Self-Acceptance

I’ve been fighting myself a lot over the last few weeks, maybe even longer. For a long time, I’ve thought that being a Christian would make me narrow-minded, and that it would mean accepting dogma and doctrine, else I would just be “faking it.” As such, I’ve tried to drop it all and carve out my own spiritual identity.

The problem is that I’ve already friggin’ done that.

There was never a time in my journey as a Christian/Quaker that I accepted all of what orthodoxy mandates. I’ve never believed adherents of other religions went to hell, just for being different. I stuck to 6-Day Creation theory until I was in 5th grade science, then I left that behind too.

In seminary, I realized I don’t believe God is some external being or person, and I rejected the idea that signing off on the metaphysical DNA of Jesus was necessary for discipleship and connection with God. I joined the Quaker tradition because I reject divinely ordained hierarchy/priesthood/pastoral ministry. I believe all righteous paths are valid, and I believe God communicates with others according to the language they will understand, even if it means meeting an atheist with the silence needed for them to fully live out their path and keep the rest of us honest.

I believe Jesus is a pattern for all of us to follow, not some item on the checklist of orthodoxy that gets me into “the good place.”

My language of spirituality has always been Christianity, but I never allowed that identity to negate my mystical experiences of the divine in myself amd in others. That is, I never did until recently. I have been so preoccupied with finding “the truth” that I completely forgot about my own experiences with that truth and all that those encounters have done for my life.

The truth is I use Christian symbols and tools to express my spirituality. What I’ve learned is that this doesn’t mean I have to swallow all the crap that has nothing to do with God and everything to do with power. This experience has taught me not to read the Bible, pray the Rosary, or attend services in a way that replaces genuine experience of and communion with God.

Am I going to do these things? Yes, but only insofar as they edify and inform my spirituality rather than becoming idols that dictate it. The same can be said for my Tarot cards or the silent worship of my Quaker Meeting.

All are tools, none are God.

The fact is that Christianity is the faith of my people. It’s what I know and understand. Is God bigger than this religion? Oh yes. Does that mean I need to reject all specificity so I can make some kind of statement? No. Does it mean I need to swallow all related doctrine and dogma to be authentic? Also no.

There comes a point when we must accept ourselves. We all come from a specific location in space and time, with our own culture and spiritual language. Instead of fighting to make something new, find something new in your own rich tradition. You have the authority to reject that which is harmful or confining as you embrace that which is healthy, life-giving, and liberating. Recognize that as long as you live with love at the center of your being, your own specific way of relating to the universe is perfectly acceptable and will yield beautiful results.

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!”

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!

Armor Up?

Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.Ephesians 6:11, NRSV

The “Armor of God” is a fashionable teaching in today’s Christianity. As a nation, we like war. We romanticize it and the notion of fighting and dying (killing?) for what we believe in. It’s deep in our American DNA.

With that in mind, how could we not LOVE the idea of “armoring up” for Jesus?!

The problem is that the Christians in Paul’s time weren’t the guys in the armor. The Romans wore the armor, and it bears mentioning that the Romans did not behave favorably toward Christians. They mocked, tortured, arrested, and killed them.

One of the main reasons for such disdain was the pacifist attitudes of early Christians. They wouldn’t serve in the military, nor would they commit idolatry by sacrificing for the good of the emperor. As such, they were considered unpatriotic atheists, two qualities now berated by (irony incoming) many who profess to be hardcore Christians in the U.S.

It seems the old empire is never far.

The interesting thing is that Paul is clear that this armor metaphor is just that: an illustration to make a point, not a literal depiction to slap on a t-shirt promoting militant Christianity.

Paul says the “struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). This is why the “armor” is actually composed of a list of virtues for Christians to practice in the face of their struggles. The Romans fight with earthly armor, but the faithful are to fight back only with their steadfast faith rooted in the love of God.

After all, you can’t fight problems of the heart with a sword (or gun).

This may seem like a small point, but it’s too often the case that we try to make the Divine more palatable by crafting Jesus in our own image. It’s unnerving to imagine that faithfully following in the footsteps of Christ might result in our crucifixion instead of our own heroic triumph.

We’d rather make God’s armor into something more worldly than recognize that we are being asked to actually lay down our arms and face the world in faith.

If, however, we give this some thought, it makes perfect sense. Violence is something we’ve always had. It’s how we humans have most often handled things, and the results are… rather underwhelming.

Our world isn’t more peaceful for all our “well-intentioned” wars and conflicts. All the guns in existence haven’t made the U.S. a safer place. The Church’s history of forced conversions, conquest, racism, and now shameless advertising hasn’t proved successful.

It’s time to relearn Paul’s point that followers of Christ should imitate their Lord in doing something altogether different. Instead of living into the world’s darkness, walk with light. Where there is violence, live peace. Where there is hate, live love. Where there is fear, live with courage. Where there is want, live with generosity (Prayer of St. Francis, anyone?).

Doing this will not be comfortable. It can get us taken advantage of, hurt, or even killed. Yet Jesus shows us that this is worthwhile if it means bringing hope and substantive change to the world around us.

Until we are willing to actually do something different, no matter the cost to us, things will (duh) remain the same. For those of us who still believe that things can and should be better than they are, it is essential that we stop making difficult lessons more bearable by reducing the amount of risk involved. Living in faith was never meant to be comfortable, and change has never been easy.

The trick is looking beyond ourselves, knowing that something bigger and better is potentially at hand. It is with this hope we must arm ourselves, ready to do battle for the fate of the world at home, at work, wherever we may be.

Peace be with you!

Try

It’s been hard to find writing inspiration lately! I hate it, but I think I’ve figured out the source. Frankly, I’ve just been really bummed.

I try to keep abreast of what’s going on in the world. I read the news, check social media, and generally just pay attention. The downside to being informed is the content of that information.

My country is forgetting its roots and trying to base eligibility for citizenship on whether or not the person in question is rich enough to deserve it. Our president has a cult following that will follow him to hell and back because he validates their frustrations and gives them a common enemy to blame.

My fellow citizens seem content to harrass and malign each other based on their political leanings, not caring to acknowledge the fact that the party they’re fighting for couldn’t care less about them.

We are so worried about “rights” that we refuse to temper freedom with duty, endangering one another for the sake of guns, greed, or “god.”

It all makes me sick. I know I participate in these things in my own way, but I can still say I am tired of it all. So what do we do when all of this crap gets so overwhelming?

We try.

Yep. That’s it. No convoluted arguments or attempts to sound wise. Just try, dammit.

Disagree with someone politically? Not a fan of someone’s personal choices? Want a cleaner planet or fewer hungry people in the world? Hoping for more peace and less violence?

Neat.

Get started.

I was recently reminded that we are all responsible for our little corner of the world, and if everyone got on board with the notion of putting effort into what we want to see materialize, this life would look quite different. Call it idealistic, but you have to start somewhere, and having an ideal to strive for doesn’t hurt.

Now, will giving a homeless guy a buck change the nature of poverty in America? No.

Will inviting your liberal/conservative friend to safely vent their frustrations and reasoning behind their ideals lead to a sudden conversion? Nope.

Are you going to end world hunger by collecting canned goods once a month? Or will recycling save us from impending disaster? Nah.

But.

That stuff matters. Kindness, love, and light, in any context, matter. You can positively affect your surroundings every day, as God has given you everything you could possibly need to do so. The trick is consciously making the choice to utilize your gifts as means of service. It won’t happen by accident.

So there it is. Overwhelmed by the bad? Wonder how things could possibly get better? Look in the mirror. There’s your answer. Recognize the Divine in you, that of God in others, and walk your path accordingly.

Just try.

Peace be with you!

Live Like We’ve Made It

The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion cub feed together with a little boy to lead them. — Isaiah 11:4, JB

Looking to a perfect future is something religion typically “comes with.” In the Christian faith, prophecies are often read with eyes forward, waiting patiently for the day God sets everything straight. The trouble for me is that I am an “in the moment” kind of man. I don’t really know what to expect if/when the world comes to an end, Jesus returns, or I die, but I do know that I am alive right now in a world that could always use a little more light.

Fortunately, the prophets would have agreed with me! Prophecy in the Bible is less about predicting the future and more about the natural outworkings of our current problems. The prophet’s job is to call people to repentence immediately, forcing us to face the pain and suffering of the world and our part in it.

When reading Isaiah, it becomes clear early on that Israel is in very real trouble and God isn’t happy with them. They are criticized for their unjust practices and false piety, faced with invasion and destruction, but also encouraged by a vision of the possible future (should they decide to get it together).

Now some see such visions as pipe dreams used to provide “hope fuel” for the oppressed. I, on the other hand, view them as instructive, especially when I consider the teachings of Jesus, which emphasize living with the “Kingdom of God” in mind. The images of a final judgment and celestial utopia were not there to simply be believed in, but to give us a target for which to aim every day.

So when we see passages like the one above from Isaiah 11, or the “swords into ploughshares” verse that declares “there will be no more training for war” (chapter 2), it would be wise to see these as a goal rather than an eventual guarantee. Whereas the latter might only prompt us to “hold on tight,” the former is actually a call to action.

Such teachings should serve as ideals for which we strive by living as though they have already been realized. If we hope for a world of peace, we must in turn lead lives saturated with peace. If we dream of a future of equality, prosperity for all, and justice, our daily activities and interactions should reflect such things.

Am I dismissing the hope of some future manifestation of the Kingdom of God? Not necessarily. I just trust that God has such things in hand. What I am advocating for is turning our eyes from what could happen to what is happening, looking for opportunities to live out the future for which we hope.

Peace be with you!

On the Way

Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.” — John 14:6, REB

Being a follower of Jesus was once referred to as The Way, according to the biblical book known as Acts or The Acts of the Apostles (9:2, for example). In the Letter of James, faith is a way of life, demonstrated by what one does (1:22), for without a change of lifestyle, all the belief in the world is for naught (2:14). In all of God’s revelations, all of Jesus’ teachings, every epistle and apocalypse, there is always a behavioral component. All of these things are intended to amount to a change in the way a person lives.

When we look through the revelations of God from Eve and Adam to Jesus and beyond, every single one of them pointed to the way humanity and the Divine can achieve and maintain unity in a way that positively impacts the world. It’s God’s stated desire from the beginning that those in covenant with Him would be a blessing to “all the peoples on earth” (Genesis 12:3). Relationship with the Source of all life and being is meant to produce a way of living.

So why are we so caught up in belief?

Yes, beliefs tend to show in our actions. I’m not saying they aren’t important. But at the same time, the amount of death, destruction, and vitriol that has resulted from our obsession with metaphysical truth claims and our awful need to be right is pretty striking. Christians have gone to war with non-believers and each other over their understanding of God, even when there weren’t that many practical differences to separate them.

Even today, different denominations judge and condemn each other because one has a pope, the other won’t baptize infants, and another one believes Jesus is coming back to Independence, Missouri at the end of days to save only their congregation.

No, I didn’t make that last line up. I wish I had.

My point is that the obsession over “right” beliefs has gotten in the way of actually living out the point of those beliefs. If our metaphysical claims get in the way of loving, forgiving, and sharing of ourselves with others, we’ve become the very thing Jesus and the prophets criticized. Christ didn’t come to establish what amounts to another reason to mistreat people, but a way of life that provides healing to those we encounter, regardless of whether or not we agree with them theologically, politically, or otherwise.

The neat thing about practicing the Way of Jesus is that doing so renders worrying about orthodoxy unnecessary. Being the “faithful servant” of Christ puts us in a good position should the world be renewed by fire and brimstone, signaled by the angel’s trumpet, as some believe. It ensures a heavenly reward for those worried about afterlife issues. The Way is pleasing to God, whether He be explicitly Triune or not, and it affords us unity with Him according to the pattern set in Christ, making Him (directly or not) our Lord and Savior. Further, imitating Jesus and His Way requires continual connection to the Source of that Way, listening for what It has to say to us each day, so the relational component is accounted for.

Every theological concern and “belief box” is checked by walking according to Christ’s Way. The added bonus is that it comes with none of the damage that is caused by prioritizing doctrine over people. Arrogance and selfishness are nipped in the bud while we honor the truth revealed in Jesus. It seems like a win-win to me.

Peace be with you!