Typically, I’m not one for getting uber-deep on topics – particularly in my writing. Its not because I disdain the idea of writing really deep and provocative material — just simply that I’m not a good writer. Still, some folks read what I have to say — and thus I keep writing here in this blog. I’ve always said that I would keep talking about my own personal Spirituality, provided I still had a single listener for the podcast, and/or as long as someone was getting something out of what I’m writing. And that’s completely true. I know the podcast hasn’t had an episode released in a while, but that will change shortly – and is completely tangential to the point – ya’ll should know how much I love tangents.
A few days back, John Beckett wrote a piece on “Why I Am A Pagan” on his Under the Ancient Oaks blog. The post was in response to a challenge posted on the Patheos web site to write in less than 200 words, why you are a _____. Essentially this equates to the perspective of the Lift Speech or Elevator Speech (here in the States) – a particular concept that I have heard from many Unitarian Universalists. Its a really interesting idea, but not one I typically put into practice. When I am asked about what Paganism is about, my usual start is to sigh heavily, and respond with “That’s a really long and winding conversation. Let’s go have a cup of coffee, provided you have the time.”
I know John – we’ve met face-to-face on several occasions, and I also attended a wonderful celebration with his CUUPs group in Denton. We don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of topics…mostly because he towers over me in height, but its because we are two different individuals. We see the same things, we read a lot of the same things – but in the end, we interpret very different. A few of my friends have noted that John is an OBOD member, just as I am. Should we not see things the same? My reply to such questions has always been: “Certainly not. He’s John. I’m Tommy.”
My previous post on “Debate, Validation, and Expert Opinion” was to point part of this perception on my part. Not of the relationship between John and I – that’s just an overt example. Everyone perceives and interprets differently. There are many generalized aspects that we can all come to the same conclusions — such as the assertions and parallels that are drawn in commercial advertising. Each detail provides a small piece of symbology to assist in drawing the lines for the viewer. If you make the symbology more difficult – either by providing too much information or utilizing a symbol that can be interpreted differently by various cultural sub-groups – then the message no longer becomes a “universal” given. Marketing firms and departments are all keenly aware of this, but the general public generally isn’t. So, now that we’ve stepped off the topic line into one of my tangents, let’s come back around. I promise, all of this connects very easily.
When I get people placing a query before me of what Paganism is, I already understand that the language and symbology I place in front of them for explanation will not clear their understanding. For instance, I’m a Pagan because the belief system equates tightly to my love for the Nature and environment. The person I put this symbology in front of may not draw the conclusion that I am much closer in line with the typical John Muir environmentalist that tends to pervade such organizations as The Sierra Club. Rather, their internal and personal symbology may equate me with the Hippie Counter-Culture movement of the 1960s, which carries large amounts of symbology and emotions in its own right. Immediately, the individual I am speaking to his drawn conclusions over who and what I am.
Its this reason that I eschew the concept of the Lift Speech. In such a short period of discussion, certain short-cuts would need to be taken. In an attempt to find descriptive parallels and symbology to equate to the mind of the querying individual, I may unintentionally spark exactly the wrong conclusion. If the querying individual is someone I have had contact with numerous times, I may have a better perception of what symbology and terminology will equate a complicated, spaghetti-style belief system for them. Now, I can hear the statements already – if its that complicated, maybe you should simplify your beliefs.
Here lies the problem in trying to answer that particular statement. I’m happy, comfortable and growing spiritually in the manner in which I believe. Were I to remove or rearrange the things that are me and my belief, would I not be tampering with something that is currently working for me? Personally, I would rather wait until some part of what makes me who I am no longer works for me – and change it then. For instance, I started into the Information Technology world in 1983, during my junior year of high school. I stayed in the InfoTech world until 2008, when I realized that this particular work environment was no longer something I wanted to place my blood, sweat and tears into. I turned to being a professor in college, and have found a vocation that challenges me every single day, provides me with both satisfaction and disappointment – along with the chance to meet and mingle with some really bright and enthusiastic people. The exact same thing can be said for my time in the Information Technology world from 1987 to 2008. I didn’t need to change anything during that time…and when I did change, it was the right time for me to do so – because it felt like the moment for me. Simplify my beliefs? Not when I’m happy and currently growing in my Spirituality. I’ll change, prune, and rearrange when its necessary to do so.
Now, I know there are folks that are seeing all sorts of directions being pulled at here and wondering what I am getting at. In essence, what I am doing here is describing “What I am _____.”, but rejecting the limit of 200 or less words. So, let’s get down to answering the question, shall we?
I am a Pagan, specifically a neo-Pagan. I follow my own Path through Life. I follow any of the Gods that choose to manifest themselves to me, at any time. Each has taught me a little more about myself, and allowed me to explore my connection to the Natural World around me. I identify much closer with Coyote and Crow than any other, but that’s simply personal preference. I prefer to spend my time away from the city and out in the Natural environment, where I can empty my mind and listen to the sounds that the city has long forgotten or has drowned out completely. I’m not a part of a deconstructionist movement – I’m not trying to rebuild something from my (or anyone else’s) ancestors, but merely trying to quietly forge my own way through my environment, and minimize the disruption that I cause. I utilize Far Eastern meditation techniques (Zen, Tai Chi), as well as associate with the Gods and Goddesses from Europe. In my mind, any Path is valid, provided it helps you to grow. I hold no enmity towards any other faith or belief. However, I will not stand by passively if threatened or attacked, nor will I be passive if others are attacked. I prefer peaceful discussion to chaotic argument and debate. I prefer action over inaction, but not without careful thought as to the necessity of the action. I am Pagan because this Path is mine, along with many others.
That final descriptive may not seem appropriate to anyone else, but it fits me. Others can shake their heads, find flaws in what I have written, or see areas for debate – and that’s fine for them. That’s me. Not the complete me, I’m far more complicated than a two-hundred and forty-seven word paragraph.