Tag Archives: Friends

Jesus is My Fishing Buddy

If your childhood religious experience is anything like mine, the words “Sunday morning sermon” bring up images of a pulpit, a congregation, and a pastor or priest speaking from a prepared text.  If you grew up in a church with frequent missionary guest speakers, you may also remember squirming in the seats with your friends and watching the minutes tick past noon and into overtime.  There seemed to be something about spending a few decades in South America (where the congregation was unlikely to be wearing digital watches) that gave our guests a hazy recollection of North American concepts like the ladies imprisoned in the nursery, a roast in the oven at home, or kickoff time for the ball game.

No one would have dared interrupt them, though – the sermon was sacrosanct, or at least its continuity was.  Nobody would have interrupted ANYBODY behind the pulpit (or the music stand, if it was a Sunday night).  That kind of interaction was reserved for Wednesday night Bible study.  Even then, participants in the discussion tended to be the same people, with occasional brave words spoken by quieter adults or the rare teenager.

This, then, is why I nearly dropped my Bible the first time I sat in the wooden pew of my Quaker church and heard a church member casually interrupt the sermon with a related comment.  What was he doing?!  He was talking!  In church!  During the sermon!  Did I need to worry about stray lightning bolts?

No, as it turned out – the Quaker tradition of “that of God”, the belief that each person has in themselves some essential spark that is from God, is simply alive and well at my church.  Sure, the pastor preaches, but that doesn’t mean that somebody else might not have a darn good idea.  And that could be anybody else, regardless of gender, age, speaking ability, or education – they take that “everybody” part seriously.  So if a listener has a relevant thought, they raise their hand (or not) and toss a new idea into the ring.  It’s fascinating, liberating, and to my Baptist sensibilities, it’s the slightest bit rebellious.

I love it.

In a traditional Sunday morning sermon where the pastor speaks and the congregation listens, “What is Jesus to you?” is understood to be a rhetorical question.  The pastor would list a few things that Jesus might be, and then answer the question with a sermon on the nature and person of Christ.  But when my pastor asked this question, he actually wanted an answer, and he wasn’t going to start preaching again until we answered it.

The first answers were exactly what you’d expect from a group of seasoned Christians, and nearly everyone in the congregation tossed out an idea or two.  Jesus is my friend.  My hope.  My salvation.  My Lord.  My redeemer.  You could hear the wheels turning as people thought through the Psalms and came up with a few more.  Jesus is my Rock.  My deliverer.  My shield.  My shepherd.  We cast our minds to the New Testament.  Jesus is my Savior.  My intercessor.  My light.  My king.  Words were flying now, and they kept coming.  My joy.  My peace.  My teacher.  My rescuer.  My fishing buddy.

Wait, what?

Yep – it came from the quiet-spoken man over on the left – Jesus is my fishing buddy.  I heard a few chuckles, and I admit I smiled too.  And then I stopped, and I thought about it, and my soul said, YES.  

Sure, He’s my salvation and my hope and my peace.  He is my rock, my shield and (clap) my deliverer, my fortress and my strength.  (OK, so maybe not everybody knows that camp song, but I can’t say “rock” and “shield” without clapping.)  Jesus is all those things, and those things make great singalong tunes.  But I want Jesus to be my fishing buddy too, even though I don’t know how to fish.

I love the image of this taciturn Friend out on the lake in his boat, apparently alone, but actually in constant companionship with his God.  I can’t even call it praying, because you don’t pray to your fishing buddy – you just talk to him.  Or not.  Depends on if you’re in the mood for talking, or if you just want to hang out for a while.

I want that.  I want Jesus to ride around in the passenger seat of my grungy Civic, where I will not have to apologize for all the library books on the front seat because He’s just that good of a friend.  I want Him to sprawl out in the chair next to my sewing machine when I’m on a tear finishing summer jammies for the kids, just because He feels like being around me – we might talk a little, or He might chill out and read whatever novel He’s into right now, just enjoying being with His kid for a while.  When I decide I’m done with my work for the day and I go out on the porch to look at the sunset, I want Him to be there saying “Wow” right next to me.

I think that if Jesus is part of my everyday life like that, it will make Him easier to find in the holy silence of Sunday morning’s open worship.  If I’ve been listening to Him all week, I’ll be more likely to hear Him on Sundays.  Maybe it will make Sunday feel a little less set apart, but maybe, I think, I hope, it will end up making every day holy.

Advertisements

Holy Scrub-brush, Batman!

When I first started looking into the Friends tradition, the concept of sacramental living made immediate sense to me.  Even as a child, I had a sense of lingering holiness about everyday things like trees and fields and books, although I couldn’t possibly have articulated what I felt.

Making laundry a prayer seems obvious, if I just remind myself.  The folding and sorting can be a quiet, domestic form of worship.  The feel of the cloth is soothing under my hands, and the rhythm of folding becomes a liturgy of socks and shirts.

Balancing the checkbook takes a little more thought, but I can find God there too.  The numbers and logic are satisfying, and it’s not a huge leap to imagine that God must find an exponentially greater satisfaction in the ordered rhythms of molecules and planetary systems.

Even driving can be its own meditation (as long as I pay attention to the road, of course).  I am learning the welcome discipline of shutting off the litany of work-related concerns, and replacing it with a conscious gratitude for the trees and fields and open sky on my way to work.

That said … if anybody figures out how to sacramentally scour burned rice out of the bottom of a pot, come on over to my house.  I will give you a scrub-brush and let you meditate the hell out of my pots and pans.

Hangin’ Out with the Spirit

The Holy Spirit.  I hadn’t given Him a lot of thought in recent years until the summer of 2011 when God said in no uncertain terms, “See this guy you know?  Guess what – you really are the only Jesus he sees.  He wants to know Me.  Start talkin’, honey.”  And in my first really honest prayer in several years, I said, “God, You’ve got to be effing kidding me.”

(I apologize – sincerely –  if the profanity offends you, but that IS the edited version, so let’s call it a compromise.  God didn’t strike me down, so I’m assuming it wasn’t a fatal error to cuss at Him.)  He said He wasn’t kidding, I grumbled and shared the Gospel, and the guy accepted Christ.

So I kind of couldn’t ignore the Spirit, given that He’d just splashed down in the middle of my life and made a big exciting mess, but I also wasn’t quite sure what to do with him.  Can you talk to him?  Pray to him?  Worship him?  What does he DO, exactly?  Get up in your business when somebody needs God, obviously, but what else?  Is He what gives me the heebie-jeebies when I’m driving home from work late, and something in my head says “TAKE A DIFFERENT ROAD TONIGHT” and I say “OKAY I WILL” and feel like I’ve dodged a bullet?

Now, I know I wouldn’t do too well as a full-blown charismatic.  (Somebody will have to tell me some day if you can be introverted and Pentecostal at the same time.)  When people sway too hard during the song service, I’m always thinking, “Steady there.”  People shouting “Preach it!” and “Truth!” during the sermon make me want to thump the back of their heads because I can’t hear the pastor.  The one time I attended an Assemblies of God service, a guy started twirling in circles and hollering in tongues.  It scared the living daylights out of me.  Mostly, though, the service made me sad.  They spent half an hour singing the same songs over and over, begging the Spirit to descend on them / be present there / set them on fire, and I just stood there thinking, “Guys!  He’s ALREADY HERE!”

As time went by, though, I didn’t make a very good Baptist, either.  We talk about the Holy Spirit, and we – funny, that collective pronoun is a hard habit to break.  It’ll do for now … I’ve only been officially non-Baptist for three days, so bear with me.  We believe in the Spirit, no doubt about that – He’s the one who makes all the believing happen, and reminds us to do right when we’re tempted to do wrong.  But we’re just not very comfortable with Him.

I wish I was joking about this, but my just-barely-former church actually made the decision back in the 90’s to not sing the third verse of “Glorify Thy Name”, a simple and lovely modern hymn that mentions all three members of the Trinity.  “Jesus, we love You, we worship and adore You / Glorify Thy name in all the earth.”  That’s fine for Jesus, and it’s fine for the Father.  But they just weren’t sure that it was kosher to worship the Spirit [insert long debate about how the Spirit always directs attention to the other members of the Godhead and there’s no Biblical precedent for worshiping him], so we just sang two verses and skipped to the next song.

That’s an extreme case of literalism run amok, I grant you.  But even on the best days, I always felt like the third member of the Trinity was a little like that one uncle who lives in California.  He’s a great guy, we love him a lot, and it’s a blast when we get to visit him.  We send him pictures and Christmas cards, and sometimes we call him up just for fun.  He loves us, and we love him, but we don’t live together or anything.  Also, he’s a little odd, you know?  Not BAD or anything, don’t get me wrong, but he’s just a little offbeat.

So you can imagine my bemusement when I started my gradual drift into Quaker readings and church services.  They talk about the Spirit a lot, but not like I’ve ever heard him talked about.  No fanfare or excitement, but he’s not the invisible elephant in the room, either.  He’s just … part of things.  Like the air, and water, and food.  When the church I’ve been attending had a business meeting recently, they started it out with a few minutes of silence, in order to open their minds and hearts to whatever the Spirit had in mind for the meeting.  Nothing woo-woo about it, just “Hey God, we’re having a meeting, wanna start us off?  Thanks!”

If I’ve been used to the Holy Spirit as somebody who comes to church just a little overdressed and never stays for the whole service, this view of the Holy Spirit has him in jeans and work boots, getting there early to turn the lights on and staying afterwards in case anybody wants to go to lunch and hang out for a while.  And you know, I think I just might.

At Peace With All Men

This year I rashly announced on Facebook that my New Year’s Resolution was as follows:  “So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

I wasn’t counting on getting nine days into the New Year and having a conversation that made twenty years’ worth of hurts (that were supposed to be just faint scars by now, dang it!) come slinking back in again. The Bad Bee part of me wants to list them all, along with all the pithy rejoinders and profound insights I wish I’d had the nerve to say when they all happened.  Rebuttal!  Unassailable logic!  Pow! Pow! Pow!

And then Good Bee (see Rom. 7:21-25 for a more official version of Good Bee and Bad Bee) waves her hand and says, “Um … hey?  Peace toward all men, and all that?”

Bad Bee says, “But, but, how can I be at peace with someone who’s WRONG?”

Good Bee says, “Er … do you remember that one story with the Roman soldiers and the Pharisees and that whole mess?”

Bad Bee says, “Well yes, but I’m not THE SON OF GOD, for Pete’s sake.  And I’m, y’know, RIGHT!”

Good Bee says, “Tea.  Hot tea.  Then Philippians.  And maybe that Quaker devotional book you won’t shut up about.  NOW.”

And I, good and bad both, sigh and make a pot of tea and open Philippians.  I haven’t even gotten to the good bit in chapter 2 about humility when I am pinned to my chair by this verse, written by a man who is in jail – not just heartachy, IN JAIL:  “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.”

This verse is still simmering as I read through my Quaker devotional book in the section on sorrow.  Hannah Whitall Smith wrote to her friend Priscilla Mounsey 130-some years ago:  “Thy circumstances are lonely, but thy loneliness of spirit does not come from these, it is the loneliness of humanity.  Therefore, nothing but God can satisfy it.”

I close my eyes and let these words shift around in my mind, and I’m surprised to discover that the hurt of my heart keeps my mind focused, almost completely free of its usual “oh look a chicken” tangents.  The thought that keeps surfacing from the angry, frustrated fog is that there are two kinds of loneliness, and both are very real but easily mistaken for each other.

We do need people.  Community is important, and there are times when it is somehow always just beyond our reach.  This is normal.  But there is a separate loneliness, where we are aching for community – communion, perhaps – with God.  We need a closeness that human words and bodies and thoughts simply can’t achieve, and we ache for Him.  This is normal too.

The problem arises when we confuse them.  Relying on people, burying our heads in noise and meetings and play dates, can result in a peculiarly surrounded loneliness, if that core spot reserved for God is not filled.  But relying only on God, when maybe we need to get out of our chairs and off our laptops and find a human with real ears, can leave us wondering why God isn’t enough – when He is probably sitting right beside us saying, “I AM enough! Now go call Jen!”

And now, in the midst of all these percolating thoughts, up bubbles my verse from before, and I realize that my quarrel isn’t really with the man who flippantly dismissed my pain by rebuking me for not having more friends.  Would I have liked more friends in my dark valley?  You bet.  Was it my fault for not having them?  Hard to say.  Do I want him to understand it from my perspective?  Well, Bad Bee does, which is why she’s not allowed to talk right now.

The real problem is not just with one man, or even one church.  It is with the idea that the best defense is to hit the person who is suffering, and this is everywhere.  I can’t fix this by myself, and I don’t intend to try.  What I do plan to do, though, is ask myself this question every time these old hurts float up again:  “Can this hurt, this pain, this memory be used for the greater progress of the gospel?”

And already, in the still small corners of my mind, I can hear a quiet maternal voice whispering, “Yes, My daughter.  I can use it.”

X Without Y

This morning’s church experience was a fascinating study in contrasts, and my only real regret about the day was that the two services I attended overlapped too much for me to go attend either service in its entirety.

In my work as a professional classical pianist, I work very odd hours.  Most of my school-related work takes place during the daytime, but much of my freelance work takes place in the evenings or on weekends.  Once or twice a year I get asked by a church to play something in a morning service, and this was one of those Sundays.

I started the day out at a Unitarian Universalist congregation. I’ve accompanied the pastor’s son several times, and he called me to play the other half of a two-piano Mozart piece that they thought would make a nice prelude.  The sanctuary was lovely, vaulted ceilings and ornate (but pointedly non-specific) stained-glass windows, and there was a palpable sense of peace.  There were still the jarring juxtapositions common to this denomination, though – I can never quite get used to the pulpit, carved with symbols of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, regular Buddhism, something in Arabic, a lovely yin-yang, the Chinese symbol for happiness, and the Unitarian Universalist chalice in the middle.  Even in the short part of the service I was able to attend, so many religious traditions were referenced that my spiritual head with spinning.  The pastor’s message started with “Oh my G–, it’s 2013!” He continued to make some good points about how number superstitions cause needless fear, but (silly me) I’m just not used to starting church with the Lord’s name being taken in vain!

Then I had to zip across town to catch the important business meeting at the Friends congregation I’ve been attending.  The content of the meeting itself was immaterial – it was the contrast to where I’d just been that captured me.  This, too, was a lovely building, but it was a different kind of simplicity.  Simple stained glass, wooden pews made shiny by years’ worth of use, no pulpit, no candles, no incense, no bells, no prayer bowls, no chalice, no vestments.  The business meeting was opened with silence, but it was a deliberate silence – we were not communing with the god within, we were asking God for guidance.

What struck me most was that for all their unexpected similarities, the core of Unitarian Universalism and the Friends beliefs are in stark opposition.  Both believe firmly in a deep commitment to social justice, the importance of community, the inherent worth and dignity of each person, and a certain flexibility of personal theology.  But the first service I attended was full of the form of religion – prayers, candles, a carefully humanist liturgy, symbolism in everything from the bells to the pastor’s vestments, and the traditional Chinese prayer offered next to the traditional Orthodox Christian prayer candles. The second service I attended was full of God.

Given the choice of religion with hardly any God, or God with hardly any religion, I’ll take the second option any day.