Thursday, March 30, 2017

MIC Clergy Luncheon on Diversity and Inclusion



If you do not intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude.” 
~Neil Lenane

Last week I attended one of Marin Interfaith Council’s monthly clergy meetings.  I learn a lot at these meetings, not so much about religio-spiritual stuff as much as about organization, institutionalization, healthy and dysfunctional groups and how some institutions work towards healing community.  Also about lots of social justice issues – immigration, capital punishment, war, teen suicide, LGBTQ concerns, domestic violence, et al.

MIC is mostly white folks, reflecting the demographic of our locale.  We solicit and welcome as much diversity as our region has.  Yet we are aware of the limitations that our relative homogeneity might present.


 This meeting addressed our assumptions and behavior around diversity and inclusion.  To that end, we had a presenter from the San Francisco & Marin YWCA.  The Y’s motto is “eliminating racism/empowering women.” Human Resources at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation says:

The foundation has come to understand that diversity and inclusion are about the experiences staff members have while they work here and how all of our actions influence the work environment, from learning about and celebrating our differences to addressing structural barriers that perpetuates inequalities.  [Emphasis in original.]

Presenter Laura Eberly brought “a strength-based lens and motivational interviewing technique to group and individual cultural competency development.” 



Laura provided an Inclusion Inventory for us to consider when evaluating our own cultural literacy and attitudes.  She took us through five stages of evolution to help us understand some of our unconscious assumptions that tend to separate us from others.

The first, Denial, applies to missing the differences.  Sometimes privileged people say to themselves, “I don’t have to be concerned about ‘that’.”  She also pointed out that “passing” is a minimization.  Perhaps some seek to “pass” for reasons of safety; however, if they feel unsafe, we need to work towards a society where instead of seeking safety by passing, everyone feels safe and accepted, welcome and included.

The second, Polarization, seeks to judge our differences.  Polarization reinforces and affirms stereotypes, even while acknowledging our diversity.  It can put us in an oppositional stance, which is good for no one.

Minimization de-emphasizes difference.  In my view, this attitude makes our world bland, colorless, lacking vibrancy and nuance.  It’s also trivializing.

Reaching the level of Acceptance means that we understand differences.  This enriches our cultural competence.  We’re not yet where we want to be, but nearing that goal.

Finally, Adaptation bridges difference.   Bridging difference, finding common ground, allows us to work together with trust and respect.  Bridging brings the greater resources of everyone included.  Lessons, customs, talents, ideas from everyone who wishes to contribute give us a richness and pool of resources and ideas we wouldn’t otherwise have.  Working together presents a stronger force with which to resist oppression and foster positive change for everyone.

Certainly as Pagan and Witchen religious expression has diversified, it behooves us to look towards how others address and resolve these issues.  I would like to see us explore this subject in more depth within our own diverse and inclusive Pagan communities.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Annual Thanksgiving Eve Service and Homeless Persons Memorial Day


19th Annual Thanksgiving Eve Service

For the past several years I’ve participated in an annual Thanksgiving service sponsored by the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy.

Each ‘clergy’ -- I don’t use that appellation for myself but the interfaith communities do – is asked to bring a teaching, reflection, or other offering to the gathering.  For the first few years, I briefly told the story of Demeter and Persephone, reminding attendees that they’ve likely heard this tale or some version of it before.  Then my sweetie Corby, who’s a good singer, and I sang “Demeter’s Song in harmony.  I think it’s a beautiful song and one that contains imagery that is timeless and easy to identify with, i.e., “the lover’s smile and the workers arm” and “the heart that cries and the hand that heals.”

Last year, given the situation in the Middle East, I found myself thinking of Inanna, who arose in those lands.  I debated with myself just what I might bring to the service that was relevant and new.  What I decided to do was to speak about Inanna and the troubles in her ancient lands, and then have us do a spell together using a call-and-response; it went well.

Since last year went well using Pagan concepts (Inanna and spells) that are less familiar and less accessible to mainstream religions, this year I decided to add another Pagan notion, that of entheogens (wine, mescaline, et al.) and the change of consciousness that accompanies their ingestion.  In my mind was John Barleycorn, except that many homeless folks struggle with alcohol abuse and my presenting him as a harvest god who lives in the barley would have been insensitive to their situations.  So I skipped talking about entheogens and simply introduced the idea of the the divine spirits who inhabit different plants, specifically grain crops.  Then we sang “John Barleycorn,” with everyone singing the refrain together.  “All among the barley, who would not be blithe, when the ripe and bearded barley is hanging on the scythe.”  I love this song.  I love the feeling I experience when we sing these words together.  I can practically see waving golden grains.

So that’s what we did.  Corby and I sang the verses and everyone joined in the refrain.

I searched the Internet for this song so I could provide a link for the reader to hear it.  Alas, in the folk tradition both lyrics and melodies of many songs morph in various ways, and all the versions of this song I could find on YouTube were slightly different from the way I learned it.  I learned the song in the early 1980s from singer and folklorist Holly Tannen.  She learned it from the singing of Mike James and Mick Tems, of the Welsh singing group “Swansea Jack.”  Having been written or created in the late 19th Century, “All Among the Barley” is no ancient song.  That makes is nonetheless appropriate and effective, and my former community and I, within community or on my own, sing it at Harvest Home (Autumn Equinox).  For the past three years the inmates at San Quentin where I volunteer have sung it when our circle celebrates autumn.  For the reader’s pleasure I offer it here:

Now is come September, the hunter’s Moon begun
And through the wheaten stubble is heard the frequent gun.
The leaves are pale and yellow, and kindling into red,
And the ripe and bearded barley is hanging down its head.

            Chorus:

All among the barley, who would not be blithe
When the ripe and bearded barley is smiling on the scythe.

The spring is like a young man who does not know his mind.
The summer is a tyrant of a most ungracious kind.
The autumn’s like and old friend who loves one all she can.
And she brings the bearded barley to glad the heart of man.

            Chorus

The wheat is like a rich man; it’s sleek and well-to-do.
The oats are like a pack of girls, laughing and dancing too.
The rye is like a miser; it’s sulky, lean and small.
And the ripe and bearded barley is monarch of them all.

            Chorus

(Repeat first verse.)

At this Thanksgiving Eve service new sleeping bags, packages of socks, and such array the harvest altar along with pumpkins, ears of corn, and other harvest.  They are distributed at the conclusion of the ceremony.

I reluctantly must say that the other chants offered at this service were, to me and Corby at least, pretty lifeless, except for the music of the Lighthouse Gospel Choir of Marin.  Singing “All Among the Barley” together livened everything up.

We concluded with a chant lead by a woman from San Francisco Theological Seminary.  It’s one we all probably know, “All Shall Be Well.”  However, the folk tradition being what it is, we sang it as one single note instead of with the melody I’m used to.  Nevertheless, it proved to be an effective seal for the spell.


Homeless Persons Memorial Day

I’ve reported in the past about memorials for those in our county who’ve died without a roof over their heads.  They’ve taken place in summertime and have begun with a procession through the streets.  This year was different.   The National Healthcare for the Homeless Council has designated December 21 (on or around the date) as Homeless Persons' Memorial Day.  This year we joined others all over the country in memorializing those unfortunate and often premature passings.

Street chaplain Rev. Paul Gaffney asked me to offer the prayer and lead the gathering in a chant I’ve done before.  I had something better and more seasonal to share because the service, and the named day, was scheduled for December 21, the first day of the returning sun.  So instead I delivered a brief reflection on the return of the light.  Then, at the conclusion of the ceremony, after we’d all lit candles from a single flame and assembled on the terrace in front of 1st Presbyterian Church of San Rafael.  It’s lively. It’s fun.  It’s affirming and encouraging.  And it keeps the legacy of Pagan songwriter Charlie Murphy alive.  This one I was able to find on YouTube (albeit we didn’t have the enhancement of a gospel choir).

Happy Holidays!

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Faith and Aging

My latest blog is at Patheos in their Public Square.  I am joined by eight other faith leaders addressing the topic of Faith and Aging.

hhttp://www.patheos.com/Topics/Faith-and-Aging/Turning-the-Wheel-Aline-OBrien

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Interfaith Retreat -- The Interfaith Path: Many Roads, One Way




Marin Interfaith Council offers periodic retreats, open to all.  Two speakers from two different religions reflect on the same topic.  This is about the most recent retreat, held at Green Gulch Zen Center last week, and posing the following questions.

What would interfaith spirituality look like if we practiced it faithfully?  How do we engage the unique practices and teachings of our own traditions in a way that includes, rather than excludes, those of other traditions?  Is there a life-giving path in each tradition that is both unique and inclusive?

 The first speaker was Fr. Thomas Bonacci, C.P.  Our paths had not crossed prior to the day of the retreat, even though we are both active in interfaith locally.  A scriptural scholar and activist, Fr. Tom is founder and director of The Interfaith Peace Project, which “encourages interfaith peace and mutual respect through small discussion, study, prayer, ritual, and practice.”  Here are some of his observations that I managed to note:

“Jesus is only one way.”  “The way” is one route; we are to be the road, not the obstacles.”  “When you go to the ‘soul of your heart,’ you sense interrelatedness, interdependence, not as ‘we’ but as the awesome One.”

“The tao is a bucket of water.  Tip it over and it flows to the lowest places where it is most needed.”

“Who do you think you are?  God’s gift to the universe.  You are the light of the world.  Your responsibility is to let your light shine.”

He spoke eloquently of “the river of peace, the pool of healing, the lake of serenity.”

Fr. Tom also explained, for us non-Catholics, that there are different kinds of priesthood:  Diocesan priests “make a promise.”  Monastic priests and nuns in orders “take vows.”  I had no idea.

The second speaker, the Rev. Shokuchi Deirdre Carrigan, is a Soto Zen priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, founder of San Francisco Zen Center.  She met her teachers, Zen Master Tenshin Reb Anderson and Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher Donald Moyer 30 years ago.  She has been practicing, and later teaching, Zen and Yoga. 

After Fr. Tom spoke, Shokuchi, who was brought up in a Catholic family, was visibly moved when she said that if she’d been brought up with the kind of Catholic scriptural interpretations and teachings Fr. Tom offers, she may not have sought spiritual sustenance elsewhere.

At our quiet delicious vegetarian lunch with other Green Gulch residents, I enjoyed an infrequent opportunity to catch up with my friend Sister Marion Irvine, “the running nun.”[1]

When we returned to the zendo after lunch, Shokuchi had us read aloud together this Loving Kindness Meditation:

Loving Kindness Meditation (Buddhist)

This is what should be accomplished by the one who is wise,
Who seeks the good, and has obtained peace.
Let one be strenuous, upright, and sincere.
Without pride, easily contented, and joyous.
Let one not be submerged by the things of the world.
Let one not take upon oneself the burden of riches.
Let one’s senses be controlled.
Let one be wise but not puffed up and
Let one not desire great possessions even for one’s family.
Let one do nothing that is mean or that the wise would reprove.
May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety,
All living beings, whether weak or strong,
In high or middle or low realms of existence.
Small or great, visible or invisible,
Near or far, born or to be born,
May all being be happy.
Let no one decieve another nor despise any being in any state.
Let none by anger or hatred wish harm to another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life
Watches over and protects her only child,
So with a boundless mind should one cherish all living things.
Suffusing love over the entire world,
Above, below, and all around, without limit,
So let one cultivate an infinite good will toward the whole world.
Standing or walking, sitting or lying down,
During all one’s waking hours,
Let one practice the way with gratitude.
Not holding to fixed views,
Endowed with insight,
Freed from sense appetites,
One who achieves the way
Will be freed from the duality of birth and death.

After that, she invited us to do a slow walking meditation in the glorious gardens of Green Gulch Farm.  Unfortunately, I twisted my knee on the walk down the hill, so did the rest of my meditating on a bench.  (This was on the right leg, the one that was affected by the stroke I suffered last year and that I’ve been working to heal and strengthen.)

It’s been several months since MIC has sponsored a retreat, and I for one have missed them.  The current staff, including Interim Director Rev. Scott Quinn, Acting Programs Associate Stephanie Humphrey, and Executive Assistant Janice Lum, did former Executive Director the Rev. Carol Hovis proud.




[1]           More about Sister Marion hereherehere, and here.  There’s lots more.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Table to Action Initial SF Bay Area Meeting



Last week I attended an invitational meeting at Starr King School for the Ministry (UU) of the first local iteration of the Table to Action Project.   This project is co-sponsored by Auburn Theological Seminary in NYC (where I have presented and served on panels for several years, with, among others Judy Harrow, Katrina Messenger, and Grove Harris, in case you happen to know those Witches in interfaith) and the Arcus Foundation.  I really didn’t know quite what to expect, except for this description on the invitation:

 that seeks to bring together faith and moral leaders from across the landscape of the social justice sector to build an activist community and network grounded in right relationship. 

Our goal is to craft a blueprint for multi-issue organizing that presses past transactional and competitive ways of working and being together toward a vision of progressive organizing that can allow us to stand with and for each other in honesty, truth and compassion other over the long haul.

When I checked the website, I found that I had engaged with several of the key people over the years, at both Auburn and MountainTop about which I’ve blogged.  I was glad to have another opportunity to engage with the convener, Lisa Anderson, her colleague in Atlanta, Melvin Bray, and Gabriella Lettini of SKSM.

The first meeting was held in Chicago, the second in Atlanta, and this was the third. They plan more in other cities, which is where you, my Pagan colleagues, come in.  I will be asked for suggestions of participants.  So if and when one of these meetings takes place in your area, I can let them know of your interest.

About half of those 20 religious leaders at last night’s meeting were POC and the majority seemed to be (some said, some didn’t) LGBTQ folks.  There was one Muslim, several Jews, and lots of Protestants.  Evidently two participants were Buddhists, but I didn’t hear them state that.  Needless to say, this collaboration needs more diversity among its participants.  Same problem at MountainTop — a noticeable absence of Catholics, Buddhists, and Hindus, much less Pagans.

I spoke to the convener, Lisa Anderson, about that observation, and disappointment, at MountainTop (also co-sponsored by Auburn) as well as at Table to Action.  She said they were well aware and wished to remedy that.  So for the next meeting in this area I will be inviting some Catholics, Buddhists, and Hindus whom I know in local interfaith.  Maybe a Pagan or two as well.

To be clear, there were four Witches at the first MountainTop in 2013, which I consider a more than adequate representation.  Evidently there were others at the second MountainTop gathering; I did not attend.

I also mentioned this observation to Dr. Lettini, the local host, who told me the same thing I heard after MountainTop, which is that others were invited and for whatever reasons were unable to attend.

I told both Lisa and Gabriella that I was surprised, because in my experience in local interfaith, my friends from the Roman Catholic Dominican Sisters of San Rafael are among the most committed activists.  So are my friends and colleagues at Green Gulch Zen Center, Spirit Rock (Vipassana), and other local Buddhist groups.

It’s tricky to address the organizers about these omissions or unbalances without seeming critical and ungrateful.  I did, though, and they were very receptive.  (If I’m not good for anything else, I can really network well.)

So for our next meeting I’m soliciting one or more of my Catholic interfaith colleagues, whom I know would be a good addition to the mix.  By that I mean they’re open-hearted and caring, accepting of diversity and not hesitant to work.

I’m eager to see what Table to Action does and to participate to the extent that a congregation-less Pagan can.  That said, I thank the Covenant of the Goddess (an assembly of smaller congregations called covens) for financial support for my more distant interfaith activities.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Interfaith Report -- Religious Leaders' Gathering

Green Gulch Farm & Zen Center
Last month I attended one of MIC’s religious leaders’ gatherings at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon, California.  As is customary with these gatherings, three leaders from three different religious traditions spoke on the same topic or theme, followed by small group discussions and Q&A with the presenters.

At this gathering, we explored and shared “how we can speak from our different faith perspectives in a way that not only honors our similarities but also honors our diversity and places of disagreement.”

The Rev. Stephen Hale of Green Gulch Zen Center said Zen teaches practitioners to honor the similarities and differences of all faiths.  Zen also stresses impermanence and seeks to end suffering.  With respect to theism, trying to prove or disprove the existence of God(s), efforts are futile because “ultimate reality is beyond comprehension.”  Rather, one’s efforts are better expended in cultivating and acting with kindness, generosity, and compassion towards all.

Moina Shaiq
Moina Shaiq, President of the Tri-City Interfaith Council and founder of the Muslim Support Network, has dedicated her life to dispelling misunderstandings of Islam and its followers.  She maintains that all religions and their practitioners are different so we must look beyond exterior appearance.  She advocates getting to know one’s neighbors in the surrounding area of forty homes in diameter 

Neighborly neglect seems more the norm in contemporary society than in earlier times.  Nowadays people focus on careers and acquisitions, and families relocate more frequently, in my view.  I think her suggestion is a good one.  We humans fear what we do not know, so the obvious remedy is to listen and learn, and to reciprocate.

When queried about the prescriptions, prohibitions, and exhortations in sacred text, she responded that one is judged based on piety over obeying texts.  This statement directly contradicts the interpretations of the precepts of the Koran by those who seek to eliminate or convert all non-Muslims by jihad.  I welcome Moina’s alternative views.

Rob McClellan
The third speaker, the Rev. Rob McClellan, Senior Pastor at host congregation Westminster Presbyterian, said that when he was at Reed College in Oregon, either he or a group with which he was affiliated issued an apology by testifying to all the wrongs done in the name of religion.

Generally speaking, I love these opportunities for religious people to share their views, beliefs, and experiences in an appreciative, non-judgmental milieu of multi-faith colleagues.  I’m grateful to Stephen, Moina, and Rob for their sharing and to Marin Interfaith Council for providing the opportunity.

[Please bear with me, readers, because since my stroke I cannot write clearly and quickly.  I’m interpreting some sloppy notes, hoping they are accurate.]

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Charlie Murphy -- Hail the goer!



Earlier this month I got the sad news of Charlie Murphy’s passing.  This was not unexpected, since we knew that he’s been ill.  I have been including him in my devotions to Brigit for many months.  Still, it’s a shock when the time comes.

I knew Charlie fairly well from his early collaborations on Reclaiming Spiral Dances and other Reclaiming activities, and though we seldom saw each other out of that context, I always felt a connection between us.

On one of his early visits to the SF Bay Area he opened the Spiral Dance ritual with a rousing rendition of his song, “Burning Times .“  That particular production took place in the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.  He and I walked as a pair in the opening procession, and I told him that he was about to participate in a rite that really showed how to honor our gods and our Beloved Dead.  After the ritual, he agreed.

I’m not sure if it was during that visit or another, but we spent one beautiful sunny day together in North Beach where I then lived.  Over the course of the day, Charlie and I climbed up Telegraph Hill to the base of Coit Tower.  There, overlooking our glorious Bay Area, he taught me a new song he would soon be recording.  It was “Calling on the Spirits.”  One phrase from that song in particular I have had occasion to use again and again over the years:  “With visions of the past and memories of the future…”[1]  I even used it as the title of a panel on NeoPaganism in California in 2005.

Charlie and I had lost touch for some years until we became reacquainted on Facebook.  I did not know his husband or family, only Jami Sieber.  I extend them my condolences over the loss of their loved one, such a remarkable man loved and esteemed by many.

The other song Charlie wrote that I have disseminated far and wide is “Light Is Returning “ Its appeal crosses religious boundaries, a characteristic I’m always on the lookout for in my work in the area of interfaith relations.  When my local Marin Interfaith Council offers a multi-religious celebration of light, I offer reflections on Midwinter and the light in the dark from my Pagan perspective.  After that we conclude the entire ceremony with a lively rendition of “Light Is Returning.”  Everyone in the room, of whatever religious persuasion, sings this song together.  This, to me, is one of Charlie’s lasting legacies. 

I am grateful to Charlie for enriching my life.  May his contributions, his voice, and his unique magic live on.



[1]  It’s on the Canticles of Light album which can be purchased on the site of Charlie’s longtime collaborator and friend cellist Jami Sieber here.