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Toward a Pagan Commons? A Conversation

The other day, a Christian friend posted a link to two articles on the phenomenon of celebrity pastors, "The Evangelical Industrial Complex."  And it got me thinking about the similarities and differences that exist, between the evangelical community and within my Pagan community.

The issues in the Pagan community are different... but related, I think.  "The market"--whether we're talking about publishing or speakers at large gatherings--is really the only Commons we have for our community; because we have always been cash poor, we have very few non-profit institutions that can promote leadership and share ideas on anything but a market-values basis.  Until very recently, everything we have built had to pay for itself through market share in order to support itself at all.  And while projects like the fund drives for Cherry Hill Seminary  and The Wild Hunt are beginning to help with that, it's still largely true: what has a potential to bring in cash gets …

Peter on Animal Bones

The Spiritual Journey so far:
Prologue I: Peter In Kenya
Prologue II: A Liberal Christian With Balls
Part I: A Refugee Looks Back
Part II: Leaving Home
Part III: Who Am I?
Part IV: Learning About Race and Gender
Part V: Watching My Students Drown
Part VI: Animal Bones 

Sometimes there is a weird overlap between being a science teacher and a Pagan.

Walking with my Environmental Science class one day to a graveyard to examine the weathering on different kinds of stones, a former student pulled up next to us in his pickup truck, leaned his head out the window and called out, “Hey Mr. Bishop, you want a bear head?”

I said, “Sure!”  I mean, how many times do you get an offer like that?

Actually, it turns out, more often than you would have thought.  Many of my students hunt, and the display case in my classroom now holds a nice little collection, with the bear and two deer—a buck and a doe—displayed alongside a human skull in fairly lifelike plastic.  I had my anatomy students dissect each of …

With Open Eyes

About two months ago, I began to wrestle with feelings of anxiety, depression, and a sense of alienation from my Quaker meeting.  Very distressingly to me, I began to have these feelings in worship, both while in attendance at my meeting and in my Quaker practice at home during the week.

I began to feel unable to sense the Presence whose warmth has marked most, if not all, of my time in worship.  And I began to feel a terrible heaviness and grief that seemed familiar to me from my last years as a psychotherapist when, despite no feelings of burn-out or any obvious external stressors from that work, I began to feel that I was going to have to let it go.

This feeling I have since come to call, in Quaker parlance, a stop.  The stop in my work as a therapist proved quite final.  Though it took me a while to be clear about it, it did eventually become evident to me that I was going to have to lay down that work.  Initially, I did not know what would follow it, and I experienced both grief …

A Cup of Coffee and a Bagel with Christopher Penczak

Christopher Penczak is coming in November to Awen Tree, our local magickal shop.  Reading the announcement tonight, I felt a brief burst of excitement.

Christopher Penczak, for those who do not know of his work, is a Wiccan author and teacher whose New Hampshire based Temple of Witchcraft offers classes, rituals, and ministerial training.  He does a lot of speaking at Pagan events, and has written many, many books, only one of which I have read.  I think it was The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft; I'm not sure.  It's been a few years.  I liked it, though.  I remember thinking, when I read it, that here was a fellow who knew which end of an athame to hold onto.  It had been a few years since I'd read anything new in the Pagan publishing world, and I was happy to find something so sensible and well-informed on the shelves.  "What a promising new voice, " I thought, and proceeded to talk about the book to another Pagan friend who's a bit better-traveled than I am,…

Season of the Owl

I awoke very early this morning, from a combination of aches, pains, and troubled dreams.  Wandering through my house, I could hear very faintly the call of an owl, and despite the cold and the fact that I was wearing only pajamas,  I wandered out onto the back stoop to listen for them.

It was 4:30 A.M. The stars were bright overhead, wearing their winter constellations, with Orion high to the south.  A quarter moon burned to the east, like fire and ice all at once.  My feet were wet with dew, and the hard, roughcast concrete chilled me where I sat, gazing up at the sky.  For a few minutes, the last of the autumn crickets were all I could hear: no cars, no wind, no human noises at all.

Then, off in the blackened woods to my north and east came the territorial call of a Barred Owl, far clearer and louder than it had been indoors.

Silence.  More silence, and then the call again.

And after another few moments, the call came once more... and was answered, with a much nearer owl, so clear …

What's Twenty Minutes?

So I get to thinking, "I should go to a nice retreat at Woolman Hill," and I notice one coming up on deepening worship.

"Great!" I think to myself.  "I should try that!"

And so I read the brochure.  And it reads in part, "What do you do to nurture your spirit? How regular are you in this practice?  If you are attending the retreat, please practice a spiritually nurturing activity for 20 minutes or more each day. If you do not find the time to do so, without judging yourself, notice what was a greater priority."

And so now I'm grumpy.  Because that so-reasonable sounding commitment, of building in a 20 minute daily spiritual practice, is just laughably out of reach for me at the moment.  I would LOVE to have a whole uninterrrupted 20 minutes a day for spiritual practice. But I am coming to understand that there are times I am not going to get it.

There are two kinds of professions in the world, as far as I can make out: those w…

An Open Letter to my Quaker Christian Friends: Part 2 of 2

Well, so, as I said in my previous post, what I would ask of Quaker Christians is to stay low to the Truth, not to hide it or apologize for it.  ...Do not share one syllable more of your Scriptures than the "Spirit that gave them forth" is speaking in you--but equally, do not share one syllable less. And for all Quakers, Christian or non-Christian, I'm suggesting that
When speaking from Spirit,  we use whatever language That Spirit lends us--and that we remember that the standard is not to be "nice" to anyone: be bold!  But do not speak beyond what is given you to say: be low. 
It's not enough to speak your truth, as you experienced it once, years ago.  You must speak from love, in the present moment, and from Spirit, also in the present moment. Is there more? What else do I need from Christian Quakers, specifically?
I want you to understand that, as a Christian, even as a Quaker Christian, you possess a significant amount of privilege in our soc…

An Open Letter to My Christian Quaker Friends: Part 1 of 2

First, I want to say thank you for making me welcome among you.  You might not have, so I'm grateful--because I need to be here.  I didn't become a Quaker to prove a point, and I didn't become a Pagan because I love controversy.  Our shared culture often treats anyone who is not a Christian as a threat or a flake, and it has been a joy and a delight to be heard first, judged second (or even not at all).
The back story, for those of you who don't already know it: I became a Quaker, not because my clever monkey brain thought it was a fun idea, but because the Peace Testimony reached out one day and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, and tossed me into Quaker meeting.  Once there, I discovered that Quaker process, and, most of all That Spirit That Gathers Us had become central to my life.  I fell in love with That Spirit.

I became a member of the Religious Society of Friends the way an alcoholic becomes a member of AA.  It wasn't exactly a choice.  I was called, I …

The Gospel of The Princess Bride

I'm not sure if The Princess Bridewas one of my daughter's favorite movies when she was growing up or not, but I know that it has always been one of mine.  And today, in meeting for worship, a scene from The Princess Bride rose up in me as an answer to a spiritual question.

All spiritual communities have their struggles.  Sometimes they are rooted in personal conflicts that divide a group; sometimes in the differing needs of a group's members.  For example, it can be frustrating to a newcomer to discover that a group is so well-adapted to meeting the needs of longtime members that their needs seem to be invisible, and it can be equally frustrating to longtime members to see a group seemingly caught forever in an introduction to work they are ready to take much farther and deeper than a newcomer can.  No matter how many beginners you welcome and show the ropes, there will always be another one right behind them... unless there isn't, at which point you discover a whole …