Make the Damn Decisions

Some time ago I had a conversation with a newer pagan business owner.  This person was someone who claimed to be an Omnist.  I think that term is pretty loaded in this day and age, so I pressed them for more information.  Upon my further questions, this person continued to be insistent in their belief that ALL religions and faiths are true in every aspect, and all of them deserve recognition and respect.  That seems pretty straightforward, and fair, for the most part, but it was still enough to give me significant pause in dealing with them.

The definition of Omnist, according to Merriam-Webster, is “one that believes in all religions.”  There are some that feel the term needs an updated definition in that there are some truths in all religions, but not all religions are 100% truthful.  And if I would have gotten that specific definition from this person when I continued to press, this would be a non-issue.

But instead, I received their personal definition of Omnist, that they truly believed all religions are fully correct.  This was why the red flags came up.  Because in essence, this person is saying they believe in Scientology, a cult masking themselves as a religion that has hurt many of its members deeply.  They also believe in Odinism and Folkish Asatru, sects of Heathenism that believe only those with a white ancestry can follow the Norse Gods and whose followers are mostly downright despicable racists.  And they are also saying they believe in specific sects of Evangelical Christianity…the same Christian sects that are currently working to curb my rights as a woman as well as bully anyone who doesn’t act and believe exactly as they do.

Ultimately, by using this personal definition, this person is saying it’s OK these groups do horrible things; that these so-called religions all have a right to say and do the things they are doing to other people based on their faith.  And even after I continued to press this person, they made it clear that they weren’t going to take a stand on any injustices based on someone’s religious beliefs (and even became very uncomfortable talking about it).  To me, it was easy to see that they were too wrapped up making sure they don’t break any eggs, step on anyone’s toes, nor make any potential customers mad.

I do give the person credit in that I don’t believe they were taking this stand out of purposeful choice.  Instead, I realize they took this stand out of ignorance.  But even that fact – that they took this stand out of ignorance – is also a grave concern in my mind.  It means that they were not tied into the pagan community enough to understand what exactly has been going on.  They aren’t aware of Declaration 127.  They don’t understand why it had to be written in the first place.  And they aren’t recognizing that the problem of racism and exclusion is getting worse instead of better.

If that wasn’t bad enough, this person is purposefully choosing not to step out of their ignorance.  They would rather be ignorant and choose to not make any decisions regarding what they consider to be right and wrong in an effort to not upset possible customers, even if the opportunity for more information about an issue presents itself.  Because they were so insistent about this stance, it’s not a far jump to conclude that they also refuse to make hard decisions about their own personal truths. Instead, they are ready to accept anything called a religion at face value and label it as truth, and that is very scary to me.

While I fully understand and agree that someone’s personal religious beliefs deserve respect, we are not in a day and age where someone can simply accept another’s belief without questioning their ethics as well.  We have to ask the hard questions, and we have to get the real answers.  Then and only then can we determine whether or not we want to patronize this person’s business or allow this person to be in a private circle or blot with us.  Yes, that means you may hurt this person’s feelings, or even make them angry with you.  All the more reason to do it.  Perhaps they may realize their mistakes and become more inclusive once they are singled out because of their own preference for the exclusivity of people that look, act and believe exactly like they do.

Paganism is not a happy-go-lucky religion.  It’s not a religion where you are so fearful of your Gods that you don’t try to reach out to them.  It isn’t about letting others tell you what you should do and what you believe and why.  This religion is about making choices to better your life and the lives around you.  It’s about owning up to your shortcomings, and figuring out what to do about them to make yourself stronger.  It’s about building relationships and standing strong in the face of adversity.

Pagans have an active religion; we are the ones that truly know what we can and cannot do, and we understand the circumstances and (mostly) the outcomes of the actions we take.  To call yourself a pagan (or in the case of the person above, open up a business that caters to pagans) is to step into the world of your own responsibility.  There are no apologies to God to forgive you and simply take your shortcomings away.  Sure, you can still absolutely apologize for your wrong action, but that doesn’t mean you skip the responsibility of making it right.  And just as much as it is someone else’s responsibility to take action and make the decisions for inclusivity, it is my responsibility to ensure that my patronage is for established businesses that ensure that inclusivity.  Because if I don’t do that, I am just as guilty as the person who refused to make the decision in the first place.

Decision making in paganism doesn’t just end with whether or not you are inclusive.  Because we have a living, active religion, we also have to make decisions daily about our own personal actions.  This goes way beyond what place of business you patronize.  As a Pagan, I live by my religion and ethics.  I am honest and truthful in my personal dealings with people.  I stick by my promises and oaths.  I strive to take care of myself and the people around me.  Even more importantly, as someone who does work within my pagan community for others, I strive to be honest and truthful in what it is I can and cannot do.  I recognize and understand that sometimes I have to be the one that has to give the hard truths to someone who needs to hear them (and in many cases, they have asked me for these truths).  That is something I cannot trust someone else to do, especially when they are unwilling to speak for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings or losing a customer.

In Paganism we don’t have a black-and-white guidebook.  We ultimately cannot tell someone else they are absolutely wrong.  But we do have our own morals and ethics that we have to strive to keep.  We have our oaths and the Gods that guide us, and we strive to keep right relationships with those around us.  It is my responsibility to take my ethics, my oaths, and my understanding and make decisions based on these things in order to continue to pursue my religion the best way I know how.  And because of these beliefs, I actively choose to ensure inclusivity in all of my dealings; whether they be part of my local pagan community, part of my workplace actions or simply dealings in public.  My hope is that others would also be willing to make decisions based on their own morals and ideals and live by those decisions, as it is greatly disappointing when someone chooses otherwise.

 

 

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Pain

I awaken in the morning
Try not to move
Or else the pain will start

Finally move, stumble forward
Grimace faced
Pain awakens again

I drive to work and greet the sun
Spasms start now
The pain continues on

I stand up from my desk again
Stop a moment
The spike of pain settles

I continue the work facade
Typing hurts
The pain keeps me company

Day done, I walk out to my Jeep
Pretend I’m fine
Pain in my arms and body

I share my plight with others
Oh, like I have!
NOT. THE. SAME. New pain starts now

I try to claim my old strength
I do too much
The pain makes me bedridden

Another activity missed
I watch them leave
The pain wins again with tears

I think about what I have lost
Black belts, friends, strength
The damned pain continues on

Never understanding, why me
No one asks now
A new pain hurts my heart

Damned if I do, damned if I don’t
I just cannot win
The pain continues its waves

No one understands why I fight
Battles won, battles lost
Pain, my constant companion

I am in my own special war
Must fight, or die
The pain never gives up

Still, I scheme and plot for more
Wanting life back
But the pain never lets go

The Pain of Division: Why the Native American Taunting Hurts So Damn Much

I hate that I hurt enough to write this. I hate that I sit here, partially in tears, thinking about the division that has everything in this nation polarized. This incident this weekend is already making the rounds on the right and left, with people already camped out and digging in their positions on both sides. And until now, I’ve been doing my best trying not to become entrenched.  I’ve done my best these past years trying to not let the horrid atrocities I see on the news get to me. I’ve been carefully navigating my way through each new situation, each new bit of news and its revelations with my heart still intact, hoping that sooner or later there would be a solution and we would just get back to all being united in SOMETHING.

But seeing this weekend’s horrible video of Elder Nathan Philips being taunted by a group of ‘Catholic’ kids broke me. It hurt. It made me angry and made me want to throw up all at the same time. It made me angry cause I recognize that demeanor and that sense of entitlement, and it sickens me because where I see it is in my own extended family.

 

My upbringing
I grew up Roman Catholic with blue collar, Baby Boomer parents. Thanks to my Grandparents payment of the fees and at their request, I was put in private, Catholic school. And while the school’s religious doctrine was significantly lacking compared to other Christian schools in the area, the same, simple teachings were expressed over and over. Love one another. Treat others as you wish to be treated. For what you so do to the least of my brothers you do onto me. These are the lessons an impressionable youngster like me took to heart, and I still do my best to follow them.

The same lessons weren’t taught at home. I asked my mother one time why she wouldn’t let me wave hi to a group riding motorcycles as we were going into a restaurant one time. “We don’t associate with THOSE type of people,” was her reply. My father taught me about ‘reverse racism’ and used to point out examples – anytime a black person ever stood up for themselves it was labeled as ‘acting entitled.’ The migrants (that was their name; never immigrants, Latinos or other culturally appropriate titles) that worked in the fields around our small city were ones to stay away from, because they were uncivilized, stupid and dangerous. I still remember a garage sale we had where I accidentally opened up the second garage door at the same time a family of Latinos were looking at what we had for sale. My opening the second door allowed all of the tools my father had that weren’t part of the sale to be seen. He was mad for weeks after, fully expecting his garage would be broken into at any moment.

It didn’t stop with cultural racism. When a new priest came to town, he decided to teach meditation and even did a laying of hands and prayer ceremony after mass one time for a woman who had stage 4 breast cancer. I remember her being in tears, thanking all of us who participated with hugs. I was so very excited at learning from this new priest as I knew these were things that would make me feel closer to God. But of course my parents saw it differently. They joined the group of parents that worked to get him kicked out of the parish for teaching “Buddhism”.

Of course, my religious questions continued. Dad had taught me the Nicene creed, the Catholic statement of faith, had a line that said, “Of all that is seen and unseen”, meaning that we believed in spirits and life after death. I think he wished that he hadn’t said that later, because his demeanor changed after I started asking more questions he couldn’t answer. When they became too profound, he said I shouldn’t be asking them. “The meek shall inherit the earth,” he would say, “Be like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven.” He told me I was thinking too much. I had to start taking things at face value and stop asking questions.

 

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
The beliefs I grew up with and were ‘supposed’ to have didn’t feel right to me, and so, after moving away, I studied for myself and found out that many of the things I was taught were wrong. There is no such thing as ‘reverse racism.’ People of color DO have more issues trying to live in any society in the United States because they are still dealing with the after effects of decades of laws that did not allow them to become as financially stable as whites during the Jim Crow era. I know now that many of the immigrants that come from that southern border are fleeing from horrible situations. They have nothing, and they are simply coming here to find hope and to live their life as they wish, much like my own family came from Germany, France and England many generations ago.

But you have to go back and visit sometime. And for the longest time I did go back like a dutiful child. I tried like hell not to bring anything up that would cause problems. I wanted them to be proud of who I had become and of the life I made for myself. And most important to me was that I wanted them to recognize that I still believe those things that I was taught so many years ago in that private Catholic school. Love one another. Do onto others as you would have done to you, for what you onto the least of my brothers you do onto me. Perhaps I wasn’t going to mass regularly, but I was still searching, doing what I could to find my religious place in the world and make it balance with still being accepted by my family.

It never happened. Even up until ten years ago I was still trying. I’d bring something up to my father that another minister had said and he would immediately end the conversation with, “that’s too liberal.” Months later I tried again as I found common ground in Oprah Winfrey’s talks with Eckhart Tolle. I brought up to my father some of the topics and how they connected my personal beliefs with their Catholic teachings. “She’s a reverse racist.” He quipped.  The worst of it was seeing the anger he had in his eyes when I brought a book for him to read.  I saw he was reading a book written by John McCain during the last time he ran for the presidency.  So I brought Barack Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” into the house. I was hoping to switch books with him so we could find some common ground. After he told me to get that book out of the house, I stopped trying.

 

The Familial Reality
I know now that there is absolutely no common ground with my parents when it comes to beliefs about culture, religions and privilege. The Trumpian madness has just made things more clear than I ever wanted to know. I had put boundaries on visits with my extended family because of the gross chasm of different beliefs. Stupidly, I relaxed those boundaries this past holiday season and was hit in the face with more talk about how ‘we’ are getting ripped off by ‘those’ illegal immigrants; how heaven has a wall, so we should too, and how there is no such thing as racial injustice in this country. I left the Christmas family celebration feeling alienated and betrayed, painfully aware that there was nothing I could do to change their minds, and that they had become even more feverous in their beliefs. I liken it to a cultish fervor now.  And it doesn’t stop with my parents anymore. Many of my aunts and uncles share the same beliefs. Some even more radical.

I have spent the past month trying to come to terms with this new normal. I’m going to have to make tougher boundaries, because I cannot even fathom how to face the fact that my family are racists.  It hurts that they are so comfortable in their privilege that they refuse to see anything else. Like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, they refuse to stop looking at shadows on the wall because they like what they see. Worse yet, I will always be treated as ‘different’ when I visit. Perhaps they think I’m too intelligent for my own good, or just have too big a bleeding heart for others. I don’t care anymore. I have spent too much of my time trying to bridge a gap that no one else is reaching a hand out to help with.  A gap that they claim I’ve put there myself in the first place.

 

Why The Covenant Catholic Incident Hits so Close To Home
I am no longer Catholic. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have feelings toward the Catholic Church and Christianity in general. Yes, many atrocities have happened in the church. I don’t deny that. But there are also very good people out there that are Catholic. My Grandparents were some of the good ones. My Great-Grandparents were as well. My sister teaches in Catholic school, and although she can be a bit bossy (she’s a Virgo after all) she is still a damn good woman. My Godparents were damn fine people who raised damn fine daughters of their own. I saw one of them post on Facebook about being just as appalled as I am of this incident.

But what still hurts is I already know that my parents are echoing the language of the priests and the parents of these boys. ‘That man was pounding his drum in my boy’s face.” “Why don’t you play all of the tape so you can see the real issue here and not make it about my son who was defending himself.” “We don’t know everything that happened here, so we can’t truly judge who was at fault.” Every time I hear or read someone say something in support of the discrimination both in this situation or anything that is pro-prejudice, it’s heard in my father’s voice. Because that is what he has become, and he doesn’t see anything wrong with it.

 

What Do I Do Now?
There is a reason why I haven’t gone to many marches, joined a resistance organization or done anything else but donate money since these things all began. The fact of the matter is I can’t. It just hurts too much. It hurts because I know people on the other side, and these people were supposed to be the loving, caring individuals that I grew up with, and should be living the truth they taught.

Now, it’s a lot worse for me.  Since Christmas I have been doing everything I can to not be overwhelmed at this new reality of boundaries I must now consider. I’ve already unfriended family on facebook, I refuse phone calls and only responded to the occasional texts. And even that little bit of communication feels uncomfortable as hell. But right now, I just don’t know what to do. Even my ancestral veneration work feels solidly off.

All I know for absolute certain is that I have to do what is best for me and my immediate family. I need to take care of myself. Those boundaries aren’t because I am being mean, not ‘listening to both sides,’ trying to ignore some ‘truth’ or because I’m just being a bitch.  They are there because of the pain I feel. I may even take a break from social media for awhile, even though I don’t really want to do that as it will also cut me off from facebook friends that have been my support. I’m still figuring it out as I go, but I am damn proud of myself for recognizing where I am at and that things do need to change, for better or for worse. (And to be perfectly honest, this post is either going to make things worse if they ever see it, or make things better because I’ll feel better once it’s posted.)

 

The Takeaway From All Of This
If you have read through all the way to now, thank you for reading. And just please know that there is such a thing as a good Catholic, and even a such a thing as a good Christian. Know that there are also good, caring individuals out there that for whatever reason, they refuse to step away from watching a shadow of what is really going on in the world. I may not agree with everything my extended family says, but they do try to care. And they, along with many others, don’t deserve hate. Perhaps pity, but not hate. Save that for the ones who are making the speeches and performing the actions that are further dividing people.

As for me and what I’m going to do in this new normal?  I’ll still keep my eye out while I’m in public, prepared for something that could go awry if someone decides they are going to go public with their racism. I’ll still donate to charities as much as I can, and I’ll still pray for justice and peace.  But that is really all I can do.

Death…and Detroit

Language warning here – just sayin’…

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: PARTS UNKNOWN
NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 31: Anthony Bourdain films Parts Unknown Queens in New York, New York on November 11, 2016. (photo by David Scott Holloway)

Anthony Fucking Bourdain. Gone before his time from a disease that doesn’t give a shit if you are rich, are poor, physically healthy or have the best supportive care network on this earth.

I’ll admit, I thought Bourdain was a big time jerk and arrogant ass until he took his show to Detroit for the first time.  And I realized when I watched that, he ‘got’ it.  He ‘got’ Detroit. Bourdain loved Detroit. It didn’t all come out on that show that night, but I could see it.  He understood the grim reality of those who live there.  He understood their loss, he understood their resilience, and he understood how they just continue to move forward when everything feels so very much stacked against them.

“Detroit looks like motherfucking Detroit.  As it should.” he said in the show.  “Those who watch this show, smugly thinking, “That could never happen to my city” are dreaming.  Detroit’s problems are America’s problems.”

I’ve been a “Metro Detroiter” on and off for about 17 years.  I wasn’t born in the city, but still I have a fondness for it and it’s hardships.  I’ve been angry about the ‘ruin porn’ and I was pissed as hell about the fact that Detroit entered bankruptcy and screwed the pensioners that still called the city home.  I’ve driven 8 Mile, Telegraph, Gratiot and 696 back and forth to work, worked in the RenCen retail areas and when I was really lucky, took in the occasional Wings game at the Joe.  I even scored a pair of tickets to the Auto Show at Cobo center for my boyfriend and I once when I barely had enough money to scrape by.  That was back when the auto industry was still doing somewhat well.  But that changed soon enough.

And now, after hearing the news today, I now understand a little better why Bourdain got Detroit.  And perhaps I understand it a little more than the average person does.  Because depression fucks with you just as much as the people of Detroit have been fucked over by the auto industry, politicians, the state of Michigan and by billionaires like Matty Moroun making riches even now off the city’s blight.  Depression sucks your will to live ever so slowly, making mincemeat out of the joys you once held dear, making you think that you aren’t worth the air going into your lungs.  It hurts, and it hurts bad.

“Detroit’s Problems are America’s problems.” Bourdain said.  He’s right there too.  Suicide rates in the past decade have gone up 33% in Michigan, compared to the national average raising by 30%.  Both are grim statistics.

Perhaps one reason Bourdain had a love of the resilience of Detroit is because he willed that resilience within himself.  If he had anything like the depression I’ve battled with, I’m sure thoughts like that crossed his mind.  I bet he had days where he was proud of himself and his resilience, beating those demons for another chance at another day.  I bet he’s thought of the Detroiters he met while he filmed Parts Unknown on those days where the battle came to a draw and thought, “if they can go one more day, so can I.”  And he’s probably thought of those Detroiters on the days where he couldn’t bear to go on, wondering how the hell they actually did it; how they survived and made it bearable day in and day out in an a place that he compared to Chernobyl.

Maybe he was trying to get some of that resilience to rub off onto him.  After all he was working on a documentary about Detroit before he died.  And he consistently spoke fondly of the town in almost every interview, even going so far to say he wished he could say he was from Detroit, because that would be the coolest thing he could ever say.  In one interview he described Detroit as:

“Beautiful. Magnificent. The boundless hope and dreams and optimism of its builders is reflected in the architecture. I feel anger seeing the extent to which it has been allowed to crumble. I feel hopeful. And I feel a tremendous appreciation that people have stuck it out and are proud of their city. They’re loyal to it. It’s truly a great city and the font of so many important American economic and cultural improvisations and movements. That it could have been allowed to come close to failing is a national disgrace.”

And the fact that he, like many other people in this nation couldn’t openly talk about the depression they faced is also a national disgrace.

Now, in the aftermath, perhaps knowing that this larger than life person who said he had the best job in the world lost his battle means that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself when I fight my own battles.  Perhaps I can recognize a little better that my own struggle is real, and it’s hard enough to take anyone down.  Perhaps I can start being a little bit easier on myself on days when it’s the worst, and push off those harder tasks until tomorrow, when I might have a bit more mental strength.  Maybe I can try to find even more healthy coping mechanisms to keep fighting.

Maybe this Metro Detroiter can find that resilience Bourdain was looking for.

Lifeline Suicide Prevention Hotline

To Write Love on Her Arms – Help by topic page

Poem: Reality Received

Blindfolded and reaching I find,
The start of that which was bound
Undeterred, I pressed on
Not knowing anything wrong

The smell of blood caught me
The liquid to my touch, thick and sticky
“No, my dear” He said quietly
“Do not step back, press on directly.”

The wounds I felt were deep
Her moans from pain I reaped
Understanding nothing, I continued
As his reassurances were issued

Finally, feeling the pain I knew
What was not within my view
He took my blindfold to confirm
That which I could now discern

I looked at the reflection where I reached
The blood and sores I beeseeched
I had not known what I asked
Yet now, my die was cast

The Trickster laughed and smiled at me
Yet ever his eyes wept tears for me
“You locked yourself in this trap” said he
“It’s spikes and thorns still tight in thee”

“Fear of failure, fear of anger
Your personal jailers clamor
Their protection ended long ago
And now they keep pieces unknown”

“Learning is healing, yet pain exists
You called it to you, and did insist
Now take the shards back from the abyss
Accept the pieces in as they fit”

I stared in disbelief,
How could I, in my grief
Ask for such a thing of hurt?
Yet I did – my soul, I tore apart

Now the healing has begun
The pain comes as I awaken
But now the true work is being done
As I slowly integrate into one.

Photo from Deviant Art

Poem: Hate Over Connections (Another Shooting)

Take your prayers and thoughts and shove it
We made this mess, we live it
Day by day, night by night
The burning of the world never ends

So you don’t think you had an effect?
When was the last time you tried to act?
No, ACT
Not Cry
Not beg
Not pray
ACT – with a vote?
A call?
Donate?
Or volunteer?
Or ask why?

Did you try?  No, you didn’t.
Too afraid of loosing your hate?
The hate sitting in your bones
Your mind?
Your heart?
Too afraid to lose “us” vs “them”?
Afraid of the human under that skin?

Afraid of that connection?
That touch
That knowing
That feeling
You don’t give a fuck about all that
Or anyone but yourself
Let them die,
Let them burn
You’ve got more important things to do
Like fighting for YOUR rights
YOUR religion
YOUR free speech
YOUR right to be loud and free
It’s YOUR gun, YOUR Ammo
And that’s alright
Cuz your rights just killed again
And Again
And Again

So cherish that hate
that blessed emotion
Keep it close so we don’t touch

And the world will burn