Let’s Talk

This morning, I received an Email from The Coffee Party USA, asking if I would be interested in Coffee gatherings of other folks to talk about politics and the news of the day. The idea is to not get just like-minded people together, but to also get other perspectives into the mix as well. The implied hope is that people of deeply-divided perspectives can hold civil, yet spirited, discourse over some of the more nuclear topics in our barely civilized society. Sounds like a wonderful idea, until the notation that the Coffee Party is wanting a donation to be provided for such gatherings. To which I responded with a “Thanks for the invitation, but no thank you.”

Now, I am all for discussion among folks on topics that are heavily divisive. Discussion. Not debate. Discussion allows for you to hear and consider what is presented to you. Debate looks for winners and losers. Not much communication in all of that, in my eyes. However, I am non-enamored with the Coffee Party’s naked request for donations to make something happen that I can do with an Email to friends, a public note/event on Facebook, or creating a Meetup group. Here, I’ll show you….

I live up in the nether reaches of north Texas, so I’ll offer a potential location much further south of me – The Corner Bakery Cafe in Denton, Texas. Say…2pm on Sunday. That gives everyone the chance to hit church (if they do so), and allows folks to catch some lunch, if they prefer food elsewhere. The coffee in this place is awesome (as I found out this past weekend in Houston), so there is that. Interested? Well, let’s make it happen, right?

There….the cost of that…is nothing, at least to setup. You’ll need to purchase some food and/or a cup of coffee (or something else), so we are patronizing the business – but I don’t need to pay Coffee Party squat. We can talk about whatever….politics, news, and even religion. Its really that simple.

So, I am left wondering why people need a catalyst as inane as the Coffee Party to get something started? Or have we really become that closed of a society that we cannot find ways to communication and congregate with others – particularly if our viewpoints on the world are different? Or has technology made us slaves to our computer, tablet, and smart-phone screens that we just cannot pull ourselves away for more than the time it takes to make a cup of coffee or use the restroom?

Thoughts That are Barely Ideas

I noted above a potential, fictitious meeting place and time. I’ll change that slightly. You want to meet? The above sounds good? Say something. That way, I can make sure that I show. Deal?

Live too far away? Make your own meeting time/location, and say something publicly. Who gives a shit which platform you use? Just get it out there. And then be there. Be prepared to talk. Be equally prepared to listen. And be even more prepared to THINK about what you hear, even if its something you think may be detestable to you. Don’t like Communism? You opened the floor to politics, and this is what you got. Set your prejudices aside, and LISTEN. See if someone might present a perspective that you had not considered. And then consider it. One cautionary thought – leave your anger and irritation at home. The point is to learn from others, not get pissed off.

Maybe True Discourse Really is Dead

Gods, I hope not. Because if it is, then we can definitely shoot the cannon through the floor of the boat we call society. When we stop talking to one another, and we just talk through or past one another, I shudder to think what happens to our way of co-existence. I already see signs of this starting to happen with the rise of Right-wing Nationalism throughout the world. But I also a lot of people still checking on their neighbors, talking with those who feel lost or lonely, and trying to be as inclusive as they can with everyone. In a way, I feel like we are at a tipping point in how we treat others. We can tip to a side where “others” are those that we must destroy and keep in “their place” or we can we lean to a place where everyone is treated equally as a “person”. Which way will things go? I am not completely sure, but I am gripping the scale towards “equality” with my fingertips and pulling as hard as I can towards me.

This Fight Will be for the Younger Generations

Right now, the generation directly behind mine (I’m 54 right now) is doing most of the heavy lifting. The generation behind them will also be involved in getting things handled. I am not sure that either one will see the full benefits of what they are doing. Changing societal mindsets takes a lot of time and effort. I know I’ll likely never see the results, even in the smallest increments – but I still want to make effort to keep discourse at the forefront of making changes. Because I believe its the most vibrant and viable tool available. Just how those changes look over time…I have to leave that for younger generations to implement. I might not see eye-to-eye with them on a lot of things, but I have to trust that their judgment will bring them to the right place. Otherwise, how can you build trust in a younger generation, if you don’t give them a chance to be trusted?

So, while I do not feel like handing a donation to the Coffee Party to help foster conversations is a viable or appropriate method, especially when you can accomplish the same thing for free – I do feel that the idea of fostering communication gatherings is an excellent start. Find a way to get together with your friends – if you are not already doing this – and encourage them to invite others, even those that have different views. In the initial stage of a gathering, set the ground rules – no fighting, no insults, talk AND listen, and whatever else you feel needs to be said. Give it a shot…at the worst, you wind up having coffee with folks…

We Talked…No One Argued, No One Got Angry

So, Friday came up with an interesting conversation. An individual finally realized that I was a Pagan, and she approached me over it. While the conversation got a little contentious at times, I was genuinely surprised by how even-keeled it turned out to be.

Her: So, it took me a while, but you’re a Pagan, aren’t you?
Me: Yep. And to be honest, I didn’t hide it. I just don’t wear it on my sleeve, so to speak.
Her: How can you not be a Christian? The Bible states…

And she would recite a bible verse to me. I sat there, and calmly replied to her…

Me: And does this biblical passage work for you? Does it encompass your faith and what it means to you?
Her: Well, yes. But the bible also states….

And it went on and on this way. Her quoting the bible, and me asking if it encompasses her faith and what it means to her. When she finally stopped quoting bible verses, I smiled at her and told her that it was good that her faith in the bible and allegorical and metaphorical stories contained within its pages fueled her faith so well.

Her: Aren’t you mad at me for quoting the bible and trying to convert you?
Me: Not really. You are exploring your faith as it relates to you. And you are so bound up in the happiness of finding something that is critical to you, that you feel a compelling need to share it with me. The only fault in your thinking is believing that what works well for you will likewise work well for me. Or anyone else for that matter. But that’s the exuberance and joy overriding your capacity to realize that sometimes over-sharing that exuberance can be detrimental to the moment that you share with someone else.

See, I don’t fault the exuberance of someone finding a Spiritual Path that works for them trying to show the same thing to others. Its like you have discovered some mystical secret that you want everyone else to share in so they can experience the same joy and freedom that this provides for you. As I have written before, I was that Pagan once. So i understand the perspective quite well. All I really needed to do was to step over to her footprints and see things from her perspective.

She’s young – probably in her later teens or early twenties. I was near that age when I “discovered” Paganism. As if Paganism was some deep, dark buried secret that no one had ever come across before. Let’s use a different phrasing, shall we? I was approximately her age when I stumbled across the Path of Paganism. I remember reading Uncle Bucky’s Big Blue Book, and seeing something that I could relate to, drawn out before me as being real. There were others that believed as I did! And I could help others to see the light! And much like the ill-fated guitar-discovering dreamer in Rush’s magnificent “2112” storyline, I had my hopes and dreams of others seeing the world the same as I did dashed before my eyes.

I have talked a bit about this previously… I worked at the Carswell Air Force Base data center. When I started coming out as a Pagan, I was turned into an instant Pariah. I was moved to a new shift, where all three of my co-workers were evangelical Christians. They were very aware of my beliefs, and they insured that every radio station in the data center was tuned to the local nightly gospel channel. They would call the radio channel from a data center phone and discuss how they had a co-worker who was possessed by the devil and needed healing. No matter where I was in the data center, I heard all of this.

In the beginning I resented them for their actions, and their overt statements. I even refused to join their shift-starting prayer circle when they would blatantly pray for the saving of my soul. It took me another ten years of growing up to realize that my stomping off angrily only played into their hands. They wanted to make life uncomfortable for me. And they did. But only because I let them do it. Then again, I was 22 years old, and was a hot-headed walking temper. It didn’t take much to send my house of cards crashing down. Or to put it into Game of Thrones’ vernacular, it didn’t take much to wake the Dragon.

These days, when I am approached by someone about my faith, I usually take their statements and twist them back to reflect on their own faith. I don’t let them frame my faith in terms of the bible. Instead I quietly and politely ask them if the bible verse reflects their faith. And if they answer yes, I thank them for sharing that with me, and comment on how good that must be for them. Because that’s what that should really reflect. Its their bible, their words, and should reflect the positive in their lives. If its not, then they need to re-examine how Christianity focuses in their lives. And that’s not something I need to help them with.

When our conversation was through, my young inquisitor nodded her head and thanked me for a cordial conversation.

Me: And I should have been hostile to you for what reason?
Her: That’s what my Pastor tells me should happen when I encounter non-Christians. People not of the faith are always angry when they have the truth spoken to them.
Me: Was I angry with you?
Her: No. Not at all.
Me: Perhaps, your pastor is under an assumption of what non-Christians are really like. But I wouldn’t fault that person too much.
Her: Why not?
Me: Because we human beings always assume the worst of people or situations we know little or nothing about. Its a natural defense mechanism.

In the end, our conversation was more like two strangers learning more about one another. Probing to see if there is enough similarities to strike up a stronger friendship between the two of us. And to be frankly honest, conversations like this are far easier to work with, instead of contentious debates and arguments over minutia that matters very little to the basic facts: that we are all human, and we all have a need for companionship regardless of our differences. What a world we might live in if everyone decided to treat everyone else just like themselves.

The Footsteps of a Conversation on Christianity

As I sit here with my headphones on, listening to the jaw-dropping sounds of the late-Gary Moore, my mind wanders back to a few days ago on Facebook. I made a statement about Christianity, and watched the comments roll in – mostly about how the basic concepts of Christianity cannot be removed from the adherents that misinterpret or misuse/abuse those same concepts. So, I thought it might be a good topic to explore from my end.

First, its probably best to put the statement into play….

Its not the tenets of Christianity that is the problem, folks. I’ve never had a problem with Christianity. Its the inappropriate application and misinterpretation of those tenets by the adherents of the Christian faith that is the problem.

Now for a little background on the “why” of the statement. After all I don’t normally make statements like this whatsoever – much less out of the blue, which it seemed to be for some folks. I have Christian friends, just as most Pagans tend to. I hear from Christian friends from time to time about religious issues, and every once in a while we have a good conversation on the topic. We have known one another far too long to go the “conversion” route in a conversation. Its more like a friendlier “Green and Grey” for those familiar with the song by Damh the Bard. Anyways, [R] made the statement that I disliked Christians simply because I was a Pagan. I retorted with the statement that I liked him just fine. His reply was that I disliked the Christian beliefs because of what those beliefs stated.

This brought on a discussion that continued into the basic tenets of Christianity. When we were done discussing the basic aspects, [R] began to see my point. Its not the basic concepts of those teachings I have a problem. Loving and respecting your fellow man is something I would love to see happen more often throughout the world. Caring and helping those less fortunate than yourself (regardless of the reasons that bring them to that point) is another measure that I would love to see happen more often around the world. Being a good steward of the Earth is something that we as Pagans are constantly trying to do. Now, don’t try to get me to quote Bible verses on this stuff – I don’t know the Bible inside out, and don’t really care to. And don’t quote Bible verses at me either. That’s the fastest way to get me to ignore you in a conversation. I’m not interested at all in what the Bible says. I’m far more interested in hearing what you – the individual – has to say. And if you can’t be original without leaning on the Bible, then you – in my opinion – are missing the point of what Free Will allows you to be. And that grows into another area of discussion (look a tangent in Tommy’s writing!  How rare! [/sarcasm]) that leads me away from my point.  Maybe another time for this one.  Maybe.  Back to the point though….

Its not the basic aspects of Christianity that bother me. Not even the one about proselytizing. That’s not even annoying, until the proselytizer starts to get pushier than a used car salesman trying to meet some end of the month quota. And that’s where I begin to have the problems with Christianity. Not with the tenets, not with the basic concepts – its with the people who follow it and take it a step (or a few miles) beyond where it is. Discussing your faith with others is one measure of “spreading the Word” — when you slip into Joey O’Brien mode (Robin Williams’ character in Cadillac Man) trying to schmooze the deal…you’ve essentially twisted what the tenets are into something beyond. When you take scriptures such as “though shalt not suffer a witch to live” and not investigate its original meaning (KJV is not an original writing of the Bible – and if you read enough history, you will find it was rewritten for political purposes, not divine measures). Its the twisting of a spiritual path for political reasoning and power that I have an issue with.

Granted, not everyone is going to find someone like [R] who is willing to discuss matter such as this in a logical or meaningful manner. People like that – even within the Pagan paths – are very hard to find. But when you find people like that – people you make a connection with, hang on tight. Those people are what make a good conversation worth the time.

Do I agree with the tenets of Christianity?  Some of them, yes. I find measures of truth in most Paths I have studied. My path is that of Druidry – with some mixture of Zen, and Native American added to it. But those footsteps are mine, and mine alone. Sometimes, other people walk beside me on that path, sometimes directly behind me, sometimes directly in front of me – but only my footfall can occupy the spaces I am in at any given time. Sometimes, the footsteps near me are those of the Gods, but they tread light enough that I usually don’t know they are there until moments ago. Regardless of who is there – who is near, its inevitable that we will eventually strike up a conversation. I’d honestly rather have a conversation, than a full-fledged debate, or even an argument. Just my preference…hopefully, you weren’t looking for a debate on Christianity, and are delighted to find the traces of a conversation…