Charlene Richard, the “Little Cajun Saint”

Last week I drove about an hour north to Acadia Parish to see the grave of Charlene Richard, a 12-year-old girl who died of leukemia in the 1950s. There’s a local movement to have the Vatican open a petition for her beatification and eventual canonization, people claim to have been cured of cancer by praying to her and stuff like that. It’s interesting to be able to observe the middle part of that slow process, which can take centuries. She’s not (yet?) an official saint of the RCC, but she’s more than just another dead person.

Grave of Charlene Richard

There are kneelers all around her grave for people to pray, a petition box on top of it, and (of course) a donation box. More on that later.

Grave of Charlene Richard

Grave of Charlene Richard

Grave of Charlene Richard

She’s buried in St. Edward’s Church cemetery in Richard, and after I took some photos of her grave I went into the church. Richard is a tiny community–not a town even, a village–and from the outside the church just a little A-frame; but as soon as I walked in I saw where that donation money was going. Every square inch of wall was crammed with statuary and mosaics and stained glass. It looked like Donald Trump’s private chapel.

St. Edward's Catholic Church

These chandeliers are ludicrous, and there were like a dozen of them in that tiny place.

St. Edward's Catholic Church

These are their holy water fonts! There were two of them! (For those not familiar with Catholic churches, the fonts are usually just stone bowls bolted onto the wall.)

Honestly, I think Pope Frankie should be notified. I would have thought that money was going partially towards defraying the costs of her beatification petition, with some going to charity. Like maybe, I don’t know, childhood leukemia research??

St. Edward's Catholic Church

Baby Jesus is very disappointed in you.

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I fell down an Etsy rabbit hole of non-denominational prayer/meditation beads and this is the result

I couldn’t find any that I really liked, so I just made my own.

ocean meditation beads flash

I’ve got to stop photographing things on a semi-reflective surface.

Anyway, they’re ocean meditation beads. From the inside, the 3 main sections are freshwater pearls, imperial blue jasper, and abalone. The jasper was chosen mainly on the basis of color, but I figure it’s all symbolism anyway so it works. The tiny white spacer beads are mother-of-pearl, and the slightly larger blue spacer beads are also abalone. The 4 large spacer “beads” are actually a bunch of little seed pearls strung together to form a ball.

The large charm is a pewter labyrinth disc, which isn’t necessarily ocean-related but is a good all-purpose contemplative symbol. The smaller charm is a silver sea shell that’s also a locket, for storing a wish/prayer or a very small object. Next to the charms are some more spacer beads and freshwater pearls in a lighter color, just to kind of “taper” the ends.

I experimented with alternating the beads, but it looked tidier doing them in 3 different sections separated by the large spacer beads. There’s 9 in each section, because 3 is a mystical number, 9 is 3 3s, and there are 3 sections. It just seemed right.

Here’s a photo without the flash:

ocean meditation beads no flash

In somewhat related news, I just finished reading a book about New Orleans Voodoo, and apparently carrying a $2 bill around in your wallet is a Voodoo thing, it’s supposed to attract more money. (Voodoo traditionally being a religion of poor people, a lot of it has to do with money or finding work or just avoiding bad luck.) Anyway, it’s funny because Granny carried a $2 bill around with her for decades. She said it was so she always had $2 in case of emergency, but since $2 hasn’t been much use in any kind of emergency since Kennedy was assassinated, Mom and I figured it was some kind of good luck charm. Mom gave it to me when Granny died, and now it’s in my wallet. (The date on the bill is 1976! I was less than 2 when it was printed!)

from the genius that brought us “Tide comes in, tide goes out. YOU CAN’T EXPLAIN IT!”

“Christianity is NOT a religion, it’s a philosophy!”

Substitute “Buddhism” for “Christianity”, and Bill-O sounds like every stoned college freshman I ever met, myself included.

While it’s always fun to see someone make an ass of Bill O’Reilly, I actually think that protesting the display of Christmas trees in public spaces is a classic example of atheists, both as individuals and in organizations, not being very good at picking their battles.

For one thing, and I know you guys probably don’t need me to tell you this, but Christmas TREES (I wouldn’t be writing this entry if Silverman had gotten upset with Nativity scenes) are not Christian. The practice of bringing evergreens indoors at the time of year when the days are the shortest predates that religion by thousands of years.

For another, and more importantly to me, the assumption that no one who isn’t Christian celebrates Christmas in this country has been incorrect for at least as long as I’ve been alive. I and virtually every atheist I know celebrates Christmas in a secular fashion. My stepfather, who is Jewish, grew up with Christmas trees in his house, although they jokingly called them “Hanukkah bushes”. His mother thought they were pretty, and they obviously had nothing to do with Jesus, so why not?

For atheists it’s about family and food and presents–basically a holiday to break up the winter blahs and something to look forward to. In the same way I take pleasure in cooking for my loved ones and seeing them enjoy what I made, I also like buying gifts for them. I think about the kinds of things they like, or if there’s anything they need that they wouldn’t buy for themselves, and when they tear off the wrapping and smile, I feel good.

I have family members that I only see at Christmas; there are foods we eat only on that one day of the year and have done so for years. All humans take comfort in ritual; the difference between atheists and theists is that we don’t mistake that comfort for magical thinking. I also collect rosaries* and own a deck of tarot cards, but it’s because I appreciate the symbolism and the art that goes into them, not because I think they allow me to talk to an omnipotent creator or predict the future.

*Rosaries were originally intended as a meditative aid, it was only when the church started assigning them as punishment for petty sins and thoughtcrime that they lost most of their meaning.

so i went to my first atheists & freethinkers meetup today

It was okay, but to be honest I only joined this group because there were literally no groups for ANY of my other interests closer than New Orleans. There aren’t even any book clubs nearby!

Most of the other members are “converts”: people who used to be Christian, then came to their senses. I can honestly say I’ve been an atheist all my life; I don’t ever remember believing in god. I believed in Santa Clause, but there was proof of Santa’s existence: presents under the tree every year! And like most people who went through adolescence in California, I had my eastern religion phase. It’s probably no mistake that the form of Buddhism I studied was Jodo-Shinshu, probably the least mystical form there is: non-monastic, all lay clergy, focused on worldly good works–they opened the first AIDS hospices in all of Japan, back when most of the world was still denying it existed.

Atheism to me is like the color of my eyes or the fact that I can raise one eyebrow: so much a part of who I am as to be unremarkable. I can wear rosaries or express an interest in Quakerism, but those things don’t make me not an atheist any more than getting a tan would make me not Caucasian. I don’t feel the need to define myself by it, it’s just a part of the big picture.

But it was refreshing to be with a group of people and not have to worry that someone was going to start ranting about how evolution is a conspiracy by godless scientists. (Note: no one has done that in my presence yet, but it’s much more likely to happen here than it would have been in the Bay Area.) Or people who think atheists are satanists. Or who make the same mistake that Hollywood does 9 times out 10 when an atheist character is portrayed in a movie: we’re all angry at god because of some tragedy! We just need to re-gain our faith!! Um, you can’t be angry at something you don’t believe in, geniuses.

verbatim vatican: ordaining women is exactly as bad as molesting children

THE HORROR

No, really. Actually, the Vatican’s actions argue that they consider it worse than molesting children: priests who only attended ordination ceremonies for women were defrocked at lightning speed; while it took decades of pleading from victims, family members, and bishops to do the same to admitted child rapists.

It’s so true, I often wake up crying in the middle of the night from nightmares about that time I saw a chick in a Roman collar.

Does the RCC even have a valid argument for the ban on ordained women anymore, or are they okay with just naked misogyny? I rarely bother to hear their side, because much like how I know a dog turd probably tastes pretty bad without actually taking a bite from it, I know the RCC’s argument against anything I’m in favor of (and vice versa) is going to be flimsy and rest on a bedrock of centuries-outdated bigotry.

I’m guessing they’re still going with St. Paul’s “women are required to be silent in church” thing, which is a pathetic argument that’s been mostly put to rest*; but it’s still got a skosh more credibility than “Girls are icky!”

*I’m in a hurry to get to the gym, but some good souces about how St. Paul’s words have been twisted and distorted by the patriarchy can be found in Thomas Cahill’s Desire of the Everlasting Hills; or any Liberal Quaker work that explores women’s contributions to the faith – Quakers believe “women” was to be taken symbolically as meaning all of humanity, which is one reason why they worship mostly in silence.

shorter* k-lo

Child rape, shmild shmape! The real scandal in the RCC is this priest who thinks Barack Hussein Obama is cool!!

(I wish liberal bloggers wouldn’t mock K-Lo for her weight. There are so many more legitimate things to mock her for. Like the fact that she thinks a priest attending the funeral of a politician who was a Catholic is worse than institutionalized, decades-long child rape being waved along by the guy who was hand-picked by God’s emissary on Earth to stop it.)

*”Shorter” format stolen from Sadly, No!

kat black’s golden tarot

So, this might fall under the category of “Why are you spending your very limited funds on that?”, but I bought a Tarot deck. Specifically, Kat Black’s Golden Tarot, which uses the same symbolism as the famous Rider-Waite deck; but the images have been digitally collaged from little-known art of the High Middle Ages and Early Renaissance. They have gilt edges and come with a 200-page book with hard covers and packaged in a very nice, sturdy box with a top that lifts off. Most Tarot decks come packaged in a thin cardboard box that folds open — like a regular deck of playing cards — and a flimsy little booklet. This is a beautiful and very nicely produced deck, and I really don’t know how US Games can afford to sell it for less than $20.

So why did I buy it? I recently re-read Frank Portman’s Andromeda Klein (recommending it to a friend who enjoyed King Dork made me want to read it again), in which Tarot plays a major part of the plot. It just really made me want one. I bought a Rider-Waite deck when I was a teenager, but must have lost it or given it away or threw it out during one of the dozen times I’ve moved since then. I haven’t seen it in years.

I decided to get something a little different this time. I’ve always liked the symbolism and the order of the classic Rider-Waite deck; I hate the vaunted Aleister Crowley Thoth deck, which changed a lot of the Major Arcana. “Strength” becomes “Lust”? Umm, no. But to be honest — and a little shallow — always thought the execution was a bit lacking. A little research led me to this deck, which has a lot of great reviews on Amazon and won a lot of awards.

I know what you’re thinking: “Dude, aren’t you an atheist?” Yes I am, and I do not believe in fortune-telling. For me, Tarot is more a way to focus on a single issue and think about all the different ways to approach it and all the ways that might change my life for better or for worse. This is not as idiosyncratic as you might think; Kat Black herself, in the intro, says that she uses Tarot for “personal insight”, not for psychic or fortune-telling purposes, although you can certainly use her deck that way. And Carl Jung believed Tarot had legitimate psychotherapy purposes, he thought each card represented a different archetype of humanity.

Here’s a funny coincidence: I did a spread last night — I prefer the Celtic Cross, which I know a lot of aficionados sneer at as a “beginner’s spread”, but I like it because it uses a lot of cards. And the 7th card, the one that is supposed to represent “self”, was the Two of Swords. In Andromeda Klein, this card plays a significant part, and is the card that the title character comes to think of as her Significator. (I myself never use a Significator when I am doing a spread for myself, because it removes a card from the deck.) This is what Andromeda would call a “synch”; but which I, not believing in the occult, merely chalk up to happenstance and the sort of ordinary weirdness that you get in a universe with nearly infinite outcomes.

pat robertson just jumped above fred phelps to the #1 slot on my fundie asshole dead pool

Yog Soggoth, I summon thee!

Hey, there’s been a horrible earthquake in one of the poorest nations on earth, killing (conservatively) 100,000 people. I wonder if Pat Robertson is going to make some horrible statement about how the Haitians only have themselves to blame? Ha ha, just kidding! I didn’t wonder at all, any more than I have to wonder if Fred Phelps will somehow find a way to blame “fags” (his favorite word) for it.

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about. They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the Third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the Devil. They said ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the Prince.’ True story. And so the Devil said, ‘OK it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another.*

“Napoleon the Third and whatever”. AWESOME. The man is a scholar and a poet.

So let’s get this straight: Not only is God pro-slavery, He is also extremely slow to exact His vengeance. Evil AND lazy? Sign me up for THAT religion!

Well, it stands to reason that Robertson would be agin’ the only successful slave revolt in history. After all, he was staunchly pro-apartheid:

I think “one man, one vote”, just unrestricted democracy, would not be wise. There needs to be some kind of protection for the minority which the white people represent now, a minority, and they need and have a right to demand a protection of their rights.**

So Robertson DOES occasionally care about the rights of minorities… so long as they’re white. Of course, that probably had at least as much to do with the profit he got from South African blood diamonds, mined by people who were practically slaves under the apartheid government, than it did with his being such a cheerleader for the enslavement of dark-skinned folk.

It’s time for Pat Robertson to just… go away. Retire, get hit by a train, cut out his own tongue in some sort of religious frenzy, I really don’t care. But his particular brand of evil drivel has no place in the 21st century.

*Source

**You can Google it, if you have a hard time believing a so-called Christian could think and say something so heinously wrong.

p.s. Wade Davis’ The Serpent and the Rainbow is a great book on Haiti, with sections equally devoted to the slave revolt that founded it, its modern problems, and its unique religion. (Although it only goes up the ousting of Duvalier, having been published in the 1980s.) And please do not confuse it with the Wes Craven movie of the same name, which bore absolutely nothing other than the title in common with the book.

“jesus receives oral”*

I will never get tired of posting this photo.

Not working means I am no longer sitting in front of a computer 8+ hours a day, so sometimes it takes an extra day or two for news to filter down to me via blogs and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. (I hate CNN and these days I only watch MSNBC for reruns of To Catch a Predator. Man, I miss that show. HI THERE, WHY DON’T YOU HAVE A SEAT.)

So anyway, I only found out a couple of days ago that Oral Roberts had died. Good riddance. I’m sorry, did you expect me to indulge in the collective hand-wringing and fake sincerity that so many of my fellow liberals do? Not gonna happen.

“Oh, but we must be better than our enemies!” You know what, FUCK THAT. I’m already better than that piece of dirt and his evangelical ilk are. What yardstick do I use? How about the fact that, as much as I hate their beliefs, I would never suggest that they not be allowed to hold and express them. I would certainly never advocate that they be jailed or put to death for their “lifestyle”, and I would oppose any groups or individuals who did. I would also never pray for their deaths, but to be honest that’s only because a) I’m an atheist, and b) it’s tacky.

Conservatives have been trying to convince the rest of the world of three rather grotesque untruths recently, because they think we’re all as stupid as they (collectively) are. One is that they are some kind of persecuted minority in this country, while at the same time this is a “Christian Nation”. Another is that being opposed to the kind of gross bigotry that, say, keeps gay people from marrying each other anywhere in this country somehow makes us the bigots, because we don’t want laws to be passed on the basis of a handful of people thinking non-penis-in-vagina sex is icky, because one sentence in an old book tells them so. And the last is that “free speech” means they can get on their soapboxes and tell us we’re going to hell for thinking that all American citizens should have equal rights, and that we have to shut up and take it. Criticize what they say and somehow you’re agin’ free speech.

“Free speech” is not a blank check to say hateful bigoted things and be immune from criticism. The people who oppose the hateful bigoted things you say still get to make fun of you, or decide not to make you Miss Universe, or be happy when you die of natural causes and stop infecting the world with your particular brand of shittiness.

I hope Fred Phelps is next. Not because I really find him to be much of a threat — The Westboro Baptist Church is practically bankrupt; I think their sole source of income at this point is aggravating grief-stricken parents at the funerals they picket into shoving them, then suing them for penny-ante civil settlements. And Fred himself is so bugfuck crazy that he’s pushed himself right out of the mainstream evangelical spheres of influence. Even conservative politicians who privately agree with him won’t risk being tainted with his particular stench of lunacy by publicly supporting him, not if they have political aspirations higher than County Roadkill Clean-Up.

No, mainly I’m just curious to see who will picket his funeral. I used to say that I hope he lives a long time, because I like making fun of him. But you know, Shirley Phelps-Roper is waiting to fill his crazy shoes, and she’s just as insane (not to mention hideous-looking) as he is.

*via Daze.

man is something which ought to be overcome

where men win glory jon krakauerJon Krakauer was on The Daily Show last night, not that I could stay awake to watch it. I watched it on the website this morning. I (voluntarily) moved my work hours from 9:00-6:00 to 8:00-5:00 a couple weeks ago. I like having that extra hour at home in the evening, because it’s my favorite time of day. However, this necessitates getting up at 6:00 in the morning, so these days I’m lucky if I can stay awake for Jon Stewart’s opening bit.

Anyway, Krakauer was promoting his new book, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. I heard he was writing a book about Pat Tillman a couple of months ago and was immediately interested; Tillman is exactly the kind of iconoclast that Krakauer writes so well about. When I moved I got rid of about 2/3 of my books, and Krakauer was one of the writers I elected to keep. My criterion was: “Do I read this book over and over again?” If the answer was “yes”, I kept it. I’ve read Into The Wild twice and Under The Banner of Heaven 3 times. I’ve still never read Into Thin Air, though. I hear it’s good.

Pat Tillman was from the South Bay — a little community outside of San Jose called New Almaden — and it seems like I’ve been hearing about him for years, even before he walked away from a multimillion dollar NFL contract to join the Army Rangers. The guy was practically an Übermensch: In excellent physical condition and a top athlete, almost ridiculously square-jawed handsome; but also extremely intelligent and independent-minded, possessing of inflexible ideals and a staunch moral code that came not from fear of punishment by some mystical sky demon, but from his own desire to do good.

That’s what I found so infuriating about the remarks made by the Lieutenant Colonel who led the second investigation into Tillman’s death by friendly fire. He basically said Tillman’s family was only making a fuss because, as atheists/agnostics, they couldn’t just accept that their son was with Jeebus and get over it. Well, no, you asshole, that is kind of the essence of athesim: You search for the truth, no matter how painful it may be or how many people you piss off in the process, rather than retreating into some comforting delusion.

Pat Tillman is who I silently point to when religious conservatives say that without fear of god, we’d all be anarchists spending our lives wantonly raping and pillaging. Maybe you would. I’m a law-abiding, contributing citizen, and I don’t need fear of god to make me so. That belief says so much more about the person holding it than it does about people who don’t believe in god.

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