Archive for the ‘Religion/theUnknown’ category

Tryna Be A Rockstar Part V – Playing The… Pipe Organ?

June 5, 2012

Dispatches from the front lines of the music industry.

In order to make a living, most musicians have to find a variety of types of work. Rarely does a single gig pay a full salary. In my situation, drumming and recording do not generate income. Instead I earn a modest wage by playing the pipe organ.

I have realized that people know very little about about pipe organs. Even those exposed to them in church almost never sit down even to just noodle around. So let me offer a window into the world of this underappreciated king of instruments…



Religion and Reason

September 15, 2011

Here is a great illustration of how religious ideas of the afterlife run into logical thought processes (specifically, this one uses the logical method of extrapolating to the most extreme case).

Which is why I think that religion and reason do not entirely work together. And that’s ok. Though reason is very important, the fact that religion “doesn’t make perfect logical sense” kind of misses the point. Religious ideas of the afterlife and morality and so forth are about hope. An existential hope that life isn’t just nasty, brutish, and short. Hope that life has meaning and purpose, and that it can be extended.

The more pessimistic logical Dawkinsian atheists might say that’s delusional.

But why do they care so much about what other people hope?

Universe of Fate or Randomness

February 3, 2011

People create systems. We set up a structure and set some action in motion within that structure. Once you put together an assembly line, you hit “go” and widgets start popping out. Or you design an electoral system and every few years, it cobbles together the vote total and determines a winner.

In a very very simple system, like a short computer program, the output can be predictable. There are algorithms that have no element of true “randomness.” Digit plus digit will always spit out a sum.

Since people are used to setting up systems and let them run, it’s easy to extrapolate and wonder if some supernatural force did that too. Is the universe just the result of some parameters God set?

Sometimes I’ve considered that there is nothing truly “random” in the world. At some atomic level, those electrons were always going to spin that way. Their speed and trajectory is on a pathway based on constants of magnetism and gravity and energy. There was no other way for them to move. Under this idea, that means our lives were always going to happen the way they are happening. You think you “made a decision” to ask that girl out, or to apply for that job, or to eat that brand of muffin for breakfast. But actually, all those determined subatomic forces led you to where you are.

On the other hand, maybe everything is random. Maybe there’s literally so many competing forces at that microscopic level that any one prevailing is pure chance. You could have just as well chosen to eat eggs, given up on the girl, or applied for a different job. (Note, you may use “reasons” when making decisions, so I’m presuming that those reasons succeeded or failed in swaying you in one direction.)

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter which model is true, because it seems like we make our own decisions. And even if things were predetermined, would that mean you would live your life any differently?

Fate and see.

Comforting God

January 28, 2011

I recently ran into this snippet of an interview with Ira Glass. In it, he talks about how he’s an atheist, but he’s still a Jew by culture. Going to synagogue feels very familiar, yet he interestingly said, “It feels weird to use other’s moment of worship as a moment of nostalgia.” Though I’m not certain enough of anything to call myself an atheist, I identify with his feeling. Going to church feels like home, but it’s more of a habit than an intentional practice of any sort.

On a related note, a recent dinner conversation revolved around why certain people eat fast food every day. Among many reasons, one clear one was that they felt comforted by the familiarity. It’s safe and predictable.

Though God comes with many adjectives (powerful, loving, vengeful, etc), here I want to discuss the comforting one. People go to church every week in part for a similar reason as those daily fast food eaters. It’s what they know, it’s familiar, they identify with their particular church (or restaurant chain), it ties them to some community, and so on. All are elements of feeling safe in the world. Mother church, take me into your bosom each Sunday! McDonalds, nourish me with those nuggets I know best!

I don’t mean to fully equate the seriousness of religion with fast food franchises. They are very different institutions, obviously.

But with church, what if you don’t need the comfort? What if you find some solid ground elsewhere in your life? Not necessarily at Burger King, but in your family, or your job, or your neighborhood, or your group of close friends that hangs out every weekend. We create ritual and routine in our lives all the time, and many people have replaced the safety of church ritual with other regularities in their schedules.

Churches do all sorts of things. But as times have changed, the role of church in society has changed a lot. It is not longer the government (in this country), no longer the biggest meeting place around, and not always the comforting entity in our lives. So what should its role be in our current society?

I’ve written before about what your ideal church would be like, asking what kind of ritual or practice would connect you with whatever is the religious/spiritual side of ourselves. Maybe churches focus too much on the ritual now – maybe they need to mix it up. Maybe I need a discussion group. Maybe she needs to smoke some weed and dance. And maybe he still needs to put on a suit every Sunday, sing some hymns, and listen to a sermon. Some people have been branching out, and there are clearly a variety of options.

I suppose I’m still figuring out what fits for me.

“Community Center”

August 31, 2010

Cities have enough problems dealing with zoning issues as it is, with all kinds of people not wanting that road there or that building here. How we all fit into a space without elbowing each other all the time is tricky, and people invariably get jabbed.

So it’s been a little fascinating to see how the entire nation lays claim to the area around ground zero in New York City. 9/11 affected everyone, so we all feel some ownership there. It’s not Manhattan’s block, it’s the nation’s block. New Yorkers undoubtedly disagree, because legally it is theirs.

Anyways – I didn’t want to wade into this media sensation of a story, because one local zoning decision is nowhere near as important as unemployment, energy needs, the trade deficit, our wars

However, since I have mused about religion occasionally, I wanted to remark on the language people have been using.

Church. Community center. Mosque. Synagogue. Prayer room. Sanctuary. Temple.

The right-left back and forth is “it’s a mosque!” versus “no, there are classrooms and offices and meeting spaces, and one room for prayer/services/thatsortofthing – it’s a community center!”

Well technically, my church has five buildings – one is the ‘red house’ where Alcoholics Anonymous meets, three others are old houses that have been renovated to be classrooms and offices, and there’s a main church building that has a music room, a fellowship hall, day-care rooms, classrooms, hallways, bathrooms. Oh and a sanctuary where for maybe 2 hours a week there is a service (not counting weddings/funerals).

But the whole place is a “church.”

The building in Manhattan could very well be a community center and not a mosque the way a YMCA isn’t a church. But I get the sense that it’s more like a mosque in the same way that my church is a church, and that those who hold up the “community center” language are just trying to add more points to their argument.

Either way, churches have always been “community centers.” Mosques too. And synagogues. That’s how the religions of Abraham have operated. Unless you’re the only one in town, you generally live in a community of christians, jews, or muslims, and your church/synagogue/mosque is where you get to go be a community together. There’s a reason you’re not just praying at home alone in a sacred space you’ve cordoned off. It’s because you want to be with others, sharing your faith/practice/spirituality/whatever.

I understand that calling it a “muslim community center” is a more sterile, descriptive term, and therefore more useful to those who are trying to open up the definition and discussion for those who know zip about Islam and Muslims.

But the pot still doesn’t call the kettle a metal water-heating container.

The Practice of Religion

August 15, 2010

When do you go to church? Is it once a week, once a year, once a lifetime?

Is church even a building? Or just a group of people? Or simply one person? Do you even need people to be in church?

What do you do in church?

How much do the answers to these questions even matter?

In my experience, church is a place where you meet with people, sit through a ritualistic hour where we sing, recite lines, listen to some stories and commentary, and meet with people some more. It’s social, but you only get the abstract, religiousy value if you stop to think about what’s being said and ponder why you’re engaging in the ritual. It took a long time for me to bother questioning what the point of it all was.

History and society shows that there are a variety of answers to these questions. Unfortunately, people have been known to kill if you disagree with their response.

I’m 100% agnostic about the answers. How you want to engage in the religious space of society is completely up to you. There are a lot of options – go pick one.

Or think of it this way: If you go to church, do you get meaning out of every single part of it all? If not, what would be the most meaningful “church” to you? Starting from scratch, how would you answer all of the questions above?

Because none of those are the most interesting question: why?

In the beginning…

May 21, 2010

In the beginning, when people developed language, when we gained that conscious intelligence that allows us to do think differently than “animals”, we saw the world anew and we named it. We named the trees, the fish, our homes, our cities, our people.

And then we looked around and said “is this it???”

Poof! Religion! Ta da!

There isn’t an empirical way to prove how exactly the universe was born. The big bang is the physical explanation, but how did whatever cause the big bang cause it? And why?

The possibility of the impossible. Knowing that there are unknowables. This uncertainty is the logical basis for why people are drawn towards religion. When people have questions, they look for answers.

There are hard core empiricists who only believe what they’ve been shown and therefore disbelieve in any kind of god. “I’ll believe it when I see it” is their stance.  It was mine at one point. It makes sense.

But there’s also a humbleness in accepting the possibility that there are things we don’t understand. To presume that existence is merely the realm of our own experience is naive. And for me, knowing that there’s more to the universe than my life keeps me from worrying too much.

So. People have a tendency to be open to the idea that the universe extends beyond our experience. The institutions, cultures, systems, and concepts people have developed from this tendency is where the discussion actually gets interesting.

This is just about the beginning.