Guest Post: Pagan View of Social Justice

[Laura LaVoie is a contributor to The Juggler and PNC-GA. She lives in Atlanta, GA with her partner and cats, blogging about brewing beer, tiny houses and Hellenic polytheism.]

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?

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An Independent Wild Hunt
What Does the Growth of Unitarian Universalism Mean?
Being a Religious Minority (in Public Schools)
Canadian Government: Non-Christian Prisoners Must Turn to Christian Chaplains
About Star Foster

Southern polytheist in the Midwest.

  • Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    Thank you for that uplifting article.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    “I can’t see myself as a leader.”

    You don’t have to see yourself as a leader. When you get back, talk with your fellow Pagans about how you felt your Gods guided you.

  • Obsidia

    Will you be working with any Sangomas at all?

    I bet you could learn a lot!

  • Charles Cosimano

    120 square foot house? My bedroom is bigger than that!

  • Norse Alchemist

    Yes, why on earth would you want to live in less space than a 19th century immigrant in New York City?

    Speaking of which, is it even legal to have a house that small? I thought there were laws about that because of the above mentioned immigrants stuffed into tiny spaces.

  • Laura M. LaVoie

    anything less than 120 square feet is considered a Building of No Consequence by most municipalities. The tiny house movement is gaining ground and it is all about living more simply.

  • Laura M. LaVoie

    I have no idea, but I will find out!

  • Ursyl

    I’m thinking that there is a huge difference between choosing to live in that small a space, and having to because there is not enough money to have more space.

    I’ve also seen some photos online of some very creative very small homes, that probably cost more than the fixer-upper my family lives in.

  • Rombald

    I think people generally have more living space than they need, in the same way that they have more stuff. I’d quite like a really tiny home, as long as it had a big garden – a difficult combination to find, unless you build your own.

    Beds, for a start, are a waste of space, because they’re there all the time, and because they define a room as a bedroom, making it difficult to take non-lovers there. You can save a lot of space using futons or hammocks.

    In Tokyo, I knew students who rented 3-mat rooms, a mat being 5 and a half feet long, and 2 and a half feet wide – round about 40 sq ft – that’s going a bit far! I’ve also seen office buildings that are several stories high, crammed between others, but less than the length of a small car along the street.

  • AMHC

    I really appreciated your article and wish you the best with your endeavor. It’s far more uplifting a view of social justice than the hard line political positions that often cause more division than integrationl.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Futons and hammocks are not suitable for people with back problems. What’s needed is a sturdy but light frame and a pulley system that can draw the bed to the ceiling whilst not in use.

  • Norse Alchemist

    Hmm, that’s a nice idea Baruch, might not be too hard to come up with either.

    Still, and perhaps this is my own mentality, but I like my space. Is it more than I need? Sure. Would I like more? Probably. Do I have too much stuff? I rather doubt it. I am a rather greedy man, like my ancestors. Wealth is not measured in imaginary numbers, but in the possessions you have and how much you value them. It is in the concrete substances that we know exist. So to me, living in one of the tiny homes just doesn’t make sense. Why live as a peasant when you could live like a chieftain?

    But hey, to each their own I guess. I can understand smaller living in places like Japan where people are smaller and there’s a whole lot more of them in a very tiny place. That’s necessity. But here we have the option of actually having larger living spaces, for the most part. Why not take advantage of it?

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Alchemist, I must admit the idea is not mine. I stole it from Buckminster Fuller.

  • *Ghosti

    The idea of pagan virtue is all over the place in “the lore” and historical literature to be sure, from the “cardinal virtues” the medieval church took from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics to the elite, patriarchal Roman virtues to those of courage, loyalty and generosity in Beowulf. When I joined ADF I was astonished to see that their “nine virtues” did not include justice, but later came to understand that this is largely covered in most pagan cultures under the concept of “hospitality.” Reciprocated acts of physical care and mercy are the historical Pagan standard of justice in my experience, solidified within a complex set of social reciprocity.

    “Hospitality” shares the same roots as our word “hospital,” or example, and the notion of what is hospitable seems the closest consistent analog to social justice in most paleo-pagan and indigenous cultures.

  • Rombald

    Like in a ship’s cabin?

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Back when it took a huge crew to run a ship, this sort of arrangement would be almost necessary.

  • Laura M. LaVoie

    I wanted to reply to your post below, but we reached max capacity on comments. But I appreciate what your saying. Tiny House building and living is certainly not for everyone, but it is right for some people and that includes me.

    There are a couple of reasons we decided to build a tiny house. One of the main reasons was because my partner and I wanted to build something ourselves with our own hands. We researched a number of alternative building techniques but one of the reason we chose the Tiny House was because it was small and since we had never built anything before we thought it best to start that way. It is rewarding to know that we have a place that is our place off the grid without any attachment.

    We had a nice big house before. We loved that house while we had it, but our priorities changed so we decided to do this thing for a while. I have no idea if we’ll live there forever, but for now it is the right choice for us.

    If you are interested in the reasons why some people are choosing this lifestyle, you can check out the link to Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Tiny House website that I posted above. He describes the concept pretty well in his book on tiny living.

    And living in a tiny house doesn’t mean I give up all the comforts and conveniences of modern living. In fact, there are some technologies available now that make it much easier to do the tiny house thing – electronic media for music, movies and books is a huge consideration because of the space that traditional media can consume.

    Like I said, I don’t think tiny living is for everyone. But I do think that the choice is a valid one.