Guide Healing with a Handful of Dirt: Pagan and Psychic Essays for Living an Inspired Life

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The days of initiating or elevating on the basis of perseverance, popularity, or some vague intuition are fast passing, and good riddance! By acting in accordance with our will, we create and develop belief in our own collective competence as a magical thought form. As we come to experience and believe that our apprenticeship program is comparable to seminary training, we empower ourselves to defend that position politically. That was the battle we won here in New York.

The discriminatory procedure for clergy registration was not aimed at any particular religion. Rather, it drew an improper distinction between seminary graduates and all others. The effect was to give the mainstream groups, which have the resources to maintain seminaries and support full-time clergy, a specially privileged status. Because on principle we could not agree that we were inferior to conventional clergy, Witches fought the bureaucracy for five years. Even though many others were affected, the defense of apprenticeship is historically resonant for us.

One of the major effects of the Burning Times was to transfer the right to practice medicine from apprentice-trained women to university-trained men. So this was truly our fight. We won for all the small and alternative religions, and even for the store-front churches. Recognition is important to us, but access to clergy skills and services is far more important.

Skills make effective the freedom of religion that recognition only makes possible. But our apprenticeship training programs are part-time for the same good reasons that we have only part-time clergy. So, again, at first glance, we seem unable to fulfill our aspirations while remaining faithful to our traditions. The answer to the paradox lies within our own thealogy. As polytheists, we celebrate the diversity of divinity, and the divinity of diversity.

The organization of most religious communities reflects their understanding of the divine. Patriarchal theologies model all-male clergy. Similarly, Pagan religious leadership should be as decentralized as our conception of the sacred. To make this diversity work for us, we can adopt a New Age practice — networking. Every coven member brings to the circle a unique package of abilities, skills and experiences.

Even more important, it turns the coven into a context and support system for the spiritual development of each member. The experience of contributing, and of being honored for it, is profoundly empowering. We also need to find ways to honor the great contributions of elders who are not inclined to lead covens. Contributions in the arts, scholarship of many kinds, counseling, public relations and more need to be equally honored, whether they come from within or beyond the individual coven. Those of us who are coven leaders must share our pride of place. So we need to look beyond the coven, sometimes, when special expertise is needed.

We have many ways to locate our specialists: We can build consultation and referral networks. The humility to openly seek and accept the help of others is another form of spiritual growth. Still, we can accept help in trust that whoever helped us will get what help they need from somebody else in the network. Accepting help on those terms creates a moral obligation to help another person on some other occasion, without expecting payback.

That web of obligation undergirds community, and guards us from the cash trap. In my experience, the process of networking is well underway. For example, two local priestesses with graduate training in counseling are offering a workshop series in basic counseling skills for coven leaders. Whenever we give or receive such help, we also weave the Pagan community into a stronger and closer fabric.

Honor and humility, in dynamic balance, are a classically Wiccan concept and the key to effective networking. And so, we need not stagnate for lack of skills and services, nor need we give our priesthood over to a paid elite. Real apprenticeship can develop the skills we need, and real networking can share them. Taken together, they give us a real choice, while either of the false alternatives would soon incapacitate us. We can only do that by growing carefully, in accord with our own nature. We are growing as an orchard does, very slowly, to bear sweet and nourishing fruit for years to come.

Those who plant orchards need patience. Now, as the trees approach maturity, is no time to give up and replace them with a shopping mall. In the Old Religions of our Indo-European ancestors, conflict between the clergy castes and the warrior castes often developed. In India, the Brahmins won this conflict, creating an oppressive theocracy that exists to this very day. In ancient Rome and among the Germanic tribes, the warriors won, freeing them to act without moral restraints.

The Celtic peoples, however, seem to have managed to strike a dynamic balance between their clergy the Druids and their warriors, with both castes staying powerful well into historical times. When Western Christianity, the product of a theocratic culture Israel and a martial one Rome , conquered Europe, the same conflict between clergy and warriors was played out repeatedly, giving us most of the history of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance with which we are familiar.

To bolster its power, the Church inflated the power and prestige of the clergy as much as the Brahmins had. The Anabaptists went further and abolished all distinctions between clergy and laity. These concepts have saturated Western culture for centuries, affecting both liberal and conservative Protestants.

When Gerald Gardner created the initiation rituals of what was to become Neopagan Witchcraft in the s, he included this Protestant doctrine and enshrined it into Wiccan duotheology and liturgy. To this very day, Neopagan groups tend to be ambivalent about having clergy. Neither of these dualistic extremes strikes me as a healthy response to the very complex issues involved. Arguments about the role of clergy in our community provide many examples of this monotheistic dualism at work.

Paleopagans seem to universally believe that anyone can pray to her or his deities and do simple folk magic without the need of a specialist to intercede or mediate for them. Then the clergy become tyrants, attempting to place themselves between their laity and the divine. Whether the leaders of new traditions will get any respect from other Neopagans is another issue entirely, dependent, in part, on just how competent they are — and that depends, in turn, on how much inborn talent, training and hard work they have put in.

This study and training usually includes not only the acquisition of magical and religious knowledge, but also the mastering of skills in such diverse areas as counseling, teaching, art, music, drama, dance and the basics of what each culture has in the way of science and technology. To become a priest or priestess in a Neopagan tradition, one usually studies magic, divination, polytheology, liturgy and mythology. Many of the topics that would be covered in a mainstream ministerial training program are absent: Many of us Neopagan clergy have felt the lack of our knowledge in many of these areas over the years.

Highly structured, academic training in any field law, medicine, architecture, or clergyhood takes time, energy, talent, and money. The teachers have to eat and pay rent, the buildings have to be paid for, science and art supplies have to be bought, etc. On the other hand, concerns that academic clergy training can be rigid, left brain dominant, and negligent of the value of life experiences, are all worth considering. Neopagan clergy should know what on or off Earth they are doing and should be able to demonstrate their knowledge and skills upon demand — after all, the clergy of almost every other religion can.

Refusing to have published standards of qualification for our clergy opens the gates wide to con-artists and incompetents as much as it does to dreamers and poets. I do not, however, believe that such a degree is essential for me to declare myself an elder in my tradition, a priestess, teacher, and counselor at large. Many of us know psychologists with more degrees than a thermometer.

Some of them, having more abstract knowledge than skill, should never be allowed near a person in any kind of healing crisis. We know doctors and clergy and chiropractors and alleged educators who took the courses, passed with flying colors and know all there is about the science of their endeavor, but nothing of the art of it. Linearly based, university-approved study must not be an end in itself.

Some of these folk make the most sense in a debate about Wiccan ethics and practices, know from years of experience how to help make energy move and where it gets stuck sometimes crucial knowledge when working a ritual or deciding whether or not a particular issue should be handled ritually at all. We have no equivalent to Christ, to Buddha, to Mohammed. We are polytheistic and monotheistic the one in the many, the many in the One all at once. We are inherently unwieldy and hard to stuff in a bottle.

To people whose religious traditions have been in bottles for so long, we look like screaming anarchic madness. And that, of course, is both one of our greatest failings and our greatest gifts. Woe to us all when we start looking to the folks who teach that The Teacher taught in parables, but who cannot themselves handle paradox. The whole issue of training is a feathered herring; it is a sleight of hand to draw us away from the real issues. Bureaucrats, secular or religious, are clueless about how to think about, interact with, experience or work with non-bureaucratic forms.

And thank all the gods, we have been non-bureaucratic until now. Shall the Jews ask the Arabs how to build synagogues? Shall the Ayatollah ask the Pope about correct spiritual etiquette? I am not opposed to an honest and true ecumenism with other religious traditions.

I am, however, absolutely opposed to the sort of Episco-Paganism I see developing all around me. Would I stand still for Isaac Bonewits speaking for the radical lesbian feminist amazon contingent? Should Isaac feel comfortable with me speaking for people with whom he feels the most spiritual kinship? Not for a hot minute. We are two points along the arc, and there are millions of other points, each with some greater or lesser handle on the mysteries. Who should speak for the whole? Do the non-clergy oriented groups get locked out of a circle that now includes their greatest detractors and their former kin?

What of the economic issues? Are we going to declare like good little New Age Calvinists that those who are really meant to be clergy will magically find the money? Even if they are currently doing their best to feed themselves and their loved ones and keep an intact roof over their heads? The whole thing smacks of Eurocentrism. It is a decidedly linear, written-tradition, great-man oriented ideal. Gone is the faith in what is learned in the ecstatic state.

Yes, there are enormous merits to working the left brain. There are feminist witches in Australia who have met regularly for the past four years. They are reweaving the hole in the ozone layer. Their understanding for both came from years of radical feminist witchery; from immersing themselves in sacred, indigenous femaleness. Another group of Australian feminist witches were surrounded in a rural area by a group of armed men who had come to exterminate the lezzie witches. They escaped by dancing out of the house, hand in hand, giggling and humming silly songs all the way past the men, to their cars and to safety.

Those women put years of critical analysis and magical technique to use to save their lives. They used all their understanding of group dynamics, interpersonal understanding, etc. Anyone with the time, money and desire to go through the sort of training in question should absolutely do so. But they should do it because they want to, not because our detractors have suggested it. Mine is not an anti-intellectual stance. Rather, I am concerned that the same mentality that declared, and still declares, indigenous people savage because they do not fall into a European, middle class model, is the very mentality that some of us appear to curry favor with.

To what end, friends, to what end? Clergy are generally considered of a class specially educated beyond the average member of a religious group. They, structurally, mediate either between the worshipped and the worshipper or between the institution in which one worships and the members of that institution. I strenuously object to this quality of mediation in Pagan circles. Perhaps this sounds strange coming from me, since I am currently studying to be a minister. Perhaps you would expect me to argue the opposite point.

No matter how much research and education we do, we end up making the end product ourselves. This is why we have survived. No one empowers us to do what we do, except ourselves. But the Lutherans proceeded to invest the real power in their clergy and establish an institution of substantial political power over the people in the lands they controlled.

That was wrong and we should not do it. But fortunately for us, each Pagan is expected to truly be their own priestess or priest. Yet times have changed, and for the contemporary Pagan, the key to our survival and growth is in our ability to look out for ourselves and not in being dependent on some body of specially trained individuals. There are always those who know more or are more experienced than some others.

I am not arguing that folk should not educate themselves, or develop greater proficiencies in the Craft and be able to teach those skills as needed. But l am against any institutionalization of any form of mediation between the worshipper and the worshipped. It has taken a long time to get here, where consensus process and individual sovereignty are upheld as ideals, and to go back to some ruling over the rest would be a profound loss.

You might then ask why I am studying for the ministry. I can only answer, who will pay me to do the kind of ritual work that I do? Those who create institutions that are dedicated to the acquisition of capital and property, and who have a tradition of paying for their clergy should.

Thus, my issues are economic. However, if Paganism is interested in being seen as a credible religion among the mainstream clergy, I see it as having to make a few vital choices or commitments. One example of how diversity like ours is handled among the extant mainstream traditions is the Unitarian Universalists.

These are not beliefs. Their central organization has no power over the governance of member bodies, i. Rather, she is hired by the congregation for her services. The congregation manages itself by an elected board of trustees, and this is required mostly because of the sometimes substantial property holdings that need to be cared for. Because of this organization they can have vastly divergent populations of belief among the member congregations of the UU Association.

They have atheists, humanists, Christians, Buddhists and now even Pagans among them. Each congregation is independent in belief, worship and governance, but choose to work together and share the benefits and the costs of supporting an institution. But why we would wish to do something like this is beyond me, unless we wish to make the commitment to endure as an institution. Institutions provide structure and the ability to endure. They acquire power and the ability to wield that power. Yet with such structures comes a rigidity that will kill us if our freedom does not dominate it.

I do not think it wise that we institute clergy among ourselves as Pagans, but as priestfolk we may be able to institute Paganism among those with clergy. What I am suggesting is that we do not waste our efforts trying to coordinate such an unruly crowd as Pagans are into some body that can support a clergy or provide credibility by being an institution. The last decade of our history is filled with failures at this — or at best, highly qualified successes. This could well destroy us. Thus our choices to form some kind of clergy are twofold: And who will pay for it?

And what would they get from it? You would get more personal attention from a weekly visit to a psychotherapist for the same amount of money: So what would be the point of a Pagan clergy? What is the standard that people will be up held to? If anything I have more faith in the free market. Given a free flow of information, it would be very easily discerned whether or not a particular teacher does what the student wants. If we simply support each other in our own work we can then help individual students find their way to the teacher best suited for them. This is a motif of collectivism and cooperation rather than institution.

The image I get is one of a decentralized network of practitioners of the Craft. If what we are looking for is credibility, then we need to engage those who have had a monopoly on the credible conversation about religious issues on their own ground. Unless we begin to engage them in the substantive issues on their own turf we will never be seen as anything more than a trivial cult.

This is what the feminist theologians have done, and they are beginning to make some headway in the contemporary scene: Our issues are no less important, and in my opinion, are even more constructive, as we are offering a positive choice to replace, not merely criticize the dominant patriarchal-monotheistic culture. I see only two ways of solving this dilemma. The simplest is to go to school. This is what I am doing. I am educating myself to be able to engage the dominant culture in its discussion of the central religious issues.

As an aside, what I am discovering in my education is that the Western religious tradition is dead. They have no adequate answers for life and can only pick at the carcasses of ancient texts, proving them to be void of inspiration, and gnaw on the bones of past theologians in an eternal struggle to find some thing of truly adequate value.

It is only because of the habitual existence of their institutions that they are even able to do this. Yet who are we to challenge them? Our way is alive, but can we communicate it? Can we engage the religious leaders of the world today as equals, posing new responses to the demands of our day, and be able to demonstrably argue our case? Will we keep growing and responding to the present, or are we merely reclaiming the past? Most of the material currently published is encyclopedic — compilations of practice and ideas said elsewhere.

When will we begin to form critical methods to enable new advance in our art? Truly engaging in the process of self-criticism and growth will permit us to credibly engage the larger community of mainstream religion. Some of us will labor in the hard soil of learning and teaching our craft. This is the bedrock of our tradition from which we have nurtured the power to challenge the dominant but dying religious traditions, if we can but learn to wield it.

However, that is the price I am willing to pay to make myself ready to play in this arena.

Pagan Clergy Panel - EarthSpirit

But, by preparing myself, I will be better able to empower others with whom I work. But if we wish to create our own clergy, full-time dedicants to a Pagan religion, we will be forced to create an institution to support it. Therein lies the greatest opportunity for being effective in our modern world and equally for corruption. Are we willing to invest the time and energy and money to create a Pagan institution? It seems to me that this discussion is not so much about trained Pagan clergy per se as it is about professional Pagan clergy: Most of the objections that I have heard from people in our community to the concept of professional Pagan clergy can be summarized as follows:.

We believe that divinity is immanent, and that, therefore, every person has a direct and intimate relationship with the sacred, making everyone, in effect, a priestess or a priest. In time, they would seek to become mediators between ourselves and the sacred, and to interpret the sacred for the rest of us, disempowering and delegitimizing the practices of anyone outside their own select caste. Inevitably, they would start telling us what to believe and what to do, leading to rigid dogmatism, authoritarianism, and stifling homogeneity.

These people would also expect to get paid for what they do, and money would corrupt them even further, leading to the well-documented abuses and excesses that we have recently witnessed among Christian evangelists, while placing a hefty financial burden on our community. In short, Paganism as we know it would cease to exist, and we would become as calcified as the most fundamentalist Christian sects.

I strongly disagree with this argument. I think it reflects our fears, not our power. I also think that it is specious and not in touch with the reality of the Pagan community currently, much less what it may become in the near future. Paganism is not a religion of clergy, and has never been. This is our fear speaking, not our power. Perhaps, as children, we felt otherwise. But we are not children anymore, and the lie is just a lie. Perhaps as adolescents, in our quest for individuality and autonomy, we rebelled against the rigidity and dogmatism of mainstream religion. Pagan leaders, Pagan clergy, cannot lead through arbitrary authority or coercion, but only by persuasion, by inspiration, or by example.

Find another one or create your own. It is a very real concern, if only because these patterns are so deeply ingrained in our culture. To me, the term clergy refers to someone who performs a spiritual service for others. We have Pagan clergy even as we speak, in that there are any number of people in our community engaged in providing spiritual services.

On one level, we have people who are group leaders, who provide training and support for others in their covens, which are usually relatively small and self-contained groups. Then we have people who provide services to the larger Pagan community on a local level; these people teach classes, provide counseling or healing services, organize open circles and small regional festivals, publish newsletters, run stores, etc. Then we have people who provide services on a national or even international scale, who are writers, workshop instructors, coordinators of Pagan networks, organizers of national festivals, publishers and editors of large publications.

In the context of Paganism as a spiritual movement, all of these people perform spiritual services, and all can be considered clergy. The vast majority of them are not: Why do we need professional Pagan clergy? The most compelling reason I can think of has to do with the rapidly changing shape of our community.

Rather, there were mostly small, isolated covens of witches and Wiccans — and lesser numbers of Druidic, Odinist, and other non-Wiccan groups — that were not very connected to each other. By the early s, with the rise of large national festivals and the publication of The Spiral Dance and Drawing Down the Moon, our community underwent a radical transformation that continues to this day.

In fifteen years, we have tripled or quadrupled in size, perhaps more. The influence of covens and the emphasis on formal training and initiation has waned. This trend is bound to continue, given the fact that public interest in Paganism is increasing as we become more visible, and that our community has no checks on growth. The Pagan movement must adapt to change if it is to survive and develop.

Many of the patterns that have been in place within our community for the past twenty years are no longer adequate to address the changes that are taking place. Surely many among the increasing numbers of new people will find fulfillment on their own, but what about the rest — perhaps the majority — who want training, direction, and substance? The present shape of our community does not meet their needs very well, and the various problems arising from this are already being experienced at some of the larger festivals.

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We need well-trained, full-time, accessible clergy to address the growing changes in our community. We need to develop centers to train such clergy in ways congruent with Pagan attitudes and beliefs. I envision that this training would, for instance, provide education in such topics as ancient Pagan civilizations, Goddess religions, ritual crafting and performance, comparative religion and mythology, and ecospirituality; that it would enable clergy to acquire skills in counseling, listening, group dynamics and leadership, communications, organization, and conflict resolution; and would help them develop such qualities as patience, detachment and self-confidence, not to mention personal integrity and reliability.

I have no illusions that doing this will be easy. I am also aware that the development of a formally-trained, professional Pagan clergy raises a number of related issues. The question of accessibility to such training is one. What would be the criteria for receiving training? Who would administer it? The question of money is another. If we have full-time clergy, they need to get paid a reasonable salary. What about the injunctions in some Craft traditions against charging money for spiritual work? These are admittedly difficult questions, which are nevertheless intrinsically a part of the process of building a spiritual community that will be able to have a positive effect in the world.

As the Pagan community grows in size and complexity, these issues become even more important for us to address. Sam makes an important point: Yes, we must offer alternatives to business as usual. Isaac, whatever your problem is with feminists, do yourself a favor and get over it. Your information is either very out-of-date or you are suffering from an acute case of anti-feminist myopia.

We embrace the reality that we are each a potential leader, each a potential authority on some aspect of what we know. We act from an understanding that by refusing the easy out of heeding predesigned leadership, we make way for each of us to emerge as leader for a particular activity or endeavor as the need, and the personas to fill that need, arises. By taking the harder, more anarchistic road, we develop crucial skills in ourselves and one another. Sometimes we make ourselves crazy with exasperation. Sometimes, when someone who could easily step in to lead a ritual does not, that ritual falls on its face.

But every woman in that circle goes home wondering why, and what she might have done differently. And next time, a woman who never saw herself as a leader takes a step toward becoming more of one. Every time a woman of strong voice and strong conviction sits silent through a discussion about how to organize a response to a particularly anti-witch film or public comment, the sister witches who share her view but who might have kept silent find themselves forced to speak or know that their viewpoint will not be articulated.

Your misinterpretation is a classic example of the exact problem we are discussing. If the only reason we want to create our own authority figures is to be able to do the same sorry dance as the authority figures of mainstream religions, why on this good green Earth should we bother? The gifts we bring to the banquet table come not in aping the mainstream, but in modeling for them what we shine at, and that they lack.

The mainstream religions have much to offer that is worthwhile. But as we all know, they each have gaping holes in their theological and cultural fabric. I do not believe we get anywhere playing by their rules congregations, paid professional clergy, institutions, credentials. I maintain that we do best when we dance to our own drums, alone or in concert with those who will dance with us, and let our actions, our will and our intent be the legitimacy by which they come to know us.

There were years when I would have gladly paid what little money I had to have access to a good teacher. And yet, not having that one paid teacher led me to many experiences, not all of them pleasant, that together have been a great teaching. I am indebted to numbers of radical women, many of them radical lesbian feminists, who taught me about the politics of power, group and individual dynamics, and how to listen for what is being thought and felt but is going unsaid.

Here it was that I learned to address numbers of people, unafraid; and to speak, loud as I must, even when desperately afraid. Somewhere in all of this, I came into my own as a witch. I did not learn my group leadership skills in the coven, but in the rape crisis center meetings. I did not hone my public speaking and spellcasting skills in the coven, but at the rally. I did not find my goddess information from the myriad books that have since come out, or from a coven leader.

I, like many radical feminists, dragged them out of dusty back rooms of libraries, old journals and our shared dreams. I write all this to underscore what Judy has said about the myth that all real education comes in the classroom. For those who come up through the coven structure, strong apprenticeship programs are essential. But there are thousands of us whose best leadership and community participation skills, best magic, and best gifts never saw the inside of a coven. Yes, the growth of the witchcraft and Neopagan community has been astounding.

And it has certainly brought in an enormous number of people who are not coven trained. That is not inherently a problem as long as they have been through some equally challenging training in understanding energy movement, group interactions and how to be part of a community. Certainly, many people do not meet these criteria either. I have absolutely no trouble with someone teaching public or semipublic classes and charging for their time and energy. That puts us squarely in bed with one of the worst traits of mainstream religions and New Age folk: Instead, I agree with Judy again.

There are many of us who are excellent at a variety of things. Let us share those skills, leader to leader. Let us educate, and cross-educate, those who find their way to us. Let us let the needs of the community, and they are real, be met by the community. Gwethalyn ni Morgan once made the point that the difference between a religion and a cult is that a religion is a cult with political clout. Viewed in this light, the question is transformed into one about the definition and types of power we have and can acquire in our human world. Unless we as Pagans become inordinately wealthy or find some powerful niche in the business community, it is not likely we will be able to use our economic power to attain some recognition in our society.

The television evangelists are an example of a religion doing exactly this. Unless we as Pagans enter into governmental politics either as candidates, parties, or lobbies, we are not likely to attain any significant measure of political power as Pagans. This is historically a dim hope. Except for rare occasions as in the opposition to the Helms amendment, Pagans are not known for their ability to unite politically. None of this is a problem, as these are not the areas that we are most likely to operate in, save where our rights are being infringed upon.

This process of elimination leaves us with one opening — the realm of information. Yet, while this is an area in which we as Pagans can actually wield some substantial power, we tend to shy away from it except within our own very narrow circles. As Wiccans, as magi, as students of the occult we specialize in the power of knowledge.

In this abstention, we withhold our voices from that body of influence that under-girds economic and political policy. We neither speak nor are we heard, although both of these are repairable. We do not speak for fear, as I think Andras put it well. We are afraid that our words will be rejected, that we will be discounted. This is a real possibility but first we must grapple with why we do not speak before what we have said can be rejected.

In my estimation, we operate from an inferiority complex, behaving as underdogs, as the oppressed and persecuted, as indeed we once were. A study of their theologies is a study of a vain attempt to justify irrelevant or problematic i. Ours is relevant, and elements such as the reverence of life in general and responsibility for the biosphere in particular are in fact essential for living religions today.

In other words, we really have something to say, and with that, the responsibility to say it. Most ministers and religious professionals have substantial educations in the field of religious studies, which includes both history of religions and theology. Often our research is so limited and lacking in depth that it appears laughable by the academic establishment even though it may be true and valuable. How many of us have post-graduate degrees in religious studies? Until I entered the seminary, I did not realize just how much information is available, and how much of it is applicable.

Many of the ideas we hold today have been tried in the past with varying degrees of success and under varied conditions. How many of us know these things? Many of those with whom we would dialogue — ministers and the like — have Masters degrees and Ph. If we are to be taken seriously, we need to be able to communicate at their level. We need to know the conversation that they have been engaged in since before the beginning of the Christian era and be able to participate in it as equals. While I agree with Judy that the apprenticeship method will work for transmitting the general body of skills that a member of the Craft would need, I doubt this will be adequate to the task of engaging i.

Further, there is a reason for the university or college system. Apprenticeship really only works if the teacher knows enough. Isaac makes the difference between mainstream clerical training and our own plain. The consequence is that we are not taken seriously. Will apprenticeship be adequate to the task and can this be demonstrated? The simple solution to this problem is to go to school. But the goal for me is not to be supported by the Pagan community after I graduate, but instead to engage the dominant and world-endangering religions on their own ground.

This is not an act of mere aggression. I have had the delightful opportunity to see that, in fact, many of the folk entering the ministry today are working for the same causes that we are. We can work with them if they could see us as something other than a mere cult. I assert, however, that they are operating with a handicap due to their essentially anti-body and anti-world mythos.

We, on the other hand, are merely disorganized. One important place in which we are disorganized is in our theology, and this hurts us daily. By theology, I mean the general theoretical principles and beliefs that underpin our actions and words as Pagans. By no means does this need to be homogeneous. On the contrary, our diversity is our strength.

We must nonetheless be able to articulate our beliefs in a coherent, and to a certain extent rational, manner if we wish to engage the mainstream religious community in conversation. If we can do this, they will listen to us. Exterior to any considerations of intelligibility to outsiders of the Craft, we have a more important reason to develop our theoretical structure. This is the way systems of knowledge advance: Most of what we currently possess of our knowledge is anecdotal. This is adequate to our early development.

However, we will not proceed very much farther unless we can explain ourselves much better. We will not be able to teach new folk the depths of the knowledge we currently possess, nor will we be able to express ourselves intelligibly to sympathetic but skeptical outsiders. Let me give an example of how this same problem has manifested itself in science.

The science of metallurgy is less than a hundred years old, although metal work itself is over ten thousand years old. Until recently, all metal smithing was done on a hit or miss basis with extremely variable results. The famous Japanese art of sword making was lost eight times because the person who possessed the intuitive knowledge of the art died, and because he could not express what he knew, the knowledge died with him.

With the modern sciences of chemistry and crystallography, we now can make any kind of steel we wish and teach others to do the same. Also, we can teach the general principles on which our metallurgical knowledge is based, and this can be applied to other types of metals. And so what happens when those of us who truly understand the magickal art, at least as far as we do so today, die?

Does our hard-won knowledge and experience die with us and another generation fall before the blight of alienation from our mother Nature? Or will we find a way to pass that which we have learned along, improved for having passed through our hands, to the new generation to learn from and further improve?

Whenever a few of us engage in a discussion of the modern Pagan movement, it seems that we wind up enacting the story of the blind men trying to describe an elephant: I see this process very much reflected in the arguments of the various panelists. Over the course of the last fifteen years, I have attended 52 large Pagan gatherings all over the country.

Between this and the work that I do through the EarthSpirit Community, I have met literally thousands of Pagans from all walks of life, levels of experience, and geographical areas. Judy sees us growing slowly and carefully, and bearing sweet fruit as an orchard does. Would that it only were so. I see us growing more like kudzu — wild, rampant and much too fast, threatening with destruction the orchards and groves that some of us have been tending for quite some time. Within Paganism in general, however, I see just the opposite happening.

I see people, whose entire Craft experience consists of having read The Spiral Dance and Drawing Down the Moon, setting themselves up as teachers, starting groups, and initiating just about anybody who comes their way. An important aspect of the problem is that most of these people are neither ripoffs nor charlatans. They are, rather, very eager and sincere new Pagans who have simply not been exposed to anything more substantial than what they are doing. And why is that? Some of them would rather keep it that way: If they tried to do any more, they would burn out, as some already have.

The size of our community is not, by itself, the cause for the lowering of our standards. Another equally important factor is the mainstream culture that surrounds us. Not only, then, are we growing very large very fast, but the majority of these new members are also bound to bring with them many of the artificial standards and patterns of the mainstream culture. When I hear of somebody else who was psychically shattered because no one in her group knew how to help her ground, I think we have a problem. When I see people drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, talking loudly and making unwanted sexual advances during rituals at Pagan festivals, I know we have a problem.

These are not isolated cases. These things are happening all throughout our community, all over the country. Never mind our lack of credibility among mainstream religions. How can we take ourselves seriously as a community unless we do something about these problems? How can Paganism make any kind of positive change in the planet when we are all tangled in kudzu?

I am very much in favor of apprenticeship: I was trained that way and I have trained apprentices for many years. One-on-one apprenticeship, however, is hardly a realistic solution when the problem already is that we have far too many people lacking training and far too few experienced teachers available. This is precisely why we need professional Pagan clergy.

We need to provide ways for the most experienced and skilled members of our community to become available to the thousands of new Pagans coming in every year. We need to develop training centers — not so much based on the mainstream academic criteria that Oriethyia rightfully mistrusts, but along Pagan principles and standards — to prepare our clergy to better serve our community. To do this — to do it fairly, to do it ethically, to do it well — we need to look at ourselves and what we do differently from the way we have thus far. We need to develop creative strategies to deal with the dramatic changes that have taken place in our community within a very short time.

While it would be unrealistic to expect someone with a full-time job and other responsibilities to also lead three training groups a week, it is not at all unreasonable if that is what the person does for a living. This scenario would benefit both the students and the teacher: I am not oblivious to the many questions that such a scenario raises, an important one being: It does not serve us to cling dogmatically to the belief that we should not charge money for teaching the Craft.

While such a notion may be perfectly suitable in the setting of a small coven, it needs to be reconsidered in the context of the changes happening within our community, and in comparison to other standards that we generally find acceptable. For instance, I think that most Pagans would find it reasonable that authors of books on witchcraft be paid for the publication of their work. Now, these books generally provide a very elementary level of training in the Craft, and such training as they provide is certainly impersonal, in that the author is not immediately available to the reader for answers to questions, supervision, etc.

Why, then, is it not acceptable for an experienced teacher who is providing much more in-depth training, direct supervision, and personal accessibility to her students to charge a reasonable fee for her work? Does this really make sense, especially when we consider that, at this point in time, most people in the Pagan community have likely gotten what training they have primarily from books? Does anyone see a double standard here? We also have to deal with the hierarchical implications of a professional Pagan clergy.

In the process, I think we should reconsider the meaning and role of hierarchy in the Pagan community, a role that has been much maligned by fears of disempowerment, and squelched in denial by notions of political correctness. Hierarchy is not an oppressive patriarchal invention, but an organic pattern that we find throughout nature. Hierarchy is a matter of functional value, not personal value.

Every human being has the same intrinsic personal worth as any other and is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. From a functional standpoint, however, not everyone is the same. Apprentice carpenters and master builders, as people, have the same fundamental personal worth. But in the process of constructing a house their functional value is quite different. All too often in the Pagan movement, we confuse hierarchy with authoritarianism. Hierarchy is not at all the same as authoritarianism, which is arbitrary, coercive authority. Hierarchy is natural and organic; authoritarianism is the opposite.

The confusion, I think, arises from the fact that we live in a culture where people are valued for what they do, not for who they are. This attitude perverts the hierarchical order, creating a caste of authoritarian, quasi-infallible experts. We need to reclaim the value of an organic hierarchy in the Pagan community while eschewing authoritarianism.

It strikes me that one of the difficulties in discussing the concept of professional Pagan clergy is a lack of specific models around which to frame our discussion. For four of those seven years I worked part-time jobs so that I could devote myself full-time to my Pagan activities. For the past three years I have been paid full-time for this occupation. Let me tell you what I do and how I feel about it. I teach public classes on witchcraft and paganism, which are available to just about anybody. Over the past ten years, I have taught over three thousand people.

For most of them, I have been their first direct contact with the Pagan community. I teach people what I know; I do not tell people what I think they should believe. I design, arrange, and officiate at Pagan rituals, especially large ceremonies that involve a substantial segment of the local community.

I also perform rites of passage such as child blessings, legal Pagan handfastings, and rites of commitment for lesbian and gay couples. I do not presume to mediate between anyone and the Sacred.

Healing with a Handful of Dirt: Pagan and Psychic Essays for Living an Inspired Life

If anything, my job is to help people to do that themselves. I oversee the functioning of a pagan service organization that provides a wide range of activities for the community — four seasonal festivals, two publications, several open circles a year, a monthly coffeehouse, training groups, discussion groups, special focus groups.

I help to raise funds for this organization. I make sure there is enough money in the bank to pay for the printing of FireHeart, and that there are enough paper cups for the coffeehouse. I spend an inordinate amount of time attending meetings. I act as a go-between when people in the community are having problems with each other. I help groups resolve internal conflicts when they need an outside perspective. I help people listen to each other, negotiate, and conciliate.

I intercede on behalf of pagans with the courts, government agencies, hospitals, funeral directors, schools, police, etc. I work with couples in our community who are having marital difficulties. Besides, an awful lot of Pagans are bureaucrats. As much as possible, I try to make my bureaucratic chores into a deliberate ritual. I present a public face as a witch and a pagan. I give lectures in colleges and elementary schools, to civic organizations and singles clubs.

I discuss with committees of librarians the issues involved in the censorship of occult books. I give interviews to reporters. I seldom seek out these situations, but I welcome them as a way to improve the public image of the Craft. I am only too aware that, like it or not, the people watching me will judge all witches and pagans by what they think of me.

I try my best to do us credit. I serve on interfaith committees to help the clergy of other religions become aware of who we are and to give us credibility. I have assisted in Sunday services at Unitarian churches and fundamentalist churches. I work with law enforcement agencies to clear up any misunderstandings between what we do, and what perpetrators of ritual crime do.

This is just what I do publicly as a Pagan clergy. There are very few tangible rewards in my job, although on average I work more than fifty hours a week at it. I have almost no job security to speak of. I deal with constant and substantial levels of stress. My life is so intertwined with my job that they might as well be the same.

I have no academic training for most of the things I do in my job. Whatever skills or experience I have come from the work I have done as a witch in covens and apprenticeships. I am not the best there is at what I do. I know people who have been in the Craft longer than I have, who know more than I do, who are more skilled than l am. There are other witches and pagans, however, who already have the skills and the experience, and who would be glad to be of more service to the community if given the chance.

One of the strengths of Paganism is its incredible diversity. Such diversity encourages creativity and freedom, and makes it possible for virtually anyone to find their own niche in our community. It also discourages rigid dogmatism and centralized authority. Our diversity, however, also creates problems in communication among ourselves and hinders our ability to work collectively. When we have such diverse visions of what Paganism should be, and when so many of those visions actually conflict with each other, it is difficult to find resolution.

Faced with such a quandary, I borrow a line from Judy: As a witch, one of the most important lessons I have learned is the one that Judy reminds us of — there is always a middle way. The middle way is the most difficult road to travel, if only because it is the least obvious. It is the road between the worlds, the path that is not a path — the snaking trail covered by underbrush, to be found only by discerning eyes that are not hindered by preconceived notions of what the trail should look like.

Because I travel this path, because I know that so many of us do, I also know that we can have common principles and beliefs that are not rigidly dogmatic; that we can have leadership that is not coercive or manipulative; that we can have an organic hierarchy that is neither authoritarian nor abusive; that we can have organized institutions that promote diversity and the ecstatic state; and that we can have one-on-one apprenticeships, small covens, and large training centers that cater to hundreds of students, all at the same time.

Mother Earth is in desperate trouble. That sentence finds its way into nearly every article I write, perhaps by necessity. I write mostly for my own neopagan community, still in our formative period. As we make decisions that will shape our malleable future, we need to constantly remember her need and our identity. Her survival — and our own — demands that we do our work well.

And yet, in this time of choice and change and crisis, we must first confront this paradox: We were educated in its schools. Its reinforcers still surround us. Our sense of the urgency of our task drives us to those easy ways. But as the means condition the end, so only surface changes can be made that way. They are words that have little currency in our everyday language.

When I ask myself what Paul was getting at, I come to the realisation that genuine love for and commitment to anyone calls for putting myself second, letting go of ego and self-interest, putting first what is best for the one I say I love. The first casualty of genuine commitment to another must surely be our ego. The love that God asks us to give has to be given freely.

Eucharist is ultimately about giving our ourselves and our lives freely for others. Jesus said to the crowd: Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world. Food can be looked at in many different ways. There are some of us who are very particular about the ingredients of the food we buy in supermarkets. We can go along the rows of shelves and freezers reading the list of contents on the packets, making sure to buy products that are low in fat, sugar and substances like monosodium glutamate.

Others of us are concerned only about taste, preferring things like hamburgers, deep fried potato chips and ice-cream. There are others of us who opt for tried and true comfort food such as roast chicken, beef steak, baked potatoes and green vegetables. For some, food is an enemy, especially when it expands our waistlines, preventing us from easily fitting into our favourite clothes. There are some among us who regard preparing a meal or baking biscuits as expressions of love.

Professional chefs see food presentation as an art form, while there are some anxious people who prefer to waste away to skin and bone, even putting their lives at risk. Despite all those different views about food and the ways we respond to it, most of us appreciate that good food sustains and nourishes us. We accept it as an expression of genuine love when it is prepared by those who care for us.

We appreciate it as a gift from God. The readings of the last three Sundays have included many references to food. To better understand what he was saying, we have to explore the Jewish understanding of the animal sacrifice that was practiced in the Temple in Jerusalem. When worshippers brought an animal for sacrifice on the temple altar, some of the meat was returned to them to be shared among family members at a ritual meal. Because the meat came from a temple offering, it was understood that God was somehow a participant in the meal as a silent, unseen guest.

People believed that God was present in the meat of the sacrificed animal and that they went away from the ritual meal carrying God within them. Blood was therefore considered to be sacred, belonging only to God. When the blood of a sacrificed animal was sprinkled on the people, it was taken as a sign of their being touched directly by God and filled with the life of God. Eating the Eucharist is being consumed by the Jesus we receive, being nourished and sustained by his compassion and love, by the love, mercy and kindness of God which he proclaimed and practiced in his life.

The love of God, alive in Jesus, the Bread of life, is the life and love of God flowing through us to a world in need. Repetitio mater studiorum est. Those who put the Sunday readings together seem to have the same view. Variations of this are repeated throughout the latter part of this chapter. John is surely trying to stress that Jesus wanted to leave no doubt in what he was saying.

Little wonder, then, that the people listening to Jesus were puzzled and even angered at what they heard. Next week we will hear that many who had followed him closely were to walk away from him in confusion and puzzlement. Their response nudges us to ask ourselves what exactly our response is. In consuming the bread given to us when we participate in the Eucharist, we believe that we become the body of Christ with those gathered with us in our parish community, and the body of Christ for one another and for those we encounter each day.

As these flow through us, we become what we have received: As Jesus is the sacrament of God, we, in our turn, become the sacrament of Jesus for our world. But an angel touched him and said: Every now and then we see and hear TV interviews with artists and musicians. They speak of being consumed by what they had consumed in the gallery or concert hall. We have all seen or met people in whom a passion for what they undertake is so strong that it becomes the focus of their lives. We are invited to be consumed by the Christ we receive in the Eucharistic bread, and be, in turn, the bread of compassion, mercy and kindness for everyone we encounter each day of our lives.

The other three Gospels present Eucharist in the context of the Last Supper. Effectively, it saved their lives. He feared for his life. Physically and emotionally exhausted from fleeing, he flopped down under a broom tree and asked God to end his life. God had other ideas and sent an angel to him with scones and water to nourish him for his long journey to the safety of Mt Horeb, the mountain of God. Elijah was at the end of his tether, completely dispirited, deflated and defeated.

These are two very significant words. The message for us is clearly that when we let others know we are with them in their pain, loneliness, grief and depression, they are encouraged to keep on keeping on. The greatest hospitality, intimacy and friendship we can extend to others is to invite them to share a meal in the place we call home. If you can picture Elijah in the depths of depression, collapsed under a broom tree, you might even be able to imagine him, after he had been revived by two scones and two jars of water, praying something like:.

This hymn was written by Anglican pastor, Henry Lyte, in a bout of depression not long before he died. I suspect Lyte would have resonated with Elijah. Implicit in that sign is that we, too, are to be companions to one another, and to everyone with whom we engage, especially those most in need. For us, a further implication of that is to call to mind those who might be encouraged by some act of companionship as we step out from the community with whom we celebrate our Sunday Eucharist. There is surely some neighbour, colleague or friend whom we could boost with a simple phone call.

There are others in hospital who might be cheered by a visit. There are beggars on our streets who would get as much lift from a brief conversation as from a donation. There may be others, even under the same roof as ours, who are angry, isolated and forgotten and can be lifted by a word of acknowledgement. There may be others we know to be struggling and for whom a casserole would be a wonderful and wordless message of recognition and hope. That, of course, depends on our belief in Jesus when he says: The people said to Jesus: What work will you do? Our fathers had manna to eat in the desert; as scripture says: Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry again, and anyone who believes in me will never again be thirsty.

That is all part of what is meant by following in the footsteps of Jesus. In the gospel, Jesus is confronted by a crowd looking for a repeat of the feeding of the five-thousand-strong crowd just a few days before. To strengthen their case, they referred Jesus to the Exodus story of the manna that satisfied their ancestors when they were wandering in the wilderness. Jesus reminded them that it was God, not Moses, who provided the manna. The people badgering him were looking for more signs to satisfy themselves that Jesus was a prophet. They wanted him to produce bread on demand. Jesus, however, pushed them to reflect on what was the real source of both the manna in the desert and his feeding of the five thousand: That prepares the way for Jesus to identify himself as that true bread: There are serious scripture scholars who question whether Jesus, in real life, actually said these words.

Believing that Jesus was sent by God to give us life by showing us how to live is foundational to our faith. In order we hear Jesus proclaim: All of these statements are echoes of words uttered by prophets and leaders of the Old Testament, and can be traced to the books of Exodus, Kings, Daniel and to the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Moreover, they are all metaphorical statements. Jesus is not literally bread, light, a door, a shepherd, resurrection, a pathway, truth or a vine.

Nonetheless, they are all statements laden with meaning about what Jesus came to do and about the impact he had on the world. Rather, we are invited to see in Jesus the one who will sustain us on our journey through life, the one who shows us how love is shared, how reaching out in compassion and how living in gratitude for all we have will lead us to live with purpose and meaning. John reminds us that to participate in Eucharist is to open ourselves to take into our minds and hearts Jesus, the Word of God. In doing that, we are transformed into the one we receive.

As we leave our churches at the end of our Eucharist, we are urged to live what we have celebrated: If I can do that, those who think they know me might come to realise that I have had something more than a face-lift. While God is gracious, nurturing and exceedingly generous, God is not one who is into spoon-feeding. The Israelites found themselves ankle deep in quail and puzzled by the manna surrounding them, but they still saw the need for cooperation. In order to eat their fill, they had to work together to gather provisions, and the manna required special care. Emerging freedom required accountability.

They saw that they had to create a sustainable economy out in the middle of nowhere. They found themselves in the first stages of building a community, of learning what it takes to be community. This was how a nation grew: It was in the wilderness that they had to re-invent themselves, undergo the transformation from slaves responsible only to the Egyptian System into a people responsible to themselves, to each other, to their God. Is it any different for us? Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him: Despite our awareness that the earth is being contaminated by the use of fossil fuels, we are nervous about the decreasing accessibility of coal, oil, timber, edible grain crops, clean air and water.

When natural disasters and cataclysmic industrial accidents occur, our immediate instinct is to look after ourselves by stocking up on fuel and water. We experience similar anxiety when our own personal resources come under threat. If our heartbeat becomes irregular, we seek medical attention. When the red and white cells in our bloodstream compete for supremacy, we experience a loss of energy and fear that this may be a signal that the end of our life is nearer than we had hoped.

Loss of mobility, increasing moments of forgetfulness, loss of short-term memory and emotional apathy are all signs that we are getting closer to death. We begin to realise that there is no lasting medical help available to stop the physical and emotional depletion that is happening to us.

However, as Christians, we do have a sense of someone accompanying us as our depletion progresses. That sense is faith and that someone is God. That faith in God flies in the face of any prediction that our life is doomed to end in nothingness. Whether we take literally the miracle that follows or whether we conclude that the generosity of a boy and the generous heartedness of Jesus inspire members of the crowd to dip into their bags and share the contents, the message is still the same.

Jesus is totally convinced that his Father is a resourcing, generous God. If people can come to see God as resourcing, they might stop regarding their possessions and themselves are commodities that are under threat. The message for us is that we, in our turn, might stop asking God to supply everything we want, to be the one who satisfies our desires for a win in the lottery or a new house or a top grade in our examinations. The confidence we will gain from such a realisation will free us from the anxiety of worrying about our needs and our future, and free us to be generous to others, sharing with them whatever we are and have.

Our faith as Christians is that God will surely make something of us. On that foundation, we will give generously of ourselves and our possessions, even when our own personal resources and possessions are clearly dwindling. Even though that might be our faith and our approach to life, we have all experienced people who always want to be on the take. They saw Jesus as an instant source of supply, and their response was to make him a king who would deliver all they wanted. They were prepared to live in a state of dependency, rather than use their God-given gifts and talents to create their own future and give generously of their resources to others in greater need.

Jesus was not prepared to tolerate unhealthy dependency in anyone. He was fully prepared to give of himself, his time and his talents, reaching out to those in need. He was not prepared to respond on demand to a crowd whose acclaim was based on having their wants and desires satisfied. One of the delightful aspects of this story is the insight it gives us into the contrast between the workings of the rational mind and the creative imagination. Somehow Jesus sensed that there would be enough and, indeed, more than enough to feed the whole crowd.

The rational, practically-minded disciples were well able to count the five loaves and the two fish the boy had. It was patently obvious that so little would make no dent on the appetites of five thousand hungry people. Against all these voices of common sense stood Jesus and the generous youngster. Like the common-sense disciples, we can be so grounded in the quantifiable reality of the present that we are incapable of imagining a different future.

We can imagine the future only in terms of what we already know. We often forget that, while we can make educated guesses about the future, the unpredictable sometimes creeps in to surprise us. Jesus had grown to appreciate that God is a God of surprises. If there is one thing that the disciples learned from what unfolded before their eyes, it was not to let themselves be paralysed by a lack of imagination. One of the challenges that this story puts to me is this: Is my faith sufficiently strong to believe in a God of surprises? If not, I may as well retire right now, unfit for the role of walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

On whom and on what do I rely for guidance, especially when the going is tough. And when the child does not measure up to expectations, he or she becomes the target of parental advice or, far worse, belittling criticism. Pushy parents are also to be found exhorting their children to great academic heights, or success in musical and stage performance. Whether we are parents, coaches, personal trainers or tutors, we can all find ourselves trapped into searching for affirmation and approval arising from the success of those we have been asked to guide.

Their shepherd is to be found in the daily stock-market report. Their success is measured by the magnitude of their bank account. Still others are driven by the desire to climb the social ladder. Their shepherd is to be found among those who attribute popularity ratings.

If our lives are to be centred on the things of God, if we are to find true freedom, if we are to live free of the fear of failure, we will have to look to Jesus as our true guide and reliable shepherd. Doctors who are required to engage in a period of internship before they are fully accredited, student teachers and nurses who are sent to try their hand at the practicalities of teaching and nursing, apprentices who are expected to learn a trade under the supervision of a qualified practitioner all know how much nervous energy is expended in their early days of supervised practice.

But his best-laid plans come to nothing. People in need will make demands on our time and generosity at the most inconvenient times. Need, like compassion, has no schedule. While we in this day and age may not be comfortable with the imagery of God or Jesus as shepherd, we need to remember that Jesus was shaped by his Jewish culture and tradition. He was familiar with the Jewish scriptures. In reaching out to the crowd that had successfully disrupted his plans, Jesus demonstrated what compassionate leadership looks like. In the process, he taught the disciples and us how to be sensitive to the needs of others, how to empathise with them in their struggles and how to reach out to them in their need.

Jesus summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, giving them authority over unclean spirits. And he instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff… Mark 6, The Book of Sirach Ecclesiasticus is loaded with snippets of wisdom. One such is a statement about friendship: A loyal friend is the elixir of life, and those who trust the Lord will find one Sirach 6, Surely, he reasoned that, by going off in pairs, they would be a support to one another, especially whenever they were made to feel less than welcome.

In the process, bonds of friendship were likely to grow. Jesus had already invited them to be his friends. By implication, all who accept friendship with Jesus commit themselves to be in a relationship of friendship, not only with those whom Jesus has invited to be in his circle of friends, but with everyone about whom he cares. It is about engaging with respect, care and integrity with everyone we encounter. True friendship involves mutual support, a readiness to encourage, an openness to be honest, a preparedness to challenge and a readiness to affirm and celebrate as appropriate.

That is why Sirach describes a true friend as priceless. Prophets of God and disciples of Jesus are often rejected not only because of the message they bring, but also because of their humble origins. He was further disadvantaged by the fact that he had come to challenge the people of the economically rich Northern kingdom of Israel who had seceded from their southern neighbours. His day-time job of ridding trees of their worms was a very appropriate metaphor for ridding the prosperous society of the northern kingdom of the injustice and corruption that had infected their way of life.

So, he was told to go back home where he belonged. What provoked Amaziah to send Amos packing was the fact that his message had threatened the comfort of the people Amos had challenged: You have oppressed the poor and robbed them of their grain. And so you will not live in the fine stone houses you build or drink wine from the beautiful vineyards you plant. I know how terrible your sins are and how many crimes you have committed. There was little doubt that words like that would have sent the worms of corruption scurrying for cover.

No wonder he was run out of town! In the gospel of today, Jesus makes the point that, to be credible disciples of his, we have to unclutter our lives, get rid of attitudes, prejudices and practices that are obstacles to our witness to the message he invites us to proclaim. Our words and actions are meant to reflect the acceptance, forgiveness, encouragement, mercy and justice that God holds out to everyone.

If we do not behave like that we will not be credible witnesses to anything, we will not be messengers of the Gospel. In sending his disciples out in pairs, Jesus was acting on what he had learned through his own experience. He knew that they would sometimes be accepted and welcomed. He also knew that they would know rejection, but that their faith to be strengthened it would have to survive the criticism of those who would hear their words as alien, remote and unacceptable. That very experience would help them to clarify for themselves exactly what and in whom they placed their faith.

Faith that survives testing and opposition eventually becomes more real for those to whom it is proclaimed. Sometimes actions speak more loudly than words. Taking time to sit and listen to lonely people in nursing homes, volunteering at a soup kitchen that welcomes street people, providing music and singing to brighten the lives of the elderly, coaching children who struggle to get their homework completed are all effective ways of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus.

Being witnesses to the Gospel will rarely be plain sailing. What kind of wisdom has been given to him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands? Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary…? It was written by R. Palacio, pen-name for Raquel Jaramillo, mother of a young child. In six years, the book has sold more than 5 million copies.

The song and the lyrics are readily available on You Tube. Yet through his personal courage and integrity and his insistence in speaking the truth, he eventually wins the support and respect of his peers. In those respects, he acts as a prophet, despite the fact that he is only a child in years. Difference often triggers prejudice in others.

Because of his personal integrity, he dares to be different and he is insulted by his own family members and by those among whom he grew up, because they had categorised him as nothing more than the local carpenter. Rarely, if ever, in Jewish society was a man referred to as the son of his mother, even if his mother had been widowed. Recall, for a moment, the start of the reading we had for the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Healing with a Handful of Dirt: Pagan and Psychic Essays for Living an Inspired Life

They turned up to apprehend him and take him away by force: Clearly, Jesus resisted them and went on to say that membership of his family and community was not based on blood lines or kinship: At the conclusion of that story, we are told that the disciples kept saying to one another: So, we have two examples of family members and the people of Nazareth dismissing Jesus as a nobody or as someone who has gone crazy. In fact, they effectively say to one another: Whom is he trying to impress?

While we ourselves have no desire to reduce Jesus to the level of someone out to make a name for himself or as the kid from down the street trying to make an impression, there are probably times when we are unable to see Jesus present in the ordinary and not-so-ordinary people we encounter every day of our lives. Do we ever think that Jesus is present in the people fleeing the terror of warfare and violence in South Sudan, Iraq, Syria or Palestine?

Do we recognise Jesus present in the alcoholic who confronts us for the money for a cup of coffee and in the beggars from Ghana, Nigeria and Ethiopia standing outside our supermarkets? Do we assume that we have nothing to learn from the discards of modern society. They took offence at him because they concluded that he was full of his own importance. They failed to recognise that in the person they had seen grow up God was really present. Familiarity does indeed breed contempt, over-familiarity can blind us to the presence of God in our very midst. In real life, we are constantly struggling with the call to confront our own faults and limitations and the inclination to magnify the limitations and faults we want to see in others.

The metaphor he uses suggests that he is prone to a recurring moral lapse. But he ends up boasting about his moral fragility. Initially, that left me wondering. I suggest that the key to understanding him lies in his disclosure that he took his weakness to his prayer and did not pretend to God that he was anything other than weak. Paul came to realise that God loves us even when our behaviour is less than it could be, even when our integrity is somewhat off centre.

All too easily, we gloss over the humanity of Jesus. Remember, he did get angry. When he was on the Cross he asked if God had abandoned him. When the people of his home town rejected him, he could not believe what he heard. There was no calm objectivity in his declaration that, like so many other prophets, he was not accepted where he anticipated a receptive audience.

How to Live an Inspired and Creative Life

He found the locals so limited in their trust that he just dropped them and went elsewhere. Resignedly, he seems to be saying that their loss is not going to prevent him from expressing his own integrity. So, when others dismiss us, contradict us, undermine us, we can say with Paul: God created everything so that it might continue to exist, and Everything God created is wholesome and good. There is no deadly poison in them. Please come and lay your hands on her that she may get well and live. Try proclaiming the words above from the Book of Wisdom to families caught in the middle of bombardments released by warring factions in Syria.

Or preaching them to people trapped in the degradation of slum life on the edges of Nairobi or Calcutta. The evidence of misery, injustice, destruction and death in such places is overwhelming, and often the first one to be accused is God. The wisdom books of the Old Testament attempt to address the problem of evil in the world.

In the Book of Job, for instance, the finger of blame is initially pointed at God. Before he comes to his senses, Job sees God as the source of all his troubles. So, all his arrows of recrimination are directed at God. When that wisdom was ignored, the nation was overwhelmed with the dark forces of irreligion, tyranny and exile. A close look at their history would reveal to the people of Israel that they themselves contributed to their own misfortune and suffering through their superstitions and lack of faith in God that they allowed to creep into their lives.

The conclusion was that they were fools for wanting to blame God for anything. All that, of course, offers us a lens through which to look at the disasters, wars and misfortunes that beset our modern-day world. Humankind, however, has always been expert at inventing loopholes through which to escape accepting responsibility. Is it just too much for us to accept our own culpability or is it easier for us to project our own envy and human weakness outward onto some all-powerful force for evil?

We no longer need to feel possessed by our weakness or controlled by our miserable vices. Rather, he went about it modestly, curing this one and then that one. He demonstrated wisdom by addressing one aspect of human suffering after another. Therein lies a message for us. In living and acting like that, we also find healing for our own brokenness. He ignored the limitations of custom and taboo that his own society stipulated. By taking a dead girl by the hand and allowing a bleeding woman to touch him, he set himself up to be categorised as unclean and, therefore, excluded from entering the synagogue.

As a synagogue official, Jairus was a man of standing in the Jewish community. Yet, out of love for his daughter, he risked ridicule and rejection by his action of breaking ranks and approaching for help one who was labelled as an anti-establishment, itinerant rabbi. There is much we can learn from Jairus, for we, too, can be slow to reach out to the needy and neglected for fear of criticism from the sidelines. Mark, however, holds up to us both the haemorrhaging woman and the synagogue official as models of faith and courage. There is much about them worthy of imitation.

I conclude with a story: If her daughters and their friends were in the back of her car, she was assured of knowing where they were. In time, she found the tripping around quite educational for herself. She also discovered that she learned a lot by being invisible. Over the years, her car was used as a beauty parlour, a cafeteria, a change-room and even a confessional. She came to realise that, when the girls got in, God got in with them.

There were times when they talked about faith and even asked questions about Buddhism, seances and levitating. Not long ago, the mother of one of her daughters dropped by to thank her for what she had done for her daughter Kelly, who had recently died of cancer at the age of just Now that her own daughters are grown up, this woman says that she misses the driving. Is there something we can all learn from him? Birth of John the Baptist Now, on the eighth day when they came to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father…His father asked for a writing tablet and wrote: Luke 1, , When the angel Gabriel suddenly appeared, Zechariah was preparing to offer incense in front of a large gathering in the temple.

At the conclusion of the offering, he was scheduled to bless the crowd. Remember, Zechariah was an elderly priest and this was to be his big moment. He had been chosen by lot to lead the evening prayer, to go into the sanctuary, the holiest part of the temple where God dwelt. So, this was a moment he hoped would come before he died. First of all, he is delayed by the angel, and then left speechless.

His big moment comes to almost nothing. Well, the worshippers in the temple saw Zechariah go into the sanctuary, and, when he was delayed in coming out, they may well have been wondering if he had had a fall or a stroke or a heart-attack. So the congregation was as bewildered as the priest.

One would have to be heartless not to feel for Zechariah. To begin with, he was an elderly man who had no experience of visits from angels. But Gabriel gives him no chance to respond and speaks to Zechariah at length: With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to reconcile fathers to their children and the disobedient to the good sense of the upright, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him. God sends an angel to tell a senior, religious leader that he will be silenced, that he is to stop talking.

Could you imagine that happening in our day and age? In our Church in which there is much pontificating by men about human sexuality, conception and pregnancy, it is important to remind ourselves that unexpected pregnancies are not always times of much rejoicing. I know of a mother of two girls in their late teens and of a boy now 18 months old who said to her parish priest after he had described Sarah as overjoyed at the news of her pregnancy: Yes, we love our little boy dearly, but at the time, it was no laughing matter.

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On the surface, it seems to me that Zechariah received unfair treatment from the angel Gabriel. To question that was surely a natural response. For his trouble, Zechariah is struck dumb. And remember, it is Luke who tells us that Zechariah was visited by the angel Gabriel. That information is not volunteered by Zechariah himself. How was he to know that the messenger he encountered was a genuine messenger from God? Luke would have gotten that story through oral tradition passed on from one generation to the next.

In hindsight people came to explain that what took place that afternoon in the sanctuary of the temple was a heavenly visitation. Maybe he had become so set in his ways that he could not even imagine that God is a God of surprises. Ironically, he may well have been more barren than his wife Elizabeth because he could not even think of a bright and hope-filled future. So, this gospel reading invites me to ask myself if I am creative enough to imagine that the world of which I am part could be different. And in what specific ways might it be different?

Moreover am I prepared to make the effort to ensure that my part of it is different? Or do I end up allowing myself to be sedated into accepting that my world will always be the one that is described to me every day in the morning papers and the TV news? Consequently, we end up asking the same question as Zechariah did: Kathleen Norris adds a thought about Zechariah that also speaks to our impatience and to our tendency to always want explanations: When he does speak again it is to praise God: Was Zechariah inflexible and arrogant?

Are you and I like that? A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how he does not know. Back in the days of Jesus, it would seem that farmers had little knowledge of agricultural science. They ploughed the land, scattered the seed by hand and hoped the rains would come to water the land. Since then, agricultural science has made great advances. However, modern-day farmers, like their counterparts of ancient times, still have to put their faith in weather patterns, trusting that the rains will arrive in due course.

We talk about faith as a virtue. In fact, definitions and explanations of faith can be found in all kinds of theology books and dictionaries. Secondly, there are one or two linguistic oddities. In the Jewish mind, a new day begins with sunset. In our thinking, it starts with sunrise. And verses 27 and 28 look as though they are saying the same thing twice.

Verse 27 concludes with the statement that the sower of the seed, presumably the farmer, has no idea of how the seed sprouts and grows: The growth of the seed, according to the parable, happens without any input from the sower. It does the very opposite, pointing out that the sower sows and then waits. The process of growth goes on, with no effort on the part of the sower.

This resonates with the advice that James offers in his letter to the Christian community: Think of a farmer: You, too, must be patient and not lose heart James 5, Coming to life in us is the first step of its coming to life in our world. Jesus uses the parable of the mustard seed to illustrate how God can bring forth greatness from even the tiniest of beginnings. Both parables are metaphors for how we live our lives. The seeds we plant will contribute towards the establishment of the kingdom of God. In places like the State of California, both Sahara and Spanish mustard plants were introduced and have now reached pest proportions.

The plants extract from the soil nutrients that are much needed for commercial crops. Legend has it that the seeds for Spanish mustard were scattered across California by the European Franciscan missionary, Junipero Serra. There have been times when indigenous peoples have been forced or pressured to adopt Christianity.

Disease and slavery have sometimes accompanied missionaries. Even the very best of intentions can lead to unintended, damaging and destructive consequences. And we know that the same kind of ambivalence, ambiguity and paradox exists also in nature. Bushfires often destroy lives, homes and crops as they regenerate the land on which they burn.

Expanses of yellow-flowered mustard plants in bloom are beautiful to the eye. Yet the seed, carried on the wind, invades fields and crops, and grows with wild unpredictability. All this invites me to reflect on how my life, my actions and my world have, at their very core, possibilities for good and evil, kindness and pettiness, beauty and repulsiveness. Our lives are closely connected to paradox. Is that, I find myself asking, why Jesus relied on puzzling parables to explain the kingdom of God? Having to live with contradictions in my own life is uncomfortable.

Knowing that who I am and what I do have potential for good and evil, for light and dark, can be unsettling. However, it can also help me to live with humility. Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time When his relatives heard of this, they set out to take him in hand, convinced that he was out of his mind.

It is through the prince of devils that he casts devils out. At the time of Jesus, there existed a sect in Judaism known as the Essenes, a strongly ascetic group that practised voluntary celibacy and simplicity of life. In Christianity there are lots of different sects or denominations such as Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterians and Episcopalians. That started when Germany invaded Belgium. When the plates stopped rattling, there was an uneasy silence.

The youngster broke it: This anecdote gives us an insight into the influences that help to shape the opinions we offer, and the judgements and decisions we make every day of our lives. If we are honest with ourselves, we can probably trace the political views we hold back to the family in which we grew up. What we think of schools and education today may well be shaped by what we think of the school from which we graduated as teenagers. We know that we sometimes look at our schooldays through rose-coloured glasses, forgetting that more attention was given to making sure that we passed public examinations than went into educating us to think and act for ourselves.

On reflection, we realise that wars begin well before the first shot is fired, and that family disagreements start before someone storms out and slams the door. The on-again, off-again North Korea Summit that has been international news in the last few weeks seems to have had its fair share of metaphorical door-slamming. Some commentators have referred to it as an impending clash between two leaders whose giant egos seem to matter more than the best interests of the people they lead.

Something worthwhile might emerge if the common good could be given preference over individual, personal wants. Nothing much will come of the proposed summit until each of the major participants can come to see, understand and respect the perspectives of all who are part of the meeting. Inflexible views and self-interest will always help to fuel conflict and keep collaboration and unity at a distance. But remember, the views I have expressed in the last two paragraphs have been shaped by my experience, perspectives and biases. You are free to agree or disagree.

But reflect first, because you, too, have your own experiences, perspectives and biases. As Mark tells the story, we can see two great ironies. It is ironical that, as Jesus address the crowd about the danger of division in families and communities, members of his own extended family are labelling him as crazy. The young man they saw grow up in a respectable family of their village is now a source of embarrassment. They interpret his outspokenness against religious authority as something of a brain-snap.

In their minds he has gone and set up his own religious splinter-group. He and his disciples are very much like some kind of strange, religious sect. And yes, in the minds of those who saw him grow up, he has led astray those prepared to listen to him and incited them to look critically at the conduct of their religious leaders. He is talking about the dangers of division and his talk looks as though it is creating division. Of course, people who have a comfortable patch to protect often, out of fear, resort to name-calling those who try to unmask them. Any law, tradition or practice that keeps me safe in my comfort, position or reputation, I am, understandably, reluctant to change.

So, the reaction of the Scribes comes as no surprise. Jesus came on a mission to convince people that they were loved deeply by the God who had loved them into life. His message that love, reconciliation, mercy and kindness would eventually triumph over things like self-interest, competitiveness, prejudice and oppression looked and sounded like lunacy, especially to those who had built comfortable lives at the expense of the poor, the oppressed and those who could not bring themselves to question the integrity of their religious leaders.

That message of Jesus may still sound like lunacy to the ears of those who cannot move beyond the narrow ambit of self-interest. It requires effort and humility to see the world from the perspective of someone we regard as a threat. These days of memorial commemorate all the men and women who have died for their country in the course of military service. Only a week ago, on May 22, thousands of people gathered at different venues across the city of Manchester to remember the 22 victims of a terrorist attack that took place at the Manchester Arena one year ago.

The silence was palpable, and the scene very moving, as many brushed silent tears from their cheeks. Commemoration days and events such as these are eloquent testimony to the reality that, as human beings, we are conscious that we are connected to one another. The deaths of fellow human beings in war and acts of terrorism touch us deeply. We are, indeed, bound together as members of the same human family. Yet, we need days of commemoration to remind us of our close connection to one another, because there are some who would have us believe that we live independent lives, separated from those around us.

For us Christians, Eucharist is a ritual meal that celebrates our connection to Jesus Christ, and, through him, to one another. Eucharist reminds us that we belong to a unified community, invited, in our turn, to be bread broken and wine poured out for our world; to be what we receive when we participate fully in Eucharist. Over the centuries, the significance of Eucharist has been diluted to the extent that many Christians see it as little more than a ritual to be endured or as a weekly event to be attended by obligation.

In this context, allow me to share a parable told by William Bausch, a pastor of a Catholic Parish in New Jersey for more than 60 years:. It happened one month that several of his regular guests were sick, and unable to attend the scheduled dinner. Wanting to give his sick friends a reminder of the dinner they had missed, their host took a bottle of his best wine from the table and placed it in an ornate box on the dining-room sideboard.

He knew his friends would see it on their next visit, open it up and enjoy the wine, knowing that they had not been forgotten. The man gave instructions to his butler: Whenever he passed the sideboard, he began to bow gently in the direction of the box. It so happened, however, that, a week or so later, his master died quite suddenly. However, long before, the master had instructed Pierre that, if he were to die, he wanted Pierre to continue the monthly meals.

That would keep the dinner group together and keep alive his memory among them. As they wondered what was in the box and chatted about it, they could not help but notice that Pierre bowed to the box every time he passed it as he went about his work of waiting on the table. As the months and dinners followed one another, the guests, too, began to bow in the direction of the box on the sideboard as they came to take their places at the table. For some strange reason none of them thought to ask what was in the beautiful box. As the months and years slipped by, the box sitting on the sideboard had a depressing effect on them.

For the early Christian community it was a shared meal, reminiscent of the intimacy of the last meal Jesus had with his disciples before his death. Some families even took home the left-overs to be used later in the week. And some took pieces of the sacred bread to those who were unable to participate. By the 13th century this practice had been well forgotten, and the Eucharistic bread was locked away in an ornate box called a tabernacle, which people approached with awe and trembling, and bowed to from a distance.

It took more centuries for Church authorities to realise the impact of what had happened. Out of false reverence, people came to see themselves as unworthy to participate fully in the Eucharist. But we know that there is a difference between receiving communion and participating in Eucharist. Receiving communion is consuming and being nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ. Participating in Eucharist is to offer ourselves with Christ, is to be unified with him and with one another, to become what we receive so that we become Christ for one another and for those to whom we reach out in service, in imitation of Christ.

We commit ourselves to be bread broken and wine poured out as we engage in fellowship with everyone we encounter. But we do more than just celebrate the presence of Jesus among us. We recommit ourselves to following in his footsteps and reaching out to our world with mercy, care, encouragement, compassion and forgiveness. In doing that we regularly reaffirm our identity as his disciples and our baptismal commitment to be his body and blood given for others. Augustine shared his insights into Eucharist probably in the latter years of his life early 5th century.

In time, those insights were lost. The feast of the Body and Blood of Christ originated in Liege, France in the middle of the 13th century. History has shown that the meaning of actions we regularly repeat often becomes lost or eroded over time. It is our responsibility to keep Eucharist alive and relevant.

We will do that only by living it, by consciously being bread broken and wine poured out for others each day of our lives, by becoming what we receive. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. We are often reminded that we are all made in the image of God. Discovering our vocation in life is the slow process of coming to choose freely how best we can express our goodness, our creativity and the love in our hearts in ways that we know are true to ourselves.

It does not take us long to discover that we can do that only in relationship with others. The corollary of that is that we, in our turn, grow towards our full human potential only when we reach out to others in love, loving them in ways that reflect the love that God has for us. None of us will ever grasp or even come close to understanding the mystery we call God. However, we know from reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament, that our ancestors in faith used stories to offer the people of their time and of ours, the insights they had into God.

So, the best I can do to share my limited insights into the significance of God as Trinity, is through story. We all know that we encounter other mysteries around which we cannot get our brains. The Trinity is a mystery of faith, the universe is a mystery of physics and astronomy, death is a mystery of life. They will exhaust us before we exhaust them. But to dismiss thinking about and discussing the concept of God as Trinity is to do a disservice to ourselves and theologians as searching, faithful Christians.

Still, I find story the most appealing way to reflect on God as Father, Son and Spirit, for no other reason than that I understand the Trinity as relational, that we human beings reach our full potential in loving relationship, and that we build relationships by engaging with one another in storytelling. Dan Yashinsky is a distinguished, Canadian storyteller. In the preface of his book, Suddenly They Heard Footsteps: Storytelling for the Twenty-First Century University Press of Mississippi, he shares this story of his encounter with a young girl, after he had told a ghost story to a group of children:.

I noticed one girl standing quietly, holding something around her neck. When you know something scary is coming you must find and hold on to your own source of reassurance and wisdom.


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My young friend had a medal. What I hold on to is the passionate belief that knowing good stories by heart and telling them to a circle of listeners makes a haven for the human spirit. The relationships of our lives are built and developed on the stories we tell one another. In his book The Storytelling Animal: Zorba the Greek is the story of a somewhat larger-than-life man who had a passion for living life to the full. It offers some uplifting insights into the desire of every human heart to find love.

One day he put me on his knees and placed his hand on my head as though giving me his blessing. The seven stories of both heaven and earth are too small to contain God, yet the human heart is big enough to do so. Surely, it is better to know the love of God as Trinity in the depths of our hearts, rather than understand the mystery. And so, I leave the final word to John Garvey, former Commonweal columnist of more than forty years:.

Someone who loves us more than we could possibly love ourselves is in charge of that. Perhaps we come to know God as Trinity by developing to the best of our ability the image that we each are of the God who is the essence of love. True, there was a leader named Peter who had already failed dismally, a suspect tax-collector, a handful of ordinary housewives who certainly did not belong to the fashionable elite, a few fishermen and a couple of non-entities.

The only thing they seemed to have in common was the fact that Jesus had sufficient confidence in them to believe that they had what was needed to spread his message to the world. The Spirit transformed them into a cohesive group of women and men who were convinced of what Jesus had taught them: Sure that God loved them, they came to appreciate that they could do great things. They grew to appreciate that, as they complemented and supported one another with their different gifts, they could make a difference, even though they were simple, ordinary down-to-earth people with the same human weaknesses as everyone else.

That was as miraculous as the fact that the people who made up the multi-ethnic crowd were able to understand the disciples. Back in the days before the Berlin Wall came down, the Catholics in Leipzig East Germany were given permission to hold a church conference. They invited a communist magistrate to address the conference. In the course of his speech, he told the gathering how he had been imprisoned under Hitler because he was an avowed communist. This status entitled the man to some extra scraps of food and some old clothes.

The man, who was a Christian, instead of keeping the extra food and clothes for himself, started to share them with other prisoners. From time to time, he would throw pieces of biscuit and tobacco into the cells of other inmates. Had he been caught, he would have been executed. Clearly, what he did to make the lives of others a little more bearable was done at great personal risk. The magistrate concluded this story by stating: If someone were to ask you and me what the church of Darlinghurst, Elizabeth, Callan, Limulunga, Bo, Cochabamba or Shillong is like, how might we answer?

Years ago, when I was studying the history and origins of language, I remember reading the story of Antonio de Nebrija, a linguist who wrote the first grammar of the Spanish language spoken by peasants, farmers and the ordinary people in the streets of Salamanca. In , de Nebrija presented his book to Queen Isabella.

The story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis is often used as a metaphor for confusion, division and disruption that humanity brought upon itself by believing it could do without God. Yet Pentecost gives us the clearest of messages that as far as God is concerned, there is no imperial language.

Every language reflects something of the goodness of God. This is not an invitation to uniformity, but to accept that God speaks through difference as well as through sameness. More than ever, our world is in need of a new Pentecost or a fresh understanding of the true meaning of Pentecost.