(Conway, Arkansas) I was asked by my closest and dearest friend, Ashley Hunter, to write a piece on our friendship. Simple enough; I’ve known her since we were in high school, we were college roommates, and she has been a pivotal part of my life since then. Put simply: she’s family to me. From the outside, I’m sure we look like any normal friendship (well, as normal as we get anyway) until someone find outs she’s a Pagan, and I’m a Christian. Then suddenly we become an enigma to some people – they question how or why we could ever be friends with such diametrically opposed faiths and views. I’m here to address those exact questions, and show how relatively simple it is for people of differing religions to not only coexist, but thrive with one another. This is about my Pagan best friend, from a Christian perspective.
I can vaguely recall the day Ashley told me she was Pagan. It wasn’t something shocking or scandalous – it was something new and different about a good friend. We were living in separate states at the time, so nearly nightly phone calls were the norm for us. This memory is jumbled up in there somewhere – it wasn’t some pivotal trial in our friendship for me. My friend had shared something new about herself and my response was “Cool, tell me more about that.”
There has to be an openness and willingness to share without fear of judgment or condemnation on both parts of the friendship. I listen when she talks about her faith, and she listens when I talk about mine. We both ask each other questions on what the other thinks, even if it is just from a curiosity standpoint. We recognize that each of us is communing with something divine, and it’s not our place to judge what that means or how it has to be interpreted. Answering questions honestly but tactfully has always been the key – there is a huge difference between “Well for me, it’s a violation of my core tenants of faith” and “That’s a sin and anyone who does it is going to hell.” We don’t speak in absolutes: we talk to each other from a personal aspect and keep it that way.
I can also recall a time where I felt like I was losing my friend. The nightly calls waned to weekly ones as she became involved heavily in her community. I was supportive; my friend was exploring a new part of herself and what she believed, and that’s not an overnight thing. But as time wore on, suddenly I felt pushed out not by her beliefs themselves, but the amount of time they demanded of her. Anytime we talked, it was about her new faith, friends and community – and I suddenly felt no longer a part of her life because I was not a part of that. It’s when I broached the question “If I talked about Jesus like you talk about your faith, and spent as much time in the church as you are with yours, would you be worried about me?” Suddenly a lens snapped into focus for both of us. I was honest about how I felt without casting judgment, and Ashley could hear was I was saying because I broached it with tact and compassion. It had nothing to do with the tenants of our faiths, but everything to do with how we were handling them.
Temperance is a key when talking about religion – even with people who are the same faith, let alone different ones. Faith and spiritually is an intensely personal thing – we are interacting and connecting in some way with something divine. It can be an emotional, powerful experience that changes who we are and what we believe – and we want to share those with the people we love. The issue with something passionate, is we often want to share passionately what our experiences are so that others can share in what we’ve felt and discovered. We get swept up in this intensity and can share too intensely, where it starts to sound like we are trying to force the same experience on others. This never works, as it’s presumptuous on our part. We ourselves are not the divine and cannot just create these experiences. Can we be used as tools to create an experience by the divine? Absolutely, but it’s not likely to happen when the goal going in is force that feeling and connection. So we share with temperance, and keep it personal. It’s the difference between “Let me share with you what this meant to me” and “This is what this means, I know it.” Again, avoiding absolutes is pivotal.
So it’s all come full circle for our friendship. We are closer than ever, especially now that we live in the same city again. I celebrate with her, even when our faiths aren’t the same. We spent Yule together and I brought a few of the accoutrements without issue or hesitation. Anytime she invites me, she always adds the caveat “if you’re comfortable” and never takes offense if I decline. For her, an experience may be intensely spiritual, but for me it may just be something fascinating from an objective point of view. The same goes for her: I may share something about my faith, and she listens from a curiosity standpoint.
Ultimately, it’s about remembering that just because we may disagree on an interpretation of something doesn’t mean that there is a wrong answer. It’s not up to us how the divine chooses to communicate to us. For her, it may be an offering to Hecate and for me it may be reading a passage out of the Bible. Both have merit and value, even if we experience things differently. We choose to focus on the things that make us similar rather than getting hung up on the things that make us different.