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Homeward Bound

Balancing Belief

If you’d asked me a couple of years ago what Religion I followed, whether or not I responded that I was something of a theistic agnostic, a “ ‘small c’ christian,” or that I had a strong Faith, but didn’t ascribe to any particular organized institution of dogma might depend on what was going on with me in that moment.  In the past, I’ve often said that I feel about most Religions that all of them have at some point accidentally stumbled upon some small hidden vestibule to a minor universal Truth, and then constructed a shrine around it and a way of life to it, using that sacred kernel to rationalize their choices, and to manipulate others, twisting the reality of Truth in order to bend the ignorant masses to their own designs.  I believe all Religions are inherently wrong, while each one has a thread of something right that they cling to in righteous indignation.

This is the way of Man.

The reason I believe that none are right, is because while I do believe there is a such thing as absolute Truth, I just dont believe that we have the wherewithal to make sense of it.  To be completely correct would mean that mankind has achieved the capacity to wholly understand the will of God and to have perfected the transmission of intent on behalf of the Divine, which I’m pretty sure is impossible, given the fallibility of this creature that is Man, who is, after all, only human.  I believe when it comes to matters of Faith and the Spirit, the Truth is the elephant, and we are all blind men.

But Truth IS Truth, no matter how you slice it.  The fact that two different people on two separate continents could virtually simultaneously yet independently invent the radio with no direct interaction between them gives me confidence in the knowledge that when its time has come, the Truth that IS will out itself, and the world at large will be poised to receive it.


On the other hand, though, if you had asked me back then — and if you’d genuinely cared — I might have been half as likely to have readily admitted that I really just don’t know how to respon . . . to confess that I believed in something bigger than me, though I appreciate I don’t have all the answers, while I yet still try to live by a few Universal Truths, the first and foremost of which for me is to always choose Love, first and foremost.


The reality for me is, officially, in some respects, even though my life has changed a great deal since then, I’m not entirely certain the answer has changed all that much.

But then again, maybe it is a bit different these days.


———————


I’d given up going to Church regularly what feels like ages ago.  This was partially what dissected me from my family for some time, though, to be accurate, when we’d gone our separate ways, I hadn’t totally left the Church at that point; I just wasn’t stepping in line the way they’d have chosen for me to be.


Growing up exposed to two very different ways of relating to God through the kaleidoscopic lens of two very different families, torn between some combination of Pentecostal and Fundamentalist (
which I’ve since come to understand is more-or-less a dirty word these days, but which I think accurately described the nature of the Church my family attended at the time, before the term had become culturally hijacked by misguided conservative Religious zealots), I’d had very different perspectives on what Religion is by the time I was adopted (well after the Age of Reason).  The world of Church-life for my newfound folks was a solar system away from the one I’d been born into.  And, I never felt like I could ever quite get it right.

I struggled for years with what I thought was a lack of Faith because it seemed I couldn’t do what was expected of me, until, at some point, I figured out I hadn’t been trying to live as God wanted me to live.   I’d been trying to live how my Mom wanted me to live.  And when I realized there wasn’t enough Faith in the Universe to have ever accomplished that, I let go of trying, and resolved instead to try and understand the source of the Faith I’d come to believe in on my own.


It was both a profound revelation and a powerful relief the day I recognized that true Faith isn’t simply a matter of the ability to regurgitate the maxims you’ve been spoonfed upon command.  The conventions I could not let go of were ingrained into my psyche, as innately as instinct is to a creature of the wild.   But, my convictions, while unmovable, weren’t a direct result of anything I’d read in a book, or had been taught in a class, or had heard preached from the pulpit.  They were canons I knew as assuredly as I believed the sun would rise and set, the moon would wax and wane, that rain would fall, that mountains would stand, the oceans would cycle, and rivers would ebb and flow.  But I’d just come to them, like waking up one day with a perfect  memory of a vivid dream, a knowledge of some enlightenment I’d suddenly realized I’ve always known.  There was a confidence in them that could not be shaken, though it had no clearly defined source.  And if that wasn’t Faith, then there was no such thing.


But, while I could speak of my relationship with God, I didn’t specifically follow any related formal practices of Faith during that period, outside of the way I made choices in my life — which was to let my every action be guided by Love — and which I still do.  I didn’t worship with anyone else anywhere, because I’d never found a group of people who connected with Faith and God and matters of the Spirit in the same way I understood them, and I didn’t know if I would ever come across such a collective, or even if such a one could exist.  In time, I came to believe that a Church which could espouse whatever my “Religion” came out to be shaped up as, probably wouldn’t be that much of a “Church” at all.


I’d spent a few years exploring alternatives, trying to find someplace that felt like home, poking at Religion with a stick, but ultimately finding only emptiness, and so many houses of bricks and mortar that claimed to know God, but only turned my stomach.  I’ve never seen the need for overly embellished ritual or outlandish pomp and circumstance, and it was hard to swallow ornate cathedrals inlaid with gold and precious gems while the homeless and hungry huddled in the doorstep for warmth.  The hypocrisy was so overwhelming it was palpable, and the stench of it burned like sulfur.


I skirted around options in Eastern Philosophy, never dipping a toe in too deeply to any one specific pool in that realm.  I remained peripheral there, unintentionally picking up likely fairly erroneous bits of knowledge through some osmosis of indirect associations, not wanting to wander entirely off course into unfamiliar cultures and foreign territory.  I had nothing against such paths of finding and connecting with God.  I knew there was Truth to be discovered in them, but I also knew that these ways were not my ways, and that I shouldn’t have to drift that far from home to connect with Truth.

If I’d wanted to go that route, I could have read all there was to find about every Religion under the sun, absorbing all the material known to Man, but I felt that would only serve to confuse the issue, because it had only taken the dissection and articulation of one major Religious text to have knocked me on my proverbial Religious backside.  Never having been one to accept anything at face value, I’ve always questioned everything.  I’d started pulling threads here and there, trying to discern and summarize the differences in the discrepant data that had been handed to me between the religion of my parents, and the religion of my family.  Inevitably, I became so tangled up in split hairs I didn’t know how to put everything back together with any sort of sensible adhesive, and I couldn’t make the two mesh with each other, even though they’d both been derived from the same book.  From there, I just couldn’t imagine complicating that crisis any further.  At one point I’d even said I was much more likely to write a theological work than to try and read another — not that I’d want to take on that responsibility — but there was such a thing as input overkill, and by that point, I had surpassed my overload quota.


Also, I didn’t want to entirely throw out the baby with the bathwater.  I wasn’t choosing to reject everything I’d been taught.  I just wanted a richer acceptance of it, one that didn’t sit like a rock in the pit of my gut, telling me that something reeked of rotten flesh.  The Bible, taken as a whole, felt incongruent, full of inconsistencies and anarchy.  It didn’t make sense.  But, at the same time, I didn’t feel there was another set of holy pages out there that would make any more sense to me, because every Religious tome is an historical account of the reactions of God to the actions of Man, and as humanity is God’s most complicated disaster, so must be the guidebook of every Religion.


What I really wanted was to connect personally to an internal sense of what was real, without confounding my own expedition by trying to follow the road map of someone else’s journey, or trying to live vicariously through the experiences of others.  I believe each and every relationship with God is a personal one, and it was the relationship I needed, far more than the instruction manual on how to maintain it.  That might as well have been written in Klingon, not because I had any trouble with reading and comprehension — in fact, that was and is my single greatest skill in life — but because no one is ever taught the Bible in a vacuum.  It’s always brought to you with someone else’s objectives attached.  There were always too many other voices in my head, whispering their own interpretations, coloring my view, painting their own visions over my image of understanding.  I had tried to put on that face, and it hung about me all wrong, like a mask that didn’t fit.

But my Faith wasn’t a mantle I could take off, or a hat I didn’t know how to wear, and I did so desperately want it to belong to me.  So I’d have to keep trying it on, in various shapes and sizes, letting it adjust with me as I grew, until I knew it like the back of my hand, until I could breathe in it like a second skin.  For that, I would need to unplug.  I would need a quiet retreat from the constant buzzing.  I would need to be removed from meddling influences — even the well-meaning ones — until such time as I could stand alone, solid on the foundation of Faith I’d build underneath me, brick by brick, so I could be assured in the knowledge that it would not crumble, like so many heroes and legends I knew as a child who’d fallen to idols of clay.


And I didn’t worry.  Not just because I’m smart enough to solve puzzles in life, but because I knew I wouldn’t be trying to make sense of this mess all on my alone.  With God’s help, I was sure we would get it figured it out.  I believe God made it possible to discover the Divine, to find Love in any corner, with any tools available, or with only the World before us at our fingertips.  And I set out to prove it, though perhaps not nearly with as much a sense of urgency as my Mom would have liked, who worried every day that I would die before I resolved my prodigal quest, and prayed every day that I would simply return to the fold.  As far as I believed, though, I could put the assembly of my life together upside down, backwards, and inside out, with batteries not included, but as long as I had God in my corner, and let Love by my guide, then everything else could be deemed secondary, and I could trust that it would all fall into place one day.  God knows I’m a mess, but that’s okay.  God had my back, and somehow, we’d just get on down the road together.

And so we did.

Because what’s a bit of exploration of the beaten path, really, when compared to the grand scheme of the whole journey of Life?


———————


When I was in my very early 20s, I once came home from a service in tears, because I’d seen an advertisement on late night television (
which probably should have been my first clue) for a type of belief system that seemed to combine elements of the Faith I’d been brought up in with some of the inherent Truths I understood but had not been taught, and I thought maybe this place could help me juxtapose and integrate them in a way that melded cohesively.  Instead, I found what turned out to be the equivalent of a Religious multi-level marketing pyramid, where teaching required membership, and membership required the purchase of materials.  I couldn’t help but to be struck with that line from a rambling live U2 performance, in which a passionate, conscientious Irishman rants about what has become an industry of Religious swindling in America, and exclaims,

               “
Well, the God I believe in isn’t short of cash, Mister!”

I gave up for a few years after that.  I didn’t try living without God in my life.  I just needed to live without Church in my life, because, Churches were comprised of people, and as far as I could tell, people everywhere just didn’t get God.


Of course, what came next was a few years of floundering, a bit of ambling off the beaten path, some self-guided misdirection into greener pastures, one or two entire about-face turnarounds, with the occasional course correction, followed by a full stop, anchor dropped, feet propped, drifting in the breeze.  So, okay, yeah, I guess you can say not only was I thoroughly lost for a while there, but I’d even entirely forgotten where I was going, or that I’d had a destination at all.  My compass had stopped pointing.  It had stopped spinning.  I had stopped caring I was headed anywhere, and decided to just live.  If God is Love, then Love was enough of a guide, right?  I’d follow it wherever it took me.  What else did I need?


Getting me through the doors of any House of Worship after that was a feat of accomplishment in and of itself.  There were times that I’d try to support a friend for a special ceremony, and would find myself racked with nausea, physically unable to remain.  I once had to catch a cab back to where I was staying because I’d caught a bus to a Church service, then found that I could not stay longer than the first few minutes without becoming violently ill, and the bus didn’t run again for another few hours.  As soon as I was out in the fresh air again, though, my breathing started to normalize, my muscles unclenched, and I could relax once more.  I prayed to God and apologized for abandoning his house, but I was pretty sure he understood.


———————


I know some people would be surprised to know I pray, not always recognizing me as a Religious person.  But what is prayer, if not focused meditation, the mindful manifestation of our Spiritual intent?   So, if I offer prayers, or I ask for prayers, I’m not suggesting anyone talk to some imaginary friend in the sky on anyone else’s behalf.  I’m proposing solidarity.  The combined power of people coming together represents the unified intent that helps us all to collectively achieve greater goals... prayer is the tool that makes that possible, and God is the resource of Love that fuels it.  You might call it Law of Attraction.  That’s just another way of saying the same thing.  The ONLY power that IS.  It is the same as it always has been, whether or not we choose to believe it, and despite whatever name we choose for it to go by.

We cannot through our own misgivings make Truth any less True, or make God any less God — or Creator, or Divine, or however else you choose to identify the consciousness of Light and Love.  Your label for what God is does not limit the power that is God.


———————


Things went on in my life like that for many years; my association with God became a soft humming in the back of my consciousness, like the whirring of a furnace motor.  Quiet, but ever present, and always in tune — the drumbeat of my life.  It was a strong, reserved comfort, and it was good.  The chaos of the wind tunnel that was my constant neurotic second-guessing of my childhood Faith had subsided, and had become still, like the transition from the raging torrent of a storming sea that releases into a tributary to the gentle bubbling of a babbling brook, and I felt that the presence of God in my life, taken as a constant companion, had assured that I’d come to that inner tranquility, and could be at Peace.


Perhaps because I never wore a cross around my neck, and had no formal label for what I believed, and maybe because we all need everything to be compartmentalized into neatly wrapped packages that are clearly identified in order to know how to relate to what we encounter in this life, people would often accuse me of being Buddhist, which was for some time something of a complete mystery to me.  If you met me in person, the setting you’d most likely find me in would probably be such that you’d catch me in “entertaining mode,” which is a somewhat larger-than-life version of the Mick, one that is semi high-strung, super outgoing, gregarious, sometimes loud, and occasionally a touch on the obnoxious side.  Certainly nothing remotely close to resembling anything that could be mistaken for Zen. But, though it didn’t make sense, I took that feedback into consideration, and set it aside, for another day when it might seem to be more relevant.  At the time, it just didn’t matter that much to me.  Though, having no specific religious category into which I did conform, I supposed semi-pseudo, sorta Buddhist was just as good as any.


But there was still something missing.  I didn’t know how to reference my relationship with God, though I was okay with it being undefined, for the moment.  I didn’t know how to address my God, but I didn’t figure it mattered if I spoke any name, as long as we stayed in touch.  God was always just “you” to me, in that easy-going manner that people tend to speak to one another, the way it is with someone you’re close to.  Always right there, in the beating of my heart, in the rushing of my blood, just under the surface of my own incessant internal cacophony — patient, ready, waiting, listening.  A lot — in fact, most — of our conversations are one-sided, of course.  I’m not schizophrenic, after all.  You have to turn your own thoughts off if you want to hear the voice of God, and that isn’t easy for someone as subconsciously restless as I can be.  But God doesn’t want to talk over you.  You get to wait until you’ve worn yourself out with your own disquiet, and then either reap the rewards or pay the consequences of whatever nonsense you drew out of the white noise.  I learned over time, after enough rowdy misadventures, that when I really need to take the right step, I must first be patient and become still, to find the silence in which God speaks, and to listen.


What was troubling me was that I didn’t know how to speak about my God, nor even if I should.  Although there wasn’t any longer a lot of racket in my ear on Religion and Faith — only because I’d removed myself from all that dissonant discord — the world is still a tumultuous assault on the senses.  If you tune out all the Religious nonsense, then all you’re left with is all the other nonsense, and that’s even worse.  You can do your best to clear out the clutter, but no one walks through this Life in a bubble.  It was easy enough for me to reduce the clamoring of the resounding gongs around me to a dull roar, but, at the inner chamber of my soul, even with the volume of surrounding insanity turned down to mute, and despite my underlying closeness with a Divine presence, I still felt very alone.

Eventually, the solitude was enough to make me want something more, even if it was only subconsciously.  I needed a drastic change, even though I didn’t know it.  And I got one, even though I wasn’t looking for it.


———————


What has since changed about my world is that a year and a half ago, my parents converted their part-time, semi-occasional involvement with a mission in Haiti into a full-time, hands-on, live-in gig.  Upon receiving the news, a few months in advance of their departure, I was understandably devastated and disgruntled, for a varied number of reasons, not the least of which included, it came directly on the heels of a three-month period after which I’d unexpectedly experienced the sudden deaths of my Father, my youngest cat, and my Mother.   (I was adopted at an older age, and have in some respects always acknowledged the validity of both sets of parents.)  That was about as much loss of family as I could handle for right then, and I wasn’t prepared to lose them, too, to another country, and to work I didn’t know how to support at the time.


The second issue I took with that whole situation was that I really couldn’t condone their mission work.  No, in fact, more than that... I’d actively opposed it, at least in spirit anyway (I didn’t directly challenge them on it . .  I knew I needed to work that through internally, first).  I’ve never been able to stomach the act of doing good works with a hidden agenda.  I’m happy to support agencies like Green Peace, Doctors Without Borders, Mercy Corps, and Freedom From Hunger, etc.  I have no problems whatsoever with the work of benevolent human angels going into impoverished and underdeveloped countries to help give them a better life.  But, to me, I feel there must be a special kind of judgment waiting for those who come into these places and hold in front of desperate people the dangling carrot of a promise for a brighter tomorrow with such resources as food to feed the hungry, medicine to heal the sick, and education to train the young, as well as irrigation and other advancements in agricultural technology to increase the abundance of the harvest, with the only minor caveat being that all it will cost them is their immortal soul.


So suffice it to say this was not a transition in my familial life that met well with me.  But I didn’t have any choice in the matter, and no control over it, so I was going to have to learn to live with it.  It didn’t make sense to harbor any resentment against my family, because what good was that going to do any of us?  Life is precious, and time is sweet.  My folks are getting on in years, and though I hope they will be with us for many more to come, it is more apparent every day that I won’t have them around forever.  We’d already lost so much time between us, with battle lines drawn long ago over foundational disparities, and estrangements carried on for far too long.  We’d reconciled our irreconcilable differences.  How could I compound that by holding against them this crowning achievement of their golden age?


No, instead, I had to take stock in my own values.  I had to compare the broad scope of my generic principals about Mission Work against the genuinely heartfelt actions of people I Love — the family I know well enough to understand their hearts, and trust their motivations.  Sure, maybe missionaries all around the globe may be in some cases causing more emotional damage and Spiritual harm than physical well-being.  But I don’t have those cases in front of me.  What I do have before me is the couple that raised me in Love, sharing that Love with a portion of the world that desperately needs it.


So, there I was, back to the drawing board, to reevaluate, regroup, reframe.  It’s something I learned to do long ago; a regular requirement of any life that walks in a path of Love.  I’ve found The Way of Love is the only way that makes Life work, and I try to live by it every day.  The standard course of action in circumstances like these for me goes something like this:

     •  Always be willing to question everything,
         including those things you might think you hold most dear.

     •  Be willing to compromise, even if you think you can’t.
         You never know but that you might not discover the belief
         you cling to the tightest may be the very space
         in which you need to loosen your grip the most.

     •  Understand the whys behind what you hang on to,
         and if the rationale doesn’t demonstrate Love,
         then be willing to let it go.

And so I did.

Because, I may still be reluctant to buy into the notion that every person whose lives we don’t connect with on the same level as our own must necessarily need to be indoctrinated with our own specific brand of interpretation about what we perceive as gospel, BUT, despite my lack of Love for Mission Work, I Love my parents
more.  And I know their hearts are in the right place, and that when they stand accountable according to their own beliefs, I have no fear that they will be judged to have walked as they talked.


———————


At this point, I should mention that if I haven’t already made it obvious in my collective works by now, I’ll save you the trouble of reading between the lines and just confess that I’m something of a control freak.  I’ve never reacted well to being directed or manipulated, and while I’m respectful of authority where respect is warranted, I’ve never been very good at giving it out based on position alone.  I would like to be a bit less hardheaded and difficult, but it’s something ingrained in my genetic makeup, and after four decades of living with it, I have learned to do the best I can to manage it, and work to minimize the collateral damage.  We all have our issues.  So, needless to say, my non-biological folks and I clashed.  A lot.  I take as much responsibility as I put on them, mind you.  It was a difficult and challenging situation thrust upon us, and we all had a lot of growing up to do.  And we have.

But their Religion was the most important element of their world, the driving force behind their lives, and though my position wasn’t as divergent from theirs as they might have thought — in fact, we may have more or less ended up in practically the same space — we just couldn’t manage to see eye-to-eye on how we came to be there.  I felt like there was only a step or two between us, but from their perspective, it might as well have been the great divide.  And, somehow, I’m not sure I ever made them understand that wherever we landed, there was always Love there, and God stood within our midst.  But I think they didn’t see it, because they couldn’t.  To their knowledge, they knew the face of God, and all they could see in mine was sin.


But we’d sorted through that, and had moved past it.  I’d been becoming increasingly closer to my family over the previous several years, after a long absence.  During that same time period, though, I’d also endured a lengthy cohabitation with a domestic companion whose reaction to being in their presence had gone from reluctance to resentment, as he said spending time with them was a chore, and a drain on his reserves.  I suspect that may have been because he never could relax around them, and always felt he had to be on his best behavior, though I couldn’t say for certain.  But I was putting that behind me, too, and moving on from that chapter in my life, also, with nothing to hold me back from growing even closer, in every respect.


When I’d gone to Church within the previous couple of years, it had been out of a desperation to be in touch with my parents, with whom I’d only get to visit for a few weeks at a time every few months a year.  I’d tried to remain as consistent about it when they weren’t in town as I was when they were here, so that it wasn’t just a casual commitment in name only, but then something would happen that would make me miss a week, and one could easily turn into two, and two could easily turn into three, and before I’d know it, they’d already be on their way back to their home in the first world, and I hadn’t been to Church the whole time they’d been gone.

Of course, I’ve never been one to give lip service, either.  But my Mom never expected that of me.  She knew why I was there, and preferred my presence to my absence, regardless of my reasons.  And yet attending Church — any Church — was still hard for me, even to see her.  I knew that I had come from the space these people were in, having been raised as the daughter of an elder, in a family that was revered as a respected pillar of the community, but, in some respects, I’d felt I’d moved past those roots, and I was afraid to have any serious conversations with any believers there, because my Faith didn’t live in the same space that theirs did anymore, and it didn’t look like theirs did, and I couldn’t point to where it had come from with any kind of intelligence or eloquence that delivered cognizance of Spirit, or clarity of thought.  I had to trust either that would come in time, or a greater recognition of my misdirection would, like maybe discovering I just had some weird brain tumor to be extracted, whereby a random surgery would fix my wild ideas, and then suddenly Religion would make sense.  Or something else equally ridiculous.  Or perhaps even just by coming to learn that I was wrong.  But in the meantime, I just felt like an imposter.


———————


Then, nine months ago, I began searching for a new home with my current housemate.  Both of us were living with roommates at the time who were adjusting conditions of their lives in such a way that required each of us to make other arrangements.  We already ran in the same social circle, had a great deal in common, and genuinely got along together well.  We both needed a place, and sharing one would cut our expenses considerably.  It just made sense.

So, not wanting to enter into another living situation with someone else who made hanging out with my family difficult for me, I set out to introduce them to one another — this new potential household sidekick and my folks — before my new domestic companion and I ever even came across a camp to set up.  My folks happened to be in town at the time.  They come back to the states briefly about once a quarter.  The best way I knew to connect with them was to go to Church where they go.

And that was the first step in my relatively recent somewhat major life adjustment I’m only just now in some ways still adjusting to.


———————


While I had a sense of connection to and communion with God every day, I had no regular interaction with anyone else in that communion, even though I interacted with people every day.  What surprised me was that I hadn’t realized how much I missed that communion until I brought my then soon-to-be-housemate to be introduced to my family at the tiny 35-40 member congregation that meets in a local school and senior center, and felt a kind of internal warmth in the feeling of what it was like to not be alone in that space anymore.  And I didn’t want to lose that.  And, since my folks were still in town anyway, the next week, I went back again, and I took my future housemate with me.


Over time, getting up on Sunday morning to go to Church became easier, because I had someone to get up and go there with, someone who understood I was a fish-out-of-water there, someone who was himself a fish-out-of-water.  Together, we were a couple of sharks swimming in a small pond, trying not to bare our teeth, trying not to seem so out-of-place.  (Fishers of men are
Friends, NOT Food.)  I never asked Minion to go to Church with me because I wanted to convert him.  In fact, I only ever asked him there once, and only for the ulterior motive very clearly expressed up front.   I told him I wanted to make a personal commitment to continue attending through the end of the year, since my folks would be back again for Thanksgiving, and I didn’t want to be the fair weather attendee who only shows up when they were around.  I told him I didn’t know if I would be able to honor that commitment, but I was going to try, and he was welcome to come with me any time, if he had nothing better to do, and felt like tagging along, but I was never going to push my Faith on him, and I was never going to try to make anything else out of it than what it was.


What it was, in fact, I didn’t rightly know at the time.  But, as the weeks progressed, it became apparent that it was more than I’d initially thought it was.  It was, as it turned out, exactly what I needed, and, maybe, even, what my housemate needed, too.  He’s had a similar path of connection to worldly Religions — perhaps more as a point of interest and a study of world culture than out of any sense of seeking Truth — but in that setting, he comes off like a scholar, and everyone there looks up to him for his wisdom in such matters.  He weathers this admiration with temperance and grace, without so much a thought of it going to his head, because he only sees himself as a resource of
occasionally relevant knowledge, not as any sort of pundit, and he’s glad to spit out historical facts for reference upon request, without any real sense of personal attachment to it.  He’s pretty cool that way, actually.

The attachment that we have both come to develop, though, is one neither of us saw coming.

What we’ve found, quite unexpectedly, is that, given enough exposure, people you see on a weekly basis, if they’re motivated by Love, and if their actions demonstrate Love, can’t help but to start to feel like family.  After a while, you start to feel less afraid of what they might think of how you really perceive the world, and more trusting and receptive to opening up and being honest about where you do fit in, because you come to realize that no one is going to judge you, or hold your out-of-place perspective against you.

And why should they?

Despite the common misconception to the contrary, there’s nothing that teaches Love which also tells anyone that’s what we should be doing.  We all have our baggage.  That’s yours, this is mine.  It’s not my place to judge yours.  It’s not the Church’s place to judge mine.  It’s not my family’s place to judge one another’s.  It’s not mankind’s place to judge the rest of humanity.  It’s no one’s place, but God’s.

And I’m so grateful, because, how much easier does it make our lives for that to be one less thing to have to bother with, one less burden we have to bear, one less hassle for us to worry over?  Better to leave it to someone more qualified, and then just be content to let it go.  In the end, your relationship with God is what matters most to God, and that relationship is entirely between you and God alone.


———————


I’ve been around about on a wild goose chase of Religion, Faith, and Spirituality, only to end up right back where I started, though, oddly enough, I can’t entirely say that I didn’t see this coming.  I wouldn’t wish this course of metaphysical meandering on any other human being on the face of the planet, because I doubt very much that anyone else would achieve the same results and reach the same conclusion in the same place.  And, yet, this winding, wandering, occasionally seemingly aimless journey was the only one that was ever going to land me where I am today.  Because, this tiny group of overtly loving, but fundamentally flawed people were the only collective that was ever going to let me breathe long enough to feel the Love that I have found in their presence.  I’ve finally come to recognize that what I’ve always known, has always been here.


———————


I have given some thought lately to what it is about my mannerisms, ethics, practices or demeanor that leaves such a pointed impression about my spirituality in the perspective of others.  It was Minion who brought to my attention the reality that the personal attributes which put me in the seeming Buddhist category for some are in fact derived from my Christian upbringing.  He tells me the misperception comes from the fact that anyone can see I exude in my everyday life characteristics and practices common in both Religions, such as:

         
Kindness, selflessness, charity — three sides to the same coin of generosity.
          In Buddhism, I believe these are rolled up together with self-sacrifice.
          But self-sacrifice is most certainly a precept of the Christian Faith.
          It could even be considered the cornerstone of it.

          He has noted that I don’t kill spiders and bugs I find in the house,
          but instead scoop them up and carefully redeposit them outside.
          This is because I can’t bring myself to destroy one of God’s creations.
          And though Buddhists may teach respect for all living creatures
          as a general rule of thumb, they surely don’t hold a monopoly on the concept.

          Minion says that despite my tendency to smoothly transition into “high gear mode,”
          through it all, I manage to maintain an underlying inner calm.
          This could be perceived as a “Zen” nature, but it’s more a sense of peace
          that comes from clarity, and I didn’t even have to study Buddhism to come by that.


All of these might be reflections of Buddhism, but they’re also cardinal tenets of Christianity.  The other indicating factors that get lumped together with the same presumptions, I think might have more to do with the fact that the people who are usually remarking on my apparent Buddhist qualities are probably not the types who are worldly educated enough to actually be all that familiar with the Religion itself, but instead just have a general sense of the types of personalities that are associated with it.  I wouldn’t propose that I have one of those personalities... I tend to think of folks who do as much more mellow than me.  But, I can see where there might be some correlated components of temperament.

          Mostly because my life has been full of it, I have learned to easily adapt to change.

          I’m sometimes perceived to have the patience of Job, though I’m of the belief
          that might be perhaps only because I’m lazy enough that I can become complacent.
          I do, though, have an abnormally long fuse.  It takes a lot to upset me,
          and even when I do get upset, I rarely stay that way.  I bounce back easily,
          and prefer, whenever possible, to let go of anger, rather than lingering in it,
          because, after all, what function does it serve, really?

          Because I’ve made a lifetime of transitory living,
          I’ve learned to become somewhat detached from material possessions.

          And, because I’ve lived a life of extremes, I’ve learned over time
          that the happiest mediumand the space that requires the least resistance
          to maintain a level of contentment (again, <<lazy) is where the pendulum rests,
          and thus I’ve learned to find the comfortable balance in the space between.

          (Though I understand this last one is more closely related to Taoism than Buddhism,
           but I don’t really know that much about either.  Then again,
           neither does a significant portion of the global population, I gather.)


And then there’s my connection to Karma.

Because of the handle I go by here, and most everywhere else online (
which is a variation on my legal name), someone once asked me how I strongly I believe in Karma.

My response was this:

I believe that energy can neither be created or destroyed; that the most powerful force of the Universe is that of Love, and its opposite is that which is not Love — manifested most often as fear, which then deteriorates into self-preservation and pettiness, and from there begets all that is commonly recognized as evil.  I believe that the Soul is the presence of the Divine within our psyche; that our sentience is our representation of it, and our ability to communicate with it.  I believe that the energy in which we surround our lives, both from without and from within, impacts the association we have to the Divine, and that we can surround ourselves with enough energy which does not reflect Love that we can become further separated from the Divine.  I believe the purpose of our existence is to experience living with the Divine, and that we can, in that process, through our choices and interactions, become completely severed from it.

Separation from God is not my aspiration.  I choose to live in such a way that reflects Love, and in so doing strengthens my connection with the Divine.

Our existence on this plane is like living in a fishbowl.  We are constantly surrounded every day by mirrors of our actions, reflecting that which we give off, to others, to ourselves, and back to us.  If we live a life that radiates outwardly of light and Love, if our choices echo with the steps in that path at every bend in the road, then we are every day that much closer to once again becoming one with the Divine, returning back to being part of God, from whence we came.

And that is something I look forward to.


You might say that seems more Eastern philosophy than Christian.  Maybe so.  I wouldn’t know.
I haven’t really studied other Religions.  This is just what I believe.  But I don’t see how this, my Truth, my way of life, is incongruent with what it means to be a Christian.



———————


For a while, I’d labeled myself christian with a small “c” because so much pain in the world had been brought about in the name of Christ, and I didn’t want to be associated with that.  I’ve wondered how the Man so devoted to Peace and Love would perceive the Inquisition, or the Crusades, or any Holy War, or Campaign, or Act, or Focus, which would generate crimes of hatred against His people in His name.  Quite frankly, it pains me to imagine it.

I could honestly say that I looked to the Man Jesus as a role model to be emulated, and I modeled my own personal Code of Conduct after his teachings.  He was the original hippie.  He taught Love, instead of War; Charity over greed; Kindness before indulgence.  These were the guiding principles I chose to rule my life, and Jesus was their advisor, the mentor and leader with whom I was most familiar — the easiest to understand, the most comforting to relate to.


In fact, the only thing that kept me from wholly identifying with Christianity in an official capacity was the cultural context I knew that doing so suggested: that I punched a Religious clock, thumped a Religious text, or measured the world against a Religious ruler.  But I didn’t go to Church, I wasn’t a Bible beater, and I don’t pass judgment on others, so I didn’t want to be lumped in with that lot.  I don’t think I’m better than anyone else.  And I’m not about to go around telling anyone else that they’re wrong.  How could I?  I try to be better than the sum of my parts, but I am only a pale reflection of the Creator.  Selfishness, fear, pettiness, arrogance, desire, and pride are the imperfections of Man.  Imperfection is hard to overcome, and I am made of weakness.  I’m a sinner, plain and simple, to my core.  Sin is the dead weight that we all carry, like Marley’s chains, some of it more visible to the world than others, but all of it just as heavy, and all of it weighing us down, separating us from God.

And while I’m certain I’m not the best representation of what a true Christian ought to be, I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what Faith is, what the Spirit is, who God is, and who the Man Jesus is.  And though my path may not have been the most linear, I’ve also picked up a fairly clear inclination of how one might go about NOT following in the footsteps of the Son of Man.  I’m pretty sure that standing on a soapbox and pointing out another’s sin, or persecuting others whose lives are different from your understanding of how to live is not how one demonstrates an example of the teachings of the Prince of Peace.  Anyone who truly understood the Man who gathered together a collective of sinners and social outcasts as followers, welcomed the anointment of repentant prostitutes, defended adulteresses, and communed with Samaritans, could not turn around and preach condemnation against any other man.


One thing’s for sure, though, for me, at this point.  I gave up way too much of the time I had available to me to connect in my life with other people on a Spiritual plane because I could not tolerate the imperfections of an imperfect people, and because too many of the bad ones gave too much of a bad reputation for the rest of those who are following closer to what is genuinely taught within this Faith.  I knew at the time, even then, that the pendulum would have to swing back the other way, and that I would find a balance, and a sense of Peace, in a space that I knew well enough to call Home, but, I also knew, too, that I still needed the space to step away, and to get there on my own.  I’m through, though, letting the rotten apples spoil the whole bunch for me.  That’s more power than they deserve, and I’m not going to give it to them anymore.

I’m still a theistic agnostic, because I believe in God, though I know I don’t have everything else figured out.  I’m still a “small ‘c’ christian,” because I generically follow Jesus as a teacher.  But I’m also a Christian, and I won’t be bullied into being ashamed to admit it.



———————


It’s interesting to me to follow through with the conversations that start off where people associate what they see in me with Buddhism.  I’ve started to take note of some of the reactions I get when I respond with the question,

             “Would it surprise you to know that I’m actually a Christian?”

They often respond with such astounded replies as,

             “You’re Christian?  But you seem so
normal!”

             “Christian?  I never would have guessed... you don’t strike me as judgmental at all!”

             “You can’t be a Christian... you’re not crazy enough!”

And while some of these are admittedly amusing, they’re more a tragic commentary on the state of affairs for this particular world Religion, and they speak to how much work there is to do in changing the overall perceptions about what it means to be a true Christian.


These days I go to Church, and I look forward to it.  I feel something is out of place in my life when I don’t have that connection with other Lovers of God.

I know my God is everywhere.  I know the Divine Creator of the Universe doesn’t need me to come to any one particular space and at specifically recurring preset time in order to find Love, or to communicate with God.  I know My God cannot be contained in any manmade vessel.

But, while I may have a connection to the Divine, I am not God.  I’m only human.  My God may not need me to reach out and touch Faith, but my heart needs me to.  And the best way I’ve found to see the countenance of God is on the face of my fellow man.  So, I come together with others where I will feel the power of Love, and the presence of God, and I understand why I have been so many places that were full of people, but where I didn’t find God, because there wasn’t Love there.  And now I know that no matter where I go, I can always be comfortable, because I know what to look for.

If I seek Truth, I will find Love, and where there is Love, I will find God.

Because God is Love,

Love is Law,

and everything else is just smoke and mirrors.

And that’s the Truth.


I may not understand everything there is to know about Religion, but I have Faith in Truth, and if the world should end tomorrow, then I believe that Truth will be enough.



LJ Idol | Season 9 • Week 7 - Topic: NO TRUE SCOTSMAN
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Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
mari4212
Apr. 29th, 2014 09:46 am (UTC)
This spoke to me, a lot. In part because I've been spending a good deal of the last year and a half working out how do be a missionary for a year without repeating the kinds of harm that missionaries have historically done.
karmasoup
Apr. 30th, 2014 03:30 am (UTC)
I'm glad it connected well with you. It's not easy avoiding those kinds of mistakes, but I'm sure doing so involves having your heart in the right place, and putting the needs of the people before ticking off the quota of how many can be filed in the win column. Good luck to you and your team, and God Bless.
(Deleted comment)
karmasoup
Apr. 30th, 2014 03:35 am (UTC)
Well, hi, there! Thanks for stumbling onto my journal. Glad my journey hit close to home, and that you have found what you were looking for.
eternal_ot
Apr. 29th, 2014 01:27 pm (UTC)
I liked your three points "Reevaluate, regroup, reframe" and that truth is a elephant and we are blind mice...:) A wonderful way of living your life your terms...Cheers to your spirit!
karmasoup
Apr. 30th, 2014 03:43 am (UTC)
Thanks. I'm not sure it's my terms I live life on, necessarily... I'm pretty sure there's a connection there to something bigger than me, but ultimately I've still got to be the one steering.
rayaso
Apr. 29th, 2014 03:56 pm (UTC)
This was an exceptionally personal essay on a topic I don't see addressed on LJ Idol (but then I could have missed those, and sorry to the writers I missed). A very well written essay! I loved the idea of going from "not a true Scotsman" to "not a true Christian" with such an extensive discussion, especially in the areas of Buddhism and Christianity.
karmasoup
Apr. 30th, 2014 03:41 am (UTC)
Thanks, glad it worked for you. That whole Buddhism thing never really made that much sense to me, until Minion, who knows quite a bit about global religions and world cultures, enlightened me about the similarities. This was not an easy piece to write, because it's so hard to talk about religion without seeming preaching, but it's thoughts I've been meaning to get off my chest of for a few weeks now, and the prompt presented the perfect opportunity.
halfshellvenus
Apr. 29th, 2014 05:27 pm (UTC)
I can see why this has been such a tough journey, and I have many of the same issues with missionary work as you do-- and additionally the "My way is of course better" (which strikes me as hubris), and conversions which lead to alienating people from their native cultures.

I'm glad you've found a way to make this work for you. Finding a community of love and sincerity that shares your beliefs seems to be rare, these days, but so important to those who value those two aspects more than anything.
karmasoup
Apr. 30th, 2014 03:38 am (UTC)
Thanks. You know, oddly enough, I'm not sure that I ever really saw it as all that tough of a journey. It was just my journey. But it doesn't surprise me at all that you feel the same way about mission work... we INFJs tend to think alike.
halfshellvenus
May. 16th, 2014 06:26 pm (UTC)
I feel as if I'm about to disappoint you, but I turned out to be an INTJ, which will show up in this week's Idol entry if I don't take a bye.

The slightly more extensive online test I took this week said the "T" was only about 12% more than the "F" (same for N over S). Sadly, the J over P was just incontrovertible. *weeps*
mamas_minion
May. 1st, 2014 03:31 pm (UTC)
Very insightful, being someone who hasn't been connected to a religion for some time I found this to be uplifting that there could be a way to reconnect. I'm glad you have been able to come to grips with your faith and make it a part of your life and I hope writing this helps you on your continued journey.

Edited at 2014-05-01 03:58 pm (UTC)
karmasoup
May. 1st, 2014 04:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you. It was cathartic. It’s been building in the back of my mind over a few weeks... this just turned out to be the week it had to come out, I guess. I think it’s helpful to formulate percolating thoughts in writing... sometimes that’s the best way to process what is actually going on in my head, and to be able to make the most sense of it. I didn’t mean to be preaching to anyone, just sharing my own experience, but I’m glad you found it informative, though I’m not sure what I’ve informed you. I’m definitely not a dictionary of answers – more of a book of Socratic questions. But maybe sometimes it’s helpful to ask the right questions. I guess that’s the way we find answers, and from there, wisdom. Good luck on your journey, wherever it takes you.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )