Running Up That Hill

It is a lovely rainy Saturday afternoon here in Minneapolis. The kind that is cool and humid at once, and makes you think of Paris, romance, and gentle adventure. I just got home from watching Life Itself, the documentary about the life of film critic Roger Ebert. I sat in the dark, arms folded, leaning forward propped on the seat in front of me in a theater that was mostly empty. It was a big-hearted film full of such love and affection. I cried and laughed. I give it a thumbs up.

I went to the movies because I needed a good cry. I have had a lot of change in my life over the past year, and most of my attention has been focused purely on survival. Now that I have room in my life for something beyond the basics I find many of the things I thought I wanted no longer fit. I keep reaching out to embrace bits and pieces of my old life and finding they leave me feeling dirty, hollow, dissatisfied. I don’t know why. Maybe I am just getting old. I am getting wrinkles and I know my stray chin hairs are already grey. I am letting go of a lot of things, big and small, and there is some grief in that.

Maybe most importantly, I have been praying a lot to my Gods and listening hard to their answers. They are loving, kind, compassionate, and generous. They want me to have what is best for me, to get what I need, and it is good to move forward into the future with their blessing. I have been told to shut up and sit down countless times, and the time has come for me to stop engaging entirely with a culture that places no value in my person.

Roger Ebert’s life was revealed in all it’s pathos in a documentary, but my life is done with being open to the public. The choices I am making for my own well-being don’t need public scrutiny and are not entertainment for the reading public to consume. Ebert was brave to be so public with his health issues. But my courage challenge is to be quieter, smaller, and more immediate. Less international and more local. Less social media and more face-to-face.

I won’t be writing on this blog anymore. I doubt I will be writing as “Star Foster” again, and I won’t be offering my spirituality up to this community for discussion, in public or private. If spirituality is brought up I will decline to participate, and I ask friends to not make me have to say no twice.

I am happy. I am full of love. My hands have good work to do. All is well.

May blessings be on you and yours.

You can follow my spiritual journey here, but you may not like it: https://mayloveincrease.wordpress.com/

My Agathos Daimon: Mamaw

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My grandparents, Ethel and Wash Cruce, enjoying the Atlanta nightlife after making it through WWII. In less fancy days I would call them Mamaw and Papaw.

I no longer believe I was born with a heart defect. Sure, that is what the doctors tell me, but they didn’t find it when I was born. I think my heart broke when my grandmother died. They cut me open to repair it but it hasn’t been right ever since.

Mamaw embodied every virtue. She loved her family fiercely, worked hard, played hard, and savored joy. When i was little she lived next door, and I never wanted to be home. I wanted to be at her house. Sitting at her kitchen table eating a Little Debbie, leaving wildflowers on her porch. My favorite was staying the night, tucked in next to her in bed. My grandmother had the unique gift of making you feel loved and safe in her presence.

As a small child I idolized my grandmother. She was so glamorous. She had beautiful hair, bright red lipstick, a cigarette in hand, and a voice that sounded like home. She could make a mean chicken soup, sing gospel, and cuss with the best of them. She didn’t give me dolls. She gave me warrior women who rode unicorns. She always had a peppermint in her pocket. She never wore shorts but she would pull her pants legs up to her knee when she sat down to air her legs out. She could kick anybody’s ass, but she couldn’t kick cancer.

To my knowledge, no matter what transpired, she never stopped loving her family.

I was so little when she died that I don’t remember as much of her as my sisters do, but I do remember how she made me feel. Safe, loved, protected, and seen. I cried myself to sleep for years after she left. Sometimes I think about her and still cry, feeling the pain of my loss. I am crying as I write this.

My Mamaw is my Agathos Daimon. If there is any good spirit keeping watch over my crazy-ass family, it is her. No matter what we do or whether she would approve of our choices she still loves us fiercely. She watches over and protects us no matter how bad things get or how much we have lost our way. Knowing she is still there helps me make it through, even when the rest of my family isn’t there.

As we wend our way towards Noumenia a lot of us are thinking about celebrating Deipnon and what we are going to cook for Noumenia. Agathos Daimon can seem like a smaller, paler holiday alongside the mystery of Deipnon and the bright cheer of Noumenia. But I think it has a bigger importance for those of us who have a name and face for our Agathos Daimons. For so many of us that face is the face of a beloved grandmother.

This coming Agathos Daimon I plan to offer a pinch of tobacco, a pinch of coffee, a peppermint, and a bite of a Little Debbie snack cake. I miss my Mamaw every day, but even though she isn’t here to sing silly songs and cook with me, she watches over me. I love her for that. She inspires me to be a better person, and to care for those around me. She was beautiful inside and out. Her death broke my heart, but those cracks let the light in and the love out.

Gratitude Attitude: Community Is Where You Find It

Lamyka is one of my favorite people in the world. She always reminds me to be grateful. Recently, I was telling her about my job. I work for good people. For ethical people. I love my work . I am happy, content, and so grateful. So Lamyka asked me, “Have you thanked Hephaistos yet?”

Naturally I have, but nothing special. So I made a special offering of wine and incense with prayers. While that was certainly lovely, it wasn’t entirely appropriate. So I went in to work over the weekend, cranked up some tunes, and kicked butt. That was an offering Hephaistos loved. Not just a politeness, me sipping left over red wine in a sweetly scented room. No, this was my virtue in action.

This action made me happy. I have been down lately, feeling bereft of religious community. But in this action I realized something. My religious community is all around me. I am surrounded by people I love and care about. I am constantly presented with the opportunity to exercise virtue, strive for excellence, and be grateful for my blessings.

There is strength and grace in being capable of love against all odds. Despite the heartbreak in your past. Sure, a local temple would be nice. Music, virtue, incense, prayers said in unison with arms open wide. But I love my friends. I love my coworkers. I love my family. I have everything I need to live right, and that is saying a lot.

So maybe my religious community is made up of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Heathens, and a couple of Wiccans. Maybe they don’t pray to Zeus, light a Hestia candle on their altar, or leave onion boats full of rice and garlic at the end of their driveways for Hekate. But they are good people who embody compassion, hospitality, courage, wisdom, piety, moderation, and good cheer. In the end, that’s what is important.

Christianity Has (At Least) Three Gods: Quickie Theology

Most Pagans I know consider Jesus and Yahweh to be distinct. A lot of Pagans have no beef with Jesus, but have strong feelings about Yahweh. Some Pagans actively worship the Holy Spirit/Sophia.

Christians will tell you they only have one God. Muslims will tell you they have three. Some Pagans will claim they have more than three, especially Catholic Christians.

The way Christianity insists that their Gods are really one is very similar to Pagans insisting their Gods are really one.

Right now a lot of people are trying to convince everyone that everything being one doesn’t mean the world lacks flavor, texture, or nuance. Some of those people are engaging in polemics, and a percentage of those of behaving badly.

Meanwhile I’m standing over by the Muslims. We are raising our eyebrows and sharpening Occam’s Razor. For them it is simple, there is one God and we have to recognize we are all part of him and the rest of creation. For me it is simple, there are many Gods and in an expanding universe of astounding diversity creating and maintaining connections is crucial.

So ask yourself: how many Gods do Christians have? Is the answer to this question compatible with your Pagan theology? If not, then you might want to consider why.

 

What Makes An Oikos?

Well, it certainly isn’t Dannon.

For the past couple of years I have tried to remain as flexible as possible. I never expected to be in MN, and I didn’t want to miss out on any other surprises the Gods had in store for me by being inflexible. I have, quite literally, been living like a refugee. A month ago I bought a sofa, and finally had seating beyond a folding chair or my bed. It felt extravagant.

I wanted to be open to any good job opportunity that came my way, and eventually my flexibility and courage paid off. I work for ethical people serving minority communities and my work is always interesting. Maybe not the best paid work out there, but the sense of satisfaction I get from it make it more than worthwhile.

I wanted to be open to any romantic partner that came my way, but flexibility and courage have not paid off there. I have been unable to find someone willing to meet meet me 1/4 of the way, much less halfway, and my love has been thrown back in my face twice this year. I am bitter, angry, and utterly heartbroken. I have my own issues with consent and entitlement to work through, and I have made the decision to stop dating. It isn’t fair to single men for me to be dating while so angry, and my heart cannot take more pain right now.

Yet, I still desire an oikos. My friend ,Cara Schulz, always describes an oikos as having a future. Sure that can mean a married couple who procreate, but it can mean other things as well. It can mean a home in which friends and family are made welcome, and values are shared.

As a single, childless woman, can I have a vibrant, robust, functioning oikos? I think so.

So I have made an important decision. Instead of wasting my money and time dating, I am going to live as simply as possible so I can save up enough money to put a down payment on a house. The oikos is the core of our faith, and if we don’t give Hestia a home how can we expect to have temples? We need boundaries for Hermes to guard, and pantries that Zeus Ktesios can watch over. While they have a place in my rented apartment, it feels temporary. I want an altar in my backyard with a hibachi for burnt offerings. And maybe my garage could become a temporary temple until we build a public one here in Minneapolis.

There is future in a house. Endless improvement projects, gardening, entertaining, and creating a center of household worship. Sure, traditionally an oikos begins with relationships, but maybe they can begin with a place. I have already learned my spiritual family consists of people who share my values, not necessarily my religion. Maybe my oikos doesn’t have to begin with another person. Maybe it begins by creating my own sanctuary. Maybe instead of my being flexible and courageous enough to adapt to others, perhaps I should be creating an oikos that they will want to become a part of.

After several tough years, it feels good to know a modest home is within my reach. My credit is rebuilding. I am happy in my work, and my job seems stable. Sure, it seems it would be easier with a like-minded partner, but maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe it easier to craft the life I want, and invite someone in one day, rather than trying to build something with someone inflexible and selfish. Maybe it is better to invest my generosity in friends than lovers. ¬†Maybe creating an oikos begins with taking care of myself first.

Blessed Are The Pie-Makers: A Consideration of Community Oriented Polytheism

1024px-Motherhood_and_apple_pieWhat is the purpose of religion? Of religious community? What is the end game? What are we all aiming for? Every faith has to find these answers at some point.

Last Friday I had dinner with some Heathen friends. We talked about Theodish Heathenry, about martial arts, and about British Traditional Witchcraft. Each of these are organizations with defined hierarchies. There are people obviously in charge, people at some mid-point, and people who are new. Everyone has their place in the hierarchy, and pretty much everyone starts at the bottom and works their way up. And in every organization there are people who approach with misguided intention. When do I become a Thane? When do I get my black belt? How long until I get my third degree?

For a lot of people the end game of their faith is based solely in status or personal development. The kindred, dojo, or coven merely exist to aid them in their quest for knowledge, status, or power. The community is a means to an end, a tool, rather than the end result itself. While this view may exist more strongly in some people, I think this attitude is pervasive in our culture.

Part of the reason this attitude exists is due to adult conversion. In an organic setting a child learns the faith as they grow and as they are interested and able, so that when they enter their religious community as an adult they are already a native thinker in that particular religious culture. With adult converts, it can take a decade to reach that point. Moving from one mode of thinking to another is a slow, evolutionary process that can’t be forced or rushed. We begin as children, learning child-simple lessons, and the stronger meat we crave is often only attainable after a significant period of time. You cannot read a 101 book and then jump into an advanced book and expect to be a native thinker in a new faith. It is unreasonable. So we have developed multi-year training programs in our various faiths. Benchmarks help to organize and create incentive in this long, slow process for adults who aren’t used to going back to square one.

Years of study are required in Theodism, martial arts, and British Traditional Witchcraft for good reason. As adult converts our path is necessarily slow. Embodying our traditions take a significant amount of time. It took me 10 years before I could no longer natively think like an Evangelical Christian. Sure, that upbringing and culture still influences me, but I find it puzzling now. My mind thinks differently about religion, and the first thing my heart grasps onto is not monotheistic concepts but polytheistic worldviews. This took a decade. Not easy work.

So these years of study, this slow entry into a new religious life, if entered into with simply status or power as a goal is such a huge waste of time. Self-improvement is important, but it isn’t everything. If you spend a decade trying to achieve a position of status and power, you have failed in your faith. I don’t care how many ancient languages you have learned, how powerful a wizard you have become, or how much knowledge you can rattle off. If you spent a decade using community as a tool, rather than as the primary focus of your faith, you have wasted a decade and missed out on so much.

Study and self-improvement is important. Religious nerdery is important, particularly in revived polytheistic religions. But blessed are the pie-makers. Blessed are those who create community, who focus on community and hospitality. Blessed are those who do the dishes and chop the wood. Blessed are those who will never be a high priest, a lord, an author, or an expert of any kind. Blessed are those who show up with pie. Nerds are good, but we need more pie-makers. We need to make sure the pie-makers know they are important, welcome, and vital.

I’ve been thinking about what I have jokingly referred to as “Vatican II polytheism.” Ancient languages are beautiful and important and vital, but they are not for everyone, and they can be intimidating to newcomers. Often I have found myself taking a good hard look at Khaire! and thinking how much simpler and effective it would be to say Good cheer! Maybe the Greek sounds cooler and more authentic, but which one communicates more effectively? Which one is more likely to reach the listeners heart?

A lot of the early study in Theodism, British Traditional Witchcraft, and most martial arts, is about testing the ego and revealing the heart. A person of good heart wants to help, and is as happy to wash dishes as lead ritual. A person of good heart is happy to engage in community even when the work they are doing isn’t sexy but repetitive and boring. A person of good heart doesn’t give up just because they didn’t get a merit badge, a degree, a belt, or some shiny title when they thought they were supposed to. A person of good heart is invested in the community.

Just so, the community should be invested in people of good heart. They should strive to give these people something sincere and meaningful. They should let them know that regardless of whether they are writing liturgy or baking pies they are a valuable part of the community and treat them as such. And while everyone deserves a second chance, if someone reveals themselves to not be of good heart then they need to go. Your community is precious and should be protected from predators. Your community is the end goal, and should be cared for diligently. The people in leadership positions should be those who care about the community, have its best interests at heart, and are not focused on status.

In British Traditional Witchcraft one end goal is to become sufficiently advanced to be able to return to your coven in your next life. It’s a romantic theology borne of the imaginings of the “Burning Times,” and drawing on Greek mystery traditions. The whole point is maintaining community, even after death, and yet Witchcraft and Wicca at large tend to use the community as a tool, rather than cultivate it as the goal.

So here is an exercise: think about your religious community in terms of the next decade. Who are your nerds? Who are your pie-makers? Who are your leaders? How do you serve both nerds and pie-makers? That new guy nervously fiddling with his cup of coffee trying to take it all in: how do you support his journey of conversion over the next decade? That woman who embodies the virtues and invests in the community but will never be a religious nerd: how do you make her faith richer while acknowledging that she just wants to be a pie-maker? And if the community is the end goal, how do you provide for that community over the next decade? How do you strengthen ties, build bonds, and provide safe space for worship, growth, and fellowship? How do you begin looking at your community in terms of good hearts growing deeper bonds rather than increasing numbers achieving more badges?

I have been a religious nerd ever since my momma let me pick out my own Bible in my early teens. I still have that Scofield KJV Study Bible with maps and indexes. For the past 15 years I have been a polytheist nerd. Now that I am finally in a place where I think natively as a polytheist, and I have realized I am not interested in status or degrees, all I want to be is a pie-maker. I want to bring food, give hugs, do dishes, worship in my native tongue, not spend a fortune in time and money studying ancient texts, and love everybody. I am a pie-maker, and looking for a community who will support me and accept my gifts as a pie-maker.

There is nothing wrong with hierarchy or tribalism, as long as you are of good heart and you make space to honor the pie-makers and religious nerds alike. Blessed are the pie-makers, for they help create community.

What Is The Core Message Of Your Faith? Where Is Your Hope?

Every week, without fail, Todd Jackson issues a call to worship. Despite my seeming indifference, he patiently and kindly invites me to open my heart to Lord Apollon and offer him due reverence. I rarely participate in the discussions in Kyklos Apollon but I appreciate this invitation each week to join others in worship, even if only virtually. Despite what differences we may have theologically, I find Todd’s steady faith and the hope it seems to offer comforting. Every Sunday it does me good to know he offers tribute to The Shining, Shooter From Afar, Protector Of Strangers.

I’ve never asked Todd what the central message of his faith is. The one thing his faith has to communicate to the world. His “gospel” or good news. Other faiths have this. Thich Nhat Han may have expressed the core message of Buddhism when he said We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness. Christianity encapsulated it nicely in John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

So today I took to social media to ask people what the central message of their faith is in 140 characters or less? The answers were interesting, as was my own answer. I pondered and pondered and finally condensed what I believe into a single short statement:

Embrace the mortal life, carry forward the light of humanity, and strive for virtue and excellence, for the Gods love and have faith in us.

It is an invitation to participate. A message of hope. A theological stance. An elevator speech. An identity. A solace.

I read this an it soothes my soul. What soothes your soul?