I am coming to the 10th anniversary of being splattered onto the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The article was entitled, “Befriending Witches Still a Problem in Salem, Mass.” Those were difficult days, and the next four years would be filled with even greater difficulty, but looking back, I can say, I would not have done it any differently.
Defending the radical other (in this case Neo-Pagans) in the face of misunderstanding, cultural character assassination, and gossip is a matter of social justice to me. It is a thing, I believe Jesus would do. He defended the average person against false accusations, and sometimes even truthful biases that the religious authorities held over their heads.
This season surrounding the above story was a major impetus for my book Burning Religion. Burning Religion begins to establish the foundation for understanding how I view navigating relationships with people who disagree with us extremely – sometimes even militantly.
As I look forward to the coming year of transition, and think about traveling with the message of befriending and understanding those who are very different from ourselves religiously, politically, in class distinctions, and lifestyle choices; I find myself going back to this story and the years of peacemaking work that led up to it.
Right now, it’s Halloween time, and I am neck deep in activities on the streets of Salem. It has been Halloween since October 1st. By the time Halloween Day passes, hundreds of friends, acquaintances and newbies will have come in and out of my life here in Salem, and into the activities we organize. They will have captured a touch of the magic of God’s love for others, and discover how easy it is to gently express it in festival settings.
Today, the Screaming Street Preachers were out, and we know their numbers will increase over the next five days as we move toward Halloween, and Salem is packed with tens of thousands of revelers each day. The aggressive hellfire and damnation preaching and the incensed crowds listening to them will remind me that there is still a great deal of work to be done to teach Christians how to be a positive influence in the public squares of our culture.
So, my eyes are already looking forward, even in the midst of this insane pace of activity that is October in Salem. Today Salem – tomorrow the world.
You can read my short anthropology of American Neo-Paganism, appropriately called, Witches Are Real People Too. And if you would like to donate to the upcoming transition to take this project of peacemaking as a missional outreach to places beyond Salem, you can do so at the Salem Gathering Website.