Sunday, May 24, 2015
Activists shout from roof tops, lead emotional protests, confront government oppression, organize the mass feeding of the homeless, lobby Congress, confront animal shows for their treatment of their charges. Consistently those who engage are in our collective consciousness.
Within our faith communities we are urged to organize and implement actions that reflect our common vision of social justice. Our leaders demonstrate passion in their efforts, we are inspired and join in seeking change in the world.
Let me, however, propose that the most effective activism springs not from our collective efforts but instead from our own first steps in confronting hatred, inequality, environmental destruction and economic disparity.
Your actions in buying a meal for and sitting with a homeless person have a more profound effect on hunger, homelessness, and recognizing human dignity than all the committee meetings you may attend.
Your confrontation of hate speech you witness in the community will do more to eradicate bigotry than attending weekly Black Lives Matter marches ever will.
Your actions in announcing that you will not go to Sea World on your vacation will do more to save the whales than any dozen blog posts you may write on the subject.
Your decision to hire an individual with a criminal record will do more to stop the school to prison pipeline than all the petitions you may sign.
Your admonishment of someone you see littering will do more to save the environment than any vote you may cast to establish a recycling program.
Activism is about taking the first steps; engaging locally where we take some risk for our positions, where our actions help to establish new community ethics concerning social justice. These "First Steps" are the hard ones, we are alone, no committee of like minded individuals, no mass of protesters at our backs, no congregation of supporters, just you confronting that which offends your sense of social justice.
While all the collective actions listed above have great social value, it is our willingness to "Take the First Step" that establishes social justice as central to our identities, making us valuable and available to engage in broader action.
So today my friends I urge you to adjust your view of Social Justice, bring it a little closer, engage in your home, your work place, your community. The first steps will be the hardest, attempting to skip them, however, only leads to hollow efforts at reform.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
It is a Sunday morning and my entire being is resistant to the situation I find my self in. This Pagan who has circled thousands of times in celebration of divinity is sitting in a pew, row after row of individuals surround me. I see a hymnal in front of me and all the memories of why I left organized religion flood back serving to further enhance the temptation to flee.
This Sunday morning I sit in respect for the local UU congregation that makes space for the CUPPS chapter I have joined. It seems only right that I grant a measure of respect to those manifesting a space for my community to circle. I have done hours of reading about the UU church and intellectually am in agreement with their ethics.
My Pagan identity is so strong that I wonder if this is the place for me, how can I engage in this service that looks and feels so much like that which I rejected in my youth? As the service starts a chalice is lit and a song is referenced, I reach for the hymnal and am awash with memories of my youthful disconnect with divinity and meaning.
In this moment something happens, I focus on the words of the song and recognize the earth-based theology at its core. As the congregation sings, my hardened heart softens and I find my self singing , the sense of divinity is palpable, I am confused, here among the trappings of organized religion I am connected to divinity.
As the service progresses it is evident that the words spoken from the minister value diversity, compassion and social justice. I am engaged, the sense that the Goddess is present is nearly ecstatic, and my confusion deepens.
As the service ends and I enjoy coffee and snacks with the membership, I am warmly greeted, informed of the many efforts the church is engaged in and made to feel welcome.
As I walk away I have one of the moments that I so cherish in my life, insight into my own preconceptions about religious identity flow from my core self. The questions are profound. For how many years have I excluded the worship practices of others from my personal practice? Why has my engagement in interfaith activities always centered on “working with” people of other faiths instead of “worshiping with” those that simply call divinity by another name?
After a number of services I now feel part of this church, something I thought I would never say. I cherish my Pagan circles but I will no longer see exclusivity of sacred space as a refuge but rather an artificial construct erected by my own desire to establish a self-limiting religious identity. Secretly in my heart I consider the entire congregation I have joined as “Secret Pagans” embracing divinity with the same fervor and focus on social justice, as do I. They simply have a different vocabulary for celebrating all that I hold sacred.
Today I embrace both may Pagan identity and my membership in the UU church. It has always been my belief that all paths lead to divinity, I was just never aware how walking more than one path at a time can so clarify the divine's intention to hold all humanity as sacred.
Saturday, May 16, 2015
Recently I posted an opinion on a Face Book post that expressed my solidarity with the movement to hold police accountable for their actions. Immediately an individual responded that I should “preach elsewhere”. The following thread made it clear that some in our community feel that of you advocate for police accountability you are anti police.
This line of logic tempts people to believe that if you support accountability you are one of the bad guys. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I consider my position as pro police. After viewing dozens of videos of police abusing restrained subjects who pose no threat, the very idea that confronting such behavior is “anti police” is misleading at best.
In my professional life I am often in the position of supervising a great group of federal officers, to a person they are professional, respectful and focused on the safety of the community. Opposing police violence is about supporting the great officers in our communities. Daily, officers are faced with the toxic choice of supporting fellow officers who behave badly or loosing the respect of other officers for their choice to report abusive behavior. This “thin blue line” ethic is destructive to other officers, our community and the overall reputation of police officers nation wide.
Each of us should guard against the kind of logic that urges us to disregard the facts in favor of an approach that blindly advocates for maintaining a system that is clearly in need of repair. Answers are available, body cameras for police that have a 2-minute delay when turned off, support for officers who come foreword with reports of abuse and outside review boards that have no connection to involved departments are great places to start.
To those who oppose accountability I would say the same thing police officers say to suspects,” if you have done nothing wrong, there is nothing to fear from accountability.”
The current situation in which honest officers are afraid to report abuse must change. When the day comes that dishonest officers are afraid of honest officers reporting them we will have established a policing system that reflects the values that our nation holds as important.
Today I stand in support of all the great police officers out there and will continue working towards the day when they have nothing to fear from a system that allows abusive officers to put them in situations that compromise their values. It is my hope that, within our collective community, others will also acknowledge that what they are working towards is a day when interactions with the police stir no fear on the part of the community, only respect for the job they are doing.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
As we awake to the news of another earthquake in Nepal there is another scramble to determine how we can help, somehow manifest our compassion into real action that positively impacts those in the disaster zones. A plethora of opportunities present themselves, each claiming the title of effective relief. Perhaps if we want to be confident our support reaches those impacted and insure that the support is sustainable we should look at the track records of organizations in maintaining their efforts in the long haul.
One such organization that has an incredible track record is "Communitere". In both Haiti and the Philippines this organization responded quickly after disaster and remains on the ground today having manifested the space for sustainable solutions to develop and be implemented. This is not the attention seeking and high profile work that grabs headlines, but instead the down and dirty daily work that assists communities in developing sustainable efforts that have real long-term positive impacts.
The development of Resource Centers that allows a circle of mutual efforts between the local community and international response efforts insures that all efforts respond to the needs of the community, not what some multinational NGO board thinks is needed.
As Communitere has grown in each nation their operations have been transitioned to a board of local nationals who guide the organization towards ever expanding value to local communities. There is not a better model for sustainable efforts than hosting organizations doing important work in support of local needs.
Today, this organization has committed to manifesting their model of ethical, sustainable and local centric relief in Nepal. If you wish to lend your support to an organization that has a track record of long term relief that will manifest years into the future you could not make a better choice than http://communitere.org/
After much research, informed by many years of disaster experience, my personal recommendation could not be more grounded in the facts on the ground. Please check out the efforts currently continuing on the ground in Haiti and focus on how this organization is in the effort for the long haul, interested in real solutions for local communities. Your support won't grab international attention but you will be supporting a long term effort that will make a meaningful difference in the lives of the people of Nepal.
Monday, May 4, 2015
It was an incredible Beltane, I was overwhelmed by the warmth, both from a brilliant sun and the people surrounding me. Over the weekend I wallowed in community manifest in loving honor of everything we collectively hold sacred. Over and over my thoughts drifted to what the world would be like if humanity embraced the sense of loving acceptance and community that enveloped me over the weekend.
It was during one of these moments, engaged in an inner conversation about how community like this is exactly what motivates my activism that I sat down and engaged in a conversation that took me totally by surprise. My very being was shaken as I came to understand how differently others perceive the energy I put into the causes I fight for.
Sitting across from me was a friend and the event coordinator for the weekend. She bagan to explain the she reads my activist "stuff" online but just does not engage. She expressed that such actions are not for everyone and "each to their own". Simply stated I was stunned; This dear friend was somehow of the opinion that I would hold my activism as having value and would somehow need to hear an explanation as to why she does not respond to my writings.
Jenny, and the organizers who have come before her are real Heros of our community. She, through sheer force of will envisions and manifests a community that feeds the spirits of our entire Pagan collective. What she and others across our nation do is beyond compare in terms of its inherent value.
If I were to need to find an example of "true effective activism" it would lie with those such as Jenny who do the planning, logistics and execution of our communities' events. Jenny at her heart is a humble soul and I am sure she would view this post as a little over the top. As for me I felt the need to publicly say the she is a Hero in my eyes and stands as a shinning example of what true activism is. I am proud to call her a friend and humbled when I have the opportunity to relish the sweet experience of standing as a small part of her community!
Posted by Pagan In Paradise at 10:31 PM
Monday, April 27, 2015
The images are stark, looting, vandalism and a few isolated incidents of violence in Baltimore. As Americans ask themselves how this can happen it is worth taking a look at the dynamics of protest, the history of agitators taking advantage of peaceful protests and the dialectic that manifest when police engage protesters in a confrontive manor.
Throughout history when police turn their total attention towards peaceful protests patrol officers are no longer engaged on their daily duties of preventing crime. Across the nation we have repeatedly seen that criminal elements take advantage of this lapse of oversight to engage in criminal acts. Effectively our system of checks and balances collapses. Police departments then paint protesters as the perpetrators of violence instead of acknowledging their own dereliction of duty. If they were not so overly concerned with the actions of peaceful protesters these situations would not happen. In fact, rioters have nothing at all to do with protesters; there is no connection between these groups.
Part of the problem is police establishing “Lines” of officers that resemble a Greek Phalanx manifesting an artificial dialectic of authorities vs. protesters. Principles of community policing dictate that officers can be more effective if they both integrate with the protesters and remain as protectors of peoples rights to free speech and safety. In today’s militarized police culture no thought is given to how the police establish an environment of conflict by their very presence in military formation.
As we collectively watched today’s events is became evident from the footage that there was only one group actively attempting to restore order to the streets of Baltimore. After hours of coverage featuring the actions of this group the mainstream media has finally grudgingly acknowledged the actions of members of The Nation of Islam. For hours America watched as these well dressed men de escalated looters and helped manifest a return to normalcy in affected communities.
Today we live in a nation where our police could well learn a lesson in de-escalation from the brave souls who so willfully and at personal risk took it upon themselves to make a difference. Military power will not work when confronting communities who have been oppressed for so long that their youth feel they have nothing to loose. It is courage, compassion, trust and negotiation skills that are needed. We all owe a dept of thanks to The Nation of Islam for their actions.
Today in Baltimore a community that responded with bricks and trashcans confronted a system that speaks with guns and violence. Until our nation is willing to hold accountable the system for its violence we collectively are in no place to sit in judgment of those who respond with vandalism and looting.
"Vicarious trauma (VT) is a transformation in the self of a trauma worker or helper that results from empathic engagement with traumatized clients and their traumatic experiences. Its hallmark is disrupted spirituality, or a disruption in the trauma workers' perceived meaning and hope."
Over the past few days a small group of Pagan responders and other colleagues have been experiencing some dramatic reactions to the situation in Nepal. These reactions are directly tied to their experiences in disaster zones in the past. Simply stated we collectively share a level of empathy with the victims of this current disaster that transcends anything others are able to manifest.
Expressions on social media from those without these insights may rub us in the wrong way as we seek to help shape the communities response to this disaster. We know well the logistical, political and resourcing challenges that the disaster victims face. Our collective insights are based on having seen on the ground what works and what does not. Pagan responders are not immune to hyper empathetic responses to events like these. Our insights can be very valuable at times like these, yet please understand that we have unique experiences that leave us with little tolerance for expressions that avoid direct support for the victims of this disaster.
Frankly, while as Pagans we value spiritual expressions that call for prayer, we also well know that what will make a difference is manifesting payers for the response, not prayers. With past direct exposure to the kind of suffering now taking place our hearts are broken by our inability to be there and bring our skill sets to the table. Perhaps one day our community will mature in such a way that we have a direct disaster response infrastructure. For now our collective hearts ache to take direct action.
Many have come forward asking about where to donate. While I have chosen to give money to a few organizations I have worked with in the past let me share some principles in giving.
1. Small NGO's who were already on the ground prior to the disaster have established infrastructure enabling them to respond without having to establish complex logistical operations.
2. Very large NGO's generally have long response times due to their size. If you want to help now, giving to smaller organizations can insure your donation has a direct impact now.
3. Small villages away from the capital where there are few photo opportunities are in dramatic need of help. These communities do not provide NGO's with the ability to stir emotions among their supporters and as a result are most in need of help. Seek out those intending to provide responses to these communities.
Most of all, please understand as past Pagan disaster responders focus their attention on this issue; collectively our experiences lead us to be frustrated with social media, pictures of puppies and "which Rocky Horror Character are you" posts while we are seeking to focus the worlds attention on the suffering we know is happening.
Our collective open hearts bleed for Nepal, we are unable to remove our thoughts from the disaster. If you have the desire to help, please give where you can, repost calls for action, help manifest a sustainable response that will save lives.
Friday, April 24, 2015
Over the years I became very frustrated with my Wiccan path. I loved the people, yet our ritual structures had become static with dogma induced scripted formats that ignored advancements in social awareness. This frustration eventually led me to leave the Wiccan fold and develop a more inclusive practice.
Specifically my frustration surrounded the continual use of gender beaneries in ritual practice. Circle members would all acknowledge and support the developing culture of gender fluidity and at the same time all their rituals continued to follow binary outlines.
Last night at our local CUUPS planning meeting for our Beltane event a ritual script was presented that reflected a traditional Wiccan approach. Quarters, God, Goddess and the Great Rite; briefly I suggested we add a simple acknowledgement of gender variations prior to the Great Rite part of the ritual. It was a simple suggestion that was readily accepted by the group. It read something like this.
“While we acknowledge the divine value of all expressions of gender identity today we celebrate the Grate Rite”
It is as simple as that; acknowledgement goes a long way in sending a message of sacred regard to those who would otherwise see our ritual as exclusive. There was no need to erase the ritual as written, only a simple and honest statement of acceptance.
This ability to bring social justice to the spiritual table is one of the things I love about CUUPS. In my experience we seek first to adjust our own relationship within the context of the intersectional relationship between divinity and social justice.
So my fellow CUUPS members, is there a place in your local CUPPS group to stand for diversity? Do you also experience the ability to influence unconscious habits towards greater inclusion? I would really like to believe that my experience reflects a collective ethic in CUUPS and not a singular experience. Let me know, I really am interested in your opinions.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Wow it has been an intense year. My Face Book feed has been filled with disgusting images of violence, injustice and environmental degradation. Many of my friends have expressed a growing sense that these images are harmful, promoting an ever-expanding morass of negative experiences and feelings driven by social media.
It is worth considering, however, that these very images trigger our internal access to compassion in a world where it is sorely needed. Yes, I get enraged at all the digital chaos, yet it is true that my compassion is triggered; my desire to act in a meaningful way is manifested into corporeal action.
It is human nature to avoid things that make us uncomfortable. There are times when I need to disconnect, go dark and care for my self. These times nurture my ability to re engage and bring a small touch of divinity to our collective discourse. It is in fact these objectionable mental pictures that create an upwelling of compassion. They nudge me into a place where the status quo is unacceptable; where by being a member of the human race I am propelled to take action.
While many, understandably turn away; activists experience a very positive emotional reaction, the urge to change the world. Collectively these individuals believe that the world is malleable and can be positively impacted by the hands of compassion. In seeing the image of the starving child or the bloody face of a person of color assaulted by the police we tend to look beyond our revulsion and perceive the injustice as personal, affecting our collective responsibility to act, activists believe that silence is consent.
So the next time negative images trigger disgust, access this emotion to empower you to act on the side of compassion, return again to the youthful and optimistic belief that you can do something to nurture change. Negative images have a place in our world; they water the seeds of an ever-expanding garden of social justice that blooms with ever more diversity as time passes.
Friday, April 17, 2015
Profound spiritual experiences nourish my ability to connect with divinity. Over the years as a Pagan I have belonged to many organizations, identified with multiple traditions and participated with a diverse group of Pagans. Generally my spiritual cup has been overflowing over the years.
Recently as I have engaged as a “new” CUUPS member my expectations have been exceeded. Many have pontificated on CUUPS as “Pagan lite”, with no central belief system or required degree system they see CUUPS as a place for the less serious.
My experience has been exactly the opposite. Within my CUPPS chapter there are people following multiple paths, our rituals together reflect a silent tenant of CUPPS, that all paths have value in seeking divinity.
It is this ethic that demonstrates the beauty of the CUPPS organization. Individuals are able to dig deeper, explore more and experience divinity without the fear of running into one of the various walls of dogma constructed over the years by various Pagan belief systems.
It is this sacred regard for all paths that allows CUUPS members to transcend disagreement over belief and focus energy on divinity in all its’ blessed manifestations.
Becoming a CUUPS member has enabled this long time Pagan to refocus on the sacred within all paths, to see divinity in the footprints of those who travel paths very unlike my own. To release the age-old issues around what we collectively believe and engage my spirit in what we do!
I am grateful for these deeper insights and value dearly the intensely deep experiences that have come my way since joining CUUPS!
In Her Service,
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Over the past few days I have been working on my proposed presentation for the Parliament of the Worlds Religions titled “Sacred Regard, Confronting Hate with Love, Compassion and Education”. This process has driven me to consider what it is that the Parliament stands for and how I can contribute to these organizational values and ethics.
Simply stated my goal is to LISTEN! This event provides a profound opportunity to engage with people of other faiths in respectful and compassion centered dialogue. There can be no greater contribution to world peace than developing a deep and abiding understanding of other cultures and belief systems.
This focus has led me to revise my proposed presentation many times with the goal of giving voice to participants experiences and view points. As challenging as manifesting a presentation which features interactive components can be, the revisions are well worth the effort. It is my task to surrender control of the direction the presentation precedes and embrace the unique opportunity to engage with viewpoints arising from cultural contexts with which I have little experience.
In the end my goal for the presentation mirrors my hopes for the entire event. Seeking mutual understanding and respect for the incredibility diverse expressions of divinity around the world. I am committed to not huddling with others Pagans during the Parliament, but instead engaging in a sacred process of learning about and embracing divinity in a plethora of manifestations.
In short, I intend to listen!
Sunday, March 22, 2015
With much discourse occurring in the community about ageism, Elders and young Pagan Leaders conversations can be divisive. It is important to consider that our Elders are the first generation manifesting an “Elder ethic” in our community. As a group they are expected to know when to transition to the status of “Wise Elder” and leave community leadership to a younger generation.
These highly respected individuals are blazing a new trail, as the first generation to face these issues, en-mass; there are no reference points for them to follow in achieving these transitions. They are protective of the organizations they have built and concerned that new Pagan leaders do not have the institutional background to fully embrace what is needed to insure the survival of what has been manifested by their generation.
Complicating matters is a new generation of what can be seen as ‘Generational Pagans, raised on the very ethics these Elders established, this generation is on fire. New leaders are well educated and burning with a desire to manifest changes that will allow our community to embrace change in a way that make sure the community thrives well into the future.
Instead of establishing a dialectic, lets support our Elders and New Leaders in their struggle to transition leadership in our community. Respect Elders for their wisdom and at the same time expect that they will engage in a succession planning process that ensures that emerging leaders are allowed to drive discourse in our community towards advancements in tolerance, compassion and social changes that will benefit all of us.
If I say pro youth and you hear anti elder, examine your reaction!
If I express support for Elders and you see it as resistance to change, examine your reaction!
All generations have so much to offer; instead of a struggle for the heart of Pagondom, lets manifest a future together in mutual respect!
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Much has been written about the school to prison pipeline. Incarceration rates in our nation establish America as one of least free nations in the world. When crime happens people have to decide to call the police or not. The question I wish to pose here is; should there not be other options? Must we support a system that is destructive to our collective culture in order to respond to individuals breaking social norms?
Story after story posted online over the past few months make it clear that calling the police can result in un-necessary escalation and can place even the caller at risk of being the victim of police excess. Individuals in the Trans Gendered community know well the fear that calling the police manifests. When they do so, they place themselves at risk of being arrested or beaten.
What would happen if communities manifested other options? Collective community action to hold accountable perpetrators, engaging their families, friends and employers in plans to hold them accountable for their actions.
What would happen if communities established response teams for victims that would hold them safe from further violence, provide emotional support and help them receive emotional and financial compensation from those who victimized them?
What would happen if communities created programs that focused on restorative justice instead of punitive punishment? Establishing a framework of community involvement that discards the ethic of “mind your own business?
It is clear that by only having a choice to call the police or not we are not serving our communities well, only supporting the perpetuation of a system that oppresses members of our community, victims and perpetrators alike.
So lets consider community based options, real solutions that manifest change beyond the destructive roles of the helpless victim and the demonized offender.
Lets have real choices that go beyond activating a system that is oppressive in its’ very nature!
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
As men of privilege confronting racism can be difficult, our attempts tend to be awkward, we perceive a wrong in the world and want to address it; yet our own experiences cloud our judgment as how to do so. Our President calls for a national conversation on race, yet when we attempt to participate we face criticism from both racists and progressive activists who perceive our actions as expressions of privilege.
When such events occur it is tempting to withdraw, return to a place of comfort and chalk up our effort as a learning experience: I urge you not to do so. This conversation needs to be national, embracing all voices, yes, even our voices of privileged experience. I urge you to listen to the voices of activists criticizing your recent attempt at participating in this national dialogue.
Instead of experiencing their strong statements as a rebuke we have the opportunity to learn about the views of People of Color and their experiences of oppression. We can re-craft our own participation in the light of what we learn and become even more capable of addressing injustice in our world.
I have participated in corporate management over the years and know well that the reactions of the activist community could well be viewed by executives across the country as reason to steer clear of these conversations seeing them as a no win situation. That is exactly the reaction that those who oppose movements like #Black Lives Matter wish to see. I urge you to stay the course, learn from your experiences and continue to be the company that embraces hard conversations because it is the right thing to do.
The voices of those calling for justice by necessity are loud, confrontive and direct. Defeating racism is not something that can be accomplished with respectful and sensitive language; yet as a movement we need to develop better judgment on when to directly confront privilege and when to call in our allies to a deeper understanding of social justice work.
There are many avenues leading to change. One of them is people who hold power recognizing their social responsibility to be the change they wish to see in the world. Starbucks deserves a huge dose of appreciation for their attempts that embrace this ethic. Let not the voices of criticism change your course, let them instead inform your views and help you craft your message into one that is more effective in the world.
With deep respect for your efforts,
Friday, March 6, 2015
Yesterday I dropped by a donut shop and bought donuts for the staff I work with, no big deal, just being part of the group. Having time on my hands before work I also stopped to shop for a pair of boots for the coming season. As I got out of my car I noticed a group of 15 or so homeless individuals sitting under a shelter in a near by park.
In the moment, I decided to take the donuts over to them, surly they would appreciate them more than my co-workers. Let me state I work in a Detox unit during the winter, so the idea of noticing these individuals is no great surprise for me. The thing is, I sat and spent about fifteen minutes enjoying conversation and eating donuts. I was enriched and amazed that they kept saying how people drop by “stuff” all the time but never stay and interact, never really want to know who they are.
Therein lies the rub, the homeless are invisible. Sure well meaning progressive people provide gestures of support in an effort to sooth their place of privilege in the world, but it is striking how rarely such actions lead to real meaningful interactions with the homeless population.
It is natural of course, for our brains to not want to wallow in the unfortunate, to really see the suffering that surrounds us, to attempt to screen out that which makes us uncomfortable. Yet such a process devalues human beings that are as much an expression of the divine as the friends I so cherish.
Imagine, if you will, being so marginalized by society that the only real interaction you have with broader society is expressions of pity and or charity. Sit for a moment in the place of the individual that society treats as if they have nothing to offer; experience being reduced to a sad statistic. Now consider how profoundly such a situation could affect your ability to move forward in life, how being invisible in public discourse could led you to doubt yourself in every way.
So today my call is for the homeless. Not for feeding them, not for housing them, not for providing resources, but for something more profound, providing human kindness. Let’s open our eyes, make friends, and really get to know those among us that our culture considers invisible. Lets take a seat in the park and discuss, laugh, encourage, and recognize the divinity and self worth of those most in need of the compassion that our beliefs encourage us to express.
So today I issue a challenge with a simple question: Do you even know the name of a homeless person in your community? If you don't, maybe it is time you do!