Monday, July 6, 2009

The Other Time Has Come

In the forward of my book I wrote this:

I served on active duty in the U.S. Army for almost ten years, and I am a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. But it seems like just yesterday when I was ushered through the assembly line of basic training, where we're systematically stripped of our individual identities, re-made and re-labeled.

The bottom line on your Dog Tags is used to indicate your religious faith. Mine was stamped with a word that would change my life forever. "Other"

Other, because there was a very small selection of official faiths to choose from on the paper taped to the wall next to the machine, some if which had been "crossed out" . Yeah that's a pun.

It was in the military that I first began functioning as a lay leader, a religious volunteer who functions as clergy when official priests are not available. There are not Atheists in foxholes, so I was always needed most during overseas deployments.

The religious discrimination witnessed and suffered by my brothers and sisters, and myself as Pagans while serving our country in combat has served as the catalyst for what has become my personal campaign for religious purism and tolerance.

Since then, I have become the first state recognized Minority Faith Chaplain for the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. As a volunteer, I provide and facilitate various religious services to those "Other" inmates, and I will continue to do so until such time when those religious need are met by the state institutions themselves.

My daughter started attending military school her freshman year of high school. It is so much different than regular schools, no cell phones, Ipod, Nintendo pocket gadgets. No fancy name brand clothes, jewelry, makeup, no hair do fad peer pressure teen age teeny bopper crap to deal with.

They take that all away, hair in a bun, no makeup, no jewelry, everyone's in the same uniform, and it gives away no hint of form, which my girl has developed an excess of lately. In the old school she was judged by what she looked like; she's Black, she dresses VERY GOTH, and doesn't wear anything that isn't bought at Hot Topic. And likes skinny white boys, like her Mom. Which places her in a very very very very small peer group.

At the Military School she met her boyfriend, he looked her in the eyes when he spoke to her. He listened to her and liked her for who she was inside. He never saw anything else. This had a profound effect on her and they have been dating ever since. She has brought him to rituals, of which his aunt and cousin have been long time attendees.

Since that time he has begun his own Wiccan path. We held a blessing for him before he left for basic training last month, we sent him off with a few items enchanted by an old vet (grin) and a Cunningham book. I had so much to tell him. I was jealous.

She's been ok so far. We were worried she would get depressed or an attitude or both. But her spirits have been unusually high and shes been unusually helpful which has made me unusually suspicious. She's been positive and when she's not, she curls up with me or Mom. I take her for rides on the Harley, for things we don't really need and we just cruise.

Today she got her first letter from him and even I was excited. Tears ran down her face as she read it. She told me, his dog tags say "Wiccan", and tears run down my face as I write it.

Now I know why the hanged man smiles.


Magaly Guerrero said...

I totally understand. I remember the day I got the call from the mother of one of my Marines, who was killed in 2001. I was at Bethesda, holding the hand of another who was injured. I got someone else to stay with him, so that I could go back and scream my joy! My Marine's headstone had been left blank because the VA did not recognized the Pentacle as a religious symbol. I went to Arlington last year and saw my boy's name and the symbol of his beliefs right below it. I cried. I was so happy.

My the gods bless happy tears!

k. sequoia said...

Such a moving post. Thank you.

K. Sequoia

Oleke said...

Joe, you are an integral part of the process when it comes to changing how pagans are viewed. You are helping to change pagan history as the world knows it through the ministry!! Im so danged proud of you, and I get all charged up when I think of how when I get old and senile I'll be saying, "Ya know, there was this fella a long time ago that I knew... he could really take the bull by the horns..."

You are my bestest bud!