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I’m in Nashville, home of the Christian Contemporary Music Industry, home of LifeWay Christian Stores, and home of the Southern Baptist Convention. This week, in a kind of radical re-immersion into Christian culture, I’m going to spread the message about Jesus to Jesus-people, and I’m doing so in the most subversively effective way imaginable: through catchy melodies and rhyming lyrics.

Caroling. This Pagan is going to sing Christmas carols to Christians.

I’m going to sing songs about the Virgin Birth, the upbringing of a Messiah, and the ascension of their Lord and Savior into the cloudy realms of Heaven (which is really a theme more suitable for Easter, but which often shows up in the more Jesus-y Christmas songs). I’m also going to sing about snow, which wasn’t a part of the original Jesus birth-narrative, but which is pretty, and white, and threatening to fall at any given moment from the cloudy, Tennessee skies.

Why am I doing this?

Don’t think I haven’t asked myself that question a few times.

I feel like this is my karma; I am called to engage with what feels uncomfortable or unreconcilable, both in the world and within myself, so that I might find ways to bring those disparate parts into a state of peaceful balance.

It’s kinda my thing.

I’m hoping to create harmony even while experiencing internal dissonance. This is a radical approach to reconciling my personal conflicts, I know.

It would be easier for me to dismiss Christianity altogether, as some of my fellow Pagans have done, and in the process negate all it teaches about compassion, forgiveness, and kindness, focussing on instead on the faults of its adherents and the limitations of its theology.

It would be easier to proclaim that my current expression of Paganism is superior to my former experience of being Christian. Anyone can claim superiority, and many do. I could say–quoting some new, scholarly, archeological tome–that mine is a more historically accurate, perhaps even culturally relevant religion. Mine is older, rooted deeper in the sacred dirt of human history, and therefore I have greater insight into the inner workings of the spiritual world.

But, I’m not taking the easy route. Instead, I’m going to have a hand at being a Pagan who helps Christians be Christian.

I’m kind of obsessed with interfaith dialogue, and the thing I’m discovering is that the real challenge in it is not what happens when you are in conversation with others; it’s what happens when you are in conversation with yourself.

Can you hold up your current beliefs and practices against seemingly contrary ideas without feeling threatened, or broken, or like you made some mistake in becoming who you’ve become? Can you sing about Jesus to people who believe something different about him than you do and still remember who you are?

These are the question I’m asking myself as I’m rehearsing songs about Little Baby Jesus in a manger.

Before we can have any kind of meaningful dialogue with another person, we must first spend time reflecting on our own ideas and beliefs. For me, a convert of sorts, this act of reflection can feel quite conflicted. The term I used to describe the process in my post, On Converting a Christian to Paganism, was inner-interfaith, and I think there may be no better two words to explain what’s going on with me right now.

But rather than letting this dialogue only take place in my head (or on this blog), I’m bringing it out into the open. I’m allowing my inner conflicts to become incarnate in the world, and I’m doing so in a way that forces me to be a little kinder to them. Perhaps, too, I’m working through a new understanding of the Christian narrative and what it offers Christians and Pagans alike.

We forget about the Divine, about our sense of wonder, mystery and magic, and through that act of forgetting we experience an absence of the Sacred. It was always there: immanent, ever-present, ever-willing to be known and experienced. But we forget, and when we do we feel alone.

Transcendence, then, means less that the God of these Christmas carols is distant from His creation, and more that the very idea of “distance from the Divineis illusory. With that in mind, Christmas, and my singing of Jesus songs to small crowds of Christians, becomes an affirmation of a value that Pagans can and do affirm; that in the moments when we’ve forgotten that the world is holy, that our lives are sacred, and that the Great Mystery is woven into the fabric of all things, it still is.

It is, it always was, and it always will blessedly be.

So I say, “Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas, Jesus folk. The Sacred is as close to you as it is to me. Call on it, and welcome it into your hearts. Let it come to you through the melody of your favorite Christmas song, and inspire you to be a kinder, gentler, more compassionate human being.”

Then, when the singing is done, I’ll return to my little hotel room, light my candle, close my eyes and experience the sanctity of my own breath. I will worship in the Temple of the Gods, which is this body: this house of Spirit.

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39 Responses to A Pagan’s Christmas Message

  1. Áine says:

    That was beautiful, Teo.  A wonderful reminder that I very much needed today.  Thank you.

  2. Kilmrnock says:

    I don’t need to sing to Xtians to remember where the sacred is , all i need to do is walk outside . Tis even in that nasty cold rain that falls on my head. What i get from my pagan point of view is that the sacred is all around us and in us as well , not long ago, far away. I was agnostic b/f i became Druid/sinnsreachd. So i don’t carry as much Xtian baggage as many do  .We as pagans know the our gods are here w/ us , as are the nature spirits and our ancestors . we can feel them .Just as starwars force , its all around us , in everything we can see and touch. All we need to do is walk outside to be reminded of what we already know.Kilm

    • Teo Bishop says:

      Thanks for the comment, Kilm.

      This isn’t so much “Christian baggage” that I’m experiencing (and I choose to spell out the word, Christian, instead of using the “X” simply out of respect), and I’m not prescribing my current regiment of Christmas caroling to Pagans as a way to remember where the sacred is. I’ve having a fascinating experience of the inner world and the outer world clashing a bit, and I’m searching for ways to find beauty in that, and relevance.

  3. Kilmrnock says:

    And on another note we need more Xtians to practice what they preach , listen to and take heed to the teachings of Jesus . They would be alot easier to get along with if they did.  Kilm

  4. Highlyanointedgirl says:

    With all due respect, I don’t understand how a true Christian could ever leave Yeshua Messiah (the Hebrew name of Jesus) and also, as a Christian, when I walk outside, I see the sacredness and beauty of God’s beautiful creation just as some on here who say they are pagan see it, except I see it from a perspective of, “WOW – God is so good and loving and kind that He created the universe for all of us to enjoy and to see His goodness and come to know and love Him!”   He gives peace and joy and love that no other can give.   As a little girl before I came to know God in a personal way through Yeshua (Jesus), I dabbled in agnosticism a bit myself… even though I was in church, I wasn’t sure if He truly existed or if He really loved me.  But when I prayed and asked Yeshua (Jesus) to come into my heart and forgive me of my sins, WOW – the peace I felt was indescribable and I knew that God exists and that He loves me and everyone!  He is sooo awesome!  Also, He has answered so many prayers and helped me and my family with so many things I can’t even list them all.

    (Incidentally, I have never heard a pagan person say that any of their “nature spirits” or “gods” gave them love, peace and joy and answered any of their prayers… just sayin’!!!)

    Definitely agree with you that more Christians need to practice what they preach… no doubt there!  Who was it that said he would have become a Christian were it not for Christians???  I think it was Ghandi…

    Anyway,  I do try to live as my Messiah Yeshua (Jesus)  lived and love everyone no matter what they believe.

    • Teo Bishop says:

      Thank you for your comment, Highlyanointedgirl. I’m glad that you were willing to voice your opinion. You made some interesting word choices, and I’d like to draw attention to a few phrases that I found intriguing.

      First off, “true Christian” is a fascinating phrase. It implies that some Christians are — what would you say — false? Not “truly” Christian? If you’re implying I was not a “true” Christian simply because I don’t identify as a Christian now, I’d say that we may have different ways of understanding what it means to be a Christian. Respectfully, I’d be interested to know what criteria you use to determine who is “true,” and who is not.

      I think it’s wonderful that you feel connected to the world around you, and that you see — as you put it — “the sacredness and beauty of God’s beautiful creation,” wherever you look. That’s great. When you see these beautiful things, do you see God *present* in them, or just the trace of God’s creative work? The distinction might be important to many of my readers.

      You use quotation marks around “nature spirits” and “gods,” and I understand that to mean that you don’t accept their existence. But I assure you that there are many in the Pagan community (with the “p” capitalized out of respect) who have had transformative experiences in the presence of their Gods (with the “g” also capitalized out of respect). Your encounter with the Divine may feel unique — and it is, to you — but there are many who have had similar experiences. They may not think of them as you do, because not everyone thinks about ideas like sin and redemption in the same way. But, they’ve had them, nonetheless.

      I would love it if you could speak to some of these point I brought up.

      Blessings…

    • WhiteBirch says:

      Highlyanointedgirl, when I see the words “with all due respect” in the first sentence of a comment it is a red flag for me that the following post is going to be disrespectful.  It’s kind of like when people lead off with “No offense, but” and then proceed to say something offensive.   If you want to truly speak from a place of respect, I suggest you don’t try to judge people’s religious motivations from the outside. Just because you can’t imagine a genuine Christian leaving that religion doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Or are you saying you’re a better judge of Teo’s religious experiences (and incidentally my own) than he is? People frequently seem to imply that if you leave Christianity you were never a REAL Christian to begin with, that’s a handy self-fulfilling standard… you can never be wrong if you follow it, can you? And it conveniently places you in a position to be a better judge of my sincerity than I am! That’s not very respectful from where I stand. You seem truly sincere and I’m glad your beliefs are so fulfilling for you. But you don’t get to judge my motivations or the genuineness of my beliefs, past or present, and still claim to respect them. 

      And FYI, you use plenty of derisive and disrespectful language in your comment. I don’t “say I’m Pagan” (as you refer to “people on here who say they are pagan”) I AM Pagan. I’m not deluded, lying, or playing pretend. You don’t have to believe in my religion to accept that I do. Also, it’s offensive when you place gods other than your own in “quotes” like you did. Again, you don’t have to believe in them (as I don’t have to believe in your god) but it is hard to take your claim of respect seriously when you won’t even acknowledge that my religion is a real religion. 

      Sorry to derail your comments section, Teo.  I missed your conversion post (going back to read it now) but Inner-interfaith dialogue very much describes the worldview conversion I went through when I was growing out of Christianity and into Paganism. I started out with sort of an academic fascination with Pagans and polytheism, and almost for fun I started to ask myself “how would I look at this situation if I was a polytheist?” And before long, I found I WAS a polytheist.  Now turning it around and remembering how I looked at things when I was a Christian is often just as enlightening. In some ways I can see through both perspectives simultaneously now, sometimes the old feels very foreign and sometimes the new does, and sometimes there’s a lot of conflict I’m still working through, but it always reminds me to see the sacred side of even small things, and that’s progress in itself.

      Star Foster recently called the season between Samhain and Yule the season of silence… topics like this are the fuel for that season, I think. Outwardly so simple, but there’s a lot of ways to think through the lens… enough to keep me busy contemplating until Yule and far far beyond.

      • Teo Bishop says:

        I appreciate the apology, WhiteBirch, and I understand your emotional reaction to this comment. With that said, it’s important we remember that each of us brings to the conversation different levels of experience with and awareness of interfaith dialogue. Some of us — as I know you’re aware — come without any training whatsoever, and we have an opportunity to provide those people an example of the kind of speech we’d like to encourage. It can be challenging, but I think it’s important.

        I love the way that you talk about seeing through both the old and new perspectives. It’s a wonderful reminder that what is past is still available in the present. I recognize how the experience of two, divergent perspectives can create a kind of conflict, and I love that you sit with that conflict in search of the sacred.

        I think Star is spot on. The Season of Silence. I’d add that it is might be seen as The Season of Reflection. It really feels that way for me right now.

        Thanks for the comment, WhiteBirch. I’m always happy to hear from you.

    • My Gods and Goddesses give me love, peace, joy, and answer my prayers.  I never felt a moment as full of love, peace and beauty as I did at the time I dedicated myself to the Lord and Lady and I feel their love around me every moment of every day. 

      You might try to “love everyone no matter what they believe”, but you don’t seem to *respect* their beliefs.

       I’m sure many other Pagans (that’s capitalized, FYI, just like “Christians”) would say the same.  I have to doubt that you’ve had many long, heartfelt conversations with any Pagans who would feel open enough to tell you about their beliefs when you speak so condescendingly about the Pagan religious traditions.

      And Ghandi did not say he’d “become” a Christian.  He said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

      • Ian Phanes says:

        Not all pagans agree on capitalizing pagan.  I don’t capitalize either pagan or monotheist, as they are both umbrella terms.  I do, on the other hand, capitalize Druid, Witch, Wicca, Feri, Asatru, etc., as they are specific proper nouns.

        • Then we will respectfully have to agree to disagree. 

          I consider Pagan an umbrella term in the same way I consider Christian an umbrella term, so I capitalize.  I do not, however, capitalize “witch”, as I don’t consider it a proper noun, though I do consider myself one.   I agree on the capitalization of all the other terms that you mentioned, though.  =)

          • Ian Phanes says:

            To add to the confusion, I only capitalize Witch when I’m writing about Modern Pagan Witchcraft.  If I’m writing about folk magic, I write “witch.”  And I would use “druid” to describe the intellectual class in various pre-Christian Celtic cultures, but “Druid” to describe modern pagans.  For me, those distinctions are inspired by the difference between a mason and and a Mason.

            And I agree about disagreeing.  I would never suggest that others must follow my personal practices for capitalization.

    • Saraid says:

      I personally have prayed to the Goddess to help me thru a tough time and I felt as if I was being hugged tightly, it was a warm loving feeling, and one that I can say that I never felt when I was Christian and praying to God or Jesus. We do have our prayers answered and we do feel love from our divine

    • Ian Phanes says:

      Incidentally, I have never heard a pagan person say that any of their
      “nature spirits” or “gods” gave them love, peace and joy and answered
      any of their prayers… just sayin’!!!

      Hm…It appears that you haven’t been listening to pagans much.  When we talk about our experiences with the holy powers, we do talk about those things.  Of course, we also talk about our holy powers giving us challenges to grow, calling to ministry, and comfort in sorrow.

    • kenneth says:

      “(Incidentally, I have never heard a pagan person say that any of their “nature spirits” or “gods” gave them love, peace and joy and answered any of their prayers… just sayin’!!!) “…………
      Then you’ve never talked to a real pagan……

  5. Honey Hill says:

    all religion is a pox on the planet. they all promote separation, no matter what they say. it is a fact. religion divides by it’s very existence.

    • Teo Bishop says:

      Hi Honey – thanks for contributing to the conversation.

      I think your comment may be somewhat of an oversimplification, and perhaps too subjective to be considered a “fact”. While I agree that *some* religions are designed to create division, and do so quite effectively, I wouldn’t paint all with that broad a brush stroke.

      Did you come to this perspective after being involved in religious groups, or is this just a conclusion you reached though some sort of independent study into the world’s religions?

  6. …. You are a wonderful and wise soul. Gods all bless you in all that you do.

    I think you might want to read this: http://alicornaskysong.deviantart.com/gallery/29771629#/d37l1pf

  7. […] A Pagan's Christmas Message 0 Posted by on November 30, 2011 at 2:53 am var addthis_product = 'wpp-262'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":false,"data_track_addressbar":false};if (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}A Pagan's Christmas Message I'm in Nashville, home of the Christian Contemporary Music Industry, home of LifeWay Christian Stores, and home of the Southern Baptist Convention. This week, in a kind of radical re-immersion into Christian culture, I'm going to spread the message … Read more on Patheos (blog) […]

  8. Sophia Catherine says:

    I have been thinking of Christianity as my karma for a while now. Can’t quite believe that someone else gets it. Thank you! (I’d wish you happy Yule, but it’s a bit early. Unlike with Christmas. 😀 )

  9. Robin says:

    Blessed Be!

  10. Gavin Andrew says:

    As I point out in my soon-to-be-published book “Paganism and Christianity – A Resource for Wiccans, Witches and Pagans’, (please excuse the shameless plug, but it is right on-topic, I feel) there’s some common ground between Christianity and Paganism, if we’re willing to look. Like the two trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Eternal Life and the Tree of Knowledge, our commingled roots lie in the human need to experience the Sacred.

    The problem comes when the Sacred is substituted for idols: the political power sought by Dominionist Christians, the obscene spectacle of televangelists and mega-churches extracting millions of dollars from struggling congregations, the triumph of literalism and doctrine over compassion, the violence inherent in religious fundamentalism. These are the new golden calves.

    The core message of Jesus of Nazareth (if he existed and was not a historically composite figure) was one that no Pagan should take issue with – that the Kingdom of Heaven, the Sacred, might be a tiny, humble thing compared to the affairs of this world, as small as a mustard seed (see Mark Ch4)… but it can also grow wild like a weed, unruly, capable of springing up like a green shoot in the most unexpected of places.

  11. Ian Phanes says:

    Truly, truly, “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

  12. Kilmrnock says:

    Sorry Teo , think i misunderstood your motivation , and your inner conflict . My personal thing is i’m Pagan your Christian , although i don’t follow your path, or completly understand it , that doesn’t mean i deny your gods existance ………..it just doesn’t work for me . If it works for you , have at it .Even back in the day when i was raised Christian there were things about the beliefs i couldn’t reconcile . So as soon as i became an adult i was agnostic , bordering on athiest. After a near death experience and alot of soul searching i found Celtic Paganism , Druidryand Sinnsreachd.This is now my home , fits my ethnic Gael/Celtic heart and mindset.I have no inner conflicts or baggage to deal with any longer. I have found my spiritual home , where i belong .I  am completly comfortable being a Celtic Pagan. At 56 years old and alot of pain, tears , the typical crap that is part of a long strange journey am completly comfortable in my own skin and with what i have become / who i am.Again sorry i misunderstood your motivation for this piece. Just wanted to let you know where i’m coming from .    Kilm  

  13. Kilmrnock says:

    And also i only us xtian for shorthand when talking to other Pagans . i had  no intent of dishonoring anyone , just as  we use xmas for Christmas .Was simply used as an abbreviation

  14. Anonymous says:

    I think that the idea of singing carols is a great idea – my family does when we gather for the holidays.  To me, it is more about connecting to each other and our shared past than a religious meaning (though I do favor the more non-denominational/winter songs than the religious ones, but that’s just a matter of taste).

    Then again, our typical winter holiday starts with lighting the menorah at sundown, having latkes (fried potato pancakes with carrots and turnips) as an appetizer for Christmas dinner, then the Yule log (bonfire), presents in front of the tree, and then watching the Muppets 🙂

    Teo wrote:
    “Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas, Jesus folk. The Sacred is as close to you as it is to me. Call on it, and welcome it into your hearts. Let it come to you through the melody of your favorite Christmas song, and inspire you to be a kinder, gentler, more compassionate human being.”

    And that, my friend, is what it is all about (not to be confused with the Hokey-Pokey).

  15. kenneth says:

    You’re a better man than I, Mr. Bishop! My inclination is to send them a tersely worded letter on attorney’s stationery demanding they cease and desist from blatant copyright and trademark infringement for misrepresenting a Pagan holiday as a Christian one! 

    Then again, some of that might be seasonal surliness from lack of sunlight, and I usually just let it ride and wish everybody a happy holiday in whatever form they mark it. 

  16. Long & Winding Road says:

    Reading all of this somehow has made me want to cry. I am not sure why. My spiritual journey has been a long and winding road and I still see no end to it…I guess I am baffled by the “certainty” of some beliefs. Perhaps that is the impitus for the desire to shed tears. I am still so uncertain about the Mystery before me. So many different beliefs and opinions and for me on any given day what fills my heart & soul is in flux..ever evolving and changing.. sometimes nothing “certain” to hang on to.  ♥

  17. Lotus WolfSpirit says:

    I enjoyed reading this post (another reason to love Pagan News Now) and while I don’t tend to enjoy delving myself into Christian practices, I don’t mind if I’m singing songs this time of year that are predominantly Christian and reference to Christmas. I grew up being taught about Christmas and have been raised in the south where I have to hide who and what I am around family members, else be looked at oddly and shunned. I don’t appreciate that fact, but I’d rather not cause more arguments in my family than there already are.

    I still like watching old movies from the ’90s and late ’80s. Just vecause I’ve been Pagan for the last 8 years doesn’t mean I have to forget all traditions and shun others.

    Replying to others’ post on the quotations around certain words and not understanding how someone true to their religion at one point convert to another, I’ve seen that happen often. I believe we should strive to find that which makes us comfortable in our own skin, the religion or faith or in some cases, the lack thereof. I was raised Christian and in a Christian family as stated above for the first 10 years of my life but then I started thinking for myself and learning that Christianity isn’t the only thing out there that can be believed in. I never felt comfortable praying to a God that I had no particular feeling of attachment to. I discovered Paganism and I’ve never felt more at ease or more at home than when sitting and meditating in a circle, surrounded by energy and calm.

    As someone else also stated, I too, have felt a warm energy and endless love when asking my Lord and Lady to guide me and show me the way I’m supposed to be heading. I get the same feeling when I stand outside at night and gaze at the moon, feeling her radiance shining down on me. I don’t ask them to solve my problems for me or make everything go away. I am responsible for my own actions.

    Thank you Teo for this wonderful post.

  18. Jimbaker87 says:

    You are completely insane.

  19. Anonymous says:

    My first semester in college I took third-year German. Beast of a class: we spoke only German, and the instructor demanded participation. ACTIVE participation. One day we all came in ill-prepared, and he threw us out of class. After telling us that if it ever happened again, he would fail every last one of us and cancel the class. I worked my butt off, and loved every minute of it.

    The language faculty was always putting together events for the undergraduates. I remember fondly the weekly Scrabble games (auf Deutsch, naturlich) in the campus Biergarten.

    Come Yuletide, they had a gathering at the home of one of the faculty members. It was a long time ago: I don’t recall if there was a dinner involved, but there was mulled wine, and I do remember The Tradition.

    They lowered the lights until only candles remained. The professor whose home we were in brought out The Book — nothing like a Gutenberg, of course, but when it came out, it had all the weight and history of the Lutheran Reformation pressed between its covers: that first printing of the Holy Book in the common tongue for the common people. By candlelight, and half by memory, the professor began to read the familiar Christmas Story. Mary. Joseph. The stable. The star and the Magi.

    All in German, of course. Not modern school-German, street-German. Understanding those damned instruction tapes and their stories about Werner and Heidi and their accident on the Autobahn was hard enough in the language lab. But this was the Old High German — not intended to instruct beginning students, but written as Art, to the glory of God. Impossible to understand, especially after the wine. I could at best catch a word here or there.

    So it wasn’t the story, the theology, or even the history. It was the sense of being part of something passed down through time. The deep early night of winter solstice; the fierce, biting cold of winter at 7,000 feet in Laramie, Wyoming; the warmth of sweetened wine in my belly as it crept pleasantly outward to my fingertips; the flickering candlelight; the sharp tang of the Yule tree; the silent, packed-together, rapt circle of students and faculty alike as the voice of the Ancient filled the room, speaking the Old Words of Magick in some near-forgotten tongue. Telling the Old Story.

    Paganism does not yet have this to offer. It is still too self-conscious of its own role in creating the myths and the stories. Or uncovering, translating, and reconstructing them. Sacred theatre is often too much theatre and not quite enough sacred. 

    I have no idea what went through the minds of all those faculty members who had gone through this same reading for years. Did they sit and count Christmas tree ornaments? Contemplate an affair with the department secretary? Was it boring old hat to them?

    I will never know. I do know that they crafted magic that night for all us youngsters, and gave us an indelible and beautiful Christmas memory.