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!

In Advance

Over the next couple weeks, I am facilitating the discussion group at my Quaker meeting regarding George Fox’s idea that a faithful person should “walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.” Now, we have debated the idea of whether or not we believe there actually is an element of God in every person; some of us do while others don’t. It has been agreed upon, however, that Fox (in true Quaker style) was less concerned about metaphysical truths regarding the Divine in everyone and more concerned with how the Quaker community behaved.

I feel there is a powerful lesson in this.

We live in reactive times. Everyone is one post, one word, one decision away from making or losing friends. Before we can love someone, we need to see what they’re like. Before we can treat someone with respect, dignity, or compassion, we need to know they deserve it.

Bollocks.

In case you haven’t noticed, being reactive isn’t working well for society. Our most immediate and visceral emotions are steering the ship, and we are going to repeatedly run aground until that changes. But how do we change it?

Fox’s quote could be of service in this regard. “Answering that of God in everyone” has nothing to do with what people deserve and everything to do with what we decide to do in advance. No matter what a person is like, we’ve already decided who we are going to be, and that makes all the difference.

I personally believe God’s image and breath and presence abide in every person, regardless of how they use, abuse, or ignore that gift. Yet even if that isn’t true, I’ve decided to live as though it’s a fact. As such, my interactions have started to change in a powerful way.

Don’t wait to be a compassionate or merciful person until “the chance arrives.” Decide now that that’s who you want to be, and start practicing! Don’t wait until someone deserving of your respect comes along, but decide now that everyone will be the recipient of your respect because you want to be a respectful person!

Of course we will still feel powerful, reactive emotions. It is also true, though, that our habits can allow us to process them effectively rather than hurling them into the world to do whatever harm they can. In that way, we can start to exemplify healthier ways of coping and interacting that are based on virtue, not offense.

We can’t control who others choose to be. We can, however, decide who we are going to be, and that has to be a decision made apart from other people. This is so necessary, as we are currently giving too much of our power over to others, allowing their behavior to manipulate ours in an endless cycle of mutual harm.

Take back your power, deciding in advance to go ahead and be the compassionate, healthy, loving, respectful person we all need. In this way, you’ll find yourself walking “cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”

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!”

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!

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!