- You have recently finished your education at Cherry Hill Seminary and you’ve been hired as a healthcare chaplain at a local hospital. The Director of Pastoral Care turns to you and says, “Well, since you’re the newest chaplain you get to preach at our bi-annual memorial service for all who have passed away at the hospital since our last service.”
- You are sitting at an interview for a position as a staff chaplain at a prison. The warden who is interviewing you says, “I expect my chaplain to be the pastor of the whole prison community.”
- You get a call in the middle of the night. A Catholic patient of yours is near death and the family can't find a priest to anoint the patient. You've been asked by the nurse at their bedside to attend to them.
At times I am angry and other times overflowing with joy. Sometimes I'm confused and sometimes I have absolute clarity. This blog will explore our human condition through an investigation of spiritual pain and how to transcend our pain to find peace.
Several years ago I was facilitating a spiritual discussion group at the Yellow Springs Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. I was serving that congregation as their religious education director and one of the duties I took upon myself was leading this discussion group before we gathered for the weekly service. There was a wonderful gentleman named Chuck who would often attend our discussions and sometimes attend the main service depending on the topic. One Sunday morning after about a half hour of group discussion Chuck spoke up and addressed the small group of about eight or so at the spiritual discussion group with, “You folks talk about being opened minded and affirming of others yet in the course of this discussion you’ve insulted me several times. I’m a Christian. I’m a Fundamentalist. I teach at a Baptist university, and I regularly attend a Baptist Church. And I’m a Republican. Some of you have used these terms like they’re swear words.” After he spoke his mind there was a lot of back peddling. Chuck attended these discussion groups because he valued the discussions and he attended the main service when he was able because he valued some of the topics presented. On those occasions when I was able to preach at the fellowship he would often attend to hear me speak. He was and is a good man. He wasn’t the “enemy,” but he was someone who sought to understand others and dialogue for mutual understanding and respect.
But Chuck presented an important dilemma for Unitarian Universalism and also a dilemma that is pertinent to the Pagan community. How can we advocate tolerance, acceptance and understanding while simultaneously causing alienation and marginalization?
Back in 2010 I attended a conference at Sojourners headquarters in Washington, DC. Sojourners is an Evangelical Christian organization devoted primarily to social justice causes. The conference I attended was focused on promoting education for collaborative faith based social justice programs and encouraged people to travel back to their local communities and organize faith based social justice programs. The point of the training was to get conservative and liberal faith communities to talk to one another and focus on the social justice issues they can agree upon and work together to promote positive change. When I returned to the Columbus, Ohio area I helped with some Immigration Reform events that were truly interfaith endeavors. It was Immigration Reform that was a topic that could unite several very diverse faith groups together for common action. It would have done no one any good to point fingers and shout, “Other.” But together our small voices became a much louder voice. I like to think we did some good by working together. That training at Sojourners was a good opportunity for me and I value that experience....
“Often, to be free means the ability to deal with the realities of one’s own situation so as not to be overcome by them.” -- Howard Thurman
My personal faith journey has been colorful and has included many joyful and sorrowful memories. At one time in my life, in the early 1990s I was System Operator, or SysOp, for a computer BBS (Bulletin Board System) called Theosis. The BBS was sponsored by the Romanian Byzantine Catholic Eparchy nestled in cozy Canton, Ohio, an I had the sublime honor of maintaining and administering the BBS – albeit for only a short time. The story of my brief sojourn into BBS management seems a fitting story to tell for the first entry of this Blog that holds the same name. You must be reading this blog entry and asking yourself, “What does Byzantine Catholicism have to do with ‘Pagan Studies,’ and why call a blog Theosis?” Both of these are very good questions and worthy of an answer.
In Byzantine Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian theology the concept of Theosis is very important. Theosis is both a process and an end result of spiritual practice. Another term for Theosis is deification or attaining the “likeness of God.” Within Orthodox Christianity the idea of Theosis is the answer to the question, “What’s the purpose of existence?” But concept didn’t take root in the Western half of the Catholic Church or within Protestantism in part because of the influence of “Scholasticism,” or the emphasis on education and learning; however, the mysticism of the Eastern world relied heavily upon the theological concept of Theosis. The idea of becoming in a sense “God.”...