The image of my feet dangling next to those of my Jesus Freak friend is haunting me. I’m finally home from a whirlwind of Pagan conventions. There are still piles of laundry and half emptied suitcases scattered throughout the common areas of my community and I’m just waiting for my housemates to lose their patience with my mess. But my mind is too restless to focus on cleaning right now. I grab my laptop and head outside to write about the night I sat on Castle Rock with a Jesus Freak.
The sun is setting over the Santa Cruz hills that evening and my shirt, which is sweaty from scrambling up the rock, clings to me and makes me shiver. This is the tallest rock I was able to climb and I wish I was in better shape. I would have loved to climb into some of the higher caves here at Castle Rock park. I hug myself and notice how cold my butt is from sitting on bare stone in my thin pants. But I don’t want to leave, not yet. I am enjoying our conversation too much and this day is our last together. I kick my legs back and forth to generate some heat and I snuggle a little closer to him. He’s not wearing deodorant because he knows I have scent- and chemical sensitivities and I can smell his body, a smell I don’t mind. I like knowing what the bodies of my friends smell like. The scent of our mammal selves. I used to hide this quirk of mine, but now I am no longer ashamed. It’s a primal thing. It’s a wild, body affirming thing.
I consider telling him that I like his smell, but I am worried he’ll take it the wrong way, thinking I am hitting on him. He probably wouldn’t, but I’ve gotten used to worrying about being misunderstood. Because I am polyamorous, I am often perceived as a predator. People assume that having multiple partners and lovers means I have no boundaries of my own and no respect for the boundaries of others. It bothers me, but I don’t want to change the topic of our conversation right now, so I remain silent. We look at the shadows shifting on the top of the trees in the fading light. And then we do talk about bodies. He tells me about his dance class, and how it sometimes ends in a cuddle pile, how he practices embodied prayer and how much touch means to him.
Eventually it becomes impossible to ignore how cold our bodies are becoming and we return to the car. I’m starting to feel sad, because there is so much more we could talk about, rituals we could do together, if only we had more time. We promise each other we’ll write and exchange links for all the books, videos, and blogs we discussed.
When I first announced to the members of my intentional community, Evermore, that a Jesus Freak would be staying with us, some expressed concern. I explained that he wasn’t that kind of Christian, that the Jesus Freak movement in Germany was different than what we know in the US. Now that we’ve shared meals and many conversations, my friends seems like he’s a part of our community. Everyone loved him and misses him. Despite our different religious paths, he seemed to fit right in, as if he had been a housemate for a while.
“My beloved Evermore community! Have a good PantheaCon. Go with the blessing of my God!” he wrote after he returned to Germany. “He’s a part of my tribe now”, I think. A member of my former tribe, the Jesus Freak movement, is now somehow a member of my tribe again. I didn’t expect that, but it feels right, like a broken piece that has found its rightful place again. I try to create a record of all of our conversations, but I can’t remember them. There was simply too much we agreed on and I can no longer recall the details.
I am catching up on emails today and see that he has kept his promise. He has sent me a number of links to resources talking about justice, capitalism, and creating a different world. I save many of them to my own “to read” list. Finally I write a reply in which I link to Rhyd Wildermuth’s writing and to Alley Valkyrie. Then I click on one of his links and start listening to a sermon by Rob Bell.
“Everything is spiritual” is the name of Rob Bell’s talk and I am fascinated. I don’t agree with everything he says. He’s not an animist and I am no longer a monotheist, but I find myself “YES”ing out loud a few times. I think back on the day I first heard of Rob Bell, sitting in his church in Michigan many years ago.
I really hadn’t wanted to go to his church, but I was living on the road and my hosts were eager to take me. It would have been rude not to go, after the hospitality and generosity they’d shown me, so I went. As we sat in a former strip mall watching “another young white male hipster pastor” spin around in a swiveling chair in the midst of hundreds or maybe a thousand parishioners, I resolved to hate this church and pastor. I was so sick of mega-churches. I thought I knew exactly what to expect. But then his words surprised me, he spoke of love and forgiveness, and explained his views on hell. He got through the walls I had erected and softened the bitterness I was carrying inside. I reconsidered my theology of hell that day and opened up to grace again.
Thinking back today I smile ruefully. I could have become a progressive Evangelical that day. It would have made life easier in a many respects. But I was already on a trajectory to question everything and would leave Evangelicalism and Christianity altogether. I suppose I have become a cautionary tale for conservatives these days. “You start listening to them liberals like Rob Bell and next thing you know you abandon The Truth and become a polyamorous Witch.”
It wasn’t that simple, of course. If only a few things had aligned differently, I could have stayed a progressive Christian. My faith journey didn’t have to lead me to a different religion. It was, however, always going to lead to a more holistic spirituality.
And that’s when my thoughts return to my Jesus Freak friend. He’s a Christian and our theology, cosmology, anthropology differ. We agree, however, on how we live our religions. We do so in an embodied way, in a holistic way, from a place of fierce love and a passion for justice. In this, we are allies. He wishes me a fruitful time at Pagan events with the blessing of his God. And I wish blessings upon his ministry, his ways of supporting others in finding holistic faith, his work of bringing in The Kingdom of God.
I think about what it means for us to be allies and am reminded of a recent conversation I had with a Pagan friend. We were talking about Ostara and Easter and I invited her to an Easter vigil. She declined, and told me that she was much more reluctant to go to anything Christian since she had had an encounter with Jesus (her encounter was sort of like the encounter that Jenya Beachy describes here). I was surprised, because I would have expected a Jesus encounter to have the opposite effect. Now that she had a connection to Jesus, Christian events would be a lot less scary, shouldn’t they? Not at all, she told me. They are far more scary for her now. Before she had her Jesus encounter she could have told Christians she wanted nothing to do with Jesus. Now Christians might mistake her for one of them! She wouldn’t want to be seen as an ally to Christians, she said.
I can see where she is coming from. Being allies with Christians – it’s too easy to conclude that we are allies to hateful and homophobic churches. I get that. There seems to be a never ending supply of fear and hate fueled by a powerful religion that claims the name of the Christian god, ignoring that fact that Jesus himself was a dark-skinned homeless Middle Eastern social justice activist. It becomes easy to see anyone connected to anything Christian as guilty by association. I am challenged, again and again, to separate this American religion of fear and hate from the god my Jesus Freak friend worships. But I know I must.
Pagans who consider themselves allies with Christians are sure to attract animosity from members of both religions. We’re told to chose one side and hate the other, even though the lines don’t run neatly between religious identities.
“We have more in common than what separates us”, my Christian friend told me, and he is right.
He is my ally and I am his. Our mutual desire for holistic spirituality reaches deeper than our religious affiliations. We want to midwife a new world into being, one in which we are free to be who we are, made in the image of God, he would say; aligned in our divinity, I would call it. We want a world of authenticity in which we can give expression to all of our doubts, questions, fears, and joys. We want a world in which everything is spiritual, he would say; a re-enchanted world, I would call it.
We agree on the important things, and the areas in which we differ only seem to make us stronger allies. There is power in our diversity. So I treasure our experiences together, remembering our unique ways of blessing our food, the moment we held hands together in ritual, and the night we sat on a cold rock and dangled our feet to different rhythms.