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.