Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Social Media and the Sacred Web of Relationships

I had an epiphany in a ceremony this weekend. Social media is making me miserable. 

I was skeptical of social media and resistant to active use of it for years. It seemed like such a phony way of interacting and offered a seemingly dangerous illusion of community with few roots. My perspective shifted when Proposition 8 passed in 2008 and my rights as a queer person were voted away by my fellow Californians. I was outraged. So were a lot of other people and within a few days there was a group on Facebook, One Struggle, One Fight, which successfully organized several acts of civil disobedience and ongoing resistance to the injustice of this proposition. As I was arrested with clergy members and activists two weeks after voting day in 2008, I was sold on social media. There were a lot of new activists involved with this group—it seemed that Facebook was an extremely useful tool in organizing these new activists.

Fast forward several years to the explosion of the “Occupy” movement. Again, I saw networks like Twitter and Facebook serve as extremely useful tools in bringing people together. Personally, I decided to try my hand at online dating and fell in love with someone whom I would have never met outside of the internet. But the relationship didn't work out as they are apt to do (we really didn't have enough in common) and the energy around the “One Struggle, One Fight” began to wane as social justice groups are also apt to do. 

As the wheel of the year turns and the days grow shorter and the sun begins to shine with less intensity on this end of the earth, I have found myself struggling with more sadness than I normally live with. Part of me knows that it's normal to turn inward as the earth around me turns inward as well. And part of me has been struggling to find answers to the question of what in my life is calling in this sadness? As I prayed in ceremony this weekend, for release from the sadness, I had an epiphany.

It's the web that I am weaving through the strands of the internet that is causing me pain.  With facebook, we swim through images of the people we know and the people we love that reflect a slice of reality. We put our best face forward, sharing happy pictures of ourselves and our families. We comment on each others status, offering laughs, words of advice, and even support. And while this can be comforting, I feel like it can in the same moment be isolating. I find myself not reaching out to my community in the “real world” because I have the illusion of the web of the internet providing me comfort. Instead of calling a friend or cooking for a loved one, I comment on their status or like something they posted. I found myself spending more energy on my FB relationships that I have been on my live, in person, relationships.  The web created through facebook is sucking energy away from the sacred web that we spin when we hold each other, laugh together, and provide witness for one another in body and spirit.

As I reflected, I realized this pattern was true in my journey to find a partner to walk with on this life journey. Online dating is about connecting people and all that good stuff, but more than that it's about profit.  It's designed to keep you searching, keep you constantly wanting more.  Online dating is an industry and it's selling us the idea of love, true love. The perfect partner, parent of your child, superb lover who always wants more, totally hot, _________ (insert details of your dream partner here) is just a click away.  You can change the restrictions of your searches in an attempt to get more and more specific about your dream lover and we consumers are convinced that just one more click and we just might find true love.

And my anti-capitalist ass is eating it up like a pig in shit. Because, like so many in this increasingly isolated modern society, I am lonely. I log into Facebook and it's difficult not to compare my life with the lives of my peers and feel dissatisfied with where I am at. All the while, I'm being spoon fed advertisements selling me a illusion of what happiness is that cater to my exact dreams and desires because these online companies are collecting information about me and people who fit into my demographic categories with every click.  And with each dream filled click we provide them with data to increase the effectiveness of their advertising and their products. And their products are more effective if I feel dissatisfied with my life. As my friend said the other night, “You're being used”.

In ceremony, within the quiet space for reflection where spirit is so close, I realized life is good. I have so much to be grateful for. I am exactly where I need to be and I am on the right path. I've been sold the idea that just one more click will bring me happiness. I've been sold the hope that if I just keep searching I'll find my soul mate. And I've been eating that shit up. I don't know how it got me but it did. 

I got home that night and I deleted my online dating profile. I told my Facebook friends I'm taking a break. From here on out, I'm going to put my energy into relationships that are tangible. I'm going to call a friend and invite them over for dinner when I feel lonely rather than sitting down at the computer and scrolling through Facebook or searching through online profiles. I'm going to ask that cute guy at the cafe for his phone number or walk up to that hot gal after the organizing meeting and ask her to expand upon her ideas about the campaign. I'm not going to let these companies manage my relationships anymore.

I'm not saying there isn't good to come from social networking. I have seen the ways that Facebook can be a tool to bring people together to organize for change. I know people who have found their life partner through internet dating. I'm just saying that it's worth pausing to consider how much of your energy is spent on relationships in the here and now and how much is spent online. I'm saying it's worth thinking about who's profiting from our using the tools of social networking. 

Are we using these tools or are they using us?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Election Reflections: Hope, Solidarity, and Liberation

I'm still surprised at how different the universe seems today from the way it looked one week ago.  Last week, the world seemed bleak.  The media was offering reports that Mitt Romney had a good shot at winning the presidency, that Republicans could take over the House and the Senate, and that we were going to lose in big ways on the ballot initiatives in California.  For me Election Day was hellish.  I woke up feeling sick and riddled with anxiety, which just increased as the day wore on.

But there was a tremendous shift some point in the evening.  For me, it was a text from my father back in Virginia who told me that Ohio had been called for Obama.  I immediately called him back, "Dad, don't speak too soon!  Don't you remember 2000?".  He said, "No, you don't understand.  Virginia's going to go blue too.  They've counted the votes from everywhere except parts of the Norfolk and Fairfax".  My heart skipped a beat.  These are two traditionally more liberal parts of Virginia.  These are places where the votes would likely be around 60% for Obama.  Shortly thereafter the votes started officially rolling in, and a wave of blue like the morning sky spread across the swing states.

This election has marked a serious shift.  There's been all kinds of victories.  Victories that 4 years ago I would have never imagined possible.  Americans have voted to end marriage discrimination, legalize Marijuana, and supported all kinds of progressive issues.  I could go on for a while about all the important victories, but I won't.  You can read about them other places.  Instead I'm going to talk about two key elements of this election that give me hope.

The fight to label genetically modified food in California

"But wait, we lost that vote.  How does that give a pagan environmentalist against corporate domination of our food hope?", you ask.

Yes, it is indeed a tragedy that we lost this vote.  But proposition 37 was the first time there has been an electoral effort targeting Monsanto and protecting the health and vitality of our food on the ballot.  That's pretty exciting if you ask me.  And if you look at the numbers 47% of Californians voted yes on this initiative!  Those are some pretty amazing numbers considering the millions of dollars that corporations like Monsanto poured into the campaign against 37.  And I also want to note that in the context of this election, 47% seems to be a magical number that points you to eventual victory. Thanks Mother Jones! ;)

This is an amazing start.  And that's exactly what it is.  It's a beginning.  This is the beginning of a long fight that we will win.  I think about where we were 4 years ago when Proposition 8 passed in California.  I remember how my excitement for Obama's first term was made heavy with the fact that Californians had just voted to take away my rights and the rights of queer people across this state.  It was a bittersweet moment to say the least.  But look where we are today?  We have 4 states which voted to repeal discrimination and support marriage equality.  We have more and more openly gay politicians elected to leadership roles.  Four years ago, this did not seem possible.  In my heart, I know that if we continue this fight we can win and we will win.  If we continue to organize and talk to our neighbors and friends about the dangers of Monsanto and genetically modified foods on both our health and the health of the earth, we can build the momentum that will shift our relationship with our food and our relationship with the land.

Mark Takano is the first openly gay person of color elected to the House of Representatives.

This victory has been overlooked by much of the coverage of Gay Marriage and the exciting victory of Tammy Baldwin, the first openly lesbian Senator in US history.  But to me, this is HUGE.  Mark Takano is a progressive democrat, a former public school teacher, and the newest representative of the 41st District in California.  He grew up in Riverside California and comes from a Japanese family that was sent to the internment camps during WWII.  And he's gay.

Representative Mark Takano, the United States first openly gay person of color elected to the House of Representatives talking to constituents

This is a historic victory in the gay rights movement and I have to admit that I'm pretty frustrated that this moment is not receiving more news coverage and publicity.  Perhaps it's because Rep. Takano hasn't placed a lot of emphasis on his sexuality in his campaign--it's been a side note of sorts.  But I think it's more likely getting less coverage because our media is racist.  Rep. Takano's leadership throws a wrench in the story that popular culture likes to convey that gayness is a "white thing". 

As marginalized people we must not forget that our struggles for liberation are interconnected.  The election of another progressive person of color to the US House of Representatives is a queer victory.  A step towards the reflection of the diversity of our LGBT family in the House is a critical step in dismantling the invisibility of queer people of color from the dominant narrative in US culture.  It's a critical step towards building a movement that recognizes the ways that the fight for queer liberation and the fight to dismantle racism are the same fight.

This is a tremendous moment in US history and in Queer history.  I want to dedicate this blog post to this historic moment and I hope that you will honor this moment too.   Please take a min and write a letter to the editor of your local paper and/or gay media source honoring Representative Takano.  Copy and paste the image below and post it on your facebook page.  Let your friends know about this historic election and don't let the media define what queer liberation looks like. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Find the Wild Here

I wrote this in August 2012 for a class assignmentAs the first rains of the seasons dance closer, I feel compelled to post this with a prayer of gratitude for your reading.  


A soft wind brushes through the trees rubbing their leaves together creating a steady whisper. I glance up at the elders towering above me. I do not know their name or their family. Looking around I realize I do not know the names of most of the trees that I'm sitting with. But over the last year I've come to know their energy. These trees have held me over this first year in in Graduate school. They heard my prayers as I arrived on campus, diving into the deep end of the then unknown pool that is Seminary education. The spirits of the land here have received my offerings, which were an abundant product of the anxiety that filled my first month in school.

Little birds are chirping. Their sweet songs call out to a potential lover or perhaps their songs alert their beloveds that they are well and there is nothing to be alarmed about. They are high up in the trees and perhaps sitting a bit further off because their songs gently hum in the distance. The song birds are no where my human eyes can find. Their voices tell me that the birds are calm. There is no need for alarm in this moment. The breeze picks up and the leaves whispers transforms into a conversation and then slows to silent stillness.

Most of the plants here have gone to seed, dried up in the hot California summer. The lack of moisture has changed their scent. Memories of the busting aromas of the fertile spring linger in the air. The smell is familiar—that dry fecundity of the late summer in the hills looking out over the bay. Fire smells always possible this time of year. Even here on the PSR campus where the lawns are watered daily.

The crow caws sounding an alarm. A biker rides by shortly thereafter. I watch her glide along—enjoying the ease that comes after climbing this hill that is known as holy. These hills surely were holy before any of these Seminaries were built. The land feels sacred here. It always has. I've never thought to ask the elders I know about this place called Holy Hill. Is it a sacred site for the first nations people of this land? Who were the families and tribes connected with this place? How has this place been honored and respected pre-Holy Hill? What was stomped out for this school to be created? 
I look out at the bay and see the city socked in with fog. I smirk to myself feeling a sort of petty pride for the sunshine that warms my back. It was so hard to leave the city, to leave the struggles there, to leave my family and my community. At least here I have the sunshine in the summertime. The land here in the bay, it's all connected but the water that divides the city from the East Bay feels so great at times. I miss the community in San Francisco.

How do we find the “wilderness” here at PSR? Questions of the “wild” have been present in my heart and my magic this summer. This year at Free Cascadia Witch Camp the Salmon swam into our divination challenging us to a spell of re-wilding and calling ourselves home. But this question of “What is the wilderness? Where is the wilderness?” have been challenging for me. I took a class this summer at PSR on Environmentalism, Religion, and CultureIn the class we explored the construction of the concept of wilderness alongside the construction of "civilization".  The concept of the wilderness as we know it today is a relatively new concept. The notion of the wilderness as an idyllic place of peaceful serenity developed alongside the construction of the American frontier mythology that has been used to justify decimation of the earth and the genocidal attempts of first nations people. For this reason, I have been grappling with the legacy of the development of “the wild".  It feels like an important pagan theological question to grapple with and in my heart I have been grateful for this challenge.

As a city witch, I've struggled with the question of how to connect with nature in the city for much of my life.  So many of my steps are on pavement.  Cement--that mixture of rock and chemicals that blocks the earths breath from our feet breaking that connection--with each step.  It is much harder to ground** when you have to send your roots down through the layers of concrete before you reach dirt.  Magic is easier in the woods, outside in the wilderness in part because it requires less effort to connect with the earths energy.  

The more wild the space, the clearer the energies of the elements. When you are in the woods they are right there with you. It is easier to learn, teach, and practice magic when you are sitting on the ground, outside of a building, with the wind brushing against your skin. This is not to say that you can not learn, teach, or practice magic in the city or indoors. You can practice magic anywhere. You can invoke the elements in a jail cell. However, magic requires deep listening and it is harder to listen with the earplugs that are buildings, pavement, cell phones, Facebook, and TV. They damper our connection and distract us from our ability to listen.

I look back at the green lawn of PSR's Quad. The lawn is manicured, colonized with green grass in a place where native grasses, Yarrow, California Poppy, and Oak trees likely once flourished. What would it be like to decolonize this space and call back the native plants? What would it be like to grow food here, inviting students into direct relationship with that which gives their bodies sustenance? What would it be like to create an outdoor worship space with a fire pit inviting people of all faith to connect with the elements and find the wilderness in the same place that that they learn?

This summer has me wondering about ways to re-envision the wilderness. How can we hold the truth of the history of the construction of the wilderness as a tool of colonization and justification for genocide while at the same time holding the truth of the wilderness as teacher and elder. Are these truths mutually exclusive? I believe they can't be.

The crow caws. A car drives by. I stop and listen, grateful for the break in my search for answers and questions. I take a breath. And another. Another. With my heart I hear the crow:

Find the wild here.
Remember the places that are wild and the things that are not.
You are human
but you are also animal.
Learn to love the animal you are
and you will learn
to be wild.

 ** Grounding is one of the most fundamental practices in most pagan traditions. The Spiral Dance by Starhawk offers several examples of grounding. You can also listen to a recording of a grounding exercise by following this link

Monday, August 27, 2012

Towards a Land Ethic....

            A small plot of dirt containing mostly weeds and some very old fruit trees hold me in my home.  This plot of dirt keeps me connected with the earth.  Each day I can remove my shoes and feel dirt beneath my feet  amidst this concrete jungle that was built around this ancient house as the East Bay boomed in the 21st Century.  My sweet old house lined with asbestos shingles.  It's kind of ironic that it's this toxic lining that keeps this old house alive.  In many ways I have the city's efforts against toxicity to thank for my housing.  Tearing the house down would be too much of an economic endeavor for the wealthy man who owns this house.  He lives many miles away and I have never seen his face.  He's waiting until the city approves his plans to develop the entire block to make any changes to this place.  

            I pray that he is waiting a long time.  I pray these plans never go through because for the first time since I have moved to the bay I have access to dirt—large chunks of earth that I can dig and turn and plant inside.  I arrived here unsure how long I would be living in this house.  My time here began as a sublet which has grown into a more permanent living situation now that it’s clear my roommate and I can co-habit well.  And now, after living here almost a year, I look out at this beautiful island of earth swimming in a sea of concrete and admire the determination of the weeds that have grown to my waist in the backyard.  The Oatstraw have dried up and no longer offer their soothing milk.   Their long stalks lean back in the breeze like ghosts.  The ghosts reach out and tickle one another offering assurance that what was once their bodies will once day give life  to more of their kind.

            The mint is just beginning to flower.  The sweet mint that has taken over the far back.  The honeybees alight the flowers as the sun shines through the wind, collecting pollen to take back to their hive nestled up against the metal fence dividing this island from the cement parking lot just beyond the determined rusty border.  This summer I read Aldo Leopold for a class on "Environmentalism and Religion in American Culture" at PSR.  Leopold pushed me to explore more deeply my ideas about a "land ethic".  He challenges readers to see that a “system of conservation based solely on economic self-interest is hopelessly lopsided”.  As I look out at one of the last places in the neighborhood where the earth can breathe without the constraints of concrete,  I wonder, what does it mean to be in relationship with this small plot of land in a way that does not reinforce systems of use and abuse?

            I have been a container gardener for many years.  As a “city witch” with little access to soil where I can plant roots, I have kept my friends in pots—prioritizing their captivity because there seemed to be few other options.  Looking out into the garden, there is only a small plot that has been tended.  In that place lies some of my formerly potted friends.  It was the right thing to do, to offer them soil to spread out their roots.  The Angelica has grown 4 times the size she ever was in a pot.  Her long stalks spread out reaching across to the Calendula which has grown from 2 plants to at least 8 in a few short months.  I look over at the endangered plants.  Black Cohosh has drooping leaves crying out for more shade.  This California climate is not her home and the air here is much drier than her native lands of Virginia and the Appalachian mountains.  I haven’t had the heart to put her in the soil here.  I don’t know that she would make it and yet I can feel her longing to put her roots into the ground.

Black Cohosh buds beginning to bloom
              The soil here is reflective of the century of industry that has sprung up around this island of soil.  As I dug through the dark hard ground this year I found small pieces of glass and some cigarette butts, evidence of the “land ethic” of those who have come before.  The large old trees in the back have yellowing leaves indicating a need for more nitrogen in the soil.  I’ve noticed this with the Raspberry starts I placed in the ground.  So I fell into the “trap” Leopold details in his essay of supplementing the soil with manure.  Although I did not use Guano imported from South America, as Leopold critiques, but local organic chicken manure.  It was so fascinating to hear his voice from over 60 years ago talking about the degradation of the soil.  I paused as I read his words realizing that I don’t know that I have ever planted in a garden without first supplementing the soil. 

Scanning though my memories, I land on my first experience “wild planting”.  Many herbalists and herbal training programs focus on “wild crafting” and how to best harvest medicine from the woods.  My teacher, Karyn Sanders, told me that in my first 7 years of practicing I should focus on planting rather than harvesting medicines.  She’s an elder Choctaw woman filled with stories about how the American Ginseng and the Cohosh grew in abundance in the woods when she was a child.  Her eyes gaze off into the distance when she tells these stories.  Behind her gaze I’ve seen tears held back by reverence as she tells of the endangered ones in generations past. 

 My first “wild planting” experience was in the Appalachian Mountains near Boone, North Carolina. It was my first year of studying with Karyn and I wanted to honor her teachings.   I brought with me seeds of Wild Yam and Black Cohosh.  It was the first time I had returned to the Appalachians in many moons.  This was the bottom end of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  These were the mountains off to the west that looked over my childhood.  It felt right to begin my planting in the Appalachians, mountains that held so many memories of my first experiences of “the wilderness”. 
            I found a place near a lake on the map.  It was relatively accessible, just a mile hike from the road.  I wandered down the trail and found a creek leading into the lake.  I followed the creek up stream through overgrown Willow and Rhododendron.  I tromped through the mud, walking in or close to the creek.  The air was thick and heavy.  As sweat dripped down my back, my arms, the backs of my legs, I welcomed the familiar humidity of the southern United States.  Many Californian cool summer nights of my adulthood have been spent lingering in the memory of the hot sticky summers of my childhood , and so I relished the wetness at the crux of the exertion of my body and the heat of the season. 

There was a clearing with ample shade and a small patch of Solomon Seal.  I didn’t feel hopeful to find many of my seedlings other family members.  Habitat devastation due to mountain top removal and development, poachers eager to make some money on the increasingly lucrative medicinal herb trade, and over harvesting by herbalists eager to collect their medicines from the woods are the primary reasons there are few non-cultivated communities of Black Cohosh’s and Wild Yam’s family left.  I looked around and felt called to stop.   I sat down and sent my roots into the earth grounding into this place.

I pulled out my pouch of tobacco and made an offering to the spirits of the land.  The earth felt inviting here.  I sat patiently listening as the birds chirped above the constant hum of the cicadas.  The wind was still but mosquitoes cast breezes across my skin as they circled their potential prey praying patiently to the earth.  I sat and after what seemed like a long time I felt a breeze gently slip past my skin.  I asked the Solomon Seal if I could plant these seedlings here.  I was surprised at how quickly I heard an answer. 

Aldo Leopold questions our “Ecological Conscience” and asks if it is not only the “volume” of conservation education that is needed but also the “content”.  I believe that this is a critical question to be asking and that it is highly relevant over half a century since it was first asked.  Most herbal education focuses primarily on the efficacy of plants and their the ways they can be used.  Many programs detail ways to prepare medicine from the plants and how to harvest them but teach little to nothing of the ways that we can plant these medicines and tend to them in our gardens and in the wild.  They reinforce a take-take relationship with the land and reflect a relationship with the land that fits Leopolds words, “The land-relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations”. 

We all need to examine our relationship with the land and consumption.  When we approach the land, are we there for profit?  American dominant culture teaches us to approach other beings and often other people as objects for gain or profit.  Whether it is a visit to the woods for to collect some beautiful medicine or an online date with the potential for a relationship or sex, we are taught to first approach the other as potential for gain.  How do we shift our relationship with the land to one that sees the land as a subject rather than an object for profit? 

I believe that the answer to this question is different for each one of us.  Within us all runs the blood of ancestors who once lived closer to the land before subject/object thinking pervaded all aspects of our human existence.  We all carry the blood of human beings that were once animals living in a good way with the earth.  For some of us those ancestors are closer and for some those ancestors are many many generations back.  But we all have that blood and we all have the ability to remember right relationship.  Each of us has the potential to imagine a world where the next generations can be in right relationship with our mother and with all beings. 

To read more by Aldo Leopold, follow this link or go to Powells Books to order a copy of "A Sand County Almanac" 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Chevron Addiction

I woke up this morning with a cough.  Not to get graphic on yall but I was coughing up something nasty.
"I must be coming down with something", I thought to myself.

I rolled over to turn off my alarm clock and did the second thing that I often do in the morning.  I checked my email on my phone.  That's right.  I confess.  I've become one of those people who checks their email before they get out of bed.  I hate it and yet I do it anyway--I can't resist.  Something about this iPhone is like a siren calling during my first moments of waking.

This morning I opened my email to find a message from an herbalist buddy about how she wasn't going to be able to use the herbs that she's growing in her back yard because of the "toxic cloud".  I quick replied, "Toxic cloud, huh?".  I then proceeded to open my facebook to find a document that another herbalist friend compiled about ways to take care of yourself in the aftermath of "Chevron's toxic plume".  My jaw dropped as I did a news search and learned about the dangerous leak and ensuing fire that dumped an unknown amount of hazardous toxic chemicals into the air at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, CA.  I read through the "shelter in place orders" that were given to people in the areas down to North Oakland and coughed.

I turned around and realized that my window had been open all night.

I groaned with the realization that my cough was more likely related to the toxins I had been exposed to than a cold.  Then the next realization hit me--this is likely not far from the daily experience of many of my neighbors just a few miles away.  Eight miles from where I sleep each night lies California's third largest oil refinery.  The refinery is capable of processing 242,000 barrels of oil each day.

There's a long history of problems in with Chevron in Richmond.  Just to give you a sense of the bigger picture, here's a timeline of incidents laid out in the Mercury News

Jan. 15, 2007: Fire began when a pump seal failed on the crude separating unit. Two Chevron workers received minor injuries.
Aug. 9, 2003: An unexpected compressor shutdown caused flaring activity, causing smoke. Twenty-six people sought medical attention at area hospitals.
Jan. 31, 2002: A sulfur dioxide release from the plant resulted in a shelter-in-place alert. About 20 people were treated at area hospitals for complaints attributed to the release, including dizziness, burning eyes and throats.
March 25, 1999: A valve stem blew out, causing a major fire that released hydrocarbons and hydrogen sulfide. More than 2,500 people swarmed area emergency rooms through the weekend, complaining of breathing problems and other ailments.
Oct. 30, 1991: Chevron catalytic cracking unit leaks and catches fire, sending clouds of smelly, thick smoke over Richmond.
Dec. 5, 1991: Chevron refinery valve malfunction spreads a chemical catalyst over Point Richmond.
April 10, 1989: Chevron refinery explosion and fire. Sends clouds of black smoke over the area for six days, injures nine workers. 

Chevron's fire spreads toxic smoke across the Bay 
Monday August 6, 2012

Clearly, this isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened.  These incidents are on top of the daily exposure that the people of Richmond are subjected to because of their close proximity to the refinery.   Richmond has the highest hospitalization rate for asthma in the country--not to mention the cancer rates.  The overwhelming majority of Richmond is people of color--largely working class and middle class families.  But I suppose it would make sense to a CEO of a large corporation like Chevron to put their oil refinery in a town like Richmond rather than neighboring Berkeley which is much whiter and more affluent.  Yes, my friends, this is what we call environmental racism and Chevron is guilty of it.  

And yet today, the burning eyes and cough associated with the fire (which is not yet contained just in case you're wondering) has crossed lines of segregation and is igniting a new fire.  This is a fire of anger spreading across the east bay.  Tonight, Chevron held a town meeting that was attended by over 500 residents of the East Bay.  Among them were people of faith responding to the call and demanding something be done.

"You talk about shelter in place, but how long can I hold my breath", asked the Reverend Kenneth Davis of North Richmond Baptist Church, "...What about our children?".

I think that's the question we all need to be asking ourselves.  How long can we hold our breath and pretend that the way that we are living our lives is not destroying the earth for our children? How long will we continue to live in a way that relies upon cars for transportation?  How long will we stand by as our government wages wars citing religious fanaticism as a cover for the real motivator--oil?  How long until we can break the spell of this unjust economic system that is reliant upon the exploitation of the earth and the exploitation of our neighbors? 

I'll confess.  I'm an addict.  I'm addicted to technology.  I'm addicted to my iPhone and I'm addicted to my car.  I'm addicted to the convenience of being able to jump in my car and go visit a friend in the city.  I'm addicted to being punctual and that means sometimes I forgo public transportation over using my car because public transit in this country is less and less reliable.  

How do you break out of the addiction when what you crave is everywhere and you are surrounded by enablers?

I know I'm not the only one with this addiction.  You're reading this on your computer or maybe your smart phone and I imagine you may be an addict too.  So I'm going to make a commitment from here on out and I invite you to do the same in a way that feels right for you.  I'm going to fill my gas tank twice this month.  That's it.  20 gallons of gas is all I get.  I'm trying the harm reduction approach to kick this addiction.  It's the least I can do.  I want to be a good neighbor.  The people of Richmond deserve better.  

Richmond Residents watch as their town is covered with toxic smoke

Flyer for the community meeting held in Richmond tonight.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gender and Divinity

I consider myself a witch.  When asked what tradition of witchcraft I practice, at this point I usually tell people I'm a Reclaiming witch.  I grew up Unitarian Universalist Pagan and found Reclaiming when I moved to California a little over 8 years ago.  I've been involved with the organizing of Free Cascadia Witch Camp for a number of years now and was a part of the teaching team at Free Camp for the first time this year. 

I love Reclaiming.  Where else can you find a community of Pagans who are both excited about magic and spiritual growth and equally if not more excited about social justice and the healing of the earth?  Seriously, the committment to both magic and justice that I have witnessed in Reclaiming has been deeply humbling and profoundly inspiring.

Every two years Reclaming witches from all over the world gather for the Dandelion gathering, a long weekend of magic, organizing, skill sharing, and process (what would a gathering of non-hierarchical Reclaiming witches be like without some processing?!).  At the last Dandelion, a more formal conversation began about the way we discuss divine energies and gender.  This conversation is slated to continue this year.  I'm sad to say that I am unable to make it to Dandelion this year and am sorry that I can't be a part of this conversation.  My friend Rain Crowe suggested that I write some of my thoughts down and share them with reclaiming folks as a way of participating in the conversation over such a distance.

I feel grateful for that suggestion and I hope that you'll take a min to read these thoughts and let them percolate in your heart as you journey to the 5th Dandelion gathering or continue to do magic with your home communities.

So here's the section of the Principles of Unity that I would like to see change:

"...Honoring both Goddess and God, we work with female and male images of divinity, always remembering that their essence is a mystery which goes beyond form."

First off, I just don't think this statement is true for many Reclaiming witches.  In the Free Camp community, while we do work with female and male images of divinity, we also work with images of divinity that go beyond gender.   I know this is also true in some Bay Area Reclaiming rituals, including the increasingly popular "Spiral Dance", where we have invoked the God, the Goddess, and the Transgender Divine for several years.  Additionally we already are working with divine energies that don't have a gender.  For example, this year at Free Cascadia Camp we wove a spell of healing and learning with the Salmon.  Where do the Salmon fall in these categories of gendered divinity?  How about transformation and healing--energies that are often invoked in our magic?  Are these energies male or female?

I believe that the divine is something(s) that is so great that our human minds can never understand it.  There are powers that are greater than anything we can imagine at play in this universe.  I have appreciated the reference to this as "mystery which goes beyond form".  The divine is beyond the tendrils of anything our monkey minds can create.  And yet it is in our human nature to try to make sense of the world around us.  We create stories or myth about the world and project images of the divine outwards--or as is so common in the ever popular Judeo-Christian traditions, upwards.  We need these stories and these images to be able to comprehend the divine.  Myth is one of the key lenses through which we can begin to connect with the vast mystery of the universe.  It is tragic that these myths have been warped and transformed into tools for genocide, cultural elimination, colonization, globalization, and oppression.  And yet, the ways that myth has been transformed into a weapon demonstrates its power.

It was a radical act when our foremothers asserted divinity as feminine and birthed this tradition that celebrates the goddess.  I believe that the magic that was woven by elders like Starhawk and Rose May Dance have been a driving force in women's liberation and I believe that it continues to be a radical act to assert divinity as feminine.  The feminist foundation laid by the struggles of our foremothers has created the fertile soil for the gender revolution that we are experiencing now, where trans and gender variant folks are stepping out en masse to demand inclusion in this patriarchal world.  Our foremothers fought against the dominant paradigm of the patriarchal world of the sacred.  They quite literally reclaimed the notion of divinity and engaged in the radical act of asserting the Divine's female form, the Goddess.  And so was the birth/rebirth of Goddess worship in the west. 

We can't divorce this revolution of spirit with the revolution of resistance to patriarchy and misogyny.

Today we find ourselves riding another wave of this revolution.  The gender revolution that is currently underway seeks to question the construction of gender itself.  We are continuing the struggle against patriarchy as we seek to dismantle the rigid gender institutions at the foundation of the creation of patriarchy.  As I look around the Reclaiming in the Bay Area and at Free Camp, more and more of us are rejecting the notion of gender as a set construct.  There is a growing community of trans and genderqueer people in Reclaiming--many of us are youth and young people.  As this new revolution permeates dominant culture and sends roots of change beneath the earths surface, sparking new crops of communities resisting rigid constructions of gender, we must not allow ourselves to be held back by old paradigms of gender and revolution.

And so then there's the question of where do those of us who don't fit well into the male and female boxes fit into a religious tradition that is focused on gender polarities?  Reclaiming and Feri magic has always held a draw for me over other traditions that hold male/female fertility at the core of much of their magic.  Reclaiming magic, which has roots in Feri tradition, is an ecstatic tradition rather than a fertility based tradition.  This is an element of our tradition that, for me as a queer person, has helped to make Reclaiming feel more like home.

I think it's our Feri roots that we must hold close as we enter into this conversation at Dandelion this year.  Additionally, we must also consider our values not just as witches and change agents but as Reclaiming Witches.  What is it that makes us Reclaiming Witches unique?  I believe it's our commitment to non-hierarchial magic and our ability to trust in each other and community through consensus and collaboration, at all levels, that sets us apart.

There's the larger question around gender that's been bubbling through much of the Pagan community over the past few years.  Where do trans people fit into a "Goddess tradition"?  My answer--anywhere trans people damn well please.  We have had to negotiate binaries our whole lives and are well adapt at figuring out where we feel belong and where we are not welcome.  I think the real question is where does a Goddess tradition fit into a revolution breaking down the very foundation of the structures of patriarchal oppression?  I think this is the question that is at the core of much of the fear underlying the conversations about trans inclusion in the pagan community.  This is the question we must grapple with.

I think we fit.  I think we need each other, desperately.   How do we hold lovingly the feminist roots of this tradition and live out the legacy of resistance to patriarchy at the foundation laid by our foremothers?  We must remember that this new revolution is the fruit of the revolution of our foremothers and we must not forget the reasons we gather together in community.  We pagans belong to an old tradition but we also belong to a very young tradition.  We must create spaces for all people who are passionate about healing our human relationships with the earth and protecting this sacred mother who gives us all life.  As global exploitation of human and non-human life increases, the hunger for profit continues to dump massive amounts of oil into the oceans, and indigenous ways of life continue to be attacked, each one of our magic is desperately needed.

In the words of the ancient Sufi chant, 

"The ocean refuses no river.
The open heart refuses part of me, no part of you"

All of our waters are necessary for the swell of resistance that is needed to heal this earth.

**UPDATE** The Principles of Unity were changed to be more gender inclusive after a long process at this years Dandelion!  Many thanks to everyone who shared their hearts and their vision to bring forth this transformation. 

Here are the new words that were agreed upon through consensus at Dandelion

 “Our diverse practices and experiences of the divine weave a tapestry of many different threads. We include those who honor Mysterious Ones, Goddesses, and Gods of myriad expressions, genders, and states of being, remembering that mystery goes beyond form.”

And this is what was added in another section

“We welcome all genders, all gender histories, all races, all ages and sexual orientations, and all those differences of life situation, background, and ability that increase our diversity.”

Here's a link to "The Wild Hunt" article that Abel Gomez wrote about the process.  


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dreaming of the other side

Last night I dreamt of my friend who was killed in a car accident about two weeks ago.  I met Anita Jackson through Craigslist almost 2 years ago when I decided to move to the South Bay.  She was looking for a roommate and a nanny to help with childcare while she was taking classes at the local community college to finish her degree.  We clicked pretty quickly--I'm an herbalist and she was into making soaps and super excited about herbal medicine.  We bonded over alternative medicine, spirituality, and her beautiful daughter Tara.  It was hard not to be excited about Tara--she was such a sweet baby.  She often slept through the night and when she got upset she was pretty easy to calm down.

I remember the first day that I took care of Tara.  Anita went to class and little Tara and I went for a hike in the ravine nearby.  I would learn how much Tara loved hiking in the woods and how she would spend the first 2/3 of the walk excited at all the plants and animals around her and the last 1/3 sound asleep in the Baby Bjorn.  When we got back from the hike (and back into cell range), I received a slew of text messages from Anita asking how Tara was doing.  I texted her back but they didn't go through (I think Mercury was retrograde) and Anita arrived home after class near panic.  She calmed down quickly when she learned everything was ok.  Anita then told me that day was the first day she had left Tara with someone who wasn't family.  She loved her daughter something fierce.  It makes my heart hurt to know that Tara will not grow up knowing from experience the ferocity of her mothers love for her. 

I learned of Anita's death through Facebook, which I have to say, is one of the worst ways to learn about someone's death. It was about a year ago that I learned of another friend's passing through social networking.  It's just terrible to be sitting at your computer alone and learn that someone who was in your life is now dead.  We as a culture need to develop some agreements about how to hold death in the context of social networking.  Because hearing this kind of news outside of the context of relationship is extraordinarily painful.  But on the other hand, in the case of Anita, I'm not in relationship with other people in her life and so there's a good chance that I would not have known of her passing otherwise.

Except perhaps the dreamworld.  I've been dreaming a lot.  It's an intention that I've been holding in my spiritual practice--to deepen my relationship with the dreaming world and other realms.  Last night I dreamt I was in a forest with many other people that I did not know.  It was autumn and there were large trees and dried leaves on the ground.  They crunched as I walked.  The weather was chilly, but I didn't feel cold.  We were camped out and we were helping Anita move into a new home in the woods.  Anita seemed like she was doing well.  She was happy about her new place and pleased with all the company.  Her smile was sweet and gentle as she watched her friends moving her stuff. 

I woke up with a familiar feeling.  There's a certain texture I experience when I dream about people who have crossed.  The dream often has a thickness to it that clings to the air when I wake up.  The place itself--that autumn forest is often where I dream people who have crossed over.  The sound of the leaves crunching beneath my feet is usually an element I remember.  It's distinctly different than when I dream about someone who has passed--you know the dreams where you're eating banannas or watching a tree grow out of a car.  The dreams in the forest--they're the ones that I wake up feeling like the person is still there with me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I have a new found belief that we all go to a cold forest when we die as a result of the dreams.  I do believe that the forest is the way that I understand the energy of crossing over.  As a pagan, I believe that the late fall, Samhain as my Celtic ancestors called the holiday, is the time when the line between the living and the dead is the thinnest.  It's the time when we can reach out to the other side and they can reach us.  So it makes sense that this is how I the energy between life and death comes through to me in the dream world.

And so last night, in some reality, I saw Anita again.  She was in a good place.  She wasn't overjoyed.  She wasn't trying to convey a message to me to pass on to others.  She was simply moving into her new home and smiling, enjoying the company of the people there with her.  I'm not exactly sure why but there is something about knowing that, that brings me comfort.  And so I honor the dream, I honor the memory of my friend, and I share with you.

Anita and Tara

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ode to a Fly

Today I watched a fly give itself a bath. Just like a cat. He took a moment from his travels to enjoy a moment upon the page of the book that I was reading. I admired his green and blue shimmer mid sentence as he cocked his head to look at me. After some sort of assessment that I wasn't going to try to kill him, he proceeded to extend his little fly mouth to his long legs and clean behind his head—or perhaps his ears. He was very thorough in his cleaning, extending his mouth to his legs repeatedly to get every little nook and cranny. He then proceeded to clean his backside with his back legs, brushing off dust and particles since his mouth would not reach his back legs.

Then he really blew me away. He took each wing between his back legs and cleaned them off by running them through his legs. It was amazing to see how far back he could reach with his legs. I looked out the window of the DC metro car that I was riding at the landscape of Arlington National Cemetery whirring by and marveled at that fact that amidst the speed at which we were traveling and amidst the madness that is DC rush hour, this little fly took a moment to land upon my book and give himself a bath.

“But flies are disgusting creatures!”, you exclaim. “Why didn't you kill it?” my parents asked as I told them when I arrived home. Flies have a bad reputation. They're known for spreading disease and indicating uncleanliness wherever they go. But here was this sweet little fly giving himself a bath just like a cat. Perhaps they are known as unclean because of where they end up. Flies are like the garbage men of the animal kingdom. Did you know that maggots were once used to clean out infected abscesses on humans? Flies do the dirty work—they work with the trash that we humans would like to forget about. They find worth in what has been discarded. And apparently they don't forget to clean themselves off afterward.

This little fly landed upon the pages of my book and reminded me that only humans get sucked up into the madness that is the rat race and rush hour. Zooming from here to there as quickly as possible, it's easy to loose sight of the wonder around us when we live in the city. No matter how solid you are in your spiritual practice or self care regiments, it's hard not to get sucked up into the madness that is city life. 

It's easy to forget to dust ourselves off when we engage in challenging work with others that we may be taking home with us. As a healer, I am learning the value of taking the time to ground and come back to center when working with others. To me this looks like taking a moment to burn a cleansing plant to clear the energy. Sometimes it looks like feeling my feet on the ground once again and sending my roots down to reconnect with the earth and my center. Other times it looks like literally washing my hands with soap and water if the work that I have been doing involves physical touch. I offer this to you and ask how do you clean yourself off when you have been engaging in work or activities where you may have picked up someones energy? 

So I say thank you to the fly. Thank you for seeing the value in what the rest of us see as trash. Thank you for helping me remember to appreciate the dirty work. Thank you for taking the time to clean yourself off helping me to remember to energetically dust myself off whenever I'm working with intensity. Thank you for showing me that even when everyone else is caught up in the madness there is always time to stop and take a min for self care.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Swells of Resilience

A week ago today, thousands of committed folks braved the first real rains of the season in the bay area to send a message to those in power. The pundits had been saying that the “Occupy movement” was over, that we have lost our momentum, and that busting up the camps was the end of this resistance. On Friday, thousands poured into the streets demonstrating the resilience of this movement in the face of corporate efforts to beat us back through funding police repression and government efforts against us.

But in the face of that and in the face of rain that at times came in the form of much needed heavy downpours, thousands of people showed up. The financial district in San Francisco was the hub of the actions. And when I say hub, I mean mass coordinated efforts of direct action and targeted protests. To get a better sense of how much was going on check out this link to a map of actions in the Financial District last week. Friday was the 1 year anniversary of the “Citizens United” ruling which gave corporations the same rights as people in the eyes of the law in the US. That's right, Wells Fargo has the same rights as your grandmother. And that's what we were protesting—the fact that corporations are now seen as people in the United States. 
People in "lockboxes" and chained to the Wells Fargo West Coast Headquarters

When I was living in South America, I used to joke with folks down there that my country wasn't really the United States of America, it was the United Corporations of America. After that ruling came down, the joke has stopped being funny. Whereas before, corporate donations holding the purse strings of politicians was under the table and covert. Now it's completely out in the open and within the realm of the law.

God bless America.

But today I'm writing about Resilience. I took a class at the GTU this January called Resistance and Resilience. We read theologians and ethics scholars and dissected the ways in which people and social movements have resisted and how their culture, faith, and practices have led to resiliency. We had visitors from different social change movements share about their work and their theological perspectives in light of everything that is happening today.

On Friday, as I ran around the Wells Fargo west coast headquarters, offering water and food to folks who had chained themselves to the entrances of the building in an effort to shut down the bank and send a message of resistance to this country, I found myself reflecting on the readings from this class and things my classmates said. About an hour after the workers were supposed to start their day, the cops blockaded one side of the street and arrested everyone blocking entrances so that Wells Fargo could make their money. The cops reopened the street and the side was wide open for business. After a quick blessing from tactical, a few of us decided to form a picket line on that side of the building—we had flyers to give to the workers to let them know why we feel that Citizens United is so dangerous, it's worth disrupting their workday. 

I was running around the building trying to drum up support, our numbers were small in total at this point. A lot of people had left to go to an action at the Chevron headquarters a few blocks away. HAVOQ/Pride at Work was hosting an amazing teach in on the other side of the building which was attracting lots of glittery resistance. Two people moved in to stand in the entrance of the doorway with the intention of staying until the bank closed or the cops dragged them away. 

Pride at Work/HAVOQ's "flag core" dancing in the streets

One particularly sour banker who had been yelling at us, and pushing the police to crack down on us, insisting that the exits were blocked and that the action was unsafe, came over to yell at us some more. He was creating different stories first about a man who was inside who needed to leave because his wife was pregnant which later became a story of a pregnant lady who had just gone into labor inside the building. The funny part about the sour bankers insistence of the lack of safe exits is that he made a very dramatic exit first thing in the morning, pushing through the blockade which marked the beginning his tirade of screaming.

The chief of police came over to tell the people in the doorway to move. There was about ten of us in total at this point. The people in the doorway refused to move. The police officer sighed and walked across the street to talk to the other cops with the sour banker trailing behind him rambling about profit loss and damage to the business. I looked around nervously. Our numbers were small and small numbers means higher risk. One of the people on the line was my friend who's undocumented. The cops looked like they were devising a plan. My heart pounded, should we move the picket line? With numbers like this, everyone's at risk.

The group of cops broke off and went to talk to other cops,

“Uh-oh. They're giving orders”, I thought to myself. I took a breath and felt my roots sink into the earth and through that connection, asked mother earth what to do. Suddenly, I heard loud voices. My eyes flew open as my heart pounded in my chest. Coming right at us was a large group of African American and Latino leaders from ACCE carrying a banner chanting, “We are unstoppable, another world is possible!” They filled up the side of the street, there was at least 50 of them. We cheered and greeted them welcoming them with gratitude.
Leaders from ACCE marching in the streets later in the day.

I glanced back at the cops, they had run back to their huddle and were clearly trying to readjust their plan due to the number of people now holding the picket line.

As we chanted, my heart filled with joy and I thought to myself, this is resilience. This is community resilience. This is what resilience can look like when we work together and fight for a common goal. Resilience is people overpowering the efforts of police to prioritize profit and corporate interests over the needs of people and community safety. Resilience is us backing each other up in times of desperation.

Resilience is people coming from all different parts of the city to support Bayview resident Vivian Richardson, who was facing foreclosure. It's hundreds of people turning out to support efforts for her to keep her home. Resilience is the successful resistance in forcing the bank to renegotiate her mortgage and Vivian getting to keep her home. Resilience is the “Occupy Housing” movement that has continued to grow despite the media refusing to report on success stories like Vivian's. Resilience is the hundreds of houses that have been re-occupied despite foreclosure threats throughout the United States over the past few months.

Resilience is pouring into the streets in the thousands in the face of media insistence that this movement is “over”. When the camps were raided and destroyed, the movement took a blow. We took a serious hit. We have been trying to figure out how to regroup and get things moving again ever since the raids. On Friday, as I marched in the rain with thousands of others, targeting big corporations and the unjust policies of the Immigration system in this country, I felt the wind back in the sails of the bay area Occupy/Decolonize movement.

When the people are ready for change there is not a lot that can be done to stop them.

A wave travels thousands of miles through the ocean before it crashes on the shore. It swells up as it draws closer to the shore and curls drawing up the potent energy of the waves that have come before. When a wave is heading towards the shore, there is not a lot that can be done to stop it.

We are that wave. The last wave that crashed were the encampments. Right now, we are drawing up the energy of movements before as we head towards the shore pregnant with potential. We are flowing and we are growing. We are a part of a larger swell of resistance—there are many waves that have come before us and there are many ways coasting through the ocean behind us.

May we always remember our connection with those who have come before and those who will follow long after us.

Grandmothers and Grandmother Supporters against the War

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


So I'm not tech savvy enough to figure out how to black out my webiste in protest of SOPA.  So I'm adding a quick post instead.  Here's a link to a good Op-ed piece about why I'm unplugging from the internet today in protest of SOPA.