Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Aliens are found, and known, and named...

Somewhat ironically, there are few times when I feel more Pagan than when the minister at my church says something that reminds me that views that I hold are fundamentally non-Christian in nature.  In a recent homily, he spoke of cycles: the seasons, the great cycle of life, and the concept of the turning of the wheels of fate and the saying that "what goes around comes around."  And he reminded us that this is fundamentally not a Christian way of thinking, and spoke (in a way that I'm sure he meant to be comforting, because I know him well enough to know that he is a kind person who means well) of God's plan not depending on the arbitrary turning of the wheels of Fate.

Of course, I found that to be, er, less than comforting.

After all, to me, as a Pagan who lives in the Northern Hemisphere, the Wheel of the Year as it's traditionally presented makes sense more often than not, and even the Christian calendar has a great deal in common with it, even if the end of the Christian year (I'm talking about the beginning of Advent, not the beginning of a new numbered year) comes about a month late by our reckoning.  I've seen demonstrations of "what goes around comes around," and even the Christians have sayings that come from their Bible that work out to basically the same thing.

Do not be decieved; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.  (Galatians 6:7)

You shall love your neighbour as yourself.  (Mark 12:31)

And besides, I never really took to the idea of our lives being guided and shaped by God.  I was always a firm believer in free will, even before I knew what it was called, and if I have any belief at all, it's that the Gods give us the clay, but it's up to us to shape it, though because some things do depend on luck, or at least on the decisions of other people, which really can be arbitrary at times, other hands can and do interfere with our work.

And ultimately, I also felt he was ignoring the very cycle that even now the Church, however half-heartedly, still demonstrates in the life-death-rebirth narrative of Jesus that so closely resembles the Pagan Wheel of the Year, thanks to a good deal of appropriation on both sides.  So I could not accept most of what he said in his homily that day as truth.  And it's times like these that remind me that in some ways, despite my four wonderful years as part of my church choir, and despite the place that I have in my church's community (if only because I've only ever told one person who was associated with that choir that I am a Christo-Pagan, and he's an Agnostic who eventually ended up playing the organ at another Anglican church in our city, which, to people who know him, really isn't as strange as it sounds) I am still in some ways very much an outsider.

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On a vaguely related note, recently it was also brought home to me that as much as I still sometimes feel like an ousider in the church of my choosing, I am also very much an outsider in the church of my baptism.  A couple of weeks ago, I provided some music for a Roman Catholic funeral.  The service was pretty standard, though I found out on the day that there was no Eucharist involved.  (This came as a relief; although I knew what to expect, having been raised Catholic, I didn't want to be put in the slightly uncomfortable place of being a visble part of the proceedings, being obviously familiar with Catholic ritual, and yet also being unwilling to take communion.  After all, in Catholicism, being a heretic is grounds for automatic excommunication; so is being a schismatic.  Because of the way the Roman Catholic Church defines these things, I'm technically both in more than one way, and I'm unrepentantly so as well.)  As startling as it was that the once-familiar responses to things said by the priest (who I remember as a priest-in-training who celebrated his first Mass when I was ten years old; how time flies) came so easily to my lips even after over a decade of absence from the Roman Catholic Church, it was even more startling to realize how foreign Catholicism now seems.

I don't regret leaving.  I can't support a church that condemns same-sex marriage and the ordination of women while concealing generations of child abuse by its priests.  I can't support an organization that views me as a lesser being just because I was born with ovaries rather than testicles, and would eagerly condemn me to Hell for being a woman with the capacity to be sexually and romantically attracted to women as well as men.  I can't support people who would rather see me die than allow me to have an abortion should it prove to be necessary to preserve my life, which is what happened to Savita Halappanavar late last month as a direct result of the Roman Catholics' total opposition to abortion under any circumstances.  There is much good in many individual Catholics, of course, but having left the church, I find that I cannot go back.  Not while these injustices are permitted to stand.

There are some things that I miss, of course.  For example, during the consecration of the bread and the wine, there are things written into the service that I find to be almost, well, Pagan.

Priest: Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation.  Through your goodness, we have this bread to offer, which Earth has given and human hands have made.  It will become for us the bread of life.

Congregation: Blessed be God forever.

Priest: Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation.  Through your goodness, we have this wine to offer: fruit of the vine and work of human hands.  It will become our spiritual drink.

Congregation: Blessed be God forever.

I miss this acknowledgement of how the bread and wine came to be.  I miss the acknowledgement that whatever the story behind this ritual that after all these years still seems rather cannibalistic, the actual bread and wine that are to be consumed came from the Earth and were made the way that they are by human beings.  These few little lines always made me feel like the whole thing was more natural, and perhaps a little less creepy (despite the Roman Catholic belief in transubstantiation, that is) than the Anglican phrasing of the consecration of the bread and wine, particularly in the Book of Common Prayer.

However—these are small things.  And although the words and the ritual of that funeral service were almost as familiar to me as the sight of my own face in the mirror, I felt oddly disconnected from them.  I was a stranger there.  Perhaps it's a mark of how far my journey has taken me from the church of my childhood.

Being a Christo-Pagan puts me into an odd place; I don't entirely belong to Christianity or Neopaganism, and there are people who would argue that in trying to be both, I am truly neither.  But then, if I had let other people define my path for me, I would still be a practising Roman Catholic.  Instead, I'm constructing my own path, and although it isn't a perfect one, at least it ensures that I always remember that compassion is priceless, that it is necessary to take care of the Earth, and that people whose beliefs differ from my own are not necessarily my enemies.  There's value in that, I think.

Monday, November 12, 2012

War Is Not Great

Once again, Remembrance Day has come and gone.  (Or Veterans Day, or Armistice Day, depending on where you live, if you live in a place where November 11 is a day to remember the end of the First World War.)  And once again, I have a few thoughts.

The Great War, the one that this day was originally set aside to remember, officially began 98 years, three months, two weeks, and three days ago.  It officially came to an end 94 years ago today.  After all this time, some of the battlefields of this war remain dangerous, thanks to unexploded shells, the possibility (still!) of being exposed to mustard gas, and other assorted remains of the ammunition used in the First World War. The Treaty of Versailles, signed the following June, set up many of the conditions that not only made the Second World War possible, but, arguably, inevitable.  And although I can't speak for anything before 1988 or so (my first school-hosted Remembrance Day celebration), as far back as I can remember observing Remembrance Day, I remember the most powerful message being "don't ever let a tragedy of this magnitude happen again."  I've read that in the aftermath of the First World War itself, the message was very similar.

But that has slowly changed, and I don't like the shape that the changes are taking.  The focus has slowly slipped from "don't let it happen again" to "worship the soldiers; they died for your FREEDOM!!!" And a day that was once anything but a glorification of war has gradually become precisely that.  Instead of "never again," it's "be proud and grateful."  And in Canada, we're told that this war, our first as a nation, was (despite all that came before and after) the defining moment in our nation's history, the time when we actually became our own country.

As if it takes a war to confer the status of nationhood upon the people who live on any of the (largely arbitrary) sections of land that we call "countries."

There's no doubt that the First World War was one of the defining events of the twentieth century.  Its effects still reach us today, nearly a century after it officially began.  And the Second World War was no less important.  But when all the wars after that aren't considered to be as notable (especially as the second one becomes more a matter of what's written in the history books rather than a matter of lived experience), and when my country is being encouraged to think of ourselves as a warrior nation instead of the peacekeepers that we had once been proud to be, I can't help but think that we're doing a great dishonour to the very people we are supposed to be remembering and honouring on Remembrance Day.

They didn't die for values like freedom or national pride or any other impressive-sounding word.  Whatever their personal reasons for going to war, they died because of politics.  Soldiers are still dying because of politics and because of politicians who would rather send women and men to their deaths than work out their differences around a conference table, where these things are ultimately decided anyway once far too many lives have been lost or irreparably damaged.

And don't forget the civilians.  They, too, make sacrifices and they, too, are directly affected by wars.  It is their homes that are destroyed, their fields that are made unsafe for growing food, and, all too often, it is their lives that are brutally ended and then brushed off as collateral damage.  Unimportant.  A minor detail.  They are never remembered at these ceremonies as the dead and wounded soldiers are, though their lives were of no less value and their sacrifices were no less complete.  And the civilians whose friends or family members are sent off to war have a significant chance of losing somebody who is profoundly important to them.

This is the year 2012 C.E., and we should know better than to glorify war, particularly after the many conflicts of the twentieth century.  But the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Syria, and the military conflicts inYemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Mexico, and Colombia, among many others, prove that we have not learned our lesson.  When it comes down to it, "they have something we want, so let's attack them for it" or "they're doing something we don't like, so let's attack them for it" or even "they aren't a democracy like us, so let's attack them for it and try to force their country to make itself over into our own image" (which of course has gone so well for everybody involved) is still a much louder message than "don't let another war happen" ever has been.  But war has no winners and although it is sometimes a necessary evil (people do, or ought to, have the right to defend themselves against aggressors, and it is a good thing to actually help nations out who have been unjustifiably attacked, after all), it is never ever a force for actual good.  In war, there is simply evil and less evil.  That's it.

This does not mean, of course, that I do not have respect for veterans or their dead comrades.  I do.  I simply choose to acknowledge that the sacrifices that they (and the civilians who were caught in the crossfire) made should not have been necessary.

I will end this rant with the following video.  It was released in 1990, and while the lyrics do not acknowledge the fact that women have taken part in military conflicts and the music itself now sounds a little dated, the message is still an important one.