Category Archives: Queer Spirituality

A is for Antinous

*tap* *tap* *tap*

Is this thing on?

I haven’t been very good about keeping up with this blog.  I could go into a long list of excuses about why that is, but really, it is what it is.  But here we are in a new year with new opportunities!  One of my intentions this year is to focus on my spiritual writing, and the primary place I am going to be doing that is here.  My intention is to post here 2-3 times a week.  And one of the ways I am going to be keeping on track with that is to participate in the Pagan Blog Project, which has participants blog on topics as we work our way through the alphabet throughout the year.  As you might be able to guess, we’ll be starting with A.  So get yourself strapped in.  I hope you’ll enjoy the ride.

letterAA is for Antinous

Of course I have to start with Antinous.  Back in October of 2011 I wrote a blog post called Spiritualty Squared where I described 4 different aspects of my spirituality.  One of those aspects was my devotion to the god Antinous.  I’m a Mystes Antínoou, who has been initiated into the Antinoan Mysteries and a participating member of the Ekklesia Antinoou (“Citizenry of Antinous”), a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist form of mystical religion devoted to Antinous.  of course, I realize that most of that just sounds like gobbledygook to those who have never heard of Antinous before and have no idea what kind of god he is.

Antinous was a young man born sometime between the years 110 CE to 112 CE in the Roman province of Bythinia, which is now modern day Turkey.  During one of his tours of the Eastern Empire, the Roman Emperor Hadrian took the boy into his company.  Antinous became Hadrian’s companion, lover, and imperial favorite.  In October 130 CE Antinous drowned in the Nile.  The circumstances around his drowning are not known.  Many have speculated that it was an accident, or that it was suicide, possibly murder, or even a voluntary religious sacrifice. Personally, I think the most likely cause was that it was simply an accident.  However it happened, the end result is the same: Antinous died. But the story doesn’t end there. The Nile was considered a sacred river by the Egyptians. By Egyptian custom, anyone who had drowned in the holy waters was considered deified, syncretized to Osiris, and given a minor cult.  Due to his death in the Nile, Antinous was proclaimed a god.  For the Romans the erastes-eremenos relationship ( a socially acknowledged erotic relationship between an adult male and a younger male) was not unusual, but the intensity with which Hadrian mourned the death of Antinous and promoted his cultus was without precedent.  Hadrian founded a city in Egypt in honor of Antinous, Antinoöpolis, which became the seat of his cult.  Temples were built for his worship in Bithynia, Mantineia in Arcadia, and Athens.  Festivals were celebrated in his honor and oracles delivered in his name.   In the year after Antinous‘ death, and after a drought that had lasted several years, the Nile flooded its banks.  This was acknowledged as a miracle and attributed to Antinous.  A new star in the constellation of Aquila was discovered.  it was pointed out to Hadrian and stated to be the soul of Antinous in the heavens.  The cult of Antinous thrived for several centuries, and he was syncretized to many gods in various locations, including Osiris, Dionysus, Apollo, Hermes, Pan, Adonis, Eros and others.

Great.  That’s a history lesson.  I think the more important question is, what does Antinous mean to me?  What is it that drew me to Antinous?  The thing that first drew me to Antinous was his homoerotic relationship with Hadrian.  As a man who loves men, I saw in that relationship between Hadrian and Antinous something I could identify with.  Ironically, I’m not among the camp of those who are devoted to Antinous who identify him as the “gay god” or the “god of gays.”  I find that kind of designation to be shallow and historically inaccurate.  Antinous is no more a gay god than Dionysos or Zues or other deities who have had homoerotic relationships or flings.  We don’t refer to them as gay gods.  Granted, Antinous, before he was deified, was  a real person, and the only known erotic relationship that he had was a homoerotic one.  I can understand why some tend to label him as gay.  However, the relationship he was involved in was part of what was accepted as the cultural norm in that society.  Many, many men were involved in the erastes-eremenos relationship and then went on have heterosexual relationships.  We don’t label all of them as gay.  I don’t see why we should shove that modern label onto Antinous.  However, regardless of whether I like the label or not, the relationship Antinous had with Hadrian was a homoerotic one.

Like many people, my first introduction to modern paganism was through Wicca.  I had been a minister in a conservative Christian church for several years, before I fled Christianity because I had a crisis over who I was as a sexual being.  That crisis led me to throw Christianity completely out the window (at least temporarily).  It was only a few months later that I was introduced to Wicca.  One of the things that I immediately found appealing was this idea of balance.  It wasn’t just the male identified, masculine God, but it was balanced with the feminine side of the Divine in the Goddess.  Here was a view of the Holy that wasn’t one or the other, but a balance of both, both God and Goddess together.  One without the other was imbalanced.  I still appreciate that about the Wiccan tradition that I am a part of.  At the time that I first discovered Antinous, I had been participating in Wicca for a few years.  I had also been an out gay man and living in a relationship for a few years.  While I appreciated the balance of God and Goddess that Wicca presented compared to the unbalanced presentation of a sole masculine God that I had experienced in Christianity, I had also began to wonder if this heterosexual  male/female expression of the Divine was all there was.   In walked Antinous.  Here was a god that I related to.  Like me, he had been in love with a man and experienced an erotic relationship with a man.  In the relationship of Antinous and Hadrian I found a view of the Divine that wasn’t based on a model of heterosexual union and procreation.  It was a new concept of Deity that I felt could have a place in my devotional life.

I still practice Wicca and I still actively work with the God and Goddess in my spiritual life.  That view of balance and polarity is still a view that I find worthwhile.  But one of the cool things about being a practicing polytheist is that we don’t have to limit ourselves to one concept of God.. or even two concepts.  There are a multiplicity of gods and goddesses out there that reveal to us a fuller expression of the Divine.  So in addition to my view of God as a God/Goddess pair, I added a god that I could relate to who  had experience same-sex love and a homoerotic relationship just like I had.

Antinous_Osiris_Louvre_Ma433Another aspect of devotion to Antinous that I immediately found appealing was the way that he has been syncretized with other gods.  For some, these syncretisms make Antinous less appealing.  Why not just worship Ganymede?  Why not just worship Dionysos?  Why not just worship Hermes?  And to that, I say, why not?  If that’s what appeals to you and you want to do that, then do it!  For me, however, I’ve always found the idea of the syncretisms of Antinous to be appealing.  While I wouldn’t describe Antinous as a gateway god, for me, his syncretisms with other gods have certainly acted as a portal or way to access that other god.  Antinous has introduced me to a plethora of other gods that have since become important to me in their own right.  Hermes, Dionysos, Osiris, Eros, and Pan are all gods I initially met through Antinous.  Even my interactions with Aphrodite are heavily colored by my devotion to Antinous/Eros.  In some ways, it’s like I’m at a big cocktail party and Antinous is my host.  he has graciously taken me around the room and said, “Lazarus, I’d like to introduce you to Silvanus.  I think you two might have a few things in common.  Cheers!”

Lastly, I’ve always felt there was something profound about the fact that Antinous was an actual human being who became a god.  Again, this is another point where some have issues with Antinous.  It’s perhaps a little too “Jesus-like” to have been a human being who died and then raised to godhood.  For those in pagandom who have issues with Christianity, this surface level similarity to Jesus puts some people off.  In theology, this idea that a human can achieve divine status is called apotheosis.  I plan to post a more detailed blog post about this soon, but for now, I feel that Antinous’ very real death and deification points to our own Divine nature and ability to become gods ourselves.  That’s a deep mystery, and I will leave it at that for now.

For those interested in devotion to Antinous, there are a few resources I suggest you check out:

Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous: The personal blog of P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, founder of the Ekklesia Antinoou and author of several books on devotion to Antinous.  If you’re at all interested in Antinous, Lupus blogs about Antinous and Antinoan practice several times a week.

Ekklesia Antinoi Yahoo Group : The Ekklesia Antinoou is a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist form of mystical religion. The group is the forum for discussion of issues, whether of worship or theology, myth or meditation, surrounding the worship of Antinous, the Divinized Boy of Bithynia, his historical cult and continuing scholarship about it, and his relevance to queer people in particular.

Via Antinoi – The Way of Antinous on Facebook :  The Facebook page of which I am one of the administrators.  It’s not updated as often as I would like to, but if you’re on facebook, give us a like for occasional Antinous related content on your newsfeed.

The Via Antinoi Liturgical Calndars: A page connected to this blog.  It contains two calendars.  The first is a calendar of festivals and observances, and the second is of many saints in the Ekklesia.  I plan to eventually host these on their own site, but for now, they are here.  If you’re at all interested in following the Antinoan devotional year, this is an easy way to start.

While you’re at it, head over to the Pagan Blog Project and check out what other topics others have been blogging about!

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Filed under Antinous, Christianity, New Year, Paganism, Queer Spirituality, Wicca

One Gay Man’s Response to Gender Essentialism in Paganism

A couple days ago, Teo Bishop started a conversation about gender essentialism in Wicca over on his blog, Bishop in the Grove.  Inspired by a comment on a Huffington Post article he had posted about his transgender child, he posed the following question on his Facebook page:

“I wonder how my Wiccan friends might respond to the idea that the Lord and Lady gave us our form, or that a trans person transitioning is the greatest insult to them.”

There were many great responses to this question, including this blog post from my friend Spanish Moss who points out that polarity, sex and gender “are not the same as taught within Traditional Wicca. Yes, our praxis expresses the duality of two Deities along the lines of the sexes; however, the core of the matter is the mystery of the creation of life derives from sex.”  I also appreciated Rev. Kirk Thomaas’ comment on Teo’s post that the gods “didn’t make us look like Them, They make Themselves look like us, for us.”

As a gay man, a man who loves men, and someone interested in trans equality issues, this is something I have thought about quite a bit in how it plays out in my own personal spirituality.  This post isn’t going to be a fully fleshed out theology of gender and the Craft, but these are some of the thoughts I’ve had mulling around in my head for several years now.

Is Wicca Heterosexist?

I know that some Queer Pagans have been turned off to Wicca and gone in search of other Pagan paths that they feel better reflect their experiences as LGBT people because they feel that the God and Goddess of Wicca express a heterosexist experience.  In all fairness, there might be some validity to this opinion.  After all, there is a real history of homophobia within Traditionalist Wicca.  I’m currently reading Michael LLoyd’s Bull of Heaven, a biography of Minoan Brotherhood founder Eddie Buczynski.  In the late 60’s and early 70’s when Eddie was first becoming interested in Wicca, he had a tough time finding a coven to train him because there simply was a bias toward heterosexuality.  In my experience, homophobia within Wiccan communities seems to be a thing of the past.  I’ve never personally experienced any kind of homophobia in the Wiccan communities I have been a a part of in the last 10 years, and I know many LGBT people who are practicing Wiccans and feel welcome in their communities.  But past homophobia is a reality whether we like or not, and apart from any actual homophobia, some just don’t like the Male/Female pairing of the gods.  A central theme to the myth cycle of the Wiccan year is all about the very heterosexual courtship/pairing/coupling of the God and Goddess, and let’s face it, the insertion of a penis into a vagina (whether symbolic or not) is an essential part of almost every Wiccan ritual I’ve experienced.  There are lots of reasons why a Queer Pagan might not feel an affinity with Traditionalist Wicca.

Reconciling Wicca to the Queer Experience

So why are there still lots of LGBT folks who practice Traditionalist Wicca and find it a fulfilling spiritual path?  I can’t speak for everyone, but here are a few of   the ways that I reconcile my experience as a man who loves men with the apparent heterosexism of Wicca.

First, as my friend Spanish Moss has said in his post, polarity, sex and gender in Traditionalist Wicca are not all the same thing.  It’s not necessarily about the gods being male and female and literally having sex and procreating and this is what it’s all about.   A male god and a female goddess are metaphors for polarities that are expressed as masculine and feminine and the creation that takes place when those two things are united.  It’s not so much about male and female as it is about light and dark, expansion and reception, and a myriad of other polarities.  Also, these are polarities that exist within myself.  We all embody both the masculine and feminine within ourselves.  The courtship of the Lord and the Lady is something that also happens internally, and that’s true for me as a gay men, as it’s true for someone who is heterosexual.  Focusing on just the outward expression of gender and the physical sex act misses the point, in my opinion.

But let’s look at just the outward expression of gender and the physical sex act for a moment.  Wicca celebrates the cycle of the natural world, and the reality is that much of the natural world exists and continues to exist because a male and a female come together in sexual union and bring forth life.  It’s a completely natural process and I don’t have any issues acknowledging this process or celebrating it as divine.  It’s the process that brought me into manifestation, after all.  And it’s the process that most of the world experiences and resonates with.  And so yeah, as a man who loves men, I celebrate heterosexuality.  Men and women having sex is still something beautiful and magical.

It’s just not the entirety of my experience.  So in addition to (not in replacement of) celebrating the union of Lord and Lady, I look to other expressions of the Divine that match up more with my personal experience as a gay man.  One of the first ways that I did this as I was exploring Paganism was to play with the Oak King/Holly King mythology.  What if we played with that myth and reimagined the Kings as lovers?  Creating new myths or reinterpreting old myths through our own windows of understanding is a valid way to bring in queer experiences.  Even apart from reimagining myths, there are plenty of gods and goddesses who already have queer aspects to their mythology.  Our Lord is a horned god after all, and the horned gods of history were not picky about who they got lusty with.  Who’s to say the Lord wasn’t out having some fun with some hot guys on the side?

Wanting to experience the Divine in a way that resonates with my experience as a gay man is also one of the things that drew me to the Ekklesia Antinoou and devotion to Antinous.  Antinous and Hadrian had a homoerotic, loving relationship.  While I would never put Antinous in a box and shrink him down to just being a “gay god,” certainly the homoerotic nature of his relationship with Hadrian is something I can relate to.  My desire to experience the Divine in a way that resonates with my experience as a gay man is also one of the things I find appealing about the Unnamed Path.  While I’m not an initiate of that path, I do appreciate that the their gods are men who love men.  Their gods are just like me.

Also, as I pointed out in my previous post, it’s not like we have to limit ourselves in regards to the gods we interact with.  One of “perks” of being a Pagan or polytheist is that we have many gods and goddesses to form a relationship with.  There are the Lord and Lady of Wicca, Antinous and Hadrian, The Dark God and Light God of the Unnamed Path, and many other gods from many other pantheons who can all be a part of my spiritual path and my spiritual life.

So here’s to worshiping the Divine in the many forms that the Divine takes in the world: God, Goddess, Male/Female pairs, Male/Male pairs, and everything in between and in addition to this.  Let’s celebrate all of it as holy!

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Filed under Antinous, Paganism, Polytheism, Queer Spirituality, Transgender Issues, Wicca

Transgender Inclusivity at Pantheacon

Nothing like a little controversy to get me blogging again.  I’m not sure if this is my .02 cents, but here’s my handful of glitter, for what it’s worth.

There is currently a discussion (some might call it a debate) going on across the blogosphere about the issue of gender and inclusivity at Pantheacon.  This discussion has been going on for a while, but has been brought to the forefront by events during last year’s and this year’s convention.  I was present as Sister Krissy Fiction at some of the events being discussed that took place during the convention this past weekend.  I’ve been processing for several days since then, and have some thoughts I’d like to share, in no particular order:

 Action vs. Protest

On Saturday of the convention, I read a tweet from T. Thorn Coyle that said, ” Gender queers&trans allies: I will sit in silent meditation outside San Martin at 8:45pm Sun. All bodies=sacred. Pass it on.”  I immediately knew that Krissy would join the meditation.  I was not present at the previous year’s convention, but I did read Z Budapest’s previous comments on the issue.  While I have deep respect for Budapest’s role as an elder in the Pagan community and the work that she’s done that has benefitted all of us, male and female alike, I can’t let the comment, “Women are born not made by men on operating tables,” go without providing a more inclusive view.

Most of the comments I’ve been reading elsewhere have been calling our silent meditation a “protest.”  I suppose, on one level it is.  There’s no real way around that.  However, I’ve been using the word “action” instead, because, for my part, I was not there just to say, “You’re wrong.  I’m opposed to this.”  That’s a protest.  I sat in silent meditation to bring awareness to an issue: Transwomen are women.  Transmen are men.  They face exclusion on a regular basis.  Being excluded from a ritual described as for “genetic women” only is just one example.  I took part in the action not just to be opposed to Z Budapest or Dianic Witches, but to sit WITH my trans brothers and sisters.

Perception

Our perceptions color our experiences.  I am constantly amazed at how so many people can be in the same location at the same time and experience the same event, but have vastly different perceptions of that experience.  I was present outside Z Budapest’s ritual space on Sunday evening, along with many others, and experienced the same events as many others did.  Yet I read recaps and comments online and I realize that my perceptions are vastly different from the perceptions of some others.  I have read comments on blog posts that state that those of us sitting in silent meditation were taking pictures of those in line for the ritual.  I’ve read that we were not silent.  I’ve read that we made threats.  One person who joined the silent meditation spoke with me afterwards and stated that he was offended that Hyperion and other gay men (representatives of the Unamed Path) stood in opposition to us.  I read somewhere else that CAYA Coven walked in and stood in opposition to Z Budapest.  None of these match my own perceptions of what I experienced.   My perceptions are that T. Thorn Coyle and those of us who joined her gathered in respect and silence.  I felt those gathered for the Dianic ritual were also respectful.  Z. Budapest made an awkward, passionate statement.  I disagree with some of her perceptions and comments but felt she was respectful.  My perception was that those with CAYA Coven and the gay men from the Unamed Path were there to hold space and were not standing opposed to anyone.  The entire experience was moving and I am proud that we were able to come together as a community with some strong disagreements and do so peacefully.  Those are MY perceptions.

 Self-Identification vs. Stigmatic Guilt

      One of the big discussions taking place is if there should be any kind of “_________ only” rituals or workshops at Pantheacon at all.  Pantheacon is public space and where the modern Pagan community comes together specifically as a community.  Some feel that all rituals and workshops should be open to everyone. Period.  Personally, I have no issue with women only, men only, men who love men only, etc.  It can be powerful and necessary to explore specific mysteries that are unique to specific groups and demographics.  In private space, groups can be as exclusive or specific as they want to be.

My personal opinion is that at wider community events like Pantheacon, that individuals should be given the power to self-identify.  Sure, indicate that a ritual or workshop is intended for gay men, or women, or whathaveyou.  Let individuals decide for themselves if that description applies to them.  By labeling individuals and deciding for them how they should identify themselves, we rob them of power and impose stigmatic guilt on them.  I believe this to be the core issue.  At one point, Z Budapest told those of us gathered together in silent meditation, “I don’t hate you,” and “I support the trans community.”  I believe she is sincere in these words.  I don’t think she does hate any trans people, and I think that she sees herself as supportive of the community.  However, the bottom line is that she does not believe that trans women are real women.  All discussion breaks down at this point.  Stigmatic guilt is guilt and shame that has been placed on us by outside sources, whether it comes from the government, family, society, or representatives of spiritual traditions.  Declaring that trans women are not real women, robs them of the power of self-identification and places stigmatic guilt on them.  As a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, I took a public vow to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.  That means that you are not defined by the labels that others place on you.  You are loved and worth loving just the way you are.  Period.  No exceptions.  I will use every chance I can to remind you of this.  This is why I support the right of individuals to self-identify and support a policy that reflects this at Pantheacon.

Perspective

Perspective is a good thing.  We tend to focus on the negative.  There are lots of heated words and emotions surrounding this issue, and reading all the stuff out there on the blogosphere it’s easy to get the impression that this last Pantheacon was all about drama, conflict, and disagreement.  Some have even called for a boycott of Pantheacon until these issues have been resolved.  I don’t support a boycott.  I think that defeats the purpose of Pantheacon.  If we can’t hash this shit out when we come together as a wider community, then where the hell are we supposed to do it?  These conversations are bound to be messy and difficult.  Change, and talking about change, is hard.  Pantheacon should be a safe place to explore these issues, and I believe that Pantheacon 2012 DID provide a safe place to explore these issues.  But let’s keep things in perspective.  My experience at Pantheacon was one of inclusion, community, and growth.  There were many queer-focused rituals and workshops, and many rituals that I participated in that were inclusive of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and bodies.  Walking around the hotel as Krissy I was constantly greeted with warm hellos and hugs.  I always felt welcome, and had experiences in workshops and rituals that were transformational.  The ongoing discussion regarding gender and inclusivity, while an important discussion, was only one aspect of my convention experience.  I will return to Pantheacon next year to experience all the positives that come with the convention experience, as well as to continue to engage in the difficult conversations.

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Filed under Paganism, Pantheacon, Queer Spirituality, Sisters, Transgender Issues

Promulgate This! The Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Gospel of Radical Inclusion

In my previous post I outlined 4 different components of my personal spiritual path.  One of those components was identified as being a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence.  I noted that even though the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is not a religious organization, that I experience being a Sister as part of my spiritual path.  Last week, I received a short notice request to be the guest speaker at a local church.  The invitation was to preach in full habit as a Sister Krissy Fiction.  This then, is the sermon I delivered on Sunday, November 6th at the evening Elevation service for the Metropolitan Community Church of Portland.

The MCC is a Christian church, and the sermon I shared is within the Christian paradigm.  I have to admit, it’s been a couple of years since I have intentionally worked within that specific paradigm, and it was interesting, considering that in the sermon I talk about struggling with the label “Christian” and I no longer use that label as a descriptor of my spiritual path.  I originally wrote the sermon when I was serving as a Youth and Family Minister at a United Church of Christ denomination after I read Stealing Jesus by Bruce Bawer.  His depiction and interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan really opened it up for me.  I retooled the sermon for this occasion and included the mission of the Sisters in it.  So despite these little qualifications, it was a fun experience and I’m still proud of the sermon.

Promulgate This! The Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Gospel of Radical Inclusion

 Have I burst into flames yet?

You are, after all, hosting official heretics.  The story goes that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have actually been declared heretics by the Pope himself, but whether that is history or legend is hard to tell, as is true with much of our colorful history.  One thing I do know is that Bill O’Reilly doesn’t like us, and that’s official enough to be considered a heretic in my mind.

In reality, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is not a religious organization.  We are a modern day order of queer nuns who are striving to serve, educate, and heal our communities.  Many times we do this through promotion of safer sex practices.  We do fund raising for HIV/AIDS service organizations.  And sometimes we try to raise people’s level of consciousness also.  There is no requirement as far as belief goes to join.  We have members who are very spiritual and we have members who are very NOT spiritual.  Some Sisters are true atheists.  Some consider themselves spiritual in a general way, but not in any specific way.  Some consider themselves Pagan.  Some consider themselves Buddhist or Hindu or what have you.  And yes, some do consider themselves to be Christians.

For myself, my spiritual label has been something I have struggled with.  Although, that has not always been the case.  Let me share with you a little bit about my background.  I’m now 40 years old.  Yes, it’s true, clown makeup does wonders for your skin.  I came out as gay when I was 18.  At the same time I was getting interested in church and spirituality.  I started attending a conservative Christian denomination.  There was immediate conflict between what I perceived as two different sides of me… and over the course of a year or so, the conservative Christian side won out.  I started to believe that homosexuality was a sin and became involved in the Ex-Gay movement.  Blah blah blah, I’m sure you all know the drill, right?  So I got more and more involved in my church, and over time I decided I wanted to go into ministry.  That’s exactly what I did.  I went back to school in Minnesota to train as a minister in my denomination’s ministry training school.  After graduation I was assigned as a Youth and Family Minister at a congregation in San Antonio, TX.  After that, I was assigned to work with youth at our mission in Dourados, Brazil.  And during this whole time I was doing the ex-gay thing.  I even got married to a woman.  And I did not struggle with my identity as a Christian.  In fact, I knew I was a Christian and everyone else was getting it wrong.

But I *was* struggling with who I was as a sexual person… which eventually did lead to a crisis of faith… which lead to me leaving my wife, leaving the church I was in and relocating to Oregon.  And so here I was.  I didn’t throw away my spirituality, however.  I eventually moved into a more progressive form of Christianity and got back into ministry.  I served as an openly gay youth and family minister at a United Church of Christ congregation in Beaverton.  I was serving in a CHRISTIAN church.  You would think I wouldn’t struggle with that label, would you?  But I did struggle.

I’m going to tell a quick story that illustrates that struggle and then I want to hear from some of you.

 Who here remembers when the move The Passion of the Christ came out?  It received a lot of attention from conservative and Evangelical Christians at the time.  I decided I wanted to go see what all the fuss about.  The movie came out on Good Friday, and so before the movie I went to a church service.  It turned out to be a very moving church service.  I recall that it had a big impact on me and that I left the service feeling… CONNECTED and part of the Christian community.

After the service, I walked out of the church and back into the real world. I got in my car and headed over to the movie theater.  Standing in line, I had a very different experience than I had just had in the church.

As I stood in line, I was immediately aware that there were other Christians there also. In fact, many churches had strongly encouraged all of their members to go see the movie. Waiting there for the movie to begin, I overheard snippets of conversations, people talking about their faith, and I realized that many of the people around me experienced their Christianity in a very different way than I do. In fact, an older woman standing next to me saw that I was reading a book. It was a book that I was reading for one of my classes at Marylhurst, with something vaguely religious in the title. She smiled at me, nodded approvingly and asked, “Oh, so you are a Christian?” She said it more like a statement than a question. I didn’t hesitate in my reply: “No, actually. I’m not.”

My reply didn’t seem to register with her. She simply continued smiling and turned back to talk to the people she had come to see the movie with. I watched the film, but on my drive home I thought about what happened. Why had I answered her question that way? Was I a modern-day Peter, denying Jesus in the face of persecution? The woman certainly posed no threat to me. Hadn’t I just come from an experience where I felt a deep affirmation as a follower of Christ? How could I go from one extreme to the other in one single evening?

But really, I know why I answered that woman in line the way I had. I knew that I was not a Christian in the way that she probably understood what it means to be a Christian. I knew that, even though I belong to a Christian church, and identify as a follower of Christ, I probably did not fit inside her box labeled “Christianity.”

Have you ever felt that struggle?  Have you been embarrassed to state what your spiritual preferences are? [Allow time to share]

Part of the problem is our use of language. There are so many words that are just loaded with assumed meanings and history of meanings. Sin. Salvation. Bible. God. Even Jesus. And Yes, Christian. All of these are words that convey meanings to us. To some of us, they are words that have been used to injure and hurt. Sin is a biggie. How many of us have had that word pointed at us as if it were a weapon? Even the words salvation and Jesus can be used to hurt when they are used in a way that leads to exclusion and oppression.

The word Christian, in today’s society has almost come to be synonymous with conservative, evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity. How many times have you read an article in the newspaper or in a magazine that refers to “Christians” but after reading it you think, “That’s not the kind of Christian I am!” What the author of that article was really talking about was conservative Christians.

The religious right have defined the word in a specific way: To be a Christian you need to believe a certain way. You need to give intellectual assent to a certain set of formulated propositions. Primary among these is that the Bible is completely infallible and without any error. Following from that you must believe that God created the world in six literal days. Adam and Eve were literal historical people. There was a real worldwide flood. The virgin birth is historical fact. Jesus lived a perfect life and the depiction of his actions in the Gospels are true historical facts down to every single detail. And there are, of course, more. If you give intellectual assent to these facts, then you are a Christian, saved and bound for heaven. If you do not, then you are not a Christian, destined for an eternity of pain and torment in hell. So much for God is love. This is what the word Christian has come to mean for many people. It has been swiped out from underneath us and ignores the spiritual experience of many in this church and other mainline protestant churches.

So I move through this life sometimes feeling like a follower of Christ, but seldom feeling like a Chrisitian.

I find comfort in the story of the Good Samaritan. It is one my favorite stories from the Bible. The story goes like this: One time a lawyer came up to Jesus and asked, “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, who was always a  good counselor, asked him a question in return. “What do you think?” The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “You do this and you shall live. You do this and you will live eternally.” The lawyer, being a little defensive, asked Jesus to clarify: “Well, who is my neighbor? What do you mean, neighbor?” Jesus looked at the young man and said, “Let me tell you a story. There once was a man walking down a road…”  And Jesus tells the well known story.

What Jesus talks about in this parable is a road, and he tells us which road it is – it’s the one between Jerusalem and Jericho, two cities in the heart of Judea. On that road, a man is beaten by robbers and left half-dead on the roadside. Since the temple was in Jerusalem and since many religious leaders lived in Jericho, it’s not surprising that the first two passersby are Jewish religious leaders, a priest and a Levite. Both ignore the dying man. But a Samaritan – a native of Samaria, whose people were despised by the Jews of Jesus’ day – comes along the road, sees the man dying, binds up his wounds, takes him to an inn, cares for him, and pays for his lodging.

Which of these people, Jesus asks, proved himself a neighbor to the man? The lawyer gives the obvious answer: the Samaritan.

But the parable is so familiar and has been told so many times that I think that it has lost much of the impact of its original telling. For us today, a Good Samaritan is someone who does a good deed. In fact, there are hospitals all over the country named after the Good Samaritan, bringing home the point that one of the messages of this story is that we should be reaching out to those in need. Our neighbor is the person who is hurting.

That certainly is one of the messages of the story. It is not the only message of the story. The beauty of the parables that Jesus told is that they often work on so many different levels. They are detailed, deep, profound, and they often have several truths buried deep inside them.

One of the most comforting truths found in this story would also have been one of the most shocking to Jesus’ listeners. Perhaps the only way to really convey how shocking this story really was would be to retell it from a modern perspective. [Acted out charades style by volunteers from congregation] So, imagine if you will, a woman traveling on Interstate 5 between Portland and Seattle. She gets a flat tire on her car, so pulling to the side of the freeway she stops and flags someone down to help her. Only, instead of help, she gets robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road. The first person to pass by is a fundamentalist preacher. He sees her body, but assumes that she is dead. “She must have been a horrible sinner,” he thinks, “For God to punish her this way.” He hurries home and writes a powerful sermon about the wrath of God and the danger of sin. The second person to pass by is an Evangelical pastor. He sees her body and wonders if she had accepted Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior before she was attacked. He rushes back to his church and organizes a big evangelism event to bring the Gospel message to freeway rest stops, so that people will have an opportunity to ask Jesus into their hearts before anything bad happens to them.  The third person to pass by is a Moslem. The Moslem pulls over, calls 911, goes to the Hospital with her, and spends the night with her until her family shows up and he is sure she is okay.

Jesus’ question would be this: Which of the three acted as you would expect a Christian to act?

The shocking answer: The Moslem was a better Christian than the Christians in the story were.

Actually, today’s Moslems and the Samaritan in Jesus’ story might have much in common. Both come from a foreign land where the customs are misunderstood and looked at with suspicion. Both were feared and hated by those in religious power at the time. Both are the last person that most people then, and people now, would expect Jesus to hold up as an example of what it looks like to please God.

There are many truths told in this parable. Most sermons will dutifully, and rightly, point out that one of the truths of this story is that the message of Jesus crosses all national and racial borders.  We too should to reach out beyond national and racial borders. Recasting Jesus’ story in the south during the Civil Rights Movement might have the Samaritan as Rosa Parks.

But there is another truth in the story that I think is even more radical than the message of racial and national equality. In fact the story was so radical it might even go beyond casting the Samaritan as a Moslem, as I did. We could recast the Samaritan as a gay man or lesbian. Or even better yet, a Wiccan or modern-day Goddess worshipper. Someone who would be seen as anti-establishment and totally out of favor with the religious powers-that-be.

The shocking, radical truth of the Good Samaritan is that the one who is considered outside of God’s kingdom is the model of what it means to live a Christlike life.

If the Samaritan could be lifted out of Jesus’ story and set down among us today as an actual living person, practicing the same virtues that he does in the story and the same syncretist faith that an ancient Samaritan would have practiced, many of today’s Christians who claim to accept this story as a lesson in what Christianity means would insist that despite his virtues, this man’s failure to confess Christ as his lord and savior condemns him to hell.

Yet the very point of this story is that in the only sense of the word that would have mattered to Jesus, the Samaritan is a Christian. He is that model of what it means to live a Christlike life. He hasn’t been baptized. He doesn’t go to church. He doesn’t believe the right doctrine, and nowhere in the story does Jesus ever say he converts or imply that he should. What the Samaritan does is simply this: He loves his neighbor – and he recognizes that a neighbor is not just somebody who lives next door, or looks like him, or shares his beliefs and prejudices.

This is an incredible truth. It gives me hope, and it gives hope to others like me. Other outcasts. Others whose spirituality defies easy descriptions. Others who are living spirituality outside the box. The truth is that God’s box is always bigger than the boxes others make for us or that we make for ourselves.

 In fact, this is really what the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is all about.  As part of our vows as Sisters we vow to “promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.”  Big words there.  I’m going to break it down in reverse order.  Stigmatic guilt.  What the hell is that?  Who here has been stigmatized?  Give me some examples… [wait for response] So stigmatic guilt is the labels that have been placed on us.  You’re a fag.  You’re a dyke.  You’re a tranny.  Even heterosexuals get it.  You’re too sexually promiscuous.  You’re a whore.  You’re a loser who will never amount to anything!  But what does expiate mean?  Anyone know?  [Response] To repair.  One of the main ways the Sisters do this is through humor, irreverence.  Many people have been hurt by organized religion.  Far from mocking religion, by bringing humor into the situation and allowing to people laugh at and with the Church, we allow them to heal from those hurts.  How about promulgate?  Who knows what that means?  [Response] It means to announce.  So we are announcing universal joy.  Within the Christian framework that might be announcing agape love, unconditional love.

So putting it all together, our message is this: You are not defined by the labels that other people have placed on you.  You are loved and worth loving, just the way you are.  No exceptions.  Period. Exclamation point.  And we are here to remind you of that as often as we can.

Our mission, and one of the key messages of the story of the Good Samaritan is a challenge to practice radical inclusion.  And you know, before we all get too smug, this is not as easy as it seems.  I know that many of us are part of a minority that has been particularly excluded.  It’s easy for us to sit here and say, “Yeah!  Include me you jerks!”  But it goes both ways. Conservative and liberal, Democrat and Republican are just more labels.  For some of us in this room, the shocking truth of this parable would challenge us to reach out and help the Fred Phelps and Maggie Gallaghers of this world.  It would challenge us to stop shouting at each other and build bridges. They won’t listen?  They won’t change their mind?  Even more of a reason that the burden is on us.  Anyone can reach out to someone who is grateful and gracious. Profound teaching comes when we can reach out to those we dislike, and even hate, or hold resentment towards.  Just something to think about.

How has this church has reached to practice radical inclusion?  What are areas for growth?  As a church?  Personally? [Conversation with the congregation]

I invite you to be a Samaritan. I invite you outside the box with me. I take joy knowing that many of us are already there. I look forward to exploring together as a community – both as the LGBT community and a spiritual community – to “go and do likewise” following the model of the Samaritan. I rejoice that God’s love is big enough, deep enough, and wide enough, to include all of us.

Amen. A-women. A-transexuals too.  A-whatever.  Can I get a hell yeah!?

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Spirituality Squared

I’ve been a spiritual seeker my whole adult life. For most of that time I’ve struggled with labels. To many, I’m sure it looks like I’m all over the place. Am I a Christian? Pagan? Something else? Some people look at me and get the impression that I jump from religion to religion to religion, never really settling on one path or another. I can certainly understand why others might get this impression, and for years I struggled with how to define myself. While I still don’t have a good answer on having a singular label that defines my path, there are a few different labels that one could stick on me: Gnostic, Witch, Devotee, Sister.

When I look at my own spirituality, I see four unique elements that I can discern.  Each of the four aspects are equally important, yet there seems to be a natural ebb and flow as to where my focus is at any given time.  Sometimes the focus is on one or two elements. Sometimes it is on others. All four of the elements are always present, but they may not always be at the forefront.

The four aspects of my spiritual path are:

Gnostic – I am a modern Gnostic and the Gnostic worldview provides my essential philosophy and ideology.  Father Jordan Stratford’s Gnosticism 101 post on his blog is still my favorite place to send people when they ask me, “What is Gnosticism?” (This is right after they say, “Oh, you’re a Gnostic?  I’m agnostic too.”)  Some of his definition:

Gnosis means “knowledge”; a specific kind of intimate knowledge, the way lovers know one another…  At the core of Gnosticism is gnosis, and the idea that enlightenment is a necessary and natural step of human experience. Early Gnostic texts are identified by [these] principal characteristics:

  • that it is gnosis, not faith, that saves us from deception…
  • that the universe “flows out of” God, the way ripples emanate from a stone dropped in water…
  • that the “Spark” of Divinity is immediately present in the world and constantly available to us, even if it is obscured by illusion and ignorance…

Contemporary Gnostics would add a further point; that the system or daily world of our experience – one of deadlines, “spun” media, spilled coffee, parking tickets, and traffic jams – is an artificial construct, and we have a responsibility to wake up from this illusion into a real, spiritual world outside of “the powers that be”.

I still have a great fondness for liberal, progressive Christianity, especially the United Church of Christ, but even when moving in Christian circles, I tend to experience Christianity through a Gnostic lens.

Witch – I am an initiated member of  Coven Thalia Kyraphia, an Alexandrian Wiccan coven in Portland Oregon.   Alexandrian Witchcraft is a Wiccan tradition that is part of British Traditional Witchcraft (BTW).  There are probably as many definitions of Wicca as there are people who claim to follow it, but I actually think the standard dictionary definition provided by Merriam-Webster provides a decent, generalized definition:  “A religion influenced by pre-Christian beliefs and practices of western Europe that affirms the existence of supernatural power (as magic) and of both male and female deities who inhere in nature and that emphasizes ritual observance of seasonal and life cycles.”  BTW is the high church, Episcopagan version of that definition focusing on the Craft as an initiatory, mystery tradition that preserves core orthopraxy.  Alexandrian Wicca also tends to include more ceremonial magic and Qabalistic practices.

Gnosticism and Wicca together form the core of my basic personal theology and philosophy, but the Craft tends to be the primary way I experience spiritual community and ritual practice.   Solitary Wicca is big in the United States, but for me, my coven family  is my congregation.  It’s where I experience group ceremonies and rituals, and where we come together to nurture and support each other in our individual growth.  Alexandrian practice also gives me my “in ye usual way”,  or my basic outline of how I normally structure and do devotional and magic ritual.

Devotee of Antinous – I am a Mystes Antínoou, and was initiated into the Antinoan Mysteries this past Spring.   I experience interaction with the Divine primarily through my devotion to the god Antinous. There are other gods and godforms I also interact with and have an important relationship with (Aphrodite, Jesus, Sophia, the Wiccan Goddess and God), but my relationship with Antinous is the main way that I personally interaction with Deity.

Antinous is a god of love, beauty, harmony, gentleness.  He’s a god of hunting and artistry, and scholarship.  He’s a god of profound mysteries who helps the soul in its transition from this world to the next He’s a god of ecstacy and freedom.

Antinous was a member of the entourage of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, to whom he was beloved. In October 130 he drowned in the Nile. It is not known for certain whether his death was the result of accident, suicide, murder, or (voluntary) religious sacrifice. After Antinous’s death the emperor decreed his deification, and he was proclaimed a god. Temples were built for his worship in Bithynia, Mantineia in Arcadia, and Athens, festivals celebrated in his honour and oracles delivered in his name. The city of Antinopolis was founded on the site near where he died. After deification, Antinous was syncretized with and depicted as the Ancient Egyptian god Osiris, the Greek Dionysos, as well as others.

The Ekklesia Antinoou (“Citizenry of Antinous”) is a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist form of mystical religion.  The community is mostly online right now, but there is a Yahoo Group for anyone interested in Antinous to gather and discuss, and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is providing some great commentary and resources over on his blog, Aedicula Antinoi.  Antinoan practices have also become part of my regular routine: personal devotions done to the the god, using the Obelisk of Antinous to set sacred space, and saying the Antinoan Prayer Against Persecution.  In addition, devotion to Antinous provides an avenue for me to experience queer spirituality.

Sister of Perpetual Indulgence – Yep, that’s me.  I’m Sister Krissy Fiction, the nun that got nailed, a Fully Professed Sister of Perpetual Indulgence.  Being a Sister is not technically a spiritual path. It certainly has no religious component. The Sisters have no religious affiliation, and for some Sisters being a part of the organization is a way to serve the queer community, but it’s not spiritual for them.  Other Sisters have a strong background in Christianity, with the Radical Faeries,  some other form of Paganism, or just consider themselves spiritual in general.  The description on the page for the San Francisco Sisters states:

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence® is a leading-edge Order of queer nuns. Since our first appearance in San Francisco on Easter Sunday, 1979, the Sisters have devoted ourselves tocommunity service, ministry and outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment. We believe all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty and we usehumor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.

When they elevate to the status of Fully Professed Sister, almost every Sister takes a vow to “promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.”  Those are big words that I boil down to: You are not defined by the labels (stigma) that others place on you.  Rather, you are loved and worth loving just the way you are, no exceptions.  Period.  Exclamation point.  And throw another exclamation point in there just for good measure.  I list being a Sister as part of my personal spiritual path because I believe the vows I just shared are spiritual principles and for me, being a Sister provides the most direct way to put my personal theology into action in the wider community. It’s how I put my faith into action, for lack of a better expression.

As I review this, there really does seem to be a flow from one aspect of my spiritual path to another. My theology and philosophy is primarily (but not exclusively) found in Gnosticism and Wicca. My ritual and ceremonial practices are mostly (but not exclusively) found in Wicca and in my devotion to Antinous and other gods. My focus on queer spirituality is found mostly (but not exclusively) in my devotion to Antinous and my work as a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence.   And it all flows out into the community through my work as a Sister, which also connects back up to Gnosticism and Wicca to frame some of my core ideology.

I guess my path is a big square:
Gnosticism ### theology  ####    Wicca
#                                                                                #
#                                                                                #
#                                                                                #
ideology                                                        practice
#                                                                                #
#                                                                                #
#                                                                                #
Sisters ### queer spirituality ### Antinous

A square, huh? I know… kind of boring. Who wants to be a square?  I need to flip up on an angle and at least turn it into a diamond.  At least diamonds sparkle.  Squares just kind of sit there.  I suppose I could also say I follow a fourfold spiritual path, but I think the Buddhists have cornered the market on that terminology.  Whatever I choose to call it, my point is that my spirituality is multifaceted.   It may appear to be all over the place to some, but for me it represents a very natural and comfortable ebb and flow.

What shape is your spiritual path?

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Who in the Hades… ?

Everyone has something to say.  FacebookTwitterBlogs.  In this information age personal  opinions are everywhere.    And you know what they say… opinions are like a certain part of the anatomy – everyone has one.  Well, add my name to that list.

But who in the hades is this guy?  Why should I care what he has to say?

I am a former conservative Christian minister and participant for over a decade in the “Ex-gay” Movement.  Currently, I wear several labels: queer, Gnostic, witch, devotee, drag nun, bear.  I believe that my varied history and experience gives me a unique perspective on life as a spiritual gay man.  Ultimately, others will be the judge of whether I have anything worthwhile to say or not.  For now, I simply offer my own perspective, nothing more or less.

My Story in Three Paragraphs or Less (Or Maybe Five)

I’ve spent years as a spiritual seeker.  I came out of the closet as a gay man when I was 18.  At the same time I started attending a conservative Lutheran church.  There was immediate conflict between my desire to be a part of the LGBT community and to follow a conservative Christian path that told me that God created the world in six literal days, Adam and Eve were real people in hisotry, men had spiritual authority over women, and homosexuality was a sin.  The conservative Christians won that early ideological battle.  For over a decade I was a conservative Christian and part of the Ex-gay Movement.  When I was 25 I went back to school and trained for ministry in the same conservative Lutheran denomination I had been a member of.  Upon graduation I was assigned as a Youth and Family Minister at a congregation in San Antonio, TX, and then as world missionary in Dourados, Brazil.  It was during this time that I was married… to a woman.

10 years ago I had a crisis over who I was as a sexual being disguised as a crisis of faith.  I left my wife, my church, and every social contact I had and moved to Oregon to start my life over.  The thing about being a part of a type of Christianity that says every single word of the Bible is infallible and without error, and that there is only one correct way to interpret it, means you have to either take all of their interpretation of the Bible or none of it.  I chose none of it and tossed my Bible out the window.

While I may have tossed my religion out the window, my desire to be a spiritual person remained.  Into the void created by my form of conservative Christianity stepped the Craft.  Hey, I never do things halfway.  It’s always all or nothing.  Since I no longer had the limitations my Christianity had placed on me, I was free to explore outside the box.  And witchcraft might have been something of a rebellion for me at the start, but I ultimately found something in the Craft that resonated with me.  Following the natural cycle of the year, seeing the Divine as both Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine, taking full responsibility for your own spiritual path as a priest and a witch, and oh, the fabulous robes and accessories – high drag!

The Christ still has a place in my heart, though.  As I started graduate work on a Masters of Applied Theology in a true interfaith program I became more comfortable with my broader spirituality.  I still followed a NeoPagan path, but I also opened up to seeing Christianity from a different perspective.  I was able to see Jesus as the radical, left wing nut job that he is, and to see his story as a story of the dying and resurrecting god/man.  It’s not about his literal death and resurrection that might or might not have happened at a specific place and time in history.  Rather, his death and resurrection is the story of my death and resurrection.  It’s not a story that happened.  It’s a story that happens.  I moved back into a form of liberal, progressive Christianity, even serving for 2 years as an openly gay Youth and Family Minister at a United Church of Christ congregation here in Portland.  After leaving that position I continued to explore the more esoteric side of Christianity, finally finding a home in Gnosticism.  I was baptized and confirmed at the local parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica, of which I am still very fond, but ultimately moved on to participation in the Apostolic Johannite Church.

In addition to this strange mix of Gnosticism and the Craft, I’ve added a few more vegetables to the salad that is my spiritual path.  One of the primary ways I interact on a personal level with the Divine is through my devotion to the god Antinous, and participation in the queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group Ekklesia Antinoou.  Ain’t that a mouthful?  (No pun intended! Okay, maybe just a little.)  I’m also a fully professed Sister of Perpetual Indulgence as Sister Krissy Fiction.  While the Sisters are not affiliated with any religion, and for some Sisters their calling is based around community service and not any type of spirituality at all, for me personally, I find the vow to “promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt” to be a spiritual precept and being a Sister has become important in my overall spirituality.

So Who Cares?

What does any of this matter?  It might not, really.  I don’t claim to be the final word on Gnosticism, Wicca, queer spirituality, or any other topic.  As I stated at the beginning of this post:  opinions are like… well, everyone has one.  What you will find on this blog will be my own personal musings and observations.  I’m just throwing it out to the aether and seeing what comes back to me.

I’ve been focusing on discipline this year.  Not the “you’re bad!” *whack* kind of discipline, but the doing something as a regular practice kind of discipline.  My spirituality has always been thoughtful, reflective, informed, and scholarly.  This year, I’ve been trying to move from the thinking to doing.  This blog is going to be an attempt to find some disciple in writing about spirituality.  My intent is to post updates 2-3 times a week.  I’ll initially be posting about the different elements of my own spiritual path, but will hopefully be tackling other topics including but not limited to queer spirituality, my devotion to the god Antinous, Occultism,  thoughts on politics and humor, observations on modern Neopaganism and the Craft, Gnosticism and Esoteric Christianity, and whatever else tickles my fancy (I  am quite ticklish).

If any of this also tickles your fancy, then I invite you sit down, buckle up, hold on, and find out whereto we speed! (You know I had to get that in somewhere.)

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Filed under About, Antinous, Christianity, Ex-Gay, Gnosticism, Paganism, Queer Spirituality, Sisters, Wicca