Monday, November 20, 2017

A Few Words On Thanksgiving

I always say that after Halloween, it's a slippery slide into Christmas. Thanksgiving  as an individual holiday with its own characteristics, is pushed aside, or has been relegated to being the opening salvo of the Christmas season.

As a society, we've allowed the merchandisers of the big big stores to determine when and how we celebrate our holidays. We have given the power of those days set aside to celebrate our lives and the seasons over to them. ( Note to the Religious Right: If you still think there is a 'War on Christmas', this is the one to fight.Have the courage to fight this battle and leave the rest of us in peace.)

Sadly, it's become rather fashionable to disparage the Thanksgiving holiday. The exploitation of Native Americans by European settlers was and forever will remain a heinous act and a crime against humanity. But that is not the whole Thanksgiving story; it's also a day set aside in this nation for recognition of those who have tended the harvest, and the prosperity each of us have enjoyed during the year. Personally, I believe it's time to take back Thanksgiving and restore it as a day for giving thanks together, as a nation. It's a time to look back at the year and count all the little things we've survived as a society together, and to look beyond to the blessings we've received.

For me, this is a time of the year when the mind quiets. I pray more simply because taking stock of the blessings I've received during the year allows me to focus on what has mattered more sharply. It is a time of reflection as we leave the days of bounty and face the cold winter.

My best prayers are always the ones where words are not spoken and I observe the stillness. It is then when my own mind entwines with the gods and goddesses of the Divine and I simply am.

With our modern hectic lifestyle, it is difficult to set aside time to pray or meditate. May I make a suggestion? Do your prayer. Allow your intentions come out in your actions. It is an ancient concept we need to revive. If you are praying for goodness in your life, then do good. Pick up a piece of  litter or give a few coins to someone homeless ( better still, buy them coffee). If you are seeking peace in the world, then work for peace and justice. There are many things that can be done to put prayer into action.

Be grateful, and give thanks.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Safety First

Earlier this month, a man walked into a church in Sutherland, Texas with a semi-automatic rifle and killed nearly half the congregation-including children. We all saw what happened being played out over and over on TV and social media.

As Pagans, the majority of us are peace-loving and mindful. Something like that could never happen in one of our covensteads or circles, right? We ward our places of worship against evil and for the most part, we keep our whereabouts from prying public eyes. But not always. With public ritual becoming more frequent as we seek to have our traditions accepted in the religious mainstream we have become vulnerable.

But if you think something could never happen to us, you are very wrong. It can, and at some point in the future, the gods forbid, it eventually will. I say that with trepidation. I'm not trying to trying to frighten anyone or being paranoid...but I am cautious. Because during our rituals we share many of the same areas of vulnerability as any mainstream church service. Even if we keep our location a secret, if a gunman really wanted to bring havoc upon us, we would be found. Shields, wards, white light and thoughts and prayers will not keep us safe from a madman with a weapon.

So what are we to do? We begin by being alert to what is going on in our surrounding environment.
If you are setting up for a circle in a new venue, explore the area and know where all roads surrounding it lead. If ritual is to take place in a public area or park, let those in charge of  overseeing the area know when you will be there and for approximately how long ( be sure you have all the necessary permits and bring them with you). Notify park rangers or security and remind them you are there. Yes, it's a drag and I understand that it somewhat dampens spontaneity...but better to be safe.

When planning for ritual, appoint one or more persons to be an observer outside the circle so participants are not distracted. ( In some traditions, these persons are  known as a challenger and may symbolically carry a sword. The sword isn't for physical protection, because our ritual blades are not intended to taste blood. You may have to explain this to an unknowing park ranger or police officer who would (rightfully so) be freaked out by the sight of what they perceive to be a weapon.) There should also be worship assistants inside the circle who are monitoring what is taking place in regard to participants, not only to help those who may be emotionally overcome and need assistance , but to be observant of any unusual or threatening  behavior and be ready to intercede along with those watching from outside. If indoors, lock any doors not actively being used, or post greeters by them. Also, if feasible, plan an escape route ( a good point for fire safety as well). It's not just invasion to be precautionary of- there are also bomb threats and just plain harassment. The  cult of Dominionism, radical Evangelicals, and unfortunately, those in some Pagan traditions who have ties to the ideology of neo-natizism are a very real threat to 'outsider' spiritual groups. Much of their worldview supports unbridled violence against others. Keep an eye on those espousing these beliefs in your area.

Part of the responsibility of your council is for the health and safety of individual members and planning for emergencies.  As much as we don't want to think about an attack on our sacred space, we live in troubling times and should take pains to be informed and cautious. It is to our benefit to at least touch on the subject and perhaps make a plan. There are links below which are informative and adaptable to any religious tradition.

Be Well and Be Blessed.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Once More...With Feeling

This country has an undeniable infatuation with guns, powerful assault weapons in particular. As much as we'd like to buy into the romantic notion of the Old West being as American as apple pie, a reality check is seriously needed. Not everyone needs to own a gun, and there are more than a handful among us who should never, under any circumstance, have access to a weapon.

The NRA pours millions of dollars into the pockets of Congress to influence laws concerning gun control, and this needs to stop- but it won't- because money talks louder than common sense and reason most of the time. That's a sad reflection of who we are in America today.There are too many individuals with reckless bravado hiding behind the 2nd Amendment to define their personal power. Firepower doesn't make you a man, however, in certain circumstances lack of reason and control does make a killer.

'Thoughts and prayers' are what we send when we are at a loss for what to do; as a minister I am a big supporter of holding space with those who grieve, but in cases such as this horrific event, something in addition to thoughts and prayers is required...We need to pressure our elected officials into taking a legal and moral stance legislating gun control: increased vetting for permits and properly regulated training for ownership and use. In my opinion, our elected officials taking funds from the NRA and similarly related lobbyists while doing nothing to protect the public are literally taking blood money.

And while we're at it, folks, lets throw a little more funding toward mental health care, since our POTUS has now admittedly confirmed what those in the field already know: help is woefully inadequate and inaccessible. A good way to begin would be for our elected officials to stop sabotaging the ACA and extend Medicaid, because the first contact point for treatment and recovery is a primary health care provider. Mental illness is a disease and should be treated as seriously as all other diseases. Thoughts and prayers may help, but realistically they are not a cure. In fact, as I see it, if anyone needs the grace and mercy of a Higher Power, it's our elected officials and the people who elected them.

But the gods will not save us, no matter how much we plead. Humans have free will, according to the religious beliefs of some. The gods will not do the work we have to do- that is squarely on us. We can ask for discernment, for ours eyes to be opened to reality and truth, but it is up to the individual to act and put change into action. It is up to us to seriously get down to the matter and not just send, "thoughts and prayer" every time a crisis arises. Thoughts and prayers are a temporary warm fuzzy, fleeting in their comfort. Condolences  are a panacea which is only short term.

I believe in the power of magick; yet without action in the physical world, magick is reduced to 'thoughts and prayers'.

We need a long term solution to stopping the violence that has permeated our society and seeped into our culture; that is where citizen advocacy comes in. The gods do not allow violence to flourish in our country, we do. We allow it by doing nothing, by allowing apathy to over take us and take away our power. Engaging with elected officials as constituents is making a conscious choice to act. Elected officials -who represent 'we the people'-are put in place to do the will of the people, not the will of Washington lobbyists who represent special interests. They occasionally need forceful reminding of why they hold office. Doing so is the right of every registered constituent. Do it, as often as necessary. The gods support action, not reaction. Remember that the next time you are tempted to send thoughts and prayers.