Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens

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George Takei: Navigating the Undiscovered Country

I think George Takei is my new hero. This 77-year old actor, most famous for playing Sulu on the original Star Trek, truly has lived a life of exploring new worlds and bursting through frontiers that once seemed final. He’s a social media sensation with over 2 million Likes to his page, a passionate advocate for marriage equality, and a longtime civil rights activist. The new documentary about his life, To be Takei, brings together all the aspects of his life and helps us understand just how amazing this man is.



The film is named after one of his Facebook campaigns. When the state of Tennessee attempted to make it illegal to use the word “gay” in schools, Takei volunteered his name as a solution. He suggested that when teachers need to refer to a gay person, they could simply substitute the word “Takei.” “That’s so gay” became “That’s so Takei,” but of course the advocate used his sense of humor to put his final mark on the effort, stating boldly: “It’s OK to be Takei.”


Let me just stop there. As a working actor, George Takei encouraged his name, perhaps an actor’s most valuable commodity, replace a loaded word that offended both the state of Tennessee and – in the way it was used – also offended the LGBT community. Using his honesty sense of humor, he eviscerated a civil rights violation while also launching himself into social media superstardom. That takes both a strong sense of self and serious courage.


In To be Takei, we learn a lot more about his life that helps us understand how Takei got to that point. He has been overcoming barriers and barbed wire, sometimes real and sometimes metaphorical, his entire life. The US government forced his family to live behind the walls of three internment camps during World War II. Later, as his acting career developed, he began to be pigeon-holed into stereotypical Asian roles, complete with the heavy accent, thin mustaches, and exaggerated karate moves.


Star Trek has a long history of pushing society’s taboo buttons. In 1965, the very idea that a federation starship could be piloted by a Russian and a Japanese man with communications being handled by an African-American woman was downright revolutionary. Takei finally had the opportunity to play a character who could pronounce the letter R and represent his heritage with dignity. It was his first public foray into civil rights.


But as we all know now, he was hiding a secret. Takei was a closeted gay man, and an openly gay character or actor was too much for even Star Trek’s utopian vision to handle. Kirk and Uhura could kiss, but not Sulu and Chekov. So despite challenging racial stereotypes, Takei still was trapped behind that other wall for most of his career. Thankfully, he emerged from that closet in 2005 and has been openly fighting homophobia in his unique and humorous way ever since.




Yet the most powerful message of the film could easily be overlooked. Very briefly, Takei mentions that when his family was released from the internment camps they were scared. Not overjoyed. Not proud. Scared. Confinement had become comfortable and safe. There were no guarantees on the outside, and life had to start anew. America’s prisoners greeted their liberation with fear.


There was a lot to be afraid of. Lingering racism from the war created a fence. Jobs were hard to find for Japanese-Americans, homes were hard to obtain, and education was still separate and not equal. Later, there were very few working actors of Asian descent, and Takei’s father encouraged him to forego his dreams. Another fence.

Even after establishing a career, there was that final fence: exposure. There was a constant fear of his career being ruined by that one sci fi geek at a gay bar who recognized him and outed him. These days, the paparazzi would slobber all over that story. That last fence imprisoned the man for most of his career, just as it imprisoned other public figures like Rock Hudson and Liberace. They could not be themselves and work. They had to choose.


And yet, as Takei mentions in the documentary, those fences become comfortable. They are safe; easy. Breaking through them is difficult and dangerous. It takes time and perseverance, as we see in the life of George Takei.


We all have some kind of fence around us. Sometimes it is real. Ask the people of Ferguson, MO. Racism is still a very real barrier. Women who work for places like Hobby Lobby have a very clear fence around them. There are still people ignorant of American history who interpret the word “freedom” to mean “freedom for them, but not for others.” The majority race, religion, sexuality, and gender can do as they please, but the rest of us have to move to the back of society’s bus. Of course, if we challenge that we are limiting their freedom to discriminate. These fences are real.


Sometimes, though, we fence ourselves in. Much like Takei’s situation, the fence is real but we choose not to disturb it. Unjust situation happen all around us, but sometimes challenging them seems scary. We just accept out confinement.


What fences have you grown comfortable with?  What new frontiers look too scary to navigate?  What do you tell yourself you can’t do when, really, you can but it would require taking personal responsibility for your life instead of relinquishing control and allowing life to happen?  We say we can’t lose weight, but we can.  We say we can’t give up chocolate or smoking, but we can.  We say we can’t afford this or we’ll never have the money for that, but do we ever seek out ways to obtain the funds?  Is the “never” actually more comfortable that acknowledging our own power?


Each of us has a different fence.  Find it.  Face the fear.  Boldly go.




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Understanding the pain in world events

I just returned from three weeks in New England. It was the longest I’ve ever been away from home, and it truly felt like a trip to the fairy lands, completely separated from the worries and cares of normal life. We ate too much, drank too much, and made merry at Templefest, the annual festival of the Temple of Witchcraft. Add some vacation time in the White Mountains, a little more in Salem and other important areas of Massachusetts, and a five day convention for my wife’s business, and you have the makings of a long escape from the everyday world.


As all members of the magickal community know, any time you are in a space between the worlds you are in a special place. Often, we use altered consciousness and ritual to enter that kind of space, but sometimes there is something extra powerful about physically being in an entirely different world from what you know. When you are here-but-not-from-here, a little out of your comfort zone, you have the opportunity to see yourself and the world you live in through entirely new eyes. When your mind isn’t consumed with the mundane worries about job, bills, and home repairs, you can actually just live. It’s a rare opportunity to see your life through new eyes.


One of the things I like to avoid on vacation is news. I know, that sounds so irresponsible. But I find that only by recharging myself with rest time away from the constant string of awful things that happen every day around the world can I really be ready to intelligently engage those topics when I return to normal life. I still get AP news alerts on my phone, so I often have some idea what is going on, but I rarely take the time out from a day at the beach or a hike through the beautiful New Hampshire woods to thoroughly investigate the details of whatever terrible thing is going on at this moment. Bad news will still be there when I get home.


Despite this relative isolation from the world, there were three news stories that were impossible to ignore during the time we were out of town. The first to come along was the siege of the Yezidis by the ISIS organization in Iraq. Then came the apparent suicide of Robin Williams. Finally, there were the demonstrations in Ferguson, MO in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting. Each one of these stories mushroomed through the news and social media. Each one is much more complicated than it appears, and each one reveals a basic truth we all know but often refuse to admit: Every person, every group, every society is racked with inner pain and turmoil that outsiders don’t understand. Whoever you meet, and wherever you are, everyone around you is quietly suffering.


The Yezidis are a Kurds who live in northern Iraq. Their religion differs from orthodox Islam, be it Sunni or Shi’a Islam. Remember back in 2003 when politicians were declaring that the people of Iraq would greet American troops with roses in the streets? We all know that didn’t happen. The strife between the Shi’as and the Sunnis spilled into the streets as the majority Shi’as fought Sunnis formerly backed by Saddam for power. Al Qaeda backed the Shi’as, who organized into groups like ISIS, and are seeking to impose their radical Islam onto the country.


Since the Yezidis are different both ethnically and spiritually (some Muslims consider them to be devil worshippers), they couldn’t catch a break. ISIS really wanted them out. All of the facets of this conflict have been brewing for hundreds of years. It took a spark to ignite the fire, and the US withdrawal from Iraq combined with a weak government in the country provided that. We learned early on that all Iraqis are not the same. There is pain and hatred within the society just as there is in our country. You’d never assume all Americans think the same way, so why did we think that about Iraqis?


Robin Williams was one of my favorite actors ever. He was known for his zany comedy, but films like Good Will Hunting and Mrs. Doubtfire show that he was equally talented at dramatic roles (Sorry, I never found Mrs. Doubtfire funny, I have always felt it is an incredibly sad movie). Williams was open about his problems with drug addiction and depression, but the public never really understood the magnitude of his struggle until last week. It just seems so tragic that this American icon, an amazing comedian who once played Patch Adams, a doctor who advocated laughter as one of the world’s most potent medicines, could fall victim to such profound depression. The general public really knows very little about the devastation that depression can unleash upon your life. It’s a lot more than “feeling sad.”


Every major city in America has some form of racial tension. As friends of mine such as Crystal Blanton often remind white folks such as myself, we are privileged. We live lives where we can afford to ignore these troubles. They don’t. If the people of Ferguson are afraid of their mostly white police force, that is something they can’t leave their house without worrying about. I never worry about that. I can afford not to; they can’t.

Any time you have this type of tension between those who hold power and those who don’t, it only takes a spark to blow it up. Michael Brown was, unfortunately, that spark. But if it had not been him it would have been another person. The anger and fear of the community had been churning inside for a very long time. Of course, the police response made it worse. Adding more gunpowder to any fire will always do that.


Again, I’ve been away from home and a bit out of touch, so I admit I don’t know all the details about Ferguson. But I’m fascinated by Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, who took over the police handling of the protests. Johnson switched tactics from hurling tear gas and arresting journalists to talking to the protestors, discussing their grievances, and providing them space to exercise their right to protest as long as streets remained clear.


So often, we think we know what is going on within someone else or in another society. The truth is, we don’t. We don’t know and can’t see the wounds and pain, some of them festering for centuries, that grow and poison us just beneath the surface. Oh we see them in ourselves, even if we choose to ignore them, but we have trouble making that leap of understanding that our neighbors have their own pain.


But it is that very pain that lingers below the surface that catches fire once the scab gets picked. Robin Williams was deeply in pain despite his wildly comedic exterior. Iraq was a much more complicated puzzle than one nasty dictator. Racial pain in Ferguson was already boiling. Never assume you know a person’s life story. Never assume you fully understand someone else’s motivations. Never paint any person or society with one broad paintbrush. You will be wrong. Worse, it could blow up in your face. Instead, try listening.




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Adding context to the “Auschwitz selfie”

I hate selfies. I find them to be the epitome of both narcissism and bad photography. I’d much rather ask a stranger to take a quality photo of myself in a special place than flip to that secondary lens on my phone, hold my arm out at an awkward length, and snap a photo that emphasizes my face and detracts from the significance of the scenery around me. I’m there to experience the place, not to take pictures that are 85% face and 15% background.


But the thing is, I’m wrong, and I know it.


People have been posing for pictures of themselves since photography was invented. Before that, wealthy people would pay artists a healthy paycheck to paint them on canvas. Those paintings were quite likely much more glamorous than the real person actually was. I mean what artist is going to honestly paint the blemishes of the person who butters their bread? The selfie is just another round in the evolution of self documentation. In and of itself, there is nothing pathologically narcissistic about it. It just feels that way.


Enter the Auschwitz Selfie. This has become a thing. The New Yorker even wrote about it. Young people are traveling to the infamous Nazi concentration camp, taking selfies there, and posting them to their social media accounts. One Auschwitz selfie, that of a teen girl named Breanna has gotten Twitter all a-twitter.

Breanna posted this selfie with the comment “Selfie in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp” last month. Since then, the photo has gone viral. She has received over 6,000 comments, many of them viciously angry that she would dare to post this picture of herself at one of the most tragic and horrible places in human history.


In her defense, the young girl has said that she is fascinated by the Holocaust, and that she shared that interest with her father. The two of them dreamed of seeing Auschwitz together, but he passed away a year ago (this is known to be true). After graduation, Breanna says that she and her mother fulfilled that dream, and she was happy to be there to honor her dad.


OK, granted, the photo and the comment look pretty insensitive and ignorant. She’s there with a smile on her face and an earbud in her ear. But is there another interpretation?


It makes sense to be happy to achieve a life goal. She probably should have given more context in her comment, but Twitter’s format doesn’t allow for too much writing. I see hundreds of teenagers a day, and walking around with one earbud sticking into their ear is almost automatic. Everyone does it. Besides, we have no idea what she was listening to on that earbud. It could have been an English language guided tour of the facility.


It sure seems that she made it worse when she retweeted other stories about her with the comment, “I’m famous y’all.” One commenter even said that her use of “y’all” showed that she didn’t have the intelligence needed to understand and appreciate the horrors of Auschwitz. But Breanna is from Alabama. Using “y’all” is everyday speech; it’s completely normal vernacular. It’s as much a part of normal speech there as “like” or “totally” is here in southern California. We’ve all made things worse by saying stupid things before we fully understood a situation. Cable news makes a habit of it.


I’m not arguing for one side of this or another, but for a larger point. Humans can be very ugly creatures. We find fault in other people without knowing all the facts. We deny those same faults within ourselves when we perform similar actions. When we are confronted, we retort with something like “You don’t understand all the details.” Which is true. But, you know what? Neither do you.

This is actually a real psychological phenomenon. It’s called the Fundamental Attribution Error. It states that we make internal attributions of others while underestimating external attributions. In other words, when someone does something we don’t like, we blame their personality rather than taking in all the details of the situation. The other side is that, when we do the same thing, we overestimate the situation and don’t turn inward to see what is wrong with us.


When you get cut off on the freeway, you say all sorts of nasty things about the other driver. When you cut someone off (we’ve all done it), you defend yourself by saying things like “I didn’t see them” or “that other guy was going way too fast.” We commit the fundamental attribution error all the time. Every day. It’s normal.


The problem is that that normality is amplified in the anonymous safety of the internet. Online, we can insult people all they want while easily shielding ourselves from any blowback we incite. Social media has made this worse, and if you’ve ever been unlucky enough to read the comments to news articles about immigrants, the gay community, or any racial or ethnic group you’ve seen this problem on steroids.


It is a classic case of projection. It’s a defense mechanism that keeps us feeling good about ourselves in the face of attack. When we are uncomfortable with something in ourselves, we project it onto another person. If we are insecure about our looks, we gossip about that tacky co-worker. If we are insecure about our weight, we follow all the news about celebrities packing on pounds. If we feel that we aren’t good enough, we take pleasure in tearing down others.


This is what happened to Breanna. This is what happens all around the internet every day. We all have our demons we’d prefer not to face, so we lump them on an easy victim- one that can’t fight back. In the end, this story isn’t about one ill-advised selfie. It’s about a world full of wounded, sad people.


But we can learn from this. Knowing about the fundamental attribution error is a huge advantage. Every time we find ourselves wanting to judge another for their actions or label them with some dismissive insult, we should stop. We should consider outside factors that could have caused what we saw. We should check our emotional gut reaction and consider what we see in ourselves that causes us to see others in such an automatically negative light. We should ask ourselves why we take pleasure in insulting others. You can’t change what someone tweets, but you can change yourself.  We could all use an internal selfie now and then.

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Weird Science: A link roundup

Science is ever growing and ever evolving. Except perhaps the realm of consciousness, the laws of the natural world may be truly the last frontier. While some experiments may seem silly, they all move us toward a greater understanding of the universe we live in. As pagans, understanding the natural world is often a large part of our spiritual path.

In this series, I want to feature links that come from the intersection of Internet and science. Silly, profound, spiritual, or bizarre: you decide.

1. To the Pain!  11 studies show that people would rather give themselves an electric shock than sit quietly and thin4.k for 15 minutes.  And you thought you were the only one who had problems meditating!

2. Don’t try this at Home:  Liquid nitrogen freezes at such a low temperature that anything it touches freezes immediately and can be cracked like cocktail ice.  So what would happen if you stuck your hand into a bucket of liquid nitrogen?  Find out [hint- his hand doesn't crack open, and he tells you why].

3. Farting for your Health:  According to researchers at the University of Exeter, smelling stinky farts can help you cure diseases and heal cell damage.

4. Eye-Eating Amoebas: Ever wondered what would happen if you left your contact lenses in?  How does amoebas eating your eyeballs sound?

5. Diet Coke and Mentos, on Steroids:

Everyone knows that dropping Mentos candies into a bottle of Diet Coke produces an immediate Coke explosion.  Watch this guy put on a suit of Mentos an jump into a pool full of Diet Coke!

Photo Credit: IFLSCience

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A response to Mohler’s “moral crisis”

On June 27, R. Albery Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted this article to CNN’s Belief Blog. In it, he laments last year’s Supreme Court decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and, in effect, made marriage equality legal. He also praises Justice Antonin Scalia, calling him a “prophet,” while also expressing his commitment that the marriage of two gay people is a “moral impossibility.”

I have to hand it to Mohler, his tone is remarkably even-keeled. There is no histrionic whining or the type of vile anti-gay language that those who take his position are noted for. Of course, it has to be that way. He loses easily otherwise, for our country has lost its taste for bigoted catch phrases like Westboro Baptist Church’s “God Hates Fags.” He has to make his position appear logical so that he doesn’t risk being identified with WBC’s inane extremism.

Nor does Mohler couch his argument in scriptural citations. This is an obvious attempt at credibility. Mohler knows that the First Amendment both gives him the right to express his views, but it also prohibits the U.S. government from favoring any one particular religion. Therefore, any Biblical arguments would fall either on the ears of the choir, or on entirely deaf ears. To sway public opinion, he must appear logical outside of scripture, at he makes a good stab at this.

The trouble is, if you look behind Mohler’s slick words you find that his actual arguments depend upon the slippery sands of terrible assumptions, vague definitions, and a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be married. What at first appears to be a reasonable person’s defense of denying fellow Americans essential rights (as if there really could be such a thing) turns out to have about as much substance as damp cotton candy.


Christian ≠ Anti-Gay

The essential question Mohler asks is, “Where does that leave committed Christians?” In starting his argument this way, he walks a tightrope of assuming that all “committed Christians” dislike both homosexuality and marriage equality. This is simply not true.

Just this month, the Presbyterian Church of the United States changed its definition of marriage to include “two people” rather than a man and a woman. Their change allowed Presbyterian ministers to perform gay marriages in states where those marriages are legal if they choose to.

The post just below Mohler’s discusses the Catholic Church “softening its tone” toward the gay community.   While the Church remains doctrinally opposed to homosexuality, they are shifting toward a loving agreement to disagree rather than the vile antagonism it, for example, advocated here in California during the Proposition 8 campaign.

Many other Christian sects are decidedly pro-gay. They focus on Christ’s message of love and forgiveness rather than the Old Testament’s litany of laws against everything from homosexuality to eating shrimp. I know a number of “committed Christians” who are perfectly fine with gay people, advocate for equality, and believe in equal rights for all Americans. I know gay Christians. They are just as “committed” as any other Christian, even those who choose to try to impose their beliefs on everyone else. It is presumptive and just plain incorrect to assume that all “committed Christians” are bigoted against the gay community.


Marriage ≠ Sex

Mohler makes two statements that reveal a profound misunderstanding of what marriage is. While speculating about government forcing churches to perform gay marriage ceremonies, he worries about our country crushing his religious liberty in the name of “erotic freedom.” Later, he wrings his hands about how his fellow anti-gay folks can possibly be good people when they see the rest of society hurting “human flourishing in the name of sexual liberty.

In this section, Mohler takes a giant step backward in time. We are not arguing about sodomy laws and other unjust statutes that ban homosexual sex acts. That argument ended long ago, a fact he acknowledges early in the article. Today’s arguments, and the argument he had been discussin up to this point was about same sex marriage, yet he clouds his point by discussing “erotic freedom.” Based on his own words, I can only conclude that Mohler is equating marriage with sex.

Marriage is about a lot more than sex. Marriage is a lifetime partnership. Marriage is about companionship, mutual love and support, and commitment. Marriage is about being by a person’s side through thick and thin, in the words of the traditional vow, “for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.” Married people lend a shoulder to cry on, a party for happy times, a loving ear in troubled times, and financial support when money is running thin. Marriage, any marriage, is not simply about “erotic freedom” to have sex with your partner.

Besides, people are having sex whether they are married or not. Heterosexuals are not all waiting to put a ring on it before sleeping together. The gay community is exactly the same, except that, if Mohler were to have his way, there would be no marriage to “legitimize” their sexual behavior. That wouldn’t stop gay sex. It’s not like same sex couples suddenly started having sex as marriage became legal. Marriage equality only allows those couples a legal opportunity to commit to each other and enjoy the many other benefits of marriage that we heterosexuals enjoy. Plus, when a couple chooses a monogamous marriage, they’re actually limiting, not expanding their “sexual freedom.”


What exactly is “Human Flourishing”?

 Central to Mohler’s article is his argument that “human flourishing” requires the “honoring of marriage exclusively as the union of a man and a woman” and any other definition of marriage is “a grave threat to human society and human happiness.” He never defines this term “flourishing,” nor does he explain how allowing other people to marry will somehow magically harm humanity, yet he continues to base his views upon this nebulous concept.


The idea of “human flourishing” is a weasler, a concept with no definition that can get the author out of jams in logic. As long as he never specifically define it, he can go on to alter his definition and his argument to fit any situation. You can’t challenge his premises if he never nails down a specific definition of his primary point. Mohler continues the slipperiness when he goes on to say that he does not believe that any damage to society inflicted by two guys loving each other will not be “immediately apparent.” He must have been relieved when he though up that one! Now, when he is asked to point out the awful damage gay marriage has done to the country in the last year, he has a quick and easy way out – “Some random flourishing is not occurring, and I never said we’d actually be able to see the damage,”

So what might he mean by this chimeric idea of “human flourishing”? Certainly he isn’t referring to reproduction. There is no lack of humanity in this world. Our earth is overpopulated and already struggles to provide enough resources to support everyone who depends upon it. More couples in happy relationships who are fulfilled in life but unable to reproduce could actually be exactly what our planet and humanity in general need to “flourish.” We don’t need to multiply and consume more resources to be happy. We aren’t viruses.

As a married heterosexual who has no children, I take offense at the suggestion that happiness depends upon reproduction. But there’s another note in Mohler’s article that is even worse. When he says that our his undefined concept of “flourishing” depends upon outlawing same sex marriages, what seems to be suggesting is that our human happiness relies on discriminating against our fellow human beings. According to Mohler, we can’t be happy as a species unless we can maintain a class system in which those who love others of the same sex are systematically and constitutionally denied the same rights we heterosexuals enjoy.

No. My marriage and my happiness absolutely do not depend upon denying others rights. No, our ability as a species to “flourish” is not dependent on keeping our heels grinding into the backs of the gay community. Quite the opposite, my happiness is enhanced when I know other people are happy. It makes me unhappy to see others in pain. It certainly does not make me “flourish.”


It must be hard to be on the wrong side of history. It must be difficult to have beliefs that pin your “flourishing” to keeping other people oppressed. It must be hard to see the rest of your country move toward justice and equality all around you. I’m sure those who fought to stop interracial marriage felt the same way at one time, and they used scripture to support their arguments as well.

Justice is justice. Religious beliefs do not play into it. That was the guarantee made by the Bill of Rights when our country began, and as we continue to work toward achieving that goal there will always be those who stand alone against the tides of reality. As we learn to treat each other equally, there will always be stalwarts against “equality and justice for all.” Fortunately, they are becoming ever more isolated and their arguments begin to sound ever more desperate.




Angels and Demons: From Jon Bon Jovi’s lemonade to Uruguay’s hungry player

June is Pagan Values Blogging Month. In a religion as amorphous as modern Paganism, it can be difficult to spell out any one set of values that applies to all of us. Sometimes it’s better to point out examples of behavior in the real world that fits our values rather than listing or even analyzing an isolated state of out-of-context ideas. The old saying about art, “I don’t know what good artwork is, but I know it when I see it” applies here.

So rather than SAYING what we value, I thought I’d start pointing out people from around the news that are ACTING within the values of our religious community, as well as those who are not. I hope to turn this into a regular series that searches around the world for news and celebrates people doing good things and fighting for just causes while calling out those who are mired in injustice and hatred.

The examples below are definitely not from Pagans. Some of these people would be mortified to be associated with Pagans, others would find comfort in the fact that we disapprove of their actions. It doesn’t matter to me what someone’s religious or political views are, as long as they are working toward a better world. So here’s my first installment of Angels and Demons:



Jon Bon Jovi

On June 9, it was reported that veteran rocker Jon Bon Jovi finished a concert in Florida, got directly onto a plane, flew back to his home state of New Jersey, and visited the lemonade stand of one of his youngest fans, 10-year old Mario Carpino.


Bon Jovi Mario Carpino

Jon Bon Jovi with Mario Carpino; Photo:

Carpino suffers from inoperable brain cancer and has had tumors since he was four years old. He holds his lemonade stand as an annual effort to raise money for childhood cancer research. The family has been trying to get the singer to come to their event for four years. They ran a hugely successful Facebook campaign, which led one of Bon Jovi’s sons to discover Mario’s wishes. He told his father, and the singer surprised everyone by just rolling right up and ordering a lemonade.

We value the protecting and caring for the young. We value love. We value healing. We value lending your name to a good cause. This month, Jon Bon Jovi gave Love a pretty good name.

Kate Kelly

On Monday June 25, Kate Kennedy was excommunicated from the Mormon Church. Her crime: fighting for the ordination of women in the church. Kennedy is a devout Mormon who is happy with her faith. That much can clearly be seen by the letter she sent to defend herself against charges of apostasy.

Kate Kelly Mormon Ordain Women

Kate Kelly; Photo:

But Kelly wished to improve her faith by asking difficult questions calculated to bring equality into the fold. She started the website to advance her cause.  Her questioning was too much for the LDS Church, who argued that her “aggressive” actions could “erode the faith of others.” Kelly, who has thousands of Mormon supporters of both sexes, sees that there is more to her religion than perpetuating a patriarchal power structure, and she risked and received her religion’s highest punishment to fight for equality where many others would have sat down, folded their hands, and remained quiet.

We value equality, an end to male privilege, and standing up for what is right. We also believe in the right to ask questions and engage in debate.  Kelly has risked even her “eternal family” to push for equality, and she continues to fight. “I cannot repent of telling the truth,” she says.

The Presbyterian Church (USA)

So often, Christianity gets painted as anti-gay. Many denominations continue to fight marriage equality. Some are even defrocking priests who perform legal gay marriages. Earlier this week, the American Presbyterian Church voted to change its definition of marriage as a partnership between “two people” rather than a man and a woman.

This change allows Presbyterian ministers to perform weddings for gay couples in any state where gay marriage is legal, and we all know that tide has become a tsunami. The Presbyterian Church is setting the example that bigotry and hatred are not Christian values. They are a large denomination, and they set a wonderful example for other sects of the faith.

We value treating others equally, not just in words, but also in rights and responsibilities. The Presbyterian Church is moving in that direction. There’s a lot of change still to be made, but they’re moving toward the right side of the morality fence.



The Sudanese Government

Meriam Ibrahim has finally been freed, but not without last minute drama. Ibrahim was arrested on charges of apostasy after marrying a Christian man. She was sentenced to 100 lashes and the death penalty, even though she was pregnant. The case sparked international outrage. She was eventually released, taken back into custody, then released again.

Ibrahim claims to have been born to a Muslim father who abandoned her. She says she was then raised as a Christian, and she identifies as one. After her arrest, Ibrahim gave birth in prison while her legs were chained together.

All of this happened, according to reports, because a male Muslim relative of hers filed a criminal complaint against Ibrahim for marrying a Christian – the crime of apostasy- yet Ibrahim has never seen herself as a Muslim. One has to wonder if the same thing would have happened to a man. Apostasy has been in the news twice this week, and both cases seem more about male retention of their privilege to control intimate aspects of a woman’s life.

We value a woman’s right to decide her religion and her husband for herself rather than having it imposed upon her by men or the government. We also value human rights, including the right to give birth – even in prison – in clean, sanitary conditions that accommodate the needs of the mother and the child (which is a fancy way of saying “it’s wrong to chain a woman’s feet together when she’s giving birth”).

49% of America

Earlier this week, the Pew Research Center found that 49% of people would be seriously disappointed if a family member married an atheist. A significantly fewer portion said they would have a problem with marrying someone with different political views or of a different race, so that’s good, but almost half couldn’t abide an atheist.

This finding was most common among conservatives, with 73% saying they would be unhappy, but 41% of liberals also expressed a problem with a family member marrying a nonbeliever. The result cuts across political lines.

Especially as a religious minority ourselves, we believe in religious freedom, including freedom from religion, and the right to marry whom you please.

Luis Suarez

Sporting events go well back into pagan antiquity. Most sports have rules, either written or unwritten, about fair play and sportsmanship. You compete your hardest to win, but you don’t aim to harm another athlete.

Luis Suarez is a striker for Uruguay national soccer team. In Tuesday’s match against Italy, Suarez appears to have bitten into the shoulder of an Italian player Giorgio Chiellini. Chiellini immediately exposed his shoulder to show the bite marks. You can see it here.  Nothing happened at the time, but Uruguay scored the go-ahead goal soon after and eliminated the Italians.

This isn’t Suarez’s first incident. He has been suspended twice, once for seven games and once for 10, for biting an opponent. The guy has too much of a taste for competition. As if that weren’t enough, he was once banned for eight games for racially abusing an opponent and sat out one game after raising his middle finger to another team’s crowd.  We believe in fair play, sportsmanship, and buying your enemy a beer so you can talk out your differences. We don’t value needless violence.  We certainly believe in eliminating racism.


I say “we” value a lot here. I realize that these values don’t necessarily hold true for every single person in the Pagan community. Still, I think it’s valuable to show examples of real people acting with honor and those acting shamefully. I’d rather hold up a model to emulate rather than idly talk about values. The real world provides us with a never ending stream of celebrities, personalities, and regular people doing wonderful things every day. I honor their examples.





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Dads and Deities: a Pagan view of the role of Fathers

Our culture seems to have a warped view of fatherhood. Few, if any, models of fatherhood in pop culture present anything anyone would aspire to. If you were an alien looking down on our culture to study how we view fathers, you’d be presented with models that either included the alcoholic, overweight, guardian of the remote control or the cold, strict, dictator of the home. You’d be left with the conclusion that we think fathers are either despots or fools.


As we approach Fathers’ Day, this is becoming even more apparent. Judging from the commercials and other ads that deluge our world this time of year, fathers are people who work too much, love beer (usually bad beer), and really only think about golf. The alien researcher would also conclude that each father has an altar to the god of the reclining chair, on which he performs a nightly ritual of staring at a lighted box while receiving the messages displayed on the screen.

And of course, that’s only if the father is present in his children’s life. If our alien scientists decided to study some forms of our pop culture, they might conclude that fathers abandon their children shortly after birth, leaving the mother in the painful position of having to raise the child by herself. When asked to assist financially, the researchers would find, our fathers complain a lot about having to work too hard or being behind on their cell phone bill, so they couldn’t possibly afford a bit of their paycheck to help raise the child they helped create.


Sure, there are healthier examples of fatherhood out there, but sometimes I fear that these are the exceptions and not the rule. So what is fatherhood really about? I don’t know; I’m not a dad. Even if I were, I still wouldn’t like golf. But if we go back and look at sources other than modern pop culture, maybe we could find out how our ancestors have passed down their views of what it means to be a father in this world. Since religion and mythology are the longest lasting records of the values of our ancestors, they give us a powerful example of what a father can really be.


The Hebrew god is a good place to start. After all, he is commonly referred to as “Father,” and even some of his priests often claim the title. Sadly, I think that the mythology of this god is part of where our trouble with fatherhood is rooted. In the Old Testament, this is a god whose punishments are far and away too severe for the crime. Adam and Eve definitely were warned in advance not to eat the apple, but exiling them from the Garden and dooming all women to painful childbirth as punishment was a little excessive. Never mind what he did to Sodom and Gomorrah and poor Lot’s wife.


The New Testament version is more loving. Still, he demands to be the only god and is willing to send a person to eternal torment for breaking his rules. This is still a difficult depiction of fatherhood. I don’t mean to Christian bash here, but I just think there are better role models for fatherhood in other mythologies.


None of the gods of other mythologies are perfect, but that’s actually part of their value as models. If you strive for perfection, you’ll always be disappointed. Like archetypal fathers throughout mythology, fathers in our society make mistakes. They are fallible.   They definitely are prone to over-punishing, as we all are. When their children are born they don’t really know what they’re doing. They have to learn, and they don’t always get it right. But they get better because they love their sons and daughters.


Zeus and Jupiter definitely made mistakes. Zeus was quite the fan of infidelity, but at least his myths explore how his misdeeds affect his wife and the consequences to his children. Looking beyond his famous appetite for sex, Zeus was also in charge of society’s laws and protecting all of his people. A good human father must sometimes set down laws, but he also must help in protecting all of his children equally. He also mediated disputes – something all fathers with more than one child have to do at some point.



These are some of the classic roles of fatherhood. They are almost stereotypical. The fact is, though, that mothers can do all of these things as well. The idea that the father is the one who sets and enforces rules while the mother is nurturing and loving isn’t always true. Sometimes a mother is a protector and enforcer. Sometimes a father is nurturing.


The Celtic god known as The Dagda carries some attributes that are often seen as female. His cauldron, typically a feminine symbol in witchcraft, provides a never-ending supply of food. Thus he nourishes himself and his children. He is a musician, and his harp brings the seasons, which – of course – bring food. He is also able to restore life to the dead. He brings life and nurtures his children. At the same time, he is a powerful warrior. The Dagda really is a “good god” who contains a well-rounded mixture and provides a good fatherly role model.


Odin has to be included here. I’m not a Norse practitioner, but anyone known as the “Allfather” must have some good fatherly traits. And he does. As a warrior, Odin fights for his people like a father must sometimes fight for his children. What’s great about Odin, though, is that he has a softer side. His love of poetry is a model for how we can teach our children to respect the arts, and as a god of wisdom, he embodies that classic fatherly role of advisor. Odin’s sacrifice to gain that wisdom teaches us that we must suffer to learn, and his willingness to do so makes him one of the wisest role models for modern fatherhood.


Many neopagans work with the Green Man, the young god who brings life to the Earth. The Green Man’s partnership with the Goddess and eventual sacrifice for the good of other living beings is a core part of many people’s practice. It’s probably a modern concept, but it’s a powerful one as a father must love and help raise his children. He often must sacrifice time, money, and effort to help his children be the best they can be. It’s a beautiful example of what it can mean to be a good father.


None of these models of fatherhood are perfect, and this is not intended to be a complete list. Yet what I love about these “father gods” is that they all carry their fatherhood well beyond simply setting rules and meting out punishments. They are wise, they provide, they heal, they love, and they sacrifice themselves for their family. These are the reasons that we celebrate something called Fathers’ Day. Hopefully you were lucky enough to have a father like them.




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