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.”

1st Week of Lent: Religious Life (or I want to be a Monk!)

Most people know that I’m doing a Lenten working for my deities (Hecate, The Dagda, and Jesus). It ended up being a pretty hardcore (for me) disciplined working that is similar to how the nuns that I stayed with a couple of years ago for my Immersion Course structured their lives and prayer time. Before I talk more about religious life, let me describe what I’m doing in a bit more detail:

Part 1: Hecate

From the February New Moon to the Day before the Full Moon in February will be my time for Hecate. I wake up around 6:30 am (and this is agreed with all the deities for the whole working), do my morning prep (go to the bathroom, feed the cat so she doesn’t meow through my meditations, etc), and then do a (for now) 20 minute meditation. I set my timer (I use Insight Timer on my iPhone because bells!) I light incense for Her and pull a Tarot card for the day. In the evening, before I go to bed, I do another 20 minute meditation, prayers for those who have asked, and light more incense and put away the Tarot card.

So far, the meditations with Hecate have been more in regards to my own inner work and shadow work that I’ve been neglecting. (And learning not to look at the timer when doing the meditation.)

Part 2: The Dagda

From the Full Moon in February to the day before the New Moon in March is the time for the Dagda. For this part of the working, I’m still doing my morning and evening meditations (although, I don’t have to light incense). But because the Dagda is the keeper of the ever full cauldron, I have to cook (really cook, from scratch) breakfast and dinner, preferably not just for me but to feed others. Most of the time it’ll be just my wife who will benefit from this, but there are going to be a few times where I’ll need to cook for others. (Hey Cerridwen folks, this means you don’t need to bring potluck food to our next meeting on the 27th!) I also have to go to bed early (by 10 pm) during this time.

Part 3: Jesus

From the New Moon in March through Easter will be my time for Jesus. I will still be doing the morning meditation (and offering incense), but in the evenings, I need to do my own Compline prayers (the Franciscan version) and prayers for those who need them. I’ll also be going to Good Friday service, keeping a Holy Saturday vigil, and attending Easter service at City of Refuge UCC.

I came up with this working because I was thinking of doing something for Lent, and when I brought it up to my wife, she suggested I do a working with my deities. I thought that was a great idea, so I negotiated with the deities, and this is what come out. I also have a leaning towards a dedicated monastic life, and if I had gone in a different direction in my life, I may have ended up in some sort of monastic order. It got me thinking, though, that we, in the Pagan community anyway, don’t really think about Religious Life on that scale.

There’s usually a disdain towards the idea of Religious Life because when most people think of Religious Life they think Christian monks and nuns, and maybe, if they’re more in the know, Buddhist monks and nuns. Many traditions have had, or do have, dedicated people who pray for others, or do other contemplative practices for their tradition. It also doesn’t necessarily mean cloistered nuns in habits or monks in robes, or celibacy, or being a hermit (unless you want to, that is).

I’m sure some Pagans would argue that they are leading a “Religious Life” because their tradition isn’t separate from their mundane life. However, a dedicated religious life is different level of devotion. You are dedicating your life, and sacrificing parts of your mundane life, to a leveled up form of devotion. It can be in your own home or in a dedicated cloistered type of situation, but it involves some level sacrifice of lifestyle. In my working, I’m giving up good chunks of my time for prayer and meditation. I am reorganizing my mundane life around my devotional work instead of the other way around. (The biggest part for me is getting up really early every day. For those that know me, and know that I’m a huge night owl, you know that that’s a Big Deal.)

It’s not that pagans don’t have people who are doing this type of work (one example that I’ve actually experienced are the Radical Faerie Sanctuaries), but for those who may have considered religious life in other traditions before they converted to one of the myriad of Pagan traditions, that kind of dedicated life may have seemed lost to them. I think, though, we’re big enough as a community to really start thinking about this kind of devoted life, even to the extent of creating Pagan monasteries (even cloistered or semi-cloistered). We don’t have to have the same beliefs as other monastic groups, but we can learn structure and form, which is something that I think some people may just want. In other words, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but having these types of structured options are something that is needed.

The New Sound Of Pentecost — City of Refuge UCC, January 31, 2016

(This was written for my church family at City of Refuge UCC for their last Sunday of their Consecration Month which had the theme “Sounds of Pentecost.” It was read today, January 31, at the their regular service.)

The first time I came to Refuge, I had a vision. Everyone was up at the front laying hands on someone who needed healing, while I stayed in my seat because I was being shy. I was waiting to see what the Spirit of Jesus looked like at Refuge, because most churches have a particular way Christ manifests in their church. Now, in most churches, it’s one large Christ that looks over the congregation.

But, as we all well know, City of Refuge is different. There wasn’t just one Jesus over the Church, there were many. Each person had Christ with them, and each one looked different, depending on the person He was looking over. That vision was when I knew I had to be at Refuge and to learn from everyone there. It was my own personal vision of Pentecost through all of you who were there the first time I came to service.

I know I haven’t been able to come to Refuge for awhile, but the Pentecostal Gift that is City of Refuge lives in my heart, lives in my soul, lives in my spirit. I hope I was able to show you all that even though I am Wiccan and come to Christ through different means, that He is the one who is speaking through my practice. That He helps guide my soul through love, compassion, healing, and inclusion. And because of all of you at Refuge, I am now channeling that sound of Pentecost through my own work of teaching radical inclusion in the Pagan community. Because through you I learned that even if we call Spirit by different names, that love, that compassion, that healing speaks through all of us.

And what I saw that day was a true vision, because we all have different words to talk about Christ. We don’t all see Him in quite the same way, but we all know His love. We all know when He’s talking through someone, even if how we see Him isn’t the same as the person who is sitting next to us. We can hear it in the praise of the singers. We can hear it when someone talks in tongues because the Spirit has come upon them. We can feel it from the person who is praying quietly in the corner. We feel it in the drum. We can see it when the people dance. We ARE Christ for each other, even if we are far apart.

Those of us who work for radical inclusion, radical hospitality, radical love, and radical justice ARE the new Sound of Pentecost. I believe we, all of us who speak of love, compassion, and justice, we ARE the Coming of Christ in our time. We ARE His voice and His fire. We ARE his hands and his feet. WE are the Common Christ. This is the strongest magick we possess and it is the strongest spell in all the Universe.

So Mote It Be and Amen

Changing Genre

A few months ago, I complained to my wife that I just wasn’t into reading anymore. Actually, I think it was more like I was bored with the reading I was doing. I was initially blaming my lack of reading on the three and a half years I spent reading theology in seminary. I told myself that my brain was too full and I need to get stuff out of it to get back into the swing of things. Problem with that was that I get inspired to write by reading. It’s a thing that writers are also readers, and that’s very true of me. To put it another way: I wasn’t reading, but I wasn’t writing either.

So, when I complaining to my wife about it, she asked me what books I had been reading. It was mostly what I like to call “brain candy”: light, fun, not very deep stuff and mostly scifi and fantasy. The only books that had really made me think and fed my soul up until then were Julia Child’s memoir about her time in France and Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking.” She knew what my problem was: my reading tastes had changed and I needed more meaty books to read. How about some classics? Have you read things like “Animal Farm?” or “Catcher in the Rye?”

I shook my head. I knew that a lot of the books she was suggesting I was supposed to read in high school, but I ended not doing so because I had teachers that had particular, and peculiar, tastes (my Junior AP English teacher had an unhealthy obsession with William Faulkner, who I can’t stand!). I started with “Animal Farm” and plowed through it in two days. Then I read “Catcher in the Rye,” and got through that pretty quickly too.

My wife, as always, was quite right. My tastes have changed. I’ve since been drifting more outside of my scifi/fantasy comfort zone and finding things much more interesting. I’ve also been getting into more of the memoirs and non-fiction, especially if they’re about travel and food. I’ve even read some brain candy romance (don’t judge me) when I needed some fluff. (My wife also, around this time, got me a Kindle Paperwhite, which is super awesome to read on, and much easier on the eyes than my iPhone, which has also helped.)

The weird part for me is this feeling that I’m betraying my scifi/fantasy roots. I mean, I’ve read a couple scifi novels here and there (“The Martian”, “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet”), and several short story collections since I’ve been branching out, but it’s mostly been non-fiction, history, classics, and other genres of fiction (oh, and the occasional erotic novel thanks to Forbidden Fiction). It’s like scifi is sitting there in my Kindle like an ignored puppy saying “Why aren’t you reading me anymore? Why are you reading that other stuff?” Or maybe it’s like I’m abandoning my childhood stuffed animal that I always slept with because I don’t need it anymore? Like it’s been relegated to a special shelf in my room, where I can look at it and be all nostalgic, but I’m ok without it.

Thing is, I’m still pretty steeped in scifi fandom when it comes to TV shows and movies. Doctor Who, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Arrow, The Flash, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, among others (and, this weekend, the new Star Wars movie!). I guess maybe the video side of scifi is more interesting to me at the moment rather than the book end of scifi/fantasy. I’m sure there’s scifi/fantasy books that I should be reading that would be juicy and feed my soul that people will want me to read (and you can leave recommendations in the comments), but a lot of it has been, very, well….formulary. It’s weird to read the same type of story over and over and realize that they are all written by different authors and have the same kind of characters that are just dressed differently. That didn’t seem to matter in my teens and twenties, but now?

Maybe I feel weird because scifi/fantasy books are what helped me through childhood. Or maybe it’s because the genre has a pretty hardcore fanbase? It always seemed that most scifi fans read only scifi for their recreational reading and that any other genre was inferior. That was my perception, anyway. I don’t think I ever really fully believed that, but I felt like I’d only been interested in that genre and nothing else for a very long time. Maybe seminary broke that in me, and now I’m looking for a wider world of books to feed my soul?

Maybe that’s it. No matter what, though, I’m glad I’m branching out.

Guns, Entitlement, and the 2nd Amendment

Yesterday, the Washington Post, which I believe most of us can agree to being a fairly decent and legit news source, posted the following statistics:

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Do you see the numbers in the first row? Believe me, these are not statistics where it’s good that USA is #1. Also, do you see who’s #2? Yemen? They have a quarter of the guns in their population than the US. See the homicides by guns by the rest of the top ten? The ones that are listed total to just under 300 homicides. That’s around 2.5% of the total homicides that happen in US. In other words, about 97.5% of homicides that happen in the top gun owning countries in the world happen here, in the United States of America.

Is that not good enough to show you how bad our gun problem is? How about these statistics from Pew Research:

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Protection as the reason to own a gun jumped 22% in 2013 from 1999. Basically, gun ownership by most people right now are for “protection” i.e.: to use against people.

Still not enough? Afraid of “those people” (which usually means People of Color) breaking into your house or whatever? OK, here’s some more from Pew Research:

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37% of the people polled lived in a house that had a gun in it, and 24% actually own them. Out of those people, it’s primarily men, and primarily white people. So, really, if you’re going to worry about someone shooting you, it’s more likely to be a white person, and most likely male. (Gallup has a similar poll you can read here.)

Groups like the NRA, and a lot of our media, are quick to say that these shooters are somehow “mentally disturbed” or whatnot. That, actually, is crap. Don’t believe me? Ok, here’s what an NIH study concluded:

“Our brief review suggests that connections between mental illness and gun violence are less causal and more complex than current US public opinion and legislative action allow. US gun rights advocates are fond of the phrase “guns don’t kill people, people do.” The findings cited earlier in this article suggest that neither guns nor people exist in isolation from social or historical influences. A growing body of data reveals that US gun crime happens when guns and people come together in particular, destructive ways. That is to say, gun violence in all its forms has a social context, and that context is not something that “mental illness” can describe nor that mental health practitioners can be expected to address in isolation.”

Now, let’s look at the 2nd Amendment shall we?

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Like any other historical document, it’s necessary to consider the context in which this was written, which, if you know your history, was 1789, six years after the end of the Revolutionary War. 50,000 Americans died trying to create this new country, and they wanted to make sure that they would be able to defend themselves in our country’s infancy. This amendment was, at it’s heart, a way the Founding Fathers believed they could ensure what was written in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

There was a need at the time to keep a civilian militia because, until the Declaration of Independence, the war, and the institution of the the Constitution, the United States of America didn’t have the actual authority to keep the military together (and, really, the population wasn’t big enough at the time to maintain a fully standing army until Constitution said they could get the cash to make one). The 2nd Amendment was to clarify that the government could create such a military, which is what I, and some scholars, believe they were actually doing with the amendment. But, what’s unfortunate, is that it was poorly worded, and like all historical documents became a victim of interpretation (aka the worst game of telephone ever).

Now, the funny thing is, we don’t need that type Militia anymore, since we have a standing military and our needs have changed. The United States is 239 years old and has become something much different than the Founding Fathers ever dreamed. The funny thing is, the Constitution has provisions for this:

“The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution…”

The Constitution has never meant to be a static document. We are meant to change it with the times. We are meant to adapt and change the Constitution as our country changes. We are clinging to a document that, while still functionally useful, needs to change to reflect the times we live in. We cling to certain aspects of the Constitution, like the 2nd Amendment, as if it was Holy Writ. As if the Bill of Rights was, like the Gospels, Divine Decree.

It’s not. It’s a document, written by men, who believed that we could have freedoms while treating people equally (well, at the time, just white men, but that’s another long post). There is nothing denying us the ability to change and pass gun regulation that will save lives. There’s nothing saying we can’t rewrite parts of the Constitution to keep up with the times. We have the ability to change things. It’s what the Founding Fathers wanted us to do.

My Dad, who’s a Vietnam Veteran and a hunter, had hunting rifles in our house (safely) and taught me how to shoot a hunting rifle when I was a teenager. Granted, I was pretty crap at it, but I know what it feels like and I know how to be safe around guns. My Dad was in the military, so I know that he knows how to safely deal with and store guns. My wife knows how to use a bear rifle from when she went to the Arctic for NASA. Most of the rest of my family, particularly most of the men, are either in (or have been in) the military and/or hunt. I actually watch the biathlon in the Winter Olympics because I think it’s a interesting sport to watch (and dude, shooting in the cold and snow on skis? Hardcore).

I’m ok that guns exist. I’m not interested in owning one. If I had to use one to hunt, I’d do it (although, I’d probably have my wife do that, since I’m a pretty crap shot). I’m not against people owning guns.

What I am against is the lack of gun control and the fact that guns are pretty easy to get in this country. I’m also against the fact that an organization has such a hold on lawmakers that any reasonable gun control laws can never be passed. I’m against using the Constitution as an instrument of entitlement and a way to not take responsibility for the epidemic of gun violence in America.

I mean, seriously, the UK, where my wife is from, has strict gun control laws and yet there isn’t a lack of ownership or hunting there. Also note, that the UK is not in the top 10 gun owning countries and they’re doing just fine. The sky hasn’t fallen. Anarchy isn’t happening there. Oh, and, hey, gun violence is a rarity in the UK! Heck, it’s rare in pretty much every other country in the world.

Except the United States of America.

The sad thing is, we are quite capable of fixing it within the bounds of our Constitution, including the 2nd Amendment.

How do you see Deity? #showmehecate #showmethedagda

My friend Ember has an interesting project going on about body positive and diverse representations of deities of beauty (Freya, Aphrodite, etc.), which has poked at some of my brains to write here about how we represent deities in general. In my workshops that I give about the language we use to describe the body and health (which you can find here), one of the things I ask of participants is to think about how deity is represented in their traditions. If you look at a lot of the deity specific art, the vast majority of what you find is western standards of beauty and race. Most of what’s depicted are thin, white, model-looking (cis-normative) men and women who look like something out of Heavy Metal magazine. Heck, I’ve even seen a Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower magazines with a hunky looking Jesuses on their covers!

It’s difficult for us to picture deity in our own minds in other diverse forms unless they are particularly described as such. The Dagda, who is one of my patron deities, is a deity that loves His food and is described in stories as fat. He comes to me that way, too, and is quite fond of my own big belly and loud bodily noises (which can make for some interesting times). He doesn’t really care that He’s a big fat God and working with Him has been helping me to accept my own big fat body. One way to put it is that I’m learning, through His example, that a big fat body doesn’t lack power or will, which is what fat people are told from the time they are born. With my past experiences with disordered eating and other body shaming experiences, it can be hard for me to see the beauty of my body as He sees it. For me, it’s been a slow dance in my mind of body acceptance overcoming body hatred.

Another way that deity imagery has come up was when my wife and I created the following short film:

I distinctly remember bringing up the question about whether people would accept a fat Hecate, to which my wife replied with something to the extent of: “Who says Hecate can’t be fat?” I really didn’t think about it again until recently when I put together my website and re-watched the video. There’s still a part of my mind that tries to reconcile what I’ve been indoctrinated with in regards to body image and with what Hecate, Herself, has even told me about how She is portrayed. Usually what I see in my head is what you get when you Google “Hecate,” and while some of the images are intriguing, the vast majority just don’t look like me.

There’s so much intersectionality in this, too. For example, when most people think of “God” in the general sense, especially in the west, the majority of folks will think of an old white man in the sky. When people think about Jesus, he’s the white-washed bearded dude, not someone of middle eastern descent. Many of the Saints in the Catholic tradition are depicted as thin, androgynous, and somewhat non-human and otherworldly. While much of this art is, indeed, beautiful, I think it’s time we added more to the collection of sacred images than more of the same, making me really glad to see the results of projects like Ember’s.

Because, I think, when we don’t see deities like ourselves, it can sometimes be harder to find deity within.

Bigotry, Age, and Respect

In the last couple of weeks or so it’s happened again: some Pagan “Elders” spouted off online about their transphobia. For two of them, it seems they have realized that what they’ve said is a problem, while the last one has pretty much doubled-down on her usual bigoted (and factually inaccurate) rhetoric. You can read Ruth Barett’s essay in our anthology if you want to know what she thinks about transgender women. Suffice it to say that the posts by the other women were similar in their bigoted rhetoric against transgendered people.

There are a lot of folks who think we all should let these remarks slide since the Elders in questions are “pioneers” of the community and have contributed to the building of the current Pagan movement. Putting our Elders in the craft on such a pedestal like that means that they also can fall really hard.  While this can be problematic for the clergy in question, since they are treated as more exalted then their peers, this also means that they will come under way more scrutiny for their actions, online and offline. I think it’s good to recognize the work that these Elders have put in to the Pagan movement, since they do deserve the recognition for that. However, this doesn’t mean that they get immunity from the consequences of their actions.

Age is not entirely relevant here. I do think that it’s appropriate to respect our elders in the general sense: they have been through some stuff and know a lot of things. That doesn’t mean that they get a pass for spouting off hate and intolerance. While age and history are a factor in behavior, it’s also a poor excuse for someone’s bad behavior. I don’t buy the idea that a person is a “product of their time” either. That can make it more difficult for a person to wrap their head around certain topics, but it doesn’t necessarily make it impossible for someone to learn a new way of thinking. (Personally, I think it’s a lazy excuse not to listen to what others are telling you.)

What really gets me about this is that there’s always the “But I’m not a bigot!” cry from the perpetrator when this happens. Sorry, but yes, actually, you are:

Full Definition of BIGOT

: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance

If you don’t want people to see you as a bigot, then the answer is simple: think before you post, write, or do bigoted things. This goes for anyone, really. If you don’t want people to think you’re racist, then stop posting racist memes on Facebook. If you don’t want people to think you hate Muslims, then don’t post anti-Muslim memes or spout off about it in writing. And, in this case, if you don’t want people to think you hate transgendered people, then don’t post bigoted material about transgender people, no matter what you think of them or how “funny” you think the meme is. Because, believe me, it’s not funny.

While I think it’s good to be respectful of elders in our society, actual respect for someone’s words and actions isn’t, and shouldn’t be, automatic. That kind of respect is earned, and doing bigoted things online is not how you earn that respect.

The Internet, Gadgets, and Me

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Cartoon by Rosangela Ludovico

You can’t go anywhere on the internet these days without some sort of article about how smartphones are making us stupid, or complaining about how no one talks to each other anymore. Or the multitude of memes comparing teenagers on cell phones to zombies. Granted, there is always the grumbling from the previous generations about the technology of the newer generations but for introverted, curious, nerdy writers like me, the gadgets are a lifesaver.

To be honest, I’m one of those folks who will have their nose in a gadget (my phone, laptop, or Kindle) most of the time. I am willing to make sure that I turn it off when I need to. I also keep it on vibrate because I find the sound notifications annoying. (I got into the habit mostly because I used to have to go to a lot of meetings when I was working in biotech, and then classes when I was in seminary, both places where the constant ping of notifications are forbidden.) The benefits for me, though, have been enormous: no longer do I need to carry a portfolio of cd’s and a Walkman with me. No longer do I have to carry a bunch of books in my backpack, along with a notebook, spare batteries, maps, bus schedules, and tons of spare change. I have a smartphone that has more music than I could every have possibly carried in a CD portfolio. I have a Kindle that weighs about the same as a paperback book that, at current count, has 99 books on it. And I have a laptop that lets me write anywhere I want without having to cut down more trees for journals that I may not actually fill.

The biggest advantage about my gadgets, though, is that it lets me communicate with the world on my own terms. Phones have always been an intrusion in my life and I’ve always hated talking on the phone. Email and text are my primary methods of communication now, which is much more comfortable and useful for me. While I don’t do phone calls, Skype has made long distance communication so much better because it’s not a disembodied voice at the end of a wire anymore: you can actually see the person you’re talking to and get all the visual cues that the phone just can’t give you.

In reality, it hasn’t really changed much about the way that I interact with people in public. I’ve always had some sort of Walkman with headphones and my nose in a book, especially when I’m traveling long distance or on any form of public transport. Having a smartphone makes it much much easier to have all sorts of things I to do, including catch up on communication, in a very small package. This also has made air travel a little more pleasant. I can watch a movie or listen to music on my phone without having to use my laptop and take up more space. Being a big girl, this is a godsend because it makes a very unpleasant interaction with people a little easier for all of us. (And I can still watch videos even when the person in front of me decides to recline their seat all the way down.)

For a lot of people, the technology we have now makes life much easier and more interactive than it used to be. They are able to communicate with people from the outside world in ways that are comfortable for them. It also makes it so that people who have to be away from each other can “see” each other, even if they are on opposite ends of the earth. It gives people with agoraphobia, or who are housebound, a way to interact with the world that lets them feel that they are still a part of it. Yes, there are issues that we still have to work out about the new technology that we have, but for me, and many other people, life is much better with it than without.