Merry Christmas and a Happy Yule, Pastor Kenny:
I’m not really a Pagan, but I got your attention, didn’t I? I don’t know who said it first, but the biggest difference between you and me is that I have rejected one more God than you have. Freedom of religion is also freedom from religion and I am proudly religion free.
However, if forced to choose a religion I would go with one that worships Mother Earth and Her children. My second choice? Pastafarianism because I love the headgear.
First apologies for taking so long to get back to you, Ken. It simply didn’t occur to me right away that you’d reply to me through a sermon from your pulpit. That realization took a few weeks. Then, once I found the written version online, I needed to understand it. Your response was wrapped in religious allegory and I’m not as steeped in religious allegory as you. That’s why I had to read it many times and why I listened to the audio version many more than that. I didn’t want to misinterpret it, which I probably have anyway.
Another reason for taking so long is that I realized it was your last
sermon from that church. Whether you were fired, or resigned, or came to
a mutual understanding with your church, is something I have no way of
knowing. However, your brave stand on LGBT issues almost certainly contributed to your leaving. I chose to respect a mourning period.
Then, because making excuses is so easy, I had other writing and
research to do, yadda, yadda, yadda . . . but here I am just in time for
the holiday, which seems incredibly appropriate. Is it Synchronicity? [More
about that later.]
I note you are now seeking your spirituality with a new church. Clearly, seeking spirituality has been a lifelong pursuit for each of us. To that end, Sunday night I went to my first Winter’s Solstice drum circle. Remember I mentioned my fascination with drum circles in my last letter? In another nice touch of synchronicity, it was exactly a year ago when I got hooked on the eternal drumbeat (which I wrote about in The 32nd Annual King Mango Strut. The 33rd Mango Strut is this week.).
The Winter Solstice Drum Circle is a massive dealie with hundreds of people who take over a small section of Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. Normally the park closes at sunset, which is pretty early this time of year. However, on the Winter Solstice the drum circle is allowed to bang away until 11PM. This huge, family-friendly event was both a delight and a distraction. Ken, I thought about you and this response during the drum circle, but I was not able to find spirituality inside the rhythm that night. It was just too crowded.
I suppose there was a time I found spirituality in a God, but it was
so long ago I no longer recall the feeling. I was a child, as willing to
believe in unicorns and fairies as Sky Dudes. I don’t mean to be
insulting, Ken, but we’re both old men now and we can be blunt with each
other because we’ve been friends since 1957. As Rob Hampton says in
the Study Guide to your sermon:
Since Jesus doesn’t focus on the sin of the people He calls, we can be free to be ourselves in His presence.
In other words, Pastor Kenny: I gotta be me . . . for better or worse. I’m hoping you’ll see this Pagan Pastoral Letter as better. If nothing else it will test your capacity for forgiveness.
Where was I? Oh, yeah: As I entered adulthood and became a writer, I started to require proof
for things. Unicorns and fairies fell off my list of things to believe
in. However, for a belief in God, I was still willing to accept proof. I
hadn’t rejected Her the way I had unicorns and fairies. That’s why in
my early adulthood I called myself an Agnostic. I used to tell people
that if God were to show up, I’d invite Him in for coffee because I had
a lot of questions. But, until then, I was going to reserve judgement.
Take it under advisement. Give in to the benefit of the doubt. Suspend disbelief.
As I got older this door I left open a crack slowly drifted closed as refreshing breezes filtered through the belief system in my attic, or my empty head.
Take your pick. I remember in my late 20s consciously deciding that
being Agnostic was the coward’s way out. I was leaving myself a loophole in
case God did show up at my door. That way He wouldn’t strike me dead with lightening
bolts for rejecting Her. That’s when I started to check the Atheist box and, quite frankly, never looked back.
reminded of the W.C. Fields story when he was found reading The Bible
while waiting off-camera for the next scene. A friend couldn’t believe
it. Atheist Fields reading a Bible? Why? He replied in that drawl that only
Fields had, “Ah, yes! Looking for loopholes.” I no longer needed a loophole.
Let me be clear about a belief in God, any God: There have been many times in my life that I was sorry I didn’t belong to a religion, that I didn’t have a God to fall back upon. How nice it must be, when the gale forces of the world are blowing against life, to find peace and serenity by believing in something bigger than oneself. That whole “confession/forgiveness” dealie of some religions is just the icing on the cake. No matter what you’ve done wrong, all you have to do is confess and do the penance. Suddenly your ticket to heaven is stamped GOOD TO GO all over again. Atheist me? I just feel guilty about things until the feeling passes or I feel I’ve atoned in a real, tangible way for my screw ups.
Anyway, I wasn’t an evangelical Atheist like Richard Dawkins, nor a showbiz Atheist like Bill Maher.
I have always believed a person’s relationship with their God, or lack thereof, is a
personal matter best kept to oneself. Which is why writing about this has been more difficult than I thought it would be when I begain.
Now, keep in mind, Kenny, I was
still living in Canada. People in Canada are far more reserved about
expressing their religious views. It’s not that they are any less deeply
held. It’s just the Canadian way to be more reserved about everything.
So, I was quite shocked when I returned to the States 9 years ago and
saw so much religious proselytizing that it even extended to the bumpers of cars.
I became aware of the Fox “News” Phony War on Christmas and everything changed for me. There’s an entire history
on the innertubes of my writing about Fox “News” mendacity
so I won’t bore you with all of that
Kenny. However, when I first got back down here, I couldn’t believe the crap that Bill O’Reilly
was selling about there being a War on Christmas. Year after year that fatuous asshole has proclaimed there’s a
War on Christmas. Hell, the last 2 years running he’s claimed that he
single-handedly defeated the dark forces who would ban Christmas from ‘Merkin life. You can only win a war once, Bill O.
That’s when I consciously chose to be an Atheist who speaks out about the extreme contradictions in religion. It turned out, once I started to examine my feelings closely, I realized I actually resented a lifetime of being forced to participate in a religious holiday I didn’t believe
in — have never believed in — even when I believed in God.
IRONY ALERT: Until Bill O’Reilly brought it up, I never gave it a second thought when someone would wish me Merry Christmas. It was just what people said at this time of year and I accepted it in the spirit it was intended. But that was BO, Before O’Reilly. Now I’m deeply offended when someone who doesn’t know me wishes me a Merry Christmas, but not nearly as much as I resent it when people who know me do it.
Why is this the default position? Why do people automatically assume I’m part of their Christ Club?
I came to recognize it’s the same resentment that I have when White people say
racist crap to me assuming I belong to the same White Skin Club they’ve
paid a lifetime of dues into. That’s White Privilege personified. Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, regardless of what they may believe, is Christian Privilege.
Why would people like Bill O’Reilly get their Christmas stockings in a twist if people use the more inclusive “Happy Holiday”?
Even an Atheist like myself can get behind that because New Year’s is a holiday I
It’s taken a lifetime, living under this dominant religion, for my resentment to build to this heat. Let me share some of that with you, Ken. Growing up I was forced to sing Christmas Carols in school, just like everybody else. Never once did we ever sing about a dreidel. For a
solid month radio stations feature Christmas music, but nothing about the
many days of Hanukkah. Stores are decorated for this holiday as if a
wartime prohibition on lights and glitter has suddenly been lifted.
This year people are enormously proud that their Christmas decorations can be seen from space
. Is this the reason for the season? Or, is it keeping up with the Joneses? To my mind it’s breaking the Commandment against idolatry.
I never talked about this with you, but I can say with confidence that you were never called a Kike, a dirty Jew, a Christ Killer while growing up. Once I had a kid once look at me very closely. When I asked him what he was
looking at, he said, “I don’t see any horns.” He was serious. He thought Jews had horns. Where the hell do people learn things like that, because it’s sure not in any Bible I’ve ever read?
can only imagine the chagrin my parents felt when I came home singing
“This Little Light of Mine,” a song I didn’t even know had religious
connotations until years later. It’s a simply, catchy tune and kids love
simple, catchy tunes. Maybe that’s why singing in church took hold.
Song is a great way to distribute propaganda.
In fact, Pastor
Kenny, I’ve become far more cynical about Christmas since returning the
States, where it is celebrated as if it’s an Olympic event. This is supposedly the birthday of the Savior, yet the holiday itself is being used to divide people. The Bill O’Reillys of the world use religion to attack others, while portraying themselves as the victims. In the
words of Gandhi, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.
Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
While on the topic, the commercialization of Christmas is something that I simply find amusing. It’s almost as if more people believe in Santa Claus than they do Jesus Christ. In the ’60s evangelists in this country burned Beatles’ records because John Lennon said
Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.
I agree with Lennon; I’m just more sarcastically cynical. All of this preamble is to explain why I created a hashtag for times when (I believe) people have taken the Lord’s name in vain. When I am
truly exasperated by crazy, evangelical MoFos I share their blathering on social media with #WhoWouldJeusBitchSlap? appended. To my extreme disappointment this hashtag has yet to go viral. Maybe one day. Feel free to use it.
I know it seems like I’m rambling, but what a difference a month makes. Last month I was thrilled to learn of your book (which, I confess, I have yet to read) and that you were the Senior and Founding Pastor of one of the first churches in the country to be accepting of the LGBT community. Acceptance is miles farther along the path to Humanism than mere tolerance.
Imagine my disappointment when I learned, from your sermon no less, that you are no longer Senior Pastor of that church. I guess they were not as accepting as I thought. Hell, I guess they weren’t as accepting as you thought. Or, as accepting as Jesus.
One positive element religions provide is a grand capacity for forgiveness, something else I wish I had. I’m sure you’ve already forgiven your former-church for kicking you to the curb after 40 years of dedicated service. I haven’t yet. Forgive me if I’ve yet to forgive them because they are discriminating — in the name of God — against my family and friends who are part of the great LGBT rainbow. I’m certain I have family and friends who are LGBT that I don’t even know about. Nor is it any of my business. Nor is it important. What’s important is what kind of person they are and their capacity to love, not the person they’ve chosen to love.
I felt a weird kind of frisson to know you replied to me from the pulpit and that it was the last time you would address that congregation in that church. Weirder still is that your reply seems to imply that I you believe I was sent by Jesus to help you bring about a religious revival. [Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, on any of this.]
Don’t get me wrong. I was honoured, sorta, that you would speak through me to God, or through God to me. Or through God to you, and then to me. Or, you to God and then me. [How does all of this work?] Several of your descriptions of “pairs” resonated with me, as if you were describing us:
[…] Jesus sees something in Nathaniel that maybe he didn’t see in himself until Jesus named it. Maybe Nathaniel was the ignored kid in school, the one no Rabbi would call to be his dis iple [sic], because he didn’t have much promise. Maybe Nathaniel half believed that about himself but didn’t buy it fully.
Jesus comes along and names the thing about Nathaniel that Nathaniel most wants to be, a true Israelite in whom there is no guile. And when Jesus speaks it, Nathaniel says, “Yes, Lord!”
Don’t be afraid to be seen by Jesus through-through. We harbor these feelings that maybe we are special. We’re afraid, though, to name it. Afraid that it’s just ego, or that we’re just fooling ourselves. Jesus knows what that thing is in each of us. And when he names it there’s no denying it.
We end with an allusion to Jacob who became Israel. Jacob on the run after really getting his brother Esau angry. Jacob going into exile. Like Israel centuries later would be driven into exile.
Exhausted, weak, out of gas, Jacob lay down in a field, his head on a stone for a pillow, fast asleep. And saw in a dream, heaven open and a ladder come down and the angels ascending and descending. And promises of blessing were made to him in his weakness. And when he awoke he said, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven.”
All these pairs, John the Baptist-Jesus, Andrew-Peter, Philip-Nathaniel, Jacob-Esau. But over them all, God. And among them and between them, God.
Serving a great revival underway.
More synchronicity, Ken. I am currently serializing Farce Au Pain at the Not Now Silly Newsroom. Within the electrons you may recognize Zachary’s house as the one you grew up in and Adrian’s house as mine. Still further synchronicity: Chapter Two starts off with a list of duos, which could be called pairs, if you squint.
This is as good a time for my definition of synchronicity, cribbed from one of my earlier posts:
Think of your own personal synchronicity as a blanket you are shaking
rhythmically up and down. The sine waves created by the blanket is a two
dimensional representation of your synchronicity in a 3-Dimensional
space. However, everyone knows that synchronicity works in the 6th
Dimension, where it interacts with the ‘waving blankets’ belonging to
everyone else. Where these waves collide are where the EXACT moments and
locations the FSM
has stitched together Space and Time and Gravity and Dimensionality and
Predestination. If, as they contend in Quantuum Mechanics or String
Theory or Whatever They’re Calling It These Days™, all choices are
possible in the Alternative Universes that exist, then the chances
of anything so improbable can be proven possible by multiplying boiling
water with pasta and adding sauce.
While tongue in cheek, it’s not far off what I believe about random chance, like that which allowed us to find each other after 40 years of radio silence.
Ken, if you and Jesus expect me to take part in a great religious revival, I have to be honest with you both: This heathen is not be up to the challenge if it requires a belief in a Supreme Being. That’s simply not happening. I’m more inclined to test your religious faith than you instilling any in in me.
When you delivered your sermon I was disappointed you skipped over a small portion of my email when witnessing to your church. That’s because it was the most important part of my email, in my mind anyway. It becomes that much more important now that you’ve been pushed out of your church.
I have a hard time squaring that [your total acceptance of the LGBT communities] with the evangelicals I am
always reading about. I know the squeaky wheel gets the ink, but I keep reading
of evangelical hate for various factions of folk in this world, whether it’s
The Gay, or the poor, or people of colour, or immigrants both documented and
un. While the religion preaches love, there’s a whole lot of hate expressed
quite openly. One shudders to think of what might be said in private.
That paragraph encapsulates my overarching feeling about organized religion. Religious texts seem to preach something entirely different than the organized religions that profess to follow them. Using the Bible people find their justification for hate and discrimination. Your Third Way is simply a new interpretation of the very same words. That you found justification for treating LGBT folk with dignity is admirable, but how can you be any more certain that your interpretation is any closer to the truth? And, don’t even get me started on lobster and shrimp.
I do want to sincerely wish you a Merry Christmas, Pastor Kenny. I hope Santa brought you everything that you and your family wished for all year. More importantly, I hope your religious prayers are answered.
Before I sign off, it occurs to me that I don’t really know what you believe. That you believe in God is a given. That you believe in Jesus as the Son of God is also a given. Beyond that I can only guess.
Do you believe that Jesus’ birthday is December 25th or are you willing to accept the proposition that, no matter when His birth actually occurred, it was moved to be closer to Winter Solstice in order to co-opt the Pagan holiday celebrated for millennia Before Christ? Do you even believe there were millennia BC?
Geez, look at that. Even our date numbering system
is based upon your religion, even though experts think it’s off by as
many as 6 years. Jews are living in their year of 5775, but how much farther back does time go?
I hope you’ve taken no insult in anything I’ve said, Ken. In all honesty I am thrilled to have found you and would be sad if I were to lose you again, especially if I pushed you away. For many years I have lamented privately that my event horizon for friendships goes back no further than the day I moved to Canada. Soon after I moved to Florida 9 years ago I received an email from one of my sons. He had been contacted by Jeff Deeks — do you remember him? — looking for me. I used the email and phone number he provided many times, but Jeff never replied or called back. And, I didn’t even attack his religion like I have yours. I do hope you reply and we can continue this dialogue as far as it takes us.
Lastly, in your writings you use the word “gospel” a lot. Not meaning to be patronizing, you may be gratified to know that Gospel music is a favourite genre. While I must have been aware of Gospel prior to this, but I clearly remember when Deeks introduced me to it. He took me on a bit of a mystery tour downtown by DSR, refusing to tell me where we were going. Eventually he led me to a Black church he had read about in a newspaper. We were the only two White faces in the pews as we listened to Aretha Franklin singing Gospel in her daddy’s church.
As I like to say, “I don’t know Jesus, but I sure like his music.” That’s why I’m going out on my absolute favourite Gospel tune:
HAPPY HOLIDAYS, KEN!!!
With all my love and affection,
your childhood friend,