Second Stories: Genesis

I know a pagan leader in Chicago who believes (among other problematic things) that every Christian is required to believe in “the 100% literal truth of the Bible.”

I disagree.

There is a huge variety of ways in which Christians approach their scriptures, from (yes) the literal to the amazingly allegorical. In fact, I’d say that mystical, metaphorical interpretations of Christian scriptures have outweighed the literal approaches throughout history, in terms of legacy.  The literalist interpretations to which the Chicago leader I’ve mentioned is referring to are, in my opinion, radically new inventions of Evangelicals in America who, let’s not forget, are not the spokespeople for all Christians.

And so, in keeping with my series on Second Stories, the following is an interpretation of a biblical narrative that is anything but the sort of literalism so many pagans expect from Christians. It was written by my friend Laura and performed at this year’s Easter Vigil at the Episcopal Cathedral here in Chicago (which I attended and thought was lovely). A retelling of the creation story from Genesis, I think that this story might resonate with a lot of pagans — and might spark some nice theological discussion. The text is of a dialogue between a Creator and the Earth.

Hope you’re all enjoying the beginnings of Spring! The text is after the jump.

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No Unsacred Place

Hey Everybody!

Just wanted to highlight the much-anticipated launch of the Pagan Newswire Collective‘s new earth and spirituality site, No Unsacred Place: Earth and Nature in Pagan Traditions.

The site features three of my favorite bloggers (including a certain co-ritualist of mine): the ever-insightful Cat Chapin-Bishop, the ever-intrepid Alison Leigh Lilly (who is heading the whole project — excellent!) and the ever-rah-rah-rockabilly Ruby Sara. Along with many other awesome writers and thinkers.

I’m really excited to see more themed group blogs sprouting up like this, an effort spearheaded by the PNC, and I’m sure that this new site will turn out to be a great example of one such effort.

So go czech it out!

More of the same…

*Sigh*

You know I realize that I’m starting to sound like a broken record. I don’t particularly like being that guy who’s always having to raise flags whenever pagans do something dumb, but I guess somebody’s got to do it.

You see, it’s a widespread misconception that no one really knows the origins of April Fools Day. However, as explained by several scholarly studies like Gillian Owens’s “Norwegian Folkmyth and Avril Toulle”, the holiday has a pretty dark past, one that — given pagans virulent ire over days like St. Patrick’s Day — I’m surprised we don’t discuss more.

You see, April Fool’s Day started in the 1600s when the Christians began to take firmer hold of the northern reaches of the Norwegian coastline, where pre-Christian polytheist practices were still widespread. A French missionary, Avril Toulle (corrupted into “April Fool,” you see) was sent to re-convert the masses. Chaucer’s Canterberry Tales relate an English version of the story in which “Avril Doole” took it upon himself to dress up as the Devil and pop out from behind bushes and trees whenever he saw ancient Heathenry being practiced. Having frightened the pagans, he would then go on to berate them for their misconduct and force them to confess on the spot.

Avril’s reputation preceeded him, and as he made north into the colder reaches, folks began to anticipate a visit from the Devil-man, and so when Avril reached a certain town and began to pull his “prank,” the villagers all responded with wailing and displays of devout piety. At first Avril was pleased, thinking that he had finished his work reconverting the countryside; however, he soon found out that the villagers were in a state of distress because, so they told him, Rome had burnt down to the ground. Much to the villagers’ delight, Avril believed their lie (Rome was, of course, just fine) and rushed back to the St. Peter’s where, unfortunately, his devil costume was found and he was hung as a heretic.

And so, as you can see, there *is* a story here, one with elements similar to the St. Patrick story: A man comes to a distant land and begins routing out paganism. But there’s a twist, in that in this story it’s the proverbial “Snakes” that “win” as the villagers play Avril at his own game and successfully prank him.

After Avril’s departure from Norway, it became a tradition there to dress up in costumes and jump out at passersby during April. The practice moved to England where the Day of Avril Fool was set as April 1st and the tradition of lying to friends in order to upset them became a part of the festival, in rememberance of the villagers’ response to Avril. And thus we have the traditions today.

But I’ve got to ask everyone: Is it really right for us to celebrate a day that commemorates the actions of a missionary? Perhaps you’ll say that we’re remembering not the missionary, but the righteous pagans’ ingenious response to the threat of forced conversion — but to that I must ask, is it right to celebrate a jest that ended in a man’s death? I’m not saying that there are easy answers to this, I’m just wondering if it’s not a little hypocritical of all of us to get up in arms about certain commemorative days, but not others — when the litmus test seems to be whether or not we have taken the time to do our research.

You can find more information about the questionable origin of April Fool’s day here.

‘The Impossibility Of Religious Freedom’

One book that I think everybody — but especially pagans — should read is Winnifred Fallers Sullivan’s The Impossibility of Religious Freedom. This work chronicles the legal battle Warner vs. Boca Raton, which was waged over the rights of individuals to engage in religious (?) practices at their loved ones’ grave sites. The work also highlights the fact that while we in America may think that spiritual practices of all sorts are protected under constitutional law, the reality of the matter is much murkier.

For example, in the case described in the book,  the city of Boca Raton banned the practice of Jewish familys leaving rocks on the headstones of their loved ones, framing the practice (which is carried out by Jews all over the world) as littering that created obstacles for the graveyard lawnmower. A judge ruled against the family members who objected to the ban because, in the judge’s opinion, the practice of leaving stones is not fundamental to the religion of Judaism. That is, the judge saw stone-leaving as secondary, merely ‘cultural’, not ‘religious’, not-so-central-to-the-faith —  and therefore not protected under the religion clauses. The judge was of the opinion that only practices specifically called for by religious law and holy texts are really “religious.”

Recently, influential evangelical David Barton, who was quoted on The Wild Hunt this week, has suggested that ‘paganism and witchcraft’ aren’t really religions, and that they are therefore not protected by the religions clause. I would like to suggest that, while Barton’s remarks came from a place of misunderstanding and hate, we may be able to take his remarks as a jumping off point into a broader discussion of paganism’s relationship to the law.

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Just a few updates…

First — Have you ever noticed how things in the blogosphere can be sort of synergistic?

Many of you probably know already, but yesterday Jason Pitzl-Waters over at the Wild Hunt posted this article that touches upon a lot of the themes I’ll be trying to explore through the “Second Stories” posts over the next few weeks — recognition of wrongs committed, culpability, guilt and blame, awareness of Christian history, Christianity moving into the future, etc. If you haven’t seen it, please go check it out as I think that familiarity in this arena can only benefit us all. As many people have agreed in the comments section of that post, Jason has presented a very level-headed approach to the topic, which I commend him for.

Second — Speaking of blog comments, a new discussion has cropped up in the comments section under my post Neoplatonism at Cherry Hill from last week. Feel free to chime in if you’re interested further in Neoplatonism and pagans approaches to “re-paganizing” (?) Neoplatonic thought. Fun times.

Third — Check this out.

Lastly — (And this is just plain ‘ole tooting my own horn, BUT…)–  I’m excited to let you know that I’ve been accepted to my #1 choice graduate program, the M.A. (History of Religions/Theology) program at the University of Chicago Divinity School. So, that means I’ll be staying put in Chicago for the next few years and I’ll be able to keep doing what I love to do: Gettin’ down and nerdy in the library. Get excited — I am.

Keep it classy… somebody’s gotta do it, and it ain’t gonna be me.

Second Stories: Christians and Reproductive Justice

I’ve decided to take up a series in which I’ll be presenting links to things that Christians and other Abrahamic monotheists do that prove to pagans that they’re NOT ALL RAVING LUNATICS BENT ON WORLD DOMINATION AND THE OPPRESSION OF OTHERS.

This is in order to provide another point of view on Christianity (both historically and today) for pagans to ponder, in order that we may avoid the danger of a single story. Let me unpack a little…

You see, I’m disappointed in Neopagans. That’s because, for all the hot air that’s blown around about us all being the most diverse, the most accepting, the most loving community, we sure do sling a lot of shit at other people, especially at Christians. Now, yes — YES! — there are legitimate criticisms to be leveled at Christians of all stripes, surely. But what is illegitimate — and what I see so often from pagans — is when folks make blanket statements about Christianity that ignore the variety and diversity of Christians today. Things like, “All Christians hate gay people,” or “all Christians are pro-lifers,” or “Christians don’t do anything to make up for atrocities committed by churches in the past.”And what is worse is when pagans make these claims and then avoid actual engagement with Christians in a way that is productive rather than destructive (though usually there’s no engagement at all!)

Well, there are gay Christians and Christian allies. Whole churches of ‘em. There are pro-choice, pro-women Christians and Christian organizations. And there are Christian groups working today towards making amends with those who have suffered — and who are suffering — at the hands of Christians. But it seems that the culture of anti-Christian rhetoric in paganism ignores these individuals and these groups, and their significance in the makeup of global Christianity.

I’ve seen pagans accuse all Christians of holding certain theological tenants that are not representative of the majority, or even a large minority, of Christians. I’ve seen pagans go on and on about Christian history in  ways that are duplicitous or contradictory, or flatly false (“The Romans were tolerant of the early Christians!”). I’ve even seen pagans claim that Christians who challenge their myopic definitions of Christianity are “not really Christians” or are “equivocating” regarding what “real Christians do” and what they “have to believe.”

AND SO, in order to undermine false understandings of the breadth and depth of Christian experiences, and to work against the rising tide of anti-Christian bigotry among pagans, I’m going to start occasionally updating with collections of links to projects and organizations created by Christians (and other Abrahamic monotheists) that provide Second Stories. Second Stories are second points of view, second ways of looking at Christianity and monotheistic traditions that shed light on the presence of inclusive practices, affirming theology, and justice-oriented work being done.

((ADDENDUM: See this post from Witch, Please! Link now working.))

To start, I’d just like to point out some of the Christian organizations, or organizations including a large number of Christians, that are pro-choice and working towards the health of and reproductive justice for women. I’ll be updating this list as I have more time and find more examples. Feel free to add more links in the comments.

Pro-Choice Christians Are Everywhere.”

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Check out this pdf from the Planned Parenthood of New York City Religious Leaders Task Force.

Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Justice.

Abortion Ban Degrades and Devalues Women.” — From a Rabbi’s perspective: “This law as it has been enacted unquestionably diminishes the inviolable status and worth that ought to be granted women as moral agents created in the image of God. Regardless of the outcomes of the challenges to this law in the courts, the parameters of our public debate regarding abortion ought to be reestablished.”

Neoplatonism at Cherry Hill

A friend sent me this link today, knowing that it would pique my interest. It piques my interest because 1) my sub-specialty in the field of Islamic History is the history of Islamic Neoplatonism, and 2) I’ve written before on the problematic relationship between Neopaganism and Neoplatonism.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Cherry Hill Seminary recently, for a variety of reasons. I almost applied there, for one thing! But more to the point at the moment is a conversation I had a few months ago at a meeting of the Hyde Park Pagan Potluck*: We were discussing the possibility (or rather, the impossibility) of pagan education, and whether or not such a thing is possible when pagan theology and practice is so nebulously (and often contradictorily) defined. Eventually we came to the topic of pagan seminaries, of which the best example is Cherry Hill. Without clear boundaries as to what constitutes contemporary paganism, its theology, history, and practice, how is it possible to create meaningful syllabi for study?  (At the moment I won’t go into my problems with “Pagan Studies” as a field. Regardless, if no one is clear on what exactly makes up paganism, how can one study “Pagan Ministry”?)

The last thing that has been on my mind recently about Cherry Hill was Dr. Catherine Hoff Kraemer’s remarks during the New Media panel at this year’s Pantheacon, which was made available to me and to you through the courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle, here.

What’s got my mental gears a-grindin’ today is this: By its very nature as an academic institution, Cherry Hill has had to find a working answer to the question of “What is Paganism?” In so doing, the seminary is also a normativizing force, suggesting bit-by-bit what exactly defines pagan theology.

And that’s fine. What I find frustrating (distasteful?) is that, by virtue of their endorsement of Sam Webster’s Neoplatonic theurgy intensive, their answer to this question seems to be, at least in part: “Neoplatonism.”

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