Online Community is a Good Thing: Giving Thanks for Virtual Community

Online Community is a Good Thing: Giving Thanks for Virtual Community November 20, 2014

Thanksgiving is fast approaching. In fact, I realized yesterday that it was only a week away and we still haven’t ordered our local, organic, budget-breaking bird yet. I hope there are some left. For me, Thanksgiving is about family and gratitude.

Thanksgiving is problematic at best; at worst, it is a celebration of genocide. I left any pretense of patriotic and historical celebrations behind long ago. Beyond its dodgy history, Thanksgiving is often a mess of traveling, bad weather, over-eating, and awkward family obligations. For many, it is the height of gluttony and greed – not just with too much food, but with Black Friday, a shopping extravaganza, starting as early as 6pm on Thursday.

Instead of writing a well-deserved rant about America’s ruining of Thanksgiving, I want to focus on things I am grateful for. For the next week I’ll be making gratitude posts. First up:

Virtual Community

As problematic as the internet can be, with trolls and click bait, it can be a great way to share ideas, make friends, learn new things, expand our horizons, and generally feel like we’re not the only one. Those of us who practice and observe minority traditions can often feel like the only one in our communities who aren’t going along with the crowd.

When I was in my 20s searching online for more information on feminist spirituality and witchcraft than my small town library could give me, I mostly found chat rooms where old, white light-blessing, cat-collecting women talked about how “every woman is a witch.” (Or so it seemed to me then: I’m sure they were about my age now!) It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I didn’t know the language for what I was looking for.

Fast forward fifteen years. I am now surrounded virtually by an array of strong, challenging, wise voices; by people whose practices are radically different than mine and people who share my tradition. If I’m following an idea, I can google just about any thread and find information – or if the information is weak, then I know how to refine my search!

I am grateful for what is available on the internet. Firstly, I am grateful for Patheos Pagan: for the diverse voices and practices here. I don’t read every blog, but I know that there is probably something for every self-identified Pagan or Pagan-ish person at this site. I am grateful to be among the voices represented here. Specifically, I am grateful for the works and personal support of Jason Mankey (Raise the Horns) and John Beckett (Under the Ancient Oaks). Not that I need to give these two a shout out! These two are the most popular writers at Patheos Pagan – and for good reason! Not only is their writing worth reading, they are honorable human beings to boot.

I got my start at Patheos writing for Pagan Families and A Sense of Place, and for those blogs I am grateful. Pagan Families is an excellent resource if you’re pregnant or beginning your family. My replacement at A Sense of Place was none other than the prolific and poetic Rhyd Wildermuth, a writer that challenges me regularly with his beautiful prose, sharp criticism, and passionate love of the gods.

I am grateful for Anomalous Thracian and his vision for Polytheist.com. His support and encouragement have been a pleasant and welcome breath of fresh air for me in 2014.

Finally, I am grateful for Facebook. Yes, you read that right. Facebook may be for old folk. It may be evil. But damn, if it doesn’t do a great job of keeping me in touch with a wide variety of people. I’ve been able to connect to many like minded people in my general area, people I may not ever have crossed paths with “in real life.” I get to see the good things that are happening in people’s lives and in their communities. Many people complain that their Facebook feed is filled with ranting or stupidity or horrible news headlines. I have worked hard to curate my feed away from those things – and I’m sure plenty of people I’m “friends” with have quietly pruned me from their main feed as well. And that’s ok. I’m grateful for the people I’m friends with and for the way that we can share in each others’ lives.

As a stay-at-home-parent these forms of connection are vital to my sanity. I don’t feel alone as I sit and nurse the baby. If I can’t get out to all the activities, conferences, or parties that I might like to, I can at least read about them or read about the ideas they generated. This intellectual and social nourishment can sometimes feel a bit like fast food, more the illusion of nourishment than actual food, and it’s true that nothing can replace shared experiences, in person. But still: the internet has kept me sane, spiritually and intellectually growing. I cannot imagine being a SAHP even 20 years ago!

I am grateful these virtual ways to connect, as a writer and as a reader, as a parent and as a friend, as a seeker, a mystic, and a theologian.

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  • Duffi McDermott

    You’re a delight, Niki. I was a SAHP 20 years ago — my daughter is 21 — and man, it was hard. I made community wherever I went but as a practitioner of a minority religion — Wiccan then — I had to keep a lot of myself in the closet to find community. I’m so grateful that you have this resource!

    • Aw, thanks Duffi! I am so glad that these resources exist now – and by “these resources” I mean that people can write freely about their practices and ideas. I’ve never been the kind of person who willingly or quietly stays in the closet, much to the consternation of friends and family at various times!

  • I feel blessed and lucky to know you (and Adam). You are just a wonderful human being and I love how you balance your practice(s), and responsibilities as a mother, wife, and NBA Fan. I too am happy to be here, and it helps that by being here I’m surrounded by great people (and writers). Happy Thanksgiving (it’s my favorite!).