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Jesus is alright with me (in defense of Teo Bishop)
I had really planned to write this week about a completely different topic. I have done my best to avoid the Teo Bishop rants on the web, and honestly I glaze over any time I try to read one. Ultimately, I find that I can’t leave the situation without comment, despite my deepest desires to do so.
Like so many other American Pagans, I came to Paganism after being raised in the Christian church. Like so many other American Pagans, after I found Paganism I went through a bout of Christian bashing. It’s silly and immature, but seems to be a common response for those who convert. Trust me, after 2 years in Baptist school, I had plenty of anger and resentment towards Christianity. It took about a decade for that to really calm down in my soul. When the “smoke cleared”, I discovered that I never had any problems with Jesus at all – it’s those who claim to be his followers that were at the heart of the issue for me. I personally think that the Sermon on the Mount is a beautiful guide to life and wish that more people would follow it. I also think it is critical to separate “Jesus” from “the church” – Christians are not Christ or I wouldn’t have written this.
I'm not a Pantheist - I have been a polytheist since I was a teenager and have been an animist since birth - but isn’t a core concept of Pantheism that “there are many paths to the truth”? I really never belonged in the Christian Church, despite many attempts to behave according to those norms. I am so firmly a Pagan that I can’t imagine ever changing paths – but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Perhaps Teo Bishop’s announcement (which has been widely misquoted and misinterpreted) that he feels a calling towards a Christian path was a horrible shock to some who haven’t been part of this Community for decades. Although you might not want to hear it, this happens a lot. Just as Paganism is rapidly growing, we also lose people on a steady basis. It appears that we are gaining far more than losing right now, but a Pagan path isn’t for everyone. Often times, the Pagan Community offers a place for people to heal and recover from terrible experiences with other religions. Many times people stay in our Community until they heal, then they move on. There’s nothing wrong with that and it is, I think, a great credit to us that people come to us for spiritual healing.
My own Guardian mentor left his Pagan path and joined the Episcopalian Church some years ago. While he would certainly chuckle to hear me call him “mentor”, the fact is that he took my inborn Guardian nature and showed me how to employ that to satisfy my own needs and help our Community at the same time. I was sad when he left his Pagan path, but I accept that he had gained what he needed from that path and his spiritual development required him to move on to other things.
For all of those currently screaming about Teo’s statements that he felt pulled to work for Christ and that he was questioning the value of Paganism/Druidism in his life, I have to ask some questions. Have you stayed on the same spiritual path for your entire life? Do you not acknowledge that spirituality is a journey and journeys require that you move – not stay in the same place? Why does it upset you so much that someone suggested that he (and perhaps others) need to re-examine the place of Paganism in his life?
Personally, I think it is not only a good idea to question your choices and beliefs (including your spiritual beliefs) but absolutely mandatory. Failing to periodically review your choices, path, and goals makes you a slave to the person you were when you made those earlier choices or, worse yet, a slave to the people who told you to take that path.. People grow and develop as they learn and are exposed to new ideas and new energies. While I am only pantheistic at the most macro scale imaginable, I am certainly a polytheist. Does that mean that I can’t accept that someone else would find spiritual fulfillment and peace with Christianity? Of course not. I have tons of Christian friends and family. I also don’t expect anyone I know to stay on one particular path to please me. It’s ultimately none of my business.
I can’t claim that I’ve read every word that Teo has written since making his announcement. I think that everyone agrees that the timing couldn’t have been much worse, but anyone who has ever had a spiritual calling can tell you that we don’t get to control when or why it happens. I have read a fair amount of what Teo had to say. I have also learned that he is getting mounds of emails that make me ashamed to be associated with the label “Pagan” (not really, but for a moment anyway). People are outraged that 1) Teo would even consider leaving the Pagan path, 2) That he has suggested that a Pagan path may not have value to him anymore and that he was thinking about the value of Paganism for him personally, and 3) that he has been “disrespectful of Paganism”.
I’m sorry, but I just didn’t get those things out of what he wrote – or at least those things he suggested were options he was considering and decisions he has to make. I think he’s been very candid that he isn’t sure of what this calling means, its implications for his future, or exactly how he will respond. He has suggested that he might return to the Christian Church, but he has also suggested that perhaps this will lead him down a brand new path he can’t foresee or take him down a path to ChristoPaganism or elsewhere. I haven’t heard him condemn Paganism nor threaten to burn or hang any witches or do or say anything that would harm our Community. Teo doesn’t know the implications for the future so how can any of us??
Even if Teo chose to completely turn away from Paganism, how does that harm me or mine? How many Pagans are there who daily bash Christians? Would one of them, more or less, make much of a difference to the Community as a whole? I don’t think so, so even if Teo turned his back on our Community it means nothing to the rest of us except sadness that he is gone. Don’t forget all of the work he has already done that will remain a part of our Community forever.
I also think there is a much bigger issue at stake that people are generally overlooking. Teo acknowledges he isn’t sure where he is heading but has not ruled out remaining part of the Pagan Community or integrating into it in a whole new way. If Pagans feel the need or desire to bash Teo for his announcement (keep in mind that spiritual callings are not something that we choose) then those same folks might be ensuring that he will leave our Community for good. Why stay in a place where people have tried so hard to make you unwelcome? If you are a supporter of Paganism and would like Teo to remain a part of that, then you need to back off and give the man some room and some time to think. He needs space to listen to this new calling and folks screaming in his ear will prevent that.
I have always pitied and attempted to support the Christian Pagans in our Community since they tend to be picked on from both sides. Having Jesus in your practice is no stranger than incorporating any other god or goddess. Perhaps Teo can find a new voice for that idea and this is part of his calling, I can’t say. I can go on and on about this topic, but I will wrap it up now with one simple request.
If you are upset at Teo, please go back and read his formal announcement about this situation. When you read it, replace the word “Jesus” with the word “Horus” and see if you are equally offended. If this were a Christian questioning his faith and considering moving to a Pagan path what would your reaction be?
Teo, from me to you, I wish you nothing but the very best on whatever path you choose (or are assigned to, lol). You have brought a lot of joy and positive energy into the Pagan Community and no matter what the future holds, many of us are grateful for what you have already given. To me, a cornerstone of Paganism is tolerance. If we can’t accept spiritual growth or change in a leader who has given so much of himself to the Community, then I question how “spiritual” this issue is versus how “cultural” or “political” it might be. Be well on your path Teo, no matter what it holds. We will be here for you if you feel the need to depart and later return. Whether you leave the Pagan Community or not, you are always welcome in my circle. I think our Community could use a little more “Sermon on the Mount” and a little less obsession with “burning times” anyway – maybe Teo’s change can help with that. Putting on my flame-proof suit now...
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