i want to ‘lectrify my soul.

yesterday at meeting for worship there were a lot of tears. and when somebody spoke/sang about the belief that there will be laughter even after people go, my natural tendency toward making people laugh when times are sad, went into high gear.

i wanted to tell the “hilarious” story of my first quaker meeting. i was an american tourist in whitby, england, and i had a cold. i tried to get tissues before the meeting started but nowhere was open, and that hunt took so long that i got to the meetinghouse just as meeting was started so i couldn’t find the bathroom. so i dashed in and sat there, for my very first hour of silence. except thanks to me, it wasn’t silence. the silence was regularly punctuated by my sniffles, as i tried to sink into the worship in some way. as i remember, there were multiple doors into and out of the worship room, and so even if i had felt brave enough to get up to go to a restroom at such a mysterious and holy time, i didn’t know where any of the doors led. so i just sat there. and sniffled. and felt american.

at the end of the worship time, the elderly woman next to me, kindly turned and told me that she wanted to offer me a tissue, but they were all up her sleeve and she wasn’t sure if that would bother me or not, so she hadn’t offered me a tissue.

what i got from reliving that story in my mind yesterday, was actually less about the funniness of the story but of the tissues we all have up our sleeves that we are too self-conscious to share.

but i didn’t tell the story or the lesson i had learned from it. there’s this flowchart that’s somewhere in our meeting’s seeker’s packets that gets referred to sometimes, and it’s about how to test whether to share a message. the part that i remember the most is that you can ask yourself if the message is just for you or for the group.

here is my embarrassing and guilty quaker confession:

what keeps me from speaking at meeting for worship, more than anything, when i have these “enlightening” moments is that as i start asking myself if the message is for me or the group, another piece comes in, which is, “am i willing to live by this?” and sometimes i’m not sure. sometimes the idea of living by my own grand advice that seems like it’s from god to the group, with me sort of tangentially involved, is so terrifying or exhausting-seeming, that i keep it to myself.

also, yesterday, i finished reading a pendle hill pamphlet by ben pink dandelion, “confident quakerism.” when i went to return it to the library, the library committee member behind the desk asked what i’d thought. and it was hard to answer, because i’d started the pamphlet months ago, read half of it, and then read the other half today. as i recalled, the beginning had been somewhat irritating, but yesterday’s reading had been useful. as i recall, the beginning dealt with some theological mistakes the author had made, and something in how they were presented had irked me. but there was a sentence near the end about how conversations about our spiritual mistakes breaks open things between people. in my conversation, i hypothesised that maybe our mistakes our better talked about than written about (and now i am writing about that idea). maybe they crystallize a little out of context, when you see them in print.

but it was interesting to read that yesterday, because besides theological mistakes, another place where stuff breaks up in important ways, is when people talk about race and oppression. i’m looking at ph. d. programs right now and i just discovered this week that there are education programs that have whiteness studies as part of it, and that has gotten me really excited. so i got all excited about that as a theological exercise, too.

but of course i don’t want to mix up an academic field with worship.

but probably the core of my belief system is that god is there when you are open to the truth. and frequently that is messy and awkward.

(and at the same time something i am continually learning is the boundaries of one’s own messy-and-awkward and others’ messy-and-awkward. as a writer who has very little filter, i must be mindful that others have filters and boundaries, and they are there for a reason.)

after meeting for worship, my girlfriend and i trekked over to ocean beach to see gillian welch, old crow medicine show, and emmylou harris pay tribute to warren hellman, the man who had started the hardly strictly bluegrass festival, a free music festival in golden gate park. i can never be convinced to go to the festival anymore because it is too crowded and full of alcohol and pot, even if i think it’s a good idea. but i liked the slightly smaller (though still robust) crowd of this event, the considerably rarer instances of people lighting up anything near me (though i did have this funny interaction on the phone with my mom between sets. she said, “we’re lighting a fire in the pit out here,” JUST as pulled out a pipe and lit it right next to me, and so i said, “yeah, someone’s got a little one going over here, too.), the explicitly respectful vibe of the event, and the beautiful escape valve of the roaring ocean just behind me. i was actually able to enjoy the music.

life is sadder than sometimes i’d like to admit. and it’s hard. and growth is hard. but there is god in the music and the laughter and the time shared together and the solitude of the ocean and the mistakes we make and our ability to open up about those mistakes. and if there’s not, there’s something really close, pointing to what god really is.

it’s funny, isn’t it?

the way that things happen and they are incredible and you say “i will remember this and keep this forever” and then you blink and you are in the thick of something new and different and where is that thing that you were going to keep forever?

my job has been insane. the past two weeks, i’ve put in at least 50 hours if not 60 each week. but there’s that way that many days i come home sort of energized, or if not energized, at least i feel like the work that i am doing and the good that it does deserves the deep exhaustion i feel. instead of coming home and going “no, i cannot relax right now because i did not do enough meaningful stuff today” which i’ve been known to do, i am able to let myself relax. that’s nice.

but there are also days… well, there are days that i do that work and i come home and i am exasperated and upset. i’m working on those.

but today, i am here to write about the staff retreat. the staff retreat happened before a lot of things and it’s less than a month, and already my eyes are less shiny about the whole thing, but i still believe it was incredible. which is saying a lot because we did work stuff together for many many hours and i’m used to my meeting’s retreats where even with my job as registrar, i feel like the hardest work i have to do is deciding whether i want to read a book inside the lodge or out in the orchard.

the folks that i work with are a boisterous crew. i was nervous about going with them all to quaker center– a place that’s always just been peaceful for me. i really really like them, but i wasn’t sure what it would feel like.

and the weird thing was, it didn’t feel weird.

the morning of the second day, i went up to the casa de luz, where the san francisco meeting has its meetings for worship during our retreats. well, actually, first i went to the redwood circle because i’d never been for whatever reason, and one of the new people to our agency was amazed by it, and i felt i should get to know it. then up to the casa, where i sat and looked out the window and prayed. awhile later, people started coming up. it’s where the first part of our agenda after breakfast was scheduled to happen. the activity we did involved scenarios involving ethical dilemmas. at the end of that session, we had a checkin, and i was able to honestly say that i felt like we were a good group to be using that space. i spoke about how i’m a quaker (which people knew) and that i was worried about how folks would use this space that is in some ways sacred to me, but that i really felt like what we were doing was in line with quakerism– this particular practice of asking questions and honestly looking deep within.

at the end of the three days, we met in the redwood circle for a closing. we got the “mailboxes” we’d made and had been putting things in for folks, and were encouraged to look at our mail in silence and to contemplate the weekend in silence, and then to speak out of the silence. i’ve never been to a quaker meeting that involved so much giggling or, um, playfighting, but even in that, i was able to say that these folks were really important to me. i spoke about george fox saying to walk cheerfully through the world, answering that of god in everyone, and how a way to look at that is to find something to honor in everyone, and i really feel like these folks do that. at least with each other (the executive director speaks to the site coordinators like equals) and, more importantly, with the youth that we work with.

honestly, i’m writing this now, because i need a little bit of reminding of this weekend already. it’s been a stressful time, and the agency is not perfect. but those things– honoring questions and people, and looking deep to find answers– i can still see.

yesterday, i had this deep conversation about peace and war and how war is so much easier to do than peace, but that peace is so much more worth it. growing up, i always wondered “can’t we all just get along”? and the older i get along, the more i recognize the difficulty in that, and how rewarding facing the challenge is. and how our current power structure works around oppression via war– the rich and powerful sending the oppressed out to fight those they wish to oppress. and how rewarding that is for the powerful and rich. and how hard it is to have hope living in that sort of power structure. we talked about utopian communities vs. making small changes but still being complicit in so many ways and the pros and cons of buying local food.

anyway… this came to me again on the bart to meeting and then again at meeting. i had this message about this difficulty and how meeting is a place to find inner peace to take into the meeting community to practice our peace skills for the broader world. i felt the familiar tingly feeling i’ve come to recognize as a nudge to speak. i took a deep breath and…

someone else stood. and said something very similar to what i’d been contemplating. and right behind me, i heard someone whisper something, and i whirled around and glared. except that i hardly faced them, couldn’t see, and whirled back immediately. which was SO RIDICULOUS! and so i started to sit there and beat myself up about it, which was also ridiculous.

i sat for awhile longer, facing my anger and my guilt and my pride and my frustration, and then i felt something deeper than before, and i stood and gave vocal ministry… in the second person! it was about that experience and ended with “and the message you were going to say is that peace is really difficult. and now you know it.”

***

other things:

* i’m feeling less cranky about my young adultness. i had some really enriching conversations with other young adults today which really helped me have patience with myself and remember some of the things to not be cranky about.

* i’ve been in a cranky-ish place in general. it always seems like when i am in a place of idealistic understanding of my place in the world, my patience with everybody is slimmer than usual.

* i’ve been testing a leading around a beyond diversity 101 training for trainers done by niyonu spann. i think i’m supposed to go, and i’ve talked to a few people about it, and am currently in contact with our ministry and oversight committee about some sort of group to help me test the leading and support me through the experience. once again, i’m just so full of gratitude at the support and love i get from these people. i feel like such a squeaky wheel, but people don’t seem to be covering their ears. it’s so good. thank you thank you thank you.

yesterday morning, my mom’s visit to san francisco from florida ended. i visited her before work and then she left. my ladyfriend had left the morning before. but i had a plan.

christmas may not be the day of jesus’ birth, but it is a day when much of the northern hemisphere is in need of some light and warmth. so appropriating the whole solstice thing was pretty smart. and although my understanding of the way that it got appropriated is pretty troubling, i still like the gathering in light and warmth. and since my dear ones were either away or had other plans, i decided to go church.

i actually had this giant scheme of going to as many church services as possible on the 24th and 25th. but i invited someone along with me, and coordinating that among two people can be hard. and my list felt a little bit like a list of tourist locations i wanted to visit, so i let it be a little less crammed. and the two services i went to last night and the meeting this morning were just right.

the first service we went to was at the swedenborgian church for their children and family service. there was scripture reading and singing, and i found myself singing my heart out with a group for the first time in a long time. for much of my adolescence, choir singing was what i did, but as i got older i didn’t want my high-pitched girly voice any more. and then once i started ridding myself of that voice, with the aid of hormones, i discovered that you don’t approach a tenor voice the way you approach a soprano voice, and when you try, you sound like peter brady. which was really hard to deal with. but i sang last night, and i sat with these people who reminded me of so many congregations i’ve shared christmas with in the past.

and then we went to st. gregory (after getting turned away from a church that was too full), the episcopalian church that is hugely featured in take this bread, a book i read recently. and it was just like it was in the book, and it was lovely, and i am not an episcopalian. at the end of michael engaged paul, the “interim rector” as the website tells me, in a conversation about a comment paul had made about shepherds as disreputable characters. he responded JUST LIKE HE WOULD HAVE IN THE BOOK, which was really weird. i KNEW he wasn’t a fictional character, but having someone who you’ve only ever imagined in your mind come alive right before you can be pretty fantastic. paul welcomed us both and asked if it was our first time there, and i told him yes and that i’d read sara’s book, and that while i appreciated it, michael and i were definitely quakers. he laughed and said, “i love quakers! we’re sort of the tibetan buddhist quakers.”

we came home, and i put my vegetables in the oven for an hour while i did some pre-bed things. somehow those two services had been all i needed to feel welcomed, to really appreciate my own community, and to feel terribly exhausted. eventually i made it bed, falling asleep pretty much immediately.

this morning i made breakfast for myself and michael, and we headed over to the meetinghouse. we were the first people there, shortly followed by elizabeth, who brought the turkey, some pies, plum chutney, and table decorations. more people gathered and then there was meeting for worship.

ruth spoke of herod and his love of power and how that is an addiction and how sorry she feels for him, and pete who was sitting next to me talked about forgiveness and how difficult that is. later, during lunch, i heard ruth remind pete that forgiveness isn’t the magical automatic thing people make it out to be, and that you first have to accept that the anger you are feeling is okay to feel, that the hurt is real. and maybe that was just some sort of psychological insight, but that moment felt strangely important.

i also spoke. i spoke about this being a time for family and friends, and how paradoxically i found myself desiring to be welcomed as a stranger. i spoke about how at this time of year the line between friends and family instead of strangers becomes a little blurrier. i spoke about my gratitude at how i was accepted at the other churches and how it reminded me of being welcomed at our meeting, and how welcoming strangers is so important, because that’s the only way to build friends and family, to build the beloved community.

before i spoke, i had some things i really thought i was going to say, but something shifted as i stood there, and i’m still not sure what it was, and if the shift was my own or outside of myself. i had really meant to focus on how hard it is to welcome strangers, but that never made it out. maybe it was too smug? or maybe it was there without me having to say it.

later i talked to a few people about it, including michael, who hadn’t thought of our journey in quite the same terms (though neither had i until meeting for worship), and to whom i mentioned that it was as much a matter of me welcoming strangers as it was them welcoming me.

being a stranger at someone else’s church is a lot like being with family. we are coming from the same place, but we do it so differently. and the places we meet at can be delightful, and the places where we differ can be so tense. because if we share so much, how can they do things so differently? how are we still strangers?

okay… i’m going to be lazy and just cut and paste what i wrote for my livejournal, and some day i’ll add more about this whole thing. but at least SOMETHING will be here about it.

Friday, December 7th, 2007 7:59 pm

honestly? honestly.

“profound disappointment” and “let down” got stuck in my head.

i couldn’t sleep. i mean, i could. i always can, eventually. but i could not sleep for a very long time. i tossed and turned and mulled and stewed.

in the morning, it felt the same. all day all day all day, i held that disappointment. along with fear. fear and disappointment. and disappointment and fear.

i got to the meetinghouse early for study group, which is nice now that i have a key. as i got to the door, steve was leaving, and he asked me about the night before.

“i think i’m a little disappointed.”

“you know, cubbie, we should talk. i’ve heard that from other people before.”

and at that, something inside me rested and calmed down.

i let myself into the building, set water to boil, and unlocked the library. as i settled in with my tea, i found a pendle hill pamphlet to read: “An Attender At The Altar. A Sacramental Christian Responds To Silence.”

i recently read a book. sarah miles’ take this bread, about her conversion to episcopalianism. and ever since then, there have been these questions about why quakerism, exactly. and it’s gone all crazy. because san francisco is so gay that it almost doesn’t matter what faith i might want to practice, they will all be queer friendly. and so why why why. and i think there is something, but as the time got close, i started to panic about the way that i hadn’t explored all world faiths. how is it that suddenly i’m taking some form of christianity as a given part of my faith? so many questions.

and i LOVE them. and i feel slow and deliberative and patient and excited and sad and scared and disappointed all at once.

i read until exactly 7. and then i went to the study group, surprising people coming in the back way. and i sat with them and just felt so heavy and light at the same time.

it’s a time when everything either slips past or sinks in deep.

i got a ride home afterwards, and as soon as i sat in the car, i said, “charles, i’ve felt really weird since my clearness committee.”

“weird how?”

“i don’t know…”

and i fumbled around words (and i’m still fumbling around words. and i’ve found some good ones, and i’ve lost some others.). and somehow we realized that i just wanted “something deeper.” he made that sound really possible and suggested that i bring it up with someone in my committee.

and more lifted.

and i’ve thought more and listened more within. and this morning i called robin about something else, and then mentioned it, and suddenly i was on the bus and tears were running down my face. not as disconnected as that sounds. just that our conversation flowed and they weren’t sad tears or choking tears, they were just the tears that happen to me sometimes because of speaking from my depths and i hardly notice them and then suddenly i am aware that i am on the bus and crying.

she asked me what question i was afraid or wanted to be asked. and i didn’t know.

and then i got off the phone and the bus and as i was crossing the street to have lunch with stephen, i realized that question is, “why this and not something else?”

and so at lunch, i told him all of this, and then asked him that question.

and at some point my own answer came out. “i think for me, god and, i guess christianity, and quakerism, are all about community. and this community feeds me. and i wonder if another place would feed me the same and i’m afraid that might be true.”

and we talked about the shopping approach to religion and “what are we called to do.” and our own issues around what makes any choice any different than any other, in faith and in relationships. and just all sorts of things. in that way that we are different and yet we get each other in this really amazing way that i value so much.

and i feel okay now. and excited. and it feels right now.

… and so that’s how my clearness committee went. i have another one in january. i’m looking forward to it.

something that didn’t make it into that post that i’m saying now, at work, after the store has been closed for 2 and a half hours and i stopped cleaning half an hour ago, is how 2 days after that post, i spoke at meeting for worship.

i told that whole story, in different words, plus the new thing i found that morning, which was that the community was the way it was, our friendship was the way it was, because of our friendship with god.

it was a very powerful morning. someone else had been contemplating the same message for two weeks. and i even told myself a little joke that i shared with people later, which was just asking myself, “cubbie, were you honestly so afraid that these people would be upset that you wanted to join their community because you loved them so much?”

and so… that. since then, those questions have come in different forms, and i get a little turned off and terrified by the smugness in the idea that we are the only friends of god. but then i remember that that’s not what was meant. what was meant that i appreciate our sincere attempt. that’s what brings me back each week. and maybe there’s something else “better for me” out there. but this is so good, i don’t feel like looking right now.

Published in: on 17 December, 2007 at 6:38 am  Comments (3)  

o’er they spirit gently stealing, visions of delight revealing, breathes a pure and holy feeling…

i am at the san francisco monthly meetings annual retreat at ben lomond quaker center. it is so good. it is rich and full in giant ways that i think i can only express in bullet points right now, hopefully to revisit later.

* i’ve noticed people’s faces change almost immediately upon arriving. the faces are more soft and relaxed and happy. i’ve never noticed that happen quite so strongly before. people who have slightly pinched faces most of the time are absolutely giddy here. it’s lovely.
* (puck and i are breaking up, and a lot of that is coming from some strength i’ve found from going to co-dependents anonymous.) robin m. shared vocal ministry about knowing how to let go of something and she mentioned the serenity prayer and i cried and cried.
* baby molly has been at the meetings for worship and her crows and gurgles have been wonderful for me. i’ve been thinking about how much like a baby i am– so excited about learning to stand, so confused and sad for reasons i don’t understand sometimes, making a mess of myself sometimes, being surrounded by love, misinterpreting love and feeling threatened…
* we had worship sharing about god’s call for us, and i just kept coming back to how right now i don’t feel called to much outward work and how i’m focusing inwardly and… i wound up saying something like, “it feels decadent to say this and i’m kind of embarrassed about it, but i feel called to learn how to be comfortable with and grateful for who i am… and not to perfect it all away.” i feel like the “learning to be grateful for who i am” part of it is very new.
* i got to misquote kate bornstein at bible study today. i got the gist of it, but i couldn’t remember the exact words, but i have it elsewhere, so i can share it accurately here: “It takes a great deal of courage to be delightful in this world.” we were reading john 15, about jesus’s command to love, and his warning that people will hate those who follow him.
* i am rereading anne of avonlea this weekend and it is just right.
* there has been so much music and laughter and delicious food and happy children and light light light in so many ways.
* today during meeting for worship (once the moldy peaches’ “who’s got the crack?” got out of my head), “all through the night” (the folk song… not the cyndi lauper song, which i also love) was in my head and it really resonated.

Sleep my child and peace attend thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and vale in slumber sleeping,
I my loving vigil keeping
All through the night.
it wasn’t until i was walking back down the hill that i remembered the parts that lull, but i was just thinking about the parts that protect. things are night-ish for me right now, and so… it was good.

* deer! close up!!! and a fawn!!!!

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.

from 11-11-06 in my paper journal (which i finished today. i’ve been writing in it since june 7, 2005):

“the last two day were exhausting becaue i’ve been working really hard on me & feeling like i’ve got some good tools to make my life so much better, but they take so much work &… that’s exhausting. i also think my theory of the flu shot was correct & added to the exhaustion.

i keep trying to find non-Christian Quaker texts. i want to know about that faith. i know about the redeeming power of Christ. i’m not ready to hunker down into it until i’ve seen my other options. jesus is not the only truth & i’m not certain he is my truth. he is a truth. he is a way & a truth & a light to The Truth, but i do not believe he is solely it. i believe that that belief– that there is only Christ– shrinks our souls, diminishes our connections with thos who have never heard of Christ, those who cannot accept him, thoe whose truths are just as beautiful, just as True. i think it splinters and breaks us to cling to that.

i, who clutch so much, ‘preaching’ against holding onto your god.

i just read an essay about letting go of ourselfs to get God, to be filled by God. i can’t do that yet. i am still learning to like myself. & i do. i love myself.

so frequently, religious leaders talk about how our culture teaches us to value ourselves too much. i don’t think that’s true. i think our culture teaches us to devalue our selves. we are never enough for it. i’d like to believe that we can meet God with our broken complete selves.

and i’m not sure how much we can give to God if we aren’t there.

i think this is because i’ve been contemplating vocal ministry so much. and how each person i’ve heard brings their gifts. and how each person brings their gifts to the world. and i think that’s the most beautiful thing in the world to me.

and if that’s not God, i think i might think it’s more beautiful than god.

by my definitions, i am pantheistic. God is so much everything. that is why ‘Now I walk in beauty, beauty is before me, beauty is behind me, above & below me’ & ‘all will be well & all will be well & all manner of thing will be well’ are so important to me. they remind me that no matter what is happening, no matter where i am, there is God & that is beautiful & that is well.

this is particularly helpful in the tenderloin.

every moment can’t help but be holy if you are surrounded by God. God is in this paper & this pen & this table & my bones & my cells & my soul. & everyone’s bones & cells & souls. & every awareness of that is worship. & it is easy & it is hard.”

so, since that was so scary to share…

i’ll share something scarier.

but first i want to talk about that last one for a second. i’m nervous about the raskalnikovian theological implications of what i said. but the idea of anyone vs. no one being a christ, i think, just means to me that anyone vs. no one can hear/listen to god in the same deep way that jesus could.

but! now that i have convinced you (i probably haven’t) that my last potentially controversial/theologically unsound idea is actually pretty much the same thing as what quakers believe… i’ve got a new, scarier thing.

this is an email that i wrote right after november 5th’s meeting. it was an amazing meeting in ways that are still too gigantic to put into words, but at some point i felt that i was called to speak. as i was about to stand up, the clerk clasped the hand of the person next to him, and… meeting was over. i was in a total daze as i tried to interact with people after that, but i started singing when i left the meetinghouse. i sat outside for awhile, and then went home and emailed another person who had ministered with what i’d felt called to say. it’s interesting, because i’m still kind of overwhelmed and frightened about the idea that i could be called to say something, and i’m not sure if i’ll ever totally trust it, so i drowned my email in “i think”s. but i’m not sure i think all this. it feels bigger than i am usually capable of thinking? maybe. see, then, i’m like, “maybe you just think it’s a revelation because you think you are so special.” i don’t know. i don’t think i think i am so special… i could go on like this for a long time, and this was all meant to be a short preface to the email. which is here:

“i think that the kingdom would be when we were all called out of
ourselves to our higher selves. i think the problem so often is that
we still have our egos. i think that jesus is true, but not the only
way of truth. when he is seen as the only truth, he becomes like an
idol, because we are still grasping onto our selves rather than
truth– and that idolization brings war?”

i called the person the following wednesday, because i was suddenly afraid that maybe it had been seen as a criticism of what he had said. but he didn’t take it that way, and i told him that i thought maybe i was supposed to say it at meeting, but… and i went on a typical self-doubting ramble, and he said, “i think it’s real… whatever it was, i think it was real.” i can’t actually remember his exact words, but they gave me a lot of comfort.

Published in: on 16 November, 2006 at 7:47 am  Leave a Comment