Tag Archives: community

Employment, Community, and Coming Out

Queer Pagan Flag

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Tonight while doing laundry and packing for my trip to Erie, I spent some time listening to Episode 22 of the Inciting A Riot podcast.  Fire Lyte is an intelligent, funny, and charming podcaster and I highly recommend you check out both his podcast and his blog.  For my own post, however, I want to focus on the segment of Episode 22 where Fire Lyte talks about work and the closet.

Fire Lyte makes the sound observation that different jobs allow for different levels of being open about one’s spirituality and sexuality.  I know that as  software engineer, I’m in a position of great comfort.  An old coworker once summed up the engineers’ situations when he commented that he once overheard a conversation between two managers discussing the engineering department on a previous job.  The older manager told his junior, “They’re a weird lot.  But they get the job done, so leave them alone.”  My own experience has verified the truth of that mentality, that most people in charge of engineers are willing to overlook just about any “personality quirk” as long as the person in question proves themselves an invaluable resource.  As such, I can be relatively open about both my sexuality and my spirituality without worrying about my job.  Someone who is in a teaching position or — to go back to Fire Lyte’s example — who is working for children in a governmental capacity may not be so lucky.  To them, an alternate spirituality or sexuality could be a liability to them.

Fire Lyte’s advice on the matter is to be conscious of this, both when making decisions about how out to be in their current job or in deciding what job opportunities to pursue.  This is certainly sound advice from an individual perspective, and I support the idea that an individual’s first concern should be his or her own well-being.  Principles don’t matter as much when you can’t afford to buy food.

However, the down-side to that advice is that it does tend to reinforce the status quo rather than challenge it.  And as an idealist, this is one area where I certainly would like to see the status quo challenged and eventually broken.  To accomplish that, someone somewhere — quite probably a lot of soemones in a lot of different somewheres — are going to have to push their luck and take risks.

Part of the problem, as Fire Lyte noted, is that people have all these strange ideas about Pagans (and gay people), and that if you happen to be the only person that your employer or others know that is Pagan (or gay), then you have an uphill battle to fight, and one that your employer or others in power may not be willing to let you fight.

The problem is, there’s ultimately only one permanent solution to that scenario:  Pagans (and gay people) need to become more visible.  As long as we stay hidden because it’s easier, then people will remain unconfronted with and uninformed about us.  As I said, we only reinforce the status quo.

This doesn’t mean that I think everyone should run out and tell their boss, their neighbors, or anyone else that they are Pagan (or gay).  I don’t think everyone should slap a pentacle or pride flag on their desk at work, their car, or their living room window (my landlord made me take mine down due to a lease violation).  I may be an idealist, but I’m not a moron.  But there are those of us who can take risks — and there are different levels of risk that different people can take — that would go a long way.

There are those of us in jobs where we are secure, either due to the nature of the job or the fact that we are invaluable to our employer.  And I’d encourage those who have been at their job for five years or more (yes, such loyal employees still do exist, though they’re rare) to think about how they might have the job security to push the boundaries a little.  Because the only way we can gain more visibility and more understanding is to be more visible.

I’ll also note that the advantage of having been at a job for a long time before coming out is that you’re an established person.  Rather than being an unknown individual who is a “weird Pagan,” you become a known hard worker who happens to be a “weird Pagan.”  And ultimately, I think that’s what we need.  We need to be seen as full individuals.

As I said, there are different levels of risk.  This most directly translates into different levels of being “out.”  “Coming out” at work can be something as simple as telling a couple of trusted coworkers (or even a trusted manager) in confidence.  The whole office doesn’t necessarily need to know, and even the increased awareness of one or two people can have positive and radical results in the long term.  I’m reminded of the job I had in Ithaca.  During the four years I was there, I kept a picture of my boyfriend on my desk.  The only two people who commented on it the entire time I was there originally assumed it was a picture of my brother.  I politely informed them each that the handsome man was my boyfriend.  The one said nothing more, while the other became a better friend.  I’m not sure what anyone else in the office made of the picture.  For all I know, the others still assumed he was my brother, and I was content to let them assume that.

In the end, each person must make their own choices when it comes to the closet(s) and how “out” they want to be at work, in their community, or in other aspect of their lives.  Each person must decide what level of risk he or she is willing to take, and I would not dream of dictating such important choices to others.  Bu I would encourage everyone to consider again what level of risk they might be willing to live with if it means a long-term improvement for all Pagans (and/or gay people).

Worship, community, and a few related bits

Wiccans gather for a handfasting ceremony at A...

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A few years ago, I participated in a discussion about Wiccan devotions on an email list that focused on British Traditional Wicca.  One of the elders (I forget which tradition) commented that just about any act can become an act of devotion simply by keeping in mind the Wiccan Mysteries.  It’s something that’s stuck with me, and I tend to see things the same way, understanding that an act of devotion is about perception as much as it’s about carrying out any particular activity or procedure.  And in many ways, I tend to see worship (which I’m not sure I see as entirely distinct from devotion anyway) in much the same way.  After all, I’m constantly reminded of my paragraph from The Charge of the Goddess:

Let My worship be within the heart that rejoices,
for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.
Therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion,
honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

So to me, anything which brings to mind beauty, compassion, reverence, or any of the other virtues mentioned is an act of worship.  Any situation that brings about rejoicing and good cheer is an act of worship in my mind.  And if I meet another person and as a result we share these virtues and that rejoicing with each other, that is a moment where we have joined together in worship.

I’ve been thinking of this due to a conversation a couple of us had over on Matt’s post about “going to church.”  As part of the discussion, I suggested that if a small group of believers ran into each other at the grocery story, that might be considered “church happening.”  Scott disagreed:

I get
what Jared is saying, and I appreciate the intent, but this is not
church. Three people randomly meeting at a grocery store are not
gathered to communal bear witness to the risen Jesus through worship
and service.

Personally, I offered my own disagreement with Scott:

Why
not? Can’t service and worship happen anywhere and spontaneously? Isn’t
the act of just meeting and showing each other Christian love an act of
worship? After all, didn’t Christ himself say that people would know
his followers by how they loved one another? And once those people meet
so “randomly,” what opportunities for service might they find in that
“random” moment? Perhaps they can help the elderly woman who’s trying
to make her way through the crowded produce aisle. Perhaps they can
help the overly-tired mother with three very active children do her
shopping.

And therein lies my point. I think it’s important to see ANY
gathering of believers — no matter how random or unplanned — as
church simply because ANY such situation can lead to communal service
and worship. And I’ll be so bold as to suggest that not recognizing
each such moment as such simply blinds one to the opportunities such a
moment might actually offer.

Maybe my point is moot.  Maybe Christian theology simply doesn’t support my basic assumptions.  (Christians will have to decide (a) if that’s the case and (b) whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing if it’s not.)  However, from my perspective, it only makes sense.  Where more than one person meet, see the sacredness in each other and in the sharing of lives, loves, joys, and sorrows, worship can and will take place.

And I’d like to think that, as I mentioned, such a mentality does offer a chance for service.  Going through each moment of life with this attitude tends to make one more aware of opportunities to help others and touch lives.  Certainly, they might be small ways to do so.  But who says you have to do something big for it to count?

As I mentioned in the discussion in Matt’s blog, anything less than this mentality suggests to me a compartmentalization of sacred experience and sacred living.  Community — even religious community — doesn’t happen at special events.  It’s heartbeat lives in every moment lived, at least to those of us who take the time to listen for it.

To do otherwise would strike me as, well, irreligious.

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