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