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And so the year begins. Okay so it really started last week when everyone was returning to campus but today is the first day of classes and the first day of seeing students rather than parents. It is a fun time of year, a lot of hope and anticipation going on. Last week was a precursor for what is coming – chaos amid joy. Tonight is the first student meeting of the academic year and our goals will begin to be laid out. I’m not saying that we will stick to the list that is created, but we will make a list. It happens every year this way. I ask the question “what would you guys like to do and what do you want to learn about?” and every year there is a list that would keep us occupied for at least five years. We will get to what we can, toss things out as we go, and add other things down the road. But isn’t that a little like life?

I know that it is for me. This last year has been that way when I think about it. I created a list for the Chaplaincy to do and learn. There was/is lots of things on that list. Stuff from how do I get into my office to how do educate the world? I’ve figured out the first one, I’m working on all stuff in the middle, and in the process I have found out that doing the last happens naturally one person at a time. I suppose I already knew that though.

Anything that creates space for large shifts in understanding takes time. I’ve been working with the students on campus for 10 years – it doesn’t seem like that long. Anyway, I’ve found that the woman in charge of space that was terrified of “pagans” in the beginning thinks we are great and approves all of our requests without question. She now thinks that an “alternate opinion” on faith could provide her counsel. Students in the Magic and Religion classes read the texts that we provide the Anthropology professor when it comes to Neo-Paganism and Wicca. That’s right, practitioners are providing the information rather than academics so that when they come to ritual to observe and learn, the classes will understand more readily what is taking place. Little steps changing attitude and understanding. That is all it takes. But where does it all lead to in the end?

Well, it takes us to the next step, to the place pagans say they wish to be – acceptance. So what does that look like? Well, you get a Chaplain (such a strange title for a pagan) with an office. You also have a voice that participates in discussions, welcoming, pastoral care, planning, and cross department training. This translates to education and the dispelling of myths that surround our multiple faith traditions. It also means responsibility on the part of pagans to recognize our acceptance. I know that sometimes being comfortable in our fight for recognition can be a hard thing to let go of. But letting go and accepting a place at the table with all of the other faith traditions is essential to moving forward.

What are my plans for the pagans at the campus this next year? Well first to say welcome back and how is everyone. But what follows will be an ongoing discussion about changing attitudes towards Paganism. I’m hoping that discussion will not be confined to the boundaries of the campus between academics, students and administrators. I’m hoping that it will include people of all faiths from multiple walks of life, most importantly I’m hoping that it includes pagans.

Fire lit, food on the table, chairs set, drums laying about waiting to be played. It is time for ritual… ritual of a different kind.  Ritual that most of us aren’t use to and don’t partake in very often, but is as essential as any of the great days.  It is the ritual of sharing and learning.  This was my “backyard ritual” last Friday evening.

The evening had been conceived a while ago when I asked the administrative staff at the Chapel if they would be interested in a “paganism for the non-pagan” crash course.  They were interested and so we began to work through our summer vacations, festival weeks, and modified work hours to find time.  The navigation of our conflicting schedules wasn’t easy but we did succeed in finding a couple of hours one afternoon to sit and begin our conversation.

 The rules were simple, they could ask any question they wanted to and I would not be offended by anything they asked.  These two rules were essential to having an open dialog about paganism. We talked about spell casting and cauldrons, brooms and their representations.  We touched on the basic neo-pagan Great Days and how different traditions and paths have their own Great Days, rituals and celebrations.  I explained the difference between the umbrella term pagan and the specific term Wiccan.  In fact we explored a great deal in two hours and all done with laughter, surprise, and a dawning of enlightenment.  We ended only because one of the staff had an appointment to attend and we all agreed that we needed to continue on.  They were amazed at how little they understood about paganism and how wrong the information that they “knew” really was and so the promise was made that another gathering would take place.  That gathering was to be around a fire.

I also decided that I could not be the only voice they heard.  After all I am only one person who practices one particular path. I may be the Pagan Chaplain but I am not all people.  I could not address in-depth the questions about faith traditions, cosmologies, and practices that were outside of my own.  I have always held the philosophy that I don’t need to know it all – I just need to know others who do have the particular knowledge in question and help people make connections.  Grow a greater, stronger community in a way.  So the date was set.  People from a multitude of faith traditions and spiritual paths came to drum, eat, and share what they believe.  I told them all bring friends and people that they might know who could benefit from a “no holds barred” question and answer time.  The response was wonderful. Pagans and non-Pagans alike were coming.

Friday evening came and cars began to arrive – the pre-ritual hum was starting.  When I felt that everyone that was coming had arrived, I  relayed the rules again, but with an explanation.  The admin staff’s perception of paganism, I explained, was born out of a culture that taught about witches through Disney (think Snow White), Hallmark’s Halloween, Grimm fairy tales, the Wizard of Oz, and Church dogma.  With this, the ritual began – the ritual of sharing, learning, and walls being taken down.  There was a great deal of relaxing and laughter which lead to drums and dancing which lead to great conversations and revelations for everyone. 

At the end of the evening there was talking about getting together again and “just enjoying” each other’s company.  So much was shared on both sides of this fence that in the end I think the garden gate has been permanently propped open to allow free travel to each other’s worlds.  And so I put this challenge to anyone who reads this:

Create your own ritual of understanding and engage someone, a non-pagan, who has shown a curiosity of what it is you believe or “do.”  Remember where their reference points come from and that they have to work through centuries of indoctrination on the evils of anything outside of mainstream religion.  Share some music, a fire, a drink, or a meal, and allow the elements that lay within each one of those acts to help you show your spirit as well as to see theirs.

Oh, and have fun doing it!

Nothing.  But I did ask the question.  I had been helping my daughter out, watching my grandchildren the other day while my granddaughter was home ill.  The day was wonderful, full of questions and the viewing of Percy Jackson and the Olympians.  We had a good time and Emma began to feel better at the end of the day. Around 4 o’clock there was a knock on the door; a young woman was selling books for a fund-raiser at her school.

She was a pleasant young woman, I would estimate a high school student, and as I heard the name of her school it was apparent that it was a private Christian academy.  I was impressed; she wasn’t selling things that were fleeting or non-useful.  She was selling cookbooks and other titles for living a more healthy life. I already had the cookbook and the other titles did not interest me so I politely turned her down at which point she offered me a flyer. I was going to say no, she was just doing her part for the fund-raiser and I saw something about Harry Potter on the front of the hand out.  I was curious; I took it. The flyer had comments/questions regarding both Harry Potter and Halloween on it.  Nothing in the handout addressed either subject but it was implied that there was something wrong with both. I chuckled and thought nothing more of the whole incident.

Later that week I was talking with two other Chaplains, a Protestant and a Southern Baptist, and it dawned on me to ask the question.  What is wrong with Harry Potter?  They looked at each other and tried not to smile too much when the Southern Baptist Chaplain attempted to answer the question.  It was a good conversation and it boiled down to just a couple of things.  He explained that we all set limits on what we think is “right” behavior in our lives.  We most likely wouldn’t promote a film that we believe denigrate women or minorities or advocates violence against either group. Definitely not something that we would find entertaining or what we would promote for our children to see and learn from.  (I could understand that, but what about Harry Potter?) He explained that there are Christians that take that thought a little further and feel they need to eliminate other things from their lives; things that they feel are not holy or would lead them away from a holy life.  With that thought in mind they begin to set rules that eliminate more items: a movie with violence, a film with cursing, a show with sexual overtones, a book with one curse word, and so on until… well, you get the picture.

Moving towards Harry Potter we talked about how a small portion of (not all) Christians feel that a book promoting the fantastical and supernatural (I’d like to fly on a broom someday) are leading a person away from a “holy” life.  However, the thought is done not to be malicious.  Not at all, those that are promoting such ideas are trying to “protect” their children and others.  They feel that if there is no exposure to such a thought then they will be safe from the idea, safe from an unholy life away from god.  They try to eliminate all sorts of things they have deemed a threat to their faith. Then there is another group that feels that if they can protect their children until they become adults their beliefs will be strong enough to keep them on a holy path.  But then there are those, the majority, who feel that integration of differing ideas is best.  This way they understand the world they live in and make choices along the way.  Sounds a little like free will in its finest form. 

I smiled at the end of the conversation; I commented that it seemed to me that the objections were born out of fear.  Fear of what is unknown about another faith tradition and imposing it on a book.  A book, mind you, that has done more for youth literacy and reading than anything else to come along in a many years.  We laughed about it a little and he said you could look at it that way.  He also mentioned that many who have objections, or rules, regarding things like Harry Potter don’t necessarily understand their faith completely.  Books are not the threat, learning more about their faith though is the answer.  I would agree with him.  I know that I have people, especially pagans young on their path, who do not understand some of the things that I study or how I can accept the philosophies of faith traditions that reject who I am.  The answer is simple: I don’t believe my path is right – I know that my path is my truth and nothing can sway me from it.  If I were to turn from my path due to a single book then it really wasn’t mine to walk to begin with. In the end I need to convince no one that what I know is correct; I know that it is and that is enough.

So what is wrong with Harry Potter? Nothing, absolutely nothing; and if you are curious my friend the Southern Baptist Chaplain has all the Potter books on his shelf.

For those who partake in the celebration of Ramadan, may your month allow you to find what you seek.

On the 4th I was invited to participate in an interfaith reflection on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I was moved and honored that I was asked and readily accepted the invitation.  Along with representatives of several other faith traditions I gathered near the Everson Museum, the fountain and reflection pond in the background. Small lanterns made by children were waiting for the words to stop, waiting to be released on the water, waiting to let the souls of those that died that day to float freely in the twilight.

The reflections and prayers were said, even a song or two sung, but it was the lanterns that seemed to capture my attention the most.  They were made by the innocent in honor of the innocent.  On each lantern were words of peace written in the oversized printing of young people.  They were words that spoke of being nice to their siblings, not being a problem to their parents, and on occasion saying that they hope those that died were okay.  They asked for peace and for our countries leaders to find the wisdom to “get along” so that the fighting would stop.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could think in the simplistic manner of children?  Wouldn’t be a better place if we would just stop and think if our actions were “nice”?  Wouldn’t it be amazing to see what would change in this world if all decided to just get along?  I think I would like to see that, like to just try. 

Below I give you the words that I spoke that night.  They are not nearly as eloquent as what the children had to say, but they are my words simple and to what spoke in my heart.

 “I wondered what to say today.  Who am I to speak on this subject?  I am not old enough to be a survivor of WWII, I don’t have anyone in my family that served in WWII, so where is my connection to the day?  My connection is that I am human and what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki 65 years ago has affected us all.

The Mother, the Earth, is a living being.  She grows, breathes, heals, and changes on a daily basis.  The things that we call natural disasters are only her stretching and moving and continuing on her eternal path.  The bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not part of that natural growth, not part of our Mother.  In that instant the web of life that connects every being on this earth was torn violently by the acts of man.  The silent screams of mothers as they and their children died where the screams of every mother on the planet.  The surprise of those caught in the nuclear wind was the surprise of every human being.  The illness suffered by the unlucky to have a lingering death after the explosion, is the illness we still long to be free of.  

The web can be healed, we as people can be healed, Mother Earth can and does heal.  But in order to do so we must learn, learn that using nuclear weapons is not the answer to conflict.  It would be my hope, the hope of a single pagan, that we would put our weapons aside and begin the process of peace.   What is that process?  I’m not sure. But in nature diversity is essential to the growth and survival of all things.  I believe that when we as humans begin to understand that we are part of nature, not outside of it, we will begin to understand the importance of diversity.  When that happens maybe we will look at our relationships with others a little differently.  In that moment I believe peace can happen.”

So today I ask you to work for peace.  Reach into yourself and feel the web, see what it is that you can heal.  It need not be a large endeavor, great things come from small acts of kindness.  If you are perplexed on what it is you can do, forget my words and think of what the children said:

Be kind, get along, do something nice, hope for peace.

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