Yesterday was the Pagan Pride event in North Andover, MA. I had been invited to give a workshop at the event. Matt the Pirate, and his wife Mary the Goth Theologian, John the Master Dream Interpreter (though he denies it), and The Prof. Carlos Z. joined me for the event.
I hope to develop a team of Christians who can hang out at such events, and actually be good examples - instead of silly, judgmental, and icky. "Icky" is a theological term, you know.
We want to do things like Dream Interpretation, training in Neo-Pagan/Christian relationships, and simple friendship development to show that we can all live in this world together without fighting like cats. Of course, Neo-Pagans and the kind of Christians who like hanging out with me have something in common - we are like cats, herding us remains an impossibility.
Now the day previous I visited one of the stores of a Salem Witch who was one of the presenters at the festival as well. Teri said to me in passing, "Did Carole tell you about the one rule of the workshops? They need to be performed skyclad." Teri did not flinch a bit when saying this. Neither did I.
"That's cool." I replied.
So, the day of the event 5 of us drove out to North Andover from Salem at 7:30 in the morning. We arrived at the event early, and did so purposely. We put our hands to the work of setting up. Our plan was to make ourselves indispensable, which is really just another way of saying that we were going to be servants. We set up tents, we set up the Children's area, moved picnic benches, set up signs, and Matt the Pirate helped the blacksmith haul anvils and organize the smithy's area.
Once the vendors were set up, and the people began to arrive, we milled around. I greeted old friends from Salem, and made a few new friends. Matt the Pirate hung out with the Blacksmith; John, Mary, and Carlos got to know the festival, which is a mid-sized Pagan festival with live music, about 20-25 crafters, an early evening ritual, and a dozen workshops from morning to mid-afternoon.
My workshop was from 12:15 to 1:15. We ate pumpernickel bread and cheese, passed out flyers for the workshop, and joined the drum circle during the time between finishing set up, and the workshop.
The description of the workshop was this:
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.
At 12:05 we made our way to the workshop location. The previous workshop on Greek deities was ending, and we waited for the group to gather. About 20 people arrived, and after the welcome I introduced myself and the rest of the gang.
Strangely, no one was skyclad. Teri had lied to me, and Bev my wife was happier for it.
I gave my credentials for teaching the workshop - I call it Pagan street Cred - I've been excommunicated from a denomination for making friends with Pagans. That's pretty darn good Street Cred.
The workshop looked something like this:
I taught for between 7 and 10 minutes on 4 different subjects, and between each subject I had the class break up into three groups. John the Dream Master led one group, Matt the Pirate led the second group, and Mary the Goth Theologian and The Prof. Carlos Z. led the third group.
My goal was to teach about those four basic Christian doctrines listed above, and what caused these particular doctrines to be divisive points between Christians and Pagans. My particular focus was to highlight imbalances in the approaches and theology of many Christians, which caused their behavior and attitudes to be negative and hurtful.
I taught first about Hell and Judgment, and shared the fact that this doctrine ought to be a great equalizing doctrine in evangelical circles, because the belief is that all people are destined for Hell or deserving of it. Instead many Christians are proud of some unique heavenly status they think they have, and instead of finding commonality with struggling humanity they become judgmental.
Then the three groups discussed the point and how they felt about Hell and Judgment. There was laughing, and there was serious dialogue, and there was a mixed combination of joy to be talking about these things openly in a mixed religious group, and concern about the treatment many of the Pagans had received from Christians they knew and loved.
Then we discussed Conversion. I told them I was going to be giving them the inside scoop. Something many Christians did not realize, or if they did they somehow lost sight of it in the midst of their zeal. The point was this: No human can convert you. Conversion only occurs as an interaction between deity and a human.
Then our Christian group leaders had to rotate clockwise to change groups. For some reason they couldn't quite figure out clockwise initially - evidence that they are not Pagans and don't normally work in circles. Good thing I did not ask them to rotate deosil. Once they figured it out, the discussion on conversion appeared to be more personal, and filled with stories of pressure Pagans received from Christians.
Thirdly, I taught about Spiritual Dissonance, which is my redefinition of the subject Spiritual Warfare. When I mentioned Spiritual Warfare the group groaned, and understood the ramifications of the term. So we talked about the devil scares of the 1980's through people like Mike Warnke, and Bob Larson. Then we looked for a more balanced view of the subject from a Christian perspective. My hope was to arm Pagans with sound views of Christianity in order to help them counteract bizarre unloving behavior from wacky Christians.
The group rotated deosil once again, and began to discuss this subject. Of course the problem of evil arose in the groups, and this became a point of discussion.
Last of all we talked about the hottest subject of all - sex. I had the group shout a victory shout because we were going to talk about sex, and they did so raucously. I pointed out that the practice of heterosexual, monogamous, wait till marriage sexuality was actually a ritual lifestyle being lived out by Christians who believe that the Church is a Bride to the Son of God, and that our full realization of this union will occur in the second coming. Now we are engaged as it were to Him. Most Christians don't understand that this ritual lifestyle is a choice of beautiful ritual, and not a harsh law. Because they do not understand this they sound harsh when they discuss this issue.
Once again the Christians turned deosil in the circle, and arrived back in the original group they had led. Then they talked sex with Pagans. This was a hot and wild subject. One group was very serious, another group was light but philosophical, and the third was a bawdy group from Salem (I should have known!) in which The Poor Prof. Carlos Z. was being hit on by my friend a gay Pagan and Mary the Goth Theologian was trying to keep a straight face.
The group ended after this, and we all had a good time. I met someone from the COG who was excited about the workshop, and thought it would be good have in a COG setting as well. That would be pretty cool actually, and I would love to do that someday perhaps.
I talked with a number of new friends, and they all appreciated the open discussion combined with the attempts to bring peace between the worlds.
Later that day I talked with Teri. She had mentioned the skyclad joke, and the fact that when she mentioned it to Carole, Carole asked, "What did he do?" Teri replied to Carole, "He worked me, and simply said, 'That's cool.'" Yep, I did work her. I'm not easily surprised, and I've been to enough public Pagan events to know this was not going to be a skyclad event.
Well, it still seems strange to me, but I was able to talk about Hell, Conversion, Spiritual Warfare, and Biblical Sexuality at a Pagan Festival and people loved it. All I can ask myself is, "What the heck have Christians been doing wrong for so long that this has not been able to happen?" Then again I have to remind myself that I have been excommunicated from a middle of the road Pentecostal denomination for doing such things. So, I guess I already know the answer to that question.
Pics to come soon. Although I forgot to get the camera out for the workshop. Sheesh, I always do that.
This post is part of the interfaith synchroblog on interfaith dialogue.
List of participants
- J. R. Miller (Christian) of More Than Cake on A Christian Approach to Interfaith Dialogue
- Liz Dyer (Christian) of Grace Rules on Interreligious Dialogue: Risky Business
- Matt Stone (Christian) of Glocal Christianity on Is Interfaith Interfaith enough?
- Steve Hayes (Christian Orthodox) of Notes from underground on Interreligious dialogue
- Phil Wyman (Christian) of Square No More on A Christian Presenter at Pagan Pride!?
- Beth Patterson (Liberal Christian with Celtic undertones) of Virtual Tea House on Same Stove, Different Teapots
- Yvonne Aburrow (Wiccan Unitarian) of the dance of the elements on Only connect