Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Writing a sermon about the wisdom of earth-centered traditions as a Source of UUism

The title of the post says it all. A number of UU bloggers are closely connected with our Sixth Source, which states "spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature". Doubtless many blog readers are also affiliated with earth-centered traditions.

As I'm writing, using my own experiences as a kid learning about the pantheons of gods and goddesses in elementary school and the occasional sermon or UU world article about modern Neo-Paganism, I'm finding it to be such an important source of our faith that I am looking forward to offering my thoughts about it this Sunday.

I'd like to invite my Pagan readers and fellow bloggers to weigh in on how UUism and their own Pagan connections intersect. Can you give me some personal insights on your spiritual path that might help me offer an authentic look at this Source through your eyes? And will you give me permission to quote you, if I see something particularly helpful?

Thanks for whatever you are willing and able to offer.


Anonymous said...

Ironically perhaps, the area that most resonates with me as a Pagan Unitarian Universalist is in our principles: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

For some, I realize, that following that principle means a rejection of all things religious. For me it means finding those resonate parts in my own soul and mind and not only accepting them, but making them manifest in my life. For me, the most resonate parts, are acknowledging and living in harmony with nature and the a circular understanding of time and the universe.

Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons for living a pagan path has to do with the ability to take an active role in the building of my life. Many pagan paths believe in such a thing as magic and even the act of communing and calling upon the Gods is an act of defining, building, and sensing the internal power within.

Most of us consider our relationship with Deity to be reciprocal and that we are as important in the equation as the Gods and Goddesses themselves.

Plus, and maybe most importantly, it is fun! We get to be poetic, theatric, and dramatic. To feel the power and essense of the universe itself, whether or not this is through an actual belief or in the a following of ritual form does not matter. We sense the turning of the world, the heat of the sun, the light of the stars and moon, the calling of animals, the presense of our ancestors and we call back in return. In lighted fire, in offering, in prayer, in poetry and movement. Even in silence.

In my opinion it is this kind of active religious expression that can be lacking within UUism and the Pagans among us remind us to dance, to be beautiful, to uphold the sacred.

In truth I am still attepting to understand where my pagan and UU paths meet and intersect, perhaps I always will be.

Anonymous said...

By the way,

My real name is Jamie Goodwin, the name Dubhlainn is irish and pronounced dove-lin. You are welcome to use my comments, and my name, in your sermon.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Jamie, I appreciate your thoughts. They will be helpful.

Lizard Eater said...

ms. kitty said...

What a great post, LE! Thanks.

The Favorite Son said...

Ok, so I posted a response on my blog. (Ok, not so much a response as a rant.)

If you want to respond (and it's ok with my mommy) feel free to do so here.

ms. kitty said...

Let rebuttals/ripostes abound. The FS has always had his own way of looking at things. Not only is he a debater/history major, he's also a fencer.

LinguistFriend said...

I, and I think many others, tend to be touched by the mainly personal character of the pagan presentation of issues, although I am not really touched by Paganism's theology. I recognized a similar response in myself when I spent some time a few summers back on working through a chunk of the Greek text of the Odyssey with a classicist friend, with a pleasure which went far beyond my previous encounters with other versions of the story. Homer's talkative gods are fun. I am not advocating polytheism, of course, but recognizing an effective way to getting a message across. I do not see that the message itself (in terms of what one should do when one leaves church)is very different from that of those who preach about global warming and such issues, although the pagans do see a great deal more in their message. But sometimes it is more effectively presented on a personal level than as a preachy sermon by people who do not have your skill with that literary form.

ms. kitty said...

Well said, LF. Thanks.

Earthbound Spirit said...

You inspired me, Ms. Kitty!

Anonymous said...

I think I made a mistake, I do not know how to respond to your son's response without causing offense. Except to say I (and I cannot speak for other Pagans but I feel as if many I know would agree) agree with the entire list of his bullet points.

Maybe you could put something in your sermon how about if someone who chooses to believe in an Earth centered tradition and be open about it they are very likely to be called insane, stupid, and taken to task for perceptions not realities of their faith.

Anonymous said...

I am not advocating polytheism, of course, but recognizing an effective way to getting a message across.

Why of course? There are plenty of polytheist UUs. I am one of them, and I know others.

It is as authentic a way to approach the divine as monotheism or monism.

ms. kitty said...

Interesting how two people who agree on some things about the same topic are uncomfortable with other of the person's points of view. The FS is not against freedom of religion or religious views; however, he is (imho) very much grounded in history rather than metaphor.

I think that what he cites as the lack of historical evidence around ritual does not diminish the value of a religious practice that is the result of creative interaction with the earth and its cycles.

Anonymous said...

I suppose it was being called a tree-hugger, nut etc. It had much more to do with the tone of his entry than what he said.

Like I said, I agree with the hard points of the entry. With the exception of the use of magic, which I believe he misunderstands or is misinterpreting.

ms. kitty said...

It's always hard to see someone else's passion through the same eyes, I think. Another's remarks usually say more about themselves than about the person or practice they're critiquing. I'm sorry you were hurt, Jamie. I don't think it was anything personal, just the FS spouting off.

ogre said...

< relative brevity >
I grew up UU. Agnostic, and happily so.

Tripping over and into Paganism was a happy surprise. It gave me an experience with a functional and functioning mysticism that wasn't bound up with theologies and authoritarian histories.... It was an easy door to step through because there was nothing that violated my principles; I could take UUism through that door. The flavor changed, but not the content.

FS -- yes... and no. You want something pre-1950s? Charles Godfrey Leland. Of course, that takes you out of Britain and into Italy in the 1890s. There are at least two other ethnographers of that era (one of them Lady Vere de Vere--a name that sticks with me for some odd reason--and another I've lost at the moment) working in different parts of Italy and coming up with things that aren't identical, but clearly cognate.

There are tantalizing elements that point to a connection to Wicca (I'm not suggesting that these are identical beasts, but that there's a connection...). That may be from picking up Leland's work; some of it almost certainly is.

I've come back through the door and am not an actively practicing Pagan. But I'm very sympathetic. There were insights that made Christianity far more accessible, meaningful and palatable, for example. There were experiences that left my comfortable agnostic-inclinations... at least discomfited. More than anything, it provided me a radically different perspective on religion. (I too am a historian, FWIW...). Modern Paganism, in most cases, is consistent with Classical Paganism in that it's minimally concerned with issues of orthodoxy--but rather with orthopraxy. Soaking in that for a couple decades gave me a perspective on UUism and its relationship to the mainstream of religion in North America that is incredibly valuable.

It provides a vibrant, pulsing, living heartbeat to my UU pantheism.

It also permitted me to participate in shaping liturgy and worship in ways that will forever be valuable to me. In ways that I don't believe I could learn--or teach--the very real power in more than just the words said. The theater was a form of worship for the Greeks, Etruscans and the Romans. There's a reason. And I can at least see some ways to channel that into the sometimes stiff shape of a typical UU congregation and its services.

ms. kitty said...

Thank you, Ogre, for your additions to this conversation.

Favorite Son, I hope you will read these remarks and see that they come from people with actual hands-on experience with paganism, not observations from outside the tradition, which give them a weightiness that an outsider's criticism lacks.

I know you (FS) have had some experiences which diminish your respect for pagan practitioners but I hope that hearing the stories of some who have examined paganism through a personal theological lens will help you find more understanding of those who are serious practitioners.

Anonymous said...

Thank You Ms. Kitty, I was not hurt so much as confused, the mistake I mentioned was that I wish I had taken my comments to my own blog where I could expound on them more completely, and direct you there.

I, almost anyone relating to paganism, has had the kind of experiences like the FS has had. The idea that neopaganism is a direct and static practice of ancient society was once a common idea. Many practitioners today still believe this. But many traditions, including my own and many forms of Wicca, loudly and boldly say "We are not claiming a direct heritage".

Painting all neopagans with the same brush is as dangerous as painting all Muslims with the same brush, or all Catholics, or what have you.

The truth is, despite which or how many Gods a person worships - or not, they are still just people and can be as ignorant, misinformed, and unperfect as any other people.

ms. kitty said...

I've heard from the FS, who is in the process of offering a response to you all, and am just waiting for it to appear in my inbox so I can publish it.

I'm so appreciative to you all for your honest thoughts and comments.

LinguistFriend said...

Dubhlainn cites my statement that I was not advocating polytheism,
which he considers a reasonable point of view, as reasonable as monotheism or monism.
To clarify, I do not assume that monotheism is really preferable to polytheism, and I am not sure that monism is in the same area as either monotheism or polytheism. I tend to think of all deities as metaphorical, on the level of Einstein's God (at least in my reading). From my stance (a sort of stoic pantheist one), it is a pleasant thought that I can conceive Homer's gods as not only more fun than Einstein's, but also as an equally reasonable way of representing the world.

Earthbound Spirit said...

But many traditions, including my own and many forms of Wicca, loudly and boldly say "We are not claiming a direct heritage".

What Jamie said. There's a story I've heard more than once, perhaps apocryphal, often attributed to Starhawk, of a ritual leader saying to those gathered:
"Tonight we are going to celebrate (insert your favorite pagan holiday or ritual) exactly as our ancestors did. (pause for effect)
We're going to make it up."

Once my women's group got over the idea we had to be faithful to *the tradition* and we allowed ourselves to just be influenced by the form and our own theological views, our rituals became much more meaningful. YMMV.

ms. kitty said...

Religion, like culture, evolves and a great deal of it, particularly in UUism, is made up to meet the needs of those who are searching. Some would object to that, but I would rather make up a ritual that meets my needs than take on one made up by someone who doesn't even know me!

The Favorite Son said...

First off, Dubhlainn, I apologize if you took offense at the "Tree-Hugger" intro. Most of the Pagans I know use it as a tongue-in-cheek badge of honor and being a bit of a foliage-snuggler myself I used it in that way. The second part of the intro, I was actually comparing Pagans to squirrels, not nuts (can anyone say Ratatosk?). If I thought all Pagans were nutty, I would have made a reference to squirrel poo. Once again, if you felt like it was a personal attack, it was not and I really AM sorry if it was taken as such.

I think the reason I have such a chip on my shoulder is I've seen lots of Pagans use psudo-historical factoids to justify their activities, but most of them really haven't dug down deep to find out what their spirituality REALLY means to themselves. Most of them would answer my queries with stock answers of "It called me". Ok, that I can accept, with the caveat that 99% of them tended to use Paganism as a way to be different (and pick up dates) than as an actual spiritual path. The other 1% was actually learned about their faith, and those I got along with pretty well.

As far as the magic part of my diatribe, coincidently I had a discussion with my wife about magic after I had posted (and she had read it).
I don't think that magic is evil, nor are the people who try to practice it evil, but I believe that any activity that changes your environment (as opposed to yourself) for your own personal enhancement or gain is bad (not the same thing as evil. What's good for one person is bad for their opposition, while evil is bad for everyone and everything. Think Hitler, or Satan or Windows Vista). It leads to a very slippery slope and could (not always) lead to using magic instead of bettering yourself. It also can be a convenient scapegoat when you don't get what you want.

I guess where I was going with all of this is that the ideas of Paganism, which is a pretty common-sense faith (Love yourself, the earth, your fellow man/woman/creatures, worship how you will), tends to get bogged down by the dogma of the unlearned who seem to feel the need to justify their religion.

Wicca and other Earth-based religions do have pluses (I'm not JUST a hater, Yo).
There is an awareness and innate connection to the land.
It allows and even encourages for creativity in expression of worship.
Even practicing solitary, you have a connection to a spiritual grounding.
It can give a sense of spiritual empowerment whether in a group or solitary.
Because of the tenant of interconnected web of life, you have a sense of community even by yourself.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks for clarifying, FS. I enjoyed your post and think you offered a number of good thoughts.

Sangrail said...

I don't think that magic is evil, nor are the people who try to practice it evil, but I believe that any activity that changes your environment (as opposed to yourself) for your own personal enhancement or gain is bad (not the same thing as evil. What's good for one person is bad for their opposition, while evil is bad for everyone and everything. Think Hitler, or Satan or Windows Vista). It leads to a very slippery slope and could (not always) lead to using magic instead of bettering yourself. It also can be a convenient scapegoat when you don't get what you want.

Specifically, this:
I believe that any activity that changes your environment (as opposed to yourself) for your own personal enhancement or gain is bad

Wait, what?

Changing other *people*, or their opinion, is manipulative and unethical, but what exactly is the problem with changing your environment?

90% of effective change is needed on the *inside*, but sometimes the problem honestly does lie outside yourself...

I've known people who lived in small towns, were gay, or had unusual interests, and had difficulty making friends, were dealing with negative family situations etc etc etc. They assumed there was something wrong with *them*.
Then, they moved. They moved cities, they extracted themselves from dysfunctional relationships - they changed their *environment*, and realised that they are actually wonderful people.

Going from a job with limited responsibility or challenges to finding a new job where your skills are more useful and needed - again, that's changing your *environment*.

What exactly is your definition of 'environment' that you find it unethical to change it?

karen said...

I've read all of this with great interest, and resisted the urge to retort to FS's original post. Aside from agreeing with much that has been said, I have just a quick comment on the issue of magic that hasn't yet been touched on. The Pagans I run with and who have taught me much of what I know about this path use magic as a means of changing the self, not those around them or the environment in which they live. Doing magic is looked upon as a means of preparation of the self for some challenge, not changing the nature of said challenge. For example, one of my mentors loves to say "What's the point of doing a love spell if you don't get out to where you can meet people after you've gotten yourself prepared?!"

ms. kitty said...

Thanks for adding something valuable to the conversation, Karen.

The Favorite Son said...

Sangrail, the environment I’m speaking of is in fact everything not internal. But I believe the miscommunication is in what we are interpreting as the act of changing. The hypothetical BGLT who, feeling there is something wrong with them, moves to a more liberal and welcoming community is not changing *their* environment, they are changing their location, their “meat space”. The environment they move to (hopefully) was formed because many people changed their personal view of equality, and so the social norms changed with them. If they had stayed and rallied against the social norms of their close-minded society, regardless of the benefit twenty or thirty years down the road for other BGLT, their actions trying to change there environment would tear the society apart as various factions formed and tried to battle other factions until everyone was at each other’s throat. Even if no factions cropped up (i.e. no one would support them, not even their family) the BGLT’s pain and suffering would be horrific and they might end up moving anyway, leaving behind even more strife than if they had initially just moved to a different environment in the first place. Once they had left, the same closed minded attitudes would (Most likely) solidify even harder, making it even worse for the next BGLT who came along/grew up into the society.

As far as the job example, how are they getting the job? Are they focusing on improving themselves to get the job (Better job skills, better social skills, etc.)? Or are they changing their environment by casting spells, or threatening the HR department with a bulldozer?

This does not mean I’m arguing a calcification of the status quo, but I am stating that change is only successful when it comes from within; anything else usually causes strife and pain. When initiating change for society, that cost must be carefully considered. If initiated for a solitary individual’s benefit the cost is too high (in my opinion).

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Favorite Son. You express your ideas well.

Anonymous said...

I do not know if you'all are still reading this but I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to FS for expanding your ideas and explaining the introduction to your intro that went well over my head I admit.

As I said, I was not hurt by your entry just.. suprised I suppose. I hope I did not come across as one fo the people who chose paganism just because I thought it was cool or I was drawn to it (although both are true). I spent nearly 7 years debating, thinking, learning, regecting, and then finally embracing my pagan path.

I still disagree with you about about magic *shrug* such is life.

And thanks to Kitty for so smoothly handleing our misunderstanding and giving a space to talk it out. How did the sermon go?

ms. kitty said...

Dubhlainn, you're so welcome and thank you for your input. You really gave me a wider base of knowledge about paganism and I suspect the FS got one too.

The sermon went really well; people got a lot out of it. Tomorrow night we're having a conversation session about it, as we always do after one of the Sources sermons.