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The Unpopularity Contest

Synchronicity is a mysterious muse who has always danced in periphery of my life. I have seen her out of the corner of my eye on what often seems to be a daily basis. Today was no different except to say, this time she danced across my news feed.

The other night as I scrolled through my Facebook news feed and came across a post by Witches & Pagans editor Anne Newkirk Niven. She had written that she had just gotten her a** handed to her by some readers regarding her editorial. Being no stranger to having my a** handed to me, I was among the first to offer a supportive comment.

The next morning I found a related link to Peter Dybing's Pagan In Paradise post about Pagan Intolerance. And Being no stranger to having my a** handed to me, I was quite happy the issue is finally being addressed. And I am a huge proponent of "Sacred Regard."

But where's the dancing muse you ask? Cue the music...

Because last week the Pagan Alliance and the House of Danu called an Emergency Pagan Conclave to address concerns regarding the new regulation changes by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

The concern was concentrated around their [CDCR] new Religious Property Matrix (RPM). The gist of the RPM is this; there has never been a single list of religious items approved for personal possession by inmates. This singularity has left the sally ports* open wide to abuse, exploitation, discrimination and extensive, expensive litigation. Well, the CDCR has finally come up with a list, which has been called Orwellian; "that which is not permitted is absolutely forbidden"

As one the few Pagan Chaplains actively engaged in Prison ministry here in California, I received an invitation to speak on the topic alongside my peers. Based on the content and tone of the event page it was fairly obvious that my opinion on the matter was not going to be a popular one.

At the conclave I offered my opinion and views of the RPM based on my own direct personal experience, and more importantly, the opinions and direct personal experiences of the inmates I serve; which is actually an expression of hope rather than outrage. Considering the fact that it was the view of those actually being affected by the topic, I felt it was relevant.  

This alternative perspective was contrary to egregore of the collective and was for the most part, polity, publicly dismissed. But the flaming wreckage of fallout that followed took place via personal email, through which I was told that I was ignorant to the subject matter, undermining the cause, speaking without authority or qualification and accused of falsely representing myself. I've had loyalties challenged; my ethics questioned and have basically been called an ignorant sellout.

The sad part is, this was not the first time, and probably not the last.

The unfortunate truth is that in the few years I have served as a volunteer chaplain I have experienced more adversity and endured more disparagement from members of my own Pagan community than I have from the Department of Corrections.

 While I find statements like these deplorable, they are irrelevant. 

My soul concern has been always been, and will always be, the spiritual welfare of the inmates, rather than the opinions of the outmates.

For those of you who may feel as though you are in an opinion closet, within the broom closet, I say come out; come out, be heard and stand your ground. Offering an alternative perspective or opinion can be a public service, if the public is mature enough to discuss it.

I'm sharing my experiences and feelings on this matter in order to emphasize the need for change. Change in the way we engage, respond and simply communicate with each other. I support Peters "Sacred Regard." I think this philosophy must be accepted and instituted as a sacrament within the Pagan collective. I feel the absence of sacred regard only diminishes the solidarity we need, now more than ever.

I thank the Lord & Lady for the gift Fortitude and request the gift of Temperance for us all. Blessed Be.

 

* Sally Port is secure, controlled gate, door or entry way within a prison.

 

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Joseph Merlin Nichter is an author, blogger, ritualist, Freemason, Wiccan and co-founder of the Mill Creek Tradition and Seminary. As the first state-recognized Minority Faith Chaplain, Joseph provides Pagan religious services and assists with religious accommodations of minority faiths for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; he has also served the California Department of Mental Health as a religious program instructor. Joseph is the co-founder and current president of the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association. Joseph lives in Central California with his wife and four children, where he continues to actively serve his community.

Comments

  • Crystal Blanton
    Crystal Blanton Friday, 10 May 2013

    Thank you for writing about such a challenging topic, one that is often layered in levels of misunderstanding, challenge, confusion, ego, frustration, history and often very good intentions. It is my belief, as a social worker, that we as a community really need to learn how to communicate with one another, otherwise we are constantly destroying our tools in an attempt to build our foundation. While we all don't have to agree, we need to learn how to disagree without damaging ourselves in the process.

    The reality is that the most vulnerable populations of society, especially for minority groups, need us to get our shit together so that we can be present for the needs of a whole community. I would love to see us work together better than we have in the past, so that we can take the work of our craft ancestors to the next level. Otherwise everyone's efforts will die with individuals.

    Thanks for posting about something so sensitive.

  • Joseph Merlin Nichter
    Joseph Merlin Nichter Friday, 10 May 2013

    "we are constantly destroying our tools in an attempt to build our foundation. While we all don't have to agree, we need to learn how to disagree without damaging ourselves in the process."

    THIS.

    "The reality is that the most vulnerable populations of society, especially for minority groups, need us to get our shit together so that we can be present for the needs of a whole community."

    AND THIS.

    "so that we can take the work of our craft ancestors to the next level. Otherwise everyone's efforts will die with individuals."

    AND THIS!

    YOU ARE AWESOME!

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Friday, 10 May 2013

    Sad to say that this is nothing new. I've seen Pagan intolerance since the 90's when I first got involved in the community. That we are so divisive is sad because we are truly holding ourselves back.

  • Joseph Merlin Nichter
    Joseph Merlin Nichter Saturday, 11 May 2013

    I wholeheartedly agree Taylor. We need to begin dissolving the egos and coagulate the community.

  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. Sunday, 12 May 2013

    good post Joseph

    i feel your pain.

    of course this problem is ubiquitous in all religious communities. ever been to a bible study or elders meeting?! it can get pretty ugly. all religious communities have PC issues and i'm not talking about politically correct issues but POWER and CONTROL issues!! unresolved personal and emotional issues like these seem to manifest in religious circles because some people feel they can cloak/dress them in spirituality. psychological and emotional maturity (awareness and healing) is rare and is a long road - at least it has been for me. so whether one is pagan or christian or non of the above - we have to understand our own hearts and then we can have better communities. well, i suppose so.

    thanks again for sharing!

  • Joseph Merlin Nichter
    Joseph Merlin Nichter Tuesday, 14 May 2013

    I'm sure your right Gary, I've seen the power and control issues present in many social groups and communities I've had the pleasure to have been a part of. I think perhaps our Pagan communities are especially susceptible to PC issues simply because of our structure and dynamic. Rather than being seated in the rank and file of pews, listening to a single voice speak to us and for us; we sit and often stand in a circle facing each other as equals where everyone has a voice. We have more people talking, so there is more drama.

  • Freeman Presson
    Freeman Presson Wednesday, 15 May 2013

    It seems that the more marginal a community is, the more viciously it chews at non-conforming members. We learned some lessons the hard way in the RL community in my city; we are now getting along pretty well (with the usual ration of certain people avoiding each other, etc.)

    I'm seeing more generally civil online discourse, too, compared to the late 90's/early aughts, but then, I'm in a highly self-selected slice of online life, too.

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