Well, the first very cold weather of the year has made it down here in central Tejas. With sleet that lasted for somewhere close to twenty hours, the landscape of the backyard and beyond is coated completely white. It looks like snow, but its not. Just a nice covering of icy precipitation. All the snow was much further north in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro-mess and northward. No power outages, though the cold seeps in through the weather stripping on the windows and doors a bit. I’ve spent a large part of the day either curled up in the blankets with cats surrounding me or wandering through the house with my socks on (a rarity for me).
Last blog post, I added some background from the lunch-time discussion that I attended on a back door entry-point for Bossier Parish Community College, which was right next to Airline High School. I mentioned some of the discussions we had on intentional communities, as well as some more lengthy discussions that Alia and I had afterwards. As I noted in the post, Alia attended the college at the same time that I did. She was a Psychology student; I was a Computer Sciences student. I ran a computer lab for the college when I was not in class, and Alia would come and study for her classes there, since I managed to keep the lab quiet. It was also my refuge for doing my elaborate Pascal programs that went far beyond what my professor required for class assignments.
During a different lunch-time discussion, the focus fell on my Pagan beliefs juxtaposed against the predominant Christian beliefs in the Bossier City area, which was a distinct Southern Baptist flavor. I was asked why I didn’t hold animosity and anger towards the Christian beliefs, particularly since I was actively attacked by the more zealous members on campus. Most of the attacks were insults of a distinctively personal nature, or in a few cases where I had food or drink thrown on me. “Why don’t you report any of this?” Well, it was simple, at least for me. I didn’t want to draw any more attention to myself. Besides none of it was physically damaging to me, aside from clothes that would need to be washed. I learned back in high school that the easiest way to deal with a bully was to not provide them with any energy aimed towards them. After all, they were wanting a response, so they could escalate things. I provided no traction for that nonsense.
Now, some twenty-five years (or some) later, I see and hear a lot of animosity towards people of the Christian faith within Pagan groups. Mostly, it seems, this comes from people who recently moved from an aspect of the Christian faith to Paganism. The feel is that they have to find reasons to bad-mouth the Christians that they associate with, while lifting up the Pagans that they are now with as paragons of virtue. I know the entire routine. I’ve been there.
In the beginnings of my Pagan path, I was on such a “high” on finding a Spiritual Path that fit far better than the Abrahamic faiths I had searched through, there was nothing wrong with what I had found. It was paradise. Those other Paths? Those were poison, full of traitorous people who attack anything that they don’t understand and label those things as “evil” without looking beyond the differences. I had such a loathing for those types of people. And I was vocal about it. Vocal enough that the duty section I was part of in the Air Force forced me on to a shift with three independent, evangelical preachers – all of whom out-ranked me. I spent eight and twelve-hour shifts with these three individuals. They knew I was a Pagan, and I was treated as being nearly sub-human. No amount of complaining to higher ups was going to change things for me. So I learned to not engage with them except for work-related things.
All of that gave me a lot of time to reflect on how I had acted previously. On my days off, I sought out my High Priestess of the Wiccan coven where I was in my Rainbow year. Slowly, quietly, she started to show me that much of my anger wasn’t appropriate. That I needed to see the good in people before I went hunting for the bad. Could they see reason to leave belief alone and up to the individual? Could they practice the acts of kindness that the Jesus of the Bible did? Could they leave the condemnation of the sinner up to their God, and embrace the sinner as an individual to love and cherish, just as any other person? Could they emulate the kindness and sincerity of the Savior that they claimed to follow? If they couldn’t do any of those things, then it was best for me to back away as far as I could. In the case of the workplace, be professional with them, and keep subjects strictly confined to workplace related materials. Yes, that would suck, since everyone wishes to have cordial relationships with their co-workers, but sometimes that wouldn’t happen. I took those words to heart. I tried my best to live up to what she was telling me.
Later, I would be deployed to Germany. Here, I was featured, with other military Pagans in the European theater, in the Stars and Stripes article “Practicing Pagans.” One night, after I had finished a late-night shift, I went to check my mail at the Allied Post Office on the base. 2am in the morning. I was confronted by two individuals, one of whom threw me up against the wall of Post Office combination locks. If another individual had not entered the Allied Post Office to check their mail, I have no idea what else might have happened. I didn’t fight back. Not because I was outnumbered. Because I knew it was the wrong thing to do. If things had progressed, I have no idea what I might have done. I’m glad that I don’t know. I’m glad that I didn’t have to know.
There have been other incidents as well. But I don’t blame Christianity for what happened. I blame people who twist the words of their Savior to justify their violence. People are the problem, not the belief system. So, when I hear these newer Pagans firing off their anger at something they left behind – even when those reasons are violence, anger and abuse aimed at them – I think of when I was there, doing the same thing. I remember how I felt then. And I remember what it took for me to learn what I know and believe now. Telling others, just as I am doing here in this blog post, isn’t going to be enough to change people’s minds. They need time to heal, time to let the wounds scab over, for the bruises to yellow and fade. After that, perhaps, they will come to the same conclusion that I have. Its not the belief system that’s at fault. It’s the people twisting its teachings to excuse their inappropriate behaviors. Maybe, these Pagans will come to that conclusion. I simply don’t know if they will. Everyone reacts differently. All I can do is hope. And listen when they need an ear….