Reclaiming the holidays on my terms

 

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

I am anti-traditionalism.  When someone comments that “We do this because it’s tradition”, my gut reaction is to ask “Why?”

But I feel rather conflicted in giving up our particular family traditions.

In Polish culture, Christmas Eve takes precedence over Christmas Day because Jesus was born at night.  The feast that occurs is pescatarian:  We are not supposed to eat meat on the 24th but fish is fine.  There are also traditionally twelve courses (after the 12 faithful apostles, obviously), with opwatek in the beginning (basically a church wafer that you break with your family).

Several of these traditions are rooted in Catholicism, so when you take out the religion, the whole thing just falls apart.  But there are underlying ideas behind all these actions, and whether you are Christian, Atheist, Pagan, or just human, you need to feed your soul.  In his book Religion for Atheists, Alain De Botton says “Differ though we might with Christianity’s view of what precisely our souls need, it is hard to discredit the provocative underlying thesis, which seems no less relevant in the secular realm than in the religious one–that we have within us a precious, childlike, vulnerable core which we should nourish and nurture on its turbulent journey through life.” (By the way, this is a great book that explores how we can deepen our secular lives through the concepts in religion).

So maybe we don’t need twelve courses.  The number doesn’t need to be specific, but it’s nice to have a big feast and you can definitely just celebrate family and friends.  We definitely don’t need to break church wafers, but maybe we can make our own sharing ritual, like baking cookies together and offering our creation with a wish of luck.  Maybe we were onto something when one of the most sacred nights of the year should be free of animal slaughter (well, except the fish), plus pretty much every other holiday involves some meat centerpiece.  Maybe doing a vegetarian (or vegan) celebration is appropriate for the theme of compassion.

In a way, these thoughts are still irrelevant in this point in my life because I will be spending the holiday with my partner’s family, and they have veal for Christmas Eve dinner (while Italian, they don’t like the seven fishes and I’m honestly a bit bummed about it).  But these things have been a part of my life, something unique that I’m not sure I want to part with, and I’d like to reclaim it on my terms.

Dominika Oliver, Fundraising Chairperson & Board Member

‘The Ultimate Secular Festive Singalong’ for the nonreligious of Pittsburgh

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The holiday season has a variety of meanings to people. For many religions, it’s the time of the year to observe different aspects of what they believe in. At this time, for many, the air is full of joy and happiness. It is indisputable the holiday season is dominated by religious observances. However, should people not have the joy of the season because they don’t have religion? Sunday Assembly Pittsburgh says, no.

This holiday season there will be something called Yule Rock.  The word ‘Yule’ originated as a festival observed by early Germanic peoples and the concept has been adopted by many religions and has influenced modern-day Christmas.  Sunday Assembly Pittsburgh describes its version of Yule Rock as ‘the ultimate secular festive singalong’. This will be an opportunity to bring people together and share a morning of happiness, joy and cheer together. The event will consist of popular festive songs to sing along to, an indoor snowball fight, food, festive costumes and more.

Sunday Assembly Pittsburgh has been around since 2014 and has been fostering community amongst the nonreligious. We gather every third Sunday of the month to sing, dance, learn and build relationships within our community. I have been involved in some way with the nonprofit since its beginnings and it has been invaluable to my life.

Join Sunday Assembly Pittsburgh for a morning of memories and togetherness through song. We open our arms to the religious and nonreligious alike – it’s for anyone who needs a place to be. You don’t want to miss this epic morning.

Yule Rock: The Ultimate Secular Festive Singalong

When: Sunday, December 16, 2018 at 10 AM – 11:30 AM

Where: Community Forge
1256 Franklin Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15221

 

‘Manifesto on Work’ from a millennial to the masses

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Photo by LYCS LYCS on Unsplash

When one tries to find out what America believes about the concept of work, the picture is pretty bleak.

Back to the grind.

Case of the Mondays.

That 9-5.

Quittin’ time.

I find that songs are our modern day folk wisdom. We don’t sit around the fires telling stories anymore, but we do sit in the car and sing songs. So whatever Demi Lovato is saying speaks to our cultural consciousness. According to the radio, work is at best something to be endured: “Lord, I’m so tired/ How long can this go on?” Even if you can endure it, work is pointless: “You load sixteen tons, what do you get? / Another day older and deeper in debt.” At very worst, work is destructive and soul-crushing: “And you spend your life / Puttin’ money in his wallet.” It seems you’re “Damned if you do / damned if you don’t” when it comes to work.

Ok, so we are to believe that work is a terrible, soul-sucking thing that we do at a desk (or possible in a coal mine) for the sole purpose of getting a paycheck and leaving. Work has no greater value than making one more widget for the boss man, and we get nothing out of it besides that small benefit, money. Work is meaningless time you spend applying your body and mind to someone else’s goals.

* * * *

But let us, for a moment, redefine work. What if work was not reserved for your job and for someone else’s goals, but time spent pursuing your own goals? What if work just meant effort, and effort on your own behalf? To explain, let me tell you what I am working on:

  • Work is the ink in my journal- 3 handwritten pages every day.
  • Work is the hours I spend making slideshows and setting up chairs for my non-profit’s monthly event.
  • Work is brushing my bachelor cat, Peter Dinklage, who does not believe in self care.
  • Work is calling my grandma and my best friend to make sure they know I love them.
  • Work is a long conversation with my husband about our marriage.
  • Work is the mental energy I spend at a piano keyboard when I am trying to learn to play the damned thing.
  • Work is the creative focus, collaborative effort, and revolutionary ideas I generate at my job to help teachers understand robotics and teach them in their classrooms.

Work, to me, means trying. Work is wherever I apply my focused and prolonged attention. Music, relationships, creativity, my own mind and heart, my non-profit, my career, these are the things that I work on and that I work for. So let us redefine work and dispel some of the lies that the world tells us about work.

 

LIE: Work is what you do at your job.

TRUTH: WORK IS FOR YOURSELF

Work is different from your job. Your job is what you are paid to do. Sometimes your job is pretty easy and requires very little actual effort or attention. Sometimes other things in life require much more work than your job. You might spend a lot more time and effort with your family than you do your job – that means your work is your family. Your job is the time you spend accomplishing someone else’s goals. Sometimes your work and your job might align. I’ve got things I want to do to serve teachers around the world, and my current job allows me to do those things. I’ve got things I want to say about the experience of teaching, and my job is helping me create a platform to say those things to an ever-widening audience. So I am lucky enough to get to do my work at my job. I have had jobs before, though, that did not require or even allow for my work. I was on autopilot, or I lived for Fridays, or worst of all, I was told that I had to follow the “guidelines” when I knew they were limiting or even destructive to my work. Those jobs stopped serving or started hurting my work, so I left.

But let’s get one thing straight: Your work and your job are not the same thing. Your work is yours, means serving your goals. Mark Twain said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I would amend this to say, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will get to work every day of your life!

 

LIE: Work is something to be endured.

TRUTH: WORK IS FUN

If you’re not having fun doing your work, then it’s just a job. Anything can be a job – the laundry, a dinner with your family, a band rehearsal. If it is not furthering you on the path of your goals, then it is not your work. Work is for yourself. Work is for your soul. Work is for your life. If you’re not working on something then you’re already dead. We are sharks – if we aren’t moving forward, we are sinking. Work shouldn’t be a mindless, joyless grind. Work is just time and attention, so spend your time and attention on the things that bring you joy. If it doesn’t bring you joy or deep personal fulfillment, it’s not your work, friend. Move on.

 

LIE: Work is boring.

TRUTH: WORK MEANS LEARNING and LEARNING IS VULNERABLE

Work means trying something new. Work means going beyond what you know and have done in the past to do something different, something better. Work means doing your research, using your resources, and following new paths. It means listening to other people, reading a book on the topic, and talking with your friends about it. Work is not being able to shut up about whatever you’re working on.

Work, real work, is vulnerable. Working to accomplish something means admitting we haven’t accomplished it yet, and that requires us to set aside our vanity and pride. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron reminds us that, “you cannot get better and look good at the same time.” Working on something means that you have decided that getting better at something is worth the risk of looking foolish. Trying your hardest is scary, because what if you fail? What if your best is not good enough? Even writing that statement feels like a gut punch.

So, in lieu of trying our very hardest, in lieu of working, we self-sabotage – that way, if we fail, it’s ok because we could have done better. “There were extenuating circumstances,” we say. We self-sabotage by staying up too late the night before a big meeting, or buying junk food to keep in the house when we’re on a diet, or showing our budding creative work to an overly-critical friend for them to shoot down. We know our ideal conditions, but we don’t do everything we can to create them; and then when we fail, we blame the conditions. We cut ourselves down and blame the axe for chopping. We shut ourselves out and blame the door for closing. We show up naked and blame the dress for not being worn.

Stop it! You know the work, so do it! Furthermore, let people see you doing it. President Obama often said to his staff, “Get caught trying!” That’s what this blog is about for me. See? I’m trying, I’m working. Let’s do our work together. Sure, it takes courage to try something new. It takes courage to admit you don’t know, to step out on a new path, to walk the path, to be seen walking the path. But there are such riches on the path. Personal fulfillment, joy, growth, and love are on that path of working towards your goals.

 

LIE: Work is hateful.

TRUTH: LOVE IS WORK and WORK IS LOVE

You might notice that I listed relationships as something I’m working on. I don’t say this because my marriage is particularly hard or unhappy, or my friends are mean or destructive. I say this because love should be work. Love demands that you try at it. Sometimes love is easy, sure – even running 10 miles isn’t too hard if you practice, but it still requires you to engage with the process and move your legs. But here’s the thing: if you are not working on a relationship, it is stagnating. If you’re not giving a relationship your focused and prolonged attention, you’re not working on it.

But here’s the other thing: When you work on something, you are giving it love. They say “That which is measured improves,” and it’s true. When you start tracking your calories, you inevitably start eating better. When you start measuring your miles walked, you start to try and walk further. Whatever you give your attention, your work, your love, to will improve.

 

CONCLUSION

I’d like to pose a few questions to you. What do you want to work on? What do you want to try? What do you want to spend your time on? What has your attention right now? What if you worked on that? What if you made sure to do some work for yourself every day? (Every day.) What could you accomplish if you worked toward your own goals before someone else’s? What do you want to pour your love into? What do you want to work on?

I leave you with this sentiment from the writer and poet Khalil Gibran:

“Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour, a misfortune.

But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of earth’s furthest dream,

assigned to you when that dream was born,

And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,

And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret. […]

What is it to work with love?

It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,

even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.

It is to build a house with affection,

even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.

It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,

even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.

It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,

And to know that all the blessed dead

are standing about you and watching. […]

Work is love made visible.”

Kelsey Derringer President of Sunday Assembly Pittsburgh

A powerful look at how music is helping save the lives of veterans (November speaker)

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Photo by Israel Palacio on Unsplash

The politics of war are complicated. The individual human beings affected by war often get lost in arguments about the budget, geopolitics, and political posturing. Regardless of how you feel about war, one fact remains: it leaves people, families, and lives wounded long after they leave the battlefield.

According to a 2016 Department of Veterans Affairs report, the suicide rate for veterans is 1.5 times greater than adult non-veterans. The report also showed over 6,000 veterans committed suicide each year between 2005 to 2016. These are staggering numbers, and each number was an individual life.

Andy Hoke, who will be one of the speakers at the November Assembly, is a volunteer for a nonprofit called, Guitars for Vets (G4V). Guitars for Vets looks to save lives with the power of music. Founded in 2007 by a music instructor and Vietnam-era Marine, G4V gives guitar lessons to veterans with PTSD, physical injuries, and other mental health struggles. With over 80 chapters around the country, G4V has given over 30,000 guitar lessons and donated over 3,000 guitars.

The November Assembly is the same week we observe Veterans Day. We will have an opportunity to see that amazing work being done by volunteers to heal the people left with ‘invisible’ wounds of war.

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SA looks to its community to help raise funds for Jewish Family Community Services

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In light of the shooting that happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue, Sunday Assembly Pittsburgh will be giving half of the donations collected at the November Assembly to Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS).

Jewish Family and Community Services has been benefiting the Pittsburgh Community for over 80-years. Per the JFCS website: their focus “has been to support our community members through all of life’s changes and challenges, offering programs and services for every stage of life and constantly evaluating and innovating services based on changing times and changing needs.”

The Assembly will be light-hearted with the theme of, ‘Work’. However, we wish to acknowledge the tragedy that has shaken our community and show support. Please join us in our celebration of life on Sunday, November 18th, 2018 at 10:00am, at Community Forge located at 1256 Franklin Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15221.

 

SA Board Member and Psych Nurse takes you inside his work

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

When I was about eighteen, my uncle had suggested that I become a nurse, but back then I viewed it as a woman’s job and I never considered it because I was carrying a shield of masculinity. At the time, I looked down on men wearing scrubs as nursing aides or nurses. As a mature adult, I realize how this toxic view limited me. I see this way of thinking limiting many other men socially and economically in the same way.

Today I work as a psychiatric nurse, which is a very misunderstood profession, inside and outside the healthcare community. Psychiatry is the study and treatment of mental illness, emotional disturbance, and abnormal behavior. As social beings, we’re always inside of our own heads navigating our thoughts and emotions, and to function in society we have to be amateur psychologists. This attributes to the undervalue of the work of people in the psychiatric field because many believe they can become experts on the topic without studying it. People are also very reluctant to accept how much a role biology plays in our conscious mind that we believe we have so much control over. Until society accepts the role of biology on our mental wellbeing, the stigma will persist.

I work primarily with patients who suffer from addiction, which is often more stigmatized than other mental illnesses. We are constantly fighting the stigma from the general public and within the hospital community. This brings me both frustration and a sense of purpose because I’m advocating for many patients who would otherwise have no one. Mental illness takes over people’s lives and it’s a powerful feeling to help them regain as much of their lives back as they can, which can be something as ‘simple’ as enjoying a day in the park sober.

My job is emotionally and mentally taxing. Addiction is a chronic illness in the same way diabetes and chronic heart disease are so we see the same people come back. It’s easy to fall into the thought trap and believe you aren’t helping, but I see it as a positive every time they walk through the door alive – maybe they used a coping skill they acquired from the previous admission to help them make it back to our door.

My fear is one day I will experience burnout like so many other nurses and this is something I’m mindful of each shift I work. But for now, my work brings my life value and I feel I’m a lucky individual to have fallen into my current line of work.

The theme for the November Assembly is ‘Work’. Join us in exploring this topic together on November 18th, 2018, 10:00 am, at Community Forge located at 1256 Franklin Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15221!

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Sunday Assembly to hold ‘Make Sale’ to make a difference

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At the November Assembly, people from the Sunday Assembly community will come together for a make sale – an event where there will be a variety of items made the community that will be sold to benefit the community.

Do you make something and want to donate it to a good cause? Feel free to bring your creation!  Items at the last make sale ranged from pillowcases to pastries.

Last time I learned so much about the people in my community by what they created, I had no idea we had so many creative people. I’m looking forward to seeing what you folks create this year.

The proceeds from the make sale will go back into improving the community. We hope to see you there.

The November Assembly will be on November 18th, 2018, 10:00 am , at Community Forge!

Community Forge, 1256 Franklin Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15221