The Punk Priest

16 April 2017: Resurrection Sunday

[I feel I should apologize for the lateness of these Lenten posts. I’ve been prioritizing my self-care as my mental health has been quite poor lately. Thank you for bearing with me as I try to work up the motivation to write about these important days in the liturgical calendar.]

I started Resurrection Sunday worship at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in the morning and finished at Grace North Church in the evening. This is one of the most important days, if not the most important day, in the Christian calendar.

Resurrection Sunday, commonly called Easter, is a story or rebirth. In fact, the word “Easter” comes from “Ēostare,” a month named for a Pagan goddess. Easter/Resurrection Sunday is a day of rebirth and fertility, as is Eostara. That which has lay dormant in the earth has sprung up in new life.

Being an adversarial theologian and a practical theologian, Easter is a difficult day for me to understand from the points of view of my theologies. The mystical victories that are joyously described seem to leave something to be desired, to me at least. When I encounter cissexism and heterosexism in my daily life, it can be very difficult to hear and believe that sin and fear and death have been defeated. Those victories serve to guarantee us our places in heaven, our life after death. But that doesn’t necessarily comfort those here on Earth for whom suffering is a way of life. That death will free us from suffering? No shit. Now, give me comfort for this life in the here-and-now.

The followers of Christ are the Body of Christ. So, it’s not just that He is risen. It’s also that We are risen. But, risen to what? Risen for what purpose? Well, it could be said that those of us who are out about our Marginalized Genders, Orientations, and Bodies (MOGAB) are risen to being visible so that our MOGAB identities will be normalized instead of marginalized. Those of us who are out about our mental illnesses are risen to being visible so that our illnesses are no longer stigmatized.

We are the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ. Christ is risen. We are Christ. We are risen.

Amen, and Blessed be.

2 April 2017: the Fifth Sunday of Lent

The fifth Sunday of Lent 2017 was another two-church day that started at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in the morning and ended with Grace North Church in the evening. And, it’s Sundays like this one that really demonstrate how it can be challenging to be both an Adversarial Theologian and a Practical Theologian in the pews. Not so much with readings such as Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones (37:1-14) or Psalm 130, but definitely with Romans 8:6-11 and John 11:1-45.

It’s bad enough having body issues as a transgender person. To hear the words of Paul’s letter to the Romans talk about how one’s body is death can be just a little too much, especially with all his criticism toward people who are focused on their bodies. Looking deeper into this selection with the help of my New Oxford Annotated Bible, it seems that Paul isn’t castigating simply because they have bodies, but because they seek sensual pleasures for their bodies. This is why bodies are sinful, because they can experience pleasure. It seems to me, then, that Paul’s true complaint should be with God for giving humanity bodies capable of pleasure. I reject the idea that resisting pleasure is supposed to be a test of faith.

And then, there’s John. I really don’t like the Gospel According to John. So much of it seems anti-Jewish to me. And then the story of the raising of Lazarus? According to this story Jesus delays intentionally so that Lazarus would die so for the glory of God. Now, of course, this is a spiritual truth and not an historical account. It’s an allegory. But, WTF? No wonder there is so much backlash against religion when humans are the pawns of God as if they’re some living props in an ancient live-action Godly Play set.

What do I mean when I say I’m an Adversarial Theologian? I just can’t bring myself to take the necessary intellectual steps to try to force scripture written for a vastly different time and culture and twist it so that it applies to our times. Instead, I preach against the text as is necessary. And with this selection from Romans, I feel it is absolutely necessary to preach against it. Paul’s words about the sinfulness of human bodies is disrespectful not only to God who created those bodies, but to us who have them.

What do I mean when I say that I’m a Practical Theologian? I just can’t bring myself to focus on the mystical aspect of the Gospel message when there is very real suffering in the here-and-now. Sinews will not grow on the bones of our beloved dead. Once gone, they will not return to us here on Earth. The Transgender Day of Remembrance (yeah, I’m bringing that up again) is a reminder of this fact.

I must preach against texts that do not seem to value our lives on Earth. I must preach against mysticism as a platitude when intentionally arriving late to a preventable situation to provide a solution doesn’t stop the suffering.

Letting suffering happen to prove a point is evil.

Amen, and Blessed be.

19 March 2017: the Third Sunday of Lent

I started the third Sunday of Lent 2017 at Good Shepherd Episcopal. Somehow, the third week of Lent got away from me and so this post is a little late.

The Gospel reading that morning was about Jesus and the Woman at the Well. As love featured prominently in the sermon, the preacher began with, “In the name of the Lover, the Beloved, and Love Overflowing.” This might seem heretical from the point of view of Christianity in general and Episcopalainism in particular, but such a blessing really spoke to me. But, I’m a Christo-Pagan. Though the idea of a deific “Lover” often seems to have sexual connotations in Pagan frameworks, here it seemed to encompass more than that one type of love. It seemed to me that the deific Lover here was the embodiment of all forms of love.

A common response in many of the Pagan rituals I’ve attended and led has been, “In perfect love and in perfect trust.” This is often said at the end of a ritual when the gods and spirits are being thanked: “Stay if you will, go if you must, in perfect love and in perfect trust.” This love and trust is the basis of a faith community. I bring this up because that evening I attended a 12-step meeting for Pagans, and it was an “all-A” meeting.

While I’m still new to 12-step Spirituality, I’ve had many friends work through such programs. Love of the community is a key factor in supporting one another. And, trust is vital, too, when one considers what is shared in meetings. But at the same time, I know that there are those Pagans who struggle with the concept of being “powerless.” We generally believe that we have the power within us. But, our addictions and codependencies interfere with our ability to access and use our power. Therefore, we must trust in the love of our gods and guiding spirits to be our higher powers, aiding us to overcome what ails us.

Love and Trust might seem more compatible than Christianity and Paganism. But I don’t care. My path works for me. If other mortals can walk it with me, that’s great. If not, well, I know my path overlaps with the paths of others. We can love and trust each other as we wander through our wastelands, looking for liberation.

Amen, and Blessed be.

Discernment 2016 Review: What now?

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is [Divine] purpose that prevails.” – Proverbs 19:21

I had a major discernment process regarding my ministry that started with an email I’d sent to my primary ministry mentor in June 2016. She responded, asking me five questions which I answered in a series of blog posts:

  1. Are you actually Christopagan, “just” pagan, multi-faith with something else, or “just” Christian?
  2. If you do feel you still actually are Christopagan, is Jesus calling you to be a priest for Him (aka have you asked Him yourself, or do you need to have one of us horse (channel) Him so you can ask)?
  3. And if He [Jesus] is calling you to be a priest for Him, do you feel that that calling requires some sort of official human recognition?
  4. Are there any other trads, denominations, or groups that are poking you in the spirituals that maybe you should go and explore before you decide on ordination in the [Progressive Christian Alliance]?
  5. What type of ministry are you being really called to, and do you really need anything other than your Circle of Cerridwen ordination for it?

So, what have I learned from this process?

Well, I’ve learned that I definitely feel called to ministry. The way certain gods and spirits and dæmons call to me (and that’s a whole other blog series in the works) I think confirms that I’m called to something.

I learned that I do indeed feel that I am a Christo-Pagan, and not simply a Pagan, and that I consider the United Church of Christ (UCC) to be my Christian home. I had been toying with the idea of ordination with the Progressive Christian Alliance (PCA) because unlike the UCC, the PCA doesn’t require a Master of Divinity (MDiv) for ordination. But the more I think about this, I feel like I’m going about this the wrong way. Not because I was trying to fast-track my ordination by choosing an ordaining body that would ordain me sooner, but because I want to be a part of the UCC. And while I could have dual standing with both the PCA and UCC, there’s something that doesn’t quite feel right about that.

But also, the more I delve into the world of Christianity the more I feel that while I certainly am Christian laity that maybe I shouldn’t be Christian clergy. In spite of being involved in Christianity since my birth, I’m always finding new things about it. And a lot of what I’m finding lately disturbs me. So much of modern Christianity seems utterly disconnected from the what appears to be the message of Christ as recorded in the Gospels, both canon and gnostic. This seemed to happen a lot in an online discussion group devoted to the Progressive Christian Alliance.

I’ve seen the Golden Rule and the Second half of the Great Commandment applied selectively. One person had even gone so far as to describe treating other with the same respect he wanted to be shown as “onerous.” Respect for Other faith traditions is granted … to an extent. Some members of the group flat-out refused to grant respect to some traditions, even when presented with evidence of the good work those Others have done.

I never wanted to be one of Those Christians who becomes so disillusioned with the faith that I leave it. While I’m not at the point where I feel like I’ll be leaving Christianity entirely, I am at the point where I am renouncing my call to ordained Christian ministry.

This is right and proper. Am I content with “merely” being laity? I’d be lying if I said, “Yes.” I feel envy as I see the social media updates from those whom I used to attend seminary with as they finish their programs and prepare for their public ministries. I want to be with them: studying, working, ministering. But, there are a great many ways to minister.

In my coven, the word “priest” is more than a title. It’s also used as a verb. And can most certainly performing priesting without being Christian clergy.

Discernment question 5: What type of ministry are you being really called to, and do you really need anything other than your Circle of Cerridwen ordination for it?

Wednesday, 1 February 2017 (in response to this post)

Now, that is the $64,000.00 question.

I think of the ways in which I’ve benefitted from the ministry of others: leading worship, teaching/preaching, spiritual direction, chaplaincy, campus ministry, pastoral care. I feel like I’ve benefitted so much from the various ministers, priests, and witches who’ve done these things for me that I want to turn around and do the same for others.

Of all those ministries, chaplaincy is the one I’m currently least qualified for. I know that takes special training, and that’s usually above and beyond a Master of Divinity (MDiv). That said, I did serve as the chaplain for an adult spirituality retreat in Summer 2015. From what I understand, the same thing about special training could be said for spiritual direction, though I’ve heard varying opinions on this.

Clergy spouse/partner/family support is a ministry that seems to have a need. While I’m no longer a clergy spouse, I was for a time. So, that’s one type of (Christian) ministry I feel called to.

I know that I’d also like to do something to foster better inter-faith cooperation, specifically between Paganism and Christianity. I know I’m only one of many who want this work to happen, and there are certainly others who are probably much more qualified for this ministry than I.

It’s February 2017. And it seems like life for marginalized persons is falling apart right now here in the United States. I’m finding calls for emotional and spiritual support, both among those protesting and those living in genuine fear. Holding space and providing the requested spiritual encouragement are things I can do, and people have told me that the visible presence of clergy persons can sometime prevent the escalation of violence at protests, that police are less likely to be heavy-handed (at least while clergy are watching).

But, are these things (clergy spouse support, ministry to the marginalized, protest chaplain) things that I can only do as a Christian minister? No. I could also do those as a Wiccan priest for those Wiccans who might want such things.

So, I don’t know how well I’ve answered this question. Some of these things I feel called to do don’t require Christian ordination, even to do them in a Christian setting. Others, however, might require ordination.

Maybe a better question isn’t so much what am I called to do, but what am I capable of?

Discernment question 4: Are there any other trads, denominations, or groups that are poking you in the spirituals that maybe you should go and explore before you decide on ordination in the PCA?

Wednesday, 11 January 2017 (in response to this post)

To this day, I consider the United Church of Christ (UCC) to be my home denomination in the Christian faith. It would feel so fulfilling to be a minister in the tradition that I’ve gained so much love and support from. But, in order to be ordained in that denomination, one must have a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from an accredited seminary. Such education takes a lot of money. I don’t have the wealth to pay for the education and I don’t currently qualify for the graduate-level lending that would cover the costs. I’ve been effectively priced out of becoming an ordained minister for the UCC (or any other denomination that requires an MDiv).

Christianity has played such an important role my spiritual life, I really don’t want to give it up. I don’t want to become another person so hurt by Christians and Christianity that I leave the faith. But, the Progressive Christian Alliance (PCA) does not require an MDiv for ordination, so this body has its appeal if I am to pursue Christian ministry.

Other traditions? I’m loosely affiliated with the Ekklesía Antínoou, the modern Cultus of Antinoüs. And while I certainly feel a call from Antinoüs himself and the Tetrad++, I don’t necessarily feel called to seek to serve a faith community in that particular tradition at this time. I’m not entirely certain what that says about me, and that’s probably another whole discernment process right there. I am honored and proud to serve as a high priest and teacher of Open Source Alexandrian Wicca, and I know I can do meaningful work with this tradition.

Hmm, it seems discernment can raise as many questions as it answers.