I’d like to start by saying thank you to Dash for switching post dates with me in June and July so that I could better settle into my new position at work. The timing was very advantageous for both us. And I hope that he is getting settled into his new home quite well.
Part of my new position with the company I have been working for since October of 2009 are these bothersome mandated meetings and training seminars. If you work for Corporate America you know what kind of meetings and seminars I am talking about. They used to be referred to as “sensitivity training” and are sometimes still called “inservices” depending on the kind of work you do. I not only work for Corporate America, I work in the evil convenience store industry; I manage a store, so I am not quite as evil as some higher up on the food chain. (Out of respect for the company, I will not be naming them in this posting.) One of the more recent seminars was on diversity.
The amazing thing about working on the store, working with the customers, the company, and the sales associates (as we call our c-store clerks) is that I actually get to be with my customers. Even if only for a brief time each visit. I get to know them, my associates, vendors, and the larger community. This of course means that I meet a very diverse population on a daily basis. Many of whom I have gotten to know a little bit over the course of the last few months (I took the position in May).
There is that word. “Diverse.” Webster defines diverse as 1: differing from one another : unlike <people with diverse interests> 2: composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities <a diverse population>. Diversity, as the image above says, encompasses all of humanity regardless of race, color, creed, religion, socio-economic status, sexual orientation or identity, etc. Humanity is diverse. Something that many in the United States are being, once again, forced to recognize.
I’m only going to briefly mention some of those ways. They are not the focus of this article. The #BlackLivesMatter movement, same-sex marriage equality, transgender acceptance, and so on. All of these are very important issues. Issues that many of us on Pagan Activist have and will write about. They matter to us, they matter to our readers, they matter to the people. And they are not isolated to the United States. These issues are global in scope. What is also global in scope is the issue of religious tolerance.
Google defines tolerance as: the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.
synonyms: acceptance, toleration;open-mindedness, broad-mindedness, forbearance, liberality, liberalism;patience, charity, indulgence,understanding“an attitude of tolerance toward other people”
an allowable amount of variation of a specified quantity, especially in the dimensions of a machine or part.
What is interesting to note here is that many of grown to view the words “tolerate” and “tolerance” as negatives. Preferring instead to use the synonyms “accept” and “acceptance.” My co-host on Lavender Hill is one of those people. He explained to me why he dislikes the words in relation to the LGBTQIA-etc movement, and I paraphrase him here: To tolerate something is to put up with something that you do not like. You can tolerate a noisy child in the grocery store or the sound of hail on a tin roof. To accept something is to embrace its diversity. He goes further on that thread, but that is for another article.
While trying to stay awake at the diversity training seminar I attended for work – the subject matter wasn’t making sleepy, the presentation was – my mind wandered a bit and I started jotting down article ideas. It is nice when the Muses tap on my shoulder when I am work and only insist that I jot down ideas; unlike when I am driving or on the phone and they want me to write right now. The idea that stuck out most in my mind was the topic for this article: Unity Through Diversity. Now, what does that mean?
Going back to Webster, unity is defined as 1a : the quality or state of not being multiple : oneness, b (1) : a definite amount taken as one or for which 1 is made to stand in calculation <in a table of natural sines the radius of the circle is regarded as unity> (2) : identity element, 2a : a condition of harmony : accord, b : continuity without deviation or change (as in purpose or action), 3a : the quality or state of being made one : unification, b : a combination or ordering of parts in a literary or artistic production that constitutes a whole or promotes an undivided total effect; also : the resulting singleness of effect or symmetry and consistency of style and character, 4: a totality of related parts : an entity that is a complex or systematic whole (and two other definitions that have nothing to do with this article).
Definitions 1, 2, and 3a are not very conducive to the idea that popped into my head at the seminar. If anything, they are almost a slap in the face of that idea. In my mind’s eye unity through diversity is counter intuitive to those definitions. If you look at definition 3b you can begin to see where my mind went with the idea. A “combination … of parts (or people) … that constitutes a whole or promotes an undivided total effect. Definition 4 nearly hits the nail on the head. “a totality of parts; an entity (group) that is a complex or systematic whole.
In my mind I have this idea of seeing people of different Pagan paths coming together to work in unity and harmony on projects. Something that we do see, for the most part, at local, regional, national, and global events; such as PantheaCon, Pagan Pride Day, and even the Parliament of World Religions (on a much larger religio-spiritual scale). What I see goes beyond these once a year (or so) events and gatherings. It goes to the point of where we can bury the hatchet, as it were, between the different paths or over come our differences and work in unity.
I am not advocating that we merge all Pagan paths into one Far from it. It is through the diversity of the modern Pagan movement that we have been able to produce so much good in the world already. Art, music, film, books, and the cross cultural partnerships that we see springing up between practitioners of various belief systems across the globe. No, what I am instead suggesting is that we lower our defensiveness over the differences that sometimes separate us.
A few years ago when Lady Liberty League was working on the campaign to get approval from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for the pentacle to be an option for the official tombstones of Wiccan (and other flavors of Paganism that use it) service men and women, there were numerous individuals and groups of a non-Wiccan flavor that rallied around the campaign. They knew that with the approval of one such symbol there would eventually be the approval of other symbols. And we have seen that with the recent addition of Mjölnir. These groups and individuals worked together despite some of their differences. This working together is something that I would like to see become a regular thing.
As some of you may remember from earlier articles of mine on this site, I got involved as an activist in the Pagan community when I was young. I and a friend attempted to get our local Pagan community to rally behind a cause and actually work together as a community. At the time our area had many Wiccan Circles, an Asatru or two, and even some Druids and Theods. Many of those in the area who were active in the community in any way were quiet, almost closeted, because of the recent history of Witch Wars in our area. (Again, a topic for another article.) They were hesitant to work together, and many of them had only one thing in common, socially. They listened to Murphy’s Magic Mess on the local community radio station. That was 19 years ago.
Today the various groups and individuals have either broken up, moved away, passed over, or become stronger and larger. They no longer look at my friend and I as two upstart teens trying to get the “adults to do something” they were not necessarily resistant to, just unwilling or unable at the time to work together for. Instead, they look at both of us community leaders. Something that I am still getting used to, and probably will always try to discourage.
What was our idea in 1996? To adopt a park, keep it clean, and show the community that Pagans aren’t bad people. Why was there some resistance to the idea? Many who met with us, some 20 individuals representing over half a dozen groups in the area, were resistant to the idea of openly using the label “Pagan”, some of them quite vehemently.
When I think of “unity through diversity” I think of the Unitarian Universalists. Today’s UU churches are open and embracing of diversity, they have a long history of diversity. In today’s UU you can find people or every skin tone, gender identity, sexuality, pretty much any nationality, and coming from such a wide range of spiritual backgrounds that it is like walking into a weekly meeting of the Parliament of World Religions. My local UU hosts one of the area’s oldest Wiccan groups, the Order of the Red Grail, Church for Transformational Wicca, as well as is open and embracing to the LGBTQIA-etc community. A sister church in Omaha has hosted the spiritual healing performer Celia. Many UU churches host CUUPs and are open to sharing their space with people of differing religious and spiritual backgrounds.
I share a dream with the founding high priestess of my tradition, the Covenant of Kernunnos. In this dream several members of our tradition live on what could be called a commune, growing much of our own food (both plant and animal based), living off the land and off the grid (electrically), offering our space to people of many religions to use as an escape from the city. In this dream we also host music festivals, teaching retreats, and a summer camp for adolescents who wish to learn more about the land and broaden their spiritual horizons. Something similar to Circle Sanctuary. This dream, in part, can only come to reality if we accept the idea of unity through diversity. We are well on our way to embracing that idea on a small-scale. The larger scale is something that we are still growing into.
That is really the point here. The concept of unity through diversity is something that many Pagans on the internet seem to be growing towards. Even with the arguments, the heated debates, the flame wars and more. The stuff that we see every day on our social networks sometimes makes us doubt that we are growing into a larger community, a more unified and diverse world. If you read deeper you can see that the majority of people involved in these comment threads are actually agreeing. They don’t always notice it themselves. It is the words that they choose, the terms they use, that can cause confusion. But with an open mind and an open heart each individual involved can learn from one another and expand their own horizons. They can realize, they can comprehend, they may even (to borrow from Oberon Zell) grok it.
I leave you with this thought: The next time you encounter someone who is different from you, take a few minutes (or hours) to get to know them. Ask them honest questions, open yourself up to be asked those same questions. It is only through an open exchange of ideas and beliefs that we, as a community, can truly attain unity through diversity.