Thursday, March 30, 2017

MIC Clergy Luncheon on Diversity and Inclusion

“If you do not intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude.” 
~Neil Lenane

Last week I attended one of Marin Interfaith Council’s monthly clergy meetings.  I learn a lot at these meetings, not so much about religio-spiritual stuff as much as about organization, institutionalization, healthy and dysfunctional groups and how some institutions work towards healing community.  Also about lots of social justice issues – immigration, capital punishment, war, teen suicide, LGBTQ concerns, domestic violence, et al.

MIC is mostly white folks, reflecting the demographic of our locale.  We solicit and welcome as much diversity as our region has.  Yet we are aware of the limitations that our relative homogeneity might present.

 This meeting addressed our assumptions and behavior around diversity and inclusion.  To that end, we had a presenter from the San Francisco & Marin YWCA.  The Y’s motto is “eliminating racism/empowering women.” Human Resources at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation says:

The foundation has come to understand that diversity and inclusion are about the experiences staff members have while they work here and how all of our actions influence the work environment, from learning about and celebrating our differences to addressing structural barriers that perpetuates inequalities.  [Emphasis in original.]

Presenter Laura Eberly brought “a strength-based lens and motivational interviewing technique to group and individual cultural competency development.” 

Laura provided an Inclusion Inventory for us to consider when evaluating our own cultural literacy and attitudes.  She took us through five stages of evolution to help us understand some of our unconscious assumptions that tend to separate us from others.

The first, Denial, applies to missing the differences.  Sometimes privileged people say to themselves, “I don’t have to be concerned about ‘that’.”  She also pointed out that “passing” is a minimization.  Perhaps some seek to “pass” for reasons of safety; however, if they feel unsafe, we need to work towards a society where instead of seeking safety by passing, everyone feels safe and accepted, welcome and included.

The second, Polarization, seeks to judge our differences.  Polarization reinforces and affirms stereotypes, even while acknowledging our diversity.  It can put us in an oppositional stance, which is good for no one.

Minimization de-emphasizes difference.  In my view, this attitude makes our world bland, colorless, lacking vibrancy and nuance.  It’s also trivializing.

Reaching the level of Acceptance means that we understand differences.  This enriches our cultural competence.  We’re not yet where we want to be, but nearing that goal.

Finally, Adaptation bridges difference.   Bridging difference, finding common ground, allows us to work together with trust and respect.  Bridging brings the greater resources of everyone included.  Lessons, customs, talents, ideas from everyone who wishes to contribute give us a richness and pool of resources and ideas we wouldn’t otherwise have.  Working together presents a stronger force with which to resist oppression and foster positive change for everyone.

Certainly as Pagan and Witchen religious expression has diversified, it behooves us to look towards how others address and resolve these issues.  I would like to see us explore this subject in more depth within our own diverse and inclusive Pagan communities.

In service to Coventina,

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Not in Our Town: A Light in the Darkness

I attended the film/discussion of “Not in Our Town: A Light in the Darkness” at the Troy Interfaith Group’s January 9th meeting. The Troy group exists in the somewhat upscale community about 3 or 4 suburbs North of Detroit. I worked there for almost 5 years in the early ‘80s – Reagan ruled! It was a very white, snobby/entitled work experience for me. More recently Troy had a mayor in the last 10 or so years who was incredibly vitriolic about gay rights and mass transit bringing more Blacks and minorities to the city. 

But that has changed in more recent years. It is great to see that Troy has become much more tolerant and diverse. The Troy Interfaith group represents a wide range of faiths, both mono and multi theistic, and the emphasis seems to be more empowering and flexible for laypersons, clearly represented at the formal board meetings. There is also a greater and diverse ‘outer court’ if you will, around the Troy group’s meetings and events. Troy Interfaith has monthly open meetings and usually an event afterwards that can be considered an in-service,  or calls to volunteering opportunities and more. Troy Interfaith Group has a visible and engaged amount of Hindu and other Near Eastern folk. 

Detroit has always been known as a highly diverse metro region. The city of Troy seems to have a more professional and upscale population that includes doctors and other medical professions of Hindu communities that live here. So this evening’s film and discussion was pertinent especially in the days and weeks since the national election.

This PBS documentary, the fifth of its kind is in 60 and 27-minute versions. Not In Our Town, an actual movement to address hate and bullying and to build more inclusive communities has been organizing since 1995 and began through churches and other faith-based organizations. Schools and other organizations around the states have joined the project and the movement has brought together many stakeholders in issues such as local media, agencies, elected officials, labor representatives and more.

“Light in the Darkness” concerns the spiritual and functional evolution of a community driven to great crisis by the attack and murder of a local Ecuadoran immigrant Marcelo Lucero in a small town in Suffolk County, NY. Though the attack took place in 2008 and this film was finally produced in 2012 there is still quite a lot for many people to think about in the recent months since the election. This showing was early January but already people of many races and faiths, in a community known for its upscale aspects, have seen the need to educate themselves and organize against the hate portrayed here.

What I am seeing is that in a community as diverse as the Metro Detroit community has always been that Interfaith and its associates are now considering organization and possible activism, in much the same manner of decades past, the ‘60s with the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam movements, back to the struggle for Workers and Women’s rights in the ‘20s.  In the Troy group, during the discussion after the film, many people waited patiently to get their question or comment aired. Everyone was moved and strongly by the film as it chronicled several years of the aftermath of Lucero’s murder. All for the good, as the film series, Not in Our Town demonstrates, but not without a great deal of soul-searching and the need and necessity of both forgiveness and redemption.

There was not enough time for everyone to speak for clearly the crowd was more than expected with at least a dozen people standing in the back. Troy Interfaith Group moves their monthly meetings around their sizable city; this one was in a meeting room at the Troy Police Station, who has significant outreach and representatives with the group. There were some snacks and light refreshment before, during and after the program. As I attended the meeting before the film, I was warmly welcomed by a group of about 10 folks who represented the shades of Christian, Muslim and Judaism as well as a couple of the Hindu faith.  Later on during the film I noted quite a spread of age, gender and nationality amongst the attendees.  The Detroit area also has a large amount of Latino communities and some do live in Troy, which has become quite diverse from the time I knew it 30 and more years ago.  For many reasons, the Troy group seems poised to make a lot of noise about this issue and perhaps many others that are now becoming more challenging since the results of November’s election. While Michigan went to Mr. Trump, that divide is clearly reflected in the Southeast part of the state the most. Parts of the Detroit area may have moved towards the Republican ideology (with the help of the Nation’s most gerrymandered districts), but there is a great resistance forming in both groups like Detroit Jews for Justice, who’ve I reported on before, and the Troy Interfaith Group.

In Her Service,  Oberon ~ National Interfaith Representative

Monday, February 20, 2017

Evening of Reflection ~ Open Arms Candlelight Holiday Memorial

Americans, at least White culture-wise, place a high value on celebrating Christmas, in all its forms, be they secular or religious. Perhaps for some it is increasingly either a time of reflection or a time for joy, and simply enjoying. On a cold winter eve, December 15th, I attended the 3rd Annual “Evening of Reflections” Memorial at the Eastern campus of Wayne County Community College, WCCC, in Detroit.  The memorial is for those who grieve and/or who support those who grieve this time of year. For Death takes no holiday and whether you have lost a loved one at this time of year, or any time, St. John Providence in the Detroit area has provided a grief support network for children and the families of children.
I attended through notice by my friend Sandy North who is a guiding force behind Remember Me Quilts (RMQ) who presented three of their wonderful and heart-felt quilts. The quilts are dedicated to the innocent victims of gun violence and the potential waiting list for having a loved one is a long one in the Detroit and metro community. While not quite as high a murder rate as Chicago’s, Detroit’s murder rate is very high. You must be a true and innocent victim of gun violence to be placed on a quilt.
Remember Me Quilt's Susan McCabe and me
No gang members, criminals or the like will get their pictures immortalized. No one killed in the act of any crime can qualify for this honor. Simply put the men, women and children whose likenesses adorn the quilts were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and lost their life over it. I first met Sandy, and Susan McCabe of RMQ at the 2014 NAIN connect conference in Detroit, when I began my Interfaith work. The work of Sandy, Susan and other members of the group have always moved me. I strongly support Remember Me Quilt as it supports the lives of people shattered by the deaths of their loved ones.
Remember Me Quilt has attended each Evening of Reflection because their mission aligns with the Open Arms support groups so well. While this evening’s event allowed grief and a supportive community it was, as I said earlier, a time for some deep reflection.  Opens Arms as a part of the St. John Healthcare system provides a number of critical support services, some of which are even accessible through the Detroit school system. But on this night the message was all about domestic abuse and the lives and toll it takes. Once the event started, we witnessed a number of personal testimonials from widows, mothers and mostly other women who have suffered or beheld the suffering of their children or other family members over wrongful deaths and other abuse. I’ve lived in Detroit all my life, actually in the city or Hamtramck, its enclave-city-within-the-city for 50 years before moving to a nearby suburb, so I’m no stranger to how bad it can get. Still I was wrenched and surprised at the details of deaths and abuse suffered by women and children in the city. 
Participants remembered their beloved dead.
Throughout the evening several speakers spoke of the support for domestic violence and the need for its victims to seek help immediately in most cases. All too often I heard how someone just gave that one last chance to their seeming repentant, but ultimate murderer. Chilling and sorrowful, yes, but a resolve and strength in this community was amazing and glorifying to see.
I personally don’t have much for the holidays, certainly Christmas. For whatever reasons most of the deaths or hardships of life have occurred to me in the season of joy and brotherhood. I don’t resent people being or celebrating their happiness or spiritual feeling because the darkest night of the Solstice does turn towards the Light and I know that if what I seek is not within myself I shall never find. I just find distasteful this coercive or conformist attitude that suggests people like me are horrible if we’re not happy at this time.
The program included short speeches by WCCC and St. John representatives as well as other guest speakers. There was also several musical and dance performances. Young adults and teens from several area schools and churches were delightful, especially the Praise Dancers from City Covenant Church.
The expressionistic "Praise Dancers" performed.
After the speeches and performances the entire audience was invited to the great Hall and Main Lobby of the campus, where also were several displays and tables including the Remember Me Quilts. I instinctively found Susan and Sandy and stood next to them and other RMQ volunteers. Everyone was given a battery votive candle and starting with the first person we went around and each participant remembers someone they lost. I was proud to speak for the victims on the quilt I stood by. There were so many people it seemed like forever till the circle was complete. On a very dark and cold night, in December, in Detroit, a light shone, gathered more light until itself and blazed brighter.
Chandler Park Academy Varsity Choir
 As a final, ceremonial moment the Chandler Park Academy Varsity Choir, who had performed earlier, sang a final song that summed up the beauty amid the sad and tearful memorial.

To see more beautiful pictures from this event go to  Thanks to Karlest Ford for permission to use these photos.

In Her Service,

Oberon Osiris, National Interfaith Representative

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Holiday Times with Heathens, Hindus and Hanukah

In which Oberon noshes through several December holiday events and commemorations.

Frost and Fire: Winter Festival and Chili Cook-off. December 3, 2016, Madison Heights, Mi. Sponsors: Ancient Faiths Alliance (AFA), Universal Society of Ancient Ministry, Michigan Pagan Fest

In a previous blog I mentioned this new and cool group of folks, the AFA, in the Metro Detroit community comprised of both Heathen folks and Hoo Doo Conjure folks and others. It’s an odd mixing, perhaps, that could only happen in the diverse city and community here. But it works and this event was coordinated with other and corollary groups with an interest in fun and giving back. Especially a potent message at this time of year because many families of any religion have major needs and need help. This event was truly open to all, regardless of religion and with its emphasis on giving back and helping out at Christmas time, it shows the strength of Interfaith even in non-specific endeavors.

The event coordinated a toy donation drive with a chili cook off and “Best Chili” contest. Several selections were quite good. There was other munchies and nosh like food everywhere.
Dari Silverpenny sold her wares at the festive event
A wide array of area vendors offered great items at good prices. I did the bulk of my small Holiday shopping right here and it was fun to mingle with other customers and talk with vendors, some of whom I’ve met before at previous AFA event.   There were also other activities, some for young folks and some all ages. Kenya, from AFA did our announcer/coordinator work here and was able to keep things flowing smoothly. I ran into some friends and had an all around great time. Kenya told me later that the toy drive went really well. Of course I donated Barbies!

Co-sponsor Michigan Pagan Fest's own event takes place June 22nd – 25th at the Wayne County Fairgrounds near Detroit Metro Airport and will feature Amber K and Azrael Arynn K of Covenant of the Goddess and other guests.

Food, Faith and Friends Interfaith Dinner with the Troy-Area Interfaith Group on December 6 at the Polish American Cultural Center.

Basically a sit down dinner and mingling of the 20 or more regular folks it serves as a Holiday dinner and a great jump on point for possible a newbie like me. I met a number of new folks and mixed in well with a diverse crowd. I’m told meetings and events can be much larger. The group is comprised of many laypersons as well as some priests and rabbits. The dinner was nice but rather off schedule. Apparently the restaurant at the Center got some mixed wires and they had a short staff day. Like most restaurants at this time, they are heavily booked as well. Still we enjoyed a menu of traditional Polish style food, something I do miss from when my wife’s family was around as they were great cooks of Polish food. Getting the lay of the land I found the meeting very inclusive and definitely more average folks than clerical members.
Troy is a somewhat more affluent suburb of Detroit with many professionals and family types living here. So it comes as no surprise that Troy has had a great influx of Asians and Asian American and this is well reflected in the Troy Interfaith Group. Besides films and discussions the Troy group sponsors other programs regarding cultural and religious competence and offer meetings in and around the area even downtown Detroit. Overall their events and meetings seem time-friendly enough for me to squeeze in with other IF activities I work closer to Troy but I live in the downriver area, which is closer to other events and meetings I’ve attended.
The Troy group has a number of in-service events with a film/media and/or discussion relating to Interfaith, diversity and tolerance. This year’s schedule includes Not in My Town: A Light into Darkness; a PBS documentary about a hate crime in a New York town, as well as volunteering opportunities for gardening projects and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. activities. The group will take in an exhibit of children’s artwork, “Visions of Peace”, at the Swords into Plowshares Peace Center & Gallery, as well as participate in National Day of Prayer and other events.

Detroit Jews for Justice 2nd Annual Festival of Rights Music, noshes, Community Building and Political Education December 26 Red Door Digital 7500 Oakland Ave Detroit

Even before November’s election results and aftermath, Detroit Jews for Justice (DJJ), were well along the path of uniting education, culture, activism and a spiritual message into a plan for peace and progress. Last year I wrote about the group’s Purim event, which traditionally celebrates the Jews’ liberation from an evil king. DJJ transformed it into a street-culture, multi-media modern day parable, substituting the main characters and themes with the sad details of Michigan City Flint’s water.
The Festival of Rights event was more focused on celebration and hope – after all it also commemorated the 3rd Night of Hanukah and included the symbolic candle lighting and commemoration. I met or reacquainted, I should say, with Susan at the door registration stand. We exchanged warm greetings and chatted for a moment. I moved on quickly to find a nice spread of both traditional Jewish and Middle Eastern foods – the nosh, as it were. There were also chips and salsa and various other snacks, kosher and not so much. It’s all good. There was the typical bitter soda or tonic water with a flavoring of lime or lemon. I found it refreshing and sobering since we now have some bitter times to contend with.  But I’m not a drinker and in this sense its clearly not an actual Interfaith event, but in that grey area of community, culture and religions.
Great Music at The Festival of Rights
The music was Klezmer style perhaps. I don’t know much about that, but I told my Jewish turned Pagan friend Mara that I felt my “Roma” soul stirring. I never heard if the band had a name and at first thought they might have just been some folks who were jamming that night. But they were pretty precise and fit in very well with each other. The music was eclectic and electric. A five-piece band with percussion, big-bass, accordion, guitar and a clarinet, they were outstanding. I was fascinated watching so many people of the all-ages audience dancing and celebrating with the inspired beat and melodies. An older gentleman with a classic beret and facial hair spun around a much younger lady who had asked him to dance. A crowd of folks – friends of either –cheered them on as they did dips and swirls on the crowded floor.
There was a small pause as several speakers of DJJ spoke at the mike, voicing the various concerns that all folks, not just Jewish, may now wonder about. Rabi Alana, a main spokesperson and facilitator also spoke and presented the DJJ’s vision for moving ahead in our current situation. The DJJ are hoping to increase attention, mobilize participation from all parts of society and present a compelling alternative vision to the community and world that is striving to be normalized in our land, through coercion and the media’s ambivalence over factual and objective journalism.
A very diverse crowd in age attended
As I prepared to leave, I spoke to Rabbi Alana, who remembered me from Purim and warmly thanked me for attending and my view and interests. I told her I do hope to get more involved. I feel that the tone of Interfaith has changed due to this turning point in both society and the world. They say that the cycles of the world; commerce, adherence to certain codes, regions of cooperation and so on, have been upended as they seem to every 40, 80 or even several hundreds of years. We may be seeing the most decisive change in world relations in our lifetimes. Such a shift is and will be felt in every corner of the globe and the need for human compassion will never be tested more. Think Globally, act Locally. Go Detroit Jews for Justice, and God/dess-Speed!
In Her Service,

Oberon Osiris, National Interfaith Representative

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Detroit Interfaith Leadership Awards 4th Annual Dinner

On Wednesday, October 5, the Detroit Interfaith community celebrated its best and brightest in the Leadership Council’s 4th Annual dinner that took place in Livonia, Michigan. The Leadership Council (IFLC) serves as the umbrella and major driving force behind the Metro Detroit community and originated in 2001, in the wake of 9/11. A calendar listing of interfaith events and related items in the Council’s weekly newsletter serves a broad purpose of keeping a very large and diverse community informed of the many events in Detroit. The event gathers hundreds of folks each year to celebrate those leaders who exemplify vision and achievement in the service of community.

Prior to the dinner and awards presentations an anteroom had appetizers, a cash bar and a silent auction with numerous items, artistic and reverent. We were entertained by the delicate sounds of harpist Christa Grix as people filled in and began associating.
I munched on cheeses, fruits and shrimps, amongst other offerings and took in the calm splendor of beautifully dressed women of various cultures and religions, and smart-dressed men in Western style mostly, but some in vestments that marked Muslim or Hindu style as well.
The Silent Auction and anteroom filled quickly and it was not long before I met several men, Nasy and Dr. Ventkar who are Hindu and Dr. Albini, who is Zoroastrian. I had not met many non-Monotheistic folks in Detroit Interfaith yet and we had a short but interesting dialog. Making some comparisons
Oberon, Nasy and Dr. Albini
between our religious paths proved just as enlightening to them as myself. Although they were aware of modern,  Ancient European derived Pagan type religions we were able to fill in some blanks between our worlds. Another win for Interfaith.

Afterwards I ran into Stan Nunn, aka N’shan, who is one of the most well-known Wiccan and Pagans in the local community serving on various committees and organizations, including MEC which produces the annual Convocation ( event each February. N’shan is also the founder and main Priest at the Pagan Pathways Temple ( which is the Detroit area’s first bricks and mortar temple for Pagans, located in Madison Heights the near-North suburb of Detroit. Several years ago I served with him in the Tempest Smith Foundation. He is a tireless worker and proponent for our community and many folks of Pagan faiths.

 We soon were bid to enter the dining area and sit at our assigned tables. I was pleased that Dr. Albini was next to me and we had some conversation before the room became too loud. These occasions are opportunities to meet new folks and we had quite a mix at our table, in both geographic locations and gender, racial and religious make up. Everyone was warm and pleasant and we enjoyed a sumptuous dinner with several choices of meats and vegetarian main servings and a full compliment of sides representing our area’s big diversity. It was hard to avoid the lavish deserts, but I managed, something I always do. It is truly an act of will to avoid all the sweets, calories and fats I find at these events. With the holidays looming there would be plenty of chances to eat bad and risk other ill health effects.

Well-known Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley hosted the evening’s events. She appears
Rochelle Riley
frequently on the Sunday morning talk shows and is an inspiring speaker on many levels. She also battles weight gain and possible diabetic symptoms like me. While she spoke on her personal story as a voice of encouragement she eloquently put names to faces, speaking of the culture and fabric of our own beloved community. Detroit is a hard place to love, let alone to be in. Those who work here in the name of Interfaith are a part of the immense tapestry and history of many movements that have either started here or had their key moments here. Ms. Riley mentioned the Social Justice, Civil Rights, Workers’ Rights, Women’s Rights movements and their relevance to Detroit. There are many beautiful folks in the local Interfaith and religious communities, the true backbone of belief and faith in the city and  metropolitan area. I am proud and humbled to be a part of this all. Detroit finally, maybe, is coming back. There seems to be so much going on. Geopolitical, Financial, the Arts, Night Life and everything else are all connecting dots. Young people from outside the city borders are moving back into the city, not just the convenient parts of down or mid town either. And this night’s program was all about sharing that and more.

Besides Ms. Riley’s and Honorary Dinner Chair Shirley Stancato’s welcome we enjoyed a lively performance by Ballet Folkorico Moycoyani Izel who were marvelous. It had been a long time since I enjoyed a live performance by a traditional Mexican dance troupe and the performance was really fun to watch, and brought everyone together a little bit more.

After Hazzan Steve Kaper’s Invocation the various presentations began with short films about the histories and bodies of work for the awardees. These were well put together and I found myself overwhelmed and deeply happy to see such effort and work as this, rewarded by the people, through this remarkable night.
Robert Butrell, Imam Steve Elturk, and
others at the 4th Annual Dinner
There are 3 main awards with the first given to WISDOM, the Women’s Interfaith Solutions for
Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit, receiving the Interfaith Leadership Award. Then Bruce Millan, the founder and Artistic Director of the Detroit Repertory Theater received the Community Service Award. Finally, Nancy Schlichting, CEO for Henry Ford Health System received the Visionary Civic Leader Award. Raman Singh and Robert Buttrell who are the new President, and Chairman, respectively, of the Detroit Interfaith Leadership Council gave each introduction and award.

Again, I can’t say how informative and inspiring these presentations of film and other media were. They really captured the spirit and courage of some area folks who really deserved to be rewarded for their work in Detroit. It was a great evening and you can see photos and other coverage of this and other IFLC events are at their web site:

In service to Coventina,
Oberon Osiris
National Interfaith Representative