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My mother, Miriam Marx... RIP

Just wanted to share a brief life summary with you for my Mom who died 9 days ago.  I was holding her hand and looking into her eyes as she passed.  My brother and sister were there with her too.  Her painless and rapid passing were a gift to all of us - modeling a happy transition, in gratitude for the fullness of her life, at peace with everything.

By sharing her obituary with you, I celebrate her life. 

Miriam Marx, 87, passed at 4:45 pm on Friday, March 7 at the Highlands at Brighton Hospice in Rochester, NY, surrounded by her loving family. 

With the soul of an artist who always treasured learning, Miriam was many things throughout her life: published poet, ministerial candidate, political activist, scholar, feminist and women’s community builder… a lover of song, art, and life in all its forms. 

Miriam was born in 1926 in Philadelphia, PA, the child of Russian immigrant garment workers, and was raised during the Depression.  She went to work immediately following high school and was married in 1945 to Werner Marx, a German-Jewish refugee.

She arrived in Champaign-Urbana, IL in 1959 when her husband took a job at the University of Illinois as a Professor of German.  Following his sudden death in Feb. 1965, she earned her BA and then MA in Comparative Literature, all while raising three children on her own. She earned her livelihood as a U of I teaching assistant and secretary.

Fulfilling her husband's and her own wishes she took her children to Freiburg, Germany for a year of travel and study in 1970-1971.  In 1972, she joined the Urbana Unitarian Church.  Its offshoot the Red Herring Press published her poetry chapbook Armor and Ashes in 1982.  She moved to Beijing, China in 1985 and served for two years as a foreign language instructor. 

Ever thirsting for meaning and fulfillment in life, in 1991 she began study to become a U-U Minister, culminating in her graduation in 1997 at the age of 70 with a Masters of Divinity.  After nearly 50 years in the Champaign-Urbana, IL area she moved to Rochester, NY in Dec. 2010 to be near family.

She is survived by her children Ellen, Frederick, and Larry, daughters-in-law Deb Rosen and Tracy Seeley, son-in-law Bill Sherman, and granddaughters Emma, Natalie, and Naomi. 

Memorial services will be held 1 pm, Sunday, April 13 at Quaker Friends Meeting House, 1904 East Main Street, Urbana, IL. 



Our victory for youth and Rites of Passage work

Our mission: Insuring that every child on the planet receives a rite of passage and mentorship into adulthood.
I want to share our recent victory with you.

Last weekend we had 26 of the leading lights of Teen Rites of Passage work gather in Oakland to share common challenges and victories, and to probe for ways forward as a collaborative community. Many of the hugely varied modalities of ROP practice were represented, from indigenous traditions 1000s of years old to the latest innovations in public school programs. It was a rich weekend of sharing, a deep exchange of bold visions from a collective 500+ years of experience, a sustained opening of fearless hearts. The list of our illustrious attendees is below. If you're interested, let me know and I'll send you the entire meeting agenda, co-created by many, reflecting the depth, breadth, and soulful wonder of this work. 

Thank you for supporting me so I can support these soul warriors.

Attendees (not necessarily in picture)

1. Craig McClaine, Boys to Men, San Diego

2. Rick Phillips, Community Matters, Santa Rosa, CA

3. Sohrab Nabatian, Kalliopeia Foundation, San Francisco, CA

4. Kate Shela, Dolphin Connection, UK and LA

5. Arne Rubinstein, Australia Rites of Passage Institute

6. Mark Schillinger, Young Men’s Ultimate Weekend, San Rafael, CA

7. Jim Kooler, Challenge Days, Be the Change, Lifeplan Institute, Marin, CA

8. Chike Nwoffiah, Orike Theater, Mountain View, CA

9. Gigi Coyle, School of Lost Borders, Big Pine, CA

10. Jonny Nadleman, LA based school ROP co-creator, facilitator, LA, CA

11. Craig Glass, Peregrine Ministries/Passage to Manhood, Colorado Springs, CO

12. Jason Geoffrion, Men’s Leadership Alliance, Boulder, CO

13. Rabbi Goldie Milgram, Reform Bar/Bat Mitzvah practice, Philadelphia, PA.

14. Albino Garcia, La Plazita Institute, Albuquerque, NM

15. Joshua Gorman, Generation Waking Up, San Francisco, CA

16. Tony LoRe, Youth Mentoring Connection, LA, CA

17. Juliana Wells, Youth Mentoring Connection, LA, CA

18. Rich Robinson, MFT, Counseling families, teenagers, and adults, Berkeley, CA

19. Namonyah Soipan, West Indian/African/European ROP specialist, Oakland, CA

20. Darcy Ottey, formerly of Rites of Passage Journeys, Seattle

21. Mayra Zaragoza, Young Warriors, Tia Chucha, LA

22. Bret Stephenson, author of From Boys to Men: Spiritual Rites of Passage in an Indulgent Age

23. Jared Seide, Ojai Foundation, Council in Schools Initiative

24. Judy Piazza, Ojai Foundation, Land Institute

25. Sharon BearComesOut, Buffalo Visions Healing Center, Lame Deer School, Northern Cheyenne Reservation, Montana.

26. John McCluskey, PassageWorks, Jeffco Open School, Boulder, CO.

Support Staff: Donna Lee, Gerald Charles, Ajakari Mark Angelo, Ashanti Branch, Aries Jordan, Ben M.H., Marlene Shigekawa.



Frederick Marx on national radio Australia

Talking about the ManKind Project, rites of passage, teen boys, and mature masculinity.


New American Heroes

(Editor's note: This article focuses on men and boys.  But the film RITES OF PASSAGE: MENTORING THE FUTURE, now in production, will focus on both genders, in equal measure.)

Some of the great heroes in our world today are the men who are mentoring and initiating teen boys. 

This is no small challenge, given that most adult men living today were not themselves initiated or mentored.  They have no idea what to do, how to do it, or why it’s essential.

The chain of generativity going back at least 50,000 years in the lives of Homo Sapiens is now broken.  The wisdom passed from individual to individual, from generation to generation, has largely been lost.  In indigenous cultures across the world it used to be that young men were initiated into adulthood by the elders as a matter of course.  In fact, most indigenous cultures don’t even recognize what we in the West call “adolescence.”  You’re either a child or you’re a man.  There’s no in-between.  The rite of passage, universally applied, is designed as a mechanism to usher all children across that threshold into adulthood. 

This was largely true even in Western society until the Industrial Age.  Boys raised on farms or learning crafts were apprenticed by their fathers and other men.  While they were taught practical and professional skills they were also taught by men what it is to be a man, what civilized behavior is – the rights and responsibilities of adulthood.   Once men started moving off their farms and out of their shops and studios to work in factories that ancient system broke down.  Couple that with the destruction of indigenous cultures across the planet by colonialism and imperialism and there now remain few organic links through the chain of time to the practices and wisdom of the past.

The byproducts are everywhere to behold.  By not initiating and mentoring our young people we are paying a steep economic and social price: teenage pregnancy, school dropouts, drug and alcohol use, depression, ADD, ADHD, youth crime and violence… some estimate the cost to U.S. society at $1 trillion a year.  The irony is that doing these “dysfunctional” things – getting pregnant, testing limits with alcohol or drugs, committing crimes, joining gangs, dropping out of school… young people, especially boys, are only asking, crying out really, for initiation.  

Initiation is a biological, cellular level need.  It accounts for most of where the pushback against parents and other authority figures comes from.  Teens need to individuate.  They push back to learn the limits of their own bodies, the reach of their critical judgment, their connection to nature and to spirit or god.  This is how they learn who they are, what is unique about them.  It’s also how they become validated.  To be initiated is a fulfillment of their genetic inheritance – to be brought into the community of adults, to take their seat at the village table, to be honored, accepted and treated as equals.  

Both men and women need initiation and mentorship.  But I believe men need it  more.  Especially today.   [Generalizing alert!  I will now be generalizing about men and women.  Please note that I am in no way saying all men or all women are like this.  Or that certain traits are purely male and others purely female.  It's important to recognize that traits generalized as "male" and "female" are part of a continuum; they manifest themselves to varying degrees in each unique individual. And if these distinctions don’t fit at all for you, dear reader, great.] 

It’s really important that men have a sense of mission or purpose in life.  I have written about this subject recently.  They have a built-in desire to want to serve someone or something, to know that their life has meaning and is of positive purpose.   There’s also a longing for them to feel part of a team or group, to work together to realize a common purpose.  A man’s gaze tends to be outward, toward making an impact, toward how he can effect change in the world.  This is a large part of how a man gauges his own power, by measuring his ability to effect change.   Obviously this drive can take very positive and very negative forms.  But this drive is much in the nature of men.  

Very few people understand this anymore.  Many men, in their own bitterness, depression, drug, alcohol, sex, work, food, and TV addictions, have given up on themselves.  At some deep unconscious level they know what they’re missing in life, how they themselves were never taught by other men how to be a man, how to reach for and find fulfillment in life, how to understand and utilize emotions effectively, what spiritual connection and contentment feels like, where meaning is to be found.  No one was there for them so why should they be there for someone else? 

This refusal finds expression in all sorts of directives older men often give to younger men: “Don’t follow your dream!” “Settle for less!” “Happiness is not important.”  “Take the money!” “Grow up; resign yourself to reality.” “Get a real job.” “Don’t take risks!”  The truth is many older men are simply threatened by the exuberance, vitality, dreams, love, innocence, and happiness of younger men because it reminds them of what they’ve lost, how they’ve settled for so much less.  Those older men still have a little boy in them who knows and remembers but those little boys are usually buried alive under mountains of passion-killing directives. 

Which reminds us that the flow of gifts in a properly functioning culture is not just from the eldest to the youngest.  The flow goes both ways.  The healthy functioning of adults is dependent on youthful energy, ideas, and input.  “Although, ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child;’ it takes the struggles of youth to raise a whole village."  “If the deep conflicts of youth are ignored and left unresolved, the new adults will be unable to solve deep conflicts in the culture.  If the adults feel they were not nourished, their elders will be ignored, and forgotten.”  -- Michael Meade.  So if there is no generativity there is no nourishing of life in both directions – for either the younger or the older.  And on and on it goes.

The men who have not buried their little boys, who still receive nurturing from their elders, who have kept the flame of innocence, passion, and love alive in the face of enormous challenges – not least of which is a dominant culture that stultifies humanity, demanding that all answers be found solely in consumerism – those men are heroes.  Yes, just being alive, truly alive to a world of possibility and adventure, and yes, to suffering and sorrow too, in a modern world that increasingly resembles THE MATRIX, that makes you a hero. 

But say you’re doing more than that.  Say you’re teaching yourself and others about what you missed out on, seeking and finding ways to initiate yourself, getting and giving mentorship, truly coming to be all you can be.  That’s even more impressive.

Let’s say you’re doing still more.  Let’s say you’re reaching down a generation or two and extending your hand to a younger man, to a group or groups of younger men.  Then you’re a Hero’s Hero.

There aren’t many.  But fortunately, there are some.  I'll list here shortly some of the amazing men and women doing heroic work today to bring back initiation and mentorship in our time.  I unhumbly include myself in this list because I’m now working on a film highlighting their heroic work, presently called Rites of Passage: Mentoring the Future.


What’s your life purpose or mission?

I think the greatest crime of the last two centuries has been the countless millions of children who’ve been brought into this world not taught to know their purpose in this life. 

What is your life purpose or mission?  What are the gifts you have to share with the world?  Native Americans talk about the medicine that each individual uniquely has to offer.  What is your medicine?

Mine?  “I co-create a world living in truth, without despair, by fiercely loving myself and all beings.”  Let’s break that down piece by piece. 

“I co-create.”   One of my shadows is the traditional male “go it alone” shadow, “I can do it all myself.”   I call that the male disease.  Going it alone is a recipe for burnout and failure.  It’s important for me to remember that.  God knows I’ve burned out and failed enough!

It’s important too to note that a mission should be bigger than what any one man can reasonably accomplish in his own lifetime.  This is not a time for false modesty, to think small.   This is a time to think big, real big.  Many lifetimes big.  Seven generations big.  Think the cathedrals of Europe.  Many men worked their entire lives on one small part of the structure and died never seeing it complete.  Pride in the workmanship and holding the vision are what’s essential.

“A world living in truth.”  How sweet would that be?  What do I do to make it happen?  Certainly my films, even the fiction ones, seek the truth about the human condition and social realities.  But it’s not just about what I do, it’s who I am too.   I practice speaking truth in my daily life, whether in personal or professional situations.

“Without despair.”  It’s important to keep despair in front of me at all times.  That’s one of my great shadows.  It’s all too easy for me to throw up my hands and say “what’s the use?  It’s all going to shit anyway.”  Or “I’ll never succeed.”  For this reason I drastically limit the amount of news I take in.  How people can read/hear/watch the news every day and not want to kill themselves or someone else is beyond me.

Defining myself solely as a filmmaker is also a one way ticket to hell.  Defining myself only in what I do, rather than in who I am, moment to moment.  I have to consciously limit the directions my mind goes when I work:  “How much money must I raise to make this next film?”  It’s never enough.  But if I wring my hands in despair rather than get busy raising money that’s on me.  “Why doesn’t X return my phone calls?”  People promise all kinds of things and fulfill very few.  But if I obsess about how they can possibly be so far out of integrity rather than cut my losses and move on that’s on me.  “Look at X, Y, and Z colleagues… they’re receiving far more funding than I, their film is screening in far better venues, they’re going to much nicer festivals, they’re getting better reviews…”  There are plenty of filmmakers who receive far more support for their work than I.  But if I focus on that and don’t marshal the tremendous resources I do have that’s on me.  It’s all about resisting the lure of being the victim and challenging myself to become the man I’ve always wanted to be.

“By fiercely…”  Why “fiercely?”  Another of my shadows is being the nice guy, doing  whatever it takes to get someone to like me.  Being the “people pleaser.”  So “fierce” is a good reminder to me that sometimes it’s necessary to not be liked.  Being liked by the people I am with is often not a priority relative to what’s really important.  To crank up the intensity, the volume, the presence, to do what’s right, what’s  necessary to serve the greater good.  It requires fierceness to speak up for what’s right in a world comfortable with lies and illusion.  Holding firm boundaries requires fierceness.   So does confronting self-righteous authorities.  So does protecting loved ones from danger.

The word “fierce” also serves to remind me that life is not for the faint of heart.  It’s hard.  I’m not reductively Darwinian so I don’t believe “only the strong survive.”  But the pain, the disappointments, the losses, the fears of life can be immense.  It’s essential to develop some emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual resilience, some fierceness of attitude and outlook to weather the storms. 

“Loving myself and all beings.”  Given much of the above, you might already have guessed that “loving myself” is the greater challenge here.  My guess is it’s difficult for most Westerners.  (Unlike many (most?) Asians for whom it’s almost unimaginable that a child would not be absolutely treasured, honored and welcomed into this world, building a healthy foundation of self-esteem.)  Though it cannot be unlearned, fortunately the habits of poor self-esteem can be mitigated against.  Meditation, regular exercise, men’s groups, positive affirmations, mirror work are some of the tools that have proven helpful for me.   I’ve also learned to recognize what I need when I need it.  So when I feel dumped on by someone, or at my wit’s end with a frustrating situation, I can reach out and ask my wife or a friend for a hug and some encouraging words.

But “loving all beings” is no small challenge either.  There is a long list of people in government and a longer list of those in business who really challenge me.  How do we love people that threaten us with their greed, their self-absorption, their cruelty, their ignorance, their indifference?  The first step is to recognize that we don’t have to like them.  Liking and loving are entirely different matters.   Secondly, any person’s cruelties can be traced to their ignorance.  They simply haven’t been taught any better.  At a dharma, or Buddhist level, they haven’t been taught how absolutely interconnected we all are.  Lastly, everyone suffers, even torturers, billionaire bankers, war-loving generals, presidents and politicians.   While still adamantly opposing their destructive practices and policies, our challenge is to make room in our hearts for their own suffering. 

The way I was raised made it difficult for me to accept that any rich person could possibly ever suffer.  Working with rich people over the years has taught me otherwise.  Not to minimize the fear that faces the 40+ million Americans who won’t eat three meals today, or the 50+ million who have no regular, sufficient medical care, but there are an awful lot of wealthy people steeped in nothing but fear over how they’re going to protect their wealth in our declining economy.   Not to mention any number of myriad other problems.  Christina Onassis’s suicide at 24 was a real eye opener to me in this regard.

I co-create a world living in truth, without despair, by fiercely loving myself and all beings.  And you?  What’s your mission?