Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Making Milestones

A few weeks ago I was happy to write about the Milestones of being a Wiccan Chaplain in the department of corrections. Today I am equally happy to write about the milestones of being a Wiccan chaplain in the department of mental health. Perhaps even more so this time, for one simple reason.

Getting my credentials renewed with the department of corrections is an incredibly validating thing, especially when you consider at this point, that unfortunately, I may be the only one. However my point is that I am following an established path, a system or "the system."
There is a difference with the department of mental health, it is a completely different department with a completely different system. There is no set path, or procedure. There is no precedence for what I am doing, except the trail I am cutting through the unexplored territory.

Last year I started providing religious services for their patients, under supervision. a few months back someone suggested I submit a proposal for a 12 week course on Paganism, just to see what would happen. So I did, it was approved and added to the facility curriculum as an "Introduction to Earth Based Religions."

I learned in the Army that there is a big difference between the planning and execution of a mission. It always looks so good on paper, Perfect. But the real world offers to many variables and the first try is always the hardest. through the trials of pass or fail we learn by experience. But we never forget the first one, so much energy, anticipation and concern is funneled into it, specially when it was your idea and your plan.

Once on a training mission I was an OPFOR (opposing force) team leader. I was given very broad and general instructions and guidelines for our mission which was basically probe the enemy perimeter keeping them busy and tired all night, then breach their defenses and make their life a living hell to wake up to.

Probing was easy, we slept all night, each of us taking turns firing off a few shots on different sides of the compound. The entire enemy force would come rushing to return fire, they ran back and forth all night and slept like babies while we got ready for the real assault. I had selected a breach point for several reasons, there were huge generators running, so they wouldn't hear us, and no one likes to stand right next to something so much less set up camp there, so I knew there wound be anyone around.

The problem was accessibility, the surrounding area was uninviting. They knew that which is why they put their generators there, the forest was way to thick, way too dark and way to scary for anyone too go through. So when we reached the the treeline of "haunted Sherwood forest" my team was not thrilled by the idea. I lead them in a few hundred feet, it was dark, too dark to see. We stumbled and fell all over the place. I called a time out and told every one to eat their MRE (field rations) in the dark. We sat there for an hour in the pitch black trying to eat, even I spoon fed my cheek a few times. Then we just sat around telling dirty jokes until I made the call to muster.

The meal was perfect. The food stabilized everyone's metabolism and put us all at ease. We had fun trying to feel ourselves blind, and laughed at the noises we made when we failed. The time in the darkness gave our eyes time to adjust. That worked so well that we could see our trash on the ground and who was throwing shit at who. We were like ghosts. We floated through the forest without making a sound, avoiding every root and branch. We became so well adjusted that we could see our own shadows in the darkness as we made contact.

We completed that mission. *Grins*

Now, leading a new team we completed that 12 week course. It was considered a success, so much so that my class is now a permanent fixture of curriculum. I just started teaching my second semester. Same class, new students. I like the picture I used here, leaving milestones in the forest as I go.

Thank you Lord and Lady for the gift of direction and the courage to follow it, even in the darkness. Blessed be.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Shining a Little Light on Me

Pagan Prison Chaplaincy, (for the most part) is a humble path. There is no fame or glory to be had, there is no lime light on prison yard. But every once in a while someone notices.

Last October I wrote about saying cheese, where I was on the front page of a local newspaper insert. Which was an accident, the article wasn't about me but a group I had joined only a few days earlier.

A few months later I was in the same circular, but this time I was interviewed by reporters about the Kaweah River Drum Circle, which I had been a member of for only a few of its eighteen years. But the reporter was referred to me, as spokesmen for the group.

But today I appeared on the front page of our local paper The Visalia Times Delta (small picture) and the front page of the living section (huge picture). I must say I had my concerns about the manner in which I was going to be portrayed. But after a nice phone conversation with the reporter, I was more confidant that their interest in my story was genuine.

We had all but forgotten about it until my grandmother called first thing this morning, yelling about how surprised she was to open the morning paper and see me, again.

As I said, this is a very humble path. There is not much ego gratification to be gleaned from what I do. The knowledge that I am helping people who have a sincere desire to rehabilitate through spiritual growth has been the Mana that has sustained me for these past three years. Other than this Blog I don't engage in any sort of self promotion, but I must admit that it is nice to be recognized for my work. And I hope that it serves the greater purpose of shining a bit of light on the incredible need for religious pluralism in our society.

Thank you Lord and Lady for using me to show others that it can be done. Blessed Be.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Raising the Bar









So my hero Heather Deirdre Awen, has a blog of her own, and last week she sent me a heads up on her post about the failings of Pagan Clergy. Her post really hits home for me both as a Pagan and as a chaplain. She makes very good points and supports them with direct personal experiences, to which I can relate as I'm sure we all can.

I have had my experiences with grand poo bah high priestess, their online temples of the sacred stars and twinkles. I myself have been warmly invited into a group, then attacked, chastised and ridiculed for have an opinion. An Egyptian Wicca HP once asked me to introduce myself, and after I did she told that Egyptian Wicca was an ancient mystery school from which all traditions had emerged, including Freemasonry. She said her tradition, unlike the "Indian stuff" I had been "dabbling in" delves deep into the mysteries of the earth, which was sacred, in case I didn't know, then she called me young Padawon. I did a special adoration to the Lord and Lady years later when she was a student in the class I was lecturing at Fresno State University.

Anyways, I think the problem is that Paganism in general is all encompassing and inclusive. Which for the most part is a strength. But unfortunately it attracts people for many of the wrong reasons. The one that's most relevant here is the ego gratification of titles like High Priest.

My last post I mentioned that there were a handful of Pagan prison chaplains here in California a few years ago, and I was told that at this point I am the only one left. I wrote about the conspiracy theory they all shared, and Heathers post brings up other issues like how to dress. The prison system doesn't have too terrible of a dress code for visitors, the biggest thing is no jeans, because that's what the inmates are wearing. But bear in mind that this is a state facility, so there is some sense of an implied standard. So again I see it as a simple matter of common sense, or so you would think. I have personally seen a Pagan chaplain show up to a prison dressed as though he just came from a Reconnaissance Fair. WTF?

For the past three years, when I visit any institution, anywhere, as a chaplain, I DRESS like a chaplain. In fact I am always mistaken for the Catholic chaplain because that's how I dress, that's how I look and that's how I act. Ergo, that's how I am treated.

A few years ago at that same Pantheacon, during a cherry hill intensive, we were talking about Pagan clergy and someone said she had a problem with us using "their" terms and titles, like priest, reverend and chaplain. She said that it took away from the "mystique" of our path. To which I feverishly disagreed. I use congregation instead of coven, and religious service instead of ritual. Am I lying? No, I'm just using words their more comfortable with. But more importantly I have a serious problem with the need, use and emphasis of Mystique in any religious form of Paganism. Mystique is a substitute for substance! The more smoke and mirrors, robes and titles you need to be a high priest the less you have to offer as clergy.

I have been approached by members of my Coven, our church, my prison ministry, and random people with many of the serious life altering challenges that life can throw at you. I immediately realized that I was not qualified. So I went back to school, and I'm still there, and I'll be here until I am.

1. Be humbly aware of your limitations! "I don't know" are not bad words! Its important to remind them that I am not a trained or qualified counselor or therapist. I recommend that they call someone who is, there are lots of hot lines they can call.

Last week I was interview by a reporter from a local paper, and am looking forward to seeing how I am reflected. One of the things I hope she quotes me on is beliefs. Because as clergy, is not about our beliefs, it about the beliefs of those we serve.

2. You have no authority over anyone, you are a servant to everyone! As a Minority Faith Chaplain, I serve all kinds. each in a different way. For some I do nothing but show up, because they can't do their own ritual without supervision, so sometimes the greatest service I can be is by just showing and and shutting up.

Qualification?

Hmmm boy that's the big one isn't it? So I'm a third degree high priest, am I qualified? So I have a degree in religious studies, am I qualified? What if I wave a degree in psychology? How bout now? Qualifications of Pagan clergy has always been a double edged sword, anyone can argue either side of anyone's clergy resume and never get anywhere. I often get asked this question, sometimes people have a genuine interest, others are looking for a chink in your armor. So I usually answer them with another question, "What qualifications should I have?"

If you were to ask me, I would say read the book "The Circle Within" by Dianne Sylvan. She wrote one of my top three books on Wicca. In it she listed the qualities or qualifications that we should strive for. So many times when I am asked, I often say that the qualifications I hope I am developing are:

Love
Compassion
Humor
Gratitude
Integrate
Wisdom
Joy
Growth

I think as long as we strive to inculcate these graces, we'll keep the bar up there were it need to be. Blessed Be.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Milestones

When I first entered the extraordinary world of Pagan prison chaplaincy there were literally only a hand full of us. My first year at Pantheacon I got to meet them. Each of them distinctively diverse, sharing only a few characteristics. The one I noticed right away was the conspiracy theory.

They seem to spend the majority of their time speaking about all the discrimination, and the conspiracy by the Man to keep them down and out of the prison system. I accepted them at their words and payed close attention, because I was told to, because "I had no idea what I was getting myself into and what we chosen few were up against." Now I'm not saying there is no religious discrimination, but I had yet to see any myself. And on several occasions what was identified by them as discrimination towards us (myself included) I recognized as protocal and priority.

We had got in to do a service early one morning, but it was canceled because the tule fog was so thick you couldn't see five feet in front of you, much less the whole yard. "This kind of passive aggressive deterrence tactic is a perfect example of what we were fighting against, get used to it." But as a combat veteran, I recognized the serious breach of security. If you cant see it, it's not secure, the military taught me to used conditions like that to attack, evade and escape. No conspiracy, just common sense.

I was eager to talk to the others at Pantheacon about their more positive experiences. I wanted to talk shop, I wanted to talk about how they handle certain challenges with inmates, how they ran their rituals, what worked for them and what didn't. But there was not much to talk about there, most of them weren't actually, technically, actively volunteering. They had all gone and done it before, but not anymore. they each had unique stories about how the Man had stopped them.

The one story that always haunted me was the "brown card." To become a religious volunteer, you must pass a background check and security clearance, then there are in-service training programs you must attend before you are issued a state department of corrections ID, called a brown card. (Although their not actually brown.)

The card is only good for one year, at which time you must go through the process again to renew your ID and clearance. The catch I was told, is that when its time to renew, they don't schedule any training. So you cant renew, your ID expires and your locked out, which is were they want you. I was warned time and time again, that I was being used. That I was either a mindless pawn or a sellout. And when they were done with me I would get "starved out" like the rest of them.

So around the end of May every year I get a little nervous, hoping my supervisor there at the prison doesn't make a liar out of me. They haven't. In fact they have gone through great lengths to keep me on. Though I can't say more than that about it, the fact is last week I filled out the packet for the third time, took my picture for the third time, and received my renewed credentials for the third time.

In these past few years of service I have seen many inmates come and go, I've seen many paid staff come and go, yet as a Wiccan chaplain I remain..... proof that it can be done.

Thank you Lord and Lady for investing me with the fortitude necessary to walk the path you have laid before me.

Blessed Be.