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Closing Shop

It’s obvious by the date of the post before this one that this blog has become Internet debris, yet another abandoned site cluttering up a server somewhere. With this post, we’re officially shutting it down, but fear not! We’re not gone.

Our spiritual journey has taken a few turns, and our personal lives and life together as well. We’re now posting at A Cauldron Born, a blog we started specifically to chronicle the spiritual work and which has gradually come to encompass more of our lives as well. We hope you’ll join us there.

P.S. That first batch of home brew turned out fine.

I started my first batch of home-brewed beer last night. How many mistakes did I make?

1. I didn’t clean the kitchen before starting, so I ended up having to work around a lot of dirty dishes taking up counter and sink space.

2. The largest stock pot we have wasn’t really large enough. I had to use a half-gallon less water than instructed and still had a boilover. I may look at getting a larger one before the next try. (I think this one is a 3-gallon pot; I need a 5-gallon.)

3. I let the grains boil when they should have just steeped in water no warmer than 170 degrees. Lesson learned: Be more patient to get the temperature stable before steeping; stay at the pot and monitor. This might be a fatal mistake, since I read that letting the water get too hot leaches tannins into the wort and makes it bitter — and not in the good way that beer can be bitter. We’ll see when the batch matures.

4. I may not have disinfected the equipment adequately. I’m not sure I like the powdered no-rinse disnfectant that comes with the kit. Most of the books I read advocate using a bleach or iodine solution, which I might try next time. Also, I didn’t know what to do with the thermometer, hydrometer, etc. after disinfecting and before or between uses. It may be that  I need to disnfect multiple times, before the equipment touches the wort. I need to mull on that one some more.

5. I transferred the wort to the fermenter when it was a little warmer than recommended, but not by much. The main concern here is whether it’s hot enough to kill the yeast, but I think it was fine.

6. I wasn’t able to get an exact reading on the hydrometer, due to not having used one before and also due to a lot of foam on the surface of the liquid, making it hard to tell exactly where the instrument was settling. I got an approximate reading though that seems to be in the right range.

I’m going to go ahead with fermentation and bottling, even though I suspect this batch may be lost, mainly because I want to make any further mistakes now rather than on the next one. Even if this first try, fails, I learned a lot that will come to bear next time.

The main lessons come down to two key words: Patience and Attentiveness. A few of the above mistakes (1, 4, 5) happened because I was rushing things, and number 2 because I wasn’t paying close attention as I needed to. The others were born of inexperience and unfamiliarity with the equipment, and will be less of a factor next time.

Rise of the Machines

Do you recall the last time you saw a gas station attendant?

I don’t mean the person behind the counter who’ll ring up the candy bar and soda you buy after you pump the gas. I mean a person who comes out when you pull up, puts the desired amount of gas into your tank and, while the pump is running, checks your oil and washes your windshield. Gas stations used to be called “service stations” for a good reason.

They still exist in New Jersey, which has a law banning self-service gas stations. But pretty much anywhere else in America, the attendant is as extinct a species as the elevator operator. An entire class of employment has vanished, supplanted by technology (card readers and automatic shutoffs for pumps) and a deliberate downscaling of service.

A similar phenomenon is happening now in supermarkets and other stores (Home Depot for one): self-service checkout. Instead of having a cashier scan and bag your items, you do it yourself. Instead of several cashiers, the store needs one person to monitor the self-check lines and fix the occasional malfunction. The store cuts its labor costs, and the customer is made to believe that it’s a convenience.

But these are just two more mainfestations of the ongoing replacement of human labor with machines. At a time when unemployment is perilously close to 10 percent, businesses are looking for ways to employ fewer and fewer people.

The supplantation of people by machines is a theme that John Michael Greer, Richard Heinberg and other social critics have expounded on at some length. In particular, once-plentiful agricultural jobs have mostly vanished, as now one corporate-paid farmer with a tractor can do the work that a dozen or two men would have done a century ago.

As the wheel of time turns, we have more people needing work and less work that we need humans for. It has been said that service jobs are the one category that can’t be outsourced or replaced by automation. In at least some cases, the automation is proving that maxim to be wrong.

Previously:
I Come of Age
I Go To College
Death and the Televangelist
The Return
Finding My Way

Conclusion

It’s become clear to me I’m not going to finish the “My Pagan Soul” series in any consistent way. The chronological treatment doesn’t work all that well for my more recent years. So I’m going to conclude by starting from the present.

Right now, I’m a Unitarian Universalist and a new member of ar n’Draiocht Fein, also called, A Druid Fellowship – ADF, either way.

Ultimately, despite one more short return to Christianity at an Episcopal Church in 2008, monotheistic, exclusionary religion doesn’t ring true to me. I have tried to make it fit. I have stepped away from it knowing that that represents a break from my upbringing, which isn’t easy to do. But, try as I might, it just isn’t me.

Unitarian Universalism is a much more suitable place for my regular religious practice. I like the freedom of thought and belief it allows, and the people are far more likely to share my values and approach to life than any I’ve encountered in traditional Christian churches. We’re part of a small but vibrant congregation, and find it fulfilling.

ADF too is proving to be a good fit so far, although it’s a much newer involvement. Paganism in general, and the various kinds of modern-day Druidry in particular, feed my resonance with nature. And ADF offers a polytheistic view of deity that reflects the way everybody thought of the gods before monotheisms arose and took over. I have a little difficulty committing to that as a faith-statement, but as I become increasingly comfortable with it as an operating paradigm, I think that day may come.

I am happy with my present spiritual life, moreso than I remember having been in the past. I’m not going out of a sense of obligation to another person, nor am I constantly having to reinforce my commitment by trying to control my own thoughts, nor yet am I drifting along with no structure … and if you look at any phase of my life prior to the last couple of years, one of those three conditions would be in play.

This is good.

Saved

Tonight I’ve been rescued.

I was at work in Falls Church, Va., when the rain began to get heavy. We’d had heavy rain at home all day yesterday, and today the track had shifted west by a few miles, putting the heaviest fall in the area where I work. This is the remnants of tropical storm Lee.

None of this would have been a problem, except there’s a stretch of the Capital Beltway that runs near a canal which comes off the Potomac River.

And it flooded. And they closed it.

That killed my primary route home, and it was sounding like most of my reliable secondary routes were also becoming unusable, some from water and some from traffic trying to bypass the water.

I was starting to think about where in the office I might sleep a few hours until morning, and after telling Lynda what was up, posted a note to Facebook out it.

And then a friend who lives nearby my office offered to put me up in a spare bedroom for the night, which is where I am as I write this.

The rain is still falling and the roads are still flooded, but I’m not spending the night on the floor under a desk, and for that I’m grateful.

Previously:

I Come of Age

I Go to College

Death and the Televangelist

The Return

Finding My Way

At the time I was wrestling with theological difficulties, I was also struggling with personal ones. My marriage had pretty well unraveled due to a number of factors, and we divorced one month before our third anniversary. At the same time, I was having some problems at work, partly due to the external stresses affecting my performance and partly due to a bad manager.
It all added up to, time for a new start. So I began looking for a new job in a new place, and within a few months I found one, in Maryland, a thousand miles away. So I loaded up a U-Haul truck and set out for the new location.
I settled into the new job and, with a fresh start and away from the sources of turbulence, did it well. I left it for a better one, and then when that one collapsed in 2002 with a mass layoff, landed in yet another good place. Meanwhile, I had new friends, a new relationship and no particular religious inclinations. Life was pretty good and getting better.
But there were twinges. I sometimes missed the sense of spiritual community in a church. I sometimes missed the comfort of ritual and the sense of spiritual connection to a larger reality. I sometimes wished I could believe what I didn’t really believe anymore. So 10 years or so after the move, I again picked up books and began reading and contemplating – but in new ways. Thanks to a few people I had gotten to know in the years since I left the old home, I had had my horizons expanded. This time, the books I sought out had to do with neopaganism and Unitarian
Universalism – paths I had been virtually unaware of before but that might have appealed to me years before if I’d known.
Unitarian Universalism appealed to me immediately, intellectually at least, because as described in the first book I pick up – A Chosen Faith, by John Buehrens and Forrest Church – it sounded like a good place for spiritual inquirers, people like me who didn’t have all the answers but wanted a place to ask and consider the questions. That was the idea, though – I had no idea yet if the reality would live up to it.
On the pagan side, things took longer to cohere. Paganism is a big world, but Lynda, my partner and co-author here, was a good guide through a few titles that helped put things into focus. I began to feel drawn especially to Druidry due partly to its connection to nature and partly because to the extent that I can trace my ancestry, I’m pretty sure that at least some of my distant ancestors were Celts.
After a few months of thought and discussion with Lynda, I sent in the money to join ar nDraiocht Fein, the largest American Druid organization. I also visited a few UU churches nearby and liked them all in various ways. At last it seemed like I might be forging a spirituality born out of my own awareness and intuitions rather than on someone else’s authority.
Next: Conclusion

Joiners

For a while we’ve been planning to join the Ancient Order of Druids in America, and I’d mentioned it here and there.

Tonight, we didn’t. After some thought and reflection, we’ve concluded that Ar nDraiocht Fein is a better fit for us, and we’ve paid our dues for a year.

We’ll post more later to explain some of the reasons for the change of mind, but for now I just wanted to note the occasion.