Category Archives: belief

Light from Disability

This was written for Friends Journal’s March 2016 issue; unfortunately, they chose not to publish it.


June, 2005. I’m sitting at my computer, taking an online quiz about what religion best matches my personal beliefs. Raised as a Roman Catholic, I had left the church 7 years prior due to theological disagreements (particularly the importance of the Pope, the discrimination against women, and the church’s stance on abortion and LGBT rights). Since then, I had been searching for a new religious home. Taking this quiz was a last ditch effort. I’d attended other Christian churches, but none of them felt like communities I could be part of. The results of the quiz came back as 100% Liberal Quaker. I’m excited and eager to find out more about this religion, so I search for a Meeting… only to find the nearest one is half an hour away, which is further away than I can drive.

I’ve had juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (jRA) in all of my joints since I was an infant. Growing up with jRA, the disease made me an automatic “other”. Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (also known as “juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis”) is an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system targets part of the body. JRA is an inflammatory condition that causes swelling and pain primarily in the joints and musculoskeletal system; left untreated, this disease can result in permanent joint deformities and often, as in my case, can lead to disability. When I was growing up, the primary treatments available were large doses of aspirin and physical/occupational therapy. In elementary school, I took the special ed bus and often needed the assistance of an aide. In middle school, I often had physical therapy during and instead of recess.

While I never hesitated to tell people about my jRA—it was impossible to hide it from people I would be spending a lot of time with—I always felt like it was something I had to “overcome”. Not only as an obstacle to my education, but as an obstacle to friendship and relationships. My jRA was something I had to make up for.

Except for 6 days every summer, when I went to Arthritis Camp. Camp Dartmouth-Hitchcock was a summer camp in New England only for kids with arthritis or similar autoimmune conditions like lupus. For those 6 days, my jRA wasn’t something to overcome; it was something that united us. It made me a part of the group instead of apart from the group.

At Arthritis Camp, each evening before heading off to bed, we would sit in a circle in silence. We met in a big, old, drafty barn. The smell of wood and age became as soothing as the people around me, my friends and family for those 6 days. And out of that silence, sometimes, we would speak. Though camp wasn’t explicitly religious, I had never felt Spirit’s presence, love, and acceptance more powerfully than in those nightly circles.

Every year at camp, an award was given out to the camper that best exemplified the spirit of Dr. Joshua Burnett, who founded Arthritis Camp. Every year, I dreamed of winning that award; up until my last year at camp, when I gave up on winning the award and focused instead on being truly present with my fellow campers and for each of my last moments at camp. It was August, 1999; I was 17 years old. My right wrist, which would be my first joint surgery just the next summer, was starting to fail. I had just finished my junior year of high school, which had been one of the most painful years of my life up to that point.

The award was given out at a formal dinner the last night of camp. My last year at camp, the director stood and read the award:

“Dr. Joshua Burnett, a family physician with an ear for the need of his patients, became the first Rheumatologist in the state after hearing of a need. He willingly returned to school to learn to provide this specialized care for this patients. As a Staff Rheumatologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center he saw the need for a camp for children with arthritis. A place they could go and enjoy camping as any other child their age. It was his unselfish gift of caring for others that we honor with this award.

“Each year one camper is voted on by their peers as the camper that exemplifies the spirit of Dr. Burnett. This camper is caring and unselfish in his or her interaction with their fellow campers.”

And then, she said my name, and I became overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I felt that being given that award showed me the best person I could be. It showed me how the power of true community could support and change a life.

That night, as we gathered one last time in the circle, a fire gently lighting the otherwise dark barn, I was filled with joy and despair. How could I leave this place? Would I ever find such a community again? One by one, we lit our candles from the flame of the fireplace, passing our light from one to the other. We spoke our truths. We cried together. And I knew that the strength I was given at Arthritis Camp would empower me for the rest of my life.

It was September of 2005 before I was finally able to convince my husband to drive me to the nearest Friends Meeting—Third Haven Friends Meeting in Easton, Maryland. We drove through their driveway, surrounded by pine trees, sunlight sparkling through the needles. We parked and followed the small stream of people into their old Meeting House. And when I saw the old Meeting House, my breath was taken away.

Walking into that building, that 300+ year old wooden building where sunlight streamed through open windows and doors, felt like returning to Arthritis Camp. That building felt just like the barn at camp. It smelled like home. I felt like I was home.

We sat, and I struggled to contain my joy. Words rose out of the silence, just like words rising at those evening gatherings at camp. These words were powerful. They were authentic. They struck that inner chord in my soul that knows Truth. The hour passed quickly, and I knew that finally, I had found my religious home.
But on the ride home, it become obvious that my husband had not had the same experience. While I found the silence liberating, he found it boring. He agreed to drive me to Meeting for Worship again, but he would not be attending with me. I was disappointed. I wanted to become a part of this Meeting, to once again participate in that communion of Spirit.

I managed to convince my husband to drive me to Meeting one more time. And at that Meeting for Worship, two Friends—two strangers—offered to drive me when they heard about my need for a ride. These Friends became friends, and they drove me to Meeting for several years. It was their willingness to offer assistance that allowed me to join Third Haven Friends Meeting as an official member in August, 2006. Though these f/Friends have since moved away, my husband has seen how important attending Meeting is to me and is more willing to drive me than he once was. Being a member of Third Haven has challenged me to live up to the Quaker testimonies, to question, to believe, and to be part of a community that is not always perfect, but one in which the Light is yet present.

Though it’s been many years since I last attended Arthritis Camp, the person I was during that final week of camp showed me the best person I can be. Each day, I try to live up to that award. Not doing so would mean I am not honoring the camp that showed me what true community, love, and caring could be like.

For myself, I have that award to strive towards. For my Meeting community, I have the loving, accepting, and caring camp community to work toward. It is the combination of these two elements, the divine and the active, that I most wish to share with my Meeting community.

And it is my disability that made this possible.

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“I Can’t Go Back”

(Trigger warning: trans- and homophobia.)

Since that first Sunday after the Charleston Emanuel AME attack, I have attended my local AME church three times. (You can read about my leading to attend here.) My second visit was even more powerful than my first; I visited alone and felt more free to participate in worship. I loved the overwhelming sense of God I felt there and the consistent message from the pulpit to love yourself, but be and do better.

I, quite frankly, began to love that church. I loved the worship. I loved the music. I loved the freedom to give yourself up to God without fear or embarrassment. I loved that there was dancing–in church! I loved the fellowship I felt with people who are quite literally my neighbors. I loved that the services inspired me to rekindle my relationship with Jesus and reminded me of what I found appealing in him in the first place. I loved the energy and the sense of constant praise and wonder at God. I found myself looking forward to the next time I could attend church.

Yesterday was my third time visiting. I felt comfortable with the service now. I could sing along with most of the call-and-response songs. I stood up and swayed to the music. I waved my hands. I was there, and God was there, too. It was a divine celebration of all life had to offer and all we had to be grateful for. When the time came for visitors to stand and introduce themselves, I stood for a second time. The Sister who oversees services saw me standing and said, “Hey, you a regular now.” I felt honored to be so welcomed. But I introduced myself anyway and said, “I know, this is my third time, but I was so nervous the first time I attended I forgot to say my name. It’s [name] and I live over on [street a mile away]. I’m a Quaker, but my Meeting is in Easton, and you all know how beach traffic can be on a Sunday…” Everyone laughed. “So, my hope is to be here when I can’t be there, because I love being here with you all.” Everyone smiled at me, and I felt welcomed. I felt open. I felt safe.

Later in the service, a guest preacher rose to give the sermon. She–and I was so happy to see a female Reverend!–was the sister-in-law of the reverend. The theme of the service so far had been transformation–the title of this post is from one of the songs we sung, “I Can’t Go Back”; and during that song, I was thinking about how I can’t go back to closing my eyes about the truth of racial inequality. I thought about writing a blog post about Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and replacing their names with Jesus’s. I thought about how happy I was to be Woke and how much joy it has brought me (pain as well, but the joy had been a surprise, and a lot of that joy came from my attending this church).

And then the guest preacher said (obviously this is not verbatim, as I am relying on my memory here), “God made you who you are, and you have to accept that.”

I nodded, but began to feel on edge. Where was she going with this?

“God made you who you are, and there’s no changing that.”

I felt myself tense.

“Do I need to spell it out for ya? God made man and he made woman, and what he made you, there’s no changing that. You can’t lie with another man as you would a woman. You can’t lie with another woman as you would a man. Accept who you are.”

And I felt my soul turn cold. I felt like God had left the building. I was shocked. I looked around me, hoping to see other parishioners with the same shocked expression on their face. But everyone was applauding or voicing their approval of her words.

I wanted to flee. I wanted out of there. But there was a woman sitting next to me, and I couldn’t leave without causing a scene.

I tried to let go of the painful words and focus on the rest of her sermon. She spoke about “dropping your baggage”. She spoke about “loving who you are, accepting who you are” and “not judging other people because you don’t like the way they dress or look”. She spoke about how we can all be ministers, that there’s nothing special about her that makes her more able to be a minister than the rest of us. She spoke about how none of us is perfect and we all make mistakes. She spoke about the danger of gossip. But most of her sermon was about loving and accepting who God made you to be.

The thing is, God made me bisexual. God made me agender. And neither of those is an affliction I need to be saved from. They are part of who I am. They are part of who God has made and called me to be.


I was trapped in that church for an hour more before I could sneak out and leave. I tried to find the joy I had felt just moments ago, but it was not there. God wasn’t there anymore for me. When the parishioners were called to the altar to proclaim their faith, I stayed in my pew and began to cry.

The truth is, I loved this church. I loved worshiping with them so much. But now I know that I can’t go back.

On the short ride home, my husband immediately noticed something was wrong. Normally, I am exuberant after these church services; I’m excited to tell him how it affected me. This time, I was silent for a few moments; and when I began to speak, I started to sob.

I wouldn’t stop sobbing for more than an hour. I could not–and still cannot–understand how someone can preach a message of loving and accepting who you are and at the same time, tell me that part of who I am is an affliction that needs to be healed by God.

“Hate the sin, love the sinner” makes no sense when you become aware that being LGBTQ isn’t an activity one participates in, but a part of who a person IS. A person isn’t gay only when they’re in a same-sex relationship; they are gay if they’re attracted to members of the same sex (and not attracted to members of the opposite sex). And attraction is not a choice. (When did you choose to be straight? is a question no one can honestly answer.)

What people who are LGBTQ hear when you say “hate the sin, love the sinner” is that your love and acceptance of them is conditional and depends on them denying an essential part of who they are… Which isn’t love at all.

And so, as much as I loved worshiping with this church community, as much as I want to go back, I know that “I won’t go back, can’t go back, to the way it used to be”.

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“Nothing is what we thought”: A reflection on grief

Today’s slogan is, “Nothing is what we thought”. I love this quote by Pema Chodron because it has so many different meanings. First, it can mean that things are not the way we thought they were, that our perception of things is wrong. Second, it can mean that we are thinking nothing, that our mind is empty. And third, it can mean that our thoughts are nothing, that they are insubstantial and fleeting.

When this quote comes up in her book, it is the first meaning that she is referring to, and it is that meaning that I want to ponder in this post. A few months ago, I was feeling awfully smug about my ability to handle whatever life could throw at me. I felt that I was comfortable with the way grief affects me and I had a set idea of the losses that I expected to occur in the next couple years. Kosette, our 17-year-old cat with kidney failure, hyperthyroidism, and high blood pressure, would die within the next year or two. Then, five or so years later, our 12-year-old cat Min would die. That was how it was supposed to be. But life makes a mockery of our expectations, and nothing is as I thought.

220709_originalWhen we came home after being away for Christmas, Min had stopped eating. Over the next two weeks, we took her to the vet many times, searching for the cause of her anorexia, expecting it would be something fixable. It wasn’t. It was intestinal lymphoma, meaning that even if she were force-fed, the food had nowhere to go. She stopped purring, was barely drinking, stopped urinating and defecating, and spent a lot of time each day hiding.

On January 13, my husband and I made the decision to put Min to sleep. There was nothing else we could do to end her suffering. There were things we could do to prolong her life, but nothing we could do to actually make her better.

It was a shock. And I learned that grief is not predictable, that life is not predictable. Life doesn’t care about your expectations. All you can do—all I can do—is love as much as you can, because, as cliché as this is, you just never know. And so I start 2014 not feeling smug at all, but feeling vulnerable. And raw. And uncertain.

Because nothing is what we thought, and that’s just the way things are.

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Bi-religious Duality

There’s often an underlying tension when one professes to be a member of two religions. There’s the constant challenge of “Well, how can you be both X and Y?” And often one avoids answering the question by either outright ignoring it or starting a long convoluted explanation about how even though these two religions seem to have differences, they’re really not all that different when all is said and done.

Except sure they are, or you wouldn’t find it necessary to be part of both. You would be satisfied with one religion and wouldn’t feel the need to have two.

I am both Quaker and Buddhist. These two religions do have some similar beliefs—Quaker’s “that of God” is comparable to Buddhism’s bodhichitta or the idea that anyone can find enlightenment, not just monks—and some similar practices—when I sit in Meeting for Worship or for meditation, physically I am doing the same thing—but Quakerism is not Buddhism and Buddhism is not Quakerism. Nor should they be!

In this post, I’m going to focus on one of the most important theological differences I find between Buddhism and Quakerism. Now given the wide diversity of beliefs in both Buddhism and Quakerism, this post is going to involve lots of generalities and is just my understanding of what are the foundations of both religions, regardless of whether all Buddhists and all Quakers currently believe in these foundations or not.

This foundational difference is the concept of God. In Buddhism, there is no God, at least not in the personal, creative (as in, creator of the Universe) sense. The universe and all its inhabitants are, ultimately, ruled by karma, the law of cause and effect. In this sense, Buddhism is very scientific: because this happened, this then came to be, and so on. Pema Chödröm has this to say about the belief in a personal God, the kind of God who actually cares about you as an individual and interacts in the world:

“The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God… Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us… Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.”

Quakerism, on the other hand, has a foundational belief in the existence of a personal God. We sit in Meeting for Worship waiting to be Moved by Him (or Her or It or Whatever), and if we are so Moved, we stand and share the message. We believe that one can be Led. We have clearness committees to test Leadings. Now whether all Quakers today would agree that a personal God exists, we clearly believe that there is Something that has the ability to lead us. We believe in Something that can call us to an action or an inaction. We believe all can have a personal relationship with this Something without the need of a priest or outward sacraments.

Now whether Quakers today would name this Something God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Light Within, Allah, Nature, or Our Inner Goodness, this belief is not one that is found—as far as I know—within Buddhism.

The belief that I can be led—personally—by the Something seems at odds with the Buddhist belief in karma. How does a Something that can interact with me personally fit in with the Buddhist understanding of the universe as a mechanism of karma? How does that work?

It doesn’t seem to work, to be honest. Buddhist and Quaker dogma aren’t the same. They are inherently different. They come from different foundations: Quakerism is founded upon the idea of a Creator God, specifically the God of Jesus, that is accessible to all people; while Buddhism is founded upon the idea that anyone, despite current caste and past karma, can become enlightened and free from this world of suffering by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path. Quakerism in a sense encourages the individual—one has a personal relationship with God, one can be led—while Buddhism discourages the individual—the idea of a Self is ultimately a delusion. And if that is true, then how can something that doesn’t truly exist be led?

Wow, I am really over-simplifying and generalizing, aren’t I?

But what it comes down to is that practicing Quakerism and practicing Buddhism works for me—experimentally—as George Fox would say. The Buddhist practice of meditation—the maitri/metta I talked about in my last post; the mindfulness of breathing, of pain, of sound, of Being—works for me. The Quaker practice of waiting upon the Light works for me. How can I deny that I have been Led? Can I look back upon the ministry I’ve given in Meetings for Worship and dismiss the heart-pounding, body trembling that inspired me to stand and speak?

And yet, I can’t deny that there are serious differences between the two religions, and that these differences in some cases seem to be contradictory.

And so I am forced to stand in the Center, between what seems to be two choices, and wait in the tension.

Because what it comes down is that I believe more in experience than in notions. And that is something that both Buddha and George Fox would agree with.

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Outreach: A Monthly Query Post

Queries taken from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s “Faith & Practice”. The current month’s Query can be read in full here.

  • How do I ground myself in the understandings of my faith? Am I clear about my beliefs? How do I prepare myself to share my faith and beliefs with others?

    There are many ways I try to ground myself in the understandings of my faith. I try to constantly be mindful of my motivations behind actions and alert to any leadings I may be given. I attempt to allow love and compassion to be my primary motivation behind all actions and always question whether the way in which I behaved lived up to that motivation, and if not, then what got in the way.

    I’m not certain that I’m clear about my beliefs, not in the theological, dogmatic sense. I’m in general no longer very interested in arguing about dogma, or “notions”, as George Fox would say. My faith is what it is, and limiting it to words that may serve to divide me from others doesn’t interest me. So… I suppose that yes, I am clear about my beliefs.

    The primary way I try to share my faith and beliefs with others is through my behavior. If I’m not acting from a grounding in love and compassion; if my behavior towards another violates my Testiomonies of Simplicity, Integrity, Peace, and Equality, or violates their Testimonies; if I’m more closed than open, then I am not living up to my faith. I’m always open and available to talk about my faith with any who ask, and I don’t avoid discussing it in conversation if the subject comes up. I don’t really prepare to share my faith in any different way than I prepare to live it.

  • Does my manner of life as a Friend attract others to our religious society?

    I hope so, but I can’t be sure.

  • Do I seize opportunities to tell others about the Religious Society of Friends and invite them to worship with us?

    Yes. If way opens in a conversation, I don’t hesitate to talk about my Meeting and why I love our way of worship.

  • Is my manner with visitors and attenders to our Meeting one of welcome?

    … Probably not. I often feel rushed during Hospitality to leave as quickly as possible, because my husband drives me to Meeting for Worship and is often waiting in the car to drive me home. I don’t like ending conversations prematurely, so I often avoid starting them.

  • What opportunities have I taken to know people from different religious and cultural backgrounds, to worship with them, and to work with them on common concerns?

    I don’t limit myself to only working or being around those like me. If I feel led and way opens, I will worship with someone whose faith is different from mine.

  • What opportunities have I taken to know, to work, and to worship with Friends outside of my own Meeting?

    Other than online, I haven’t had many opportunities to worship with Friends outside of my Monthly Meeting. But I do communicate with Friends on facebook and find their virtual friendship helpful. I enjoy reading about how their faith shapes their lives and love being challenged by them.

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Practice

Choosing to stop attending the Bible listening/study group with my friend was one of the harder choices I’ve had to make recently. I miss having the opportunity to see her, but I don’t miss the group as much as I thought I would. The truth is that I never really felt like it was where I was supposed to be. And as Easter approached, I began to feel more uncomfortable with the idea of continuing to attend.

For Christians, Easter is supposed to be a celebration. “Jesus is Risen!” For me, Easter has become a time of discomfort. It was at an Easter service several years ago that I was finally able to name that discomfort: that I don’t believe in the Resurrection or Jesus’s divinity. It was that Easter service that made me realize I wasn’t yet in the right spiritual home, that as awesome as the Episcopal religion is, it wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Shortly after is when I (re)discovered Quakerism and knew this was where God had led me.

The truth is that attending that Bible listening/study group made me acutely aware of how distant I often feel from my Meeting. Since my Meeting is half an hour away, it’s all I can do to attend Meeting for Worship once or twice a month and the occasional library committee meeting. Being more involved with my Meeting, such as joining a discussion group, is not a possibility. And I miss my Meeting. I wish I could be more involved.

Another truth that surfaced after I realized I was no longer led to attend that group is that I need to be more faithful to my religions: both to Quakerism, and to Buddhism. I’d let my daily formal meditation fall to the wayside, with the excuse that since I was constantly trying to practice mindfulness, the formal sitting meditation “wasn’t necessary”. But I realized that I missed my meditation practice. So, I’ve started practicing sitting meditation again, and it has been good.

Tomorrow, I will be attending Meeting for Worship and then Meeting for Business. And I’m looking forward to it. I don’t know yet how to reconcile my longing to attend more Meetings for Worship with my physical inability to do so, but I’m hoping way will open. And in the meantime, on Sundays when I’m unable to attend Meeting for Worship, I’ll practice Centering Prayer meditation. It won’t be the same, but it’s better than nothing.

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Moving On…

I just sent the following email to the leader of the Bible listening/study group I wrote about in in this post:

I’ve had a growing sense of discomfort about attending the Bible listening group on Tuesdays for a few weeks now. It’s finally crystallized to the point where I can voice the source of that discomfort.

I’m not a Christian.

At least, not in the sense that you all are. I don’t believe in the Trinity, the virgin birth, Jesus’s divinity, or his bodily resurrection… and I don’t believe this is a failing that needs to be fixed. I do believe in his teachings and do my best to follow them, but the most I could say is that I’m ethically Christian, but not religiously.

I feel that not only would it be dishonest for me to continue attending, but I worry it could also be harmful to the group. I worry that honestly expressing my faith could make others in the group uncomfortable about expressing theirs. And I don’t want that, not at all.

I really respect you all and what the group does. I’ve enjoyed the fellowship and getting to know all of you. And I’ve especially enjoyed the opportunity to see [friend] every week and am hesitant to give that up; however, I feel that my leading to attend the group has ended.

I wish you all well and will continue praying for each of you every night. Please feel free to share this email with the group.

Leadings are strange sometimes. You think you know where they’re going to take you, and you end up somewhere completely different. I’ve been struggling with the “Am I a Christian?” question for a number of years now. I keep coming up with answers, but the question keeps returning. I won’t promise that this is the last time I’ll post on here about this question, but the sense of… relief I have now, after sending that email, is palpable. The weight has been removed from my shoulders.

I can move on now. To what, I don’t know. I will wait until that weight returns, that sense of urgency… that sense of being led returns. And then, I will follow that leading as best as I can and try to remember that only God knows why.

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Integrity and Right Speech

The slogan I pulled for today is:

“I take up the way of speaking truthfully.”

which was one of my Precept vows.

As a Quaker, we have a Testimony of Integrity that has its roots in Jesus’s command to “let your yea be yea and your nay be nay”. This is a testimony I’ve always felt strongly about and have practiced since I was a child, though I didn’t know about Quakerism back then. I’ve always prided myself on my honesty: I’m the type of person who, when accidentally buying a gift card with 2 envelopes, will be uncomfortable until I’m able to return the extra envelope to the shelf (true story: I felt a huge sense of relief when I was finally able to put the extra envelope back in the store).

But there may be times when telling the truth can be harmful:

Sometimes we speak clumsily and create internal knots in others. Then we say, “I was just telling the truth.” It may be the truth, but if our way of speaking causes unnecessary suffering, it is not Right Speech. The truth must be presented in ways that others can accept.
“The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” by Thich Nhat Hanh

For example, my grandmere (grandmother) is old, traditional, Catholic, and English isn’t her first language. She grew up in a location where the only Christians were Catholics, and the only other religions were Muslim, Jewish, and Druze. Those 4 religions encompass her entire understanding of religion, and she, while a wonderful person, is neither smart enough to understand how Quakerism is different from Catholicism and yet still Christian (I consider Quakerism a Christian religion even though one can be Quaker and not Christian), nor is my French quite good enough to explain the differences adequately under such circumstances. When I first joined my Quaker Meeting, I attempted to explain to Grandmere about my new faith, because I felt it would be dishonest not to do so. This effort led to a lot of confusion and frustration.

But now, I don’t try to explain the differences. When she says things like, “God be with you”, I reply, “And with you, too, Grandmere”, even though I know that her understanding of God is different than mine. I focus on what we have in common–our faith in God, that we are both very committed to our faith–instead of worrying about whether she really understands how my faith is different from hers.

I don’t feel this is dishonest or an affront to my Integrity. Instead, I feel that this approach speaks to the Truth my Grandmere and I share.

There are other times, too, when I can see the truth in a situation, but know that the person I’m speaking to is not at a place where they can hear the truth and that telling the truth when a person is unable to hear it can be harmful. Instead, I try to nudge that person gently towards the truth, step by step, with the hope that one day, he or she will be ready to accept it.

Have any of you had similar experiences?

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Pondering Tattoos and Jesus

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about a weighty topic, such as Integrity or Solitude, but what’s been going through my mind recently is, on the surface, more superficial: I’ve been pondering getting two tattoos when I turn 30 next May–one of a sun on my left inner forearm, one of a lotus flower on my right inner forearm.

The imagery should be obvious to readers of this blog: Light and Lotus, visual representations of my faith.

Yesterday, I began wondering if perhaps instead of two tattoos, I could merge them into one by placing the lotus flower in the bottom of the sun. Doing this, however, would leave an open space above that would seem too empty. The question then arose as to what would I fill it with? My first thought was a silhouette of a person meditating in the lotus position, but I ruled this out for two reasons: 1. I’m unable to meditate in that position, so this image simply wouldn’t be meaningful enough to me to warrant being marked permanently on my skin; and 2. I want balance between my two religions and this would make Buddhism be overly-represented.

The second thought was of a cross, just a simple black-line cross, not a crucifix.

This has led me to rather thorny questions about what I believe about Jesus, or, more aptly, how unconventional my relationship with Jesus is. Getting a tattoo of a cross–even a simple one–would send a message to all who saw it that, look, I’m a Christian.

And yet I’ve been wrestling with that question for years and had, until this thorny tattoo question popped up, been just… well, ignoring it. Placating myself with phrases like, “Labels aren’t important. Faith is.” What makes someone a Christian? My in-laws would give a narrow definition and use words like “Bible-believing” and “Jesus as savior”. In their eyes, I don’t think I count as a Christian. The church I grew up in, the Catholic church, wouldn’t count me as a Christian either, as the Nicene Creed, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection–all these I doubt. In fact, I’m fairly certain most people who call themselves Christians would have a hard time with me counting myself amongst them.

I am, after all, a Buddhist. That by and of itself would disqualify me as a Christian for a whole lot of self-identified Christians.

And yet, I used the phrase “relationship with Jesus” when talking to my husband about this tattoo idea last night. Granted, the context was something like “I don’t know if I’d want to get a tattoo of a cross given how uncertain my relationship with Jesus is”, but that phrase is indicative in and of itself.

And here’s where I’m becoming uncomfortable.

You don’t have a relationship with a dead man. (Let’s not think of exceptions to this, please.) Would I talk about my “relationship with Buddha” or my “relationship with George Fox” or my “relationship with Chenrezig (the bodhisattva of compassion)”? It’s hard for me to imagine actually using those phrases.

The truth is that I’ve been having an ongoing relationship with Jesus since I was a kid. He’s been my main inspiration for how to live morally and ethically. That cliched question “What would Jesus do?” is one I’ve used as my internal moral compass even before I ran into that question in middle school. I haven’t reread the New Testament some half-dozen times out of scholarly interest, but because I want to know Jesus better: who was he? what did he really say? what did he really do? what did he really mean?

But another truth is that I don’t pray to Jesus. I pray to God, and addressing a prayer to Jesus has always made me feel uncomfortable, like I’m trying to be someone I’m not. I don’t believe in the Virgin Birth. I seriously doubt the tale of the Resurrection as told in the Gospels.

But Pentecost I can accept. That the Holy Spirit could settle in a group of worshipers and draw them closer to God. I believe this because I’ve experienced it for myself at Meeting for Worship. Not every Meeting for Worship, of course, but enough.

To me, the cross has always been a symbol first and foremost of the cost of following God, a visual reminder that doing what is right can have deadly consequences. This is an important symbol for me and one I still have around my house to remind me that following God isn’t always easy.

But as I’ve been writing this post, what has occurred to me is that the Light–represented by the sun in my possible tattoo–is also a symbol of Jesus and one that I’ve always felt a strong attachment to. So I return to my original plan (two simple, small tattoos done in black ink on each forearm, one of a sun, one of a lotus), with new knowledge about my connection with the image of the sun.

If I am a Christian, this is how: because the Inner Light, that Inner Christ, has always been guiding me, nudging me toward God.

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Filed under belief, discernment, faith, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, meeting for worship

Discontent

I have not been attending Meeting for Worship regularly recently.

I have not been meditating regularly recently.

…And yet I gave up sweets for Lent, though I haven’t been Catholic for years and don’t really believe in the Resurrection of Jesus as Christ…

The truth is that I go through phases: phases where I’m meditating every day, where I’m attending Meeting for Worship twice a month or more, where I feel very grounded and connected to both the religions I’ve claimed as my own.

I haven’t been feeling that connected recently.

Still, I see their subtle effects in my life: my tendency towards always telling the truth as best as I know it; my constant attempts to do as little harm as possible, or at least cause as little suffering as possible (even to bugs!); the constant background to every action that nudges me towards living up to the Quaker Testimonies and the Buddhist vows I’ve taken.

The truth is, I suppose, that I’m not sure how much I miss the outward “actions” I’m “supposed” to be doing. Shouldn’t I be missing meditating and Meeting for Worship?

The two faith practices that have stuck with me are praying before sleeping and spiritual reading. Perhaps these are enough for now. Perhaps I should dispel the “should”s for a while and do what feels most meaningful to me.

Perhaps I should release the worry that maybe I’m not really a Quaker or a Buddhist because I’m not doing x, y, or z.

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Filed under belief, buddhism, catholicism, emptiness, faith, quakerism, struggling with faith