Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The Illusion of "Us" and "Them"

This morning, I had the unexpected pleasure of walking the labyrinth. This is a spiritual exercise that I was first introduced to while serving in California. If you want to know more about it, I highly recommend Walking the Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool by Dr. Lauren Artress of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.

Another group needed to use the hall, so we folded up the portable labyrinth (it is on a 20' x 20' piece of canvas), and began rearranging the room. A woman who had arrived for the next event approached me, and engaged me in the following conversation;

"Is this a Catholic church?"

The factual answer to this can become quite complicated, but since I was juggling a boom box, a handful of CDs and a pile of books, I went for simplicity..."Um, well kinda, but not really. We're Episcopalian."

"Oh." This was followed by silence, which allowed me to almost reach the door...

"Why do Wiccans worship Satan?"

Such a question is not unusual when you wear a dog collar, but this time I was caught off guard. I had seven minutes left before the next group started, and the food still needed to be put away. Yet, either this person was really trying to get my attention, or this was a teaching moment. Either one took priority over the food.

"The Wiccans that I have known don't worship Satan. Most of them don't even believe in Satan. It is an earth-centered tradition, which is very healthy in many respects."

"Well, I was talking to some Wiccans, and they hate God."

"Are you sure they were Wiccans?"

"I think that's what they were. Maybe they were Satanists."

"Oh. I don't know much about Satanists. I've never known anyone who claimed that title."

"How could anyone hate God?"

"I don't know. Maybe they see Satan as the flip side?"

"The flip side?"

"Yea...maybe they see God as the God of both good and evil."

"God can't be evil."

"You're right. But sometimes I wonder if I understand evil, or Satan."

"Wouldn't anyone who hates God be evil?"

"Maybe the God they hate is the God of dualism; the idea that God and Satan are engaged in some kind of cosmic fisticuffs. Or maybe they are just really twisted, or just like to shock people..."

We talked for a few more minutes until more people arrived. I offered to continue the conversation another time. I'm not sure any answers were given, but I wonder if that was the real motivation for the conversation anyway. We'll see.

It did give me a reason to reflect on my experience of things that are often labeled as "Pagan." I was involved with an inter-faith group for awhile. I have to be honest and say that the most rude, arrogant and mean-spirited members of this group were some of the Christians. The most caring, fun-loving and healthy members were some variety of Pagan.

I suspect that this is the result of generations of Christians considering any tradition but their own to be "of Satan." What many Christians seem to miss is that this attitude makes it impossible for anyone to hear their stories about their tradition. They are seen as arrogant and self-righteous, and unwilling to educate themselves about other faith traditions. To some degree, I think this criticism is true. We respond from our fear of the unknown. We judge other faiths by the degree that they resemble Christianity.

My lovely wife was nurtured back to life, both a spiritual and a physical life, by some wonderful people who many would label as "Pagan." She is a Christian today because of the love of God expressed through Pagans. Imagine that. She has told her story on her site, Pilgrim's Progress.

I think we need to set aside our "us" and "them" thinking. It may have been effective in other times, but it simply doesn't work anymore. I rejoice that a person is following any spiritual path, and believe that we share a common passion. It seems to me that in order to treat another with the dignity and respect due one who is created in the image of God requires us to meet them where they are in their spiritual journey, and not try to drag them to where we think they should be.

We listen to their story. We share our story. We look for the places that God's story intersects our stories. We laugh together, and maybe even cry; maybe even pray. If we listen closely, we may just encounter God in the most unexpected places.


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