Living My Pagan Truth

I like having a lot of different pagan authors and bloggers on my social media feeds. There are a lot of ideas and differing opinions and seeing these make me feel like this religion is still very much growing and changing based on the needs of its followers.

At the same time, I don’t like it, because there are a lot of ideas and different opinions.

Sometimes the topics can get me really frustrated, especially when the topics seem to be about things that really have no bearing on what actions can be done on a day to day basis. Don’t get me wrong; they are still important discussions. I simply tend to be much more practical in my thinking than hypothetical. I want to look at things from the perspective of what is happening right now, and how my morals and ethics should be applied to decisions that I make each and every day. So discussions involving Paganism as a whole, interpretations on what the current trends are saying (or not saying) and what paganism is going to look like and/or how we are going to get there are interesting, but I don’t tend to get involved in them.

It does make me wonder however, if we are spending too much time discussing philosophical concepts and scenarios and not enough time discussing day to day thoughts and issues. Many of the thoughts I get from blogs and the community seem to me to distance their practices from their daily life. We talk about futuristic societies and how communities will learn to get by when they rely on their neighbors and trade for goods. We talk about how corporations as a whole are just in it for the shareholder value, and how they destroy our earth. We rail against the fact that a solid part of the population doesn’t have the means to get by from day to day. These are all good subjects, and needed conversation, but is it too much discussion and not enough action? I fully believe we need to stretch our minds and consider issues, vent when we need to, and I’ll absolutely read and ponder, but it doesn’t feel to me like the current conversation is going to bring any conclusions that can be immediately acted upon. The one thing I know about me is that I am a person who wants to act on things to make them better; not just ponder and hypothesize. And when actions do get discussed, they are usually about the “We” as a group and not what “I” can do.

Extreme solutions
There are extreme solutions that some can already live out. I know pagans who are trying to live by cash alone as they don’t want to borrow money. I know others who are trying to not have a digital footprint and still others who recycle everything and live carbon neutral. These are all very worthy and I applaud those who have made it their life’s work to live to those standards. But it very much is a life’s work as this society doesn’t make it easy to do any of those things. I would also imagine there is no free time. I expect the people that live this way have to work very hard each day in order to live, and it’s a very hard life with very little niceties thrown in.

One part of me wonders why I, who profess to be pagan, am not trying to do the same thing. And then the practical part of me says that none of these things are possible for me; some because I already have a digital footprint and debt to pay off. Therefore I still need to hold down an actual job, cannot walk to work as it’s too far and I still need to buy things to work and live. I also have medical conditions that require vigilant care and cost lots of money. And while I do have a nice size garden, and the hubby is a blacksmith, I’m far from being self sustainable.

As much as I’d like to live in a world where I could work for my food and have a roof over my head and trade for the things I need, society as a whole is simply not set up that way. And it would take loads of money to just get something like that started here in the United States (not to mention cash the taxes on land that need to be continuously paid.) And oh yeah, we don’t have healthcare for all, so there is more money that’s needed for those pesky medical conditions.

Can we strive to build toward something like that? It’s very possible! But I see it more working out in retirement by living off savings built throughout working careers – at least for my husband and I. Others could be living in different situations that would make it more doable, but I’m established now. And being established has made me realize I can give more back to the pagan community now that I’m established than I could by trying to uproot and live in a religious group.

So if I’m not contributing to some sort of group effort and am not going to the extreme like others do, then how do I live my pagan truth?

Corporations
Well, some may consider me not living as a true pagan. Some would forgive the fact that we can’t live in an extreme in today’s society, but that I’m still suspect because I’ve violated some universal pagan identity.

I work for a large corporation.

The same pagans that I respect and care about also rant and rail about those that they do (or don’t) work for. Corporations are the worst. They are out to stick it to the little guy. They don’t care about anything but the bottom line. I get the feeling a lot that there are those that believe if you are working for a corporation and aren’t angry about having to do it it, perhaps your morals are skewed.

To be honest, I LIKE where I work. Yes, it’s a corporation. Yes, it’s about the bottom line and about how much we sell. But the product that we do sell helps people – in fact, it’s used in surgeries to help people get better. To me, that isn’t all bad.

Before I worked here, I worked for an automaker. I helped to make people smile because they liked looking at shiny new vehicles and collect pictures of them. I also helped people get from place to place. Was the corporation’s main focus about the bottom line? Yep. But there were still things about the job that as a whole, helped others in some form or fashion.

Don’t get me wrong, if I needed to be replaced, I could be replaced – easily. But that is the nature of the corporation. What people don’t realize is that each replacement also costs the company thousands of dollars in hiring, training and new benefit and tax costs. So even being replaced has it’s trade offs.

There is significant concern in this day and age though about corporations stepping outside their boundaries. They lobby for lax tax and environmental laws, and that is a very good point. And there I feel it is my duty to say something – to vote, tell my representatives how I feel about that so they can push back, and to donate to causes that will help fight back. But overall, I am not going to decide that each and every corporation is bad because of the work of some of them. Just like not every pagan is bad because we have a few problems with bad people occasionally.

One last thing about corporations. A lot of people don’t care for the fact that there are few people in the world who seem to have all of the wealth and money (read power). But that is how it’s been in many cases in history. I’d rather be concerned with what I can do when those corporations abuse their employees (vote with my money) than to try to overthrow the entire societal structure.

My Own Actions
There was a story about a man walking along the beach that was full of starfish. He’d walk by one, pick it up, and throw it into the water. Another man saw him doing so and asked him why he was wasting his time because he could never save all of the starfish from dying. And as he picked up another starfish and proceeded to toss it into the sea, he said, “I made a difference to this one.”

I have come to terms with the fact that there will always be something else you can do better to promote paganism and to live within your personal truths. But until I find that thing to do better, I’m going to do the best I can with what I have.

• I am going to do my best to touch the lives of those I meet by being compassionate, kind, fair and honest. That also means if I am asked what my religion is, I’m going to be honest and speak about it.

• I am going to do the best I can for this earth by continuing to recycle, reduce my waste and carbon footprint, and pick up trash when I can.

• And since I spend 45 hours a week there and employees (and managers) are people too, I’m going to do my best to be a good employee. Because being a good employee helps touch the lives of everyone else you work with and helps make their lives easier. And even though overall my work will affected the corporation’s bottom line, it also helps people. So by doing my best to be a good employee, I will also be doing my best to help people who use the product. And, if it ever becomes a situation where I find the money the corporation makes is more important to my upper management than the people, I will choose to find someplace else to work.

• I am going to take care of myself the best way I know how, in every aspect of self care that I need. Because how can I help others if I don’ t help myself first?

• I am going to do what I can to vote by the money I spend. I will speak to my representatives when I see serious injustice and help take care and protect my family and friends.

• I am going to do my best to serve the pagan community by speaking where I am guided to, teach when I am asked and guided to, comfort and listen when I am asked to and to use my skills and gifts to help others as is asked and is needed.

• I am going to do my best to honor my ancestors, my Gods and Goddesses and my allies and spirits. And I will continue to learn how to do this better.

After all that is said and done, the only thing that I truly have control over is myself. And as a pagan who focuses significantly on self improvement, this truth rings out over and over again. I can’t change the beliefs of someone else unless the other person chooses to change them. I can’t guide others unless they choose to be guided. And to try to purposefully choose to act with a purpose to only change others beliefs 100% of the time is downright exhausting.

However, if living in my own truth helps someone else find their own, then that is something worth striving for.

I don’t always live these personal truths well, but I keep trying. And in the end, that is all I can do.

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Finding Gods of Compassion

Many times when I do readings I get the message to tell someone not to be so hard on themselves; to give themselves time to heal from the wounds that the world has given them.  And inevitably, the client (especially my deeply pagan clients) look at me with surprise.  They then proceed to tell me that their God is not the type to allow someone to wallow in pity.  Instead, they tell me their Gods and Goddesses are the type to push someone to ‘suck it up’ and get on with it.

I fully agree, to an extent.  As someone who feels very honored to have a relationship with Odin, I know first hand that there are Gods out there that want us to ‘get on with it’.  They want us to accept our shortcomings and grow up.

But that request to ‘grow up’ or ‘get over it’ isn’t the same as giving ourselves time to heal from the deep wounds that the world gives us. And in that aspect, I think that we are missing an important factor in the relationship with our Gods.  Although they want us to grow, Gods and Goddesses can also can be compassionate and supportive of us being compassionate for ourselves and for our fellow human beings. 

Now before you start getting weirded out by images of Odin sitting around a camp fire holding hands and singing, hear me out.

We know that during early periods of civilization the Gods moved around within pantheons a lot.  We know that at times one God usurped another when civilization changed.  Gods of the wildlands were replaced or altered to represent the fertile fields and of agriculture.  And in time, those Gods were also altered or replaced to represent war and protection from other civilizations thirsting for conquest.  I’m not going to get into all the specifics, but they are all there in the history books for anyone to see.  And this happened in many different civilizations.

The point that I’m trying to make is that the Gods changed when humanity needed them to.  And for thousands of years, humanity was OK with that.  In fact, in our current time, we have been known to modify our own practices to mold to our own needs.  And even from a reconstructionist pagan standpoint, we see that modification today.

For an example, let’s look at Beltane, the fertility festival celebrated by many pagans around the world.  This festival was originally a fertility rite, both for the fields and for fertility of our species.  We still see this holiday as a perfect time for couples to do fertility rites to get pregnant, but we recognize that the survival of the species because of lack of fertility is not as serious of an issue today as it was two thousand years ago.  We don’t need to utilize that rite to secure survival of our species.  In fact, I think we all can agree that there is an overabundance of humans now on the planet.

So what do we do with this fertility rite?  Do we stop celebrating it, or do we reframe it to our needs today?  What we find is that many pagans do a very good job of reframing it.  We still honor and remember those of long ago and why they celebrated Beltane, but instead of fertility for the fields and for our species, pagans might celebrate the rites to work towards the fertility of money, the fertility of ideas that would allow them to further their careers or the fertility of wisdom and aid with the goal of bettering themselves in some way in order to continue to honor the Gods on this plane of existence.  And I think we can all agree that the Gods worshiped during the height of Beltane haven’t abandoned us because we modified the rites to more clearly represent what our needs are in this day and age.

I’ve pointed out that we have modified rites to reflect our current culture, and I’ve also pointed out that the Gods have changed based on the needs of the population at the time.  Now what does all of this have to do with the Gods having compassion?

One of the biggest needs of the day in my mind is compassion.  Open your favorite social media site and I can guarantee you will find something in your feed that is argumentative.  You may also find something that will get you frustrated or even angry.  It’s a very easy example because it happens on a regular basis.  Want another?  Drive your daily commute, or just drive anywhere on a highway in fact.  We are human, we are going to get angry at the person who just jumped in front of us and slammed on their brakes, or who decided to drive in the faster lane of the road yet is going under the speed limit for some reason.

All of this anger has slowly built up over the years to the point where we are today.  For years we have let the anger fester in our minds and souls, causing us finally to lash out at ‘those’ type of people.  Those that don’t think like us, those that don’t act like us, or those that believe differently than us.  We have become a polarized world that praises ‘sticking it’ to the other person over trying to come up with a compromise.

It didn’t happen overnight.  And there are more root causes of the problem than anger, but built up anger is absolutely a part of the problem.  We hold anger for ourselves, hold anger for our lot in life, hold anger and jealousy at others for having more, or for getting more assistance than us.  The anger bubbles up at our politicians (who may deserve it from time to time) and causes us to lash out at others who disagree.  And to battle we go.

For many of us, we feel like we either have limited options.  We could either take a side and fight for it, get the heck out of the way of the arguing forces or be run over; a casualty of the environment that has been slowly forming over many years.

Any one of those stances is going to cause anyone to have battle damage.  And this isn’t even the worst of the battle damage we carry around.

Our upbringings aren’t always rosy.  Our relationships with others can become abusive.  Life has its traumas, and we endure each and every one of them, but they don’t leave us exactly how we were prior to the situation.  Sometimes the changes are physical; a scar appears where a wound once was.  Sometimes the wounds are emotional, and we end up hardening some to those around us.  But no matter if the wounds were physical or emotional, there is a spiritual component to the wound as well.  Hardened hearts change the outlook on our spirituality.  Perhaps we stop caring as much about helping those in need because we are bitter about our own circumstances.  Perhaps we end up angry at our Gods for allowing things to be the way they are.

The world is changing, it’s getting more rough edges, and because of it we are hardening more than we realize.  I’ve seen even the most compassionate of Shamans make critical comments against another in the current hardened climate.  And I know I’ve done it myself numerous times.

Yes, there are times when we must be hard.  Perhaps we must defend ourselves from those abusers or from those that would do us ill will.  That is important too.

But what do we do with all the pain, anger and battle damage that has struck at our core and dimmed our spirit?

Why not give it to the Gods as an offering of endurance?

Why not ask for their aid to heal properly so that our souls can shine again?

Why not ask for their strength to see situations with compassion in an effort to make the outcome less hardened?

This is different than just ‘getting on with it’.  There will be times in everyone’s life that the hardened edge they encounter is small enough that it does little damage.  That is when it is perfectly acceptable to hear from our Gods that we must just ‘get on with it’.

But what about when the hurts are so great that they affect our daily lives?  What about those who have suffered any form of abuse for any period of time?  What about the traumas of life that shake you to the very core?  I don’t believe the Gods want to just look at us and say, ‘get on with it’.  Sure, we may THINK that is what they want us to do, but perhaps that is how we are conditioned to believe.  We’ve had almost 2000 years of a religion that has given us the group mentality that we are scum and not worthy of taking time for ourselves.  This religion has told us for years that we are unworthy of healing or compassion, and that we have to grovel and beg for healing and forgiveness.

Christianity has provided us with a group mind and culture that says we are weak and lacking.  Advertising agencies have already picked up on this and used it to sell us products to make us feel better.  Many people start waking up, and reach to Pagan Gods and Goddesses, (the very ones we think tell us to ‘get over it’) in order to get out of that mindset, and that is fantastic.  But are we allowing our personal beliefs to also make us feel better, or make us worse in other places?

At the very least, consider that the Gods and Goddesses that you are willing to fight for, the Divinity that you know will fight by your side, is also a Divinity that would be willing to tend to the wounds that you received from the fight you fought together.  That isn’t an unreasonable request, and one that could easily happen on the battlefields of old.

And if you are willing to go that far, also consider that sometimes the wounds that you receive may put you out of the fight for a while, and perhaps your God or Goddess understands that better than you realize.  Recognize too that if you could no longer fight, the Gods and Goddesses were compassionate enough to give you a place to go after you passed this plane of existence.

In my own personal journeys with Odin and Loki, I’ve come to realize that they are accepting of me when I am at my best, but they also are accepting of me when I am at my weakest.  Loki especially encourages me to look at my areas of weakness and learn to make them strong, and he has shown me that brute strength is not enough to do that.  In order to become stronger, you also have to have compassion, you have to have the courage to allow yourself to be weak, and perhaps even show that weakness to others in order to allow them to help you find your strength.  Compassion allows us to accept who it is we are without the glamour or lies that we tell ourselves.  Compassion allows us to look at the wounds we have received in battle and honestly evaluate them to understand how we need to heal.  And compassion is what we need to recognize the true amount of time we need to do that.

If we can expect our Gods and Goddesses to accept our feats of strength as appropriate offerings, why not also allow our feats of courage and compassion to be offerings to them as well?  Especially in today’s world, it’s going to take a significantly larger amount of effort to show compassion than to follow the status quo.  In those times when compassion is most needed, wouldn’t it be a better offering to show that compassion since it does take so much more effort?

And if you were one of the millions in this world who has emotional, physical and spiritual wounds, don’t you think your Gods would want you to heal as well as you can from those wounds?  And in order to heal fully, don’t you think that you have to have compassion for yourself?  So why wouldn’t a God or Goddess not have compassion for you?  Wouldn’t they be proud of you, because they know you realize that fighting isn’t something that is going to allow you to heal properly?

Perhaps it’s time for us to shift our thinking.  Perhaps it’s time we honor our Gods and Goddesses with different offerings; acts of compassion and beauty.  Maybe we need to recognize that even though they may not seem like a form of divinity that would react with compassion, perhaps they at least have understanding of the compassion that we need to have for ourselves and each other.  And perhaps they already are ready to adapt to that compassion to help de-escalate the polarization of the world.

 

Poem: Think About It

 

You never realize how much you damage yourself
Until you take a hard look in a mirror
And finally ask yourself
What do I like?

You never realize how much you hurt yourself
Until you take a hard look in a mirror
And finally ask yourself
Who am I?

You never realize how unkind you are to yourself
Until you take a hard look in a mirror
And finally ask yourself
Am I enough?

Betcha your answers match mine.

 

 

 

 

To My Christian Friends

Perhaps this yet another post that was a ‘long time coming’ (That seems to be the start of a theme of posts for me.)

Things I yet again thought I had dealt with are still coming up and bugging me to the point where I finally have to start writing…AGAIN.  And while with this particular subject I would normally just start writing in my personal journal and not post publicly, I’m starting to believe the subject matter needs to be discussed more openly, and thus, has become another blog post.

The subject is Christianity.

I’ve written quite a bit about Christianity lately.  I’ve frequently shared articles on my Facebook page regarding the work of Pastor John Pavlovitz, more specifically, about some of the shared truths that he and other Christian pastors write about.  I’ve also gotten angry and written posts about how broken Christianity feels like to me (a post that upon retrospection, feels more like a rant than anything, but it still needed to come out at the time).

I was happy when one of my posts sparked discussion, and something from that discussion stuck with me.  It was a Facebook post where one of my other friends, a Christian gentleman, started to speak about how frustrated he was that he couldn’t speak about his religion and the comfort it gave him without being bashed about the ears by people who were expecting the next words out of his mouth to be ‘come to my church and see..’

So I guess I’m not the only one who feels oppressed.

I think the deep introspection of the past several months has caused me to realize that I need to speak my mind, but not just throw words at the topic to vent, like I did in the broken religion post.  I need to talk about how I still hurt, how I have issues thanks to someone’s interpretation of Christianity, but how I still recognize that Christianity as a whole isn’t that bad.  And maybe my being public about things might allow someone else who has some of the same issues to at least think about it.

Yes, you read that right.  I’m a non-Christian that doesn’t think Christianity is that bad.  Seriously.  The concepts of loving another as yourself, not judging another, taking care of the poor, even the discipline of going to a church and prayer are all good things.  In fact, the concept of faith is something I learned in Christianity that I keep with me even now.

But just because I don’t think Christianity is bad doesn’t mean that I don’t still have a lot of anger to deal with because of my upbringing in the church.  The fact of the matter is a great majority of people today were born into some semblance of Christianity.  Many of these people have issues because of that upbringing, and they still carry a lot of anger and resentment toward the entire religion because of said issues.  And I’m still one of them.

But – confession time – I don’t WANT to be someone who has issues with Christianity.  I want to be able to say that I can dismiss the stupidity of certain Christian followers and accept that which is good.  I want to be able to sit down with the gentleman I spoke about above, have a pint and enjoy a good conversation about how our lives are so much more enriched because we BOTH have faith in something more powerful than we are.  There is common ground here that I think is rich with opportunities for bridge building, and I’d love to have those conversations to see what specifics we do have in common.

Although I long for conversations like these, I wonder frequently if I will ever be able to have them.  A good conversation means egos, anger and any suggestions of ‘conversion’ need to be in check.  But still, many Christians I speak with find it their duty to convert heathens like me to the ‘one true’ way.

Come to think of it, now that I am someone who just opened myself to the possibility of sitting down with a Christian to talk about religious practice, or how I read the blogs of Christian leaders, did I just open myself up to people who think I am ready for conversion?  Possibly.  (And if so, I’ll give you the same response I’ve given throughout my life; No.)

Now I can’t do anything about people who feel like it is their duty to convert, but I do know that if someone whose underlying belief is to convert people because their religion is the ‘one, true way’, then you will never be able to have an open heart discussion with them.  The fact is that if someone believes truly in conversion, you will never know if what they say is from their heart, or if it is in the attempt to make you a convert.  And it makes everyone who opens their mouth to say the “C” word in any form or fashion suspect.

And the main sticking point of my anger is right around that ideal of conversion.  I call the root cause of that conversion issue the ‘fear of God’ syndrome.  People feel like they need to convert because the fear of God is something that is instilled in every young Christian in school.  You get raised with this idea that God is so nice, supportive and gentle until you do something wrong and don’t apologize.  Then this God becomes a vengeful being that shames you to eternal pain for the rest of the existence of the world because you dared to do something he didn’t like.  And when the young Christians get to the ripe age where they start to think for yourself – everyone goes through this crisis of faith and either learns to conform, or become like me and recognize things can be different. And if we truly believe in our heart that things can be different, we now get to deal with this fear of angering this vengeful God.  And that was the thing that screwed me up the most; This fact you could be doing the exact same things that the Christian God teaches AND STILL go to this eternal frying pan because you don’t do it in his name.

kenny-yolo_o_514748(Images flash in my mind of the South Park episode where the kids freaked out every time they did something they thought was a sin and had to run to church to confess it. Poor Kenny!)

Perhaps some Christians are aware of how conceited it sounds that some put the Christian faith above others.  But many don’t.  Instead, they relish in it.  It’s a perfect place for their egos to thrive and grow; as NOW they have a GOD GIVEN RIGHT to put everyone underneath them because only THEY and THEIR friends and family are CHOSEN ones.  And it’s those people that have poisoned it for everyone.  For me, who wants to reach out, and for others, like my friend who is tired of being punished for crimes he didn’t commit.

And people wonder why some of us go out of their way to avoid anything that has any Christian leanings.  It’s because the true reason for the speech or action regarding Christianity will never be known.  Are you one of the idiots trying to gain power?  Are you someone who’s trying to ‘hook’ more souls for your Christian God?  Or are you someone who is just sick and tired of the whole mess some people have made of the Christian glenda.jpgreligion and want to just have a good conversation about faith and how it can truly move mountains no matter what you believe in?

In short, “Are you a Good Christian, or a Bad Christian?” I ask, as I hold my ceremonial drinking horn. (I gave up the wand – and the athame might scare people.)

I jest.  But if I don’t jest I might get mad again.  And I don’t want to be mad.  Sure, I’ll have to talk about my hurt for a while longer.  And perhaps I’ll have that pint and hear about another’s hurt and how they feel just as oppressed.  But what is more important is that I want those good Christians to know that my anger isn’t directed at them.  There will be things I post – Stuff that needs to be said, to use the title of Pastor Pavlovitz’s blog – but I don’t do it to directly make someone else feel uncomfortable.  I do it to heal.  I do it to express how much anger I still have left within me.  I do it because someday, I don’t want to have that anger.  I want to shed that anger and pick up that pint and talk about how excited I am to share my practices with another person.  I want to share about how my faith in my Gods makes me feel connected to everyone around the world, how we all need to respect each other.  I want to talk about how when I make a mistake I have to do more than just confess it.  I want to talk about how I don’t bow to my Gods, just as I don’t bow to my boss, my mentors, my teachers or my husband, but instead I show respect in other ways.  I want to share how my vows to be a better person mean I have to push myself out of my comfort zone and force myself to do more to raise my energy and understand my fellow human being better.

Now, more than ever, I truly believe we need these bridges built between communities.  Bridges are the only way we are going to understand each other, and once the understanding is there, compromise is possible.  We see every day how non-compromise is causing trauma and pain and fear.  And if it means having more semi-open conversations before we can get down to business, then I am all for it.

The Work of Introspection

The past week or so has been rough for me again.  But part of it is at my own choosing.

A couple months ago I realized that there were some behaviors and beliefs I had that were bothering me, so I set out on some psychological and introspective work to figure out why I had them and how I could change them.   Now I feel like I’m a little over half way through that process for these specific behaviors, and it’s getting to the part where it becomes tedious as the process has me focus on deeper and deeper issues.  On most days when I do the work, I get very tired.  At worst, on those days I feel like I’ve been run over by a big, emotional truck.  Do this on top of a normal work day and you can see how many people would consider stopping because of the complexity.

But I still continue.  Because I know I will be a much better person on the other side of this process, not just for me, but for my spiritual community.

I have been told by several people that I do more work on myself from a spiritual and mental level than the average person.  In many ways I feel like I’ve had to; I had a lot to recover from over the years and doing this work was the only real way to allow me to become authentic to my true self.  But because I held true to the belief that I could do this work, and pushed myself through it over the years, not only have I become more true to myself, I have also raised my energy levels to the point where I can now be of more service to others.

Introspective psychological work is very important and it is a key part of spiritual work.  However, especially because of the significant conflict I see in the pagan community, I wonder if there is a lack of this introspective work being done today.  My belief of this stems from the myriad of posts from people willing to tell others how their thoughts are wrong; or how we are moving in a wrong direction, very rare are the posts that discuss any compromise or any discussion or offer understanding as to why there is such polarization.  We are too quick to sprout facts for or against issues, but never take the time to understand why someone else believes differently.  So instead of building bridges by reaching understanding, we become even more polarized; much like how politics has become.

Perhaps this lack of introspective work in the Pagan community isn’t on purpose.  Many people in today’s pagan communities find the internet or a book as their first teacher.  That isn’t a bad thing – the very nature of paganism offers significantly different beliefs and systems, and I believe everyone has a place under this umbrella of belief.  But how many ‘how to’ books speak about how shortcomings and outdated beliefs could affect your magical work?  Sure, many speak about discipline of the body through proper diet and exercise as well as discipline of the mind through meditation; those are very important things to know when following a spiritual path.  But knowing why we have those shortcomings, those bad habits and why we carry the issues we do are just as important.

Many spiritual teachers that I’ve discussed this subject with over the years have told me how they do incorporate some sort of psychological work into their student’s magical studies.  It only makes sense to do so.  We need to know ourselves before we can take possession of the energies of the world and wield it to that which we desire.  And by not doing that work to truly know yourself and yet progressing with more advanced studies and spell work, you leave yourself open to unintended consequences.  And those consequences won’t be just for you, but for those around you and the community as well.

Although psychological work is a huge benefit from a metaphysical perspective, it is also beneficial in other ways.  The understanding you receive about yourself from introspective work moves throughout every aspect of your life.  You become a more solid person, not only in magical understanding, but in your career, in your relationships, in your family and in the community.

At the very least, doing psychological work will allow you to better tolerate those that intentionally try to carve up the pagan community , as that type of work provides tools for yourself when dealing with those that intentionally divide.  But depending on how deep you decide to go with this work you might find the other, deeper benefits that come from it.  For example, thanks to the significant amount of work I have done over the years, I can now understand better where some of the negative beliefs that people have come from.  This allows me to respond with empathy and put up firm boundaries with those that wish to bring the challenge to a more of a personal attack.  At the very worst, I am protected, but what may also happen is that my empathic response could deescalate the situation.

An even bigger benefit that I feel I have achieved through my own psychological work is being able to see what specific energies are at play in different conversations and situations.  Perhaps it is simply the Lokian perspective to which I subscribe, but I feel like because I was willing to look into those things that were destructive in me and learn to work with and through them, I can now see that energy better in the world around me.  I have a deeper understanding of the creative and destructive energies around me; how they move, how they react to stimuli and how they balance themselves out.  This understanding has given me a bit of comfort in this polarized world, and I am very grateful for it.

So back to the grindstone of the introspective work I go.  And I don’t plan on stopping this particular work until I am at my goal of at least understanding where these particular issues came from and why I still carry them.  Yes, it’s hard.  But good things never come easy.  And there are too many benefits to me, the energies around me and for my community to even consider stopping.

 

Photo from Deviant Art

Issues with A Broken Religion

Pandora really pisses me off sometimes.

I started building a new radio station to listen to at work based on one of my favorite bands, Breaking Benjamin.  I’ve been in a bit of a melancholy mood for a while now so it fit to create a station around them.  (For those that don’t know, the lead singer of Breaking Benjamin has been pretty public about his personal issues with anxiety and phobias, and to me you can feel that in his music.  You can also feel the strength he uses to fight those illnesses, and that is what appeals right now.  Times are tough, and we can be upset, but we also have strength in spades to get through).

So everything is going pretty well, and of course, as Pandora is designed to do, new music pops up.  And it’s from the band Skillet.  This is a band I wrote about awhile back.  They are Christian, and don’t shy away from speaking about that.  In fact, the reason they are still together is because one of their pastors counseled them to keep pushing forward and continue to speak about the “Glory of God”.   In other words, keep that recruiting up!  We need the revenue! (Yes, I’m aware my bias is showing here).

So that song got the Pandora thumbs down.

Then Ashes Remain came on.  Again, another Christian Rock band.  I looked them up, and they are too much like Skillet for my tastes.  So another thumbs down logged.  After the third Christian band popped up, I just decided to start looking up a list of “Christian” rock bands.  I found out there are quite a few.  The Color Morale, Red, Beartooth, Thousand Foot Krutch and many others I listen to identify as Christian.  And that really bothers me.

So my choices now were that I’m going to have to either keep logging thumbs down on songs a lot more than I thought, or I’m just going to have to accept that there are a lot of Christian bands out there and pick and choose what I like.  And if I just listen to them anyway, I get to do this despite the fact that I feel like most of these bands are out there specifically to recruit people to a religion broken by the people who identify with it.

Believe it or not, this is a pretty hard decision for me.  I’ve done my best to steer clear of Christianity for many years.  Christians can go live over there, and I’m here in my own belief system that suits me just fine.  And occasionally, on my own terms, I’ll seek out those that I know don’t ‘recruit’ and see what they have to say.  Speak to me about learning to become a better person, helping the planet or helping others gain their basic human rights and we will have things in common.  Talk to me about how my religion is somehow wrong or beneath yours, and the conversation will very quickly be over.

However, times are changing, and perhaps the mix that Pandora chose for me is just a catalyst for the realization that I have more lessons to learn.  Sooner or later, I’m going to have to accept that those of the Christian faith who look at me differently are integrated around me more than I feel comfortable about.  Right now I just keep that out of my mind.  However, perhaps that habit is a negative response, especially because of the amount of anger that comes up when I think about it.  And sooner or later, I’m going to have to deal with that anger; the real reason my bias exists.

So here is the crux of the matter: I have more issues with the Christian religion than I thought.  And now, I’m going to have to get off my gluteus maximus and figure out what those issues are and deal with them.

I talked about the fear of God syndrome once before.  And I thought that once I wrote that post, that I had dealt with my issues regarding Christianity, and that was that.  I thought I was doing a good job separating the religion from the people.  Because honestly, the religion itself isn’t THAT bad.  Love one another.  Judge not lest ye be judged.  Be still and know that I am God.  Let him without sin cast the first stone.  All of these things have profound meanings.  And they are meanings that transcend the Christian religion.  To me, it’s the PEOPLE who claim to be Christian that cause 90% of the problems with that religion, maybe even more.

I don’t need to go far to come up with excellent examples.  Look at those who are against abortion.  Sure, they are pro-life while the child is in the womb, but the minute the child is born there will be very little support it if the child was born outside of a strong family unit.  Look at the prosperity gospel and how many people who have given up their entire life savings hoping for a miracle.  Finally, and what angers me the most, is the issues in the current situation.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘Christians’, in the current political climate argue against verses from the book that they claim to follow.  “Oh, that verse is just hyperbole.  Verses like that are throughout the entire bible.”  Or, “Sure, it says turn the other cheek, but at the same time, Jesus wouldn’t want me to stand by and watch as my family gets robbed and killed.”  Plainly put, these people will twist things to match what they want to believe, and they don’t give a shit about the true meaning of that religious text.

Perhaps I’m tired of seeing how people twist religion to make it fit what it is they want to do.  It’s the same with the racism in Heathenism.  There are interpretations of many religions that inflict more harm than they do good, and when that happens, there is something seriously wrong with the people that profess to be following that religion.  Perhaps it wasn’t the case in older times, but in the current age I firmly believe that religion is meant to help us understand the world around us and how we fit in with that world.  I firmly believe that the times where religion divided us should be over.  We have evolved further than that.

But unfortunately, power over people is still something that is strived for by many.  And religion is a tool that has been used for thousands of years to do just that; get power over people.  And for the most part, people are programmed to accept that when it comes to religion, you are expected to relinquish your power to get anywhere.  And thus you have the strife and conflict that we see today.  And that leads me back to my current dilemma.

But at least now I can speak to the issue more clearly.

I am pretty damn angry at people within the Christian churches.  I’m angry at how they failed me in my upbringing, how they didn’t answer my questions and how they forced me to follow along in a religion even though I felt so very different in my soul.  I’m angry at the strife they caused me and so many other people like me that felt different.  I’m angry that they made us feel like outsiders unless we conformed.  I’m very angry they caused us to be afraid of the very Gods that were there to help us the entire time.  And I am mad as hell that I have to deal with all of the leftovers of this upbringing.  I get to deal with all of the confusion and pain as to why I can’t understand or fit with the people who call themselves Christian.  I get to deal with them time and time again telling me that I still am wrong and that I need to ‘get with the program’ in order to save my soul.   I get to deal with the embedded ‘fear of God’s wrath’ if I dare try to be myself.  I get to deal with how I felt back then because I dared ask questions that people couldn’t answer.  And last but not least, I get to learn over and over again how to be a survivor in a country that claims to be Christian, yet refuses to treat people the way their own Jesus said to.

And I’m allowed to be mad.  I’m allowed to be mad as hell.  I’m allowed to be so mad that I can spit nails anytime anyone asks me if “I’ve found Jesus” yet.  Yeah, I found him, and he’s over in the Middle East doing what he can for the refugees that are dying.  And now that you mention it, I saw him the other day in your church, bent over the altar weeping at those using his house for their own personal gain.

Obviously I’m showing my anger.  I’m trying to get it out; to get a name to it.  I need to identify and deal with it.  I need to deal with it because of people like John Pavlovitz, Rob Bell, Michael Beckwith, Revered Ed Bacon and many others.  Although these people are only a few of the vast number of Christians out there, they believe differently.  They believe like me; that God is large enough to be involved in many different religions.  They believe we are stronger if we support and take care of each other, no matter what religion you profess.  And their beliefs contain the possibilities of what Christianity could become.  So there is hope.  Further, and thanks to the current political climate,  I’m reminded that I, someone who is in a religion in the minority, needs to learn to work with others who are in the minority.  Get enough of us together and we will become the majority, forcing change throughout the country.

Even if it is for that last reason alone, I need to deal with this anger.

I’m not sure where this thinking is going to lead me.  I hope it’s someplace positive.  I don’t want to dismiss good people trying to do what is right.  And I know the people I mentioned above are trying to do just that.  But the tenant of my faith says that I must work on myself; that I must overcome my own shortcomings and strive to be a better person.  This is what it means to me when I say I stand with my Gods.

So I guess because of my faith, my religion, I need to figure out a way to be more accepting to those that truly profess theirs.  But that doesn’t mean I’m going to feel bad for not listening to Skillet and bands like them that profess the current status quo of this currently broken religion.

 

Photo from Deviant Art

Remember – There Are Four Lights

As I reflect on what has happened since the inauguration, I realize that the next four years are going to be harder to deal with than I had ever imagined.  The first several days in office, and we are already introduced to things like the new presidential cheering section that follows the President to force other people to laugh and applaud at what he says.  We are also forced to deal with the new lovely term ‘alternative facts’ and the danger they can pose when people start believing them to be true.  And of course, this is just the icing on the cake; he’s already working to dismantle policies that could have detrimental effect on American citizens and our environment.  I hate to say it, but all of this has just made my mind spin.

Part of me wants all of this to stop.  Just days after the new government was installed, part of me doesn’t want to listen anymore.  My social medial feeds, already full of political posts are also now full of arguments between friends on what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ for our country.  And while some of the conversations are civil, many get out of control pretty darn fast.

I thought I had put down enough of a plan of action in my post just after the election.  But now I realize I what I said I would do is not enough.  As I said in that post, I don’t want to be political.  I don’t want this blog to become a political activist page.  Certainly standing up for what you believe in is a spiritual pursuit, but it is not my role to be a politician or political activist 100% of the time.  And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.  I know there are others that are just so fed up with it that they are ready to ignore the entire government and any action they take in the next four years.

But that’s what the current administration WANTS us to do.

I am betting that one of the reasons there is so much media coverage on the numbers of people present at the inauguration vs the Women’s March this weekend along with the other hotly debated items is to push people to do just that – stop.  Stop considering about becoming part of the democratic process by letting their voice be heard.  Stop pushing forward because no matter what you believe, the polarized social networks are now just so in-your-face about things that it’s just too hard to have a dissenting opinion.  The more the pundits speak, the more zinger tweets that get shared, the more spin gets out there and the more the real issues get buried.

A meme I saw last night put everything into perspective for me.  It took me a moment to remember the episode (I’m not as strong on Star Trek as I am Star Wars), but it was a meme based on an episode of “Star Trek the Next Generation.” In the episode, Captain Picard was being tortured by a Cardassian.  During the torture, he was shown four lights.  But he was told that his torture would stop if he would only agree that there were five lights that he was being shown, not four.  All he had to do was say there were five lights, and he could live in luxury for the rest of his life and all the pain would end.  The meme speaks for itself what the conclusion of that episode; he was rescued, and as he was leaving, he yelled at the Cardiassian that there were four lights. bbtio4l

And thanks to that meme, I realize that it’s time for more evasive action.  I needed to do more; to reevaluate my plans in how to deal with the issues coming up in these next four years.

While thinking about these things, I came across two posts from John Beckett on Patheos.com.  The first was about maintaining the Sovereignty of your Mind.  In that post he spoke about what I realized when I saw the above meme.  This truly is going to be a fight for the hearts and minds of the American People in the next four years.  And many people are going to give up; they are going to see all of the chaos caused by the media about the minuscule arguments, and it’s going to take its toll.  We need to be aware of that, and we need to be aware of that now.  We have to set our minds up to filter through the noise so that we can see the real issues that will need to be addressed.

Secondly, John spoke about having an agenda for the next four years.  And again, he is spot on.  Even when we start removing the noise from the media, we aren’t going to be able to save everything.  We are going to need to have our own agenda.  No one can make these decisions for us.  We are going to have to think deeply about what decisions we want to voice our opinion against, and what ones we can live with.  We need to also ensure that we remain healthy.  We still need to maintain a healthy balance in our lives, or else we will just burn out.  This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we haven’t even completed the first mile yet.  Pacing is going to be key, and having that balance between activism, spiritualism and other efforts in life is going to be our pacer.

Thanks to an app called countable, I will be more up to date on what congress is actually doing without relying on media news feeds or listening to social action networks.  So my words will be more in line with what is actually going on, when it is going on, and will be appropriate responses.  I’m cutting down my intake of social media even more, and plan to keep my news intake to a minimum (10 minutes on NPR during a news update should be enough.)

I still firmly believe that human rights are not something that should be a political football; that they transcend politics, no matter what your race, creed, religion or your sexuality.  I also believe that we still need to be caretakers of this great earth of ours.  She is a giver of life, not a resource to be mined uncontrollably.  At this point I don’t care if you call me a liberal, a conservative, or whatever.  These fights transcend politics.  They are things that should be embedded in our hearts, and our actions day in and day out should reflect them.

I wish sometimes that I wasn’t the type of person that pushes through conflict.  I sometimes wish things were easier than what they have to be.  I wish for it, but I already know that this is one wish I shouldn’t have granted.  It’s the one thing that won’t change.  We live, we struggle, we grow from the struggle, and the growth allows us to get ready for the next struggle.  I guess this time the struggle is simply something outside my comfort zone.  The cycle sounds simple enough, but it is the basis for all of the growth of this planet.  It is so embedded in our DNA that it’s a part of growth itself.  And even though it’s a hard cycle to continue, by doing our best to honor it we also honor those that were a part of putting this cycle into motion.