Category Archives: christianity

“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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Fellowship

I remember watching in horror as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina unfolded. As adults and children were trapped inside that Superdome for days. People waving from the rooftops for help. Which did not come. I watched. I could do nothing else.

I watched as Trayvon Martin’s killer was deemed “not guilty”. I began to speak on facebook and with friends and family. I began to see the hard work of racial justice, as some friends reacted negatively to my posts and took to George Zimmerman’s defense. I began to read books like “The New Jim Crow” to educate myself on modern institutional racism, and I helped organize a discussion about “The New Jim Crow” at my Meeting. But mostly, I just watched.

I watched Eric Garner die on camera. “I can’t breathe”. I shared the video of his death and was immediately met with backlash from friends. “We don’t know the facts.” “Why are you so anti-cop?” I ended up deleting the video. I wasn’t ready yet. I was only ready to watch.

I watched as the story of Michael Brown’s final moments emerged. He had his hands up. He was unarmed. But no, he had a record! The cops said he was charging them! 

I watched as Black Lives Matter rose to prominence. And I began, slowly, to speak. To speak not in spite of those who disagreed with my posts, but because of them. I joined several facebook anti-racism groups and found the support I needed to keep speaking.

But I did not do anything but speak, read, and watch. I did not attend any rallies, though I wanted to. I had good reason to stay home: I’m disabled and have a weakened immune system, making being around large crowds potentially dangerous to my health… and, last fall, I was also recovering from ankle replacement surgery

I watched as Freddie Gray died from a “rough ride”. I watched as Baltimore, the city I go to for my joint surgeries, protested.  But I stayed home.

Then, last Thursday morning, I woke. I lay in bed reading the news about the Charleston white terrorist attack on the Emanuel AME church. The 9 people who were slaughtered after spending an hour with the killer talking about the Bible. The 5 year old girl who survived by playing dead. I couldn’t stop crying.

Watching was no longer enough. When I pulled myself out of bed and left my house that day, I drove past 4 black people and saw each of them: 2 teenage boys riding their bikes down my street, 1 black man riding his bike and looking at his phone at the same time a couple of miles from my house, and 1 older black man staring at his phone in shock, standing at the side of the road. Seeing them made me tear up again, and I struggled to stay calm enough to drive safely. I wanted to let them know that I saw them and was so sorry about what had happened. But while driving is not the time to reach out to people.

I live in a town that is 70% white and 20% black and still mostly segregated, the way most American communities are. When my husband and I were looking to purchase our first house 10 years ago, I made a point of finding a street that was not all-white, and that was harder than it should have been. My neighborhood is probably about half black; and one of my neighbors is a widowed black woman, who is surrounded on all other sides by houses owned by family members. I felt a great need to reach out to the black people who live in my town. And I also felt a great need to worship this Sunday, instead of staying home and resting; but I knew that if I attended my Quaker Meeting, my thoughts would be with Charleston’s Emanuel AME church. I wondered if there was an AME church near my home, and a quick Google search revealed one not 2 miles from my house. 

I gave myself up to discernment, trying to find what I was led to do. I did not want to intrude upon a community in their time of mourning. I did not want to make the parishioners feel fear in their house of worship. 

But the leading did not go away. So, Sunday morning, I left home to attend worship at my local AME church, accompanied by my husband. My intention in going was to show solidarity with them and to worship with them.

We arrived early, and the front doors of the church were locked. A black woman arrived and asked us if we were there for the service. She was warm, friendly, and inviting. We said we were, and she showed us the side door that was unlocked and explained that there was praise before the service started and that the youth group was leading this service.

We walked into the small church, two white people left alone in their sanctuary. We did not want to make a spectacle of ourselves by sitting in the front pews, but we were also aware that we didn’t want to appear we were hiding in the back, either. So we sat in the center pews, visible and vulnerable. The church was small and sparsely-decorated, but not bare like Quaker Meetinghouses tend to be or overly-lavish like the Catholic churches I attended growing up. Nearly empty, I felt like the church was waiting for its people to fill it and give it purpose.

We were alone for a good 20 minutes before the congregation began to filter in. Now I owe you readers an apology, because there is no way for me to accurately describe the worship we participated in.

There were several aspects of the service that surprised me. First, it was women-led. The Reverend was a black man, but his primary participation in the service was to deliver the sermon… which occurred more than 2 hours into the service. Three black women seemed to lead the service, and I truly appreciated the ministry they gave, both in their words and in their actions. One of the three was the woman who had greeted us so warmly when we were searching for a way inside the church earlier. Second, the music was… all-encompassing, yet not a distraction from worship, but a manifestation of it.

The longer the service went on, the more comfortable I felt. After the first of three hours, I began to feel a fellowship with the other worshipers and the kind of deep centering I’ve only felt before at Meeting for Worship. Like Meeting for Worship, the service felt Spirit-led: it was fluid and unpredictable, and there was space for the congregation to participate as they felt led.

There was some grief, but mostly joy. The sermon was about the first 10 verses of the 2nd chapter of Job, which I’ve read more than once, but the sermon the Reverend gave made me consider it in a whole new way. I was raised Catholic, and the overwhelming lesson I learned from Mass and CCD was that God and Jesus loved you, and that made them worthy of worship and praise because you were a sinner and not worthy of their love. This sermon instead asked us to take the place of Job, who is described as perfect and upright. It was about keeping faith, no matter what happened. It was about the pride, joy, and determination involved in doing so. It was about gratitude to God for waking up this morning, for being able to attend this service. It was about not knowing what could happen, who could walk in the church doors, but worshiping God all the same.

I am really not doing this service justice at all. It was communion—with God and with each other. It was authentic and seemed to allow each person there to be both true to and proud of themselves while at the same time encouraging them to be better than they were.

At some point during the service, I realized that fellowship with these people—true fellowship—could not happen during just one service. I need to return, if the congregation is comfortable with me doing so. I felt blessed to be there and grateful they welcomed me in.

It has been two days now since my attendance at the local AME church, and I am still… encompassed by it. I am still thinking about it. I am, surprisingly, missing it. I am eager to go back. While I have no intention of joining their church, I am hoping to become a regular visitor.

And next Sunday, I hope to attend Meeting for Worship and bask in that same “infinite ocean of light and love” through silence and vocal ministry instead of through the music and sound of last Sunday.

[EDIT: This post has also been published on Friends Journal.org and in the September 2015 print edition of Friends Journal.]

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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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Parallels: Elisha-Jesus

  • ELISHA:

    Now the wife of one of the sons of the prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.” So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest.”

    2 Kings 4:1-7

  • JESUS:

    On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”


    Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

    John 2:1-11



  • ELISHA:

    A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Elisha said, “Give to the men, that they may eat.” But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.'” So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.

    2 Kings 4:42-44

  • JESUS:

    Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

    Matthew 15:32-39

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The Return

It’s funny: I’ve had this blog title floating around in my head for months now. I thought the title was going to be referring to my return to Meeting for Worship after my hip surgery.

It’s not, though: it’s about my return to Jesus.

Five years ago, I began an annual tradition of reading the New Testament, starting on Christmas and finishing by the end of Lent. Two years ago, after I finished my annual reading, I felt that I was being called to take a break. I didn’t seem to get anything from that reading—I’d become too familiar with the text and had read it too frequently. So, last year come Christmas, I didn’t start reading the New Testament. Actually, I don’t think I’d even picked up my favorite translation (Richmond Lattimore’s) for over a year.

Today I had lunch with a dear friend of mine—I’ll call her R—who I hadn’t really gotten to visit with for several months. During lunch, she mentioned this worship meeting she attends every Tuesday night. She’d mentioned this a few times before. They read a section of the Bible, talk about the word or phrase that pops out at them, and then pray together. It sounded a lot like a modified lectio divina group.

Coincidentally, I just finished a book called “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening” a few weeks ago that spoke about lectio devina, as well as centering prayer. (Centering prayer deserves its own entry, but I will chime in briefly that apparently centering prayer is what I’ve been doing at Meeting for Worship for years and just didn’t know what to call it. If you want to read a book that really, really explains just what we’re trying to do at Meeting for Worship in concrete, practical steps, this is THE book. And surprisingly, it’s written not by a Quaker, but a contemplative Episcopalian.) Lectio divina is a practice I’ve read about in quite a few books now, but never felt motivated to really try. I found the idea interesting, but just didn’t feel an urge to try it then and there.

After lunch today, I suddenly found myself interested in attending R’s worship meeting with her. But I didn’t know when my husband would be getting home tonight (he’s often out doing service calls at locations over half an hour away, so when we eat dinner is not predictable), so I told her I’d have to let her know later if I could come.

Shortly after I got home from lunch, my husband calls to let me know he’s coming home early.

Way opened!

Tonight’s focus was on two selections from the Gospel of John, chapter 1, lines 6-8 and 19-28. We read three translations: the NIV (1:6-8, 1:19-28), the King James (1:6-8, 1:19-28), and the Message (1:6-8, 1:19-28), in that order. For the first reading, we were encouraged to focus on a word that drew our attention and then share our thoughts about it.

The word that jumped out at me was “light” in lines 6-8:

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

This term has particular meaning to Quakers—we talk a lot about the “inner Light”, the “Light within”, etc.—but the source of our history with that term is biblical. I happen to be reading J. Brent Bill’s book “Mind the Light”, so the word “Light” really popped out of the page.

But that was the… somewhat predictable response. Looking at the same text a second time as seen through a different translation encouraged me to move beyond the predictable and the practiced responses and find something new.

The second word that called out to me was the word “through”:

The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him believe.

What struck me was the idea of coming to believe in something through another being. “Through him, all men believe.” It almost felt like the “through” was the verb in that clause, not a preposition. It is often “through” other people that we come to have faith; and Light works through us… We can be conduits to that Light and catalysts to the Light in those we meet.

The third reading revealed to me a pairing of phrases: “completely honest” and “plain truth”, from lines 19-20 in the Message translation:

19-20When Jews from Jerusalem sent a group of priests and officials to ask John who he was, he was completely honest. He didn’t evade the question. He told the plain truth: “I am not the Messiah.”

These phrases sound synonymous, but they’re not always. Sometimes when I’m focused on being “completely honest”, I speak too much and too long. I’m speaking honestly, but my overabundance of words obscures the truth. So there’s a difference between being “completely honest” and living “plain truth”.

What struck me the most, though, about the entire experience tonight was how different an experience it was to read the New Testament in this way. Hearing what words or phrases struck others—hearing the Spirit behind those words—made this text that I’ve now read or heard over a dozen times feel new. I was able to see the text with new eyes.

And what also struck me at the end, as we were praying out loud in a circle,one after another—which is a new experience for me!—was how centered I felt, how centered the entire group felt. It was the same sense that I’ve experienced at Meeting for Worship… but with people whose theological beliefs and practices are different than mine. Yet the Spirit was there, just as it is at Meeting for Worship.

I was called to put myself in an uncomfortable position, to be around people whose beliefs I believe to be different than mine, and to be open and vulnerable with them just the same. I expected to find it challenging—it was. I didn’t expect the experience to be so enjoyable and spiritually refreshing.

Friends, we are called not just to the Light, but to the Light through discomfort. Only by being uncomfortable can we be given the opportunities to respond to the Light within others who reflect the Light differently than we do.

But it is the same Light, Friends.

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Creation: Genesis 1-5, a Bible Post

Last Sunday, I made the decision to read the Bible again, this time at a much slower pace, with the Apocryphal books, and taking notes. My goal is to post my thoughts on what I’ve read at least once a week, to encourage me to think about what I’m reading instead of just plowing through it, as I did last time. The Bible translation I’m reading is the Catholic Companion Edition.

The first 5 pages of the Bible are incredibly dense. I took notes on every page and have multiple subjects I want to write about. If this post ends up rather disjointed, I apologize.

For me, the most remarkable part of the first 5 pages of the Bible are the different creation stories: how the world was made, how we were made, how suffering began, how nomadic life began. Until I actually read Genesis for the first time in college, I was unaware that there was more than one creation story in the Bible. I believed that the creation story went something like this:

  1. God creates stuff;
  2. God creates Adam and puts him in the garden of Eden;
  3. Adam gets lonely, so God creates Eve;
  4. They’re told not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil;
  5. Eve’s tricked by the devil disguised as a snake and eats the apple;
  6. Eve and Adam are forcefully removed from Eden by God

In the first chapter of Genesis, God does indeed go about creating “stuff”, but otherwise, the story is much simpler than my flawed image:

“God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying to them: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.'”
(Genesis 1: 27-28)

In this version of the creation story, God creates both man and woman at the same time, in the same way, or, if there is anything different about the way God created woman, the author doesn’t deem it worth mentioning. The second verse also indicates that women were created with men. This is the creation story I relate to the most, with both man and woman being created in God’s image.

(One subject I don’t want to go into is the debate between Creationism and Evolution. For the record, I believe in Evolution and take the days in Genesis Chapter 1 as, at most, metaphors.)

The creation story in Genesis Chapter 2 is quite different and seems to be emphasized more in most Christian churches. This is the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man, the story of how Eve was tricked by Satan and led men into Sin.

Let’s start with the end of the story, which revealed to me something I’d never noticed about the beginning:

“Then the Lord God said: ‘See! The man has become like one of us, knowing what is good and what is bad! Therefore, he must not be allowed to put out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life also, and thus eat of it and live forever.”

(Genesis 3: 22)

Now, what this verse implies is that man is mortal from the beginning, because he’d need to eat from the Tree of Life to gain immortality. I think that’s pretty straightforward from the text.

So, keep man’s mortality in mind as we return to the one of the first events of this creation story:

“The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. The Lord God gave man this order: ‘You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.‘”

(Genesis 2: 15-17)

Then Adam gets lonely, so God creates Eve from his rib. Then our friend the cunning serpent shows up and entices Eve to eat the forbidden fruit:

“But the serpent said to the woman: ‘You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.'”

(Genesis 3: 4-5)

The rest of the story is well-known: both man and woman are exiled from the Garden of Eden and doomed to a life of trials and suffering because they disobeyed God’s order. This story is an attempt at explaining why we, as people, have to suffer.

This is the question I have: if man was already doomed to die, why did God threaten him with death as a punishment for eating from the tree of knowledge?

Now that Adam and Eve have left Eden, they decide to start a family and have two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain was a herdsmen while Abel was a farmer. God disdained Abel’s offering while extolling Cain’s, which made Abel so angry that he then went out and killed his brother. This is not traditionally viewed as a creation story, but I believe it is. Abel’s punishment is that he becomes a restless wanderer–a nomad. This story is the creation of nomads, the explanation for why the nomadic tribes must wander endlessly, without ever settling and finding a home.

One question I have about this creation story is from Genesis 4: 17, where it’s mentioned that Cain “had relations with his wife”. Where did his wife come from? The only people that have been mentioned thus far are Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel.

In Genesis 5: 1, we are given a summary of the creation stories:

“This is the record of the descendants of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God; he created them male and female. When they were created, he blessed them and named them ‘man’.”

(Genesis 5: 1)

This seems to be a combination of the two creation stories of chapter 1 and chapter 2.

The story then moves on to Noah and the flood.

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Christ and the Way of Non-Self

As often happens to me during Meeting for Worship, this morning I found my thoughts turning to Jesus. In particular, I found myself reflecting on Jesus’s statement that one must lose one’s life in order to gain it:

“Then summoning the multitude together with his disciples, he said to them: If anyone wishes to go after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For he who wishes to save his life shall lose it; and he who loses his life for the sake of me and the gospel shall save it. For what does it advantage a man to gain the whole world and pay for it with his life? What can a man give that is worth as much as his life? He who is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous generation, of him will the son of man be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels.”

(Gospel of Mark, 8:34-38)

And again in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples: If anyone wishes to go after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For he who wishes to save his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it. For what will it advantage a man if he gains the whole world but must pay with his life? Or what will a man give that is worth as much as his life? The son of man is to come in the glory of his father among his angels…”

(Gospel of Matthew, 16:24-27)

The first ministry that was offered in Meeting for Worship today was about how Third Haven encouraged this Friend to love God with all his being:

“But when the Pharisees heard that he [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together, and one of them who was versed in the law questioned him, making trial of him: Master, in the law, which is the great commandment? He said: That you shall love the Lord your God in all your heart and all your spirit and all your mind. That is the great commandment, and the first. There is a second, which is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments all the law and the prophets depend.”

(Gospel of Matthew, 22:34-40)

Here’s the point: one cannot worship God if one is too busy worshiping oneself. If one is too caught up in ego, in the life one wants and feels one deserves, one cannot love the Lord with all one’s heart, one’s spirit, and one’s mind, because one is too caught up in one’s self.

But what does losing one’s life and one’s love of self have to do with the second commandment, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Buddhism has two core teachings (in addition to the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path), that of emptiness and compassion. Here is how the logic works in Buddhism: when one finally realizes that the Self is merely an illusion of the mind and does not have an independent, permanent existence, the distinction between Self and Other vanishes. Thus, one can literally love your neighbor as yourself, because there is no longer a difference between the two.

To be able to love God as He deserves–with all your heart, mind, and spirit–one must give up one’s life and one’s attachment to one’s self. (As Jesus says in many of the Gospels, “No one can serve two Masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”) And in the process of losing one’s life and sense of individual self, one can come to another realization: that we are, all of us, children of God, equally worthy of His love, and as worthy of our own love as we ourselves are.

The first step, though, in both Buddhism and Christianity is to give up the idea of one’s individual self. And this I struggle with. I’m very attached to Me. I have such a tendency to turn my spiritual growth into accomplishments that bolster my ego: “Look how many times I’ve read the Bible! Look at how I’ve taken my Vows at such an early age! Look how spiritual I am!”

I want to love others as myself, to follow where God leads me, to truly KNOW the way of emptiness and compassion as taught in Buddhism, but the truth is that I am too bound up in love and pride of my own Self.

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A New Perspective on Jesus

I’ve been thinking about Jesus for a long time. I was raised Roman Catholic and grew up with a deep faith in God. But I was never sure about Jesus. For a while, I believed in the Trinity. I remember crying while reading about Jesus’s crucifixion in one of the Gospels when I was around 12. I felt so sad that he was killed. In a way, I grew up with Jesus. He was inspiration for moral behavior, he was my faith mentor.

And yet, there was always a sense of discomfort whenever a prayer directly addressed Jesus. (I had the same discomfort with prayers addressed to Mary, though that’s a bit off-topic for this post.) No matter what I wanted to believe about Jesus, praying to him always made feel twitchy, like telling a white lie.

As I said, this has been going on for a while. In high school, I became determined to read the whole Bible before graduation. By the time I graduated from college, I was only to Kings 1 in the Old Testament. As Christmas of 2004 approached, I decided it was time to finish the Bible. My goal was the end of Lent 2005… and I succeeded. In the winter of 2006, I found Richmond Lattimore’s translation of the New Testament. Since then, I start reading the New Testament around Christmas and finish by the end of Lent.

All this to say that I’ve read the New Testament at least 4 times now and have been waiting for clearness on this for over 15 years. All this, also, to delay revealing a discernment that has been growing in me since childhood and only became clear to me while randomly talking about Jesus with my husband last night.

I don’t believe Jesus was God. I don’t believe he was the son of God, at least not in the virgin birth, unique way most Christians do. What I do believe is that Jesus was a son of God, in the same way that we’re all sons and daughters of God. But most of all, I believe Jesus was a man–just a man–who was able to connect with God on such a deep level that he and God became united. Jesus lived and breathed God’s will. By the time of his death, he was One with God.

And this is so important, because if Jesus was just a man, if there was nothing unique or special about his birth, this means that all of us have that same opportunity to become united with God. We don’t get to say, “Well, Jesus was Jesus. I’m only human, after all!” as an excuse for our spiritual failings.

We all can connect with God. We all have that potential within us to follow Jesus’s path to God, to live in “the way and the truth and the life”.

And one of the best ways to do this, in my experience, is by reading the New Testament and becoming familiar with Jesus’s life and teachings. He said more than “Love your neighbors as yourself” (and he wasn’t even the first to say that anyways!). His life reveals the importance of fellowship, of solitude, of prayer, of ministry, of healing, and of constructive criticism.

So, now I know the answer to the “Am I Christian” question that I’ve been asking myself for the last few years. Yes, even though many Christians wouldn’t agree with my theology. I am a Christian because I try to follow Jesus and because the New Testament is my primary Holy Book.

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Jesus as the Way

I wrote this in my real journal last night and feel inclined to share it:


I’ve been almost plagued with confusion over whether I’m a Christian or not. It just seems like one of those questions one should know the answer to, and my answer is that I don’t know. I feel defensive whenever I say I’m a Christian. I try to follow Jesus’s teachings, I worship God, I follow [or try to follow] leadings I’m given, I take my faith seriously: is this not enough? I believe God loves us enough to become mortal and die for us.

I guess what concerns me is idolatry. If Jesus is not God and I begin to worship him, I would be committing idolatry. And there’s no way to know, not really. And part of me feels like I’m splitting hairs and missing the point, that it doesn’t really matter if Jesus is God, just that God loves us enough to do it.

But what about the Holy Spirit?

Does it matter if Jesus as described in the New Testament truly existed or not? Is it not enough that God chose to reveal this aspect of Him: that He loves us enough to die for us? If I know that, isn’t that enough?

And yet, praying to Jesus makes me uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because I imagine Jesus as the medium through which communion with God is possible. And whether he was or was not, the possibility of his existence has led me to God.

But the road is not the destination. Sunlight is not the sun.

Or is it? Would the destination be the same without the road there? What would the purpose of the sun be without its rays?

None shall come to the Father except through me.

But people start from different places. Their roads to God must each be different. Imagine God as the center of a circle. We are on the circumference. Each of us has a straight path that leads us to God.

This does not make God subjective, only our experiences of Him. A pebble is always a pebble, whether it decorates your garden or is in your shoe.

But Jesus. If one grants him divinity, does human divinity not follow? It’s a concern. Where does God end and man begin? Especially if Jesus connects the two.

And again, I feel I’m missing the point and getting mired in details.

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

Not the person, but the way. Of peace. Of self-sacrifice borne from love. Of compassion. Of mercy. Of faith. Of following God’s will.

This is how I did it. Do the same, and find God.

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Slogans

I think I have enough now to start mixing them in with my Buddhist lojong slogans. I thought you all might be curious to see what phrases I used.

Quaker Slogans:

  • Let your life speak. (George Fox [GF])
  • Be still and cool in thy own mind. (GF, paraphrased)
  • Walk cheerfully over the world. (GF)
  • Answer that of God in everyone. (GF)
  • Live in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars. (GF, paraphrased)
  • Try what love will do. (William Penn)
  • Look upon your treasures and try whether the seeds of war have any nourishment in your possessions. (John Woolman [JW])
  • Dig deep, carefully cast forth the loose matter and get down to the rock… and there hearken to the divine voice which gives a clear and certain sound. (JW)
  • Use your capabilities and your possessions… as God’s gifts entrusted to you. (Philadelphia YM F&P)
  • Keep to the simplicity of Truth. (PYM F&P)
  • Think it possible you may be mistaken. (BYM)
  • Attend to what love requires of you, which may not be great busyness. (BYM)
  • Love is the first motion. Do I feel loving before I speak? (Liz Opp)
  • Stir up love instead of stir up trouble. (Liz Opp)
  • Be faithful AND loving. (Liz Opp)
  • Live simply so others can simply live.

Christian/Biblical Slogans:

  • This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad of it.
  • Be still and know that I am God.
  • Be not afraid.
  • The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (Psalms)
  • My eyes are ever upon the Lord, who frees my feet from the snare. (Psalm 25)
  • Do not take any forethought for what you will say, but whatever is given to you in that hour, say it, for it will not be you who speak but the Holy Spirit. (Mark)
  • Let your light shine to the glory of God. (Matthew, paraphrased)
  • Do not judge. (Matthew)
  • Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. (Luke)
  • Do not condemn. (Luke)
  • I am the way, the truth, and the life. None shall come to the Father except through me. (John)
  • What God has made clean, do not you make profane. (Acts)
  • Live at peace with everyone. (Romans)
  • Let love be sincere. (Romans)
  • Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger… (James)
  • Be practioners of the word, not mere self-deceiving listeners. (James)

Rumi Slogans:

  • For one moment,
    quit being sad. Hear blessings
    dropping their blossoms
    around you. God.
  • Don’t let your throat tighten
    with fear. Take sips of breath
    all day and night, before death
    closes your mouth.
  • Dance, when you’re broken open.
    Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
    Dance in the middle of the fighting.
    Dance in your blood.
    Dance, when you’re perfectly free.

And some of the Buddhist Slogans I’ve found the most helpful [Pema Chodron’s explanations in brackets]:

  • 13: Be grateful to everyone [Others will show you where you are stuck.]
  • 16: Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation.
  • 21: Always maintain only a joyful mind. [Be cheerful you are on this spiritual path.]
  • 25: Don’t talk about injured limbs. [Don’t flatter yourself by hurting others.]
  • 26: Don’t ponder others. [Don’t judge others for your arrogance.]
  • 27: Work with the greatest defilements first.
  • 28: Abandon any hope of fruition. [Stay in the present.]
  • 30: Don’t be so predictable.
  • 31: Don’t malign others.
  • 32: Don’t wait in ambush. [Don’t kick someone who’s already down.]
  • 33: Don’t bring things to a painful point. [Don’t humiliate people.]
  • 34: Don’t transfer the ox’s load to the cow. [Take responsibility.]
  • 35: Don’t try to be the fastest. [Don’t compete.]
  • 36: Don’t act with a twist. [Don’t have ulterior motives.]
  • 38: Don’t seek others’ pain as the limbs of your own happiness.
  • 42: Whichever of the two occurs, be patient. [Whether good or bad, be patient.]
  • 49: Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment.
  • 53: Don’t vacillate. [Give training your all.]
  • 56: Don’t wallow in self-pity.
  • 57: Don’t be jealous.
  • 58: Don’t be frivolous.
  • 59: (My personal favorite) Don’t expect applause.

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