Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Neo-Pagan Takes Up with Christians at Quaker Quaker and Lives to Tell the Tale

There have been many discussions over at Quaker Quaker between Christian and non-Christian Quakers. Most of the time, I find that Quaker Christians are pretty universalist in perspective and "get me". Lots of times they "get me" better than other Neo-Pagans. It is not for nothing that I attend a Quaker meeting and not a coven. :-) I'm at home among Friends.

However, on more than one occasion, the message I've received has been that if I do not accept Jesus as my Lord and if I do not accept the literal reality of the resurrection, then I am not going in the same direction they are going. I guess that depends on where they are going. If they are heading toward a world united by Love and Equality, a world that the meek shall inherit, then I'm going their way. If they are headed for a land where justice will run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream then we heading toward the same place. Like it or not, I'm your traveling buddy, Friend, and I'm here for the long haul. I'm on your side. I'll take your part. You can piss me off but you cannot stop my love for you. My faith in the Light is too strong for you to dissuade me. I will not abandon the path.

I was reared and educated within the liberal Christian context. I have no quarrel with it apart from its claims of exclusivity and superiority. When I became a Neo-Pagan, I did so not in rejection of the faith of my childhood but because I began to find the Truth I honored as a Christian in so many other places that I thought it would be dishonest to pretend to possess an orthodoxy that clearly does not belong to me.

I am glad I left off calling myself a Christian and became something that many find offensive. As a Pagan, I was subject to rejection I would not otherwise ever have experienced. It was a good thing to experience because it allowed me to see a spot in need of healing. When I joined the board of an interfaith group, the president of the board resigned her position. When I went to a graduate school seminar to begin my doctoral work as a "Goddess woman" studying feminist thealogy, another student quit the program saying he could not be enrolled in a program that would recognize people like me. It was a Christian church that first rejected my family, even when we were still calling ourselves Christians. They did not approve of my father's support of gay people in his congregation.

All of these things hurt me but none of them turned me against the faith of my childhood. I began to realize that those people who would utterly reject me do not practice the faith of my childhood which is one of unconditional love. The faith of my childhood calls us to stand by the weakest, the most vulnerable, the least loved and to call them beloved. Many Christians, for all their insistence upon the finest points of doctrine, do not have enough faith in Jesus to try to follow his commandments.

Some of them think that faith means a stubborn denial that the Exquisite Radiance can shine outside of the theological and historical narratives that make up the Christian tradition. They would put God in a box. But other Christians know the Light when they see it and don't fuss over labels. What of it if someone calls the Light "Darkness"? What if they say "Goddess" instead of "God" or if they say "Compassion and Rationalism" instead of "Love and Truth"? Have faith that we were all meant for each other. Are we to quarrel with each other over noises?

When I think of the Christian belief system as a kind of narrative of the victory of "the least among us" through love, as passion story of the resurrection of hope in the midst of oppression and death, then I'm on board. This is the story I tell when I celebrate the Pagan holiday of Yule. In the time of darkest night, in the dead of winter, we light fires and sing out of joy to teach the Sun to Rise again. A peasant child may be King. An enslaved people may rise to victory. The Red Seas may part. Out of Death comes Eternal Life. The words change but I know the story when I hear it.

I recall my father telling me that it shouldn't matter whether or not Jesus ever lived. The story itself is so good, it is worth living for. It is a weak faith, he told me, that depends on the fact to give credence to the Truth. Fundamentalism and orthodoxy are dangerous to those who insist on them because such things are brittle and vulnerable to doubt. One little archaeological investigation can bring such a faith crashing down. They mistake the words for the Story.

I see myth not as "lies" but as "truths deeper than fact or fiction" These are the stories that sing out beyond, beneath and between their words. We know them when we hear them. The story of Jesus is among them. I will not say it is the greatest of these stories for all people but it has been for many. I know from witnessing it, (oh, so many, many times!) that when practiced with humility and compassion, Christianity works. It works! It works when it has no business working. So do other religions and spiritualities because although their words may differ, the Story is the same. Maybe, more importantly, this Story works across cultures because we are all human, not so different from each other despite our cultural packaging.

I'm a Theosophist so predictably, I tend to look for a transcendent Truth interwoven throughout the greater spiritual world. But I'm also interested in finding our disagreements and differences, not as a means of driving wedges but as a means of increasing our connections to the Divine. It is all very well to hang out with those who see the world just as I do but what good does it do me? I like to be around someone who is tuned into a different frequency than I can receive. I like to be close to them when they are occupying their holy spaces. I'm drawn to spiritual people and places like a cat to sunny windows. I need their take on Truth and they need mine. Divinity delights in diversity.

I guess I see the Truth as something never given to any one of us all at once. (How could any one of us bear it alone?) So here is my ministry. I am among you because I was called to be here (just as you were called) and the Divine calls each of us by name. I belong to you and you belong to me. Do not mistake your revelation as the Infinite Truth. It is a slender thread. Find others and weave together the Story. Do not mistake your illumination for the Source of All Radiance. It is little light. Find others and illuminate the world. Do not mistake your song for the Chorus of the Spheres. It is a humble bit of melody a child can pick out on a toy piano. Wed your song to others' and the Earth will reverberate in Joy. Deny the Truth that others carry and all you wil have will be a broken thread, a sickly light,and a silly tune. But at least you'll have your pride. And you know what they say about pride...


*Sandra* said...

As usual, a very thoughtful post, with plenty of food for thought. Thank you, Hystery. For my own part, I *finally* took the plunge and started attending a meeting, myself, two weeks ago.

meagan said...

beautiful post. thank you.

Mary Ellen said...

Eloquent - and very close to my own thinking. I must have been living in a Quaker cocoon, though, as I'm rather shocked by the reactions you have received (people dropping out of a program you enter). Probably, my being Quaker, even a feminist, wasn't seen as such a threat when I attended seminary as your being openly Pagan. What unfortunate fears and preconceptions fueled those reactions . . .

Hystery said...

Sandra, I'm glad to hear that you have "taken the plunge"! Let me know how it goes.

Meagan, thank you. :-)

Mary Ellen, oddly enough the people who reacted to me so badly were in very liberal contexts. The fellow student was attending a very non-traditional grad program with me. I assume that he was as much reacting to the program as to me and I was just a convenient excuse. I do wish he hadn't disclosed his negative thinking about me in the manner he did since I considered him a friend, but such is life. As for the president, I was also told that she was also overly stressed and again, I think I became a kind of catalyst of change for her giving her permission to set down the burden of that leadership. She continues to serve on that board while I do not. She never warmed to me but she was never cruel nor did she ever lose faith in the mission of the group. Our perspectives were very different but not, perhaps, our intent.

I did not mention the reactions to me when I attended a Christian seminary as an openly Pagan woman. That was all kinds of fun. ;-)

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Hystery,

Well you already know what I think of hypenated descriptions and the terms "Christian" and "non-Christian Quaker" so I won't comment on that again but go directly to your second paragraph.

I must admit this paragraph totally confuses me, Hystery, because it seems so different from most of your previous statements.
Is there more than one Hystery;-)

I love your ethical ideals. I am confused that when your ethics are so Christ-intensive, you then don't see Jesus as "Lord." So I suppose this is a semantic/social/biographical issue more than a theological one. Though I am not sure of that either.

But rather than obsess on trying to analyze your worldview, I'll go onto my own view.

#1 I do see Jesus as "Lord" meaning the Jewish teacher is the ever-present visible image of Truth. For instance, his statement "Love your enemies" or the one you mentioned "the meek shall inherit the earth" are so totally contrary to many, probably most human worldviews including the current ones of modern secular society and of most Christian churches who actually hold diametrically opposite views. Many Christians even support bombing innocent civilians if it will allegedly protect their own country's soldiers. Very strange.

Also, this ethical paragraph from you shows again that I don't truly understand your view of Neo-Paganism. Most of the Neo-Paganism I have read about focuses on very contrary ethics.

But I suppose this is the case of how words so often confuse rather than clarify since while I consider myself a Christian, I disagree with most of what that word has meant in history.

#2 As for the resurrection, I am in a deep philosophical split, for after a life-time of researching alleged miracles, I am fairly convinced that organic miracles don't really happen, that contrary to religious claims, God (though God could) doesn't work that way in the cosmos.

On the other hand, I do think Jesus in the sense of the "Chosen One" is present. Truth,especially ethical truth is eternal and essential,not relative or merely cultural.

So ethically and personally I do "believe" (trust is probably the better word since I take a dim view of belief in abstract "notions")in the resurrection.

However, I honestly doubt that the resurrection was a physical occurence that could have been videoed for CNN. The very fact that no one except believers saw Jesus after his crucifixion would seem one of many reasons to think this. Furthermore, Paul experienced the risen Christ, not in a literal sense but in a vision.

There are so many more of your points I want to respond to but since this is a comment box not a book;-) I'll stop for now.

In the Light,


Hystery said...

Daniel. "I am large. I contain multitudes." :-)

To which former statements do you refer? I've always been on the side of all who take the part of the least among us. My father always said I had an "overdeveloped sense of injustice." He wanted me to be a civil rights lawyer but as I have a problem with authority figures like judges, I skipped that suggestion.

I can't respond to your experience of Neo-Paganism because I don't know what your experiences are. I don't know what you've read (apart from the unfortunate C.P.Christ book) or who you've met. I also cannot comment much on what other Pagans believe. My training is solitary and academic and has focused a great deal on how Paganism influenced early Christianity and how Christianity influenced early Neo-Paganism.

I don't call Jesus "Lord" because I believe he was not the only or most perfect vehicle of the Truth and because like Schussler-Fiorenza, I'm not thrilled with how the Church instituted "kyriocentric" christologies that overlaid and embedded symbol systems of dominance on a message of Love. (from Jesus: Miriam's Child, Sophia's Prophet). Also, perhaps more simply, I grew up in a context in which Christ was more "Brother" and "Beloved" than "Master" or "Lord." I do like the romantic metaphors the best and I still have a major spiritual crush on Jesus.

Anonymous said...

you are so very much what I needed today. Holy cow. I have been having major theological issues for weeks. I am so very much like you -- am drawn to the light of Christ in all, but have also found too much of the text in other religions to follow it exclusively. Would love to converse more.

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