Thursday, December 26, 2013

Questions... and Answers

image via Bing
Originally posted for the Q week of the Pagan Blog Project 2013
How do you respond to questions by others about your Pagan spiritual practice?  Does your stomach suddenly knot and your mind race race for a reply? Are you defensive and ready to pounce? Do you cast a weary eye and blow them off? Or do you launch into a lecture about the Craft?

None of the above responses seems correct to me. To the nonchalant passerby who's seen my Celtic pentagram pendant and remarked, " Nice Star of David", in the past I have often responded, with a smile or a simple "Thank you"...and felt a wee bit dishonest later. Now I smile and quietly say, " It's actually a pentagram. " Most people will smile or shrug in return; if they raise an eyebrow, I will add," It's an esoteric symbol of the elements and spirit". Or if they're feeling a little embarrassed about their mistake they will answer," Oh...".  No huge theological confrontations, no debates on The True Religion, no accusations of Devil-worshipping. The fact  is, the majority of of the people you pass on the street don't care what you're wearing, or what your tattoo symbolizes. Most of the time they're just trying to make small talk because most of us are uncomfortable with silence and feel we have to say something-anything-to fill the void with sound.

Remember, you choose how to respond and you are the master of your emotions. "Easier said than done!", you say...Well, yes...and that's why we all need to develop a personal version of The Elevator Speech []. Developed as a marking tool to make a quick, memorable impression of a business or brand, The Elevator Speech is now being touted by human resources experts as a personal mission statement for job seekers. Psychologists, however, have seen the value of making it a part of everyday socialization skills, e.g., as a introduction. In the religious community, it has become a personal mission statement of sorts, a way of empirically describing your spiritual path without being confrontational.

The Elevator Speech gets it's name from the length of time it usually takes for an elevator to travel from the ground floor of a building to the top floor-typically 30 seconds to 2 minutes. The typical Elevator Speech contains three key points: market (who you're talking to), contribution (what you do), and distinction (how what you do has value). To put this into the perspective you will need to develop an Elevator Speech to describe your spiritual path, you must determine those points you want a non-believer to know without sounding as if you are proselytizing: e.g.," It's a pentagram, and is worn by many Earth-centered spiritual traditions as a symbol of their faith because it represents the four elements of Nature and Spirit." wasn't that simple and to the point? No zealotry involved! No snappy retort or snarky attitude-just the facts, because that's all they need to know for now. You are now, of course, free to elaborate should this individual and you later go for coffee after you disembark from your theoretical elevator. The Elevator Speech naturally creates the opportunity for further discussion should that follow.

Your Elevator Speech has allowed you to let the other person know a little about you without making them feel like you're trying to jam your faith down their throat. If you can't believe this  brief exchange can be effective, consider this: With these few words the God/dess has allowed each of you to retain your dignity through the process. You have been given the opportunity to educate another while expressing the essence of your faith in a non-offensive manner. Your language, approach and what you have chosen to highlight have delivered a core message without out imparting too much information and putting someone off, and you have done no harm in the process. The article cited here from Pathos was written by a Unitarian Universalist with UUs in mind, but can easily be adapted by Pagans and other non-mainstream spiritual traditions: It is worth reading because it has information that can assist you in formulating a personal statement of your beliefs if you don't have one already, and help in writing that Elevator Speech for yourself.

You may find yourself needing to write several versions of The Elevator Speech for various occasions, like if a co-worker asks you what that naked fat lady you're wearing around your neck represents, or if your mother inquires about your Penkhaduce from the Grey School of Wizardry. Whatever you do, let your words flow naturally. I advise avoiding the inclusion of tradition specific jargon or other language that will only confuse those from outside your religion. A smile in return in a great opener because it lowers the other person's defenses, promotes friendliness, and confidence ...then you can launch into your Elevator Speech.The more you practice it, the more confident you will become. []

But then, again...What if the other person sees your pentagram and goes off on a religious rant about Satan, or the "evils of the occult"? As unnerving as this type of attack may be, your Elevator Speech can be used as a grounding point for you and a positive springboard for engaging this individual in a non-confrontational manner. Take a breath before you reply, center yourself and say something like, " The pentagram has been used as an esoteric symbol in many of the world's religions including Christianity and Islam. As a Pagan/Wiccan/Heathen, my faith tradition does not believe in the existence of Satan/the Devil. Our tradition is centered around the recognition of the wonders and beauty of the Natural World." And then, Gentle Friend...walk away. I mean do not owe this individual any further explanation. You have stated your belief and defended your faith and nothing more be done lest you wish to engage in a full blown theological battle. These types of individuals want to goad you into a screaming match to show everyone else around them how uncouth, rude and character-flawed Pagans are and so they can secretly gloat over your counter attack of their God while appearing to be a victim. Don't fall for it, it's a psychological trap. Make your statement and move out of their space as quickly as you can. ( And in doing so, please try to be tolerant and understand that some folks are just well meaning and think they're doing no harm. They are only doing what their religion tells them to do in the case of someone 'unsaved'. Many fundamentalist denominations place blame on an individual who fails to offer salvation in the name of their God to others; you have the right to refuse-politely. Thank them for their concern about your spiritual well-being, and if necessary gently remind them that Paul and Barnabas shoot the dust off the feet of the city that rejected them...and suggest they do the same. That usually ends any further attempts at conversion with no argument).

So...The next time you're asked to describe your religious beliefs, how will you answer the question?


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