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!

Looking Within

I was really angry today. I was angry because all the belief systems I have subscribed to and crafted over my 28 years have come crashing down, mostly because I kicked the pedestal out from under them. I was angry that I was raised within one system of thought (Christian), not realizing until adulthood that there is a whole world out there and that God is beyond all of what I had been taught.

I was reminded of a teaching by Meister Eckhart. Seeking peace and seeking God externally will keep such things elusive. Only when we seek them within can we find them and know wholeness.

Part of my upbringing was the need to be validated by a god, by a system, that existed outside of me. I needed to conform, to match up. This habit of looking for some system of thought, some religion, some practice to define me has continued into adulthood, and it’s produced nothing but heartbreak and misery.

Odds are that many of you get what I’m saying because you’ve experienced the effects of broken systems and beliefs. You know what it is to spin out of orbit because the center of your spiritual universe betrayed you or revealed its inadequacy.

Many Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Neo-Pagans know what it’s like to see that their system can’t fully satisfy them. There will always be a human element of deception or manipulation involved at one point or another. Agendas run rampant, and the Divine often has little to do with it.

This is why we must view all external religious/spiritual realities as what they are: tools of expression. Expression of what? The Truth within.

Only when you can find peace, enlightenment, and wholeness within you, and only when we acknowledge that each of us carries the presence of what we might call the Divine, can we make good use of the tools before us. Otherwise, the tools become idols by which we divide and mistreat the human family.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be religious or spiritual. Hell, I’m a Quaker. Community is important for discernment, as our beliefs always have practical implications. What I am saying is that if you focus solely on the external for your hope, validation, salvation, and enlightenment, you’re only going to be disapointed.

Now, looking within is not a process by which you will find some cleverly hidden answer to all the questions of the universe. Rather, it’s a means of recognizing and honoring your own value and agency. It’s your ability to affect positive, life-giving change and achieve peace within the life you currently occupy.

With all that said, know that you are enough. You have all you need to know peace and transformation. Your mind, your soul, your consciousness is an incredible gift from the Source by which you may discern a way to live at a blessed oneness with the world and those who share it with you.

Peace be with you!

Crafting A Kingdom

“… For, you must know, the kingdom of God is among you.” — Luke 17:21, JB

I hope someday we all will see
A much improved reality

Where together every soul abides
Not bullied into choosing sides

Where with each other we sojourn on
Not tripping over lines we’ve drawn

Where words are said in kindest sense
Not wielded just to cause offense

Where all are loved and feel at home
Not judged because of where they’re from

Where people are the point and cause
Not religious texts or backward laws

Where we begin with what’s within
Not with the color of one’s skin

May we all help today to be
A much improved reality.

Taking Stock

Abraham answered, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets they will pay no heed even if someone should rise from the dead.” — Luke 16:31, REB

In Luke 16, Jesus offers us a parable encouraging generosity, hope, and repentance. At the end of this parable, there is also a truth about the nature of change. So let’s take a look!

In the parable, the rich man wants Lazarus to rise from the grave to warn his brothers not to live as selfishly as he did (16:27). Ironically, this is selfish, as the rich man wants to make a servant of Lazarus even in the afterlife! It’s at this point that Abraham drops the bomb of free will on the poor fella.

Free will dictates that life is made up of choices. Abraham says, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them” (16:29). All the tools are available in life for us to seek out and embrace the will of God, to change and grow as people. We just have to choose to make use of those resources. No one, not even God, will do this for us.

It’s important that we take stock of our lives and listen for what God is saying to us here and now. We can’t sit around waiting for God to wave His wand and make us into more faithful people. Doing so would violate the very agency He gifted to us from the beginning.

I used to pray and pray that God would just fix all that was “off” in my life. What I failed to realize is that the burden was on me to actively seek and embrace God’s transformative presence. God has done His job by leaving a part of the Divine Self in all of creation, like a spiritual hand extended toward us. But we are tasked with taking hold of it.

So let’s all take a moment to assess our lives and whether or not our practices align us with the will of God. If not, let’s make time to listen for what God is calling us to in this life, and let’s get after it!

Peace be with you!

In the Dark

“He called the light day, and the darkness night. So evening came, and morning came; it was the first day.” — Genesis 1:5, REB

When God creates the universe in Genesis 1, He begins by bringing forth light. We tend to understand light as being positive. God is light (1 John 1:5), Jesus is the Light of the World (John 8:12), and we are called to be children of the light (1 Thessalonians 5:5). We get it: light is good.

But life isn’t all light and sunshine.

There is darkness in this world, both physically and in a spiritual sense. We experience pain, suffering, violence, and oppression. People starve, fall ill, are attacked, make mistakes, and leave us too soon every day.

Darkness is often portrayed in Scripture and religion as the enemy. It is the sign of evil, ignorance, and suffering. Yet all God makes in Genesis 1 is called “very good,” and in the initial verses God doesn’t eliminate darkness.

Darkness is kept, named, and maintained as an ever-present aspect of reality. As such, it is part of God’s “very good” creation. We may not like it, it may hurt, but it’s also how we are aware of light.

When a light is turned on, shadows immediately emerge. This is a law of life. What we know as “good” and “evil” are only definable in the context of each other. Both are necessary for wisdom in life.

Sitting in silent worship last night, I looked at my candle and asked for Christ to teach me wisdom. What I received was a message I have needed for a long time.

You see, I hated my darkness. I have a past, and though I’ve accepted that it happened, I hadn’t accepted that the person I am today doesn’t deserve to constantly be punished for that past… until last night.

What came to me was, “You cannot be the better man you are now if the worse man had never been.”

Have I made mistakes? YES! But paying for those and learning from them has led me to a place in which I am proud of the person I am now. I am not perfect by any means, but I am learning to love myself, and my love for others is enhanced because of it.

This couldn’t be the case if not for my darkness. The same is true for you and for all of humanity. Our darkest moments help highlight (and even produce) our greatest ones. Does this mean we strive to promote evil so that good may come? Of course not!

Rather, this message should serve as a reminder that where darkness is, light is close at hand. By the same token, where there is light, shadows fall. Therefore, we should neither be hopeless or complacent, but ever watchful for what God is calling us to.

Peace be with you!

The Cost of Change

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.Hebrews 9:22, NRSV

Yeesh, this is a verse that is uncomfortable for a lot of people. The Letter to the Hebrews itself is often a bit… shaky to those uncomfortable with “bloody sacrifice” language who assume Jesus’ life and teachings remove the need for such things. I find, however, that if we look beyond the means of expression we will find a wise and necessary teaching.

If you have ever tried to change… anything, you know that it isn’t easy. Whether it’s a move, a job switch, or *shudders* personal growth, the process of transitioning from one state of being to another can be uncomfortable, if not painful. Imagine, then, the difficulty involved in seeking to live a Godly life, a life beyond our own needs and desires, a life like that of Christ. To change from an inherently selfish way of being (taught and encouraged by the world) to one that is more selfless isn’t easy.

It costs something.

The sacrificial culture of ancient Judaism wasn’t about a disdain for animals or the need to see gallons of blood every day. To sacrifice a living creature to God for purification, for one’s sins and those of the community, sent a clear message about the gravity of our choices. Sin costs life. Holiness requires giving up sin.

While we may not need to spill a poor goat’s blood to bear this in mind (yaaay), it’s a message that is worth repeating. We see movies, read books, and hear stories about people who seem to gracefully and inspiringly turn their lives around. We know we have aspects of our lives that deny who God created us to be, and I believe many of us want to make the changes necessary to be a more faithful, compassionate, kind, and positively productive version of ourselves. There’s just one hiccup.

It’s hard as hell.

We humans fear uncertainty. We love familiarity, and we are creatures of habit. To change, even when we know it to be necessary, is a frightening prospect because the roots of who we are, the habits that define us, will need to shift, and that is not an easy ask.

But it is entirely worth it.

Jesus’ life highlights how painful it can be to seek to do the will of God in every situation. Indeed, persecution and the inevitability of walking the road to the cross make for quite the challenge. Yet the power of transformation, of the healing and resurrection that come with such a life overshadow that difficulty.

The freedom to live a life unhindered by addiction is worth the withdrawals and shadow-work needed to address one’s unhealthy coping habits.

A love life unstained by one’s relationally catastrophic past is worth the facing and acceptance of uncomfortable truths about what happened “back then.”

Leaving work knowing you positively affected the lives of others is worth the horrifying step of leaving a comfortable yet unfulfilling employment situation in search of meaning.

The peace of mind that you and/or those who depend on you are safe because you made that petrifying phone call to end an abusive situation is worth it.

Whatever the specifics, it is true that it is difficult and scary to transform your life according to God’s will for you. It means giving things up that we think we need. It means sometimes accepting unpleasant truths about ourselves or others, and it means surrendering those things that keep us from acknowledging “that of God” in everyone.

It’s also true, however, that what we give still pales in comparison to the effects of that change. To align ourselves with Christ, to walk in the way of selfless love and action, is worth the cost. His way is one of unity with the Divine and each other, and that’s something this world is in desperate need of.

Sure, we don’t have to use blood-soaked Levitical language to describe the difficulty of change. It may be enough to say that transforming into more Christ-like people is exceedingly difficult and requires that we give up certain things. But I think the severity of the author’s words in the Letter to the Hebrews is a great acknowledgment and reminder of what’s at stake in our choices.

After all, to walk in the way of Christ will cost our life as we know it, and I for one am so glad.

Peace be with you!

Don’t Judge Your Journey…

Do not reproach one who is turning away from sin; remember that we all deserve punishment. Sirach 8:5, NRSV

At age 27, almost 28, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. I’ve learned lessons about managing emotions, honoring relationships, watching the words of my mouth, and avoiding situations I don’t need to be in. I’ve learned about my relationships with God, religion. and other people. As you can imagine, many of the lessons I have learned came through the undesireable avenue of mistakes made… and I used to hate myself for it.

As a society, it feels like we have gotten in the habit of judging not only the lessons we have learned, but also those others have had to learn. While one person may struggle with addiction, they cannot fathom why someone would cheat on their spouse. When one person works their way to an early grave, neglecting their family and friends, they can’t stand those who are overzealous with their opinions online or at social gatherings. In all these instances, we are resentful of ourselves because we weren’t born perfect, and downright wrathful toward those who have had to learn things we didn’t.

As I said before, I used to HATE that I ever had to learn how to be a decent spouse, son, friend, etc. I hated myself for not having a natural gift for navigating complicated people and situations. On top of that, I would find relief in the obvious flaws of others.

Guy that yelled at me after a sermon? What a jerk!

Lady that flipped me off in traffic for stopping at a stop sign? Rude!

Overzealous Facebook warrior? Crazy!

It feels good to hammer on people who are flawed in ways we are not. We are able to rationalize OUR mistakes because WE have good reasons, right? We couldn’t say the same about others… Could we?

The Book of Sirach teaches that we shouldn’t reproach people “turning away from sin” because “we all deserve punishment.” The language is somewhat condemning, but the message is powerful. Jesus says something similar in Matthew 7:1-5.

In more positive terms, instead of condemning others for their darkness because we don’t want to confront our own, we should remember that just like “them,” we have lessons to learn, and THAT IS OKAY. We are imperfect creatures, and each of us is on a path. When we despise our path, we start to envy or judge those of others, and no one gets anywhere.

Instead, we should mind our own road, fearlessly and compassionately embracing that which we must learn about life and ourselves. In that process, we become more understanding of others and what they are going through. That understanding enables us to lovingly embrace others where they are, possibly helping them along just as Jesus does in the Gospels.

All of this boils down to treating ourselves more kindly. I had to learn through long processes and lots of therapy that my lessons are nothing to fear or be ashamed of. They’ve made me a better man, husband, friend, son, and (God willing) father. The acceptance of who I am and how I got here has also made me more accepting of others, and I believe this is something God desires for us all.

I pray that you will ease up on yourself. Learn the lessons before you, for that’s what mistakes are intended to be. Through them, we learn humility, patience, and how to do better. Embracing that ride also helps us to be more compassionate toward others, and I don’t have to tell you how important that is.

God loves you. I love you. It’s time for you to love you, so you can love others.

Peace be with you!