Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Interfaith & Immigration

On May 30th I attended one of Marin Interfaith Council's periodic Religious Leaders' Luncheons. The topic was immigration. I learned a lot from the three speakers, all attorneys: Mark Silverman of Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Alyssa Simpsoon of Canal Alliance ("the Canal" is a neighborhood in San Rafael where many immigrants, mostly Hispanic, live), and Paul Cohen of Legal Aid of Marin.

When the INS was conducting ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids in "the Canal" in March, MIC was a strong presence. (Later update on ICE raids here.) Beginning at 5 am religious people from more prosperous areas of the county arrived with candles and flashlights to bear witness to the action and to stand alongside of those being raided to offer support and to thwart intimidation.

Most Hispanic immigrants in Marin County are from Nicaragua and other Central American countries and not from Mexico. They work to send money back to their countries for the betterment of their family and friends. This is where international aid could help ease immigration: instead of just relying on immigrants here to send money home, bigger government efforts at investments in those countries could provide employment and other opportunities to the citizens of those countries so they'd be less desperate to come here.

Legal Aid conducts workshops to educate immigrants about what their civil rights are. Most immigrants don't realize they have any rights at all. They do. Among the rights cited are:
  1. Immigrants have the same rights as any other tenants (cannot be evicted without cause, or discriminated because of ethnicity);
  2. They are entitled to access to interpretation services in the courts;
  3. They have the same employment rights as any other employee (overtime pay, etc.);
  4. They have the right to be "mirandized" if they are arrested; and
  5. They have the right to be advised of any criminal charges.
Immigrants are also protected by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, to wit:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Obviously this is of particular importance in the case of ICE raids. But when ICE raids are conducted at gunpoint, what's a law-abiding immigrant to do?

Interest on attorney trust accounts is collected (I guess by the State Bar) and used to pay for the legal representaiton of indigents. All my years working in law and I never was aware of this! If immigrants are indigent, they are entitled to the same representation.

If a person or a company hires an undocumented worker, that entity can pay the worker up to $1,500 without being required to file any tax forms or to pay Social Security.

Mark Silverman told us that there are four elements needed to fix the system:
  1. Legalize those who are here now. Seventy percent of Americans support amnesty.
  2. Create a program whereby new workers can enter this country legally.
  3. Bar further immigration.
  4. Facilitate family immigration.
If a family member has a green card proving legal permanent residency, his or her family members are entitled to priority to enter the U.S. This is not as easy as it sounds, though, because it takes 12-15 years, and if you're Filipino, up to 23 years. This in partly due to the fact there is a limit of 20,000 people per annum from any one country. The countries that reach that figure are Mexico, the Philippines, China and India.

I know that my maternal ancestors who first came to these shores simply emigrated from the Netherlands and settled on Indian land in New Amsterdam. I know my paternal grandmother had Quaker sponsors when she arrived here some 300 years later. I know that the mass immigrations of the mid-19th century gave rise to our current immigration policy, among the first of which was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. I know we can do better.

Memorial Day in Fandom

A colleague of mine in the Northern California Local Council (Mother of All LCs) of CoG, Kitty Crowe, was honored this past weekend at BayCon, an annual science fiction/fantasy gathering. Monday being Memorial Day, this is what they did to commemorate it:

This past Memorial Day weekend at BayCon (a local San Francisco Bay Area Science fiction convention held annually over Memorial Day weekend - this was #25) at which I was Fan Guest of Honour, Diana Paxson* (the con's Fantasy Writer Guest of Honour) conducted a Memorial Day ritual on Sunday as part of convention programming (which also included Christian and Jewish services).

Ours was held outdoors in a gazebo on the hotel grounds rather than inside in a function room. The altar cloth was printed with a stars and stripes flag design, and a replica of Lady Liberty graced the center. Diana wrote a very moving ritual in which we invoked various founding fathers and specific significant presidents for the quarters, requesting their aid and guidance as we deal with the current military deployments in the Middle East, as well as asking their blessings upon all those involved in protecting and defending our rights and freedoms both at home and abroad. As we passed the horn we remembered those who have fought and died defending our freedoms, and also praised those who had fought the VA so long and hard and finally won the right for Pagans in the armed forces and their spouses to have the pentacle on their headstones in the national cemeteries.

It was a very moving experience.

We plan to hold something similar at the upcoming Westercon in San Mateo over the weekend preceeding the 4th of July (before Diana heads off to Washington, D.C. to participate in similar events there on July 4th).
When I wrote to Kitty for permission to quote her here, she added:

Oh, and we sang the Star-Spangled banner - all four verses (thoughtfully provided by Diana).
If others are inspired to recreate this ritual, I believe copies of the script may be available from Diana. The other option is the time-honored Pagan one of creating your own ritual in honor of Lady Liberty and in support of our Constitution and our military.

* Diana is also a member of NCLC-CoG.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Neighboring Muslims

An article appeared in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle called "Muslims in Marin." Marin is where I live and readers may recall other posts about Marin Interfaith Council activities. I think MIC is one of the oldest interfaith groups, and I know it's one of the most diverse, tolerant and progressive.

I first encountered Imam Mehdi Khorasani about 10 years ago when he served on an interfaith panel discussing a right-to-die measure than in the California legislature. I was unhappy with the composition of the panel -- all male, all Abrahamic. In addition to Iman Khorasani, there were a rabbi, a Presbyterian minister, a Roman Catholic priest, and a Jewish medical doctor. They all came down solidly on the side of forbidding physician-assisted suicide.

I am also a proud member of Compassion & Choices, an organization "working to improve care and expand choice at the end of life." I won't try to get into a long discussion about that topic here and now; suffice it to say I found the panel unbalanced. Assembly Bill 654, the California Compassionate Choices Act, is still alive. Fortunately, there is a large group of California religious leaders who have taken a public stand in favor of AB 654.

A year ago April Imam Khorisani was the host of the invitational interfaith gathering with the Dalai Lama in SF to which Don Frew, Patrick McCollum and I were invited. Here he is speaking as His Holiness listens:

Another Marin Muslim mentioned in the article is Ebrahim Nana; he spoke at the Marin Interfaith Prayer Breakfast earlier this month.

With the exception of the above-mentioned disappointing panel on the Compassionate Choices Act, which I attended before I ever even considered joining MIC, I've felt welcome, respect, friendliness, openness, a quest for commonalities.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Food for Thought

I wish I had more time to blog because I have lots on my mind that blogging might help me figure out, but this will have to do.

Our little group had another salon yesterday. Since there were few there, mainly due to several conflicting engagements, I got to talk more than I would have been able to if there were more people there. One of the topics that frequently comes up is hierarchy, to which I've been saying for years, "Reclaiming has always been hierarchical. I am not averse to hierarchy; it occurs throughout all of Nature. But I think that unacknowledged hierarchy is dysfunctional, even toxic." From hierarchy we progressed to structure. Oak referred us to this wonderful article called "The Tyranny of Structurelessness," by Jo Freeman, written way back in 1970 when I was another one of those sisters in a CR group. Ours didn't die entirely, though, because several of us went on to form the SF Women's Studies Collective. Sandy Butler, Carolyn Shaffer and I assembled the first, that we knew of, bibliography of feminist literature. We sold it for the cost of photocopying it at Modern Times Bookstore. One of us, Jean Pauline (Jean Nute), was a founding member of the MT collective. My introduction to collective work came from Jean, and I took to it like the proverbial duck to water.

Reading it tonight sent me to thoughts of my own involvement in Second Wave Feminism in my younger days. I've published some talk of those years here.

After the salon, while I was shooting the breeze with Oak, I happened to mention an article that Yvonne Aburrow referred to in a post to the Pagan studies list that I had forwarded around to some friends. The article, about polarity in Paganism, by Lynna Landstreet, contains this brilliance, which I plan to use from now on:

That, to me, is the true Great Rite, of which all other enactments, sexual or not, are merely symbolic. That moment of lightning striking the primeval sea to create the first living organism is what I see when the athamé touches the wine.

I mentioned this article to Oak and a younger friend, Denise, who said she was grateful that there had been a Second Wave Feminism because, first among other changes, it made it okay for her to be a lesbian. I was so touched by this remark, because so many younger women either have no idea that feminism ever happened, or simply assume that so many of the rights and privileges they enjoy were not available to their mothers and grandmothers. I had been feeling that we were invisible and our work was discounted, and here this young woman tells me she's grateful.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Thinking about Deism

Some months ago I read a book I found intriguing. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher who happens to be an atheist.  He spoke from a mainstream position in the sense that the religions he considered, the ones he's most familiar with, are the Yahwist ones.  I viewed his comments in that light and was able to find much food for thought.

There are now a few other books addressing the topic of excessive piety (primarily of the Abrahamic persuasion). Among them are:

The most recent is Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.  I've read Hitchens' work in Vanity Fair for some years.  He's as irreverent a fellow as you'll find anywhere.   However, he does have an ethical sense of goodwill towards humankind.

Last night when he was interviewed by Anderson Cooper on AC/360º about the death of evangelist Jerry Falwell, his responses were utterly scathing.  He made no allowance for any possibility that Falwell might actually be sincere in his beliefs.

A few days before I read a review of God Is Not Great in the SF Chronicle, wherein this quote from the book appeared:

Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racialism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children, organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.

Besides my claim that no one can accuse Pagan religions of being organized, this quote got me to thinking of which of these claims was accurate in my perception and which might not be, as well as which characteristics I regard as being not beneficial.

In my experience of the best of our Pagan religions, we do not propagate violence, irrationalism, intolerance, hostility to free inquiry, contemptuousness of women and coerciveness toward children.   On the contrary, my particular brand of Paganism espouses just the opposite: "We foster the questioning attitude." (Reclaiming Principles of Unity)  In those ways, I think we're more evolved, if you will, than some of the more conventional religious paths.   I think those attitudes come from many influences, not the least that we've been an outré religion, out of the mainstream, occult, if you will (shadowed, hidden).  We arose from the counter-culture in the '60s and '70s.  My stating this is not to discount our roots and earlier walkers along the paths we consider Pagan, merely to put things in some kind of useful perspective.  We have been misunderstood and demonized, so we learned early on to keep to the shadows, to maintain discretion, if not complete secrecy.

All that has changed in the past 20 years. The change accelerated about 15 years ago, went into warp speed with the advent of the World Wide Web about 10 years running, and in the last five years has exploded, shedding glitter and glamour and cultural influence throughout the common culture.   I attribute much of this acceptance to the work done by various public information officers in the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG).  Although CoG is the oldest and largest organization of interdenominational Witches, this PR work has benefitted all Pagans, as well as others who choose unconventional religious pursuits.

The legacy of this hiddenness, however, has been our rather highly developed sense of tolerance for those who do not reflect the overculture, those who march to a different drummer.  I think tolerance is one our Pagan gifts to the area of interfaith colloquy.

Within the wider Pagan population, some confirmation of Hitchens' accusation of alliance with racialism and bigotry can be found, unfortunately.  They are the minority.  I believe their attitudes stem from feelings of marginalization and disrespect and what I call a "yearning for authenticity."

We live in a pluralistic world.  Everywhere humans have ventured upon this planet there has been cross-fertilization and blends of genes.   There ain't no "pure" anything.  The race is the human race, homo sapiens, hominid erectus, the naked ape.  (My opinions leading to this statement come from readings of, among others:

Alas, I digress.

The term that really stopped me in this Hitchens quote is "tribalism."  He asserts that religions/theologies promote tribalism.  Well, what exactly is tribalism and what is a tribe?  I know that the feeling we (using the term loosely for Pagans like me) get when dancing ecstatically round the bonfire is one of belonging to a tribe.  The feeling I get when I gather with other Pagans is one I could only describe as tribal.  Tribe being "a distinctive, close-knit social or political group."  Tribal being "a tendency to form groups or strong group loyalty."  Tribalism: "the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one's own tribe or social group."  These last three definitions are listed in the unnamed dictionary on my iBook dashboard as being "derogatory." ???

I like them, and I don't feel derogated by having them used to describe me and mine.

In the complex and fragmented society in which we live, I think we all seek a feeling of belonging.   Better yet that sense of belonging resonates in our skin, our bones, our heretic hearts.   When I talk with other Pagans, when we discuss things at rituals, gatherings, festivals, social functions, online, I feel we are a tribe defining ourself.  And that feels very comforting.

It's not that I feel especially alienated. I  have a family who love me. I have kin of both blood and choice.  So it's not that, exactly.  Although I must admit that the majority of my chosen kin happen to be of one or another Pagan persuasion.   But also of many sexual, political, professional, and intellectual persuasions.

Our tribal identity is fostered by many symbols, songs, books, rituals, words and terminology, and other cultural manifestations we hold in common.  Most obvious is the witchen (for those who do not, strictly speaking, identify with the Pagan path of Traditional British Wicca) symbol of the encircled five-pointed star, the pentacle.   Today pentacles are inscribed on the tombstones of Pagan military casualties.  This is a huge step in recognizing our tribalism in a public way.

Again, I digress. I had thought to consider tribalism in light of monotheism or polytheism.  As a polytheist, I feel I can name, worship, honor, praise, and identify with any deity or deities at any time I'm called to do so.  Every 19 days I light a candle to tend the flame of Brigit in Kildare.  (See my "Bridey in Cyberspace" in Irish Spirit: Pagan, Celtic, Christian, Global, Patricia Monaghan, editor.)

I attend Kali pujas on the New Moon near my home.  Kali Ma has been my matron all my life. She has come upon me, acted through me, and loved me for all of my magical life.

To me, these deities are as real as anything.  They stir my soul, they can make the hairs on my arms stand up, send a shudder up my spine, fill me with love and joy.  And sometimes they don't.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Updates & Expansions

The Modesto-based Association of United Pagans has posted some evocative photos of Sunday's event here. The three showing people holding the pentacles before they're attached to the markers I find especially powerful.

On another matter, Anne Hill has written some lovely ruminations about Reclaiming which speak eloquently for my feelings as well.

Monday, May 07, 2007

More on Pentacle Quest on West Coast

Victoria has already told readers about the hillside across from the Lafayette BART station that's covered with crosses, Mogen Davids and crescents. Yesterday pentacles were mounted on three markers, for Pagan soldiers. Nevadan Sgt. Patrick Dana Stewart, a member of Circle Sanctuary in whose name the pentacle quest was pursued, died at 37 in Afghanistan. North Carolinian Stephen Snowberger, III, of Sacred Well Congregation was only 18 years old when he was killed by an IED in Iraq. James Price of Kentucky, a member of Aquarian Tabernacle Church, wasn't much older, only 22. These three are not the only American Pagan war casualties. I suspect the selection of whom to honor might have been because these are three whose families Victoria was able to contact and speak with before the event. In any case, I hope this gives them some sense of how much their soldiers' lives were appreciated and are now mourned.

I was deeply honored to have been asked to read a bit about PFC Price, a radar communications specialist, in the ceremony. Since her son's death, his mother has become a Pagan.

Thorn has described this ritual in more detail. I, too, was taken aback to hear Druid Taliessen say that their deaths were not in vain. Yes, they can have a pentacle on their grave, as they should. But no one dies or is killed simply to have a pentacle on his or her tombstone. What is the value of this war that's claimed so many innocents? I see none.

In addition to the folks from the Pagan Alliance, who sponsored the event, there was a sizeable contingent from the Association of United Pagans who'd come all the way down to the Bay Area from Modesto, plus three Dianics and three Reclaiming Witches, Pagans you might not necessarily expect to see at such an event. Many of us are parents ourselves, and all of us know someone, or many people, who serve in the military and have been injured or killed in this immoral action.

Jason from the PA took lots of photos; he says they'll be viewable on the PA website but they're not there yet. I saw others with cameras and one reporter from the Daily Journal, a local San Francisco legal paper. I was disappointed not to see more press coverage of this important milestone. I'm sure more will appear in due time.

Beltane at Bodega Bay

We made our annual drive out to Bodega Bay for Anne Hill's annual Beltane bash. This is the second year at a new place. Last year Corby cut a new Maypole. It warped a bit since we first used it last year but it still looks fine, just a slight bow in it. Victoria took lots of great photos that I'm sure she'll have on her site soon. In the meantime, I share these three:

An interesting shot of vibing the vibrating empowered
pole, shows my poppy tatts.

Corby stoking the cone of power.
That's Patrick in the background.
The blond fellow is Thorn's friend Robert,
and one of JoJo's teen pals is hanging out the window.

Thorn and me (terrible photo), diedhards when
it comes to keeping up the magical energy

Friday, May 04, 2007

MIC Celebrates National Day of Prayer

Thursday was National Day of Prayer. For the eighth year, my local Marin Interfaith Council has held a prayer breakfast, produced by our sterling Director, the Rev. Carol Hovis.

I note with disappointment that the National Day of Prayer Task Force, which calls itself the Official Website for National Day of Prayer. In part, is says:
The National Day of Prayer Task Force exists to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, mobilizing the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership. [Emphasis added.]
Under "Who We Are," it says:

We are the Judeo-Christian expression of the National Day of Prayer which was established in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman. The United States was born in prayer and founded on a relationship with God while instituting His biblical principles and moral values. [Emphasis added.]
MIC's prayer breakfast had nothing of the flavor that the the task force's "official" site has. One wonders if they are self-designated and how they view interfaith activities.

Last year's speakers were from diverse religions. See this Broomstick Chronicle. This year's breakfast was held at the same venue, Congregation Rodef Shalom, and our speakers were just as diverse, with Caleb Klinge, Senior Pastor of New Life Christian Center in Novato, a Pentacostal Christian; Clerk Linda Lang of the Quakers Marin Friends Meeting; and Ebrahim Nanan a Sunni Muslim from the Islamic Center of Mill Valley *

Although I do not resonate with Christian belief, I was able to find common ground with Pastor Klinge when he spoke of the joy of being filled with the love of God, in the sense that I think this parallels some of the ecstatic practices found in some Pagan paths, particularly my own Reclaiming and Faery/Feri. He claimed that his Christian life is lived and experienced rather than written about and debated. More experiential than scripture-based.

Clerk Lang spoke modestly yet knowledgeably about how Quakers worship. She told some of the history of their religion, which began as a type of Christianity, and moved on to the "consensus process" used in their meetings. Individuals speak at the spirit moves them rather than just to be filling up air space. Some meetings are silent ones while others, when many are moved to speak, may fill with locquacity. Her words found resonance in my soul.

Mr. Ebrahim spoke in a straightforward way about how Muslims practice and their reliance on the Koran. As you might expect, he fielded several questions about the differences between Sunnis and Shiites, yet he refused to be drawn into what he sees as political differences. He said the beliefs and practices of the two Islamic lines are identical, and that the only thing they differed on was lineage.

I had an opportunity to chat with Sister Elizabeth Padilla of Brahma Kumaris at breakfast. She's active in the URI and the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, where knows and works with Don Frew. Afterwards I was approached by a woman who is a Religious Science minister and also a member of the Fellowship of Isis. She wanted to circulate notice of the upcoming pentacle quest event in Lafayette. I find interfaith events more enjoyable as I continue to participate.

* Mr. Ebrahim knew John Walker Linde from his time of seeking when he began to attend this mosque.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Pentacle Quest Celebration

Here's where I'll be this Sunday. I hope as many locals as can will join us. This is the only West Coast commemoration of this historic attainment.

Pagans to celebrate court victory and honor our own war dead.

The Pagan Alliance invites you to participate in a ceremony celebrating the recent settlement of the religious-discrimination suit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Under terms of the settlement, the VA will now include the pentacle on its list of 39 emblems of belief approved for use on headstones, grave markers and memorial plaques.

Please join the Pagan Alliance on Sunday, May 6 at 2 p.m. at the Iraq War memorial adjacent to the Lafayette BART station. We will consecrate the site, place pentacle markers to honor the two known Pagan soldiers who lost their lives in the conflict in Iraq, and we will celebrate the freedom-of-religion victory. The ritual will be led by Druid James Bianchi, a member of the Pagan Alliance.

The memorial is on Deer Hill Road, between Thompson Road and Oak Hill Road, directly facing the Lafayette BART station parking lot. For more information about the memorial site, please consult this website, which was created before the case settlement.

Banners, flags, drums and ritual garb are encouraged. Veterans and active-duty members are invited to wear military uniforms. Media coverage is anticipated. Because of extreme fire danger on the hill there will be no smudging, incense, candles or any open flame. We will consecrate the site using water from Brigid’s well. Accompanied children are welcome.

Please bring one small pebble with you and plan to leave it behind on the site. Let’s show the world that we deeply value our constitutional rights and the terrible sacrifices being made by our young men and women. We will gather directly outside the BART station in the area facing the handicapped parking lot and will process across the street to hold the ritual.

If possible please consider using BART instead of driving to the site. Sunday BART schedule from San Francisco to Lafayette can be found here. Sunday BART schedule from Pittsburg/Bay Point to Lafayette can be found here.
For more about this entire campaign, watch for the release of the film "A Hero Denied."

Merry May!

We started the day before dawn by observing our annual pilgrimage to sign up the Sun with the Berkeley Morris Dancers at Inspiration Point in Tilden Park in Berkeley, followed by lavish buffet with crêpes, fresh strawberries, carmelized walnuts, blueberries, lemon curd, creamed spinach, bacon, sausage, whipped cream, fresh pumpkin bread, blueberry muffins, orange juice, coffee and teas, catered by Rob Byckoff. Mmm-mmm. Plus plenty of schmoozing and singing more May carols. Victoria tells more about our celebration, with photos. She took this photo of Corby and me just after sunrise.

I had a long, deep, loving phone conversation with my Holy Terrors coven sister Sophia Sparks. We don't get the chance to talk of visit often, but when we do our rapport is as smooth as ever and I always benefit from her wisdom.

Being told that a link to something I wrote about this Berkeley May Morn tradition was circulated with the invitation to the post-sunrise breakfast brightened my day even further. Later Green Egg announced the publication of their Beltaine issue containing something I wrote for GE way back in 1996.

I'm telling you all these things, dear reader, to keep my spirits up.

Blessed Beltane to all!