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Category: Essays

What I Understand Now (or: Why I’m Giving Up on Facebook)

There are so many things I understand now that I didn’t fully understand when I lived in the US. 

I now know how it feels to be an immigrant. I know what it’s like now to live in a country where I don’t understand the language and the work that it takes to learn what you need to get along. I know the frustration of going to the doctor and not being able to be fully understood because of the language barrier. Or to be able to understand official documents. Or understand your neighbors. 

I know what it feels like when people dismiss you because you’re a foreigner. Especially from a country that is no longer well liked. Even when you try to be polite and apologize for your mistakes. 

I understand refugees better, since I feel like I can no longer go back to my home country for fear of being legislated out of existence or killed. I understand now why when someone says “go back to your home country” it can be heart rending. 

I understand now just how self-centered American culture is. Especially white American culture, but it’s true of Americans in general. Looking at it from the outside, there is such individual entitlement. There’s no real idea of community, and from here, even many of those who talk a good line about “creating community” seem full of shit. 

American culture also has this idea that what Americans do is what everyone else in the world should do. American Christianity is the “Right Christianity.” American activism is the “proper way to be an activist.” American ideals are the only ones that people should strive to emulate. America’s problems are exactly the same as other countries’ problems, and they should all be solved in the same way. 

There’s the assumption, too, that people outside the US understand what’s going on in the US. There’s the assumption that everyone online is going to know US history, and it’s history of racism and discrimination. I can’t count the number of times someone from another country has asked, “Why did Trump get elected? How could people vote for him?”

It’s come to a point now where I’ve given up explaining. Like I’ve said before, I mostly shrug and say, “There’s a reason my wife and I live in Switzerland now.”

And I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve had to give up trying to explain things about living outside to Americans, especially online. I’ve had to block Facebook and Twitter on all my devices. And it’s not just because the news is horrible, but because I feel like I can’t contribute anymore. No one wants to hear what I’ve learned. No one wants to know my opinions from here.

I know I’m privileged. My wife and I were able to move. We didn’t like it, so we left. It doesn’t mean we don’t think of the folks back in our home countries. It doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention to what’s going on. It doesn’t mean we don’t care anymore. It does mean we see the insanity in the US in a different light. 

The country is imploding. Eating itself from the inside out. Trump’s policies are pulling down the government. The progressive/leftist side are eating their own and being helped by foreign interference. The right is just plain batshit Nazi fed by Fox propaganda and the same foreign interference. Being centrist is somehow a bad thing, even though most Americans are. Each side has it’s purity test: either purity of ideals or purity of theocracy. It grieves me that many of those who talk about wanting to see the American community come together are the same who are ripping down those who have the opportunity to begin the change. 

Watching it from here, makes me wonder if there will ever be a country to go back to. It grieves me to think that it’s not impossible that I could be a refugee in truth.

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Quarantine Reflections

I’ve been staring at blank screens for a few days now. It’s been hard to write and be verbally creative during this quarantine time. Like many folks, I’ve been in a kind of brain fog. It’s hard to watch the news (especially coming out of the US), it’s hard to be home all the time, and hard to watch people completely disregard the severity of this virus. While the US isn’t alone in it’s share of stupid walking dead, it is the loudest and most visible. It’s hard to watch your home country slowly imploding.

It’s also hard to realize that this virus isn’t going away any time soon. Hard to accept that this is our new normal. I know I’ve gone from periods of acceptance to periods of depression and anger. It’s grief, and it’s ok to feel these things. It’s ok that I’m not feeling like working. 

I try to remember this most of the time. I don’t always succeed. 

But for now, doing physical things has been the easiest for me to keep my mind on. Spinning, weaving, baking, cooking, and reading has been easier for my mind to keep up with. I do my German classes, study every day, and make sure bills get paid and groceries get ordered. We’re lucky and privileged to be where we are. We’re lucky to have the means to stay home and protect ourselves. 

It’s also hard because both the Wife and I are scientists and know how viruses work. We know how things can propagate and move through populations biologically and mathematically. It’s hard because we feel like we know too much and we also feel like a lot of people, even some people we know, don’t believe us when we say months, not weeks. 

I know that there’s not much I can do about the thoughts and actions of other people. I do know what we can do to keep ourselves safe. To survive as best we can. We help people where and when we can from here. 

We survive and endure, and that’s all we can really do. 

I know this isn’t like my other updates. There’s not much I have to really update folks on anyway. I probably should make a baking post, but the brain isn’t ready to do that yet. 

I hope you all are staying as safe as possible. I hope that we get through this and everyone endures as best they can. I offer you my prayers, and if anyone needs to talk about their grief, feel free to contact me. 

May the gods carry us through and may we learn from this as a species. 

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To My Fellow White Americans:

I’ve had with most of you. Especially those of you who sit there and argue with the very people this government is marginalizing and harrassing. That we should “get along and be nice” because somehow that’s going to magically fix everything.

The time for politeness passed many months ago. Sorry, that’s just how it is. If you can’t see why, get you head out of your fucking ass and take a good look around.

You say you have minority friends? Sure, ok! Why don’t you ask them some things:

Ask any of your friends of color how they’re doing right now.

Ask your friends who are legal permanent residents how they’re feeling about their status.

Ask your queer friends how they’re feeling right now.

Ask your queer friends who are legally married if they think their marriages are going to still be legal in a year or so.

Ask your disabled friends about their healthcare.

Ask your steelworker friends if they still have their jobs.

Ask your Grandma and Grandpa how they’re feeling about their medicare benefits right now.

Ask your transgender friends how they feel about their lives right now.

And ask all of the folks above about how many of them are making plans to leave the country.

Your privileged ass is sitting there criticizing Maxine Waters because she’s telling people to not serve these assholes in the White House? Really? Give me a fucking break! When you, as a white person, especially if you are a cishet white male, can sit there and tell me you’ve been denied housing, given death threats, beaten or killed for your skin color, gender presentation, or sexual preference, then you can start criticising Maxine Waters all you want.

But if a baker can legally deny service to a gay couple, or anyone they want, then a black or queer owned business can deny service to anyone they damn well please.

If a state can tell transgender people that they can’t use the bathroom of their gender, or decide that healthcare workers can deny service to people if who client is or  what medical service they’re getting is “against their religion,” then you have NO RIGHT to expect politeness and “decency” from any minority group. Period.

Let me sum this up. I’ll put in in all caps so I know you’ll see it: DENYING SERVICE OR CHALLENGING SOMEONE FROM THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ISN’T ABOUT POLITICAL DIFFERENCES: IT’S ABOUT CALLING OUT AN ADMINISTRATION DENYING PEOPLE’S BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS.

I mean, for fuck’s sake! A good government doesn’t lock up thousands of kids just because they’re brown. Or deport people who are here *legally* and have been here for decades!

A good government doesn’t do all their decision making by Tweet.

A good government certainly doesn’t deny services to the needy.

A good government doesn’t randomly decide to pick fights with allies because they want to wave their dick around.

A good government doesn’t terrorize it’s citizens.

A good government owns up to it’s mistakes.

And a good government PROTECTS THE BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS OF ITS  OWN CITIZENS AND THE RIGHTS OF ANYONE ELSE WHO COMES HERE FLEEING FOR THEIR LIVES.

If you don’t care about others, or don’t think that any of this has anything to do with you, or you feel like you’ve got yours and fuck everyone else, then do me a favor and get out of my life. My wife and I are moving out of the country for our own personal safety. Even before the 2016 election, my wife felt like she couldn’t LIVE HER FUCKING LIFE. Because every time she went out of the house she felt like she had a fucking target on her back just because she’s transgender.

We’re lucky and we’re privileged to have the resources to leave. A lot of our PoC and queer friends aren’t so lucky, but are STILL making plans to leave the country. I can’t count how many people have told us “Yeah, seriously, get out while you can. We don’t blame you!”

So, white people, fuck off with your MAGA; fuck off with your “You’re overreacting”; fuck off with your racist, misogynistic, homophobic bullshit and get your head out of your asses. You’re being assholes and you damn well know it.

Find some fucking compassion and stop making it about you. I’m so fucking over your bullshit.

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Today, I Name Names about the First Coven I was in. #timesup #metoo

Content Warning: Emotional and physical abuse, gaslighting, financial abuse, mention of kink abuse

I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts in the wake of Moira Greyland publishing her book about her life and the accusations she made against Isaac Bonewits. You’ve got the usual spread of folks who don’t believe it, folks who do, and folks who are somewhere in between. There are also getting writings about what leaders and groups should do about harassment, and about preventing these types of things from happening.

This isn’t about what folks should or shouldn’t do. You need to follow your own moral compass in that regard. This post is my #metoo post about a cultist, abusive pagan leader and how he flourished in the East Coast pagan community for a time, and what I did after when I started my own tradition. It’ll be 20 years at Yule since I first stepped into that coven, and in all that time, I’ve never really named names, especially, for a long time, I was afraid of my ex-coven leader. These days, I look back on a lot of that time with a mixture of sadness, regret, and sometimes joy. Not everything was horrible, but the bad things outweighed the good.

I did write a good deal of the details about what happened with my first coven on LiveJournal when I first moved out to California in 2005. The posts are still on my Dreamwidth journal, or you can read the whole thing via Google Docs hereI must admit, it was strange reading those posts again, especially since I’m in a very different, and much stronger space.

It was several years before I stopped jumping at red jeeps (because he had a red jeep) and large, bald, mustached men. And I didn’t necessarily feel completely safe from him in California, either, since I knew he had lived in the Bay Area before and could have come to visit. Even in my writings about what happened with my first coven, I even avoided using his name because I was afraid of him coming after me, magickally or legally.

But, #timesup. And it’s time that we named this for what it is: abuse, harassment, and cult behaviour.

Micheal Desplaines owned Tribalways Body Piercing and Tattoo in Boston, MA. Attached to that was a pagan shop called Spiritways. They were located on Massachusetts Ave at the beginning of Newbury Street. Micheal was a nurse as well, but quit nursing to do body piercing (to be fair, he had one of the best body piercing shops in the country). He ran a coven called the Earth’s Children coven, which I joined in 1998 and left, under duress, in 2003.

Micheal was charming to those who weren’t close to him, and emotionally abusive to those of us who did get close. I also think he was physically abusive (under the guise of kink) to his husband at the time, Stephen, but I don’t know it for sure. Micheal claimed that our coven was part of the Feri tradition (with lineage via Starhawk), but in doing some research later, I found that this wasn’t true. In fact, all of the rituals, especially the initiations, where straight out of Alexandrian and the Witches’ Bible. We did, as a group, interact with folks from some other east coast groups, such as Earth Spirit and Pagan Pride Day. However, what they knew of his abusive and cult-like ways, I don’t know.

If you were in his coven, especially if you were an initiate, it was expected that you were there for every full moon and holiday, regardless of your own plans. He basically told us that he expected us there unless we were in the hospital. You had to do what he said or else he would because he was The Crone. If you messed up, at minimum you’d get yelled at, in the worst case, you’d be kicked out. You also had to keep everything that we did a secret, nor could you work with any other group or tradition (well, you could, but only with Micheal’s permission, which he never gave).

I witnessed him kick out a straight man just because he was straight. I received a “black circle” because I challenged him about behavior. I witnessed him and his family members dealing and using illegal drugs like cocaine. His husband came to me several times saying that he was going to leave him and that he was worse when the rest of us weren’t around. When I lived with him, I was treated as an idiot, gaslit, told I was a bad priest, and treated as a servant to his whims. He insisted that I was strictly a lesbian, and tried to convince me that I was delusional about my identity. He never touched me sexually, but I have a good suspicion that he was sexually abusive to his husband..

I was witness to a lot of things that I didn’t know what to do about at the time, but which I still regret not speaking up about. But like many other folks in this situation, I didn’t do anything because I was scared of him and scared of losing the community I had in the coven.

In 2003, I made the mistake of agreeing to move in with him and his husband. During those six months, he tried to separate me from family and friends by suggesting that they would never understand me, or that they were being bigoted about me being a witch. I got to a point where I lost my own identity because it was subsumed by Micheal’s assumptions and ideas about what my identity should be.

And as I wrote in my earlier description, the Goddess gave me a choice: I could stay and die or leave and live. I chose to leave.  He tried to extort money from me after I left them. I had to get a lawyer to get Micheal to stop harassing me and demanding I still pay rent and utilities to them after moving out. I moved to a nearby town, and since I was still close enough to run into them on the street, I spent nearly a year in near seclusion when I wasn’t working. Because of all of the drama with Micheal, I eventually got fired in November 2004.

In early 2004 I had reconnected with my friend Patrick, and when I got fired in 2004, he convinced me to move to California. I took him up on that, and he came on the road trip with me to Oakland. When I got to the Bay Area it took me nearly 5 years (2009) before I felt up to doing anything publicly as a priest again. It took another year of work, and the help of my now wife, to undo the magickal ties that I had to that coven. When my wife and I started our own tradition and coven, there were several things we new that were important to establish at the beginning so that we didn’t end up like my first coven. Many of those ideas ended up reflected in our tradition’s founding principles:

 

  • Our degree structure is based on Sanders’ original version as reported in Farrar, What Witches Do, and Farrar & Farrar, A Witches Bible, with some clarifications and modernization. 
  • It is a fundamental founding principle of our line that magickal polarity is unrelated to gender. Our rituals are not gender specific, nor are separate roles ascribed to a High Priest or High Priestess. People of any and all genders, and none, are welcome. 
  • We regard sexual preference as entirely irrelevant to one’s ability to practice magick. 
  • We have no secrets. All of our rituals, where practical, are published for the benefit of all, regardless of their initiatory degree or lack thereof. We have no oathbound material. 
  • We honour all gods, and no gods. There are no gods that are specific to our line, nor do we preclude working with gods, spirits, angels or daemons from any other tradition. 
  • We do not, and shall never, charge for teaching or initiation. 
  • We have no founding myths. The material stands on its own merits, and requires no invented justification or falsified lineage. 
  • We practice open-source syncretism. Though we have utmost respect for others’ privacy and for the integrity of all systems of magick and religion, we operate on the principle that, if a technique is openly described, it works, and it serves our purpose, we reserve the right to use it and, if we so choose, to teach it. 
  • We do not use a prescribed Book of Shadows. All rituals are our rituals. All gods are our gods. 

We have never tolerated harassment in our coven, and we have tried our best to be as open as possible about our decision making. We try to use consensus as much as possible, too. We consider that having no secrets and having our rituals, especially our initiations, is our way of doing informed consent. We will also modify rituals to the needs of coven members, especially if there is any for of PTSD around a particular element of the ritual.

I have strived to not be like Micheal. In fact, he is the model I use for what NOT to do in a coven, and I’m glad that there are people in my life who won’t let me go down that road. I absolutely know that I haven’t gotten it right all the time. I know I’ve screwed up more times than I can count. I’ve had to make decisions as a leader that I wish I hadn’t had to make which skirted that line. I know that our coven isn’t perfect, but we strive to do the best I can, and to be as inclusive as we can.

The worst part of being in the coven with Micheal was that, for all that he was horrible and abusive, he also knew a great deal, which taught me a lot of good things about being a witch. He taught me a lot of Craft skills and ritual that I still use (even though it took me awhile to be able to reclaim them as my own). In some ways, this makes me pity him more than hate him, since he was on the way to becoming a lonely, bitter old man. He could have been a good teacher, but wasn’t. 

I don’t know where he is now, and frankly, I don’t much care to see him again. Last I had heard, his husband had left him and he had moved to Connecticut, and then to Maine. He’s disappeared from public pagan life. I’m actually kind of relieved by that, because I hope that he’s not abusing another coven full of people the same way he did ours.

One final thing: If you were in that coven with me between 1998 and 2003, I’m sorry if I didn’t stick up for you or didn’t believe you. I regret that, but to be honest, I’m happy for those of you who left quickly, and I hope that you found a better spiritual teacher. And if Tracy ever reads this: you were right about him and for getting out when you did.

 

The pagan community tends to see itself as “better than those horrible Christians [or other mainstream religion]” but, to be frank, we’re not. We have our abusers, harassers, cultists, fundamentalists, bigots, racists, and so on. While I totally agree that we need to fix our attitudes towards harassment, I also think we need to let go of the idea that paganism is somehow more enlightened than any other set of religions out there. We’re human. There is no “better than” just “different from.” The more that a sense of entitlement and superiority is asserted, the more evil that can be hidden behind that superiority. #timesup for us, too, and we need to get our shit together.

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That Question That Everyone Asks Me

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.

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I’m published! (Well, my essay is!)

I’m super excited to announce that I have an essay published in the anthology called “Arcane Perfection” edited by Pat Mostly. You can get the Amazon version here, and the paperback version here via Lulu. My essay is called “Please, Ask Me About My Wife” which was written in a sort of response to the TERFs who publishing their own anthology a few months back.

I think a lot of cis lovers, friends, and spouses of transgender people will really resonate with this essay.

Thank you Pat for including me in this project! 🙂

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On Grief

There’s been a lot of discussion about grief since the election: what is “proper” grief, when to get over grief, and people denying the grief of others. Two months ago, this post would have probably just been a rant about not telling people how to grieve, but then my friend Bubby Jerimyah D’Luv died suddenly.

And the grief over the election fell into grief over Jerimyah. I lit my candle for him, and wore my rainbow socks to his memorial. I was his friend, but I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked with him. But I have my memories of the times we did spend together. Going to Hobbee’s. Doing the body acceptance workshop. The look of happiness on his face when I went to visit him in the hospital and we talked about going swimming together sometime.

“What is remembered lives,” I said at the memorial.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, one of the Mothers of Refuge, Emerald O’Leary, passed. So, grief again. She was a sassy Irish lady, who was an amazing artist. One year at Easter she, with the other artists at Refuge, made Easter hats. She came up to me right before service and handed me this glorious hat saying I should wear it for service. So I did (the picture is on my Facebook page, so there’s proof!). There was a lot I didn’t know about her, but what I do know, I cherish.

I lit my candles for her, too, and remembered that she, too, will live because we remember her.

And then, this week, my friend Cynan passed away. He was always a gentleman and a big bear of a man. He was mostly a friend, but we also some adult fun with each other a bit in the first few years I was in the Bay Area. I remember hanging out with him and his wife in their apartment a long time ago, with Cynan in his big chair and Kim in hers. I don’t even remember why I had gone over that day, but it sticks in my memory. I remember him singing in the hallways at Pantheacon, and smiling as I heard his voice down the hall. He also gave amazing hugs, and you knew you were hugged. We hadn’t talked as much in the last few years, except at cons and parties if he was there, but he was always present when he was in the room, which I can’t really explain much better than that.

I’ve been lighting candles for him, too.

Which also brings me to the fact that we’re moving to Chicago at the end of February. Today I realized, that there’s grief there, too. We’ll be leaving friends and the coven to start something new in a new place. It’s exciting in the fact that things will be new (and I’m looking forward to seasons and summer thunderstorms again), but it’s also sad to be leaving what we have here.

And when we’re in Chicago, I know I’ll be lighting my candles for that grief when I get my altar set up.

I’ve studied a lot about grief, since working with those who are dying is part of my vocation. In fact, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ work is something that I’ve studied in depth. But I think that there’s a lot of people who really misunderstood her work on the stages of grief, and if you read her books, you’ll see that she explicitly states many times that the stages of grief are not a straight line. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are non-linear. Sometimes a person may not even go through one of the stages, or experience more than one at a time. It’s a huge misunderstanding to expect someone to just go through the stages and be done with their grieving in a set period of time.

What Kübler-Ross tries to explain in her work, and what I’ve experienced myself in working with those who are grieving the loss of a loved one and in my own grief, is that you need to respect the grieving process. It doesn’t matter what the person is grieving over, either. Whether it’s a loved one, a pet, the election, a celebrity, or even a sportsball loss. No matter the source, the grief is real.

We’ve been taught, in American society at least, that our grief should be something that we hide, or if we don’t “get over it” quickly we’re somehow mentally ill, or being stupid. It’s worse if someone is grieving over a pet, or a celebrity, or something others deem not worthy of any extended period of grief.

I think that what we’ve been taught is wrong.

I think that not showing our grief, wailing, crying, singing laments, or being denied the ability to publicly express our grief is wrong.

So I give all of you who are grieving, no matter what you are grieving, the permission to cry out loud, to shout, to rage, to sing, to wail, to write, to do anything you need to express that grief. I give you permission to grieve whether someone else thinks it silly or not. I give you permission to not talk about your grief, to hermit, to be alone in your grief. I give you permission to grieve for as long as you need to. I give you permission to grieve publicly, in community, and if I am there to witness your grief, I will make sure you are allowed that space without someone bothering you or telling you that your grief is invalid.

And I will give myself this same permission, because I am grieving, too.

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To the Conservatives and Trump voters who follow me or know me:

I posted this to a conservative sf/f author’s website today. They have talked many times about feeling “othered” in the sf/f community because they’re conservative, even though they’re LGBTQA affirming (including writing many books about LGBTQA/gender-queer romances, etc). I’m posting it here, too, for those conservatives who have been saying today “But, I didn’t vote for Trump because of his racism/sexism/homophobia!”

“People like me, moderate liberals who would like to compromise across the gap, are scared this morning. And, I think, rightfully so….

I wasn’t sure I was going to write this to you, but in the interest of understanding, I thought I should. I’ve been a fan of your work for a long time, and I know, you, personally, support LGBTQA folks. I know, through your blog here, that you’re conservative, and really, that doesn’t bug me much since I grew up in New England and so I’m a more middle of the road Democrat and I think that compromise is a good thing.

That being said, and I know you’ve felt backlash from this, is that the “conservative” party leaders that are now in power, have, for years, actively been against the basic civil rights of LGBTQA people. It’s written into the party platform. And, while I wish more conservatives like you were in power, they’re not. Conservatives that want to compromise have been basically run out. The unfortunate side effect, though, is that if you do openly support the party, you’ll be seen with suspicion. I truly believe that groups are not monoliths, and that we need to remember that not all of the individuals in the group support everything about the GOP, etc., but I hope that you understand that there are so many people terrified that their civil rights are going to fly out the window in the next year, that they are seeing the monolith, not the individuals.”

In another post in another forum, I also said:

If you don’t want to be labeled as such, prove it. Put your leaders feet to the fire about racism, sexism, and homophobia. Get other folks who voted for Trump to tell their congresspeople to make sure that all people’s civil rights are important, not just white people’s rights (and yes, that includes Muslims and transgender people). Prove to me that you actually will hold them accountable and that they are actually following Jesus, who fed the poor, helped the sick, and other marginalized people. Because, what you’re seeing today is the real fear of people worried that their families will be spit up, people deported, etc.  You may have had anger at the establishment, but what cost will the anti-establishment anger have? We don’t know yet…

The pragmatist in me wants to believe that the Constitution will do it’s magick and keep things from being colossally bad. I want to have hope that there will be so much in-fighting in Congress that none of Trump’s campaign promises will get done.

Honestly, I’d rather not have to be wary (or fearful) of half of my fellow Americans. I want to be able to feel as if this country is still the “Home of the Free and Land of the Brave” still. But today, I just can’t feel that way.

Again, if you’re a Trump supporter or conservative, as I said earlier, I invite you to prove me wrong. If you want me to believe you, then show me that you truly believe that EVERYONE deserves to have their civil rights respected. Show me that you’ll be holding your congresspeople accountable to ensure freedom and justice for ALL, not just white cis-gendered, Christian heterosexuals. If you truly believe that you’re not a bigot, then prove it by making sure my civil rights (and those of Muslims, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQA people, Mexicans, and others) aren’t left to a popular vote, but guaranteed by law.

Your anger at the establishment is valid, heck, I have it, too. But right now, as I said earlier, what cost will it have?

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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)
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Cursing and Social Justice

When we teach about cursing in our coven, we tell students that if they feel that doing the curse is right in their soul and that they are completely willing to take the consequences if they are wrong, then they should go ahead. We also teach that if there is any doubt at all or any trepidation about taking the consequences, then they should wait for awhile or not do it at all. The other recommendation we typically give is that the object of your curse, especially if you are utilizing a Spirit (be it deity, demon, ghost, or angel), should always have an “out”: a chance to change and stop doing what you ended up cursing them for. This is the greater compassion because no one needs to be punished for eternity when they realize that they have done something wrong and decide to work to change it.

What does this have to do with social justice?

There are many social justice activists that don’t allow for people to change. They don’t allow for people to make mistakes and learn from them. In their minds, there is no room for someone to have a change of heart if they’ve done something wrong in the past. They did or said something that was racist, sexist, homophobic, etc in the past and that’s it. They are branded for life as “bad people” and are not given the chance to atonement.

Now, are there people who just won’t learn and refuse to change? Of course! There are some people that no matter how hard you try to educate them or tell them that they are doing hateful and bigoted things, they won’t change at all. It would take a miracle to make them see the harm that they are doing.

But there are those who know they’ve done wrong and try and change. There’s a tendency in social justice circles to default to “eternal damnation” when someone makes a mistake. There is no “out” or chance for that person to atone for their transgression or to learn what they did wrong. And for some social justice people, even when you do have a change of heart and try to atone, nothing you do will ever be good enough. For some people it may take them years, or a lifetime, to undo the mistakes they’ve done. For others, it might be more of a matter of apology for an immediate mistake made. Yet, there are plenty of social justice activists out there who will decide that a person’s change of heart may not be genuine enough or that they won’t trust someone because of what they’ve done in the past, no matter how hard the subject of their ire has tried to atone for their bad behavior.

I can’t deny that I’ve done this myself. A lot of the time it comes down to the fact that I want to be right when I think that someone is wrong. But I’ve been learning in my work and thinking about radical inclusion that it is important to allow for others to grow because not everyone has the education or experiences that I do. I’ve learned that there are people, including myself, who will say or do stupid things out of ignorance (and boy, have I done some really stupid things in social justice circles). I have had things pointed out to me that have made me feel bad for having done said stupid things. However, I’ve been lucky that I’ve had patient people around me who not only helped me learn, but allowed me to atone for what I’ve done wrong. This has made me want to be a better ally.

Unfortunately, absolutism happens in all levels of social justice work, and transcends whatever marginalization someone is. Are there histories, atrocities, and systemic injustice that needs to be acknowledged by those who make the mistakes? Of course. But we can’t forget the humanity of the people involved: our own humanity, and those of the people who we are trying to reach. Those of us who work for social justice should let our passion and emotions around our issues be known and visible, but if we disregard the humanity of those who we are trying to teach and don’t allow for their growth, how much are we really going to change? And, more importantly, if we completely dismiss the work that someone has done to grow, learn, and change, why are we doing social justice work in the first place?

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