The Crucible of Change

There are times that you need to clear away things in your Life, so that new growth can take place. Old hobbies that no longer interest you, clothes that no longer fit or cannot be repaired, and even entire parts of one’s past. A crucible is a ceramic or metal container where substances can be melted down or subjected to very high temperatures. This is sometimes done to burn away everything except the base metal itself. However, in this case, I am using the definition that a crucible is “a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.” (Dictionary.com)

The Crucible of Change
10/6/2020

Looking back at the past
Burning bright in the distance
This had to be done
To be able to go forward

Not all is gone though
Some pieces of the past endure
The fires of destruction
The crucible of change

Those pieces are malleable
Able to evolve with a new focus, a new dream
Remaining as true as they were
When they started along on this Path

There is no sadness at the flames
No regrets to this complete reduction
This choice is the Path I am to walk
With these people whom I chosen as family

For  the new to grow joyfully and properly
The way must be cleared
For growth will require new soil, new life
For the roots to be true and deep

The Universe set all of this before you
You made the choice that you have
You stepped off into the void
Knowing the dragon would catch you

As it always will be, as it always shall be

Changes. The Step to Take. Trust.

Lots of changes come into our lives. Some are easy to handle. Others are a lot more complicated and can be somewhat uncomfortable. Sometimes that uncomfortable nature can force us to run from things or people we need to have in our lives. Running from change only prolongs what will happen. Embrace that change, find ways to be at peace with what is going on and you may find a far more harmonious and breathtakingly wonderful life ahead for you. Not every change is bad, but every change is inevitable. Its about growth. Sometimes to grow, you have to release what you leave behind.

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. –Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell

Changes. The Step to Take. Trust.

He stepped out of the truck
To find himself in front of her house
She burst from the front door
Running towards him at full pace

She tackled him with the force of a linebacker
That first touch, they both knew
This was meant to be throughout Time
That first kiss was the absolute clincher

Later, she beckoned him to live their lives together
For they both knew the destiny that was involved
But he had never felt these strong emotions before
He became frightened of his feelings and could not do as she asked

She pleaded with him to rethink his denial
They were meant to be together, he knew that too
When he still remained frightened of his feelings
She parted with him, broken-hearted

The years went by and their lives continued apart
But they both would look in on one another
The longing to just hear the other’s voice was too strong
Two souls connected forever so long ago

In and out they weaved within each other
Continuing to form the intricate knot that they had started
Binding to one another as no one else could
In a manner that she knew all along

After so many years apart, she asked him one last time
Could he commit to what they should have had long ago
She announced her feelings for him were still there
And he finally admitted his were still there too

He continued to hold off the idea of commitment
Seeking the “perfect moment” to go forward
Soon he realized that there was no “perfect moment”
They needed to move forward together

The three card spread provide the final assessment for his change
Two of Wands (Reversed), The Tower, Queen of Cauldrons
To move forward meant the destruction of all he had known
Taking a step off the walls of the castle into thin air

Don’t be afraid when everything seemingly falls into place
Take that step from the high walls
The Dragon will be there to catch you
She certainly will be, of that all is certain, for She is never wrong

Troubleshooting Change on a Personal Spiritual Path

Like many people, I am a creature of habit. What I have found is that simple routines keep me focused, while a world of chaotic everything gets me unhinged and away from my purpose. I have a tough time staying on-task when my daily routines get altered. Most people who read me here on the blog and over on Facebook, have been somewhat aware of my routines. In fact, if you read me over on Facebook, you can see one of my daily routines. Typically, every morning, I’ll post what amounts to a “good morning” status. I’m almost certain that the post irritates the shit out of a lot of people, since it doesn’t get a lot of likes or comments. So I post it to irritate people? No, not at all. Essentially its a small greeting to whoever wants to read, along with my thoughts about what I am doing across the course of the day. For me, its just a way saying hello to the day and whoever wants to listen. After all, Facebook is a community and part of that means developing relationships with others.

However, I don’t always get the chance to do this simple thing. Usually its because I have to start my day with my feet hitting the floor running. Sometimes its because I don’t feel well enough to roll out of bed. Sometimes its something else.

There is a lot to my morning routine. Get up. Test my blood sugars. Take my medications, including two shots. Make my breakfast. Make a cup of coffee. Post the Facebook post. Go outside – weather permitting – and greet the Sun on its upward trajectory towards turning Texas into an industrial-strength Easy-Bake oven. If I can handle all of that to start a morning, its been a good start to the day.

Another part of my daily routine has been getting exercise, typically in the form of morning walk. However since moving from north of the Dallas area to south of the Dallas area – I have to find a walking course through the neighborhood that is to my liking. Paving of the roads here is even worse than it was in Mississippi a few years back. Roads with pot-holes are not only dangerous to drivers, but also to walkers who are forced to walk in the roads because of no sidewalks. On such uneven and broken pavement, I am always in fear of turning my ankle with one small misstep. Add to all of that the issue of COVID-19, and I spend much of my time indoors to avoid contact with others. I have a Peleton bike that I can ride; however, riding an indoor, stationary bike in lieu of walking has proven to be a bit more difficult to maintain a daily regimen of.

So, what happens when daily routines like these get interrupted or do not even happen? Well, it doesn’t seem like much but it does have effects on me throughout the course of the day. Missing parts of my morning routine can throw me off the feelings of being balanced. For an individual who seemingly is the epitome of a Libra (or so I have been told), it can bring out some of the worst traits of a Libra. I can run into issues of feeling confused, having issues with making decisions, feeling completely over-run by even the smallest of tasks. A fairly structured morning start is the key towards allowing me to reach unstructured tasks and plans. If I am not feeling that balance, the more unstructured parts of my life will look like I am trying to wipe spilled milk off the floor with a completely soaked sponge. As another example, those of you who read the blog have noticed that more than a few times with blog posts. My writing tends to get unfocused and jumbled. In relation to the heavy alterations to my workouts, a new area and COVID-19 have contributed to me finding nearly any excuse to not do anything. The result? A fifteen pound weight gain over three and a half months. The fact that I find calm, peace and structure in making food does not help either. I make the food because it provides the routine my mind is seeking. I make the food, I eat the food.

Bruce Dickinson’s “Tears of the Dragon” is a song about how all of this can contribute to being (quoting Bruce): “Shit scared of change.”

I heard one of you thinking the comment: How does someone whose Spiritual practice hinges on extemporaneous ritual have issues with working in unstructured environments? This is an excellent question. One of the things that I really stress about improvisation within ritual is that you learn the basics completely before you start changing things around or altering the process or elements of a ritual framework to suit your own needs. In the post, Improvising in Ritual? Learn the Basics First…Trust Me, I talk about the need for learning the basics first. Much like a guitar player, before you can learn to solo, you have to learn chord structure that allows you to feel the rhythm of a song. The same holds true in ritual. Learn the basic elements, learn the whys of this or that within the ritual and then you can branch out and try to give the ritual more meaning to you or provide a stronger connection between you and the God you are working with. When working something new, realize that your effort will have you failing more often than succeeding at first. That can be discouraging. Don’t be completely discouraged. Realize that you also succeeding in knowing something that does not work. That information is just as helpful. In the meantime, back to the point at hand.

How can I be so easy to embrace improvisation and yet have difficulty altering something far simpler, such as a daily routine? Well, the best point that I can surmise is that my daily routine is a foundational part of who I am. Ritual is not. That’s right. Ritual is not a foundational part of who I am. Ritual helps me to provide a more in-depth aspect to who I am. My daily routine is the primary foundational piece of who I am. Everything about who I am is built upon that. When that foundation shifts, it affects everything that is built on top of it. Not sure it makes much sense to anyone else, but it is where I am at.

The US military taught me the idea of being as flexible as possible when things go wrong. After the move down here, I have done my best to be as flexible as I can with many of the small changes that get thrown my way. But learning to be flexible and being flexible are sometimes far different experiences. The key, I have found, is not being overly harsh on myself. Yes, there are experiences to be had from every success and failure, but taking the time to seek knowledge from those experiences is of primary importance to being able to alter my own perceptions of the environment that I live in. As one of my Sergeants told me when I was learning about how the UniSys 1100/60 mainframe operated: “Fixing this beast means taking things one step at a time. First find the problem. Then see where it is not operating properly. The rest is about experimentation until you find a solution. And you move far slower than a step at a time there. Understand the system and its peripheral devices and how they work together. Once you get that down, you will be able to start using unconventional techniques to making things work. First the basics, then the experiments. That is the art of Troubleshooting.” I figure that I have learned quite well from that theorem of thought. I have been utilizing it over a thirty-four year career inside Information Technology and Systems. Plus, its worked for me over thirty-two years of a Spiritual path withing Paganism. Its definitely worked for me. It might not work for you, but what does it hurt to try first?

Thinking About: Winds of Change

So. Folks are rioting over the deaths of various folks at the hands of brutal police tactics. They are aggressive in their protests. They are destroying property. And a lot of folks that are fairly well off are wringing their hands over all of it with worry on their minds.

But here’s the thing, when someone feels that they are not being listened to, feels that they are not being treated fairly or equally…the last recourse that they feel they have is to react in a manner like this. Its an understandable reaction and a natural recourse to where these folks feel they are in today’s society.

Is it the end of America? The beginning of the destruction of what is America? Hardly. This is a marker of a need for change. Our society still lives around the idea that a corporate product is more important than the wage workers that support its creation and sale. Currently, many of those wage workers have been sent packing from their jobs because of this COVID-19 pandemic. Its not the livelihoods of the corporate elite that are in danger here. These wage workers are in danger of losing their housing. With no job and no associated health-care, these are perilous times for these folks. There’s a need for change….and this has nothing to do with politics. This is not about pulling down and putting away historical remembrances of the US Civil War. This is bigger than all of that, and far more meaningful.

This is about societal change. Where we start caring about one another…and stop the soul-less concept of just looking out for number one. We are at a cross-roads for our futures. What we decide to do at this point will reverberate throughout our Past, Present and Future.

Now, you can look back through the posts here on the blog – you’ll find I don’t say much about stuff like this at all. That’s because I don’t write this blog to influence who you do or do not vote for. Nor do I write this blog to chide you over whatever other choices you do or do not. I sincerely believe in your ability to choose for yourself. And I sincerely believe in the ability of human beings to do the right things on their own. This blog is not about celebrating that or being some kind of instruction manual for how to live one’s life. I have no desire to be that person.

What I do hope that comes across in the blog, is that my own perception of other people comes from their actions – not from their skin color, hair color, eye color, height, weight, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever else you can come up with. I try very hard to live my life not judging people on the way that they look, but rather on the actions (or non-actions) that they take in their lives. Because this is the way I HOPE the rest of the world can start to act in this same manner. And yes, I am aware that I am a single individual, and that my influence is limited to those that will read this blog. But I am reminded of a quote from the Dalai Lama

Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.

My reach may not be very far, but I hope that it affects change in someone else, who can be the next pebble dropped into water – thus increase the reach of this idea – and so on, and so forth. The Gods know, I am far from being perfect. I have my own personal prejudices that I fight on a daily basis….but I do fight. I do my best to affect change within myself. And that is really all I am in control of. My fight is a constant internal struggle, and not seen by very many. I can only hope that others can see my struggle and desire to change, and seek that in themselves as well.

One last thing, let’s remember that people are not born as racists. Its a taught thing. Most of us that acknowledge our own struggles with racist concepts in our lives – no matter what skin pigmentation you have – learned that behavior from others. I know I did. And I am not holding my parents as members of the Klan or something. But they did occasionally comment about how I was supposed to be better than others simply because of my skin color. Over time in their lives – both of my parents have passed away a while back – they came to understand a little better that skin pigmentation meant nothing. Its the internal will and desire of the individual that causes them to succeed and none of that will and desire comes out of skin color. It comes solely from inside the individual. It took them a long time to accept that and change, but they did change. Their desire was to be better grand-parents than they were parents – and I like to think that they succeeded at that. Others can change too. Maybe not as fast as you want them to, but they can change. With some patience, love, and understanding.

Where we stand now, with escalating violence in these protests, the burning of buildings, the constant barrage of “burn this mother-fucker down” — the effect of getting people to listen… Its been achieved. People are listening. The news coverage is there. Its time to talk openly about what is needed. The changes that must be put into effect. How brutal police tactics need to come to a halt. Changing laws so that police officers can be held accountable in a court of a law. Breaking the barriers that provide the unseen privileges that whites like myself enjoy without even the barest knowledge of it existing. Now is the time to talk. Now is the time to make the demands. Now is the time to make those changes happen. I can only hope that some folks that everyone can listen to say something, and start moving towards effecting these changes.

By the way. I said this was not about politics. Its not. But politics may need to be utilized as a form of leverage to get there. To be openly honest, I don’t believe that either the Republican or Democratic candidates are the people poised to make those necessary changes – much less even listen. And no, I don’t believe that Mr. Sanders would have been the right person either. Mr. Obama was the right catalyst to start the conversation to make those changes. America is going to need another forward-thinking President that can create inclusion to help get over this hump. Who that individual is – I have no fucking clue. I just know that individual did not run for President of the United States in this cycle.

We aren’t looking at a change of “Empire” or the crumbling of America as it stands. In my eyes, that’s not what the Storm is all about. We are; however, looking at a strong societal change coming down the streets of this country. In fact, I can see a lot of this same change starting to well-up in the streets around the world. We have to change our mindsets from getting whatever we can for ourselves and our chosen tribes – and fuck everyone else. We are hearing people’s anger over being treated differently than others. The laws of our various countries are meant to be applied equally across the board – not at differing levels according to your skin color or the amount of money you make. In the workplace, there is enough monetary wealth to insure that workers in your companies have more than adequate health-care, the means to do more than survive from paycheck to paycheck, and for facilities for the appropriate and loving care of their young children. We have the monetary means to insure that our education systems are more than government run babysitting facilities. But to get there…..we have to find a way to get people to stop being consumed by greed, and that is a steep hill to traverse. Not impossible, but extremely difficult. We, as a species are better than this. I have faith that we can accomplish this, but no mistake – it will require changing a lot of mindsets. And I sincerely doubt its going to happen in my lifetime or the lifetime of my child, or even his children. But I do have hope that it will happen. It will be a long, tiring road. We need to vow to be there for each other, and even for those who think differently than we do. Showing them that we live and love the way we think – that’s what will change minds.

#TwoQuid

–T /|\

Talking About: Going Through Changes

A while back, I wrote a post about being a “helicopter Elder” and how this was definitely something I didn’t want to be involved within. The younger generation of Pagans is moving into positions of leadership throughout the various Pagan communities and traditions, and they bring a lot of expectations of what they can do for the way Paganism currently is, or at least the corner of that they inhabit. And a lot of that desire for change, that desire to place their stamp on Paganism as they see it, is likely to ruffle the feathers of a lot of older Pagans. That’s the shorter arch of the plot, but the longer one is whether the various traditions – and even Paganism itself – will survive the potential sea-change that is coming.

Recently, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship – otherwise known as ADF, went through an issue related to the actions of their tradition’s founder. I’m not going to cover the issue in its entirety, if you are looking for all of that, a Google search will provide all the reward for your efforts. The previous actions of Isaac Bonewits, in regard to under-age individuals, was seemingly brushed over in the past. Sort of like an “Isaac being Isaac” type of statement. However, now, after his passing and in the age of the #MeToo movement, there was a lot of backlash over these previous actions. How would ADF deal with this? Well, it took time, as well as the resignation of a few folks from ADF, but the Mother Grove repudiated (rightly so) the actions of their founder, and removed his status as a venerated ancestor – effectively putting the tradition in the awkward spot of moving forward without a piece of its foundation. But that begins to beg another question, is there a future for a Tradition without its founding member(s)?

Moving Forward Without the Past

So, let’s set the ADF off to the side at this point. They provide an example of what will be happening throughout Paganism in many Traditions and frameworks. How does one move into the future when the Past does not seem to translate well or correctly into a constantly changing social paradigm? Well, sometimes the aspects of the Past do not translate well going into the future. Newer generations will look to the manner in which to alter or change aspects of a Tradition to meet what they will need. Certainly, this can be done without firing the Past into the fire to burn into ash, but the new will alter the Present for the Future.

For instance, going back to the ADF as an example: repudiating their founding member does not change what ADF is today. Nor does it remove the strong basis that the ADF built, not just on Isaac’s work but the work of countless and thankless others. In fact, if you look at the current members – even those who have decided to leave – what ADF is today is the product of their hard work, dedication, sweat, tears, love, fears, and bravery. Certainly, an aspect of their foundation is having to be chipped away because of the unethical behavior of their founder, but there is more to the basis than just his name. A de-emphasis in Isaac will be necessary going forward, and a re-emphasis on what the members as a collective group have accomplished to this point and into the future will be needed. Honestly, that is for ADF to decide – I am not a member. Just a friend to many members of the Order.

Change Will Be Necessary to Grow

I remember very well what I was like when I first set foot into my Pagan Path. I had dreams of good activity. Where my Path was about upholding what was great about my new Path when compared to the excesses and hypocrisy of Christianity. Ah, the “fluffy-bunny” days. So idealistic. However, as I progressed on my Path, so did my expectations and understanding of what I was experiencing within Paganism. As I grew, my Spiritual Path changed. I learned to work with the Dark aspects of life. I learned that the “love and light” perspective was only one of many. I was burned by others who were hypocritical, untrue, and even predatory with their own Paths. I found that Paganism was no different than Christianity or any other Spiritual Path. For me to become the Pagan that I am today, I needed to alter and change my Path – not only to my own understanding, but also to the manner in which Society around me changed as well. if I was to grow, I had to change.

A glass of whiskey for the Spirits of Ancestor and two coins for the Boatman

Paganism is going to go through this as well. The younger generations that are stepping into the roles of leadership, even the lower level aspects of leadership, will help place their own understanding and experiences into what they do. They may change the approach to public rituals, altering ritual structures to accommodate what they feel works. And honestly, I will likely disagree with them, as may many others who have been in the leadership roles of Paganism over the years. But many of us may be set in our ways of how to do things, having done these for so many years. Sooner or later, we will realize that we need to step aside, and let those with energy, youth, and – yes – new ideas come to the forefront. Paganism will change going into the future. As will Wiccan, Druidry, and other Traditions, as each evolves into whatever the future social environments will provide and require.

When groups, like the ADF currently, go through troubling issues, there is a tendency to thank one’s lucky stars that you are not a part of their system. After all, their issues just give Druidry and Paganism a black-eye, right? We should avoid these folks at all costs. Because if Isaac did it, the rest of ADF is the same way, right? Well, some folks can think like that, but not me. I may be of a different Druid order, I may be a different kind of Pagan, I may be a different type of Priest, but I still grieve with them over such an issue. My compassion for the members of the ADF doesn’t stop at the border of my own Druid Order or at the borders of how I approach my Paganism. My compassion is there for them. I want to see their Order succeed from this ordeal (and others that are also being addressed within the Order). Because I don’t see them as competition, I see them as human beings – working their way through this Life by finding the Spiritual methodologies that translate best to what they are trying to do. And I really just want the best for them; however, they may find it. I would say the same for any group of Christians going through the same thing – even if they wished ill to me. Its not for me to say how people walk their own Paths. Nor is it for me to try and keep the future generations of Pagans from altering aspects of today’s Paganism for their future.

Will ADF survive? I believe so. It will still take time, a lot of discussion, debate, argument, tears, shouting, hugging, and mutual respect/love. However, I am confident that the organization will get there, once common ground is achieved. The process will be painful. As a friend to many of the members, I am always available for hugs, support and a shoulder to cry into. I have no solutions for them, I am not a part of their Order, but I certainly have compassion for the growth and change they are going through.

Will Paganism survive? Of course it will. Some of the changes that may occur will not always be to my liking. However, the Paganism that I will eventually leave behind at my passing will be what worked for me. Others may take up what I have done, alter it for their means. When they are finished with the alterations, I would probably not recognize it. But then, its a Paganism for them, not for me. I’ll be happy being a foundational part (or not, as the case might be) of what they do.

A Measure of Public Self-Accountability

So I am back from that whirlwind retreat-convention-convention trip that has been the last eleven days. The beginning was Imbolc retreat, in the middle was a professional conference, and the end was Pantheacon. At each one, I managed to find a few more elements to add to who I was, as well as develop even more questions about who I am, where I am going, and – as Kristoffer Hughes states – inspire myself. To finish that particular quote – “…because how the fuck can you expect to inspire others if you cannot inspire yourself?”

Indeed. Getting the opportunity to be around so many creative and talented people at each point, there was a lot to be inspired by. And best for me, this has developed into several exciting short-term goals, as well as a few super-long-term goals – in my mundane life, my professional, and even in my magickal life. I am not fond of compartmentalizing aspects of my life, and while I can combine some aspects of each one into various projects and moments, such as using magickal techniques to help visualize data models – to keep things separate is sometimes a necessary component of keeping my sanity. I mean, think about how bad things could get if I started scrawling Cabalistic symbology around the edges of my whiteboard while diagramming an extensive data model? Right?? Or if I started using hardcore statistical inference when trying to get ready for some magickal rite. I could take an informal survey of the various Spirits that I encounter during the ritual, and utilize non-parametric techniques to determine the statistical relevance of the responses, Naw, it is far better to keep those things apart from one another. For my sanity, and for the sake of not opening a portal to another dimension.

Goals; however, are good things to have. A few years back, on the advice of John Beckett and a few others, I started writing a daily journal. That journal now spans seven full Composition notebooks, with an eighth currently in progress. In those journals are everything I encounter, everything I perceive, and everything I dream of over the course of each day. Some entries are several pages in length. A few of the entries are three to five sentences. But these document my goals, the things I want to accomplish in my life, and how well I do (and sometimes do not) manage to reach that goal. Every once in a while, I pick up one of these journals and read where I have been, and create an entry comparing that day with today. For me, that is extremely important because I can chronicle the changes that I see utilizing how I felt in the past as a contrast.

For a long while, I lived a not-so regimented life. I floated wherever I wanted to; I did whatever came to mind, and to be honest, I wasn’t precisely the most reliable friend to have in the bunch. A lot of that was me being completely rebellious to the uber-structured life I lived for eight years in the United States Air Force. Everything was scheduled, had a step-by-step process, and if there was not a manual for it – they would make one. There was even a manual for how to take a shit. No, I’m kidding. But it sure felt like there was one. But that rebellion made me a very chaotic person, and I am still living down aspects of all of that. Plus, I also still find pieces of that in my current life, even though I try to be a bit more structured, and a touch more regimented in how I approach my daily Life. This includes my magickal and Spiritual Life.

See, for me, everything gets tied to ritual, which can be a fairly structured process. I like off-the-cuff ritual formats, but when you work with others – that stuff just does not work well. Well, usually. If you have a group of folks that you just “fit” with – off-the-cuff stuff can become some really special magick. But you just don’t walk down the street and bump into these folks at the subway stairs. Ritual with structure is important. Important for the how, important for the when, important for the why. And if you discard all of that stuff, and try to handle ritual as an off-the-cuff, impromptu New Orleans funeral, what many might refer to as a “Jazz funeral“. That stuff might coalesce with your chosen Gods, but I find that a structured basic format is more comfortable for working magick, as well as putting other practitioners in the ritual at ease. For my personal, solo stuff…jazz hands it is! But there is an appropriate time and place for that. A structure is definitely necessary for public ritual or ritual within a group, from my experience.

The same goes true for the professional life. We use a ticketing system to keep track of data requests and work completed by the Data Analysts in my group. Without that ticketing system, a data request can fall through the cracks, and wind up not being delivered to an internal or external customer that has need of the information. With just a touch of structure, we can ensure that things do not get missed. Provided that people use the system properly.

My journals serve a very similar purpose. Not only is this an issue of finding reliability with continued, measurable action, at the end of the day, I use my time with pen and paper or keyboard and fingers to provide a moment of self-accountability. I can write whatever I want. Shit, I can even lie to myself if I wanted to. But rather than play personal mind games with the journal – I choose to be frank, brutal and honest in what I write. I do beat myself up quite a bit because of one error or misstep here or there. But I also spend time writing about the things I did right, or even the things I learned. After all, this is why I write in my journal in the first place. It serves the purpose of essentially being the little reminder to my brain of what went right, what wrong, and why I think things wound up in the manner that they did.

Over the next few blog posts, I am going to explore a few things – who I see myself as, my relationship with the Gods, and why I find myself staring down a particular Path that I am totally unsure of. As I noted in a previous blog – Life continually changes. It is not how it changes that provides the measure of context and quality for me, but rather how I approach, handle and incorporate each change. And in some ways, some of these changes are about to place my feet on an old, and familiar Path….with different shoes on my feet, so to speak. And for this, I would like to document it openly…for whoever would like to read. Call it a measure of public self-accountability, if you like.

 

Before We Make Changes, We Need to Change

If we hope to turn for help to Native American people, we have to understand that we have always been guests in their house. For a long time, we forgot that or we denied it. But, finally, we’re beginning to realize what that means. Now, we all find ourselves standing in the middle of a battle over our relationship with the earth—and whether we can even survive on the planet. We know this because, over and over again, the earth is slapping us in the face. And, at last—after centuries of demonizing and destroying native peoples—we realize that we need their wisdom to help save us all. The genius of native peoples is that they know how to walk humbly on the earth. But the question is: Can we humble ourselves and listen to them?  -Kent Nerburn

I find this quote rather interesting…at least for my mind. Not so much from a perspective of trying to save the planet, as Nerburn is noting here. Rather, for how Nerburn points to a way of utilizing the ways, thinking, and to a large extent the relationship that First Nations peoples have with their environment.

At times, thoughts of how that might be useful seem at odds with the typical outward look at life on the various reservations. Back during my trip to Glacier National Park, I drove through the middle of Pine Ridge reservation – and right through the start of a protest just across the border (literally) in Whiteclay, Nebraska by First Nations peoples from Pine Ridge. The living style that you could easily see from the highway was one of abject poverty. In some instances, which I found out to be true, it seemed that some of the homes didn’t have a front door, but rather just a screen door. I knew winters could be bad with high snow drifts, and found out that in most instances, the screen doors are replaced with another door from within the home. The screen doors are in place during the Summers because the homes have no air-conditioning, except for an occasional window unit which would cool specific rooms.

So how would these people who seemingly couldn’t find their way out of poverty enough know a better way to live closer to our Mother Earth? Single-wide trailer homes that looked to be from the 1970s, surrounded on all sides with detritus that made you wonder if Fred Sanford lived here….how could these people know about a way to find a better relationship with our planet? Its not because of the way some of these folks live. Its not because some of these folks are trapped in a never-ending cycle of alcoholism and dependency. These are some of the First Nations people, but these are not all of them. These are the ones that the public eyes of the over-bearing white society see – and the image that is used to repress these First Nations people. An image used to “keep them in their place”, if you will. But dig deeper. Dig beyond this stereotype, and you will find people who cherish their families, help their neighbors, understand the true concept of “tribe”, and have a strong Spirituality that is connected directly with their environment.

Mother Earth, Father Sky. Bear. Coyote. Fox. Crow. Eagle. Buffalo-woman. Their myths and stories showcase deep connections with the Earth, with the rhythms of the seasons. If you look closely enough, you will find deep, grooved parallels between this and other beliefs around the world. The cycle of the Seasons are there. The reverence to the Gods and Goddesses are there. Deference to the Spirits of Place. Respect and Honor to one’s Ancestors. Its all there. Letting all of that become deeply ingrained into who you are, why you are, and how you are…it can be there as well. With time, patience, and practice.

But we, the mainstream society, have left that behind. Our gods have become those of Fashion, Consumerism, Hero-worship of celebrities, and politics. And all of that is not centered around our environment, but rather around money. If we were to ask the Gods what happened, we might hear the answer of “you forgot where you came from, and how you were placed within the world.” Human beings have a place within the complicated web of relationships we have with everything here. But when we forget how we are a part of everything, and place everything beneath us; see the world as a resource placed here for us to use – we run the risk of losing that balance, and finding ourselves at odds with our planet.

What is Climate Change? My perspective of that is that its our planet trying to bring back into balance. In essence, our existence – the overuse of planetary resources, our inability to dispose of our waste in a manner that continues to find balance with our environment, our over-population of areas that forces wildlife to migrate to other areas and adapt to new environs….all of that destabilizes our planet’s delicate balance and intricate web of relationships with everything. And our planet responds. Because we refuse to accept our place within that balance.

Nerburn is right. For us to achieve what we need to, to try and relocate that delicate balance; we – as a collective society – will need to reach back into our human past, and reconnect with our environment. And in my nos-o-humble opinion, we will need to reconnect with our collective Spirituality. We all connect to the Gods and Goddesses in unique ways, each of us forming a unique bond with Those that call to us. If we are going to find a way to achieve balance, to find respect for other aspects of this delicate balance – we will need to achieve a similar bond among ourselves.

…and to be honest, with our current societal setup, I don’t see that happening. And it just so desperately needs to.

 

Change is Inevitable

Its always been done this way. It worked for Joe Schmo back in 1872, it should be just as relevant for us today, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Do we cast our circles with this certain element in that particular cardinal direction, or can we change things up? Is it set in stone that this is the way that ritual has to be done, or can we alter things without angering the Gods and Goddesses? Essentially, it comes down to tradition versus experimentation. Or if you prefer, structure versus free-form. And I sit somewhere in the middle of this entire conversation. Because, in the end, its not a debate. Its a matter of personal preference.

There are elements and appointments that are ascribed into the very stone of our ritual souls. Water goes here, Fire goes here, Air goes here, Earth goes here, Spirit goes here. Rarely is there an element of argument as to “why”, and even more rare is the question of “what if we change it up by putting Air over there instead?” And nearly every traditionalist I know is gasping for breathe. Well, possibly. But it does begin to beg the question of whether change can be a good thing or not.

Major League Baseball is going through some of this right now. Changes to the rules concerning how intentional walks are conducted, where a pitcher must throw four pitches outside of the strike zone. Now, the change decrees that a pitcher merely has to point at first base and the batter automatically goes there. No pitches thrown. All done to “speed up” the game. Instant replay has made it to baseball. Certain types of plays can be challenged by the manager. Previously, the manager could challenge the play all the way to the next pitch that was thrown. Now, managers have thirty seconds to make the same challenge. And there is an unlimited number of challenges that can be over the course of the game. Ironically, this one aspect has lengthened the time of the games, nullifying the no-pitch walk. Now, there is talk of removing the Wins/Losses statistic from a pitcher’s accumulated statistics. Its considered to be a poor metric of pitcher performance, given that a Win or Loss is determined more by team play than it is via pitcher performance.

Every single one of these changes, along with the proposed statistical change, have been met with skepticism and outrage from old-school baseball types, such as myself. It changes the game, and evolves it into something that is slightly different than it was before. But the essential rules of the game are still the same. There are nine-innings that have to be played. Each team’s chance in the inning happens until three outs are made. The bases are still 90-feet apart. It still takes three strikes to get a hitter out without a batted ball into the field of play. Four balls outside of the strike zone give the batter a free pass to first base. The scoring rules have not changed whatsoever. In essence its the same game it was.

The same holds true for ritual – to some degree. Change any of the elements, and it changes the formula for the ritual. But the intent of the ritual is still the same. And for me, the formula based aspect means far less than the intent behind the entire ritual.

Now, let me add a few notations of where I am coming from. I am a firm believer in free-form ritual. Outside of the framework that OBOD provides for ritual, I have never done the same ritual, intentional or not, in the same manner. I merely utilize whatever comes to mind at the moment. One short ritual I did down near the banks of the Red River went along these lines:  face each cardinal direction, say the word “Please” out loud, and then step right into main aspect of working – which at this time was merely making a quick space where I could meditate for a few moments. Rather than reaching through a long, somewhat wordy intonation, my single word request was enough to quickly build what was necessary for me. For me, its not the framework that really places the emphasis, but rather the mindset that I had at that moment that mattered most. In fact, I could call to the cardinal directions with a simple “Yo!”, so long as my mindset is in the right place.

There is; however, a matter of decorum and respect where the Gods and Goddesses that comes into play as well. Given that the Gods that I work directly with are Tricksters, irreverent perspectives are sometimes quite welcome. So, I would note that free-form aspects are not useful where Gods and Goddesses that require strict, proper form within rites, requests, and prayer.

Free-form ritual works for me. The simplicity of my rituals lends to the easiness of how being fluid with style, and framework is useful for me. Were I to do a more structured ritual, where certain things must be done at certain times, in certain manners, and stated in certain ways; I would follow the syntax as stated. Coloring outside the lines would likely not be useful or obtain the desired results. For certain aspects of celebratory rituals, I can see where bending the rules is a bit more appropriate. Or as Morpheus tells Neo in the movie The Matrix:  “Some rules can be bent, others can be broken.”

Because adaptation is the key to evolution. And yes, I do believe that Paganism is evolving. I do not believe that the rituals we present to our Gods are the same as the ones presented to Them back in the mid 1800s. Nor do I believe these rituals are the same as the ones that go back into the mists of Time. I also do not believe that our rituals of today will be the same rituals presented to our Gods in the 2100s or even beyond. Our rituals today are the rituals we have today. Some will change. Some will be altered to one degree or another. Some will never be utilized again. But these are our rituals today, in whatever form we give to them. Much like baseball has changed over the years, and will continue to change going into the future – so will Paganism. Because change is inevitable.

Creating Ripples

Intentional family. What exactly is it? Well, perhaps the best definition I have read comes from the wiki site Kinhost.

An intentional family is formed when a group of people choose to re-create a family, whether official or not, by choosing people to surround themselves with in familial support of each other. (Kinhost.org)

I have a few folks that are very, very close to me. For these folks, I would drop everything that I am doing – and get to where they are. Once there, I would help to bury the bodies, ditch the evidence, and never speak of it again to anyone. They are the part of my life that I cannot do without. I do whatever I can to help them whenever they have a need, even if it creates a temporary hardship for myself. They are more than friends to me – they are the family that I want. We go through the normal push-pull dynamics that families go through. We have arguments and disagreements. I am fairly certain that they do not vote in election cycles for the same people that I do. And a few of them have very different religious and spiritual practices than I do. But they are family to me. And I have no problem shelling out money, time, effort or emotions for them – just as I know they would for me as well. Nor do I expect any reciprocal act on their part. A mere hug and thank you goes far beyond that with me. Some of them are aware of this connection between us; some of them aren’t to some degree or another. But that’s a private conversation to be had between us at some other time and place – not here on a blog.

In John Beckett’s most recent blog, Something Bad Isn’t Coming, It’s Here, he noted:

If you’re part of a good, well-functioning extended family, consider yourself fortunate… and don’t alienate them. For the rest of us, find the people who will be your family of choice and start developing those close ties now. That means you give your share toward the collective good. Ideally, everyone gives more than their share.

For me, this is what intentional family and intentional community is all about. We all give to the collective good that is our family, and our community. I experienced a whole lot of this during the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering this past weekend. I received and gave love, comfort, support with all the folks there. We learned together, we ate together, we were definitely together in that physical space. And even today, we are together. We formed a community, a special bond between all of us, and that bond holds us together. We came together as a group, and formed an intentional bond as we did rituals, and workshops – held discussions in various corners of the camp – and sang songs and acted silly among one another. What we gave to one another was a piece of one another. We chose to be vulnerable to one another by opening our hearts to each other. We developed trust with each other. We created an intentional community and family.

So why is this important? Well, harkening back to John’s blog post, tough times are certainly ahead. Whatever the future holds, the outlook does not seem as bright as it has been. Much like John, and many others, I have heard the whispers among the Spirits of Place, and between my trio of Gods and Goddess. I tend to avoid the news as much as I can these days, but one has to stay informed too. This morning’s attack in Brussels is but one piece of evidence of the potential changes that loom large on the horizon. The political climate here in the United States has the potential to change drastically over the rest of this year. Every day, my local news (or as local as DFW is to me nearly 70 miles away) broadcasts tell the tales of shootings of civilians and police officers over the last 24-hour period. Its not rocket science to realize how much turmoil is around us. My intentional family are my rock and my stability. Staying in touch with them is not always the easiest thing for me to accomplish – but after this past GCG, I am realizing that I must amp up my effort to do so. Without them, my compass disappears and I wind up lost in the miasma that permeates our mundane world.

IMG_0215
One of the camp fire nights at East Coast Gathering 2015

How do you find people like this? Well, you can’t do it by sitting idly by. You can’t do it by being a wall-flower. I did that for too long, and watched good relationships dissipate because of my inactivity. You have to interact with people, find common interests that hold you together, and then begin to discover the rest of the stuff that is there too. You have to accept people for their differences, look past their physical appearances, and discover who they really are. And you need to nurture the positive aspects of your relationships with them. That’s not going to happen if you are sitting in the corner of the room doing your own thing. When you go to a Pagan Pride Day or an OBOD camp or an ADF Retreat – connect with the people you know, but also reach out to the strangers that you’ve never met before. You’ll never get to know them just by staring across the room at them. Unless you are Deanne Troi or some other Betazoid, you won’t be able to discern who they are, or how they feel just by jumping on their wave-length. And who knows? perhaps by breaking the ice with them, you will discover a new family member for your intentional family, or perhaps you will help bring them a bit more out of the shell so that they can make new friends at that gathering that may not be you. In that respect, you are serving as a catalyst towards a positive change in their lives. Ain’t that grand? I certainly think so.

I know that this single blog post is not going to change the world. Nor am I egotistical to the point of thinking that I can change your mind. Folks who already have intentional families or are part of an intentional community may be nodding their heads in agreement….or maybe not. For me, this is a big part of the change I have seen on the coming horizon for my life. For too long, I have lived a life with no true family. Only a handful of my DNA relatives are people I can count on for anything. Thus, I have to search a little further for my support base. And much like a garden, I have to cultivate it, grow it, expand it, and harvest from it. I also am part of their support gardens as well. Cultivation, nurturing, and harvesting will occur from me as well, for them. And its long past time for me to get my hands into the dirt of that garden…

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. -Mother Teresa

Samhain – Change and Transformation Goes Hand in Hand With Reflection

Walking on Wild Horse Island in MontanaYesterday, I wrote about my feelings about Halloween – particularly the more bloody aspects of it. Today, its a little shift of the gears. Instead of the spookier element of the Halloween celebration, let’s turn to the more spiritual side of things and have a peek at Samhain.

I’m not going to go into a reiteration of what Samhain is about, or its origins or what not. What I am doing here is taking a small exploration of why I don’t spend a lot of time during this point on the Wheel of the Year with other people. And honestly, this is typically the point on the Wheel that I go into a self-hibernation of sorts.

Self hibernation. What an odd way for me to declare my own positioning. But it does fit in a bizarre manner. Every year, it seems that I get invite after invite after invite asking me to come to some group’s Samhain ritual. And every year, I try my best to accept at least one of the invitations, and then don’t go at all. I have had some people tell me that they were sorry for whatever it was that they may have done or said that caused me not to go. And I wind up having to explain in great detail why its not them – and why its me.

A lot of this has roots back into my desire to be a Solo Pagan. No, not a Red Solo Cup Pagan…just an individual doing my own thing. Red Solo cups are for something completely different.  🙂 I have discussed why I am a Solo Pagan to a great deal throughout this blog. Its a primary basis of who I am, what I am, and how I approach the world around me. But as John Beckett once pointed out on his blog (and I am far too lazy to go and find the exact post), even Solo Pagans need some company from time to time. Typically, I do this during the Summer Solstice period – the weather is usually nice, and it tends to be a gathering time for a lot of Pagans. Just factors that make it easier.

“But why just a single point in the year?” That’s something that continually is brought to me in meditations where Crow appears. I am a Solo Pagan, who enjoys being an individual on my Path, and I am called to A God who just happens to be one of the more social birds in the entire world. So there’s plenty of push there.

Which brings me to the current point on the Wheel. Samhain.

For me, Samhain is a time of reflection on what has happened over the past Year. Granted, I see the new Year starting each morning, but that is a very microcosmic view of the World around me. A more macrocosmic view brings further out, further on — and provides a much wider viewing lens. Everything has changed in the period of a year. Its much harder to notice that at the microcosmic level, as my immediate surroundings I see every day. Change happens every day, very slowly – almost imperceptible. But further out, where I am not everyday – those changes happen at the same rate, but my awareness is not there every single day. Thus when I step back into that awareness, I see the changes very clearly. I am holding memory up to present day and seeing very clearly the change that has occurred.

Then there is the thinning veil, the far easier connection to the Ancestors. This, for me, remains a solid aspect of my personal, individual time for this particular point on the Wheel. While I may be coming out of the darker edges of the fire’s circle of light to participate with my fellow Pagans and friends on celebrating the turning of the Wheel, my veneration and communication with my ancestors remains a very personal thing.

This year, I was invited to several Samhain gatherings. I turned down all of these invitations, except one. From a group that I respect because of their very tight-knit relationships with one another, and for their very honest, friendly, open acceptance of people who are outside of their group. Its not much of a first step back into the public light, but one gathering is far better than no gatherings.

I have very strongly held perspectives of both Samhain and Beltane – and why I avoid each. But it is based on the experiences that occurred from another group. And those experiences happened nearly twenty years ago. Its time to set those experiences to the side, and realize that this came about because of a particular time and moment in my life. The group in question, has changed over those years – and I hold no ill will or resentment towards the people still with that group. They have changed, I have changed. Holding to a perspective of broad-brushed painting an entire point on the Wheel based on actions that happened, nearly twenty years into the past – that’s honestly silly. This past year has been about change and transformation for me. Its time that I continue that – one small step at a time.

Samhain is an important point on the Wheel of the Year for me. Its a time to look back, reflect, see what I have accomplished, see what fell short. Its also a point where I look forward, to see what may lie ahead, and bring my projects and lessons forward with a new plan to insure they don’t fall short again. Its also a time to remember those who have walked beyond the veil, and a time to enjoy the company of those who have remained. Forging stronger relationships with them, and moving forward from that point. As a Solo Pagan, I have managed to do all of these, except the last. For that, you need other people…

A Dollar is a Dollar; a Human is a Human

The damage that my neighbor's falling tree did to the fence line
The damage that my neighbor’s falling tree did to the fence line

As I sit here and type this, I am listening to the distant rumblings of thunder. This is announcing the fourth round of thunderstorms to come through my local area in the last three days. Yes, that means it really is Spring here in Texas. The first round of storms blew my neighbor’s Cottonwood tree over with 80mph wind gusts. It tore up about six panels of my fence line, but thankfully the tree landed in his backyard and not on his house. When I approached my neighbor about the damage, his first response was “our insurance will get the fence replaced.” My response was a little different than he expected (I guess): “That’s fine, I’m just glad that no one was hurt or killed by it falling down.” Its an odd little statement of difference, but its really another indicator on some of the misplaced emphasis that I see in the communities around me.

Earlier in the week, I had gotten into a protracted argument with someone about what the purpose of the Community College was. I argued that we turn out a product: educated students – some that graduate from our program, some that take our credits (at a lower cost) and move on to a four year institution. But they leave with a measure of knowledge that they did not have before. The counter argument was that we turn out a single product: money. Our students go back into the work force, where their education allows them to become more productive employees, earning a higher wage, and thus bringing more taxable income into the pool of workers in the region. For my stance, I was openly labeled as a “liberal” — and that’s fine with me. Labels don’t bother me as much as they have previously. They are, after all, just labels. Whether I choose to allow them to adhere to me or not is another thing – and another post for another time.

I understood the sentiment, and the reasoning behind it. But its the emphasis that I have a problem with – Money. Now, before you start freaking out and calling me a hippy (thank you very much) that wants to destroy the monetary lynch-pin that holds up our market economies throughout the world which I am not advocating whatsoever. Currency in whatever form, permeates our lives. We all work jobs. Those jobs pay us currency to do the jobs they hired us for. In turn, we take that money, pay a tax for the “appropriate” care-taking of our governmental system by others, and use the rest to purchase petrol for our vehicles, pay our various bills, and purchase groceries and clothing. There’s nothing wrong with what the concept of currency represents. But when currency gets a higher position within our measure of needs and concerns than the people around us – in my estimation, there’s a problem.

So when did we become a society of people that essentially worships money? When did we start clamoring for a governmental structure that emphasizes how much money we can save by cutting this project or that program without worrying about the impact it will have on people? And even more important – how do we change this?

Without spending a major ton of time looking through the histories of the various parts of the world or even the United States, I can say that I don’t have an answer for the first two questions. And to be honest, where/when/how this starts is not nearly as important as making some kind of change where its all concerned. Furthermore, there is one political movement that emphasizes this more than any other – the Conservative Tea Party.

Ok, those of you who are rolling your eyes and mumbling about me being a liberal or a hippy — ya’ll can stop reading, and find another web page to be at. There’s honestly nothing I can do or say that will change your opinion. Those of you that are cheering my statement and saying “right on!” — you can move along as well. For a lot of the same reasons.

Now for those of you that are still here – listen up for a second. Before we pan the Conservative Tea Party movement and lay blame anywhere, let’s remember a few things. There are good points that the Conservative Tea Party makes, particularly where government spending and taxation of the citizenry is concerned. Their problem is taking it far beyond the scope it should be intended for. To dismiss the movement out of hand without finding where its merits might possibly be is just as bad. To do so removes any vantage point of critical thinking we may hope to achieve. Finally, let’s remember, this post isn’t about the merits or the toxic nature that the Tea Party and its adherents bring to the table. My point is about how we can change our own perceptions – something we do have control over.

We all attach some dollar figure to various things in our lives. My iMac has a very high price tag, and yet I find that dollar figure to be negligible for what it allows me to do. My beloved Subaru Forester has a typical car value associated with it. If I sat down and did the calculations, I am sure I could come up with a dollar value for each one of my three cats. All of that can be figured into a budget, which I can then calculate against my salary. If the money came up short, I would have to decide what will happen. Do I get another job to make due? Or do I figure that one of the cats is too expensive, and send her out into the world of the Animal Control folks because she is too expensive? Under the dictums of the Tea Party philosophy, I would turn one of my precious girls out or remove one of the expensive items I mentioned from the equation and make due without it. For me, it would be the removal of one of the expensive items or getting another job. My previous girls are part of my family, and I am fiercely protective of my young ladies.

But what about a government that makes a similar choice where a food-for-the-poor program may be in question? Utilizing Tea Party philosophy, as I have come to understand it by watching and reading Tea Party adherents discuss these issues, the program would be cancelled. “So those people starve, so what?” “If they just got themselves a little cleaner, they would be able to get a job. Right?” “Dirty, scummy, hippy-types. The world would be a better place without them.”

What the Dormouse SaidWould it? Most people don’t realize that it was hippy-types dropping LSD and other psychedelic drugs that came up with the concept for the Graphical User Interface (GUI), and spent time making it work within the experimental computer research labs of AT&T and other companies. For those who would scoff at such a statement, read John Markoff’s book “What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Computer Industry” and find out differently. And yet, in today’s environment most businesses would never allow such innovation to take place. Not because they want to stifle the innovation, but because the stigma attached to engineering types dropping acid and becoming inspired from their trips would be too much to sustain a good business model in today’s society. In other words, it would cost too much money in lost prestige in the business market. Yes, we are placing a monetary value on these people.

Its done in your jobs too. Every employee has a dollar value associated with them. Their salaries, their training, their medical benefits packages, their retirement packages…all calculated together to put a monetary value on the individual. And when the individual becomes too costly compared to their output? They are terminated on some meager pretense, and a younger individual willing to work at a lower wage, and less benefits is hired in their place. For a cost savings to the company. All designed to buffer the bottom line profit, and keep the shareholders happy with increased margins.

Occasionally, you will find a company that eschews this business model. Employees are considered to be individual human beings – all with differing needs and differing levels associated with those needs. If you have ever encountered one of these places, you find happy employees who care about their product. And when the company places the employees before the product, the employees seemingly are motivated to turn out a far superior product in terms of quality. Because the company gives a shit about the employees, the employees care about their company and in turn care about their product. Monetary value of the employee? Well, its the same as any other employee in the company. The pay scale may differ, but the company treats all employees as necessary and indispensable, from the janitor to the Chief Executive Officer. This, in my opinion, is how you build undying loyalty from your employees. You care about them and how they are doing – they will give a shit about what they do and the product they make.

So, smart-ass Tommy – how does that equate to how we need to change our perceptions? How does this make our world any better?

Well, let’s draw the dots a little together. Most people do not know the neighbors on their street. I confess, I am one of them – but not from a lack of trying. My neighbors tend to close in around themselves and not congregate together in the front yard and occasionally talk. Corinth is a commuter town, and most people here pull inside of themselves, and only open up to the people that they want to consider friends. But have you ever tried to talk with your neighbors? You don’t have to be pals – just know enough about them to recognize when there might be problems. And when you perceive that, offer a hand. If its rejected, thank them for the consideration, and remind them that if they have need – they only need to say something, no strings attached. You are letting them know that you care enough to help, and that you are willing to do so on their terms. Instead of treating them as commodities and dollar figures or what they can do for you in the future, you are setting them on equal footing with yourself and saying that they are people too.

Ever give money to a homeless person on the street? I have been told by other people not to do that. That these homeless people will just go out and buy a bottle of booze with it. So? Who am I to judge on what got them to this point? If its a bottle of booze that helps them make it through another day – fine. Perhaps, by making it to the next day, they will encounter that person that will be able to give them what is necessary to change their way of life. When I worked for the Texas State Medicare program, I would pass a homeless guy under the interstate bridge right near the data center. He had the same sign always: “Will work for food”. One day, when I started back home – I saw that he was under the bridge because it was a rainy day. I turned around, went back to the McDonald’s that was nearby and bought seven cheeseburgers, three large fries, and two large cokes. I then went under the bridge and introduced myself. He seemed to expect me to reach into my pocket and give him money. Instead, I sat down next to him, removed one cheeseburger, and one of the fries, and offered the rest to him. “I’m having lunch, and I thought it would be nice to join you.” I sat and let him talk between mouthfuls. I found out that he was an Army veteran who had been discharged dishonorably for striking an officer. That stigma had followed him since his discharge in 1983. Since he couldn’t get a job, he worked odd jobs that paid cash. Essentially, he slipped between the cracks in a system that didn’t care enough to help him. For the next two weeks, I stopped by each day I worked at the Data Center (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) and brought lunch for Patrick. We would talk about our mutual employment history – he in the United States Army, and mine from the United States Air Force. Then I stopped seeing him there. I never found out what happened to him. Perhaps the Dallas police had rounded him up for vagrancy. Perhaps another pan-handler had chased him from that location. Or perhaps something else. I only know that I was greeted every day during that time with a smile. And that smile reminded me that this guy was a person, just like me.

I work with data and numbers that are about our students. Its very easy to get sucked into the numbers and forget that each one represents a student. We typically have about 10,000 students registered in our classes per semester. Sometimes the number is higher and sometimes its lower. But each and every one of them is a unique story. How they got to this point in their life, what brings them to the college for education, what their dreams are, what they are doing to achieve those dreams, how their lives are now…they are all people, and all deserving of respect for whatever they are trying to accomplish in their lives. To forget that is to disrespect who they are, and to treat them merely as dollar values. And that alone — THAT is the problem.

We forget that people that are not in our immediate circle of influence are human beings with hopes, dreams, lives, and the stories that are associated with all of that. And when we forget that, those people cease to be people. They become dollar values that need to be maintained and controlled. They become tax dollars that we perceive as being “wasted” or “stolen” because we have no value for these people. Or place value on them by the amount of money that they earn, and the taxes that they contribute to the running of the government. The more they have, the more we respect them. That, ladies and gentleman, is the way of the Conservative Tea Party – monetary values attached to everything in life.

Sorry, but money is not the be-all, end-all for my life. Its merely the currency that I need to live my life the way that I choose to do so. I choose to see Life in a very different way….or as Damh the Bard says:

‘…Life is more than the money that you earn.’