You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2011.

It has been a week since we arrived back from our adventure in England and it seems like we should be going back to see all that we weren’t able to. But I suppose that journey is yet to be. It also seems as if we have never left and are still there. I know at least it is that way for me, I know that I both left and took away something from my time on the Tor, my time in the stones.

I’ve seen all the students that went during this past week, some in passing and others for hours of deep conversations. I would say that we were all changed in deep and profound ways that have yet to be revealed. When we finally do find the moment to look back and see the changes that occurred it may be 5 or 10 years down the road. That is okay. As a very brilliant man said, the truest, deepest teaching is that which comes back far down the road as a revelation and a memory all at once. It isn’t the quick assessment at the end of the term. No, we are all still transitioning from who we were, to what we gained, and then on to what we are to become because of our experience.

I just want to thank everyone who helped both with energy or funding, in making this extraordinary experience a reality. Home is not what it used to be, it is something greater. It is the web of connection between all of us who participated including the sponsors. It is finding that there is something greater than the self, greater than the differences, greater than the inadequate words that we use to express ourselves. So, home that is where I am at. I am at a placer greater than I can imagine and I am there with all of you and then some.

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Claire

The day started early; we were on a bus headed for Avebury and I could not have been more thrilled.  The ride would be long compared to our other adventures.  Most of them had been in London and we took the Tube, walked, or a combination of the two in order to get to our destinations. But today would begin about an hour and a half to the west of London.  Thankfully we had Claire and Zah Rasul from SU London with us as our hosts.  They have been with us since the beginning and have become like family to the group. 

As we moved forward to our destination the country side revealed a beauty not seen in London.  Rich, green rolling hills and buildings that spoke of centuries gone by.  During

We met our tour guide in the parking lot – a delightful woman with a good general knowledge but definitely not pagan.  She guided us to the gate where we gathered before entering the fields.  She explained that we might see some “kooky new age types” because it was a special day; it was the equinox.  It was at that point that the Dean introduced me, the Pagan Chaplain for the University, and then we began.  The stones were magnificent and we were given the opportunity to use divining rods to locate energy points and see how the stones affected the rods. 

Avebury

The energy was high, so very, very high I could feel it course all around me.  Everyone was enjoying themselves; the size of the stones and what they represented was not lost on a single person.  We were given free license to move about as we wanted and not in a group.  So I and one of the students took off to a secondary field.  This field had the stones that lined the avenue leading up to the stone circle and trench.  All I could think of was “these were the maiden gates,” this is where the ancestors walked to come to this place.

We talked a bit, but soon returned to where we had come from.  The students had scattered but I was told that the guide wanted me to join her at the moon circle.  I was given directions and off I went to find her.  What I found was not the guide but a ritual circle being set up; a hand fasting would be taking place there in a few hours.  It was the re-commitment of a couple already married several years – their children would be present to witness the ceremony.  What a wonderful way to spend the equinox. I didn’t linger here though, it was not my place.  So I moved on and found the rest of the group.  It was time to begin gathering ourselves to move back to the bus. 

Back on the bus, our next stop is Glastonbury.  We are going to the Tor.  First, however, was the experience of the town of Glastonbury itself.  As we drove into town metaphysical shops lined the street.  Almost like Salem but very different in its feel and energy.  I was home.  We stopped at the Glastonbury Abbey; its ruins are all that are left.  Magnificent in their own right, the ruins spoke of a time when churches and Christian faiths fought amongst themselves.  Destruction of such a beautiful place can only come through fear, greed and hate.  I’m glad that some of it has been preserved for us to see. 

We began to ascend the “hill”, a steep climb to say the least, and I begun to worry that not all of our group would be able to make it to the top.  A couple of people in the group had physical limitations and it could have been tricky for them.  But we all went slow, deliberate, but slow.  Each of us would stop on occasion, catching our breath and taking in the view.  Personally I would look back to those behind me to see if we were all making it; to my delight all were.  When I finally made it to the top emotions flooded over me.  This truly was the peace that I was looking for; this is where I was meant to travel to.  Tears welled up in my eyes and the words formed in my head – never shall I ever hide nor deny who and what I am.  I walked across the top of the Tor, through the tower that Christians had erected so many centuries ago, and to the other side.  I could see why the ancestors would see this as the place where sky meets land.  Most of the day I was quiet, very quiet; now was no different, but I had ritual to perform.

I spoke with the Dean about where I had chosen for us to gather and soon we were all collected on a flat spot just below the top.  I had placed a few objects in the center of what would be my circle and let everyone else know that if they wanted they could place anything there as well for a blessing of energy.  The many items that joined mine made a wonderful collection of personal belongings.  As we began the ritual I had everyone join in the casting of the circle, hand to hand and heart to heart.  The ritual was simple and so was its message: balance.  Each person blindly selected a stone from a pouch.  It was smooth and full of color and meaning – represented their individual traditions and the knowledge that they brought with them to this trip.  I asked them to close their eyes and feel that core bit that the stone spoke to them about.  When they opened their eyes they were instructed to also open their bottles of bubbles, yes bubbles.  The bubbles were used to places wishes and thoughts on the wind, to allow the energy of change to be given life and flight so the gods could take them and work those wishes through.  So on the Tor

Tor

our entire group held up their bubble wands to watch the beauty they created fly away.  After this another pouch of stones was passed.  It was full of small, rough clear quartz crystals.  They represented the clean slate that each of us now have.  It is ours to smooth out, ours to add color too, and ours to mold and make decisions on how it will look.  No one needs give up their traditions, they should hold on to them, but now is the time to integrate those traditions into the greater world in understanding and cooperation.

We ended with cakes and ale, or in this case a loaf of fresh bread and bottled water.  It was time to enjoy the energy and peace of the place which had become very quiet during the ritual.  You see as soon as we began a hush had come over the Tor.  There had been several people there when we arrived and when we started the ritual most of them were still there, but it was as if they all left right after our ritual began.  I looked around and found out that they hadn’t left, everyone was still there; but our small microcosm was a world all unto itself and everything outside of it had seemed to cease.  Now we were back on this plane, in this world, and the rest of the bubbles were being used.  The descent from the Tor began and our trip back to London was quiet.  I will never forget this experience, it was a place I needed to be.

It was a day of rest, which means I got to sleep in without any wakeup call to disturb my slumber.  The rest was necessary.  We have been going at a fast pace without much time to just sit back and enjoy the city of London and that is what we did yesterday.  For me that meant waking naturally, a hot breakfast and then an adventure with friends to explore the sounds and foods that are around us.

We started off walking to Coven Garden.  There are a couple of metaphysical shops I wanted to explore and besides I needed some supplies for ritual at Glastonbury.  I found my supplies and much to my delight I also found an old-fashioned hour-glass.  Well, a 15-minute timer, but hour-glass sounds better.  Once that task was done and all three of us (yes there were three of us) had made our purchases we decided to figure out how to get to Camden Locks.  Now, this adventure started much earlier at the hotel; we had looked at the computer, the maps, and even discussed what all the information meant.  We had it written down, thought about, and remembered (but not necessarily memorized) so we wouldn’t get lost.  Even if we got a little lost we were good with that; we would get a cab if need be to get us home.  But we figured it out and stood there, compass in hand, deciding that we were at the correct bus stop.  That was our first mistake. As we boarded the bus one of us (not me) had the foresight to ask if this bus went in the right direction – it didn’t.  But the bus driver was kind and told us that we were only off by which side of the street we were standing on.

Across the road we go and soon our bus arrives.  We board, swipe our cards, and find seats on the top-level of the double-decker bus.  A minute or two pass and a “bus officer” comes up the stairs checking tickets.  As it turns out we were riding illegally – our Tube/Bus passes had run out of money.  Well that was a shock.  He explained that it was a £50 fine each for the two of us (I would be one of them) that hadn’t paid for our trip.  We were in shock and he could tell.  We explained that we had no idea that our passes had no money on them and that honestly we had no clue what we were doing!  He sat down with us and inquired about our trip, where we were staying, when we were leaving and then he smiled.  He explained he was a reasonable man (at which point I was trying to figure out how to explain that one of our party was given up as bribe to the bus police) and suggested that we get off at a particular stop and replenish our bus cards.  He smiled and said he would be visiting the States this coming summer and hoped that he would find people as generous as himself if he needed assistance.

We thanked him profusely and did as we were told only to find out the station he had told us to go to was the one we actually headed for.  Kindness was the beginning of the adventure.  We walked the streets with tattoo parlors and punk shops all around.  The imagery was amazing and unfortunately I’m not going to put up pictures, I don’t have time.  But let me say, purchases were made, beautiful things were seen, and street vendors making crepes that you could walk away eating were the focus of our day.  As time progressed we knew that we needed to return to the hotel after all it was Purim and we would be heading to the West London Synagogue to celebrate the holiday in the evening.

The trip to the Synagogue was quick and even the walk from the Tube was short, but we still ended up getting a “little lost” trying to find it.  The map directions were good, but the opening to the Synagogue was truly not evident.  After about 5+ minutes of looking we found it, but only because we saw people in costume entering into what looked like a club with bouncers.  As we spoke with the security we told that the congregation was a Reform Jewish Synagogue and asked if that was okay.  It was, and honestly I had no idea what to expect based on what that meant.  Once again, like at the Hindu temple, our bags were searched prior to our entering, but once in the fun began. 

Children, young people and parents were everywhere.  A table filled with food of all kinds was laid before us; this was for the celebration after the celebration.  The costumed people were all entering the main room of the synagogue so we hung up our coats and followed. We had been told that the service was going to be done in the manner of “Grease”, yes the musical, but that did not prepare me for what was going on.  I had two Tele-Tubbies sitting behind me, a watermelon man across the way, Pink Ladies and T-Birds in full costume, children in batman suites, and noise makers given out to participants – us included.  One of our group had received a king’s royal cape to wear.  And now it began, the Purim ritual – the story of Ester.

It was wonderful and we were not disappointed by false advertisement.  The celebration was a combination of Hebrew and English, proper Queen’s English that is, with the female Rabbi leading the way.  When it came to telling the story of Ester families came forward to take turns reading the narrative. I thought it was over, but no, it has only just begun.  The group dressed in Pink Lady and T-Bird jackets got up and performed (with modified words) the musical Grease in order to once again tell Ester’s story.  What a treat, we all laughed, clapped and sang along.  At the end I understood the need for costumes, everyone who was dressed up danced around the temple together including our student.  It was fun! I can see how families would enjoy being in this place of worship.  By the time we were leaving we all had smiles on our face and laughs in our hearts.  What a wonderful way to end a beautiful day.

The most amazing place in all of London is where we visited yesterday: the Hindu temple. Unlike anything that you would expect it is a wonder to behold.

We took a coach to get there and out of the busy commute traffic we began to see it – the bright white domes of the temple, flags on each point. A wall separated us from see all of it, but there was no mistaking that we were about to move into a world of awe. As we turned the corner the wall was still separating us from a full view; but that didn’t matter, there was still excitement. It was drizzling, so the world around us was gray yet the moment we crossed the street and walked through the gate we were impressed even more. What we hadn’t seen before was even more magnificent.

Carved wood, limestone, and marble surrounded by beautiful gardens. We had literally stepped out of London and into a place of peace and beauty. I wish that I had pictures, but we had been instructed that is was necessary to leave our bags on the coach – no photography allowed in the temple, and only a designated location outside was available for photography. It is okay, this will never leave my memory.

The smell of incense as subtle and soft, this was a place sacred in so many ways I can’t describe it, but the students all felt the same. There was a hush that fell on all of us and it stayed the entire time we were there. Our guides led us upstairs, and as they did we all marvelled at the carved stone and wood. We were being allowed to view the statues of the deities in the prayer area. We could touch nothing, not the stone or wood of the walls, the deities were protected behind fine gates, so taking in their presence was all that we were allowed.

Time seemed to slip by unnoticed and yet it was time to move forward, a video and then a discussion regarding the temple where we could ask any questions we wished. It was an interesting education – this temple took only three years to build. An amazing feat since the stone and wood had to be shipped to India to be carved and then shipped back for the actual building of the site. People of the community volunteered their time and finances to build this sacred place, no outside funds were used. The reason for the wall, to allow you to only see the top and forget the outside world, then once you see the gardens, you forget the domes, once you see the inside you forget the gardens, and once you see the deities your total focus is on them. But I had a question to ask, something that bothered me from the moment we arrived.

The only disturbance to the peace that I felt was at the moment we passed through the gates into the courtyard and when we physically entered the building. At each point there were guards with bullet proof vests. I didn’t notice any guns, so I don’t know if they were armed. And as we entered the temple we had to pass through the same metal detectors as you would in a government building. I asked why? If this sacred place is open to all and a place to welcome everyone why the security? Scotland Yard has required the security; the temple has no choice in the matter. How sad is that. But the temple is safe and anyone is welcome to this sacred place. I only hope that someday we will live in a world where such security is not necessary.



Freedom Press

Yesterday found us in East London, Whitechapel and Brick Lane areas specifically. So if you are a Jack the Ripper “fan” you know where we were. It was a wonderful tour of the area by a local gentleman who had grown up there. We travelled past the Freedom Press offices, down alley ways and tiny streets. Frying Pan Alley that Jack London wrote about was on the tour as well as the preserved Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor. In our travels we were fortunate enough to run into a gentleman that took care of the oldest remaining synagogue. Scaffoldings were all about it, repairing and reconstructing the building. He told us we couldn’t enter but after conversations and familiarity with the group was gained, he allowed us to come in and “take a peek.” There was as much construction inside as there was outside, in a way reflecting what has been happening on the trip with each of us. The history of the building was given and a few questions asked; the building had been used by several religions over the years, Jewish being the current one.

During the time spent in this sacred place, the same thought occurred to many of us. Can we help? He talked about waiting for grants and funding to finish the refurbishing and it collectively dawned on us. Many, not all, gave a donation to aid in the project. This facility was not scheduled and this gentleman gave of himself, it was the least we could do to give back.

East London

We moved forward to Brick Lane, a place that has seen different immigrant communities come, flourish, and leave. Since the early 1970s Bangladeshi immigrants have called this area home. Our guide explained to us the tension and violence that occurred then: skin heads marching down streets and breaking windows of businesses. The image is a far one from what exists now. Today the area is known as Bangalor City, a thriving area of business known for its curry and the markets that surround it. The conflicts have ended; resolution has been found. The place that was once where Methodists could receive communion is now the mosque. Like the synagogue before, new uses for older buildings are found. The sacredness of the place remains the same even though the people occupying it have changed.

Our afternoon was free and so adventures began. For my friend and I we decided to find the White Hart pub: the oldest licensed pub in London. But we got lost. When we realized this fact, it was too late, we knew we were not in the right spot, or were we? A small sign caught my eye and I wanted to investigate further so I moved a little ahead. Well there it was: a metaphysical shop! That’s right; the gods gave me what I had been asking for – a place where I could get some supplies for Sunday’s ritual at the Glastonbury Tor. I’ll be going back to this shop for a few other things, but most importantly my friend got directions to the pub! So in honor of St. Pat’s day we had Guinness to quench our thirst.

When we got back to the hotel it was time to gather and leave for St. Patrick’s Church in Soho. It was St. Patrick’s Day after all. We have one Catholic in the group and she was looking forward to celebrating her faith. But the evening took a twist. When we arrived at the church it was under construction. Mass was to be held in a small room only able to accommodate 35 people – we had 17. The priest acted as if he didn’t know we were coming and told us we were “welcome but it might get tight”. Tight is an understatement. I ended up in the hallway not able to even hear and I’m truly glad for that. It isn’t that I didn’t want to be there, I find the Catholic mass beautiful. But what the priest said in his sermon was hurtful and cutting. The Pagans were under attack, our Catholic was embarrassed. The mass ended.

Guardian of the Park

When were finally got outside I was told what the priest said, it was hurtful, it didn’t matter, I’m glad I didn’t hear it. But now was the time to take what was done and negotiate the territory of when faiths collide. At some point this was going to happen between groups on the trip, I just didn’t know which groups. We decided to do the day’s reflection right away. And so the discussion began. I have to say that the tension was great, but the ability of our students to work through the histories of persecution/persecutor was amazing. Tears flowed, the feeling of being “less than” and under attack were expressed. A woman in the congregation had been less than understanding when she saw the small Thor’s Hammer on one girl’s necklace. Another could barely express how she felt about the hostility directed towards the group. The realization that not all churches/priests practice in the same manner was a shock to another.

In the end, the sea of emotions that could have divided the group ended up giving birth to new understanding of how we need to negotiate the differences between us. Not only to understand that there are differences, but that we also don’t need to carry the guilt of our tradition’s past. There will be others of our faith that we don’t agree with and that’s okay. It is what we do with our faith, how we present it, and what we do to help others understand that in order for traditions to survive and flourish they need to learn to coexist with one another.

Difference is the reason we continue to exist, not the downfall that we all think it is. Isolationism and blind dogma is the ending of any tradition, it makes no difference what that tradition is. Only through understanding that we don’t all need to be the same can we begin to understand that our faith traditions reflect who we are as humans. Helping others through practice, dialogue and example are all ways that we can bring differences to light in a positive manner and understand we don’t have to look at any one else as inferior or wrong. Remember in my previous post on Day 2 the picture of the Berlin Wall? Only through reconciliation with each other did the wall come down. Let it serve as a reminder to build on relationships rather than hanging on to separation.

I should have stated from the beginning if you wish to read the students views you can find them at http://onehumanity.syr.edu.

A slightly slower day and for me a relief that was the case. Jet lag is a horrible thing and I’m just finally beginning to feel like I’ve caught up on my sleep. Anyway, on to the days events. We spent the day in Muslim communities; two very different and distinct communities. The first was the King Fahad Academy, a school founded the “with the objective of providing schooling of the highest standards, equally acceptable to both Saudi and British Authorities for the children of Saudi Diplomats, Arab Muslims and the local community in London. At its inception, the Academy provided a comprehensive education from kindergarten to university entrance.”

We were greeted by our guide and taken to an auditorium to begin our tour of the school. As it turned out what our guide had planned for us, working directly with students, had fallen through. Like in any setting unforeseen issues and requirements of the students to complete exams had arisen and therefore they would not join us. Instead, dialog between our host and the students began. We talked about how the school came into being, what type of community it served, and how current events affected the school within the greater UK society. In turn our host was surprised to find out that America has the same issues and that religious prejudice, conflict and isolation is the same as it is here.

We were given the opportunity to observe/participate in mid-day prayers; unfortunately we had been misinformed that we would not need to cover our heads. Well, the ladies at least; but we made due with what we had and were loaned a couple of scarves in order take advantage of the offer. Maha and Meena, two of our students, helped the rest of us properly wrap the scarves properly. What a different feeling that was, at the same time confining and liberating. Each of us having a somewhat different feeling about what it was like to be covered the discussion ranged from extreme comfort to one of respect for another religions tradition. The reaction of the non-Muslim male students was just as fascinating; they complimented how we looked when covered. For whatever reason and I don’t know what it is, that made me uncomfortable.

After prayers a literal feast was presented to us for lunch. Pita bread, hummus, kabobs, beef, chicken, falafel, and plenty of other things for our eating delight. It was wonderful! As we ate the more relaxed conversation ensued and our host, Sef, and I began to converse. He was curious about pagans and paganism. All he has known is what he has seen in the UK, he wondered if Druids and Wicca were considered pagan and I began to explain to him that yes, they were and that paganism is only an umbrella term. That allowed him to “connect the dots” and understand greater. But he then had several other questions regarding pagan practices and ritual. His curiosity was genuine and it was a delight for me to talk with him about all of this. The seeds of understanding are planted.

Our afternoon took us to the Islamic Cultural Center for London. This is a beautiful center built in an old theater with the main gallery space converted to use for prayer. I’m not sure whether or not to call this space a mosque. I admit I am ignorant on what constitutes a mosque and what does not. This is where we would the rest of the afternoon with time to relax before the end of the day prayers. These prayers we participated in. Once again our heads were wrapped, but this time the experience was different. Not the wrapping, but in how we participated in the prayers.

At the school the women were separated from the men by taking our place in a balcony where we could observe through a heavy screen the Imam and the other men praying on the lower level. Here we were separated by a solid wall. Granted it was a movable wall, a partition if you will, but still a solid wall. There was no ability to even slightly glimpse the Imam or any other male on the other side to understand when we were to do the bows or kneeling. The other women helped us, adjusting scarves, helping us to cover skin, and smiling a lot, but there were no words spoken to indicate when we were to do anything. It was just try to feel or sense movement and then follow suit.

As it turns out this was a Shi’ah center, the Muslim students on our trip are Suni – two distinctly different groups. The prayers are different, the center and its focus are different, and everything else is different as well. Our Muslim students felt the disconnect too; I was not alone. We talked about his later in our reflection group and I must say that it raised my own awareness of the intra-religious differences that we all experience. Not all pagans are the same, why should I or anyone else expect the followers of another faith tradition to all be the same?

Many Faiths One Humanity

Berlin Wall - Change Your Life

We started the day at the Imperial War Museum; a place that originally celebrated the conquests of the British Empire.  In recent years though, it has been changed to show the impacts of war on society. We had our own tour guide, Prof. Cathy Roberts, an expert in the effects of conflict its psychology.  The first thing that I noticed was the two big guns in front of the building.  Artillery from a WWI war ship didn’t seem to fit my image of what we were trying to accomplish on this trip.  But soon it became clear, to the left and in a place that could not be ignored was a small symbol of what this museum was really about – a piece of the Berlin wall.  I was impressed.

As we entered it seemed a typical war museum, heavy and full of “big toys” and we wandered around a bit but soon headed to our destination: the Holocaust Exhibit.  I must say that it was beyond words what I felt; take it in was all anyone could do.  There were no photos allowed in this section of the museum, but I can’t imagine that anyone would want to even without the restriction.  From there we experienced “The Blitz” in a bomb shelter, and toured the “Home Front” exhibit. 

Many Faiths One Humanity

Tibetan Peace Garden

At this point Prof. Roberts guided us to lunch in the café and then instructed us to “dance your way to the garden.”  Yes, the garden.  The Tibetan Peace Garden is next to the Imperial War Museum.  I couldn’t think of a better way to deal with the horror of war than to allow peace to encircle it and bloom from the same ground. 

I journey for the day then took us to the Notre Dame Church.  A French Catholic church on the edge of China Town.  It was magnificent, modern, and totally out-of-place.  What struck many of us was the central image was not that of Jesus or a crucifix but rather a tapestry with a woman as that central theme.  Not only that but the church was a building in the round, there were not square corners, only curves and open space.  The priest who greeted our group made every effort to inform our group about the facility.  What was impressive was the fact that he just assumed that none of us knew anything regarding Christianity and gave a “gentle academic” tour that was wonderful in instructing rather than preaching.  With the tour ended it was time for tea!

Many Faiths One Humanity

The Crypt

What better place to have tea than in a crypt?  Well, that’s what we thought too.  At St. Martins in the Fields the Crypt is where you go for tea and discussion.  The underground of the church has been converted to a space that nourishes the living.  I found out that on Wednesdays you can enjoy Jazz night in the Crypt.  But it wasn’t Wednesday and we had more to do, so off we went to the Buddhist Society.  A beautiful facility housing over 4500 book in its library. We were given time for a sitting mediation led by our own Buddhist Chaplain; it was a peaceful way to end the day.  A time to sit quietly and listen as the deep bell resonated its baritone throughout the room.  When it was over, there seemed to be a calm and peace shared by the entire group.

Many Faiths One Humanity

Buddhist Society

It was now dark, but the day was still not ended.  We needed to reflect as a group on what the day had meant.  This will be a daily practice while on this trip.  A practice that I feel is necessary for each of us to gain perspective of each other and to find common ground.  As we began the discussion we looked back to what the frame for the day had been – a philosophy that “the only thing that matters is interpersonal relationships and the pursuit of beauty in all its forms.”  Discussions ran deep regarding the relationships made and broken during the Holocaust and how it would be impossible to find beauty there. But the discussion was more than just what was seen, it was about how these same themes are reflected in our current lives, in current society, and what can we learn or change about the world and the overtures that are in the now.  The discussion went on for an hour and a half and I believe it would have gone on late into the night if we could have let it.  But sleep and personal reflection are also important and so the evening finally ended. 

Friendships and understandings between the different participants are forming.  Through these connections I do believe a great deal will be accomplished.

Many Faith One Humanity

Getting Ready to Leave

Tired, awake, excited, and full of wonder we arrive in London.  The adventure has begun.  Less than 48 hours ago 17 of us waited at the Syracuse airport to board our plane to being 10 days of sites and discussion.  With little sleep during the in between we are safe and sound and through our first day in England.

When we arrived yesterday morning we were greeted by the SU London staff who guided us to the coach that would take us to our hotel – the Royal National.  On the way I was treated to a front row seat (on the left side of the coach) and just took in the scenery.  A little something called The Globe to my left… then a cemetery, churches of all types, and brick buildings that remind me of Mary Poppins all in view.  Traffic on the left side of the road didn’t seem strange, at least not then.  I was tired but ready to get the day started.

Many Faith One Humanity

Lunch and Introductions

We deposited our bags at the hotel, couldn’t quite check in when we arrived but we knew that ahead of time, and then off to Syracuse’s Faraday House; the center for SU London.  Our orientation to the UK was fun and informative on both the joys and the dangers of being a tourist.  I am thankful for the information!  We are also treated to lunch along with introductions to several people on the staff.  So far we are still excited and alert.  I’m amazed at the energy still being so high, especially in myself.

Once done we are back to the hotel to check in, unpack and start on our first event: a walking tour of the local area with Prof Richard Tames.

Many Faith One Humanity

Wisdom and Youth

 This gentleman was a repository of knowledge regarding London history and briskly walked us through the squares, the University of London, past Virginia Woolf’s home, to the British Public Library.  An hour and a half of non-stop information about the area we are calling home for 10 days.  He returns us to our hotel and graciously hands us his complete notes regarding the tour just given.

After our thanks for his generosity we finally have a moment to breathe – 45 minutes until we need to meet and leave for dinner.  I have to say that riding the London tube is an experience, especially when you are entering the Underground for the first time during the end of the day commute rush!  It was wild finding out where to go, herding 17 bodies in the same direction and onto the same commute line, and ending up at the same stop.  Thank goodness we had two guides from London helping us navigate the system; if not I’m sure that we would still be looking for some of our party.

Dinner was at Maroush, a Lebanese restaurant serving family style to our table.  The food, flavors, smells, and comfortable chairs a truly welcome relief.  Conversations all around the table were buzzing on a number of topics and I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more.  But the lack of sleep finally caught up with all of us.  Soon I could see in others a mirror of what I was feeling – a need to close my eyes and let my body rest. 

It has been a wonderful beginning to the trip and I imagine that it can only get better.  Today the Imperial War Museum, a Zen Garden visit, Notre Dame Church, tea at St. Martins in the Fields, the Buddhist Society, and then back to the Faraday House.  A full day indeed.

It has been a whirlwind around me for what seems a long time. Fund raising, working at store and home, Chaplain projects, and winter weather have all combined to make time fly by without notice. But today I honor the passage of time. February marked my first year as a Chaplain. It doesn’t seem like a year has passed nor does it feel like I’ve accomplished much, at least not on the surface. And so I pondered the question: what exactly has been achieved? Well, a lot of things as it turns out. Things that I forgot about or at the time didn’t seem that important as individual moments. But in the long run a great deal has changed. So what has happened in the last year? Let’s see, how about this:

  • My appointment was recognized
  • My best friend and the one who appointed me passed through the veil
  • I’ve found common ground in a shared office with a Priest and an Evangelical minister
  • Language has become a focal point of discussion at the Chapel to try to bring about new ways of understanding between the different faith traditions
  • The students have become public about the fact they exist
  • Churches, educators, and conference organizers are requesting speakers to talk about “being pagan”
  • Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Pagans and Muslims together work in welcoming parents and students to the campus
  • The “mainstream” traditions have “discovered” that they are lacking knowledge regarding the minor faiths
  • I’ve been invited to give blessings over university gatherings
  • We were invited to participate in interfaith dialogue with Daisy Kahn and Brad Herschfield
  • Pagans for the first time are included in the interfaith trip sponsored by the Chapel
  • A psychic fair/fund-raiser was held on campus (that was fun)
  • Rituals of understanding have taken place to help facilitate learning between Pagans and other faith traditions
  • All religious holidays on campus are now equal
  • We have been given a voice or should I say we don’t have to shout anymore because people are listening.

There have been a multitude of changes but the last two on that list are significant. I mean really significant.

First: all religious holidays on campus are equal. The University announced today they are discontinuing the practice of dismissing class for Eid El-Fitr, Yom Kippur and Good Friday – three main Abrahamic holy days. The religious diversity on campus is recognize and because of that the University has a very in-depth policy on allowing students, staff and faculty to take time off to practice their faith. That policy has not changed; however, now all faiths will need to follow the policy rather than being given privileged time off. Faith traditions of all kinds, both major and minor, are now being treated equally.

A student can request time off for Samhain, Ostara, Mabon, and it must be given without penalty. In the same manner Christian, Jewish, and Muslim students must go through the same process when wanting to participate in their religious holidays. No one is “more equal” than anyone else when it comes to faith traditions. The University will extend the Thanksgiving holiday time for students by three days, shifting the three religious holidays to a universal time off. The change is acknowledging the need for students to travel at this time of the year and the importance of staying connected to family. If you want to read more about this change you can do so at http://insidesu.syr.edu/2011/03/09/academic-calendar/.

The second change, the Pagan voice is requested, listened to, heard, and taken into account in the same manner as any other group. I’ve been asked to participate on the visioning committee for Hendricks Chapel. This committee will form the strategic plan for the Chapel which will lead its direction and vision for the next several years. The request outlined the following reason for asking that I be on the committee:

As a chaplain and former staff member, you bring a wide view of life on campus. As a Pagan, you also bring a critical voice to a conversation that has in the past been dominated by a Christian lens. In addition, your ability to critically reflect, dream and envision new possibilities would be a tremendous gift to the committee.”

A shift in how Pagans as a group are viewed has changed. We are no longer considered the “strange group on the quad” that needs to be tolerated. We asked for a place at the table and it has been given as a fully respected partner in change.

I compliment the efforts made and honor the winds of change that have gently blown across this little campus. I look forward to the changes that lie ahead and all that it will bring.

Last night the final class for the Interfaith trip was held. We are now as ready as we will be to embark on a wonderful adventure of discovery. It was an interesting night, the culmination of presentations and discussions from the many faith traditions represented on the trip.

We began with a discussion and meditation led by the Buddhist Chaplain. This was followed by a presentation by the Christian students on what Christianity is and their personal connection to their faith. The last presentation was by a young woman who is not affiliated with any faith tradition – she is simply a seeker. It was her talk that made me think the most. In one sense she is a guide to the rest of us.

To seek truth, your own truth, is a beautiful thing. It doesn’t mean that you have to give up what you have been taught since birth. Not at all, it means taking the time to understand what it is you believe and to question those parts of “faith” that others may accept without question. By seeking our truth we delve deeper into ourselves and our own spiritual being. Something that I think most people on earth would benefit from. She talked about expressing her thoughts to her mother that she didn’t agree with the “rules” and teachings and didn’t want to participate in the tradition any more. A brave thing to do, but one that she felt compelled to do at a young age. The wonderful part is that her mother understood and allowed her to explore. In a sense she was given permission to question the truth that she was being taught. What greater gift could you give to a child? This trip in a sense is giving each participant permission to question, learn, and understand themselves and each other a little bit better.

This made me think about what this trip means and what is it I wish to take away from it.  I thought I would share my answers. My goal is first to learn and understand how the other faith traditions express their beliefs. It’s not simply the trappings that I am interested in; but rather to see how their faith is expressed in their lives and how that may or may not change when entering their places of worship. That seems odd as I say it, but I can only imagine how I will feel when stepping into the stones. I’ve tried to imagine it, but I don’t know what it will be like. In some sense it will be like going home for me – only different. I want to see the different faiths come to life and the energy that it gives each of us as we walk our own truths. My second goal is to take what I see and learn where we can find common ground. I want to look for common ground that allows us to see common goals while at the same time understanding that we represent a multitude of differences that should be celebrated and appreciated. I don’t want everyone to be like me – that would be boring. I want to find strength through our differences so that we can accept each other for our individuality.

Two “simple” goals that will take me years to work on, so wish me luck as we take off this Sunday. I’ll be posting some before we go on some other subjects and while we are exploring I’ll be posting as we go.

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