” “Photo credit: Foter”
Here in the Wild Garden you’ve been reading from many of us about our involvement in interfaith work in our communities. I’m sure that many of you have been thinking that this sort of work is fine for those who are spiritual leaders within the Pagan community or who are spokespersons for the many Pagan faiths. But I rather think that there are many who believe that they might enjoy being a part of the interfaith movement and the social justice work that is doing within their communities but have no idea how to go about it. Further, it can be a bit frightening coming out of the proverbial Broom Closet and being open about your beliefs and practices. So I hope to offer some suggestions to think about so that taking the plunge into interfaith work is less like diving off a cliff and more like soaring to new heights.
First of all, understand that ANYONE can do interfaith work. This isn’t something that is limited to a particular group of individuals or someone in a leadership role in the Pagan community. Every time you interact with someone of another spiritual belief system you are doing interfaith work. So don’t hold back because you are afraid that this isn’t something you could or should be doing. The more positive voices from those of every faith that make themselves heard the stronger the push towards understanding and tolerance become.
That being said, coming out of the Broom Closet is a decision that needs careful consideration. While it is vital that some Pagans do this in order for our voices to be heard and acknowledged there are also those for whom such a move could have a detrimental effect upon their lives. Will being publicly known as Pagan have a negative effect on your employment situation? Will your family become upset or even hostile towards you? What effect might this have on your children? Sadly the world is not always a friendly place for Pagans and this is something that you will need to both know and understand before taking the plunge into interfaith. Can you afford the price that being openly Pagan may demand of you?
So, you’ve decided that you can afford the risks of being openly Pagan and you still want to enter the world of interfaith work. Where do you go next?
I suggest that the very first place to begin is by carefully examining your own beliefs and gaining a thorough understanding of the background of your religion, how you approach your theological view of the world, how you understand ethics within your spiritual path, and what you specifically believe. Remember, you are going to be putting yourself forward, not only as a subject matter expert on your particular version of Paganism, but also as a resource on Paganism in general. Even though interfaith work isn’t entirely about trying to explain your belief system to another, you can expect to get many, many questions from those who know nothing about it. After all, you may well be the very first Pagan they have ever met. Be sure that you can answer these questions clearly and in a well-thought-out manner.
Let go of your preconceptions about other faiths. Interfaith work is not the place to hang on to the ideas that all Christians want to hunt down and kill Pagans or that all Muslims are terrorists. It’s these notions that we are trying to move beyond. Accept that others may believe differently from yourself and that’s OK. Acknowledge that there is a lot of misinformation out there on many religions and be open to learning the truth from those who follow those religions. It’s a two way street here. If you want to be respected as a Pagan then you need to respect those of other faiths as well and be willing to work side by side with them.
Nor is this about being out there to show how cool your religion is. It’s about doing important work where religion is less important that the larger social justice issues that are drawing the spiritual community together to accomplish them.
So now you feel you’re ready to start your work in your local community and become a part of the interfaith movement. Where do you go from here? You might begin by seeing if there is an already established interfaith group where you live. That was what I did when I moved to Huntsville, AL. I typed “interfaith” and the name of my city and up came a well-established group. I began to attend their meetings and slowly became involved in a number of different social justice issues on which they were working.
Or perhaps there are some particular issues that interest you such as immigration reform, prison reform, teen suicide, providing for the homeless, etc. Search locally for organizations that are involved in such programs and start attending their meetings or participating in rallys, or other work.
You could try doing some form of direct action such as working at a local soup kitchen, supporting your local women’s shelter, taking warm clothes to the homeless, or working with local food banks, etc.
The idea here is “Be Involved”. Get out there doing things for your community. And as you talk with fellow workers the opportunity may also arise to do a bit of education on modern Paganism as well. Remember that it’s harder to think about Pagans as something evil or as crazy people when you have been working side by side with them making your community a better place to live.
This is important work that is being done on a daily basis by those in the Pagan community and those from other faith groups as well. All that is required is a heart that feels for the pain of others, the willingness and ability to put forward the time and effort to get involved, and the courage to step forward and acknowledge your spiritual path. Any of us CAN do it. You don’t have to be a Pagan leader or Pagan clergy to get out there. You just have to decide that you WILL do it.