You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2012.

It has been a rough week, an enlightening week.  I thank everyone that has listened because this was not an easy journey that I walked but I did it knowing that all of you are here.  I know that what I do is worth it because we are worth it and parts of the world need to know that there are others who have voices that will never be silenced.  Every last one of you inspires me to move forward, you are why I do what I do.

So, what next; in all fairness what comes next is sharing the perspectives that I received from this experience and what the few positives were.  So here goes:

  1. Janice Jones – my roommate from Wales.  She allowed me a voice when I felt I had none.  She listened, was compassionate and understood my frustrations.  She is from Prifysgol Glyndwr University, Wrexham.  Send her a note if you think of it and acknowledge the kindness she showed me.
  2. There is something I need to do, or at least needs to be done, with the young women of Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC.  I’m not sure what it is, but I am sure that it will manifest itself eventually.
  3. The Air Force – believe it or not even though their language was embedded in Christianity they were the most open-minded group that I encountered.  I can’t fault them for the language, it is all they know and they are willing to be educated.  I spoke with them the first evening and expressed a desire to talk to them about their stone circle.  The end result was an agreement to an ongoing discussion after the conference and a possible trip to the Academy to visit the circle and see what they have done.  In all honesty, the military was not what I expected to be the highlight and they turned out to be. Oh and I am getting a copy of their Religious Respect curriculum in order to understand what they teach their cadets.
  4. What to do in the future – this is the question that faces me now and this is what I think…

I just ran the gauntlet; I hadn’t intended to, but I did.  The wounds to my mind are fresh and the bruises on my soul have barely started turning color but my  soul and the beliefs I hold in my heart are intact.  It’s time to breathe deep and move forward and forward will take me to many places; I just have to start by taking one step.  I’ve done that by looking for positive from this experience.  With that, I think that a symposium centered on minority religions, religious tolerance, and listening to the marginalized on how best to respect them is in my future.  Leaving the dogma behind it is time we remember that we were all born with two ears and one mouth. People in the majority need to quit telling others how to be “integrated” and start listening to what people in the minority are saying.  They would be amazed at what they hear.

I found the following on YouTube today.  Let’s just say it’s how I feel, it speaks to what is in my heart and hopefully it will help you understand what keeps me moving forward. Thank you Bill, Kate, Kurt and everyone else; this is for you.

There was only one session yesterday, I wasn’t sure I was going to stick around to even have breakfast let alone attend any workshops, but I gave it a go.  I had wanted to talk to the Dean of Hendricks Chapel to let her know my opinion of the conference, I figured these guys could feed me breakfast, and besides I needed to talk to the Air Force again.

Breakfast was quiet, I ate alone but I suppose that might have been due in part to the energy of “leave me alone” that I was exuding.  I wanted no one here to talk to me.  Almost every time someone had spoken to me the day before I had become more and more horrified and I just did not want to deal with that again.  That’s right, it wasn’t just the workshops/seminars but it was everything; especially when I was assumed one thing based on looks rather than actual discussion.  This is where privilege of the majority comes into play and assumptions are made about those by that majority.  You see, I don’t dress in all black long flowing skirts, I don’t drip pentacles that could be used as weapons and hinder me from walking forward due to their weight, I don’t do goth makeup, nor do I drag a broom and cauldron around behind me with a black cat continuously rubbing up against my legs.  In other words I don’t look like a stereotype; I look like a normal member of society.  Here the norm is Christian, therefore I look like a Christian.  Sure, that’s what I look like.  So I shouldn’t have been confused when I was asked if I would like to attend the WSCF meeting.  I had no idea what that was, I smiled and said maybe.

The invitation was extended by a woman who I had talked to the night before for over an hour, in the conversation stating that I was the Pagan Chaplain at the University.  The questions were interesting, like “so what issues do you get to deal with being a Pagan Chaplain”? My answer, the same issues that all Chaplains deal with if they are working with students.  I am not different from any one else.  So it was interesting that after that hour-long discussion she extended this offer for me to attend and get involved in WSCF.  Then I found out what that is: World Student Christian Federation.  I’m not sure on what planet this woman was from.  Either she completely did not listen to the hour-long conversation we had, OR she thought it would be good for me and my kind if I promoted Christianity around the world.  I’m still confused and a little horrified.  It was about then that I really decided not to talk to anyone about my faith tradition or who I represent.

So, the session I decided to attend was regarding Liturgical Hospitality.  It was all about food, setting a table literally that would be welcoming to all without offending any so that different groups could share a meal and get to know each other better.  It was an interesting topic, one that was “safe” to attend because it was about food more than it was about religion or trying to accommodate the other.  Unfortunately the speaker asked that we break into small groups to discuss experiences when we might have seen this go right and also horribly wrong.  The wrong was easy, the assumptions made in a Western cultural context did not pan out for most when working with other cultures or societies.  The comments were interesting in our group.  The “what went right” was also simple.  Accommodation can be an easy task when thought about.  But it was the last comment made by the gentleman in our group that took me back.  He simply stated: “This is good and I don’t mind accommodating, but when is my turn.  I feel like a victim because not accommodates me.”

No one accommodates me?  The voice of privilege has spoken and it asked: as a white, Christian, male when will someone accommodate my needs and serve me.  I was floored.  He had to be kidding, but he wasn’t.  I kept silent; this was not a right conversation.  He was serious.

I left there and had a silent lunch.  I was still debating whether or not to pack my bags and just leave but sometimes we get a nudge in a direction that we didn’t expect.  My friend Patty had sent me a note and then a text.  The pub I had mentioned was the best in New Haven, she would be there in about 20 minutes to see me.  We had a wonderful afternoon which included great Irish food and Smithwick’s by the pint.  We caught up on a lot of things and she gave me some great advice – regardless of the experience if there is one thing, anything, that I can take away that will help me or the students or anyone I needed to stay and find it.  So, about 6 hours and several pints later I walked back to my room, cracked open a book and settled in for the night.

Today I go home and it is an ending that I welcome.  I stayed for the entire conference; trust me that wasn’t easy.  I wanted to leave and just go home but I’ll find that beautiful thing today.  One can only hope.

I have to start today by saying this: I don’t belong here and I don’t know that I, or any other minority religious person, will ever belong at this conference any time in the near future.  I make this statement because it is evident after a full day of workshops, a few discussions, and the overall reactions of the majority of participants that anyone who is not Christian is considered less than.

Yesterday morning I began with breakfast, still gauging where I fit in and decided that fitting in wasn’t the key; rather jumping in with both feet would be best and to finally decide which workshop/seminars to attend.  The first was on women’s spirituality.  It intrigued me because the description cited discussions on goddesses.  Presented by the Chaplain at a small, all-women’s college, the information was on wellness and the role of spirituality within that and how they teach interfaith understanding.   She had us introduce ourselves, including faith tradition, at the beginning of the seminar.  I suddenly became the pink elephant in the room.  When I stated I was the Pagan Chaplain she was happy and explained that there was “lots of Neo-Pagan things” in her presentation.  A picture of a May Pole dance and Goddess Discussions as a quick bullet point were as close to “lots” as it got – but it was “exciting that I was there”.  I spoke with her afterwards and she explained that the neo-pagan group was the largest religious group on campus, but they floundered because they had no guidance.  You would think that an effort would be made to find someone to help out the largest spiritual group but apparently that isn’t the case.  She mentioned maybe I could come and talk at their college – am I now the educator of the world? No, I just don’t belong here.

The second seminar was about mentoring students build their own faith tradition – sounded interesting.  It was, but the discussion soon devolved about students coming from traditions that put them in a place of being told what to believe rather than allowing them to explore.  What do we do for those students, they live their traditions as they are dictated and would never go for such a program.  The presenters for the workshop were Christian, which was not a surprise to me.  What happened though, was that I began to understand that the language used with and the education guiding most of the conference participants is by Christians for Christians and unless you accept their perspective there is no common ground for discussion.  In fact you are looked at (literally) as if you are stupid.  I have to say that no one was asked to identify their faith tradition in this seminar – the gentleman sitting next to me, just assumed that I was Christian and so the discussion we had was based in his belief that I agree with his philosophies. Trust me it was interesting, it was the second time in less than four hours that someone thought I was a Christian. I don’t belong here.

It was the third seminar that sent me over the edge.  It was on the ability to craft a common language around spirituality – the presenter’s take was no, spirituality is a word that should be done away with.  Faith, religion had to be based in long standing tradition and practices and that is what was needed to be built on in the schools so that students “have a foundation of belief.”  If that wasn’t bad enough it was the reaction of the room when she discussed the demographics of students religious identification.  Snickers were loud when she mentioned in a sarcastic tone the “other religious” designation.  It was even louder in its mocking tone when she mentioned a Jewish Wiccan Quaker student.  Three religions the student had been raised in. I was seething and so was my friend, a Protestant Chaplain, seated next to me.  I don’t belong here.

The ingrained dogma and blind self serving attitudes of many are infuriating.  This conference has been a slap to the face reminding me of the prejudice of Christians which includes the attitude of assimilating other religions so that “we can all be the same.” We aren’t all the same.  I don’t belong here. Or maybe I do, maybe I belong to be a thorn in the side of the monster, you know to kick the hornets’ nest and all that to let them know that they are not alone nor will they ever be. I may go home early, I will not out myself to anyone else here, talking is not effective, but maybe my presence is.  I know this has made an impact on those I work the closest with at the University.  They have heard my anger and how I feel at the moment about their religion.  It will make for good discussion later.

Or maybe I need to stay just a little longer so that I can explain the rest of the story of the US Air Force Academy.


It has been quite a while since I have paid attention to my writing.  Not because I did not want to write, but because there are times in life when there just is not enough time to do everything.  This last year has been one of those times.  Taking a short sabbatical from the blog was essential in order to give proper attention to everything else that was going on. Most specifically, I needed to pay attention to the business that funds me sufficiently so that I can continue with the chaplaincy at the University: I opened up a small store.  I can, and will, talk about it for hours and will relate a great deal of what has gone on there here in this blog as it directly relates; but first I want to discuss the conference that I am at – the 2012 Global Conference of Chaplains in Higher Education.

I drove to New Haven yesterday and had about five hours to myself to contemplate the time I would be spending here.  How many people would be here, what different religions, what countries, who would my roommate be, and most importantly how well would we all get along.  As I asked the questions I did what I always do – I looked to the clouds.  They have always told me what would be lying ahead and sure enough they did.  Despite the thunderstorm and the torrential rains the sun broke through and the drive was a pleasant one.  It was a matter of “arriving” at the other side of the storm.  When I did I saw two clouds, two people really, looking at each other.  They were slowly coming together and melding into one unified being.  I could feel the laughter coming off of them and so that is how I viewed this conference.  There would be controversy, disagreement on some issues, a torrent of emotions for many and in the end a coming together in understanding that all of this is really not about any of the individuals but rather trying to make a better place to live.

The drive finally came to an end and I was able to check into my room on campus.  The conference itself is at Yale University and that is where I’m staying.  In room, car parked for the week, and registered for the conference.  I was done with it all just in time for the welcoming reception to begin.  As I sat down with my non-alcoholic mojito (they made a very specific point there was no alcohol at the conference) I began to thumb through the program for the week when all of a sudden a gentleman bent down near me and said “Hello Mary.”  I was so surprised; it was Fritz Lampe, a Lutheran minister from Flagstaff, Arizona.  What was so significant about this is that Fritz was key to the Pagan students being recognized at Syracuse University.  He was the original person asked to be their adviser.  He would have loved to but unfortunately didn’t feel it was a good idea for his position as the Lutheran Chaplain on campus at the time.  It was because of that decision that the students found me and I became their adviser.  Fritz was always a friend and advocate for the recognition of the Pagans on campus and it was a joy to be able to reconnect with him.

I soon found all my other SU colleagues and off to dinner we went.  Dinner was nice, but the bonus prize was being able to connect with one of the US Air Force Academy Chaplains that is here.  I’ll talk more about that later, but it was a good start to the conference; a start that brought old friends together and reminded me of the very fragile beginnings of the Pagan presence on campus at SU.

%d bloggers like this: