How Do We Talk About Paganism?

When you take on a new religious tradition, a new spiritual name, a new title, or when you develop a new set of ritual practices, how do you go about communicating that to the people who knew you as something different?
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I had a dream last night that I was trying to explain my Paganism to my father. He was patient, and open, and he behaved in the ideal ways that only a dream-father behaves. As I explained to him what Druid meant in a modern context, our relationship exploded into something more meaningful and transparent. It was a lovely dream.

When the phone rang this morning with his number on the screen, I thought that maybe -- just maybe -- I was a prophet. But, he hadn't called to learn about the hidden secrets of druid magic, or to pick my brain about how I envision the Gods. No, he wanted to know if it was possible to download videos from YouTube.

My father, it turns out, is a latent internet pirate.

This is not the first time that I've felt slighted by one of my parent's lack of interest in the mystical. I may be the only member of my family who would rather talk about religion than football. Our holidays, even the religious ones, are uncomfortably secular to me. I'd almost prefer my family to be fundamentalist Christians, if for no other reason than they might be willing to talk about theology as though it really meant something.

Theology, or Polytheology, or Process Theology -- these subjects are rich soil to me; good dirt for planting, and worth tending to. I'm pretty sure that my parents have different ideas about deity than I do, but I don't know that because we've never actually had a conversation about it. I've done more heart-to-heart'ing about religion on my blog, Bishop In The Grove, with my readership of relative strangers than I ever have over dinner with my family.

You just don't talk about those sorts of things.

My family is mostly Catholic, although there is a small contingency of Born Agains (as my grandma calls them), a few lapsed Episcopalians (which from the perspective of the Catholics is a double-lapse), and a good many agnostics. The Catholics present their beliefs more as assumptions about the world than as ideas to be examined, the lapsed Episcopalians know, logically, they shouldn't feel guilty for not going to church, but they still do, and the Born Agains? Well, they say things like:

"Perhaps she wouldn't have gotten sick if she'd have been more committed to the Lord."

Lovely stuff, right there.

I'm the silent Pagan in the bunch. I'm the candle burning, incense igniting, ritual doing, tarot card reading Pagan, who would be perfectly happy to discuss why they choose pray to Jesus over someone else, or what prayer really is, or whether their worship of a transcendent God ever feels lonely, or what they think death might be like. I think about these things, but I don't know how to bring them up without starting an argument.

Perhaps this is why interfaith dialogue is so difficult, too. If we don't know how to begin a conversation about faith and practice with our own families, how are we supposed to talk across the greater religious divide? It's much easier to remain silent, to avoid the awkward moments, to shore up our defenses in the event of a possible attack.

I get disappointed, though, when we avoid these conversations, because I have this deep desire to be known by the people in my life. When they don't seek to understand me, when they don't try to figure out what I mean when I say Pagan, or Druid, or any number of other tradition-specific terminology, I feel whitewashed into being simply The Son, or The Brother. I revert back to being all of the things I was by default, and none of the parts I chose for myself are brought into the light to be seen.

Perhaps this is the plight of any religious convert. We leave behind the tradition of our youth, and in doing so we alienate the people who first gave us a God, who first taught us to pray, who first told us the stories of an ancient people in a far-away desert. I wonder if the responsibility falls on our shoulders to educate our families, or if it would be more right for them to seek out a deeper understanding of who we've become.

When you take on a new religious tradition, a new spiritual name, a new title, or when you develop a new set of ritual practices, how do you go about communicating that to the people who knew you as something different? How do you open up a dialogue about transition and change with someone who finds it more comfortable to remain where they are, where they have always been? How do you testify about your own, individual truth, and can you do so without making your loved ones feel inferior, or judged?

If you've had experiences that answer any of these questions, or if you're working through a transition from one faith tradition to another and would like to testify about how that feels, please do so in the comment section. This can be a safe, constructive space to unpack our ideas, and I look forward to the dialogue.

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