The Struggle for Radical Inclusion

I’m getting very tired of hearing other opinions, especially when those opinions are openly against another person’s belief, the color of their skin, the way they dress, what they choose for themselves, or those against an entire religion. Yet, that feels like it’s all I’m surrounded by. And not only am I surrounded by those opinions I know now I have family members with those types of beliefs. And what is worst of all, it is now confirmed that people I chose to be a part of my chosen family and those I looked up to have opinions that demean and belittle others.

Each time I have heard about someone else close to me who has a believe that excludes others, it makes my heart ache. Don’t get me wrong, when it’s a story on the news about things that people are doing against each other, it hurts too. You pray for those affected and do what you can if there are monetary needs or petitions to sign. But when it gets close to home, things get really bad for me. Heartache turns to outright anger, bitterness and a whole hell of a lot of pain. But yet, when the talk from family or friends turns to those sore topics, I have still tried to be civil. I agree to disagree, or bring up reasons why things are not the way the person who is biased claims them to be. Even when my own uncle comes out against others for the color of their skin, I still try to ‘play nice’ for the sake of the family. I still try to listen, to understand, and to get them to understand where I am coming from.

There is a reason I was doing this. The thing is, one of the biggest problems this nation faces today is that we aren’t listening to each other. We aren’t recognizing there is an allowance for differences of opinions. There was a time when being ‘democrat’ or ‘republican’ meant that ideals were different, yet everyone believed in being civil, and both sides strongly felt they were doing the right thing for the nation. There was a time not too far in the past when civil debates could be held without fear and even political candidates stopped their constituents from throwing angry slurs at their opponents during rallies.

But unfortunately, those times are long over.

Today, it’s not just an opinion about whether or not to tax something anymore. Today, the differences of opinion are about large swaths of people and whether or not they have a right to education, a right to live and worship as they choose, or even just a right to exist. And I can understand why those beliefs are held. Some people that hold opinions against others do it out of fear, or they do it out of experiences they have, or they do it because that is what they were taught. And almost always those with the opinions of exclusion don’t think they are doing anything wrong. For example, I was recently told by someone that equality currently exists between a gay couple and a straight couple if the gay couple had at least a couple doctors to go and see. Sure, not all the doctors would be willing to see them because of their ‘christian’ faith, but because they still had a choice of some doctors who would take them as patients it didn’t matter if others wouldn’t see them. I couldn’t help but think if the situation was reversed that they wouldn’t think it was equal, no matter how many times they said they would feel the same way during that conversation.

No matter what it was justified it with, this person was talking about the exclusion of a human being. They were excluding another life, another spirit, another soul. They are excluding another in which, in many different religions, is believed to be that which has been made in a likeness of God – the very God they claim to worship. If that wasn’t bad enough, by excluding that person, many break a second tenant that is said in many different ways based on the specific religion, but basically boils down to ‘do not judge others’.

So here is where, in any conversation with someone whose opinion is being sliced to shreds, the cherry picking begins. Either I’m looking at something the wrong way, or I don’t fully understand the verses being spoken about, or another verse overrides what verses or holy books I’m quoting from. It doesn’t matter. In my personal belief system a human is still a human, and until they do something that clearly shows they don’t deserve it, respect for who and what they are matters deeply to me.

Automatic respect of others is radical. Automatic respect is the hard road. Recognizing the difference of opinion and accepting it (not approving mind you, but accepting) is ridiculously hard, especially in this polarized nation. But it’s what I’ve tried to do, time and time again. I’ve recently been in conversations with others that my husband has outright told me he would have immediately quit the conversation and stormed out of the room. Not because he nor I were being disrespected, but because the person was so passionate about their belief that they were right. This person wasn’t an outright hater or excluder, but they certainly were on the slippery slope to allow exclusion to happen and not find it to be wrong.

But I have to admit, even though I do my best, I still get shaken to my core. Recently in the Society for Creative Achronism (SCA), the ruler of a kingdom who has made racist statements on social media elevated a known racist to the highest honor of the kingdom, even while the other members who had a say vetoed the elevation. In another kingdom, months earlier, royalty decided to wear clothing with swastikas clearly sown into the embroidery. And today, I’m forced to recognize yet again that someone in my own household shares radical opinions about Muslims. This is someone who swore an oath to be kind to all, generous with their time, who is known as a caring individual, and yet, it seems to me now that these traits are just part of the ‘game’ that is the SCA, and not what they strive to be in real life. This is truly disheartening and sad.

Unfortunately, because I’m getting hit by this over and over, it makes me wonder about my own personal guidelines on dealing with these people. Do I give more benefit of the doubt than I should? Do I need to follow the example and turn away from anyone who even speaks about exclusion being right, even though it may not be outwardly racist or bigoted? And if I do, doesn’t that just mean that I’m becoming a part of the polarization, and not part of the solution? It breaks my heart that I have to consider these things. I have watched my own parents become bitter as they got older because of the beliefs and actions of others, and swore to myself that I would never become that way; that I would always seek the good in others no matter how hard it was to find, and only quitting if the actions of that person became threatening to me, my friends or loved ones.

Now I don’t know if I have the strength left in me to not be bitter.

But for now, trying to be open is the requirement I have set upon myself, not only as a personal ethical code, but for me, a religious one as well. So I keep trying. I keep listening. I keep trying to get both sides of the story, and try to change others minds when I can. Many are perhaps a lost cause. Probably many more than I’m willing to admit to myself right now. And perhaps there may be need of more distancing myself from those who don’t want to see another side. Perhaps those whose beliefs include exclusion of any kind should be distanced, their businesses not be patronized as much as I had before. And perhaps I withdrawal from the SCA even further than I have previously. And perhaps these things aren’t being done on my part out of malice or anger. Perhaps I simply need to do them for my own sanity. Perhaps then I might have more mental energy to engage someone who might actually listen and come to understand.

I can still hope.

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Religion is not Black and White

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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

Winds of Change (Again)

The only thing that is constant in this life is change.

11 years ago, I attended my first Pennsic as a member of an armored combat unit.  Pennsic is an event of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval reenactment group.  This particular event has been running for 45 years now.

The difference between this event and others is that Pennsic runs for a full two weeks, and is a war between two kingdoms.  So for one of these weeks, roughly 2,000 fighters go out in full armor almost every day and ‘fight’ this war –  by beating the hell out of each other with rattan sticks.

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The Kingdom of the East moving in for the Field Battle – Photo from the East Kingdom Gazette

Oh there are rules to this form of combat – specific armor requirements, specific places on the body you can and cannot hit, specific rules on how large the rattan weapons can be, and plenty of marshals out on the field watching to ensure that no one gets hurt.  But it is combat nonetheless.  And there is a lot of energy being expended in combat, especially when it is on the same field 45 years in a row with 2,000 or more people fighting almost every year.

So being in that first fight was a HUGE catalyst of change for me.

First, there was physical change.  I faced my fear by being out there.  I recognized I had more control over my body than I ever realized.  I didn’t throw up, even though I wanted to.  I didn’t allow my fear to show on my face, and I actually was able to function in the battle, even though I was scared as hell.  There too were also physical changes.  I met my husband on that battlefield, and fought alongside him in that first battle.  Once we started dating, I moved to another state, took another job and ended up purchasing a home in order to be close to him.

Mentally, I found that I had wells of strength within me that I never knew I had.  And those wells of strength have never gone dry, even in the years since that first battle.  I’ve relied on that strength to push me through lots of life changes as well as to learn to heal from issues in my past.  And what surprised me even more was after I got off that battlefield, I recognized that doors opened in my mind that allowed me to recognize what it was I needed to heal from.

Finally, there was a spiritual aspect to those battles.  By claiming my strength and pushing myself I found I had learned new skills I to protect and take care of myself.  Those skills have also served me well.  They have given me confidence that I can handle things that have been thrown at me.  I think the Gods saw this that day.  And their response was basically, “So, you have faced your fears, good for you.  Here are some gifts and more work for you to do.”

Pennsic will be starting again this weekend, and again, I will be attending along with over 10,000 people.  I won’t be on the armored combat unit this year; I had to give that up due to the fibromyalgia.  This year however, I’m trying my hand at fencing.  The battles will not be as rigorous, but they will still be just as intense.

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Defending the Castle is very difficult when you are outnumbered – Rapier battle photo from the Pennsic Independent

And as I make my final preparations to go out there, I’m recognizing that I’m having the same feelings as I did 11 years ago, when the winds of change first started to push me into a new direction for my life.  The feeling of being unsettled started this morning, along with my thoughts moving towards reflection of my life and how it could change.  I decided to set up a meeting with a friend to do some divination on the subject, and by doing so all of the feelings that I had started to intensify.  Change is again on the wind.

Perhaps the changes will be battlefield related, like they were 11 years ago.  Perhaps they will be more related to the classes that I intend to take, as Pennsic is a place to explore many interests – not just those related to combat.

It sounds weird that something that started as a game could have such power to be a significant catalyst for change, but I say from experience is absolutely does.  You just have to do your best to be ready.