I Believe

It’s not that I’ve left faith behind

I’ve simply cleared my space to find

That I’ve no room for doctrine’s press

Or creeds that cause my mind to stress

‘Bout whether I belong or not

I can’t abide that kind of thought

To me the Spirit’s ever-near

To anyone with ears to hear

Without regard to mosque or mountain

Church or temple, Spirit’s fountain

Waters any willing ground

In whom desire for truth is found

Even those that don’t believe

Can the blessedness receive

God only needs a gentle heart

Willing to do its own part

To make this world a better place

Regardless of the worship space

Now there are those who’d call me lost

A heathen, desperate doubter tossed

Among the waves of modern times

Dressing heresy in rhymes

And that’s just fine, think what you might

I’m only trying to spread light

And love and life as I know how

The rest just doesn’t matter now

But I must say before I go

God’s more than what we think we know.

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!

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!

 

Last Night, I Was an Atheist

You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?George Fox, quoted by Margaret Fell, 1652

So I have this problematic habit of overthinking, especially when it comes to my faith. I become fixated on an idea or problem and compulsively research and question things until I am a tense, unsettled mess. Last night, as I attempted to pray, I had the mother of all internal episodes.

I have had several “atheist moments” in my life. I am sure the same is true for most intellectually honest people of faith. Last night, in my stress-riddled research on theology, I found a bunch of different articles that supposed God was this or that human projection or fantasy, or a result of somesuch psychological tendency.

The Divine is described as a myth, illusion, supreme power, man in the sky wielding lightning bolts, female with 6 arms, or the Force. If you look up a what God is via Google, scripture, or tradition, you’ll be overwhelmed by the variety and sheer volume of opinion on the topic.

In the midst of all this, I had another episode of, “Maybe this is all bullshit.” Maybe there is just nothing and I am driving myself crazy over something that I was indoctrinated with since childhood. There are just too many varied and contradictory views!

But then it came.

What about my view?

I remembered George Fox’s quote that kicked off this article. Yes, this or that person says X. One article or holy book says Y. My childhood church taught P.

But what do I say? What experiences have I had with whatever “God” is? What are my personal beliefs on the subject?

I remembered my mom’s death and the Presence that sustained me through years of turmoil and change afterward. I remembered my call to ministry, my time in seminary, and praying in St. Peter’s basilica. I remembered the mystical experiences that led me to Quakerism and gave voice to what I have always felt to be true.

As I pondered these things and took a shower to calm myself down, I made a choice to believe. That is, after all, what faith is.

It’s a choice.

I choose to believe in “That” which is the Source of all things; “That” in which “we live and move” and “exist” (Acts 17:28, REB). I believe Jesus shows me the Way of Salvation, which is unity with whatever “That” is, showing forth in my life here and now. I have experienced “That” as a reality that is both within me and beyond me.

That’s where I am at, and I am good with it.

Are you a person of faith? Is it by choice or because of what others have told you? At the end of the day, remember that it’s your call.

Peace be with you!

In Hot Pursuit

The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but he loves the one who pursues righteousness. — Proverbs 15:9, NRSV

I used to think being transformed by God’s grace was a passive act. Time after time, mistake after mistake, and prayer after prayer I would wait for that magic moment that I would no longer be subject to my bad habits. I believed there would be this “place” in life that would signal my spiritual maturity and official station as a disciple of Jesus.

Welp.

Needless to say, that is not the experience I have had, and I thank God for that. I was denying my agency in life, missing my part in God’s story, and setting myself up for failure in trying to hit a “moving target” of salvation that doesn’t exist. As the well-beaten Emerson quote says, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” and the same is doubly true for the life of faith in Christ.

Scripture speaks often of pursuit. The Scripture above from Proverbs expresses God’s approval for those who pursue righteousness. Psalm 34:14 encourages us to “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” In Philippians 3, Paul speaks of “straining forward to what lies ahead” (verse 13). Jesus exhorts His followers to “strive first for the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). This theme of effort, pursuit, and striving is consistent throughout all of Scripture, and it is a vital lesson for us today.

The quality and holiness of our lives depend not on all we manage to achieve, but all that we decide to pursue with our whole heart. Faith is a journey that takes us to the end of our time on this earth. Salvation is the way in which we live, and not a static place to stand. If we spend our time chasing after accomplishments and accolades while remaining complacent in our faith life, we have veered off course and lost “the narrow path.” However, should we decide to pursue God in every moment, and if we see ourselves, each other, and all this world has to offer as sacred, we will be re-oriented toward God’s kingdom, and we will hasten its coming.

This is not a check-list, finish line kind of race. It is one of endurance, one that will have many obstacles and pit-falls, one that will sometimes involve us getting lost and needing to be re-calibrated. But it is also a journey of transformation. In making the effort to recognize what George Fox called “that of God in everyone,” and in striving to live a Christ-like life, we do actually change and grow in our connection to God. This in turn has a positive impact on those with whom we interact, creating a chain effect that makes the Kingdom of God a current reality.

We all have a part to play in God’s story. We all have the freedom to choose what to do with the love of God and the relationship He offers us. I pray that as we go out into this, we will choose to act on that love, honoring it in our thoughts, our words, and our various doings. In this way, we both pursue and live out our salvation.

Peace be with you!

 

A Blessedly Tense Week

For the last two weeks or so, I had been in the midst of a spiritual beating. If you have ever seriously been a part of a faith for a long time, you know there are moments when you question the validity of what you’re doing with your belief, time, and gifts. For me, this was a hefty instance of that. Years and years of doubt and resentment came boiling to the surface in the form of apathy and denial.

I’ve always struggled with certain aspects of orthodox Christian belief. The Trinity, Church authority, and the idea that a corpse rose from the dead 2,000 years ago all fail to appeal to me at times. In the last two weeks, this sense of resistance was heightened to the point that I thought I was becoming what would essentially be a Unitarian with very little investment in traditional Christianity outside of believing in one God. I felt I was being torn from something I had always loved, defended, and tried (unsuccessfully) to follow.

Fast forward to Maundy Thursday.

I was driving to our church, an Episcopal parish, representing all I was currently detaching from. Frankly, I was dreading sitting through the foot washing and Communion service.

At the end of my rope, I decided to pray. I asked God to lead me and guide me to the truth. I wasn’t strong enough to try to manage the journey I was on, and I was desperate to experience some level of peace.

Welp. God showed up.

I walked in the doors and was greeted by the smile of our wonderful clergy. I took a seat and prepared for what I thought would be a liturgical ass-whooping, only to be pleasantly surprised by a rapidly building spiritual experience that I’ve only had maybe one or two times in my life.

The music and readings aligned perfectly with where I was. My favorite hymn (“What Wondrous Love is This”) preceded the Gospel reading, and when our deacon read John’s foot-washing account, I was undone. I actually felt tears forming in my eyes as I was overwhelmed with God’s simple response to all of the complicated theological and religious pondering I had been losing sleep over.

“It’s not about that stuff.”

Just like that. I settled into worship with a renewed sense of comfort that I’d been trying to reach for all of my Christian life.

So what’s the point of this story?

I can tell you it’s not to dump on Unitarians. It’s also not to tell you that a desperate prayer will fix whatever problem you face. I also should say that I don’t intend to stop questioning and examining the faith to which I have dedicated myself.

I suppose the teaching I want to put forth is the one I received from God in that moment of brokenness.

“It’s not about that stuff.”

It’s not about all of humanity’s formulas concerning the substance and essence of God. It’s not about the historicity of the miraculous claims of the Bible. It’s not about being right.

It’s about actually, honestly, and expectantly seeking God.

The relief for me came not with answers to all of my theological questions, but with God’s presence with me in a moment of deep need. I can say this was the first time I remember actually opening myself up to that possibility, with no exceptions, add-ons, or parameters. It was a moment of actually seeking what God had in mind for me instead of trying to make God work through my own sense of logic and reason.

So what about all of those other details? They are, after all, pretty important.

I know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a story that has changed my life. I have experienced the truth of its teachings firsthand, and I do believe that God’s nature and work are revealed in the Incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. For now, for me, that is enough. I am more than content to sit in that tension, not knowing exactly how it all works or what the “historical reality” might be.

There’s no real “wrap-up” here. I simply hope that this testimony of mine is useful and edifying for you. Life isn’t about having everything figured out and in place. It’s a journey on which we are to learn about God, each other, and ourselves, and sometimes all we can do is sit in the glorious tension of it all.

Peace be with you!

Faith and 3-D Movies

When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart; and all these signs came to pass that day. — 1 Samuel 10:9, RSV

Have you ever gone to a 3-D movie? I’m personally not a huge fan, but I’ve still managed to find myself dragged to Finding Nemo, My Bloody Valentine, and other headache-inducing films that required plastic glasses. What I found was that the movie was actually more annoying without the glasses, all fuzzy and oddly distorted. When I put on the glasses, I may not have liked things flying at me, but at least I got to fully experience the actual movie.

I find that faith works in much the same way.

Living in a consumerist nation like the U.S., it is second nature to want some kind of proof or evidence before committing to anything. If I am going to purchase a product, its quality and function should somehow be vouched for or proven, which makes sense. The problem comes when we apply this kind of thinking to the experience of God.

As I will talk about next week, the Church is not meant to operate like the rest of the world. While we can shop for and “dip our toes” into everything else, the life of faith is one that comes to fruition only after we surrender to it in one way or another. Just like the movie, an immersive experience is the only way to get a full sense of God’s promises and action in the world.

The quote that kicks off this post comes from 1 Samuel 10, in which Samuel anoints Saul as the first king of Israel. After Samuel gives Saul a detailed account of all that is to come, God gives Saul “another heart,” and then “all these signs came to pass that day.” Before Saul could experience all the wonders God had in store for him, he needed a new heart, to become a different person.

As Christians, we are to “be transformed by the renewal” of our minds, in order to “prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Before we can fully experience, appreciate, and participate with regard to the Divine Presence, we must change by accepting God’s invitation as offered through Jesus. Even if we aren’t entirely sold on the idea, we must at least be truly willing to try, actively inviting God to give us a new heart with which we might understand the truth.

I used to spend much of my life waiting for signs to show me it was acceptable to submit myself to discipleship. I wanted to know this was true, dammit! The interesting thing is that it was only after I decided to actively try to believe (even in the absence of my required evidence) that I began to see all that God was doing in my life.

If you’ve been sitting around waiting for signs, I can honestly tell you that I understand. We are taught from a young age to look for evidence, to never commit to something without proving it first. However, I can also honestly tell you that the only signs you’re likely to encounter are those that point you to the curtain of faith. For anything more, you’ll have to walk behind that curtain.

What does this look like? Practice. Faith is learned by doing, not by abstract theories and considerations. If you want to see God at work among the poor, go work among the poor. If you want to see prayer work, offer to pray with a hurting stranger. The Christian faith is designed to walk, talk, and breathe. It is earthy, tactile, and real, and it can only be fully experienced when practiced.

I continue to struggle with walking in the life of faith, as I’m sure many of us do. I’m skeptical by nature, and I second guess everything. However, I’ve found that when I stop debating every Divine moment in my head and simply act as Jesus leads me, powerful manifestations of the grace of God follow. I would covet your prayers as I continue on this lifelong journey, and it’s my prayer that you will walk this road with me, that we may together experience all that the Kingdom of God has in store for us.

Peace be with you!