The biggest question I get as a pastor and priest, and a multi-faith person, is “How do you reconcile your Christianity with Wicca?”
The quick and confusing answer is: I don’t.
The more detailed and hopefully less confusing answer is this:
When I was in seminary, I came to a point where I realized that I hadn’t really ever given up on the whole Jesus thing, even though I was definitely Wiccan and not likely to give that traditions up any time soon. It did take a bit of time of the idea rattling around in my brain to really get to the point where I accepted that I was Wiccan Christian. It took a lot longer to really figure out how that worked and what it meant to me.
About halfway through my time in seminary, my wife and I were chatting a lot about truth, theology, radical inclusion, and the meaning of belief (I think this was around the time I was taking Systematic Theology, but I digress…). Something clicked in her brain and she ended up writing a paper about a concept called metafaith.
Metafaith looks at religion from a different point of view and is based on mathematical principles. (Although, there are some of you now who are probably freaking out that I said that math is a part of it. Don’t worry, hear me out.) The mathematical principle it uses is the axiom, which is a basic, fundamental belief that stands on its own as basic to the person holding it to be true (Sarah Thompson, metafaith, 2013). In other words, these are the basic principles that you understand to be the foundations of your worldview. The axioms that I hold dear, and the ones that you hold dear may overlap, but they definitely won’t be exactly the same. Beliefs, on the other hand, stem from our own set of axioms, but are changeable. I can be persuaded to change a particular belief, but it would be much harder to convince me to change one of my fundamental axioms.
Metafaith accepts that my axioms and beliefs are true for me, just as your axioms and beliefs are true for you, and that “Truth” is relative to one’s point of view. In other words, all of us are right from our own point of view and that whatever “Truth” we perceive from this is real and all of these truths can exist together in the same time and space.
So how does this help me reconcile my Wiccan and Christian beliefs? Well, there are axioms and beliefs from both traditions that inform my own spiritual practice. However, there are some aspects of Wicca and some aspects of Christianity that just don’t, and can’t, overlap. Now, I could try to turn my brain into a pretzel and attempt to mush the traditions together, forcing them to become one thing. But, that could be really damaging emotionally and psychologically, and it wouldn’t necessarily come out with something meaningful for me. I could try and justify things in the Bible about my Wiccan practice, but who’s got time for that? Letting go of the need to force all of each tradition to play with each other lifted a great deal off my shoulders.
Besides, as someone who does a good deal of interfaith work with folks from many traditions, I think it’s important to recognize that the differences between religions aren’t bad or evil, they’re just differences. And there can be beauty and peace in the differences. I also think that having this realization has been really important when doing interfaith rituals. In some groups who attempt interfaith rituals, people try to mush things together so that the ritual works for all traditions. Unfortunately, in my experience, this tends to water down the impact of the pieces of ritual you are trying to put together. When I do interfaith or multi-faith rituals, I let each piece of the ritual stand on its own merits. The Christian parts are Christian. The Wiccan parts are Wiccan. If I want to try and put something in from one tradition, and it doesn’t work, then I figure something else out.
What it boils down to is that I don’t really “reconcile” as such. I accept each tradition as they are, and I put together what will go together. If there’s a Wiccan ritual that doesn’t work in Christian circles, I don’t do that Wiccan ritual in Christian circles, and vise versa. And if there’s stuff that doesn’t work for me in either tradition, I let it go. I take what I need and leave the rest (you 12-step folks see what I did there?).
In many areas of our lives we try to make others see what we see, or think like we think. But I’ve found, even when I make the mistake of trying to make someone see my way, that it’s ok for people think differently than I do. I remind myself that a person’s truth is important to them, and that I don’t have to make them give up their axioms. I can be an example of a different way, a more compassionate way, that follows my Wiccan beliefs and the teachings of Jesus. No one has to accept my axioms as truth, just I don’t have to accept other’s axioms as truth. (This does break down, however, when one person is trying to stomp on my, or my family’s, human rights, but that’s when you have to try and work around someone’s axioms to find compassion. That, though, is a whole different post.)
But the one thing I know, believing the way I do, is that I will NEVER have the ABSOLUTE TRUTH, and neither does anyone else. And, really, I’m ok with that.
When I started to train for open water swimming again a couple of years ago, I decided it would be in my best interest to become a US Masters Swimming (USMS) member. This was mostly because a lot of open water events are only open to USMS members (for liability/insurance reasons), but there are a lot of perks that come with the membership that I like, especially the forums where I can ask other swimmers questions, training programs, and their magazine “Swimmer”.
Well, a few months ago, Swimmer Magazine had an excellent series of articles about diversity in swimming which mostly focused on race, but did mention other diversity issues, except body diversity.
So, I wrote a letter to the editor, Laura Hamel, and told her as much. I basically said that while I thought their articles on diversity were really awesome, they forgot to talk about size diversity. I mentioned how hard it is to get good training swimsuits. The major swim companies don’t carry suits past size 24 (maybe) and the places where you can get suits in my size have maybe one style of suit that is suitable for swimming laps. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for cute swimsuits, but I’m not lounging by the pool when I go swimming, you know?) I also mentioned that I was nervous about going to a Masters training session because I wasn’t sure how I’d be received, or if they would take me seriously, or if they’d just assume I was there to lose weight.
The editor and I had a nice exchange of emails, and they published an edited version of my letter in the next issue. She was really awesome, and said that she hoped that any Masters event I went to that they would take me seriously and welcome me. (To be honest, I still haven’t gone to one yet.)
But color me surprised when a few months later I get an email from Laura about wanting to interview me! The journalist, Elaine, and I had a great discussion when she interviewed me on the phone, and a later I got pictures done with a very nice and body positive photographer named Mike Calabro in Lake Michigan (literally in!).
The online version came out a couple of weeks ago, but I finally got my initial hard copy a couple of days ago. I created a PDF of the article, which is below! The article belongs to Swimmer Magazine and US Masters Swimming, so, if you are going to share it anywhere online, please make sure to give the appropriate citations.
I’m still going “Holy cow! Someone thought I was interesting enough to interview!” but this is awesome!swimmerarticle
Every TERF that tells my wife and other transgender women that they aren’t real women or tell transgender men that they are traitors to their gender;
Every Christian Fundamentalist that rejoices when LGBTQA people are abused or killed, or any Christian who “loves the sinner, hates the sin;”
Every white cisgender man who makes rape jokes, queer jokes, and spouts other misogynistic crap;
Every person who says that all black people, or Latinx people, or all Muslims, or all of any other group should be rounded up and shot;
Every person who decides to denigrate another group of people for the sake of “protection” or “jobs” or just because you think they’re “icky” in some way;
YOU are the ones who encouraged Omar Mateen, Dylan Roof, Adam Lanza, and all the other shooters known and unknown.
YOU are the ones that encourage the Cathy Brennans, Donald Trumps, MRAs, Neo-Nazis, and other hateful people.
And if you’re OK that, if you’re OK with people dying because of your “dearly held beliefs,” then may God have mercy on your soul.
If this statement makes you uncomfortable, then maybe you should think about why. Maybe you should think about what you post on Facebook. Maybe you should think about your racist, anti-queer, anti-women blatherings. Maybe you should think about why you think rape jokes, trans jokes, or other jokes made to denigrate people are ok.
Maybe you should engage your brain and think before you speak. Every “just mouthing off” or “boys will be boys” or “stop being so sensitive! It’s just a joke” lets others know that their violence is OK. You give permission to others to hurt and kill someone.
YOUR WORDS THAT YOU SHOUT ONLINE, OR IN PERSON, OR TO YOUR FAMILY TELLS EVERYONE ELSE THAT YOU THINK THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO SHOULD BE DEAD. YOUR WORDS TELL PEOPLE THAT THEY ARE WORTHLESS. RIGHT NOW YOU COULD BE TELLING PEOPLE YOU LOVE THAT THEY SHOULD BE DEAD.
Do you really think that’s OK?
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.”
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!
Reflecting on the 4th week of Lent where I’m still in the Dagda part of my working, I realize I’ve done quite a bit. I’ve “normalized” my work day and have gotten more written on my book this week than I have in several months. I cooked a lot, and have a lovely visit with my friend River and her little one on Thursday. I created a booklet of the prayers I need for the next phase of my working and shared that with those who I thought would be interested. I called the gardener and had them come sort out our yard (before the rain started). I got a new phone and set up our fancy new lights that we can control with our devices!
In other words, it’s been a busy week.
I keep wanting to write about some of the interesting conversations and thoughts I’ve been having about the state of clergy in paganism, but it seems like I need to think about the more before I write on it. I keep starting and deleting, so…
One thing, though, is that my social media need is way down. More often than not I’m just checking Facebook to see if there’s anything specific I need to address, and then I move on. Same with Tumblr. The further I get into this working the less I really want to deal with social media. If it wasn’t good for the podcast or the way I communicate with a lot of the east coast, I’d just jump ship from Facebook all together. As it is, not being on Facebook a lot has done a some real good for my mental health.
A definite thing to come from this working is that the twice daily meditation is doing a lot for my anxiety and depression issues. I know it’s one aspect of this working that I’ll definitely keep up with afterwards. Even the wife has noticed a real difference in my mood because of it.
This is just a short update since, apparently, the other stuff I want to write about is going to be saved for a later date…
It’s a new year, and there are many posts and memes about New Year’s Resolutions going around. I tend not to bother with resolutions because, when I make them, I end up feeling bad if I break them. I have enough of my own anxiety that I don’t need to add more on top of it. Instead of resolutions, I like to think about projects and goals for the new year.
The first project this year is to finish a book. I realized the other night that I actually have two books in the works: one on radical inclusion for the pagan community, and one about our coven’s traditions and teachings. I’d like to get the radical inclusion one to at least a finished first draft by the end of the summer (earlier if possible). I’ve probably got about 1/4-1/3 written, so this is do-able if I knuckle down and just get on with it. If I can get a first draft of the Cerridwen book done this year, too, that would be a bonus, but I’m ok with shuffling it into 2017.
The second set of projects are around TWIH: First, I wan’t to try doing quarterly live Google hangout panels about particular topics. I’d like to shoot for doing the first one in March, and I hope I can get the folks I’d like to get for it. It’ll take some logistical wrangling, but I think it’ll be interesting. Second, I need to revamp my Patreon page and make more interesting goals and incentives. (Although, feel free to contribute any time, if you feel so inclined!) I’m also considering maybe a Patreon contest or fund drive, but I’m not sure. The third one is probably a long-shot, but I’d like to do a live interview (or interviews) for charity. I’m still thinking about who to ask for that one, and if anyone has any suggestions, let me know.
The last goals, as far as online content is concerned, is to keep writing, at least weekly, for this site. I had thought about doing a vlog on YouTube, but doing both a weekly audio podcast and a video would be a bit much for me, I think.
I’d also like to get some more freelance projects for either writing, editing, website work, or even some A/V work. If you need this type of work done, or know someone who might, please let me know! I’d also like to do some more workshops and speaking at other conventions/festivals, so if anyone runs some of those things and would like me to be there, send me an email!
As far as priestly work goes, besides my work with the coven, I’m planning on doing a big personal working for Lent. I’ve felt a bit disconnected from deity and devotional work for awhile, and my wife had the suggestion to use the Lenten season to do it. It should be a pretty intense working and of course I’ll be starting the Tuesday before Pantheacon. (So if you see me run off to go do something at certain times, that’s why!) There’s also an ordination this weekend (yay!), and maybe even doing a wedding at some point in the future (well, it may or may not happen this year, we’ll see).
Heh…now that I’ve written this all out, it seems I’m doing a lot more than I thought. The wife has a lot of new stuff going on, too, and so far, 2016 is behaving. Hopefully, the rest of the year continues this way!
In the last few days I’ve seen a lot people in several forums say things like “you can’t call yourself a Christian and practice witchcraft” or “you can’t call yourself a Christian and practice traditions from other religion’s holidays.” The typical reason given is that it’s somehow evil if you do. I’ve heard similar things from the pagan end of the spectrum as well, although usually it’s more of a “consorting with the enemy” type of approach. There have been well known pagans who went back to Christianity and were called opportunists because they didn’t stay in a path that wasn’t speaking to them anymore. The typical reason from this end is that “Christians do bad things.” I can confirm from my own experiences with an abusive leader that pagans do bad things as well. Believe me, Christianity doesn’t corner the market on church burn.
If religions have both good and bad people in them that also do good and bad things, then what reasons are we left with? The main one that I see is fear: fear of the unknown, the other, of things we don’t understand. Fear that maybe we might be wrong about our faith. That if someone doesn’t practice their tradition like you do and are content in it, then there must be something wrong with them. Or, maybe they’re delusional? Maybe they’re in denial of the Truth and just need someone to tell them that Truth so that they can believe the Right Way. Maybe it’s that they learned from the wrong teacher, or all they did was read a book and self-initiated themselves, so they’re not a proper witch? Isn’t it too confusing? These sentiments are so common when multi-faith practice comes up, I need to remind progressive communities that there are people who have multi-faith practices in their own community.
My questions for those who want to condemn multi-faith practice, or even just practices that are different from their own, are these:
I am Wiccan and Christian. Both sets of rituals and deities feed my spirit and give me joy, comfort, and, because of my calling, purpose. I am a priest of both traditions because I have been called by my Wiccan deities and Jesus to do the work of a priest. I work to build bridges between the pagan and Christian communities and facilitate healing. I don’t always get it right, but I try my best. This is my path and I walk it with agreement between me and the Deities I serve.
Let me explain it another way. Let’s look at when Jesus came before Pilate:
33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
When Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews, Jesus asks him if he came up with that idea, or was it something he learned from others. Jesus never claimed anything other than someone to speaking His truth. He was charged, by God and Spirit, to bring a certain truth to this world. In most of the Gospels he never fully admits to being a Messiah, either. He is a man and he had a mission. He cared for the sick, fed the poor, and did the work that God had set for him to do.
He didn’t ask for the label of “King” nor did He ever force anyone to follow Him, or call them traitor for not believing like He did. He preached, people listened, then made up their own minds to follow Him. Jesus never asked anyone to give up their sense of selves in order to follow Him. In short: He never claimed to be other than He was. He was a Jew. He also practiced this new Way of Love, which frightened the establishment. He never claimed to be anything He wasn’t.
Just like those of us who have multi-faith practices.
I am a witch and I am Christian. That is who I am. If it bothers you, is that your own idea, or did others tell you what to think of me? I was born to be who I am and this is my truth.
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:
: 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.