I got interviewed!

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

Hanging out in Malkuth and other Witchy Things

Hello again.

I know it’s been awhile, but settling in here in Chicago has taken some time. I’ve also been doing a lot of discernment and thinking about where my ministry is going, which is, as those of us who are clergy know, an ongoing process.

Lately I’ve been working on an initiation series based on the magickal Kabblah, and recently wrote the first of the initiations, which is based in Malkuth.

And apparently, I’m also there until I start writing the next one. (This is where all the witches say “duh!”)

What’s been interesting about this, though, is that being in this sphere has made me really look at this plane of existence and just how much we really do live here. Or, at least, how much I can really live in the here and now.

How do I explain this?

There are times where I can see and feel everything: all the sorrows, all the joys, all the fear, anger, happiness. The present, past, future. It’s as if it’s all laid out in front of me in a long line, or like a film reel. Sometimes it’s all of the possibilities, too. All of the futures, all of the pasts. So my spiritual practice allows me to be here, in the present. In my present.

Then, sometimes, I become too “stuck” in the here and now, especially is something emotionally bad is happening, and can’t see beyond where I am.

I know that clinically, this is my anxiety and depression, but there is a magickal component to this, too. Being stuck magickally generates a lot of the same symptoms.

So, being stuck in Malkuth isn’t a great thing for me, even being the Earth Girl that I am. Working on it, though…

***

The other night I was talking with the wife about the latest pagan blogosphere things. The first being that paganism is dying (not really true), theist pagans telling atheist pagans that they can’t be pagan (totally not true), and people getting it in their heads that all paganism has to be Earth Centered Spiritually (not always true).

Here’s the big point: “Paganism” is an umbrella term that is a really really REALLY big umbrella. It’s not really dying, it’s just changing, especially away from excessive dogmatic paganism, or any paganism that is exclusionary in its practice. I know I’m pretty tired of the witchcraft/paganism that is of the “I’m a real witch/wiccan/pagan and you’re not!” variety.

Seriously, it’s 2017. It’s time folks got over themselves about that kind of crap. Yes, an atheist can be a pagan. Yes, someone who’s Christian can also have a magickal practice. Yes, someone can be pagan without being Earth Centered.

If someone says they’re pagan, then they’re pagan, whether they have a lineage, or a teacher, or are just reading from books. This is true for any religion, regardless of what I, you, or other practitioners, think.

Some folks don’t consider me a “proper” or “real” pagan because I practice both Wicca and Christianity. So what? These days, the wife and I think of ourselves as sorcerers more than “Earth Based Spirituality” because we focus a lot more on magick and magickal systems. It’s not that we don’t care about the Earth, or honor the Earth’s turning, etc., it’s just not our primary focus. And if it is someone else’s primary focus? That’s all good. We need witches and pagans who have that as their focus. Again, so what?

Seriously, people need to stop expecting that all paganism should look and practice like theirs. That way lies the very thing many pagans say they are running from when they talk about Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christianity (or other oppressive religious traditions). Just like those traditions, specific pagan traditions don’t corner the market on truth and enlightenment.

(And IMNSHO, if your social justice demands that I have to do my spirituality a particular way, then your social justice isn’t very inclusive, is it?)

Baked Stuffed Pumpkin with Mushrooms, Spinach, and Cheese (A Mabon Recipe)

I made this for my coven the other night for our Mabon dinner and it was an instant hit! This is vegetarian and gluten free! Yes, you can make this with regular bread if you wish, although, we all liked the texture of the gluten free bread in it (it doesn’t get as mushy). This is pretty adaptable, and according to my original sources, you could also use cooked rice instead of bread. I may also make a non-veg version of this by adding some cooked bacon. (Mmmmm….bacon!)

I was inspired to try doing a stuffed pumpkin by this blog post and video by Jas. Townsend and Son, Inc, who have a YouTube show about 18th Century Cooking.

What you need:

1 pumpkin, about 3 lbs (or an acorn squash, or kobocha)
About 2-3 cups of gluten free bread cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 8 oz package of a shredded cheese blend of your choice (you can always add extra)
1 8 oz package of sliced mushrooms
1 5-8 oz package of baby spinach
2 shallots, finely diced
2 heaping spoonfuls of minced garlic (or about 4-6 large fresh cloves diced fine)
salt and pepper to taste
heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons of butter

What to do:

  1. Cut the top off your pumpkin and scoop out all the seeds. (You can either discard the seeds or roast them.)
  2. Melt the butter in a frying pan. Put in the shallots and cook until just translucent.
  3. Add the garlic and mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are golden brown.
  4. Add the baby spinach and cover the pan to let it wilt.
  5. While the spinach is wilting, add your bread cubes, cheese, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and toss together.
  6. Once the spinach is wilted, stir the spinach, mushrooms, shallots and garlic together until they’re well mixed, then add it to the large bowl with the bread cubes. (Some of the cheese will melt, but don’t worry, it’s ok!)
  7. Combine all the ingredients in the bowl until well mixed, and then pack as much as you can into the pumpkin, squishing it down into the pumpkin if you have to, until you can just fit the top of the pumpkin on without it sticking up too much. (The top should still fit as if you were making a jack-o-lantern.)
  8. Slowly (!!) add the heavy cream. You’ll want to do this in 2 or 3 stages. Add some, then let that soak in a bit. Then add a bit more, let it soak in, and then add a little bit more. You want to be able to see the cream come a bit to the top, but not so much that it’s drowning (with all the bread and stuff packed in, you won’t be able to add too much anyway).
  9. Put the top back on.

Cooking method 1 (which is how I cooked it for our dinner):

Wrap the pumpkin well in heavy duty aluminum foil so that it won’t leak. Get your grill set up and start your coals (you could probably even use a regular campfire for this method!). We used mesquite coals, but I’m pretty sure you could use regular charcoal for this, too. The goal is to have a very hot set of coals to nestle the pumpkin in to. When your coals are ready, make kind of a well in the middle, and carefully set the pumpkin on them. Bring up the coals around the pumpkin (kind of like using a dutch oven), and cook for about an hour and 15 min (or longer, depending on how hot your coals are). You can tell it’s ready if you can poke the pumpkin from the outside and it feels like it’ll squish if you poked it too hard. Carefully remove from the coals into a heat proof dish, unwrap, and be ready for awesomeness!

Cooking method 2 (for the less pyro among us):

Put the lid on the pumpkin and bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 1 – 1.5 hours. Basically, when you can stick a knife in the pumpkin without resistance, it’s done. To make it fancy, you could take the tops off, add more of the shredded cheese, and put it back into the oven until it’s all good and bubbly.

Blessed Mabon everyone!

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.”

2nd Week of Lent: Pantheacon and What I’m Doing This For

I’ve tried to start this a couple of times because, well, Pantheacon is always hard to sum up in the week after and 2016 is no exception. In short, it was a really good convention all the way around. Time seemed to warp around the con and this week it’s been really difficult to get back into “normal” time. I know next week things will settle down, especially after I catch up on my sleep debt.

The big things:

  • My coven is super awesome, and I’m excited we’ll be adding more awesome people to our little family of weirdos.
  • “Crossroads of Memory” kicked some serious ass, and CAYA Coven was awesome! Hopefully we’ll be able to collaborate again! (Dobby is a free elf!)
  • Many excellent conversations were had in the suite and I was really happy that the Body Policing/Body Shame panel on Saturday became a really deep discussion. The gender discussion on Sunday was also awesome, and moved from gender issues to a deep discussion about gender, race, and intersectionality.
  • My workshop on radical inclusion went really well, although we ended up going overtime a little. The best part was seeing light bulbs go off in people’s minds about what radical inclusion is. That is the awesomest thing about teaching, I think.
  • We had a beautiful 2nd Degree ritual on Thursday night, and it seems it be becoming a tradition to initiate someone at con.
  • Great dinners and chats with new friends, old friends, and seeing folks I haven’t seen in a long time.
  • Much priesting of one form or another.
  • Helping out some folks when they experienced some not so nice things at con and being a safe place for people to just be.
  • Learning not to apologize for doing self care.

One thing that was difficult for me was trying to do my meditations during the con, especially since, except for Thursday, we stayed up until well past 1 AM. Hecate said not to worry about it since I was doing a lot of priesting anyway and I was following other aspects of my agreements (She had me wearing all black for the con, taking care of the north altar, and I was doing daily meditation times publicly).

I was still worrying about it when we got home, and one of the things I remembered was Sarah telling me not to apologize for doing self-care. In my meditations this week Hecate has been telling me that the point of what I’m doing is not necessarily about what I actually do in my meditations, but learning the discipline of daily practice. I’m doing this to get closer to my deities, but I’m also doing it to create the foundation for doing the other work I want and need to do. The meditation is really helping me a lot, especially in the anxiety department (although cutting out caffeine hasn’t hurt, either!), and I’m also learning a new grounding technique that was really helpful during the con and is still helping post-con to bring me more down to earth.

I also needed to change out my Hecate statue. One of the problems with being someone who works with the dying is that sometimes I can get stuck in that mode and forget that there’s life out there, too. The Hecate statue I was using was one I made when I was still doing ceramics and sculpture at home and it is Her in Her role as Death (it’s a bit similar to Santa Muerte in that respect). I needed to remember that She has other aspects (Goddess of Initation, of the Crossroads, etc), and I needed some other representation to reflect that. I got the new statue today, and we’re both pleased (if you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you’ve already seen it).

On Monday I’ll be switching over to the Dagda part of the working. It’s been interesting because there’s more logistics required for this part of the working since it requires making meals for others. I’ll be re-doing my altar for it, too. It’s always interesting to compare what kind of altar bling each deity likes when I offer it. All three have relatively simple tastes, which is a good thing!

Could I do this working without the bling? Sure. The bling is mostly for me as an outward representation of what I’m doing, but it’s nice when the Deity in question happens to like it, too. It’s also a place for me to focus, and sometimes it really does take the bling to make it work when I’m feeling scattered. Candles are useful, too, when it comes to that.

It also makes me think about the how all things can be sacred if you let it. The kitchen stove will be my altar for a couple of weeks. My altar is a repurposed microwave stand. I use coins for offerings. If it’s a sacrifice I can make, I will. If it something I need to negotiate, I will. If it’s something I can’t do, I’ll tell my deities so. This is a relationship, and relationships are meant to be based on communication and respect. And so it is…

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

I’m Wiccan and Christian. Does that bother you?

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:

  • Is your faith in your own religion, your own tradition, and your connection with Spirit so fragile that you can’t handle someone doing something different from you and having just as strong of a faith and belief?
  • Do you feel that your faith necessitates you be right, even if it means bullying someone else?
  • Are people who are different from you such a threat to your own sense of self you feel the need to act violently in words and actions towards others?
  • Are you so afraid of looking outside your comfortable bubble that you can’t accept that other people do things differently than you?
  • Are you so sure about your own practice that you can claim that it is the One True Practice?

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.”

(from Biblegateway, John 18:33-37 NIV)

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.