What I Miss About Being A Christian

What I Miss About Being A Christian September 14, 2014

It might seem odd to write a piece about what I miss about being Christian on the heels of my first post over at Polytheist.com. It might seem odd that I am thrown into fits of nostalgia just from seeing a dude carrying a guitar walk out from a church. Occasionally I’ll pass a beautiful church and wonder when services are, as if I might go (I never do). Sometimes I miss getting lost in a beautiful liturgy, feeling elevated by the chants or singing and the incense. Sometimes I miss the order, the stilted certainty with which people live when they just know they are right.

Of course, my twenty odd years in Christianity were never comfortable. It’s an ill-fitting nostalgia that I’m feeling. I was always translating that “shared vocabulary” to fit my meaning. I was often the odd girl out in community – too feminist, too lesbian, too unbaptized, too theological, too mystical. I never seemed to know the songs. I never liked most modern Christian music or books. I never liked the complicated intertwining of culture and theology that happens all too often in American Christianity. I never felt comfortable. I found the hypermasculinity and prescribed femininity confining and, frankly, gross. I felt put off by the mall-like megachurches with coffee stands, concert-style lights and the power point presentations.

Several years ago I happily and confidently walked away from monotheism and I haven’t looked back. Leaving monotheism behind has been nothing but a positive step for me spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. But sometimes I do miss…. something about it.

There are two aspects I think I’m missing. Mostly I miss the beauty and mystery of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Sadly, there isn’t an Orthodox church near me. I would love to attend a service. Ideally I’d be able to participate in chanting. I miss the rhythm and flow of the services, the prayers and incense and kindness of the people I met there. I miss the mysticism and the centrality of the Theotokos.

Theotokos of Vladimir
Theotokos of Vladimir

Part of what comes with established liturgy is that I don’t have to drive the experience myself. Being a solitary practitioner means that I have to devise, organize and maintain my practice. Even when I gather with others for Pagan ritual there is still an expectation that I will participate, that I will contribute my energies; I cannot be passive. Sometimes I just want to inhale beauty and reverence; I don’t want any responsibility.

I suspect that much of this relates to being a parent. I am in charge, organized, and ON basically 24/7. My personality skews this way naturally, but as a parent I have to make sure we’re on time, with appropriate snacks, and did you remember to pee before you left the house? Even at home I’m thinking two days ahead, so put that snack back, that’s needed for dinner tomorrow, stop hitting your sister, and by the way, it’s time for bed. So yeah: sitting back and letting someone else be in charge of something once in a while is a really nice idea.

Did I mention how beautiful liturgy can be? It’s different from my altar, which I clean once a month. It’s different because my altar shares space with shoes and bags of outgrown baby clothes waiting to be donated to Goodwill. It’s different because sometimes when I’m chanting in a Christian liturgy I can feel the weight of two millenia of believers chanting with me. Only occasionally in my Hindu practices do I feel something similar.

The other aspect I miss is a falsehood. Here is where I shamefacedly admit that every so often I miss the cultural ease of being white, straight, middle class, and Christian. No trying to figure out how to live in concert with Land and non-human others. No holidays that aren’t state sanctioned. No stressing about race, class, gender, or sexuality issues. Knowing one’s place is much more straightforward. There’s a bible study for me at every age and stage at the local Christian bookstore. Here is where I admit that sometimes I don’t want to be rowing against the stream; I don’t want to have to find new answers to modern living. I don’t want to have to figure out how to integrate what the gods are telling me with the daily requirements of my life.

But this last part is nostalgia and longing for something that never was. I hated this aspect of my Christian experience. It was hollow then and I can only image how ill fitting it would be now! I would last all of five minutes before the rock band worship, cultural hegemony, weak-ass theology, and bland preaching would make my brain explode. Last Christmas my family went with my in-laws to their big Baptist megachurch for a Christmas carol service and it ended with one of us in tears and one of us angry because the theology was so bad (not to mention the awful music).

(Not all the music is awful.)

At the core of this misplaced nostalgia is a longing for spiritual community. I  want to be around others who are also asking the Big Questions. I want to be around others who also desire to tap into Spirit, the Gods, Something Greater, and/or Something Other Than Human. I want to be around other people who want a shot of beauty and the divine on a regular basis. With a new infant and two other small children I am in no place to spearhead any sort of community or group, nor do I want to drive very far to reach out.

But, oh. Oh, do I long for beauty and community. And some aspects of Christianity were once able to provide that just that.

 

 

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  • Oh dear, it looks like I need to postpone my own post about Christian nostalgia! These past few weeks I’ve been busy with tinkering in edits to my BoS, ostensibly a community document, which I do all alone with just a stack of research for company. And I’ve been trying to get the lay of the land with the Gardnerian community–make friends, learn some history–but I seem to get rebuffed at every turn. I keep getting the impression that the thirds look at my questions and contributions with a patronizing brush off, sort of “well, that’s nice, dearie, but you’re a first…why don’t you just stick with your own coven for now, yes?”

    It is incredibly frustrating and alienating. I have a community, but it’s just out of reach…figuratively and literally. The closest covener is a good ride north of JBLM, and that commute can take 20 minutes or an hour and 20 minutes. So I’ve been longing for the ease with which I could be a part of a community back when I was a Christian. It was so easy to just wake up of a Sunday morning, put on some nice clothes, and head to the church. The regularity of the services was comforting–every mass followed the same basic pattern, and the only thing that really changed was that the guitar choir alternated Sundays with the organist for music. I never really appreciated at the time how great it was to experience the homily with the community, then turn about to greet them in the pews, actually shake their hands, and wish them peace.

    It’s a lonely path, Paganism. I live across from St. Mike’s now, and sometimes I stop by for a mass. It isn’t long before I’m reminded of all the reasons for my apostasy…but that remembrance of community? It never fails to bring me back.

    • How can Pagans and/or those in the occult create this sort of community? I don’t know but maybe when I’m ready to branch out I can work more actively toward finding/building such a thing here.

      I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts too.

      • Man, I wish I knew. A lot of what creates easy community among Christianity and other larger religions is that you can be a passive receptor. Just show up at the same Bat-time, same Bat-channel every week, listen to your priest/leader and you’ll be just fine. Paganism requires that you take an active, priest-like role.

        When you take an active role, you get more invested in your own ideas about your faith–which is awesome. But without a lot of conscious thought about group dynamics, social etiquette, etc., you can end up positioning your enthusiasm as basically telling other people that they are wrong about the things they’ve also actively worked on and come to hold dear. Arguments are going to break out, people will develop enmities, and community is just not going to happen. People would rather retreat into their autonomous bubbles than constructively work through hurts and disagreements.

        Long term, I am not sure we have much hope of building a large, healthy pagan community without the majority of the community undergoing some sort of training in group dynamics, respect, and plurality. Pagans don’t go to seminary–we squeeze our practice around our day jobs
        and lives. Some (maybe most?) of us miss the sort of pastoral training that
        fosters good community building. Just from what I see in my day job, it seems that too many people these days have been ‘raised by wolves’ as my mom would say and have trouble empathizing, listening, and being constructive with criticism. Why should I expect that most time-strapped Pagans be any different from the rest of the population in that respect?

        Getting people to show up to a meeting or a larger gathering…that can also be a major hurdle. I think even Christians are suffering from that. My mother’s church now boasts 7 different weekend masses in order to accommodate a wider variety of work schedules. Attendance for each is less than the masses 30 years ago were, but combined they’re actually a larger parish than they were back then. But with Paganism being smaller and more varied than Christianity, I’m not sure we’d be able to build a strong community just by offering more times where smaller sets could meet in common.

        Ugh. All I’m seeing right now are all the things that block Pagan community formation rather than let it flourish. I think I’m just going to put my naysaying on the backburner and go out to the Central Puget Sound Pagan Pride Day. Maybe I’ll see something there that will kickstart my optimism. 🙂

      • kenofken

        This is not metaphysical rocket science, it’s just hard labor. You have to be the change you want to see in the world. (Hey, I said something Hindu-esque! :)…. Everybody gripes about how the pagans in their area are too disorganized, to divisive, too whatever to create something they want to participate in. Create it yourself. That starts by finding ONE good person to work with, and creating something that others will want to be part of. I have to run now, but I’ll elaborate further later if anyone cares to suffer my advice!

      • Elinor Predota

        I think part of the issue is the mix of / confusion between religion and occultism in Wicca-based Paganism. I would bet that Northern traditionalists, Druids, and reconstructionists of all flavours have an easier time — for all that most Pagans tend to be ornery individualists at heart. Occult practice does not mix well with building community.

  • Spiritscraft

    Christianity is convenient. Basically, because it is the dominant religion and because it is a preached religion with a leader or a couple of leaders of each church and the rest can just show up.

    Right now there isn’t convenient paganism, because we are already divided up into denominations while we are still very small and spread out! However, I think that Olympia is developing as a center of things pagan and in a few years things like you want will be available

    • What makes you say that Olympia is developing as a center?

    • Seriously, I want to know how Olympia is developing as a center. I won’t deny that we’ve got a lot of practicing Pagans here, but everyone seems to either be a happy solitary not that interested in networking or is a member of a group in Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, or California. Niki is by far the most publicly prominent Olympian Pagan (holy geez, that’s a lot of ‘p’s!). From what I understand, there were some community blow-ups in the late 90s that people are still licking their wounds over (something about Wiccan-like groups telling the Norse-inspired groups they were doing things wrong).

      Today, as far as community goes, all I see are that we have a rough handful of Pagan-friendly shops, all of which outside of Radiance (which remains viable by essentially mainstreaming into organic living) are struggling. There’s also the Satanic community, which is surprisingly tight-nit, healthy, and organized as far as groups go. But that’s all I can see.

      • All of this. Although, I don’t know how prominent I am. I don’t think too many locals read this thing!

  • Merri-Todd Webster

    I miss being part of a choir. It just so happens that my voice is particularly suited for a certain kind of church music: Palestrina and his ilk, English polyphony of the Tudor era, anthems by Holst and Vaughan Williams. This was all music I used to sing regularly, and I loved it, but the theology I had to put up with was killing me.

    • Oooh! My voice too! While in Wales, I sang with the Church of Wales choir (teeny tiny little thing), but I had a very hard time sitting through the services. However, I now sing with a most excellent community chorus and next week…. we start Christmas music! For better and for worse. 😉

  • Spiritscraft

    I know quite a few pagans and witches who live there and are interested in building things up. Having shops that are struggling is pretty normal, and lots of solitaries. I would say that is developing. Maybe you had a different definition of developing than I did.

    • No set definition in mind. Just curious. I still have yet to meet many who have actual practices here. However, Olympia as a whole is definitely Pagan-ish.

      • I guess there’s a fair number of Asatru kindred here, but finding them is awful hard! They’ve been a closed group for ages.

  • Slaine Na Mailpe

    Yes, I have these feelings too. It is the community and “social spirituality” that I miss. Yes, it IS convenient. Building and maintaining everything yourself is exhausting and often I wonder why I can’t just be more passive about it all, like so many others SEEM to be (“seem” is the operative word).

  • kenofken

    What do I miss about being a Christian? Don’t rush me, I’ve only had 30 years to think about that. I’m sure something will come to me any day now……

  • I know how you feel. The Pagan community in my Bible Belt area is pretty fragmented, partly because of where we are, and partly because of petty rivalries and old arguments. I’ve been solitary for almost two decades, and my personal practice is still growing and very personal… but for the past five years or so I’ve wanted nothing more than to find a larger community. It just doesn’t exist here.

    • I hope you can find something to fill that need. Or maybe spearhead it yourself. But I understand if you’re not in a place to do that.

      • Thanks for the encouragement. I’ve thought about trying to do something myself, but when I’ve said something to others, I’ve mostly gotten the response of “Oh, you’ll never manage to do that.” It’s kind of sad; we have a lot of Pagans in this area, we just can’t get them together. :/ And not three hours away in two different directions are thriving, larger Pagan communities. I’m beginning to think it’s less because of the Bible Belt part, and more because of the old arguments and petty rivalries part. I hope that one day, we’ll be able to move past that.

  • Hestia

    I miss the regularity and reliability, I guess. I miss some of the fellowship and the ease with which one could socialize within the community. I don’t miss much else.

    • I think this (plus the icons and incense and chanting) are what I miss. It seems I am not the only Pagan who longs for community!

  • lizzysimplymagic

    I am sort of a Christopagan (really more of a Marianist, but I digress). I have joined a church and have been trying to make inroads with the local pagan community. I have to say, the church has been way easier to be accepted into. Not that the pagan side hasn’t been friendly, but they all seem to already be sort of settled with each other, and don’t seem overly inclined to move beyond long established relationships. Maybe it’s a lifestyle thing too: a lot of the pagans I’ve met either work from home or are retired, whereas the church folks are a bit more diverse in age and income. Many of the events I’ve been invited too by pagans directly conflict with work, whereas my church has enough going on that there is something for everyone.

    • I suspect the Episcopal church could be a good fit, depending on the priest. It takes a long time to forge relationships, doesn’t it?

      Heh, my family works from home too.

  • Grendl Riverstone

    I have found fellowship and some of the things that you miss within the beloved community of my Unitarian Universalist fellowship. Worth checking outl

    • Thank you! Yes, I’ve got several friends involved with the UU church. Sadly, it’s not for me. I have also checked out the Unity church and it too doesn’t float my theological or liturgical boats.

  • Thank you for writing this Niki. When I read the title, my mind started making a list of what I don’t miss about being a Christian. But I do know that longing for easy community and ritual with 2000 years of history behind it. It’s what drove me to seek out the Eastern Orthodox church a few months ago. What you wrote is true for me as well: it’s a nostalgia for something that never existed. I think it says more about our experience of Paganism (what’s missing) than our experience of Christianity.

    • “I think it says more about our experience of Paganism (what’s missing) than our experience of Christianity.” Nail: head. Yes, and I think I need to unpack just what it is I’m looking for a bit more.

      • kenofken

        No disrespect to anyone, but in watching this overarching debate play out over many years, I think it mostly has to do with people who have not figured out what they’re looking for. Pagan religions in modern times draw a lot of people who have not finished discerning their beliefs and calling, and many never even bothered to start that process. They’re not in it because they felt an irresistable call by our deities or because it resonates with them at the core of their soul. They’re just shopping for a zero investment or low maintenance sort of moral therapeutic deism and one that is more socially progressive than whatever strict form of Christianity they’re fleeing.

        They think of us as just a non-homophobic, goddess oriented Church, and one with really cool trappings and ritual aesthetics. Then when they finally realize we’re not the Catholic Orthodox Episcopalian Church of Divine Feminine, they get cheesed at us and blame it on our supposed lack of organization and in-fighting. First off, if they think discord is a uniquely pagan problem, they ought to read up on the Reformation sometime, or the vicious divisions happening right now in Christianity over issues like gay marriage, women clergy, theology etc.

        Second, and more importantly, we are not dysfunctional Christians or aspiring Christians-minus-the-nasty-dogma. We are pagan, and what we do and don’t do organizationally arises from theologies and praxis which are radically different to and fundamentally incompatible with any mainstream form of Christianity. Speaking as a Wiccan witch, I can tell you that nothing about that path is designed to be convenient, or easy or passive, or full of camaraderie at every turn. We are forged through ordeal, not through self-affirming sermons at the local Prosperity Gospel megachurch down the street.

        We don’t typically have congregational style worship because it does not serve or reflect how we engage with our gods and goddesses. Yes, we have our factionalism and demographic challenges as a minority religion, but we don’t do the things we don’t do because most of our people don’t want to do them, not because we’re incapable of doing them. The stuff we do take on that truly arises from who we are, we do with excellence. Having gone to PSG for just a couple of years, I can tell you that most Catholic priests or pastors would give their right you-know-what to be able to raise the kind of energy we do there. Yes I know PSG isn’t easy for everyone to get to, nor are many of the other fests out there. Before we sink too deeply into anguish and self-pity over that point, consider that Muslims, even dirt poor ones on the other side of the planet from Mecca, are expected to go on Haj at least once in their lifetime. If something is truly important to us, we prioritize it, and the stuff that’s very easy to accomplish is also the least rewarding.

        If you want something more local, go out and create it. That is what being a pagan, or at least my sort of pagan, is all about. That’s magick folks. “The science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will” as Aleister Crowley put it. Most people who try and fail to organize local scenes fail because they don’t do the hard work of that method and instead try to organize pagans as one organizes Christians: By hanging out a shingle and trying to herd random people in the door. If you want to succeed, you must first become the sort of excellent person you want to attract and forget altogether pre-conceived expectations of group size or timeline of formation. Don’t grasp for lots of people. Draw the right ones in the right time. It works.

        Before you do any of this, take the time to discern if you’re supposed to be a pagan at all. If you’re drawn to serve Jesus/Yahweh and you fled the reservation over dogma and institutional issues, you’re not going to find your answer with us. You can find the right place within Christianity or again, create that place.

        • I feel incredibly mainsplained right now. I have read your comments for a long while over many blogs and haven’t thought you a mansplainer before, so I am just going assume that you are responding to a sentiment thst you’ve seen in Paganism generally and not here on my blog.

          While I did indeed say I wasn’t yet sure I had found what I was looking for, it was not that I am I thinking that Christianity might actually be my true faith. If you think that, please read through my previous posts. You are speaking as “us” and that seems to me that you think I’m fresh off the turnip truck and that just ain’t the case.

          Also, I am the mother of three small children, the youngest of which is not yet 5 months old. I have been in the past an ardent and effective builder of community, but I am unable to take that on right now. It is no wonder that I miss community, and from reading the comments here, I think I can safely say that I’m not the only one.

          • kenofken

            My comments are entirely about the broad dynamics of a debate and conversation which simply happened to arise again most recently on your blog. I make no presumptions about your personal journey, because I know nothing about it, and this is not about any one person. It is about recurring themes I have seen on many blogs and firsthand over a number of years.

            When I suggest that some may be better suited to Christianity, that is not an accusation of tribal disloyalty. It is an observation that fits some number of folks shuttling back and forth between that faith world and that of pagan religion.

            With the sincere disclaimer that I am not implicating you personally, I’ve grown weary of people constantly measuring my own spiritual path as deficient using a Christian yardstick. It’s a constant low drumbeat in our conversations about Christo-Paganism, infrastructure and other issues. The square peg of Paganism is defective, we’re told, because it doesn’t fit the round hole of some of what Christianity used to provide them.

            For years I got to read Teo Bishop’s incessant grumbling about how we weren’t Episcopalian enough for him. Then there are the folks who say we won’t be a real or worthwhile movement until we “grow up” and adopt church buildings and professional full time clergy to lead us and file off all of the wild and rough edges of our practices. At Christmas and Easter, there is the inevitable lineup of blog posts about how we as pagans can celebrate the “real” holiday of the Christian overculture because paganism is just progressive Christianity wrapped in a different narrative. Those are my frustrations, and I simply want to assert that much of what people find or don’t find in paganism are features, not bugs, and that people, whether Pagan or Christian or anything else, will ultimately get out of “community” only as much as they are willing and able to put into its creation and maintenance.

          • You claim not to implicate me personally but your last paragraph basically asked me to make sure Paganism was for me and maybe I’d rather be a Christian. While at first I was agreeing with many of your points, having seen some of what you mention, you basically implicated me in your assumptions.

            I suggest two things: one, you read a lot more of my back posts to understand where I’m coming from; two, I write a better, more nuanced post on this topic.

          • kenofken

            I apologize for that. I truly meant “you” in global sense as in “y’all”. I also want to make clear that I don’t mean that someone’s possible better fit within Christianity as an insult. I think there are any number of people out there who are called that way. Rather than try to remake us into what we’re not, they would be well served going back that direction. If they took with them some of our system’s better ethics, I think both Christianity and world would be better off for it.

          • Serenity Jewel Dance

            I think it’s great that you have opinions and that you feel free to express them. The problem that I have with your posts is that you’ve appointed yourself as universal spokesman for Paganism and Wicca, which you’re not. You’re just one guy with an opinion. One of many. Every post is about “they” – the newbies that don’t really understand Paganism or the elders who don’t agree with you – and “us” the true believers, the ones that understand and have it right. It’s amazing to me that in every religion, there’s always a “they” and “us” and the “us” person speaking has appointed themselves to speak for all the “us.” As you’ve said, this has been going on for years, by people that have been Pagans for decades, so apparently people from day 1 to year 20 don’t agree with you. Every coven is going to do what they’re guided to do and if that means putting out shingles or catering to seekers or meeting once a week for community, then that’s what’s going to happen. If people are guided to write about Christianity at Christmas time, then that’s what they’re going to write about. At one time, Paganism was as common as Christianity so there was never a lack of community. Community was available next door, at the local pub, in the town square. It’s only now that Pagans are alone and isolated to this extent so yes, people are going to talk about it until something changes and it becomes what it was. If you want to respond, I would suggest you at least think about stepping down off the podium, taking off the crown, and giving up the title of “Spokesman for Us.” Ego pushes away and alienates. People being attacked will always attack back. Fundamentalism in any form is ugly.

          • kenofken

            I make no pretense of being a spokesman for anyone other than myself. I am nothing more or less than one guy with an opinion. I put it out there like everyone else, and some agree, some disagree, and the other 99+% probably don’t give a rat’s hooha one way or another on what I have to say. I’m good with that.

            Like many others, I have my ideas on where I think “we” ie the movement ought to go on one issue or another. I have no authority to dictate or presume that they will do so based on my say-so nor any interest in acquiring such authority even if it were possible.

            I also should make clear that I have no problem with other covens or anyone who wants to take on the seekers. I don’t have the time nor really the patience anymore to help large numbers of people go through that early self discovery journey of spiritual identity. There are those who do, and more power to them.

            Paganism means a lot of things to different people. For me ,it means a religion and way of being in the world which is organic and self-sufficient and real, and not merely an aesthetic or lifestyle mode nor a crude unfinished prototype of what progressive “church” should be. That drives me to live in the here and now rather than lurking in the footsteps and shadows of a birth religion I left a lifetime ago and never really believed at the core.

          • happydog

            For years, you CHOSE to read Teo Bishop’s incessant grumbling. Your frustrations are self-generated because you look for what irritates you until you find it. And that is what you did with Niki’s post, I believe. As they say, “Sounds like a personal problem to me.”

          • kenofken

            No, I didn’t go looking for irritation, or seize on Bishop’s column exclusively. I try to read broadly within the span of pagan media to participate in the discussion our movement is having day to day and year to year. The irritation comes from the fact that we spend as much time, or more, talking about Christianity than what we’ve supposedly moved on to.

            It’s not about Niki’s post or any one post. It’s the fact that almost 60 years on from Gardner, and a full century of the modern occult movements, we’re still defining ourselves almost entirely in terms of someone else’s religion. We’re either in rebellion against it, or measuring ourselves by what they do, or told we have to engage with them and their religion and/or try to reconcile or paper over our different theologies and embrace all of liberal Christianity as Pagan.

            I get that there are intersections of their culture and ours and new topics that bear exploration, but on many days it feels like the Pagan channels is the Wistful Ex-Christian Channel. Three months from now, I know we will be reading more about Christmas here than Yule or any other Pagan midwinter celebration. The same will be true of Easter. It’s fair to say I do have a personal problem with that, inasmuch as I think it’s time to start focusing more on where we are and where we’re going rather than where we come from.

        • First, I’m going to ignore that last paragraph, which–frankly–seems like bull bait, and I’m not about to charge at that red cape.

          That being said, I’m not sure I know how to take this, Ken. I can see some merit in what you’ve written, but what you’ve said seems a bit uncharitable.

          I’ve often said myself that these days, a lot of broken people are attracted to the Pagan Paths. There have been some people that have studied with my own coven that have certainly made my eyebrows raise–it is thanks to them that we now clearly let seekers know that, while we care for the well-being and happiness of all our members and strive to be a supportive environment, we are not a therapy group.

          But you know, I don’t think I’d expect a seeker to be fully formed–to have undergone deep introspection about their beliefs and self-image. People seek because they’ve encountered an inability to make sense of their own intuitive sense of how the world works and they need help learning a new language, as it were, to get that understanding. I’m sure some people understand that it will be a long process, and I know that others are incredibly naïve when it comes to how much investment and maintenance is involved in truly tackling a spiritual pursuit–no matter what the path is. But just because they are naïve doesn’t mean their desire to learn is not valuable or cannot be constructively guided.

          You also say “we
          don’t do the things we don’t do because most of our people don’t want to
          do them, not because we’re incapable of doing them”, but again, I find this uncharitable. I have seen so many attempts at Pagan community building fizzle (or spectacularly explode) not because of a lack of desire for community, but because voices were not valued, opinions were dismissed, and egos were sorely bruised. And that’s entirely normal. If you put two people together, you’ll probably end up with three different viewpoints. We’re certainly capable of building a community, but we spend so much time in our own personal practices building up our own voices and ideas that we often forget how important it is to listen to others. And when we do that, we can appear dismissive or cruel…and there’s no way to build a community from that.

          Finally, how can you draw the right people at the right time if *no one* can find your group? Magic can go far, but I know that I have yet to receive anyone’s address and e-mail information in a dream. But if I plaster Craigslist with ads–hang my shingle, as it were–I’ll get a whole bunch of responses. Not all of them will be great responses–that’s just basic marketing, but some of them will.

          But I have a hard time believing they’ll stick around if Every. Single. Thing. they experience in the community is an ordeal.

          • kenofken

            I don’t mind seekers, although I won’t take on raw ones who haven’t done any of that work themselves as I don’t have time to be a spiritual mentor for years for people who probably won’t stick around at the end of it. A traditional Wiccan priestess once told me she won’t take seekers until “their Saturn return”…something like 28 years old. There’s something to be said for that, although age is not the entire story in this phenomenon. My gripe has less to do with seekers than with people who have identified as Pagan for some years, often in leadership roles, who then raise criticisms which betray really glaring and fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of Pagan religion vs Christian etc.

            As for community building, a great deal of what I’ve seen fail failed because it did not serve an organic need of target audience and did not have their buy-in. A lot of people have formed drop in centers or councils or whatever based on what they wanted and what they thought the community should want. It was often top-down and “build it and they will come.”

            A fair number of these efforts were constructed by people primarily as vehicles for their own egos and visibility. They wanted to be bishops, basically, and formed this or that local grand council. The were solutions in search of a problem and yes, they did tend to become lightning rods for big egos in opposition. When we do community building just to do it or to try to form congregations out of sworn solitaries, it fails, as it should. When we have a true common purpose and something larger than we can handle at a personal or coven scale, we come together and do fairly well, when we have good leadership and communication and a sense of ownership among all participants.

  • happydog

    I find that for me, my local body of the OTO fulfills some of these needs for community and ritual. They hold Gnostic Mass on a very regular basis. I find in the Gnostic Mass a lot of what I used to enjoy about church ritual, plus a communion that I can believe in – “There is no part of me that is not of the gods.”

    • The only Gnostic Mass I ever attended was one of the few truly offensive experiences of my life. However, it’s hard for me to say if it was the Mass itself or perhaps the people putting on or just where I was at personally when I experienced it that made it so. I am open to experiencing it again, though I’m not sure if there’s one in my area. Off to google!

      • kenofken

        I’m curious to hear what you found offensive about the Gnostic Mass. My path took me into OTO for a brief period as a Minerval. It ultimately didn’t resonate with me, but from what I remember of the Mass, it was pretty derivate of the Catholic version, overlaid with Crowley’s personal revelations rooted in Egyptian mythology and a libertarian philosophy. I don’t remember the text, but a good deal of what Crowley said sounded outrageous taken at face value.

        • I want to withhold complete judgment until I give it another go.

          • kenofken

            Fair enough. It’s been long enough that I’d have to do the same to get a complete sense of it.

          • You know, if you ever do go to another Gnostic Mass, I’d go with you. My best friend was in the OTO for a good long while, and I’d occasionally go to a Mass for moral support. It gave me the heebie jeebies in a way I can’t really explain, (especially given how closely Wiccan C&W can resemble the Mass). The one time my friend acted as priest, though, I didn’t feel that way. I’ve often wondered if it was the specific people who typically led the Mass who creeped me out, or if it was the Mass itself.

          • kenofken

            There ARE some creepy brethren in the order, Horus keep them…. 🙂

      • happydog

        It’s interesting how people experience things differently. Personally, the first Gnostic Mass I saw was an experience that I will never forget. For some reason I connected with it instantly. In a lot of ways I felt that it was the perfect ritual, and in many ways I still do. I hope you do find another one and that it’s a better experience for you.

  • JM

    I, I, I, I…….; it seems to me that your article is mostly about you and your needs and your wants. I choose to go to church to worship God first and foremost because I believe that this is what He asks of me and I do want to please Him. Sure, I do tell Him my concerns and I do ask for His help about things, but the focus of my attention in church is almost entirely on Him and pleasing Him instead of on me and my needs and my feelings.

    • Of course this is about my needs and wants! It’s a blog about me and my practice! As I am not a devotee of Yahweh, I have no need to please him. I’m not sure what your expecting when reading something written by a Pagan and polytheist.

      • JM

        Well, you are definitely missing “something” in your life or else you would not have written this column. My point is that when a person makes himself/herself the center of his/her own universe as in I, I, I or my, my, my; it can be unsatisfactory indeed and this is because most people will simply not care about you or your needs or wants. Peace to you!

  • smg45acp

    God has certainly made us to be social creatures.
    I recently read a firsthand account of a convict telling about how horrible prison rape
    was. The interviewer asked him if he ever considered trying to get into solitary confinement to escape the rapes. The now former convict said that solitary confinement was worse than the rapes.
    As a practicing Christian that has had to move several times over the years. It has always been amazing how I can find a church in a new town and literally have new friends within a few weeks.
    I can only imagine how difficult it must be to be part of a small minority religion and find fellowship amoung other believers.
    As a Christian I’m of course hoping that your nostalgic feelings are actually the Holy Spirit wooing you to take another look into following Christ.
    With the things you’re learned while practicing paganism you’ve doubtlessly learned some things that would be a value to the church.

    • Thank you for kind words. I do encourage you to read more of my writing. I was a Christian for 20 yrs. The Holy Spirit was incredibly good to me, but Jesus never showed up. No need to go back!

  • axelbeingcivil

    As a former Christian turned agnostic, the thing I miss is the feeling of loving certainty that, in the end, it would all be alright. Pain was temporary and, however long the arm of the cosmos was, it always bent towards justice. I never had to feel alone or scared; all would be right in the end.

    I don’t have that anymore; forsaken for intellectual rigor. It wasn’t something I wanted to give up, it was scary and agonizing, but I did because I had to be honest with myself.

    I really, really do miss it. Thanks for the article, even if it’s not quite the same.

    • That feeling of certainty is seductive. I miss it occasionally, but as I said, it’s a false nostalgia. The freedoms and new forms of thinking gained since leaving that narrow certainty behind are well worth whatever temporary discomfort I feel.

      • axelbeingcivil

        Sometimes, yes, sometimes, no. I do not doubt I did the right thing, but it is not always the most enjoyable thing.

  • echarles1

    Just as a matter of happenstance I went from your blog to an article about Justin Welby. Maybe it is not nostalgia. Maybe it is this from the Welby article:
    “It is not about feelings, it is about the fact that God is faithful and the extraordinary thing about being a Christian is that God is faithful when we are not.”
    Then again, nostalgia was once considered a medical condition about which you can read in The Future of Nostalgia by Svetlana Boym. So as my pope says, ‘Who am I to judge?”

  • Graeme Cree

    The article seems to be less about religion or belief than about which organization makes the best social club. On that score, a Bridge Club might serve better than any of the churches mentioned in the article.

    • Really? I’m not sure you read this article at all then.

      • WitchWay

        I totally got what you were talking about. I sometimes felt the same way – now at a much older age, I am content to participate with the other groups and even attend a church now and again. There are good and bad to each and every faith or practice, but we are the ones who must work to make it everything we want and need.

      • Graeme Cree

        If you had read it, you would be sure that I had too.

        • Souris

          Do you mean wrote? You are aware you are accusing the author of not having “read” her own article?

          • Graeme Cree

            Either that, or not remembering it. Or having ghosted it without reading it. Or not being forthright about it. There are several possibilities, none too appealing.

  • maggie galalgher

    Niki I sympathize. Is there a Catholic Church you could drop by? Mary is usually there, as well. Maybe even a Latin mass? Wish you well.

    • I’m sure there is a Catholic church or three around. However, Mary and I have a special relationship. I don’t think she’s ever left me and she has a permanent place on our family altar.

  • Beth Adele Long

    Lovely. Thanks for expressing this in such a beautiful and nuanced way… and for calling out that nostalgia for privilege that can be so seductive (and decaying).

  • D.B

    I feel the exact same way. So nice to know I am not alone in this journey of feeling alone.

  • yewtree

    This is a general response to the whole discussion about community.

    I think you are all over-idealising the notion of community.

    Personally, I would rather have a few good friends (whether Pagan, atheist, or any other world-view) who accept me for who I am, warts and all, than a community that wants me to be a particular way to fit in, that is full of awkward people that I have to negotiate with, or who think I talk too much, and probably want me to be on some totally tedious committee, as well.

    I thought I wanted community… so I went ahead and took the plunge. Maaaan, I hated it.

    Personally, I prefer the looser, freer, wilder Pagan approach: networks of friends, small groups, etc.

    I do miss singing, though – but I do not miss hymns. Still working on that one!

  • Serenity Jewel Dance

    It’s amazing to me how so many Christians keep saying your nostalgia is a sign to go back. Women who leave abusers will miss the good times they had and I guarantee you, it’s not the Holy Spirit saying to go back. It’s human nature, a need to belong, a desire for the comfort of the familiar. Do you have a Unitarian Universalist Church in your area? Many Pagans, Christians, and people of other faiths worship joyfully together there. If not, maybe try Unity Church. It’s Christian-based but they don’t believe Christianity is the only path to God. I’m a Follower of Christ (I forsook the label Christian long ago) with a belief in the Divine Good and all its other manifestations so I refuse to subject myself to the hate, judgment, confusion, and exclusivity displayed in the vast majority of churches, and on in these comments – Come back, Come back, it’s the Holy Spirit! – but I have found many spiritual-based churches that meet my needs in abundance. Hopefully you can do the same.

    • I’m not inclined toward the UU or Unity Churches. I wish I was!

      • Serenity Jewel Dance

        Well, hopefully you’ll find something else that works for you.

  • Serenity Jewel Dance

    And why in the world do Christians come on Pagan boards to reference Christ? I’ve never, not once in my entire life, seen a Pagan go on a Christian board and try to talk people into worshipping Isis. The lack of respect for other people’s religions is mind-boggling. ~shakes head~ Let me stop now.

  • Serenity Jewel Dance

    That’s right. Keep threatening hell. That’s really going to make people love and worship your God. Including their kids in the threat is even better. That kind of fear and intimidation has worked to enact awe, respect, and love for centuries. I’m sure everyone that read your comment just RAN to the nearest Christian church to worship the God that burns little children and has to threaten people with Hell to get them to worship Him. Yep, that’s why the church has been growing by leaps and bounds over the last few generations. You hell and brimstone speakers know how to reach hearts. Keep up the good work! PS Forget that love and service stuff Jesus preached. It’s for the whoosies. He must have been high. Threats! Violence! That’s the way!!

    • Peter

      I do not want you to be ignorant about what you do not believe. Your statement: “Forget that love and service stuff Jesus preached.” tells me that you never understood what Jesus preached. Jesus does not send anyone to Hell. They go there on their own. Jesus is the way to keep from going to Hell. Jesus preached so the “religious” and satanic people of the time would not understand. It worked. If you would study his teachings you would understand that Jesus was a Jew. He was teaching during the period of the Jewish Law. He was talking to Jews about the Law. When Jesus died, the Law was fulfilled, and Law no longer is in effect. So all that love and service stuff you claim Jesus taught is no longer valid. As I posted before, sin (things against the Law) no longer is a factor of salvation. The only way to be lost is by unbelief. The Bible calls it blasphemy. The only way to salvation is by belief that Jesus is your Lord. Next time you try to tell what you do not believe, know what you are talking about.

      • happydog

        You’re adorable. How old are you, 15?

      • Serenity Jewel Dance

        And I don’t want you to be ignorant of what you claim to believe. Jewish law is Halakhah, the Torah, laws instituted by the Jewish rabbis and from long-standing customs. It was not the teachings of Jesus. While he spoke in a way Jews could understand, His death in no way negates His teachings. The Royal Law, love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself, is still in effect and will be until His return. That judge not, and you will not be judged, condemn not and you shall not be condemned, forgive and you will be forgiven, that’s still in effect. That let people worship the way they feel lead because they answer to God and not to you, so you have no right to judge them, that’s still in effect. Get behind me, oh ignorant one, tribe of Pharisees. You are no stumbling block for me.

  • Thank you for your concern. See, the difference here is that while I acknowledge that Yahweh is A god, I do not believe he is the ONLY god. As for hell…. hell is here on earth. We’re taking each other on that ride.

  • That kind of fear-mongering is what drives people away from Christians who promote it, and Christianity in general. I would advise you to rethink your tactics before coming amongst Pagans. Better, rethink trying to preach amongst Pagans at all.

  • Rose Magdalene

    The last time I missed Christianity was on Christmas eve a year or two after I became a Pagan. I was raised Southern Baptist, so the only time we really got pageantry was Christmas. I was really missing the magic of the candle lit Christmas eve service. So my roommate at the time suggusted we go the local queer church. Well, the church seemed nice and all, but the Jesus and Salvation talk was just too much for me. And that was that, I never had a desire to walk into a Christian church since.

    I can understand the need for community. I get jealous of not only mainstream religions, but also other Pagans who have healthy functioning covens or groups. I’ve been a pagan for over ten years now, and I’ve never been apart of a long term pagan group. And I’m a Libra, I like being social. I’ve looked, I’ve been a part of many short live groups, even started a short lived group of my own. I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that it’s just not going to happen for me.

    And I can understand the young children thing. I used to be more involved before I had my daughter. Now even going to open rituals can be a huge pain in the butt. Little kids don’t like to sit still or be quiet, especially my little one. So most of the time I just don’t go because I don’t want to ruin the ritual for everyone else. Being a Pagan can be very lonely and isolating indeed.

  • Peter

    My reply to the lost people that replied to my post. Apparently you did not read the heading of the article. It is “What I Miss About Being A Christian”. I was writing about the subject the writer addressed. If you atheist eased dropped thinking I was addressing you, too bad. You will notice, N. Whiting claimed to be a Christian. As a Christian she should know her responsibility to her family. She would know that Jesus died for ALL the sins of the world, not just the sins of the saved. She would know that there is nothing that can separate her from the Love of God. She would know that Jesus is the only way of salvation. So all you neigh sayers claiming that I am preaching about Hell are wrong. I was not talking to you. To you who do not know Jesus, I would tell about Jesus plan of salvation. He loves you. When he died he paid your sin debt. Sin is not a factor of salvation. The churches that preach the forgiveness of sin are wrong. The Good news is that you ARE forgiven. You should know that Jesus does not send you to Hell. Unbelief does. Jesus has provide you a way to keep from Hell. With out Jesus’ gift of salvation, you have no hope. I cringe when I think of people who have no hope. I pity you.

    • To clarify: I am not a Christan. I was once. We don’t need your pity. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Peter

        Your entire article SHOUTS of your yearning for God. You indicate that your were a Christian. There is no such thing as WAS a Christian, for neither depth nor height or powers or principalities can separate you from the Love of God. Once you are born into a family, you can never be unborn. You are His FOREVER. That is why you yearn to worship Him.

        • I’ve never been baptised?

          You are wrong. And rude. If you comment again I will ban you.

          • Peter

            As you know, the thief on the cross was not baptized, but was saved. Why do you fear my replies? I know it is because you know God. Otherwise you would have ignored my post. Your argument is not with me. Take it up with Jesus. If you block me I will never know. I only get here by answering replies. God Bless

  • Kayla Dawn Dickerson

    I don’t care if you are Christian or Pagan or any religion….for I love many religions. But if you think that going to church gives you a reason to be racist and feel fine because you are white and middle-class, then I highly suggest that you ask for forgiveness for your sins.

    • Could you clarify, please? Your use of “you” is confusing. Are you calling me a racist? Or that some people who go to church are?

      • Kayla Dawn Dickerson

        What you said: “Here is where I shamefacedly admit that every so often I miss the cultural ease of being white, straight, middle class, and Christian. No trying to figure out how to live in concert with Land and non-human others. No holidays that aren’t state sanctioned. No stressing about race, class, gender, or sexuality issues. Knowing one’s place is much more straightforward. There’s a bible study
        for me at every age and stage at the local Christian bookstore. Here is where I admit that sometimes I don’t want to be rowing against the
        stream; ”

        Hellooooooo????

        • What I’m saying is much of American Christian culture is embedded in problematic structures – but it is easier , because it mirrors dominant cultural norms; it is easier to remain cocooned in one’s privilege than it is to break free. I was focusing on the easier, not rowing against the stream aspects. Just because I have sugar withdrawals doesn’t mean I’m going to keep eating donuts and drink soda. That shit is nasty and I don’t want to support it, even if it is ubiquitous.

          (Also, a quote and a snotty salutation is not a clarification.)

  • Mark Dohle

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I am a Christian but I understand what your are speaking of. I am much older than you, 65, and have spent many years in seeking to understand my path. We are an old faith, so there is a lot of baggage and so at times a lot needs to be plowed through.

    I wrote something on perspectives this AM, I would like to share a little of it here with you. All we can do is to seek the truth. Being a Christian does not stop that search. For to love others, to seek to understanding Infinite love is a life long process, at least for me.

    From Connections/perspectives

    {In
    the book “Poof of heaven” by ‘Even Alexander” is an example how beliefs can
    change. I think it is a wonderful
    addition to in the ever increasing library that deals with NDE’s. He is
    a neurosurgeon and from his own words he was a reductionist when it came to how
    he believed the brain worked. In fact,
    his field and his studies made it impossible for him to believe that there was any
    kind of mind that could survive bodily death…yet for him the impossible
    happened. He died and had a full blown
    NDE. He can’t prove it, convince anyone
    that he had it…..yet it changed him.
    Those who believe in an afterlife will find it easier to accept his
    account. Those who don’t, well I would
    think the majority won’t believe. They
    will accept that he had an experience, but how he interprets it, no. They will draw from their own perspectives on
    the world to back up their arguments, which will be convincing to like minded
    people.}

    I wish you luck on your journey and will return to learn more from you.

    Peace
    Mark Dohle

  • Mealla

    I don’t miss Christianity, but I do share your longing for community, which has been hard to find. I was part of an ADF grove for a little while, and the people were nice, but it too was lacking something spiritually, so I left.

    I know where I stand on my spiritual path currently, I know what I have come to believe due to my past experiences, and I have a vague idea of what I’m looking for in a group, but I haven’t been able to find anything in the area either that really fits the bill.

    Living in the American South, there is less variety. There are a few Pagan groups around here, but they tend to be Correllian Wiccan or some other variety of Wicca. That’s nice, there’s nothing wrong with Wicca, but it’s not really compatible with my belief system or my path as an animist and devotional hard polytheist who is not a pantheist or panenetheist. There is one Anglo-Saxon Reconstructionist group and a Hellenic Reconstructionist group, but those don’t really fit either since my deities are all Irish excepting one Norse god and one Shinto kami that I have spiritual relationships with.

    So I definitely know where you’re coming from. I just do the best I can. There is one individual who is also a devotional polytheist that I know who I perform some rituals with, others I do alone out of necessity. In my case it’s less a longing for aspects of Christianity and more of a longing for the thriving polytheist religious and spiritual communities of the past. Other religions have holy places and our polytheist ancestors had holy places, so why can’t we have temples, shrines, actual physical groves, or other sacred places like the ancients did, and like some other religions still do?

    As to the music, I agree that some chanting can be very beautiful. There is something deeply spiritual about Gregorian chant that moves me, for instance, but Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on chant, song, and other spiritual music. I have been just as moved by drumming from videos of Shinto festivals.

  • Secret Blue

    Ok. Yes, I’m late to the party. Sorry about that. First, I’m speaking as a Buddhist that has strong Pagan leanings.

    I miss the certainty. I miss not doubting reality as a whole(I’m not exaggerating here. One of the debates in my school of Buddhism is if reality exists outside of our perceptions.). I miss being able to understand and convey the answers to what I consider to be really important questions, such as the nature of mind(it can’t be conveyed, it can only be pointed out) and life after death(it’s a lot more intricate than “your soul comes back” and if you become Enlightened not even the Buddha can explain what happens).

  • dirtyfemme

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful essay. It reminds me of a piece Raven Kaldera wrote some time ago, which you can read here. http://www.churchofasphodel.org/articles/why-my-aunt-judy-isnt-a-pagan-or-how-far-we-still-have-to-go.html

    We pagans… well, this is disorganized religion, (if you think it’s religion at all and not, say, spirituality). It was comforting to me when I was a young woman to go to church when I wanted to, and know that even if I didn’t go, there would still be church the next week. There would be church every week, and I could show up when I liked and know that I would probably get something out of it and wouldn’t have to put much in. A few dollars in the collection plate, a bit of chit-chatting at coffee hour. Furthermore, my not going to church would not make church fail.

    Going to a pagan ritual is usually like going to a potluck (or a music night). Going to a mainstream church is usually like going to a restaurant (or a concert). There are good and bad things about both. I wish it was easier to be a lay pagan.

    I’ve been solitary for a long time. I miss the community aspect of church. I haven’t found the right community for me, and now that I’ve been pagan more than twenty years, it’s harder to start over and live a beginner’s mind the way I would need to do to join a coven in my area. I know what I know, darn it. I’m not a beginner anymore (even though in my higher self I know I should be always willing to start over from zero, I’ve gotten a little crotchety about it). Open rituals tend to cater to the lowest common denominator and don’t scratch my itch. The best community I’ve found in the ten years I’ve lived in the big city where I live was a pagan book group, now defunct.

    Back when I was a Christian, I remember I had a feeling of… specialness, of being chosen and sort of… better than people who weren’t chosen. I don’t have that feeling as a pagan, which I think is good, really good, but it felt… very comfortable. I understand why people like it.

    And one other thing – church always started on time. 🙁 One of the last open rituals I went to was supposed to start at six PM… at eight, somebody said, “So what do we want to plan for this ritual?” and I gave up and went home.

    I’m thinking about trying the Society of Friends and seeing if I find some connection there. I’ll be a witch until the day I die, and I won’t willingly participate in a religion that requires me to say otherwise. But I get kind of lonely.

    And yes, I know, I could start my own group. So far I haven’t had the energy. Getting back to working full time with invisible illness was hard enough.

  • stonecold

    Did you ever read about St. Seraphim of Sarov? He is an Orthodox saint who was known to cherish nature and have relationships with wild animals. I can relate to your post in some ways, but perhaps the Orthodox Church has everything you seek. The “divine feminine” is enthroned as the Theotokos (not to mention many female saints). The world is seen as a theophany, an image or reflection of the Divine. The Eucharist is a ritual of the highest order! I, too, live quite a distance from an Orthodox Church… about 1.5 hours by car. I deconverted for this and other practical reasons. But like you, I miss it. Perhaps I’ll go back one day. Perhaps you will, too? Regardless, I appreciate your perspective. All the best.