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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?

Top of the week to you!

BW Teo Bishop square

This week is starting off with a whole bunch of Internet happenings.

First, it seems that my RSS Email subscribers haven’t been receiving my blog posts since mid-December. Sorry everyone.

Here’s what you missed:

Star says goodbye to “Pagan”

Star Foster

Star Foster

Star Foster is no longer identifying as Pagan.

For some, this news may hold little relevance. People identify as they choose, right? But Star has held a rather prominent position in the Pagan media, and she’s done a lot to champion the voices of many Pagan writers (including myself). She’s done much to initiate conversation (sometimes heated) within the Pagan community, and she’s continuing that tradition with this announcement.

I posted a link to Star’s coming out on Facebook, and now there is a HUGE discussion going on around the post. I encourage you to pop over and read through the comments and respond there. I would summarize them here, but as of writing this post there are nearly 100 comments. It’s tremendous.

The timing of Star’s announcement, and the subsequent dialogue popping up on my FB post, is rather interesting. Heather Greene has posted the first in a two-part series on The Wild Hunt about “Pagan solidarity,” asking whether or not Pagans can support one another as a community, and if it is important to be a united body. In her second post she’ll be unpacking whether or not this kind of unity leads to religious institutionalism.

I wonder if the idea of “Pagan solidarity” is even approachable if the identity of “Pagan” is becoming less tenable. I may blog about this in the coming days on The Wild Hunt, but first I’d like to see how this conversation continues to evolve.

The Solitary Druid Fellowship, and Devotionals

SDF Square LogoLastly, the work at the Solitary Druid Fellowship is going splendidly. The first High Day ritual was a great success, with about 450 people receiving the first SDF liturgy, and many joining in a dialogue about their experiences.

You can read about people’s experiences with the liturgy, and see the group interpretations of the SDF omen in our crowd-sourced Google doc.

There is also a new service provided by SDF — daily devotionals. The first morning devotional was published over the weekend, and more are coming soon. One solitary participant in SDF has already used the devotional and written about it on her blog.

I’m happy to see that people are using this shared liturgical practice to enrich their personal religious lives!

That’s all for today. Happy reading, everyone!

It is an exciting day in the world of Druidry and Pagandom!

(For me, at least.)

I’m happy to announce that the Solitary Druid Fellowship has launched!

The Solitary Druid Fellowship, an extension of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) is live and running at SolitaryDruid.org.

This has been a labor of love, and would not have been possible without the support the ADF leadership, the contributors to SDF, and the encouragement of the community of solitary Pagans and Druids I’ve come to know online. Thank you for your support!

In case you missed my first post about the Solitary Druid Fellowship, let me give you a little rundown on what it’s all about:

Rather than work to organize solitary Druids and Pagans into groups, or to use online technology to create a digital “hangout space,” or “virtual community,” the Solitary Druid Fellowship works from the idea that solitude is a good thing. Solitude, as you may have seen on the SDF Twitter page, is the staging ground for real, meaningful change. Solitude isn’t always an easy state of being, but there are certain things that can occur when one is alone, centered, settled into their personal practice, that are of tremendous value.

So, rather than try to simulate on-the-ground, group activity using online technology, the Solitary Druid Fellowship seeks to use online technology to enrich and strengthen one’s solitary practice, wherever they find themself.

The Fellowship begins with the premise that solitude is good.

As I wrote before:

Liturgy is an underutilized tool in the service to solitaries. Liturgy, when organized around and synchronized with the Wheel of the Year, is a way of uniting solitaries in a shared practice that does not simply mirror the experience that one can have in a Protogrove or Grove; it does something altogether different. Solitaries joining other solitaries in a shared liturgical practice makes possible a transcendental experience of congregation.By aligning with the Neopagan calendar, the series of holidays that ADF recognizes (and that most Pagans celebrate under one name or another) we will join one another through the use of a shared liturgy as a means of bringing people into rhythm with one another.

It’s all about the rhythm.

And it’s going to be a long-game kind of project. The Solitary Druid Fellowship’s website is up, and there is plenty to read and see, plenty to contemplate, but this is just the beginning. This barely scratches the surface of what’s to come.

As we move towards the Winter Solstice, SDF will release its first official liturgy. Anyone who comes to the site can get it, and everyone is welcome to use it. (Follow the Fellowship’s RSS feed so that you won’t miss it.)

After the Solstice, we’ll do a little reflection on what it was like to use the shared liturgy. We’ll talk about what felt familiar, what was new, where there were challenging moments, and most importantly, we’ll talk about what was relevant about the experience.

That’s got to be central to moving forward with the Fellowship. I’m going on a hunch that this will be relevant to a lot of people, and based on the initial response I think that my intuition is pointing us in the right direction. But as we go along, and as we begin to get more integrated into the shared practice, the shared rhythm of the SDF liturgies, we will uncover things about ourselves and about this process that none of us could anticipate.

It’s exciting, and a little scary.

This has been a long time coming. The idea first came after the ADF festival, Eight Winds (which I wrote about here), and it’s been slowly working its way into being ever since.

I have to admit, I’m a little nervous. When something lives for so long in a state of potential, it becomes difficult to conceive that it will actually be alive in the world. I’ll never be so fortunate as to carry a child, so my creative work sometimes substitues as a way for me to think about things like creation, potential, gestation… labor.

It pails in comparison to a flesh and blood birth, but it’s what I’ve got to work with.

The birth and new life of the Solitary Druid Fellowship is, for me, a commitment to living out the Wheel of the Year from day to day, week to week. It’s about placing my Paganism–my Druidry–at the center of my life, and doing so not only as a means of deepening my own spiritual practice, but as an act of service.

[Exciting.]

[Scary.]

But I go boldly forward — as boldly as I can muster. I launch SolitaryDruid.org, and invite the world to dig into the pages, to sign up for the SDF Newsletter, to follow the blog (which has 3 posts on it now — one by Rev. Michael J. Dangler — with more in the works). I invite people to be open, to be imaginative, and to be willing to embrace something new.

Join me, as we create congregation in solitude.

My inbox over Thanksgiving weekend was flooded with talk of — you guessed it — blood sacrifices.

The debate raged over whether making blood sacrifices, a practice strongly rejected by my tradition, ADF, is worth consideration. After all (the argument goes), the ancients did it. Plus, there’s a case being made for the awareness of a meat-eater’s own bloody relationship with food. If we can eat it, should we not be able to kill it? And if we kill it, should there not be some acknowledgment of the Kindred in the form of a ritual blessing and offering?

Some might, I imagine, like to see some sort of Druidic Kosher or Pagan Halal put into place. Others, understandably, are concerned that any time a Pagan gets blood on their hands — literally — the crazies come out with their pitch forks chanting “Satanist!! Satanist!!”

Even just talking about blood sacrifices is messy.

(This man was not harmed in the taking of this sardonic photo.)

The timing of this sanguine debate lines up with a different conversation, one that was concerned not with literal blood and tissue but rather with the metaphorical heart and all of its messiness. This was what I planned to write about today. I was even going to call it, Sacrificing the Heart: A New Pagan Tradition. 

My idea was that we need to examine our own hearts, and perhaps allow them to be offered up — to one another, to whatever we think the Gods are — in order to know better what our raw materials for religious practice are made of. We produce those raw materials, after all. Shouldn’t we take a closer look at what we’re working with? Shouldn’t we seek to know our own heart?

This leads to more interesting questions. What is the heart, anyway? Is it the seat of the soul? The center of our energetic body? The location of our inner-knowing? Is the heart the author of our UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis), or is it the translator?

All this and more came from the idea of offering one’s own heart as a sacrifice. The richness of the discussion that (I think) could be born out of a talk of sacrificing one’s own heart is made possible by the fact that we aren’t talking about literally cutting out one’s heart and laying it on an altar. We’re talking in metaphor, and using metaphor as a way of becoming aware of a deeper meaning.

“Offering” by Katherine Harper (CC)

I’m reminded of conversations that took place years ago in the adult forum of my former Christian church. It was asked whether the Bible was laying out for parishioners an instruction manual for living (a “How-To” book, basically), or if it was intended to be used as a tool for unlocking the inner mysteries.

Some believed, as many Christians do, that the Bible was instructive and prescriptive. These were the folks that favored the legalistic books, the ones that spelled out clearly what was allowed and what was not.

Others favored the mystic writings of John or the poetic book of the Psalms, because these works were steeped in metaphor and clearly intended to evoke something in the heart.

The legalists believed that their actions would, in some way, bring either God’s favor or his wrath. The mystics, on the other hand, relished in the idea that God was the greatest mystery of all, and that seeking to appease him with “right action” did more to make a deity into a human than anything else.

I wonder if something similar is happening here.

Is the talk about literal blood sacrifice too one-dimensional? Is it without the rich, layered meaning of a metaphorical sacrifice of the heart? Or, is there something to the argument that Pagans need to make our religions more visceral?

Do we believe that the Gods want blood in order to be in relationship with us? Do we think they want the full engagement of our heart? Perhaps they want from nothing from us at all, and we are simply projecting our idea of “wanting” onto our idea of deity.

How do you sort through the messiness of sacrifice?

I went to a Unitarian Universalist church this past weekend.

After several weeks of intense blogging I felt exhausted, emotionally. With all of the new traffic to BITG, there has been a wave of new readers who have no context for why I write or who I am. Without context, without a sense of where I’ve come from, my posts can look rather different from how I intend them to. I’ve felt misread, misunderstood, mistaken for someone who wants to tell everybody how it is — or worse — how it should be.

There have been moments when this lack of context for me and for this blog led me to feel as thought I had no context for my own writing.

It’s been lonely.

So I sought out something different. After writing about why I left church, I went to church. Funny how that happens.

I didn’t go seeking Jesus, or even a return to Christianity. I went in search of peace, comfort, encouragement, and a little context.

Photo by Keddy Ann Outlaw, Flickr

I wasn’t raised a Unitarian Universalist, and much of the liturgy of this small church was foreign to me. I’m not sure everyone was on the same page about Jesus, as evidenced by the man beside me looked rather perturbed when the name showed up in the first African American spiritual.

But I don’t think that being on the same page, or at least thinking the same thing, was really the point. UU seems to acknowledge that one religious path, one way of thinking, may not satisfy every one’s spiritual needs.

It may not be polytheism, but at times it felt a little pagan.

Here’s what I loved about this UU service:

I sat and listened to three different people reflect on ethics, morals, and human character. They spoke about a commitment to caring for one another, and they did not sugar coat the challenges we face when trying to do that. They encouraged an entire congregation of people to be reflective. In fact, the whole service seemed to be geared toward inspiring stillness, contemplation, and reflection.

I sat there in a pew of lined up chairs beside old men, young women, couples, singles and children, and I was given something to think about.

I’ve missed that so much.

I wish that just once I could go to a CUUPS ritual, or an ADF Druid ritual, and someone would get up and speak. I wish they’d provide me with context. I wish they’d say — this is how all of this fits into my life, and this is something for you to reflect on as you stand in this circle, or sit before this altar. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at the leader of a ritual and wished that they would just start giving a sermon.

I could label this desire as evidence of my “unresolved issues” with Christianity, but I give myself more credit than that.

A sermon, in the tradition of my youth, was not a moment to drill in dogma or beat us over the head with the Bible. Sermons were the moment when the priest became human. They were the point in the service when everyone got to see the one person with all of the credentials, the titles, the experience, as being no less human than any of the rest of us. She demonstrated her humanity by telling us about her life, about her attempts at integrating the disparate parts of herself, and about how sometimes she succeeded, and other times not so much. She had the floor, and when we heard her our hearts softened.

If the sermon was effective, her life would be the launching point for greater reflection, and we would all walk away with something meaningful to consider.

I watched the leaders of the UU service do this same thing, and something stirred inside me.

There! There it is, I though. There’s that feeling.

Meister Eckhart, by Hartwig HKD

I got what I went there for. I got to feel like my humanity was acknowledged, like there were others who shared in my struggles. I felt understood, and not because I’d make the best argument. I felt understood because someone else in the room was willing to stand up and say —

I’m human, too.

That’s all the context I need.

I’m coming to terms with the truth about why I left the Church.

Just Before Leaving, by brokenview

It wasn’t that I had an experience of deity that fell outside of the Church’s teaching. That would come later.

My experience of God was always mysterious, never concrete. I was taught that one could, if centered and open, feel a presence that you might identify as God or as the Holy Spirit, but I didn’t trouble myself too much with whether what I was feeling was the Grand Daddy of Them All, or something else. I was content with seeking out a feeling of reverence.

I didn’t leave the Church because I suddenly stopped believing in a literal interpretation of the Gospels or the Bible. I never believed in literal interpretation. Contrary to popular belief, not all Christians are literalists, or even dogmatists. I knew a great many mystic-minded people in the Episcopal church, many of whom used the scriptures as a launching point for deep, inner-dialogue. It was all metaphor for me: the Gospel, the Eucharist, all the aspects of church life and ritual. It was all meant to be symbolic of an inner reality of harmony and oneness with the divine. Or at least, a striving toward that state.

I didn’t even part ways with the Church because I felt like Christianity was insufficient in providing one with the means to build a meaningful spiritual life, a more present engagement with the world. People take Christianity to town on account of its patriarchal nature, but I was a part of a tradition that was led by a woman who referred to Jesus as “Mother Christ.” Christ was beginning to be understood, by some, as the Goddess might be understood to some Pagans; a universal force which is both masculine and feminine, whole unto Itself and also capable of keeping each of us within the reach of Her divine love.

This was the Christianity I walked away from.

Admittedly, I did have problems with certain aspects of the Church before I left. I was uncomfortable with saying the creeds, for one. “We believe” is rarely a true statement, and I didn’t believe a lot of what was being said. I didn’t believe that Christianity was the One True Faith, nor did I believe in original sin. I didn’t believe in proselytizing, but neither did most of my fellow church-goers (another misconception is that all Christians are fired up to convert — this wasn’t my experience).

But these problems weren’t what ultimately drove me away from the Church.

I left the Church because of the bureaucracy.

Red Tape, by Julia Manzerova

I left the Church because I was tired of having the legitimacy and acceptability of my sexuality put to a vote. I could not tolerate any longer a conversation about how inclusive the Church should be, because the answer seemed ridiculously clear to me: radically inclusive. Even having that conversation allowed people to entertain the notion that there was an acceptable amount of exclusivity, and that never sat right with me.

I watched leaders within my own tradition manage their churches like businesses, like corporations, and I watched leaders in other traditions swindle and lie.

The people. The ignorance, the narrow-mindedness, the rigidity — that is what led me to leave the Church and consider other possibilities.

I wonder if a Pagan who is part of an established, well-organized tradition could find herself at a similar point of crisis.

Bureaucracy is bureaucracy. There are a number of Pagan churches — I’m a member of one — and many of these traditions have hierarchical leadership structures. Leaders are people, and people are fallible, and politics are a part of institutions. I’m not sure there’s any way around that.

But do our Pagan organizations, with their structured forms of leadership, their real and legitimate financial needs, their need to keep the institution alive/functional/growing/ordered, run the risk of becoming like what the Church became for me?

I ask these questions not to hold up the evils of Christianity against the virtues of Paganism — that is not the discussion I’m hoping to have here. What I’m wondering about is the nuts and bolts of religious community, of Pagan religious communities.

Can they exists without becoming centered around power-dynamics? Do not the matriarchal traditions also deal with struggle for power?

Can Pagan churches fail in the same way that Christian churches do, in that they become so focussed on keeping order, upholding what is safe, resisting the transgressive even when the transgressive element may embody some central teaching or central truth about the tradition?

How does Paganism reconcile Pagan bureaucracy?

If you missed yesterday’s HuffPost Live Paganism roundtable with me, Amy Blackthorn, Gus DiZerega, Morgan Copeland and Patrick McCollum, you can watch it here:

We covered a fair bit of ground in the brief time we had allotted, and it was an honor to be seated beside (digitally speaking) so many interesting thought-leaders and organizers from the Pagan community.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the experience for me was what happened after the Google Hangout ended. The panelists stayed on the call and talked for a good 30 minutes more, sharing perspectives about a whole variety of topics. We re-addressed some of what happened while we were on the air, and there are a few things that stuck out that I’d like to get your take on.

First, Gus DiZerega says in the conversation:

“If Christians emphasize salvation, and Buddhists emphasize enlightenment, we emphasize harmony…That means harmony with one another, and harmony with the earth.”

Does that ring true to you?

 

It came up that Amy Blackthorn has been a Pagan since she was a kid. This led to an interesting conversation about whether or not children are self-aware enough to choose a religion. I suggested that Paganism might have something uniquely valuable to offer young people, mainly the emphasis on self-awareness and self-direction. To me, it seems that these qualities are very healthy for a kid, and one might add to that list the emphasis on family and community.

Do you see other ways that Paganism is inherently good for kids?

 

Lastly, are we “earth-based” anymore? It came up in response to Gus’s later statements about the political landscape that there are a wide-variety of Pagans, many of whom no longer identify as “earth-based.” This struck a chord with some people, and I’ve already received some feedback on Facebook which voiced appreciation for pointing out that some Pagans are more centered around deity.

I think this one is worthy of a little unpacking. Do a little research, and you’ll see that the roots of the Neopagan movement were very much in the dirt, if you will. Earth-centered, or at the very least earth-aware spirituality has, up until fairly recently, been synonymous with Paganism. How exactly did we get to a place where someone could consider themselves a Pagan and not be “earth-based?”

I think about Isaac Bonewits, the founder of ADF, who said that he believes that all Neopagans, especially those who identify as Druids in some way, should be environmentalists first and foremost. He believed that we should be on the forefront of the environmental movement.

Not all Pagans think that now, and I’m not exactly sure why.

As I said yesterday I’m not an expert on Paganism, I just play one on the internet. I believe that there are many voices that deserve to be heard, and now’s your chance to pick up where we left off on HuffPost Live.

The floor is yours!

I’m not an expert on Paganism.

Photo by Matt Grimm, Flickr

If you’ve spent any time here on Bishop In The Grove you’ll know that being an expert on Paganism wasn’t why I got into blogging.

I blog in order to be a better student.

I ask a lot of questions. I point out the things that are curious to me or that strike me as interesting, and I invite my readers to become my teachers. I call things into question because I believe that doing so allows me to be more present in my religious and spiritual life. I think it’s a healthy thing for a religious community, as well.

When I was in my early 20’s I was a member of an Episcopal church in Tennessee. Episcopalianism was the tradition I was raised in, and this church was one I came to after a long period of spiritual drought. It wasn’t long before I was an active member of the community, attending Sunday “adult forums,” and weekday prayer services (which I often led and attended alone).

A few years into my involvement with the community I was asked to help teach the Sunday school classes for the upper-grade high school kids. Their teacher had up and left, and they needed a replacement quickly.

I was a little hesitant at first. I hadn’t been raised in a house where the kids memorize bible verses, or that emphasized a strict adherence to some religious code of conduct. My parents were musicians, and my stepdad didn’t care much for God at all. But the dean of the Cathedral thought I’d be a good fit, that the kids would relate to me, and that I could communicate to them, as he might have said, the love of Christ.

On my first day of teaching I came into class, tattoos showing, and began a dialogue with them that would go on every Sunday for weeks, months; a dialogue that was not really concerned with the syllabus, or even with the Bible. I invited them into a dialogue that encouraged them to make inquiries of the most basic tenets of the faith. I asked them to think for themselves, to seek out their own connection with the divine, and to do so in the way that made the most sense to them.

I acknowledged their own authority in matters of the heart, the mind, and the spirit.

This is my ethic here on Bishop In The Grove as well. I have my opinions, my perspectives, and my preferences, as well as a whole host of experiences which inform my writing, but I don’t pretend to be an expert on all-things-Pagan any more than I pretended to be an expert on Christianity. I trust that you have insights, too, and that your insights are valuable.

I bring this story up today because I’ve been invited to be a part of a roundtable discussion about Paganism on HuffPost Live, which is described on their website as,

“A live-streaming network that uses the HuffPost universe — the stories, editors, reporters, bloggers, and community — as its real-time script.”

I’ll be joining Patrick McCollum, Amy Blackthorn and others today, Wednesday the 31st at 6PM EST (UPDATE: LINK TO SHOW ARCHIVE) to share our perspectives on and experiences with being Pagan for the general public. I’m honored to be invited, and — as I was before first stepping in front of that Sunday school class — a little hesitant to be seen as an authority.

I’m but one voice in a crowd of many.

Since this appearance will likely direct a lot of new readers to my blog, I thought it might be valuable to present them with a more rich, diverse explanation of Paganism than what one Pagan (me) might be able to do. I’d like, in classic BITG style, to open up the comment section of this post to you. I’d like for you to share a bit about what Paganism looks like from where you stand.

This is my way of extending the floor to a much larger group of Pagans, and this is your chance to provide someone who knows very little about Paganism with your own, personal testimony about what your religious or spiritual path means to you.

So…

Do you identify as a Pagan? If so, how do you live that out in your life? What do you believe? What do you practice?

If you don’t identify as a Pagan, perhaps choosing to be understood as a polytheist or to be known by your specific tradition, what does your tradition look like? What are the central principles which you live by?

The floor is yours, friends. Tell us a little about yourself.

This has been a challenging week.

My post on Monday transformed this blog into a dynamic, charged space. The reactions and responses to my account of the PPD ritual covered the whole spectrum of human emotion, and reading them took me on quite a ride.

Today, I’d like to simply offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who visited the blog this week, especially to those of you who were willing to share your perspectives and voice your concerns. Having dialogue around matters of religious identity — which is what we did by discussing the multiple meanings of a circle and the role of inclusivity in Pagan communities — can be challenging. It’s easy to project onto each others our own doubts, troubles, or insecurities. Sometimes we do it without realizing.

I know I’m capable of this.

Digital writing, and the community it creates, provides us each the platform to share our perspectives, but there’s a risk in doing that. You never know if someone’s going to pounce or praise, if your words will be understood in context or taken to mean something completely different. All of what you’ve presented about yourself in the past, which for me is a lot on this blog, can be used to better interpret your meaning or to point out a perceived flaw in your logic.

It can get really messy, really fast.

But I believe in taking the risk.

I believe (and I’m not to trying to get preachy here) that by sharing our understandings in a respectful, open way we each become agents of positive change in the community. By working to respect one another with our words, holding back the snark for just a moment, we foster a safe space for one another to question, to grow, to be shown a new way of thinking.

Perhaps it seems I’m being overly sensitive when I consider these things. But consider that our words, these little bits of text we casually throw onto the screen, are bite sized bits of magickal intent. If we are careless with them, harm can be done. If we’re careful, compassionate, and thoughtful, our words can initiate the most brilliant changes in the lives of others.

Words are that powerful.

This brings me back to the new feature on Bishop In The Grove: Letters.

Photo by Christine and David Schmitt, Flickr

I created Letters as a way of allowing my readership to direct the conversation of this blog. My approach to writing has always been to start with something personal, to reflect on what it means to me, and then to see if there’s a way to translate that personal experience for the greater community. Most of the time I offer up questions, because I don’t have all the answers. And, I trust in the idea of a collective wisdom.

I discovered this morning that the first Letters contact form was on the blog was broken, so if you’ve already sent a letter in I’m afraid I haven’t received it. I apologize for this, and I encourage you to re-send your letter.

If you have not yet participated in Letters, please consider visiting the page and sharing a bit about yourself. Your letter can be a testimony about an experience you’ve had, a question about Paganism that you’re having a hard time answering, or anything that you think would be appropriate for discussion in the “community forum” that arrises within the comment section of this blog. I promise I’ll do my best to present your letter in a respectful, kind, and considerate fashion.

I do hope to hear from you, and again — thank you to all who visit this site and bring it to life.

Bright blessings.

[P.S. Thanks for sharing these newly independent BITG posts on your social networks!]

One of the most valuable contributions to the conversation around my Pagan Pride Day post came from a single commenter, who I’ll leave unnamed. He joined the comment thread and my Pagan Pride Day post went meta, because he gave me cause to take a closer look at the function of this blog, and the challenge of inclusivity.

This dude took me to town, calling me names like “yuppie,” and insulting my intelligence (he said my post was “shit for thoughts”). He also suggested that I change my name, Bishop, to Nun because, “my skirts showing.” [sic]

My first reaction to reading the comment was a kind of clenching in my belly. I was reminded of being bullied in elementary school. It felt like that all over again. But then I remembered that I’m a grownup, and that this is my space. The feeling receded.

While I was re-living fourth-grade memories, another reader of BITG posted a comment. They came to my defense, which was nice in a way, but which also made it clear that I needed to say something to set the tone of how this would be handled.

So I wrote in response:

This is the first time you’ve commented here on Bishop In The Grove, which is a site intended to create a safe space for dialogue between people of many differing perspectives. I encourage a diversity of thought and opinion, and I’m sure you have insights worthy of discussion. I just wished that you could have found a different way to share your ideas here.

I am not going to address any of what you said, directly. Your comment was mean-spirited and unkind, and I have no investment in getting in an argument with you. I’m simply going to ask that if you wish to be a part of this conversation — one that matters to a lot of people — please do so with respect.

If you feel you cannot do that, you are welcome to point your browser in a different direction.

May you be blessed and at peace with whatever angers you.

Teo

This was my way of addressing a heckler. Lay out the parameters, explain how things normally work around here, and be done with it.

What I realize now is that I was explaining to the commenter that this blog — this space I’ve created online for dialogue — is like my own, personal circle. I’ve cast a circle here at Bishop In The Grove without realizing it, and he was sort of standing outside that circle, barking objections and slurs.

He’d become the lady outside the PPD ritual, and I’d become the same ritual leader I was so quick to subject to scrutiny.

Photo credit: thecheapershow.com

In that moment of realization, I felt deep empathy for the ritual leaders. When you’ve got someone criticizing your work — as you’re doing it — it hurts. It’s confusing. You don’t know how to respond, so you respond as best you can in the moment.

[A side note: Since I published my last post I’ve been in contact with the PPD ritual leader, and we had a really great conversation. There will be a follow-up post about our talk, perhaps even an interview of some kind, next week.]

I’m bringing this up today for a few reasons.

First, I don’t feel that villainizing the commenter is useful, any more that it is useful to make villains out of the hecklers at the PPD ritual. They may both be handling themselves in a way that feels disruptive, but underneath the meanness is a human being.

Second, you can’t control everything. The PPD ritual demonstrated that, as does this situation. You can try to keep a tight hold over your space – to close the circle, to shut down or kick out the source of disruption (which in this case might have been blocking a commenter) but then you rule out the possibility that the chaos they’ve generated brings with it some new insight. Disorder can lead to epiphany, sometimes.

Lastly, I feel this pull to be “radically inclusive,” but then I find myself questioning whether it is appropriate to allow someone to be disruptive and mean on my blog. You cannot be radically inclusive and cast someone out of your space, can you?

There is the real concern about what to do when you’ve created a sacred space — in the case of this blog, an open one — and a disruptive element comes in. Disruptive elements often bring lessons that either we are unwilling or unable to hear. Other times, they just seek to hurt us.

I don’t know this commenter any more than I knew the people outside of the PPD circle, and I don’t know his motivation. In a way he seemed frustrated that he wasn’t being understood, but it could have also had nothing to do with me. I could have been for him a symbol of the things he really dislikes about the Pagan community, just as the hecklers could have seen the Pagans as symbols of something bad or evil.

Make a man into a symbol, and it’s much easier to hate him.

I don’t want to hate this guy. It’d be easier to label him a “troll”, but that makes him into a symbol; something easy to dismiss.

This blog has evolved over the past couple of years to be a place where real dialogue can take place. My PPD post’s 100+ comments are evidence that people bring to this space a wide variety of perspectives and understandings. No one of us is the authority here, most especially me.

That said, this is my blog. This is the space I created. This is, in essence, my Civic Center Park ritual, and I’m standing on the inside of a circle trying to figure out what to do.

How do you acknowledge that a disruptive force is present, and do you cast them out? Do you ignore them?

As my good friend, Seth, asked when we spoke about this situation:

How do you take community ownership of the individual who isn’t taking ownership of the community?

The circle.

The circle is fundamental.

This simple shape, along with the square and the triangle, introduces our early minds to geometry, to symmetry, to physical and social design.

This past weekend I felt ashamed at Pagan Pride on account of a circle.

Photo by Katie Walker, Flickr

My body helped form the edge of a circle. My body stood next to other bodies — thirty perhaps — in the middle of one of the most public of spaces in all of Denver, Civic Center Park. This circle of bodies in the middle of my city, in the middle of a crowd of onlookers, did something I did not expect this circle to do.

It created an us and a them.

Casting circle before a crowd of people, some of whom were unsuspecting passers-by, and others virtually residents of the park, established a kind of religious exclusivity. It was as though we said, by joining hands and turning our backs to the crowd:

This is our circle. You are on the outside of this circle. We are doing our religious work on the inside.

The circle seemed to other the onlookers.

None of this was done explicitly. The leaders of the ritual, all good-hearted Pagans, did not inform the crowd that they were to remain outside, or that they were unwelcome in the ritual. They didn’t need to.

They’d invited us to come down for ritual, but the non-Pagans were not addressed. There was no clear explanation of what the ritual would be like, what might be expected of the participants, or — for those who weren’t familiar with Pagan (or more specifically, Wiccan/New Age-ish) rituals — what it would all mean.

The insiders were told that the ritual was going to raise power to bring us protection. The irony would be that this circle inspired the same antagonism and meanness from outside the circle from which the ritual was seeking to protect us.

There was heckling. It sounded like drunk heckling. Drunk, Christian heckling. And there were disruptions from a few men who, while we stood there in our circle, paced slowly around the perimeter. One asked for a cigarette. One stood outside the circle by about 5 feet and folded his arms across his chest.

The ritual leaders did not acknowledge any of this.

In response to the jeers and taunts, one ritual leader stood in solidarity inside the circle and began to talk to us about how protection was so important because there were people out there who didn’t understand us or respect us. It was as close to a “preaching” moment as you might find inside this kind of circle.

I heard her reassure us, and I thought,

But we just created an out there by casting this circle. We closed them off from us, shut them out, but only symbolically because they could see and hear all of what we were doing. Play it like we’re the victims, but we just created — through ritual — the same kind of alienation that we feel in relation to the greater society.

We just became The Church.

Photo by Mugley, Flickr

The rest of the ritual involved the distribution of smooth stones to each of us, stones which had been blessed and inscribed with a pentacle and the word, “protection.” These were our charms, we were told, to give us strength and to provide us protection as we leave the circle and go back into the world.

I found myself feeling so embarrassed. I kept looking down. I didn’t want protection from the people on the outside of the circle; I wanted to connect with them. To explain. To try to find some sort of understanding.

But it wasn’t my ritual.

To close, we imagined a ball of white light — the quintessential ball of white light — enveloping the circle, and then extending outward to include all of this place and all of the world. This imaginary light would attempt to do what we had not done with our physical bodies, which was to include all. In that moment our meditation, our magickal working, was an obvious self-deception; a willful ignorance of what was actually occurring in the space around us.

At least, that’s how it felt from where I was standing in the circle.

I don’t know about circles anymore. I don’t know if they’re appropriate to cast in these kinds of public settings. I doubt them in a way that I didn’t before Denver’s 2012 Pagan Pride.

I trust that many of you either cast circles, or have been in a ritual where one was cast. I wonder if you could shed some light on how you see them as useful, or how you find them to be problematic. Could you imagine other forms of ritual, ones that do not create a boundary between those on the outside and those within, that would feel appropriate at a Pagan gathering? Or, is this kind of “protective barrier” a necessity?

I felt ashamed at Pagan Pride because I was a part of something that felt, on account of the circle, incredibly exclusive. Could there be a more inclusive, perhaps even radically inclusive way of doing Pagan ritual in public?

Ever been to Austin? If you have, you’ll recognize the title of this post, Keep Paganism Weird, as a variation of the city’s popular catch phrase. Plastered on buildings and bumper stickers is a reminder that Austin has a history of wild, weird culture, and that it’s important that the young’ins continue the cultural tradition into the future.

On my last night in South San Francisco, we were visited at our hotel by the fabulous, beautifully painted, perfectly pickled one, Titania Humperpickle. She is one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Witness her loveliness:

Sister Titania (pronounced with a soft “i,” as in tits, and a soft “a,” as in tah-tahs) identifies as a Pagan (it’s a big enough umbrella for her), but the Order isn’t rooted in one religious tradition. Anyone with a calling to slap on some heels, get painted, dress up in nun attire in order to do service workany kind of service work, mind you can become a Sister (after a long vetting process, of course).

I sat on the floor in the presence of a white-faced, platform-shoed nun, totally in awe. She brought with her a vial of Holy Glitter, which is glitter mixed with — I kid you not — the ashes of former Sisters, the ashes of some of the Order’s most cherished relics, and a few other delightfully magical things. She made a little bindi-esque dot of glitter on our foreheads as a sisterly blessings (see photo below). She told stories of the Order’s origin, of the stuggles of LGBT people over the years, and of the inspiring work being done by Sisters across the globe.

By the time she left, we were all grinning ear to ear. It was really wonderful.

The Sisters embody a kind of theatricality that I find completely refreshing. They take their work seriously, and they are intentional about their presentation (the white-face, itself, has a story), but they also bring with them a kind of whimsy that, honestly, you don’t see in every corner of the gay community.

Personally, I think we gays need to embrace the radically expressive elements of our community. We don’t all need need to be Martha Steward devotees in order to be gay. Gay can be more mismatched and fabulous than that. Gay can be weird, and sometimes it should be.

When I wrote the piece Pagan Is The New Gay, I looked at parallels in the how Pagans and LGBT’s (i.e The Alphabet People) struggle over their titles and categories. Perhaps there’s cause to search out parallels again.

The Sisters keep it weird. They challenge social norms, and they force us to reexamine what we assume about gender, about service, and about how presentation of persona is something that, to a greater or lesser degree, we all do. They are radical, and by being radical they make possible the space for something extraordinary to occur.

They are a shimmering ritual on heels.

Her heels are green and powerful, I promise.

Can we take cue from the Sisters in the Pagan community? Do we (do you? do I?) permit ourselves to be extravagant, weird, or over the top in our presentation, or would doing so feel like too big a risk?

LGBT people have worked so hard over the past ten, twenty years to be accepted by the mainstream culture, and in the process many have forgotten that it was a drag queen that threw the first brick at Stonewall. Is a similar thing happening with modern Pagans? Are we pulling back from the weird?

This morning I head to Denver’s Pagan Pride festival, and I have no sense of how weird or how tame it will be. I’ll be sure to report next week. But in the meantime, I ask you:

Do you want to keep Paganism weird?

[After you post your comment & share this post, visit the new BITG feature, Letters. Then, check out the BITG post written last year about another Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, The Day The Heathens Built A Chapel.]

Trans knotwork on Zazzle

Inspired by a comment posted on Trans Is A Teacher For All Of Us, I posted the following status update to Facebook:

“I wonder how my Wiccan friends might respond to the idea that the Lord and Lady gave us our form, or that a trans person transitioning is the greatest insult to them.”

The feedback I received to this one status update was proof to me that we need more discussion about gender essentialism in Pagan communities.

[Full disclosure: I’m not a Wiccan, nor am I a believer in deities who, in any literal sense, gave us form. I’m also the parent of an amazing trans kid who just underwent top surgery, so I’m biased.]

Below are some of the responses to my status updates. I’ve left people’s names off of this post to keep the emphasis on the ideas.

“I am not Wiccan, but I find it incredible hubris to think that we could decide what is the “greatest insult” to any deities. How does that person know what the wyrd of a trans person is?”

“The presence of a hard and fast gender binary in Wicca was kind of a turn off for me. In the Radical Faeries in DC we expanded this concept into recognizing God-Forms as Male, Female, Both, and Neither. When theology fails you, change your theology.” (emphasis mine)

“As a Wiccan, I find that idea very belittling.

We have a way of working in Wicca that makes a heterofocal use of sex differences. And personally, I love it – connecting with the way male-female pairings are how the natural processes that give us people (including trans people, gay people, straight people with no interest in ever reproducing, and so on) and food (again, eaten by the lot of us) is a very powerful thing to me.

But to take that way of working, and turn it into a single minded view on sex, gender, sexual orientation, and/or sexual expression I don’t just find bullshit in itself for its quite obvious disconnect with reality, but also an insult to that fertility focus that I love in its implication that others of us who find spiritual expression in focusing on it share their inability to see beyond it. The wonder of fertility is in the fact that we *can* see beyond it – that it leads to things beyond itself. Otherwise it would just be an interesting machine.”

“Personally, I think a trans person making the physical transition is taking the path they were meant for. Each soul has its own journey of discovery and growth, and trans people have a harder road than some other people. They should be nurtured, welcomed, and accepted for who they are. I may not understand the trans person journey, but that isn’t required for me to be supportive and caring, one human being to another.”

“Trans is the manifestation of analog gender. It’s produced by nature. I wonder how animals manifest it, for it must occur in them. And as below, so above.”

“This is what I love & honor so much about trans & two-spirit nature. They destabilize so many fixed notions. They make everything more complex & interesting. Fundamentalists of all stripes are forced to gracefully bend or clumsily break.”
“When my spouse of ten years came out to my as transgendered, I stayed. The small community where we live views us a different, some of the people most offended by the transition now are great supporters. If nothing else Andrea has shown people that we are all the same deep down just in different wrappers. I’m pagan, she is working on her own spirituality.”
“Any theology that doesn’t take the realities of both biology and human social structure/culture into account is just superstitious nonsense. Saying that any deities “made” us a certain way and have some sort of “plan” for what we’re supposed to do with our lives is just nuts and might as well be fundamentailist *xian* thinking re-packaged into a dualistic concept of deity. Harumph and phooey.”
“My theology is that of co-creation with the Gods, not submission to their will. If I were to embark on that kind of change, I would consider it a dance of co-creation with the Gods, not a defiance of them.”

“Many of us pagans converted from religions in which the godform(s) were authoritative rule-givers and have a hard time giving up that paradigm. Personally, I don’t have much truck with deities who demand obedience or subservience to their will; if that’s what I wanted, I’d have stayed with the religion of my birth.”

There is a lot to sort through here, and admittedly I don’t have the space or perspective to work through it right now. But, that doesn’t mean the conversation can’t continue!

Please share your thoughts about gender essentialism, its connection to Pagan traditions, and how you think it needs to be embraced, adjusted, or rejected altogether.

Then, after you’ve updated your feed, show your love of this newly independent blog by sharing this post on the social network of your choice!

(P.S. Thank you to everyone who sent love and prayers to me and my family. We really appreciate it.)

The Rosemary is hanging all about my room, dried and waiting to be stripped from the stem. I look out the window, and the smattering of leaves around my house, an autumnal moat, is a reminder that there are still many things to do in preparation for the winter.

The silence I used to write in, the silence I enjoyed so much, has been replaced by the sound of air rushing through the ducts, heating the nooks and crannies of this place, causing the walls to creak and cough.

Everything is changing around me.

Taking my blog to this site was one way of claiming a bit of ownership over that change. My reasons feel much more personal and emotionally motivated, rather than being political or business-oriented. I created this blog initially as a way to help me transition into a practice of Neopagan Druidism, and now I’m reclaiming it as a place to provide a peaceful, clutter-free atmosphere for me to continue writing, to continue trying to figure all this stuff out.

It was the right choice for me. An unexpected, but necessary change.

You never know what changes you’ll feel compelled to make in response to autumn.

Photo by Seyed Mostafa Zamani

Since coming to Druidism several years back, I’ve become affected by the seasons in more pronounced ways. Meditating on the transformation of the world around me draws attention to my own, more subtle (and not-so-subtle) transformations; the ways I’m moving from darkness to potential, from potential to new life, from life to growth, from growth to gathering and harvest — the time when my successes and failures become most clear to me — and eventually to a return to darkness.

What’s happening out there seems to be happening in here, so much so that I start to get the two confused.

Autumn comes, and it feels like I’m embodying the whole world.

Perhaps in part this feeling of overwhelm comes in anticipation to my upcoming trip to San Francisco, during which my kiddo will have the surgery I mentioned in my last post. I can’t explain how scared I am about that, and how big a deal this feels like to me. It’s been keeping me and my husband up at night. And in the daytime, when I’m not busying myself with as many tasks as I can create to keep my mind occupied, it’s all I think about.

But then the sun shines on the maple tree in our back yard, it glows orange, and I can see the beauty in the world. In that moment, I consider that perhaps in the midst of all this agonizing transition there is some unnoticed beauty just waiting for the light to shine on it.

There has to be, doesn’t there?

As a writer, as a parent, and as an adult, I feel this responsibility to have insights, wisdom, and understanding which will allow me to travel through this world relatively unharmed, to offer guidance for my kid that will help make things easier, to say the words that will be meaningful and relevant to those who listen. Perhaps it’s an unrealistic expectation of myself, but it governs much of my actions.

Perhaps that’s why autumn feels so challenging right now.

There are times in the year when the world is going to let go, it’s going to change, it’s going to cease to be what it was before. You’re just going to have to wait for things to come around again, and have faith that you are a part of a cycle. This change is not eternal. It will pass. The colors fade and the leaves fall, and the tree turns into a grey silhouette, but — but — the leaves will grow back again next year.

Gods willing.

I wonder if I’m the only one for whom autumn can bring this kind of emotional reaction. Is this just a biproduct of my current circumstances, or are there others out there who respond to this season with mixed emotions?

How has autumn touched you?

Writing is a bitch sometimes.

This is one angry bitch.

I’ve given myself a number of writing projects, some religious in nature and some more scholastic. Some are a blending of the both. I’ve also begun to explore what it would be like to take my writing to print.

All of these things are squeezed into my calendar and shuffled onto my desk throughout the week, and on some days — like the last four — it feels as thought the weight of these papers, ideas, self-directed critiques, and a few outside-constructive criticisms are simply too much to bear.

Well, HE’s not too much to bear.

Yesterday, I tried to write about the return of my dreams, something which has begun since the start of October, after abandoning a post about how grumpy I was. When that post didn’t work, I tried to write about Samhain, but started to sound very Pagan 101 textbook-y, so I tossed it.

I don’t do textbook on this blog, and I’m not sure I really subscribe to the textbook approach to religion in general. I’m more a Socratic method kind of guy.

But some people want simple, effective recipes for how to make their spirituality come to life, how to become creative again, how to do the perfect spell to take their blues away. They want a spirituality instruction manual. And if that works for them, cool.

For me, though, nothing ever seems that paint-by-the-numbers. A spiritual practice, just like a good education, is always much messier and achier than that.

When you write a blog (and I know that many of my readers do, and some are considering starting up their own), you have to make some decisions about your audience. Do you want to engage with them? Do you want to preach to them? Do you want to show them how much you know?

What are you presuming about them? Are they less informed than you about your given topic (i.e. Druidry, Paganism, needlework — whatever you’re writing about), or are you going to treat them like peers?

Peer down this peir, peer.

These are questions that one doesn’t ask just once, either. Recently, as I’ve dipped my toes into the drafting of columns for print, I’ve come face to face with a different audience, one which may not engage with my writing in the same way that you do here on the blog. Print is not as immediately interactive as digital writing; your audience doesn’t post a response to what you’ve written, and you have to operate with this understanding that your writing is going to sit somewhere on a shelf, bound within the covers, static.

It’s weird.

So I feel now, after having considered this new kind of writing and this new audience, that I’ve forgotten how to write here. I’ve forgotten what we talk about, or what you want to read about. I’ve been asking this question, what do they want to read about?, and the question has solidified around the mushiness of my writing muscles, like some calcified shell.

It’s like a cast, except I can’t write my well-wishes on it with a Sharpie, because I left all my pens at home.

(Or something like that.)

Writing about Pagan religiosity, in all of its divergent and differently-named forms, to an audience of Pagans can be tricky. You can write to explain some archaic history that might be relevant to a fraction of your readership, if that’s your thing. Or you can write directly from your tradition’s perspective, but that can become kind of insular and inside joke-ish. If you pass on those two approaches, you seem left with the Pagan 101/Recipe/Textbook/How-to pieces.

I try to write about what I know, or at least what I’m questioning. I find that writing about my experiences is much easier than answering the question, what do they want to read?

But I still have to ask…

What do you want to read?

When you visit this blog — any blog — what are you looking for? Do you want testimonials about lived experiences? Accounts of ritual, whether they be successful or fall-on-your-face-like? Do you want to read about the nuts and bolts of someone’s practice?

Now, take a second and consider what you want to read when you pick up a Pagan magazine or book. Does it differ from what you look for in a blog? If so, how? Do you read words differently off the page, and do you have different standards for inky writers?

Please, enlighten me. Shine a little light on the inside of your reader’s brain. Throw this writer a digital bone.

Paganism, on the surface, seems like a retreat from the challenges posed by organized religion. Our great, mostly-pentacle-shaped umbrella, under which all shades, shapes and sizes of earth loving, god or goddess invoking creatures rest, looks to the untrained eye like a respite from bureaucracy, miscommunication, and any of the other ills of “The Church.”

It just isn’t so.

When people gather, organize and commit to being in relationship with one another, conflicts arise. This is an inevitability. The question is: how do we respond when those conflicts occur?

Conflict, by atomicity

When I was a child, I attended an Episcopal church in Englewood, Colorado called St. George’s. The church was small, but it was a home to me and my mother. She married my father in that little church, she had me baptized in that little church, and she struggled through a divorce in that little church, all with the aid of a kind, soft-spoken priest named Father Welsh.

I loved St. George’s. I was an acolyte, a regular at the Sunday hot-breakfast after service, and I felt completely at home inside that house of worship.

But then there was a conflict within the congregation; some political squabble I was later told. Father Welsh was making the church open to AA meetings in the basement, and that made many of the parishioners uncomfortable. Father Welsh was a recovering alcoholic, clean for years, but accusations were made against him to the bishop. They said he was drinking again.

My mother assured me these accusations were not true. She said that this was just politics. She said these tight-wad people didn’t want the dirty alcoholics to be sullying up their clean church, and that this was some way to live like Christians.

In time, and while my mom and I were away for the summer, my priest was removed from the parish. Father Welsh left the state, and we never went back to St. George’s.

I don’t suppose the people who took their complaints to the bishop considered the impact that their choice would have on me. I also don’t know if their grievances were founded on the truth. He could have been drinking. I don’t know.

But I do know that the removal of a priest from his congregation is no small affair. The ramifications are great, and extend outward in ways that are unpredictable. The repercussions might not always be “bad,” but they will always be uncertain.

Empty Chair by Bob Jagendorf

But What About In Pagan Communities?

This situation at St. George’s could have just as easily happened within a Pagan organization. I imagine that something like this may have happened in the groves, covens or organized groups to which some of you belong.

When we’re faced with this kind of situation, especially one that has yet to be completely resolved, we have good cause to refrain from snap judgement, and to hold space. “Holding space” may be a useful way for Pagans to practice discernment, for by holding space I mean waiting, listening, keeping in kind thoughts all the parties involved.

Our partisanship does not always contribute to the resolution of political conflicts. It often exacerbates it. The quick creation of an “Us v.s. Them” mentality makes it very difficult to consider all of the information with a clear head and without bias.

I’m not sure my mother was unbiased. She didn’t want for our priest to leave. He was an important man in our lives. I’m also not sure that the accusers were lying. I’d like to think they were, because that allows me to side with the victim (and in some ways, make the victim the ethical hero). But I was never given the opportunity to consider all sides of the story, and I really only wanted to believe one side.

In religious community, regardless of your cosmology, (poly)theology, or creed (if you have one), conflicts create opportunities to respond to one another with compassion; to hold space for the accuser and the accused, until such a time that you are able to learn the fullness of the truth. Exercising compassion in moments of conflict is a natural and necessary component of a healthy religious life, I think.

So I invite your compassion. When there is conflict, may your heart soften. May you be willing to listen clearly, without prejudice, and with a willingness to hold space for all those involved.

Feel free to share instances where you’ve been faced with conflict within your religious community (and please withhold the names and specifics in order to respect the privacy of those involved). If your response was one of compassion, was that challenging? If compassion was not your response, why?

If you are involved in a conflict at this time, I ask that you not air your grievances here, but rather take this opportunity to hold space and practice compassion.

Since I began working through the Dedicant Path this second time, I’ve run across a number of people who are also starting their studies with ADF. They’re showing up in the comment section on Bishop In The Grove, on Facebook, and I’m wondering if there’s some deeper meaning behind it.

A friend of mine suggested that we should distrust the Volkswagen Bug syndrome. You know — the one where you buy a VW bug, and then all you see around you are VW bugs. They start popping up everywhere — in parking lots, next to you while driving on the freeway, trailing you home from your knitting class…

…that last one isn’t part of the lore. It just came to me.

You know what I’m talking about, though. You make some change to your life, and then you see that change reflected in the world around you.

If I was an adherent to a popular New Age theory like The Secret (which my husband calls “The Trick”), I might say that this is the Universe providing me what I asked for. Although, it would seem a bit more like the Universe on overdrive, wouldn’t it? How many VW bugs does one guy need?

Photo by Marty Desilets

This search for the source of the repeating VW — or the new wave of ADF Dedicants — may be fruitless. If it’s the Universe, there’s no good way to trace that. Same goes for the gods.

Right?

In the comment section of my last post people went to town explaining their relationship to Pagan and metaphysical stuff. It was eye-opening.

I’m reminded of one comment now.

“On the one hand, I fully agree with the idea that Pagans collect too much stuff….On the other hand, what if it’s what the gods demand of us?”

How do we know (he asks with no clear answer) if the gods are encouraging us to buy that fancy wand or that new “mysterious” crystal skull? How do we discern the meaning behind the multiplying VW’s and Druids?

Perhaps that word — discernment — is a key to unlocking some of this.

Photo by Jef Safi

A quick search for the meaning of discernment reveals this (the secondary definition):

(in Christian contexts) Perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding

  • – without providing for a time of healing and discernment, there will be no hope of living through this present moment without a shattering of our common life

Why, I wonder, is this labeled as “in Christian contexts”?

The Christian context for discernment assumes that you’re listing to the One True God, but if he isn’t your Mr. Right you’re going to be listening for something, or someone else.

Many a Pagan turns to divination for answers, and perhaps for them divination is the Pagan version of discernment. But, for those who divine as a way of listening to the gods (or the dead, or the spirits of place), isn’t there a teensy-weensy bit of discernment involved in that process? Don’t you have to suspend your judgement — or, at least your immediate, knee-jerk, influenced-by-your-cultural-conditioning-and-prejudices judgement in order to tap into the knowledge of something other than yourself — something non-human?

In my ADF studies, I’m doing a lot of book work. I’m also being called to do a lot of personal reflection. In reflection, an act of seeing inward, there is an auditory component. There is inner-listening.

I think “inner-listening” might be another way to think of discernment.

The question is, listening for what?

Your personal truth? The voice of Demeter? The advice of your dead great-grandmother?

Discernment is nuanced in the Christian world. It points to a personal relationship with deity, and when I’ve heard it used it was done so with seriousness and sensitivity. You don’t just hear God without freaking out a little, or without having to go through a process of trying to figure out — did I just hear God?

So what about discernment outside of the Christian context? I have this strong feeling (perhaps I’m discerning something) that there is a place for discernment in the religious lives of polytheists and Pagans.

So, what is that place?

What is the use of discernment in your life?

Should I let go of my stuff?

Should I have a metaphysical yard sale, in which I sell my Cunningham books, my surplus of pewter jewelry, and my…

…ahem…

…crystals?

GET your hand off that… It’s priceless.

Should I rid my closet of the long, green, hooded robe I’ve worn twice, my Guatemalan patchwork jacket I scored for $7 bucks, or my black ceremonial duds? How about my malas, my God and Goddess candle holders (don’t you just love P. Borda?), or my copper OM chalice?

When I look at the shelf above my desk, I read the titles:

  • A Book of Pagan Prayer
  • A Pagan Ritual Prayer Book
  • The Book of Common Prayer (i.e. Episcopal Church)
  • A Canticle For Leibowitz (thank you, Themon, for the recommendation)
  • Sacred Fire, Holy Well
  • Creation Spirituality
  • The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life
and
  • Pagans & Christians

Is that too diverse?

What about my entire shelf of Bibles? I’ve got the Green, the NIV, the Aramaic translation, the King James, the Revised Standard, the Edicion Pastoral, the Good News Bible, and the New International Version.

I also have a Humanist Bible, which is a whole ‘nother story.

I like stuff. Most of us do, to some degree. But I wonder if this surplus of metaphysical stuff I’ve accumulated throughout the years gets in my way.

How much of this stuff do I actually use?

Not much.

You’d think I was a Witch or somethin’.

These thoughts occur to me as I continue with my ADF Dedicant Path studies. I feel like I’m studying to be one thing, but the stuff around me suggests that I’m something quite different. I’m studying to be an ADF Druid working within a Pan-Celtic hearth, as it were, but my stuff indicates that I’m really quite eclectic.

This isn’t a crisis by any means, but it is something to consider. What does our stuff say about us? And, how much stuff do we need in order to do our religion?

Is an excess of spiritual stuff an indication that you don’t have enough religion?

Should religion curb your consumption? And when it doesn’t — when your spiritual/religious work winds you up with tupperwares full of serapes, tapestries, and unused statuary — is it really nature spirituality that you’re practicing, or stuff spirituality?

It may sound like I’m romanticizing asceticism, but I’m not. Like I said, I like stuff.

I’m just beginning to question why I have so much of it.

This post is not designed to preach what is the right relationship to stuff. I’m just hoping to inspire some classic Bishop In The Grove dialogue about stuff.

I want to know about your stuff. 

Take a look around you. Look at the stuff on your shelves, on your windowsills, and in your dresser drawers, paying close attention to all of the stuff that’s connected to your spiritual path or religious work (whichever term you prefer).

What’s there? How much of us it being used on a daily basis? Any? All? Some?

Do you save your stuff for the High Holidays? Do you haul out the cooler of candle holders for your coven’s rituals, or has it been collected cobwebs in the corner?

Let’s all take a minute and talk about our stuff.

Make a plan, the gods say.

I dare you.

Photo by Fuschia Foot, on Flickr

Ok, ready? You’re me:

You put on your denim kilt, blue button up shirt, and patchwork hat. Your beard is tidy and trim, and your socks pulled up. You load up the car with your husband, a tupperware container of crayons, and a bag of chocolates.

Drive.

After a half hour, you’re at a little Unitarian Universalist church near the foothills.

You unload, begin to arrange chairs in a big, circular meeting room, and you wait. When you can’t wait any longer, you step outside. If you’re going to be nervous, you might as well do so in private.

While outside, you write down your plan (that one I dared you to make) another couple times to make sure you remember it. Your plan isn’t a script; it’s an outline. The plan involves no more than 5 steps, and now you’re beginning to wonder if you can make 5 steps stretch into an hour and a half.

That damn cricket won’t stop chirping.

Your husband comes out, gives you a pep-talk, and you realize you’ve got to go to the bathroom. Of course you do.

You make a dash for the john, then check your watch.

It’s time.

The workshop begins when you step in front of the group. It isn’t ceremonious. You’ve chosen not to be introduced. The first thing you do is invite the group of grownups to make abstract representations of themselves using crayons and glitter paint.

Right way they’re giggling, and drawing, and a couple look very serious about their coloring.

You’re coloring, too. You’re a big tree.

Stragglers come in. (Not according to plan.) You catch them up to speed and check your watch.

You tell everyone to write a word — one word — on their page which represents themselves.

Brows furrow, and people write.

More stragglers enter.

You collect the papers, and start to wonder if everyone thinks you’re crazy.

Once collected, you redistribute the artwork in a different order so that everyone has someone else’s drawing.

Then, introductions. You ask everyone to introduce themselves by describing the picture in front of them. You show them,

“I am a swirly, complicated movement of energy, that is both soft on the edges and pointy in some spots.”

You then tell everyone how creativity is a part of your life, and you invite everyone to do the same.

It’s about that time you realize how much you’re sweating.

It’s also around this time that you realize that people are saying some really interesting things. They’re bringing to the space ideas and concerns that you didn’t anticipate. They’re lighting up the room in ways that had nothing to do with your plan.

It gets back to you, and you freeze for a second.

Plan…plan…what was that damn plan…

You stumble through a story about a Druid festival, and then you invite people to sing.

Then something changes.

You think to yourself,

Singing. Music. That’s right. That’s what I do. That’s what this is about.

Then, you chuck the plan. You start to talk from your heart. When you do, you remember that the whole point of the night was to connect people to that creative fire — that fire in their heart. This seems possible now, because you’ve connected with yours.

Time has flown. People have shared their limitations, their creative outlets, and their doubts. They’ve laughed, and they’ve even given a collective “Hmm” once or twice.

With your heart open, and the fire lit, you lead people to the creation of a song.

The one man with a drum begins to play. You start to sing, and people join you. It’s call and response.

“We are…”

“We are…”

“We are…”

“We are…”

“Eclectic…”

“Eclectic…” 

“Steady…”

“Steady…”

You work your way through all of the words, changing the melody up with each one. People are singing. The drum is playing. You’ve created a song out of people’s words, and they’re singing it back to you.

You realize that this has all been a kind of ritual, one which began with child-like chaos and ended with a group song. You created something from nothing, and got everyone to sing.

It worked.

Today I’ll submit the workshop to Pantheacon. I’ll call it: The Songcrafting Workshop: Creating Ritual Song.

It will likely be quite different at the conference. There will be different activities, different people, and of course…

…a new plan.

I fell into a frozen lake once.

It was winter, and we were on holiday from school. I was running ahead of my two cousins and my older brother, and I hit a thin patch. In no time, my tiny body was submerged.

The water was violently cold, and I was certain I was going to die.

I didn’t.

Photo by Roland zh, Wikimedia Commons

When I was about 10, I went to a summer camp for kids who like horses.

While riding one afternoon, a fellow camper got thrown from her horse. She was dragged for at least 100 yards. Her body looked like a rag doll flopping about, with one leg stuck in the stirrup, and her other leg and two free arms flailing uncontrollably.

Her head was one horse hoof away from being crushed to tiny, adolescent pieces, and I was certain she was going to die.

She didn’t die either.

Photo by Dan Shouse, on Flickr

A few years back, not long after joining ADF, I was on the road, sleeping in a no-name hotel, and I had a dream.

In that dream I heard a voice, one that was deeper and more expansive than any human voice I’d ever heard. The voice spoke in a language I couldn’t understand, and while it spoke I saw in the blackness of my imagination a white doorway, beside which were standing two white hounds. The voice was like an earthquake.

I jumped out of bed, body trembling, most certain that I was going to die.

That time, I think I might have died just a little.

Photo by Sean McGee Hicks, on Flickr

All things have their place, and there is certainly a place for the warm and fuzzy in Paganism. But I think it’s also necessary to remember that there are parts of nature, and aspects of the Kindred we worship, that can be violently cold, fiercely wild, and terribly awe inspiring.

I hear many people frame the human condition as being either a decision to live in Fear or to live in Love, capitals emphasizing the notion that these states of being are not simply human emotions, but rather that they are cosmic in some way. I like to think that things are more complicated and nuanced than that.

Even death, in its inevitability, is more complicated and nuanced than that.

I keep these things in mind today as I head up for a weekend camping trip in the National Forest. I won’t be riding horses, and the reservoir is far from frozen.

I will sleep, though…

…and dream.

Photo by Andrew.Beebe, on Flickr

While I’m away, I invite my diverse, thoughtful readership to sit for a moment and remember a time when you came into contact with an aspect of nature or your gods — either in a formal ritual setting or in an unexpected place — that was awe inspiring, or terrifying, or visceral.

When did it stop being an idea and start being something real?

I’ll return to the blog after the weekend, perhaps with stories of new adventures in the woods. When I do, I hope that the comment feed looks like a late-night round of campfire storytelling.

I had plans to attend the Wild Goose Festival this weekend. I was supposed to leave today, but then the money got tight.

Carl McColman at the first Wild Goose Festival, June 2011

As I wrote about in my last post I made the decision to forgo my studies at Marylhurst for at least a term or two, in part for financial reasons. In light of that kind of penny-pinching adjustment to plans, I decided to save my plane ticket to Portland for a future trip.

I would not have been the only Druid in attendance. Allison Leigh Lilly is going to be there, and I had a feeling we would have found many opportunities to speak about the pagan side of the conversation. I would also have been traveling with a good friend from Denver, who walks the line between Pagan and Christian quite gracefully.

But the gathering was decidedly Christian. There’s really no getting around that.

What was appealing to me about the Wild Goose Festival was the emphasis placed on social justice and ecological responsibility. Today on the Wild Goose Patheos blog there was an announcement of a number of free e-books, one called, A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good. According to the post:

“Written by authors, theologians, and instructors affiliated with the The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good (NEP), A New Evangelical Manifesto discusses many “hot button” issues such as human trafficking, healthcare, race, abortion, nuclear weapons, war, global poverty, Christianity, the church, and theology.”

Can I just tell you how happy I am to hear that my gayness is not one of their hot button issues?

Seriously though — I find that the inclusion of human trafficking, nuclear weapons, global poverty and war in a list of Christian concerns to be quite refreshing. (I’m uncertain of what these authors will have to say about abortion; if they’re more likely to frame the topic as one related to the body of a woman or to the personhood of a fetus. No telling.)

I mention the book only to illustrate the way in which the Wild Goose Festival was appealing to me. I anticipated that I would encounter some real differences of opinion, belief and practice with most in attendance, but I wanted to be there simply to witness a group of religious people engage sincerely in discussions of progressive politics. I was hoping to be witness to Christians taking more stock in the eradication of global poverty than the eradication of homosexuality.

In my subjective opinion, ending poverty trumps keeping marriage straight.

I’ve known a number of Christians whose politics were borderline-radical, leaning quite far to the left. They were working to create safer work environments for trans-people, they were challenging systemic abuse of power in the prison system, they were calling on citizens to be more aware of how their buying habits affect the local economy and the environment.

They are still doing these things to this day.

There’s a quality of conviction that I see from many of my Progressive Christian friends that I deeply respect. For them, their faith is very much rooted in bringing equality and justice to the world. That’s how they understand the call of Jesus.

For them, their Christianity isn’t rooted in an obsession with blood atonement, or a strict adherence to rigid dogma. (We would be wrong to paint all Christians in this light.) Theirs is a more complicated faith, and one very much rooted in their engagement with the world.

Progressive Christian and Pagan communities have very different identities, and very different positions in relationship to mainstream culture. That said, I think it is useful for us to make note that these conversations are taking place at Wild Goose.

There may still be the presence of a Christian voice which is alienating, and we may have fundamental, irreconcilable differences with the predominant theology. But there may also be a conviction and passion for a better world (i.e. one without war, one without poverty, one that is clean and safe for our children) that we can get behind.

I’ve never been to a Pagan festival that was infused with this kind of conviction for social, political or ecological change. (Admittedly, I’ve not been to many Pagan festivals.)

Have you?

I’d like to know if you’ve had an experience at a Pagan gathering that was infused with the kind of conviction I’m describing above. Was there a time when you heard a speaker at a festival who lit a fire in you to take better care of the world, of your community, of your tribe? If so, please share that experience.

Do you think that modern Pagans — especially the young’ins — have it in us to be agents of change in society?