When You Don’t “Fit”

Exile though I am on earth, do not hide your commandments from me. — Psalm 119:19, JB

It’s hard when we feel we don’t belong. Humans are wired for connection and community, yet many of us feel ourselves to be outsiders, even among our closest friends and family members. In my case, I often feel ill-suited for this world. I have no real career aspirations, the issues that have people frothing at the mouth hardly affect me, and my idealism kicks things up a notch as I am looked at disapprovingly for holding values and expressing ideas that many believe to be simply unrealistic.

To feel like you’re just floating through existence without a solid “anchor” can be uncomfortable, even painful. It’s difficult to watch other people settle into their lives, hopes and dreams in hand, at least knowing where they want to go. But what about the rest of us?

Something that I feel I’ve been given to say by the Light is that it’s okay to “not belong.” I spent so much of my life lamenting that I wasn’t like everyone else, but my most meaningful relationships were made possible precisely because I was different. My ideas, goals, and perceptions actually provided something for certain people, and I found myself connected to others who felt like I did.

I found that I wasn’t alone, and the truth is that you aren’t either.

There are many of us who feel like “exiles” in this life; as though we were made to belong somewhere else. The truth is, however, that those who don’t feel “at home” here are supposed to feel that way. Our world needs people who can see things differently, who aspire to different goals, and who live outside the accepted norms of thought and behavior. It’s been my experience that God works best through those who are open to a different way of doing things, as there is less comfort and conformity standing in the way. We were born to be the monkey wrench that stops the machine of homogeneity from running rampant, and we are meant to be the exception that keeps everyone from “having it all figured out.”

Seeing myself and others this way has opened my mind and my heart up much more, as I am realizing that everyone has a part of themselves that feels like it just doesn’t belong. Many of us press this bothersome little attribute down, hoping no one will see, but the reality is that our differences are what can lead to powerful transformations in our lives and in the lives of others. Embracing and loving ourselves and our other-ness enables us to extend that love to others, and such affection is Godly, spiritual, and powerful. It can build bridges, demolish walls, and shatter the fragile myths of uniformity that drive the current state of affairs.

Instead of letting my difference become isolation, I choose to treat it as a gift. No, I don’t feel like I belong here, but it’s neither a curse nor some delusion of grandeur that I am above anyone. I’m just different, and so are you. Everyone has a uniqueness, a gift that when embraced, stands to enhance our understanding of life and of one another. So let your “freak flag” fly, refuse to fit the mold, know that you are an exile by design, and we need you now more than ever.

Peace be with you!

Ending the Blame Game

As I’ve been reflecting recently on who I am and what I believe, I’ve noticed I have a real lack of patience for political arguments. Now I don’t mean debating an idea or considering carefully which vote to cast. I mean ceaselessly ranting about this or that politician and those who think like they do and how all them libtards/fascists are going to destroy this country and the next war we fight will be a civil war and…

Blech.

I just can’t. It’s not just politics either, but any genre of endless complaining about things that can’t be helped or changed. I get that life can be complicated and painful, and I understand that people don’t often act like we think they ought to behave.

It’s also always been this way. It always will be this why. Life is a constant cycle of issues, some good, some bad. Many take that to be a negative way of thinking, but for me, it’s freedom.

There is a freedom to realizing that so much is out of our control. We can’t determine who takes over this country or what they do when it happens. We can’t control policy or greed or that stranger who raises their kids contrary to my unquestionable principles.

The only things we are responsible for are the choices we make every day. Namely, we are responsible for living our kindest, most loving, most generous, most compassionate life every day. It’s not glorious. It’s not sexy (well, I think it is), but it’s the best chance we have of actually achieving a level of serenity and positive impact in this life.

Now to many people, this sounds lazy or idealistic… I have nothing for you. If you think living kindly is easy, come visit me in Dallas. You’ll change your mind the minute you enter traffic on 635.

As for the idealistic part, think about this. When you establish habits of kindness, compassion, love, justice, and acceptance in your life, those things are a part of you. They inform how you think, how you speak, and how you act.

This means we engage people differently. We vote differently. We perceive life differently. Many of the problems we encounter as a society today are due to our perceptions, specifically our willingness to swallow whatever the commander-in-tweet or the talking heads on capitol hill or in the media present to us as the truth.

We are more divided than ever before (for the 1,000th time).

We are approaching another civil war.

There is a war on religion in this country.

Our nation is full of hate and malice and it’s ALL THE FAULT OF THAT GUY WITH WHOM I DISAGREE.

Nonsense. Sure, let’s say “civil war” time comes. What if no one shows up because we are too busy living life with one another? What if we decide that no one is going to tell us what is worth killing over?

What if we decide we’d rather disagree and live alongside each other in love than waste our lives trying to make everyone like us?

That’d be a most welcome change of pace.

So I am starting with me. I’m not going to sit there and stew or argue with someone who thinks Democrats/Republicans are the devil. I’m not going to contribute to gossip or bitching behind the backs of people of whom I disapprove. I’m not going to grouse about how much better the world was back when I didn’t have to consider the feelings of others.

Rather, I am going to invite others to share what really concerns them. I’m going to listen and be respectful. I’m going to vote with my heart. I’m going to be a Quaker, feed the hungry, care for the afflicted, and love my family, my neighbor, and my enemy. I’m going to love myself and allow the Light Within to shine in my life.

The time has come (and has long been here) when we need to stop blaming and pointing fingers. It’s time to challenge ourselves to be the difference we want to see.

Peace be with you!

Godly Living Means Godly Loving

… Yahweh is merciful and tenderhearted. — Psalm 111:4, JB

I tried this post yesterday, and I realized I wasn’t staying true to myself or my goal, so here is attempt number two!

Again, I hope the rendering of God’s name is not offensive to you, dear reader. After all, biblical writings have The Name written everywhere, but I understand Judaism’s (and certain Christians’) differing perspectives on that particular commandment.

Anyway, I came across this selection of Psalm 111 and at first just thought what I always thought. “Man, I am glad God is merciful and tenderhearted.” But something bugged me. I don’t think God just wants us to know stuff because it’s “good to know.” God always has purpose, and it’s always the Divine will that what we believe becomes something we enact.

Then it struck me. If God is merciful and tenderhearted, we should also strive to lead lives of such mercy and compassion. Jesus gives us a pattern to imitate in terms of unity with God, and this unity comes with adopting God’s nature as our own.

So take a moment today to consider God. Though we may not always agree with ancient expressions, it is clear that God is described as just, merciful, faithful, and loving. Therefore, I hope we all will practice this way of being as well!

Peace be with you!

My Pacifism

For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ. — Philippians 3:20, JB

As a Quaker, I frequently have to consider or defend my more pacifist leanings. As a Quaker in Texas, I am asked if I am “packing,” and if not, I am asked why. The truth is, I settled into Christian pacifism long before I settled into Quakerism. For me, it just makes sense as a way of discipleship.

I get all the questions and arguments about it. How do we stop evil people who don’t value human life? Are no wars justifiable, even if they are to help people? What about defending one’s family?

These are serious questions that merit serious consideration, but for today, I am simply sharing how I feel about this subject. You are free to disagree. I don’t think you’re some war-mongering demon if you keep a pistol in your nightstand or served in the military. It’s just not my way.

For me, pacifism is in line with Christ’s teachings. We are to love and pray for our enemies, not kill them, even if they persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Jesus sets the example for this by washing the feet of Judas (John 13:1-20) and accepting the abuse and humilitation of the cross.

Paul, the writer of Christianity’s earliest texts, teaches the faithful to “Never repay evil with evil but let everyone see that you are interested only in the highest ideals” (Romans 12:17). Keep in mind that early Christians were being arrested, beaten, and killed regularly. The movement also grew in spite of such a gentle response to persecution and attepted annihilation.

In addition to these more faith-specific reasons for living peacefully, I also simply think it makes sense. If I combat evil using that evil’s tactics, I’m really not much better. I am just more accepted by the world because I conformed to the world’s current standards. In short, the world as it is and all of its violence proves to be insurmountable.

I simply can’t go that way.

Now, is this an effective way of forming government policy? I doubt it. Governments and national bodies are representations of humanity’s need to own and control, and so that’s how they will function.

With that said, I simply will do my best not to help. I chose not to enlist though that had originally been my plan. I locked my guns away, and refuse to carry them. I vote for more diplomatic approaches to global relations. I practice forgiveness in my everyday life (traffic still gets me, ARGH!), and I don’t kill creatures that trespass in my home, whether bugs or in-laws (JOKE).

Do my taxes still go to defense? Of course. I don’t know how I can help that. Will I tackle someone threatening my family? Yep. But I also give to Wounded Warrior to put effort into healing the wounds of war, and I will not jump to lethal means of self-defense. In these ways I am still more peace-oriented than I have been in the past, and I can accept the remaining inconsistencies.

A takeaway from this for anyone, regardless of their stance on justified violence, is that we need to consider the ways in which we are positively affecting the world and how much we are letting the world’s negative aspects determine our choices. The person of faith is to be a stranger in a strange land on this earth, living for something different, something higher. How we each embrace that calling is individually determined, and for me, it means as steadfast a devotion to peace as I can manage.

In that spirit I say, “Peace be with you!”

When Love Hurts

Time and again he rescued them, but they went on defying him deliberately and plunging deeper into wickedness; even so, he took pity on their distress each time he heard them calling. — Psalm 106:43-44, JB

We are surrounded by an idealized, misleading, unrealistic culture of love and it sucks. It sucks for people like me who have needed a lot of grace and do-overs to become a supportive, loyal partner. There’s no room in this culture for mistakes, forgiveness, personal growth, or compromise. If it hurts, it isn’t love.

I can’t help but feel that we are setting ourselves up for failure. Standards are good, and you should never accept hurtful behavior. If, however, your partner is flawed (they are, as are you), that doesn’t mean things can’t work… Unless you’ve already decided that’s the case.

In any relationship, romantic or not, pain comes standard. Those we dare to love will always have a higher chance of hurting us, precisely because they mean so much to us. To expect anything different is foolish, and to withhold grace in those moments is cold and hypocritical.

With emotionally or physically abusive relationships being obvious exceptions, love is going to hurt and we need to accept that if we actually want to experience it. Parents, spouses, friends, children, siblings, all of them are going to mess up at one point or another.

So will you, by the way. If you wouldn’t like being given up on, should you give up on others?

As a person who has fouled up most of his relationships in one way or another, I can tell you that love is what changed me. It wasn’t overnight, and it wasn’t romantic. Love came in the form of not being dumped or abandoned, but also not being enabled to continue my destructive behaviors. It was grace with duty, forgiveness with responsibility.

That kind of love is real, and it’s what changes you.

It’s the kind of love God exhibits in Psalm 106 (and throughout the entire Bible). God knows humans will mess things up… but He still loves, forgives, and shares Himself with them. This is the kind of love Jesus exhibits in his ministries. He knows it will get him killed, but we are considered worth it.

The truth is that love, in any form, is risky. It’s an opening of the heart, and because love occurs between humans, you should know right now that there will be times it hurts like hell… But that’s okay. The question is whether or not this person is someone worth hurting over from time to time.

The biblical answer is that everyone should be treated as “worth it.” Because God (and Jesus) love us in the full knowledge of our shortcomings, so we ought to do for one another. To do so is to “be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” by loving even those we consider “enemies” (Matthew 5:48, 44). This kind of love is radical and unsafe, and it will lead to being hurt or taken advantage of.

Without such openness, however, we would have a hard time connecting at all. Now again, does this mean endlessly accepting abuse or harm? Of course not. But it does mean we should never let pain close our hearts and snuff out the light of our love.

My wife, friends, family, and I have hurt each other many times over the years, but we chose to be stronger for it, and that love has produced real change in all of us. We are living in a time when every relationship is considered potentially disposable, and I believe we are far less gracious than we should be as a society. This must change if we truly want to witness the emergence of a better world that we can leave behind for future generations.

Love hurts. It’s risky, frightening, and it will open us up to all manner of unpleasantness… It’s also the most worthwhile endeavor in which we could ever hope to partake.

Peace be with you!

A Prayer Problem

‘Pause a while and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted over the earth.’ — Psalm 46:10, JB

I grew severely frustrated last night as I tried to engage in some good ol’ fashioned prayer. Words came and were thought/said/expressed, but it just felt like total and utter nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the object of my prayer (the Light). I felt God was there, as It always is.

What bothered me was the practice itself. The words came effortlessly, and they sounded just like the fancy kind of seminary-influenced words that get you compliments at Thanksgiving. It should have been a moment of great connection with the Divine.

But it wasn’t. Those words were hollow and empty. The more I said, the more full of crap I felt.

Even the trusty, “magical” prayers of tradition were ineffectual. Hail Mary, the Lord’s Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, all just ringing about in the air like annoying cymbals.

So I stopped. I just quit trying, and I unexpectedly felt more peace, release, and connection as I just stood there brooding in the shower. I reflected on this experience this morning and I think I’ve nailed down my issue.

Life is supppsed to be prayer.

In the Quaker faith, we worship in silence, waiting to experience… whatever happens. Ideally, there’s no agenda or attempt to “get anything.” Silence allows God and the heart to commune however they need to. We acknowledge that all people, things, places, and times are sacred… we just have to acknowledge it.

When one walks with the Divine in every moment of every day… there really isn’t much to be said. God is here. Our thoughts, our struggles, our triumphs, our questions, all things happen in the presence of the Source of it all. God doesn’t need directions, information, or pursuasion.

What is needed, most times, is for us to shut up, and “pause a while and know” that God is there. That’s what I was missing last night. I went for words and formulas when I should’ve just silently dropped all of the distractions and shared in God’s “being,” recognizing the sanctity of that moment and everyone in it, just like we do at our Quaker meeting.

It’s important to remember that, as promised, the Divine is with us “always; yes, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:20). We don’t have to hit our knees, say the right things, or even say anything at all. What God desires is for our hearts to draw near and bask in the sacred Presence, the holiness of everyday life.

So if you are seeking connection with the Light, if you are trying to pray, but the words don’t feel right, perhaps they’re not meant to. Our world is full of words and noise, but it lacks stillness and peace. It could be that these are what God is trying to offer you. So sit back and enjoy.

Peace be with you!

***AFTER-THOUGHT***

I am not saying prayer with words is bad or a sign of spiritual immaturity or somesuch nonsense. Pray in whatever way helps you connect! This post was simply geared toward those moments when words fall short. Do what draws you closest to the Sacred in all things!

Children of God

But to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God… — John 1:12, JB

One thing that has always delighted/frustrated me about my religious tradition is the Incarnation. This is the event in which the Word (Greek: Logos) of God becomes flesh in Jesus Christ. I find it to be an absolutely beautiful statement of God’s love for this entire creation, that in it God is pleased to dwell and even suffer as we do.

What irritates me is that belief in that Incarnation is the litmus test for faithful Christianity. If we simply believe that it happened historically, this one time, we can believe what Jesus says and all else is will work out. This aggravates someone like me who prefers there to be a practical component to religious ideas.

Now don’t get me wrong, beliefs are powerful, but mostly because they influence how we behave. When the Incarnation is taught as just a historical moment that we either accept or not and that that determines our level of faithfulness, I feel like we are missing a crucial, transformative point. Luckily, Jesus is good about pulling us back on track.

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, it is said that Jesus gifted us with “power to become children of God,” literally “sons of God.” Now wait a minute… Jesus is the Son of God, yes? But if there is only one like Christ and it is because of the Incarnation, are we then offered power to be lesser children of God? Maybe…

But I don’t think so.

Jesus indicates that just as the Father sent him, so he sends us (John 17:18). He prays, “may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you” (17:21). After washing the feet of the disciples (including Judas), Jesus says, “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you” (13:15). Indeed we are to love one another as he loves us (13:34), and he promises we “will perform the same works as I do myself… even greater works” (14:12).

All this indicates that Jesus didn’t expect us to simply believe in his historical and theological Sonship. Rather, we are encouraged and expected to participate in it! As Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, the love of God revealed in the flesh, so we are supposed to embody that Divine Presence!

Humans were created with the image of God upon them (Genesis 1:27) and the breath/Spirit of God within them (Genesis 2:7). In my Quaker expression of faith, this Divinity is always there, waiting to be awakened and embraced. What Jesus offers his followers is a reclaiming of that Divine image and breath. It is the recognition of the power of God within us and the rest of our fellow humans; a chance to take hold of our calling as those who are to care for creation and one another.

We are all supposed to be the Word of God incarnate. All of us are invited to embody the love, justice, and righteousness of God in our flesh by how we think, speak, and act toward this world and those who reside in it. The story was never supposed to end in Christ. He gave us a pattern for exhibiting unity with God that all of us are to strive for, whether consciously or unconsciously, by recognizing and acting upon the inherent worth that each of us has.

So here is what I want you to know: Yes, the Incarnation is a powerful teaching about Jesus. BUT. It is powerful precisely because it’s not just about Jesus. It’s about us and who we are/who we can be. We are beloved, powerful, wonderful beings called to use our gifts for the benefit of each other and the rest of this world. When we pursue such a calling, we join Jesus in embodying Divine unity as children of God.

You are loved, beautiful, and full of the Spirit of God. So let’s go out and live accordingly!

Peace be with you!