With the global explosions bookending the Spring Equinox this year, my phone and inbox blew up with the same question, “Some of these people aren’t going to wake up. So what do we do???” Our world is at war. In the United States, our people are growing broke from debt and unemployment. Food and water shortages are abounding, globally. We can barely finish fundraising for the relief fund of one natural disaster before another one springs up. Talking and blogging isn’t fixing the problem. Wait. I’m blogging. But I’m on the bus and don’t have a crew of NGOs at my disposal, so it will have to do for now.
Just before Ostara, I attended a function with two of my Covenmates called “Haiti: One year later”. It focused on the state of Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and included panelists and speakers who had several ideas about what small faith communities could do to help Haiti rebuild. But the question I had for the panelists was this: “How can small, grass-roots groups with no money or humanitarian supplies laying around their studio apartments help Haiti rebuild?”
The answer I received from several panelists was, “Never underestimate the power of prayer and money.”
A doctor who was himself from Haiti spoke and said, “Come to Haiti. Visit us. Bring your tourism. When our industries get back on their feet, we will have jobs. If you come and see us, businesses will once again flourish.”
I looked at my friends. The wheels were turning in their heads as well. We want to go to Haiti.
After the function, I approached a different speaker who himself ran rebuilding “mission” trips to Haiti. His was a Christian organization, but if we all had the same goal, perhaps something could work. When I asked him about the logistics of bringing a small team to Haiti to rebuild, I also clarified for him that we were not a small church group, but a Wiccan Coven.
He smiled awkwardly. “Um….not a good fit.”
He did add, though, that we were welcome to donate money to his cause.
I took a compassion break in the other room. With the help of a glass of wine, I reflected on a kind approach to the exchange. The Haitian people weren’t at fault for this dude’s rudeness. Plus, there’s always the chance that I simply didn’t understand what he said. Miscommunication is responsible for so many of the personal problems most of us face. I returned to the table and asked why, specifically, he didn’t think it would be a good fit.
“Much of our work is distributing Bibles,” he said. I agreed. That would not be in our interests. “But we do sometimes take non-religious rebuilding teams to go down and work on projects.”
“That would be a better fit,” I said. “I will be in touch.”
(This reminds me that I need to contact that guy. I also want to mention a conversation that happened at Ostara, when I recounted this story to a Covenmate who is himself a Christian—a true Poly-Theist, having many Pantheons that he loves—and his response was, “So when did Bibles become edible? It seems to me that if they’re distributing what people need, it would stand to reason that they would distribute edible Bibles, right? That onion paper would probably be tasty….”)
So, is my crew going to Haiti? I don’t know, but it would be awesome! If Paganism wants respect, it needs to gain it by contributing on a local and global level on par with other mainstream religions. Church groups have gone down to Haiti en masse to help rebuild. Why haven’t Pagans? I'm sure it's happened, but it hasn't made the news if so. Or maybe it hasn't happened at all. The main reason that I see is not a lack of compassion or desire to help, but mainly a lack of resources and infrastructure. For better or worse, mainstream religions have institutions with money who are able to fund and organize humanitarian efforts in a way that Paganism simply has not yet put into place. We’re getting there. Just this past week, Circle Sanctuary raised over $30,000 for Doctors Without Borders Japan Relief. This is one of the largest Pagan fundraising initiatives to date. I’m proud to say that the Novices of the Old Ways contributed $200 toward this event. Not bad, considering we didn’t have a public Ostara this year!
So why Haiti? Why not Haiti? They’re as close as Puerto Rico. We’ll have to get a bunch of money, find a host organization who can show us where we’re needed and what do to. But why Haiti, when there is so much around here in New York that needs attention? By doing this, are we really helping a community or just trying to make ourselves look good in the eyes of other mainstream religions? Is this the best use of our resources? In my neighborhood, I am surrounded by families on food stamps at the grocery store, teenage mothers on the street and drug dealers on the corner. Kids, and adults, who don’t often understand the ecological problem we’re facing, over-utilize plastic bags and leave litter on the sidewalk, which inevitably ends up in the rivers. Does my own contribution really belong in a different country? There seem to be a lot of problems right outside my door.
Plus, are we really going to make it all the way to Haiti? I don’t know. We’re a Coven of 23 members, many of whom are having a hard time paying their own bills and finding work. Are we even in the position to help others? Again, I don’t know. But the will is there, even if the resources immediately aren’t always apparent. We managed to dig up $200 in one gathering for our friends in Japan. What else might we be able to do given more time and planning?
Then again, it might be just what we need to do.
Just like the panelists said, do not underestimate the power of prayer/energy and money. Take a look at what Circle Sanctuary pulled off in barely a week’s time with a few simple Facebook-link posts that quickly went viral. Whether you are solitary or with a coven, grove, etc….maybe it’s time to shake out the proverbial couch cushions for what resources you have to spare—whether they are financial, spiritual or of physical labor. There are ways in which we can all contribute, even in our smallest forms.
From one tiny grass-roots org, here’s what has worked for us so far:
* Passing the hat. It's not a good idea to press people or guilt them into giving. So many folks are broke right now--for American standards. But do let people know that every dollar helps.
* Bake sales. They're super fun.
* PARTIES. They're even more fun. Ask everyone to bring a dish, and some booze. You surely have a mess of Tarot or Rune readers in your crew. You may even have musicians or performers. The Pagan community is rife with highly talented people. Just ask. If they're available, most people are happy to contribute their talents for a good cause.
* Reach out to other groups and communities with like minded goals. We gather strength when we work in packs.
* Blog. Hey, look! That's what I'm doing!
* Use your Sabbats as an opportunity to discuss important issues in the community and around the world. Many of the biggest social movements in history began in spiritual gatherings.
* Make public service or volunteer work a mandatory part of initiation. Ask my Votaries. They've got a shit-ton of stuff to do....
* Expect that your assistance may not always be welcome. It may be because you're Pagan--it may be because the organization or project is already overwhelmed. Do your best not to take anything personally. Contemplation breaks like the one I had to take with the "Not a good fit...." guy are essential. If someone does appear to slight you, give them the benefit of the doubt and don't be afraid to ask for clarification. "Is there a reason why we wouldn't be a good fit for you all?" "Is there any other way we might be able to help?"
* Start small. Celebrate little victories. Maybe your crew alone won't be able to eliminate all plastic garbage from the ocean, but maybe you can help get your community to cut their plastic use in half. Maybe you can start with your crew. Setting personal challenges to make each of yourselves better and more engaged citizens of the planet is as essential as solving all other problems of the world.
* Share what you're doing. The Goddess invented Facebook for a reason (no matter what the movie says). Your work will inspire other work. Get on it and get loud about it.
* Lastly, pick something you are passionate about and find joy in doing. If the words of the Goddess say, "All act of love and joy are sacred to Me" (or something like that) then know your social contribution will have even more Divine value when it is done in that way.
* Pray. Meditate. Ask for guidance. Let the Gods know you want to help and ask Them to show you how you can.
Love your weekend!