In this time of the ‘breaking of nations’ it is easy to get swept into the giant and difficult issues in the news and lose track of the things happening in our own lives. We can lose track of the power that we have here and now to cause change, lose hope. I do it, many of my FB friends do as well because we are intelligent and well-informed and concerned by these issues. Let me take a moment to step back.
How can a middle-aged man hope to reinvent himself and move toward changing the world for the better? Habits of thought and patterns of behaviour that have grown over so many years, some good (I refuse to ever dumb down again, and I refuse to engage in hypocritical false humbleness about my accomplishments) and some bad. I am thinking, in my kindly, fluffy way, of who I want to be now, and preparing to be that person, in that place. One bad habit (ironic when the number of controversies I’ve been involved in over the years is considered from the outside) has been too much caution. But now I have developed long-range thinking.
The daughter of my friend and coven-mate got married in a Wiccan ceremony performed by clergy in my temple, on Saturday. Her mother and I had made a special batch of mead for her wedding. A couple of days ago I had another couple over and we started and blessed a batch for their wedding in September. “Yonder a maid and her wight / Come whispering by: / War’s annals will cloud into night / Ere their story die.”
One of the small, significant accomplishments of my little church has been getting our clergy recognized to perform weddings in two provinces. This has opened a lot of doors because it looks like we are a ‘legitimate’ ‘real’ religion to the larger society. I am a chaplain at the University of Alberta in part because my temple had authorized me to perform weddings legally. So many good things that we can do resulted from that bureaucratic opening. It’s like judo – apply the correct, small, amount of leverage, and your opponent will toss themselves.
But you need to not just identify the pivot point but also to step up and apply that pressure. There are an endless number of reasons to not do the right thing. But it is harder to push a group or individual back away from the public commons once they have rights established, so taking that chance and stepping up has long-term effects. Gays will keep getting married, women will keep voting, Wiccans will not get pushed back into the broom closets, because we are now openly part of normal society and we will not be fighting alone to keep our rights.
My temple’s annual members’ retreat in the middle of this month was a success. After a difficult couple of years, and the fallout from a faction fight, the temple is stable and growing and providing a place to explore meaning together – we were part of the LGBTQ+ Pride Parade, the multi-faith ceremony at Pride, and we are taking other initiatives to benefit the larger community. And other groups are starting to talk with us again about affiliating and starting other public temples in our church. Holding on, not giving up, trusting our resilience and in our foundation principles, with hope we have moved forward.
I am excited by the upcoming school year in chaplaincy, as there will be enough student contacts to finally get a Pagan student group going. After four years of organizing, it looks like I’ve hit upon a good outreach system and have met a good group of students. And, after four years, Wicca is well established as a part of the religious fabric at the University of Alberta – I was re-elected as Chair of the chaplains’ association this year by my (primarily) Christian colleagues.
Incremental change, claiming space and then, crucially, using it for the common good (and not just for mine, or my temple), opens more space and more opportunities. Some of my impatient lefty friends are massively frustrated with the state of the world, railing against any action that does not immediately and in your face challenge all the kyriarchy at once, preferably on a barricade somewhere (Molotov cocktails optional). I am sympathetic, but that is not my way, not any more. A gentler hope, that may run parallel to the barricades. As we used to say “building the new society in the vacant lots of the old.”
And my doctoral research is going very well, I have interesting books to read, I am enjoying writing my little blog, I am happy living where I am, getting along very well with my girlfriend and her cat. And later today (Thursday), I’m off to Iowa for Lammasfest, where I am a guest of honour alongside Ivo Dominguez Jr.
There is emotional nourishment in my life, hope and joy, when I shift my attention away from the nations breaking. Although we must shift our attention back there, because that is real, too, it is not the only reality. And as sometimes the cracks we see in pavement are the new plants breaking through the old certainties, may it be so this time.