“Interfaith Winston-Salem is an all-volunteer educational group that brings together members of many faith traditions – religious and non-religious – to gain a greater understanding of and respect for each other’s traditions.” For a local community group, IF-WS has had a pretty good response in attendance of the various educational activities, least of all, our monthly gathering of an Interfaith Breakfast. The first Sunday of each month, about 30 or so of us gathers at 8am to listen to the monthly speaker. 8am was chosen as it is before Sunday school, not on the Sabbath, and most people of this ‘learning flavor’ would not have a hard time getting up that early for breakfast.
As a pagan representative of the board, I was delighted when the facilitator of “Interfaith Journeys” asked if I would speak on my life journey of being a pagan in the Bible belt. I started my talk that morning with letting the crowd know that “being Pagan means that typically, on Sunday mornings, I’m still in bed.” That got a good laugh.
I then segued into my topic recounting my experience of listening to the prior month’s speaker, Eva, on her journey of what is was like to grow up Jewish in Egypt during the 1950s. I remembered thinking how sad her story was, how profoundly disheartening it must have felt to have your mother tell you to never let anyone know you’re Jewish. This thought then led me to reflect on my own childhood, and it hit me. Eva and I shared that sense of having to be quiet about who we really are, due to fear of judgment, of being ostracized. We even shared similar histories of our ancestors being murdered because of faith, and I realized that while her story projected sadness, my journey was filled with anger. At least, in my youth, anyway.
As long as I can remember, I’ve had a connection with Nature. My mother’s family is Baptist, while my father’s side descends from the Native American Cherokee heritage. During my teen years, I knew that if I breathed the notion that I might lean a way other than Christian – I would be forever condemned as a “Heathen.” It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I finally got the nerve to buy a Pagan dictionary – at a Charlotte bookstore, that I finally found the first label that made my heart jump for joy: Animist. A belief that energy is in all things. I enjoyed this label for the next 10 years, while also adding numerous other labels to help define who I was. It wasn’t until my mid-30s that I felt a calling to go back to school – a calling to learn about “the other side.”I had read bits and pieces of the Bible in my youth, but my anger at the injustice of not being accepted for who and what I was by most Christians, prevented me from even wanting to touch the book. I believe it was my absorption of the Tao, and gaining maturity that helped to mellow that anger. I enrolled at Salem College, hoping for an instructor that could teach me the academic perspective of the Bible without all the Fire and Brimstone. I got more than I bargained for.
At Salem, I found many more things about myself. I ‘re-‘membered that I believe that if I had been given the opportunity to express myself as a child, my life would have been vastly different. I also ‘found’ that my passion for life had become focused on Interfaith work. This is the inspiring cause for my attendance at as many interfaith functions as my schedule can possibly allow. It is such a breath of fresh air when I mingle with a group of open-minded, curious, self-reflective individuals. As it stands, I very much look forward to the monthly breakfast gatherings, getting a chance to learn about the Journeys other faiths have impressed on the people that share the commonality of humanity with me. So far this year, we have had speakers from a woman who lives her life through the tradition of Vadanta, Eva’s journey of being a Jewish woman born in Egypt, a young Christian male who shared his experience of turning to Islam, a local mayor who shared his experientialist interaction within the concepts of Christianity, and I hear that an upcoming speaker will share their wonderful faith’s tradition of worship through music.
Come join us. Another perspective within this growing landscape of different faiths can only amplify understanding then respect, justice then peace.