"Oh, my beautiful and marvelous God. What are you doing with me?"

Excerpts from my travel notebook:

It is such an unspeakably beautiful moment. The train is carrying me through Montana. The sun just set. I can see the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the distance. There are no trees, so the sky sweeps across from one edge of the horizon to another...

Now there are lights of a nearby town glittering in the dark. Someone is shooting off fireworks; from far away they look low, but beautiful. There's a narrow sliver of crescent moon in the sky.

I don't think my truth is any better than anyone else's. I don't think I'm the authority on relationship with God. But I want to help other people, especially other Quakers, find some of the joy and peace that I've experienced in my deepening spirituality.

Why do we call new Quakers "convinced"? Shouldn't an experience of God wholly change your life, "convert" you from one substance and one existence to another? I have never been "convinced" of the truth to be found in Quakerism in the rational, intellectual sense which the word indicates. I have, however, experienced conversions of mind and heart, in which my self was utterly transformed by the workings of Spirit.
That is the power we must be prepared to own when we take on the role of Quaker ministers (for we are all, as part of the Religious Spciety of Friends, ministers). Not the change of mind arising from the logical process of convincement, but the change of soul resulting from baptism in the holy Spirit.

It's a perfect day,
Just like every other
That God has made,
That God has made.

Oregon is beautiful. I saw this on the way to the coast, riding through forests of huge trees, my first glimpse of the rocky-cliffed coast and huge waves, glorious rivers... and oh, the stars at night, shining in the cold, strewn across a huge expanse of sky. Layers and layers of stars, and nothing to block the view...

Two approaches to ministry are important, and should not exist in isolation: doing ministry, and being a minister. An approach based exclusively on "doing ministry" will not sufficiantly nurture the person carrying ministry. But when one thinks of ministry only in terms of vocational ministers, it can limit the amount of weight and attention given to the ministry of others, and this recreates the stifling of God's word and corruption of power that Fox witnessed in the churches of the "hireling priests," where only one person had the authority to witness God's truth.

Priesthood of all believers. What does that mean to me? Is a piece of my ministry to call Friends into a deeper and more authentic priesthood?

How seriously are we really taking this? Are we all living up to our responsibilities, our gifts, and our potential as priests?

...tenderness is a luxurious state. Never forget that, or fail to appreciate it.

We've been following a river for a long time. It's wide and rippled and has tall forested hills rising abruptly from the opposite bank. My soul doesn't know quite what to do with this much beauty.

I was sitting on my friend's living room sofa, reading a wholly unremarkable book, when it came upon me that I needed to pray. I retreated to the bedroom and fell to my knees, head bowed almost to the ground.

"I am yours, God," I said, "To do with as you will. I promise you here that I am willing to do anything you ask of me, whatever it may be. I am your servant. My truest ambition is to be faithful to the Light of Christ- the present, incarnate God- in my soul. I feel the power of Christ. I feel your annointment."

And it was the truest prayer I have ever prayed, sincere and passionate to the bottom of my soul.

I waited in listening silence for some time. I spoke to God that I did not need immediate guidance on any of the things at hand, but would continue to seek in the presence.

"Only reveal to me what you want, and I will do it. I will listen as best I can."

And then there were words in my head, and I felt them to be utterly true.

"I know that my redeemer liveth. I know that my redeemer liveth." I whispered these words over and over again, bent to the floor in a dark room. As I whispered, I felt a presence behind me, as if a person had silently entered the room, though there was no one in the house. And I knew that the living God had become a palpable presence, that I might feel the realness of the Lord more fully.

It is still with me. I trembled before the presence in those moments when I first was aware of it, and still I feel frightened, but deeply comforted. I will never be alone again. The Lord God is with me, and Christ is risen in my heart.

I know that my redeemer liveth.

know that my reedemer liveth.

Oh, my beautiful and marvelous God. What are you doing with me?

On the bus from San Jose to Los Angeles today, I sat across the aisle from a man who had just gotten out of prison. At first, hearing this in a conversation he was having with another man seated behind me, I was a little nervous and wary. I asked God to remove these reactions from me so that if the opportunity arose, I could respond to these men in a faithful way, one that would answer that of God in them.

I settled into an amusingly bad Quaker mystery novel, until the man across the aisle turned to me and asked what I was reading. "A mystery novel," I said. "It's really bad."

"What's it called?" I showed him the cover, with the title,
Quaker Witness, emblazoned across the front.

"It's kind of fun to read, though, because I'm a Quaker." He looked confused, and asked me to explain the term. I was hesitant at first, unsure of how much he wanted to know. "It's a religion..."

The conversation unfolded and I found myself telling him a lot; the way we worship, our belief in that of God in every person, the testimony of equality, the lack of creed...

My earnestness, at many times, made him laugh. Like when he asked about my clothes, and I told him that God had told me to wear suspenders, and who was I to say no? But even while he laughed, he told me how moved he was. He said that he could see the joy in my face when I talked about it. He said it spoke to his soul, what I was saying, that everything I said was like twisting his arm to believe me. That's not me, I wanted to say. That's the holy Spirit...

I realized with sadness, as I spoke with this man, that I could not be certain that he would be greeted warmly if he showed up to a typical Friends' meeting. In any case, he wouldn't fit in. He was black, working class, un-intellectual, and just released from prison. In fact, he could have walked straight out of a prison movie; he was tall and muscular, tough-looking and tough-talking. But he had tenderness of spirit. Shouldn't that be the only prerequisite for participation in our religious society?

"What do you feel?
What do you fear?
What do you love?
What do you need to be whole?"


Missing the Jesus Train

I am in good spiritual, emotional, and physical health. I have been using my pre- and post-Gathering travels as a sort of testing ground for my leading to travel in the ministry, and it has been rewarding. I feel that this leading is true, and good, and I am ready to ask my clearness committee to move forward on it.

One of the most rewarding things about this testing is that it has brought up all sorts of vital questions about who I am as a person of faith, as a Friend, as a minister. Here is one of the more central questions that I am holding in my heart at present: What do I believe about Jesus, and where does that put me on the Christian/Universalist/something-else-entirely spectrum?

Here's the answer I have so far, and the heart of my questioning: I am a Christian. I think.

It took me a long time to be able to describe myself that way. It took, most of all, a reworking of definitions, namely, what does it mean to be a Christian? I had been feeling for some time a deepening connection with Christian music, Christian language, Christian scripture. I didn't know quite what to do with this, since I didn't (and still don't) meet most of the creedal "requirements" of Christianity. Then I read Marcus Borg, and in the very first chapter of Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time, he challenged everything I had assumed about Christianity and my place in it (or more accurately, outside of it). He said that being Christian isn't primarily what you believe about Jesus, but that your spiritual practice is rooted in and identified with Christian tradition.

"Cool!" I thought to myself. "I qualify! I'm in!"

Since then I've given myself permission to do a lot of "Christian" things. I sing Christian hymns as part of my personal spiritual practice. I seek out Christian language, theology, and worship experiences. I read the writings of early Friends, who spoke so often and so powerfully about the "Light of Christ" in our souls. These writings settle in my heart with unspeakable joy and Light. My relationship with God has blossomed through my emerging relationship with Jesus. I share with Fox the certainty that "there is one, Jesus Christ, who can speak to [my] condition."

I have let myself revel in the joyfulness of this new experience, and figured I could reconcile all the theological stuff later. Even better, I thought (maybe thought isn't the right word; it wasn't quite a concious thing), if I just practiced Christianity long enough and deeply enough, the belief part would work itself out. But it's a wall I've been coming up against more and more these days. I'm plagued by doubt: can I really say these things, do these things, name myself in this way? Am I, somehow, a fake, because I have no opinion on whether Jesus was immaculately concieved, literally the son of God (more than any other person), worked miracles, died on the cross to atone for the sins of humanity, or was resurrected?

I've read a fair amount of Christian writing of many types- devotional, autobiographical, theological- and I'm still feeling like my most essential question has gone unanswered. It feels like the train I missed in Chicago. Eventually Amtrak put us on a bus and we caught up with the same train in Minneapolis, but we missed out on the whole initial leg of the journey. By the time I caught up with Christianity, it feels like, everyone had already decided what they meant by "Christ," and they could now just go about the business of living it. When early Friends, in particular, speak of Christ, it resonates in delicious ways down to the core of my being. To say the word "Christ" is to center and quiet my soul. But I still don't know what it means!

What did early Friends mean when they spoke of Christ? Was it a feeling, a person, a Spirit? Did it imply a certain set of beliefs about who Jesus was and what he did?

What does it mean to be a Christian Quaker, and do I qualify?

For me, these are not rhetorical questions. They are urgent and crucial, and I would be grateful for any Light that Friends can bring to my wonderings. If you do identify as Christian, how did you come to know whatever it is that you know about Jesus/Christ? What does it mean to be a Christian? a Christian Quaker? Is there any important difference between the two?

The relationship I have found with Jesus is not dependant upon labelling myself a Christian. I couldn't let go of it if I wanted to; it's as central to my life now as eating, drinking, waking, and sleeping. I have made the central goal of my life to walk as Jesus walked, and that's a powerful commitment, but somehow entirely unrelated to any belief or nonbelief in his divinity.

That doesn't make the questions any less important, the theology any less relevant.

What canst thou say to my question, Friends?