We Are More than Just “Consumers”

Let me be honest. I may be counterculture in some ways (being Pagan, vegan, etc.), but in some ways I have many of the pitfalls of being a typical American. I don’t exercise enough. I weigh too much. I spend too much. I’m too far in debt. I’m too dependent on electronic gizmos.

I am trying to move my life toward some more sustainable practices. I don’t drive much (I work from home part time and take public transit frequently). I try to recycle trash as much as possible. I had a garden in a neighbor’s yard to start in some way to eat from a very local source and learn the craft of gardening. These are all small steps.

The debt part, sadly, is a big part of the trap. My debt, both consumer credit card debt and my underwater mortgage, means I have very limited opportunities to move, take a lower-paying but more rewarding job, go back to school. I am deep into it in many ways, and every time I succeed in scaling back certain areas of expenses, others go up or I am hit with unexpected expenses, and I have made no progress at all in getting out of debt. This year I will have thousands of dollars in dental costs and car repairs, and those are just the ones I know about.

So this January, being a time for starting anew and establishing new habits, I decided to purchase as little as possible and instead use what I have. This is not as much about self-denial as that may first seem. I have slightly hoarder-ish tendencies around certain things, particularly food. I have a huge amount of food in my freezer and cupboard that have been there too long. Why am I spending money on food when I have plenty at home? I never can go to the store just to pick up the staples, the items on the list. I always walk out with more – an item that’s on sale, or something new I haven’t tried, an ingredient for a recipe that just popped into my head. The stores are designed to make you buy more, and I definitely fall for it.

So a big part of this is that when I ran out of things that seemed like staples, I challenged myself to use a substitute or even rethink my need. I ran out of bread, and instead of buying more, I started baking. I don’t tend to bake yeast bread, so I’ve made muffins and cornbread and various other things. It has all been good – and I like baking. Anything fresh baked in my kitchen is so much tastier and more wholesome than something that I would buy at the store.

On one level, this is a tiny thing – I need to use the perfectly good food that I have instead of buying something else. It betrays my privilege – I have a stockpile of delicious and nourishing food and I feel the urge to buy more – for novelty, for impulse, for some strange satisfaction. But the challenge is the re-training of my impulse, my habit. I must break the habit that tells me that I must constantly buy more. And breaking habits is never an easy process.

A friend of mine recently shared a video by the author and doctor Gabor Maté. He covered a number of topics in the talk, but one part jumped out at me. Here’s a similar quote from him on this topic from the Toronto Standard.

People have a need for meaning and for belonging. But this society defines the value of a human being by how much they can either produce or consume. For all our talk about human values, we don’t really value humans for who they are. We value them for what they either give or purchase.

In other cultures, elders are considered to be people with wisdom, with experience, with a contribution to make. In our society, we don’t talk about elders, we talk about ‘the elderly’ — in other words, we define them by their age. And once they’re no longer either producers or consumers, they lose their value.

That idea that we are valued only for what we consume or what we make to be consumed is a powerful truth that is also repellent – why should that be the definition of our value? But that’s definitely a mindset that we are taught in our culture, and one that I will have to fight against within myself in order to break this habit of just buying – even when I don’t have the money and I don’t need the product. On some level, I see my value as tied up with what I buy. It’s even a common Liberal theme – activist consumerism – buying or not buying things for political reasons. It has a validity, absolutely – it’s better to buy from a company with ethical standards than one that does not. But it can also be a trap that causes unhealthy pressure to spend money we don’t have thinking that somehow we are going to change the world by buying more stuff.

This also goes hand in hand with a thought I have been pondering for a while. I think our current consumer culture is unsustainable, and it will come crashing down. Influenced by the thinking of John Michael Greer, I think about “collapsing now to avoid the rush”. This involves a radical simplification and learning more practical skills for an age when our consumer culture falls apart. I think cooking and gardening definitely fall into this category and I’m glad to be learning more about these all the time. At the same time, I know I’m far too dependent on certain technologies that may become rare and inaccessible when the finite resources and unsustainable processes that prop up our current prosperity fall away.

Of course there’s a strong environmental argument for cutting down on consumption, too. This article appeared recently and has made me think even more about ways to use less and waste less.
“Yes, you recycle. But until you start reducing, you’re still killing the planet”.

So, these different arguments – the environmental, the spiritual value idea from Dr. Maté, and the education for survival ideas from John Michael Greer – they all add up to making me back away from consumerism. They are strong arguments against impulse buying and for making it yourself, being creative and yes, sometimes just doing without. Now to let this all sink in and figure out how to restructure my life with the realization that I am not just a Consumer.

Some thoughts about the Brotherhood of the Phoenix

Between writing about the Brotherhood of the Phoenix on my blog (and dealing with the questions and comments) and meeting some of the Seekers looking at our tradition with their questions, I wanted to address a few misconceptions about the Brotherhood of the Phoenix.

Keep in mind, I am not one of the leaders or founders of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix. I am speaking for myself here, and according to my observations. This is not an official Brotherhood statement. I have run these thoughts past some of the other Brothers and they agreed with the ideas presented here.

 

Is the Brotherhood an ancient tradition?

We are influenced by various traditions and histories. We look to certain spiritual heroes and ancestors. But we do not claim to be inheritors of any ancient lineage. To us, in this time and space, what it means to be a man who loves men is the result of a certain set of cultural circumstances that form our gender and sexual identities. The cultural advantages and limitations of being a “man” do not necessarily translate to other cultures and other times. The cultural meanings of being “homosexual”, “gay”, “bisexual” or “queer” are also specific to this time and this place.

We are an emergent tradition – one that fits a need to serve a specific population. We feel that the binary male-female fertility rites that formed the centerpiece of certain Neopagan traditions do not feel central to our experience. We seek out (and have found) powers and deities that resonate with our own experiences and stages of life.  We are not a Reconstructionist tradition – we realize that those from the past, and particularly those in ancient cultures, would not see or experience deity through the particular lens that we have.

 

Does the Brotherhood limit member participation in other religious traditions?

I personally know of Brothers who have personal practices that includes Norse, Kemetic, Greco-Roman, Celtic, Hindu and Buddhist traditions. We have Ceremonial Magicians and those who practice traditional Witchcraft and Hoodoo. We even have those who come to our rituals who consider themselves practicing Christians. Nothing in the Brotherhood requires our participants to renounce or abandon their own beliefs or practices. Since our celebrations don’t tend to coincide with other Neopagan observances, we don’t usually force Brothers to choose between commitments.

 

Does the Brotherhood exclude participation from friends and visitors?

Yes, we do limit many of our events and membership to the Brotherhood to self-defined “men who love men”. A couple years ago, I discussed my own thought process about this limitation here.

At least twice per year (and likely more often in the future), we invite all people aged 18 and over to participate in our public rituals, regardless of gender or sexual identity, and these rituals are some of our most well attended events. We also do outreach to the larger community. For example, we will be leading one of the public rituals at Chicagoland Pagan Pride this year. We do reach out to a larger community and we are glad to engage in a constructive way with those outside of our group.

 

Are Brotherhood events a place to hook up?

Brothers and seekers at our events come together for spiritual teaching and experience. We also offer fellowship and some social time – particularly during our potlucks that happen after our public rituals. We offer a place to meet others that you may not encounter otherwise. But the goal is not specifically about dating or sexual encounters. In fact, one of the core values of this organization is that we see value in one another beyond dating and outside of the often competitive and objectifying world of sexual desirability.

This is not to say that dating and sexual partnering doesn’t happen – it does and we don’t have any rules against it. We don’t exclude it. But it is not the purpose of the gatherings or the Brotherhood.

 

Will the Brotherhood be my new best friends?

You will probably meet some people at Brotherhood events that are not like people you would meet in other contexts. They are interested, or at least open to, Neopagan spirituality. Some of them will be free-spirited and quick to encourage and show affection. Some of them may have quirky commonalities with you. But remember that here, just like anywhere else, true friendship must be earned.

If you approach with an open heart and a willingness to be honest and share, you will be in a better place to allow bonding to flourish. But remember that we are all individuals with our own interests, tastes, commitments, tolerances, and sets of existing friends. Friendship bonding outside of Brotherhood events may not happen.

 

If you want to see what the Brotherhood is, please visit our website, our Facebook page, attend one of our events, and check out our blog posts featuring writing by Brothers. Feel free to reach out to us with questions. But mostly, we encourage you to come to one of our public rituals, if you are able (posted on the webpage and Facebook). The experience that we create will be the most powerful statement about who we are and what we do.

Manifesting the Elder – Brotherhood of the Phoenix

A feature of the public rituals of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix is when one of the Brothers manifests one of the eight faces of the Queer God. Earlier this month, for the first time, I was the one who took this role. It was a big step for me, and one that only came after training and preparation. Eight months ago, I said it was something that scared me – both in terms of having the God speak through me and being the center of attention in that context. As it turned out, the former was a great help with the latter, since the presentation was not entirely “me”. I felt suffused with the calm energy of the Elder, which guided me through it.

The whole thing went surprisingly well and the message was well received by those who attended. I wrote up some of the presentation, which is now shared on the Brotherhood’s website.

Reflections of the Elder