Tag Archives: religion

Pagans and Plants

Ayahuasca_prepOne of the first things I did as a new Pagan was roam the hills and woods near my home looking for flower faeries. I felt, at the time, like I had seen a few, as well as the faery of the tree in my back yard. When I did my self initiation as a solitary eclectic Wiccan (I don’t call myself Wiccan anymore) I used fronds from a local willow tree to form a circlet to wear. Weeping willow is still sacred to me to this day. I’m typing this with a willow frond in henna on my arm, and “willow” remains part of my magickal name.
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On Competing Freedoms

We’re activists.  What we do is right there in that label:  act.  But, I’ve found over the last few weeks that sometimes we need to reflect on the choices we’ve made, the causes we’ve stood for, and reassess where we stand today.

I also write at the Wild Garden blog on Patheos’s Pagan channel, and as a part of being an author on Patheos, we sometimes get the opportunity to review books hot off the presses.  I’ll be posting a full review of the book I’m reading now later this week, but I wanted to touch on something the author has made me think deeply about as I’ve worked through his words.

The author, Os Guinness, is often critical of limitations placed on one freedom in order to provide another.  Whether it is a limitation on our free-exercise of religion in favor of free speech or restrictions on our ability to assemble and associate when balanced against a real or perceived threat, Guinness has forced me to think critically not just about how we act and when but also why.

The recently decided case in New Mexico regarding a private photography business, owned an operated by Christians, that refused to photograph a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony in 2006 has me reflecting on the nature of competing freedoms.  In that case, it was decided (appropriately, in my opinion) that the photography business, which refused service to the same-sex couple because of their sexual orientation, had violated the law and was forced to pay a fine.  Further it was made clear that they, and other businesses run by those with similar points of view, can no longer refuse service to others based on sexual orientation.

Even Guinness (jumping back to the book) recognizes that the free-exercise of one’s faith stops when that exercise infringes on others.  In his terms, “[Freedom of thought, consciousness, religion, and belief] is absolute at the point of belief but qualified at the point of behavior, because behavior touches other people and other things” (p. 70).

In our American experience, we’ve seen the religion used to justify slavery, the plans of Almighty God used to defend laws prohibiting interracial marriage, and more recently that religious freedom enshrines the right of some to deny the rights of others, as in the New Mexico case described above, but also in others like an anti-bullying law in Louisiana, for example.

I have sympathy for these views.  I don’t agree with them, but I understand the desire to try to struggle against uncomfortable change.  Especially when those changes touch us at our very core, as our religions regularly do.  That said, we have seen great changes, even within Christianity, with respect to GLBT rights.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for example, elected their first openly gay bishop this past June.  Granted, in so doing, members of the church opposing this act split to form the North American Lutheran Church, but they were free to do so.

I suspect that in a few decades the cultures wars over GLBT rights will seem as distant as the fight for interracial marriage in the 60’s seems to us now.  Undoubtedly, we’ll be fighting a different battle in the decades hence and I’m certain that this or that group will try to use their religious identity, and their freedom to exercise that religion, to influence the decision one way or another.

As activists, we act.  But, we must do so compassionately and with the understanding that our successes necessitate others’ failures.  It behooves us to understand that loss and to be prepared to suffer those loses ourselves (e.g. the recent overturning of section 4 of the voting rights act by the Supreme Court).  But, in the words of Theodore Parker, a 19th century Unitarian minister:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. […] But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

On a different topic, I’m pleased to follow-up on my earlier article regarding bees.  The Environmental Protection Agency has taken steps — exceptionally small though they may be — to try to combat the use of pesticides containing neonicotinoids.

Unfortunately, all they’ve done is to develop new warning labels regarding the use of these chemicals, but activists, like Friends of the Earth, have taken this opportunity to send letters containing over 175,000 signatures to stores like Lowe’s,Home Depot, and Target urging them to cease the sale of such products.

Further, the state of Oregon, has temporarily banned the use of some of these chemicals as they investigate the cause of a die-off of over 50,000 bees.  It’s a shame that this ban is only temporary, but still the investigation is being done and, with luck, things will go our way.

Speaking Out is Hard to Do

Perhaps it’s odd that I’m about to make a post on a Pagan blog using some videos about the Catholic church.  Then again, considering my firsts posts here discussed my work as an interfaith activist, perhaps not.

Two topics about the Catholic church crossed my radar this week.  The first is from the PBS show Religion & Ethics Newsweekly which had a segment this week discussing the priestly ordination of women.  I haven’t been able to figure out how to embed that video here, but you can watch the nine minute segment from the latter link above; a transcript is also provided.

If you don’t have a moment to watch the whole thing, here’s what I think is the most important excerpt.  Saul Gonzalez is the PBS correspondent performing the interview.  He is speaking with Jane Via, a Catholic woman priest in San Diego, CA:

GONZALEZ: What do you say to those who would say join another community of faith, join another faith, become something else, but don’t stay in the Catholic Church with your views. You would say what?

VIA: For me to just turn my back on this institution and say, “You’re all a bunch of worthless idiots, and I’m not participating anymore. I’m going to do my own thing. I’m going to go be Episcopalian and I can be a priest there” is completely irresponsible. This is my community. If everyone who is progressive-minded, progressive thinking, and willing to stand up to the Vatican leaves the church, the church will never change.


GONZALEZ: Yet despite the hardening position of the church against their movement and its ordinations, the women Catholic priests say they aren’t retreating. They say they believe that although they might not see it in their own lifetimes, women will one day be allowed to become Roman Catholic priests—and with the support and blessings of the Vatican.

This next thing I can embed.  The New Normal, is a sitcom on NBC.  In it, a gay couple works with a surrogate to give birth to their first child.  In their seventh episode, “The Godparent Trap,” the following scene plays out as Brian, one of the soon-to-be fathers, returns to the church for the first time in many years:


While I understand that, as a sitcom, a priest of the type in the video above may not be easily found, but the sentiment of working from with in a community to change the institutions thereof is powerful regardless of the fictional medium in which it was delivered.  Incidentally, I personally recommend the show; I’m enjoying it not only for its comedy but also for the moments soul-searching that it asks of us as the protagonists confront their world.

In both of these examples, we see people who feel strongly about something–in these specific cases their Catholic identity–but who also seek to change the realities of that identity.  Some institutions might change more easily or less so, but the call to action is the same nevertheless.

Change is hard.  We know this or we wouldn’t resist it so much.  But, change is also necessary and it’ll happen whether we want it to or not.  The best we can hope for, it seems to me, is to direct the change toward that which seems best to us at the time.

When you see the need for change–whether it be in your personal life, your religious identity, your career, or something else–don’t let others dictate your direction.  Your voice, your will, is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal.  Use it, don’t retreat in the face of opposition, but stand firm and stand up for what you see as righteous and true.  Easier said than done, sure; but I think it’s easier to do than we sometimes think it will be.

There are numerous problems facing us these days.  Whether it’s climate change, economic concerns, or the more simple day-to-day problems of too little time and too much work, all of us have our struggles and to acquiesce may seem more attractive than another argument.  I’d love to think that we can all stand up for everything that we believe in, but it’s far more likely that these days we have to pick our battles.

When you do so, pick the ones that need to be fought.  Not just the easiest to win, not just the ones in which you have the most or the staunchest allies, but the ones that you find to be the most necessary.

To conclude, I leave you with these words, often quoted, attributed to Margaret Mead:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed [people] can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.