Beyond the Pall (Part 3)

Editor’s Note: Here are both part one and part two of Phil’s story of outreach to the Neo-Pagan community in Salem, Mass.

Should I have prayed first? Should I have asked for advice from my ministry peers or considered how it might look to other Christians? I don’t know. But I did do what I usually do. I rushed through the open door.

"I would love to teach a workshop!"

It was set in motion. I, an evangelical pastor would be a workshop presenter at a festival with 1,500 Pagans.

It was the end of my friend’s memorial service, and I became a larger part of the lives of his friends who were left behind. Speaking at his service, I hailed back to early, Celtic Christianity—to the idea of “Thin Places” where heaven meets earth. Death is a Thin Place. It reminds us of our mortality. It captures our fears, hopes, joys and sorrows in one anarchic clash, while we squint in the blinding light of eternity. I ended my short message calling each to consider making their life a Thin Place—a place where people could capture heaven. It was not a salvation message, but it was one rooted in my faith, and it reverberated gently among the Pagans that night. I am convinced that what we give people is indicative of where we are headed. If we show them heaven by treating them graciously, then heaven is flowing from our hearts. On the other hand, if we give people Hell, that speaks for itself.

The next couple weeks I developed a workshop idea for the Pagan festival:

“The Circle and The Cross Talk: Re-visioning Pagan/Christian Relationships”

"Looking back to the Caesars and to the Burning Times misconceptions and urban myths have had deadly results for both Pagans and Christians. In our own times, though mild in comparison, Pagans have been on the receiving end of the religious persecution. Some have chosen to remain in the broom closet, and others have faced the struggle head on—sometimes to bitter disappointment with family, friends and work associates. This workshop is designed as a deeper look into the worldview differences between Christian and Neo-Pagan thought with a focus upon deconstructing and re-visioning some of the beliefs, which cause the greatest pain. Come learn to navigate this battlefield of philosophical tension. Topics of frustration to be covered include judgment, conversion, spiritual dissonance and sexuality."

I am teaching a workshop on heaven and hell, salvation, spiritual warfare and sex from a biblical perspective at a Pagan gathering, and people are excited about it. Someone pinch me, and wake me up.

Paul spoke of his love for the Jews. I have this same love for Neo-Pagans. Over the last 12 years I have learned that this often falsely-maligned group is filled with beautiful people. Our Christian tendency is to reduce every person to simply a sinner, and we lose sight of imago dei, which simmers gently in the each person. I sometimes demonize cultural and religious groups I do not understand and lose sight of legitimate critiques they have against my own culture. I have found Neo-Pagans to be among the brightest and ablest critics of Christian culture. Yet, I was being accepted as a voice of legitimacy on their turf, and I am a man of the cloth they choose not to weave their garments from.

Did this support the old adage that it is not what you say, but how you say it? Has my work in deconstructing and redefining Christian doctrine missionally for alternative spiritualities made me a gentler Christian? Had I found a way to express Jesus to people who seemed to have no problem with Him, but struggled mightily with His followers? Perhaps it was simpler than that. Perhaps when my friend died, I showed myself true—to him and his friends and did so without worrying whether my reputation would be sullied by hanging out with witches.

Perhaps I am actually compromising my faith, as my detractors warn, or being subtly deceived by the devil and moving into unprotected territory where I will be subject to the devil’s attacks. One pastor had suggested as much when he asked me the rather sophomoric question, "Have you ever heard the term ‘fellowshipping with darkness’?"

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"Uh, yeah …" Gee, It’s not like I haven’t been a Pentecostal Pastor for 20 years, I thought.

"Well what does it mean to you?" He queried deeper, as though he was trying to mine some deep-seated unrepentant condition from my heart.

I wanted to answer, "It looks like sitting in a room with a bunch of cowards screaming at demons, while people who need Jesus are out on the streets during Halloween. That looks like fellowshipping with darkness to me." But I held my sarcasm before his inquisition. Halloween in Salem is a month long, and while we made friends, served the community and shared our faith, this man had critiqued our outreach projects. He sat in holy huddles inside the safety of the church.

If Halloween outreach has been a problem, teaching at a Pagan Festival is going to be a bigger problem for some people, but for now I will prepare and see what the upcoming months moving toward the conference bring.

As I draw deeper into the culture of these people I love, will I find deeper expressions of the imago dei? Will I find people earnestly seeking authentic spirituality? Will I find other Christians who are willing to join me in a quest to share Shalom, or will I find myself fellowshipping with darkness, turmoil and succumbing to deception? I think I know the answer, but who can read the map of the untrod paths of an adventure yet untried?

Only one Person can read that future which does not yet exist, and I leave this journey in His hands.

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