Monday, October 26, 2009

A Compelling Letter from a Pagan

The following email was sent to me by a Canadian guy named Mark who lives in London. Mark is a Pagan, and migrated to that faith after growing up with friends from a evangelical Christian background. I asked Mark if I could post this letter on my blog and share with my friends. He was happy to have it posted, but wanted to make sure that we understood that he did not have an anti-Christian bias.

In his words, he said " I think that Christianity is a beautiful religion for those who choose to follow it, and I would like to see the real followers of Christianity growth and prosper. Unfortunately, Christianity is starting (particularly in the USA) to be seen more and more like Islam; a religion that represents those people who want to retain an "ideal society" that doesn't really seem likely to ever exist again."

I believe that it is important for us to hear the voice of the objective outside observer of our faith who is responding to the the societal interactions we have with with our culture.

This letter will be significantly different from Carmen's silly, exaggerated, and religiously militaristic Witch's Invitation.

Please note: You may not agree with everything Mark says. But does that really matter? He does have something to say to you, that we do need to learn. May you hear his words of gentle, and peaceful concern for our "beautiful religion" as he calls it.

Mark - thanks for your kind, and gracious words. I am deeply appreciative for them and hope to meet you face to face in London someday soon.

Post begins here ----

Dear Pastor Phil,

Hello my name is Mark and I live in London, England. I recently read about your church in Salem, and the hassle that you've had from church groups and your own church peers, because of your contact with neo-Paganism, and I felt I had to write and say what a courageous thing it is that you're doing.

I've recently converted to Paganism (which is actually a lot less "looked down upon" in the UK since the modern neo-Pagan and witch movement basically started here) after a long, LONG search for meaning in my spiritual views.

When I grew up in small town Canada, most of my friends were born again Christians. They were all from different denominations and each one found the other denominations to be "weird" in one way or another, and certainly they didn't practice "pure Christianity" in the way that their denomination taught it. They all spent time trying to get me to join one of their prayer groups and convert, and when I didn't I found out they were holding "secret" prayer meetings together to discuss how to get me to "find Jesus," and these just ended up making me feel alienated from my friends (if all of your friends when you were 15 were holding secret strategy meetings about how to deal with you, how would you have felt?)

I hold nothing against Christianity however I didn't feel that a lot of the teachings of modern Christian churches represented my world view well. When I was 13 my best friend came out of the closet which was fine by me but, not so with my Christian friends; my girlfriend when I was 14 was a witch; many of the Christian parents of my friends were Conservatives (the Canadian equivalent of Republicans), and I didn't believe religion and politics made good friends and Conservative beliefs towards the poor didn't seem very Christian.

Anyway, after a long and eventful story I found myself living in the UK and studying comparative religion (whilst not a Christian, I have always had a desire to learn about the weird and mystical thing that people see as "belief"). It was here that I also developed a 6 year struggle with alcohol that nearly cost me everything that I had built up over the years: my home, job, reputation, friends, etc.

When I got sober, I found myself feeling more and more alone in the world (alcoholics have a tendency to surround themselves with other alcoholics so that no one will challenge their drinking habits and these people tend not to want to be friends with you once you sober up). So I committed myself to seeking out the things that I loved in life before I started drinking. That led me to a focus on nature and the splendor of the natural world. This focus led rather naturally (no pun intended) to Paganism when I discovered that it probably most closely represented my own views of the world.

Personally I shy away from saying that I'm a Witch because it is a term that implies certain beliefs in goddess/god polytheism that I am not certain that I believe in, favouring instead to worship nature in its natural glory and seeing myself as a part of a divine macrocosm of life on this planet/in this universe, but I've met many, many witches and druids, Kaballists and wizards, cunning men and women, and most, if not all, of them have been wonderfully understanding and accepting of other people and their beliefs. I think that more Christians ought to take a leaf out of your book and mine, and practice a bit more of this understanding towards pagans of all denominations (and of all other religions for that matter).

The single most off-putting thing about Christianity for me was the lack of acceptance of others (or the "acceptance with intent to convert" that makes them seem as though they aren't really your friends at all; friends shouldn't have agendas towards you). When I saw your blog and read a bit about your beliefs I felt that I should send you this e-mail and say thank you for your attempts to see that anyone's beliefs can be a beautiful and peaceful thing. I think that if there were more pastors in the world like you, the world might be a happier place. Heck, if the Christian churches that I had grown up around had been more understanding and accepting of my gay/witch friends or my early atheism when I was younger, I may have even been convinced to convert.

Please, please keep up your good work and keep being friends with the neo-pagan community. Maybe if we can start with simple friendship, we might be able to convince the world that the old Christian teaching and Wiccan Rede philosophy to "harm none" is really the best way for the world to be.

Your friend,


Friday, October 23, 2009

getting lost in the tide - West Coast Eisteddfod Poetry Competition Entry

to the sea
of grays and blues
in the sand
i leave my shoes
by water's edge
in the waves
ev'ry footstep is
washed away


i feel just fine
getting lost in the tide

i walk the shore
at spring tide
my missing trail
is a sign
all is well
my pains undone
just for now
under this sun


i feel just fine
getting lost in the tide

i could walk
for miles and miles
erase trails
of all my trials
in each footstep
paid my dues
someone else can
have my shoes


i feel just fine
getting lost in the tide

Visit or enter the Americymru West Coast Eisteddfod Peotry Competition Of Welsh descent? Consider joining Americymru.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Persecution of Supposed Witches on the Rise

The following stories have popped up in the last few days:

Nigerian children accused of Witches cast out of their homes, tortured, even killed by church leadership, and their own parents:

see this report from yesterday:
SOS Children's Village
and this one from 3 days ago:
CBS News

The above stories are from Nigeria alone, but this is happening in much of the "third world." Mike Davis' book Planet of Slums outlines this problem in Kinshasa, Congo as well. You should read this book. See link to it in the column to the left.

Indian Muslim widows beaten after being accused of being Witches:
video footage here

Is there hope for delivering these abused women and children from the evil created by superstition and fear-mongering? I hope so, but I am convinced that this superstition has been exported by many US churches, and expanded to unbelievable lengths by poverty, greed, and ignorance. Heaven help us.

For previous blog posts on this issue see here and here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Balancing Precariously Between Depravity and Nobility

This is a topic I have thought and spoken about quite a bit, but have not written about. It was Matthew Ryan at the New Hampshire Streams Internship who generated the sense that I ought to do so.

I am not of a Reformed persuasion, and probably never will be. Yet, I do believe that there is a deep depravity evident in the activity of humanity, and as we simply peruse the adventures of history we find some unbelievably dark moments.

On the other hand, I also find great sources of inspiration and encouragement in history. To match the Hitlers and Dahlmers of the past, I also see Nightingales and Gandhis. Nobility pops its head to the surface in remarkable ways every generation.

To complicate matters both Christians (those who declare their allegiance to being conformed to the imago dei), and non-Christians (who may not follow an example set by religious precepts and God inspired constraints) appear to exemplify both enlightened nobility and dark depravity.

This theological anthropology is extremely valuable to me. It informs my sense of evangelical mission. It teaches me to respect, and honor all people, and yet to be aware that every person still carries the potential to create great harm. I am at once called to be trusting, and yet not too trusting in the resources of other frail and faulty human beings. It also causes me to be self reflecting in a practical manner. I am at once responsible to put the noble foot forward, and at all times must resist the subtle and intelligent designs of my darker side.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blog Action Day (A SynchroBlog): Where Church Meets the Climate Change Discussion

This is part of a SynchroBlog which has been created for the purpose allowing blog friends to speak on one subject together, and this month we are joining the much larger Blog Action Day.
As a pastor of an evangelical congregation in Salem, MA, and one particularly noted for its rather creative and quirky outreach practices, it would not seem that our little congregation would take a center stage in the climate change discussion, but like Salem bends - things are not as it seems.

I am not particularly passionate about carbon footprint numbers. I am passionate about sustainable energy, and especially when it can be done cheaply for the Average Joe. I like people who build their own wind turbines from Home Depot parts, and those who make bio-diesel.

Yet for all this, our little church has become a periodic gathering point for the sustainable energy discussions, and workshops, and I have become a gatherer of low carbon footprint interests.

It started a year and half ago.

The Chamber of Commerce runs an event called The Salem Living Green Fair. We were asked to host the speaker series. After two years of events, our church is the place to go to hear the green people talk.

Next, I started a company called CeltiConnect. Somehow, I, a veteran pastor of small churches became involved in business and trade development with Welsh interests. My partner has a background in renewable energy, and this led to a whole new circle of friends. As a result we sponsored Paul Allen from The Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, Wales to speak to the renewable energy interests in our area.

Now we are hosting a event on October 24th at 2pm on a stage, which we build and host every Halloween season in Salem, MA.

Jeff Barz-Snell from First Church Salem is really the brainy pastor in town when it comes to carbon footprints,and renewable energy. He was trained under Al Gore. He is doing most of the organizing of the event on the 24th, but once again The Gathering takes a central role ion the development of the day.

How we got here I am not totally sure. The fact that we are here is good. The Church (notice I capitalized the word here) needs to be in on one of the biggest discussions of this decade - if not beyond.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Pastor stirs up a Brewhaha

I am not immune to controversy. Okay that was understated. I tend to end up with it swirling around me like an F5 tornado. Well, I have added a new controversial dynamic to life.

CeltiConnect the company I started with my friend Gareth Gwyn Jones is focused on business and trade development. My particular focus is between Wales and North America, and I have just begun a three month project with a Welsh Company which has been successful in Wales, and is breaking into the US market. They have distribution set up, but now need some sales representation and help.

Enter stage left Pastor Phil. (That's me)

Now I have always been a little revolutionary in my thinking, and never one to remain silent when leaders say stupid things, or act toward others in harmful ways. I have gone out of my way to make friends with people whom the church considers untouchables, and I have ended up in strange circumstances, and infamous situations because of it.

Well, now I am marketing Welsh Ales - that's right beer. Someone is going to raise an eyebrow to that I am sure.

This is my response: I am practicing truth. Tomos Watkin makes some of my favorite Ale on earth, and it comes from the land I love the best!

But I'm not marketing right now, I'm just telling a story on my blog.

Of course you can follow the link to Tomos Watkin's site, or look for Tomos Watkin ales at your local seller of fine ales.