Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Sápmi, the Motherland

This Friday is the opening of the 2016 Jokkmokk market, which occurs the first weekend in February as it has for over 400 years. One of my Karelian ancestors (and perhaps yours, if you have roots in Swedish Lapland) traded for many years at the Jokkmokk market, having traversed the long distance from Lake Onega on skis with loaded sleds. His son Mykel Ryss, on one of their trips, fell in love with a local girl, and they became the first residents of Nattavaara, a village in Gallivare municipality.

The name Gallivare is familiar to anyone who attended the OALC: it is the "mother church," where the elders reside and preach. I found it interesting that in 1992, there were three bronze pillars installed not far from the church by a local sculptor who titled them "Tre Seitar," referring to the ancient sacred stones, or holy sites, of the Sami. The syncretism of Sami (stone seiti) and Christian (the number three) continues.

This Saturday is Sami National Day, or Álbmotbeaivi. Here, at last year's Jokkmokk market, the crowd is singing the Sami anthem. (It is even lovelier with a choir, in this formal version.) In addition to the usual ceremonies, there will be a demonstration against the mining companies that are devastating the Arctic, and the Swedish government that allow it.

In the Pacific Northwest, we'll be celebrating at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. Our Sami Day celebration will include singing the anthem, snacking on reindeer sausage, and meeting Sami/Blackfoot filmmaker Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, who will screen her award-winning short film.

Please join us if you can.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Love is Wise, Hatred is Foolish

This is silly season in American politics, during which the essentially powerless (most of us) are targeted by the enormously privileged with expensive, intricately-engineered appeals to our fears and hopes. It is tempting to tune out, or rely on old, unexamined assumptions about our political preferences.

I've been doing some of both.

But when this advice came across my screen, it seemed worth sharing. It isn't new; it has been said by many others in myriad ways, but I'm fond of old Bertrand Russell, whose wisdom helped steer me clear of extremes as a young person in college. Here he is, speaking to future generations, in an interview in 1959:
I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral.
The intellectual thing I should want to say to them is this: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.
The moral thing I should wish to say to them is very simple: I should say, love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way — and if we are to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

When Holidays Hurt

This can be a lonely season. You may feel emotionally alienated from friends and family. This may be your first Christmas after the death of a loved one. Or your first after a divorce. 

It may be the first without your children, or with a mixed family whom you find challenging.

You may be coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression, or poor health. 

You may be suffering financially.

When the holidays hurt, here are some ways of coping:

1. Try letting go of expectations. This is one year of many, and if you allow yourself to accept that it WILL be different, you can open yourself to pleasant surprises. All alone this year? Time to catch up that Netflix show, or discover a new author, or learn the guitar. Didn't get around to sending cards? A New Year's letter may be even better.

2. Be kind to your body so it will be kind to you. Take time to exercise, eat well, get outdoors, and breathe. Rich foods used to be rare and expensive, which is why they became associated with the holidays, but they do us no favors in excess. Salmon chowder and kale salad make delicious "special" foods. (Avoid alcohol altogether if you are feeling down. It's a depressant and will make you feel worse.)

3. Widen your circle. Invite a neighbor over, accept an invitation to a party, attend a local arts event. If you have never volunteered before, it's a powerful way of getting perspective, as there is always someone whose needs are greater than yours, and service is a sure cure for depression.

4. Give yourself permission to say no. If you are stressed by work or family gatherings, it's okay to limit your time at them, or opt out altogether. If unhealthy competition arises (sibling or otherwise), practice grace by benching yourself. Observe, admire (or not), but remain quiet. Don't take the bait! And remember that there you are not alone in your discomfort; it's the stuff comedy shows are built on.

5. Focus on the people you enjoy and who bring out the best in you. Minimize contact with faultfinders, gossips, and other toxic people in your family. Practice being pleasant but brief.

6. If you are feeling broke and/or fed up with consumerism, consider a "three hands" holiday: second-hand, hand-me-down, or handmade. We all have items that would bring more pleasure to someone else than us. Too late for gifts? Give a certificate that can be redeemed for a service, or for time together in the future. 

For loved ones, time together is the most valuable gift. The older we get, the more we know how limited it is.

7. Unplug more often. Turn off the news. For most of us, our active/passive, create/recreate balance could stand some recalibrating. As humans we are all creative beings (even if we never write a song or paint a picture) whose brains, if not solving puzzles or learning new patterns or concepts, can become depressingly dull, even to ourselves. So turn off the news and turn up some inspiring music and make something. 

Wishing you happiness and health now and in the new year. 

Thank you for the gift of your attention.