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The other night I had the pleasure of gathering with several women to listen to Z Budapest speak.  It was more of a conversation than a lecture and it was interesting to see the varying takes on “where do we go from here.”  As I sat there I reflected on a recent trip to Florida that I and my husband took and began to understand the gift that I have been given.  It is the gift of moving forward, of moving past fear, of taking risks, or more to the point I have been given the gift of finding support and comfort in my environment.  Not all pagans have been able to find this gift; at least not yet.

I had forgotten the fear of being outed, of not having a family/spouse who is supportive of my choices, of not having a circle of friends to share thoughts with, and having to wonder if I am all alone.  In Florida I listened to people at a gathering talking about not being able to display items of their faith in their homes for fear of repercussions from their spouses.  The other night I listened to women talk about how difficult it is to gather.  For some apathy of others was the enemy, but for many it was that people are afraid – afraid of what varies, but still afraid. 

I thought back and realized that I had moved beyond the fear a while ago.  I had decided that I would no longer let the bigotry of others shape how I lived my life.  So I began to take risks.  I began to wear a pentacle, I had things in my home that seemed to me a little more pagan than before, I began to speak out and I began to stand up for others.  Then I decided to take a very large risk – I sought out groups to circle with.  I was looking others of a like mind.  Once found, I met/circled with several different groups and began to understand that not all pagans think alike nor do they practice their faith tradition in only one way.  I was now on a mission of discovery.  I was discovering my faith and myself at the same time. 

Then came the rewards, yes rewards.  That is the wonderful thing about moving past fear and into taking risks.  Eventually you experience rewards.  Not always, sometimes our risks lead to pain.  I have had my share of shunning, my share of people no longer trusting me, instead their friendship turned to fear, uneasiness, and pity.  They don’t come around, they don’t let their children talk to mine, they try to save me from my misguided beliefs.  But I continued on my path, because it was/is my path to walk.  But back to the rewards.  One might think that becoming a chaplain at a major university is the great reward but they would be slightly wrong.  Yes it is a wonderful thing, but what it represents is even greater.  I get to help create change.

I see the change everyday in little things, but the other day I was given a beautiful example of how it takes time and generations sometimes to receive the rewards.  At my home a new coven circled for the first time.  It was a circle of young families and my daughter along with her family are a part of it.  As we stood there in the circle about to call the elements in my daughter looked at me and said “you know Emma tells them at school she is a witch.  They tell her no, but she corrects them and says oh yes I am to a witch.”  She understands, there should be not fear of shame in understanding who you are and expressing it to the world.  That is the greatest reward, the greatest gift.

So what does it all mean?  We all have fear.  What that fear is only we know as individuals.  The key is to find the courage to move past the fear, not necessarily to get rid of it, but to move past it so that we find the courage to take a risk to over come our fear.  Sometimes we will fail in our attempt, but those times that we succeed we need to hang on to feeling that comes with it.  That feeling will fuel our next risk taking adventure and allow us to see the rewards that are out there to be gained.  Sometimes we need nothing more than the words of a child to remind us – we have a right to express who we are.

Yesterday I moved in t my office, or at least I began to move in.  You may wonder about that since I’ve been at the Chapel for over two months, but I think you will understand.  I have been in my office, the desk is there, the ability to use my laptop is there, I have a phone number, and my name is on the door along with my two office mates.  But I have never truly “moved in” with the tools of my trade – the books and tools that I make available to the students.  For the last two months the beautiful bookcase that was designated as mine has remained empty.

Because I share my office with two gentleman who do not walk the same faith tradition as myself I wanted to make sure that there was no offense made when I brought my things in.  We had hit some bumps in the road early on; we needed to work those issues out.  It had very little to do with religion or a conflict of belief.  This was cultural differences.  The different interpretation of an item based on the cultural background and upbringing of two individuals, however, I didn’t know that in the beginning. 

I was hurt, very hurt and my first thought was that as much as I am welcome in the Chapel it is only on a superficial basis. I was wrong, have to admit that.  The Chapel has always been supportive in every aspect, in every way both before and after my becoming Chaplain.  So what to do to get over the “bumps” of cultural differences.  We talked.  Yes, that was it; a simple solution to a complex problem.  I sat and listened to the gentleman sitting in the chair at the end of the coffee table explaining to me what he had been raised to believe a broom represented.  That’s right, a broom – a besom. I was amazed it was so contrary to what it represents for me, for most pagans that I know, that I was a little dumbstruck.  When he was done I explained what it meant to me, its use in ritual, and its symbolism in handfastings.  Our views were/are diametrically opposed to one another.  If this was the only issue I could live with that, I wasn’t here to insult anyone but rather to serve and to educate.  Sometimes that means learning on our part so that we can figure out how best to fit in with the rest of the world.

I explained I hadn’t brought anything else in because I had not wanted to make his students uncomfortable with the texts, tools, and other items.  He didn’t see an issue with anything else.  I laughed inside, no one had seen the books that I was talking about to truly make that determination. I explained that I have been talking with students about respect of other religions.  In other words that we must give the same amount of respect to others as we wish to have given to us.  That one statement cut through all of the fear (yes fear) and tension in the room and resonated deeply with my office mate.  Respect gained and given was something that he could see we both strived for – our common ground. He mentioned that he kept his texts on his bookshelf – multiple copies of the Bible in various languages and he thought that I should be able to bring in mine books as well.  I spoke of the words that would be in the titles of the texts: witch, witchcraft, spellcasting, magick, magic, and a multitude of others.  Would he be comfortable with this.  The answer was yes; he would explain to those he worked with and ministered to that it is simply another religion in the interfaith home of the Chapel and that they must respect all faiths.  The words rang through my mind “I could now move in.” 

The largest challenge to feeling completely at home was met and removed to the satisfaction of all involved.  My office mate understood that I respected him and his faith and that was all that I was looking for in return.  I think this will be a good melding of faith traditions in close quarters.  We will learn from each other beginning with the simple fact that the Evangelicals have nothing to fear from the Pagans.  That’s right, the Evangelical Christians are my office mates.  They will see the books, the chalice, and various other items and work to explain and teach tolerance to their followers.  I on the other hand, will continue to accommodate what I can and explain to my students that lumping and stereotyping groups is never good and we should work to understand the individuals in order to gain acceptance of our own faith.

When we work with others to help them find their path or to just discover who they are, there are certain things that you cannot pass on – no matter how hard you try.  I know this, most people who have done any type of teaching know this.  It is not a phenomenon exclusive to being pagan, being in an academic setting, or even from being older than those individuals you work with most.  No, it is a matter of people needing to learn things on their own. There comes a time when all the passing on of one’s knowledge is nothing more than chatter.  I’ve experienced this with every group of students that I have worked with.  It isn’t insulting, it just is.  But this last week I had a moment to chuckle and then say “see, you didn’t believe me before, but do you now understand what I was trying to say?” 

As she sat in my office I had a student tell me of her heart stopping moment.  She had an interview for an internship this summer.  The interview went well, but after it had “officially” ended the interviewer inquired if they could ask a personal question.  If it had been me I would have said yes but that I might decline to answer if it really had no bearing on the position.  But, as is the often times eagerness of youth, she said yes with no conditions.  Then came the question: “On your resume I see you have put down Student…”  She knew what was coming even though she didn’t hear the rest of the words.  The interviewer had seen on her resume that she was a member of the Student Pagan Association and was wondering what that was.  Heart in throat, stomach churning, she regained command of the English language and answered the question.  She told me the exchange that they had and in the end she felt that she had handled it well and that there was no harm done.  No harm done, interesting that this was the assessment.

I have always told the students that the world we live in as a whole is very different from the world of a college/university campus.  They are insulated and protected on campus.  At least much more so than in society in general.  We have all had those moments when the questions come and then the looks.  Sometimes there is acceptance and sometimes there is not, but the real issue is choosing when and where we allow others to see that aspect of our life.  Is it appropriate to put it on a resume?  Depends on where you are applying for a job.  For the most part I don’t feel that it is appropriate on a resume.  Then again I would say the same about any religious affiliation regardless of the religion.  Leave it at home, religion has no place in the office. 

I recently read an article about when to announce you are pagan and when not to.  The article was correct that we continually do this all our lives and each time we have to make a determination on what we hope the consequences will be and then chose whether we can live with those consequences or not.  Even for us older, slightly middle-aged pagans the answer is “not this time” the price isn’t worth paying.  Some day we will not have to worry about it, but for now we still do.  Interestingly enough every one of the Chaplains at the University feels the same way.  Each has been ridiculed for being “religious” by non-religious individuals.  Unfortunately we have the added burden of being ridiculed, mocked, feared, attacked, and persecuted by the other religious groups.  Where I am at I am fortunate; I don’t have to deal with these issues at the Chapel.  I deal with enough outside of the University so in a way it is also haven for me. 

So what was the outcome of the interview?  I don’t know; she doesn’t know.  What I do know was that she was taking that off of her resume when she got home so that type of moment never happens again.

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