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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The Trial of the Flame

flame_by_vexix1887
Photo from Deviant Art

Well take my hand, and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.
Oh take my hand, and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.

Now well within the cold dark battlements,
Black raven calls my name.
Never’ fore have I explored this backside of my brain.
There amongst those misty ruins likes this port of death and pain.

Take my hand, we’ll make a stand,
Through the trial of the flame.
Well take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.

Gonna take this long trek down the shoreline.
Where the sea awaits me there,
If you do not fear it friend,
You’re ‘bout as mad as can compare.
Lost souls, and ghosts and phantoms are there awaitin’ in the rain.
So take my hand and walk with me through the trial of the flame.

Take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.
Take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.

How does it happen now good lad
Black raven calls your name?
On this dismal voyage through a world that reeks of death and pain.
So clear the smoke it’s vastness so infest your mortal brain.
Take my hand I’ll lead you through this trial of the flame.

Take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.
Take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.

 

 

I may not have all of the lyrics of this song correct, but they are as close as I can get them from listening to Garold Amadon’s album “Tillerman’s Rye”.  This song for me is speaking to a lot of trials that I seem to be going through lately; with the fibromyalgia, the changes in my social groups, my work and in my spiritual life.  It’s funny, Tillerman’s Rye came out over 20ish years ago now and those lyrics are still as meaningful now as they were then.

We aren’t meant to be stagnant beings on this planet.  We are meant to learn, grow wiser and to help others.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to hurt along the way as we stretch ourselves.  We can only try to keep moving forward, keep pushing, keep striving for what is right for us and for our communities.

 

(Song by Garold Amadon, off the album “Tillerman’s Rye,”  available at his website)

Poem: I fly

The draft around me
I feel the sky
Wings outstretched, taut
I  bob and weave, leaning  into the wind
I see my prize

Water splashing around me
I dive in
Chaos reigns and could kill
Only a moment I have
I claim my prize

Pounding hard now
I regain my height
Heavier than before
But yet I overcome
I have my prize

I shall live a day more

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.

Finding a Path of Belief

Something occurred to me on my walk with my husband recently.  On April 24, it will be 19 years since my first wedding. It surprised when I remembered this, having divorced the man I was first married to in 2002.

There was so many things going on around that time that we should have never gone through the ceremony. My then fiance’s mother went into a coma a month before the wedding. Columbine happened, which was on the minds of many people. Exactly one month after the wedding, his father would die of a heart attack. Two months after that, we would take his mother off of life support.  Most of his extended family didn’t even come to the wedding, deciding that it was better if they stayed vigil at their Mother’s bedside instead.

I will fully admit I was young, inexperienced, and going through a lot of mental issues of my own at the time. I had no idea how to be a wife and to give all the support I needed to give through his trials.

But even if I could have given him the support, the biggest issue for me to deal with through those trials was that I couldn’t relate to him on any spiritual level.

As I have said before I was raised Roman Catholic, and at that point I had been studying paganism on and off for  9 years.  But this man was not raised with any faith.  In fact, when the issue came up, it was quickly dismissed in his family.  So when he was forced to deal with these losses, he had no belief system to fall back on; he didn’t even know where to start to comprehend the losses he suffered.

In the end, he blamed himself for these losses.  If he would have just been at his parent’s home instead of going to work, perhaps he could have gotten help for his father.  If he had visited his parents, perhaps he would have stopped his mom from eating the thing that made her sick in the first place.  If he would have been a better son, he would still have his parents; they wouldn’t be forever lost to him.  In the end the spirituality factor wasn’t the final breaking point of the marriage, but it did a lot of damage.

Fast forward to 2006. I elope with my then fiance to Las Vegas.  A week later, we get back home and he gets a phone call in the middle of the night.  His father is diagnosed with a bowel perforation and needs immediate emergency surgery.  He was a ‘snowbird’, having left Michigan for warmer Florida weather, which made things even more complicated.  My new husband flies down to be there for the surgery.  Several days later his father takes a turn for the worse and is taken off life support.

My husband was raised in a Catholic family, as I was.  And he also didn’t feel that path was right for him and was exploring paganism.  But because he had done enough exploring on his own to form his own beliefs, he knew his father was some place safe and that he WOULD see him again. Even though there was no dogma attached to his beliefs, and that he had no core religious or spiritual practices, he still felt a comfort from what belief system he had.  It was faith in that belief system that helped him grieve and helped him get over the trauma and be able to move forward.

Thinking back on both these experiences, I wonder if it would have made any difference to my first husband if he would have been raised in a religious family.  Would he have fallen back on that teaching?  Or would the teaching have sparked a hunger in him to find his own place, like it did for my second husband and I?  Did it hinder his development that religion was so glossed over in his family growing up?

It makes me wonder if we are teaching our children enough about belief and religion.  And maybe we need to go even further with that teaching.  Maybe we need to also teach them about other religions as well as the one they grow up in to allow them to make an informed decision when they become of age.

If we give our children consent to ask questions about beliefs and faith, it allows them many different options.  They may grow up and choose to become stronger in the faith of their family.  They may choose to take another faith as theirs, or choose to either continue to question the existence of divinity or not believe at all.  Whatever their choice, they will have (or at least start to have) a belief system that works for them.  And that system will help them answer some of life’s harder questions for themselves.  At the very least, they will know where to go to help seek out more information and find comfort.

From a Pagan perspective, I think we as a community are doing better at teaching our children to ask questions and grow in their own belief system.  However, I wonder if in time we are going to have to come to terms with those who choose Christianity as their belief system once they grow up.  Much like many Christian parents do when their children choose a faith different from them, we may become upset and feel rejected by the child that chooses a monotheistic faith.  But if we preach freedom of religion, we must allow our children to choose what they feel is right for them.  If we don’t, we risk another generation of children growing up angry at their parents for not allowing them to be themselves, much like many Pagans are now when thinking of their own upbringing.

However, even though there are still struggles with belief from parent to child, perhaps things have gotten better in some ways.  When thinking back to my grandparents raising my mother and uncles, things were much more strict.  Beliefs weren’t allowed to be questioned and obedience to religion was mandatory.  When I look back at my mother’s actions as I was growing up, it occurred to me that the faith she had was obedience to her parents more than anything.  And even though God was mentioned, it is more fear of their disapproval that kept her focused in that specific religion.

I really started feeling that way after seeing her reactions to a couple of situations.  One in particular still stands out in my mind.  I had met her for lunch at a buffet on a Lenten Friday. When she looked at the offerings on the bar, she became upset because she wanted to eat meat, but instead was confined to the fish and vegetable options due to Lenten obligations.  She told me that my Grandmother would be upset if she ate meat that day.  I replied that Grandma and Grandpa weren’t eating with us, and wouldn’t know.  She said it didn’t matter.  Those were the rules she grew up with, and those were the rules that had to be obeyed.

How sad it is to me that someone feels like they must obey rules that someone else made for them.  And that they don’t feel they can vet those rules for themselves.  To be true to your own heart and mind in your religious beliefs means such a significantly stronger faith than one would have because they are told to.

Hopefully this is changing.  Maybe because of the many sources of information that are out there things are getting better.  Or perhaps it’s changing because more people are more willing to challenge the beliefs that they grew up on to truly see if they fit their mind and heart.  I hope so, but then again, the term “recovering catholic” wouldn’t be utilized so much if there weren’t more stories out there like my mother’s.

No matter what way the world is going, I can only be responsible for my part, and to live the example of being proud of my faith and being willing to allow others to have their own.

I am very proud to have a Godson.  For his first communion I took the day off and stayed with him through his religious preparatory programs at school.  It didn’t matter that it was a different religion; it gave him comfort to have me there, and it showed that I was willing to help him with his beliefs, even though he didn’t see me at his church every Sunday.

My husband made certain that his niece had a rosary for her first communion when it looked like her Godmother was not going to gift her one.  Yes, he is also Pagan, but it didn’t matter.  This is the faith she is currently growing up with, and it’s important to her.  She already uses the rosary in solitary prayer, which makes the gift even more satisfying.

If my Godson ever has questions about faith, I’m going to do my best to answer as truthfully as I can.  This goes the same for all of my nieces and nephews.  To me it is important to have faith in some sort of belief system  and be open to the fact that others will believe differently.  And when the time comes that they decide what faith or spirituality is best for them, I hope they will be able to do so with the acceptance of their parents, because I want to see them growing up with a faith that is true to their mind and heart, not a faith handed down without question.  In the end, the faith in a belief that stands up to questioning will mean stronger support for the individual, the family and the community as a whole.

 

Poem: Reality Received

Blindfolded and reaching I find,
The start of that which was bound
Undeterred, I pressed on
Not knowing anything wrong

The smell of blood caught me
The liquid to my touch, thick and sticky
“No, my dear” He said quietly
“Do not step back, press on directly.”

The wounds I felt were deep
Her moans from pain I reaped
Understanding nothing, I continued
As his reassurances were issued

Finally, feeling the pain I knew
What was not within my view
He took my blindfold to confirm
That which I could now discern

I looked at the reflection where I reached
The blood and sores I beeseeched
I had not known what I asked
Yet now, my die was cast

The Trickster laughed and smiled at me
Yet ever his eyes wept tears for me
“You locked yourself in this trap” said he
“It’s spikes and thorns still tight in thee”

“Fear of failure, fear of anger
Your personal jailers clamor
Their protection ended long ago
And now they keep pieces unknown”

“Learning is healing, yet pain exists
You called it to you, and did insist
Now take the shards back from the abyss
Accept the pieces in as they fit”

I stared in disbelief,
How could I, in my grief
Ask for such a thing of hurt?
Yet I did – my soul, I tore apart

Now the healing has begun
The pain comes as I awaken
But now the true work is being done
As I slowly integrate into one.

Photo from Deviant Art

Poem: Spirit

The spirit within me burns.
It burns with passion for things that I do in my life.
It burns with desire to be stretched
It yearns to shine within the eye.

The Spirit  longs to burn that which does not help
The Spirit longs to fill the space left with warmth and flame.

It burns with strength.
It burns with desire,
It burns to touch other spirits.

It is not mine to say ‘turn it away’ because it shines too brightly.
It is not mine to hide, afraid that I would burn another.
It is mine to be the reflection.

The Spirit is mine to allow its energy to saturate me;
It’s mine to allow the warmth to flow from my fingers,
Dripping onto the things that I touch
Changing those things unavoidably.

For that is the nature of the Spirit.

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