How many colors in the rainbow?

There has been some controversy recently in some corners of the LGBTQ community when group in Philadelphia introduced a new variant on the rainbow flag. This time there were 2 new stripes added – a black one and a brown one.

Morecolormorepride.com

I don’t object to this addition by any means. There have been a lot of variants on the rainbow flag over the years. And in light of how in many cases LGBTQ people of color are less visible than white people – particularly cis white gay men – I understand the desire to add those extra colors as a way of adding visibility.

It surprised me though – and not because I think of the rainbow flag as a symbol of something colorblind. Quite the opposite. As I have been reflecting on it, I had specific experiences around the time that I came out that very clearly cemented the rainbow flag in my mind with inclusion of people of different races and ethnicities.

My coming out process proceeded quickly after I arrived at college in 1987. Being outside my parents’ house and on my own in a liberal environment meant that within 2-3 months, I was coming out to many people in my daily life and learning about everything involved in embracing my identity as a gay man, including the ideas behind the rainbow flag.

Another major cultural force in the United States was using the rainbow as its symbol at the time – the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson. Jackson had run in 1984 for the Democratic nomination and again in 1988. In that second campaign, he was the second-highest vote getter for the Democratic nomination, behind the eventual nominee, Mike Dukakis.

Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition (later merged with PUSH to form the Rainbow PUSH Coalition) was a politically inclusive movement built very explicitly on racial and ethnic diversity. And I believe that Jackson was the first and only major party nominee addressing LGB audiences around the country (sadly, I can’t vouch for the inclusion of Trans people at this time). I saw him speak at the MCC (Metropolitan Community Church – an expressly LGB Christian denomination) in Minneapolis. And he was standing underneath a giant rainbow flag. The symbolic power of this candidate combined with this rainbow was huge – even if ultimately the Reagan/Bush version of conservative America was the one that voters chose.

Since these two uses of the symbol of the rainbow were combined in my consciousness, the Rainbow flag has always been – without any doubt – a symbol of inclusion of people of all races and ethnicities, as well as being a symbol of inclusion of LGBTQ people. And I think I’m just realizing that maybe that strong link is more personal for me than anything that is communicated to most people viewing the rainbow flag today.

Let’s be honest: there is a huge problem with racism within the LGBTQ community. Of course there is. There’s a problem with it within our society, and LGBTQ people are raised in and exist within our society. We learn all the underlying racist attitudes and bias that everyone else does. They don’t just go away. They need to be challenged all the time – by ourselves and within our communities.

Here in Chicago, for example, some of the most visible gay neighborhoods are largely white. This is a very segregated city. There have been longstanding tensions between white property and business owners in these neighborhoods and young LGBTQ people of color who are seeking out a community that purports to welcome them. Unfortunately, many of these young people of color are met with suspicion and prejudice instead of a welcoming attitude.

If adding a couple stripes to the flag address this in some way or help to bring awareness to the lack of representation of people of color in the LGBTQ press and within our community organizations, I will welcome it. Sorry, if it’s going to just take me a minute to get used to the fact that I see a meaning in that rainbow that nearly everyone else doesn’t.

Brotherhood, Fellowship, and Transformation

As my readers know, I have been involved with the Brotherhood of the Phoenix for a number of years and I have recently been in positions of leadership – Magister (President) of the Chicago Temple and Bursar (Treasurer) for the national organization.

We have had some major changes bubbling inside our Order for a while now, and they are just starting to break the surface, so I think it is time for me to start writing about them here.

We were founded in 2004 as a neopagan order for men who love men. Since I have been involved, that has meant inclusion of gay, bi, trans, and queer male identities. Our cosmology, our deities, and our rituals specifically avoid the forms of heterosexual male-female duality that is common in many Pagan traditions. Some of our Brothers have had a strong interest in “male mysteries” and explorations of masculine sexuality as it relates to and embodies the sacred. To be honest, this aspect has not been central to my experience of the Brotherhood.

It has become increasingly clear to us that many people who don’t identify specifically as men are interested in our tradition. Women, non-binary, and genderqueer people have been supporters and close allies. At the same time, many of us have become uncomfortable with drawing the line which leaves these seekers outside of our group. There is a value in exploring and celebrating the spiritual dimension of male sexuality – but the mission of our group is larger than this. Many of us have experienced this message from our deities. There are even those within our group who have stepped away from identifying as “men”, which has brought the challenge of inclusion to the fore.

At the same time, two of our long-time Brothers recently moved to Seattle and are dedicated to expanding our group there. However, they wanted to start that group without the gendered limitation that we’ve had in Chicago. They wanted to be – from the beginning – open to LGBTQ/Queer people of all gender identities. And with a lot of discussion, the national organization is supportive of that. But it meant, among other things, figuring out a name for the organization that doesn’t limit/define gender.

So, the first announcement is that our national organization will be changing its name to “Fellowship of the Phoenix”. It is going to take some time to figure out all the official things that need to be changed in order to make that happen. The Seattle group will be using that name from its inception. Their first public ritual will take place on August 19, 2017.

For the moment, our Chicago group is still processing this – the cauldron is still bubbling. We will have a vote next month about adopting both the name change and changing our definition of who is invited to all public events, our novitiate program, and to apply for membership. I don’t want to tell you that Chicago will definitely adopt all these changes. It will be the decision of the group. But I do know that many of the active members are ready for these changes to be adopted. Others feel like there is something special that we will be giving up by changing our focus and broadening our target audience. Emotions have run high at times. Letting everyone have a voice in the process can be frustrating, but it’s necessary.

So, for now, we will have a “Seattle Fellowship of the Phoenix” and a “Chicago Brotherhood of the Phoenix” under a national umbrella called “Fellowship of the Phoenix”. At least for the moment.

The Phoenix is a symbol of transformation. This concept is central to who we are. I am personally happy that this transformation is finally starting to manifest. It will take some time and processing for this phase of transformation to be complete.

A Terra Sol Story

Once upon a time, there was a child named Quin. Quin lived in a beautiful sheltered Valley that was full of fruit and nut trees for food, clear streams of water, and plenty of wood for a fire, although, to be honest, it was almost never cold. There were other people in the Valley, kind people who helped Quin, but it was always clear that these people were not Quin’s family.

Quin began to turn into an adult, and the curiosity about their family grew stronger. Quin had a distant memory that told them “you are a child of Terra” and “you share your family with Sol”. Quin did not know Terra and Sol, but assured that these were their family, a quest began.

Quin asked the people of the Valley where to find Terra. They hummed and scratched their chins, but finally, they said that the best place to look for Terra was in the deep cave at the far North of the Valley.

Quin set off to this place, which was on the very edge of the little world they knew. The cave was dark and damp, but Quin persisted inward with the help of a torch. The tunnels wound back and forth, and sometimes they were a tight squeeze, but finally, the cave opened into a chamber lined with glistening crystals and stalactites.

At the far end, there were two people, one was a Youth, perhaps just a little younger than Quin, and the other was an ancient, stately Elder in robes and a crown. As Quin approached, the Youth was on the ground, looking at their own toes as if they had never seen them before – wiggling them, sniffing them, playing with them. The Elder was sitting on a ledge, still and with eyes closed, but with a sense of alertness.

“Hello, friends.” Quin started. They were not used to talking to strangers.

“I was told that I may be able to find Terra here.”

“Yes, definitely” said the Youth, excited to share this bit of information. “This is an excellent place to find Terra.” And after a pause, “But you can also find Terra wherever you came from.”

“I believe that I am the child of Terra.” Said Quin, filled with confusion. I am trying to find my parent.

The Youth giddily blurted out. “You are a child of Terra, as are we, as are all the trees and animals and rocks.” At that, the Youth got up, grabbed Quin’s torch, and ran over to the crystals on the wall and began waving the torch back and forth and seeing how the crystals catch the light.

The Elder finally spoke. “You are surely the child of Terra. Everything in your being is made of Terra. Our bones and flesh are Terra. Every part of your body and everything that nourishes you is Terra. Terra is mud and rock. Terra is grass and bird wings. Terra is the very substance that makes us possible.”

“Oh. I was hoping for a breathing, speaking kind of parent. One that might tell stories and give hugs.”

“Terra can be that. There are many stories and messages contained in Terra, contained within yourself. And every act of connection is the touch of Terra. This is the source of your very being. You must treasure it.”

With some convincing, the Youth gave up the torch, and Quin found their way out of the cave and back to the Valley. Not really satisfied by the first part of the quest to find family, Quin went back to the people of the Valley and asked if they knew where to find Sol.

“Sol isn’t another rock, is it? I don’t think I want to find out my whole family is a mud puddle.” The people of the Valley laughed at this, but again they puzzled over the best place to find Sol. Eventually, the answer was that Sol could be found up on the top of the high mountain at the south end of the Valley.

So, again Quin journeyed to the very edge of their known world. The climb was difficult and tiring. Quin climbed through the night, with the light of the Moon, and as the Sun began to rise, Quin passed the tree line and saw the top of the mountain, an open windy space with a view for miles in all directions.

There were two figures on the highest spot. One was a lovely person with beautiful skin and long hair, scented with flowers. Quin was immediately drawn to this Lover, whose welcoming gaze beckoned. The other one was harder, harsher, carrying the sword and shield of a Warrior and with a look of determination.

Quin, a little nervously, giggled a little and then spoke to the Lover. “I was told that I could find Sol here on this mountaintop.”

“Yes, of course you can. Sol is rising there in the eastern sky.” The Lover gestured to the spreading purples and pinks of the sunrise.

“Oh no. That’s not what I thought. Sol is supposed to be my family.”

“Sol is your blood, your breath. Sol is everything that makes you move and think. Sol is the force that animates us all. It’s what makes the leaves turn green. It’s what makes the wind blow. And it’s what makes the heart beat.” The Lover reached over and touched Quin right over the heart. And Quin’s heart beat a little faster looking into those beautiful eyes.

The Warrior now spoke up. “Sol is motivation, strength. Sol is what gets us moving and keeps us alive. It’s love and it’s anger and it’s purpose. It takes your flesh and bone and it makes it into a living person.

“You have lived a sheltered life in the Valley, but now that you are grown, you must meet the world and know it for what it is. You must know the power of Sol and use it to both celebrate life and to fight to protect it.”

Quin, thoughtfully and a bit reluctantly, left the mountaintop and returned to that corner of the Valley that had been home. But now that Quin knew that they must explore the world outside the narrow confines of what they know. Terra and Sol were their family – they were what they came from and what they are made of. The raw stuff of Terra is animated by the power of Sol – that’s what makes each one of us who we are.

So, Quin set off to see the world and explore, to find joy and to find purpose.

And so the story continues. Did Quin live happily ever after? That part hasn’t been written, yet.

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

I have been quiet on this blog lately. I have done some writing – I wrote and submitted a piece for a queer magic anthology, which I will have more information on in the future.

I have also been putting a lot of mental energy into my new position as Magister for the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, which I mentioned on my previous post. This has taken a great deal of mental energy, even more than I anticipated. We’re going through discussions that cut to the very core of our mission and which will redefine who we are as an organization. And they have been contentious and sometimes emotional. And that intensity looks like it’s probably not going to let up for months, at least.

So, I’m getting some hands-on learning about how to help guide a group through conflict. How do I foster an environment where everyone feels heard? How do we balance the urge to hold onto what we know and value, while opening up to a broader vision? I knew these conversations were bound to happen, but they weren’t in the front of my mind when I took this position.

One of the Four Powers of the Sphinx is “to keep silence”. I have been thinking about this a great deal lately. I think a lot of people in this noisy world find this to be a very difficult lesson. Without trying to boast, I think I am better at it than many (which still doesn’t make me particularly good at it).

In much of my adult life, I have not sought to take the spotlight. I gave up music and theatre that I loved during my teen years. I didn’t put any of my writing in the public eye for years after college, even though I studied Creative Writing. It’s only in the past few years that I have kept this blog and occasionally did talks to (usually small) groups. I really made the decision to restrain my own voice. I try to think about whether my voice will contribute something in a given context before I speak up.

Now, as I am trying to navigate a leadership role in an organization, restraining my own voice has seemed even more important. If I start off a discussion with strongly stating my opinion of our path and what we should and shouldn’t do, I risk stifling different opinions. I have to find the right balance of saying enough to get the conversation going without trying to dominate the conversation. And of course, I have to watch to make sure conversations don’t descend into something hurtful.

Another aspect of this silence is that when I think about something to write about, I have been feeling empty, and a bit helpless. There are so many horrors in the world, from American politics, which seems to be lurching from one crisis to the next, to the horrifying stories coming out of Chechnya, to environmental disasters and disastrous environmental policy decisions.

I often feel the urge to run away to a remote location where I can plant a huge garden and watch over and try to protect some patch of forest. I have no idea how to change people. I don’t know how to make people compassionate or conscientious. I don’t know how to make them stop harming others and the environment. And I don’t think my voice – whether it be a blog post, a chant and a placard at a protest, a public meeting – is going to open people’s eyes to reverse the disastrous course that we’re on.

March Update – Many Transitions

I’ve had many transitions this month in my personal and spiritual life. I wouldn’t have planned to have them all stacked on top of one another, but that’s the way it has worked out. Some of these are things that I don’t necessarily want to go into much detail about here: We moved my father into a care facility as his dementia has progressed to a point where living with family has become a problem. I’ve also been working to make some financial changes that will require sacrifice, but will hopefully lead to a more stable situation for my future.

I have mentioned in the past that I have been on the Alumni Board for my college. The expected term for that is coming to a close, and I had my last meeting earlier this month. It has been a great experience, but I am also relieved to step away from the obligations involved, particularly the travel. At the same time, it’s a loss of something that has been a part of my life for the past six years, so the change certainly has an impact.

Most importantly for the subject of this blog, I have taken on a new role in the Brotherhood of the Phoenix. The Council of Guardians for the local temple was elected in February and installed a little over a week ago. I am the only member of the last Council who will be on the new one. I am moving from the role of Warder (head of membership) to Magister (president), so it is a real step up in terms of responsibility.

The Council represents the temporal/organizational leadership, rather than the spiritual leadership. At the same time, the role of Magister comes with a defined role in ritual (so new scripts to learn) as well as channeling certain spiritual energies into the organization. I need to embody a sense of expansion and growth related to Jupiter, rather than the role of protection and vigilance embodied by Mars for my last position.

I hope that we are moving into an exciting time for our group. I am not saying this because I have such a high opinion of myself as leader. Last year in particular, we experienced a sort of slump. Several of the most dedicated Brothers either moved away from the area or stepped away to deal with personal/family matters. We had cancelled events, our Novitiate went on hiatus, and, although we kept to our usual schedule of public rituals, some of the internal activity fell into a kind of decline.

The new Council, a group of seven of us, are tasked with refocusing and re-energizing the group. I feel that we are ready for that task. Our installation left us feeling reinvigorated, and our first public ritual on Saturday, March 18th had a powerful energy.

Our March ritual is called Quintessence and it celebrates the Explorer. It’s a perfect energy for this kind of new beginning. The gift of the Explorer is Courage, and this is something that we can all use at this time, both within our group and within the larger community. As the mood of fear is causing a closing down of borders, stoking of distrust, we all need the Courage to reach out, welcome diverse voices, and embrace the challenge of the unfamiliar.

The thing about these transitions is that it will take a while to sink into the new reality, to build the transformed world. These steps have all been important, but the work is just beginning.

Art AIDS America Chicago – highly recommended art exhibit

Art AIDS America Chicago
through April 2, 2017
Alphawood Gallery |2401 North Halsted Street |Chicago, Illinois 60614
Free Admission |Timed Admission Passes Recommended

This past weekend, I went to an amazing art exhibition Art AIDS America Chicago. If you are able to see it here in Chicago before it closes in April, I would highly recommend it. It’s as emotionally gripping as contemporary art exhibitions come, and many pieces had me wiping tears from my eyes. There are works by well-known artists like Keith Haring, Andres Serrano, Barbara Kruger, and Robert Mapplethorpe. There are many works by artists whose names I did not know. It’s not in a larger museum. The gallery was built out just for this exhibit in a former bank in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, not far from DePaul University. The space works beautifully, and the curatorial decisions were spot on. There was also an element of community engagement, with free HIV testing and opportunity to contribute to oral history projects.

The AIDS crisis is a pivotal point in my life, even though I am HIV-negative. I came out as gay in Fall 1987. AIDS was still a virtual death sentence and the stigma and shame was overwhelming. Most of society linked it with gay sex, IV drug use, and immigrant populations. The messaging that it was God’s punishment on sinners was all over the media. The Federal government was doing very little to help those suffering with the disease or doing any kind of public education toward prevention.

This fear of infection combined with my uncertain and emerging sexuality and my Catholic upbringing to really mess up any chance that I may have had to develop a healthy sex-positive attitude. Even today, I feel a bit damaged around these issues. It has had a profound effect, even after decades of personal growth.

I seriously dated a man in the late 1990’s who was not only HIV-positive, but was a “Lazarus” case. He had lost his longtime partner to AIDS and seems to be at death’s door, when an improved drug cocktail caused his health to turn around. Being close to someone with that history and with an immune system that was still badly compromised was very enlightening. It made the personal reality of the disease so much more real.

Today, I have many friends living with HIV, but the treatments have improved so much that I don’t often think about it. The costs and struggles are still real for them, but it is not the kind of catastrophic tragedy that it was in the 80’s and early 90’s. Quite a few of the artists featured in the exhibition have birth dates not much before mine – and death dates in the 1990s. The desperate and beautiful creativity is still with us through their art. Their struggles, their loves, their anger, their sex, their kink, their hope – it’s still there for us.

I don’t have the skills for the casual economy

So here I am making another public admission. And it almost seems to verge on neurotic, but I have the feeling I am far from alone.

On one hand, I love the idea of supporting friends who make things and who provide useful services. I love the idea of buying local instead of sticking with the large corporations. I have friends who teach skills that I would love to learn. I love the ideas of local barter networks and skill exchanges.

I know that these casual economy exchanges can be so much more cost effective and fulfilling than always going to the formal, mass-market solution. I also know that these kind of exchanges can open opportunities for myself to make income outside of a traditional job. Friends have said since I am an experienced (though non-professional) vegan cook, I should teach cooking classes or make dinner for people in my home.

But the truth is, I have no idea how to make any of those kind of exchanges work, even on the most obvious, rudimentary level. I have had friends who are licensed massage therapists who do work from their home who just stop communicating with me when I try to set up a time for a massage. I have friends who make custom clothing who I would like to commission a piece from, but I don’t even know how to start the conversation. I’ve offered to show friends how to do vegan baking at my home for free on social media, but no one has ever shown even the slightest interest, so it’s hard for me to conceive of how people would pay me to teach them some of my skills.

Part of it is that it’s hard to figure out the logistics of how to communicate with people about this. When personal and business time are not clearly delineated, when do you reach out to ask people about this kind of thing? I’ve always had a job where I’m either “on the clock” or designated as “on call”, but my availability for work-related matters is always clearly defined, so I am not entirely sure how to figure out that question. Of course email should make this easier than a phone call, but it’s still not always clear. In fact, I am the kind of person (and of a generation) who, if I want to call, I usually email or text them first to ask if it’s a good time.

And I think I still very much have the idea ingrained in me that “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it”. I feel like I’m wasting people’s time to even ask about something that I’m not in a financial position to buy. But, of course, the casual economy doesn’t come with price tags.

In a related attitude, I don’t trust things that are up for negotiation. If the price is different for everyone, how do I know that I’m not getting a bad deal because of some kind of bias – against strangers, against queer people, against people who aren’t knowledgeable, against those who look like they have money? Or the uncomfortable possibility that because I’m getting a better deal by being white or being a man.

I realize a lot of this is about my background as a middle class American. I am a child of food coming from grocery stores and restaurants that have prices on the menu. The internet has been available for most of my adult life, which took the old system of the yellow pages and ads in the newspaper to a new level. Now I can go onto a company website and see what a product or service might cost. 95% of my questions can be answered without even talking to a person.

I didn’t grow up in a culture where you trade with your neighbors. Helping relationships didn’t go much beyond buying pizza for friends in college when you asked them to help you move.
So yes, I feel like a have a huge hurdle to get over when it comes to making my life better through the casual, non-corporate economy. I think that it doesn’t help that most of the people around me are not much better off when it comes to these skills. I really feel like we all need to figure this one out together and shift our culture around to help ourselves and one another more effectively.

I guess we just had a Pagan holiday…

I have to admit I’ve never had much of a connection to Imbolc (or the various permutations of the pagan holiday around Feb 1st or 2nd). It doesn’t line up with anything that I’ve ever celebrated culturally or any celebrations that I grew up with (Groundhog Day is kind of a *meh* holiday).

I do like bonfires, but I don’t think I’ve ever been invited to an event this time of year centering on one. I’m not aware of any sacred wells around here. And as for the lambing time – lambs are pretty darned adorable, but as a vegan, they don’t form a part of my financial or agricultural world.

I guess all that’s left of that is the association with the beginnings of Spring. But I have to honest, early February doesn’t typically feel much like the beginning of Spring around Chicago. Most years, we’re still in for a full month or more of hard winter. This year, of course, we had an unusually mild January, so I don’t even have that severe Winter fatigue that normally accompanies this time of year.

I do like the Irish story of the Cailleach, the sacred hag, associated with the day. On Imbolc, she would indicate whether the winter was ending soon or if it would hang on for a long time. If there was still some harsh winter in the future, she would cause the weather to be bright and clear so she could gather more firewood to last the rest of the winter.

In the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, it is the beginning of a new cycle in our year. In our upcoming event called SpiritSong, we celebrate the Divine Youth, after celebrating the Elder in January. The Divine Youth gives the gift of Wonder, and that is an important one in this season of year, when the plants are dead and the skies are often gray. It is also important to remember in this political season, as so many threats seem to be lurking at our doorstep and the ungenerous hearts are the ones that lead us. We are building walls and cutting off assistance for those in need. We are lifting the protections to the environment and taking away funding from schools and the arts.

Wonder gives us the gift of seeing beauty in the simple and everyday things. It allows us to break the mundane unthinking patterns of our life and appreciate what we take for granted. It allows us to appreciate the marvelous talents that people have, and the skills that can seem almost magical. It is bound together with Gratitude and Joy. It makes us appreciate the many things that are provided to us, the bounty that surrounds us.

This gift of Wonder, tapping into something within ourselves that improves our outlook – this is something I will celebrate.

Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing

Starhawk’s 1993 novel The Fifth Sacred Thing has been on my to-read list for a long time. One of the biggest names in the Pagan community, her nonfiction works The Spiral Dance and Dreaming the Dark were some of the earliest Pagan works that I read back in the late 1980’s and they really opened my mind. Her vision of an inclusive, feminist, environmentalist, body-positive magic was deeply appealing.

The Fifth Sacred Thing takes many of her spiritual and social ideas and gives them life in a post-apocalyptic near-future. She also wrote a prequel and more recently, a sequel City of Refuge.

 

So, here is where I admit being a little bit lazy. Most of my “day job” involves reading. It has sucked some of the fun out of pleasure reading, so I don’t read nearly as much of my to-read list as I would like to. One way around this is audiobooks – I can listen to them while I drive or while I am cooking or cleaning. It is a wonderful way to “read” without the eye strain.

So I was thrilled when it was announced that The Fifth Sacred Thing was (finally) coming out on audio. It is wonderfully read and professionally produced. And at last, I have experienced The Fifth Sacred Thing

I have to admit it was a slightly rough start for me – and this is no reflection on the book. After the election, I was in a grim state of mind, and the book opens following a brainwashed prisoner and a healer battling in the depths of an epidemic ravaging her city. It was not helping my mood or my view of the world, and I did pause a few times. But I kept up with it – and I’m so glad I did. The richness of the world, the resilience of the people, the searching after justice and magical transformation were ultimately exactly what I needed in this current climate.

Specifically, the ideas of principled, creative resistance are beautifully illustrated. And this is something that is so inspirational just now. The story also has satisfying characters and plotting, so don’t worry that it’s all world-building and high concepts.

According to news reports, City of Refuge will also be produced on audio, so I am very much looking forward to more. In the meantime, I recommend The Fifth Sacred Thing in whatever format you prefer.

Starhawk’s website

A recent article on The Wild Hunt on The Fifth Sacred Thing.

This is a video created to promote a project to make the book into a movie. More recent news indicates that it may be a television series.