7/13/2006

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?

17 Comments:

Blogger Lovin' Life Liz said...

I too struggle with many of the same questions as you do.

I am still at the point where I am fixiated on that his message of love is the most important thing. To be a follower of Jesus to me means to be a follower of love and integreity.

I am still murky on the salvation bit.

10:47 AM  
Blogger earthfreak said...

Ah, Kody!

Such wonderful questions! I wish I had answers - not even the right ones, just some :)

I highly admire, and am intrigued by, Christians for whom it is not essential that Jesus was miraculous or "supernatural" - I mean, every one of us is miraculous, but I mean as something different, perhaps.

I think it is possible to be a follower of Yeshua without believing him to be uniquely God. I find it much harder to find the light in those for whom this is so central. It doesnt' seem qualitatively different from worshipping Appollo, which seems silly to me (ie: here is a myth/guy who is really powerful, and if I dance to his tune, lots of goodies will be mine" - more or less)

I have toyed with calling myself a christian. it is my cultural tradition, and on the whole the foundation of the ethics I live by. I have read the gospels and find the man represented therein to be one that I "would like to have a beer with" to quote the moronic criteria of our last presidential election (and seriously, I don't like beer, but I think I like Jesus)

But I find that I fall short of EVERY criterion I run up against - not just virgin birth and physical ressurection, but really every attempt at uniqueness. at "this is IT, and everything else falls short"

I like to think that I am a follower of Christ spirit, that many of my core values are things that Jesus held up as core values, that I attempt to live my life in tune with those values

And yet, I don't think Jesus is the only way to get there. I have seen people living in that light from all faith, and lack of faith, traditions. Ok, that's too broad, but from lots of traditions. i don't believe that religious belief is a barrier (or often a booster) to connection with God.

I don't know if I even think he's a good way to get there at this point. There is a lot of cultural baggage around it - inquisition and all, not to mention Fred Phelps and his like.

Oops, I have to go. I'll try to finish this thought later

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Raye said...

Kody, this is a bit of a long post. I tried to keep it to the point. I’m glad to hear of your journey.

At this point in my life, what I have learned about my relationship with Jesus Christ is that it is vital (full of life and absolutely necessary to my own life), it has more dimensions than I ever imagined and likely, more than I am aware of even now.

It is a relationship with someone. This someone lives, and is not simply a historical, allegorical, metaphorical, political, psychological or social fabrication or phenomenon.

I say this as one who has, at times in my life, considered Him as any or all of the above. But based on my current and now long-held understanding, I was mistaken.

I came to know this, to participate consciously in this relationship, through a number of experiences. I was encouraged in this relationship by my mother and grandmother, then turned my back on it quite abruptly (rudely, I’d say). I decided it was all a fairy tale and was going to be the captain of my own ship.

Slowly, I changed my mind. Someone asked me to think about what I really believed. A life-threatening crisis stimulated my pursuit of Truth. I had leadings to read scripture, listen to Christian music, and finally to attend a “church.” My path, traced out, would have looked more like a spring or at least a sine wave than a straight line. One step forward, three sideways.

During a prayer one afternoon, the petition – what I was asking for - changed. The whole tone of my prayer changed. Christ was present, and revealed to me at once that something I had believed would destroy me had happened, and that I would not be destroyed but carried and loved and healed.

In the following weeks I felt carried by a river of the Spirit. I was changed, and haven’t changed back since then.

Something I would like to offer from my perspective is that, as a living relationship, each person’s experience of Christ will be unique. Many of us will have similar openings, similar experiences, similar teachings received, and that is part of the comfort of spending time with one another – we see patterns in the life lived with Christ, and can feel more like family and true friends.

It has added a depth and a light to my life. Christ has enabled me to really care for people more and more, to endure what I never believed I could. Every now and then I sense His presence in dreams. More often, especially in meeting for worship and in private prayer times, I sense His presence. Have you ever been engrossed in an activity, then decided to look up because you thought someone else had joined you, even though you didn’t consciously see them yet? That’s what it’s like for me. I don’t hear voices, and haven’t had what I’d describe as a vision.

This life has had its ups and downs, and has never been predictable. As you wrote, it would be impossible to let go of it. It truly is like living in a different country. Priorities are different, concerns are different, and goals are different. Wonderful things happen, especially in the realm of relationships.

There is always more to discover – some about Jesus, some about myself. The Lord allows me to see myself more clearly every day, and yet He sustains me and doesn’t let me get away with giving up on myself.

As far as how to identify yourself, my recommendation would be to ask the Lord, listen carefully, and keep listening.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Lovin' Life Liz said...

Thanks for the comment back :) Half the fun/process is the struggle!

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Chris M. said...

Kody,

I left some thoughts in a comment on Earthfreak's blog just now... Your description of your faith journey sounds very similar to mine. Sacred Harp singing at FGC Gathering was part of that!

I have simply resolved, for now, at least, to live with the questions and doubts. I'm still seeking, in other words. But I know where my feet are planted, and that's in the Christian tradition, or at least this intriguing and vital tributary called Quakerism!

In a conversation about this very topic after FGC, an (orthodox) fFriend said, "Assume that everything they say about Jesus coming back in the body were true. Suppose He came back tomorrow. From what you said, I have no doubt that you would run to embrace Him with open arms." So, I don't really believe that, but I agree: I'd be happy to be with the Jesus I know.

Blessings on you as you wrestle with these questions, and as you bring the calling you are sensing to your clearness committee.

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Hey there, Kody!

Personally, I wouldn't worry at all about your uncertainty as to "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 sincerely doubt that any of those issues are of make-or-break importance.

When I was a much younger fellow, I did a little research into the meaning of "faith" and "believe" (pistis and pisteuin) back in Jesus's time. It turns out that back then they meant something like "confidence in someone who has already demonstrated he is worthy of having confidence placed in him". One had "faith" of that sort in a merchant who, in long years of dealing with your community, had yet never cheated anyone.

So when Christ said, "Have faith in me," and "Believe on my words", it would seem that this was the sort of thing he was talking about. And that was rather a different thing from asking people to swallow some hard-to-swallow creed!

7:43 AM  
Blogger RuthNaomiEsther said...

Funny, your questions are not ones that have ever really bothered me. I don't think I was raised to believe they were important. Actually, I'm not sure I was raised to believe anything in particular about what the Bible or the things in it are, which is maybe why I only struggle in theory with it. I use multiple answers to all of the questions you're asking in order to create more theological suppositions in order to glean something meaningful from Scripture and it's characters and all. And my view of it is very fluid. If it helps, I think it is not so much what it is, but what it evokes. At least for me, that's where the Bible's power comes from.

When I talk to you for real we can talk about being a Christian, although I may have told you my whole personal theory already, I dunno.

I love you.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Lisa H said...

Hi Kody! I'm glad I met you, and got to hear you sing, at FGC. I find it encouraging that so many of us Quakers-opening-up-to-Jesus are willing to voice where we actually are with that. I, too, get caught up in the questions of whether I agree with how others define Christianity--when, for instance, I am not at all concerned with salvation. I hope we can all find the courage to speak our own experience, walking the path rather than trying to line up and stand in one place. Thanks for your voice.

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Joanna Hoyt, NEYM said...

When I call myself a Christian I mean three things (at least). Two have already been addressed in your post and the comments—commitment to following the example and teaching of Jesus, and having my spiritual understanding and practice rooted in the Christian tradition. I also mean that I believe that God is incarnate, is born, lives, grows, loves, sees, suffers, dies, in all created beings. I can be committed to this belief, and the responsibilities which it implies, without having a definite opinion about whether our participation in Christ—in the incarnate God—is possible only because of, or subsequent to, the earthly life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.
I have two hesitations about calling myself Christian. One is that people who hear me claim the name may make extensive and unwarranted assumptions about my religious/ethical/political beliefs based on other Christians they have known or heard of. The more serious one is that I am not fully faithful to Jesus’ example and teaching, or the Christian community and practice, or the call to live with the recognition that I am an incarnation of God and all that I meet (and use, and eat, and...) is also an incarnation of God. But I still call myself Christian because I believe that I have these responsibilities, and I live a substantial portion of my life in response to them.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Alivia said...

Kody, "Missing the Jesus Train" is a great metaphor/picture of what you are talking about. It also reminds me of Cat Stevens' "Peace Train", and Margaret Becker's "People get ready"-- have you heard of Margaret Becker? You might like some of her stuff. I have been wanting to do a whole CD of train songs. choo choo
Liv

2:08 AM  
Blogger JT said...

Great post. I became a Christian in a similar way- I definitely didn't want to become one, and I was one for a long time before I realized it. Are you a reader? You might like to read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel as well as pretty much any book by Brian McLaren (I recommend The Secret Message of Jesus).

12:14 AM  
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3:50 PM  
Anonymous ferdipops said...

I started a new job recently and today a colleague and I revielled to each other our respective religions. On descovering we were both christian, we shrieked out in joy-we laughed and hugged one another, instantly united and secure with this new perspective of each other. I am on a journey with my faith and this was another surprise to me.
Only rarely in my meeting for worship is there a direct referance to Christ but when there is, I've noticed there is a lot of grattitude from others.
Anybody had any similar experiences?

5:43 PM  
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3:37 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

I am Christian, and I am a Quaker. My definition of Christian has changed a lot since I was a teenager, and got caught up in fundamental evangelism; all I know, and all I can say now, is that I have a living relationship with what I call Christ. I don't need traditional Protestant ministers standing between me and him, and I don't need special re-enactments of the Last Supper - I try to eat *every* meal in his presence. My spiritual home is within the Society of Friends, although I have only been attending for the last three years (I am currently applying for membership). I don't know why I took so long to get here - I am constantly finding views that I have held for years being reflected back to me in all kinds of Quaker writings.

Blessings, Heather

10:30 PM  
Blogger John said...

This quote from “Friend Speaks My Mind” by Jon Watts(www.bullandmouthrecords.com) hits the theological nail on the head for me:

“I’m not a Christian but I’m a Quaker. I’ve got Christ’s inner light but he’s not my savior.”

7:51 AM  

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