Zurich Reflections #1: I Think I’m in Love

I didn’t think I could fall in love with a city, but I’m falling in love with Zürich.

Right now, I’m sitting at a local coffee shop, and I can hear the church bells ringing close by. I got here by bus (we have two bus stops within easy walking distance from our house) and a short walk. The coffee, of course, is excellent.

While I sit here, I can look across the street at an older apartment building that has old European style architecture. I look left and there’s a very modern looking building, and when I look right there’s a small intersection of narrow streets and more tall buildings. Some of the buildings are residential, some are commercial, and like the building across the street, it’s mixed, with stores on the ground floor and apartments above.

Space isn’t wasted here.

Our apartment is actually large by Zürich standards. We have a large balcony off our living room facing a courtyard area overlooking several other apartment buildings, and we have a smaller balcony off our kitchen where you can look down at the front door. From our back porch, you can also look up into the hills around Zürich. Most mornings, in this season, we have fog in the morning until it burns off around noon time.

Most places here have lots of large windows so that you can maximize the light. Some of the windows here also do what I call the “magic trick” of opening two ways! You turn the handle one way, and you open the window (or door) fully, you turn the handle the other way and the window opens from the top to let in enough air for ventilation. The windows are big enough that there are times when I’m in my office where I open my street-side window, pull up my chair, and just watch the world go by. It’s generally very quiet in our neighborhood (although, we do have construction going on down the street until the end of the month), even with the bus and the train going by at all hours.

It’s pretty spectacular when storms come through. I tell the wife that we have excellent storm watching windows!

It’s not just my neighborhood that’s winning me over, either. (Side note: Our neighborhood has a Berkeley kind of vibe, so we’ve occasionally called our part of Zürich “Zerkeley”.)

When I walk through the city, doing errands or whatever, I notice a lot of little things. Like I said earlier, there’s a mix of the old and modern. One minute you’re walking on regular pavement, the next you’re climbing up a cobblestone street. There’s also little details of the city that you notice if you’re open to finding them.

There are water fountains everywhere, and nearly all of them are potable. You can always see people taking a drink or filling up their water bottles. Some are just small little spigots in a corner, and some are large fountains with old statuary.

Speaking of water, there are canals, rivers, and the Zürichsee (Lake Zürich). I am really looking forward to swimming in the lake come Spring! The city even hosts several open water swimming events over the summer, including one that is similar in length to the Tiburon Mile. There are also lots of pools, both indoor and outdoor, maintained by the city, so I’m excited to start swimming again soon!

The architecture here is amazing! Both the modern and the old. What’s really fascinating is that if you walk some of the side streets, you’ll find strange little murals from the 1800s, or odd old statues, or suddenly come upon a green space. I even found an old well from the Middle Ages that was preserved by the local historical society!

Food is excellent here. In fact, all the meals I’ve had here that have all been excellent. The quality of the food here is just amazing, even the groceries! While it is true that it’s expensive to eat out here, groceries are pretty comparable to SF Bay Area prices. The biggest thing I’m getting used to here, though, is that you don’t rush your food here, especially when you eat out. You’re expected to take your time and savor your meal.

And once you’ve had proper Swiss fondue, you’re spoiled for fondue anywhere else.

I could expound on a lot of things about here that I love, but the best thing is that it’s comfortable here, both in our lives and the city itself. The energy here is old, with the energetic sense of old warding to protect the city and country. (Given Switzerland’s history, that makes complete sense.)

To put it another way: I feel more welcome and comfortable in Zürich than I have in any other city in the US.

Und das ist sehr gut!

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.

“The West Wing” and the Disgruntled Spouse Trope

There is a TV show trope that I just absolutely detest: the person who marries another person, knowing they have a vocation or calling, who then gets all bent out of shape when their spouse puts that calling before them.

It came up again for me because the wife and I are re-watching “The West Wing” (and crying bit). In one of the first episodes of the first season, Leo McGarry (who is the Chief of Staff) comes home, and his wife is mad at him for missing their anniversary. The next day he tries to plan a romantic dinner to make up for it, but because of being Chief of Staff, he ends up having to squeeze the dinner in between work things. She then proceeds to ask “Is your job more important than your marriage?” and he says “Right now, yes!” She then decides to leave him and ask for a divorce.

This is a pretty common trope, not only in a series like this, but particularly in series that are about the types of careers that are also vocations: cops, federal agents, pastors, fire fighters, medical professionals (doctors, nurses, EMTs, etc.) and so on. It also happens in real life, especially when a spouse or family member can’t handle being second to something they deem as “just a job” or a “dangerous job.”

The thing is, it’s not “just a job,” it’s their life and their work. It’s a part of them that makes them who they are. I can’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to support their spouse being their full selves? Especially if they marry someone and know about the vocation going in. In the case of Leo on The West Wing, his wife married a politician who was helping someone run for the White House who would most likely have a job in said White House after the election if his candidate won. It’s not like she couldn’t figure out that that would eat up her spouse’s life until after Bartlett got out of office (one way or another).

Now, I won’t argue that Leo could have communicated better (much better). Or that there weren’t a bunch of cis-sexist marriage things involved in how the marriage turned out. But this trope happens a lot, even in marriages that have great communication. One partner just can’t understand that there might be something more important than them in the marriage.

My wife and I both have vocations, and we both understand that they are important to each of us. We also made an agreement that we wouldn’t give up our lives for each other. That means, that she can have her friends, I can have mine. I can take myself out for dinner alone if I want to, or just have alone time at home if I need it. It also means that I can do the work I am called to do and she will support me in doing it.

My wife is the most important person in my life, but she is not the ONLY person in my life. We make each other happy, but we’re not solely responsible for each other’s happiness. We have a lot of things in common with each other, and do a lot of things together, but we don’t do everything together.

The best advice, actually, comes from the reporter, Danny, a few episodes later when Charlie is bent out of shape because the Secret Service doesn’t allow him to go to a party with the president’s daughter. Danny basically says that she has enough to go through, and that the best thing Charlie can do for her is to be the one thing in her life that isn’t stressful. I try and do that with my wife, and she has done the same for me. Besides, I want to see my wife happy and fulfilled. I would never deny her that, nor would I tell her she is a bad person for wanting to pursue her dreams.

She is my wife, after all. I do not own her.

The weather is changing

The weather is changing.

The weather here in Chicago is much different from the Bay Area. The cold actually surprised me. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt real cold. This is the beginning of the cold that bites your cheeks, making you run for the covers and some hot chocolate.

The cold also brings back body memories from when I lived in New Hampshire and the Northeast. Like the smell of tobacco reminds me of my grandfather, the cold reminds me of growing up, among other things.

The shorter days makes me want to hibernate, but I know that’s not what people do anymore. It really helps me remember that this time of year is the time to go in, to reflect, to introspect. I do plan on doing more introspection here for the winter. I’m resurrecting my blog to do this.

There’s a lot going on here, and I have some ideas about future ministry, but for now, I just think. I reflect. I look at the past, think about what I want to do for the future, and then put the plans in motion to make it happen.

I do miss all my friends in the Bay Area, but I also know moving here was good for me, good for us. Change is hard, people don’t like it, but it’s also part of life, and usually necessary.

I wonder: what thoughts this cold season will bring me? What will Spirit tell me in these days where the Earth sleeps and things are quiet?

 

Hanging out in Malkuth and other Witchy Things

Hello again.

I know it’s been awhile, but settling in here in Chicago has taken some time. I’ve also been doing a lot of discernment and thinking about where my ministry is going, which is, as those of us who are clergy know, an ongoing process.

Lately I’ve been working on an initiation series based on the magickal Kabblah, and recently wrote the first of the initiations, which is based in Malkuth.

And apparently, I’m also there until I start writing the next one. (This is where all the witches say “duh!”)

What’s been interesting about this, though, is that being in this sphere has made me really look at this plane of existence and just how much we really do live here. Or, at least, how much I can really live in the here and now.

How do I explain this?

There are times where I can see and feel everything: all the sorrows, all the joys, all the fear, anger, happiness. The present, past, future. It’s as if it’s all laid out in front of me in a long line, or like a film reel. Sometimes it’s all of the possibilities, too. All of the futures, all of the pasts. So my spiritual practice allows me to be here, in the present. In my present.

Then, sometimes, I become too “stuck” in the here and now, especially is something emotionally bad is happening, and can’t see beyond where I am.

I know that clinically, this is my anxiety and depression, but there is a magickal component to this, too. Being stuck magickally generates a lot of the same symptoms.

So, being stuck in Malkuth isn’t a great thing for me, even being the Earth Girl that I am. Working on it, though…

***

The other night I was talking with the wife about the latest pagan blogosphere things. The first being that paganism is dying (not really true), theist pagans telling atheist pagans that they can’t be pagan (totally not true), and people getting it in their heads that all paganism has to be Earth Centered Spiritually (not always true).

Here’s the big point: “Paganism” is an umbrella term that is a really really REALLY big umbrella. It’s not really dying, it’s just changing, especially away from excessive dogmatic paganism, or any paganism that is exclusionary in its practice. I know I’m pretty tired of the witchcraft/paganism that is of the “I’m a real witch/wiccan/pagan and you’re not!” variety.

Seriously, it’s 2017. It’s time folks got over themselves about that kind of crap. Yes, an atheist can be a pagan. Yes, someone who’s Christian can also have a magickal practice. Yes, someone can be pagan without being Earth Centered.

If someone says they’re pagan, then they’re pagan, whether they have a lineage, or a teacher, or are just reading from books. This is true for any religion, regardless of what I, you, or other practitioners, think.

Some folks don’t consider me a “proper” or “real” pagan because I practice both Wicca and Christianity. So what? These days, the wife and I think of ourselves as sorcerers more than “Earth Based Spirituality” because we focus a lot more on magick and magickal systems. It’s not that we don’t care about the Earth, or honor the Earth’s turning, etc., it’s just not our primary focus. And if it is someone else’s primary focus? That’s all good. We need witches and pagans who have that as their focus. Again, so what?

Seriously, people need to stop expecting that all paganism should look and practice like theirs. That way lies the very thing many pagans say they are running from when they talk about Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christianity (or other oppressive religious traditions). Just like those traditions, specific pagan traditions don’t corner the market on truth and enlightenment.

(And IMNSHO, if your social justice demands that I have to do my spirituality a particular way, then your social justice isn’t very inclusive, is it?)

Food

I refuse to moralize you
I refuse to fight you,
count you,
or categorize you as good or evil.
I’ll try not to restrict you
unless I absolutely have to.
I’ll make sure to invite you in
even during the times where
I feel
I don’t deserve you.
Because I can’t exist without you.

You are not my enemy.

I want to honor you,
in all your smells and tastes and textures,
with good preparation.
I will honor
where you come from
and honor the way
you bring people
into community.

You are sacred.
You are sacrifice.
You are life.

Staring at a blank page, banging my head against the wall

When I write about
not being abusive
to allies,
I get told that I’m oppressing the marginalized
and that allies should just sit down
and shut up.

And I wonder:
when did verbal abuse in social justice
become ok?

When I write about
not shaming those who can’t
march,
or call,
or who can’t speak out
because doing these things are not possible,
or could put them in danger,
I get told that my/their silence is assent.

And I wonder:
when did shaming and ableism in social justice
become ok?

When I write about the elephants
in the social justice room:
anti-semitism,
elitism,
holier-than-thou attitudes,
racism,
homophobia,
transphobia,
I don’t get told anything-
because
people who think they are doing all the right things
don’t want to be told that they might be doing
something wrong.

And I wonder:
when did social justice lose it’s
compassion?

It’s hard not to despair
when I want to write about these things
since all I see is that
we, collectively, are doing the work of
our oppressors

But,
I suppose
when you think about it,
when you
really, really
think about it:

Oppression is all we know how to do.