“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.

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i learned this week that “religio” means “relink.”

a few years ago, i had a dream that i was in an airport, running to catch my flight, and trying to say goodbye to three men, rev. andrew james brown of the cambridge unitarian church, mike michalson of new college of florida, and… some other guy (possibly the pastor of venice united church of christ). i hugged them, and then left. i don’t know where i was coming from, where i was going, or more importantly, when i actually had the dream.

the thing about these folks was that they were all positive male spiritual role models in my life. and in my dream, i was obviously leaving them. was i going further, back, or just somewhere else?

i’ve been thinking about this dream because i recently found that blog of andrew james brown’s. he was such a helpful person in my spiritual growth. he had such a positive and grounded view of spiritual questions that were sending me into giant flurries. AND he taught me to pick up trash. i’m still not very good at that. but if all my experiences with unitarians were like my experience with him, i’d be a unitarian still. and wouldn’t the quakers be sad.

michalson was my adviser in college. things went a little cockeyed with him at the end, because my life was going pretty cockeyed at the time. but i still admire him a whole awful lot. he’s why i studied religion in college. his humorous and balanced takes on christianity effected me a lot, pushing me past a lot of my bitterness and making it all a lot more interesting.

i think the dream was after i’d finished college and moved to seattle. if i was to place it in the place it made most sense, maybe it was once i’d started my americorps term and was realizing that working with kids was what really did it for me, as opposed to possibly going into the ministry myself.

recently i’ve started going to a conversation series at glide memorial church called “living the questions.” apparently a lot of churches do these conversations– there’s a video series and stuff. our conversations have not gone much further than check-ins, but i’m really excited about them. it’s a great way to get to know more people in a deep deep way, and i love that. the woman who leads them, paige rawson, is very inspiring, earnest, and joyful, and it’s that sort of thing where you feel like you are part of something really important.

this is all linked. and it’s all linked to quakerism for me. because sometimes i wonder if the ministry is for me. then i remember that i’m a wuss and a brat about certain things, and i remember that working with kids is completely, totally amazing and exactly what i should be doing, and then finally i remember that ministry is part of just being a quaker. i can be clumsy and bratty and new and wide-eyed, and i can work on the flaws in that, but it’s all part of cubbie the quaker minister, just by my living… my questions… and my seams.

david m. has said something that has resonated with me. what he likes about quakerism is that conversation and connection is part of the practice of quakerism. when i think about it, it’s part of other faith traditions as well, of course, but… it’s something that is so so so essential about quakerism for me. i’m excited to be reconnecting with parts of my pre-quaker past, and to branching out my connections right now as well. and i’m thrilled that all of these connections are helping my quakerism thrive as well.

lift up your hands.

today, while talking to krista about my recent wrestling with the ghosts of homophobic religion, i said something about how i don’t understand god… and i fumbled a bit around my attempts and then said something about how all i know is that i’m being as honest as i know how to be, in my living and in my searching, and that’s what i’ve got. and then i said, “god isn’t a romantic hero in a teen romance novel where you have to pretend you like cars.” and that right there was a moment of clarity. just that remembrance that you can’t fake it with god. and if you’re trying to impress god by faking it, you’re not going to make it.

today at meeting for worship, i was thinking about the way that we think of religions as possessions– graspable, definable, and separate– and then i had this very vivid image of a piece of wet watercolour paper, with red drops of watercolour on it, separate, near, blurring into each other, red like blood which is pain and which is also something that we all have and that we all live with.

the other thing that i sat with is that i feel like my biggest task right now is to just like and accept myself. which sounds so selfish and self-centered and there must be more to that. but, folks, as i’ve explored in the last incarnation of this journal, my father was a man who spent his life self-destructing and my mother is a woman who was searching for someone to love her and felt like she got that once she had me. so i was raised by people who felt pretty worthless. and who told me over and over again that i was the best treasure in the world. i started banging my head against walls when i was six, i started contemplating suicide when i was seven, and when i was eight, i thought i was jesus (not as in a symptom of schizophrenia, but as in a “these people are telling me i’m perfect, and that there was one perfect person… and i think i heard somewhere he was coming again… oh, and remember i’m 8.”). so “sinners in the hands of an angry god,” reverend dimsdale, self-flagellation, hairshirt land, it doesn’t work for me. i know for a fact that when you loathe yourself, you are not good for other people. and i know how easy it is to loathe yourself and to think that it’s a virtue. and i know how, for me, it’s much much much harder to accept that i am my own gift from god. i’m not “god’s gift” as they say, but i’m the cubbie i’ve been given to work with, and i need to be a good steward and be careful with me.

which brings me to the realization i came up with today as i walked home from work… which is that this year was the year i broke into a million pieces, and discovered that i’m whole.

Published in: on 30 December, 2007 at 11:20 pm  Comments (3)