Friday, March 24, 2006

Speaking of God - words and labels

I wrote this title, and apparently nothing else, almost a month ago. What did I mean to write about?

Liz and I got together to last night to have a sort of in-person hashing out of some of these conservative/liberal/what are we called to as quakers? conversations in person. I was really glad we did it.

One thing that came up a LOT for me was the frustration I feel that I feel like I hear people say "we need to go deeper in our quakerism / spirituality" (which intrigues me) but then seemingly (to me) end up doing a very SHALLOW evaluation that tends to assume that christians have a deep spirituality and atheists have no spirituality. (an oversimplification, but one which I hope makes a point)

I think that the answers that you get when you ask "what is it like, being an atheist quakers?" or, "what is it like, being a christian quaker?" are much more intresting (assuming the person, regardless of doctrinal beliefs, is willing to "go deep") than the label we slap on ourselves.

I found when I first came out as a lesbian, I fit most people's stereotypes, and after hearing so much "ALL lesbians are vegetarians", "ALL lesbians don't wear makeup", "ALL lesbians are hippie radical feminists" I was SO excited! Wow! I've found my tribe!

Ha ha, it was not so (alas??) it's not true (!), and I find that of all the labels I regularly slap on myself, lesbian is one that I am least likely to try to build community around (quaker, animal rights activist, co-opper, green, are some that can work pretty well; east coaster, female, lesbian, vegetarian, Italian, atheist, are some that are almost entirely useless)

And, so I guess I've been wondering, and somewhat antagonistic, about what words are important here?

I find myself baffled when I, who have trouble labelling my spirituality, other than "quaker" (I'm atheist but not, pagan but not, even christian but not) but easily and fundamentally identify as an ardent spiritual seeker, feel dismissed by those who crave deepening (which I crave as well) because certain words don't come into my articulation of what that deepening is like for me.

14 comments:

Liz Opp said...

Pam, I was glad to have had the opportunity too for some "in-person hashing out" about Quakerism, spirituality, and all that. Parts of our conversation are still "working on me," though I couldn't say exactly what.

Despite the struggles you are going through, I hope that I did not (do not) add to the sense of your feeling dismissed. The more I read what you write here, and the more I keep quiet and listen to what it is you are sharing, the more I appreciate how you express the "ardent spiritual seeker" that you are.

I hope you'll continue to invite yourself to participate, even if you aren't sure if you "should" or could. It's been important to me to hear your "not-so-pagan, not-so-atheist, not-so-Christian" take on things as I wrestle with my own uncertainties...

Blessings,
Liz, The Good Raised Up

Joe G. said...

Labels are always tricky - they can highlight and describe, they can limit and dismiss, they can overgeneralize or be too specific. Certainly the labels used within the conversation on Quaker blogs carry a lot of historical and cultural weight - "Christian" & "athiest" are two good examples.

When I started blogging I felt a major constraint not to use labels due to my years of involvement within liberal Quakerism. I rejected this because it felt it was more constraining than helpful: it felt as if it was a way to avoid tensions and conflicts rather than be inclusive and accepting.

I support what Liz wrote to you - keep yourself in the conversation as long as you feel lead to do so.

BTW, I notice that you use three labels to describe yourself on this blog. :)) Hey, I do the same thing so...! :0

Martin Kelley said...

Hi Pam,
I'm grateful to hear you got some face-to-face to talk about some of these issues. Blogs, electrons, they all tend to make more of words and labels than they sometimes deserve.

I'm also feeling a sadness in all this. You often state that there are liberal Quaker Christians out there saying that Christianity's the only way. You retract it as an oversimplication but then repeat it later. I don't see anyone saying that. We all have bloggers that speak to our condition more than others but that's only natural. I don't see anyone dismissing you and I certainly enjoy reading your posts (I wish I had more time to comment and be part of the discussion). But I hear that you feel dismissed and I'm sad for it.

I sometimes use Christian language (less than most Friends) because it doesn't feel honest to translate my experiences into a "Quaker Lite" language (that careful dance of words Friends sometimes use to say absolutely nothing). Friends of all stripes should use whatever robust language they have to point to our shared experience. Diversity of language is great, let's have it, let's celebrate it! The Quaker blogs are cool because we're sharing our experiences with fire and words that have meaning. We can throw off the shackled weight of our words by using them and by showing that we can maintain a loving community even in the face of boldness and diversity. How cool would that be? What a witness!

But this means that as Friends we need to listen through the words to see the spirit from which they come. I'm worried that we might be edging toward politicizing our fragile little community with claims of outsiderness. All of our sites are incredibly tiny eddies on the internet. We're all outsiders--really, I mean that. We're not going to agree on anything but we don't want to. If I find something shallow I let it go. Sometimes we process experience by turning to words, which is fine as long as we return it back to love when we're done (experience to words to love to experience to words to love, isn't this our Quaker way?). How do we lay down our burdens of hurt to hear each other's voices through love? I want to celebrate the good we find in each other's ministry, the messages that reach out past the muck of words and language to speak to our hearts.

Sorry to be so long-winded. This is why I don't always comment! Your Friend,
Martin

david said...

One of the difficulties of being a Christian and a more or less liberal Friend is the desire to have my cake and eat it too. I want a Quakerism that is Christian yet inclusively so. That includes non-Christians while continuing to be shaped by its distinct Chrsitian heritage and a distinctively Christian interptretation of Quaker practices.

I know full well it may be asking too much. I pray not.

edwin said...

What is Christianity? I don't think that Atheism is hard to define, but people are coming out as Christian atheists. I am toying with the idea that this is what Quaker atheism is in part about.

As far as labels go – I don't think that we have much choice but to use labels to help us understand the world. The issue is how much adhesive do we use when attaching those labels. That includes the labels we attach to ourselves.

Paul L said...

On his own blog, Kwakersauer makes an important distinction about labels: it's one thing to label yourself, it's quite another to be labeled by someone else. The first can often be positive, expressive, inclusive, and inviting. The latter can be limiting & damaging, even if it might be necessary sometimes.

So, while we need to accept that even our own self-chosen labels are ultimately conventional and tentative (my most fundamental label -- my name -- will last only a few score years at the most), we should be even more conscious and cautious when attaching labels to others.

Which remindes me of a favorite Woody Allen line. He said someone accused him of being a Jew, and he replied he wasn't a Jew; he was Jewish.

Maybe there's some wisdom there.

Instead of labeling oneself or others as a Quaker or some subspecies thereof, might we not say we (or you) are Quaker-ish?

With that term, it is easy to embrace self-professed a-theists like Pam and James R as obviously Quaker-ish, because they are, whatever differences they may have (or think they have) with other Quakerish folk, past and present, as to the God question. So they (or we) might not be “true” Quakers. Isn’t it enough that we recognize each other as Quakerish?

Quakerishness also avoids contracting deadly -ism-itis. That is, making anything a living tradition an -ism is a form of idolatry, or leans dangerously in that direction, whether it's Quakerism, atheism, communism, or pacifism.

-Ism-izing a living tradition requires at least one sine qua non to distinguish the in from the out, the alien from the friend. It's largely arguments like this that create the separations and schisms that have plagued the church from the beginning. Not to say that self-assessment, evaluation, and prophetic judgment aren't periodically necessary for renewal, but predicating the reality of the community on a point of doctrine -- no matter how fundamental it might seem – is exactly the kind of thing that Jesus castigated the Pharisees for doing.

earthfreak said...

Wow! So much good stuff here, I'm not at all sure where to start!


I know, Joe, I resist and embrace lables, sometimes fanatically, often both at the same time. They are very handy, as long as they're not restrictive. There is recognizing a truth - "I am a Christian" for example, but perhaps I am talking more about assumtpions. What does it MEAN for you to be a Christian? Christianity, in particular, has such a huge diverse history, connotations, etc.


Atheism does as well, I suppose, and on further reflection I can see that the offense that I take when some assume that Atheists dont' have any spirituality, or can't be quakers (or christians! Good point, Edwin!!!) may be a bit oversimplified. - I mean, isn't that what someone is saying when they say they're atheist? sometimes yet, but in my circles, often not.

Just as, when someone says they are a christian, it can be VERY hard for me not to hear, "I'm going to heaven and you're not", "I have found the only true path", "I believe my salvation lies in believing a highly unlikely story that I have no way to verify, and if you can't bring yourself to belive it too, you're screwed"

Any of these statements have a much more rooted and repeated history in my experience with "christians" than what I think and hope my fellow quakers mean when they say the word, but if we don't go deeper, I am left mostly with those preconceptions, and I'm disturbed and afraid.

Martin, I feel like I have read stuff that you've written that felt like it was saying "quakers should be christians" instead of something more along the lines of "quakers should welcome christians, and embrace the truth that they bring along with the truths others bring", but I don't want to go digging back through your blog to find it, because I'm lazy, and because I can ask you, did you realy never say, or mean, anything of the sort?

Dave's point that:
I want a Quakerism that is Christian yet inclusively so. That includes non-Christians while continuing to be shaped by its distinct Chrsitian heritage and a distinctively Christian interptretation of Quaker practices.

Perhaps gets at this line that I think I am struggling with the best. From the "christian side" this sounds inclusive - I want everyone to be able to come - whereas, from my viewpoint (or "side") it's freaky and exclusive. I don't want to be part of something that is inherently and fundamentally christian, but will accept me as sort of a poor cousin.

To put it another way, I don't want others to build the house and then let me sleep on the couch, I want a part in the building of the thing. I want ownership as well. and I want my own bed :)

I feel like I OFTEN see something akin to this, and pretty much think of it as a "christian" thing now. What seems to me an idea that if Christians dont' basically get to control the whole thing, they are being shortchanged or cut out somehow. (echos of those who believe that their creation myth should be taught in school alongside the theory of evolution, with no awareness or concern that there are many other creation myths that aren't taught either - though I don't think any liberal quakers are part of that movement)

Someone on the FLGBTQC list recently, in a semi-heated discussion of racism, said something along the lines of "if we weren't so opposed to Christ, we would simply look to (the galatians quote about "in christ there is no man or woman, jew or gentile, etc) and be done with it" - aside from being a terrible dismissal of the real problem of racism, I was baffled by the christocentrism - If I don't HATE CHRIST, I will simply solve every problem by quoting the Bible? Does the fact that I dont' solve every problem by quoting the Koran similarly indicate that I HATE Mohammed? Or Allah?? Do I HATE Budha because I haven't committed myself to the life of a buddhist monk? What disturbs me the most is how often I do see christians, liberal and fundamentalist, fail to see their own christian privilege (which, as it has been the dominant religion in my culture for centuries - often off and on embracing the torture and murder of those who would get in it's way, is quite well established, much like male privilege, white privilege, heterosexual privilege, etc...

To keep with that analagy, I don't hate men (anymore!), I want them in my life, and in my faith community. But I have pretty much NO time for men who think what they have to say is more important than what I have to say, nor do I feel any gratitude for those who are so liberal they are inclined to "let" me do anything. I value those who understand that it is not to them to "let" me do anything, and simply respect me as an equal.



All that ranted, I do understand that Christians in many quaker meetings have felt silenced, dismissed, even hated, for speaking openly and honestly of their faith. I don't want that at all, it's been like a tyranny of the lowest common denominator for too long. But what's the solution? Given Christianity's history of abuse of power, I am extra reluctant to grant more validity to christianity (than other practices or belief systems) within univeralist quakerism, but I would be reluctant to grant it to anyone.

I believe that Christians deserve to be heard, honored, respected, celebrated, at liberal quaker meetings, not because they have the truest connection to historical quakers, but because we all deserve that.

What would it mean to be a christian community, open to others? Would those christians who fondly envision that be excited about being in an avowed atheist community that was "open" to them?

I got harsher than I wanted to in responding to this point, and I do really appreciate what you posted (and the link to your site!) But I can't find a way to say everything I feel I need to say as gently as I would like to say it.

blessings

Pam

earthfreak said...

Oh, and,

edwin - thanks for chiming in! I mused aloud to my (former lutheran, now unitarian) girlfriend that someone had mentioned christian atheists, and she said "how does THAT work???" like it was quite outlandish. I found her surprise surprising, as I myself find that it is quite possible to look to Jesus as a spiritual teacher (somewhat similar to Buddha, whose followers are considered atheists, I think) and maybe even embrace "Christ Spirit" (as the light in everyone, which might or might not have very mundane, theoretially explicable origins) and yet not believe, for example, that he was any more God than the rest of us, or certainly that his gruesome death had anything to with buying us "get out of hell free" cards. Perhaps I could call myself a christian atheist, but I don't know if there would be a point to it.

Paul - thanks for the "quaker-ish" image. I really like it, though I'm still wrapping my brain around it (may take a while)

I think one of my biggest "buttons" right now is a sort of fear that we will create an idol of quakerISM.

I have found myself more and more in recent years catching myself at something (a white lie, a waste of resources, an unkind thought about another child of the light) and said or thought "that's not very QUAKERLY of me, is it?" When the question, I realize more and more lately is "Is that how I want to BE?" regardless of whether it is quakerly. At some point some predecessor decided that dancing and singing and colors might be UNQUAKERLY, but they were helps, not hinderances, in life, connection with spirit, seeking, joy. Now they can be quakerly as well. How sad it would be if we'd never questioned that!

Peace
Pam

Joe G. said...

Wow, Pam, that was a herculean (Or amazonian :)) effort to respond to everything that folks wrote. And you got through it all! Brava!

I did want to add one thing: I felt very much the way that you did regarding Christianity. As a gay man and an ex-fundamentlist, I had many, justifiably so, concerns about this whole mess of Christianity. However, I made two mistakes when I felt this way regarding its presence or underpinnings of Quakerism.

One was that I assumed that Jesus was the same as Christianity. There is some overlap, obviously so, but the Jesus that I am taught about amongst Friends is a very different creature than the one taught of in the fundamentalist church I attended.

Also, I've learned that the "Christianity" of Quakerism has some distinct differences than that of other Christian groups. For example, how did the Quakers get the idea that God was in everyone, God was inherently opposed to war, that women were equal to men, etc. from the same Bible that other Christian gorups had used to justify all sorts of horrible things? Is there a distinctiveness of how Friends understand Christianity that is sometimes "lost" to those of us that have such negative histories?

Well, this is turning into another blog post - thanks a lot Pam! - so I'll stop here for now.

earthfreak said...

Joe -

thanks for your response!

I definitely see the difference that you are talking about, clearly (at least liberal) Friends have interpreted Jesus and his message very differently from most other christians.

I think perhaps I haven't learned enough about Jesus from Friends. I feel like it is mostly about an experience that I just don't/haven't had. I am deeply moved by some of Jesus' words, and by phrases like "Christ has come to teach the people himself" (but I "translate" - I am not even talking about a person when I say that phrase, it's a simplification of something transcendent, to me.)


And, I feel like when I do listen to others, I mostly hear how amazing it is to live with Jesus at your side, or something like that, and I'm happy for the folks who say so, but it doesn't bring him to my side, does that make any sense? I find that I want more and more of "what is it like??"

Which I know is a hard question to answer. Describe swimming to someone. It's hard, and clunky, and the very best anyone could ever do at it wouldn't come close to the experience of swimming. Describe light to a blind person, sound to a deaf one, something (almost everything) is missing.

So how do we communicate? Is there a way of teaching each other to swim, or swimming together, without ever using the same words for it? (or even the same strokes???)

Sarah said...

Well, you said it'd be interesing, and now I'm very curious- what IS it like to be an atheist Quaker?

I admit, I often assume that atheists don't have much of a spirituality, because for me, the word 'atheist' means 'someone who doesn't believe in Something Bigger,' and 'spiritual' describes a person cultivating a relationship with Something Bigger. So, this confuses me.

I mean this question very nicely- I'm not questioning that you're a spiritual atheist, I'm just confused!

I believe in God, but when I say that, I don't mean anthropomorphic Guy in the Sky. I mean Something Bigger, with sentience incomprehensible to human understanding.

"when someone says they are a christian, it can be VERY hard for me not to hear, "I'm going to heaven and you're not", "I have found the only true path", "I believe my salvation lies in believing a highly unlikely story that I have no way to verify, and if you can't bring yourself to belive it too, you're screwed""

Hehehehe, if it makes you feel any better, I'm a Christian, and that's EXACTLY what I hear whenever someone else says, 'I'm a Christian.'

What does it mean when I say I'm a Christian? I talk about this A TON on my blog, but I can recap here.

I believe in God. I've hunted for God in a lot of ways. I've been a Catholic, an atheist, a Pagan, and now a Quaker. Me, I need a structure to my search for the Divine. I'm, I guess, a pretty methodical person. I analyze. I'm a scientist. I need a framework for belief. I need a window to look at God through. The whole sky is too confusing. I need one path to the top of the mountain; I want the company, and bushwhacking exhausts me.

I was raised Christian, and the imagery of the Bible, the story of Christ, resonates with me deeply. Nothing else touches me emotionally in the same way. Nothing else sends chills down my spine. Nothing else makes me feel connected to the Divine in that deep way.

So . . . that's what I run with. I think Christianity is true. I think it's a true way to get in touch with God. But I think there are lots of windows onto God, and lots of paths to the top of the mountain. To think otherwise seems pretty irrational to me.

"What would it mean to be a christian community, open to others? Would those christians who fondly envision that be excited about being in an avowed atheist community that was "open" to them?"

Well, I'm one of those Christians. And no, I wouldn't be happy in an avowed atheist community that was open to me. That's pretty much why I left the Unitarians. :-)

I came to Quakerism partially because of its Christian roots. I guess I think 'a Christian community, open to others' means that we remain grounded in those roots, but aren't exclusive.

Good answer? Bad answer?

earthfreak said...

hey Sarah!

I really enjoy your blog, and am happy to see you over here.

Hmmmm.... I guess I would challenge you to think about why/how you expect that anyone who wasn't christian would be excited about being in an open christian community, when you were uncomfortable with the unitarians.

and aside - that I may have shared already - I went to a unitarian church for the first time last year and was horrified to find that they had what amounted to a "creed" saying "Jesus was a nice guy, but he wasn't God" - I was horrified. I don't like creeds either way. I really appreciate that my meeting doesnt' have one either way.

I feel like I understand your christianity, as you describe it, I grew up in an apathetically christian environment, and went to a catholic school that I LOVED as a child. (much more than the quaker school I went to later)

But I think perhaps I'm comfortable with what you say specifically because I hear something that many christians would hear as blasphemy - that it isn't the only truth, that your faith is as rooted in your personal tradition as in TRUTH (it's maybe the language that you speak the truth in, but the truth is no less true in other languages - does that make sense??)

As for quakerism being a christian community, I think perhaps we need to delve deeper into what we mean when we say things like that.

It would be simply foolish to deny that it was founded by christians, as that's a historical fact.

I suppose for me the question is how central that is. It grew out of christianity, as christianity grew out of Judaism, but as I understand quakerism, it's largely about following the living revealed light of God, rather than a bunch of stories about what the living light of God that was revealed in one specific place 2,000 (or 1,600) years ago.

In MY faith, it's worth it to look at those stories. They offer inspiration, solace, wisdom, but so do many other things. They don't form any sort of core. For me to say that they do is a sort of blasphemy, idolotry.

So it's a very big deal to me to say that we are a Christian society.

I was sent a link to a comic recently about gay marriage and the silliness of saying that gay people have the same rights as everyone - to marry someone of the opposite sex. The cartoon went on to propose the idea that we could have religious freedom of everyone to attend episcopalian church, etc.

And that's what I hear when you say "it's christian, but you're welcome" - I hear, "you're welcome, but don't bring your whole self" _ it's not really much of a welcome at all.


Okay, I got off track. I guess I feel like we should honor those roots, but that that doesnt' mean anything about whether we're a christian community. I came to quakerism largely because it has western roots, and I understand its culture, and yet it embraces many of the ideas of buddhism and eastern faiths, which called to me, but were too foreign.

So, what does it mean to be "true to those roots"???? That's the question. I would never want to deny them, but I don't want to see them as a restriction, a set of rules about how far we're allowed to go in our exploration of spirit.

There is much in Christianity that reads as simply myth to me. I don't believe that Jesus was dead and then rose bodily, and what's more, I don't believe that if he had, it would have any bearing on the state of my soul.

I feel that there is a profound effect on the "communal soul" (for lack of a better term) when anyone - Jesus, Gandhi, MLK, plenty of people I've never heard of, stands up to "the man" and commits themselves to truth and integrity and love so that fear loses its power. Tom Fox is another example, and the power of faith in Jesus was part of that transformation for him, and I honor that.

THAT moves me, but I don't see Jesus as the center of it, but as one manifestation of the (universal?) human/divine experience. I want to be part of a community that honors the infiniteness of that experience, rather than insisting that it fits in a certain box. I totally understand the human need to find a box (or window) and I don't want to "dis" anyone's window, but what concerns me is the possibility of fixating on the window even to the point of missing what's outside it.

peace
Pam

James Riemermann said...

I just came across this thread, and find it amazing. It lifts some weight from my heart. Particularly Paul's delightful notion of being "Quakerish."

The notion of Quakerishness really helps me to think about my genuine ambivalence about certain traditional Quaker understandings, and my deep love for others, and in the end my rock-solid commitment to the incredible community--I'm willing to call it "covenant community"--that I've been lucky enough to discover. I hold some views that are very much on the margins of traditional Quaker understandings, but so does almost every Quaker I've conversed with beyond the simple labels. It occurs to me--I could be wrong--that a person who is completely and perfectly immersed in Quaker traditions, who senses no tensions or discrepancies between their deepest self and that tradition, is probably not paying close enough attention--either to the tradition, or to their own heart and mind.

As important as Quakerism has become to me over the past 16 years, it ultimately does not define me. Where the Quaker tradition comes into conflict with my spiritual and intellectual integrity, I will side with my integrity every time. This does not mean that I will not bow to the will of the community--I will, and I have. It does mean that I will not pretend to be other than who I am, nor will I hide.

Paul, as I've told you before, I've always had a hard time reconciling the contradictions in my relationship with you as a f/Friend. I greatly admire the way you live your life, your uncommon gift for critical thinking, the way you, also, are unwilling to pretend or hide your true self. At the same time I continue to stumble over our differing views of what I see as the fundamental goodness of diversity in our meetings. But, like you, I hope not "to distinguish the in from the out, the alien from the friend," and this eases my heart a great deal.

Regarding my own a-the-ism-istic-ness...I do tend to describe myself as an atheist, but I'm not satisfied with the word. It suggests to most people a rigidity and cantankerousness that I don't feel. Agnostic is actually a better fit in some ways, as I do see the basic questions about God as unanswerable. But I don't like to use that word, as so many believers have tended to read it as kind of a 50-50 sit-on-the-fence sort of position, which would be even further from my views than a rigid, I-know-the-truth sort of atheism. Basically, I see *literal* belief in the God stories of any religious tradition as intellectually unserious, but so do most of the theist Quakers I know. Further, I am strongly unconvinced of the notion of a conscious mind of any sort behind the universe, but I full acknowledge that such knowledge is beyond my grasp. I would go a little further and say, it is beyond everyone else's grasp, too.

Sarah said...

Pam-

Sorry it took me a little to get back to this. :-)

"I guess I would challenge you to think about why/how you expect that anyone who wasn't christian would be excited about being in an open christian community, when you were uncomfortable with the unitarians.
"

I don't *expect* that non-Christians would be excited in an openly Christian community, but just as there *are* Christians who are perfectly happy with the Unitarians, I imagine that there *are* non-Christians happy to be with the Quakers. Me, I wasn't happy with the Unitarians because I wanted a community that had a specific faith. At the time, it was Paganism that I left the UU's to cleave to, but when I swung back again towards Christianity I knew I didn't want to go there because there was nothing for me.

"But I think perhaps I'm comfortable with what you say specifically because I hear something that many christians would hear as blasphemy - that it isn't the only truth, that your faith is as rooted in your personal tradition as in TRUTH (it's maybe the language that you speak the truth in, but the truth is no less true in other languages - does that make sense??)"

Yup, you read me right, and your analogy makes sense. I like your analogy a lot, actually. :-)

"So, what does it mean to be "true to those roots"???? That's the question. I would never want to deny them, but I don't want to see them as a restriction, a set of rules about how far we're allowed to go in our exploration of spirit."

Good question. I don't want to be restricted, either. For me, what I'm looking for in a community true to its Christian roots, is for Christianity to be the common language, to use your metaphor. I don't object to other languages- in fact, I enjoy hearing them, but I came to Quakerism because that's the language I speak and love and am nourished by even as I wrestle with it, and that's the language Quakerism was founded with, and that's what I long for in my Meeting.


"There is much in Christianity that reads as simply myth to me. I don't believe that Jesus was dead and then rose bodily, and what's more, I don't believe that if he had, it would have any bearing on the state of my soul."

Ah, what is myth and what is truth and what is the relationship between them?

Sure, my science-mind tells me that there's no way Jesus actually literally rose from the dead, but that doesn't make the Gospels any less true. Maybe it's 'just a myth,' but it's one of the truest myths I know.

I don't know if I believe in some mystical thing that took place when Christ died on the cross (in traditional theology, it's not the resurrection that affects the state of your soul, it's the actual death). But I do know that that death, and that offering of salvation, have very, very real meaning for me in terms of my own life. No matter whether they happened or not in the literal sense of the word, I find them very true.

That wasn't an attempt at proselyzation; I guess I'm trying to point out that I think literalism almost always wounds Christianity, and the people I find most stuck on Biblical literalism come from both ends of the sprectrum- the Christian fundamentalists, and the atheists who wonder how I could possibly believe what I do.

(And I'm not saying that you're one of them- I've had far more atheists try to convert me to atheism while a Christian than I've had Christians try to convert me to Christianity while an atheist . . . )

"In MY faith, it's worth it to look at those stories. They offer inspiration, solace, wisdom, but so do many other things. They don't form any sort of core. For me to say that they do is a sort of blasphemy, idolotry."

They form a core for me, but I don't worship the Bible. Yeah, that WOULD be idolatry. The Bible is central for me because I use it as my primary roadmap to the Divine. It's far from my only one. I find a lot of guidance in Pagan writers (Starhawk, I love) and in the Rumi, and actually, most of all in the teachings of Islam.

"I don't see Jesus as the center of it, but as one manifestation of the (universal?) human/divine experience. I want to be part of a community that honors the infiniteness of that experience, rather than insisting that it fits in a certain box. I totally understand the human need to find a box (or window) and I don't want to "dis" anyone's window, but what concerns me is the possibility of fixating on the window even to the point of missing what's outside it."

When I talk about Christian univeralism with other Christians, I sometimes point out that Jesus was the guy and Christ was his job description. Christ, to me, is a universal word- it covers all deity, everywhere. I don't mean to sound like I'm saying 'When you worship your Goddess, you're actually worshipping Christ;' what I'm trying to get at is that I believe that there is one unknowable nameless God and Christians call that Christ or Yahweh and other people call it other things.

In Christian tradition, Jesus is the way to Christ, he is Christ, he incarnates Christ, and he's our way to Christ and to the Father. But that doesn't mean that other people can't find other ways besides Jesus to Christ (or whatever name you want to give to the Big Unknowable).

I want to be in a community that honors the infinite nature of God, too, but I find that when we focus so much on that infinite nature and avoid using a common language, so much of the depth and beauty of the religious experience drains away. Talking about the 'Big Unknowable Thing,' if I put it in much more poetic language than that, does nothing for me, and means very little except as a way I struggle to communicate with someone who doesn't share my metaphors. Talking about Christ the Redeemer- *that* means something to me.

I have to leave for work now; I suppose that what I'm trying to communicate is that as much as I want to honor other experiences, too, and as afraid as I sometimes am that I'll forget the world that lies outside my window, I lose much nourishment and joy when my faith community ceases to use that common language, and I am keen to preserve it.