Defending the Faith

 I share this with you in the hopes that it will offer some alternative methods of dealing with Christian family members or friends.  I hope that it will give you a way to step aside gracefully, to refuse to do battle with loved ones so that you will not have to choose between your spiritual beliefs and family bonds or friendship.  Trying to explain Paganism to fundamental Christians who already “know” about salvation is like trying to teach a pig to sing—it just wastes your time and makes the pig angry.  Let go and trust the God and Goddess to open minds when they are ready to learn.  Until then, be at peace within yourself and respect other paths as much as you want respect from those who follow them.

I am a Pagan.  I was born a Pagan but didn’t realize it or understand it until I was almost 40 years old.  I was baptized in the Southern Baptist Church at the tender young age of 7, having accepted Jesus as my Savior and wanting to belong to the church.  And therein may very well lie the roots of the path I was to walk—belonging was always important, and belonging to a church even more so, since I did not want to go to Hell when I died.  Belonging to Heaven was the way to go!

I didn’t stay Baptist.  I attended Methodist and Presbyterian churches.  I married a man who was a “cradle” Catholic and once the children were born, I chose to convert to his church so that we could all belong.  I knew, deep down inside of my heart I knew that I had very different views than the Pope and his people.  I didn’t really believe in the whole transmutation thing; saints were only people who had been singled out by the church—and for every one of them, there were hundreds who could have been saints if all it took was suffering or a particularly gory death at the hand of infidels.  I did however admit that the Catholics put on a great show.

My marriage ended right about the time of the infamous midlife crisis.  I was 38 years old and my world was definitely destroyed.  The life I thought I was going to have vanished in a cloud of smoke and anger.  I lost financial stability, my home, my husband, my retirement and what I thought was my future.  I also felt that there was no reason to continue going to a church that did not like divorced people.  Oh they could attend, but there was a serious limit to their “belonging”.  Quite literally, everything changed and I had to figure out a way to deal with it.

I struggled to find an even keel.  I worked, kept house and cared for my children while wrestling with spiritual issues as well as my concept of who I was.  I had been my parents’ child, my husband’s wife, my children’s mother.  But who was I?  I was her friend, and their neighbor, and the lady who brings good snacks to parties.  I was the woman with the little black dog, his grocery store customer, a good driver, the night nurse’s aide.  But who was the ME of me?  I had forgotten and lost me somewhere along the way and now I had no one else but me.

I was blessed at this time to have a friend who rescued me.  She offered her home and her resources so that I could start over.  She gave me breathing space and a release from the environment I had been in, which was slowly killing me.  (“Your skin is absolutely grey” was her description of me at that time.)  But as much as I needed this, it was a decision that cost me a lot to make because I could not take the children with me if I moved to her house.  Their father would not let them leave the state and I wanted to move three states away.  I thought about it, and thought about it, and came to the conclusion that we would all benefit in the long run if I went.  The three of them—ex-husband, teenaged son and pre-teen daughter—needed to find out how important I had been to the family by my absence.  I needed to find myself and get my life in order so that I could be a better person—and a better mother, since being able to take care of myself meant that I could then take better care of them.

It was the longest eight months…but I did indeed begin to put myself back together.  And the Goddess helps those who help themselves, sometimes in the most mysterious ways.  My friend’s lover was a High Priest (Gardnerian) and he gave me a stack of (Pagan) books to read.  Even though I had had problems with their not being Christian, I was drawn to the peace they seemed to have found.  I began reading and it was like coming home.  I found myself agreeing with things I had never read before, knowing that it was right for me even as I discovered it.  All the questions I had repressed for all those years, all the doubts about the basic goodness of the Christian God who seemed so angry and vengeful, the horror of having a Divine Father who brings forth His Son only to murder this child most foully…all of this went away in the face of Paganism.

Now I could understand that all the “flying” I did as a child, late at night in my bed, was really astral projection.  I accepted that I have psychic abilities, a gift for healing and the perceiving of a person’s energy as well as definite talent for divination.  I began to formulate my concept of The Divine, who created the Universe and gives off sparks of itself…and I feel that we are those sparks and it is our joy as well as our duty to experience the Universe for The Divine.  I believe that we live again and again, always learning, always moving back towards The Divine—and eventually become one with The Divine again, and be thrown off as a spark once more.  I came to appreciate the sacredness of all that is around me—each person, each animal, all living things, including the planet that we stand on—and all that is “out there”.

I found myself and I found peace.  The voices in my head quit jabbering at me, and I did not worry about finances, knowing that the Goddess will bless me with an abundance if I would just hold out my hands.  I let go of the past and stopped worrying about the future, striving to live in the present moment, the NOW of my life.  I also discovered a wonderful Unitarian Universalist congregation that has welcomed me with open arms—as well as the other Pagans who also attend there.

And I stepped around the whole religion question with my parents for four years.  My mother was sad because I wasn’t going to church, and she tried to get me to find a nice Baptist church to go to, to get involved with and then I’d be happy.  According to her.  Of course, this is the same woman who told me that perhaps “(my husband) Peter would find God as his Savior and then he would take me back”.  I told her in no uncertain terms that I was NEVER going back…and then she wanted me to give all “that bitterness to God”.  I told her that God could have it but I was still not going back.

So knowing how deep her faith was, I avoided the whole Paganism thing—until she was due to visit me.  She lives in TX and I’m in VA with most of our family, except for my brother and his family who live in MD—so this visit from Mom was a big thing.  It had been a while since any of us had seen her.  She had been more or less housebound while caring for her elderly father for the better part of 5 years.  She was coming to see all of us, staying on the East Coast for about two months.  My sister-in-law suggested it was better to email my mother the news of my defection to the Pagans instead of waiting for her to arrive and see the tattoos that are on the backs of my hands.  (I have two similar tattoos—both of them are Celtic knot work triquetras, but one is a little more elaborate than the other.)  Once she saw them, any explanation of their meaning would tromp right up and into Paganism and fireworks.  So I wrote and tried to explain.

I was amazed when she took it as calmly as she did.  Oh, she was not happy, not in the least.  And when she hit town, she did her best to convince me of the error of my ways.  She stayed with me for a week, talking about God and His love for me (a sinner) and playing her Christian music for me.  I guess she figured that music “hath charms to soothe the savage beast” and perhaps it would lure me back into the proper religion.  But all in all, the visit was not unpleasant and I thought we had reached détente.

Foolish me.  I discovered a call to serve the Pagan community and have worked to establish a Circle in my area.  I have led several of the rituals and facilitate an ongoing discussion group that meets twice a month.  I started a CUUPS (Covenant of the Unitarian Universalist PaganS) chapter in the UU congregation with several of the other member Pagans.  (Or is that Pagan members?)  As part of this, I write articles for the UU newsletter and I created a CUUPS/Pagan webpage for their site.  I have submitted (and had posted) an essay on the topic of “Rituals, Spells and Magick” on a national Pagan website.  I serve as a mentor for some of our newer Pagans and also act as a resource for my UU congregation, helping teach about spiritual diversity in the Religious Education program.  In other words, I am WAY Pagan and very active about it.  It is a major part of my life but in my emails to Mom, I would try to write about daily events without stressing Paganism.  It seemed to be working, and she had actually expressed an interest in reading some of what I had been writing.  So I sent it to her…

Foolish, foolish me.  Things had remained relatively calm until I sent her the link to my essay on Magick.  She read it, and wanted to, in her own words, “rebuttal”.  But she didn’t have time right at that moment, so…she would get back to me.  Before she could do that, I emailed her with the hope of staunching the flow of rhetoric that I knew was coming.  I wrote:

“Rebuttal implies debate and I did not have that in mind.  It was not my goal to convince you of anything; I thought you might like to read it because I wrote it.  I knew that you would not concur with it and that you would have your own views about it.  That’s fine, but as I am not trying to change your mind, I expect the same courtesy from you.  I have an advantage, m’dear…I know what the Christian point of view is, having looked out at the world from it for quite a long time.  I thought that reading this might help you have a better idea of where I am in my life.  This is one of the things that Christianity never addressed for me; I have always had this power/ability, since I was a child–but was never given the words for it, nor had it explained until recently.  I have many questions that were never answered within the context of being a Christian, even if the particular subject was acknowledged.

I will try to answer any question you might have of me, in so far as it will not create doubts about your own beliefs or prove useless because you cannot accept those answers within the framework of your beliefs.  However, I will not engage in a cycle of issue, debate, rebuttal, counter and so forth with regards to our personal spiritual choices.  Ask me questions, ask for clarification, but do not ask for a validation of my beliefs.  And most especially do not put me in a position where you think I am going to have to defend those beliefs to you, because I will not do it.

While I will do all I can to help you reach a point of comprehension and peace with my spiritual beliefs, I am not going to apologize for them nor try to justify them to your satisfaction.  And I truly do not see myself changing my mind about my spiritual path just because you think I should…like I said, I have the advantage of knowing the arguments you can put forth.  If I thought they were valid, I would be going to a Baptist church.  By all means, pray for me; I need all the help I can get, same as every other human on this planet…but please do not try to “save” me.  I have only the deepest respect for your beliefs and expect nothing less than reciprocal consideration even as you hope that I will recant my own.”

Oh dear.  She wrote back and it was like I had never tried to stop it.  She was polite, and I think her reply was coming from a place of love and concern, but it just made me realize how completely useless it was to even attempt to explain my beliefs.  So I wrote again:

“Actually, I was hoping to avoid the very thing that you have written.  I really don’t think that I am mistaken in what you believe, as it is very plain that you believe that I am wrong and you are right.

And therein lies one of the biggest reasons for my being on this path: I believe that you (and every other person) have the right to choose what you believe and have faith in.  I don’t think that you are wrong and that I need to convince you of the error of your ways.

I also believe that Jesus had quite a lot to offer in the way of wisdom for living–and that most Christians are so caught up in his death that they don’t pay any attention to his words.

It’s also obvious that you have not really listened to what I have tried to tell you.  I was BORN this way; I was not converted to Paganism but have always been a Pagan, trying to accommodate my beliefs within the confines of Christianity and ruthlessly pushing down the things that were not acceptable or explained.  I have asked the questions, and was essentially told, “believe this because God/the preacher/the Bible says you have to, without questions”.  Questioning is NOT encouraged–unless it’s, as you put it, “the right questions”.  Questions are NOT right or wrong. There are questions that may not ever be answered, and questions that people do not want to answer, but there are no wrong questions.

(from her letter) “If your beliefs are so unshakable, why do you take umbrage at my response to your faith with my own statements of belief?”

Because you make these statements of belief as the entire Universal Truth, without room for any other way of thinking.  FOR YOU, they are the entire truth.  Not for me.  And I am not trying to “take umbrage”; I am only letting you know that there is no point in my trying to explain my truths when you will not accept them.  You aren’t really interested in hearing them because you have already “know” that they are wrong.  What a person “knows” prevents them from learning.  I accept that you will not hear me, but it doesn’t make me change my mind about my spiritual path.

You are also wrong about Unitarian Universalism.  They do not put down ANY religion, including Christianity.  We seek wisdom wherever it may be, but we also feel that it’s important to find the truth for ourselves and not accept something as true just because someone tells us to believe it.  I knew each time I tried a new Christian church that I had some basic beliefs that were not part of the accepted dogma.  Each time, I ignored that part of me and each time it ended up leading me to discontentment, a feeling that this was not worship, there had to be something more, each and every denomination, no matter which one it was.

As far as (from her letter) “surrounded yourself with people who are guarding your exposure to any Christian interference, as they see it.  It was plain when they didn’t give you and me time to visit freely when I was there with you.  Or were you afraid I might find a chink in your BRUU armor?”– I have no idea what you are talking about.  I have friends who love me no matter what, no matter if I am Christian or not…and NO ONE kept you from me.  We had time to visit, and if you had indicated at all that you were willing to go to BRUU, I would have taken you proudly, and everyone would have welcomed you as enthusiastically as they welcome EVERY OTHER PERSON who has ever walked in that building.  Your religious beliefs are your business, and no one would have turned you away or been rude to you because yours are different than theirs.

(from her letter) “Search your heart and life.  You will find yourself full of rebellion and anger.”

I search my life and my heart each and every day.  When you say rebellion, who am I supposed to be rebelling against?  You?  Your God?  For an act of rebellion to occur, there has to be an acknowledged authority to act against; that authority has to have some manner of enforcing its power and will and has to be responsible (to society) for the one who is rebelling. Since you do not have authority over me, and are not responsible for me, I cannot rebel against you.  Your job (and therefore your authority) is done and has been for quite some time; pretty much from the time I began to make my own decisions about my own life and to be responsible for the consequences of those decisions.  I am not even going to get into a discussion about rebelling against God…

As far as being angry… To put it mildly, for the first time in years I find myself without anger.  I have found peace and joy, and the world is finally a place that I think is wonderful.  I work hard to maintain a positive outlook and battle negativity–including the concept of original sin and the inherent worthlessness of humans.  I don’t think that we are all sinners and bad; I think everyone is sacred, a part of the Divine and therefore worthy.  I worship all day long, each and every day, merely by doing all the things I ever did with a sense of the sacredness that surrounds me.  Everything is holy, everything I do is an act of worship and praise.  This is how Christianity was described but as a reality never was for me–and is not for many, many people who say they follow the risen Christ.

It makes me sad to think that there is no way that I can convince you of the rightness of this path for me.  If I explain it adequately enough that you would accept it, I suspect that it would lead to serious doubts about your own beliefs and I have no desire to cause that.  I would suggest that we find a way to let this go, since you will not convince me to return to Christianity and it is not my intent to lead you from it.  I have tried to answer the questions you have put forth, but I don’t think that I can do that any more.  There are many other resources you can find that will answer you better than I can, and without the emotional involvement of our relationship.

No matter what, I love you; I respect your deep and abiding faith, and I know that you are only trying to do what you feel is right.  I hope that you would say the same thing about me.”

Silence greeted me.  She has not, to this date, replied to this letter.  She has sent other email, talking about what she and my dad are doing and their lives but there is no response to this.  I suppose this is her way of just letting it go.  Her love for me is deep enough that she does not want to drive me away, and my love for her is also enough that I will let this go and meet her on a level of information exchange.  I feel great sorrow, knowing that we have lost a chance at intimacy and sharing, that our relationship will never be as profound as it might have been if she had really been willing to hear me.  We will be as loving strangers, because she cannot understand me without understanding my path, she cannot know all of me if she cannot know the Pagan that I am.  She does not see the sacred ME, the Goddess shining from my eyes at a wondrous world; my mother sees only her beloved child on the path to eternal damnation and hellfire and this grieves her.  And there is nothing I can do about that.

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