Tag Archives: religion

After-Easter Thoughts: Beyond the Cross

 I’ve been going to a Bible Study with some friends on Fridays. I’ve had no split-second conversion, of course, but it’s interesting to be there and to watch the way they interact with one another. On Easter Sunday, when my grandmother came to visit me, she asked whether we’d discussed the Resurrection during our last study.

“Did you guys talk about the Resurrection?”

“No.”

“The Ascension?”

“No…”

“Did you talk about how, when Jesus—“

“We read a chapter of Ephesians.”

I know that Easter is meant to celebrate the empty tomb, see; I get that most churches do a special service about it. I’ll deny no one their holiday. Still, for me, it just drives home the idea that people only look toward Jesus to see his death and how it led to reconciliation between us and God. I’m interested in Jesus, but it’s not so much in the way he died or his mystical return from the grave. Like I told my grandmother, we’ve all heard that story. I’m more interested in the way Jesus lived.

The thing is, Jesus wasn’t simply here to act as a sacrificial offering; if that were the case, God could have sent him down in a blaze of light and burned him up so that no one would question what had happened. No, Jesus lived to make it possible for Earth to touch Heaven. Being both human and divine, he had our frailty as well as exact knowledge of what God wanted from him. He was the perfect example of what we are all supposed to be; we are not Christ, but in faith and action, if we’re doing it right, we should be damn close. Though Jesus is the Son of God, we also have that divinity in us—after all, God breathed man into life.

Has anyone ever wondered why Jesus had apostles? One mustn’t think that he could not have shown people who he was without a gang constantly following him; the guy was pretty convincing. He did need someone after he’d gone on to Heaven to share the story of who he was and what he did. This is the most obvious reasoning. However, Jesus could have told all the apostles about this; he could have given them visions of it; he could have done any number of things and been sure of their loyalty because of who he is. He could have made the whole world sit up and listen. Instead, he chose to have the apostles suffer alongside him and see with their own eyes what he did. Every parable that he told, they heard; they watched the miracles he performed. They, too, learned to hang out around the prostitutes and tax collectors. He was their Rabbi, their teacher, as well as their Savior, and they learned to go out and spread his Gospel as they had learned it.

I think the Fall—that is, our foray into Original Sin—was tremendously important, and we over-simplify it by saying that humans suck and humans sin. What sort of temptation could the snake have offered Eve if she had been completely satisfied? In Eden, everything was handed to us. God’s love was like that of a parent’s, unconditional and gracious. The thing about that is, well, look at us; even if our parents dole out love and whatever else we need as children, when we get older, most of us still want to leave the house and fend for ourselves. It has nothing to do with not loving them. We simply want to test the waters. Generally, people have way better relationships with their parents once they’ve flown from the nest; it’s in part because we aren’t hanging around and annoying each other all the time and in part because, having done for ourselves, we’re able to appreciate all that they’ve given us. Of course, parents never really let their children go—they’re always on the outskirts, watching and letting us make our own mistakes, but willing to step in if necessary.

The point is, God didn’t make a mistake by letting Eve sin. He knew that she and Adam could never appreciate Him fully without having understood how things would be outside of his paradise. However, He couldn’t simply push them out of His house. They had to have a reason to want to get back in, and they had to be forced to leave without blaming Him for it. Having mankind hate God would probably not have been the best starting point for us. (There’s enough of that now, anyway, thanks to bad religious practice and confining God to a box…or a book.)

So we severed our connection with God. We left his house. We struck out on our own with our wobbly child-legs. The problem is that God is not merely a parent; He is everything for which we yearn. There is nothing better than the Kingdom He wants for us. So there had to be a way for us to come to that Kingdom or, better yet, for us to help build it. We would live in a world made up of the connection between ourselves and God, in a wonderland of that absolute divine love.

And along came Jesus, lantern swinging.

Jesus did not only make the ultimate sacrifice; he was showing us the way to the Kingdom, and that way is not only to believe in his death, but to believe in his life.

We wanted to leave Eden. We wanted to work for what we received. We wanted to build our relationship with God. We wanted to be a part of things.

Well, here we are.

 Guys, it’s not as easy as believing a story you’ve heard or even a little soul-tug that you feel. It’s not as easy as falling down at the altar when there is music swelling and people crying. Relationships take effort and time.

They say works are meaningless without faith, and this is true; even atheists have to be working for a reason, or it does nothing for them and little for the people around them. But faith without works is dead, too. If you love God, if you truly want His Will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, then you should be doing it. He’s willing to work with and through us, but He’s not descending any time soon. We are not children anymore.

So what do we do?

Well, you can learn from Jesus, for starters. He taught his followers how to live so that they could teach everyone else, but that path got lost somewhere along the way. The Living Church became a building, sometimes a multi-million dollar building, and love sunk into crap politics, who’s-in-and-who’s-out, fear-mongering, judgment, gossip, greed, and anger that is not at all righteous. This was not the plan, my friends. This is not what Jesus wanted.

Jesus chilled with the outcasts. He touched people no one else would get near.

Jesus never said, “You are not good enough to listen to me.”

He never snapped, “You can’t join this circle.”

He never told anyone, “I’m sorry, but there’s not enough caring/time/resources for you.”

Everything that Jesus did, he did in love. He really had no choice because he loved us and he loved the Father so much. That’s what I want—to love people so deeply that I have no choice but to do good because to do otherwise would hurt too much.

Jesus didn’t stick around after his death for a reason; he was meant to pass the torch. He gave it to his apostles, and they handed it off to others. It went from person to person by word of mouth, through music, through experience, through poetry, and though the Bible, however perfect or imperfect any of that might have been. The point is not that we don’t make mistakes—we are going to, because, despite our best intentions, we are not God—but that we keep trying through them.


 You can look at Jesus as a real person or as a bridge metaphor; it’s to your taste, and it matters little to me. Either way, he passed us the torch. I have it now. You have it. It’s burning in that little spark of divinity breathed into us at the beginning of all Creation. We must keep kindling it, keeping using it to set others aflame, and when all things come together in the end, it will be our sun—because it and the light shining from God are one in the same.

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Play Your Tambourine

♥ here ♥

When I was little, I played the tambourine for Jesus.

This probably wasn’t as strange as it sounds. I’d spent the night at my grandmother’s house and I had a dream that Jesus was hanging out there, chilling in the back room with the musical members of our congregation while they played and sang for him. I wanted to play my tambourine and sing the way I did in church, but I felt too shy and the tambourine seemed like a stupid instrument compared to the piano or guitar. After a couple of songs had been played, Jesus gestured for me to come over to him. In my little girl dream, he looked the same way he did in pictures—sweet eyes, white robes, brown hair—and he asked why I wasn’t singing with them. When I told him that I couldn’t really play anything, he handed me my tambourine. I can’t remember exactly what he said now, but it was something along these lines:

“Don’t worry about what they’re doing. You do what you can do. Play your tambourine. I like to hear you play.”

When I told my grandmother about the dream later, she said that it meant I should do something with music. That explanation worked until I got a little older and could see the more obvious meaning—that I shouldn’t worry about what others could offer God, but give instead what I was able to give. Of course, even this was in the context of Christianity. Now that I’m no longer associated with the religion, it, too, seems confining.

Still, I’ve been hesitant to toss the dream aside. It’s one of the few from my childhood that I remember, and I’ve always been a strong believer in the idea that these things happen for a reason. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, though, that I realized what this dream means to me now.

I may not subscribe to any particular doctrine, but I do know that faith has made amazing things happen. God and spirituality are not my enemies; discrimination, hate, and fear-mongering take that unfortunate role. I am not a Christian. It’s been years since I’ve tried to tell anyone about how it feels to be born again. I’m unable to so much as attend a Unitarian Universalist church regularly because there aren’t any close to where I’m living. I still can’t play the piano or guitar well. There are probably a lot of people in this world who would write me straight on into Hell.

But you know what?

I can play my tambourine.

There are Christians out there who are doing marvelous things, just as there are Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Wiccans, atheists, Muslims, and people in every other category you can think of who are doing marvelous things. They all have their part to play. Each of those parts is important.

There will be lost souls who are looking for the love of Jesus Christ, and there will be troubled minds longing for the peace of Buddhism. There will be those who need to let go and flow with the Tao. I probably won’t be able to give any of them what they’re longing for spiritually, but there are people I can help. Besides, the fact that someone is of another religion doesn’t mean I can’t fill his hungry belly or help her recover after some monster has abused her. It doesn’t mean that we can’t learn things from each other or that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with our relationship.

Being an atheist doesn’t mean that you’re unable to look at the world with wonder.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean that you’re irrational.

Being a Unitarian Universalist doesn’t mean that I can’t fulfill the obligations presented to me in a dream I had of Jesus Christ.

Jesus told me to play my tambourine and not to worry about measuring up to other people’s standards, so I won’t. I am performing in the only way I know how, and even if no one else thinks it’s worthy, I know that it is just as important as anyone else’s effort. I can be nothing other than the best version of what I am. I’ve given up trying.

Play your heart out.

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The Bible: From God’s Lips to Our Ears?

If you’ve been around girls for any length of time, you know that, generally speaking, they like to talk. A lot. About everything. My roommate and I are no exception.

Once or twice a week, Anna and I pull on our pajamas, climb into our loft beds, get nice and cozy…and then, inevitably, it happens. One of us brings up something another student said in class or something that we’ve been thinking about lately, and the hour of deep conversation begins.

These conversations vary in subject. Sometimes we just talk about things we did when we were younger or how stupid people can be, but more often we discuss our opinions on religion or human rights or issues that our college really needs to fix. The other night, we were talking about the Bible, how important it was that people read it and interpreted it for themselves as opposed to going by whatever their preacher taught them or not bothering with it at all, and what importance it actually held in Christianity and one’s relationship with God. That conversation spawned this entry.

Here’s my deal. The Bible, divinely inspired though it may have been, was not handwritten by God. He didn’t sit down at some heavenly desk, pound out His Word, and send it hurtling through Earth’s atmosphere to land, complete with His signature and a rather impressive resume, at anyone’s doorstep. Rather, a group of men wrote out what they thought God would want them to say based on their own experiences and whatever inspiration may have come to them through vision or prayer. I’m not saying that what these people wrote isn’t important; I’m simply saying that it was written by humans, who were every bit as fallible, imperfect, and opinionated then as we are today. I definitely believe that God can speak through people, but I also believe He mostly speaks using their voices, their accents. What is written in the Bible would be God’s Word as translated through our minds.

What’s more, the Bible we have today is not simply His Word through the eyes of the men who wrote it all down. Oh, no. It has been through translation after translation after translation, and those of you who have studied a foreign language know that there is no direct translation for some things. Besides, there were many, many books that aren’t included in the Bible today because certain humans—not God, humans!—decided that they weren’t worth including. They were too “out there”, or not in compliance with the rules of the time, or, hey, maybe they didn’t think that particular piece of God’s word was pertinent enough. Even if the Bible had fallen directly from Heaven into humanity’s hands, it would certainly have been through a world of changes since then.

Finally, putting aside all of this, I believe firmly that the whole of God’s Word cannot be contained in a book. If even my tiny reserve of knowledge is too vast be put into one book, how in the world could God’s fit? Even if He is omniscient and unchanging, the world certainly isn’t unchanging. There are issues going on today that weren’t going on when the Bible was riding its first wave of readers. Sure, you could point to some abstract passage and tell me that it was what God intended in reference to, oh, abortion or the place of women…but come on. Slavery has been abolished. Women wear spandex-cotton blends. You don’t hear much about temple whores anymore.

But if God were going to use people to write a new Bible that better explained these things, would we immediately realize that the writers were divinely inspired and hurry to devour more of God’s wisdom? My gut feeling is no. We’d call these people New Age* at best and cart them off to mental institutions at worst. Still, we know our Bible is real and perfect and whole because it has (somewhat) withstood the test of time, and anything that withstands the test of time must be one hundred and ten percent true, right?

…Right?

Er, moving on, then.

Now that I’ve explained my views on this, let me also point out that I’m not telling you to drop your Bibles (or your faith in God, for that matter) and run. Far from it. What I’m suggesting instead is that you read your Bible even more heavily. You decide what sounds right, what feels right, what makes sense in the context of today and what doesn’t. Pray. Ask God about it yourself. Learn through your life experience and the life experience of others. Even if the Bible is filtered to us through thousands of other people’s eyes and hands, the way we experience God also has to come through our human filter. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t need God in the first place.

Let me also address an argument that I get sometimes regarding the things left out of and changed in the Bible. “Don’t you think,” the protestors say, “that God, who is all-knowing and all-powerful, would make it so that what information needed to get to us would get there and what needed to be left out would be left out?”

My answer is, well, maybe. Maybe God used His mighty hand to shape history in such a fashion that we got this exact Bible. Maybe He was careful to make sure we got all of His Word that we needed and the rest was dispensable mumbo-jumbo. But as much as I believe God nudges us toward certain paths, I also believe that we as humans were given freewill, and tampering with the Bible is no exception to this rule. Saying that He wouldn’t allow it to be marred is something akin to saying, “Well, if God didn’t really want all those people to die in the Holocaust, He wouldn’t have let it happen, would He?”.

See, God may have a plan for all of us, but He also allows all of us to make choices regarding that plan. Sometimes, or even often, we make the wrong ones. Besides, just because something isn’t written in the Bible doesn’t mean it isn’t important or true, for you or for anyone else. Not having a perfect written guide to all of God’s Word doesn’t mean that He has failed us. It just means that we have to look a little deeper, which is something we should try to do anyway.

* For the record, I don’t have any problems with people who are labeled as or choose to label themselves as New Agers. In fact, some people would probably call me New Age, what with my ideas about finding one’s own belief and having different means to the same end and such…but hey, whatever creams your Twinkie.

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Lamed Vovniks (and Others Who Save The World)

from here

The other day, I finally finished reading The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Though I could write a book recommendation (and I do recommend it!), I’m skipping that today in favor of talking about a concept in mystical Judaism I was introduced to through the story: the idea of lamed vovniks, 36 people who carry the fate of the world on their shoulders.

“God tells us that He will allow the world to continue as long as at any given time there is a minimum of thirty-six good people in the human race. People who are capable of responding to the suffering that is part of the human condition. These thirty-six are are called the Lamed-Vov. If at any time, there are fewer than thirty-six such people alive, the world will come to an end.” -Naomi Remen, My Grandfather’s Blessing

Basically, no one knows who these people are. In some variations of the story, even a lamed vovnik does not realize who he is. They are compassionate for the sake of being compassionate, so they would not recognize themselves as special. Because the lamed vovniks don’t know who they are, nor does anyone else, it is important to always act as though one were a lamed vovnik and to treat others as if they might be. It is also possible that one of the lamed vovniks born in a generation could turn out to be the Messiah (and if you believe Jesus is the Messiah, it could also work in retrospect–that he was a lamed vovnik of his times).

There are a lot of other interesting points, such as the pain that lamed vovniks might feel at human suffering. Going by Schwarz-Bart’s Le denier des Justes, it seems to me that they would be very empathic; he even goes so far as to refer to them as “vessels for human suffering”.

“For the Lamed-Vov are the hearts of the world multiplied, and into them, as into one receptacle, pour all our griefs. … When an unknown Just rises to Heaven, a Hasidic story goes, he is so frozen that God must warm him for a thousand years between His fingers before his soul can open itself to Paradise.” -Schwarz-Bart, Le denier des Justes (The Last of the Justs)

I’ve also been thinking that it says a lot about God…that if He needs only 36 people in this big, wide world to be good enough for the rest of us to go on existing, it is obvious that He cares about us not only because we are human, but individually. Who we are, each and every one of us, matters and is integral for this life to work. People often hang back from doing the things they want to do because they feel like it’s too big for them, or that it’s just not enough. They think they’re useless because, well, what can they do? One person can’t change the world.

And it’s true. One person can’t change the world by working alone. But one person can set off a change of events that will change the world. After all, if only 36 people are needed for God to decide our planet is still doing well enough to exist, then think of what one person could do for mankind.

Final thought for today is this:

Do you have lamed vovniks in your life, people who keep everything from collapsing regardless of whether you recognize their efforts or not? Do you think they realize who they are? Are they friends, family, strangers? Can you name any of them?

I’ll post my answers in a comment. It would make my day if you could do the same! (:

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Writer’s Block: Conversion Rate

Question from Livejournal’s Writer’s Block: Have you ever considered converting to another religion?

I always intended to talk about this someday, so I suppose now is as good a time as any.

The simple answer: Oh, yes, I have.

The long answer: I was raised in a Christian Protestant household. My parents–first Mom and the bio-dad, now Mom and Teddy–claim Christianity as their religion but aren’t involved in the church, aside from holidays and a short-lived period where Mom decided we were going to become a good, wholesome family and start going every Sunday. (Luckily, I was old enough to get out of it most of the time with only Mom’s yelling and the threat of Hell looming over my head.) When I was elementary school, I was firm in my Christian beliefs. I attended services with my grandparents, I sang in church, I played the tambourine, I tried to teach friends about God…I felt comfortable, I guess. I’ve never had a problem believing that God exists, regardless of the form He may take.

Toward the end of fifth grade, my bubble of ignorance burst for the first time–not in relation to religion, necessarily, but in general. I stopped listening to everything my family said and started to think for myself. In sixth grade, I floundered for a while, unsure of what to believe; there were things taught in my church that I just didn’t feel were right. I looked into Wicca and Paganism but never seriously tried either. Instead, I shaped my own beliefs…not settling on any one religion, but taking different ideas from several.

In eighth grade, like a beacon of light in the darkness, came Unitarian Universalism.

Never had anything resonated with me so much. I was dealing with a lot in junior high, so I can’t say I remember exactly what lead me to find UU or how deeply I looked into it, but since ninth grade, I’ve become steadily more strong and comfortable in my beliefs. Because my family is conservative, albeit a bit hypocritical when it comes to their religion, I’ve been unable to attend UU church services thus far. It doesn’t really bother me because UU is a lot about independent thought and finding one’s own path, but I want my children to be raised in the sort of environment that I think a UU church would offer, and I believe community can play an important role in one’s faith, so I would love to find a congregation once I’m out of the house.

Basically, I have everything I had when I was little. I have an idea of God, and I actually think that He–or She, or It, as the case may be–is so much more all-encompassing than I ever realized before. I have faith in prayer, faith in the fact that there’s someone out there who loves us despite our imperfections, who made us to be imperfect. I am able to reconcile my faith with science. I am able to have that beautiful, peaceful feeling that comes with spending time with my friends or looking at a sunrise and realizing that there is something so much bigger than us but that we are a part of that something, that there is a plan and a purpose for us, that the universe is a place filled with love and that the parts that are broken can be fixed. I’m very, very happy.

Outside of that, I have other things that I didn’t have with my former mindset. My idea of God coincides with my morals and allows me to see the beauty and truth in other religions rather than just thinking that they’re people who have gone wrong somewhere and will end up burning in Hell if they don’t convert. My God is truly an all-loving God, but he is also a Godwho expects something of us, who will not allow us to sit around and hope to get by completely on His mercy. I have realized that the Fall may not have been such a terrible thing after all. I have realized that we love God more than anyone because there is love for God in every other love that we have–when I love my family, I am also loving God, the One who created that family. I’ve rethought my idea of worship so that I no longer associate it with bowing to kiss some tyrant’s feet but with using this life I’ve been given to be the best, truest version of myself I possibly can and celebrating God’s love through service to the world He’s allowing me to enjoy. I’ve come to the conclusion that we do not need angels and chariots to lead the way to Heaven, that we can create Heaven right here on Earth by figuring out what we were put here to do and doing it, doing it with love, with faith, with patience.

My friend Mindy, a very loving Christian whose church I visited recently, has said before that she wants to be a beacon for God. Though our idea of God may differ a bit, I also want to act as a light–for God, and for humanity.

One day, I want a family of my own. I want them to be allowed to have their own theories about life and God and to never feel unworthy of anything. I want them to grow up in a world where all of this discrimination does not exist, or at least is getting less and less. They’ll be in contact with people of different orientations, different races, different religions. They will know that I will love and accept them unconditionally. And I hope that they will go on to be beacons, too, to be even better and brighter than I am.

A lot of bad things happen in this world. Sometimes it seems shrouded in darkness, and sometimes it seems like there’s nothing we can do. But if I can light up even one little part of the world, take away just a little of that darkness–if I can use my fire to bring other flames to life–then everything will be worth it. One day, with enough people trying, with enough people acting as beacons, our planet can be brighter than the sun. Even the biblical garden might seem stark in comparison.

And that is why I’m a Unitarian Universalist. That is why I want to go into counseling Psychology. That is why I chose Berry, a college that seems sincere about students working not only with our heads, but with our hearts and hands. That is why, quite often, I write. For my future, my children’s futures, and the future of the world as a whole…for the light and love I can see through the darkness.

Okay, okay, I’ll hush now.

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