I’m published! (Well, my essay is!)

I’m super excited to announce that I have an essay published in the anthology called “Arcane Perfection” edited by Pat Mostly. You can get the Amazon version here, and the paperback version here via Lulu. My essay is called “Please, Ask Me About My Wife” which was written in a sort of response to the TERFs who publishing their own anthology a few months back.

I think a lot of cis lovers, friends, and spouses of transgender people will really resonate with this essay.

Thank you Pat for including me in this project! 🙂

On Grief

There’s been a lot of discussion about grief since the election: what is “proper” grief, when to get over grief, and people denying the grief of others. Two months ago, this post would have probably just been a rant about not telling people how to grieve, but then my friend Bubby Jerimyah D’Luv died suddenly.

And the grief over the election fell into grief over Jerimyah. I lit my candle for him, and wore my rainbow socks to his memorial. I was his friend, but I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked with him. But I have my memories of the times we did spend together. Going to Hobbee’s. Doing the body acceptance workshop. The look of happiness on his face when I went to visit him in the hospital and we talked about going swimming together sometime.

“What is remembered lives,” I said at the memorial.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, one of the Mothers of Refuge, Emerald O’Leary, passed. So, grief again. She was a sassy Irish lady, who was an amazing artist. One year at Easter she, with the other artists at Refuge, made Easter hats. She came up to me right before service and handed me this glorious hat saying I should wear it for service. So I did (the picture is on my Facebook page, so there’s proof!). There was a lot I didn’t know about her, but what I do know, I cherish.

I lit my candles for her, too, and remembered that she, too, will live because we remember her.

And then, this week, my friend Cynan passed away. He was always a gentleman and a big bear of a man. He was mostly a friend, but we also some adult fun with each other a bit in the first few years I was in the Bay Area. I remember hanging out with him and his wife in their apartment a long time ago, with Cynan in his big chair and Kim in hers. I don’t even remember why I had gone over that day, but it sticks in my memory. I remember him singing in the hallways at Pantheacon, and smiling as I heard his voice down the hall. He also gave amazing hugs, and you knew you were hugged. We hadn’t talked as much in the last few years, except at cons and parties if he was there, but he was always present when he was in the room, which I can’t really explain much better than that.

I’ve been lighting candles for him, too.

Which also brings me to the fact that we’re moving to Chicago at the end of February. Today I realized, that there’s grief there, too. We’ll be leaving friends and the coven to start something new in a new place. It’s exciting in the fact that things will be new (and I’m looking forward to seasons and summer thunderstorms again), but it’s also sad to be leaving what we have here.

And when we’re in Chicago, I know I’ll be lighting my candles for that grief when I get my altar set up.

I’ve studied a lot about grief, since working with those who are dying is part of my vocation. In fact, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ work is something that I’ve studied in depth. But I think that there’s a lot of people who really misunderstood her work on the stages of grief, and if you read her books, you’ll see that she explicitly states many times that the stages of grief are not a straight line. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are non-linear. Sometimes a person may not even go through one of the stages, or experience more than one at a time. It’s a huge misunderstanding to expect someone to just go through the stages and be done with their grieving in a set period of time.

What Kübler-Ross tries to explain in her work, and what I’ve experienced myself in working with those who are grieving the loss of a loved one and in my own grief, is that you need to respect the grieving process. It doesn’t matter what the person is grieving over, either. Whether it’s a loved one, a pet, the election, a celebrity, or even a sportsball loss. No matter the source, the grief is real.

We’ve been taught, in American society at least, that our grief should be something that we hide, or if we don’t “get over it” quickly we’re somehow mentally ill, or being stupid. It’s worse if someone is grieving over a pet, or a celebrity, or something others deem not worthy of any extended period of grief.

I think that what we’ve been taught is wrong.

I think that not showing our grief, wailing, crying, singing laments, or being denied the ability to publicly express our grief is wrong.

So I give all of you who are grieving, no matter what you are grieving, the permission to cry out loud, to shout, to rage, to sing, to wail, to write, to do anything you need to express that grief. I give you permission to grieve whether someone else thinks it silly or not. I give you permission to not talk about your grief, to hermit, to be alone in your grief. I give you permission to grieve for as long as you need to. I give you permission to grieve publicly, in community, and if I am there to witness your grief, I will make sure you are allowed that space without someone bothering you or telling you that your grief is invalid.

And I will give myself this same permission, because I am grieving, too.

To the Conservatives and Trump voters who follow me or know me:

I posted this to a conservative sf/f author’s website today. They have talked many times about feeling “othered” in the sf/f community because they’re conservative, even though they’re LGBTQA affirming (including writing many books about LGBTQA/gender-queer romances, etc). I’m posting it here, too, for those conservatives who have been saying today “But, I didn’t vote for Trump because of his racism/sexism/homophobia!”

“People like me, moderate liberals who would like to compromise across the gap, are scared this morning. And, I think, rightfully so….

I wasn’t sure I was going to write this to you, but in the interest of understanding, I thought I should. I’ve been a fan of your work for a long time, and I know, you, personally, support LGBTQA folks. I know, through your blog here, that you’re conservative, and really, that doesn’t bug me much since I grew up in New England and so I’m a more middle of the road Democrat and I think that compromise is a good thing.

That being said, and I know you’ve felt backlash from this, is that the “conservative” party leaders that are now in power, have, for years, actively been against the basic civil rights of LGBTQA people. It’s written into the party platform. And, while I wish more conservatives like you were in power, they’re not. Conservatives that want to compromise have been basically run out. The unfortunate side effect, though, is that if you do openly support the party, you’ll be seen with suspicion. I truly believe that groups are not monoliths, and that we need to remember that not all of the individuals in the group support everything about the GOP, etc., but I hope that you understand that there are so many people terrified that their civil rights are going to fly out the window in the next year, that they are seeing the monolith, not the individuals.”

In another post in another forum, I also said:

If you don’t want to be labeled as such, prove it. Put your leaders feet to the fire about racism, sexism, and homophobia. Get other folks who voted for Trump to tell their congresspeople to make sure that all people’s civil rights are important, not just white people’s rights (and yes, that includes Muslims and transgender people). Prove to me that you actually will hold them accountable and that they are actually following Jesus, who fed the poor, helped the sick, and other marginalized people. Because, what you’re seeing today is the real fear of people worried that their families will be spit up, people deported, etc.  You may have had anger at the establishment, but what cost will the anti-establishment anger have? We don’t know yet…

The pragmatist in me wants to believe that the Constitution will do it’s magick and keep things from being colossally bad. I want to have hope that there will be so much in-fighting in Congress that none of Trump’s campaign promises will get done.

Honestly, I’d rather not have to be wary (or fearful) of half of my fellow Americans. I want to be able to feel as if this country is still the “Home of the Free and Land of the Brave” still. But today, I just can’t feel that way.

Again, if you’re a Trump supporter or conservative, as I said earlier, I invite you to prove me wrong. If you want me to believe you, then show me that you truly believe that EVERYONE deserves to have their civil rights respected. Show me that you’ll be holding your congresspeople accountable to ensure freedom and justice for ALL, not just white cis-gendered, Christian heterosexuals. If you truly believe that you’re not a bigot, then prove it by making sure my civil rights (and those of Muslims, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQA people, Mexicans, and others) aren’t left to a popular vote, but guaranteed by law.

Your anger at the establishment is valid, heck, I have it, too. But right now, as I said earlier, what cost will it have?

Midnight Epiphanies

I have never been a good scholar. Oh, sure, I’ve written scholarly essays that gave me the grades I needed to pass the classes that I was in, but when it comes to scholarly concepts (especially when it comes to the human condition), I fail. I fail at getting the words right. I fail at being the person that the other social justice scholars think I should be. I even tried writing a book that talked about all of these concepts of privilege, oppression, intersectionality, and all of the other concepts that I’m supposed to know as an educated feminist. Even in that, I failed, because I know that there are other people out there who can explain them much better than I can.

Yet, here I am, after reading essays by bell hooks, in the middle of the night, writing an essay about my failures as a social justice scholar. Or, to be more accurate, my failure to be a scholarly social justice writer. My wife, who is as much my priest as she is my wife, suggested to me that I read those authors who write passionately. My mind thought of all the Womanist theologians who inspired me through seminary (and while I am not black myself, I found Womanist theology a breath of fresh air after reading the droning that is white feminist theology in my seminary days), and my brain connected “bell hooks” with “you should read her work.” So I fired up my Kindle, downloaded several of her works, and started reading “remembered rapture: the writer at work.”

And here I am, writing, in the middle of the night about my failure as a scholarly writer.

I’m still a theologian, though. I think about religion and spiritual matters all the time. It makes me hope that even though I won’t be scholarly in my writing, with mounds of footnotes that reference Rahner, or Tillich, or Spong, or any of the other classical or modern theologians, that the theology police won’t come and confiscate my theologian card. Frankly, regular, scholarly theology can be incredibly dull to me. They have the same conversations over and over again about the same few topics using twenty-five dollar words in 1100 pages, when, in my mind, they could have edited it down to about 100 pages and moved on with more important things. I felt this especially true when I was reading white feminist theologians (although, I think I can forgive them for it since in the misogynistic world of academia, women are forced to go above and beyond to prove their sincerity).

I could go on about my gripes with modern scholarly theology, but that’s not really why I’m up in the middle of the night writing this essay.

No, I’m up in the middle of the night because I’ve had an epiphany about my own writing.

I am just not a scholarly writer, hence the talk about my failure as a scholarly writer. You see, I wrote a book about radical inclusion. It was filled with explanations about the concepts I mentioned earlier: privilege, intersectionality, etc. All of that stuff about social justice that I’ve learned over the years and talked with many people about on my podcast. This book goes into very specific details about what I think is wrong in the Pagan community, and my ideas about how to bring in radical inclusion, or, at least, a set of questions one can use to bring radical inclusion from the head to the heart (as Bishop Flunder of City of Refuge would say). I poured out 25000 words into a document that I then sent to others to read.

But if I’m honest with myself, there was something about it, even in my excitement of having written it (or really, having written 25000 words on anything at all). I knew in the back of my mind that it was a failure. I could feel that there was something missing, something not quite right. I wasn’t seeing something in it that I felt should have been obvious. I thought that maybe I was too close to the writing and that I needed others to read it to help me find out what I was missing.

When the first comments came in, especially the more pointed and honest ones, imposter syndrome and depression hit me really hard. At first I was defensive. When I talked with my wife about the comments, she helped me put them in perspective, since many of them were very valid commentary about my own privilege and knowledge. I took a look at my own defensiveness, did some work around my depression and imposter syndrome, and left the commentary to sit for awhile. When I looked at it again, I realized that it was all true. It wasn’t the fault of the people giving me their comments, far from it, it was my own. And tonight, the epiphany is that I tried to write something “how to” and scholarly, which I’m not good at. As I said, there are many people who can, and do, write about these topics in a scholarly and explanatory way much better than I can.

The second half of this epiphany came earlier today when I asked my wife about which writing she thought was my best. She told me that it was the writing I did when I Spirit was coming through and when I wrote about the things I’m most passionate about. When I thought about it, I knew she was right. All of my blog rants, prose pieces about deities and spiritual experiences, human stories around my faith and belief, those were the things that always felt “right” when I wrote them. They were the pieces that felt the most satisfying to me when I put them out into the world.

If I really think about it, I’m more of a works versus faith type of theologian. I’m more interested in how spirit moves through us. In how people use spirit for good and in observing the ways humans interact with each other. For example: I could explain radical inclusion by citing scholars and theologians in a massive tome, or I could tell you a story about a young autistic boy who gave me a hug at the doctor’s office and the mother’s profound relief that I not only accepted that hug, but treated him like a human being instead of a freak. The first I’m miserable at. The second, however, still tugs at my emotions and makes me want to write.

I’m a scholarly failure, and I’m actually rather OK with that.

It only took 25000 words, my wife, some beta readers, and a bell hooks essay for me to figure this out.

And one late night (or early morning) essay writing session for me to really believe it.

(This post was written in the wee hours of the morning of September 23, 2016)

Cursing and Social Justice

When we teach about cursing in our coven, we tell students that if they feel that doing the curse is right in their soul and that they are completely willing to take the consequences if they are wrong, then they should go ahead. We also teach that if there is any doubt at all or any trepidation about taking the consequences, then they should wait for awhile or not do it at all. The other recommendation we typically give is that the object of your curse, especially if you are utilizing a Spirit (be it deity, demon, ghost, or angel), should always have an “out”: a chance to change and stop doing what you ended up cursing them for. This is the greater compassion because no one needs to be punished for eternity when they realize that they have done something wrong and decide to work to change it.

What does this have to do with social justice?

There are many social justice activists that don’t allow for people to change. They don’t allow for people to make mistakes and learn from them. In their minds, there is no room for someone to have a change of heart if they’ve done something wrong in the past. They did or said something that was racist, sexist, homophobic, etc in the past and that’s it. They are branded for life as “bad people” and are not given the chance to atonement.

Now, are there people who just won’t learn and refuse to change? Of course! There are some people that no matter how hard you try to educate them or tell them that they are doing hateful and bigoted things, they won’t change at all. It would take a miracle to make them see the harm that they are doing.

But there are those who know they’ve done wrong and try and change. There’s a tendency in social justice circles to default to “eternal damnation” when someone makes a mistake. There is no “out” or chance for that person to atone for their transgression or to learn what they did wrong. And for some social justice people, even when you do have a change of heart and try to atone, nothing you do will ever be good enough. For some people it may take them years, or a lifetime, to undo the mistakes they’ve done. For others, it might be more of a matter of apology for an immediate mistake made. Yet, there are plenty of social justice activists out there who will decide that a person’s change of heart may not be genuine enough or that they won’t trust someone because of what they’ve done in the past, no matter how hard the subject of their ire has tried to atone for their bad behavior.

I can’t deny that I’ve done this myself. A lot of the time it comes down to the fact that I want to be right when I think that someone is wrong. But I’ve been learning in my work and thinking about radical inclusion that it is important to allow for others to grow because not everyone has the education or experiences that I do. I’ve learned that there are people, including myself, who will say or do stupid things out of ignorance (and boy, have I done some really stupid things in social justice circles). I have had things pointed out to me that have made me feel bad for having done said stupid things. However, I’ve been lucky that I’ve had patient people around me who not only helped me learn, but allowed me to atone for what I’ve done wrong. This has made me want to be a better ally.

Unfortunately, absolutism happens in all levels of social justice work, and transcends whatever marginalization someone is. Are there histories, atrocities, and systemic injustice that needs to be acknowledged by those who make the mistakes? Of course. But we can’t forget the humanity of the people involved: our own humanity, and those of the people who we are trying to reach. Those of us who work for social justice should let our passion and emotions around our issues be known and visible, but if we disregard the humanity of those who we are trying to teach and don’t allow for their growth, how much are we really going to change? And, more importantly, if we completely dismiss the work that someone has done to grow, learn, and change, why are we doing social justice work in the first place?

Because I Want To!

I’ve been doing a lot of “adulting” in the last few weeks, most specifically around beauty and health. I’m a little conflicted around talking about my own health stuff online, since I know that for other people (including myself) there are times I just don’t want to hear about someone’s exercise schedule, especially because our society is really messed up around conflating exercise with weight loss. I get that, and really, this isn’t to brag about my current exercise regimen or anything like that, but to talk about the reasons why I’ve decided to do what I’ve been doing.

I have a back injury. My L5-S1 disc is basically like a bad car brake pad at this point. It’s difficult for me to walk long distance or to stand in one place for too long. How it happened is that in 2010 I fell twice on my tailbone onto hard floors (once in the lab when I was still working in biotech, and the second at home). Also, it was aggravated by working in biotech for 13 years and standing for hours and hours a day on hard concrete floors. I’m still at a point, however, where strength training and stretching can keep me from having to use drugs or getting risky cortisone shots. So, after talking to my doctor (who is a DO instead of an MD and very much into holistic medicine) I decided to go the non-drug route for the time being. I went to my local 24 Hour Fitness with a pool to get a membership. Even though I was terrified of the possibility of body shaming, I asked about getting a trainer so that I could learn about exercises for my back. It just so happened that they had a trainer who also has the exact same injury that I do. I got to talk to her for awhile while I was signing up, and was pleasantly surprised that she took me seriously. In fact, in my two full sessions with her, there has been no body shaming whatsoever, just a desire to see me get stronger so I can move better. (If you’re in San Jose, her name is Kortney, and she’s at the 24 Hour Fitness on Santa Teresa across from the Kaiser San Jose.)

Something I’ve come to realize in the last couple of weeks that I’ve started training, is that I really like it! I like being athletic, being in the pool, doing strength training. Not for weight loss, not just specifically for my health, but because I love it. I realized, when I was in the pool last, that I had really missed the swim training I did for the Tiburon Mile. I love being in the water. I can see my wife and my parents now going “duh”. Especially my parents, since I started swimming before I could walk! In fact, one of my earliest memories is of me in the local community wading pool. But my best swimming memory was when I completed the Tiburon Mile in 2009. (Here’s the video Sarah made about my swim.) I’m still really proud of that.

So, I’m going to try it again. I decided at that moment in the pool that I’m going to try and swim the Tiburon again in 2017. Because I want to, and because I know I can do it.

This “because I want to” thing is also translating into other areas of my life. I’ve recently been exploring more about my sense of style around clothes and beauty. For a long time I wore clothes a certain way because it was expected of me. I didn’t dye my hair for a long time because I had some weird sense that it wasn’t “right” to do. Same with clothes. There were certain clothes I avoided for several reasons (although, when I was still working in biotech, there were practical reasons I had to wear certain types of clothing), but most of the reason I avoided them is because I was trying to look like other people’s expectations of what they thought my identity was. For a long time I shaved my head and refused to wear anything considered “girly” because other people expected me to be what their version of what a butch dyke looked like. I also stopped wearing more femme clothes and makeup because there were a lot of sources telling me “you shouldn’t wear that” or “you aren’t really that femme are you?” or “you’re too fat to wear that!”

But what I’ve learned by doing work around body positivity is that I don’t owe anyone a explanation why I like swimming and being athletic, wearing skirts, or even wearing the bright blue mascara that I have on right now. I don’t own anyone an explanation of why I choose to eat or not eat foods. I can do these things because I want to, not because of society’s conflated beauty standards, or other people’s expectations of what healthy is, or not do these things because I’m fat.

I’m not sure if this is because I’ve turned 40 and I just don’t really give a crap what people think anymore, or if I’ve finally just found a happy medium with myself. Or maybe, I just think life is too short to not do the things I want to do, even if what I want to do is swim 2000 yards in a hour while wearing blue mascara.

Art, Beauty, and Permission

gina-bw1-2016-04-29-10-39.jpg

This is a picture my wife took of me the other night with her new camera. To a lot of people, it’ll be just a good picture of me taken by my wife. For the two of us, however, it means a whole lot more.

After many years of not being able to do her art due to a grueling work schedule and fears about other people’s reactions to her pictures, my wife has decided to pick up her photography again. If you ask her, she’ll probably joke that it’s all my fault. In some ways, that’s the truth: I helped her decide which camera to buy and then encouraged her to buy it. To put it another way: I was a person close to her giving her permission to go and do her art.

Our society is really weird about art. We love art and revere artists (to an extent) and yet our culture actively seeks to put down artists, especially if they do things that are really different. There is a culture of treating art as if it were somehow “less useful” than other things that one could be doing. Many artists (whether they do it professionally or not, regardless of skill level) will hear things like: “That’s just luck.” or “My kid could do that!” or “Can you make any money from that?” Insinuating that the art is just some sort of hobby, and that if you’re not going to try and make money from it, then it’s not “serious” art.

In the arts, there are a lot of gatekeepers and jealousy. Both my wife an my mom are visual artists. The wife does photography (among other things), and my mom does impressionistic paintings in several mediums. Both of them have experienced through the art world (mostly through clubs and shows) an antagonistic attitude toward what they do. Sometimes it’s jealousy, either in regards to skill, time, or tools (this happens a lot with cameras, it seems). Sometimes, especially when being judged in shows or being chosen to be shown in a gallery, there’s a “gatekeeping” that happens when the judges either don’t like your art, don’t think it’s proper art, or have some sort of jealousy towards the artist for whatever reason. Add on top of this issues of gender, race, age, attractiveness of the artist, etc. This is just true for the visual art, but for all types of art. We have a lot of gatekeepers in our society who decide what is “real” art and what they consider “just a hobby.” I mean, think of Bob Ross. Now, his paintings aren’t my cup of tea and I find them kind of boring, but his paintings influenced millions of people to get into art. But there are gatekeepers in places like New York who totally pan his art and wouldn’t consider it “real” art or Bob Ross a “real” artist. Yet, Bob Ross painted nearly every day and it made him feel fulfilled. Regardless of the art, isn’t that what is thought of as a “real” artist: someone who makes art?

Is all of the art that’s created going to be good, highly skilled, or everyone’s cup of tea? Of course not. But it doesn’t meant that it isn’t art, and, in an ideal world, it shouldn’t mean that people should get jealous of another’s skill or equipment. Unfortunately, it will happen, because, as I like to say, we’re all humans doing stupid human tricks.

These stupid human tricks aren’t just limited to the reactions to artists, though. This picture is a picture of my body. My fat body. My wife titled this “Gina being classical” and really loves this picture of me. She told me that it was a beautiful picture.

I didn’t believe her…at first.

All of the old tapes, all of the crap about beauty standards, came rearing their ugly heads in my brain. The first thought I had was “wow I’m so fat!” which got the brain weasels dancing to ugly, unworthy, and all of the other crap that has been instilled in my brain over the years. I’ll admit, that when she posted it to Facebook, I was worried about what others would think of the picture. I know there are people who would see this picture of me and fat shame me (even if only in their heads), or decide that I need to be told what I can do about my health. In other words, I know there are gatekeepers of beauty, deciding who and who is not beautiful. Our culture is really horrible about bodies in general, and fat bodies in particular.

But then I kept looking at the picture, and once the brain settled down (somewhat), I saw more. I saw that this is how I am, and how the world sees me. Most importantly, I finally saw this as how my wife sees me: big, bold, complicated, and, yes, beautiful. I feel her love for me in this picture, and that she saw the beauty of my body as it is (even if I didn’t).

And, surprisingly (to me anyway), many people on Facebook agreed with my wife’s assessment. This is a beautiful picture of me. I have permission to be beautiful in this body, regardless of what others think.

Technically, both us don’t need permission from anyone else to do our art or to feel and be beautiful in our bodies, but with the way our society is, sometimes we need to get that permission from outside ourselves to feel justified in taking that power. But once the decision is made in your heart, you realize that you never needed that permission in the first place, nor do you have to justify your art, or your body, to anyone.

I’m tired of politics, but I’ll still vote. #decision2016

There’s seven months left in this election cycle. Seven very long months of conventions, debates, and political ads. There’s never ending political reports and news outlets trying to get the biggest ratings, with very few sources of news that doesn’t have an agenda.

I know I’m kind of done with all of this and I still haven’t had my primary (which is in June here in California). It’s hard to listen to the bluster of the presidential candidates and not think that we’re just all screwed. That no matter what happens in November, things are still going to suck.

Heck, I’m even having a hard time writing this post because I’m tired of politics.

But here’s the thing: no matter how tired I get with politics, I’m still going to vote. Every election. Every time. Even in the off years. I even set it up so I’m permanent vote-by-mail so that I don’t forget (thank you California!). Sure, sometimes I won’t know who the local candidates are (and that’s usually when I vote by party), but I’ll still vote.

I’m mostly speaking to those of my generation and younger here (Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials). I know you’re tired and you think there’s nothing you can do, but trust me, if you all vote, the demographics will start to shift. The US has an abysmal voter turnout all the time, especially among younger people. Only 65% of folks who are eligible to vote actually register to vote, and of that only just over 50% of people who are registered actually vote. Think about this. According to the US Census, there are about 322 Million people in the US, about 80% of which are over 18 and eligible to vote. So, that’s about 258 million people that could register and cast a vote (theoretically). Only about 167 million actually register to vote, and only about 88 million who actually vote. That’s less than 30% of our population making decisions for 322 million people.

There’s a lot more to an election than just the president, house, senate, and governors. There’s local elections (mayor, state reps, etc), propositions, school boards, judges, sheriffs, city councils, and so on. These are the positions that impact your day to day life much more than the national elections. The unconstitutional and stupid bathroom panic bill in North Carolina is a bill that has immediate effect on the lives of transgender people particularly. That wasn’t a national body that passed that bill, it was a state legislature.

Thing is, by voting, you have the power to help fix it. You may not think that your vote counts, but it does. A lot of the more local politics are determined by smaller voter margins. There are many examples to Google about local races decided by 10 or less votes. And, if you have the will and drive to do so, run for office. If you don’t like what’s going on, and you feel you can do it, be part of the solution to help fix it.

I’m a pastor, so I’ll never tell you who to vote for, but I will tell you to get out there and vote. Get registered. If you need help figuring things out, send me an email and I’ll help you. Look it up online, since most states have online voter registration. If you’re in a state that has those stupid voter id laws, get your id and make sure it’s all squared away. Help your friends get theirs. Help folks get to the polls. Carpool. Bring snacks to those waiting in line. Bring snacks for the poll workers. If you can’t get there because of work, try and go during your lunch hour. In most states, employers are required to give you time off to vote. If you don’t think you can make it to the polls on election day or if you’re not going to be in your home state, find out how to do vote by mail or absentee voting.

I know you’re tired of it all and freaked out by the choices, but we still need your voice. Please register to vote and then vote, any way you can. Believe me, it’s really important.

Last Week of Lent: Social Justice Work Comes At A Cost (Paganism, Christianity, and Me)

I want to be able to say something profound here about my working, but I just can’t. At least, not in any way that’ll make sense to people other than myself. Most of what I’ve learned this week is that I shouldn’t read any social media until after I’ve done my morning prayers, had breakfast, and done my writing for the day. I’m writing about social justice, and reading other people’s social justice stuff, or about the election, before I get into my own work makes things difficult. My wife says “Social justice work comes at a cost.” and that’s quite true.

In my meditations, Jesus keeps telling me that even He had to go find solitude while do His public work. Gethsemane, the desert, and many other times He would go alone somewhere to pray. I think that’s one of the biggest lessons from Him: that quiet prayer time isn’t a bad thing to schedule into the day. Or, rather, schedule my day around the prayer time. Public work is hard, especially when you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall.

Speaking of that, one thing this week I commented on (yes, yes, I shouldn’t have bothered, but I was feeling ornery), was a post on Patheos where Gwion Raven was ranting about his identity as a pagan. Mostly about what it is, what it isn’t, and what he didn’t like about Christianity. This isn’t anything new, really, and when I challenged him on his wording, there was a “oh, well, I didn’t mean it that way” kind of response.

Gwion made it pretty clear that he wants anarchy for paganism. But here’s the thing: that’s fine for your tradition. That’s what works for you. You don’t want institutions or churches? Ok, then don’t build any. No one’s forcing you to build any or go to any. Just like no one’s forcing you to accept Christian lore or ritual in your practices.

My problem isn’t really with any of that. My problem is with the unspoken assumption that multi-faith pagans, especially those who are Christo-pagan, are somehow less than “real” pagans. I get it. I get that you don’t want to look like Christians, act like Christians, or have anything to do with Christian ritual. (Although I think that’s tough to do, given that any Gardnerian based tradition, which is the model for most witchcraft in the US and parts of Europe, has Judeo-Christian roots. I’d say that it’s a bit too late to be complaining about that. Doubly so if you’re in a Golden Dawn tradition. But I digress.) Again, that’s fine…for you.

But don’t insinuate that Christo-pagans are “fence sitters,” or delusional, or are only Christo-pagans because they don’t want to be “fully pagan.” While being neopagan and Christian is somewhat relatively new, traditions that combine magick and Christianity are not. And, really, many of those are seriously bad-ass magickal traditions in their own right. I wouldn’t want to tell a practitioner of one those traditions that they are somehow “doing it wrong.” Never mind the Euro-centrism of denying mystical Christian traditions.

Again we have a case of someone saying “All pagans should do X.” or “A proper/real pagan is…” I know the pagan community is full of humans doing stupid human tricks, but for once, I’d really be happy if people would really take a good look at and think about what they’re saying.

These lines are familiar aren’t they? Here, let me spell it out for you: “All Christians should do X.” and “A proper/real Christian is….”

Or what about: “You aren’t really bisexual, you’re either gay or your straight.”

Or: “It’s just a phase. You’ll get over it eventually.”

*sigh*

Yeah, we’ve been down this path before. Many people became pagans to run away from this type of thinking, and yet, here we are. Saying the same things that we came to paganism to avoid.

Why people don’t seem to see that they are guilty of this, no matter what progressive community they’re in (since this happens in any movement), while they loudly proclaim that they aren’t being exclusionary, boggles the mind. It’s as if the people they are railing against are the “them” and not really humans!

Oh, wait…

WIP snippet “What is most feared: Church burn and the Neo-Pagan”

This is an excerpt from the book I’m writing on radical inclusion for the pagan community. Given some of the posts I’ve seen floating around recently, I thought I’d post this here. (I’m hoping that I’ll finish this book in time for Pcon next year.) Also note, that this is from very much a first draft…

“Before we can dig deeper into questions of inclusion, we need to understand how people convert to paganism. Most people who are in the pagan community are converts, or people who have come from a different religions or atheism into paganism. This creates a challenge to paganism as a whole because much of the outer work that groups have done have been reactionary to mainstream religion, and Christianity in particular. As Yoda says: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

What I see a lot in the Pagan community as a whole is a strong backlash against anything remotely Christian. It’s really not surprising, especially since a lot of new pagans come from Christian backgrounds where they have experienced significant “church burn.” Church burn is a concept that I learned from Bishop Yvette Flunder, and it is the result of abuse caused in a church or spiritual environment. This definition is used particularly in reference to Christianity, and is what will make up the bulk of this chapter, but it’s important to realize that “church burn” isn’t exclusive to Christianity. In fact, when talking to most people who are involved in coven-based traditions, you’ll inevitably have the conversation about coven explosions and most people in the room will roll their eyes and nod in understanding. These explosions can be just as damaging as any of the abuse coming out of Christianity. The difference being that Christianity has more history of it and on a larger scale. In other words: witches, Wiccans, pagans, etc are not immune from their own extremism. We are a group of humans after all.

But back to those who come into witchcraft from Christian traditions. There are a few stages that I think most people go through when finding a new spiritual path that fits their particular needs. The first stage is a honeymoon or zealot stage where one is learning all they can about their newfound religion and is super excited to tell everyone all about it. The second stage is where it becomes incorporated into one’s identity as part of their sense of self and is also incorporated into one’s uniqueness. And third is the integration stage, where the tradition is a part of one’s identity, but they have a more expansive worldview, tending to regard it as one of many aspects of their being. In other words, their sense of self, while strongly influenced by their tradition, is not reliant on their tradition. In my experience, it’s easy for many people to get stuck in the zealot and identity stages for a long time, sometimes never managing to get to a more tolerant and expansive worldview. This, I think, is highly influenced by past religious experience, particularly if one has experienced a great deal of church burn. Also note that these phases aren’t necessarily linear. A person can revisit these stages at any time when new knowledge creates change. There are plenty times in life when a person can find out something new about themselves that they didn’t have words for that can set off the process anew.

In this chapter we’ll look at these phases and how they can be good and detrimental to the individual, the group, and the community as a whole. We’ll also look at some of the hypocrisies that arise in the pagan traditions around these phases that can lead to conflict. Yoda’s words at the beginning of this chapter, while simple, are quite correct. And the suffering that comes from it does more than just harm others, it harms the self.”