Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

Homosexuality, theology, free speech, and the prices involved

[Content Note:  religiously based anti-gay sentiment]

Should Christians be able to communicate publicly their convictions that homosexuality is sinful.

The above is a question that Wendy Gritter recently got asked, shared her views on the question (she did so on a friends-only Facebook post, so I don’t feel right reposting what she said here), then invited many of us to offer our own thoughts on the matter.  I did so as a couple comments on her Facebook post.  I wish to repeat and/or summarize those thoughts here as well as share a few other thoughts.

My short answer to the question is yes, Christians and everyone else should be permitted to publicly voice whatever convictions they have, even if I personally find those convictions or their choice to voice them to be problematic or downright detestable.

I suspect that some Christians might object to the second half of that sentence, the part that starts “even if.”  The thing is, that’s the price of free speech:  Everyone else gets to exercise theirs as well.  That means that if someone says something that I find objectionable or troubling, I get to critique what they said and state why I find it objectionable or troubling.  Furthermore, I’m allowed to form my opinions of not only what people said, but of those people based on the things that they have said.

Honestly, I find that belief to be hurtful and harmful toward LGBT people.  I’m also inclined to consider even the most gentle, nuanced, and most compassionate of that particular conviction to be harmful to some LGBT people.  I say that as someone who went to a church who never really played up the evils of homosexuality in its sermon, but received the message sufficiently that things almost didn’t end well for me.  Those kinds of convictions have consequences, and far too often, those consequences fall people other than those who hold or express them.

But rather than focus on why I find the belief or conviction itself troublesome, I’m going to spend most of this post explaining why I find the expression of that conviction troublesome, unnecessary, and counterproductive.

First, I want to start with a practical, if somewhat confrontational point.  We all know some Christians are convinced that homosexuality — whether that means being gay, identifying as gay, or having same sex sexual relationships to that particular Christian — is sinful.  Some Christians — a lot of them, really — have been saying it for decades.  I’ve been hearing it for more than seventeen years, myself.  So I have to wonder, at what point are those Christians going to accept that their message has been heard and quiet themselves so they can actually listen to someone else for a change?  Because quite frankly, I’ve had my fill of listening and would like my turn at being listened to.  And I mean really listened to.

So why do some Christians feel the need to keep repeating a message we’ve all heard for decades?  Do they really think they have something to add to that message that we haven’t heard before?  My seventeen years of experience has provided me no evidence that such is the case.  The only new things I’ve heard are from people like Wendy who are saying it’s time to listen.

In many ways, I think Fred Clark is right when he attributes it to tribalism.  For many in the evangelical Christian religion, Fred argues that denouncing homosexuality is a sort of tribal marker, done to demonstrate that a person is properly a part of the evangelical tribe.  That’s all fine and good, but not being a member of that tribe, I’m not all that interested in seeing those tribal markers on parade.  Such Christians have a right to parade them, but they don’t have a right to expect me to stick around and watch, let alone ooh and ah.  And to be honest, I’m not convinced that parading around one’s tribalism makes a lot of sense for a group that — as I understand it, at least — is supposed to be trying to pull as many people into the tribe as they can.  And when the expression of those tribal markers actually negatively impact some outside the tribe, well, I’m not sure you can get much more counterproductive than that.

Moving on, I also want to express my view on morality and how that impacts this whole topic, as words like “conviction” and “sin” lead me to believe that we’re talking morality.  Morality has to do with choice, and the only choices any person has any control over is their own choices.  I can’t make your choices for you, dear reader, nor can you make mine for me.  Ultimately, we are the sole masters of our own morality and solely the masters of our own morality.  So when heterosexual people start talking about whether homosexuality — however they’re defining that word — is moral, I note that they are laying down moral laws that don’t have any direct impact on their own lives.  They don’t have to struggle against those prohibitions or restrictions.  They are effectively trying to dictate burdens to be laid on other people.  Not cool.  To them, I say focus on sins that you actually might struggle with.

Now in fairness, there are non-heterosexual who believe that same sex sexual relationships are sinful.  Because of that belief, they choose to remain celibate or enter into what some call a mixed-orientation marriage.  That is their right, and while it’s certainly a choice I wouldn’t make, I honor their moral agency.  But I really don’t see the point in even them broadcasting that conviction, unless they are discussing at as their personal choice.  The thing is, I’m not convinced that’s why some of them do so.  Too often, I get a sense of “this is what I’m doing and what you should do too” behind them.  To which I say, nope.  My moral agency, my decision.

Personally, I think unless a non-heterosexual person asks for advice on what to do about their sexual feelings or how one handle’s ones own sexual feelings, it’s best to keep one’s own counsel on whether one things homosexuality is a sin.

But yes, everyone has the right to ignore my advice on that count.

Paganism, Escapism, and the Nature of Reality


Image by giest via Flickr

Pax wrote an excellent post about the tension between Liberation and Escapism on his blog yesterday.  I highly recommend it.  One of the things that he talks about is the tendency for some Pagans to get so focused on the mystical and magical aspects of the Pagan traditions and tend to remain rooted in reality as well.  Pax shares his own past experiences along those lines:

Even though I could see and perceive and experience the many ways in which the practice of my spirituality and faith as a Witch were leading me to greater personal strength and a deeper understanding of myself and a healthier relationship with the world around me… at the same time I was not dealing with the mundane issues at work in my life, like dissatisfaction with work and living in a bad housing situation and so many of the other planes of stability as Thorn has labeled them in her writing and teaching…. so even as I pursued the Liberation of my self and spirit, I was also using that pursuit as an Escape rather than confronting those things that I was seeking escape from!

I offered my own thoughts on the matter with the following comment:

Excellent points, Pax. I’d add that I strongly believe that an essential part of making sure my spirituality is rooted in reality is making sure that my spirituality manifests itself in my everyday reality. I’m reminded of closing of my own coven’s ritual, where we affirm that we have walked with the Divine and now seek to carry the Divine blessings we have received into the world with us.

To me, that’s a very practical thing. Did the ritual increase my sense of Oneness with everyone and the interconnectedness of all of us? Then I’m going to be looking for opportunities to build and strengthen relationship with others. Did the ritual leave me with a sense of greater perspective and inner strength? Then I’m going to look for those areas in my life that are challenging to me and those obstacles with a fresh eye, looking for how I can overcome or change them.

For those interested, the quote I’m referencing from the ritual my coven uses is as follows:

We have walked with the Stars, Sun, and Moon. Together we now bring Love, Power, and Balance to our Earth Home.

The more I think about Pax’s post and my response, the more I’m reminded of one of my own criticisms of certain streams of Pagan thought.  I feel strongly that far too often, Pagans tend to make too much out of the distinction between the “spiritual,” the “magical,” and the so-called “mundane.”  In reality, there is only one reality, which is multi-faceted, tightly interrelated, and tightly interdependent.  And I think it’s that failure to see that the “spiritual,” “magical,” and “mundane” all inhabit the same space that often leads to the escapism issues Pax is talking about.

Of course, I think a related issue is the tendency of some to seek “spiritual experiences” as an end in themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, I love spiritual experiences as much as the next person, and I have my fair share.  I channel a goddess on a semi-regular basis, participate in monthly rituals, and am even attending a seance tonight, where this is a better-than-average chance that I will receive at least one message to give to at least one person.

But the nature of the universe demands that such experience spill over into all of that reality in some way.  Each legitimate spiritual experience by it’s very nature should manifest itself in my life and the lives of others around me in some tangible, practical way.  And if that’s not happening, it behooves me to ask why it’s not happening, and why I’m having or seeking out those experiences if nothing’s ever coming from it.

Syracuse University Appoints New Pagan Chaplain

The Campus Chatter blog over at ABC news reports that Syracuse University has appointed Mary Hudson as Pagan chaplain for the campus.  This is a somewhat historic event, as the blogger explains:

That makes Hudson, 50, the second pagan chaplain appointed at a U.S.
college. The only other known school to have a pagan chaplain is the
University of Southern Maine.  Internationally there are a few in
Canada, Australia, and the UK.

I find this good news and take some comfort and pride that this appointment took place not only in my state of residence, but at a university a mere hour from me.  And it sounds like Hudson is ready to hit the ground running.

Hudson said education is her primary goal.  “This involves both
education of non-pagans as well as helping student pagans find their
spiritual path,” she added.  “That can mean something different to each

Both community education and helping students who are already on a Pagan path or are considering one are both noble goals.  I wish Ms. Hudson the best as she pursues both goals.

In addition, I’d like to applaud the Campus Chatter blogger for writing a thoroughly positive article, without falling into the trap of looking for “balanced” input from highly critical spokespeople from conservative Christians circles, a practice that Jason Pitzl-Waters has often noted is common among some journalists.

Worship, community, and a few related bits

Wiccans gather for a handfasting ceremony at A...

Image via Wikipedia

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:

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

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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My experiences leading meditation

Earlier in the year, I helped to form a fledgeling coven with three other people.  Currently, our coven still consists of the four of us, as we’ve decided to work out more details of the nature and purpose of our coven before we start taking in other members.  But we’ve been meeting for study, discussion, and ritual on a regular basis since June.  It’s been a rewarding experience.

Last night, I had the privilege of leading the others in a short meditation.  I wrote out the basic meditation I developed and used in my last post.  It went well, and the others found the experience moving and refreshing.  We sat around and everyone shared a bit about what they experienced and what insights they gained from the meditation.  I always love that part of a group meditation exercise.

Towards the end of the discussion, Jenna asked me if I went on the meditation when I led it or if I was too busy being the “tour guide.”  I indicated that I didn’t go on the meditation, as I was too busy concentrating on what I was doing leading the group through the exercise.  However, her question did give me a chance and pause to consider what does happen to me when I lead a meditation.  While I didn’t find myself walking along or standing in the river, I wasn’t merely sitting there in a normal state of conscience.

It occurs to me that when I lead a guided meditation like that, I tend to enter into a meditative state of a slightly different sort.  I find myself focused on leading the others.  I find myself focused on the words I’m speaking, choosing them carefully.  (While I usually have a strong sense of where the meditation is going and what I’m going to say, I don’t have a script.)  I find myself feeling out the volume and tone of my voice, the cadence of my words.  I find myself intuitively gauging the rhythm of the overall meditation and the atmosphere of the room.

One of the things I’m always amazed about by this process is that the meditation itself seems to enforce it’s own pauses.  I often find myself about to speak after a pause, to guide the meditation along, only to have find myself not yet able to speak.  It’s as if there’s a gentle force keeping me silent, letting me know that it’s not quite time yet.  Then I get the sense that it’s safe to speak again, that the moment has passed and it’s safe to move on.

I know there are those who are quite adept at leading meditations and can actually make the same journey they are guiding others through at the same time.  At this point, I’m not there.  Maybe some day I’ll operate like that.  But for now, I find myself going to a different place, a place where the process of leading becomes my own meditation.

Choice and Power

Yesterday, I blogged about how the belief that we have no choices in situations is detrimental to our ability to live an ethical life.  Today, I want to discuss another reason why this belief is problematic for witches(1).  A belief that we have no choice in a given situation also destroys our personal power in a given situation as well.

We in the Pagan community talk about self-empowerment a lot.  It’s a key reason a lot of us came to a Pagan path, at least in my experience.  However, sometimes we talk about it in rather vague terms, never really making it clear what it means to be self-empowered.  To that end, I would like to suggest my own definition:  Self-empowerment is the act of embracing the realization that no matter what situation we may find ourselves in, we always have the ability to choose how we will respond and act.

Note that self-empowerment doesn’t mean we always get to control the situations we find ourselves in.  Nor does it mean that we can magically change everything in our environment to suit our needs.  Such a concept of self-empowerment would simply be out of step with and contrary to reality.  Hardships are going to befall us.  People are going to do things we don’t like and that hurt us.  Circumstances are going to limit our options and even make us face some unpleasant choices.  Those who want to find a way to turn their lives into a fairy tale need to keep looking.  They will not find it here.(2)

But what the principle of self-empowerment tells us is that no matter what those situations are, our actions are our own to choose.  It tells us that even if our choices are limited to unpleasant ones, there are still choices to make.(3)  Self-empowerment teaches us that no matter what is beyond our control, who we choose to be and how we choose to act is still our personal domain.  And that is an incredible power to wield, in my opinion.

Saying we have no choice in a situation robs us of that power.  It turns us into victims of our circumstances rather than people who are working to not only make the best of our circumstances, but improve it insofar as we can.  And that is a great tragedy.

And again, this is a creeping problem.  The belief that we had no choice tends to spread throughout our lives.  What started as one instance where we thought we had no control or no power becomes two.  Then it becomes five.  Then it becomes a regular occurrence.  Soon, we are never empowered because we fail to see our choices.  And then we wonder why our lives are nothing like we want them to be.(4)

Now some may be ready to ask me, “But what about magic?”  And it’s a good question, so I will answer it.  Back in 2007, I blogged about the role one’s will plays in magic.  At that time, I suggested that our will is the part of our psyche that initiates action.  It’s the part of us that actually goes about making all of these choices, and it’s central to the process of working magic.

So what happens when we say that part of us is incapable of making choices because there are none to be made?  We are effectively subjugating it or turning it off.  A belief that we have no choices actually hinders our will.  And a subjugated or hindered will simply cannot operate effectively.  Which means our ability to do magic effectively disappears as well.

(1)  As witches are not the only people who believe in or value self-empowerment, I’m sure many other people will be able to identify with much of what I’m saying here.  I think that’s great.  But since I’m a witch, I’m going to focus on witches.  Though I do hope anyone who isn’t a witch still shares with me what value they might find in my thoughts.

(2)  In reality, I suspect they won’t find it anywhere.  But I respect their right to continue searching.  That’s their choice to make.

(3)  The other advantage to realizing you still have choices, even if they’re all less than ideal, is that it gives you the freedom to think creatively and look for even more choices.  The ones you see immediately may not be the only ones laying about.

(4)  Of course, there are also times when our lives are nothing like we want them to be because our desires are simply not realistic.  Again, this is because self-empowerment is not about living a fairy tale life.  Sometimes, we just have to find a way to live within our limitations.  But my experience is that even within our limitations, there’s a life that’s well worth living.