Honor, Integrity, and Being True

Honor has been on my mind lately. A new friend mentioned it yesterday, reminding me certain things are not worth my honor. In seeking a new job it has been increasingly on my mind. Is it honorable for me to do this job? Do these people have integrity? In what ways will doing this work compromise my integrity? In what ways have I had to compromise my integrity and honor in past occupations that I can no longer tolerate?

At what point do honor and pride diverge? When does it become short-sighted hubris, or self-centered vanity? Is honor exclusive of humility? I don’t think so. Humility is recognizing our limitations and needs in a healthy way. We are none of us an island, even if we sometimes feel that way.

Does it show integrity to ask for help, or is it more honorable to be self-sufficient? This one troubles me a great deal. I struggle with unmet spiritual needs. I have asked for help and not found it. I have struggled in silence and found it unbearable. I have sought help in unlikely places. I have made uncomfortable, and sometimes shameful, compromises for brief moments of connection and wholeness.

Relationships become a tricky place where honor and integrity are concerned. I have friends who have had to make the decision to end relationships with people who espouse or defend racism, even ironic racism which is simply racism with a smirk. How are you friends with someone who is racist, or who insists on maintaining relationships with racists? How do you maintain a relationship with someone who is bigoted in other ways? Who denigrates homosexuals, women, the disabled, or judges people based on their age or appearance? How do you be friends with someone who believes in mutilating children? How do you maintain a relationship with someone who would rather subject their children to devastating disease rather than risk their child perceiving the world differently? Social media lays our friends and acquaintances bare in ways previously unimaginable, and makes us question the honor in our associations.

The world has always expected us to at least pay lip service to honor while accepting political pragmatism. But what would happen if we really did behave as honorably as possible? What changes would happen in our lives? What would happen if you made integrity a priority today? Right now, this minute? What would you lose? What would you gain?

Redneck Ritual: The Value of Common Culture

When I moved to the Midwest I was relieved to discover there are rednecks here. I can sip shiraz, discuss modern art, and enjoy avant-garde plays, but at my heart I am a woman who lights up when she hears “Hey y’all, watch this!”

Don't let your Beltane bonfire get out of hand, y'all.

Don’t let your Beltane bonfire get out of hand, y’all.

Some of my ancestors were well-off, and there are a few high-brow folks in my family, but mostly I come from a culture of pickup trucks, dirt roads, and fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes that drip juice all down your arms as you bite into a summer sandwich. I joke that in Minneapolis everyone listens to the same music: anything but country. Yet for all my Andrew Bird records, Jo Dee Messina, Martina McBride, and Patty Loveless make me incredibly happy.

So it’s probably no surprise that from all the festivals I’ve attended and private rituals I have been invited to that the Redneck Ritual at Pagan Spirit Gathering is one of the best I’ve ever experienced. Sure, it’s supposed to be a “joke ritual” born off bad jokes and stereotypes, but it’s a really joyful celebration. We show up in cutoffs and revel in being joyfully tacky. There is no pretense of being more spiritual-than-thou. No one is using 20 dollar words or dead languages. There is no worry about being politically correct or even inclusive, because if you want to be a redneck then you are one. And if you’re a little different, well, hell, I got an aunt with a bedazzled peg leg and a Dolly Parton wig, but she’s good folks and so are you.

Aunt Tootie is stylin'!

Aunt Tootie is stylin’!

I would go as far to say that Redneck Ritual may be closer to English folk rituals than any number of Gardnerians chantin’ nekkid as a jaybird under a yeller moon. Because hobby horses and fool kings have more in common with velvet paintings of Dale Earnhardt and belching contests than titled priests who brook no nonsense. Being the high priestess of a Redneck Ritual is a little like coming in first place at a chitlin’ eatin’ contest: impressive but of dubious honor.

He really thinks I want to go to a party in a chicken house, bless his heart.

He really thinks I would go to a party in a chicken house, bless his heart.

Redneck Ritual is the most egalitarian of rituals. We all know that any hint of hierarchy is bullshit. If somebody wants to organize this shindig and herd folks through it, they ain’t any better or wiser than the rest of us. They’re just less lazy. Most of us are happy to sit in the shade and have us a cold drink while someone else gets the ceremony under way.

Yet once we do get the show on the road everyone is committed. You will never see a bigger group of proud and loud rednecks. There is no irony here. No hipsters. Everyone is very clear about what this ritual is and what their role entails. No one is checking their cell phone. Everyone is engaged and happy. And no one is ashamed.

Typical trouse.

Typical trouse.

You may have grown up in a trouse (a trailer with a house-like addition) livin’ off lima beans, but you ain’t the only one. Banana sammiches on white bread may have been proper nutrition in your house and shoes in the summer may have been purely optional. You probably have a few crazy people in your family and argue about which one of you is the black sheep. Instead of going to the club you may have hung out around a bonfire in your buddies backyard sippin’ beer and staring at the stars. You may have been dirt poor, but then so was everyone else you knew so it didn’t matter. And your trashy family might have kicked you out and disowned you, but, shoot, you sure ain’t the only one that has happened to either.

Sometimes you show up at a ritual (Buddhist, Wiccan, Catholic, etc…) and you feel like you don’t really belong. Maybe it’s the theology, or how proper everyone seems. Maybe you feel out of place, or certain you won’t be welcome if they know who you really are. But at a Redneck Ritual there is no doubt these are your people. You show up wearing tube socks with your Walmart knock-off crocs and feel right at home. There ain’t nothin’ in your past to be ashamed of here. Other people here have bought gas using spare change and sometimes catch themselves singin’ “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” in the shower.

There is a lot of concern about cultural appropriation, but you ain’t got to worry about that here. Rednecks come in every shape, size, color, gender, and ethnic background. Did your Greek grandma try to get you to eat a sheep’s eyeball? Do you explain your crazy Ethiopian uncle by saying he’s “from the bush?” Does your A.M.E. church choir cousin corner people at family reunions to explain why Michael Jackson is the greatest musical genius of the past century? Does your mother make 150 different kinds of tater tot hot dish? Did you grow up in Mastic Beach, Long Island? Well, I ain’t sayin’ you’re a redneck, but you might feel at home up amongst them.

Dang right!

Dang right!

It is true. Redneck Ritual ain’t anything for any festival to be proud to promote. Sagging tube tops, Trailer Trash Barbie, belching contests, and RC Cola with a Moon Pie is not what folks think off when they are looking for a spiritual experience. Yet if you want to see real community, fully engaged participants, and ritual grounded in American culture as-it-is, then Redneck Ritual is worth checking out. We may not have Stonehenge or the Parthenon, but we got oppossums, raccoons, the mighty Mississippi, Leadbelly, and sweet corn.

I don’t think Redneck Ritual is happening this year at PSG (even though I did promise Debby and Zan a pie) but that’s ok, because, as anyone who brought home a giant-ass watermelon knows, there can be too much of a good thing. And it is a good thing and we all need it. Sometimes the bullshit in life can get you down, and it’s good to know you’re not alone. Redneck Ritual is good for the soul, like a Little Debbie fresh out of the wrapper. And until we get to have that down-home communion, well, we got True Blood.

Hail Dale!

Hail Dale!

The Faith Of Life-As-It-Is

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the future, especially as I have made some decisions on instinct that surprised me.

I got an e-mail about a Pagan festival I have loved attending in the past and I registered. I didn’t think about the religious implications or how this would impact my faith journey in the bigger picture. I was just excited about the music and people and being safe and feeling at home.

I bought a bunch of advent books on the cheap in anticipation of Christmas, but instead I watched Hogfather and read The Odyssey.

I am realizing that not having the spiritual answers I need means I have to engage with my faith in life as it is and how it works.  I know some readers will be thinking “Aha! Practice-based! Do what works!” I still find that line of reasoning illogical. My beliefs never seem to change as much as I try to bend them and shape them to conform to the spiritual communities available to me.

But if you have no palpable faith community that shares your beliefs, and for whatever reason you don’t have the ability to reasonably build that community from scratch, then you have to figure out how to craft a meaningful life with what you have. Maybe sometimes that means you embrace a culture that at the very least tolerates you even if it doesn’t include you. Sometimes being simply tolerated is enough.

This isn’t really a dilemma specific to me. We all have moments when realize our life is never going to be what we imagined and hoped for, and so how do we move forward? What if we don’t find a life partner? What if we don’t have children? What if we don’t have a local spiritual community? What if we never have our own home? What if we don’t have family? How do we make a life that has meaning within the means (emotional/social/financial/geographic) that we currently have?

I struggle with that every day. I’m beginning to think it means just trusting my instincts and realizing my faith is big enough to embrace the life I have and the people I love. Practicing what I preach. Being content with part instead of the whole.  Embracing the things that fit within my core values without worrying about their origin. Embracing the people around me without worrying about their expectations of me.

And maybe reminding myself to be brave, and take leaps.

I hope you are loved, seen, and heard.

Coming Back to Life

There is a fat horned moon hanging in a bright sapphire sky tonight. I watched it as I walked home, down slick sidewalks still flecked with melting snow. It’s warm for January. Maybe spring will come early.

I meant to celebrate Noumenia this week but I was sick and dealing with an unusual amount of stress. I desperately need to shut down and enjoy some solitude for a few days but that doesn’t seem likely. I have to find some way to revive myself with the resources I have. I have to come back to life.

Last weekend was my father’s birthday and it was a rough day for me. I was ill and couldn’t mark the day by going to see Selma like I wanted. The other day I attended a memorial service for a friend’s step-father, and with us was a friend who had lost his father a couple of years ago. In the midst of grief I remembered my own grief at my father’s passing. I thought about how long it takes to come back to life when you have been visited by death.

In many ways all religion is about death. It is about how to make the most of what short time we have here on earth. How do we live knowing we will die? And in facing the death of a loved one, how do we continue living?

I am coming back from facing a death of sorts. I’m putting a lot of things to rest. And in this process it amazes me how often we face, process and return from death in our lives. It really is a continual cycle weaving through the length of our lives.

Maybe I missed this Noumenia, but it will circle back around. So will my dad’s birthday. So will illness, grief, and beautiful horned moons in bright sapphire skies.

High Is Low: Autism and Re-Defining Normal

Look at the eyes. Look at the face. Lately I have to keep reminding myself.

When things are good I don’t have to remind myself so much. I look at people. I communicate. It’s easy. I pass for normal for a few hours and then go home and not talk to anyone again until morning.

When things are bad, when I am stressed beyond coping, it is a struggle to look at people. It is a struggle to communicate. If I could live in a world where I never have to speak, but only write, communicating would be so much easier.

Look at the eyes. Look at the face. Clasp your hands in front of you to keep from nervous tics or flapping. Struggle for the words. Be honest. Don’t lose your shit. Be tactful. Don’t try so hard to be “normal” you implode.

You push yourself to do better. To not regress into rocking, or silence, or solitude. You fool people. You even fool yourself sometimes into pushing your boundaries even further.

But then shit gets bad. Despite your efforts you are still a shitty communicator. You feel like you are waving flags, shouting, and blowing horns asking for help but no one takes you seriously. Then, when you reach the edge, people tell you to communicate better and still don’t take you seriously.

So you don’t know how to make things better. You look at all the variable outcomes and you consult all the communication advice and you still can’t get things right. You fuck it up, over and over. People don’t get how someone so smart can be so stupid.

I talk to autistic adults and teenagers, and I read what they write a lot. There is a lot of frustration with “high-functioning autism” because it gives the impression that “high-functioning” means “normal.” Really, it means you are, on a “normal” scale, low-functioning.

Sometimes I think I am doing ok, but in “normal” terms my life is far from a roaring success. Instead of a career I have a series of quirky jobs. My relationships, romantic or platonic, don’t seem to last. My need for solitude in order to recharge doesn’t really leave me much of a social life. I don’t do well in corporate environments, so I end up in quirky occupations that don’t offer much in terms of advancement or benefits and often are high-stress with a lot of social expectations that can be difficult to fulfill. I’ve faced homelessness down 3 times, and spent over a month in a women’s shelter.

If I was “high-functioning” in real-world terms I would have an actual career. I would have a husband. I would have a home. I would have friends to hang out with and family who actually enjoys being around me. I would have children, and I wouldn’t need to be alone so much. I wouldn’t sit in meetings thinking “look at their face, look at their face.” I wouldn’t say things that make people uncomfortable around me. I wouldn’t know that every time I face a dilemma the problem is probably me. I would know when a scrap of kindness is manipulation rather than love. I wouldn’t have to endlessly analyze every single social situation to understand what is happening in my life.

I’m not disabled or incapable. I’m smart, talented, and quite loving when I feel safe. But this high-functioning label often means I am without help, sympathy, or someone who takes me seriously when I need it most.

I like my life right now. I don’t want to change it. But trying to figure out how to reduce stress so I don’t meltdown in public is taking all my energy. I may be “high-functioning” but it certainly seems like “having it all” will never be an option for me.

At The Crossroads: Chief Luisah Teish On Finding Your Spiritual Way Forward

I am far from an expert on Yoruban religion, and so often when exploring a minority faith from a strange culture you simply encounter a lot of lists and terms whle not getting much glimpse of the heart of a faith.

So this video promoting an upcoming series on Baladé Black is a real treat that seems to come straight from the heart of the Yoruban faith. Maybe it is because I feel I have been loitering around the crossroads far too long but I am very excited about watching this series, especially with the Sacred Journeys episode on Yoruban religion having just aired on PBS.

Reassure Me: The Role of Community in Sustaining Belief

This morning I saw the NPR article about former minister Ryan Bell’s year-long experiment with atheism leading to him becoming – wait for it – an atheist. Not terribly surprising.

Your environment supporting the worldview you espouse strengthens your belief. It really is that simple. Belief does not survive alone, without nourishment and encouragement. It has to be nurtured and maintained.

There is a very sweet scene in Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking in which Amanda is leaving for Australia to write the book and her husband asks her to text, to call, to keep in touch and not simply disappear into her work. He says: “Reassure me.”

Jewish and Christian scriptures are full of reassurances: from prophet to people, from author to reader, from God to believer. The hymns and liturgy of the many denominations of Christianity are full of reassurances. Critics often point to this constant stream of reassurances as proof of a foundation of doubt. I think they are right, but is that a negative thing?

In a world full of starvation and war is it no wonder we need reassurance humanity is good? That the things that give us hope are real and worthwhile? Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather puts this need very well:

Other faiths also have a tradition of reassurance:

She is the gracious goddess, who gives the gift of joy unto the heart of man. Upon earth, She gave the knowledge of the spirit eternal; and beyond death, She gives peace and freedom, and reunion with those who have gone before. Nor does She demand sacrifice, for behold, She is the mother of all living, and Her love is poured out upon the earth.

Of course The Charge of the Goddess is influenced by Christian tradition (particularly via Masonry), but here is a reassurance from Homer’s Iliad:

I bring you a message from Zeus, who pities and loves you, although he is far away.

I talk a lot about our relationship with the Divine being a genuine relationship full of give and take. It takes maintenance, love, trust, and support. But it also takes a community. Two people with only each other will have a tough time making a go of it, but with friends and family it is much easier. And just so if you want to maintain a relationship with God it is easier with a community to reassure and support you.

Ryan Bell left one community for another, which was happy to have him. (Atheists exult over their converts as much as the religious.) Naturally after a year of earnestly giving atheism a shot with a community to support him he became an atheist. Sincere seekers with a supportive community have an easier time finding their way. Not every belief or community is the right fit for everyone but a good belief is easily derailed by a bad community.

I’m a human. I need reassurance. I need to know that not only is my belief reciprocated, but that there is a community of believers alongside me. Maybe gods are born of virgins and walk disguised among us, but most often they communicate via the voices of their devotees. We write hymns and poems, we preach sermons and lead rituals. We prophesy, we inspire, we comfort, we reassure.

I am currently in a spiritual no-man’s-land. I need community and don’t know where to find it. I’m not the only one. So I pray the most basic prayer, for myself and for you: Reassure me.