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.

When Things Fall Down

To be honest, I’ve been trying to write this post for about a week now. I was planning to do this whole exegesis about Job 2:11-13 where Job’s friends come to see him. They basically see what a state Job is in and all they can really do is just sit there and be with him. Then I was going to try and write about the sephirot of Binah. Binah is, and I’m using the occult version of Kabbalah here (not strictly Jewish), simplistically, “understanding,” but in my experience this sephirot is where all sorrows, beginnings, and endings are. It’s usually equated to the divine feminine or Goddess energy and in my experience, when I’ve gone there it definitely feels womb-like.

I’m writing this now, and I’m realizing that both of these are applicable to the last three weeks. A good friend was in the hospital, and, especially at first, I felt like Job’s friends. All we could really do was sit and wait with her wife and do the little things to help. It never really feels like enough, but, at least intellectually, there’s not much else one can do. (Thankfully she’s home now!) A couple other situations had me feeling like Job, where I was doubting myself and wondering if I had done something to warrant punishment from the Spirits. Then, at the beginning of this week, I was feeling as if I was in Binah, most firmly and completely so.

But my mistake was trying to figure it all out on my own by keeping it to myself. Or, to put it another way, I’m extremely bad at taking my own advice. Coming out of that state this week got me thinking about the fact that we are programmed this way, especially here in the US. We’re taught that we’re supposed to do everything ourselves. Our independence, and ability “to do it all,” is lauded as some grand virtue, and yet we suffer needlessly for it. Sometimes I think maybe what we’re seeing on the internet is a result of this and not the technology itself. We’re so indoctrinated to have absolute opinions that we’ve figured out by ourselves that when we’re confronted with the global community of the internet, we just don’t know how to handle it. We start to see that we’re not the only people who have feelings, heartache, and bad things happening. We’re not the islands of specialness we thought we were. The indoctrination we’ve received then translates this as us having no value or that we’re no longer interesting.

The hardest part of this, though, is that what we’ve been taught is a lie. Asking for help, or emotional support, or taking refuge in community isn’t a failure of independence nor does it mean that we don’t have a uniqueness that is valuable to said community. The only thing that it means is that we’re human. This is the hardest idea to accept because of our drive to do everything ourselves or to be the one who is “right” all the time. Mistakes, disappointments, and failure is going to happen regardless because we can’t avoid it.

Thinking about this in terms of social justice, we all fail miserably. We want inclusion, justice, and change, but we demand perfection instead of compromise. We demand immediate change from people instead of working with our mutual humanity. We see people as failures if they don’t see things exactly our way. I know I’ve failed spectacularly in this myself and I’ve let these failures take on a proportion that was far larger than what I actually did. I know I’ve expected people to behave in the way I wanted them to instead of how they are. While sometimes it’s necessary to challenge people about their actions, expecting people to “get it” or change overnight is futile because they, too, are human beings. Sometimes the “truth” isn’t the most compassionate way to handle a situation. Sometimes we have to walk away from people, and sometimes we have to rethink our ideas of how the world works. Our human-ness is a shifting and moving thing and we’re always having to learn, or re-learn, what being human means.

OK, I’m getting pretty deep here. Most of this is navel gazing, really, and I’ll have something more interesting next week. I did need to get it out of my system, though. Thanks, and if you have thoughts about this feel free to comment.

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.

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When you work in a lab, there’s significant down time in which one has no other purpose than to think. Honestly, there’s not much else to do when you have a thirty minute incubation and you’ve completed all the paperwork that your test requires. It’s not even time to surf the ‘net properly (although you’re not supposed to technically do so, per company policy, but everyone does it anyway). The only other option left is to play a game of Solitaire, but when it’s a Friday night and you’re a bit punchy because it’s been a long week, even Solitaire isn’t enough. However, I’ve been in the biotech industry for a number of years now and thus have learned to accept a life with many periods of “hurry-up and wait.”

So on this particular Friday night as I sat on my lab stool pondering the fact that it’s 6 o’clock and I’m still at work, I start to stare at the timer in my hand. At this moment, it’s the only thing that is remotely entertaining. It’s amazing, actually to realize just how long a minute can be. People don’t ever really remember just how long a full minute is and always get it wrong. It reminds me of when I realized that I could pipette a plate, cover it, and write down the time I finished pipetting in less than thirty seconds. I have a bit of pride at that, since, well, that’s a lot to do in thirty seconds (and I’m pretty sure I could still do it if I had to). So, while I’m waiting for this plate to come out of the incubator, my mind drifts and the timer becomes increasingly hypnotic. As each minute counts down, I find that my breath becomes slower and slower. I dwell on the time that passes between each second. A part of my mind was wondering how many seconds I’ve wasted in the lab. How many of those seconds could I have spent doing something totally different?

This then lead me to think about how much time there is in between each second. I remember from my physics class that there are infinite bits of time. What if, like atoms, there are smaller and smaller particles of time that go beyond nano- and Pico-seconds? Quark-like bits of time where I could look out from and wonder why the rest of the world is moving so slow? In the dorky corner of my brain I wonder if it would be just like that Star Trek episode where Kirk gets caught by people who got stuck moving faster than normal time. (Wow, I think, that is a really nerdy thought.)

Then I think that perhaps, if you got to that Quark-time place, you could see God, or Goddess, or whatever it is that moves the Universe. Would you be able to stay long enough to ask questions? You know, the really interesting questions like how the big bang started or how DNA works or why humans evolved at all. (Of course, that same part my brain that thought about the Star Trek stuff also realizes that the answers to these questions are probably only interesting to me, and intellectually, I know that these aren’t questions that most people would ask when suddenly confronting deity.) Would whatever-it-is in that space actually answer? That’s when the other part of my brain, the one that tends to send me ear-worms, chimes in with lyrics from a song that I can never remember the band’s name for: “This is ponderous, man. Reeeaaalll ponderous…”

You know, I think I ought to give these thoughts a moment of silence out of respect. They are the big thoughts, after all.

But that’s when I notice that there really is silence.

Complete silence.

The machines have stopped humming, there are no lab doors banging, and even the smell of the 70% ethanol that I was wiping the counters with is gone. There is only a complete and utter silence.

What the…?

I open my eyes (though I don’t quite remember closing them) because now I’m a kind of freaked out. I feel a little queasy. Right. I know it’s been awhile since I’ve eaten, so maybe I should check the timer to see if I have a few minutes to run out and eat some candy. I stand up and make my way to the door. My hand goes for the handle and, to my shock, goes right through it.

WTF?

I turn around and my body is still sitting on the lab chair, staring at the timer.

Now, most people would panic at this point, seeing their body still in a chair, a vacant expression gracing their face with drool slowly pooling about their lips. Not me. Well, not completely. No, being the good scientist that I am, I begin to try and figure out how in the world I left my body. (It’s by no means a new concept, since I am a Wiccan.) Still, this is the first time I’ve gone fully out of body, nevermind the fact that I’m still at work, in a boring and empty lab waiting for an incubation to finish. Part of me is actually amused to realize that I’m getting paid for an out of body experience.

Suddenly my practical and logical self kicks in, that party pooper, and realizes that having an out of body experience at work is probably not a really good idea. There is also the matter of the assay in progress which needs to be completed before I go home. Sheepishly, my eyes fixate on the timer that my physical self is drooling at, and am shocked to see there is precisely one minute before I have to physically take my plate out of the incubator.

Before I completely panic, I notice two things:

1) My physical form can’t move, since I’m not “home” to control it.

2) The timer still says that there’s one minute left, but I’ve been staring at it for at least two minutes (maybe longer?).

Now the panic changes from freaking out about my assay (since I’ve concluded that time has indeed stopped) to freaking out about not knowing how to get back into my body. And I also realize that I really need to get back into my body as soon as possible, because who knows when this time-stoppage thing will end, and the thought of restarting the entire assay from scratch fills me with dread. It would really suck if I had to stay even longer on a Friday night because I got bored and stopped time!

Now that geeky part of my brain is thinking that this is like a Dr. Who episode and I’m wishing the Doctor would come and tell me how to figure this out. (Well, as long as it’s Peter Capaldi’s Doctor or Sylvester McCoy. I mean, if you’re going to have one of the Doctors with you while you’re stuck in time, you might as well have the most badass ones.) And to be honest, the silence is also getting a little creepy and I’d rather be back in my body, thank you.   But, since I don’t have the Doctor, I might as well buckle down and figure out a way to get out of this predicament.

So, I say to myself:

“Self, how did I get us into this?”

“Well, first you were staring at the timer.”

I nod.

“Then we started thinking about the time between seconds.”

I nod again, and then say “Oh, and don’t forget that we slowed down our breathing!”

I nod again.

“Right, then. So, maybe, if we start thinking of normal time and try and get our body to breathe faster, we’ll speed ourselves up!”

After this conversation with myself, I’m feeling rather clever and smart. Just in case my cleverness fails me, I rattle off a small prayer to whatever-is-out-there in the hopes that I really am correct about how to fix it. Mid-prayer, I remember that thought I had earlier of meeting whatever-it-is to ask some questions, and wonder Is It here? Do I have to call It? Or will It come to me? But when I look around, all I see is the same old boring lab with it’s beige and grey walls, and that’s not very interesting or mystical at all. In fact, I’m starting to get rather disappointed that I achieved this amazing out-of-body and out-of-time state and got no spiritual revelations for my trouble. Oh, well, maybe I’m not supposed to get a spiritual revelation at this time (positive thinking, you know).

I move over to my body, and when I touch it my hand starts to get sucked into my physical form. I start to think about how fast time can be and all the pleasures of being in my physical form (like food, and sex, and jumping in puddles), even though I’m getting older. I start to feel myself rushing forward and the seconds start to tick down on the timer again, slow at first, as if there was a full minute between each number, and then faster. And right before I fully enter my body, I see it! Out of the corner of my eye, there is a shining face; something there that is smiling at me and laughing at my notions of time and space. In that moment, awe and incredulous wonder washes over me and the world doesn’t feel quite real.

Like all interesting things, the moment comes to an end. Time suddenly rears up to slap me in the face in the form of a timer beeping at me to take out the plate from the incubator. My body is a bit numb from sitting in one place and being so still, but I do as the timer bids me, even though I’m still a bit disoriented. Sounds seem awfully loud now, considering the complete silence that I just came back from. While the next machine does it’s work, I ponder the presence I saw, trying to figure out what it means.

While I’m happily mulling the experience over as I’m pipetting the last reagents into my plate, one of my co-workers comes in, scaring the crap out of me. (Lucky for him I was between rows!) He asks me why I’m chuckling to myself. I think about it while I finish my plate. After all, how do you explain that you’ve been out of your body, stopped time, and saw what might be God (or Goddess, or whatever) in less than a second? There’s really no words for that kind of experience.

So, I smile and tell him that I’m laughing at a joke someone told me, which, really, is not too far from the truth.

When activism becomes what it shouldn’t

I want to talk about something that will poke a lot of my fellow seminary students, and maybe even quite a few people in the various social media outlets I’m on. There are a lot of posts about privilege and oppression out there. I agree, quite strongly, that these are important subjects and that people should learn about their various areas of privilege or lack of privilege in their own lives. But some of the ways that liberal/progressive (and primarily academic) culture makes me wonder if we’re doing more harm than good for those who are actually trying to learn.

Here’s something from a blogger named Hannah Wilder (emphasis mine):

So, here are the contradictions as I see them. As an ally, my job is to not impose my own beliefs of what’s ‘right’, but instead amplify the voices of the oppressed people that I’m trying to be an ally for. Except that I shouldn’t bug them about educating me, because that’s not what they’re there for. And it’s my duty to talk about the issue of oppression in question, because it’s the job of all of us, rather than the oppressed people, to fix it. Except that when I talk, I shouldn’t be using my privilege to drown out the voices of the oppressed people. Also, I should get everything right, 100% of the time. Including the terminology that the oppressed people in question themselves disagree on. This is what I consider The Unicorn Ally phenomenon. […] The effect of these demands, for me at least, is to make me less likely to say, well, much of anything, except a) to correct other people who are clearly even more wrong than me, or b) on issues where I have direct experience of oppression.

This is something I see all the time. It’s happened to me on many occasions where I’ve said something that wasn’t correct or unintentionally stupid, and the reaction from the Activist was basically: “Sit down and shut up you vile oppressive idiot!” Usually followed by being ignored or even physically shunned. I’ve seen female instructors do this in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to the white males in their classes, cis or trans. Basically not “bothering” to call on them in class, even if they have powerful stories to tell. Most of these are men who are actively trying to learn about their role in patriarchy and how to change it. I’ve seen it happen in many groups where there’s the attitude of “Well, you’re not a Real Activist for X because you’re not Y.”

But there’s a difference between someone making an honest mistake and someone being intentionally hurtful or ignorant. For example, in the years since I’ve met and married my wife, who is transgender, I have made plenty of mistakes. Some that were hurtful to her, even though I didn’t realize it until she pointed it out to me. These were difficult conversations for us, but I learned. She didn’t yell at me, or shout “check your privilege!” at me, but she also didn’t hold back on the realities of the harm that what I said (or done) had caused. This also made me want to read more about the realities of the lives of transgender people on my own, which I have done. It has led me to do activism around gender in the Pagan community so that the Pagan community is a better place for my wife and others like her.

I have learned to be better because I have had people in my life who have been willing to educate me on this, and racism, and other forms of oppression and marginality. Do I always get it right? Do I always say the right things? That would be impossible: I’m a fallible human. But I didn’t learn anything from anyone who has immediately shut me down and told me to shut up.

And yes, there are those who are intentionally malicious and hurtful, or those who continue to hold bigoted beliefs even though they have been shown much evidence that their beliefs are wrong and harmful. Some people just can’t be talked to, and some people are just idiots (liked comment trolls…yikes…). I think, for these folks, it depends on whether you want to waste your time and energy beating your head against a brick wall.

Someone who is asking why something is hurtful and trying to understand a group that they just don’t have any experience in, however, is taking the leap to be better than who they are. They want to do the right thing and are trying to navigate a terminology and language they don’t understand that well. Their brains are being broken because they are seeing, sometimes for the first time, the system as it really IS and how they’ve perpetuated a broken and evil system. It’s new, internally icky, and hard. Being told to Google it or go read bell hooks when one’s brain is broken is like being told to knit a sweater in 5 days when you can’t even cast the yarn onto the needles. The average person is more likely to give up rather than learn how to knit and purl.

This doesn’t mean that the anger of being asked questions all the time, and about being the “token” marginalized person in groups isn’t a real thing. Hell, I get tired of it being one of the few Wiccans at a Christian seminary. Some days I just want to say “Oh, just go read the Witches’ Bible and go away!” But, I’m willing to be a person someone can ask questions of and get an honest answer from. It is something I have the will and energy to do.

The biggest thing to remember, I think, is that not everyone has the will or the energy to be all things to all people. An Ally may only have the will and energy to educate themselves and not be a jerk to other people in a particular community. The Activist may be in a place where they just don’t want to answer one more damn question about their marginality. And some people just want to live their lives in peace. Respect goes both ways here. Respect from the Seeker that the person they ask the questions of may not want to answer them, and may possibly refer them to other people and sources. Respect from the Activist to recognize that the Seeker is not being malicious and hurtful, but is honestly trying to understand. There’s a difference for the Seeker between being told “I’m sorry, but I can’t answer that for you now.” and “Go read a fucking book!” The first can be understood, the second drives people away. And for some people, it’s a matter of saying “Hey! What you said is not ok, and here’s why.” Sometimes, that’s all it takes for someone to get it.

And this leads me to community. We are not alone on this planet, and while some people may not have the will and energy to answer a Seeker’s questions, there are others out there who will. There are certain topics I just can’t talk about in a way that will do it justice, but I do know people who are willing and able to talk to people about their marginality in order to educate people. I will refer Seekers to the appropriate people who I know will be honest with them and not sugarcoat their answers, but also show compassion to the Seeker.

As a wise pastor once told me, “even the margins have margins…” and sometimes all we know how to do is to act like the oppressor because we don’t know anything else. We all know that this is a model that doesn’t work, so why, when we know about our privileges and oppressions, do we think that emulating a broken system will change it? I’d rather assume a more compassionate system and pray that it’ll work, even if I make mistakes.

Why I Demitted from the Order of Eastern Star

I know some people probably assumed that lack of time and going to grad school were the main reasons I demitted from the Order of Eastern Star. (These are true, for the most part, and I’d include my initiating chapter being in New Hampshire as another.) But the actual reason is because of my wife, who is transgender. I promised her that I would not be involved in organizations that wouldn’t accept her as well as me, and frankly, OES (and by extension, other Masonic orders) has no statement of inclusion on the state or national levels. The closest is California’s mission statement, which stipulates respect for the diversity of its members.

But, after visiting some chapters out here (and reading some posts on Facebook from members both here and from my home chapter in New Hampshire) I began to have questions for myself: Would my wife be welcome at events or be merely tolerated by some members? If I became Worthy Matron, would my wife even be acknowledged as my wife, or would she be called my “escort”? (There is a very big difference.) If I had become an Advisory Board member of a Rainbow Assembly, would my wife be welcome to help out at events (after all the training that’s required for adults who work with assemblies)?

The answer, after much thought and soul searching on my part, was “no”. I really wish I could say otherwise. For the most part it seemed like a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” kind of situation around my queerness. And I can’t really say it’s the whole organization, either, because the chapters I had been to here have all been really awesome. But even here, in the Bay Area, I felt I could not truly be myself, nor did I feel that my wife would be regarded as my actual wife and partner.

So, I asked for the demit paperwork from Pilgrim Chapter (my initiating chapter in New Hampshire) and did so.

I’m writing this to explain why I demitted. This is not to condemn anyone in particular or to say that the organization, as a whole, is bad. In fact, it’s an organization that I would really love to be a part of, as both it and the International Order of Rainbow for Girls have given me many great gifts. But I can’t, in good conscience, be a member at this time if my family, my wife, would not be recognized as such. I know OES (and the other orders) won’t change overnight, but I would ask these Masonic organizations to consider, on the highest levels, how they treat LGBT members and their families. I’d also suggest they put it in writing. As chapters shrink, consolidate, and disappear all together, attracting people to the orders is something that is very important. I think these orders do itself a disservice by ignoring excellent potential new members because of who they and their families are.

I invite OES members to comment here on this, but I do ask that members be respectful of each other.

Walking In Between Witchcraft and Christianity

The hardest thing about being Wiccan and Christian is being both in a world that expects you to be either/or. Even for the most liberal minded, on either side, there can be a subtle, unconscious idea that someday I’ll just pick one.

On the Christian side, I can be seen as doing things that are “of the Devil” or it’s assumed that now that I “know Jesus” I’ll start to leave my witchcraft behind.

On the Wiccan side, my going to a Christian church means that I’m either a traitor, or that I’m going to completely convert and become some version of a Right-Wing Fundamentalist.

And on both sides there are many that proudly proclaim, as if they have all the answers in the universe, that Witchcraft and Christianity can’t possible be compatible, no way, no how!

What’s really difficult about all of this is that these ideas can manifest in unconscious ways. Even from people who know me and know that I’m not out to either curse everyone in sight or covert people to Christianity.

I get that there’s history to deal with here. Lots of bad history. I don’t deny this at all. I accept it.

And yet…

And yet…

I see the beauty in both the Moon and the Cross.

I feel the power of both the Dagda and Jesus Christ.

I hear the spirit in the Charge of the Goddess and the Our Father.

None of these things exist in a vacuum to me. None of these things are incompatible to me. They all resonate with a spiritual power that I can’t deny.

I don’t see either as the enemy of the other.

It’s humans that create enemies, and fear, and hate of the different. Which is a sad thing, because my vision tells me we can be much better than that.

But sometimes, when the doubt comes or I run up against the unconscious assumptions about me, that beautiful vision seems like a far distant fantasy.

And some days, it makes me weep.

Open Letter to Anne Rice

Dear Ms. Rice,

You posted the following on Facebook the other day (and followed up with a few other posts along the same vein):

“As I said before, I fear Christianity. I have found it to be an immoral religion. And I have found it to be a very very aggressive religion which does a great deal of harm in the world. Christians in America spend millions trying to influence legislation and elections to limit the rights of women and the rights of gays. They do not leave the rest of us alone. They do not respect the rest of us. I fear this. I wish those who call themselves Christians, and claim to be loving and good, would take some real moral responsibility for their religion and the things it has done historically and the things it is doing now.”

I’m a progressive Wiccan Christian. I go to seminary at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, which is probably the most progressive Christian seminary on the planet. There are many of us here who are fighting the good fight, talking and working on creating a more inclusive theology. We do exist.

Unfortunately, as my Christian History professor so rightly put it last week, we are a very small drop in a very big bucket.

Christianity is not monolithic. Hasn’t been since the beginning, and most certainly not since Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door. I suggest you take a look at the work that Bishop Yvette Flunder and the City of Refuge in San Francisco is doing around radical inclusion. I am a member of that church, and I can tell you, it’s certainly not like any other church I’ve been in.

Better yet, get on a plane and come visit. 1 pm, Sundays, 1052 Howard Street in San Francisco. Oh, and this church, and it’s organization, has accepted me as a member, witchcraft and all.

My church understands the damage that the institution of Christianity has done. I understand this fully. I acknowledge Christianity’s horrid history. There’s no getting around that. But there’s some things to think about here:

1) Who is really to blame here? Can you blame all the Christians from all over the world for the damage that the people running the institutions have done? Should we have blamed you, when you were still Catholic, for the mistakes and damage of all the Popes, past and present? Should we condemn a kid as bad in a rural town in Oklahoma for the bigotry that his parents do in the name of Jesus? There are humans that are doing horrid things in the name of Christianity, there are those of us who are working to fix that, and then there are the innocents that get caught in the middle.

2) What really frustrates me, what really just makes me want to hurl a lot of profanity some days, are when prominent people, like yourself, yelling at the top of their lungs about how Christianity is so bad (and where are all these progressive Christians, and why won’t they do anything about X, Y, Z, OMGWTFBBQ!) is that while you’re bitching about it, there are those of us doing the work. It may not be big, it may not be the change you want right away, or some big in your face campaign, but we’re doing it. If I can help heal someone from pain, or give them comfort through prayer, then I’ve done healing in the name of Jesus. Sometimes, one needs to pick their battles.

3) And finally, where are you? What are you doing to help people like me change the face of Christianity? Where are your big donations to Dignity, or City of Refuge (that needs a lot of work done on it’s building to be able to serve it’s congregation), or the Women’s Ordination group, or any other progressive and radically inclusive church or organization? Are you coming to progressive Christian events and supporting the work we’re trying to do? It’s one thing to bitch online about it on Facebook, but let’s be real here: we don’t have millions of dollars. We can’t compete with the Rick Santorums, Mitt Romneys, Koch brothers, or the Pope. I know I won’t get paid to be a pastor in my church, nor do I expect to be. Most progressive pastors and ministers have to have day jobs, and boy would it be nice to have all that money that the mega-churches and the Roman Catholic church has. But we don’t. And yet, we are still there, still serving, and giving our own money, that we probably would really need for other things, in order for our church, and it’s message, to survive. So, I ask again, where is your support of the people trying to make change? We sure could use it.

I’m sorry for the damage you received in the Church. You’re not the only one, but just remember I, and others like me, are trying to work for change. There aren’t enough of us that have the national stage to be a force in the media, but we do what we can.

Many blessings,

Gina Pond

Words can kill.

Rev. Snark sent the 4M a link to this article in Rolling Stone about a town that has had 9 suicides of teens who identified as queer, or were perceived as queer.

That’s 9 suicides in two years.

Let me say that again: 9 suicides in two years.

Our society tends to think that words are something you can just brush off. You know the old saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

You can’t just brush it off. If you’ve been told over, and over, and over, and over and over just how horrible, stupid, bad, or wrong you are, you begin to believe it. If you’re told that God hates you often enough, you believe it. If you’re told that you shouldn’t be allowed to live day in and day out, you’ll start to believe that, too. Then, over time, you’ll wonder if, maybe, if you did kill yourself, you’d do everyone, and God, a favor.

I know, because I’ve been there.

I was lucky because I still had a spark of hope left to listen to Spirit when it told me to turn around, go home, go to bed, and find help. I was lucky because I was in a place where I could ask, and receive, the help that I needed.

The teens who died in Anoka, Minnesota haven’t been that lucky.

As a witch, I’ve been taught that my words have power. That what I say can cause happiness, harm, pain, and many other things. Words, even more than actions at times, can cause serious harm, even if someone “didn’t mean it.”

It amazes me that there are fellow priests (in seminary and in the pagan community) who don’t understand this. Who don’t understand that even thinking in anger and hate can have an effect.

If you remember the work we did at Pantheacon last year, this is part of what we were trying to get across to the community. It’s not that we want to limit anyone’s religious freedom, far from it, but to make people think about how they present themselves.

If you used bigoted language when you present yourself and your religion, don’t be surprised when people call you a bigot. If you use racist, homophobic, sexist language in your sermons or writings, don’t be surprised when you get called racist, sexist, or homophobic.

And if you don’t think that your words can kill, try telling the kids in Anoka that you “didn’t mean it that way.”

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