Monthly Archives: October 2015
As amazing and awesome and hopeful as my experience at the Parliament of World Religions was, the event wasn’t without its controversy. Most of the complaints can be attributed to communication issues. However, some of those communication issues seem to stem from a failure of the decision makers to examine their own systemic cultural bias. To tell this story I’ll go back and forth between the Macro and Micro viewpoints.
On the Micro side, I contributed to the Parliament by participating in one of the offerings presented by Macha Nightmare of Covenant of the Goddess. As a COG member myself, as well as knowing Macha, it was easy enough for me to shoot her a message offering help. She said yes, so I got to be a “grace” (tech crew) for her ritual theater piece: Goddesses Alive.
On Macha’s end she sent ahead lots of information about what she needed. She included a diagram of the set up and seating arrangements. She requested rehearsal time and space. She asked for a changing/staging area for the women wearing the masks of the Goddesses. All of this was confirmed in advance and the entire cast and crew (singers, readers, Goddesses, and tech) received copies of the schedule she was given.
When the Parliament opened, I told you about the wonderful welcome from the Native elders to the land. I may have mentioned that even before the Parliament started – for the first time ever – there was a Women’s Assembly. This pre-Parliment event was programing specifically targeted to women’s issues. After the elders concluded and the anthem (written by two women specifically for the Parliament) was presented, the rest of the opening program consisted of men in suits yelling at us about what we need to do and patting themselves on the back about how inclusive THIS Parliament was for women.
“Separate but equal” is never really equal. I heard several women that evening talking about how disingenuous the whole presentation felt. The word “tokenism” was bandied about. Many of these women had been present for the Assembly earlier in the day. They were hoping to take that energy forward into the Parliament itself. In fact, many of them felt they were shut down. The rumors were this lack of women presenting in the opening ceremonies was intentional. There was a reception afterward (which wasn’t on the schedule) where women were invited to present. There is no excuse for this. Thankfully the next morning was the Plenary: Focus on Women, which was fabulous and even though it didn’t address the problem did help shift the anger.
Macha’s group includes several “Grandmothers of Paganism”, and I would count Macha among them. There were women in wheelchairs, one with a broken leg, one with a serious chronic illness and Macha herself in recovery from a stroke she had this summer. When we gathered for our rehearsal we were told pointedly, “You can not be in this room.” Eventually a rehearsal space was found for us, in a much smaller room on the other end of the convention center. We lost almost an hour of our precious rehearsal time to mismanagement.
The other Glaring scheduling issue was in regards to Black Lives Matter. Initially several workshops specifically addressing this issue were scheduled opposite each other. The workshop presenters noted this and brought it up to the committee in advance. Changes were made and you would think that would alert them to be sensitive. Unfortunately the Plenary addressing that issue was scheduled directly opposite the evening’s entertainment at the Mormon Tabernacle. (Apparently “those people” aren’t interested in cultural enrichment?) To be fair scheduling this kind of event is a nightmare and some things will get short shrift. Still, just because you have black people on the board doesn’t excuse this kind of dismissal of a huge social justice issue in the country hosting the event.
The day came for us to perform the piece. We found a room (again not the one originally scheduled but at least just across the hall) and started setting up and getting our Goddesses dressed. Less than an hour before we were to open the doors we were confronted by an irate staff member. I’m not sure if this was convention center staff or Parliament staff (or both!). I do know we weren’t the only workshop to get this treatment. Apparently no chairs were to be moved over the entire course of the weekend.
I’m not sure if this is a union issue (only union members are allowed to move the chairs) or a fire-marshal issue (the fire-marshal approved the set-up and any changes will have to be re-approved) or something else entirely. There was a cost component, as Macha was told she would be responsible for a large fee (several hundred dollars) to “fix” it. What it felt like (and in all the cases I was aware of it was Pagans wanting circles rather than rows) was an insensitivity and disrespect of the practice of our religion.
There was another point, actually during the presentation, where a message came back to the tech crew that if we were to “Turn on the lights or I will shut you down.” We made it through (forgiveness is always easier than permission) and the presentation was very well received even if it wasn’t the vision Macha intended. Again, there was nothing done that hadn’t, in theory, been approved in advance.
I choose not to carry the anger of the larger organizational issue, but rather to focus my experience on the more intimate encounters I had over the course of the weekend. I do know several people struggled with the dichotomy of so much bad and so much good. I don’t want to believe any of this was willful disrespect. I think it just goes to show how deep systemic prejudice can be and how much work, even the best intentioned of us, still have to do to fix it.
On Monday I gave you an overview of the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City. I told you 10,000 participants and a vast array of topics and presentations to choose from. But that isn’t all there was to the Parliament.
There were several on-going or open activities as well. At the entrance, just in front of the registration tables, the Tibetan Monks set up a space to create a mandala for the event. In this tradition sand paintings are done to honor important events, and then in acknowledgment of the impermanence of all things, are blown away.
Even before the entrance, outside of the building, the Native peoples of the Americas established a ritual fire. They tended it throughout. People were always present to answer questions, help with offerings, and do sacred smudge. Each morning there was a prayer to the spirits of each of the directions to bless the work being done at the Parliament.
There was a table of salt, brought in from the Great Salt Lake. As participants passed by they could dip their hands in the salt. Many made patterns and pictures. It was an ongoing, ever-changing record of how people were feeling about the event. At the end the salt went back to the lake.
Of course there was the big room of vendors. Many of those booths were purely there to provide information about the religions they represented. There was a lot of free literature, books, pins, and occasionally candy given away. There were also places throughout the conference so that each religious system could host hospitality conversations.
There was a labyrinth laid out in tape on the floor, a copy of the one at Chartres. The ballroom hall was lined with beautiful tapestries of Goddesses from around the world. There were prayer flags lining the balconies and escalators.
There were art installations with religious themes. Everything was represented from traditional depictions of the crucifixion to an interactive exhibition where participants were encouraged to place keys on an arbor to support giving women access to theological and ministerial ranks in traditions where those roles are strictly limited to men.
The most profound contribution to the atmosphere at the Parliament (to my mind, and echoed by many others) was from the Sikh community. They had a presence in the vendor hall, offering the opportunity to have a turban wrapped on your head in the Sikh fashion and gifted to you to wear it throughout the Parliament. That was fascinating. Even more profound was their offering of Langar.
The Sikh’s made a vegetarian lunch every day and offered it free to any participant in the Parliament. We were welcomed to the space and asked to take off our shoes. The line took us past a series of boards talking about the Sikh religion, their principals, and their service. We were offered head coverings and hand washing. Then we were sat in rows on the floor as volunteers went up and down filling trays with each of the courses.
It was an incredible production and an invaluable gift to the Parliament. It set a place of community building. Many of my best conversations with strangers happened while I attended Langar. The food was simple, Indian, and wonderful. The warmth, friendliness, and generosity of spirit shown in this rite will stay with me for a long time.
It’s been the kind of week that I can’t cram into a single blog post. In fact, even though I’m having this blog automatically posted, the week isn’t even over. I’ve been on the road at the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City.
It’s a HUGE conference with representatives of all kinds of religions from all over the world. There are almost 10,000 people in attendance. Programming starts with religious observances at 7am. Each workshop session has 20+ presentations to choose from. Additionally there is a track of films. There are also performances. Scattered through are Plenary’s – topics with very big name speakers which many attendees are likely to want to see.
The opening ceremonies, for instance, are a Pleanry. They were impressive, moving, powerful and controversial. The wonderful piece of the opening ceremonies was from the Native community. There was a processional, lead by representatives of the Native tribes of the areas, with multiple tribes acknowledged. The parade continued with representatives of the other religious systems present at the Parliament. It was surprisingly powerful and moving.
Then the Native elders and Grandmothers took the stage and welcomed us all onto their land. They offered blessing on the work of the Parliament and on its participants. They spoke of the trauma in their history and still embraced us with open arms. It was a profound expression of the theme: Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity”.
Being here has been a remarkable experience. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in doing faith-based activism. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in doing interfaith work. I would recommend it as an opportunity to learn more about world religions.
More later this week!
I’m posting late today because I went to get a haircut. You must understand that I am entirely incapable of maintaining my hair style in a traditional (cut every 6 weeks) kind of way. My last hair cut was in February.
I’m lucky to have hair that is flexible, adaptable and generally enviable. My regular readers have seen photos of me in the last 8 months and none of you have commented “Looking good, but you could use a haircut”. I’ll take the leap and say that mostly I haven’t looked like I needed one.
Thankfully, Jesse (my stylist at Hair Police) is pretty accepting of my cavalier attitude towards my hair. He believes me when my response to “what would you like?” is “That I don’t need to fuss with it.” We probably spend as much time chatting as he does actually cutting. That’s “normal” in the stylists chair, but it’s not typical for me.
In February I was getting the “new look” in preparation for flying to California and presenting at Pantheacon. (Go ahead and search that term out on my blog page. You’ll find lots of entries.) I didn’t get to go to San Jose, but the “new look” was helpful in the “keep your spirits up” department while I dealt with the cancer surgery.
Now I am again getting ready to travel. I’d like to make a good impression on the people I’ll meet. I’d like to do some networking with folks who speak on Spirituality for a living. I’d like to look good, approachable, and “put together”. I hope I’m not setting my bar too high!
Packing is still a challenge. I can get twice as many clothes into the suitcase as I used to! The problem is that I don’t have twice as many clothes that fit. I don’t even have the dreaded swimsuit in a size that won’t fall off if it gets damp. Usually before a trip I’m shopping for things like sample sized deodorant and toothpaste. This time it’s about what do I have to wear.
I’m grateful to the thrift stores. We went to one for Orion’s birthday and I picked up a few things for me as well. I’m grateful for my friends who clean out their closets and hand stuff my direction. I’m grateful for the women in my life (Karina and Carla) who are fond of “styling” and pick things out for me if they run across something that looks promising and size appropriate. (They have a better eye for my size than I do!) And of course I’m grateful to Jesse, not only for the haircut but also for taking the photo I promised:
Sadly I’m still going to have to shop for that swimming suit.
The last couple of weekends have been busy ones. Orion turned 27 last weekend! We went to a Comics for a Cause event. My friend Brenda Elsagher put it on and had her new book release there as well. Her book is about the humor in aging, the event supported the Ostomy Society. It was her sister’s birthday so she arranged a cake for both of them. What a sweetheart!
Orion wasn’t sure about it. He’s used to going out for German food on his birthday, but there were brats so even that was covered. He let Brenda know that although he doesn’t have a colostomy he’s had j-tubes for feeding on and off over the years. He had a great time and the comedy show was fun. Karina joined us (best sister ever!).
Karina and I spent some time together on Saturday. We brought Orion home brats from a beer fest we worked at. It was another fundraiser, this time for a center for homeless teens. Because Karina is in the industry she got a call from a friend, a distributor, looking for help. I poured beer from a craft brewery in the UP.
I know I’ve been “running”, pushing the edges of what I can do. It’s been good and I’ve been pleased with how “able” I am. I even got some yard work done this weekend! I know I’ve got more coming up and I need to find a way to pace myself a little better.
I have to be alright taking some time out, doing something just for me. Curling up in a chair and reading a book, being okay saying no, I do those things. It’s just that they get “fit in”. I suspect a little time out needs to be part of the plan.