Too Pagan to Help?

I’m relocating soon. The move alone is a stressful event, but there are other elements that add to my anxiety. I was born to be a helper, so I’m totally addicted to volunteerism (is that a word?). I enjoy helping those who can not help themselves, which must be the reason why the gods gave me enough energy to run an army. I especially like working with nonprofit groups that aren’t necessarily popular (i.e. HIV/AIDS organizations, hospices…). Organizations that assist individuals affected by HIV have always received me with opened arms, but my experience hasn’t been the same when it comes to hospices.

For example, I was a volunteered Activity Coordinator at a hospice in the Midwest about 18 months ago. I loved the job! I led an exercise group and a book club for the spiritually eclectic. One of the residents was Buddhist and I found his spiritual beliefs so engaging, that I would volunteer an extra hour or two, just so I could listen to his philosophy about truth and reality. Other residents learned about our philosophical escapades and soon joined the fun. After a few weeks we were 14 spiritual philosophers strong—some staff included.

Then the nightmare began…

An 82-year-old female resident, who had been diagnosed with an unforgiving illness a few months earlier and who had been having the hardest time accepting her fate, told her counselor that she was no longer sad about dying because it was just part of her personal ascension to Buddha. The hospice counselor contacted the woman’s son immediately to give him the good news: “Your mom has been spending time with a Buddhist resident and I’m not sure what he told her exactly, but I’m thankful. She is eating and participating in groups. She even got a haircut!”

The son went straight to the director and pretty much said to him that if the brainwashing didn’t stop, his mom and his donations would find a more suitable facility. That event started a chain reaction that ended our spiritual discussions. Later that month, I was asked “Could you stop being so opened about being Pagan? Some people are getting uncomfortable.”

I was too outraged, sad, and disappointed to tell the man that the Buddhist gentlemen didn’t even considered himself Pagan. Neither did I tell him that I had very little interaction with the lady in question. I just got a hold of my emotions and explained to the director that I didn’t preach my beliefs to the residents—or anyone for that matter—and that I refused to leave my Paganism at home in order to make people comfortable. I added that if he wanted my help, he had to sign up for the entire Eclectic Pagan package. That was my last full day as a volunteer for that particular hospice. The next morning, I was told that my services weren’t needed.

The reading group continued at the local Barnes & Noble. The residents got their relatives to bring them to monthly meetings. The little old lady attended 4 meetings—transportation provided by her newest friend in Buddhism—before stepping into the Summerland. I will never forget how every wrinkle on her face disappeared behind her smile, every time she told the group about her newly found beliefs.

So now that I’m moving to a new area, I can’t help but wonder about my next volunteering experience. Will the next organization receive me—beliefs included—with opened arms? Or will I be too Pagan to help?


Ideas…

19 comments:

  1. You'll have to decide how 'out of the broom closet' you want to be depending upon how close minded the individuals are in your area.

    Sometimes the Old Laws still apply if one is a witch.

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  2. You might find Joseph Merlin Nichter's blog helpful. He is a Minority Faith Chaplain and a combat veteran, most definitely a pagan. His blog is http://witchdoctorjoe.blogspot.com/ and two of his favourite sites are Carcer Via http://veritaswicca.com/CarcerVia.html and
    Cherry Hill Seminary http://cherryhillseminary.org/index.html.... A few ways a helpful Pagan can come out of the closet....
    I'm so glad you shared the lady's story...she deserved her happiness didn't she...?

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  3. That is religious discrimiatnio, pure and simple. I want to say I can't believe it...but I can. :( I'm glad that the old woman found some comfort in Buddhist beliefs, and that it helped her face death more easily. :)

    Good luck on your next volunteer opportunities. I can only hope that people there will be more open minded.

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  4. KAREN, as sad as it is I do understand that it would seem appropriate to remember that the “Old Laws still apply” during certain situations, but I want to believe that this is a new world. If we as Witches allow society to push us back into the darkness of seclusion, aren’t we helping them to stay ignorant? I respect laws that say that you can not bring your religious beliefs into work and things of the nature, but I refuse to let anyone usurp my Pagan pride and joy just because it bothers them.

    SUSANNE, thanks so much for the recommendation. I found the blog very appealing and I’m now a follower. I like Cherry Hill Seminary too. I’ve been looking into their curriculum for quite some time and the more I do, the more I’m tempted to start taking a class or two.

    SARITA, thanks for your kind wishes, I have my fingers crossed—even a few of my toes lol. You know, I feel kind of sorry for the director because I saw the pain on his face when he asked the question. In different circumstances, I would have probably told him to take his position and shove it, but I also knew that the hospice wouldn’t function without the donations of some haters. I like my old guys a girls too much to let anything come between them and their opportunity of spending the rest of their days in a safe place, surrounded by likeminded people.

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  5. I am open about my beliefs if people bother to ask me about them. I don't talk about them in general, although I don't not talk about them if that makes sense. For example, if someone says something stupid about paganism etc, I call them up on it and tell them it's bullsh!t.

    But in day to day living, it doesn't really come up. The last place I worked, eventually everyone knew, but it wasn't a big deal. (a Further Education College in North London.)

    As for volunteering, it might be worth looking at some openly non-religious organisations since I would have thought they just wouldn't care what your beliefs were. And perhaps check to see what their policies (and what the law says) about religious discrimination in Voluntary Work?

    Just out of curiosity, do you know what the reaction was from the non-Christian residents to this blatant discrimination?

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  6. hello thanks for your blog comment. I am raised as a Roman Catholic and in general believe in that religion but from yoga, I found out more on life that make sense than some others from my religion. now i learnt to loo at religion in a different perspective. Anyway i wish u luck in ur move & will check you out more often

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  7. I some times don't understand people and why they think there belief is more right than another when basically your praying or what ever to the same being just a diffrent name or outer appearance....the same spirt. anywhooo hope you next volenteering goes better

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  8. The story about the lady is very sweet and touching, but I suppose the hospice needed the doanations in order to remain open, it is a wicked and sad situation.
    I am not a follower of any religion, due to my personal opinion that all religions are man made and therefore at faults.
    I live in the south and it is truly scary at my job and uni, when people asked me once, which church I attend and I then replied - no church, no religious belief. I had literally 3 women shouting at me ( from a Penecoastal Church ), trying to get the " Devil " ouf of me. I was so shocked and in tears to see so much hostility, when you don't "believe". However I love reading up on
    religions, as in Islam and Zen Buddhism and picking a few things out which fit into my own way of life. There is a monastry in California called " Shasta Abbey " and I really like to read up on their site about their retreats and their ongoings. As for Islam, it is interesting to me to read up ( but don't agree ) on the 7th century Shar'ia Law, a totally demeaning law against females based on the Wahabi's in Saudi Arabia. I think religion is educational and a learning curve of what I don't want this world to be. Also agreeing with parts of Buddhism, not to consume animals for our dietary pleasure, not to harm animals and accept these as a part of the planet we are living on. Maybe I don't make much sense, but I think there are a few principles we as human beings have to follow in order to function and give this world to the ones that come after us. Call it common sense or whatever would fit someones perception of being a good person.
    Also a very good read/ book by Ken Wilber, called " Grace and Grits".
    http://www.selfknowledge.org/resources/bookreviews/graceandgrit.htm

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  9. Noor -- maybe true religion/spirituality ultimately is "common sense" and "being a good person" to other people. :)

    Just a thought that occurred to me when reading your comment.

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  10. Hi Magaly,
    Your move sounds like an adventure. I'm happy for you.

    I don't think you'll have any problem finding places to be a helper. As far as being too Pagan, I don't think that will really matter.

    You are one of the sweetest people I've met recently.

    I live in NC. The bible belt of America and one of my very best friends is white. Now, when we go out on the town, you wouldn't believe how many good christian folk get upsett.

    I'm baptist and so is my friend. But, it bothers me when people act like we are doing something wrong hanging out together.

    Sorry I've been gone for so long:(

    P.S. I wear my cross because it's the personal symbol that I chose to remind me how dearly He loved and still loves me.

    P.S.S - My short story, "Raven's Transformation" is going to be published!

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  11. MouseDemon, I’m pretty much like you. I don’t go around trying to preach, but I don’t hide it either. I didn’t do much about it to tell you the truth. I know that the director was just under pressure. He always knew about my beliefs and never said a thing, but you know that non-profits are kept afloat by donations, so could he have done? I didn’t share the experience with many, just a criminal justice professor who I really trusted. I could have made a big deal about he whole thing, but the only ones who would have suffered would be my old guys. I just let it go…

    Equidae, thanks for stopping by and for the kind wishes. I’ll continue to check your blog too because it is soooooo relaxing ;)

    klynch, people are strange. Like you, I’ll never understand how people can go around preaching about love to every one except this person or that person. All we can do is go around spreading positivism, who knows, it might be contagious. Thanks for your kind words.

    Noor, I am a philosophy of religion junkie! I’ve always been amazed by the way religions affect society—sometimes a bit terrified by the ones that are so controlling. I believe that all religions have something to offer, even if you have to JUMP pass the ignorance of some followers before reaching the goodness. Someone else suggested Wilber’s book, so I guess now I have to read it. The other person who read it told me that be ready for some crying, is that true? ;(

    Sarita, you are always on the money! I believe that true spirituality can be reached by exploring the realms of “common sense”. Respect others, treat others like you want to be treated… doesn’t all this sound very religious?

    Melissa, first of all CONGRATS! I’m so proud of you! So, so proud that I’ll even forgive the fact that you’ve been gone for so long ;) And I’m sorry about people staring; my best friend and I got the same reactions. It was even worse when I was with my ex-husband, people used to look at us like we stunk or something—sad indeed. Question: I know that Baptists wore crosses, you guys also wear crucifixes?

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  12. Actually, I was just repeating something I remember my mom saying to a co-worker of hers who doesn't consider herself religious, and who is a wonderful person.

    :D

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  13. The saddest part about this story is that the son, instead of accepting what had made his mother happy, rejected it and caused problems. I'm glad she was strong enough to continue with her new Buddhist beliefs and die happier and more at peace. I hope someone will be able to help her son in the same way when his time comes.

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  14. Judy, let us hope he is happy with his own beliefs. It is sad indeed that some people can be so narrow-minded. But I believe that if he is happy that way, then more power to him. "Live and let live", you know?

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  15. FINALLY!
    Most days your page won't load for me and I can't read any of your blogs!
    AAAHHHHH!
    But now that I'm here . . .
    That sounds terrible.
    I can't believe someone would react so strongly to such positive changes in their mother.
    So long as it wasn't drugs or meds I wouldn't care what had caused the change but I can certainly sympathize with the director.
    When faced with a potential landslide of lost funding or one outstanding volunteer despite what morals would dictate common sense doesn't leave much room for spiritual tolerance.
    But hey at least the little old lady got to see you four more times before she passed on.

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  16. Hey engaged man you! I'm glad to see you here, I was feeling a bit rejected lol. I agree with you and the is the reason why I didn't do anything about it. The director didn't want to do what he did--just so you know, he read this post and emailed me. I told him not to feel bad because I understood--the residents are more important than anything else.

    Oh, and my old lady asked and asked until B&N started giving us HUGE discounts on whatever a member of the group purchased. They didn't stop the discounts after she passed, I thought that was pretty nice...

    Congrats again, i'm very happy for you. I'm stopping by your blog and I expect to see some pictures ;)

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  17. Hey engaged man you! I'm glad to see you here, I was feeling a bit rejected lol. I agree with you and the is the reason why I didn't do anything about it. The director didn't want to do what he did--just so you know, he read this post and emailed me. I told him not to feel bad because I understood--the residents are more important than anything else.

    Oh, and my old lady asked and asked until B&N started giving us HUGE discounts on whatever a member of the group purchased. They didn't stop the discounts after she passed, I thought that was pretty nice...

    Congrats again, i'm very happy for you. I'm stopping by your blog and I expect to see some pictures ;)

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  18. FINALLY!
    Most days your page won't load for me and I can't read any of your blogs!
    AAAHHHHH!
    But now that I'm here . . .
    That sounds terrible.
    I can't believe someone would react so strongly to such positive changes in their mother.
    So long as it wasn't drugs or meds I wouldn't care what had caused the change but I can certainly sympathize with the director.
    When faced with a potential landslide of lost funding or one outstanding volunteer despite what morals would dictate common sense doesn't leave much room for spiritual tolerance.
    But hey at least the little old lady got to see you four more times before she passed on.

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  19. I some times don't understand people and why they think there belief is more right than another when basically your praying or what ever to the same being just a diffrent name or outer appearance....the same spirt. anywhooo hope you next volenteering goes better

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