Earth Day – an Opinion

So another Earth Day has come and gone. A lot of friends asked me if I was doing anything special for today. “You know, ” the addendum to their statement would typically start, “Some kind of ritual, or a prayer to the Gods?” It can seriously be a royal pain in the backside to be the only Pagan in the group. Too many times, I drew a deep breath, counted to twelve, and made nearly the same reply every time.

Every day is Earth Day for me. I give thanks to the Gods each morning at sunrise for helping me see the connections with my environment, as well as my individual place within it all. The only ritual I need is to continue living life in a manner where I try to accord some bit of balance of my own. My silent prayer every night is that human beings could not only see the connections that they have with their environment, but also realize that they are doing damage to the very environment that they hope to sustain them into future generations.

I like the sentiment behind Earth Day. According to Wikipedia:

In 1969 at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honor the Earth and the concept of peace, to first be celebrated on March 21, 1970, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. This day of nature’s equipoise was later sanctioned in a Proclamation written by McConnell and signed by Secretary General U Thant at the United Nations. A month later a separate Earth Day was founded by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in first held on April 22, 1970. Nelson was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award in recognition of his work. While this April 22 Earth Day was focused on the United States, an organization launched by Denis Hayes, who was the original national coordinator in 1970, took it international in 1990 and organized events in 141 nations. Numerous communities celebrate Earth Week, an entire week of activities focused on environmental issues. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_Day )

And this typically works well, especially trying to get non-Pagans to understand that this is not necessarily a Pagan function. It fits in well with many of the ideals held by many Pagan belief systems, but its origins are not Pagan whatsoever. However, my approach to Earth Day is a little different. For me, Earth Day is a time to get outside, to set aside my electronic devices, turn off the television set, and step outside for a prolonged period of

View from a cabin near Divide, CO

View from a cabin near Divide, CO

time. That is, provided I do not have other daily functions that keep from doing so – such as teaching class – which was the case today. And it was a shame, because it was a beautiful Spring Day here in north Texas. I only hope we have the same weather tomorrow – when I am not teaching class. Because I intend to be outside, and enjoying the outdoors as much as I can.

I do realize that there are many, many other essays and articles on Earth Day and what it is in relation to that author’s opinion. Please, seek those out and read what their perspective is. But once you are done with that…I implore you, get outside. Check out your local environment. Take your shoes and socks off.  Let your bare feet feel the new, growing grass, Let your toes wiggle in the earth’s surface dirt. be careful of brambles, rocks and sharp branches underfoot. Stop, shut up, and LISTEN. You will be surprised at what sounds you are missing with your earbuds in and your music cranked up to 11. For me, that’s what Earth Day is all about – experiencing the environment around.

 

Tears of the Gods

RainI love the sound of rain. The soft pitter-patter on the roof, the little taps as the drops hit against the window. I love the feel of the water against my face, when I get caught outside. I prefer the warm rain in the Summer as opposed to the colder ones that tend to occur in the early Spring and the Fall. And then there’s the smell of rain in the air. I can always tell when its going to rain soon, by the smell in the air.

Friends have often asked what my attraction is to the natural world. Why am I not happy within the confines of the inner city, with its majestic, towering steel and glass odes to the power of mankind over his surroundings? Why do I always feel the need to get out of my comfortable suburban life, where there are plenty of trees, lots of manicured grass, and even a nearby lake where I can stroll on concrete walkways near the shore? I can only smile, and reply that I prefer to be somewhere – even for a short time – where I am not the controller of my environment, where I am on equal footing with all the other aspects of the environment. And the typical response I get is a bemused look and a gentle shaking of the head, as I am slowly categorized as a “hippy”, “tree-hugger”, “Al Gore acolyte” or many more amusing descriptives.

I get the perspective they are bringing about. I live in a very conservative part of the state of Texas. Very dominated by the southern Baptist strain of Christianity. For instance, in Denton county (where I live), the voter registration rolls have the county at 93% Republican. I cannot go very far in my own neighborhood without passing a Baptist church. In fact, in my three mile circuit that I walk in my neighborhood, I pass two Baptist churches that are about 1/4th of a mile apart. I’m a Pagan on a Path of Druidry, and a “Bill Clinton Liberal” with an unaffiliated party stance. In other words, aside from my white skin and the fact that I am a male with higher education degrees – I am in the minority here.

It would be easier to move elsewhere. I am drawn very much to the mountains of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. I have taken vacations all throughout that area, and have spent many hours communing with the Spirits of the Land there. But its here in DFW that the jobs are currently located. I could easily just proclaim myself to be a Southern Baptist Christian and register as a Republican – essentially don the outfit that allows me to fit in. But then I would be living a lie, and while I might be able to do that for a time – it would wind up eating me alive.

No, I am who I am. I am a Nature-loving, tree-hugging, hippy Pagan with liberal political leanings. But it makes me wonder. What the fuck does it matter? So what if I don’t fit into their round=peg hole? So what if I am the 3-d triangle in the pile of blocks? I should be able to openly be who I am, without fear of retribution. I should not be shunned for who I am. And yet, I hear voices from beyond the veil that remind me that it does matter. Matthew Shephard was beaten to death for being “different”. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazi government of Germany rounded up people that they deemed were “different” and separated them from the rest of their society. We all know the history of the holocaust. And there are so many more examples that continue to this day in other parts of the world – Africa, Israel, Ukraine, here in the United States, North Korea, and the list goes on.

And after the genocide that happened in Europe during World War II, humanity cried out “never again”. And yet, incident after incident shows that it has happened again and again. And continues to do so. And somehow, some way – it has to stop. I could blather on about how labeling of people causes some of this. How this or that applies to what is happening and what has happened. That politics, religion, racial hatred – these all have a hand in things. But the reality is that all of that comes back to one basic thing. We are all inhabitants of this planet. Humans, animals, plants, geological aspects – we are all made of the same stuff. To borrow from Carl Sagan – we are all made of star stuff. Perhaps its past time for us to stop, think, and remember that.

I do love the sound of rain on my roof, the feel of it in my face when I am outside – but sometimes, I stop and wonder if its rain that I feel – or the tears of the Gods…

 

Experiences and MetaData – the Inventory of “Me”

Its always interesting to take a few moments and see what the inventory of “me” holds. Sometimes, I find myself completely fascinated by some of the concepts that cling to me – mostly gleaned through my reading – and other times, I have known about some associated concept for some time, but have just never had a name or descriptive to give to it. In the database world, those descriptives are called MetaData or information that describes information. And when I take inventory of the “me” – all that MetaData gets poured out on the ground, and it becomes a lot like building a jigsaw puzzle – and not knowing if you have all the pieces before you start.

There is a lot of stuff that makes up all of that MetaData. I am a student, a teacher, a podcaster, ex-military, a Pagan, on a Path of Druidry, Polytheist, Animist, an amateur Poet, a Journal writer, a Computer Systems Administrator, a Computer Technician, a Database Systems Administrator, an observer of the world around me, and a bazillion other descriptives. Each one provides only a small snapshot of exactly who I am. Each is only a single part of the puzzle. And the fun part is that some of these are seemingly in conflict to one another – and yet, the addition of each makes perfect sense to the order of who I am.

I have talked about my desire to not be labeled by anyone – most of all myself. No one definition or descriptive completely describes who I am. I am a human being, capable of rational and irrational thought – and capable of violating any common perception or rule, if I so choose to do so. I can make decisions that fly in the face of reason and logic – and I can accept the Path of less resistance. I am able to make and choose my own Path as I need and/or want to.

And yet…. all that damn MetaData is still there. And with each descriptive, a set of related expectations is  dragged along with it. Each assumption from those expectations is pasted upon to one’s understanding of who I am. And with each individual pasting those assumptions, comes a potential for a different understanding of the assumptions associated with those expectations. In other words, how each individual interprets the MetaData will possibly change the assumptions – possibly in a small manner or a great one – depending on each individual. Thus, an understanding of who I am – in relation to other people’s assumptions can range widely from one extreme point to another – and all points in the area between. And that’s a lot of assumptions to live up to – or to fail to live up to.

…and in the end, only one expectation and assumption associated with the MetaData really matters…my own. Trying to live up to the expectations and perceptions of others – that becomes a life lived for others. And I cannot do that. To live up to the expectations of the Gods and the way that I relate to them…I have to be who I am. I have to live up to my own expectations. I have to be who I am…live up to my MetaData…and the way that I interpret that. I may wind up being wrong about those interpretations from time to time – but that’s part of living life…experiences…

 

Pagan Leadership: Catching Swords From Watery Tarts

tommyI have been seeing a few comments and posts popping up around the inter-webs lately – discussing the needs for Pagan Leadership, and some of the problems with getting leaders to step forward. In reading through the comments – and the counter-comments – and the various posts by individuals – I started to let the idea brew around in the ol’ pot of stew I call my brain. The result was that I could not come up with any solution to the so-called “problem” — and found myself left with even more questions. I am sure over time, I will find some answers to my questions…or at least answers that will let me move on in my own understanding of the issue. But I am sure that in satisfying those questions – even more questions will result….which, for me, may be a natural process – but in trying to find proper “leadership” will not bring about a result whatsoever.

The “Big Tent” of Paganism

When I started reading some of the posts and commentaries on all of this, I noticed a simple division had taken place. There were essentially two camps. One, saw the problem with getting individuals to step up into the positions of leadership that were the “correctly” qualified (more on that here in a bit). The other, wondered how any individual could be set aside as a leader over a wide-range of belief systems that preferred to have autonomous control and authority? It just so happens, I fall into the second group here. I am a Solitary Pagan on a Path of Druidry. And while I am a student in the Bardic Grade of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids – I have no group that I engage with. I know that this is a similar case to many others around the world as well. And this does not even bring to bear how Wiccans, or Asatru, or any other faith system will react to having a member of a different faith be their “leader” – appointed or anointed. John Beckett has talked about the concept of the “Big Tent Paganism” on his blog – Under the Ancient Oaks – quite a few times. And while I am not overly enthused with the over-arching concept – there is a point in all of what he has said. And it brings me to the biggest question I have concerning this idea of Pagan Leadership…

How in the Nine Hells can there be a “leader” of a group of autonomous and independent belief systems, when the leader is likely not to represent a large majority of the groups and individuals that they have become a “leader” for?

You’re Qualified!

Which brings me back to the other side of the discussion table. Setting aside the “Big-Tent” issue – let us assume that a leader can be found – and that various systems of belief will allow such an individual to have authority over and speak on behalf of them. One of the lamentations I have seen on this, is that many of the folks who step forward to assume that mantle of leadership are not always “qualified” to be leaders. That the “qualified” individuals will not step forward and assume the position of leadership for a wide variety of reasons (pick your poison here, but the reasons are not necessarily germane to the issue here). So, what qualifies one to be a leader? In several instances, I have seen people set forth authors, lecturers, and other well-known types as good starting positions. That, in doing whatever it is that makes them well known, sets them forward as leaders of the community. Really? If I followed that logic, my status as one of the longest running podcasters in the Pagan community – with my two podcasts (the defunct “From the Edge of the Circle” and the current “Upon a Pagan Path“) – would entitle me to step forward and claim such a mantle of leadership. I am not sure I would even desire to make such a claim. Which comes back around to the position that the ones that would be good leaders, typically do not step forward to be leaders for [x] reason. But again, I am led back to my own manner of thinking – where I do not believe that I can be a leader of any group of people, where my beliefs and theirs will not necessarily match up.

But what about your position in helping out with the DFW Pagan Pride Day? Are you not assuming a position of leadership with a wide-range of Pagan belief systems? I certainly hope that no one sees me as being a leader because I volunteer to help out with Pagan Pride Day here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I help out, because I believe this this event is a wonderful way for Pagans to discover one another, and to be able to come together and talk – as well as a way to have non-Pagans find out first-hand how wide-ranging Paganism is, and that we are no different than they are. I am not assuming a position of leadership by doing this. I am finding a way to be helpful to my community – to give back to my community – some of the same reasons that I have been podcasting for so long. None of that bestows any position of leadership upon me. To quote Dennis:

Oh, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you.

So, What About Pagan Leadership?

To be completely honest, I do not know. I just cannot see leadership festooned upon someone simply because they do a podcast or write a book or publish a blog. I am quite sure there will be those who disagree with me. As the old saying goes, ask a three Druids a question and you will get seven answers. From my own perspective, I am just a little unsure of how followers of belief systems that espouse a heavy system of autonomy and independence would be able to set forth a leader – even in a spokes-person role – that all would readily agree upon and completely support. Its definitely a discussion to watch and listen, and even participate in. I am sure it can – and most likely will – create huge rifts between both sides of the argument. I am also quite sure it is a discussion that will need to be had. After all, our Pagan community is beginning to grow up, and is starting to ask the hard questions, such as this. How it gets answered? I have no bloody idea. But I am willing to listening and discuss.

 

My Purpose-Driven Life – Its Not Quite What *They* Mean…

I have definitely become a morning person. And that’s really somewhat strange for me. I definitely was not such a person early in my life. When I was in the military, I usually worked late night shifts, and over-night blocks. I used to joke that I was a vampire, since I had a tendency to sleep during the daylight hours, and head to bed shortly after the sunrise. But I also have to remind myself that I am now nearly thirty years down the road from those days. My life has changed quite a lot. And I have found that the mornings are definitely the time frame that works best for me.

The sunrise intrigues me, and invigorates my senses. For the past three years, I have been adjusting my own body clock to rise before the sun, make a cup of coffee, and spend a few moments watching the world slowly brighten as the sun rises in its daily path through the daytime sky. Even on cloudy days, such as today, the change is noticeable. People awaken in their homes, and the lights go on in their kitchen areas, as they all break their nightly fast with some kind of morning meal. After a short period of time, they bustle out of their houses, climb into their cars, and drive hurriedly through the streets to get to their jobs. Their children shamble through the streets, to their usual morning hangout, waiting for the yellow, lengthy beast to come and consume them – before it too moves hurriedly down the streets to regurgitate them in the parking lot of a place of learning.

Quite a while back, I commented about how Emma Restall Orr’s book “The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind and the Self in Nature” had helped me understand and realize the myriad of connections within the world around me. And as I have become more and more aware of the manner in which we are all connected, how each little action can make waves and ripples – sometimes beyond comprehension – I have started to really see what some folks try to explain as a “purpose-driven life”. Except that I see it a lot differently than they have intended.

In many instances, I have heard explanations that center on doing specific actions to achieve very specific results. Essentially, cause and effect relationships to achieve some desired goal or result. But I see a “purpose-driven Life” in a little different vein. If I worried about how every little action I did effected the world around me, I would spend much of my time second-guessing everything I do – from having a cup of coffee or having a pint at the local pub to flushing my toilet. And in my estimation, that’s not a life lived. What I can do, instead, is find ways to make my daily life into a series of positive actions and thoughts. For instance, smiling.

No matter where I go, I always walk past people at some point or another. When I was learning how to be a part of Red Force in the Air Force, we learned not only how to infiltrate a location – but also how to keep suspicion from being drawn to us. One of the techniques we were taught was to make eye contact with people we encountered casually – and smile and greet them. The point was that most people will look ANYWHERE but at you. And while it does work enough to get people to not pay attention to you in that manner – I noticed a side-effect as well. if you smile at someone and greet them warmly, that interaction sometimes changes the way they go about their day from that point. So do other actions, such as holding the door for people coming in or out, helping someone carry a large load or a heavy load to wherever they are going – even if its out of your way. You know – common courtesy.

I do watch my interactions with the world around me in other ways as well. While I am not ready – nor do I think I ever will be completely – to go Vegan, I have started to watch what kind of foods I do eat. I have started to reduce my intake of red meat. I am not about to give it up entirely, but I definitely do not need to eat more of it. I have started to step away from sodas altogether. I have also started looking for fresh vegetables and fruits over pre-processed, canned, or frozen. That’s a step towards becoming more healthy – but also towards seeking out items that are produced in a far more environmentally-friendly manner. I’m still not on-board with all the folks going after companies such as Monsanto….I do see some merit in what they are trying to do with food modification, I just think the study needs to be a little more in-depth than those companies are currently doing. But I do see the point that some of my friends are making as well.

And there are so many other points to be made about living a life with purpose…or a purpose-driven life as many of the Christian ministers have pointed out in their sermons and teachings. I know what they mean by those statements, but its definitely not what I mean when I talk about it. They are trying to achieve some goal – I’m just trying to live my daily Path. Hmmm…come to think of it, I am living a goal as well. Just not theirs.

Speaking of which, its nearly time to strap on some tennis shoes, and take my walk through the neighborhood. Another of those purpose-driven moments in my life…and one that enriches me in so many ways.

–Tommy /|\

 

Consumer-Driven News…an Opinion….

I tend to avoid the news for a large part of my time. Mostly because its not really news – its just Entertainment sprinkled with bits of Information. All the major news players are guilty of it – Fox, MSNBC, CNN…and the sad part, is that once you leave the tv behind – its not much better on the internet. In fact, you have to be thousands of times more careful about what you read – since there is so much overly-slanted, and outright lies that are set out as “real” news. That’s one of the reasons I am glad there are sites like “The Wild Hunt” out there – which bring some (not all) of the news in a factual manner.

It was through TWH that I found out about the issues surrounding Kenny Klein. It was also through TWH that I found out about the reported ties between the recent Kansas City shooter and aspects of neo-Paganism. Unlike CNN, which seems to have originally reported the ties, TWH presented the story without a major slanted bias. And this is a sad thing. A major news outlet essentially could not see a way to report information as just that:  information.

I teach a class on Business Information Systems at my local college. I spend a lot of class time trying to show students that information presented on its own is just information. However, when a human being gets a hold of it – a bias automatically creeps into the reporting. In essence, when human beings get involved, information takes on the biased slant of the individual compiling the information into an analyzed report. That analysis is a report of the patterns that the data represented to the Analyst looking over the data. Reporting the news is no different. Information is presented to a reporter, that individual then takes the information and presents it in a way that he/she thinks the news outlet’s readers/viewers will understand the reported information. In a manner of speaking, the reporter spins the news report in a way that becomes palatable to the audience. An example would be to look at the different ways that Fox and MSNBC attempt to report any news related to President Obama. Fox spins the story to represent the President in a very unfavorable light. MSNBC will represent the same story in a way that sets the President in a positive light. The reality of the story is somewhere in between the two.

Earlier, I had set aside a point of caution towards trying to identify predators within our Pagan community. When we point fingers based on rumors or hearsay, we run the chance of accusing someone of something that they had no part in whatsoever. The accusation can be withdrawn, but the individual reputation that has been sullied cannot be repaired to its former status. Now, I am not saying that this is the case with the KC shooter. Its fairly obvious that the individual is the one that committed these acts of murder – and further, its obvious that he has a very sick, perverted, and twisted idea of what truth and justice are. An individual consumed by hatred and rage over an individual’s skin color, nationality, religion, creed, eye color, hair color, or what have you – is not dealing with the rational side of the world. It may be that he has some cursory tie to the Heathen community. But there has also been a lot of perversion of Heathen principles and ideals by individuals seeking something to substantiate their twisted hate. By grabbing a few strands of what the Heathen community uses in its principles and concepts, and combining that with perspectives of racial purity from the Nazi principle of Aryan dominance over the world – and braiding in some aspects of radical Christianity…folks like this have created their own sick and twisted idea of how the world should be.

Let’s be realistic here. There will always be radicals within any system of community or belief. There will always be individuals that take the ideals and twist to further or substantiate a socially unacceptable concept or perspective that they hold. History is replete with such examples. Instead of immediately jumping up and painting an entire community or belief system based on the actions of a few individuals – we should be careful not to twist the two together. I remember that many people here in America equated the actions of nineteen cowards with an entire belief system – and then stretched it further by visiting their naked anger and aggression on people who lived in the same town as they did – and sometimes just down the street. Jumping to conclusions based on a few cursory facts does nothing to further the concept of justice…nor does it bring about any sense of equality.

Our media does not help in this matter either. Sensationalized headlines may sell papers, and drive hits to the news outlet’s website – but it also helps feed the fires of irrational fears and actions as well. It also does a disservice to the entire concept of reporting the news. In this world of “Gotcha!” politics – and the desire to be the first to report the “story” – along with the increased readership and reputation that goes with that…we (the general “we” here) have become a society that is fascinated with the every move of certain individuals. How did they cut their hair, what cuss word did they utter to the reporter on the street, did they run over the reporter’s foot when trying to drive away (let’s not mention the fact that the reporter is right up against the vehicle – standing IN THE STREET). There’s no news in that. But it certainly is entertaining to many – otherwise the news outlets would not report such stuff.

Is the shooter in Kansas City news?  Yes. Is the shooter’s beliefs news? Yes. Therefore, since both items are news, we can assume that everyone else that follows that same belief is a psychotic killer in trainer like this shooter? And this is what I mean folks, this is how the news is given its bias. The reporter writes the story, presents some of the facts, and then draws a hard-line correlation between those facts and another point of view.

Can we recover our news outlets?  Can we get back to reporting the facts and letting the reader/viewer make up their own mind? I don’t know. I would certainly try to be optimistic and say its possible. But our consumer driven society places a high premium on “Gotcha!” politics and Infotainment stories. I am at a completely loss to figure out how to change that…

[Poetry] – Deity Dwells Within

I was digging through some of my older poetry – and I came across this particular poem. Now, my memory is not what it used to be, but if I recall correctly – I wrote this poem – with the awesome Lisa Tamara – when I was on leave in the United States from my time in Germany with the United States Air Force. We both worked on this online through a local BBS, if I remember. To be honest, I do not have a lot of my older poems – so when I stumble across these older works – they are cherished memories that I enjoy reading through – and remembering the creative process that gave birth to them.

Deity Dwells Within
3 Jan 1994
written with Lisa Tamara

Throughout the ages
Of limitless time
Man has wondered
And looked to the sky

In times of crisis
When needs arise
Man has prayed
Staring to the sky

For unanswered prayer
Such shaken faith
Man curses the Gods
Shaken fist to the sky

Such selfish desires
Unfettered pride
Man seems never
To look inside
We are merely a reflection of the potential
for Deity dwells within us all…