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I’m overwhelmed with thoughts of Jesus.

Jesus and God and Christianity and the Lord’s Prayer and compassion and forgiveness and hope and judgement and freedom from judgement and all of the things which made (and make) me feel connected to the Sacred.

I don’t know what to do with all of this.

andormix _ Jesus

It started when I saw a woman sitting on the sidewalk next to her shopping cart. She was filthy and small, and she looked deeply tired. Bringing her food I asked,

“How are you?”

She looked up at me, a bit surprised at having been spoken to or asked after. She thought for a moment.

“I’m recovering,” she said somberly.

My heart broke a little. It wasn’t the response I expected. It was so vulnerable, and honest. Her statement felt unfathomably large, as though she was recovering from all of the things that had ever been done to her.

She seemed grateful for the attention, and for the food.

“God bless you,” she said, sincerely.

My heart broke some more.

I headed off, feeling heavier in my boots.

Further down the path, I heard the call of a crow. I looked up and saw it sitting on top of a telephone pole. I thought of the Morrigan.

Remember me.

I felt a bit jarred. The crow seemed to take notice, and then began to fly.

I walked in the direction of the crow, uncertain. Walking in the other direction on the opposite side of the street was a man holding a book under his arm. There was a yarmulka on his head. He looked at me, probing. Are you a part of my tribe? I looked similar to many of the Orthodox men walking through the neighborhood, but not an exact match. Close, but not close enough.

The words sink a little deeper.

Am I a part of his tribe?

There is this dialogue running in me that keeps returning to the religion of my youth and young adulthood; to the man who was the subject of so many of my conversations. There is also my Paganism, built and cultivated over the past four or five years. It is young and lacking the same kind of deep root system I developed in my Christianity, but it is still a part of me now.

My Druidic studies are calling me to look at the world as an enchanted, alive, vibrant and magical place. There’s a shortage of that perspective these days. Meditating on these ideas brings me peace. But then I see someone who is broken, or damaged, or simply doing their best to not fall apart, and I think back to the lessons of compassion and kindness I learned in the Church. I feel compelled to love other people without reservation. I feel compelled to offer them respite. I feel compelled to feed them, to care for them, to treat them with dignity and respect.

These are the desires that rise up out of my memories of the Lord’s Prayer, or the stories of Jesus. These are the principles that I valued about my Christianity.

And I don’t know what to do with all of this reflection, or how to talk about it. I don’t think I’m becoming a hard-core or born again Christian, or even a Christo-Pagan. But there is a softening inside of me that feels directly connected to Jesus and to the language of mystical and contemplative Christianity.

Just the other day, after a similar encounter with an old woman on the street in Portland, I had the thought —

“I’m going to go ahead and believe in God.”

The thought came into my head before I could censor it.

A few days later I polished a Celtic cross that I’d picked up a few years back. It’s a replica of one I saw on pilgrimage in Ireland, the place where I first found Brighid. I hung the cross around my neck beside my Awen and acorn pendants. It’s still hanging there at this moment.

So there’s this softening to Jesus, and a confusion about what that means, and — in no small way — a concern about how this occurrence will be perceived by others.

Will Pagans see this as proof that I was never really one of them? Will Christians see this as proof that God is calling me back to the Church?

 

Photo by  Isaac Torrontera
Photo by Donna Higgins

Privilege, Photo by Donna Higgins

Yesterday I said, “Be nice.”  Perhaps encouraging nicety is not the right approach.

Perhaps to say “be nice” is too simplistic, and worse, reads very much like, “Hush now, your problems are not important,” or, “You are making me uncomfortable with your anger,” or “There really isn’t that much to be angry about, so can’t you just be a little more polite?”

“Nice” comes with baggage.

Kindness and compassion may be more appropriate, but there is still a problem. Encouraging anyone, especially people whose lives I don’t really understand, to be anything other than what they’re already being, even if what I’m encouraging is a little more kindness and compassion, places me in a strange position of authority. (To be clear, it isn’t that I feel I am in authority in any way, it’s just that making those statements reads very much like an authority figure trying to control the emotional reactions of a group.)

No, I don’t see myself as an authority figure at all.

I write this blog, and have for over two years. I post my thoughts and opinions, and I’ve fostered a vibrant readership. But, I’m not an authority on much of anything. I ask a lot of questions. I get stuff wrong. I’m completely fallible, and I’m not ashamed to say it.

But yesterday, as I wrote about this idea that being nice would help us in our online communications, I also stepped into a conversation that I felt unprepared for. That conversation is one about privilege, particularly my privilege.

Privilege: The Other “P” Word

I say that I was unprepared, because I didn’t see encouraging kindness (or niceness, which I was conflating a bit with kindness) as an exercise of privilege. I wasn’t seeking to strengthen the Pagan side of the Pagan/polytheist divide by weakening or stifling the polytheist’s voice through the imposition of niceness. But, it was kind of read that way.

I learned that my privilege (or at least, my assumed privilege — some of the accusations made about my privilege were inaccurate) was sprinkled all over my post, and it seems it has been present throughout many posts on my blog. My first reaction to this information was a kind of shutting down. Being called on privilege, whether that call is warranted or not, feels a little like a silencing. In effect,

You’re speaking from a place of privilege. You don’t really know what you’re talking about. You’re off base, out of line, misinformed.

BOOM -> Silence.

No one said these things to me directly, but they could have. I’ve been silenced before, and being called on my privilege had a similar feeling.

And, to be honest, I’m not sure I can argue about having privilege. I can clarify about the assumptions that are made about me (that I’m not 100% white, that my marriage is gay, that I’m not currently “financially secure”), but I can’t dismiss the fact that, upon closer inspection, I do have privilege.

My own paganism, after all, is Eurocentric. It’s what I’ve gravitated towards, and what (at this time) feels natural to me. But how does that Eurocentrism place me in a position of privilege, especially within a community which, itself, is not privileged?

I could evaluate my life, look at it from a distance, and see where the privilege lies. I probably should. We all probably should. We all have unexamined privilege, I imagine.

But me looking at my own privilege seems different somehow than a person who doesn’t know all of my life pointing out my perceived privilege. Is the act of calling a person on their privilege itself an act of privilege, I wonder?

I’m writing this, as always, from a position of non-expert. I don’t know the answer these questions, nor do I understand clearly how privilege plays into every aspect of my religious life or my social and cultural interactions. With that said, I’m open to learning. It’s no one’s responsibility to teach me (even if they feel compelled to do so), but I think it’s my responsibility to learn.

My hope would be that in this process of coming to better understand of what privilege is and how privilege may be informing my thoughts, opinions, and perspectives, that there is also something to be learned about what to do when you recognize privilege in yourself or in others.

If we are all privileged in some way or other (and, if you’re reading this post on a computer screen — one that you own — you are probably more privileged than some), than what do we do with that information?

What do we do when we recognize a certain privilege in ourselves or others? How do we avoid silencing one another, or feeling silenced ourselves?

I had occasion to speak to a very nice, young man last week about online etiquette. For me, what it boils down to is this:

Be nice.

It may seem simplistic, or perhaps reductive to some. But, I think it’s a good rule.

Two Kids Smiling

Photo by Toni Verdú Carbó

Be nice when you talk to people, whether you know them or not, and your conversation (or, at least your side of the conversation) will remain civil.

Civility, I’m finding, is a scarce resource in our online discourse.

Last week was heated. It seemed like every day brought with it another blog post about identity, and accompanying that post was a slew of polarized viewpoints. I read threads and noticed that people were not really listening to each other. People were regurgitating the same ideas, the same frustrations, and sometimes the same lines of snark.

The discussion about what “Pagan” is and who it includes was sounding a lot like the makings of a Pro-Pagan/Anti-Pagan platform.

I think we’re better than that, to be honest.

The problem arises, in part, due to the medium. Our method of communication and connectivity does not encourage a paced, patient way of dialoguing. Everything happens so fast on these blogs. We scan, we find the sentence that we take issue with, and our fingers race to compose a witty comment, a more informed perspective.

It takes no time to bark, it would seem.

Barking kid

Photo by Mindaugas Danys

We’re not assisted by facial expressions and body language cues in our online communication. We have no context for the people we argue with, and yet for some reason we still feel justified to argue. We walk blindly into conversations and state what we know, sometimes doing so without any consideration for how we’re saying it, who we’re saying it to, and what the ramifications are of our tone.

We’re not nice to each other, a lot of the time.

My husband asked me over the weekend if Pagans (and I think he may have included non-Pagan identifying polytheists into his use of that term) have some sort of ethic around kindness, and of treating each other well. It was an interesting question, and I was surprised to find that I didn’t have a ready answer.

The Wiccans do, I suppose. Harm none, right? But that’s so broad, and harm is so difficult to detect in our online conversations. We sometimes don’t know if our online speech is harmful, because what we’re doing is less like speaking and more like posting fliers onto a bulletin board. Someones posts one, and we post another on top of that, and then the next and the next. (Also, I think some people reject Wiccan wisdom simply because it’s Wiccan, just as some avoid any Abrahamic wisdom on a similar principle. Both miss out on a great deal of wisdom, I think.)

But his question, “Do we have an ethic around being kind to one another?” I didn’t — I don’t — know how to answer that.

I know that some people feel bullied right now. People on both sides of the discussion. Some feel bullied to assume a word that they don’t feel applies to them, and others feel bullied because they perceive themselves to be misrepresented. The point I’m making is not that either one is right or wrong, but rather that their sense of being bullied points to a problem in the way we’re communicating with one another.

When I spoke to my young friend about online communication, I gave him the following tips (which I’m expanding upon here):

  • If you are uncertain about your tone, read your comment out loud. Speak it slowly, and see if what you’re saying is something you’d say to a stranger, or a person you wish to be kind to. The post will still be there in five minutes. It can wait for you.
  • If you find yourself reacting in anger to a comment, wait to respond. Take a step back, and ask yourself if your emotional response is pointing to something unresolved in you. The person who wrote the comment may not even know you, and may not have been trying to offend you. Your emotional reaction is a tool that you can use to better understand yourself.
  • While you wait, take inventory of yourself; physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Ask yourself if you’re being true to your values and ethics, and look to see if what you’re sharing with the world is helping to build others up, or tear them down. When in doubt, do a meditation, a brief devotional or ritual, or simply shut your computer for a few minutes.
  • Default to nice. It’s a better place to begin. You can always walk away from an online conversation that’s becoming disrespectful. You can always take the higher ground.

We need not rush to make our point after every heated post. We need not be a people who speak without listening. We need not feel so threatened by one another. We can be nice, and disagree. We can be nice, and hold space for others who do not identify as we do. We can be nice, and in doing so we may discover that the practice of kindness actually helps to facilitate a deeper understanding between people.

I don’t know if we, historically, share an ethic around kindness, but I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t put one into place now.

Be nice. It feels good, for everyone.

Grinning Girl

Photo by Meena Kadri

I’m having a hard time with compassion.

So far, I’ve developed a daily ritual at my altar, I’ve reconciled (for the time being) my differences with my Christianity, I’m working to hold the tension between my Druid Revival leanings and my ADF approach, and all of that feels good. I feel like I’m developing a balanced, sincere, honorable religious practice.

And yet, I’m uncertain about compassion.

By saying that I’m uncertain about compassion I don’t mean to imply that I don’t feel compassion, or that I’m uncertain of how to show compassion. It’s more that I’m not sure how I incorporate compassion into my practice. This subject hasn’t come up much in my Pagan studies, and I’m not really sure why.

We Pagans and Polytheists concern ourselves a great deal with orthopraxy, or right action. We discussion belief from time to time, but mainly as it relates to what we do. In light of this, I think we are actually well suited to explore the subject of compassion.

Compassion, as I see it, is all about the doing. It is about right action in relationship to another person or living thing. Compassion speaks to a quality of interaction, and as I understand it, arises from a place of empathy. We act with compassion by seeking to understand, relate to, and care for another person, exactly where they are in that moment. In this way, compassion can be seen as a practice similar to a daily ritual at one’s altar, except that the opportunity to show compassion is present every time we connect with another person.

Compassion is not a solitary act; it is an act of communing.

Just before bed last night, I read a post by my colleague, Star Foster, in which she announced that she would be taking a brief hiatus from blogging. I also read a rather heated and uncomfortable debate between Star and her readership, followed by a flurry of posts about the exchange on Facebook. Everyone was worked up, and many were downright angry.

I’m not taking sides on the matter, because I don’t think that would be helpful. What I will say is that what is evident in the argument that unfolded around her original post, and the situation that Star describes in her Sabbatical post are indications that we are in dire need to have a discussion about compassion and what it means in our interactions with one another.

The internet, by and large, has not proven to be a haven for compassion. We all know this. We engage in social networks from a place of relative isolation, and in the process we practice a kind of inauthentic, calculated transparency. Our profile pics are not our genuine faces, and our text-voice is not our voice-voice. When we communicate online, we are interacting with something that only resembles a part of a complete person. I wonder if in recognizing this fact we give ourselves permission to be meaner than we would if a person was sitting across from us. Perhaps compassion feels multidimensional, whereas the internet presents us all as two-dimensional characters. I don’t know.

But I do know that I was upset by the intensity and insensitivity of the language that followed Star’s posts. I like Star, with all of her feistiness. I also know and like many of the people who responded to her, and I trust that they are equally as capable of compassion as she is.

In thinking about this, I had to acknowledge my own inability to convey and express compassion. My first draft of this post was quite righteous, and I’m afraid was devoid of any compassion whatsoever. Ironic, no? In my own quest to call out others for their lack of compassion, I experienced a lack of compassion. Why would that be so?

I have many questions. I would like to know if compassion could be a guiding principle in our interaction with one another, and if we might allow it to come more to the forefront of our minds. When we find ourselves being caddy with one another, or hateful, or when we use our language to shut one another down in conversation, I wonder if we might take a moment to ask ourselves if there is a more compassionate way of acting.

I could be the most pious, most devout, most respected person in the world (or at least, in my corner of the blogosphere), but if I don’t practice compassion with the people I come into contact with what is my piety worth? Perhaps it’s worth something to the Gods I worship, but I’m not living in a world populated exclusively by my Gods. Everybody else is here too, and you are all deserving of my compassion.

I would like to see compassion become a point of discussion in our community. I would like to see us discuss with a calm, self-reflective, gentle voice how we can be more compassionate with one another. I could imagine us searching through our histories, both mythological and ordinary, for examples of compassion-in-action, and holding up those mythological and historical figures who exemplify compassion as being worthy of special recognition.

And, I’d like us to think of compassion as an act of magick, as though our clear, concise choice to use our faculties and will to respond to our fellow human being with care and kindness is mystical in nature.

Could we conceive of compassion as a magickal practice?

If we are a people concerned with religious orthopraxy – right action in relation to the Gods – what would happen if we began to think of compassion for one another as a king of social orthopraxy – right action in relationship to one another? How might that change things?

What are your thoughts on compassion?