Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Beyond the Pall (Part 2): Standing Between the Worlds


The funeral passed for my friend the Witch. The weeks following were filled with strange conversations, and changing relationships.

I sat down with small groups of Witches gathered together over the common love of their friend. I hugged more Witches on some days than whole mega-churches will in their entire existence. I saw the Witchcraft community struggling with the issue of respecting the dead. There were some who had seen my friend as a threat, and were taking their shots at him now that he was dead.

"Do you think he is in Hell?" I was asked this question by more than one person. His Pentecostal mother cried each time we talked over the phone. Even a Pagan asked me that fearful Hell question. Believing that the mercy of God is greater than we can imagine, knowing that the thief on the cross made a last-second dive for home plate, and slid in under the tag, I replied that God is the judge of all things beyond the grave, and I know that He loved our friend more than any of us ever could.

He was buried 75 miles away from Salem, and many people in the Witchcraft community could not attend. On Friday the 13th, a memorial service was arranged in Salem. This was the first notable Witch to die since the Neo-Pagan revival had made its way to our little New England burg in the early 70's.

The organizers of the memorial service needed a sound system. Our church had one. We offered it. So Jesus provided the sound system for the memorial of a famous Witch. I was asked to speak, and wondered how that might be received by a room full of Pagans.

Friday the 13th arrived. Jeff, our assistant pastor took the sound system down to the Old Town Hall. I arrived later, and helped set it up. Our close friend who was leading the service sang out a chorus from the musical "Wicked,"

"And Goodness knows
The Wicked's lives are lonely
Goodness knows
The Wicked die alone
It just shows when you're Wicked
You're left only
On your own

Yes, Goodness knows
The Wicked's lives are lonely
Goodness knows
The Wicked cry alone
Nothing grows for the Wicked
They reap only
What they've sown"


"Do you think this song is okay? Should I sing that last phrase, 'They reap only what they've sown?'" Our friend the Witch asked us.

I responded with a slightly twisted, but obvious smirk, "Of course you should sing it. It is from the Bible after all."

"But do you think it's too much? Because I think I like it."

"I am sure it will be fine."

Our singing friend was the main speaker. He was nervous. He asked for advice about his "sermon." We all laughed that he called it a sermon. Jeff and I remarked to one another how pastoral he appeared. He may not have looked like a Christian pastor, but he was caring for people in his unique Neo-Pagan way.

Later that evening we arrived for the memorial. The room was filled with people strange and common. Black is the color of choice for these events, but this was blacker than usual. Some were dressed in ceremonial robes, some in street clothes, and some in wild neo-medieval black leather garb. People gathered in small clans, and the room was abuzz with whispers, greetings between distant friends being reacquainted, quiet laughter, and tears.

I made my way around the room meeting new people, and saying hi to recent acquaintances and old friends. I counted four Christians in the room of somewhat over 100: three from our church, and a Quaker.

After a time of mingling, people were called to their seats. The memorial was decidedly witchy. A small table of occult implements sat front and center. The elements of earth, air, fire and water were called upon, and the spirits of the north, east, south, and west were invoked. I was reminded of a once popular Christian worship song which called to the directions of the compass. I thought to myself that the same Pentecostal churches which enjoyed the song would be the least comfortable of all Christians in this strange setting.

The group of four Witches running the service began to introduce the people who were asked to speak. They would simply say, "and now we will hear from John." I was last in the order.

People shared poetry, stories of their friendship, and writings from the Book of Shadows which was written by the deceased. This Book of Shadows held poems of joy, and sorrow, of doubt, and struggle, moments of calling out to God for help in this troubled world, and honest descriptions of being broken and human.

The Quaker man stepped up. He began, "An Atheist, a Witch, and a Quaker went to Transylvania." The room roared at this joke introduction. He held well over 100 people enraptured with his hilarious stories of their real travels together.

My singing friend approached the mic to introduce me, but he said more than, "and now we will hear from Phil." He called the Witches in the room to remember a time some 15 years previous when the Pagan and the Evangelical Christian communities were aggressively antagonistic to one another, and remarked that those days were past. Then he credited me for the transformation, and openly called the Witches in Salem to follow my example. I rubbed my eyes, and doubted that our little church was as influential as he suggested. He spoke my name. I stood and walked to the platform to the sound of applause.

An Evangelical Christian Pastor being applauded by a room full of Witches; my little world was weird, but it exponentially increased in peculiarity that moment.

"These are the thinnest of times, when the veil between the world we live in and the heavens becomes transparent...." I hailed back to the early Christian Celts and their theology of Thin Places - times and locations where heaven and earth meet as I described the experience we all have during the loss of loved ones. But I wondered who really stood at this uncomfortable junction between the worlds. Was it those who lost their friend? or was it I who had made these new friends in a world so unlike my own?

42 comments:

David said...

God bless you. What a powerful testimony.
Blessings,
David

Shiloh Guy said...

This is really exciting stuff, Phil! Thanks for taking the time to share it with us. You are setting a wonderful example of the love of Jesus and I'm certain there will come many blessings as a result. I'm just about convinced to bring my family to Massachusetts on our vacation this summer!

Dave

Makeesha said...

that's beautiful phil. I wonder if the veil was the thinnest in that moment when you allowed vulnerability, love and grace guide you as you reached others with Jesus' hands and heart.

Pastor Phil said...

David,
Thanks bro. It's becoming a wacky, wacky world I'm living in. So, you grew up in Bisshop? I used to live in California City. Those mules walked right by us on the way back from Boron.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Dave,
You are definitely welcome here for this summer! We'd love to have you.

Pastor Phil said...

Makeesha,
I'm not sure it's thinnest when I am excited about something, but probably when I'm scared.

Sally said...

Phil- this is an awesome follow up to the funeral account- prayers for peace- and many blessings be with you.
You are an inspiration !

Makeesha said...

are you an ascetic phil? ;) I don't think that we have to suffer in order to experience God in a tangible way (like when we see through the veil). but I get what you're saying

Pastor Phil said...

Sally,

Thanks for being such an encouragement.

Mother Laura said...

Thank you for this moving post, which gives me courage to stay on my own path of spiritual dialogue and proclaim it more courageously. I too love and worship with pagans (female setting mostly) and am sometimes anxious about being misunderstood on that by Christian sisters and brothers.

Pastor Phil said...

Makeesha,

No, I am not an ascetic, unfortunately I am finding that when the veil gets thinnest lately God is taking me to some scary new places. Probably scary because I know the potential for persecution which can arise from stepping into a Thin Place. These new Thin Places are the kind of places General Booth of The Salvation Army might have said God can be found.

Yet, I also find Thin Places beneath my Silver Maple Tree, and watching the daffodils come up. ;-)

Pastor Phil said...

Mother Laura,

Thanks for popping in to Squarenomore. I'd love to compare notes with you on interaction, and involvment with the Pagan community.

Serena said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! Your life sounds exciting ... and much like the life our Lord Jesus led! Praise God.

Justin said...

thinking about this...

is it more dangerous to tell a person that God is the judge of whether a person is in hell or not and they go on their way believing that God will judge their hearts and call them Friend, if they never really loved Jesus...but what does loving Jesus look like? I know He says in the Word what it looks like, and I feel as if I know more christians walking in it than not, and I think there's more to it than loving this Creation and the people in it, but reserving a heart of worship for Him alone as well...is it dangerous to not make a judgement call in this, or have you already told them what you biblically believe salvation is...relationship with God...

I've seen incredibly loving people who never knew Jesus or if they did it just didn't seem like the worship I believe the Word speaks of....and i've known incredibly messed up men, who in their darkest times turned to the God of their heart and knew grace again...cause they truly loved and worshipped Him, but had forgotten how that translates to the world.

So I fear your answer...I fear you need more criterion, but in a way that gives them hope and not just conviction.

"Yes, this man is in hell, but I cannot know that for sure, all i know is that He said he loved Jesus, but from what I believe he might not have loved him like we're supposed to...if so then yes he is in hell, but you don't have to be, and you don't have to sacrifice the good of the life of this friend, you need only enhance it with a deeper worship of God." something like that, that;s a really terrible way of saying what I'm trying to say...

I'm just afraid...and maybe in a way I can ask what I am trying to ask this way. If you believe a witch can be in heaven, or that there's even that possibility, someone who though they live a good and kind life love certain things that God does not, not the person, but the ways of living or doing...if you believe that person could possibly still be in Heaven, then why aren't you one, and why are you a Christian?

I know your answer might have just been for ecumenical reasons, but we stand at the threshold of changed lives here...hope full beautiful circumstances could come from this. But they won't come from maybes and I dunnos, and I'm not sures. I think you have the answer to their hope, "do you think he's in hell" really is "do you think me, being like him, will go to hell?"

you can answer with all confidence that a life lived within Christ will not be, and that you're not totally sure he did live that life, but that they still can...though it might require great sacrifice, it's worth all that they are...to leave the Witch and become the christian...

Justin said...

"possibly stil be in Heaven without a life change, without a palpable picture of heart given to God, and acceptance of his sacrifice and redemption.

Justin said...

*sorry the million and one replies* I just want to be a bit kinder and more understanding here and say I understand how hard it is to answer a question like that, especially when you loved the man, and want him to have a possibility of heaven. Heck you know him better than I do, and probably know that his heart might have been in deep worship of God, but that his life may have been struggling with things, and I get that too, and I realize sometimes it's hard for us to know hearts, and to know where people really are, even the hypocrites.

When my father committed suicide, the school he was a adjunct professor at, Regent University, held a meeting to discuss whether he was in hell or not, based on certain archaic christian theologies about suicides going to hell...I remember the deep anger I had at them.

I know when asked that question by people that loved this man it's very hard to go into theology and thoughts on his life in relation to whether he was a follower and disciple of Christ or not, and whether that means he's in hell or not, I know really that when asked that question maybe it would be best to answer how you did, and when things have changed later, you can go back to discipling, and showing what biblically being a follower of Christ is to God and to man...

I'm sorry if my reply came of unloving to your friend and the grief of the ones around you, I realize that answering a question like that in the place you were at at that moment in time called for grace and tact, and you did well. forgive me for my cynicism.

I said it before, I will be praying for you, I know you stand in a scary place, a place where you could fall or you could soar. Always seek God in all you do, and His Heart for those around you, many times love doesn't look like love, and grace doesn't look like grace, be careful to know His Heart and not your own desires.

I love what you're doing, but I'm also afraid for you, but I am leaving in in far more capable Hands than mine. May He walk with and keep you safe at all times

Pastor Phil said...

Justin,

Hearing your story about your father, and the response from Regent University does not surprise me, but it deeply saddens me, and I am so sorry that the Christian Church here on earth behaved with such cruelty toward you. It is a miracle that you love God, still seek Him with all your heart, and do not flee all forms of organized religion. Thank you for telling that story, and opening your heart.

You do indeed understand the deep need of the moment of death - to respond with something deeper than theological platitudes, but instead perhaps respond with an answer, though seemingly indistinct, expresses the loving heart of God. There really is nothing indistinct about God heart for people, and that is a more important topic than who is, or is not in Hell.

You are correct in believing that there are times for straight tallk on Hell, and Judgment. I do not negate that fact, but when I peruse the ministry of Jesus, and even that of Paul, I do not see Hell discussions inserted into people's crises moments.

I am currently in the beginning of a series of posts which will chart my course of reaching out to what is basically an ignored, and untrusted people group in the eyes of most Christians. It is my desire to show their humanity, and break a series of twisted urban myths about them, but it is also my desire to chart a course for others to follow in the future. But like any pioneer moving into uncharted territories I may make turns taking me down places, which I will need to backtrack and re-navigate. I am hoping that others will someday follow down this same path, and learn to love people who they once had feared.

This is just the beginning of the course I am charting, and it will be written about for the next 6 to 12 months.

Right now everyday is an adventure in befriending, and loving Neo-Pagans.

Jamie said...

Phil.

Wow. This is my favorite post you have written (and that's saying a lot). Beautiful. Simply beautiful. Thank you for being who you are and loving people for who they are.

Pastor Phil said...

Serena,

Thanks for the encouragement. Exciting? Yes. Sometimes too much so. ;-)

Justin said...

thanks man. Yeah I stopped going to church for 3 years. It was really in a student ministry on a secular campus that I really began to understand what church means and is. Church is the people, and many times the people fail and mess up...but if God has a heart of forgiveness and redemption for the Neo-Pagan, he can have it for the failures in the Church too. 4 guys really surrounded me there and showed me the love of Christ...I guess I never really hated the church, cause I can't hate human beings for failing to be Christ. I fail at it every day too.

But I understand in a way how people can hate. I hope people like you and I can change their heart towards the Church. The chruch is a God established thing and should never be hated, because he wants to move in our hearts missionally towards the world as communities, and not individuals. So I find myself clinging to hope for the Church, and wrestling with those who would divide it.

I've recently started going back myself here in Jackson MS, to a church Relevant recommended actually. My pastor calls it a churchn for people who hate church. It's quite emergent, and artsy and I love it. A perfect church for someone trying to fall back in love with the church. Yours sounds alot like that too.

Thanks for being so understanding, and I'd love to continue talking with you about all this. I hope to someday have my own magazine and an article on your ministry would be a great story I think. I'll be keeping in touch. Let me know if there's anything you need too.

-Justin

Pastor Phil said...

Jamie,

Wow. Thanks. I've actually been struggling with this one more than most.

Pastor Phil said...

Justin,

Definitely let's keep in touch. Your story ought to be shared with Christians (well, and non-Christians too) I believe.

Glad to hear that you are in a good place.

Justin said...

hey Phil? Would you be willing to come by Teddekker.com where we've been discussing your article? If you have time constraints or something, don't worry about it, but I feel like it would allay some fears if we could hear from the horse's mouth some answers. I started a thread about it and I feel like it's alot of talking -about- a person, and not -to- a person.

mark said...

hey Phil... once again you leave me with much to ponder.
Thank you.

mark

Pastor Phil said...

Justin,

Left a reply there. Thanks.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Mark,

I'd love to have you here in Salem bro. Thanks for being a sound voice over at Ted Dekker's site.

Adam Gonnerman said...

Phil,

This continues to be fascinating.

The concept of thin places isn't too far off. I tend to think we find these in the sacraments as well, and the Old Testament believers could find such a spot in the Temple (especially the first temple.

Eventually this universe will be engulfed in Heaven, made New Heavens and New Earth, but for now we have the thin places.

Justin said...

Stephen Lawhead talks about such places in his arthur and celtic books. i love the idea. i love how God -creates- them through us instead of makes us pilgrimage to them.

Justin said...

i'm sorry for the reception over there. you really have to get to know them. for all their bluster they're really great people. especially Spy and Bhardy...both are amazing men of God just really rough around the edges. Not hypocrites at all though.

anyways, thanks for coming by
-Justin

mark said...

:)
I've been trying to get back up there Phil.. but they have this thing about not sending me to training at the factory.. LOL

As for Dekker's site.. we can thank Justin since I didn't know it was there till he said something. Been kind of busy. :)

I like the 'thin places' analogy btw. I fully believe that there is much truth in that since I have been to places and through times that I feel would qualify. thank you for reminding me of them.

mark

Anonymous said...

You know, I've been reading that thread over at
Decker.com and reflecting on the comments. So full of
judgement based on an inability to read the words
written in the article, a limiting of the Christian
God in that they seem to feel they know the heart of a
man at the point of his death better than God might do
and all that parcelled up in what comes across as a
'righteous' kind of blustering fear. I've two thoughts
on this that I might have posted to the Decker list
myself except I don't think my presence would be
welcome there. I certainly didn't get the feeling it
would.

Firstly, these people have not visited 'The
Gathering'. I seem to remember some other 'church
dudes' who passed judgement without even visiting the
church or experiencing a church service at the
Gathering. Yet they seem to feel they know Phil's
church as something that does not serve their Lord.
I've been to Phils church... yes, me, an english
Pagan. What I saw was a group of Christians hanging
out with Jesus, exploring passages from the bible to
gain a deeper insight and how that insight might
transfer into their lives. I saw a group of Christians
engaged in a level of Christian fellowship I have
noticed as absent from many larger church services
where the feeling is very impersonal. I saw a group of
people comfortable with God and excited by reaching
out to him in ways that were more personal, that
really touched them at a soul level. There was
humility. There was love. There was the 'Christ' I
recognise from the bible. Maybe what the people
commenting at Decker fear is that they are not
equipped to meet God in that way and then bring that
into their lives, so that those who they meet from
other faith backgrounds can see what a life in Christ
is all about.

The second thought that cropped up was really
something I think I might take to my forum and the
Circle and Cross talk list- an exploration of how many
Christians deal with spiritual fears. My feeling is
that often it is counter productive. I hasten to add
that I see a similar reaction in the Pagan community.
So this isn't singling out Christians as the only
group who do this.

BB

Mike

Anonymous said...

Wow, it got through this time. :)

BB

Mike

mark said...

And i'm glad it did get through Mike.

mark

Justin said...

that's interesting Mike...but don't make the same mistake you see them making by basing thoughts and judgements before you've really taken the time to know them. I do hope you stick around and start your thread. But yeah, I had alot of the same assumptions at first as well, but after a year of being there, I've found that the situation is alot more complicated than that.

Please stick around and I'm sure you'll learn that on your own.

-Justin aka Puddleglum

Anonymous said...

Justin, if they can't or won't read the words of a Christian pastor without misreading them and homing in on what they perceive to be 'wrong' because it doesn't fit their neat little boxes of what the world should look like, then they're hardly likely to read the words of a Pagan with any degree of accuracy. I've plenty of other venues where I can dialogue with Christians who actually listen and therefore demonstrate that they are worth listening to. I run one such venue myself. Phil runs another.

Justin, I noticed that you tried hard on the thread to get a more balanced and accurate reading of Phils article. This is not a commentary on you.

BB

Mike

Justin said...

well, i dunno...most of them are more modernistic and thus detail oriented, whereas I'm a big picture kinda guy and I see that as being more prevalent nowadays in circles of thought.

I think the devil can be in the details, but it's the heart that matters, and the reality that imperfection is the reality of man needs to be remembered.

on both sides. i fear that in reacting to their reactions we become just like them. we see them as not seeing the big picture and getting caught up in the details, and that makes them less worthy of our conversation. I don't agree...I think both sides have valid points.

I think we'd do better to talk to each other than to stick with people that make sense to us, and us to them

Anonymous said...

'I think we'd do better to talk to each other than to stick with people that make sense to us, and us to them'

If only that were possible. My experiences, and I've had rather a lot of them, are that I find myself being talked AT rather than being in a situation where we're talking to each other. When talking with people it is usually a good idea that both parties are also prepared to listen. Otherwise it becomes a monologue. There is only so much monologue I'm prepared to put up with before I seek out people who are interested in dialogue. As I said, I have plenty of places I go to where I can enter into dialogue with Christians and people of other faiths. The Decker site doesn't seem to be interested in dialogue with people who don't conform to their general way of seeing the world. They would much rather attack and enter into monologue. :)

BB

Mike

Justin said...

k...i just don't see it that way, cause I've been there and I'm also pretty diametrically opposed to them alot of the time, though I have learned alot from them and I think them from me. You will find that people will talk at you for a while, then all the sudden as they've seen your life and the proof of it, they will begin to listen.

People relate to their worldviews, it's what keeps them secure. Anyone that is a stranger opposing that tends to get talked at at first, but as they come to realize you love them, and realize that you're worth love too, things change.

I dunno...I think it teaches us patience, and kindness, and openmindedness. Maybe they talk at cause they don't feel like they're being listened to either. I know alot of them feel talked at too cause they've told me.

But I understand and respect your choice, my friend

Justin

Anonymous said...

Thanks Justin. Honestly, I've been at this communicating with Christians business for quite a while now. I'm well known for it in many Pagan circles, and feared for it too because I DO actually enter into dialogue with Christians about their faith without trying to tear it down or wave the sins of the church under their noses all the time. That makes many Pagans who are wounded by the actions of Christians a little nervous. They fear I might be inviting the wolf in to the sheep pen. Truly I understand that because I've had to beat the wolf back a few times. I can't help but sense a certain wolfishness about the folks there. If people are genuinely open to hear other peoples worldviews then they won't automatically talk AT people. Yes, I understand that sometimes it takes a while to encourage people to be open to the idea of listening to other worldviews. But I do an awful lot of that in my IRL interfaith dialogue. I've had too many internet experiences of walking into the wolfs den and seen the wolves bolster each other up. As soon as one wolf begins to flag, another takes over with all round nodding of heads. IRL I have the advantage of body language, facial expression and vocal intonation.... and silence (a very powerful tool) to encourage a different approach and to put people at their ease. If I were to meet members of the Decker site in real life I would have no problems or concerns. But people hide behind internet persona and allow it to bring out their most intolerant and extreme characteristics. My site is unusual in that we very rarely have unpleasant conflict and even more rarely does it last for anything more than a page. Phils list is generally the same, although we've had one or two real clashes there over the years. People listen to each other and demonstrate a respect for each other. That doesn't mean they shy away from challenging each other. If anything I thik the challenges get frighteningly deep for some people. I've had comments to that effect about my site. But REAL respect is visibly there.

First impressions are very important. Perhaps they shouldn't be so important. Perhaps we should be able to look beyond them, hence my threads on fear- a desire to understand what motivates the more negative first impressions encountered.

Perhaps, if you look at my site http://paganandchristianmoot.co.uk/pcvbforum you'll understand what I mean.

BB

Mike

Justin said...

i'd love to come by there some time man. thanks for the invite.

Anonymous said...

You're most welcome. We've an admin team that includes both Pagans and Christians. I think that has made a difference from the start. :)

BB

Mike

David said...

Hey Phil,
Wow, awesome. I can't wait to hear more and more of your journeys and your heart.
Jesus ate with those on the 'outside looking in', those who were not the elite of the day, those who missed the mark...so to speak.

Thanks for being like Jesus, and not like the pharisees.