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 Divine” is 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.