Wednesday, September 22, 2010

International Day of Peace, and Then Some

Yesterday I set out to attend the re-dedication of the peace pole on the campus of Dominican University. Our local Dominican Sisters, colleagues in Marin Interfaith Council, do this each year. In the past, when my friend Sister Marion headed the order's Social Justice Committee, I have been an active participant. This year, when the event was announced at an MIC clergy luncheon, I spoke with Sister Marion, who's now retired, about participating; she said that whoever was in charge had already formulated all their plans and that I should just show up. Well, I did, but, I'm embarrassed to say, I had written the event in my calendar as taking place at noon when in fact it began at 11 am. So I arrived just as they were concluding.

In 1981, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution declaring an International Day of Peace, and in 2001, it adopted the resolution declaring September 21 of each year International Day of Peace. This year's theme is "Youth for Peace and Development."

Since its inception, Peace Day has marked our personal and planetary progress towards peace. It has grown to include millions of people in all parts of the world, and each year events are organized to commemorate and celebrate this day. Events range in scale from private gatherings to public concerts and forums [sic] where hundreds of thousands of people participate. Anyone, anywhere, can celebrate Peace Day.

International Day of Peace is also a Day of Ceasefire -- a day in which armed conflict is meant to be stilled; a day on which we appeal to combatants to observe a ceasefire; a day on which we reaffirm a commitment to non-violence and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
Last night I missed most of the nightly news I usually watch, but I suspect there were hostile engagements taking place yesterday in spite of the best intentions of those of us who seek to promote peaceful resolutions to conflict.

What was extra special about this year's ceremony was that the words that roughly translate to "May peace prevail on Earth" in the local Coast Miwok** language were to be added. "Hiya aa puli suta weyyatto."* The pole was blessed by the Coast Miwok and all others who were there. Until yesterday, the pole bore those words in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic.***

The assembled people exchanged peace greetings in Arabic: As-salaam aleikhum, Wa-Leikhum As-salaam; Hebrew: Shalom aleichem, Alechem shalom; Serbo-Croatian: Mir nek bude tebi, Nek tebi bud emir; Chinese: Hun pink ban sway nee, Ban sway nee huh ping; Masai/African: Wenna kanta laf-fi, Laf-fi la Bumbu ("God gives peace. Peace is something special."); German: Frie de sei mit Dir, Und mit Dir sei Frie-de; and Coast Miwok: Puli sutammi mikkoni.

In addition to offering prayers for peace from different religious traditions, people sang several songs from song sheets provided by the Sisters. There were the usual, such as "Let There Be Peace on Earth,"to the Pagan-ish "Circle Round," by Linda Hirschhorn, to the utterly wonderful John Lennon song, "Imagine." This last included an additional verse written by fifth grade students at Cornell School in Albany, California.

Imagine that our leaders
Would listen to our voices
And instead of riches
They cared about our choices
Imagine all the people
Caring for the earth...
There is good news in that even though I was late arriving I did meet someone I had hoped to meet there. She is Joanne Campbell, a Tribal Council Elder with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. Graton Rancheria is comprised of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo peoples. I invited her to participate in the third annual People of the Earth conference at the Interfaith Center at the Presidio of San Francisco in November.**** As soon as I have more concrete information to give her, I'll follow up on this invitation.

The Dominican Sisters of San Rafael's report on this event, with lots of photos, is here.

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During the afternoon I attended Marin Interfaith Council's Annual Meeting, where we did a lot of thanking of various individuals for their work,reviewed the budget, and officially installed Fu Schroeder of Green Gulch Zen Center as MIC's representative to the Marin Community Foundation.

* The "s" in the word "suta" should be underlined, not an option in this blog program.

** Coast Miwok people greeted Francis Drake when he first landed on the shores of Marin County in 1579 and other Europeans who entered what it now San Francisco Bay. See "Big Time."

*** While we American Pagans all speak English, and most perform their rites in that language, given the spirit of the annual re-dedication, I would imagine the sisters might consider adding these words of peace in Gaelic, assuming some Druid group involved in interfaith activities were to propose it.

**** Unfortunately, there is no announcement on the ICP website nor any flier for this yet. Watch my FaceBook page for updates.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Ruminations on Pagan 'Clergy'

I was rooting around in some of my old writings and discovered this. Originally drafted in 2004 when I was functioning as the chair of the Public Ministry Department of Cherry Hill Seminary, this piece speaks to my ongoing concerns about the growth of the Pagan movement, as I call the entire phenomenon. Since 2004, CHS has undergone changes in emphases and goals, most significantly in its pursuit of accreditation from the DETC (Distance Education and Training Council). However, my essential concerns remain, and require frequent review and re-evaluation. I welcome your comments on this important topic.

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As a Pagan, I feel it's paramount that we define ourselves rather than leaving that to sociologists, journalists and others. I admit to a mistrust of what I call the 'overculture' - the mainstream, linear-thinking, rational, American consumer culture. We can take from the overculture that which suits our religions, but we don't have to parrot it in everything we do. So even though I'm helping to establish a public ministry program at a Pagan seminary, the goal of which is to offer ordination to Pagan 'clergy,' I don't feel comfortable with the terms ministry, seminary, and most especially, clergy.

What most Pagans do in our spiritual practices is (to make a verb of a noun) 'priest/ess.' In my tradition, the term “to priestess” describes what a priest/ess is doing when performing or conducting ritual. Priest/ess is a role one assumes in that context.

But the world changes, and Paganism, as a living religion, changes with it. Today we see more Pagans offering rituals and other religious practices to the public, although many of us traditionally have practiced in private and continue to do so. Moving from working with a close, intimate bonded group of friends to working with people we may not know at all changes what we do and how we do it. So we need to rethink how we present ritual to others -- to the public and to non-initiates of initiatory traditions. Performing these public celebrations is the work of clergy.

Pagans are assuming many other roles that in the overculture are customarily performed by clergy. We are serving as chaplains in hospitals, prisons and the military. These roles require special knowledge and skills. We officiate at people's rites of passage -– naming ceremonies, coming-of-age rituals, weddings, elderings, funerals, and memorials. These are all 'clergy' roles; they may or may not be priest/ess roles as well. The rituals themselves are 'priest/essed' but they may or may not also include such things as premarital counseling or grief counseling.

We are called upon to speak, to give interviews to media, and to address college classes. We are better served if we have some skill in public speaking and if we know about media relations and journalism.

One significant area where Pagans are acting in some sense as 'clergy' is interfaith. From the largest international interfaith organizations such as the Council for the Parliament of World Religions and United Religions Initiative, to the regional, down to the local, Pagans are joining with leaders of other faith traditions in working on such issues as peace, affordable housing and homeless shelters, education, health care, meals for the hungry, facilities for the differently abled, habitat restoration, disaster relief, and other social concerns, as well as in the arts and music.

I believe it behooves us to prepare ourselves -- those of us who may be called to such public service -- to work effectively in these areas. That means ascertaining what knowledge and skills we feel it's necessary to acquire in order to do that work effectively. Then finding people within our Pagan culture who have specialized knowledge in those subjects so that we can learn from them. We can take what our society offers us and adapt it to our ideas of culture, our worldviews, our belief systems. But we do not have to take all of it. We do not have to take that which doesn't suit how we see and live in the world. We will create new forms and techniques that honor who we are. We can create our own 'clergy' and when we have done that, perhaps we'll have found just the right noun that denotes what we do and who we are.