Devotion Via Little Free Library

I’m fan of Little Free Libraries. If you’re not familiar with them, the idea is that you set up a cabinet or shelf for books (preferably outdoors) and people can take or leave a book. It’s pretty simple, but I’ve seen them all over, and there’s even a relatively organized movement ( I’ve used many as they’re prominent where I live, and I hope to start one pending some yard remodeling.

As nice as they are – and I encourage you to support and even start one – I also use them in religious devotionals and invocation, and want to share what I do.

First, select an deity-appropriate book to donate. You could:

  • Take one out of your personal library that you no longer read or are done with. It’s a good way to make space, show respect, and share something you’ve vetted.
  • Buy ones at a local bookstore or used bookstore. I’ve written before about how you can even invoke the spirits of the store. Plus it supports local businesses!

Next, find a Little Free Library. You can find some online or at the link above. Select one that fits whatever god you’re invoking if you can.

Finally – and obviously – go to the Library, make an appropriate invocation to your chosen deity, and put the book in the Little Free Library. Be discreet since these are public places and run by people who put time and effort into maintaining them.

It’s simple, effective, and good for your community! Because you put thought into it, it also helps connect you with your chosen deity and what you value, making it great no matter how you regard the divine (which I’ve written about). You also put money into local businesses – if that’s where you make your purchases.

I’ve taken to keeping a pile of deity-appropriate books around, which helps as I often check out local bookstores on my urban hikes. I also make donations parts of my regular exercise, walking to appropriate Little Free Libraries. Come to think of, this method is also good for my muscle tone and cardio.

So give this one a try. Let me know how it goes – and how you innovate!

– Xenofact

Racism, Hell, and Insecurity

Many strains of American Christianity have a racism paradox.  They are clearly bigoted in past and present actions, often embodied by their adherents and leaders in ways subtle and gross (and grotesque).  Now such bigotries clearly would go against almost any sane interpretation of Jesus, a pleasant fellow by all accounts who invited people to love each other and never set down any racial boundaries.  However we see such bigotries with painful clarity in our culture today (specially, 2023) even as some of these strains of Christianity seek to control our country.

I’ve also noticed a peculiar brittleness in practitioners of these bigoted strains of Christianity.  There’s a defensiveness and an anger, a kind of fear of a person who feels something can break any moment.  It may manifest as bravado or ever-speedier speech, but there’s something there that’s delicate.  I want to discuss this behavior, these moments of fearful eyes, cracked voices, and aggressive yet confused postures easily apparent in newscasts, recordings, and fundraisers.

(I am aware American Christianity has other sins, but I focus on this brittleness because it is a problem in America, and it utterly flies in the face of most interpretations of Jesus.  Honestly, the man deserves better.)

In exploring this brittleness, this insecurity that boils up in these strains of Christianity when they confront racism, it’s necessary to discuss the idea of Hell.  In popular Christianity the idea is simple – you get judged when you die and irrevocably go to the afterlife, which may include eternal torment for being a bad person.  Now I would argue that actual biblical literalism would argue for a resurrection, but again this is what is believed.

Now if you believe that bad people go to Hell, and one is a Christian where one is called to love people by Christ, then being a racist, simply means you’d possibly go to Hell.  I mean one is not just hating people, but not helping them when in need and quite possibly harming them directly and indirectly.  In fact, to spout racist rhetoric is to slander a person, and Jesus was pretty against that too (Matthew 5:22).

(It’s really hard to read the New Testament and imagine Jesus being fine with racism.  Of course many people try to imagine him being fine with many terrible things, but those take effort as well.)

This means many bigoted Christians are caught in a trap of fearing damnation but also very obviously doing what Jesus said would get you damned.  The racism is so ingrained in their culture – as history has sadly shown – they can’t give it up despite this fear.  Thus they have to go through many psychological acrobatics to ignore it.

And this is if they believe at all and aren’t just trying to cover up the stark truth that they’re just lying (and if caught, a better liar will steal their grift).

Thus I believe that the brittleness we see in bigoted Christians confronting their racism is in part due to this dichotomy.  Having internalized racism as part of their religion – yet not being able to reconcile it – there’s often that low level itch of “I am a bad person and am going to hell.”  To fear eternal damnation and continue to court it in your mind has to be, well, rather hellish.

Further, as one tries to reconcile blistering racial hatred with Jesus, one has to consider past actions.  American history has plenty of Christians excusing and participating in horrible racist atrocities.  To look at the words of Jesus and the threat of damnation is to open your mind to the possibility an enormous amount of your ancestors are eternally in the grip of Satan forever.

Obviously a book could be written on bigotry, the fear of damnation, and Christianity.  I certainly won’t explore it in a blog post or simple musing.  But I think as we deal with American Christianity and racism, it’s important to keep in mind this brittleness.  There’s a fundamental tension some American Christians have gnawing at the back of their minds – being racist and fearing damnation for it.

And as we deal with their actions and plays for power, we’ll want to keep that in mind.

– Xenofact

Tales of Taoist Weirdos

As my friends and readers are doubtlessly aware, my spiritual practices are deeply influenced by Taoism. From breathing and energy practices, to philosophical advice, there’s a great deal to learn from the huge body of Taoist writings and lore. However, I’d like to discuss the various personalities of Taoist lore and history.

The greater body of Taoism lore and history contains a number of teachers, alchemists, mystics, and evolved human Immortals. Some are learned sages whose idols adorn temples all over the world. Others are acknowledged once in historical records or the credit of an obscure book. Most of them are just a delightful bunch of weirdos.

Gender-bending beloved flute-player Lan Caihe rubs shoulders with with Lü Dongbin, who achieved immortality after a kind of midlife crisis. There’s an alchemist-Prince who ascended to Heaven accompanies by cats and dogs because he spilled an bottle of immortality drugs. Lao-Tzu, creator of the Tao Te Ching, supposedly wrote his book when he just decided screw this and abandoned the corrupt time he lived in. More common tales might include old men with great physical powers, beggars obsessed with the Tao Te Ching, and more.

I adore this about Taoist lore because of how human is all is. A Taoist figure can be both an admirable role model and a cautionary tale separately or at the same time. Great Immortals come from humble beginnings, often learning from serious mistakes, sometimes with the help of more ancient teachers. Drunken poets spout brilliant prose between bouts of boozing in private groves. Even in more worshipful takes, the great figures of Taoism come off as relatable.

This makes Taoist tales and practices associated them more accessible in my opinion. The figures you encounter, historical and mystical, weren’t perfect in life and might even be eccentric in their divine state. If they can become better, if they can achieve peace or Immortality or just be better folks, so can you.

You also don’t feel judged by these diverse group of mystics and magicians. Their tales aren’t ones of moralizing and finger-wagging, but often of helpful figures who’ve “been there.” They’re not there to punish you – well usually, as some of them are willing to cut serious assholes down to size.

Finally, a lot of the tales of various Taoist figures are interesting and many are outright funny. There’s a reason you’ll see them pop in movies, films, television, etc.

The best way to spiritual practice is through being human – and a sense of humor as well.

– Xenofact