Category Archives: Society

Society and politics. Or, living in the world we’ve got rather than the one we’d like.

Church of Green and Blue

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Church of Green and Blue

Jason’s recent editorial at the Wild Hunt has spurred me to write here, after a three month hiatus. In his article, Jason makes some good points about the growth of Pagan affiliation in the U.S. compared to its relatively small level of infrastructure and influence. On the question of how to create more engagement among the estimated one million or so Pagans, his answer is better funding for more targeted journalism.

In a related post, Thorn does a remarkable job of laying out the numbers involved in making a living as a spiritual teacher. She ends her piece with this insight:

A big fish in a small pond creates ripples that have impact, but they share the same ecosystem as all the other members of the pond. And outside the pond? Probably no one has ever heard of them.

I have been grappling with these issues since I started Serpentine Music in 1992 and began teaching in 1994. In the 1990s things looked very different, as both Jason and Thorn have pointed out. The publishing industry was stronger then and so was the workshop economy, so between big advances and reasonable speaking fees it was possible to earn a decent living as an author and teacher.

In 2000 I had a couple conversations with Carl McColeman (then the music buyer for New Leaf Distributing), about what it was going to take for Pagan music to become as big as New Age music. Carl had just written an article for New Age Retailer on the topic. We both agreed it was only a matter of time before the market for this music grew to something like the size of the market for books like The Spiral Dance.

We turned out to be wrong, partly because we didn’t foresee the tanking of the music industry, but also because we weren’t thinking big enough. The market for Pagan music never grew to the size we had hoped, but meanwhile its lyric imagery and values were absorbed into the musical mainstream quicker than we ever thought possible. From early artists like Sinead O’Connor, The Pretenders, and Tori Amos, to more recent bands like Florence and the Machine and Arcade Fire, popular music has become filled with songs of shapeshifting, of communing with nature and spirits, of the seasonal festivals. To a certain extent, all musicians are Pagan now.

So the current market for books, music and workshops has made a certain kind of leadership and livelihood nearly impossible to sustain. Yet on a cultural level the influence of Paganism in this country is profound and far-reaching. Our small pond is rapidly being absorbed (some may say siphoned off) into a much larger waterway. And here is where I disagree with some commentators: I don’t see this as a problem. I see this as a huge win.

Learn to Breathe Outside the Pond

If anything, this is a time in the U.S. when spiritual affiliations are getting even looser and less important than they have been for the past 40 years. And when people do feel the need for more spiritual support or community infrastructure in their lives, they are likely to either get more training to carve out their own path, or go back to a version of their childhood faith. Soon after our conversations, Carl returned to his roots and became a Christian mystic.

So I don’t think trying to engage the larger Pagan population with more Pagan-focused journalism will work. On the other hand, the mainstream press is full of casual and profound mentions of Paganism, in every conceivable context. Take this recent example from The Guardian, where in an offhand comment about the fashion industry, Glenn O’Brien of GQ says, “Creative people are natural pagans…It’s the only way you get to talk about Venus and Mercury and Jupiter.”

Unquestionably, we need good journalists reporting on every level of society and culture. Just like we need authors and teachers to remind us how to live a good life. But I think we lose the battle for influence as soon as we start pitching things exclusively to a Pagan audience. One million Pagans don’t even see themselves as an audience—they are Iowans, or lapsed Catholics, or doctors, or yoga moms.

If you are a teacher and writer who happens to be Pagan and would like to make a living at teaching and writing, here is your challenge: meet people in other ponds. Develop totally unrelated groups of friends, and figure out how to talk about what you do so that they can understand. Speak at industry events where your religious affiliation is at most a side note. Sharpen your game, retool your ideas, become a better communicator, learn from others who are a few steps ahead of you. If you can translate your spiritual beliefs into a heartfelt approach to whatever else you do, people will listen.

The rapidity with which the larger culture is absorbing Pagan values is very exciting, but it also means that even in our small pond we need to be more ethical and informed. That’s why Cherry Hill Seminary is such a treasure, and why active bloggers like Jason and Thorn who keep raising the level of online discourse are too.

The number of people who read this blog will always be small, but my goal here isn’t to pump up pageviews or even necessarily to reach more Pagans. It is to develop my ideas, to practice different kinds of writing, to share experiences that have shaped my life. And ultimately, to create stories that are good enough to speak to everyone who finds solace and inspiration in the great big Church of Green and Blue.

Real World Ethics

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My ongoing examination of leadership and community dynamics in this blog dovetails nicely with teaching ethics classes at Cherry Hill Seminary. I never imagined teaching an ethics course, but was asked to step in mid-semester four years ago when a faculty change left the Boundaries and Ethics class without a professor.

That year I played catch-up, learning the material while teaching it and facilitating class discussions. As an educator this is never a comfortable position to be in, but I found that I loved the topic and kept studying after the class was over. Since then I have taught the class twice, each time making minor improvements in the curriculum. Now I think I am ready to do a full-scale revamping of the course.

But first we need a good basic text.

The course needs to bridge historical and modern Pagan thought on ethics, and present methodologies for making ethical decisions in chaplaincy, pastoral, and community settings. I want my students to start with their personal (both observed and first-hand) experiences with Pagan leadership, community and group dynamics, filter it through a study of ethical criteria and guidelines developed by various religious and secular organizations, and come up with a code of conduct for themselves going forward in their private and professional lives.

Make an Ethical Difference

I have been scouring the market for books to use the next time I teach the course, and am happy to report that we have a new front-runner! Mark Pastin’s new book Making an Ethical Difference: Tools for Better Action is a great introduction to thinking ethically in difficult situations.

Pastin, CEO of the Council of Ethical Organizations, draws on his experience as advisor to corporations and NGOs worldwide to shape the book, starting each chapter with a new dilemma and using it to illustrate how to think about similar situations. Make an Ethical Difference presents five tools for sharpening your ethical sense:

  1. Read the Ground Rules
  2. Reason Backward to Find the Interests
  3. Face the Facts 
  4. Stand in the Shoes
  5. The Global Benefit Approach

While these are excellent practices for making our own ethical choices, applying them to a situation with multiple parties involved is much trickier. Fortunately, Pastin has what he calls “The Convergence Process,” designed “to increase the alignment of the ethics eyes of those directly involved in a situation requiring action.” In other words, getting people to share outlooks and be willing to change their views—including your own. It is a powerful approach involving transparency and great communication skills.

A book like this is the perfect guide to keep nearby when the inevitable occurs and humans get into conflicts. I will be referring to it myself in the months to come, taking Pastin’s tools for a test drive in my current ethics class and out in the real world as well.

Meanwhile, does anybody have other favorite ethics texts to recommend?

Fame, Community and Commerce

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One night over twenty years ago I stood outside Urban Stonehenge, a large pink house on Potrero Hill, talking to my friend Rose as people streamed in through the front gate. It was a big monthly San Francisco party known as the anarchist community coffeehouse, and I’d driven down from Sonoma County to see friends and play at the open mike.

Rose and I greeted people as they came in and many of them, seeing my guitar nearby, asked expectantly if I was going to sing. At one point I commented to Rose how awkward the attention made me feel. She said, in her matter-of-fact way, “Don’t be. Just accept the fact that you’re a minor celebrity in a minor subculture.”

Until that moment I had not thought much about fame in terms of our circle of friends. Rose’s comment helped give me some perspective, and from then on I started paying attention to who stood out from the crowd, why, and how they handled it.

Commerce in the Community

Fame is different from leadership, yet in our celebrity culture we often conflate them. We assume that people who are famous are better at something than the rest of us, or have great ideas that others should follow. While this is often true, the larger a community grows the more likely you are to find people who achieve celebrity without the weight of actual leadership ability.

I have written before about what happens when narcissism and charisma infect community leadership. That post was in some ways the product of my observations over the past twenty years of spiritual communities in general. To make it a little more concrete, I want to focus here on two different leadership paradigms I have found.

For many years, the prevailing business model in the women’s spirituality and self-help movement had been to write a good book, then go on the workshop circuit and teach that material to grow your audience, while developing material for a second book. These books presented a positive vision of personal empowerment, yet among the author personalities there was a degree of competition that often belied their egalitarian message. 

Their zero-sum-game attitude was easy to miss when the economy and especially publishing was doing well. But as money started to tighten up, people with name recognition were faced with hard choices and not all of them made good ones. Those who could not control their egos tended to flame out and disappear, while others found steady income through teaching or sought out new markets in which to spread their message.

In the early 2000s I studied dreamwork with Rev. Jeremy Taylor, eventually becoming the first graduate of his Marin Institute for Projective Dreamwork. For something as non-mainstream as interpreting dreams, Jeremy had a refreshing viewpoint on competition and fame. He stated explicitly more than once that the more competent dreamworkers there were out in the world, the more the public would be educated about dreams and ultimately the more opportunities there would be for all dreamworkers.

Having come up against the winner-take-all mentality in self-help circles himself, he knew the only way to counter it was to set a different tone early on with his own students. I was deeply grateful that someone so well-known would live his principles to such a degree, and actively work to change the culture of celebrity from within.

Studying with Jeremy gave me the language to voice what had been bothering me about fame and community ever since that coffeehouse incident. It continues to inform my work today with authors, most of whom hope to bring their message of wisdom or spirituality to a larger audience.

“Leave more value than you capture.”

This quote from tech CEO Tim O’Reilly should guide all of our efforts to create a stream of commerce from our community involvement. A subculture that becomes an exclusive feeding ground for one or two high-profile members will end up desiccated and unable to thrive. And thriving culture is what supports all the arts and insures a growing audience for everyone.

The publishing industry is in such a shambles today that the only way authors can get ahead is to collaborate, sharing insights and best practices, and joining forces to find and create new audiences for all our work. The relationship between spirituality and commerce has never been easy, but at least we now have a guideline by which to judge those in our midst who end up being leaders and achieving fame. We can ask how much value they create and leave on the table for others. How are they generous, and to what effect? And is our community richer or poorer for their presence in it?

The Obligatory Grateful Dead Post

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After eight years of blogging I am finally correcting a major oversight. I can’t very well be a late-Boomer Bay Area native and not write at least once about the Grateful Dead; it just isn’t done. So here goes.

The Grateful Dead were once as ubiquitous as tie-dye on Telegraph Ave. They played constantly, both locally and on tour, and their New Years Eve shows at the Oakland Auditorium were legendary. As a teenager I was too much of a musical snob to pay them much attention. Their music seemed rambling, disjointed, and not very interesting. But once in college I thought maybe I was missing out on something big—if not musically then at least culturally.

Dropping acid and seeing the Dead is what passed for a rite of passage in some circles. I had lost track of the number of friends who returned wide-eyed from what they termed a transformative experience at a Dead show. So in spite of the fact that I didn’t particularly like the Dead or want to try acid, I figured I should go to a show while I was still young and impressionable enough to “get it.”

The summer I turned 18 provided a fantastic opportunity. I was living in Berkeley, and saw on a telephone pole (a.k.a. the “internet”) a notice for a Green Tortoise bus trip to Alaska. The Tortoise was infamous, a company that converted old buses into funky touring vehicles. Outfitted with two drivers, a few seats in the front and a giant platform bed in the back, the Green Tortoise drove big, wild groups of people up and down the coast, across the country, and on other special trips.

This particular summer of 1980 they’d decided to go to Alaska for one reason only: the Dead were playing Anchorage on the Summer Solstice! How great would it be to drive a random bunch of freaks through Canada and the Yukon and descend on Anchorage for the show, while the sun never sets? Add to that visits to the Kenai Peninsula, Fairbanks and the majestic Denali, and it was hardly an adventure I could let pass me by. I spent the rest of my scholarship money on a bus ticket and a backpack, and I was in.

Anne on the Green Tortoise, June 1980I didn’t know anyone else going on the trip, but that did not deter me in the least. I have never had a problem striking off on my own into unfamiliar places, making friends along the way. Unfortunately, it proved harder to do on this trip than I had imagined.

Three girls my age from Texas were my first disappointment. They wore makeup every day, didn’t read, and clearly were only interested in male companionship. A 33-year-old French Canadian playboy dealer who listened to Bruce Cockburn hooked up with one of the girls, causing a couple nights of great embarrassment for a grandmother traveling with her cute 9-year-old grandson. There were also a few older single men and women on the bus, an ex-felon or two, and a couple certifiable nuts.

I did make some friends, but there was no real easy bonding on this trip. When a guy wearing a poncho and cowboy hat and nothing else comes to breakfast with his bullwhip and starts yelling at people for no apparent reason, it sets up a tension within the group that is hard to overcome.

We stayed one night near Mt. St. Helens, where every surface in the campground was covered with a layer of ash from its recent eruption. Crossing the border into Canada took a while because of someone’s arrest record. But eventually they let us all through and we were off to the Yukon, where the road was still dirt in some places. I never imagined getting tired of seeing beautiful forests dotted with occasional deep blue lakes, but on this trip I learned that it was possible. The beauty and the distances were astonishing.

When we got to Anchorage, our first order of business was to find tickets to the show. Outside the auditorium was the usual phalanx of Deadheads from all over, sitting in line or playing frisbee on the lawns. As we went into the show our resident dealer doled out the acid, and I was on my way. It was now or never. I would either “get” this band or be doomed to the sidelines forever.

What I remember most about the concert was the bad sound. It was like a high school PA system cranked up past the boiling point. Relax, I told myself, just let the music wash over you. I knew how to do this, it wasn’t like I’d never been to a rock concert before. But the tinny treble, mushy bass and incoherent lyrics just went on and on, and didn’t do the band’s sloppy playing any favors. If there was a transformation going on here, it wasn’t into anything good.

My second strongest memory was the people. Beautiful people my age with wide-open faces who stared at total strangers like me as if we were newly discovered best friends. They danced up to me smiling, then whirled away when I didn’t meet their gaze with the same intensity of surrender. My big revelation that night was that this was not my tribe, though at the time it just felt like sadness and possibly failure.

I kept my revelation to myself and let loneliness wash over me. If I were back home I would have somewhere to go. Here in Anchorage I waited out the rest of the show on the sidelines, and walked back to the bus with the rest of the Tortoise travelers in the night’s continuous dawn.

The trip was life-changing for other reasons. I met a woman who studied herbalism with Rosemary Gladstar in Sebastopol. This was the first time I’d heard about Sebastopol, then a ranching town with a small enclave of hippies and herbalists. Eight years later I told my mother-in-law about the town, and shortly afterward moved there with my young family.

One Tortoise friend I stayed in touch with for a few years was Louie X. Heinrich. We were driving in his car across the Bay Bridge when John Lennon was shot, and shared our grief as his music played on the radio. Louie gave me a place to stay when I left Big Sur and settled in Santa Cruz, and our friendship included a funny ongoing game about being aliens and the general strangeness of humanity.

Louie died way too young, at 39, a fact I just learned while writing this piece. He never quite found his tribe, while I was lucky enough to fall into a great one in Santa Cruz by the time I turned 21.

As I write this in a Mendocino café, “Ship of Fools” just came on the radio. How fitting. The Dead as a phenomenon deeply affected an entire generation. But the shadow of all that openness and saucer-eyed belonging was an alienation and self-destructive urge that caused so many to lose their way.

I did not have the language and discernment at 18 to verbalize what I felt, but at least some innate stubbornness held me back from the lure of that experience. And I discovered Bruce Cockburn at the same time, which overall was a very good outcome. I wish I could say that Louie had the same good outcome, after suffering so much hardship early in life. I don’t know how he died, but wherever he is I’ll bet it’s a much better place.

Louie X Heinrich

The Art of Community

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It was a running joke in the old Reclaiming Collective that “The Future of the Collective” would always be an item on our meeting agenda, and we would always run out of time before addressing it. The joke lasted for years, and provided a refreshing bit of honesty about our ambivalence toward maturing as an organization and community. 

We were an action-oriented group, always organizing the next ritual or set of classes, and many of us worked together in other direct action groups as well. So there was some measure of pride in saying that we were too busy doing things to sit back and wonder why we were doing them, or where it all might lead. That was fine for slower-moving, less radical organizations, but not for us. It just wasn’t in our DNA.

Living in the moment, moving by the tides and dealing with only what is immediate and unavoidable is a great way to test yourself, learn new things, and form bonds of kinship. But while some of those bonds may stand the test of time, most dissolve as quickly as the moments that produced them. Reclaiming proved to be far better at creating moments than building anything meaningful or lasting, but it did teach me a whole lot about what community really means.

Community is who shows up. If you are going through a tough time and have been brought to your knees, who calls to check in? Who comes over to help? Who can you count on through thick and thin? That’s your community, like it or not.

When I went through my own hell realm a few years ago, what made it all the more painful was noticing who responded to my calls for help. Many people I assumed were my close-in community were nowhere to be found, while others I hadn’t considered inner circle ended up there because they wanted me to count on them, no matter what.

I took the lesson, and completely re-arranged my notion of who my community really was. The process has also made me acutely aware of where I put my energy. Where does my heart lie? Who is family to me? That is who I show up for.

My friend (and former neighbor) Peter Laufer wrote of our town:

A town’s character is influenced by its physical location and its architecture. But its mythology and sense of self develops as events occur.

The art of community is building that mythology through the repetition of physical actions that improve the group’s overall health and goodwill. It turns out that community has very little to do with a shared worldview, the number of meetings attended, or the intention with which it formed in the first place.

Moments are fun, and can be meaningful, but showing up is the sinew that makes a community somewhere you want to stay for the long term, maybe a lifetime. There is an art to that, yes, but it is also a practice. And for that, you don’t need an agenda item.

What Would Sarah Winchester Do Now?

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Amid all the national clamor for sane gun safety laws, one forgotten figure keeps coming to my mind: Sarah Winchester. The heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, Sarah felt hounded by the spirits of those who had died by those rifles—Native Americans, Civil War soldiers, and many others. In 1884 she moved to California and bought a farmhouse in San Jose, where she ordered construction to proceed around the clock to trap and confound those restless, vengeful spirits.

I visited the Winchester Mystery House with my kids several years ago, during a trip to PantheaCon. What struck me then were the parallels between the Spiritualist circles that Sarah Winchester moved in 100 years ago, and the New Age community still so prevalent in the South Bay. They shared the belief that the spirit outlasts the body, and can be communicated with through channeling and other methods. Both provided a means for (primarily) women to cope with the loss of loved ones, and to experience a kind of spiritual transcendence not found in established religions.

Today what strikes me about Sarah Winchester is not her troubled personal story but the very fact that she felt responsible for how her fortune was made. To feel answerable to the victims of gun violence—is this even on the radar of the people now made wealthy by the Glock, the Bushmaster, and other weapons flooding our streets and killing innocent children?

Spiritualists in the 19th century were generally liberal—most abhorred slavery and were in favor of women’s suffrage—yet stayed focused on the spiritual realm. Women of that era did not have much political power, even those of great wealth such as Sarah Winchester. But today the social landscape has completely changed, and particularly around gun violence women are flexing real muscle.

If Sarah Winchester were alive today, maybe she would be an active member of the Women Donors Network, which just kicked off the Women United For campaign to take a leadership role on the issue of gun violence prevention. In an era where women’s activism is changing the game of national politics, she would certainly find more constructive avenues to channel her deep grief and guilt.

Perhaps her nearly 40 year project was simply the result of an addled mind, a harmless hobby for a wealthy eccentric. Maybe she was better off donating anonymously to local charities and living alone with her ghosts. But somehow I think Sarah Winchester might rest easier today knowing that the cause of her private torment is now being acted on by the entire nation.

We may never hear of a single wealthy gun magnate who is currently grappling with a guilty conscience. Perhaps they don’t exist, or maybe their are viewed as personally weak rather than principled.

Either way, the numbers of innocent dead have grown too large, their stories too anguished for us to ignore. And if we do finally enact universal background checks and outlaw assault weapons, I think the Winchester Mystery House should be part of the story of how America confronted its revolutionary roots and eventually, after too many generations, turned away from violence.

Abortion, Small Town Iowa, 1927

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My grandmother, Dorothy Mary Gibson Roberts, was so lucky. When her first husband became jealous, then violent, and then brought a gun into the house, she removed the bullets, hid the gun, then called her father to come pick her up in Sioux City. He drove down the very next day, nearly being run off the road when my grandmother’s husband saw them leaving.

With the clothes on her back, she went home to Whiting, Iowa, to stay with her parents while she got a divorce and figured out what to do next. Meanwhile, Will Gibson protected his daughter Dorothy from a raging, harassing ex-husband, filing divorce papers for her, and arranging for an abortion when she found out she was pregnant. My grandmother was 25 years old.

Fram, as we called her, was reeling from the consequences of her choices:

“It was one of my minor disasters. I didn’t realize you had to be in love to get married. And I was not in love with Al. I liked him a lot, but I just had no affection—I didn’t love him. I knew immediately I had made a terrible mistake.”

When I interviewed Fram extensively for my senior thesis in 1983-84, I got the story of her abortion from her bit by bit, asking another question each time we met, until I had as much of the story as she was ever going to tell. According to Fram, both the town doctors performed abortions, and they did quite a lot of them.

“It was definitely illegal at that time. It wasn’t fun; it was supposed to be a disaster, but nowadays it’s no disgrace at all. I remember going up to their office. It was at night. But I don’t remember that it hurt or anything. I don’t remember anything about it. It apparently didn’t bother me mentally. I would have done anything not to have a child, because I knew that I’d made a horrible mistake.”

The doctor who performed my grandmother’s abortion was also the doctor who delivered her and her two brothers. My grandmother was so lucky: her family was white and middle-class, owned the car dealership in town, went to Church with the doctors and their families, and were part of a small-town fabric that valued independence and privacy. She was lucky because in Whiting, Iowa in 1927, the town doctors believed that women and their families should be able to make their own health care decisions, and that women were strong, resilient, and capable of reconciling having an abortion with their relationship to God.

Watching the national coverage of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I wonder where those doctors are now. Why is there just one abortion clinic for the entire state of North Dakota, only one in South Dakota, in Arkansas, and in Mississippi? Why don’t more Family Practice doctors and OB/GYNs offer abortion services to their patients in these states?

Really, I am the lucky one in this story. My grandmother was able to recover from her low point, work again as a pipe organist and then as a secretary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she met my grandfather. This time, she knew she was in love.

They married and had two daughters, one of whom is my mother. And my sisters, cousins and I got to have a feisty, independent, funny, straight-talking grandmother, who in spite of the pain of recalling that time did tell me this story, so I could tell others.

Abortion is part of women’s health care services. Access to safe and legal—and affordable—abortion is the best way to insure women’s health, and the health of their families. Abortion has always been performed in this country, and will always be, no matter what some backward state legislatures decree. But not everyone will be as lucky as my grandmother was.

Poetry, Inauguration, Land

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I’ve been sitting here watching President Obama’s second inauguration today, thinking about politics and ritual, about society and culture, and how even powerful, hard-won change can still seem, and maybe is, fragile.

Our country’s story in my lifetime has so often been written by violence. And every day that big story is not about tragedy but about the peaceful transfer of power, of a participatory democracy and civil society, I feel so moved I am riveted to the scene. So be it.

8th Annual Brigid Poetry Festival

This seems like a good time to start the ball rolling for the Brigid Poetry Festival, an outpouring of verse in honor of the Goddess Brigid, Patron Saint of Ireland. Already people are starting to post on the Poetry Festival’s Facebook Page that I have been curating for the past two years. I think this year’s silent poetry reading could be even larger and more inclusive than the last.

Here are two poems about the spirits of this land and the spirit of this country. The first is part of the ancient Navajo Mountain Chant, a nine-day ceremony of healing for individuals and blessing the whole tribe. It was witnessed and translated in 1884 by Irish immigrant Washington Matthews, who had served as a surgeon in the Civil War.

Twelfth Song of the Thunder

The voice that beautifies the land!
The voice above,
The voice of the thunder
Within the dark cloud
Again and again it sounds,
The voice that beautifies the land.

The voice that beautifies the land!
The voice below,
The voice of the grasshopper
Among the plants
Again and again it sounds,
The voice that beautifies the land.

Praise Song for the Day

The poet Elizabeth Alexander wrote this for Barack Obama’s first inaugural ceremony in January, 2009. I think it deserves to be read again today. All praise is due to love.

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Office Supplies and the End of the World

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Last weekend my friend Claude told me a great story from the recent Bioneers Conference, where R. Carlos Nakai spoke about his recent trip to meet with Mayan elders.

Carlos Nakai asked these Mayan elders about the end of their calendar, and just what the heck it all meant. Was it really true that their ancient calendar was coming to an end next month?

They answered yes, that was true.

“Well,” he asked, “what happens then?”

To which the Mayan elders replied, “We make a new one.”

In that moment it all became clear to me. Maybe you see where I am going with this already. If not, just think of all the months and years we have had to endure the endless 2012 prophecies, the New Age screeds with terrible graphics, the Christian fundamentalist cults, the incessant Facebook posts about paradigm shifts, eclipses, stone tablets, and ominous political movements.

It has all been completely unbearable, but after hearing Claude’s story I felt instantly better. Because it turns out the solution to all this doom-mongering is not global social upheaval at all—far from it.

In the end, the only thing that can restore balance to our tattered world is something we really should have thought of sooner: office supplies.

When you think about it, office supplies have been at the root of so many world civilizations meeting their demise. Either they’re writing down things they shouldn’t, or hiding them somewhere then forgetting where they put them, or in some cases neglecting to record the most important things, and suddenly all is lost.

No one seriously considers paper clips, until it is too late. But now we are presented with a golden opportunity to reverse the trend and end this profound clerical error. All it will take is for each of us to go to our nearest office supply store, buy an adequate amount of paper (all sizes), pens (let’s get different widths and colors just in case), scissors and push pins, and send them to the Mayan elders, c/o Guatemala.

Then when everyone comes down from Mt. Shasta, or Macchu Picchu, or wherever else they’re going this Winter Solstice, they’ll fire up their mobile devices and there, like a modern-day Christmas miracle, will be a deluge of posts and re-tweets of pictures from the sacred council chambers of Central America, where the Mayan elders will have revealed their brand new calendar!

Then maybe our millennial fever will finally play itself out, and we can all get to work cleaning things up and solving tough problems, the stuff that post-its just won’t fix.