Saturday, July 23, 2011

Freedom of association, and freedom not to associate

I believe everyone should be free to think, to learn, and to express their opinions and beliefs. However, that does not mean that everyone should be able express whenever and wherever they wish. For example, someone may wish to loudly yell hateful rhetoric, but I do not wish to invite such a person into my home.

Most situations are more subtle than the decision not to invite a loud, hateful person into my home. Every time we deal with other people, there is the potential for conflict. But it is in dealing with other people that we find the greatest joy. We learn from other people. We are inspired by other people. We depend on other people for survival, for after all, few of us live in homes we have built singlehandedly, and eat only food we have produced singlehandedly. How do we cultivate the benefits of cooperating with others, while minimizing negative consequences?

There is an article called Weeding the Garden about what to do when a disruptive person joins your group. I think it's a good article. It includes points such as:
  • Groups have a right to choose whom to accept and whom not to accept into membership.
  • Deciding to ask someone to leave the group is a judgment call. You just have to do your best to make the right decision.
  • If your group is small, you may be reluctant to ask anyone to leave, because you need all the members you can get, but you may find that when the disruptive person leaves, your group will become more appealing to new members.
  • If you allow the disruptive person to stay, often the group will become consumed by conflict.
  • Sometimes people may have a legitimate complaint about your leadership. Consider that there may be truth in the views of those who criticize you, rather than immediately dismissing them as troublemakers.
This article was written for group leaders. I am a member of various groups, but not a group leader. How do I cope as a group member? I feel that the leadership of some groups is too restrictive, rejecting people's contributions for reasons that have no validity. I feel that the leadership of other groups is too welcoming, giving too much serious consideration to loony ideas proposed by group members, and failing to censure members who behave in a way that is hurtful to other members.

In a less restrictive group, I will 1) not engage in interaction with members whose behavior I find destructive, 2) speak to the group's leaders about my wish for the disruptive behavior to be controlled, and 3) take a public stand in favor of more constructive discourse.

In a more restrictive group, I face the possibility that if I speak up, I may be kicked out too. I may choose to speak up, I may leave quietly, or I may stay and look for more subtle ways to bring about a more positive climate.

I may choose to join a group or leave a group. I may try to change a group from within. I may choose to seek a leadership position in an existing group. I may choose to start my own group. When we choose to be a group member, we choose to live with that group's rules and leadership. Although the best leaders welcome input from members, it is not the responsibility of the group we have chosen to join to be exactly as we wish them to be.

And what of arenas other than group membership? If someone were to write a comment on my blog that I didn't like, I could delete it if I wanted to. That is not censoring their free speech. They can have their free speech on their blog. This is my blog, the place where I express my vision, not someone else's vision. If someone tells me that I should pursue a more lucrative career, that I should be more outgoing, that I should be more adventurous, I may consider their comments seriously, just as the group leader must give serious consideration before deciding to eject a disruptive member. But in the end, it's my own judgment call to decide what feedback to listen to and what feedback to ignore.

In living my life, my job is to seek the path that I believe is right. Everyone else around me is seeking their path, and the way that looks right to them is not the way that looks right to me. We learn from others. Others learn from us. But ultimately, we are each responsible for our own path.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The role of the modern druid

Heat waves. Drought. Famine. Floods. Tornadoes. Hurricanes. Blizzards.

Climate change is here. What can we do?

That is one question I have been asking myself. Another question, as I read about the ancient druids, is what is the role of the modern druid?

It seems to me that these two questions are linked. It seems to me that there's a force in our society that values profit and image above all else. The media offer news stories that will titillate, that will make money, instead of news stories that will inform and enlighten. Politicians seem more concerned with projecting an image of toughness than with making things better for people. People voraciously consume the earth's resources. We buy food flown in from across the globe.

The role of the modern druid is to grow an alternative to the forces of profit and image. The role of the modern druid is to build a world based on caring for each other and for the earth, to build a world based on knowledge, compassion, respect, wisdom, truth, and beauty.

How do we build this world?
  1. We need to learn about nature. Learning about nature cultivates an appreciation of nature. Those who learn about nature take care of nature. And we need to learn about nature not only to cultivate our appreciation, but to gain knowledge so that we can figure out how to support the survival of our habitat.
  2. We need to cultivate attitudes of caring for each other. Such attitudes are cultivated in the words we choose to use, in music, dance, stories, and art, in meditation, stillness, nature, ritual, and religion. We need this because whenever people come together, there will be differences, and differences can lead to hurt and anger. Parents need to be gentle in raising their children. Often those who end up in our prisons are those who grew up in abusive environments. We need to come together in positive ways, because it will take the time and talent of many to build the world we want to create. I feel inspired to go out and do what is best when I attend a Pete Seeger performance, or when I read a book with a heroine I can relate to. We need to be conscious of our choices in our words and in our art, to choose messages that inspire compassion, wisdom, and courage.
  3. We need to be guided by knowledge. We need historians, librarians, and teachers to preserve and pass on knowledge.
  4. We need to develop the knowledge and skills for sustainable living. We need to develop organic farming, wildcrafting, hunting, shelter building, food preservation and preparation, sewing, weaving, spinning, renewable energy, first aid, and healing.
This is what I think is needed in our time. I think this is the role of the modern druid, but it is not only druids who will walk this path. We should welcome all who are working for a better world.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

To care for each other and the earth, in the name of any religion

I have started reading Priestess of the Forest by Ellen Evert Hopman. I am less than halfway through it, and will probably write additional posts inspired by it in the future, but here's the idea that is striking me about it now. In the story, Roman Christians are offering wealth to Celtic people if they will reject the traditional Celtic religion. The Druids fear that catastrophes (such as bad harvests) will come if the Celtic people turn their back on the traditional religion.

I emerged from the book to find myself living in the city, living where I hear harsh voices arguing, and sirens. And I thought, indeed, we have lost our religion and we are declining.

But I don't believe that it is the loss of pre-Christian religions that is at the root of our problems. When Jesus came and said don't worship things, but instead, serve only love, treat all with love, including those you have previously rejected due to their sex lives or their ethnicities, that was a good thing.

Problems aren't caused by one religion displacing another. Paganism, Christianity, atheism, or Islam -- any religion can be used for good or it can be used for evil.

In the book, the religion of the Druids taught mindfulness of the seasons and respect for nature. It taught that as we must harvest plants and animals in order to sustain our lives, we must do it in a way that allows plants and animals to continue to thrive, that they may continue to sustain us in time to come.

It doesn't matter by what name we call our religion or our gods. What matters is that we must remember to be grateful for all that we have, that we must care for other people and for the earth. In order to thrive as a species, we need to work together in cooperation rather than to kill each other, and we need to care for the earth if we are to continue to find resources for food and shelter. We have religion in its many forms because it helps us to remember to do these things. But sometimes we forget the necessity of caring for each other and the earth. Sometimes the forgetting takes place in the context of religion, as we re-interpret our religion and use it to justify selfish ends. Or sometimes it takes place when people turn their backs on all religion.

It does not matter what label of religion or lack of religion people apply to themselves. What matters is that they care for each other and for the earth. When that caring starts to slip, we are diminished.


Pantheist. Scientific pantheist. Universal pantheist. Druid. Hedge druid. Reformed druid. Christian druid. Pagan. Neo-pagan. Eclectic pagan. Naturalistic pagan. Humananistic pagan. Humanist. Secular humanist. Religious humanist. Religious naturalist. Quaker. Liberal Quaker. Unprogrammed Quaker. Programmed Quaker. Nontheist Quaker. Christian Quaker. FGC Quaker. Unitarian Universalist.

Labels. Some of the above apply to me, some do not. In one of the internet forums I follow, people were denigrating labels. Labels have a bad name. I think what's bad is not labels, but stereotyping, that is, assuming that because a person has one attribute, they will also have certain other attributes. Labels are useful. I searched for my labels, and it was only after I found the labels pantheist and druid that I could find like-minded people.

The many different labels help us find like-minded people, but do they fracture us as well? Would religious naturalism be more known and accepted in our culture if we cohered more? Perhaps, but I think it's okay as is. I think it's good that each of us can find our own unique identity. We do come together with people who use different labels. I'm not a Unitarian Universalist, but I am a pantheist and a druid, and there are Unitarian Universalists in pantheist groups and in druid groups. Thus, even though I am not a UU, I know that UU's and I are part of the same community.

And so it spreads. I am not a conservative, but some of my friends my high school are conservatives. Conservatives and I are part of the same community. I am not Latin American, but my sister lives in Brazil, and I work with someone who is from Colombia, and I have a friend with a Mexican ancestor, so Latin Americans and I are part of the same community. I am not a bee, but bees pollinate the fruits and vegetables I eat, so we are part of the same community. I am not an apple tree, but an apple tree has given me food, and I have planted an apple tree.

We use labels to find what we are looking for. We use labels to say we want an apple, not a peach. We use labels to say we want to communicate with other pantheists. Labels help us find our way. They do not diminish that fact that all of us here on earth are here together, one community.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Busy bees

A sea of flowers, and the constant swirling of bees visiting them, bees of many different species. As I watched them on my lunch hour, it occurred to me that in nearby buildings there are people dressed in suits, signing papers, having meetings, talking on the phone, in their climate-controlled offices, guarded by receptionists who won't let the riffraff in. The bees carry on, oblivious of these administrators who think they are so important. The lifespan of an individual bee is shorter than my lifespan, but nature is eternal.

Resources to do the job

The talk in the news of late is about negotiations to raise the debt ceiling. Isn't it Congress who passed the bills for the expenditures and for the taxes? They're the ones who told the President he had to do these things, and now they won't give him the money to do it? It actually reminds me of my job -- we expect you to do these things, but we are not going to give you the resources to actually do them. You're on your own to achieve the impossible.