Monthly Archives: December 2012

Bits of light

On Friday, December 14, 6 friends and I held tickets to a political music concert that we were really looking forward to.  We learned that morning of the horrifying events in Newtown, CT and like millions of others, were paralyzed with grief.  My instinct throughout the day was to call my friends and suggest we cancel our plans but somehow I never picked up the phone.  Everyone showed up at my house as planned but this time our usual hug greetings were expressions of grief and disbelief.  We called the theater to ask if the concert might be cancelled, hoping that the answer would be yes, but the show was to go on and we reluctantly agreed to go.

The director of the theatre came out prior to the beginning of events to acknowledge the incongruity of the day’s events and our all being together for a holiday concert.  The moment of silence that followed was welcomed and embraced.  And then the evening’s entertainment began.  I found myself laughing, applauding, enjoying the political humor and then feeling guilty for having left grief behind.  This cycle repeated many times during the evening.

 When the concert was over, I commented to one of the performers that my friends and I had considered not attending but that I was glad we did.  The evening provided an oasis of relief, an emotional refueling station.  She looked at me, started to cry and said that our being there served the same purpose for the performers who had also considered canceling and worked hard to revise the program that day to keep the darker side of their humor away. 

 The end of 2012 brings many reasons, nationally and personally, not to laugh or celebrate or give in to enjoyment.  2013 will bring new challenges along with the unresolved issues I’ve been fighting for so far.  If I allowed it, I could easily get caught up in the darkness and be stuck there but I’m forcing myself to embrace the little bits of light as they come.  They are sources of strength and commitment to be ready for whatever awaits us.  I wish everyone bits of light whenever needed to keep us going.

Yuletide prayers and wishes

My needs are met this holiday season. I have enough food to eat, heat, clothing to wear, family and friends to care about and love. So my first prayers go to all those who do not have enough, who have to worry about where they will sleep, worry for their safety, worry for how they are going to be able to keep going.

My second set of prayers go to Newtown. There is something… interesting, in the fact that my last post touched on gun possession in the state of Connecticut. This is my state, we’re not a gung-ho on guns place. I pray that people NOT think or talk about what happened here for a little while. I pray for the kau of those who died in the shootings, may they be justified, and may ma’at prevail. May we gain some distance as a culture. May we not try to reduce this to some “simple” answer and some “simple” solution. The issues which have been coming up from this shooting are complex. May we know compassion for those with mental issues, and may we not lump all together because of the actions of a very few. May calm heads prevail.

I pray for the people of Syria, for their safety.

I pray for the two firefighters killed in New York yesterday.

I pray for the woman gang raped in India yesterday, and for every person raped. May this violence stop. NOW. May we treat women, men, and those other or in between like people and not things to be used. And may all those who have been victims of sexual violence know peace and justice.

I pray for all of us to have better and happier lives.

End of the World Resolutions

iStock_000000357698Small–By Shauna Aura Knight

I feel pretty confident saying that the world isn’t going to “end” on Friday. And yet, there are a lot of things happening in our world that scare and horrify us, from the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School to hurricane Sandy to depleting polar ice caps, fiscal cliffs, our economy in general, women’s rights around their reproductive system, escalating conflicts in the Middle East.

I’ve written before about the overwhelm that activists sometimes experience. And certainly there are a lot of huge issues in our world right now. Many of these are issues that we can’t take direct action on–but some of them we can. As we move past 12-21-2012 and into Yule, the Returning Light, and the season of New Years Resolutions, I want to encourage each of you reading this to take stock of what changes you have the power to make in your life to begin to heal this beautiful world we live in.

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Communicating within our Community

I live in the greater Boston area.  Following the shooting at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin this past August, an interfaith group was formed here called SolidarityBoston.  Members of that group are now working to produce another event and I volunteered to help find Pagan participants.  This event will be focused on the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts, and so I specifically sought out a practitioner working with the Canaanite pantheon.  When I did find such a person, I asked if she’d be willing to represent Paganism at the event.

And, she said no.

It wasn’t that she wasn’t willing to be a part of the event; in fact, I suspect she probably will.  The issue was that I asked her to represent Paganism and her feelings are that she cannot.  From her point of view, she is not a Pagan.  Instead, she practices a religion, called Natib Qadish, that is similar to Paganism in a variety of ways but one that is different enough that she feels it is separate.

Another project of mine is to create a Pagan chapter for the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy (FRD).   I’ve worked with a few other Pagans on this project and I encountered a similar voluntary separation from the term Paganism during that work, this time from Heathens rather than Qadishuma.

I have encountered that separation on a number of occasions over the last few months and every time I have found it to be jarring and personally worrisome.  Primarily, this is due to the fact that I think a vibrant, growing community is one that is diverse.  In such a community, the ideas of one person can be challenged by the ideas of others and by discussing and working through those challenges, everyone’s faith is made stronger and better.  It is for that reason, among others, that I involve myself in interfaith activism, but perhaps it’s time for a little intrafaith work.

I contend that there are two primary branches of modern Paganism:  the reconstruction or revival of ancient faiths in a modern context and newer faiths descending from ceremonial magic techniques, Jungian archetypes, the work of Joseph Campbell and a variety of other sources to create something that is very different from anything that we would have seen in the ancient world.  Does that mean that these two different branches can’t sprout from the same tree?  Of course not, but at times it seems that people of the former branch have distanced themselves from the latter.

I would love to see a pan-Pagan group form to begin to create a creedal document for Paganism.  The goals of this group would be to create a document that would be specific enough as to define Paganism for other communities that need a little bit of information about us but  general enough that a variety of different faith traditions and theologies could exist under its umbrella.

Partly, I want to see this because I encounter others through my interfaith work that are confused by what it is to be Pagan.  Usually, they desire some sort of statement about what a Pagan is and what they do, and I’ve been called upon on a variety of occasions to offer my point of view on panel discussions or the like.  Too often, others have remained confused about who we are because I have lacked the words to help define us to them.  I worry, though, that I actually lack the words to describe us to myself.

I want our family to be as large as possible.  Maybe that means that I just have to get used to people using different labels that aren’t the same as mine.  But, frankly, I spent a long time to find my labels and I’d like them to apply as broadly as possible.  I think that such a broad application is better for the community and it gives us the support of more people if we should ever need it.  It makes us a louder voice, and if we can articulate our similarities to others as we speak, it makes us a stronger part of the chorus.

The creation of such this pan-Pagan group would be a task in and of itself.  My aforementioned efforts to build a small team of people to work with the FRD has taught me that it’s hard to get us all moving in the same direction.  The individual nature of our faiths is part of the problem, but I think it’s also that we have too few members of our community that are empowered to be organizers and leaders without also having to be doctors, lawyers, librarians, teachers, parents, and sometimes even web application developers.  As a result, we have concerns of daily life that often are forced to supersede our spiritual interactions especially if those interactions are separate from our own spiritual practices.

That said, simply finding representatives to meet and discuss our similarities and differences seems so daunting as to make even me shy away from the idea — and it’s my own!  Assuming that these representatives could be found, I worry that the process of distilling our ideas to find the commonalities in an effort to produce the sort of creedal statement that I mentioned above would not bring us together, as I hope, but might even separate us further.

But maybe that’s just part of the risk inherent in growth.  Maybe my dreams of a large and better-defined Pagan family are just that: dreams.  But, if there’s nothing else I’ve learned from my Pagan brothers and sisters, elders and advisers, and even from those who remain Pagan-friendly, it’s that dreams can be come reality if we work at them long enough.

Perhaps it is time for this dream to become reality, or at least for us to attempt to make it so.  I’d enjoy the chance to speak with others about how this process might take place.  Even if it doesn’t happen now or if it never happens, these are the sort of processes that I think we as a community need to begin to think about.  I feel like we’ve been primarily concerned with our own practice but if we’re going to become a part of the larger, global spiritual community (and I believe that we should), then we need to figure out how best to do that together before we are pigeonholed in a way that we disagree with.

Good Deeds

NYC-cop-buys-shoes-for-homeless-man-in-viral-photo Those of us on Facebook have seen this picture a number of times as our friends share it across the social networking site. The picture went viral which got the attention of the Today Show. During the interview, the officer he said he did what any other officer would’ve done if faced with the same situation. If that was the case, then why didn’t this man have boots? I have no doubt many officers saw the man without shoes and not just police officers but firefighters, paramedics, and non-uniformed people such as you and me. Everyone but this one police officer ignored the man *because* he was homeless.

While the police officer and the tourist are getting their 15 minutes of fame, I wonder about the man. Do we know his name? Has the Today Show interviewed him? We know a description of him from the officer “he was the most polite gentleman I ever met” and a picture of him but has anyone tried to find him and ask if he wants to be on TV telling the world of the kind deed this officer did? No. He’s homeless.

The deed was an act of the powerful giving to the powerless. This wonderful act of kindness doesn’t solve the man’s problems: he’s homeless, poor, inadequately dressed for the winter, and probably malnourished. But everyone can feel good about the cop and the tourist! Our attention is on them not on the man who was the recipient of the kindness.

I cannot speak to the reasons for homelessness. I’m an not well informed on the subject. In my career I have only worked with the homeless on the periphery. But from my perspective it seems the solution to homelessness is to end poverty. Our society creates homelessness by requiring huge amounts of money to rent or buy a home, food, and healthcare. If one is not working, or working below what it requires to have housing, food, and healthcare, then one is rendered invisible but not before they are blamed for not working hard enough, for being too picky, for being lazy, or for “enjoying” being homeless.

This picture shows us there are good people out there. I want to see more pictures of such random acts of kindness. But I also want to see pictures of solutions being created: solutions to end poverty and homelessness, the undo the obstacles that keep *everyone* in this country from accessing healthcare, to breaking down barriers that keep clean food and water from anyone who lives on this planet.