Where is the Spirituality? (or Why I Stay Away From Certain Controversies)

This is supposed to be a blog about my spiritual journey, and it occurs to me that not much of what I have written just lately is quite what most people think of as spiritual. A lot of it has been social justice, cultural trends, environmentalism. These are bound up with my spiritual self, certainly, but much of what I have been writing is not specifically about Pagan spirituality.

I have started writing a number of posts on theological topics that are hot within the Pagan blogosphere just lately. There has been a good deal of argument between atheist Pagans and devotional polytheists. There’s an ongoing spat between radical left political pagans (particularly those of anarchist and Marxist leanings) and those who are more concerned with piety than politics (and seem to be eternally offended by the political types).

I even started a rant, of sorts, against Pagan and polytheist use of the term “blasphemy”. In a world where people are literally killed for things like blasphemy and apostasy, I have no interest in my community adopting these poisonous concepts.

I never completed any of these posts. It just hardly seems worth it to defend one side or another in these disputes. One of the basic ideas of the Pagan “umbrella” or “tent” is that there is no orthodoxy, i.e. required belief, to fit into the Pagan community. There is no single unifier that defines Pagan identity.

I am still a fan of the Big Tent version of Paganism (as explained by John Beckett here). It explains how I see that we come together as a community, even as we are dramatically disparate. I have always know that the paths that I follow make me a minority even within the relatively tiny community of Paganism. I am not a Wiccan. I am not a Druid. I am an initiate into an order that has a very small number of initiates. Even the Reconstructionist traditions that inspire some of my personal practice don’t have the critical mass for a local group. But I still see a value, or at least I want to see a value, in being a part of a larger Pagan community.

There are many arguments around definitional issues for specific terms and who gets to use them. In terms of the atheist vs. polytheist argument, trying to adopt both of those terms does seem like a logical contradiction, but that doesn’t mean that people of both identities can’t be called Pagans. Some traditions do have specific definitions and processes that allow people to use particular titles. These should always be understood in context, though. If your organization defines what it means to be a Priestess in your tradition, that doesn’t mean that somehow you own the word and anyone else who calls themselves a Priestess is a fraud. They’re just not a Priestess of your tradition.

And I am not about to set myself up as the arbiter of who can be called a Pagan and who cannot. I can tell you what particular titles mean within certain traditions I know, and whether you fit the qualifications (as defined by the current organizations or by traditions and text). That doesn’t mean I can claim any right to own these terms or their specific definition, and it doesn’t mean I need to rage each time I disagree with the way someone uses a term. The world is vast and varied place. It is not my job to police every claim someone makes, particularly on the internet, which is a special home for baseless claims.

So here is my spiritual goal for today:

I will work to learn my own path.
I will work to embody the spiritual virtues that will improve the world. I will deepen my relationship to my deities, my community, and those spirits who are in relationship with me.
I will continue to seek further understanding.
I will make room for those who believe and practice differently than me, but stand firm in my assertion that my perspective has a place in the larger conversation.

Riots in Milwaukee – My Native City’s Racist Heritage

I grew up in Milwaukee, on the north side, although not in the Sherman Park neighborhood where this week’s rioting happened. I haven’t lived in Milwaukee for over two decades, but I still have many connections with the city, including family and many high school friends in the area.

I am a little too young for any memory of the late 1960’s race riots, which seemed to have had an indelible mark on my parents and many adults I knew. I grew up with the idea that outward signs of racism against black people were not socially acceptable. “The N word” was not to be used, ever – not at home and certainly never in public. I attended the aggressively desegregated Milwaukee Public Schools, and I count myself very lucky in this. I went to a magnet high school located in an almost entirely African American neighborhood. The school population was slightly over half African American students. It was a wonderful place to go to school, and I will always appreciate that education for many reasons. The true diversity of the student body was a definite asset, and the ability to make friends with people from different backgrounds was a great benefit. Also, I was lucky enough to be in a choir with singers who had grown up with the marvelous tradition of choral singing in African American churches, and the rich musical culture that came with that.

 

But in spite of the effort in the schools, segregation ran deep in Milwaukee, and racist attitudes were common. It wasn’t until I was in high school when I began to understand some of the racial dynamics of Milwaukee real estate. Many north side neighborhoods experienced dramatic “white flight” episodes, when a few black families move into a neighborhood and racial panic-selling ensued. The plummeting property values then motivated other sellers less concerned about race, but were sensitive to a perceived impending financial disaster. The racial makeup of a neighborhood could change dramatically within a few years.

My neighborhood had a real estate agent who practiced what I now know as “steering”. I didn’t understand the dynamic at the time. It wasn’t until I thought back on it years later after getting my own salesperson’s license. If a house in our subdivision went up for sale, she simply did not show it to African American buyers. Eventually, sellers began to realize that her method often resulted in a lower sales price, and she lost her dominance.

I am sad to hear that Milwaukee is just as residentially segregated as ever – one of the most segregated cities in the country, in fact. And I am sad to hear that the program to keep the schools desegregated has been entirely reversed. The schools are more of a reflection of the neighborhoods, and therefore segregation and disparities are the rule.

 

In addition to these dynamics, I remember a certain narrative often repeated. The story went that unemployed people would come to Wisconsin to take advantage of our generous welfare benefits. There was a certain hand-wringing that we were attracting the lazy and the parasitic to Milwaukee because we were too generous. Like Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” story, it was charged with an unspoken racism. These people were presumably African Americans coming from southern states to take advantage of the system.

In truth, industrial jobs held by workers of all races were being lost throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. Low-skilled workers were finding it harder to find employment, and that was undoubtedly at the root of the larger dependence on government aid programs. Milwaukee is a “Rust Belt” city. Iconic factories were closing and downsizing. Even those that stayed around began to depend more heavily on automation and employed fewer people. There was no need for this bogeyman of the welfare immigrant. There were more than enough people right under our noses that needed help.

 

But it seemed that a spirit of generosity was far from plentiful. And things only have gotten worse for those who are in greatest need. Government aid programs, youth employment programs, public education – all these safety nets have been cut. Milwaukee area was hit hard in the housing crash. Job opportunities in the suburbs are often inaccessible with the area’s patchy public transportation system, so are unavailable to those in the poorest areas of the city.

Poverty, hopelessness, and violence often go hand-in-hand in many of the largely African American neighborhoods of Milwaukee. I wish I could say it was surprising that violence would flare up like it did this weekend. The truth is, it isn’t. Sherman Park seems to have had a recent history of racial tension centering on the gas station that was burned down. When the police shoot someone in the neighborhood, the residents’ anger and grief, primed by a string of recent national incidents, will come out and be directed at police and institutions like that gas station. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that all this will result in violence.

 

I think tonight, things are quiet in Sherman Park. Aggressive policing may calm things down temporarily, but the underlying issues are still there. The segregation, economic inequality, hopelessness, and anger are still there. And I’m afraid my native city doesn’t even seem to be moving in the right direction away from these. My heart breaks for those who live in fear and hopelessness. My heart hopes that my native city can turn this around, recognize and help their neighbors and find some real change.

 

Here is some more reading on these recent incidents and reflections on the larger picture:

Reggie Jackson in the Milwaukee Independent – a voice from the neighborhood

Syreeta McFadden in the Guardian

A sad history of the re-segregation of Milwaukee schools

New Name, Same Blog

Hello, Friends and Readers!

I just wanted to put a quick note here about the change in the title of the blog. I have been contemplating a “rebrand” for a while. After three and a half years of blogging, my focus and perspective have changed. I originally started with the title “Looking for Wisdom, Ancient and Modern” with the subtitle “A Seeker’s Journey”. Last year, I decided “Seeker” was no longer quite the right word. I am still a seeker in many senses, but I have been around Paganism in general and my chosen traditions in particular for a number of years, so at least in those contexts, I am a little less inexperienced than that title may suggest.

Now, I decided to change the main title to something more concrete as a theme for my blog. I have always said this is about my Pagan “path”, and I decided to give the metaphor a context. Of course, I am still looking for wisdom (as we all should be, right?)

I hope you continue to enjoy my writing here, and as always, feedback and respectful discussion is welcome.

Reading List for “John Michael Greer and the Steampunk Future”

My talk to The Owen Society for Hermetic and Spiritual Enlightenment was pretty well received today. We had about 15 people, many of whom seemed interested and engaged. Of course there is so much more source material than I could present, so I put together a reading (and watching) list to follow up on some of the issues covered.

 

The Long Descent and Catabolic Collapse

How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse (academic paper that is fairly technical)

http://ecoshock.org/transcripts/greer_on_collapse.pdf

On Catabolic Collapse

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2006/05/on-catabolic-collapse.html

The Trajectory of Empires

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/02/trajectory-of-empires.html

 

The Myth of Progress

What Progress Means

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2015/02/what-progress-means.html

This Faith in Progress

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2007/01/this-faith-in-progress_10.html

 

The Steampunk Future

The Steampunk Future

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-steampunk-future.html

The Steampunk Future Revisited

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-steampunk-future-revisited.html

 

Green Wizardry

Seven Sustainable Technologies

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/01/seven-sustainable-technologies.html

 

John Michael Greer – YouTube Playlist created by me

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJF1Nk3eL3u-jokYzVMJG0GJ0Fzze5N0F

 

John Michael Greer books:

The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, 2008

The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning a Post-Peak World, 2009

The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered, 2011

Apocalypse Not: Everything You Know About 2012, Nostradamus and the Rapture Is Wrong, 2011

Green Wizardry: Conservation, Solar Power, Organic Gardening, and Other Hands-On Skills From the Appropriate Tech Toolkit, 2013

Not the Future We Ordered: Peak Oil, Psychology, and the Myth of Progress, 2013

Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America, 2014

After Progress: Reason and Religion at the End of the Industrial Age, 2015

Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush: The Best of The Archdruid Report, 2015

Dark Age America: Climate Change, Cultural Collapse, and the Hard Future Ahead, to be released Sept 2016

 

Other resources:

The End of Suburbia (52 minute documentary about Peak Oil and the work of Howard James Kunstler)

https://youtu.be/Q3uvzcY2Xug

A Victorian lifestyle in the spotlight (Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman of Port Townsend, WA)

https://youtu.be/O9S_fIw_7fs

 

Other books:

Muddling Toward Frugality Paperback by Warren Johnson

Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher

Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update by Donella H. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis L. Meadows

Rainbook: Resources for Appropriate Technology by Lane deMoll

The Book of the New Alchemist by Nancy Jack Todd

Talk this weekend – John Michael Greer and the Steampunk Future

This Sunday, I will give a talk to The Owen Society for Hermetic and Spiritual Enlightenment, my Steampunk esoteric group. I have given several talks in the past to this group on different topics.

This time, my topic is “John Michael Greer and the Steampunk Future”. John Michael Greer is an author, Archdruid and polymath who writes on a wide variety of topics. Specifically I will be covering some of his writings about Peak Oil, the decline of Industrial civilization in general and American culture specifically, and his suggestions for personal actions to make the slide down a little easier, as covered in his blog the Archdruid Report.

I have written about John Michael Greer several times in this blog over the years, especially here

The talk is over brunch at a pleasant local restaurant. It requires an RSVP, and space is limited. The information is here. The Owen Society is one of my favorite groups, and the people are delightful – creative, supportive and stylish.

 

.My last talk at the Owen Society, "Food of the Gods"

My last talk at the Owen Society,

“Food of the Gods”

Yesterday, I watched two men die

Both were on video, and both cases were very recent. All these videos were and are available to everyone with internet access.

The first was Alton Sterling, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana man shot at point-blank range while pinned to the ground by police officers in a convenience store parking lot. The first video I watched was from a nearby car, which was blurry, but clearly showed the shots being fired. The second video from the same incident, was a clearer image and showed pretty clearly that the man was unarmed, and did not appear to be a threat. This video also showed a massively bleeding chest wound and the victim’s final moments.

The second video was Philando Castile, the driver of a car with a broken tail light. He identified himself as having a concealed carry permit and while he was reaching for his driver’s license in his wallet, the officer fired at him multiple times, again at point-blank range. His girlfriend started a live Facebook video while he was bleeding out in the front seat and the officer’s gun was still drawn. It continued to show the victim lose consciousness, and then the girlfriend being taken out of the car and detained, all while broadcasting live.

I watched the Alton Sterling videos a day after the incident and the Philando Castile live broadcast a very short time after the incident. As a former St. Paul resident, I have many connections in the area. Friends were posting the live video in shock, even before Twitter exploded with the news and long before major news outlets were picking it up. Facebook removed the video this morning, but much of it is still available on other online sites.

These men were not wanted fugitives. There was no evidence of violent crimes. These were not hardened criminals. But yet, they ended up dead at the hands of police after encounters under the most mundane of circumstances. It’s shocking and disheartening.

 

My perception of the police has varied throughout my life. I grew up in a middle-class, largely white area with a fairly low crime rate. There was a police officer that lived down the block. Things were safe, generally, and I don’t remember a lot of interaction with police. They were available when needed, but mercifully they weren’t often needed.

In my teen years, thefts and break-ins became common in the area, and our house was broken into at one time. I went to a city magnet school outside my neighborhood. The neighborhood, largely African American, had problems with roving gangs that claimed and patrolled the area. At one time, a friend and I stayed late for a musical rehearsal, and we were accosted and mugged by some of these gang members. I had my wallet stolen, losing a bus pass and some cash. My friend was punched in the face and had his glasses broken. The incident was done in a minute and the young men were gone, leaving us unable to get home. I know that I interacted with police on those occasions, but I have little recollection.

After coming out as gay, my perception of the police shifted. In the late eighties, things were starting to get better between gay and lesbian identified people and the police, but only barely. Sodomy and public indecency laws were either being repealed or were rarely used. The habit of police raiding gay bars just because they were gay bars was fading, but the community had those recent memories and it still happened in some parts of the country. Bowers v Hardwick, 1986 had allowed states to have and enforce Sodomy Laws, a decision that was not reversed until Lawrence v Texas in 2003. Besides this, it was well known that many police officers in many places had longstanding anti-gay bias issues.

Assaults against people showing same-sex affection or being particularly flamboyant were subject to the kind of victim-blaming similar to what women experience around sexual assault. The attitude was often that “they were asking for it”, and little sympathy or assistance was given to victims.

But I watched things change. In places where I lived, and in many places throughout the country, police departments changed their cultures to become less homophobic, less anti-gay, and in many cases they were partners and allies with the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities. As with so many of these issues of social change around LGBTQ issues, the Trans and Queer inclusivity and acceptance lags behind that for gay and lesbian identities.

I had a turning point on this when I was still living in East Lakeview (nicknamed Boystown, a neighborhood associated with Chicago’s gay community). I don’t recall the exact date, but it was early in the tenure of Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard, who served from 1998 to 2003. There had been a rash of assaults in the area. Hundreds of neighbors, many of whom were openly gay and lesbian, came out to voice support for a police initiative to increase bicycle based patrols. The neighborhood is very congested and car responses were often delayed simply due to traffic congestion. Bicycles had the advantage of quickly navigating sidewalks and narrow alleys to arrive at the scene quickly. Bicycles were rarely used by police in Chicago prior to that time. Much to Superintendant Hillard’s surprise, already accustomed to weathering constant complaints from the public about police, the neighbors were largely supportive of police and very welcoming to partnership with them.

So, I am telling all this because, until recently, I had hope for police forces. I had hope that real cultural change could happen within police departments around the issues of race. It had happened around the issues of sexual identity. I had witnessed it first-hand. They were not an unchanging, monolithic block of hopeless bias.

 

But the story of police relations around race, particularly around police relations with African Americans, is much more complex and doesn’t seem to be improving. As anyone who is paying even a small amount of attention knows, police continue killing African American citizens after routine and nonviolent interactions. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are the most recent and most visible, but there has been a long string of recent incidents.

Here in Chicago, we had the shocking case of Laquan McDonald, who was repeatedly shot while running away from police. He was acting erratically, but had not done anything violent and was not directly threatening anyone. In that case, unusually, the officer has been charged with murder and is awaiting trial. Most police involved in such shootings never face any legal consequences.

So many of them are really awful, but two of these cases really stick with me and haunt me.

Eric Garner was a forty-something man who was doing something technically illegal (selling loose cigarettes), but not in any way threatening or disruptive. Unfortunately, like many people that I know, he was overweight and had various health problems including asthma and a heart condition. It should not have been that hard to guess that he may have had some health issues – these are all quite common. Police apprehended and physically restrained him with excessive force, using choke holds that look like they are trying to emulate WWE wrestlers. Garner laid gasping for breath, shouting “I can’t breathe”, and it was caught on camera. He was literally dying before their eyes for a crime roughly equivalent to a parking violation. And the police persisted and failed to offer any help.  As a forty-something person who is overweight and had a history of childhood asthma, I can’t help but see myself in this poor dying man. And my heart breaks.

Sandra Bland was a smart, articulate woman from Naperville, Illinois who had just taken a job with her sorority in Texas. She was pulled over for a minor traffic violation. There is a witness video of her arrest. The officer had no cause to arrest her. It was a ticketable offense at most. And yet, she was taken to jail and died soon afterward under suspicious circumstances. When I see her and hear her voice on that video and other videos that she made, I recognize her. In her, I hear someone who may have been a high school classmate or co-worker. She seems just a step away from someone who may have been my connection. And I think about what may have happened to her in that cell, with no friends and no hope. And again, my heart breaks.

African Americans are stopped by police at a higher rate than whites and have a far higher likelihood of being killed in police custody. Police bias is clearly a huge factor in this. Why do interactions between police and African American citizens escalate into violent confrontations so quickly and so frequently?

 

So where do we go from here? Or specifically, how do I react beyond my heartbreak? What can I do?

I will admit that not so long ago, I considered myself a supporter of the police. We had some issues on our block and in my building a few years ago. The adult son of one of the residents in my building (not African American, incidentally) decided to team up with people down the block to deal drugs out of our front yard. It was very intimidating and unwelcoming to walk through this frankly hostile traffic just to enter my own home. It also attracted the attention of rivals from nearby areas and there were numerous instances of shots fired nearby. My neighbors and I called the police frequently. My neighbor with small children was especially furious, and eventually ended up leaving and short-selling their condo at a huge loss just to get away from the situation.

The constant police presence did eventually lead to the drug dealing activity moving somewhere else in the neighborhood, and the neighbors down the block involved did not have their lease renewed due to neighbor complaints. The people involved (dealers, customers, lookouts, etc.) were of varying ethnic and racial backgrounds, as well as ages, but many of them were Mexican American, African American and Caribbean American men in their teens and twenties.

I know one of the tactics the police used was stopping people using flimsy excuses in order to underline that the police were watching the area and the open drug dealing needed to go away. To my knowledge, the police did not injure or kill anyone, but they certainly did use some fairly aggressive policing tactics in my name and in the name of my neighbors. If I think about this now, I had some misgivings, but at the time, I was just glad to have this activity out of my front yard.

Of course I have always known that some police officers can be obnoxiously over-reaching and who seem to abuse their positions of power. But I had been lulled into thinking that was a fairly rare case.

 

I have had to reevaluate my own perception of and relationship to the police. In the past, I did not hesitate to call police in any instance that I thought suspicious. My trust is eroded now, though, particularly in instances where there are African Americans involved. I don’t feel I can trust the police to judge the situation fairly and not escalate it into something violent, even deadly. And frankly, that leaves me feeling a bit adrift.

As a single heading-toward-middle-aged person, I don’t feel like I can confront problem activity that I encounter. If I see a confrontation, evidence of a crime, or a person in distress – I call 911. I don’t have the resources to deal with these problems directly. But if I can’t trust that 911 is going to deal with the situation appropriately, and even make the situation worse, what resources do I have?

I really am at a loss when it comes down to the practical day-to-day reality of it. At the same time, I realize the fact that I felt secure and trusting of the police is an example of my own privilege, and one privilege I have not always felt when I feared the anti-gay attitudes of the police.

 

Fortunately, I do see some resources for addressing bigger picture questions. I like a lot of the policy suggestions from Campaign Zero. I can get behind these recommendations and engage with my elected officials to push them. I can hope that they get implemented and hope they help. I can try to keep telling myself to hope.

 

And in the meantime? I am not at the center of this. I am not a typical target of police brutality today, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore it or unplug. I can shy away and not watch, but that is shirking responsibility. The police do act in my name – as a citizen, as a voter, as a taxpayer, as a member of the community. They need to be held to a higher standard, and I need to watch and speak out until they live up to it.

The Gifts from My Deities Require Work

I have talked before about some of the work of maintaining a relationship with the gods and goddesses. Keeping them welcome and satisfied requires attention – made concrete in the form of prayers, candles, incense, offerings, and other devotions. As with a relationship with another human, time and attention are key.

But the work doesn’t end there. Relationship with deities are not like vending machines. Two prayers, a stick of incense, and poured out glass of wine doesn’t mean that you get a package with your heart’s desire, ready to use. To truly receive and truly appreciate the gifts themselves, we often must engage – physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Without an ongoing engagement, we miss the true benefits of these relationships and their gifts.

In my personal practice, I am particularly devoted to Apollo and Ceres.

Ceres is a longstanding connection for me, and my interest in her is closely related to my interest in food and plants. She is the one who makes plants grow, which is the cornerstone of all food, all sustenance. Ceres’ gifts are very concrete – she makes plants grow, and she delivers abundance, at least in season. But anyone who knows about farming, or even gardening (my experience) knows that it requires a fair amount of labor to turn her gifts into something usable for humans. Naturally occurring, readily edible foods are fairly scarce. Most types of plant foods – grains, vegetables, nuts, and legumes – require effort to plant, cultivate, harvest, process, cook, etc. Fruit can often be eaten directly after picked, but even there, the planting and harvesting requires human input. Her gifts are abundant, but they aren’t usable without work.

Apollo is a god who chose me, in a sense. One day, he just started talking to me, which surprised me. I don’t think of myself as particularly “sunny”, so I wasn’t sure what a sun god wanted from me. But Apollo is a god of knowledge, culture, music, theatre, philosophy and clear thought. He is a god of divination and oracles. He can shine a light on knowledge, but he leaves the wisdom, the reflection to each person. What he reveals is often, frankly, puzzling. In short, his gifts require work, processing, contemplation. Sometimes, he leaves humans like Cassandra – with a knowledge of future disaster and no tools to avert it or even warn anyone.

 

I am also devoted to the gods of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, an emergent tradition that I have written about in the past. Each of these gods have a face and personality that requires reflection and lessons. Our writings, our rituals, our tradition gives us guidance as well as a chance to interact with the god. Some of the gods are clearly reflected within ourselves and it’s easy to find an affinity, a connection. Others can be harder to find, but we continue to show them respect and hospitality, knowing one day they will have lessons to impart.

One of the main goals of the Brotherhood, and a prime purpose for our interaction with the gods, is to explore aspects of ourselves as men who love men – gay, bi, queer, trans men in a broadly defined scope. Some conceive of these gods as archetypes that men who love men can relate to, when often the archetypes of other Neopagan traditions seem to exclude us. I have worked with them long enough to see them as distinct personalities and I think of them and treat them as distinct gods. They have often given me unexpected messages that are not simply the result of some abstract idea. They require self-examination and work toward embodying their lessons in a way that is authentic to our self and our identity.

 

This is the season of The Healer, and I have been thinking about the lessons of this god. What does it mean to be The Healer, a healer of oneself and of others? I have embraced some tools. I grew up in a medical family – my father was a medical technician and then manager of a hospital laboratory for years. My mother went to nurse’s training. Other members of my family worked in medicine in one way or another. Hygiene, nutrition, general health maintenance was a frequent topic of conversation. I embrace using food as an avenue to health, and I am always eager to learn more about the properties and processes of healthy food, as well as making it appealing to those who enjoy it (i.e. cooking).

On the other hand, I am less successful at embracing the healing properties of exercise. My inclination is often to be a homebody, rather than craving activity. I love some types of exercise, such as a walk in the woods, but it is an effort for me to get out and move. Also, I know I fail at stress management. I let stress build up in my body, tightening my muscles and making my stomach churn. It can literally make me sick, and I often fail at reaching out for ways to alleviate the stress and its effects. I also have bouts of depression, mercifully less severe than what I experienced when I was younger, but still present. It can be challenging to reach out for the help I need to ease my situation when those hit. The despair and disconnection can take hold and become a self-reinforcing loop.

So, having taken stock, I will call on the Healer to help me embody some of these better habits, and help me heal myself. I will also call on the Healer to guide me to be open to helping others with their own path of healing – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. This is how I will hope to gain the gifts of the Healer and take another step toward my own transformation.

Attacks Against LGBTQ Spaces

For years, I was a regular at one of the largest, and most visible gay nightclubs in Chicago’s “Boys Town”. I had a whole group of friends that I made there, and several nights each week, I would be there for hours. I was also a frequent visitor to many of the other local dance clubs, as well as a regular attendee of festivals, street fairs, and the Pride Parade.

In spite of the festive atmosphere, dance music, and colorful décor, large gay clubs – and LGBTQ bars in general – represent not just a constant party, but a “safe” place to embrace identity. It was a place where same sex attraction and affection is embraced, and unfortunately for most people, safe places for such expression are rare in everyday life. In a place like Chicago, there are a number of organizations that provide alternatives for people who aren’t interested in drinking or loud music, but even so, bars and nightclubs remain the most visible presences of the LGBTQ community in many places.

This creation of safe space can be very imperfect, and not all LGBTQ identities are equally accepted and celebrated in particular places. We all still live in this culture, and being LGBTQ doesn’t immediately erase racism, sexism, transphobia, ethnic and religious biases. Many gay clubs can be a hostile place for men who are older, overweight, “femme”, or who otherwise don’t fit into narrow stereotypes of “hot gay guys”. I wish the “coming out” process just erased those ugly attitudes, but I’ve been around too long and seen too much to believe that. But, for all these problems, they represent a striving for that safe space, imperfect as they may be in practice.

 

I did not know any of the victims of the attack in Orlando. I have never even been to Florida. But the setting of this attack is very familiar to me. In part, this familiarity is why this tragedy struck me so hard. The shooter chose this place specifically because it was an LGBTQ identified place. He wanted to destroy these people, this place, these lives, these expressions. Their very existence offended him and he struck out with the most effective tools of destruction that he had on hand.

And he was effective, horrifyingly so. Armed with multiple firearms, he killed 50 people and injured 53 more. He was more effective than his long line of predecessors, from the arsonist at the Second Story Bar in New Orleans in 1973, to the serial bomber Eric Robert Rudolph in 1996, to the heavily armed young man from Indiana who was apprehended on his way to Pride celebrations in LA on the very same day as the Orlando tragedy.

These attackers are drawn to those who openly express their sexuality, their love, their community. They set out to destroy those people and those expressions. It’s a pattern that repeats, even now as we think that our country has gone through a revolution in thinking about same sex relationships and gay/lesbian identity (when it comes to Trans identities, I think we’re still in the early stages of revolution there).

 

I rarely go to large nightclubs anymore, and I haven’t been to the Pride Parade for the past couple years. My tolerance for crowds has shrunk dramatically over recent years. That is no longer my world, but for years, it was. It was something I needed – something that provided community, acceptance of my identity, a chance to connect.

This attack, and this whole pattern of attacks, is deeply personal. I have stood in the spot of those victims, tuned out to the potential danger, feeling safe. This attacker has succeeded, not only in cutting short those beautiful lives, but terrorizing the rest of us, and sowing the seeds of distrust in places that we perceive as safe. I don’t want to “give in” and allow the terrorism to take hold. I will try not to allow that.

For me, those types of places no longer fill the need I once felt, so I don’t feel the need to run out just to conquer the fear. The outpouring of support for the LGBTQ community over this has been enormous, and for that I am grateful. Gay clubs will get plenty of support in the near future.

What I feel like we need, even more than that, is to bring safe spaces to express love, sexuality, and gender plurality into more places in the world. LGBTQ identities and expressions need to be celebrated and defended, again and again.

Faith in Humanity?

An internet meme set off a chain of thoughts that came to an essential question for me. It really is at the bottom of so much of my philosophy, particularly when it comes to politics.

“Do you have faith in humanity?”

 

Now, I have to be honest. Vague questions like this make me itchy. Faith in humanity to do what? Faith in what sense? Individuals, groups, or literally every human?

So let me tease this out a little.

 

My immediate reaction is that in a group of humans, I do have faith that a couple of things will happen:

  1. Some of them will do brilliant, creative, beautiful things.
  1. Many, perhaps most, of them will only look out for their own interests or the interests of their small group of insiders, family members, club, tribe – instead of the greater good and/or future sustainability.
  1. A few will take advantage of more than their share of limited/finite resources. They will know or willfully ignore the fact that their actions hurt others.
  1. Some will come up with genius solutions to problems.

 

Some people will look at this list and say that I’m talking about “human nature”. Once again, I get itchy. If you notice, nothing on that list is an “all” or “nobody” statement. There are very few statements about human behavior that fall into those categories, as far as I can tell. There are any number of behaviors that people assured me were “human nature” that never seemed particularly natural for me (e.g. being attracted to the opposite sex, eating meat), so I tend to distrust any talk like that.

So, how does this lead me to politics? For one, it means that although I value freedom, I am not an anarchist. I have written about this before, specifically with regard to the environment. We absolutely need environmental regulations and someone to enforce them, because even if we somehow create a culture where most people are responsible and motivated to protect the air, water, and wild places, someone will screw it up for the rest of us. Someone will quarry the Grand Canyon. Someone will build a smokestack to belch smoke. Someone will dump toxic waste into pristine waterways.

So we need some kind of governance to restrain those who would ruin vital resources for the rest of us. We need governance to restrain those who would abuse people, animals, and natural places. We need governance to restrain those who would take away the freedom of others.

 

But beyond that, taking into account the list above, what should a political system look like?

In our current economic system, bolstered by our political system, there is a variation of a Capitalist free market economy in play. In classical free market, the market determines the price and value of a limited commodity based on supply and demand. The tendencies in #2 above are encouraged, and the “invisible hand” of the market will lead to an equilibrium. The pitfalls of #3 are pretty much ignored.

There’s no value assigned to wild natural places – they are simply assigned a value as raw materials. Even animals are considered nothing but possessions and commodities. Creations of beauty – music, poetry, art, dance, theatre – are only considered valuable if someone is paying for them or if they are used to sell something else.

In our corporate Capitalist society, time –as the saying goes – is money. Many of us give our labor – our time, our energy, our physical work – to our employers. It is only through government regulation (thanks to the pressure of the labor movement) that prevents employers from demanding virtually all of an employee’s time and labor. Even so, many people still give long hours and all their energy to their employer or employers, just to survive financially. There’s no time or energy for creating the beautiful and the brilliant, and little to no breathing room for the genius to emerge.

So what should the political system look like based on all this? I will write about that in the near future.