Sunday, May 25, 2008

Pentecostal to Pagan, Online Ordination, and Weddings

A few days ago one of my best friends celebrated his first wedding anniversary. It's significant to me in that I was the minister who performed the ceremony. Yep, I'm ordained, but not how you might think. It's through an organization called The Universal Life Church, who pretty much ordains anyone who asks. It also made me think about the seemingly chaotic beliefs I hold and how I got here. For a few years now I've defined myself as a “Philosophically Pagan Universalist with Wiccan influences,” which manages to confuse the shit out of people. How did I get here?

Our tale begins in the mid to late 1980's. This was back when both Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert had been caught in elicit sexual affairs and many televangelists were getting exposed or investigated for financial fraud and otherwise being shown to not really practice what they preached. My sophomore year of high school I started dating a girl who dragged me to church every Sunday, but I really didn't see all that much difference in the way she acted than myself. We both smoked, drank, listened to “evil” heavy metal music, so the church thing, to me was just total bullshit. I was in my junior year at Terry Sanford Senior High school that I finally met a genuine Christian, even though at first I thought he was just as full of shit as the others I had met or seen on TV. So, I accepted his invitation to go to church with him (mind you, after months of him not taking my bait when I tried rag him for his 'faith' – he turned out to really have faith). So, February 1, 1989 (I only remember the date because I wrote in the back of the little green Gideon's New Testament I had at the time) I became a Christian, accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. I had faith for about two years, helped at church, volunteered for stuff, went through about three youth pastors and finally got fed up with the whole thing (I could go into a whole lot of detail about how the last youth pastor I had during that time pissed me off and how the folks who kept offering to help me with the bus ministry always managed to never have the time, but that'd take to long).

Fast forward a few years to my early twenties. I had spent a few years discovering the wonderful world of strip clubs and even 'dated' a lesbian for awhile (I say 'dated' tongue-in-cheek; she was a good friend and we had lots of fun going to the strip clubs together). In a way, she was my initial introduction to Paganism as well. She said she was a Pagan, but I had not really heard of that, other than biblical references and knowing, from the dictionary, that it meant belief in multiple deities. Until I had met Carmen, I didn't know people still engaged in such religious practices in the U.S. I don't really remember what caused me to decide to go back to church and to “rededicate my life to Christ” but around 1995ish I ended up back at Northwood Temple and in 1996, at the age of 23, enrolled at Emmanuel College to major in Biblical Studies with aspirations of becoming a full time minister. I even received a Minister's License from the North Carolina Conference of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church the summer before I began my junior year, and served as interim youth pastor at Stanley Pentecostal Holiness Church in Stanley, NC the summer before my senior year to fulfill my internship requirements. So, you see, I wasn't just a Christian, I was one of them thar holiness-right-wing-ultra-conservative-bible-thumpin'-faith-healin-tongue-speakin' types of Christians (also referred to as “Holy Rollers”). You know, the ones who are probably a minority within the whole of Christianity, but who have the biggest mouths when it comes to speaking up on what they consider to be social ills and how evil and ungodly the country is becoming. In other words, the type of Christian that typically becomes a televangelist or at least tends to support them (ironic, eh?).

At the beginning of 2000 I was getting ready to begin my second semester of my senior year, knowing that I was going to have to go back and almost completely redo the first semester as I had managed to get mostly D's in my classes. This meant that they wouldn't count as I had to have at least a C in each one since they were now all related to my major course of study. So, with my roommate getting married and moving out, causing me to have to move in with one of my managers from the grocery store I was working at, I started getting behind again only a week into the semester. The combination of working 30+ hours a week while taking 17 credit hours worth of classes is why I did so bad the fall semester, so I withdrew, with the intent of going back in the fall of 2000 and just completely redoing the entire Senior year. Well, it never happened. I ended up back in North Carolina later that year, actually around the time the fall semester would've already been underway. By the time I got back home, I had spent months carousing at strip clubs with my new roommate and his buddies and discovered that, hey, I liked strip clubs and R-rated movies and the occasional beer. But when I got back to NC, I really did try to leave that behind and actively sought positions with churches who were looking for youth pastors and/or church education directors. I resigned from the IPHC because I had pretty much decided they were to conservative for me but I still wanted to be in the ministry so I began looking for alternative ways of being licensed or ordained. That's when I discovered the Universal Life Church, which offered ordination via their website to anyone willing to click their mouse on the link. Sounded odd at the time, but I figured, why not? The fact that I'm ordained has allowed me to have the pleasure of performing wedding ceremonies for my Mom, my Aunt and my buddies Jeremiah and Robert. As far as I know, they're all legal.

As far as how I became Pagan in my beliefs, well that's kind of an interesting story. A few months after I had moved back home to North Carolina, I had met up with some folks at a bar through a mutual acquaintance. We all became great friends and formed our own little gamer group that played Dungeons & Dragons on the weekends. When we were all hanging out at the local Barnes & Noble one day, one of the girls was looking through the New Age section at the books about Wicca. I made the statement (based on the fact that I was still mildly holding on to my right-wing Christian ideals) that she needed “to leave that shit alone.” I soon found myself researching it so I could argue against it. The interesting thing is, the more I read about Wicca, and Paganism in general, the more I realized how it made sense to me and how, even in the midst of my Bible-thumping preaching days, at my core, I never really had accepted that Christianity could really be the only true faith. So, there you have it. I became Pagan; I immersed myself in it, reading anything that I could. I even managed to, eventually, find mentors that I could trust. Truth be told, now I've really become more of a Universalist. My personally held belief is “All religions and both correct and incorrect simultaneously.” Basically, if GOD is really that big, and truly transcends all time and space, and the World as we know it is so diverse of culture, then how can there only be one way to reach GOD (or whatever term you wish to apply)? Religion is man made anyway. It's really nothing more than mankind's way of trying to explain things that are observably true, but that can't be adequately explained scientifically or logically. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I think religion is total bullshit. I've personally experienced things both within Pentecostal Christianity and within Pagan practices on a spiritual level to discount either as being false or to discount any metaphysical beliefs. I'm just saying, religions in and of themselves are man made. The gods didn't invent religion, people did in an effort to understand the gods, or what they perceived to be gods or events that seemed supernatural to them. Think about, people used to worship the sun and moon; now we know the sun is a star that Earth orbits, and the moon orbits Earth. But at one time, people believed that the Sun and Moon chased each other through the sky. But that's another topic for another time, perhaps.

Well, that's a bit of a look into the man who is Carlisle, aka “Purple Scorpion”. Yeah, I could be called a dilettante of sorts, but I prefer to think of myself as multi-faceted and open to new experiences, beliefs and ideas.

I believe in the fundamental Truth of all great religions of the world. I believe they are all God given and I believe they were necessary for the people to whom these religions were revealed. And I believe that if only we could all of us read the scriptures of the different faiths from the standpoint of the followers of these faiths, we should find that they were at the bottom all one and were all helpful to one another.” - M K Gandhi

~ JC

Next Week: “Roll out the Barrel - Curbside Recycling comes to Fayetteville”

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