The Long Road to Pantheism

My personal religious/spiritual journey has taken a lot of wild roads over the years, from Christianity, to atheism, to Unitarian Universalism, back to pure atheism, and then finally to where I am now. It’s been a wild ride for sure, and here’s a look at that.

I’m one of a rare lucky few people who did NOT have religion forced upon me as a kid. Of course my parents let me dabble, but it was never forced on me. My great-grandmother was a Buddhist (owing to her Japanese heritage), my mother nothing in particular and my (adoptive) father a lapsed Southern Baptist but not really serious about it. For the first 12 years of my life (my Roswell days) religion was absolutely not a part of my life. We never went to church, prayed, read holy texts, etc. ever. It just wasn’t a thing for us, and probably for the better for me as I didn’t have any indoctrination to undo later in life.

Moving to Abilene at age 12 changed everything. All of a sudden we were closer to my grandmother (dad’s mom) who is a very devout Southern Baptist. She insisted my younger sister and I go to church with her, which we did and thus I dabbled in that sect of Christianity for awhile. I have to say it didn’t make much sense to me at all, but I went along with the motions of a “profession of faith” and baptism anyway, mainly for the sake of placating my grandmother. I do have to say I found the whole fire-and-brimstone ideology quite frightening, and even somewhat contradictory – how could a loving God do that to any of his supposed children?

Needless to say that phase of my life didn’t last more than a few years, even though I remained believing some of the tenets of Christianity. I just knew I didn’t jive with that particular sect, and that’s when my then middle/high school art teacher brought up an activity at her church (an Episcopal church) ¬†that I might be interested in – English-style bell ringing (or change ringing if you will), of which Abilene had one of only then 38 rings of bells in North America. The concept seemed appealing to me, so when I was able to drive myself I went up there to check the hobby out, but also to the service. I have to say I was hooked on change ringing from the outset, and the services were beautiful with the liturgy, etc. – it was something I hadn’t experienced in the Southern Baptist tradition. I was enamoured. Instead of the fire-and-brimstone focus, the focus on love, charity, the divine just kind of struck a chord with me. A year later, at the age of 17, I was confirmed an Episcopalian.

I would remain a steadfast and devout Episcopalian until my sophomore year of undergrad, deviating only with a short time dabbling with Mormonism on account of a very close friend (which didn’t last long, I should say). I went to a United Methodist affiliated institution for undergrad, so naturally we were required to take classes on religion. The first one I took was intro to Christianity, which was taught in a very non-sectarian, non-pushy way, almost from an outsider’s view – very objective. Studying Christianity from this point of view it made absolutely no logical sense to me, and as such, I began withdrawing from my faith, not entirely sure what I was.

The following year I took a world religions/comparative religion class from the same professor. In studying all the various religions we studied, I have to say none of them made sense to me. As such, I had but one default position to take, the only one that made sense to take at the time – atheism.

This is where I’d remain for the next 12 years of my life. At the beginning I was a very angry atheist too, and while that anger faded over time, it never really faded. During my grad school years I dabbled with Unitarian Universalism as I really missed the social aspect of church and such. It was a place I could be atheist and still feel like I belonged. I would be active in various UU congregations for a couple of years, withdrawing from it upon my return to Abilene and finding the one here was rather disappointing. That combined with a far-left political agenda, I was made to feel like a real outsider. When I left, not only was I an atheist, but I felt totally disconnected, bitter and detached. I was spiritually dead as it were.

And that brings me to recent events. This past March, when I went to visit Laina in San Antonio, she brought up my Sidereal chart and started walking me through it. As skeptical as I was (and especially since Tropical astrology didn’t really speak to me), I couldn’t help but notice uncanny bits of truth in it – it was like reading a book almost, except for the book was me. Of course, I would remain understandably skeptical, but as the months wore on, it would continue to speak to me in an uncanny way. I started believing it, because there was too much there that it seemed to know about me for it to be mere coincidence.

Then comes a July visit to San Antonio. Laina and I were hanging out by the pool at her complex, having drinks, cuddled up with one another and just shooting the shit. When the topic came up, she said something to me that took me by surprise – something along the lines of “and if you believe that, you’re not an atheist anymore.”

I thought about that on the trip home, long and hard. It was like “OK, whatever” but I didn’t know as though I wasn’t anymore yet, until she re-iterated it again a few days later. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right – I wasn’t. Of course that doesn’t mean a personal god exists, and I still don’t believe that (and neither does she). The notion of a personal god still doesn’t make the remotest amount of sense to me. However, in noting we are one with the universe, another form of spirituality started to fall into place for me – Pantheism, the belief that we are all a manifestation of the divine.

I couldn’t deny it any longer – I was, and am, a Pantheist. It’s so much more fulfilling than Christianity ever was for me, and definitely more fulfilling than atheism. As I begin to learn the ways of the universe and feel in tune with it, this becomes something that not only makes logical sense to me, but spiritual sense. Too many recent life events have taken place to dismiss as pure chance, but still impossible to chalk up to the handiwork of a personal god (which, if you look at the religions that have one, those are mostly religions of hate).

So that’s where I’m at now. Having leanred so much more about myself, that rings so true, but also much more to come. Though I still don’t refer to “god” personally (I personally prefer to say “the universe works in mysterious ways”), I feel in tune with the universe, an infinitesimal poart of it mind you. If a historical Jesus existed (a matter of debate), I think it’s safe to say he was ahead of his time. He knew he was god (or, as I prefer, a manifestation of the divine universe), as we all are. Of course, the whole virgin birth thing and resurrection 3 days later is hokey, but we know how stories get embellished over the years, especially when that whole thing didn’t come about until decades after it supposedly took place.

Hence my journey until now. I’ve still got more to learn, not only about astrology but of course the universe. I’m gradually learning its ways though, and will more as time goes on, with my impending move, to starting my business a little later on. The secrets of the universe will be paramount to making my business succeed, from finding the right business partner(s) to making smart business decisions. Above all, I finally feel like I’ve found something that brings me inner peace instead of the turmoil that I was left with for the first 32 years of my life. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Peace be with you all.

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Cigar Review: Bellas Artes Maduro

This offering from AJ Fernandez features a Brazilian Mata Fina Maduro wrapper of a Mexican San Andreas binder and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size smoked for this review is a 6″ x 54RG box pressed Toro vitola.

The first light reveals a perfect draw producing thick plumes of medium/full bodied smoke. Heavy earth and black pepper dominate the first few puffs, supported by a soft creamy note.

The first third builds on the opening puffs with the introduction of a rich dark chocolate and espresso on the draw and adding a red pepper element on the finish. There’s a very subtle sweetness that ties it all together, but it’s a very heavy, dark flavor package. The smoke is very heavy on the palate also.

Getting into the second third the pepper and spice slightly diminish and the earthy note morphs into more of a leather. The final third drops almost everything but the leather and a slight spice – quite plain toward the end. Ending at 1 hour for an average burn time for the size and bringing in a matching medium/full nicotine strength.

Flawless construction throughout with an absolutely razor sharp burn line. Ash only held on for about inch or so chunks but didn’t upset the burn any. High quality self-adhesive bands that removed easily without damaging the wrapper.

I’m torn on this one. The first 2/3 of the cigar was great with lots of complexity. The last third, quite frankly, was boring. This cigar would have been much better had it been a more consistent blend (even as much as I enjoy cigars that have transition points and keep things interesting). Still a good option for a bold red wine, imperial stout beer or bourbon after dinner though. Priced fairly at $9/stick give or take. Rating: 3.75/5.

Full Review: MacLellan Revelation Bagpipes

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Alright, now that I have a few playing sessions on these, I feel like I can give them a full review of this instrument (highlights, lowlights, etc.). Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of Roddy’s pipes, but I’ll do my best to be as objective here as I possibly can.

To save time, I won’t go much into detail of the unique features of this bagpipe, which you can read about in my previous post so you know what I’m talking about as far as that’s concerned. Also, for reference, my full test setup was as follows: Ross suede bag, tube trap, Kinnaird Edge drone reeds.

So let’s start off with the cellulose polymer lined drones and the silica cartridge stocks mentioned prior. How well do they really work? The answer: very well indeed. As mentioned prior, I completely removed my canister drying system and replaced with just a simple tube-style water trap. I am an oral firehose, so some kind of canister or dessicant system is a must for me, so reducing to just a tube trap was a real torture-test of the moisture resistance of this bagpipe.

After an hour long session of playing, I disassembled the bagpipe and noted the following: 1) ¬†absolutely no visible condensation on the drone reeds, and 2) only the slightest bit in the drone bores. There were no visible beads in the bores, but the polymer lining appeared to be slightly wet. Nowhere near enough to condense on the surface and dribble down into the drone reeds to cause tuning or stability problems. Though my tube trap was totally full and I dumped about a shotglass worth of water out of it, the silica and polymer did an excellent job of removing the rest. I’m so impressed I’ve decided to also just run my ABW set out of the silica cartridge stocks for the superior moisture control, thus removing the need for a bulky, heavy canister.

Drying out the stock cartridges couldn’t be easier – simply remove them from the instrument and allow them to air dry naturally. For quicker drying, a hair dryer on medium heat can be used for 20-30 seconds. You do not want to microwave these the way you would a canister system, for it could distort the shape of the cartridge and not allow it to be reinserted.

So we’ve established that this bagpipe does have superior moisture resistance, better than many wooden bagpipes I would imagine and definitely better than every other Delrin bagpipe out there. So what about the tone and air efficiency? Concerning air efficiency, it’s got the same air efficient profile of my ABW MacLellan, so I noticed no difference there (it surprised me initially when I got my first MacLellan how little pressure was required to produce a superior sound).

Tonally speaking, this bagpipe is a total winner. It lives up to the claim of sounding more like a wooden bagpipe. There isn’t any of the harsh, brassy, metallic tone that’s often found in all-Delrin bagpipes. The cellulose polymer lining does a fantastic job of tempering that, giving a more natural, wood-like tone. Compared to my ABW set, the drones aren’t quite as loud, but have more than ample presence. Maybe Robertson-esque or Lawrie-esque is how I would describe them (not quite as loud as a classic Henderson, but not as subdued as a classic Glen, MacDougall, etc.).

The bass drone features a great depth and richness of sound, which are complemented by warm, ringing, but not bright, tenors. The blend is steady, seamless and brought out many rich, ringing harmonics in the three chanter/reed combinations I tried with these pipes. Those combinations being: McCallum McC2 solo poly w/Husk reed, MacLellan standard solo delrin w/Apps G3, Dunbar/JM Aurora solo poly w/Troy McAllister reed, all 3 the same strength (about 23-24″ H2O – very light but necessary for me). The drones went well with all the chanter/reed combinations, and save for some adjustment of the tuning screws to pitch each on the tuning pins, I didn’t have to touch the reeds. Of course, each chanter/reed combo retained its unique tone and pitch, as to be expected, but all were a great blend. Though all chanters tested were solo chanters, I’m sure they would go equally well with a band chanter.

My preference was the JM, but that’s with any setup as it is slightly lower-pitched than the other two, which is my liking (probably the lowest pitched solo chanter around – Jim McGillivray and Dunbar did a great job designing it and it sounds fantastic. It also has a fairly narrow finger spacing making it very comfortable to play).

As far as downsides, there were a few to note, but I already knew these things going into it. The first thing to note is the weight. Delrin is a fair bit heavier than wood, and the pipes are noticeably heavier than my ABW set in the same drone profile and with very similar adornments. However, removing the canister system negated this effect and actually resulted in a slightly lighter setup than my ABW set with canister. The other is the blowpipe, which seems to have a small-ish bore and is slightly restrictive. In its place, as I have for the past several years, I play an aftermarket blowpipe from Peter Crisler, which is wide-bored, adjustable, and has absolutely no restriction whatsoever. Lastly, and this is very minor, but the cartridge stocks have a rather large outer diameter to accommodate the cartridge. This can make fitting to certain pipe bags with grommets/collars a bit of a challenge. I had to work to get them into my Ross bag, and I’m sure a Bannatyne or Canmore bag would be an even greater challenge.

All in all, color me impressed. Roddy really has elevated the Delrin bagpipe to heights beyond any other before it. Not only is it more moisture resistant, the sound is virtually indistinguishable from a wooden instrument, while retaining the durability and resilency of Delrin that make it the ideal material for playing extreme heat, cold, wet, dry, etc. environments that would likely damage a wooden instrument. Sure, there are production Delrin instruments from other manufacturers that are half the price or less depending on decoration, but the extra cost and wait is well worth it for a superior instrument.

I highly recommend these pipes.

PS: I tried to capture a sound clip, but I don’t have any professional recording equipment and my phone and computer mics were overpowered by the sheer volume. I’ll try to get one sometime if I can get some better recording equipment.

Cigar Review: Montecristo White Series

This offering from Montecristo La Romana features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and Nicaraguan and Dominican long fillers. The size smoked for review is the Rothschilde, a 5″ x 52RG Robusto vitola.

First light reveals a perfect draw. Good smoke output with mild/medium body flavors of salted nuts, a slightly sweet cream and a bit of a pepper on the nose.

Getting into the first third the creaminess comes up and the sweetness more pronounced. There’s also a yeasty bread note coming in. Everything is exceptionally smooth and very well blended.

This cigar was consistent start to finish with major transitions points, save for the pepper diminishing and being replaced by an effervescent slightly spicy ginger note on the retrohale. Ending at 50 minutes for an average burn time for the size and no detectable nicotine strength.

Excellent construction throughout with a near razor sharp burn. Ash holds on about half the stick at a time. High quality self-adhesive bands that removed easily without damaging the delicate Connecticut wrapper leaf.

A mellow smoke for sure. Nice enough for in the morning with your cup of coffee, but this one failed to wow me in any way. Not overly complex nor transitional, this might fit the bill for an average Connecticut smoker but I’m more picky about mine, especially for the price (approximately $11/stick). I’ve found a handful of better (IMO) Connecticut cigars for lower cost. With that, my rating comes out to 3/5.

The Newest Addition to My Musical Instrument Family

At approximately 1:30 PM CDT Friday, prior to my departure for San Antonio, I took delivery of these:

revelations

To supplement my existing 2008 MacLellan bagpipe in African Blackwood, I decided around the beginning of this year I wanted one of Roddy’s new “Revelation” instruments. This bagpipe is made of Delrin plastic, which is not an entirely new concept within the bagpipe world as Delrin has some distinct advantages over wooden instruments – mainly when it comes to playing outdoors in extreme heat, cold, arid, wet, etc. conditions. Wooden instruments are very sensitive to the environment around them, and any time you add in these factors, you risk cracking, warping, among other things. (To be fair, I’ve played my ABW set in some extreme conditions without ill effect, but it always left me nervous afterward.)

That said, Delrin isn’t without its drawbacks. Due to the density and hardness of the material, it often times results in a rather brash, hard, and unrefined tonal quality as compared to wooden instruments. It’s also not porous like wood, which results in moisture condensation from the player’s breath forming inside the drone bores much more quickly than with a wooden instrument. For these reasons, I’ve held off on a Delrin instrument.

Enter the new Revelation design from MacLellan. Debuting in 2017, this instrument elevates the Delrin bagpipe to a level beyond anything any other Delrin instrument has. Roddy has made some really unique innovations, bringing together the best qualities of Delrin while eliminating the drawbacks.

The first thing of note is the cellulose polymer lining inside the drone bores:

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Cellulose polymer is used extensively in the bagpipe world, as many synthetic drone reeds are made from it. Cellulose polymer adds two things to the bagpipe, namely moisture absorption more like a wooden instrument and, being a wood-based material, makes the air column resonate more like a wooden instrument, thus softening the often brash sound associated with a Delrin instrument.

The other thing is the incorporation of a silica gel cartridge inside the drone stocks (the stocks being the part that ties into the bag – for those of you who aren’t bagpipe people):

revelations3

These also have the cellulose polymer lining as you can see, but beneath the perforations lies a charge of silica gel desiccant. This also absorbs moisture, much like the various canister systems. For this reason, I plan to run both sets of pipes through the same stocks for that effect, so I can eliminate my heavy, bulky canister system and replace with a simple tube-style spit trap as a “first line” of defense against excess moisture and have these take over from there.

Between these two innovations and a slight tweak of the internal dimensions, MacLellan really has elevated the Delrin instrument. In addition to these benefits, due to the material these can be traveled with worldwide without issue, whereas most woods used in the making of bagpipes today are now listed as endangered per CITES and need special permitting to travel with.

Of course, as with all of Roddy’s instruments, they can be customized to suit your personal decor. This is part of what drew me to his instruments originally – they have a unique, distinct look in the world of “cookie cutter” bagpipes. They are works of art. My Revelations are no different, and I chose designs that I think are a reflection of me. My pipes are done in his chalice profile fully combed and beaded, with imitation horn button mounts and dragon knot engraved bronze slides, ferrules and caps:

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So there’s that. Hope you enjoyed some of the eye-candy. I’ve been gradually getting them set up this week, from re-doing the hemp thread joints (as I do with any new set of pipes I receive), fitting the bag, cover, cords and reeds, and hopefully sometime this week I’ll get to calibrate the reeds and play a few tunes. We shall see though.

In the meantime, here’s a great video of Roddy explaining a lot of what I’ve explained above. It’s quite interesting.

The San Antonio Chronicles Episode 6: Marble Falls and Other Tidbits

Yet another San Antonio weekend has come and gone for me, and the more I visit there the more I get the itch to move. Between the much better vibe and it killing me to be apart from my twin soul sister, I’m almost at the end of my rope with regards to shitty ass Crapilene. Mercury Direct Station hits at approximately 11:00 PM Wednesday so then it’ll be time to get busy looking for places to live.

So I got in Friday evening as I always do, this time in a loaner vehicle as Phoenix is in the shop for some major surgery. Apparently she actually has a bad fuel injector (which I have never experienced in any other car I’ve owned) and the fuel system cleaner wasn’t enough to burn all the carbon deposits out. So far, between new plugs, new coils, a fuel injector and a carbon cleaning, we’re at about $1,250 worth of repairs on a car I have only had a month and a half. Needless to say the extended warranty has already paid for itself.

Anyway, I digress. I get in, and shortly after unloading we head out to Sushishima for a totally gluten-free sushi feast and, for me, a side of hot sake. From there, it was to her place for “happy hour” (which usually means a shot or two of Flor de Cana 12 and a nice strong cigar, and just a mixer of rum/soda and her vape for her). The night capped off by hanging out, watching a movie together, and lights out.

After a morning coffee and smoke Saturday, we ventured out for Marble Falls to visit a little hole in the wall diner called Tea Thyme. What makes this place so special is that it is 100% gluten-free. That’s correct. No navigation of the menu, no nothing. I ordered the same as Laina – the “Not Picky Tacos” (if I remember correctly) and they were heavenly, as was their chocolate chip cookie. Followed up the diner with a quick stroll in the park and then back to SA to chill for a bit.

That afternoon, after chilling, we set out to try to find Laina some thrift store jeans to hack up into DD’s (as she’s just been borrowing a pair of mine that had gotten too snug for me). We tried a couple of Goodwills but came up empty, and remembering Mercury is still retrograde, decided to pause that project for now and then ventured back over to The Cove for dinner.

Dinner at The Cove is always great; great burgers (which can be had with a GF bun or just lettuce wrapped), with some great GF sides too. I also ordered a couple of what I was told were gluten-free beers, however on further examination they turned out not to be GF at all. Omission beer says “brewed to remove gluten” and on the bottle it said “made from barley malt, this beer might contain gluten.” I’m glad I read that before I even took a sip. I was left feeling I had thrown money away on nothing but it’s a learning experience. Then it was again back to her place, where we had happy hour, jammed out for a bit, then called it a night.

Sunday morning started off with the usual routine of a nice smoke, after which we geared up for the day. Alas, before we got going, we just had to pause for a little “mirror selfie”…

…and then off to a little coffee shop called Mildfire for a little pick me up. I had the Americana Espresso which was delicious and gave me a good jolt. Just as we were about to take a bathroom break and leave, the barista pulled me aside and told me my shorts were “beautiful” and how she admired my confidence and said that I was the person she wants to be. I of course thanked her dearly, and had her come around front for a big, warm hug.

From the coffee shop, we went and had a delicious lunch at Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill. They were out of GF pita bread but I was still able to get a feast fit for a king even without bread. Leaving feeling satiated, we ventured to the vape shop so I could load up on my vape juice and then went back to her place.

Once we got back, it was time for a movie, and one I needed to see because it’s life-changing. If you’ve not seen it, I fully recommend Defending Your Life. It’s light-hearted but very inspirational. After the movie, which made me both laugh and cry, we flipped it over to the IndyCar race in mid-Ohio and watched a real thriller of a race.

By the time the race was done, my time was about gone so it was then I packed up and we said our teary-eyed goodbyes for now. I departed SA at 5:30 PM and arrived in Abilene right at 9. Luckily Laina was able to accompany me by phone for most of my journey.

Anyway, that’s what went down this time, but a few of interesting things happened on the side. Remember I said earlier that pair of DD’s Laina is borrowing from me were too tight for me now? Well I decided to try them on again for a moment, and lo and behold I can actually button them again! They’re snug, but I can button them easily. Three months ago I couldn’t, which means I’ve dropped a not-so-insignificant amount of weight without even trying. The only thing I’ve done different is being GF part-time and reducing my beer consumption, further adding credence to the gluten reactivity theory.

The second thing is I never knew how addicted I had become to my phone/computer and social media. This time around I did something different at Laina’s request – when we went somewhere I left my phone behind. I didn’t realize how much of our time together I was wasting on my phone, which was causing me to disengage. I did feel like the time we spent together this time around was much better quality and that I maybe should put the phone away more often in everyday life.

Lastly was what happened after I got back to Abilene. Since having been gluten-free since Thursday afternoon, last night I reintroduced gluten. Not long after dinner last night I had stomach cramps and nausea that lasted well into mid-morning today. In my mind that all but cements it for me. As soon as I get by blood drawn for the reactivity panels, I can go GF full-time and I intend to do so. For now, since I have to consume some, I’ll moderate my intake and cut beer entirely. That seems like a good initial step.

Anyway, that’s that for this trip. Stay tuned for more developments as it’s about to be crunch time.

Cigar Review: Micallef Herencia Maduro

This collaborative offering from Micallef and Gomez Sanchez family cigars features a Pennsylvania Broadleaf Maduro wrapper over an Ecuadorian Sumatra binder and Honduran and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size reviewed here is a 5.5″ x 52RG box pressed Belicoso vitola.

After two cuts with the Cuban Crafters Perfect Cutter, the first light reveals a perfect draw producing thick plumes of medium bodied smoke. Notes of rich cocoa and leather on the draw followed by an ample pepper and spice on the finish and retrohale.

Getting into the first third we see the same general profile with the exception of the initial pepper and spice blast dialing down a bit, allowing an aromatic bright cedar to join the retrohale.

The cigar was consistent start to finish in the flavor profile. Ending at 40 minutes for a rather short burn time and with a subtle mild/medium nicotine strength.

Excellent construction throughout with a near razor sharp burn. Ash holds on about a third at a time. High quality self-adhesive bands that came off cleanly without damaging the wrapper.

This was a nice enough smoke but man I was left wanting more time out of it. That’s the way it goes sometimes though. This would be a good option for a morning or lunch time smoke when you just don’t have much time to commit, but at $10/stick not exactly a good value for money. Great with a cup of coffee or a lighter red wine like a Pinot Noir. My final rating on this came out to a 3.5/5.