WitchDoctorJoe

The Adventures of a Wiccan Prison Chaplain

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A Revelation of Interfaith

It's funny when I think about it. Each of those days always begins the same, I spend the whole morning in hesitant anticipation. I often consider creating a scheduling conflict or just "oversleeping." Anything to postpone the appointment. But I always seem to arrive on time, often taking my seat in the waiting room only seconds before he turns the corner and calls me back to his office.

He's quite frank with his questions, gentle but direct, he frames them in a way that require explanations to be answered. He noticed when I became uncomfortable with where the conversation was going, it's always obvious because I rub my silver pendant with my thumb. So he shifted gears and asked about my spirituality, if and how that played a role in my experiences in Iraq. Did my experiences there cause me to question my beliefs? Did I have a crisis of faith?

"No, but I knew someone who did."

On the contrary, it had the completely opposite effect, it solidified my faith. While on one hand I saw mass graves, a suicide bomber and numerous other examples of the worst humanity has to offer, I also saw the best of it.

We had been doing dismounted patrols in the local area in an effort to "stabilize the region" and we experienced contact intermittently. It wasn't the most dangerous place in Iraq, but it wasn't exactly safe. The local settlement reminded me of the Egyptian marketplace in Cairo. Hundreds of people in a maze of small buildings with roads too small to drive armored vehicles though, hence the dismounted patrols which everyone lovingly referred to as "suicide runs.

We were not fighting a uniformed army. Hell, we weren't even fighting an army at all. In fact, I wouldn't even call it "fighting." How do you fight a single person with a grenade, hiding in a crowd? That's what dismounted patrol feels like. It can be incredibly stressful, even when no one shoots at you.

We passed much of our time there just talking. We talked about our families and friends, we talked about what we wanted to do when we got home. We told stories and told a lot of jokes because it felt so good to laugh. We argued about important things like who would win a fight between fictional characters or which celebrity was the hottest. We contemplated the mysteries of the universe and had great debates about religion. It seemed the one thing we all had in common was our differences.

Not long after a mortar attack a guy in our group who I'll call "John" began to question his Christian faith. He struggled to make sense of everything he had seen and to reconcile those events with Gods plan. This struggle shook his very foundation and it was clear he was in a bad way.There was this old maintenance building by the back gate, many of us including John went back there to pray, but he stopped going after the last attack.

The three of us had had some intense arguments about our religious beliefs in the past but we had gotten very close despite those differences. Matt and I were both Pagans, but Matt always seemed like he had an axe to grind against Christians and enjoyed stirring John up with challenging questions about contradictions in the Bible.

It came out after the platoon sergeants meeting that we had been slotted for another round of dismounted patrols, John and myself would be the team leaders.

I felt concerned about John's ability to lead in his condition. Dismounted patrol requires a Game Face, and he had lost his. As I made my way towards him I saw that Matt had already approached him and waived me into the conversation. Matt told John that he would be replacing him as team leader, that he had already made the arrangement, and that he had volunteered to take his place.

Matt sounded like a drill sergeant when he spoke to John as if he was issuing orders, "You need to get your sh!t right with god before you go back out there."

The tires threw up a cloud of dust as our line of vehicles drove out through the back gate. I saw John raise his hand in recognition, he made a fist and smiled before he walked back behind the maintenance building, to pray.

Thank you Lord & Lady for the Revaluation of Interfaith.

Blessed Be.

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Joseph Merlin Nichter is an author, blogger, ritualist, Freemason, Wiccan and co-founder of the Mill Creek Tradition and Seminary. As the first state-recognized Minority Faith Chaplain, Joseph provides Pagan religious services and assists with religious accommodations of minority faiths for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; he has also served the California Department of Mental Health as a religious program instructor. Joseph is the co-founder and current president of the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association. Joseph lives in Central California with his wife and four children, where he continues to actively serve his community.

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