Day of the Dead

We’re approaching that holiday best known in mainstream America for cosplay and sugar binges. For a deeper look into this sacred time of year, consider this:

Honoring Our Dead, Holding their Stories

MarieCartierforKCETa-thumb-300x448-72405Next Saturday, November 1,  is the holiday Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This is a Mexican holiday that has currency now throughout the world—but especially in California. After all, in 2014 Latinos will surpass whites in California demographics. It is prevalent at this time in Southern California to see sugar skulls decorated—to even have children make decorated sugar skulls and honor the dead. The holiday provides a focal point for a centered observance and prayer dedicated to those who have died in the past year. It is connected to the other holidays at this time, particularly Halloween where as we Wiccans often say “the walls between the worlds are thin.”
Another tradition celebrated at this time is creating an altar for loved ones—or several altars or ofrendas. The altars can hold sugar skulls, photos and artifacts of the deceased, and marigolds. Marigolds are a symbol of death and are referred to as “the flower of death.” Marigold petals might mark a path from a home to a grave in a village so that the dead can find their way back for this holiday. Marigolds make arches and decorations in and around the altars/ofrendas for the scent of the marigold is purported to draw the dead back for the Day of the Dead reunion. The holiday has its roots in indigenous Mexican holidays and continues back possibly 4,000 years to Aztec rituals honoring the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the Queen of the Underworld.Celebration at Hollywood Cemetery. Marie with sculpture at gravesite So, this holiday has its roots in feminism, goddess worship and a sharing of oral history/herstory—as well as the decorative arts, It is a perfect union of feminism and religion representing the often under-represented—those who will not, in most cases, have “official” altars built to them. It is an asking for guidance from the spirits. But, more than that it is an asking directly for guidance from our now personal guides—those who have passed before that we now hope will return and help us in the next year of our life.  …read more at feminism and religion
Author Marie Cartier lost both of her parents in the past year, so she is feeling deeply the oncoming holiday, this time for us to Dance with the Dead.  Certainly a time to celebrate ancestors, it is also a time to look at all those who have come before us, who have made our lives possible today.
Cartier honors women who came before in her recent book, Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars and Theology Before Stonewall was published last year, with the following dedication:

To all of the gay women who came before me, cleared the path for me, and walked the path with me…butch, femme, kiki, androgynous, lesbian and transgender who dared to walk into a gay women’s bar and acknowledge themselves and their community and made a community for me to walk into.
To my mother– Joanne Marie (Curtin) Cartier– a woman who came of age in the 1950s.

How do we hold the stories and honor our dead?

Tell me about your beloved dead, those who walked before you, blazed a trail, gave you comfort and strength. Whom will you honor, and how, on Dia de los Muertos?

Big Questions, Simple (Not Easy) Answer

My Sunday ritual with the New York Times is edifying, and often gives me insight into weighty and troubling issues of our times. Good thing: if it were only the grim and terrible news, I couldn’t bear to read it. So this Sunday, these two seemingly unrelated articles entwined in a way that helped me see my own strong views more clearly:

1. Is there a ‘Bad’ Religion?

An ongoing debate launched by provocateur Bill Maher, whose guest Sam Harris, a widely published neuroscientist and atheist, challenged Liberals to uphold their principals of free speech and religion and equality for women and gays. He claims that by defending Islam as just another faith in the multi-cultural rainbow, Liberals are tolerating a hateful religion.

“We have to be able to criticize bad ideas,” said Harris “and Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas.”

Reza Aslan defends multicultural tolerance

Reza Aslan wrote a beautiful rebuttal to this view, upholding the notion that extremism comes in many flavors, and many readers chimed in with their points of view.

2. One Woman’s Simple Plea

leymah gbowee
Click for Leymah’s TED talks

Three Short Films About Peace begins with a 15 video interview with 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. (I have yet to enjoy the other two films). Gbowee’s story is so riveting, so personal and so global in its relevance I was stunned. She has walked in the path of Ghandi and Dr. King before her and spoken a woman’s simple truth to power.

 “I wish for a better life. I wish for food for my children. I wish that sexual abuse and exploitation in schools would stop. This is the dream of the African girl.”

Isn’t It Obvious?

It is incomprehensible to me that a leader could ever lose sight of their responsibility to protect people from violence and mayhem. The overwhelming reaction I felt watching Leymah’s story was “Duh!”

Why isn’t it obvious that we need to feed and shelter our people and protect them from violence? Why does the ancient territorial violence override nurturing and creativity?

One simple answer is that women’s voices are not strong enough in public life.

The biggest critique I can level against Muslim culture and religion is the deletion of women’s voices from public life. Not that they are the only ones to blame for this. Orthodox Judaism and large swaths of Christianity limit women’s full participation.

In the ‘civilized’ West, we are still new to the idea of women as fully functioning members of society, being only one hundred years out from jailing and force-feeding Alice Paul for speaking up outside the White House. But we do have women in the public sphere, prime ministers, presidential candidates, and increasingly heads of business.

Half Blind

When all you hear are the views and desires of one half of your citizens, you are missing dimension of humanity necessary to survive. Compare it to monocular vision, or hearing from one ear: the amount of perspective and data missing is exponential.

We need the voices of our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, aunts, daughters and girls to be valued and heard in our culture. And that is my measure for a ‘Good’ religion. Or company, culture, neighborhood, committee, discussion group, governing body and more.

I don’t agree with Sam Harris – it does no good to brand an entire culture as ‘bad,’ but I do know that it’s Leymah who has the answer to creating the world that I want to live in.

Scots and Independance

bannockburnWhat little authority I might have to weigh in on the wisdom or folly of Scottish Independence is debatable. But I did live in Scotland for a year in 1977-78. I went to the Festival, studied at University of Edinburgh, traveled the Highlands and islands in search of stone circles, and taught for a while in Shetland.

I drank with my colleagues and friends and heard many a tale of how, over many centuries, like other colonists, rebels and indigenous folk, the Scots suffered greatly at the hands of the English.

But I want to share a tiny moment that has as much or more bearing on today than the bloody swords of yesteryear.

6794779707_811d3266a4In 1977 I arrived my cheap London hotel near Kings Cross, a naive young midwestern student, too jet-lagged to be excited. The terrific bargain hotel proved to be thrice the cost as promised, and the lift was broken, so I lugged my heavy case up the stairs.

As I checked out the bath-down-the-hall, I saw a purple sticker on the toilet tank. I peeled it off and stuck in my journal, puzzled. I had never considered Scotland as separate from the UK before, and the recent construction of North Sea oil platforms had barely reached my embryonic consciousness.

Little did I know that I would find strong opinions and a very fierce, proud and distinct culture north of the Borders. That Shetlanders didn’t consider themselves Scots, much less British. That, for good or ill,  memory of ancient battles lives on in the blood. That although the United Kingdom appears united, the stories of Bannockburn, Culloden, the Clearances and other atrocities leave a mark, and, now that Scotland’s economy is strong, England may have some karma coming due.

Depression: Not that Simple

In light of the very public death of Robin Williams, and in the spirit of Blogging for Mental Health 2014, I wanted to reveal some of the really challenging things that depressed people live with. (I’ve bolded the ones that have been particularly pernicious for me.) Many of these symptoms and tendencies seem innocuous or unimportant, but they can add up to an unbearable life.

Things Nobody Tells You
About Being Depressed

Reach out, in what ever way you can, to a friend, professional, clergy, online. The headline above links to a wide variety of resources.

A Post for Peace – please spread it around

Yesterday morning a Facebook friend posted this, and I thought this sentiment should spread far and wide, so I am attempting to make it a meme.
Please help me sent these thoughts across the multiverse. Reblog, rewrite, use the Fairy Gardens or add your own image of peace and healing, and please, please invite others to share.
I’m tempted to say something about Gaza, the children at the Mexican border, Ukraine/Russia, Ebola. No matter my opinion or point of view, it would only add to the rancor, bitterness and outrage that’s swirling, swirling. What a tangle. I will not contribute to the toxic energy.No. Instead of a rant, here are some lovely fairy gardens made with broken pots. That’s the best I can do.
May the situations at hand unwind without spinning out of control. Please. Thank you.
Please reblog and share everywhere. Have a peaceful day. love, Patrise

Culture of Trust

On the radio this morning I heard this story on NPR Morning Edition about the rapidly growing “Sharing Economy.” Talking about AirBnB, a web site I have used successfully as a host and guest, I heard this statement:

Renting out a home, your home, for the weekend on the Internet to complete strangers is kind of a radical idea. 

In 1977, as a young American student abroad, I arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland at the beginning of the reknowned Edinburgh International Festival, and needed a place to stay. It’s a notoriously difficult time for last minute lodgings. I was there to begin my school year in a special program for young educators, and had no idea what the festival was all about.

edinburgh suburbsBut my first amazing experience was meeting my new landlords. A couple with three kids, and a house in the ‘burbs, rented me their spare bedroom. I arrived, Mrs. Fraser showed me to my room, a basic suburban bedroom. Loo down the hall.

“Help yourself to a cuppa, or anything you need, dear. We have to go out, we’ll see you later, or not.” She smiled, and handed me a house key then  she and her family waved goodbye.

I had just embarked on my life’s biggest adventure. I was dazed and travel weary and disoriented and amazed. But I was particularlry astonished by the generosity and trust of complete strangers a world away, just welcoming me into their home. Just like that.

It was an experience repeated many times in Scotland, Shetland, the Hebrides… a warm and generous welcome offered to a traveling stranger. It felt like something that would never happen back home in suburban Detroit. And I marveled at this culture of trust.

One of my Uni professors told us a tale over a pint, about an American couple who were unable to find anyplace to stay during the Festival. He told them “Come home with me, we’ll make room for ye.” They fled from him, suspicious of anyone who would offer to take them home ‘just like that.’ He commented: “Americans are suspicious folk.”

Years later, as a host on the newly-launched airBnB I welcomed a young couple to my home for two weeks. The timing was perfect for me, and for them. They loved my pets, enjoyed the house and became new friends.  It only took 35 years for Americans to let down their guard.

Today in the Garden: Surprise Gifts

I went to the garden the other day for solitude. To my surprise, five children under 7 ran up alongside my car, squealing about the dogs and can we play with them?

Two girls and three boys were looking for something to do while their families set up for a big wedding at the community center. They chased the dogs in happy circles and were hugely comical trying to help me move the heavy wheelbarrow with a flat tire. They were so eager!

A fellow gardener had ordered a truckload of leaf mulch and my mission was to spread this wonderful black soil around my irises, radishes, spinach, broccoli, red cabbage and day lilies. I had lots of help. There was great competition for the big shovel. Then everyone wanted their own trowel, so more were found.

“Tuck those plants in, put that nice black blanket around them, like your mommy tucks you in at night.” And so they spread the leaf-gro around the young plants then helped me water.

Before they left, I showed them how to pull a carrot. One of my all time favorite things is to watch a child discover a natural miracle. It’s so rewarding to see the astonishment on their bright faces when the familiar orange food comes out of the soil, and after hosing off the bright orange root, they experience the taste of real food.

I was looking for solitude when I went to the garden. But I received a different kind of gift. I guess we don’t always know what we need, until we get it.

The River Flows to the Sea

Sad but Not Surprising

Two days after River Cleanup and the first bits of trash have already washed ashore.

It’s not  messy boaters and fishing folk who create all this litter, as some assume. The bulk of the trash is washed down from storm sewers all over the metro area. When you toss an empty package or bottle, even into a bin, odds are it can find it’s way to the river.

Before the Clean-Up

Washed into drains from all over DC, tennis balls are common enough on my beach for the dogs have learned to look for them.  I’m sure that boaters aren’t dumping buckets of balls overboard! But I am busy training my girls to fetch plastic bottles!

Good news about river trash!

Hundreds of volunteers showed up Saturday all up and down the Potomac watershed. I joined friends and neighbors at the National Colonial Farm across the river from historic Mount Vernon. We enjoyed the low tide and beautiful day that allowed us to clean miles of shoreline. Now hikers, fishing folk, blue herons, eagles and osprey can all enjoy the shoreline without trash. For a little while.

But I did notice some improvement while trash-picking Saturday morning ; there was much less foam trash than  in years past.  Alice Ferguson Foundation‘s Trash Free Potomac 2013 has taken a survey of common logos found in river trash and pressured the biggest offenders (this year McDonalds , Pepsi, Deer Park and Budweiser) to change their packaging to biodegradable materials, and it looks to me like this has helped!

The biggest scourge at the moment is plastic bags and bottles. Please make sure your plastics are properly recycled, and replace them when you can with reusable containers. All of us river dwellers thank you!

Recently-in-the-Garden

Lots happening in the garden this time of year! Last weekend we had a big Fence-Mending work day, replacing the rusted-out chicken wire that was no longer keeping critters out of the garden. Take that! goundhogs and bunnies!

Then yesterday, housemates A and N helped me weed strawberries, water and plant broccoli and red cabbage. Yay for garden helpers!

 

Art Saves Lives

Rev. Delores Roberts

I want to introduce you to one of my clients, someone who’s passion, faith and creativity is dedicated to the children of Metropolitan DC.

Reverend Delores Roberts is the founder and director of Zoe Life Ministries, a non-profit organization devoted to improving the lives and education of disadvantaged kids. Starting in her home community of Capitol Heights, MD, Rev. Roberts has created literacy and arts programs for kids of all ages. Her tireless commitment to her work is inspiring, and her creativity is evident in everything she does.

Zoe Life Ministries now runs a book club, a performing arts program and the Stop-the-Violence Teen Peace Summit, in addition to developing the I-read program and other special projects. Right now she is in the final rehearsals for her latest stage musical “Day of Reckoning” opening December 3rd. You can see rehearsal videos and find updated news about the show here.

Rev. Roberts introduces Essay Contest winners

Reverend Delores is a people-person. She works with kids of all ages and does it from the heart, every moment.  A recent post on her blog describes meeting an angel at Staples! The Reverend inspires her kids to read, write, draw, dance and sing, and it’s been very inspiring for me to watch her work her special magic.

But learning to edit a web site and publish her own blog was really challenging to her at first. I am so proud of her persistance and accomplishment on the revitalized Zoe Life Ministries website we set up together.

Now Rev. Delores keeps a blog about her projects and community events, as well as encouraging discussion of the issues that challenge our children every day.

This Friday, Zoe Life Ministries is celebrating ten years of inspiring programs that lift up “the least, the last and the lost.” The Tenth Anniversary Fundraising Gala and Zoe Awards promises to be another special event with special performances by Zoe Kids, Awards honoring members who have brought life to the community, a delicious feast and more.

I’d like to invite you to come along and support this amazing organization. I know schedules are full and budgets are tight, but I would for you to be there, or at least make a donation to Rev. Delores’ work.

Here’s how you can join the celebration:

Tickets for the Gala are $50 for adults and $20 for children under 12. Tax deductible donations of any size are welcome. Call Zoe Life Ministries at 301/350-0688, email zoelife3@gmail.com, and/or send a donation to  910-Applewood St, Capitol Hgts,MD 20743.

I’ll see you there!