Sunday, January 18, 2009

Can I Get a Witness?

I received an email  from someone at work recently (who reads this blog and will know I'm talking about him) that made my heart sing. He just asked if we could sit down and talk sometime about my path. In his words, "I'm generally fascinated with the teachings of Wicca and Paganism (well, I’m fascinated with teachings of most faiths, but I like naturalistic aspects of the two particularly), and I'd really enjoy learning more about it from someone who practices the faith."

If more people said just that, not only about Wicca and Paganism, but about any faith or system of belief they are not familiar with, how many walls could we tear down? How many bridges could we build?

I believe that one of the biggest ways we can begin to tear down the walls of religious intolerance is through awareness, education, and understanding. That requires that more people have the courage and openmindedness my friend displayed in asking to know more about a path he is unfamiliar with. It also requires that there be people in all paths willing to put themselves out there to be asked.

Another good friend shared with me the wise words of a missionary who told his fellow Christians, "You can't witness any more than you already are.:"  Everything we do is a witness to our spiritual path - if our path is known. People observe us and our lives are our testimony. A responsible, caring, thoughtful person who respects others, is honest, accountable, and sets a positive example in society is a living witness with a stronger message than any stand-up testimony could ever hope to deliver.

Among those who walk the various Pagan paths, there is a great reluctance to be "out" and, in many cases, there are good reasons. It's a sad but true fact that former and current spouses have challenged the fitness of Pagan parents in court based on their spiritual path, employers and, more often, coworkers have made work life difficult, and families have shunned, abused, and berated those who come out about their paths. Openly walking a spiritual path outside the mainstream always carries risk of disapproval, and the risk is greater for some than for others. If we are going to change the way Pagans are perceived and, hopefully, reduce the risk of disapproval and repercussion, those of us with minimal risk have to start letting ourselves be visible, allowing our lives to be the witness and testimony that tears down the misconceptions and builds bridges.

That does not mean that we have to make grand announcements, start dressing "witchy" (save me!) or wearing pride bracelets everywhere we go. In fact, I'm convinced that it's more effective in the long run to simply live life according to our conscience and allow our spiritual paths to reveal themselves in the normal course of conversation and discovery. It doesn't have to be your lead card. But it doesn't have to remain hidden up your sleeve, either.  And if you have been witnessing with your life, the revelation of your spiritual path is much less likely to be met with ridicule, fear, or loathing. 

I know as I write this that there are those who simply cannot afford to take that risk. I respect that and would never suggest that anyone put themselves, their livelihoods, or their families at risk.  But I also know that there are a lot of people like me...people who are in the enviable position of not being as vulnerable to potential fallout from revealing a non-mainstream spiritual path...people who are well respected professionally and personally, and who do not dress or behave in ways that reinforce negative stereotypes, and who, hopefully, are willing to be open when it is appropriate to do so. 

We are the bridge builders, the Pagan Corps of Engineers who can, if we will, continue building infrastructure begun by others who have put themselves out there.  Our testimony is subtle, our witness quiet, but we can affect change one interaction at a time if we have the courage.

5 comments:

  1. I feel famous :)

    I couldn't agree more. It's sad that Wicca and Paganism still, after all this time, seem to have a stigma attached to them that leads people to fear and intolerance before they know anything about the tenets of those spiritual paths.

    That's why it's good to see a witness to the faith that is wise, peaceful and dedicated to helping the community. Any faith that embraces those values deserves respect and tolerance. Actually, tolerance isn't good enough. Maybe one day the abounding "willful ignorance" about so many non-Christian faiths can wiped out and those faiths can finally be valued as a part of the greater American culture, not just "tolerated."

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  2. Seth, I am in complete agreement with you on the "tolerance" point (and the rest of your comment, too)...tolerance implies that we allow or tolerate something, an inherent assumption of power and control. I prefer "acceptance." People get nervous about "accepting" a belief system, but acceptance is not the same as embrace. One need not agree or embrace another belief system, but accepting is within everyone's grasp without compromising our own values. Tolerance, acceptance...they're just words, but words have power.

    Thanks for commenting...glad it didn't get deleted before you finished this time! ::grin::

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  3. Great thoughts from both of you. Coming from a Christian family, I still having revealed to them my new faith. I respect where they are, but I don't feel the need to "out" myself to them By the same token, IF I were to be asked, I would consider it an invitation to teach and inspire.

    Thank you, Linda and Seth, for your willingness to ask and respond.

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  4. Anonymous12:50 PM

    You are famous, Seth! It was encouraging to hear someone of another faith express such openmindedness. It's so easy to become jaded... to fall into the trap of categorizing and generalizing based on the actions of a few. But people like you and Linda provide that reality check that reminds me to leave some of that cynacism at the door. Like Yvonne, I don't put a name on my faith. When asked, I say what it is that I believe and omit titles. Maybe it's time to open the broom closet door a little wider. ~Zephyr

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  5. Greetings!

    I totally agree with this article, and it is very soundly based. It talks of Paganism and Wicca, however, this would work with just about anything that a person wanted to learn more about.

    The key aspect is that those who "seek" need to keep an open mind. Do know that there are many of us out there, such as myself and my wife, who are willing to share much knowledge to those who are sincere in what they are asking about and for.

    I showed up here from an email I got in response to an article that the Vox had published of mine about the Responsiblity of Pagan Elders, which goes right along with this article.

    Blessings,
    Dale / Gentle Deer Lion Tamer

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