the most destructive force on the planet, both to the individual and to society. When we fail to put our egos in check, we feel that the world (and everyone in it) should bend to our will and reward us just for being us. Nice idea, but obviously it's not going to happen. It's a far better thing to recognize that the only way we can improve our lives is not by running others over and getting our way, but by working with the systems and people around us.

Okay, I'm getting off my box. This entry is already getting too long, and you can see what happened the last time I tried to get fancy and trimmed down with a blog! It's time to call it a day, and I'm heading home.

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Almost Underway

The Old blog is dead, I figure, so I've been working on moving links and widgets over from the shipwreck to this new location. So far, so good. It helps that three people have skipped their appointments today, leaving me with plenty of time to look for new hit counters, clocks, weather pixies, and other nonsense. One complaint, though: not enough pirate stuff! And since it is now blatantly obvious that I cannot use HTML to save my life, there is not likely to be any. Oh, well, at least I managed to salvage the Haunted Mansion clock.

Now I just need to find a new hit counter, and we'll be on our way. There's a few more links to put up, and some minor details, but that I think I'll be doing at home.

More later.

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First Shot Across the Bow

When I logged onto blogspot about an hour ago, I had no intention of starting a new blog. In fact, I was more than happy with my old blog - over 3100 hits, plenty of links to other blogs, and hundreds of entries from yours truly. But then I decided to make some changes, and everything fell to pieces.

I attempted to edit the blog posts so that they would only initially show the first paragraph and the link "Read More!" If you clicked on the link, the full post would show up with a place to leave your comment. Nothing new there; thousands of blogs have that feature.

Except on my blog, where the posts immediately vanished. Well, sort of. They're there; I can read them when I go into edit mode. But when you look on the blog itself, all you see are the links and widgets on the side. Nothing else.

So now I have started this blog, which will be my official blog until either I fix the old one or I move everything of import over here. In the meantime, though, all I can say is, "Grrrr!" or, in keeping with the pirate theme, "Arrrr!"

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