Should I have said that I would pray about it? Should I have asked for advice from my ministry peers, and considered their wisdom first? Should I have weighed out the factors, and considered how it might look to other Christians? I don't know. But I did do what I usually do. I saw a door crack open, and rushed through it headlong.
"I would love to teach a workshop!"
It was set in motion, and I, an evangelical Pastor was headed to being one of the workshop presenters at a festival with 1,500 Pagans. In turn she hoped to give my name to some national coordinators, and wanted to see if she could get me connected at a national level, taking my message on the road.
It was the end of my friend's memorial service. My friend the Witch had died, and I became a larger part of the lives of his friends who were left behind. Speaking at his service, I hailed back to the Celtic Christians, and referred to the Thin Places where Heaven meets earth. The death of a friend is a Thin Place, because it blindingly reminds us of our own mortality, and captures our fears, and our hopes, our joys, and our sorrows in one anarchic clash, and we meanwhile squint in the light of eternity. I ended my short message by calling everyone to consider making their own lives a Thin Place where people could capture Heaven through interacting with us. It was not a Gospel message, but it was one rooted in the source of my faith, and it reverberated gently among the Pagans in attendance that night. You see, I am convinced that what we give people is often indicative of where we are headed. If we show them heaven by treating them graciously, then it is heaven which is flowing from our hearts. On the other hand, if we give people Hell by treating them poorly, that speaks for itself. I was encouraging people to live in such a way as to give away pieces of Heaven.
After the memorial I worked on developing a workshop idea for this Pagan festival. Over the next couple weeks this is what developed:
The Circle and The Cross Talk: Re-visioning Pagan/Christian Relationships
"Looking back to the Caesars, and to the Burning Times misconceptions and urban myths have had deadly results for both Pagans and Christians. In our own times, though mild in comparison, Pagans have been on the receiving end of the religious persecution. Some have chosen to remain in the broom closet, and others have faced the struggle head on - sometimes to bitter disappointment with family, friends, and work associates. This workshop is designed as a deeper look into the worldview differences between Christian and Neo-Pagan thought with a focus upon deconstructing, and re-visioning some of the beliefs which cause the greatest pain. Come learn to navigate this battlefield of philosophical tension. Topics of frustration to be covered include judgment, conversion, spiritual dissonance, and sexuality."
I am going to be giving a workshop discussing Heaven and Hell, Salvation, Spiritual Warfare, and Sex from a Biblical perspective at a Pagan gathering, and people are excited about it. Someone pinch me and wake me up.
Paul spoke of his love for the Jews. I have this same deep appreciation, and love for Neo-Pagans. Over the last 12 years of getting to know them, I have learned that this much-maligned group is filled with beautiful people. In our Christian tendency to reduce every person to simply a sinner, we sometimes lose sight of the imago dei which simmers gently in the every person. In our tendency to demonize cultural and religious groups we do not understand, we sometimes loose sight of legitimate critiques they may have against our own culture, and our ways. I have found my Neo-Pagan friends to be among the brightest, and the most concerned, and also the ablest critics of our own Christian culture. Yet, here I was being accepted as a voice of legitimacy on their own turf, and I am a man of the cloth they choose not to weave their garments from.
Did this support the old adage that it is not what you say, but how you say it? Has my work in deconstructing, and redefining Christian doctrine missionally for alternative spiritualities had its effect in making me a more gentle Christian to those I really loved? Had I found a way to express Jesus to people who seemed to have no problem with Him, but struggled mightily with His followers? Perhaps it was simpler than that. Perhaps it was that when my friend died, I showed myself true - as a friend to him, and to his friends, and did so without worry of whether my reputation would be sullied by hanging out with Witches.
Perhaps I am actually compromising my faith, as my detractors warn, or I am being subtlely deceived by the wiles of the devil, and moving into unprotected territory where I would be subject to the devil's attacks and deceptions. One pastor had suggested as much when he asked me the rather sophmoric question, "Have you ever heard the term fellowshiping with darkness?"
"Uh, yeah..." 'Gee, It's not like I haven't been a Pentecostal Pastor for 20 years,' I thought.
"Well what does it mean to you?" He querried deeper, as though he was trying to mine some deep-seated unrepentant condition from my heart.
I wanted to answer, "It looks like sitting in a room with a bunch of cowards screaming at demons, while people who need Jesus are out on the streets during Halloween. That looks like fellowshiping with darkness to me," but I held my sarcasm, and remained gentle before his inquisition. Halloween in Salem is a month long, and while we made friends, served the community, and shared our faith, this man had critiqued our outreach projects, while he sat in holy huddles inside the safety of the church.
I guess if Halloween outreaches have been a problem, teaching at a Pagan Festival is going to be a bigger problem for some people, but for now I will prepare, and see what the upcoming months moving toward the conference bring.
As I draw deeper into the culture of these people I love, will I find deeper expressions of the imago dei? Will I find people earnestly seeking authentic spirituality? Will I find other Christians who are willing to join me in a quest to share Shalom? or will I find myself fellowshiping with darkness, turmoil, and succumbing to deception? I think I know the answer, but who can read the map of the untrod paths of the an adventure yet untried?
Only one Person can read that future which does not yet exist.