“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
–James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

this is one of those times that i’m posting when a number of posts and themes have been rumbling, boiling, roiling, and bumbling around in my head, and i’m trying to see if i can distill them all into something cohesive, together. 

recently, i finished reading the bible for the third time.  the first two times were in high school, one right after the other.  what the three reads have in common is that they were relatively textually easy editions that i read at night, before bed.  this reading was the message: remix, meant to be read in small chunks, over either 1, 2, or 4 years.  i took a little over 3 years, reading at a variety of paces throughout that time, sometimes missing a few days to a week at a time.  i found myself baffled and concerned by the frequent old testament battles and the bloody imagery throughout.  i felt disconnected from the frame of mind of early jews, trying to translate my own experience into this entirely different worldview.  the bible resonates the most with me when treated as metaphor, but there were so many stories and events, and long narratives, that i couldn’t find the use in, and that seemed to run counter to my own ideas of morality and god.

one piece of that that’s interesting is that in my quaker journey, i’ve found a lot of resonance in contemporary jewish writers, sometimes more so than in contemporary christian writers.  it’s actually through jewish writers that i learned to feel more comfortable looking at religious stories metaphorically.  and a reality about myself is that whenever i’m in new york, i get self-consciously giddy by all of the jewishness.  i am worried about my tendency to romanticization and exotification as i press my nose to the bus window going through hasidic neighborhoods, but my justification is that i am fascinated by that ability to live one’s faith out loud like that, jealous as a white kid who believes he has no culture.

shortly after finishing the bible, i was part of a conversation where someone was talking about his atheistic respect for this person who had actually read the bible and lived by it, despite how ugly it was.  this person and the person he was referring to were thinking about the bible of the eternally angry god.  i was saddened by this, but unable to counter it, both because of my natural timidity in conflict, the power dynamics involved, the level of alcohol consumed, and my awareness of the confusing ugliness i’d found in the bible.

one thing he said was that many christians don’t acknowledge how hard it is to actually live by the bible.  and even as i create the bible in my own image, unsure how to grapple with the pieces that make me deeply uncomfortable, i still find it difficult to live by the pieces that i absolutely believe in.  god is love.  there is no fear in love.  love your neighbor as yourself.  who is my neighbor?  the good samaritan.  these things can be distilled into fluff, i guess, but at their core, they are terribly terribly hard.  if we all succeeded in living by them, i believe the world would be a much better place, but they seem to be ignored by the people flocking to chik-fil-a, boycotting funerals, and engaging in warfare.  these people have their own piece of the bible, too.  how do i justify my piece of it, in the face of the other side of things?  is it fair to take the bible piece by piece?

i will probably continue to live my piece of the bible as much as possible.  my view is something like that comic strip that says something, “what if it’s all a hoax?  what if we fix up the ozone layer, replant trees, and make the world better, for no reason?”  that is the world that i want.

ignore-ance.

in one of my first zines, i waxed poetic about the way the word “ignore” is in “ignorance.” i’m not sure what all i said about it, and it’s very possible that this post is just a rehashing of some epiphany i had at 21 years old.

but one of the things that breaks my heart and frustrates me the most is the way that part of human nature seems to be a certain pride in ignorance. the way that when we don’t understand another person’s belief, culture, or ideas, they must me stupid. the way that so many liberal folk think the bible is nonsense, sort of based on the fact that they’ve never read it.

i had a conversation with someone this week in which i was trying to explain my frustration and sadness over the way that smart liberal folks have in many ways just handed religion over to “the fox news people” (… i never watch fox news, so i was doing it right then, right?). and somehow what that person heard was that i was frustrated and sad because smart liberal people are stupid enough to believe in god. it was the oddest thing, my complete inability to communicate that what i meant was that there really is something in religion for smart liberal people but so many of us refuse to access it.

i’m one of the few people in my group of friends who are my peers that was either raised with religion or who still have religion. and so i see this pride in ignorance a lot. i LOVE my friends and i’m reluctant to say this because it sounds pretty critical, especially since i’m too shy to say it when it happens, but there have been times when we’ll pass a church or something and what the church says on the outside looks so ludicrous to the person and they will make fun of it, but it’s something that makes sense to me. but i can’t express it. i can’t figure out what to say to make it make sense.

we passed a church once that said “church of god in christ” and my good friend just thought that was the funniest thing. “how can it be ‘of god’ and ‘in christ’ at the same time?” and i couldn’t figure out how to explain it…

this post is becoming more about my inability to express myself and be an advocate for my faith than i totally feel comfortable with.

what it was meant to be about, and what i’ve been thinking about the most, is what a part of human nature all of that is. how we choose what we are experts in. how i don’t watch the news, watch sports, stay current in music… but how i get frustrated when someone doesn’t know all the classic movie stars or bad ’80s tv or y.a. lit that i know. we know what we know and we like that we know it and we think everyone who doesn’t know what we know are deficient in some way. and people who know things different from how we know them is also deficient, because they are clearly paying attention to the wrong things.

are there ways to bridge that?

he’s both a fish and a mammal and i hope he’ll never change

one of the big questions i wrestle with lately is about the necessity of christianity for me. i think it will always be a question i wrestle with, because christianity has so many different facets and meanings. “clearly” i have no use for the angry fundamentalist christianity that seems to be what most people equate with all christianity, and i hope to never go back there again. but it has its ghosts in my psyche, raw nerves i’m still nervous about touching.

my girlfriend, who i’ve been with for four years and who i’m planning a life with, was raised, basically, areligious. and i live in urban areas and queer communities that can also be fairly areligious. and there is a pride there that makes sense in the face of the religion that makes it on the news, the religion that seems to wear ignorance as a badge of honor. the problem then, though, is that ignorance of religion becomes the opposite badge of honor. i am continuously upset by the angry war between the religious and the nonreligious, because i think they’re actually on the same side which is the side of anger and fear.

my areligious girlfriend and i try to be on the side of love. and if god is love, is religion necessary?

the answer, for me, is that it can be helpful. it can provide a framework and a discipline for transforming and growing love past something shallow and greeting card.

the challenge, though, is moving past my own shy fear of unpopular opinions and desire for happy family life, and trying to ethically and honestly live a life based somewhere in religion while living with, loving and honoring my girlfriend and her traditions.

anticipation

(or “What I like, dread, is when people who know you in completely different ways end up in the same area. And you have to develop, this like, combination you, on the spot.”)

this is what i keep envisioning will happen, if my membership clearness committee happens at my house:

3 quakers show up at my house, in traditional plain dress.

my housemate answers the door, in full bondage gear.

hilarity ensues.

i’ve never seen any of these people in these exact clothes. and i really don’t expect anything very dramatic. and i don’t actually feel like my life is as divided as, say, angela chase in “my so-called life” (who is quoted in my subtitle up there). and it’s san francisco and everyone is used to everyone being quirky and different… but this vision is still stuck in my head.

Published in: on 16 October, 2007 at 5:33 pm  Comments (1)  

i’ve been having this email conversation since december. it’s with a guy whose zine i read and really liked, except then he started talking about how christianity is really super bad. and so i was like, “except not always. and the people that you are annoyed with are perverting christianity, and the media believes them when they say that this is how it Is, and i’m really sad that you believe them because there is so much more positive stuff. and the more people believe that christianity is just the fundamentalist stuff that the people in power are promoting, the more that becomes the truth.”

and then i had my own god crisis that i’m still not sure i’m done with or what to do with. and so he responded but i didn’t for months, and then i finally did, and we’ve been having an okay conversation, with long lags in between.

but anyway, in this last email, he said that the word for what i said i believed was animism.

and that’s not really true at all. i don’t think that each thing has a soul or an identity or anything like that. i just think that everything is an important part of a big holy whole.

and the reason that i’m posting is that… i’m not sure how to say things. i’m not sure how to say to people who think god doesn’t exist, because there is provable outside force, that god isn’t an outside force, that god is what is happening all the time… because a) i get confused about it really easily b) the only argument i have behind me is, “well, that’s how i feel about it” & c) I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS for anything.

home is where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

there has been a lot of talk among queers about the chosen family. as a group of people who have in many cases been tossed out of their birth homes, there has been a great need for new families, who will accept and love no matter what. sadly, the tossing has been done by many faith communities, and so a queer person’s chosen family is rarely a religious one. at least as far as i’ve seen.

yesterday, my mom came and visited our home. i was going to meet her at her hotel at a certain time, but the dishes took longer than i thought and the pie took longer than i thought, so, after a number of reschedulings, i met her an hour and a half later than i’d thought. the plan had been that we’d hang out there for awhile and then come back and puck would make lasagna and we’d eat it and pie and i’d make it to the quaker study group in time for the discussion, though not for the meal. and i’ve been really into the pie that i’ve been making (lime, with lavender whipped cream), and i’ve wanted to share it with them, and bring something homemade and yummy and delightful to this group of people who i think are great.

but we got to my house and things took longer for puck than they’d thought, and i was getting really sad and stressed out, because i’d made this pie for my friends and i wanted them to be able to have it, and and and and and.

so, i decided that the way to deal with that was to take the fifteen minute walk down to the meetinghouse while the lasagna was still cooking, bring them the pie, and come back. this would calm me down, and they’d get the pie, and both would be good things. so i ran down there, and as i neared, i realized how… weird this was. how maybe they’d be weirded out by the floral whipped cream. how maybe i should just give the pie to a group of homeless people and then they would all eat pie rather than self-destruct for one night. how we don’t usually eat in the middle of the study group. how i hadn’t even sliced it and and and and.

i got there and rang the bell, and charles let me in and i tried to just give him the pie with a brief explanation, but he said i should do it, so i came in and everyone seemed so excited to see me, and extra excited about the pie, and i rambled and rambled about how i felt crazy and how it was lavender whipped cream and and and and and.

then i got invited to sit in silence. and i sat down among this group of friends and i felt so calm. i felt a presence that was maybe just their love and was maybe more and maybe their love and more are still the same thing… and it was very sweet.

and then it ended and i rambled some more and still felt sort of crazy, but still felt very loved. still felt very welcome. still felt very at home.

thank you.

weird convoluted thought of last night:

if there is continuing revelation… can there be a revelation of non-revelation?

… i’ve been reading too much postmodern theory, i think.

but it makes sense to me in this weird way… i know of many people who have sought and not found. they’ve found something, but not jesus as the way the truth and the light. i’m not sure where i am in there– it shifts. but especially in reading the spiral staircase by karen armstrong, and watching her struggle with trying to find god and then letting go and THEN finding god… and my experience with twisting god into all of the demons of my childhood… and my seeking sometimes going smack into that… there is this idea that if you just approach it rightly and try hard enough… jesus will be there.

but if jesus keeps being the damage of our childhoods… why is it so important to fight it? it seems to come to a victim-blaming sort of thing… “sure, people acting in the name of christ did terrible things to you, but you still won’t be okay until you believe…”

why can’t revelation be something else– something that doesn’t look like revelation at all?

… people keep responding to my questions like that with answers that still sound like, “it doesn’t have to be christ… but people need more christ/it will eventually be christ/quakerism cannot exist without christ.”

i’m so new to this particular brand of faith. and it feels right, even though i struggle daily with christ and what that even means. it feels right because of the love and because of the way of approaching god. but if the christ-piece doesn’t fit in just right, maybe i’m not actually a quaker… and if then… what is there for me? there is nowhere else remotely like quakerism– if the doors are shut because my world was framed in such a way that christ confuses me… what then?

whoa!!!! that post that i thought i lost at the library? it has been saved as a draft this whole time. so it is here. it is about 3 weeks old:

back from florida & san diego. puck’s computer is still in san diego with them, so i am at the library. i didn’t write anything in my journal all trip, but i did bring it. i didn’t bring the one i’d recently filled though, which is where most of my posts have been coming from here. so today i thought it was very important to bring it with me to the peace vigil because i was coming to the library afterwards. so my water bottle stood next to me as it usually does, but this time, it was propped up on a little brown book with a picture of a sock glued to the cover.

… i had a really cozy morning, and was very quiet at the vigil… and things felt really good. and then i had a lovely panic attack about 5 minutes later… is that supposed to happen? *laughs* i know there is no real such thing as “supposed to” but it really felt unfair to be like, “peace is nice… oh no! world is going to eat me!!!!” i’m not sure who was being unfair, actually, but… i didn’t like it.

i’d like to say more about that, but i don’t know what. if anybody has any thoughts on spirituality and anxiety and why they can coexist in the same body, i’d like to hear them, thank you.

… from november 25th’s paper journal entry:

“why is it so important to me to ask the questions i’m asking– to ferret out the difference between acceptance & inclusion– to decide which is preferable, which is acceptable.

i am thinking of my friends as i go toward quakerism. how do i do this without alienating them? how do i explore these truths & find them true, without saying, or even implying, that their truth is wrong. (and if i think their truth is wrong, what then? how can i hold that conversation without being or appearing smug?)

jesus is just such a sensitive word. i feel like so many peiople have been clubbed over the head with jesus. how do i fix that? how do i fix that? do i fix that? can i fix that? should i fix that?

i want to flip ani around & say that this weapon is a tool– though jesus as tool is totally not all of it.

and now i’m all ‘how do i talk to other people about jesus?’ when the unanswered question is ‘how do i talk to myself about jesus?’ but ‘how am i’ & ‘how will i?’”

& 11-26

”things have been challenging. i am not equipped for this kind of life. i am too human & too dazzled by my humanity.

i have been practicing. practicing practicing practicing. where are my instant results? they were there, but now it is hard slugging, inward battles– & i question them, too. aren’t i always doing inward battles? this constant state of inner puzzlement — this constant unfolding — this constant reinvention– is it authentic? shouldn’t i have answers by now? will i ever have answers?

and why doesn’t my head ever shut up?

stop feeling ‘better than.’ and stop feeling ‘worse than.’ and start feeling equal.

…the god vs. self dichotomy is so puzzling. i want to bring my richest, best self before god, but i need to be careful not to descend into self-worship on the way. or forget it all & descend into self-loathing, which is equally my way.

my favorite people have always been those who seem to have their eyes uplifted. literally.”

i’ve been struggling with some stuff lately.

one thing is that i decided to write a letter to richard dawkins, author of the god delusion. i wrote it and it lives on our kitchen table until i work up the nerve to read the book and write more after having read it.

the same day i wrote that letter, i read a piece in an anarchist zine that seemed to equate right wing christianity and… christianity as a whole. and i was like, “i think i feel like i can handle this challenge. i think i can tell this person, who i already know a little anyway, about my upsets at the mass media’s portrayal of christianity as closed-minded, selfish, and cruel.” and so i wrote this impassioned email. and he wrote back. and something, i don’t even know what, hit my giant doubting button. no wait. nothing he said. but me trying to figure out how to respond.

how do i tell this person, whose calling is to be anti-authority, that there might be an ultimate authority… and that things still suck a whole lot?

and so i’ve been going through the “so much suffering, why why why?” thing… and the “what DO i think of god as authority” thing. and then last week i had that brilliant idea to skip out on the group where i can talk about this sort of stuff.

the second thing i’ve been thinking about is my greeting experience. and the way that it has become a kind of giant thing. and how i posted about it as a tangential bit to a post about the amazingness of giving vocal ministry for the very first time and it got put on quakerquaker as being about my greeting experience. and people from meeting still keep coming up to me and checking in. and i dunno… i am fine. my pride was wounded and confused for awhile, and i’m excited that some discussions are starting about how we greet… but i feel like i’m being treated like a victim of something… but when i start thinking of victims in this case, giant issues about poverty, mental health, and how to really be kind and respectful to someone all come up. and i don’t think i’m ready to tackle them. and so i am kind of grouchy about the whole thing. and confused. and i should probably have some more out loud conversations about it, rather than just stewing about it all and getting angry at people for caring about me. i appreciate the care. hugely. i feel a part of the meeting in a different way now. and i like that. i just feel like the person i’m worried about is the guy who i let in. and i hate that i feel totally helpless about him.

the third thing i’ve been thinking about is sex. and not in a pondering deep meanings kind of way. except then i start wondering if i should be. except then… i find that i can’t.

puck and i have a mostly-previously-unexplored poly-friendly relationship. and a few months ago, i started dating a very nice lady. and she and puck are also getting along well. and things are very cozy and happy. and i am a giant ball of hormones.

plus, i have apparently started getting hot flashes. seriously. boy puberty and menopause all at once. it’s fascinating.

(this has way oversimplified the whole relationship. i have been having many talks with myself and with others about how to do this relationship in the best way possible, and i’ve been praying about both of my relationships so much. and i am doing my best to be mindful and prayerful and careful and everything. but the point of it being in this post is that my attention span for deep issues keeps being trumped by my inner teenager.)

well, after spending some time in florida and san diego, in a heat & stomach-bug induced stupor of much tv-watching and video-game-playing, i came back home without puck, who was still in san diego with their family. puck had the computer, but one day, in the middle of stressful errands, i went to the library and used the computer to write an entry questioning panic & its place in a spiritual life, and typed up two more entries from my paper journal. i clicked “publish,” a message came up to say it had posted, but when i went to look at it, there was no new entry. and although i had copied it to the computer’s clipboard, the paste function didn’t work, so… i got sort of cranky. but now i am posting from the comfort of my own bed, puck sleeping next to me, butter cleaning himself in front of me, and secret scowling at her reflection behind me. i know i will be able to copy and paste, and so i’m going to try posting again. but about different things.

this sunday, i was the welcomer. there was a request for welcomers for christmas eve and new year’s eve, and i decided that i should ask to do new year’s eve, since i’d never done it before, and i’ve wanted to get involved in a helpful way with the meeting. i had a promise of a tour and orientation, but when it finally happened, i was somewhat dismayed to find out that it was just about the nuts & bolts of door unlocking and things, and nothing about what to say, how to say it, when to say it, or what to do if something went wrong. i asked about it, but the answer didn’t come in way that i really understood, but there was so much reassurance that nothing would go wrong, that i decided to trust that.

everything went well and the building manager wound up doing most of the things for me that i had been trained to do anyway. i welcomed people, and it was neat to see all the people coming in and to see a little bit about what goes on before meeting, rather than running in at 10:58 (usually i tutor a girl at 9:30 and come straight from that, but with the holidays, i didn’t.). my worry about feeling separate from the meeting for worship came true, and that’s the main reason that it’s not something i want to do a whole lot of at this time.

but the other reason was that at 10:35, someone came up and started opening the door with his suitcase. then the door shut with him and all his things on the other side. he tried to open it again, and so i went to help him and ask him some stuff. first i asked if he was there for meeting for worship, and he said, “yeah. are you?” this threw me off guard, of course, and i felt humbled in my classist assumptions.

a note: i live in the tenderloin which is “the bad part” of san francisco. i pass houseless people regularly. the meetinghouse is in my neighborhood, and i’ve learned that the rule is that people can sleep in front of the meetinghouse any time except for sunday mornings. at 9, they work to rouse them and send them away, and there was a challenge that sunday morning with a person who would not leave. this person looked decidedly different, but he definitely seemed like he lived on the street.

so, i let him in, and gave him a suggestion of where he could put his suitcase. he told me he’d been to meetings in alaska, and started walking to the door. i walked with him, but a few feet away i saw that robin was giving ministry. so i started to say that we should wait while she spoke, and i put my hand on the door. but i didn’t finish what i was saying, when he pulled the door open, being much stronger than me. part of me wanted to stop him still at that point, but i knew the choice then was to just let him go.

i stood around, watching him settle in, and took lots of deep breaths, and tried to connect to god about the whole thing, but then someone came out to talk to me. he said he’d felt called to come out and talk to me. he told me about how we don’t let people in when someone is giving ministry, but i explained that the door had been forced out of my hand. then he asked if maybe he shouldn’t have been let in at all, but i didn’t agree with that. it was good to have someone to talk to at that time, even though i mostly just felt embarassed, and we got hushed by someone through the window.

i felt sort of crushed by the whole thing. had i done the right thing? was there a right thing? and most importantly: would people think i was incompetent? i talked to a few people after meeting. 2 more people reminded me that i wasn’t supposed to let him in while someone was speaking, and i was able to explain, but… i don’t like that i was so quickly all about taking the blame off myself. i’m not sure if blame was even involved, but… just… i needed to tell people, “that thing that happened was not my fault.”

i spoke to robin who was fine with it and said that she was sure i’d done everything i could. a few other people said reassuring things. but in the end, there was just this feeling of commiseration about those wacky wacky street people and our problems with them.

it seems like this is opening some dialogue about the tools to give welcomers, but i… don’t think it’s just new welcomers that need tools. i don’t think we just need a direct answer for what to do if something like that happens… because… what is “something like that?” why do we need to guard our sanctuary? i’m not saying we don’t. but if we do, why do we?

the next day, yesterday, new year’s day, there was meeting for worship followed by a meal. i went, and as i was walking, i was thinking about this book we sell at the bookstore i work at. it’s called the god delusion. it’s new, it’s popular, it sits in front of the register. the book jacket talks about how it proves that religion is destructive and science is the answer. the reviews say things like, “this is the answer to the religious right, who will surely label the author the anti-christ.” i paged through it, and all i see is rage. i disagree with his premise. i think that religion can be destructive, but so can science.

but that’s not why i feel pangs of guilt and sorrow about selling that book. i don’t have control over its sale really, but it hurts to look at the book. it hurts because of the amount of rage. it hurts because i believe that rage is the problem. the “i am right, thus you are wrong” of it– it’s been done. it has done more damage than religion and science combined, because it’s where their problems come from too.

so, i found myself sitting with that at meeting. and i tried to look at the rage and understand it. and in a lot of ways i do. corruption, war, hypocrisy… these are upsetting things. the world is very damaged. it makes me angry, too. but not in the same way. not in the way that i want to write a book pointing fingers at anybody. but… i realized that he, like me when i get a good idea, probably thinks of his ideas as this huge, tremendous gift to the world. he can help it, he can save it, he wants to share his gift.

and then it came to me that our truths or our bits of the truth, however you want to look at it, are gifts. the question is how to give them as gifts and how to receive them as gifts.

when that came to me, i knew i had to speak. i felt dizzy, though, and pretty convinced that if i stood up i’d fall right over. but i didn’t and i said it and it felt big and real and scary. and then i was tired. and excited. but tired. after meeting, i decided that we really need some cots for laying down after something like that. i was pretty silent through the meal and dazed, and someone joked that i must have had a late night the night before. which was sort of true, but i’d gotten enough sleep to be fine during that meal (though i did fall asleep at the castro last night despite the fact that audrey hepburn was on the big screen right in front of me). it just… had been a big experience.

and it’s crazy because… i don’t know the answer to that question. AND i’m not even totally sure what it all means. but it seems important. we don’t want to share our beliefs like they are vases that would really look better where our friend’s favorite vase is. that’s not about the vase or our friend. it’s about us.

yesterday morning, before meeting, i was reading the letters in a friends journal from april ‘95 (someone donated a bunch to the meeting house library, and the librarian recommended i take some). john woodbury had something to say that resonated with me a lot. it’s related to what i said in ministry, and with my concern about christianity and how it can be right and complete and also not the only thing…

“We are all victims of language. Every word in our language is a symbol. We can’t talk about our inner life or our spiritual life in any other language but symbols, metaphors, allegories, and abstractions. In a way, a credo or creed, or statement of beliefs, has really nothing to do with where we are, because where we are is a matter of experience, not of the words we use to describe it.

Each of us has a very personal spiritual life, and we can only describe it in the words and vocabulary that we borrow. The richest and most common place that we get this vocabulary is the religous tradtion of our cultur, and most of us were born and raised and lived all our lives in a culture where the Christian mythology is the vocabulary or the language with which spiritual things are described. We borrow this vocabulary fo this source but also from other sources. We borrow it from our reasoning, we borrow it from the words and the literature of other people who think– and all kinds of sources.

I do not understand this fuss or why there is a fuss between Christocentric Quakers and Universalist Quakers because I have trouble with the Quaker use of the word Truth, with a capital T, as though any person can really know the spiritual Truth over and above everybody else.

If there is such a thing as absolute Truth, our perception of it is so imperfect that we have no right to be intolerant of anybody else’s perception of the Truth.”

… golly, i need to go to work.