Friday, May 1, 2015

Beltane on Calton Hill with Beltane Fire Society

Note: This is my write-up from 2013.  - sm

I'm a Pagan and I live in Edinburgh: the big question many people are asking me is, "Did you go to Beltane Fire Society??" 

Yes, I did.  Beloved Wife insisted, of all things; I likely would have done the introvert hermit thing, otherwise.  (Big public ritual performance, eek!)  Instead, we went together, and had a blast. 

Yes, it was fabulous, amazing spectacle.  It wasn't the kind of focused ritual work or spiritual work that I would like to be my only celebration of the holiday, but I had a tremendous amount of fun, it was exhilarating, and I'm glad we went.  It was very well-run and well-organized.  We could tell the crowd was a mix of tourists (of both kinds -- spiritual and geographic) and people for whom this was serious business, and everyone was pretty respectful.

(With a few drunken, or just plain thoughtless, exceptions, but I only had to stifle the urge twice to stifle people I found obnoxious.  "This ought to be free.  It's on Calton Hill, so it ought to be free."  (*eyeroll*  Tickets were £8.50 at the door, and much less in advance; and even at the door, that was cheap for how much it costs to put this on, between security, pyrotechnics, police, etc...)  "Yeah, I went through a period where I was into witchcraft and all that, and my girlfriends and I even had this coven, but it's not like it's real religion or anything..."  (I'll spare you the rest of that overheard conversation.))

We didn't get to see a lot of detail, so for that, I'll refer you to BFS' Flickr stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/beltanefiresociety/.

But, yes, wow, the organization, the attention to detail, the thought that went into everything, the drama, the pageantry, the costuming, the use of massed drumming, torches, fire, pyrotechnics... 

Heh heh heh heh.  Big public dramatic ritual/ritual drama, all right. 


It occurs to me: some of my Cherry Hill colleagues are writing analytical critiques of Burning Man and such from Pagan/ritual theory/ritual studies/theaological perspectives.  I'd love to see such analyses of any of BFS' big public presentations.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Quakers Uniting in Publications (QUIP) 2015 Conference


After being part of Quakers Uniting in Publications (QUIP) for many years, I finally got to go to a QUIP conference! 

The location travels -- under the current schedule, the annual conference rotates between the US East Coast, Midwest, West/Pacific Northwest, and the UK.  So it comes to the UK every four years.  (The last year we lived in the US, the conference was in the UK.  Since then, it's been in the US.  Ah, timing.  And money.) 

This year, the conference was back at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham, England, and this year, things came together so that I was finally able to go.  

There were Friends there from the US, the UK, Germany, and Russia, with a wide range of involvement in different kinds of publications and parts of the publication process.  QUIP also includes Friends from a wide range of traditions within Quakerism. 

For me, it was an extra treat to be at Woodbrooke with a truly international group of Friends. 

Workshops, talks, and plenaries ranged from not-quite-my-cup-of-tea, to interesting, to fascinating.  Social media and internet work played a big part in many of the sessions.  Some sessions had interactive pieces built in, from going on-line, to breaking into small groups, to looking at blog posts pinned up on the walls.  In one workshop exercise, we'd worked on hypothetical book projects in small groups, and the presentations back to the main group had us all in stitches, we were laughing so hard. 

It was lovely to see old friends and meet new ones.  It was really good to have the chance to catch up in person with people I already know, and to get to know other people a bit.  It was also helpful being in a group where enough of us were introverts that nobody blinked when people disappeared for naps or quite solitary time. 

And being immersed in a publications-centered environment was very helpful.  I'm definitely feeling more creativity and inspiration flowing regarding not just my own writing, but creative work in general -- and especially where they intersect and interact.  I'm definitely more in touch again with the connections between printed words, books, social media, community, and Doing Things individually and together in the in-person world.  It'll be interesting to see what comes of it, projects-wise, for me...

A number of Friends who were there posted to Facebook and to Twitter over the weekend. 

For a much better sense of what took place, along with lots of wonderful pictures of people and scenery -- it was very definitely spring in Birmingham, and lovely! -- try these links:

* On Twitter at #QUIP2015
* On Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/QuakerQuip?fref=ts

Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment

This is just beautiful -- and it calls us to action.

Please read it, and if it resonates for you, regardless of how you label yourself, please sign it.

You can read the whole thing, and sign as an individual and/or for an organization, at
http://www.ecopagan.com/

An excerpt:

Many of our ancestors realized what has now been supported by the scientific method and our expanding knowledge of the universe — that Earth’s biosphere may be understood as a single ecosystem and that all life on Earth is interconnected.

The very atoms of which we are composed connect us to the entire universe. Our hydrogen was produced in the Big Bang, and the other atoms essential for life were forged in the scorching furnaces of ancient stars. Beyond atoms, the molecules of life connect us to Earth, showing that we don’t live “on Earth” like some alien visitor, but rather that we are part of Earth, just as a volcano or river is part of Earth and its cycles.

We are earth, with carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus making up our bodies one day, and incorporated into mountains the next. We are air, giving food to the trees and grasses when we exhale, and breathing in their gift of free oxygen with each breath. We are fire, burning the energy of the Sun, captured and given to us by plants. We are water, with the oceans flowing in our veins and the same water that nourished the dinosaurs within our cells.

We are connected to our families, through links of love, to their relatives, and so on to the entire human species. Our family tree goes back further than the rise of humans, including all mammals, all animals, and all life on Earth. The entire Earth is our immense and joyous family reunion.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17
By NASA/Apollo 17 crew; taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy Eostara!

Happy March Equinox! Happy Eostara in the northern hemisphere!

  • What are the sunrise and sunset times where you are? 
  • How many hours of daylight are there today in your locale?

There are lots of places to look this information up, from the US Naval Observatory (http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/index.php) to TimeAndDate.Com (http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/sunrise.html), and more. 

  • What spiritual lessons or reminders does Spring Equinox bring you?  

Other recent astronomical events: 

There was also a solar eclipse today, visible in much of Europe, northern Africa, and northern Asia.  We had brilliant sun mixed with scudding clouds here, but I did get some really cool views using a colander and a piece of white paper taped up to the side of the house.  That was pretty neat! 

Earlier this week, much of the UK saw some gorgeous auroras.  My city was fogged in, so I didn't get to see any, but there are some fabulous pictures at the AuroraWatch UK Flickr pool: https://www.flickr.com/groups/aurorawatch

I hope this Equinox brings either Spring or the promise of Spring to all of you in the Northern Hemisphere who have had unusual amounts of cold, snow, or both this winter, and to anyone who is just. ready. for. Spring. 

Happy Eostara! 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On Worship and Mutual Care


Readings from a recent meeting of my Local Meeting's Es&Os (Elders & Overseers).  This was fairly deep with us, and so I thought I'd share:

Worship
The heart of the life of the Religious Society of Friends is the Meeting for Worship. It calls for us to offer ourselves, body, mind, and soul for the doing of God’s will.

Worship is the adoring response of the heart and mind to the influence of the Spirit of God. It stands neither in forms nor in the formal disuse of forms; it may be with or without words, but it must be in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). We recognize the value of silence, not as an end, but as a means toward the attainment of the end, which is communication with God, and fellowship with one another.

In all our Meetings for Worship, we gather in a spirit of prayerful obedience to God, with a willingness to give as well as to receive. In speech or in silence, each person contributes to the Meeting. Worshiping God together, we strengthen one another, and our bodies and minds are refreshed in the Life of the Spirit. Our daily lives are linked with the Meeting for Worship, the Meeting for Worship with our daily lives.

Friends are encouraged to give adequate time for study, meditation and prayer, and other ways of preparing for worship, and to arrive at Meeting promptly with an open and expectant spirit. During the Meeting for Worship, some people may feel moved to speak, to share an insight, to pray, to praise. When we feel led to speak, we should do so, clearly and simply. When another speaks, we should listen with an open spirit, seeking the thought behind the words and holding the speaker in love. After a message has been given, Friends should have time to ponder its meaning and to search themselves before another speaks.

How do we prepare our hearts and minds for worship?

Do we meet in expectant waiting for the promptings of the Divine Spirit? Is there a living silence in which we are drawn together by the power of God in our midst? Is this inspiration carried over into our daily living?


Is the vocal ministry exercised under the leading of the Holy Spirit without prearrangement, and in the simplicity and sincerity of truth? As we listen, or as we speak, are we guided by the Inward Light and sensitive to one another’s needs? Are we careful not to speak at undue length or beyond our light?


...

Mutual Care

Our need for love and care, and our response to this need in others, make up a rich part of our lives. In an exchange truly grounded in love, each of us is both giver and receiver, ready to help and accept help. Neither pride nor fear keeps us from the unconditional love and care of God manifested through others. Let neither comfort nor self-centeredness blind us to need of others.

We listen to one another with openness of heart and in good faith, aware that greater wisdom than our own is required to meet our human needs. We lift up our hearts to the Source of all wisdom and power.

Are we charitable with each other? How careful are we of the reputation of others? Do we avoid hurtful criticism and gossip?

Do we practice the art of listening to one another, even beyond words?
 

How well are we able to love each other unconditionally?

Are we sensitive to each other’s personal needs and difficulties and do we assist in useful ways?


~ from Faith and Practice of North Pacific Yearly Meeting, Chapter 6, Advices and Queries, 1993 edition

------------

I recently started a term on Overseers, the pastoral care and counsel group, of my Local Meeting, appointed by Area Meeting. 

I am deeply uncomfortable with the term 'overseer,' because of its association with chattel slavery.   I'm willing to be referred to as a member of Oversight, but I am not comfortable being referred to as an overseer.  And I'd much prefer if we were called something more in line with what we actually are, such as Care & Counsel.  

Local Meeting 'Es&Os' (Elders and Overseers) had one of our regular meetings this week.  Our convener asked me beforehand to bring a reading to share.  Usually these are from Britain Yearly Meeting's Quaker Faith and Practice, but sometimes from other Quaker texts or something different altogether.  I spent part of my afternoon beforehand delightfully buried in several different books.  I ended up finding much more than I was looking for in North Pacific Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice, which remains one of my all-time favourite Faith and Practice books, for many reasons. 

What I have above is what I ended up reading.  


Friday, March 6, 2015

Friend of the Court Brief Before the US Supreme Court

It is my joy and privilege to announce that Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC) (http://flgbtqc.quaker.org/) joined many other faith groups on a friend of the court brief filed on 5 March by Kramer Levin in four Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals cases coming before the US Supreme Court this spring.

The cases are Obergefell v Hodges (Ohio), Tanco v Haslam (Tennessee), DeBoer v Snyder (Michigan), and Bourke v Beshear (Kentucky). 

More info is available here:

Again I encourage you to read the brief.  There are some changes from the first one two years ago, based on changes in statistics and in case law since then.  The brief is tremendously encouraging to read.  Also, it seems longer than it really is because the list of signatories is so long. 

You can read the brief here:

More information, and a list of briefs, at:
http://stasa.net/resources/quaker-friends-resources/court-briefs

And -- NEW! -- also at:
http://flgbtqc.quaker.org/resources.html#courtBriefs 

Congratulations to all the signatories! And deep gratitude to everyone who worked on this brief, and all the briefs.

We hope this will be the last friend of the court brief we sign on to on the issue of same-sex marriage.  

 It is widely held that, should the Court decide in favor of same-sex marriage, this case will be definitive.

As Friends in Britain say, HOPE SO!  

Monday, February 9, 2015

Friend of the Court Brief in Lopez-Aviles v. Rius-Armendariz

It is my joy and privilege to announce that Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC) (http://flgbtqc.quaker.org/) joined many other faith groups on a friend of the court brief filed on 2 February by Kramer Levin in Lopez-Aviles v. Rius-Armendariz, a Puerto Rico marriage equality case before the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

More info is available here:

Yet again I will tell you that, as with the other Kramer-Levin briefs we've signed on to, I highly recommend reading this.  It's easy to read, and brilliant.  And super-encouraging for people of faith, and people in faith communities, who support marriage equality for same-sex couples -- and also who are working to prevent some faiths from being legally privileged over others.

You can read the brief here:

More information, and a list of briefs, at:
http://stasa.net/resources/quaker-friends-resources/court-briefs

And -- NEW! -- also at:
http://flgbtqc.quaker.org/resources.html#courtBriefs 

Congratulations to all the signatories! And deep gratitude to everyone who worked on this brief.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A love note from your Recording Clerk

This is an email I recently sent to the list-serv for Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC)

It's been a little over a year since Nominating Committee approached me and asked if I'd be willing to consider serving as FLGBTQC Recording Clerk.

To say I was surprised is putting it mildly.  Recording clerking is really, truly, absolutely Ministry That Would Not Have Occurred to Me.

Taking minutes by hand is painful for me.  I didn't have a laptop until very recently.  I am a terrible minute-taker in secular meetings.  I had never been remotely interested in being a recording clerk, and had in fact actively avoided recording for committee meetings.  It never occurred to me that I might have skills which are good for a recording clerk to have, or that I could be good as a recording clerk.

What changed?

Well, when I carefully asked F/friends on Nominating if there were any particular reasons they'd thought of me (I'm sure my dubiousness was thinly cloaked), I got a lot of really good answers.  The kind which sounded to me like Friends were listening to Spirit, and also like they know me pretty well, and were putting what they know of me together with things I hadn't thought of and the needs of the community.  (Go, Nominating.  This is a form of eldering: helping people recognize gifts of the Spirit they haven't recognized in themselves, and asking that those gifts be used in the service of the Spirit and the community.)

In Britain Yearly Meeting, Presiding Clerks record.  If I wasn't willing to learn to record, that meant I was cutting myself off from the possibility of serving as clerk of my Local Meeting or Area Meeting.  It meant I was deciding for Spirit ahead of time that I would never do this work.  That struck me as a Bad Idea.  

But the big thing that decided me was you, collectively.  Was this community.  I realized that if I was going to learn to be a Recording Clerk, I couldn't think of a better place to do it.  I have have been part of the Meeting holding newly-fledged co-clerks as they found their wings.  I knew you would hold me, as you / we always hold the clerking team, and that even if it wasn't particularly graceful, there would still be grace.  Lots of grace.

I began to feel really grateful for this opportunity, and excited about learning a whole new skill.

After I went on the clerks' training course at Woodbrooke, I knew I had what I needed, except for the experience of actually doing it.  And I was pretty sure I could be a good-enough recording clerk while you helped me become a better recording clerk.

The really good news is that it turns out I truly enjoy recording clerking.  Who knew?  And I really enjoyed being part of Quaker process in this particular way, a way I never have before, during our Meetings for Worship with Attention to Business last summer.

I love Quaker process.  I have always especially loved Quaker process in the FLGBTQC community.  Being able to come to our Meetings for Worship with Attention to Business has helped sustain me during some periods which were particularly dry when it came to spiritual community.

I also love nurturing Quaker process, and I love that this service is another way I can help do that within FLGBTQC.

Right now, many of us are getting ready for Mid-Winter Gathering and for our Meetings for Worship with Attention to Business there.

So, I ask that you continue to hold me, and the entire clerking team, in the Light and in love, in that same way I knew deep down I could count on you to do while I learned I could do something I had never done before.

With love,
Stasa

p.s.  Thank you.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Friend of the Court Brief in Brenner v Armstrong and Grimsley v Armstrong

It is my joy and privilege to announce that at the end of December, Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC) (http://flgbtqc.quaker.org/) joined many other faith groups on a friend of the court brief filed on 19 December  by Kramer Levin in Brenner v Armstrong and Grimsley v Armstrong, Florida marriage equality cases before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

More info is available here: 

Yet again I will tell you that, as with the other Kramer-Levin briefs we've signed on to, I highly recommend reading this.  It's easy to read, and brilliant.  And super-encouraging for people of faith, and people in faith communities, who support marriage equality for same-sex couples -- and also who are working to prevent some faiths from being legally privileged over others.

You can read the brief here:
http://bit.ly/BrennerGrimsleyBrief

More information, and a list of briefs, at:
http://stasa.net/resources/quaker-friends-resources/court-briefs

Congratulations to all the signatories! And deep gratitude to everyone who worked on this brief.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Being in community when our Gods are different

This autumn, I had the privilege to attend Rhiannon Grant's workshop "Or Whatever You Call It" with F/friends from South East Scotland Area Meeting (Quakers).  It was an interesting and fun workshop, and I'm glad we brought it to SESAM.

Much of Grant's work with Quakers centres on how modern Friends use language to talk about That-Which-Is-Sacred, and is particularly informed by philosophy.  My work amongst Friends starts from experience, and then comes to language pretty quickly: we need language to reflect our experience, to be able to talk to each other about it, one way to be in spiritual community with each other.  And Quakers are very wordy, very language-oriented people.  So her approach was really interesting for me.  

After spending the day in different kinds of exercises, thinking and talking about different words, and what they mean, and why, and different names for Whatever You Call It, we settled into large-group worship-sharing with this query:

Does telling your truth require you to use any particular words? 

Quite a lot came bubbling up for me during this worship.

----------------

In order to be a faithful Friend, {my truth requires me to / Goddess requires me to / I must} use words some Friends often react to with hostility.  Goddess.  Witch.  Pagan.  Priestess.  Gods.  But other minority Friends, especially other Pagan and non-Christian Friends, are often very relieved to hear those words.

If I am speaking my own truth, in my own words, not translating into other people's words / language, then yes, it does require particular words.

To what extent are we obligated to translate as we speak?  As we listen?  Why am I so often, as a minority, the person expected to do both?

I, as a non-Christian Friend, am expected to be conversant about Jesus.  Why aren't other Friends expected to be conversant with other Gods?

Yes, well, Quakerism is also historically white and straight as well.

Gods, plural.  If you want me to take your relationship with Jesus, Spirit, God, Whatever You Call It, seriously, and I want you to take my relationship with the Goddess / the Gods seriously, we both have to allow as how they both might exist -- and are not the same.

---------------- 

Among Friends, I no longer have to pretend my wife is a man and I'm in a mixed-gender relationship.  I no longer have to translate into heterosexual marriage terms for other Friends.

I should not have to pretend I'm in relationship with a different Deity than the One(s) I am in relationship with, either.

If you want me to take your relationship with Jesus, Spirit, God, Whatever You Call It, seriously, then you need to take my relationship with the Goddess / the Gods seriously.  

Brigid is not Jesus in a skirt.  And the Cailleach is neither.

I am talking about radical equality.

Jesus is a privileged god in Quakerism.

Jesus cannot be a privileged god if we are all Friends and all Friends are equal.

What does radical equality ask of each of us when it comes to being present with, bearing witness to, each others' spiritual lives?  When it comes to being in spiritual community with one another?