Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Pagan Bigots, Please Join My Grandmother

The year is 1912

The Conciliation bill is up for debate in the English Parliament, success would mean women are granted the right to vote. Viscount Helmsley argued vehemently against the law as you can see below:

“I maintain that the whole position and functions of Parliament would be altered…   the fact of the two sexes sitting together in an assembly such as this would no doubt alter the whole tone and whole feeling of this Parliament.   I do not think that any man will deny that he is conscious when he is debating in common with women of an extremely different feeling, a feeling of reserve, which is very different from the feeling which men have when they are discussing freely and debating freely with one another…

The way in which certain types of women, easily recognized, have acted in the last year or two, especially in the last few weeks, lends a great deal of colour to the argument that the mental equilibrium of the female sex is not as stable as the mental equilibrium of the male sex.   The argument has very strong scientific backing…   It seems to me that this House should remember that if the vote is given to women those who will take the greatest part in politics will not be the quiet, retiring, constitutional women… but those very militant women who have brought so much disgrace and discredit upon their sex.   It would introduce a disastrous element into our public life…   One feels that it is not cricket for women to use force…   It is little short of nauseating and disgusting to the whole sex…”  (These views are eventually rejected as sexist and bigoted)

The year is 2015

And the leader of a Pagan educational institution proposes the following in a conversation about Trans rights.

"I know for a fact that individuals with male genitalia have attended clothing-optional all-women gatherings, causing a great deal of fear and distress for abuse victims who came there seeking healing." In a recent thread TERF’s chime in talking about the bad behavior of Trans women and how their unconditional inclusion will change the face of feminism and grant Trans women more rights than they have. They include accusations that the extremism of Trans activists is unacceptable.   (Sound familiar?)


The Year is 1867

In the wake of the collapse of the south a new movement arises called the “Lost Cause” as part of their reasoning they offer

The Lost Cause proponents also maintained, often with considerable venom, “that prostrate South after the Civil War was victimized during Reconstruction by unscrupulous and barely civilized blacks.” The inferiority of Blacks which was described in both cultural and biological terms was used to justify segregation.”  (Americans reject these arguments as bigoted)

The year is 2015

Opponents of Transgender rights clam Trangendered individuals are in an unscrupulous manner, men trying to invade women only space. There argument includes statements about how Trans women are not real women described in cultural and biological terms (Sound Familiar?)


The year is 1950

 Inter racial marriage is a highly contested issue. Opponents argue that:

“It should be obvious to any thinking person that he mixture of different peoples, substances, chemicals, races weakens all its altered parts…..Deeper than the obvious, race mixing serves an obtuse political purpose that tends to undermine the social stability of all races.”  (America eventually rejects these views as bigotry)

The year is 2015

Opponents of Transgender rights argue that:

It should be obvious to any thinking person that men who dress as women being allowed to identify as women will undermine feminism as a movement and weaken the unity the effort for equality. (Sound Familiar?)


The Year is 1969

"Lavender menace." That's what National Organization for Women (NOW) president Betty Friedan called the "threat" from lesbians to the newly formed second-wave feminist movement. Friedan, bolstered by other straight feminist leaders, believed that butch lesbians would damage the image of radical feminism with their "mannish" looks and "man-hating" behavior.  (America rejects these views as homophobic and bigoted)

The year is 2015

Transgender individuals are demonized, by Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists (TERF), as a threat to feminism. These arguments include statements that Tran gendered individuals will damage feminism with their mannish looks and man like behaviors. (Sound Familiar?)


The year is 2012

The sanctity of marriage argument proposes that: marriage is a "sacred" institution that only heterosexual couples should have access to. Allowing same-sex couples to marry apparently poses a "threat" to "traditional marriage" They further state that gay marriage will erode the rights of heterosexual couples. (The highest court of the land soundly rejects this argument)

The year is 2015

Those opposing Transgender rights argue that the definition of  ‘women’, as they define it, is sacred and that granting Transgender individuals the right to self identify as fully women will erode the rights of “real women” (Sound Familiar?)

Before someone attempts to paint this post as an attack on Feminism, let me acknowledge that the vast majority of feminists in our community do not subscribe to the above views. Unfortunately, there is a group of “so called” Pagan leaders who do. These individuals are correctly highly respected for their efforts over the years in achieving equality and fighting for social justice. This very fact is why it is so important for the community to confront these views. Their influence is wide and varied.

By some strange turn of events, people who have fought for social justice for years are now using the very arguments that were engaged in opposing their considerable accomplishments. Let me state clearly: Granting rights to others does nothing to erode the rights of other already established groups! To even take such a position is to embrace the logic of those who have opposed social justice and equality for centuries.

These individuals risk the destruction of their reputations and legacy of having supported equality for a lifetime by embracing bigoted arguments.  We have an obligation to call on them to closely examine their views and apologize for their offensive words in the community.

Let me further address the idea that this is a “women’s issue” that men should stay out of.  There are Transgendered men and women in our community. If these individuals prevail in their toxic argument that Trans gendered women are not real women it will logically follow that Trans gendered men are not real men. This is a Transgender community issue. My voice is not authoritative and neither are the voices of those claiming it is a women’s issue. The authoritative voices on this issue are the voices of the Transgender community, the voices of those oppressed.

I would urge those who’s views I am writing about to do what I did when I became involved in feminism as a man, shut up, deeply listen to the Transgender members of our community and evolve!

Calls for evolution will only last for so long, eventually the community will engage in direct social activism, books will be boycotted, events where these individuals present will be protested and institutions which embrace these individuals will be called out for supporting hateful bigotry. Which brings me to my Grandmother (by marriage).

Years ago I lived in an apartment next to my Grandmother, I love her deeply now as I did then.  What became very apparent to me living there was that she would often use the “N” word when talking to and about people of color in our town. When confronted about this she would say “I don’t mean anything bad by it”. I believed her, it was part of the lexicon of her youth.  Eventually, we sat her down and explained that she would not be welcome in our home if she used such language and nor we would we be coming to family gatherings if she used such language.

While she grew up in another time, she never again used such language; she had the wisdom to recognize that society had evolved past a place where such language was acceptable. Do I still believe she thinks such things? Yes I do, but I love her and respect her for her ability to listen and her desire to not cause offence.

Here is the thing, If you have Transphobic views, I understand how hard it is to self edit, I witnessed the process with my grandmother, Yet, today I invite you to join her as a respected Elder able to change her behavior when she realized the offence she was perpetuating upon people of color.

The choice lays with those oppressing the Transgender individuals in our community. Will they destroy all they have built with bigoted language or self edit and one day join the ranks of the many respected elders that manifested our collective Pagan community. Their time to decide grows short!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Slow Activism

Speaking At Occupy Fort Lauderdale meeting

Ok, we get it; Pagan activists are always posting about the immediate need for change. We act as if when people don’t fully engage immediately the issues of the day will fade from the public view and nothing will be accomplished.

Individuals throughout the community are busy with their own lives and often can feel a little overloaded with community activism; couple this with those in the community that feel religion and politics should be kept separate and there is considerable ambiguity among the community about activism.

What many fail to realize is that these activist efforts, with their calls to action, are not really about immediate change: instead they are about slowly changing the national consciousness on important issues.

Over the years the corporate media has become very adept in discrediting social justice movements. Accusations used to defeat these movements have run the gambit from violence, UN American activities, foreign funding to deliberate attempts to paint movement leaders as thugs.

Activists often lament these efforts because they do exactly what they are intended to do, take the wind out of the sails of the various movements. Yet, when a historical perspective is taken, these movements have, with time, changed the national discourse and our collective character as a nation.

While the media painted the anti war movement of the sixties as naive and filled with stoned hippies the movement did influence the national dialogue to the point where the war in South East Asia was abandoned.

Just a few short years ago this writer stood as part of Occupy Faith’s effort in Oakland Ca. The movement, which confronted the 1% was widely attacked by the corporate media and painted as violent and UN sustainable. Yet, a few short years later, a major candidate for President of the United States is garnering incredible attention taking the very same positions as Occupy did.

Today we are collectively involved in another movement being painted by the media as violent. Black Lives Matter is on the same course to change the national consciousness on matters of race. Many will attempt to discredit the movement and take credit for its’ demise. Once again, however, there will be a ground swell of support for racial equality as the nation takes the time for the message to sink in.

Activism is a slow process nourished by the efforts of people engaged in passionate discourse.  The results of activism are slow to grow, yet, grow they will. Instead of keeping our activists at a distance due to their passion we should embrace them for being invested in long-term efforts that will surly grow and enrich our nations commitment to justice.

Activism is fast paced, passionate and demanding. Changes are slow coming and the result of periods of national contemplation. This is the grand dance of the activist, one in which our collective efforts shall carry the day long after our protests are barely a memory!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pagans, Bring Out Your Dead

Members of CUUPS across the nation are preparing to celebrate the wheel turning in our Samhain celebrations.  For many of us, this is the time when the veil thins and we traditionally speak too and honor our ancestors in ritual, deed and celebration of the concept of the ‘Mighty Dead”.

This aspect of belief among many CUUPS members enriches our connection to the manifestations of divinity that preceded us upon Gaia. The very fact that we seek connection with our forbearers reflects our collective belief in the importance of family, community, tribe, tradition and historical connection.

Recently, in my social justice work,  I have been contemplating the history of my own ancestors and their actions upon this planet.  My Grandfather, for example, was born in a country that had enriched itself upon the slave trade.  He enjoyed a social status that was manifested upon the crushing load of historical trauma thrust upon the shoulders of people of color.

 I am not saying he was a racist; clearly his families’ active opposition to the Nazi occupation demonstrates his positive embracement of justice and fairness as a principal.  What I am getting at is that being of european decent, it is unavoidable to recognize my ancestor’s complicity in oppressive and racist systems.

As I speak through the veil this Samain my intent is to acknowledge this toxic history in my own generational lineage.  Acknowledging the role of my ancestors in fighting injustice yes, but also addressing the history of oppression that established my place and my ancestors place of privilege in the world.

Clearly we cannot engage in historical familial judgment of our ancestors, that however does not release us from the responsibility to clearly examine how our place of privilege in society was established by our preceding generations.

 As a Pagan, I believe that we can speak to the dead as the veil thins, I also believe that if we address our roles in oppression in these conversations our ancestors will acknowledge their collective role and  support our efforts to manifest justice upon the face of this sacred earth.

This is the spiritual work of confronting privilege.  Celebrating my ancestors without clearly addressing the reality of our their collective aggression towards people of color would just turn this sacred time of year into a continuing micro aggression against marginalized peoples.

It is my intent, having a connection to my ancestors, to face the historical trauma manifested upon people of color by my lineage and in doing so become a better allie, more fully able to grasp the history that continues to hinder our ability to manifest social justice for everyone.

Black Lives Matter, is more than a current political movement. If we are to stand as allies in the effort, we must also look deep inside and do the work that allows us to fully grasp the insidious nature of centuries of oppression.

All this begs the question of how this "shadow work" fits into our collective celebration of the turning of the wheel? Answer: as just a small part, that enables me to more honestly and openly celebrate my ancestors and the mighty dead of our traditions.  My ability to party with my community sometimes is dependent upon and deeper understanding of my place within the great cycle of life.

*** Note

If you are one of the few that this post makes uncomfortable, if you don't like the idea of BLM being part of Pagan beliefs, if you believe introspection on this issue has no place in Paganism,  Please, please, please sit with that discomfort and examine why the issue is triggering!

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Parliament and Ecstatic Divinity

Sights, sounds, and even the air seems charged with divine presence here at The Parliament of the Worlds Religions. It is all a little overwhelming. Over the past few weeks I attempted to prepare myself for this event with ritual, grounding and research.   The result of these efforts can only be described as abject failure. There is simply no way to prepare for the overflowing divine inspiration.

As I search for words to describe my experience, I feel that they should be eloquent, filled with bright images of how meaningful my experience is. The truth is that I just don’t have the words.  I am awash in the sacred and my experience is beyond the bounds of simple language. Words like, love, gratitude, bliss and tribe just do not cover the profound experience I am having.

Tears of joy have welled up many times over the first few days. There is perfect love and trust here, unity of purpose and a collective attachment to justice for all the peoples of the world.  Incredible examples of compassion abound giving truth to my belief that divinity is a single light and the religions of the world are the many mirrors that reflect this sacred energy.

Having been hit with a wave of ecstatic energy the forming of thoughts and rational descriptions of the experience is beyond my mortal ability. The flame of compassion, justice and human dignity burns so brightly here that its warmth draws me to clear my mind and just sit illuminated by the glow!

Let me take a moment to thank just a few of those that have contributed to these experiences.   My each of these special spirits ever walk in the embracing light that exists in this sacred space: My love to you all and many others!

Thank You,

Annika Mongan
Andras Corban-Arthen
Jerrie Kishpaugh Hildebrand
Eric Arthen
Casey Burke Pope
Heather Ockler
Patrick McCollum

Sunday, October 11, 2015

CUUPS, Interfaith and the 6 th Principle

Sitting around the table at a recent CUUPS meeting I could not but help to start thinking about interfaith issues due to my impending trip to the Parliament f the Worlds Religions.  On grand display were the very values that are held dear by the international interfaith community.  Seated around our sacred table were believers in many different paths, no unity of religious belief existed, yet incredibly meaningful and insightful conversation ensued.

This is the essence of the success of CUUPS and the wider UUA community. Interfaith for us is an approach we excel at. Within our local groups discussion of differences is brief, each of us called to a deeper purpose: manifesting a divinely inspired world of compassion, justice and peace. To do this, we collectively recognize the self worth, dignity and value of every person and belief system present.

CUUPS members are involved in many compassion-centered causes across our country.  I am often humbled to witness the work our community engages in.

 The opportunity to engage in the Parliament Of the Worlds Religions offers a unique opportunity for our UUA community; too directly engage in seeking a better world on a planetary scale. Religious leaders from around the globe will be in attendance.  Decisions and relationships will develop that have the potential to have international impact.  This is the chance to live our sixth principal “The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all”.

It is my intent to hold this ambitious principle up during the Parliament, too call our wider UUA community to demonstrate the ethics and skills that are so evident in our local communities. I can not think of any community more well prepared to engage in respectful interfaith dialogue that is focused on manifesting divine love, peace and justice upon the face of our planet.

Having been given the opportunity of a lifetime to attend and speak at this event, I will, in humility, hold tight to the UUA principals we all hold so dear. May all our UUA and CUUPS members attending also do what they do best; live our values in their words, their footsteps and their communications with religious leaders from around the world.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Radical Compassion Centered Social Justice

Many within our CUUPS community spend a considerable amount of time fighting for Social Justice issues.  These efforts clearly reflect our principles as part of the greater UUA Community. What is not always as clear is how effective these efforts are.  Matters of personal responsibility and culpability stir great passion and animated debate not to mention defensiveness and retreat into a place where individual worldviews are not challenged.

As a white male fighting for these causes it is incumbent upon me to measure my actions, insure that I am speaking up but not over the voices of those who directly experience oppression in our collective culture.

Individuals who directly experience oppression have every right, maybe even an obligation, to speak forcefully and directly, calling out the oppressive actions and attitudes that they experience.  Doing so as an ally, however, often just causes an un-needed escalation that causes distrust, hurt feelings and little in terms of progress in important social justice actions.

When we direct words like racism, white privilege and sexism towards individuals we effectively establish ourselves as individuals willing to label a human being.  My argument here is not that the label does not fit, but that if those labeled as such do not see themselves as represented by the label our ability to engage in changing views and behaviors is shut down due to the defensiveness caused by our verbiage.

What I am suggesting is that we take compassion-centered approach, as members of the dominant culture all of us have had to confront our beliefs and evolve to a deeper place of understanding and compassion.  In what way then is it appropriate to engage in name calling and labeling of individuals who have yet to arrive at a more inclusive worldview?  Is it not our job instead to engage them with compassion, directly discuss our concerns about their views in a way that will be heard avoiding escalation that ends open discussion?

For me compassion is the centerpiece of effective radical social justice.  If we engage in “calling people in” too compassion based discussion instead of “calling them out” for unacceptable beliefs are we not being more effective in our social justice work?

For me this approach means using story telling skills about oppression that have the potential of opening the eyes of those listening. It also means direct and ongoing engagement in social justice causes, manifesting a center place where open discussion is not shut down by name-calling or hyperbole.

The majority of racism and discrimination that we encounter is perpetuated by individuals engaging in “adverse” racism. By definition these people have no insight into the racist undertones of their opinions. Painting them with the same brush as the overt bigot only further entrenches their beliefs.

As CUUPS members we can choose a more effective and compassion centered approach;  let us set the table of discourse with the language of compassion in the hope of effectiveness and the desire to reflect our belief in the dignity of everyone.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I am guilty of Cultural Appropriation!

It is always an exacting experience to examine our own contributions to perpetuating oppressive cultural norms. What is personal inevitably triggers resistance to concepts that directly confront our own behaviors.  This is a process of evolution of belief and social understanding.  While my core beliefs have remained constant my insight into what those beliefs require in terms of actions and the compassionate support of others is in a constant process of maturation.

I am guilty of Cultural Appropriation. This statement does not mean that I embrace any such actions, only that my understanding of the concept has evolved over the years: nurtured by listening to the experiences of those whose beliefs have been trod upon by our privileged over culture of which I am a participant.

My spiritual journey began in the Hopi Lands of Arizona. In the Hopi I found a true feeling of peace, wonder and appreciation of nature. My young mind was overwhelmed with my sense of having found beliefs that reflected my worldview. For a number of years I embraced everything that was Hopi. Traveling to the Hopi lands often to just sit in silence and soak up the experience of being at a place that so filled my spiritual cup.

In time, I made friends at Hopi, individuals would share some basic beliefs with me and I was always honored.  Central to these beliefs are the idea that much of Hopi religion is held as secret knowledge by clans that one must be born into.  In time. I came to understand that I could have immense respect for the Hopi beliefs and societal organization only by holding their cultural norms as secret.  This understanding meant excluding my own spiritual quest from the framework of Hopi belief. 

It was the insight that honoring the beliefs of this culture is more important than my personal needs or desire for insight that began the process of moving from cultural appropriation to cultural appreciation.  There are cultural lines that it is disrespectful to cross.  These boundaries can only be learned by deep listening too and respect for those who are products of the culture. 

Does this mean that I have a clear understanding in all cases of what constitutes cultural appropriation?  No, it only means that I have developed a deep respect for others beliefs and cultures.  It means that I have surrendered my place of oppressive privilege in favor of respect, learning and honoring others beliefs and customs.

Recently the community has been struggling with the concept of cultural appropriation.  I urge those who resist the idea to take the time to investigate their actions.  If you feel the pull to honor a deity from another culture speak to a legitimate elder from that culture, determine what is respectful, what norms surround such actions and when personal desires and beliefs should be secondary to honoring the culture from which the divinity emerged.

As my Pagan path has evolved I have developed a deep respect for many belief systems and gods from other cultures. My home is filled with these images.  I have a deep regard for what I perceive they represent.  I humbly honor them in private moments in my personal practice. It is important, however, to recognize that I do not have the cultural context to shape public rituals around them.  Such actions would be disrespectful to the communities from which they come.  The lines between appropriation and appreciation can be malleable and unclear and we are not all going to agree on where they are drawn. What I ask, of myself and those I worship with, is to approach the subject with respect for other cultures, holding their experiences of appropriation above our own desires for participation.

Cultural appropriation is real. I cannot imagine how insulting it would be if I were to witness the Goddess I honor reduced to a cartoon character on a lunch box, or a corporate logo, or a sports team’s name.  It is not the business of the oppressor to determine what is cultural appropriation; it lies within the realm of the oppressed to make such determinations. We should respect their cultural norms and boundaries.

So today instead of “calling out” those who deny cultural appropriation, my intent is to “call you in “ too deeper understanding, deeper reflection and a more complex understanding of the damage that is being experienced by other cultures.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Firefighter's Plea For the Earth!

It has been a long year for me as a Wildland Firefighter. Over the months I have witnessed Florida Panther habitat burning, fires encroaching on native peoples homes in Alaska, California ablaze and tens of thousands of acres of Idaho burning before my eyes.  Smoke filled the air to such an extent that I found it hard to breath, to sleep, to accomplish my duties.

Across America I have stood witness to the opening rounds of the conflict between our climate and those causing catastrophic damage to our environment.  This is direct experience, watching millions of acres consumed by flames during a UN presentenced season.

As things have calmed and I have returned home, I now stand witness to a debate as to the validity of climate change. I am sickened by the statements of politicians in defense of the corporate oil interests that finance them. Climate change is the #1 moral issue of our time.  It sickens me to witness people promoting policies that will ensure their grandchildren will inherit a world in peril for the sake of profit.

Let me be clear, as I stood among the flames I received a very graphic lesson in what is happening on our planet.

Do not deny science as I stand among burned homes and view vistas blackened due to irresponsible human activity.

Do not deny reality as thousands of firefighters struggle to breath within the firestorm.

Do not pontificate about not being a scientist when the reality of climate change has seen me grieving for the lives of more than a dozen sister and brother Firefighters this season.

Those who witness the damage know better, we will stand for our planet and the continued existence of our collective human community. Frankly I am over the  BS spewed by individuals who are willing to trade the future of humanity for a few more dollars in their pocket.  Their indifference is the closest thing to manifest evil that I see among humanity.

Having witnessed her desecration, I will stand for her healing, take action, demand accountability, confront misinformation and engage in civil disobedience when needed to call attention to their crimes against humanity and the earth.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Editors note:  When my friend Byron Ballard named September “Women’s Voices Month” I thought long and hard about what I could as a man do to support the effort.  My decision was to offer space on my blog for women I highly respect to write on any topic they wish with` no input from me.  Below you will find a guest post from Amber Roth, whom I admire greatly!

When I started formulating ideas for this entry, I had a completely different direction in mind.  However, an accumulation of recent experiences make me feel I’ve been put in the middle of a mess that needs to be addressed to the greater community.  That subject is our approach to the mental health of our fellow community members.  No, let me correct that, to our fellow humans.

Let me start by saying that I am no psychologist, but mental health has been a passion that I have enjoyed researching on my own for quite a while now.  I’ll often see discussions about how we, as Pagans, need to help support our community members that are going through these psychological hurdles of mental illness laid along their path.  Yet, despite these wonderful, theoretical discussions, support is not what I see happening.  What I have seen is two extreme approaches that seem to be doing a great deal of harm.

The first set of extremes is the glorification of mental illness. There is a concept that seems to be gaining popularity, that the burden of suffering a mental illness is something that makes one closer to the Divine. Some people hold the position that mental illness is psychological stigmata that marks those the Divine has particularly chosen. This has even extended into advising those with a serious disorder, such as schizophrenia, to abandon medical help and instead view their affliction as a divine gift. An example can be seen in rationalizing the abandonment of helpful therapy for autistic or ADHD children by calling them “Indigo Children”, thereby invalidating the idea that they need to be able to function in day to day life and making help an unwelcome lack of faith.

Those that defend this position often state that they are only accepting the diversity of the divine. Or they may insist that classifying the person’s state as a mental illness is a gross misdiagnosis meant to strip our children of their spiritual connection. 

There are a plethora of valid concerns surrounding some concerns about misdiagnosis; to even begin to deny this would be ignoring a very real problem. However, what we, as laymen, seem to forget is that the world of human health in general is a highly complicated realm and our comprehension of the brain is still very new. Our knowledge is constantly growing and changing and those that have dedicated their lives to the study of the profession are still only human no matter their level of passionate devotion. There will be times when our medical theories are turned on their heads, times when a patient reacts poorly to medications, times we may face a less than adequate professional, and times when even the best will make mistakes. But we should not let the fear of such things scare us into not facing the reality of mental illness.

It is a beautiful fantasy to believe that all those with mental health obstacles are divinely gifted instead of burdened by difficulties for the entirety of their lives. I can understand why people choose to believe in such things.  Isn’t it only human to want the best for our loved ones?  We should not be relying on fantasy and hope to help our loved ones, and we are fortunate to live in a time where we are not limited to those options.  Would it not be a greater act of love to take the time to learn what our loved ones are facing and find how we can best help them instead of placing them inside our bubble of hope?  What we don’t realize when we place them inside that bubble, is that we’re unintentionally blocking them from the help they desperately need.

In the same vein, instead of looking objectively at unusual experiences, many that defend this concept take a position of extreme, unconditional acceptance. This may be relatively harmless at times; experiences or beliefs that in no way affect the person’s ability to handle life.  Other times, there are strongly held beliefs about an individual being divinely chosen and led can result in unnecessary and irreparable harm done to themselves and others.

None of this is saying that the Divine doesn’t have the ability to touch and guide our lives, or that strange and supernatural occurrences that defy what we understand of the known world are always a work of mere imagination. Many of us have had such undocumentable experiences and feel confident in the existence of things beyond our current understanding. The presence of those experiences do not take away from the fact that by refusing to examine an unusual belief, we risk enabling delusion that could potentially grow to endanger others. We need to discard the idea that challenging beliefs in a conscious and respectful way means we are turning our backs on spiritual entities and experiences.

The second set of extremes is the level of judgement of those in our community trying to deal with their individual complications. This includes verbally attacking those sharing their experiences or reaching out for help. Statements suggesting they “get over it” or “stop complaining” are common. Struggling individuals are often bombarded with quick fix style tips of diet and exercise plans, comedy links, or pictures of cute kittens so they can just “cheer up”. According to professional knowledge about combating mental health issues, patients recover or cope best with a network of friends and family to help support them, along with beneficial therapy and/or medication. Despite this, demanding and dismissive utterings are more common than the support most say they know is needed.

Those that defend this attitude often say they are just trying to help by providing a distraction or refusing to let patients focus on the negativity in their lives. Many state their own unresearched beliefs on how long it should take for someone to recover from a particular affliction. Others use their own experiences with acute stressors as a gauge to how someone with a mental disorder should act and react.

This is not rational. How can we say that we want to help people when the first words we respond with are about how they shouldn’t talk about the things we asked them to talk about so we could help them? It’s quite easy to sit in judgement and say how we would handle their situation. We do it all the time in the news or on social media; hearing a story and then passing judgement on the actions of the people involved. But we forget in those moments that we’re not them, and we do not live in their minds. We do not experience the paralyzing condition that prevented them from doing something as simple as getting the mail or taking out the trash, so we condemn their inability rather than try to comprehend. Can we not see that we are pushing them away by slapping down the hand they hold out to us?

I can understand the frustration of those on the outside. Who wouldn’t want to see their loved ones able to enjoy life to the fullest? Sometimes we do try to help, only to find our efforts do nothing to make sense of the twisted kaleidoscope they see the world through, leaving us feeling helpless, confused, and embittered. But no matter our level of frustration, we need to remember how frustrated those struggling with the mental illness we’re attempting to help with must be.

For those that have no personal experience with mental illness, it is an exceptionally complicated thing to endure. It’s a much more elusive affliction than a purely physical ailment. We rely on our minds to process the world around us just to be able to live day to day in the reality we see, yet mental illness creates illusions and insists that they are accurate. Much different from an acute stressor, these fractured interpretations of the world are not fleeting or temporary, and will not just “go away”. Comparable in a way to a food allergy or diabetes, no amount of hopeful or positive thinking will allow someone who’s allergic to shrimp to be eat them without being sick, and just sticking to a diet for three months will not cure one of diabetes. With similar varying degrees of severity, mental illnesses take time to learn to manage properly and often require a lifetime of strict adherence to those management tools.

It is true that we can only help those that are willing to help themselves, but mental illness is rarely something people can help themselves with alone and without professional insight. It is also true that there are fine lines between helping , enabling, and abandoning, and those lines can be confusing. But why are the most common approaches that we take in such conflict with what is really needed? Whether out of fear or want for comfort of mind, intentionally or by acts of ignorance, we continue to turn our backs on the people that need our love most of all.

So many of these people are caught in between the proverbial rock and hard place. If they reach out and ask for help, they risk the harsh treatment and criticism from loved ones and community members.  If they do reach out, they still have to be careful they don’t reach out too often or they may get scolded and rejected for being perceived as an attention seeking drama queen. If they don’t reach out for help, their illness spirals downward towards rock bottom. If others realize it reaches rock bottom before they reach out, they get lectured for how irresponsible they are in not reaching out for help earlier.  Some groups will exclude those who undergo therapy or treatment from ritual or celebrations. There is also the problem of a person sharing or discussing the professional help they’re getting, and undergoing an unwanted barrage of corrections to a treatment that has already been proven to be helpful. Or suggestions for treatments that have been determined to be useless to their personal mix of personality, biochemistry, and disorder(s). In what part of that are we helping them?  Where in these common approaches to a person suffering from a mental illness are we supporting their journey towards healing? Instead, what we are doing is creating an environment of fear and hesitation where we hinder our community members to want to get necessary help for fear of rejection.  These blows are even more severe to those that suffer disorders from the anxiety and depression spectrum where their mind already creates convincing illusions of abandonment by friends and family.

To change such a dysfunctional environment is a difficult task, and requires people who are willing to change. Instead of relying on assumptions and questionable information, we need to take the time to learn at least the basics of the relevant mental affliction from credible sources or face that we lie when we say we truly want to help. But as we each go through the paradigm shift, let us also remember that the level of difficulty we’re experiencing is with a neurotypical brain, with no fractured kaleidoscope to further refract our views through our trial. May we remember that our mental turbulence is only temporary, that it will pass in a short time. Most of the mentally ill people we’re doing it for would be relieved to be able to say that. When we consider that, do we not owe just a small bit of effort to learn and change ourselves before we even contemplate insisting on change in others?


All Lives Do Not Matter

A Letter to My CUUPS Sisters and Brothers,

The title of this letter is bound to cause some discomfort. Such a statement, if held as true within our culture, shatters many of the beliefs in fairness and justice that we were all reared embracing.

Let me invite you to sit with that discomfort for a moment. Imagine that your experience of life is fully reflective of the above statement.  In this moment of reflection attempt to accept that there are people who are trapped in the reality that our culture behaves in ways that prove daily that All Lives Do Not Matter.

A young mother sends her pre-teen off to school each day in fear that he will be assaulted, killed or arrested based on the attributes that he was born with. Imagine with me this fear, apply it to your children or grandchildren, and sit with the discomfort, the sadness and the terror.

In our nation people of color are being killed and jailed in alarming numbers. Most persons of color in the criminal justice system face penalties more than three times as harsh as whites for the same offence.

Please stay with me here because I am about to use a phrase that has many in our country developing a defensive posture.  It is exactly because “All Lives Do Not Matter” that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is so important. For generations cultural norms have been passed along to Americans that perpetuate a system that devalues people of color.

As a white American I am very uncomfortable with this situation, my inner being so wants to accept the myth that with hard work, a great attitude and a little luck everyone can succeed in our nation. Of course I want to deny a system that gives me an unfair advantage, after all I worked for everything I have.

After several high profile killings of young men of color the #BlackLivesMatter movement was born. The realities of how inner city police departments treat people of color were broadcast to the world. Desperately, Police Public Information Officers began to spin the news in ways that discredit the messenger in order to not face the reality of policing in America.

For White Americans it seemed that a full on assault on our most cherished public servants was occurring. Talking heads attempted to convince us that to be pro #BlackLivesMatter was to be anti police. Nothing could be further from the truth, the movement simply calls for police departments to live their creed “To Serve and Protect” without regard for race.

Recently, a couple of assaults on police officers have been used to whip up fear that our nation is turning on its’ police officers.  In fact, assaults on police have been trending down nationally for five years, a pattern which is continuing in 2015.

Still uncomfortable?  So am I, just as my grand parents had to face their discomfort with inter racial marriage in order to manifest a more just world, so must we sit with our discomfort and continue to work for a day when Black Lives Do Matter as reflected by our collective culture.

The Covenant of Universalist Pagans will soon be considering a national statement concerning social justice and support for the #Black Lives Matter movement. The statement is listed below this letter, I urge you to support this statement. Please join me in accepting that our collective discomfort is a clear indicator of why this statement is so important.  Empathy is a reflection of understanding, may we collectively understand how important this statement is to the very values we hold as CUUPS members.

Respectfully submitted for your consideration,

Rev. Peter Dybing

The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Inc., affirms the intention of all members and friends to be in solidarity with those seeking justice and an end to violence. We are called to dialogue, action and maintaining a "a strong voice" to end systematic dehumanizing of anyone due to race, religion, or the prejudicial thinking we put between ourselves and others. We honor all members of the human family on our beloved planet called Earth.

We, the members of CUUPS, Inc., are witnesses and call on members and friends to act as partners in the work to create more justice in our broader communities.
We wish to express our deep sadness and outrage in the wake of the numerous and ongoing deaths of black and brown people. None of us can be truly safe or free when some lives have value and others don't. The sacred value of a human life is not superficial.

We must each find the way in which our own gifts meet the need of the world. For some that will be participating in protests on the streets. For some that will be supporting the protesters through concrete or emotional means. For some it will mean writing and talking. For some it will mean getting educated further about unlearning racism. For some it will mean doing research into root causes or effective ways to create more justice; or creating safe spaces for the anger and rage and violence within to be expressed and released. For others it will be providing training and learning opportunities for others.  In particular, we call on every white person to boost the voices of people of color, to renew soul searching for the dimensions of your own white privilege, to find the ways you are called to interrupt the culture of racism, and to take action.

Those of us who look to earth-based or Pagan spiritual sources have particular resources to offer. We offer the soul-enriching connection to earth. We offer ritual and pageantry. We offer theo/alogies of celebration of difference. Whatever the shape of your calling, follow it. Let us remain faithful to the work that must be done and dedicate ourselves to building a world where injustice is only a memory. We urge all siblings in the human family to return to the sacred sources that feed our deepest selves and remind us that we are beloved children of the divine, woven into one tapestry. Our world can be a better one. We must do the difficult work to make it so. #BlackLivesMatter