Thursday, February 27, 2014

Religious Freedom || Time to Go Home

Editorial Commentary
©2014 Turtle Heart
Posted from Pantelleria Italy

I lived in Arizona for just over one year. At the end I wanted to eat a bullet. It was the most depressing experience of my long life. I had never been to such a determinedly racist community before. Sedona. It was another tragedy, the heart-breaking death of my partner's father that unexpectedly saved us. He was an incredibly reasonable and lovely human being. in his estate he left my partner a considerable amount of money. That money saved my life. It gave me a way to get out. She was away with her father during the final six months I was in Sedona, adding to the loneliness and isolation, layered profoundly by the knowledge that her father was dying at a time certain. 

Sedona was first very attractive to so-called “new age” experimenters. It was known to be the site of a grand collection of magnetic vortexes, quite unique in the world they were. Sedona is a place of astonishing beauty. It was murdered. The magnetic vortexes were destroyed by the miles and miles of iron and copper pipes and electrical cables relentlessly buried in the earth. To a pristine desert, the well-healed new agers had brought their SUVs, big houses, swimming pools, golf courses, water treatement plants and all the fully loaded infrastructure of a dead world city. They did it very fast. All that construction killed off the subtle magnetic forces and introduced a flow of pollution to the ground water of a sacred desert by millions of gallons of golf course chemicals and city waste. It soon filled up with John McCain friends and collaborators. What remains is artificial, phony, and desperately arrogant. It was sad beyond measure. I opened an art gallery in one of the most beutiful spots in the whole city. The people who came in were so depressing. Empty, ugly bags of mostly water. It was impossible to sell them art or even get them to say hello when they came into my gallery. After nine months of this dark emptiness I seriously considered suicide. It was that bad. Instead, from tragedy, I found a new place to go. Loosing all of my investment, entirely. Starting over some place else. Taos, over in New Mexico, but that is another story.

I drove out with a big u-haul at sunset on December 31st 1999 and rolled into my new home in Taos in the early morning hours of 01 January, Two Thosand. It was a day where the earth was completely frozen. When I went inside, I understood that my real estate agent, knowing that I was to arrive that day, had turned on the heat. The house was toasty and welcoming. It was a healing and sweet moment. It started to snow as I opened the big door of the uhaul to move myself in.

Four years later I moved to Italy. America. Stop. Finished.

It was time to move on and fulfill my promise to the old Indians to carry Sacred Pipe in my bundle, the Four Directions Unity Bundle, out into the World.

During all my years as a grown man, I have followed the root teachings of Sacred Pipe. It does not feel like a religion to me. Sacred Pipe is a way of life. It has more silence than words to explain itself, to reveal itself. This ancient Sacred Practice is nearly as old as time. It has somehow survived in small, microscopic really, circles of old Indians scattered around North America.

American Indians, seemingly alone among all the peoples of the world, have found that people who have no connection, relationship, history or invitation have taken up these ancient objects of the American Indian. In Sedona, everyone is a pipe carrier. In the world of the old Indians, right now, there are less than 100 Pipe Keepers. You can buy “pipes” on the internet now. Anyone anywhere can get one. Made by a “real Indian”. In the world of the old Indians, not one dollar has ever been exchanged for Sacred Pipe.

There is a difference between these two pictures. An important difference.

I have written frequently about Sacred Pipe. Interested readers can look at the links on this page and they will direct you to my library of writings.

The GOP has attached “gay issues” to something they call “religious freedom exception”. This is a transparent ruse to bring out the most rabid of GOP voters. They used this technique to great advantage to get Bush in office two times. In battleground states the GOP made sure liberal rights for gay persons was on the ballot, ensuring all the pissed off manly men (rednecks) would get out and vote gainst any rights for the queers, and they did. It worked very well.

It seems the religions of the world are mostly instruments by which people in power can manipulate the general population. The major religions of the world are in fact large, very well organized and funded corporations.

The people holding Sacred Pipe are just a few people with the clothes on their back, standing in a circle in the forest. They have no money, no papers of incorporation. No budgets. Think about that for a moment. Think about how that Sacred Pipe has survived, with only the determination of a very small number of American Indians holding it all together. No money, no churches, no protection, no tax breaks, no bookstores or gift shops. There are in fact no Sacred Pipe events ever made in public.

The people who are “in charge”, the bosses of the major religions, are well paid and influential persons. They drive the agenda of their public presence. They have retirement plans, investment portfolios, paid vacations. The individual members of the religion may not know, not care, or ever have any interest to become informed on these things. Corporate religion seems to have two forms…one is public and managed by officials…the other is the private behavior of the “believer” inside his or her own life. The two parts are not always the same.

The people who legally and correctly hold Sacred Pipes receive no salaries, vacations or houses to live in. They are in fact criticized and the subject of invective hate groups that tell the world American Indians who seek money for doing sacred works and projects are evil, corrupt and violating the law. They believe there is a law that says all American Indians who hold sacred positions cannot receive payment, cannot build a meeting place, cannot have a portfolio or retirement plan or own an automobile or get help with an airline ticket to go to a conference. Every drop of their blood is examined to make sure they are "real" Indians. There is a terribly vocal and outraged faction of the American public that says American Indians work for free. Really. This is an entirely true fact that all American Indians who work with and carry responsibility for tribal religion have to deal with every single day. And it is the understanding by which American Indian children are raised to understand their own people, more and more.

Arizona contains one of the most ancient continuing cultures on earth, the Hopi (Tewa). The Hopi have an ancient, complex “religion” that has continued since its beginning. They have a sacred way of life that embraces Sacred Smoke, though very different from the Sacred Pipe of the north. They have held onto their sacred rights better than any other American Indian tribal group. They are a beautiful, talented and quiet people. They live right in the center of Arizona.

Until just a few decades ago it was in fact illegal for all American Indians to practice their ancient religions. An act of the United States Congress finally restored those rights, that “freedom of religion” to those people. Interesting yes? For decades, since the early 1500s, European invaders waged a relentless war on destroying, putting in prison and condemning all American Indian traditional beliefs. They did not do this politically, they did it armies and guns and blood. yet the Hopi are still there in the center of Arizona. They are still there. They have done a much better job of protecting their "Kiva Religion" than the tribes to the north have done in protecting Sacred Pipe. They have done the best job of all the tribes in protecting and continuing their sacred.

If there was true freedom of religion, and communities could “refuse service” to anyone who offended that religion, you would all have to go back to Europe. Not one of the American Indians has agreed to your being here.

If the Muslims had freedom of religion, American cities with Muslim populations could not sell alcohol or tobacco or porn.

If Hindu people had freedom of religion, they should be allowed to bath in public fountains and make animal sacrifices at the public library.

What is freedom of religion? What license does it give a person to oppress and refuse another person? I have read and listened to and attended religious services of most of the world’s religions. Doing this was an important part of my education as a Keeper of Sacred Pipe. I cannot find any evidence that the teachings of any world religion encourage the oppression of anyone, anywhere. Everyone knows this of course. Anyone who knows anything at all about Jesus, for example, knows “He” would not tell anyone to refuse to feed someone who is gay because of his religion, not tell anyone to refuse medical treatment to a black man, not tell anyone to forbid a woman to show her face to the sun or drive an automobile or walk outside by herself.

Religions loose (fail) their religion when they allow operatives and officers to use the name of the religion to do harm, to promote violence, to sanction any kind of oppression. Religious arguments are the root cause of much trouble in the world, including death and blood. Yet major religions must also organize to contend with governments and politics which can and does affect their ability to function. American Indians have no organized body, groups, lawyers or agencies to advocate for their rights and protection. None. Not one. Compare this to the many agents, and billions of dollars corporate religions have at their disposal.

Some very reasonable people have come to believe that religion is toxic. So more and more people say they have no religion. They believe in nothing. That is protected also.

The political right seems to define “religious freedom” as the right to use their flawed interpretation of religion as a weapon to threaten, intimidate and punish anyone who is not like them. An argument they make with a straight face. Yes, we can impose our religious views on everyone who is a "real American".

The Gay and Lesbian Dog Whistle Movement: There is something about “homosexuality” that just terrifies and enrages certain people. Children going hungry? No. Casting a vote becoming more and more difficult? No. Soldiers killing themselves after serving in an Islamic war? No. The mother earth being destroyed by oil drilling? No.

So-called “religious freedom” bills suddenly showed up in many states, all with similar language, all about the same moment. We see upon examination, that “family policy networks” funded and managed by extreme right wing religious activists who know nothing at all about religion but everything about turning out hate as acceptable public policy. And they have lots of money. They are very well organized as well; and assured of national coverage from networks like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. Hysterical paranoia has become the new national normal in politics. With no end in sight. Governor Jan Brewer’s (Arizona) veto not withstanding.

We pretty much live in a world where your religion is under suspicion if it is not christianity. As an American Indian follower of Sacred Pipe, I am never quite sure where I stand, never quite sure how safe I am. Nine years ago, when I married my wife in Italy, we wanted to be married in the church. In the USA you can rent a church space and hire your own religious minister to perform the ceremony. In Italy you must have the permission of the local priest. When the catholic priest understood I was not catholic, but was an American Indian, his head exploded and he made it quite clear that there was no way I could get married in any church in Italy. We ended up having a municipal marriage in the local administrator’s office…but at least we could go ahead and get married. (ps; Italy has plenty of freedom of religion if you are catholic. Otherwise, not so much.)

From way over here in Italy, the United States looks like it is losing its mind. It has allowed the "craziest people in the room" to make the rules. 

I still carry the memory of Arizona…of my brief experience trying to live in a severely conservative and openly racist christian community…one of the darkest experiences of my life. I also remember history lessons. For example the time when the catholic church cut off, severed, the right foot of 500 Tewa American Indians because they refused to build a catholic church on their land....or Jefferson's Trail of Tears...or Abraham Lincoln's murder of 18 California Indians.

Turtle Heart
Ojibwe Artist

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Pope, the UN And Syria: Ban Ki-Moon Filled With Thunder

Commentary. ©2014, Turtle Heart

From where I am looking, Syria seems like the heart of hell itself. And the world is just watching. While every kind of madman joins in the fight. Nearly everyone is fighting everyone. The 1 per cent eat hand made food flown in fresh from Russia. Faction of the so-called resistance are accused of terrible crimes as well. They all photograph very well. Perhaps the most direct, even blunt assessment of Syria has been made by the UN. In detail and with a very determined delivery.

On another side of the Mediterranean, the Catholic Church was called out in the starkest, blistering, language for decades long abuse of and harboring of abusers of children. Relentless abuse. It was spelled out in historic detail by a special commission of the UN. The church responded by saying it is “not fair”. “Look at all we have done”. “Look at how much money we have paid everyone”. Yes, that was their response to this report. Made by the UN with a very determined delivery.

These are just the two most recent addresses of United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, speaking through the voices of special commissions in recent days. It has been a long time since there has been such a rather determined an plain language Secretary General. He started off quietly enough, but has steadily become more determined and central.

During the recent so-called talks with Syria and anti-Syria fighters and officials, there is Ban Ki-Moon in a widely circulated picture with Kerry from the USA, the official Syria guy, two other official Opposition guys…forcing them, sitting in chairs to be holding hands. Looking at that line of men holding hands, it was a very tense picture…the “hand and arm language” (body language) of that scene is well worth a study. That was Ban Ki-Moon’s move. The UN, under Ban Ki-Moon is clearly raising more hell than I can remember. Just now we know that he will be the most prominent guest at the Sochi Winter Olympics, as most of the world’s leadership has chosen to not attend at all.

Just recently the UN via Ban Ki-Moon went to the same bowl of thunder about the persecution of gay and other non heterosexual people around the world. In at least one country, today, you can be executed if found to be living while gay. The Pope of Rome has at least, once, publicly stated that people need to stop this kind of behavior. Yet, coming from a Pope it has gravitas.

Like Ban Ki-Moon, Pope Francis is raising the volume on issues of life and death, murder and looting, rape and torture, slavery and cash on demand corruption.The two of them are quite unpredictable,, and really quite independent of each other. I am not sure they would approve each of the other. Pope Francis still has a really long way to go to clean up the centuries old problem of sexual perverts that appear to populate the Church. In the recent UN blistering condemnation of this problem, all the Vatican has had to say refers to how “unfair” the report is, which is clearly an inadequate response. Pope Francis has said nothing so far. This is a problem.

Ban Ki-Moon is not getting much attention in the USA media. America has a long-standing contempt for the United Nations, which has always seemed unfortunate to me. 

This appears to be the first real notice of this new development in English, calling out the Honorable Secretary-General. In the mid 1980s I personally met and spent some time with the then Secretary-General. He was such a shallow man, a ghost. I was actually rather astonished that in meeting a “world leader”, I saw only an immature and shallow little man that no one could take seriously on any subject.

The world very rarely has any truly effective voices addressing our shared problems and aspirations. From where I sit, I see very few people with true international power that seem effective or even interesting. These new moves by Ban Ki-Moon are very welcome and it will be interesting to see what happens next.

Turtle Heart. Pantelleria Island....

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