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Earth Pages

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Article ID: 9172

VoxAcct: 257376

Section: earth

Age Group: Adult

Days Up: 3,287

Times Read: 16,606

Where the Christians Go Wrong and Why the Pagans Don’t Get It

Author: H. Byron Ballard
Posted: April 17th. 2005
Times Viewed: 16,606

O, Gods, is it Earth Day Again?

Caring for Creation--sounds simple and good, doesn’t it? A day-long workshop, naturally positioned on Earth Day and sponsored by a progressive coalition of churches. If it’s so good, why does my stomach hurt?

I have polished one of my favorite soapboxes and it is sturdy and clean, ready for my annual Earth Day address. I believe I have made my point that the single-day annual celebration of Earth Day is not enough and possibly falls into the too-little-too-late category. Well-meaning, yes. Decidedly better than nothing. But as a Pagan--an Earth Religionist, a spiritual naturalist, a Witch--every day is Earth Day. Though it reads like a bumper sticker, how could it be otherwise?

Several years ago, I nursed a fantasy that Pagans could show some leadership in the dominant culture around environmental and eco-justice issues. My rallying cries went largely unheeded through several turnings of the Wheel. Get out of that computer chair and spend some quality time outside! Hug a tree! Join a local interfaith group and preach that biosphere gospel!

Though my grandfather was, I am not an effective preacher. My words blew away on the smoggy wind: too extreme for Christians, of little interest to Pagans. We continue to argue endlessly on thousands of Pagan websites about how vital our religions are and how misunderstood. We have an opinion about everything and are happy to send that opinion into cyberspace at the touch of a key. But go outside? Leave the relative safety of our online communities and try to forge real bonds with people in our own neighborhoods? Too, too scary.

Do Pagans pick up roadside litter? Sometimes. Grow gardens? Yes. Write letters to the editors about global warming or mountain-top removal? Occasionally. But step forward to offer our way of being present in the biosphere as one healthy alternative to the current paradigm? Rarely. Perhaps we are bashful or camera-shy or tired of knocking on closed doors. I don’t know. Jesse Wolf Hardin pens eloquent essays on living in this web of being. Starhawk keeps hammering away at eco-justice cases. Some important and highly visible Pagans have come forward to speak on behalf of Earth and I am grateful for that. What I was asking for and what I continue to ask for is this: direct involvement in your community in interfaith matters of ecology. Look at the problems in your own backyard and be vocal about how your approach of honoring the Earth is something other religions could learn from. There I’ve said it. Again.

But now it may be too late for us to take real leadership because even the evangelical Christians are speaking out on behalf of stewardship of God’s creation. Liberal Christians and Jews are worshipping with Earth-focused liturgy, bringing dirt and animals and whale song into their houses of worship. They are digging into their own rich traditions and finding ways to return to their Garden. And they don’t need any help from us, thank you very much. Well, not much help.

This is how I found myself on an interfaith committee planning a day-long workshop for Earth Day. It’s called “From Crisis to Community” and is being held in the First Baptist Church in my town. On the surface it sounds so simple. Knock that old “dominion” language on the head and get back to Eden. The Lord gave us a fabulous garden and we got ourselves kicked out of it.

The early meetings were very informative but somehow frustrating. We held one of them in the local Unitarian Universalist church and we started to iron out who and what we were and what we wanted to accomplish with this event. One of the project leaders had created a Power Point presentation on the Noah story and it was decided that this would be the focus of the opening plenary session. Then there would be a panel discussion by a scientist and by religious leaders from their varying faith perspectives. (Yes, this is how we really talk in the interfaith world.) I was asked to speak for Pagans and would be joining a Presbyterian minister, a rabbi and a scientist on the panel. So far, so good. I was allotted five minutes to plead the Earth’s case and then defend my position, trying to skirt the issue of whether or not Pagans are morally bankrupt airheads who wear funny clothes and won’t allow Christians to pray in school. But I digress.

As the ideas for workshops started flowing from this creative group, I started noticing a theme. Because we were trying to appeal to the widest variety of Christians available in our region, we had to keep our focus on taking care of God’s gift to us and not fall into the error of thinking that the planet was God. Of course, they didn’t say it quite that way. But I got the point nonetheless.

I left that meeting wondering what exactly I was supposed to be doing to help this event. Was I window dressing, a token? Probably. Was there anything in this workshop for my faith community? Probably not. Did that matter? Again, no. It started to dawn on me--have I mentioned I’m sometimes a little slow?--that this event was coordinated by the NC Council of Churches and that many of the committee members’ idea of interfaith was Protestant and Catholic Christians and a couple of Jews. They simply didn’t know what to do with people who worship the Earth, not as creation but as creator. They didn’t know anyone who thought that way: doesn’t everyone have a Creator God who is separate from His creations? A loving Potter with strong but gentle hands?

So I mulled all this around in my pointy little head for a couple of days and then wrote a long entry in my personal journal about it. After swallowing hard and girding my loins, I sent the following email to the good-hearted, kind coordinators of this event:

Good evening, gentles.

I have done a lot of thinking since our meeting and I want to share some of thoughts/concerns with you about our Caring for Creation group and our event on Earth Day.

First I want to thank both of you for inviting me to participate and encouraging me to do so. I am very happy to be working with both of you on such an important endeavor.

I believe the event we are planning for Earth Day should quite properly target Christian denominations, Jews and Unitarians and that we should be honest about who our audience is. I believe it is vital for those groups to begin to see their place in and responsibility for "creation"--this is laudable. The programming so far completely and clearly speaks to that audience in a way that they can grasp, in ways that will move them and inspire them.

It became clearer to me last night, however, that this is not a truly interfaith event. While the committee may welcome the participation of those of us outside this target audience, they are not comfortable with the degree of "interfaith" that that requires.

We are not creating an event for non-Abrahamics, nor for Earth religionists. And this is perfectly alright. As a program of the NC Council of Churches, what we are doing--at least initially--should be directed to that specific audience. If our target audience is mainline Protestant churches and our goal is to bring them some awareness about eco-justice issues, that is a worthy goal. Let Earth religionists of all stripes help in whatever way we can but know that this day is not for us. Most of us worship the biosphere not as a creation of Deity but as Deity Herself and every moment of every day we mourn what our species is doing to Her.

I made this journal entry this morning while sitting at my altar:

‘...very different views of "creation": can you imagine that when you look out the window what you see is the literal body of Jesus and we are giving him poison to drink and feces to eat? We are cutting chunks from his flesh and breaking his limbs. Because he is a god, he doesn't die--he continuously suffers the agony of our ignorance and carelessness. This gives you a rough approximation of how Earth religionists/Pagans, indigenous tribal peoples feel about the biosphere. It is as though we have to watch "The Passion of the Christ" every time we go out, every time we listen to the news…’

This is a very long note and I have tried to be clear about my concerns and intent. I love what we are doing and think it is vitally important but we are deluding ourselves if we think it should be or can be fully interfaith at this point in the group's growth. And that's okay.

They took it with good grace and have worked hard to be more inclusive in the program. We still have some stumbling blocks because we are trying so hard to appeal to so many people and to be as inoffensive as possible to all of them. They asked me to help with the creation of one of the afternoon sessions of the workshop. And the local daily paper did a good article on its Religion page last week, in which I was among the people quoted, though some members of the committee worried that some people would be discouraged from attending the workshop because a Pagan was part of it.

They are doing their best, this committee of mostly white, mostly Protestant Christians, to move forward in the change of consciousness required to “save the Earth”. I have to respect them for it, even as I wish they could go further and deeper. I want to see them reconnected with Nature in a way their history and traditions have opposed for centuries but this is a good first step for many of them. I want them to realize the connection between the oppression of nature and women and people of color and address that. I come from a tradition that doesn’t proselytize and yet I want to teach them what we know about the Web of All Being, about the sweetness and sometimes terror of living life as a thinking animal in a complex world.

And I still nurse the fantasy that some day there will be so many Pagans and non-Abrahamics sitting on committees like this that we won’t assume that using a story from Genesis is appropriate in a multifaith setting. Step out, friends, take a chance. Work with your neighbors, regardless of their spiritual tradition, to create an Earth-honoring paradigm that will be inherited by our children.

Okay, I’m off the soapbox now. I’ll put it away until next year. Thanks for listening. Again.


H. Byron Ballard

Location: Asheville, North Carolina

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