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.

Samhain Thoughts: A Conversation with Ereshkigal

“You humans are very strange creatures,” She said as She sat down.

I took a sip of my cocoa. “I can’t argue with You about that. We tend to do a lot of weird stuff to each other and to our planet. We are stubborn, willful, quick to anger, but then we can be full of compassion, joy, and happiness.”

“Well, yes, that’s very true.” She paused. “But your species doesn’t learn very well from it’s past, does it?”

“No, unfortunately.”

“You all come through My realm, one way or another, and yet you never seem to listen to the Ancestors that came before you. They leave you books and pictures and art and music, and still there are those who willfully ignore or deny the atrocities done. They deny the signs of those who would only seek power for their own ends and feed on the hatred of others. They would willingly ignore the human race’s ability to change and adapt based on perceived notions of a lack of perfection in word and deed.”

I grimaced behind another sip of cocoa. I was rather glad that this conversation was in my head rather than physically real. Then again, I suppose if Ereshkigal became visible in the coffee shop, it would make things rather interesting.

She raised Her eyebrow at me.

I quickly answered:

“Some believe that it is only through perfection that we can change society. Others believe that we can only get to You and the other Gods through perfection. They believe that if we make mistakes somehow we’re not good enough. And, I think, sometimes some of us will shame and degrade others for mistakes long after the mistake was made and learned from.”

“What do you believe?”

“Well, I believe…I….” I stumbled.

“Do you not have an opinion?”

“I do…it’s just that…well…it’s not very popular…”

She raised her eyebrow at me again. “Priest.” She reminded me.

I took a deep breath. Right.

“I believe that demanding perfection from each other actually does more harm than good. If we don’t take the time to explain to someone who makes a mistake out of ignorance what they’ve done wrong, there’s no room for change. If we just tell someone they’re a horrible person and that they should just sit down and shut up, then all that does is build resentment.”

“And what of those who do it out of malice?”

“Well,” I said, “sit down and shut up can be a bit more effective then. I think there are some people I won’t be able to change.”

She laughed. “No, you can’t change everyone. You can’t change anyone unless they see the need to change.”

“But what about people’s anger?” I said, frustrated. “How can I acknowledge someone’s very real feelings around their oppression, but call them out on their lack of compassion towards those who want to learn and grow? I mean, I get that people get sick of educating people. I get tired of it, too. Sometimes it’s just easier to back away and just leave it alone!”

The Queen of the Underworld looked at me for a moment with sad eyes, then stood up to walk around the room. She stood behind the Latinx couple with a baby.

“Their daughter will get bullied and they will not be able to find an apartment because of their skin color and speech.”

She moved to stand next to the white man at his computer. “He doesn’t know his privilege, but he makes donations to charities every year because he can take it off his taxes.”

She moves to the white man and Asian looking man talking. “They are friends and meet here often. They both have conflicts of faith.”

Then she stood next to a teenage girl. “She knows that the world is wrong right now, and yet she will be a beacon of hope and change as she gets older.”

She wanders around standing near people and showing me their pasts and futures. Their humanity, their oppressions, their privileges, their struggles.

“They will all learn what they need to learn in this life. You are one teacher in a sea of teachers that they will come across. You don’t necessarily need to acknowledge their oppressions, but you need to absolutely acknowledge their humanity.”

I nodded.

“Remember what the Morrigan told you: you cannot save them all. And sometimes Death, in Spirit or in Fact, is a mercy, not a punishment.”

I nodded again. She sat down again.

I tried to think of something else to say, but my words were failing me.

She touched my face. “Don’t worry, my love, when they come to me, they will finally learn. It is not your place to demand perfection, but is is your place to try and emulate that which you hold dear. You will fail sometimes, but if you can tell me that you did the best you could when you arrive at My Gates, then I would be satisfied.”

I nodded.

“Yes,” She said as She got up to walk away, “You humans are very odd creatures.”

The New Sound Of Pentecost — City of Refuge UCC, January 31, 2016

(This was written for my church family at City of Refuge UCC for their last Sunday of their Consecration Month which had the theme “Sounds of Pentecost.” It was read today, January 31, at the their regular service.)

The first time I came to Refuge, I had a vision. Everyone was up at the front laying hands on someone who needed healing, while I stayed in my seat because I was being shy. I was waiting to see what the Spirit of Jesus looked like at Refuge, because most churches have a particular way Christ manifests in their church. Now, in most churches, it’s one large Christ that looks over the congregation.

But, as we all well know, City of Refuge is different. There wasn’t just one Jesus over the Church, there were many. Each person had Christ with them, and each one looked different, depending on the person He was looking over. That vision was when I knew I had to be at Refuge and to learn from everyone there. It was my own personal vision of Pentecost through all of you who were there the first time I came to service.

I know I haven’t been able to come to Refuge for awhile, but the Pentecostal Gift that is City of Refuge lives in my heart, lives in my soul, lives in my spirit. I hope I was able to show you all that even though I am Wiccan and come to Christ through different means, that He is the one who is speaking through my practice. That He helps guide my soul through love, compassion, healing, and inclusion. And because of all of you at Refuge, I am now channeling that sound of Pentecost through my own work of teaching radical inclusion in the Pagan community. Because through you I learned that even if we call Spirit by different names, that love, that compassion, that healing speaks through all of us.

And what I saw that day was a true vision, because we all have different words to talk about Christ. We don’t all see Him in quite the same way, but we all know His love. We all know when He’s talking through someone, even if how we see Him isn’t the same as the person who is sitting next to us. We can hear it in the praise of the singers. We can hear it when someone talks in tongues because the Spirit has come upon them. We can feel it from the person who is praying quietly in the corner. We feel it in the drum. We can see it when the people dance. We ARE Christ for each other, even if we are far apart.

Those of us who work for radical inclusion, radical hospitality, radical love, and radical justice ARE the new Sound of Pentecost. I believe we, all of us who speak of love, compassion, and justice, we ARE the Coming of Christ in our time. We ARE His voice and His fire. We ARE his hands and his feet. WE are the Common Christ. This is the strongest magick we possess and it is the strongest spell in all the Universe.

So Mote It Be and Amen

Fiction: Orlando (Revised)

I became blessed at that moment, or so I thought. The moment where time stood still. The moment where I knew everything had fallen down around me. The moment I was made.
It is the heart of what I became.
Whatever possessed me to take up the burden of this life, I will never know, but it was done, and now I cannot go back.
I can never go back.
I am the Earth’s servant. I bring Death and I exist nowhere.

Here is the scene:
The sand, cold underneath my feet. Quiet, everything quiet. The water pounding against the sand in rhythmic time. Slowly, the sky becomes lighter, the blue coming out of the blackness of night. Time moves again, and there is a sliver of light over the water. The orange brighter than any other light, hitting my eyes and making me squeeze my eyes shut in response.
I am awed by the first light of day. The morning.
Because I have not slept in a thousand years.
The sun rises while I am lost in thought, and the fire of it inflames me to more than just a spectator.
But I cannot move from here. I must watch it all. The coming, the dawning, the fire. I don’t exist here because this is how I am supposed to be. I sit until I start to burn.
The dead have no life, yet they revere it.

Later, now. Something calls to me. A memory, perhaps, of when I was alive. I remember touch and feeling. I do. But now, it is almost impossible to feel anything. I have existed too long in the shadows of life, only to be seen as something different. Something not to be loved. Something unclean. Unholy.
So I strive to find that holiness. That which makes me exist here hasn’t let me find it yet. The churches won’t let me in to feel it, either.

Then she came to me.
I didn’t know when I first saw her. It was while I was standing somewhere. I remember that. But she came up to me and asked me for something inane, like a cigarette. I remember telling her that it was bad for her.
She said she didn’t care. I think I loved her when she said that she didn’t.
She smoked, and watched the waves with me. Yes. That’s where we were: the beach. I was watching the sunset this time. I always did prefer the night to the day. In the daylight you are so exposed. People can see you, and I did not want that.
But she did it anyway, while I was sitting there contemplating more about life. I did that from time to time.
And then she asked me why I came here.
She said she had been watching me. She asked why I came here every night to watch the sun set. What is it, she asked, that made me come to the same spot every night.
I had no answer.
I told her that I was looking for the answers.
The answers aren’t found here every night, she told me. They are found in being with others.
Something broke loose at that point.
I left her staring at the waves, smoking her cigarette.

Picture it later now.
I am working for a protest group; making signs, hanging posters, sharing of myself, giving back to humanity what I have been taking from it. I protected them in the square at night when the cops try to take their tents.
But I still wasn’t happy.
I gave of myself so much that it hurt (I even fed for the cause) and still the answers didn’t come.
Where was my self?
This question disturbed me greatly. I had become lost in other people.
And then someone told me: Don’t be a hero. You need time for yourself.
I had had nothing but time.
I turned to them and told them I was leaving.
They watched me walk out the door and down the street.

Now?
I can see something else in the sunrise, when I watch it. There’s more to me than what is wanted of me. I exist nowhere except in my own soul, and that is how the universe will see me in the end. Timeless.
And the answers don’t come easy, but they are felt.
I took up this burden.
So I must live with it.

(This story was inspired by the film “Orlando” starring Tilda Swinton.)

When Things Fall Down

To be honest, I’ve been trying to write this post for about a week now. I was planning to do this whole exegesis about Job 2:11-13 where Job’s friends come to see him. They basically see what a state Job is in and all they can really do is just sit there and be with him. Then I was going to try and write about the sephirot of Binah. Binah is, and I’m using the occult version of Kabbalah here (not strictly Jewish), simplistically, “understanding,” but in my experience this sephirot is where all sorrows, beginnings, and endings are. It’s usually equated to the divine feminine or Goddess energy and in my experience, when I’ve gone there it definitely feels womb-like.

I’m writing this now, and I’m realizing that both of these are applicable to the last three weeks. A good friend was in the hospital, and, especially at first, I felt like Job’s friends. All we could really do was sit and wait with her wife and do the little things to help. It never really feels like enough, but, at least intellectually, there’s not much else one can do. (Thankfully she’s home now!) A couple other situations had me feeling like Job, where I was doubting myself and wondering if I had done something to warrant punishment from the Spirits. Then, at the beginning of this week, I was feeling as if I was in Binah, most firmly and completely so.

But my mistake was trying to figure it all out on my own by keeping it to myself. Or, to put it another way, I’m extremely bad at taking my own advice. Coming out of that state this week got me thinking about the fact that we are programmed this way, especially here in the US. We’re taught that we’re supposed to do everything ourselves. Our independence, and ability “to do it all,” is lauded as some grand virtue, and yet we suffer needlessly for it. Sometimes I think maybe what we’re seeing on the internet is a result of this and not the technology itself. We’re so indoctrinated to have absolute opinions that we’ve figured out by ourselves that when we’re confronted with the global community of the internet, we just don’t know how to handle it. We start to see that we’re not the only people who have feelings, heartache, and bad things happening. We’re not the islands of specialness we thought we were. The indoctrination we’ve received then translates this as us having no value or that we’re no longer interesting.

The hardest part of this, though, is that what we’ve been taught is a lie. Asking for help, or emotional support, or taking refuge in community isn’t a failure of independence nor does it mean that we don’t have a uniqueness that is valuable to said community. The only thing that it means is that we’re human. This is the hardest idea to accept because of our drive to do everything ourselves or to be the one who is “right” all the time. Mistakes, disappointments, and failure is going to happen regardless because we can’t avoid it.

Thinking about this in terms of social justice, we all fail miserably. We want inclusion, justice, and change, but we demand perfection instead of compromise. We demand immediate change from people instead of working with our mutual humanity. We see people as failures if they don’t see things exactly our way. I know I’ve failed spectacularly in this myself and I’ve let these failures take on a proportion that was far larger than what I actually did. I know I’ve expected people to behave in the way I wanted them to instead of how they are. While sometimes it’s necessary to challenge people about their actions, expecting people to “get it” or change overnight is futile because they, too, are human beings. Sometimes the “truth” isn’t the most compassionate way to handle a situation. Sometimes we have to walk away from people, and sometimes we have to rethink our ideas of how the world works. Our human-ness is a shifting and moving thing and we’re always having to learn, or re-learn, what being human means.

OK, I’m getting pretty deep here. Most of this is navel gazing, really, and I’ll have something more interesting next week. I did need to get it out of my system, though. Thanks, and if you have thoughts about this feel free to comment.