The 5 Questions

Today, I ask both kids, for anything they do, to consider 5 questions. The questions have changed a bit, shifted in their complexity from when they were younger, but the idea behind them has been consistent since Sharkbait was in preschool and Chickadee was in kindergarten (now they are in the 4th and 6th grades, so it been a while). And sometimes I still make them tell me their answers…

But when I started, it was because Chickadee overheard a gym parent berating an older gymnast and was all wide-eyed and horrified as she grabbed her snack and drink. Goodness knows as someone who used to coach and teach lessons, I CANNOT STAND bullying sports parents, but I also don’t like being a bitch in front of my kids, so I walked up to her and asked if she was okay, and she said “I hope you never talk to me like that about something I love to do, just because I made a mistake.”

I looked at the dad, still ranting at a 10 or 11-year-old, who was trying to hold back tears and save some face in front of teammates and other parents and tiny kids that just want to do cartwheels.  And at the point where he grabbed his daughter by the shoulders to do the shaking-yell-in-the-face manuver that I was only too familiar with from my own childhood trauma, I grabbed both of Chickadee’s little hands and steered her a bit so she wasn’t looking at the dad and I more-or-less said this:

S__________, the ONLY thing this mother cares about when it comes to the activities you participate in is this:

First of all, are you working hard? I mean, you look like you are working hard, your hair looks like a scarecrow and you’re all red in the face like you ran around or something…what, were you working out?

Second, did you do the best that you could do? I mean, sometimes we just do stuff automatically…but when you do your best, you should think about all of the things that it takes to make something really good.  Nothing will ever be perfect because there’s always room for improvement, but as long as you give it your best shot according to what you are able to do, that’s what I care about as a parent.

Number three–Are you listening to your coach? It’s not my job to tell you how to do your gymnastics right, that’s your coach’s job.  She’s in charge of you, she has the expertise on this. I will encourage you, I will cheer for you, I will ask you to show off your skills so I can take picutres for grandma, I will be sad when you fall down, and I will kiss your boo-boos when you get hurt…but I’m just a spectator here.  I will never humiliate you by yelling at you in front of everyone, because that’s a bad example, whether its leadership or parenting.

Four, are you learning from what you are doing wrong? If you find 100 ways to fall down and learn something about how to be better from each and every one of them, I am MORE proud than if you’d gotten it right the first time and the second and 98 more.  Its a lot harder to get back up and try again when something is hard than when its easy.

And fifth, are you having fun?  This isn’t a job. You aren’t making a living here. Even if you want to be an Olympic gymnast someday, and I’d rather you didn’t, but if you did, you are a kid and this is an activity for exercise and play.  This should be fun.  That doesn’t mean you don’t have days where its work and hard and it hurts, but if you don’t get joy from flipping and flying in the air, then there’s no point to making you keep doing this once you’ve fulfilled your commitments.

And I said it loud.  Heck, for parts of it, I looked right at the dad…and at others, I looked at his daugher, because at that point she was looking at ME wide-eyed and perhaps a bit vaguely horrified.  The father, of course, was looking at me like he’d have shot me if only he had a gun in his Mercedes.  By then, the coaches (one of them, the owner) had come to see what was making everyone stare in our direction and call the girls (both of them to their respective practice), and the dad huffed off like any bully whose bullying has been foiled.  After class, I got a quiet thanks from the owner, who had heard what had happened and at least the end of what had been said.  For the next year, anytime I walked in with my kid, he walked out.

Afterwards, I wrote down what a paraphrased version of what I said because I thought it was something I wanted to keep telling them…which I have, though the wording has changed a bit.  I was reminded of this occasion though, because happened to be cleaning out some papers last week and found what I’d written it down upon!

I find myself coming back to this, now that I am about to complete a major milestone in my life, two years (plus some, in procrastination and preparation) in the making, and complete graduate school.

The Evolution of the 5 Questions

1) Did you do the best that you could do at the time? Let face it, somedays the best we can give is not our best. For that matter, somedays, “the best that I could do at the time” was not a damn thing… But overall, I’d like to think I do (there is no try, only do) the best we can that day, and the next day, and the next. AFAIC, that’s what I expect from the kids too–do the best you can do and move forward, no recriminations for a bad day, but no excuses either.

2) Did you work hard? …I used to ask if the kids if they worked their hardest, but let’s be honest, the words we use to explain things matter. No one is physically or mentally able to do 110% or even 100%, 24/7. Adults don’t do it, so the idea that it should be expected of a child is ridiculously hypocritical. Kids shouldn’t have expectations put on them by adults that adults can’t even bothered to achieve.

3) Did you look for the wisdom of those around you? When they were little, I asked them “Did you listen to your teacher/coach/etc.?” Its a question about teaching them that different people are athourities about different things, about behavior towards people with different expertises, in addition to value. But now that they are older, I want them to consider what else they can learn by paying attention to their surroundings, by seeing all people as potential contributors, and by considering all points of view, even those they might not agree with.  If you look for wisdom, you won’t always find it, but you will still learn something.

4) Did you find something of value from the experience? The earlier and simpler preK-1st/2nd grade version of this when they were little was “did you have fun?” As well all know, however, life is not all fun and games.  Part of growing up is learning that shitty things can still be valuable, that difficult things can be valueable, that painful (physical or mentally) things can be valueable. Its up to us to find the value in the things we have to do as much as in the things we want to do.

5) Did you learn from your mistakes and failures? And honestly, they know this is the most important question of the 5, because its the one that I expect a fully-formed and thoughtful answer on…and its one I’m not afraid to share with them. I think its our job as parents to model how we want them to be, but also to discuss when we don’t always live up to that ourselves and why.  I’m a big believer in parental fallibility–a parent should be honest about when they did something wrong, even in their role as a parent.  I think it makes your parenting more effective and I think it helps your kids respect you more as a human being that loves them and is doing their best rather than some untouchable paragon.

 

….And so, I can honestly say, yes.  I did the best that I was able. I worked hard. I learned a LOT, some of which was full of incredible wisdom. I found much of value, though right now my brain is mushy enough that I can’t remember it all.  And yes, I (mostly) learned from my mistakes and failures (except maybe the one of procrastination, because that is where true creativity lays, my friends…where it lays and where it lies…).

And now, not quite 1400 in the afternoon, it is time for a glass of wine.

 

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Poseidea Rite

Underflow

Honoring: Poseidon
Date: Likely held during the month of Poseidion, most likely on the 8th ; on the modern calendar this is around December 19
Season: Probably held when the seas began to grow rough with the winter
Region: Athens

Items needed:
Bowl of water and stick (incense, punk, or natural) to light and douse
Candle, matches or lighter to light the stick.
Bowl of barley
Offerings
Libation bowl
Cup

In the ritual script, italicized text refers to directions and actions and isn’t meant to be spoken.


Procession

Assemble and prepare to process to the altar.

We go to the holy place with reverence and love, to honor the gods.

Proceed to enter the sacred space.

Purification of participants

Light a stick and extinguish in the bowl of water, creating lustral water.

May all be made pure who wash in this water.

Pour water over the hands of each person…

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A bit of a rant on the “War on Christians”

The idea of the “War on Christianity” is something I find quite funny. When I hear it, I automatically think less of the person. A lot less. In fact, to Christians in America that think they are “persecuted,” I only have this to say:

On what Sunday in America did someone show up with guns to the steps of your churches and badger the congregation? On what Monday in Illinois were you fired because of your Methodism? On what Tuesday in Topeka were you refused service for wearing a cross necklace? On what Wednesday in Macon did your child’s teacher call you because another student has beat up your child because they believe in Jesus–the same student that has been bullying the child all year long, and despite many conversations with the school because being a Southern Baptist makes your child a fair target? On what Thursday in Phoenix did you leave work to find that someone has spray painted your car with slurs for married to a being a Jesus-lover? On what Friday in Missouri did you find out that your Lutheran friend lost custody of their child for taking them to church? On what Saturday in South Bend was a Catholic berated and publicly humiliated by a perfect stranger simply for carrying a Bible?

When you all can tell me that someone, on a daily basis, somewhere is actively harassing you, barring you from worship, holding Bible-burning bonfires in front of your house, beating you or your children up, refusing you service, or taking your children away simply because you are a Christian, maybe I’ll take this so-called “persecution” seriously.

…Because all of these things have and do happen to non-Christians on a regular basis, while your puerile whining over red Starbucks cups and sharing nativity scenes with menorahs and the kid with gay parents in your kid’s class highlights the log in your eye.

The fact that people are refusing to kowtow to your so-called Christianity any longer isn’t persecution…but I’m sure it feels that way to someone whose faith is so shaky that it can’t stand the diversity of the human experience. I feel sorry for you. But I feel worse for the people that are actually seeking to live a life with Christ, to love their neighbor (their Jewish neighbor, their gay neighbor, their homeless neighbor, their atheist neighbor, their Muslim neighbor, their poor neighbor, their PoC neighbor) because you sure make them look bad.

Explaining that Pagan thing…

A couple years ago (5 or 6 to be precise), I wrote a blog post* about how to explain Paganism in the course of a conversation where it might need to come up…I don’t think I’m the person John Halstead was thinking of here, but he reminded me of my post!

Several years ago, I heard what I think was best advice ever about improving the image of Paganism. Unfortunately I can’t remember who said it, but the gist of it was this:) Rather than coming out as Pagans and then trying to convince people we deserve to be on the school board or city council or whatever, we should join the school board or city council, show them we are good citizens and good people, and then come out as Pagans. It’s not about hiding our Paganism, so much as taking our focus off of ourselves and refocus it on doing something positive in the world (other than making the world more comfortable for Pagans). Changing the image people have of Pagans will then happen naturally, without us trying.

~~John Halstead @ The Allergic Pagan, “Why Contemporary Paganism Deserves to Die”

YES!

I’ve been saying this for well over a decade (even before I started my little blog).

Honestly, the best PR Pagans can have as a group is to be seen as a person first–a person that lives our beliefs with pride and with respect, like any other person. We are never going to have a more equal footing if we can’t stop being defensive about our beliefs and go on the offense–-and we can do that without being pushy or proselytizing. Whether I was in the military or mom out with the kids or as government scientist (applied, not research) or at the grocery store or the doctors office, I identify as a person who happens to be Pagan (and a veteran and a mom and a scientist, etc.) People don’t look at me and think of a Pagan…if anything, I look like a overworked, under-slept slightly bohemian but outdoorsy soccer mom with a substantial collection of sarcastic t-shirts.

I do wear a lot of black, but that’s because its slenderizing and can get dirty without looking dirty (very important where I work).

My husband and I have been mostly openly Pagan for years, without any major incidents, living mostly in the South (with 2 years in the Midwest Bible Belt), and the past year and a half in the rural South. And there’s one thing that hasn’t changed: If you are at all publicly Pagan, there will be some point in time where you will be called upon to explain what Paganism is in general and perhaps even what you believe specifically.

It might be from someone that is honestly curious or it might be from someone that is already convinced that you are the devil incarnate. It might be from a well-meaning co-worker at a new job in a new state asking you if you need help finding a local church and inviting you to theirs. It might be from your child’s teacher, wanting clarification, to make sure that the class’s holiday party plans wouldn’t be offensive. It might be from someone that knows vaguely what Paganism is from some so-called pentacle-the-side-of-a-hubcap “seventh level dragon master faerie priest of Tantric energy manipulation” (I kid you not) and can’t believe someone so normal looking can be part of what think is a religion for people that should never be taken seriously. Either way (and everything in between) you have somehow been nominated (by default) as the Pagan Ambassador to this person and are responsible for disseminating good information in a way that is conversationally appropriate.

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In this moment that you have become a spokesperson for Paganism–-and you never know, you might be the *only* person this person has ever known to be Pagan, and now their entire opinion of Pagans will be based upon their interaction with you and the information you provide them. Or worse, you are the lone Pagan that can reverse their opinion of Pagans as a bunch of Charmed fangirls/fanboys.

A bit daunting, yeah?

How the heck are you gonna manage that?!?

I advocate co-opting the elevator speech (sometimes called the 30 second commercial), a term generally mentioned in the context of job hunting, where it is designed to act as a way for you to sell yourself to prospective employers. The main difference between the personal 30-second commercial and the conversational 30-second Pagan infomercial (other than the fact that you aren’t trying to get a job) is that we aren’t selling Paganism (that would be proselytization), we are ‘selling’ the idea that we are just everyday people with a different religious opinion.

Because that’s all we are. Everyday people with a different flavor of religion.

Why, you might ask, would you care about that? Mostly because many of us live rather conventional lives (or unconventional lives within a conventional system)–-some of us are in the military, or are police officers, nurses, bankers, teachers, lawyers, stay-at-home moms. We might have kids or be on the PTA or coach the swim team or baseball.

Being seen as a person first (and not just some out-there wacky religion or worse) makes it easier for one of us to get custody of our kids in a divorce, for a sailor on duty to trade watch in order to go to ritual, or for our kids to make friends on the playground. Being seen as a person first means that people take you more seriously than if they only see you as a stereotype.**

So when it comes to constructing your own 30-second Pagan infomercial, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Consider your audience–Do you know their frame of reference in terms of religion? Are they a conservative Christian that has attended the same church their entire life or are they someone that has done a fair amount of seeking?* Are you comfortable speaking to this person in the first place?
Consider your purpose–What are you hoping to accomplish? Does this person seem hostile or are they just curious? Do you have the feeling that this may escalate into something unpleasant?

Consider your environment–There are places where you may feel that religion is not an appropriate topic, don’t be afraid to say something like “I don’t talk about religion at work” or “Hey, remind me about this while we are at lunch if you are still curious, right now I need to change a diaper.” And yes, if you were wondering, I have actually said both of these things.

No jargon–Believe it or not, but not everyone knows what polytheism is (and some of them don’t know what monotheism is either), keep information and terminology simple unless specifically asked.

Memorable, not outrageous–Keep it simple. Most people don’t care about the differences between Recon or eclectic, nor do they care that half the time the Pagan community can’t get their act together enough to agree to disagree in order to act together, or that Wiccans disagree over the the necessity for initiation. All most people want to know is that you aren’t in a cult and which winter holiday you celebrate so they can send you the right kind of card. But if they do use as an excuse to proselytize, you can have a response ready for that too.

Practice–Practice what you would say, in your head and in person. Find someone to test it out on. Do it in front of the mirror. When you end up giving your infomercial in real life, reflect on how it went afterwards…how could it be better? Remember, when time comes to use it, it shouldn’t be some memorized sales-pitch, it does need to fit the conversation. But practicing it will make your delivery smoother, which will make you sound more confident, which most people will take more seriously.

Don’t be afraid to let the moment go without acting–Don’t *not* speak up because you are afraid, but don’t think you have to say something at every single opportunity. Don’t say more than you feel comfortable talking about.

What you actually decide to say is completely up to you. I would recommend keeping it general and emphasizing a few key points. In keeping with the idea of “no jargon”, I try to gauge my audience–if i know or suspect that they have limited exposure to religions outside of Christianity, I use the Christian equivalent term if I feel it can be used appropriately(tradition sometimes become denomination, ritual might become worship service, etc).

The concepts that I feel are essential to highlight include:
1. Paganism is group of religious traditions and spiritual paths, rather than one unified religious tradition.
2. Pagans often believe in multiple gods and/or view the earth or universe as divine.
3. Many Pagans get their inspirational from ancient religions such as those practiced by the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Norse, etc. Some Pagans try to recreate those religions as they were practiced.
4. Pagans may practice alone or in a group, and may belong to a specific tradition such as Wicca, Druidry, etc.
5. Pagan practices include worship services, holiday celebrations, prayer and ceremonies for weddings, birth, death, etc.

In a conversation, when called upon to bust out the “30-second infomercial” these points might come out something like this:

Bill: Well, if you don’t celebrate Christmas, what do you celebrate?
Sally: We celebrate Yule.
Bill: What’s that?
Sally: Its one of the holidays of Paganism.
Bill: What’s that?
Sally: It’s just another family of religions sort of like Christianity with all its denominations. Pagans are a pretty diverse group, some worship more than one god, or others, like me, see god as part of the whole universe. Some of us get inspiration from ancient religions, like those myths we had to read in lit class, but others belong to more modern groups like Wicca. I don’t belong to any specific “denomination” but I do participate in public celebrations for our holidays.
Bill: Hey cool, I didn’t realize that it was a “real” religion*.
*this conversation might be fake, but the comments are both things that have been said to me directly in the context of similar conversations

Or like this conversation that I had over the phone years ago about a preK-3rd program at a church school:

Me: Do you have non-Christian families attending there?
School Rep: Yes, we do have a few. Most of our families are members of our church, but we have a lot of diversity from the neighborhood and because our school program is well knows for its awards.
Me: So…does your school incorporate a specific religious education into their pre-k program?
School Rep: What do you mean?
Me: Like, how religious is it really? Our family isn’t Christian.
School Rep: Well, its not like bible school, but we do include Bible stories with story time at least once a week and particularly around the holidays. Sometimes crafts and things that go along with them. If you don’t mind my asking, what religion is your family and maybe I can better address your concerns?
Me: Well, we are Pagan.
School Rep: Oh, is that like Wicca? Because we had a Wiccan family a few years ago bring their kids here, but they’ve all graduated from here…
Me: Well, Wiccans are a type of Pagan…sort of like your denomination is a type of Christian. Paganism is a lot more diverse in beliefs though. Our family basically believes in a universal Divine and that individual gods are all equal parts of that Divine, but that’s just one point of view among many. We celebrate some of the same holidays as you do, just for different reasons.
School Rep: Like Yule, right? And Halloween, and some holiday a bit like Easter?
Me: Yup, those are some of them.
School Rep: Ah, gotcha. Well, here is how we can handle that sort of thing to work with you…
(that school went on the short list…I was very impressed, but ultimately it was too far out of the way and too expensive)

Notice that the conversations are framed in the context of the ongoing conversation, rather than something that is memorized–you are talking to a person, not giving a lecture. They are short, sweet, as general as possible but still giving useful information, and they are positive–what we DO and what we ARE. Pagans need to stop defining ourselves by what we are not and what we don’t do because it just reinforces negative stereotypes.

In the 20+ years that I have been a Pagan of one form or another, I have had to give some variation of this explanation (of what I believe and how it relates to a bigger picture) probably hundreds of times. It sort of makes me cringe, because I only got “good” at it after the first decade 7 or 8. I have had to explain Paganism (or more specifically, how Paganism fits into the military) to some pretty conservative crowds, and I will tell you now, that even when someone needs to know, they don’t always want to hear it. Particularly when it messes with their preconceived ideas.

With that in mind, the thing to remember is that not every conversation will go well. Your goal should not be to prove a point, or to be “right” or to have the last word (which is where my list of etiquette guidelines for interfaith discussions come in). Know when to back off, and how to do it gracefully (if possible) if things *do* go badly. But, at the same time, don’t be afraid to share your beliefs–-you deserve the same respect for having them that the next person does for having theirs, whether they are mainstream or not. If you can’t consider the conversation at work or school or at home, at least speak up when the opportunity presents itself…even if its just with trusted friends (or family that are also friends)or the blessedly anonymous internet.

*this post is essentially that same post from 5 years ago, heavily revised in places

**Here, I originally had some comments about the PR genius of the Mormons, which really only worked in the context of being able to see the commercials in question, but it isn’t available any longer. Also, while I still think the commercials were excellent from a PR standpoint, there’s some manipulation there, when it comes to proselytization, that isn’t really necessary here.