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)

Blank Page (Post-Hidey Ramblings)

I’ve been staring at the screen for a few minutes, listening to my Samhain playlist, and wondering what I should write about. There’s plenty of dust ups and politics that I could write about, but I feel like I’ve said all I really need to say about things. I mean, how many times can I write some version of “don’t be shitty to people”? On the Internets it feels (to me anyway) like banging one’s head against a brick wall. Or shouting in an echo chamber.

Facebook has been really bad for that. That’s a big part of the reason that I’ve been taking a Facebook sabbatical. It’s not that don’t care about any of the issues that people talk about, far from it, but there’s only so much I can take before the depression sets in. Which it did for a couple of weeks, as I kind of “disappeared” while the Olympics were happening. (Here’s a good video about this and why those of us with depression and anxiety do it.) Although, spraining my hand also forced me to stay off the computer since typing was hard (although, I did get practice with Google Dictation in Google Docs).

What I’m realizing, though, is that the most stable and happy I’ve been (and the wife confirms this) is when I maintain a somewhat strict monastic schedule. Get up early, meditate for 20 minutes, take care of altar, pull cards, then get dressed, have breakfast, and go about my day. At night I clean up the altar from the morning and meditate or ground, depending on how tired I am when I get to it. This schedule works, along with my swim training, and I’m finally getting back to it.

It makes me wonder why people tend to think that a monastic life isn’t a legitimate form of work, particularly when it comes to social justice. I get that “prayers aren’t enough” but there are some of us that, for whatever reason, just can’t do all the activism that some activists think that everyone should be doing.

Then again, most of my ministry really stems more from being an example of radical inclusion. I hope that most of the time people can feel included in my home or at any public event that I help to run. I’m far from perfect and I know that some people don’t really subscribe to my ideas of inclusion or even my theology. I don’t always get it right, and I don’t need a cookie for my work. But it’s how I roll.

I pray for the Dead and the Ancestors every day.
I pray for all those who need a light in the darkness every day.
Some days I do more.
Some days prayer is all I’ve got.
I try to be as inclusive in my being as I can.
I hope I get it right more than I get it wrong.
So mote it be.

Noodling About My Lenten Working

I’ve mentioned it in a few places, but I’m doing a Lenten working so that I can get closer to the Spirits that I regularly work with. I’ve been feeling lately that I’ve been…neglectful of? distant from? my deities, but I’m also in a change state with my ministry. What I thought I would be doing after I graduated has morphed into something different. This isn’t a bad thing, really, as it seems I’m being polished and honed into what feels right.

Maybe my “not being settled” in my own spiritual work is what is contributing to my not wanting to read theology. There are times where hardcore theology just makes me want to scream since it seems like way too much noodling about what’s “right” or what the theologian thinks. I suppose that’s the point of the more hardcore systematic theology (which, in most circumstances I do actually like). It frustrates me because I’d rather be “doing” my theology than just thinking about it. I did plenty of thinking about it in seminary, and now there’s a restlessness to be doing things.

Not that I haven’t been doing things, but I think I’m finally coming into the “right” things for my own ministry. The podcast, writing, teaching in my coven, teaching about radical inclusion in the pagan community, and teaching about about body shame and how not to do it in a spiritual setting. You know, when I look at that list, that’s a lot of stuff to do.

But, to do this work, I need to be more grounded in my own spiritual work and spiritual self, which I’m not really so much so at the moment. I’ve always had a monastic, contemplative bent, and so the big parts of my working are going to be daily meditation (at set times), and specific daily work pertinent to the deities I’m working with.

I’m kind of nervous about it since I’m not sure what I’ll be or have when I’m through the other side of this working. I’m hoping to have a stronger relationship with my deities (Hecate, The Dagda, Jesus), and come out with a daily practice that works for me.

One note about this: Part of the agreements I have with the Spirits about this is that I’ll be doing minimal social media during this time. I already block Facebook and Tumblr on my devices between 10 am and 6 pm Pacific. I will have Facebook Messenger on my phone and other devices, but the best way to reach me is to email me. I’ll be on Twitter, too but not quite as much. People can also text me, but the overall best will be email.

We’ll see where this goes, but I think, overall, it’s going to be a good thing for me.

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.