Lughnassah/Lammas 2020

Happy Lughnassah/Lammas Folks. Today we celebrate the harvest, and, by association, the Irish leader and “many skilled one”, Lugh Lamfada. Lugh asked everyone in the community to come together to use their skills to defeat their enemies in the 2nd Battle of Moytura. In the end, he used a spear to pierce the hideous, scorching eye of the monster Balor. If covid was around in the foretime of Ireland, I bet Balor wouldn’t be wearing a mask. Be like Lugh, everyone. Wear a mask, respect science, and know that we are all in this together.

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Watering your Voice

There is nothing pretty about isolation; I feel that even more so these last 5 months. I was already pretty isolated- I have few friends out here aside from colleagues,and ministry in a time of national convulsion and fear (and I believe, hope, if white people in particular can seize it) is not a cake walk.

In times of isolation, then, what else do you do but reboot a blog! I even upgraded my account so that I don’t have any ads on the page, which is highly amusing as I am mostly saving drafts.

So it behooves me, then, to maybe work on watering my voice as I blog. When I was in that sanctuary of learning known as seminary, where I made many mistakes but gained a whole new perspective and knowledge, we were repeatedly urged by the late great Dr. James Cone and others to articulate our voice. Before you engage in a period of studying what others believe, what is your social location, voice, theology? In at least two classes I can remember, I had to hand in a short paper summarizing my theological beliefs at the outset of the course.

The summer out here has been kinda dry so far. I have been an armchair naturalist- though I love the symbolism of nature, and walking through other people’s gardens, my green thumb is not in evidence. The hose had been hard to manage, so I go out and gamble around the yard with my cheap plastic watering can, doing the best I am able. The same approach is true for a voice/words/discernment. You have to spend the time to nurture and water it for it to amount to anything. Water, water, weed, weed.

For the thing about writing a three-page essay, handing it in, and saying “here is my voice” is that it is not a long-term engagement with the world, it is a snapshot in time. And in a world where most people’s voices have gone into the digital world, where voices – and words, and any other kind of expression one may endeavor to create- seem to scroll past at a lightning speed, it seems cultivation and care will be necessary to listen properly and feel confident. And being able to listen- truly listen is key/the first step to rooting out the weeds not just in oneself, but in all one’s relationships and connections.

So right now I am just going to write and see what emerges.

Brightest Blessings,

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Self-affirming and self-reliant

“A healthy six is self-affirming and self-reliant” These are the words that greeted me this morning in my inbox. I subscribe to Enneagram thought of the day- at the recommendation of a facebook group for ministers. The stressors of the pandemic and other shifts and transformations and my life have made this a challenge, indeed. Healthy and self reliant?

The Enneagram is one measure of personality that is popular in career coaching and ministerial circles, because it provides one with a blueprint of the ways you move in the world and how your thinking and knowing may interact with others. But there is another matrix that I am musing on now, particularly in the area of virtue.

Self-reliance is one of the Norse nine virtues. I have come across them in my in my long years of exploration of earth-centered neo-paganism. I am not certain who authored them, but I suspect they are a modern re framing of the sagas and the lore. To remind myself, of them, I even put a print out on the wall.

There might be an overlap between individualism and self-reliance. Individualism taken to extremes is manifesting right now among many many who feel that taking precautions against the COVID-19 is an infringement on their rights. Ignoring responsibilities towards others, including, one imagines, their loved ones. Perhaps, tragically a few of these people who ignore scientific advice for one reason or another then, might, become reliant on our medical system to pull them out of it- both the patchwork US medical insurance system-and yes, its unequal benefits to the poor and to those with marginalized identities-and the human beings trained to ready to deliver care.

A self-reliant person may take their individualism to such an extreme, or they can define self-reliance another way- I will center responsibility in my self-reliance, and I will take as much care as I can to either obtain what is necessary for my survival, thus insuring other’s survival.

The other virtues-courage, truth, honor, discipline, discipline, hospitality, and industriousness-of all these, truth and hospitality have the most to reach us in this imagined scenario. Because they interweave and intersect.

May all be safe, reliant, and industrious, and at the same time, cultivate the virtue of loving interdependence and care for one another.

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Green Light Bill

The Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act currently before the NY state legislature is about safety and dignity. It offers those who are already a part of our community the ability to abide by our laws, not to evade them.  Not only will this bill make our roads safer by licensing and ensuring drivers,  it will also create revenue for NY state. An oft-repeated claim against immigrant communities is that they are lawless- but the evidence is mixed at best on that front, according to the Cato Institute and others. In fact, removing a layer of fear and mistrust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities might increase cooperation when true criminals need to be rooted out. Let us be sensible, pragmatic, and yes, compassionate. Washington cannot seem to sort this out for us.  Our economy and our communities need this bill.

More information about this bill can be found at Green Light NY

Below is some time-critical information, especially if you live in Long Island, from Long Island Jobs with Justice, about how you can press your local senators.

Governor Cuomo has made Green Light a priority for this session, the NYS
Business Council endorsed the bill last week and language that was
objectionable to NYS police departments has been amended. NPR
reported on May 30th that the fate of this bill rests with the six LI
Democratic senators.
Call your Senator on June 7th and urge him/her to support the Green
Light bill:
• Senator Todd Kaminsky: 516-766-8383
• Senator Kevin Thomas: 516-739-1700
• Senator John Brooks: 516-882-0630
• Senator Monica Martinez: 631-360-3356
• Senator Anna Kaplan: 516-746-5924
• Senator Jim Gaughran: 516-922-1811

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The Sun Stands Still


I missed the eclipse this year. I didn’t travel to the  “belt”, I didn’t get the sunglasses, I didn’t do anything but notice an odder shade of shadow accompanying the day-time clouds as I walked from my physical therapy appointment to home.

But now the winter solstice is here. And it reminds me of “standing still”, or more appropriately, of “holding.” I think this year I am going to dispense with emphasizing the candles and the holly and the light and the darkness.

Stuff takes time. Life takes time; life rolls on.  Too often my sense of time is framed by  a series of small, discreet events.  I see the world as leading up to this or that task, and when the task is happening, it is  all but over. The world “stands still” until I complete this goal, whether it be going to the grocery story or graduating from a degree program, for example.

I get a mild case of performance anxiety during moments of public speaking, for example “but it will be all over in just 45 minutes!”

Solstice, for all the emphasis that we put on darkness, light, hope, is not about these alone. After all, the folks in the southern hemisphere are experiencing summer solstice.

The very word “solstice” means the “sun stands still.” More appropriately,  It appears to pause. 

Pause, and listen to the the delicious truth that wanders into that pause.  The sun is incapable of pausing, truly.  But we have choice.

Brightest Blessings, be at peace; drink joy. Pause.






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Front End Premium




It seems that for a long time now, about 80% of snail mail that arrives at my household are direct mail appeals. And the escalating war of the front-end premium has now reached epic proportions.

A front-end premium the classic and most familiar example being return address label stickers –   is anything a charity sends you as enticement to open the package or create a sense of obligation.

Dream catchers, pens, Tibetan prayer-flags, nickels, and calendars. Enough calendars to create a rip in the time-space continuum, it seems.  I like the cute animals a lot-especially baby endangered frogs. Although it seems like a waste of money at times- all this mail, really, in the aggregate, hundreds of thousands of pieces – campaigns are as much about teaching about the organization as they are about  getting donors  in the door and moving them up. Some of them can even be converted into higher levels of giving after they have given their first gift, and occasionally a person who gives a small amount each year can leave a very large bequest.

A creative, very bulky package we received came recently from an organization that supports children. The kit came with Christmas cards and matching envelopes, Christmas stickers, gift tags, and of course a letter and even some ornaments. What struck me  was that in addition to telling the story of the organization, you were encouraged to use the Christmas-y stuff inside to send small gifts to the charity alongside or in place of the gifts you would normally give to people on your holiday gift list.

But It’s been a long time since I worked with direct mail campaigns and transitioned into the life of being a professional minister. The “front-end” premiums I see now reminded me of the myriad of ways we  welcome newcomers to a faith community.

Meeting a faith community is like receiving a good “front-end premium”-  a human-powered gift basket that unfolded for you before you signed the membership book, and continued to give to you for months after.  How did what you received there in the first few weeks or months you attended compete with all the other “offers” for your time? Did you go home with a  nice solid idea of what you would encounter there? Was their follow through, perhaps a gift, perhaps a phone call,  something that reminded you tangibly of how you hoped to heal or grow in that place.

Newsletters- we may receive so much detail –  or maybe there is not enough?

If the human “front end premium”  works-  by this I mean the various ways you were engaged –  you brought your friend to the community (attached your “gift” sticker, and passed on your love and support for the organization) and then realized that your deep well was not only watered by your interactions there, but strengthened your ability to live.

In the end, careful and well-managed “front-end” introductions to the community can go a long way to introduce you.

But is the stickiness of human connection that is the cement.


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A Penny a Pound…

I grew up eating a lot of tomatoes, learning at one point how to can tomatoes, and appreciating the bounty and deliciousness of summer delivered to you from just a few yards away from your doorstep.

But earlier this week, I participated in a march led by the  The Coalition of Immokalee Workers  with members of my home congregation, The Fourth Universalist Society, because it’s astounding to me how long this fight is taking.


This organization of field workers from Florida, and their partner, The Alliance for Fair Food has made great strides in insuring that those people who do the back-breaking labor of getting food to the supply chain from the fields, to growers, to large corporations like Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Subway or Stop & Shop are free from gross exploitation.

The Immokalee workers come from one center of the Florida growing region, known for tomatoes among other crops.

Because domestic workers and farm workers are not covered by labor laws in this country such as those that endure safety and allow for unions, they organized to bring about the “penny a pound” system.  Corporations have signed on pay a penny per pound of the produce they receive to set up a body that independently investigates complaints of abuse – particularly sexual violence against women in the fields and modern-day slavery conditions.

But there is one hold-out corporation – Wendy’s corporation. For several years, Wendy’s has refused to sign on to the Fair Food agreement.; they source their tomatoes from Mexico, and have enacted heir own “code of conduct”

The march started at a Wendy’s restaurant on 45th and Third Avenue, and went several blocks to the offices of Norman Peltz, Chairman of Wendy’s board, on Park Avenue and 49th.

28 members of the Immokalee coalition, came from Florida. including Sylvia Perez and many others, including the youth-children of the workers.

The focus of this march and rally was to highlight women. A traveling exhibit up at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine and Columbia University in the previous week told their stories.

Wave after wave of allegations about sexual assault, harassment, and predation of women has been permeating the news –  largely about the celebrities and politicians.  But the food we eat is also touched by this exploitation and violence against women, who are often harassed in the fields and on the job in fast-food restaurants.

As Ruth Messenger, former New York City democratic politician and current president of the American Jewish World Service, the food of Wendy’s tastes like injustice to us.

Why put it in our bodies?


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Ode to the Mets, losing again



When the daffodils  return to Queens

We will be back,

To listen once more for the “twack”

of home runs thrilling the night,

And our mighty heroes: Thor, and DeGrom, Cespedes and Wright

And Mr. Met will stoke the cheers as everyone buys beer

from vendors with buttons displaying calorie counts (thanks, Bloomberg)

Wait till next year,  Wait till next year- for isn’t it true,

oh Orange and Blue?

For although another loss makes us cranky,

We will never, ever,  be Yankees!



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Turning the Wheel

The Year Turns, and the night draws its cloak closer and wider around us. Harvest is still possible and it is within Life’s capacity to give us  sustenance as we honor those labor to bring from Her.  The Wheel turns, and though the dead are mourned, healing is still possible, and with it Life’s capacity to cast off, even in death, the seeds of a new beginning that will slumber until Spring. The Wheel turns, and in our souls, let us examine who we are and where we want to be, where we have missed the mark, where we have flourished. Remember that is a shared turning- not a road for us alone; our table, full or empty- we share with countless others,  living and dead, seen and unseen. The Wheel Turns- may your Winter be blessed.

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The Ecosystem of Gun Violence

A virus attaches itself to an animal. It can replicate quickly, or it can lie dormant. It does not present as a killer until the symptoms of the illness it transmits are seen, and even then, the carrier of the virus is under no obligation to seek treatment even if the  animal has the consciousness or the means to do so. As a result, many may die from spreading infection.

Twenty inches of rain fall. A river swells and breaches its banks, drowning the surrounding houses, destroying lives.

An “act of nature.”

This is the destruction we ascribe to “natural” causes.

But what about human nature? What about human “animals”?

Of all the ways in which people die in this country, very few have become as controversial and divisive as gun violence, particularly gun violence by rampage killers such as the one who opened fire at Umpqua Community College two weeks ago and killed ten people, injuring nine.

Do we need gun control- universal background checks, am emphasis on gun safety, a ban on assault weapons? Or do we need to focus more on access to mental health care? The arguments usually fall into either one camp or one another.

Image by Maria Maarbes, courtesy of Shutterstock.

Image by Maria Maarbes, courtesy of Shutterstock.

We know that for all of those who die because of high profile mass shootings- whether those that are motivated by the racial hatred — as in Charleston, South Carolina this summer– or by other causes, there are countless more that are murdered because of other crimes, and because of the realities of violence born from poverty and oppression.

In his press conference, Obama urged news agencies to compare for themselves how many Americans have died from terrorism, and how many from gun violence in the past ten years.  CNN reported that the disparity is  a staggering one. One  American is killed by terrorism for every one thousand killed by gun violence. And yet, no substantive changes in legislation.

What is embedded in our cultural ecosystem that makes mass shootings  so commonplace? Why must the cycle of hurt, pain, and tragedy continue, inflicting unimaginable sorrow on those affected?

In many parts of the country, including, apparently, in Roseburg Oregon in which the shooting took place, hunting culture predominates, and guns for that purpose are a way of life. This is not something that can be swept aside or merely heaped with scorn. Hunting, too, is a part of human history, can be done in a sustainable way and, most importantly,  will not soon drift away.

On CNN when Bradley Cooper interviewed a couple whose daughter had been injured in the event, asking what they would say if President Obama spoke to them, they seemed to indicated that given the chance they would tell him that problem is not with guns, its mental health care. For them, The carrier of the “illness”, the mental health of the shooter, is at the root of the problem.

Mental health systems are often inadequate in our country. They are geared towards stopping people when they are about to harm themselves or others and often less successful in abating the slow deterioration of spirit and soul that leads up to the point of violence. Stigma, an inadequate number of doctors and counselors, and many other factors still affect mental health care despite some advances in health insurance parity.

In the argument about the nature of violence and rampage killings in the United States, there are no binary explanations. It is not an “either/or” but a “both, and.  The gun lobby is not the sole cause, and to be sure, millions of people who may be lumped into the category of “mentally ill” never result to violence on a grand scale.

Acts of violence are not separated emotionally and psychically by distance, either. If it happens in another state or even two neighborhoods away, we are all still damaged, we are all affected.  Our prayers may turn in that direction for a time, and but then get distracted by other events.  The rising toxin of violence still spreads over the landscape.

I was reminded recently of a famous report about the impact of the reintroduction of wolves back into Yellowstone Park. When a small wolf pack was reintroduced into the park in 1995, nearly seventy years after being wiped out, a series of changes occurred in the ecosystem. A cascading series of effects occurred. Grass returned to certain valleys in the park because the deer population were now forced to alter their habits. This in turn led to more trees and changes in the amounts of smaller species, like rabbits and foxes, which in term brought more bald eagles back, and beavers, which ultimately even affected the way rivers ran into the park.

In the end, the interdependence of life in the Yellowstone meant that everything was connected. All aspects of living, dying and surviving are interdependent.

Similarly, in the culture we create- the social culture– we need to understand that there are no binaries. There are no either/ors. There is only a chance to act.

We need common sense gun control, to prevent humans from hunting one another unnecessarily. And we need to rethink mental health systems, and remove  stigma so that those who are prone to violence can get the help they need.  Everything is interconnected.

Unlike many biological pathogens, and unlike many violent storms driven by nature, the means to stop this mass killer are directly within our grasp. May the Goddess grant us the compassion, wisdom, and will to find and use them quickly.

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