Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Building Green Bridges Workshop

         The Building Green Bridges Workshop was held on Saturday April 2nd at the Birmingham Unitarian-Universalist church “for faith-based organizations interested in starting or enhancing an environmental sustainability program at your pace of worship.” Three different speakers had about 45 minutes to present with lunch and round table discussions and other networking.  There was a brief registration with coffee, fruits and some breads and donuts before Karen Stanyke welcomed everyone and Rev. Penny Hackett gave a prayer for our proceedings.
         First up was “The Challenge of Laudato Si” with Sr. Patricia Benson, OP, and PhD; a Catholic nun and retired Associate Professor of Spirituality, who presented on Pope Francis’ recent Encyclical on the Environment, a plea for all people to come together to address the degradation that is destroying the Creation.  In detail she examined the various chapters and paragraphs, showing specific verse and protocol that supports caring for our Creation. The Pope admonishes us to work against and beyond the “throw away culture” that has been created, and grows seemingly worse all the time. Statistics show since 1950, the world has consumed as much as we did in all of time before that year! The breakdown is worse:  the most affluent 25% of us, consume, utilize 75% of earth’s resources. But most sobering to myself was the unavoidable fact that the divide between 1 and 99 % is mostly between Americans and everyone else. Even with stagnant wages and other realities of capitalism, most Americans are still within or close to 10% of wage earners. Assets in the nature of $75,000 will put you in the 1 % according to Sr. Patricia. I had no idea, quite frankly. As Americans we are very insulated from the costs of the world, as it affects all others.
         Species degradation is a major concern, of course and we were shown pictures of Coral ‘bleaching’ due to corrosive pollution and toxic waters.  150 to 200 species disappear every day, with many being minute, tiny microscopic even, but all with a significant role in the biosphere, and needing our care. (Chapter # 33).
         While the world picture is serious enough and Pope Francis’ work has many suggestions and goals for us to undertake, to hopefully address all this, Sr. Patricia also talked about the specific and serious problems occurring in the state of Michigan. Some of the oldest pipeline structures in the Lake systems of our state are showing major signs of rust and other degradation. Some of these lines are nearly 100 years old, like one in the Detroit River near downtown. They are so sensitive; their repair would be fraught with possible accidental leaks, polluting a major source of water for not only Detroit but also the entire Metro, South East Michigan communities. A possible, even greater potential leak is currently in the news, the Enbridge 5 line, near Mackinaw Island, at the top of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Many people, places and livelihoods would be jeopardized.
         Sr. Patricia also spoke about the situation in SW Detroit’s refinery area, where currently legislators are trying to okay even more pollution through a deal with tar sands producers.  This area, Zip code 48217, is by EPA standards; the dirtiest area of Michigan (and mostly poor, minority folks have lived there for many decades) but is also the 5th dirtiest zip code in the United States. For years statistics have shown a greater incidence of respiratory and related health concerns in its’ population.
         Perhaps around 4 or 5 hours from Detroit, over the river and into Canada, near the Bruce Peninsula, is the Bruce Facility of Ontario. It is the biggest nuclear facility in the world, according to Sr. Pat.  It is also one of the oldest and its position in the Great Lakes region would mean much devastation for the region and its water systems if aging infrastructure problems – or worse, ever happen.
         Next, was Climate Change & You: An Environmental Awareness Presentation, by Jerry Hasspacher. Mr. Hasspacher has a variety of credentials in the environmental areas, working with the Sierra Club on their Environmental Equity protocol and also with the Sierra Club of Metro Detroit. He chairs the 12th annual Green Cruise, an alternative to Metro Detroit’s “Dream Cruise”, which glorifies older classic cars with several days of White Privilege – major traffic, parking snafus as fans tailgate and otherwise disrupt everyone else from getting around some of the major avenues in the area.
         Much of what Jerry does is advocate for commonsense green solutions. For example, there are good reasons to let some areas overgrow grass, lawns or semi rural landscaping. Highway embankments would deal better with flooding issues if the routine short-short lawn care were limited to maybe once or twice a year. These principles apply to other areas and also make sense in terms of water and other resource use. In general, as any conservationist should know, our system of over cutting trees is wrong.  Jerry clearly points out the future, learning a new, yet old way of living in balance. As most states, communities suffer some form of austerity, we simply have to learn how to do better with less.
         After a 15-minute break, the final session, ‘Pathways to Sustainability: The Greening of US Faith Communities’ began. Cybelle Shattuck is a PhD candidate at U of M’s Natural Resources & Environment department and has also served with the Board of Directors of the Michigan Chapter of Interfaith Power & Light. She brought a unique, grounded tone to her presentation, through a series of anecdotes from around the country, of different Churches and Synagogues that decided to embrace environmental concerns. The Green Synagogue recreated their entire space with recyclable materials and involved the entire congregation at every state of the plan. The Madison Wisconsin Christ Community involved their young, obtained grants for solar panels and transformed much of their surrounding area into a prairie, as it once was. Their research led them to many ideas for regaining and preserving natural habitats.  There were several other examples of modern congregations advocating, creating and sustaining projects designed to better the environment and to involve more people from local communities. In all cases, if planned with the faith community’s involvement, the excitement and commitment really make it happen.
         Later, during lunch I chatted with Cybelle on many topics and she was quite aware of local Pagans in her home state – California, as well as her new home in Michigan – also working towards environmental protections. She has spent a lot of time in Unitarian Universalist churches and also brings that approach to her work.
         There was a brief update for Oakland County environmental things by Commissioner Jim Nash who has been a lifelong conservationist since his father brought him up to believe in Theodore Roosevelt’s own “moral obligation” to do so. He talked about the extreme flooding that has occurred in recent years, including the one in August of 2014 where I ironically was attending the NAIN conference in Detroit and was one of many people impacted that night. Jim’s other concerns were excess algae problems, especially in Lake Erie and the efficacy of the storm water utility systems that are very old and need replacing and repair work. He highly advocates for people learning more skills, to do it yourself, as sadly, he sees more compromises on the overall infrastructures of our area. Until the political will exists to expand infrastructure spending we may have to expect more difficulties with quality of life as well as public health.
         I picked up a number of flyers and materials about various concerns; ivory hunting, unethical procedures in livestock production, The Citizen’s Climate Lobby on Carbon fees. I had nice conversations with a member from the latter group at my lunch table, as well as Karen Stanyke, one of the organizers from the church. Karen was unaware of CUUPs as a part of the UU and indeed there are very few groups in Michigan UU churches. She mentioned a water blessing ceremony that UU members have in the fall, so I may attend that.

         We ended with a circle prayer led by Yusuf Barrat, a self-proclaimed Palestinian Pagan who came to America as a 12 year old refugee after WW2 and the creation of Israel.  He tells us that a part of this tradition comes from Native American prayers and ceremonies, which borrowed them from Pagans. While I’m not sure everyone would share his sentiments it was again a clear moment of how in the Interfaith community, and also specific churches and religious organizations, we see the Earth as sacred and needing our help. We invoked the four directions starting in the North then we honored center, above and within. As we reached for the sky, we brought our arms to hug ourselves and then grasped each other’s hands for Yusuf’s final prayers. The crowd of mostly Christian denominations smiled and seemed as comfortable as any similar group of Pagans or New Age folks might have. All in all, a worthy experience.
                   - - In Her Service, Oberon Osiris

Monday, May 16, 2016

My Primary Take-away from the 2015 Parliament of World Religions

Kith & Kin

Upon my initiation as a Witch, I swore a vow that I assume many others have also sworn, which is to always protect and defend “my sisters and brothers of the Art.”  Now I’m wondering over the longer term exactly what that means.  Or what it might mean to me.

Who are my sisters and brothers?  Who are my kin?  This is a topic worthy of further exploration.  However, while awaiting that further exploration, I want to speak of my main takeaway from the 2015 Parliament of World Religions.

That is the notion of kinship.

I wasn’t as acutely aware of kinship, and its depth of meaning, when I was younger.  Now that I’ve experienced more turnings of the wheel, more dyings and birthings, more deaths and births, more souls leaving this plane of existence and more entering, I see kinship from a broader and longer perspective.

Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples

When I go to powwows (from Narragansett pow√°w ‘magician’ (literally ‘he dreams’)), which are held regularly in San Quentin State Prison where I volunteer with the Wiccan circle under the sponsorship of the Native American chaplain, I hear all people addressed with terms denoting kinship.  Older people such as myself are called “aunties” and “uncles,” elders are called “grandmother” or “grandfather.”  Younger folks are addressed as “sister,” “brother,” or “cousin.”

I experienced this again at the PWR, where there was a fire kindled by members of various indigenous peoples from around the world (the USA, Canada, Nigeria, New Zealand, Greenland, Lithuania, et al.).  At their various presentations and at the Indigenous Peoples Plenary, I heard similar references.

Black Churches

The same is true of much of the African-American community, as well as, I would assume, in the societies in Africa where they originated.  In Black society, particularly in churches (which are generally Protestant Christian), such forms of address are common.  We are all sisters and brothers.

Philosopher, scholar, and activist Cornel West both refers to and addresses everyone as “Sister” or “Brother.”  Barack Obama is “Brother Barack” and I am “Sister Aline” (or “Sister Macha”) to him.  (I introduced myself to him in an elevator lobby once, meaning to tell him what a fan I was, and he hugged me, said how wonderful it was to see me, though we hadn’t met before, and called me Sister.)


Quakers (Society of Friends) in general have in the past addressed one another as sister, brother, or friend.  In the 1945 Jessamyn West book The Friendly Persuasion, later made into the film Friendly Persuasion, Friends referred to each other by the kinship terms of sister and brother.  A biography of Betsy Ross, purported maker of the first American flag in 1776, also uses these terms for members of the Philadelphia congregation to which she belonged.

The Friends have a complicated history as a religion, as in fact most religious movements do.  Paganism(s) is certainly no exception.  Currently this practice of addressing other members in kinship terms has fallen away.

Notions of Kinship within Contemporary Paganism

Often I’ve referred to different individuals as my “witchkin.”

Other terms heard amongst Pagani are “tribal” and “clan.”  The former is often used in a utopian way to reflect the sense that we have found our own, or have “come home.”  Yet it’s also seen in a negative light when used in the context of nativism and xenophobia.  I’d like to see those notions discussed further, but for now my take-away from the Parliament is remembering our interdependence by considering ourselves kin.

Yours in service to Coventina,