Thursday, October 12, 2017

Becoming a Sanctuary Congregation: How Faith Communities Can Support Immigrants

Marin Interfaith Council sponsored a gathering of religious leaders to learn about the sanctuary movement.  A total of 62 attendees came out on August 29th for the gathering focused on sanctuary congregations.  The speakers addressed:

What does it mean to provide sanctuary?  What are the levels of sanctuary?  What is the process to become a sanctuary congregation, and what are the challenges/risks?

The Rev. Deborah Lee, Program Director of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, and Rabbi Elana Rosen-Brown of Congregation Rodef Sholom, spoke in both practical and moral terms about how faith communities can utilize their resources to serve the immigrant community in this time of need.  Different examples of sanctuary congregations were provided to help attendees understand the range of ways to offer sanctuary.  Both leaders also echoed the importance of defining mentally, spiritually, and emotionally what sanctuary means for your faith community so that you can create and implement an appropriate response.  [Emphasis intentional]

Rev. Deborah Lee
Deborah first spoke to the overall problems about the impact of undocumented immigrants in practical terms.  She asserts that there has been a coordinated attack on the word “sanctuary.”

The U.S. is a destination for migrants; many immigrants come to the U.S. to escape danger.  California and the San Francisco Bay Area more so.  It behooves us to demonstrate compassion and mercy, and to consider the underlying causes of their migration.  After all, but for a small population of Native Peoples that we -- all of us whose families came here as immigrants at some point – have decimated.  All of us Euros, Africans, Asians, and blends are immigrants, regardless of how far back our ancestors.  Latinos, on the other hand, are native to the Americas.

Further, homo sapiens is a migratory species.  We arose in East Africa and have migrated to every continent and subcontinent on the planet and most islands in Earth’s oceans. [Emphasis intentional]

There are more than 200 detention facilities for people seeking citizenship in this country; only two of them are for women and children.  All are overcrowded and the conditions in those facilities are worse than those in state prisons.[1] 

Additionally, recent news reports that many detained women are miscarrying, and the nutrition children and all other detainees leaves a lot to be desired.  Not to mention the lack of educational opportunities for young detainees.

On top of that, immigration costs more than $18 billion a year, more than any other federal program.  One of the largest detention facilities is West County Detention Facility in Richmond, CA, about four miles across a bridge from where I sit typing.  West County gets big bucks of our tax money from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  On the first Saturday of each month an interfaith prayer group meets from 11:00 a.m. till noon outside the gates.

Conversely, there has also be an increased in sanctuary communities locally from five to twenty-seven.

Since the current administration in Washington took over the federal government, ICE has instituted fast deportations with no judges or hearings.  Concomitantly, the number of deportees has increased.  ICE also seeks to have any immigrant who is arrested, no matter the crime or transgression, turned over to ICE by the jail or prison authorities. 

I have witnessed this policy in action where I volunteer at San Quentin.  One of our regular circle members, when he was up for parole, disappeared.  This man, an immigrant from Mexico, had a questing mind and took every advantage during his incarceration to better himself (working towards a college degree, for instance).  I viewed him as someone who was motivated and who would become a contributing member of society after his release.  Alas, when I asked about his whereabouts, assuming he’d have been assigned to some kind of halfway house as he had expected, I learned that he’d been deported.

There has been resistance to this policy by some law enforcement authorities who decline to comply, but this resistance has been inconsistent.  My county and several nearby counties and cities are sanctuary cities.  And now, thanks to Governor Jerry Brown, our state is a sanctuary state.  I sit now in a library where several signs are posted welcoming immigrants specifically, and everyone (ages, races, gender, abilities, languages, et al.).  Deborah claims that deportees are returned to slave-owners.

As mentioned above, we (the San Francisco Bay Area and the wider State of California) are a destination for migrants.  We have legal resources, whereas no counsel is offered to deportees.  Our progressive legislature assures that undocumented children can go to school.  Immigrants don’t qualify for rent subsidies, but they do have tenant rights of which most are unaware.

Deborah cautions us to expect pushback for our efforts.  We see that now that Governor Brown has designated California as a sanctuary state, the current administration has ordered ICE to amp up their raiding here.

While guides suggest speaking with an attorney who is knowledgeable about immigration law, the fact is that there is almost no legal risk.  See ACLU’s Sanctuary Congregations and Harboring FAQ.  Familiarize yourself with harboring laws, stay open, announce that fact, and report on incidents of reprieve.  ICE can enter your sanctuary to apprehend undocumented immigrants, but they are under witness of community.

She urges us to resist untruths about immigrants with those who hold them.  She offers three “R” principles:  Right thing to do; Relationship to immigrants; and Risk to share with immigrants and to take a chance.

The motto of the organization for which Deborah works, the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, is “Every human person is sacred across all borders.”  Here is what IM4HI tells us about how sanctuary looks today.

“A public, corporate commitment to walk alongside immigrants, mixed-status families, refugees, and other targeted communities to uphold the dignity, due process, and full acceptance and participation of all people in our society through protection, support, and advocacy.  Congregations can write their own statement of sanctuary to reflect what they specifically will do.”

IM4HI suggests four ways that congregations are demonstrating their commitment to sanctuary.  Some of them are things that we -- as individuals, as covens, as a covenant – can do even though we generally don’t have physical facilities.


«    Advocate at the local, state, and national levels for policies that protect the due process of immigrants and promote their full dignity and integration into our local communities.
«    Advocate for policies that help to prevent mass deportation and fear by creating clear separation between ICE  and local law enforcement and civic institutions, for example, strong sanctuary city and county policies.
«    Engage in local public actions and activities to shift public discourse towards immigrants, Muslims, and refugees, and bring attention to our responsibility

Accompaniment of Immigrant Families or Youth:

Individuals and congregations can immediately help accompany immigrants in urgent situations and need of accompaniment.  This can include newly arrived migrant families, unaccompanied minors, people facing deportation crisis, those just released from detention centers.  Trained volunteers can help to provide courtroom accompaniment, access to services, and concrete and emotional support and/or transitional housing to help those in a period of crisis.

There are 13 teams in the East Bay doing accompaniment.  They claim that this issue warrants “God’s special attention.”

Networks of Protection & Rapid Response:

«    Join a rapid response Network to respond to ICE workplace raids, home raids, or other enforcement activity.
«    Connect with targeted communities to help develop relationships and networks of protection.

Housing Hospitality:

«    There are various kinds of needs for housing hospitality:  (1) short-term respite housing for someone released from detention; (2) housing for newly arrived immigrant family seeking asylum; (3) protective housing for someone with a final order of deportation; and (4) hosts needed in order for the government to release individuals from immigration detention,
«    Depending on the case, housing hospitality could be in a private home of a member, or on congregational property.

I know that some Pagan nonprofits shy away from civic involvement out of concern for their nonprofit status.  I can state with certainty that religious organizations with nonprofit status can indeed offer opinions, suggestions, recommendations, and urging to their congregations about secular issues such as immigration without jeopardizing their nonprofit status.

Many years ago when the Reclaiming Collective was young, we -- I was active in the collective in those years and I was instrumental in acquiring these classifications -- applied for and received incorporation as a nonprofit religious organization from the Secretary of State of California as well as 501(c)3 tax status from the Internal Revenue Service.  One of the things we wanted to accomplish was to provide sponsorship of an immigrant couple (one from Senegal and the other from England) so that they could remain in this country and acquire permanent residence status.  This occurred with no effect on Reclaiming’s legal status.

Some years ago when ICE was regularly doing predawn raids in the Canal District, a predominantly Latino neighborhood of our city, our local Marin Interfaith Council’s Justice Advocacy Team organized predawn vigils, both to demonstrate our concern and solidarity and to assist victims of raids and their families.  Immigrants do have tenants rights, among other rights, of which they may be either unaware or reluctant to use for fear of deportation.

A couple of months ago, an immigrant construction worker who had entered nearby Travis Air Force Base to work on a job was held for deportation by ICE.  This man had been a contributing member of our community for more than 17 years, had married and had children who were American citizens.  He and his family were known to be law-abiding members of our city, but for the father’s immigration status.  A call went out from MIC to its members, asking them to write letters of support to representatives, government entities, and the press.  MIC is also a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

* * * * *

Rabbi Elana Rosen-Brown
Rabbi Elana Rosen-Brown told of the ways in which the members of her Congregation Rodef Sholom committed to create a sanctuary for immigrants.  She spoke of Rodof Shalom’s process of becoming a community network.  She cited T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, which has published Mikdash: A Quickstart Guide for Sanctuary Synagogues, a step-by-step, easy-to-access pdf.  In addition to providing us with a copy of this document, she gave us copies of the “Resolution of the Board of Directors of Congregation Rodof Shalom Affirming Congregational Solidarity with Undocumented Immigrants.”  To demonstrate its commitment to this resolution of its Board, they created a Source Sheet, a useful document she also shared with us.

The first thing to do is to change hearts and minds. Becoming a sanctuary community begins with networking.  Concurrently, reach out to local immigrants rights group to understand local needs and partners.  It’s good as well to have immigrant folk speak to the congregation so that the members can better understand and appreciate their urgent needs.

Elana recommends Sanctuary Not Deportation (SND), which has a list of local coalitions.  Sanctuary groups are already well established in such places as Denver, Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, Austin, Chicago, Southern Arizona, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Phoenix, Washington, South Florida, Colorado Springs, and New Mexico.  Our neighboring state of Oregon’s Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice is another resource for learning to become a sanctuary community.

SND offers instructions on becoming a sanctuary community, including strategy and tactics.  Different religious traditions have published denominational statements as well as liturgical materials; however, all are Christian except for one issued by Reformed Judaism.  SND appears to be a useful site, but it could certainly benefit from having a more diverse coalition.

Now we Pagans don’t usually have buildings to use and to maintain; even so, there are plenty of ways we can help.  Several ways are suggested above.

After the presentations of our two guests, I got an idea of how we – me, anyway – might help.  I propose providing immigrants with prepaid cell phones.  With cell phones, immigrants can receive announcements pertinent to their situations. They can access information and resources in their own languages.  And if circumstances result in their relocating, they can remain connected with friends, allies, and supportive groups.  My idea was to contact CREDO Mobile or other cell phone services to enlist their cooperation by providing the phones, perhaps new but discontinued models that are harder to sell.  CREDO is a social change network of 5 million activists organizing and mobilizing for progressive change; each month CREDO donates all profits to various nonprofits, voted on by subscribers.  I haven’t followed through on this yet.  What do you think?

[1]           She actually cited San Quentin, probably because it is local; however, I volunteer with the Wiccan circle there and so far I haven’t been exposed to deplorable conditions.  Bleak and institutional, yes.  Of course, I only see communal areas, not cellblocks.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Reflections on Melek Taus

Last week I attended an Interfaith Gala Dessert Reception to help the Yezidis Facing Genocide, featuring a delegation of Yezidis in exile here in North America and hoping to regain their homelands.

Held at Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City, California, the room featured peacock feathers on each table and walls adorned with Yezidi (Yazidi) flags.  The screen upon one wall featured a large image of Melek Taus, the Peacock God of the Yezidis.

I was especially intrigued to learn how Melek Taus is conceived in Yezedi (Yazidi) religion because this figure also appears as a deity in the Anderson Faery/Feri tradition of the Craft. 

Here is an account of a contemporary reference to Melek Taus

The contingent, named Malik al-Tawus or ‘King Peacock’ after the mythical figure worshipped by the ancient religious minority, clashed with IS [ISIL] in the area west of the rebel-held city of Mosul.

Malik al-Tawus, the self-defence group, was established in 2007 to protect the Yazidi community in Iraq against attacks by Islamists.

The Yazidi religion is a syncretic combination of Zoroastrianism with Sufi Islam, dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. They believe that God and seven angels protect the world and one of these angels, named Malak Tawus and believed to be embodied by a peacock on Earth, was thrown out of paradise for refusing to bow to Adam.

I don’t know if the Yezidis who were honored at this recent reception would agree with the description of their religion as being syncretic, although most if not all religions are.  They struck me as being of a conservative bent.  This particular group represented a diaspora of Yezidis living in Canada. 

RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty reports on another Yezidi community in Armenia where Melek Taus is prominently revered and where the Yezidis recently constructed a new temple.  Perhaps their goal is not to reclaim their homeland in Northern Iraq that other diasporic communities seek.

In any case, Melek Taus, the headstrong Peacock Angel, is the central figure in the Yazidi faith.  Because he refused to bend to the will of God [the one called Allah, one would assume], conservative Muslims view the Yezidis as “devil worshippers.”  The Koran tells a similar story about Shaytan, the Devil, having been cast down into hell for defying God.

However, although Melek Taus is the most important deity to the Yezidis, they maintain that he belongs to the entire world.  About the Peacock Angel Yezidi Truth asserts that:

The Yezidis believe that they possess the oldest religion on Earth, the primeval faith that features Tawsi Melek, and that all other traditions are related to them through the Peacock Angel [although not always in the form of a peacock]. They contend that Tawsi Melek is the true creator and ruler of the universe, and therefore a part of all religious traditions.  Once he arrived on Earth he became its monarch and has since governed the world from an etheric dimension.

Melek Taus later changed his appearance and name and now has morphed and manifested in different religions around the globe.

Further, for Yazidis, Melek Taus “is above the concepts of good and evil -- comparable to fire, which can cook and warm but also burn and destroy.”  Therefore, is makes perfect sense to me that he would manifest in a religion that holds the concept of “the black heart of innocence.”  To quote the late Grand Master Victor Anderson:  “How beautiful is the black lascivious purity in the hearts of children and small animals.  This is the black heart of innocence and the root of all true rightness.”

My initial encounters with Melek Taus were in the context of Anderson Faery/Feri, although I have had very little exposure to him even within Faery.  When I first read about Melek Taus exclusive of the context of Faery, I thought his appearance there might have been the dreaded cultural appropriation.  After all, culturally speaking, Northern Iraq is a far cry from Northern California.  Now I’ve learned that he is claimed to be “a part of all religious traditions.”

My personal favorite, the image on the altar in my bedroom, is artist Paul Rucker’s interpretation. Judging by the plethora of images of Melek Taus on the Internet, it seems he’s become widely known, with many jpgs of Paul’s art and almost no attribution.

There’s a wealth of information and a wealth images of Melek Taus on the Internet for those who wish to pursue him intellectually.  Best, however, to encounter him by performing devotional acts; then see what happens.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

AAR 2016

Gold Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol  1962

Last November, with help from the Covenant of the Goddess, I again attended the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Antonio.  (This year the meeting will be in Boston.)

If you’ve read any of my other posts about these annual meetings, you know that in addition to the Pagan Studies Section, I attend other sessions on other topics when they don’t conflict with Pagan Studies sessions.  This year was no different.

Kerry Noonan and I shared a room, where I listened to her rehearse her paper, sans Power Point.  It interested me, as did some of the other papers in that session.  One can always learn from other religions.  Not necessarily theology, faith, or belief; rather organizations and methods, successes and mistakes, things we may wish to emulate (organization-wise) and those we should avoid.  We also learn what I call “sacred technology,” by which I mean such things as visualization, meditation, chanting, breathwork, dancing, liturgical skills.

So the first session I attended was that of the Roman Catholic Studies Group, entitled

Ex-Catholics: Thresholds of Catholic Identity and Defiance.  According to a Pew survey, Catholicism … has been losing adherents, mostly to the secular, … but also due to relevance.

«    Nicholas Rademacher – “Rethinking Resistance: Varieties of Dissent and Patterns of Solidarity among U.S. Catholics.”  Many observers gloss over differences among dissenting Catholics of the mid to late twentieth century, collapsing a diverse movement into a seeming homogeneous group.  Even the radicals themselves perpetuated an impression of homogeneity in order to present a united front to the public eye.  While many dissenters at mid-century promoted similar ideas about racial and economic justice, pacifism, and a more egalitarian ecclesiology, they traveled different paths and even corrected one another from time to time.  Yet they rarely if ever publicly reproached one another.  A closer look at the internal conversation of the period by way of diary accounts, correspondence, and the public record reveals important distinctions and even disagreements among and between those who dissented within and against the Roman Catholic Church on social justice themes.

We’ve long included many, many ‘recovering Catholics’ in our Pagan communities, along with Jewitches, Buddheo-Pagans, Quagans, and Atheo-Pagans.  Some Pagans design rituals that have been influenced by Catholic ritual, not to mention the liberal use of frankincense and myrrh in our workings.[1]  Some Pagan organizations go so far as to mimic Roman Catholic hierarchy, assuming such titles as Reverend and Right Reverend, wearing [green or purple] Roman collars, and employing fractured Elizabethan English.  Not my personal cup of tea, but if using these methods aids practitioners to achieve a more spiritually receptive state and feel more compassionate toward and bonded with their co-practitioners, more power to them.

Dr. Rademacher spoke of “defecting in place,” citing Catholics working for social justice causes.  Among them, Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan and his brother Phillip, the latter’s wife and former nun, Elizabeth McAlister, Thomas Merton, and Mary Elizabeth Walsh.  These people interpreted church teachings as a living gospel calling for activism in pursuit of a better world.  From the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt forward, they sought to foster solidarity within the social justice movement.  They saw priests moving into middle class privilege, while they instead worked in the Bowery, established settlement houses, participated in hunger and peace marches, and in general chose to live with and among marginalized people instead of returning to middle class comfort.

«    Kori Pacyniak – “Ex-Catholics: Exile or Exodus in the Borderlands of the Church.”  As numbers of “former” or” ex” Catholics increase, various questions remain.  Why do some leave while others remain and work for change within.

Ms. Pacyniak, whose studies focus on queer theology, trans theology, and trauma theology, spoke of liminal overlapping space.  Many LGBTQIA Catholics leave their place of origin to find a more accepting space and a better life.  They seek these demilitarized places where they are both inside and outside, “both me and not me.”  These borderlands as places of “becoming.”  She also stressed the distinction between the exodus where one has agency, as opposed to excommunication which is not of one’s doing.

Often these dissenting Catholics find a welcoming home and a more relevant and satisfying religious practice within Pagan communities.

«    Meredith Massar Munson – “All That Glitters Is Not Gold: Andy Warhol’s Byzantine Icon, Gold Marilyn Monroe.”  When did celebrity become iconic?  Born of devout Byzantine-Ruthenian immigrants in Pittsburgh, Andy Warhol spent his childhood in the rich visual culture of the Byzantine Catholic tradition.  His 1962 painting, Gold Marilyn Monroe, has been casually associated with Byzantine icons since its creation.  However, scholars have not gone beyond the canvas’s gilded visage to explore the extremely provocative connotations that such a connection might actually hold.  An investigation of the artist’s personal Byzantine-Catholic history posits this painting as directly indebted to the long-standing icon tradition, and furthermore, as intrinsically connected to the acheiropoieta, [made without hands] the image not by human hands.  Warhol’s iconic painting opens the door for a cultural critique that compares and contrasts fame and exploitation.  This paper will endeavor to place Gold Marilyn within the much larger dialogue concerning the role of the icon, bridging the gap between the secular and the spiritual.

I had never heard of Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholicism before.  I was aware that Andy Warhol was Catholic, but I knew neither its particular flavor nor its prominence/importance in his life.  He attended Mass daily.

My interest in this talk was the examination of pop icons in light of the fact that many Pagans are idolaters or use iconic images as objects of reverence and/or for focused meditation.  Not all, of course, but many.  It is not uncommon to see on an altar a Wonder Woman action figure or a little Batman doll or some other object marketed as a toy.

We have our own versions of the Catholic Marian cults, such as the Ord Brighideach International, to which I belong, and the Covenant of Hekate.  Moreover, there are numerous orders, sisterhoods, and fellowships dedicated to the worship of specific deities.  Further, I know there are people, Pagans and cowans alike, who maintain special areas of their homes dedicated to Marilyn Monroe herself.  The painting called Gold Marilyn Monroe, created by the “pope of pop,” exemplifies this appreciation of graven images.

«    Kerry Noonan – “’I’m Going to Try Reiki Next, and I’m Not Going to Confession!’ Negotiating Vernacular Catholicism.”  In a guided meditation in a yoga studio, a conservative Catholic woman listens to the messages channeled by a psychic teacher -– messages from deceased loved ones, archangels, the Virgin Mary.  She’s not a “fallen-away” Catholic, nor a New Ager; Catholicism is part of her identity, and she works to integrate these new practices into an identity that eschews them.  Employing Leonard Primiano’s concept of  “vernacular religion,” I aim to better understand her and others like her who, while seeking direct and embodied experiences of the Divine, incorporate new practices and place them in familiar Catholic contexts.  In light of Catherine Albanese’s assertion that Americans have practiced “combinative” religion for centuries, and Robert Orsi’s contention that religious traditions are “zones of improvisation and conflict,” I explore the possibility that we can see this woman not as an orthodox outlier, but as emblematic of important trends in the American religious landscape.

This process of syncretism is a fairly common phenomenon among Pagan religions, Witchcraft in particular.  We often learn meditative techniques from Asian religions rhat may enhance our own.  Tibetan Buddhism employs the use of yantras as foci for visualization.  We also sing Hindu chants, purported Native American chants of various kinds, and chants from Voudoun.  We borrow rhythms.  We dance English, French, and Basque folk dances.

Contemporary Pagan Studies Group(1)

Modernity and Postmodernity:  Pagans Reimagining the Future.  Modern Pagan movements still struggle with identity and history, especially when former “historical” and ideological foundations are challenged by new interpretations or others’ voice.  Participants will present summaries of their papers and discuss with each other and the audience issues of history, identity and ethnicity across boundaries, and the pressures of institutionalization.  

Sabina Magliocco presided and Amy Hale responded to the following speakers;

«    Barbara Jane Davy — "Reconstruction Alternatives: Wicked Dilemmas for Contemporary Pagan Responses to Modernity." (description too long to type)

«    Stephen Quilley — "Reconstruction Alternatives: Wicked Dilemmas for Contemporary Pagan Responses to Modernity." (description too long to type)

«    Thomas Berendt —  "Postmodern Paganisms: Embracing Polytheitic Plurality, Diversity, and Hybridity.” (description too long to type)

«    Christopher W. Chase — "Differential Modernities: Rethinking Vodou in Contemporary Paganism."  “…contends that Pagan traditions respond to modernity according to sociohistorically contingent circumstances. As an example, Vodou has developed a Christian ecclesia model in Haiti in response to Pentecostalism, while tracking along a decentralized initiatory path in the U.S., similar to other Pagan traditions.

As you can tell from these descriptions, we Pagans are protean in our tendency to evolve and change.

I apologize for the skimpiness of commentary on the Pagan Studies sessions.  In the two years since I suffered a stroke, I have not fully regained my ability to handwrite, so my notes are minimal and often indecipherable.  Fortunately, Christine Hoff Kraemer shares a thorough report of her experience of this event on The Wild Hunt. 

Contemporary Pagan Studies Group(2)

Dilemmas of Identity and Formation in Contemporary Paganism:  Tropes of anti-modernism and primitivism inform the development of contemporary Pagan movements, yet these groups are sometimes described as postmodern as well.”  Papers and discussion of “whether the central tenets of postmodernism – plurality, diversity, and hybridity – chiefly influence such movements today or whether protests against modernity and reconstructions of fictive pre-modern societies and world views drive them equally.

Jone Salomonsen presided and Shawn Arthur responded to the following speakers:

«    Gwendolyn Reece – “The Scalability Crisis: Contemporary Paganism and Institutionalization.”  “…argues that one of the primary driving forces behind the trend towards institutionalization in Contemporary Paganisjm … (description too long to type)

This paper specifically speaks of the dilemmas we, as a fast-growing constellation of Nature-based and/or heritage-based, and related non-Abrahamic religious groups, confront when trying to create institutions that address our professional needs from a less conventional and, given our great diversity, from a somewhat Pagan perspective.  This has been the work of Cherry Hill Seminary, among other worthy efforts.

«    Patricia E’Iolana  -- “An Imagined and Idealised [sic] Past as a Source for Revisionist Rhetoric: The Dual Lives of the 1921 Murray Thesis.” (description too long to type)

«    Lee Gilmore – “Pagan and Indigenous Communities at the Parliament (Part 2): The Myth of the Unbroken Line in Constructions of Authenticity.” (description too long to type)

«    Leigh Ann Hildebrand – “Jews (and Jewitches) Touching Trees: Hybrid Jewish/Pagan Identity, Ritual Practice, and Belief.” (description too long to type)

The phenomenon of Jewitches has long been a facet of the Craft.  About twenty years ago Jewitches in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul) published a newsletter call Di Shmatteh (the rag).  Since then, various blends or dual perspectives have arisen:  Buddheo-Pagan, Quagan, Atheo-Pagan, and even Christo-Pagan.  As a person reared in Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic, I don’t get this last one, but then again, it’s not mine to get.

The work of scholars and supporters at Cherry Hill Seminary is one manifestation of the expression of these issues of legitimacy, identity, and sustainability.  In fact, one of the older and still extant Pagan organizations, the Covenant of the Goddess, in its annual Leadership Institute, has recently done in a daylong focus on examining the current state of the Craft and Paganism, and locating CoG’s place in that larger community and in the world.

Native Traditions in the Americas Group

Indigenous Religious Hybridity and the Transformation of Traditions:  This session addresses different forms of religious hybridity.  Zitkala-Sa, or Gertrude Simmons Bonin, was an important Dakota leader who drew from her own cultural traditions as well as her education in boarding schools to publish at the national level and serve as an agent of the government.  Patron Saint Feast Days incorporate from and negotiate between indigenous and Christian practices.  Research on the Ohlone Shell Walk illustrates the revitalization of traditions while highlighting the relationship between religious and political activity.

«    Abel Gomez -- Shellmound Peace Walk: Prayer, Pilgrimage, and Activism in Ohlone Territory” Ohlone communities of the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas are experiencing a cultural renewal, despite their non-recognized status.  Central to this revival is the protection of burial sites, most of which have been destroyed because of urban development.  This paper focuses on Ohlone activist Corrina Gould’s efforts to honor the burial place of her ancestors through Shellmound Peace Walks.  Beginning in 2005, Gould has organized three-week long pilgrimages to the shellmounds (burial sites) of her ancestors.  At each stop, participants heard stories of the site and offered prayers and tobacco.  Drawing on fieldwork, historical writings, and oral histories, I argue that the Shellmound Peace Walks demonstrate the interconnectivity of religion and political activism in Native communities.  For Ohlone solidarity with non-Native people.

I was initially drawn to this section because I saw that Abel Gomez was one of the presenters.  He is a young man from the S.F Bay Area I’ve met through local Reclaiming. 

Another draw was the fact that the topic is about a region I call home.  Much of the southern Baylands and the land on the other side of SF Bay from where I write is home to Ohlone people.  My neighboring county to the north is Coast Miwok country.[2]  There are 425 shellmounds in the salt marshes and mudflats around San Francisco Bay and beyond (San Pablo Bay, Suisun Bay, Carquinez Strait).  

Over the time since Europeans settled this area, the largest, once a burial ground rising 60 feet high and dating back to 800 BCE, has been desecrated by being used for an amusement park and later as a dumping ground for toxic chemicals.   Since 1999 a shopping center occupies most of that shellmound, with a memorial park nearby, now designated Emeryville Shellmound, California Historical Landmark #335.

From time to time I have received email posts soliciting people to attend these peace walks.  I appreciated hearing this more detailed information about these activities.  Abel’s contention of the interconnectivity of Native religions and political activism matches my own convictions.

I have attended public Witchen sabbat celebrations at the Emeryville Shellmounds.  From that spot one can see beautiful sunsets behind some of the land surrounding the Bay.  I like to think that, rather than using the site as a dumping ground, by performing our sabbats on what is left of this formerly 60-foot high mound, we in some small way honor the ancestors of our Ohlone neighbors.

«     Boundaries in the Borderlands: Pueblo Indian Patron Saint Feast Days and the Negotiation of Catholicism 

Once again my post-stroke ability to take notes results in my inability to interpret my compromised handwriting.

Zitkala-Sa, Joseph T. Keiley

Zitkala-Sa: A Warrior of Survivance [sic] between Traditionalism and Progressivism

A mixed-ethnicity[3] woman who identified with her mother’s Yankton Sioux heritage, Zitkala-Sa, “Red Bird,” whose Euro-name is Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, first entered my consciousness a few years ago when I came upon the following quote:

“A wee child toddling in a wonder world, I prefer to their dogma my excursions into the natural gardens where the voice of the Great Spirit is heard in the twittering of birds, the rippling of mighty waters, and the sweet breathing of flowers. If this is Paganism, then at present, at least, I am a Pagan.”

Zitkala-Sa was an amazing person.  She straddled two cultures, seeking the knowledge and wisdom of both, and she took those understandings into the world beyond the reservation.  She even wrote a Native-themed opera, “The Sun Dance Opera,” that was first performed on stage in 1913.  Her finding values in both cultures in which she found herself immersed seems relevant to what many contemporary Pagans have been doing by learning about our various heritages, and blends of heritages.   We syncretize what resonates for us into spiritual practices that give expression of who we are and enrich the meaning in our rituals.

I’m registered for the AAR Annual Meeting in Boston and hopeful that I’ll have enough money to get there.

[1]   The inmates in our circle at San Quentin State Prison, unlike in many other prisons, are allowed flame and incense, at least when I’m there, and they all love incense.  So we use it liberally and they emerge from circle with the scents permeating their hair and clothing and reminding them of where they’ve just been.
[3]   I feel uncomfortable assigning the word race to people of any heritage or complexion because humans comprise one race or species.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Table to Action Design Workshop

Back in October 2016 I wrote about attending the initial SF Bay Area meeting of Table to Action[1].  I mentioned soliciting one or three of my local interfaith colleagues who are Roman Catholic, Buddhist, and/or Hindu.  Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful.  A college professor friend recommended a liberal Catholic at her institution, and introduced us by email.  I invited her and got her in the loop for the next meeting in February.  She responded that she was eager to come, but for whatever reason(s) she did not attend.

Sponsored by Auburn Seminary and Starr King School for the Ministry, that second meeting was very like the first one.  Table to Action had planned a longer follow-up workshop to take place in April.  It was an evening, followed by a daylong design workshop.  This is some of what the invitation said:

From September 2016 through February 2017, a multi-religious group of about thirty Bay Area spiritual and community leaders have gathered…to form a community of resilience and accountability and discuss common questions related to our struggles for justice.

When we began…the questions before us were related to our spiritual, emotional and physical sustainability in the context of relentless demands and challenges and frequent setbacks.  We approach the questions intersectionally, both from personal and communal standpoints,

We asked ourselves what kind of justice movement we dreamed of, one that would engage issues intersectionally, respected our different social locations and histories and honored our bodies and souls as we are in the struggle.  …

After the elections, we checked on how our bodies and souls and our community fared in the midst of constant multiple attacks on the values and communities we love.  We asked ourselves how we could best support each other across our different communities, and strengthen our capacity to build a sustainable and resilient local community or resistance and resilience.

This longer engagement culminated “with a DesignShop[2] … [to] imagine together where we might want to reimagine ways to collaborate for justice in the Bay [Area] in these times.”  The title was:

We Are Not Afraid to Reimagine[3]
A Design Shop Intensive[4]

We gathered at City of Refuge United Church of Christ in Oakland on the evening of April 23 and all day on April 24.  The Hospitality Services of City of Refuge, an excellent venue, conveniently located with plenty of parking and a small garden outside, catered our event.  The food was great, accommodating various dietary concerns, and the food preparers (all women, it seemed) friendly and kind.  They earned several applauses throughout the two days.

The first evening entailed a re-acquaintance with other participants, and for those who hadn’t attended the first two meetings, getting to know each person.  Again, I was unsuccessful in recruiting either Buddhists, Catholics, or Hindus, although I know that all three are active in interfaith, social justice, and environmental concerns.  To be fair, there are few Hindus in my immediate area except for a Vedanta retreat, which is a member of Marin Interfaith Council.  However, there are plenty of activist Catholics and Buddhists.  And since this was a Bay Area-wide effort and there are many Hindus in the Santa Clara Valley (aka Silicon Valley), I found their absence worth mentioning.  It wasn’t I who convened this group, so I don’t know how wide a net they cast.  Regardless, I did invite Felicity Grove, an interfaith colleague from NCLC-CoG.[5]  Surprisingly, among this group of about thirty, there were four Witches.  One, Courtney Weber Hoover works at Auburn and is part of the program, so she was an employee-participant.  The other was local Witch Luna Pantera, whom I’ve known for many years and knew of her involvement with NOW.  I had not encountered her at interfaith activity until now, although I’m now aware that she attended the second MountainTop in Atlanta in 2015, as I did in Nashville in 2013.  I was glad to see her taking the step of further involvement.

As in earlier DesignShop sessions, we gathered in small working groups, where we were given a topic or a problem to address collaboratively.  The specific configurations of these groups changed with each change of topic; all were timed to 30 minutes.

An artist documented our full group discussions on whiteboards around the room.  I described this here, starting at the sixth paragraph. 

Get on the Bus

Round One of this exercise involved teammates depicting “the Bay Area’s movement work as if it were a bus on a journey…traversing any kind of landscape.”  Includes details such as obstacles, challenges, landmarks, “as well as the nature of the interaction on the bus…”  After this we walked around to see what others had been talking about.

“It’s easier to get from THERE to HERE than it is to get from HERE to THERE.”
DesignShop Axiom

For Round Two, teams drew a bus that represented the ideal Future State, three years from today, then chose a team member to report the group’s final ideas to the whole gathering.

Design a Home

For this module we formed new teams in which each of us was given a description of a specific person and assigned to enact that individual in the discussion.  We were five people, each decidedly different from the other in terms of age, health, economic situation, ethnicity, et al., seeking to share housing in the Bay Area.  We were to consider each participant’s needs: cost; location; quiet hours or quiet area; rooms for entertaining visitors; sharing food and/or meals or not; accessibility of public transit; pet(s) or none; house meetings; levels of fastidiousness; chores; need for yard or garden area; etc.  No one knew who the other was portraying prior to the role-playing discussion.

My role was that of a 52-year old gen X-er, middle class, working in nonprofit, given to inclusivity, reflection and discussion, no rash decisions.  The names given to each participant were not generally seen as being gender-specific.  My name was Leslie.

“To add someone’s experience to your experience, 
to create a new experience, is possibly valuable.”
DesignShop Axiom

Then we debriefed for another 20 minutes, setting aside our roles and reviewing what just happened in our housemate meeting.  Questions we considered were:

1.              What process did you work out to make this decision?  Who took the lead?  Was it an explicit process or did it just evolve?

2.              What worked well and what could you have done differently in listening to what was important to each of the other housemates?

3.              How did you balance incompatible objectives and priorities?

4.              How was this scenario like some of the trade-off decisions that have to be made in creating a more racially and economically equitable Bay Area?

5.              What did you learn about design decisions like this one that you can use going forward?

At the end of that time, we reported what we learned to the whole gathering.  I felt okay about how this module went.

“Everything that someone tells you is true; 
they are reporting their experience of reality.”
DesignShop Axiom

Designing a Game
Design the Sustainable Justice Game

Beginning with the assumption that everything can be turned into a game, we were tasked with designing a “sustainable racial and economic justice game.”  Colored paper, beads, yarns, colored markers, and other game-making materials were provided.  Both Felicity and I were in this group together with two other people.

Questions we considered in devising this Sustainable Justice Game were:  Choosing a game to model; the objective of the game; what winning looks like; who can win and under what circumstances; strategies leading to success or failure; what advances play or sets players back; barriers/obstacles to winning and how to overcome them; resources/skills players need and whether they’re easy to pick up or can be offered from one player to another; who are the players and what are their roles and characteristics; player interactions and powers, limits or constraints; cooperation or competition; field of play; and rules.  And importantly, what unique characteristics of the multifaith movement for social justice can be built into our game?

We began by brainstorming a list of our favorite games.  There was one game that neither Felicity nor I knew anything about.  Both of us clearly expressed this numerous times.  Nevertheless, time was running out and we hadn’t settled on one game to use as a template that all of us agreed on, so the person most invested in using the game she suggested took the lead and began writing about it on our whiteboard.  We settled with doing the support work of making the board and the pieces according to what the other two were telling us about how the model game goes.  Personally, I felt excluded from designing the game and handicapped due to our ignorance of it.  And I will say that this exercise was not fun for me.  Nor was it an equitable collaboration.

Our result, ideally, was writing the rules, preparing the board (or other field of play), pieces, and other elements so that another team can actually play it.

“If you can’t have fun with the problem, 
you will never solve it.”
DesignShop Axiom

We then moved our tables together to hear what another group designed and to share what we designed.  The other group created a game I really liked.  It was a board game, with all roads leading to the center.  The object was to get to the center, and for those who reached the center sooner to work towards bringing along every other player.  I couldn’t hear their explanations due to the distance created by two large tables pushed together, the acoustically “live” room, and the softness of their speech.  I did the obvious, which was to request the speaker to speak louder because I wanted to hear what they had to say but couldn’t.  The first time I said this, the speaker duly increased her volume.  However, the next speaker again spoke softly and again I said I couldn’t hear.  This situation was exacerbated by people leaning in to hear better and thereby blocking my view.  Of course, I kept moving my vantage point so that I could see the speaker, but it didn’t do much good

We concluded the day by gathering once again in a circle, where Melvin Bray, the facilitator asked that someone from each team tell us what they did.  This is where things got dicey among four who participated in the game design segment.  The facilitator did not extend our talk so that we could express our frustrations and resolve our differences.  Perhaps others didn’t see the tension and bewilderment on our faces.  I was disappointed.  Normally I would do that myself  -- speak up.  However, we were at the end of the day and there seemed to good way to deal with the problem without being disruptive.  Instead, I spoke to another team member one-to-one after the close, expressing that I wanted to clear things up.  I have heard nothing more.

In hindsight, I see that we – or I, at least – participated in a lower key, less take-charge way because we were conscious that we were viewed as the seemingly privileged middle-class educated white folks, or using the term I prefer in such circumstances, Euros, among a minority majority assembly.  We tended to hold back more than we usually would in service, I thought, of good behavior, not bullying or trying to take over.

At each of the three Bay Area sessions, I met and talked with several very interesting people, folks it’s unlikely I’d meet otherwise, because they were primarily from the Abrahamic religions and I don’t usually have occasion to attend Christian, Jewish, or Muslim religious ceremonies.  At all three Table to Action events I attended, I met several people I’d like to know better, and perhaps ultimately either supporting each other’s efforts or perhaps collaborating.  I would have enjoyed more socializing -- just in general, not specifically at these events.  Because those of us to participate in interfaith (or, more appropriately in our case, inter-religious) activities know that it is in opening ourselves to and cultivating personal friendships that forge and sustain our efforts.  In order to make this happen, we would need to be able to remain in contact so we could deepen these connections to the extent that each of us was moved to do so.

So my primary frustration with this whole project is that we have been provided no way to continue our conversations and to help with and/or fortify each other and each other’s interfaith work.  For some reason I was under the mistaken assumption that this project was intended to forge alliances.  Some of us did, individually, exchange contact information.  I hope that a contact list is provided at some point, although I don’t anticipate more sessions.

[1]  Unfortunately the FAQs on the Table to Action website appear to be in Latin.
[2]  DesignShop is a method created by Rob Evans of Imaginal Labs.  Here’s a brief talk about it.  You may recall my post about MountainTop in 2013, which I explained as I experienced it.  The founders explain it here. 

[3]   “We Are Not Afraid to Reimagine” is a line from a poem written collectively at the Table to Action dinner on September 20, 2016.
[4]   “DesignShop is a methodology that puts participants into interaction with one another to identify challenges, concerns, problems or opportunities and to design together a way of addressing them.  The future is coming, whether we are ready or not.  Our desire is a future by design—that we shape toward justice—not by default.”

[5]   Northern California Council, Covenant of the Goddess