flwyd: (big animated moon cycle)
[personal profile] flwyd
When I took [livejournal.com profile] tamheals to her first Open Full Moon last year, she said that someone should do a ritual about Jesus. I enquired about it, and learned that March 25th, Good Friday, was available. Growing up in Boulder, I had never read the gospels, but I've paid enough attention to Alan Watts and Joseph Campbell to know I could lead a Neopagan Ritual about Jesus.

Over the last few months I read canonical and noncanonical gospels, watched part or all of The Passion of the Christ, The Visual Bible, Jesus of Nazareth, and The Last Temptation of Christ. I thought extensively about how to generously represent the message of Jesus in a way that's meaningful to non-Christians.

I had several goals for the ritual. My first goal was to be clear that I was being in no way evangelical. The Open Full Moon exists as a vessel for people to present different spiritual traditions. One might expect, for instance, a harvest ritual inspired by ancient Egyptian traditions. In such a ritual, it is well understood that the presenters are sharing a tradition so that the attendees may experience new and interesting things. I wanted to present Jesus as a teacher at the same level as Buddha or Confucius or Mohammed; a story that can be told along side all the other myths we love.

My second goal was to disclaim any claim of Christianity. I am not Christian, and don't think Jesus would approve of many people and activities associated with the religion. Jesus taught people to turn away from the power structures of their existing religion. Christianity is two millennia of people's interpretations of Jesus. I wanted to present Jesus, not to present people who present Jesus.

My third goal was to present Jesus in a context that the audience could get behind. I chose to focus on what I consider to be the inner teachings of Jesus, and for those ideas I am indebted to Alan Watts. My focus was that Jesus realized that he was one with God. But, contrary to what people have believed, he was a son of God, not the son of God. My Oxford Annotated Bible, Revised Standard Edition notes that "son of" does not denote lineage, but "assuming the characteristics of." So when the gospels say (literal translation from Greek) "I am son of God," they mean "I have the attributes of God" or "I am like God." God loves, God gets angry, God forgives, and so do people. "The kingdom of heaven is within you," and where does a king live but in his kingdom? Jesus is God, but he expresses brotherhood with others. They are siblings because they are all sons of God. Being born again of water and spirit is not just getting dunked in a baptismal font; it's giving birth to the part of you that is God. Why did I think Pagans could resonate with this message? Many seek to experience the divine within themselves. The practice of Drawing Down the God or Goddess is letting an aspect of the divine speak through priest's or priestess's body. My message was that the divine is within everyone, and if we allow it, the divine can speak and act through us.

I look a bit like the Jesus you can expect to find in medieval European artwork. I donned a bedsheet transformed into a shroud, a reddish brown shawl, and a red glow stick beneath my garment. Before the ritual began, I explained what I was going to do. I made it clear that anyone uncomfortable with the ritual did not have to participate, and that those who felt too uncomfortable could leave. I had some brave friends read the quarter calls I'd written (below). Tamara (who played Mother Mary and Mary Magadlene) and I called the Goddess and God. I turned slowly about the circle in the basement of the UU church and explained what I said in the previous paragraph.

I then gave people an opportunity to speak. Some were distraught, crying as they told me of abuse in "my" name. I explained that I offered Perfect Love, but that no one was forced to accept it. I said that the important thing was to experience the divine within, the message and symbols involved were not important. I expressed regret that people needed to speak in my name, for they too are God and speak of themselves. A blind woman cried as she explained that she'd grown apart from a friend over Jesus issues, and she had done some bad things. I held her hand and forgave her for what she had done, but told her that she also needed to go to her friend in love and ask forgiveness there too. Others thanked me for what I was doing, and showed that they understood my message. One man stood up and explained that he was a Wiccan and rejected me because I am a myth. He said he felt the guardians of the watchtowers were "kind of here," and that the circle energy "felt like a donut," perhaps implying that I was not contained within the energy. I wanted to ask him if he didn't believe in anything he did, since it's all mythic, but he asked me not to respond. Like the Silent Inquisitor, I smiled and offered my love, and let him hold on to his distrust and anger. Some people have complained that in many OFM rituals, no energy is raised. There was certainly a lot of energy in the circle by this point. Some of it was negative, but it was anything but dull.

Tamara came back as Mary Magdalene and expressed her sorrow that I must die and anointed me with precious oil. For the traditional "cakes and ale" portion of the ritual, Tamara and I brought fish, challa bread, apple-pomegranate juice, kosher macaroons, and Easter M&M's. I read a Bible passage for the blessing ("For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed..."), which brought back communion memories for many people. With the help of some friends, we distributed the food and drink, which many people politely or angrily refused and others gladly accepted. People talked a little among themselves, and then I passed out copies of St. Francis's Prayer. Most in the circle joined in reciting

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

It was getting late and we could tell people were agitated, so we decided to skip the planned enactment of Jesus's death on the cross. So it turned out just as well that I had forgotten to bring my crown of thorns.

My friends chose to dismiss the quarters in traditional Wiccan style and I declared that the circle is open, but unbroken. May the love of the God, Goddess, and each other shine ever in your heart. Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again.

All things considered, I think it went fairly well. Around half of the crowd received the message with an open mind, and the worst thing that happened was tears and harsh words. Several people said that they were challenged to think, and as a philosophy minor I can take nothing as a greater compliment. There will probably be all sorts of negative things said about what I did last night, but I stand behind what I did. People can choose to be negative toward me, but I will respond by maintaining my offer of love.

Alia, the main OFM organizer, was in tears for much of the night, citing empathy. I thanked her for being open and allowing the ritual to happen, and apologized for any pain I brought her. She knew going in that I'm never one to stick to tradition, but she knew also that I understood the audience. She warned people that the ritual would be unorthodox and controversial, but she had the strength to see it go through. In the comments to a friends-locked post, she said that I am a Trickster. While I am honored by the label, it's not quite how I identify myself. I practice religion as a sort of experimental anthropology. I play with different cultural traditions, I make up activities, and see what happens. I didn't plan a Jesus ritual with the intent of stirring up trouble, but I certainly didn't let the prospect stop me. And I wish to deeply thank those willing to play along.

This isn't the first time I've played the part of Jesus. I was one of at least three Jesi at last year's Leftover Salmon concert. Several people there came up to me for some humorous interactions. I spent a day dressed as Jesus at Burning Man. One fellow said "Ah yes, it wouldn't be a Burn without a messiah or two." Nobody said anything negative. And a few years ago, at the Witches Ball, I received a warm welcome, including a lady who came up to me and said "Now when people ask me if I've found Jesus, I can say 'Yes, I found him at the Witches Ball!'" No negativity there either.


Tamara says that she has had to transcend her hatred for the church and has learned how to learn about different religious teachings. The core of every religious teaching is love. She is open to talking to people who would like to explore such issues with an open mind. Let me know if you are interested.

On a lighthearted note... after a planning session two nights before the ritual, I said to Tamara "Let he who is Stone cast the first sin." When I met my quarter-calling apostles beforehand and assured them it would be a hip ritual, Eric mentioned "I know you aren't the fire and brimstone type." I retorted that "The only Stone that will be brimming is me."

And now, the parts of the ritual that made it to paper. The section marked "public ministry," I spoke as inspired about the message of Jesus. At some point, I will share a more formal presentation of my views of Jesus.


East

In the east is the Word
And the Word is with God
And the Word is God.
As we speak the Word
God emanates from us
As we hear the Word
We form union with God.


South

A candle lights another
Without lessening its flame.
Thus we are filled
With the love of God
And love each other
As children of God.


West

Step into the river
We are born of water and spirit
Not a birth of flesh
But a birth of choice.
For truly I say to you,
Whoever does not receive
The kingdom of God like a child
Shall not enter it.


North

Jesus was a carpenter
Jesus was a fisherman
Jesus sewed the seeds
But we must raise them up.
May we sew the seeds
Of love and peace
In our hearts
And throughout the world.
Goddess

I call Mary
The Queen of Heaven
Lady of all the world.
In you we see the face
Of all the great mothers.
Juno, Isis, Ishtar, Miriam, and Maya
She who spins the thread of destiny.


God

The primal force of the universe
Creator, guider, destroyer
The Holy Spirit in us all
Some call you God.
May you work through me
And may I see you
As I connect
With those around me.

The circle is cast.

Mary:
Now it is time to do as all the great mothers before me.
I will give birth to a Son, and give him a mothers love.
Like God’s love for us, a mother’s love is unconditional.
Her ability to sacrifice for her children is immesurable.
Let God show his love, through his child.
He will grow strong and give light to the world.
He will teach the world to love.
He will demonstarte the ultimate sacrifice.
His name is Jesus.

Jesus speaks:
Thank you, Mother
For bringing me life.
My origins are humble,
Born in a barn.
I am human,
I am the son of man.
Wise men seek me
They bring me gifts
Fit for a king.
They think they can learn
From a boy in a manger.
If only others would realize
In a child’s eyes
Is the face of God.

Fear rears an ugly head
Kings wish to destroy me.
A voice such as mine
Is dangerous to them.
Is a voice for truth
Will free the people.
It is a voice against power
A voice against kings and presidents.


Jesus does some public ministry

Jesus introduces Mary Magalene
Althought you wouldn’t know it from the stories, many or most of my disciples are women. One holds a special place in my heart. Like my mother, her name is Mary. Mary Magdalene. She understands my inner teachings. I have planted my seed of love within her. When I am gone she shall bear that love, that my spirit shall live again.

Mary Magdalene:
I have supported and loved you;
Followed you, worshiped you,
And sat at your right hand.
How shall I bear the loss of you?
Now I must prepare you for your death.
I shall anoint your body with precious oils
I shall cheris you
For I know you must sacrifice yourself
For love. For all people. For the world.

Jesus explains why he must die.


Bread and Fish (John 7:55-58)

For my flesh is food indeed,
And my blood is drink indeed.
He who eats my flesh
And drinks my blood
Abides in me, and I in him.
As the living Father sent me,
And I live because of the Father,
So he who eats me
Will live because of me.
This is the bread which came down from heaven,
Not such as the fathers ate and died;
He who eats this bread
Will live for ever.


While bread and fish and juice are distributed, Jesus is led to the cross and “nailed” there.
Jesus expires.

Mary Magdalene:
I mourn the loss of my beloved, my consort.
I mourn the loss of my Son.
I mourn the loss of my King.
He hath sacrificed himself
So that the world would know love.

Jesus:
Do not mourn,
For I am reborn.
I destroyed this temple
And built it again
In three days.
For even though my body died,
The Holy Spirit lives on
In all of you.

Recital of St. Francis’s Prayer

Date: 2005-03-27 03:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] altamira16.livejournal.com
It was really interesting that you did this.

Date: 2005-03-27 03:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] altamira16.livejournal.com
I didn't mean that as trite as it sounds. It is just good to challenge people on occassion.

Date: 2005-03-27 04:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 477150n.livejournal.com
Wow, that sounds really cool. Makes me wish I'd made it down to Denver for the ritual. You took on a big challenge & it sounds like it went really well.

Maybe this sounds grandiose, but I think one of the biggest things we can do toward the goal of world peace is to work for understanding among people of different faiths. And not just, "ok, well, you do your thing and I'll do mine." Rather, "I appreciate the power and value that your faith has in your life, and we can learn from each other."

There's a joke that people tell about UU's. It really isn't funny, but it goes like this: "Is it true that UU's deny the divinity of Jesus?" "Oh no! We don't deny the divinity of anybody!" Perhaps this is one reason we get along so well with the wiccan/pagan movement.. it's something pretty fundamental we have in common.

And, on a totally tangental note, were you at the church in the really old building? I think that building is so awesome.

Date: 2005-03-27 06:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flwyd.livejournal.com
It was in the UU church at 14th and Lafayette, if that's the one you mean. I actually haven't been upstairs, but from the outside the building looks like a cool old church.

I don't know if it went really well, but I think it went a lot better than it could have...

how I feel

Date: 2005-03-27 04:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tamheals.livejournal.com
I LOVE YOU! (http://www.livejournal.com/users/tamheals/4628.html)

Date: 2005-03-27 05:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] clarsa.livejournal.com
I'd been looking forward to your ritual for quite some time, but I find I'm becoming more introverted as time goes by. I'd gone to the bank, the hardware store, and the grocery store Friday and just wasn't up to leaving the house again.

Can you imagine what would happen if a Catholic priest decided to do one Sunday sermon on Wicca, and spoke of the Norse or Celtic or Greek deities? If he threw around the word "Witch" as a good thing? Alas, people give words so much power, and will not see them as harmless once they're invested in making them enemies. So I suppose it's no surprise that people had very strong reactions to your invoking a mythos that is really quite similar to Zoroaster and Odin and Osiris, just because it has a name they imbue with power.

I wrote a comment on Alia's post. I'd like for you to read it, if you haven't.

I do think what you did was important, and I'd like to explore it more. Maybe a "potluck trad" meeting for the express purpose? Maybe a workshop at DFest.

Date: 2005-03-27 07:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flwyd.livejournal.com
The difference between Sunday mass and Open Full Moon is that the idea of the former is that there is One True Way and the idea of the latter is Let's Explore Lots of Ways. If I'd conveyed the same message in a Hindu context, it would have gone over pretty well. But a lot of people can't separate the message from their other associations with the delivery symbol.

I saw your comment on Alia's post. I'm letting that comment section be a place for people to talk about what I did without my defense. I have religious debate listed as an LJ interest, but I don't think that's the right forum at this time :-)

As for your suggestion of doing something similar at Dragonfest, I'm not sure. It could take a lot of forms, from a discussion workshop about integrating main-line religion into Paganism to a full-blown Jesus ritual. I'll wait to see how this version pans out before I make any plans.

I'm definitely open to a discussion group where people have a chance to work through their issues regarding Jesus.

Date: 2005-03-27 07:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teal-cuttlefish.livejournal.com
I left that post open to you deliberately; I do not like to talk about folk behind their back. And, by the way, when I call you a Trickster, I mean it as high praise. We owe the fact we have a child to a pair of Tricksters, and they are an invaluable part of my belief system.

You see, theoretically I'm infertile. Alyria is a child of Coyote and Kokopelli.

Date: 2005-03-27 08:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flwyd.livejournal.com
Yes, I appreciated the Trickster comment.

I'm glad I was able to read everyone's comments, but I still think I'll remain silent.

Date: 2005-03-27 09:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teal-cuttlefish.livejournal.com
It's still ongoing, if you wish to continue to check in. It's certainly your choice whether to comment or not; and since a lot of folk do still have issues with the Christianity they were raised with, they may feel safer to speak if you do not respond. But I have already mentioned that I wouldn't lock you out of the post.

Date: 2005-03-27 06:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] maiden-midwife.livejournal.com
Trevor,

Though I have not spent much time in your physical company, I have come to realize that you are a very open minded person who is always willing to challenge other people to open their minds as well.

I think that it is commendable that you were brave enough to put on this ritual in a setting where there was likely to be hostility toward it. I used to hold hostility toward Christianity as well. I am lucky in that I was not raised Christian, so I don't have any painful memories of my upbringing to relive. I used to get mad because I was tired of people telling me that I was going to hell unless I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior.

Once I began studying Joseph Campbell and exploring other religions besides my own (Wicca/Paganism in ecclectic style)from a philosophical stance, I lost this anger toward Christians. It was good to let go. Since then I have taken on the belief that Jesus was a teacher and a healer and he was just trying to teach people to think for themselves and love each other regardless of their differences. He said some stuff that pissed people off and then he got nailed to a cross. Tragic, really.

I do agree that the teachings of Jesus have been drastically distorted by 2000 years of "retranslating."

The Wiccan religion teaches that there is no one true way. Why then do Wiccan people get upset when you simply try to present something to them that shows the commonalities between their religion and another?

I am sure it was very moving to those in the right frame of mind. I wish I could have been there.

Date: 2005-03-27 09:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teal-cuttlefish.livejournal.com
It's not the commonalities they see, all too often. Many people saw what they considered the enemy in the circle. I did not, and do not. Yes, I wept through much of the ritual. As I told my overprotective VP, there is no shame in weeping openly. (He was doing Priest work in Manitou Springs and was not there. I finally realized that his main issue was that "He made you cry!" I'm sorry that I am not able/willing to unlock that post, but I saw several different types of impact. Some were angry, yes. Others were upset. Still others found a great deal to think about from the ritual. I am glad that we did this once. I doubt that we will do it again, but it has a lot of potential for a more experienced group with better grounding skills and with a grounding area to help people come down from what was an extremely powerful ritual.

Date: 2005-03-27 07:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] maiden-midwife.livejournal.com
I commend you for allowing the ritual to happen and supporting Trevor.

I feel that I understand where your tears came from. When "The Passion of the Christ" came out in theatres I was enrolled in a Western Religion class. I took the class because I needed a philosophy class and Logic and Ethics did not appeal to me. Also, Eastern Religion was not offered at a time when I could take it. All of my classmates and our instructor agreed that we would go see it and then discuss it in class. So, I took my friend the Tibetan Buddhist (whose father was a methodist minister) and we went to see it opening weekend. I cried through most of it and felt a lot of physical pain.

After seeing the film I was interested to learn more about what Jesus was really trying to say, not what Christianity has become. I feel very sad that his words have been so distorted.

Date: 2005-03-27 07:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flwyd.livejournal.com
Thanks for the vote of confidence.

I admit that I'm also biased against Christians. They've done a lot of bad stuff and have some pretty dangerous ideas. But part of that is because the public image of Christianity isn't usually the positive side. The people preaching on the street and knocking on your door are definitely moved by the spirit, but in some fairly odd ways.

I've encountered fundamentalist Pagans before, and they've usually identified as Wiccan. They seem to have gotten as far as replacing the symbols and practices of the hard line church, but haven't really changed the mindset. It's a bit like converting to Christianity because you prefer meditation cushions to pews and think a sitting fat guy looks better than a hung skinny guy.

Someone could do a very interesting sociological study on power structures in the Neopagan movement. It runs the gamut from hierarchical covens which trace their lineage to Gardner to egalitarian circles that act entirely by census. I'm glad that I developed my religious nature in one of the latter, though we did receive some criticism from practitioners of the former.

Date: 2005-03-27 09:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teal-cuttlefish.livejournal.com
As a matter of fact, I have made my peace with Yeshua ben Joseph. I did not mean to stir things up as much as I did, but was compelled to speak. I'm afraid that I became a third officiant after a fashion, speaking the pain of those who have been hurt in the name of Jesus. I am glad that we did this once.

I've been having the "One True Way" argument on a different list. I firmly believe that as there are many paths to the light, I will not discount Christianity either.

Did you expect to draw down? If you did not draw down, it was extremely convincing acting.

Your description here is fairly clinical. How do you feel about the way that it went?

Date: 2005-03-27 07:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flwyd.livejournal.com
I try to avoid claiming to draw down, since I'm not entirely sure what mental state people enter when they do so. I was definitely speaking as inspired and tried to be in a Jesus-like state of mind. But I was also well aware of my physical and mental presence qua Trevor.

The other reason I don't want to say I drew down is because the thrust of my message was that we draw up. By blurring the distinction between divine and human, the meaning of drawing down becomes fuzzy.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. I was shaking (adrenaline) during the back-and-forth part. Lots of people gave me a hug after the ritual and thanked me for what I'd done, so I felt pretty good about it. I felt bad that some people were so uncomfortable that they had to leave, but I probably would've felt worse if the ritual was tame and didn't rile anyone up.

I feel like there's a need for an opportunity for people to process their issues with Jesus, but in a different form than it took on Friday. I'm glad I did what I did, and I hope people can take that and work with it in their own ways. I feel like leading a completely different ritual at some OFM next year. Maybe Chinese in nature...

Date: 2005-03-27 08:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teal-cuttlefish.livejournal.com
Well, Trevor may have been there, but it wasn't Trevor that we were talking to. I'm quite sure of that. As a general rule, if there is going to be an experience as intense as a drawing down, we do try to let folk know in the newsletter; I think the intensity surprised and frightened some people. I also think that it was, in the end, a beneficial ritual. I apologize for inserting myself into to it to the degree that I did.

I think we're going to add a line or two to the newsletter, prompted by but not just because of your ritual, mentioning if anyone is upset about somethat happens at an OFM, they should contact me so we can resolve it.

I am absolutely not sorry I let it go on.

WOW DUDE!

Date: 2005-03-27 07:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alias-treefrog.livejournal.com
I had very much been wanting to attend, I have maintained for years the old addage (mis-quoted) that "The last time a human said be kind and love each other, they nailed him to a tree" I grew up in the south, presbyterian, and I seem to have gotten the "gist of Jesus" right away. Rabbi and Teacher, spiritual leader and enlightened person. Not the political,smite-monger portrayed by the current religious big-wigs. My week kicked my butt and I had no energy left for OFMing. From what I read ou banged out a command performance. I can think of a list of "christians" that could've beifitted from such a lesson in the true nature of divine.

as always, you rock.

Hope to see you and your lovely lady soon.
-Erik

Re: WOW DUDE!

Date: 2005-03-27 08:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teal-cuttlefish.livejournal.com
I think you're dead on; there's a lot of folk that consider themselves Christian that have lost that message.

Date: 2005-03-28 01:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ihatepavel.livejournal.com
As you know, I took many PHIL and RSLT classes while at CU (RLST was my minor actually), and I subscribe to the "blind men and the elephant" belief system of comparative religion. I am not Wiccan (or anything), but it sounds like this was an intense and experiential evening for a lot of people. Even if some negativity arises from that, it has to be considered as beneficial in a progressive sense. Congrats on making a difference

Date: 2005-03-28 06:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sandbar.livejournal.com
I, too, heart Alan Watts.

That marfacher got it right, again and again. It's a joy to see someone speak so eloquently on such a perverted topic.

I gotta say, there was energy raised just reading this post. Dig.

Might I suggest a topic for another time -- Crowley's "The Hunchback and the Soldier" speach. Tie-ins with gnosticism, the Holy Spirit, and life in general. The Hunchbacks may have the numbers, but the Soldiers always win the war.
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