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Not Enjoying The Silence

Back in May, a white supremacist touting himself as a Heathen stabbed and killed two young men on a train in Portland, Oregon, when those two young men attempted to protect a pair of Muslim women from the supremacist’s attacks on them.  Members all across the Heathen Community raised their voices in an attempt to educate the rest of the world on what we actually believe and practice, lest we get lumped in with the “bad Heathens”.  I rarely get political, but it was enough to drive me to write a blog post about Declaration 127.

(You can find that blog post here, and Declaration 127 here.)

On August 12, 2017, violence erupted when white nationalists gathered for a “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Ostensibly organized to prevent the removal of yet another remnant of Confederate history–this time, a statue of Robert E. Lee–from a city park, it quickly became apparent that this “march” was more about making history repeat itself, than about defending history so that it doesn’t repeat.  The white nationalists gathered around the site, “defending” it with Viking-styled shields.  Don’t believe me? Check this out:

(You can find that photo here.)

The response of the Heathen community in the wake of what has been described by some as an act of domestic terrorism? Thus far, I’ve seen maybe two posts. And I’m not enjoying the silence….neither is Tyr.

As technically-a-person-of-color (I’m of Asian descent; Chinese, specifically) who happens to be Heathen, and also happens to be spending his afterlife inhabiting a white Southern woman, I find that once again, I cannot keep my mouth shut.  I can’t keep politics off of this blog right now; to do so would go against every fiber of who and what I am. Before I proceed, you might want to thoroughly acquaint yourself with the beginning of that last sentence: I am notwhite guy; repeat: I am notwhite guy. I’m also devoutly Heathen. All set? Okay, that clarification completely out of the way, let’s continue:

As a group of people practicing a Reconstructionist or at least Reconstructionist-derived religion, Heathens, on the whole, are obsessed with history.  We only know what we know about our faith–enough to actually have this faith and have it continue to exist–because of historians, and anthropologists, and archaeologists.  Because we are so needfully well-acquainted with history, most of us are also very well aware of that old adage: 

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. ~Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke was an Irish statesman–a Dubliner, to be precise–as well as an author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher, who supported the American Revolution.  It’s a great quote, and growing more and more powerful by the day in our modern age, but the truth is, there are absolutely zero corroborating sources proving that Burke ever actually said or wrote those words.  That he said them first is a tradition.  However, we do know of someone else who absolutely said something quite similar:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~George Santayana

So who the heck was George Santayana?  He was a Spanish philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist who was raised and educated in the United States from the age of eight and identified himself as an American, even though he maintained dual citizenship.  In fact, he spent most of his life not far from where I’m writing this: in Boston, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the very same Revolution that Edmund Burke so firmly supported. 

Why is that so important for this discussion: that Santayana was of Latin/Hispanic descent?  Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, you can likely arrive at that answer easily enough.  A person of color, and specifically, an immigrant person of Spanish descent actually said the words that both sides of the present argument are constantly using against each other in the worst ways imaginable. Chew on that for a minute.

Michelle and I both have written numerous posts here and elsewhere in defense of not tearing down Confederate monuments, and not erasing the Confederate flag as a symbol of heritage (not hate!), largely based on the argument of Santayana’s famous quote.  We stand by those arguments. However, on the other side of our arguments, which come from a very genuine place of standing behind that aphorism, there are people like those guys with the viking-style shields in Charlottesville, Virginia who are ostensibly defending the same things for the same reasons, but not really.  And they proved that conclusively on Saturday, August 12, 2017.

Because those people wouldn’t “dirty their mouths” with a quote from a Spanish immigrant, if they had actually known that was who said it.  It would be totally valid and “okay” if it had been said by the white guy from Dublin, but, oh my, the shock and disgust if they realized it had been said by a Spanish immigrant! (Who’s mother, by the way, was raised in the Philippines.)

This brief history of quotes (and the juicy irony involved) aside, the fact remains that the initial vision of those white nationalists (before the “real violence” ensued) is an image of a bunch of white, bearded dudes, standing in solidarity, behind a freaking Viking-style shield wall.  The guy who actually drove the car that killed the one person who perished in this “debacle”–who, incidentally, was white, just like the two young men who lost their lives in Portland, Oregon, back in May (not that that should matter, mind you, but the tragic irony should not be lost on anyone, which is why I point it out)–also stood in that initial wall, holding a shield.

(Don’t believe me? Check out this photo. He’s the second from the left, in front of a poster bearing yet more appropriated Heathen symbols, as well as appropriated Christian symbols: the Algiz rune, and a Chi Rho, respectively.)

And yet the Heathen community stands largely silent this time around, and I would really, very dearly, like to know why? So would Tyr.

For that matter, why aren’t Christians screaming about their symbology being appropriated by these asshats?  Because not all Christians are of the conservative, alt-right variety, anymore than all Heathens are of the white supremacist, neo-Nazi variety….

Plenty of people were out there screaming and yelling and having hissy fits back in 2015, when the outcry against the Confederate flag grew so loud that the General Lee, the car driven by the Dukes of Hazard, legit got a makeover, and resulted in the show (still in syndication) getting banned, even though most of its storylines that even touched on race relations in the South involved inclusiveness, rather than bigotry. (Though I never really cared for the show, I can honestly say it was a bit of a “redneck primer” on inclusivity, and I give it kudos for doing that way back in the 1970s.) Yet when it comes to actual religious symbols from whatever faith being bastardized, everybody’s suddenly mute? What gives?

Instead of an outcry on either side of the religious divide over such important matters, the one thing that everybody seems to be able to agree on is crucifying our current president for his statements in the aftermath of Charlottesville 2017.  I am not a fan of Donald Trump.  I try to largely keep my opinions on such things out of this blog, off of our Facebook page, and generally out of my sphere of discussion in general. Trump gets zero frith in my heart or mind, to the point that he’s so utangardh that he basically doesn’t exist to me.  In other words, I put him so “far away from me” that I don’t let his energy touch my own in any capacity. I find that’s healthier for me.  However, while I can understand people’s outrage that he did not single out the white supremacists involved (further proof, most argue, that he’s “in bed” with those people), that’s not the rhetoric being used by most people in opposition to his reaction to decry what he said.  No, what he’s being crucified for is saying that there was wrong on both sides.  Honestly, this is one of the few times in his presidency that he’s actually said something halfway honest or halfway correct.

So how dare I make such a statement?  How could somebody–anybody–who is against racism and patently against Trump himself deign to say such a thing?  Because we’re living in a world where everybody so desperately wants their side to be right that they’re willing to invoke violence to prove it, no matter how wrong they actually are, and even an imbecile like Trump can see it!

Don’t get it twisted: I am in no way, shape, form or fashion attempting to defend Trump in all this. What I am saying is that if what he actually meant in his statements is that “two wrongs never make a right“, then for one, brief shining moment in his presidency, he’s actually been right about something!  And we should probably all take a moment to bask in the shock of that, before moving on toward cohesion.

Because I don’t know if anybody else has recognized this yet, but our country hasn’t had anything remotely resembling cohesion, when it comes to racial relations, since seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin fell to gunfire on a rainy February day in Florida in 2012.  That was during the Obama administration, folks–long before Trump was even a glimmer in the eye of the American conservative right-wing; back when he was just some orange-haired loudmouth whose primary vocabulary consisted of the words “You’re fired!”.  That was when we actually had a president of color!  That was the tragic death that began both the “Black Lives Matter” and the “Thin Blue Line” movements, and yet, forgotten by most people in the ensuing violence, raging arguments on both sides, and subsequent hate crimes, the dude who actually shot Trayvon Martin was also a person of color, and patently not a cop:  George Zimmerman is a man of Hispanic descent (specifically, Peruvian) who worked as an insurance fraud investigator while working towards an associate degree in criminal justice.  Zimmerman shot Martin while “serving” as the head of the local Neighborhood Watch program: he thought Trayvon “looked suspicious”, pursued the young man, and subsequently shot him.

What color the people involved in a situation–any situation–are ultimately does not matter when innocent lives are being lost. The symbols of my faith and your faith ultimately do not matter when innocent lives are being lost, either.  What ultimately matters is that we are all one family–the human race–and when we lose even one member of that family, we all lose.  There are no sides in that; there shouldn’t be any sides at all!  When someone dies innocently, everybody loses. Period.

If people are going to be building shield-walls around anything–any ideology–it should be that one!  Yet, that isn’t the case, unfortunately.  In fact, in most circles nowadays, if you have the cajones to say the words “all lives matter“, you’re instantly labeled as part of the racist scum! How the hell does that work out?

I became Heathen because faith, folk, and family was an ideal I could get behind: because, for me, treating other people honorably and fairly is the very crux of my faith, and the entire human race is both my folk and my family.  Very quickly, I discovered this was patently not what these words represented to most other Heathens, thanks to the bastardization of that phrase by the white supremacists among us.  To that subset, faith means guarding (white) folk and their (white) family from any outside forces seeking to “muddy” those waters with “other colored blood”.  Gobsmacked really is too small a word to describe how I felt upon said discovery.  I came to this Path because the core of it–that phrase, now bastardized–represented everything to me that I have believed my entire life, and now I am left with the astonishing realization that, like that famous quote from The Princess Bride, that phrase “does not mean what I think it means”.  

And maybe that’s the main reason why people are so gods-damned silent in the wake of Charlottesville 2017, even when the bastardization of the symbols of our faith are so morbidly less hidden in this “debacle”, than they were in the crime committed against those two young men (and the Muslim women they were trying to defend) in Portland, Oregon, three months ago.  Maybe it’s because the very foundation of our faith has become rocky ground on which to stand.  Or maybe it’s because there are far too many would-be Vikings among us, and not enough faithfilled people.  That “us versus them” sentiment was the very thing on which the Viking mindset rested, wasn’t it? I mean, after all? We see the thirst for it–that “us versus them” mentality–every time a member of our community says foul things about “those Christians”, lumping every follower of Christ in with the conservative crap-eaters; every time a member of our community talks about the Christian “weak god” or “dead god”; every time a member of our community types the letters UPG with hate and disdain as an expression of how “non-historically-accurate” true experiences of living faith are or possibly can be. It’s hard to cry out against people taking sides–no matter what those sides might be–when you’re a community divided in upon itself because people are so damned busy creating sides to take!

As a Chinese-American dead guy inhabiting a white Southern woman, I am quickly reaching a point where I am honestly afraid to wear my Thor’s Hammer in public or proudly show off any of the other symbols of my Heathen faith–runes included.  I’m afraid that people will “get the wrong impression” and label me as a racist. I am just as afraid, at this point, of the “inclusivity-championing liberals” as many Muslims, Hispanics, and African-Americans are of certain factions of the conservative right-wing.  And it patently should not be that way for either side of the equation! Yet, here we are.  And silence by our community in the wake of Charlottesville 2017 only serves to perpetuate that climate of fear.

So I will not join in that silence!

My faith is in a Deity(s) Who looks down upon this human race and sees, without doubt, and for once and for all, that we are all the same family.  My folk are those who will stand with me, against injustice: whether that injustice is due to race, creed, gender, or any other “dividing” factor.  And my family is the human race.  As Bruce Lee once said:

“Under the sky, under the heavens, Man, there is but one family.”

And I raise my own shield, not to defend some statue wrought by human hands in another time or place, or even some distant history which is too easily revised to suit the current political climate, but instead to defend that Truth which has always been with us:

We all matter.  Every man and woman is someone else’s mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, child. And every mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, and child matters.

We will never enjoy true peace until we realize this. Hate will continue to grow, no matter how bright and shining the motives of those who decide to take the side of the Right and the Just.  Until everyone is on that same side–so long as sides remain–we’re all living in No Man’s Land. And No Man’s Land is the place of stalemates, not victory.

 

 

 

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Advent Event: Fourth Day of Advent: Stop Judging and Love!

The fourth Sunday of Advent is a call to stop judging, in favor of loving.  Rule-keeping and labeling get us nowhere in life; they simply cause us to judge every single person we meet, based on this or that criteria.  When we are judging people, we aren’t truly loving them.  We aren’t practicing active compassion; we’re consigning people to their fate through verbal, mental, emotional, spiritual, and sometimes even physical punishment.  That isn’t what we were put here to do! On the last Sunday of Advent, we receive the call to love:  to be unconditional in our affections with other people, and release all judgments, whether they are ours personally, or they have been gifted to us by the parameters of some religious institution, governing body, or family tradition.

One of the things you’re likely hearing a lot about this season is the supposed “war on Christmas”.  Apparently, if someone chooses to say “Happy Holidays”, thereby including all of the different celebrations that people other than Christians celebrate at this time of year (Yule, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, etc.), you are “making war on Christmas”, or “taking the Christ out of Christmas”.  If companies don’t choose to put Nativity Scenes all over their products, apparently they are also “making war on Christmas”, or “taking the Christ out of Christmas”.  One of the biggest debates this year centers around Starbucks’ decision to simply feature solid red cups for their coffees this year, instead of the snowflakes that graced their holiday designs last year.  People have proclaimed that by doing this, Starbucks is joining the “war on Christmas”.  I’m sorry, but the last time I checked, red and green are the “official colors of Christmas”, and these cups are, in fact, red and green. Also, last time I checked, Jesus Christ was not a snowflake, nor is the snowflake one of his “official symbols”. Yet, according to these people, the “war” rages on.

In truth, these people who are pointing fingers and making accusations about the supposed “war on Christmas” are the ones who are effectively taking the Christ right out of Christmas, and they have absolutely zero clue that they’re doing it. I’m not sure if that’s sad, or simply stupid.  I guess in some ways, it’s both.  Why do I say this?  Because by being non-inclusive and not welcoming all people to the celebration by saying “Happy Holidays” where appropriate, they are being judgmental, and not behaving in a Christ-like manner (which is how Christians are directed to behave; that’s kinda the entire point of being Christian!). The same thing applies when they insist that every single scrap of holiday décor must include Christian imagery: let’s face it, if Christ had brought his ministry only to Christians, we wouldn’t have Christmas as a religious holiday in the first place! There would be no Christ’s Mass–which is what Christmas actually is; it’s a contraction for those two words.  And finally for those involved in the Starbucks coffee cup debate: it’s a coffee cup. There are millions of starving people in this world; we have wars raging across half the globe; millions of disenfranchised people (refugees) are homeless for the holidays.  As Christians, you’re supposed to be praying for them, not fighting over the decorations (or lack thereof) on a coffee cup!

Christ specifically ordered his followers not to judge, and yet here we are, living in the twenty-first century, surrounded by Christ-proclaiming people who judge people based on their skin color, their ethnicity, their gender assignments, their politics, and their alternative religious choices.  The end result? Negativity. Lots and lots and lots of negativity.  And with that, punishment: mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual punishment in myriad manners, and on myriad levels.  Where there is judgment, there is no love.  Yet Christ also gave a very specific order about love:

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” –John 13:35, The Message

Christians are supposed to love everyone, the same way Christ loved them; that’s how we’re supposed to be able to recognize them, as Christians.  Yet, fewer and fewer people in our society are willing to identify themselves publicly as Christians because so few Christians actually behave the way Christ told them to behave!

You may or may not be a Christian, or have been raised a Christian, but it’s pretty obvious what happens when we practice unconditional love, versus what happens when we constantly live from a place of judgment, isn’t it?  Whether he was the Messiah and Son of God or not (I personally believe he is), Jesus was right about a great many things, and one of those things was that we should love, rather than judge. When we go through life judging other people, we doom ourselves to likewise be judged, and nothing good ever comes of that, either. It just creates a never-ending cycle of backbiting, fighting, and arguing.  We’ve no choice when we live that way but to develop some pretty heavy psychic defenses: we have to put up walls, or we’re going to get repeatedly burned.

Unconditional love, however, trumps everything.  It can defeat any negative force that heads in your general direction, from the vicious words of a detractor, right up to an actual negative entity that’s moving stuff around in your house.  Love banishes fear, and very few negative things can effectively operate in our life without the power of fear.  Judgment, on the other hand, operates constantly from a place of fear.  People who are judgmental are afraid of anything different from them, or from the rules with which they’ve been raised. They live in fear, they act on that fear, and they foster fear in everyone else with whom they come into contact. They give the negative complete power over their lives, and they try to pour it into the lives of other people, too. That is not love. Fear and love can’t coexist, it’s as simple as that.

What exactly is unconditional love?  What does it look like? How does it behave?

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts [Spirit] always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.–1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (Paraphrase in [] is mine)

Compare that to the way judgment behaves.  Judgment begins from a defeatist attitude; it operates from a place of wanting something or someone to stop.  Judgment cares more about a personal agenda, than about the welfare of others.  Judgment wants precisely what it doesn’t have: it’s way, or the highway.  Judgment constantly struts and has a swelled head, proclaiming its ideals as the one, true, right, and only way, and then shoving that way down the throat of anybody within earshot, with devastating results for those who refuse to obey or succumb.  Judgment is all about “me first”: again, it’s their way, or the highway.  Judgment flies off the handle, spreading venom instead of light when confronted with those who will not obey or succumb. Judgment keeps score of the sins of everybody, reveling when they beg for the judgments to stop. Judgment only takes pleasure in the flowering of the letter of the law, not the triumph of the Spirit.  It puts up with nothing, trusts only itself, always looks for the worst, living constantly in the past of old laws and old traditions that should have no control over the modern world. Unfortunately, the only thing it does have in common with unconditional love is that it also keeps going to the end. Other than that, it’s the complete opposite of love, unconditional or otherwise.

We are all luminous beings who were put here to shine–that means spreading light, not venom; fostering love, not fuelling hate.  We must not only stop judgmental thoughts within ourselves, we must try to practice active compassion by teaching others not to be that way, either.  Arguing with those people will get you absolutely nowhere–remember, that’s the one thing it has in common with love, judgment can also keep going to the end.  But we can lead by example, and it’s our purpose in life to do so.  If we aren’t doing that, we aren’t spreading light, and that’s what we’re here for.  So, love: love patiently, and love with all you are.  When faced with negativity, shower those forces with love.  When necessary, love fiercely, but whatever you do, do it with love.

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Freedom Friday: Set Yourself Free!

We have all been put on this earth to live a free life.  None of us are intended to be living in bondage to anything–not to another person, not to a pet cause, and not to a political agenda.  We were all put here to live the life of the Spirit, and once we start doing that, nothing and no one can ever place a bond upon us or a yoke around our neck ever again.

The only law we’re living under is the law of love and compassion.  That doesn’t mean you should run right out and be an anarchistic hippy, flouting the local laws of the land as upheld by the peacekeeping forces of the police or the U.S. Military (or other local military, where applicable).  What it does mean, however, is that any law which is exclusionary–racist, genderist, or any other form of divisionist–is arbitrary.  When religious zealots try to bind you to laws that say gays are going to hell, for example, they aren’t living under the law of love and compassion.  When political activists attempt to point you in the direction of “our way is the one, true, right, and only way”, and that way includes things like “shun refugees” or “only this color of lives matter” or “send immigrants home”, they aren’t living under the law of love and compassion, either.  Don’t give into that.  Love everyone, whether they seem to deserve it or not, and show compassion to everyone, whether they seem to deserve it or not.  There is no hierarchy of compassion, because we are all living under Grace.

Learn what Grace means, and dwell in it.  Grace, in its most simplified definition, is an “unmerited gift” that neither can be nor deserves to be earned.  It is something we are given, whether we deserve it or not; it is, essentially, a “guiltless gift”.  Deserving the gift or earning the gift isn’t a requirement, otherwise it would be called a reward!  When we learn what grace means, and accept it into our lives, and come to dwell in it, we adopt an “I am and I am blessed, therefore, I both give and receive” attitude that causes us to stop ourselves inwardly from Ego-driven propaganda like “I don’t deserve this” or “I didn’t earn this” (so that we can come to realize what blessed, gifted, and shining beings we really are; no way low self esteem can survive that!), and it also causes us outwardly to stop denying the gifts of our time, compassion, and loving-kindness to others, based on some “hierarchy of compassion” that only exists in our hardened hearts and tiny minds.  We should come to live generously, expansively, and freely.

Use your freedom to serve others in love.  If you are compassionate to others, you will receive compassion in return.  The compassionate life is ultimately a stress-free life.  We can serve without become servants:  love others as you love yourself.  Treat others as you would have them treat you.  If someone responds to that disrespectfully–by trying to turn you into their slave or in some other unkindly fashion–simply explain that you are at their service, in love, but you are also an individual being of light, and that nobody gets to dim that light.

Live freely, animated and motivated by Spirit, not Ego.  The Spirit within us understands that we are connected to all other things, people, and The All, whereas the Ego runs around constantly asking “But what about me? What about me? What about me?”  When we’re that “me-focused”, we lose our connection to everything and everyone else, ultimately winding up slaves of that Ego.  There is no freedom in that.  Think about it: when you walk around all the time saying “what about me”, how do others react to you?  Sooner or later, they get tired of everything having to be about you all the time, don’t they? They don’t want to constantly be forced to wallow in your worries, wants, and woes. You become disconnected when you live like that, and you never feel truly fulfilled.

Love yourself and everyone and everything and The All, and don’t be afraid to get excited about it.  Don’t be afraid to show that excitement to other people, either!  Go through life smiling at people, so they can see all of your blessings written all over your face, and see how many smile back at you! Spread light!  Develop an attitude of gratitude where you count your blessings, instead of constantly complaining, and soon you’ll see your worries, wants, and woes fall by the wayside.

Don’t just hold onto this way of life as a “nice idea”; actually live it!  Sentimentality leads to fakery, and fakery never leads anywhere good! Once you’ve decided to live a life based on Spirit instead of Ego, cling to it as if your life depends on it--because it does!  Your freedom certainly does, at any rate, and that’s a treasure no one wants to lose!

The world doesn’t get to define you; you define the world.  So be the change you want to see in it!  The real you is not “who you hang with”, or your assumed political agenda, or what the rest of the world tells you to believe and do: the real you is a bright and shining light–a luminous being–so live like that!

Set yourself free to be your “authentic me”!