What does it mean to be a heathen? This question comes up a lot for me. I want to develop a relationship with the gods, and live by the values I find in heathenry. But what really makes a heathen different from a Christian, a Muslim, or a Confucian? What does it mean to be heathen at work, at school, or at the grocery store? Why should someone become heathen and what does heathenry offer a person? What do we as heathens offer society? I have a few ideas, but please feel free to share yours in the comments section.
One huge problem heathens face as a community is that we are a minority religion. Not only that, we don’t come in a cute, “diversity” package. It’s much easier for people to accept Buddhism in an Asian American that it is to accept heathenism. As racist and backwards as it is, there is this idea that we grew up in this country and culture and should “know better”.
“The best revenge is living well.” This statement pretty much sums up what the heathen mindset needs to be to overcome our stigmatized status. Don’t forget that a couple of hundred years ago, Mormons got run out of towns. The Jews were targets of persecution for thousands of years before the Mormons. Now they are both considered relatively mainstream religions. The secret is success.
If we heathens want to be respected as a religion we have to give society something to respect us for. I think this is an idea that is in keeping with the best of our philosophy- the person who works hard, plays hard, and is indispensable to the community is well-respected anywhere. Respect is earned, not given. If we would earn the respect of gods and men alike, it will take industriousness and perseverance.
We should each strive to be a credit to our faith. Heathens should strive to earn a reputation for integrity, hard work, and compassion. We should seek to be the best that we can be. For me, that means raising my GPA and getting the most out of my college education. I will post later on how I’m working towards this goal, and some pointers on how to overcome procrastination (I’m an expert on procrastination:). For most people, I think being the best we can be is a goal we strive towards. It means that we cultivate a desire to engage with what we’re doing and do it to the best of our ability.
For me as a college student, that means that I go to every class, pay attention to the lecture, take notes, and review the text. I do all the homework assignments to the best of my ability. I ask for help when I don’t understand the concepts. So many people go through college doing the minimum to earn their desired grade. The same is true at work. So many people stand around and waste time unless the boss is breathing down their neck. I don’t mean to imply that I’m perfect, or always meet this goal, I’m merely trying to highlight what I see as a good way to live life.
I am trying to cultivate a different attitude. One where my goal is a life well-lived, not to maximize my lazy time. I’ve spent so much of my life killing time, it wasn’t until recently that I realized time is all I have. I’m becoming that person who sees something that needs to be done and starts doing it. The fact is, people like that are leaders and respected where ever they go. Not only that, they have more, rather than less, time to enjoy their little habits.
By doing the work, rather than trying to avoid it, it is done faster. For example, in class I can pay attention and spend an hour and fifteen minutes learning, then do my homework quickly while it all makes sense, cementing the concepts in my brain. Or, I can surf the Web during class, waste an hour and fifteen minutes with my attention torn between Facebook and class, enjoying neither, and then take twice as long to do the homework because I’m only half sure what is going on.
The same is true for work. Every second you spend wishing you were elsewhere is a second you just got closer to death. Life is meant to be lived. We have no Original Sin to hold us down. The gods created this world so we could enjoy it. Do something you like and learn to love it. Learn to be mindful of every moment because even the worst times in our lives are better than the silence of eternity.
“The lame ride horseback,
the handless drive herds,
the deaf can be dauntless in battle;
better to be blind than burned on a pyre,
dead men do no deeds.” -Havamal
Strive to be alive, fully alive. Do not be dead at heart, wishing for the day to be over. Greet the day with joy, as a warrior would greet a worthy foe.
“Get up early if you have few men,
and attend to your tasks yourself;
much slips by while you lie in bed-
work is half of wealth.” -Havamal
If you truly hate what you do, then change it. It may not be easy, but the alternative is wasting your life, a gift from the gods. How can you return a gift for a gift if you have squandered what you were given? I like to remind myself that our religion includes the concept of odal. It means that our children can inherit not only the land and money that we can earn with hard work, but our attitudes and the strength of character we can develop. Is that not a worthy goal to strive for? That after we are dead, our children will still benefit from our choices?
If we wish to be respected, if we want our religion to endure, we have to prove that we have something to offer to the world. A heathen should understand that life was meant to be lived, and jump in to help out the community, or to get started with a project at work. It is all too easy to make excuses for ourselves. The library is too crowded, I couldn’t find the book I wanted, my pencil broke, I left my computer at home…. These setbacks are opportunities.
Find a way to use everything to your advantage. Strive to see the good in every failure. Earn the respect of those around you. In the end, the only way to gain respect is to stop focusing on how others respond to you, and start focusing on how you respond to others and the challenges they present. You cannot control the actions of others, but you can impress everyone around you with your values. So stop reading internet blogs and do your damn homework! NOW!
And finally, an inspiring quote to keep with you. It is from Insomnium, one of my favorite bands.
“Dying doesn’t make this world dead to us
Breathing doesn’t keep the flame alive in us
Dreaming doesn’t make time less real for us
One life, one chance all ephemeral.”