I was a Unitarian for a while. I went to church and enjoyed the community. Then we got a new pastor and I didn’t like that church anymore, so I stopped going. But the Unitarian Church was one of the first times in my life I had really been exposed to the concept of Social Justice. I had been raised Catholic, and there was plenty of Social Justice to go around, there just wasn’t a committee for it. Among my Pagan friends, it wasn’t something that my circle discussed on a regular basis. Things changed for me lately to make me reconsider my place in this world and what I can do to make someone else’s place a little better.
It goes back a couple of years. My partner and I began building a 120 square foot Tumbleweed Tiny House on 15 acres in Western North Carolina. We wanted a place that we had built with our own hands that was off the grid and entirely self-sufficient. While the end result of this project would be greener than standard living, saving the planet wasn’t our primary motivating factor. More than anything, we wanted to do something unconventional. Taking the steps to live a more unconventional life is what opened us up to experiences we couldn’t have imagined.
At Beltane of 2010 we got some news. My partner’s cousin died of Pancreatic Cancer in his mid-thirties. I was devastated. We had been close with him in our early twenties. We even ostensibly lived together in a duplex in a not so nice part of Detroit for a while (he would crash on the couch much of the time). I passionately hated him some of the time, but he was fiercely loyal and one of the best people I ever knew. Matt drove out to Reno for his memorial service and while there he reconnected with an old friend. This friend told him all about the things she was doing in South Africa and even though she lived in San Francisco at the time, she was making plans to move to KwaZulu-Natal.
These experiences really lead us to thinking about what we were doing with our lives. We were learning to build this tiny house, but to what end? Then Priscilla told us about a project she was working on. Her organization, the Zulu Orphan Alliance, wanted to build a shelter for the children on land they had been given. She started by asking us questions about how we built the tiny house. The conversations evolved and next thing we knew we were booking our flight. We leave in just a week to fly to Durban, South Africa to begin the project. This trip will be about planning, meeting the other people involved, soil testing, and contacting suppliers. We are even considering building something small like a composting toilet or a solar water heater while we were there.
Social Justice isn’t, of course, owned by any one religious group. The Unitarians didn’t make it up. Pagans are often political as well – fighting for environmentalism and religious equality, among other things. I’ve even been involved in International Pagan Coming Out Day. Many Pagan authors and bloggers have written about social justice and the work we can do as a community to make this world a better place. Last year on the Washington Post On Faith feature, Starhawk responded to the question of whether Social Justice is Ideology or Theology:
“While Pagans do not have a set creed or unified code of beliefs, our traditions hold in common the understanding that we are all deeply interconnected, all part of the sacred weave of the world. The Goddess is immanent in this world and in all human beings, and part of our service to the sacred is to honor one another and take care of one another, to fairly share nature’s bounty and to succor one another in facing the hardships of life. We must create justice in this world, not wait for redress of grievances in the next.”
Recently seen supporting her local Occupy movement, earlier this year blogger T. Thorn Coyle wrote about social justice and its place in Theology, or vice versa.
“As magick workers and Pagans, we come from spiritual and religious convictions that will give rise to actions that look different from those of my Catholic compatriots, but we can act nonetheless. In his recent campaign to raise money for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, Peter Dybing showed that we can also work together. I pray that we will continue to do so. We can live from (poly)theologies of justice and connection. Therein lies hope.”
We can also see a strong tie to Environmental Justice in the PNC blog No Unsacred Place, which I think is a model of what the Pagan blogosphere can be.
I’m sort of new to this Social Justice thing and I can’t see myself as a leader of any sort of movement. I just want to do the best I can to help out where it makes sense. The whole thing really kind of snuck up on me out of nowhere. I didn’t choose the Zulu Orphan Alliance – it chose me. I’m doing this because some very kind people, people of all religious backgrounds, asked me to help. My boss is fond of calling my trip a “Mission Trip.” She isn’t entirely wrong. While religious conversion isn’t on my To Do list, I do know that my Gods are with me on this journey. They are guiding me. And it is through them and through this experience that I will be transformed. What are you doing to change the world?