I spent my formative years in a church that considered hymnals a slippery slope towards Catholicism and saint-worship. Thus, through a tiny lyric misunderstanding, I believed myself to be a wrench until Mrs. Arnolds– known around our Christian school as “PTL Patty” (due to her affection for the phrase, “Praise the Lord!”)– kindly took it upon herself to teach all the third-graders timeless hymns. During recess.
I realized my mistake in Praise-the-Lord Patty’s classroom while reading the lyrics of Amazing Grace from a musty hymnal. According to the song I was a wretch—not a wrench. Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I gazed out the window, jealous of the second and fourth-graders on the playground, and decided I would much prefer to be a wrench on the swings than a wretch singing hymns. I’d never really understood the whole wrench metaphor anyway, but when you live in a world where angels and demons are warring over your soul, you have bigger things to worry about.
I spent my twenties actively disliking Amazing Grace. (Actually, the hymn got off easy because I was too busy hating all other Christian music, most especially religious-coma inducing praise songs.) “How can you dislike a hymn?” a puzzled reader might reasonably question, if said reader had not spent years contemplating the theology behind the song, which goes something like this: I am a worm that deserves to be smeared on the bottom of God’s sneakers, but He chose not to step on me, Praise the Lord! (Ick.) I had a major problem with a God who created worms then left them wriggling on the sidewalk with the expectation that said worms would then write and sing hymns about the unending love that made him sidestep us. I was not on friendly terms with Amazing Grace.
How interesting it is, then, to reflect on the fact that when I stood in church yesterday morning singing that timeless hymn, I felt tears gather in my eyes. Happy ones. Tears of thanks. Because Grace truly is Amazing. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see. If there any better phrase to describe my winding spiritual path, I would be hard-pressed to find it. In the space between my recognition of worm theology and yesterday, my experience of Grace has changed. The same 360-degree view of God that healed me from Post-traumatic Church Syndrome now informs my understanding of the hymn.
My Faith is no longer linear, an if-then scenario where, if they pray the right prayer, God gives Grace to worms by not stepping on them. My faith is now circular, unending, and Grace is given in a continuous revelation of freedom. ‘Twas Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.
When we finished singing, I was back in Mrs. Arnold’s classroom for a moment– the journey all still ahead—winking at my younger self, “You’re right about the wrench thing. Faith requires assembly, and no one can do it for you.” I wouldn’t have understood that then, but I certainly do now. Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wrench like me.
PS: PTL Patty also encouraged us to treat our Bibles like American flags. “Never let those Bibles touch the floor! It is the Word of God, Praise the Lord!” She never did comment on what should happen if our Bibles did touch the floor. I assume she would not have wanted us to burn them, but one never knows…
Continued from The Power of the Pentagram: Part 1
After fourteen days of wrestling, this is what I’ve realized about the Power of the Pentagram:
The Pentagram has no power at all; it only crackles to life when infused with the electricity you lend it.
The Pentagram is like a letter of the alphabet: a meaningless scribble to the illiterate, a building block for a writer, an object of study to the linguist. The letter Z can run in Zebra, shine in Quartz or be ingested as Zucchini. It’s a fraternity (Zeta Beta Tau), the overflowing of a soda (fizz), and terror to a teenager (zit).It’s invigorating (zeal) and horrifying (Nazi): simultaneously unruly (jazz) and staid (Azan-Muslim call to prayer). Without the image you mold it to be, the letter Z is nothing. And neither is the Pentagram.
If, like me, your brain hard-wired from birth for the Cause of Christ and his rule over the Enemy, Satan (who prowls the earth with his minions seeking to kill, steal and destroy—did I mention I didn’t need to fear ghosts? I had real, live demons to be afraid of!), AND the pentagram was held up as a symbol of All That Is Evil by your church and family and culture-at-large, well, that symbol has some serious power. Negative power. Evil power. Possibly even the power to invite demons to jump out of your closet and into your mind. Power you didn’t even know was still there, hiding in your subconscious, like a demon under your childhood bed. One that jumps out to say “BOO!” when you’re 29 and cocky, unafraid of the dark, thinking you’ve ridded yourself of all religious prejudice.
If you aren’t at all like me— maybe you were raised by a Pagan, or the High Priest of a Wiccan coven, or perhaps your family didn’t have religious hang-ups of any kind—the Pentagram could take on all kinds of different meanings: from a Sacred symbol of the Divine, to a representation of the five elements (four physical: earth, air, fire, water, and one metaphysical: Spirit), to nothing at all. You would not believe in the Christian Satan, or his demons, or call upon anything evil. To you, there would ne no such thing as witchcraft in the Abrahamic religious sense.
Perhaps you were even raised with traditional religions but, like me, forged your own path to the Divine, and the Pentagram has become your symbol of transformation.
Speaking of which, I’d like a symbol of transformation. Maybe I will adopt the Venus Pentagram (below). Because for me, it represents a change—one I didn’t even know I needed to make. Stepping up to receive the Pagan blessing, then jumping back, then considering why—that process cleaned out a dark closet of prejudice that I didn’t even realize was there. And for that I will ever be thankful: both to the Symbol and to the people who graciously blessed me, in spite of myself, and accepted me into their circle, without judgment.
So today I lend my own energy to their symbolic circle (which happens to contain a five-pointed star) declaring myself at peace with all its positive meaning(s), and appreciative of the Pagan faiths whose followers showed me such kindness. Though I still respect my decision to step back from the Blessing, (because to me, in that moment, it represented negativity, so it was not appropriate to receive it), I choose to receive it today (albeit 14 days late) with all the beauty and peace it means to your faiths. Blessed Be.
Romans 14 came to mind: One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.
For anyone who’d like to tar and feather me for this post, please consider the history of the Pentagram and its multiple meanings throughout history including–surprise!–Christian and Jewish usages.
In my year+ of spiritual seeking, I’ve found one inalienable Rebecca-Truth. If I have a severe reaction to something, it’s either A) Spiritual shrapnel that needs to be removed or B) Progress yet to be made. Either way, it needs digging out.
And, in the case of this blog article on Christian modesty “I Was Confronted For Being Immodest” ? It’s shrapnel.
When said post recently went viral, I allowed myself to be sucked into its downward spiral.
(Progression: Read Post. Read comment thread. Get ANGRY. Slam doors. Slam more doors. Read more. Get angrier. Say aloud: My whole damn project wasn’t worth anything! Why? Because I have trouble just saying Live and let live—when a nice young mother–with an innocent heart– if an ill-fitting wardrobe– is being bullied in the name of the Lord for her church-dress choice. And submitting to said bullying without a fight!)
Upon expressing my frustration with the article and with myself, I had this conversation with a friend. Me: Is it judgmental if this post makes me go Uggggggghhhh! ? Friend: Why can’t you just say that’s one way to do it and move on? Me: That’s totally easy if it isn’t personal. Friend: You’re making it personal. Me:UGGGGHHHHH!
I considered his point—albeit huffing and puffing with disdain. I recognized that this post had nothing to do with me. I do not know this woman, nor am I involved in a religious environment that would pass this type of judgment. ( And I highly doubt the all-loving Divine wastes time being incensed over an allegedly improper skirt choice. Isn’t He kinda busy, like, running the Universe-at-large?)
So why did reading this feel like an MRI machine, pulling up bullet fragments from long-forgotten wounds? Why did it feel so personal?Because this post magnetized my every memory of being shamed in the name of God, every time I was bullied for the Cause of Christ. Every time I had submitted to spiritual abuse because I needed to have a teachable heart, and God clearly wasn’t happy with my learnin’.
This article called up a militia of bad memories, ready for action and lined in a neat row stretching back as far as kindergarten. It made my heart do an involuntary quick-draw, pointing my weapon at a viewpoint that had decimated my faith. It inspired me to raise my gun of rationale, wave it in the face of all that hurt, and demand it step aside because You are SO not allowed in my space anymore.
It also caused my newfound faith to briefly falter because due to my past pains, I briefly forgot my belief that there is Truth in all genuine viewpoints. And instead of gently untangling my feelings and simply moving on,—Live and let live–I got stuck in a mental battle, the kind that never has a winner.
This is how it is between me and this viral blog post on modesty. I would much rather have a pentagram drawn on my forehead than have a deacon’s wife bully me about the choiceness of my dress… or let anyone else be thusly shamed. (Hell, I’d rather eat rat meat sacrificed to an idol!) This post and its comment thread? It’s my ex-est of ex-boyfriends, armed with a firearm that’s pointed straight at my temple.
After a few days of mulling over my reaction though, I realized ANY judgmental beliefs, even (and especially!) mine, are like raising a gun to the head of someone else’s worldview. Just take one menacing step towards me, and I blow your brains out, sir.
But for every gun you have pointed at someone else, there’s an infinite number pointed at you. It’s like a gangster movie stand-off, if said gangsters were clad in self-righteousness instead of leather jackets.
For example, if you say a skirt touching the knee is godly, there are a hundred ladies who would declare you immodest. For those who think mid-calf length is appropriate, plenty of sects would tell you that God only approves of ankle-length skirts. And don’t forget the Amish, who believe a woman may only worship in a head covering. There are even religious guns pointed at their bonnets because many think them too religious (bound up by codes that presumably jumped off the deep end when they declared electricity to be evil). This struggle is not unique to Christianity–no– it is pervasive in most faiths, the veritable What Not to Wear of religion.
Today, I’ve decided that if crying about your clothing choices and tossing an offending dress in the garbage makes you feel like a better person and makes you feel closer to honoring your God in spirit and in truth, who am I to say it doesn’t?
So I’m laying down my weapon, kicking it aside, and waving my (possibly immodest!) clothing –depending on who’s judging my sweatpants & t-shirt— in a gesture of surrender. Granted, I’ll still be at the mercy of everyone else.
But at least I won’t be the one with the gun.
Continued from Beltane
We fear that which we do not understand. But what causes even greater fear? That which we believe ourselves to understand.
The Maypole celebration ended with a ritual wherein the Priest, Priestess, May Queen and May King ceremonially offered cookies and juice to each attendee along with a Blessing. We formed a line, and one at a time went forward to receive a dual blessing: one each from the God and Goddess. I hung back a little, taking in the situation. It looked an awful lot like Holy Communion (if Holy Communion took place in the woods and was offered by people with flower crowns). Granted sprinkle cookies replaced bread, and orange drink the wine, but I couldn’t shake the similarity or decide if I wanted to ingest a Wiccan Blessing (er, Communion?).
I inched forward in the line while giving myself a silent pep-talk: There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s a Blessing Ceremony, silly, not a sacrifice! It’s just cookies and juice, baby, just cookies and juice. I flashed back to some unfamiliar things I’ve done this year (like bowing to idols and medium/psychic readings), and reminded myself that I’ve always come away with something good from every experience. Just as my fears cooled and I was up to bat, I noticed the ritual included the Priest and Priestess drawing Pentagrams on the foreheads of those being blessed, the same way a Catholic Priest would make the sign of the cross over a Christian in communion. It’s just cookies and juice, baby, go forward!
So I stepped up to receive my blessing from the Priest and as he started drawing the first line of the Pentagram on my forehead, everything in me jumped backwards, taking my body, almost unwillingly, with it. Whoa, I said, no Pentagram. I can’t handle the Pentagram. Then the Priest jumped back and almost simultaneously accused, “You the Christian? Someone said there was a Christian here!” Without thinking, I retorted, “I’m not a Christian!” (Meaning: I’m not the kind of Christian you are thinking of!), then realized what I’d said. All four of us were very worked up in a kind of energy gridlock, so it took all I had to step back up to receive the cookie minus the pentagram. The Priestess said she could give me a blessing that wouldn’t offend me, and I was all tears and sniffles and You’re not offending me! I don’t know what’s going on but I just can’t do the Pentagram!
Graciously, she blessed me with a simple hand on my head with a prayer that would be acceptable in any religion: it ended with May you never hunger…May you never thirst. Still teary, I drank the juice, while apologizing profusely for my behavior. It was all very intense, and I had to sit down to consider exactly what in the heck just happened?! I’ve done all kinds of things this year and all the sudden I back down from a Blessing? Great job, Reba, invading their Sacred Space only to ruin their ritual.
We discussed the incident later by the campfire, while the others were drumming and singing, and the both the Priest and Priestess were very kind: more concerned about the balance of my energy than my Blessing breakdown. I, however, took my perceived failure home with me. It took 3 days to sort through exactly what happened in the moment I collided headfirst with the Pentagram…then 8 more to fully process. (Eleven days for an incident that lasted maybe two minutes…like I said, it was intense!) But, eventually, I did figure things out and learn more about myself and this journey in the process.
More to come…
I’d like to address a few of the questions I’ve received on my recent Thirty Day fast:
So…what did you eat? Nothing. I didn’t chew for 30 days, nor did I drink alcohol. I also tried to limit medications. I did take in copious amounts of vitamins, lots of juice (organic if possible), and sugar-free protein on workout days. (Yes, I still did boot camp.)
Isn’t that UNHEALTHY? Well, not for me. Obviously I’m here, I’m fine and, it could be argued, in better health than I have ever been. But I would like to be VERY CLEAR that an extreme fast could ABSOLUTELY be unhealthy for a given person depending on factors such as overall health, weight, lifestyle, mental state, etc. PLEASE DO NOT CONSIDER an extreme fast without A.) A very specific calling to undertake it and B.) Consulting your doctor.
Why did you choose to fast for thirty days? First, I didn’t choose to fast for 30 days. God asked me to. (There will be much more on this when I cover the fast in depth between April 15th and May 15th). A 30-day fast is something I never would have thought of, nor did I think I could do it. I was called to fast in December, and it took me nearly three months of wrestling with the concept and telling God there was NO WAY I could possibly ever do that before I surrendered and… just did it. Once I got towards the end, I wanted to do 40 days, but that was made impossible by a pre-planned family vacation.
How much weight did you lose? It is inconsequential….that was NOT the point. This was purely spiritual venture. I like to say some of the excess weight enabled me to complete the fast, but it was in no way a diet attempt. There isn’t enough willpower in my world.
Why did you stop blogging during the fast? Part of the reason fasting, especially long-term fasting, is spiritually effective is because it clears out your life of everything that isn’t entirely necessary. Due to the vast physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strain, fasting forced me to re-evaluate every activity in my life by these two questions: 1.) Is [activity] actively bringing me closer to God and/or 2.) Is [activity] absolutely necessary? In addition to ceasing blogging, I limited my activities to work, prayer, meditation, necessary household duties, spending time with my husband, and LOTS of sleeping.
Why didn’t you tell anyone? Fasting is a personal matter between you and your God. It is extremely difficult, and there is no place for the critical negativity of others. You’re already doubting yourself…you don’t need anyone else to doubt you. Also, to be brutally honest, I often thought I was going to fail. (Daily. Sometimes minute-ly.) I didn’t want to announce, “Hey, I am doing this 30-day fast!” only to say, “Hey, I quit on day 10.”
I hope that clears a few things up! Also, as mentioned, I will be writing in detail about the fast and what I learned starting on April 15th. But if you are interested in the basics of how I got through it…check out this post.
BY TOTAL ACCIDENT on my part, I am visiting the 28th Place of Worship on the 28th Day of my Super-Secret 30-day Project within the Thirty by Thirty Project. (Project to be finished Monday and revealed Tuesday morning.) Other interesting “Accidental” tidbits:
–15th visit (halfway) was exactly 6 months to the day through the year
– First visit (to a charismatic/pentecostal church) coincided with Pentecost Sunday
– Secret project overlaps Ash Wed., Lent, Nineteen Day Fast (Baha’i), Purim (Jewish fast and celebration “Esther’s Fast”),Magha Puja Day (Celebration of the Buddha and the happening of auspicious events), Holi (Hindu) and (Hola Mohalla – Sikh). [And probably many more I do not know about!)
–30-day project ends TO THE HOUR with the end of my meditation class.
But my personal favorite is:
On the same day I was so discouraged about Thirty by Thirty that I was about to quit, I just happened to be at a forum on religion the Exec. Producer of a major network new shows show was attending, and just happened to ask a question to the panel regarding my project, and just happened to forget to mention that, “Oh, I’m writing a book about this,” which caused the Producer to ask me if I was indeed writing about this because, “It’s the most original book idea I’ve heard in years,” and she just happened to encourage me to, “Keep going. Someone will definitely pick this up.”
Coincidence my friends? I think not.
Admittedly, this circa 2004 story is old news.
But, being it is almost old enough to be vintage-cool, I thought a few of you might enjoy a visit to the world’s first 3D Interactive Church….a quiet place to sit (via avatar), pray (via text), listen (to electronic hymn), and reflect (on your own). After my own visit, I think more churches should have online sanctuaries. Not even the most traumatized among us would be reduced to tears by a cartoon altar. I, for one, love this. It should totally be listed in the National Historic (Virtual) Record.
United Kingdom–25 May 2004–http://churchoffools.com/news-stories/03_41000.html
Earlier this week, Church of Fools welcomed 41,000 visitors in one 24-hour period. We document the extraordinary first 14 days of Church of Fools.
Since last week’s launch at the UK’s National Christian Resources Exhibition, Church of Fools has been welcoming, on average, 8,000 visitors per day. But on Wednesday, over 41,000 visitors crammed into the church in one 24-hour period, exceeding all expectations for congregational size.
The reason was a phenomenal second wave of publicity about the church which went all round the world. With headlines such as “Internet devils smite virtual church” (The Times, London) and “Cyber church reacts to ‘Satan’ visit” (CNN), the world’s media reported on the hacking and mischief-making that went on in the church earlier in the week.
“Church of Fools said Wednesday it had shut to outsiders its pulpit, lectern and space round the altar to stop less than religious types giving messages definitely not from the Almighty,” reported CNN. The church also recruited a team of 12 wardens, armed with smite buttons which can be used to eject people who log in to the church simply to cause trouble.
The church is now offering services of morning and night prayer (in UK time) each day, and response from visitors to the cyber sanctuary has been mostly positive.
“I have a friend who has claimed not to believe in God for many years,” wrote Sandy from North Carolina. “He had a crisis this week and wanted a place to try a prayer. No way would he ever go to a real church. But he went to yours, said his first prayer in many years and told me he felt much better afterwards.”
Jenny from Reading, UK, wrote: “I have only managed to get in once as a ‘solid’ but ended up having an interesting conversation with a Jew. I don’t really meet Jewish people in real life, so it was a good experience, especially as our religions have so much history in common.”
The strangest, and maybe the most heartwarming, offer of support during the church’s problems with disruptive visitors came from a self-confessed Satanist. Referring to people who were entering the church to shout “Praise be to Satan!” he wrote…
“I have been Satanist all my life and would never have pulled any such thing. So, for all the immature twits within the Satanic community, you have my sympathies as I truly hope to see you fix the problem soon. Best of luck, sincerely, Satanist with a heart.
”I immersed myself as deeply as possible in the rituals, beliefs, practices, and culture of 12 distinct faith systems (one each month for all 2011) and in the process, changed my life forever.”–Andrew Bowen
The house was empty last night; my wife and kids were out of town and I was left to my own devices. I did what any good, observant Jew would do: I said prayers and studied the Torah and other books on Judaism. Right now I’m studying the creation account in Genesis and paying close attention to the relationship between God, Adam, and Eve. We are told of how God visited Adam in the “cool of the day” and basically chatted about…anything and everything. It was a relationship. The Tanakh (Old Testament) is full of them, and they were down right intimate and personal. Rabbi Groner spoke about this relationship as being intellectual, practical, and emotional. We see this dynamic between God and the Children of Israel page after page, yet it seems so foreign, so far removed by all these years. I wondered if the Jewish people feel that intimacy today, if God can be as conspicuously present in their lives as he seems to be in those stories.
So I cracked open a bottle of wine and asked him to come over for a chat. No special prayers (except one specific for consuming wine), no rituals, no religious primer, I just sat down in the fading light of my livingroom and asked God to hang out with me.
Simple enough, right? I’m not asking for money or health or anything selfish, just for God to visit me in the cool of the day. Well, the day became cooler, and darker. I lit my fire pot and poured another glass of wine. I sat quietly and patiently as I stared into the flame. I “called” again. No secretary, no voicemail…nothing, and by this point I’ve got a healthy buzz. Did God just stand me up?
I was disappointed and confused. All I wanted was some company. All I wanted was what those folks in the Tanakh had. Was I asking too much? Did I do something wrong? Does God not like cheap Merlot? Doubt crept in during my weakened state. The rabbis of the Talmud, a commentary and guide on the Torah, recognized two forces within us: the Yetzer Hatov or Good Urge, and the Yetzer Hara or Bad Urge. These forces are constantly at war within us and Judaism states that only good action (as pointed out by the 613 mitzvot) and repentance to God will defeat the Bad Urge.
I thought my invitation to God was a good thing. What’s wrong with asking God to hang out?
“You’re being selfish,” my wife said. After a verbal beating for getting drunk, my wife went on to lambaste me for
forgetting my lessons so far. “Didn’t the Hindus teach you that God is everywhere? So why would you get upset that God didn’t show up where and when you wanted him to when he’s been here the whole time? And you really think he wants to talk to a drunk?”
Wow, no gloves, huh? She was right. It seemed so innocent to ask God to sit down and talk. But what was really going on here?
1) Deep down, I was jealous of the stories in the Tanakh, and we are asked not to covet what others have.
2) I set limits on God. If God is everywhere, why do I need him to sit in my chair? Which leads me to my next point.
3) I wouldn’t need a physical representation if my faith was strong enough to begin with. Let’s face it: when we ask God to “show us a sign” or just show up in general, what we are really saying is that we don’t believe enough by default that he is there. Our fast-paced, materialistic world has conditioned us to only pay attention to what we can immediately see and consume.
God presented himself to the faithful when they had no previous physical representation. It seldom works the other way around. This doesn’t mean that one should increase their faith just for the reward of a divine peep show. I would have done well to remember my Hindu lesson in the Upanishads stating that enlightenment and moksha is reached once we realize the divine in everything and as everything, therefore making representations useless obstacles. Think about it, if God showed last night, my impression of him would be forever cast into that limiting aspect. I would lose all ability to recognize the divine in all of creation because for a split second, he was reduced to a point in space in my living room. This is why God (in many faiths) strictly forbids the creation of idols, not because of jealousy on his part, but because he knows how such an image limits our perception of him. Ironic, isn’t it, that the abstract then becomes a far greater representation than the specificity of a physical form.
I know what you’re thinking: this guy has lost his mind. He’s a crack job. Fair enough, but just remember: I’m not perfect. I’m going to screw up–a lot–and I think we can file this one under “screwed up,” but not before we learn something, and that’s what this is all about.
We remember that every time someone messed up in these stories, God was there. He clothed Adam and Eve after they partook of the fruit (kind of what I did last night) in the Garden. He brought the Children of Israel to the Promised Land after wandering for 40 years. Like a Chinese finger trap, we discover the way out only when we stop struggling. In connecting with the divine, struggling isn’t the answer because we are literally in his presence 24/7. The epiphany only comes once we bring ourselves to rest and open our minds and hearts.
So what’s the moral of the story? Don’t drunk-dial God. He won’t answer, but he will show up in the morning to help you sober up when you’re ready to let him move freely.
Read more on Project Conversion here: http://blog.beliefnet.com/projectconversion/2011/04/drunk-dialing-god.html#ixzz1oIROa3l5
Thanks Andrew! And, speaking of drunk dialing, here is a throw-back article “Digital Hangover“. No God, but a lot of regrets! Enjoy. Blessings to you all in the journey–Reba
Friday night is date night, which usually means Trent and I can be found at Studio 35 (only the best historic, independent food-and alcohol-serving cinema!). After taking in a show and a few drinks, we call a taxi because A.) We are committed to obeying the law! Buzzed driving is Drunk Driving! (At least, according to the billboards). and B.) We prefer to avoid jail.
This means most Fridays around 11 pm, I can be found enjoying a fifteen-minute chat with a cab driver. I always make a point to nicely chat up cab drivers because A.) They have great stories hidden under those thick accents B.) I love great stories C.) They hold our lives in their driving little hands. (Ever wear a seat belt in a taxi? Didn’t think so. I, for one, prefer our lives to be held in happy hands!)
Being that I am, well, me, I can never resist inquiring about our driver’s religion after we’ve covered family and interesting stories. (I’m curious, OK? Especially after a few drinks. No buzzed driving remember?) Recently I’ve been fishing for the best Somalian mosque to attend, because Columbus has the second largest Somalian population in the US, and Islam is the religion of the vast majority.
So far, I’ve had one driver tell me, “You are going to hell…” because I’m not Muslim (In his defense, I did ask his opinion. And, he informed me nicely.) Another driver who had a Catholic mother and Muslim father said: “What I am you ask? Maybe…confused?”
Last Friday’s operator is my hands-down favorite though. Not only was he wearing a suit (I always wear suit for driving!), and supporting SEVEN children (Boys give me most trouble; girls, they easy!), but he was very forthcoming about his religious practices. This is the conversation, as close as I can recall.
So…if I may ask, are you Muslim? Yes. What is the best Somalian mosque to attend? It all same. Somali, Pakistani, any race… we not discriminate. Any mosque best place. I pray five times day. In Mosque if possible. What if you’re driving the cab when it’s time to pray? If I drive you to airport, I drop you off then go to close mosque to pray. What if you aren’t near a mosque? I pull over, pray in the cab. I can do this right here, in cab.See? What if you’re sleeping? I pray as soon I get up!
This is where it gets interesting.
The important thing not where pray, but pray in heart. That most important. Yes, I definitely agree with you. You pray, yes? You Christian? Yes.(I took the easy way out here and didn’t explain the whole Thirty by Thirty thing.) See you pray too, you pray in heart? Yes. It same. Very important to pray to God. I am Muslim which mean I honor all prophet and sacred book. Mohammad, Jesus, Qu’ran, Bible…I believe in all prophet and book. So you and me, we not so different. You pray, I pray. This all same. This important thing. So…you are Muslim, you pray to Allah, but it’s OK if I pray to Jesus? Yes, OK, all OK.
The gentleman is highly devout, very devoted to his faith. He prays five times a day! But yet…he holds his beliefs with his mind open to other faiths. I like him, I like him A LOT.
Post-payment and tip, we thanked him and I left the cab spiritually shell-shocked. Here I am: spending a year of my life in 30 thirty places of worship, looking for theology that fits…and I find it. On date night.IN A CAB.
Not from the pulpit: from the front seat. Not from a minister: from a foreign taxi driver. Not while sensitively journaling about my faith: while buzzed after a good film.
I doubt our driver will ever realize the impact he had on me in our short minutes together, but I’ll always remember he added a few sentences to my personal theology. And that was well-worth the cab fare.
This morning, the questions pulling at the hem of my faith are whispering:
What if, when God said I AM, we misunderstood?
What if God simply said I AM to us, to all of humanity, but that wasn’t good enough ? Maybe we wanted more, needed more: like the Jews of the Old Testament, who rejected God as their nation’s leader. We want a King, they cried. They needed more: more than Jehovah, more than Abba, more than I AM.
Perhaps we needed a predicate nominative, a fill-in-the-blank ad-lib in Whom to place our faith. An I AM______________: summed with words that we could understand, we could see…Something we could draw lines around and call our Own.
And what if, after we consumed the _______________,with our utterances, we still needed more?
Did we add to I AM? Did we follow all the nouns with verbs, round out phrases with adjectives? Did we complete all the parts of speech that never really existed? Did we create sentences wrapped into paragraphs which filled up pages and flowed into sacred texts? Did we cry out with words that formed Religions…whole cultures of grammatical dissent?
We fight and war, debating the -ologies with Holy Fervor: today, here, with our Voices; yesterday and elsewhere with our Weapons. All to defend the words that define our beliefs.
What if, What If?, the only phrase, the original origin of the world, was quietly I AM? An affirmation of Divine Existence… of all Creation…of God…of us…and the whole Universe. The whole Godiverse.
The simplest statement of Being, the first noun and verb we learn in any language.
What if all God really said was…
Next Post: The story of my hilarious visit to a historically African-Amercian Baptist Church… who won my Award for Best Talent and tied for Miss Congeniality!