Monthly Archives: January 2007

peace

In the Quaker meeting I attended yesterday one person felt moved to speak. I was glad. Being new to how unprogrammed Quaker meetings work I was eager to see and hear someone deciding to share what they felt God had moved them to say. This gentleman’s ministry was about Peace. He posed the question: “Is the definition of peace the absence of war?” He concluded that it was not; that military conflict was not necessarily present when countries, communities and people were not at peace with one another. I agree. He took the analogy further to encompass God. God is not an entity we can physically fight, but we can feel that we are not at peace with Him.

This man’s understanding was that being “at peace” was a feeling of alignment. We are at peace with God when we feel we are doing His will; when we feel aligned with His wishes. As I contemplated this concept I began to wonder if peace was the goal we should even be aiming for. I feel very much out of “alignment” with God right now. That’s one of the reason’s I’ve started this blog. I’m searching for this peace (a word, by the way, that I continually misspell every time I type it – apparently I’m actually in search of a peach!). God does work in mysterious ways. 🙂

My thought is this – it is in these periods of searching, when I feel most misaligned with something or someone that I experience the most emotional growth. I struggle, I challenge myself in new ways, I find new ways to see things and people and ultimately come out on the other side happier. At those times, I would use the term “at peace” to describe my state. But it’s not when I’m at peace that this growth occurs. Maybe it should and I’m just too lazy until something goes wrong. (Slothfulness is a personal theme for me.)

But maybe peace is a wonderful yet brief reward at the end of a struggle. The thing that keeps us going, that helps us move ourselves forward and continue to climb out of our dark places. It’s not a lasting experience that we should strive to maintain, but one we should be thankful that we have at all.

the quaker meeting

At 8:30 this morning I went to my first unprogrammed Quaker meeting; technically it was my first ever Quaker meeting programmed or unprogrammed. At 10:30 I joined my kids at the Catholic Church that we typically attend with their dad. The differences were astounding. I would like to expand on what I saw and how it affected me.

If you’re not familiar with an unprogrammed Quaker meeting it’s very different from a traditional protestant or catholic service with a minister/priest leading the congregation. There’s no one person in charge so to speak. I entered the main room of the Live Oak Meeting House and took a seat. There were fewer than 10 of us in all. We sat in silence for a good ½ hour before anyone feel moved to speak.

My first thoughts were, how nice, how tranquil, how unlike my house. I closed my eyes to pray and listen to God. My understanding is that Quakers wait for the Light within listening for what God is telling them. When moved they stand to speak. So I listened. What I heard was the song that was last playing on the radio, my list of tasks for the day, the anticipation of shopping that afternoon, etc. Certainly not things I think God was trying to tell me. I kept telling my self to clear my head and concentrate.

The conversation between myself and I went something like this,
“Ok, be quite and concentrate.”
“Shhh, don’t even say be quiet just do it!”
“ok, ok I’m quiet now.”
“No! I can still hear you!”
My children might as well have been there. God couldn’t get a word in edgewise!

Ok, so even if I wasn’t going to hear God today, I would enjoy the solace. And I looked around. The space is absolutely beautiful. One of the first things I thought of was how plain the room was compared to the very ornate Catholic Church I’m used to. The only thing I saw was wood (on the floor and pews), giant windows showing me the grass, trees and sky. There’s a skylight that’s open on warmer days. It was closed today but there was a lovely blue tinted light on the ceiling giving the illusion of sky. What this room represented was all of God’s natural creations, nature was everywhere. What was missing were all the icons of mainstream Christianity: the statues of Jesus, the crucifixes, the pictures and statues of a blond, fair Mary, stained glass windows of saint after saint.

Although these things are very beautiful (especially the stained glass windows) they represent for me the very things I struggle with in Christianity. Jesus hanging from the cross, did he die for my sins? Was he really the son of God? These huge questions hang in my head on Sunday’s at this Catholic Church. I didn’t realize until today, when they were so obviously not present, how much these icons overtake my mind during church. It was lovely sitting there today not thinking about these overwhelming questions.

My mind did eventually quiet down and I accomplished some wonderful reflective thought on how I deal with my ex-husband and how to be a better mother, lover and friend. I didn’t solve all my issue in one hour of course. But I made some real progress on concerns facing my everyday life; and felt more able to face the things I needed to. Today, this meeting room was a breath of fresh air for my soul.

quaker anyone?

So I took the Belief-o-matic test. I was very curious to see what religion matched most closely to my beliefs. I had my guesses but was way off. I was surprised when the answer came back Liberal Quaker. I didn’t know anything about Quakers and had never considered that religion for myself. I was even more surprised when my boyfriend, mom and sister in law (all of whom have different religious philosophies and affiliations) also came up as some form of Quaker. Makes me a tad bit suspicious, but oh well, I’m going to run with it. Mainly because I’m curious. I’m in a mode of discovery I may as well turn over this rock. Right? Plus it just sounds cool!

It was also more than a little ironic that Roman Catholic was my second to last religion (with less than 25% matching) and this is the church I’m attending. Is it any wonder I’m confused!? Other high ranking ones for me were Universal Unitarians and Reformed Judaism. Upon reading up on Unitarians I’ve decided it’s not for me. The Reformed Judaism intrigues me, but my impression is that it would be a difficult path to conversion. And let’s face it I am basically lazy! Interesting though that my impression of Judaism is lots of rules, complexity and a group that would never accept me as a Jew. For those reasons alone I should look into that more. But first, the Quakers.

Coincidentally, once I got the Quaker bug I found out that the largest Meeting House in my home town is mere blocks from where I live and I never knew it. I’ve also met more Quakers in the last few weeks than ever in my life. (Ok, it’s only two, but that’s two more than I ever remember meeting). So I’ve done some reading up on what it means to be Quaker, what they believe, the Liberal Quakers in particular. Sounds like something I could be very interested in. And if you are read this.

So the next step is to go to one of the Sunday morning meetings. These meetings are what are called “unprogrammed”. That means that there is no clergy or leader that takes you though a sermon. It’s anyone speaking on anything that moves them. And if nothing moves them everyone sits in silence. I’m eager to see this for myself. I can’t even imagine what it will be like. It’s so much more in my nature to sit and learn from others that this will be a challenging (in a positive sense) experience for me.

more on the question of education

So Harvard has now entered the debate on requiring a class on religion. A recent Newsweek article titled BeliefWatch: Harvard’s Fuss over Faith recounts this: “all students should be required to do coursework in an area called “Reason & Faith.” “Religion is realpolitik, both nationally and internationally,” the report said. “By providing [students] with a fuller understanding of both local and global issues involving religious faith, the courses are intended to help students become more informed and reflective citizens.”” This sounds exactly like the type of education I had in mind the essay teaching kids about religion.

Needless to say there was a big fuss – this one from the scientific faculty of the school who effectively got the class removed to be replaced with something pathetically titled “What it means to be a human being”. Give me a break. When are we going to stop being afraid to education our kids about the wider world of religion? People seem to be either too scared that it will undermine their own religious teachings for their children, or undermine the great scientific discoveries that have and will continue to enlighten us. The only time something or someone has that power is when you offer it. Our fear of addressing this topic gives it the very power we don’t want it to have.

I applaud the move to start a requirement of this sort and am saddened by the lack of support that it has especially among the educated.

the second coming – how much does it really matter?

Given I haven’t even reconciled myself to the first coming, I don’t think I’m ready to tackle this just yet 😉

But my basic question is: why does the second coming matter so much to people? What if it was never predicted that the messiah would return? Would that change the way people behave? Won’t you be judged when you die anyway? And in that case, it doesn’t matter when or it the messiah returns.

if Jesus was a jew, how come i’m not?

I’m listening to a wonderful lecture right now from the teaching company. Part of the discussion is on the Jewishness of Jesus – basically that he was one and a very big one at that. If you take away all the stuff I struggle with: Jesus being the son of God and the messiah and all that, I do believe he was a very influential Jewish prophet who managed to change the way a lot of people thought. You might even say that because such a small, radical sect of Judaism became the dominant religion of today speaks volumes as to how really influential Jesus was – maybe this was supposed to be? But I try not to get bogged down in supposed to be’s.

But if he was this great Jewish teacher, prophet, whatever you want to call him, that had no intention of starting a new and separate and certainly anti-Jewish religion then why are all Christians Christian and not Jewish? Because his followers and disciples became convinced that he was the messiah and spread the word about HIM rather than his teachings. Ok, but then we have a religion based on one person (albeit divine in nature) as opposed to the one God. That particular notion makes me uncomfortable. It’s great and all that God sent his only son to die for our sins but why still does that mean I don’t follow the religion that His son did? The separation of these two once so closely related religions doesn’t seem to mesh with the concept of forgiveness and unity. If every time we have a difference of opinion we split off and form a new sect of something without bothering to stay and work it out we’re quitters.

I’m not saying we all have to agree and practice one unchanging religion. On the contrary there should be debate and differences – that’s the only thing that helps us grow. Maybe it doesn’t matter that we call ourselves Jewish or Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or whatever because deep down we’re all the same? Good thought, but the devil’s in the details and that’s still where a lot of folks are focused. It doesn’t matter that we all agree we shouldn’t kill another human being if we’re worried about whether Mary was actually a virgin or Jesus was really fathered by God. There are too many people out there who still think they are the one that got it “right”.

Ok, so there is no right answer and we will continue to splinter and differ, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for us to get along. Great – where does that leave me personally? I have no clue. Christianity is what I know, it’s comfortable to me and I’ve come a long way with it. I can’t just walk away. At the same time, I can’t ignore the questions of faith and belief, as a matte of fact, I think I should embrace them. I’ve always said I wouldn’t convert to any particular religion. But then maybe I can’t claim to be any either. I consider myself a Christian now. I would like to believe that Jesus was the son of God but I admit I’m not there yet. How do I reconcile a man who lived thousands of years ago in a completely different time and place with what I know and feel today? Is this even possible?

Maybe I’m focusing to much on the man. Maybe there’s a more general, or spiritual way of approaching it. But then I have to separate the physical, historical realities from the spiritual beliefs. How do I do that? Faith is a great answer in theory, but much harder in practice. I’m a historian by training, it’s what I know and love – looking past historical realities is like deciding not to see the truth for me. I do have a desire to get it right. I guess that’s the first thing I have to set aside. All I really need to do is get it right for me.

a lazy sunday morning

We missed mass this Sunday. Missed meaning I was too tired to get up in time to get everyone ready for church. And I wanted to have pancakes with my kids and generally have a lazy morning – we don’t get nearly enough of those. But I did find myself missing it. I didn’t miss the service per se; I missed the place, the church. Feeling the quiet calmness of sitting in the pew and reflecting. So I decided to take the opportunity to show my kids that you can pray at any time. The religious experience is not limited to Sunday morning.

When I travel I stop in churches at different times in whatever city I’m in and always enjoy the experience. It’s typically dark, cool, quite and serene. I pray and spend about 15 minutes there then move on with a feeling of calm. So this Sunday, the 30th of December at about 1/2 past noon, we piled in the car and started driving toward our regular church. As we saw several other churches on the way I thought, why not stop here and show them a different perspective? Give them some exposure to other religious places.

First we stopped at an Episcopalian church. It was locked up tight, odd, but we moved on. Next we came to a Disciples of Christ church. I was excited about this because I was baptized as a Disciple of Christ and this would be a way to share some of my Protestant history with my kids. We arrived apparently at the very end of the service. As we entered the Church (barely a foot over the threshold) I was approached by an older woman who politely but firmly informed us that the service was over, they were locking up and please come back next week.

More than a little disappointed we continued on to our regular Catholic church that had the doors wide open – people coming and going – almost too busy. But nonetheless, it was nice to go in, sit anywhere and kneel and pray. I talked to the kids about what they were thankful for and who they felt might need a little extra strength that we should pray for. I believe strength is the only thing that’s really worth praying for by the way. After about 10 minutes and my son saying “are you done yet mom”? We left for Target.