Nine Things I Think is an irregular feature whenever I have a list of things I want to talk about that aren’t long enough for their own individual posts. There’s no theme, just nine things I want to bring to your attention. Feel free to expand on any of these topics in the comments section.
1) It’s been three weeks since Teo Bishop announced he was returning to Christianity. Twice I started writing a blog post on his decision and I abandoned them both – neither of them seemed to be saying anything that hadn’t already been said.
I consider Teo a friend and I wish him well. The world needs more compassionate, mystical, universalist Christians, and if that’s his calling, I hope he pursues it with passion. I hope he finds in the Episcopal Church what he couldn’t find in Paganism.
I hope those who are angry with Teo – and those who are angry about Teo – will do some digging and find the root cause of their anger. And then I hope they channel that anger into productive changes that will make things better for themselves and for our community.
While I wish Teo nothing but the best and while I will continue to follow his spiritual journey, I’ve removed Bishop in the Grove from my blogroll. Its Christian focus no longer supports the mission of Under the Ancient Oaks. But Teo’s writing is good and I may link to specific essays if I find them inspiring or enlightening from a Pagan perspective.
2) Teo Bishop is not the first Pagan to return to Christianity and he won’t be the last. Some come to Paganism with unrealistic expectations formed by pop culture. Some are unable to dislodge the roots of fear a toxic version of Christianity planted in their youth. And some have deep ties of family and tradition they simply don’t want to abandon even if they don’t agree with what’s being preached. We can’t do anything about those folks other than to wish them well and to do our best to be a good example of what Paganism can be.
But some people go back to Christianity because they miss the church – both the body and the building. Churches provide ready-made community – they’re there for anyone to walk in or join in whenever they feel the need. Buildings make a tangible statement: we’re here and we’re going to be here a while. The reality may not always measure up to the ideal, but it’s there. Some day I’d like to see Pagan temples in every city, providing centers of worship and gathering places for our community.
I don’t know if having a functional temple in Portland would have made a difference for Teo and I won’t speculate. But I know it would make a difference for some.
3) In other Nine Things I Think I’ve written about my love of football. I need to clarify that – I love football when my team wins easily, or when I’m watching two goods teams I don’t have strong feelings about. Games where my team loses are painful and close games are torture. I’m almost to the point where I won’t watch a game I care about – the thrill of victory is nothing compared to the agony of defeat. And there’s been a lot of defeat here in Dallas in recent years.
4) “That’s their culture and we should respect it” doesn’t fly for female genital mutilation in Africa or for criminal prosecution for religious apostasy in the Middle East. It also doesn’t fly for bullying in NFL locker rooms.
We spend limited educational resources on school sports in the name of teaching “life lessons.” Athletes in college, high school and at lower levels look up to the NFL and what they’re seeing are lessons we don’t want to teach. Football is a tough game played by tough men, but being tough has nothing to do with putting up with cruel and needless abuse. The NFL needs to clean up its act in a hurry.
5) I’m enjoying the new Dracula series on NBC. Watching it is like sipping a really good wine – it’s beautiful and sensual and you never want it to end. Between the actors, the costumes and the sets, the show is a feast for the eyes.
I just wish I loved the characters as much as I love looking at them. Dracula is more Batman than Bela Lugosi – his Alexander Grayson alias might as well be Bruce Wayne. Mina as a medical student is a not-unreasonable update (particularly if you’ve read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), and an African-American Renfield who shoots straight with Dracula makes more sense than a crazed fly-eater for an assistant. But I can’t get my head wrapped around Dracula and Van Helsing being on the same side.
The story is borrowing from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Dark Shadows, and the Order of the Dragon adds more conspiracy theory than I’d like. The plot is complicated and it has the potential to run off the rails in a hurry.Early ratings aren’t good and there’s already talk of cancellation. Hopefully the show will make it – Dracula is so much fun to watch.
6) I’m also enjoying American Horror Story: Coven. Maybe “enjoying” isn’t the right word – I certainly don’t enjoy scenes of the historical Madame LaLaurie torturing and terrorizing her slaves and her daughters. But the idea of a school for witches and of witches growing into their power is appealing.
This is another complicated plot and none of the characters are entirely sympathetic. But they’re believable, and they do things – like magically flipping a bus full of date-raping frat boys – that part of me finds highly unethical and another part finds very, very attractive.
My fellow Patheos Pagan bloggers aren’t overly impressed with the show. Voodoo priestess Lilith Dorsey doesn’t like its portrayal of Voodoo and the famous Marie Laveau. Peg Aloi’s disappointment is clearly expressed in the title of her last post: Help Us, Stevie Nicks. You’re Our Only Hope. Jason Mankey hasn’t written about the show since the Halloween episode. I understand – and share – their concerns. AHS shows witches and other magic users neither as we are nor as we wish we could be.
But as dark fantasy I find it quite enjoyable.
“When witches don’t fight, we burn” – Fiona Goode, The Supreme
What I’m not enjoying is FX’s practice of not making their shows available On Demand till after the next week’s show has aired. I’ve been teaching CUUPS classes on Wednesday nights so I’m always at least a week behind, with no way to catch up. Unless I want to pay $2.99 per episode to watch it on iTunes, which I don’t.
7) I’ve given up on Sleepy Hollow. I’ve only got so much time for TV watching and Sleepy Hollow has neither the visual beauty of Dracula nor the emotional appeal of AHS. Rewriting classic fiction is one thing – playing fast and loose with history is another.
8) I haven’t been shopping on Black Friday since the only people calling it that were corporate accountants and I’m certainly not going shopping on Thanksgiving Day. While I’m in sympathy with those who are objecting to retailers being open on this holiday, I can’t quite muster outrage.
I’m old enough to remember when everything closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and New Year’s and Easter. Then convenience stores and gas stations started staying open. Then grocery stores. Then movie theaters starting opening late afternoon. I suppose some restaurants have always been open, but it seems like more and more are open now. Hospitals, of course, never close.
The well-intended concern for retail workers not getting to spend Thanksgiving with their families doesn’t seem to extend to other areas of our society. Hospitals are one thing (i.e. – a life and death necessity), but gas stations, movie theaters, and restaurants are open for the convenience of their customers – that’s us. The Monday through Friday, morning through afternoon, all holidays off routine we learn in school simply doesn’t exist for many people.
It can exist – if we’re willing to give up our 24/7 conveniences.
9) As a kid, nothing beat Christmas morning. But once I got into my college years, Thanksgiving became my favorite holiday. What was not to like? I got a day off school or work, I got to eat tons of great food (that I didn’t have to cook!), see family I didn’t get to see very often, watch football, and then eat some more. We rarely played football on Thanksgiving, but throwing it around in the front yard was common. Whether I was living nearby, two hours down the interstate, or 600 miles away in Indiana, I made it home for Thanksgiving every year except one.
We kept up the gathering after my father died in 2000, but it wasn’t the same without him. Then I moved to Texas and that was pretty much the end, at least for me. I usually have Thanksgiving dinner with Cathy’s family, and while the foods and the rituals are similar, it’s not home.
I’m thankful for many things, including the home I have here and now. But at this time of year I’m especially thankful for Thanksgiving memories.
That’s what I’m thinking right now – what about you?