I remember being very public about my beliefs when I was in the Air Force, particularly when I was stationed overseas in Germany. I also remember the numerous questions, accusations, and “Christian” vitriol that was thrown directly at me. Brining all of that back into my thinking, I also recall how angry all of that would make me.
When I was stationed at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, it was easy to step away from all the backlash I got as a new Pagan. Yes, I was quite open about my beliefs, mainly because within the United States military, I was afforded quite a bit of protection that I would never have seen in the civilian world. This was the mid-1980s, during the Satanic Panic that gripped much of the United States. In Texas, declaring that you were a Pagan openly was enough to have a visit from Child Protective Services to your home – if you had children. The likelihood of keeping your children was extremely low. Thanks to books from authors such as Mike Warnke, Lawrence Pazder, and Lauren Stratford (among others), along with “testimonies” provided by many others at church gatherings, television/radio appearances, and the emergence of what many had referred to as “counter-culture religions” (Paganism being included in this group), many Right-wing Conservative Christians seized on the narrative declaring that there was a “war on the American culture.” If that sounds familiar, you need only look to author and television nut-job Bill O’Reilly to find a new gathering to that clarion call.
I lived through all of that. However, as a military member, I had some insulation from the fallout that occurred to others. However, even within the military, I received some flak for my open beliefs. When I was in Germany, I was physically assaulted by two individuals in the lobby of the base’s Allied Post Office at 1:30am after leaving my shift to go home. That occurred because my picture had been posted in the Stars and Stripes newspaper, in an article titled “Practicing Pagans”. One of the duty section supervisors, for the Patch and Test section, would refer to me openly as “the NCO who can’t deal with reality.” So, while I was protected by the military’s policies concerning religious beliefs, that didn’t completely isolate me from the ire of others that felt I was some “kooky” guy. Plus, that’s a perspective I have heard all my life, so it was really nothing new.
The period of time I am referring to is from 1986 to 1994, the entirety of my Air Force career. During all of that, I was a fiery individual. I was very easy to piss off, and quick to take exception to anything derogatory that was said to me. Looking back, I’m fairly certain that I was not a nice person to be. To put it in terminology that I would have related to much easier back in those days – I was a hand grenade just waiting to have my pin pulled. It would take a few more years before I learned the grounding and centering techniques (thanks Tasia!) that help me get back to the center and balance that a Libra always seems to need.
So why the look back? Well, I see a lot more people in the Pagan community that seem to be reaching that same enraged breaking point, particularly online. I can’t – and won’t – control the way someone reacts or lives through their daily lives. Nor will I say that there are no situations where that anger and rage is justified. Every moment, every encounter, every person is different. However, there are certainly times where being the cooler head in that moment might keep things from escalating into something that whirls out of control and becomes something that no one wanted. For me, when I get involved in these situations – even in online dialogue – I do my best to take a step back and strip out the emotional verbiage and look at the situation again. Honestly, this methodology works better in online conversations since those can be as analog as we may need them to be. Face-to-face, that ability to step back and bring the conversation to a more analog pace is not always available, given the direct, dynamic pace that such a communications method creates.
Many people get frustrated when I take a step back from a conversation. I believe one person referred to it is “disengaging from the conversation.” That’s actually a good descriptive and a rather true statement. When I feel a conversation gets too contentious, or I feel it is already spiraling into some aspect of “my dick is bigger than yours” moment – I will back away. I simply have no desire to turn my own personal faith into a nasty back and forth. I have no desire to prove why my beliefs are better than someone else’s. What’s right for me is not necessarily right for someone else. Typically, when I get pressed into such a corner, I’ll back away and shut down the conversation. I do the same in political discussions as well. To me, there’s no reason to prove to anyone that “mine is better than yours.” I left that shit behind when I graduated high school. All I wish to do is to be myself and be provided the same freedom to make my own choices as anyone else.
I have met many people who disagree with the way I handle such things. They will make commentary that I needed to “crush” my opponent in such discussions. Again, this is a product of “winning” the point. You see it all the time in politics here in the United States. Who won the Presidential debate? From my point of view, who cares? I look more to who provided a more lucid perspective of what they are willing to get accomplished, and how are they going to find ways to cooperate with the other side of the aisle. As of the last few political cycles…the answers is, sadly enough, none of them. Because the focus on politics has moved away from how to govern to just winning the election – thank you President Trump for turning elections into nothing more than a contest of which party is more popular now. But I digress.
Lately, I have found myself withdrawing more and more from the constant bickering, arguing, and back-and-forth meme wars that take place on Facebook and Twitter. All of that is a huge turn-off moment for me. I continue to read the news, filtering out the bias that is provided by a news media that has felt the need to slant the news to the left or the right. That does make reading the news tedious and tiresome. Thus, I don’t read all of the news. I just read enough to get the idea and move along.
Like I noted before, not everyone is going to agree with me. Nor do I expect anyone to do so. That’s right. I don’t expect a single person to agree with me. I know my mind. I know my thoughts. I know my perspective on things. I don’t pretend to know what others feel. Nor do I try to tell people how they should live their beliefs, what their morals should be, or how they should handle their daily Spiritual practice. I have no desire to be the Pagan Spirituality Police. I feel that everyone has to experience Life for themselves. Experiencing their daily Spirituality under the way I see the world around me just biases their perspective. Certainly, some of my experiences can be used as some type of guide for others, but ultimately what I experienced will quite likely be different from their own. Perhaps even so different that their experiences will be the opposite of what I experienced. After all, I’m just one Pagan. I’m just one Druid. My tools to keep me moving forward in Life are simple: grounding and centering. Just one Pagan’s perspective. Just one Druid’s approach. Your mileage is your own.