This has been a very odd week for me. I’ve been busy navel-gazing with my own spirituality, preparing for Hartwood Grove’s “performance ritual” at the Central Sound Pagan Pride Day which was this past Saturday, and generally minding my own business.
Pagan Pride Day was certainly interesting. In between snippits of shopping and getting to know different people in the area, I sat down on a bench to chug some water, rest my feet, and maybe create a new Facebook status update. But that got waylaid. My Facebook feed was full of messages from my undergrad friends posting about a high school classmate and friend of theirs. I won’t post his name here–the last thing he needs at the moment is his name popping up on some Pagan blog–but you’ve heard about him if you’ve seen the news over the past couple days. He’s the Indiana man who is currently next up on the Islamic State’s beheading block. He initially went to the Middle East as an Army Ranger, but returned after his honorable discharge to become a humanitarian worker who trained civilians in medical treatment for refugees. He was captured last October while traveling to eastern Syria as part of his relief work. During his captivity, he converted to Islam.
But that’s unlikely to keep his head attached to his neck.
It was supremely surreal to learn of this news–and how close I was to it–at an event for religious tolerance and community building. As I flicked through Facebook and felt my horror escalating, I felt keenly how different life must be in the Middle East. The CSPPD coordinators had been worried that there would be protesters at our event, given some missives they’d been sent by various other groups in the area and by the events at Antelope Valley’s PPD. We were worried about yelling people with signs. In the Middle East, non-Muslims worry about abduction, torture, and death.
That makes our concerns seem like first world problems.
With that in mind, I think we at the PPD missed a real opportunity. The event was fun–don’t get me wrong. It was awesome to see so many Pagan and paganish people all in one place and to put faces to names and groups I’d only encountered online or by reputation. But we didn’t really do anything to strengthen our community other than showing up and buying things. There just wasn’t space for any meaningful dialogue. Despite a huge turnout, the workshops, talks, and rituals were underutilized. For example, there were maybe 6 people at the class on religious tolerance I went to, and the class itself was pretty much just a speech prepared by the leader…a speech I barely heard over the noise of the crowd.
If we’re really going to be the change we need to see in the world, we need the space to start that discussion and to be heard. There’s not much interfaith infrastructure in Paganism, let alone between Pagan Paths and other religions, so opportunities provided by events such as Pagan Pride Day are few and far between.
From what I experienced this week, we can’t let even one of these opportunities pass us by.
EDIT: On November 16th, 2014, President Obama confirmed the beheading of this young man. I do not know how to wrap my head around this pure evil. I can only try to support my friends who are struggling with the news and hope that Allah moves the hearts of the men who took this action to compassion and repentance.