Category Archives: christians

“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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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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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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Liberal Quaker Concerns

Today after Meeting for Worship, we had an instructor come in to teach my Yearly Meeting’s Quakerism 101 course. During Meeting for Worship, he gave a message that I found very disturbing. The beginning of his message was how Quakers were more concerned with practical matters of faith than theological ones, which I felt kind of spoke to my condition about my last post. But then his last couple of sentences were about how fundamentalism was something that should be eradicated.

I know that this isn’t such an abnormal sentiment in liberal circles, but I don’t think it’s a good one to have. Frankly, I think we need fundamentalists to challenge our faith and provide a counterpoint to those of us with “fuzzy” faith. Likewise, I think fundamentalists need us as well. And to paint a kind of religion as an enemy makes it too easy to paint those of that religion as enemies as well. And as soon as we do that, we close ourselves off to those people. We shut them out, instead of being open to sharing with them and learning from them. I think that’s a grave mistake.

Is it easier to just wish everyone who disagreed with us, or who in our opinion have influenced the world more negatively than positively, would just disappear? Of course it is. But that’s not the reality. The reality is that those people, those fundamentalists, have that of God in them too.

Who knows how different our world would be if fundamentalism were abolished. Maybe it would be a good thing; maybe it wouldn’t be. But in my opinion, it’s not for us to try to guess how it would or wouldn’t be different. We’re gifted with the world we have now, and that world includes fundamentalists. There’s no getting around that.

During afterthoughts, I stood up and said pretty much what I’ve just shared with you all. I wasn’t happy to stand up to someone who our Meeting had invited over to teach Quakerism 101, but I felt it had to be done. I wasn’t going to sit idly while the seeds of intolerance were sown in my Meeting, which is what I felt that message had done. And I was, frankly, surprised that he had voiced it; what did that reveal about the assumptions he was making about all of us? That no one in the room knew fundamentalists, that everyone in the room would be happy if fundamentalism just disappeared?

When our guests were introduced, my breath caught as a young (i.e., my age or slightly older) married couple stood up to introduce themselves. They were Presbyterians and had come to get our perspective on things. What kind of perspective did that message give them?

Overall, though, it was one of the better Meetings for Worship I’ve attended recently. I don’t know if it’s me or the Meeting, but recently most of the messages have seemed bland and insipid to me. I’m trying to have patience, as I’ve made a commitment to my Meeting and I’m not about to break it, but it’s difficult sometimes.

After Meeting for Worship, I stayed for the first Quakerism 101 class. Unfortunately, I found it disappointing. I was surprised that George Fox’s “there is one that can speak to thine condition, Christ Jesus” account wasn’t included, as that, to me, was the start of Quakerism. When someone asked why Quakers were being imprisoned, the instructor said on charges on heresy and treason, because, for example, some Quakers claimed that Jesus was not the son of God. *pause* Maybe my history’s shaky, but I was pretty sure that early Quakers were emphatically, passionately Christian. My understanding was the heretical claim of the early Quakers wasn’t that they doubted Christ’s divinity, but that they claimed that God could speak to each one of them and that there was no need to have clergy as an intermediary. Am I wrong, or did I witness a kind of revisionist history that is more in accord with current liberal Quaker views than what really happened?

Sometimes, I just get very frustrated at my Meeting. Sometimes I feel like people are standing up because they have something to say instead of standing up because God has something to say through them. And it’s not just new attenders, either; I’ve wondered that about seasoned members as well, even about people who are on the Worship and Ministry committee with me. This makes me worry that problem is not with the Meeting, but with me.

In any case, I’m waiting for guidance about this as patiently as I can bear.

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Hope

I had a wonderful conversation with my mother-in-law on Friday, as she was driving me to my post-op appointment. Some background is necessary to appreciate how wonderful this conversation was for me: my mother-in-law is a fundamentalist, Evangelical Christian who takes the Bible completely literally. We’ve spoken about religion before, but the conversation was very strained. So, here’s the conversation (paraphrased, obviously, as I wasn’t taking notes at the time):

ME: You know, one of the things I like so much about Buddhism is its focus on compassion and loving-kindness, and I think they’re very important.

MIL: I’ll be nice when I’m older.

ME: I’m starting young, I guess.

MIL: You know, Jesus also spoke about love and compassion.

ME: I know! That’s one of the things I like about Him so much!

Then I changed the subject, as I didn’t want to push my luck too far. But this is definite progress and gives me hope that maybe, one day, she’ll accept that my faith is just as valid as hers and stop waiting for me to find the “true” faith, the one that’ll get me into heaven.

It’s a long shot… but moments like this make me acknowledge that anything is possible… like holding in your hand — on the outside — the metal that’s held your tendons hostage for 7 years… or finding your cat who was lost for 4 months by word of month and hope alone…

like God existing and loving you.

Happy Father’s Day, God.

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Light

As I went to raise the shades this morning, my eyes burned from the light that seeped through. Knowing that the light would not burn when the shade was raised, I raised it. This seems to me an apt metaphor for my relationship with God: when the shade of my soul is intact, His Light can burn me. But what were to happen if I let go? I don’t feel ready for that yet, but I hope that I will, one day, be able to raise to shade of my soul and let God in.

One of the best gifts Quakerism has given me has been the idea of God as light. This is not a gift unique to Quakerism — after all, it has its roots in the New Testament — but it wasn’t until I found Quakerism that the idea really seeped in.

On Easter of this year, I made a post renouncing my identity as a Christian, not for lack of respect towards Christians or towards Jesus; but because I could not say that I believed in the Resurrection of Jesus or as Jesus as Savior. I felt that God was calling me to let go of that label and see what would happen. So I did.

But here is what it comes down to. Relating God to light has drawn me infinitely closer to Him. I am not willing to give that perception up, not unless He asks that of me, and I’ve felt no such call. Yet one of the reasons I initially was drawn to the light metaphor was that light has three parts: Source, Visible Light, and Heat. All are God, but the Source I equated with God as Creator, the Visible Light as Jesus, and the Heat as the Holy Spirit. In this way, Jesus literally is the connection between man and God while the Holy Spirit is the evidence of that connection.

Without that connection, what is left? Though I know that my in-laws don’t really consider me a Christian (they wouldn’t be praying for my salvation so much if they did), it’s not really up to them to choose my religious label for me. The reality is that my main holy book is the Bible, though I see divine inspiration in many other sources. The language that best speaks to me about my faith is Christian; even a day before Easter, I wrote a poem about the Resurrection!

Jesus is and always has been my inspiration to live a better life: his love, his teachings, his ability to dedicate his entire self to God. Others in my life showed me his love, but it is he I follow, not them.

Whether Jesus died for our salvation is not a question I’m ready to answer. I suppose one could say I’m agnostic about Jesus as savior. The truth is that I am more concerned about living my life today as best I can than about what will become of my soul when I die. It’s not that I don’t find that question important; it’s just that what becomes of my soul when I die is a question for God to answer. It’s not one I feel even moderately capable of trying to answer, not for me and certainly not for anyone else.

I’ve gone astray in this post, and I apologize. The point is: if Jesus is my connection to God and if Jesus inspires me to live as he did, how can I not call myself a Christian?

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Loving That of God in Everyone

On Monday, I finished reading Pema Chodron’s book “No Time to Lose” (which is, ironically, over 300 pages long). In it was an anecdote about the Dalai Lama finding out about the death of Mao Tse Tung. He was in the middle of giving a lecture when Mao died, and instantly began sobbing; not because he had some great fondness for the man, but because he thought the pain Mao would suffer from karma was worthy of compassion. I don’t personally believe in karma to that extent, but the Quaker belief of “that of God” in everyone and my own realization recently that God loves everyone equally meant that I understood how someone could react like that when an apparent enemy died.

And then yesterday, Jerry Falwell died. And I was elated. The news actively made me smile and I felt a great sense of relief, from what I’m not sure. Rationally, I knew that this was not the “right” way to feel when someone died, but I shrugged it off because, hey, it was Jerry Falwell who died. From my vantage point, it seemed like he’d done more harm than good in this world. Before he died, I believed the world would be a better place without him. When he died, I was elated because of that belief.

It’s easy for me to belittle the things Falwell did, not in their impact, but in their inspiration. I don’t believe that gay people who have sex will be going to hell. I don’t believe that gay sex and gay love is a sin, especially not a sin worthy of eternal damnation. I believe God loves us all far too much to punish us for loving each other. And because Falwell was preaching something different and claiming that what he was preaching was coming from God, or that God directed him to do so, the easiest step for me to take is to say that Falwell was just wrong: that God wasn’t telling him to do the things he did, or that he just wasn’t getting the message clearly.

But the truth is that there is no way I can judge another person’s relationship with God. There’s no way that I can know anything for sure about someone else’s faith. Maybe Falwell was doing God’s will, for some reason that I can’t comprehend. Maybe the blatant homophobia his preaching encouraged helped awaken people to their own more moderate versions of homophobia and see that homophobia of any kind is wrong. Maybe Falwell was paving the way for people to take their faith more seriously, no matter how unpopular the consequences.

I don’t know. And I have to admit that I am still not in any way saddened by his passing. But knowing that I can be happy about someone dying, especially as I am preparing myself for Grandpa’s funeral this Saturday, is something worth knowing about myself. It’s not something I would have thought myself capable of. And its implications run deep, too: for if I can be happy about someone’s death, I know that I am not doing what Jesus commanded. I am not loving my enemies.

Not only am I not seeing that of God in everyone, I am not loving that of God in everyone.  And I am really not sure that I’m capable of doing that, not without God’s help.

Knowing that I am not the only Quaker, nor only Christian, to be struggling with Falwell’s death is both disappointing and comforting. I am sad that other people are struggling with this, but knowing I am not alone also gives me comfort.

I ask that you all hold all of us who struggle with both seeing and loving that of God in everyone in the Light.

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Thoughts about Christianity

Rob and I attended an Episcopal church service this morning, as we attend church together on Easter and Christmas and I couldn’t convince him to go to Meeting with me. (He finds it boring and gets nothing out of it.) It was… very awkward for me: the noise, the pomp, the creed… When the time for Communion came, everyone was expected to go up to the front of the sanctuary. If you didn’t want Communion, you could cross your arms over your chest to receive a blessing instead. I was conflicted. I decided to try to let the Spirit guide me and not make up my mind beforehand.

When I went up to the altar, I was still conflicted. I started to cross my arms, then uncrossed them… I ended up taking Communion. As soon as the wafer hit my mouth, I knew I’d made a mistake. A deep sense of shame washed over me, so deep that I stood up to leave right away, before the cup made its rounds to me. I felt that I’d sinned and begged God for forgiveness.

The feeling of something wrong has stayed with me all day, long after the wafer dissolved in my mouth. A couple of questions about Judaism came up in a conversation between me and Rob after the service, so I decided to strike up a conversation with my friend Ivy, who’s Jewish, knowing she could answer them. The more I talked to her, the more I realized there was something I wanted to tell her. I wasn’t sure what it was, though, until the subject of my Grandmère came up. I got what I thought was a leading during church to call Grandmère to wish her a Happy Easter, but was complaining to Ivy that I didn’t want to.

Ever since Grandmère found out from my sister that I’m a Quaker, she’s stopped calling me. She used to call me every other week and the calls just stopped. After not talking to her for a month, I finally called her. She said she was just not calling me to see how long it’d take me to call her and didn’t mention my being a Quaker. I didn’t bring it up. That was over a month ago. I haven’t called her and she hasn’t called me.

Ivy, upon hearing this, said: “call me dumb. but why are they so anti quaker. you’re still christian!” I explained how to Grandmère, Catholicism was the only true Christian religion and how you’re not Christian in her eyes if you’re not Catholic. Then Ivy asked me: “but i mean, you consider yourself christian or no?”

And I couldn’t answer. I told her that I found Jesus’s life to be an inspiration, how I tried to follow his teachings and admired his ability to do God’s will. But something in me clicked and I realized that I haven’t felt comfortable calling myself a Christian for years. It’s not just the association with the kinds of Christians that get the press, like I thought it was. Saying the Nicene Creed has made me uncomfortable at least since I started going to college 6 years ago, like I was saying something that maybe wasn’t true, that I maybe didn’t really believe.

It would be easier for me to be a Christian. It’s what I was raised as and what everyone in all of my immediate families (my father’s, mother’s, and in-laws) are. It’s easier to say, “I’m a Christian,” when someone asks what religion I am instead of, “I’m a Quaker,” which invariably leads to more questions since most people don’t know anything about Quakers (or confuse them with the Amish).

I didn’t feel ready to let go of my identity as a Christian, though; ironically, not until I thought back to the sermon the priest gave this morning at church. It was not only about rebirth, but about being willing to give up something and see where God leads you. The priest ended the sermon with a challenge for each of us to think about what God was calling us to give up and where he might be leading us towards. I couldn’t think of anything at the time, but now I feel clear.

I need to let go of the idea that I’m a Christian. I very well might be one, but I’ve been struggling to fit into that religious mold for years. I’ve always said my faith in God is primary, my faith in Jesus significantly less strong. And what has me convinced that this is something I need to do and accept is that I don’t feel separated from God at all right now. I’m not going through a crisis of faith where I can’t feel God’s love and His guidance like I was a couple of weeks ago. Since admitting on here Thursday that I need God, I’ve felt His presence with me constantly, like a beacon in my mind.

If I can’t call myself a Christian with no reservations or hesitations in my mind, I need to accept that, for now, I shouldn’t call myself one. I do believe that Jesus existed and that he died doing God’s will. And I do believe he joined God when he died. But I can’t say that I believe that he died for our sins. I can’t say that he was the Messiah. I can’t say that he is Lord. And until or unless I can say those things, I feel it’s dishonest to call myself a Christian.

I am scared to go down this path. My whole life I’ve been told that Christianity is the One True Religion and that any other path leads ultimately to hell. But God is with me, and I need to trust in Him.

When I decided to not become Confirmed in the Catholic Church at 16, my reasoning was that I could lie to my family, I could lie to the Church, I could even lie to myself, but lying to God was not something I was willing or able to do. The same applies here. God knows what I believe and the struggles I’ve been having with Christianity.

All I’m doing now is being honest with myself and the world in admitting that I do not consider myself a Christian. When next I’m asked about my faith, I will say honestly that I am a Quaker.

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