Happy Solstice – The Return of the Light

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Up here in the North, the skies are dark even at mid day.  Clouds and rain add to the gloom. [update]  How dark is it?  My dusk to dawn lights came on before noon.

But that is all about to change (albeit slowly) for tonight is the longest darkest night, and the light will begin to return.

Happy Winter Solstice! (Of course, it is only Winter Solstice for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere; happy Summer Solstice to our friends South of the equator)

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Winter Solstice is the promise of new life; we really won’t notice the days getting longer until closer to Candlemas/Brigid/Ground Hog’s Day.

Tonight, a group of friends and loved ones will gather in my back yard for a bonfire (we may need rain gear this year). We will write down what we want to leave in the darkness as well as what we want to bring with us into the light and put those into the fire (which was of course, the yule log) The smoke from that fire will send our wishes to the heavens. (in a wish lantern, weather permitting)  We will then, “pass the light”, candle to candle whilst listening to (and in many cases, signing) Dar Williams, “The Christians and the Pagans”. We then all sang along to “Here Comes The Sun” a Solstice classic. We will then share food, drink and merriment through the darkest night.

It doesn’t matter what religion you are or aren’t. It doesn’t matter what you believe. The Solstice is an astronomical event that draws everyone together at this time of year to celebrate light, love and hope.

Each year, I love to post the Northern Exposure video to the story Raven Steals the Light being told (I’ve used it for the children’s story at Solstice rituals in years past)

It is a traditional story from the Northwest Coast and Alaska.

I like this Northern Exposure version.

Not everyone knows this, but the town of ‘Cicily Alaska” is about an hour and a half from where I live, and is in fact Roslyn Washington (yes, I’ve been to The Brick)

and here’s another wonderful story of light in a magical part of the world (the Great Pacific Northwest)…

And of course, my traditional Solstice post/greeting…

On this night, around 3,000 years BC, a very special event unfolds at a place we now call Newgrange. A group gathers around a large circular stone structure. A drumbeat resounds across the mist-shrouded hills of ancient Ireland, bump bump… bump bump… bump bump…; The heartbeat of mother earth. The scent of incense mingles with moss, moist earth and the burning torches. All gaze hopefully towards the eastern horizon. After what seems like an eternity, it happens, the rising sun begins its ascent. Once again all attention is turned to the structure with great anticipation. Suddenly an intense shaft of light pierces the innermost chamber of the structure, illuminating a stone basin adorned with carvings of spirals, eyes, solar disks, and other sacred symbols. A joyful sound rises from the crowd, who then begin to dance ecstatically. For the darkest darkness of winter has passed, and the light has returned. Soon: the hills will be covered in fresh green grasses and wildflowers, trees will bloom and set fruit, animals will give birth, the songs of birds will fill the skies. The cycle of life will continue. The world, once again, has been reborn.

Tonight we celebrate an event, which predates our modern religious celebrations, an event as old as time its self. Just as events like this were observed at Newgrange Ireland, we find similar ancient architectural wonders based on solstices and equinoxes all across Europe, Asia, The Americas, Indonesia and the Middle East. Thousands of years ago, these monolithic structures were built and elaborate ceremonies held, out of reverence for the cycle of life, and perhaps the fear that without human intervention, the sun would not return.

At the winter solstice, the tilt of the earth on its axis, is such that our hemisphere is leaning farthest away from the sun, our days are shortest and the sun is at the lowest arc in the sky. For thousands of years, our ancestors honored the cycles of life: solstices, equinoxes, harvests and plantings. The winter solstice is perhaps the most sacred of these celebrations. So sacred in fact, that modern religious observations all over the world take place on or near the time of the solstice. Solstice observance is not a celebration that excludes or dismisses any other religious celebration; rather it is the common bond of many modern and not so modern religions.

The time of the winter solstice represents death and rebirth, just as corn stalks wither and die in the fields in the fall, so does the symbolic god give his body to nourish the earth, only to be reborn of the goddess again on this darkest night. The original divine birth. Is it any wonder then: that the Christian church chose this sacred time of the year to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Hebrew people to celebrate the Festival of Lights, or Native Americans and other aboriginal peoples to celebrate their sacred events?

Solstice is not only a time to celebrate the retreat of darkness and the return of the light, but it is a time to look inward, at the darkness within ourselves and to embrace it. For without darkness, there would be no light. Without challenge, there would be no triumph. It is a time to celebrate the death of old habits, thought patterns, and difficulties, a time to celebrate a spiritual renewal. The darkness gives us all a chance to embrace and work through our own darkness, so that like the earth, we may also be renewed.

L. Lisa Lawrence
Copyright 1998

Here’s our observance from 2007 (the video is just too much fun!)

Here’s one from two years ago, in my back yard. For the last several years, the weather has cooperated for a bonfire even when the forecast is for a 100% chance of rain. Last night, the howling winds stopped just before we were ready to move outside.

Here are the songs from the video, my favorite Winter Solstice songs…

“The Christians and the Pagans” by Dar Williams

Amber called her uncle, said, “We’re up here for the holiday,
Jane and I were having Solstice, now we need a place to stay.”
And her Christ-loving uncle watched his wife hang Mary on a tree,
He watched his son hang candy canes all made with red dye number three.
He told his niece, “It’s Christmas eve, I know our life is not your style,”
She said, “Christmas is like Solstice, and we miss you and it’s been a while.”

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said,
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses.

The food was great, the tree plugged in, the meal had gone without a hitch,
Till Timmy turned to Amber and said, “Is it true that you’re a witch?”
His mom jumped up and said, “The pies are burning,” and she hit the kitchen,
And it was Jane who spoke, she said, “It’s true, you’re cousin’s not a Christian,
But we love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share,
And you find magic from your God, and we find magic everywhere.”

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
And where does magic come from , I think magic’s in the learning,
‘Cause now when Christians sit with Pagans only pumpkin pies are burning.

When Amber tried to do the dishes, her aunt said, “Really, no, don’t bother.”
Amber’s uncle saw how Amber looked like Tim and like her father.
He thought about his brother, how they hadn’t spoken in a year,
He thought he’d call him up and say, “It’s Christmas and your daughter’s here.”
He thought of fathers, sons and brothers, saw his own son tug his sleeve,
Saying, “Can I be a Pagan?” Dad said, “We’ll discuss it when they leave.”

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old,
And making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold…

And of course, the required Solstice tune…

“Here comes the sun” by the Beatles

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it’s all right

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it’s all right

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it’s all right

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it’s all right
It’s all right…

Just now, it just now… happened…

Blessed Solstice all, let’s look to the light.

~L



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The Power of Words

I was reminded last night at the World Aids Day event at the Tacoma Art Museum how powerful words are.

Words have great power

The power to create laughter…

The power to bring tears…

The power to harm…

the power to heal…

The power to discourage…

The power to encourage…

The power to create…

The power to destroy…

The power to share love…

The power to spread hate…

The power to bring truth…

The power to manipulate with lies…

The power of words can change the world

The power to educate…

The power to influence…

The power to ignite passion…

The power to bring people together for a common cause…

The power to spark revolution…

The power to create change…

We should all strive to find and use our voices

To choose and use our words to work toward a better world.

Our words… Your words, are important!


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Response to Art, AIDS, America Exhibit at TAM

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I was proud to have a piece of poetry accepted and to be invited to read at tonight’s Tacoma Art Museum’s World Aids Day event.

My friend Elizabeth Beck (who encouraged me to submit because I had missed the call) opened the show, her sister and my friend Jennifer Chushcoff was also a featured poet and I closed out the show.

We wrote “reaction” pieces based on our experiences at the Art, AIDS, America exhibit.

My poem was a reaction to not only the exhibit, but to the dichotomy between the Dia De Los Muertos event and the AAA exhibit.

Here are the words I shared tonight…

“Remembrance”

She watched as a woman lovingly created an altar honoring her departed loved ones, who shared stories of her father and mother’s love, of happy memories with her brother…

Then… how quickly the cancer took her aunt’s life and how she had not yet had time to recover from the sudden loss. She continued placing photographs of her loved ones on the altar and returned to her stories of happiness, love and tradition…

Colorful costumes, flowers, candles and ornately decorated offerendas filled with items important to those they were created for graced multiple levels of the museum, all in honor of the dead…

Music played and dancers performed for the beloved dead as children created bright paper flowers, skull masks and participated in other art and craft projects…

It was a Fiesta… for death is part of life and all stages of life are to be celebrated…

She met and spoke to people of many different cultures, some of whom shared traditions of honoring departed loved ones and ancestors…

“How odd”, she thought, that white culture in the Untied States fears death, and does not want to speak of it, more or less celebrate it and those who have passed…

Love was in the air, it was palpable as the love for the ancestors pulsed through the building and out into the world. She could sense that the ancestors knew they were loved and sent their love back in return…

She was so happy she had come as she floated through the event in her ornate costume planning her own night of remembrance in the ancient tradition of her Irish ancestors…

Then she walked down the hall…

Where she was reminded of the stores of the forgotten…

Those who died alone, in agony and unnecessary shame…

Estranged from family and loved ones because of a diagnosis…

She saw graphic depictions of the disease, the suffering, the stigma which was, which is AIDS…

“They are dirty…. sinners…. brought it upon themselves…” 

No compassion, no love, only ignorance, hatred and ostracizing those who needed compassion the most…

Forgotten as friends, lovers, parents, children, cast aside as “damaged”, “dirty” and “shameful” treated as less than human for perceived transgressions…

Gallery by gallery, the pain was exposed, stripped down to raw agony of the mind, body and spirit…

Stripped of dignity…

Denied celebration of life, and death…

Denied remembrance…

In a dark corner, she leaned against the wall, weary, from a heavy heart…

She remembered friends waiting for test results and receiving what at the time was a death sentence, a mark of shame…

A single tear ran down her cheek, smearing her ornate calavera makeup as she walked back down the hall, and out into the world, determined to remember.”

This exhibit will only be shown at three museums nationwide.

It is powerful.

It is provocative.

It is not to be missed!

You can view it at the Tacoma Art Museum through January 10th.

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Compassion, There is (or should be) Enough for Everyone

I’m seeing a lot of posts, as I have over the last several months pitting groups against each other.

It seems that in the small and narrow minds of some that compassion for one group of people is seen as not caring about others.

People who were outraged about Cecil the Lion were vilified and accused of not caring about starving children in Africa or whatever cause internet trolls wanted to throw out there.

Guess what folks, we can all care about more than one cause at once.

The statement that Black Lives Matter is twisted and co-opted by those who don’t understand that yes, all lives do matter, but black lives are being unnecessarily taken at alarming rates and that the underlying causes need to be addressed for the good of humanity.

And now the Syrian refugee crisis.

Islamophobia aside (don’t get me started) many are outraged that we still have homeless veterans (or homeless at all) and say that no refugee should be accepted until all of our veterans/other homeless are taken care of.

And you know what? We should be outraged that veterans (or anyone) is on the street in this country while corporate CEOs make obscene amounts of money poisoning our environment, and others grow wealthier by the day on the backs of our soldiers sent off to fight wars for profit.

Does that mean we should pit one group against another?

NO!

It means that we should try to help EVERYONE.

Rather than using this crisis to “take sides” and pit groups against one another, how about we try to find a better way to think and to act.

Instead of creating more hurt and anger, how about you think of actual solutions that will help everyone?

Could the homeless and veterans be sheltered and put to work helping the refugees assimilate? We won’t know unless we try, until we propose solutions, when we vote and demand that our alleged “leaders” are accountable (and stop with the partisan bickering from the far sides of the spectrum, that helps no one)

Before you post that next inflammatory meme to social media which does nothing but divide people further, how about taking some real action and calling/writing/faxing your congress critter and demanding that we take care of our veterans, the homeless AND the refugees who did not ask to be bombed out of their country.


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Dia De Los Muertos in Tacoma

Dia De Los Muertos, translates to Day of the Dead.

Once a little known (to us) observance celebrated in Mexico and Latin America, it has become more prevalent in our society, the predominant culture of which is taught to fear death and the dead.

The closest festival that those of us with Northern European/Gaelic/Celtic ancestry once had is Samhain, which was eventually assimilated by our culture and turned into the modern Halloween which has nothing to do with honoring our ancestors and departed loved ones and everything to do with commercial profit.

Sadly, this is beginning to happen to Dia De Los Muertos as is evidenced by incredibly tacky Halloween costumes on sale, and other misappropriations.

Make no mistake, Dia De Los Muertos is not “Mexican Halloween” just like Cinco De Mayo is not “Mexican Independence Day” (it commemorates the battle of Pueblo and achieving victory over French forces against all odds, but that’s a conversation for another day) nor is it about drinking tequila until you puke.

This Huffington Post article speaks to appropriation and misrepresentation of the observance, so rather than wax poetic from upon my soapbox, I shall link it here.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-cubias/dia-de-los-muertos-is-not_b_6056734.html

While appropriation and colonization are very real and serious issues based in devaluing and disrespecting other cultures, the United States has always been known as the “Great American Melting Pot” in which many generations of immigrants from different cultures brought some of their own traditions.

We can learn a lot from other cultures and regain some of the connections to the earth and our ancestors we lost when we all melded into a homogenous culture if we approach it with respect and a desire to learn.

This short video explains the basics of the observance…

The Day of the Dead – A Lot More Than Skulls and Candy

It's definitely not the “Mexican Halloween.”

Posted by AJ+ on Saturday, October 31, 2015

Today, an example of respectful learning and celebration occurred at the Tacoma Art Museum for Dia De Los Muertos.

A colorful event that included education, entertainment, music, activities for children and sacred spaces created for departed loves ones drew people from all over Tacoma and beyond in the spirit of community.

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Offerendas (altars built to honor departed loves ones and ancestors) lined hallways on multiple levels of the museum. Filled with photographs, decorations, memorabilia and often, written explanations about the symbolism and people involved were lovingly built by individuals, families and community groups who took workshops to understand their significance so that they could be created out of love and respect.

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I spoke with a Latina woman who was laying out a lovely offerenda she was decorating with feather headdresses, photographs and items of significance or that were favorite things of her departed loved ones. She told me about her father who had passed only one year ago, and her grandmother and aunt. She sadly told of how quickly “the cancer” took one of her relatives and smiled sharing fond memories others.

I then spoke with a Chinese American woman who wanted to take my photograph since I was in costume and we shared stories of observances in our own pre-United States cultures (in my case, Irish) that were similar to Dia De Los Muertos,

I saw people of all ages, classes, cultures and ethnicities come together to learn, share and remember their departed loves one who live in our hearts and stories. I watched people of diverse political leanings learn about another culture at a deeper and more personal level than before. I witnessed healing.

If you didn’t make it this year, you need to put it on your calendar for next year. I certainly hope that the museum will continue to provide this amazing, free event to the community.

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There is still time to “get your dead on”. Tonight, on 6th Avenue there is a Dia De Los Muertos

Doors will open at the Studio 6 Ballroom Event space, 2610 6th Avenue, at 4:00 PM for face painting, creating and local vendor setup.

At 6:00 PM a procession will move down 6th Ave, many participants carrying paper mache figures they created in workshops.

At 7:00 PM, there will be live music, celebration and activities back at the event space lasting until 9:00 PM.

Come join your community and departed loves ones, for death is not to be feared, it is part of life and the end, is just the beginning.

I leave you with a charming short film showing a little girl discovering Dia De Los Muertos

Gun Control – A post that will likely piss off both sides…

I’ve remained silent on the issue of gun control for some time now.

This is not because I don’t care or don’t have an opinion (I have lots of them) it’s because I see too much emotion, hysteria, knee jerk reactions, use of tragedy to promote a political agenda and unreasonableness on both sides of the issue, and I prefer to wait until a calm, reasonable discussion can be had when topics are this important.

I have opinions that support both sides of the issue, so this post is likely to piss off everyone who has a strong opinion, but such is life.

Most important, I have professional training and experience that may help clear up some misinformation about the use of firearms.

I am a gun owner. My weapons are registered and I have a concealed carry permit.

I am well trained in not only their use, but in the ethical implications of their use because I am a former federal law enforcement officer.

No matter what a lay person sees on television, you do not “shoot someone in the leg to wound/stop them” or brandish a weapon in an attempt to “scare” them. Pulling a gun ALWAYS escalates a situation.

The ONLY reason to pull a weapon is to STOP the threat (here’s a hint, “shoot to stop” is the phrase that replaced “shoot to kill”) because you believe your life or the life of someone in your care is in imminent danger (and you better be able to articulate that in a court of law)

If someone who is amped up on enough adrenaline to need to pull a weapon in the first place tired to hit an arm or a leg, it’s not going to work; the only safe shot to take in order to hit anything is center of mass (go through some professional tactical training if you don’t believe me)

Even if someone could “shoot to wound” you know what happens? The arm or leg will be missed multiple times before it is hit (if it is ever hit) putting everyone else in the area in danger and creating more victims.

If you can not articulate in a court of law why your life or the life of someone else was in immediate danger and lethal force was the only (last) option, then you have no business pulling a gun out of it’s holster.

There is ONE reason to pull a weapon and that is to kill someone.

If someone is not mentally, physically and emotionally prepared to do that, a gun is not for them and will most likely hurt or kill them or someone else who is not the intended target.  They should not own, carry nor keep one in their home.

The first day of my law enforcement academy, our RTO asked us a question. “How many of you could take a human life?”

Half of the class either didn’t raise their hands at all or hesitated so long that it was a moot point. Only a handful of the other half, myself included put our hands up without hesitation.

“All of you that hesitated… You’re DEAD… Because the time it took you to decide that, gave someone else the time they needed to kill you.” He chastised.

Why did I not hesitate? Because I’ve seen what humans are capable of doing to one another. As a paramedic and one who had already worked in field law enforcement, I saw things I can’t tell regular people about at all. In addition to the horrendous things I’ve seen done to others, I’ve had people try to kill me.

Yes, given the right circumstances, I am capable of it.

With that said, I’m grateful that in my years working law enforcement, that I never had to un holster my weapon anywhere but on the range (I’ve had my holster unsnapped and had my hand on it however) Thankfully, I have been able to defend myself with a baton and/or my hands.

Despite what those who hate police like to think/espouse no one (barring mental illness/hatred bordering on mental illness) wants to take a human life in that manner. Those I have known who have had to make that choice are forever changed, forever haunted and damaged by the most terrible (and split second) decision one can be required to make.

The first thing that the self proclaimed constitutional scholars throw out there is the second amendment to the constitution.

Let’s take a look at it, shall we?

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed

The words that so many zealots find inconvenient is the part about the “well regulated militia”. This does not appear to give everyone the right to an insane arsenal of assault weapons.

With that said, there are many texts that list the following pre constitution reasons for the right to bear arms (sorry, if it’s not getting graded or paid for, I’m not citing multiple sources on my lunch break… you all know how to use the internet)

• Enabling the people to organize a militia system
• participating in law enforcement;
• deterring tyrannical government;
• repelling invasion;
• suppressing insurrection, allegedly including slave revolts;
• facilitating a natural right of self-defense;

I didn’t see hunting on that list, but I would add it myself.

Sorry folks, but cruelly treated factory farmed meat is much less humane and healthy than hunting.

But in the name of brevity (and to illustrate my point), let’s just say that we have no right to bear arms except as part of a “well organized militia”.

Let’s say that “guns are banned”.

I ask those who want “all guns off the street” how exactly they plan on facilitating that plan of action?

The guns are already out there; the genie is out of the bottle people… and there is no way of getting it back in.

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Should the military go door to door and search every home, every car, go through every back alley and dig holes in people’s back yards?

There’s another “pesky” little constitutional issue there; it’s called the 4th amendment which protects us from unreasonable search and seizure.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

As much as I hate to say it, “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” it’s true.

Yes, horrific incidents occur when legally purchased guns are stolen/not secured, but in my opinion, the answer to that is education and to enforce the laws that we already have and to close loopholes.

All you’re going to have by pushing for a total gun ban is unarmed innocent people who are easy prey for the criminals, who do not acquire their weaponry through legal channels in the first place and have already shown blatant disregard for the law.

The whole idea of “arming teachers” is ludicrous at best; dangerous and negligent in common practice and criminal at worst.

The fact is, that not everyone is cut out to safely and responsibly carry/handle/use a firearm. Putting them in the hands of people who are not is no solution, it just exacerbates the problem.

I have mixed feelings on gun registration. On one hand, we have to register our cars; on the other, it’s an expensive program, another layer of government and will have no effect on criminals.

I wish I had an “easy” solution for all of this, but I don’t believe there is one.

So here are a few ideas I have floating around in my head.

* Education

* Training

* Teaching our children to value human life

* Better mental health care for EVERYONE

* Enforce the laws we already have on the books

* Hold people responsible for their weapons/choices

* Stop glorifying “thug life”

I’m sure I’ve pissed everyone on both sides off with this post.

GOOD! That means I’ve made you think.

We have a problem with gun violence in this country.  To believe or say otherwise is naive at bests.  I won’t bore you with statistics; they are readily available and all show one thing, the United States has a outrageously higher rate of gun violence than any other developed country.

The question at hand is “How do we deal with it?”

We need people to calm the heck down (the hysterical partisan BS I’ve seen from both sides doesn’t do anyone any good), think rationally and work cooperatively together for solutions.

~L


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