I am a Modern Pagan. A champion of tolerance, acceptance and religious freedom. To paraphrase Voltaire: though I may disapprove of your faith I will die for your right to practice it. Sure, somewhere down in my pea-pickin’ heart I’m sure I feel very smug and superior in my tolerance. Until the assumptions and context of that attitude was shattered.
Like many Pagans, my extended family is multi-faith. I have a cousin who is a Southern Baptist minister going for his PhD, a gospel-recording great-aunt, relatives who are devoted to their Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran and non-denominational churches and a few who don’t get why all the rest of us are all hung up on religion. I love all of them, even the prickly ones, and I thought I understood how hard my faith must be for them. I’m not certain if it’s harder for them now that I’m writing under my real name. We haven’t spoken about it. I thought I understood what it was like for them to see me leave their faith for one that’s a difficult minority path until this week.
I have a sister who’s an evangelical teacher, very actively involved in her church. Which is cool. Not my thing but I’m glad it makes her happy. I occasionally scratch my head over how conservative she has become as she gets older but I love her anyway. Yeah, I was cool with it and proud of myself for being cool with it. Until she said she was moving to Indonesia.
At first I thought it was a joke. She couldn’t seriously be considering moving my nieces and nephews to a foreign country for four years. I am known for having a lot of crazy ideas so I chalked it up to the familial insanity and forgot about it for awhile. My sister was serious, though. She feels it is the calling of her and her husband to teach at a Christian school in West Java, and at this moment she is in the air somewhere between Alaska and Indonesia, en route to become a minority in a Muslim country.
Why? Why must she be different? Why must she take her faith so far? Why must she place herself and her family in a situation where they will be treated as different and misunderstood? Where acts of violence might be perpetrated upon them for their faith? Why must she be so obstinate? Why can’t she be happy living where she is accepted for her faith? WHY?
The irony of these words coming from the lips of a public Witch in a small town in the South does not escape me, but it doesn’t keep them at bay, either. Such anguish fills my heart. Such anger. Such helpless worry. Why can she not be a tame Christian? Why must she push the boundaries?
Despite all our differences, I love my sister. I am doing my best to support her despite every bone in my body feeling this is wrong and dangerous. Despite the pain of knowing I won’t see her or her children for four years. I can only imagine that the difficulty I am having with embracing her path is similar to the difficulty she and the rest of my family have with embracing mine. All I know is this has strained the limits of my capacity for tolerance and acceptance. I’m trying. I’m struggling, but oh Gods, it’s so very hard.