On Death, Vocation, and John McCain

Yesterday, not even 24 hours after Senator John McCain passed, I posted the following on Facebook:

So, here’s my dilemma:

The queer politics nerd in me agrees with all the folks posting about John McCain’s horrid politics of recent years (including inflicting Sarah Palin on national politics and healthcare).

However, the priest in me, who has worked with the dying and with grieving families is like: “Fucking hell people, the guy hasn’t even been dead 24 hours!”

I have always been a heretic….

There were some comments to this post that made me think that some people might be misunderstanding me, or possibly not understanding what I meant by this post. I do forget that not everyone understands my vocation around death, dying, and grieving, and that it can seem antithetical to my politics sometimes.

My vocation is to minister to the dying and for the dead, regardless of who they are or were. It is my firm belief, even conviction, that every human being deserves to have someone there during their last hours, and that in the first day of death, they are still treated in a compassionate way.

But don’t get me wrong: being compassionate is definitely not the same as being nice.

Let me put this another way:

My former coven leader, Michael, was an asshole to me. He was abusive, manipulating, and misogynistic. I wouldn’t consciously want to be near him, or hang out with him unless it was part of a massive apology, confession, and acknowledgement of what he had done to me.

However…

If somehow I got the call and was told he was dying, and that one of his final wishes was to see and talk to me, then I would go. I would go, and listen, and hear him out. I might even stay and hold vigil, letting the Gods come through and tell him about himself. I would probably even minister to his family until, and after, he passed. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have the hard conversations with him while he was still lucid, or tell him about himself and how he hurt me. It doesn’t mean that it would have to be nice for him, or that it wouldn’t be one of the hardest things I’d ever done.

I would do it because I’m a priest and it’s my vocation to midwife the dying. I couldn’t not do it.

And yes, I would do the same for Donald Trump. (Although, I have no doubts that if this somehow happened, that the Gods would come through hard while I was in the room and really tell him about himself.)

There is always a measure of compassion that I believe must be held regardless of who the dying or dead person is. And that is the reason for the dilemma: I completely detested McCain’s politics while he was alive, and I totally agree that his legacy, both good and bad, needs to be examined. But it felt, to me, like a lack of compassion for the dead to start ripping into his record not even 24 hours, after he’d passed. Those of us left behind have lifetimes to do that, and it is only right that we do so. 

Please note, however, that I said “compassion” not “respect”. Compassion, at least the way I define it, is acknowledging the human-ness of a person, regardless of who they are. No one needs to be a saint in order to deserve my compassion, especially in the process of dying. Showing compassion in those times also respects the Spirits helping the person cross over, since they are the ones that the person who is dying needs to answer to (regardless of who that Spirit is for the dying person).

Unfortunately, compassion and forgiveness are often conflated, when in reality, they are not the same thing, nor should they be. In the example above, I can show compassion to my former coven leader, but I in no way have to forgive him, if I don’t want to, or can’t. Also, showing compassion to someone doesn’t magically erase the bad they’ve done, and in my mind, can be an act of defiance to the evil that the person has done. 

I don’t know if this clarifies the post I made. Most likely, I probably made it more complicated. That’s not a bad thing, in my mind, because the process of death, and the process of grieving, is not black and white. It is grey and complicated. It is messy with emotion and experience. All the emotions around a person’s death are real and valid and I get that. I am in no way asking people to forgive McCain, or to ignore what he’s done in life, but to acknowledge that a life has passed. To stop and reflect and give the moment of death at least some amount of gravitas, no matter what you thought of him. Because, remember, compassion can be a last act of defiance. 

 

 

To My Fellow White Americans:

I’ve had with most of you. Especially those of you who sit there and argue with the very people this government is marginalizing and harrassing. That we should “get along and be nice” because somehow that’s going to magically fix everything.

The time for politeness passed many months ago. Sorry, that’s just how it is. If you can’t see why, get you head out of your fucking ass and take a good look around.

You say you have minority friends? Sure, ok! Why don’t you ask them some things:

Ask any of your friends of color how they’re doing right now.

Ask your friends who are legal permanent residents how they’re feeling about their status.

Ask your queer friends how they’re feeling right now.

Ask your queer friends who are legally married if they think their marriages are going to still be legal in a year or so.

Ask your disabled friends about their healthcare.

Ask your steelworker friends if they still have their jobs.

Ask your Grandma and Grandpa how they’re feeling about their medicare benefits right now.

Ask your transgender friends how they feel about their lives right now.

And ask all of the folks above about how many of them are making plans to leave the country.

Your privileged ass is sitting there criticizing Maxine Waters because she’s telling people to not serve these assholes in the White House? Really? Give me a fucking break! When you, as a white person, especially if you are a cishet white male, can sit there and tell me you’ve been denied housing, given death threats, beaten or killed for your skin color, gender presentation, or sexual preference, then you can start criticising Maxine Waters all you want.

But if a baker can legally deny service to a gay couple, or anyone they want, then a black or queer owned business can deny service to anyone they damn well please.

If a state can tell transgender people that they can’t use the bathroom of their gender, or decide that healthcare workers can deny service to people if who client is or  what medical service they’re getting is “against their religion,” then you have NO RIGHT to expect politeness and “decency” from any minority group. Period.

Let me sum this up. I’ll put in in all caps so I know you’ll see it: DENYING SERVICE OR CHALLENGING SOMEONE FROM THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ISN’T ABOUT POLITICAL DIFFERENCES: IT’S ABOUT CALLING OUT AN ADMINISTRATION DENYING PEOPLE’S BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS.

I mean, for fuck’s sake! A good government doesn’t lock up thousands of kids just because they’re brown. Or deport people who are here *legally* and have been here for decades!

A good government doesn’t do all their decision making by Tweet.

A good government certainly doesn’t deny services to the needy.

A good government doesn’t randomly decide to pick fights with allies because they want to wave their dick around.

A good government doesn’t terrorize it’s citizens.

A good government owns up to it’s mistakes.

And a good government PROTECTS THE BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS OF ITS  OWN CITIZENS AND THE RIGHTS OF ANYONE ELSE WHO COMES HERE FLEEING FOR THEIR LIVES.

If you don’t care about others, or don’t think that any of this has anything to do with you, or you feel like you’ve got yours and fuck everyone else, then do me a favor and get out of my life. My wife and I are moving out of the country for our own personal safety. Even before the 2016 election, my wife felt like she couldn’t LIVE HER FUCKING LIFE. Because every time she went out of the house she felt like she had a fucking target on her back just because she’s transgender.

We’re lucky and we’re privileged to have the resources to leave. A lot of our PoC and queer friends aren’t so lucky, but are STILL making plans to leave the country. I can’t count how many people have told us “Yeah, seriously, get out while you can. We don’t blame you!”

So, white people, fuck off with your MAGA; fuck off with your “You’re overreacting”; fuck off with your racist, misogynistic, homophobic bullshit and get your head out of your asses. You’re being assholes and you damn well know it.

Find some fucking compassion and stop making it about you. I’m so fucking over your bullshit.

Two weeks…Three New Ancestors…

It’s a gloomy, rainy day here in Chicago, and it seems rather fitting that today. So many Ancestors in so short of time. I’ve already done my rituals: lit candles and incense. But today I feel the need to write about them and what they meant to me.

A little less than two weeks ago, my mentor and friend, Lizann Bassham passed after a long struggle with cancer. She had decided that she wanted to stop treatment and die on her own terms. Her partners kept vigil with her, both in person and online, updating those of us who couldn’t be there on her Facebook page.

She was an amazing woman and an amazing spirit. She was also the first mentor I’ve had that was a both/and priest: both pagan and Christian. When we first met when I was in seminary, it was the first time I could see that the idea of both/and could be done in a professional capacity. We had many deep and poignant talks while I was at PSR and learned so much from her. Not just about being a multi-faith priest, but how to navigate this world from the spaces in between. We were both priests who lived in the in-between spaces, and as beings who intimately know those spaces, it can sometimes be very difficult to live in this world with that knowledge. But Lizann did it with such gentleness and grace and love, that I hope that I, too can emulate that.

After seminary we didn’t talk as much as when I was still at school, but I would occasionally say hello to her online and read her blog posts. I will miss her greatly.

Yesterday, we found out that Valerie Walker (aka Vee or VeeDub) also left this world after deciding to stop her own cancer treatments. It had been the second round of cancer for her and she basically was done with it. She wasn’t  a mentor as such to me as she was to my wife, but she was an awesome friend to both of us. I had heard about her a lot from friends of mine who were studying Feri witchcraft under her (including my wife), and I remember I was a little nervous meeting her for the first time. If I’m remembering right, Sarah asked me to come with her to a circle at Vee’s house. And while I wasn’t interested in learning Feri tradition from Vee as an initiate, I did learn a lot from her. She also always treated me as a colleague, as fellow witch also navigating being a leader of a tradition. Unlike some other leaders in the Bay Area, she never treated me as “inferior” because I didn’t happen to be initiated in her tradition. After that, we were friends and Sarah and I went to several holy days at her house. Sometimes we just came over to say hello and catch up. In the last several years, it had been harder for Sarah to get some time with her, or for both of us to go visit, since we had moved first to San Jose, then to Chicago. We did keep in touch online off and on.

Vee, to me, was like that BadAss Grandmother you never knew you needed in your life until you met her. She was fierce, and blunt, but always accepted you for who you are and was kind in that no-nonsense kind of way. She died how she lived her life: on her own terms, and I will miss her presence on earth, too.

Then, this morning I heard of Anthony Bourdain’s passing. My Mom texted me about it, and at first I was like “No way!” but then I saw the BBC article. I didn’t know him personally, nor did I ever get to see him in person, but he’s been a virtual mentor in the sense that he showed me places I had never seen before and made me see that the food of a people, and eating with people, will tell you more about a country than anything else you can do. I started watching “No Reservations” many years ago, and ended up binge watching the whole series. From then on, I couldn’t get enough of his work. I watched everything he ever did on TV, shows he helped produce, or where he collaborated with other chefs. I’ve read almost all of his books on his life and thoughts about being a chef (although, I’ll admit I haven’t read any of his fiction yet). His Parts Unknown series, to me, was some of his best work, bringing together food, people, politics, and culture in a very unique way. It’s inspired me to do my own filming of my own travel when I move to Europe, and while my own work will be more of a vlog type thing, I do want to incorporate some of the same sensibilities that he brought to his show into mine: seeing past the tourist view and into the hearts and souls of people who live there.

What I found really interesting in watching all his shows is that you can saw him grow as a person. The very beginnings of “No Reservations” he comes off as an asshole, bad boy chef playing up his asshole-ness to the camera. But as the seasons went on, you can tell that the travelling made him think and grow. One of the episodes that showed that is the episode where he was in New Orleans a few years after Katrina, where he went and apologized to Emeril after dissing him years earlier. He did it in his Anthony Bourdain way, but he was sincere. But that wasn’t the only episode that you could see that, but it’s one that stands out to me.

Then again, he was pretty open about when he messed up, especially in his writings. From his drug addiction, to when he didn’t communicate right with locals, and so on. This, and in so many other ways, his work always spoke to me as a food nerd, a priest, a traveller, and a person. Even in the end, he went out his own way, by his own rules. I hope that wherever he is now, there’s a full pig roast going on, with sausage, BBQ, and Pho.

All three of these people have had a big impact in my life, and mostly because they lived life to the fullest by their own rules and in their own time. I honor them as my newest Ancestors, and I hope I can honor them by doing the same: living my life, living it well, giving where I can, and teaching when I can.

What is remembered lives.