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.

 

Shifting and Shedding Skin

I lost my title of “Documentation Subject Matter Expert” at my place of employment a couple of weeks ago.  The title and duties were a holdover from the previous position that I held in the company, but I still did them.  But because I have been at my current position outside that department for several years now, it was time to let those duties go.  However, when I did, I was surprised to find a sense of loss.

It was cool to be a Subject Matter Expert, but there was a lot that went with the job.  On a monthly basis I had to teach classes on documentation.  I also was ‘on call’ when I was ever at work to deal with questions and issues.  This meant that the role regularly bit into my time to do my current job duties.  And unfortunately, it just got to be too much.

The whole thing reminded me of a hard lesson that I feel like I’m still learning.  This particular lesson started for me once I got back into the pagan community on a more active basis.  I have a lot I can offer people, so I wanted to jump right back into a role of teacher or priestess pretty quickly. But it never really developed for me to do so, and I found that very frustrating.

I came to realize that while I had a lot of experience, knew how to steer and work with a group (and had done so many years previously), doing those things weren’t a good ‘fit’ for me anymore.  I had committed to too many things that I needed to take on for myself.  So adding teaching a study group or even having an individual student was something that I just didn’t have time for anymore.  Don’t get me wrong, I still feel I am an elder, and I absolutely help people on their paths by my intuitive readings, but I’m not the one who leads the entire group.  At least not right now.

The realization of this is something that was akin to my losing my work title, but it hurt a lot more.  I am very proud that my previous forays into pagan communities had consisted of my being the one writing the rituals and the lessons for the coven to follow.  I led the cones of power, the chanting and spell casting.  But those things weren’t my calling anymore.

Looking back, so many of my previous posts on this blog have dealt with roles and titles, how they fit and don’t fit, what they actually represent, and the work that you take on should you accept one.  Perhaps were so many posts on this because  I was still trying to find where I fit in.  But in order to figure out where I fit in, I needed to understand what those roles and titles meant as well as let go of my assumption of jumping right back into a place where I was previously.

In other words, it was finally time to shed my old titles and roles so that I could grow into new ones.  Just like the Pagan community as a whole has evolved and become so much bigger than what it was.

I don’t think I’m alone in assumptions about roles and titles. I think that there are frequent assumptions made by newer pagans as well as us ‘old-timers’ at roles that we think or expect we need to be in that actually aren’t true.  I’ve met many people who automatically assume that they are meant for a specific role in the pagan community only to find that they were mistaken. And now, years later, they have found something that better suits who they are as a person.  I guess it was time for me to do the same.

I am not really sure if there is a name or label for what it is I do; there are so many facets to it now that I think only the label “elder” would encompass them, but that title in itself is very generic.  Perhaps that is a good thing.  And perhaps I need to consider not even looking for a specific role or title anymore.  Maybe I just need to be me, focus on that which I need to focus on for myself, and let things move forward as they may.

And speaking of shedding, I have updated my ‘about me’ page to better reflect who I am and what I feel I do.  I think it fits very nicely now.

 

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.

I Won’t Give Up Hope

 

Many times when I visit her, my mother likes to start ranting about her feelings about politics and the generations of people after her own.  She is of the baby boomer generation, and, of course, is also a child of two of members of greatest generation (those who endured World War II).

Some of her most repeated gripes include the level of stamina between generations.  She feels the greatest generation was the strongest generation we ever had; in work ethics, in principals and in morality.  Her generation, she believes is strong as well, but not as strong as her parents.

And then, there are the Gen-Xers, the millennials and the other generations that followed. In her mind, we all have significant weaknesses, specifically when it comes to ethics and when we need to put in a hard day’s work.  She gets mad when I speak about the work that my husband and I do, how we don’t depend on anyone else but ourselves and haven’t for a very long time.  She also gets very mad when I talk about how there are a lot of very good people in this world – my age and younger – that happen to work harder and longer than I ever would.  Some of these people have done significant things to change the world.

My father tries to chime in too; but only to throw a more judgmental spin on things.  He believes everyone from California are just too liberal for their own good, and that there is such a thing called reverse racism.

My parents are role models to me, but not for the reason you think.  They are role models for me to learn what NOT to become.  But thanks to this election, I almost got there anyway.

All the way through the primary, I was one of those people who were posting about how one candidate is bad for the country.  I was posting about the concerns of racism, the bigotry, the narcissism, and on and on.  I became polarized on this candidate and his supporters.  I focused on how horrible things would be if this person was elected, and expected everyone else to see what it was that I saw.

This polarization made me miss something else entirely.  I missed the fact that people are scared.  They are genuinely afraid of how things were going, afraid of the change that the past 8 years has brought, and fueled by that fear, they came out in mass to vote.

Now yes, many people are going to pour over the data of this past election for years to come, many much smarter than I, and give other reasons why my candidate didn’t win.  But no matter what they say, however many years from now, they won’t remember the underlying fear that was carried in the hearts of Americans through this entire process.  They won’t remember the media that fueled that fear, the memes on Facebook and other social media.  The polarization, the ‘what ifs’, and everything else that went along with it.

Now I see one way my parents could get so carried away into their judgement and hate.  And now I’m doubly determined not to do the same.

I’m going to make more changes now so that I don’t become polarized again.  I’m putting filters in place on my social media sites, and am going to strictly limit my news intake from now on.  I’m going to do my best to check all sources as I go.  And most of all, I’m going to try to remember that we are all human first.

I’m not going to give up hope that people can still be helped, love can still win, and that we are all striving to be better.

I’m not going to give up hope that we are all doing the best we have with what we are given.

And I’m not going to give up hope on my country.

Don’t get me wrong, when I see bullying or actions against others I’m still going to call it out.  That is my duty now more than ever.  I still have to do what I feel is right.  But now, I have to consider other actions.  Those actions might be donating what I can to more organizations, volunteering my time, saying prayers, doing ritual and just doing more to carefully consider someone else’s opinion.

Now more than ever, we need to unite with each other, our community and try to step forward as a whole.

Photo from Deviant Art

The Importance of Limits

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As I go throughout my life, I recognize more and more that I need limits.  Not only are they important in my physical life and in dealings with other people, but they are important in my spiritual life as well.

I am not the type of person to shy away from a challenge, especially when it pertains to my self-improvement.  I’ve done a lot of things toward the goal of making myself a better person over the years.  I’ve lost significant amounts of weight, quit smoking, quit eating things that were bad for me or that I was allergic to.   (I know that one is a given, but I know family members who refuse to give things up, even when they know it hurts them!) I’ve changed my demeanor to the point that I have had people who haven’t seen me for a while come up to me and tell me I am a totally different person than what they knew before.  The changes aren’t being driven from the outside.  Instead, I’ve always wondered how far I can push myself to change, and to see what those changes would do for me.

Self improvement is one of the very basic things that I believe the Gods want us to do in this lifetime; we have to deal with the things that we are given, deal with the things that we have done to ourselves, and of course, deal with the stuff that others do.  We have to get through all of this in order to get to the nature of who it is we are as human beings.  It is only then that we see the gifts that the Gods give us to use in service to ourselves and others.

To that end, I believe the Gods take an active role in pushing you further in this life.  They are going to give you opportunities to come to terms with things that are going on.  They are going to give you opportunities to deal with roadblocks you put in your own way.  And as a reward, they are going to give you keys to the different gifts that you hold inside of yourself.  And the more you push yourself, the more the Gods will push you to go deeper into your spiritual path.  In the end, what you do makes you better equiped to do their will on this planet.  It’s never more than you can handle, but they still give as much as you think you can take.

That’s where the limits come in.

I’m recognizing the days of ‘overhauling’ my personal nature are pretty much over.  At 41, I’m finally recognizing that I am enough, and that a lot of the mistakes, abuse and issues from my past are now dealt with.  And if they aren’t dealt with now, they are at least on their way to becoming dealt with.  But for a while there, I still kept piling on projects like I still needed a lot more work, and the Gods reciprocated by opening up other doors of possibility for me.

Finally, a couple months ago, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with stuff.  .  A friend of mine, after hearing about how in conversations with my Gods I was told about these possibilities, said to me that it was OK to say no.  That thought had never occurred to me before.  Say no to a God?  Seriously?

It took me some time to realize it was true.  And it’s all a part of self-care that I needed to do for myself now.

Now I understand.  My Gods want me to say ‘no’ from time to time.  It helps them know that I am putting my self-care first, something that is very important because of the physical maladies that I have to deal with on a day to day basis.  They want me to know that I can stand up for myself, whether it be to them or to someone else who is either imposing on my time or causing me undue stress and harm.

I have a bet too, that I’m not the only one that needs to say ‘no’ occasionally.  Gods, especially those in the Norse pantheon, don’t want us to bow and venerate them all of the time.  They want us to work with them, both to make ourselves better and to make this world a better place.  But the only way we can effectively enter a relationship with them and do that is if we are honest about our own limits.  It’s weird to think that we can say ‘no’, as I know many who worship in pantheist traditions don’t think that they can.  And those of us who were brought up in said traditions immediately carry that mindset of not being able to say ‘no’ to their polytheist practice.

Now that I have accepted it, I realize setting limits needs to happen frequently, and we need to be aware that they change.  As a sufferer of fibromyalgia, I am constantly reviewing my efforts to stay active.  And that means that if I want to pursue one activity, another one is going to suffer.  I have to be OK with that.  It doesn’t mean I’m going to drop the activity that suffers, but it does mean that it needs to go on hold for awhile.  This is the same with my spiritual practices.  I can’t spend an hour each day on practicing and reviewing the runes while also wanting to do a significant meditation practice and build a better spiritual gardening practice.  All of that takes time and energy, and with fibro, both of those are significantly limited.

Especially as we start to journey toward the Autumnal Equinox, I find my spiritual practices going back to focusing on balance.  Limits need to be created and maintained in order to find that balance.  We still aren’t through this extensive year of work yet; and I expect the next months until year’s end are going to be very productive on many different levels.  Reviewing and redefining my limits right now are going to go a long way to getting myself ready for the work ahead.

Photo from Deviant Art

Religion is not Black and White

the_holy_book_by_djvue

Last week I was lucky enough to be at Pennsic; an event for members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).  And while this event is very much a part of the SCA, there is a significant group of pagans that attend as well.  In fact, many of the classes had a religious twist to them, while others classes taught beginning forms of magic and prayers.

So you would think that with the amount of different belief systems that were represented in this 11,000 person gathering, a tolerance to other belief systems would be something that you would see a lot of.  Unfortunately, this was not the case.  There were many times during the week I  saw instances of people using their religion to justify lack of respect for others during the week.  That really bothered me.

Of the things I saw, two things stood out the most.  The first happened around the campfire.  I was listening to gentleman in the group I am affiliated with speak about Muslims.  Unsolicited, this person started to explain that if you read the Koran you would find verses there that tell Muslims they must kill others who don’t believe the same as they do.  He then doubled down and said Muslims weren’t ‘true’ to their faith if they did not believe these verses.   Not wanting to get involved in a debate, I told him that I was going to agree to disagree with him, and that there were many different interpretations of the Koran.  This just pushed him into a frenzy to say whatever he could to get me to believe what he does.  After a few minutes, someone else changed the subject.  Unfortunately, this was a man who I really looked up to, and listened to.  I don’t know what he thinks of me now, but in my mind he no longer is held in the high esteem he once was.

The second issue came up during a discussion with the founder of the group.  I found out about it second-hand, or else I would have gone off on the younger member myself.  You see, the founder was told by this younger member  that because he was Heathen, his Gods told him he didn’t need to bow to them, and thus he will not bow to bow to any other person, including this gentleman.  He further said to the founder of the group that nothing the founder said or did on his behalf would be welcomed.  He went further in denouncing and belittling the founder, but I think you get the point.

This really bothered me.  Yes, I go by this belief as well, and yes, I don’t bow to my Gods. But I still  treat them with respect, much like I treat my elders with respect.  The founder of this group is very much an elder in the SCA, but also an elder that is looked up to for his teaching ability and his talents.  The younger member not only didn’t treat this person with respect, but he belittled and demeaned him.  And that was very hard to hear for me. And again, I lost a significant amount of respect for this young man.

In the altercation with the gentleman around the campfire, perhaps he was right on one point – perhaps the Koran does have verses in it regarding the killing of others.  I have honestly not read it, do I don’t know for absolute certain.  But I have read the book of Leviticus in the Christian Bible, and I know there are significant stanzas in that book that are not looked on as law today.  Those include having slaves, not touching the skin of a pig, and not wearing clothing made out of two different types of fabrics.  But yet, Christians pick and choose what they want to believe out of that book, so it is an easy assumption that a Muslim may consider doing the same thing, especially when they preach peace between religions (like many I know do).

The belief about Muslims being forced to kill others  is damning, especially in today’s world.  But I think there is a deeper, even worse problem here.  This person never thought about asking another Muslim what they believe.  He never asked another Muslim why they believe what they do.  Instead,  he felt reading their religious texts and making up his own mind without any outside influence was the best thing to do.  Therefore he believed his interpretation of that text is right.

The holy texts of many religions are hundreds and hundreds of years old.  They were written by man, who is not infallible, but they were inspired by God.  There are many things in those texts that just don’t fit today’s society.  Certainly there were reasons back then for those things, but in this day and age they just don’t make sense.  Therefore trying to understand a holy text on your own without some sort of help or without someone that can answer any questions you may have is going to skew the beliefs that come out of the text in the first place.

In the second scenario I heard about, the young member is a solitary heathen, who again has read the lore and has formed his own beliefs.  He does not practice with any other group, as he finds other groups ‘limiting’.  And here, I agree with him in the fact that our Gods do not want us to venerate them like those in other religions do.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t give them the respect they deserve.  That doesn’t mean you don’t give them offerings and thanks.  Perhaps if this young person would go to their local group or get online sometime he might recognize that.  But instead, this was again a case of someone learning about something on their own and not asking questions.    This one bothered me significantly, because this person is representing MY religion.  And after hearing this happen, I had to explain to the head of the house that unlike this young member, I will be treating him with the respect he is due because of his position, as well as treating him with honor and respect because he is a fellow human being and a good man worthy of that respect.

These situations made me realize how much we really don’t know about people’s religions.  We can take religious classes, we can read books on religious subjects or read the holy texts of the religions we wish to learn about all we want.  However, if we don’t go to those who practice the religion on a regular basis and get their input, we will never be close to understanding the true meaning and peace that a particular religion can hold for its followers.

When someone doesn’t seek out those who wish to share their beliefs openly, it is easy to fall into many of the  assumptions that are so common:

  • Christians hate anyone who is involved in the LGBTQ community
  • Muslims believe anyone who does not share their religion are infidels and must be put to death
  • Anyone who calls themselves a son or daughter of Odin is a racist
  • Witches are always Wiccan

And on and on the assumptions go.

I refuse to believe these assumptions.  Are there bad groups within each religion?  Of course there are.  And if I find out someone believes something that belittles or exposes their hate for another, I choose not to listen to that person speak about any religion anymore.  I can simply step away or shut down the conversation, and I have a right to (politely) do that.  I don’t need to get into a debate with that person because they have already made up their mind.  All a debate would do is to make everyone involved frustrated and angry.  Some people may say the debate would be a healthy thing because there is an opportunity to change someone’s mind.  But what is more likely to happen is more hate and anger being spewed regarding the opposite side.  I saw a lot of that going on last week on blogs, and I refuse to help spread it.

So instead of trying to debate or change someone’s assumption about a religion, I will choose to look for those who don’t assume.  I want to talk religion with those who are open to hear what others think, despite what some holy writ or text says.  This is my way of not continuing to spew assumptions and judgement on others, and I think we need more of this type of thinking in this world.

Photo from Deviant Art

Science doesn’t know it all. Neither does Religion.

This weekend I got into a very minor debate with my father that shook me big time.

I found out that my father has become a creationist.

As in dinosaurs and humans existed together.  As in Noah’s ark is real (they’ve done studies, don’t you know).  As in the earth is only 6,000 years old.  Yep.  He’s a big time creationist.

Holy Crap.

Part of me finds it slightly amusing.   I was sent to a Catholic school by my parents.  And in that Catholic school the history of the earth that I learned about didn’t have a drop of creationist belief in it. But yet, this past Sunday, for a few minutes (until I was able to change the subject at least), I ended up arguing with a man who was trying to debunk the very stuff that I had learned from that religious school he had sent me to.

The rest of me that isn’t amused is just in shock.  Growing up I looked to my father as being an intelligent person.  I thought that he shared the same beliefs as I did when it came to the origins of the universe and the creation of Earth.  I thought we at least had one thing in common.  I found out I was wrong.

I firmly believe that science and faith go hand in hand and enhance the other.  Sciences tells us the ‘how’ about the origins of the universe, and religion (or faith in a religion) tells us the ‘why’.  They were never supposed to be exact duplicates of each other.  This wonderful universe has been set before us to explore.  We are to continue to learn how it works and how it evolved from the very beginning of time.  But no matter what science puts together to say how it happened, it is only part of the picture of its evolution.  The other half is the faith that evolution was done by whatever God you believe in.  Or, from a humanist / atheist perspective, the other half is the faith that the universe evolved on its own without divine interference.  Either of these still completes the full picture.

Furthermore, you absolutely cannot try to utilize one side to explain the other.  Science will never fully explain why we are so enamored with religion or have faith in things that are scientifically unexplained.  Religion will never explain why we choose to pursue scientific concepts.  It will never explain those scientific concepts or how things were created.  And most importantly, religion will never quash the desire to understand how we ended up here in the first place or how the world works.

Of course, my father nor my mother wanted to hear my belief.  Instead my father ranted about how science cannot duplicate the human eyeball and that we have never found a half ape/half human.  My poor husband, dealing with a migraine from the on-and-off thunderstorms that had blown through the area that day just sat there listening to the rant while holding his head in his hands.  I could tell he was forcefully holding himself back from ripping holes in everything my father said for the sake of keeping the peace, and it wasn’t doing much to help his migraine.

I honestly don’t know what is going on with my parents.  I live in a different state from them, and am not in frequent touch because of things exactly like this.  This discussion just tells me that I may be forced to make visits even less frequent than I have been doing, as I suspect that their beliefs  are only going to become more strict and conservative as time goes on.  I hate to say it, but that scares me.   I don’t want to be fully cut off from them, but if it is going to come down to the only relationship that I have becoming a very unhealthy one, I’m going to have to do just that.

The fact that I believe that religion nor science has the whole story is also something that I’m not about to push on my parents, nor anyone else.  That is my belief.  It makes sense to me.  If it makes sense to someone else, they are more than welcome to use the information to expand their own knowledge and make it fit for themselves.  If someone wants to discuss something different and share their own belief with me, that is perfectly acceptable, but I have the right to say that I disagree, and I have a right to my opinion.  And that is the crux of the issue here.

And for the record, I don’t care if you build an Ark.  Just don’t use tax money to do it.  There is a reason separation of church and state exists.  And don’t expect building it will recruit people to your own religion either.  Everyone is allowed to make up their own mind about religion and science, just like I did.

So yes Dad, I will accept your beliefs. But even though I will respect your belief about religion, don’t think I’m going to allow you to rant and rave to try and ‘ force-recruit’ me to your way of thinking, even though you are my father.  And if you share your opinion, you better be ready to listen to mine and not just ignore it.

Photo from Deviant Art